Tagged Italy

Carpooling around Italy

Due to bad weather, I decided to cut my time in Slovenia short and switch the rain for some sunshine by carpooling to Italy.

Ah, Italy. What an incredible feeling it was getting out of the car in Bologna to a warm summer’s evening and hearing the honking vespas, seeing the big hand gestures and smelling the pizza!

I had no idea where I would stay for that night, but I didn’t care. I was just taking in the atmosphere. After wandering around for a while, I sat down for a margarita pizza, connected to WiFi and booked a room through Airbnb. It’s an interesting feeling arriving in a city in the evening — not until you rest for the night and exit your accommodation the next morning, do you see what the place actually looks like. And on an early summer’s morning, Bologna looks something like this:

Being so close to Florence, I decided to move on from Bologna to the Tuscan capital. There are intercity trains that take you from Bologna to Florence in half an hour for 25–40 €. If you take two local trains instead, the trip will take an hour, but the price is only 9 €! Being a frugal traveller, I obviously opted for the local trains. Please remember to validate your ticket! I forgot, and had to pay an extra 5 € on the train (luckily not 65 €, which is the fee for someone who is not a stupid tourist an innocent traveller).

Again, I had no idea where to stay for the night, so I visited a travel agency, where I could use their computers to book accommodation. (Sometimes it’s just so nice to look at a screen bigger than your mobile phone.)

In Florence, I stayed at Emerald Palace for two nights, where a bed in a dorm cost 30 € per night. The clean and comfortable hostel is situated opposite Basilica di San Lorenzo.
In Florence, I stayed at Emerald Palace for two nights, where a bed in a dorm cost 30 € per night. The clean and comfortable hostel is situated opposite Basilica di San Lorenzo.

I had no plans on going to Florence, but I happened to arrive there on the day of San Juan, which meant a 30 minute firework show at 10 pm. As I sat on the bank of Arno river, watching the massive fireworks, surrounded by happy Italian families, I couldn’t help but feel as though my steps had directed me to just where I was meant to be. Another way I knew I was in the right place: I absolutely loved Florence! I think it actually ended up being my favourite place during my visit to Italy.

The firework show is organized every year on the day of San Juan. The fireworks are shot from Piazzale Michelangelo.
The firework show in Florence is organized every year on the day of San Juan. The fireworks are shot from Piazzale Michelangelo.
The following morning I walked up to the square named after the famous statue.
The following morning I walked up to the square named after the famous statue.
Piazzale Michelangelo is a great vantage point for views over the entire city.
Piazzale Michelangelo is a great vantage point for views over the entire city.

From Piazzale Michelangelo I walked back down to have a look around the city. Florence is quite touristy, but you can still get an authentic feel of the city if you know where to look.

Quinoa is a 100% gluten free restaurant in Florence. Unfortunately I can't agree with their tagline.
Quinoa is a 100% gluten free restaurant in Florence. Unfortunately I can’t agree with their tagline.
A better restaurant in Florence is Konnubio. It has the most uncomfortable benches I've ever sat on but the food is pretty good, with plenty of vegetarian options.
A better restaurant in Florence is Konnubio. It has the most uncomfortable benches I’ve ever sat on but the food is pretty good, with plenty of vegetarian options.
With two locations in Florence, Shake Café is a good option for a light lunch after indulging in the Italian cuisine for days on end.
With two locations in Florence, Shake Café is a good option for a light lunch after indulging in the Italian cuisine for days on end.

The main reason tourists flock to Florence, is The Uffizi Gallery, one of the oldest and most famous art museums in the world. Entry is 12 €, or 16 € with a pre-booked time slot for entry. I got to the gallery half an hour before it opened and didn’t have to stand in line or pay extra for a specific entry time.

Botticelli's "The Birth of Venus" is one of the famous paintings on display at the Uffizi gallery. I would devote at least a few hours to explore all the different rooms in this massive museum.
Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus” is one of the famous paintings on display at the Uffizi gallery. I would devote at least a few hours to explore all the different rooms in this massive museum.

Utilizing carpooling again, my next destination was Verona. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is mostly known as the setting for Shakespeare’s tragic love story “Romeo and Juliet”. I booked a room through Airbnb and stayed with a woman who only spoke Italian. Despite the language barrier, we got along great. Elena made me breakfast in the morning and even showed me around the city on my first night in Verona.

A balcony was added to this old building in the 1930's in order to attract tourists. The inner courtyard is packed with people photographing "Juliet's Balcony".
A balcony was added to this old building in the 1930’s in order to attract tourists. The inner courtyard is packed with people photographing “Juliet’s Balcony”.
Poor Juliet's right breast is completely faded from people touching her inappropriately in order to take "funny" photos.
Poor Juliet’s right breast is completely faded from people touching her inappropriately in order to take “funny” photos.

Juliet’s House is an underwhelming tourist attraction and I recommend walking around other parts of this historical town, to experience ancient buildings and the Italian ambiance.

Ghiotto is a vegetarian pizzeria serving pizza al taglio (by weight). I love pizza al taglio as it gives you the chance to sit on a park bench and sample different kinds of pizza. The owners of Ghiotto are super friendly, and the pizza — best one I’ve tasted in Italy. I had to walk back to the pizzeria just to tell them how good it was.
Ghiotto is a vegetarian pizzeria in Verona serving pizza al taglio (by weight). I love pizza al taglio as it gives you the chance to sit on a park bench and sample different kinds of pizza. The owners of Ghiotto are super friendly, and the pizza — best one I’ve tasted in Italy. I had to walk back to the pizzeria just to tell them how good it was.
Gelato for dessert. I’m nice and plump now.
Gelato for dessert. I’m nice and plump now.

From Verona I moved on to my final destination, Venice. BlaBlaCar is very popular in Italy, so it was easy to find a ride one last time. Venice is a very expensive city and even a bed in a hostel dorm costs more than 50 €. But as with everything, there are always options. You just have to be willing to do a bit of research.

I ended up booking a two night stay at Residenza Gesuiti, a university residence, where my own room with private bathroom cost 35 € a night.

Seaside view from my 35 € room in Venice.
Seaside view from my 35 € room in Venice.

When I checked in, the staff asked me: “Are you here for the biennale?”. Once again, a special event was happening that I knew nothing about! I didn’t really even know what the biennale is… In a way, I was in Venice for the biennale, I just didn’t know it yet.

The Venice Biennale is organized every year – with an art exhibition every second year and an architecture exhibition every second year. In the year 2015, it was the art exhibition’s turn.

The Biennale runs until 22nd November, so if you’re in Venice before then, I really recommend visiting it! Entry tickets are 25 euros but totally worth it. The ticket allows you to visit the exhibitions in Giardini and Arsenale. You can visit the two venues on different days, and I really recommend doing so. The exhibitions are open from 11 am to 6 pm and I ran out of time trying to see everything in one day! In addition to the art exhibitions displaying things like a self-playing piano and a colourful room full of rubble, different countries have created pavilions representing local art, nature, culture and life.

Venice is such an interesting city. If you get lost, it‘s not like you can just take a turn at a random street corner — because it’s full of water! Venice is best explored by foot (when you finally find a bridge that lets you cross over to the other side). I also bought a 24 hour water taxi pass for 20 €, that gives unlimited travel around Venice as well as the surrounding islands.

Of the many islands surrounding Venice, I only had time to visit Murano. In the words of a Murano local, there are three things to see on the island: glass, glass and more glass. This is definitely true — there are glass blowing factories and galleries all around the island.

Final night in Venice. Nice and plump.
I returned to Venice for a final stroll around the city.
Grazie e buona notte Italia.
Grazie e buona notte Italia.