The Big Italy Tour

Hello everyone again. It has been half a year since the last time I posted stuff. I’m super busy ever since, but finally I could make some time to talk about what my Italy tour of 7 days at the end of last summer. Starting from Rome, I went to Pompei, Napoli, Florence, Pisa, San Gimignano, Siena, Venice, Bled and Ljubljana (Slovenia), Milan, and finally Como. I’ll try to give out as much details as I can about all the spots and their historical significances.

Day 1
Rome

We left Istanbul Ataturk Airport around 8am in the morning and landed in Rome around 10am. Before checking in to our rooms, first stop was the city center, the place where the iconic Colosseum was located. Also known as the world’s largest open air museum, Rome injects its history of 3000 years on every single step you take. Having an urban population of 2.9 million; there are 280 fountains, 900 churches and one of the first shopping malls of the world, which was built by Emperor Trajan in 107 BC. For us Turkish, there is one real significance though. Rome is the capital of Roman Empire, which reached a complete end when Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II (aka Fatih) conquered Constantinople in 1453, defeating Constantine; the emperor of its eastern extension Byzantine. Constantinople, eventually took the name Istanbul, and it is the largest city in Turkey. In 1870, when Italy was united under one single nation the city takes the title of Capital from Florence as well.

Colosseum

Even though why it was made is still unclear, Colosseum was constructed by Flavius Emperor Vespasian for three probable reasons; elevating popularity of the member of Flavius Empire, holding different entertainment related events, and showing high-tech engineering skills of Romans. Contrarily, it was mainly used to have Gladiator fights, animal hunt and whatnot; killing more than half a million human, and over a million animals since it was built. Having more 80 different gates, Colosseum can accommodate 50k spectators. West Gate is called the Death Gate as fighters who lost their lives were brought out from this exit. Keeping in the mind that there wasn’t much to see inside. The queue at the gate was so long that we didn’t have time to wait and go inside; roamed half an hour around, took a couple of pictures and left.

Trevi Fountain

As one of the most popular iconic spots in Rome, as well as of Italy, Trevi Fountain was our second stop after Colosseum. It’s name is derived from Trevi, which originally means “Three Ways”, and if we dig deeper into it’s history we find out that it comes from the goddess Trivia, who was controlling the three ways that was connected to the fountain. The total money thrown into fountain is €3000 on daily average.

Altar of The Fatherland

Close to Trevi Fountain, Altar of the Fatherland, which is the other tourist attraction with the so-called Venice Square, is a gigantic building of ancient Roman rule, built in memory of the first Italian ruler Victor Emmanuel II. It’s so big that it’s almost impossible to photograph the whole thing standing right in front of it. I could only have picture taken from the roundabout pretty far away from it.

Pantheon

Meaning “honor all Gods” in Greek, was initially built as a temple for all gods, and later was converted to a church. Although the age is unknown, it has one of the biggest domes ever, with 43.3m diameter. The dome helps the front garden receive sunlight during around the times of equinox. Thanks to its slopped design, rain water coming inside can easily leave the building.

Spanish Steps

Spanish Steps are just a couple of minutes walking distance from Pantheon. The total number of steps are exactly 135, but due to elevated drainage system, most perceive it as 136. Designed by an Italian architect, sponsored by a French diplomat, the steps, as well as the square interestingly took their name from the Spanish Consulate in front of. The first McDonald’s in Italy was opened here.

In year 2007, a drunk man tried to drive his Toyota down the steps, but thankfully he was unsuccessful in damaging the 200 year old heritage, except for couple of cosmetic damages.

What did we eat in Rome?

It was 3pm when we finished roaming around Rome. Considering we didn’t have time to eat for long hours around Trevi Fountain, I wanted to go for a quick Ice Cream instead and went into Blue Ice to get one with some Nutella on top. I think Nutella itself explains how delicious it was. In the evening out guide was Foursquare, and we ended up in a restaurant called Da Francesco. I had a four cheese pizza and it was literally delicious. Frankly at first I thought that it was too thin and it wouldn’t satisfy me in any sense, which appeared in a sense very much true. Not that it was very thin but also very tasty, I finished a Margherita pizza by myself just a couple of hours later. Although, the restaurant is pretty small and cosy, and when you look from outside, it’s easy to say that it’s sort of mediocre, but it was packed with people. We were lucky enough to get a table quickly as there were just two of us.

Day 2
POMPEI

On the second day, we left Rome very early in the morning to reach Pompei, which is located 250km to the south. The historical site of Pompei is actually connected to Napoli in terms of municipality and it took its final shape in AD 79, when Mount Vesuvius had a huge eruption and killed 13% of the whole population, leaving a large proportion of the city underground. Pompei was actually a resort town, and it was preferred by Italian elites to spend their summer vacations. Even Emperor Nero is said to have a villa over here. Knowing that city was almost vanished at the time of the eruption, the villas of the city are named after the motives carved and painted on the walls of the houses. Close to the area of villas, there is a brothel, and funnily its direction is shown with a penis symbol on the pavement.

NAPOLI

Right after Pompei, we had a quick lunch in one of the restaurants around; it wasn’t super fancy or tasty in any sense so I’m skipping that part. The tastiest bit was actually in Napoli but I’ll get back to that after talking about the city itself first. Napoli means “New City” in Greek, and it has the third largest population after Milan and Rome. Italians’ saying of “Die after you see Napoli” isn’t so baseless, as the city is considered as UNESCO World Heritage site. The actual reason why they put it that way is because the city is so beautiful that there is nothing else left to see that can top it.

Did you know?

One interesting thing about Napoli is that the world famous Margherita Pizza took it’s name when Queen Margherita Teresa Giovanni visited the city in 1889. It is designed to take Italian Flag colors; basil representing green, tomato representing red, and cheese representing white. The very first pizza restaurant in the world was opened in 1830 in Napoli as well.

To be honest, we didn’t get to eat a pizza in Napoli as we just had two hours, and had to leave back to Rome, but I think we ate something more valuable than that. At the entrance of Umberto I Gallery, there is a little dessert store called Sfogliatella Mary. Sfogliatella is a very tasty Italian dessert that can take you to a whole new level of deliciousness with a single bite, especially when taken from Sfogliatella Mary. There is also another famous dessert, which is called Baba that you can buy with injected liquor, but frankly that’s nowhere near Sfogliatella. If you end up visiting Napoli, better don’t miss the chance of eating one of the tastiest desserts ever.

What did we eat at the second night in Rome?

We were supposed to spend the night at Rome, so we headed back around 6pm from Napoli. Taking ice-creams and desserts of the daytime into consideration, we only had space for drinks. So we found a place called Bar Del Fico, pretty close to Da Francesco of previous night. It’s a small, cosy place which has a large front area connected to the pedestrian walks of Rome. The menu was pretty limited, but I had some sort of pasta and Moscow Mule; they were more than decent.

Day 3
Florence

On Day 3, we left our hotel early in the morning to reach Florence, the city of arts. According to UNESCO, nearly a third of world’s art pieces reside here. Actually you can feel that wherever you turn your head to. To give an idea on the intensity though; a disorder called Stendhal Syndrome (aka Florence Syndrome) has become a phenomenon after the French author Henri Stendhal visited the Basilica of Santa Croce to see the frescoes (wall paintings) and the tombs of some of the best Renaissance figures, in 1817. He described his experience as life draining, followed by a fear of falling. The cause of the disorder is simply being exposed to something of great personal significance, particularly viewing art. Even though whether it really exists is a debate, it is said that the effects of the disorder on some sufferers can go as far as needing to take anti-depressants.

Pıazza del Duomo – Basılıca of Saınt Mary of the Flower

The moment you take a step into the main square of Florence, Basilica of Saint Mary of the Flower welcomes you with its gorgeousness. During the time it was built, it had the title of being the biggest cathedral in the world. Now though, it is the third after St. Peter in Vatican, and Duomo di Milano in Milan. Designed by architect Arnolfo Di Cambio im 1296, the cathedral got full grade from the artists of that time, including Michelangelo.

Pıazza della Sıgnorıa

One of the sweet spots for people of Florence as well as tourists is called Signoria Square that took its name from the huge castle-like building called Signoria Palace. Today this building is a town hall, which has several statues in front that take your attention at the first sight. There are eight of them in total from various world-wide known artists in the history. The David from Michelangelo is also there, but it’s just a replica; the real one resides in the gallery Accademia dell’Arte del Disegno, aka Academy of Design Arts. Besides, there is The Rape of Sabine Women, which reflects the myth that is about mass kidnapping of women by Italian men. That might be the most eye-catching sculpture at the spot, to be honest. While roaming in the evening around Florence, I saw a huge replica displayed at some store, which also had an eye catching €200.000 price tag.

Ponte Vecchıo

Iconic spots in Venice never end, but Ponte Vecchio would definitely top the list if I had to do a ranking among them. Built in 13th century, it was the only bridge connecting two sides of Arno River, and it is the only bridge that survived when Germans bombarding the city in World War I. When you walk on, you can see goldsmiths on both sides of the bridge, as well as two large observation terraces. The best time you can see the bridge from outside is at sunset, from Ponte alle Grazie, which is another bridge a couple of blocks away.

What did we eat in Florence?

For lunch, we went to some place called Trattoria Zaza to have some steaks. It was very satisfactory to be honest. Tuscany area is known for its delicious meat anyway, so frankly it wasn’t a big surprise that the steaks were this good.

Ice cream! After having the steaks we went to a historical ice cream shop called Venchi, and as you can guess, the first bite was sort of stepping into heaven, especially after that steak we had.

In the evening, we wandered around Florence, checking Foursquare and Yelp consistently, but to be honest, the options that came up weren’t super exciting. We went to check out a couple of them but weren’t interested to stay in. Finally we found a place called Rivalta by Arno River, which was a combination of bar and restaurant. Was it amazing? No I can’t say that but the food we selected among their limited menu was decent. Drinks were very good to be honest, enough alcohol involved, a large variety of choice. We found out that the food we call “hamur” or “pişi” cooked by our grannies was served in Italy under the name “Coccoli” in an Italian way; machine made like round shape, and a cool strainer like plate.

Day 4
Pısa

Popular with the tourists getting into various shapes in front of its leaning tower(that includes me), Pisa is actually a city. Next to the leaning tower, there is the baptistery and of course next to it, a cathedral. After a short bus trip from Florence in the morning, we reached the famous Miracoli Square, where you face these three gorgeous buildings. The name actually comes from the Greek word for ”swamp”, so by the time you hear about it, you start to get an idea on why the famous tower is leaning.

Pisa Tower, Leaning Tower of Pisa; aka Pisa Bell Tower

Although the real architect is unknown, the tower is said to be designed by two architects; Bonanno Pisano and Gherardo din Gherardo. Calculations of the time it was built didn’t involve a thorough assessment of the land, and even though they decided to make the upper levels narrower -as the tower was leaning- they couldn’t prevent this huge building from leaning 1 to 2mm every year. Many architects made countless calculations to stop the leaning for year but they weren’t pretty successful, and that’s why right tip of the top is 5 meters further than the bottom of the same side. In 2008 though, they finally found the solution to stop the leaning, and the tower hopefully, is stabilized forever.

San Gımıgnano

After getting into various shapes in front of the leaning tower, our next stop was San Gimignano, which was located in between Florence and Siena cities. As a UNESCO world heritage site, it carries remains of Gothic and Romanesque architecture. 72 towers were built due to Aristocratic families trying to show their wealth, though, only 14 could survive the wars. No matter barbaric raids, the city didn’t lose a bit from its gorgeousness; the beauty almost rules the area from the hill it is located. The genuine historic feeling you get from the very first stop you take in can’t be described with words, got to live it.

A couple of “tasties” from San Gimignano

Riccapizza: There is a cosy, little pizzeria on the right while walking up the hill from the main gate side. Long queues in front as pizzas are considerably tasty. Choose your taste of two slices pizza and soft drink, and bon appetit.

Dondoli: Another spot with a long queue in front. Although you have to wait 15min to get the first bite of the ice cream; it’s well worth it. Offering countless tastes of ice cream, it is no surprise that the chief cook Sergio is among the referees of World Ice Cream Championship.

Sıena

Siena was the stop after Dondoli’s tasty ice cream. Added to UNESCO World Heritage sites in 1995, accomodates 53.000 citizens in its 17 different districts. Among the districts, there is a huge competition and every year on July 2 and August 16 city square Piazza Del Campo hosts horse race called Palio. Pre-requisites for being a member of a certain district involves being born in that district our having some sort of blood tie or good relations with someone from there. The competition is so fierce that at least one of the married couples need to go back to family house/district and stay there on the race day. Besides, the race isn’t all about winning; it is to block the rival winning as well. Though, only 10 of the 17 districts race for the title, and each and every district have a certain rival that is defined. Winner has its flag hanged out of balconies for weeks.

I wasn’t there for the race, but the stories we heard were very much interesting. The second highest bell tower in Italy also resides here.  It is small but a very interesting place with its discrete historical texture, as well as various shops targeting different scales of economic status.

So this day of Pisa, San Gimignano, and Siena was finally over. Late in the evening, we reached our hotel in Venice, but I was so tired that I literally fell on the bed after a couple of drinks.

Day 5
Venice

Venice, as one of the most beautiful cities on earth, was of course one of the most important as well as beautiful spots of the whole trip as well. Composed of 117 islands on a lagoon with houses built on wooden blocks, it wouldn’t be unfair to say it’s one of a kind. As our hotel was outside the mainland of Venice, we reached the shore by boat, from the side that has the statue of Victor Emmanuel II, pretty much the same one that we saw in front of Altar of the Fatherland in Venice Square, Rome. After passing two bridges to left from where we landed, we reached San Marco and San Todaro Columns, which are the gates to the center of Venice; Piazza San Marco, or San Marco Square as in English.

San Marco and San Todaro Columns

Entering the city from the seaside, two gorgeous columns welcome you. Named as San Marco and San Todaro columns, these are said to be sent by Emperor Constantine of Byzantine Empire, for the help they received from Venetians during the war they had with Phoenicians in 12th century. So the columns are actually sent from Constantinople, which today, is the largest city of Turkey, Istanbul. Lacking the equipment needed to bring the columns to the land, Venetians capsize one of the ships that were bringing the three columns initially gifted to them. Having successfully brought the other two on land, Venetians lose their interest in the columns as these are thought to have lost their charm as one were missing. Also the only technology they were lacking wasn’t about bringing the columns to the shore. Engineering skills needed to erect the columns wasn’t there as well. After years of debates and trials, an architect called Nicolo Barattieri was able to erect these columns in return for holding gambling games in between the columns. Although his business was a big hit, it came to an end as the government was unhappy about what was going on, and decided to do the executions of the time between the columns, and hang the bodies there for a certain amount of time.

The Winged Lion

Symbol of the city. Wherever you go in Venice, you can see figures of the Winged Lion, which became the symbol when in AD 828, Venetian traders brought the corpse of Evangelist St. Mark back to Venice. The actual reason for winged lion to become the symbol for St. Mark is that lion, as an animal, is very strong, brave, and shrewd.

After all these brief but interesting information about the trip, I would like to continue with the rest of it. We entered the main square passing by the church to the right of the columns and consequently entered the narrow street of Venice. The apartments don’t even have names. We heard that mailmen having a lot of trouble finding who to hand in the documents they are supposed to. We roamed around for a while, ate nice Italian sandwiches on the way and then hopped on one of the gondolas as another symbol of the city. The place where gondolas leave is 100m to the left of the square when you have the church St. Mark at your back. The interesting design, which is led by large portion at the back of the gondola isn’t just a coincidence; it is to balance the boat when gondolier hops on. The S like front represents the Big Channel, and figure on top represents a duke hat. Years of men hegemony in gondoling didn’t stop Giorgio Boscolo, the very first female gondolier ever in Venice, from passing the hard tests. A new era started for gondoling with her feminine touch in year 2010.

Caffe Florıan

The first Cafe in history, which dates back to 1720 is called Caffe Florian and you can find it right at the square. When the weather is nice, there is non-stop live music going on that takes you to 18th century with the sounds of those years. You can enjoy the music with a great coffee accompanied by a delicious dessert, while watching people roaming around the square. A quick notice; this joy comes with a €6 per person music fee added to the bill.

Murano

After Venice main island, we took a boat to another little island called Murano, 1.5km away from Venice City. The island is famous for its glassware, and after a short show of how they make all the art made of glass, you reach the shop of all the products. Contribution to Italian economy sort of stuff as you can guess; in any tour you have such thing anyway, so in Italy this was it. To be honest, this sort of stuff don’t attract me too much, so I’m just posting some picture and moving on.

Burano

Photography lovers, Instagrammers, selfie addicts buckle up… This is just the right place for y’all. Accommodating houses of various neon colors, the little island Burano is actually a Fisherman’s village… You easily get that influence when you see the little boats parked by the narrow canals in front of the colorful houses. The main reason why these houses are so colorful is that when the storm hits the area, it makes things much easier for the fisherman when trying to see their houses from the sea, or even from the land; the storm hits pretty bad. When I was walking around, it was cloudy and there was just light showers. After I finished walking around, thunderstorms cut in and I found myself in a restaurant called Galuppi, which was ran by an Asian lady. Can’t recommend it but under that rain, I had no option. At least by the time I sat there, I knew why fishermen needed the houses to be colored this catchy. After having sort of a lunch there, it was pretty obvious that the rain wasn’t gonna reach an end, so  we all had to run to our boat, and in that 5 minutes we were literally soaked; I mean like if I swam with clothes on. Was truly an interesting experience, I have to say.

Day 6
Bonus: Slovenia

After spending the night close to Venice -not truly Venice to be honest- we were back on the roads in the morning. A day trip to Slovenia to score one more country, as well as putting a Slavic flavor on top of the cake seemed like a fair deal. Even though we couldn’t spend much time, it was nice to see both Lake Bled and the city Bled settled around it. Of course, Ljubljana too. Not to forget, we stopped at a small cafeteria called Dawit right before reaching the border. Having a coffee with their amazing desserts that early in the morning was just the perfect combination to start the day.

Bled

With no doubt, Bled is the most attractive spot of all Slovenia. It is also the place where this little country that has a very short coast has its only island located. The island can only be reached on small boats called Pletna that have traditional looks with stripes. I think the meaning of these boats for Slovenians is the same as Istanbul Islands’ boats for Istanbul citizens. Better check those out if you haven’t been to Istanbul yet.

The island has a famous church on top. To reach it though, one needs to walk up 99 steep steps. Some say, to guarantee a happy marriage, groom is supposed to carry his bride all the way up these steps. After walking for half an hour around the lake, we reached the main square. One of the funny facts about my “Big Italy Tour” was Bled of Slovenia taking the top of the list of all the places I have visited during the trip. Bled Castle, not to forget, is also another worthy spots of the area, but we decided to spend the time eating in a restaurant called Restavracija Panorama, which as you can guess is just by the lake and you have a very nice view while having your food. To be honest, considering it was right at the entrance of the lake, I thought it would be a tourist rip off. Apparently it wasn’t. The food was very tasty and fairly priced. Having finished our lunch by the nice and calming view of the lake we headed to Ljubljana. Hoping to see Bled on a sunnier day though.

Ljubljana

We could only spent two hours in Bled to be honest. What caught my attention the most, frankly, was the beauty of the girls. They were all blonde, white skined, colored eyes and whatnot. Pure Slav beauties to cut the long story short. Prešeren Square is the center of downtown, as it is the place where all music, sports, politics events are held. You can see Ljubljana Castle up on the hill when you walk across a short bridge nearby. As for many of the countries you can have all the city below if you have the stamina and time to walk up there. We decided to have beers at a pub called Slovenska Hisa located by the river passing from the city center, and went back to our hotel in Venice.

Day 7
Mılan

So very early next morning, for the last bit, we headed to Milan. Reached the city center around noon. Again as a ritual, we didn’t have much time to hang around. In a couple of hours that we had, we hanged around the gothic church called Duomo di Milano; the one you can see in each and every album of Milan pictures. Of course, like in all the Italian cities, the square is also named after the church. This place, to be honest, is like a meeting spot for all the tourists from around the Italy. The time you reach the church, there is a huge Victor Emmanuel II statue. When you leave it to your back, there is a shopping arcade named after him as well. The dome inside the arcade, with the combination of glass and iron structure, looks identical to the one we saw in Pantheon. Known as the first shopping mall in history, the arcade also accommodates the very first seven star hotel called Town House.

There are a bunch of shops inside including ice-cream, pizzeria, goldsmiths and whatnot. If you exit the place from the opposite side of Duomo, a Leonardo Da Vinci monument welcomes you. The idea of this monument dates back to 19th century, and realization of it is thanks to the result of an art contest. Not to forget, Victor Emmanuel II street is the one that connects the main roads to Duomo Square, and to the parallel, Monte Napoleone is the street where the stores for luxury brands such as Moncler, Armani, LV and so on reside. Also many luxurious cafes are also located around this area.

What did we eat and drink in Milan?

When we were free in the daytime, we ate at a place called Bar Madonnina, which was a decent cafe/restaurant located on Victor Emmanuel II street. Other than that, we had ice-cream at Vanilla Gelati, which was just a result of a long queue in front of the shop. It was above decent, and I can definitely recommend.

At night, we had drinks nearby Duomo, where Aperol and Martini were located. Now you might be wondering whether these were alcohol names or not… Well yes, they are, but they are also bars located in 100m distance from each other. They only serve the drinks of the brand that align with the name of the bar. At least they don’t serve the drinks of the rival brand across the street. Aperol closes down at 11pm, whereas Martini closes down at 2am. Frankly these places are well below the line, and the music is nothing better than Despacito level. I can’t recommend, and worse than that, I can’t tell you what is better than this, as I didn’t have tim to go deep into its nightlife.

Como

Late in the afternoon, we headed to Como; an upper tier city by the Swiss border. After an hour of ride, we reached a very small, but cozy city that has a lake with the same name. Behind the lake, there is a long street as the hottest spot of the city, where you can find bunch of restaurants, shops, and all that. Actually there are a couple of streets to the parallel with the same concept. They are like the start line of Como trip, as they are located by the valley among the hills surrounding lake Como. The city starts here. This main street and Como lake is connected to each other by the narrow way that connects Como to Milano. So after roaming around the shops and cafes, we reached our boat waiting to take us around Lake Como, which is the deepest lake of Europe with 425m depth.

Located in the valley surrounded by the hills of Como, the lake is also surrounded by the villas situated one after another on different parts of the slopes. Actually this is the place where villa culture first emerged. It is so famous that it’s hard to make sole relation to Italian high society; rich people from around the world mostly have villas here. George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Antonio Banderas, David Beckham, Catherine Zeta Jones all have villas here. It’s not only home to the stars of Hollywood, but also their movies. Casino Royale, Ocean’s 12, Star Wars II are just a few of the popular movies that had scenes filmed in Como.

After our short tour on the lake, we went back to the southern tip. Gotta talk about the funicular going up one of the hills taking our attention on the way back as well though. Opened in 1894, this means of transportation taking people from the tip of the lake all the way to the top is very much attractive even when seen from the lake. The steep ride used to be fired up with the steam, which changed to electricity in year 1911, and operating using electricity power since then.

What did we eat in Como, what did we drink?

Had exactly 45min in Como to spend after the boat trip. We found a very cosy place, called Panino Buono, and it was as cosy as Como I would say. Located on the road that follows the main road along the lake. Ordered drinks and a nice plate of deli stuff that could accompany red wine just perfectly. It was also one of the greatest ends to the trip I could think of; a beautiful city, fair alcohol, tasty food, and an amazing sunset. The waiter appeared to be Turkish as well, which made it like a golden shot. The young guy called Şevket was born in Como, and he had been living over there for sometime. He was a very warm guy and gave his best to treat us as good as he possibly could. Anyway, after all this greatness, the trip was finally over. I think I couldn’t have made more out of the limited time.

Hope you liked all of what I wrote. For all your questions and whatnot, you can either e-mail me over bt@berkaytekin.com, or use the + button right at the top left to contact me through my social media accounts.

Till next post, ciao!