A few years ago my husband and I decided on going on a two week tour group throughout Italy for our wedding anniversary.
We usually prefer to travel on our own but sometimes group tours can be really fun. We had traveled with “Cosmos” before and knew what we would be getting.
Part of the fun with going on group tours is meeting interesting people from all over. Our group consisted of people from Australia, Canada, Scotland, the UK, USA and even Saudi Arabia. Made for a fun mix.
It was a very busy two weeks, pretty much always on the go and even though the advantage was, you get to see a lot of places and don’t have to worry about a thing, the disadvantage always is, you are on a schedule and most of the times you don’t get to spend enough time at places you really would like to.
HIGHLIGHTS OF OUR TRIP
We had been twice to Rome, once on our own and the second time with a tour group. Two complete different experiences. Nice but different.
With our tour group we stayed in a hotel kind of on the outskirts of Rome. Truthfully, we could have been anywhere with this. Took us 1.5 hours to walk to town, one way.
Nevertheless, Rome is everything you want it to be.
Traditional ristorante with delicious food, typical italian architecture with houses in earth colors like deep oranges, yellows or reds and if you are in the right neighborhood, you even get to see the freshly washed laundry hanging high above you and of course history wherever you look!
You would have to try really hard to take a bad picture in Rome!
My top three favourite sights in the city are “THE COLOSSEUM”, “THE VATICAN” with its Vatican museum and “ST. PETER’S DOME“.
TIP: Try to take a tour of the “Colosseum”. The building and the history will come alive!
TIP: You can skip the line to the Vatican museum by joining a tour! It is very long wait in high season, plus they will guide you swiftly through and explain you different art work.
The visit in the famous “Sistine chapel” is included for anybody who participates in the tour and is well worth a visit. This is really one of the highlights for anybody who appreciates Michaelangelo’s work. It is exquisite.
NO PHOTOS ALLOWED in the Sistine chapel though. Security is extremely tight and guards watch you like foxes.
Another bonus was, joining a guided group tour gives you straight access to St. Peters dome! (In high season you can wait up to three hours just to enter, so – well worth it.)
TIP: If you can, spend some time in there. It is one of the most marvelous and ornament domes in the world!
“St. Peter’s Dome in Vatican city”
“Inside St. Peter’s dome”
Another marvelous ceiling
Outside the doors of St. Peters dome you can see the “Swiss Guards”. (Good news – they don’t mind having their picture taken.)
The requirements to who can become a Swiss Guard are actually quite interesting.
“A soldier of the Swiss Guards”
What I missed on our tour was really more quality time in Rome. I must admit we were just shown the bare highlights and did not get to spend enough time at the sights or in Rome at all. So glad we went there before on our own.
This must be one of the most scenic and romantic places on earth! Rolling hills, olive trees as far as the eye can see and small little dirt roads leading up to charming old farm houses on top of hills.
It is exactly as you imagine it. Every single cliche image that comes to mind is true!
We stayed at a very small hotel, out in the middle of nowhere but with a divine view which made very much up for it.
“Waking up in Tuscany” – the view from our hotel
Scenery wise this was a dream come true, culinary wise it was a night mare. At our hotel we got served what was supposed to be “pizza”. You needed a lot of fantasy and good will to recognize it as such. It was literally a baked piece of cardboard and tomato sauce. That was it!
Yep, in the heart of Italy we found that one place that serves pizza without cheese. I did not think it was possible to run out of cheese being in Italy, but – fortuna smiled upon us with this one.
This was for me a real dream come true – so I thought. Reality is, the visit was disappointing.
Of course we only had limited time again and a few hours is really not enough time to explore a city like Florence. It also was baking HOT that day and the city was buzzying with tourists.
Before we went I said, all I want to see is “the dome”, the ”Il duomo di Firenze”. Absolutely stunning from the outside with its marble panels in various shades of pink and green, and of course the enormous dome itself.
“The Il duomo di Firenze” in the heart of Florence
I loved it from the outside but found it rather disappointing on the inside. It is almost bare, hardly anything in there!
The contrast between the outside and the very minimalistic inside I actually found very irritating. It almost seemed like all the money was spent on the exterior look and hardly anything on the interior.
We saw many statues which, let’s just say “did not leave too much for the imagination…..” and managed to speed walk once across the famous bridge “Ponte Vecchio” which is famous for jewelery shops, and literally run through the famous “Uffizy museum” before it was time to go back to the bus.
The whole day was just rushed and hectic. I really do want to go back and spend quality time there, I am sure Florence is lovely city if one actually has time for it.
In retrospect, I felt like Robert Langdon in the movie “Inferno”. Being under immense time pressure and just racing from one sight to the next.
Time wise a cousin of Florence unfortunately.
With a very tight timeframe given by our tour guide we just had enough time to climb up the “leaning tower of Pisa” in incredibly humid weather, and get dizzy from everything being slanted while walking up a big spiral staircase and heading back to the bus. Again, a lot of running.
“The leaning tower of Pisa”
We really regretted not having more time; there were several building on the premises I wanted to see, including an old cemetery and a whole colorful street leading down to the river which we did not have the time for.
“The quarters leading down to the river ” that were not meant to be…
TIP: Get your tickets for the leaning tower of Pisa FIRST!!! You will be given a certain time for climbing it and store your belongings. NO backpacks or even camera bags are allowed inside the tower of Pisa.
This city took me by surprise!
I was not expecting it to be so incredibly charming as it was and want to go back. It is ideal for walking around, strolling through the markets, visit the amphi theater and maybe see a concert or just hang out in one of the many great restaurants.
Of course whoever goes there will visit the famous balcony from “Juliet and Romeo”. How could one not go and see it?
TIP: If you want to get in “the mood” for Tuscany or Verona, I would recommend the movie “letters to Juliet”. You will either feel like booking a ticket to Verona the next day or be lost in thoughts over memories you have to this place, I gurantee it.
One of my all time favorite cities worldwide! This city is unreal in its beauty and architecture and completely unique in the world!
I also learnt that, if you want to renovate one of those buildings you may do so on the inside but you are not allowed to change the exterior look? It’s all to preserve the charm of Venice.
It is incredible difficult to buy property there and even if you have the right amount of cash, you will be put on a long waiting list of other potential buyers. Interesting I thought.
We had a mixture of guided touring and free time but decided to go back for more, on our own while pretty much everybody else decided to go on an overpriced excursion.
Our hotel was just outside of town, so we took super cheap public transportation back into town and in Venice we followed the signs leading us back to the heart – “Piazza San Marco”.
Getting there was a thrill in itself, it reminded me of “the amazing race”, looking for clues which way to go in the labyrinth of the streets.
We spent couple of days in Venice, a good amount to explore a bit on our own.
Some of my favorites were “the Grand Canal”, “Saint Mark’s Basilica”, “the Dodge Palace” and just walking around, getting lost in little sidestreets.
Venice is literally the best place to get lost in. Your camera will thank you!
TIP: Afternoon or very early morning light is the best to bring out the hues of color in the buildings.
A lovely tiny island not far away with incredibly colorful houses. It was really perfect, late May afternoon, warm sunshine which really brought out the richness of the colors of the houses, but again… not enough time.
We spent more time on the ferry than on the island. Not sure why the rush.
When everybody else went back to the hotel, we stayed behind in Venice to spend a lovely evening alone, just the two of us. Having a romantic dinner with the sun setting over the canal. Hard to beat.
On the way home we ended up with a bus driver who was going 95 km/ h in a 50 km/ h zone (!) while listening to music on head phones!!
It did not surprise us that he ended up running into the car in front of us at a red light! We sat in the front row and saw it happen in what seemed slow motion.
Thank goodness nobody got hurt, but somehow I have a feeling he still drives this way these days.
One of the smalles countries in the world and we have the stamp in our passports to show it! The country is so small, you can stand on top of the local mountain and see the Adriatic Sea in Italy from it, as seen in the picture below.
Image courtesy of my husband
One thing I was NOT expecting AT ALL was their open and very generous display of different kind of machine guns, serious looking knifes, hand granates and all sorts of heavy duty weapons in the windows!!
You don’t see this every day. I mean, who in their right mind offers this, leave alone goes “shopping” for this???
We mainly visited the big “Basilica of San Francesco” in which photography was not allowed, unfortunately.
“The Basilica of San Francesco”
It was a lovely little hill town in the Umbria region but I was not doing well on this day at all. I was awaiting hip surgery a few weeks later and was in a lot of pain that day. Walking was very difficult for me.
So unfortunately I could not really enjoy Assisi to its full potential.
I can not say too much about this city.
“Panoramic view of Naples”
In all honesty, my first impression was not the best one. We went out for dinner on our own one of the nights and we did not feel safe. There were some streets that just had written “bad news” all over it, so we kept walking.
“The view from our window”
“The view from our window at night”
And trying to cross the street is borderline impossible. No order anywhere with anything. Just when I thought traffic in India, China or Egypt was bad – welcome to Naples!
I do think there are points of interest in Neaples though. Which unfortunately were not shown to us but I would be willing to give Naples another chance. Alone for finding the famously “folded Napolian pizza”. Hmmmm….
THE ISLAND OF CAPRI
The boatride takes almost two hours from the harbour of Naples, which is kind of nice if one would have had a jacket or sweater. Meaning, “we didn’t”….and sitting for 2 hours in blowing cold wind turned into two VERY long hours. ~
Capri is “the land of lemons”. You will pretty much find anything that, smells or tastes like a lemon, from lemon soap to alcoholic lemon drinks to tiles, dishes and aprons with lemon images on it. Lemon heaven!
The island itself is very picturesque and there is lots to do. It was difficult to choose what activities to do because our time was so limited, so we opted for the chair lift to get a panoramic view of the island.
In general a good idea, but the chair lift went “one person at a time” in a painstakingly slow speed. It was like pulling teeth.
“The slow poke chair lift”
Finally at the top! Image courtesy of my husband
Great if you have all day, not so great if you don’t. In the end we spend more time on the chair lift than on top of the mountain. Somehow that became a pattern.
Walking around the harbor and soaking up the atmosphere accompanied with the daily dose of delicious Gelato was very nice too. It was a nice harbor with colorful little fishing boats, perfect motives for me. Sometimes it’s nice to “not” do anything particular and just enjoy the moment.
“The harbor in Capri”
Image courtesy of my husband
We were really impressed by the architecture, wall decorations and genius of engineering we got to see. We did a walking tour of the town of Pompeii, during one of the biggest rain storms of our trip and even though I had my ever present umbrella with me, we got soaked.
Also would deserve another visit, in better weather.
This is a victim of Pompeii. You can see the sheer agony in the last few moments of his life.
A coastal town built on cliffs, overlooking the bay of Naples with its crystal clear waters.
We had the luxury of having the whole afternoon and evening off and just walked around. The historic center is rather small and you really can not get lost. Again, in case you didn’t buy enough lemon products in Capri, here was your second chance!
We saw a wedding take place in which the bride was in the church, and the groom stood outside, looking miserable and refused to go inside. (Maybe not the best start for a life together…)
I also saw the house of my dreams, if money was no issue. It was an old house, kind of abandoned, ivy growing all over, hidden behind an alley of big palm trees with sweeping views of the ocean and locked up behind an old rusty iron gate, for sale. Maybe in my next life.
We wrapped up our trip in Rome again and people left in all different kind of directions for home. It’s always sad when everybody leaves again. You kind of grow together as a big family over two weeks.
Did we have enough time everywhere? Clearly not, but we saw it as an italian “sampler” and know where we want to go back to.
Cosmos is for budget travelers. Some hotels were more budget than others but most of them were actually pretty good and it was great value for the money.
The hotel locations sometimes left a bit to be desired for but most of the times we were so tired by the end of the day, we didn’t care anymore. We would travel with Cosmos any time again.
Image courtesy of my husband
It was a great experience, a rich two weeks and we met great people. Especially a couple from Canada who we are still in almost daily touch with and we are proud to call our closest friends! ❤
We met on a trip in Italy and have become friends for life. This is what traveling can do for you. If it wasn’t for that Italy trip, we never would have met.