15 Days of an Italian Christmas

Tripoto
9th Dec 2017

South Tyrol, Italy

Photo of 15 Days of an Italian Christmas by Dianne Goh

What a mind-blowing, awesome, lovely, and happy tummy-filling holiday we had! Thank you Italy for being a experience that we'll talk about for years to come (and we didn't even visit all of Italy).

Transport and some logistics for the trip

(The itinerary comes after this section)

We got an open ticket which allowed us to land in Milan and depart from Rome, and visited Milan, Verona, Bolzano/Bozen, Venice, Bologna, Florence, and Rome. We originally wanted to go to Cinque Terre and the Amalfi Coast instead of Verona, but I read that lots of places along the Amalfi Coast are closed in winter, and we didn't have enough time to spend in Cinque Terre to justify the long travelling time to get there. So, we went to Verona instead, since its a pretty city, and it's on the way to Bolzano. All the trains from Milan to Bolzano stopped over in Verona.

We took the train all over Italy and did not rent a car at all. Many of the cities that we went to had a historical centre, and some of these historical centres prohibited entry to cars, which meant you had to park far away and then walk back in. It sounded much easier to commute by foot and public transportation. I also did not feel comfortable driving in winter due to slippery roads, etc. The trains were comfortable, and had all the amenities we needed. Hot tip: If you take the Frecciarossa (high speed) trains, look out for spaces between the seats that are placed back to back. You can slot your luggage in there! I managed to fit in my medium sized luggage. :) No need to lift your heavy luggage onto the racks above the seats. Heh heh heh.

You can book train tickets online or at the station. We paid about USD 254 in total (for the both of us) for all our tickets, but sometimes didn't pick the cheapest options as the timings weren't suitable. You should book your tickets online if you're taking the high speed rail trains though, because you get more discounts the earlier you book. (Check out Seat61 for more tips on train travel!)

We knew we'd need mobile data to use Google Maps to get around, so we got a wifi egg from Expressowifi, which worked well for us. The battery lasted pretty okay - with 2 devices connected, the battery got flat after about 9 hours or so. Heavy usage drains the battery quicker of course.

General safety - always keep your valuables in sight and your bags in front of you. Watch your surroundings and if you need help at a train station or tourist attraction or if you're buying tickets for attractions/tours, always always always only approach uniformed staff.

Now, on to the itinerary!

Day 1

Milan (2 days)

Our first day in Italy was bright and sunny, thankfully. We went to Castello Sforzesco, which was a 14th Century castle of the Duke of Milan. Now it houses some museums. We didn't visit those, but took a lovely walk around the castle grounds and its huge garden.

Photo of Castello Sforzesco, Piazza Castello, Milan, Metropolitan City of Milan, Italy by Dianne Goh
Photo of Castello Sforzesco, Piazza Castello, Milan, Metropolitan City of Milan, Italy by Dianne Goh

The castle was quite grand and had lovely courtyards. It looked different from the other castles we would see on our trip.

Courtyard of Castello Sforzesco

Photo of 15 Days of an Italian Christmas by Dianne Goh

Garden outside the Castello Sforzesco

Photo of 15 Days of an Italian Christmas by Dianne Goh

We then went for lunch at the Brera neighbourhood. There were lots of restaurants and shops here, a nice place for a stroll. It was very pretty too because there were Christmas lights put up.

Our first meal in Milan

Photo of 15 Days of an Italian Christmas by Dianne Goh

The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II was super crowded! Everyone was doing Christmas shopping, I expect. This is the shopping gallery filled with shops you might not be able to afford to shop in - all the luxury brands are located here. But minus all the crowds, I'm sure it'll be nice just to stroll and pretend to shop there.

The shopping gallery is right next to the Duomo of Milan (ah, Duomo just refers to a cathedral, it isn't a name and here, it doesn't refer to the famous Duomo in Florence). Did you know that the Duomo di Milano is one of the biggest cathedrals in Italy? The queue to enter the cathedral was way too long so we didn't go in. Anyways we'll be visiting a lot more cathedrals, so we don't want to get all cathedraled-out too early into the trip.

The Duomo looks so pretty all lit up and with the tree. But look at the crowds omg.

Photo of Duomo di Milano, Piazza del Duomo, Milan, Italy by Dianne Goh
Day 2

If you ever go to Milan, please visit this cafe/restaurant, Pavè! They had what was probably the best ham and cheese croissant my husband and I ate on our entire trip. We also had a delicious and unforgettable tart. Highly recommended! They're known for their pastries. A typical Italian breakfast has lots of sweet things. I think the only savoury croissants were the ones we had and a cheese and rocket salad one. From 12pm to 3pm, they serve savoury dishes like soups, sandwiches, salads and seasonal dishes, but we did not try these.

One of the best tarts we've ever eaten.

Photo of Pavè, Via Felice Casati, Milan, Metropolitan City of Milan, Italy by Dianne Goh

Then we went outlet shopping. We took a deep breath and paid 20 euros (!!!) each for a return trip on the shuttle bus to the Serravalle Designer Outlets. You can buy the tickets for the shuttle bus online or at the pick up point, where a staff member will be there selling tickets. The shopping was pretty okay, some shops had really good discounts and it was quite a big place.

View of the outside of Milano Centrale.

Photo of Milano Centrale Railway Station, Piazza Duca d'Aosta, Milan, Metropolitan City of Milan, Italy by Dianne Goh
Day 3

Verona (1 day)

It snowed the day before, so when we arrived in Verona, it was a pretty, Christmassy, snowy scene. The streets and houses in the historial centre were so quaint and lovely. It was raining throughout the entire time we were in Verona but we didn't feel like it spoiled the trip.

Photo of Verona, VR, Italy by Dianne Goh

Quaint streets of Verona

Photo of Verona, VR, Italy by Dianne Goh

Shakespere's Romeo and Juliet was set in Verona and there's actually a house a pretty balcony and a statue of the character Juliet in its courtyard. People come here to grope the boob of the statue of Juliet, because apparently it'll bring you good luck in love (or an excuse to openly grab a boob).

Photo of Giulietta's House, Via Cappello, Verona, VR, Italy by Dianne Goh

Scalinger's Tombs: five Gothic funerary monuments by one of the most influential families in Verona’s history.

Photo of Scaliger Tombs, Verona, VR, Italy by Dianne Goh

Because its cold, try hot chocolate!! Hot chocolate in Italy, known as Ciccolate Calda, is super thick - it's like drinking hot chocolate sauce. So. Good. We went to Venchi, a chocolate and dessert shop which has branches all over Italy.

Day 4

Bolzano (1.5 days)

Oh Bolzano, one of our favourite cities on our trip! Because it is near the Austrian border, residents here speak both Italian and German. There was also a lot of beer, sausages, and pork knuckle. Yum :)

I wanted to go to Bolzano for 2 main reasons: to see the Dolomities and visit the Bolzano Christmas Market. I'm very happy we got to see both. The Bolzano Christmas Market was made up of about 80 stalls selling food, drinks, trinkets, and produce from farmers like ham, cheese, and wine. The Christmas Market is at the Piazza Walther / Waltherplatz, the main square in town which is very near the train station.

View from our apartment in Bolzano.

Photo of Piazza Walther, Bolzano, Province of Bolzano - South Tyrol, Italy by Dianne Goh

Bolzano Train Station - many trains from Innsbruck arrive here too.

Photo of Piazza Walther, Bolzano, Province of Bolzano - South Tyrol, Italy by Dianne Goh

Bolzano Christmas Market

Photo of Piazza Walther, Bolzano, Province of Bolzano - South Tyrol, Italy by Dianne Goh

Dat cheese: it is here that we discovered ham and speck sandwich. Heaven.

Photo of Piazza Walther, Bolzano, Province of Bolzano - South Tyrol, Italy by Dianne Goh

Mulled wine. Do give it a try! My husband and I didn't really like it that much - there was a kind of spice in it.

Photo of Piazza Walther, Bolzano, Province of Bolzano - South Tyrol, Italy by Dianne Goh

In late November, the town hosts a a huge event to light up the Christmas tree at Piazza Walther. This marks the start of the Christmas Market. Many people from the nearby regions come just for the Christmas Market in Bolzano. It was really wonderful and I'm glad we made the trip here to see it!

Stalls at the Christmas Market

Photo of 15 Days of an Italian Christmas by Dianne Goh

After grabbing our quick lunch at the Christmas market, we headed off to the viewing point for the Dolomites.

The view of the Dolomites was just... wow. Any words we use to describe the beauty of the mountains would not be good enough. Many folks base themselves in Bolzano and come to the mountains to ski or hike and I wish we had more time to do that!

The viewing point we chose to go to was Alpe di Siusi. You can take bus 170 from the bus stop right outside the train station (the bus stop is in front of the clock tower), and buy tickets on the bus. You can also take 170 from the bus interchange. The stop you get off at is called Bivio Cabinovia, and you need to look out for it because it's just a little sign post with an icon of a bus on it. Here, we depended on Google Maps to know when to get off - or you can ask the bus driver nicely. The bus ride was about 40 minutes.

We headed to take the cable way! The cable way station had a whole lot of ski rental shops and a few restaurants.

The entrance of the cable car station. After you get off the bus you'll be able see this.

Photo of Cabinovia Siusi- Alpe Di Siusi Spa, Schlernstraße, Seis am Schlern, Province of Bolzano - South Tyrol, Italy by Dianne Goh

Going up to the viewpoint!

Photo of Cabinovia Siusi- Alpe Di Siusi Spa, Schlernstraße, Seis am Schlern, Province of Bolzano - South Tyrol, Italy by Dianne Goh

We wandered around the ski area until we got this jaw dropping view.

Photo of Cabinovia Siusi- Alpe Di Siusi Spa, Schlernstraße, Seis am Schlern, Province of Bolzano - South Tyrol, Italy by Dianne Goh

Ski resorts

Photo of Cabinovia Siusi- Alpe Di Siusi Spa, Schlernstraße, Seis am Schlern, Province of Bolzano - South Tyrol, Italy by Dianne Goh

View from the cableway

Photo of Cabinovia Siusi- Alpe Di Siusi Spa, Schlernstraße, Seis am Schlern, Province of Bolzano - South Tyrol, Italy by Dianne Goh

This is what the cableway looks like.

Photo of Cabinovia Siusi- Alpe Di Siusi Spa, Schlernstraße, Seis am Schlern, Province of Bolzano - South Tyrol, Italy by Dianne Goh

I have no words.

Photo of Cabinovia Siusi- Alpe Di Siusi Spa, Schlernstraße, Seis am Schlern, Province of Bolzano - South Tyrol, Italy by Dianne Goh

We didn't have time to take ski lessons, so after wandering near the ski slopes, we headed back.

Sorry about the bad photo - this is a shot of the bus stop you where take the bus to go back to the city. It's in front of the entrance to the cable car station.

Photo of 15 Days of an Italian Christmas by Dianne Goh
Day 5

Bolzano isn't a very big place, take your time to walk along the streets and explore the surrounding area.

Photo of Bolzano, Italy by Dianne Goh

Grateful to get this view of the mountains while walking along a park!

Photo of Bolzano, Italy by Dianne Goh

I'd like to recommend this restaurant called Hopfen - they're a local microbrewery and they serve very good food - the pork, pasta, potatoes were very good.

Check out the signs in German! Yes, we're still in Italy.

Photo of Hopfen e Co., Obstplatz, Bolzano, Province of Bolzano - South Tyrol, Italy by Dianne Goh

Did you know that the brand Loacker is from Bolzano, Italy? They have 2 Loaker cafes here in Bolzano! There's one right at Piazza Walther where the Christmas market is. There's also a shop inside the cafe with ALL the Loacker things.

Photo of Loacker Moccaria, Waltherplatz, Bolzano, Province of Bolzano - South Tyrol, Italy by Dianne Goh

We had some time before our train, so we visited the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology to see Ötzi the Iceman! He's one of the oldest and best preserved mummies. He's known as a "wet" mummy because he was preserved and found high up in the mountains, versus mummies preserved in the dry dessert. He's 3300 years old and the museum was built specially for him. This museum was one of our favourites and we highly recommend a visit! There was so much information and we learned so much about what life was like in Ötzi's time, how he was found, extracted, preserved, how he probably died, and what his occupation might have been, which is something the scientists still don't know. New discoveries are still being made about him today.

Image taken from iceman.it

Photo of Südtiroler Archäologiemuseum, Museumstraße, Bolzano, Province of Bolzano - South Tyrol, Italy by Dianne Goh

Venice (1.5 days)

After a wonderful time in the mountains, we headed to the islands of Venice! There are a lot of bridges in Venice. I mean, I knew that before coming, but it didn't hit me till we had to cross so many of them as we explored Venice.

Venice is prone to floods, especially in December, so we hoped and prayed that there wouldn't be any acqua alta (high water) when we were there. Thankfully there wasn't - it didn't even rain! It was just cloudy.

By the time we arrived in Venice after a 2h 39m train ride from Bolzano, it was dark, and honestly the little alleys were a little creepy to me. They weren't very well lit outside the touristy area and I can imagine how in the old days, sneaky merchants would dart in and out of the shadows...closing shady deals...

We popped over to see the Rialto Bridge first. The shops along the bridge and the market nearby were closed of course, but it was nice strolling along the canals.

Photo of Rialto Bridge, Venice, Metropolitan City of Venice, Italy by Dianne Goh

Even the ceiling in the supermarket had painings!!

Photo of Rialto Bridge, Venice, Metropolitan City of Venice, Italy by Dianne Goh
Day 6

The next day, bright (ok it was cloudy) and early, we went to the Palazzo Ducale, or the Doge's Palace. It's where the Doge, who was the top leader of Venice, lived. He was more like a figurehead, really. He was highly controlled by the government.

St Mark's Square

Photo of Doge's Palace, Piazza San Marco, Venice, Metropolitan City of Venice, Italy by Dianne Goh

The palace

Photo of Doge's Palace, Piazza San Marco, Venice, Metropolitan City of Venice, Italy by Dianne Goh
Photo of Doge's Palace, Piazza San Marco, Venice, Metropolitan City of Venice, Italy by Dianne Goh

We booked a Secret Itineraries Tour with the museum, where we got to see the administration offices and prisons of the palace, as well as experience crossing the Bridge of Sighs, which is how prisoners would get from the courtrooms to the new prison cells across a canal from the palace. The tour was quite interesting and our guide shared some stories about the famous Giacomo Cassanova and his daring escape from the then-inescapable Venetian Prison.

Viewing the prison cells

Photo of 15 Days of an Italian Christmas by Dianne Goh

Doors were built this way, like doors on a ship, on purpose so that the bottoms of the doors would not wear out and make it difficult to close.

Photo of 15 Days of an Italian Christmas by Dianne Goh

A secret door where the lawyers and witnesses would enter from for the trial.

Photo of 15 Days of an Italian Christmas by Dianne Goh

The administration offices were plain and modest. Because there were no guests expected at the offices, which is where the officials worked, the rooms were humble. It was also to remind those working there that they were servants to the state.

Now, the palace rooms on the other hand. Whoa. I didn't take pictures of the rooms, but just check out the main hall.

Il Paradiso, one of the world's largest paintings at 25m long

Photo of 15 Days of an Italian Christmas by Dianne Goh
Photo of 15 Days of an Italian Christmas by Dianne Goh
Photo of 15 Days of an Italian Christmas by Dianne Goh

The Golden Staircase, aimed at impressing and intimidating visitors by showing off the wealth of the state.

Photo of 15 Days of an Italian Christmas by Dianne Goh
Photo of 15 Days of an Italian Christmas by Dianne Goh

Palazzo Ducale on the right, overlooking the lagoon

Photo of 15 Days of an Italian Christmas by Dianne Goh

We had a delicious lunch at Al Squero. Its a popular place for apertifs, but we just ordered a whole bunch of different cichettis and it became lunch! We probably seemed like greedy pigs ordering so much stuff. I highly recommend this place. Every side dish is so good. We also met a group of very friendly ladies who didn't speak much English (and we don't speak any Italian). She shared some chocolates with us, and tried to introduce herself - she was a mathematics teacher apparently? I'm not sure but she was so nice and motherly.

So. Good.

Photo of Osteria Al Squero, Dorsoduro, Venice, Metropolitan City of Venice, Italy by Dianne Goh

The outside of Al Squero (orange walls)

Photo of Osteria Al Squero, Dorsoduro, Venice, Metropolitan City of Venice, Italy by Dianne Goh

View of the lagoon

Photo of Osteria Al Squero, Dorsoduro, Venice, Metropolitan City of Venice, Italy by Dianne Goh

View of the bridge of sighs which connects the Doge's Palace (on the left) to the new prisons (on the right).

Photo of Osteria Al Squero, Dorsoduro, Venice, Metropolitan City of Venice, Italy by Dianne Goh

Pretty canals of Venice

Photo of Osteria Al Squero, Dorsoduro, Venice, Metropolitan City of Venice, Italy by Dianne Goh

We didn't have time to go to the islands of Burano (lace makers) or Murano (glass makers) because it was already 3.30pm at this point, and lots of the shops on Murano close at 4.30pm. From the water taxi stop nearest St Mark's Square, it would take 1 hour to Murano. So sadly, we couldn't go.

We instead took water taxi number 1 all the way from Lido Island to the last stop. Lido Island is very different from the part of Venice we were on. There are actually cars there, and its got more roads and modern buildings. Taking the water taxi gave us a nice tour of Venice from the canals and I recommend a trip if you have time. It stops at allll the stops so its very slow. The total journey was slightly more than an hour. We got around Venice by foot because we love walking, so we didn't take the water taxi that much.

A pretty building we saw on Lido Island

Photo of Venice Lido, Lido, Metropolitan City of Venice, Italy by Dianne Goh

View of the Doge's Palace from the water taxi number 1

Photo of Venice Lido, Lido, Metropolitan City of Venice, Italy by Dianne Goh

View of a gorgeous sunset from the water taxi

Photo of Venice Lido, Lido, Metropolitan City of Venice, Italy by Dianne Goh

Another place I'd recommend for a meal is Alla Fontana near the Jewish Quarter. It was a small, cozy restaurant. Perfect for a nice meal. We had some really good seafood pasta here.

Day 7

Bologna (1 day)

The grungy historical streets of Bologna.

Photo of Bologna, Metropolitan City of Bologna, Italy by Dianne Goh

Our first meal in Bologna was at Osteria dell'Orsa, famous for their tagliatalle ragu. Unfortunately I couldn't try it as ragu contains beef, which I don't take. Almost everyone there ordered it and it looked really good. They didn't have an English menu but a very kind waitress explained the menu items to us. I ordered a passatelli, which is a pasta that is made of of bread crumbs, eggs, grated Parmesan cheese, and cooked in chicken broth. It sounded yummy but I was a little disappointed because that was all that was in the dish - just pasta. I felt full very quickly just eating a bowl of carbs. The chicken broth was really good though! My husband ordered a fried chicken cutlet that he said was really good. We both ordered tiramisu for dessert, and oh my word, it was SO GOOD!!!

Yummy gooey goodness.

Photo of Osteria dell'Orsa, Via Mentana, Bologna, Metropolitan City of Bologna, Italy by Dianne Goh

We then walked around the historical centre to see the 12th-Century Due Torri (Two Towers), the symbols of Bologna. We didn't visit the inside of the towers as the place to buy tickets was a little distance away and we were feeling a lazy to walk there to buy tickets.

Photo of 15 Days of an Italian Christmas by Dianne Goh

So instead, we went meat and pasta shopping at the old medieval market of Bologna, Quadrilatero! Bologna is famous for tortellini and mortadella (a kind of ham), tagliatelle and ragù. I was expecting rows and rows of delis in the market area of Bologna, but instead we saw only a few shops. It didn't really seem like a marketplace. So it was a little disappointing. But at those shops we got some awesome pastas, pestos, meats and cheeses. For example:

Atti is a famous bakery and shop that sells fresh pasta. Unfortunately we couldn't buy the fresh pasta as they only last for a few days. We got the dried packaged ones instead. They have unique types like rocket (the salad) pasta. They also sold some pretty badass cakes. We bought mortadella and it was so yummy! It can be eaten on its own and seemed to us a bit like luncheon meat, but of course this one has much less preservatives.

We also went to Tamburini (a tortellini shop and cafe, along via Caprarie 1), and Salumeria Simoni (cold cuts). Bought awesome pesto from this shop called Drogheria Gilberto (Via Drapperie, 5). They have all kinds of sauces, pestos, wines and pastas here too!

Do also visit Eataly Bologna. This was what we were expecting the marketplace to be. Eataly Bologna was a huge shop with stalls and restaurants selling deli meats, sauces, condiments, pastas, ready made meals, etc. The food looked really good and it was really crowded! It opens till late.

Bologna is also home to the oldest university in the western hemisphere - University of Bologna. They have an old Anatomical Theatre where dissections used to be carried out during Anatomy class. It's now open to the public and that part of the school is used as a museum. The school hallways are also epic-ly decorated with family crests of the students and lecturers who attended. The university opened its doors to foreign students too!

Ready for Anatomy class.

Photo of Teatro Anatomico, Piazza Galvani, Bologna, Metropolitan City of Bologna, Italy by Dianne Goh

The lecturer's seat.

Photo of Teatro Anatomico, Piazza Galvani, Bologna, Metropolitan City of Bologna, Italy by Dianne Goh

Family crests of students and teachers adorn the walls and ceilings of the university.

Photo of Teatro Anatomico, Piazza Galvani, Bologna, Metropolitan City of Bologna, Italy by Dianne Goh

I'm amazed they actually carved out the crest.

Photo of Teatro Anatomico, Piazza Galvani, Bologna, Metropolitan City of Bologna, Italy by Dianne Goh

Hallways.

Photo of Teatro Anatomico, Piazza Galvani, Bologna, Metropolitan City of Bologna, Italy by Dianne Goh

At night, we visited FICO World Eataly, which is not the same as the Eataly we went to in the Quadrilatero. You can take a shuttle bus from the bus stop opposite the train station - a staff member will be there to assist. FICO World Eataly is supposed to be a huge indoor food park with food from all over Italy, combined with restaurants, workshop areas where you can learn how food is made, as well as seminar and event spaces.

The food park was really HUGE and also quite quiet. They didn't have as much stuff as we expected there to be and the whole place felt like a museum - food was on display more than it was on sale. There was only 1 Italian coffee brand there, and 1 chocolate company (Venchi). We did manage to get some really good cheese though. The restaurants only got more crowded later in the evening. There's a Bianchi bicycle shop there in case any sports cyclists are interested to know. Bianchi also provided some tricycles for folks to ride around the food park if you wish. There was lots of space to ride around as there weren't that many folks. We were a little disappointed.

Here's the Bologna tourism website for more ideas on what to do in Bologna! It's a great place for a one day visit or a day trip from Florence.

Day 8

Florence (5 days)

One of our favourite cities on the trip. It was so beautiful, quaint, and filled with yummy food!

After leaving Bologna, we arrived in Florence at about lunchtime (it was a 35 minute train ride from Bologna, thus Bologna makes a good day trip from Florence). We headed to the famous Piazza Duomo to look at the Cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore. Even though it was raining, the cathedral still looked pretty magical.

We said "wow" very loudly when we set our eyes upon the cathedral

Photo of Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, Piazza del Duomo, Florence, Metropolitan City of Florence, Italy by Dianne Goh

We explored the neighbourhood where we'd be staying at - Santo Spirito, which has so many restaurants and shops! We had a lovely dinner at Osteria dell'Enoteca, where we had a mindblowingly good squid appetizer. I read online afterwards that they have good Florentine steak here too.

The street that Osteria dell'Enoteca is on, via Romana, also has a tea shop (no seating) called Tealicious, where the owner blends her own tea. She's travelled to China and Sri Lanka to get the best tea she can find to blend.

Tip: Only the restaurants and bars open till late. Shops usually close around 7pm (not sure about during the other seasons, but in winter they closed at around 7pm). Via Romana can be accessed from right outside Palazzo Pitti. With your back towards the palace, just face left and go straight down the road and you'll end up on via Romana. One of the exits of Boboli Gardens will also lead you to via Romana (picture below).

Photo of Via Romana, Florence, Metropolitan City of Florence, Italy by Dianne Goh

Ponte Vecchio is indeed very pretty. There were many jewelry shops along the bridge itself, which looked overpriced, but there were many other shops along the streets near the bridge.

Day view

Photo of Ponte Vecchio, Florence, Metropolitan City of Florence, Italy by Dianne Goh

Night view

Photo of Ponte Vecchio, Florence, Metropolitan City of Florence, Italy by Dianne Goh

On Ponte Vecchio!

Photo of Ponte Vecchio, Florence, Metropolitan City of Florence, Italy by Dianne Goh

If you're looking for leather shoes, check out this shop called Otisopse. They have a few branches in Florence, and one of them is near Ponte Vecchio. They have both men's and women's shoes. And for ladies' shoes, they even have "guy styles" like oxfords and monkstraps! Sorry for the bad picture, I had to take it quickly when the shop assistant wasn't looking.

Photo of Otisopse, Via de' Guicciardini, Florence, Metropolitan City of Florence, Italy by Dianne Goh

If you're around Ponte Vecchio, visit this shop called Caffe Neri. They have REALLY GOOD PASTRIES.

For gelato, visit Grom. The texture was just right and the flavours tasted so fresh!

Photo of Grom, Via del Campanile, Florence, Metropolitan City of Florence, Italy by Dianne Goh
Day 9

On our first proper day in Florence, we went to Momio for brunch - the first of our three trips to the restaurant. They have simple yet hearty fare. If you want to eat a bit more than the usual Italian breakfast of coffee and a pastry, you can come here! The restaurant itself is very pretty - a classic, stylist design. The food is also very very good. They are closed on Mondays (like some restaurants on Florence) and open till 7pm on Sundays. On other days they open from 9 or 10am till 11pm. Breakfast is held in the dining area on the ground floor, and dinner is held in a slightly larger area in the basement - very cozy. A great place for a meal.

Breakfast room

Photo of MOMIO, Via Pisana, Florence, Metropolitan City of Florence, Italy by Dianne Goh

Our brunch!

Photo of MOMIO, Via Pisana, Florence, Metropolitan City of Florence, Italy by Dianne Goh

It was a Sunday, thus a lot of the churches have shorter opening times or are closed. So we went to the Boboli Gardens and Palazzo Pitti. I absolutely loved walking around the Boboli Gardens. We spent about 2 hours there! We walked non-stop. You can buy tickets for both places either at the entrance of Boboli Gardens, or at Palazzo Pitti - both places are connected to each other.

Tall tall hedges!

Photo of Boboli Gardens, Florence, Metropolitan City of Florence, Italy by Dianne Goh

Beautiful

Photo of Boboli Gardens, Florence, Metropolitan City of Florence, Italy by Dianne Goh

Primadonna

Photo of Boboli Gardens, Florence, Metropolitan City of Florence, Italy by Dianne Goh

So pretty.

Photo of Boboli Gardens, Florence, Metropolitan City of Florence, Italy by Dianne Goh
Photo of Boboli Gardens, Florence, Metropolitan City of Florence, Italy by Dianne Goh
Photo of Boboli Gardens, Florence, Metropolitan City of Florence, Italy by Dianne Goh

Secret tunnel!

Photo of Boboli Gardens, Florence, Metropolitan City of Florence, Italy by Dianne Goh

View of the city from Boboli Gardens

Photo of Boboli Gardens, Florence, Metropolitan City of Florence, Italy by Dianne Goh

Neptune's Pond

Photo of Boboli Gardens, Florence, Metropolitan City of Florence, Italy by Dianne Goh

Entrance of Boboli Gardens from Palazzo Pitti.

Photo of Boboli Gardens, Florence, Metropolitan City of Florence, Italy by Dianne Goh

Peekaboo view of the Duomo from the part that connects Palazzo Pitti (left) to Boboli Gardens (right)

Photo of Boboli Gardens, Florence, Metropolitan City of Florence, Italy by Dianne Goh
Day 10

My husband and I love Italian food, which was one of the reasons we wanted to make this trip. Thus, visiting some local markets was one of the things we wanted to do. I have to say, the Mercato Centrale of Florence, also known as the San Lorenzo Market, is our FAVOURITE market. The first floor of the market is filled with delis and stalls selling all kinds of cured meats, cheeses, olive oils, balsamic vinegar, wines, fresh meat, pasta, and seafood. We went around trying cheeses and meats (and we aren't even that crazy about cheese), and bought about 2kg of cheese and meat for ourselves and our friends and family. If you visit Florence, you must visit this market!

The second floor of the market is a food court with stalls selling all kinds of food - pasta, meats, gelato, coffee... we had white truffle pasta with actual shaved white truffle on top. Probably the most expensive pasta we've ever eaten but it was so good.

White truffle pasta

Photo of Mercato Centrale, Florence, Metropolitan City of Florence, Italy by Dianne Goh

The food court on the 2nd floor of the market

Photo of Mercato Centrale, Florence, Metropolitan City of Florence, Italy by Dianne Goh

The market was what I was hoping FICO Eataly World would have been like. I liked Mercato Centrale so much better and I'm so glad we got to see a market like this. LOVE IT!

We got a combined ticket to visit the Duomo. For 15 euros, you can visit the cathedral, crypt, baptistry, bell tower, dome, and museum, over 48 hours. It was so worth it - best 15 euros spent. We enjoyed ourselves so much. The museum was really good. Visiting the cathedral alone is free, but you cannot climb the dome on top of the cathedral, nor visit the crypt (which is inside the cathedral). And even if you have the combined ticket, you still need to book your own timeslot to climb the dome, and join the queue to enter the cathedral. You can book a timeslot to climb the dome on the official website. I highly recommend booking a timeslot in advance. Even in low peak season, the slots to climb the dome were taken up pretty quickly, so I cannot imagine how popular these slots will be during peak travel season.

Baptistry on the left, cathedral and dome in the middle, and bell tower on the right.

Photo of Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, Piazza del Duomo, Florence, Metropolitan City of Florence, Italy by Dianne Goh

Entrance to the cathedral is free

Photo of Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, Piazza del Duomo, Florence, Metropolitan City of Florence, Italy by Dianne Goh

Thankful for clear skies

Photo of Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, Piazza del Duomo, Florence, Metropolitan City of Florence, Italy by Dianne Goh

Another angle of the bell tower and cathedral

Photo of Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, Piazza del Duomo, Florence, Metropolitan City of Florence, Italy by Dianne Goh

The inside of the baptistry

Photo of Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, Piazza del Duomo, Florence, Metropolitan City of Florence, Italy by Dianne Goh

The inside of the cathedral

Photo of Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, Piazza del Duomo, Florence, Metropolitan City of Florence, Italy by Dianne Goh

Looking down into the cathedral from the viewing gallery just below the dome. Sorry for the blurred out picture - there was a plastic screen

Photo of Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, Piazza del Duomo, Florence, Metropolitan City of Florence, Italy by Dianne Goh

Beneath the dome

Photo of Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, Piazza del Duomo, Florence, Metropolitan City of Florence, Italy by Dianne Goh

On top of the cathedral and below the dome! Still more stairs to climb...

Photo of Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, Piazza del Duomo, Florence, Metropolitan City of Florence, Italy by Dianne Goh

This is what the stairs up the dome look like!

Photo of Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, Piazza del Duomo, Florence, Metropolitan City of Florence, Italy by Dianne Goh

This view from the dome!

Photo of Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, Piazza del Duomo, Florence, Metropolitan City of Florence, Italy by Dianne Goh

360 degrees of gorgeous.

Photo of Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, Piazza del Duomo, Florence, Metropolitan City of Florence, Italy by Dianne Goh
Photo of Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, Piazza del Duomo, Florence, Metropolitan City of Florence, Italy by Dianne Goh

The crypt was pretty cool too - it was a small church that was found to be originally on the site before the cathedral was built. The city of Florence build the baptistry and cathedral because their neighbouring rival cities of Pisa and Siena had beautiful churches and they wanted to build a bigger, better and more beautiful one. Well, they sure did it.

Day 11

Pisa day! The world famous leaning tower. A mistake in construction and a miracle lead to this tower being so famous. We took a 1 hour train ride to the town of Pisa. The walk from the station to the leaning tower is about 20 -25 mins. But it was nice.

Photo of Pisa, Province of Pisa, Italy by Dianne Goh

Next to the Leaning Tower of Pisa stands the Cathedral and Baptistry - do pay these a visit too! The Leaning Tower isn't the only attraction in the area.

The tower looks straight here haha. The cathedral is on the left in this picture.

Photo of Leaning Tower of Pisa, Pisa, Province of Pisa, Italy by Dianne Goh

I have always wanted to see what the base of the tilt looks like. Ta daaaaa

Photo of Leaning Tower of Pisa, Pisa, Province of Pisa, Italy by Dianne Goh

It doesn't look very big here, does it!

Photo of Leaning Tower of Pisa, Pisa, Province of Pisa, Italy by Dianne Goh

Gorgeous door of the cathedral

Photo of Leaning Tower of Pisa, Pisa, Province of Pisa, Italy by Dianne Goh

The baptistry

Photo of Leaning Tower of Pisa, Pisa, Province of Pisa, Italy by Dianne Goh

The inside of the Cathedral is very nice - all the decorations were so detailed and it felt very grand.

Inside the cathedral

Photo of Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta and Jenesien, San Miniato, Pisa, Italy by Dianne Goh

After about 2 hours or so in Pisa, we headed back to Florence. We went to Piazzale Michelangelo for a breathtaking view of Florence. Walking along the streets of Florence was so beautiful, but seeing it from the top of this small hill is a different kind of beauty. You need to do a little bit of walking up or you can take bus 12 - Google for the directions and you can easily get it.

Look at that!

Photo of Piazzale Michelangelo, Florence, Metropolitan City of Florence, Italy by Dianne Goh

There's also a beautiful church called the San Miniato al Monte even further up the hill. Once you've spent time admiring the views from Piazzale Michelangelo, look for the stairs that lead to the church and go further up. It was slightly less crowded here and the views were also gorgeous. The church facade looked like it was made using a similar design to the Cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore.

Photo of San Miniato Al Monte, Florence, Metropolitan City of Florence, Italy by Dianne Goh

The steps leading up to the church!

Photo of San Miniato Al Monte, Florence, Metropolitan City of Florence, Italy by Dianne Goh
Photo of San Miniato Al Monte, Florence, Metropolitan City of Florence, Italy by Dianne Goh

San Miniato al Monte

Photo of San Miniato Al Monte, Florence, Metropolitan City of Florence, Italy by Dianne Goh

We were supposed to make a day trip to Siena today, but we decided to skip that and spend the day in Florence going back to our favourite places - Mercato Centrale and walking around Santo Spirito. Yes we bought more ham and cheese. Not gonna deny!

Day 12

We also visited La via del Te, also known as The Way of Tea. They have a few branches but I think only the branch at Piazza Lorenzo Ghiberti has seating - the others are just tea shops. This branch has a shop and a cafe.

The Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella is a pharmacy near the Cathedral Santa Maria Novella, and has been around since 1612! They sell all kinds of perfumes, scents, soaps, and health and beauty supplements. If you're into that kind of thing I think you'll like the place, but if not, you can give it a miss. It wasn't as interesting as I thought it would be. The most interesting things to me were pictures of all the heads of the pharmacy dating from the time it opened.

The cathedral and pharmacy are 5mins walk from the station - just across from the station and around a street corner. The pharmacy is located at the street next to the cathedral.

Cathedrale Santa Maria Novella - where the main train station in Florence got its name from

Photo of Officina Profumo - Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, Via della Scala, Florence, Metropolitan City of Florence, Italy by Dianne Goh

inside the pharmacy

Photo of Officina Profumo - Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, Via della Scala, Florence, Metropolitan City of Florence, Italy by Dianne Goh

I feel like I'm looking at an alchemist's closet - but there was no elixir of life.

Photo of Officina Profumo - Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, Via della Scala, Florence, Metropolitan City of Florence, Italy by Dianne Goh

We also managed to watch the new Star Wars movie at the Odeon Theatre! Tickets cost 8 euros each and there were no assigned seats. The movie theatre was in an old 1920s art deco building that is also used as a theatre space. We ordered spritz and were gushing to ourselves about how cool we were because we brought drinks into the movie theatre, haha. Cheap thrill. It was a fun way to wrap up our time in Florence. :)

Photo of Cinema Odeon Firenze, Piazza degli Strozzi, Florence, Metropolitan City of Florence, Italy by Dianne Goh
Photo of Cinema Odeon Firenze, Piazza degli Strozzi, Florence, Metropolitan City of Florence, Italy by Dianne Goh
Day 13

Rome (3 days)

I didn't really like my previous experience in Rome - the people I met were rude and unfriendly. On this trip, I'm glad to say things were better. I felt that the service staff at a couple of main tourist attractions were still aloof, bored, curt and did not seem to want to help. But then again, they must be jaded from dealing with millions of tourists every year. Well I didn't let them spoil my trip - I still had a great time in Rome.

We hit the Colosseum first. I kept raving about the place to my husband and when we eventually got there he admitted to feeling a little disappointed. He said it was smaller than he expected it to be.

They used to flood the whole amphitheatre to stage naval battles. How did they bring the whole ship in?!?

Photo of Colosseo, Rome, Metropolitan City of Rome, Italy by Dianne Goh
Photo of Colosseo, Rome, Metropolitan City of Rome, Italy by Dianne Goh

We wanted to go to Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum next, but by the time we were done at the Colosseum it was 4pm. TIP: Palatine Hill and Roman Forum closes early!! They close at 3.30pm so we couldn't go in (not sure about closure times in other seasons). I recommend visiting them first before visiting the Colosseum. A combined ticket gets you into the Colosseum, Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum, and it is valid for 48 hours. But we already booked tickets for the Vatican City the next day so we couldn't use our ticket.

So we headed to the Spanish Steps. It was very crowded. The shops in the plaza were all luxury shops but if you wander further outwards you'll be able to see lots of other high street brands and other types of shops. It was nice walking around.

Spanish Steps

Photo of Spanish Steps, Piazza di Spagna, Rome, Metropolitan City of Rome, Italy by Dianne Goh

We walked to the Pantheon next. It's the oldest church in Rome! I thought it was very interesting that there were lots of pagan symbols and small structures in the church. Hehe.

Photo of Pantheon, Piazza della Rotonda, Rome, Metropolitan City of Rome, Italy by Dianne Goh

We popped by the Trevi Fountain but there were so many people there too we didn't feel like going closer.

Photo of Trevi Fountain, Piazza di Trevi, Rome, Metropolitan City of Rome, Italy by Dianne Goh

Oh! You guys, you must eat this tiramisu in Rome!! It's REALLY DELICIOUS! You can buy it from this shop called Pompi.

Photo of Pompi Tiramisu, Via della Croce, Rome, Metropolitan City of Rome, Italy by Dianne Goh

The Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, and Piazza Navona are in the same area, thus are very walkable.

Day 14

We're visiting the Vatican City today! We didn't book any hop on or hop off tour, so we just took the city metro. There are only 2 metro lines because each time they dig the ground to build a new line they find some archaeological ruin so that have to excavate that. Haha, I find that interesting. That's how much history is being held in Rome.. so amazing.

The Vatican City Museum was HUGE. We weren't interested in the art exhibits so we only focused on the Egyptian section and the sculptures.

One of the exits from the museum.

Photo of Museo Vaticano, Viale Vaticano, Rome, Metropolitan City of Rome, Italy by Dianne Goh

View from the museum

Photo of Museo Vaticano, Viale Vaticano, Rome, Metropolitan City of Rome, Italy by Dianne Goh
Photo of Museo Vaticano, Viale Vaticano, Rome, Metropolitan City of Rome, Italy by Dianne Goh

The Sistine Chapel was amazing. After touring the museum, we ended up at the Sistine Chapel. We rented an audio guide and it was filled with explanations and stories about the creation of the art in the Sistine Chapel. I didn't know that the ceiling and walls were done by different people! Michelangelo did the ceiling and the walls were done by a team of Renaissance painters. We weren't allowed to take photographs inside but no matter - we spent a good amount of time just admiring the artwork.

The skies were lovely and blue and we headed to St Peter's Square next. The christmas decorations were up and it made the square look pretty magical!

Photo of St. Peter's Square, Vatican City by Dianne Goh
Photo of St. Peter's Square, Vatican City by Dianne Goh
Photo of St. Peter's Square, Vatican City by Dianne Goh

My husband said he felt more amazed at St Peter's Square than the Colosseum. We knew it was big but standing in it made us realise its massive size.

After gawking at the square, we braved the queue to enter St Peter's Basilica. We almost didn't want to go because of the queue, but I'm glad we did.

Photo of St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City by Dianne Goh
Photo of St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City by Dianne Goh

A choir was rehearsing! Sorry my pictures don't do the beautiful place justice!

Photo of St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City by Dianne Goh
Photo of St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City by Dianne Goh
Photo of St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City by Dianne Goh

Changing of the Swiss Guard!

Photo of St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City by Dianne Goh
Day 15

Our last day in Rome and Italy came too soon. We went to the Trastevere neighbourhood. It's a 20minute walk from the nearest metro station, but it was a nice walk.

We passed the Bridge of the Angels, which was featured in the movie version of Dan Brown's Angels and Demons

Photo of Ponte Sant'Angelo, Rome, Metropolitan City of Rome, Italy by Dianne Goh

We had brunch here and walked along the small streets.

Photo of 15 Days of an Italian Christmas by Dianne Goh

Pretty cobblestone streets and houses in Trastevere

Photo of 15 Days of an Italian Christmas by Dianne Goh

After brunch, we walked all the way to the Palatine Hill and Roman Forum. I can't remember how long the walk was, but it was very pleasant and the weather wasn't very cold. We bought tickets again since ours had expired.

View of the ancient palace on Palatine Hill

Photo of Palatine Hill, Rome, Metropolitan City of Rome, Italy by Dianne Goh

The old palace ruins on Palatine Hill were so fascinating! We spent quite a long time roaming around this place - there was so much to see.

Photo of 15 Days of an Italian Christmas by Dianne Goh

Ruins at Palatine Hill

Photo of 15 Days of an Italian Christmas by Dianne Goh

This used to be a training ground

Photo of 15 Days of an Italian Christmas by Dianne Goh
Photo of 15 Days of an Italian Christmas by Dianne Goh

We then walked over to the Roman Forum next door. Which was just as fascinating. This was the centre of ancient Rome - it was where all the important ancient government buildings of Rome was located. There were also shrines and centuries old temples here. How amazing it must have been in its glory days!

Photo of Roman Forum, Via della Salara Vecchia, Rome, Metropolitan City of Rome, Italy by Dianne Goh
Photo of Roman Forum, Via della Salara Vecchia, Rome, Metropolitan City of Rome, Italy by Dianne Goh

An ancient temple

Photo of Roman Forum, Via della Salara Vecchia, Rome, Metropolitan City of Rome, Italy by Dianne Goh

We spent almost 3 hours in total at Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum. It was fun exploring the place and it was so magnificent. After 2 weeks of seeing the Catholic churches, it was nice seeing how it contrasts with ancient Roman traditions. Be prepared to walk a lot when visiting this site, so wear comfortable shoes! There's also no shade in this area, but thankfully the weather was cool and not too sunny. I can imagine it must be quite hot in summer.

That concludes our 2 week jaunt in Italy. There's so much more we want to see. Thank you, Italy, and our friends who gave us recommendations along the way, for making this trip so memorable for us!

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