As a young school girl, I had read about Roman Civilisation in my history classes. I was always in awe of the way they had conquered and established one of the largest empires in the ancient world. It was my dream to visit Italy to see for myself, imagine and feel what Rome was like in its hey days. Finally it happened and Raga, my parents and myself landed in Naples on a fine sunny morning. As soon as we stepped out of the aircraft we were hit by a blast of warm, moist air. After a quick immigration check we took a taxi to the hotel, dumped our luggage and set out to explore the city. During the next couple of days, we visited Capri Island, Positano, Rome, Vatican City, Florence, Tuscany and Pisa (in the same order). Each day was packed with lots of things to see and do, yet we could not cover every place we wanted to. Ten days is too short to even meaningfully cover and do justice to the most historical and beautiful cities built over about 2000 years by the great Roman Emperors.
In this blog post, I am going to just talk about our first impressions, itinerary planning, people and off beat things to do. I will cover each of the cities in detail later.
While planning for a tour no doubt, one takes into consideration the usual aspects such as children holidays, seasons, availability of leave etc. We need to consider a few additional aspects so that we can get the best –
- The best season recommended for a place often turns out to be the costliest period. A trip to either Capri Islands or Positano during the months of July-August becomes highly costly and probably unaffordable. It would be worthwhile to visit a little closer to the peak season or immediately after. Visit in mid April to mid June and September would be equally good.
- Most of us leave home tired and come back exhausted. Beat this by visiting physically taxing locations in the initial parts. Start with Naples and work your itinerary up towards Tuscany where you can rejuvenate yourself by cooling off in Tuscan vineyards.
- Love to see the vineyards weighed down by grapes plan for September/November. You could see grape harvesting and crushing.
- Party animal?.. Then plan to spend more time in Capri Islands and Positano. You could just Sun bathe, drink beer, ride the waves in motor boats to feel the wind on your face, anchor it anywhere and jump off for a swim to cool off.
- If you are history loving buff, plan guided tours to Pompei, Vatican City and Rome. You could immerse yourself in the rich history, architecture and Roman life. In that case you would need a minimum two days at Naples, three days at Rome and a full day at Vatican city and its museums.
- If you are a foodie, then of course you can savor the pizzas, pasta, sea food and wine. Just remember that there would be a lot of waiting period at the most popular joints. You would need to spend more days at Naples and Rome for some delicious food.
During our trip we came across lots of people – some helpful, others impatient and a few couldn’t care less. Yes, that variety itself is the spice of life.
- Most Italians are warm, friendly but are not chatty. They speak when spoken to with a smile but I found them business like unlike Indians who go out of their way most of the times if anything is needed.
- Our first brush was with the impatient, business like immigration officials at Naples. Authoritative but not impolite.
- Then there was the taxi driver who chatted incessantly in broken English. We had to make use of sign language at times and it was humorous.
- The sales girls lighted up when we entered and were more than eager to help. Most of them did not know English, so you will find conversation difficult.
- In Rome we had the manager of the hotel who knew fairly good English and kept on talking and providing useful tips.
- On the streets, in the bazaars and at the famous monuments we came across a lot of Bangladeshis who were engaged in hawking petty goods, acting as agents for the tour guides, and taking up all the odd jobs. Sometimes we felt we were in India only!
- In Tuscany it was ‘mama mia’ and ‘oh la la’. The staff were polite, engaged us, explained things and left us free to roam around the vineyards.
- Of course there was Ana, one of the members owning the vineyard ‘Casa Sola Fattoria’ who was articulate, helpful and friendly. She added that personal touch every tourist would like, so that we feel very welcome.
Last, but not the least, most of the cities that we visited had a large floating population, ever ready to take a snap for us and give us a few tips.
Off Beat Things To Do
If you want to add that zing and make the trip more memorable, then you need to do some offbeat things which will help create fond memories whenever you think of Italy. Of course the off beat activities that you could engage in are highly personal, therefore what follows below are only suggestive.
- Rent a Car: One could always rent a car at Naples and drive down Rome, Florence, Tuscany and Pisa. This, apart from giving you flexibility, would help you take in the country side at your pace. You only need a driving license, and Indian driving licenses are acceptable. So, no need to worry about International Driving Permit. However, we need to remember that it is right hand drive in Italy, unlike India, UK and Ireland. You might need a bit of time to get adjusted. Also, like everywhere, driving in the cities and finding a suitable parking space can get a little challenging.
- Rent a Boat: It would be worthwhile to rent a motor boat in Capri, which is available starting from 90 euros for a boat for two hours. You can zip off feeling the cool wind on your face, anchor at any place for a swim in the sea, visit the Blue Grotto cave, go round the Faraglioni (these are stacks – a coastal and oceanic rock formation eroded by waves). It is a great experience and safe too. All you need is an id proof or your regular driving license and you are set!
- Rent a Villa: You could consider booking an accommodation in any of the Casa’s in Tuscan vineyards. We stayed at ‘Casa Sola Fattoria’. We got a great traditional place which was a well furnished complete unit consisting of two bedrooms, a drawing room and a kitchen. We bought groceries and wine from a local store and enjoyed cooking and eating tasty pasta with lots of Chianti wine. Early morning and late evening walks in the vineyard, a swim in the pool and a road trip to the beautiful and breathtaking Asciano, made our trip memorable. Also, plenty of panoramic photographic opportunities along the way.
Probably it was our experience or the places we chose to visit, we felt that Italy isn’t as cheap as they say it is. All of the destinations we visited were highly touristy and hence expensive. For the complete 10 days tour, excluding the flight tickets you can expect to spend around 1500 euros for two people. We chose low budget hotels, ate takeaways and cooked a lot during our trip, but the experiences, entry fees and restaurants were a bit on the higher side. We will provide a detailed cost break up on our city postcards, so stay tuned!