I’m sitting in the comfort of my home, thousands of miles away thinking about our trip that still seems surreal. I was looking through our pictures and I literally kept saying, “We were there! We were really there!
We were there without kids!”
Now in the midst of unpacking and moving boxes to our new place, it seems like the distant past, but in actuality it was only a month ago. The minute we stepped off the plane we hit the ground running. We had 3 very excited boys waiting to spend every minute with us and the arms of this mother seemed empty without them. We had a house in shambles as we prepared to move with the a countdown of less than a week to get packed and out of the house.
This all started with my dream to do a 40 mile hike on my 40th birthday with my best friend and love of my life. We saved for this trip for about a year and finally the summer after my 40th birthday, we had enough and pinpointed a place. We bought our airline tickets early on but our hotels weren’t reserved until the week of our departure date, not for any reason in particular other than we are procrastinators but it ended up paying off. If you keep reading you’ll see why. We booked a few hotels the night before and were thankful that we found vacancies. I know that’s cutting it too close for some of you but it wall worked out. Our plan was to hike about 4-5 miles each day, so I could reach my goal of 40 miles, at the end of our 10 day trip we hiked well over 40 miles. Thanks to God of course, blogging income, lots of saving and help of friends and family we made it to Italy!
The great thing about our last minute reservations was I got so many awesome last minute deals. Plus, the week we happened to be traveling I was delightfully surprised to have received 25% & 40% off discount coupons from Expedia which ended up giving us an extra discount to their already cheap hotels I had found. There was not a single place we stayed at and walked away disappointed most were 3 star hotels. Since I’m a freelance writer/blogger I asked a hotel in Cinque Terre for a media rate stay. Here are some differences in hotels from what we are used to in the U.S. the beds seemed not as soft as we are used for 3 star hotels. All of the bathrooms in our hotel rooms had bidets and some had heating towel racks which I couldn’t figure out how to use. It seemed like everyone spoke at least 4 different languages. Oh and rooms are a lot smaller. Before traveling I had lots of people tell us to try AirBnB because it was a lot more economical. I looked it up for our dates and cities and it wasn’t, most of the time it was more expensive once you added up the extra owner fees they add to the listing price.
I’ll start with our itinerary and then share with you my top favorite places we visited. Later this month, I’ll dedicate a full post to each place we visited. I’ll also share some tips on hotels and traveling. All of our traveling within Italy was done by train, subway, bus and in Venice on water taxi. The long distances were all done by train.
We are not art buffs but we do enjoy history and appreciate art, but even with a love of the arts, I still walked away feeling like there is only so much information my brain can take in before my eyes glaze over and I start taking silly pictures like the one above. If you’re not into art or history I highly recommend you not spend tons of your time and money on museums. There are so many ways to get art and history without spending your day in a museum. We personally didn’t feel the need to visit every museum so in each place we picked one museum we would pay for and the rest of the places we did Stop & Go tours. I loved these tours because we could get historical information about the amazing structure or building we were looking at but we didn’t have to spend tons of money or time on it. We would get off at the stop, explore it, take a peak inside and then hop back on the bus and go to our next stop. We got to see so many historical areas and still do our own thing this way. You can also download free apps on to your phone and serve as tour guides.
This was our first trip to Europe and we did it on a budget!
Our first stop–Amsterdam – My husband surprised me with wanting to explore the city when we only had 3 hour layover in Amsterdam. We don’t speak a lick of Dutch and we had no idea how to get around. I’m usually the adventurous ideas person and he’s my adventurous idea supporter so he caught me off guard with his on the whim plan! I was glad to see him start our Italy adventure with spontaneity. I’m so glad we ventured off because it was better than sitting in the airport for 3 hours waiting for our next flight. We took the metro into the city. It took us about 30 minutes to figure out what we were doing, how to get out of the airport and how to use the metro and then it took us 30 minutes to get into the quaint little touristy area. So after all of that we had about 2 hours to explore.
Our 10 Day Italy Itinerary
We landed in Florence made our way down to Rome and then over to the coast in Cinque Terre (Spezia on the ma) and then up to Venice. For our summer travels it was cheaper to fly into Florence so that is why our trip is not a straight line. I would have preferred to have landed in Venice and made our way down and out of Rome.
Florence Italy 2 days and 3 nights- Our first stop in Italy was culture-filled Florence. The picture above I took from the Ufizzi Gallery which I’ll share how to get tickets for this museum and how to avoid the lines in my future detailed post of our trip. But for now a little about the bridge it’s called Ponte Vecchio it’s a Medieval stone closed arch bridge over the Arno River. Inside the bridge their are a variety of jewelry shops inside the wall and knick knack vendors on the street.
Stayed: Novella House this is not a hotel so there’s no reception area or meals served. We knew this before we made our reservations, so it was fine. It was centrally located! Every day they stocked up our fridge with Italian cookies, nutella and cold water which was a delightful surprise. The manager was helpful and even offered to help book our train ride to Rome. They did charge us an extra $30 fee for coming in after 10p.m. since it was after hours.
Favorite spots: The Plaza Vecchio was a favorite place of ours to relax and just take in the sights and sounds, and eat gelato. In the evenings they had amazing FREE live concerts–opera, symphony… In the same area, if you walked one way or the other, you would end up in a different plaza with the similar sights and sounds.
For museums we really enjoyed the Ufizzi Gallery. We are not art buffs though we do enjoy art so that museum was more than enough art and history for the day.
Rome Italy – 2 days and 3 nights – Rome was absolutely amazing and majestic unlike the other cities. Maybe it was the Basilica that gave off that sensation.
Stayed: B&B San Pietro Alla Fornaci this hotel was also nice. It was about a 10 minute walk from the Basilica. It was in a quieter part of town but not too far from everything. You could walk from our hotel to the main historical area. it was a good 15-20 minutes. A couple of times we just took the local bus into town.
Favorite Spots: The Sistine Chapel, St. Peters Basilica, The Trevi Fountain and my favorite plaza was Piazza Navona. “Piazza Navona is one of the most famous and arguably the most beautiful of Rome’s many squares. The large and lively square features no less than three magnificent fountains.” ~A View on Cities
Cinque Terre – 3 days and 4 nights – This was my absolute favorite place we visited in Italy. Maybe it was the quaint fishing villages surrounded by lush nature and rugged coastal paths that spread out into the Mediterranean sea. It was romantic, it was rugged, it was filled with history but not the same kind of history as in the museums of Rome. It was charming, simply charming!
Stayed: We stayed in a family owned hotel called La Cabana Cinque Terre my next post will include pictures of this lovely hotel. It’s a quaint but luxurious hotel nestled in-between the rugged mountains. Our hike up to our hotel everyday was going past lush green vineyards with endless rows of plump, sun-kissed grapes. In the evenings, we had the most spectacular views of the Mediterranean sea! It went from a emerald blue color into a beautiful gold and red reflecting the colors of the sky.
Favorite Spots: I loved them all. We hiked the trails into all 5 villages and they all had something beautiful and unique about them. I loved coming down in the evenings and sitting in the piazzas. A couple of nights we were serenaded by opera singers and other performers. The beach in Monterosso was by far the largest since we were staying in this village we took advantage of the early morning beach time and the evening time when most of the tourist would head back home who came in for the day by train. I enjoyed eating gelato and reading on the pier as the Mediterranean sea quieted my heart.
Venice: 2 days and 3 nights – Venice was my relax city. I was done with museums, with walking and all I wanted to do was relax, eat gelato and read. So we didn’t go inside any museums but we did go to lots of the interesting sites and stood outside of the majestic buildings and marveled.
Stayed: Hotel Locanda Ovidius – The views from this hotel were amazing! It was right on the canal and centrally located. Our stay included breakfast on the 2nd floor that overlooked the canal. The receptionist was quite helpful in giving us information. One thing that was frustrating was getting wi-fi to work. You could pay to have guaranteed wi-fi connection but we opted not to.
Favorite Spots: I really wanted to go the Burano Island but all the tours seemed to be booked up and the tour we did end up taking only went to the Murano Island. I’m sure we could’ve figured out a way to take public transportation there but remember this was the part of the trip I didn’t want to do anything. But the Murano Island had some great glass blown items and demonstrations. I enjoyed the Piazza San Marco every night there were at least 4 different stages through out the piazza with live symphonies and singers. Also, the beautiful and ornate St. Mark’s Basilica is there. I really enjoyed walking around this romantic city. One night we considered paying to go see an opera show but there were so many in the piazza’s for free that we did this instead.
I didn’t realize…
- How good the food would be and how different from Italian food in the U.S.
- How rude the waiters behave towards tourist. We had one restaurant in Murano called Ristorante Dalla Mora, which was by far the worst treatment we had received in all of the places we visited in Italy. The waiters were just plain rude and grumpy. Several times my husband politely would call him and he would stop, look at him with much irritation and keep walking. He didn’t say, “I’ll be with you in a moment. or Just a second.” In another restaurant a waiter actually made fun of one of the customers food pairing choices. I can go on and on with multiple stories of rude waiters but I’ll stop. Just consider yourself forewarned. I guess it’s a different kind of customer service mentality.
- I was very impressed with their train system and how quickly we moved from one city to the next, not wasting anytime.
- You can eat out each meal and still stay in your budget. So, we were traveling on a budget but we splurged a few nights when eating out. For the most part we kept to our budget and ate lots of focaccia bread sandwiches, pizza and gelato all of which were for the most part inexpensive. Of all the cities I found Venice to be most expensive when eating out and Cinque Terre came in next.
- Train rides were the cheapest option we found for traveling long distance, but the fares do add up when traveling to various cities so make sure you include that in your budget. We didn’t look into that before arriving but later I discovered you can go to the website of the train you’re using and put in your cities and you’ll get a good estimate of how much it will cost. Our longest train ride was from Cinque Terre to Venice. We used two train companies Italo Treno and Tren Italia and we were happy with our experiences with both. I was especially impressed with the honesty of one of the Italo Treno employees. When I lost my very expensive camera in one city and then had it returned to me in another city by the employee who found it. A wonderful act of kindness on his part and answer to prayer. He even called our home trying to locate us to return the camera.
- How jet lag would hit me. The LONG plane ride there was torturous for my back and I didn’t sleep well on the plane so that didn’t help. I would recommend you take a sleeping mask and something to help aid in your sleeping if you struggle with sleeping in noise and light.
Stay tune for my individual post for each city we visited with lots of pictures!