Italy Trip: Last stop, Venezia

Apologies on the delay on this last Italy post. To close out this 4-part blog on our travels in Italy, here is Venice. One of my favourite movies is the Italian Job, where the heist at the beginning of the film is done in Venice. It was neat to walk around and see reminders of the film.

Upon arrival in Venice, it was wet and quite uncomfortable. Getting used to a new location, getting our bearings, and wanting to take in the coolness of Venice but feeling kind of damp made it a bit difficult to enjoy at first. Also, the narrow twisty streets of Venice are hard to navigate when you have no idea where you’re going, when there are people everywhere and when you’re carrying luggage. Once making it to our hotel, we rested and decided to venture out when the weather cleared up. Thankfully, it did clear up and we were able to take a stroll around Venice in the evening.

The streets of Venice turn at every point possible. The street names changes at each turn, and it’s really hard to know where you’re going. It may seem a bit silly, but in the evenings, it can have a bit of an eerie feel to it. It made me think that you could have some really interesting and creepy ghost tours of Venice. Once you get used to the layout, and can properly read a map, it gets a lot easier.

We made use of the vaporetto system as the water buses are a great way to see Venice. I even listened to some of the Rick Steves recordings for Venice.

Braving the weather in front of St Mark’s Basilica
These made me think of the part in Italian Job where Donald Sutherland’s character says to Mark Wahlberg’s character “See those pillars there? That’s where they hung people who felt fine.”
St Mark’s square in the evening
St. Mark’s square
Night shot of the Basilica of St Mary of Health, or Salute
Night shot down one of the main canals
The main elements of a Venetian life brought together. The homes, docks and boats.
A quick snap over the canal. It surprised me how expansive some parts of the grand canal were
In comparison to the above, there were also tiny side canals like small alleyways in a traditional city

One of the things that Rick Steves mentions in his audio guide, is that with the high cost of living, the fact that everything needs to be brought into the city, and it’s costly to renovate the aging homes, most locals are moving out of Venice. Imagine having to carry a child or even groceries across small bridges, narrow paths and windy streets – it’s quite difficult and can be a nuisance. He said that it may become a bit of an “amusement park” in the sense that no-one really lives there, but tourists go to see it, stay in the hotels and visit the restaurants. It’d be sad if that happens, but I can understand, especially considering how expensive it would be to live there.

Italy Trip: Verona & Lago di Garda

When planning for this trip, we wanted to see as much of Italy as we could, but were obviously limited by time. My colleague studied abroad in Italy and recommended Verona as a neat place to go. Joe’s manager in the UK office also recommended Verona / Lake Garda. We decided to work it into our itinerary, and I’m really glad we did! It really was one of my favourite places we visited. We took the train from Florence to Verona. When we first arrived it was rainy, which made being touristy kind of unmotivating. The town of Verona is smaller and quieter than the larger cities we’d been going to. Our hotel was right near the golden mile which has all these designer stores and what not. After getting settled in, we walked around to the Castelvecchio and the surrounding area. The weather had cleared up by that point so it was quite pleasant to explore the area. We had dinner at a restaurant that our hotel recommended, which turned out very nicely. We chatted with an older couple from Minnesota who were on their way to Milan after Verona.

The Colosseum in Verona was right next to our hotel. In addition to being a Colosseum, they hold all sorts of events there like Operas and plays.
Cute side streets made Verona so picturesque!
Strolling along the river
The view from St. Peter’s Hill

After exploring Verona for the day, we decided to take a day trip to Lago di Garda (where George Clooney apparently keeps a house). From Verona we took a train to Desenzano. A 20-minute walk later, we were at the lake. The weather was absolutely gorgeous and it really highlighted the blue of the lake and the snow capped mountains. We got in a ferry (only 7.60 euros for 2 of us) to Sirmione and 30 minutes later, we were there. The lake itself is massive and you could honestly spend a good week there visiting the different towns dotting the lake. We decided to stay in Sirmione since we only had a day there. The area was so quaint and picturesque. We got some gelato, ate lunch and went along the beach area, just enjoying the sunshine and the water. After spending the first 2 stops of the Italy in cities and venturing out when it had stopped raining, Lago di Gardo felt even more nature-y and enjoyable.

Walking from the Desenzano train station to the water
The sky and the water was incredibly blue

The lake with gorgeous snow capped mountains in the background
On the boat from Desenzano and approaching Sirmione.
Sirmione
The view from a hill in Sirmione
The water was amazingly clear

Next up…our final stop: Venice

Italy Trip: Firenze

The train from Rome to Florence only took 1.5 hours. Upon arrival we found our hotel (Hotel California). It is very centrally located, very comfortable and with breakfast included. We dropped off our bags and went to get lunch and walk around the market. Florence is definitely more compact than Rome. It is very pretty and laid back. After attempting to haggle for some scarves (without any luck…) our room at the hotel was ready. We got settled and decided to visit the Duomo and climb the 400 some steps to the dome. Included in the ticket was a guided tour of the Duomo. It was interesting to get the story behind the Duomo as after a while, churches and Basilica’s start to look the same. What’s neat about this church is the decoration on the outside. It’s decorated in white and green marble which makes it look like a mosaic. The baptistry and the bell tower are separate buildings, but all clustered together.

The climb to the top was tiring. Definitely do take breaks if you get tired. The views are worth it, but take your time as you aren’t rushed to leave. After the climb, we treated ourselves to some gelato and sat on the Duomo steps to enjoy it. For dinner we went to a restaurant called the Yellow Bar. The food was really good, quite affordable and the house Chianti was great.

Day 2 in Florence we went to the Galleria de Accademia where Michelangelo’s David is. After visiting the Vatican Museum, Joe and I were kind of “museum-ed” out. I do appreciate art, but prefer architecture. Unfortunately you’re not allowed to take pictures of the real David. It is very strictly enforced (unlike the Sistine Chapel). The statue truly is beautiful. I’d seen pictures of it, but there’s nothing like seeing it in person. First of all, it’s really big. Second, imagining trying to sculpt something like that from 1 large block of marble is mind-boggling. Everything, from the posture, the stature, the detail, is well thought out. You can even seen the veins in his right hand. After resting, we went to Ponti Vecchio, walked around the area and went to dinner at il Pizzaiolo. We each ate a massive pizza, freshly baked in their open stone ovens.

The streets of Florence
The Palazzo dell Signoria
The Piazza in front of the Palazzo della Signoria
The Bell tower of the Duomo in Florence
View from the top of the Duomo
View from the top of the Duomo
Ponte Vecchio
My yummy seafood spaghetti dinner at Yellow Bar

Next…Verona

Italy Trip: Roma

Rome, our first stop in Italy. We chose to travel to Italy for the Easter holidays, which turned out to be a slight lapse in judgement, considering Easter weekend in Rome meant the city would be PACKED. Even though it made portions of the trip a bit uncomfortable with the crowds, it was still worth it.

After a 2-hour flight from London, one of the first things we noticed is that signage in Italy is kind of confusing. Signs would lead to one area, but then no sign to tell you where to go next. When trying to buy a train ticket, it was clear that no-one really knew where to go since there seemed to be about 3-4 different places you could buy a ticket. To add to the confusion, we wanted to pick up the pass we bought to have fast track access into the Vatican and the main Rome sights. It turned out to be quite frustrating trying to locate the office at the airport station as well as Roma Termini. We ended up waiting until going to the Vatican the next day to pick up the pass. We ended up taking a taxi from Roma Termini to our hotel since we had trouble locating the bus we needed to take.

After checking into our B&B (Bed & Breakfast…but with no Breakfast…so just Bed), we decided to get a late dinner and explore Rome at night. We went to Piazza Navona, the Pantheon and the Trevi Fountain. I LOVE cities at night. London is gorgeous at night, and Rome is no exception. The fountains and monuments seem so much more idyllic at night.

It turned out that getting the Omnia pass was worth it since we planned this trip for Easter weekend. To say that it was crowded would be an understatement. On Saturday we decided to visit the Vatican. Due to it being Easter weekend, Saturday was the only day we could go since it would be closed on Sunday and Monday for Easter services. The Omnia pass included the Vatican and the Roma pass. The Vatican pass enabled us to jump the queue at St Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museum. It was definitely worth it because the queue was LONG. After getting shoved and herded by the many tourist groups, we made our way through the Basilica. It’s gorgeous, but I really wish we’d gotten more time inside.

The Vatican Museum was quite something too. The Sistine Chapel is obviously the main attraction. There’s an additional tip below about that, but if you’re making your way to the Sistine Chapel, take the shorter route. I was warned about this by my colleague, but I missed the entrance. There will come a point where there are stairs going up on your left, and a courtyard out to the right. There is a sign that says “shorter route” to the Sistine Chapel whereas if you enter after the courtyard, it’s the long route. Take the short route. By all means explore the courtyard w/ the gold globe, but go back and take the short route. We took the long route and it was LONG. It’s a one way trip to the chapel going through halls and halls of stuff.

With all the trouble it took to get there, it was a bit anticlimactic. We’d been on our feet all day getting shoved and herded, so we were both pretty tired. As much of a pain it was, in hindsight, it was worth it. Heading into the Sistine Chapel there are signs saying no photographs. When you reach the stairs to go in, there is a voice recording telling you no photographs are allowed. Joe was even preparing his camera to covertly take photos because as he put it “I didn’t go through all that to see it and not take pictures”. Well, it turns out, it didn’t matter. Everyone and their mother was taking photos and the guards weren’t doing a thing. They just stood there, and watched. I was a bit mortified that they were allowing people to take flash photographs, but oh well. I tend to be quite a rule abider, but I was soon snapping away.

Our last full day in Rome we decided to visit the Colosseum and the Roman Forum. When we first saw the Pantheon on Friday night, it was closed so on Sunday, we were able to go inside before hitting the Colosseum. Once again, the Roma pass came in handy at the Colosseum. We were able to jump the queue and go in with hardly any wait. Without much context, it’s hard to appreciate the Colosseum. Obviously if you’ve seen Gladiator film, it’s probably a bit cooler. It was still quite an impressive structure. The Roman Forum was interesting. We were also able to jump the queue but it wasn’t that long. It was a lot of walking and from all the walking and standing we’d done the previous day, I wanted to take a lot of breaks. Once again, without much context, the stones and pillars may not have much meaning. The cool thing was, I was able to bust out my kindle and look up different things to read on wikipedia (very handy!).

Tips for traveling in Rome:
1. The train from the airport to Roma Termini is about 25 minutes long and quite comfortable. It cost us 14 euros each.
2. The most popular bus to take around Rome is the 64. To access the buses from Roma Termini, go out the main front doors, pass the taxi lines. You’ll come to one set of buses, keep going straight past them, and you’ll encounter another area with more buses. These are the ones that should take you where you need to.
3. Beware of pickpockets on the buses, especially the 64 as it is the one most tourists take.
4. When visiting Vatican Museum and you want to see the Sistine Chapel, you’ll come to a place where there are stairs on your left, 2 signs in the middle and a courtyard ahead with a gold globe in it. For the shorter trip to the Sistine Chapel, go LEFT. By all means visit the courtyard, but turn back and go the shorter route. The long route…is long.
5. Consider getting the Omnia and/or Roma pass if your time in Rome is limited. If you’re planning on visiting over the busy summer period, it may be worth your while to jump the queue. It also gives you free usage of the Roma Christiana tour buses as well as the local buses and metro.

And now onto photographs! I have to admit…out of the entire trip, I took some of my favourite photographs in Rome. Enjoy!

Piazza Navona
In front of the Pantheon
The Pantheon by moonlight
It’s difficult to capture the sheer size of the doors, but hopefully this gives some perspective!
San Crispino by Trevi Fountain…one of the best gelatos of the trip!
Trevi Fountain – To be enjoyed in the evening, with gelato. I wish there were a way to capture how magical it is in a photograph!
The Vatican with chairs arranged for Easter Mass the next day.
Inside St. Peter’s Basilica – Pieta. The famous sculpture by Michelangelo of Mary holding Jesus after the crucifixion. It’s supposed to be one of the most highly finished works by Michelangelo (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piet%C3%A0_%28Michelangelo%29)
Inside St Peter’s Basilica
Oculus inside the Vatican Museum. Unlike the one inside the Pantheon, this one is covered so that rain doesn’t get in.
The Sistine Chapel.
One of the most famous parts of the ceiling, God reaching out to touch Adam.
Inside the Pantheon. This oculus is not covered by anything so they leave a section of the room roped off for the accumulating water.
The Colosseum
Inside the Colosseum
The view from Piazza Venezia
The Vatican at night. Lit up, and without all the crowds.
Panoramic of the Vatican during the day
Panoramic of the Vatican in the evening.