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First solo trip report: Italy and Ireland

First I want to thank those who directly and indirectly helped me with this trip. I'd call this trip a success and it lands in my top 10 of best vacations. Some things I'd do differently and some things were as I expected but all things were full of new and exciting experiences. I can't wait till my next adventure.

This report will probably better serve the novice traveler like I was and still am really. I decided to go to Italy as my first solo trip because I had not been to any of these places before other than Venice and that was for only eight hours through a guided bus trip. Also the places were easily connected by train. I picked RS guidebooks and his Venice/Florence/Rome tour as my foundation. First thing I'd change is to not rely on only one guidebook. While RS offers much it's not everything. RS's guidebooks are heavy on museums and while I like looking through museums I need other activities to fill my day. I think RS would agree. Information will lead to a better vacation. I spent many hours reading this forum, reading and re-reading the guidebooks and googling websites. I wrote down all the information I thought I'd need such as when sights opened and closed, where they were located in reference to each other, the days of the week they were open, and what interested me about those sights. From this I planned an itinerary for each day with built in flexibility. Surprisingly my itinerary was pretty good. It varied some but for the most part I was able to follow it. I'd recommend this if you are planning your trip. Plan one to three major sights for the day and then let your location come to you in it's own form and in it's own way. I also knew there were going to be sights I'd not be able to see because of time. You have to be okay with that and know that you can go back and armed with better knowledge. Something else I'd do differently is arm myself with much better maps. My phone, I have ATT, would not connect to the web. I was relying on googlemaps but not able to get online I was lost for a significant amount of time throughout my trip. There are many apps available to help you navigate. I'll know that for next time.

Packing: always a hot question. Sorry this will really be boring for the experts. I chose to use a back pack only along with a day bag. I did the RS everything trip buying all his stuff. The RS backpack worked for me but I think I'll be fitted for a new one. His was a bit too big for me. In my bag I packed one heavy and one light black jean, 6 varied style and sleeve length tees in white, cream and grey, a grey button down sweater and light weight cream pull over, a black windbreaker, 6 black socks, 2 bras and 2 bralettes and 6 undies and two lightweight sleeping tees. Overview: I still overpacked. I wore a heavy pair of black skinny jeans on the plane along with the grey button down sweater and short sleeve tee and light weight cotton black jacket. I could have left one tee at home along with the cream pull over. The windbreaker I never used. Toiletries: I used individual shampoo and conditioner packets from my hairdresser instead of pouring both in containers, face cleaner, toothpaste, compact toothbrush, deodorant, powder, face primer, concealer, foundation, mascara and two shades of eye shadow. I packed a clothesline which worked very well and three compact clothes hangers which I didn't need. But I would pack them again anyway. All my hotels in Italy had hangers that could be hung anywhere but in Dublin they could only be used in the closets. So I'd pack a couple. Also in my backpack was my money belt which I never used nor felt like I needed it (more about that later) and my traveling information, train tickets ect. Total weight of my backpack 11.7 pounds. Not bad. My daybag had my SLR, mini-Ipad, charger/battery/cords, sunglasses and my first local info, weight: 5.6 pounds. Camera was heavy but my luxury.

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So let's start the trip. I flew to Dublin direct from my home airport. Dublin airport is huge compared to my little airport so when I landed I was greatly relieved to have 2 1/2 hours until my flight to Venice. I seemed to walk forever. I landed in terminal 2 and needed to walk to terminal 1. Go through security and then walk to my gait. All in all the process wasn't bad but a lot of walking. I saw 5 people who got to their gate too late and missed their flight. There were two flights going to the same place at two different gates. All these people went to the wrong gate. Make sure your flight number matches the gate not just the destination.

Venice: I used the Alilaguna. It is really the best way to go. The private taxis are faster but the price is so much higher. I got a little turned around at the airport finding my way. As you might tell this will be a theme throughout this trip. I followed the signs but ended up in a parking lot with no sign of water so I knew something was a miss. So I turned around all the while thankful my backpack wasn't heavier and asked a man for help. He said in very broken English go pointing his finger straight and counting to three in Italian then he pointed left, right and then left again and voila'!!! Well that's French but he said something like that in Italian. I knew I'd end up in the parking lot again but proceeded as instructed. I wasn't sure what I was supposed to be counting but thought he meant the doors to my left. So at the third door I turned left then right then left and voila' there was a moving sidewalk just like described. It also helped to see many people walking in that direction with suitcases. And the big sign Alilaguna. I bought my ticket, got in line which was quite small and spoke with a man who worked at the hospital on Venice. He was amazed at the people with such huge suitcases. He said all you need is your little bag! I felt so proud.

My stop was near St Marks Square for my hotel. I had written instructions but was intending to use my googlemaps. When I couldn't get a signal my first thought was RS saying it's okay to get lost in Venice. I don't think he meant five minutes after landing though with about 16 pounds hanging on you. I reverted to my hand written instructions. I really don't know how I did it but I turned left when I should have and I saw a building and bridge and said that looks just like my hotel and it was!! I made it somehow. It was around 2 when I got settled and took off back the same way I walked in to make sure I could always find my way back from my bus stop. I went to St Marks Square took pictures and found a great little restaurant down a side canal. The next day I bought a two day pass for the vaporetto. I took a ride all the way to the train station. What a great ride. I did utilize RS downloadable information on the grand canal and had a great idea of what I was looking at. I then walked to the Jewish Ghetto area. Whenever there's an opportunity I try to honor all those lost during that time. I then walked my way back to the Rialto Bridge crossed over and down to dell'accademia and viewed all the great art. All along my walk I stopped in churches if they were open. Now during this walk I turned left and right when I should have turned right then left and went up and down more bridges than I can count and ended up in the same piazza twice how I did that I have no idea but in the end it was such a fun day. I started where I wanted and ended where I planned. I can't ask for more than that. I got back to St Marks Square and still had time to tour Doges Palace. And that night I listened to some of the best opera arias. Magical. The next day I took the Vaporetto to San Giorgio Maggiore viewed the church and view from the bell tower. Later I went to the lagoon visiting Murano and Burano. Great day

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Although I think something went wrong. According to RS guide I should have gotten the boat back to St Marks Square but instead I ended up somewhere and needed to get on another boat. It's a bit of a jumble right now but I was getting pretty boat savey by this time and got on the boat I needed and ended up back home. Another tip would be to take cards of places you eat for future reference. I ended up at a nice restaurant that night and had a great meal. That night I took a night cruise up and down the grand canal. Really nice way to end the day.

The next morning was time to check out and get to the train station. I still had an hour left on my vaporetto pass so I cruised up the canal again with my luggage. Train travel is also something very new to me. I've only been on two trains before this train in my life so it was all greek to me. I had purchased my tickets from Venice to Florence from home and printed out the pass. So armed with this I thought it would be easy. Just to those who don't know they don't put up your track or even your destination 2 hours before your train is ready to leave. Yes I was a bit early. And there are few and far places to sit in train stations. The train station had a Relax bar but you had to stand. Didn't sound relaxing to me. So I grabbed a chair and got out my Florence info and started reading. Your track number isn't put on the board until about 10 minutes before your train is due to leave. So no need to get to the train station early. 30 minutes should be good enough. The readout on the board is more confusing than what RS says on this site. My train number (like the flight number for planes) did not match the number on the board but the destination and time were the same. So I asked and confirmed this was my train. It was and I got on. I splurged for first class. It was only 10 more dollars and I was in the executive car. What a hoot. Only time I'll travel like that. How fun. Reclining seats and a free cocktail to boot. And I was on my way to Florence.

Florence: my favorite destination I have to say. It's a city, big (well for this small town girl big), busy, loud, dirty and so much fun. What I particularly liked was you can find a piazza of your choosing and settle there, people watch, have a drink, snack or have full course meals and feel like you've left the busy part of the city behind. I took a taxi from the train station to my hotel for about 8 euro. Not bad at all. The hotel gave me a map since again my phone had no service..grrrr. I had a must see, Micheangelo's David at dell'accademia. I was in Florence on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. The three worst days to be in Florence since much is closed on Monday and Tuesdays. So armed with my map I started out for David after buying the Firenze card. I highly recommend that purchase. It paid for itself quickly and the time I saved standing in lines was worth double the price. My walk started off fine well the views were great but when I saw the Arno River I knew something was wrong. How can I be so map deficient!!!! I turned around and now heading in the right direction tried again. Things were going well until I noticed a similar street and realized I walked in one big circle. This would be funny but the Accademia was going to close and I needed to see The David because I had a full schedule planned for the next two days. So determined this time I walked straight to the corner and got in the back of a taxi. The taxi driver was so sweet when I told her my mixups she gave me a new map and got me to my destination. I walked past the long line, right in and saw the masterpiece. Amazing. The walk back was much better.

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4622 posts

Highlanderct,

Thanks for sharing your trip adventures!

How long was your trip?

I'm curious... You mentioned that you didn't wear your money belt, so where did you keep your valuables?

Posted by
2181 posts

Great reading so far, waiting for the rest. Regarding maps- I always have a paper map when I am doing my planning. That is one thing I have asked people traveling to bring for me (that was another tread, people asking you to buy things for them). I ask them to bring the free one the hotels usually give you. So far no one has said no. I return the favor by bringing home a few copies of maps to give people. Even the HOHO free bus route/maps are good for pre-planning. I never rely on technology.

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2168 posts

Sounds like you did just fine for your first solo trip. I don't use my phone for maps at all, prefer my Streetwise laminated or a good paper one, and I think getting turned around sometimes is inevitable no matter what you use. For me the trouble starts when I exit a tram, bus, metro etc and don't take a moment to orient myself, just start off and then realize after the blocks aren't lining up that I need to retrace and go a different way. Fun, because you do see other things, unless time is of the essence.

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276 posts

After seeing David I made my way back towards my hotel and I saw the Duomo and things I never saw on my mixup walk. I settled into the Piazza della signoria. I had either a drink, dinner or both at the same outdoor restaurant. Please note that not all restaurants have the tip built in. Read your bill carefully. I loved this place. It looked onto the Uffizi statues. So lovely at night and the wait staff were so attentive and the food was great. Perfect. So getting out my plethora of maps I started to learn the new city over a spritz which eventually turned into dinner since I didn't want to leave. I learned after three days that at home after I eat I get the check and leave. In Italy you slow down, enjoy the moment, and you are never hurried.

So now I'm ready to go to the hotel. It's dark and I'm tired and cold. I look at the map, the Uffizi is U shaped and I'm looking right at the statues. There's a little alley way and then buildings with outdoor restaurants, a road to the right going up and right going down, one to my left and a road going in front of the Uffizi just to the left of the Vecchio museum. Where's the road to my hotel? I knew my hotel was to the right of the Uffizi as I looked at the map. So, yes again about 45 minutes later I realized that alley way was to my hotel. I was bound and determined this city wasn't going to get me lost again. I studied that map again and the next two days were fantastic filled with museums and churches of Florence. I ruled Florence like Julius did Rome. There is one thing I'll say about RS advice on how to get to Piazza Michelangelo for those famous views. In his guidebook he tells you to go to the bus station. Well I finally found it which wasn't easy and they said no you can't buy regionale bus tickets there. So he pointed me in the direction but of course to where. I walked and walked and finally found a lady selling tour tickets and she told me to go to the train station. That building I walked around all morning was the spot. The bus numbers aren't right in the guidebook either. Just ask. Also to pick up the right bus it's all the way in the back of the train station as far as you can walk, take a left out of the building and another left. Do not stand where it says bus, they don't stop there. The bus you want is near the sight seeing buses. It was worth it though. The views were great. I walked back. I found that many people did not speak English. Most did in restaurants and in museums so you have to keep trying. All in all Florence has so much to offer. It's a place to slow down but for me I actually sped up to see the things I wanted to see. There is still so much more I didn't see. I will definately return.

Assisi was next. I am not really a city girl. I love scenery and can spend much time staring at a mountain as one would a beautiful painting. I needed fresh air. So Assisi was built in this trip to give me that break. In hind site I think a different town would have been better but don't get me wrong I loved Assisi. Still lots of cars. I think I needed something with no cars. Work in progress. But I'm glad I saw Assisi. The stone work was beautiful. The hills manageable, the views breathtaking, churches reflective. I taxied to and from the hotel. Bus would have been much cheaper but I spurged and liked being guided on this leg of the trip. I bought the regionale train ticket in Florence. I'll give advice on that in the next chapter

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On regional trains you must know the town where the train ends. I had Assisi on my ticket, time but no train number nothing that told me which train to get on. I should have known this. On reflection I'm sure I wrote this advice down somewhere in my must knows. I watched the board and up came the time on my ticket but not Assisi and the next train went somewhere else. I walked to a trentlia worker and he pointed to the train I was supposed to get on. I almost missed my train and almost forgot to validate too!! But I remembered. Before leaving home I saw the direct train from Florence that went to Assisi with all the town stops listed along the way. It's a good idea to either print that out or write it down. Next time I'll do this.

Leaving Assis was easier. I had purchased my train tickets from Assisi to Rome from home. The train station is so small it's not too complicated and I had a very nice lady who spoke no English and was able to convince me I was in the right spot. I love Italians. On to Rome I went. I did the hop on hop off bus for Rome. The Big B hop on hop off is a no go. Do not do it. If you want a hop on hop off I'd suggest Roma. They have far more buses with less waiting time. And if you are there on a weekend you wont go to as many stops as you will during the week. But overall it's not a bad way to group your visits around the big city especially if this is your first visit. I had a Vatican Museum and St Peter's Basilica tour early Saturday morning and early afternoon tour of Palatine Hill and the Colloseum on Sunday so my touring was a bit broken up by those tours. The hop on hop off was a waste of money for me but I got to do a few spots on the route. This part of the trip was where my ititerary took the biggest hit. I got to see very little of what I had planned but did the two biggest things on my list so I call that a success. Rome is huge. I taxied more there than anywhere. I was also pretty sick by then. The smoke is dense and my lungs were hurting. I was spoiled with the outdoor seating in Florence and didn't find the same in Rome. Of course I didn't have the time to find my spot. I'm sure they are there. To get to the airport from city center is very easy with the Leonardo Express. Believe me if I think it's easy... it's easy. I had a 1pm flight and had no problems getting to the airport. 30 minutes by train and you are there. I went to check in since I didn't have my boarding pass (which was the longest walk so if you don't have to check in luggage it's even easier), checked my luggage (so sick I didn't feel like lugging it on my back) then through security, passport control and to my gate. Next was Dublin.

Dublin is a great city for the hop on hop off. My hotel was within 5 minutes walk to Christ Church, Dublin Castle and 2 minutes to one of the hop on hop off bus stops. So convenient. I'd highly recommend the green bus. So entertaining. Great way to get around city center for a first timer. The day I arrived I walked to Christ Church, Dublin Castle, St Patricks Cathedral and around my hotel area. The next morning I did the hop on for a day seeing as much as I could for the day. I'd recommend Kilmainham Gaol and the Pheonix park, my favorites but all were great. And I had a guiness too. Not really a beer drinker but why not. The next day I took a 12 hour tour to the Cliffs of Moher. Again I needed out of city air.

Safety: I never felt unsafe. Never felt like I needed my money belt. I had it with me just in case. The Trevi fountain was probably the worst area but I held tightly to my bag, took a few pictures and left. I used ATMs in the airports and once in Assisi. I never left my money in the hotels. Most were tourists doing their sightseeing.

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I saw beggers mostly in Rome, a few in Dublin and Florence. But nothing that I viewed as troublesome. A couple just from Paris said it was far worse there and to be careful. They told me to be very careful of the ATMs there and not to use any of them on the street or not connected to a bank and the beggers were more intense. I guess I'll see when I go there this September (part solo part bus trip).

So all in all this trip was a good one. I have to review all I did and put it together in a photobook to fully reflect. Next adventure will be on smaller scale with less moving around and I know I want one city and one country area.

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276 posts

Priscilla, I was gone for 14 days. I kept my money and cards with me in my day bag in a dark unassuming pouch. I know that's not a safe place but honestly I felt in no danger. I kept a days worth of money in a small folded billfold. I had my money belt with me just in case I felt uneasy. Never did.

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276 posts

Barbara, I was getting better at reading the maps as time went on. By day three I was really good but then off to a new destination. I like your idea. I'll have to start asking for maps. I have a collection started now!

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Christa, getting lost was funny most of the time. Once in Venice when I ended in the same area twice I just sat down on a step because I was pooped. But the sun was shining and the skies blue. It was great. I had full sun and blue skies each day I was gone except for Assisi where it rained on day 2 but even Dublin was sunny. I found my way eventually. Only time I gave up was when I really wanted to see Michelangelo's David.

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24 posts

Thank you so much for this detailed report. I am not very experienced when it comes to traveling, at least in Europe, and your stories and tips were very helpful. Being a paper map addict, I can see where not having maps would cause you some confusion. At least you were lost in Venice and Florence - even lost, you still had great views. I want to do that trip some day - Venice, Florence, Rome - and I am also a small town girl, so I know what you mean when you say you needed some country air.

Congrats on your first solo trip. I have a feeling there will be more in your future.

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2181 posts

I admire people who can travel alone. I am not one of them. So kudos for you for keeping calm all the times you were lost and confused at the train stations. looking forward to reading about your trip to Paris in Sept.

Posted by
11275 posts

Thanks for taking the time to post this. I'm sure it will help other novice travelers.

If it's any comfort, some of the issues you raised can still be problems for me after many trips. I've gotten turned around in some cities despite having both paper maps and Google Maps on my phone (on my most recent European trip, it happened repeatedly in Manchester). And famously, everyone gets lost in Venice - it's just part of the experience.

Yes, train tracks are not posted far in advance at many stations. I've seen people have near heart attacks over this; unless your train is leaving in 10 minutes or less, don't worry, it will be posted in time.

And yes, it's very helpful to print out the intermediate train stops (easy to get from the Bahn website), so you know the stop before yours, and then can prepare to get off in time.

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2505 posts

. I kept my money and cards with me in my day bag in a dark unassuming pouch. I know that's not a safe place but honestly I felt in no danger

Glad you had a great trip and thanks for sharing. In one of your posts you mentioned the beggars. Usually not a threat unless you engage and a team uses that opportunity to strip you of your belongings. But, you really tempted fate not using a money belt. You mentioned having it with you in case you felt you needed it. You would find out you needed it after your money was lifted from your purse. The dark, unassuming pouch? Thieves are opportunists not analysts. When we were in France I constantly needed to remind my wife to put this or that bag in the trunk. She would often say "there's nothing but our guidebooks in there". Yeah, but the thief will break a window to get to it as he does not know that. And your dark, unassuming pouch can be gone in a few seconds. Next time, you might not be so lucky, so wear that money belt!

Posted by
490 posts

Sounds like a successful outing!

As for packing, I have tried many combos over the years, I just find that doing more laundry or paying to have it done is best for me. I have not checked a bag domestically or internationally in 15 years. Currently I travel with a 30L backpack, which is a large daypack in black so it looks very urban and converts to look like a small case with hidden backpack straps....I also travel with a 15" 2 wheeled carry on suitcase that packs vertically and fits under just about any airline seat. I can go away for months with these two bags. I am not a fan of spinners ( I had a Delsy spinner in 1998! 26" ) they get caught in cobble stones, topple over and take up an extra 3-4 inches of space.

You were very lucky that you did not get robbed..or just plain lose your bag and money passport etc.

I honestly would advise stowing at least 2/3 of your money and cards in an under clothing pouch, bra stash or secure zippered pocket in shirt or trousers, not jacket. Your next solo trip you may not be as lucky...and if one is alone there is no one to bail you out with their credit card or cash that was not lost or stolen.

Paris is a web of theives. I have traveled there 3 times per year for over 20 years...they will get the better of you so definitely plan accordingly.

I do not understand the people who leave valuables in a hotel in room safe...that is just crazy...they are so easy to reset and break into..AND the hotel is rarely liable...depends on the country burden of proof etc...if anything leave things in the actual HOTEL safe in their office if needed and get a written receipt..in France this is the best way to be sure that your items are insured.

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491 posts

I enjoyed reading about your trip. Venice is on my bucket list.

I have a question about the various boats you took. Do they rock a lot, i.e. would they make a person feel slightly seasick?
Thanks!

Posted by
11613 posts

What a great attitude you have! I laughed until I cried at so.e of your comments. As solo traveler who can get lost in the bed of a pickup truck, I love how you handle getting lost.

O e experience you missed: train track number is listed, everyone rushes there, three mi utes later a track number change is announced. In Italian only.

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276 posts

SandraL, The vaporetto really don't rock in the canal. When the boat gets to it's stop it can roll some but nothing I'd say as hard or long. The alilguana is much faster and in open water. It can bounce especially if it crosses the water taxi's wake. All in all the ride was smoother than it was bouncy. The waterway from the airport to Venice and the other Island stops is like a highway with lanes for going in each direction. The waterway is fairly protected so the water is smoother than you'd see in open oceans but still you will have some bouncing. My ride was ninety minutes. If you get motion sickness I'd suggest medication.

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491 posts

Thank you! I will bear that in mind if I ever get there, which I hope I do!

Posted by
1173 posts

Great trip report and wonderful that you had a great time! I am sure you have some great photos! Are you on instagram or flickr and if so I would love to see your photos. But if not, still very nice to read your reports. I have been to all the places you have been to and loved each. What hotel did you stay in in Rome and Venice?

You said you went to Rome, are you going to write anything about your stay in Rome? Where to next?

Thanks for all your tips and notes on where you went and what you did. I have only been to Venice on tours and stayed short amount of times so I would love to stay in Venice for a week!

Thank you and safe travels!