Planning: Rome

From Florence we will be taking an hour and a half train ride to Rome.  (Tickets are around $66.)  We we be staying in Rome for the longest amount of time, four days and four nights.

We’ve decided to stay at Orsa Maggiore, which is hostel for women only.  (I think I just heard our dads breathe a sigh of relief.)  The hostel is slightly outside of the historic district, but honestly the city is so big we will have to be riding buses all around anyway.  Interesting note: Rome only has two subway lines because beneath the city lies more roman ruins, they’ve started trying to build a third line but it’s already become an archeological dig, so who knows how long that will take. We will be staying in a room with 4 beds, so I guess we will be bunking with some fellow travelers.  Cost for four nights is €216 (including reservation fees) which comes to €27 a night each.  Not bad at all!

We will be arriving at the train station mid-afternoon.  Our plan is to stop by the hostel and then begin exploring the city.  We want to get a handle on the basics of how to get around.  This also seemed to be a good day to check out some of the free sites like the Trevis Fountain & the Spanish Steps.  Also, I don’t know when, but at some point Lauren and I will find and enjoy a hookah bar.  Maybe the hostel can suggest a good one.

Our second day is our historic day if you will.  We have decided to buy the Roma Pass which gives you free entrance into your first 2 sites and then a discount off of the rest, and it covers transportation for three days (€25.)  Our first stop with the pass will be the Colosseum because it’s the most expensive.  We also plan to visit Palatine Hill, the Roman Forum and the Pantheon on this day also.  If we can’t get to it all that’s alright, we’ve left room in our other days.

The Roma Pass considers the Colosseum, Roman Forum & Palatine Hill all as one stop.  So that will be our first free visit.  To get into the Pantheon is free also.  Whoot whoot.

Our third day in Rome will be spent at Castel S. Angelo and the Vatican.  We’ve already purchased our tickets for 1:00 p.m. for the Vatican, (St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican Museum & the Sistine Chapel.) Our friend, Rick Steves recommended visiting the Vatican in the afternoon when crowds were slightly lesser.  Our morning will be spent at Castel S. Angelo, our second site for the Roma Pass, which will be free.  The Vatican tickets were €19 with the reservation fee.  (The Roma Pass does not cover the Vatican.)

Our fourth and last day in Rome is our most open.  We have one stop that we’ve put on our itinerary, but I don’t think it will take up much time.  Rome is such a big city with so much history and many sites.  I’m sure while we’re there we’ll see things that we want to make time for.  Hopefully we will be able to fit them all in on our fourth day.  Our planned stop is the La Bocca della Verità, also known as the Mouth of Truth.  If you’re a Hepburn fan then you’ll recognize the Mouth of Truth from “Roman Holiday.”  It’s located in Santa Maria in Cosmedin and admission is free.

As I said early, we’re going to rely on public transit a lot more than in other cities while in Rome.  I’ve been studying the route map and it kind of makes my head want to explode.  See here.  (The link is to a lovely detailed PDF of Rome’s transit system. You should be able to open it in Adobe Reader.)  Here’s a screen shot of the map with what I talked about on the blog circled and highlighted.  Looking at the map we may end up re-arranging the plan based on location, but we can figure that out when we get there.  Wish us luck!

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Planning: Florence

CHANGE OF PLANS!!  We’re not stopping at Pisa on the way to Florence.  I’ll explain why further down.  Lauren and I are constantly planning, so things are bound to change as we learn more about where we are going and what it has to offer.

We will be arriving in Florence from Riomaggiore around noon.  We’ve booked ahead at the Florence Youth Hostel. (Click the link to see their website.) This will be our first hostel experience in Italy.  We will have a private room though, (with two twin beds and a shared bathroom.) For three nights it’s costing us €198.24 (~$273.86) which is €33.04 ($45.65) each a night.  Not bad.  The hostel is in a great location too!

“A” marks where we will be arriving at the train station, “B” marks where the hostel is and that bright red star is where the Uffizi Gallery is.

Our approach to Florence is that of fluidity.  There are many things to see in Florence, but we don’t want to get over-whelmed.  Frankly there is no way we would be able to see everything, so we aren’t going to put pressure on ourselves.  Whatever we do see will be amazing.  Our first day will be spent exploring.  We might stop in a few churches and maybe even climb the Duomo’s Dome.  Mostly though we will be eating gelato and soaking in the city.

Florence has many churches, one of them is the Santa Croce Basilica.  It is home to many famous tombs including those of Galileo, Machiavelli, Rossini, Ghiberti, and Michelangelo himself. (Admission: €5)

Another famous church is the Church of San Lorenzo.  For me the appeal is not in the church itself, but what’s behind it: the entrance to the Medici Chapels.  The Medici Chapels is the burial site of the Medici family, (the family who basically funded the Renaissance). It houses a crypt, a domed Chapel of Princes and most importantly the all-Michelangelo New Sacristy, featuring his architecture, tombs and statues. It is the only one of Michelangelo’s great architectural-sculptural projects to be realized in anything approaching entirety. (Admission: €6)

One of our planned stops is Dumo’s Dome.  The Dumo is a Gothic cathedral with free entrance, but very long lines.  Depending on our mood and the length of the line we may stop in.  What we would really like to do though is climb to the top of Dumo’s Dome. It’s 463 steps and offers a peek at the construction behind the dome.  The climbs promises vertigo and claustrophobia, but I think it will be worth it.  Unfortunately, (and annoyingly) the dome does not let you reserve tickets in advance.  So, if the lines are too long we may opt for a climb up the Campanile, (Giotto’s Tower) the bell tower next to the dome.  It is only a mere 414 steps and offers the same view of the city.  Rick Steves says that lines to the tower tend to be shorter, so we will see.  (Dumo’s Dome admission: €8, Campanile admission: €6).

(The picture on the far left is the view we would have from the Campanile bell tower.)

Another must-see stop which we will tackle on our second day is the Uffizi Gallery. It is home to some very famous naked women, (yes, that is the “Birth of Venus” and yes, I just crapped my pants out of excitement too.)  While the gallery is great it is not very big and should only take around two hours to explore. We have chosen to see this on our second day because the lines are incredibly long and purchasing tickets in advance at a set time is the best route.  (Admission: €10 + €4 reservation fee)

Close to the Uffizi Gallery is the Ponte Vecchio, Florence’s famous bridge.  While I don’t really want to go on the bridge because the shops are mostly jewelry tourist traps I do want to see it and maybe take a picture in front of it!  (Rick Steves says to wait until night to actually go on the bridge because the shops are closed, the lights are beautiful and there are top-notch street performers. – We may do that if we’re in the area at night.)

On our second day we’ve also talked about hiking up to Piazzale Michelangelo.  It’s about a 30-minute hike, but it boasts some breathtaking views of the city as well as a replica of Michelangelo’s “David.”  Steve’s recommends taking a bus to the piazza and then enjoying the leisurely walk downhill.  We may take his advice depending on how tired we’re feeling.

In case you were wondering I’ve included one of Rick Steve’s maps with the sights I’ve mentioned in this blog highlighted. (I don’t feel bad stealing his map because Lauren bought his book.)

On our third day in Florence we will be taking a “Best of Tuscany Tour.”  I have to admit I am really excited about it.  (This tour is the #1 Florence tour on TripAdvisor.) We will be leaving Florence at 8:30 a.m. and our first stop will be Siena.  In Siena we will take a guided walking tour which will include entrance to Siena’s cathedral. After Siena we will head towards a farm/vineyard outside of San Gimignano to enjoy a fresh home-made lunch (and wine).  The pictures below of lunch on the farm are from people’s actual pictures of the tour on TripAdvisor. Our next stop is the town of San Gimignano and then off to Pisa.  (This is why we aren’t stopping in Pisa on the way to Florence anymore.) Lauren & I are going to buy tickets to the tower so we can climb it.  We e-mailed the tour and they were nice enough to recommend a good time to buy tickets.  After Pisa we head back to Florence and should get there around 7:30 p.m.  I think it’s going to be a wonderful day!  (Price of tour: €80.)

After our tour we will probably grab dinner and then relax because we will be catching a train to Rome the next day!

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Planning: Pisa

After spending two night in Cinque Terre we will be hoping on the train over to Pisa.

From what we’ve heard and read Pisa doesn’t really have much to offer besides the leaning tower.  When we arrive at the the Pisa train station we will rent some lockers, (or just take our backpacks with us) and hop on a bus to see the tower and have lunch.  We are going to buy tickets ahead of time and tour the inside of the tower too.

Once we’ve had our fill we will take the bus back to the train station and head on towards Florence!

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Planning: Cinque Terre

After two nights and roughly a day and a half in Venice we will be hopping on a train to Cinque Terre.

Our plan is to take the 9:30 a.m. train, which has one connection in Florence around 11:30 a.m., the train from Florence to La Spezia, (the closest stop to Cinque Terre) will get us there around 2:20 p.m. The price for the train ticket is $75, (~€54.62).

Cinque Terra is a series of five coastal towns all connected by a hiking trail.  When we get to La Spezia we are going to purchase a regional train ticket, (€2) to Riomaggiore the southern-most town – where we will be staying.

We will be staying at La Dolce Vita. We will have a private room with a double bed and a shared bathroom. The total price for two nights is $156.89 (Split – $78.45/€57.76 each.) This place was actually recommended by Rick Steves and has 92% currently on TripAdvisor.com.

Since we will be arriving mid-afternoon I think on our first day we will just get acquainted with the lovely town of Riomaggiore.  In all honestly, when Lauren and I were first researching Italy we did a generic image search on Italy and photos of Riomaggiore popped up.  We immediately added Cinque Terre to our list.

Our second day will be spent tackling the hiking trails between the five cities.  We are getting a trail & train pass which will allow us access to all of the trails as well and cover all Cinque Terre trains.  The pass costs €8.50 for one day.  The plan is to get an early start, take our time, eat (gelato!) and explore each city.  The longest trail can take up to three hours to hike, but if we get tired or run out of time we can always take the train.

Total cost for Cinque Terre (including the train tickets to get there) : $167.90 / €122.04 each.

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Planning: Venice

We will arrive in Venice at about 11:05 a.m.  I’m sure after 18 and a half hours of traveling we’re going to be a bit zombie-ish.

The airport is on the mainland so to get to Venice, (the island) we will have to either take a bus, a water bus or a water taxi.  We’ve decided to take the Alilaguna blue line, (a water bus) to the Fondamente Nove stop which is closest to our bed & breakfast.

This is the Alilaguna water bus that will take us to Venice.  The ride will cost €13 and should take about half an hour.  From what I understand the buses come every hour or so.  We may have to wait awhile before getting to the island.

The bed & breakfast we will be staying at is B&B Ca’Dor.
(Click the link to see their website.)

We will have a private room with a double bed and a shared bathroom.  For two nights it is costing us €167.82, (split between the two of us, €83.91 each.)

Getting to the B&B is going to be an adventure in itself.  I wont put you through the headache of seeing the step by step directions from the bus stop to the B&B but instead simply include a handy map.  (I do love maps.)

Venice is divided into six districts, we will be staying Cannaregio.  I’m most excited about this because several websites have this district listed as the most economical when it comes to eating.  (Lord knows we plan to do a lot of that!)

The public transportation for Venice is the Actv vaporettos. Lauren & I have decided to buy a 36 hour pass for the price of €17.25.  This way we can completely explore the island without any worries.

Vaporettos:

Our big tourist stops are St. Mark’s Basilica & Campanile di San Marco.  Entrance to to the basilica is free, but it houses several museums and those do have an entrance fee.  We’ve decided to go to the “St. Mark’s Museum” because you can go out on the roof and overlook the square and it houses the original four horses.  (The ones on the outside are replicas – the originals were brought inside to preserve them from the weather.) The entrance fee is €4.

The Campanile di San Marco is a bell tower that you can pay to ride to the top of and get some great photos. Entrance price is €7.

Also in our plans is to take the #1 vaporetto route down the Grand Canal.  It’s nice free, (the price is included in our 36-hour vaporetto pass) way to get to know Venice.  Rick Steves even provides a free audio guide for the route.

If we feel up for it we also might take the 45-minute vaporetto ride to the colorful island of Burano, which is famous for it’s lacework.  It’s said that the houses are painted so brightly so that the fishermen can pick out their homes from the water.

Mostly though, what we plan to do is wander around, explore, get lost and eat lots of food!

Total cost for Venice = €103.03 each (~$141.08) + shopping & eating.

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Planning: Getting to Italy

To get to Italy we will have 3 layovers.

  1. Charlotte, NC (CLT) – 2 hrs. & 25 min. layover
  2. Philadelphia, PA (PHL) – 1 hr. & 29 min. layover
  3. Rome, Italy (FCO) – 1 hr. & 10 min. layover

Including time in the air we will have spent approximately 18 hours and 28 minutes traveling to Italy.

Now, you might be wondering why we have a hour layover in Rome.  Why didn’t we just stay in Rome and then work our way up to Venice? Well, at the time the prices to Rome and Venice were equal but the arrival times were different.  We were using tripadvisor.com so who knows the mechanics behind it?  But, for some reason the trip to Rome at the same price as the trip to Venice arrived almost 3 hours later.

So we booked the trip to Venice.  It cost $822.40.

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Planning: Itinerary

I should explain that this blog is purely selfish.  I’m a visual person and a nervous person.  So, with this nervous energy I plan to go through each step of  planning for the trip with visual aides.  Then, if I’m still feeling motivated I will update with stories of the adventures we had while in Italy.

The plan is simple.

1. Take 12 days off – spend two days traveling to and from Italy.

2. Enjoy the remaining 10 days exploring Italy.

Our route is simple.

1. Fly into Venice. – Spend two nights.

2. Take the train to Cinque Terre (specifically – Riomaggiore.) – Spend two nights.

3. Take the train to Pisa. – Spend a couple of hours.

4. Take the train to Florence. – Spend three nights.

5. Take the train to Rome. – Spend four nights.

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