Venice Travel Tips

italy, Travel

Venice is one of those places one dreams about visiting. It’s a bucket list destination full of legends, art, myths and plenty to explore!

If you are heading to Venice, here are a few things to remember before you hit the road…. I mean lagoon.

  1. There are no cars allowed on Venice. No cars. This means you need to take a train, or boat to the city. Trains arrive on the main island through Santa Lucia station. Planes are at the Marco Polo airport, where the train or a bit can be taken into the lagoon. If you have a car leave your car parked and take the ferry to Venice, Lido or other island.
  2. Take the Gondola ride! It’s expensive but worth every second. You wouldn’t go to Paris and miss the Eiffel Tower, don’t miss the Gondolas!
  3. Travel in the off season! Avoid the crowds and have a better time. Go in the fall or early spring to see more with less chaos.
  4. Learn a little. Pick up a book or two before you go and learn some about the rich history of Venice. This will bring everything you see more to life.
  5. Get off the main island. If you have time, get out and explore the Venice Lagoon islands such as Burano and Murano for charming villages and awesome art. If a beach is more your style, head to Lido.

Happy Travels!

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Visiting Cinque Terre

History, italy, Travel

Located on the west coast of Italy, a part of the Italian Riviera is the ever increasingly popular National Park of Cinque Terre. Millions visit the area every year from Florence and Rome, making it a top destination for travelers.

The appeal of The “five lands” is its sweeping landscapes, rich views, and unique adventures.

Here are my tips for visiting this enchanting location.

  • Catch an early train
    • Most people start from Florence, catch a regional train from Santa Maria Novella to La Spezia. At La Spezia you can buy your day or multi-day pass to the National Park and access to the train network in the region
    • If you are renting a car, park in La Spezia, and buy your pass just the same.
    • A small train network links the five villages (lands) running approximately every 20 minutes in each direction (north or south). This is the easiest way to get from city to city.
    • Note that there are no cars allowed in the cities and that there is a bus line that also connects the region but it’s less consistent and requires more walking.
    • The earlier you go, the better! This will help you avoid crowds and heat.
  • Bring your hiking shoes
    • There are over 70 miles of trails that links the five villages are region. The views from these trails are magnificent and offer amazing photo opportunities.
    • The trails are tough, but you do escape the crowds and enjoy some fantastic nature along the way.
    • Check trail conditions before you go, as wash outs are common.
  • Check your trains
    • Train schedules are more of a guideline than a rule in Italy. Therefore, make sure you read the schedules and allow extra time to get back to La Spezia and then your “home base” if you’re doing a day trip.
    • Allow time
    • If you can, stay a couple nights and truly take in the cities!
  • Off season or bust
    • If you can, go right at the end of summer (September/October) or right at the beginning of summer (March) so that you can enjoy the region sans millions of tourists. This allows a local connections that is often missed in June and July!

Memories of Chianti

europe, italy, Travel

As about 10% of College Students in the United States do, I did a study abroad program. I chose Italy before I started college, and stuck with Italy, specifically Florence. While the fees were high and the time away from my partner (now husband) was hard, it was worth EVERY SINGLE PENNY and every hard day to have the experience.

Reflecting on this trip is a constant aid to my work today, and a reminder of just how much I have seen and enjoyed since I graduated from high school in 2009.

Today, I share a little video on the PERFECT Day in Chianti and where you should head on your next journey to Tuscany.

Locations

When in Rome…

italy, Travel

Study Abroad in Florence at SRISA

If you are studying in Florence it is likely you will find yourself in Rome for at least one weekend. This is a must for any trip to Italy and an absolutely wonderful experience.

So, when in Rome…

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DO take photos with the men in Gladiator or Roman Guard uniforms. They will give you a fond memory and make your family and friends laugh!

DON’T eat in the heavy tourist areas, if you have the time seek out a place off the beaten path, do it. This is a reality for all of Italy, look around and find a smaller family-owned “locals eat here” place. The food, service, and most likely the prices will be much better!

DO join a tour, if you go to the big tourist areas, especially on the weekends the guides will be a bit more, BUT they get you in much sooner, and you learn…

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Faces of Italy, Part II- Calcio Storica

europe, History, italy, Photography, Travel

This photo essay explores the traditional clothing and roles of individuals in the parade that precludes Calcio Storico in Florence, Italy on St. John the Baptist’s Feast Day in June 2013.

This is part II of my Faces of Italy series. Please visit part I, Faces of Italy.

Gluten Free in the Land of Bread and Pasta

Allergen-free eating on the road, italy, Travel

“Una pizza margarita, senza glutine, por favore.” poured from my tongue, an attempt at accented Italian. The server smiled “one pizza, senza glutine, okay!” in response as she scribbled my order followed by my friends. We sat in a circa 1980’s green back room of a small restaurant only a block away from lines of tourists surrounding Micheangelo’s David.

The smell of mouthwatering plates was overpowering as it drifted from the small kitchen,  while waiting was torture for our hungry and impatient stomachs as a dusty boar’s head stared suspiciously from above the bathroom. Once the food arrived it was no time at all before it was gone, and I was left doing a seated happy dance about how I had just eaten the best pizza of my life. Italy was proving to have the best dining options for my gluten-free life.

Anyone can find eating while traveling hard enough, let alone attempting to do it with food allergies, yet with a little research one can find a world full of edibles that won’t leave your stomach and self, miserable during a well-earned vacation.

I myself have to remember that no, I am not the only person on the planet that is gluten free or dairy free. The reality is that in this day of easier global exploration, the world has become smaller and more connected to different eating concepts. In places like Italy 1 out of 250 people are thought to have celiac disease, and as a result more restaurants in Italy are trying to accommodate for the disease.

In Italy, the government is even aware of the problem and they sell Gluten-Free products at pharmacies, an aid for locals and tourists alike. “Thanks to the public health system my sister can place an order each month to the pharmacy and get all the main food for free.” Enrica Guidato informed me, her twin sister has celiac disease and is doing just fine in her native Lecce, Italy. For the tourist there will be no free pasta, but to know that a country acknowledges the disease is a step in the right direction.

When I was in Florence in 2013 Guidato was a helping hand, she pointed me in the right direction for food, which restaurants were the best, which cared enough to offer gluten free, her list was a mile long of the best gluten free eats. Her experiences with her sister meant she knew great places to eat, and new things to try. It also made me realize just asking others meant a whole hidden knowledge could be opened.

So I asked Roger Elliot, a celiac since his mid-twenties who started a website specifically to share stories of his own eating experiences around the world. He believes that people can go and eat anywhere with celiac disease it just takes a little work. “I think you should take time to properly research the food in the destination you’re travelling to.” Says Roger “That said, there’s always plain meat, fish and veg, and if you have access to self-catering facilities, you should always be able to get by I reckon.”

Roger and his wife also came up with a great idea to overcome language barriers, by making little cards that state exactly what one is allergic to, to show at restaurants. They come in 54 languages and are completely free on his website: celiactravel.com, and are an innovative and easy way to keep one’s digestive system happy.

Another thing about asking, are the pleasant surprises that come with it. I give you one night in Rome.

Since I was studying abroad, we had a side trip to Rome. I was in Rome with my program director, where we had a meal at a place near our hotel and just off the beaten tourist path, Rinaldi al Quirinale. According to its website it served Gluten-Free, but I assumed like most places in the states, there would be a salad or maybe some spaghetti involved and that would be it. I went into the location head held high however, since first of all I was in Rome, and second I was out to dinner with two new friends, and excited at the chance of getting to know both better. Not only did that set the scene for a perfect night, but the restaurant set a standard of excellent dining well beyond anything we could have imagined.

When I asked the server about gluten free he informed me I could have anything I wanted on the menu, and to top that off when real bread was brought for my dinner buddies I got my own, fresh from the oven, gluten free bread roll all to myself. I ended up ordering the mushroom risotto but I swear it was the best I ever had, and with a wait staff willing to bend over backwards for our every need it was a great feeling. It was everything you dream of Italy, a solid and happy relationship with your food, making new friends, and watching the sun set over the eternal city.

In the end, asking for senza glutine proved to be a ticket to winning a great meal and beautiful experience all over Italy. Whether I was eating a pizza, plate of pesto, or a truffle risotto, being celiac opened doors to meeting and understanding people in a new light that I don’t believe would have been there with a normal diet. Maybe I just appreciated having options that I never got at home, or maybe Italy’s food just gives everyone that loving, warm feeling; as if your own grandma poured her love into it.

SURVIVAL- Quick tips

COOKING

As expensive as eating gluten-free in the states can be, expect the same for Europe, but add on an exchange rate, and that rice pasta for €4 becomes about $6. However, if you look around for new ideas you can cook for much less. Risotto, a huge box, will usually only run €1 and make about 10 servings, and fresh veggies in Italy are cheap, delicious, locally grown, and worth the preparation.

DINING OUT

When eating out look around at prices and expect for a Pizza Margarita that is Senza Glutine to be about €11-15 or $15-20 which is pretty normal for eating in the states.  But if you are skipping the pizza, look for risotto specials, salads, and other things especially at restaurants that don’t do a lot gluten-free bread-like products.

GLUTEN FREE FOODS TO TRY
Risotto- rice based and full of endless possibilities, whether it’s mushroom, truffle, vegetable or seafood you will never be disappointed.
Salmon and Arugula- a great plate served with some multi-course meals and perfect for the pescetarian or meat eater
Pizza- many places advertise if they make GF pizza, but don’t be afraid to ask too. Some even have different crust choices!
Pasta- This is the most common bread-like dish you can find, as many places keep a bag of rice pasta on hand, just in case someone like you wanders in. They can usually make it with any sauce you want, or kind. Pesto pasta in Italy is to die for.
Salad- If you have numerous allergies this is a great place to start, no dressing but a little olive oil and lemon juice are the norm, and you can usually get it with no meat but plenty of fresh vegetables, and egg. Tuna is also common if you do fish.
Caprese- cheese and tomatoes, with oil? What’s not to love?
Meat specialties (if you eat meat)- Try some prosciutto with melon, wild boar, steak or just about anything else, never did I hear a complaint.
Polenta- corn based, and delicious. It can come in deep-fried cubes, or under sauce, but all around it’s fantastic.
WINE!- hey you may not be able to get some cheap beer, but you can drink wine, and for a good price. If in Tuscany, you must have some Chianti- you can’t leave the country if you don’t.
How do you say that?
ENGLISH ITALIAN
Gluten- Free Senza Glutine
Dairy / lactose/ milk/ cheese Caseificio/ lattosio/ latte/ formaggio
Wheat/ barley/ rye Grano/ orzo/ segale
Soy soia

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lady with gelato

Happy Eating!

~Rebecca Lee Robinson