I just returned home a couple of weeks ago from a trip of a lifetime. My husband and I celebrated our 20th Anniversary with a “2nd honeymoon” trip to Italy! Our first honeymoon was in Wisconsin, at my in-laws’ lake house–lovely and pretty in the fall, but not like this trip at all! I did learn quite a bit about our overseas vacation and am happy to share with you 12 Tips for Your Trip to Italy, which I really hope you get to do someday!
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Preparing for the Trip to Italy
I started planning for this trip at the beginning of this last summer, and it was A LOT of work to figure out plane tickets using miles (but not enough to cover it all), the itinerary, hotels, transportation in the country, and getting tickets and tours to various museums and sites. I was glad that I did it myself, though, because now I know so much more about how things work. I was really pleased with the website Hotels.com (very easy to keep everything organized in the app and we earned a free hotel night!), and I’ll link to various tour websites, etc. as well, as I talk about them below. I saved even more money booking hotels through Hotels. com because I used Ebates!
Another thing I did was call several companies to see how things would be covered when I was out of the country. Be sure to check on these: car insurance (if you plan to rent a car), medical insurance (in case of an emergency), cell phone coverage (I switched to an affordable overseas plan during the trip), and credit cards (to give a travel notice and find out if you’ll be charged foreign transaction fees–use a card that doesn’t).
We arrived in Rome after an all-night flight. Next time, I’ll try a sleep aid to help me sleep on the plane because we headed straight out for a full day of fun, and by that night I was soo tired!
We checked into a really nice hotel near the main train station Roma Termini called Hotel Una Roma. They held our bags for us since the room wasn’t ready yet. We freshened up a bit in the lobby restroom and headed out for a day of Roman adventure.
We walked to the Coliseum and had a great tour of it, including the underground and the forum.
It was fascinating to see first-hand such an old building with so much history. The “stage” has been removed so you can see underneath it. We also got to go underground and saw the cages which had held the dangerous animals. The animals used to reach the stage area through a cage elevator that was operated by eight slaves.
Tip #1: Get a Guided Tours for Certain Attractions such as the Coliseum and Pompeii
After a little rest at the hotel, we headed out that evening for dinner. When we walked in the restaurant, I heard my husband say to someone, “What are you doing here?” There was a couple there that we knew from back home. The two men had worked it out and completely surprised us two ladies. So, it was a fun first dinner in Italy with friends!
Mt. Vesuvius, Naples, Pompeii
The next day we woke up early and met a tour bus that drove us down to Mt. Vesuvius and Pompeii. That was a wonderful experience. We absolutely loved our tour guide, Inga. She gave us a lot of great tips for an Italian vacation such as:
- Make sure taxi drivers use the meter. So many will try to cheat you. (We also used Uber, which is nice because you know upfront what the cost will be.)
- Many restaurants add a service fee to the bill. If they do, you don’t need to tip.
- Buy leather in Florence. You can haggle for a great deal. (We did this! My husband bought a leather coat, and we bought wallets and journals for the kids.)
- Also, get steak in Florence. They’re known for it. (Best meal we had in Italy! ~ at Buca Mario Ristorante)
I was proud of myself for doing the hike up the volcano since I’m not a hiker at all. After the hike, we headed into Naples for a fun pizza lunch before going to Pompeii, the city buried in ash from the volcanic eruption of 79 A.D.
Tip #2: Get comfortable walking shoes!
Oh, boy, did we do a lot of walking: through the towns and cities, up the mountains, in the cathedrals, up the steps. . . We also saved cab and Uber money by walking. So, make sure you have great, comfortable walking shoes. I wore tennis shoes and these favorite sandals.
Tip #3: Get Skip-the-Line Tickets for Other Attractions such as the Vatican Museum & Uffizi Museum
The next day we had skip-the-line tickets to the Vatican Museum. The “tour guide” tours were perfect for Coliseum and Pompeii, but I’m glad we got a different type of ticket for the Vatican Museum in Rome and Uffizi Museum in Florence. These “skip-the-line” tickets allowed us not to waste hours waiting in line to get in. Once inside we purchased audio tours for these two museums.
The Vatican Museum was an interesting place full of all kinds of different artifacts and art. There were mummies from Egypt, idols from India, and the absolutely breath-taking Sistine Chapel.
Tip #4: Use the TrenItalia Frecciarossa high-speed trains to get from city to city.
Using Inga the tour guide’s advice, we took a high-speed train that afternoon to get from Rome to the Amalfi Coast where I had reservations to stay that night. (We heard from her and from several other people that you do NOT want to rent a car and drive there.) We arrived in Naples, changed trains to go to Salerno, and then took a ferry from Salerno to the town of Amalfi. I didn’t realize that the boat ride would be a really inexpensive way to get a sight-seeing tour of the beautiful Amalfi Coast!
The town of Amalfi was gorgeous among the cliffs at the water’s edge. That night we checked into the Hotel Doria and then had dinner down in the town at the Sensi Restaurant at Hotel Residence. (The Hotel Doria where we stayed wasn’t that great. If we go back, I’d like to try a hotel in the town, rather than up in the hills.)
The next morning we did some sight-seeing in the town and rented an umbrella spot to enjoy the water. Take a look at the “sand” of this beach. It’s actually volcanic rock and is not very comfortable to sit on or walk on. But, the water and scenery is beautiful.
We hired a local driver to take us from Amalfi to Naples so we could catch the high-speed train from there to Florence. The driving was so scary, I had to close my eyes for most of that 1.5 hour-long trip. So glad we got the advice not to drive there ourselves! It’s some difficult navigating.
Tip #5: Don’t drive in the Amalfi Coast; the roads are too tricky unless you live there.
Florence was my favorite.
I had received a recommendation of a hotel to stay in from my cousin’s wife–Helvetia & Bristol Firenze, and wow. I had never stayed at a 5-star hotel before. It sure was nice!
That evening we went walking around and heard some beautiful music outdoors. There was a small group of musicians playing Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and some other pieces in the courtyard of the Uffizi Museum where the acoustics were amazing.
Florence is a fun city to walk around it, but, just like Rome, the Italian drivers are crazy. Be careful, and you’ll get hit!
The next day we did a skip-the-line tour of the Uffizi Museum. There were some famous paintings there, but I made a mistake. I thought the David statue was there, but it’s actually at the Galleria dell’Accademia and we didn’t have time to fit it in. Next time!
Tip #6: Do careful research of must-see things to do so you don’t miss them!
A Skywalk Tour was on the agenda for the next day. We met at the Duomo Cathedral. First, we went inside the church where we were led up a secret way to some stairs. Right as we were entering, the tour guide said, “I hope none of you have claustrophobia or afraid of heights.”
Well, it was too late then. We climbed about 150 steps to this walkway on the roof. In the picture below, I looked up at the cupola of the dome and saw people up there. Then, I realized that’s where we were heading next! So, after a total of 469 steps, we made it to the top. What a view!
(By the way, we went in cathedrals in every town and city we visited. They all have signs saying that you have to have your shoulders and knees covered–no tank tops, sun dresses, or short shorts or skirts. Some were more strict than others.)
Tip #7: Do the Skywalk Tour at Il Duomo in Florence
The next morning we rented a car to take us to Lecchi in Tuscany, about an hour south of Florence. Driving through and out of the city was interesting, to say the least. Those streets were definitely not made for cars!
Yes, I loved Florence, but I loved the rest of Tuscany, too. What an absolutely gorgeous place. There is nothing in the U.S. like its beauty.
I just took a guess in choosing our hotel, but it was perfect! We can’t wait to go back to Villa Lecchi. It’s kind of a cross between a really nice hotel and a bed and breakfast. The family who owns it is so nice and friendly. We really enjoyed talking to them. It would be a fun place to take our kids someday.
Tip #8: Stay at Villa Lecchi in Tuscany
During our three days in Tuscany, we drove around quite a bit to different towns such as San Gimignano and Siena, and had dinner at some beautiful wineries.
After returning our car to Florence, we boarded a high-speed train to Venice. What a fascinating city. It really wasn’t what we expected: much bigger, more wealth, and more tourists from around the world than any of the other places we visited. We stayed at Hotel Arlecchino, which was fine for one night.
We were only there one night, but as we walked around that day we found out that there was a performance that night of a group called Interpreti Veneziani playing Vivaldi’s Four Seasons in a cathedral that night at 9 p.m. We went. I really don’t particularly like Baroque music, but I was completely enraptured the entire performance. It was so good, and this cellist was most entertaining.
Tip #9: Get tickets to see a concert of Interpreti Veneziani in Venice
The next day we took a ferry ride over to the island called Murano where there are glass factories where hand-made glass items are crafted. It was fun to watch the demonstration and to get a tour of some the amazing things they make.
Tip #10: See a glass-making demonstration in Murano
Another high-speed train took us back to Rome and to the end of such a good vacation. From the time we arrived back in Rome, things went downhill. The line for a cab at the train station was insane, so we decided to walk to our hotel, which was a bed and breakfast this time. It was the scariest–both because of traffic and the area of town we were walking through–walk we had ever done. But, we arrived there safely. It was an odd place to stay, with the bathroom across the hall (and other people staying there), and no air conditioning.
The next morning the proprietor told us how to get to the nearby train that would take us to the main train station where we could catch the train to take us to the airport for our departure back home. It was around 8 a.m. on a weekday, and the train was packed. We squeezed our way on with our luggage, and at the very last second, a woman standing near my husband jumped off the train as the doors were closing. My husband immediately realized she had reached into his front pocket and stolen his wallet and passport.
Tip #11: Never let up your guard against pick-pockets.
He had been so careful about pick-pockets the entire trip. But, at this moment, he was focused more on our destination than the people around us. Remember, we were on our way to the airport! So, we got off at the next stop to try to decide where to go. I said, “We need to figure out where the U.S. Embassy is and go there to get a new passport.” Someone walking by heard us and told us it was two stops away. So, off we went to try to still make our flight.
Long story, short, we missed the check-in at the airport for the flight by 13 minutes. There were no more flights out that day to the U.S., so we had to stay another night. We were in such a miserable mood that we didn’t even enjoy our last night. We stayed near the airport in a town which was very trashy and icky. Our last meal in Italy was at McDonald’s. Neither of us slept at all that last night because of the miserable circumstances of the day. We lost our first class (business class) seats home on the plane because they had no more seats available. I had purchased trip insurance for $56. They gave us a check for $300. That didn’t quite cover the new passport, extra hotel, flight change, etc., but was better than nothing.
Tip #12: Buy trip insurance, maybe?
After a while, though, we were able to get past the theft and violation to remember the beautiful trip we had just taken and the reason for it–our 20 years together as husband and wife!
I do hope we can go back to Italy someday. We’ll go to the places we missed: Cinque Terre, Milan, and the northern lake country. But, we’ll also return to Florence and the Tuscany countryside!
Bonus Tip: Start saving up now for your amazing trip to Italy!
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