Tell me about Italy
I'm leaving soon! I'm flying into Verona and staying there for less than two days. Then I'm off to Venice! A city I've always wanted to see. I'll be there for 6 days, checking out the Biennale. Both Venice and the Biennale have been on my bucket list since I heard of them. Any advice on what to see? Can't miss things in Venice? I'm sadly not much of a foodie, and a veggie to boot, so all the good seafood in Venice will be lost on me. But pizza, pasta, and gelato are all things I love!
After Venice I head to Florence for two days. I very much want to see, and might stay a night, in Siena. I fly out of Florence.
Tell me everything, fellow travelers! I've done some research, but clearly not enough!
it's been a few years....good thing you're NOT a foodie. Venice has the rep of some of the least inspired and most expensive food in Italy.
St. Mark's cathedral in piazza san Marco
Strolling anywhere ( you can't get lost) especially away from the tourist district
Gelato, gelato, gelato
The Rialto market
The guggenheim museo
Ride on vaporettos especially done the Grand Canal
Shops making authentic masks
Maybe visit Murano and Burano (but next to last on my list)
A gondola ride? (very expensive and very touristy, but if you must, you must)
Do you need boots? Has aqua alta begun?
Consult Rick Steves guide for places to eat definitely and walking routes, places to visit. He suggests pub crawls in Venice where you drink, drink, drink, and eat free or low-cost.
wandering (although a very busy city with lots of Vespas)
The David at the Accademia
the cultural museum
If you can get to Pisa at all, visit the baptistry, infinitely more interesting than Leaning Tower. The baptistry has extraordinary accoustics and if you hang out long enough the security guard will sing ....with himself...it's breathtaking.
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Well YMMV of course, but my experience of the food in Venice was great. I did eat all manner of sea creatures, however. It's pretty easy to get meatless pastas and pizzas wherever you go, but watch out for pasta all'amatriciana, which looks like a tomato sauce but has guanciale in it. One of my favorite pizzas is cippolla, or "onion." It's a cheeseless pizza with tomato sauce and shaved red onion on the top. Sounds pretty nasty but the 800-degree ovens work some magic on it. Another friend to the vegetarian in Venice are cicchetti, the little tapas-like bar snacks you can get. If there is fried fennel, you're golden. You'll do better as a vegetarian in Tuscany since the cuisine is more plant-based. When I stayed in the neighboring province of Umbria for ten weeks, pizza and pasta were mainstays, and you're super lucky to be going in autumn since it is prime mushroom harvesting season. Many restaurants should be featuring them prominently on their menus. As you may know, in Italy you eat your appetizer (if you want one), then your pasta or pizza, and then you finish with salad (if you want one). For the most part, skip restaurant desserts unless they advertise "fatte in casa", or made in-house; otherwise, it will be something nasty and frozen that's been trucked in from a factory in Parma. NB: they don't salt the bread in Tuscany. It's very bland at first but you kind of get used to it.
In Venice, I think the Biennale will take up a lot of your time, but (in addition to San Marco and the Guggenheim) I'd suggest a trip to Santa Maria della Salute, which is my second-favorite church in Italy. It's a small church and very close to the vaporetto so you can see it and be on your way in less than an hour. I'd also suggest a tour of the Doges' Palace; you can book ahead online to get an English-speaking tour guide, and if you take the tour you can see parts of the palace that are normally closed to visitors. If you like cocktails, have a ubiquitous Aperol spritz—it doesn't have to be at Harry's Bar. Personally, I didn't find the gelato in Venice to be that great; save it up for Florence, which has more artisanal gelaterie to choose from. If you check chowhound or egullet, their very active users can provide recent and quite accurate details of the best places. Another thing to check out (via Google) is to see if any concerts will be held in the churches. They're generally not too expensive and if you like choral/early music, it could be a fun thing to do in the evening. If you're going to be there for six days, definitely get a vaporetto pass unless you are staying in the immediate vicinity of the Biennale. It's a lot easier than constantly buying tickets.
In Florence, definitely go to the Mercato Centrale. Not only is it huge and fascinating, you can also buy food such as epic sandwiches. If you have time before you leave for Italy, get your tix to the Uffizi and Accademia online. That will save you waiting in line. Before seeing the Duomo, buy a pastry and coffee at Caffe Gilli, which is a beautiful cafe with 18th century architecture on the Piazza del Duomo. Hell, go there afterwards too. Prices are reasonable if you stand at the bar, but it's not too bad even if you sit, and you've bought yourself some prime people-watching real estate. Gilli make lovely, exquisite confections that are great as gifts. Aside from the Duomo, make sure to visit Santa Croce, the final resting place for some very famous people. It may be worth it to visit the Pitti Palace, although I'm not sure if the Boboli Gardens will be much to look at this time of year.
If you can make it to Siena, you really, really should. The Campo is very impressive and you can kind of just hang out there, so there's no need to buy anything at the invariably bad and overpriced cafes. Climbing the Torre del Mangia (yeah, Tower of Eating) gives a good view, and the strange black-and-white Duomo is totally worth a look (I was super sad when I went there and it was totally scaffolded for renovations). A little off the Campo is the Museo della Bambini, which is technically an art museum for kids but which I found lots of fun after all the altar pieces and the like. It's all real art, but curated to appeal to the imaginations of young people. Ironically, there were like only two kids there when I visited.
Just out of curiosity, what's in Verona? Seems an unusual place to fly into. Also, which TB bag are you taking? If you want, you can see a packing list and pics from my winter trip to Italy two years ago. It was an amazing visit, and I'm really excited for you!
Thank you Monkey Lady and Badger! I'm going to print your responses! The Rick Steve's pub crawl sounds great, and the cicchetti (chicketti? My Italian phonetics and not quite there yet) sounds right up my alley. I will definitely have a spritz or several, and drink plenty of vino rosso. Mi piace vino rosso!
The English language tour of the Doge's Palace also sounds great. I'll have a vaporetto pass.
I'm definitely going to check out Siena.
I chose Verona for silly reasons: Shakespeare, proximity to Venice, and because it got good reviews on Trip Advisor. They also have a bike share program, but I'm not sure if they'll still be out.
As for bags! It's going to be a game day decision. My plan is Synapse 25 loaded up with a medium Tri Star packing cube, which will go into a Western Flyer packing cube backpack, which will go into the Synapse. Then I can use the packing cube backpack for stuff that I can't leave behind in Italy. I can check that on the way home. I also have a Packing Cube Shoulder Bag coming along. I considered an Aeronaut, but it's too late now since I leave Monday. If for some reason the Synapse doesn't work, I'll default to my bike backpack, a Mission Workshop Rambler. It has more capacity than the Synapse 25, but it's heavy and has not much organization. I've practice packed the Synapse and made it work. It's so pretty! Steel/UV.
I'm a little worried about footwear. I walk a lot and have comfortable shoes to wear, but I really really want to bring my Chacos and wear them with socks if it gets cold, but I'm afraid that will make the chic Italians weep. ;)
Who cares about the chic Italians. They'll know you're a tourist anyway. Err on the side of comfort. You'll be walking on cobblestone paths and streets A LOT and it can be hard on feet and legs after a while.
Beware pickpockets in Venice and particularly Florence. In my opinion, you'd be wise to use a cross body bag--not a backpack as an EDC.
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If you haven't already lined up accommodation, I'd recommend staying in nearby Padua. It's a lovely little city in its own right and cheaper than anything in Venice. When I went, it was affordable to take the train to/from Venice daily throughout my stay. I went as a budget tourist over a decade ago. I stayed in a youth hostel and survived on crusts of bread, cheese, nuts, dried fruit, cheap fresh produce from the market, and the occasional decent meal. So many interesting and fond memories. :) I third the suggestion of taking the vaporetto around Venice. Wear comfortable shoes! Perhaps my biggest suggestion would be to take the time to enjoy the good life. Go to a cafe, linger over an espresso or a delicious baked good, or sit in a small piazza or park and do some leisurely people-watching. Vacations are much more pleasant that way.
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One thing to consider regarding the Chacos: while they are excellent for walking, the stone streets absorb a lot of cold and damp, and it's quite possible that even with socks you will become very chilled if you attempt to walk around all day in them. If it were summer, I'd say go for it instantly; Chacos are great footwear and believe you me, there are plenty of fugly shoes all over Italy, so you needn't worry about causing a fashion stir.
I think you'll be fine with the 25 as your main travel bag. I carried my Aeronaut as a backpack and didn't have any trouble with pickpockets, but I remained vigilant at all times. On the train, etc., you'll want to keep the bag as close to your side as possible; when you're sightseeing during the day, the PCSB will be a good low-profile bag and you can wear it cross-body and in front of you if you wish. The last time I was in Italy, there were all sorts of people wandering around with cameras and camera bags—and I even saw some crazy lady shooting a video from a gondola with her iPad. There are always loads of easy pickpocketing-pickin's around, so if you are careful, you will be just fine.
PS: your pronunciation of cicchetti is spot-on.
PPS: I don't think it's weird to want to go to Verona because of Shakespeare. I've seriously considered a trip to Hastings, England, simply because of the show Foyle's War. What can I say? It looks atmospheric.
Thanks everyone for chiming in! I'm equal parts excited and nervous! but these posts have tipped the balance to excited. Everything in Italy will be new to me, and I love wandering. So I'll probably just wander and admire art and architecture between glasses of wine.
Chacos are my favourites, but one just can't wear sandals all winter around here. I bought a pair of their full-on shoes for that reason.
Originally Posted by Badger
Definitely closed good walking shoes with non slip soles.
Besides very cold feet, inadequate shoes will turn your feet into a drenched mess and you might slip on the wet cobblestone, stone, marble, etc...
Don't forget to bring layers, you are going to northern Italy, which get chilly for the next few weeks Venice is going to be from the mid 50's to the mid 60's with rain or fog some days.
Florence will be from the high 50's to the low 70's with rain, fog and thunderstorms when the temperatures are higher.
If I were you, I would plan mainly indoor activities, including shopping in Florence and Verona department stores and small shops away from tourist areas, you might score a bargain on accessories or an outfit.
Verona also has a well preserved Roman arena where they put on Opera ( the one I saw was awful) and a Roman theatre too. Near the theatre is a museum that has a wonderful collection of tiny household gods (lares et penates if i remember correctly).
I would stay in Venice (preferably in the Jewish quarter). 3749 ponte Chiodo is a lovely B&B in a quiet spot. Spend as little time as possible near San Marco and as much time as possible walking the back streets and (inevitably) getting lost! The Accademia has a whole room of the ugliest baby Jesus' you will ever see! It is my theory that the artists used the face of whichever middle aged businessman paid for the painting. Near the accademia bridge on the way to the Guggenheim there was a little place with a counter onto the street, serving delicious spinach pie. Buy some tickets for the public toilets as they are clean and there are few other options.
Check out the little delis near the campo in Siena. I had a spectacular chickpea salad in one and probably in the fall they do soups and other yummy things. We found it because of the crowd of businessmen scarfing down food from takeout containers.
I secong Badger's recommendation of the Mercato Centrale in Florence. Ooooo- i am sosososo jealous!
Tell me about Italy
The highs are barely 40 degrees here in the Midwest so Italy temps are looking downright balmy. I was in Venice in January and found the weather very mild.
Originally Posted by backpack
Rocks, I forgot to mention that Florence has amazing handmade paper and leather goods (though as a vegetarian perhaps you avoid them?). Crack your guidebook and see if there are suggestions for non-rip-offy places to buy. Also, take a stroll across the Ponte Vecchio at night. Most of the little jewelry kiosks remain open until quite late and prices are generally negotiable. About a quarter mile east of the Duomo is a pedestrian mall lined with pan-European boutiques, including one of the most impressive Camper shoe stores I've ever seen.
There are loads of great places in Venice to get Murano glass, as others have likely mentioned. One piece of advice: if you see something you like but don't want to buy immediately (always wise), take a picture of the shop and write down its location. You will NOT remember where you saw X awesome thing and you will be haunted years later by the memory of it. Ask me how I know.
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haha I was thinking the same thing about Italy weather. We've already had snow and freezing temps in Minnesota. I know it might be damp/chilly, but I can handle it! As for shoes, my Chacos are packed and coming with me. As well as several pairs of Smartwool socks. My Synapse 25 also made the cut. I practice packed one last time and love how light and organized it is compared to my Rambler.
I love paper and stationery. I will definitely check those out In Florence! Thanks for the tips about photographing the shops. That's a good one!
I still haven't decided to make Siena an overnight or a day trip from Florence. It would be nice to have one less hotel check-in/out, so maybe a day trip.
I got my iphone 5 unlocked and will get an Italian sim card when I arrive. Has anyone ever done that? I'm relying on my phone for maps, pictures, and reading material, so it must work!
Yes, no problem with sim cards. Check out the various providers and what they offer before you leave (in English). Verona seemed like quite a small place so don't know what the selection of providers will be like there. Venice was just getting public wifi when i was there about 4 yrs ago and coverage for that was very spotty! I think there are regular buses from florence to Siena as well as day tours if you are into that. I LOVED x 1000000000000 Florence so i would work it to maximize time there.