Hey!

Doesn’t the title of the post make you insanely happy?? Yup, me too!! :):)
Okay, kindly spare some time because it’s gonna be a little lengthy.

Gunjan and I took our first Europe trip together to Italy this March to celebrate our ‘primo anniversario’ and it turned out to be the perfect grand finale for the very first year of our marriage! Though we had to postpone the anniversary celebration by a week because of a work assignment I had in Germany (about which I hope to cover in another post), the love sickness that we suffered got compensated for in good measure with all the wild fun in Italy!! 🙂 If you know what you’re looking for and how to go about it, it’s a lot of fun to plan your very own trip customized just for you than to rely on travel agents to do so. Apart from being a means of sharing and treasuring our dream trip, I would be really glad if this post could help my friends in any way in planning their special trip and so I’m gonna try to be systematic about the whole thing.

Total Duration: 8 days (excluding the traveling time to and fro Italy)

Dates: 9th March, 2013 to 16th March, 2013

Weather: It was quite wet and chilly most of the times. That didn’t really play spoilsport because we were well equipped with umbrellas, jackets. scarves, gloves etc. We would generally visit one of the beautiful churches in the morning, plead and beg for a sunny day and get one for ourselves! 🙂 This only failed us once in Florence when the rain and the wind seemed hellbent to lock us indoors. But then we took a half day round trip to Pisa which made our day! Just try not to visit Italy when it’s very hot – from what I hear, the heat there incapacitates you.

Song of the Trip:Enjoy Yourself‘ and ‘The Godfather‘ tune! 🙂
Oh, the joy of holding hands and wandering and losing and finding yourselves in the cities of Italy! The country surely makes you an offer that you cannot refuse 🙂 Sauntering through the ‘viae‘, posing for pictures over the ‘ponti‘, romancing over a cone of the very best ‘gelato‘,  admiring the incredibly beautiful ‘fontane‘ or ‘basilica‘ in one of the ‘piazze‘, learning about one of the oldest and richest cultures of the world in the ‘muesos‘ and of Christianity and its spread in the ‘duomi‘…Well, all I can say is that the wealth and richness of the experience offsets the dent the trip makes in your bank account! 😀

Cash, Cards & Crimes: Read on for more clarity! 😛
I was quite surprised to find that cards are not accepted at MANY eateries, shops, ticket counters etc. in Italy. So you need to carry some cash with you at all times. Sounds quite straightforward, right? Now here’s the catch: the country is teeming with pickpockets and con-men and you have to be very alert AT ALL TIMES, especially while using public transports. Such a beautiful and culturally rich country shouldn’t be discredited with this but I guess that’s Italy’s baggage! 🙁 I could have been milder about this if I hadn’t lost about hundred euros, two debit cards, my driving license, PAN card and a precious picture of Gunjan and me to a gang of scheming, thieving girls in Milan’s metro. Residing in Italy, these skilled crooks are quite familiar with all of Machiavelli’s Principles and are experts at stalling tourists, creating distractions, faking misery etc.!

The country is plagued by many immigrants/unemployed people who are always on the lookout to earn a stray euro or two by tying a ‘blessed’ thread on your wrist or by playing the good Samaritan and pointing you to your hotel (when you’re already there) or by helping you with the ticket machine (which you have no problem whatsoever in operating on your own!). I don’t want this to be a demotivator – just the ‘better safe than sorry’ approach! Yes, ATMs are readily available. If you’re using a traveler’s card, no worries. If you’re using your International card, you might want to check the exchange rates, transaction fees and service charges.

Hotels: We swear by the magical combination of Expedia and TripAdvisor! All you need to do is find your hotel on TripAdvisor, check the ratings, reviews and pictures and then use Expedia (or maybe booking.com) to make the reservations – very reliable and safe. Also, if you use Expedia, you get the added advantage of availing the services of Thomas Cook for your visa. You might want to check our reviews (posted by sgunjan) on TripAdvisor for the hotels that we stayed in:

Milan: 1 night
http://www.tripadvisor.in/ShowUserReviews-g187849-d202884-r159637938-Ibis_Milano_Centro-Milan_Lombardy.html#CHECK_RATES_CONT

Venice: 2 nights
http://www.tripadvisor.in/ShowUserReviews-g194822-d1646121-r159637084-Hotel_Villa_Costanza-Mestre_Veneto.html#CHECK_RATES_CONT

Florence (and Pisa): 2 nights
http://www.tripadvisor.in/ShowUserReviews-g187895-d232978-r154988188-Hotel_Jane-Florence_Tuscany.html#CHECK_RATES_CONT

Rome (and Vatican City): 3 nights
http://www.tripadvisor.in/ShowUserReviews-g187791-d1863272-r154984197-A_Peace_of_Rome-Rome_Lazio.html#CHECK_RATES_CONT

Trains: We made prior bookings using Trenitalia to commute between cities. The rides are short, scenic (especially the Tuscany region) and reasonably priced.

Expensive Leaks: Okay, I realize the crassness of this heading and so I am gonna keep it very short! Just so you know, using washrooms is a costly affair in Europe. You will be required to cough up a euro (sometimes more) for every visit and so you might want to use public restrooms available in restaurants (if you eat there), trains and at the sites you visit.

Packing for the Trip: Well, this will obviously be governed by the season in which you’re planning your trip but the rule of thumb is to travel as light as possible. I personally feel that the happy phrase ‘backpacking in Europe’ has an underlying message which we tend to overlook: Pack just what you ‘will need’ and give a miss to the paraphernalia that you ‘might need’. Escalators and conveyor belts are absent/amiss at certain stations and hauling the trolleys up and down the flights of stairs can be quite a task, more so if you’re running late.

Every morning, we both used to rue the lack of fresh jackets, don the only ones that we were carrying and then forget all about the frugality amidst the run and the fun 🙂 We did applaud each other though if one of us managed to get a pic where we weren’t cloaked in our “jacket of the trip”! 😀

Language: People involved in the tourism business generally speak passable (sometimes good) English but Italian is what you hear from others. Getting around is not really an issue but it will certainly help if you mug up a few Italian words and phrases.

Gadgets: Yep, it surely is liberating – being off the grid and all that with no mobile connections and internet to give you away. But I cannot deny the convenience of carrying your very own guide in your pocket! In our Google Nexus 7, we had offline Google maps of the cities we visited and apps to guide us through the cities. Everyday, we would star-mark the places which we planned to see (on Google map as well as on a paper map) and then charge forth to cover the day’s syllabus! 😛
Ah yes, a good pair of running shoes (if you’re an incorrigible traveler like us, prepare to walk for around a hundred kilometers or so!) and some sprays for pains and aches are a must. And needless to say that when you’re visiting a country as beautiful as Italy, your camera (maybe tripod too) and you should be inseparable! 🙂

Dine and Drink: With the ubiquitously available pizzerias and gelaterie and the lip-smacking cakes and croissants, you’ll find a lot to experiment and enjoy 🙂 Anyway, who am I to recommend their bread and beer? The Italian Cuisine speaks for itself, in volumes! Say Cheese! 😀
Chicken based recipes are not very common, though. Also, as a fall back option, you might want to locate a restaurant of your choice near your hotel. On certain days, we didn’t mind savoring ‘paranthas’ and ‘aloo-gobhi’ at the Shanti restaurant in Rome!

Public Transports: In all the major cities, there is a very good network of metros and buses. Well, trams too are available but they are slower. Try getting hold of a route map to help you get around. Spend a few minutes to figure out the connectivity and it will save you a whole lot of confusion later. Also, the hotel staff can guide you very well on the sightseeing stuff.

So you know what next to save for, right? Totally worth it – because it’s gonna stay with you forever!
An experience of a life time + bountiful of merry time!
And yes, please don’t hesitate to post any questions that you might have.
Enjoy!
B’bye!

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