We spent three weeks in Italy and to say that it was a massive change from South America would be the understatement of the year. Housing, food, and transportation have all been a dream. Conversely, our budget... well before we even arrived we realized that we'd need to at least double it to be remotely reasonable.
During our time on the Antarctica cruise and even before at hostels, we'd discuss our plans. The reaction was nearly universal. "You're visiting Europe in December? Are you skiing?" When we responded with a "no", there was a universal awkward pause, followed by an "Oh." *insert more awkward pausing* "So you're going... to Europe... in the WINTER?" So ubiquitous was this response among both friends and family that both Jordan and I began to doubt our plans. Should we consider Southeast Asia first? Should we just stick to Southern Europe to avoid the worst weather? We ended up sticking to our guns and decided that Europe was the right choice for us.
We've loved visiting during the holidays. In fact, for anyone with a bit of time, we enthusiastically recommend this time of year, even if you are not skiing. December means holiday lights, trees, decorations, and music. It means Christmas markets. The downside, as we were warned is that December means cold and rain are a common occurrence. Your pictures will often have backdrops of gray skies. We even had to buy a cheap winter jacket (€30 at a market in Florence) for Jordan because of the bitter cold.
But the pros outweigh the cons for us. The major sites completely lack lines during this time of year. We just waltzed into the Uffizi, the Colloseum, and the Vatican museum. Italy is all the better without the stiffing heat of July and the long lines that result from summer vacation. Even the cooler weather is a pro (for our waistlines, that is)... We only ate gelato every other day or so. In the summer heat, our consumption would have probably increased four-fold!
We spent time in Rome, Florence, Lucca, Bologna, and Venice. In a scant 21 days we've been quite busy, the higher costs force us to move more quickly. Jordan had all of our accommodations booked (almost solely through airbnb[link gives us a credit if you use airbnb]) ahead of time so that we wouldn't have to waste time figuring it out as we went. Since most of the where, when, and how of our travels is known, it has felt like we have more time than it otherwise would. We've had plenty of time in each of our locations to explore and relax when we wanted to.
Our biggest issue is that we should have done the country in the opposite order. The food had been superb until our final stop in Venice (still far better than South America) and all the wonderful museums and churches have paled compared to our first stop at the Vatican. If you started in Venice and worked towards Rome, you'd experience Rome as the culmination of your time in Italy instead of experiencing everything as a sort of denouement.
Our next stop was Paris for Christmas (our attempt to visit CERN in Switzerland was thwarted due to lack of tour availability) followed by London for New Years. After that we plan to spend perhaps another week in England and I'd guess at most 1 week more Western Europe. After that, we aren't completely sure of our timeline... but we have a trick or two up our sleeves!
Nuts and Bolts
- Visit Italy during the off or shoulder season. This helps you beat the heat and avoid the crowds.
- Give yourself enough time in each place, you don't want to be rushing around.
- If you come in the winter be sure to bring warm clothing and rain gear. However, some days reach the mid 40s and that feels rather warm after walking around on days in the 20s.
- Come in December and enjoy the Christmas lights, it has been very fun