I am extremely excited to share my wonderful spring break adventures with you!
Grace, Sue, and I decided to spend our 10 days traveling to Italy (Venice, Cinque Terre, Florence, and Rome), then to Greece (Athens, Santorini).
Before I get into the details of each day, I think it’s best to say that the three of us have spent about a month planning our entire trip, from buying plane, train, ferry tickets to planning strict itineraries for every single day. We did this because we wanted to have the maximum amount of time exploring each site rather than figuring out where to go and what to do. I’m happy to say that we got EVERYTHING on our itinerary done, plus so much more.
So that brings me to my first tip.
TIP 1: Plan everything in advance. The more detail you have in your trip, the better it’ll be.
TIP 2: Go with a small and likeminded group. This can seem very obvious, however, many people often say the bigger the group the better. The reality is that the bigger the group the more difficult it is to make unanimous decisions. So our group of 3 was perfect, and we all seemed to want to do/ see the same things.
TIP 3: Plan your wardrobe for each day in advance, plan versatile clothes, plan for weather changes, and pack very light. Before packing my bags, I set aside an outfit for each day and took photos of each one, and that definitely saved a lot of time on my trip and room in my luggage (which was a very small carry-on). Plus, you’ll probably end up buying a shirt or something there if you really need one.
TIP 4: Have a budget for yourself. This budget is different for everyone so I cannot tell you a set number range to stick with, but definitely calculate as detailed as you can, including food, transportation (cabs, metro, etc.), souvenirs, activities, museum fees, and so on. When traveling, it’s easy to loose track of how much you spend, many times spending can be for necessary things, so writing it down as you go will help you remember and save you from unnecessary spending.
TIP 5: Be careful of pickpockets, they’re EVERYWHERE. Keep everything (bags, wallets, phones) in the front and as secured as possible (your front pocket is not secure, just saying). In order to not be a victim, Grace, Sue, and I had a routine that every hour or so we would check to see if we had our wallets, phones, and passports still on us. Better safe than sorry!
Of course, I’ll give more tips as I write. This post is only the first half of our trip, and includes only Italy. Greece’s trip will be posted shortly.
Italy trip fun facts:
-My knowledge in speaking Italian came in handy!
-I lost my voice the very first day and sounded like Voldemort the rest of the trip (haha -_-).
-Don’t let the pictures deceive you, I was still cold. But of course for me, I’ll take the cold for an outfit I want to wear.
Venice- Day 1, April 3, 2015
Venice was our first stop in Italy. Once we got there, we needed to get from the airport to the city, which if you didn’t already know, is basically flooded with water. Venice has 6 districts, so when you arrive, you need to take a water taxi or water bus (Vaporetto) to get to the specific city in Venice you’re staying in (FYI, the water bus is way cheaper than the taxi). We stayed in San Marco, which is the city most visited by tourists. We only had one day in Venice, so we planned to stay as central as possible. In Venice, we visited St. Marks Square (numerous times), the Academia, and many beautiful churches. Venice is a beautiful, romantic city, so it’s best to just walk through the streets and through the little canals and just take it all in. We had our first gelato in Venice, which definitely set the bar extremely high for the rest of Italy. It was delicious.
Cinque Terre- Day 2, April 4, 2015
Going from Venice to Cinque Terre required a train with 4 stops, which took about 7 hours. Although this was a long journey from one city to another, it worked out for us in terms of weather. Cinque Terre was the only day we would spend close to the beaches of Italy, and the exact day we were going was the day that it rained. However, once we got to Cinque Terre, the beautiful sun came out to greet us!
There are 5 villages from north to south in Cinque Terre (Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore), and many people hike between each village when the weather is nice. Since we got there late, and the mountains were muddy, we decided to take the train to three of the cities. We stayed in Montessoro al Mare, which was right on the beach and had cute little shops and boutiques. We took a train (5 minutes) to Vernazza for dinner and to see the beautiful sunset. Fun fact: one of the cities in Cinque Terre actually invented Pesto, and needless to say, the Pesto pizza we had in Vernazza was out of this world!
After Vernazza, we took another train to Manarola, a town a little smaller than the first two, but with the best view! Overall, just a day in Cinque Terre was enough to see not one, but three of the cities (they’re very small, but adorable).
Florence- Day 3-4, April 5-6 2015
Our next stop in Italy was Florence!!!
Florence was our first day staying in an Airbnb apartment and it turned out to be great (all of our Airbnb bookings were amazing). Our host gave us detailed directions and tips to getting around the city which was extremely helpful. The first thing we did in Florence was walk to the Piazza del Duomo. Another thing we got lucky with was that we were in Florence during Easter, so once we got to the Duomo as they were finishing Easter mass. Easter in Florence is something spectacular, with a big celebration called “Scoppio del Carro,” or the “Explosion of the Cart,” which is done on Easter morning. We actually got to see a mini ceremony in the afternoon when we arrived, and witnessed men dressed in Medieval garb playing trumpets and beating drums, holding banners with colorful insignias. To better visualize how big Easter in Florence is, watch the video below!
After the Piazza del Duomo, we walked over to the Uffizi Gallery to see one of the oldest and most famous art museums in the world established in 1581. Luckily for us, the Uffizi Gallery was free on Easter Sunday, however the lines were extremely long. Nonetheless, the art inside was magnificent, including famous pieces like Sandro Botticelli’s Birth of Venus and La Primavera and Giovanni Bellini’s Sacred Allegory, pictured below.
After the Uffizi Gallery, we walked up to the Piazzale Michelangelo to see an incredible view of Florence, followed by more gelato and another delicious Italian dinner.
Day two in Florence was probably my favorite day in all of Italy! It was the perfect day to plan our trip to the Pitti Palace (Palazzo Pitti) and the Boboli Gardens (Giardini di Boboli). Palazzi Pitti was bought by the Medici family in 1549, and became the main seat of the Medici grand dukes of Tuscany. The Giardini di Boboli’s were laid out behind the Palazzi Pitti for Eleonora di Toledo, the wife of Cosimo I de’Medici, so you can only image how SPECTACULAR it is! The gardens are home to Roman antiquities and sculptures dating the 16th through 18th centuries.
Just look through these stunning photos of the gardens! You CANNOT visit Florence without seeing this!
After the Palazzi Pitti and Giardini di Boboli, we decided to take a bus to the NYU Florence campus. Before deciding to study abroad in London, I was actually accepted to attend NYU Florence last fall but instead turned it down to reapply in the spring for London due to more classes I could take for my major. After briefly visiting the beautiful and massive NYU campus in Florence, I had a slight regret in that decision. The students who choose to study here really have it great, with so much land and beautiful scenery while walking to class or reading a book. I was curious to know how NYU had so much land in Florence for their campus. Apparently the Villa La Pietra, the 57-acre estate, was bequeathed to NYU by Sir Harold Action. The villa was built in the 15th century by the Macinghi family, later bought by Francesco Sassetti (Medici Bank manager), who later sold it to a member of the Capponi family, then bought by the parents of Harold Action. Sir Harold Action was inspired to leave his home as a legacy for education, so when he passed away in 1994, he left the estate to NYU. WOW! After learning this, I was extremely proud to be attending a school that prides itself for being a global network university.
(The entire campus was closed due to Easter holiday, so I only got these photos.)
More gelato in Florence!
Rome- Day 5-6, April 7-8 2015
From Florence, we took another train to get to Rome early in the morning. We were staying in a very central location, close to the Colosseum. Our Airbnb host recommended that the first thing we do was climb to the Villa del Priorato di Malta, where we will find a very unique view. Up on the hill, we found a very old door that has a little keyhole, with a line forming outside the door to look into the hole for a special surprise. As we were waiting in the short line (not a very tourist location quite yet), the suspicion was building up of what was behind the door. Once it got to my turn to peak through the little hole, I saw (blank). It was one of the coolest things I got to see, but I couldn’t get the best photo of the (blank) due to lighting, but if you really want to see what it was, click here (SPOILER, I really suggest you don’t click and see it for yourself when you’re in Rome, but the decision is all yours).
After the Villa del Priorato di Malta, we walked over the Colosseum and Roman Forum. This area was crammed with archaeological sights and it was incredible to see something so ancient and historical.
We then walked along the Via del Corso, a street with a ton of little shops, as well as mainstream brands, and had lunch in one of the little cafes. After lunch, we had some more gelato and made our way to the marvelous Pantheon in Rome.
A couple days before our trip we found out the the Trevi fountain was under-construction, which was pretty upsetting, however we still decided to go see it! Following that, we sat down on the Spanish steps for a little break, then headed over to Gusto Wine Bar, where we had delicious drinks and unlimited finger food that kept us full the entire night.
Some more photos in Rome.
Our second day in Rome was dedicated to visiting Vatican City and the Sistine Chapel.
TIP 6: Buy tickets ahead of time to avoid waiting hours in line (this applies to every popular museum and site you’d like to visit). We spent a few hours walking through the museum, in which every room would outshine the last. Of course, photos in the Sistine Chapel are forbidden, but I can say that no photo can depict the detail and beauty of the Michelangelo painted ceiling. I think I spent a good 10 minutes looking just at The Creation of Adam.
After the Sistine Chapel we had lunch and more gelato (it never ends), and walked towards St. Peter’s Square in front of St. Peter’s Basilica.
In the evening, we decided to go to a pizza parlor nearby that our host recommended called Remo Pizzeria. She raved about how delicious the pizza there was and how there are usually lines out the door waiting for two hours to get a table. Luckily for us (again), we got a table when we walked in and ordered the Remo house pizza and a veggie pizza, both very satisfying. We didn’t stay out too late in Rome our last night because we had a flight to catch to Greece at 4 am! But our overall experience in Italy was splendid, and the positive vibes and tremendous amount of luck was on our side when we went to Greece. Stay tuned!