Well, here we are. The last part around our 3 week tour around Italy. (Okay, we’re publishing this one a little late… sorry!)
After Bologna we were headed to Venice. We’d both heard so much about this “romantic” city and couldn’t wait to wind in and around the famous canals and see what it was all about.
You have a couple choices as to where to stay when looking for hotels in Venice. You can stay in Venice itself which is its own car-free island, on the other islands surrounding it or on the mainland in a town called Mestre. We chose to stay in Mestre as the hotels were much cheaper and it provided us a place to park our car! We found our hotel through Ebates on Hotels.com (click our links to sign up and make a purchase so we get credit!) and while the hotel we chose wasn’t the best, it was around the corner from a tram stop that takes you directly into Venice for €3/person round trip.
The city of Venice is what you’d expect. Canals big and small, veining their way in and around, acting as streets for boats. From small independent boats to big “boat busses” to the famous gondolas, they’re everywhere! We walked our way around, got lost in the tiny allys and enjoyed all the different bridges connecting one side to the other on all the different canals.
Here’s the thing. Venice is beautiful. It was fun to pick a spot to sit and watch the boats go by. We even enjoyed some cheap cocktails here! (Zone 324, you should definitely check it out!) But we’re lost as to why this city is known for being “so romantic”. Yes, maybe if you have no budget and spending €80 for a 30 minute gondola ride after spending the day shopping at expensive boutiques and Murano glass shops, it’s a dream. It’s a shopping town. It’s a tourist town. It’s pretty, don’t get us wrong, but we weren’t as blown away as we’d hoped. We wondered if we’d missed something… what are these people seeing that we’re not? We checked out all the main sights and we’re still left wondering.
The Food in Venice:
Antico Gafaro: The day we spent in Venice we enjoyed Italian food, shocker! We searched and searched for a restaurant that tickled us and were really hoping to find a place with polenta as that starts to become a more popular dish as you get further north. We settled on this place and had a pretty decent meal! While they didn’t have polenta, we still managed to get some dishes we’d been craving. I was in the mood for red sauce and a simple dish of spaghetti Arrabiata fit the bill perfectly. Dean’s been talking about Carbonara (even though it’s a Roman dish!) and so he chose that as his meal. We both gobbled up our dishes, licked the plates and washed it down with a liter of their house wine. A perfect evening!
Bombay Spice: That’s right, we got Indian food while in Italy. It was AMAZING! If you’ve ever spent a lengthy time in Italy, I’m sure you’d agree with us that at a certain point, you need to indulge in something other than pizza, pasta and other Italian specialties. We looked for a place close to our hotel and since Bombay Spice had good reviews, we decided we’d welcome a night free of Italian flavors. We couldn’t recommend this place more! Dean ordered Lamb Rohanjosh and I got creamy Chicken Maknhi. We shared some buttery fragrant basmati rice and naan, one studded with pungent garlic and the other stuffed with cheese, (we are pretty sure it was Philadelphia cream cheese…but was still delicious!) and ate every bite. Afterwards we shared a pistachio lassi and it topped the meal off perfectly. If you’re ever staying in this area and enjoy Indian food, look no further than Bombay Spice! Yum!
After Venice we were headed to Verona, but decided to take a day trip up into the Dolomite Mountains before heading into the city. Dean had read about these mountains previously, with amazing mountainside wineries, Germanic influence and beautiful lakes. While we knew we were in for a day of driving through the mountains but we hadn’t yet picked a destination point. Dean started to look for wineries in that region and happened to stumble upon a photo of a beautiful lake. He showed me the photo and our destination was determined!
The drive started through the valley floor through the base of the mountains with huge green cliffs on either side. Small towns were built on the sides with layers and layers of vineyards around every turn. Such a magnificent sight.
Eventually, we turned off the highway for our trek up into the mountains. The roads got twister and each turn was more beautiful than the one before. Finally we arrived at Lake Carezza. We’d seen a picture online, so we knew it was going to be a bright blue lake, surrounded by green trees with views of the jagged Mount Latimore mountain range in the background….but what we got was so much more than that. Now, I know every time we post pictures of beautiful blue water we go crazy and talk about how it’s the most gorgeous water we’ve ever seen, clearly it’s that kind of thing that makes us excited… but this truly was the most amazing sight either of us have witnessed. Not only the most gorgeous water but by far on the top of the list of amazing things we’ve seen on this trip. #1 in Italy for sure!
Lake Carezza is known as the “rainbow lake” and we can see why. It fades from green to turquoise to blue and back again. An ombré effect from every angle. There is a walking path around the perimeter that allows you to see it from every vantage point which is nice because then the views are unspoiled by anyone and the color changes as you walk along. There’s a fun story that tells the reason why this lake has the effect that it does. According to legends, once upon a time there was a mermaid living in this lake, which wizard Masaré was in love with. In order to seduce her, the witch Lanwerda advised him to dress up as jewel merchant and throw a rainbow from Mt Catinaccio to Mt Latemar. That is what he did, but he forgot to dress up. So the beautiful mermaid detected him and forever disappeared in Lake Carezza. The wizard was angry and threw all the pieces of the rainbow as well as the jewels into the waters. That is why it has the effect it does!! Whatever the reason, we couldn’t be happier to see it in all it’s glory.
We’ll let the pictures speak for themselves!
Verona was a super cute town. We’re not sure why it doesn’t get as much praise as the other cities! It’s fairly small, so walking from one end to the other was a breeze. Verona had a gorgeous colosseum right in the center of town with tons of restaurants in a square right in front. The streets of Verona were like others throughout Italy, made of cobblestones with gorgeous houses and buildings on either side. We also happened to walk by the famous Romeo & Juliette balcony! We were shocked that they charge you to go in and see. Then again, maybe we’re not so surprised! We looked from afar and took what pictures we could without wasting our money (in our opinion!) to go in and see. The town was very magical to us, beautiful flower filled balconies overlooking the piazzas, ornate blue lampposts contrasting with the bright green foliage and purple flowers.
Finding ourselves hooked from Lake Carezza the day before, we decided to do another day trip from Verona to see another lake more well known in this area, Lake Garda, the largest lake in Italy. It was huge! The southern end was the popular one with tons of beach goers, restaurants and shops. There were people wind surfing, boating and soaking up the sunshine everywhere along the pebbly beaches. As we made our way north up to the top, the crowds became less and we were able to pop out of the car to get some pictures of the pretty blue lake water. Not nearly as impressive as Carezza, but we sure do love our water! It was fun to stop, have a picnic and enjoy a beautiful day outside.
Just a little bit further north from the tip of the lake, we decided to check out Lake Cavedine hoping it would impress us. We arrived at the almost deserted lake and the smell of hotdogs and grill from the few campers that were there greeted us as our car doors open. It made us both think of home! A few snapshots of the lake was all we got before the sky opened up and it was a total downpour in the whole area. Still ended as a fun day of lake hopping!
The Food in Verona:
Needing another break from Italian, we started to look at what was around us and noticed that “all you can eat” sushi is a very big thing in this area! We found Sushi One and it was awesome! While neither of us eat fish, we had access to their whole menu in addition to any kind of vegetable sushi you can think of. We stuffed ourselves silly with Asian food and reminisced about our time in Asia. Sushi in Italy? Don’t knock it till you try it!
With our dreams filled with pesto and salami we were off to Genoa. Again, an underrated city that doesn’t get as much press as it should! We tend to enjoy the smaller, “2nd cities” better as they often have less tourists and therefor more authentic food!
Genoa is an old port city. Walking from our hotel to the other side of the city and to the port was only about 15 minutes. The perfect size city for us! We passed through the Piazza de Ferrari with its huge fountain surrounded by medieval looking buildings. The small streets winded down, taking you to the port filled with cruise ships stopping by, a pirate ship and other boats. We so badly wished we had one of our own to take out!
We’d heard lots about Cinque Terre and Portofino, towns just about an hour from Genoa. Portofino is known as a beautiful Italian Riviera beach town and Cinque Terre (a cluster of 5 small towns) for is colorful houses and car free streets. We researched taking trains or ferries but decided that we would utilize our car to see the twisting coast line. What started as a road trip ended very quickly. Since it was a Sunday, the towns were so packed with people that they wouldn’t allow cars to drive in. Instead they suggest you park in the next town over and walk or take a bus. Okay, that might work, right? Well, not if that’s what everyone has to do! Signs everywhere indicated that parking in the next town over was completely full on the streets and in lots, and this is not the place you “circle” or “sit” and wait till someone leaves. We cut our losses and figured since we’d seen the beautiful Amalfi, we’d be content in not seeing another beach town.
The Food in Genoa:
Since Genoa is mainly known for pesto, our goal here was to get as much of it as we could. On our first day, we stumbled upon a market close to the Piazza De Ferrari and found a stand selling it fresh. A taste of it was all we needed to be convinced to buy some to take home. A quart for €8?! Yes please! Just across from there was a man selling rice of all kinds sold in 500g (around 1.1lbs) or 1kg (2.2lbs) packages. They were so cheap! We picked up two 500g bags, one Arborio, which he suggested to make arancini (fried rice balls) with, and a bag of Carnaroli which is best to use for risotto, (as he explained it as the king of rice!) to take home along with our pesto. We wished that we could’ve filled our luggage with the different varietals that he had on offer but hey, at least we got some!
Il Genovese: The only downside to going to a town that isn’t as big with tourism is that finding restaurants can be more tough! That was definitely the case here. There really weren’t many to choose from! TripAdvisor led us here and we wish it had turned out to be better than it was. It was our first meal of pesto and we were just plain disappointed! We shared a plate of mixed fried foods including zucchini blossoms, dough, cheese, polenta and tripe to start. For dinner, I got Gnocchi al Pesto and Dean got Trofie al Pesto (a signature pasta of this region). The gnocchi was good, but it was clear they didn’t salt the pasta water before cooking the pasta. Everyone knows you have to do that! It was so bland! The pesto had way too much parmesan! I know you’re probably thinking “too much Parmesan? Is there such a thing?” and we’d normally agree, but that’s all it tasted like. No herbiness or bite from the basil and no nuttiness from the pine nuts. We left feeling deflated and sad. We definitely don’t recommend going here.
LoScorretto: Being that our last day in Genoa was a Sunday, it was even more difficult to find a place for dinner, let alone be picky and search for one with pesto. We lined up a few places after looking on Yelp and TripAdvisor and when all of those options failed due to them being closed (and the websites being wrong in their listed hours!) we stumbled upon this little bar selling plates of pasta for €5 each. Hungry, frustrated and in need of a bathroom, we decided to sit and have a quick bite and refuel. Why is it that when you end up at places like this, you end up with the best meals?! Whatever the reason, we’re not complaining. We absolutely loved it. They didn’t offer a choice of pasta, just the sauces. We tried again with the pesto and also ordered crema al nocchi (walnut cream sauce. Yes, as amazing as it sounds). Both hit it out of the park, tossed with ziti riggate so the sauces clung on tightly. The bright green pesto had a great balance of herbs, pine nuts and cheese, and came with a giant bowl of freshly grated Parmesan cheese on the side if you needed more. The walnut cream sauce was great, nuttiness and creaminess with that great deep walnut flavor. A win for sure!
Our last stop in Italy was Milan. The fashion capital and the land of Milanese (thinly pounded and breaded meat) and creamy saffron risotto Milanese. Can you guess which we came for? I’ll give you a hint, we weren’t interested in waking down any catwalks!
Shortly after arriving we went to check out the Duomo, the giant cathedral in the center of Milan. It’s clear why so many people come here for the views. There were so many intricacies and with it being the center of the piazza, it is a mainstay in Milan. Right next to that is the Victor Emmanuel II hall, a huge archway that leads you into a shoppers dream with all the great and fancy stores, all encased in a glass dome of sorts. It is one of the oldest malls in the world and for sure it is one of the fanciest we have seen!
There were also two pieces of architecture that most wouldn’t even go to see in Milan. First is the Bosco Vertical, a tall apartment building who’s patios are filled with all different plants and trees, not just a few here or there, but entirely covered in greenery. It’s quite a sight. Close by was La Torre Arcobaleno. An old water tower that is located along the train tracks that is covered in brightly colored tiles in all the colors of the rainbow. It was done to bring some new life to the neighborhood and it sure did. Anything colorful is a’ok with us! After the long walks around, it was fun to take the tram system around the city and see everything from the squeaky wooden benches inside.
Our last night we decided to go check out the Duomo one last time to see it all lit up at night. As we walked up the stairs from the metro, we noticed humongous white balloons everywhere. It turned out that Tiffany & Co does this every year as some sort of marketing event. We tried our hardest to get a balloon of our own to play with, but within the 20 seconds it took from the metro to where they were giving them out, they were gone. Nevertheless, all the people holding huge balloons in front of the Duomo made for some fun photos.
The first thing we did here was look for the classic dishes of Milanese and Saffron risotto. We found a place that had both and it provided one of the worst meals we’d had in Italy. A total tourist spot. Disappointed, we steered clear of Italian food for the next few meals. We found a great chip shop (serving the biggest portion we’ve EVER seen!) and a delicious quick serve wok place right near where we were staying. Convenient and delicious!
Ristorante Da Oscar: Our last night we were determined to get the famous risotto if it took us all night. I searched and searched and searched and ended up finding Ristorante Da Oscar. A total hit! We started with prosciutto and melon. First of all, we’d never seen such a humongous plate of it in our lives! Huge slices of melon draped in salty prosciutto. The melon was the sweetest, juiciest, candiest melon either of us have ever had. Perfect for a hot summer evening. Then it was time for the reason we came. Risotto Milanese for two. Two huge plates of bright yellow creamy risotto with a huge bowl of Parmesan to add as much as you’d like. Absolute perfection. The perfect creamy but sturdy consistency which completely melted in our mouths. We were beyond happy to not only find a delicious restaurant after so many fails, but to have it on our last night in Italy!
The last thing we noticed about Milan was how many mosquitos there were! Before we left for our world trip, we met with a great friend and neighbor, Roxanne Royce, who owns a travel vaccine company called Colorado Travel Health to prepare us for everything we needed to know. She warned us about insects in every country and what diseases they could potentially carry, and then explained to us what to do if we’d ever needed to treat a bite. It was so informative and prepared us so well! She even told us we could send her pictures of bites if we were nervous about them! Luckily we never had to do that! What was constant in every place we were going was the risk of all the mosquitos! What’s weird, is that we barely encountered any weird bugs or bites untill we got to Milan! While mosquitos arent uncommon, we were so surpsied that they were everywhere! We totally got eaten up. Luckily, we’re feeling fine, so we’re thinking we managed to steer clear of all the nasty things they carry.
Italy was an amazing country. The birthplace of so many amazing ingredients and scenery. We can see why it is such a magical place for so many people! While we’re glad we came, we’re ready to go! It was definitely an expensive country and while it’s the land of such amazing food, we found ourselves disappointed with a lot of the restaurants we went to!
Next stop, 12 blissful days in Paris!