italy

11 days / tuscany / lucca / venice / rome

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It didn’t take long for me and Joe to decide on Italy as the destination for our first anniversary trip. Italy is the country that you see over and over again on all the travel lists, neither of us had been before, and with us both now having the last name Moccia, we thought it was time.

Narrowing the trip down to four to five locations within Italy, however, was much harder.

After flying into Rome, we picked up a rental car and made our way to the beautiful rolling hills of Tuscany. Stop number one was Civita di Bagnoregio, a tiny town that is quite literally falling off a cliff and can only be accessed by a footbridge.

We wandered through the cobblestone streets of this 2,500 year-old town, and shared a slow lunch in a beautiful Etruscan cave/wine cellar at Alma Civita. It was the perfect introduction to Italy.

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Our first three nights were spent at Podere San Lorenzo, an agriturismo on a working olive farm in the heart of Tuscany. Every morning, we’d have cappuccinos with breakfast in the property’s restored 12th Century Franciscan chapel. And at night, we’d return to the chapel to join the other guests for a delicious multi-course dinner.

One evening, we took a cooking class and helped prepare dinner, which included homemade pasta, quiche with zucchini blossoms (that I still have dreams about), arista al latta (pork loin cooked in milk) for the meat-eaters, a boozy tiramisu, and lots and lots of wine.

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One day, we explored Volterra, a medieval, walled town just 4km from our agriturismo. Another day, we took a trip to Siena, where we immediately found ourselves immersed in a lively contrada parade flooding the city streets.

The rivaling neighborhoods were decked out in their wards’ costumes with flags waving and drums echoing. The parade was a small preview of the city’s excitement and chaos during the Palio horse race that takes place every summer in the town piazza. To take a beat after the sensory overload, we had a quiet lunch at a sunny pizzeria overlooking the city.

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Our agriturismo property was gorgeous. One afternoon, I wasted hours curled up with a book (i.e. napping) on a lounge chair in an olive grove by a spring-fed pool. Joe was brave enough to take a dip in the brisk pool another evening.

The window in our room overlooked a hilltop jutting up over the valley, and on our our last morning in Tuscany, we hiked up to the top and found abandoned Etruscan ruins.

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Our next few nights were spent at a lovely airbnb in Lucca. Lucca is known for the still-intact, Renaissance-era walls surrounding the city.

The first night in town, we took a stroll along the park-like walls to get acquainted with the city, before having negronis and pasta in the Piazza dell’Anfiteatro.

Our most memorable — albeit slightly-fuzzy — evening of the trip was spent in Lucca. After having slices at Pizzeria da Felice, we grabbed wine from a wine bar/bike shop called Ciclo Divino and people-watched in a little square where the Italian hipsters hang out. Wanting a nightcap, we popped into an unassuming wine bar called Vinarkia Della Pavona. The charming bartender, Pablo, decided our night was just beginning and declined our request for digestifs. Instead, he served us his own curated selection of drinks. Cocktails were drank. Shots were taken. Dance parties were had. Rolled cigarettes were smoked (when in Rome… er Lucca).

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From Lucca, we took a day trip to Cinque Terre.

We parked in Monterosso, fueled up with gelato, and took a scenic — and sweaty — hike to Vernazza, where we rewarded ourselves with pasta and wine by the harbor.

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We dropped off our rental car outside of Venice and released a giant sigh of relief for having returned it in one piece. Our introduction to Venice was on the vaporetto (water bus); floating by the crumbling palaces along the Grand Canal on our way in was pretty surreal.

Venice is unlike anything I’ve ever seen, and though it’s far from undiscovered, there are still so many quiet canals to explore. We hit the main sites, like the Piazza San Marco and Saint Mark’s Basilica; perused modern art at The Peggy Guggenheim Collection; and of course took a ride on a gondola.

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One evening, we did a cocktail crawl that started at the uber-fancy Bar Longhi in the Gritti Palace. Cozily perched at the marble bar, we sipped cocktails and noshed on bar snacks, while watching a torrential downpour take over the Grand Canal right outside.

Afterwards, we changed pace and next headed to Osteria All’Alba’s graffiti covered bar for live music, and ended the evening with drinks at the hip, local hangout, Osteria da Filo.

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Upon checking out of the lovely Hotel Flora, we hopped on a train to Bologna. Here we stayed in our own private tower (!!!).

Even though we only had one night in Bologna, we climbed to the roof of the tower to watch both the sunset and sunrise. Bologna is very young, gritty, and lively, and it was a breath of fresh air to visit compared with some of the more tourist-infested areas.

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For the final leg of our trip, we hopped back on the train to Rome. Rome needs no introduction. But having heard mixed reviews of the city, it really exceeded my expectations.

We stayed at an airbnb in Trastevere, which is an adorable neighborhood on the other side of the Tiber River from all the crazy tourist action. The charming cobblestone streets in Trastevere are lined with cafes, and we loved every place we visited in the neighborhood.

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One evening, we were walking home from dinner along a quiet residential street when we heard men singing.

We turned the corner to find a propped-open door to a room (clubhouse?) full of old Italian men, belting out traditional Italian ballots and bar songs at the top of their lungs, in what felt like a scene out of movie. They indulged us, and let us linger outside for a few songs, totally giddy over the whole scene in front of us.

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On our very last evening, we climbed up the Gianicolo hill in Trastevere and watched the sunset overlooking Rome, negronis in hand.

Sweet, sweet Italy. You stole our hearts.

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