Travel Bugsss Take On Italy! Booking, Itinerary And More
Hello again Travel Bugsss! It has been a while since our last post. As many of you already know, we just spent the last week or so in Italy! Let me start off by saying it was an amazing AND exhausting trip! Before you ask why a vacation would exhaust us, remember, we do not travel as typical jetsetters do, living in luxury on the sleekest resorts! We love to roam around and sometimes grind it out in order to make the most discoveries possible. And we take great pride in sharing those discoveries here with you in the hopes that it will inform your future travels. So, without further ado, here is a step by step guide of our 8 days in Italy!
We did not originally have plans to travel to Italy, but are always on the lookout for the latest, hottest deals. This one happened to come up around June 2016 while browsing The Points Guy's deals page and was a promotion by Emirates Airlines. The deal was essentially a "buy one get one free" offer where if you bought two economy class tickets to Milan from JFK, you basically paid the price of one. So, needless to say, Danielle and I bought the two tickets which came out to an even $900 and then the question became "How are we getting to JFK?", because as you may well know, we live just north of Boston and this was strictly a JFK-MXP deal and flying out of BOS was not an option.
Since we saved about $600 between us on the flights to Milan, we figured we'd still come out way ahead if we just flew in and out of JFK on our flight days. The best way we found to do this? Well, since we booked so far out (June 2016 for a March/April 2017 trip) we had all the flexibility in the world. So we waited for the inevitable, a JetBlue flash sale. These come around pretty frequently and we knew it was only a matter of time. We booked our round trip tickets to JFK for an additional $160 ($40 each way per person) bringing our flight cost total to $1,060. Still a steal, considering the JFK-MXP flights should have been at least $1500 between us. SCORE!
ITINERARY AND STAY
Now that we had transportation to and from Milan, it was time to plan out or itinerary and book our stays. We started with our usual go-to which is Airbnb. We have had nothing but positive experiences and, although there are plenty of hotels we love and would recommend, Airbnb has just been the most reliable and cost effective. We had many decisions to make so we took our time with this one, booking stays as we came to the conclusion that we wanted to stay in a particular locale. Remember, we had almost an entire year to plan between the day we booked and the day we departed for this trip. Just a reminder that it is ok to pace yourself and really plan. So here is what we outlined and where we stayed, why and what we did and saw there. We have also outlined costs for such things as transportation and such where possible:
March 30: Florence
We had an overnight flight on the 29th from JFK with arrival in Milan on the 30th so we planned to take a train directly from Malpensa Airport (MXP) in Milan to Central Milan train station where we would transfer to a Florence bound train and stay two nights at an Airbnb property owned by Daniela and Davide. The train network in Italy is powered by a company called Trenitalia and is, among many things, reliable, efficient and relatively inexpensive. Our train ride from the airport to Milano Centrale station one way was about $14 per person for a one way that took about 45 minutes. From Milano Centrale, we booked tickets to Florence for about $60 a ticket for a close to 2 hour ride. This was a rush hour booking so it was very expensive compared to similar bookings made at different hours of the day. Fret not, as it is not all that expensive on a regular, off-peak basis.
Here is what I had to say about this awesome stay!
"This cozy, neat and welcoming apartment is walking distance from Santa Maria And Campo Di Marte train stations. You could also walk to Piazza Dei Duomo and many other attractions such as piazza de Michelangelo. It was the perfect home base equipped with cooking tools. There were two supermarkets right around the corner. Daniela is incredibly welcoming and provides directions (along with map) and was even so kind as to welcome us with our first bottle of wine in Italy! Thank you so much! -TravelBugsss"
Day 1: Florence Nightlife
Day one in Florence was more like night one as we arrived in Florence at around 5PM local time after landing at 12 and taking a good 4 hours to get our wits about us. So we settled into our AirBNB, rested up and then cracked open a bottle of wine left for us by our lovely hosts. After that, we set out to explore the Florence nightlife which was bustling. We walked the crowded streets to the Duomo which was a sight to see. It is MASSIVE! The streets seem to be the hangout spot. people were crowded outside of tiny bars drinking, smoking and chatting it up. We saw locals and plenty of english speakers that we guessed were students studying abroad. We decided to buy a bottle of whisky and wander and drink, as public drinking is perfectly legal in Italy. It was an incredibly fun night spent exploring. Oh, and we revisited our childhood and got to ride a carousel! See some of the action for yourself below!
Day 2: Florence & Pisa
Day 2 provided us with one of only 2 full days spent in any one place in Italy and we took full advantage. We started the day off meeting a friendly cat and then going to see what our tour options were. We really wanted to go see Pisa which we discovered was only about an hour by train. So we revisited the Duomo area which was now TEEMING with tourists and police to find one of the tour shops. We were able to come upon one by the name of Mytour which offered many different tours to the beautiful countryside, Pisa and wine tours. It was a bit late in the day (about 10AM local) so we missed out on the morning tours. The only option was a driving tour of Florence and Pisa where you had the option f driving yourself! Still, as cool as that sounded, we decided it best to go at our own pace and save some bucks to boot. After deciding against the tour, we made our way to Piazza del Michelangelo which was said to have 360 views of the city. NO KIDDING! The views from the piazza were breathtaking and there was also a replica of the statue of David. We consider this a MUST do when visiting Florence. Next we took a load off and had a few drinks in a park next to the piazza before moving on to our train to Pisa to see the famous leaning tower. This was an awesome day trip that included seeing the leaning tower, stumbling upon Piazza Dei Cavalieri, and getting to see Tuttomondo by Keith Haring in person. After this, we returned to Florence by train and prepared for our evening out. We wound up at Moyo which was a hip local spot with trendy music and drinks. We got dressed up, had hookah and drinks and closed out our last night in Florence in style!
April 1: Venice
We decided that our next stop would take us to scenic Venice. Here we spent just the one night due to the exorbitantly high cost of renting in Venice. This was one of the more cost effective deals at around $100 per night. Also, though we booked through Airbnb, the property is not a residence but is actually a hotel that runs bookings through Airbnb. Here is the listing followed by our review!
"Was a pretty room with decent wifi but the views were of the messy parking lot and it is a hotel. And as far as hotels go, this was lacking in some areas of service and amenities. @travel.bugsss"
Needless to say, we got what we paid for. Unfortunately, "thrifty" accommodations in Venice are few and far between and likely not worth it. If you are wanting to stay in Venice, be prepared to shell out about $130-$200 a night for "pretty good". I will say, that the location was 5 minutes walk from the train station and even less to the busses and the Grand Canal.
Day 3: Venice
We woke up in Florence and finished packing up and started making our way to Santa Maria Novella Train station to catch out train to Venice. Things Totally got off on the wrong foot as I accidentally booked us on a 1:47AM train that we had, of course, missed while we were sleeping. This was due to the use of military time in Italy, which you would think by day 2 (when I booked the ticket) I would had the hang of. But no. Sadly, we arrived to find that there was no 1:47PM train waiting for us and we were forced to rebook on the next available train which was at around 3:30 and cost us about $53 each for the one way, last minute rush hour ticket. Fail. After that debacle, we arrived safely in beautiful Venice and were greeted with an enchanting view of the Grand Canal upon leaving the station. We knew then we were in love. We hurried to check into our hotel and drop off our bags and freshen up so that we can explore, grab a bite to eat and explore some more. We started out by visiting a small park that was close by which led to a small plaza where we decided to sit down and eat facing one of many smaller canals.
After a nice lunch, we continued deeper into Venice where we found an abundance of shops, canals, restaurants, bars, tiny alleyway sized streets and adorable homes. We didn't do the gondola ride I am afraid, but for those of you who are curious, they run for about $90 during the day for a 30 minute tour and $100 at night. Once it started getting dark, we made our way back to our hotel and got ready for the evening out. Once ready, we stopped at a vendor cart (big mistake) and bought some very overpriced wine and whisky then made off to find a nice place to sit and drink, preferably with a view of the canal. Luckily we found just that. How we wound up there, I am not too sure but I recall following some seedy looking characters down a dark alleyway....yup, because that's how all stories with a happy ending start....right? What we found literally made our night in Venice. It was a walled off sort of hideaway that had a group of about 20-25 locals/Italians sitting, talking and enjoying their adult beverages right on the canal. So we dug in a spot for ourselves and drank the night away, laughing and gashing at the beautiful, calming waters of the Canal. It was quite the romantic evening.
April 2: Verona
After an amazing day and night spent in beautiful Venice where we navigated the tiny closed-in streets and drank and laughed the night away on the canal with locals, when continued on to history filled Verona where we visited one of the older coliseums in Italy, rode bikes, visited Juliet's home and discovered the best lookout point of our entire trip. We spent two nights in the following AirBNB:
"Host was informative and the place was immaculate and in a location that was walking distance away from the duomo, river and arena. Sadly, one of the bikes provided had a flat but we were able to rent one from a shop right around the corner for 10 euro. Beautiful apartment. @Travel.Bugsss"
To expand on our review, the area was quiet and friendly and had markets, restaurants, bars, a bike shop and public transportation all within walking distance. The apartment was modern and filled with personality and charm. The bikes that came included in the rental really inspired us to go biking and it was one of the best decisions we made while in Italy.
Day 4: Verona
So we left Venice at about 4PM by train which cost about $8 per person and took just under 1.5 hours. We got to Verona by about 5:30 and was at our AirBNB by about 5:45 and settled by 6. It was already late and we wanted to get the most out of our time in Verona so we got right to it and visited the coliseum, which disappointingly, is NOT open to visitors outside of concert ticket holders. With no concerts scheduled during our stay in Verona, seeing the inside of the arena was just not in the cards for us. We then moved on to the market nearby which is pretty well known in Piazza delle Erbe. We stopped to get a bite to eat along the way and then made our way back. Since we were exhausted at this point from all the traveling and a bit dehydrated from the wrong kind of drinking, we decided to take it easy and work on edits at the B&B. We had a full day ahead of us.
Day 5: Verona & Avesa
We kicked our morning off in Verona by heading off towards Torre die Lamberti and climbing up what seemed like 20 flights. It was well worth the struggle as the views up top were magnificent. It did cost about $5.50 per person in admission though. After a brief stay, we made a short stop to see Juliet's statue then decided it was time to head back and do some bike riding around the city to explore. Renting a bike (one was provided by the Airbnb host) was pretty easy as there was a shop a 3 minute walk from the b&b. It was also not very expensive at $10 for the rest of the evening (it was about noon and they closed at 7). We rode straight to the river Arno and the detoured from there, happening upon what looked like an old fortress. Turns out, this was Castel San Pietro, a castle built in 1398, blown up by the French in 1801 and rebuilt in 1856. Tons of history here. But what it really offered was the GREATEST viewpoint I have had the pleasure of witnessing with my own eyes. It almost made us regret shelling out the $11 bucks collectively to climb Lamberti. The views were wide and stretched for miles and were simply gorgeous. This is a MUST while in or near Verona.
After leaving Castel San Pietro, we made our way up north of Verona to a small, hilly town by the name of Avesa. Our goal was to bike to a hiking train, as we could see large mountains were nearby Verona. Unfortunately, we biked and biked and biked and did not happed upon any such trail. So after about 2 hours, we made our way back towards Verona and stopped along the river Arno along the way for a reposo and drink. The river was peaceful and it was a beautiful, warm sunny day so it was a great change of pace before we got back and headed the rest of the way. We got back to our Airbnb at about 4 and decided to take a nap as we were wiped. We held onto the bike just in case but wound up returning it when we woke up around 5:50 and started getting ready to go out.
Sad to say, the nightlife in Verona on a Monday night just was not up to snuff. There were a few local bars around the Verona University area that were loud around 9 but were already showing signs of dying down by 10. The city center did not offer much more as the bars were occupied only by what looked like regulars who were stopping by for a drink after a days work. We walked around abit, enjoying the night sky and the beautiful scenery then decided to call it quits on verona at about midnight. Ciao
April 4: Bolzano
Our last two nights in Italy were very different from our previous 5. We had decided beforehand not to book these nights until we were in Italy. We wanted to add a new experience under our belt, nomading. So, we booked 5 nights splitting them between Florence (2), Venice (1) and Verona (2) and left our last two as wildcards. Boy did it pay off. For the first night, we ended up taking a detour north of Verona to the town of Bolzano. Visiting Bolzano was a MUST for us as we love nature and it surrounded by mountains. We found it while looking for towns to visit between Verona, our last booked city and Milan, the city we were flying out of. Bolzano was out of the way and by no means "in between" Verona and Milan. We would have to backtrack to Verona before making our way to Milan, but it was well worth the hour commute each way. Here, we stayed in a beautiful guesthouse smack dab in the center of town. As you can probably imagine, being in the city center meant that is got quite loud at times, but this was a small caveat among many benefits. Goethe Guesthouse was gorgeous and clean and gave us a great view of the street below. Following is the booking link and our thoughts on our stay:
"Goethe Guesthouse had a somewhat arduous check-in process, as the desk was about a quarter mile from the guesthouse itself. That was pretty much the only drawback (the other potential one being the noise that we expected being in the city center). The space was large, clean, artsy and imaginative. We loved that it was central and had a separate working area with reading light. Was an incredible steal at 50 euro!" -TravelBugsss"
Day 6: Bolzano
I have to start off by noting that one day in Bolzano is NOT ENOUGH! Not even close. There is too much to do here that simply can not be done in 24 hours. About 45 minutes away are the Dolomites, the one attraction we truly regret not being able to see. You'd have to rent a car (anywhere between $60 and $120) as there are not many reliable bus routes there and there are no trains. Also nearby is Val Gardena which is full of scenic trails good for hiking, biking and skiing. Sadly we did not participate an any of the above and had to settle for viewing the gorgeous mountains from Bolzano, which despite my dismay, was no small thing.
Once we arrived and settled into our lovely guesthouse, after taking some photos of the mountains in the distance, we got a bite to eat and set out exploring per usual. Like seemingly every city in Italy, Bolzano had a duomo so we visited that first. I must say it was the least impressive of the ones we had visited thus far, though still a sight to see. Next up, we walked the town to get a sense of what it had to offer aside for the usual shops, gelati, market and bars. We did some shopping, as we were running out of clothes since some of our wardrobe was unusable due to not being appropriate for the weather. It was nothing but overcast in Bolzano and it was fairly chilly. We went out that evening and had a nice dinner, not expecting there to me much going on in the way of nightlife since it was Tuesday and Bolzano seemed like more of an industrial town. So after dinner and drinks, we enjoyed a walk around which was fast becoming tradition and then retired to our room at about 11PM.
In the morning, we checked out at 10 and then left our backs in a secure locations (below the stairs leading into the apartment. lol) and ventured off until it was time to catch our train to Milan at 1:36PM. The tickets were $25 apiece as we had to take one to Verona and then another to Milan and the trip would take almost 4 hours. Yikes! We used our time to revisit a large park that offered great views and some fun! There was a playground equipped with swing sets, slides and plenty to climb! Needless to say, we let our inner children out and had a wonderful morning in Bolzano not adulting.
April 5: Milan
Sometime during our escapade in Bolzano, we booked a night in Milan as we decided it was most prudent to stay a relatively quick train ride from the airport. Milan hotels were unbelievably expensive! Part of the reason was that it was design week in Milan. Some rooms were going for as much as $8000 a night! Luckily, we were able to snag a junior suite at the unbelievable Teco Hotel downtown. The night WOULD have cost us $600 for the night, a steal in comparison to many of the other area hotel rooms available that night, but it wound up costing us just 40,000 Chase UR (Valued at $400 cash back). So thanks to our ever growing cache of chase points, we were able to soften the financial blow of staying in Milan substantially! Follow the link to the Teco Hotel and check out our review of it.
"Hotel Teco was unbelievable. I typically place hotels into 1 of 3 categories. Resort/Villa, Hotel and Hostel. With that being said, this was the best hotel room I have had the pleasure of staying in. Not only was it immaculate, it was SPACIOUS (it WAS a junior suite after all) with a large bed, large windows that faced the busy and popular Corso Buenos Aires. The bathroom and shower were exceptionally clean and beautifully lit, including a switch to dim the main super white lights and turn on a cascading blend of soft colors to provide a serene and trendy atmosphere. The room also had a large comfortable couch big enough to sleep pretty much anyone under 6 feet pretty comfortably. The only gripe I had was that there was no iron provided or available (Their reason being a prior incident ruining it for all.) In conclusion, although we overpaid due to the inflated prices caused by design week event, we STILL felt that it was a worthwhile stay. That is really saying something coming from the generally frugal Travel Bugsss! -TravelBugsss"
Day 7: Milan
Our last night in Italy. Sigh. We have mixed feelings about our last night. It was part magical as the city of Milan was enchanting and its duomo was the most beautiful building we had ever laid eyes on. On the other hand, the city was unlike any of the cities we visited before in in that it was incredibly busy and more Western-like. Do not get me wrong, we LOVE cities such as Chicago and NYC, we just do not go looking for them when we travel. We want something more unique and much less go go go. Milan was filled with people and wide streets lined with business after business. Everything seemed like a tourist trap, including the Piazza Dei Duomo which was surrounded by high end shops and restaurants. I must reiterate the we did not dislike Milan, it just wasn't our speed, being two travel weary peeps prepping for our long journey home.
We started off by arriving at Milano Centrale from Verona and quickly making our way to the hotel to freshen up and settle in. As you have read above, we LOVED the hotel. We put out bags down, showered and got into our evening clothes and I messaged my friend Darcila, who was in Milan for work. After deciding to meet up after we grab a bite, we set off to find some food. We wound up eating at a restaurant by the Duomo which had a fantastic menu and great hospitality. The name escapes me, but will update the post when I find it. After dinner, we took a walk around the duomo area enjoying the sights and the people and taking photos in front of the massive, beautiful building. We also took some peaks inside the venues showcasing for design week on our way back to the hotel to get ready to head out to meet Darcila and her friends at Club 11.
I would like to say that this is where things got interesting, lol, but unfortunately what REALLY happened was that our road weariness caught up to us when we got back to the hotel. We planned to have a few drinks then head right back out, meeting up with Darcila, but the comfortable bed of the TECO junior suite won out. We knew it was our last night in Milan and would have loved to spend it in good company on a new adventure, but it just was not in the cards. We will have to conquer Milan another day. For now, it was time to prepare for our journey home.
Thank you so much for tuning in! We have a TON of content coming your way so please stay tuned! Also, be sure to check out some of our Italy tips and tricks below!
Tips & Tricks
1. MOST places we visited accepted Visa, Mastercard and Amex.
2. Beware of pickpockets! We had a friend fall victim in Rome during the same week we were in Italy!
3.Goeuro app is the go-to app for booking train transportation. Seamless and easy!
4. Get to trains early if you do not have assigned seating, or you may be standing for a long journey!
5. Bike rentals for for 10-15$ per day depending where you are.
6. Car rentals from $60 per day depending.
7. Lots of free wifi zones all around italy. Lookout for them.
8. Public bathrooms cost money to use so be sure to carry change on you as they do not accept card.
9. Buy tickets for attractions a day in advance. This is very important, they sell out and get crowded!
10. Many businesses have employees who speak enough English for americans to easily get by. For the ones that do not, use itranslate to get you the rest of the way!
That's it for now everyone! Be sure to lookout for gallery updates to see amazing photos! Ciao for now!