We knew better. But we did it anyway. We went to Italy the end of June.
It is hot in Italy in the summer. And it's crowded with tourists. Hotel prices are at all-time highs. Who would want to go to Italy in the summer, we've asked ourselves time and time again over the years.
|Tourists in Florence Italy - early morning|
And then two weeks ago we took off to see first-hand if Italy was as hot and crowded as we believed it to be in the summer!
Actually, Italy wasn't our first destination of choice. We'd booked a trip to Jordan's Wadi Rum. It was to be my 'birthday trip' (a bit early) and a celebration of our late June anniversary. Luxury camping in the desert - what a trip, it would be!
But then we came to our senses: staying in a tent in the desert the end of June probably wasn't going to be the wisest nor most pleasant of travel experiences. We started having visions of headlines about an elderly (aka 'crazy old coots') American couple dying of heat strokes. Then we cancelled the trip.
|Italian vineyard as seen from a train|
The Scout went to work and mapped out a more reasonable week-long getaway than the Jordanian desert:
We'd fly from Kalamata to Bergamo, in northern Italy. Then take a bus to Milan, catch a train to Florence, spend a few days there, then another train to the southern port city of Bari. From it, we'd sail a Greek ferry back to Patras, a port city in the north of the Peloponnese and then take a bus to Kalamata where we'd left our car at the airport. Leave Monday, returning the following Monday.
Sometimes it works. . .
|Row one Ryan Air - leg room aplenty!|
It is a snap flying out of Kalamata's small, well-worn airport, located just over an hour's drive away from our home in the rural Mani. With reservations at the parking lot next to the airport (and a daily rate of three euros), the trip began without a hitch.
|Loading the bus to Milan at Bergano - tourists aplenty!|
Ryan Air, one of Europe's low-cost airlines, got us to Bergamo for a ridiculously low 125 euros a ticket (which included an additional fee for an upgraded seat with extra leg room and a checked bag). Bergamo's airport was modern and easy to navigate. Collecting our bags and buying bus tickets to Milan - all a snap. The bus stopped at the Milan train station, what could be easier?
Those best laid plans. . .
|Italian high speed trains - usually on time|
We'd had an unfortunate experience with buying Italian train tickets in advance on an earlier trip there this year. Our flight had been delayed, we missed the window for changing tickets, and didn't make the train either. We ended up paying a high price for a taxi to get us to our intended destination. This time we wouldn't risk a late plane. . .we planned to book the train tickets while on that bus heading to the train station. There are many trains a day, plenty of choices. . .or so we thought.
|The Scout watches the estimated time of arrival screen|
It was a good plan until all the fast trains showed, 'sold out'. . .for all seats all but the 400-euro Executive Class. Yes, Italy was apparently full of tourists just like we had suspected, and they'd filled the trains. We finally booked a cheaper 'bucket run' option that had us stopping in Bologna, and changing trains at the first Florence station to board a different train that would take us the remaining five minutes to the city's main station.
|Italian countryside from our train|
But our train out of Milan was delayed by a few minutes. . .just enough minutes to require us to grab our bags and run through that first Florence station, up a flight of stairs and fling ourselves unceremoniously into the second train with about a minute to spare before the doors shut. Panting and sweaty, but we were aboard the train that would take us the last five minutes of the multi-hour journey.
You want to go where?
|Streets are narrow in Oltrarno|
Finally, far later than we originally had planned, we loaded ourselves and bags into one of taxicabs at the main train station, breathing a sigh of relief at finally being in Florence. I handed the cab driver the slip of paper with the hotel name and address.
"I don't know this place," he snapped, adding, "And I don't know this street."
Luckily our Greek phone works throughout the European Union so I placed a call to the hotel. He got us there after chatting with the hotel, but I couldn't help feeling that he was as tired of tourists as we were of traveling!
Fabulous but Frantic Florence
|Oltrarno late at night was free of tourists|
Florence may well be our favorite city in Italy. We had again chosen to stay in the city's Oltrarno, a place busy by day but delightfully not busy at night.
|The centuries-old mural in our room|
We ultimately arrived at the hotel, the San Pier Novello in Oltrarno, a small B and B hotel tucked away on an upper floor of a historic building in Florence's Left Bank. The location was a good one, we were footsteps from the entry of the magnificent Boboli Gardens.
|Lots of space for tourists at Boboli Gardens|
The gardens -visited early in the day to avoid the heat -- were the only tourist site we tackled during our stay. It is so large you seldom saw others. However, the lines at museums and other sites were as long as we had suspected they might be.
|'Molto buono', the finger-to-the-cheek gesture|
We celebrated our anniversary at our favorite Oltrarno restaurant, Osteria del Cinghiale Bianco (the white boar) but only because we were willing to arrive at 6:30 - they couldn't otherwise guarantee a table. The waiter (pictured above) suggested a Super Tuscan wine that he described through his gesture as being, 'molto buono' (very good!). It was!
All Aboard for Bari
There is no direct train connecting Florence to Bari. Our trip required a change of trains in Rome. We had a 15-minute connection time, which is quite manageable because the trains seem to always run on time. Well, always, up until this trip.
We'd missed our connection in Rome before we left the Florence train station - our train was 18 minutes late departing. We'd not gone far before they announced the train's arrival would be 45 minutes late. We'd never make the connection. But luckily, it was not our fault, so we stood in a ticket line for nearly an hour in Rome and got ourselves another train leaving two hours later.
|Trenitalia still has a ticket office staffed with real humans |
But then. . .you know what's coming, don't you? That later train got delayed and we arrived in Bari an hour and 15 minutes later than the already later arrival had us getting there. It was dusk, moving into dark by the time we arrived.
|One of Bari's commercial buildings at night|
And then there were no taxis to be had at the train station. (We learned later you must call for them). We had no idea where the place was that we had rented. It was a highly rated place, Four Rooms, but with no on-site staff other than a maid we bumped into one morning. You let yourself in the building, to the accommodation and finally your room. They communicated by SMS. There was no one to call.
Finally, we managed to have a taxi driver stop long enough to tell us, 'I could take you. But it is so close you can walk it.' We did and it was only a matter of a few blocks away. I am not so sure that had I been traveling as a single I would have taken that option in a totally new place that time of night.
|Old town Bari was enchanting|
We had only one full day in Bari, but we had a good overview of its new pedestrian-friendly commercial area, its old town and its port and seaside. We have vowed to go back to that delightful city.
|Ferry from Bari arrives Patras, Greece 7 a.m.|
Next time, however, it won't be in summer. And we won't travel by train if it is anywhere near summer.
We will travel by ferry to and from Greece, which was one of the high point experiences of this trip. The ferry left Bari at 1 p.m. and arrived the next morning in Patras, Greece, a port city in the Peloponnese about four hours from Kalamata. Within an hour and a half of disembarking the ferry, we were on a bus back to Kalamata - that trip, also a great ending to our whirlwind adventure.
|Patras to Kalamata - a great ending|
Lessons learned. . .we now at least know who doesn't want to go to Italy again in the summer: us!
That is it for this time. We hope your travels are going well. Having any similar 'best-laid-plans' stories for us? Leave a comment or send us an email if you do! Until next time, thanks for the time you spent here today! Wishes for continued safe travels ~