The last two weeks went by in a flash! A big, fun, once-in-a-lifetime kind of flash. That’s how I like to describe our time in Italy. And whenever I do, Vishnu likes to stop and remind me that we have lots more vacations to take in our lifetime. I know that, but still…this trip was something I’ve been looking forward to for years. Even before I met Vishnu. Visiting Italy has been a dream of mine for as long as I can remember, and not only did I get to do just that, but I got to do it with my best friend!
As you can tell from the title of this post, I’m going to share more of an overview today along with a few tips and tricks we picked up along the way. I’ll share more detailed posts about Sorrento, Rome, and Florence next week – where we stayed, what we did, where we ate, etc.
Let’s get started…
First and foremost, some people wanted to know how I fit 12 days worth of clothes in a carry-on suitcase. It wasn’t easy, but I managed to squeeze everything in with a little room to spare. I brought three pairs of leggings, two pairs of jeans, a number of tees, two more formal tops, tennis shoes, sandals, two pairs of Toms, a straightner, and toiletries. My first tip is to roll versus fold. And my second tip comes in the form of a jacket. Because I had a good jacket with me, I didn’t need to bring extra sweaters and long sleeved tops.
My real reason for packing light? We had two different connecting flights before reaching our final destination, and I didn’t want my bag to get lost! That would’ve been the worst. And I also didn’t want to be that person dragging her huge suitcase around Italy (all of our hotels were close to train stations, so we never took a cab!).
Speaking of travel, this was the first trip where we covered all major modes of transportation. We obviously travelled by plane and train, but we also rode on a couple of buses and boats as well. I’ll get into the specifics in next week’s posts, but I have to mention Alitalia. This was our first time flying with this airline, and we had a good experience. The food was tasty, the seats were comfortable, and everything was on time. The only thing that could’ve been better was the customer service. The flight attendants hardly smiled and seemed super annoyed at all times. Regardless, I would fly Alitalia again.
That brings me to the weather. You guys! It was P-E-R-F-E-C-T! We could not have asked for better weather. It only rained (more like drizzled) one day for a couple of hours. Other than that, all we got was sunshine. And the temperature was in the 50s, 60s, and 70s on most days. Perfect I tell you!
And perfect weather meant lots and lots and lots of walking! Our Fitbits told us that on average we walked about 10 miles a day. And I’m not talking about walking on flat roads. While we did casually stroll about here and there, we also climbed stairs (so many stairs!) and hiked and walked hills. My legs are still tired!
In my mind all that activity meant one thing – FOOD! And boy did we eat! We ate pizza, pasta, caprese salads, gelato, Italian pastries, etc. So much delicious food. I was in heaven. Overall, if I had to choose, I would say Florence has the best food and wine. Our top two meals happened to be in Florence. That’s not to say Rome and Sorrento were disappointing in any way, but the cuisine in Florence just felt a bit more unique…more on that later!
Next…the people! The people of Italy are so friendly and welcoming. I’d heard mixed things from friends and colleagues and wasn’t sure what to expect. But every person we encountered (except for the flight attendants) greeted us with a smile and was always willing to help. It may have helped that Vishnu and I did our best to learn and use common Italian words and phrases whenever we could! Grazie, ciao, buonasera, per favore – we said it all!
In no particular order…
- House wine is the way to go. It’s cheap (sometimes cheaper than water) and pairs nicely with the food. I went red 99% of the time, but the white I did try was equally as good.
- Not all gelato is made the same. Go where the lines are.
- Learn some Italian and speak it. Don’t be shy. We learned pretty quickly that it’s a sign of respect and very much appreciated.
- Walk as much as you can! It’s the best way to see and explore whatever city you’re in. And get lost a little. See how people live and enjoy the entire city…not just the touristy stuff.
- With that being said, bring good walking shoes. I wore my Toms 99% of the time, and while they were fine, I often wished I had better shoes to support all the walking and climbing we did.
- Tips are not required. Most restaurants tack on the service charge so you don’t need to leave additional money. And the ones that don’t make it very apparent on the receipt.
- If you like your pasta a bit more cooked than al dente, make sure to say something. Especially when ordering something like penne.
- You have to pay for water everywhere you go. We paid anywhere from 1-4 Euros. To avoid that, carry a water bottle with you and refill it when possible.
- Sometimes you have to pay for bread. If you know that you’re not going to eat it, tell your waiter ahead of time so you don’t get charged.
- Some restaurants charge a sitting fee. It’s not much (2 Euros/person) but can add up over the course of your trip. Just be sure to ask before being seated.
- You have to ask for your check. Italy is not like the US where people sit down, eat quickly, and leave. Dinner can easily take over 1.5 hours. And a lot of that time is waiting for your waiter to bring the check so be sure to ask for it.
- Pick hotels that are close to the center of the city. You want something that’s close to the sites you want to see, near restaurants and cafes, and close to public transportation. Trust me, it will make your life a lot easier!
- Even if you have your iPhone, carry a physical map with you at all times. Our favorite ones came from the hotels themselves. iPhone directions can be somewhat confusing at times, especially with all the roads and intersections. Having a map handy makes navigating a lot easier! So does having a smart husband!
- Always be watchful over your belongings, especially in train stations. Make sure your bags are zipped all the way and put more valuable items in harder to reach places.
- There’s no need to bring a hairdryer with you. But just know that European hairdryers are not as powerful as American ones. They get the job done…it just takes 3x as long.
- Lots of places accept credit cards but not all places. My research led me to believe that we wouldn’t need much cash, but we ended up having to visit an ATM. Not a big deal, but just be aware that a lot of places still don’t accept plastic! Also, research your bank’s fees and all that beforehand.
- If you can swing it, plan your trip in either April or October. This tip comes straight from the locals. You’ll get the best weather and the least amount of people.
- Download Rick Steves’ Audio Europe app. It’s essentially the tour guide you never paid for. We used it several times during our trip…while visiting St. Peter’s Basilica, the Pantheon, the Uffizi, the Academia, etc. And in addition to the walking tours, he has a number of talks where he discusses different aspects of the culture. I loved the ones about Italian food and dessert – duh!
Well, that’s all I have for now! Like I said, I have three very specific posts planned for next week, so be on the lookout for those.
P.S. I haven’t forgotten about the Minted winner! Be on the lookout for an announcement early next week.