A Travellerspoint blog

Day 13 Ciao Italy

Our Italian adventure has come to an end. It seems like forever ago that we were landing in Venice. We have seen so much in these past 13 day. We've visited 5 cities and walked 98 miles according to my Fitbit (which is a good thing considering we stopped counting how many gelatos we've eaten). We both have different favorite cities and have had the best time. All of the planning has paid off. We didn't get lost and our drivers were where they needed to be when we needed them. We call this a trip not a vacation, big difference. We have had so many wonderful experiences over the last 2 weeks that I'm glad I started this blog as a reminder of all we've done. Perhaps it may help anyone reading it if they plan a trip to Italy.

Some observations...
Flying out of Toronto was much cheaper than the US. We parked our car in the airport offsite parking for $88 for two weeks. Our visit was made at a good time of the year. Weather was very nice for late May/early June. It was never too hot and the nicest while in Rome. Avoid Italian holidays whenever possible (they have quite a few so we were told) The trains in Italy are easy to navigate and a great way to get around from city to city. Buying tickets ahead of time saves you money. Whenever possible, plan travel between cities on Saturdays when the trains are 2 for the price of 1. (at least they are right now) Avoid driving, it can be stressful. Many of the cities we were in did not have traffic lights and it often seemed like a free for all. That said, we never saw an accident. Italians are used to everyone converging on an intersection and Vespas passing you on both sides. We don't regret staying with Teresa & Augustino in Tuscany, the reason we thought we needed a car in the first place. In retrospect we could have made arrangements to have them pick us up and drop us off at the tram station each day.

Audio guides can be very helpful at major attractions to describe what you are looking at instead of just a piece of art or ruin. We used Rick Steves audio guide app and found it to be very good. Plan to use your smart phone as a navigation device so you know how to get around. If you do, carry your charge adapter with you. The battery gets a lot of use if you use it for that purpose all day.

We planned our cities so there was a more relaxed one in between the more hectic ones. Pack light! Can't stress this enough. Especially if you are moving from one city to the next by train. This was a struggle for me but I forced myself to wear shorts and pants more than once and brought only two extra pair of shoes. We bought a nice bag as a souvenir to bring home our other souvenirs in.

Venice...pay 2 euro in advance online to skip the line for St. Marks Basilica. Well worth it but you have to know the day and time of your visit when you book. Book a shared water taxi ahead of time to get to where you are staying when you first arrive. Buy a Vaporetto pass for 24, 48 or however many hours when you get there to save money and time having to buy one each ride. You can then hop on or off anytime. Use it one time to just tour down the whole grand canal. Be sure to validate it each time you get on. We did see people get fined for not having one and read there can be some hefty fines.

Cinque Terra...plan to visit all of the 5 villages and hike between one or two. You can take the local train or boat between the others. We bought a one day park pass which you are supposed to have to hike the trails. It goes towards their park system but we never saw anyone checking.

Florence....a small city compared to Rome with lots of tourists in a small area. They sell lots of leather items if you are in the market for something. There were lots of street vendors. Don't make eye contact if you don't want them to approach you. We throughly enjoyed breaking away from the crowds the day we took our cooking class in Tuscany with a Walk About Italy tour company. Booking an early admission to the Academia to see the David statue helped avoid crowds.

Sorrento...was beautiful but probably the one city we could have skipped. It was as beautiful in the Cinque Terra. We stayed at one of the nicest, scenic hotels there and that made the visit. Sorrento is known for limoncello and just about anything else lemon. To get there take the train to Naples, hire a driver to pick you up at the train station and bring you to Sorrento. Otherwise you will have to transfer to the local train that did not look reliable nor very comfortable. Also hire a driver if you want to see the beautiful Amalfi Coast and don't go on an Italian holiday!

Rome...a very big city that we came to really enjoy. Each time you switch cities it takes you awhile to get acclimated. The best thing we did when we first arrived was schedule a personal walking tour of Ancient Rome. It helped us figure out the layout of the city. Book tours but have a day when you can just relax and wander. Hiring a driver to take you to the airport is a lot more comfortable and reliable and probably cheaper than taxis. Our BnB host arranged this for us.

Lastly, we stayed at all Airbnbs but in Sorrento. All of them were very different but gave us a true feel for Italy. We met some very nice people whether the host at the BnB or a driver getting us to and from. Getting to see the Pope in St. Peter's Square was a definite highlight we never expected. Everything went as planned without incident. The time spent planning and researching travel sites has really payed off. We truly enjoyed our trip to Italy.

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Day 12 Rome wasn't built in a day nor was the Vatican

We had two tours booked for our last full day in Rome and both involved the Vatican. Our first tour met at 6:30am outside the Vatican Museums. We were in a group of about 11 people, a few from Australia and the rest from the US. Our tour began with breakfast in the courtyard of the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel. The museums is plural. There are many long rooms one after the other filled with tapestries and paintings by Michelangelo and Raphael. Each one unique and interesting.

After passing through the museums you are led into the Sistine Chapel, no pictures allowed. It was at about this time that the crowds started picking up. The guide had told us what to look for before entering the chapel which made the visit much more interesting. Once though the chapel you are led into St. Peter's Basilica. This is a jubilee year so they have opened what is called the holy doors. Anyone passing through them is abstained from their sins. (Someone who will remain nameless says that's the only reason he agreed to come!) Once through the doors we were led around by our guide who explained in detail some of the many artifacts and paintings. Afterwards we were free to explore on our own, the tour was over.

We decided to walk up to the top of the dome of the basilica...all 382 steps. Like the duomo in Florence, you get a great view from that vantage point. You can see all of of St. Peter's Square, the Vatican gardens and beyond. Heading down we stopped in a few of the shops and mailed some postcards with the Vatican postmark. Now it was about 12:30 and we had time to kill before our next tour so we left the Vatican grounds and got lunch.

Our next tour was the Scavi tour which started at 3:30pm. This tour takes you down into the excavations under the basilica where it is said to hold the bones of St Peter. Neither of us claim to be historians and agreed the tour was not on our top 10 list. It's too bad too. They only allow 150 people in each day and you need to email the Vatican for tickets. I was really excited when I first found out we would be getting them. The guide spoke English, but fast with an Italian accent which may have added to our disappointment. You didn't always know what she was saying. One plus was exiting through the crypts of many of the previous popes.

By now it was 5:30 so we headed back to our room to charge our phones, rest our feet and repack our suitcases for our trip home. When we get up tomorrow we won't have to rush. For our last dinner in Rome I referred to some recommendations from my friend Pam. This was probably our best meal in Rome. Afterwards we strolled over to the Trevi fountain to see it lit up at night. One last gelato and by 10pm we were heading back to our room.

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Day 11 The best laid plans are no plans!

Our new motto is...the best laid plans are no plans! With no set plans for today and no booked tours, we ventured out to stroll the streets of Rome after breakfast and see what we might stumble upon.

The first Sunday of each month it is free admission to most of the museums. This can usually mean long lines at many of them. We are staying in a pretty central location so it was still fairly early when we got to the Pantheon. We walked past it with our tour guide yesterday and the lines were real long. Today we walked right in. What an impressive preserved structure. We downloaded an audio guide to our phone so we sort of had our own tour once inside. These guided aps tell you so much of what you are looking at.

Leaving the Pantheon we headed over to the Trevi fountain to toss in a coin. It was pretty crowded so we tossed our coin, stayed a short while to admire the massive fountain and take a few pictures. Time to take a cappuccino break and look at our map and decide which direction next.

Tomorrow we have an early tour of the Vatican and Sistine chapel booked that starts with breakfast in the Vatican garden at 6:30AM. We decided to head over that way next and find where we are to meet the tour. We crossed the Tiber River and headed straight for St. Peter's Square. We knew about the Wednesday audiences with the Pope (that we won't be here for) and had also read about him greeting the crowds on Sundays at noon from a window. It was about 11:30 so we thought maybe we could catch a glimpse of him from afar. We passed though a few security check points and as we got closer to the square it seemed like an unusual amount of people. Come to find out, today there were 2 saints being canonized by Pope Francis, Elizabeth Hesselbad, a Lutheran convert who hid Jews during World War II and Stanislaus of Jesus and Mary Papczynski, the founder of the first men's religious order dedicated to the immaculate conception.

Pope Francis was saying mass in St Peters Square when we arrived. It was in Latin so we weren't quite sure at what point in the mass we were arriving at. There were big screens around the square where you could watch the mass but we were pretty far back. We positioned ourselves along a barrier and when it came time for communion we were able to receive it from the priests that they send out into the masses of people. I told Carl we are staying put and maybe after mass the Pope will pass by. He had his doubts but agreeded to stay.

The mass ended and sure enough you could see the Pope getting into the Pope mobile on the screen. You could tell where he was based on the roar of people as they drove him around the square. Despite having a man next to me the size of Godzilla, we were able to get a great view and blessing from the Pope as he passed by our vantage point. How lucky are we?

With all of the excitement we almost forget why we came this way in the first place. We got out our map and found where we are to meet our tour tomorrow. It's was about 2:30 and we hadn't had lunch. Back across the river and we stop at a cafe named Opera for a great lunch. Time to head back and recharge our phones. Using them as a GPS and camera really run the battery. Plus stopping back allowed us time to rest our feet for awhile.

Around 6pm after recharging both our phones and bodies we were out and about again, this time across the river to the town of Traverstene. This is a very old erea. We stepped into an old church I wanted to visit but mass was being said so we didn't stay. Right outside the church in the piazza were loads of people milling around. In Rome you don't have to eat to sit at a table in a restaurant. They ask you drinks or food? We were just having drinks and wanted to watch the liveliness of the piazza. There were street performers, musicians, singers you name it. After drinks it was back over the bridge to try and get a good photo of the Colliseum at night. By now it was close to 10pm (here we go again) and we haven't eaten yet. Near where we are staying there are loads of restaurants. We sat at a table out on the street/sidewalk and enjoyed a late dinner.

It has been quite an exciting full day for not having any plans. Tomorrow is our last full day in Italy and we need to be up real early tomorrow. We better make the best of it! Somehow I think we will. Ciao!

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Day 10 Rome Wasn't Built in a Day

We were up in plenty of time to to eat breakfast, walk into town and do a little shopping before enjoyed our balcony a bit longer. We checked out and Guiseppe was right on time to take us to the train station. We got there with about an hour to spare. We grabbed some lunch for the ride and climbed aboard. The train ride was just an hour ride to Roma. We had arranged with the next BnB owner to have a car pick us up at the train station. While he wasn't there waiting for us as we got off the train, he arrived shortly after.

All of our accommodations have been so different and this one is no exception. This is in an apartment building which was built in the 1700. Our bedroom is on the very top floor of the apartment over the kitchen which is above the living room. You get to it from a very narrow spiral staircase. More for us to talk about later. The guy we rented from does not live here but his mother does. Her room is off the living room. She doesn't speak a bit of English. Alex, the person we rented from was here when we arrived. We think he is a pilot based on our conversations and all of the airplane books and stuff around. He mentioned he would be flying Monday and Tuesday.

When planning this trip we had booked a tour of Acient Rome with a small tour company that would just take the two of us on a walking tour. Our guide was Luca, a young history major. He was to meet us at our accommodations at 3:30. He was a few minutes late due to a mix up with the address I had originally sent them. With the wonder of the Internet though we were able to reconnect in no time.

Luca was fun, energetic and very knowledgable about Roman history. We started out on our walking tour and not too far from where we are staying is the Pantheon. Luca was full of information and took us to the Roman Forum and then on to the Colliseium. He pointed out all sorts of buildings along the way. After our tour we hooked up with someone I work with and her family. Once we knew we were both going to be in Rome at the same time we made arrangements to meet up for a drink. Rita and her family are a lot of fun. We ended up having dinner and drinks. After dinner they went their way and we took a slow walk back to our place stopping for what else, a gelato.

Another day in Italy has passed. No tours or definite plans for tomorrow. We'll see what it brings!
Ciao!

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Day 9 Scenic Amalfi Coast

We woke to cloudy skies that we didn't anticipate to be in today's forecast. Hopefully it's only a morning overcast. After breakfast at the hotel that came with quite a view, Gianpiero Fiorentino met us in front of the hotel to spend the day with us on the Amalfi Coast. Prior to coming here we had read that driving the coast is better left to the professionals. Now having ridden it, we can't stress that enough.

The scenery along the coast has got to be one of the most beautiful places in Italy. No wonder Sophia Loren and Bill Gates have homes here. We can only imagine how much nicer it would have been had there not been so many clouds. Gianpiero told us he was sure they would pass before the day was out. (he would be right) The one thing he was not sure of was the amount of traffic we would encounter. Tour buses, vans, cars, and mopeds monopolized the coast line today as the Italians were extending their holiday. How Gianpiero maneuvered through them was impressive, all the while keeping his cool and joking with us. We were never so glad to have someone chauffeuring us around.

The first town we came upon is Positano. After finding a place to park Gianpiero gave us an hour to explore the town. Lemons are plentiful on this coast and you see loads of lemon trees as you drive along. In Positano you can by limoncello, lemon candy, soaps, candles you name it. We walked to the bottom of town and picked up a few gifts before meeting back at the van. Next stop would be the town of Amalfi.

It was around lunch time so Gianpiero called ahead for us and made lunch reservations at one of his favorite restaurants that doesn't see too many tourists. We had a great table and a wonderful meal. After lunch it was back in the van to head for the next town, Ravello up on the hillside. On our way there Gianpiero asked if we wanted to see a grotto, similar to Capri's blue grotto only this one is said to be green. Why not since we won't be visiting Capri this trip and have never seen a grotto. Here you take an elevator down to the bottom and walk into the grotto. They put about 20 people on a small boat and guide you out just a short distance into the water. It looked blue to us!

We arrived in Ravello where Gianpiero took us to a wine store of a friend of his. Gianpiero is a wine connoisseur and told us a lot about the different wines from this region. We bought just 2 bottles that we will be able to bring across the border from Canada coming home and some olive oil. It was after 6:00pm so we started to head back. Still more traffic than usual but at least now the sun was out and the view got even better than on the way down. We said goodbye to Gianpiero and thanked him for the wonderful day.

We ended tonight with a nice dinner at the hotel watching the sunset while listening to a piano player serenading the guests. We've had a great few days in Sorrento. Tomorrow morning Guiseppe will be picking us up at 11am to take us back to the Napoli train station. Last leg of our trip is coming up...Rome!
Arrivederci Sorrento!

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