The Floating City of Venice

Welcome to one of the most romantic cities in the world! Home of the gondola and famous for its canal structure, Venice is truly unique in the world despite many countries attempting to copy the ambience.

If you arrived here by train (which I assume so as this is the easiest way to get to Venice) you’ll find yourself at Santa Lucia station which opens out onto the famous Grand Canal. This is on the north west side of Venice which is the opposite side to St Mark’s Square. We actually decided to day trip here from Milan as it is quite cheap to do so. Weather wise it is very similar to Milan however you do get some slight changes due it being a coastal area.

Getting around Venice can be done a few ways. The most obvious is by walking! Walking around Venice is just spectacular due to the narrow winding paths, the old buildings and the amazing little restaurants and stores dotted about. The second is taking the water bus (or vaporetto) which functions the same way a bus would but uses the canals and stops at various points around Venice. This can take around 30 mins to get from one end of Venice to the other and costs around €7 but you will get a great view of the city from the Canal; passing a lot of the main sites. You can get this just outside the station and go straight to the St Marks square.

A third option is a traghetti which only takes you across the Grand Canal but can be very useful if the nearest bridge is quite far away and you plan on going the other direction. They cost around €1 so a good option if you are a bit tired!

The main spot you’ll want to head to is St. Mark’s Square which is the most famous part of Venice. This is where the Doge Palace, Saint Mark’s Basilica and St Mark’s Campanile (the large tower you will see in a lot of pictures). This is a very popular area which is lined with stores and cafes. They are typically more expensive than the rest and there is no sitting allowed in this square. There are very few seats in Venice so you will likely get tired unless you are a hiking pro so remember to pop into a café if it gets too much. This area is very liable to flood (it is a floating city after all) but it is hard to predict when this might happen. Assume a summer season is dry and you should be fine! A great place, if you have the cash, is Caffè Florian which is famous for having celebrities like Andy Warhol eat here.

One thing to note is if you intend on sitting outside in the square by one of the cafes you will get a large charge on your bill for the privilege! A good idea is to walk a street or two over and get something from a nearby café / restaurant as it will save you a lot of money.

Nearby to St Marks Square is the most popular place to rent a Gondola and let’s face it, that is something everyone wants to do! A good tip is not to rent a Gondola here. It is a very big tourist trap here and the prices are very high for the time you get (they vary depending on which dock you go to along this section so I won’t list exact prices but can be upwards of €100 easily). If you head further along the “coastline” you can find Gondola stations which are independent and can save you a lot of money or give you a longer ride for the same amount! Taking one of these is a must even for the cost as it really is a magical way to see Venice especially in good weather. Canals here also light up around dusk so you may want to consider this.

If you head further along the “coastline” you can find Gondola stations which are independent and can save you a lot of money or give you a longer ride for the same amount!

If you have less cash to spend then try visiting the Castello area. This is a much calmer area about 15 mins from St Marks Square but is cheaper and has more independent owners. As we came here on a day trip we decided to spend the time walking around the area as Venice really is a romantic place to visit. The only downside to Venice is the lack of Italians! Another site to tick off is Rialto bridge which often has food markets lining the shore.

For those with more time I would recommend Burano island. With all the coloured buildings it has a little Amsterdam vibe to it and we would have visited if we had the time. It takes around 40 mins to get there from Venice using one of the vaporetto.

Enjoy this stunning city and, if you can, spend more time here than we did and tell us all about it!

Other things you can do include

  • Murano – An island similar to Venice which is famous for glass making. Less busy then it’s bigger sister.
  • Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute which is the building opposite to St Marks Square
  • Torcello island is a less populated destination with a lot more greenery to admire.

The Fashion Capital of Milan

Welcome to Milan. Home of the famous Duomo and (some say arguably) the fashion capital of the world.

Where we stayed: As this was my second visit to Milan we stayed in the same hotel I did on my first visit. This was the Da Vinci Hotel which is a 4 star hotel on the outskirts of Milan. Due to the location the hotel is actually very well priced for Milan and is right next to the Milano Bruzzano Parco Nord which is the last stop on the city boundary for the train. This means the Milan 24 hour train ticket applies which costs only €4.5 for the 24 hours and can be used as many times as you like in that time. They also have a 48 hours ticket. This is quite good if you don’t expect to be in the city past midnight as the trains frequency starts to slow down. Often at night only the over-street trams run excluding times between 2-4am however they do not have the best reputation.

Weather: Arriving here at the start of October the weather had begun to change seasons. Especially since we travelled north from Rome. Milan is very close to the mountainous border with Switzerland so temperatures here are colder than the rest of Italy. Even though this is the case the temperature was still in the highs of 20°C and lows of 8°C through the night. There was some rain in this time but it was mostly overcast. It is often the end of October when the temperature really drops and the rain sets in for winter. Weather here doesn’t change much until April when the summer starts to arrive. One thing to note is in Italy it is very rare for it to snow here.

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

First thing I would like to mention is we used Milan as a home base to travel to other areas of Italy such as Venice, Verona, and Como. Train transport in Milan is very good and tickets are very cheap with quite short travel times (Venice being 2.5 hours). For our first day, after having an amazing breakfast, we decided to go straight to the centre and see the Duomo. Famous for being made of marble with the gold Madonnina at the top, it is the largest church in Italy (with the Vatican City being a separate country) and 4th largest in the world. It’s an incredible building both inside and out and you can buy a ticket to get to the top of the cathedral to see the Madonnina closer up. The views of Milan up here are not that great however, due to all the spires and taller buildings nearby.

BE CAREFUL OF THE LUCKY LEG: On the door of the cathedral you can see a section like the image below. Italians say rubbing the left leg of Christ will bring you good luck. However, note the other mans leg is also showing the brass underneath. This is where uninformed tourists rub the leg of the soldier who is beating Jesus with a club. MAKE SURE YOU GET THE RIGHT LEG OR YOU'LL HAVE AN AWKWARD PICTURE!!
Door of the Duomo Milano.
Fun fact the Madonnina is to remain at the highest point in all of Milan. Once skyscrapers were built they created smaller replicas of this statue to sit on the top so that she would always remain at the highest point.

Nearby to the Duomo is a very amazing place called Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II which is a prestigious mall housing some high brand stores and restaurants. Every store here must have a black background with gold lettering and at the top of this building is one of the very few hotels in the world which have a 7 star rating! President Obama actually stayed in this hotel on one of his presidential visits. You can see it in the image further up. There are also symbols in the centre representing different cities and the bull (which represents Turin) is said to bring luck and fertility if you place your heel on the bulls testicles and spin 3 times. A great little restaurant here is Restaurant Savini which is one of the oldest restaurants in Milan and has some great food but can be expensive. There is also a Da Vinci statue just outside the Galleria and a Da Vinci exhibit inside but we didn’t go into this as the Da Vinci science museum is exceptional.

Cheesecake from Restaurant Savini.

Something worth seeing is Da Vinci’s Last Supper. This is housed in Santa Maria Delle Grazie which was actually a monastery for monks. It can be very difficult to book tickets to see it in advance as only 15 people are allowed in at a time. If you prefer you can get a tour which will avoid the queues and plan your visit for you. They will also tell you some history about the painting such as why the centre of the painting has a section missing. Nearby is also the Sforzesco Castle which is a large fortress in the city centre with a huge park behind. There are often a lot of musicians and performers here but beware of the people holding bands of string as they are con artists who will try to tie it to your wrist and then demand money after. The castle houses one of the sculptures of Michelangelo and an excellent Egyptian museum which is worth a visit if you are interested in history. If you are a fan of the Arc de Triomphe there is also the Arco della Pace which was designed at the request of Napoleon and shares many of the same traits. The area around the arch is often used as event space so there may be an event here depending on when you visit.

The Santa Maria Dell Grazie also has another surprise! If you head around the side of the building there is a little gate which is my favourite spot in all of Milan. You can see a bit of this small garden below.

If you are a fan of Opera or dance it may be worth a stop by the Teatro alla Scala. One of the best theatres to visit and you can only enter the inside by seeing a show as there are no tours for the theatre room. For fans of aperol spritz you can taste the place where Campari was invented at Camparino. Another great place is the Pinacoteca di Brera which is a very popular art gallery however we didn’t visit as the queue to go inside was huge (over certain holidays all museums in Milan become free such as Easter which makes lines very long).

Inside the Duomo

One thing I recommend if you are a fan of science, Da Vinci or have children is to visit the Leonardo da Vinci National Museum of Science and Technology. There are a lot of interesting things in this museum such as original ideas from Da Vinci but also a huge room filled with airplanes, boats etc all life size.

This is everything major that I can tell you about Milan! Most importantly remember to walk around the side streets here as there are so many interesting places hiding in every corner. Also, visit the Jollibee!

The Beauty of Rome

So you are thinking of going to Italy? Well, welcome to the stunning capital of Rome!

Where we stayed: We spent a few days here at the start of September 2018 and stayed on a side street along Via Cipro which is near Vatican city. We chose an Airbnb for this as it is cheaper than the hotels in the main city and the area is on the outskirts which kept the cost down. Rome is also quite large and public transport is not the best. Train stations are around the outskirts of the city, and quite far away from the centre, and buses are not always on time. This area is very close to Cipro station which allows much easier access to the big tourist spots.

Via Cipro is also near a great place called Bonci Pizzarium which is very popular for some of the best Pizza in Rome.

Weather: Around September the weather was still high from the summer. Highs reaching 30°C with lows around 23°C. This can feel hotter than this due to the lack of shade in the city centre due to the wide streets and plazas. This weather lasts from end of May to end of September. Outside of these months the temperature doesn’t get very cold aside from December / January.

View from top of Saint Peters Basilica

We started with the closest spot to where we stayed which was Vatican city. Since we were within walking distance we were able to go very early morning. There was no one here early morning which makes it a great time to get some good shots or just admire the city without the tourists. The plaza gets busy around 11am onwards so try to get here early. This will also work in your favour if you plan on going up Saint Peters Basilica (which I recommend!) as the path near the top of the dome gets very narrow and the ceiling slopes over. Not the best place to be in a crowd! As a benefit to the long climb you’ll get some amazing views of Rome including the classic pictures above. You’ll also be able to see the great Castel Sant’Angelo at the end of St Peters Square up here. We visited the Castel however didn’t go in as museums are not so much our thing. The building alone from the outside is very impressive and as it was used as a fortress it certainly makes you feel small!

Vatican City

A great place to eat near here is RIONE XIV Bistro which is close to the Castel and is a very small restaurant but all the pasta here is made fresh each morning so really makes a great place to taste some great Italian pasta.

From the Castel Sant’Angelo we walked over to the Spanish Steps. This is quite a walk however there are no really good transport links from this area. You will find you will walk a lot in Rome so be prepared shoe wise and check the weather before you leave. Heatstroke here can come very quick if you aren’t prepared. Something we enjoyed more than the Spanish steps was the Villa Borghese which is nearby. Still home to the Borghese family, the total grounds actually encompasses an area larger than Vatican City. This is a very beautiful place and actually based around an English garden. It is also very historic to Rome as the Borghese family were once one of the most powerful families in Rome and the Villa was once the home of the upper classes with many parties being held here.

For those who are on a Hard Rock café exploration this is also located near the Spanish Steps.

Next day we made the trip to the world famous Colosseum and Palatine Hill. A good tip is to pre-book tickets for both of these as you can get good bundles online on places like Viator. I would recommend you spend a day here as there is a lot to see especially if you do a tour of the Colosseum. We chose to see only the general Colosseum as you have to book a tour in order to see the below stage and upper most area. Palatine Hill can take a full afternoon as the place is quite large and there is a lot of information packed in here for those who are interested in history. If it is a sunny hot day bring a hat / umbrella (good tip from Asia) and a lot of water as it is an open area with very little shade.

To follow from this day we decided to explore and see the remaining part of Rome right in the city centre. This is popular for the location of Fontana di Trevi and the Pantheon. For the fountain I definitely recommend coming twice; once in the day and once at night as the fountain changes massively when it gets lit up at night. It gets very busy here almost 24/7 so expect a very big crowd. You can’t come to Rome without making a wish at the fountain! The Pantheon is about 5-10 minutes walk from the fountain. One of the best preserved ancient buildings in Rome but is actually not the original. Originally designed around 30BC but burnt down, this version is still almost 2000 years old. Since it has been in almost constant use since then it has remained in excellent condition and stepping inside is truly a marvel. We also stopped by Gianicolo which is the highest point and Rome and a good place to stop by to see the highest viewpoint of this amazing city.

Nearby to the Pantheon is Antigua Tazzadoro La Casa del Caffè which is a great coffee shop to stop by and grab a pastry.

If you are now on your way to Rome have a great adventure! Most importantly… TRY THE GELATO!!

Other thing you can do while in Rome:

  • Visit the Musei Vaticani and Cappella Sistina below the Vatican City but remember to book in advance!
  • Domus Aurea. Emperor Nero’s impressive house. Currently under construction but you can take a weekend tour.
  • See an opera or dance show at Teatro dell’Opera
  • Grab food at the Testaccio Market.
  • Galleria Colonna. A private palace turned art gallery. Frankly the building artwork alone is worth a visit!