Don’t let the intimidation of planning a trip to this foreign land with its foreign language and an endless ‘Things to Do List” keep you from just doing it. The bottom line is that it really isn’t that hard to prep for your intro to Italy. Here are some musings from our first visit to Italy which ended up being exponentially easier than I expected.
- 10 free days – check
- A suitcase – check
- A passport – check
- A few thousand Euros – check
Alright, there may be a few things you need to add to your packing list, but don’t let the intimidation of planning a trip to this foreign land with its foreign language and an endless ‘Things to Do List” keep you from just doing it. The bottom line is that it really isn’t that hard to prep for your intro to Italy. Here are some musings from our first visit to Italy which ended up being exponentially easier than I expected.
We spent three days in Rome, four in Florence and one in Venice during the holidays and while the thermometer spent more time in its southern section that we would have preferred, the crowds were light and Christmas trimmings were charming. Here are some thoughts – recognizing that I am an uncultured swine that am not a big museum fan – don’t judge. Conversely, I am a big wanderer (and my family indulges me) so a large amount of our time was spent just wandering through the various neighborhoods.
The tours we took we generally purchased on viator.com which we found to be a great resource.
Rome – 3 Days
We started at Piazza Navona and cruised around that part of Rome, including the Jewish Ghetto, trying some different and tasty foods in local places we would never have tried. It was really fun and the guide told us lots of interesting things about Rome as we walked around.
We did the museum tourn and the art was a bit of a yawn but the rooms/ceilings were really pretty cool. The Raphaels were impressive but the Sistine Chapel was a major disappointment. The God/Adam panel is shockingly small. Overall I would rate it a skip, but again, I am uncultured. St. Pete’s Basilica was so impressive and a must-see. FYI we learned that the ‘paintings’.in the Basilica are actually all mosaics which is crazy. You can actually go into the Papal tombs under the Basilica via a somewhat hidden staircase in the middle of the Basilica (just ask around if you don’t see the sign). Worth doing. We also climbed to the top of the dome and while a bit more hiking than I expected we thought it was great.
You can take a tour of the lower part and upper ring of the Colosseum, but you have to get those in advance (at least they were sold out when we were there which was a bit of a bummer) but the general tour was still really amazing. Just lots of cool stuff to see there.
Other things that we enjoyed maybe a bit off the beaten bath included Basilica di San Pietro in Vincoli (Michaelangelo’s Moses and a good ol’ religious relic), wandering through the Trastevere neighborhood, wandering along and across the River Tiber, and Circus Maximus (man that was big – 250,000 fans to watch a chariot race).
Florence – 4 Days
Activities in the City
We did a cooking class (pizza and gelato – we had a great time) and took a golf cart tour of Florence which gave a great lay of the city. We found a guy that let my 21-year-old son Jeff drive our daughters around Florence in a Ferrari, which they seem to enjoy – made me a bit nervous but quite a relief when they pulled back up. We met him up at Piazzale Michelangelo which had an awesome view of Florence.
We really enjoyed walking through the neighborhood south of the Arno back to the Ponte Vecchio. A pretty long walk, but we like that kind of thing. Michaelangelo’s David is an absolute must-see. I was so impressed, through the rest of the museum isn’t much to speak of. We did not go to the Uffizi so I can’t speak to that.
The Duomo is more impressive on the outside than the inside, in our opinion, but the surrounding piazza is just a fun place to wander.
The Basilica di Santa Croce is lovely and houses the tombs of lots of famous people (Michaelangelo, Galileo, etc.). Definitely worth a visit and we really enjoyed the surrounding Santa Croce neighborhood.
We also enjoyed the street vendors at Mercato Centrale, but the highlight there was the restaurants upstairs in the building. We had the best gnocchi I have ever had there and all the other dishes were spectacular. It is a bit like a food court but with uber-delicious Italian offerings instead of Orange Julius and Hot Dog on a Stick (not that there is anything wrong with either of those). We really enjoyed it.
Tuscany Day Tour
We took a day tour of Tuscany with a private driver. We went to Pisa and enjoyed the tower, et al., more than I expected. We also went to Sienna (the inside of the Duomo is spectacular and the city is lovely – could have spent a whole day there wandering the city – and San Gimignano, a medieval hilltop town that was fun to see. We did not make it to Lucca which I know is a lot of people’s favorite Tuscan city. Next time.
Venice – 1 Day
We just wandered and took a gondola ride. It is really pretty but so crowded. One day was plenty for us. We were told that the view of Venice from the tower on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore is spectacular, but we did not go over there because it was a relatively foggy day. We did make a point to be on the Rialto Bridge at sunset looking down the Grand Canal and it was really worth doing. Just lovely. FYI – our water taxi only took cash so I had to run and find an ATM while the family remained his hostage. Moral of that story is that is to always have cash.
We took trains between the cities and just loved that system. We bought our tickets in advance and that was nice, but the system was pretty confusing. There are websites that explain it all and it is worth doing a bit of research on that if you are going that route. Another FYI is that there is a quiet car on at least some of the fast trains. I booked that by mistake and while it was not a big deal, it was a surprise. Also, I had much better luck at ATMs at banks than those miscellaneous ones on the streets. I just couldn’t get many of those to work and I was surprised by how many ‘cash only’ places we bumped into.
So there you have it!
Easy, peasy. We fell in love with Italy and have loved going back a couple of times since. I was extremely nervous about planning the trip but my biggest take away was to not worry about what I can’t fit into the schedule but instead to just enjoy what I can.
Well, now all that’s left is to do it. I’m sure jealous when you do!