Walking Through History
- + 32
Italy, Greece, Vatican City15 days / July 2014
Highs & Lows
Seeing all the amazing monuments.
Getting a little sleepy because of the sun.
This trip was an amazing surprise for a family celebration, and we made sure to make the most of every day we got to be there. We started by flying from home to Rome, via Paris where we got to walk around for approximately 6 or 7 hours, which was a great start and made us tired enough to be able to sleep right away when we got to Rome around 10 pm, this way we got very adjusted to the time difference. Here we stayed at the Hotel PortaMaggiore, that was located, as its name says, right by the ruins of the Porta Maggiore and the aqueducts. This was a great hotel, with nice restaurants nearby and a trolly and bus stop practically in front. The first day in the city was one of the most memorable for me. We woke up early in the morning and dedicated the first part of the day to discover the Coliseum and the Roman Forum. I could not believe my eyes when I saw the Coliseum in front of me, I had learned so much about it and seen it in movies that it was astounding to actually be standing in front of it. I felt like I was literally walking on top of years and years of history, this was a feeling that accompanied me throughout the city and the trip itself. After we had gone around the Forum and thoroughly enjoyed each corner, we stepped out and had our first Italian pasta, which was incredible. After this, we took the rest of the afternoon to walk through the streets, happily stumbling onto who knows how many beautiful squares with incredible fountains filled with magic and history, like Piazza del Popolo, Piazza di Spagna which is known for its famous Spanish Steps, or Piazza Navona. This was an amazing way to get to know Rome, walking every corner and just enjoying the magnificent city. By late afternoon the sun was still up high since it was summer, so the light was amazing while we reached Vatican City for the first time, giving us a feeling of expectation since we were walking by Castel Sant’Angelo. Piazza San Pietro is beyond anything else, in magnitude and in beauty itself, its columns are incredible and give you a feeling of protection. After walking around Vatican City, we moved over to Trastevere, where we found another great restaurant and ended the night with the music coming from all around us and amazing pasta. Most days were like these, walking endlessly through the city, making sure we visited every museum, and every piazza we could find. We walked by the Pantheon, went into the Victor Emmanuel monument, the Arch of Constantine, and every single day we ate amazing food, mostly ranging from pasta to pizza, but managing to include tacos one night. The only place we regret not seeing fully is the Trevi Fountain, which was being restored at that time.
While in Rome, we took a couple of days to visit Vatican City, walking over one day to enjoy the Saint Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museum, which includes the incredible Sistine Chapel; a detail we hadn’t been aware of then was that legs and arms had to be almost completely covered for all visitors, so we had to make a quick outfit adjustment. These places were filled with art and you won’t know where to look because of the many many interesting things. It was truly an incredible experience. The second time we visited the Vatican was on Sunday to listen to the Angelus, when the Pope will come out to a balcony over the square and talk to the enormous crowds that gather there from all around the world. This visits just made Rome better and more special. Another chance we took while in Rome was to visit Ostia Antica, a small city just a short bus or train ride away from Rome that is known for being an archeological site, where you can walk among the ruins and enjoy the history near the Tiber.
Once our time was up in Rome, we took a train to our next stop: Florence. Many cities are described as beautiful, but there was something in Florence that left all the others behind, its architecture standing out and filled with beautiful spots that will make you remember every second in this city. While we stayed in the city, we slept at an amazing Airbnb, a great two-story apartment with kitchen, two rooms and even a washing machine. It was amazing, even though we didn’t use it as much, and it was located at a great point of the city, just a few blocks away from the Duomo, and from great streets filled with shops and restaurants. Florence is the home town to many of the greats minds of Italy regarding art in general, such as Dante, Michelangelo, Donatello and the great scientist Galileo; this means that the city is filled with their work and if you’re a fan of any of Florence’s notable residents you should look up any of the museums you’ll find for any of them. We walked the city all we could, stopping by the Palazzo Vecchio for its amazing art, the Ponte Vecchio for its stores, sitting by the Palazzo Pitti, and glancing around the Uffizi. The days were running out fast and there was an enormous amount of places and things to see, we were so thrilled with everything that we even took up to climb up the hill to reach Piazzale Michelangelo for its amazing view of the entire city, just a few hours before we had to catch our next train. Then, running down to the train station we even stopped to marvel at the Church of Santa Maria Novella right in front. By what I consider a miracle, we still caught our train on time and were off once again.
This time we were heading to Milan but stopping for most of the day at Pisa. From the moment we got off the train at Pisa we were practically running, doing our best to see the most that we could. We sped through the streets with our bags behind us until we reached the Leaning Tower and the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, the two most famous destinations in the city. The first thing we did was take a picture of each of us holding the Leaning Tower of course. Once we went around the whole thing, we took a short break for lunch anywhere we could find and continued to walk by the Square of Miracles and its Monumental Cemetery. Even though our time was a bit short and we weren’t able to visit any museums or monuments themselves, we were able to walk in front of many of them, like the Palazzo dei Cavalieri and the Guelph Tower by the banks of the Arno River. Right after that we were running back to the station once more to catch our train.
We stayed in Milan for 3 nights at the Hotel Club, just a few minutes’ walk from Piazzale Loreto. This metropolitan city was absolutely different from the rest of places we had visited so far, giving the feeling of a modern city more than a historic one as the others had been so far. While we were there, we met a few friends and did mostly what they suggested, all great ideas. We started at the Milan Cathedral at the self-named Piazza del Duomo, adoring the gothic styled architecture and walking the square all around it. Not that far away we walked through the Grand Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, staring at the shops that stand where a museum should be by the beauty of it. On our many walks we walked by the Opera de La Scala, one of the most famous theaters in the world and we were lucky enough to coincide with the day of free entrance to the Museum of Modern Art in the city, an unexpected but great find, if not for the art itself, for its view. Along with all of these, we stopped for dinner a couple of day on small streets to try out happy hours, in which you just needed to order a drink and then the restaurant would start bringing out small dishes for you to try, it was amazing. This city was an absolute change from everything else in the trip.
Once again, we rode a train to our next destination, this time Verona. We went to Verona because of the fuss around Juliette’s house and the movie Letters to Juliette, which showed a pretty Italian town that went around the house. From the train station we walked to our hotel, Hotel Fiera and then walked a few minutes to Porta Nuova, the entrance to the city so to say. The further in we walked the more surprised we were of the greatness of this place. It was beautiful and amazing, and we hadn’t even seen one sign saying Juliette. We kept on walking until we reached the Arena di Verona, when we had to stop to marvel at it all and let ourselves be surprised. The Arena was surrounded with props and scenography for an opera and it was simply magical. The days we were there we took it upon us to visit everything we could, Castle Vecchio, Piazza Delle Erbe with its great restaurants, and of course the Casa di Giulietta, which was very beautiful but not the most incredible thing in this city. This was a very pleasant surprise and we fell in love with the city from the first moment we saw it.
The last train we took on this trip was to Venice, the amazing water city. There is nothing like the feeling of walking out of Venice’s Santa Luzia and seeing all the water and the boats for the first time, the lack of streets and cars is just marvelous. From there we walked to our hotel, the Marte e Biasin which is right in front of one of the canals, small rooms, and a lot of stairs but a view that is worth it. The thing I remember the most from our first day in Venice is that some of the streets were filled with water and we chose to go walking with our sandals instead of regular shoes. This took us all the way to Saint Marc’s Square where we stood on the puddles as we looked at the amazing Basilica and sat by the Campanile, watching people walk by and birds fly down. One of the greatest views was to see a cruise cover the entire view of the water by the square as it went by, sailing by taller than most buildings. This city is like a dream and it is filled with culture and art of so many types, like the originality of the mask makers shops on tiny streets lost in the maze that is the city. We walked by Ponte di Rialto and ate by the canal, looking at the boats and gondolas going by; later on, we rode both of them. Walking by the Bridge of Sighs while eating gelato is one of life’s great experiences, and this trip was filled with them. One of the amazing opportunities we had while in this city, was to be able to attend an Opera concert in a small theater, where they sang various pieces from famous operas. Still, the best thing for me was to sit by the end of San Giorgio Maggiore island with our feet on the water and watch the boats go by the Saint Marc’s Square right across.
This time instead of a train we took an airplane, all the way to Athens. Once we left the airport we rode a bus for about half an hour that took us to the center of the city; this meant driving by a lot of weird looking places with signs we didn’t understand which left us a little bit disoriented after being in Italy for so long. We reached the city center and looked around in wonder for a moment, marveling at all the buildings around us before taking a taxi to the hotel, the Achillion Hotel. Once we were installed, we decided to walk out the hotel and were really confused by everything, it seemed like a maze and we were starting to get nervous about getting lost. This was until we walked onto a square and out of the corner of our eyes spotted Acropolis up on the hill. This moment everything simply faded into the background and we simply stared. This ended up being the Monastiraki Square, one of the most scenic squares in the city, filled with commerce, a flea market, and restaurants. We ate great food and walked through the flea market and some antique stores until it was dark. The next days were dedicated to exploring the temples around the city, like the Temple of Hephaestus, the Temple of Olympian Zeus, and finally deciding to climb up the hill to the Acropolis, to visit the magnificent Parthenon, the Erechtheion and the Virgins Temple. The Acropolis is something beyond anything I’ve ever seen and felt. You could feel the energy of thousands of years there and simply know the importance of this place to culture. It feels like something bigger culturally. After visiting the actual site, we visited the Acropolis Museum, an incredible building filled with history. Another of the amazing spots in Athens for me was visiting the National Library, which you can only see from outside actually, which is lined up with the Academy of Athens and a couple of great museums. You can actually go into a couple of rooms in the Academy of Athens and it’s almost the same as a museum, filled with history and with great art in form of murals around the rooms. This city is truly incredible and holds more history in one corner than many others in their entirety.
While staying in Athens, we took a couple of days to stay at one of the islands: Santorini. We took a ferry boat from the docks in Athens and enjoyed a long journey to the island, stopping at many others before. The amazing thing about arriving at Santorini is that you’ll see a high island of rock with a white line at the top, which looks like snow but obviously can’t be; only when you get closer will you notice that the white line is actually the houses all around the city. Once we got off the boat, we took a short bus ride up to Thera (also known as Fira), here we walked the streets for a while looking for our hotel, the Aquarius. Once we left our bags we walked over to the center of Thera, amazed by the constant view and the great little stores that were all around. Here we enjoyed every second of it, specially watching the long sunset over the edge of the island, marveling at the sky turning deep orange and pink for at least half an hour or more. Seeing that we had walked all throughout Thera the first day, we chose to rent a small car so we could drive around the island the next day. It was incredible to see all the little towns in the island, all absolutely white and magnificent. We were even able to head down to a nice beach and walk along the water. This island was great, and we had a lot of fun driving around and walking through the towns, listening to the history of the island and the theories of it being the place where Atlantis used to stand. This was definitely the best way to end our trip before returning to Athens by boat, and then on a long flight home via Rome and Miami.
Q & A
What would you have changed?
I would prep everything with a little more time, to investigate about the cities and pinpoint what places I want to visit and have more time in each city.
Anything go wrong during the trip?
Nothing really, maybe getting a little seasick on the ferry.
How was the food?
Great places of all types, you’ll definitely try great pasta and pizza; the food in Greece is amazing as well.
What tips would you give a friend?
Check what places you want to visit in each city beforehand, so you don’t miss anything.
It’s really hot so you should definitely pack lightly and some good shoes, there’s a lot of walking to do.
I am a fan of walking, so mainly that; besides that, maybe buses and boats when needed.
I make most of my reservations on Expedia or directly on the hotel websites.