Back in Ithaca, fall break is a long weekend break to go back home and relax for a few days after midterms. For Ithaca students in London, fall break is often a week long travel adventure in a cram to see as much of Europe as possible. For a lot of students this means Italy, Spain, or Greece, warm places that are just a little too far to do a weekend trip to.
This break I went to Venice, Florence, and Rome in Italy with my flatmates, and then I went to Barcelona, Spain on my own. I spent about 2 and a half days in each, except for Florence, which we only spent a day and night in.
Boy was it a whirlwind of ancient Roman ruins, Venetian Canals, huge cathedrals, Gaudi architecture, pizza, pasta, ham, wine and cheese.
Here is some advice specific to the cities but I think can also apply for general Europe travelling.
Also if you have student ID with an expiration date on it, USE IT. It will give you great discounts to seeing the big stuff so you can save money for great food! (Or like souvenirs or whatever but I prefer to spend it on good food)
1. The city is just so freaking beautiful I can’t put it into words. The first day I was there, while my flatmates went to Verona, I let myself get lost, wandering through the little streets and bridges over the canals, not looking at a map on my phone. I simply looked which way looked the coolest and walked that way. I found so many beautiful little bridges and alleyways this way.
2. This for all of Italy, not just Venice, but Venice tended to be more expensive. Many sit down restaurants will have a cover charge that would kind of be like the service charge but these restaurants tend to be more expensive anyway, so try to go for the places that advertise no cover charge.
3. Also for all of Italy and Spain, they will not serve you tap water at restaurants, even if you ask because they don’t drink their tap water. You will have to pay for bottled water so make sure to look at the prices of water on the menu compared to their size. My first night in Venice I had a 750mL bottle for 4 euros, which often costs more around £1.50 at a grocery store.
4. A lot of the main tourist areas aren’t as exciting as wandering around. The Rialto Bridge is super crowded with tourists taking pictures and most of the shops on the bridge itself are touristy and not super interesting. Try wandering just a little past the bridge.
5. Get a take away sandwich, pastry or mini pizza and sit by one of the smaller canals and just the water. It is so relaxing.
1. All the main sights are pretty close together. It is probably one of the most walkable cities I’ve ever been to.
2. A lot of places close around or before sunset, so make sure to get in earlier. We made the mistake of waiting to the last minute to go to the Boboli Gardens and couldn’t get in.
3. If you decide to go see the gardens, you’ll have to walk up a surmountable hill but it is worth it. You get to see a beautiful neighbourhood of Florence as well as a fantastic view.
4. The Duomo is free but it gets crowded so get there when it opens.
5. You will end up walking through leather markets full of vendors calling out to you to buy their stuff. Ignore them, and don’t feel bad about it, if you engage them they’ll want you to buy something you really don’t want.
6. Also general rule for Italy: Get Gelato. Always get some gelato. It is delicious and often not expensive and when are you going to get gelato in Italy again?
1. Again, eat all the gelato.
2. If you go to Vatican, there will be a bunch of people from tour companies trying to sell you expensive tours that they will try to convince you is cheaper and more worth the time than just buying tickets from the Vatican to the Sistine Chapel and just waiting to go into the Basilica. Their tours are not worth it. I spent 8 euros to get in to the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel versus the 36 euros for the tour a guy offered us. They will try to get into your face so just keep walking to the entrance and keep saying no firmly.
3. There is a tourist pass called the Roma pass, which gives you free public transport for the time allotted and free entrance to the first archaeological site you go to, and reduced rates for the next one. We didn’t end up using public transport a lot and we only went to the Colosseum/Roman Forum/Palantine Hill so I’m not sure it was worth it, though we got to skip the long lines for those two and that felt great. So get it if you plan on trying to see a bunch of the archaeological stuff. Otherwise, just buy colosseum tickets in advance to skip the line.
4. Definitely go to the Colosseum which is the same ticket for the Roman Forum and Palantine Hill where you can get a stunning view of Rome and see just how much Rome has preserved its ancient history. You can even see the Senate where Caesar got murdered! As a former history and Shakespeare nerd, I was pretty excited.
5. Go to the Trevi fountain and throw a coin in. Yeah it’s cheesy and it’s crowded, but the fountain is truly beautiful and you get to have your Lizzie Maguire moment.
6. Look for deals on wine you can often get a third or half a bottle of wine for a cheaper price than two glasses.
1. If you want to go to all the Gaudi wonders, you should buy your tickets online first. Unfortunately, these sites are so popular that they can sell out, particularly La Sagrada Familia, the famous unfinished church that Gaudi designed. It is very cool from the outside, but if you want to see the inside you have to book tickets 3 days in advance. For Parc Guell, you can buy tickets there but know that you will be waiting 2 hours in the public park around the monumental centre. It is still a cool park but if you don’t want to wait long, again, get tickets in advance.
2. Despite what people tell you about Barcelona being full of thieves, and certainly pickpockets exist, don’t let it prevent you from getting lost and wandering down side streets. Barcelona is actually pretty safe and these little areas are so beautiful and full of interesting artisan shops. I ran into Barcelona’s only women’s bookstore that way and had a nice chat with the owner.
3. Tapas is probably the best meal invention. Why get stuffed on three separate meals when you can just snack all day long? With wine!! Also, be careful when looking at tapas bars, some are more expensive than others and add up. Also, definitely try Pinxtos, the Catalan version of tapas. They tend to be smaller and on pieces of bread but that means they are cheaper, and they are often quite delicious. I recommend Txapela, it is touristy but it is delicious and cheap.
4. Tomato bread. Eat it. It’s like pizza but without cheese and lighter. It’s so good.
5. Be careful with Spanish cocktails because they tend to put a lot of alcohol in them so maybe opt for a glass of wine or cava, the area’s specialty champagne, instead. Especially since wine and champagne in Spain is much cheaper than in the UK. Though do try sangria while you’re there. It’s the best. But get a pitcher to share with a bunch of people rather than an individual cup.
6. If you find yourself short on cash and hungry, go to La Boqueria, a lively covered market. Sure, it’s full of tourists, but I got breakfast there for 4 euros. They have everything from delicious cream pastries, lots of fruit juice, pinxtos and tapas, and empanadas galore.
7. Here is one of the few places you’ll visit where a 2 or 3 day public transport pass is worth it. Barcelona is a big city and you’ll be using the metro a lot, which is highly efficient by the way. It was only 20 euros for a three day pass which was worth it since a one trip pass is 2.15 and I definitely made more than 10 trips in my three days. It also counts for the airport where otherwise, to enter from the metro, you have to pay another ticket fee.
All of these places are lovely to visit, so please remember not to stress too much and have fun!