Trip Planning for Italy 2017
Deciding where to go
Our decision to go to Italy over the kid’s spring break was made much later than I normally like and meant we had less time to plan and arrange our trip. First order of business, was deciding where to go and what to do. We knew that we wanted to go to Rome given that our travel dates included Easter Sunday. That piece of information made flying to and from Rome a no-brainer to allow us maximum time seeing Italy instead of travelling long distances from another arrival city like Venice or Milan.
The next decision we made was where to visit and what to see. Our two main options were either go north and visit Cinque Terre and perhaps Pisa and Florence, or to go south towards Naples, Capri, and the Amalfi Coast. We settled up on the later (Naples, Capri, and Amalfi) as the time to travel between there and Rome was significantly shorter. Once the general itinerary was decided upon, next was figuring out how to get to Rome, where to stay, and how to get to where we wanted to go.
The plane trip
We live in Southwest Ohio which affords us access to 3 airports within 60-90 minutes of home, as well as a couple of more that are two hours away, and several major airports that are within a day’s drive of our home including Chicago, Detroit, Toronto, and Washington D.C.. I’ll discuss more on ‘how to’ search for airline fares when travelling abroad in another post, but for this trip I’ll summarize that after searching multiple travel sites like Kayak for fares within a 2 hour drive from home, and the major airports cited above, the cheapest round-trip fare by far to Rome was out of Toronto on Air Canada. Further, I noted there were significant differences in prices when comparing the Air Canada, United, and Brussels Airlines sites for the same flight. In the end, we chose a fare out of Toronto Canada purchased on Brussels Airlines’ site, flying on Air Canada, and gaining frequent flyer miles on my United Mileage Plus account…again, my approach to maximizing frequent flyer miles will be discussed more in another post.
The date chosen was a Sunday meaning we had all day Saturday and part of the day Sunday to get to Toronto for an evening direct flight to Rome. We decided we would stop in Detroit and either stay with some friends there, or get a hotel for the night. Why did we drive 7 hours for our flight? Well, if we flew out of a local airport, that meant arriving at the first airport 1.5 to 2 hours before the flight, likely an hour long flight to a major airport that has flights going to Rome, plus another 2-4 hour layover, if not longer before our flight to Rome, which brings us to approximately saving an hour or two by flying from home versus driving to Toronto. The other reason for this choice was saving approximately $900.00 total between the four tickets I needed to purchase for our travel.
Where to stay
The next phase of planning the trip was deciding where to stay. We didn’t have much of a choice on whether to see Rome at the front or end of the trip as we knew we wanted to spend Easter Sunday in Rome which meant spending the end of our trip there. My initial thinking was to travel from Rome to Naples and then on to somewhere along the Amalfi coast such as Positano or Amalfi and make our base there for several days. This is where it is essential to decide not only where you want to go, but also what you want to do. I knew that once we settled on Naples, Capri, and Amalfi, we had to make time to see Vesuvius and Pompeii (I’m a little bit of a volcano junkie). Also, from reviewing the price of accommodations and transportation options around Amalfi, I realized we may spend a lot of time travelling on or waiting for buses, and pay quite a bit more for a hotel. With that insight, I started to look at Sorrento.
The Sorrentine peninsula and similarly named Sorrento town are west of Amalfi and overlook the Bay of Naples. Hotels were overall cheaper in Sorrento than those along the Amalfi Coast, and the town and nearby villages seemed to have as many, if not more places to eat. Another benefit is that Sorrento has fairly good and easy routes to Naples, Vesuvius/Pompeii, Capri, and Amalfi. After an extensive search, and given we were making reservations approximately less than 90 days from our travel dates, I worried we were going to stay in a not so good hotel, or have to pay an exorbitant price for a good hotel. I came across a reasonably priced hotel right in the middle of Sorrento, Hotel Villa Di Sorrento. I was a little worried as some reviews I found on Trip Advisor were not very complimentary, but given the price, location, and many other good reviews, I booked a family room at the hotel.
Next, was deciding where to stay in Rome. Rome is a very large city, but again this is where knowing what you want to do while there is important. We knew we wanted to attend Easter Mass at the Vatican and wanted to see things like the Sistine Chapel, the Coliseum, the Forum, and Circus Maximus. We also wanted to stay within a 10 minute walk of a metro station as Rome has an outstanding system. So fortunately we found the lovely Vatican Vista Bed and Breakfast apartment located just a couple of streets over from the Vatican and with good walking access to the sites we wanted to see as well as the Ottaviano metro stop and many bus routes stopping in the Piazza del Risorgimento just steps from our door.
How to get around once we go there
Rome to Sorrento
This is probably the one thing that stresses me out the most when planning a trip abroad. This is where I spend a lot of my planning time. Do we take buses, trains, taxis, private cars, rental cars or just hoof it on foot to get from point A to point B. The answer is in some cases, yes…all of the above. How do you know if it is a good deal, if you’re getting taken advantage of, or if there is a reasonable way to get close to where you’re going? Many parts of Europe, including Italy, have fine public transportation options at a reasonable price. I knew that we were flying into Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci International (FCO) Airport but then how did we get to Sorrento? Options generally included renting a car at FCO and driving to Sorrento, not a fun thought after just driving 8 hours the couple of days before and then flying for 9 hours overnight, taking a taxi or train to another train station, then another train from Naples to Sorrento, or just hiring a car to pick us up at Rome and take us to our hotel in Sorrento (the easiest, yet most expensive option).
For this trip, we decided to take an express train from FCO to Rome’s Roma Termini and then another express train to Naples’ Napoli Centrale via Trenitalia. We then hired an awesome car service ran by Giuseppe and Julia De Toro to pick us up in Naples and transport us to Sorrento. The next decision was how to get around Sorrento, Amalfi, and Capri. Again the options were public buses (trains are for the most part not an option really), ferries (not an option around the coast given the time of year), rent a car, or have a tour with a hired car service.
After weighing the costs of renting a car, buying insurance, paying for parking, the stress of driving on some pretty narrow roads, and trying to navigate to what we wanted to see and knowing where to go and park, versus public transport which meant sometimes waiting for a long time for the next bus, and hoping you were close enough to the front of the queue to get a spot on the next bus, we decided to hire Giuseppe’s and Julia’s excellent services once again (this was done well ahead of our trip, not a last minute thing at all) to do day trips to both Amalfi one day and Vesuvius and Pompeii another. This was our first time using a private car service as most of the time we just use public transport and have rented cars and drove on past trips to Ireland, Spain, and Iceland. However, I have to say the cost of the car service was not a huge difference versus renting a car when accounting for parking, gas, tolls, insurance etc.
Back to Rome
For our return trip to Rome, we basically planned the reverse of the same sequence: car service back to Naples and then an express train back to Roma Termini. From there we took a Metro to our Apartment. On our departure from Rome, it was a simple metro ride back to Roma Termini, and then an express train back to the airport. Our trip also included a visit to the island of Capri, for which we decided to do a day trip by arranging basic transport on a ferry to and from, then buses on, Capri. In Sorrento, the town was pretty walkable to wherever we wanted to go after our day trips so there was no transport to arrange.
While in Rome, we walked (a lot) as well as took the Metro some (to return back to our Apartment after a long day of walking). For both the ferry and metro mentioned above, you can simply find where they depart from, find out what hours they operate and go to the ticket booth there to purchase your tickets for one trip, for a day, or multiple days if needed. Cell phones with reasonable data plans (or purchasing a sim card once you arrive) and an abundance of Wi-Fi has removed a lot of stress from planning as google and map apps provide a great way to pick a place you want to go and not only find out detailed information about it, but also provides a hand held GPS (even with cellular data turned off) via the map apps. Just remember to download a detailed enough map before leaving cellular / Wi-Fi to be able to navigate to your destination.
I hope all of the above gives at least a quick overview and tips on planning a 10 day, 9 night trip to Italy. A solid plan takes time and some extensive searching at times. It may help to write-out your trip itinerary and then break down each day into activities, travel required, where you have to or want to be, and by when, and then add details to blocks of time within those days. I will not say this is easy, but I will say if I can do it, so can you. Until next time, safe and fun travels to all!
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