Italy 2004
Trip report from Aimee's and my 2-week vacation in Italy.
FeedbackBy Preston Hunt, 01 November 2004

Pictures from the trip

Overall. The first time to Southern Europe for both of us, and we'll definitely be going back!

Highlights. Gellato; Venice; Pompeii; fashionable belle everywhere; Pantheon; food

Lowlights. Everybody smokes; too much religious art; having to pay for water, sitting down, and using the bathroom; train strikes

Before the trip. Everybody seems to have been to Italy and had plenty of advice to give. Aimee checked out Rick Steve's Italy 2004 guide book and thoroughly marked out the itinerary.

Getting there. The trip is long and tiring (13 hours flying time Portland-Rome, plus 4-5 hours waiting around, plus 9 hours time zone difference). Aimee got really sick on the flight to Rome. I tried to beat jet lag by taking Ambien, but it didn't work at all (I even tried twice the normal dose on the return flight to no avail). Delta's crappy planes didn't make the trip any easier. The travel there and back was probably the worst part of the trip!

Accommodations. We stayed exclusively at pensione, small owner-run hotels with a small number of rooms (sometimes with shared bathrooms). Nothing fancy, but the price was right (we averaged 60 euro a night across our entire trip) and the owners were friendly and helpful. Most of the time we just showed up without reservations and walked around until we found a place. It was low season, so there was plenty of availability and prices were often negotiable.

Food. One of the highlights of the trip for me. Aimee had a tougher time (Italy is not an easy country if you don't eat red meat). Here's what we ate: For breakfast, pastries and fruit. Lunch: Pizza or a panino. Dinner: Mostly antipasto and pasta. Italy is great if you like pizza, sandwiches, and pasta, but there wasn't a lot of variety (at least in the touristy areas we were in). Breakfast and lunch were cheap, but dinner was expensive. We ate groceries (bread, cheese, meats) in our hotel a few times. Despite all of the carbs, we didn't gain any weight on account of all the walking that we were doing (that's another strike against the Atkin's diet). As for the water: At home, we usually drink tap water, but the bottled water was so darn CHEAP in Italy (euro 0.14 per liter!) that we just drank that.

Snacks. Ah, the gellato. Inexpensive, ubiquitous, and delicious gellato will be one of the things I miss the most. On the downside, Pepsi was extremely expensive. At the worst, I paid 2.80 euro for a 500mL bottle! By comparison, a 750mL bottle of wine was going for less than 2 euro.

Weather. Pretty much perfect, although a tad muggy and humid (I can't imagine what Italy must be like in the summer). We heard numerous times during the trip that it was unseasonably warm. Most days were either overcast or hazy, but we only got rained on once. Long sleeve shirts and pants were just about right. In Rome and Naples, we took afternoon siestas to wait out the heat of the afternoon. Strangely, despite the heat, Italian fashion seems to be to never wear shorts or t-shirts.

Entertainment. Not that easy when all books, magazines, newspapers, and television is in Italian. We got on the Internet a fair amount, usually around 1 euro for 30 minutes.

Venice. Our favorite city in Italy. Awesome history. Romantic. Went on an awesome walking tour. It flooded while we were there (the Venetians assemble catwalks everywhere so you can get around and stay dry). Narrow, windy, pedestrian-sized streets completely devoid of scooters and Fiats. Found cheapest gellato of trip here, E0.50 per cone. Rode the water buses. Took a cheap and short gondola ride across the river. Saw the Doge's Palace. Disappointed by the "glass blowing" island.

Cinqueterre. Next favorite city. Absolutely beautiful Mediterranean city. Stayed in Vernazza for two nights. Great food, but pretty spendy. Very small community where everybody knows everybody else. Hiked the entire Cinqueterre trail, about 7 miles through 5 cities. Lots of stray cats. Olive groves abounded. Waylaid by a train strike trying to leave Cinqueterre, held up in the train station for many hours -- strangely, I was not as annoyed by this as I normally would have been. Italian culture must be setting in.

Pompeii. Another "must see" destination. Located right off the Naples subway line! Incredible to see a civilization from 2,000 years ago preserved so well. Highlight of the visit was seeing a tile mosaic in the entryway of one of the homes that had a picture of a dog and the Latin inscription below "caveat canum" (beware of dog).

Sorrento/Amalfi Coast. Beautiful resort town on the coast. Found a nice B&B with off-season rates and a couple of English satellite channels (watched sadly and helplessly as Kerry lost the election). Lots of fun shopping and great food. Rode the bus down the Amalfi Coast with a crazy bus driver, windy roads, and a 1000-foot sheer drop the whole way.

Rome. Conventional wisdom from friends and the guidebook was to spend only a day here, but it was one of our favorite places. Went on two "Rick Steves" night walks. Saw Vatican City and St. Peter's Basilica. And who can forget the spectacular Colliseum and Pantheon! A highlight of the trip was also doing the Caesar Shuffle through the Roman Forum where we learned that Romans used urine (which was bought and sold) to wash their togas, and that the ubiquitous bay leaves from Rome covered up the smell. We spent 1.5 days in Rome on arrival and another 1.5 days here at the end of our trip, although the city definitely warrants another day or two. Aimee was able to satisfy her urge to shop on our last day and she picked up some nice clothes and jewelry. (I, on the other hand, only spent about 10 euro, earning the following humorous comment from the customs inspector on the way back: "What were you doing in Italy other than not spending any money?").

Florence. Beautiful medieval town. Went on a walking tour and thoroughly enjoyed the architecture. Went to the Uffizi, a world famous museum, but pretty burned out on religious art by this point. Saw the fake "David" in its original location outside the Florence government buildings, but skipped the real one because Aimee was feeling sick. Poured rain on us our last day in Florence which was pretty miserable.

Sienna. A neat medieval city, but we couldn't really enjoy it because we arrived on Sunday (everything closed) and the next day was All Saints Day (everything still closed). Stayed in a convent. Good gellato. Home of the "Best Plaza in Italy" according to guide book, although we liked San Marco's in Venice better. Ate good Chinese food here and did a major Internet stop.

Stats. Total days in Italy = 15
Total approximate waking hours = 196
Total amount spent (both of us) = US$2629
Amount spent per waking hour (per person) = $6.71

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