Memoirs of Italy

Italy – that elusive dream that finally became reality for me. I did a 10 day trip (Aug 2016) with my sister and as

it always is, the reality was fairly different from what I had imagined it to be. As the saying goes in Italy – “its not what you find, but what you find out.”

I’ll start with the boring details first:

VISA: An unfortunate requirement to travel – the visa documents. From Bangalore VFS handles the visa on behalf of the Italian Consulate General of Mumbai. They have a page on the documents required: http://www.vfs-italy.co.in/mumbai/tourist_documentsrequired.html . This is fairly straightforward, and they did not ask me for anything in addition to this – except for an address proof. The bank statements required are original and to be stamped by the banks. I would say do not bother to go through a travel agent, as it was fairly simple. I got my euros (for 10 days I needed to show around 500 Euro) from Cox and Kings – they home delivered it to me in exchange for Rs. Gave me a good rate too. I would say that while one is getting the 500 Euro – its better to buy more, as I found that in Italy, cash is the way to go. You get better rates (some hotels give you a discount if you pay in cash) and it is more convenient in stores, cabs, restaurants etc.

FLIGHTS: For the visa, one needs to have booked the flights and hotels, so while flights are easier, for hotels, I would recommend booking any hotel in Rome for 10 days with a refundable rate (check some of the accor hotels) till the visa comes through. Flights – we booked air india and had no complaints with the airline. Infact it was quite an enjoyable journey. Air india booking site here : http://www.airindia.in/

LANGUAGE: Yes I actually took Italian lessons before going to Italy! It was just a way to be able to get to know the culture better, and I think it was a very interesting thing to do. However, having learnt Spanish, the language was very easy to pick up, but for a first timer, this might be a stretch in levels of enthusiasm. My lovely teacher Maria (contact her at +91 9980093370) sent me some informative videos which were just as useful as understanding the language. I would highly recommend that one watch these before traveling:

About eating in Italy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mjFt3cU7CEY

About getting conned in Italy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kLrB1RsqcQc

About dressing in Italy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BtdBj5X3-3c

BOOKS: I bought both Lonely Planet and the Rick Steves book, and I personally liked the Rick Steves book better, although the most useful thing was the Rick Steve’s audioguide- which has a wealth of walking tours, museum tours etc all available for free.

PLANNING:

I found that it is much better to have a tightly scheduled trip planned and pre- booked in advance as that saves one time while on holiday. Hotels, trains, excursions, museums etc. You also get infinitely better rates and options. The earlier the better. However, try and get refundable options as those are also available in plenty. Rome: We booked hotel Mama’s Home Rome and paid 100 Euro a night during peak season – Booked directly with them and paid cash at the hotel. I would definitely stay there again. A small hotel bang on Campo De Fiori – a plaza where the fresh produce market is set up every morning, 5 min from Piazza Navona. The hotel has a small (closet size) elevator, large-ish air conditioned quiet rooms, and is accessible by taxi. The owners – Marzio and Erica are genuinely nice people (though not available at the reception always). They sent me a transfer to the airport which was excellent. It was an Audi with a very sweet cabbie (a rarity in rome). Breakfast is included although it was a humble coffee and croissant at a cafe in the plaza called Obica. Best coffee and croissant ever. Another advantage was that there was a shopping street called Via Giubbani (I’m sure I have the spelling wrong) with lots of nice little boutiques (which were affordable). Book with Marzio at +39 335 437211 Florence: We booked Hotel Garibaldi Blu – excellent hotel, nowhere near the 3 stars it is currently rated at, it deserves atleast a 4 star. They had turnaround service, elevators, bell boys, a breakfast spread, and located well, just a 5 min walk from the Santa Maria Novella train station. The room was large (we booked a deluxe) and paid around 130 Euro a night, booked and paid in advance through booking.com and had no trouble. However, we had a room with no view at all, despite requesting for one, and there was some construction sound in the room during the day. Venice: We stayed at Hotel Anastasia, an annexe of the bigger Hotel Violono d Oro. We paid 160 Euro a night. This was our most expensive and most disappointing hotel in our trip. Tiny, although it had an elevator, and was well located, a 3 min walk from the St Marks square. They charged me pre-booking fee without notifying me which caused me a lot of trouble. The receptionist was a rude condescending lady who did not really help me with my issue. The bank blocked my card, and I couldn’t get a new card in time for the trip, having to borrow my dad’s credit card. Would not recommend this to anyone. TRAINS & TOURS We booked all our train rides with italiarail.com – a site I would highly recommend because we got business class seats at great deals, and got a discount for the membership of Italiapass (19 Euro instead of 50 Euro), which was very useful. We booked all our excursions with Italiapass and got great discounts, and great tour companies to guide us. You can print out your train tickets and just show this to the TT when he comes around to check during the journey. No other physical tickets required. Stations: Rome: Termini Station is the closest to the city center, costs around 15 Euro by cab to the city. Florence: Santa Maria Novella Station is in the city center. One can either walk to the hotel or cabs are available in the taxi stand. Venice: Santa Lucia Station. To go to St marks square, take Bus no 1 or 2 (2 is faster). THE JOURNEY BEGINS Ah it was finally the day to travel and we couldn’t be more excited. I had an excellent flight schedule, leaving Bangalore at 10 am, to arrive at Delhi at 12.30 noon to connect to Rome at 2.30 pm. 3 movies later, we reached Rome FCO airport at 8 pm, and the city at 9 pm, just in time for dinner. Our cabbie gave a rough lowdown on the sites on the way to the hotel and we were already starstruck. Huge monuments enchantingly lit, cobbled roads, stone and brick everywhere. The tales of Roman warriors, Pagan gods, Ceasars, Emperors and Christian folklore was beckoning from every corner, waiting to be told. Our first impression was that we could spend a year in Rome and still not satisfactorily cover all the stories we wanted to unfold. We arrived at our hotel, a modern clean hotel right on the plaza, and were happy to dump our bags and head straight out. In all our touristy naivety and enthusiasm we settled down to eat in one of the restaurants in the Piazza (plaza) Campo Di Fiori and the waiter convinced us that we should try a Roman Pizza. It was god-awful. We learnt 2 lessons from this – that don’t take it for granted that Pizzas have tomato based sauce as a base, and try to stay away from the Plazas while picking a place to dine. As we learnt from experience – the small family run hole in the wall Osterias and Trattorias tucked away in little lanes have the best food. However, just dining at the Piazza sipping on our proseco was hugely exciting, and we couldn’t wait for the next day to arrive, to look at Rome by daylight.

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