• Travel Stories
  • Florence: Italy’s City of Art and Gelato

    Ciao! After my visit to Rome, Florence was my second stop in Italy. Florence is the capital city of Tuscany. Florence, just like Rome was spectacular.Though the city is populous, I fell in love with the place from the moment I arrived. The architecture and the winding alleys make it irresistible. It is an Italian city known for its art and history. You can see art on every corner. No wonder, Florence will give you numerous reasons to visit its magnificent sites.

    What more great is that most of the attractions are free and food are cheap. From Rome, I took a train going to Florence.  The average journey time is 1 hour and 30 minutes. I bought my train tickets online, weeks before my trip. You can check Italo or Trenitalia to book train tickets. I booked my Rome to Florence ticket through Italo that costs 20 EURO/ 23 USD/ 9 OMR/ 1,199 PHP. It is cheaper to book in advance through online.

    Italo Train

     

    Where to Stay

    Florence is full of hostels, hotels, and Airbnb. You can see a lot of places to stay. I stayed at Emerald Palace. The name may sound grandiose but it a hostel located in the heart of Florence. I stayed in a room with other three travelers. The accommodation was 600meters away from Firenze Santa Maria Novella Train Station. I walked from the station to the property. I paid 144 EURO/ 169 USD/ 65 OMR / 8,636 PHP for a 4-night stay. It was my first time to stay in a hostel and to tell you honestly; I didn’t know what to expect. Surprisingly, I liked it. The room is enormous and clean. There is a private toilet inside the room.The only catch, I didn’t know that the hostel is on the 2nd and 3rd floor of the building without elevator. But the staff was accommodating in carrying my luggage. Staying in a hostel is a great choice if you want to save money on your trip. Plus you meet a lot of other travelers on your trip. Book your stay through booking.com


    Booking.com

    Emerald Palace BnB Dining Area

    Getting Around

    Florence is a small town. It is even smaller than Rome. It is best to go around by foot. A map will be very useful to stroll around the place. Make sure to ask a map from the tourist information office or to the place you are staying. The staff at Emerald’s place were very helpful and informative in telling which places to go.

     

    Small winding alleys of Florence

    Things to do:

    This town has an amazing culture, history, and art. There are markets, garden and museums to explore.If you have limited time just like when I had my trip, here are the list of sights and things to do in Florence. I like traveling at my own pace and doing the things that I truly enjoy. Personally, I enjoy going to the main attractions, eating and going to the supermarkets. So even I am delivering my must-see you are always free to tailor your itinerary based on your needs.

    1. Explore Il Duomo Firenze

    This church known as Santa Maria del Fiore is a must-see in Florence. It is one of the landmarks of the city. The exterior is magnificent. It is indescribable. It has one of the churches that I had seen with a unique appearance.  It is free to view but expect a long line in getting in.

    Look at the details!
    The exterior of the Duomo is one of a kind!

    2. See David at Academia Gallery

    David is one of the famous sculptures in the world by Michaelangelo.  It is one of the must do in the city. I wasn’t interested at first but when I saw the masterpiece in real, no doubt a lot of people would want to have a glimpse of the piece. It is big and very detailed. The entrance fee is 12.5 EURO/ 14 USD/ 5 OMR/ 750 PHP.

    The famous ” David” of Michaelangelo
    There are a lot of arts to check aside from the David at Academia Gallery.

    3. Eat at Mercato Centrale

    Mercato Centrale, the most famous market in Florence is also called Mercato de San Lorenzo. The first floor has all the kind of high quality of fresh fruits, vegetables, cheese, and meat.

    The second floor is with many food stands. It offers a lot of Florentine dishes. I tried Lampredotto which is a must try at this place.  Lampredotto is a local dish made from the stomach of a cow and topped with salsa and spicy extra virgin olive oil. Just be prepared to eat standing or a stool especially to the popular stand famous for local cuisine.

    Ground area of Mercato Centrale
    The food court at Mercato Centrale.
    Lampredotto, local food from Florence. Try it at Nerbone stall located on the first floor of Mercato Centrale. There is a long queue at this stall but it’s all worth it!
    These are the people lining up for the lampredotto!
    Pizza, antipasto and a drink!

    4. Stroll around Piazza della Signoria

    Piazza della Signoria is a piazza filled with sculptures. A replica of David and Fountain of Neptune can be found at this open square. In the plaza, there are a high number of restaurants and bars where people can enjoy.

    It can be crowded at the square.

    5. Visit Piazza de Michaelangelo

    To get a superb panoramic view of the town, Piazza de Michaelangelo is the place to be. The piazza is dedicated to the city’s most famous artist Michaelangelo. You can see a copy of Michaelangelo’s works like David and the Medici chapel. It is a bit challenging to climb going up to this place, but it is all worth it. You can get a clear view of a number of the city’s prominent landmarks like Duomo and Palazzo Vecchio. During the night, there is live music and it a great place to chill out.

    On the way up to the Piazza.
    The view from Piazza del Michaelangelo.

    6. Eat Gelato

    Eating gelato in Florence is one thing you should do. It is the birthplace of this dense Italian ice cream. The great challenge is finding the best gelato in the town. I asked the locals for recommendations and the top picks are gelato from Vivoli, Gelateria Perche No, and Gelateria dei Neri

    Gelato from Gelateria dei Neri
    Even a baby can get enough of the gelato!

    7. Walk along Ponte Vecchio

    Ponte Vecchio is the oldest and most photographed bridge in the city. It joins the center of Florence with the district of Oltrarno on the river Arno. The bridge is famous for jewelry shops built along it.


     

    Live music at Ponte Vecchio
    Enjoy a beer by the river

    Tips:

    1. It is advisable to be early when visiting museums. Museums can be crowded.
    2. Watch out for your stuff when walking around.
    3. Food is cheap. You can get pizza and pasta for reasonable prices. But learn how to avoid tourist traps where food can be costly and of poor quality. You can have a good meal for 10-15 EURO/ 11-17 USD/ 4.5- 6.7 OMR/ 600-900 PHP. When I was there, I avoid eating on the main square where the waiters are handling flyers and getting pushy to get you in. For a cheaper option, you can eat panino (sandwich). The local delicacy lampredotto costs 3.5 EURO/4 USD/ 1.5 EURO/ 210PHP including water. You can also buy food at the local supermarket.
      People love to eat good food.

      People are falling in line for food if it is taste yummy!
    4. Public transportation isn’t necessary for Florence. Explore the town by foot. It is one of the places I visited where the main attractions are not so far from each other. Just make sure to have a map.
    5. Learn few words of Italian like ciao (hello), please (per favore) and grazie (thank you).

     

    View from Giardino delle Rose

     

    Is Florence the city you want to visit? What’re the things you want to do? Share in the comments below. 

     

  • Travel Stories
  • When in Rome, Italy : Eat, Pray, and Wander

    Italy is one of my dream destinations in Europe. After my trip to Switzerland, I headed to Italy for a 10-day visit. I decided to choose three cities to explore in Italy. First stop was Rome.

    Rome is one of the most popular places to go in Italy. It is considered one of the most historic and probably one of the romantic places to be. A place filled with history, culture, adventure, and food to explore. From charming views, ruins, fountains, parks to great food, there is so much to do and see that an entire week wouldn’t be enough. However, if you plan to visit Rome for a short time, I recommend three days of stay in the beautiful city. Though Rome is a big city, the historical places are near to each other. But to make things easy for yourself, plan and research sights, tours, and food to try.

     

    I went to Italy last April. The month of April and May is the high season to visit Rome. The weather was gorgeous. It wasn’t so cold or hot. It was perfect to go around, but the only thing is high reason comes with a high price for the hotel, tour and more tourists in the city.

     

    Where to Stay

    There are wide choices of accommodation. From a five star hotel to share a room in a hostel, you can take a pick. I stayed in a budget hotel and spent 153 EURO/178 USD/ 68 OMR/ 9,000 PHP for my 3-day stay. It is a small room with a private toilet and breakfast was included.It wasn’t extravagant but just enough to what I need.

    I stayed near Roma Termini Station

     

    The neighborhood where I stayed in Rome

     

    Buffet breakfast at the hotel; unlimited coffee, juices and pastries

    I split up the sights into three days. I spent my first day in the Vatican City and Trastevere neighborhood. Day 2 was for seeing the Colosseum, Roman Forum and the Palatine Hills. Day 3 for exploring the heart of the city such as the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon and Piazza Navona.

     

    Getting Around

    There are lots of public transport options in Rome. There are buses, trams, taxis, and trains. You can choose from single tickets or travel passes valid for 1,3,5 or 7 days. I purchased 72 hours (3 days) Roma Pass that costs 38.5 EURO/ 45 USD /17.5 OMR/ 2,295 PHP. It includes metro, buses, and tram within the city boundaries. It also gives two free admissions to all national and city museums in Rome and discounts to other covered sites. You can purchase it online, museums and PIT (Tourist Information Points), ATAC – Subway ticket office and Trenitalia Ticket Offices. However, it should be noted that the Roma Pass does not include travel to the airports. I find it convenient to go around by riding any public transportation available, especially at night with the use of Roma Pass. But if you don’t mind walking and you want to save a little money, the best way is to go around by foot.

    I bought a bus ticket at the airport going to the city. A one way ticket costs 5.90 EURO/ 6.9 USD/ 2.6 OMR/ 350 PHP

    First Day:

    The Vatican (Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica)

    I decided to check first the world’s smallest city state. It is a dream come true having visited the headquarter of the Roman Catholic Church. The three spots not be missed are the Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel, and the St. Peter’s Basilica. Vatican Museum has an amazing collection of Christian, classical and Renaissance art masterpieces. It contains roughly around 70,000 artworks. Sistine Chapel with its ceiling decorated by Michaelangelo was incomparable. Seeing the painting for the first time made me realized, he is truly one of the greatest artists of all time.  St. Peter’s Basilica as the largest church in the world will mesmerize you. The church has a great architectural design. Inside the church is where the tomb of St Peter which is the first Pope and Michaelangelo’s Pieta and Bernini’s altarpiece Baldacchino. I suggest exploring the site with a professional tour guide. I’d seen a long queue going inside the Vatican City.  When I went there,  everything went out smoothly with the help of our tour guide. I spent 54.7 EURO/ 64 USD/ 24 OMR/ 3,249 PHP for the ticket ( Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s).

     

    Entrance at the Vatican Museum

     

    Inside the Vatican Museum

     

    St. Peter’s Basilica

     

    Swiss guards at the Vatican

    If you are lucky, you might attend the Papal Audience when you visit the Vatican City. The Pope holds Papal Audience on most Wednesdays at 10 am. I met few Filipinos on my travel and encouraged me to attend. It ended up to be one of my favorite experiences in my whole trip to Europe.

     

    When I woke up as early as 5 am to have this view!
    An opening parade before the prayer and homily at the Vatican

     

    Trastevere

    Enjoy the lovely nightlife in Trastevere. Stroll around the winding alleys filled with restaurants, cafes, bars, and pizzerias. Trastevere is a popular place for the locals. It is a highly recommended place to try for an authentic Italian meal. I tried the rigatoni with pajata ( intestine of veal or lamb) which is a local Roman delicacy. A cocktail glass of limoncello after the dinner is one of the things to do in Trastevere while watching the people around.

     

    Small winding alleys at Trastevere
    Trattoria in Trastevere, one of the best places to try local food. I tried Rigatoni Pajata at this place!
    Trastevere at night
    I can eat pasta every day!

    Second Day:

    Ancient Rome (Colosseum, Roman Forum, and Palatine Hills)

    Colosseum is probably the thing that first comes to the mind of people about Rome.The Colosseum, one of the famous sights in Italy is not to be missed. Opened in 80 AD; the Colosseum is the largest amphitheater ever built.  Nearby, check the Arch of Constantine which was built to commemorate Constantine victory at the battle in 312.Adjacent to the Colosseum is the Roman Forum and Palatine Hills which is the center of Ancient Rome.

     

    The Colosseum
    Inside structure of the Colosseum
    Arch of Constantine

    You can buy a joint ticket for Colosseum, Palatine Hill and Roman Forum that costs 12 Euros/14 USD/5 OMR/715 PHP that gives you access to the three sites. Not everyone is aware of it, so most will fall in line for the Colosseum to buy the tickets. Instead, purchase tickets at the Roman Forum or Palatine Hill.  If you buy a Roman Pass, you might get free access to the three sites.

    The Ancient Rome was spectacular. When I went there, I decided to join a small group. It’s cheaper to buy tickets there, but I prefer to have a tour guide to bring the ruins to life. I paid 38 Euro/ 45 USD/ 17.3 OMR/ 2270PHP.

    Ancient Rome
    Look at the intricate design of the arch!
    At Palatine Hill
    The small group I joined in touring the Colosseum and Ancient Rome

    Third Day:

    Pantheon

    This ancient 2000 year concrete dome is a truly an architectural phenomena. It was built as a temple for Roman gods but now work as a Catholic church. It has been called the world’s only architecturally perfect building and most preserved monument of Imperial Rome. You can visit for free all days except Sundays when Mass is held.

    Enchanting design inside the Pantheon

     

    Trevi Fountain

    Rome has more than 2000 fountains, but Trevi Fountain is the most extravagant I had seen in my life. It is one of the most famous fountains in the world which appeared in several notable films.

    Spanish Steps

    Climb the famous grand steps leading to the Triniti Dei Monti church to admire the beauty of Piazza d Spagna and the Benini’s fountain from above. The stairway was built in the 1720s and become a popular place for the tourists and locals to hang out.

    Piazza Del Popolo

    Close by Spanish Steps, Piazza Del Popolo is an impressive square in Rome.  In Italian language it means “People’s Square”.

    The only photo I’ve taken at Piazza del Popolo

    Piazza Navona

    The Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps and Piazza Navona are all free to visit.  

     

    Lots of beautiful churches you can visit!
    Can’t missed the gelato!

     

    Tips:

    1. Join Group Tour When Visiting the Busiest Tourist Spots.I took two tours with GetYourGuide during my stay in Rome which I booked online before the trip. The good thing about the small tour is you get in depth knowledge, and insight about the place visited. I booked skip the line tickets ahead of time for Vatican City ( Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel, and St Peter’s Basilica) and the Colosseum and Ancient Rome (Palatine and the Roman Forum). Rome is beautiful but crowded. Having a knowledgeable guide will help you understand and experience Rome in a memorable way.

    2. Stay Connected. As a solo traveler, I decided to buy a local sim card and loaded it with a prepaid data plan from TIM. I purchased the sim card as soon as I arrived at the airport and costs around 20-30 EURO/23- 35 USD/ 9- 13 OMR/ 1,190 – 1790 PHP. You will need your passport to buy a local sim. I find it convenient and efficient. I used it all throughout the ten day trip in Italy.

    3. Stay in a Hotel Closer to the Attractions. I stayed in a place a little far from the attractions but next to Rome Termini train station. Though you can find a lot of hostels and the proximity to the trains and buses can’t be beaten, I suggest you stay in a place where you can just walk out the door and see the tourist places.  I guess it is more worth it.

    4. Adore Early Mornings and Late Evenings. It ‘s nice to wake up early in the morning if you want to see the tourist spots not crowded by a lot of travelers. Rome is packed even during off season, so it is unlikely to have the tourist attractions by yourself. When I went Rome, I woke up around 5 or 6 in the morning then return to the hotel for a siesta in the afternoon then small walk in the evening.

    5. Dress Modestly. Be aware of the strict dress code at the churches and Vatican. Bare shoulders, mini skirt, midriff, and hats are not allowed. Bring a scarf or a cardigan so you can cover up if you need to.

    6. Be Vigilant at all Times. Rome is a safe place but does get a healthy share of tourist scams and pickpocketing. Keep an eye on your valuables.

    Exploring Rome for a limited time isn’t impossible. However, it requires planning and preparation. Hopefully, this will guide on how to explore the city of Rome. Next stop, Florence!

     

    Attending Papal Audience

    Have you been to Rome? What are the things you enjoyed the most? Share in the comments below.