Official Language: Italian
$1 = 0.9 EUR
Stay: July 5th to 12th 2014
Italy, along with countries like France, Spain, UK, Turkey and Greece has always been rated as the top European destinations. Everyone knows about Italian food, the architecture, the Roman Empire and its rich history, fashion, etc. Need any more reasons to go?
My friend and I decided to do a mini backpacking trip to Italy for 1 week. I traveled from Norway on one of the cheapest airlines in Europe. RyanAir is perfect when you want to buy cheap one way tickets. I didn’t have a problem with the uncomfortable narrow seats since it was only a 2 and a half hour flight and I didn’t have to pay the extra fee for luggage since I only had carry on. From Oslo (Rygge) to Rome (Ciampino) cost €100 and from Venezia (Treviso) back to Oslo (Rygge) €83. I usually plan my trips ahead of time but in this occasion it was very last minute. So I feel that I could have gotten cheaper flights if I had bought them maybe 2 or 3 months ahead.
Campino Airport was very small but very well connected to the city. I took Terravision for €4 to get to Termini Station in the downtown area. It was a 40 minute bus ride. The downtown area didn’t feel particularly safe. It was very busy, a lot of beggars and kind of dirty.
This was the first time I was trying out a B&B. I found it on Bookings. B&B Chain Gallienus is a group of home owners that rent out rooms to travelers. It was actually very difficult for me to find the office and I ended up walking around in circles. When I finally got there, it was an “office” in an apartment building. I rang the bell but no one was there so I had to ask for help from the neighbors to call the number on my reservation paper. Finally Viviana came and took me to her apartment by car. We reserved a twin room with shared bathroom for 4 nights at €206. The room and bathroom were really nice and clean. Viviana gave us a key so that we could go in and out of the apartment whenever we wanted. The location was convenient too since it was a few blocks from the subway station and Viviana gave us a map and recommended some places.
Rome is not like your typical sightseeing, the city is so packed with things to see that if you are only staying for a couple days and want to get the most of it then I recommend getting a city pass. There are websites that offer 48h or 72h pass tickets to the main attractions. Especially if you want go in and skip the lines I highly recommend getting these. Like Roma pass 48h for €28. The hop on bus tour is great if you want to get an overview of the city and have a better idea of what is where and what you want to see. I think it was €20 for a 24hr ticket. Or you can also rent a Vespa if you feel up to the challenge of dealing with Rome’s crazy traffic.
We mainly used the subway and then walked. Many of the main attractions are located in the same area so you just need to follow the arrows or the crowds.
- Piazza di Santa Maria Maggiore
- Palatine Hill
- Arco di Constantino
- Circus Maximus
- Via Sacra
- Roman Forum
- Capitoline Hill
- Piazza Venezia
- Campo de’ Fiori
- Piazza Navona
- Fontana di Trevi
If you keep walking ahead you will find
- Piazza di Spagna/ Spanish Steps (Great for high end brand shopping)
- Piazza del Popolo (for more affordable shopping)
- Villa Borghese (beautiful garden). If you walk until Pincio then you can see a beautiful scenery of Rome.
If you cross Ponte Sublicio over the Tiber River you will find the biggest flea market in Rome, Porta Portese in Trastevere neighborhood. A little out of the touristy path but worth it. You will find a more ancient and medieval atmosphere there.
- Vatican City
- Sistine Chapel
- Raphael Rooms
- St. Peter’s Basilica
If you plan to visit the Vatican City I recommend going very early in the morning. We went relatively early and still had to stand in line for like 2 hours to buy the tickets and get in. While we were making the line there were people approaching and saying that if we signed with their tour group for €32 then we could go in faster. They would even threaten people saying that if we didn’t sign with them then we wouldn’t get in by the end of the day. Well, it was a lie. The reason why the tour groups can go in a little faster is because there are 2 lines at the Vatican Museums. One is for individuals and one is for groups. So I recommend just going early and being a little patient. We paid a university student reduced price of €8 for the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel ticket. Before going we also read about the attire restrictions. Basically you should wear clothes that do not show shoulders, chest and nothing above the knee. (Regular attire restrictions when going in in any church in Europe).
Once inside you can go to the different rooms with big pieces of art. At the end you can even send a postcard home with the Vatican stamp for no more than €2. After that, we walked towards St. Peter’s Basilica. Admission was free but the lines were longer so we decided to skip that and only take pictures outside.
The first thing I ate in Rome was GELATO. You will find many stores around selling all kinds of flavors. One cup with 2 or 3 flavors was between €3 to €5. Finding food though was a different situation. You will see hundreds of tourist restaurants that sell heated pizza and pasta for high prices. If you want the real thing then skip all these. The best way to tell (a tip given by locals) is to avoid all the restaurants that have people calling outside, especially the ones with Indian workers. Look for restaurants with Italian workers and Italian customers. We went to a Trattoria recommended by Vivivana not very far from Termini Station. Trattoria Pizzeria Vecchia Roma was the best thing ever! White house wine 1/2 Lt for €3.5 and pizza con prosciutto for €8. This was the real deal!
To travel from one city to the other we chose Italo Train. From Roma Tib. to Firenze S.M. was €20 and it took less than 1 hour. We only stayed one night there. We booked a double room with shared bathroom for €30 at A Firenze da Paolo. Also a B&B we found in Bookings.com. Here we used the bus, when we arrived Paolo gave us a map and told us which bus to take.
- At Mercato di San Lorenzo we tried the famous Lampredotto sandwich, which later we found out was cow-stomach. There was a lot of traditional food in this market and the stores around sold mainly leather goods. Many said it was real leather but it was hard to tell if they were telling the truth or not.
- As we were walking there was a store that caught our eye. It was full with tourists so we decided to go in and take a look. I think this was by far the best place you could go if you want to find real leather goods. And it was also tax free. Leonardo Leather & Gold. If you purchase any leather piece worth more than €12 then they will stamp 3 initials with a gold foil for free.
- Piazzale Michelangelo was the most difficult one to reach. We had to go up thousands of stairs. It was really painful but once we reached the top, the view was amazing. Many people would seat on the stairs and drink wine and snacks.
- Piazza del Duomo. This cathedral was so amazing and huge. It was filled with sculptures and decorations that were just too incredible to look at.
- Inside Ponte Vecchio you can find many little shops that sell mainly gold and jewelry. It looked very fancy and cute.
- You can also find an “Inferno Tour”, if you are a fan of Dan Brown’s Inferno Novel then you know what am I talking about. These tours include Porta Romana, Boboli Gardens, Palazzo Pitti, Palazzo Vecchio, Uffizi Gallery, Piazza della Signoria, Casa di Dante, etc.
Aperitivo time which is basically Italy’s Happy Hour. You can order Negroni, Aperol Spritz, Bellini, Prosecco, etc and you will get free simple antipasti like bruschettas.
Then from Firenze S.M. to Bologna the next day was €15 and it also took less than 1 hour. We didn’t stay there so we storage our backpacks at the station. For 10 hours they charged us €9. We took a bus down to Via dell’indipendenza which is an Avenue full of stores.
- At Piazza Maggiore you can also find the Fontana di Nettuno. Around the Plaza there was a little market area that was very cute. All the stores were built out of wood that gave a very picturesque feel to it.
- Due Torri or Torre degli Asinelli of 97,6 meters tall. We paid €3 and had to go up 498 steps. The Tower was really old, with wooden stairs and slightly leaning to the side. Around the middle area, the stairs started to get really steep. It was really scary and my knees started to shake. When we finally reached the top, the view of the city was amazing. Everything colored of a brownish red color. Like a traditional Tuscan scenery.
We ate at the Trattoria Pizzeria La Mela Their specialty tortellini was just heaven. Bologna is very famous for traditional Italian food.
The last stretch of our trip was towards Venezia Mestre and it was €21. Also took less than 1 hour but we arrived at 10pm. We had some difficulty finding the hotel since it was late, dark and there was no one around to ask for directions. We booked a double room with shared bathroom at Hotel Vidale through Hotels. For 2 nights it cost €98.
The next day we got a 48hours travel card for €30. This card is valid for buses and the vaporetto. I really recommend buying this card. A single trip on a vaporetto costs €7. The vaporetto is the main way of transportation in Venezia so you will use it a lot.
- Murano, famous for its handmade artistic glass.
- Burano and its beautiful colored houses. The scenic view was unbelievable. It’s also famous for selling lace ornaments.
- Rialto Bridge, one of the oldest bridges of the Grand Canal
- Piazza San Marco and Basilica San Marco which are next to the Bridge of Sighs. There were many cute little shops all around. And little alleys with small bridges and gondolas passing under. Even though there were many tourists just like in Rome, the feeling was very different. Venezia was just so beautiful in an artsy way.
There we found a family owned restaurant called Trattoria da Primo. Their homemade lasagna and tiramisu were just to die for. And you can’t forget to have Bellini as well.
Since we were mostly travelling around different cities, we had some waiting time at train stations but we enjoyed that time at coffee shops. Coffee in Italy is really good, everywhere. Really, you can have the cheap or the expensive one. They all taste really good! And that’s one of the main reasons why there is no Starbucks in Italy.
- If you plan to do some heavy sightseeing in Rome I recommend wearing good shoes. I wore sandals because it was summer and they looked pretty but it totally killed me. The roads are all stoned which makes its more painful to walk. Especially if you are walking for like 6 hours a day.
- I was told that if you approach a local asking for directions in English then it’s very probable you will be turned down or they’ll say they don’t speak English. (I heard that they don’t really like Americans) So I started asking in Spanish and I got very positive responses from people. Spanish and Italian are not the same but there are some similarities and when asking simple questions and its easy to figure out what the other person is trying to say. Also is good to learn certain phrases in Italian so people will feel that at least you are making an effort. Italian people seemed to be very fed up with tourists’ behaviors and how they disturb their daily life.
- I was there during high season so everywhere was packed full and it was also extremely hot. So make sure to stay hydrated and protect your skin with sunscreen.
- A wide range of olive oil, pastas, canned goods and Limoncello (Lemon liqueur) are sold as souvenirs. You could also get the vintage Bialetti Moka coffee pot to take home.
Our trip to Italy was too short considering the amount of things there were to see. I particularly didn’t enjoy Rome that much as I became too overwhelmed with the excessive touristy focus merchandising. Its like you get “attacked” by every vendor around. Either from restaurants, tours or shops. Some of them can even get rather aggressive since competition is strong. No wonder locals are so annoyed.
Nevertheless I fell in love with Venice. The view, the stores, the food… everything was great. There was a very artsy and vintage feel to it. Venice would definitely be a place I would like to go back to. Also next time I would like to visit the south of Italy which is famous for its food. Naples for their pizza and Sicily for their desserts. Unfortunately we didn’t get to see the leaning tower of Pisa (which was only one hour away from Firenze) and Milano (2 hours and a half from Venice) capital of fashion. And for those beach lovers you can’t miss Cinque Terre in the Italian riviera and Amalfi Coast. Safe Travels!