Currency: Euro (.78 Euros = 1$US)
Favorite Foods: Gelado ice cream, Margherita pizza, Risotto, fresh bread at each meal, local wines, fresh cheese.
Reflections: The coastal landscape of Amalfi; walking the hillsides around Amalfi and traversing the thousands of stairs to obtain the numerous picturesque views of the coast; the houses that cling to the cliffs around Amalfi; the shocking costs of Italy, the frustrations of going overbudget everyday and all the time spent in each city trying to find somewhat affordable accomodations; the ruins of Pompeii and how well preserved they are; train rides and using the automatic ticket machines; the three days we spent walking to the endless sights of Rome; following the streets to Trevi fountain then rounding a corner and seeing this tremendous site; visiting Piazza Narvona and seeing the fountain of the four rivers at twilight; racing to the Sistine Chapel first thing in the morning with all the anticipation; seeing the Sistine Chapel; the beauty of Michelangelo's La Pieta; living off of margherita pizza; walking around Florence; the size of the Duomo in Florence; the colors of Florence; the generosity of the Petrucco family in northern Italy; spending time and getting a working understanding of the Petrucco winery in the Friuli region of northeast Italy; the incredible mountains on northern Italy and Slovenia; Walking around the lesser visited places of Venice to see the amazing sights around the smaller canals of this beautiful town; the piazzas of Venice.
Costs of Goods and Services
Coffee (European coffee is a small expresso type) – 1-2 Euros
Perzoni Beer – 2-3 Euros in Restaurents
One star class double room with bath in Amalfi: 75.00, includes breakfast. Room for 5 people: 100Euros.
Average double room with bath in Rome (Not in hotel, but in family run flats: 65Euros. Regular double bed room in hotel, one star, 85Euros.
Subway ride to Vatican in Rome: 1 Euro
Internet in Florence: 3 Euros per hour.
Ave. dinner was around 24 Euros. We did not eat breakfast or lunch in a restaurant. We would just by fresh bread and feta cheese and other stuff to make sandwiches, peanuts, fruit, yogurt, muesli, etc for around 10 euros total each day. Our dinner mostly consisted of 4 margherita pizzas and a large dinner salad and we would bring our own water.
Liter of white house wine in Rome: 6 Euros.
Bottle of white wine in store: 2-4 Euros.
Gelado ice cream, one scoop in cone – 2 Euros.
Admission into Uffizi Museum in Florene: 9 Euros, children get no discount
Admission into Pompeii: 10 Euros, no discount for children.
Admission into the Vatican Galleries and museum: 9 Euros, no discount for children.
A few thoughts about Italy… First, Italy is by far the most expensive country we have visited. We needed to work extra hard to secure reasonable accommodations, meals, and transportation. Regarding accommodations, in Italy the more stars a hotel has the better and more expensive. We did not even think about looking at 3 stars (160Euros for a double!!) and we found that 1 and 2 star hotels are very nice. In Rome and Florence it is best to walk the neighborhoods around the train station where there are numerous hotels and look for “family” operated flats that rent out rooms. For our group of 5, this was the difference of 40Euros per night and if we were forced to rent out 2 double bed rooms the difference was 100Euros per night. In Milan, where the prices of hotels are insane, we came across a tout that helped us get a double room for 60Euro per night in a 3 star hotel (regular one star double room rates were going for 75Euros). Food: The food in Italy is good, but it is very easy to spend 70 Euro per day on restaurants. We did not eat breakfast or lunch in a restaurant. We would just by fresh bread and feta cheese and other stuff to make sandwiches, peanuts, fruit, yogurt, muesli, etc for around 10 euros total each day. Our dinner mostly consisted of 4 margherita pizzas and a large dinner salad and we would bring our own water. Transportation: We traveled by train everywhere in Italy, because we could secure discount tickets for the children and they were very comfortable and reliable. Peter became an expert on purchasing train tickets using the automated system, which helped us from going into a long queue at the ticket counter. For TrenItalia, there is a family discount of one free child when two adults pay and all children under 12 get 50% off the ticket.
Arriving in Italy
We took the ferry from Padras, Greece to Brindisi, Italy. This allowed us to concentrate on the southern part of Italy: The Amalfi Coast, Pompeii and Naples. After arriving in Brindisi, we took a five hour bus ride to the city of Salerno and another bus to the beautiful city of Amalfi, which is about one hour south of Naples.
Even though expensive, the Amalfi coast is spectuacular. Rugged mountains plunge down into the coastline, resulting in small coves, enormous headlands and small towns clinging to the cliffs. Hiking was our favorite pastime and there are plenty of hikes to choose from in this 50km stretch of coastline. You can pick up a great map and numerous alternatives at the tourist information office. We did hear from several people that the smaller towns about 5km away from Amalfi provided cheaper accomodations. However, being in the town where Ceaser Augustus vacationed is worth the few euros saved.
From Amalfi, we took an early bus to Sorrento, which took about an hour and is one of the most dramatic bus trips of our trip. We then boarded the train and got off in Pompeii to see the town the was devasted by Mt. Vesuvius. It is remarkable how well intact this city is and you can get a real feel of what it was like to live in the ancient city. We spent 5 hours walking this site with the help of an audio guide tape player. We then jumped on the train to Naples. We spent only the night in Naples and took the morning train to Rome.
We arrived early in Rome and I was very grateful. Rooms are very difficult and expensive to come by. We concentrated next to the train station (Stazione Roma Termini) and found a small flat that rented out rooms for 65Euros for all of us. This was a great area with several fine and inexpensive restaurents to dine at (4 margherita pizzas, large salad, water and a liter of house wine and bread for 24 Euros), easy access to the metro subway and a large market below the train station to pickup breakfast and lunch foods for our 3 long days of walking the streets and piazzas of Rome. Before we left our room we made sure we had sun screen, hats, water, food, literature and maps. For our first day we took the Metro from Stazione Termini to the Colosseo and concentrated on seeing the Roman Forum (Free), the grand palace of Vittorio Emanual overlooking the Piazza Venezia and the capitol administration area, which has several excellent sculptures. We then bused to Vatican City to see fireworks celebrating the 500th year of the Swiss Guard. The next day, we woke up at 6:00am and took the metro to Vatican City. We arrived 45 minutes prior to the opening of the Vatican Museums (9 euros), which includes the Sistine Chapel and many Renaissance works by Raphael and Michelangelo. By coming early, we were near the front of the line and able to go straight to the Sistine Chapel to avoid the crowd scene. Walking into the quietitude of the Sistine Chapel and seeing this extraordinary room is something that must be seen in person. It is almost overwhelming and much time needs to be spent to see the detail and realize how incredible this room is. After spending the morning in the Vatican Museums, we went to St. Peter’s Basilica (Free) for the remaining of the day. When entering, off to the right, is Michelangelo’s amazing sculpture “La Pieta”. He carved this at 2o years of age and is still one of the most impressive pieces of art I have seen. We spent the rest of the afternoon praying and walking around the basilica, before going to Piazza Navona for dinner and to see Bernini’s Fountain of the four rivers for sunset. The next day we took the metro back to Piazza Navona to fully explore the fountains and charm of the Piazza. Then we started our walking tour back. This included stops at the Pantheon, the incredible Trevi Fountain, going to mass at St. Andrea’s, which had two Bernini sculpture surrounding the alter, Piazza Spagno, Piazza Barberini and Piazza Republica, all have tremendous fountains. In many ways, this was my favorite day walking the streets of Roma, seeing the culture and architecture and getting a real feel for life in Roma! From Rome, we took a train to Florence.
In Florence, about half a kilometer from the train station, we found another room to rent out in a flat with a kitchen facility. Therefore, we ate breakfast and dinner here and carried our lunch as we walked Florence. The first day we went to the Uffizi Gallery. Numerous works by the greatest painters and special Da Vinci demonstration, which provided many details about the life of this extraordinary person, make the Uffizi Gallery one of the greatest museums in Europe. The next two days, we attempted to walk around Florence and soak up beauty, colors and life of this historic Tuscan town. Not to be missed is the walk up to an overlook of the city and the bronze statute of David, or the two monasteries about half a kilometer from the lookout. Also, if you haven’t tried gelado ice cream yet, now is the time as you stroll around Florence. From Florence, we took the train to Mestre, which is right next to Venice.
Northern Italy and Venice
Through the generosity of Lina and Paolo Petrucci, we were invited to spend a week at an Italian winery in northeast Italy. The first day we went on a day ride through Trieste, Italy, into Slovenia, then into the Italian Alps. We were amazed and shocked at this country. Slovenia appears to be all snow capped mountains with numerous rivers feeding fertile valleys. Also, river rafting and kayaking appear to be top sports. Then we went off to the Italian Alps. The sheer beauty that surrounded us from a high glacier valley still is vivid in my mind and I have promised myself a return trip to this area for some hiking. Also, during this week, we were introduced to all members of the Petrucci family, played soccer, invited to dinner, developed a greater understanding into the business of making wine, took time relax and spent time getting to know the Petruccis.
On one of the days, we took a day trip into Venice. Actually, we parked a car in Mestre for 5 euros for the day, instead of 50 euros in Venice, and took the 20 minute train ride into Venice. From there we hopped on a public ferry and took a spin through the Grand Canal. We spent the remainder of the day walking the back areas of Venice. This was very enjoyable and let us get away from the tourist crowd somewhat. Of course, San Marcos Square was on our itinerary to feed the pigeons, see the cathedral and relax after many hours of walking.
Next we took a train from Mestre to Milan to catch another train from Milan to Nice, France. We ended up staying a couple of days here. The duomo in the center of town is incredible to see, but the cost of everything in Milan may not justify the stop.