Ciao Bella….How I Fell In Love With Italy

Ciao Bella….How I Fell In Love With Italy

Picture it, Italy 2017. Snowcapped mountains, picturesque lush green country landscapes, fresh made pasta, pizza, risotto and decadently creamy gelato. The buildings are centuries old, the accents all around you are breathy, beautiful and words roll effortlessly from the mouths of statuesque, impeccably dressed men, each one more beautiful than the last.

From scandalous fables to intriguing facts, Italy has a deep history and rich culture that is marked by their centuries old, intricately ornate architecture. From the impressive, if not excessively lavish, empires of the ancient roman emperors, to the tranquility and quiet beauty of Burano, to the waterways of Venice, each of Italy’s cities and towns has character and style to spare. The Trevi Fountains at night breath romance and, as cliché as a gondola ride through the waterways of Venice sounds, it is something that must be experienced. As a low season traveller, I do my best to avoid the crowds and hoards of tourists, shoving to see as much as possible in a short period of time. Venice is lovely, but the city surrounded by water can get hectic. We picked the day after carnival to arrive. Colorful confetti still painted the street as a reminder of the previous days' celebrations, but the crowds were thankfully gone.

When we arrived in our quiet sanctuary of Murano, which is known for its hand blown glasswork, we were able to enjoy the narrow streets of Venice with little fuss, and not a car or scooter in sight. Murano is an excellent nearby option for lodging to avoid the crowds and potentially long walks to hotels in Venice, and the city has beautiful glass shops, jewelry, beads and charms. The area’s waterbus system offers a scenic means between stops in the city and nearby towns, like the colorful and quant Burano.

Burano

Venice also served as a pleasant introduction to Italian food, complete with handmade pasta, light and flavorful sauces, and fresh seafood. The people in Venice, for the most part, were warm, helpful and laid back.

Venice

After falling in love with Venice and the idea of life without cars and buses, it was time to head to Rome. The ride from Venice was a little over three hours, but the lush green countryside views made for a quick ride by train. As we neared Rome, there was a lot more hustle, bustle and traffic. The Rome train station was much busier than Milan's or Venice's, and was a bit more difficult to navigate. After a failed adventure in finding an elusive information desk that supposedly existed at platform 24, we tried to navigate our way to our hotel via bus. Spoiler - we failed.

The Vatican

Rome is a busy major city. Everyone has somewhere to get to and they are in a rush to get there. Rome also has a lot more tourists and a large number of men and women trying to unload various tours and trinkets onto tourists and travellers alike. Thankfully, a new friend kindly offered to show us around the city at night, free from the crowds and aggressive street hustlers. The Trevi Fountain and Coliseum were breathtaking at night, and we got to fully enjoy the impressive structures all around Rome.

Rome

The next day, we headed to the Vatican. Officially, the Vatican is its own country, the smallest in the world in fact. Many make the journey each year as a bit of a religious pilgrimage while others simply visit for its impressive art and historical importance. Walking to the Vatican was one of the few downsides of the entire trip. The street hackers were numerous, aggressive and annoying. There are only so many times I could politely decline unsolicited and aggressive sales pitches for Vatican tours, or umbrellas or ponchos or collapsible wooden bowls before annoyance overtook me. Inside the Vatican was a abundance of art, sculptures and stunning and intricate hallways. Sadly, there were a large number of men and women who experienced the gold covered ceilings through the lens of their smartphones and cameras without putting them down for even a moment to enjoy their surroundings.

The Sistine Chapel is considered a holy place by many, and is one of the few areas of the Vatican where photos are not allowed. Expectedly, many tried to flout the rules for a dimly lit snap only to be reprimanded by the chapel's guards. Rome can very easily be a walking city if your travel schedule allows. If you are not up for the long city trek, a great way to see the city is via a hop-on hop-off bus. Many have a prerecorded tour option that can be listened to via headphone and is a great way to get a general idea of the layout of the city. A word of caution when boarding - pushy travellers can try to topple other passengers in their rush to board. Rome's monuments are extremely well preserved, and much of the artwork tells the story of the area's colorful history. The fast pace and immaculate condition of Rome is contrasted by the tranquility and simplicity of Florence. Florence also felt much safer by comparison, and our hotel reflected the sensibilities of the city - modern amenities with antique charm. Florence is home to the Duomo or Florence cathedral. The cathedral was much larger than I expected, and was meant to protect the city's 10,000 residents, should the city come under attack, some centuries ago. A favorite stop of mine was also the Central Market, located in the heart of the Florence shopping center. With about 20 food stalls, this is a great place to try a number of foods in one spot.

Duomo

As much as I loved Florence this was the only area where we encountered some issues. A rather rude family tried to bully us out of our seats at the central market, after they met us already seated with our meals and then openly spoke badly about us as they occupied the seats next to us. There were also several other isolated incidents with a select few individuals who were less than kind, respectful, or professional, and one incident where a woman was openly hostile. That is not to say that the people of Florence were not perfectly lovely, and apart from these isolated incidents, the majority of people we interacted with were amazing. From Florence we took a trip to Pisa. We were warned that the town was small and mostly residential, but we made the short hour long ride to see the leaning tower. This is the only other area where our trip hit a pitfall. We purchased the ticket for the train, which turned out to be a local line, and with ticket in hand we went through the security check as normal, and confirmed with the agent at the train's door that we were on the right train, since there was a bit of confusion on the departure board. We also showed him our tickets. He quickly muttered ‘yes’ and dismissed us inside. This was our first time on a local train, and no one had told us that we had to "validate" our tickets. Upon doing his rounds, the same agent told us that since we had not validated our tickets we would have to either pay a 60-euro per person fine or be escorted off the train by police. He noted that someone should have told us prior, including the security agents who are tasked with the job of doing so, and that he didn’t see that our tickets had not been validated ‘because it is someone else's job to do so’. He so 'kindly' only made us pay one fine because we were tourists, didn’t know any better and no one had told us. We paid our fine without incident but were annoyed by his previous flippant dismissal at the train's door, only to be fined later. As a note, the validation process for local trains simply involves sliding your ticket through a small machine that marks it with a tiny stamp of the city that you are in. The fast trains that travel to major cities do not require this process. Also, if booking tickets ahead of time, be sure to check ticket guidelines. Tickets purchased from the same company, at the same time can have different cancellation policies and stipulations for use.

All in all, we left Florence with amazing memories, and headed to Milan. Milan is the beautiful high-end shopping center of Italy. We had an amazing time perusing the fine architecture, window-shopping, and enjoyed a lunch directly beside the Milan Duomo. Milan is also home to Leonardo da Vinci’s most famous work, The Last Supper. Sadly, we did not make reservations so we were not able to see the painting, but we enjoyed our trip nonetheless. Italy is a beautiful country and as enchanting as I imagined. I hope that many of you will indulge in your wanderlust and visit soon.

Italy….The Rundown

11 days.

55 miles walked.

3 buses.

Multiple boat rides.

6 trains.

1 subway ride.

Several taxi and shuttle rides.

5 hotels.

5 flights.

9 cities.

23 hours of flight time.

9 inflight movies.

Lots of lovely pasta and risotto and pastries and wine and seafood and espresso and gelatto.

1 day of snow.

And so many memories.

Here is the rundown of my trip in the event you may be looking for some tips, tricks and spots to check out. Italy is truly a beautiful country. But, it can be a bit intimidating to travel there. Here is an overview of the logistics of my trip. Nassau 》New York 》 Milan 》 Venice 》 Rome 》Florence 》 Pisa 》 Florence 》 Milan 》 New York 》Fort Lauderdale》 Nassau Hotel Info

LaGare Hotel Venezia - MGallery by Sofitel

Address: Rivalonga 27, Isola Di Murano, Venezia, Murano, 30141, Italy

Telephone: +39041736250

BOOKED WITH PRICELINE

Overview

Great location in Murano

Quiet

Offers complimentary boat shuttle

A short boat ferry to Venice.

Berg Luxury Hotel

Address: Via Aurora 29, Rome, 00187, IT

BOOKED WITH ELVOLINE

Overview

Great location in central Rome

Excellent restaurant next door

Modern décor

Breakfast was included in our rate

Hotel Ville sull'Arno

Address: Lungarno C. Colombo 1/3/5, Florence, FI, 50136 Italy

BOOKED WITH ORBITZ

Overview:

Beautiful

Very relaxing

Traditional Italian décor mixed with modern amenities

Complimentary spa area with indoor heated pool, sauna and steam room

Complimentary shuttle into central town area

Excelsior Hotel Gallia, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Milan

Address: Piazza Duca D'Aosta 9, Milan, 20124 Italy

Overview

Great location right next to Milan train station

Excellent in house restaurant

Modern décor

Complimentary Maserati shuttle to Milan central town area

Great rooftop bar

Train Info

I booked my train tickets prior to my trip, but if your time schedule is not set in stone, I suggest booking at the station to avoid any penalties should you need to change your departure times. Airport

I flew into the Milan airport, via Emirates, and made my away around Italy. There is a shuttle bus to and from the Milan airport that costs about 8€ each way. The bus heads directly to the Milan Center Train Station. Visa Info: As a Bahamian, I did not need a visa. However, be sure to check if your country is a visa exempt country. However, if connecting in the US, you will need a US visa. Currency Info: The euro is used in Italy. It is best to order from your local bank or to use your ATM card once in the country. The airport conversion rate is poor and there is a fee.

A Few Tips To Remember

  1. Always validate local train tickets

  2. Be sure to book reservations ahead of time to view The Last Supper, in Milan

  3. Pay the few extra euros to join the short line to enter the Vatican

  4. Book train tickets at the train station if you are not sure about your schedule

Also, check out my article on our experience with Emirates, a bit later this week. Ciao.

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