Monday, December 29, 2014

Italy Trip - Part 1 - Before the trip!



The year is closing, so I'm gonna post up my trip to Italy before 2015 comes!

My very first EURO Trip! 10D8N in Italy :)

Me and Hazel, in front of the Roman Forum

So yes, I’ve not been blogging lately (lately as in a year). I think its because Im not usually on the PC, but I’ve been very active in Instagram.

Anyway back to the point. 

2014 was awesome, not only was I wedded to the love of my life (cheesy much?lol), I won an all-expense paid trip! It was a selfie contest organized by a Korean restaurant that I’ve joined along with my bestie Hazel, the first prize being a trip to Korea for 2. 

We won! the prize was actually a cash warrant (sorta like a redeemable voucher) from a travel agency. The agency informed me that not only Korea was our option; we could opt to travel to any country. The cash warrant we won can be traded for airline tickets (Any airlines except low cost carriers), hotel accommodation, tours and such.

I immediately called up Hazel and ask where she felt like visiting and she said 'Venice' without hesitation! (Not that we don’t wanna go to Korea, but it was the end of the year and Korea's super cold in winter time!)  So I, who love to hunt for cheaper prices and maximize use for our cash warrant, spent a few weeks researching and researching and researching. I think I annoyed the travel agent, (who was very friendly and accommodating), cuz I kept bombarding her with questions and enquiries.

It was gonna be my first time in Europe too! Imagine my excitement and anticipation!
BTW We visited Rome, Florence, Pisa, Venice and Verona


TIPS AND GUIDES

Here are some tips from a 22 year old Malaysian girl, attempting to brave Italian soil with her bestie without any tour guides, and relying heavily on a WIFI device and a smartphone!
Note: Im not a Italian expert, just someone who did major research, sharing my experiences and advice!



The weather/season 
- We were in Italy during the end of November and early December. It was winter and very chilly, but it doesn't snow there. ( I read somewhere that sometimes it does?)


Remember to bundle up!

 I think being there during winter was great because of the lesser crowds as compared to Summer time in July. We literally breezed through the Vatican museum without queuing up! Normally queues are so long, like the picture below 

Vatican Museum queue during summer


Accomodation
-         Since we were mostly travelling by trains especially between cities, pulling and dragging our luggage behind us is a hassle. Ive made use of sites such as Booking.com, Expedia and Virtual Tourist to list down hotels that are within 10 minutes distance from the train station, within reasonable budget and has good working WIFI. I also read tourist review on each hotels.


Internet Connection
-         Even though I booked hotels with free WIFI, wifi on the go was also very essential. We need it for google maps, checking bus schedule and… Instagramming/Facebooking lol lol.



Witourist Wifi hotspot, you can connect your phone to it and voila! Youre connected on the go.. (forgotten to take pic of device)

 I’ve rented a portable wifi device from a company called Witourist. They are so awesome and professional! They deliver the portable device to your hotel in the morning and they collect the device when you’re leaving, even if you’ve gone to a different city for the next stay. Wiitourist delivered my device in Rome and collected it when I was in Venice. Click here for more info!

(We initally got the 2 euro plan...but guys, its definitely not enough. So we upgraded to the 3 euro a day plan, which witourist kindly exchanged the device the next day. Oh and battery dies quickly, remember to bring a powerbank to charge both the hotspot and your smartphone!)




  Pre-Booking for trains
There are two types of trains that go from city to city in Italy (ok Ive narrowed it down myself lol lol). Basically one is called regional train, and the other is high speed train.

Regional train is cheaper with a standard price of 8 euros, we’ve taken it for one day trips such as to Pisa from Florence and to Verona from Venice. Unlike high speed trains, regional train makes many stops on the way. There are no seats allocated so you can choose from any. There is no wifi on board, and the public toilets sometimes stink. However they are cost effective, so as said, I recommend taking regional trains if you’ve decided on a day trip where you’re not carrying any heavy luggage! You cannot prebook regional train ticket online until 7 days before the date, you cannot even check the schedule before that. IDK~~ Anyway just buy them from the train station or some Tabacchi stand!
Remember to validate the tickets on the validating machines, there are green in color and you can spot them on the walls near the railway.

Validating machine

High Speed train such as Italo, FrecciaRossa and others are more expensive but they offer comfortable seats and no stops along the way to your destinations. I highly recommend them if you’ve got heavy luggage! And they have free wifi also.

Comfy seats inside Italo

Make sure to prebook high speed train tickets in advanced for a cheaper rate, you may refer to websites such as http://www.italiarail.com/, or http://www.raileurope-asean.com/train-tickets/train-tickets/


The earlier you book, the cheaper the rates are. I completely missed out a deal on a train ride from Rome to Florence, which was only 14euro when I first searched. I thought of buying later but it became 21 euros a few weeks later! 

Tourist Spots 
I only prebooked the Colosseum ticket which includes entry to the Palatine Hill and Roman forum, here in this website. Other places,we bought tickets on site. However if youre travelling there during summer, I would suggest booking tickets to the Vatican, Uffizi..etc in advanced! You wouldn't want to stand in line for hours!

There are just too many places to visit in Italy, so handpick those that youre interested in. As for me and Hazel, we arent into artsy stuff so we decided to cut off Uffizi after strolling through the Vatican. (Dont bash me on this.. lol, we're just not into it!) We like visiting ancient buildings and scenic places more, and of course taking pictures are more of a priority haha.

When I say pictures, I mean pictures like this! Oh the mighty marvel of Rome - the Colosseum!





Transport
Other than the intercity train rides, we travelled on foot most of the time! The only exception was Rome where we took buses/Metro when we felt tired. A 60 minute unlimited bus ride costs 1.50 Euro, and is valid for a single Metro/Tram ride. I would say public transport in Rome is super easy to understand, direct and no fuss at all~ Florence and the other places we went are really entirely walkable~

Please bring a good pair of walking shoes. I mean, seriously. Even when its winter, and you really wanna look good and fashionable in leather boots.. Don’t wear heels because the cobbled streets will kill you… Lol. I can never understand how those Roman women do it, strutting down the uneven road with cigarette thin heeled boots. 

Random cobbled street (source google~)
Food and Spendings
I must confess. I came to Italy expecting to gorge myself silly with pastas, lasagnes and heavenly pizzas. But a few dishes of these seemingly 'authentic' Italian dish, I got so very disappointed.  Bel Pasto in Kepong has better pastas than the places Ive been to! And no, I did not go to any random tourist trap kinda restaurants, they were meticulously researched by me and were popular with locals. Uggh I rememberd how bland the carbonara was, it was dry with dry bacon and dry scrambled eggs. gahhh.

So guess what? We hunted for chinese food in the end because rice steamer us (chinese term to call someone who loves rice) craved for sweet and sour chicken and fried rice. lol lol lol. So much for delighting myself in yummy Italian food.

Aaannyway, the total cost of transport, spendings (minimal shopping) and food came up to rm 2000. I dont know if this is a good figure, but for 10 days I would say pretty snazzy! Lol. This really depends on how you eat and what you buy. 



There's nothing else I can think of now, I would repost from time to time if i ever remember something. Language barrier isnt an issue here as it is a highly toursity place so those who are in the touristy line can speak good english! I'm off to write my adventure now~~