Venice, Italy + your travel tips

Our last stop in Italy (after Rome and Florence) was Venice. We just had a day and half there, but it ended up being a perfect amount of time to see the highlights. First stop, lunch and a beer!

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Venice is an interesting town. As you probably know, it’s entirely made up of islands. There are no cars in historic Venice, only boats on the canals.

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In our day and a half, we rode the vapparetto (water taxi) from one end of the grand canal to the other several times, and we spent an inordinate amount of time wandering around on foot, looking at buildings, shops, and homes.

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How cool is that farmer’s market? It’s a boat!

Bob was pretty psyched to find Campo de San Barnaba, which is where the beginning of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was filmed.  The inside doesn’t actually look like the library from the movie, unfortunately.

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We capped off our time in Venice with a gondola ride, one last gelato, and a fancy dinner. It was a beautiful evening, and the perfect way to end a great trip.

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Venice tips!

  • Lodging: we stayed in Mestre, where it was much more affordable. There are plenty of buses that run to and from historic Venice on a regular basis–just ask at your hotel, and they will direct you to the closest stop.
  • Transportation: if you’re under 30 years old, buy a Rolling Venice card for 4 euro, and you will get 3 days of unlimited boat and bus rides for only 20 euro. If you’re over 30, there are still transit passes available. They’re a bit more expensive, but still very worth it. You can ride unlimited amounts of Venice transit boats or buses for however many days you purchase (1, 2, or 3). The advantages:
    1. You don’t have to constantly be refilling cards and monitoring your balance.
    2. If you swipe into the wrong stop, no worries! Just leave and find the right one. Without an unlimited transit card, a mistake like that would cost you 7 euro per person–because you already swiped it for one ride.

I wanna hear from YOU. Based on your trips, travels, and vacations, what do you recommend? Where do you like to stay? How do you get around? Any must have shoes or clothes or luggage? Can’t live without beauty products? Favorite way to sleuth out the best restaurant in town? Share in the comments below, and I’ll link to you in my post next week Thursday.

Florence, Italy (our pictures!)

After our few days in Rome, we hopped on a train (the trains are so fast!), and headed North to Florence. I had no expectations whatsoever for Florence, and ended up being blown away.

Florence is absolutely walkable, which I love about any city–we never needed a bus or taxi. There is something interesting to see wherever you go. The multitude of piazzas offer plenty of opportunity for sitting with some cappuccino or gelato and people watching. Speaking of the food! I can’t even explain. Food in Florence was to.die.for. There is great shopping in Florence, as well, if that’s your thing–lots of street markets, high end retail shops, and everything in between. If you want any kitchen gadgets or accessories, head to Bartolini’s. I bought my pasta maker there, and loved it.

We stayed at the Hotel Malaspina, which I recommend wholeheartedly. It’s in a great location, their breakfast is delicious, and the hotel staff is very helpful and accommodating. We even lucked out with a room that had a tiny balcony overlooking the park!

20150319_163945 A big site in Florence is the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore. The outside is massive and absolutely gorgeous. You can tour the inside, as well as climb the dome (Il Duomo) for some killer views.

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???????????????????????????????Florence is home to many wonderful and well-curated museums. We enjoyed wandering the Museum dell’Accademia, where we saw Michelangelo’s David. It’s amazing to see works of art like this in the flesh, after having studied them out of a textbook in art history class. You stare up at it, in all of its smoothly carved marble magnificence, and it becomes real. Michelangelo carved David over 500 years ago, and here it is. Kind of makes me small and insignificant, but also proud of being a part of this thing called the human existence.

???????????????????????????????We took a break from all of the art, and toured the Leonardo da Vinci Museum, which houses recreations of da Vinci’s original designs. You can even try some of them! The Galileo Museum, while not having much in the way of actual Galileo artifact, offered an interesting look at different aspects of science and math in antiquity. In some ways, things were very advanced, considering it was hundreds of years ago. In others, not so much.

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We relaxed a lot more in Florence than we did in Rome, which was nice. Three cheers for napping on vacation.

All in all, Florence is a great city to visit, explore, and experience. I’d absolutely go back, rent a flat, and have a great time pretending I was a local for a few days.

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After 3 days in Florence, we hopped on the train and headed farther North to Venice. I’ll be back next Thursday with some photos, if you’d like to see.

Rome

In March, Bob and I had the opportunity to spend 10 days in Italy. It was a great trip! We started in Rome, then headed North to Florence, and ended in Venice. If you’re interested, here are some pictures of our few days in Rome.

After arriving in the morning and checking into our hotel, we walked to the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, and Palatine Hill. It was mind-boggling to think the buildings and monuments we saw were nearly 2,000 years old. In the first few centuries AD, this area was the cultural, political, and economic center of Rome, and as such, the world. Now, modern Rome has grown up around it.

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The next day, we hopped on a train, and headed South to Naples, and then on to Pompeii, which is a doable day trip from Rome. I recommend buying your tickets online the night before. There may be deals to be had for the advance purchase. That said, don’t buy them too far in advance, because you definitely want to see Pompeii on a day when the weather is semi-nice.

Pompeii was much larger than I thought it would be! In its prime, Pompeii was a bustling port city, and was pretty advanced. We saw the ruins of their baths, restaurants, houses, palaces, temples, and even a brothel. Some of the larger palaces had lead pipes for semi-indoor plumbing, the baths had heated pools, and the cafeterias, outfitted with heaters and coolers, offered grab and go food.

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After a morning in Pompeii, we got back on the train, and headed farther South toward Sorrento. In Sorrento, we caught a bus to the Amalfi Coast, and got off in Positano. We bought a bottle of wine, walked down the hill to the beach, and took in our surroundings. We didn’t have much time in Positano, but it was worth going for the gorgeous views of the towns and the cliffs.

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The next day, we spent a delightfully lazy morning at the hotel. After a long day of travel followed by two (full) days of sightseeing, a lazy morning was exactly what I needed! In the afternoon, we braved the public transportation system. Trains are very easy to navigate in Rome, but buses take a little more effort. We ended up on a bus that stopped near the Capitoline Museum, so we figured, “Why not?” After the museum, we wandered to the Pantheon.

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On our last day, we headed to the Vatican. To avoid waiting in line for hours, buy your tickets online the day before you go, and your line will be dramatically shorter. It’s well worth the extra 4 euro per person. Otherwise, this could be you (we stood there, moving at a snail’s pace, for 2.5 hours):

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The Vatican Museum was so much bigger than I thought it would be. It’s full of crowded hallways, and a throng of people moving through gallery after gallery. My favorite was Rafael’s galleries, which included this gem:

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This is “The School of Athens” (Rafael, 1509-1511), which I studied in one of my art history classes. To see it in real life was breath-taking.

There’s really only one way to go in the Vatican (just follow the crowd), and you will end up in the Sistine Chapel, where photos aren’t allowed. After the chapel, walk back around the Vatican to stand in another security line to get into St. Peter’s Basillica. You can avoid both lines (the Vatican and St. Peter’s) by joining a tour group, if tour groups are your thing.

St. Peter’s was amazing–so vast and ornate. In every way MORE than I imagined it to be. It was an amazing experience to be there-no photos can do it justice.

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After taking in the main floor of St. Peter’s, I highly recommend going down the stairs into the crypt, and then climbing to the top of the dome. The climb is a workout, but worth it for the view!

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After St. Peter’s, we enjoyed one more meal and Rome, and headed back to our hotel to pack for our morning train to Florence. Good-bye, Rome!

  • We went to: Rome
  • We stayed at: Hotel Taormina (free breakfast, convenient to Colosseum sights, Termini train station, and a metro stop)
  • We recommend: all of the sites we saw, with the exception of maybe the Capitoline Museum. It was interesting, but didn’t rock our world.
  • We read: Rick Steve’s Italy 2015, and listened to his accompanying audio guides via his app. Most of the sites (especially the free and the most ancient ones) don’t have great signage. A guidebook is well worth the investment so you understand what you’re looking at. To save space, buy the e-book version and put it on your tablet or your phone.

Check back next Thursday for some photos of our time in Florence!