My quest to see if people who need it, can get it, in the carb country of pizza and pasta. Disclaimer: I did not search for these gluten free spots, they all found me. So instead of having to outline each restaurant for you, I hope you immerse yourself into our amazing trip, learn a few pointers, and make your own personal journey without the limitations that a gluten free diet can burden you with. It really is not an issue to be gluten free where we went in Italy.
- July 5,2023- Rome
We safely arrived in Italy after our 12:30 AM flight with Norse airlines. Great flight but I couldn’t get tired despite 2 airplane bottles of wine and a Bellini. So, I wound up watching 3 and a half movies while Gabby & Matt slept on either side of my body. The airport in Rome was very easy with no bag check even. The taxi line on the other hand was very long. A lot of people spoke English while our taxi driver did not. She tried to communicate with us a little with 2 words and 2 shared laughs (stupido and politics) but she took us on the route into the city where we got to see the coliseum and other Roman architecture in her cab. I woke Gabby up as the beautiful ancient architecture and statues began to appear. I love how these very old buildings and ornate statues just pop up around new more modern structures. The kids we’re definitely impressed.
Quick observations included that Rome has palm trees, I really can’t speak Italian, they advertise that they have gluten free, and WOW are our backpacks heavy. I sure hope this trip goes smooth with everyone (11 of us) happy & getting along,
The hotel was neat to explore and find our way in. It was almost as if we were in an escape room with all the codes, locks, and doors. The narrow staircases as well as the very old and small elevator brought a charm to the Double B Carlo B&B. The kids decided to all stay in one room together and they will probably always remember that.
We headed out to explore and get food since we hadn’t eaten yet all day. Matt reminded us that he hadn’t eaten in over 12 hours. We found a spot on the street labeled pizzeria. We had 2 margarita pies, a salami pie, a calzone, and a mushroom and sausage pie. All of them were delicious. My favorite was the fresh mushroom but the basil in the margarita truly stood out. We then had bolognese, lasagna, a pasta dish recommended by our waiter, and carbonara. The carbonara had what I thought was an amazing pancetta which was actually pig’s ear. I thought our version was better though with more cheese. The lasagna was smokey and I loved that unlike the rest of my family. The bolognese was good and finally the pasta dish recommended by the waiter was great with bucatini pasta and mushrooms, just good stuff. The calzone had a scrambled egg in it which was strangely delicious.
We then proceeded to wander the streets to find a city similar to NYC with graffiti, homeless people and beauty hidden between the city life. It’s crazy how people feel the need to dirty the beauty around them even when it dates back to B.C. My client’s dad was right about watching our belongings! Someone tried to steal a woman’s phone right out of her hand! But she stood her ground and got her phone back. We saw a wall in front of a hotel by the train station that dated back to the years 49 BC and after a fire rebuilt in 37 BC approximately. The kids were in awe of its age.
We were constantly able to fill our water bottles at the public faucets as well as wet our wet towels which kept us cool in Orlando Florida’s Universal Studios. Water in Rome is safe to drink from faucets and is super cold. It was typically colder than the water you buy.
The kids loved exploring the grocery store as did I. Prices were so low including wine for 3 euro and what appeared to be like wine juice boxes for 1.5 euro. I bought myself a bottle of Aperol in hopes of getting my first Aperol spritz in Italy yet I was destined to have a hard time finding seltzer ( I first bought a sprite like drink called aqua gasso) but finally found out that seltzer is natural effervescent water. I couldn’t find a sleep aid but lucky me didn’t need it and passed out writing this entry.
- July 6, 2023
We woke up early 7:15 to meet the B&B’s manager Valerio and provide him with copies of our passports. In Italy you have 24 hours to register your guests. He prepared a light breakfast with sunny side up eggs on toast, Melba like toast with Nutella or peach marmalade, a juice of oranges, lemons, and carrots, what we call espresso and they call coffee, cappuccino, and a type of hot chocolate for the kids.
We chatted with Valerio for almost an hour learning that the historical area around our hotel was largely bought out by people from China and once they regretted that this area became heavily Chinese, the Italians tried to rescind their store locations unsuccessfully so they will no longer sell property to Chinese people. We also learned that Italians do not have much (if any) violent crime with guns or knives and they instead have fist fights. The Indian / Pakistan families are friendly with everyone. The Chinese families are very hard working but not social with other cultures (he even said they would not speak Italian, but we saw a different scenario than him today).
While waiting for our parents and Gianna, who took a later United flight, we walked and found the Scala Sancta or holy stairs which is housed in the Sancta Sanctorum or the old Papal Lateran Palace which was the personal chapel of the early Popes. We vowed to go back and happily we kept that promise. My parents and Gianna joined us that day around 12. We shopped at the pop-up tent in front of the house. I bought a cute dress for 3 euro but I kept calling it lira, I’m learning, I guess.
We went to the Italian restaurant in front of the house for a late lunch. The chef came out and chose most of the food except for the fried artichokes and calamari we ordered which were awesome! The tortellini were to die for in a cream mushroom sauce.
After lunch, we headed to a free murder mystery tour which focused on Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. My parents missed it because we couldn’t get them a taxi. We did not know that you had go to a taxi stand to get a taxi. The murder mystery tour was not about the Michelangelo of the Sistine Chapel but a painter who tried to live up to the original Michelangelo and came close landing in the Vatican to only be removed due to his scandalous behavior. Essentially, he was obsessed with his work and did not allow others to mix his paints which contained dangerous chemicals and ultimately not only made him crazy but also poisoned him until he was dead. So, he or the paints were the murderer. During his life age 20-40 he murdered 2 people, and angered people including the pope. His painting was removed from the Vatican because he used prostitutes as models because he had no money. He was known for putting bible stories into his lifetime’s trends. He gave Mary large breasts and dressed characters such as the Apostle Peter in clothing from his era. He stood out and was not conventional.
Then we made it back to the Holy Stairs. The receptionist told us that it has the most holy place in the world in it, the Lantern Palace, that is typically reserved for priests. He also explained that of the 3 staircases the outer 2 go up on the right and down on the left. Yet, the middle staircase is where you go up on your knees with a prayer on each step. We took the easy steps because Gabby and Allegra were not allowed in with shorts and so we took a quick scan. I waited to go in for confession but the guy in front of me had too much to say. I again promised the kids that we would go back, I hope we do because some of our friends with cancer can use our prayers right now.
Much to the kids pleading and happiness we had our first gelato. I had a caffe and Stracciatella. It was really amazing. My parents and Allegra took a taxi home and we walked home. On the walk home, Gianna and Gabby stopped at 2 more gelato stores for gelato. And we bet Tyler $100 that he wouldn’t wear a pair of the XXL David shorts. He agreed and we all wondered if Mom Dad or neither noticed his shorts first. By the way neither did but Mom claimed she noticed something weird about Tyler’s shorts.
In honor of and because it was a large percent of the streets on Alberto Street, we ate at a Chinese restaurant late that night. The waitress reminded all of us of a friend named Sally and she even needled my dad throughout the dinner, she was great. The cola wings were awesome! As was the chicken and corn soup. The rest of the meal was ok but Eric loved the spicy beef and drank the whole bowl of broth. We enjoyed Tsing Tao beer and Jim even stole 1 huge beer, or so I think.
- July 7, 2023
We were lucky enough to get last minute tickets to the Vatican and so we woke up earlier than I wanted in order to eat and get moving. I had a croissant which was sweet outside but not super good. A different person prepared our meals and communication was difficult when I just wanted an espresso, oh well! We headed out to the metro station but of course they were on strike which often happens in Italy. So, we were lucky enough to grab 2 large taxis and make it to the Vatican on time. Unfortunately, we were scammed slightly and my spidey senses felt it but I just gave in and paid for a tour in cash. The tour guide was amazing but the lies were present. The tour group said we should pay because we otherwise would have to wait on a long line to get into St. Peter’s Basilica but there is the lie because there has not been a skip the line for the basilica for years and there was no wait for the basilica. That being said, the tour guide was awesome!!!
After, going through the tour I had a lot more knowledge for what I saw 25 years ago when I could not afford a tour. Things had changed especially the ticket booth which used to be a little wooden tickets booth 25 years ago and is now a huge marbled ticket building. I now understand that Michelangelo painted down the middle of the Sistine Chapel, a time chronicled set of pictures starting at creation and ending with a picture of Jonah with a fish symbolizing the whale that swallowed him. Then on the left side is the New Testament and the right side is the Old Testament. There are painted tapestries on the walls because the walls were previously draped in tapestries. Then the first 20 or so Popes were pictured 3D like in domes right at or below the ceiling. When they refurbish the ceiling, they leave small boxes of the uncleaned areas of the ceiling to provide perspective to onlookers. I wonder what is used to clean the ceiling?
Right before the Sistine chapel, we were able to explore the modern portion of the Vatican’s art collection. It was an area many people quickly walked past but we chose to wander the aisles and this was a great choice. We saw religious pictures by Pollock, Picasso, and Dali. I also loved Salvatore Fiume’s work of Jesus repelling demons from St. Joseph’s bed.
We found a lunch spot my parents went to when they met the Pope. They were able to meet the Pope on a previous trip when they helped a young girl from Italy to get the medical help she needed through my parent’s non profit organization the National Police Defense Foundation. Of course, my Mom wanted to go one way and my Dad the other. He won and had us walk in a circle, my mom was right and we should have followed her for a more direct route. The pizza I had was great! It was as if they thinly sliced a mushroom and covered the pizza with it. The only complaint I had was it could have used a few more gobs of the delicious sausages. I ordered the dessert of the day to share with everyone and it was similar to a cannoli cake, yummm. We then ventured home and I passed out for a while. I later learned that a lot of us did. Pretty much our whole two weeks in Italy were at least 100 and up to 105 degrees and so exhaustion was common.
So true Occhipinti style, time for dinner. We ate at a spot recommended by Valerie from the B&B. What a great spot!!! The prosciutto, mozzarella, arugula salad, and rosemary flat bread was to die for!!!!! My swordfish and salad were great but the kid’s lasagna tasted like it came out of a Michelina box in the freezer section or chef Boyardee. The tiramisu saved the day for some of us, it was amazing and I was only able to snake 1 spoonful.
I talked my niece / Goddaughter Gianna into joining us at the Ice bar nearby for her 16th birthday. In actuality this entire trip was to celebrate her 16th birthday. It was so fun especially how hot and ice less Rome has been so far. The bar was awesome with ice sculptures and all the walls covered in ice. Gianna was even serenaded with a birthday song by the whole bar mostly consisting of our new friends from Australia, Wisconsin, and the 15-year-old who snuck into the bar. He was so sweet and had just finished a two-week trip in New York.) Gianna said he was cute. We also got to see the Roman Ruins lit up at night, the remains and the age of this city is amazing.
- July 8, 2023
We decided to spend the day in the city while my family ventured to the beach for Gianna’s 16th birthday. Gabby and Matt still had some Rome on their wish list. We started off with gelato for the kids and a pastry for me. We adventured to one of the Basilicas, which was gorgeous and attended an Italian mass. It was super neat for me because prior this year I taught the children at CCD how the mass is so similar and different in other countries and this was true especially because it was in Italian. The kids were even able to take communion and I followed along with words like Dios, ragazzos, amen, & amour. Matt wanted to climb the Spanish steps and so we did. A peddler on the street gave the kids gifts and then wanted us to pay for them but the man was nice and he prayed for Matt and gave him a turtle to represent his prayer. Who couldn’t use a prayer.
We worked on getting back to the Trevi fountain and were able to venture through a gorgeous and very huge park called Villa Borghese. It was our happy mistake. We finally made it to the Trevi fountain and were even able to sit right next to it for an amazing picture. Of course, the kids wanted to throw a coin and wish to come back again as tradition dictates. We then took a long journey to the pantheon, and were unable to enter, due to lack of tickets available. A lot of stuff in Italy requires reservations and so if traveling here, please keep that in mind. So now we journeyed to the holy steps and made it there 30 minutes before closing. They literally closed the steps when we were four steps up. It was truly hard on your knees to go up the steps, but Matt and Gabby really wanted to take that pilgrimage on the steps that supposedly were brought here from Jerusalem and were from Pontius Pilates’ home that Jesus stepped on when he made his way to trial during the passion. All of us were physically exhausted and headed home. Gabby claimed that the stairs were no big deal because she’s so strong and they provided her a break for her feet, I on the other hand had exhausted, legs and knees. The kids feasted on gelato throughout the day, but I finally found an amazing piece of pizza right by the Trevi fountain. It wasn’t the toppings that made the pizza although they were delicious it was finally the correct crust that is chewy and bread like. The kids got to finally ride scooters in an empty area where they went around in circles. We went home to get ready for a 9 o’clock dinner and although the antipasto did not come close to the night prior with the cheese and prosciutto, the cheese was awesome but also not as amazing as last night’s mozzarella. Yet the meat was not great and one supersod was kind of gross and felt like you were eating fat. My salmon stuffed with mozzarella and spinach with the fennel salad was amazing. The dessert had its high and low points. With a rich brownie and coconut ice cream, a deconstructed cannoli that tasted like yogurt, and a tiramisu that couldn’t compare to the one we had at the Vatican. It’s weird how we can’t find a perfectly amazing meal in Rome. But I must say hearing happy birthday played for Gianna in guitar and sung in Italian was awesome and after the first time hearing it sung, we were all able to sing along with each rendition throughout the day.
I almost forgot to talk about the Leonardo Davinci Museum. It was really cool even though it had nothing real in it (i.e. they made renditions of his inventions and copies of his art) but the narratives for each of the sections of the museum told an amazing story and was well worth our time. Jim thought Leonardo da Vinci was only a painter, famous for the Mona Lisa and the last supper. I knew he invented but I had no idea what. Here are some highlights he essentially thought up and drew the principles needed for the helicopter, airplane, army tank, and scuba tank. Yet some of his inventions never came to fruition, but were the basis for others inventing those every day luxuries we need today. The Mona Lisa was thought to be a peasant woman. I had no clue that the Mona Lisa was wearing a black veil but supposedly she either wore it ti be modest or because she was mourning the death of her child. The Mona Lisa was also an unfinished painting and Gabby thinks that the eyebrows would have been there if it was finished. As for the Last Supper, Davinci wanted to paint in a new style which would allow for more more detail. Unfortunately, the new style did not last as long and began to crumble after 3 years. It diminished so much that at one point someone cut a door into the bottom of the painting without knowing it was a painting. If you look at pictures of the Last Supper, you will see that cut in the painting. So now, the actual painting is restored/ repainted using thermal imaging.
- July 9, 2023- Naples
Ok last day in Rome and time for the Coliseum. I thought packing up was very smooth! I love compression bags. Funny but the other owner Giorgia asked us to leave a good review or nothing at all. Kind of hard to leave a good review when our lights flickered and kept the 4 of us awake 3/4 of our nights there. I only lost sleep one night but Jim, Eric, & Lisa’s sleep sucked. On top of that, our shower didn’t drain and only 1 out of the two rooms in our 4-person suite had air conditioning. I’m still thinking of what to do with her request.
So off to the Colosseum we went. My Dad’s friend stored our luggage at a friend’s nearby hotel by the train station. And I finally drank my first professional Aperol spritz at the hotel.
Of course, despite my best efforts, our Colosseum tickets weren’t for skip the line but the staff at the Colosseum said this happens all the time and at least we received tickets unlike many others. They honored our skip the line that we thought we purchased and I think that the Coliseum is more cut off to the public than I remember 20 or so years ago. I actually remember sitting on steps but I can’t be sure. The fact that they handed out iPods for a self-guided tour was cool. Surprisingly I preferred the audio over the videos they presented. I had no clue that they removed the support beams in the Coliseum and the beams were melted and made into bullets and other artillery. I didn’t realize that they continue to work on recreating parts of the colosseum and fixing things as they degrade. I also don’t remember the elevators from my last visit but they had them this time. What was cool was that kids enter the Coliseum for free, all you have to do is get on line to ask for tickets with the kids present. I figured that the gladiators were celebrities but I actually didn’t know that the sponsor of a gladiator determined if he was pardoned from death or if he lost. The people were only able to vote to try and influence the sponsor’s decision.
We then took the train into Naples. The train station was soooo different and so modern like an airport. The train was also as modern as a plane even with a tv screen showing where you were on a map of Italy. . It was so amazing when two trains crossed because you really got to see the speed you are going. Jim clicked it and it was 178 miles per hour. We got off the train and decided to walk with our backpacks rather than take a taxi with the rest of our family. It was a good call except for the heat. We saw Sicilian pizza, pastries, gorgeous streets, and were greeted by people hanging out in front of their houses. While walking we were fully submerged with the local Neapolitan people. Unfortunately, another glitch in the reservations was about to happen, this time our hotel got switched to another spot in an alley. My family was so scared but once that was over, we arrived and the housing was modern inside with amazing air conditioning but on the outside, it was old and quaint. I love how people set up little religious windows and / or shelves to honor their religion or deceased relatives. The streets were lined with all types of buildings and adorned with flags of soccer players in the World Cup, flags from many countries, and other adornments. But be sure to be careful in the little alleys because scooters are comfortable zooming up and down the alleys even with people in them. We ended up eating in a pizzeria with to die for pizza with a calzone like crust, salami, ham, a cheese similar to mozzarella that is sweeter as well as less fatty (mozzarella is soooo much better), sautéed peppers, basil, and canned mushrooms. Like I said never a perfect meal why would someone use a canned mushroom?
We then ventured down the street where music played, people drank, talked and ate. My Dad kept saying he would not let us stay and must all stay together so I bought a 1.5 euro Aperol spritz from a liquor store making drinks in the street and headed home. Naples used to be really dangerous but it appears that this is no longer true.
- July 10, 2023-Ischia
What an amazing night sleep. We even were cold during the night, I loved that feeling. My Dad stopped at a grocery store and picked up some of the most amazing cold cuts of prosciutto, ham, and salami. He also brought back Italian bread that came 2 rolls in a bag but unlike the US the bread that came in the bag was legit. I enjoyed buttered bread, cold cuts, and coffee latte. Nobody could figure out how to use the conduction stove yet thanks to my food tv shows, I made pot after pot of coffee which is usually not my wheelhouse. The trick with a conduction stove is you need to use a conduction pot or a conduction metal disc which allows you to use your regular pots.
So once everyone was done and we filled our water bottles because tap water is safe, we were ready to go.
We walked to the Main Street then I hailed a taxi for my parents without needing a taxi stop but instead hailing a taxi with a New York style hand up. After they were in the taxi we began our walk to the port for a trip to Ischia which is famous for hot springs, beautiful beaches, and long / late swim days. After about an hour boat ride we arrived. We then took a taxi to a private beach resort called Poseidon it’s overlooking the Bay of Citara. It cost 11 off us $150 for an afternoon stay. We swam in the ocean which was clear to the ground and with minimal seaweed, palms or other debris. The water was a perfect temp to swim as long as you want, Matt spotted a few fish in the water but I didn’t. The sand was made up of super tiny rocks but not abrasive at all. We all enjoyed looking for sea glass and funny enough turquoise. We then ventured to 3/17 of the pools. Some of the pools were placed above hot springs and the water was not burning hot but definitely hot enough to feel like a hot tub. The hot springs are fueled by volcanoes underground where they say you can bury a meal of chicken and potatoes in foil and it will cook perfectly in the sand. They also had a chair that you sat on as the hot spring water splashed down your back it was cool not temperature wise and supposedly had healing properties. The beach water was the temp we needed for the day so we headed back to end our day there. We have been braving the Italy summer heat with and without air conditioning for at least 5 days now and this beach was a refreshing treat. Then back we all went from taxi to boat with perfect timing for the last ferry off of Ischia at 19:10.
All most of us ate was breakfast, so time to mangia / eat. We walked towards home from the ferry station and thought we were lucky to find a place with space. Now, I’m unsure if we were lucky or unlucky. There were pros and cons of this meal. We should have caught the first signs of this questionable restaurant 1. They offered a prix fixe menu. 2. The waitress was coming out to ask people to eat there, but we were so hungry and we were a large group who were turned down earlier by two previous restaurants, so we didn’t care about the obvious warning signs this restaurant off. We tried to do the prix fixe menu but there were so many rules that a group of 11 couldn’t coordinate enough to meet the criteria. So, we ordered off of the menu. Lisa and I ordered linguini with clam sauce and sea bass stuffed with spinach and provola cheese. It was delicious !!!!!! My Dad and Tyler ordered steak, my Dad’s looked perfect and Tyler’s was first raw then tasted like charcoal after being cooked. Most of the kids ordered pasta with tomatoes sauce and it was great. The husbands ate seafood risotto which was good yet lacking cheese. So here goes the next weird part of this restaurant, they offered 1 tbs of pecorino Romano cheese and then said they ran out. Then after waiting over an hour, they served all the food at once and we had no room on the table for 1 plate never mind 2 plates per person. Although, I tasted a really great beer there which was an N’artigana Ambrata and Rossa which was a chocolate coffee tasting beer. Ok next weird occurrence was when Jim said hold on and grabbed the arugula from the plate and the waitress made a goat noise at him, too funny and had to call a friend who calls herself a goat on the spot!!! Next, they brought out a dessert and sang happy birthday to my sister with a candle and then they took the cake back. Finally, the check came and it looked too high and sure enough they added 1 soda, 1 beer, and 1 extra risotto. We had the bill adjusted to 320 euro from 360.
Now, I forgot the next hotel debacle for a grand total of 3/3. Eric received a phone call at dinner stating that our Airbnb in Venice had bugs and has been closed down by the health department. They offered for us to keep the other room (absolutely not with supposed bed bugs next door) and take a hotel for the remainder of the family 10 miles away. We declined and started the search for a hotel we needed in 24 hours. After hemming and hawing until the next morning at 10 am, we paid 1,000 euros more for a hotel called Hotel Nationale near the train station. Our fingers were crossed.
- July 11, 2023 - Pompeii
After finding a bunch of hotel options, my son Matt joined me for a cuddle in bed and we fell asleep. We woke up at 10 much later than my sister wanted us to, especially since we needed to vacate our place by 10:30 am but I was up until 2 looking at hotels. We quickly packed and I was amazed how much easier it is getting for me to pack this backpack. We headed out in search of a taxi waiting for us and instead wound up spending the entire day with the taxi driver who picked everyone up in Naples and with his son in another taxi. Unfortunately thanks to these knowledgeable Napolitanos we learned that we had to buy our tickets to Mt. Vesuvius the day prior but they let me try to scour the area with no success. We stopped at a limoncello factory and tasted chocolates, limoncello obviously, and mozzarella liquors. Sounds gross but wow, it was likely one of the most amazing limoncellos I’ve ever had. The owner explained that his coffee and mozzarella drink is being considered by Baileys and trust me it’s amazing. I bought myself a mozzarella limoncello and Gabby wanted a volcano bracelet ,then we were on our way. At the ticket area of Mount Vesuvius, we took some pictures and let the kids get some volcanic souvenirs. Matt got a Roman soldier and a necklace for him and a friend. Gabby and Allegra got a necklace (2 for 5 euros). I’m quite surprised how affordable the souvenirs were at that spot.
Next, we hit Pompeii, and in my opinion, it was a better choice than Mt. Vesuvius, but don’t tell my son that. Before the tour we ate an amazing slice of pizza from the carry out and even though it had almost no cheese the crust and tomatoes had so much flavor. I learned so much from this tour but most importantly I learned that Pompeii was not ruined by lava but instead the lava exploded and sealed off the volcano which caused a massive explosion which set up horrible side effects like the ground crumbling, massive amounts of ash, and severe weather conditions. Pompeii wasn’t the only town impacted by Mt. Vesuvius another town named Herculaneum (which is only 1/3 excavated as of now compared to Pompeii which is 3/4 excavated) was also impacted. It was amazing to see how much of the stone, paintings, and metal survived the volcanic explosion. Some murals even survived even though it was buried over 1,994 years ago. It took them 1,669 years to start excavating Pompeii and another 15 years to identify the buried city as Pompeii. It is amazing how much they learned from their excavations including how people showered (with cold, warm, or hot bath houses). That brothels were marked with flying phallic symbols which were all over the city of Pompeii and that a rock bed the length of a night table was a bed in a brothel while people typically slept on wood beds in their homes. We saw and learned about the laundry room and heard of their 3-process cleaning involving the use of urine, ashes, and essential oils for each laundry item. It was nice to hear that despite social class everyone lived together in town but obviously with different size homes. A lot of modern ideas were present in Pompeii including stores with sliding doors, saunas with heated marble floors, stores in the bottom floor with houses above, ceramic containers with pointed bases that once pushed into floor stood up, restaurants, and even political advertising by graffiti artists that had to sneak their political stances in at night. They even poured plaster into holes (containing bones) from bodies which were caught during Pompeii’s burial. It was sad to see the bodies and the obvious fear in their positions. Most Pompeii people typically died from the heat and dehydration while of course others were killed with rubble and the explosion’s destruction.
We headed back to the taxis. Being my sister’s birthday and 7/11 when we typically get a free slushy from 7-11, the kids got slushies but had to pay this time, I guess we sort of stuck with tradition. The taxi men bought a cake and invited us into their home to celebrate my sister Lisa’s birthday. We also drank delicious almond water as well as a cantaloupe liquor, both of which were delicious for their own merits. We took one last picture and headed to the train station.
With 30 minutes to go we separated in search of food. And unfortunately, with my guilty conscience about Mt. Vesuvius, I broke my cardinal rule of no chain foods when away or sightseeing. Matt wanted McDonalds, so I quickly ordered with the kiosk to have no receipt at completion. We asked for help 5 times to be ignored and finally was asked what we ordered to be ignored again. We left our food behind and rushed to the train’s gate without food but with a few minutes to spare. We later asked for a refund from our Capital One credit card which we received. Capital One has always been the best credit card in my opinion.
Thank goodness the train ride was unremarkable! We watched Netflix “Better Call Saul” thanks to the train’s free Wi-Fi and charging at your seat. We ate at the food car, my Dad said the burger was gross, the kids said the ham cheese panini toasted was good and my husband said the toasted tosta ham and cheese was good. I had cheese, provolone, and beer which was awesome. Then during the final hour of the five hour train ride, I bought gluten free chocolate cookies with fudge in the middle. Oh my god it was to die for, hence why I ate all 9 cookies by myself. We arrived at the Hotel Nationale in Venice and although we went to their alternate hotel across the street and the staff was a little rude to me and later apologized, It was perfect, goodnight!!!
- July 12, 2023- Venice
This was a great hotel choice. The maids even stuck a paper in the card slot to make sure we had air conditioning. Some hotels in Italy will not let electricity work unless you put your room card in a certain slot. We took a 3-island tour on a boat. The first island was Morano with a glass blowing tour. No matter how many times I see glass blowing, it still amazes me. But this artist actually showed how he made a cat, which was so impressive. He pulled at pieces for feet, ears, paws and then rolled them for the neck and other rounded spots. You only have 2 minutes so he worked fast. We then went to the next island Borano which had very expensive clothes stores and we had lunch there. Great lunch with seafood pasta and grilled fish. The fish required lemon, salt, pepper and olive oil then it was yummy. The olive oil is so rich in viscosity and flavor. I wish I could bring it home because it’s probably a lot cheaper for such a great product. The last island was called Torcello. It used to a have a larger population but now only 8 people live there including an artist who says he lives here because it’s the most beautiful place in the world. Torcello has beautiful greenery and some ancient buildings, but the island is nothing too extravagant. Yet, the idea of wandering around an almost uninhabited place intrigues me. They did have an inn there called Locanda Cipriani and I saw a couple on the balcony. Many of us slept on the boat ride home to St. Mark’s Square.
Once in St. Mark’s Square, a man handed the kids crumbs to feed the pigeons and they flew into their hands. He asked / demanded 5 euros. Jim only had a 20 and asked for change to only have the guy change the amount and give only 10 euros back. Jim immediately knew what he did and yelled at the man who gave his money back. Remember ever get change on a street and always remember nothing is ever free. We saw some crazy sites thanks to our friend Michael. We saw the bridge with a square in the middle where a person could see, smell, and feel the outside that was traveled long ago between the jail and their execution. We also saw a pillar that was very close to the curb where it is stated that if you can cross without falling it is because you are not a liar and God helped you.
We then split from our large group and my family of 4 and began looking inside shops, taking lots of pictures, and finally stopping for a meal right off the water. Jim and I had delicious pizza and the kids had lasagna bolognese. When the bill came we laughed / appreciated the unexpected music charge for the talented pianist who played while we ate. On our long walk home, we spotted student dorms and the maritime training center. Jim swears that we passed the jail but my Dad asserts that Venice does not have a jail. We met up with our family who also had an extremely long walk and we found them eating at a pasta spot next to the hotel that actually had ice, amazing!!!!! I took some ice back to the hotel and the kids of course got more gelato. I had mint gelato and wow it was soooo minty.
- July 13, 2023- Treviso
We woke up 9:40 and ran for the hotel’s breakfast. Then we wandered around Venice to buy some souvenirs including a glass fountain pen for Gabby. Since our Airbnb was canceled, we had to hand wash our laundry in the sink and find dryers. Then back to the train station to meet up with our friends Michael and Elissa in Treviso. Upon arrival, we learned that the trains were again on strike and our train would be an hour late. 3 of us ran to pick up some food and I ate an amazing pizza with straticelli on it (the inside of Burrata). It was the most amazing thing I ever ate! So much better than Burrata in my opinion. Michael, Elissa, & Daria met us at the train station and we loaded into their cars headed for the vineyard. We only could go to one vineyard because there was a hail storm the night before around 2 am with hail the size of golf balls. The other 3 vineyards had too much damage. Elissa explained that for the past few years with heat waves, like the one we are experiencing, sleet like this has happened at least once a year. You could even see the dents in the hood of their car from the hail last night .
The vineyard they took us to was small but nice. They specialized in Prosecco. We also tasted a rabino wine which is a sweet red sparkling wine, a really smooth white wine, and a Prosecco like rabino wine. I liked all but the last one. The Prosecco and white were some of the best I’ve had recently. Next, we went to Michael’s national police museum where he collects war & police memorabilia including uniforms, hats, lie detector machines, knives, medals and so much more. We later went to a pizza place where I got to have more of the straticelli with a finely chopped tomato base, straticelli cheese, and olives. I couldn’t believe how fast I ate 1/2 the pie, it was exactly what I hoped it would be with the best crust I’ve had in Italy so far. After dinner we headed out to go to a Gelateria that Michael said is the best and won 3 stars. I got a vanilla, toasted coconut, and caramel gelato, just like a Samoa Girl Scout cookie. As a joke, Michael took us to a water fountain that flowed water from a woman’s breasts, it’s supposed to be a symbol of fertility for those who drink from it. All the boys tried but Matt couldn’t swallow and spit it out. We headed back to catch a train while the kids were silly after their sugar rushes. By waiting 10 more minutes our train was half price and so off to Venice and bed we went.
- July 14, 2023- Bologna
Today was our last day in Venice. I’m happy to say that I enjoyed Venice this time around. From my last trip 20 years ago, I remembered a place that smelled bad and was dirty yet all I now see are magnificent views, delicious foods, beautifully blown glass, friends and family. We took a gondola ride today $80 for 5 people. The view from the water was magnificent and we learned that in March they sometimes just have a puddle in the middle of the major canal and the side canals can be totally dry with the low tides. The reverse can also be true with water up to the windowsills at high tide. Also, I’m not sure if this was true or the gondola driver was just pulling my son’s leg when he put his hand in the canal water, but he claimed that families with no sewage system dump their bodily functions into the water. He also pointed out the Venice casino which was built in 1638 and is the oldest casino in the world. He also explained that the top floor was used for George Clooney’s wedding, movies with Brad Pitt, etc.
We casually strolled the city, Matt bought an Italian horn necklace “corno” as well as a red leather wallet and Gabby bought yet another glass pen. I found a cute oddly shaped light blue purse with a bee closure in front. We enjoyed bolognese, linguine with clam sauce and an Aperol Spritz. We met a group of 16 teens ages 13-18 who won a research essay content that ended with an interview to qualify for a month long all expenses paid (including spending money) trip to Italy. It was offered to 3 schools in New York and Los Angeles. Those kids were super lucky for that experience. Finally we were back on the train off to Bologna.
We arrived in Bologna, walked to the hotel, and were very happy with what we saw. Unfortunately, it was too good to be true because somehow our reservation was made for 3 adults and so we didn’t get family rooms and had to buy 3 more rooms to legally house everyone. It doubled our bill yet it was a great hotel with amazing employees. 1 of which was a waiter/ sommelier, and said “I love NJ’ and he meant it after his stay in Toms River. I either had the best burger I’ve ever had perfectly seasoned with mayonnaise and delicious cheese or I was crazy hungry. I’m still not sure but I felt full and was looking forward to a glass of wine from the vineyard as I headed off to bed.
- July 15,2023
We had a 10:45 tour of the Bologna towers where you climb up 498 stairs to reach the top. It was very hot but still awesome! I admit I took a few breaks on the platforms between. It was super cool to look through the holes in the bricks and it lead us to wonder if the holes were used to keep an eye on the enemy. This set of towers were owned by a rich family to show off their wealth and status resulting in a finely built tower that has been able to survive as long as it has. This is amazing because it was built around 1110. I learned from my food tour the next day, that for protection of the city around the wall surrounding Bologna, over 2000 towers were built with less quality and many of them fell or were taken down to make space for buildings with the increasing population when they were no longer needed. The view and breeze from the top of the towers was breathtaking. I noticed not only how short the smaller tower appeared but also that there was what looked like metal on the roof. Again, the next day at the food tour, this was explained, it turns out that the tower’s foundation only went 8 feet into the ground and once the building leaned too much they had to cut it down to a shorter height for it to be able to survive: I thought the walk down the tower would be scary or hard to balance but it was fine even with the flights of stairs were of very thin width. The wood on the stairs and handrails were thick and smooth, such a nice set of stairs I would love in my home.
We passed the courtyard with Neptune and came to find a wedding outside of a restaurant. A talented cellist played around the corner and I could not think of better background music for a wedding. His cello was hooked up to a synthesizer and speaker which had amazing sounds including some that sounded like, whales. Right in that square was also a bunch of chairs set up for a summer movie concert which according to the tour guide consisted of movies that sounds and pictures were renovated to bring joy back to its original sounds and visual scenes. According to our food tour guide the next day, many directors and actors of these very famous movies come to see their films remastered during this film festival in Bologna including Martin Scorsese.
With this tower tour through Get your Guide, we got 2 food samples. The first being mortadella cubes or mortadella meatballs. The mortadella cubes with straticelli cheese was not my favorite but the mortadella meatballs were great. They were fried with either balsamic vinegar, a yummy pink sauce or straticelli cheese. I’d like to try and make those at home as an appetizer. Then our families split up and some of us went to the Archaeological Museum of Bologna. The bottom floor was air conditioned and dedicated to Egyptian finds, it was amazing that it was the real thing and not just the pictures you see in your school books. We saw stone tablets with drawings and writing that are still intact from thousands of years ago. We saw mummified cats that looked like children’s toys, mummified but not wrapped crocodiles, and even mummified people with paintings on the outer cloth. In addition to the Egyptian portion of the museum, you could go upstairs to the non-air-conditioned portion of the museum which focused on Italian artifacts. It included a room filled with statues mostly of naked men and a few women or clothed men. They also had swords huge and small. Heads of axes and picks where the wood rotted away. Finally, they had human skeletons that were stuck in the ground and so it appears that they removed the entire ground and placed the remains in plastic boxes for exhibition. We then met up with my family and had some of the best gelato I’ve had so far at Oggi which was also free because of our tour. I had coffee and caramel gelato (the caramel was to die for).
My family decided to head home and so the Tonelli clan decided to venture to the MAMBO the Museum of Modern Art Bologna. Some art work in the permanent collection was cool and I got it. They had a tapestry that when you were close-up just looked like squares when you stepped back it was 3-D and appeared wavy. There was a really cool rectangle that was taller than me, which was made up of millions of strips of paper to represent a rainbow. There were reams of paper supposedly filled with genetic code inserting into a machine, appearing to come out as a tapestry with different colors and a pattern. One of my favorites was an architect, sitting at the top of the canvas with all architectural tools and beginnings of project in front of him, if appealed to me because Matt wants to be an architect when he grows up. Other cool art was what appeared to be a clash of the colors orange, black, and white which became football players crashing into each other and you really felt the speed and collision just by looking at it. There was other artwork I appreciated but there was a lot of artwork that just seems ridiculous to me. For example, there was a video of a man walking up and down a runway doing silly poses. There was a stack of carpets cut out to represent the artist’s apartment with the furniture represented by the spaces. But truly, the most out of the world experience was with the temporary exhibition by Yvonne Rainer titled Words, Dancers, Films. It was odd but you could see from her movement that she was an accomplished dancer who knew proper technique yet was experimenting with odd movements. Since we were alone in this part of the theater, we narrated her movement with utterances like “Go right, no I mean left” or “I’m so tired” or “Did a bee just bite me”, to match her irregular movement patterns.
We headed home to meet our family for dinner at Lista Del Giorno. I fell in love with these little biscuit knots that were in the bread baskets. It was crunchy but not hard and crumbly. I had the bolognese which was delicious, I loved how it was a ragout of meat with vegetables with just a touch of tomato, the oil was decadent.
- July 16. 2023- Florence
While Lisa’s family and my parents headed to the Lamborghini museum, which had gorgeous new and old cars. From their pictures I loved a pickup truck that was so sporty. I assume the pictures didn’t do the cars any justice but they looked extravagant. The admission was 17 euros per person.
My family headed out for a food tour with Viator’s Award-Winning Private Food Tour of Bologna: 6 Tasting. The tour guide was awesome. It was like hanging out with a friend in their country. He taught us so much including that Bologna had over 2,000 towers to
protect the town and serve as a sign of greatness for rich families. He also explained the law that stated that the buildings must be in ether the cream or burnt red colors. He went on to share that the reason for all the overhead structures providing so much shade in Bologna comes from the influx of college students and the need for housing. The citizens had to make overhangs over the sides of the buildings to increase bed space because building out on the bottom floors was outlawed. Another interesting remnant from long ago was the petrified wood bases and supports that survived while the majority of the towns supportive structures are now made of stone. We stopped at a balsamic store owned for 39 generations of this family with balsamic vinegar aged up to 25 years in barrels which started off big and incrementally getting smaller as they aged. The vinegar was delicious and you can easily tell how different each level of aging changed the vinegar’s complexity and smoothness. The next stop was at a restaurant where we ate veal meatballs which the kids begged me to make at home, tigella sandwiches which is bread in a round printed press with fillings of first sweet onions and cheese and second lard with rosemary and garlic. Gabby had no clue what she was eating but begged me to figure out how to make it. We also enjoyed a sparkling red wine and bread similar to the knots I loved but with yeast so it was risen and fluffy. He finally gifted us with 1 of the 2 famous desserts of Bologna. A Rice cake which reminded me of flan yet with a different texture, rice of course. We then headed to a restaurant recommended by the tour guide with a 30-minute wait outside by what appeared to be locals. It was cool, you waited outside and were asked to come in when they had enough seats for you at a huge communal table with menus and clipboards in the table. You write down what you want to eat and when you’re done, you go to the register and tell them your name. I shared bolognese and tortellini with Parmesan cream with Gabby. In the end though, she loved the bolognese and ate most of it and I felt the same way about the tortellini. The tortellini was decadent with cream and cheese in every bite full. It also came with a little side salad which was refreshing after all that creaminess. After eating we wandered around Bologna got a granita which helped us beat the heat. We went to the Church of Santa Maria della Vita. The sculpture titled The Stone Scream truly depicted all the emotions the Mary’s and John the Baptist felt when Jesus was taken off the cross. We met our family at the hotel and ventured off to our next / last destination, Florence. I have enjoyed every bite of pasta, pizza, bread, cheeses, desserts, and meats in Italy while the kids have eaten about 15 gelatos each so far. What does Florence have in store for us?
The minute we arrived at the hotel Villa Royal in Florence we had 30 minutes to cool off in the pool and most of us did. The hotel was perfect minus a difficulty getting below 33 degrees Celsius with the air conditioning in 2 of our rooms but let’s be honest, we are used to the heat. Lisa’s apartment was very cool and in the end my parent’s changed to a hotel room that was a good temp meanwhile my family of 4 was lucky for 32 degrees so we were still hot but we are in the middle of a hot spell, what did we expect. Dinner was at a place recommended by the hotel around the corner. Most of us had pizza while 3 of us had steaks. Florence supposedly is the best place to get steak in Italy. My pizza had buffalo mozzarella, Gorgonzola cheese, and mushrooms. I loved it and the Gorgonzola didn’t overwhelm the overall taste. But Gianna’s pizza of pesto and mozzarella and Jim’s everything pie was even better. Goodnight Florence.
- July 17, 2023
Breakfast at Villa Royal was great. Juices, coffees, so many fruit choices, very sweet treats, yogurt, eggs, cheeses, and meats. Matt is starting to ask for coffee in the morning, haha. Today everyone was stoked for a cooking class called Pastamania through AirBNB. It was a private group class for 11 people with a cost of $787. It was a good investment thanks to our amazing host, the delicious pasta and plentiful amounts of wine. Yet, the chocolate salami was the final straw that blew everyone away, it was to die for. The kids said this was the best thing they did in all of Italy. Just flour, 1 egg and kneading the dough resulted in enough dough for linguini, ricotta with truffle ravioli, and raviolis in a hat shape with tomato sauce and a butter sage sauce. We all got the recipes and a request to send picture when we cook pasta at home. We went over the Ponte Vecchio bridge and looked at jewelry. Then after another scorcher of a day, we hit the pool to cool off. Dinner was next and yet again I ordered pasta with bacon and squash. It was very light with only the taste coming from the butter they dressed the homemade pasta with. Free limoncello was again enjoyed as we have night after night at most of the restaurants.
- July 18, 2023
We decided to have a slow morning in the pool and then an afternoon in the Chianti region of Tuscany. $500 for a bus ride and 2 wine tastings through Get Your Guide for 11 people for 6 hours. The bus was comfy and really air conditioned well. The first vineyard was gorgeous and centered in a gorgeous vineyard setting. I learned that some wines build up so much pressure at their vineyard that they have to cement over the cork to stop it from popping. We had a very light and young white wine which I liked. It’s a before dinner drink and should be drank on its own. Then we moved through the reds and learned 3 of the many rules which are required to be considered a true verified chianti Classico wine 1) hand picked grapes, 2) no irrigation system, & 3) must be at least 80% of the Sangiovese grape. A green band and a black rooster are the marks confirming you are an authentic Chianti Classico. The second wine tasting was not at a vineyard but was set in a small town with very slanted stone walkways. We were welcomed into a room that was set up for the testing. It was cool how the sommelier had you drink the wine and chew the food at the same time to experiment and see the results of the combinations. The aperitif wine which was lighter should not be consumed with food because the food overtakes the wine as we experienced with cheese and the wine paired. This wine predominantly is experienced on the tongue. The second stronger wine when mixed with cheese simultaneously was a combination of the 2 tastes. While the cheese was experienced on the tongue, the wine was experienced under and on the sides of the tongue. Finally, with the Chianti Classico, you first, experienced it in your nose and when the wine was paired with a jelly, it had strong taste of mustard, horseradish, and honey for me. Yet, when I tasted the jelly alone, it was very mild. Essentially, it shows how this wine complements food, and actually magnifies the taste. Once again, the sights were beautiful, but in a different way in this town. You weren’t surrounded by nature yet you had great views of nature surrounding the town.
I slept almost the entire bus ride home because the air-conditioning was so perfect and we have been so hot for so long. We then walked to a restaurant called Ciro & sons which is owned by, the husband of a girl who my sister went to the University of Bologna with. The girl Mercedes met an Italian man Giuseppe while attending school and never went home. They have four grown children together and Facebook has allowed them to stay in touch with my sister. Interesting enough, this restaurant was the first restaurant in Florence to offer, gluten-free and lactose free food. Here, I had a very different pasta which reminded me of short ribs, vegetables, and onions with pasta. It was different and delicious. I decided not to have any wine or beer and instead drank 2 bottles of Pellegrino because I was so thirsty, I think I forgot to mention this, but you have to buy each bottle of water when eating out at a restaurant yet it only cost 2 euro for a large bottle. After dinner we took a stroll to the Opera do Santa Maria Del Fiore. I can’t believe I had the same reaction as I had 25 years ago. Pretty much you’re walking down the street with shops and restaurants which is typical and then out of nowhere, you see this enormous and gorgeous cathedral, which consists of white green, and a reddish marble in addition to sculptures in the white marble. It is massive taking over at least 3 blocks. After pictures we grabbed yet one more gelato. I had pineapple made with fresh pineapple and it was cooling and delectable. I’m not sure which of those characteristics were better at that point in the night. Yet I enjoyed the sorbet as we walked home.
July 19, 2023
After breakfast, we left Matt with the crew in the pool and ventured to Ponte Vecchia. We wandered through the open-air market on our way. Everywhere you walked you got a whiff of leather in the heat. Gabby found an Italian sweatshirt that would fit nicely into her collection of sweatshirts from around the world. Then we began looking in jewelry stores. For the first time ever, a decision for Gabby was easy. Here’s how it went. We were in a shoppe on the bridge with 2 sweet ladies because I was looking for a bracelet similar to the one my jeweler friend lost on me. Gabby looked at necklaces and began to consider a necklace with small gold ball embellishments spaced throughout it and I noticed a beautiful cameo of a horse on the younger salesperson. They explained that a woman ordered these 2 cameos but she changed her mind. The salesperson took one and this is the last one. Gabby’s eyes lit up and with a smile she made one of the fastest decisions she has ever made. I bought Jim a white gold horn for 200 euro and my niece an 18 K chain to go with her Murano glass necklace for 95 euro. I even bought myself a tri color chain. It was so unique in my opinion. We then headed back to the hotel to give Gianna her present and say goodbye to my parents and Gianna before they went on their final leg of the trip to Rome and home.
Now we were headed to our next adventure to the museum Uffizi. The museum is humongous. Kids under 18 are free with identification but we had to pay 4 euros per child so that they could accompany us at our reservation time. We paid 26 euros per ticket plus a reservation cost of 4 euros each ticket. The Uffizi is made up of stairs, busts, and paintings. Famous artists including Michelangelo, Cavvagio, Leonardo DaVinci, etc. were all represented. There were so many depictions of the Bible stories with focus on Jesus’ birth, divine revelation, pictures with his mother Mary, his Crucifixion, and when he was removed from the cross. As for the statues and busts, I was amazed to read at each narrative that the statues and busts where all refurbished. I had always thought that they wanted to leave it in the original condition, but I was mistaken. Later in the Academia where the David was, we also learned that they removed the varnish and the insect droppings from the paintings, in order to increase the vibrancy of the art and see them in their original condition. That is a job I would never want because you are working on somethings that is thousands of years old and possibly ruin that history with one little mistake. The David was massive and just looking up at it helped me realize that its size probably impressed everyone in the room. I was surprised at this museum especially in the room where the David was that we were asked to be quiet, I understood being quiet at a church \because God is there, but the museum surprised me because art work is supposed to initiate discussions, right?
Finally, we headed back to the hotel after sightseeing in town. I began to look up dinner spots for a reservation. Eric wanted pasta in a cheese wheel and I found a restaurant rated #1 on trip advisor that had the cheese wheel pasta and Florentine steak. It was called La Buchetta Food & Wine Restaurant. They didn’t answer the phone but magocally I got a call back from them. They had a no show and said if we went back to town immediately we could eat here and so we did. The waiter was sweet and the restaurant was covered in wine corks and wood signed by customers. The kids signed corks and put them in the walls. We ordered the cheese wheel with truffles / amazing!!!! We ordered the 1 kilogram Florentine steak which was served very raw and bone in. Once they cooked it more, it was delicious. Raw meat is gross in our opinion yet the waiter thought we were crazy. We had the waiter pull the scale out again to find that the bone only accounted for 15% of the steak, that was surprising and Lisa was really close guessing the weight of the bone by comparing it to babies in the NICU (she is a NICU physician assistant). Eric had a pasta and steak dish with Gorgonzola which was to die for.
We began our walk home, bought all the kids leather bracelet ranging from 1.5 to 3 euro each, got gelatos, and searched for the wine window that Lisa and Jim spotted earlier this day. Unfortunately, it wasn’t found or open because that would be a me thing. We made it home and quickly went to bed.
July 20, 2023- Train station
Our last vacation day. The trip was wonderful, way too hot, and pretty issueless. I think we all are ready to go home. My family enjoyed the pool before we left. While we were in the pool, a wedding took place with maybe 10 people in attendance. The kids silently swam and applauded with the guests when the couple was announced. I’d say Villa Royal/ Hotel Royal was a great choice with 2 exceptions, 1/3 room’s air conditioning never went below 32 and the front desk lady was with us on her first and second day on the job which definitely made her immature when dealing with guests. Typically a 4000 euro reservation shouldn’t be harassed for 150 euro especially after you realize you made an error stating that a room was not paid for when it was. She did apologize to Eric on the last day after stating I made mistakes and harassing my father. An apology would have been nice to the actual people you harassed but I hope this experience on her first 2 days at this job prepares her for more difficult clientele. Everyone else at Villa Royal treated us warmly and catered to us as if we mattered to them. We got to meet people from Australia, France, and Belgium. By far this was the most social hotel we stayed in. It was time to get dressed and begin our journey home. Ciao to our Italian Vacation.