Note: I can only write about what I know and have personally experienced. I share it with you as a tool to help launch you on your own path of knowing and understanding. Buon Viaggio!
I spent two weeks traveling in Italy last Spring (2011) with my dear friend. We arrived in Venice and traveled through Italy by train. Here is how we spent our time: 3 days in Venice (with a day trip to Verona), 4 days in Florence (with a day trip to Pisa), 4 days in Rome and 2 days in Bari. Here are a few things I learned along the way. To view more photos from our journey check out My Photography.
I will be honest, I was not the biggest fan of Italian food before visiting Italy. And then I fell in love with it. I couldn´t get enough of the prosciutto, margherita pizza, gnocchi, and gelato. Not to mention the coffee and wine. Here is an excerpt from a day in Venice, ¨I ate a canoli for breakfast, a take-away stuffed veggie roll for lunch, an espresso (where we sat at another outdoor cafe for hours), and gelato (banana and hazelnut), one litre of wine with potato chips as the ¨bread,¨ another litre of wine and ham and mozzarella pizza finished with tiramisu and another scoop of torino gelato.¨ That was ONE day. Needless to say we adopted the Italian tradition of enjoying our food outdoors, leisurely sipping our wine and eating the house antipasti while taking in the atmosphere. It was heaven.
The coffee in Italy deserves as much attention as the wine. Rich and strong, you can forget about your forlorn Starbucks days. A former ´Bucks junkie myself I was completely lost when staring at the café menus trying to decipher the different drink choices. Here is a short list to help you find your way.
Caffé– A small shot of espresso, usually about 4 oz.
Caffé latte- An espresso with milk
Macchiato- Espresso with milk and foam (my favorite)
Cappuccino- Espresso with foam
When I was in Mexico my friends and I would play this game, ¨Guess where the tourists are from?¨9/10 we would guess correctly. The more I traveled the more I noticed the Americans were usually the most under-dressed or in the case of the girls, most scantily clad in the bunch. This is all fine and dandy if you want to stand out in a crowd. Italy, however has class. Most of the women cover their legs (even if they are wearing shorts or a dress) with leggings and boots and I never saw an Italian man wearing basketball shorts. We went during May and it was still chilly at night so light layers were helpful. Also keep in mind many of the streets are old, uneven cobblestone so wear comfortable shoes! (A lesson I learned after receiving many painful blisters).
Art Museums and Tours
You cannot travel to Italy without being somewhat overwhelmed by the amount of museums you will encounter. Many of them require reservations in advance due to the sheer amount of tourists filing through. In Florence we made reservations by calling The Uffizi Gallery and The Academia the day before. (Probably not the smartest, we were lucky to get tickets). We stood in line about an hour and a half at each museum before being allowed in.
In Rome we took a guided tour through the Vatican City where we saw the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter`s Basilica. I love art (though I admit Ren art is not my favorite) however, I would`ve been content skipping the few museums we saw (with the exception of The Academia…I would travel all the way to Italy just to see Michael Angelo`s David if I saw nothing else). They are crowded and because of the sheer volume of people passing through the experience is often rushed. In many of them you cannot take photos (the Sistine Chapel especially). In my experience, you are better off walking the streets of cities like Florence and Rome appreciating all of the ruins, sculpture, and architecture that you don`t have to pay to see. For example, in Florence an exact replica of the David stands in a piazza in its original location, you can see this for free. In Rome you can see the Colosseum, Palatine Hill, and the Roman Forum all for free by walking through. Many of the Catholic churches contain amazing art and their doors are open for respectful tourists to wander in. You will learn far more about the culture and these magnificent cities by going at your own pace and not spending hours locked away in museums.
My friend and I traveled through Italy by train. We began in Venice and worked our way southward to Bari where we took a 17 hour ferry ride from Bari to Patras, Greece. For us, a Eurail pass would have been more expensive, so we purchased individual tickets as we went along. Of course we spent most of our time walking (how we managed to not gain weight from all the Italian food!) and in Rome took the occasional bus or metro.
We stayed in hostels which we booked one city in advance. When we first arrived, we stayed with a friend in the small village of Sacile outside of Venice and rode the train to the city. This strategy worked out well until we got to Florence when all of the hostels were booked and we had to stay in a hotel instead. The hostels we stayed in usually offered free breakfast and wi-fi (the hot water usually wasn`t so hot) and we paid an average of 25-35 euros each for dormitory rooms, the most expensive hostel being in Rome.
*What other Italy travel tips would you like to know? Do you have anything to add? I`d love to hear about your experience!