La Dolce Vita! An Italian Adventure in Venice, Verona, Padua, Florence, Pisa, Rome, Pompeii, Amalfi Coast, Palermo (Sicily)

This post is dedicated to my father and mother’s family: The Caruso and the Rossi Clan – I am blessed to be an “honorary” Italian.

Italy is remarkable. It’s a kaleidoscope of regions and experiences with an incomparable artistic and cultural heritage that coincide with natural wonders fueled with a feisty passion for living. Throughout Italy, the local character and color is astonishing mainly due to the survival of regionalism, old traditions, customs and lifestyles coupled with a healthy interest in food, perseverance of history/events and elaborate commemorations of everything imaginable. In summary: everything is a celebration. I could get used to living like this…

Chapter 1:  Venice

Posted on 3QT separately:

Chapter 2: The Veneto Region (Verona and Padua)

Verona is a vibrant trading center and the second largest city in the Veneto region after                             Venice. It also boasts many Roman ruins, second only to those of Rome itself!

Must See / Excursions:

  • Romeo and Juliet: We are all familiar with this tragic story. At the Casa di Giulietta (Juliet’s house) No 27 Via Cappello, Romeo is said to have climbed the balcony. In reality, this is actually a restored 13th century inn, but people still line up to see (myself included). The Casa di Romeo is a few streets away and the Tomba di Giulietta is displayed in a crypt below the cloister of San Francesco al Corso on Via del Pontiere.

  • Piazza Erbe: Colorful market built on the site of the ancient Roman forum and considered the center of Verona.

  • San Zeno Maggiore Church: Unusual medieval bronze door panels with extraordinary carved scenes honoring Verona’s patron saint.
  • The town of Padua is not far from Verona and is an old university town with an illustrious academic history. It houses a major museum complex which occupies a group of 14th century monastic buildings attached to the church of the Eremitani. A must visit spot is the Cappella degli Scrovegni dating back to 1303. The frescos of Christ are stunning and reveal what a powerful influence this art was on the development of European art.


Chapter 3: The Tuscany Region (Florence and Pisa)

The cradle of the Renaissance, but also a vibrant witness to new forms of creativity in wine, food, fashion and artisanship, Florence is magnificent. As a writer, I was tickled pink to know that writers such as Dante, Machiavelli, and Petrarch contributed to the city’s literary heritage, though it was the paintings and sculptures of artists such as Donatello, Michelangelo, and Botticelli that turned the city into an artistic capital. I was only here for a day, but it’s a compact city and a majority of the sites can be seen on foot. (Brian and Liz Shick – thank you for the tour)

Must See / Excursions:

  • Explore San Marco area: These buildings once stood on the fringe of the city serving as stables and barracks (lions, elephants and giraffes were held there). It’s fun to see the hustle and bustle of the young Florentines.

  • Explore the Duomo area: Dante was born here! It retains its medieval feel and is home to the Baptistery, one of the city’s oldest buildings. The richly decorated Duomo – Santa Maria del Fiore has become Florence’s most famous symbol.

  • Santa Croce: This gothic church is home to the tombs of Michelangelo, Galileo, and Machiavelli. The setting is a masterpiece but realizing the company you are keeping is incredibly humbling.

  • Uffizi: Offers a chance to see the world’s greatest collection of Italian Renaissance paintings – there is nothing left to say. A must see.
  • Piazza della Signoria: The great bell used to summon citizens to public meetings and it’s a popular promenade for visitors. The piazza’s statues commemorate the city’s major historical events.
  • Cappella Brancacci: The church of Santa Maria del Carmine is famous for the Brancacci Chapel, which contains frescoes on The Life of St. Peter.
  • Shopping in Florence: There is a kind of magic when shopping on these medieval streets. From family-run businesses, artisan workshops, high end designers, local goods, antiques, fine arts and FOOD, there are few cities comparable in size that can boast such a profusion of high quality shops.

  • Near to Florence is Pisa, known for its Duomo, Baptistery, and Campanile (Leaning Tower) which are all testaments to the city’s scientific and cultural revolution.
    • Duomo and Baptistery: Pisa’s famous Leaning Towner is now the best known building on the Campo dei Miracoli (Field of Miracles), but it was intended as a campanile to complement the Duomo which is one of the finest Pisan-Romanesque buildings in Tuscay. The Baptistery houses a marble pulpit carved with reliefs of the Nativity, the Adoration of the Magi, the Presentation, the Crucifixion and the Last Judgement.
    • The Leaning Tower of Pisa: Begun on 1173, the Leaning tower started to tilt on the sandy silt subsoil in 1274 before the 3rd story was complete – and there are 8 total. It has been defeating the laws of gravity since.

Chapter 4: Rome

(This paragraph was taken from Wikipedia – it summarizes the history better than I could have)

Rome’s history spans more than two and a half thousand years. While Roman mythology dates the founding of Rome at only around 753 BC, the site has been inhabited for much longer, making it one of the oldest continuously occupied sites in Europe. The city’s early population originated from a mix of Latins, Etruscans and Sabines. Eventually, the city successively became the capital of the Roman Kingdom, the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire, and is regarded as one of the birthplaces of Western civilisation and by some as the first ever metropolis. It was first called urbs aeterna (The Eternal City) by the Roman poet Tibullus in the 1st century BCE, and the expression was also taken up by Ovid, Virgil, and Livy. Rome is also called the “Caput Mundi” (Capital of the World).

I will return to Rome. There was not enough time to see everything and the city is truly glorious. Italy’s capital is a sprawling, cosmopolitan center with nearly 3,000 years of globally influential art, architecture and culture on display. It’s a global playground twirling with passion and energy. Rome has a bounty of things to see and the mix of its architecture is a testament to its past: ruins, baroque squares and Renaissance gardens combine to give the city its enticing edge.

Respect the Food:

  • The Flavors of Rome: Roman cooking is slow and inventive. Pasta is the vital ingredient and the best dishes are simply prepared with the freshest ingredients. I can still taste fresh vegetables (artichokes), the fruit (lemons are the size of softballs), the bucatini all’amatriciana with spicy tomato and bacon sauce. Try everything.

  • Camp De’Fiori: It use to be the place of public executions, but is now a picturesque market by day. At night, it turns into a hub for nightlifers with restaurants and bars open for business
  • Piazza Della Rotonda: City square on the south side near the Pantheon. In the center of the piazza is a fountain, the Fontana del Pantheon, surmounted by an Egyptian obelisk. La Campana is nearby – Rome’s oldest trattoria (1518).

  • Piazza Navona: The Stadium of Domitian built in the 1st century AD is here. It was an open space stadium where the ancient Romans went to watch games. It was called the Circus Agonalis (competition arena). Check out Il Cantuccio – dazzling celeb place – for a delectable Roman meal.

Must See / Excursions:

  • *The Colosseum: It’s an ancient amphitheater and Rome’s most legendary landmark. This Roman icon, where gladiator battles once entertained more than 50,000 spectators has a maze of subterranean chambers which caged the fierce animals used in the battles – over 9,000 wild animals were killed.

  • The Roman Forum: It was originally a chaotic area with food stalls, brothels, temples and the Senate House but soon became the ceremonial center of the city under the Empire. Think House of the Vestal Virgins, Temple of Castor and Pollux, The Temple of Romulus, Basilica of Constantine and Maxentius.

  • Palatine Hill: Located in the same archaeological area as The Roman Forum, this is the spot on which the first settlers built their huts, under the direction of Romulus. It is one of the seven Hills of Rome and is located in one of the most ancient parts of the city.
  • The Pantheon: This was the temple to ‘all gods’. The maze of streets around it is a mix of lively restaurants and cafes.

  • *Vatican City: The world capital of Catholicism is the world’s smallest state.

  • Tens of thousands of people visit the Vatican to see St. Peter’s Basilica, masterpieces by the likes of Michelangelo and Raphael, and the Sistine Chapel. It is a UNESCO-listed complex with a collection of galleries filled with classical and Renaissance masterpieces, including the Sistine Chapel frescoes. Stroll through rooms like the Gallery of Maps, with its golden, vaulted ceiling; the Raphael Rooms, painted by Renaissance artist Raphael; and the stunning Sistine Chapel, considered to be the Pope’s home chapel, with Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam and The Last Judgement. Finish with a visit to St. Peter’s Basilica, the largest church ever built and one of the holiest and most important sites in Christendom. The Pietà, one of Michelangelo’s earlier sculptures that depicts the body of Jesus on the lap of his mother Mary after the Crucifixion, is breathtaking. St. Peter was martyred and buried here, and became the residence of the popes who succeeded him. This was one of the most overwhelming experiences of the trip. Everything is grand and almost larger than life. You are completely humbled regardless of religious affiliation by this experience.

  • Fontana Di Trevi: Rome’s largest and most famous fountain features figures of Neptune flanked by two Tritons, one trying to master an unruly seahorse, the other leading a quieter beast, symbolizing the two contrasting gods of the sea.

  • Arch of Constantine: The triumphal arch is one of Imperial Rome’s last monuments built in AD 315 a few years before he moved the capital of the Empire to Byzantine.

  • Piazza Di Spagna and the Spanish Steps: The network of narrow streets around this Piazza forms one of the most exclusive areas of Rome – Via Condotti. This is the most famous square in Rome.

Chapter 5: Naples & Campania Region (Pompeii)

The UNESCO-listed site of Pompeii is worth the trip. After the volcano’s infamous AD 79 eruption, lava and volcanic ash destroyed the cities of Herculaneum and Pompeii. Evidence of those ancient streams of lava is still evident in the area. Once a thriving Roman city, Pompeii is best known for its archaeological digs, which are home to a wealth of relics.

There were preserved fossils and other ruins, plus plaster imprints of the town’s victims who were buried for years (there was a dog on a chain frozen in time!).

The ability to wander the streets and see how locals lived before the ashes took over is amazing. You’ll see where ancient shops, cafes and even brothels existed.

Chapter 6: Amalfi Coast

Discover one of Italy’s most beautiful stretches of coastline: The Amalfi Coast (aka: Brielle’s retirement). The picturesque towns combine stunning Italian scenery, archaeology and history.


The town of Amalfi was a former naval power now famous for its cliffside perch on the coast of the Tyrrenhian Sea. The views/cliffs are scary and breathtaking. Relax over a coffee or limoncello at a café.

Oh, and there is a Hotel Caruso… I think I need to stay here next time…

Chapter 7: Sicily (Palermo)

Active volcanoes, Greek ruins, remarkable landscapes? Palermo is an eclectic crossroads of Mediterranean and northern European civilization I also have a soft spot because my father’s family is from here – The mighty Caruso Clan!

*Keith and I were here in August. It’s hotter than hell. The only other place on earth we experienced such heat was XI’AN China (check out that post). We rationed water and dripped sweat but continued to explore this amazing town. The softball size rice balls and pizza fueled us…powered by pizza had a whole new meaning.

Respect the Food:

Make sure you eat!!!!! Sicilian food bears the mark of medieval influences. The Arabs introduced sugar cane, rice and certain citrus fruits, and the strong flavors of caponata (aubergine and caper salad), arancine (filled rice balls), cassata and cannoli (both filled with a sweet ricotta cream) are tasty testaments to the kind of culinary culture which evolves only over the course of centuries. Artichokes, harvested in winter and spring, are thought to be native to Sicily, while lamb and swordfish are so popular that they might almost be considered “national” dishes. Everything dish is perfection.

Must See / Excursions:

  • The Mafia (means hostility to the law) is an international organization founded in Sicily. It developed against a background of a cruel state, exploitative nobility and severe poverty. By the late 19th century it had become a criminal organization thriving on property speculation and drug trafficking.

  • Vucciria Market: Dating back 700 years, this spirited open air market is filled with more fresh food than you can imagine, Chinese imports, toys/junk, and hidden gems that are squeezed into the maze-like streets. The market has lost its tenuous links with its mafia past.

  • The Crypts

  • Teatro Massimo: Beautiful opera house located in the Piazza Verdi
  • The Casa Professa: Stunning baroque church
  • Quattro Canti Quarter (Baroque Square)

Chapter 8: Where I Still Need to Go

Milan, Naples, Sardinia, Capri – I’m coming for you!!!! #stayinspired

Ciao for now!