Our First Europe Trip: The Route Overview and Sneaky Tips Part 1

First ever time travelling to Europe? Are you a travel rookie? Rest assured, you have come to the right place. I am a travel rookie too and I have made many mistakes, particularly in Europe. In attempt to kick myself into gear again and stop making excuses that I am too busy with university and my job, I am bringing you a mini-series: Our First Europe Trip. Today, we are starting off with a route overview- briefly touching  where we went, a few travel tips and a brief opinion of a few places. Later on in this series, I will be giving you all sorts of travel tips about your first time in Europe and I will be sharing you intimate details of every mistake we (I really) made. Stay tuned for plenty more to come!

Melbourne to Rome

Qatar airways, 26 hour trip. Time in Rome: 48 hours

 

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A view of Rome from Palatine Hill

 

One of the cheapest places to land in Europe (at least in Italy) from Australia appears to be Rome. We got a fairly good price on a multi-stop ticket with Qatar airways. NOTE: if you are not departing from Europe back home from another airport than you arrived in, than there is something wrong with your itinerary. There are many travel airlines that will give you this freedom without charging an arm and a leg. I will give you more advice about this soon. Even the great man, Rick Steves, says this himself.

Travel Tip: Get the airport train to Rome city

I cannot stress this enough- just keep walking past those scammer taxi drivers. When you exit customs, follow the signs to the trains and do not talk to anyone. They will say to you a taxi is cheaper than the train. Let me tell you, no, it isn’t. We jumped on a ‘first class’ train for 14 euros each to get into Rome main station. Second class will be even cheaper, we were just impatient. Do not forget to validate your ticket either! Don’t let the QR codes and dates on your ticket fool you as the ticketing system is very… strange in Italy.

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Image source: Loco2

The Verdict:

48 hours is not enough. Not when you are jet-lagged. Also, do yourself a favour: get a nice hotel with a 24 hour desk. Why? Stay tuned! Anyhow, we need to return to Rome. Our time there did not do it justice.

Rome to Naples

Time in Naples: 4-5 days. Train trip with Trenitalia regionale train

 

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Napoli- some say its an eyesore. The locals think their home is beautiful. I grew to love it!

 

Travel Tip: Get the IC Train

Splurge a little bit extra and get the InterCity or the IC  train from Rome to Naples. Do not get the Regional or the Regionale no matter how much (well it really isn’t that much) cheaper it is. Penny pinching can fail you massively and this is a key thing I learnt. Why? The regional train I was on broke down and we were stranded for 4 hours while all the locals around us argued with train staff. The staff would not tell anyone what was happening and frankly, I don’t think they are paid enough to care. According to our AirBnB host, this happens regularly. But, if you get the IC, you are well looked after and you get to travel express. You really do get what you pay for.

The Verdict: Naples

4-5 days in Naples suited us because we needed a chance to chill out and get over jet-lag. Obviously, this is not the most glamourous place to do this. Be prepared for the shock of your life when you exit Napoli Centrale station- Naples is dirty. But, it has a steep learning curve. Give it time, talk to the locals and eat some of the world’s best traditional pizza and you will develop a love for Naples. For well rested travellers, you will only need 3 days in Naples, inclusive of a trip to Pompeii, maybe 4 days if you want to see Mt Vesuvius and hike for the day. Of course, this is all depending on if Naples is your home base. Final verdict? Do not skip Naples. Find your reason to love it- it is perhaps the heart of Italy, particularly the heart of rough and tumble Italy.

 

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Naples is a great base to get yourself to Mt Vesuvius so you can see views like this!

 

Naples to Cinque Terre

Time spent: 2 weeks, studying with Monash University. Train trip on an IC train to La Spezia, regionale train to Riomaggiore

 

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A view from the heights of Monterosso

 

So you are probably wondering why we landed in Rome, headed south and then travelled 7 hours back north. We just really wanted Naples Pizza and didn’t want to go after I finished my study in the Cinque Terre. Want to know why I was there? You can read it here!

Travel tip: Travel in March

The Cinque Terre is an interesting place. It is suffocated by mass tourism in the summer but very little is open in the winter. March is usually when the retailers and restaurant owners return from their holidays and re-open and is the month before the massive tour groups start to hit. You can even try April, October and November. December to February there really is not much going on but May-September, prepare to get trampled on.

Cinque Terre to Genova*

Time spent: 2 days. Train trip with Trenitalia 

*This is where everything went wrong…

Well, after an anxiety filled research presentation, my last day in the Cinque Terre could not have possibly gotten any worse. There were ‘code red’ weather alerts and a massive storm resulted in all trains to Milan being cancelled. We waited 4 hours just to get any train possible and we ended in up in Genova. I would like to mention that for those 4 hours, we drank beer and laughed everything off as much as we could. Why? My partner and I are so highly strung that when things go wrong that bad, usually we would most likely have a break down. This will happen if you travel in Europe and you have to embrace it.

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The Verdict: Genova

My, oh my. Genova is so underrated. Eventually we got ourselves to Milan as our train to Switzerland was from there. Honestly speaking, I would take Genova over Milan any day. And I am not sorry for saying that. Genova has so much heritage and was one of Italy’s pioneer industrial cities. The vibe, the architecture and the people there are just lovely. It is also the birth place of pesto, so why else wouldn’t you go there?

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Milan to Bellinzona, Switzerland

Time spent in Bellinzona: 2 days. Train trip with Swiss Federal Railways

Thankfully, from Genova we could get a train directly to Milan where we got our train to Switzerland. A brief point about Milan: Milan is flashy, and that is it. Moving on, our train trip to Bellinzona was absolutely stunning and Switzerland’s train system was a breath of fresh air after being in Italy for close to a month.

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Travel Itinerary Tip

If you know me personally, you know that I love trying obscure craft beers, drinking wine and spending evenings in cosy bars. There is a bar called literally called Folk Bar, full of folk décor and it is the cutest dive bar in the world. I really mean that; I have never been to a bar like it. Though Switzerland’s beer is pricy (and Switzerland is pricy in general), if you hit up Folk Bar at apertivo time, after 5-6pm, you will get a glorious amount of free bar snacks with your drinks. Oh, and plenty of snack refills.

The Verdict: Bellinzona

Bellinzona was absolutely breath taking. If you love mountains, snow and cute folk bars please get yourself here. Swiss-Italy is extremely refreshing after you have spent a bit of time in busy Italian cities. I also highly recommend staying at the ‘budget’ style hotel, Osteria Leon D’or. The breakfast is great, the staff will bend over backwards for you and it is right across from Bellinzona station.

Bellinzona to Zurich

Time spent in Zurich: 2 days. Train Trip with Swiss Federal Railways

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Travel Tip: Be prepared to spend

We knew right off the bat that Switzerland was an expensive place to be. But, nothing could prepare us for how expensive it truly was. Because we had to budget for the rest of the trip, we couldn’t do all that much in Zurich except for walk around, occasionally have a small treat. For two university students, it was a waste of time and money for us to go to Zurich. Don’t get me wrong, I love the city. But for us it was impossible to enjoy Zurich on the cheap. But I got a few cool photos… that’s all that really matters right?

Zurich to Vienna, Austria

Time spent in Vienna: 3 days, flight with Austrian Airlines

Traveling to Vienna from Zurich was one of those instances where it was genuinely cheaper to fly with not just a budget airline, but a premium carrier, than the train. Let me just say this: Austrian Airlines were absolutely fantastic. Great flight, lovely staff and everything inside the plane is red and white and its just so cute. Also, Zurich and Vienna’s airports are also very easy to navigate and get to and from- all you need to do is jump on the airport train.

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Sneaky Accommodation Tip:

Stay at Pension Neuer Markt. There are numerous pensions in Austria. Basically, they are a form of budget hotel but the staff look after you as if you are family. Also, the breakfast was magical and the whole place was so vintage and chic. I would stay here again when we return to Vienna.

The Verdict:

Spoiler alert! Well, I won’t say too much more than this: Vienna was one of the absolute highlights of the trip and has to be one of my favourite cities in Europe. Stay tuned for why it was our favourite but for now, enjoy some of my Vienna photography. And now before this blog post gets too long, this will be the end of part 1 of our route overview. Stay tuned for part 2!

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Rome Vegetarian and Vegan Food Guide

Foodies, more specifically vegetarian and or vegan foodies, we all know what it is like to spend countless hours researching the best spots to eat – from reading Cultural Trip, to the quaint blog, to the trip advisor review that pops up in the goggle search, and zooming into the large pixels of menu photo of Zomato. I had been searching for a few weeks prior to arriving in Rome, and I compiled a list of the best vegetarian places to try. With the finest list finally compiled, we set out to attack perhaps too much for just 48 hours in Rome. But hey, we were walking 15-20 km a day right? Surely we would be hungry and ready for it all.

Oh were we wrong.

I had great desire to make this list grand and unique, and to set it apart from the rest. However, my partner reminded me that, because it is I, Cora, writing this food guide, my first proper piece of writing for Little Dove Travels, that in itself is enough. But, as our list remains not fully crossed out, this post will feature a few honourable mentions, or in other words, places we didn’t make it to.

So here it is, come with us and stuff yourself silly. Rome is too big of a beast to tackle in just 48 hours! Alas, we shall return soon. First up, I will outline the bakeries and coffee bars, followed by restaurants, and last but not least, gelato.

 

Bakeries and Coffee Bars

Antico Forno Roscioli

Via dei Chiavari, 34, 00186 Roma RM

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Antico Forno Roscioli shop front

 

After seeing this place featured in the videos of some of my favourite vloggers, it was only natural that this would be my first stop. Antico translates to antique, so bakeries that feature Antico in the title are the most trustworthy, as they have mastered their craft over a long period of time. We got here nearly as soon as it opened, and we were not disappointed! Pizza marinara, or red pizza, is always a safe vegan option and an option for those who strongly detest cheese on pizza. Australians, marinara here does not mean seafood pizza! In Italy, marinara pizza is simply a pizza base topped with a slow cooked tomato sauce, olive oil and basil. When done correctly, it is the best pizza you could possibly have, if you appreciate traditional pizza. In the eyes of the US/Australian adapted pizza eater, these pizzas look like pizza bases you buy in a supermarket that you top yourself. However, do not be fooled- this is the best traditional, or perhaps, simply the best type of pizza you can have. Italians firmly believe in simple toppings, as the beauty of the pizza is in its base and the beautiful tomatoes that grow in the volcanic, nutrient rich soil of Italy. Vegetarians who enjoy cheese, later in the day this bakery serves up their famous long slabs of Artisanal pizza that is sliced into rectangular strips to your liking.

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Note, this style of pizza features in many Roman bakeries and is, more specifically, bakery style pizza. To be honest, I would take this any day over sitting down in a restaurant. Trust me, you cannot beat the craft at Antico Forno Rosciolli!

The pastries here are also unbeatable, and leading up to Christmas time, they had the cutest mini panettones I have ever seen on display. We stuffed ourselves a bit too quick, I must admit. Rest assured, we soon moved onto trying our first Roman espresso.

Bar Rossana

Via dei Chiavari, 16, 00186 Roma RM

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This coffee shop is just the cutest. There are quaint antiques everywhere inside, the view outside of the winding streets and neighbourhood buildings are just lovely, and best of all, the middle aged lady with the hospitality of a grandmother served us up amazing espresso. She gave me a cheeky dollop of milk and it would have been rude to refuse (Soy milk advocate in the house). We sat down inside and took in the atmosphere. Travellers’ note: the 1 euro espresso you see on the signs is for the standing bar only. If you wish to sit down, you pay for the ‘real-estate’’, which is usually an extra euro.

Sette Grammi Coffee Lounge

Piazza Benedetto Cairoli, 114, 00186 Roma RM

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Almond biscotti to the left, vegan biscotti to the right

With still a bit of time before our priority ticket booking at the Colleseum, we decided to look for another coffee lounge. Yep, all it took was one espresso to become quickly addicted to these pleasant shots of pure goodness. We stumbled upon Sette Grammi Coffee Lounge, which quickly became our absolute favourite. As the daughter of a graphic designer, I can be very quick to judge a place by its cover/its logo and interior. But, the design of the menu was pleasing and as soon as we stepped inside, we were greeted with the some of best hospitality we experienced in Rome. We came here about 4 times in the 48 hours we had. The espresso was lovely and so were the cakes and biscuits. Vegans, you will find amazing biscotti style almond biscuits. Pay attention to the word ‘Vegani’ which is quickly popping up in restaurants and cafes around Rome.

 

Antico Forno La Renella

Via del Moro, 15, 00153 Roma RM

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Mini red pizzas

Another famous antico bakery in Rome’s Trastevere region, the aesthetics to this place is a photographers dream. Oh, and the food? Just lovely. The red pizzas again were full of tart but flavourful tomato, and the little sweet treats were perfectly bite-sized. Vegans, I could not spot ‘Vegani’ on any of the sweets, but the bread and the red pizzas are much to be enjoyed.

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Caffe A Trastevere

Viale di Trastevere, 50, 00153 Roma RM

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Vegan croissant and a vegan Italian style donut by the river

We stumbled upon this bakery purely by accident, all thanks to its well-advertised vegan croissant. Vegans, get super excited. I am so happy to be one of the first to shed some light on this bakery and give it a lil’ love. This bakery had my absolute favourite sweet treat – their vegan Italian donut. Just ask kindly, and the staff will point to which pastries are vegan. This may be the best vegan donut I have ever had ,and I was dumbfounded that it was actually vegan. It has been quite a few years since I have had a non-vegan donut (and I plan to keep it that way) and this has probably destroyed my ability to return back to the trusty Donut Time in Melbourne. They have coffee here too but beware, this is an extremely popular local spot (and rightfully so). So, grab your treats and go for a walk to the river bridge and take some beautiful photos! And cry a little bit inside as you can only find this amazing citrusy, warm, sugarcoated donut in Caffe A Trastevere in Rome.

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Caffe A Trastevere shop front

 

Wani Bakery

Via Gabriello Chiabrera, 162/b, 00145 Roma RM

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Wani Bakery- Vegan

Ever since watching Cheap Lazy Vegan’s Italy food vlog, I have just been dying to go here. And oh my goodness the staff are just so lovely! Honestly, the nicest Romans we came across were vegans. Funny that, ey? Oh, that’s right, the food? Absolutely beautiful. The best vegan tiramisu I have ever had. It has been years since I have enjoyed tiramisu. You will find my second place award for tiramisu as you keep reading as well. We tried the Austrian Sacher cake and it was rich, chocolately and wonderful. They serve soy and oat milk cappuccinos and, at around 12 pm, serve up their lunch options. Vegan or not, a visit to this bakery is a must. Jump on the Metro, Line B and hop of at S. Paulo. They have only been open a bit over a year, so be sure to go give this cruelty free bakery some love.

 

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Tirimisu and Sacher cake

My partner bought me a Wani Bakery t-shirt for me as a souvenir and we were delightfully told that the profits go to a wild life foundation and that the shirts are made from organic cotton.

 

Honourable Mention: Dharma’s Cakes

Via Cesare Baronio, 179, 00179 Roma RM

This bakery is on the top of my list to visit when I return to Rome one day. Not only do they make amazing vegan pastries and cakes but also they have a happy hour vegan buffet, or vegan apertivo. If you want to make it here, plan your journey accordingly as it is in the inner suburbs of Rome.

Honourable Mention: MADE Creative

Via dei Coronari, 25, 00186 Roma RM

This cake shop goes beyond baking a cake. Rather, MADE combines great food with art and design. They have vegan options and also serve lunch options. This bakery is right near the river in Rome’s historic centre and I am kicking myself that I didn’t make it.

Restaurant Experiences

I must attach a major disclaimer here, this was the category we failed to experience the most. However, I did do my research and I will recommend a number of these spots anyhow. But first up, the places we did make it to.

Rifugio Romano

Via Volturno, 39/41, 00185 Roma RM

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Vegan carbonara at Rifugio Romano

This would have to be my absolute favourite restaurant in Rome. Located near termini, it is easy to get to and has great prices. They offer both traditional dishes and a long list of vegan adaptations to traditional dishes, and it was amazing. I wish we got to go here a second time, but we will return to Rome next year, fingers crossed, so it won’t be a once in a lifetime opportunity. But still, eat there as though it is your only time going there! We ordered the Bruschetta plate, Spaghetti Cabornara and the Ravioli with the tofu, tomato and basil sauce. I got the house white wine as well.

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Vegan ravioli at Rifugio Romano

Later, we got tiramisu and espresso- yes, the tiramisu that gets second place for best vegan tiramisu ever. Just look at those layers! Afterward, the lovely waitress, a vegan herself, gave us complimentary shots of limencello. Mmm, just the digestive we needed. Naturally, as soon as we returned to our BnB, we conked out… for 6 bloody hours.

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Vegan Tirimisu at Rifugio Romano

Funny that, because just a few hours before I was slightly boasting how I was not experiencing jet lag at all. And this was just one reason why didn’t get to many restaurants. After waking up disoriented at 10 pm, we decided to just go back to sleep.

 

Honourable Mention: Armando al Pantheon

Salita dei Crescenzi, 31, 00186 Roma RM

Rejection is painful. Particularly after you have walked 15 km already and you walked another half an hour just to get there. If you plan to go here, make a reservation! We arrived at 1 pm and they had no spots left for the entire day. Anyhow, this place is recommended on Cultural Trip’s Top Ten Pasta spots in Rome and has plenty of vegetarian options. Usually around the Pantheon or any landmark, the rule of thumb is, do not go to the restaurants directly in front of the landmark, but walk a street back. However, in the words of Cultural Trip, do not be fooled by the fact that it is so close to the Pantheon at all. Vegans, they serve dry pasta here with a range of tomato sauces, so you will be quite safe. In a hungry rush, unfortunately I did not get any photos of the shop front, but you can’t miss it! 

La Sacrestia Ristorrante

As I grit my teeth, I reluctantly feature this place on my food guide. Do not get me wrong, however, the food was great here. Our personal experience though, was not. We were forgotten about and there was a mix up. The staff were not the friendliest, with the exception of one lady, who kindly fixed everything up for us, despite it not being her fault in any way. We waited a very long time while people around us were being served countless plates of food. My advice, if you feel like everyone around you is getting their food and the wait staff are not paying attention to whether you have your food, speak up.

Anyhow, the Bruschette Miste (mixed bruschetta) was lovely. I had the Penne Alla’Arabiata – tomato and red capsicum (red bell pepper) sauce topped with basil. My partner had the Fungi pizza, which was delightful too. They also have English menus, which was very helpful.

 

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Bruschette miste 

Bottega Rocchi

Via del Caravita, 9, 00186 Roma RM

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As we were walking to the Pantheon, the green ‘V’ caught my eye on the shop front. They serve plenty of vegan options here with dry pasta and a range of Pomodoro or tomato based sauces. The prices were also very reasonable and the staff were very friendly. I recommend this place as a lunch stop, as you order and pay at a counter before your food arrives, making it very efficient, but it means that you don’t get the same sit-down experience as you would at other restaurants.

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Gelato

Honourable Mention: Gelarmony Del Arte Gelato Siciliana

A bit out of the way from where we were staying, however, if you would like a unique gelato experience in Rome, go here! Why does the name of this place feature ‘Siciliana’ or Sicily? Well, for one, it is believed that gelato originated from Sicily and this Gelateria crafts its gelato only from the best ingredients from Sicily. Gelato here is an art form and is served with beautiful aesthetics. It also has 18 soy based flavours so vegan and lactose intolerant folks, you must go enjoy the gelato here, for me.

Geleteria Della Palma

150 flavours, near the pantheon, carry the two and surprisingly, not a tourist trap. They had indulgent flavours that I have never seen before or even thought of. My partner had the profiterole, meraingue and kiwi fruit gelato. I found the soymilk based and vegan gelato section off to the side and ordered the hazelnut, pistachio and the chocolate. The hazelnut was the winner!

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Soy chocolate, hazelnut and pistachio

Gelateria S.M.Maggiore

This gelataria was right near where we were staying, so we gave it a try. At the time, I didn’t take photos of the gelato but I got some of the shop front. The gelato was amazing. I had the fruit based flavours and had a sneaky try of my partners and they were lovely. When we walked passed the next day, I did a little research, and found out that S.M Maggiore takes pride in using 100% natural products and carefully selected organic milk from small farms. If I weren’t lactose intolerant, this place would ‘check’ my ‘ethical box’.

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Honourable Mention: Grezzo Raw Chocolate

As the name suggests, this chocolate shop specialises in raw treats. I really wish we made it here and I really do not know why we didn’t as it was in our neighbourhood. Oh, that’s right, we were too full from trying all the bakeries for this food guide. Particularly if you have food intolerances, you must go here for all your sweet needs. They mention on their website that gluten intolerances are increasing and too much refined sugar harms your health and hence, are gluten and refined sugar free. My favourite part of their bio is as follows: “Who said milk for creaming is needed?”