Thank you for being here, I'm
Rick Steves and I'd like to share with you a little insight
and some very important practical skills on my favorite country
in Europe, Italy. My mark of a good traveler is how they enjoy Italy. If
somebody goes to Italy and they say, "It was just temper tantrums, traffic jams,
people ripping me off, stray hairs, body odor…" I think that person would enjoy
Denmark a little more. I think that when you go to Italy, you have to accept it on
It's a rough-and-tumble country. It's a country a little more
demanding on travelers than other places, but when you know how to travel smart
in Italy, you're gonna find it's the greatest place to travel. Again, you have
to understand Italy to enjoy it smoothly. Now, part of the challenge for
us, is to actually melt into that society I mean, look at these people here.
them could be a tourist, probably not, but one of them could be a tourist, that could
be you. And that should be your goal. I. Love to talk to travelers in Italy
who are becoming temporary Italians, equipping themselves with good
information, and expecting themselves to travel smart., And that is important.
of the keys of Italy is to connect with the people. You gotta make it happen. I
was tooling around the countryside in a car one time, I came upon a cheese
festival. When you find a cheese festival in the countryside of Italy, stop your
Get out. Eat some cheese. It's that simple. You've
got to reach into the society in order to enjoy it.
The Italians are great at sitting on a
nice chair and watching the world go by, you can do it to. You are more than
welcome to pull up a chair and join these retired Italians, and enjoy that
river of life flowing by. Italy has a great joy of its civilization, it really
does. I mean you come into a little town here, every summer there's a
festival where the older kids are teaching the younger kids how
to make a good ravioli.
It's a beautiful thing, and you can be part of that scene. A great way to connect with Italy is to understand that the most important
religion there, in a lot of ways, is futball, or what we would call soccer. Go
to the soccer stadium, go to the futball stadium. It could be a little tiny
stadium in a tiny town, or a big huge game, but you'll learn a lot about Italy
when you go to the national pastime.
Italy is two-thirds the size of
California, with sixty million people in it. It's well-organized, believe it or not,
you can get around in a hurry, and there is so much to offer. In a lot of ways, the
north has a lot of the charm of Italy without the intensity of Italy, and you go
farther south and it gets a little more emotional and a little more, I think,
exciting in a lot of ways. When you get around Italy you've got the trains, and
as I said, in the old days, the trains were kind of a fiasco, but these days
trains are very good in Italy.
You need to use the schedule smartly, you need to
make educated guesses on the language barrier. Here we see trains in the
departure mode. Thankfully, they've got the word for "departure" in four languages
below that. So, you can always look around and hope that they've got the
multilingual aids for you, but even if that wasn't there, I think you could
figure that out.
And when you look at that schedule, you don't need to know the
word for "destination," or "departure time," or "track," you can pretty much guess which
one of those columns is for that category. Now when you're dealing with
the trains in Italy, it is important to remember that things don't always go as
smoothly as they might go in Germany, and you've gotta roll with the punches. When
I come into a train station in Italy, the first thing I want to see is this reader
board, because this tells me exactly what the time is. You see in the bottom it
So, it's 2:50 right now, and if you look at the train departure schedule,
at 2:45 there's a train going to Nettuno, right, and that is leaving on track 14.
And you know something, that was five minutes ago, and you know something, it's
still in the station, isn't it, because if it's on that board, it's still in the station.
There's an example of just heads-up travel. The average traveler
might come in and say, "oh, we're five minutes late, we've missed the train." Forget the
printed schedule, forget what anybody else told you, go there, look at this board, and you'll see you've
still got the train-you better hurry because it's probably takin' off any
minute, but scamper on down to track 14, assuming you're going to Nettuno, and
you'll be on your way. Even the boats in Venice now have electronic reader boards
for their schedules and their departure times. A few years ago that
would be inconceivable.
Now, even the boats in Venice are going on schedule. One
thing unique about transportation in Italy is, a ticket is not a ticket until it is validated. You can buy a ticket, you can be honest, you can get on
a train, and you can get a ticket for stealing and not using the ticket system, if
you don't "ka-chunk" it first, right. I love that sound, "ka-chunk." If you've been to Italy you know
You've got to "ka-chunk" your ticket, and then it says it's used, it's right now, and
the conductor is fine with you. Be on the ball that way. One of the key
words in Italian for me is "sciopero." "Sciopero" means "strike." I don't think
I've ever been to Italy when there's not a strike going on. Now for some people,
"it's a strike, I'm miserable, everything's falling apart, what am I doing in this horrible
country." No, this is Italy, it has strikes, that's part of the fun, right.
they're not strikes like in the United States, where for two weeks somebody's on strike, they are generally "nuisance strikes." They're scheduled in advance, and
the train workers are upset about something, and you know, this says it
right here, "from 9:00 on the 14th of April until 9:00 on the 15th
of April, we're gonna be on strike." That's four days away and they're already
announcing it. That just means you gotta kinda go, "oh, the train guys are upset,"
and you gotta either leave early or leave late. Or, if you're during that day,
there's still trains but they're just ignoring the schedules. I've worked my way through
a lot of strikes all over Europe.
And what you do is, you go to the station and you
take anything departing in that direction. You just kind of work your way to your
ultimate destination, and it's an adventure, and you're right there with the local people, but ya'
gotta roll with the punches in Italy, it's the mark of a good traveler, very
important. Driving in Italy is both fun and
frustrating, and I would say when you're planning an Italian trip, to not try to do
all of it by car or all of it by train. Give yourself the freedom and the
efficiency to do it half and half.
Remember, you do not want a car in Rome,
Florence, Venice, the Cinque Terre, or Naples. Horrible places to drive, okay. You
want to do that by public transportation. By train very easy, and remember, when you
want to rent your car, you simply get on the freeway and you go to where you want
It's not a huge problem to do it in one overly by train, and with another
overlay by car. I would say do the big cities by train, and if you want the
mobility of a car for Tuscany, and exploring Umbria, and getting up into the
Dolomites, the mountains, you know, and so on, that's fun to have. One of the favorite
days for me in Italy, is the day I. Turn in my car.
It's just, it's a headache to be driving
around in Italy in the big cities and the traffic, and for a lot of people, public transit is a great thing. On the other hand, if you want to get a car, again, you want to
use it in places where it makes sense for a car. Just last year I picked up a car
at the Perugia airport, and I dropped it at Pisa. Very easy to do, very cheap, and it
worked for me very well.
I will remind you, there's no economy for having a car
for a long time, a two-week rental just costs double what
a one-week rental costs, so, you know, you can take a short car rental, and then
supplement that with your train tickets, and go where you should go by car, and
where you should go by train. The key in Italy for getting around in a hurry by car, is to pay the money, and use the Autostrada, okay. It's not gonna break
the bank, its gonna save you time, it's gonna save
you gas, and it's going to be safer to travel on the super-freeway, okay. Every 15
or 20 minutes, you'll stop and give some money to the toll station, and then you'll carry on.
It's like the autobahn in Germany, except you gotta pay for it every once in
a while with toll booths. Know your signs when you're driving in Italy, know your signs in
general in Italy. Counter-intuitively, a red circle, even without a slash across
on it, means dont go. It's a "zone traffic limited," do you see what I mean.
You just want
to be able to read the signs. Here's a sign, with a slash on it, that means no
parking, and that means no parking on, you see the
cross, that would be Sunday or holidays, from eight until 20, that would mean eight
in the morning until eight at night, the 24 hour clock, and that says, "except
residents or people with authorization," you see the words under that. Now I don't
know any of those Italian words, I'm just faking it here, and just go with me.
When you fake it, 90% of the time you're right, of the 10% of the time you're wrong, half the time you're wrong you didn't know it, so it didn't matter, that gives you 95% correct ratio, and then you just bull right ahead. Down below, "P" for parking I
would imagine, the hammers crossed is the opposite of the cross, the cross is your
holiday, holy day, and then the hammers crossed is like "hammer and sickle" thats
workers, those are your work days.
Monday through Friday, or maybe Monday through
Saturday, depends from country to country, You gotta be careful about parking from
eight till eight on work days, and that little clock below means if you have a cardboard
clock in your clock-in your car, you set it to the time you arrive, you put it on
your dashboard, and it says it's good for two hours. So that's kind of fancy
communication, but that's sort of faking it, and I think most travelers can
confidently guess their way through a lot of the challenges. You do have "carabinieri"
and "polizia" on every corner ready to help you out. And it's good with a
country like Italy, as crazy, and densely populated, and full of fun, and
surprises, that there are police keeping order.
You will find a lot of regulations,
a lot of bureaucracy, and it's just important really to try to understand
what's going on, for your own safety and convenience. Italy is really crowded. The
beautiful thing about Italy is, it's, in my estimate, the greatest place to go in Europe. What comes with that is, it's the most crowded place in Europe.
And, when it
comes to Italy, all of us are wanting to go to the same five places. Rome, Florence,
Venice, Siena, the Cinque Terre, we all want to go to the same places. That's
where all the tourists are. Now, should you not go there? No.
Those are the best
places, you should go there, but remember, 80% of Italy has almost no
tourism, and its gonna be a third cheaper than the most popular places. And
the places you want to go to, within those places I just mentioned, everybody
want to do the same things. When you're in Rome, you want to
go to the Vatican Museum and see the Sistine Chapel. Well, that's the crowd
That's not a special day, that any hour it's open, it's that crowded.
It's gonna be a shuffle like this. A lot of people say, "this is just, you know,
insulting, this is dangerous this is stinky, this is, I don't like it."
Well then don't go there. It's tough, that's just the way it is, emerging
economies are able to travel now, you got a hundred million travelers in China,
hundred million travelers in India, they want to go to Italy, and they don't want to go
off the beaten path, they wanna go where everybody wants to go, the most famous
places. So you need to be on the ball.
There's a lot of very important sights in
Italy where you can get tickets in advance. Whenever you can, get tickets in
advance, it really is worth your trouble. Any good guidebook would certainly tell
you where you should get tickets in advance. When there are crowds, there are
people picking pockets, right, don't be paranoid, just be not vulnerable.
crowds in Italy, I like it when everybody's just rubbing against
everybody else. But I'm not worried about my wallet, because my wallet is not in my
back pocket. My wallet is buttoned in here, or zipped down there, or I'm wearing
money belt or whatever. If your your wallet has important stuff in it and it's in
your back pocket, if you've got a purse just hanging down there, you're
vulnerable, and thieves are going to target you.
In Italy, the thieves target
Americans, not because they're mean but because they're smart. Solve that problem
by not having anything valuable in your purses or wallets. You're gonna be in
crowded situations, when you're in crowded situations be on guard. Street
thieves, in Italy especially, they come off as beggars but they're not beggars, they're pickpockets.
Seems a little harsh, but I think you got to assume that
because they hang out where the tourists are. I mean I can-in my book I say,
"watch the thieves work the crowds at the Uffizi Gallery, and so on." You want to wear a money belt, that's the
key thing. A money belt, you tuck it in like your shirt tail, and you are not
vulnerable to petty theft pick-pocketings and purse snatching. Eating in Italy is
one of the joys of all of Europe, really.
I just- Italy has such a wonderful cuisine
culture, Italy loves to eat, Italy loves to cook,
Italy loves its ingredients, it just embraces life via the kitchen. I call
this woman "Auntie Pasta," and she just is symbolic to me of this wonderful joy of
food. I like people-to-people eating. I.
Like to eat in the funky little
mom-and-pop places with no pretense. I. Love to eat down and dirty with the locals.
I like a restaurant that's only open Monday through Friday at lunch. There's- some
of my very favorite restaurant are only open Monday through Friday at lunch, what's the
deal? They're just for workers and they're only open when workers are looking for
lunch, you see.
Now having said that, it is fun to go to nice restaurants, fancy places.
And in this case, if you can find a restaurant which is personality driven,
it's got the man's name, I mean, this is him, you know, it's, you know,
Pepe's Trattoria or whatever, you know Pepe cares about this. His mom's cooking
in the back, the kids are serving and washing, it's just a family show. And for
me, the big luxury in Italy, anywhere for that matter, is to be able to trust the
chef and say. "I'd like to spend 50 or 60 euros, and just give me a meal I
will never forget," and let him bring what he wants.
It's such a beautiful thing
to be able to do that and he'll, if it's a good, honest chef or restauranteur,
they'll take very good care of you. My Italian friends love to go out and eat
well, and what they're interested in doing is eating with the region, and with
the season. Italians know, if you go to a good
restaurant, you can look at the menu and you can know what month it is, and what
part of Italy you're in, by what's on the menu. And if you're going to Italy and you're
****-bent on having, you know, mushrooms, well you should go in the fall.
you are there in the spring, it'd be better for you to eat asparagus. Whatever
they're serving, I think that's smart to eat, you want to go with the seasons.
Another thing very popular in Italy these days, is what's called a zero
kilometer meal. Zero kilometers means everything's right there, raised in that village, raised on that
farm even, I've had some literal zero kilometers meals and they're rustic, but boy they are good. And there's something about the terroir, and about how everything works
together in the heritage, and everything, and in Italy they call it-it's a
"good marriage," if you have the wine from this field, where the prosciutto came,
from where the cheese came, and everything, right there.
tradition, it's the soil, it's the sun, it's the name of the family on the label
of the wine bottle. And the daughter is pouring it while grandmas looking on, just
beaming with pride, as this traveler from the other side of the world is drinking
the fruit of their labor that has been produced on that farm, by that family, for
ten generations. That is really quality, you see. There's something about that, that
anybody here could have, if they go to Italy, and they eat in the right places.
fun thing about eating in Italy is family style, and I'm a big fan of eating
family style, in fact I like the first courses, they're smaller they're more
creative, they're less expensive more variety. And I like to get a gang of
friends together and just spread the dishes around. Don't worry about being a
sophisticate, if you're a tourist you're not really a sophisticate, and if you try to be
a sophisticate you just look goofy. Be honestly curious about the culture,
respectful of the culture.
Your goal is to be steep learning curve, to eat your
way through that menu. The chefs gonna love it, and if they notice you're
sharing meals, and sharing plates, and cutting it up, and trying it all, they're
very likely to bring you some extra plates just so you can complete your
experience. That is really a success in your travels. Lunchtime.
If you like a
salad bar here, the equivalent there is an antipasto bar, with all these wonderful
vegetables, and cold cuts, and so on, you just feel the plate up, one simple price, it's
very fast, it's very nutritious, and it's very local, and it's gone, okay, it is
gone in a hurry. What you don't want to look for is a big
English language sign that says, "no frozen food," on the most expensive square
in Rome. Everything's wrong about this. With a menu thats printed, so it's the
same all year long, in four languages.
Wrong, wrong, wrong, right, too much rent,
too many cliches, too much of a focus on tourists. What I want, is a handwritten, small menu, in one language. Handwritten,
because it's shaped by what's fresh the market this morning. Small, 'cause they're just cooking up what they
can sell profitably for a good price and, in one language, the local language,
because they're targeting not tourists, but locals.
Tourists are more than
welcome, but this is for locals, and you can bet, with a local clientele in a
low-rent place away from the main square, with this kind of a menu, that's
gonna be a good value. Again, a small, handwritten menu in one language, a hole
in the wall place, mom-and-pop, and if has an enthusiastic local clientele filling the
place, if it just feels successful, you can sit down without too much worry and
know, that's a good value. At lunchtime also, I walk around and at-a-glance you
can see where the popular places are, because all the workers are taking their
lunch break, and they line up for this guy's sandwiches, or they're down at the market and
everybody's at that stall for the soup, and fish, or whatever. You can pretty much
go with the local specialties and do yourself a huge favor.
I've also found in
Italy there's a lot of expensive, fancy grocery stores that have a deli section,
and in the deli section, the local office workers will go for their lunch, and it
is beautiful, home-cooked kind of food, and you eat it
right there, on a stool, watching the street action. That is far better than
your fast food option if you wanna quick, cheap, lunch. Marketplaces in Italy are a
delight, the produce is as tasty as you can imagine. They've got laws that say you
gotta say where the produce was from, grown, so people aren't mistakenly
consuming stuff that had to be shipped, or frozen, and so on.
Again, they want to eat
with the region, and with the season. I. Love a restaurant that is really
thriving and successful. I don't want to go with whatever crowd-sourcing service
that Americans use when they're traveling says everybody wants to go to,
I could just feel the vibe, and ask at my my restaurant(hotel), or talk to people in the
street, where a good place to eat is, and I'll remind you.
If you're going to good,
popular places in Italy, they're gonna be booked out. You need to make a
reservation. It's just smart. If you've got an idea for a restaurant, drop in in the
afternoon, choose a table, give em' your name, or make a phone call, have somebody at your
hotel make the phone call, but grab a table, get it nailed down in advance.
Europe, especially in Italy, they don't worry about turning the table. If you go
early to a restaurant, it's likely to feel like a touristy place. You
can go back later on in the evening to the same place and it would feel like a local
favorite, because Americans eat early and Italians eat late. This is my favorite
steak house in Tuscany, and they've got two seatings, one at seven and one at nine,
and its full all the time, you need a reservation because this guy is just-he
is famous for his beautiful beef.
You've heard of the Italian beef and so on, and it is
just-Italians love their red meat. And he comes by with his big hunks of beef, you
look at it, and you ask which one you want, and he tells you how much it costs, and then he takes it back there's
really no choice, it's seven minutes on this side and seven minutes on that side,
and then, "whack," you hear a big hunk being chopped off the carcass that's back there on
the gurney, and its into the into the oven, and then a few minutes later on
your plate. Not a friendly place if you are a vegetarian I'll tell you that, but
she's no vegetarian, and that steak's gone, and she's got a lifelong memory. Pasta is a big
deal, I love the pasta.
I have a tough time, frankly, in American-Italian restaurants
'cause I dont have the ambiance. Our pasta can be great here, they can do it
all right, but one thing good about eating in Italy is, you're in Italy. You're
surrounded by all that chaos, and that noise, and that ambiance, and you know
you're eating local produce with the season, and that comes with pasta also.
Know the pastas, know the specialties. If you're in a port, you wanna have seafood, if
you're not in a port, you might not wanna have seafood.
What is it, on Mondays
nobody wants seafood because-they probably don't even serve it-because nobody's
fishing on Sunday, and the markets not open, and its old seafood. Know how to get the
fresh food. If you want a maximum experience, a fun little trick in Italy
is to ask for "bis," B-I-S, because that would be one serving, but split between
two different dishes, and restauranteurs are happy to do that,
and then you get that chance to maximize, double, your taste treats. I like to eat
with a little group of people, because then we get "bis" anyways, because we all
order one, and we spread it around, and four people can share each dish.
When you're traveling in Italy, the
courses are really important, more so than in other countries. You've got the
appetizer course, the "antipasti," and then comes the "primi piatti," or the
first course, that would be your pasta or your soup. After that, "secondi," main
course, meat and fish, and then you've got your "dolci." The "dolci vita," the sweets. Now, I
like to stay away from the "secondi," to be honest, I don't want to have a big, full blown, four course meal, it takes too much time, it's too much food, and it costs a
lot of money.
The most expensive dish is the "secondi," I find the most
interesting dishes are the "antipasti," the appetizer dishes. These are really local
style, traditional, and affordable. And with a group of people, I like to get a
mix of "antipasti," and a few pastas, and call that the meal, okay. There's nothing
wrong with that, and there's nothing wrong with sharing either.
Wine, boy oh
boy. I like to go with the local recommendation. We all know a few names
of famous Italian wines, small productions with a huge demand, and
name familiarity, and that jacks the price way up. Sure, you can get "Brunello Di Montalcino,"
but if you go with the local recommendation, it could be arguably as
good as that, but not as famous, and maybe more local, and a better experience for
you, and half the price.
So, don't get sucked into all the big-name wines, even
though they are great. Be able to venture out and try some of
the local recommendations. A fun part of eating in Italy is food tours, and there are
a lot of food tourists. I was in Rome recently, and this was my guide, and she
took six of us around, and we visited eight different little hole-in-the-wall
foodie artisan shops in Testaccio, which, for two thousand years, has been the
pantry of Rome.
It's where the big-market has been historically, and so much fun
food culture there. You learn a lot when you take a food tour, it's a long lunch
or a long dinner, it cost about 80 bucks but figure it's $40 meal, and a $40 tour, and
a real education, a lot of fun. If you like food, and if you like culture,
consider those food tours. Also, in Italy very popular, is cooking classes, and
there's plenty of that kind of entrepreneurial kind of activity going on for
One great reason to tune into
TripAdvisor, is to find out what are the new businesses going, as far as things to
do, and experiences to have. I'm not a big fan of crowd-sourcing web sites like
TripAdvisor for eating and sleeping, but I'm a huge fan of them to find out
what's going on there in the way of small tours. If there's a new zipline,
if there's a new bike tour, Segway tour, a cooking class, anything very
creative and off the wall, it would be listed in TripAdvisor, and then you can
look it up and see if it's good for you. Just last year I met one of our tour
groups in Florence, and we were learning how to cook, and what was really fun, we
prepared it, we cooked it, and then we sat down and we ate it, and it was "delizioso,"
I just gotta say that.
The chef was right there beaming, as all of his students
went right from making the pasta to making the tiramisu, and then eating it all.
And it was a beautiful experience. That's one of the hits on our tours, and you can
do it on your own too, if you like. I'm not a big happy hour, cocktail kind of
guy, but when I'm in Italy, it's a very important part of the customs and the
culture. And early in the evening, people sit down, as the sun is down it's cool,
the people are out, they've made their money, there's a nice conviviality.
down on the most expensive piece of real estate in town, buy a cocktail, it comes
with little sandwiches and munchies, it could even be a late dinner for the cost
to your drink, but for six or seven or eight dollars you've, got yourself a nice
hard drink right there on the greatest show in Italy, in this case that's the
"campo," the main square in Siena. This aperitivo thing is a tradition. It
started in Milano, and bars would compete by having a whole buffet of little munchy
food that could really put together a plate, and you know be a late meal if you
wanted it that way, and it's free if you buy a drink. And that's been so
successful in Milano, that now, you find it all over Italy.
All over Italy,
aperitivo time, early in the evening, bars compete to get customers by putting out
free buffets of food that you're welcome to, if you simply buy a drink. Another fun thing about Italy is the
spritz. These squares would be filled with market stalls in the morning, just
work-a-day for most of the day, and at night, the little bars and cafes spill
out into the street, the students gather, and the sun shines through that golden
kind of spritz glass, and it's a beautiful scene. Buy a drink, strike up a conversation, and remind
yourself, you are a very interesting person.
You're a fascinating person. You speak
only one language, you come from the other side of the world from a land that's
only 250 years old, and you're venturing now, and you don't even
know the name of the thing you're drinking, you barely know what the coins
in your pocket are worth, and you're standing there, willing to talk to these
people. Be bold, have fun, connect with the people,
and it helps to have a drink in your hand, alright. That happy hour time is just
Another dimension of fun on the streets
is the gelato, and I think it might make sense to skip the dessert in the fancy
restaurant, and have a mobile dessert. I. Like to not go with the crowd sourcing
or the guidebook, but just talk to local friends and say, "where's the best gelato these days?" Everybody's got an opinion, and you go in there, and it's sort of an
art form in itself, and the cool thing about it is you get a cup or cone, you
get your favorite flavor, and then you stroll, doing the "passegiatta" up and down
the streets. A lot of different flavors, remember don't
get attracted to the garish colors, and the big mountains of fruit, and
different exotic flavors, that's generally fake food coloring, and so
Go with the locals, it's a little more
understated, and find the artisan gelato shop, and you'll find the quality is
amazing. As far as accommodations go in Italy, I really want to stay right
downtown. It's really important to me to step out in the morning, and be where the
action is. Every time I end up getting a hotel that was lined up for me by
somebody else, or some booking service, or something like that, I find myself on a
big highway, way out in the suburbs, and I just-there's no character
I think location is critical That's one thing you'll find in all my books,
the location is really the driving factor on which hotels are going to be
listed. In Italy, a double bed is usually two
singles put together, you can make it up as a double bed, or you can make it up
as single bed. You've got friendly, fun people at the desk, this is a great
resource for you to get some advice. I.
Would remind you that it's important to
have a safe, and quiet, and central refuge, because it's exhausting, it's intense
you're out in the streets it's kind of a battle, it's overwhelming, and when you
need a siesta, you need a siesta, and that's what your hotel room is for. One
reason I like my hotel right downtown, is it provides that place just to let my ears
stop ringing, and let my mind just calm down a little bit, because I'm gonna
go out again later on. By the way, take a siesta if you have to, but it's very
important to be out in the evening hours in Italy. It's important to pack light
because you're gonna be carrying your luggage a long way.
In Italy, more than any
other country that I can think of, you can't get the tour bus to your hotel,
because the old city centers are nowadays not letting buses in, so, you're
gonna need to be able to walk with your gear. And like anywhere in Europe, if you
stay in bed and breakfast, you get double the culture intimacy for half the price. This, in Italy, is "camera affitti," and
here you're staying with Mama Rovati. For $100 you got a double room two blocks
away from Michelangelo's David in downtown Florence, and you're a guest of
It's a beautiful experience. Italy is hot. It's very hot in the summer.
You need air conditioning if you're there in the summer. In the winter it can be
cold, and in the fall and the spring, they don't let you heat or cool the rooms, so
you need to either have a sweater or get down to a tee shirt, depending, on you
won't be able to turn on the air con all the time.
So, just be warned, energy is
very expensive in Italy, and the government prohibits people from even
heating or cooling during those corner times, and dress accordingly, it's pretty
important. A lot of old-fashioned rooms come with a bidet. This is my little
daughter Jackie twenty years ago demonstrating a bidet, and a bidet,
the Europeans will tell you, is designed so you can wash things that rub together
when you walk. That's what they say.
And it's just-you've got to not
use it for any more than that, it's just for sponge baths, and they're kinda handy,
and it's important when you find that strange piece of plumbing in your
bathroom, that you know how to use it. Cruising is a big part of Italy, and when
you think about it, the main ports, the main cities, of Italy, Venice, Florence,
Rome, and Naples, all are served by cruise ships. Now, Naples, the boat just-the ship just
parks there. Venice, the ship parks right there.
Florence, it's about an hour or two away,
and Rome, it's about an hour away depending on Civitavecchia or Livorno. Also,
cruises that stop for Florence can side trip up to Pisa, or to the Cinque Terre. I'll remind you there's sort of a scandal going on right now with cruise
groups inundating the Cinque Terre. If you're on a cruise ship, you should not
opt for the Cinque Terra option, because you're gonna go there with all the other
cruise groups and it's literally dangerous to walk on the little paths
when you're there with thousands of blitz cruise visitors.
It's just bad
style, and I think it's unprofessional for cruise ships to send their people to
the fragile little Cinque Terre villages because you can't do a little bit of
cruising, it's just thousands of people or nobody at all. Venice, Florence, and Rome, can handle
their cruisers very easily. Pompeii, Amalfi Coast, Naples, they can handle their
cruise ships fine also. This is a ship docking right in Naples, and
when you get off the boat, wherever you get off your ship, you'll find buses
waiting to take you on tours, you'll find local information offices, and you'll
find, especially in Italy, small-time operators ready to take you on a private
In-the-know cruisers line these up in advance, and
for the cost of four people on the big cruise tour bus, you could hire your own
driver guide, with a car, and have a private tour, which would make, I think, a
lot of more sense. We've written the most popular, best-selling, cruise port
guidebook in the United States for the Mediterranean, and it's just designed
like all of our guidebooks except with no hotels, and it's designed for people who
have eight hours in each city, and that would cover Italy very thoroughly. If you're going
to Italy via cruise ship, it's really a lot of fun, but you need to have good
information so you can use your time smartly. The biggest part of our business,
and we employ a hundred people just down the street here in Edmonds, is our tour
Last year was our best year ever, we took more than 20,000 people on eight
hundred different tours. That's about 30 different itineraries, and my favorite
statistic is, about half of those people were return customers. I'm so proud of
the work our tour guides do, and all of our friends in Europe that help
us with our buses, and hotels, and restaurants, and I know that our return
customers, they have very high bar expectations, and we exceed those
expectations. Our tours are different than most, because there's half as many
people on the bus, 25 people on a 50 seat bus, instead of 50 people on 50
seat bus, and, really important, our guides are fully paid up front, the best paid
guides in Europe, and there's no way they can make any more money off you over the
course of your trip, because they've already got their pay, they're on your side.
Sightseeing is included, there's no
kickbacks on your shopping, there's no tipping allowed, your tour guide is an
expert, and he is your biggest fan, making sure you have the best possible trip. For
25 years I guided these tours, and for the last ten years, I've realized my guides do
a better job than I ever could, they're the specialist, I'm the generalist, and for
the last ten years, every year I take one of our tours. It's just a lot of fun for
me just to relax on the tours, and I. Cant really advertise this, but I'll
tell you, the people that sign up on our tours are of the joys of the tours.
company, cruise ship company, tour company, whatever, shapes the clientele by how
they advertise their tours. We advertise our tours as rugged, experiential, you're
gonna become a temporary local, if things aren't to your liking, change your liking are characteristic hotels are really
characteristic, you're gonna carry your own bags, that kind of thing, and you can imagine,
the kind of people that join us are really a lot of fun to travel with, so
it's something I'm proud of and if you're thinking about taking a tour, you
might want to check our tours out. This is one of our tours in Florence, and the
biggest part of our tour program is in Italy. This is our guides here, we have 100 different guides, great guides.
This is Alfio, one of our Italian
guides, on the first night, giving people a little bit of a language lesson, singing a
few songs in Italian, before going out for a walk around town in the evening. I
was-every time I cross paths with one of our groups I love to pal around
with them for a while, and it's just so much fun, all of us guides, to give people
the lay of the land while we're there, so they're more confident in doing their
own thing, and breaking away from the group as well. We've got a lot of
different itineraries, and if you look at our map of all of tour routes, Italy is by
far the most dense with all those little lines, because thats-Italy is the most
popular destination for us, and we have lots of different ways to do Italy.
I'll take just a minute to go through these itineraries, and even if you're not
considering one of our tours, remember that these itineraries are really smart
itineraries, and you could do them on your own, quite easily. So learn from
these itineraries, and if you're independently, minded let that be a
suggested way for you to tackle this much territory in that much time.
our flagship itinerary, The Best of Europe in Three Weeks. It's heavy on
Italy, 'cause we think Italy is the country where you get the most value out
of having a tour guide and a bus, and it's eight days in Italy. You'll notice on
these tours, very few one-night stands. One night stands are inefficient.
our Best of Europe in Two Weeks tour, which starts in Paris and ends in Rome.
And this is our Best of Italy in Seventeen Days tour, this is essentially,
well this is the best of Italy, and we used it in 22 days, but Americans have
the shortest vacations in the rich world, so we have to cut down the time, in order
to have anybody who can afford to take our tour with their vacation allotment.
But here you see, flying into Milan, two nights for every stop, and finishing in
Rome. If you just have a short amount of time and you want intense Italy, if you
got ten days, imagine this itinerary. Venice, Florence,
Rome, three nights in each place, fly into Venice, fly home from Rome, a three
hour bus ride or train ride connecting the cities. Now, this would be great even on
your own, this is probably such an easy thing to
set up on your own.
If you get a ticket into Venice and out of Rome, don't worry
about the train connections just buy those when you're there, get on the internet and book three hotels,
three nights each. Read your guidebook and know what you should book in advance for
admissions to famous sights that are gonna be crowded or inaccessible,
otherwise, hire a couple of private guides. Load up or download my app, which
has self-guided tours to all the most important sites in Venice, Florence, Rome,
and then enjoy. There's a guidebook for each of those stops, and you could do
that on your own, very, very reasonably.
This is the most popular itinerary of
the thirty itineraries that we offer at Rick Steves Europe. Now, if you want the
core of Italy, this is this is called The Heart of Italy, and it's Florence and Rome,
the two great cities plus time on the beach, and time in a hill town. My favorite
beaches are port towns, the Cinque-Terre, and my favorite hill town,
Volterra. I took once, this Village Italy tour, and I was attracted to it because I
didn't know any of the names of those places that we're stoppin.
interesting to go to Italy, and to stop in places that are, you know, obscure, and
meet artisans, and do hands-on cultural activities, and this is a very popular
tour it's called Village Italy. I mentioned we used to have a 22 day Best of Italy tour,
people don't have 22 days mostly so we broke it up, we got the 17 day Best of
Italy, and then we have a South Italy tour in 13 days, and, Sicily. I don't
write anything about Sicily, but I've made a TV show on Sicily, and you can look at
any of our TV shows anytime you like at ricksteves.Com. We have 16 TV shows, eight hours of coverage on Italy, that you can view for free any time, simply by
going to the TV corner in our website.
To learn more about our tour program,
obviously you can go to ricksteves.Com. Now, the guidebook that covers Italy
originated as the handbook for Italy tours, and I realized people wanted to do the
tours without me, so I decided to put everything I knew about doing the tour,
into the guidebook. And today, this Rick Steves Italy book is the best-selling
guidebook in the United States to any destination outside of Disneyland. I
can't compete with Disneyland, I'm sorry.
But, I'm very proud of this book, it's
been a labor of love for twenty years, updating it every year, and this gives
you all the practical details, so you can do our tour without us. That's Rick Steves Italy, so
travel with that for all of that details. I spend four months a year in Europe, and much
of that time is in Italy, visiting all these places in person, taking careful
notes. I just love to develop a personal relationship with my friends who run
hotels and restaurants in Italy.
And, I. Think I've got more friends in Italy
than any other country, there's something about Italy where you just connect with
the people, and it's a lot of fun. This is Nico, he runs one of my favorite hotels in
Venice, and I just love dropping by and and reconnecting. So, in our program, we've
got plenty of information if you're planning a trip to Italy, we've got of
course the Italy guidebook, we've got guidebooks for each of the cities, Venice,
Florence, and Rome, and the Florence guidebook includes a lot of Tuscany.
We've got a
phrasebook, so you can connect with the people, and, you know, Italy, more than anywhere
else, I find local people want to connect with you, and they're so excited to hear
you try the language, and with that phrasebook it provides a way to connect.
We've got 16 TV shows in two DVD sets, and we've got a map. So, lots of information to help
you out. I should also mention that we have an app, absolutely free, Rick Steves Audio Europe. And my passion
is to take the tours that I gave over 25 years, I just loved taking groups through
Venice, Florence, and Rome, and then I put those tours into the guidebook, but I
just think it's tiresome to read, and look up, and read, and look up, so what I
decided to do, was take those included tours from the guidebook, and really beautifully produce an audio
And offered for free on the App Store, so now you can have the tour in your
ear, and just be lost in the wonder of the Pantheon, or St. Peter's Basilica, or the
Sistine Chapel, or the Uffizi Gallery. These work really well, and again, they're
absolutely free, and before you go to Italy, if you like my style, if you wish
you had a private guide, download that app, and use the tours to Pompeii, Rome,
Florence, and Venice, it's Rick Steves Audio Europe and, oh, one person's used it, thank you. No, when I go to the Pantheon its
really fun for me, 'cause there's a good portion of the people in there that-they
have me in their ear, I can tell 'cause I know just what they're looking at, and I do
the same thing.
It's been a lot of fun to make our TV shows over the years, and as
I said, we got 16 shows, there's plenty of information. I wanna just very quickly
review for you, the top, most important, itinerary in Italy. You would fly into
Milan, and from there you would go to Varenna, which is the freshwater Cinque Terre, really. It's on Lake Como, a wonderful place to get over jet lag.
Verona, you could hit Milan if you wanted to, the most important, big, no-nonsense, city, and then you would head over to the Dolomites, the Dolomites. Those are
the mountains, the Alps of Italy, then down to Venice. In Venice, from there
you'd cut right across to the Italian Riviera, the Cinque Terre, scoot from
there, visiting Pisa on the way, to Florence, then you go into Tuscany and
Umbria, with a stop at the two most important cities in those regions, Siena
and Assisi, then you'll go into the countryside of Umbria and visit Orvieto, and
near Orvieto is my favorite hill town, Civita Di Bagnoregio. From there, if
you're doing the full blown Italy, you'd bypass Rome, go down to Naples and
Make Sorrento your home base, because it's more comfortable for most
of us, and side-trip into Naples, which is a rough-and-tumble urban jungle, and you
would from Sorrento, also visit Pompeii, and the Amalfi Coast, then you would
return to Rome, finish your trip with the finale in Rome, and fly home from there.
That would be a beautiful, complete, Italy, and if you've got a month for Italy on
your own, that's how I would spend it. It's very important to recognize that
Italy is the most rewarding country, in my estimate, in Europe, but it's also the
most challenging country in Europe. You need to take the preparation time
seriously, so when you get to Italy, you can enjoy it on its terms, because
there's only one way you can experience Italy well, and that is on its terms, okay. Thank you very much.
"Buongiorno," I'm Rick Steves, thank you for tuning in, thank you for joining us, I'm tellin' ya'
Italy is my favorite country. It's about two-thirds the size of California,
sixty million people, and we can think of it in terms of regions. And, often
overlooked, are the charms of Northern Italy. In the north of Italy, we've got
beautiful Riviera ports, we've got romantic lakes, we've got the most
important big city to see, in the sense of today's energy of Italy, that
would be Milano, and we've got the mountains, the Alps of Italy, the Dolomites.
We'll start with the Cinque Terre, because a lot of people are
dreaming of the Italian Riviera when dream about Italy. I love the Cinque Terre. I think, if there's any place that I. Had an impact on, more than other places
in my travel writing, is the Cinque Terre.
I discovered that back when I was a
college kid, and I just have done my very best to ruin it. I mean, there are so many
tourists there now, and when I discovered it, there was no economy there, it was very
poor, it was probably one of the poorest parts of Italy, and since then, it has
developed, it has welcomed the tourists, and I was joking about me, I think
everybody is getting on board, and people are recognizing the charm of these
little villages. And today, you've got five incredible little towns, all
within easy walking distance of each other. Just an hour or two away from big
places like Genoa, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and Florence.
When you go to the Cinque Terre, there's five towns. That's what it means, Cinque Terre, the five lands, and Monterosso Al Mare is the town that is the best resort town of the region. That's
where you'll find the most hotels, the nicest beaches, and so on, and when we go to
Monterosso Al Mare, you've got that rent- an-umbrella kind of ambiance on the beach,
and the only really good beach on the Cinque Terre. And I'll remind, you in the
evening, that's when the crowds go home, and that's where the charm comes out.
The Cinque Terre used to be the classic "back door." There's nothing really
back door about it now, it is mobbed with visitors in the middle of the day.
They're not only the tourists like you and me, there the cruisers that come in,
and there are the people side dripping in from the big city, Genoa.
huge city, and there's a lot of people there, they just want to scoot over to
the beaches for a little fun. Consequently, during the day, the towns are
just inundated, but at night, everybody's away. There's not enough
comfortable hotels in these areas to keep mass tourism happy, so people do not
spend the night. It's all yours at night, that's the good news.
My favorite town is
Vernazza, and Vernazza is the most exotic town, it's the most romantic town, it's
the most kind of dramatic town, Vernazza, and you get beautiful views coming in
from either direction, is what I would try to stay at, but it's hard to get a
room there, you need to book in advance, and you pay a little extra money I think,
to stay in Vernazza. But look at Vernazza, it's perfectly preserved, nobody has any
modern buildings there, it hasn't changed a bit, it's a national park, the whole area is a
national park. This is frustrating if you're a local landowner, 'cause you can't meet
the demand by upgrading your funky little "pensione" into a fancy hotel, and
charge more money. There are no comfortable hotels in this town, because
nobody can build a comfortable hotel, and that's really good news because it keeps
away the most obnoxious slice of the traveling public; people who insist on
They're all in Portofino, nearby, or Porto Venere, complaining about
the prices and the traffic jams. What I. Like about the Cinque Terren part is, it
is Fiat-free Italy. There's sixty million people in Italy, and just as many Fiat, and I find my favorite places are places that are, essentially, traffic-free.
It's hard to get a car to these little chunks of the Riviera Coast.
I've seen a
lot of the riviera, this is my favorite little bit of the Mediterranean coast, anywhere. Vernazza. At night, all the restaurants are busy, and anybody who's spending the
night in the region is enjoying some beautiful fresh seafood. That people are
proud of their cooking, there's a lot of local traditions there, pesto and trofie.
Trofie is a special kind of pasta made for the pesto, this beautiful basil sauce,
and is it is harvested right there, and it is famous for that region.
called Liguria. And of course, the seafood is a big deal in the Cinque Terre. You get some beautiful seafood, some beautiful pasta, and some delightful memories when
you're eating in the romantic evening hours, with a good perch with a view of
the sea. When you are in Cinque Terre, Vernazza is a beautiful place to
Now you can walk from town, to town, to town, here you can see the kind
of coastline, and you can imagine what the trails are like. The only town of the
five that's not on the water is Cornelia, and to get to Cornelia, you gotta walk up
from the water, and there's switchbacks from the train station, it's part of the Cinque Terre Trail, and after Cornelia, you'll come to a town called Manarola. And Manarola is a secondary town, it's got a lot of charm, but it doesn't have the exotic
beauty of Vernazza. Still, it's a great stop.
This is a view of Manarola
from the boat out at sea. And the big town of the Cinque Terra is
Riomaggiore. And, Riomaggiore is a nice place that would be a little less
touristy than Vernazza, and still have the magic of the Cinque Terre. Here we have
another view of Riomaggiore.
Now the trains lace together each of these
towns, and the trains didn't come in until about a century ago after the
unification of Italy. So that's one reason they're so remote, and so exotic,
and distant feeling, is the modern world was not able to get there
until the last century. In fact, the towns originated as groups of people
kind of hiding out from marauding pirates. People chose the most rugged
part of the Italian coast line, and each of these towns has castle where they would
have a look out, and they would holler if the pirates were coming.
Today, of course,
the trains are tunneling through, and the trains are in the tunnels, and then they
just blink open for each of the dazzling, colorful parts, and then you're back in the darkness, and it's
the way you connect the towns. Every hour there is a train, and about every
hour in the summer, when the weather is good and it's not too windy, there's a boat.
And the boats go from town to town, and they always feel like they're injecting economy
into the town's when they take their little bows there, and all the people
empty into the town, and they scurry around, do their shopping, and then get
back onto the boat and go to the next stop. It's easy to get from town to town,
but in the Cinque Terre, a departure in the hand is worth two around the corner.
So if you've got a train leaving right now, if you've got a boat leaving right
now, and you gotta get somewhere, it's best to get on that because you never
know when the trains are gonna just stop running, or the boats are gonna incur too
much wind to be able to stop the in little ports. The cruise industry is
really causing a problem in the Cinque Terre.
In the last few years, Livorno, which is the cruise port for
Florence, has realized-the cruise ships have realized-that a real attraction for
their cruisers, for people who've already been to Florence, is to send them over to the Cinque Terre. Consequently, busloads of people, and I'm talking thousands, are
coming in at the same time, making the trails at the Cinque Terre almost
impassable. If you are on a cruise ship, I. Think it's-I don't think it's right to
add to this scary problem of physically too many human beings in the Cinque Terre.
But that, coupled with normal weekend crowds, and normal summer crowds,
and all of this, it's making midday, on certain times when you get a perfect
storm of cruise ships, almost unlivable for the Cinque Terre. Remember, in the
early morning, in the evening, it's relatively empty. In the middle of the
day it can be absolutely ridiculous, so take advantage of those beautiful
quieter hours when you're on the Cinque Terre, and enjoy the trails. The trails
are a beautiful way to just get a dose of that kind of riviera wonder.
A lot of
times, when using the trail, you'll come around the corner and see just the view
of a lifetime, and photographers just gobble it up. It's easy to hike from town
to town, it just feels good, and when you get into town, the food, which is already
delicious, tastes even better. Now, when you're planning a trip to
the Cinque Terre, for a lot of travelers, there's a lot of stress relating to
trail closures. And you'll hear people say, no, the trails are closed, there is a
flood, there was a landslide, there's no more trails, well I've been going to the Cinque Terre for 30 years and I've never been there when the trails aren't closed, you
know, there's always a trail here and there that's closed.
Basically, most of the
trail closures are to cover their legal exposure. They have to say, "it's closed,
proceed at your own risk," and then people step over the little barrier and make the
walk. If one trail is absolutely closed, and that does happen, and probably right
now there's one or two trails that just are impassable physically, there's still
a handful of other trails that are wide open. So don't worry about trail closures
in advance, go there regardless, you will have trails.
And ask locally, not to the tourist board because they're going to tell you the
party line, ask somebody who's not in the tourist board, "really, what trails are
open and where can I hike?" And then make your plans from there.
You'll find the
main kind of accommodations in the Cinque Terre is private accommodations. The
older people have moved to the big city, and they've hired east Europeans to live
there, in a little corner of their apartment, and rent out the rest of the
apartment to travelers. And it's quite handy, it's quite reasonably priced, and
you're right there in that little town wonder. There are pebbly beaches in most
of the Cinque Terre towns, if you want a serious beach, you gotta go to resort to
nearby, but frankly I wouldn't go to Italy for great beaches.
I would go to
Italy for great coastal culture and so on, but leave the great beaches to the
Italians. They thrive on crowds, and traffic jam, and noise, they actually like
that, and for us it's just stressful, we don't speak the language, we don't really
know the ropes. I would stay away from the famous beach resorts in Italy, and I
would focus on the rustic charm of the Italian Riviera and the Cinque Terre.
In the north of Italy are a bunch of lakes. It's almost like the peninsula of
Italy is welded to the Alps right around these lakes, there's Lago di Garda, Lake
Maggiore, and also Lake Como.
My favorite of the lakes, without any doubt,
is Lake Como, and that's what I stress. Lago Di Como. This is called "honeymoon country" in
Italy, "luna di miele," honeymoon country. And my favorite stop in Lago Di Como is Varenna.
And Varenna, not to be confused with Vernazza in the Cinque Terre, Varenna is like the Vernazza of the lakes in the north of Italy.
The neat thing about Varenna is it's a one hour train ride from Milano. You can fly into Milano, catch the train one hour north, and not deal with the big city, and get
over jet lag in Varenna. If I'm ever just fried, and that happens to me when I'm
working sometimes, I need a place to convalesce, this is it, Varenna. It is so
Get a little hotel right on the
waterfront. You get a pass and you can use the ferries all over the lake. You'll
find all sorts of people just having anniversaries, or having honeymoons, or
having romantic getaways. There's something really romantic about Varenna
on Lago Di Como.
The lake is full of traditional steamers, and these steamers
will connect the towns. Bellagio, you may have heard of Bellagio. This is the
actual Bellagio, right here, and it is the resort of the region. It's bigger than
Varenna, this is where well-dressed people with their little poodles go for
vacation, and it's fun to drop by, although I would hang out in Varenna.
An hour to the south is Milano, and if you're going to see one big city, one no
nonsense powerful city in Italy, I'd make it Milano.
They say for every church in
Rome, there's a bank in Milano, and Milano is where you feel the energy of Italy.
Recently, Italy surpassed England in per capita income, and Italy is making more
money per capita than in England, not because of San Gimignano, Siena, and the
Cinque Terre, I can promise you that. It's because of the no nonsense, powerful,
industrial cities of the north. Torino, Genoa, Milano, and so on. Milano is the city for me.
To feel the
reality of Italy, you owe it to yourself to have one day, or a couple of days in a
great, no nonsense city. It's a great place to fly into, it's a great
place for sightseeing, you've got this incredible "duomo." When you hear the word "duomo" in Italy, that
means cathedral, the "duomo." And this would be the Duomo of Milano. Milano, is like so many
Italian cities, going traffic-free. Look at this beautiful bike street here, and
Just a few years ago it was full of cars, and now it is all for
the people. This is the main square, the Piazza Del Duomo, looking at the
cathedral, and when I'm here I'm always thinking about the Risorgimento. Remember,
in 1850, there was no Italy, and there was no Germany. There was just a bunch of
little countries that spoke those languages, that dreamed of one day being
The established countries in Europe wanted nothing to do with that,
and it took some pretty impressive political finagling for the great
George Washingtons and Thomas Jeffersons of modern Italy to get that country
together. I would highly recommend learning about the Risorgimento before
you go to Italy, because when you go to Italy everywhere you look it's, Cavor that, Mazzini this, and Garibaldi that. Those are all the heroes of the 1860s when Italy was defying the big powers of Europe, and becoming united. And
the hotbed of that Risorgimento spirit was Milano, and when you go to Milano it's
I mean, this is the Victor Emmanuel Gallery, a big gallery named after the
first king of Italy. And there there was energy in Italy after 1870
when Italy united, they're building trains, and lacing together the country, they're building a
wonderful, state-of-the-art, futuristic, you know, industrial age malls, and they
just were embracing this whole idea of Italy. The fathers of Italy famously said, "we've
created Italy, now we need to create Italians," alright, because there was that,
what they call "campanilismo." In Italy, "campanilismo" is loyalty to your
own bell tower, the "campanile." Right here in my town in Edmonds, right outside my
office, there's a cute little bell tower and it rings a bell, and I've got a
little bit of that "campanilismo" right here. Can you imagine, a hundred loyalties like that
all around Italy, and suddenly you've got a unified political entity with sixty
million people, or whatever, and now that challenge is to teach these people, "you're Italian." So, it's a wonderful story, and it's just
150 years old, and it's worth checking out.
Across the street
from that Victor Emmanuel Gallery, you've got the La Scala Opera House, the greatest
opera house in a lot of ways in Europe, and when you go there, and you step
inside you, go to the museum, you get a look at the Opera Hall, you learn about
Verdi. Verdi, the great opera composer, what's his name, V-E-R-D-I. It was a
political slogan. Victor Emmanuel, "re d'Italia," Victor Emmanuel, the first king of
People would stand on their chairs in the opera, and they'd sing the arias,
knowing they were waving the Italian flag, which was forbidden, because Austria and France wouldn't allow it, but they all work together in these
wonderful, wonderful, trouble-causing, patriotic ways, to somehow bring Italy to
unity. To learn about that is really exciting, and you can do that when you go
to Milano. We got-a lot of people are interested in Leonardo da Vinci's
Last Supper. I'll warn you, you need a reservation.
Ever sent the appearance of
the DaVinci Code, there have been long lines to get in to see Leonardo's Last
Supper, and you need to book it a month in advance. So get your guidebook out,
get online, and make a reservation, and it's very straightforward. But if
you go to Milano, and you don't have a reservation for the Last Supper, it's
going to be very complicated, and very expensive for you to actually get a
chance to see it. It's one of the great masterpieces of European art.
interesting to note that Leonardo chose to finish his career, the meat of his
career, in Milano. It was a very important city that rivaled Florence, and
oftentimes, under-appreciated. Beautiful districts to go out to eat in Milano,
there's a place in the canal, kind of port district, called the Naviglio Grande, which
is where I like to go for a characteristic meal, and that would all
be discussed in the Rick Steves Italy guidebook. Now when you go to Italy, if
you want the complete story of Italy, part of that is the Alps.
We think of
Alps being France, and Switzerland, and Austria, but the Dolomites, or the
Dolomites, are the Italian Alps, and they really are quite impressive. Now I want
to remind you, this part of Italy was Austrian, until WWI. Austria started
and lost WWI, they lost their international holdings, becomes
a relatively insignificant little landlocked country, and its port on the Mediterranean,
Trieste, and all that area around there, became part of Italy. When you go to Dolomite area now, you'll find signs in both languages, because it's just been 100 years that people have been part of Italy, and they still speak German.
Here we see the two names of the regions, "Sudtirol," if you happen to be
from Vienna, and "Alto Adige," if you're from Rome, okay.
The South Tyrol or the upper
Adige River Valley. And below that, you see "hello, welcome" in three different
languages. "Welcome" in German, "welcome" in Italian, and "welcome" in the ancient Latin
language that this little demographic enclave still has as a part of their
language heritage. There's a tiny little group of people that still speak this
language that was related directly to the ancient Latin.
When we look around
the Dolomites, I explored this whole area when I was writing the first
edition of my Rick Steves Italy guidebook, looking for a good town to
call home in the Dolomites, and most of the town's just felt like a ski
resort in the summer, just drained out, and empty, and "what am I doing here at the
wrong season." But there's one place that is– well there's a major town called Bolzano, and that would be in the valley floor, and Bolzano feels a lot like Salzburg but
in Italy, it's got beautiful arcades and a wonderful Alpine kind of heritage, and a
quirky museum with the iceman, Otzi, who thawed out of a glacier. And it
gives us like a quirky, miraculous look at somebody who lived in prehistoric
times. Quite amazing to see Otzi the Iceman when you're in Bolzano. And my
favorite hometown is just up on top of the ridge above Bolzano, and this town is
Now you'll see here it's got two names, Kastelruth and Castelrotto. I happened to say the German word first, but if you're Italian, you'd say Castelrotto. What's confusing, is if you have a map, it might say either/or. Bolzano would be Bozen, Kastelruth, Castelrotto, There's a town nearby, Vipiteno or Sterzing, you don't know, depending on German or Italian.
Castelruth is a charming town with a beautiful old district, chair
lifts going right out from there into the mountains for lovely hikes, and
always some cultural activities happening. From there, you take a shuttle
bus into a national park called the Alpe Di Siusi. The Alpe Di Siusi is the biggest
high meadow in the Alps, anywhere in the Alps. And you've got this lovely high
meadow on a sunny day, on a warm day, it's such delightful hike.
You can do it in a
wheelchair, I mean, it's just perfectly flat, it's like pasture land. Or you can
hike up and get onto the Schlern, the mountain there. It's just like going to
the beach except up in the mountains. There's petting zoos, there's lounge
chairs, it is just a delightful chance for anybody to enjoy the Alps of Italy.
So when you're thinking about Italy, remember, there are a lot of great
attractions high up in the north.
Thank you. Hi, I'm Rick Steves and
I want to share with you my take on one of the
greatest cities you can visit anywhere in Europe, and that is Venice, and when
you think about Venice you also have to think about the Veneto, that is the
region around Venice, which has some beautiful towns. So we're gonna look at
Venice, we're gonna take a side trip to Padova, Verona, and then a little bit out
of the Veneto, towards the South, but an obvious side trip from Venice, and that
is called Ravenna. Thanks for joining us, and we'll start
Now Venice is the best preserved big city in Europe. It is just
beautifully preserved in the middle of its lagoon in northern Italy, and it's a town
that goes way, way back. Remember, Venice started out as a refugee camp,
really. After the fall of Rome, peace-loving people on the mainland were
overrun by all the barbarians going back and forth, having their little villages
burned and trampled.
Finally, they got together and said, "this is going to be
miserable but let's move out in the lagoon, and hope the barbarians don't
like water." So they abandoned their farms, they literally deforested that part of
Italy, to pound tree trunks into the mud to support their little town, and
they made a village, a fishing village instead of a farming village, out in the
lagoon, and gradually that morphed into a trading center, and they were great
traders, and when they reach their pinnacle, they had a trading empire that
stretched all the way to the Holy Land, and they were the economic powerhouse in
Europe. It was-their dollar was the dollar. And when you go today, you'll find
that the Venice of a thousand years ago survives remarkably well. It was able to
control a lot, not because only was a great trader but it was also quite an
impressive military power.
Venice had the first really mass-produced military
sort of complex called the Arsenal. And at the Arsenal, and you can see it today
when you walk out there, it's a10 minute walk from the main square, you'll find
the place where they could mass-produce their warships. In a very early form of
mass production with an assembly line, they could put together an entire
warship in a couple of days, and outfit it in one more day. The story is,
whenever Venice had an adversary, a potential military adversary,
they'd invite him down, and they'd say, "let's go to the arsenal and we'll show you how we make our ships." And they would build the ship in, like, two days, and those
potential adversaries would go home and say, "let's just not mess with Venice".
I mean it
is such a powerhouse. When you look at Venice today it's the shape of a fish,
and it's perfectly preserved. There's a law that prohibits anybody from changing
any of these buildings, I believe there's a couple of modern buildings in the town,
the only one you're likely to see is the train station. When you look at that fish-shaped island, you can see, if it is a fish, the great intestine would be the Grand
And up until a century ago it was an island, but then it was
connected with the causeway. The causeway goes to the mainland and it brings the
highway and several train lines, so you've got Venice now connected with the
rest of Italy, and the rest of Europe. You got a big train station, and you got a
big parking lot right there near the mouth of that fish. From there you get on
your boat, and you wind through the great intestine and you dump out at Piazza
That's where the Doge's Palace would be, and that's where Basilica San
Marco is. The trick for us is to break out of that middle zone between the
train station and Piazza San Marco, and explore to the far reaches, and that's
where you find the magic Venice without all the crowds. Here you see a schematic
diagram of the city with the different neighborhoods and I'll remind you, you
got the train station. It takes about an hour to walk from the train station
across town to St.
Mark's, where the political and religious center is. It's a
delightful walk, halfway between is the Rialto Bridge. And between the Rialto
Bridge and St. Mark's, that is the main shopping thoroughfare.
And most of the
tourists spend most of their time just in a shopping trance, walking back and forth with all the
other tourists, with all the fancy displays, just marveling at the crowds and the high prices. It doesn't occur to them to get out and walk to the tail of the fish,
or walk to far reaches of that beautiful island. This is where the Grand
Canal dumps out, and this is the end of the Grand Canal, looking right from the
top of the bell tower. This is where you arrive, in Venice this is the train
station, and that's the building from Mussolini's time, that's a fascist
In front of the train station you'll find the boat dock. That's
called a vaporetto. You get around Venice by boat. They don't have city buses
because there's no cars or buses.
And what you do is think of the boat, the
vaporetto as a floating city bus. It has numbers, it has stops, and the only
difference is, if you get off between stops you can drown. You hop on the boat, and you
wind your way down the Grand Canal, under the Rialto Bridge, all the way to St.
Mark's Square. And this is it, just a parade of beautiful palaces, and mansions,
and merchant's villas.
I've worked for thirty years to take groups around
Venice, I love tour guiding in Venice, and we've created an app that has guided
walks through the very most important stops in Italy and the rest of Europe. It's
Rick Steves Audio Europe, it's absolutely free, and I want to really stress it here,
because when you go to Venice, you're gonna want a guide. And you can hire a guide,
it's quite expensive, you can read a book, or if you have a mobile device, simply
download Rick Steves Audio Europe, and you go to "tick tick tick," whatever you want to pick,
on your computer, you can listen to it on your mobile device, you can listen
to it offline. Stick me in your ear, get on that slow boat on the train station,
and I narrate every little way-all the way across town to the Doge's Palace.
It's a lot of fun, and it works really, really good.
The main square, St. Mark's
Square, it's the only place that gets to be called a square in the town. It's
facing the Basilica San Marco and the bell tower, the "campanile." This is one
of the greatest pieces of real estate in Europe. This is a romantic painting from
a couple centuries ago, but if you stood in the same spot and looked at it today, it hasn't changed very much.
And it's got
the same kind of romance, there's something about it that I never get
tired of. When you're in Venice you want to get caught up in the romantic of Venice,
you want to be on that square in the evening when the dueling orchestras are
playing. You hear people complain about "oh it's $25 for a glass of wine or a beer
at the famous caf on the St. Mark's Square." Well no, its not $25 for a beer,
it's $25 for a table at the most expensive piece of real estate in Europe, listening
to live orchestra, surrounded by the wonders of Venice, and it comes with a drink.
Come on, don't complain.
If you want a beer, go four blocks away and step up to
the bar and get a beer for the same price as anywhere else, you know, but this
is one of the great experiences of Europe. Here you are, looking at Basilica
San Marco, wow. Now I want to remind you, Venice started out, as I mentioned, as a
refugee camp. It was really important, ultimately, politically and religiously, or politically and economically, but of no great important religiously because
they didn't go back to biblical times, it was a relative upstart town, and they had
You had to have relics to be important in those days, and Venice had
all sorts of money, all sorts of power, but an inferiority complex when it came to
religious importance. Now I don't know exactly how they knew the stuff but I
think there was, like, newsletters going around or, something but the bones of St.
Mark were available in Egypt. St. Mark's bones.
Venice sent a crew down to
Egypt to, what they call, "rescue the bones of St. Mark," from the Muslims, you know, and
they brought it back to Christendom. And they planted Mark under the
altar of St. Mark's Basilica, and suddenly, St.
Peter and the Dragon are out, and St. Mark and Winged Lion are in, and Venice is now on the pilgrimage trail, and it's a
complete town. Here we have a thousand year old mosaic telling the story under the door of st. Mark's Basilica, and if you look closely, you can see Mark
on that great day, being brought in after that voyage across the Mediterranean
from Egypt, and finding his ultimate resting spot there in Venice, under the
altar of St.
Mark's Basilica. And it is a gilded, lavish rich, thousand year old treasure chest
today. Well worth checking out, you gotta check
out the interior of Venice, St. Mark's.
And all over Venice, in fact, all over Venice's Empire, you will find lions with wings, 'cause that was the symbol of St.
Mark, St. Mark's Winged Lion. This is the political and religious center of Venice
right here, you can see the Doge's Palace, that was, you know, the political
powerhouse, the Capitol building, and you've got the bell tower which you can
still climb to this day, and behind that you've got St. Mark's Basilica.
look at it today, it's the same thing. Venice is remarkably well preserved. Now
this Doge's Palace is worth touring, and when you go inside you'll find
lavish rooms, and you'll find all sorts of history, and when you go out back you've
got the Bridge of Sighs which you can walk over in order to get to the old
prison, just like Casanova did. And all those other people who, according to
legend, would be sentenced in the Doge's Palace, take one last look at their
beautiful, beloved Venice, sigh, and then rot in those prison cells with all the
rats and everything, on the other side of the canal.
Venice has so many gorgeous
corners, and it's so fun for us to check it out, but I wanna remind you, it's human nature
for all of us tourists to stay right where all the people, and the glitter, and
the glass, and the trinkets, and the glasses, okay. Break away from that. Break
away from that, because Venice is much more than tacky tourist shops, Venice is
a chance to get out and explore a town of 70,000 people. Venice is a small
town today, that entertains 10 or 12 million people a year.
But the core town
is a parallel existence. The local people know their Venice, and they've got kind
of blinders, and they can almost live oblivious to the crush of tourists that
come and go every day. If you're up early, if you're out late, if you're in the far
fringes of that island community, you do feel the pulse of the community of
Venice. One great thing about Venice is, wonderful art.
If you think about art
in Europe, remember you gotta have money to have art. In southern Italy, there was not a lot
of money, and there's not a lot of art today. The money was in Venice, the money
was in Florence, and that's where your art is five hundred years later. I like art
in situ, rather than in museums.
In situ, where was originally commissioned to be,
and Venice has one of the greatest examples of in situ art, and that is the
Church of the Frari, the Church of the Brothers. This is the exterior, not a very
impressive exterior, but if you step inside, you got masterpieces by Giorgione,
by Titian, and by a handful of other great masters of the Venetian Renaissance. To
see one great painting in situ by a great master, to me, is just a delight. To
go to a church where you have eight paintings, by eight different masters, all
where they're originally intended to be, is flat-out amazing.
I like it so much that
one of the actual tours on the Rick Steves Audio Europe list is of the Frari, just
so I could walk you through that and appreciate that. If you like Venetian art, remember there is a gallery, it's sort of like the Uffizi, or like the Vatican,
and in Venice it's called the Accademia. And there you've got a, just a whole lot
of very sumptuous Venetian art. The Renaissance started in Florence.
brought down to Rome by the Pope. In 1521 when Raphael died, the Renaissance carries on
in Venice, funded by the rich merchant class. In Venice it became the art of
wealthy people. And it was art that made wealthy people feel good about their
You can imagine, if somebody's filthy rich, they want to have an artist that makes them feel cultured, and high-class, not crass and materialistic,
and I think you get that kind of agenda in the art of Venice. A key for me, as a
tour guide, when I have a group in Venice, is to get my people walking. Now, a lot of
Americans are nervous about getting lost in Venice. Don't worry about getting lost
in Venice, you're gonna get lost in Venice, alright, there's almost no
street names, you don't know where the heck- what street you're on or anything like that.
Wander to your heart's content, and
remind yourself, "I'm on an island and I cant get off without knowing it," okay.
You're on the island of Venice, it's not that big, and you just can't get irrevocably lost. One very nice trick is,
any business, any little hotel, any restaurant, and they are everywhere, has a
card, and on the back of that card is a map that says, "you are here." Anywhere you
go in Venice, they love to give up their cards, you know that. Pick that up, and
that's where you are and they want to help you get to that restaurant, but it's
also gonna help you get the heck out of that restaurant, and it shows you where
the big landmarks are nearby, so you got that sort of, "I am here" aid. Also remember, when you're walking
around, and I used to do this to my groups, I'd walk all over, my groups would think we're
hopelessly lost, and I would actually know where we are, because I would just
look above the crowds.
If you look above the crowds, you see signs pointing to the
nearest landmark. You navigate by landmarks. In this case, you can get to
st. Mark's by going left or right.
I love to wander to the edge of Venice. Look at
this, there's no tourist in sight, it's just a pastel wonderland, and this is all yours
any day of the year, even in the most crowded day of the year, you could come
to this spot and see no tourists. Beautiful, pastel, sleepy, dreamy,
romantic Venice. If you can get a guided tour of Venice it's a great idea.
ships, on the boat, on the back lanes, there's lots of good guides in Venice, there's good
books, and of course we cover that in our app. This is the Bridge of Sighs, and to
go under the Bridge of Sighs in a gondola with your favorite travel partner is a
beautiful thing. Remember, when you go to Venice, you can get a gondola ride. Now
it's kind of a tourist trap these days, it costs about $100 for 45 minutes
in a gondola.
You can divide the cost and the romance by up to six people. Six
people in a gondola, okay, it's not quite as romantic as you and your partner but
it's very inexpensive, and it's a beautiful, beautiful moment. I think you
gotta budget it. It's a beautiful, beautiful thing, and we do with our groups, I like
to do when I'm there.
I will tell you, you're stuck on a boat with a gondolier, and some
gondoliers are just ruffians, and others are charmers. They're all hustling for
your business. Talk to a bunch of them, it's fun, they're all trying to sell their
services. Find one who you like, that you feel good about, and then hire him,
he can take you around.
Nothing's quite like a beautiful evening on a gondola with a
good travel partner. Now if you don't have enough money to get a gondola, you
can go on a traghetto. These are gondolas that are public ferry gondolas, that
go across the Grand Canal where there's no bridge. The Grand Canal's a long canal, and
it's only got, I think, four bridges the whole way, so what you want to do is look
on the map, and any good map will show you where the traghettos are.
costs a couple bucks and then, you kind of stand, like George Washington crossing
the Delaware, and you feel very local when you're crossing the canal with a
bunch of locals going to the market on a traghetto. Enjoy the vaporetti. The vaporettos are these city bus boats.
I like to sit in the front of the boat and just joyride. It's a beautiful
experience, and you can get around, and you can go to the far reaches of the
Now, when you're exploring the lagoon, remember, you've got a bunch of
famous islands in this Venetian Lagoon. Murano is famous for glass, Venice had
this wonderful glass tradition. You can go to Murano and see all the glass works, and
they welcome the tourists, and they give you a show, and the show is always
followed by a hard sales pitch. I find the sales pitch almost comedic.
the sales pitch as much as the glass blowing job show, but remember they're all into
selling glass, not making you happy. And I. Would remind you also, if you have limited time,
to remember that every one of the major glassblowing works on the island of
Murano has a branch right on the main square, next to st. Mark's Basilica, and
you can save yourself a lot of messing around by just following a tour group
into one of those places.
They don't care, it's always free, they don't wanna give a glassblowing
demonstration to a single person, but if you can tail along with the group, sit
down, enjoy, they'll make you a vase, or a glass horse, or something like that, and
you get the sales pitch. It's right there on the main square, and it's a lot of fun. Farther out in the lagoon you find a
place called Burano, and Burano is famous not for glass, but for lace.
Beautiful lace on Burano, and for me it's just a pastel wonderland,
it's a great place for poets, and photographers to wander around just
marvel at the beauty of the village and of the lagoon. Venice was born,
actually, in Torcello.
The oldest part of Venice is a place that, today, is pretty
much depopulated. Malaria swept through and killed everybody, and today there's
just the oldest church in Venice still standing. But Torcello is an evocative place to
check out. When you look at the lagoon around Torcello, there you see the kind
of mucky terrain that is where the first Venetians pounded those stumps
in to support their first little houses.
I like to have a romantic canal-side
dinner, but you can imagine any restaurant that has beautiful canal-side
seating is gonna be touristy. The fact is, any restaurant in Venice is touristy. You
can't survive as a restaurant in Venice without being touristy, and that's just a
given. Its not a good thing or a bad thing, it's just the way it is.
Some of them are a good value, others are a
rip off, so I spent a lot of time and a lot of energy scouring Venice for good restaurants, I
cover them in my guidebook, and there are some beautiful places where you can eat
in Venice. My favorite place to eat in Venice is a mobile feast, visiting a
bunch of little bars, eating ugly things on toothpicks, and washing them down with
local wine. That's called "cicchetti." Cicchetti is a local tradition, like Spain has tapas,
Venice has cicchetti. Now I like this photograph because it gets me all
The suns going down, all the cruisers are back on their ship, all the
tourist groups are back home, and it's just me, and Venetians. And I'm out and
about, and I'm going to bars. I'm going to colorful bars, where all the local
ruffians are hanging out, and I'm eating those beautiful ugly things on toothpicks, and
I'm learning a lot about the cuisine, and not spending a lot of money, and I'm
making lifetime memories. When you get high tide, and a wind, and a certain
barometric pressure, all in a perfect storm, what you get is a flooded Venice.
The lowest part of Venice is St.
Mark's Square where we all hang out anyways, and
that's the first place to flood. You can be sitting in those famous cafes,
with the orchestra, and suddenly-wait a minute-there's water here. And then you put your feet up
on the next chair, and the water gets higher and higher, and the orchestra keeps playing. It's just a lot of fun to be in
Venice when the flood happens.
The floods are happening more, and more it's not
unusual to see a flood. The downside of the flood is, during the day they set
up these elevated walkways, and everybody has to walk on these elevated
sidewalks, and that makes it even more congested than normal, and you can't get
anywhere, it just stops everything, it makes it very slow going, unless your
local with hip boots and then you pull those on you can slosh right across the square without
bothering, but it's very interesting time. And if you do get a food, I would highly
recommend you get out and have some fun in it, because it's beautiful to be out
during a flood, especially at night. I.
Have so many friends that run hotels
in Venice, and their families have been running these hotels for
generations, and it's just a beautiful dimension of the city. When I get to
Venice, I get an old, old hotel, and I. Take off my shoes, and I stand barefoot
on the "pavimento veneziano." That's the ancient kinda linoleum that
is designed with a bunch of marble chips and everything, so it can flex. As this
building settles, the floor won't crack, it'll just flex, and you see the waves in
the floor as that city continues to settle.
But for me it's a very tactile welcome
to Venice, to stand barefoot on the "pavimento veneziano." Now, Venice is so great, that
almost nobody thinks about Padua. Padova, Padua, English and Italian ways to
say the same town. Padova is just about a half an hour away from Venice,
and if there was no Venice, Padua would be a major stop, but almost nobody goes
there because of the greatness of Venice. Again, right next to Venice, it's a town
with beautiful arcades, beautiful cobbled lanes, a wonderful time warp atmosphere, a
great market, and lots of pilgrims, because pilgrims go to Padova to see
the Basilica of St.
Anthony. St. Anthony is a beloved saint, and when you go
there you'll find a lot of pilgrim action, and I would recommend going to
the Basilica of st. Anthony and kind of respect and follow the whole route of the
pilgrims, because they're gonna stop at a number of places inside and use these
relics to help them worship.
Padova's also famous because it has a venerable
university. It's got one of the oldest and greatest universities in Europe, and what's fun about the
university in Padova is, people don't all graduate on the same weekend in the
spring or early summer. They're graduating all year long in a steady
trickle. Whenever you do your dissertation and meet with the professor
you can graduate, and then you find people, it's a great day for the family,
everybody is dressed up, grandma and grandpa are there, you're wearing your laurel wreath, and you're all fine and everything.
And then once you've graduated, you dress down, your
friends hijack you, you all get drunk, and they have this kind of roast in public.
And it's a very rude, and crude, and kind of silly, and alcoholic sort of event,
and people are gathering around, and you are now a doctor, you know. And your
friends are reminding you, you may be a doctor, but you're just still one of us, you know, you're just still a normal person. And they sing this very catchy song I just can't
stop singing it when I'm in Padova, I forget the Italian words but in English it's, "you're a doctor, you're a
doctor, but you're still just an *******, you're a doctor, you're a doctor, but you're
still just an *******." And then there's a ruder part that I won't sing. But to be there, and to celebrate with those
kids in the street, and see all that craziness, and of that wonderful
reminder that you may have letters before your name now, but keep your feet
on the ground, it's a beautiful thing, and it's been going on for centuries.
You'll get that when you go to Padova.
Another highlight of Padova is the Scrovegni Chapel. And I just love the
High Middle Ages, Gothic and Giotto. And the greatest Giotto art is this chapel.
Completely frescoed, by a whole series of wonderful scenes from the
Bible by Giotto. This is a very precious and fragile masterpiece, and what
they do in a precious and fragile scene like this is, they only let a few people
in at a time, and they actually have to dehumidify in a special box first.
you sit, and you dehumidify, and they open the door, and you can go in and
enjoy it, and then you're out of there. And you only have so much time to see
that, but it's well worth the trouble. We filmed it, you can see it on our
TV show, but don't miss the Scrovegni chapel when you're there in Padova,
because Giotto was the greatest painter of the Gothic age. About an hour away is
And Verona is famous among most travelers and tourists because of Romeo
and Juliet, which was a gimmick, a complete goofy thing dreamed up by a tour
guide just in the last century, and it's quite effective because it brings a lot
of tourist town. But Verona is worth a stop for far more important reasons. It's Roman city, it was the great Roman city before crossing the Alps, and you'll find
this is a Roman bridge two thousand years old. When you go to Florence[Verona] you'll
find Romeo and Juliet's balcony which is just completely fictitious.
It's fun to
be there because you've got a whole flood of tourists coming and going, but what
you'll also find is, you'll find an amazing Roman arena, and a wonderful "get out in
the streets and stroll" kind of ambiance in Verona. Two hours south of Venice, you
get to a town called Ravenna. Ravenna is a charming town, it's got a beautiful,
bike-friendly sort of atmosphere, it's the most bike-friendly town I've been to in
Italy, but it is famous for its mosaics. Ravenna is important because it was a
Western outpost of the Byzantine Empire.
Rome, you know, was in
the city of Rome, and then around 200 or 300 AD. Rome fell in the West, but the Emperor
moved to the east, and he took the Roman Empire basically to Constantinople,
present day Istanbul, named Constantinople after Emperor Constantine, and it became
the Eastern Roman Empire, which survived the west by centuries, and eventually
morphed into Byzantine Empire. During the Byzantine time, it was the pinnacle of
civilization. For centuries, Europeans in the depth of the Dark Ages, back when they
were just running in the mud, looked to Constantinople for civilization, and
spiritual and cultural leadership.
It was stability, it was the pinnacle of Western
Civilization. And the western outpost of the Byzantine Empire was Ravenna. And in
Ravenna it you've got sumptuous Byzantine mosaics. Now if you're really a
connoisseur of mosaics, you should go to Ravenna because they are the best, but if
you take all the time it takes to go from Venice to Ravenna to see the
mosaics, and dedicate it into appreciating the beautiful mosaics already in Venice,
that frankly is a more practical use of your time.
There are wonderful mosaics in
Venice that under-appreciated, or there are the best mosaics in Ravenna. These
are in churches that are five hundred years old. These are churches that really are
ancient Roman, as much as medieval. This is the cusp.
In this church you can
see mosaics of Jesus, who's the beardless Good Shepherd, and that's
the ancient Roman portrayal of Jesus, no beard, and you can see Jesus with the
classic beard that we think of that he has, which is the medieval portrayal.
Right here, it's the cusp of the Middle Ages and the ancient world. When you
think of North Italy, you gotta think of Milano, the best of the no-nonsense,
powerhouse economies in Italy, urban center. You gotta think of the beautiful
lakes, and the best lake is Lake Como. You can think of the best stretch of the Mediterranean coastline, in my estimate, the Cinque Terre.
You can also think of the Dolomites, that is the mountain resorts, and what we've just been talking about now,
probably the highlight of that part of Italy, Venice, and the side trips from
Venice: Padova, Verona and Ravenna. "Grazie." Thank you for joining us.
I'm gonna talk about Florence and Florence is really the
art capital of Europe. Florence of course is famous as the host
of the Renaissance; the epicenter of that cultural explosion that happened about
600 years ago bringing Europe out of the Middle Ages and into the
modern age. And it happened in Florence for good reason.
Florence was the most
urban part of Europe, Florence had a banking business going on, Florence had
lots of trade happening, Florence was the most literate and educated part of
Europe, and Florence was sitting on the rubble of ancient Rome. They were
painfully aware that they were in a middle time and it was greater in the
ancient times and when they get their act together Florence can kindle that Renaissance,
or the rebirth, of the greatness of ancient Rome. Also, in Florence you've got
this amazing situation where you got all these geniuses all going to almost like the
same high school. Imagine, Florence the class of 1500.
go to Florence, because of all that, you've got a lot of great sightseeing.
Florence is built on the Arno River. You got the main part of the city and you
got the wrong side of the tracks, or the Oltrarno, the wrong side of the river.
And I do want to remind you in the United States we think of the wrong side
of the tracks but that's 'cause trains brought in the business and the whole
economic vitality. In Europe the equivalent of the trains was towns that
were born not in the age of rail but in the age… The Middle Ages, when the safe
and logical and efficient way to get your goods to town was on a river.
towns grew upon rivers, rivers provided the power of the day and on the other side
of the river would be where the rough-and-tumble community would be —
outside of the controlled and safe trade area where you could have minorities and
Jews and and people that didn't fit in with
the mainstream, and that morphed overtime to be the creative zone and in Florence
you've got the Oltrarno, in Rome you've got Trastevere, in Paris you've
got the Latin Quarter, in Sevilla you've got Triana. All over Europe you'll find
that river in the wrong side of the tracks. Don't miss Oltrarno when
you're in Florence. When you look at these towns, it's important to remember
that in the Middle Ages they were contained within a wall.
Today it can be
way too sprawling and overwhelming but in your mind, take some scissors and cut
around and just focus on what's within that fortification — 'cause that's where
ninety percent of your sightseeing is — and then it becomes very accessible on
foot. Here you got your wall, going out from the river on the other
side of the wall would be Oltrarno, and then within the wall would be the
core of the city, and in the center of that you would have a great cathedral.
In modern times when the city's expanded beyond the protection of their wall and
when you have centralized nation states where you've got stability and you
don't have people, you know, threatening your town, the walls were
just a waste of important space, they were ingrown, you had a lot of traffic
congestion. What do you do? Tear down the wall and you got yourself a circular
boulevard. When you look at the map in Florence today you can see a circular
boulevard going out from the wall that used– going out from the river that used to
be the wall, and then the old gates that would herald, you know, the exit of the
city in the direction of this or that town, those gates today decorate little
traffic circles and small parks that would decorate the circular road that
goes around the city.
That helps you get your brain around a city, it becomes less
overwhelming and easier to tackle. So, here we see a schematic of Florence and
you can arrive at the train station the upper left hand corner, and within about
a 15 minute walk you can get yourself down to the cathedral, called the Duomo
in Italian, and then right down the main drag in the city to the Piazza della
Signoria, that would be the City Hall Square, the main square which faces the
river. Everything here is within, twenty thirty minute walk of each other, and the
city is delightful on foot, and, recently the city government has made the center of town very
car unfriendly, meaning very pedestrian friendly. Consequently, we cannot get our
tour buses to our hotel anymore.
I love it. We have to park at the edge of the
old town, and walk in with our bags. That's a beautiful thing. Now, when you
walk down the streets in Florence, you have to dodge bicycles and you can hear
In the old days, you were crushed against a big stone wall and a
tiny sidewalk, with trucks and traffic ruling the city. A huge change and a great
improvement for that wonderful city. The core of Florence is the Duomo, and the
Duomo is–it is the inspiration of the architectural Renaissance. When
Michelangelo built his dome in Rome, he said, "I can build a dome bigger, but not more
beautiful than the dome in my home town of Florence," the dome designed by
Brunelleschi, again, that kicked off the architectural Renaissance back in the
Now you can go to the top of that dome, you can go inside of that
church, or you can climb to the bell tower next to the dome. This shot is taken
from the bell tower, you can see in the top of that dome, a bunch of tourists. It's
quite a tight squeeze to get to the top of the dome, you can certainly do it, but
it is claustrophobic, and I find it's just overwhelming with crowds. It's
long line to get up, and invariably there's some crude, big Italian in a t-shirt
that just loves to rub on people as they squeeze by him, alright, so halfway up you
don't have any choice.
If you want not the romance and excitement of climbing
the dome, but just a practical climb, go to the bell tower instead of the dome.
Either offer a great view. Looking down from the bell tower, you see the
baptistery is a free-standing structure, outside of the cathedral. I'll remind you that
in the Middle Ages, you could not go into the cathedral until you were baptized, so
you had to have the baptistery outside. Baptisteries are very important and historic buildings in
towns like this, and in this baptistery you've got the famous Gates of Paradise,
the wonderful gates designed by Ghiberti that inspired so much of the Renaissance.
Remember, when we're looking at these kind of art masterpieces, these were
opportunities for local artists to really contribute to their city.
a lot of local pride. Florence was competing with all of
its neighboring city states, and here they would say, "we got to have new gates on our
baptistery, let's have a competition, and the greatest artists of our generation
will design these, and it'll be the glory of our of the city," you know. And we have now,
artists that are combining math and science in order to give you a
believable three-dimensional scene on a two-dimensional surface. Radical break.
Now they really want to show realism instead of simple 2D symbolism like in
the Middle Ages; and Florence, in a lot of ways, was the birthplace of that, and
that's where we find the Renaissance.
Of course, the most famous piece from the
Florentine Renaissance would be Michelangelo's David. And when you're
looking into the eyes of David, you're really looking into the eyes of Renaissance
man. Now, when we look into the eyes of David, we see this is a civilized,
thinking, faithful, individual, sizing up the bully, the giant, the darkness of the
Middle Ages, the crudeness of the neighboring cities states. And he's going
to overcome that challenge with his sling.
If you look at David, the hand of
David is too big and too developed, intentional by Michelangelo. This is the
hand of ***. It wasn't the boy that slayed the giant, it was the boy with his
faith in *** that was able to overcome his adversary, and that was symbolic of
Florence rising above its crude bully neighboring city states as well, and apt
mascot for the city. Understand the context of the art: why it
was, made who made it, what was going on, what was the agenda, and your art comes
This is the kind of stuff we love to teach in our tours, this is
sort of the joy of being a tour guide. After 25 years of leading groups around
Europe, I've learned what people need to know, and what they don't need to know,
and I've written a book called Europe 101 which a is fun and practical sweep through
the story of Europe, from the pyramids to Picasso, designed for your sight
seeing in mind. This was written for smart people who were sleeping in their
history and art classes, before they knew they were going to Europe. Now you got a
trip coming up, and you wish you remembered what came, Gothic or Romanesque.
Just a little background on that, and you can step into a Gothic cathedral, excitedly nudge your partner,
and say, "isn't this a marvelous improvement over Romanesque?" Imagine,
being excited about Romanesque. You can do it with a little
information. You don't need to be a scholar, you don't need to be a
sophisticate, you just need to be curious, and able to read a book. That's
what I'm so excited about this, for the value of your travels, in fact, I have made
a five hour series of lectures which is the same topic of this book, it's
available right on our website at ricksteves.Com in the Travel Talk
You can go there, and it's a little lengthy, but it is an art history
for travelers course that takes you from the Middle Ages right up until the last
century. Also I want to remind you, the app. Rick Steves Audio Europe is full
of guided tours that cover everything you need in Italy, really, Venice,
Florence, Rome, and Pompeii. Really heavy on Florence, because Florence is so full of
When you think of the Piazza, that so Italian symbol of community, the
Piazza goes all the way back to Ancient Roman times, it is unique in a lot of
ways to Italy. Italy embraces that whole Piazza hub of the community idea. And in Florence you've got a wonderful Piazza Della Signoria right on the main square, in
front of the city hall, and when you're there, you're looking up at the fortified
city hall, and next to that, just to the right, is the Uffizi Gallery. The Uffizi Gallery, that two tone building in the background there.
is literally "the offices." This was the offices of the Medici, who ruled from
that big city hall. There's a sky bridge that connects, you know, the Medici's office with the offices of the city. Today, the Uffizi is the–
it hosts the greatest collection of Italian paintings anywhere. This is the
must-see museum in Florence for Italian art.
Here's the courtyard of the
Uffizi Gallery in the evening, and that's the courtyard in the day. It's a
reminder you should be out at night enjoying Florence, without the insanity.
Every two-bit tourist wants to go to the Uffizi, and every two-bit
tourist wants to see David. You're in there with the whole world, and it's not
designed for those kinds of crowds, and it's overwhelming. You gotta do it.
Find a way to minimize the stress, and the
crowds, and the time-wasting, it's worth it. There are ways to get around that, but
this is the line for the Uffizi Gallery. It's there every day, it goes all the way around the
block, and the typical tourist just stumbles in, goes to the end of the line, and
spend two hours trying to get through the door. You can get around that line.
very straightforward. In my guidebook, I've got a guidebook on Florence that gives you all the details,
just make a reservation and you walk right by all those people, don't say
anything too smart-aleck, and you go straight to the door, you show em' your
appointment, and they let you in. You've enjoyed the Uffizi Gallery and they're
out of there, before these poor people who have one day in their life in
Florence and spend a third of it waiting to get in, before they get to the
door. Please, make a reservation for David.
Make a reservation for the Uffizi,
and then you can enjoy the great Botticellis, and you can be surrounded
by all those beautiful Michelangelo Prisoners, and so on. And with a little background, you can
understand what was going on in those heady days. Back when it was very
tentative, you wanted to celebrate the body, but at first, you had to do the body
in biblical terms. On the left is the Virgin Mary, and on the right is Venus,
and when they were bold enough to have the body that was quite something, and
then when they were bold enough to have the body away from a biblical
context that was something else, and then after that, they were bold enough to have
a male **** standing in a rich person's courtyard.
Just fancy, beautiful, stuff for
some rich guy, with no apologies necessary. Humanism the triumph of the
Renaissance, and you see that the whole evolution when you travel in Florence. Bargello is to statues what the Uffizi is the paintings. You really got to balance that.
If there's two museums to see, you gotta
go to the Uffizi, and, many less crowds, go to the Bargello where you see some incredible
statues. The most under-rated museum in Florence is the Museum of the Duomo, and
that is the Museum of the Cathedral. It's directly behind the cathedral, it's got
incredible statues, and no crowds for some quirky reason, including an amazing Michelangelo
Pieta. Michelangelo did three or four Pietas, you can see most of his work in
Rome, Florence, and Milan, and in Florence you can see, of course, David, and the
prisoners, but you also want to see his Pieta at the Museum of the Duomo.
Florence has all sorts of
historic churches. Inside the church's, you've got a great chance to see Gothic–or not Gothic, Renaissance architecture, beautiful symmetry,
beautiful mathematically correct rhythmic architectural lines, and in the
churches, you can track the evolution of great art from medieval pointed arches,
gold leaf backgrounds, lots of halos, until you get to the Renaissance, where
you have mathematical perspective, balance, symmetry, and that realism that
we celebrate from the fifteenth century onward. When you're in Florence it's great shopping town, and leather is the big deal. There's plenty of
opportunities to do some leather shopping there.
The big news for eating in
Florence, I think, is the Mercato Centrale. The old industrial age iron and
steel– or iron and glass market was getting run down, and kinda depressed like they were
all over Europe, and all over Europe what I've seen is a revitalization of these
great industrial age marketplaces, by turning them into food courts. And this is
really a foodie's paradise. When you're in Florence, go to the Mercato Centrale for lunch, it's a great idea.
I mentioned Florence is becoming much more
pedestrian-friendly. Streets that used to be just completely the domain of trucks,
and buses, and cars, are now motor bikes, bicycles, and pedestrians. The Ponte
Vecchio is the old bridge, literally. It goes across the Arno River and, in good
medieval style, it's lined with shops.
So you've got all these beautiful shops, and
they are the jeweler's shops today, and you can go across that night and enjoy
some beautiful music. I find the evening in Florence to be very charming and
romantic. The city government has done a great job of controlling the quality and
the placement of the buskers, so you've got concert quality musicians out in the
streets at night, and I love to spend the evening just with a good travel partner
and some gelato, enjoying the street music. When you cross the Arno River, crossing
the Ponte Vecchio, within five minutes you are in that Oltrarno district.
Remember I was talking about the earthy, crusty, alternative to the main center
where all the power and the money was? The Oltrarno is where you go today for
trendy little foodie restaurants, artisans doing their thing, and colorful
little back lanes and beautiful squares.
Oltrarno. Be sure to factor that into
your Florentine travels. Florence, boy, Florence is a small town, with a great history, and
the more you prepare for Florence, and it deserves the preparation because of all
the crowds, the more you'll enjoy it. "Buongiorno,"
thank you for joining me, I'm Rick Steves, and I want to share with you a little bit about the countryside of Italy, specifically
Tuscany and Umbria.
When you go to Italy, you often think of Venice, and Florence, and
Rome, and understandably so, but you need to balance that, and complement that with a
look at the countryside. And of course there's lots of great countryside to see
in Italy, but your, sort of, quintessential Italian countryside, I
would bet, is Tuscany and Umbria. Now a beautiful thing about Tuscany and Umbria, is
it's very handy, it's between Florence and Rome, it's easy to get to, and, when
you get to Tuscany and Umbria, you've got a nice balance of sizable towns, with
a great pride, from the Middle Ages, and you've also got charming villages, and
beautiful farm culture, and a wine culture. The most important city in
Tuscany and Umbria is Siena.
And Siena is a rival of Florence. Actually
Florence is in Tuscany, so I should say the most important city in Tuscany would
be Florence, but that would be a major big-city experience. When you're thinking of
Tuscany, I'd rather make Siena my home base and my springboard. And Siena is one
hour away from Florence, it's easy to get to by bus or train.
And when you go to
Siena, it is a perfectly preserved medieval town, almost traffic free. And I
want to remind you, back in the Middle Ages, it really was neck-and-neck with
Florence, they were are arch-rivals. And to this day, they are rivals on the futball
field and, so on. It's just– there's a lot of medieval, pettiness is not quite the
word, but medieval attitude in Siena.
And when you go Siena it's fun to get
caught up in that, 'cause it survives to this day. They've got a great duomo, or
cathedral, and if you step inside the duomo it's just slathered in art. And
remember, when you think about the art of Siena, it hangs onto its Middle Aged style a lot longer–for about a century
longer than Florence. Florence abandons the halos, and the gold leaf, and the
pointed arches, whereas Siena kept embracing that.
So this would be your Sienese
art, long after Florence was well beyond that in the Renaissance. You've got a
great couple of galleries in Siena, and wonderful church museums to enjoy that
kind of at. The greatest square, arguably in all of Italy, is the Campo in Siena. And
when you go to the Campo, you don't find a church with a spire on the main
square, you find a city hall with a bell tower.
Because Siena, to me, is an emblem
of humanism. Siena celebrates good government, all the way back to the times
when it was a proud city state with, what it considered, an excellent community
government. And you see that when you go inside the city hall to this day. You can
climb to the top of that tower, and it has a commanding view of the town thats spread
out from there.
Now when you go to the Campo, the main square, a lot of times
it's just a beautiful, like, a big brick beach. And you can hang out there, and
enjoy the sun and whatever, and then you can come back later on and, bam, it is packed
with people. This is the Palio. Twice a year, they have an amazing
no-holds-barred, literally, horse race, and it's called the Palio, and it just takes
the city by storm.
If your gonna go to Siena during the Palio, you really need to
have reservations in advance, 'cause you can imagine it's quite crowded. But any
time of year you can go and enjoy the drama, and just the magnificence of that
square. And again, any time a year you can be there, just sitting cross legged on the
bricks, and come back later in the day and it'll be like this, depending on what
sort of festivities going on. The Palio is just two days out of the year, but
each Palio has a whole series of days before and after, where you can enjoy all
sorts of festivities, as you have the competing neighborhoods, the contrada,
that all have their own horse, and their own racers, and their own pride.
a lot of fun to get caught up in that. Nearby is Pisa, and Pisa is famous for
it square of miracles, the Leaning Tower, the
Duomo, and the Baptistery, but I want to stress that Pisa was a great and
important city state in it's day that competed with Siena, and it
competed with Florence, and it competed with Genoa, it had its own fleet. And when you
go to Pisa today, you'll find the whole town is worth exploring. I love Pisa, away from the Leaning
Very few people pause long enough to enjoy that part of the town. It's easy
to get to by train, and within a couple of blocks of
the train station you find the river, the Arno River, the same one that goes through
Florence, and then beyond that, you will find the Piazza of Miracles. And the
Piazza of Miracles is named that, 'cause it's one of the most dramatic piazzas anywhere
in Italy. You've got this ensemble.
Remember in the Middle Ages, you had to
have this ensemble, that was the standard center of a city. The church, the bell
tower, and the baptistery, and you'll find that little trio all over the place. The difference about Pisa was they had a
lousy soils engineer when they built their bell tower, because before it was
even done it was already tilting. In fact, if you look at it from the right angle,
you can actually see they they straightened it up, so it tilts and then it
goes straight at the very top, not a very good answer to the problem.
to great lengths to solid it up, and pump out the water, and pump in concrete or whatever,
and today they have stopped the tilt of that Leaning Tower. So we were all
worried it was gonna get to this point and fall over, but thank goodness it
never did. And today you can go to the top of that tower. You can imagine there's a
lot of tourists that want to do that, so when you go to Pisa you need to
make a reservation.
And upon arrival you go straight to the box office, get your name on the list, and then you
get a time so you can enter the bell tower, and that gives you a chance to see
the other sites on that square. Your guide book will give you details. But
from the top of the tower, which is really fun to climb up by the way, you
get the chance to survey the Piazza of Miracles from above. The Duomo, the
cathedral, is a remarkable building, and artistically it's the most
important stop on the square.
Because inside you've got a beautiful baptist–a
beautiful pulpit, and beautiful carvings by Pisano, the great sculptor that inspired
Michelangelo from Pisa. Nearby, just half an hour away by city bus, is Lucca.
And in researching my guide book chapter on Lucca last time around, I realized that
there is a direct bus connection from downtown Luca over
to the Leaning Tower. And you could very reasonably consider the Leaning Tower
of Pisa, a sightseeing attraction of Lucca attached by this regular city bus that
you could get to in about half an hour. So consider that, because Lucca is a much
more popular place to make a home base and call home.
Lucca has beautiful downtown center with
all sorts of characteristic buildings, and I find just a charming downtown
without famous sites, but with a beautiful intact kind of ambiance that
I really like. Most unique about Lucca is it has a more modern wall. In the old
days, you had tall walls that were kinda thin, before they were cannon. With the
advent of gunpowder, and cannons, and artillery, you need to have squat, fat
Of course, squat, fat walls is what we saw in the 1800's, in the 1900's. And today, a squat, fat wall is just as worthless as that tall, skinny,
wall, except, a squat, fat, wall gives you a nice park all around the town, on top.
And this is a beautiful strolling opportunity, and it's a very popular bike
trip. So you rent a bicycle and then your bike around the modern wall of
Lucca. It's a delight, one of the highlights of your visit to
There are a lot of hill towns in Tuscany and Umbria, and my favorite
hill town, I gotta say, if I had to choose one, would be Volterra. And Volterra is just,
it's less crowded, and it's less famous, and that's one of the reasons I like it so
much, its kinda dark and brooding, and it has a lot of history that can be shared
by local guides. One thing I try to do in my book is employ local guides, by arranging
with them to offer public tours to my readers. In Volterra, Annie who–and her
partner who run this little tiny tour company, will meet my readers every night
at six o'clock, and for $20, my readers get a local friend to take them around
the town for a couple of hours.
It's a beautiful thing. It's beautiful for Annie,
'cause she makes couple hundred dollars on a good night, and it's great for my tourists because for 20 bucks they get the luxury of having an expert licensed guide to
show them around this great town. Tuscany, the word means Etruscan, Etruscan.
This was the Etruscan civilization five hundred years before Christ. And today
you'll find great Etruscan museums around Tuscany, one of the very best is
Here we have the lid of a sarcophagus. The Etruscans, we don't
know much about them, except for what we've learned from excavating their tombs.
They had beautiful art on– decorating their sarcophagi, and we can
learn a lot about their civilization just from looking at that. Also in these
towns, you'll find great artisans. This is an alabaster workshop, and you can step
right in and watch the men working, and buy some alabaster.
You can find
silversmiths and enjoy their art, all over Tuscany and Umbria you've got this chance
to connect. Whether they're vintners or silversmiths or alabaster carvers,
whatever, you can find that love of tradition and workmanship when
you are in Tuscany and Umbria. Of course, Tuscany and Umbria are famous for their wine,
and as you travel around you'll find lots of vineyards that welcome tourists. When
you're going wine sightseeing in Tuscany, and, you know, the famous Brunello Di
Montalcino, and so on, there's all sorts of elegant, and rich, and
welcoming vintners, but you have to have a reservation, it's just really important.
It's very easy, they'll get off their tractor and show you around, but
they just don't want to be surprised.
So in my guidebook I've visited many of
them, I've listed my favorites, it's very simple, you simply call em' up a day or two
in advance and say, "can I come by" and they might pair you up with somebody
else who's visiting or whatever, but it behooves you to take a little time to do
your research. And then you meet a vintner, he takes on a walk through the vines, he
takes you into his cellar, he lets you taste the finished product, and it's an
elegant look at the culture of Tuscany. Now there are a lot of ways to fill it
up for cheap when you're in Tuscany. And the Italians like their fancy wine, but
they also like their filling stations.
This is right outside of Orvieto,
where local people bring their jugs and top up their table wine for the season. I like
to spend a lot of money for a glass of wine when I'm in Tuscany, in fact I like to try the
different wines. And rather than buy a whole bottle, I would spend a little more
of–just for samples, and be able to understand the best that they can do. My
favorite kind of restaurant is an enoteca, in this area.
Not a fancy
restaurant, but an enoteca, that serves– that opens up fine bottles of wine and
serves them by the glass, and matches them with beautiful local produce. That's
really the goal, is to pair it well. I'm not sophisticated enough to understand
all this pairing, but I am sophisticated enough to recognize it when I taste it.
And when you hit the jackpot, it really is out of this world. Strive for that in your travels, open
yourself up to letting somebody, who really appreciate the fine wine and the
local terroir, to put it together so you can have that great Tuscan experience.
All over Tuscany, you can you can visit these great vineyards.
Your towns for home
bases for this might be Montalcino or Montepulciano, two great towns. I was
just there this last year researching in the guidebook, and they're right up to
date in the Rick Steves Italy book and in the Florence and Tuscany book, which
covers that area little more thoroughly. Montepulciano, like Montalcino and
like a lot of other towns in this area, have a mini square that reminds you of a
two-bit Sienna, or a two-bit Florence, because in a way they were, they were
controlled by those mini empires centuries ago. Montalcino is in Brunello country, you
may know that Brunello Di Montalcino.
From the window of my hotel you get this
beautiful, beautiful view of the countryside, and that's what you explore.
Beautiful churches, beautiful cypress trees, wonderful abbeys, and of course,
villages, and vintners. If you want to get the full dose of that salt-of-the-earth
Tuscan magic, stay in bed and breakfast. The key is agriturismo. In Europe, they're
struggling to keep their small farms viable, and what they do is they rent out
rooms to make ends meet.
In Italy a working farm gets the privilege of
calling itself an agriturismo. You can't call yourself an agriturismo unless
actually making money as a working farm. So it's a way to help
subsidize them, because it's really important, the bed and breakfast income that they enjoy. I've done a lot
of research, it takes a lot of time to scour the countryside for these different
agriturismo, and I'll tell you when you find a good agriturismo, like Isabel's
place here, it is it is just an amazing vacation.
In the case of this bed and
breakfast you stay for a week, and every day's a cultural experience as she takes
you truffle hunting, and then you make your pasta, and then you go to wineries,
and every day is a delight. And when I research these places, and see the
tourists enjoying the swimming pool, enjoying the fine food, enjoying the rich
culture, wow, I just think, "that's a great vacation in the countryside of Tuscany."
And when I drop in on these farms, I find people, all of them have my book but none
of them knew each other before their visit, and it's one big happy family
enjoying this delightful Italian cultural boot camp. San Gimignano is a beloved town,
because of its skyline. Look at San Gimignano, it's pretty cool to have that skyline.
And that was not unusual five hundred years ago.
In the Middle
Ages, every town had its feuding noble families, each with their private armies.
The Montagues and Capulets, you know, that from Romeo and Juliet. Noble families
fighting each other. Clintons, Romneys, Gingrichs, you know
all of that, bam, bam, bam. And when you got central power, the kings gonna come in
and say, "alright nobles, I'm tired of this, you guys aren't powerful, I'm powerful,
y'all gotta cut off your towers." And you look at any town, and you find lopped off
The one town that has its original skyline intact for whatever quirky
reason, San Gimignano. It's a gorgeous place, but it is quite touristy. I find
the charm of San Gimignano is easiest to enjoy after hours ago. Go there in the
evening, have dinner there, and spend the evening, but stay in the countryside nearby.
During the middle of the day, San Gimignano is a tourist trap. After dark, it has all that magic. Orvieto is a good
example of a hill town. Look at the way it feels this volcanic
outcropping, can you steal the cliffs on both sides? Isn't this delightful? It's just
big enough for a sizable town, and you don't need to build a stupid wall, you got one
already don't you, the cliffs.
So you carve into the cliff an entryway, and you
fortify the entryway and you've got yourself a perfect pinnacle town. In fact,
this is so well fortified that this was the pope's refuge when he was under
attack. He would head out to Orvieto. Today it's about an hour and a half
north of Rome, and it really is a great place to check out.
Its centerpiece is
this amazing cathedral, you step inside the cathedral, it's got beautiful art. And this is
a whole chapel painted by a guy named Signorelli, one of the most beautiful
chapels in Italy. And, like hill towns elsewhere, you've got a nice connection from the
train which is in the valley floor, 'cause obviously the train's not gonna go up
into the hill town. When the train arrives there's a bus waiting right across from
the curb, and everybody gets off the train, and onto that bus.
And then up into
the town. What you need to do when you come into a hill town anywhere in Italy,
is to remember, this train is not for tourists, its for commuters they live
up in the town. Everyday they come home from the big
city, they get off the train, and they don't want to hang around, they get off
the train, and step onto that bus, and it shuttles them right up to the city square. If you
dilly-dally in the train station, there's good chance you're gonna miss your
connection and have to wait for the next train or a bus to take it to the center, do you follow me there, or you'll have to spend a lot of money for a taxi.
advantage of the shuttle's when it comes to hill towns. One hill town that has no
shuttle is Civita de Bagnoregio, and Civita Di Bagnoregio is my classic
hill town. I just love this place, I've been going here ever since I was a college
kid. We take our groups here, and it is just the, sort of, of a textbook example of
a hill town.
You find a lot of these hill towns in Tuscany and Umbria. This is
technically just over the border in the state of Lazio, but it's near Orvieto,
which is in Umbria, so you think of it in terms of Orvieto. And when we go
up that donkey path, we are leaving the 21st century. And to wander through this
town is just an amazing thing, the main square.
Unfortunately, it's a dead town now, the last residents have died,
and it is people from the big city moving in and having countryside escapes,
and making their bruschetta, and selling it to tourists. So it doesn't have
the living culture that it's had a generation ago, but you still have that
charming, that rustic lifestyle in the countryside of Italy. Nearby is Assisi. And
Assisi is famous for this guy, St.
Francis St. Francis, the amazing founder of the
Franciscan Order, and when he died they made this incredible basilica for
his bones, as relics, and he was made a saint within a couple of years of his
death. Very, very fast, unprecedented in
Roman Catholic sort of terms, and for centuries, tourists and pilgrims
have come to Assisi to honor St. Francis.
When you look at the architecture on
this church, you can see it was meant to accommodate hordes of pilgrims. In the
Middle Ages it wasn't tourists, it was pilgrims that put this place on the map. The main drag from the town down to the
Basilica was the pilgrims way, and there'd be all sorts of hostels along the way, and
little rustic restaurants, and so on, and to this day, it accommodates travelers in
a beautiful way. I love Assisi, it's got the beautiful Franciscan heritage,
and it's also got a chance for you just to hike up to the ruined castle, enjoy the
same bird song that inspired st.
Francis so many centuries ago, have a picnic, and celebrate this
beautiful, beautiful, sort of special atmosphere in Assisi, where
its famous for a gathering, interfaith gatherings, they go to Assisi because
it's got this beautiful "love thy neighbor" kind of vibe. And even if you're
just a flash-in-the-pan Frances fan, zipping through on your tour it's a
beautiful opportunity, Take a moment to read up on St. Francis, take a little
walk, and tried to get into the spirit of St. Francis.
Down in the valley floor, you
can find the little fixer upper church that he and his partners renovated, and
that's where the Franciscan Order was founded. And down there you can see that
church today, in the middle, underneath a huge dome of a giant church,
where all the pilgrims go and remember St. Francis. When you're going to Italy,
you're gonna go to the big cities.
Venice, Florence, and Rome, and so on. Make time for the countryside, and the
most popular countryside destinations in Italy, understandably so, are in Umbria
and Tuscany. Thank you very much. "Buongiorno," are you ready to go to Rome?
Rome is brutal.
Rome crushes ill-equipped and
ill-prepared tourists, but if you know how to enjoy Rome, it is the
most magnificent city. Rome, along with Paris, and London, and Istanbul, is one of
four cities in Europe that really merits a one-week visit. And when you go to Rome,
you're gonna enjoy the father of our civilization, basically. It has got so
You need to see it in layers, you need to be prepared, you gotta anticipate the crowds, and the heat. Let's talk about how we're gonna enjoy Rome. Now,
when you're thinking about Italy, there are three great cities, Venice, Florence, Rome,
this is our most popular itinerary. I would highly recommend considering open-jaws
in Italy, and doing Rome as the finale.
Rome is where you gotta warm up
to it things aren't anti climactic after
Rome, and I would fly home from Rome, that would make a lot of sense to me. Rome goes all the way back. It was, of
course, a thousand years the center of the ancient world in the west,
from a western point of view. To put the story of Rome into a nice easy kind of
spectrum, you've got the birth of Rome, five hundred years before Christ.
for a thousand years until 580, it grows for 500 years, it peaks for 200 years,
that's the Pax Romana, and then it falls for 300 years. There's a little more to the
story than that, but thats Rome in a very tight nutshell. The first five hundred
years was the Republic, then it got so big they needed an emperor who could rule it
with an iron fist, and that was the Empire period from the time of Christ on
until it fell. You'll find this symbol of Rome, Romulus and Remus being suckled by the
she-wolf, all over town.
You'll also find the great emperors being honored.
Everywhere you go in Rome you'll find history. It's hard to imagine the city
two thousand years ago with a million people in it, and that was ancient Rome,
classical Rome. When Romo was at its peak, the word "Rome" meant the civilized world
itself, much more than just the city. Here's the Roman Empire at its peak, from
the time of Christ for 200 years.
And notice how Rome is absolutely the center of
that realm. Notice how the lake was called "our lake,""Mare Nostrum." And
notice that all of that green was the civilized world, people who spoke Latin
or Greek, and everything beyond that was the Barbarian world, not quite human, "bar,
bar, bar." 'Course it started to fall later on, but really when you think about the
ancient world, this is really what you're thinking about. Now when you talk about
Rome itself, it's on the Tiber River, originally inhabited where the Etruscan
civilization to the north met the Greek civilization to the south. Southern Italy was a Greek colony
called Magna Graecia.
It was as far up the river she could go by boat, and the first
place you could cross with a bridge. Rome. And when we look at the Tiber we can see
the different neighborhoods of Rome, and it's remarkably walkable when you're
downtown in the center. You need to think of Rome in
neighborhoods, you can connect things very quick and easy by taxi.
You can go
across the river when you want to see Trastevere and the Vatican, but most of it is in that medieval and ancient core. Of course, the ancient site of Rome
are really what most of us have in mind. You got the Coliseum, built two thousand years
ago to house 50,000 people with numbered seats, they could fill it and empty it as
quickly and efficiently as we do our great stadiums. I want to remind you,
there's huge crowds and you're going where everybody wants to go.
There's four or five
sights that everybody want to see in this city that everybody wants to see, and if
you're going to those four or five sites you better have a reservation or a pass that
lets you pass the lines. There are plenty of ways to get around
the lines, but without taking advantage of that in advance you're gonna be at the
end of this line really getting a sunburn and wasting a lot of precious
time. Once you get inside you need history, you
need guiding, you need information to help you bring–resurrect that rubble,
otherwise it's hard to appreciate what it's all about. But with the help of a
good guide, it does sense.
I just love the challenge, as a guide, to sit my
tourist down in the rubble of ancient Rome and bring it to life. And that's
what our guides do, anywhere in Europe we love to bring the story to life. We've
got some very good guides in Rome; it's a city that deserves guides, and it's a city that
has a lot of wonderful licensed guides. And there's a lot of tour companies that
will let you do not have to hire a private guide, but book onto a tour and
have a local licensed guide show you around, and that would make a lot of
We've also got my Rick Steves Audio Europe that has very important guided
tours to the great sights of Ancient Rome and the great sights of the Vatican. This app will be a
godsend for you if you don't have the luxury of your own private guide. Take
advantage of that if you want to have that service. When you're thinking of the
Roman Forum, this is the common ground between the Seven Hills of Ancient Rome.
That's where the magic of Rome happened, and then, right from the start five hundred years before Christ, war was
the business of state, Rome starts expanding, and bigger, and bigger, and
bigger, and this becomes the hub–the capital of a vast empire, and this was
the main drag of the capital of that empire, the Via Sacra. And today when
you sight-see, you walk down this Via Sacra and you tried to resurrect all that
rubble, and understand what it was like so long ago when they had their
triumphal parade going down this under the triumphal arches, and so on, and it
just–it covers with goosebumps when you can get a guide that can help you bring
it to life. Lots of propaganda, art back then was art to make the people follow
the Emperor, to fall in line. When you're looking at Rome it's hard to grasp the
immensity of their buildings, and the power of the empire.
I mean look at this;
and then you realize if you get an artist reconstruction of it those are just the side niches, and you
see the little broken nub on the top, that would be the part of an arch that went
all the way across, and this was as big as a vacant–an empty
football field today, but it was all just veneered with fine marble, and all sorts
of elegant people in togas, and fountains and so on. It is hard to imagine the magnificence
of Rome at it's zenith. And to this day, there are ancient doors that are still
swinging on their original hinges from two thousand years. Now the Capitol Hill
is the hill that overlooks the Roman Forum.
And on the Capitol Hill you've got
two of the most important museums in Rome, the Capitoline Museums. And you can
step into those museums, and it's easy to be overwhelmed by the outdoor
magnificence of Rome but remember the beautiful, beautiful statues, and there's
lots of that, are taken out of the acidic and put inside so you can enjoy it there. Make a point to save time and energy for
those interior sites, and the Capitoline Museum is one where you will find a lot
of the textbook examples of Roman art, right there. Not very crowded, very easy
to enjoy, and a lot of antiquities.
A. Short walk away is the Pantheon. And the
Pantheon is the building that gives you a feeling and an appreciation for the
magnificence, and the splendor of Rome at it's zenith better than any other building.
When you step inside of the Pantheon, you realize how beautifully preserved it is. And you gotta recognize
it's the one building that wasn't really cannibalized because it went, almost
directly, from being a temple to all the gods, "pantheon," to a church dedicated to the martyrs of Rome, or
the people who were killed during Rome for their Christian faith.
And when you
step into the Pantheon and you look up at this incredible dome, and you think
of the technology they had way back then in the year 200, how on earth did
they build this thing. Exactly as wide as it is tall, 140 feet. It
was the biggest in Europe for 1400 years They poured the concrete so it got more
porous, and less heavy as it got to the top where it didn't need to be so strong, and then
you got this beautiful, beautiful skylight in the center. This is free, it's
right there in the center of Rome, you can pop in anytime you like.
This is the
Victor Emmanuel monument here, and it's a big, overbuilt, kinda
monstrosity built to the ego of the King just 110 years ago or
something like that, but I like the Victor Emmanuel monument because it
gives you a feeling for the pomposity and grandiosity of Rome, and if you put a
thousand of those buildings together, in my mind, that would be what Ancient Rome
was like. The cool thing about the Victor Emmanuel monument–the bad thing is it's
sitting on a bunch of Antiquities and they can't get it because this big buildings
there–the great thing about it is you can go to the top of that building if
you know about the elevator on the back side, and you can enjoy a beautiful view
from up there. It's a cool view because you can look down on the Forum, you got
the best 360 degree look at the city, and you don't have to look at the building
you're standing on. Imagine this view from the top of the Victor Emmanuel monument, I love it, I really love it.
One of my favorite buildings in all of
Europe is the Galleria Borghese because of what's inside of it, the greatest
statues by the wonderful Bernini. Bernini was the father of the Baroque movement. Now
you have to get a reservation to get in to the Galleria Borghese. They only let
in a couple hundred people every hour or something like that, but it's easy to get
You go inside and you've got Apollo chasing Daphne, and you've got
a handful of other amazing masterpieces by Bernini and by Canova. I want to
remind you, if you know where to go in Rome, Florence, and Milan, you can see
almost all of Michelangelo's great works of art. And when you're in Rome, you've got a
chance to see Moses in the church St. Peter in Chains.
And this is an
important, just tactical, you know, advice about your sightseeing in Rome. It's a big,
grueling city. You spend a lot of time in traffic, and a lot of money on taxis, you
might as well see things neighborhood at a time. And if you're going to go to the
Coliseum, which you're gonna do, you should know that a five minute walk away
from the Coliseum is the St.
Peter in Chains church, which has a Michelangelo's
statue of Moses. It's free, it's not crowded, and it's open an hour before the
Coliseum. If you're stretching your day, here's an example of being a smart tour
guide; get an early start, go enjoy St. Peter in Chains and Michelangelo's
Moses at the crack of the day, the beginning of the day, and then have a
cup coffee, walk down, and be the first person into the Coliseum.
You can do that
if you plan smartly, and that's important. Also in Rome, like any city, you've got
all sorts of quirky sights you might not know about if you didn't do your
studying. A lot of people are fascinated by human bones. If you like human bones,
you got em' in Rome, man, you got em' in Rome.
Now you don't go out to the
catacombs to see human bones, no bones in the catacombs, fascinating sights, but no
bones. If you want bones, you go to the Capuchin crypt. The Capuchin monks had an interesting
habit of hanging their dead brothers up to dry down in the crypt. When all the
flesh was rotted away, they would go down and decorate with the remaining bones.
100 Years later, they charge tourists to see it with a funny little
slogan on the roof as you enter, "visitors, be mindful, they were as you are today,
and you will soon be as they are today," alright.
So it's just a cheery little reminder
about your mortality halfway through your vacation. Rome is crowded with
lots of tourists, lots of locals, and lots of thieves. Thieves target tourists, and I would say
in all of Europe, the place you're most likely to get pick-pocketed would be
Barcelona and Rome, okay. You're not gonna get mugged, there's no violent risk, if you're
using common sense there's just the obvious risk of pickpocketing and purse
snatching, and if you're a thief in Rome you go on the bus 69.
That is the major
bus that goes from the train station to the Vatican through the heart of the
city, packed with tourists and pickpockets. You
can see em' working on that bus. Be on the ball, wear your money belt and
understand that there are people eyeballing you, tourists are targeted. It's
really fun to go to the Jewish ghetto.
One of the early ghettos is in Rome, in
fact the Jewish community in Rome is the oldest Jewish community in Europe. That
was before the Diaspora, before the destruction of the temple. There was a
Jewish community of merchants there before Christ, and they've been in this
little part of Rome for over 2,000 years. To this day, Jewish families whose lineage goes
back 2,000 years gather together on their folding chairs and
just make the scene.
And you can join them in the ghetto. Across the river from
the ghetto, you've got Trastevere. When you go across the river you get to
the "rough side of the tracks" kind of, in European terms, and there is Trastevere.
Across the river, that's where your crusty poetry can be written, and then
also on the other side of the river you've got the Vatican Museum. People
would bury their dead outside of the city walls, and St.
Peter was buried in a
little humble graveyard on Vatican Hill. Trastevere, literally 'across the
Tiber River," is a fascinating place to wander and check out. And then just
beyond that you've got, of course, St. Peter's.
Remember, there was a chariot
race course here before there was a Roman Catholic Church, and for halftime
entertainment they would kill Christians, and St. Peter was one of these who was
martyred there. And after the chariot race course–this obelisk, you see, was a
a decoration point on that chariot race course–St. Peter would have seen this
obelisk on the day he was killed.
His followers took his body to a little hill
nearby and buried him there in the Vatican Hill, and for 300 years
or 200 years, Christians would worship quietly after dark, low profile
because it wasn't okay. And then in 312, the Emperor Constantine became a
Christian, and Christianity became the leader religion of the empire. By 390 was
the only permissible religion, and you've got yourself a huge church built on the
tomb of St. Peter's.
St. Peter was the first pope, and from him we have all the
pope's to this day. And this is the center of a billion Catholic Christians
and, it's a beautiful place to check out, the cathedral itself is an amazing place.
If you're going to Europe in Christmastime, Rome is a great place to be.
This is the square at Christmas with a giant manger scene. And when I look at
that dome right there, I'm looking at the dome that Michelangelo designed.
Taller than a football field on end.
You can go to the very top, it's an amazing,
amazing thing. Getting back to Christmas in Rome, Christmas lasts until epiphany,
January 6, the twelfth day of Christmas when Jesus
got the gifts from the three wise men. And you've got a big celebration on that
day and lots of celebrations before that. And Rome is really festive during
Christmas, it's a fun time to be there.
When you see a guy with a bushy beard
and a key that is Saint Peter, and you see him all over the place around the
Vatican. When you step into that glorious basilica, you look to the inside of
the dome and you see writing in letters as tall as me, each one of those six feet tall. And it says,
"You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church." See that's the reason for
the importance of that church in Christendom. You step into the church and
you're just wonderstruck.
One of my great treats as a guide is to take my groups
into that church. I go in first and watch people as they step inside. It's an
incredible space. For years I went to St.
Peter's Basilica as a Lutheran with
an attitude, and it was a horrible experience, I didn't enjoy it. Park your protestant sword, if you have
one, at the door. Become a Catholic, at least temporarily,
when you go to st. Peter's Basilica.
See it on its terms. Celebrate it. It's an
amazing place. If you like to go to church, any day of the year you can go to
church at five o'clock right there on the tomb of St.
Peter's, and actually
experienced that church doing what it was designed to do, to facilitate worship. It's
an amazing, amazing experience. Of course, in the church you've got some great art, you've
got Michelangelo's Pieta. And this is one of the great art treasures of Europe, and just
to see that right there, where it was supposed to be, is just so great.
You can climb to the
top of the dome. When Michelangelo had built his dome, remember here he said, "I
can build a bigger but not more beautiful than my dome in Florence," but this was the
biggest dome to be built in Europe, it's really quite an inspiration. And you can
go to the very top, and from the top you can get a view of that little country
called the Vatican. You can get a view of the great square, and that obelisk, and
you can look out into the city of Rome, and you can look down on the Sistine
Chapel from the top of that dome.
That rectangular building is the Sistine
Chapel, and if you want to go to the Sistine Chapel you gotta walk through,
what I think, must be the biggest museum around the Vatican Museum. And the highlight, the finale, the
culmination of that museum experience, is the Sistine Chapel. The Vatican Museum itself
is amazing, it's very very crowded and it's gonna be
crowded when you're there, there's no way around the crowd, it's just a mob scene all
day long. I think it's worth it.
Most tourists stick to the main route, you know,
but you can verge off of that and have a lot of peace and quiet if you like, but
it's just an amazing thing. You got the art treasures of western civilization, the Laocoon, you got Apollo Belvedere, you got lots of beautiful rooms all designed and frescoed by Raphael, and when you
get to those rooms you're gonna have a human traffic jam. It's gonna be this
crowded, and you're just gonna shuffle through with all the mobs, everybody with
their cameras up, videoing the thing, you know, and it's just, you can get a bad
attitude about it, but I'll warn you right now, gird yourself for the crowd, and just
look above the masses of sweaty people, and enjoy the wonder of art 500 years ago that brought Europe– helped bring Europe into our modern age. The
finale, the reward for all those crowds, is the Sistine Chapel.
And on the ceiling
you've got the whole story of creation designed by Michael, painted by
Michelangelo, frescoed by Michelangelo, *** giving Adam the spark of life. And
then, much later on, the Pope asks Michelangelo to come back down and paint
the last judgment above the altar, a whole different part of art history. The
ceiling was High Renaissance, this is Counter Reformation.
Martin Luther, the Protestant Reformation, has torn European in half, there's all sorts of
wars everywhere, the Catholic army of Spain has actually plundered Rome, sacked
Rome, and the church is reeling. And the church is coming out swinging with their
Counter Reformation art, and here we have Jesus coming down on judgment day, his fists
raised, Mary is cowering at his side.
You used to be able to go to Mary for some help, but she's
saying, "I can't do anything right now, he's really, really intense right now." And
there's people, people are going to ****, and people are going to heaven
according to how they followed the dictates of the church. Counter
Reformation art. Understand who pays for the art, and why, what's the context.
All across Europe your sightseeing experience becomes much
better. There are different overlays of your Roman experience, you
can do Ancient Rome, you can do Baroque Rome, you can do Catholic Rome, you
can do fascist Rome, you can do today's shopper's Rome, and antique Rome, you can
also do pilgrim's Rome.
And a lot of us neglect that whole fascinating slice of
Rome, but a lot of people come to Rome on a pilgrim's agenda, not on a tourist's agenda. You can climb the Holy Steps, the Scala Santa, as people have been doing
for centuries. These are the steps to Pontius Pilate's mansion, brought back to
Rome from the Holy Land by Constantine's mother in the fourth century. And ever
since then, pilgrims have come to Rome, said the Lord's Prayer on each step
as they climb it on their knees, hoping to get less time off in purgatory.
A lot of Italians don't go to church a lot, but if they ever have a near miss on their
motorcycle they'll go right down to church, and hang their helmet up right
there on this chapel where you got this saint that you thank when you have a
near death experience on your motorcycle. You know, Catholicism is really in
the DNA of Catholics and you find that when you go to the churches. I mentioned
Fascist Italy. Mussolini had a chance to really, really pump it up during
his reign, and build a lot of impressive buildings.
And you can go out to a
futuristic, planned city called EUR. When you're in Rome. EUR is a
chance to see what society would be like if it gave the reins to a fascist
dictator. It's no question asked, it's either you're with us or against us,
it's violent, neopagan, super duper patriotism.
It's all of everybody in lockstep. It's
really a chilling kind of thing and you really see it at EUR, you really see
it, I find it quite powerful. Outside of Rome, just half an hour, is the ancient
port of Ostia Antica. Now if you don't have time to go to Pompeii which is the
ultimate ancient site, three hours south of Rome, go to Pompeii– or go to Ostia, it's just
half an hour away and it rivals Pompeii, it's amazing, Ostia Antica.
At night the flood
lights come on, people come out, the police close down the main drag, and everybody
is out making the scene, strolling. In Italy, of course, that's the "passiagata." In Rome
it's a little coarser, it's called the "struscio," that's the "great rubbing."
Everybody's out rubbing and you're saying "bello" or "Bella," make sure you
get your gender right, and people are sizing everybody up, it's sort of a meat
market out in the streets. It's multi-generational, everybody's out
checking out the scene, cruising up and down the Via del Corso I find it
fascinating, one of the great sights of Rome is just to be out in the evening
strolling the Via del Corso, or sit down at a nice corner, pay too much for a cup
of coffee or a drink, and watch the whole scene in front of you, it's a beautiful
thing to do in Rome. All over Italy you got that great coffee culture and you can
certainly enjoy that.
I love to lace together the great night spots in Rome,
and when I do that I find that I can go from the Campo de Fiori to the Piazza
Navona with its wonderful fountains, you can drop by the Spanish Steps, and you
can go to the Trevi Fountain. And the Trevi fountain is one of the romantic sites of romantic Europe, where
people from all over the world gather to throw a coin over their shoulders to
guarantee that they'll return to the great city of Rome, the Eternal City of
Rome. You know, I throw a coin over my shoulder and it works, you go back every
year if you want to, but I think if you're on a tight budget you don't
really need to do that. Rome is a brutal city.
Rome is, in so many ways, the capital, the
father of our civilization, and if you prepare well for Rome, it's also a very
enjoyable experience. I hope you enjoy Rome. Thank you. My mark of a good traveler is how they enjoy Italy.
And I want to remind you, Italy is a challenge.
Italy is a little
bit of chaos, Italy is unpredictable. Italy, you gotta take it in stride. If you can
embrace Italy on its terms, you can enjoy it, but still you gotta be well-prepared.
I always like to say, "if you like Italy as far south as Rome, go further south
because it'll get better. If Italy is getting on your nerves by the time you
get down to Rome, don't go further south because it gets worse," okay.
Italy intensifies as you plunge
deeper. Let's take a few minutes and look at Italy, south of Rome. You know
when you go down to Naples you find an urban jungle of Italy. It is Italy in the
extreme, and for a lot of people it's just too much, but I absolutely love
It's a wonderful place to enjoy, it's the birthplace of pizza, it's the
birthplace, I believe, of Sophia Loren, it's a place where you've got incredible
street markets, and it's a place where, if you have good information, you can enjoy
it and you can enjoy it safely, in spite of its rough-and-tumble reputation. Here's a
couple I met with ripped out pages from my cruise guide, I want to remind you
that the cruise ships park right there, a 10 minute walk from all the
rough-and-tumble you'd imagine in Naples, and you can get out, if you're
well-organized, and enjoy Naples, either as a side trip, you can settle in, and you can
do it as a day from your cruise ship. There's something called "life in the
street" that people even with a lot of money choose to have. They want to live
In Naples, people like the noise at night, they want to be close to
it, they live in the streets. There's a lot of problems. I'm routinely in Naples
when there's a strike and they're not emptying the garbage. And the garbage is
stacking up in the streets, and it starts to smell a little bit ripe.
gonna sweet, you know, sugar coat it, Italy is rough- and-tumble, but in that package is some
of the most rewarding travel you can enjoy in Italy and in all of Europe. This
is Spaccanapoli, it's a street that goes back to back when the Greeks named that city Neapolis, the new
city, 2,500 years ago. Step into the markets. Wonderful markets
in Italy, wonderful characters wonderful colors, a great chance for a photographer.
Remember Mount Vesuvius erupted 79 years after Christ, and it–
from the top of that hill a whole lot of a mud flow came down and buried Pompeii.
This is an ancient painting of Mount Vesuvius before it erupted.
It lost the
top third of that peak, and you can go to the top of Mt. Vesuvius today, it's hot,
and look into the steaming cauldron of that crater. And then you can go down to
Pompeii, the city that it buried in 79 AD. Pompeii is a city that gives us an amazing,
intimate look at what Ancient Rome was all about when it was stopped in its
tracks with that eruption, 79 AD.
You wander through the streets of Pompeii,
you go to the theaters, you drop by what were fast food stands, you step into the
sauna and you understand where people would soak, and you go into the rich people's
homes, and you marvel at the frescoes on the walls. All from the 1st century,
two thousand years ago. If you're going to Pompeii, I want to remind you that the
most important art treasures of Pompeii are in Naples, in the National Museum. So
you really need to think of Pompeii as a two-part visit.
Yeah, you gotta see
the site, but all the art treasures, like this mosaic, are going to be in the city
of Naples. While I think Naples is a great city, it's a little bit too greedy for a
lot of people's comfort zone, and what's very interesting is just an hour to the
south, just a short train ride on what called the "Circumvesuviana," the
commuter train that circles Mount Vesuvius, you get down to Sorrento.
Sorrento is a limoncello kind of resort. It's just a delight, lemon trees
everywhere, there's none of the intensity of Naples, a wonderful scene as people do
the passeggiata in the evening. And from there, it's the jumping-off point
for enjoying the Amalfi Coast.
The Amalfi Coast is the treacherous, exotic,
expensive, jet-setty, celebrity resort coast of
Italy. It's so congested, the roads are so narrow, that have a system where can
just go one direction one day and another direction the other day. I do not like
driving on the Amalfi Coast, even if you can manage the driving, you can't really
enjoy the scenery 'cause you're trying to stay on that cliff side road, and there's
no place to park when you get to the towns that you want to explore. It makes
more sense for you to take a bus or to hire a local taxi or driver to take you
Plenty of beautiful restaurants, gorgeous towns. Positano would be my
favorite town on the Amalfi Coast Positano is a jet-setty resort town with a
beautiful beach, lots of hills, and expensive hotels and restaurants. I
like to hire a taxi. This is my friend Rafael, and he and his buddies take you
around on the coast.
You hire him, it's kind of expensive, but he'll wait for you
in three different places, and you have time to roam around, then you hop in the
car to go to the next place, it makes a lot of sense. One thing we try to do
with our guidebooks is let our travelers pool their resources. I have no financial
interest in this, I just like to let my travelers share the luxury of the
minibus with the guide. We've partnered with a company called Mando Tours that,
for a very small price, will let you be one of eight people on a minibus leaving
Sorrento every morning, and sharing the cost of the guide and the minibus tour
all along the Amalfi Coast.
It's a very good thing to look into if you'd like to
do the Amalfi, and it's reliable. We've tested them, we were skeptical at first,
they were really good, and it's a huge economy to be able to share that minibus
and that guide with eight people. I hope you can sign up for that, you'll get the details
in my Rick Steves Italy book. From Sorrento, you can take a quick boat out
to Capri, and ever since ancient Roman times this has been a hangout for
emperors, and socialites, and big shots.
Roman emperors like to go out here for their
vacation. You can take the short boat from Sorrento out to Capri, and the
popular thing to do in Capri, there's lots to see on the island but the real
attraction for a lot of tourists, is the famous Blue Grotto. And you'll go there
with a tourist boat, and then you get off the big boat, you get into a little dingy, and you nervously scooch down into the
bottom of your dinghy as you got your ruffian boatman that tells you, "get deep
down or you're going to lose your fingers," and then when the swell gets to a low
ebb, he pulls the chain and he pulls you through this tiny little hole in the
wall, and bam, you're in the Blue Grotto. And it's just glorious.
And he'll sing "o solo
mio," and then he'll say "I'm not going to take you out here unless you give me
more money," and it's that kind of a gimmick, its a tourist trap, but it's a beautiful
tourist trap. And if you're going to Capri, it's a delightful thing. Nearby, you've
got Paestum, an amazing Rome–Ancient Greek ruin. A reminder that 500 years before Christ, southern Italy was called Magna Grecia.
It was a Greek
colony. And if you really want to see Greek ruins but you don't have time to
go over to Greece, you can see them just an hour south of Naples at Paestum. Plenty
of opportunities to enjoy South Italy. If you like, we have a tour of South Italy
that really is popular, and it goes to a lot of delightful stops south of Naples.
And while I don't have time to talk about it today, Sicily is a popular destination in Italy.
This is a beautiful tour, winter or summer, there's plenty to see and do in
Sicily, and if you want to know more about Sicily go to our website ricksteves.Com, go into the TV corner, and we've got a thirty minute program
just on Sicily.
You could download the script, and that would be what I have to
offer about Sicily, along with our itinerary. When you
are thinking about traveling in southern Italy,
I want to remind you, Italy is your intense
urban jungle– or, Naples is your intense urban
jungle of Italy, and then an hour south you've got one of
the most delightful resort towns anywhere, Sorrento, which makes
a beautiful home base for exploring the
wonders of South Italy. Thank you very much, and happy travels. Grazie, thank you,
buon viaggio, buon viaggio..