Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Euro-Thomas Trip: Part 1.

On September 10th -our fifth anniversary-, we ate dinner in Terminal 2 of the LAX airport before loading a red-eye flight from California to Paris. And from there, we spent two weeks traveling through Italy. Seven hundred fifty pictures, dozens of plates of pasta and pizza, and nearly a gallon of amazing wine later, we are here with a lot to talk about and no perfect way to organize it.

This is going to be a simple two part series full of pictures and all kinds of wanderlust information. For today, Part One.

 Length of our stay: 3 days, 3 nights.

A Few Practical Tips:
  1. Charles de Gaulle airport is about 35 minutes outside of the city center so plan ahead and get a ride in. There are tons of private shuttle services that are amazingly priced (especially compared to the taxis) as well as an awesome bus and train system that goes from the airport to the city. 
  2. The city is HUGE. We planned on doing it by foot most of the time and, well, that was quickly put to rest by the end of Day 1. 
  3. Download Google Translate if you don't know any French (or if you can "sort of get by"). Menus and signs often didn't have English on them which meant we had no clue what they said. 

Two things we'd recommend:
  • Hop on, Hop off bus tours. This isn't so much because of the tour as it is a SUPER easy way to get around between all the landmarks of the city without having to understand the public transportation policies. We bought our ticket the last day and wished we'd done it for our entire stay. (You can easily get tickets at the stops by the Eiffel Tower.) 
  • An evening boat cruise on the Siene.
    The city of lights is gorgeous when it's lit up at night and the views from the river are exquisite. This was easily our favorite part of Paris and we actually talked about doing it twice because we enjoyed ourselves so much! (Plus side: there are bars and restaurants along the river front that are adorable and delicious.) 

One thing we'd do different:
  • Spend less time in Paris. This city didn't capture our hearts the way we expected and we were thankful to head to Italy when the time came.  

Length of our stay: 3 days, 2 nights

A Few Practical Tips:
  1. Bring shoes that you can walk miles in. There are NO roads, no cars, few scooters and bikes on Venice. It's an island that's just a few miles from side to side, but the plethora of alleyways will ensure that you get lost at least a dozen times a day. Keep your feet comfortable while you're covering more mileage on foot than you ever imagined. 
  2. Be prepared to slow down. Venice's pace is slow, comfortable, sort of lulling like the water that runs through its core. So, don't expect to show up and do all the things in one day. Slow down. The alleys can be crowded (easy to get away by turning and turning and turning until you end up in a random, quiet place) and I promise: you'll get lost more than you'll be found. 
  3. Visit St. Mark's Square at night. It's far, far less crowded and there are live bands playing classical music. You can sit down and sip on wine at one of the restaurants OR there are bars in a few of the corners where you can pick up a cocktail or glass of wine and drink as you walk from bandstand to bandstand.

Two things we'd recommend:
  • Take a gondola rowing lesson
    Gondola rides are 80 euros regardless of the number of riders you have. This is awesome if there's six in your party, but expensive if there's only two. So, before we left I did some research and learned about Row Venice -a gondola rowing lesson company. We loved our time (despite the MASSIVE rain storm that hit while we were out) and adored the things we learned about Venice, gondaliers, and local life. 
  • Check out the Libreria Acque Alta book shop. 
    Whether you like books or not, you've never seen a store with the character and goodness that is this shop. From the book-filled gondola to the waterfront reading perch to the walls of books in the small garden, you'll feel like you've been transported to some reader's paradise. We waited out a downpour in the stacks of this store and I find myself dreaming of all the books and pages since we've returned. 
One thing we'd do different:
  • Visit Burano. We didn't venture to the far island simply because of our own lazy bones and I wish we'd made it out to see the colorful buildings. 
Length of our stay: 2 days, 2 nights.

A Few Practical Tips:
  1. Stay in Florence. But be willing to leave to visit the gorgeous countryside that's just outside of the city limits. There are tours and buses and taxis and car rental companies that make escaping the city a no big deal kind of movement. 
  2. Open front wine bars are everywhere, take advantage of them. There are locals pouring out of the store fronts and it's a little bit intimidating, but the moment they identify you as a tourist, they move out to make room. Italy is one of the most hospitable of places I've ever visited. 
  3. Public bathrooms are gross. So, drop your expectations and get over the peeing in a dirty place kind of expectation. This is true for throughout Italy and, well, I struggled at first. 
Two things we'd recommend:
  • A wine tour.
    There are a TON of wine tours offered throughout the Tuscany region so you can't go wrong. However, some of the tours (like the one we went on) offer olive oil and cheese tasting as well so look for those opportunities if they're your kind of thing. 
  • Eat a burger at Off the Hook.
    After being gone from America for a week (and after I finally got over the upset traveler's stomach that I get), all we wanted was a delicious burger and Off the Hook hit the spot. Their burgers are big, bad, and kept us smiling through the afternoon of wandering Florence on our first day there. 
One thing we'd do different:
  • Spend SIGNIFICANTLY more time here. We'd rent a car and drive all through the countrysides. We'd drink more red wine and eat all the things covered in olive (and truffle) oil.  

 Length of our stay: 3 days, 3 nights

A Few Practical Things:
  1. Stay in the Ponte area. Food, food, food. That's what this area is about and, goodness, you need all the pasta and pizza and wine bars that this area has to offer. Plus it's in walking distance to St. Peter's Square and the Tiber River and the Castel de Sant'angelo. 
  2. Taxi prices are really reasonable and the city is very walker friendly. So don't be afraid to take on some walking with the possibility that you'll catch a taxi home. The prices here are comparable to NYC -we paid 13 Euro for a twenty minute ride to the soccer stadium just outside the city. 
  3. See a football game if you can. Because this experience is one that you will never, ever forget. There's no spirit like European soccer fan spirit and you deserve the opportunity to cheer wildly alongside all of the people in the stadium. 

Two things we'd recommend:
  • Visit Castel de Sant'angelo
    In long ago times of war, the Pope would leave the beauty of the Vatican for the safety of a real, castle fortress called the Castel de Sant'angelo. This castle is now retired and is simply a museum but it was easily one of our favorite Roman memories. We drank wine in one of the watchtower windows while overlooking the basilica. There is nothing, nothing to muddle that memory. 
  • Take the elevator to the top of the Altare della Patria
    Panoramic views of the entire city of Rome? Bird's eye view of the Roman forum and the Colosseum? The change to overlook Rome's current capital building and it's square? HERE. Here, here, here you get all of that and more. We fell madly in love with the city on our last afternoon of touring when we stumbled upon the elevator up to the top of the arch that happens to overlook all of Rome. 

One thing we'd do different:
  • Skip the Hop On, Hop Off bus tour. It just isn't useful in Rome like it is in Paris. The loop is small and busy and takes quite some time because the driving is much more patient than it is in France. We got a three day pass and ended up skipping it entirely on our last day in the city because it was easier to simply walk.
Whoof, we made it through a fly over of our two week vacation... Stay tuned for Part II next Wednesday!

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