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My Review of Italy
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Topic by: Cyrris
Posted: Jun 24, 13 - 11:57 AM
Last Reply: Jul 5, 13 - 7:54 PM
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He Leg
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I need somewhere to share my thoughts on my last fortnight in Italy, so this is it. Since I started living in Europe I haven't really gone on any large holidays until now - previous trips out of town have only lasted 5 days or so at most, usually just a long weekend. This was my first extensive experience of another country outside of Germany - the hope is that (with enough annual leave), we'll get to do one "big" trip per year. Italy was this year, next year might be France or the UK, with the following year being whichever one it wasn't earlier.

Venice

Flying out of Frankfurt, we landed in Venice. The airport is on the mainland just West of the lagoon - we actually stayed on the mainland too, in Venice Mestre, since the hotels are so much cheaper. It's under €2 per train trip to the island itself so it works out to be fairly economical.

Being the start of peak season it was fairly crowded, but I've been assured from people who have seen some of my photos that it gets much, much worse later in to summer. Venice is certainly interesting to walk around and see, and the Doge's Palace was pretty impressive. We stayed 3 nights, and were more than ready to get the hell out of there when our time was up. The food was quite bad at every restaurant we went to - I'm sure there are good ones, but they are priced in to oblivion. All of the standard-rate stuff is really quite sub-par, and this seems to be a known fact about the place.

Most annoying though were the street sellers. I don't mean the fish and fruit markets set up in Rialto square, I mean the folks standing around with little mats set up in crowded places, trying to sell any old junk. From what I could tell there were two groups. One was selling leather hand bags, while another was selling these utterly irritating SplatBack toys. You could not go down two streets without seeing another "splat" demonstration. Sometimes you'd see 3 of them in a row, barely 5 meters apart on a main street - splat, splat, splat.

They seemed to be fairly organised between themselves. I am assuming they're fairly needy people, probably with employment needs for immigration purposes (the bag-sellers were all Africans, the splat-sellers were all Subcontinental). When they weren't splatting or calling out "Do you know how much?" they were on mobile phones to each other, reporting crowd trends so they could move about. Bags are just bags, I didn't mind so much except when they got loud. And when it did rain at one point they all switched to selling umbrellas, which is a good idea. But those splatbacks largely destroyed the atmosphere of the place. Hate.

Actually going out on a boat was the best part of Venice, as you can appreciate the beauty from afar, without the crowds and commerce. I don't mean a gondola ride - they're €80 and usually stuck in canal traffic jams. I just mean the water taxi, which is pretty cheap.

Trieste

A friend of ours lives in Trieste, hence our trip there. The train from Venice was only €18 for two people, 90 min trip, which make Deutsche Bahn look like a complete rip-off. Free accommodation at her place on top of that, so a good deal indeed. Trieste is not a huge touristy place so it was a nice change, and the food quality was simply a world apart from Venice. It's nice to know where actual Italians go to eat.

Not far from Trieste is Aquileia - a small town now, but in its heyday (4th C) it was considered the 9th greatest city in the known world. We spent a day there, and it has some interesting Roman ruins, but compared to what we saw later in the trip, it was pretty banal stuff.

Florence

We'd had pretty good weather up to this point, and it certainly stayed clear. However it shows just how much I had adjusted to Germany's climate when 30 degrees in Florence seemed to be really oppressive.

Florence was quite nice. It is not as tourist-centric as Venice, being an actual big city where actual people live, however it's still touristy enough to be crowded among the main traps (of course). Michelangelo's David is pretty cool, but you line up for an hour to see it. Small line too, they just don't let many people in at a time.

The cathedral is pretty impressive and with a fun climb to the top for a good view. We only spent 2 nights in Florence so we didn't get a lot done beyond the standard "Things to do in Florence", but one fun trip we did cram in was to the Leonardo da Vinci Museum, which has wooden creations based on a bunch of his sketches. It's pretty cool to see what they've brought to life out of his drawings, and some of his plans were really far ahead of his time.

San Gimignano

If you ever go to Italy, go here! This is a small medieval walled town in the middle of beautiful Tuscan countryside. It is most well known for its towers, of which it has 14. It used to have 70+ but most were taken down as they decayed. It gives the town a really distinctive look (Google it, seriously).

It caters a lot to domestic tourists as well as international ones, so the food was good. We also happened to be there during its annual medieval festival, so there were marching bands, spit-roasted boars, and fairly well-equipped re-enactments with horses and such.

It can get a bit crowded during the day as day-tour buses come by, but their people have all gone by mid afternoon leaving the place very walkable. Many narrow streets with interesting architecture. For such a tiny town there was heaps to see, and it's just such a unique place I can't recommend it enough.

Pisa

Pisa is a mixed bag. The town itself is pretty bland and there is really not much to do or see. We happened to arrive there on the first night of the Luminara festival, which has candles lit on all the buildings lining the river. Fireworks, crowds, loud music throughout the night. The next morning the back-alley on which our BnB was located stunk of vomit and piss from revellers who (being a university town of sorts) don't know when to stop. Thankfully street cleaners had done some work by mid afternoon but in general the back streets are still pretty nasty. If you ever go to Pisa, stick to the main walkways and roads.

The cathedral and its grounds were interesting, and they make up the only real attraction in this town, with the leaning bell tower. It's relatively expensive to climb it (€18) but not something I could say no to. It is a bit of a weird feeling standing at the top and feeling the slant. We spent two nights in Pisa - I'd recommend only one.

Cinque Terre

The Cinque Terre (Five Lands) is a strip of national park on the West coast. We stayed in one of the 5 villages dotting it, Corniglia, and spent our time swimming and bush walking. The beach at Monterosso, another town, is not like any one I'd been to before. This is in good ways and bad. The bad is of course the need to pay to access it (though we got a decreased rate being after 2pm - €10 for two seats and an umbrella). To an Australian it seems kinda ridiculous, which is made even moreso when you see the sand change to smooth pebbles (ranging from dime-sized to fist-sized) once you get near the water. They're incredibly painful to walk on, so if you are here, bring some kind of footwear you can get wet.

Those same stones are what makes it all a bit fascinating though. Having never before been to a beach with anything but sand on it, I was able to just sit in the water and pick up all the different coloured stones - all actually marble - with colours ranging from white to green to red and many all in one. The sound of a wave receding back into the sea is coupled with the sound of stones rolling over each other. It's nice.

The coast and towns are also equally for domestic and international tourists a bit like San Gimignano, which helps to ensure good food and service. The coastline is rugged and interesting to see, and it's easy to find a place where nobody else is hanging around. Highly recommended.

Rome

What to say about this place? We did the standard stuff. If you are there, definitely get a "Roma Pass". A 3-day version was €34 which makes it cheaper than most other city passes (I remember the Amsterdam pass was €50, and the Prague one was really not useful). It allows you to skip the line on pretty much all the non-Vatican attractions, and is also your public transport ticket. We easily got well over €34 use out of it from attractions alone, and when you consider a transport-only 3-day ticket is €16, it becomes a no-brainer.

So, the Colosseum was about as expected, as was the Roman Forum. We stayed in Largos Argentina which also had some ruins just outside our apartment - some of the most recently unearthed (1930's), it is the spot where Julius Caeser was knifed.

The Vatican was impressive, the line was long but moved fairly quickly to the museum and Sistine Chapel. Our mistake was lining up before opening, in the morning. Don't - just go around lunch time and the line length will be half what it was. St Peter's basilica is well worth seeing the inside of (being free, and huge), and they make the Doge's Palace in Venice seem like child's play as far as scale and intricacy goes. It also makes Florence's cathedral seem... less big.

On the day of our flight out we made a quick side trip to Ostia Antica, which has some of the most comprehensive ruins of a Roman town still in existence - the other notable one being Pompeii. It was hot, getting there was a bit of a pain in the butt, but they had some reasonably well preserved stuff. Being here did make it seem like I had wasted time in other places seeing inferior ruins, so perhaps Rome is a better place to start the trip rather than finish it.

____

Perhaps the most frustrating thing about Italy is the lack of logic. There are signs pointing in vague or completely wrong directions in pretty much every train station, airport and area of interest I went to. Arriving back at Frankfurt airport was like a dream. Need go to somewhere? Follow the signs mindlessly and you end up where you need to be. In Rome? Guess again... and again...

I'm also very much over Italian food. We splurged a couple of times on more expensive restaurants but to be honest I think the best stuff we had were the standard fare plates in Trieste. I have a new appreciation for German food now - it really seems to have a lot more variety, despite what you hear about it just being Wursts and Sauerkraut. You get more different things on your plate, and your dollar goes much further. Even in Trieste, away from any touristy-market influence, a soft drink costs a good lot more than here in Deutschland.

Having said that, cheap wine in Italy leaves cheap German wine for dead. I was not expecting the difference to be quite so big. Spend a bit more and things begin to even out but the starting point in Italy is really much nicer.

All in all: had a good time, but wouldn't go back. Should have taken a night off Pisa and added it to Florence, and should have gone a month earlier to minimize crowds and get a lower temperature. I think we had 2 or 3 days out of the fortnight which did not go above 30 degrees, the rest of the time was pretty sweltering.

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Sounds like you did the Assassin's Creed tour of Italy. What's next? Istanbul? (which, btw, I can definitely recommend) :)

Having visited Italy several times and Rome in particular, I recognize and agree with a lot of what you're saying. The touristy stuff tends to be bad, but stray from the beaten path and you'll discover some incredible spots.

I've never been to Venice and frankly I doubt I ever will. Every single person I've spoken who's been there says essentially the same thing: it's been ruined by tourists.

As for Rome. It's a gorgeous city. Worth visiting at least once in your life. Best time to visit? November. The weather's still pretty good, but the tourists are all gone (example: Vatican? No line whatsoever, even in the morning). Whatever you do, do NOT go in August. That's when all the Italians go on holiday, meaning the city's filled with tourists, but everything's closed.

I'm not too fond of Italians, they're a loud and disorganized bunch, but the country has more than enough history to compensate.

As far as the food is concerned, it can be great when you find the authentic spots (best pizza I ever had was in Rome), but it can also be plain bad at the standard tourist spots. Besides, for the most part I think it's pretty easy to reproduce at home, though it might help that I can get authentic Italian ingredients at my local supermarket (that's where Italy shines: wine, olive oil, ham & cheese).

German food is definitely underrated. It's deceptively simple. I love it.


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He Leg
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Istanbul was actually my first foot in the door in Europe, back in September 2011. Amazing city - I spent 6 nights there which was just enough time. Rome was 3 nights so it was a bit more rushed (and far too hot).

A friend of mine visited Venice in the cooler months, with far fewer tourists, but which unfortunately has its own risks. The Autumn and Winter are when "Acqua Alta" waters overrun the entire city with a foot of water. So I guess you can't really win either way.

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Do the people often throw themselves on the ground for no reason like their soccer players do?

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He Leg
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In Reply To #4

One of the (many) reasons I don't watch football...

The ground in most cities was pretty dirty so it's something I'd avoid touching myself. That's not just Italian though, I think almost every European city I've been to outside of Norway has issues with septic smells at street level. I can only assume it's due to having such older infrastructure than what we have back in Oz.

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You'd think that the hotter a place gets, the cleaner you'd keep it. Personally, I take out the garbage a lot more often in summer, as it gets smelly otherwise and taking it out is less annoying when the weather's good.

For some reason though, it seems that here in Europe, the exact opposite is true. The further south you go, the dirtier it gets :P

Maybe that's why they keep falling down. They're just so happy to be on clean ground for a change.


My Review of Italy
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Topic by: Cyrris
Posted: Jun 24, 13 - 11:57 AM
Last Reply: Jul 5, 13 - 7:54 PM
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