TRIP TO ITALY

The rise of the Renaissance, the land of Julius Caesar, the inspiration of Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, Italy is a dream destination of any history buff and so it was also always a part of my bucket list. I planned a brief 05 days trip to Italy to explore this art reservoir, time little too less but not too difficult. I began my trip in the month of October when the winters in Italy were just setting in.

The destinations I choose to travel were Rome and Florence and spent almost two and a half day at each destination.

Day 1 of my trip to Italy – Rome

After a long haul flight of 08 hours from India with one stopover, I finally made it to the ancient city of Rome. I checked in at Hotel Palladium Palace, a bread & breakfast hotel with neat and comfortable rooms, the size of my bathroom was bigger than my bedroom and that’s how I like it. The best part of this hotel is the proximity from the Roma Termini railway station, just 05 minutes walk. (My personal tip: If you are covering multiple cities in a week like me using trains as mode of transportation it’s always advisable to book hotels close to the train stations to save on time and money both)

Trip to Italy - Airport Pickup                                                                           My first ride in Rome

I finished shower and went down the street to enjoy some authentic Italian food. I sat down at a roadside pizzeria just opposite my hotel and ordered for a basic margarita pizza with my favorite red wine. Oh my god! I never ate such a delicious pizza until then in my life, the thin crust, the flavor of fresh cherry tomatoes and of course the loaded famous Italian olive oil. After my lunch, I decided to take a quick nap before I get ready for my “tour de Roma” by Segway.

Segway was one of the things I was most excited about because this was something I never did before. I had booked myself for an evening Segway tour which had to begin at 0430pm that evening. I found myself in bed at 01 am that night and shook myself twice to realize that I overslept on the very first day of my trip and also missed my Segway tour. 65 euros wasted as I had pre-booked everything.

A lesson I learned that night – keep your first day at ease instead of keeping too many plans as your body need to recover from that jet lag due to the long haul flight.

Day 2 of my trip to Italy – Rome on Segway

Next morning just after my breakfast I headed to the segway center. The Italy Segway office is located at Via di Sant’Eufemia #15, Rome and about 500 meters to the Colosseum Metro station. I spoke to the manager and narrated to him how I missed my tour last night. He was very kind to check if he can accommodate me in the evening batch with a minimal additional cost.

I was lucky to be accommodated and I simply love that man even today. I think such kind of gestures by the locals makes a destination friendly for tourism.

Just a few steps away from the Segway center is the Monument of Victor Emmanuel II, located at Piazza Venezia. Built in 1911, a remarkable piece of architecture from the medieval age is made of white marble and features grand staircase and statue of a horseman. This statue is a representation of King Victor Emmanuel II, to commemorate him, this building was constructed. The building encompasses a huge museum space showcasing Italy in different historical ages.

The monument gives you a spectacular view of the entire city from its terrace which can be accessed by tourists and is a perfect place for shutterbugs. The most spectacular part of the building is the ever-lit flames dedicated to the soldiers died during world war –I and the royal guards standing at the façade of the building, appearing like statues.

This monument is Open throughout the week from 0930am – 0730pm and gives a free entry to visitors

 Monument of Victor Emmanuel II

                                                             Monument of Victor Emmanuel II

After the tour of Monument of Victor Emmanuel II and lunch, I headed to the Italy Segway center again. Just at the time we all gathered, we were a group of 08 people who accompanied me on this segway trip along with the guide. We began with practicing how to ride our Segway without bumping into other tourists. In no more than 05 minutes I was almost flying on my Segway.  After the practice sessions near Trajan forum, we began our ride and below are the places we visited as part of our Segway tour.

Recommended: Italy Segway tour is a much-recommended source to book your Segway tours in Rome and other parts of Italy. They charge 65 euros per person and have tours available at 9:30 am and 2:30 pm or 4:00 pm and each tour take 03 hours. Tickets can be pre-booked at their website or can be purchased at the center. The Segway tour guides, however, won’t take you inside any monuments hence please plan a separate trip should you wish to see a place in detail.
Trip to Italy                                                                  Me ready for my first Segway ride 🙂

Below are the places we covered on our 03 hours Segway tour

Colosseum

Built between 70-80AD, Colosseum is the largest amphitheater ever built. Once upon a time, it uses to accommodate 80,000 spectators at one time, however, the structure is massively destructed with time due to earthquakes. The local bodies of Rome, however, are very active in restoring their heritage. Well, I was inquisitive to know if gladiator – the movie was not shot here but I was informed that a similar kind of structure was made at one of the studios of Rome to shoot the movie.

I definitely felt a sense of history when I entered the building and saw the amphitheater for the first time. In the silence that surrounded around, I could sense how thousands of people must be seated here while their eyes glued to the gladiatorial contests being conducted in the center. But it was definitely very unpleasant to see history turning into ruins as time passes by. There is an entry fee to enter Colosseum which is 12 Euro per person.

Trip to Italy - Colosseum from Inside                                                                       Colosseum, view from inside

Trip to Italy COLOSSEUM

                                    My favorite Colosseum pic

Arch of Constantine

The Arch of Constantine is a triumphal arch in Rome, situated between the Colosseum and the Palatine Hill. It was erected by the Roman Senate to commemorate Constantine I’s victory over Maxentius at the Battle of Milvian bridge in 312. This is also the largest Roman triumphal arch.

Trip to Italy - Arch of Constantine

                                             Circus Maximus 

Now a public park, The Circus Maximus is an ancient Roman chariot racing stadium and mass entertainment venue.Situated in the valley between the Aventine and Palatine hills, it was the first and largest stadium in ancient Rome.

Trip to Italy - Cavalieri di Malta

                    Cavalieri di Malta (Knights of Malta)                         

At the southern end of Via di Santa Sabina, this peaceful little square takes its name from the religious/military order, the Cavalieri di Malta (Knights of Malta), who have their Roman headquarters here, in the Priorato dei Cavalieri di Malta. Although it’s closed to the public, the priory offers one of Rome’s most charming views if you take a peek through the keyhole.

About the famous keyhole here: The Villa has a small keyhole through which the copper-green dome of Saint Peter’s Basilica, the center of Roman Catholicism, can be viewed at the end of a garden allée framed in clipped cypresses.

Trip to Italy - As you see from the hole                                                  This is what you see from the Knights of Malta keyhole

Marcello Theatre

The Theatre of Marcellus is an ancient open-air theatre in Rome.At the theatre, locals and visitors alike were able to watch performances of drama. The theatre was the largest and most important theatre in Ancient Rome it could originally hold between 11,000 and 20,000 spectators.

Roman Forum

The Roman Forum is a rectangular forum or plaza surrounded by the ruins of several important government buildings at the center of the city of Rome. It was for centuries the center of Roman public life, the site of triumphal processions and elections; the venue for public speeches, criminal trials, and gladiatorial matches and the nucleus of commercial affairs.Trip to Italy - Roman ForumThe modern-day Roman Forum, In ruins but still stunning

Capitoline Square

The Capitoline Hill is the smallest and most important of the seven hills of Ancient Rome. Designed by Michelangelo Buonarroti, it is also the political and religious heart of Rome. By the time we reached here it was dark and the place was bustling with people. Capitoline is definitely one of the striking places to see in Rome.

Trip to Italy - Capitoline Square at Night Capitoline Square at Night    

 We finally came to end of our 03 hours Segway tour, it was 07 pm and I had to still recover on the last night which I lost while sleeping so I decided to board the hop-on-hop-off bus as I already had a pass for same. One can book these passes or tickets from the official website of Rome tour buses. (Personal Tip: The buses have different routes and accordingly one needs to buy the tickets. The bus conductors are strict and follow the rules strictly of boarding passengers of only the route for which the passengers are carrying tickets. So book your tickets and routes  accordingly as per the places of interest you want to see )

I boarded the bus while coming down from the Capitoline hill near the Monument of Victor Emmanuel II and went around the city seeing some more places of interest. The experience is worth it and just like any other Hop-on Hop-off you can board and get down where ever you wish to on your way. I got down at the Roma Terminus and walked down to my hotel, it was 11 pm and I was completely exhausted by that time but all this was definitely worth it. Unfortunately, the Trevi fountain was closed for renovation at this time hence I missed visiting this important landmark 🙁

Day 3: Departure from Rome & Arrival at Florence

I left for Florence the next day morning after breakfast and boarded the train from Roma Termini station to reach Florence’s Santa Maria Novella station. One can buy tickets on the spot at stations in case not pre-booked without being waiting long in queues. The train journey as expected had an abundance of natural scenery. The journey is about 1.5hours.

I checked in at the Embassy hotel, just 05 minutes away from the station so I preferred to walk. This hotel is definitely in a great location, close to the station and important bus boarding points should you plan for excursions near Florence like me. I had a quick lunch at the Mc Donald’s located opposite to the station and just next to my bus boarding point from where I had to leave for my trip to Chianti vineyards.

Recommended: The location from where all the buses leave for excursions of Florence is Piazza Della Stazione just before the Grand Hotel Baglioni. This location is also just 10 minutes walk away from the famous Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and 05 minutes walk from Basilica de Santa Maria Novella. Being opposite to the Florence’s Santa Maria Novella station, this place is a central location of the city hence its recommended to book your hotel in nearby surroundings.

Trip to Italy - Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore                                   Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, a must visit landmark of Florence, Italy

Whilst I was waiting at the bus boarding point, I heard the tour operators shouting for people booked Chianti and Pisa. I walked to the man calling out for Chianti and verified with him my ticket which my travel agent in India pre-booked for me however one can buy these excursions trip online or at the various travel agencies in Florence who organize these trips. I always prefer to pre-book my excursions to avoid last minute hassle and enjoy my journey without standing at ticket counters.

All the travelers boarded the bus and we started our journey to Chianti. The trip to Chianti took close to 08 hours out of which 2.5 hours were spent traveling. En route Chianti one can admire the scenic beauty of Italy’s countryside villages. The journey brings beautiful green lands, water bodies and view of small Italian villages are outstanding. We finally reached Chianti Classico, an area of approximately 100 square miles away from Florence, situated between the cities of Florence and Siena.

Trip to Italy - Enroute Chianti                                                                               En route Chianti 

As we reached Chianti Classico we were greeted by the winery staff who took over from our tour guide and showed us around.

Trip to Italy - Grape plantation at Chianti                                                                           Chianti grape plantation 

Just like any other winery, Chianti also offers wine tasting. I enjoyed some prestigious labels and great vintages combined with other local specialties of cheese and balsamic vinegar.

Trip to Italy - Chianti Classico WineriesTrip to Italy - Chianti Classico Wineries

                                                 Inside the Chianti Classico Wineries

“Chianti Classico” is a DOCG wine and shows unique peculiarities and characteristics.It is not enough to be produced in within the Chianti region to be called a “Classico”. In fact, Classico wine has to respect specific rules. Its blend is 80% of Sangiovese, the red grape typical of this area, 20% of other grapes which include native grapes such as Canaiolo and Colorino, as well as other international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.Its characteristics are a limpid ruby red color, floral notes for its odor and a harmonious, dry and sapid flavor with a good level of tannin. The minimum alcohol level should be 12 degrees. The Chianti Classico seal recently changed in 2013, is a black rooster on a white background with a Bordeaux colored frame.

Trip to Italy - CHIANTI CLASSICO                           Me at Chianti Classico

While coming back to Florence, we stopped at a place where I can retire as a waiter while serving & drinking cheese and wine for the rest of my life, such a peace at Castello di Monteriggioni

Trip to Italy - Castello di Monteriggioni

               Inside this Tuscan castle is a world of good food, great wine, and beautiful people

Day 4 of my trip to Italy: Pisa

Next day I began my trip from the same place where I got the bus for Chianti the previous day.The tour guides validated our names with their lists and we boarded our air-conditioned Volvo. If you would like to avoid a bus journey there are options of direct train available from Florence to Pisa. We took almost 02 hours to reach Pisa.

Our Pisa tour began with an entry through the ancient gate of Porta Santa Maria. As we moved into the city there was a picture-perfect panorama of the Piazza dei Miracoli – the neatly trimmed green lawns and white marble architecture creating a breath-taking view.

The Piazza has 03 major structures beginning with the Baptistery followed by the Cathedral and then finally the leaning tower of Pisa.

Trip to Italy - Piazza dei Miracoli                                                                    Piazza dei Miracoli

In the center of the picture: Pisa Cathedral is a medieval Roman Catholic cathedral dedicated to the assumption of the Virgin Mary. It is a notable example of Romanesque architecture, in particular, the style known as Pisan Romanesque. It is also the seat of the Arch bishop of Pisa.

Trip to Italy - Pisa Cathedral

Trip to Italy - Pulpit                                       Pulpit, a masterpiece made by Giovanni Pisano inside the cathedral

Trip to Italy - relics of Saint Rainerius                                     The church also houses the relics of Saint Rainerius, patron saint of Pisa

Trip to Italy - Paintings by Tuscan artists

The 27 paintings that cover the galleries behind the main altar, depicting stories of the old testament and stories of the life of Christ, were made between the 16th and 17th centuries mostly by Tuscan artists.

The Pisa Baptistery: largest baptistery in Italy, it is 54.86 m high, with a diameter of 34.13 m. The Pisa Baptistery is an example of the transition from the Romanesque style to the Gothic style. The lower section is in the Romanesque style, with rounded arches, while the upper sections are in the Gothic style, with pointed arches. The reason behind the difference of architectural styles are the designers, Diotisalvi who started to design the baptistery and whose signature can be read on two pillars inside the building followed by Nicola Pisano who continued the work, changing the style to the more modern Gothic one.

The baptistery is renowned for its perfect acoustics – choir concerts held inside can be heard from miles away. You can test the acoustics by arriving when it is least crowded (such as first thing in the morning), getting as close to the center as possible and sounding a loud note – it will echo around the room as it fades.

Trip to Italy - The Pisa Baptistery                                                                           Baptistery Interiors

Our Third and final step was the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Our guide informed us that the tower was constructed in three stages over 199 years beginning in 1173. The tower began to sink after construction had progressed to the second floor in 1178. This was due to a mere three-meter foundation, set in weak, unstable subsoil, a design that was flawed from the beginning. Construction was subsequently halted for almost a century, because the Republic of Pisa was almost continually engaged in battles with Genoa, Lucca, and Florence. This allowed time for the underlying soil to settle. Otherwise, the tower would almost certainly have toppled in 1198. The seventh floor was completed in 1319.

LEANING TOWER OF PISA                                                           Me leaning at the leaning tower of Pisa 🙂

Should you wish to climb up the tower to enjoy the mesmerizing view of the Pisa city, you can buy a ticket of 18 euros and climb the stairs however this experience is not available for kids below 08 years.

We returned back to Florence almost at the dinner time. One of the most recommended places to enjoy dinner at Florence is Piazza Santa Maria Novella just 05 minutes away from Piazza Della Stazione from where I boarded the bus in morning. This place is like a night market with people all over enjoying the authentic Italian food, wines, and music. This was the end of my trip to Italy.

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