When Chris and I got engaged we thought about eloping in Europe but ultimately decided on a small wedding here and an epic honeymoon in London and Paris, with a few day trips sprinkled in. We thought we’d get our feet wet with England. It was a shorter flight and we wouldn’t have to learn another language. Then later, we’d go to Italy and that would round out the big three: London, Paris, Rome.
So, our honeymoon came and went and it was amazing. I’ll have to write more specifically on that another time, but for now, I’ll just say that going once wasn’t enough and we were instantly craving another trip. In summer of 2016, we started planning our Italy trip for 2017. We knew for sure Rome and the Amalfi Coast were first priority, and were going back and forth on whether we should visit Florence or Venice. We didn’t want to cram too many locations in 10 days. Hearing our discussion, my mom (who never before showed any interest in visiting Europe ) mentioned how nice our trip sounded. I asked her for the 10th time in my life if she’d ever want to go. To my shock, she said of course, that it would be a dream. Any time I’d ever asked her before, she’d say that it was too far and she hates flying anyway. So in private, I asked Chris how he would feel if we invited my mom on our trip. He had no problem with it so we asked her together if she’d want to join us and she said yes, but she wasn’t sure. Soon after, I remember having lunch with her and my grandpa and she mentioned it to him. He told her that she absolutely had to go and was crazy for deliberating over it. That gave her the push she needed. After that, my aunt and cousin found out we were going and showed similar interest. We extended the invitation, and our trip for two became a family event!
I’d started following travel deals online hoping to find a great flight deal to Italy because flights to Europe are typically over a thousand per person. One day I saw a flight deal to Rome for just under $500! We wanted to go in June, but the dates for the deal were for April and early May. I immediately called Chris at work and we talked about it but were too nervous to make a decision so quickly. When planning our London/Paris trip, I never once saw a flight less than $1,200 so I was worried that I was missing the fine print. We decided we’d do more research and talk again when he got home from work. When we looked again that night, the deal was gone but there were still flights available at a decent discount. By that point, I had done my due diligence and knew that I had missed out on a rare opportunity. We didn’t want to miss out again so we decided to book right then and there. The best deal flew into Venice and out of Naples, so that settled it. Venice won out over Florence. Just like that. We also had to make sure my mom was ok with the dates, because the latest we could fly out while keeping the price we wanted locked, was the day before her birthday. Less than six months later, we landed in Venice on her birthday.
In the time before our trip, I listened to podcasts on Italian for traveling. I made flash cards with basic words and phrases, and I read blog after blog about what to pack and wear and what not to miss. We upgraded our seats to Delta Plus so we’d get seats closer to the front with assigned storage above our seats to give us a head start on making our connecting flight. Which leads me to my tip #1:
Don’t check a bag on the way in.
It’s been seven years since I’ve last checked a bag and had it lost. Never again. That’s reason enough. We’ve packed for 10 days in London/Paris and 10 days in Italy, and each time, Chris and I have only packed a carry-on each and a personal bag for under the seat. The first trip was in June and the second in May, so granted, we weren’t taking coats. I’m cold in less than 70 degrees so I only ever want to travel in warm weather anyway. So if you’re traveling in the summer, it can be done. Both times, we booked an Airbnb with a washer and dryer and packed flexible clothing options that can be paired and mixed. You only need two pairs of comfortable shoes. Wear the clunkier pair on the plane. Buy travel sized everything. I promise, you can do it. Oh! Biggest reason? So you’re not carrying around a giant suitcase on and off trains and up countless flights of stairs. If you’re staying somewhere ritzy and will be tipping bellboys to carry your luggage everywhere you go, by all means, pack your closet. But we don’t got it like that.
Make an effort to learn the language
If you stick to major tourism-driven cities like Rome, Venice, Milan and Florence, I’m sure you can get away with not knowing a lick of Italian, but why? I feel that it’s only respectful to at least try. Secondly, for your own safety and ease of travel. It was so nice getting on the metro and knowing that “uscita” means exit, so I knew where to go. When we were in Vatican City, none of us could figure out how to get to the Vatican Museum from St. Peter’s so I approached a couple of nuns and asked them in Italian which direction we’d need to go. They told me and I understood, because I put the following words on my flash cards: “mi scusi” (excuse me) “dove” (where is) “dritto” (straight) “destra” (right) and “sinistra” left. “Gratzie” (thank you) and “per favore” (please) are also important to know. And guess what? It’s not pronounced “grot-see.” ;)
Learn to count to at least five: “uno, due, tre, quattro, cinque” so you can tell a hostess how many seats you’ll need for your reservation (“prenotazione”) or table (“tavola.”) If you’re traveling by train, “tren,” “binario” (platform) and “biglietti” (ticket) are good words to know. Learning some new vocab words was fun for me. If you’re fluent in Spanish, you’ll catch on very easily.
Planning aside, it was finally time for our trip. We arranged to be at the airport two hours in advance, but sadly our flight was delayed. This meant that we wouldn’t catch our connection and we’d have to scramble to be put on another flight. We did, but we’d have to give up the Delta Plus upgrade we previously paid for. We got refunded for it eventually, so that was fine but I had to sit next to a stranger across the aisle from Chris, who sat in a center row with the rest of my family. I always look forward to holding his hand as we take off and cuddling on him for mid-flight naps so I was sad. FYI, I know I sound ridiculous. We were only separated by 18 inches of aisle space, but still. I missed him. On the upside, our new flight connected in Paris so best believe I raced over to an airport bakery for a pain au chocolat. The biggest thing I miss about Paris. Anyway, the getting there part wasn’t great. It took forevvvvver but I’d do it again.
Our delay cut into our Venice time. Instead of arriving late morning, we arrived late afternoon and the weather was drizzly. We landed at the airport and caught a water taxi to take us closer to our Airbnb. It let us off by the Rialto Bridge and it turns out, our rental was on the other side of the water so we had to trek our luggage up and across in the light rain. The Rialto Bridge is gorgeous and I’m obsessed with marble-everything in Italy, but I was too nervous about slipping and falling to my death to take photos. My mom and aunt oohed and ahhed while my cousin, Chris and I tried to navigate through the many twisty-turny cobblestoned streets. Those beautiful roads are another reason you want to pack light. It’s not fun pulling a suitcase on cobblestone streets. We eventually found our place and unloaded our stuff before heading out for dinner. At this point, I did take my camera out. The light was fading and the streets were wet. It was straight-out-of-a-movie level picturesque. Adorable. We were sleep deprived and damp, but I think we all instantly loved Venice. We had dinner and tiramisu for a tiny birthday celebration and then dragged ourselves back to the apartment, half delirious.
The view from our apartment was beautiful. Chris and I set our GoPro on the window sill at the crack of dawn just to see what we’d get. The night before, we stopped at a bakery and picked up some breakfast pastries so we had those in the morning before heading out to St. Mark’s Square to catch a water taxi over to Burano.
Burano! Our friends Gavin and Maddie told us that we could not miss Burano, that we’d love it, and they were so right. We took a water taxi over to the little island and the further and further we walked, the more excited I got. At every twist and turn was another alleyway of gorgeous painted buildings. I couldn’t get enough. And the sun was out! What a perfect day in such a special little place. When I remember it, I picture sunshine and remember feeling happy. I should have taken more photos of it but I think I was too busy just taking it in and enjoying being there.
Later on our trip, someone mentioned Venice again and I think the consensus on why we all loved it so much was the lack of cars. You have to get everywhere by foot or boat and that made it a more peaceful respite from our everyday lives. Before our trip, I read over and over again how crowded and touristy Venice is and how much the locals hate tourists. Maybe we were just lucky or there at the right time, but that wasn’t our experience. We didn’t have the place to ourselves. There were crowds but not in overwhelming numbers. I was also encouraged to just get lost in the streets. I’m a planner so I didn’t want to take that advice, but we kind of did anyway. We couldn’t help getting lost and we just took that as part of the experience. We found pretty things to look at no matter where we were so no complaints here.
On our last night we took a gondola ride. I don’t care if it’s cheesy. I couldn’t not do it. :D All in all, Venice and I are good. I’d visit again. The next morning we took a train to Rome, which will get its own post later. :)