Saturday, August 14, 2010

Italy trip tips #1: Stuff we discovered by accident!

Remember how I said that one nice thing about a trip to Italy is that you can do it without any advance planning? And that -- from Zurich -- you can have the idea to go one morning, and then go hop on a train and be there that afternoon...?

Well, just because you can do it that way doesn't mean that's the optimal way to visit Italy...

For example (with just a little advance planning!) you can avoid going in August. In Florence and Rome, any site that was even remotely visit-worthy was packed to the brim with tourists!! (Milan wasn't quite so bad, but also didn't have quite as many sights to see.)

Fortunately, the locals (the few that weren't on vacation elsewhere) made the best of it, and were nothing but friendly and helpful. And, really, why should people in Florence hate tourists? That would be like Swiss people hating cows! In Rome, many of the Romans who didn't have standard tourism-industry jobs would dress up as gladiators to pose for photos with tourists. Basically, it was a little like visiting an Italy-themed amusement park, except that you can potentially get run over by the crazy drivers for real.

Our lack of planning also kept us from booking things we might otherwise have booked in advance. For example, here's the view from our hotel window:

See that round building in the background? That's the church where you can go see Da Vinci's "Last Supper". Or you could, if you'd made an advance reservation.

But here's a tip we discovered (by luck!) when visiting the Colosseum:

The Colosseum is a lot more popular to visit than the other ruins of the ancient city (the forum and the Palatine hill), but the same ticket gets you into the lot. So visit the forum first (and buy your ticket there) to avoid the lines.

The Colosseum is a bit easier on the tourist than the Forum is. It's a huge structure that's mostly still standing, and the upper floors have a large indoor section that's set up like a museum (with a lot of historical information). The rest of the ancient city center is an enormous field of intriguingly scattered chunks of marble:

I studied Latin all through High School and College, so naturally I had to go visit the Forum! But it's one of those sites where you might actually want to have a tour guide explaining what this or that piece of marble used to be.

Remains of the Temple of Vesta, perhaps...?

Also, it can get hot very quickly there -- another reason to avoid visiting in August!

Oh, and here's one more thing we stumbled on purely by accident -- Galileo's house! It's near the Palazzo Pitti.

At Einstein's house in Princeton, the residents not only have avoided putting up a plaque about it, they actually took the number off their house and put up a "private residence" sign (to ward off the tourists, I suppose). At Galileo's house in Florence, by contrast, they not only put up a plaque, but they painted Galileo's portrait in the top story:

So did he really live there? Who knows? But as they say in Italy, "Se non e vero, e ben trovato." :D


Tour Italy Now said...

This post is something new and is very informative especially for those who tend to just tour spontaneously. To some Italy vacation packages are always best so that you can avoid those things which you mentioned has happened to you. Btw, I hate that window view.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Tour Italy Now!!!

Which view? The one in the hotel? It wasn't so bad. I kind of like wandering around without too much of a rigid schedule, but I can see how some might prefer to have it professionally planned.

Vajra said...

Galileo was never tortured. Nor excommunicated, for that matter. He lived the last years of his life under "threat" of imprisonment at his villa; he could leave his home and visit friends. Having never been excommunicated, his burial in a Catholic cemetery is unremarkable.

C. L. Hanson said...

Thanks Vajra!!!

I had heard that somewhere, but I guess it was mistaken. Other people have been tortured by the Catholic Church, but apparently for Galileo it was a lighter form of intimidation. I'll correct the post.

Vajra said...

P.S. There is a wonderful and interesting church in Narni (Umbria) where you can see an actual Inquisition cell. The walls are covered with graffiti, written in code by one of the prisoners. Also there are replicas of the instruments of torture found there (the originals are too fragile and important to display. The church is a relatively recent discovery, well worth the price of admission.

pps Galileo was shown the instruments of torture. I certainly would have changed my story, but then all they'd have to do is threaten to take away my Visa card...

Carla Schmidt Holloway said...

whoo, looks like it was an awesome trip!