Travel: Rome, Florence and Venice


So the family and I spent about a week in these 3 cities in Italy – they went ahead of me and spent a few more days in Venice visiting the islands of Murano and Burano. From what they say and bought, I recommend going there.

The day I landed, we went off to Rome. Now Rome, unlike other capital cities, doesn’t give off that grandeur of a stately capital. It’s got graffiti everywhere – the home of graffiti. Most of it is really good stuff, but it’s mixed with amateur graffiti which ruins the whole feel for it. That night, we hopped on the metro to Barberini and walked the short distance to the Trevi Fountain, which is an architectural marvel. Don’t forget to toss a coin in there in hope of returning back to Rome and if you are lucky enough (which you should be on most nights) you might be the witness of a proposal. A few minutes walk from there are the Spanish steps, now called that as the Spanish Embassy is currently in that Piazza. **Also recommend doing the Pantheon on this stroll as the first stop, around the same area furthest away from a metro station.

Travel Tip: 1) Except for the Spanish Steps, none of the others are just out of the metro station. So be prepared with google maps as Italy is notoriously bad with tourist signs and many don’t speak English. 2) Ask for a taste at the multitude of Gelato shops around the Trevi Fountain as some are just downright disgraceful. 3) Based on the number of days you are in city, get a travel pass – it time based and not day based, fully worth it – allows you on to buses and the metro.

The next day we set of to the Vatican. I recommend getting off at Ottaviano as there is always a crowd to get in. Go early. Security check is intense. We made the mistake of going on a Sunday – wasn’t able to witness any mass even though they have 4-5 on that day. Additionally, the Sistine Chapel and the museum was closed. However, St Peter’s is mind-blowing. From the floor all the way to the roof. It’s majestic. If you’ve got the stamina for it, do pay and make your way to the top of the dome of the Basilica. It’s a marvellous view of the oblong Piazza below. There is a free tour (again not on Sundays) at around 2pm from the tourist information office on your right before entering the main square lines on your left side. The guards within the Vatican don’t seem to know about this office, but there is a sign on the outside while you are queuing showing St.Peters on the right, tourist office and piazza on the left. You would obviously want to get some souvenirs, and my advice is to take your time and shop around. Prices vary greatly from shop to shop as does quality, and like any tourist destination, the further away, the cheaper price and lesser quality.

Travel tip: Walk towards the Lepanto station on your way out of the area and check yourself into Gelarmony (34, Via Mercantonio Colonna). It has the best gelato in the city, it is where the locals go, it is very busy but totally worth the queue. They also have pastries on the opposite side, slightly expensive but again – totally worth it. Don’t miss out on this.

And finally the Colosseum. That site gives you a lovely low down of getting into the Colosseum. Although Italians don’t really do much work and nothing runs on time, for the amount of tourists they get, planning your journey in advance does very well for you. I recommend booking your tickets in advance or if you’ve got an extra day, to go a get it an entire day early. No matter the time of year, the lines are long – and please don’t make the mistake of paying extra to tour guides in abundance around the Colosseum. It’s not really a scam, but it doesn’t give you the flexibility to enjoy the Colosseum and the Roman Forum at your own pace. As any other popular tourist destination, go early. There is a lot of history to these structures, so read ahead or download audio guides and just soak up the sad tragedy of events that has transpired along the years. It is free to enter on the first Sunday of each month, if you get lucky – however, I wouldn’t want to think about how long that line is going to be.

Travel tip: I like to travel light, but due to security reasons many of the places in Rome don’t allow for luggage. There is luggage storage in many Italian train stations, and again, the lines are long. So plan ahead. Getting your luggage back, takes half the time though.

We then hoped on a train to Florence. We stayed on Via Palazuolo, not too far from the station. It’s in a slightly foreign-based part of town so don’t be alarmed if you barely see any Italians. In the morning, we headed towards Mercarto Centrale and San Lorenzo Market. It might be slightly pricey, but the products are good and if you aren’t sure – there are the odd Italian store owners and you can check the authenticity of products from them. The top floor of the market and one of the bottom rows has ready made food. Everything tastes good – you can’t go wrong. You can go a quick walking tour on your own around Florence, covering the Duomo, which you can see from a distance, but is nothing compared to its magnificence up close. Again if you want to go in, you’ll have to buy tickets, come early. You will pass Piazza Signoria which is home to an imitation of Michelangelo’s David (the original is at the Accademia Gallery) on the way to Ponte Vecchio which used to be a street filled with butcheries, but has since been converted to house all the gold stores in town. Following that to the Pitti Palace, which is now a museum. There are several bridges that cross over the Arno river, and will give you a look to the Ponte Vecchio. In the evening, I left the family behind and headed to Piazza Michelangelo. It’s a steep 15-20min walk from the Ponte Vecchio but worth it if you don’t have time to make it inside to the top of the 400+ steps of the Duomo. You get a beautiful overview of the city of Florence.

Travel tip: 1) The tourist information main desk is located close to the baptistery near the Duomo and they are very helpful. If you are staying long in Florence it may be worth getting a pass to the museums and what not. We weren’t so I don’t know much about that option. 2) There are lots of places to eat in Florence – portions are hearty, so keep that in mind when you order. Also, do try the local specialties – you won’t be let down.

Take a trip to Pisa which is 40mins-1hour away by train – or you can book a half day tour. There isn’t much price difference. It will be crowded, but you can manage the mandatory pushing photograph. You can climb up to the top if you wish, but there isn’t much around to see. You will pass the University of Pisa which sits just outside where Galileo taught. In the afternoon, we booked a tour to the Chianti wine country, visiting two local wineries using different methods to produce their wines. The drive there is beautiful, very organized lines. We did a half day tour, but they also have full day tours – so at your convenience. We stopped over at the small local town of Greve, nothing spectacular but very different from the big cities – simple sophistication.

Travel tip: The tour office suggested CiaoFlorence and MyTours. We went with CiaoFlorence due to it’s excellent tripadvisor reviews. We weren’t let down. There are many tour offices that are open till 7pm, so you don’t have to go to the CiaoFlorence office specifically. You can also book online. If you do go to the office, and are in a family or group, ask for a discount. Many are happy to oblige. It also comes with a free walking tour around Florence which is worth it.

The next day, we went to the Uffizi Gallery. This site has the best advice. I recommend following it. I reserved it online, thinking to go to the Accademia and Uffizi both, but later changed my mind and headed only to the Uffizi. I had an hour to spare before collecting the tickets I had reserved and luckily the lines were not long in the AM, so we stood in line and had gotten tickets within 15 mins. I downloaded the Rick Steves audio tour which is great. I highly recommend it. They say it takes about 2 hours for the complete tour, the audio guide is just under an hour, and we took 3 hours in total. The museum has a lot to offer, and there is much to see. Pace yourself. We then hopped on a train back to Venice.

Travel tip: Italians are lovely, thoughtful hosts. We mostly stayed in apartments through airbnb. Completely worth the peace of mind.

We did a tour of the Doge’s Palace and walked about the calles of Venice, with fingers crossed to not get lost.  Don’t forget to buy your Venetian masks here. And very much worth a trip to Accademia to Gelateria Squero – completely homemade by the guy there. Absolutely delicious without leaving a dent in your pocket for otherwise quite a costly city. Either at the corner facing the canal at Calle Nani or Calle del Pistori. Two stores down is a lovely wine shop, that sells a very different type of bruchetta. Not a complete meal, but worth a tasting experience. Further down, to your left (facing the canal) is Osteria de Squero which is highly recommended by Lonely Planet for its cicheti, which is between 6-8pm.

Travel tip: 1) If you are excessively using public transport ie. the tram, bus and vaporetto – get the day pass, and don’t forget to tap in to avoid fines. 2) Beware of pick pockets in any public places – the locals will warn you of them. 3) Ristorantes have a cover charge per person unless included in meal rates, so skip them and go to a trattoria instead – usually family run business, equally exceptional food.

I’m sad that I didn’t know about Rick Steves audio guides earlier, but after the Uffizi gallery tour – I highly recommend his audio guides. There is a lot more to do in these cities, do explore more if time allows you. I know I’m definitely going back.

On later research I found the oldest ice cream parlor in Rome called Giolitti, near the Pantheon – one of the city’s most celebrated gelato shops, serving such unusual flavors.

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