Trip duration: 9/5/14 to 9/13/2014
Route: Dallas => Rome (with a layover in Heathrow); Milan => Dallas (with a layover in Miami)
Flying Method: Cash payment with AA
What better way to explore Italy than with a group of fun, smarty, bubbly girls! The idea was formed in early 2014. As soon as we rallied the troops and confirmed participation, the wheels were set in motion. There were six of us total spreading across Dallas, Austin, Houston and Tulsa. We all took part in planning and voiced ideas on what cities to visit, activities to do, and things to see. After some thoughtful considerations, we decided on Rome, Florence, Cinque Terre, Venice and Milan. Some of us split up after Florence to spend more time in Cinque Terre, while others headed to Venice/Milan towards the end of the trip. My itinerary was: Rome => Florence (with a day trip to Cinque Terre) => Milan.
Since there were many of us, it would be a challenge and also costly to stay at hotels. Therefore, we decided to give airbnb a try and made our lodging arrangement via private rentals during our stay in Italy. Our overall experience using airbnb is fine in general; nevertheless, some of the girls did run into some issue with their reservation in Milan. The greedy host doubled booked and didn’t say anything until the girls got into Milan. After a few hours of scrambling and trying to figure out what to do, they ended up booking a room at a nearby hotel. I’d just like to emphasize for people using airbnb to read the reviews carefully. If there are a lot of cancellations shown in the review, ask questions before you decide to stay at that property.
We stayed at the Piazza Navona area which is walking distance to many historical sites. We spent 3 days there with the 3rd day being a travel day to Florence. The notable places that we visited were: Pantheon, Coloseum/Forum, Vatican Museum, Trevi Fountain (sadly under restoration while we were there), the Spanish Steps, Borghese Garden (didn’t go inside the garden however) and many churches that I don’t recall the names. We also wandered around a lot (partly because we were lost) but that was also part of the fun. For attractions such as the Coloseum and the Vatican Museum, we bought tickets online before we left the U.S. as we had our days planned out. This helped us avoid waiting in long queues to purchase tickets the day of. We also left some time to roam around the city with no to-do’s in mind other than eating lots of gelato. I find that having an offline map helped tremendously when you don’t have international data plan available. I used a free app called Ulmon on my iPhone and my friend used TripAdvisor. They both had their own glitches but were still handy to have. Here are some pictures from Rome.
We continued on our journey to Florence from Rome by train via Trenitalia (tickets can be purchased online which sometimes are cheaper than buying at the train station). We did the express train which got us to Florence within an hour and 30 minutes. In Florence we stayed in a private rental (aka old G’s house) near Piazza Cimatori. Something to know in Italy: if a property is on the 2nd floor, it’s technically the 3rd floor since Italians count the 1st floor as ground floor (aka floor zero). We found it out the hard way as we dragged our heavy luggages up to the 3rd (technically 4th) floor (dying).
The afternoon upon our arrival in Florence, we did a bike tour which took us to all the major attractions in the city. It was such a fun way to explore a new place, albeit having to weave through heavy tourist traffic and trying not to get hit by the incoming motorists.
The next day we visited the Uffizi Gallery and Duomo, satisfied our shopping craving at local leather good stores, had the best proscuitto sandwich from All’Antico Vinaio, indulged in gelato, and scored some aromatic truffle oil. It was quite an productive day.
The 3rd day in Florence was the highlight of the trip (at least for me) as we got on the road and did a hiking tour to Cinque Terre (which consists of 5 fishing villages connected by terraces and walking trails along the western region of Italy). Ahhhh the Italian Riviera! We got to see all 5 villages – Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, Monterosso and Riomagiore by foot, train and through a boat ride. Despite the crappy weather in Florence (which is 2 hours away from Cinque Terre), we were lucked out and enjoyed some fun in the sun during our visit. It’s by far my favorite memory of Italy.
While 2 girls stayed in Cinque Terre, I made my way to Milan the following day (about 3 hours of train ride from Florence), and 3 other girls continued their journey to Venice. I spent one night at the Crown Plaza in Milan using 30,000 IHG points (points earned and transferred from Chase Sapphire Preferred). Honestly I didn’t really care for Milan. I did my obligatory visit to the Duomo, went on a walking tour to the Sforza Castle which included ticket to see the Last Supper. Overall not a bad day being a solo traveler.
After filling a week with rich history, arts, Italian food, pretty sceneries and good company, it was time to go home. I’d definitely love to come back and visit the rest of Italy, and of course eat more gelato. Ciao!