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Trip Report 15 Days in Italy - Cost breakdown & notes

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So my wife and I got back from Italy yesterday and were in Italy for 15 nights and I figured I'd write a post about our costs since I haven't seen anything too comprehensive about this yet and I'd share a few of my experiences with you all since you guys really helped me plan a solid itinerary!

Costs broken out (This is for two people):
Lodging (all nights were spent at AirBnb's) - $2,225.40 (41.87% of total)
Touristy Stuff (Entrance fees, gondola, audio headsets, etc.) - $848.41 (15.96% of total)
Transportation (Airfare with frequent flyer miles***, Trains, Boats, Bus, etc.) - $919.42 (17.30% of total)
Food & Drink: $1192.97 (22.44% of total)
Misc (Souvenirs/gifts, phone, etc.) - $128.92 (2.43% of total)
Total: $5,315.10

A few notes about costs:
-Total cash spent on the trip was around €650. Italy is definitely more of a cash based country in which only at sit down restaurants or at most ticket places do they take credit cards. Most gelato places, souvenir shops, taxi's, cafe's only took cash. We used credit card whenever we could, but for the most part, cash was the preferred method of payment. Also, we had some issues with credit card machines which would take a few attempts to actually finalize the transaction. I would say €250/week and more in Rome since things are about 10-15% more expensive there compared to the other cities.
-We paid $150 for our airfare using frequent flier miles
-Some of the costs were just converted to USD from Euro by multiplying by 1.15 for simplicity, so the actual cost could be slightly less (up to 5% given the exchange rates)
-Gelato made up a big part of our Food & Drink costs, not because it was expensive, it was just something we really liked there!
-Food was significantly cheaper than we thought it would be which was a very pleasant surprise, especially the beer & wine costs. Standard Italy beer (Peroni, Nastro, Moretti) was generally €3-5, averaging around €4. House white wine was around those prices too.
-We could have spent a lot more on food, but we ate simply, mostly Pizza and Pasta, so our food costs ranged from €5-20 per person for lunch and €10-30 per person for dinner, generally an average of €10 for lunch and €20 or so for dinner.
-The bulk of our transportation costs were the long distance rails (i.e. Naples to Florence or Venice to Rome), total cost of those were $400 just about and the rest we spent on regional train tickets, buses, taxi's, etc. We didn't use taxi's much and spent most of our time walking or using the subway in Rome. Total taxi costs for us were €100 and that includes €50 for a taxi to the airport from Rome, average taxi cost was around €10.

Our itinerary:
-4 Nights in Sorrento
-4 Nights in Florence
-3 Nights in Venice
-4 Nights in Rome

Trip Notes:
------------------
Cell Phone:

So when we first arrived in Italy, I wanted to get a SIM card on my unlocked iPhone so we could take advantage of Google Maps and have data if we needed it. When we flew into Rome, there were kiosks selling SIM cards for like €100+ Euro, this was absurd and it's important to note that you can get a SIM card for a lot cheaper. The big carriers there were: TIM, Vodaphone, WIND, 3. I had direct experience with TIM and 3 (TIM was our cell carrier, 3 was our wireless internet provider in Florence at one of the AirBnb's we stayed at). We ended up using TIM since it was the first legit cell carrier there and after looking around, I think we made the best choice since there were a ton of TIM kiosks compared to the other providers.

We paid €35 for 400 minutes and 2 GB of data with unlimited texting in which I will say that I used data very freely and didn't have any issues. Reception wasn't great, but it was decent enough. I had an iPhone 4S, so I only had up to 3G data transfer, but that was for the most part adequate.

Language:

It was definitely difficult communicating in Italy with the locals since many of them spoke very little English which made for getting around initially somewhat difficult. Rome was a lot easier when it came to communicating since most of the locals there spoke more English however we definitely struggled to communicate in Sorrento and the surrounding areas initially.

Sorrento:

We spent our first night just walking around Sorrento and that was a lot of fun. It's a cute little town that acts as a home base for the nearby areas you want to reach: Naples, Pompeii, Almafi Coast/Positano, Capri, etc.

The next day we went to Pompeii (€11/person) which was great and we also took a bus to Mount Vesuvius (€22/person) which was great overall for the views but the mountain itself was kind of disappointing since I was expecting to see a deeper crater at the top of the mountain. Overall it added to our experience in Pompeii and my wife and I loved Pompeii and would highly recommend it. Compared to Ostia Antica, Pompeii is a lot more preserved with a lot of ruined buildings that weren't just the stumps/bottoms of buildings but mostly the whole thing.

On our 3rd day we took the train to Naples (€3.60/person one-way) to explore around and get some good pizza. Naples was pretty gritty and reminded me of NYC. The pizza was very good though and we enjoyed our quick day-trip there. Naples is really hard to navigate btw, we tried using a map they gave us but it wasn't very helpful and we ultimately decided to use our cell phones to get around Italy and that turned out to be really helpful and easy with GPS location tracking. We went to the Pompeii archaeological museum in Naples (€18/person) and I gotta say it was not worth the money. I like history and I thought Pompeii was awesome, but the museum just didn't have as much as I thought it would. Also, the audio headset was totally not worth it since only a handful of items actually had audio notes. Some people might have liked it, but we went to a few museums and this was definitely the worst one. I've also been to Pompeii exhibits in the states, and those generally were more interesting.

On our last day in Sorrento, we went to the Almafi Coast. We wanted to take a boat there since we heard some horror stories about the bus, but unfortunately on Sunday they didn't have any boats from Sorrento to the AC. We ended up taking the bus to Positano for $8/person and that turned out to be a terrible idea. We were the last ones on the bus so we had to stand the entire 40 minutes or so and the trip was so windy and bumpy that a kid got motion sickness and threw up and I could tell a lot of other people were getting dizzy/not feeling great either, myself included. We were very glad to get off the bus and walked the 1-2 miles down the hill where they drop you off. Positano was a very beautiful area, but it doesn't really have much to see. We actually ended up taking a boat to Almafi (€8/person) since we didn't see too much to do besides the little shops, cafe's and the small beach. The boat ride was very nice, you get a great view of Positano and it was just nice to be out in the water. Almafi had a nice square and was a nice little town to tour around. We walked around for an hour and took a few pictures, grabbed some gelato/lunch and then took the last boat (€17/person) back to Sorrento (interesting how Sorrento doesn't have a boat to Almafi but Almafi has one to Sorrento). The boat ride back was a lot better.

Florence:

We took the train to Florence and I must say, fast trains are significantly better than slow trains. The cost is worth the 50-100% premium in my opinion. When we went from Rome to Naples, we took a slow train to save money since we didn't book that one ahead of time like we did the others and that was a mistake. It was crowded, no air conditioning and uncomfortable to sit in. The fast train from Naples to Florence was convenient, had power stations so you could charge your phone/laptop and was a lot quieter.

Florence overall was great. It was a lot bigger than Sorrento (multiple times over) and we stayed literally one block away from the Galleria Academia which was the perfect location.

On our first day in Florence we just walked around and enjoyed the sites. The duomo is breathtaking and the plaza was awesome.

On the second day, we went to the Galleria Academia ($37 pre-booked/person) and that was totally worth it. Btw, you should definitely pre-book, thanks for all the notes to do that since the line outside was 3 hours if you didn't pre-book when we were there. The statue of David was incredible and while the museum was pretty small in comparison to some of the others, I thought it was perfect how they laid out the museum to make David the main attraction.

Afterwards, we went to the Uffizi Gallery ($14 pre-booked/person) and personally, I didn't like it that much but that's likely due to the fact that I'm not a huge art history buff. I mean, it was great seeing all those paintings in which there were a ton of pictures of Mary and it was a huge museum, but overall, I really liked the Galleria Academia more.

On our third day, we went to the bell tower first (€10 for the tower/duomo) and climbed to the top which was a lot of steps (400 or so) and the view was really nice. I can see how people would find it claustrophobic climbing up the stairs, but it wasn't that bad imo. It's just a narrow round staircase in which at times you had to wait in tight formations for people to come down and stuff (took about 15 minutes to get to the top). We also decided to climb to the top of the duomo (400 steps again also) in which that took about an hour since there were a lot of people who wanted to see the top and you had to queue up. Since it took so long to get to the top, I can totally see how the duomo would cause someone to get super claustrophobic since sometimes you were in a narrow stairway and shoulder to shoulder with a lot of people coming up and down. The view was definitely better in the duomo since there was no fencing around to block pictures. I gotta say the dome of the duomo as you're climbing up is interesting since it's a lot of pictures of demons and naked people running away from them. I'm not sure what the context was since I didn't read the history of those paintings but it was very unique for sure.

We then took a trip to Pisa and I must say that Pisa was the highlight of the trip. It was about €25/person to see the leaning tower and the cemetery area and it was totally worth it (Be sure to book in advance your tickets and you need to check all bags at a side building). The Leaning Tower was so cool and obviously you could have a lot of fun taking perspective photos (pointing to the top, holding it up, hugging it, etc.). Just don't get photo bombed! We actually had someone photobomb a few of our jumping pictures, which was amusing.

The climb to the top of the tower is around 170 steps or so, and after climbing 800+ with the bell tower and the duomo, it was definitely felt on this final staircase, but it was very cool how you could be leaning one direction and then another given the 'lean' of the tower. The top of the tower had a great view of Pisa too. The cemetery was cool and very isolated. There were like 3 people there while there were probably hundreds of people (if not thousands) in the Leaning Tower area.

On our final day in Florence, we took a trip to Siena and alas, it rained all day which kind of ruined the experience. The bus there wasn't exactly comfortable (€7.80/person) and I would recommend taking the train (we took the train back) since it's more comfortable and it's essentially the same cost (€1 more per person I think) and the timing at worst is 15 more minutes to get from Siena to Florence or vice versa. When it comes to transportation in Italy, we took 2 bus trips, and both were poor experiences, if you have the option to take a train, do it.

My experience of Siena wasn't great since it was raining that day and overall, I just didn't think too much of the town since it doesn't seem that there is too much to do besides the 3 big things: Basilica, Duomo and Il Campo (main square). The Basilica was cool and it was free too and it was basically another big church that was very focused on St. Catherine. The Duomo was interesting, though it does cost money. I would pay the €12 for the all access pass where you get to see the Museum, Duomo, Baptistry and a few other places. The Della Scalla is NOT included in your all access pass which was disappointing. I think the museum's top view of the entire town of Siena was the best part of the access pass and if you want to talk about claustrophobic stairways, the stairway to the top of the tower that overlooks Siena is probably 30% smaller than the already narrow Duomo stairway in Florence. I'm not a big guy too and had a tough time getting to the top of the tower given how narrow the stairway was.

I'll post back later on Venice and Rome.

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