Transport: Austrian Airlines, Ryanair, FlixBus, Trenitalia, and various other buses and trains
Accommodation: Airbnb, hotel
Group size: 3
Food: God knows
Bought cheap wine
Train to Rome, bus to Calcata
Walked around and shopped
Ate in Gianni Macchia’s cafe
Hiked and looked at caves
Bus to Naples
Walked around and shop
Hung out on the beach
Bus to Naples, train to Rome, flight to Bologna
Stayed overnight in airport hotel
When my NYU Florence friends and I spent our spring break in Italy, we planned to play it by ear — that is, if you consider playing it by ear to be a plan. All we had was a rough, flexible outline of where we wanted to go. Since this was my first time in Italy — besides a couple of days in Venice — I had no idea what to expect when I arrived in Florence at 1:30 a.m. My first impression wasn’t a good one. After getting off the bus at a tiny, nondescript station, I spent the next hour desperately trying to get a cab to my friends’ dorm (seriously, why doesn’t Italy have Uber?). Finally, I was able to trek to an area where the cab driver my Italian-speaking friend called could find me — but not before almost crying from frustration (and being hit on by a creepy old Italian guy, who was with his son, which arguably makes it even creepier). However, after a good night’s sleep and a few swigs from the bottle of Becherovka I had bought in the Prague airport, I was seeing the city in a more optimistic light. My friends took me to a huge indoor food market, where we got breakfast, and then showed me the Duomo, a famous cathedral topped by a giant dome. This was all we had time for in Florence before we had to catch a train to our next destination: Rome.
The first thing we did after dropping our stuff off in Rome was see the Trevi Fountain, which my friend pointed out was featured in the Lizzie McGuire movie (we are very cultured people). I’ve got to say, I have never been as blown away by a fountain as I was by the Trevi Fountain. Its striking beauty and massive size, combined with the way its statues and decorations blend into the building directly behind it, makes it a must-see.
Next, we walked to the Spanish Steps, another famous Roman landmark. I’m still not entirely clear on why there is a Spanish staircase in Italy, but hey, it was pretty — and there’s a great view of the city from the top. After that, we hit the Pantheon, as well as the site where Julius Caesar was stabbed, which is now a cat sanctuary that houses about 150 cats. Sadly, we could only spot two of them. To wind down, we drank delicious cocktails in a bar that we suspected was Japanese themed, but we couldn’t really tell — there was anime playing on the TVs, and the menu was midori-heavy, so I’m going with yes. The next day, aware that there was still much of Rome we hadn't explored, we walked around the city some more and visited the Colosseum. On the way, we stopped in a little store to buy three bottles of wine for eight euros — you just can’t find that kind of thing in New York! That night, we caught some live jazz at Gregory’s Jazz Club, which was surprisingly good. Apparently, Rome has a hopping jazz scene. Who knew?
Our next stop was a hippie dippie art commune town called Calcata, a former medieval village which now mostly consists of quaint little shops surrounded by nature. One of the highlights of this trip was when we stopped in a cafe for crepes and wine, and noticed that the old movie posters plastering the walls seemed to heavily feature one actor — Gianni Macchia, a butt-chinned hunk best known for starring in Italian romance movies during the 1970s. One of my friends discreetly nodded toward a man of indiscernible age with a greasy ponytail and a butt chin walking through the cafe. “Is that him?” After some hesitation, and much giggling on my part, my friend worked up the courage to ask him if he was, in fact, the renowned Gianni Macchia. He was. We chatted with him about show business, paid the bill, and walked out totally starstruck, autographs in hand.
Another highlight was meeting a local musician while hiking around and looking at Calcata’s abandoned caves. He had turned a large cave into his own music room, filling it with rare and unusual instruments from around the world. The sounds he drew out of these instruments were unbelievable; my friends and I later agreed that we could have listened to his music for hours.
Calcata was beautiful, but one day there was enough for us city kids. Our next destination was Naples. In order to get there, we needed to take a bus out of Calcata — however, there was only one leaving for the entire day. We misjudged the location of the bus stop (apparently it wasn’t the benches next to the bus schedule), so we missed the bus. One of my friends came to the rescue by asking a Calcata resident in a car how to get out of the city; he ended up generously driving us to the nearest town, where there were more frequent busses leaving for Naples. We got to Naples eventually, walked around, and had the best pizza I’ve ever had in my life at L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele, on Via Cesare Sersale. If you’re in Naples, go there. You can avoid the long wait by taking the pizza to go rather than sitting in the restaurant. Honestly, that was the highlight of Naples. After spending two days there, I was ready to move onto the last stop on our trip: Maiori, on the Amalfi Coast.
We planned to take side trips to other towns on the coast, such as Amalfi itself, but we ended up only going to Minori, which is right next to Maiori. There was plenty to see and do in these two spots. First, we hiked on a trail in Maiori bordered by lemon trees, which Italians call the Sentiero dei Limoni. Since lemons are a specialty of the Amalfi coast, there were gigantic lemons growing on the trees and being sold in surrounding shops. Limoncello, anyone? My friend had read that the Sentiero involved “only a few stairs.” This was not true: there were like a million stairs. In fact, it was probably the best workout I’ve gotten during this entire semester.
The next day, we relaxed on the beach, drinking red wine and basking in the sun.
Then, we continued to explore Maiori’s shops and restaurants, and had dinner in Minori. On Saturday we only had a few more hours of exploring before we had to wrap up the trip. We caught a bus/train combo back to Rome, then boarded a flight to Bologna, where we spent the night in an airport hotel so I could quickly get to my flight back to Prague the next morning.
Though I had fun in every city we visited, I’d have to say my favorite was Rome. It was the place I was most reluctant to leave, and the place I felt I could stay the longest without getting bored. In addition to being humongous and having a ton of things to see, it was generally clean and pleasant to walk around in. Naples was the city I was most underwhelmed with: trash littered the streets, and the poverty of the city made it a little unpleasant to be in. All in all, though, this was a fantastic spring break; I ate a metric ton of Italian food, learned firsthand about a country and language I had little experience with, and needless to say, I had a lot of fun. Ciao!