Cassie's trip
to Italy

Follow Oddball Escapes as Cassie travels on
back-to-back escorted tours around Italy.

Choosing Italy...

“Have you been there?”
“Well, I’ve been to Europe. But not yet to Italy.”

This is how most of my conversations start when it comes to helping people plan their travels to Italy. And I know that it makes a HUGE difference to have first-hand experience of the country. So, Italy made it to the top of my list for places I must visit.

So I’m headed to Italy for 2 weeks in October of 2018!
I’ve chosen two back-to-back escorted tour itineraries. The first includes smaller towns along the coast, and the second features the larger iconic must-see cities. I’m excited to experience an “affordable tour” style of travel. But I also get plenty of free time to customize my experience and make it my own at each destination.

And off we go!...
Cassie

The Itinerary

Tour #1: Rome to Milan

Tour #2: Rome to Venice

Travel starts October 13th!
Check back for updates on
each destination visited.

Arrival to Rome
Sunday, October 14th

picked up at the airport

This was so easy! After passing through Customs and collecting my bags, my instructions told me exactly where to find the Cosmos representative. Dressed in red and holding a sign, it was a breeze to find the tour company! There could be a short wait as the buses run back and forth to the hotel. But, the bus took us directly to the hotel and it was a very convenient way to arrive into the city.

jet lag is REAL!

Overnight flights leave you TIRED when you arrive into Europe! All I wanted to do was sleep. So, when I checked into the hotel, this board was where my Tour Director posted the important info. We didn’t need to meet until 6pm tonight for the Welcome Meeting, so off it was for a nap until it was time to meet up with the group. Jet lag is REAL!

meet our Tour Director

Welcome to Rome! 🙂  Our Tour Director is Andrea. He gave us an overview of what to expect for the week, and went into more details regarding our free day tomorrow in Rome. Two optional excursions are available, so he explained how to customize our day with (or without) these excursions. Of course, I’m signing up for both! So excited for Rome!

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Rome
Monday, October 15th

visiting Vatican City

I highly suggest a tour if you plan on visiting Vatican City. Between the museums, the Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica, it is easy to get lost in the shuffle. It was especially busy during my visit, as tours are closed on Sundays so Mondays tend to be a bit more crowded. The Monday I had visited had followed a special ceremony the day before where several people were named saints, so it was VERY crowded. Guided tours get you early access into the museums, allowing you to skip the lines. Plus they are narrated by a local guide using a headset. And wow, so much to see!

gelato at Trevi Fountain

So much to see, so much to taste, so why not do them together! Here I am enjoying a small dish of banana & raspberry gelato while staring at the Trevi Fountain. It’s a great way to take a break and give your feet a rest after hours of walking on uneven cobblestone roads. Plus, Rome can get HOT. You can see I’m in a tank top during the middle of October, and this city includes a lot of walking, so be prepared for a long day on your feet and possibly in the sun.

the must-see Pantheon

Without visiting this as a part of a tour, I may not have realized how special this ancient building is. It is extremely well preserved, and most of what you see from both the outside as well as the inside, is basically the same thing Romans would have experienced when it was built between 113-125 AD. Extremely impressive. And the dome! It’s incredible. It is still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome. This was probably the site that surprised me the most during my time exploring the sites of Rome today. 

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Grosseto, Bolgheri & Livorno
Tuesday, October 16th

visiting Grosseto

Today we pass through the western coast of Tuscany and visit 2 smaller towns, with our first stop in Grosseto. This medieval town is surrounded by a brick wall and still has buildings from the medieval period. Very small and quaint, with several shops and restaurants to experience on its fairly narrow streets.

cypress trees of Tuscany

Wow, I love this view. 🙂  The cypress trees are common throughout Tuscany, and you can see them scattered across the landscape as you drive through the region. But this 3-mile stretch of road leading into Bolgheri features a thick line of cypress trees lining both sides of the road. Absolutely gorgeous. 

small town of Bolgheri

I could’ve stayed here longer! What a picturesque town of old buildings with various facades of old stone and brick. There is basically 1 small road that loops through the town, so we only spent a short time here. But some of my favorite photos of doorways and windows are from this town!

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Cinque Terre
Wednesday, October 17th

the 5 villages of Cinque Terre

How do I choose only 1 picture to post!!! No picture would do this town justice. This is by FAR my favorite part about Italy. Cinque Terre features 5 towns along the Italian Riviera coastline, each with steep terrain featuring colorful buildings and vineyards. Here I am in Manarola looking at a view that is picture perfect.  You know I’m SO going to have to do a painting of Cinque Terre when I get home! 

vinyards + hiking trails

I somehow managed to check off Cinque Terre from my bucket list AND add it back on, all in the same day! The Sentiero Azzurro is a series of trails that connects the towns, and now I MUST come back to hike Cinque Terre! I made sure to find a trail and walk a portion of it during my time in this town so that I could say that I was on the paths. The walk provided views of the vineyards above and the colorful buildings below. AMAZING!

town of Monterosso

Not going to lie, walking around this town is quite touristy. But how could you NOT want a souvenir from this place?! 🙂  And yes, the shops are interesting, and experiencing lunch here is a must, but beyond the hustle and bustle of the people, the atmosphere of this place cannot be missed if you keep your eyes looking up at the beautiful architecture and amazing scenery.

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Genoa & Milan
Thursday, October 18th

walking tour of Genoa

I’m not quite sure what to say about this city. We did a walking tour and experienced both the “newer” buildings from around the time of World War II, and also walked the historical district with VERY narrow streets. It’s a large trading city along the sea with a lot of “firsts” that started here, like the original material “blu di Genova” which eventually evolved into blue jeans. Plus, it’s the birthplace of Christopher Columbus. 

fashion in Milan!

Shopping is definitely NOT my thing. But this high-end shopping center is stunning. Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is a major landmark of Milan. Inside are stores such as Prada, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, and Versace. I was surprised to see that a good number of people walking around were carrying bags from these stores. No shopping for this girl! 

Duomo Milan

Fellow traveler: “How did you like the Cathedral?”  Me: “It reminded me of the redwoods in California.”  Fellow traveler: “Huh?” 🙂  The impressive columns inside this cathedral are massive! I was surprised because from the exterior you see so many fine details, and once you walk inside, you’re blown away by the large columns and massive spaces. Everything about this church is grand. 

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A recap of my experience so far.
Friday, October 19th (Milan)

the (very nice) bus

I couldn’t ask for a more modern, spacious, and clean bus. Plus I got to sit up front one day, and witness that our driver was very good! 

dogs are everywhere

Pet lovers, you may need to move here! You can literally take your dogs anywhere – inside restaurants, grocery stores, etc. I even saw a guy wearing a dog carrier on his back! Crazy.

scooters!

Scooters everywhere! Especially in Genoa where lines of parking spots filled the streets.

people

Ha! Now that’s exactly what I expected to see riding through the main square on a drizzling day in Grosseto!

people

A lady setting up her table to sell jewelry in the local street markets in Genoa.

people

Ummmm… no way! Not in this traffic in Rome. 

local restaurant

This local restaurant owner HATED us! We didn’t speak the language, which annoyed him. He walked away talking to himself. And then, oops, we broke a dish. 🙁  But this was a VERY neat experience. So many locals/family came in, and he greeted them with a kiss. And only one menu selection was available – granted, it was like a 6-course menu, but everyone got the same thing. We didn’t understand.

cheese!!!!!

Mission accomplished! 🙂  This wedge of parmigiano cheese is coming home with me!

doing laundry

More than confusing. Finding this place was a challenge. Then the change machine gives tokens, not real money, even though it looks like money. I finally had to ask how much this coin was worth, and of course, it’s not a real coin. I spent 3+ minutes trying to get soap from the “soap vending machine.” And I guess static is fashionable in Milan, as dryer sheets are nowhere to be found. But I’m not stinky anymore, so that’s all that matters! 🙂 

Lake Como
tour #1 ends this morning,
so I signed up for a day trip
Saturday, October 20th

local buses are much smaller

So I’ve been spoiled by the buses/coaches used for my tour with Cosmos. Today, I’m taking a day trip with a local tour company and this is the leg room on their bus. :{  Um, I’m not tall. This was tight. And then the lady put her seat back! You’ve got to be kidding.

stunning lakeside towns

The town in this photo is Varenna, but many picturesque towns dot the shoreline of Lake Como. Stunning villas are everywhere – which supposedly belong to famous people like Richard Branson, George Clooney, and Madonna, but google can’t prove if this is true or not. Regardless, this is definitely where I would have a 3rd house if I were famous! 🙂

lunch on the lake

Bellagio is a well-known town on Lake Como and has plenty of lakefront restaurants to sit back, relax, and enjoy a lunch with this view. This was a perfect stop after our boat tour that took us to see only a portion of the beautiful landscapes along this 28-mile-long lake in Northern Italy.

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make my way back to Rome
tour #2 starts this evening
Sunday, October 21st

research is a good idea

“Do as I say, not as I do.” Because this girl decided to just head to the train station and wing it. I was told there were multiple trains from Milan to Rome. And I figured that’s all I needed to know. UGH! Nearly missed the train because I couldn’t read my ticket correctly, didn’t know there was more than 1 stop in Rome, wasn’t sure if I had to pay extra for my luggage (or where to put it)… dummy!

lunch = fail!

Dang it… got off the train, checked into my hotel, and totally didn’t plan for the fact that I’d be arriving during the time when restaurants are pretty much closed (approx 3-6pm). This is the restaurant near the hotel that seated me, only to tell me 15 minutes later that the kitchen is closed. Hmmm… I guess they’re open for drinks and snacks, but not real food. I left.

thunderstorm!

After meeting my tour director for the 2nd trip tonight, it was off to dinner… in an absolute downpour! Oh well, all I wanted was food. So off I headed to the same restaurant that I tried for lunch. Got there, and SO MANY people moving around inside, but the gate was closed and the waiter told me it was closed “because of the rain.” Turns out they locked the gate so that all the people that were sitting outside when it started pouring wouldn’t leave without paying. Ha! This still makes me laugh. 

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Rome... again!
"roaming" around on my own today
Monday, October 22nd

taking a walk

I took the Metro to the Spanish Steps this morning. (Immediately thought of Rocky in Philly.) Then walked the main street through the historical section of Rome, Villa del Corso, which is lined with stores and shops. At the southern end of the street, is this massive structure on the Piazza Venezia. Too much traffic to bother getting closer… I was on my way to buy a Subway sandwich and eat it in front of the Colosseum! 🙂

the Colosseum

Until today, I wasn’t feeling it in Rome. And then I did the underground tour of the Colosseum and I completely loved this area. I so don’t want to image the stench of these chambers – animals, slaves, gladiators, urine, waste, blood.  I loved this tour, and hated thinking about it, all at the same time.

ruins of the Roman Forum

The ancient ruins of Rome. These are only traces of the original structures, but it’s absolutely astonishing that we can walk on the same roads from 200 years ago. Just that thought alone is humbling. Let alone to be standing in the center of history, violence, and a completely different cultural mindset… I was in awe for most of this afternoon.

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Pisa (en route to Florence)
Tuesday, October 23rd

porterage service

So on Trip #2 with Cosmos, they are offering porterage services to all travelers. Meaning that they collect our bags and load them onto the bus for us. Here’s our Tour Director with the hotel staff reconfirming that all of the bags are accounted for. We’re off to Pisa!

I'll take it to go!

Do you think this will make it through airport security? 🙂  I refused to take the standard photo of propping it up with my hands, BUT I did help others take that photo, so at least I was involved in the experience.

280+ steps to the top

The climb to the top made this fun touristy site so much more interesting. Look how worn down these steps are! And, as you’re walking UP the stairs to the top, sometimes you feel as if you’re walking up and uphill, and as you round the bend you’re now walking up and downhill. Very odd! And while on the way down, sometimes you’re leaning into the outer wall, and other times nearly staggering into the inner wall. But the time I got to the bottom, I was dizzy and my legs weren’t quite sure I was on even ground. Interesting and worth the extra charge to climb the 280+ steps.

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Florence
Wednesday, October 24th

local street artists

This dude is my favorite! Certainly a highlight of my entire trip! Not sure if it was the eyepatch, or the paint all over his clothing, or maybe even the funny glances he kept giving me with a funny grin as he was working on his painting. A group of school kids came by, then scurried away after he told them a joke. Turns out he used to be a gym teacher (or coach). Plus, I loved his paintings!

Piazza del Duomo

This might be my favorite exterior on a cathedral! Check out the 3 different colors of marble – white, green, red. If I remember correctly, it took about 500 years to complete this design. And of course its large red dome dominates most of the iconic photos featuring Florence’s skyline.

David

So there are huge marble statues everywhere, and some more detailed and intricate than this one. BUT… this statue was one of the largest of its time, at 17 feet tall. Plus it was the first time that David was featured alone, prior to his battle with Goliath (instead of after his victory), as well as nude. It was worth going off on my own to get tickets to see this work by the famous Michelangelo.

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Verona (en route to Venice)
Thursday, October 25th

smaller town on river

I sure am a sucker for the smaller towns! And Verona was beautiful. I loved the buildings, the city center, and the walkways along the river. This photo shows the Stone Wall Bridge, which dates back to the Roman times… see the older stones vs brick? Verona was a nice surprise!

Romeo + Juliet

Verona is the setting for Shakespeare’s play “Romeo and Juliet.” They’re not sure if Shakespeare ever visited Verona, but the two families DID exist here – the Montague and the Capulet. So you get to see Romeo’s house, and also visit Juliet’s house where they have added a balcony and a statue. Supposedly if you rub her breast, you’ll have good luck in love… so I groped her!

the Arena

The Colosseum wasn’t the only amphitheater in Italy. Smaller ones were throughout the region, featuring the same types of gruesome entertainment with animals and gladiators. This Arena was the third largest built by the Romans (in 30AD) and is still used today for concerts and such.

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Venice
Friday, October 26th

canals of Venice

Yay!!! I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about Venice, but I loved it! Wish I would’ve spent more time here. The labyrinth of small streets were my favorite part, and how they open up to the Gran Canal filled with gondolas, boats, and lined with stunning architecture. Very impressive.

a gondola serenade

This was FUN, but a part of me wishes we didn’t do this as a group. We had about 6 gondolas following each other. And I think we would’ve soaked up the atmosphere a bit more if we were spread out, with a more private experience. BUT we were serenaded by two men playing an accordion and signing. Beautiful! 🙂 

the island of Burano

One of the islands that make up Venice is Burano. The buildings here are quite simply but VERY colorful, almost giving it a Caribbean flare. This town is known for fishing and lace-making. We watched a (bad) demonstration, but I did buy a detailed lace table cover (which was probably a ripoff but I wanted some lace from this island).

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Saturday, October 27th
Tour #1 ends this morning in Venice.
Ciao Italy... I'm off to Amsterdam!

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