France, Italy and Monaco with Fabyo (Part two)

July 1st started with a quick bite to eat and a short drive to Nice airport for our flight to Venice. Everything was going well until we went to the Easyjet counter to drop our bags off, only to find out that our flight scheduled to depart in just over an hour had been cancelled. Their customer service was quite atrocious and I will never book them again. Without getting into every single unpleasant detail of what ended up happening after that, we ended up buying last minute tickets on Lufthansa connecting in Frankfurt, but our flight from Venice to Frankfurt was delayed and we ended up missing our connection. Lufthansa re-protected us on a flight the next morning, which thankfully after waiting a couple of hours we were able to speak to an agent who was able to find us two seats on a flight that same evening. That flight was also delayed and almost didn’t land in Venice due to weather, but was successful on the second approach. Then our bags didn’t show up!

Venice

By the time we were ready to leave the airport the water taxis had finished running for the day, so we took a cab to the edge of the city and a water taxi from there, which surprisingly added only €20 to our fare.

At 2am we finally checked into our room at the beautiful Hotel Metropole. The hotel is located in a charming building which appeared on a map of Venice drawn in 1500. Our room was beautiful and waiting for us in it was a platter with a bowl of cherries, crackers and a hand fan. The €20 bottle of champagne in the fridge was a delightful thing to find after the day we had.

The following day was spent mostly shopping for clothes, as our bags were still reported as missing. Comprehensive travel insurance is indeed a great thing to have!  We managed to find some great clothes that were reasonably priced, and that part was fun, but frankly I would rather have spent that time sightseeing. While we made the best out of it we did miss out on things I had looked forward to doing.

Venice is beautiful in a somewhat surreal way. The architecture and geography are truly unique, so visiting Venice is a must, especially to those visiting Italy for the first time. The history is evident and present everywhere, as is the obvious influence the city has had throughout the course of its history. We stayed near St. Mark’s Square and the radius of the area we covered by foot went as far at the Rialto Bridge.

We had lovely meals in restaurants near and around the square. We went back to our hotel at 11:30pm and were happy to find our bags waiting for us! We finished the night by enjoying a lovely bottle of wine in the hotel’s courtyard.

The following morning we took a water taxi to the train station for our high-speed train ride to Florence.

Florence

Trenitalia is really lovely and the extra money for business class seats is definitely worthwhile. Great comfortable seats, refreshments lots of rooms for baggage. One thing I learned on this trip is that sometimes a two-hour train ride in Europe gets one from door to door quicker than a 45-minute flight. And what a beautiful way to see the countryside! Once we got close to Tuscany the geography reminded me a lot of Provence.

Our taxi ride from Santa Maria Novella station to the FH Hotel Calzaiuoli took less than 10 minutes and the last bit was interesting, as we drove through pedestrian filled streets.

The hotel is located two blocks from the Duomo (the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore), one block from the Piazza della Repubblica, a four-minute walk to the Piazza della Signoria (where the Palazzo Vecchio is located) and an eight minute walk to the Ponte Vecchio, all of which we visited. Great location!

We were upgraded to a lovely room on the 4th floor with views of the Palazzo Vecchio, Badia Fiorentina and, as I discovered the following day, of the Duomo!

Florence is a beautiful and very walkable city. With the help of the Maps app on my iPhone we continued to get to where we wanted quickly, which allowed us to cover a lot of ground that afternoon and evening. The app also gave us the confidence to just wander around without worrying about getting lost, which was a great feeling. We had our drinks and meals at the piazzas. Great weather and food!

If you like beef, a must in Florence is the Bistecca Alla Fiorentina, which is porterhouse steak, weighing about 2.5 pounds. It costs around €40 and feeds 2-3 people, so it’s really good value.

The following day we visited the Galleria dell’Accademia, where Michelangelo’s David is displayed. Even though I had seen numerous pictures of in the past, I found myself awestruck by its beauty and perfection. I had a lot of goosebumps during this trip!

We didn’t have any tours pre-arranged or attraction tickets pre-purchased, and in hindsight that wasn’t a good idea. The line-up to get into the museum was about three hours long, so we ended up joining a tour being sold at the entrance so we could get in quicker.

Nothing like Viator at all!

After the tour we went back to our hotel to collect our bags and headed to the train station for our train ride to Rome.

Rome

Upon arrival in Rome we took a taxi to our hotel, which was a quick and inexpensive ride. The Splendide Royal Hotel is a stunning Small Luxury Hotels of the World property, located across from the Villa Borghese gardens and a 10-minute walk to the top of the Spanish Steps.

We were again lucky to receive an upgrade to a deluxe room on the 4th floor overlooking the Villa Borghese. I cannot say enough good things about this hotel, especially the incredible service we received, which was very genuine.

We spent the evening walking to various piazzas, including the Piazza di Spagna, Piazza Navona, the Pantheon and Trevi Fountain.

The following day we had a guided tour of the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica, which we booked booked through Viator.

Again Kudos to Viator for the organization of the tours they offer, and the knowledge and enthusiasm.

The tour was incredible, and I was astounded by the wealth of all the art housed in the Vatican.

We went to the Colosseum after that, then got on a hop-on/off bus tour and got off where we could walk back to our hotel. It was incredibly hot in Rome and while our hotel didn’t have a pool, their sister property, the Parco dei Principi Grand Hotel, had one we could enjoy. We had a beautiful 15-minute walk through the Villa Borghese gardens. When we got back to our hotel to find a lovely bottle of prosecco and a fruit platter in our room, compliments of the hotel. Our evening was again spent exploring the city.

Next morning we took a taxi to train station for our train to Naples, where were picked up at the station for our half-day guided tour of Pompeii. Another Viator success! Our guide was lovely and knowledgeable, and we got a lot out of our tour. I was amazed by how sophisticated the Pompeiians lifestyle was 2000 year ago. Having experienced the heat in Rome the previous day I dressed for the weather for this tour and was able to really enjoy it. We were shuttled back to the train station for our 4pm train back to Rome, and once in Rome, we decided to walk back to our hotel from the station. It was pleasant 30-minute walk including quick shopping stops along the way. That evening we had dinner at the restaurant still owned by the family of the Italian chef who invented Fettucine Alfredo, and it was incredible. Something I had heard before about Italy and was able to put to test during this trip was that you can always order the “house” wine at restaurants, and always be pleasantly surprised by the quality.

We had our last full day in Rome open, so we used that to explore more, to do a last bit of shopping and to pack.

On Saturday July 8th, we took a taxi to Fiumicino airport for our flights back home, this time on Lufthansa via Munich. Munich is a very modern airport, very large, but easy to get around. Canadians have the advantage of a simplified EU exit system, which saved us a considerable amount of time going through passport control, so we got the our gate in good time.

The flights were pleasant and on time, and the LH service was really great. We had beautiful pod seats on our Munich-Vancouver flight, which were very comfortable. Amazing to fly in sunshine all the way from Rome to Munich then to Vancouver!

Italy and France were truly incredible, and I look forward to another opportunity to explore them more.

A few interesting distance stats about the trip:

  • By plane      12160 miles
  • By car          439km
  • By train        1512km
  • On foot        141km (213352 steps and 286 floors)

Finally, if I had to give anyone ONE piece of advice about travelling through Europe, it would be to get a data plan and use a map app to get around. It really made driving and walking incredibly easy.