Because I do not know everyone’s travel experience I thought it might be helpful even if a bit redundant to jot down some items that might make for a better trip. I will add to this as I see fit. Use it as a reference as you ar packing and thinking about our trip. Let me start by saying I am flexible. Our itinerary is a guideline but never set in stone. You never know when a local might point us to something we didn’t know about or maybe we decide to change our dinner reservations because it just makes more sense logistically. It is my experience that not everyone will agree on everything all of the time. Anytime I found myself frustrated on my mission I always reminded myself, “You are in Italy!” The truth is we could plant ourselves in just about any small town off the freeway and it would rock our worlds. We will not be able to hit everything. That is why I keep coming back over and over again. It never ends!
Each city has its own special food dishes and pastries and often it’s own dialect. McDonald’s issued a 20 million dollar lawsuit against the city of Florence for blocking them from opening a location in the heart of Florence. While I love a Big Mac I love even more the lack of chain restaurants in this country. We eat to live in America. Italians truly live to eat and it is a major point of pride. I want you to experience as much as your minds and stomachs can handle while at the same time finding some time to relax and explore on your own from time to time.
Tours: We will go on a total of 3 guided tours. The first will be at the Colosseum and Roman forum in Rome. The second will be at the Vatican museum, St Peter’s Basilica and sistine chapel later that day. The third will be to see David in Florence on day 5 or 6. Those are the only guided tours we have planned. However, we will be visiting other sites like the duomo in Florence which require we be there at a certain time but it is worth it.
Free time: We have a smaller group which allows us to be more flexible. If we want to stop and see a city we are passing by nothing is stopping us as long as we don’t have a prior commitment. In general we will try to stick together but I want everyone to feel like they can explore on their own at times if they want. We will be in Florence for 3 nights for example. Day two will likely be a free day to just explore and maybe go see the uffizzi gallery or visit the market? But if there is something you are dying to see or try let me know and we can figure out logistics. No one will be offended if you feel like you just want to explore rather than go on a day trip.
Money Exchange: Some banks will exchange dollars for euros in the states and some do not. I typically try to have 100 euros when I arrive but not more. Our first stay is close to a bank ATM where we will be able to withdraw money. The bank ATMS away from the main tourist areas are typically the best exchange rate. Avoid ATMs at souvenir shops or near major attractions. I use my debit card and pin # to make an international withdrawal. Your dinners and breakfasts will be covered. If you wish to purchase souvenirs, food items at the grocery store for lunch, etc.. you can almost always use a credit card. Not all small shops will allow it however. I generally will only take out 200-300 euros at a time when needed.
Gelato: Gelato is everywhere. As we walk by various shops and gelaterias (especially in Florence) you will see mounds and mounds of gelato everywhere. Most gelato is made off premises. But the best gelaterias make it in house fresh every day. I hope by the end of your trip you will be an expert in knowing the difference. Eating gelato every day is a must. But the stomach cannot always handle so much. Last year about day five I was feeling it in my gut. The only thing I could think of to help it was to have another gelato. It cured me instantly. It was a christmas miracle. I am excited to spoil you with some of the best gelato in Italy if not the world.
Weather: September is pretty awesome in Rome and Tuscany. Expect 75-80 degrees. It doesn’t rain very often this time of year. Shorts will be great. Maybe a light jacket for the evenings if you are prone to cold.
Rick Steves Packing list: Click here for the packing list I use. It is great for a ten day trip. I do not bring everything. For example Italy doesnt have the same bug problems as Guatemala so insect repellant is unnecessary. Any liquids need to be under 3 ounces.
Battery extender or adapter: A couple years ago I went to Moab for three days and my father in law brought an iphone battery charger. It charged our phones fully 8 times and was still at half power. We love this thing. Check it out here on amazon. If you have something like that it’s not a bad idea for when we are out and about. Italy is pretty reliable with power but you will need an adapter.
Swimming suit: We have a sweet pool at our Villa in Foiana della Chiana. Let’s go swimming!
Attending Church: We will be in Tuscany on a Sunday. If everyone would like to go to church we can arrange that or if you want a cultural experience we can go to Mass. We have two vans so we have options here. Catholic mass does not require dressing up but does require ladies to have shorts to the knees. St. Peter’s basilica for example will not let you in with shorts above the knees. There are vendors selling shawls outside for this purpose. Not likely a problem but thought you should know.
Jet Lag: It seems like Jet Lag hits harder coming home than heading east. At this point we don’t know what time we will arrive. Whatever the case its best to get some rest on the plane. There are a lot of opinions on this. For me this is the only time in my life I use a 5 hour energy drink. They are 3 ounces and can be packed on a plane. My goal the first day is to get us to our home, freshen up a bit and then get out and get moving. Expect us to be more busy the first couple days. The temptation to sleep is so strong but must be combated by going on the search for our first gelato. If you find yourself staring at the ceiling at 4 a.m. the next morning you will not likely be the only one. Sometimes I will go out and explore the city before it wakes up. Bring a good book or headphones for the wee hours of the night. We will likely try to hit the colosseum early( 8:30am) the next day to beat the crowds.
Cell coverage: I have used verizon for $10 a day in Italy and it works great. My sister used T-mobile and it was great as well. Check with your provider. You may need to have them initiate international service before you use it. I use my phone mostly for GPS and gelato reviews.
Safety, thieves and pickpockets: Italy is a safe place.There is nothing big to be worried about. However, big cities anywhere can attract pickpockets and Rome is no exception although it is fairly rare. While on a metro in Rome some teenagers tried to pickpocket my father in law by pretending to wrestle near him but I knew the routine and the local Italians saw what was happening and booting them off the metro. When I am out and about I carry whatever cash I need for the day, my credit card and my I.D. I am not worried about leaving anything back at our home base.
While on the metros I put my backpack (if I have one) around my chest or on the ground at my feet. My money and credit cards are always in my front pocket or more likely in neck wallet that I wear under my shirt.
Walking: I have found it very helpful to start a walking or running routine before a big trip. Running especially helps with what I call museum legs. The Vatican Museum where the Sistine Chapel is found is about a two hour tour. It’s not a big deal but we will be mostly walking in Rome so if you want to use this as an excuse to strengthen your legs before you come then it might make your traveling more pleasant.
Drinking water: My wife brings a bottle that has a built in purifier. She fills it up at the tap all over the country with no worries. Most places in Italy are not good to drink from the tap but Rome is an exception. There are over 2500 spigots and some fountains all over the city that you can drink out of. If you don’t want to haul around a bottle you can buy water bottles all over the place. It’s about $1 for a bottle at a little store and $4 at a restaurant.
Bathrooms: Italy has caught on in the last 20 years to gas station bathrooms along the freeway so that is a plus. However for those of you who have been to Europe you know that it is not always easy to find a restroom. If you find yourself in need of one I can help find one or if you see a BAR you can go in an buy a coke or a bottle of water if it looks like you can’t slip by without being seen. Bars in Italy are not like the ones in America. As missionaries we bought stamps and bus tickets at bars. Gelato is often in bars. They are multi use. Look for the sign that says WC (water closet) if you are looking for one. Please don’t be shy to ask me for help. One of the crew last year waited too long which ended in a retreat into the bushes. Follow the same rule you ask of your kids when they were little, “Go to the bathroom whether you need to or not”.
Passport: Some countries require that your passport doesn’t expire within 6 months of your visit. Italy is no exception so please make sure that your passport does not expire 6 months after September 2019 or you may be turned away on arrival. I recommend you make copies of your passport should you lose it. I keep a separate copy in my neck wallet.
Trip deposit: If for some reason you are not able to make the trip I will refund your $1000 deposit in full if I can find someone to take your place.
Trip Balance: The remainder of your balance is due 30 days before departure. Due to the amount of capital tied up at that point it will be non-refundable. In the case of an emergency cancellation please reach out to me. If you are the extra cautious type you can actually purchase trip insurance if you would like. My inlaws use Allianz Travel insurance prior to going on a big trip. I will send each couple an invoice.
What if I want to stay longer? Should you want to extend your stay and head another direction the last day of the trip just let me know and I can give you some ideas.
Buying plane tickets: Ultimately each guest will be responsible for arriving in Rome (Leonardo Da Vinci/Fiumicino airport) on September 9 preferably by afternoon. This may vary depending on the flights but as we get closer a set time will be fixed. I am arranging shuttles to pick us up when we know more about the flight times. Should anyone come in late we can make arrangements to get you to us without problem.
We have discussed travel deals on pomelo travel as well as flights from home on instagram and tacking on google flights. I check these daily but if someone sees something please shout out. Ideally our flights would come in at around the same time. When you book your flights pay attention to the number of stops and layover time. Sometimes you can save yourself many hours by paying an extra $20-100 or whatever. Have you passports accessible and ready to book in case we see a travel deal. I actually took a picture of my passport number so I could book while away from home if needed.
Obviously if you have skymiles this will be a great time to use them. I saw a deal pop up on pomelo travel and I used my capital one venture card to book the same deal with skymiles. Good stuff.
If you want to do some research before we go her are some ideas:
Books to read:
Leonardo Da Vinci: Walter Isaacson
Basilica: R.A. Scotti
The Rise of Rome- Anthony Everett
Under the Tuscan Sun- Frances Mayes
Rick Steves Italy
Life is Beautiful