Adventures in Italy.

September 2016.

It has been a dream of mine since I was young to visit Italy. I was obsessed with the Romans at school and always wished I could visit the ancient capital, Rome, which was so beautifully depicted in the books I had read and films I had watched. After much thought and consideration, Ben and I finally decided to book the trip (although my trip to Rome grew into a cross country tour from Naples to Milan!).

I always find when booking trips such as this that planning is key. Our deciding factor is the cheapness of the flight. We got a good bargain flying into Naples from London Luton and returning from Milan, all we had to do now was figure out what we were going to do in between. We booked the trip for 2 weeks in September, the weather was still due to be warm and sunny but the accommodation was considerably cheaper than if we had visited earlier that year. Being the ‘cost conscious’ people we are, we wanted to make sure we weren’t spending silly amounts on hotels, so we found a few B&B style places in all the cities for a reasonable amount (this did mean several hours trawling through hotels.com – but that’s half the fun, isn’t it?).

Public transport in Italy is reasonably cheap and the train fare for each of our city hops came to no more than €30 a time for us both. It made sense for us to travel North and so Rome, Florence and Venice were added to the itinerary. Each of the legs was no more than two hours by train and was considerably cheaper than if we had flown. You also get to take in the changing landscape from north to south but avoid the crazy driving on Italy’s roads! The trains in Italy are comfortable with plenty of space to keep luggage, it’s also nice to know that on those earlier morning trips you can get a bit of kip too.

So here is our adventure…

Naples.

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View of Mount Vesuvius from Naples

I had my reservations about Naples, many people still seem to think that Naples has a pretty bad reputation with travellers. You see a lot of stories online and do have your doubts, but it is a beautiful area of the country and in all honesty our trip here was in vast contrast to the numerous tales you read. I simply loved Naples. The food here was the cheapest I have ever experienced abroad (€4 for a full pizza is hard to beat!).

We only had a day to explore Naples so we were eager to make the most of it. The morning was spent wandering through the city, we had been recommended the Castel dell’Ovo which is an old fortress on the coast with restaurants and some spectacular views. It’s in the sea which means you get a lovely coastal walk to get there. In the afternoon we wanted to head a little further out of town to visit Vesuvius. This was on my bucket list and is a must do when visiting Naples. It’s pretty easy to get to by train. Just take the Circumvesuviana to Ercolano Scavi where you can get a bus tour to the top of the volcano. You have to pay to use the service, but it is definitely the best way to get there. We were fortunate enough to arrive at the station when the bus was already parked although there may be a wait for the next one to arrive.

The bus at Vesuvius drops you near the top, where you then walk the rest of the way. It’s a steep climb but is well worth. The walk way goes about three quarters around the top of the volcano offering views both inside the crater and out to the city of Naples sprawled below. The bus operators gives you about an hour and a half to explore on the sight before you have to leave. From the reviews I have read online, the tours are known for leaving bang on time and leaving anyone who is late behind to find a taxi back to the city, so make sure to get back in good time.

The following day we hired a car and headed out of town towards Pompeii. In hindsight I would have taken the train to Pompeii as the car hire proved to be quite expensive and the driving in Italy was verging on dangerous! It’s only about a 30 minute drive to Pompeii where we stayed for the following night. This gave us the chance to explore the ruins of Pompeii. Definitely combine a trip to Pompeii as part of a trip to Naples, it’s a fascinating place with loads of history which could consume half a day at least. We split half our day in Pompeii with the afternoon spent heading to the coast. We planned to visit Amalfi although the drive there was terrifying and the parking is extremely limited. If you want to visit the coast, definitely go by coach or boat as there just isn’t anywhere to park. We ended up driving straight through Amalfi and stopping at the following town. By the time we arrived it was getting quite late so we wandered along the coast before heading back as we didn’t want to risk driving in the dark with a hire car. I must stress the driving here is awful! The buses appear to have right of way over any other vehicle, no one will stop for you even though you are deemed to have right of way and tailgating around tight bends appears to be the norm. If you do wish to travel there yourself, please use a moped! The views, however, are spectacular but it’s hard to enjoy when your eyes are glued to the road for the next crazy driver to emerge!

Rome.

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View from Palatine Hill

My dream come true. I was finally going to Rome. We got the train from Naples to Rome and then had two full days to explore the city. We did all the typical tourist attractions, and like an excited child I just couldn’t wait to reach the next thing and see it all in real life! We started off by visiting the Vatican, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps and the Pantheon.

The Vatican was extremely crowded and we found we were queuing for quite a while as they only let groups of people in at a time. When you get into the Vatican you can go into St Peter’s Basillica. It’s a beautiful church and offers some welcome shade after the heat in the queue. We also visited the Sistine Chapel although you do have to walk through lots of rooms before you get to it, it went on and on and on and we were stuck in a crowd of people all being ushered forward. It is worth seeing but they are extremely strict on photography so we weren’t able to get any photos.

After visiting the Vatican, we went and visited the Spanish Steps. This is very much a tourist trap so expect to be hassled by ‘Selfie Stick’ sellers and have roses forced in your face. It is always full of people who use this area to bask in the sunshine. Near here is also another attraction, the Trevi Fountain. This too is usually crammed with tourists all vying to get a photo closest to the fountain. It’s spectacular when it’s lit up at night, so make sure to visit it then as you do get some incredible photos. Another stop was made at the Pantheon too. This was an impressive building to see in real life and as it’s free to enter we had a wander around inside too. It’s a beautiful space and is in incredible condition considering its age. Now in the heart of Rome  you are about 20 minutes away from the most impressive building of them all, the Colosseum.

My highlight of the trip was visiting the Colosseum. We made sure we got up early to purchase tickets as the queues can get long during the day. The surrounding area of the colosseum is great to sit and relax. We always ended up back here to just see it one more time. Inside you follow the guide into the main amphitheatre. You start off at the bottom walking around the edge of the main floor which is now only partially covered. If you make your way upstairs you get an impressive view of the whole arena. It’s amazing to think how many people would have visited this in its heyday. We spent a few hours here just wandering around, it’s full of so much history I didn’t really want to leave. The great thing about the ticket for the Colosseum is that it also gets you access to the Roman Forum. We didn’t realise this until we looked at the ticket as we were coming out! The Forum is located about 5 minutes away from the Colosseum and contains numerous old Roman Government buildings some of which are still intact. It gets very hot here as there isn’t much shade but there is a great photography spot at the top of Palatine Hill where you get amazing photos of both the Forum and with the Colosseum in the background.

Florence.

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Cathedral of Santa Maria

Next stop: Florence. We didn’t have a lot planned for our time in Florence so this was definitely a chance to slow the pace a bit and relax. We found a particular square in Florence where we sat and had coffee and cake and people watched for the majority of the evening. It was a lovely sun trap in a beautiful setting. We felt quite fancy having coffee in a silver pot and little cakes to enjoy! The main area in Florence is the square surrounding the Cathedral of Santa Maria. We had to visit here twice as they are extremely strict on dress code and wouldn’t let me in with only shorts on. The outside of the building is beautiful with black, white, green and pink rock making pretty patterns. It’s unlike any cathedral I had seen before. Inside was a little disappointing as I was expecting it to made as impressive as the outside. It’s still a great place to see and is at the heart of Florence, every street we took always ended up back here.

For the art lovers among us, a trip to the Galleria dell’ Accademia is a must. This is the home of Michelangelo’s David. The queue for this place is ridiculous, it was easily a good hour and a half we stood waiting, only to stay for about 10 minutes while we got a few pictures. It’s worth a look, but don’t be tempted by the touts outside offering priority access unless you are an avid art goer as you’ll be paying a premium just to see the one statue. Nevertheless, it’s great to say you’ve been and it really is worth a look.

A little gem we did discover in Florence was the Piazza Michelangelo. It’s located south of the river and is quite a walk away from the centre, but after the steep climb you are in for some fantastic views of the city. There is also a bronze replica of the David statue up there and an area with steps where you can sit and take in the view. When we visited there were a lot of art students painting and a man playing music which made this a really unique experience. Definitely go if you get the chance.

From Florence, we got the train to Pisa for a morning. There isn’t much to see in Pisa besides the leaning tower so I wouldn’t recommend any longer than half a day here. There are loads of good spots to grab a photo but prepare for hoards of people doing the classic ‘holding up the tower’ pose. It’s worth a go but is a bit harder than you expect!

Venice.

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Gondola ride in Venice

For anyone that hasn’t yet been to Venice, please go. There is no where on Earth that compares to this place. It’s full of charming little alleyways full of restaurants and shops, confusing directions and a LOT of bridges. It’s really easy to get to by train although you might end up paying a bit of a premium to stay in a hotel actually on Venice island.

The main area in Venice is St Mark’s Square. It’s a large area surrounded by restaurants and shops which leads to many other little streets. It’s easy to find on the map, but finding your way there over all the canals can prove a little trickier. Definitely get a map from your hotel or have maps on your phone handy as things can get quite confusing. Off St Mark’s Square is a an area called Bacino Orseolo, it’s right next to the Hard Rock Cafe and harbours loads of Gondolas. After all a trip to Venice isn’t complete without a Gondola ride! I’m not sure how the queuing system works but we found if we walked a little further up the canal we were able to get a Gondola in a couple of minutes. It costs about €80 for a 40 minute tour. The Gondolier takes you around all the iconic sights including a trip past the Grand Canal. You really get to see a different side to Venice when you are actually on the water and is by far one of my favourite experiences whilst being away.

After we had experienced Venice on the water we had to take a trip to see the Rialto Bridge. I never realised the bridge contained shops which came as quite a surprise. It’s always crammed with tourists but you can get some beautiful photographs both on the bridge and along the canals paths either side. Our favourite time to see this was at sunset when all the lights either side of the canal reflect off the surface of the water, it’s a truly magical place to be.

We hadn’t planned to see a lot of specific places here, but did find that walking through the numerous alleys was an experience enough. It’s a beautiful place in itself and I can’t say that about many places. An ideal souvenir from Venice would definitely be some Murano glass, it is literally in every shop you see around the city. They create animals, little decorations, anything out of this stuff and every shop window is crammed full of little trinkets. We did end up buying a Murano glass cockerel and a gondola made from an old tin can to remember our trip by.

Milan.

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Milan Cathedral

Our final destination was Milan. I knew of Milan as the fashion capital from my time studying fashion at college, so this was more a destination for me rather than Ben. It is in stark contrast to Naples with its cobbled streets weathered charm, this place has money and it shows! We only had a day to explore the city before our flight back so we headed to the Duomo di Milano, the famous cathedral in the heart of the city. Hundreds of people mill about the cathedral eating chestnuts from the stalls surrounding the square. Everywhere you go there are shops, it’s the perfect destination for the shopping weekend break. I wish I had done a bit more research on Milan to find some other sights to see, but time was against us here and after a trip into a few shops we were packing up an saying goodbye to Italy.

Our two week holiday exploring Italy had come to an end, but we had experienced  so much in that time. If you are considering a trip there soon, i’d advise using the public transport available if you are hopping to other cities, it’s inexpensive and takes away the hassle of driving and parking. The food was also a lot cheaper in the south but be prepared to pay a little more for standard dishes in the main tourist areas of the cities, it’s always best to go a little way of the beaten path to really get a true Italian experience, without breaking the bank. The weather was great for our whole trip and only had half a day of rain when we arrived in Milan, it’s warm in September but not hot so was ideal for walking around for long times. We found we didn’t have to prebook any of the attractions we went to, although if you do want to avoid the queue when you get there, you can book tickets for the majority of the main sights online before you go. And finally; enjoy, it’s a beautiful country to see.

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Photos taken and owned by Amy.

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