Planning and executing a vacation in Italy using Holiday Exchange
This hub is the continuation of one of my previous hubs, where I talked about Switzerland. Our next destination for this vacation was the country of Garibaldi, Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci. Culturally I find this country quite close to my country of birth (India) because of the vibrancy and eventful nature of both of them. There is this certain element of chaos in both these cultures and that is quite distinct. Both these countries are also known for their food, across the world.
What can you expect from this hub
- Tips for selecting locations and transport options
- Italian food
- Shopping in Italy
- Elaborate information on Rome, Florence, Pisa and Assisi
- Some of the most scenic and memorable images from Italy
Our stay was in Carpedium Assisi a beautiful resort booked through RCI. The resort is around 30-34 minutes distance from the Assisi station and is a cluster of town houses, in a hilly natural settings a few kilometers from the Medieval Town of Assisi. We used this resort as our base location and made side trips to Florence and Rome both being in north and south respectively from this town.
Tips for visiting Italy
- Understand that Italy is quite different than many other European countries. So be ready for a bit of a chaos.
- Italy is a place inhabited for more than 20,000 years and a very interesting human history of last 3000 years.So it has lot to offer.
- Italy is vast and do not try to cover all of Italy in one trip, plan your trip to get the best out of few places of your choice. Francis Mayer the author of Tuscan Sun says that even if you have 10 lifetimes you would not be able to understand Italy completely
- Balance between Monuments, art as well as countryside. Dine in a plush Italian restaurant and also try the street food and Gelato
- I would call Italy as India of Europe with both the countries having lot in common in terms of history, people, food and so on
Rome is quite vast, overwhelming and at times chaotic. It is not possible to dive deep into Rome and understand it completely in couple of days. It has been home of one of the greatest civilzation on earth, the Roman Civilzation, but at the same time it was also a place where Catholicism flourished and reached its peak.
Rainessance has given a different direction to the whole civilization where people got involved into art, sculpture, humanity and all the kind of creativity. People like Leonardo Da Vinci, Miachaelangelo and Rafael made the greatest contributions to humanity and absolutely changed the way we look at life.
Its home to people from many countries and I could see a lot of Bangladeshi shops around. They were omnipresent, be it Colosseum or train station or the shops around train station.
Vatican is not only a symbol of Christendom, but also the creativity of human endeavor to create something that would last for ages and inspire human souls. It is a symbol of art, culture, power and team work. It seems more like fairy tale, where a King would decide and change the direction of the whole society around.
The Colosseum is a happening place and watching people trying to capture their life's greatest moment of being there close to this timeless structure in different ways and poses is a fun to watch. Although touristy, this place is a must visit for its ambience and history.
Piazza Venetia is a beautiful place to spend some time at. The structure with prominent white color and statues look magnificent and stands there reminding us of the grandeur of the Roman Empire. This street is a collage of old and new architectures, with the modern roman economy sprawling through the remains of beautiful fountains, arcs and pillars.
Trevi Fountain is one of most important spots to visit. The fountain is part of a magnificent artistic two storey structure, with beautifully sculptured statues and horses’ springing into action right in front of this building. The rhythmic soothing sound of the fountain water makes you feel blissful in the background of giggles and admiring remarks of its fans.
While Pantheon stands as a testimony to the golden era of Roman Empire, Villa Borghese provides insight into the artistic side of Rome, with some of the most fascinating painting and sculptures at display.
Few of the important basilicas like Basilica Chiesa di S. Ignazio, Sant’Andrea della Valle, St Maria Sopra Minerva Basilica and Marcus Aurelius Column are quite in the vicinity and compete with each other in terms of size, paintings and artistic creations.
What do you like most about Italy?
Since we had heard of the leaning tower right from our childhood, we were quite curious to see with our own eyes. The tower is situated around 15 minutes ride from the train station, by the red line bus and the ticket was 1.10 Euros. As we entered the complex, the view of the huge mass of people, who had gathered there in that small town was overwhelming. The ticket to climb up to the top was 18 Euros and they did not have any concession for the children like in Rome.
Apart from the leaning tower, the Piazza Dei Miracoli also hosts three other significant buildings including a Baptistery and a Catherdral. The place looks more beautiful because of the emerald green lawns around these unique and beautifully architected structures. All these structures exhibit splendor of Romanesque architecture made in grey and white striped marbles. It was fun to see people trying to make the moment memorable using all the poses that they could think of.
The weather was amazing as we approached Arno river near Ponte Vecchio, we were mesmerized by the sight. This place has a different aura and glamour of its own. The glittering sunshine reflecting from the surface of the Arno river, the thousands of year old bridge with its unique architecture, the high speed group canoeing on the river, the tourists trying to capture all this beauty in their cameras, the whole scene was enchanting, making you feel the moment, be part of this grand celebration of life and enjoy the sheer beauty.
The bridge is not very long and still has few of the old two storey shops, continuing their age old tradition and it’s unbelievable to see, touch and feel this thousands of year old masterpiece. Although it was built during Roman times, it was destroyed by flood and reconstructed couple of times. The surrounding buildings are a mixture of old and new and apart from Duomo, I guess this place is quite symbolic to Florence.
We walked down to Pallazzo Vecchio, again quite touristy place with ample cafes, beautiful statues and place to hang around and feel the essence of Florence.You really don’t have to visit a gallery to admire sculptures in Italy and this Piazza was another such example, with a number of sculptures including a replica of David, Herculus and Cacus and Perseus with the head of Medusa. This open air exhibition is place to hang around, but also a treat for an art lover, especially the renaissance art.
Duomo as it is popularly known, is the most artistic structure in Florence, constructed in Gothic style with elaborate artwork using shades of green, pink and white marble. Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flowers was constructed between 1296 and 1436 AC with the design of the cathedral from Arnolfo di Cambio and the dome designed by Filippo Brunelleschi
While constructing these time immortal structures of religious as well as artistic significance, care was taken that people visiting them connect themselves spiritually and that is what you experience as you spend some time sitting there, feeling peaceful at mind. Climbing up the dome and looking at those frescos from close and taking a bird's eye view of the city was my favourite part of visiting these basilicas
The view from the Duomo is amazing and gives the feel of uniqueness of this city. The red roof tops spread all across horizon, on the backdrop of surrounding mountain range, is the most panoramic scene to watch. The buildings are quite unique and form a kind of a facade along the narrow roads and alleyways.
Ufizzi Gallery takes you to a different world full of mythology and human emotions. The beauty of human body and events of everyday life seem to be depicted in many of these paintings and sculptures. And at the same time it’s interesting to see the perceptions of human life as seen from different angles by these artists.
There was considerable importance given to human emotions and everyday events. And at the same time the biblical stories, Jesus and Merry have been the topic of many of these paintings. Some of the famous paintings in Uffizi are Venus of Urbino by Titian, The birth of Venus by Botticelli, Annunciation by Leonardo da Vinci and Andrea del Verrocchio, Doni Tondo by Michelangelo.
Assisi is a hill town and belongs to Umbria region of Italy. St. Francis is the patron saint of this town. The Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi was completed during 1253, but it was badly damaged due to earthquake during 1997. Most of the surrounding village and the basilica was restored to original charm and is visited by thousands of religious Catholics and is one of the historical marvel.
This place enchanted us and we were absolutely thankful to our decision to stay at Carpedium Assisi, the RCI resort we selected for Italy. It allowed us not only to make our side trips to Rome, Pisa and Florence, but helped us understand the small town charm of Italy. The nature, the religious sentiments, the people and more importantly the cute Medieval village of Assisi gave us the experience of life time taking us back in history and trying to understand life 800 years back.
There was so much to this experience that it would be an injustice if I wrap up Assisi in this hub. It does need separate attention and would be a topic of my next hub.
On our second day in Rome,we had a proper Italian lunch at one of the open air cafes in the lane towards Trevi fountain. The crispy pizza, succulent, saucy pasta and a fruit salad served a good meal and was an authentic Italian experience.
What I cherish more is the breakfast at cafe Valentino right at the junction of Via Fiaenza. The menu included a typical Italian cappuccino, orange juice, fruit salad and an apple pie. The apple pie was real good and tasted more like any home made pie.
The Lasagne and Mushroom pizza at one of the cafe's near Piazza Republica was again great meal. This pizza had a thicker crest and lasagne tasted like any home made lasagne with cheese, tomato puree and minced meat.
Apart from Pizza and Pasta, Italy has a variety of sandwiches with different stuffing. We loved the Porchetta Panini, a local dish, with roasted Pork at Assisi.
The cooking at resort really helped us keeping the cost low as most of the groceries that we need are available at local shops and if we plan well, spending some time in the evening, for next day's meal, was not that difficult.
Although shopping can sometimes distract you from your site seeing, it is one more way to get local and you would love it, especially, if you are good at bargaining. Apart from Souvenirs at touristic locations like Leaning Tower of Pisa, Colosseum and Assisi, with cute replicas of these famous structures and personalities, Florence has a wonderful market for hats, bags and scarves.
For art connoisseurs Italy's Piazza Navona is a must visit to shop for some of the wonderful paintings from new age Italian artists.
Town like Assisi can help you with some of the local produce like pasta, meat and spices.
Use local transport and don't get into tourist traps like hop on hop off buses, for most of the cases I have found they are convenient, but not flexible to accommodate your schedule.
Sometimes its cheaper to pay for single journey than a pass, so do some research. A two day pass between Rome and Assisi was way more costlier than, single tickets we purchased for our trips.
If you are traveling from London, Terravision buses are good option to reach airport. Terravision runs a Shuttle between London to Stanstead (6 Pounds) as well as Roma Termini to Ciampino (6 Euro)
- Choose a resort not quite in the heart of any of the touristy place, that way you save on exorbitant hotel rent. But make sure it's close enough for travel and reaching out to nearby places
- Plan well in advance as early as one year, which sounds too much, but let me tell you there are many people who do this and that is where they have an edge over you, in terms of prices.
- Make sure you travel extremely light, we traveled with a pair of genes and 3-4 shirts/t-shirts and few essentials like medicines,everything in our backpacks.
- Learn few phrases, as locals really like it, when you revert with Bene grazie or say Buongiorno.
- Yes you do mistakes and you learn from them, so no matter how hard you try, there would be traffic jams, last minutes delays on connecting trains, not able to get any transport or even language issue. Stay calm, find workarounds, realign your schedule and move on.