Friday, November 20, 2009

A little info about Italy and Greece

Steve and I had a vacation trip to Italy and Greece, Sept 1-17, 2009. Let me share our trip planning and some tips. I hope this little bit of info will help those who would like to plan their own trips.

  • Check hotel room rates through agents and compare the rates with the hotel’s own website. Some agents charge less than the hotel, but some do not.
  • Search Google Maps to see the hotel location and print it out, so it is easy to find the direction to the hotel from the closest subway station.
  • Take a free city map from the airport or hotel.
  • In Italy, most people don’t speak English, but some can speak a little English if they deal with tourists.
  • The exchange rate between the US Dollar and Euro was about US$ 1.40 = EUR 1.00 at that time.
  • ATMs are plentiful, some hotels accept US dollars but most places accept Euros only.
  • We saw mostly Visa logos in places that accepted credit cards; MasterCard did not seem to be widely accepted.
  • When you see a supermarket, buy some bottled water. The price is always cheaper than in tourist places.
  • From the research, there were many reports of pick-pockets. Be careful in crowded areas.
  • November – March is the rainy season, May – first half of October is peak tourist season.
  • In addition to Italy, we also planned to visit Greece, so our air itinerary from home to Rome was: STL – ORD – FCO. From Venice to Greece was: VCE – NAP – ATH; from Santorini to Milan was: JTR – ATH – LIN, from Milan to home is: MXP – JFK – RDU – STL. One of the webs to check cheapest airline tickets to Europe is:
  • Several cities have more than one airport. Be aware of which airports your flights arrive and depart from, especially if you have to make a connecting flight. For example, Chicago, New York, and Milan all have multiple airports, and it can take a long time to get between airports.
  • No airport tax, Customs, or Immigration stamp traveling between Italy and Greece.
  • To make it easier to get around, learn the native-language names for cities. For example, Florence is Firenze in Italian.

Our planned trip involved payments:

Day 1: Traveling.

Day 2: Arrive at the Rome airport; buy a Roma Pass (EUR23) at the counter in the airport. Buy a train ticket (EUR11), from the airport to Termini Station, which is the main terminal of the Metro subway system. We took the subway, using the Roma Pass (valid for 3 days from the first entrance, and gives free admission to ATAC urban buses and trains, Underground lines A and B, Met.Ro trains: Roma - Lido, Roma - Viterbo (in the Roma - Sacrofano section), and Roma - Pantano railways lines. Direct access for the first 2 sites; from the 3rd site onwards please apply to the ticket office for discount) to the closest station to hotel. Staying in a room with a double bed in Hotel Cicerone was EUR95 x 3 nights, and included free breakfast. We visited the Colosseum & Roman Forum. It was worth the time and money to use the Roma Pass for the first site, as we saw a very long queue to buy tickets (EUR12) on the spot. We walked around Palatine Hill.

Day 3: We visited the Vatican Museum. We booked our tickets (EUR14 per person) online in advance. The online booking fee was EUR4 per ticket, but booking in advance avoids the long line up for tickets, especially during peak season. We walked around Castel Sant’ Angelo (ticket EUR7, we didn’t go inside), Piazza Cavour, Piazza Navona, Palazzo Madama, the Pantheon, Templo Adriano, Palazzo Monteclitorio, Fontana di Trevi, Quirinale, Palazzo delle Esposizioni and Piazza delle Repubblica.

Day 4: We visited the National Museum (ticket EUR7, not many visitors, I do not strongly recommend it) using the Roma Pass for the second site. We went to Trinita dei Monti, Villa Medici, Museum Borghese and Piazza del Popolo. Then we went to the Circo Massimo, S. Maria in Cosmedin, Campidoglio, Monumento a Vittorio Emanuele II, Colonna Traiana, Mercati Traianei, Domus Aurea, S. Pietro in Vincoli, Santa Maria Maggiore and Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II.

Day 5: Take subway (ticket was EUR1 since our Roma Passes had expired) to Termini train station and take a second class train (EUR42) to Florence. (Buy it a day in advance safely.) We departed at 10.30am and arrived at 12.02pm at the Stazione di Santa Maria Novella, Florence and walked to hotel. Staying in a room with a double bed in Hotel Roma at Piazza Santa Maria Novella was US$125.66 x 2 nights. We walked to the Duomo (ticket EUR8 to climb 463 steps to the top.) Going to the top of the Bell Tower is 414 steps (ticket EUR6), but we didn’t go up. Then we went to Gallery Uffizi (ticket EUR10.) We walked around Plazza D. Signoria, Piazza della S.S. Annunziata and Cappelle Medicee.

Day 6: We went on a day trip to Pisa Central by train, (round trip ticket EUR11.40.) Buy the ticket a day in advance safely. After about 1 hour, we arrived at Pisa Central train station. Buy a bus ticket (EUR1) at a stall to the Leaning Tower. (Check in advance about the bus and train schedule to get back to Florence S.M.N.) We didn’t go inside the Leaning Tower (we regretted a little that we did not), but go in the Museum (ticket EUR5.) After getting back to Florence S.M.N., we walked around Pronte Vecchio, Piazza Santa Croce, Porta alla Croce and Piazza della Signoria.

Day 7: We walked to the train station and took a second class train (ticket EUR37) to Venice. Buy it a day in advance for safe. We departed at 10.37am and arrived at Stazione FF.SS. S.Lucia, Venice at 1.13pm, and walked to the hotel. Staying in a room with a double bed in Hotel Henry was EUR100 x 2 nights. We walked to Ponte di Rialto, Piazza San Marco and went to the top of the Bell Tower (ticket EUR8) by lift.

Day 8: We walked to Gallerie Accademia, Salute Scuola Grande di S. Marco and other places around there.

Day 9: We took a bus to Marco Polo airport (ticket EUR2.50). Buy it and check the bus schedule a day in advance for safety, especially if you have to catch an early flight. The bus journey is about 15 minutes in early morning. We took a flight to Greece - ticket & tax was US$224.16 (booked online earlier possible). We departed Venice at 6.50am and arrived at the airport in Athens, Greece at 1pm (note: Greece is 1 hour ahead of Italy). We bought a Metro ticket (EUR15 for 3 days.) We felt it was not really worth it, as a one way ticket from the airport to Athens city is EUR6, and city Metro subway tickets are EUR3 for a day or EUR1 for 90 minuets.) We took the subway to the city and to the closest station to our hotel. Staying in a room with a double bed in the Best Western Pythagorion Hotel was US$301.41 (total charge for 3 nights, free breakfast). We went to the Acropolis (ticket EUR12) and Acropolis Museum (ticket EUR1 through the end of December 2009). The price for the museum is very cheap and really worth visiting. It just opened to the public on Jun 21, 2009). We walked around Plaka.

Day 10: We went to the National Archaeological Museum (ticket EUR7.) We went to see changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Parliament, Syntagma, Piraeus and Metropolis.

Day 11: We went to Hadrian’s Arch, the Temple of Olympian Zeus, Roman Forum, Agora, Central market (wet market) and to see the night view of the Acropolis.

Day 12: We took the Metro subway to Piraeus port, where we would catch the ferry to Santorini. (We checked the journey time to the port a day in advance, but it happened that day the subway had maintenance and did not run all the way to Piraeus, so we had to take the bus the rest of the way.) We are arrived at Piraeus, but missed our ferry (ticket EUR50) which we bought in advance. We bought another ferry ticket (EUR33.50.) Took a taxi (EUR5) from gate E8 to E1 (Piraeus is a large port). We departed Piraeus at 9am and arrived at Thira, Santorini at 2pm. We took a bus (EUR2) to the main bus station in Fira. We took a bus heading to Oia (ticket EUR1.40), but got off at Firostefani (tell the conductor in advance) where our hotel was located. Staying in a room with a double bed in Efterpi Villas was EUR115 x 3 nights (free breakfast).

Day 13: We walked to Fira, and took a bus (ticket EUR1.40 x 2) to/from Kamari (black beach). Took another bus (ticket EUR2) to Perissa (black beach). Then took another bus (to Fira - ticket EUR1.40) and told the conductor in advance we wanted to stop at the station where we could catch a connecting bus to the red beach at Akrotiri. We took the bus (EUR1.40) to the red beach, then took a bus (ticket EUR1.70) back to Fira. We took a bus (ticket EUR1.40 x 2 to/from Oia) to view the sunset.

Day 14: We joined a boat trip (ticket EUR18) to see the volcano and hot springs (need to be a good swimmer to go to the hot springs area because the boat cannot reach the area.) We bought the ticket it in advance through our hotel. We walked to the cable car station to go down to the port (ticket EUR4 x 2, to/from the old port.) There are other options: pay to ride a donkey or walk for free on the steep trail). The ship departed at 11am for the volcano. On the island, we had to buy another ticket (EUR2) that wasn’t mentioned when we booked the trip). At 2pm we arrived back at the old port. We walked to Fira and did some shopping.

Day 15: A minibus came to the hotel to take us to the airport (fee EUR15/2 persons, booked a day in advance through the hotel.) We took our flight (ticket & tax EUR219.18.) We departed at 7.15am arrived at the airport in Milan, Italy at 12:01pm. We took a bus (ticket EUR? - we rushed into the bus without a ticket when we saw the bus come, thinking there would be a conductor onboard, but no) to the closest Metro station (we asked someone on the bus, but the easiest way should be to tell the driver, and he might remind you when to get off). Take the subway (ticket EUR1) to the station closest to the hotel. Staying in a room with a double bed in Hotel Alba was EUR182 for 2 nights. The shower is in the bed room but no toilet; the public toilet is outside the room. Buy a Metro ticket (EUR5.50) for 2 days (we should have bought it when we first took the subway.) We went to the Duomo and Treasury (ticket EUR1 for entry to the Treasury.)

Day 16: We went to the Central FS station to check the bus location & schedule to go to the airport the next morning. We then went to see the Castello Sforzesco & arch, Santa Maria della Grazie and Museo Nazionale della Seienza & della Tecnica (ticket EUR8 for the museum.)

Day 17: We took the subway to the Central FS station and caught a bus to the MXP airport. Bus tickets are EUR15 for 2 persons. The bus journey is about 1 hour (we didn’t check whether our flight was in Terminal 1 or 2, so we stopped at Terminal 2. They have a free airport shuttle between the terminals. Back home.

To see pictures from our trip, please visit:



Thanks for the useful information :)

eHeart said...

In fact, I wrote this post because of you, when I read your blog about you planning to go Italy. Hehe...I was lazy to write recently especially this one just all of information and need to dig/find them out. Anyway, I am glad you found it useful, a little encouragement to me. ;-)

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