Hello everyone! I know it’s been a long time, but I am ready to discuss my trips again! College and volunteering kept me a lot busier than what I was expecting, but it has kept me productive for the 7 months we’ve been here!
Now, to get started… I will update everyone on the other travels and countries ASAP. I will have a lot of free time coming soon due to dropping my leadership role and college ending soon. Be on the lookout for the following blog entries: France, Czech Republic Switzerland, Austria and Lichtenstein.
So, let’s talk Italy!
Italy is my favorite country to visit so far! The people are extremely sweet and friendly, food’s amazing and the history is overwhelming. Italy is the type of country you keep going back to, because not only is it historic and has enough culture to seduce one time and time again, but the drive is also long between major cities.
We ended up going to Venice, and it was around 7 hours for us in total.
For this particular trip, we drove. If you’re another American who has base privileges, I have been told there is a way to access Italy’s rations for Americans- I will do further research, considering we will be returning back. Instead of using the Esso cards like we do, Americans stationed in Italy go off of a coupon system since there is not a gas station on their posts. If you are an American living in Germany, beware that you will not get the same Esso rates in Italy, and will have to pay full price (which is about double off of post- it’s around 4-5 dollars per gallon currently.) However, Italy has A LOT of Esso stations- I would be slightly weary, because some that I Googled and tried to go to were actually shut down, but here’s a good link to finding Esso stations in Europe: http://www.essofuelfinder.de/en
I would definitely plan to make a pit stop at the end of Germany before Austria for Esso gas. If you’re unfamiliar with this process, go to the Esso stations on post with your registration and card, and ask to put __ on it. When you’re off post and still in Germany, you can go to an Esso station and pay with not only the card, but have the same fuel rates as you do on post! We put $80 on our account, and fueled up in Munich/Munchen and a city called Brannenburg. Brannenburg is a perfect place to fuel up- it’s approximately 3 hours away and right before Austria. If you choose to fuel up here, you will be able to drive through Austria without stopping, though there’s a super cool McDonald’s here I will talk about later.
On the way to Italy, I found out some useful tips immediately. With Italians, if you know Spanish or can understand it, you will do okay. Though many Italians cannot speak English, many know Spanish or will get the gist of what you say if you happen to know it. I ended up speaking to a sweet older man who was fluent in both, and he helped us with fueling up. With gas in Italy, also remember that many of the gas stations are self-service and only accept Euro. There is a credit card option, but we learned at our first one that it won’t take card. With that said, make sure you have enough Euro in fuel. You’ll have a language option that will give you the choices of either Italian or English. Insert the cash, choose the correct pump and fuel away! If you’re an E10 filler like us, there is no choice of E10 as I found out- however, you will be super, senza, glp, and diesel options. We used super and senza, and our car was fine.
Another fun background tip before I go talking about the destination is you will be paying tolls. It’s similar to France with the toll paying and having to pay as you enter the border; however, when you pay a toll in Italy, it is based off of you exiting and entering. When you’re attempting to enter Italy from Austria, be ready to pay a toll of 9 Euro. Then, once you actually enter the border, you will be grabbing a ticket. The toll you pay is based off of what exit you take and the duration of your ride to this exit. For example, when we first got gas in Italy, we only paid around 3 Euro since we traveled around 50 kilometers in. When we went nearly 180 kilometers, we paid 14 Euro. The tolls are not too bad in price, but remember to only exit a few times. Altogether, from the Austrian toll leading to Italy and the tolls in Italy, we paid around 80 Euro to be fair.
So Venice itself:
Venice is much more known for its lone island, but the area is known as Venezia. The population for Venezia, city limits and all, is around 200,000 while the island holds around 50,000. However, the tourism daily is about 75,000.
With this fact, you can only imagine the erosion and tourist traps. Venezia is a gorgeous area with amazing locals, but they are getting frustrated with the tourism explosion that is hurting their economy. Instead of Venice being a boomtown like one would expect, many local businesses are bankrupt due to the chokehold that commercialism has taken. There is actually a mass exodus from the area. When you visit Venice, you will be in the San Marco area unless you wander around. The San Marco area is a long stretch of shops and vendors lined up, with genuine and mimics/gimmicks side by side. To share my experience I give you my advice on how to have the best time with your cash while also being a responsible consumer.
TAKE THE BUS!
We happened to stay around 10 minutes away from the island, on the mainland of Venezia. Free parking is very possible, if you pick the right place. I happen to be an Airbnb lover (I will post how to Airbnb!), so I picked a host who was in close proximity to Venice while also fitting what we wanted. As long as you park where the signs say 0-24, you are fine. Our host happened to live in a very quiet residential area, which was right by two lines for the busses. At the end of this, I will list his Airbnb for anyone interested.
The busses in Venice are not only friendly to your wallet, but easy to navigate. First off, go to the tobacco shops. Shops that are of this kind are your BFFL, since they not only sale tickets but also are half the cost of what your bus driver will offer. For a there and back ticket in the same day, it was 6 Euro for both my husband and I.
Be careful of the bus routes however. The bus pick up will have a mini board with the routes that you can take- always note what direction the arrow happens to be going, and then if you’re wanting Venice, look for Venezia. We happened to mess up five times before we got it haha! When you’re on the bus, make sure to ring your card in by the scanner- it will say the amount of minutes you have left. A trip back and forth will be suffice for a day’s pass- we spent around 18 Euro for 3 full days in Venice.
Take the free tour/ book it ahead of time
I am a lover of tours, just because I like to learn about the city I am in. Especially in an area like Venice, I wanted to see the tours that were truly worth seeing the entire island, instead of the common sections. I was able to find a 3 hour tour of the city, FOR FREE. How?
My tip for the tours is the following- Google, Google, Google “free tours in (insert your destination)” and see what happens! There is a company known as Sandmans that is solely based off of tips. This particular beauty from Trip Advisor is actually 100% free, not including tips, because college students are the providers and this is a part of their courses in Venice. However, I recommend tipping, just because if I was giving a tour for 3 hours, I would hope I would be able to get a free meal out of it. Typically, when the tour does not involve a package, it will be free.
Our tour of Venice was the best tour I’ve ever seen. Not only was it highly informative, but the guide made the 3 hours entertaining and us yearning to know more. Venice happens to actually be an island comprised of over 180 islands. For every bridge you walk across, you’re technically stepping on another island! The streets or calles are extremely small when you enter the residential areas, and their namesake comes from what is around them. The locals use boats as cars, and the area has been around since 400 AD.
All of this would have not been known without Elena. On top of this, your guide will take you all around the island, instead of the famous San Marco district. Tyler and I spent much of the day afterwards wandering around the local areas, exploring and site seeing. This made being in Venice worth it, because we did not just see what is known, but discovered the unknown to most. Again, I highly recommend a tour so you can educate yourself and immerse yourself in your vacation.
Must Do/ Purchase List
Gondola ride– The gondola rides are a good sum of money, but it will not break the bank. The cost for times before 7:30PM is 80 Euro, with anything past being 100 Euro. When you enter the gondola, your “driver” will ask if you want the basic package or to tour more of the city by boat. For us, we stuck to the basic package, which takes us through various canals. Along the way, your driver will inform you of sites and basic history. If you take a tour of the island, I recommend the basic package, just because you’ve seen most of the area. Be ready for the gorgeous view and peaceful atmosphere for approximately 30 minutes. This is good for any family size, with or without children!
Pedi with fish– This was one of the coolest parts of our vacation. These fish were purchased from Turkey and only live two years. Their main food is dead skin, and they eat it off your feet! Beware: you can only participate if you don’t have blisters, wounds or diabetes, along with some other critical health issues. 10 Euros is 10 minutes, and the prices increase with the duration of your purchase. This was the best pedicure I’ve ever had, and the fish are adorable.
Venetian masks– These are a must have, considering they are the most sought after item in the area. Venice is known for this particular accessory- make sure yours are real. There are many signs to detect what is what.
The fake masks will be located with vendors and many shops, and you’ll notice 10 Euro. These masks are typically elaborate and aesthetically pleasing, but will also be plastic material.
Authentic masks will be made of paper mache (think your art project in elementary school). Not only this, but be on the lookout if glass is also sold- if you say yes, leave the shop immediately. Mask makers will only be selling their product, without any other craft visible in their store. Another key sign is seeing someone create their mask at their own store.
Blown Glass– Though we did not purchase any of this, we did see much of it. The blown glass is from a Venetian island that is not attached to Venice, that’s about a 30 minute boat ride. It’s absolutely gorgeous and well made. Like the masks, you need to go to shops that don’t have other items with it. The purchase price is at least 30 Euros for authentic glass. I did not end up going to the island, but I will say if you have time, it’s worth it. 21 Euros gives you a whole day pass to see three other islands, and it will take you straight to the shops and places where the glass is made.
Food– My number one advice for food is to not buy it from the San Marco district if it’s restaurant style. Not only is the food so-so, but the prices are average or high. For our food, we ended up wandering around where the “real” Venetians live, and found many small shops that were not only locally owned, but amazing in taste and for our wallets. We spent maybe 40 Euros for a meal for two, and then received a free dessert. Other shops with light meals were only around 8 Euros for 2. Venice is known for their risotto, which is rice with a picked meat or vegetable, in a creamy sauce. Seafood is another cash crop for the city, and worth it. Since it’s coastal, it’s fresh and literally picked in the morning that day. For a dessert, I recommend the gelato shops. The best one we saw was 5 scoops for 4 Euros. Look for the shops that sell the amount of scoops for a lower price ( 4 scoops for 3, not 4 scoops for 4.)
Explore Venezia too
One of the biggest complaints I hear about Venice is “you can do it all in a day.” We spent our entire Easter weekend there, and loved every moment. Here’s my two cents- yes, if you spend your time only in Venice, you’ll be done in a day, especially if your only focus is the San Marco district. Though Tyler was very focused on Venice itself, I made sure for Easter weekend that we explored the mainland. With this, we found a plethora of hidden gems, including locally owned shops, delis and restaurants. Honestly, I was content with staying in Venezia, because not only was it cheaper but the atmosphere was much warmer.
Nightlife life in Venezia is intriguing. Many small bars are open, along with restaurants. None are expensive, but be selective over what you exactly want. To warn you and foreshadow disappointment, you will not find homemade pasta, which saddened my husband. However, almost every place there serves homemade pizza and it’s amazing! For Easter, no Italian had their “convenience” store open, but we found bottles of wine for 3 Euros in one that was owned by brothers, along with a fruit punch Fanta! If you’re willing to explore, you’ll find places that give you a home feeling. A fun tip- when tipped well, many Italians will give you something for free. We had the sweetest server in Venezia, and she gave us shots on Easter!
In my fair opinion, Venice is what you make of it. If you plan to stay in the area, you will have a city tax free of 2,5 Euros per person, per night.
Where we stayed: https://www.airbnb.com/users/show/40350483
Different Airbnbs for your pickings 😉 : https://www.airbnb.com/s/Venice–Metropolitan-City-of-Venice–Italy?source=hdr&s_tag=YUBr5KZf