We’ve been home for a week now. Â I still haven’t started organizing all the photos, but I suppose it’s time to sum up our Italy experience.
Best Part of the Trip
Joe: Walking around the ruins of ancient Rome, imagining the things that had happened there, telling Julie stories of those days. Â The moment when I realized that the road I was on was most likely the road that Cleopatra took into town, and was certainly the road that all those Triumphs took – Scipio, Caesar, etc.
Julie: Florence and the amazing Uffizi Gallery and all the art therein.
Joe: Enzo e Piero in Florence. Â The food was terrific, the atmosphere relaxed. Â It felt like it was run by a family (which I believe it was) and was completely comfortable. Â And did I mention the terrific food?
Julie: Ristorante Quadri in Venice. Â Again, the food was terrific. Â The service was much more formal, but still friendly. Â (A lot more expensive too!)
Joe: Hard choice – either the Pompeii Trip or the ancient Rome trip that included a ground-level visit to the Colosseum. Â (Though neither was my favorite guide – both guides were good, though.)
Julie: Rome Catacombs and Tombs. Â Combines the gruesome with the soulful – two things that Julie loves. Â Also had the best guide of any we had all week (and Joe agrees with this).
Note: we did a total of ten guided tours during our trip, all set up with City Wonders tours (http://citywonders.com). Â They weren’t all amazing, but they were all good. Â I’d recommend them for tours in any of the places they do tours.
Best Travel Tool
Joe: His iPad. Â I arranged a data plan that would work in Italy. Â The iPad was amazingly helpful. Â I navigated everywhere using Google Maps. Â We chose restaurants using the TripAdvisor app (another thing I strongly recommend: their tool for finding nearby restaurants was incredibly helpful). Â I could look up miscellaneous details online at a moment’s notice, and amuse myself with Wikipedia articles on things we were seeing. Â And even find Julie a good shoe shop in Rome.
Julie: She got a book on Rome, and later one on Florence, that showed how the sites looked now and back then. Â Julie had a lot of fun holding up the images of the ancient glories next to the actual sites.
Favorite piece of Art
Joe: Bernini’s sculpture of Daphne and Apollo at the Borghese Gallery.
Julie: A medieval painting of the Annunciation at the Uffizi.
Joe: Rome. Â I’ve never been anywhere that had so much truly vital history. Â Astonishing. Â Plus, I find that I really like the baroque style of both art and architecture, and Rome is a great center for that style.
Julie: Florence. Â Hard to deny the draw of the Renaissance.
Joe and Julie: The staff at the Porta Faenza in Florence. Â They recommended great restaurants and helped us find shops that had things that we were specifically looking for. Â By contrast, the concierges in the other hotels tended to direct us to touristy restaurants and did not have useful information.
Some useful travel tips
- To find a good gelato shop, ignore all those shops with bulging mounds of colorful gelato in a display freezer in the window. Â The gelato bulges because it has artificial stiffeners in it, and it’s so colorful because of artificial coloring. Â Instead, find a place where the gelato is stored in simple canisters in a freezer, and where the colors are muted. Â These kinds of places are few and far between (I found one in Rome, two in Florence, and one in Venice), but they are worth the search: the gelato in them is amazing. Â The best gelato I had was at Edoardo’s right next to the Duomo in Florence. Â Truly amazing stuff – I had it there twice and each bite was like a taste explosion in my mouth.
- Be careful of the taxi drivers in Rome. Â There is a fixed cost of 48 Euros to get from the airport into Rome, but other than that insist that they turn on the meter. Â (And insist they don’t turn on the meter if you’re coming from the airport.) Â And make sure you monitor the route they take. Â This isn’t always an issue: we took four taxis in Rome and only one tried to rip us off. Â But there was that one. Â (He didn’t succeed.)
- Be careful where you look for masks in Venice. Â Most are Chinese imports – even when they say otherwise. Â We went to Ca Macana, where they make masks. Â You can even paint your own there. Â Great masks.
- Don’t stand in line for tickets at the Colosseum. Â Walk a couple blocks to the entrance to the Roman Forum. Â There’s no line and the ticket is good for both the Forum and the Colosseum.
- When visiting a crowded art museum like the Uffizi, make sure you’re there around closing time. Â The crowds thin out and you can actually get close to the famous paintings. Â Sometimes these museums will have late hours one night in the week: those are great times to visit as there are no crowds. Â (We also used that hint when visiting the Louvre a few years ago.)
- Do your research on restaurants. Â As I mentioned above, Trip Advisor is a great resource. Â The hotel staff may be a good resource or they may just direct you to the tourist traps. Â Be careful!
I’m sure there are more. Â But we found the above particularly useful.