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  1. #1

    Florence, the rest of Italy, and Europe

    The Duomo is to my right and the Arno River is to my left as I'm typing this. Hard to believe it, but I am calling Florence, Italy home for the next three and a half months doing a study abroad program at Scuola Lorenzo de' Medici. If anyone has any suggestions on things to see or places to go in Florence, Italy, or Europe at large I would greatly appreciate them. I am on a budget, so flying first class and staying at anything but a hostel is out of the question, but I won't let that stop me from seeing what Europe has to offer!

    Much thanks.

  2. #2
    I enjoyed Siena - they have an amazing horse race each year, which I only saw on film. The Duomo there has amazing mosaic floors, but check the schedule as they keep them covered part of the year (I think they are all visible in October). Also, Venice is an easy train ride away. We stayed out on Lido, much cheaper than actually staying in Venice.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
    Location
    ← Bay / Valley ↓
    Quote Originally Posted by DukieInKansas View Post
    I enjoyed Siena - they have an amazing horse race each year, which I only saw on film. The Duomo there has amazing mosaic floors, but check the schedule as they keep them covered part of the year (I think they are all visible in October). Also, Venice is an easy train ride away. We stayed out on Lido, much cheaper than actually staying in Venice.
    I, too, found Siena to be very beautiful, but thought their food was the worst in my trip around Italy. Interesting (and useless) trivia: the horse race is called Il Palio, and the Hotel Siena in Chapel Hill has a restaurant called Il Palio. Supposed to be good, never been.

    I wish I had visited Venice, but we crammed 6 or 7 cities on the west coast in 2 weeks. From North-to-South:


    You could also try (won't be cheap):

    Here's some pictures on my flickr page my dad took when we were there in 2002 - I haven't gotten around to uploading mine yet (geez, has it been 5 years?). We also had Chinese food way too many times because my dad didn't like Italian food. Dumplings are called Chinese Gnocchi there.

    Hope that helps - wine is cheap, drink up! And do avoid being Asian if Italy loses a soccer match to Korea again.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Mar 2007
    Location
    New Orleans
    Oktoberfest -- coming up this month (curiously, most of it, maybe all, is in September). Not to be missed. You're a few hours away from Munich by train, or you can probably get an even cheaper airfare from Ryan Air.

    It's one of the happiest scenes you'll ever encounter, completely different from similar gatherings in the U.S. It's a long row of beer tents. In each one are thousands of people of all ages chugging away and singing American '60s rock songs (I must have heard "Hey Baby" 50 times). The more they drink, the happier and friendlier they get. There's none of the ugliness that you would see at a Mardi Gras, rock concert or similar American bacchanal, though there are plenty of young people.

    One warning: Those big beers they serve are potent. Two of them and two mixed drinks, and I was worshipping the porcelain god on the train all the way home (to Innsbruck, Austria). The guy I went with couldn't even find the right train, and ended up somewhere in Switzerland. But Oktoberfest is one of those really good occasions for just letting loose and partying.

  5. #5
    I highly, HIGHLY recommend Venice. Only so I can live vicariously through you should you post your visit to Venice here on the board. Seriously I loved Venice, it has to be the quietest city on earth, no cars.

    I also recommend a trip to Milan to see their Duomo. I was more impressed with Milan's than Florence's as the one in Milan had much greater detail in terms of carved figures and such. Also, if you go to Milan you have to see Da Vinci's "Last Supper" and get the audio tour with it.

    My last piece of advice; eat gelato. It makes U.S. American (I just had to thrown that in) ice cream more than second rate.

    Oh, and one of my favorite things to do in Europe is hang out at an outdoor cafe. I love people watching while sitting at a table under an umbrella sipping something cold. Wish there were more outdoor cafes in America.

    Verona may be a nice one day excursion for you. Other than the home of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet and their Colosseum I don't recall a whole lot about the city worth seeing, thus a one day excursion.

    If I think of anything else that might be fun to do I'll put up another post.

    I hope you enjoy your time in one the world's most beautiful places.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
    Location
    Arlington, VA
    First of all, I am soooo jealous! I haven't been back to Italy for two years now.

    First rule of Italy- you must eat gelato at least twice a day!

    To even scratch the surface of Roma, you'll need a few days! You probably know all the major stuff, so I won't go into too much detail. There is a gelato shop with 90 flavors near the Pantheon (if you are standing in front of the Pantheon facing away from it, take the street to the right of the McDonalds, it's about a block back on the left and right before it was a good Italian restaurant).

    Tivoli is a nice place to go. There's the villa with 100 fountains, and Hadrian's villa.

    Capri is beautiful! We took a boat out of Napoli, but there may be other places to get a boat to the island. (Avoid Napoli if at all possible. Nasty place!)

    Personally I liked the pizza in southern Italy better than Roma. The farthest north I made it was Firenze, so I can't tell you anything really about the pizza (or the sites in northern Italy).

    If you want to know about Sardegna, I've been there. It could be a neat trip for a long weekend or something if you wanted to take a boat or RyanAir over.

    My friends loved Switzerland, Austria, and Germany. I'd say get a student rail pass. From what I've heard they're pretty reasonable.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
    Location
    Washington, DC
    Two favorites close to Firenze are the very-nearby Fiesole, and Volterra. Volterra has city walls dating back to B.C., and a splendid Roman ampitheatre, as well as wonderful medieval streets.

    Last year I stayed for a week near the walled city of Lucca, also in Tuscany. My favorite discovery on that trip was the small, non-touristy hill town of Montecatini Alto.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
    Location
    Two miles south of Cameron
    Quote Originally Posted by hc5duke View Post
    [*]Milan(o) was dirty and smelled bad but probably worth a trip
    Darn! I was hoping to hear something good about Milan. I am going there on business in a couple of weeks and will not have much free time - basically a couple of late afternoon/evenings before and after the 3 days of meetings. I've never been to Italy and won't have time for any side excursions on this particular trip - any must see/do recommendations for Milan itself are most welcome!

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by merry View Post
    Darn! I was hoping to hear something good about Milan. I am going there on business in a couple of weeks and will not have much free time - basically a couple of late afternoon/evenings before and after the 3 days of meetings. I've never been to Italy and won't have time for any side excursions on this particular trip - any must see/do recommendations for Milan itself are most welcome!
    I didn't find it smelly, a little dirty yes.

    I recommend the Duomo, Vittorio Emanuele (which is right next to the Duomo, it's a shopping mall, but quite quaint), and most importantly Da Vinci's "Last Supper", get the audio tour!

    Hope you enjoy your time in Milano!

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
    Location
    ← Bay / Valley ↓
    Quote Originally Posted by merry View Post
    Darn! I was hoping to hear something good about Milan. I am going there on business in a couple of weeks and will not have much free time - basically a couple of late afternoon/evenings before and after the 3 days of meetings. I've never been to Italy and won't have time for any side excursions on this particular trip - any must see/do recommendations for Milan itself are most welcome!
    Oh, don't get me wrong - parts of it are beautiful. I just like to venture into different parts of the city, and remember some parts smelled bad. Who knows, maybe the garbage men were on strike like a couple weeks ago :-p

    I would recommend the AAA Spiral guides, but it doesn't look like they have Milan. They were very user-friendly and small enough to walk-and-read.

  11. #11

    Vatican Tip & Venice

    My wife and I spent several days on Venice last fall, and would highly recommend it. If you are looking to detox, and meet locals, Venice is
    the place. The tourists clear out around 5 or 6 as the tour boats leave
    and it is a magical time, to wander the streets & alleys. If you like to walk, go over the canals to the "other" side and visit the produce market and
    mingle. Paolin's is THE place for gelato. My favorite was chocolate & coconut in the same cup. (My wife, who doesn't like coconut, kept dipping her spoon into my dish.) I had this combo every day.

    Vatican tip: Do NOT stand at the end of the line to get in. Head to the front until you see some guys (locals) working the line. They are looking for people to take an English speaking tour. Instead of 4-5 hour wait, literally we were inside in 10 minutes, and got a ton of inside scoop. As a huge plus, the tour guides take you out the back door, and 25 feet away is a side entrance into St Peter's, saving you another 2-5 hour wait in line.

    Email me privately if you want more details, such as the Tuscan countryside, so I don't bore every one else.

    Have a great stay !

    warm regards,


    little john

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
    Location
    Los Angeles
    Quote Originally Posted by mapei View Post
    Two favorites close to Firenze are the very-nearby Fiesole, and Volterra. Volterra has city walls dating back to B.C., and a splendid Roman ampitheatre, as well as wonderful medieval streets.

    Last year I stayed for a week near the walled city of Lucca, also in Tuscany. My favorite discovery on that trip was the small, non-touristy hill town of Montecatini Alto.
    I spent a year studying abroad in Florence about 10 years ago (I was actually in Sesto Fiorentino, which is about 10 kilometers outside Florence on the 28 bus). As a result, much of my info may be dated, but I had a phenomenal time there and wish you the same. I spent the first semester traveling solely through northern Italy, and the second semester seeing several of the interesting places I could get to by train. This was before the days of EasyJet and Ryan Air, so train was the way to go back then.

    My suggestions: There is no reason not to go to Fiesole, as Mapei suggests. I used to go up there on some Saturday mornings and buy a roasted chicken and a beer or two and sit out on some of the stone walls overlooking the city. A nice way to spend some time, as the view was magnificent, the chicken was tasty (they sold it in the square) and the beer cooled me off. I tried all of the gelato places I could throughout Italy, and actually found that the one in Sesto Fiorentino was the best I had (it is a coffee bar/gelateria). I went there as often as 3 times some days. Try all flavors, as some sound strange but are incredible. I also hit up the bakeries late at night/early in the morning when the bread/pastries were coming out of the oven. Always a good idea.

    There are many places in Italy that are great to see, I won't try and list them all as it is hard to go wrong. What I would suggest is that you do spend some time in the cities. Staying in hostels is a great way to go because you meet so many more people. Take the time to really wander the streets, the cities are so different from what we are used to in the US. I used to wander around lost and found so many things I wouldn't have otherwise. Talk to the locals, preferably in Italian. I was taken in and fed by people I met during my travels and guided to aspects of their hometowns I wouldn't have known about.

    If you're traveling outside Italy, take the time to really see those cities as well. I took 4-5 day weekends most weeks (I think I was the reason the instituted an attendance policy) but with faster transport this may not be as big of a deal. Personal favorites included Budapest and Prague, although I think that both have changed a lot over the past 10 years. If you haven't been to some of the mainstays, I really like Barcelona and Paris. I also second the poster who recommended Octoberfest as I did that a couple years ago and had a great time. Go to that with friends but in general don't be afraid to travel alone and make friends as you go.

    Really explore the city of Florence itself. There are phenomenal restaurants there and great wine bars etc. Meet the people who live there as they really do open up new opportunities. Also, I always liked heading to Santo Spirito to relax and even studied in there at times. I just found it incredibly peaceful. The wine festivals in surrounding towns can be lots of fun, I only remember one name, Greve. If you're looking for a cheaper but very solid Chianti, try some of the Antinori reserves. If you want to splurge, try an Ornellaia. If you have any questions, shoot me a private message.

  13. #13
    Seconds to some of the above suggestions:

    - Siena. Charmingest little town around; you can do it as a day trip from Florence.

    - Oktoberfest. Simply put, the best party on earth. The most friendly, jovial fun time imaginable. Dancing on tables is not frowned upon. Singing is constant. Where else can you drink with 6,000 other people under one big roof? Watch them roll out the full-size wooden barrels and then watch the waitresses (in traditional garb, of course) load up with half a dozen or more quarts at a time. Walk outside the beer halls and the air is permeated with the smell of roasted chestnuts and the sound of polkas. Hofbrauhaus is the most energetic tent, if I recall. Recharge on the grassy knolls surrounding the fairgrounds if you need to rest and rally before the evening sets in. You must come home with a stein to call your own.

    - Rome, Paris, Barcelona. Obviously. What's not to love?

    Others not yet mentioned (I think):

    - Vienna. Beautiful, beautiful city. You could spend three days just wandering from one coffee shop or pastry shop to another all day long.

    - Prague. Is it still cheap? Don't know, but another amazing town. Easily reachable from Florence, I should think.

    - Smaller Tuscan hill towns - Montepulciano, Montalcino, Radda in Chianti, San Gimagnano. Great places to just walk through back streets and meet the locals. Again, easy day excursions from Siena.

    - Get up to Scandinavia while the days are still somewhat long. Not particularly cheap, but it's a neat contrast and beautiful territory (and cities) (and people).

  14. #14
    Join Date
    Mar 2007
    Location
    New Orleans
    I would be remiss not to mention the city I lived in for six months, Innsbruck, Austria, especially if you ski. Probably the most beautiful city I've ever seen, with a great old town area and a very lively night life for a population of around 100,000 or so. It was the site of the winter Olympics in '64 and '76, so the skiing is first rate.

    Also, if you're looking for an interesting place that can be done fairly cheap, I recommend Budapest, especially the natural spring baths for which it is famous.

  15. #15
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
    Location
    Los Angeles
    While people are mentioning Austrian cities, I'd put Salzburg in the mix. I thought it was beautiful (much more so than Vienna, for instance). The Scandinavian suggestion is a good one, and one I didn't think about because I did make that trek by train and it was a LONG one, but it's not bad by plane. Stockholm is a great city (I've been there 23 times) and I've enjoyed Copenhagen as well. The key thing is to go NOW if you're interested, as the days are getting shorter and colder. I used to find summers there hard to handle, the winters are just brutal.

    Another thought on Octoberfest: Munich is a great city. I visited the city 10 years ago and had a great time, but when I went for Octoberfest I didn't do much other than eat and drink (not necessarily in that order). You'll find Octoberfest overrun with Americans acting like idiots but having a good time. You won't forget it.

    I'd also go to Greece if you can, but that will be pricey and the partying period is probably over by now. Still, great history in some parts (Athens) and beautiful islands such as Santorini.

    I went to a lot of museums when I traveled; you'll find that different cities hold completely different appeals. I'd check out Barcelona no matter what you're looking for, though. Great party town as well as some of the most interesting architecture around.

  16. #16
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
    Location
    Boston or thereabouts
    If you get a free weekend, head up to the Lake Como region. It's really beautiful up there and there is a pretty nice hostel in one of the towns (not Como itself). Also, you absolutely should not rule out the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia. It's gorgeous, up and down (though the middle may be a bit bland). Many islands and some great scenery. I believe there is a ferry from the east coast of Italy, or train by way of Trieste (and Slovenia, which is on the way, has some great stops as well). You won't find too many hostels in Croatia, though there are some, but you can rent private rooms easily and cheaply.

  17. #17
    Thanks for all your suggestions, and please please please keep them coming!

    I forgot to mention that I have already done some traveling. So far this trip I have been to Barcelona, London, Sicily, Naples, Rome (I need to go back here for sure), Pisa, and Villefranche.

    This weekend I am traveling to Bologna (just for a night) and to Venice (2 nights) with my sister. Then we'll come back to Florence and spend a couple days here, probably heading to San Gimignano to see the towers and enjoying the city.

    Thanks again for the recommendations and keep 'em coming if you have 'em!

  18. #18
    Lucky bum! As an Italian citizen myself I am DYING to get back there!

    San Gimignano is a wonderful town, you will enjoy.

    San Marino is an enjoyable trip; I really enjoyed it.

    Florence is just a marvel; my favorite city in the world. I can recommend a restaurant that might still be there, right on Piazza del Duomo; hmm... now I am drawing a blank on the name... something with Dante in the title maybe? Face the front of the Duomo and then go around the building to the right; it is about 2/3s of the way down on the right, with a nice little 8 or 10 tables out front. Sasso de Dante maybe? Very tasty, very affordable.

    If you want to go to the Uffizi, call ahead and make a reservation; you won't have to wait on a single line, but can go right in. That can save you a good deal of time.

    Grab a picnic lunch and visit Pitti gardens, it is quite beautiful.

    Definately spent some time at Santa Croce. Beautiful church with some of the most famous people in the world buried there.

    My father recommends you visit a small village south of florence named Monte Reggione (hope the spelling is right) that is apparently VERY pretty.

    My own background says you should, if you can, visit Perugia; a few hours of sitting in the piazzas drinking lemon granitas and grinning at the cute italian girls can make any man feel like a king!

    Rome is beautiful, of course, but jesus the mopeds give me a headache after like 20 minutes.

    A good Duomo story; I went a few years back with my roommate from Duke; we climbed the bell tower first. He remarked that he would love to have a picture of himself on top of the Duomo; I said that could be set up. So I waited in the tower for the 20 minutes it took him to get downstairs, the hour he waited on line, and the 45 minutes it took him to climb up, and he still has the picture of himself on top of the Duomo with all of Florence around him

    That is it for now... if you get any good pictures, feel free to share!

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