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Ciao! Italy in the summertime

Our whirlwind European trip came to an end in Italy. While we had a few stops, we didn’t spend much time in each place, so I’m putting them all in one post. Our final few days in Europe were spent exploring the canals of Venice, the streets of Pompeii, and the wonders of Rome and the Vatican.


Venice

Venice is a beautiful place, steeped in history, with some of the most amazing architecture. If you have the time, I’d recommend just wandering the streets and bridges to find all the little museums and galleries all over the island. It is such a unique place to explore, with its canals, cobblestone laneways, and historic bridges – it’s absolutely gorgeous. We even got to see water in the Square!

Getting there

There are a variety of ways to get to Venice, depending on where you’re coming from. As we were coming from Paris, we opted to fly from Charles De Gaulle Airport direct to Venice Marco Polo Airport. My recommendation would be to try a midday flight if you’re able – we chose a later flight, 6:40pm to arrive in Venice around 8:30pm, which was unfortunately delayed by a couple of hours, meaning we didn’t leave Paris until around the time we were supposed to be arriving in Venice. This pushed back our arrival, and almost made us miss transport to the island, and the cut off for check in to our hotel.


When you arrive in Venice Airport, the easiest way to get to the main island is by water transport. We chose the Alilaguna water bus. Because of how late we arrived, we missed the Blue bus that we had booked and wouldn’t have been able to get another one until after midnight. The gentleman at the terminal was lovely to let us on the Orange bus to get us there before midnight. The trip takes approximately an hour, depending on where you need to stop to get to your hotel. There is no ‘ground’ transport available on the island – there’s no roads – so you will need to walk from the ferry stop to your hotel.

Accommodation

We stayed 2 nights at the Hotel Diana. This boutique hotel was well located for proximity to Piazza San Marco and the major sights. We requested twin beds, but we ended up with a queen – not too big of a deal but honestly a little annoying, thankfully it was only a couple of nights. It was well priced, and the location was good, so we were generally happy with the hotel. Check in was not easy to work out though – the front desk is not manned; you need to check in at the Hotel Antico Panada across the alley. Thankfully a fellow guest was coming in from their night out and were able to tell us that! A continental cold buffet breakfast was included both days, held at the Hotel Antico Panada as well.

Attractions

We only had one full day in Venice to explore as much as we could, so we didn’t get a lot done, but we pushed through to see as much as possible. We centred our touristing around the Piazza Sam Marco as there’s so much to explore in that area and mostly what we wanted to see.

Palazzo Ducale

The Doge’s Palace was an incredible experience, beautiful on the outside and inside. The self-guided tour of the palace was so intriguing, with the museum and exhibitions showcasing the incredible history of Venice. It’s on this tour that you will be able to cross the famous Bridge of Sighs – apparently so named as it was the last place prisoners would be able to catch a glimpse of the outside world before their life sentences or executions.

Basilica di San Marco

Don’t let the line up outside scare you – we did at first – it moves very quickly. It is only 3 euro to enter – skip the line tickets can cost an arm and a leg, as I said, the line moves quickly so there’s no real need to purchase in advance unless you’re on a strict time limit and need to be in at a particular time. The Basilica was absolutely beautiful. Even as a non-religious person, I couldn’t help but be moved by my surroundings.

Museo Correr

This beautiful museum also includes the Museo Archeologico Nazionale, and Monumental Rooms of the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana in one self-guided tour. It is located across the Square from the Basilica and Doge’s Palace. A beautiful museum that houses various pieces of art, including paintings, sculptures, and amazing furniture in renovated rooms.

Rialto Bridge

The famous Rialto Bridge is truly a marvel. We first saw it at night on our arrival as we disembarked the water bus at the Rialto stop. It was beautiful lit up and still bustling at nearly midnight! During the day, it was just as beautiful. Covered in stores and market stalls, it’s a lively place all on its own. It’s a great place for those quintessential photos of the Grand Canal

Top tips

Be respectful of dress codes for attractions

Many attractions, due to their religious nature, have very strict dress codes. To enter the Basilica, for example, you must have your knees, shoulders and chest covered – especially for ladies. If you don’t you will be denied entrance. They will go down the queue warning people to buy scarves or additional clothing if you are not covered up enough. Your best bet is just to plan for it and come prepared.

Buy a bundled ticket for the museums

We purchased the “St. Mark’s Square Museums Ticket” for 30 euro, this gives you access to the Doge’s Palace and the Museo Correr, Museo Archeologico Nazionale and Monumental Rooms of the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana. It is the most economical way to see everything you want to.


Rome

The mix of ancient ruins and thriving metropolis in Rome is amazing and sometimes a little chaotic, but it all just works to give you the best of both worlds.

Getting there

We travelled from Venice to Rome on the Trenitalia Frecciarossa high-speed train. We reached speeds of around 250km/hr, so our trip only took around 4 hours, from Venizia San Lucia in Venice – the train station is located on the island and is accessible by water taxi, to Roma Termini in the centre of Rome. We booked Premium seats and would recommend spending the minute amount difference to upgrade – tickets were only around AU$60 each. We had slightly larger seats, additional luggage storage and a snack included. Seats are allocated and you chose them when you purchase your tickets. We booked seats toward the back of the carriage as they were in twos and didn’t face anyone – other seats were in sets of four with a table between them. I recommend getting to the station early so you have easy access to the luggage storage. Make sure to check the dimensions of your luggage as they only allow certain sizing.

Accommodation

While difficult to get to, our accommodation was great! We stayed 3 nights at Piazza di Spagna Prestige, located in walking distance to many major attractions. Communication with the hotel was great, they only have limited hours for check-in, so they got in contact before to confirm what time we’d be arriving and to tell us how to get in. I recommend telling your taxi driver to drop you at the corner of Via Della Croce and Via del Corso as it can be difficult to navigate cars in the tight laneways. It’s a 1-minute walk from that corner so it’s not difficult. The staff were lovely and very helpful, and the room was clean. Our room was lovely with twin beds, a well-appointed bathroom, and facilities to make tea and coffee.

Attractions

There are so many places to see and things to do. With only a couple of days, we tried to pack in as much as possible. Here are the highlights:

Trevi Fountain

Always packed with people, the best times to visit is late at night or very early in the morning. We went mid-afternoon after we arrived. I managed to find a spot that I could get up onto a ledge and get photos of the fountain without too many heads in them.

Colosseum – Ancient Rome tour with The Roman Forum and Palatine Hill

We visited the Colosseum as part of a guided tour, which included skip-the-line tickets and a very knowledgeable tour guide. I’d definitely recommend going with a tour, if only to skip the massive queues. It was absolutely breathtaking – the history in that place is incredible. Our tour included a tour of Palatine Hill – where Rome was founded – and the Roman Forum – where you can walk on the stones the Ancient Romans walked on, and see where Julius Caesar was cremated, and the stone on which Mark Antony stood to deliver his eulogy.

Top tips

Make a plan

There is so much to see and do that without a plan you’re unlikely to see everything you want to.

Book guided tours

Not a necessity but it’s a way to make sure you’re getting the most out of your trip. You’ll skip lines and get all the historical tidbits you may not find out otherwise!


The Vatican

The smallest country in the world is steeped in history and significance that it’s 100% worth the time to visit. We visited on a guided tour, with a tour guide to show us around and make sure you’re heading in the right direction and don’t get lost! The Vatican Museums showcase the history and art of the Catholic Church, holding many beautiful and amazing pieces that you could get lost among the various rooms. The guided tour comes to an end before you leave the museum. You will then move through the Sistine Chapel with its incredible frescos on display, including the breathtaking Creation of Adam. You cannot take photos or talk in the Sistine Chapel and once you have moved through you cannot re-enter, so make sure to take it all in before you leave!

Once you have finished in the Sistine Chapel, you exit out into St. Peter’s Square, with the beautiful St. Peter’s Basilica in sight. We visited on a Wednesday, when the Pope does his weekly address, so the Square was set up with chairs and screens. We didn’t witness the address, but it was cool to see it all set up. The Basilica is just as spectacular as all the others, make sure you have time to explore all the bits of art and sculptures around the place. The building is 190 meters long, with many nooks to explore. You can also access the grottos beneath the church to pay homage to some of the previous popes, where they now rest. I recommend leaving this until last as you exit the church altogether, so you’ll have to rejoin the queue to re-enter the Basilica. It’s all so humbling. There is a gift shop where you can purchase souvenirs, including rosaries, and holy water.

Top tips

Take a guided tour

You can visit the Vatican without a guide, but it is much more streamlined if you do. You skip lines and are privy to knowledge about the artifacts and history that you may miss. There is also a lot of people around, so the guide keeps you on track.

Respect dress codes

To enter St Peter’s Basilica, you need to adhere to a dress code – covering shoulders, knees, and chests, to maintain modesty in a religious space.


Pompeii

As a lover of ancient history, of course I was going to find a way to see the ruins of Pompeii. We had originally booked a full guided tour from Rome, however that unfortunately fell through, so we ended up booking a semi-guided tour. We caught the tour bus from Rome and started on our way to Pompeii. On our way, we were treated to some great commentary from our guide, and beautiful scenery, including a driving tour of Naples and the coast. Upon arriving in Pompeii, approximately 5 hours later, we were provided with tickets for the Archaeological Park. We had four hours to explore the park at our own pace. We had lunch at Suisse Pompeii where we had the most amazing pizza, unfortunately the service was horrible, and we were charged 2 euro each for ‘table service’ that we weren’t made aware of but at least the food was remarkable.

Once we entered the park itself, we found having a paper map was the easiest to navigate – though that wasn’t easy. The town of Pompeii is extensive, and you could be there for days to be able to see it all. The parts we did see were awe-inspiring. We explored the central business district – including the Forum, the basilica, temples, and markets. Venturing on down the cobblestone streets, we walked through palatial homes, some with their entrance hall water features, rooms, and murals still intact – some still have mosaic tiles and coloured paint. We wandered through the theatre district, seeing the small and large theatres – the large theatre was set up for a series of performances that you can buy tickets for if you’re able to be there at the right time.

Unfortunately, that was all we had time for – we were only able to explore a small part, not even a third I would say, in four hours. It is massive and there is so much to see. We then met our bus to head back to Rome after an amazing day. I’ll do another blog on everything we saw and experienced in Pompeii at a later date to cover it all in greater detail.

Top tips

Pre-book tickets and your transport

If you book a tour, your tickets into the park are included. Pre-booking streamlines your day and takes the stress out of getting there and allows you to just enjoy your time at the park!

Stay hydrated!

Scattered throughout the streets are ancient drinking fountains that still work, with modern taps to control the flow. The water is fresh, clean, and surprisingly cool!

Work out where free bathrooms are!

Just like most places in Europe, it costs money to go to the bathroom. It can be anywhere from 50 cents to a few euros. If you eat in the restaurants, the bathroom is free while you’re eating. Our tour had an agreement with one of the businesses to allow people on the tour to use their bathroom for free. If you think you’ll need it while you’re there, check around to see which ones are the cheapest.





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