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  • Janis Nunez

Northern Italy and Tuscany

Verona, Venice, Bologna, Florence, Lucca, Pisa, San Miniato, Volterra, San Gimigmano, Montepulciano, Siena.


My husband and I spent our 25th wedding anniversary in Italy this July. We enjoyed 11 full days traveling in northern Italy and soaking up the best that Italy has to offer.


BEFORE YOU GO


ADAPTER: You will need an adapter to plug in your electronics if you are traveling from the US. Know the wattage of your electronics before you go, so that you know if you need a converter, adapter or both. I have a universal wattage flat iron. It saves me the hassle of needing a converter. Most hotels and Airbnbs provide a hair dryer, so just make sure whatever you bring has Worldwide Voltage, or you will also need a converter.


PHONE: Contact your cell phone provider to see what is included. T-Mobile gives unlimited data and texting, but charges $0.25 per minute per call. I have read other companies require you to get a SIM card, so contact your provider for details. You can also download WhatsApp to your phone and call using Wi-Fi to call others who also have the app installed.


CONTACT YOUR BANK AND CREDIT CARD COMPANIES: It's important to let the bank know when you will be out of town so that you won't have any problems withdrawing your money when you get to your destination. You also may need to notify your credit card company of the travel dates. We like to withdraw local currency when we arrive at our destination from a bank ATM in one lump sum. This avoids extra fees for multiple transactions. You can get away with using a credit card almost everywhere, but having some local currency is always a good idea. Some credit cards charge fees for use, so ask about fees for both your ATM and credit cards.


WHERE TO STAY: Central locations are pricier, so if you are trying to stay on a budget don't be afraid to stay on the outskirts near a train or bus stop. Group the sites you want to see within each city and make a decision from there. Things to consider are parking fees if you have rented a car, easy access to metro if you are not staying close to the city center, and if you are in the city center, a walkable location to your sites.


We decide a lot of our stays based on rewards points. If there is a way to stay somewhere for free that is a reasonable distance from where we want to visit, we will stay there. Many times, we stay just outside of the city, which usually includes free parking and sometimes free breakfast. Here are the hotels we stayed at for this trip:


Crown Plaza Verona: link to website

This hotel is outside of the city center, but offers clean, comfortable rooms and free parking. Since we were driving for parts of this trip, we opted for free parking when we could. This hotel was free as we paid with points, so a no brainer decision for us. There is a great cafe not far from the hotel to grab a croissant and espresso before starting your day. They also have a shuttle that can take you to the city center, but we opted to drive ourselves and park there. We stayed one night at this hotel.



Hotel Aquarius Venice: link to website

We stayed three nights in Venice at this beautiful hotel. The decor is stunning. Breakfast was included with a large selection to choose from. There was a huge festival going on all of the nights we stayed here that they did not inform us of ahead of time. It wasn't a deal breaker; we still enjoyed this hotel very much. Also free with points!


Wyndham Garden Florence:

link to website This was a nicely priced hotel outside of the Florence city center with free parking. There is a laundromat just down the street, which we took advantage of at the halfway point of our stay in Italy. New hotel with clean, comfortable rooms. Great location if you plan to day trip from Florence like we did.



IL Tornabuoni Hotel Florence:

This was the most stunning hotel we have ever stayed in. We were lucky to get to use points for our entire stay here! It is in the city center of Florence. If you have a car you will need to find a garage, or you can have them park for you (€40/day I believe). The room was so spacious as was the bathroom. We had a dining area, couch, coffee bar and two huge beds.



WHEN YOU ARRIVE


CURRENCY: You can find a local bank ATM to take cash out. The currency in Italy is the euro, but cards were accepted everywhere we went.


TRANSPORTATION: We rented a car for parts of our trip since we would be taking several day trips. We planned to visit some vineyards in Tuscany too, so a car was necessary. We used Hertz rental cars this trip and booked directly from the app.


We took a Vaporetto from the airport to Venice. This is probably your cheapest option. From the Venice airport (or rental car drop off), follow the blue signs for water transportation. We purchased a round trip ticket (€27/person). We took the orange line to the San Stae drop off. The Alilaguna Vaporetto link will give all of the information you need to plan your transport to the island. It takes about an hour to get to Venice from the airport. Then it was a short walk to our hotel. You can also take a private water taxi. Just keep in mind that it will be more expensive.



SIGHTSEEING


Verona really is a hidden gem that may not be on your "must do" list for Italy, but it really is a stunning city. We parked along the river and searched for a place for dinner.


You can park in the parking spots outlined in blue. Take your license plate number with you to enter into the pay machine and place the ticket in your dashboard. Credit cards were accepted at all the parking stations we encountered.



We found a great place with indoor or outdoor seating with fantastic pasta. I had the pasta carbonara and my husband had the pasta with clams. Definitely get a Spritz when in Italy. It became my favorite drink on hot days many years ago. You don't see a lot of ice in Europe, so this cool drink with ice is very refreshing on those hot summer days in Italy.



The Piazza dei Signori is filled with stunning architecture. There is a statue of Dante in the center. From the plaza you can spot the Lamberti Tower coming from Palazzo della Ragione.



The Piazza delle Erbe is fantastic both in the day and evening. Definitely check out the frescos on the building in the daylight. In the day tents are set up with vendors for shopping.



From the Piazza della Erbe we walked to the Arena di Verona. Here you can watch shows inside an actual Roman arena.



The Scaligar Tombs are located next to the Basilica Saint'Anastasia (which was closed when we visited). The tombs are located outside in a courtyard. The Scaliger family ruled Verona from the 13th to the late 14th century.



The House of Juliet is a fun tourist destination for those interested in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet story fictionally based in Verona. It was also made famous by the movie Letter's to Juliet. It's a fun stop if you are in the area.



Basilica Saint'Anastasia is the largest church in Verona. The walls of the basilica are mostly painted with frescoes and embellished with altars, chapels and funeral monuments.



Verona Cathedral is stunning. We weren't able to view all of the areas on our visit.



Take the Ponte Pietra bridge over the river to the Piazzale Castel San Pietro. This stone bridge has some of the best panoramic views of the city.



Once you cross the bridge you can chose to take the stairs to Piazzale Castel San Pietro or make a left to purchase a ticket to take the funicular to the top.



Before heading off to Venice, we grabbed some pizza and gelato. Focacceria Ponte Pietra had a number of options to choose from and was cheap and tasty. Gelateria Ponte Pietra was right around the corner. The first of many delicious gelatos to come on this trip.



We dropped off our rental car at the Venice airport and took a Vaporetto to Venice. Details of how this process works is in the TRANSPORTATION heading above.


Once you get to your destination drop off, you are responsible for carrying and transporting your luggage off the boat, down cobblestone streets and over many bridges to get to your hotel. I did see some luggage transporters carrying luggage, so that may be an option if you have multiple, large suitcases. Ask your hotel if you need help with your bags.



Saint Mark's Square is a popular attraction in Venice. There are several restaurants along the piazza with live bands playing. It's beautiful and relaxing. You will pay top dollar for the experience. I think just the two drinks and snacks cost €40.



We enjoyed wandering for a bit and then stopped for dinner.



San Zanipol Church



Scuola Grande di San Rocco is known as the Sistine Chapel of Venice. Don't miss it.



Across the street you will find the Leonardo da Vinci Museum. This interactive museum has replicas of Da Vinci's inventions made of wood as well as his manuscripts and drawings.



The Church of San Rocco is in-between the Scuola Grande di San Rocco and the Di Vinci Museum. It's a small church worth a look inside.



It's okay to have cappuccinos, pasta, pizza, wine and gelato every day. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise!



If you are traveling in the summer, there will most likely be a festival of some kind in the city you are visiting. We saw tons of them while exploring. The one below was right outside our bedroom window in Venice. Luckily the band was enjoyable.



The Rialto Market is a large canal front covered market with stalls trading in fish, seafood & vegetables.