Sunday, September 19, 2010

How did I spend 8 days in Italy?

I spent eight days in September visiting three cities in Italy. Despite the fact that September is high season in Italy, thanks to the availability of many resources on the Internet, I was able to make my trip as cost efficient as possible; without too much giving up on comfort. I spent $250.0 CAD per day. This includes: round trip air travel, train tickets to three cities, hotel, sight seeing, food, post cards, mail, souvenier and a couple of personal items.

I spent 3 days in Florence, 2 days in Venice, and 3 days in Rome. This gave me enough time to visit the most significant sights, enjoy a bit of culture and cuisine without spending a lot of money on hotel. Hotels are very expensive, especially during the high season, in Italy.

Restaurants, bars, and cafes add a service charge, 1 to 2 euro, to the price of the each order if served. Take out price does not include this service charge. Therefore, tipping is not necessary, unless the service is impressive!

Rome Fiumicino airport is connected to Roma Termini, main bus and train station of Rome. Trains depart every 10 minutes. The trip takes 30 minutes. One way ticket is 14 euro, available at the ticket counter during the business hours, or self service machines out of the business hours.

All tickets, bus, metro, train, water taxi (Venice), should be validated prior to embarking on the trip. The validating machines are located at the train station or water taxi stations or in the case of the buses, they are located in the bus. Validate your ticket to avoid the fine!

Major Italian cities are serviced by the TrenItalia regional train. On line booking is available. The website offers an English version for those unfamiliar with Italian language. There are two types of discounts suitable for tourists, meno30 and meno15, giving travelers who book at least 15 days in advance 30% discount an those booking at least 7 days in advance 15% discount respectively. Trains are either class 1 or 2. meno30 class 1 ticket from Rome to Florence 26 euro. Trip takes about 3 hours. Class 2 ticket from Florence to Venice 19 euro. Trip takes 2 hours. The fewer stops the train makes on the way to its destination the more expensive the ticket price is.

There are two train stations in Florence, Santa Monica Novella, and Rifredi. They are 15 minutes apart by the city bus, number 28. The bus ticket is 1.20 euro and can be purchased from any tabacco stand. Validate your tickets on the bus. If you arrive in one station and depart from the other on the same day, you can catch the connecting train using the same ticket. I arrived in Rifredi from Venice, and I had a ticket the same day from S.M. Novella to Rome, so I used my Florence-Rome ticket to travel from Rifredi to S.M. Novella.

Finding a decent hotel, in a location close to all city sights is very difficult. Websites like TripAdvisor help in the search process. Most hotels provide breakfast and some have free wi-fi. Of the three hotels I stayed in, only one provided computer and Internet access. The other two had free wi-fi; which was useless, because I was not travelling with my laptop.

In Florence I stayed at Hotel Waldorf Suites located in Piazza del Stazione. The hotel was walking distance from Santa Monica Novella train station. Given that I travelled by train, the proximity of the hotel to the station was a plus. The hotel was furnished with contemporary style furniture. The room sizes were generous. We had two rooms, two washrooms, two LCD TVs, and a kitchentte in our room. For 351 euro for two nights, this was a great find!

In Venice I stayed at Pension Guerrato, recommended by Rick Steves. The pension offers rooms with and without private bathrooms. I made reservation for room with private bathroom, but didnot take a shower there! The furniture is somewhat old; European style antique lovers would love browsing the second floor of this place. Rate for a double room if paid in cash is 135 euro per night. The rate includes breakfast: coffee, tea, fruit, yogurt, croissant, cereal, milk, honey, jam, butter, cheese and orange juice. The hotel is within walking distance of Rialto Mercato station. The water taxi one way costs 6.50 euro, needs to be validated prior to getting on the taxi. It is quite an experience to get on and off while the taxi is floating and the passengers are pushing each other to get off before the boat departs!

In Rome I stayed at Sonya hotel. The hotel is within walking distance of the Roma Termini; breakfast is included. Beware, the single rooms are very small in this hotel.

In general hotel web sites offer sigle, double rooms; single rooms are good for one person and double for two. Italian hotels give a better rate to guests who pay in cash.

In Florence I walked to all the sights with occassional gelato stops ;) it was easy to get to all the sights. In Venice except for the round trip on the water taxi to the pensione and to the train station, again I walked every where. Rome, however, is a big city. I took the sightseeing Rome double decker bus. They offer a two days hop on hop off tour of all of the Rome major sites for 18 euro per person. This was a considerably better price than the more popular 110 open tour. Their first bus leaves at 9 AM from close to Roma Termini and the last bus leaves at 8 PM. They cover all the major sites, including the Vatican City.

In Rome, I also used the bus Urbana H to Porta Portese, Rome Sunday Flea market. Metro and bus tickets are 1 euro for one trip. The tickets are valid for 75 minutes from the time you validate them. I was able to use the same ticket from Piazza dela Republica to Viale Trastevere and back from Trastevere to Piazza Venizia. There are day tickets for 4 euro a day for travelers who wish to see the sites using the public transit. We were told at the hotel that bus number 64 or 40 goes to Vatican City. The bus for either 40 and 60 stops at Via Nazionale close to Piazza della Republica.

Of all the sites that I saw, the most breathtaking, worth the endless time waiting in the line, and the expensive admission fee were:
... Michalangelo Sistine Chapel
... climbing to the top of the Duomo (Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence)

Michalangelo Sistine Chapel is located inside Vatican Museum. I waited close to 2 hours in line and paid 15 euro admission fee. For Duomo the wait time was less, half an hour, and the admission fee was 8 euro.

Rome is famous for its beautiful piazzas, the ones unique are those adorned with Bernini fountains. The most gorgeous ones are:
... Piazza di Trevi, Fontana di Trevi
... Piazza Navona, Fontana Navona
... Piazza Barberini, Fontana del Tritone

Italians are somewhat slick in their dealings with tourists. Places you can experience this the most are restaurants. Make sure you ask for menue especially if you are just walking in a restaurant without advance research.

I ate at Ristorante La Giosta, 12 Borgo Pinit, near Duomo in Florence and had the most wonderful experience. The food was great. The staff were great. The decoration was unique. There were a drink and a platter of anti pasta offered on the house. The total of cost of appetetizer plus ravioli came to 30 euros.

On the contrary, I ate at the self service bar right across from museum vatican. I ate there because after 2 hours of waiting and 3 hours of walking inside of the museum I was famished and could not take one more step. The restaurant didnot appear expensive. I walked in had a small piece of lasagna, a coke and a piece of pizza and for this I also paid 30 euros! I should have known to be more careful when I was not offered a menu.

All, in all, I had a great experience in Italy. I learned a lot about the country, people and culture and am taking back great memories as souvenier.