Venice Vaporetto, Tuscan tours and Roman ruins
Due to our late arrival in Venice, thanks to Volotea. taking public transport to our hotel was out of the question. As we searched for the official taxi stand, a dodgy looking man reminiscent of an Italian mobster movie character approached us offering a $60 ride in his "taxi" to our hotel. He scoffed when I informed him I read online that the journey only costs 23 Euros, and claimed I would never find a taxi for that price. After declining his offer we proceeded to locate the taxi stand and get a fare to our hotel for exactly 23 Euros. Tip for tourists: only accept rides from the official taxis at an airport.
The following morning we purchased a travel pass which covers unlimited Venice vaporetto (water boats) and road buses in the surrounding area for two days. Venice is one city that definitely lives up to its reputation and your expectations. The fact that the entire central city is walkable and that there are no annoying cars to contend with is a bonus. Both tourists and locals commute by vaporetto, which is no doubt frustrating for city residents as they go about their daily lives surrounded by tourists all vying for the best vantage point to photograph the city's stunning buildings from the public transport system. Gondolas are available at exorbitant prices, with extra fees for accompanied live singing, or two Euros for a one minute horizontal crossing. While exploring Venice we occassionally heard Italian opera coming from the boats whose selfie snapping occupants forked out extra money to be serenaded.
We started exploring near St Marks Square at the Bridge of Sighs where condemned prisoners once caught their last glimpse of the city as they walked to their fate. We also went to Saint Mark's Basilica in Mark's Square which is free to visit but doesn't allow photographs inside.
For our next adventure we strolled through Venice's narrow alleyways and side streets admiring chocolate fountains and other mouth-watering treats on offer before deciding to dine on a clique Italian pizza for lunch. We then found the location for our favourite tourist pastime, a city walking tour, where a knowledgable local guide stayed off the well-beaten tourist track and instead showed us some more obscure buildings and squares. And yes Venice is sinking! I won't go into details but you are can about it here.
We ended our Venice experience marveling at the city's architecture with other non-residents in a crammed vaporetto with no intended destination in mind.
We hopped abroad a very reasonably priced modern high speed train for a two hour journey to Florence. Although Florence is regarded as an amazing city to explore we were on a tight schedule, so after getting lost from some inaccurate Google Map directions we located the car rental office and picked up our vehicle for a drive along the Italian motorway to Tuscany. The Italians may observe road rules even less than the Greeks, and no one else seemed to adhere to the speed limit as we drove at 100kph. Unless you are on a tour I envision that a trip to Tuscany would be quite challenging as the area is either wide open motorways or narrow country roads. After finding our Airbnb and chatting with our host who has a fascination with owls (see picture of our room below), we ventured down the road to a nearby pub for a simple steak and salad dinner.
The next morning we picked two picturesque towns to visit. The first Montepulciano is a medieval hilltop town surrounded by vineyards and amazing views. We opted for supermarket bread, cheese and red wine costing .50 Euro cents. (much nicer than it sounds) in the park rather than a more expensive lunch and then enjoyed wandering the sloping streets with their medieval buildings and quaint little shops.
An hour later we reached San Gimignano, where we treated ourselves to "best ice cream in the world". That's not our opinion. the ice cream shop won a competition certifying it. It may not be the finest ice cream we have ever tasted but the lavender flavour was damn near perfect. The town is famous for more than just desserts, as it maintains the same medieval facade constructed in the 13th century, complete with about a dozen towers that stand out for miles and were once used to guard the city from invaders.
The next day another train trip took us to our last Italian and European stop Rome, along with a woman who got on the wrong train and seemed confused about why we were occupying her seat. Our Roman basement Airbnb below apartments was cute but a little musty and contained a mosquito that liked the taste of my blood. Almost everywhere you look in Rome you are greeted with the remnants of the once great Roman civilization, from restored statues of past Roman nobility at the Vatican Museum, to the ancient ruins at the Colosseum and Roman Forum. The Vactican entrance fee is waived on the last Sunday each month. which meant a free visit but very long lines. Richie didn't appreciate the money spent on creating the Vatican's opulence, and seemed even less impressed with the two identical hunched looking women outside, both dressed in black with their faces obscured as they begged for money. There was something about their feet that made them look more youthful and spritedly than they old women they claimed to be.
We spent two full days running around, sometimes literately, to see the Vatican, the Colosseum in the pouring rain, the Trevi Fountain once we squeezed through the maze of tourists, the Pantheon and what remains of the Roman Forum. We tried to visit the Circus Maximus but ironically it was closed for an actual circus that had come to town.
After a hectic few days in Rome and almost three months in Europe we reclined in our seats for a long nine hour fight to New York City in the USA.