A little background
My friend Amanda, from PA school, and I had not seen each other since graduating in 2014. We had talked on several occasions about taking a trip, but nothing ever really worked out since we both had crazy schedules. Low and behold, four years later, we figured out! We had difficulty deciding between several places but eventually settled on Italy and Greece in May of 2018. After attempting to plan the whole trip ourselves, and realizing we did not have enough time, we end up deciding to travel with a group of strangers. We chose EF Ultimate Break which is designed for people between the ages of 18-29. They also encourage solo travelers! Being 28 years old made us basically the grandparents of the group. Hahah!
EF scheduled everything. Hotels, flights, transfers, ferries, guided tours of all the big tourist sites, you name it but still left us plenty of free time. We also met some really cool people! We opted to travel a day early to add a trip to Venice; however, we had to book our own transportation and hotel. Airbnb was the cheapest option. And we got to add the train to our many other modes of transportation!
And we’re off!
My trip started at 1630 on May 16 when I made my way to LA. Yes, I’m aware that this doesn’t make any sense, but we had plans to go to Disney Land at the end of the trip. I arrived in LA around 2030 and helped Amanda pack her things. We exchanged a small amount of euros in the morning and headed to the airport for a 1510 flight the Frankfurt, Germany on Lufthansa. The flight was 10 hours long and I slept for about 8.5 of those (with breaks for meals). The flight attendants thought I was German, as they would only address me in German and then would speak to Amanda in English.
Weirdly enough, you go through customs once you enter the European Union and again when you leave, so no stamps from either of the places we actually went. As we only had an hour and 10-minute layover, it wasn’t a huge surprise we missed our connection when we left over an hour late. We were given 10 euro vouchers for food and booked standby on the next flight out. Luckily, we managed to make it on that flight. This put our arrival in Florence about three hours later than expected. I panicked briefly when we managed to end up outside the airport without going through customs (this is when I realized the whole concept about the EU). Surprisingly, not the last time I thought we were going to get arrested on this trip (read about #2 here).
A brief stop in Florence
We were able to find a city bus to bring us into the city and closer to the train station. This saved us from paying for a cab. After some confusion, (the bus dropped us off at a bus station and not the train station as we expected) we managed to book tickets on the next train to Venice. Travel tip** The ATAF Volainbus travels between the Florence airport and the SITA bus station every half hour. It costs about 6 euros for a one-way trip and takes about 20 minutes. When you exit the airport you can see the bus stop to the right. The Santa Maria Novella railway station is just around the corner to the left of the bus station.
As expected in travel…things don’t always run on time. The train was late arriving and we were, again, delayed. Forty-five minutes later we finally left for the two-hour journey to Venice. I had been updating the host of our Airbnb all day letting him know about delays. He decided at this point that we were inconveniencing him (since we were now 5 hours late) and required that we pay an extra 30 euro late check-in fee. Since hotels were much more expensive we decided we really had no choice, but to pay it. We were able to negotiate a little and didn’t have to pay the city tax that was required to stay there.
A mile-long walk to the house, settling in, showers, and re-configuring our plans put us in bed around 0130. We missed out on a Vaporetto trip to Burano to see all the beautiful colored houses and a gondola ride, but all in all, not a terrible start.
Below are some of the pictures that drew me to Burano. If you have the time, make your way out to the island to experience the beautiful colors. If you’re not wanting to brave the Vaporetto ride and make your way to the other islands by yourself, you can also book tours of Burano and Murano. Dark Rome has a tour that comes highly recommended.
I always like to go off the beaten bath whenever I travel. I found this great blog post from Indiana Jo while planning for our short visit to Venice. She gives great tips for exploring different areas and escaping the crowds; while still planning for the must-do gondola ride! Okay, fine. I still like touristy things, too.