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The trip of a lifetime: Recommendations for Rome, Florence, and Venice

Heaven is real, and it’s in Venice…

Article by Evacheska DeAngelis

Note from Flav: Sometimes in life we are lucky enough to find family outside of the group of people whose last name and blood we share, so in this case it’s a particular honor for me to post an article written by my sister, a piece of writing not only gorgeous in its expression but one that will also be really helpful for you guys coming to visit the Eternal City. Filled with advice and recommendations for Rome, Florence, and Venice, this one is a must-read!

We also want to thank our friends at The Roman Guy for setting Evacheska up with a life-changing, whirlwind tour of Venice. TRG is one of our favorite tour guide companies: to learn more about them, you can read Evacheska’s experience right here, check out the TRG website, and then head on over to Flavia’s review of her experience with them during a Colosseum Dungeons tour.

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With every birthday, I can’t help but feel that the older I’ve gotten, the more “me” I’ve become. Age has never been anything but a number to me, but aging (in the non-American, stigmatized, wrinkle-faced sense of the word) has always felt like an evolution, a path to peeling back the layers of my true self. This year in particular has been paramount in this exploration of me. And so, as I approached my 30th birthday, with a year of dark heartbreak, defined discovery, brightly shining liberation behind me, and a world of adventure ahead, I knew that I had to go home to truly allow for this experience to come to its fruition in the most natural way.

I’m born and raised just outside of San Francisco, California, and right now am residing in LA, but when I say “home”, I mean the Eternal City; a Roma. Rome has always felt like home in some strange way that I can’t explain. From the first time I stepped off the plane in my early 20s (albeit a bit bitter it’d taken me so long to get there), there was something that caused me to feel rooted, finally, for the first time in my life. The streets are intuitive, and with every visit it calls to me more, as though my hands are tracing the body of my soulmate, my fairy tale love. But this trip was so much more than just a trip home. It was a confirmation of who I am, an understanding of the things that have contributed to the person I am and am continuing to become, and proof that love exists, without abandon, without judgment.

We started in Monti, Rione I (the first official “neighborhood” established in Rome, in the 18th century). AirBnB is an amazing way to travel and feel like a local, and that’s exactly what we did. The apartment was all of 300 square feet, and this princess was in complete heaven. Quick shower, and we were off – the Colosseo first on the list. I do my best to walk everywhere in Rome, and the Colosseo, in all its breathtaking might, is a stone’s throw from Monti, with the Roman Forum conveniently on the way. Step outside, take a breath in 90+ degree weather: smells like pizzette and history and culture, which let me tell you, certainly does not smell the same as Los Angeles (PHEW!).

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The first week in Rome is a blur of steps; over 24,000 a day, in fact. Exploring my favorite landmarks and seeing that which I’ve never seen before. Have I walked by the Forum before? Yes. Have I been into it? This was my first time, and damn did we make the most of it. Walked the steps and platforms and nooks and crannies; touched walls that were once covered in multicolored marble built by Rome’s first Emperor, Augustus.

Rome is the perfect combination of home, history, art, and, of course, it wouldn’t be Italy without the food. I ate the best lobster of my life at Le Mani In Pasta, and if you get a seat by the kitchen you can watch the small kitchen staff (lead chef, sous, and appetizers – and ONE guy cleaning dishes) execute with such skill and precision. Handmade pasta, fresh seafood (the sea bass crudo with tartufo – truffle – had so much truffle that in California I’d see $75 listed as the price for that appetizer without blinking), and meat prepared to perfection; you can’t go wrong and I made up my mind on the first night that I’d have to go back before I left Italy.

Walking around in sheer excitement, exploration and lack of schedule, it’s a must to stop into a “bar” for pizzette and supplì (similar to arancini, but far better, in my opinion), and every bite is so good my mouth waters just thinking of it as I write.

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We go to San Pietro, and the obnoxious tour guides pushing their over-priced tours are in our faces so much we skip the church and opt for, shockingly, homemade pasta and a bottle of spumante. We make it a point to engage in genuine conversation with the people we come across. “Sei Italiana!” they say to me. And in my broken Italian I respond, “yes, but no, but YES!” What am I trying to say? That I am of this land, that I feel at home, and yet I’m so foreign here… We spend a week in Monti. Being a local, living the life I’ve craved for so long with 10pm dinners that last until 2am, and early mornings where the streets feel like my own…

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After a week, we head to Termini and  hop a train to Firenze, watching the countryside through the windows as we go, piqued with anticipation for something brand new. And we arrive. Gone are the days of familiarity and the feeling of home. It’s familiar, but in a different way. Thank goodness for Il Salviatino, easily one of the best hotels I’ve stayed at in my life. Overlooking all of Florence, the view of the city is breathtaking, and the cocktails and service are delightful (lest I forget the 1000-square-foot room and gigantic king-sized bed that makes me feel even more like a true principessa).

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We walked the city, we saw Michelangelo’s Il Davide, we made lifelong friends, Sara and Alessandro, at Oliandolo, a small restaurant on a side street just steps from the Duomo. I even made it to the Gucci Museum, indulging myself in historical facts of a timeless brand, and of course, drooling over Tom Ford’s influence…but that’s a different story, for a different time.

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Our time in Firenze was just a flash in the pan, and we were off to Venezia – and this is where everything would change.

The entire train ride I was riddled with confusion: How do we get to the hotel? I don’t understand…my GPS says it will take hours to walk there, and I’ve got luggage! What do we do? And then, as I walked out of the train station and saw Venezia, I let go of it all. The sun shone on the surface of the aquamarine water in a way I’d never seen. I saw a sign that said, “Taxi” and made a beeline. This was no ordinary taxi, it was a boat! Immediately, I’m overcome with emotion. Seeing a city that I’ve only seen through pictures and oil paintings done by my grandmother long after she moved from Italy to California, and used art as her outlet to reminisce of her home. There’s not a car in sight, no, no cars allowed here. Taking in the surreal sights, we’re dropped near our hotel, quickly leave our stuff, and rush to our Venice tour.

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We meet Chiara in Piazza San Marco, looking only for her “The Roman Guy” sign, unprepared for the wealth of knowledge this immensely friendly, tiny in stature but certainly not in personality, woman came equipped with. We begin our walk, about a hundred feet to Saint Mark’s Basilica. A structure that was built in the year 823. Yes, 823. Though it was burned down, as Chiara told us, it was restored in 978 and then again around 1060, and this is the structure we know today. We walk in, and she tells us about the walls and the mosaics. Thousands upon thousands of glass and gold sandwiched tiles create the most exquisite images. There are no cameras allowed inside, so we have no photos. Chiara shows us the floors, and the drainage system, shares with us that when the tide comes in, temporary walkways are built to allow those entering and exiting the church to avoid the high waters. She takes us up a hot, narrow, steep staircase. “Please be careful, stay to your right. They added the gripping on the stairs because of how many people have fallen,” she says. “Imagine how many priests may have fallen, and yet there are no records of any of this.” We get to the top, and faint music fills our ears. Acapella, perfect harmonies, bouncing off the walls and filling the space … a children’s choir happens to be singing as if welcoming us to the top of the church. I pause to look down, stunned by the beauty, amazed by all that surrounds us, simply taking in the vast scape of this ancient stunner. I lose myself as I look over the balcony watching the children sing, I get teary, ignore my tour group and just stand there and listen. I’m brought back to reality when I hear Chiara’s voice in my ear talking about horses. Horses? In a church? Walking a few feet I see the group crowded around the Horses of Saint Mark-Lysippos. As Chiara shares the history of the horses with us, I am blown away. They’re how old? Potentially as old as the 2nd century AD—my jaw drops. There are four horses, made almost 100% of copper, and they are so detailed one might think that this is some bizarre form of metallic taxidermy. They were brought to Italy in the early 1200s and are not outside as they once were, as the copper is sensitive to the air and they need to be protected from the elements.

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Chiara takes us outside to the balcony, where we overlook Piazza San Marco. She shares that this is the only Piazza in Venice, while the rest are called campi (fields). Chiara tells us about Saint Mark’s Clock, the Torre dell’Orologio, and the kid in me who just loves to know how everything works is so excited to learn that THIS clocktower is the world’s first digital clock. I know, you’re thinking those super cool Casio watches from the 80s, right? Nope, this is way more badass than that. First of all, it’s freaking huge, and was built in the 1400s, unlike your favorite Casio. Secondly, it’s topped by two men made of bronze, who are moved by gearshifts that bring them to strike the clock bell on the hour, every hour. We stand there and watch the clock strike 3pm.

Then, somewhat unwillingly, we make our descent, travel through the beauty of the lowest level of the church, and then we’re on to the next adventure. We go to the water and walk right onto a boat. Everyone sits, we stand—there’s no way I’m sitting for this experience. I’m like a better version of Leo in Titanic because my life is just getting started. We tour the canals as Chiara tells us with passion and excitement the history of everything we pass. From the Aman Canal Grande, where George Clooney got married, to the Rialto Bridge, which is the oldest bridge across the canal, and, while under restoration, is still amazing and iconic to lay eyes on. Chiara tells us that there are 117 islands that make up Venice, and we are just seeing some of them this afternoon as we cruise through the canals and the lagoon. The sun feels amazing and between the warmth and the sights and the knowledge I feel a sense of euphoria. Vacation AND learning?! Heaven is real, and it’s in Venice. My mind is still blown that there are no cars – even the simplest deliveries happen via boat. We see the carabinieri, the police, on boats, as well as the ambulanza, the ambulance, and DHL – the delivery service, in all its yellow and red glory, just like the trucks at home. And throughout all this, the water shines like semi-precious stones glittering in the sunlight and carrying us through these historical streets of water.

We disembark and begin the walking portion of our tour, but first, gelato! We need sustenance if we’re going to walk around in the hot sun, of course, and what’s better than this creamy, sugary, cold sweetness. And we’re off. Learning about the different dialects of the Venetian people. They speak Italian, but they also speak Veneto, which is a mix of Italian, slang, and some Latin. They also shorten the word calle (street) to be ca’ – no wonder this all sounds new to me. What little Italian I’d understood in Rome and even in Florence seems far away, and I’m listening more to nuances now than words to fill in the blanks. We walk through Dorso Duro, and see where people work, and live, and play … and as if Chiara called them on cue, university students come rushing down the street, loud and joyful, and one is dressed as Cupid with a wreath around his head and carrying the words of a sonnet or poem. This is apparently a tradition for those who graduate: they sing raunchy songs and dare the person they’re celebrating to engage strangers in their silly debauchery. Chiara seems a bit embarrassed, but also chuckles as she walks us to a campo: this one actually looks like a field as it is overrun with weeds, such an interesting juxtapose with the narrow stone walkways and canals right next to it. Chiara tells us about the wells here that were once used to collect rainwater so that the locals could have fresh water to drink.

Our tour is coming to en end, and she recommends a place right around the corner where we can get some ciccheti (a type of Venetian tapas), and my mouth waters, but I’m not done yet! It’s over? I wasn’t ready. I don’t want Chiara to leave. I’d forgotten this was her job, and just felt like she was a new friend who loved her hometown and couldn’t stop talking about it. I wanted to get a drink with her, to learn more, hear more, and feed off of this excitement as I soaked up all this knowledge…

The good news is that we had three more days in Venice to explore, and explore we did. From squid ink pasta, to getting lost (and I mean LOST. I went from having the world’s best sense of direction to being completely turned around), to changing hotels and extending our stay for another night because we couldn’t bring ourselves to leave. But leave we did. Back to Florence to have dinner with our friends once more. Back to Rome to see my sister and bring the whole trip home…

It is on this trip that I confirmed for myself there’s so much more to life than the mundane, than the 9-5, than the myopic view of the world in which so many of us live. That it’s ok to turn off email, to not respond to text messages, to ignore social media, to live out loud without a second thought. It is here I fell in love, again, and for the first time. With myself, with exploration, with life. Saying goodbye to Italy was not addio forever, but simply ciao for now, bellissima

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2 thoughts on “The trip of a lifetime: Recommendations for Rome, Florence, and Venice

  1. It truly sounds like the trip of a lifetime, I’ve been to Venice and some other places in Italy. Actually I just came back from Rome and I absolutely adored it, if you are interested to read more about it you can check my post on it.. 🙂

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