Italy Vacation - The Colosseum, Rome, Pompeii, and More - Part 1
Updated: Apr 16
La vita è una combinazione di pasta e magia (“Life is a combination of pasta and magic”). – Maestro Federico Fellini
Well, it’s been official for a few weeks now. I’m 30 years old. I’ve moved up to the next age bracket. I’m probably about one-third of the way through this thing that we call life, but we will never truly know how much time we have left until its probably too late, right?
That’s why we did what any other travel-obsessed couple would do in this situation – we celebrated our birthdays with a vacation. Smack dab in between my birthday and his, Zac and I spent about 10 days exploring the Italian countryside with two good friends who happen to also be travel-obsessed.
Some of the ride for this trip was pretty bumpy (both figuratively and literally – we had so much turbulence on one flight that they actually handed out bags to anyone who wanted them). That being said, once we got through some of the stressors, the trip ended up being pretty amazing. Despite the twists, turns, and bumps to get us there, the food, activities, views, and (of course) gelato made it all worth it.
I’ve decided to break our trip down into three posts: the main itinerary; the Rome Marathon (along with how we barely made it into the country in time due to multiple factors working against us); and, finally, the Path of the Gods hike and other hiking ideas for Italy. I’ll kick things off with the main itinerary.
Sunday – Food and Walking Rome
Sunday was set aside for my marathon and exploring Rome on foot. We had no specific plans for the afternoon. After the race, we ate, went back to our Airbnb so I could shower, then set back out for more adventures around town. The day was too beautiful (and I much prefer to keep my legs moving instead of letting them seize up) to do anything but explore.
The first thing on my mind after the race? Lunch, of course! We set out blindly for the first food place that looked good and ended up stopping at Hostaria Al Gladiatore. This was the first Italian food that I had on the trip, and boy, was it amazing. I can’t say for certain if it was so great because I had just run 26.2 miles or if it was because it was actually that amazing, but even looking back on the entire trip, it was one of my favorite meals.
After lunch and my shower, when we set back out to explore by foot, we had no agenda in mind. We just wandered through Rome blindly from our Airbnb. The first place we landed on was the Parco degli Scipioni, self-proclaimed as “one of the smallest and most intimate parks in Rome.” The park was enclosed by amazing historic walls, and there were dogs running around off leash (obviously the dogs are something that I have to note – mustn’t forget about my favorite four-legged friends!).
Once we walked around for a while, it was time for our first gelato trip. We aimlessly walked until we found the closest one, which happened to be Willy's Gelateria. Honestly, this may have been the marathon talking too, but this was probably my favorite Gelateria of the entire trip as well. They had very low prices, lots of gelato, and even added each customer’s choice of a flavored whipped topping (vanilla, chocolate, or tiramisu, if I remember correctly).
Monday – The Day We Visited Pompeii
The next day, we were up early in the morning to drive down to the Pompeii Archaeological Site by their opening time. I am so glad we made the early trip to get there as it opened because we were able to explore a good portion of the site prior to the crowds getting there. We wandered the site for hours, taking in what used to be a hustling, bustling city.
There are no words that can quite describe the feeling of walking through a place such as Pompeii with Mount Vesuvius standing proudly in the distance, knowing what happened so many years ago. The fact that the entire city was destroyed but yet somehow so pristinely preserved on that historic day thousands of years ago is both gut-wrenching and beautiful at the same time.
There is another, lesser-known town very similar to Pompeii close by that was also taken by Mount Vesuvius’ wrath, Herculaneum. Herculaneum can be visited much like Pompeii, but with less crowds. We didn’t have the time to visit both, unfortunately, due to our itinerary for the rest of the day and our long drive back to Rome, but it is definitely worth looking into as well if time allows.
Something to Note: When visiting Pompeii, if following Google maps for navigation, be aware that there are street vendors everywhere along the road leading to the entrance. We had more than three people try to stop us by asking, “Are you going to Pompeii? If so, you’re not headed to the right entrance! Let us help you.” Do not trust them. If a paid guided tour is something you’re interested in and you haven’t already purchased one, feel free to talk with them, but otherwise just keep walking.
Once we finished our walk back in time through Pompeii, we made our way to the Cantina del Vesuvio Winery for our previously made lunch reservations. Their long, winding path from the road was confusing. At a certain point, we came to a fork in the driveway pointing one way for “Pizzeria” and another way for “Wine Club.” We took the Pizzeria path to the wrong location, and were then guided back to the Wine Club.
The winery, once we actually got there, was beautiful. We were greeted at the entrance with some wine for sipping as we waited for our tour to begin. We then toured the vineyard and cellars of the winery, all while learning about how amazing the lava from Mount Vesuvius has been for their winery. We were taken back upstairs to finish our reserved time with our multiple course lunch, paired perfectly with some of their best wines.
Our tummies full of delicious food, we then made our way toward the one and only, Mount Vesuvius. We had every intention of completing the Mount Vesuvius hike, but as we got closer and closer, the weather continued to be overcast and dreary. We decided against making the trek, and instead planned to drive up.
This, admittedly, was where I made a mistake in my research, as we actually needed to purchase our tickets in advance since we hadn’t chosen to go with a tour guide. If I knew then what I know now, I would’ve further reviewed the helpful site Hiking Mount Vesuvius that shared all about the entry fees and more details about the hike. Hopefully, my slip in the research for our trip can help someone else who may be reading this in the future.
Since we didn’t spend as much time at Mount Vesuvius as expected, we made our way straight to Naples. On our itinerary for Naples, Castel dell'Ovo was at the top of the list. By the time we had gotten to Naples, the overcast weather turned into light rain. Still, we found parking and trekked to the Castel. Only then were we greeted with a paper sign on the front door stating that the Castel was closed still due to COVID. I would say that this was another unfortunate mistake in my research, but to this day, I still cannot find anything online stating they are closed. We simply appreciated the beauty of the exterior of the castle before heading back to Rome for the evening.
Tuesday – The Colosseum, Roman Forum, and Exploring Rome by Foot
Tuesday was for the Colosseum, the ancient gladiators, wild ancient Roman stories, and the Roman Forum. We booked the Small-Group Tour of Colosseum Underground, Arena and Forum, and it was well worth it! The tour included all entry fees and gave us multiple skip-the-line options. One of the coolest things about the tour, though, was being able to go underground and see where the ancient Romans kept the lions and tigers before they would be released into the gladiator fights.
After the tour, Miscele E Fuoco was the place we chose for lunch. We just set off from the Roman Forum and found the first place that looked good, had decent prices, and wasn’t overly busy with crowds. It gave us the energy we needed to then walk to the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon (just to look – the lines were atrocious, so we didn’t want to spend our afternoon waiting), Curia di Pompeo (“Et tu, Brute?” – if you know, you know), and the Tabularium. It was a long walk back to the Airbnb, so of course, we needed to stop and try another Gelatoria. La Dolce Vita Gelatoria was yet another excellent choice (but I don’t know if it is actually possible to have bad gelato).
Wednesday – The Vatican and Our Pasta-Making Class
Can one honestly go to Rome without visiting the Vatican City? Catholic or not, it is a truly fascinating experience that really taught us a lot of history. Without getting deeply into religion, I don’t think any of us in our friend group are Catholic, but we all enjoyed the experience.
We took Lime Scooters from our Airbnb to the Vatican (they also had some other types of scooters and bikes, but Lime seemed to be the most prevalent in the area). What would’ve been a walk that would’ve taken a few hours (or a drive that would’ve probably taken just as long to find parking) ended up taking us about 20 minutes. Seriously, one thing to note about Rome is that the traffic is extremely congested. For those that are scaredy-cat drivers, walking, public transit, or the scooters are the way to go. Plus, for those that haven’t ridden the Lime scooters before, it was seriously so much fun.
We were a little worried about the time it would take to get into the Vatican City, as we had heard mixed reviews: some said to wait until the afternoon because the lines would be so long in the morning; some said they didn’t even go because the lines were so long; some articles mentioned the best days to go would be Tuesdays or Thursdays, etc., etc. A really good article I came across about visiting the Vatican can be found here.
Once we got to the Vatican, we came face to face with an extremely long line (but it was moving very quickly!). The security personnel were able to get people in at a very fast pace. Once we got in, we were able to see some of the Papal audience before then heading toward the Vatican Museums (another helpful article about the Museums can be found here).
Something to Note: On Wednesdays, Saint Peter’s Basilica is closed until later in the day for the Papal audience. This was something we didn’t realize, and then we didn’t have time to go back later for the Basilica. For anyone visiting, it would be a good idea to decide what is more important if time doesn’t allow them to be in the Vatican City all day (which would they rather do – see the Pope or visit the Basilica?).
Something Else to Note: There are multiple guided tours of the Vatican City. A few that I found, for example, were: Vatican Fast-Track, Small-Group Vatican and St. Peter's Basilica Tour, and Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel Skip-the-Line. Keep in mind that, even without a fast-track or pre-purchased tour, the Vatican Museum offers very reasonably priced headsets for audio tours. Audio tours can also be downloaded to phones with apps such as VoiceMap or SelfTour.
After the Vatican, Zac and I were off for an early afternoon for a pasta and tiramisu making class with dinner (and wine!). We started at an adorable cafe, La Nicchia Cafe, for some education about different Italian favorites – cheeses, pestos, balsamic vinegars, etc. We walked through where each food item came from in Italy and the history. After our snacks and education, we made our way to Zia Rilla to learn how to make gnocchi, ravioli, and tiramisu.
Honestly, looking back at our trip, this was one of my favorite things. It’s hard to say what my absolute favorite part of Italy was, but I will never forget the pasta-making class. Our tour guide was a wonderful woman from the Netherlands, who was open to chat the entire time. I loved hearing about her decision to move to Rome, her love for her job, and everything else she was willing to share. The owners and chefs of the restaurant were amazing and patient with us.
The restaurant was owned by a couple, and their son was the chef mainly teaching us how to make our food. They were all so incredibly nice, ready to give us tips and tricks every chance they could about how to recreate the food once we got home (we even left with recipes!). I have never been in a group tour like this where everyone participated and the tour guide and chefs all got along so well. It felt like we were all part of one big group that had come in together.
Thursday – The Amalfi Coast
Thursday was for a long drive to the Amalfi Coast and a hike at The Path of the Gods Trail – but that will be detailed in a later blog post, as this hike was a beauty all its own and deserves more time than a few paragraphs.
Friday – Florence
For our final day in Italy, we ventured north to visit Florence. This was another early day so we could be on the road and in Florence by a decent time. Our initial plan was to visit the Accademia Gallery. I had my heart set on seeing Michaelangelo’s Statue of David. Once we got to town, though, we found the non-skip-the-line, non-prepaid line for the museum. The line was long, and it wasn’t moving. We stood there for about 30 minutes and didn’t move more than a few feet toward the front.
With that, we looked for other things to do in the area and landed on the Museo Interattivo Leonardo da Vinci. It was a smaller, cheaper museum with absolutely no line. We were able to get right in, look around and explore, and have a great time. After some exploration at the museum, we found our way to a restaurant for lunch, Taverna Dei Servi.
Finally, before making our way back to Rome for the final evening, we explored the Giardino Bardini. The gardens were beautiful. From the top of the gardens, visitors could sip delicious drinks and view the skyline of the city.
Each and every day in Italy was one like none other. I cannot even begin to describe what an amazing experience Italy was, much like all of our other trips overseas. The culture, the cuisine, the architecture – everything in Italy worked so seamlessly together to make an absolutely wonderful vacation and getaway from reality. Now that we are home, all I can think about is our next vacation (and possibly, when our next trip to Italy will be).