Here at Travefy, we thrive off our user’s trip stories and this story is nonetheless amazing. Meet Joanna, who traveled to Greece and Italy on a three-week exploration through the world’s wonders. This is the second part of her trip diary, highlighting her trip to Italy. Read all about the beginning of the trip to Greece here!
After our amazing trip to Greece we were on our way to Italy! I’ve never been to Italy and my spouse had gone at a very young age making it hard to remember. The couple that came with us had never been to Europe so this was all new to them as well. When deciding which cities to go to in Italy we really had a tough time narrowing it down. Ultimately we picked Rome for its history, Venice for its uniqueness, Florence for the wineries and Positano for its jaw dropping views. Each city we did as much research as we could prior to going to get the most out of our days in Italy. With 9 days to do it all we relied heavily on our Travefy itinerary and on Italia Rail to get us from point A to point B. We booked all of our train rides in advance making sure we were using the Frecciarossa train lines as those were the trains that go the fastest and stop the fewest times.
Our first night in Italy began in Rome. We had planned on being in Rome around 3:00 pm but due to the financial circumstances in Greece our flight was delayed 3 hours because air traffic controllers went on strike in Athens airport that day. There were some news stories going around saying that tourists were dealing with issues in Greece while on vacation. Some were left without money to spend or that things were getting violently bad in Greece with some suggesting not to go. I can assure you everything was fine, except for this one incident at Athens Airport. There were tourists everywhere and Greeks were there to help anywhere and anyway they could.
Our first night in Rome ended pretty quickly due to the delayed flight so we got a quick bite to eat and made our way to our hotel, the Smart Hotel located a short 5- minute walk from the train station. The next morning we took the 9:00 am train from Rome to Venice.
There are two stations in Venice; Mestre on the mainland and Santa Lucia on the island. We made sure prior to our trip that we took the train to the correct destination. We stayed on the island so we took water taxi’s to help us get closer to our hotel.
In Venice we stayed at Hotel Rio, which was a short walk from San Marco Square. Our favorite tourist attractions were Saint Marks Basilica and Doges Palace. Saint Marks Basilica is something you have to see in person to even begin to understand how absolutely stunning it is. The sheer mass of this church blows your mind. It’s truly an amazing place to see!
took so many photos of Saint Marks Basilica but this is the only photo I took of the church. I think the heat and me being mesmerized by the details left me forgetting to take a full shot of the church!
We also visited Doges Palace that was close by St. Marks Basilica within San Marco Square.
Inside you will get to see a stunning courtyard, beautiful rooms filled with ceilings of frescos and you’ll also be able to access the ever so popular bridge of sighs while going through the dungeons.
During our visit to Doges Palace we were also able to see an Italian war and army exhibit. The exhibit contained timelines of events, items gathered from that time, scenes set up of what the conditions may have looked like then and journals written by generals to name a few.
After our trip to Doges Palace and St. Marks Basilica we made our way to lunch at Antica Sacrestia. By far the best food I had in Venice. It’s a bit off the beaten path, but it’s well worth the walk. The owner was super nice and the customer service and attention to detail definitely puts this on the list of the best places we ate in Italy. We weren’t looking to eat at touristy spots. We were looking for authentic Italian food and we found it here.
For gelato, we went to La Mela Verde. It’s the real authentic gelato that can be hard to find in high tourist spots like Venice. I found this place before our trip and had all the information like address and number handy on our Travefy itinerary.
After an amazing trip to Venice, we were ready to make our way to Florence! We had an early morning ahead of us so we decided to take a private water taxi to the train station. We made our way to the train station at 8:00 in the morning and was the only time we found Venice to be quiet, cool and breezy. The scenery alone was worth the private taxi.
Florence was my favorite part of our trip. Florence has this certain vibe to it that oozes sophistication and class. We had three big activities set for Florence; the Duomo, the Uffizi Galleria and a Tuscan wine tour. The hotel we stayed at, Residence Hilda, was situated right by the Duomo. As soon as you walked outside of the hotel door you could easily see the Duomo to your left. The Residence Hilda was by far the biggest bang for our buck in Italy. We thought for the price we paid we would be getting a small room with a bed and separate bathroom. We ended up with a fully functioning condo equip with a kitchen and sitting area. It was amazing!
Tickets were pre-purchased for the Duomo so we made our way there with scarves in hand and clothing that covered what needed to be covered to enter the grounds. Our first stop was climbing to the top of the dome. Now, it was quite hot in Florence that day and the combination of that and the hundreds of stairs to get to the top was challenging but we made it and it was so worth it for the view we saw.
The tour also takes you to the top of the inside of the dome where you can admire the fresco paintings. We spent a good 20 minutes just admiring the inside of the dome. There were lots to absorb!
To give a better perspective of exactly how high the dome was from the ground, as we were descending to make our way out of the dome, I unfortunately, got a nosebleed. I fly quite often and never have I gotten a nosebleed, but it must have been the combination of heat and altitude that caused it. Always make sure you’re drinking water and wearing proper clothing so you’re comfortable and well hydrated.
Next stop was the Uffizi Gallery. Tickets were also bought in advance. This gallery is known for the statue of David. It’s quite a big gallery where you can find many notable masterpieces within the gallery walls. Definitely a must see for Florence and is not too far from the Duomo.
We also planned out a half-day trip to the hills of Tuscany where we would admire the beautiful scenery and were taught how wine is made, the laws created to obtain and own a winery in Italy, and how to properly consume wine to appreciate the true complexity of it. The company we booked the tour with was called Tuscan Wine Time. The meeting point was in Florence where after a short introduction is made we made our way with a luxury van to the hills of Tuscany. It was a beautiful ride to the countryside and the tour guide was really amazing. She was passionate about her job and was excited to educate us on the wines of Tuscany! We truly had an amazing experience with this company.
The first winery we went to was Montecchio. We were served three of their wines and olive oil made on their grounds. Fresh bread was served as well.
- For people who are gluten-free bring your own bread. I did and it was worth it!
- If you are on medication don’t be shy in telling the people there that you can only have a few sips. They are more than happy to dump any wine after you’ve enjoyed a few sips to move onto the next wine.
In addition to the wine and olive oil made on the ground, the winery was equipped to make terracotta products. For the first time ever this winery was fermenting wine in terracotta pots. They said their experimental efforts would be done and tested by 2016.
At the end of our first tour we were invited to buy wine and olive oil products that were all made and packaged on site.
After this tour, we were on our way to our second winery just a short 5-minute ride away. This winery specialized in not only wines but balsamic vinegar as well. Here we were given three different wines to try and their balsamic vinegar. The name of this winery unfortunately slips my mind, but I’m sure it can be found on wine tours company web page.
Gluten free pasta and homemade sauce were served at this winery in addition to bread and biscotti. Anyone who didn’t have an allergy was given homemade pasta and sauce.
Next stop was Positano! Positano is situated on the east side of Italy on the Amalfi Coast. To get there, we took the train to Naples and then a 1-hour shuttle to Positano. While there was a guest at our hotel told us we could have taken transit a bit closer to Positano from Naples, but we still didn’t regret taking the shuttle. We picked Positano as a place to just relax and only had one excursion on the schedule, to take a boat ride to Capri and see the blue grotto. Unfortunately, we ended up canceling due to a very heavy thunderstorm coming in that made us nervous about being on the water that day. We canceled and ended up staying at the hotel. The storm eventually passed, but we enjoyed relaxing at the hotel while having this view to soak up the entire time!
The hotel we stayed at was Hotel Conca D’Oro and was by far the most expensive hotel we stayed at but was well worth the money. Positano was much more expensive in general compared to the other cities we went to in Italy. The service was amazing and their staff were super accommodating. I told the front desk while checking in about my dietary needs (they asked) and from then on I didn’t have to tell any staff members about it. They all just knew to be careful and continuously gave me gluten-free breads and other products.
If you’re interested in seeing Pompeii while there, the staff can help arrange that for you. It’s a 1-hour car drive to get there. For us, we were looking for a place to relax. There was also a beach at the bottom of the mountain that could be accessed by foot or public transit we were told. We went by foot. I think we counted 500+ steps going down and 500+ steps to go back up to the hotel. Sounds like a lot but was well worth it!
There are a lot of stairs to get from the road to the hotel as well. It is after all a vertical city. If you plan on bringing large suitcases be sure to call the hotel in advance. There have employees there to bring your baggage to your room from the street at no additional cost to you.
After Positano, we were on our way back to Rome for the last leg of our trip! We arranged for the car shuttle service to pick us up from the hotel and bring us back to Naples to catch our train ride back to Rome. In Rome we had planned to see the Colosseum and the Vatican. Before making our way to the Colosseum we decided to grab a bite to eat first. We found a place called Cantina & Cucina that was not too far from our hotel, Navona Suites. It was a really awesome spot with an amazing menu.
After our quick bite to eat we were ready to make our way towards the Colosseum. It was honestly everything we had expected and more! It’s really impossible to explain just how big this place is just by looking at photos. Tickets were pre-purchased with a time stamp on it so you could again skip the line. The lines were pretty long so the little effort of pre-purchasing tickets worked to our advantage once again!
After the Colosseum, my spouse and I met with one of his family members where we had a light dinner together to catch up. After, we met up with the couple that had been traveling with us and grabbed some gelato! My spouses family member told us to go to a chain gelato place called GROM. It didn’t disappoint! We thoroughly enjoyed after our dinner gelato!
The next day we had guided tours set up for the Vatican. The Vatican itself is considered its own country. I know, mind-blowing! I didn’t believe it myself so I did some research and it’s actually true. You don’t need a passport to get into the Vatican, but you do however need to go through a security checkpoint. They won’t let you through security though if you aren’t dressed appropriately so be sure to be covered modestly before going. Our tour began with an audio-guided tour van that guided us around the Vatican’s garden. It really was a beautiful site to see.
The Vatican of course has its own museums, which gives you access to the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica, the biggest Catholic Church in the world. To get a better understanding of the Vatican, we also hired a tour guide for the rest of our visit to the Vatican. We were guided through the Vatican’s and were given a better understanding of everything inside the Vatican and why it was placed there. Our tour guide explained that everything that was put into the Vatican had its symbolization. My favorite part of the tour was by far St. Peter’s Basilica. I just couldn’t believe the size of this church and the detail that was put into it. It was truly an amazing experience!
Pictures were prohibited inside the Sistine Chapel and out of respect of the church I decided not to take photos inside St. Peters Basilica. I do have to add though that the most fascinating thing I found inside St. Peters Basilica was the fact that each pope’s deceased body was put in a glass display. Some had their face and hands covered with a plastic mask while others were there to decompose without being covered with anything. When I asked the tour guide why they do this she explained that it was just a traditional thing to do. As a pope you were put on display after you have passed on. Truly a remarkable thing to see!
After our long trip to the Vatican we made were on our way to lunch. I was on the hunt for gluten-free pizza and decided I wouldn’t leave Italy without having at least once! We found an awesome spot called La Soffitta Renovatio. They served regular pizza and gluten free pizza. It was by far the best pizza I’ve ever eaten in my life. The pizza dough was somehow fluffy and chewy even though it was gluten free. I’ve never had anything like it! The people who were with me on the trip also had pizza and really enjoyed it as well!
Tips for Italy:
- If you plan on going to any museums, exhibitions, galleries, churches, etc buy your tickets in advance. It’s 100% worth it to get it out of the way as we were able to many times skip lines that had 300+ people waiting in them. We also weren’t stuck waiting in line in the blistering hot sun!
- Place your pre-purchased tickets within your Travefy Itinerary before you leave. It helps keep you more organized!
- If you plan on going to any churches remember to wear clothes that respect Italy’s religious beliefs about women’s modesty inside a church. The same goes for men. Women should wear bottoms that cover from knees up. Shoulders must also be covered. Men should have shirts on and shorts to the knee are permitted. Hats are not allowed. In the summer months it can be unbearably hot so consider wearing a short sleeve shirt and bring a large scarf that is not see-through that can easily be wrap around your waist and long enough to go to your knee. I can understand the frustration behind this for some, but it’s important to recognize that we as tourists are guests!
- If you plan on going from city to city, don’t pack heavy, pack light and take advantage of options like laundry service at your hotel.
- The last and most important tip; always eat gelato (if your diet permits). There are dairy free and gluten free options, just ask!
- If you have an unlocked phone think about using it on your trip. Most mobile service providers lock the mobile phones they sell with plans so that you can only use your mobile phone on their network. If you do not have an unlocked phone look into contacting your mobile service provider for details on how you can unlock your mobile phone. While in Italy I bought a 30 euro sim card from WIND mobile Italy that gave me talk, text, and access to the internet. It came handy for Google’s GPS app and calls for making last minute reservations. It was also great for keeping in touch with the couple that came with us in case we went our separate ways. (Because I was familiar with the roads in Greece I didn’t have an Internet plan with my unlocked phone. I used it more for call and text. If you can, I suggest getting an Internet plan in Greece as well. The GPS will save you time and frustration!)
This trip was truly a trip of a lifetime for us. We had such an amazing time and having Travefy’s itinerary to keep us organized kept our trip relaxed and stress-free, as we always knew what our days would look like. There was no guesswork. No last minute searching for details. By sharing our itinerary with our family, they always knew where we were and what we were up to that day giving them a piece of mind as well. We look forward to our next Travefy organized trip!
From the Author
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