LONDON, PARIS, & ANY PLACE THEY DON’T SPEAK ITALIAN
London is my least favorite city on the other side of the pond. Everything is expensive, the food isn’t all that great–it’s basically a big American city with a funny accent. Paris is beautiful, and despite people who claim otherwise, Parisians are friendly and smell just fine. But I haven’t seen nearly enough of either of them to claim any kind of authority. In Paris, I remember loving the Left Bank, near Notre Dame. Read Let’s Go, or Lonely Planet, or Rick Steves, and figure out what you want to see. For hotels, you can’t go wrong in any city using TripAdvisor.com. My heart, and my good advice, lies in a magical country called Italia.
Rome can be done in two days. Start out by checking into a place called the HOTEL DIPLOMATIC. Good price, huge bathtubs and clean rooms. Then spend the rest of the day and the evening walking the main strip of Roma, seeing the Colosseum (I never went in), the Pantheon (glorious), the Spanish Steps (good place to sketch), and the Trevi Fountain (watch your camera). Drink some wine, eat some gelato, and get a good night’s rest. In the morning, you’re within walking distance of the Vatican. Hit St. Peter’s at 7:30 in the morning, when the nuns are still out. Say hello to the Pieta for me, and then head over to the Vatican. Now, what follows is controversial: it’s totally acceptable to race straight through the huge Vatican museum to get to Michelangelo’s Last Judgement and the Sistine Chapel at the end. Afterwards, there’s a lovely little cafe run by a family nearby, but I’d have to close my eyes and let my subconcious take me there. Walk down any street and when you find a small, bald man smoking a cigar, with black socks and sandals, you’ve arrived.
I want to die in a cottage built in the hilly suburbs of Florence. Florence can be done in one day, but it would be criminal. Give it at least two, and I highly suggest three. Meghan and I cut a day off Venice just to spend a fourth in Florence. The city is small enough that you can walk anywhere, so stay at a place called the Gould Institute (Instituto Gould), south of the Arno. Ask for a room away from the street, preferably off the courtyard, where you can sometimes see small children playing. The magic room is #249. Do the art-seeing and the touristy stuff north of the river, sleep, loiter, stroll, and eat south of the river. See as much Renaissance art as you can–hit the Uffizi and all the churches–but be ready to pay for it. You absolutely must walk the Boboli Gardens, take a hike up in the hills past the Fort Belvedere over to the Church at San Miniato al Monte to the Piazza Michelangelo (with the David replica statue) just in time for sunset. Breathtaking.
The thing about Venice is…it’s sinking. I personally think Venice is max-ed out after a full day. My advice is to stay one night and splurge on a fancy hotel room: everything in Venice is expensive, so even the dumps cost 90 euros a night. An overlooked part of Venice is the Jewish Ghetto. This is where I like to eat. There’s no real hope of navigating Venice by map, memorize a few landmarks, and then use the signs around the city to navigate the labyrinth streets. Hold hands and get lost: it’s the best way to do it. Watch out for gondoliers: when I was there the first time I ended up getting drunk with three of them. Also: if three drunk gondoliers offer you a free gondola ride, go against your better judgment and TAKE IT!