Italy

When to visit can make just as big a difference as what you visit

A recent article in The Globe And Mail about visiting Venice during the new year celebration season is a good reminder that when you visit a place can make just as much of a difference as where you visit. We tend to travel off season as much as we can since it’s a great way to save money, avoid crowds and experience a location more as the locals would when the unblinking eye of the tourist spotlight is darkest. Also, what’s more, the time of day that one visits sights can significantly affect the experience. For example, Venice lends itself wonderfully to late night wanderings but is more difficult during the day as we found out.  Other sights are best visited early mornings such as the Taj Mahal before the summer sun sets in. We didn’t visit Venice over New Years but opted instead for mid May which even then was cutting it a little too close. It still offered us great savings like our 10 € per night accommodation just outside of Venice at the wonderful Camping Rialto. Sure the weather was a bit chilly at nights but a minor inconvenience and one I’d much rather have than a crowded Venetian alleyway any...

How To Make All-Star Destinations Affordable

Paris, London, New York, Venice!  You’ve seen the pictures, you’ve dreamt of the delights, but now that you’re planning your round-the-world trip your budget is not cooperating.  Some of the most coveted destinations come with shocking price tags. While the usual advice of cooking your own meals, using of public transport, and travelling at off-peak season can help you save plenty, without affordable lodgins, your all-star destination may still be out of the bounds of you typical round-the-world budget.  Staying outside the city core is, of course, a well known strategy for major travel savings but it has to be done right or the travel frustrations may end up being worth more than the savings. As an example, let’s look at one of our favourite top-dollar destinations on our round-the-world trip, Venice. Using a popular hotel booking site like Venere, for example, a search for hotel options on the islands show rooms that start at over $100/night.  While this is not a terrible price for Venice, our budget for Italy was $75 a day per person meaning that $100 room wasn’t going to leave us much for food and activities. Also, that $100 room is on Lido, one of the outer islands, and to get from Lido to the islands with the main attractions you need to take a water bus or vaporetto.  At €7 a ride and a minimum of 4 rides/day, that $100/night hotel on Lido just went up by another $40. The romance and delights of Venice are legendary but so are its prices. While we initially thought we might have to break out budget for Venice, with...

Travel Budget: Italy by the Numbers

$55.00 USD a day lets you eat great food, drink great wine and still see the sights in Rome, Venice, Florence, Naples and Salento. Don’t be scared off by your perception that Italy is expensive. With some flexibility, it can be relatively cheap (by Western European standards).

Our Secret Pleasure

We have a secret pleasure which I am somewhat ashamed of. It sneaks out most often on trains and sometimes busses. Here it is. We like to sneak a peak at how much people pay for things. On our train ride from Rome to Florence, we snuck a peak at our seat mate’s train ticket. Price: 78€. We paid 18€ for BOTH of us. It happened again on the train with a couple of Canadians traveling from Florence to Venice. Their Expedia print out showed their hotel in Venice would be about 300$ a night. We paid 20€ to stay a 6 minute bus ride out of town at a cozy little camp ground. We delight in this not because we want to feel better than others – the couple on the train were staying at a hotel that will be a great deal nicer than our 7×7 foot shack. No, we love it because it shows just how much we have leaned and grown as travelers. Traveling is a skill. Anyone can learn it but it’s still a skill. When we began traveling, we still had our previous lives in our minds. We hadn’t left out ego at the door. We looked at hotel rooms that costs 200$ a night and thought, “that’s not too bad“. We honestly did. We didn’t know how to look for train tickets or accommodations. We didn’t have the right mindset or the right ego for long term travel. Looking back at some of the very early accommodations we picked, I realize we overspent simply because we had no experience and didn’t understand...

Video: The best gelato in Rome at Millennium Gelato

We ate a shameful amount of gelato in Italy and after traveling the country, we concluded that Millennium Gelato in Rome was the best we had. So when we had a 12 wait till our flight took off, we knew what we had to do: get one last taste. If you are heading to Rome, you really must try this stuff. Particularly the Profiteroles Mousse. It is to die...

Adopting a Skull in Naples

Naples is a city that keeps most of its treasure hidden just behind the surface. A church such as Chiesa del Gesù Nuovo looks, frankly, bizarre on the outside but is stunning on the inside, and the streets themselves are dirty and full of garbage but inside the buildings it’s ornate and beautiful. So when you arrive at Santa Maria delle Anime del Purgatorio ad Arco, don’t be surprised by its unassuming appearance. Just below the surface, a great story lurks. Looking at Santa Maria delle Anime del Purgatorio ad Arco, with its beautiful art and airy space, you would hardly imagine its original purpose. Indeed, without taking the guided tour, only a very keen eye would be able to tell that there was anything odd about the church. But just below the surface, literally beneath your feet while standing in the church, is a second, much less splendid church with a fascinating background. Santa Maria delle Anime del Purgatorio ad Arco was originally built for the purpose of worshipping souls in purgatory and served this purpose up until 1969 when the Catholic church banned the practice. Until then, it was quite common for people to adopt a skull and pray for the soul in purgatory with the hope that once the soul had reached paradise, that they would return the favour. Despite the ban, there are still a few that will come, particularly on Monday, to descend into the lower church and pray. A particular soul called Lucia has taken on a strong following, particularly as a guardian of women and mothers. Lucia, as one of the many...

Venice: The City That Rewards The Late Risers

If I could offer you one piece of advice when visiting Venice, this would be it. Sleep in. I’m serious. Lounge around, read the paper, make love to your spouse. Whatever. But just sleep in. Get up around 10am or so. Have a late breakfast. Pack a lunch and hit the town around noon. Head out and take a stroll. Head for the public gardens. Or maybe a walk around the north in Cannaregio. But avoid, for the love of all things holly, Piazza San Marco before at least 3pm. Eat your lunch in some secluded piazza where you can still hear the sound of the bells over the passing crowd. Have a spritz if you wish in a little quiet joint that couldn’t be bothered with the crowds. And them, as the sun begins to fade into the afternoon, start to make your way slowly to whatever you wanted to do. Take it slow, set one goal for the day and don’t stress it. See the main sights. Enjoy the gelato. Whatever. As the sun sets, start looking for dinner. The rule we followed was to try and eat down lanes that were small and off the main attractions. The big piazzas do have lots of options but they are more expensive. And less attractive in my mind. If you are looking for a gondola ride you really want to aim for the last ride of the day. Probably around 7. Anything earlier and you’ll be photographed ten ways till Sunday by every gawker on every bridge in town. After the sun is fully set and night has...

Video: The View From Our Cabin In Sorrento

Sometimes what you pay is so wildly out of line with what you get. Most times, you pay a lot and get a little. Here in Sorrento, we are paying 20€ for a double room and have an incredible view of the ocean below. Do we have room service? Nope. Do we have a gym or business room? God I hope not. But what we have is a truly incredible view....

Pizza Promotions and Touring a Radio Station in Rome

Since leaving Australia, our go to mode of accommodations has been Airbnb. European hotel rooms in cities like London, Rome and Florence are unforgiving on prices. Airbnb, however, has been very active in Rome and offers a very compelling alternative. Plus you get to meet some fantastic locals who can show you around and give the cities such a richer tapestry of experiences. Our first room in Rome was just such a place. We stayed with Marco and Carolina at their wonderful flat just outside of the downtown core. The room was large, spacious and the price was great at a little over $50 for a night. But more importantly, it introduced us to Marco and Carolina, two of the nicest people you could hope to meet. When we first arrived in Rome, we were tired and hungry. Our plane from London was delayed and by the time we pulled up to their place, it was almost 10pm. Right off the top, Marco and Carolina offered us the warmest welcome and ordered us a pizza from the local pizza shop. Marco explained that the pizza was specifically designed for his radio station, Kaos Radio, and specializes in spicy pizzas. We chatted a bit about Rome and our respective backgrounds and I inquired more about the station. Marco started Kaos Radio during the depth of the recession and has a growing following. The audience was growing outside of Italy and they had opened a new station just a while back. Later on that week, Marco invited us out to a Kaos Radio promotion for the very same pizza company we...

The New Italy

If there is a reason to bet that Italy can recover from its current economic difficulties, shrug off political and social corruption that spans generations and emerge anew, it’s because of people like Alessandro and Marco. To be sure, there’s a lot to be doubtful; Italy has a long history of corrupt politicians, very large public debt, massive pension obligations and a large unemployment problem. But if these young people keep pushing, they just might be able to change Italy, and it’s old stagnant culture a little bit for the better. “I hope this crisis is the biggest we have ever seen.” said Alessandro to me while sitting in the kitchen of his brand new B&B. “We need to destroy the foundation so that we can begin to build it up again. If we don’t clear the old away, we will be trapped with the current corruption forever.” Alessandro, no more than 30 years old, represents a brave hope for Italy, one that breaks free of the old corrupt ways and deals a new hand to honest enterprising Italians. “It’s so difficult to get up every day, go to work, pay your taxes and look up at the top of the mountain and see how corrupt it is.” he tells me, sitting on his new Ikea kitchen chair. After working in the hospitality industry, Alessandro and his sister Sabrina, in the middle of the worst economic crisis in 50 years, opened up a B&B. Powered by sites like Airbnb, a new industry of B&B hospitality is growing up in Italy. It’s challenging the old, expensive hotel chains and offering...