I am back from my 8-days long, and yet so short trip to Italy. It was all … dreamy, to capture in a word. The italian by-lanes, the Italian men and women (ummmmm, the men…wow, you remember the mythological Greek Gods and the muscular statues when looking at them).
(PS: Yaaron mujhe muaaf karo, main nashe mein hoon 😉 ) My first thought on landing there, watching them… "It must be difficult becoming a model here. All of them are soooo good-looking!! " Now back, it’ll take me a while to settle for the Indian breed.
My trip included 3 cities in Italy – Rome, Florence and Venice. I managed to sneek in a day trip into the country side of Tuscany, thus covering Siena, San Gimignano and Pisa. And, I think that was the best part of the trip. If you ever plan a trip to Italy, the Tuscany countryside is a must-visit.
Some important tips I learnt about a foreign trip, especially a self-financed personal trip:
1. Carry lots of MTR/Haldiram packs for your dinners. The dinners are not just costly, they are not satisfying either. No matter how much you’re comfortable with Pizza and Pastas, you can’t survive on them for 8 days, and your stomach can’t handle it either. The MTR packs I had taken with them, turned out to be a boon. I wish I had carried more.
2. Plan your itinerary well before and book your tickets online for as many things as possible. Most of them had discounts on advance booking and it saves you a lot of time in queues at the venues. We lost half a day because the Collosseum ticket counter closed at 4.30 pm. We had booked the tickets to Vatican, the train tickets from Rome-> Florence and Florence -> Venice and that definitely saved us time and money. It may not be much, but every penny counts, you see 🙂
3. Booking a hotel in the center of attractions/places to visit helps. We had hotels booked in the city center in Rome and Florence and that gave us a very good head-start. We didn’t have to waste a lot of time in travelling to the destinations. Also, with so much luggage to carry when moving from one city to another, it was nice to be close to the stations. Our hotel in Venice was at Mestre (a few kms away from Venice) and I would say that dampened the experience a bit.
4. Booking a hotel with a kitchen access (even if common) helps.
5. Make frequent trips to the local supermarket. You can buy lot of your daily requirements like fruits, cold-drinks, chocolates/candies, water etc at a lot cheaper price. Buying them from the bars or shops is much much dearer.
Now, the experience of the cities.
Rome – mostly like Delhi. People are professional, running around, don’t care to smile at strangers, don’t want to talk either. Some of the most shady looking people, whom you are keeping a guard against, are unfortunately, mostly asians. And that’s not because it’s our mentality, but because of our experience there. The ones running the local wagons of gelatos and cold-drinks or selling souvenirs, are the ones from India or Bangladesh. And, they are the ones most pressed for money in a foreign land. So, it’s no wonder that people eye you, the tourist with suspicion too. And, they don’t like to serve you. Our hotel receptionist, or the waiter at the bar, or the taxi driver. They serve you because you’re there and you’ve money, but they can’t help their disdain for your kind. So, you can sense the hostility in the air somewhere.
The place is nice otherwise because of the historical significance. Most of the Roman history happened there. From the Collosseum to the Vatican Museum, each is unique and has some significance in its own way. I heavily recommend a guide of some sorts in each of the place. Else, you’ll heavily regret the money you spent as an entry fee. The entry fee is high for each of the monument and watching them without knowing the details of them, the story behind it, I think is a pure waste of time, energy and money. Ohh, you spend a lot of each of the three, for each of the place. We booked an open bus tour (yes, we pre-booked that and it saved us a couple of euros), to roam around Rome. While everything is walking distance in Rome, all the famous locations, still it’s a lot of walking. So, saving wherever you can, definitely helps. So, spending on the bus AND on the audio tour is a must, in my humble opinion.
The culture in Rome is mostly modern, just like Delhi. People smoke a lot. A lot. You see lot of women smoking too. I have no issues with women smoking. But, the smoke was just too much for my petty self. The air is full of it. The city is not polluted because of the engines and the vehicles, but by passer-by’s smoking. I think I did more passive-smoking in Rome than I did in my entire life, combined. I am sincerely re-considering my pointer of ‘trying a ciggi’ from my list of 30. I think I would let it pass.
Florence – By the time I headed to Florence, I was tired and done with history and monuments. With so much walking and pretty much same sculptures everywhere, I was no more interested in entering another monument. And, I think that was a disadvantage for me in Florence. I didn’t enter the Ufizzi Gallery or the Duomo. We had to do so much pre-booking and planning for Rome, we didn’t plan our days for Florence and Venice much, and that did affect our trip there. There were no tickets available for Uffizzi Gallery or any other monuments on the day we arrived. And, because we were coming from Rome, I didn’t press much either. But, Florence is beautiful even without the galleries. Walking the local, narrow streets, the liveliness in the Piazzas like Piazza de Republica, the bridge over River Arnes, the oil paintings by local artists on the streets, someone playing a violin over the bridge, other singing and playing merry music on guitar in the Piazza, the awesome-awesome gelato, it’s all amazing. I think I enjoyed Florence the most in my trip. Having been deprived of entries to the museums, we spent our evening roaming around Florence. People are quite nice and warm, and helping, in stark contrast to Rome. The greet people in the bars or ristorante, as you enter or leave. The hotel staff is much more helping and welcoming. She gave us all the information on the map, as well as some handy tips on where to eat, and which trip to take. Thanks to her, we booked a Tuscany tour for the next day. And, I think that made our trip memorable. We took the ‘Best of Tuscany tour in Florence’, from the walkaboutflorence.com and it was sincerely a very well-planned, very well-covered tour in a day. The guide was very friendly and informative. He had good English which was difficult to find in Italy. (Yes, most of the people involved in tourism know multiple languages there, so they know English, but most of the natives don’t. So, you usually get broken english mostly).
The day tour covered Siena, San Gimignano and Pisa and each one was brilliant in its own way. I think our trip would have been average without this. The view, the food, the people, the gelatos are all better and much more memorable.
Venice: Our last stop was Venice. Well, we all know about the canals and the water travel. So, that’s not a surprise but it’s still a different feeling to see it so a part of people’s lives. There’s a bus-pass which covers all modes of transport in Venice. It costs 20 euros for 24-hours. And, you get to travel through bus, trams and ferries, as many times as you want during the 24-hours. And, I think it’s a requirement. Venice is quite small and quite similar all over, if I may say. So, if you have seen a couple of streets, you have seen all. There are lot of shops, many many shops in all the streets, selling various stuff so it looks more like a big shopping harbor than anything else. The canals have gondolas moving from here to there. The bigger boats/streamers can’t come inside. We didn’t do the gondolas. It just didn’t look inviting or exciting enough. Rather, what made Venice memorable was the ferry ride to Murano. We knew Murano had the glass factory. We hadn’t planned to go there. Our bus pass was to expire at 6.30 pm and we didn’t want to refill it (It’s costly and we had pretty much seen it) so we were thinking of passing Murano and Burano. But, then we got bored of roaming around Venice and Piazza San Marco so we boarded the ferry to Murano. And boy! What a ride it was. The view from the ferry, the cold wind on your face, the clouds rioting in the sky, it was wow! All wow! It was like God painting a picture in the sky. And Murano glass. Well, you gotta see just one of those glass factories to experience it. Buying those small ear studs from Venice in the name of Murano glass, isn’t enough. Each shop has its own facility for making Murano glass, so it’s not just one factory that you take entry ticket to. We were late and they stop making glass after 4.30 pm so we couldn’t see the process but we did see the end results. And they were astounding. They don’t make simple glass. They make masterpieces. Each one of that is a creation, a vision, an imagination of it’s own. Whether it’s a chandelier, a simple ear-stud, or a full-fledged harley-davidson in glass, it’s mind-blowing. You enter the place and you stop at each one of them, like in an art museum. I never understood or appreciated modern art but this needs no knowledge and learning, just a soul. Each piece of work speaks to you and forces you to look closely. Spend a minute there. You feel like buying one of them, that’s what a souvenir from Europe should be. That’s what you would like to keep in your house and show off, even 50 years later. But then, it comes with a price tag.
If I ever have a house to show off, I’ll have a Murano piece there. Some day!
And with that dream in my heart, I brought a close to my trip. A lot of planning, a lot of preparation and lot of sweat went into it. And, it was each drop worth it.
Plan your trip today, coz you can’t take it with you when you die, anyways! <You know what you can’t take, and that’s the only thing that’s stopping you from making that trip> 😉