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Driving, Europe, Italy, Travel

5 Day Road Trip from Rome to Florence

May 8, 2022
Classic fiat 500 in Italy

For the past two summers, I have rented a car in Italy. Not only do I feel a little more local when I do this, but it also allows me to see the smaller towns that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise. Don’t worry about driving in Italy isn’t as scary as people make it sound and an Italian road trip is one of the best road trips!

This post may contain affiliate links. If you click on the link and make a purchase, I may earn a commission at no additional cost to you.

Renting a Car

Renting a car in Italy is easy. I would recommend using Europcar; click here to check rates. 

Rome is my starting point for renting a car because I cannot drive a manual transmission, and more automatic cars are available in Rome. Also, the rental desks are open until midnight. If you want to spend time in Rome, then I recommend renting the car after your time in Rome as parking in Rome is difficult and expensive.

Day 1 – Rome to Amelia

Once you rent your car at the Rome Fiumicino Airport, get on the road to your first stop or stay the night to rest up. If you come late in the day or are jet-lagged, I recommend spending the night at the Hilton Rome Airport. It is a short walk to the terminal and will allow you not to have to rent the car right after getting off the plane.

The first stop is the Parco di Monstri in Bomarzo, about one hour and a half from the Rome airport. This historic park is full of scary and wacky sculptures. Built by Pier Francesco Orsini in memory of his wife, Giulia Farnese, in the 16th century. Both from well-known Italian families.  The park is only accessible by car, so it is a must-do while on a road trip in Italy. Allow 1-2 hours to explore the whole park.

5 Day Road Trip from Rome to Florence

The next stop is Amelia, only about 45 minutes from the park. Amelia is one of my favorite towns in Italy, and some say it is the oldest city in Umbria. The walls are ancient and in fantastic condition. There is an archaeology museum and many beautiful churches to explore. For dinner, I recommend La Locanda del Conte Nitto, which has beautiful food and views of the ancient streets of Amelia.

5 Day Road Trip from Rome to Florence

Day 2 – Amelia to Assisi

Spend the morning finishing exploring Amelia and then head to the town of Assisi. If Assisi sounds familiar, it is because it is where St. Francis of Assisi was born. At the end of the town is the famous Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi. The Basilica is stunning, with views outside of the surrounding valley and colorful frescos inside. I recommend going early to beat the crowds.

5 Day Road Trip from Rome to Florence

After that, walk through the town to the other side and head to the Rocca Maggiore. The Rocca Maggiore is the town’s ancient defense fort and overlooks the whole area. If you head to the top of the tower, you get an even better view.

5 Day Road Trip from Rome to Florence

Stay the night in Assisi. You will want to, after all that walking. There is a public car park near the Nun Assisi Relais & Spa Museum hotel, which is the hotel I recommend in Assisi. Not only are the rooms in a historic nunnery, but the hotel has a spa located in the Roman baths below. You can get a massage till eight at night, which is just the cure for your aching feet not only that, you can eat with great views at the in-house restaurant of Eat Out, where the menu is seasonal and local.


Day 3 – Assisi to Gubbio

After enjoying your breakfast in Assisi, take the short drive to Perugia. Perugia is the capital of Umbria. It is known for its celebration of the arts. The highlight here is seeing the underground fortress, Rocca Paolina. The fort was started in 1540, and most of it was destroyed by the 19th century. Now you can explore the cellars and basements that are still standing.

Find more history on the short drive to Gubbio. Gubbio is a town built into the side of a small mountain and makes for stunning views of the city and the valley below. Due to it being integrated into the side of the mountain, you can take elevators from different town levels. There are tons of things to see in this city, but the architecture of dark gray stone buildings is intriguing and makes you feel like you have stepped back in time.

5 Day Road Trip from Rome to Florence

Make sure you make it to the top level of the town to see the Cathedral of Gubbio. It has a stained glass window that is gorgeous. The views from up here are almost a must-see. If you are brave, you can take the funicular to the Basilica of Saint Ubaldo.

Day 4 – Gubbio to Siena

Spend a few hours in the morning exploring the things you didn’t get to see yesterday in Gubbio. Don’t forget to see the Palazzo dei Consoli built in the 14th century with running water. Then make a long drive to Siena. You are now in Tuscany! The entire historic center of Siena has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The highlight of this is the Siena Cathedral, with its amazing gothic architecture.

5 Day Road Trip from Rome to Florence

Then make a long drive to Siena. You are now in Tuscany! The entire historic center of Siena has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The highlight of this is the Siena Cathedral, with its amazing gothic architecture.

If you go to Siena in the summer, try to be there around the historic Palio di Siena. It is a medieval horse race that takes place in the Piazza del Campo. Who doesn’t want to see men ride horses through an ancient town in costume?!

Day 5 – Siena to Florence

Given the short drive from Siena to Florence, you can spend the morning in Siena before heading to my favorite city in Italy, Florence. You will begin to see the rolling hills of Tuscany on this route. Driving through Umbria has you driving through the mountains, but now you will drive between them.

In Florence, you will return your rental car as driving in the historic center of Florence is limited to residences and can carry hefty fines if you do. Parking is also expensive. You will most likely have to return the car to the Florence airport. You can then take a taxi or the “Vola in Bus” shuttle, which takes you to the Florence train station.

There is so much to see in Florence, so you will need a few days to see it all. But on this first day, I recommend finding a museum that interests you and only do that on the first day. This way, you won’t wear yourself out and can enjoy Florence to the fullest. I recommend the Hotel Plaza Lucchesi in Florence. I have stayed here on every trip I have had to Florence, check rates here.

5 Day Road Trip from Rome to Florence

Book tickets in advance and see the Uffizi Gallery on the second day. You will avoid the long lines to get in this way. The Uffizi Gallery has something for every art lover. Be sure to see Botticelli’s Birth of Venus while you are there.

Have you gone on an Italian road trip? What was your favorite place? Share with us in the comments.

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Road Trip from Rome to Florence
Europe, Greece, Travel

Tips for Taking the Greek Ferry

September 16, 2021
Greece Ferry

You dream of going to a Greek Island and soaking up the sun while sipping ouzo, but how did you get to those beautiful islands you dream of? Most of the islands are only accessible by ferry, although some of the larger, more popular islands have airports. Booking ferry tickets is much easier than it used to be, but a first-timer may need some help navigating the ins and outs of taking a Greek ferry.

This post may contain affiliate links. If you click on the link and make a purchase, I may earn a commission at no additional cost to you.

Flights and the Ferry

My advice is to never ever book your ferry tickets on the same day as your flight. This is especially true if you have hotel reservations paid for or work to return to after your vacation. Fly in and stay in Athens for the night or book a hotel near the ferry port. On my last trip, my ferry choices were to leave either at 7 AM or 4:30 PM, which meant arriving in Ios after midnight. I opted for 7 AM, so I booked myself a hotel at Piraeus port for the night before. In this case, I could have never made a 7 AM ferry with any flight.

Which Ferry

There are many ferry lines, but not all the ferry lines go to every island. This means you won’t have a lot of choices on which ferry line you take. You may be able to choose a fast or a slow ferry depending on which island you are going to.

Some of the Greece ferry lines include Blue Star Ferries, Seajets, and Hellenic Seaways. They are all reliable ferry companies.

The advantages of taking the fast ferry are less time on the ferry and more time on the Greek Islands. The other advantage is that the fast ferries are usually more modern than the slow ferries.

The disadvantages are if you get seasick easily, the fast ferry might not be for you. Many of the fast ferries are hydrofoils, which are less stable in the sense that you feel the waves, not that they are going to flip over. Another disadvantage is that you are usually not allowed on the deck, especially if the weather is bad. If the weather is really bad, the hydrofoils will be canceled. If you are going to a Greek island in winter, keep this in mind and allow for it in your schedule and bookings.

Book your ferry tickets here with Ferry Hopper!

Which Port to Catch Your Greece Ferry

Athens has three ports from which ferries leave, Piraeus, Lavrio, and Rafina. The issue with this is that not all islands are served by each port. For example, to get to Kea, you will have to leave from Lavrio. If you are booking your own ferry tickets, then I recommend using FerryHopper.  It is straightforward and will give you indirect routes as well as direct routes.  If you are booking your tickets through an agent, make sure to check which port you are leaving from before you set out for your ferry as they are far apart and you will miss your ferry.

Tips for Taking the Greek Ferry

Getting On and Off

The first time I took a Greek ferry, it was from Ios to Santorini and back. Ios is small enough, and I had help, so it wasn’t very hard. But in Santorini, I was alone, and there were a lot more people and a lot more ferries. It also seemed a bit disorganized, although in hindsight, it wasn’t.

Tips for Taking the Greek Ferry

If you are on an early morning ferry, go early as you may be able to get on without all the rushing that is associated with getting on later in the day. This is especially true if you are embarking on at the first stop. In Piraeus, you may board even an hour early on some ferries.

At Piraeus, there are many gates the ferries leave from, and from the beginning to the end is far, so check it and arrive early to find the right gate. On the islands, there may only be one gate or very few gates. The best way to figure out where your ferry will depart from is the ask the Port police. They are in navy uniforms that look a little military in style. Your ferry ticket should have the name of the ferry on it, and most ferries are clearly marked. Some tickets will have your gate number on them.

You need to be there early but not more than 30 minutes. Rarely are ferries early in Greece and more often a few minutes or more late. But the disembarkation and embarkation process is fast, and they won’t wait for you. However, if they arrive early, they will not leave early. Don’t worry if you see your ferry arriving before you have reached the port.

What to Do with Your Luggage

Once you are on, you should store your larger luggage in the area you are directed to. There are too many stairs involved on the ferry, and you won’t want to bring it to your seat. Unless your bag is light, leave it here. It will be fine, and there is no reason to worry about it being stolen.  Do take your valuables with you, to be sure, though.

Proceed up the stairs, and someone will help you find your seat. Last year, I sat where I wanted, well, except for business class, but this year they really seemed keen on people sitting in their assigned seats.

Tips for Taking the Greek Ferry

They will announce each port as they get close, and everyone will move downstairs to gather their luggage. It will seem chaotic, but don’t stress; you will get your luggage and get off the ferry. It is a very efficient system even if it doesn’t look like it.

Book Your Greek Ferry Tickets

There are many ways to get ferry tickets. You can purchase your tickets in the port at a ferry ticket office and many travel agency offices in whatever town you are in. It is also possible to purchase your tickets online. As I have mentioned before, I use FerryHopper to book all my ferry tickets. Some ferry tickets are now electronic and there is no need to pick them up. However, if you need to get them, you can arrive early at the port to pick them up. If you pick them up from a travel agency that you did not book with, they may charge €1 per ticket to print them.

Do You Need to Book Greek Ferries in Advance

It depends! When are you coming? If you are traveling to Greece in July and August, I recommend booking in advance. This is the high season in Greece, and ferries can fill up quickly, especially for islands such as Santorini and Mykonos.

If you are traveling to Greece at other times, such as September or October, booking a few days in advance is fine. For the rest of the year, you don’t need to book your Greek ferry tickets in advance. The only caveat to this is if a Greek holiday is happening, such as Orthodox Easter. The ferries then will be just as full as in summer and actually sometimes overcrowded.

Do you have any tips for the Greek ferry? Share with us.

Tips for Taking the Greek Ferry
Driving, Europe, Italy

Driving in Italy

July 29, 2020

Italy was the third foreign country I have driven in! The plan for my trip to Italy was to see friends near Rome and then go to Venice. I knew there were towns along the way I wanted to see and getting to my friend’s house seemed easier by car.  This also made it possible for me to make several stops along the way to Venice.

This post may contain affiliate links. If you click on the link and make a purchase, I may earn a commission at no additional cost to you.

Once I decided to rent a car, I was faced with how to rent a car in Italy. Most major US car rental companies have branches in Italy, but they weren’t always the cheapest option.  Booking through a European rental car agency may be a cheaper option. I have found success using Europcar.

The other issue was that I don’t know how to drive a manual transmission and the Italians love a manual! Most of the rental cars were manuals, and finding the automatic transmission section was hard. Initially, I thought I would drive from Venice to Rome, but Venice didn’t have many automatic options. Automatics are more expensive than manuals though.

Knowing that Italian towns are small and knowing parking could be an issue, I opted for the smallest car they offered. It ended up being the Fiat 500 you see above.  This was a real benefit when I had to maneuver through the tiny parking garage at my hotel in Verona. It was also good when parking the car in my friends’ small village.  Small cars are very common for these reasons, and there seemed to be plenty of them in the rental car garage.

The actual driving!  Here are my tips for driving in Italy both on the highway and in the country. This includes guides to the driving rules.

  1. Italians drive fast! If you don’t want to drive fast, stay out of the far left-hand lane. If driving fast makes you nervous, drive in the far right-hand lane.
  2. People cut in and out of lanes quickly and closely. Don’t worry about it as this is common and the Italians know what they are doing. A few Italians flashed their lights at me, telling me they were coming and to get out of their way.  Get over if you can, but if you can’t, just use your signal to indicate that you will get over when able.
  3. Tolls! All the highways have tolls, and they are expensive. I spent almost €40 on tolls. Some toll booths are automated, and some have a person. Be sure you go in the lane that is marked for cash and not the Telepass, which is like a toll tag. A few seemed to take credit cards as well.
  4. Gas is expensive too.  I spent over €100 on gas for a week’s worth of driving. I did pay for the serviced option because I wasn’t sure which gas to put in the car. There were plenty of service stations all along my routes, even in the villages. The ones in the villages might be self-service at some times of the day, and you will have to pay in cash.
  5. Turn your lights even during the day in the country. This is the law.
  6. Going fast in a small car isn’t as scary, especially when everyone else is in a small car. However, my car took its time getting up to speed on the highway. The usual speed limit on the highway is 130 KPH, which is about 81 MPH, and everyone was speeding!
  7. Speed cameras are everywhere. The GPS I rented warned me of them, but the ones in the small towns were not always detected.  Thankfully I got no speeding tickets in the mail later. Google “speed camera Italy” to see what they look like. Some were very obvious, and some were not.
  8. Get a GPS. Get it from the rental car company as it will be the most up-to-date with maps and speed cameras. It was more accurate than my Google maps app on my phone.

Overall, I really enjoyed driving in Italy and am now determined to do more driving in other countries. Have you driven in a foreign country? Tell us your tips for driving in that country in the comments. 

Europe, Netherlands, Travel

Visiting Amsterdam at Christmas

January 27, 2020

I have only spent Christmas alone once before at that was in Rome. When spending Christmas alone, it is important for me to have something to do on Christmas morning.

This post may contain affiliate links. If you click on the link and make a purchase, I may earn a commission at no additional cost to you.

Amsterdam at Christmas was a perfect place because almost all the museums are open on Christmas day. Plus there are tons of things to do in Amsterdam at Christmas time.

Amsterdam Christmas Markets

There are Christmas markets all over Amsterdam and most are open up until Christmas day. One I found was even open on Christmas Day. Here are some of the best Amsterdam Christmas markets to explore.

Ice Village

This Christmas market is located in the Museumplein right behind the Rijksmuseum. The market has a variety of stalls that sell handmade items such as jewelry, postcards and hand knits. There are also a variety of food stalls selling everything from BBQ to stroopwafels. Drink options included beer, mulled wine and hot chocolate.

Ice Village skating rink

The market also had a large outdoor ice skating rink. The rink was filled with kids and they even offered chairs to help you skate if you are out of practice!

The Ice Village Amsterdam was open Christmas day as well making it an ideal place to visit after visiting a museum or two beforehand. It was pretty cold that day so make sure to dress warm. There were a few open fires to gather around to keep warm though.

Amsterdamsche Kerstmarkt

This mostly indoor Christmas market is located in Westergas, Amsterdam. Westergas used to be the city’s gas works and now hosts creative activities throughout the year.

Outside the market are the food stalls, a small ice rink and even a carousel. Inside, there are plenty of vendors to shop from. I saw homemade products such as jewelry, art and food. There was even a Lush stall!

Amsterdamsche Kerstmarkt inside

Bingo was being played on the day I went inside. There were some food stalls inside as well with places to sit.

Some of the small buildings in the Westergas complex had shops inside them as well.

Funky Xmas Market

Also held at Westergas, the Funky Xmas Market is held the three Sundays leading up to Christmas day. This market features items from local artists and fashion designers.

Amsterdam Winter Paradise

This market as all the traditional things you would find at the other Amsterdam Christmas markets but also includes a ferris wheel! You can also go tube sliding on real snow. The festive spirit continues into the night at this market with live music.

Museums, Museums, Museums

Almost all the major museums in Amsterdam are open on Christmas Eve and Christmas day. This was the main reason I chose Amsterdam for my Christmas alone. I love museums and Amsterdam has some of the best ones in the world.

Rijksmuseum

The Rijksmuseum cannot be missed when you arrive at the Museumplein area. It is the large castle-like structure that dominates the area.

The museum is home to over 1 million artifacts! It has a variety of objects on display including paintings, Delftware, ship models, clothing and dollhouses. It is probably one of the most eclectic museums I have ever been inside.  The only museum that I can compare it to would be the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

The museum is open on Christmas Day and has plenty of things to keep you busy for the entire day if you want. You can also get a good meal at the Cafe or the Rijks Restaurant.

Be sure to check out the Night Watch, which is Rembrandt’s most famous painting. Starting in 2019, it underwent a yearlong restoration in the public eye. Depending on when you go, you may still be able to check out the restoration process live.

Anne Frank House

Visiting the Anne Frank House while in Amsterdam is a must for most visitors. My advice is that no matter when you are visiting Amsterdam is to book your ticket to this immediately. I booked my ticket about three weeks before I arrived and the only option I had was Christmas Eve at night.

Needless to say, the visit was worth it. The museum has been kept pristine and much of that is thanks to Otto Frank, Anne’s father. He kept it as it was when he was freed from the concentration camps. Even the original bookcase that blocked the secret entrance is still in place.

It isn’t an easy place to visit and even on Christmas Eve it was crowded. However, the magnitude of hiding in a place for two years only to be discovered after the war was officially over and then to be sent to the camps is shocking. The house is a moving experience.

Van Gogh Museum

The Van Gogh Museum was my choice to visit on Christmas Day in Amsterdam. I thought it would be a popular place to visit on a regular day but it was even packed on Christmas Day.

Van Gogh's Sunflowers

It was worth seeing the Sunflowers though on Christmas morning. My advice would be to book an early morning ticket so that you might avoid some of the crowds.

I also recommend the audio guide to help you understand some of the paintings and to better understand Van Gogh’s life.

Book your Van Gogh Museum ticket here.

After leaving the Van Gogh museum, you can walk down to the Ice Village Christmas market for some poffertjes. Poffertjes are similar to an American pancake but are made with buckwheat and yeast. They are small and puffy served with butter and powdered sugar. Some stalls will let you add Nutella or chocolate.

Stedelijk Museum

If modern art is more your thing, you must visit the Stedelijk Museum.  The Stedelijk is open Christmas Day as well. It features artists such as Jackson Pollack, Marc Chagall and Andy Warhol. The Stedelijk is not on the Museumplein but is accessible by public transportation.

Light Festival

While the Amsterdam Light Festival starts well before the Christmas season, you can easily add it to your Christmas activities list while in the city. The Light Festival is an art installation that happens every year and each year is a different theme.

Light Festival installation of sinking city

Many of the installations are located in or near the canals. This makes it a great opportunity to take a canal cruise and see the lights at the same time. While these are not traditional Christmas lights, they are beautiful and you might get to see some Christmas lights in people’s houses on the canals.

Book your canal cruise here.

The art is from artists all over the world and the installations must be able to withstand the wet Dutch winter.

Food and Drink

Of course, you will want to sample all the food that Amsterdam as to offer at Christmas. I already mentioned the poffertjes and of course, stroopwafels. But to really get a taste you need to head to Foodhallen.

Pulled pork sandwich from Foodhallen

Foodhallen is a food hall with lots of options. What I liked about it was that you order food in one place and then there is community seating so you can sit anywhere. There are also several bars with beer, wine and a gin and tonic bar! There was even a small Christmas market here too.

The Netherlands is known for its tulips and windmills. Since it wasn’t tulip season, I decide to visit a microbrewery in a windmill! Ok, it is actually next to it in a former bathhouse, but it is still pretty cool. The beer was excellent as well. The windmill is the DeGooyer windmill and the brewery is the Brouwerij ‘t IJ.

Beer at Windmill brewery Amsterdam

Where to Stay in Amsterdam at Christmas

There are tons of hotel options in Amsterdam but I prefer to be near the museums and not in the city center. My recommendation is Park Centraal Amsterdam. It is right near the Museumplein and close to public transportation. Check rates here.

Public Transportation at Christmas in Amsterdam

The public transportation ran on Christmas Day. The schedule was a Sunday schedule but seemed pretty regular to me. There were times it was more crowded though. You can buy a ticket on the tram in the back of the tram. My advice is to purchase a pass for the amount of time you will be there as it saves you money and time.

Amsterdam Weather in December

Amsterdam weather in December is cold. It is December after all but don’t come to Amsterdam in December looking for a white Christmas. December in Amsterdam is the most humid month but it isn’t always cold enough to snow. When I was there it rained a few times and a few times it was a hard rain but most of the time it was a fine mist. Pack layers and an umbrella if you are traveling to Amsterdam in December.

Have you been to Amsterdam at Christmas? Share your experience in the comments.