Go Back  Fodor's Forum > Destinations > Europe
Reload this Page > Trip Report:Rome, Florence, Tuscany in December
Notices

Trip Report:Rome, Florence, Tuscany in December

Reply

Feb 6th, 2016, 02:42 PM
  #1
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Feb 2013
Posts: 550
Trip Report:Rome, Florence, Tuscany in December

First of all, I would like to thank all fodors members who helped me make this trip a success. It was certainly a great, and I loved Italy so much,I could go again several times. Here's my report of my 10 day trip:

My blog link with pictures: https://ashwinbahulkar.wordpress.com...rence-tuscany/

Highlights:

Sistine Chapel, Raphael rooms and St.Peter’s in Rome. Pretty much all of Vatican.
The Duomo at Florence, especially views from over the Bell Tower, the Vecchio tower and Piazza Michaelangelo.
Views from Castel Angelo.
Siena, literally all of it! The duomo, the towers, the piazza, the town.
The food, well ofcourse.
Tuscan countryside.
Views from the top of domes and towers all over, the St.Peter’s, the Giotto Bell Tower in Florence, the one in Siena.

My 10 day itinerary:

Day 0 to Day 3: Rome

Day 4 and 5: Florence

Day 6: Siena as a day trip from Florence

Day 7: Pisa day trip from Florence

Day 8: San Gimignano day trip from Florence.

Day 9: Half day trip to Montefioralle in Chianti, train to Bologna,an hour in Bologna followed by a flight to Geneva

Some Tips:
Accommodation:

So after every trip I decide I’m done with staying in hostels, but then prices for a single room always so expensive and hostels so cheap, I just end up staying in a dorm.

Rome: Alessandro Downtown Hostel, superclose to Termiini was a vey convenient location to get into and out of the town. Though not the best area to walk back after a long, tiring day( taking a bus is easy though). Was a steal for 15 EUR a night, pretty good dorms and service.

Florence: Veneto Residence, not far from the duomo, was a great location, good dorms, again a steal for 14 EUR a night.

Also stayed at Hotel Montreal for a couple of nights with a friend, which too was a great place for 45 EUR a night for a double room, very close to the station and good service.

Food: This is THE thing to do in Italy, I believe I spent 4 times more on food than I did on accommodation in Italy(which does not mean food is expensive, it means I ate more). I usually found places to eat on Telp, looking for restaurants in the “EE” category. Eating was fantastic, when eating alone I would usually have 2 main courses and a desert, when there were 2 of us, we would have 3 main courses and 2 deserts on an average. We are vegetarians, we ate very well, breakfast too was usually pretty good, eating at local pasticceria’s. And there was atleast one gelato break a day. Plus there were cantuccini’s and biscotti’s to be had on the way. And the oranges, persimmons were great too. So here’s a list of mmy favorite restaurants:

Rome:

Alfredo E Ado Ristorante, San Clementine Ristorante, Ponti(?) for Tiramisu.

Florence:

I Buongustai
La Cantinetta in Borgo
Gusta Pizza
Ristorante Caffagi
Ristorante Zaza
Siene: Osteria Al Grattacielo

Transport:

I pre-booked a Rome- Florence ticket for around 20 EUR for the fat train, it seems there are plenty of sites, some charge a fee, some don’t, some have cheap tickets, some don’t, so one needs to really look before booking. We traveled to all other places around Florence by bus, except Pisa where we took a regional train.

Getting a Sim card: was very easy, went to a stall which said “sim card” at the Termini, got a 20 EUR 5 GB data plan which got activated within 20 minutes or so. All you need is your passport. Connection was pretty neat and fast everywhere I went.

Getting an Italian visa in the United States: well that’s a big hassle, you need loads of documents,(make sure you don’t miss anything!). My trip ended in Geneva where I was visiting a friend , so they wanted me to have an Italy – Geneva ticket while applying for a visa, I got an Easyjet one (and cancelled it immediately, since our plans weren’t finalized in November,you can cancel an Easyjet ticket within 24 hours). So make sure you have tickets if you have plan to go to other countries after Italy. And also have a prepaid USPS envelope if you want your visa delivered to your home.
ashwinb is offline  
Reply With Quote
Feb 6th, 2016, 02:43 PM
  #2
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Feb 2013
Posts: 550
Rome:

Arrived in the morning, quickly got a 14 EUR train ticket to go to Termini, although the significantly cheaper bus would have done as well. But I wanted to get all the daylight I could, so I took the quicker option. Italy was unlike any other part of Europe I had seen before, it looked very Mediterranean, with palm trees, terraced houses, it was also quite warm and sunny. Reached the train station, I quickly located my hotel and settled in.
Began exploring Rome with the Santa Maggiore, which was definitely very impressive, very different from the Renaissance art I would see in the rest of my trip. The streets of Rome were busy, with vespas, a little honking and plenty of people, tourists as well as non-tourists making it a very lively place. The area around Termini wasn’t really a very likeable one, but as you walk away from it, walks become nicer.
Had lunch at an outdoor place outside the Maggiore church, really good Gnocchi in Pomodoro sauce, the weather was great, sunny and warm(yes, even in December, global warming or just a heat wave or just temperature difference, I don’t know). Had a nice stroll towards the Roman Forum area. The Trajan Market building was absolutely beautiful! And vibe on the streets reminded me of Istanbul. Climbed up the Capitoline Hill to get brilliant views of the Forum. While it looked beautiful, I just wish more had survived. Then I got a ticket to enter the Forum, went in, looked around, trying to remember and recreate mental images from the book “History of Rome”, It was definitely fascinating, but again, very little remains. Palatine Hill tuned out to be the star attraction for the day. Everything up there was impressive. Walked and saw as much as I could, enjoyed views of the Forum, the place was very “Roman” indeed. And there were trees loaded with oranges as well. Got down as it tuned dark, it was barely 4.30 PM. Now I had several hours to spend before I had dinner. I got a gelato from a shop, was pretty good and cheap.
Walked all the way upto the Spanish steps stopping by the Trevi Fountain and Piazzas on the way. Christmas decorations were at their best, and crowds were high. Repairs are on at the Spanish steps, which was a disappointment. Had an early 4 EUR pasta dinner at Pastifico, making up my mind never to have pasta at pasta on the go places. Had a good tiramisu at Pompi, right infront of Pastifico. Walked back to the hotel, again, walking through empty streets in Rome is a pleasure, especially at night. Slept off, tired from the walking and jetlag.



More Ancient Rome
Had breakfast at a Pasticceria, not the healthiest, but pretty tasty, quick and cheap. Went straight to the Colosseum. And wow! It was phenomenal. Crowds were less, since it was a winter morning and a little fog was still around. As the sun went up, crowds went up, but the colosseum looked even better. The area around the Colosseum looked pretty neat from up there. Spent a couple of hours exploring the building, then walked to the San Clemente church. The church was really pretty, the underground portions too were really interesting, you go several levels below the ground. Later, had a big lunch at a restaurant just outside the church, their vegetable fritters and Ravioli in pomodoro were fabulous.
Next on the list was the Pantheon. The sheer size of the temple amazed me, from the outside it looked very beautiful with all it’s Greek columns and Latin and it’s cylindrical rear portion. Around the Pantheon were several interesting buildings which included basilicas, restored buildings with greek columns and so on.
Now the plan was to go to Gianicolo Hill, but then GoogleMaps guided me to a deadend lane just below Gianicolo, and the only way to get to the hill was a long walk, so I decided to skip it and go to the Castel Angelo. Turned out to be a great decision, sunset was fabulous, and views over the Vatican and Rome were great from the terrace. Had dinner at a pizzeria near Santa Maggiore, Zaza Pizza, which was pretty good.



A little More Ancient Rome and some Baroque Rome and Rome at Night
Took a bus to the Carcalla Baths, was quite awestruck by the huge surviving ruins, walked around what would have been grand baths. Walked further to the Pyramid of Cestius which was a short pleasant walk through residential neighborhoods. The pyramid was certainly quite a sight. Got a metro ride to the Spanish steps, had to take the mandatory walk up the steps, although a lot of it was closed.
Took a long walk across all piazzas, stopping at each for a fairly long time. Bought fruits from Piazza Campo Di Fiori’s farmers market, gelato from Piazza Navona, wish I could get a good aerial view of the Piazzas. Had lunch at one of the touristy restaurants with fixed menus, turned out to be pretty good. Arrived near the Colosseum to get pictures of the Colosseum after dark, which was superbly lit, but the restoration work had hit the most photographic features of the building.
Next on the plan was looking at the Pantheon all lit up. The Pantheon ofcourse looked great, the square was much busier than what it was during the day. Had a good Ravioli with Porcini mushrooms and an artichoke dish at a restaurant whose name I don’t remember, unfortunately, it was pretty close to the Pantheon though. So ended my 3rd day in Rome.


Vatican, A different world altogether.
I had booked for the 9 AM slot, I reached there at about 8.30 and I could get in easily. Entrance and security was quick, and I quickly reached the museum. The grounds and gardens were interesting, the Gallery of Maps blew me away(and there were hardly any people!), the Raphael Rooms were stunning, I spent more than an hour looking around. Sistine Chapel was obviously the best of all, I didn’t particularly know a lot about the paintings, but the audio guide helped to a good extent. Again, I spent a large amount of time just looking up and walking around. You just can’t have enough of it. Tour groups came and went, and crowds went up and down accordingly. I would definitely call a visit to the Sistine Chapel as something close to a life changing event. I just wished they allowed photography, and it’s impossible to “cheat” and click pictures in off season, the chapel isn’t packed, which is a great thing since you can really take in the place.
Stepped out of the chapel, walked through endless corridors with good murals, passed through the iconic spiral staircase and stepped out of the museum. Had lunch at a Pasta place near the St.Peter’s square, one of the cafes ripped me off with a 14 EUR cake(that was the sit-down price, the take away price was 5 EUR, so always check the menu when you sit down). St.Peter’s square was quite busy,so I got into the cathedral, and wow! I wasn’t prepared at all for the grandeur and the scale of the building. Spent a super long time in side the cathedral(make sure you go in when it’s atleast fairly bright outside, everything glows). Then took the stairs upto the dome, was quite a climb, but worth it. The views of the Square, of the Vatican, of the countryside around, of Rome all were fabulous. Came down when it started getting a little dark, roamed around St.Peter’s square for a pretty long time, watching the lights come up, the skies were beautiful as well.
Came back to “main Rome”, the streets to the main piazzas were beautifully decorated, had one of my best dinners in Rome, at Alfredo E Ado, had an artichoke lasagna and an Eggplant parmigiana, all made to perfection. Spent some more time hanging around at the Pantheon, returned back home to get up early the next day.
ashwinb is offline  
Reply With Quote
Feb 6th, 2016, 02:44 PM
  #3
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Feb 2013
Posts: 550
Page on Rome: https://ashwinbahulkar.wordpress.com/2016/01/31/rome/
ashwinb is offline  
Reply With Quote
Feb 6th, 2016, 02:45 PM
  #4
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Feb 2013
Posts: 550
Florence
Page on Florence: https://ashwinbahulkar.wordpress.com...1/31/florence/

Florence-A Dream.

I had prebooked an early morning high-speed train seat for a pretty good price(20 EUR). The journey was smooth, most of it was through fog, so couldn’t see a lot outside. My hotel, Veneto Residence was close to the Academia Gallery, left my luggage and set out to explore the town. I had booked for 10 AM with the Uffizi Gallery(turns out I didn’t need to book, since you could just go in,there were no lines). The piazzas looked great, especially the Piazza Signoria, the Duomo looked fantastic, but the light wasn’t enough for it to glow, the Ponte Vecchio too looked superb.

Later, spent several hours at the Uffizi. You need to several rounds, one to look at the murals, another to look into the rooms, another to look at the sculptures in the passage, I could do just one in every round. Views over Florence and the river bank were pretty good. View of the Duomo were good from the café, but you can see just the Duomo, not the entire cathedral. Had lunch at I Buongustai, bruschettas(one with walnuts and cheese on top),and pasta in Pomodoro Sauce, all cooked to perfection, and really cheap!

Visited the Bargello museum, went up the Duomo, have really no words to express the marvel it is from both the inside and the outside, the paintings-murals were so real. Views from the top were absolutely fabulous. It was late afternoon, there was light mist and the sunlight was soft. Florence couldn’t have looked better at any time, very dreamy, out of this world. But I didn’t linger here for long, went to the Palazio Vecchio, got a ticket to go upstairs to the battlements and the tower. Views over the entire cathedral, the Duomo, the town were fabulous. Waited almost till sunset, when the lights came up on the cathedral, was quite a sight. Later walked all around the old town, all lit up and beautiful. Had dinner at Gusta Pizza on the other side of the river. The pizzas are Neapolitan and really good, the crowds attest to that. So make sure you’re there before 7, because there’s a queue to get in.

More Florence

Visited the Academia wandered at the David for quite sometime, the details are mind-boggling. Rest religious paintings are certainly worth a look. Proceeded to the Duomo area, had a look at the Duomo museum, a really well done and well lit modern museum with some really good sculptures. The Baptistery leaves you spell bound. That was one of my most favorite buildings in Florence. Had lunch again at I Buongustai, their Risotto was really well done, while their desserts didn’t impress me enough.

Climbed up the Giotto Bell Tower, the views are just phenomenal. The Duomo’s scale is even more evident when you go up. Walked up to the Santa Croce, didn’t really go in, walked around the Square and the markets and proceeded towards Piazza MichaelAngelo.

Views from the top are fabulous in the evening! Yes, it’ a little crowded, but certainly worth it. The Basilica San Miniato Al Monte was absolutely great, a bit dark inside but really beautiful, infact one of my favorite basilicas in Florence, the light outside had become very dreamy and evocative. All shades of colors possible, red, pink, orange..headed back to the Old Town after it got dark stopping by the Pitti Plaza. Had dinner at La Cantinetta in Borgo, a pear stuffed Ravioli and a spaghetti in Truffle Sauce, both very well done. The truffle dish was smelt so good, everyone looked towards the dish when it arrived. So ended my second day in Florence. There were several places I hadn’t seen, the Pitti Palace or the Medici tombs for example.
ashwinb is offline  
Reply With Quote
Feb 6th, 2016, 02:46 PM
  #5
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Feb 2013
Posts: 550
Siena: https://ashwinbahulkar.wordpress.com/2016/01/31/siena/

Did Siena as a day trip from Florence.

Siena’s no less, the red buildings, the Cathedral, the Tower, the Plaza, views over the countryside make it another star destination. I left by the early morning bus from Florence. The old town certainly makes you feel as if you’re in a different era. The Piazza Del Campo was outstanding, one of the best squares I’ve ever seen. The entire had fascinated me by now. Went up the Tower ( Torre Del Mangia), the climb was quite a bit, but the views of the surrounding area and the town was totally worth it. Next was the Cathedral and the Duomo. The cathedral is probably unlike any other you would see in Italy, so richly decorated, huge and dark. Very different from the ones in Rome and Florence. I got the combo ticket for the Gates of Heaven. The Gates of Heaven tour takes you up the cathedral and you walk all around the cathedral, so you get to see the entire interiors of the cathedral from a good height. Later, visited the Picolomini Library, the paintings were really good and well restored. It’s also well lit and the lighting goes well with the color of the paintings.

Now it was lunch time, headed to Osteria Al Grattacielo, a very local place. Had a good vegetarian plate, with several unique items like barley in pesto sauce, cauliflower-cheese cake, potatoes with basil, aubergines, ribolita, all done very well.

Post lunch headed to the Battistero of the Duomo, another wonderful and grand building, then walked up the Campanile of the Duomo, to get beautiful views of the town and the tower and Piazza. The surrounding countryside too looked really good. Siena from here looks like straight out of your dreams or the movies. Then walked around the town looking for views of the countryside, but couldn’t find any, however the park down the town is worth a visit. Quite a green change from the red town.

Picked up a gelato, wandered around the main square and got an evening bus back to Florence. Had dinner at a place near Santa Maria Novella, had a colossal mozzarella salad, unfortunately I don’t have the name of the place, but it’s one of the well rated ones.

More coming soon..
ashwinb is offline  
Reply With Quote
Feb 6th, 2016, 03:04 PM
  #6
 
Join Date: Nov 2015
Posts: 8
We are planing a trip in April ,thank you for your blog it has been really helpful in the planing. I can't wait!
How did you get to San Gimignano ?
Hmary1 is offline  
Reply With Quote
Feb 6th, 2016, 11:52 PM
  #7
 
Join Date: Jan 2015
Posts: 845
Nice blog and photos Ashwin. We have our first trip to Italy coming up too.
Adelaidean is offline  
Reply With Quote
Feb 7th, 2016, 07:17 AM
  #8
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Feb 2013
Posts: 550
Pisa: https://ashwinbahulkar.wordpress.com...from-florence/

Got a really good Pesto-mozarella sandwich at one of the stalls at the Mercato Centrale, Cantuccini at one of the specialty cantuccini shops, picked up a friend at the train station, we immediately booked tickets to go to Pisa by the local train. The journey was quite good, the walk to the tower from the station wasn’t bad and there was a Christmas market on the way.

The Pisa Complex was excellent, the white marble, and the green lawns made a good combination. The battistero’s a very attractive building, and so is the cathedral’s façade. We didn’t go inside, we just checked out the cathedral, walked around the complex and walked back to the station, took a train to go back. The return journey took a long while, the train took a longer route to get back to Florence.

On returning we checked into Hotel Montreal, went for dinner to Ristorante Caffagi, the Ravioli and Risotto we had were really good, and so were the desserts. Took a long stroll along the river and ended the day.
ashwinb is offline  
Reply With Quote
Feb 7th, 2016, 07:30 AM
  #9
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Feb 2013
Posts: 550
We got to San Gimignano by bus, a quick 1h20m journey.
ashwinb is offline  
Reply With Quote
Feb 7th, 2016, 08:59 AM
  #10
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Feb 2013
Posts: 550
I'm not sure why I'm not able to post anymore..
ashwinb is offline  
Reply With Quote
Feb 7th, 2016, 09:00 AM
  #11
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Feb 2013
Posts: 550
San Gimignano: https://ashwinbahulkar.wordpress.com...montefioralle/
ashwinb is offline  
Reply With Quote
Feb 7th, 2016, 05:02 PM
  #12
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Feb 2013
Posts: 550
San Gimignano

Started the day with a good breakfast at the Mercato Centrale, left for the bus to San Gimignano, the town was pleasantly quiet. The beautiful sun lit town was well over the fog, everything looked so misty and mysterious from the top. One of my best moments of the trip.
ashwinb is offline  
Reply With Quote
Feb 7th, 2016, 05:02 PM
  #13
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Feb 2013
Posts: 550
We then walked over to the Via Veccia and walked for atleast a mile along the road admiring views of the entire town,, the road passed across several vineyards. Came back to the town, had a good lunch at one of the few places open, again strolled around the town, went to the sunset spot for a good sunset. The bus going back was at around 5 PM, and it didn’t look like the towers would be illuminated. So we left by the bus, returning back to Florence at 7 or so. Had a good dinner at OSteria Santa Spirito, good, but not the most favorite of my meals on the trip.
ashwinb is offline  
Reply With Quote
Feb 7th, 2016, 05:02 PM
  #14
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Feb 2013
Posts: 550
A little more Tuscany, Montefioralle and a little of Bologna

We had about half a day before our flight back from Bologna. So we got the bus to Greve-in-Chianti, got down just before the town, walked along the road for atleast a mile or so. The road was quite pretty, it was a little uphill along vineyards. The houses, vineyards all were very pretty. Finally we reached the village, it was really really small, but pretty. Walked round the village, walked till the other side of the village, Montefioralle looked like a nice, imposing castle-village. We walked around the private vineyards wherever we could find paths, finally hit a road which got us back to Greve.
ashwinb is offline  
Reply With Quote
Feb 7th, 2016, 05:03 PM
  #15
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Feb 2013
Posts: 550
Came back to Florence, had a quick lunch at Zaza Trattoria, mostly some truffle based dishes, which were pretty good. Did some quick food shopping at Mercato Centrale, I bought pesto, truffle cream and some pasta. We got a high speed train to Bologna, the journey was pretty drab, though the countryside was beautiful, most of it was through tunnels so we couldn’t see anything. We had a couple of hours at Bologna before the flight, so quickly parked our luggage at the train station, walked till the main squares which were absolutely amazing, they were big, busy, red and very aesthetically built. Sat around for a while and came back to the train station and left for the airport by the shuttle. And so ended the trip.
ashwinb is offline  
Reply With Quote
Feb 8th, 2016, 06:23 AM
  #16
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Feb 2013
Posts: 550
So that's all, it was a great trip, I could go to Italy again and again. There's still so much to see.
ashwinb is offline  
Reply With Quote
Feb 20th, 2016, 05:33 AM
  #17
 
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 50,350
ashwin - thanks for posting in such detail, your trip really comes alive as do your descriptions of the food. We often get people enquiring about vegetarian food in Italy so your TR is an excellent resource.

thanks also for the link to your blog; I was looking through it and found your trip to Hampi; by coincidence there is a TR about a trip to that area at the moment on the Asia forum so I was able to see the places that I've been reading about. Thanks!
annhig is online now  
Reply With Quote
Feb 21st, 2016, 07:49 AM
  #18
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Feb 2013
Posts: 550
Annhig, thanks a lot!
Ys, being vegetarian is fairly easy,atleast in central ITaly as far as I could see it. Every restaurant has several vegetarian pastas on the menu, many of them being different from each other. Plus there are paninis, pizzas, gelato(ofcourse), deserts but yes, I found different things to eat in Siena, I would like to search for such places in other cities as well.
ashwinb is offline  
Reply With Quote
Feb 21st, 2016, 09:52 AM
  #19
 
Join Date: Feb 2016
Posts: 17
Thank you so much aswinb! This is extremely helpful and we wondered on getting to some of these Tuscan regions plus be able to see so much in Florence and Rome. Cheers!
michtravel is offline  
Reply With Quote
Feb 26th, 2016, 07:23 PM
  #20
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Feb 2013
Posts: 550
Thanks a lot! michtravel, have a god trip.
ashwinb is offline  
Reply With Quote
 



Thread Tools
Search this Thread
Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are Off
Pingbacks are Off
Refbacks are On



All times are GMT -8. The time now is 12:32 PM.