|Beautiful beautiful Vernazza|
I know this is a lot of information, but I think I would have appreciated reading something like this before our trip. Hope it helps someone out there. :)
|Taken while on the hike from Vernazza to Monterroso. Cinque Terre stole my heart.|
I should say that we spent about 8 months planning this trip. I obsessively read Rick Steve's Italy and Rick Steve's Paris, stalked Tripadvisor, and read lots of travel blogs. We didn't take any organized tours, but did download all of Rick Steve's free audio guides and they were AWESOME. He has audio-guides for most of the major museums in Italy, all the Ancient Roman sites, the Lourve, Pompeii, Versailles, and I'm sure I'm forgetting to mention others. We found that the audio-guides left out some details at times, but they were entertaining and covered the information that we thought was probably most pertinent. Oh and they definitely beat spending lots of money on organized tours Not going to lie, I'd rather put my money towards amazing food.
USE TRIPADVISOR. We regularly found ourselves going to TripAdvisor on our phones and reading the reviews of restaurants. I constantly said the words, "TripAdvisor never steers me wrong". Also, TripAdvisor provides free downloadable city guides that we used whenever possible. The app has free possible itineraries, tips, and lots and lots of great reviews. I highly recommend it.
If at all possible, purchase a SIM card and use Google Maps to make navigating around the cities a whole lot easier. You'll save yourself time, stress, money, and you know that little ole navigation system will probably help you avoid some arguments if you're traveling with your significant other (cough, not that I'm speaking from personal experience or anything =P)
We also used the Google Translate app every single day. It works really well and also gives you the option to hear the way in which the word or phrase you're entering should be pronounced. It was really really helpful.
Italy (we spent about 3 weeks in Italy, and as a result have more Italy related tips)
We found the public transportation system in Italy to be.... shenanigans to say the least. If you are planning a trip throughout Italy and will be relying on public transportation make sure you read up about the public transportation system in advance so you come way more prepared than we did. We did however have a really great experience on the Italo trains. I highly recommend them.
If you are renting a car in Italy make sure you stop at an Autogrill, which is basically the Italians version of a truck stop. Italian drivers take food seriously, and oh man we had really good food at the Autogrills.
Italy is (duh) HOT in August... really really hot. If you do go during that time bring lots and lots of light clothing and be prepared to do laundry regularly (sometimes in your bathroom sink). Lets just say this Southern Californian was so not prepared for the humidity I experienced in Italy.
Make reservations at all the museums in Rome and Florence before you leave for your trip, in some cases months before you leave. DO IT.
Certain parts of Italy are overrun by mosquitoes during the summer (Venice!, Sorrento, and I swear there were killer mosquitoes in Rome). If you are a mosquito magnet like me invest in some bug spray. Trust me, you won't regret it.
Rome has water fountains everywhere with the most wonderful cold water. We used these Vapur collapsible water bottles every single day. They're perfect.
While in Paris we rented Velib bikes. They are cheap, have pickup and drop-off stations all over the city, and we thought were the best way to explore Paris. Paris has lots of bike lanes and is a relatively easy city to bike ride in, but be careful nonetheless. We did almost get killed once or twice by drivers that didn't see us. Either way, we loved actually seeing Paris while getting from one place to the next.
If you are at all interested in checking out the museums in Paris make sure you purchase the Paris Museum Pass. It allows you to skip lines and will save you a lot of money, provided you are interested in seeing a number of the museums on the list.
We found that in Italy most restaurants, B&Bs, and miscellaneous shops will only accept cash while in Paris all places accept credit card or cash. Be prepared. :)
Restaurants and cafes almost always have a different price for sitting down at a table versus standing at the bar or taking food to go. Think about it before you decide to sit down.
In Italy always ask how much before you order or buy something because often times prices will not be clearly marked. This really goes for everything you purchase including gelato at a stand, a souvenir, or even a clothing item at a nicer store. Also, check the amount of change you receive, and make sure it is correct. If it's not correct, say something and get the right amount back. I only say this based on (multiple) experiences in the more touristy areas.
In Paris all restaurants and shops have prices clearly displayed outside or on a window. Easy peasy.
Yes, I love clothes and fashion. I so wanted to take a big suitcase with lots of cute clothing, and lots of extra space so I could shop, buttttt taking a small carry-on backpack with perfectly organized packing cubes was the best decision I could have made! You can read more about how I packed here. Seriously, the last thing you want to do while rushing through a crowded train station or climbing up tons of steps is to worry about dragging a huge suitcase behind you. It's just not worth it. If you can manage it, and you definitely can during the summer, bring a small backpack. We both used Tom Bihn Aeronaut bags. Point is, if I can do it, you can do it. =P
To be honest there are a lot of pickpockets in Italy and Paris. Chances are you will be fine, but make sure you are always aware of who is around you and watch your stuff. If someone approaches you asking you to sign a petition, participate in a game, tries to put a bracelet or ring on you, tries to sell you a metro/train ticket say no firmly and walk away.
When you do walk into a store or restaurant say hello in the appropriate language and smile. It makes a difference. ;)
Most importantly, make sure you slow down. There are so many beautiful things and places to see but we found that the times we enjoyed the most were really the times we slowed down. Whether that be while people watching and making friends at a sidewalk cafe in Paris (oh my god I LOVE Paris), sitting on the beach in Positano, chatting with locals on the train, or enjoying a glass of champagne on the grass while watching the Eiffel Tower light up at night, just stop and enjoy. Those times that you stop while probably the ones you value the most.
|No caption necessary ;)|