Benvenuto in Italia! Welcome, as we take you through every minute of our whirlwind six-day journey through Italy.
Italy has always been high on our bucket list, and our friends were always surprised when we told them we’d never been to the country before.
So when we saw that Air Italy was offering $275 round-trip flights, we knew the time had come. We spent months anticipating the amazing pizza, pasta and wine we would be consuming, along with all of the incredible history, art and culture we would be absorbing on every street corner. And Italy 100 percent delivered.
We kicked off our trip on Tuesday, Oct. 9, and returned back to New York on Monday, Oct. 15, which already feels like a lifetime ago.
Our first stop was Rome for 2.5 days, then Florence for a day, followed by a day trip to Chianti, and ending with a day in Venice.
Once we landed in Rome, we dropped off our bags and freshened up at our Airbnb hosted by a lovely, 30-something Italian woman named Valentina. She was warm, welcoming and helpful during our time staying with her, so we highly recommend checking her (relatively affordable) apartment out if you’re ever in Rome.
The apartment was located right outside the walls of Vatican City, but far enough from St. Peter’s Basilica, in a quiet neighborhood full of locals.
Once we washed off the post-flight grime, we immediately set out in search of pizza.
The pizzaiolo behind the Pizzarium, Gabriele Bonci, is known for his incredible crust, with its crunchy exterior and airy interior filled with pockets of dough. He also showcases creative and fresh ingredients. Toppings range from classic pizza rossa, with just tomato sauce and herbs, to the famous potato and cheese, to soft-scrambled eggs and pancetta.
Bonci (and Rome in general) specializes in pizza al taglio, or pizza by the cut. The giant rectangular pizzas are displayed in the glass cases, and when you’re ready to order, the employees behind the counter cut off pieces with scissors. And your slices are priced by weight.
The great thing about this method is that you can control how much of each kind of pizza you want to try, and you have the option to try multiple slices.
We went with the potato and cheese, the prosciutto with some kind of green leafy veggie, and the classic pizza rossa. They were all incredibly delicious, but the thickness of the crust, bountiful layers of ingredients and saltiness really weigh you down. So about halfway through our box, we were already in a food coma.
The pizza rossa was definitely our favorite — and we wished that we had more room in our stomachs to eat extra slices of that!
Luckily for Americans, Bonci opened up a location in Chicago last year, so you don’t have to travel all the way to Italy to taste the pizzas for yourself.
After pizza, all we really wanted to do was take a nap. Nevertheless, we persisted and started really exploring the city. We walked through the streets of the Prati neighborhood, an affluent residential area with beautiful European-style apartments and local shops lining the streets.
We eventually made our way to Neve di Latte, a modern gelato spot with multiple locations in Rome. Since this was our first taste of authentic Italian gelato, we went with classic flavors — gianduja and stracchiatella.
The richness of the cream was unbelievable and so different from American gelato. Every bite was so full of flavor that a small cup went a long way. And we were just thankful that it lived up to the hype!
By the time we reached the banks of the River Tiber, the sun had set. But that made for a picturesque and romantic stroll by the water. With artists and merchants selling paintings and books along the sidewalk, the scene almost reminded us of the Seine in Paris.
Walking a little bit more south, we were struck by how magnificent Castel Sant’Angelo looked lit up at night. First built around 123 AD to serve as the mausoleum of Roman emperor Hadrian, by the 14th century, it became a military fortress with an elevated passageway connecting it to the Vatican. It then became a prison, where executions were carried out. And in 1901, it was transformed into the museum that it still serves as today.
It was beautiful to see Rome, and the amazing view of the Vatican, from the bridge in front of Castel Sant’Angelo. You really feel like you’re walking through history.
After crossing the bridge, we meandered through the maze-like streets of the historic Ponte district. It was fun to people watch as Romans were grabbing their after-work drinks.
And in between the winding streets, you stumble upon lively piazzas filled with music, laughter and conversation at the local bars and restaurants.
One of the largest and most famous piazzas is, of course, Piazza Navona. Built over the site of a former ancient Roman stadium, where citizens would go and watch games in the 1st century AD, it first became a public space in the 15th century.
It’s a massive square, with tons of travelers, locals, musicians and peddlers pushing their touristy souvenirs.
In the center of the Piazza is an enormous fountain, the famous Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, or the Fountain of the Four Rivers, sculpted by Bernini. And in the center of the sculpture is one of the many ubiquitous obelisks in Rome. After the Romans conquered Egypt, they became infatuated by the symbolism of obelisks, and today, Rome has more obelisks than any other city in the world.
Piazza Navona is also home to one of the most famous desserts — the tartufo from Tre Scalini.
A tartufo is an Italian frozen treat, with a Maraschino cherry encased in shaved almond, encased in vanilla and chocolate ice cream, encased in a hard chocolate shell, and topped with whipped cream.
While Tre Scalini the restaurant takes up almost an entire side of the Piazza, you can walk into their gelateria section and order it to go. This option is way cheaper, quicker and lets you enjoy the crazy ambiance in the center of Piazza Navonna.
With our stomachs still full from the Bonci pizza, gelato and tartufo, we reluctantly headed out to make our late dinner reservation.
On the way there, we randomly stumbled upon a small store filled with vending machines. No cash registers, no cashiers or attendants. Just vending machines filled with everything you’d need for a quick picnic. There were delicious-looking snacks, bread, charcuterie, and even cheese and olives. The best part, though, were the machines filled entirely with bottles of wine and beer.
We’re not sure if it was just the sugar high talking, but we were obsessed with this concept. We selected a bottle of Roman Double IPA, swiped our credit card and walked away without having to speak to a single human being. Genius! If only alcohol laws in the U.S. weren’t so strict…
Our dinner reservation for day one in Rome was at a cute little hole-in-the-wall not too far away from the Pantheon — La Vecchia Locanda.
We mainly chose it because of the amazing Yelp reviews. And when we arrived, we were relieved to see that all of the patrons were local Italians and all seemed to know the owner. It felt like the perfect cozy neighborhood spot.
We sat at a table outside and proceeded to order all the classics. We got the cacio e pepe, steak with potatoes and truffles, and asparagus. It was the perfect amount of food, and even though we didn’t think we could eat another bite before our meal arrived, we couldn’t get enough of the perfectly al dente fresh pasta, incredible sauce, and flavorful and juicy steak with aromatic truffles.
We finished off the meal with the most heavenly tiramisu we’ve ever had in our lives.
It was the perfect combination of dishes to cap off our first night in Italy. And we can’t recommend La Vecchia Locanda highly enough — just make sure to call to make a reservation in advance!
Even though it was well past 11 p.m. by the time we finished dinner, we weren’t ready for the day’s adventures to end. One of the top things on our must-do-in-Rome list was the famous speakeasy, Jerry Thomas Project.
In the U.S., and especially in New York, we have a ton of speakeasies. But they’re mostly just a fancy version of a regular bar. They’re easy to find and get into if you just ring a doorbell.
Getting into the Jerry Thomas Project, however, actually required some detective work. They recommend that you make a reservation for a table in advance — which we hadn’t done. So we Googled around to find out how to get in and discovered the secret password.
So we headed over to the address on Google Maps, knocked on a few doors in a dark alley, and finally found the entrance of the speakeasy. After giving the password, we were escorted inside the extremely crowded and dark bar.
We were only given a standing room space, but the servers were incredibly friendly and attentive. And the cocktails were delicious — especially the Negroni. We don’t typically like Negronis, but it’s an Italian classic. Thankfully, this was the best Negroni we’ve ever had.
The people watching was also spectacular, with an interesting crowd of rowdy Bachelor-party Americans, and classy locals.
They even had a live band playing bluegrassy music, which really added to the idiosyncrasies.
After a long, long day of travel, and enough alcohol in our systems to make falling asleep a breeze, our first day in Italy came to a close.
Stay tuned for our even more action-packed day two!