Italy-Day 3-Cinque Terre

Today we had to wake up super early because we had an early train to catch to go to Cinque Terre. Our train left Roma Termini at 6:50 am. It was sad to leave our hotel in Rome so soon because we really liked it, but we were excited to see what the Cinque Terre was like. The Cinque Terre is made up of villages on the coast. The towns are built into hillsides so it’s very rugged and steep. The five villages are: Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso. The Cinque Terre is an unique experience because there is a train line that runs between the 5 towns, there are hiking trails between each town, and there are boats you can also use to town hop. So it’s very common for people to try to experience each village. Most of the villages do not have cars either so that is cool. I really wanted to stay in Manarola because from pictures it seemed the most beautiful to me, but most of the hotels were booked. We ended up staying in Monterosso, which was probably the best situation because out of all of the towns it is the most flat, so we didn’t have to trudge our luggage up too many crazy stairs.

I had purchased our train tickets online previously so they were fairly cheap; I think they were about $40 for the two of us. The train went from Rome to La Spezia, the biggest town just South of the Cinque Terre. Once it got to La Spezia we would have to switch to the train that went to the five towns of the Cinque Terre. We picked up sandwiches and coffee from a shop inside Roma Termini and got on our train. It was very nice. I wish the U.S. had a train system like Italy. We both had windows seats because we sat across from each other with a table in between us. It was really cool to see the country side. As we got closer to La Spezia the train got way more crowded. Switching to the train to Monterosso was pretty easy, it’s crazy how easy and convenient the trains are here.

Once we arrived in Monterosso it was very crowded. Right when you get out of the train station you are on the boardwalk for the beach. There were people every where, it was crazy. I think we were both surprised at how crowded it was and we both questioned if this was going to the nice quaint place we had hoped for.  It was only around noon when we got there so after walking from the train, which was about 10 minutes, we found a restaurant for lunch. We ate at Ristorante il Moretto. We had a nice salad to start and then we both had pasta. I had spaghetti; first spaghetti in Italy! It was very good. Don had pasta with seafood I believe and he really enjoyed it also. We sat near an older man who went to UIUC and knew exactly where Champaign-Urbana was so that was funny. He started talking to us because I was wearing a Cubs shirt. I also saw my first cat here!

Sleepy cat in the restaurant.

After eating we went looking for our hotel, it was just a short walk from the restaurant and we were able to check in. The room and bathroom are very small but it is nice enough. We are staying at Hotel Souvenir. The outside patio is very nice here.

Once we got settled in we decided we should explore Monterosso a bit. So we walked around and then went down by the water. We felt the water and it was pretty cold, but also the beach was all pebbles so it was hard to walk on. We decided to get some ice cream and cappuccino. The place we got ice cream at was called Nuovo Eden, we chose it because it had a really nice outdoor seating area. It was pretty good. While we were here we decided that we should check out Manarola tonight.

We took the train to Manarola which is the second village in the Cinque Terre. It was also the place I wanted to stay for our time here. It was absolutely beautiful. So picturesque and quiet. We did figure out that by late afternoon all the day trippers and tour groups had left the villages so it was much less crowded.

I had done a lot of research on Manarola so I had a restaurant in mind called, Trattoria dal Billy. It was a hike to get up to it, Manarola is a lot more steep than Monterosso, but it was definitely worth it! We got seated outside on one of the balconies with a nice view of the sunset. We decided to try anchovies here because that is one of the foods of the Cinque Terre. I was pretty hesitant because they came as full little fish on a plate with olive oil and lemon seasoning. It was intimidating but I did it and they were good! Especially good on bread. I ordered the pasta with pesto because the Cinque Terre is known as the birthplace of pesto. It was delicious! Don had calamari and shrimp. We basically ended up sharing everything and it was delicious. We both loved this place and we also had our first wine in Italy here!

After dinner we walked around more. I found another cat on a rooftop behind the church. Don tried to take a picture of it and had his flash on and it totally disturbed a couple making out on the other side of the rooftop. We couldn’t stop laughing!

We walked down by the water and found another one of the restaurants that I wanted to try, so we definitely have to come back to Manarola! It was so amazing. Here’s some night time pictures we took.

We had fun taking pictures on the way back to the train also. There was a long tunnel with some weird art and writings.

Italy Day 2–Rome–The Colosseum.

Today we woke up and had an amazing breakfast at our hotel, iQ Hotel Roma. There is a rooftop restaurant here with nice indoor and outdoor seating. The views are not great because it is not that high of a building but it was nice to sit outside. The breakfast was a buffet but it was the best breakfast we both have ever had while traveling! The eggs, sausage, and bacon were great! There were so many options: cheese, fruit, freshly squeezed orange juice, and many styles of coffee. It was very good.

After breakfast we walked to The Colosseum; it was only about a 20 minute walk from our hotel. It opened at 8:30 and we got there around then. I read the lines can get really long so I’m really glad we got there when we did. I had already bought tickets online so we didn’t have to wait in that line.  Tickets were only 14 Euros per person and they are valid for 2 days. With these tickets you can visit The Colosseum, The Roman Forum, and Palatine Hill. You can only enter the sites once, but these tickets are nice that you get 2 days to see the sites. Here’s the link to the ticket site if you are ever interested:

Colosseum Tickets

We did all three sites at once because this was our last full day in Rome. Getting to the Colosseum early before the crowds was essential because we had great views and we could take pictures easily. I think that going here early is key, because within a half hour to 45 minutes the tour groups started pouring in. We did not do a tour but we did buy an audio tour when we got there for 5 euros. I really enjoyed seeing the Colosseum, it was a really cool. It was very pretty and just hard to believe these ancient ruins exist in a city.

After the Colosseum we walked across the way to the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. The Roman Forum was basically an ancient marketplace. Within the forum there were ruins of old government and public buildings.  We walked around and then made our way to Palatine Hill. From what I understand Palatine Hill was the home to many emperors of ancient Rome. It was a desirable place to live and overlooked the forum. The views of the city were fantastic. It was also very cool to see the Colosseum from atop Palatine Hill. We did not explore Palatine Hill as much because we were getting ruined out and we wanted to see more of Rome.

We made our way out of the ruins to look for some lunch. We chose a place called L’Archetto. I was still craving pizza so I ordered a pepperoni pizza, which really turned out to be a cheese pizza with red and yellow peppers on it, haha no pepperoni. So now I know! But it was delicious, much better than the pizza we had the night before. Don ordered what looked like a spaghetti with hot dogs in it. He said he really enjoyed it. It was definitely the best meal so far here in Rome.

After lunch we took the bus so we could get closer to Trevi Fountain. The fountain was so crowded, but it was very beautiful. We took some pictures here and had some gelato.

Then we walked more and found The Pantheon. That was pretty cool and free to enter.

 

After that we kind of just wandered around and ended up looking over the river. We were both getting tired of walking and wanted to find a place to chill. Don looked up a cool bar and so we headed towards it. On the way we found the Piazza Navona, which is a city square with some pretty cool fountains. There are also a lot of restaurants and bars surrounding the Piazza Navona.  We decided to take a rest and have a drink at a place called Caffe Nettuno. It was a nice place to relax for a bit and people watch. On our way out of the square we saw a pretty good Micheal Jackson impersonator.

We were still determined to try out this micro brew bar that Don found so we headed towards that. The place was called My Ale Craft Beer and Food. It was so cute! I tried a Weiss style beer and a Saison Fragola, which was a strawberry flavored beer that was amazing. Don had a scotch ale and a coffee stout. We ordered a meat and cheese tray. Everything was so good! Now this was our favorite place in Rome. The guy working there was pretty nice and he even gave use some free bread later on. If you’re in Rome and you like beer and delicious meats, cheeses, and sandwiches definitely check this place out!

Afterwards we hopped on the city bus again back to the hotel. We went up to the hotel bar to have our free drink. Don had a prosecco and I had a cappuccino. We ate some paninis and played scrabble. It was a really cool place to hang out at the hotel. We then had to get ready and pack to leave for the Cinque Terre.

Italy–Day 1–The Vatican.

Our first day in Italy was good but tiring. We took a direct overnight flight on American Airlines. The flight was good; I tried to sleep but probably only got a couple of hours. We arrived in Rome around 9 am. Getting through customs here was the easiest it’s ever been  anywhere! We didn’t really have to do anything–no paperwork, no computer stuff, no questions–just showed our passports and we were on our way.

Our first mission was to take the train from the airport to city central of Rome. Buying tickets was pretty easy, they have these machines where you can buy them yourself or you can go to a ticket booth. We chose to use the machine and it took a few times because for some reason our credit card wasn’t working.  When we got to the train we at first got on the wrong one. We were sitting there and it wasn’t busy at all and then somehow we realized it was the wrong one and ours was on the other track. We got out and went to our train and crisis was averted. That could have been Amazing Race disaster. We liked to pretend we were on The Amazing Race because we’ve been watching it and all of the traveling made it feel like we were.

Waiting for our train to Roma Termini!

When we got to the city of Rome we walked to our hotel, which was about a 15 minute walk from the Roma Termini Station. We are staying at iQ Hotel Roma. It was great because we got there around 11 am and a room was available for check in. The hotel seems awesome so far, it’s very clean and modern. The hotel staff was very nice and upon check in we got a coupon for a free cappuccino or prosecco.

We got to our room and decided we needed to stay up and keep going so we could get our sleeping on track. The man at our hotel desk gave us directions on how to take the subway to the Vatican so we decided to go there and see what we could see.

The subway was very nice and clean compared to the ones in NYC or Chicago. It was easy to take except for in order to buy a ticket we needed smaller bills because it would only allow 4 euros in change. We were trying to think of what to do but we were in luck because a very nice man saw us struggling and bought us each a ticket. You might be thinking “why not just buy extra tickets to use later?” From what we could see the tickets were only valid for 100 minutes so we didn’t want to buy a bunch and not be able to use them, so it was very nice of the guy to buy us our tickets!

When we arrived at the Vatican the mood changed a bit to more touristy. People were selling things on every corner and other people were trying to get you to go on Vatican tours. We stopped at a little sandwich shop and got our first lunch in Italy. It was pretty good.

Near the sandwich shop we ran into a guide that wanted to take us on a tour. He was offering the walk through part of the museum, Sistine Chapel, and St. Peters Basilica for $55 per person. His group was leaving in 10 minutes and we would also be able to skip the line. We decided to go with him because the line was long and he was ready to go. Could we have done it cheaper? Maybe, but we were here now.

The tour was supposed to be 2 hours, but the tour guide talked a lot. He was very informative and it was interesting but it almost seemed like way too much information, especially on 2 hours of sleep. At one point the guide asked if we wanted to go around the long way or the short way, of course most of the group said the long way. At this point I was so tired and not really feeling this tour.  People were dropping out of the tour left and right to go and do their own thing. It was like a maze though I have no idea how anyone would get around in that place without a guide or a detailed map. The Vatican was beautiful though. It was really amazing. One nice thing about the tour was we each had an ear piece that we could hear our guide speaking in. Here are some pictures.

Our tour guide, outside The Vatican.

Replica of The Vatican.

Don’s favorite painting-The School of Athens by Raphael.

When we were almost to the Sistine Chapel  one of the doors was closed because it was getting late in the day and they wanted to limit traffic. The guide told us he would get us there but he would have to take us around a longer way that would be another 45 minutes. We got to see parts of the museum that are usually not on the tour, but I was fading. Luckily getting to the Sistine Chapel was a breath of fresh air. It was so beautiful! We were not allowed to take pictures but we might have snuck a few.

It was almost 5:30 at this point and the tour had started at 1:30. We ended up not going to St Peters Basilica because it was very crowded and we wanted to take some pictures outside. The outside of the Vatican was very pretty.

 

Now it was time to eat and make our way back to the hotel. We were getting a second wind now but we were tired. We ended up eating at a pizza place called Il Piccolo Pub Bistrot. It was across the street from a pizza place I wanted to try but we couldn’t find at first. This place was ok; the pizza was definitely nothing special. It was nice to sit down though and have a cold beer.

Now it was time to figure out how we could make it back to hotel. We were all walked out and the hotel was about an hour walk away. We were also pretty far from the subway we took earlier, so Don looked at his phone and saw a bus that would take us a block from our hotel. We walked to the bus stop and tried to ask someone how to buy a ticket but he didn’t know. An American couple came to the stop and told us they had just been getting off and on the bus all day. They decided they were going to walk to Trevi Fountain so we decided to try out the bus. Basically what you are supposed to do is buy a ticket at a train stop and then within 100 minutes use it and validate on the bus. The validation machines on the bus are located in the middle and in the back so you can just get on, unlike in Chicago or NYC where you have to get on at the front of the bus and insert your ticket immediately. People would just get on the bus and sit down. We saw one person validate a ticket. So either there is some sort of monthly pass for people or people in Rome never buy bus tickets? I was nervous a ticket person would come on the bus and we would get in trouble but we made it to the hotel. We got back around 8 pm and went to bed. So tired, but good first day in Rome!

Cemetery Tour

Today we got up to get ready for our Cemetery Tour with French Quarter Phantoms. Our tour was at 11 am, so we set out to find some breakfast. We ate at Cafe Fleur-de-Lis. It was pretty much just a standard breakfast diner, but the menu was very small. We both agreed it was not great but we just needed somewhere for food and coffee.

After breakfast we walked over to The Voodoo Lounge to meet up for our tour. Again we were able to get 2 for 1 Hurricanes but we both did not feel like getting them so the bartender offered me an extra large mimosa and Don got a big vodka red bull.

It was a beautiful day, sunny and warm. We met with our tour guide and walked over to St. Louis Cemetery #1 for the tour. The tour was very interesting and we both really enjoyed it. Lots of crazy looking tombs and a lot of history.

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After the tour we walked through Louis Armstrong Park because the guide kept talking about a gumbo festival going on there. It was so crowded though so we didn’t stay long. We were a bit hungry, but we had reservations at Cochon at 4 so we didn’t want to get anything big. We stopped at a hot dog place near the park called Dreamy Weenies for a New Orleans Style Hot Dog. To me they were pretty much just like hot dogs with a million choices in toppings. They were ok for a snack.

After eating we decided to go back to the hotel for a bit because we were so tired. We had a couple of things on our minds that we could do like the WWII Museum or the Insectarium, but we basically just took a nap. Then we got up to go to Cochon. There are too many things to do here so we are gonna have to make a trip back!

Cochon is a highly recommended restaurant in New Orleans so we made sure to make reservations and 4:30 was the only time available. We were able to walk over there and it was good walk. We got to see a different part of NOLA. When we got to Cochon it really wasn’t that crowded. I ordered an old-fashioned and I can’t remember what Don had. The old-fashioned was good, probably the best I had in NOLA. We ordered the fried alligator with chili garlic mayonnaise to start. It was pretty good. For dinner I had the beef brisket and Don had the Louisiana Cochon. We also had the mac and cheese. Overall, we liked Cochon but thought it would be better. Our waiter wasn’t that great and we thought the food would be better. Maybe we went on an off day, but it definitely was not our favorite meal in NOLA. It was worth checking out though.

After Cochon we walked back to the quarter. We went to a few bars, listened to some live music, and then later found a bar with a little balcony that wasn’t crowded so we went to it. It was pretty cool. We felt like at any moment the balcony could break off the building, but it was fun. The waiter talked to us a lot. He told us about Frenchmen Street and we had not been there yet. It was getting late and we had an early flight back tomorrow but we decided to go check it out. It was pretty cool but very crowded. We didn’t stay long…and this concluded our trip to New Orleans. We had a good time!

 

Swamp Tour

Today we had to wake up early for our Swamp Tour that we booked with Cajun Encounters.  The bus picked us up and 8 am and this morning was a little rough for me. There was a Subway across the street from our hotel so we picked up breakfast sandwiches from there. The bus was on time but many of the people were not. The bus driver had a microphone that had the volume turned up way too high and he would yell out people’s names. It was kind of ridiculous. When we finally rounded everyone up we headed towards Honey Island Swamp, it was about an hour drive.

The temperature was only in the 50s in the morning so getting on the boat was a little chilly, especially when the boat started going fast. It was also too cold to see alligators (although we did see a dead one) so that was kind of a bummer but seeing the swamp was cool; I hadn’t really seen a landscape like that yet. It was also crazy to see houses built on the swamp.

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We came across many raccoon families on the swamp and the tour guide fed them marshmallows.

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The Honey Island Swamp Tour was pretty cool. I would recommend it in slightly warmer weather. Once we got back we were really hungry so we decided to go to Mr. Ed’s Seafood and Oyster House. When I asked my friend Amanda for fried chicken recommendations this was one of the places she mentioned. The fried chicken was definitely good. After we ate we walked around a bit and attempted to take the trolley back to the quarter but we waited a long time and just decided to walk. The walk wasn’t too bad.

We walked around the quarter and saw a place called Napoleon House that looked interesting so we went in and had a drink. Their Old Fashioneds were pretty good.  After there we went to Cafe Du Monde for coffee and beignets. I really liked this place and I wasn’t really thinking it would be great but I wish we had time to go back.

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After Cafe Du Monde we wanted to check out Lafitte’s Blacksmith Bar. It is one of the oldest bars in the country. The place looked pretty cool.

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We were pretty tired after a long day so we walked Bourbon Street on the way back to the hotel.

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