Unsolicited random travel advice: Italy in August

What Jeeves calls an unfortunate concatenation of circumstances led me and mia sposa to go on rather short notice to Italy in early August for vacation. A priori, this is rather un-optimal timing; tourists flock to Tuscany while Tuscans escape. However, things turned out quite nicely. In case anyone gets in the same situation, here are a few random remarks on the topic…

    (1) Between the Forum and the Colosseum, no need to make a choice, since the ticket is the same and is valid all day; however, unless queuing is a délicatesse in your mind, it is much better to get the tickets at the Forum office (via dei Rori Imperiali), visit the Forum (and the Palatine Hill) first in the morning, have a good lunch, and then visit the Colosseum when the sun is fierce. The queue there will be enormous, but the tourist au courant, holding his daily ticket, scorns the long line, and there is surprisingly much more shade inside the standing circular Colosseum than on the mostly ruined Forum…
    (2) Speaking of lunch, part of the difficulty was that not only are quite a few ristoranti closed in August, but those that remain within a certain radius of the centers of interest tend to be, shall we say, not particularly interesting. Clearly, there is life is smaller streets, and we were rather lucky in terms of finding very decent places. For the lunch break between the Forum and the Colosseum, we found La Taverna dei Fori Imperiali, located 9, via della Madonna dei Monti, which was very nice.
    (3) Firenze, or Florence as we say in France, is absolutely amazing if you have any interest in anything related to the Renaissance, be it painting, sculpting, science, politics or heretic-burning. (Not an original observation.) It is moreover quite compact and one can happily walk all over the place without needing or caring for any other mode of transportation. And although the touristic density is higher than in Rome, there are more small streets. We had a wonderful dinner about two to three hundred meters from Santa Maria dei Fiore in a very nice restaurant which was entirely empty apart from us (Cantina Barbagianni, located 13r, via Sant’Egidio). And another dinner at Ristorante Pensavo Peggio, at 51r, Via del Moro was also very good; the place — more traditional — was a bit more crowded, but not much.
    (4) Because Firenze is small, it is easy to have a very good look at the doors of the Baptistery of the Duomo, simply by starting the day early enough before the crowd arrives. On the other hand, to visit the Galleria degli Uffizi, it is clear that the only reasonable thing to do is to buy a ticket in advance; otherwise, even arriving 15 minutes before opening (as we did…), you’re in for a good hour of standing in line. (In the shade, but that’s not so important in the morning…) And then of course the place will be packed all along your visit…
    (5) A good option to escape the crowd is always to look for the science museum. The one in Milano (named after Leonardo) is fairly big and had an exhibition of early electric machinery including a 19th century Fax Machine, invented by a rather cunning Abbé (if I remember right his ecclesiastic position). The one in Firenze (named after Galileo) is smaller and has mostly older apparatus on display.
    (6) And if you ever wondered what Galileo, Machiavelli, Michelangelo and Rossini have in common, you can visit the Basilica di Santa Croce in Firenze; it is just a bit outside of the most busy center, and hence a bit less crowded.
    (7) Last, but not least: if you enjoy a nice digestif after a long day walking around, a good choice if you don’t feel equal to a Grappa is to order Limoncello (something I picked up in Trieste three years ago). Apparently this makes a good impression, since — in two different places — our glasses were liberally refilled.

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I am a professor of mathematics at ETH Zürich since 2008.

2 thoughts on “Unsolicited random travel advice: Italy in August”

  1. Galileo, with just one ‘l’. A comment aside: from Firenze, with just half an hour train ride, you would arrive in Bologna, whose center is quite interesting (it has medieval buildings and towers) and much more less crowded. And the food is better too :)

    Note: I am from Bologna, so this post accounts for shameless advertisement.

  2. Thanks for the correction, I took back one ell from Galileo now…

    As for Bologna, it’s certainly part of the list of places we would like to visit when the occasion comes.

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