Sunday, March 20, 2011

Italy - Milan, Venice, Florence

Time to check in from Europe. I'll spend a few minutes highlighting what we've done over the last week or so as we begin this portion of our trip.

First country on our European adventure is the country of Italy. Our first stop within Italy was up north in the city of Milan. We chose Milan because it was either Milan or Barcelona based on the cost of airfare on the day that we wanted to leave India. Milan pretty much lived up to its billing as being a more modern and different city than the rest of Italy. Milan suffered a lot of damage in World War II. A large part of the city is only around 60 years old. We ended up spending three nights in Milan. We originally were only going to spend two nights but Alethea was still trying to shake a nasty head cold and sinus congestion so we decided to extend by one day. Due to Alethea being under the weather we spent the first day resting while catching up on trip activities such as planning, picture editing, and blogging.

We did one day of sightseeing in Milan. We started out by going to St. Ambrose's Church. It was pretty neat but simple and contained the relics of St. Ambrose himself who died in the 4th century. Our next stop after walking a few blocks in the cold and light rain was the church St. Mary of the Graces. St. Mary houses the original Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci. To see the painting you have to reserve tickets months in advance since they only let in 25 people every 15 minutes during the day. They do have no show or cancellation tickets that they sell each day. We tried to get one of these tickets but there were none available. We next continued on to Castello Sforzesco briefly before deciding to pass on its museums before going to Pinacoteca di Brera. Brera is a popular art musuem. I thought it was pretty decent for the price. We continued on after lunch to Galleria Vittorio Emanuele which is a large 19th century mall with modern shops in it. It pretty much looks like an giant arcade. We immediately walked through the mall before arriving at the The Duomo or Milan Cathedral. The Duomo was started in 1386 and wasn't pronounced completed until 1965. The Duomo is the 2nd largest catholic church in the world next to St. Peter's in Rome. The cathedral was massive and impressive. Since it was raining we decided no to hike to the top of the cathedral since it cost I believe 5 euros a piece for the privilege. We then hopped on the metro and then the tram back to our hotel for the evening.

Milan Cathedral (1386 to 1965)

The second stop on our Italy tour was Venice. Venice was just a 3 hour train ride from Milan. There is actually a faster train but we decided to save some money by taking a slower one which was just fine. We arrived in Venice around 4:15 pm. Once we located our hotel we decided to get out and walk around for a little bit since it was still daylight. Our hotel was only a couple blocks from St. Mark's Square. We walked to the square and around it to the Grand Canal. We then walked around the Bridge of Sighs before wandering our way back to a grocery store and then a restaurant before heading back to our hotel for the evening.

St. Mark's Square in Venice

Our first full day in Venice was spent in churches. We decided to purchase a Chorus pass and spend the day touring various churches. Many of the popular churches charge entrance fees so it makes sense to purchase the Chorus Pass if you visit more than 4 churches. We visited 7 churches on the first day and 2 more on the second day. The churches were small for the most part but had some pretty good art work on display inside plus the architecture of the churches was pretty good too. The most impressive church that was a part of our pass was the Frari church. Many of the churches were built in the 14th and 15th centuries with one going back to the 9th century. I was glad we did this instead of going to the Doge's Palace which was the administrative headquarters of Venice. It gets good reviews but was more expensive and only covered a couple other side attractions.

Canal in Venice

Our second day of sightseeing in Venice didn't turn out so well. It rained continuously and was somewhat cool. Our clothes were completely soaked through by mid-day. I even decided to buy a rain proof jacket from REI since the one I'm carrying isn't holding up that well plus we have more of Europe to travel through. We did visit St. Mark's Basilica which is the most famous and probably most spectacular church in Venice. We toured the church with the help of Rick Steves. We downloaded a podcast of the church (along with many others for Italy) that he narrated and listened to it on our cell phones. It came in pretty handy. We did visit two additional churches that were a part of our pass and walked through the Jewish Ghetto before calling it quits half way through the day. We needed a full day to allow our clothes to dry.

San Stae - Venice (14th century)

Overall I really liked Venice. My first observation is that St. Mark's square and some of the sights aren't as big as I thought they would be but they were still impressive. Venice is a nice walking city that isn't large but isn't really small either. It would take you about a hour to walk from one end to another. I am glad we stopped there. It is a city I've wanted to see for quite some time. The only thing that could have been better was the weather but there isn't much you can do about that.

Next stop for us was the city of Florence. Florence was just a 3 hour train ride from Venice. We spent 4 nights in Florence. On the first day we followed the Rick Steves Florence Renaissance walking tour. We started at the Santa Maria Del Fiore which is the large main church of Florence. We toured the inside and coughed up the 8 euros a piece to hike the 463 steps to the top of the dome. The view from dome were fantastic. The weather cooperated this time by being sunny and clear. After the church we stopped at various spots before making our way to Santa Croce. Santa Croce is both a large church but also a burial spot for some famous Italians including Michaelangelo, Machivelli, Dante, and others. On our second day of sightseeing we toured the world famous Uffizi art musuem. Only bad part was that we spent as much time in line as we did in the museum itself. It was still worth it in my opinion. The admission fee was also more since they had some additional drawings on display. There wasn't an option to pay a lower fee and avoid the extra art. On our last full day in Florence we roamed around the neighborhood we were staying in and visited a couple of old churches. 

Santa Maria Del Fiore - Florence

One other thing to note about Florence is that we were able to stay with the brother of a friend from high school Devang Naik. He was very gracious and allowed us to stay for 4 nights and even gave up his bed for us. This helped out our budget since we had a free place to stay. We also were able to do our laundry and cook some of out meals. We actually finally used up our laundry powder that we purchased in New Zealand several months ago. Thanks so much Devang (and Jenny)!

Alethea on top of Santa Maria Del Fiore in Florence

This wraps up my first post from Europe. I am glad we're here. The weather has been about what we expected meaning cool and damp but not too bad. Only negative is what we also expected and that is just the overall cost of traveling in Europe. We're doing pretty good by limiting our sightseeing\museum visits and eating basic meals. I am glad that I am getting to see parts of Italy and Europe that I haven't seen before. Our next stop after Florence is Siena for a couple days as we try to mix in small cities and the countryside with the large cities. After a quick stop in Siena we'll spend one week in Rome. We've decided to rent an apartment for a week since it is cheaper than staying in a hotel or hostel plus we'll be able to cook and do laundry in addition to living out and away from the city center a little bit. That's all for now. ….Yes I know UT lost in the 1st round of the men's NCAA basketball tournament :-).

Link to photo albums:

Daily Log

Friday March 11th
Stayed in room and rested up.
Caught up on online activities.
Plotted out what we wanted to do in Milan
Went to grocery store to get food

Saturday March 12th
Alethea is still not feeling well. Decided to stay inside and rest versus sightseeing.
Extended our stay in Milan by another night.
Booked train tickets to Venice,
Reserved a hotel room in Venice.
Bought more groceries for breakfast and dinner.
Ate out at local somewhat cheap place. Had language barrier issues. Italians often don't speak another language than Italian is my experience.
Called home this evening and spoke to mom and dad. Nothing too much new. Might be able to sell my car.

Sunday March 13th
Cold wet rainy day in Milan with a temp around 9 C.
Went sightseeing.
Visited St. Ambrose (large Byzantic\Roman church), Saint Mary of the Graces (home of the Last Super), Castello Sforzesco, Pinacoteca di Brera (art museum), Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, The Duomo (started in 1386).
Tried to see the Last Supper by Leonardo but it was book with no cancellations.
The Duomo was impressive and massive. It was started in 1386 and completed in 1965. 2nd largest catholic cathedral in the world. 8th largest church building in the world per Wikipedia.
Came back to our hotel by around 5:15 pm.

Monday March 14th
Travel day sort of..
Checked out of hotel around 11:30 am.
Caught tram to Milan Central train station.
Waited for about a hour for train.
Train left right on time @ 13:05. Train arrived in Venice right on time at 15:40.
Glad we took cheaper 2nd class train. It was nice and comfortable. Only real issue was that a woman put her suitcase in our seating area. I told her to move it once the train left.
Took waterbus to Rioldi bridge stop. Walked to hotel. Checked in. We are staying in an annex 100 meters from the main hotel. Room is nice. Wi-fi in the bedroom and shower.
Decided to get out and walk around. Walked around St. Mark's Square, Doge Palace. Found grocery store and bought cheap $3.50 bottle of wine.
Splurged and ate a full dinner with pre-fix menus.
Got a little lost but walked back to our hotel room to enjoy our cheap wine.

Tuesday March 15th
Purchased a Chorus pass for 20 euros total and toured numerous churches. Churches in Venice charge a entrance fee of around 2.50 euros each. The art work was impressive inside.
We went to the following churches in order: San Stae, San Giacomo dall'Orio, San Polo, S.M.G. Dei Frari, San Sebastiano, Santo Stefano, S.ta M. del Giglio. Frari was the most impressive.
Stopped and had a glass wine at a cheap place.
Both ate pizzas at Crazy Bar.
Came back to hotel.

Wednesday March 16th
Visited the following churches – Santa Maria dei Miracoli and Santa Maria Formosa
Weather was nasty. Rainy and cold. Decided to come back to hotel by 1:30 pm.
Worked on itinerary planning. I booked airfare from Rome to Lisbon.
Researched Siena accommodations and booked an apartment for Rome.
Researched overnight trains from Lisbon to Madrid and Madrid to Barcelona.
Researched Florence admission prices to museums.
Ordered new rain jacket from REI to be shipped to Ronnie and Diane's. Plan is to bring it to Spain. My black REI jacket is not waterproof and was soaked through today.

Thursday March 17th
Travel day from Venice to Florence.
Took train that left 13:07 for 3 hours to Florence. Arrived at 16:15. Took intercity train to FSM one stop.
Met Devang Naik who we'll be staying with for the next 4 nights. Walked to his apartment. It was quite a ways away with a large backpack.
Went out and bought groceries.
Ate dinner. Popular thing at bars is to buy one drink then eat at their buffet. Total cost was 11 euros for 2 drinks and dinner. Total cost was $15.
Bought two bottles of wine.
Came back to Devang's and settled in for the evening.

Friday March 18th
Full day of sightseeing in Florence
1st hike back to train station to try to purchase Spain (Madrid to Barcelona) tickets. Unable to buy them. Tried at a travel agency but couldn't.
Walked across the Ponto Vecciho.
Listened to the Rick Steves Florence Renaissance Walk throughout the day.
Visited the Santa Maria Del Fiore. Church is somewhat bare on the inside.
Ate lunch at a Turkish place.
Waited in line to go to dome. Paid 8 euros a piece to hike 463 steps to the top. Very beautiful scenery. Alethea's height issue kicked in and didn't do so well.
Listened to rest of Rick Steves podcast.
Ate some Gelato on the way to Santa Groce. I had cookies and Alethea has pistachio.
Toured Santa Groce after paying 5 euros a piece. Saw the tombs of Michaelangelo, Dante, Machieveli, and others.
Stopped at two grocery stores on the way back to Devang's

Saturday March 19th
Toured the Uffizi art museum. I thought it was pretty good overall. We did have to wait two hours to enter first though. Also, the admission price has been raised from 6.50 euros to 11 euros because there are some additional drawings included throughout the museum. After the museum we figured we had had enough for the day and stopped at a grocery store before going back to the apartment.
We ate lunch then took showers so we could do a load of laundry.

Sunday March 20th
Roamed around Florence in the afternoon.
Visited two churches in addition to walking around. 1st was St. Maria Del Carmine (8 euros 2 pax) and San Spirito. Both were nice. We watched a 40 minute video at Carmine.
Walked around market close to our apartment.
Went to grocery store.