Summer 16 – Road Trippin’ Italy

(FYI – this post has tonnes of photos!)

This trip made me realize what little the city does for me. The fine dining is dandy, the touristy stuff is cool, but the things that will stick with me for a lifetime are the hikes and views out in nature.

I don’t know if that’s part of getting old, or if I’ve fully detached myself from a lot of material things. People recommended food, drinks, and shopping to me, which I appreciated and enjoyed – to an extent. I would’ve much rather spent my time elsewhere.

I’m still blown away by how beautiful Italy is. For 2 weeks, my husband and I traveled around the country by car and foot, before stopping in our final city of Siena to drop me off for my second 500hr Yoga Medicine Teacher Training module.

Last year I went to Spain for my first 500hr module and gushed about it here.

For those of you looking to travel to and around this amazing country, I hope this post can provide some insight about our experience and things we learned. In addition to this, I recommend the Italy guide book by Rick Steves, where you’ll learn some more hacks and a bit more Italian history. You won’t get much of that from me 🙂

Here’s a short list of some things to consider when planning a trip to Italy that I found:

  • Cars are manual so if you want an automatic car, you have to request it, which is about twice the cost of a manual. Neither one of us drive manual, and we weren’t about to learn how to drive it in the small roads of Italy!
  • The Autostrada is the toll highway. It’s pretty costly and so is gas. Prepare to pay a lot of money!
  • Italian drivers are aggressive. They tail gate you and they speed. Stay on the right side lane if you don’t have a need for speed. Use the left lane to pass.
  • Motorcycles seem to have the right of way. They make their own rules and weave in between traffic.
  • The roads are narrow and small, especially driving up to the Dolomiti Alps, and down south in Naples.
  • I had mapped out our drive, and planned for the number of days in each city based on what we wanted to do and what people recommended. I booked the car and hotels all ahead of time and picked our accommodations based on parking availability, wifi, location, and cost – somewhat in that order.
  • Tipping is not required, especially at the restaurants that have a cover charge (usually 2EU each) and serve bread. Otherwise, tipping 1-2EU each seems pretty standard.
  • Water is not free. It is usually about 2EU for a litre bottle. If you’re budgeting and not looking to do fancy things all the time, go to the grocery store and stock up. We found 1.5L bottles for as little as 0,44EU each!
  • Nutella is everywhere. So is bread. So is pizza. So are cold cuts. And for someone like me who doesn’t eat a lot of meat on a regular basis, my diet went to hell LOL.  If you don’t want to get fat, I recommend hiking a lot, walking, jogging, and biking 🙂
  • Line ups to the museums are LONG. Buy tickets ahead of time, or show up early to line up so they don’t turn you away at the end of the day!

Now, for a more detailed experience of our trip!

We arrived in Florence on Sunday, July 24th in the morning. We picked up our rental car, a small, automatic Volks Wagon Polo (NOT a Fiat lol), and drove about 10 minutes to our b&b, CASA TOSELLI.

This place included parking for 10EU per day, free breakfast, water and tea.

From our hotel, we walked about 15 minutes to Ponte Vecchio, a Medieval stone closed-spandrel segmental arch bridge over the Arno River. After another 10 minutes, we found ourselves at The Duomo in Florence, the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. Pretty amazing architecture. We didn’t end up going inside because we arrived around 6pm and they closed at 7pm. They didn’t let anyone else line up unless you already had a ticket. There goes my dream of doing yoga with the Statue of David haha.

I’m also not a sweets person (If you follow my posts, I’m more of a salty kinda girl), so I had one gelato, Nutella flavoured of course! It was amazing! But it gave me my fix and I didn’t really care for it again…the bread on the other hand…!!

 

On the second day, we drove to Pisa for half the day to see the tower. It was about an hour from Florence. There was some traffic going into the parking area, but once it cleared, we found lots of parking in the tour bus parking lot, which is free for cars. Rick Steves explains this more in his book.

We got there around noon, which was way too late. It was packed with tourists, and it was very hard to get a good yoga photo without people getting in the way LOL. We got our cliche leaning tower photos, ate lunch (lots of places to eat there with free wifi), and drove back to Florence.

We spent one more night in Florence and the next day, we drove to the Dolomiti, the southern Italian Alps, and stayed at the Hotel Pragser Wildsee. It was a little over a 5 hour drive and very scenic.

The temperature change was definitely noticeable, along with the level of diversity. Not a single Asian in site haha!

Our hotel included a half board and the meals were delicious. We did an easy hike around the river which took about an hour that first day.

The scenery and meals were probably the best thing about this place though. The people were pretty rude and their wifi wasn’t working because there was construction outside! Which is fine…it’s a good idea to unplug, but they were very unapologetic. Even though it was a half board which breakfast and dinner included, water was not, once again. They had cameras on us in the dining room as well. I served myself water since no one was around and they billed us when were checking out. Which, again, is totally fine, but the vibe was just rude.

After breakfast the next morning, we drove another 30 minutes or so to park our car so that we could hike up to our hostel, Rifugio Antonio Locatell, at the Triple Peaks (Tre Cime). It was roughly a 1.5 hours hike. The terrain was pretty easy until we got closer to the hostel. It started getting steeper, more narrow, and rocky. The next day, we hiked back down to the car.

I’ll let the photos speak for themselves. BEYOND spectacular! This was a major highlight of the trip.

We had Venice next on our list, but we decided to make a pit stop to Bolzano, where Otzi the Ice Man is preserved! He was a man found by hikers back in 1991. His body was frozen and preserved by the ice for 5,300 years! We drove about 2.5 hours to the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology. The line up looked long but we found some street grub to munch on while we waited about 60 minutes. There is quite a bit of shopping there so it wouldn’t be a bad idea to stroll around town as well!

So then we drove another 2 hours or so to Venice. We stayed at the Riviera Dei Dogi hotel. It included free parking and breakfast. We didn’t stay in the island of Venice but this place was about a 30 minute bus ride to the city. It was a good idea because it would’ve been impossible to drive in Venice!

We tacked on an extra day at this hotel because we didn’t end up booking another day in the Dolomites. In hindsite, I wouldn’t have minded staying one more day and continue to climb some more mountains.

We arrived at our hotel in the early evening and had dinner at a restaurant near by. I forget the name, but the hotel would be able to recommend.

The next morning, we bought our tickets for the bus to Venice. We did the usual touristy things. Walk around the shops, took a photo with the masquerade masks, and went on a gondola ride! The cost of the ride was 80EU for up to 6 people which we didn’t care to pay for. So we managed to get together with a family of 4 which saved us a tonne of money!

We also had lunch at a Japanese/Chinese buffet called Zikiya. We were very pleased! I mean, it wasn’t the best Asian food ever, but for $13,90 EU + service charge per person, it gave me my fix! Thank goodness for all the walking, hiking, and baking in the sun! Otherwise, I’m pretty sure I would’ve gained 50 lbs from his trip!

The day after, we woke up at 5:30am to drive to Levanto to explore Cinque Terre! It was another pit stop we decided to include in our itinerary last minute. And but last minute, I mean the day before!

It was about a 3.5 hour drive one way. We parked our car in Levanto and hiked to Monterosso. It was amazing! The hills were steep and never seemed to end. The views were magnificent. Because of the amount of time we paid for parking, and the time it would take for us to drive back to Venice, we hung out around the beach once we got to Monterosso, which took about 2.5 hot, sweaty, steep climbing hours, ate lunch, and took the train back to our car to go back to Venice. But first, we had to stop by the grocery store and buy a watermelon!

Next time, Cinque Terre definitely needs to be part of the plan, and the entire 5 towns needs to be hiked and visited! The good news, is we did the most scenic hike, and it was the most strenuous. If you start at La Spezia, it goes from easy to hard – and after doing the West Coast Trail in that sequence, I very much prefer to get the hard out of the way first!

So we left Venice and made our 7.5 hour trek to the Amalfi Coast! I booked the cute B&B Puntaferano up in the hills at Vico Esquense near Positano. Now in hindsight again, I probably would’ve found a place to stay in Positano, right by the beach because we ended up spending most of our time there.

However, the B&B was gorgeous, the host was a cute nona, who watched us eat every morning, making sure we ate everything LOL. Nutella, bread and all! She was very sweet. The view from the balcony was incredible, and I would totally live in that house! I got up each morning for a jog up the hill – which killed me. Hill running is probably the hardest, most dreadful thing I’ve ever done for exercise! But there’s no doubt that it made me stronger, and was totally fine on my knees. I had to work off that Nutella afterall!

Again, the roads are super narrow and the motorcycles think they own it – so make sure you drive safe and honk your horn when turning corners!

We spent the most time in this city. The first day we went for walks, browsed around a night market, and did some reading and studying. Pretty low key.

On day 2, we drove 10 minutes to Santa Maria Del Castello and parked our car. This was the starting point of our 7 hour hike!! I got a really nice tan that day! We hiked down the mountain to Positano, or somewhere close to it. We continued to walk a few more hours to get to Nocelle so that we could BEGIN the actual hike haha. We hiked a portion of the Path of Gods (Sentiero Degli Dei). That particular path would’ve taken 3 hours one-way, but because we already hiked our legs off, we went in about 1.5 hours and went back out. We managed to get lots of beautiful photos overlooking the beaches. We couldn’t believe how high up we were. This was the second highlight of our trip.

The next day, we took the bus (big mistake. The bus took 2 hours to come. But, once we got on it, it brought us down to Positano in about an hour.), the bus took us to the train station, and from there another bus. We stayed at a private beach and swam all day. The water was so blue, cool, and clear. It is not a sandy beach. It was rocky and pebbly, but was very close to paradise!

On our last day there, I squeezed in one more hill jog, ate our last bread and nutella meal, and began embarking on the next 5.5 hour drive to Siena, where my advanced yoga teacher training would be taking place. Joe stayed with me for 2 days the Hotel La Selva on the Cotorniano hills and then he drove back to Florence to drop the car off and fly home to Toronto.

The third highlight of my trip was spending another incredible week with my teach Tiffany, and 54 other yoga teachers to learn about the shoulder, its anatomy, dysfunction, and applications.

It was an intense week of learning and application, including daily yoga practice at 7am for 2 hours. I met some amazing people including my roomie and running buddy, Alison.  We finished the week off with a final exam – which  I aced 😀 and some dinner and wine! Although I am not much of a drinker of any alcohol at all these days, I did enjoy a small glass with my dinner aka bread 🙂

So there you have it!

I could not have asked for more. Being away from home for 3 weeks was actually the longest I’ve ever traveled. Spending it with my husband, and then on my own, was the perfect way for me to connect with my better half, and with myself. I am truly grateful and I feel so blessed to be able to experience a life such as this.

I am humbled and inspired by everyone I met, and by my supporters at home. Without them, I would not be writing this blog.

Here’s to more adventures, learning, love, laughter, and happiness!

Thank you for following my adventure! Happy Travels! <3

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