Friday, May 1, 2015

One Day in Rome

Rome! Another wonderful Italian city that is so full of energy and beauty. Due to some unfortunate planning, we ended up only spending one day and night in Rome. It was much too short and hurried, but we will be back one day!

The Pantheon

Ponte Sant'Angelo

Colosseum

Casa & Bottega

Casa & Bottega

Dilla

Outdoor seating at Dilla

Sleep:
Knowing that we wouldn't have much time in Rome, we didn't want to splurge on a fancy hotel. Instead, we used airbnb and booked rooms in an apartment right by the Pantheon.

Eat:

Casa & Bottega
Via del Coronari, 183, 00186 Roma, Italy
We stumbled upon this cafe in the early morning on the way to Pont Sant'Angelo, and I must've taken at least 20 pictures inside. I loved all the little details in the design. There were shelves with some books, drawings hung up, and the comfiest looking banquette seating. Oh and the cappuccino and croissants were amazing too!

Dilla
Via Mario de Fiori, 41, 00187 Roma, Italy
Since this was our last stop in Italy, it was really important to me that our last meal include pasta. Really good pasta. We ended up going to Dilla, where we had to wait about half an hour for a table. I loved the cozy ambience of the restaurant, so I was fine with the wait. We were told to sit at the bar, which unlike in the US, isn't where you order a drink to wait for a table, but rather just sit and hang out. The friendly server gave us a complimentary meat and cheese plate and wine while we sat there. I really appreciated that! It felt like we were in a friend's home instead of a restaurant. Oh and the pasta-- get the black truffle cream and parmesan pasta!

See/Do:

Pantheon
As with every other site, go early! We got some good pictures before everyone else arrived.

Ponte Sant'Angelo
Travertine marble bridge that leads up to the Castel Sant'Angelo. Beautiful statues line the bridge.

The Vatican
The lines to get into the Vatican were already incredibly long when we arrived before 9am. First place we'll visit on our next trip to Rome!

The Colosseum
We arrived a little after it opened, and only had to wait 20 minutes to buy tickets and enter. I highly recommend paying extra for the audio guide, as there aren't a lot of descriptions and signs once inside.

Trevi Fountain
Unfortunately the fountain is under major renovation, and is currently closed. Another reason we'll have to return one day.

** If you're using Airbnb for the first time, use this link to get $25 off: www.airbnb.com/c/lshia?s=8

See the other posts from this trip here:
What to See and Eat in Florence
Westin Excelsior Florence
What to See and Eat in Milan
Park Hyatt Milan

Friday, April 24, 2015

Florence: What to See and Where to Eat

Florence is so incredibly beautiful. I loved the small town feel and the beautiful bridges. Although the city is filled with tourists and American students studying abroad (we were constantly seeing kids wearing US college/university sweatshirts), I still fell in love with the place. For me, it became the "best of" city on this trip. I had the best gelato here, best shopping experiences (no crazy lines outside the designer stores like in Milan!), best meal (my favorite meal of this year!), etc.

View from Se-Sto at The Westin Excelsior




Se-Sto at The Westin Excelsior


More Arno river views

Basilica of Saint Mary of the Flower

Painted ceilings at the Basilica of Saint Mary of the Flower

David, by Michelangelo

Butter Chicken at Trattoria Sostanza

Artichoke Omelet at Trattoria Sostanza

Cake at Trattoria Sostanza

Panini at All'Antico Vinaio

Vivoli Gelato

Sleep:
The beautiful Westin Excelsior, Florence! Post is here.

Eat:
Se-Sto:
Westin Excelsior, 6th Floor, Piazza Ognissanti
The views at Se-Sto are pretty unbelievable... Take full advantage. The cocktails are pricey but strong, and include a buffet of appetizers. Not a bad deal!

Trattoria Sostanza:
Via del Porcellana, 25/R, 50123 Firenze, Italy
Just thinking about this meal has me salivating... The butter chicken is simply out-of-this-world. The server told me that it's prepared by adding flour and egg to the chicken, waiting until butter is browned in a pan, then placing the chicken breasts in. I may try that one of these days. The Florentine steak is great too, and the artichoke omelet is a stand out. Make sure to finish with a piece of house-made meringue, chocolate cream, strawberry cake. All the right textures combined with a perfect sweetness.

All'Antico Vinaio:
Via de'Neri 65/R, 50122 Firenze, Italy
An easy lunch place with made-to-order sandwiches for 5 euros each. Unfortunately I found the bread to be way too crunchy. I had to take off the top half and just try to eat the fillings. The black truffle spread should not be missed!

Vivoli Gelateria:
Via dell'Isola delle Stinche 7/R, 50122 Firenze, Italy
Truly the best gelato, and I really did try a lot on this trip! The rice flavor is amazing.

We also tried Buca Lapi for their famous florentine steak, but were very disappointed by how chewy the meat was. It's also more expensive than Trattoria Sostanza. If we'd known earlier, we would've skipped Buca Lapi and gone to Trattoria Sostanza twice!

See/Do:
Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flower
The main church of Florence, and one you can spot from almost any viewpoint in the city. It's especially beautiful when lit up at night.

Galleria dell'Academia
Home of the stunning 16th century marble statue of David by Michelangelo. Make sure to get in line right when the museum opens, otherwise the lines snake around the streets and go on for what seems like forever.

Uffizi Gallery
A museum where the Birth of Venus is kept. Again, long, long lines. We didn't even make it here, but it's on my list for next time!

Piazza Michelangelo
A viewpoint on a hill that offers panoramic views of the Arno river. Unfortunately the morning we planned to get up really early to catch the sunrise here ended up being a very cloudy one.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Florence: The Westin Excelsior

As much as I loved the Park Hyatt Milan, there was something that just felt familiar and comforting upon arriving at The Westin Excelsior in Florence. I love the Starwood Preferred Hotels, and this one was quite amazing-- so beautiful and grand. The building dates back to the 13th century, and was originally a monastery, then used as a villa by Napolean's sister, and then finally the headquarters for the Germans in WWII before becoming a hotel. Quite an impressive list of uses!

Pretty display of Easter flowers at the lobby entrance

Premium Deluxe Room with Arno River View

The Westin Heavenly beds really are superb-- nothing beats sinking into all those pillows and fluffiness

Spectacular room views


I loved this hotel. Make sure to check out the hotel rooftop bar and restaurant Se-Sto, which has the most amazing views and a great happy hour that includes a buffet of meats, cheeses, and other delicious things.

The Westin is in a prime location just a 10 minute walk to the Ponte Vecchio bridge, and most importantly, only 5 minutes from the best restaurant ever-- Trattoria Sostanza (more on this later!)

Piazza Ognissanti 3
Florence, 50123
(39) (055) (27051)

www.westinflorence.com



Friday, April 17, 2015

Milan: What to See and Where to Eat

One of the things that really stood out to me this trip is how indescribable it is to see and experience monuments, art, and architecture in person. It didn't bother me at all that there were other tourists everywhere we went; I was just so taken by how old, historically important, and simply stunning the sites were. This trip made me want to brush up on world history, and made me appreciate good coffee. Below are my recommendations for experiencing Milan in 3 days.

Milan Cathedral

Milan Cathedral

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele



Drogheria Milanese

Drogheria Milanese

Salsamenteria di Milanese

La Locanda Del Gatto Rosso

The best fruit tart at Sant Ambroeus
Sleep:
Park Hyatt Milan. Beautiful, luxurious, and in the most ideal location. See my post here.

Eat:
Drogheria Milanese:
Via Conca del naviglio 7, 20123 Milan, Italy
Mid-priced and excellent. We had the best spaghetti carbonara and octopus soup here. It's best to make a reservation or go right when the restaurant opens at noon.
Salsamentaria di Parma:
Via San Pietro all'Orto, 9, 20121 Milan, Italy
A casual restaurant that specializes in meat. Must order the prosciutto and wine. The wine was served in bowls!
Trattoria Milanese:
Viale Gorizia, 30, 20144 Milan, Italy
Great dinner spot with the most amazing olive oil (probably the best we had on this whole trip), and an incredible risotto osso buco (veal shank). The risotto was so flavorful, and the veal perfectly tender.
La Locanda Del Gatto Rosso:
Via Ugo Foscolo, 3, 20121 Milan, Italy
Located right in the Galleria Vittoro Emanuele, so this was definitely more on the touristy side, but the food was great. The saffron risotto is served in a parmesan crust; doesn't get any better than that!

In addition to food, make sure to stop in as many cafes as possible! I fell in love with the cappuccinos in Spain, and it was just as wonderful in Italy! Not only did coffee taste wonderful everywhere, but they were all inexpensive, with most costing less than US$2.

See/Do:
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele:
Designed and built in the 19th century, this is a beautiful shopping mall that houses high end luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton, Tod's, and several restaurants (that also sell gelato to-go!). This galleria is connected to Park Hyatt Milan, which made it very convenient!
Duomo di Milan/Milan Cathedral:
Absolutely stunning gothic cathedral. The stained glass inside was mesmerizing.
Duomo Square:
A great place to just take in views of the cathedral and to people-watch.

Also, shop! If interested in buying designer/luxury items to take advantage of the VAT refund, Milan is the best place for this, as the selections are terrific.

Next up-- Florence!

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