Hannah Drake

Travel

10 Things to Know Before Visiting Italy

TravelHannah DrakeComment

It’s been nearly ten months since we left for our trip to Italy, our long awaited honeymoon slash first anniversary trip. It was an incredible trip and certainly the most extensive (and expensive) holiday Luke and I have ever done together. A lot of planning went into our trip, but there was still a bit that caught us off guard.

PLAN WHERE YOU WANT TO GO

Duh, right? Italy is a big country, rich in culture and history from corner to corner. While we were, I realised that before I moved to England in 2017, I probably knew more cities in Italy than any other European country. There’s Rome, Florence, Naples, Venice. There’s the Amalfi Coast, Capri, Sicily, Tuscany, Lake Como and Lake Garda. It seems like Italy is massively popular for travel bloggers and influencers and every day I log into social media, someone else I follow is in Cinque Terre or Positano. I can’t blame them, these are beautiful places and I fell in love with Italy too. But here’s the thing, all of that and whatever else you want to do is simply not doable in one short-term trip. I’ve always said I could easily spend a month travelling around Italy and now that I’ve been, I can assure you that’s probably an underestimate.

When we started planning, I had quite a few places in mind, including the Amalfi Coast, Cinque Terre, Lake Como, Venice, and Tuscany. (Rome was always a must-do for our first trip.) When we looked at a map, we were surprised to find our choices dotted all over the country. So with just under two weeks, we had to narrow down our list, ultimately prioritising Rome and the Amalfi Coast, which seemed more than manageable in our time frame. When it came time to book, it made sense geographically and financially to fly into Naples and out of Rome, so we started building an itinerary around that and focus on southern Italy. Taking a train from Naples to Rome (1 hour, 10 minutes) was our longest travel day, with ever thing else—whether by ferry or by car—was under an hour.

We built our itinerary in both digital and paper forms with travel, accommodations, and activities all colour-coded. It was really handy to keep all the paper work together in a folder that could easily slip into our backpack.

LEARN A FEW KEY PHRASES

This is something we didn’t do and we definitely regret. First of all, learning key phrases in the native language is just basic decency. While most people spoke English, we also encountered a few who didn’t. We were able to get by, but it goes without saying that if we had learned what we were trying to say most frequently, it would have made it a lot easier for everyone.

Start with these:

Hello - Ciao

Goodbye - Addio

Please -Per favore (per fav-or-ray)

Thank You - Grazie  (graht-see-eh)

You’re Welcome - Prego (pray-go)

Can I have the check, please? - Il conto, per favore

Do you accept credit cards? - Accettate carte di credito?

RENT A CAR OUTSIDE THE CITIES

You’ve probably heard that driving in Italy is NUTS. You heard correctly. On our very first day, walking around Naples, we were shocked (and scared) by the roads. People just seem to do whatever they want and go wherever they want. And the volume of scooters on the road doesn’t make it any easier. We originally booked our rental car from the second day of our trip, thinking we’d pick it up at the train station, drive it to catch the ferry to Capri, and park it at our hotel overnight. Bad idea. On our first afternoon there, Luke called to move it back a day, paying a fee of £15, I think. It was worth it though. We didn’t see much parking at the port, there didn’t seem to be parking available at the hotel, and it would have been madness to do all that driving when we only needed to walk about 20 minutes from our hotel to catch the ferry!

It was really nice having a car on the Amalfi Coast, though. We drove from Naples to our Airbnb in Vietri sul Mare, stopping for the day in Pompeii. It gave us the freedom later to drive to Sorrento catch the boat for our boat tour and later to drive back to Pompeii to go up Mount Vesuvius. We didn’t do much driving along the coastline, where the roads are more narrow and have tight hairpin turns, but driving through the mountains was a bit easier. It was longer in kilometres, but ultimately took about the same time to get there.

If you plan on venturing out of your home base, so to speak, it’s worth looking into renting a car. When we originally booked it, it was under £90 for six days. I wouldn’t, however, recommend getting a car if you’re in a major city like Naples or Rome.

LOOK FOR A BASE COST ITEM ON THE MENU

When you’re looking for restaurants, you can gauge how expensive it will be based on the most simple item: margherita pizza. When we were in Naples and on the coast, we found most restaurants had their margherita pizza between €4 and €6. (The most expensive was right off the pier in Amalfi, €6.) However, when we got to Rome, it was more likely to be €7 to €10. The best deal we found was right outside of Pompeii when we got a pizza and a drink for €5!

On that note, reconsider drinking soda while you’re there. (Or probably anywhere in Europe.) 20oz glass full of ice? Yeah right. Unlimited refills? Forget it. You’ll be paying anywhere from €2 to €4 for a CAN of Coke. Yes, one can. I have a terrible affliction where I get so thirsty only Coke can quench my thirst, and that, my friends, adds up when you’re in Europe.

DON’T ORDER OFF THE MENU

I don’t necessarily mean making up a dish or asking for substitutions. When you order at a restaurant, especially in a tourist-dense area, order your food with your menu in hand and point to what you want. Most menus we saw listed the item in Italian with a description in English underneath. But we’re all so used to different pasta dishes, it’s easy enough to order. However, when we were in Capri, we went to a place for lunch that had assorted grilled fish on the menu for €28. After I had ordered literally off the menu oysters for us to share, the waiter took our menu. When he came back, Luke ordered the assorted grilled fish and said we were going to split it. Somehow that got lost in translation and when the bill came at the end of our meal, it was €139. The oysters had been €5 a piece and the assorted grilled fish had been €40 and we had gotten two! (They had brought out a big platter and then took it back and put it on two different plates, so we didn’t realise.) It was seriously shocking and kind of a buzz kill for the rest of the day. If I’m being perfectly honest, it made me feel like they were really slimy and taking advantage of tourists. It certainly left a bad taste in my mouth. For the rest of the trip, we were sure to order menu in hand and be super clear when we wanted to split a dish. It didn’t happen again.

To end that on a positive note, our first night in Naples a waiter who spoke very little English asked if we wanted wine and we said yes we wanted a bottle, without looking at a wine list. He brought back a €11 bottle of delicious red wine!

CARRY CASH

A lot of places are going to be cash only, whether you’re stopping for lunch, like at L'Antica Pizzeria Da Michele in Naples, or for a mid-afternoon gelato. Some activities are cash only, like the steps to the top of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. Vendors selling souvenirs on the street are probably cash only. We had to get cash more than once, but it seemed more places were card-friendly in Rome. In addition, if you’re doing a guided tour, make sure you have the amount you want to tip in cash before you start. We weren’t able to tip our amazing tour guide for our Rome in Day tour and we both felt absolutely awful.

BE PREPARED FOR SMOKERS

For some reason, in my mind, smoking has always seemed like a more French thing than anywhere else. I’ve only spent about 48 hours in Paris, most of it at Disneyland, but it seemed like there were more smokers in Italy. (Just take that with a grain of salt.) Smoking is prohibited in bars and restaurants, but dining outside under striped umbrellas is part of that European charm! We walked by waiters and baristas standing right outside their restaurant smoking in their uniform. Just about every time we stopped to enjoy the scenery, someone next to us would be smoking. But the worst was when someone at the next table over would be smoking through our meal. On our last night in Rome, we had dinner in the Jewish Ghetto between the host smoking on one side and the guy at the table 6 inches from ours smoking on the other. And it’s not like they don’t know how dangerous smoking is. I looked over at the guy’s cigarette pack on the table and probably 60% of the box was covered in SMOKING KILLS warnings.

BE PREPARED TO PAY TOURIST TAX

At our hotel in Naples, our Airbnb on the Amalfi Coast, and our hotel in Rome, we had to pay a “tourist tax” that wasn’t covered by what we had already paid. I’m not sure what it was in Naples or if Luke was able to pay by card. But the other two times, it was cash only, but we were given the option to pay at check in or check out. On the coast, it was €1 per person, per night, but in Rome, it was €3 per person, per night. I would imagine we would have been prepared for it if we had read the fine print, but I for one wasn’t expecting it.

SOME BASILICAS HAVE A DRESS CODE

If you plan on visiting any basilicas, particularly the Vatican, make sure you’re aware of the dress code before hand. The Vatican is of course a holy place, and because of this, you are required to cover your shoulders and knees. It may seem unbearable in the summer months, but they will turn you away. As we passed the line to get in, we also passed vendors selling scarves to women who were wearing tanks tops. Later, inside the Vatican, we saw a girl who had one of the scarves tied around her waist as her dress was too short. Luke is generally a warm person and we were visiting the Vatican at the end of an 8 hour walking tour that day, so he packed jeans to change into before we went in.

SOME MAJOR TOURIST DESTINATIONS HAVE BAG RESTRICTIONS

If you plan on going to the Vatican or the Colosseum while you’re in Rome, make sure you check the limits they have on bags before you go in. Don’t plan on going to either place on a day you’re travelling if you’re not able to leave your luggage at your hotel or Airbnb. It’s a great idea to have a small backpack to carry around while you’re out sightseeing, filled with water, sunscreen, and anything else you need throughout the day, but make sure it’s small enough to be let in to the places you want to go. While you’re at it, get rid of any spray sunscreen you have before you go to the Colosseum. They no longer allow sprays of any kind (bug spray, sunscreen, body spray, etc.) and we had to toss our sunscreen outside the gates. We used the Little Ash from MUZMM and if you want to get one for yourself, you can use the code HANNAH20 at check out for 20% off your order! (They ship internationally!) It’s such a fantastic travel bag.

And for some Rome-specific bonus tips:

YOU CAN’T EAT ON THE SPANISH STEPS

It probably seems like the perfect place for an impromptu picnic that you’ve actually been dreaming of because it might have been in a movie you saw once. But they’ll actually tell you off for eating on the steps. And there are plenty of security guards (or maybe it’s police) walking around ready to do just that.

DON’T FORGET TO VALIDATE YOUR METRO TICKETS

Do not learn this the hard way. Like us. You have to buy your metro tickets in a newspaper stand near a station. It might not be completely obvious where you can buy them, they might not take credit cards or be able to break bigger bills, it might be a hassle. But once you get on the metro, there are yellow boxes near the doors where you can validate your ticket. You might be able to get away with it (also like us) for a while, but if you get caught it is e x p e n s i v e to pay the fine. And don’t worry, they have a credit card machine ready to go for you if you don’t have the cash. Just validate the tickets and save yourself the hassle.

PLAN TO VISIT THE TREVI FOUNTAIN EARLY — AND WATCH YOUR BAG AND POCKETS

Want to get a shot without hundreds of other tourists in it? Go early! Sadly the Trevi Fountain was off while we were there so we didn’t stick to our original plan of going back one of the last two mornings we were in Rome. But that’s the way to do it. Also, watch your bags. It’s so crowded and your pockets and bags are prime for the picking. We were warned by our tour guide on the first day, so Luke turned our backpack around to be on his front and made sure everything was zipped and secure.

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A Weekend Guide to Edinburgh

TravelHannah DrakeComment

Over the long Easter weekend, we decided to go to Edinburgh for our E date. Luke said he had been briefly, but I had never been before, so we were both so excited to go for a few days. We had gotten a few recommendations from friends and family (It was weird getting Europe recommendations from my parents since they went last year after our wedding!) and had a tentative outline of what we wanted to do, but we didn’t have any solid plans when we went, other than a gin tasting that we booked early.

It didn’t take very long for me to realise that Edinburgh is my favourite city in the UK (sorry London!) and my second favourite city in Europe (I see you, Rome!). But while I loved visiting Rome, I could legitimately see myself living in Edinburgh, especially if it’s in the Morningside/Bruntsfield area where we stayed.

Edinburgh also felt like a foodie’s dream come true. Like I said, we got a lot of recommendations from friends and family and we simply didn’t have enough time to eat at all the restaurants that we heard about. I’ll include both where we did eat and what else was recommended below. We could easily plan another trip just to eat at all these places!

WHERE TO STAY

We didn’t have a ton of time to plan the trip, so by the time I booked an Airbnb, a lot of places I thought I wanted to stay were already booked. We ended up booking a room in a family home, which isn’t usually our first choice (we prefer to have the whole place to ourselves), but it ended up being a godsend. We absolutely loved it!

The house is big enough that the room, which was an ensuite, felt separate from the family home. But Gi & Winston were truly the best Airbnb hosts we’ve ever had. When we arrived, Gi sat down with us over tea and homemade sourdough bread to give us some recommendations and show us the area where they live, Morningside.

We absolutely loved the area. Everything was very walkable (though I chalked up almost 26,000 steps on our first full day) and there were a ton of shops, cafes, and restaurants that looked amazing. I loved walking through the neighbourhood in the morning when things were quieter. I would absolutely recommend staying in Morningside or Bruntsfield, especially if you want to be outside the city centre a little, but still close enough to be able to walk (or take the bus) to everything you want to do.

On the Harry Potter Walking Tour we did, the guide talked about the Balmoral Hotel and the JK Rowling Suite, where she lived for six months to finish Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. If you want to go big (and can afford £1,500 a night), by all means, stay there!,

We had drinks at Black Ivy, but it looked like a really nice hotel as well.

WHERE TO EAT

Our Airbnb host recommended La Barantine for a quick breakfast. She said they have the best croissants she’s ever had, including in France. We stopped there for breakfast on our first full day on our way into town. It definitely felt like being back in Paris, sitting in the little French cafe having a croissant and coffee. Well, tea for me, of course. Gi said if you miss the croissants in the morning, you can head down the road a bit to their bakery and buy some straight from there.

We had breakfast at Southside Scran on Sunday morning since they only serve breakfast on Saturdays and Sundays. It’s on the expensive side, but it didn’t feel to me like we were overpaying for things we could make at home. Of course we could make breakfast at home, but we usually don’t make eggs benedict or avocado toast at home. We booked a table, but we really didn’t need to. The only bummer was that we went too early to get a Bloody Mary or a mimosa since they can’t serve alcohol before 11:00 on Sundays.

Gi also recommended Honeycomb & Co. for breakfast, but we weren’t able to try it during our visit. They’re brunch menu looks pretty good!

We’ve been wanting to go to Dai Pai since we first found out that Edinburgh had sushi burritos. We planned to go on our last full day in the city since it was near our gin tasting. We got two sushi burritos to go and sat in a nearby park for lunch. Sushi burritos aren’t the easiest thing to eat on a park bench, but they were pretty good. It was no Motomaki in Boulder, but it definitely hit the sushi burrito spot.

We actually had breakfast at Karine the morning before we left, but I’ll include it with the lunch spots because I basically had a sandwich for breakfast. It was SO GOOD and I think Luke really regretted just getting a croissant and a coffee to go. I can’t remember exactly what was on the sandwich, but it was something like ham, Brie, and some kind of chutney. It felt breakfasty enough for me and I’m so glad I got it. The cafe itself is also beautiful both on the outside and the inside. Again, you’ll feel like you were transported straight to Paris!

Our friend, via her sister who lives in Edinburgh, recommended Bread Meats Bread, a burger place with locations in Glasgow and Edinburgh, but we weren’t able to make it there on this trip. We did walk by it basically every time we went into town, though! They have vegetarian, vegan, gluten free, and halal options. Plus they have poutine!

We stumbled upon Oink while visiting the iconic Victoria Street. We had just had lunch (and a delicious one at that), so we basically just ogled over the pork sandwiches we could smell from outside. Oink is hands down the place I’m most sad about us not having time to visit on this trip.

Our friend recommended Dishoom as it’s the only place her father will eat out for a curry. That’s got to be the best recommendation I’ve ever gotten for a restaurant. There was a bit of a wait to even get into the bar, but they served traditional Indian drinks in line. The bar was absolutely stunning and the cocktails were delicious. Luke even considered posting his very first Instagram story of the bar, but settled for a regular post instead. I had the Kishoom Fizz and the Bollybellini while Luke fell in love with the Old Fashioned. They age some of their cocktails in these really cute apothecary bottles, which is such a cool idea. We pretty much decided on the spot we have to try that sometime. We definitely ordered too much food, but it was all so good. The couple sitting at the table next to us had ordered something that looked (and smelled) delicious and when I asked them what it was (Salli Boti), hoping it was something we had already ordered, they offered us a bite! We hadn’t ordered it already, but we were able to tack it on to our order. And it was worth it! If I remember correctly, we ordered the Vegetable Samosas, Butter-Bhutta, Gunpowder Potatoes (OMG!!!), the Dishoom Chicken Tikka, and probably more. It was absolutely a feast! They also have a location in Manchester and four in London. Each location has a different speciality dish, the Salli Boti being that for Edinburgh. I definitely recommend making a reservation.

My sister and her husband recommended Mother India’s Cafe to us, but we didn’t have time to try it. Rachel said she still dreams about how good Mother India was!

Our friend, again via her sister, recommended Kanpai Sushi, but we opted for the sushi burrito at Dai Pai instead. The menu looks amazing!

Our Airbnb host, Gi, recommended both Bia Bistrot and Three Birds, but we didn’t have time to try either.

We walked by Seeds for the Soul every day we were there and definitely thought about trying it. It’s a completely vegan place and while their website feels a little preachy, their menu looks pretty good! Nearby is Thrive, a vegetarian and vegan restaurant we also wanted to try.

And of course, we had to try Mary’s Milk Bar. My sister said she had the best ice cream of her life there: sweet corn and black pepper. Seriously! It was unseasonably warm while we were in Edinburgh so everyone was on the same page about getting some ice cream. We waited in a bit of a line, maybe 15 to 20 minutes, and I definitely felt panicked and rushed while we were in there, though I’m not sure I needed to. I felt like we couldn’t sample the flavours and even though there wasn’t anything as different as sweet corn and black pepper, I did play it safe with my choices since they didn’t have any of my usual go-to flavours. I got a cup of rhubarb and orange sorbet with cherry mascarpone ice cream. The cherry mascarpone was to die for! Since the shop is so small and it was so busy, we took our ice cream across the street to sit in the grass beneath the castle.

WHERE TO DRINK

We actually had dinner at Lebowski’s on our first night off a recommendation from my stepmom, who was given the recommendation by our friend at our wedding last year. Neither of us were very hungry, so we split a burger, which was really good. But of course the main attraction is the White Russian menu. The whole place is themed from the 1998 film, playing the soundtrack on a loop and showing the film on screens around the restaurant on a loop. The White Russian menu is quite extensive, based on quotes, characters, and more from the movie. I tried The Dude and The Kieffer, while Luke had The Marty and The Donny. Neither of us had every tried a White Russian before and even though I was worried I would feel sick from all that dairy, I felt completely fine.

Cold Town House was recommended to us for drinks, but we had lunch there as well. We ate lunch downstairs, splitting a pizza and fries, before we headed upstairs for drinks on their rooftop patio. It’s easily one of the coolest places I’ve ever been and probably has the coolest rooftop patio I’ve ever seen. If we lived in Edinburgh, I’d happily hang out there once a week at least!

We walked by Black Ivy while we were walking through The Meadows and I was immediately drawn to the facade. On the way back to our Airbnb on our last night, we decided to pop in and see what it was all about, even stopping for a drink. They had a really cool bar and Luke’s favourite beer on tap.

WHAT TO DO

Edinburgh Castle sits atop a hill visible from pretty much anywhere that we were at least. To be honest, I was picturing an entirely different castle because of an Edinburgh Instagrammer who I follow who regularly posts the castle from her hometown as well as her snaps of Edinburgh. Colour me surprised to find this castle instead. We saw it from all angles and walked up to the top, but ultimately decided not to go in. It’s £19.50 per person (£16 for seniors and £11.50 for children) and we just decided to spend our time elsewhere. We might get tickets next time we’re in town.

We decided when we got there that we would do a Harry Potter Walking Tour. We were able to book The Ultimate Harry Potter Walking Tour through Airbnb, snagging the final two spots for the tour the morning of. It’s £15 per person, but 100% of the money goes to Child.org. We met outside the Balmoral Hotel and our tour guide took us around the city, pointing out places that inspired JK Rowling when she wrote the stories, showing us where she wrote, and even the Scottish Writers Museum. The tour was certainly a lot of walking and we did see some cool stuff. The only thing I would have liked was more Harry Potter trivia. Our tour guide asked us a couple of trivia questions toward the end of the tour, but I wanted more!

We went down Victoria Street during our walking tour, but I recommend it regardless. It’s quite a touristy place, but it’s the most photographed street in all of Scotland and for good reason. There are a lot of shops (including two Harry Potter shops) worth popping into. It’s also where you’ll find Oink.

Luke found a Gin Tasting through Airbnb as well, which we booked in advance. The emails I got when I booked it called it a distillery tour (but it’s not labelled online as just a tasting), so we were a bit disappointed that it wasn’t actually a tour at all. One of the distillers at 56 North talked us through the process of making gin, what gin is made of, and basically all things gin while we sipped a G&T and got to taste a flight of gins. Afterwards, you get a mimosa upstairs, though I still don’t know why it’s a mimosa at a bar famous for their gin? If I recall correctly, 56 North has one of the largest collections of gin in the country, but they do have other spirits available as well. Luke and I got another drink after the mimosa and would have hung out there a bit longer, but Luke wanted to go watch the football match that was on. It was £25 per person, which includes two cocktails and an hour-long class.

My sister said we should visit the Botanical Gardens and I’ve seen plenty of beautiful photos, so I really wanted to. Sadly we didn’t have the time to make it on this trip, but it’s at the top of my list for next time.

Arthur's Seat Edinburgh

We really wanted to hike Arthur’s Seat on our second day, but we were absolutely wiped out from Saturday. We logged about 25k steps on Saturday and were genuinely sore from walking so much. Arthur’s Seat is an extinct volcano that you can now hike up, getting sweeping views of Edinburgh and the surrounding area. Depending on where you are in the city, you can probably walk there. It would have taken us about an hour to walk from our Airbnb to the top.

You have to visit the Morningside and Bruntsfield neighbourhoods while you’re there, especially if you’re not staying there. It was such a lovely place to stay and I really enjoyed walking around, seeing all the shops and restaurants. We stayed in Morningside, but walked through Bruntsfield on our way to the city centre every day. These were the areas that made me feel like I could live in the city. In a way, they reminded me on New York City, but much quieter.

We didn’t get to visit the Stockbridge neighbourhood while we were there, but my sister said it’s gorgeous. It looks to have some of the most picturesque streets in the city and it was seriously a mistake to miss this area.

Inside Stockbridge, you’ll find Dean Village, a former milling centre dating back to 1128. The buildings have been well maintained and it will probably make you feel like you’re outside of the big city and living in a quieter time.

Have you been to Edinburgh before?

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What to Pack for England in the Summer

TravelHannah DrakeComment

I’ve previously written What to Pack for England in the Autumn and What to Pack for England in the Spring, so this year I’m tackling summer and winter.

My first advice is to check the weather, of course. While stereotypical season weather is a bit more dependable in England than, say, Colorado, you still never know what you’ll get! I feel like it goes without saying that you check the weather before you pack, but don’t forget to continue to do so up until you zip up your suitcase for the last time to head to the airport.

I’ve been here two summers already and most people will say that those two summers were unseasonably warm. Last July we had an absolutely scorching heatwave that completely killed our grass. But I really enjoy late August when the days are cooler and rainy in the mornings. (Especially if I don’t have anywhere to go.)

So here are some packing ideas to help you blend in with the locals, dress seasonally appropriate, and be fully prepared for your trip to England. (Keep in mind that Wales will probably have similar weather to England, but further north in England, Scotland, and likely Northern Ireland will be a bit more chilly no matter the time of year.) This time, I also tried to make a few more sustainable choices than usual as I’m moving that direction in my personal wardrobe.

Wool Fedora | Linen Button Down | Cotton Tee | Chambray Button Down | Picnic Dress | Long Weekend Dress | Relaxed Chinos | Shorts | Skirt | Sneakers | Sandals | Denim Jacket | Raincoat

If you’re planning on doing a lot of city walking, this is a great place to start packing. Of course if you’re planning on doing more country walking or more specific activities, you’ll know what to bring for that. I always recommend comfortable shoes and I firmly believe you can’t go wrong with a pair of Allbirds. If you want sandals as well, Birkenstocks are a great option. Whatever you choose, you need a firm sole because there are a lot of cobblestone roads around the UK.

Otherwise you want to pick a wardrobe that will keep you cool when you’re walking around and give you the ability to layer if it starts raining or in the evenings. I have this raincoat actually and I love it for the summer. It’s not going to make you any more warm, but it will certainly keep you dry and it rolls up really nicely to fit in your bag.

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