Category Archives: Italy

About That Time I Was a Hobo in Italy

In 2014, my husband and I made our way back to Italy for the second time for what I dubbed “the minor cities” tour. We spent one week in Sorrento, using it as our home base for Capri, the Amalfi coast, and Pompeii. The second week, we used Milan as our base for Lake Como, Turin, and the Italian Riviera.

Amalfi-coast-italy-travel

Amalfi Coast, Italy

 

 

I had kept the last day of our trip open and unplanned, a miracle all on its own where I’m concerned. I tend to fall on the Type A control freak side of the personality scale. We decided to spend it on the Riviera. That’s always a good choice, right?

 

 

 

In keeping with our relaxed vibe for the day, we bought one-way train tickets from Milan to Santa Margherita Ligure with the intentions of buying the return ticket whenever we were ready to head back. We checked the return timetables so we would know what our options were and went on our merry way. And this is where the trouble ensued. We just didn’t know it yet.

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We arrived in Santa Margherita Ligure, walked from the train station to the port and began the walk along the coastal road to Portofino. This walk was gorgeous, has to be one of the most beautiful in the world, but for some reason, I remembered my Rick Steve’s guide saying it was about 1.5km. It’s not, trust me. More like about 2.5 miles.

portofino-italy-travelAfter making it Portofino we enjoyed a scrumptious seaside lunch. Side note: Italy is not America. A very boisterous American man was sitting at the table next to ours and requested ranch dressing for his salad. Do yourself a favor and at least attempt to educate yourself about the local culture before traveling somewhere. Just about any article about Italian life would have included the fact that there is no such thing as salad dressing in Italy; it’s all olive oil and vinegar over there. Also, please never eat at an Italian restaurant that has grated parmesan cheese on the table. That’s American, not Italian. (For more tips on what to expect in European culture, click here.)

Back to our adventure, at this point, Kevin and I had been together for 10 straight days with no break. We’ve been together for over 27 years and married for almost 26 and purposely choose to spend uninterrupted time together traveling.  We are obviously dedicated to one another and love each other deeply, but that doesn’t mean we don’t get on each other’s last nerve sometimes. We were kind of at the point in our trip where we just needed a break from each other, and that is okay! It’s okay to say “I’m going to go do this thing for a bit. You sit here and drink your coffee and people watch.” There have been many times that Kevin’s waited for me outside while I went into yet another museum that he had absolutely no interest in. Just because you love each other doesn’t mean you have to spend every single second together.

There are two options to get back to Santa Margherita Ligure from Portofino to catch the train back to Milan: your feet and a ferry boat. (There is no train station in Portofino.) Kevin picked his feet; I picked the ferry boat, which gave us about an hour and a half respite from each other’s company. Just what we needed.

Portofino-3

A lot of the train stations in the smaller Italian towns are unmanned. You can buy tickets from a machine or sometimes from the tabacchi, a tobacco and newsstand shop. We saw both when we got there so I wasn’t concerned about getting our return ticket. Problem: the machine only took cards with a chip and a pin, no cash. Being from America, we didn’t have a chip card at this point. No problem, we’ll go to the tabacchi. Except they don’t sell tickets at this particular one.  We are literally running back and forth between the tabacchi and the machine, trying to figure out what to do with like 2 minutes left before the train leaves. Thankfully, it was running about 5 minutes behind or we would have totally missed it.

Finally, the lady working at the tabbachi tells us just to get on the train and we can buy the ticket from the conductor. At least, I think that’s what she said. So we run and jump on the train and collapse exhausted into random seats, panicked that she had no idea what she was talking about. (There was a bit of a language barrier, enhanced by dramatic charades).

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We waited for the conductor to come by and check for tickets. I’ve been on a lot of Italian trains and a train official almost always comes by to check tickets. There’s even a fine for not validating your ticket in the machine before boarding the train. So we waited. And waited. And waited. No one came by to check or sell us a ticket or fine us or threaten us with time in an Italian jail.

And that is how we became Italian hobos.

Venice Travel Guide

Venice. The destination of 22 million visitors per year and at the top of most people’s dream trip list. I’ve had the privilege of visiting twice in the last few years.

Getting There: You can ride the train from Milan in about 2.5 hours or Rome in 3.5 hours. Once you arrive at the main train station on the island, there are no cars so be prepared to pull that suitcase over cobbled streets. Pack Light!

Venice travel tips

 

Where to Stay: I highly recommend staying as close to the train station as you can and on the same side of the Grand Canal as the train station if possible. You have two options for transportation in Venice: your feet and a watercraft of some sort. Taxis are ridiculously expensive.

Ponte degli Scalzi, Italy

 

My hotel was directly across the canal from the train station but required going over the Ponte degli Scalzi (see photo above) and another bridge with a large suitcase. I inquired about a taxi…70 Euros minimum. The ride would have taken less than a minute. I dragged that suitcase over those bridges like a boss.

Transportation options

Vaparetto are the public water buses of Venice. A one-way trip will cost you about $8 (depending on the exchange rate). You can also buy a one-day or multi-day pass but I’ve never found them to be worth it. My favorite way to explore Venice is to catch the vaparetto at the train station stop and ride down the Grand Canal to St. Mark’s Square. Then I put my feet to work exploring all of the little side streets and smaller canal bridges as I make my way back to my hotel at the end of the day.

Gondolas are synonymous with Venice. Gondolas are also crazy expensive. Typically you’ll spend $100-$140 for 2 people. Rates vary due to the time of year and time of day. You’ll just need to decide ahead of time if that is something important enough to you to commit to spending that amount of money. And that Hollywood image of the gondolier serenading you as you float down the canal? Totally false, unless you make arrangements ahead of time.

Venice, Italy

I’ve never been able to justify the expense in my mind so I haven’t splurged on the experience. There is another option that will provide you with a short ride in a large gondola with 10 of your newest friends for about $2, called traghettis. There are several crossings on the Grand Canal. Just watch for the signs as you’re exploring that will point the way or ask the locals, “Dove traghetti?”

Must Sees

Basilica de San Marco, Venice, Italy

St. Mark’s Basilica

 

St. Mark’s Basilica where you can see the burial place/altar for Mark the Apostle. During tourist season, April to October, you’ll want to make a reservation. Visiting is free but the reservation fee is $2.

 

 

Doge's palace, venice, italy

Palazzo Ducale

 

Palazzo Ducale (The Doge’s Palace) is beautiful, ginormous, and will give you great insight into the history of Venice. It’s a little pricey for entry but well worth it. Venice offers a museum pass that is a good deal if you’re going to see the palace and any other museum. You’ll also skip the ticket lines if you purchase the pass.

 

Venice, Italy

Bridge of Sighs, Palazzo Ducale

 

Venice is filled with many palaces turned museums and gorgeous churches. With your museum pass, you can pop in and explore most of them without having to pay each time.

To me, the best part of Venice is wandering aimlessly, eating gelato, and perusing the souvenir shops. Know that you’re going to get lost at least once, most likely multiple times. Don’t rely on Google maps to navigate or find your hotel, trust me!

Venice, Italy

What about Carnivale?

Carnivale is the Italian equivalent of Mardi Gras and has been around since the 11th century. It typically occurs sometime in February each year and is a level of crazy I’m not entirely comfortable with. Having experienced Venice during Carnivale and not, I choose not. The crowds are intense around St. Mark’s Square especially. I found myself being overly nervous about pickpockets and didn’t feel like I could relax. But, that’s who I am, introvert extraordinaire.

Carnivale, Venice Italy

My oldest daughter and I, 2015

Venice, ItalyA few more tips:

Stay at least one night in Venice. There are just no words for how beautiful it is at night with the lights reflecting off the water. This also helps the local economy which has been hurt by cruise ship day tourists in recent years.

The best restaurants will be on the smaller streets away from the main tourist attractions. Never eat anywhere that offers a “tourist menu”.

Venice is an American word. The name of the city is actually Venezia and that is what you’ll find on all of the souvenirs and maps.

Internet. Your hotel might advertise that they have internet/wifi but they’re probably lying. Not really,  but the only place we found wifi that worked was at the McDonald’s just down the street from the train station. I kid you not, there’s a McDonald’s in Venice.

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Questions? Leave a comment.