37. Italy 101: A Complete Guide to Travel in Italy

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Hugh Sifu: [00:00:00] All right guys, welcome back to Thoughts of a Random Citizen. I'm your host as always, Hugh Sifu. Today we are going to talk all about Italy, where to travel, the best parts. If you're interested in Italy, which it's a freaking amazing place, this is going to be a really good place to come and know and get maybe a guide on what to do. I hate these episodes because it's, "Oh, fantastic. You've traveled and now you're just bragging about it," but that's not really what I'm trying to do here. I figured somebody who wants to go to Italy might not know exactly what they're getting into besides obviously wanting to go to Rome or Venice, which is what wanted to do before traveling and living in Italy.

The reason specifically for this episode is simple, in my travels I always talk to people and I go, "Oh, you're from America." I go, "Yes." Some of them say, "I've been there." I always respond with, "Oh great East or West coast?" They usually give you the answer East, West, or like California, New York, maybe Florida. Well don't get me wrong, those places are beautiful but from an outsider, you really don't have any idea of where to start in a different country.

You hear what Hollywood tells you or amazing places but the amount of beauty in the US beyond those three states is insane. Places other people outside of the US might not have even heard of range in the few hundred that are amazing. Which is what typically my most recommended places in the US aren't even the three that I mentioned before. They don't even crack the top five-- Maybe the top five.

That's again, why I wanted to dedicate this entire episode to the travels and the ins and outs of Italy because after living in Italy, [00:02:00] I realized how amazing that place was. It's way bigger than you think. If you're coming from the US, you'll want a minimum of two weeks. If you can swing three to a month, you'll be golden.

Unfortunately, I don't cover Sardinia or Sicily in this episode as we're dedicating next summer to that. I'll get to that next year but within a month, you'd struggle to see mainland Italy and Sardinia. You could probably get Sicily in there with a month. Again, what I cover in this episode we did in about three weeks. With that extra week, you can probably get Sicily, but we'll cover that at another time.

Really, I'm just going to walk you through what we did, the best places I'd recommend and I know you're probably thinking, "Oh cool, well, I don't really care about this American who's traveled in Italy." I have an Italian girlfriend and she is really the one who did the entire booking and everything. That is why and that is what you're really getting recommended from is the Italian who lives in Italy as opposed to the stupid American boyfriend. When you hear this episode, understand that it's the Italian giving you advice, not the Midwest American.

Before I do jump into the episode, I will say typically I like to have podcasts that are about educating people and something intriguing that makes you think. However, I do have small expertise of travel and so I figured I would impart that expertise with you guys, as that's what I do. If you're just joining this podcast, I jump around from topic to topic so they're not always going to be about travel. This one is specifically about travel.

If you don't care about Italy or traveling to Italy, tune in next week, we're going to be talking about the market, pieces-of-eight and how global reserve currencies [00:04:00] have gone through the year. I know you might be thinking of nine pieces-of-eight from Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean. While it does kind of relate to that, it is not that, but it's a really cool episode. Tune to that next week and then I got interview after interview, after interview coming up after that. If you don't like Italy-- It's a great place to travel, but if you don't really care about travel advice tune in next week, because I change it up quite often. Other than that, I'll kick off the episode guys.

If you can afford it, I highly recommend renting a car, starting from the bottom and pushing to the top or vice versa it doesn't really matter starting from the top, pushing to the bottom. If you're making your way, all the way to Italy, you'll miss out on too much if you just stay in one or two places. Plus with a car, you'll get to see the beautiful countryside that is way more mountainous than I expected. The entirety of Italy is mountains. I don't know if that's well known. Maybe?

Essentially, I'm going to start from Lecce, which is practically on the heel of the boot in Italy and it's about as far south, as you can get before hitting Sicily. Again, you can always do it from the top-down, Milano to the south, but you just play the podcast in reverse. Although that's not really a thing. [chuckles] Of course, you don't have to do a three-week trip, but keep in mind that jet lag is real and a week might be a bit short. Anyways, it's your life so I'll just get to the good stuff.

Besides Rome, which I'll get to later, Lecce was one of the more favorite cities we went to with its Baroque-an style architecture, it had the benefit of being the first Italian city we saw, so it impressed, as does all of Italy. It had amazing churches, a little miniature Coliseum that they consider an amphitheater now, but just looking at it, no way would I have wanted to be [00:06:00] a gladiator back in the day because screw that.

As you may or may not be aware, I'm not a huge big city guy. I think I've said that before and none of the travelers we were with during this trip were either, so the quietness of Lecce was ideal for all parties. A terrible time to use the word parties there, but you get it, I hope.

If you want amazing food and a city that doesn't make you want to pull your hair out, Lecce is the place to go. I'll tell you right now, the food in the south is amazing. They're known for that, but just all of the south is amazing for food, not dissing on the north, but yes.

Starting or ending with Lecce is amazing because of the beautiful Puglia region. This is the region that's known for its incredibly clear water and wonderful beaches. If you've ever seen the photos of a little boat that's just floating in the water, it's probably from this area. Which reminds me, if you do want to check out photos or videos from our travels, head to Toarc United it's in the show notes. It's where you'll find the transcribed episode of this podcast and photos and more advice from other places and resources and crap. Totally free.

I will say that is probably won't be up there for a while after this podcast goes live because they're still in organization mode at the moment. I don't mess with that stuff and I've learned not to push the button on the deadlines with the editor. You might have an idea who that would be, but if you don't just know that they're coming and they're really cool.

At the very least you can rent a car in Lecce area and explore the heel of the boot where you can find places like Otranto, the most Eastern part of Italy, and check out Baia del Mulino Ad Acqua. If I didn't pronounce that right, [00:08:00] again in transcription, but it's for all the rest of us, Watermill Bay, so there's that. That was freaking really cool, you get to walk through this campsite under this little cave area and there's just an amazing beach that's tucked away on this cliffside. One of the better places I've been to in all my travels, at least memorably. If you want to see the boats float, that's a good place.

Also a 15-minute drive down to Castro, again, this is that whole Puglia region, super amazing. You'll see boats floating, Castro has a really cool bay where you can swim off the rocks, kayak paddle boats, a great selection of food, and really cool view.

After that, we headed up to Ostuni, which is actually where we've been living and it's called the White City and it's beautiful. It has an amazing cathedral on it at the very top of the city and dozens of little shops and bars tucked away in these little alley streets. It's essentially exactly what you think of when you think of a city in Italy. It's built on this cool castle hill, ancient-looking and it just feels like there's history behind it. It's a really cool area.

Again, this region is filled with beaches and blue seas that you're always 15 minutes away from a hidden gem. Southern Italy is a must if you're traveling. Especially in the summer, because I feel like everyone should get to Rome in Venice, which I'll get to, but man, Southern Italy is great.

After that checkout Alberobello, it's what this region's known for. It's the coolest little town made up entirely of these homes with pointed domes and that doesn't sound that great, but it's actually pretty cool. Definitely, a day trip thing, if you like architecture, especially [00:10:00] Southern Italian old-style architecture from centuries past.

If you've timed it right, Polignano a Mare is just right there, north of Monopoli. Yes, a town named after the board game. Although it might've been the other way around to be honest, probably was. You might actually get to see the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series which is pretty sick because we actually timed it right and we had no idea. It's cliff diving but dude they're like at least 100 feet up maybe more and it's crazy. I actually got some sweet videos of that too. That'll be on there that you can see.

After that, that's whole heel of the boot and Puglia region. We headed to Amalfi coast which is oh my God, amazing. Amalfi coast is probably the highlight of my trip. The incredible views from the towns built on the cliffside. Again I feel they just literally chuck houses on cliffsides here in Italy. It's just beautiful. The bluest water I've ever seen. If you can manage to drive whatever car on these winding roads great, but post up somewhere in the middle and just rent scooters and enjoy.

The scooter route is a must because in the Amalfi coast, the transport's a bit rough because of the winding roads, but if you have a scooter it's the most beautiful and crazy fun time you'll have. Think ahead of time because they do book out of the scooters. I highly suggest you checking out Ravello in the middle of the 30-mile long Amalfi coast. It's a two hour drive though because of the winding roads but it's only 30 miles long.

That's again why the scooters are great but Ravello is sick. You drive just up the heart of this mountain which the view is quite breathtaking. I don't use that word very often because I like it to actually mean something and it actually caused pause for a moment while looking at this view. Check out, if you go up to Ravello, [00:12:00] check out the beach view. If you just go straight to the back, pretty easy to find and they got these floating trees there. They're not actually floating, but when you see them I think you'll understand what I'm talking about.

If you do right, post up somewhere in the middle. You can take a ferry to Capri Island and you get to see things the blue grotto although it's not the only grotto on the island. Check out all the others as well but Capri Island is sick. What is a grotto? You might wonder it's a cool little cave but typically floods during high tide. In Capri's case, fricking beautiful blue caves that you're not actually allowed to swim in unless you get a private boat and go when you're not supposed to, but fun fact about grottos, they were using ancient times where traders or people use these grottoes to store wine, food and it was well-hidden and cool. It was like a little refrigerator.

The more I learned about how bad-ass we used to be, in using what was around us the more sad I get about how freaking pathetic we are today. Seriously our fridge goes out of power for an hour and we start to lose our shit. We're like, "Oh God all the food's going to go bad, we can't eat it," and we freak out. I really think we're screwing ourselves. Maybe just our future immunitary systems. That's I think that's the word I'm looking for? Immune systems? Yes, that's it. Compared to what they were then to now.

Remember the movie with Tom Cruise, with the alien? War of the Worlds, that's it. They came and destroyed us, but then died because the bacteria or whatever ended up killing them all. That's totally us on our own planet. I 100% digress. Also, I'm not a doctor so that's probably totally inaccurate.

Anyways if you did the scooters justice, pull off yourself right in the middle of Amalfi Coast, shop a bit in Positano which is a cool shopping place. [00:14:00] That's really all there is to do there, but if you like shopping there's so many stores. If that's your thing great. Ferry for Capri for a day, you got to do that. Then I suggest cutting the mountain right in half and pop out in Pompeii, like Mount Vesuvius area in Napoli or Naples. You might want to plan Mount Vesuvius is ahead of time if you're going in the near future however because the wonderful amazing world progressing COVID has kept outside visitors on a massive outside volcano but whatever. I don't know why.

However, to describe Napoli I would consider it a dirty jungle. Literally one of the things it's known for is trash on the streets, but oh my God the pizza is insane. Hands down, the best pizza I've ever had ever. My mouth is watering now even thinking about it. They also have an amazing underground experience and a really cool bar scene at night. I wish they would get the graffiti under control and the trash under control. It would go a long way to making that city really special. However, that's what happens when mafia controls the area. I wouldn't spend more than a couple of nights here but Hey that's just me.

Also another side rant really quickly. I'm sorry for again veering off here. Can we please tell the youth/gangs/whoever the [beep] does graffiti to stop please. It's not art. It's terrible. If you're claiming "territory", paint doesn't do that dude, and or dudette. Owning rights to the real estate you've just tagged does that. That's how you claim territory if you want to claim territory.

There is some beautiful art on the streets. Amazing. Artists did that, [00:16:00] but graffiti isn't art, it's trashy looking and it ruins streets and buildings alike. If you want to graffiti or tag something, one, don't. Two, find a place where you're about to illegally graffiti, ask the owner if you could do a cool piece of art legally with permission and guess what that claims your territory much better because you've actually made a connection and a relationship with a real human being, AKA the owner of the building. A city of art looks vastly different than a city of graffiti. Just a thought from a random citizen.

If the media who tries to change society could focus on the little things like that, instead of well what they do now, we'd be much better off. We could focus on things that make everyone a bit happier. Anyways I digress. Again, back to Italy.

If you want a good city, again, Napoli isn't bad. Just not my particular cup of tea. Go two hours north to Roma. When you hear Rome is good, and you think I bet it will be good. I know it's got a history and blah-blah. It's insane. It really just puts into perspective how little not only Americans have accomplished, but how little history Americans have. We have skyscrapers but they're just not as awe inspiring. I bet when they never existed before, sure. Crazy things that, "Woah, what is that?" At the end it just doesn't have the same beauty or natural feel like the city of Rome has.

Around every corner is this massive statue or building and or fountain unlike anywhere else in the world that has just the most minute and elegant details. It's beautiful. I'm from Kansas City where we claim to have the most operational fountains in the world [00:18:00] ahead of Rome. I used to think that that was cool because we were competing with Rome. I realized now how much of a joke that is because the fountains in Rome are immaculate, the buildings are immaculate. The Vatican is incredible with the Basilica and the mass amount of art and sculptures they've acquired to the insanity and size of these buildings that actual ancient cultures built.

They were literally building football-sized stadiums, that could fit 70,000 people 2,000 plus years ago. It's mind-boggling and eye-opening. We think that the stadiums we build now are cool, but you see the actual model of what and how the stadium was when it was built back then. It was immaculate. I keep using the word immaculate but it is. They actually had tarps that would go over when it was really hot. Insane to me that 2,000 years ago we were building what we already have today that we think is cool and unique.

Please don't spend less than four nights here. You could get away with seven and definitely, 100% would not run out of things to do. I won't even speak more on Rome because I think everyone knows about it, but again I knew about it and I never had a city blow me away like Rome did.

I'd recommend if you want somewhere peaceful, to stay near the Vatican, but everything is pretty close. If you ever stray too far, rent a scooter. Not the city and moped scooters that I was suggesting for Amalfi, but the fun little ones that you can zip around on sidewalks. Although you're not really supposed to do that but sometimes you got to do what you got to do. For food, also Carbonara is where it's at, and expect to gain a bit of weight [00:20:00] on this trip because if you waste the deliciousness of Italian food on salads, then I ask why are you depriving yourself of that happiness?

Moving up to Firenze, I don't think I pronounced that right. Florence. It's all of the names. I said Roma earlier. They're different but just slightly which is confuses me as to why we call Rome Rome, when it's Roma. Is it really that difficult to pronounce Roma for us? Not really. Anyway, don't get me wrong. There are a few things you could have checked out in between Florence and Roma. The leaning tower of Pisa is around there but I'm just continuing for what we did in a beautiful city of Florence.

Now I say beautiful city although it's actually quite small with only about 400,000 people, but it's quiet, amazing, quaint town that's just beautiful. The river flows right through it. The amazing colors just match. It feels like you just walked into a painting with everything just perfectly around you. This place has steak. I tell you I come from the Midwest and I know I've said it like three different times this episode but this steak is good.

Beyond that this is Florence. That is where the modern Italian language was born. They say it's where modern culture is born. Machiavelli, Amerigo Vespucci, the dude who America is named after. Donatello, Lorenzo de'Medici, just to name a few, again 100% Renaissance but they say that this Florence is where the culture of Italy originated. You can definitely tell with the museums and art that you find here.

If you get a chance, find a rooftop by the river because you'll get an amazing view of not only the architecture and bell towers that are littered across the little skyline, but beautiful mountains that surround you. It's a really unique, cool city. [00:22:00] If you talk to any Italian they all love Florence, because again it's where the culture is born.

After a few days and nights there we took off to Bologna for a single night. Reminded me a bit of Napoli. The people were rude, but it's a city. Not to say all people from cities are rude, I guess that was rude but just some vibes really nice, everyone seems welcoming, some vibes not so much. This was not so much. It's a smaller city but it seemed really packed, but we didn't go there for the city. We went for the Bolognese because all my God that was one of the best pastas I've ever had. I don't know how to describe it. It didn't even have that much sauce and I'm a sauce guy but I'm going really into food here but it's just it's Italy food. You guys know that.

Also Bologna, Florence, this whole area is the heart of the big-name wine regions in Italy. I say big-name wine regions because the entire place produces excellent wine. If you want to break up the drive from Venice to Florence or Florence to Venice it's a good stopping point for a meal you probably won't forget. Which brings me to the oh so beautiful Venice.

One of the most memorable parts of this trip, absent Amalfi is definitely the floating or sinking down.

It's a place like no other. I don't know any other place in the world that operates or looks like Venice. They have boats that go everywhere, obviously, everyone knows that. Then every 15 steps you're crossing over another bridge. It's a town that has buildings and shops and restaurants just floating in the middle of the sea. It's incredible. The square in the middle is also amazing with another spectacular church. You won't get tired of the churches. I promise although they have them everywhere. It just kind makes you wonder how they built this crazy town [00:24:00] on sand and mud.

Another thing if you do want to see Venice, go soon because they say, the Venetians, that the water is rising and the town is talking about the floods getting worse and worse every year. They aren't sure how much longer Venice will be a thing. Hopefully, we can find a solution, but I was thinking Oceans 12, if anyone gets that reference. Besides that, they're really into glassblowing there. Really cool stuff that you can find.

Each part of Italy has its own thing. Florence has leather, Amalfi has ceramics. Calabria has chilis. Venice has glass. You can check out a number of the places that have blow glass in front of your face which is super cool and unique for me personally at least because you get to see these artists create these horses or vase out of just glass. That's a ball that they blow and pick and- I don't know. It's just really cool. Otherwise, if you want to see another unique area, Burano really cool houses and shops with really bright cool colors.

One of the more peaceful moments I had on this entire trip of course would be sitting on the gondola where you just float through these silent water alleyways where there's like no people and see hundred-year-old buildings. By 100, I mean 600 to 700 to 800-year-old buildings. It's just really cool. Obviously you hear gondola, and you got to take a gondola in Venice, but when you actually take it's quite unique and different I guess.

Anyways from Venice to Milano, you have the Alps all the way along the right side of you. Or if you're doing it backwards, the left side of you. We got that? You can stop in Verona which is the town where Romeo and Juliet were from. If I can suggest a must see, it would be any of the three lakes along the way. Lake Como, [00:26:00] the more crowded of in popular of the three. Lake Maggiore, my favorite as no matter where you stay you're in the middle of the Alps and it's a bit quieter, or Lake Garda, the more popular one of past elites and monarchs. I don't think you can swim in that one or Como. I can't remember. You can't swim in one of those two but you can swim in Maggiore.

Either way, I'd recommend finding a place when you're in the Alps. If you're flying out of Milano or into Milano, Lake Maggiore is only 30 minutes away from the airport. Well, at least MXP. That view and Maggiore kicks the crap out of any airport hotel. You can try Alpine-style food and feel like you're in an entire other country where there's typically four different languages on the menus. It's odd because you feel like you've just stepped into Switzerland or Germany for a moment. If it's anything like Lake Maggiore, I can't wait to check out those two beautiful countries. In the lakes in the Alps of Italy you'll find quiet, tranquility and beauty like nothing else that you find in Italy.

Finally Aosta Valley. It's the absolute top left corner of Italy where you can trip and fall into France, or if you're skiing you can just ski down to France for the day. If you fancy a trip to the mountains or Mont Blanc, go to Aosta valley in Italy because it'll probably be a cheaper than France visit and just as beautiful. The drive to Milano is by and far the most expensive toll you'll ever pay probably in your life for a 45-minute drive but you'll quickly appreciate why. The beauty is the best part. It's like you just drove into the Aspen in the Rockies.

This is the heart of the Alps, if you consider the heart being the best part, quaint, quiet little villages scattered throughout the valley. It's a great place to ski or just spend a weekend tucked up as far as you can in Italy without popping out into another country. [00:28:00] Again if you like mountains, Aosta is a great little town for that. It has an old entrance to the Roman Empire in the center of town with cool architecture and cool ruins from the long-ago empire not found anywhere else in Italy.

The river that runs through the town is as blue as the seas from the Adriatic and Ionian. Ionian? I don't know how to pronounce that. Still. That's terrible. Down in Puglia region where we started, if you don't remember because I just spat off a bunch of names you probably won't remember. It's the place, the heel of the boot. You probably remember that.

If you like mountains, if you like rivers, if you feel like Aspen was a good place that you've been or Colorado in general and this is definitely your vacation spot.

That's it guys, Italy 101 in a nutshell, minus Sardinia and Sicily. I'll get this transcribed soon, probably within a week. If you want this in writing definitely head over to Torque United which is where you can find all of the episodes and transcriptions and anything else that's on their resources and more. Again, everything's free on there. I only ask that you subscribe, review, tell a friend about this podcast to help me continue to provide stuff like this for you guys.

Next week, I'm going to get to what I promised two weeks ago. Oh. Also sorry. I forgot what didn't forget. I've been busy with moving to Barcelona that I didn't have time to release an episode last week but that shouldn't be an issue from here moving forward. Next week as I promised I will have a market analysis of where we're at right now, as well as a bit of history for you guys, pieces-of-eight.

I know that sounds like what the nine pieces-of-eight from the Disney movie Pirates of the Caribbean, but it's actually a real thing. [00:30:00] That's what we're going to talk about along with the market. After that it's like interview, interview, interview. It's going to be a busy few weeks for me and then good stuff for you guys. I'm really excited to get all of those going and that's pretty much it. I will talk to you guys next week on Thoughts of a Random Citizen. Other than that, enjoy your week.

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