Sorry this update is a little late, but I’ve been sick with a head cold the last few days. Also it’s a bit later because the Italy portion of my trip covered quite a bit of time as I had almost 2 weeks in Europe’s boot. The ground I covered included a night in Genoa, an afternoon in Pisa, a couple nights in each of Florence and Venice, and then finishing up with three nights Naples (with exploration of Pompeii and Hercalaneum) and the same in Rome (including Vatican City). Overall I enjoyed my travels but somewhat surprisingly, Venice, was my least favourite location to explore (although I did have a more enjoyable time after running into someone I met in Florence).
- May 7th: Made it across the border by train and into Genoa. Got into town around noon so had some free time to explore a bit including some fantastic art in an unassuming church. Stayed the night in a 600 year old former Abbey.
- May 8th: Woke up pretty early to hop onto the train to Pisa to spend midday there. Climbed up the tower and checked out other local architecture. Got to sample a Tuscan specialty – raw sausage (which I had on a panini) – before hopping the train to Florence. Managed to get in early enough to check into the hostel I was staying in and then walk a few blocks to check out the museum which houses the statue David (Galleria dell’Accademia).
- May 9th: Had a busy day exploring Florence which included the Museo Galileo, the Uffizi Gallery (recommend purchasing tickets at least a week in advance to get a good entry time), Palazzo Pitti, and Boboli Gardens (got a combo ticket to all three of the last sights). I had to cut my visit to Boboli Gardens short as my heel developed a serious fissure through the callous down to the flesh that was too painful to walk on anymore.
- May 10th: Caught the train to Venice and then a water taxi ride to the nearest dock to the hostel I was staying in. Explored town for a bit and had a nice dinner before getting to sleep a bit earlier.
- May 11th: Got to Doge’s Palace just as it was opening. Afterwards also checked out the Museo Correr (which includes the Archaelogy Museum, and the Bibliotheque gallery). Ended up meeting up with someone I met in Florence and we toured Biennale park (highly recommend strolling it and having a picnic/nap on the grass). Found out gondola rides were 80 Euros for 30 minutes (I guess it might be worth it if you go with a group of 4-6). Recommend also bringing a small water bottle to fill up in public fountains as the water is good and buying a bottle of water is 2 to 3 euros.
- May 12th: Was time to head to Naples, the home of pizza! Had a nice train ride in business class which made the 5+ hours go by in a whiz (especially since we were travelling at times at up to 300kph). Ended up having dinner at a fantastic little Filipino restaurant (and had breakfast the next day there too!) Stayed up pretty late watching Eurovision for the first time (and of course first time had to be in Europe surrounded by mostly Europeans).
- May 13th: Wandered Naples’ old neighbourhoods. Checked out the Museo Archeologico. Finally had pizza in Naples – yes it was really really good. Rode up a funicular to check out a fantastic view of Naples (recommendation of one of the several great staff at the hostel). Decided to walk down – really long and steep but made it! Went to sleep a bit early as the next day would be busy.
- May 14th: Got to Pompeii Archaeological Park about 15 minutes before it opened. Tip: bringing a water bottle to try out the Pompeii water at one of several taps – refreshing! Afterwards, checked out the much smaller but better preserved Hercalaneum as it was on the way back. Met up with someone I met at the hostel and we checked out the deep fried pizza.
- May 15th: Headed to Rome mid-day as it was a short 1 hour train ride. After picking up my Roma Pass, waited about 40 minutes for a bus that was supposed to come around every 5 minutes. Checked into my Airbnb (the host was fantastic). Managed to check out Castel Sant’Angelo (another nice climb) as well as wandered around several interesting local sights (Pantheon and Trevi Fountain) before finally making my way back to the Airbnb for sleep.
- May 16th: Had a busy day with first stop being the Colosseum following by Palatine Hill (and Museum) and the Roman Forum. Afterwards, I managed to catch 3 of the 4 branches of the National Museum of Rome: Palazzo Massimo Alle Terme, the Baths of Diocletian, and Palazzo Altemps. Grabbed dinner at a local takeout and hit the sack early.
- May 17th: Last full in day in Rome, I started with a tour of the Gardens of Vatican City followed by a quick stroll through the museum before seeing the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica. Took an agonizing 1.5 hours to get across 2 miles to the Borghese Gallery (good thing I left at 2!). I recommend reserving your Borghese tickets at least 2 weeks in advance if you are sure of when you want to have access – it’s included in the Roma Pass (free if one of first two sights you visit, heavy discount if not), but you still have to reserve, and still have to pay a 2 euro fee for the reservation.
- May 18th: Headed to Serbia to visit family!
The Abbey Hostel in Genoa was about average (which is good) and the staff were friendly. I had a private room to myself with a shared bathroom. As I stayed only one night and left pretty early, I can’t say much more on it.
The two nights I stayed in Florence were at the PLUS Florence hostel. It has a fantastic restaurant and there were two bathrooms (one with a toilet and one with a shower) ensuite in the shared room of eight. Met some interesting folks there and the vibe was ok but it was a really large hostel that seemed to host quite a few classes on field trips. It’s location was good being walking distance to most sights and the train station.
Venice was the worst of the experiences for hostels in Italy for myself. I stayed at a place called AWA apartments. While it was serviceable, the lack of proper screens in the windows and zero other air conditioning/ventilation meant the windows had to be closed at night due to mosquitoes. It ended up being sweltering in there by the morning. Also, there were a complete lack of lockers for security of personal belongings.
From the worst to the best, I have to give kudos to Hostel of the Sun as being one of the best hostels I’ve stayed at on this trip so far. From the facilities, to the friendly staff, and the excellent vibe/hang out area, I highly recommend this place to budget travelers.
With my final stop being in Rome, I decided to get an Airbnb. I found a great little place with a large private room near a major train station and trolley stop with local food options but not in a tourist area (highly residential). The host was excellent and the apartment facilities were good. Also, he provided options for a light breakfast each morning included in the room.
Italy overall was decent to get around – fast trains that leave and arrive pretty close to advertised times. Venice is the main challenge as most bridges are stairs only (not a problem for myself) although some of the main bridges along the main tourist path were having ramps installed. They did have wheelchair ramps to get on and off the water taxis.
One last note is that I will be traveling in Serbia and Croatia for a few weeks visiting family so I may not post again for quite a while (I’m sure some folks would like reviews of me staying at various relatives’ place!) Next post will probably be about Greece and that would then happen late June. Until then….