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.
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.