Travels: Traveling Italy 101

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Just got back from my first trip to Italy!  Here's a bit of recap of my trip. I did basic research, using mostly google and trip advisor.  I also had a helpful scheduled itinerary from a friend which I planned my trip off of.  All the information I found was really overwhelming at first.  If it is your first time to Italy, and want to focus on the main attractions, then my suggestions would be everything you need to successfully experience Italy as a tourist.

Winter in Italy
My travel dates were 12/9-12/19.  I thought it would be too cold to go in the winter, but it luckily ended up better weather than when I left New Jersey.  It was sunny every day and in the 50s.  The fields and farms in Tuscany were still lush and green.  Best part of the trip was there was no lines at all for anything.  Most of the reviews I read about visiting Italy during peak season (Apr-Nov) is all the hour long lines and crowded museums.

We decided to go to Italy because of a deal.
Details: $1799 package for 11-Day Trip to Rome, Florence, and Venice. Offered by GoToday
-round trip airfare
-hotel stays with free breakfast,
-rail transportation between Rome, Florence, and Venice
-2 day City Siteseeing Hop on Hop off Bus Pass for both Rome and Florence
-walking tour of Venice.

Buying through Livingsocial we were able to snag the BUY 3 GET 1 FREE offer, making my package price $1350 each for 4 girls.  Not bad at all. GoToday was a reliable company and easy to work with.  We called and booked our tickets after we bought the deal.  A month or so before the trip, we received paper vouchers to redeem our hotel stay and bus services and actual train tickets.

Cons: A downside for me was that 2 of the 3 hotels were a bit inconvenient. The Rome hotel, Holiday Inn Express Rome San Giovanni,  was not near the attractions in Rome but I soon figured that it is near a Metro stop, so it was easy to get around.  It seemed to be on the outkirts of town but still felt safe to walk around.  The Venice hotel, Apogia Sirio, was not actually on Venice but on the mainland Mestre, which I thought would be a problem, but I also found out, it is right next to a bus stop (Bus #2), that brings you all the way to Venice train station/bus terminal Piazzale Roma in 15 minutes.  From there you can walk 40 min to St. Marks for take the vaporetto for 7 euros.  So all in all, everything worked out well once you figure out transportation.  As for the Florence hotel, De La Place Hotel, it was within walkable distance to all the major attractions.  All the hotels give you a useful map of the area.  Only the Rome hotel did not offer free wifi.

Rome in 2.5 Days

Day 1:
Piazza di Spagna (Spanish Steps)
Fontana di Trevi (Trevi Fountain)
Pantheon- free entry; Hours: M-Sat, 9am - 6:30am
Piazza Navona
After arriving at the airport, and getting to our hotel, we walked to the metro stop, Ponte Lungo, and got off at the stop, Spagna.  At this stop you will find the Spanish Steps.  Take a walk to the Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, and Piazza Navona.

Day 2: Vatican City 
Vatican Museums- 16 euros + 4 euros online reservation fee; 32 euros total with guided tour of Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel online purchase; Hours: 9am - 6pm
St. Peter's Square
St. Peter's Church- free entry; Hours: 7am - 6pm
We used the provided CitySiteseeing bus to visit Vatican City.  We took the metro to the train station, Termini Train Station.  We boarded the bus from there and enjoyed the tour ride.  At the 6th stop, we got off at Vatican City.  From there you can see St. Peter's Square and the Church which has free entry.  Without knowing, we went on a Wednesday at 10:30, which is when the Pope has mass.  There was a crowd of people in front of the church and we were able to catch a glimpse of the pope!  We went straight to our pre-paid museum time slot and got to beat the crowd that's at the church (even though there is already barely a crowd in the winter).

Day 3: 
Colloseum, Roman Forum, Pallatine Hill- 12 euros provides entry to all 3 sites, Hours: 9am - 4pm
We took the metro to the stop, Colloseo, and spent the day walking the Collosseum, Roman Forum, and Pallatine Hill.  Afterwards we took the City Siteseeing bus from the Colloseum stop #3 to stop #5 to take a walk to the area Trastevere.  Afterwards we walked over to Piazza Campo de' Fiore.

Florence in 2.5 Days

Day 1: Duomo - 10 euros for access to all sites.
Cathederal of Santa Maria del Fiore

If you have time, you can also visit the Galleria dell' Accademia, 5 minutes away, where the Statue of David is displayed.

Day 2: Best of Tuscany Tour - 80 euros; 8:30am - 7pm
This tour was well worth the price visiting several locations: Siena, Chianti, San Gimignano, and Pisa.  Including a lunch on a Chianti farm (where you can pick up some great souveniors).  Our tour was prepaid and provided by Walkabout Tours.  You can email them for a discount code if purchasing online.  Our tour guide Agatha was also very friendly and knowledgeable.

Day 3: 
Uffizi Gallery- 15 euros; Hours: 8:30am - 6:50pm, closed Monday
Piazza della Signoria
Pallazzo Vecchio
Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge)
Piazzale Michaelangelo
Palazzo Pitti (Pitti Palace)- 13 euros; Hours: 8:15am - 6:50pm, closed Monday

Today we took the CitySiteseeing bus to stop #6, closest to Uffizi Gallery.  From here we walked to Uffizi Gallery.  In the same area you can see Piazza Signoria, Pallazzo Vecchio, and the Ponte Vecchio.  After our time here, we went back to the same bus stop to take it to the 10th stop, Piazzale Michelangelo, to see a panoramic view of Florence.  We decided not to, but if you have the time you can take the bus again to the 14th stop and visit Palazzo Pitti.  Just a block away is Gusta Pizza which is pretty well known and lines up fast.  It got really crowded when it re-opened at 7pm.  The pizza is melt in your mouth good.  Its so simple yet delicious.  It does seem a bit watery and soggy in the middle but that doesn't bother me, its just all part of the fresh ingredients.

Venice in 2 Days

Day 1: 
Included Morning Walking Tour of Venice- 8:50am - 10:30am
Grand Canal
Ponte di Rialto (Rialto Bridge)
Piazza San Marco and Belltower (St. Mark's Square)- 8 euros to take the elevator up; Hours:
Basilica di San Marco (St. Mark's Church)- free entry; Hours: 9:45am - 5pm Mon-Sat
Palazo Ducale (Doge's Palace)- 14 euros; Hours:

I left the hotel at 6:30am because I didn't want to miss our walking tour and also be able to see the sun rise in Venice.  A really amazing view :)

Day 2: 
Visit the nearby Islands: Murano, Burano, Torcello
Get Lost in Venice - take your time and get lost in the streets and enjoy the beauty of Venice

After the walking tour yesterday, they gave us a voucher for free boat and guided tour of Murano, known for glass making.  Of course, it was one of those pushy tours where they give you a demonstration and then lead you to their showroom, expecting you to spend thousands of dollars on their Murano glass art.  It'll be better if you just take the vaporetto and explore the islands yourself.  It costs 7 euros one way.  But I saw a reduced price which allows unlimited rides around Venice and between the islands for 18 euros for 12 hours and so on.  I wish I knew this ahead of time and bought it on the first day.  But we were lucky and got away with taking the buses and vaporetto for free on the first morning.  Not that I would recommend this, but we rode the transportation during rush hour in the morning and evening, so nobody checks tickets.  The bus and boat get so crowded that people just get on and get off and unable to validate our tickets without anyone noticing.  Thankfully nothing happened to us, and if it did we would just say we are tourists and didn't know and pay for the ticket, but if your unlucky you could be fined.

Travel Tips
It is pretty expensive to travel Europe.  Just be aware of extra fees everywhere.
  • The conversion rate at the exchange counter was 1.47, with an additional 20% commission fee.  My $500 gave me only 272 euros to spend.  If you have a credit card with no international fees, use it!  
  • It may not be customary to tip in Italy, but some restaurants include a sitting fee just for sitting down to eat at their restaurant.  Some more touristy areas may even have a service fee.  If you want to avoid paying these fees, just look for it on the menu or ask beforehand.  
  • Some resaurants have a different price for things on their menu depending if you sit at the table or sit at the bar/stand.  Seriously?
  • They also don't serve free tap water like in the US.  They offer still or sparkling water.  Towards the end I was just sick of having to pay for a drink every time I eat out and just brought water bottles with me.  
  • Supermarkets also make great cheap souvenir gifts if you are running low on money.  You can get a good variety of Italian chocolates, cookies, olive oil, and pasta.  Which I believe is just as good as from tourist gift shops for a whole lot cheaper.  A water bottle is only a couple cents compared to 2-4 euros at the restaurant, stock up
  • Venice is popular for their Venetian masks.  You'll be tempted to buy one when you see store after store of these beautiful hand painted masks.  Just be careful and take your time finding what you like and making sure its authentic.  I had no idea so I went with what I saw.  I bought a porcelain hand painted mask, which had a stamp on the inside and a tag.  It probably is real and a good deal, from a generic store.  But as we walked around more, we find dark little hidden shops, away from the touristy streets and crowds, with shop owners that personally paint their masks and showcase them all over the store.  Now I wish I had bought one of these, knowing and seeing the actual artist make their masks, it makes it that much more special.  Also masks made out of paper mache is the traditional type of mask.  Porcelain would just be sturdier and long lasting.
  • One of the most important advice I was given was be careful of pick pocketters.  Luckily we were all safe and did not experience this.  Italy felt safe to walk around but I could see why it could be a danger.  The streets are full of tourist traps and scammers selling all kinds of things, just say no when they come up to you, don't try to talk to them.  Keep your purse in front of you and watch your belongings.  Always be aware.
  • Get the App Rick Steves Audio Europe for free walking guide tours that you can play while visiting some Italy highlights.

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  2. I think one of the more romantic cities to visit is Italy. I personally went there on my honeymoon
    and my wife and I loved the food and the people there! I would strongly suggest Rome and
    Florence. Although it can get very touristy, especially in the summer, they are very beautiful places with so much history and culture. To break free from the tourist crowd, I would suggest you to try some home-dining options. We went to dine with one of the local hosts on BonAppetour, and were treated to a fancy meal at their homes on the rooftop! It is very simple to book a dinner with the hosts on their website too! Other than that, I would also suggest you to try taking one of those Vespa tours, especially in the Florence country-side. Riding on the vespa with your partner across the green landscape is actually very thrilling and romantic! Hope this helped!


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