Despite traveling the world all my life, until 2006 I just never got around to Europe. That was the year of the Solar Eclipse in the Libyan Sahara that was hosted by the Toronto Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society. We observed the eclipse from deep in the Sahara Desert and spent a week in Libya.
The group itinerary also included a week in Italy, where we saw both astronomical and the usual sights in Rome, Florence, Venice, and Milan. The group then returned to Toronto, however I added an extra week to the trip by traveling onward to Athens, Greece. This gave me time to kick back and relax…and see a few of the sights on the Greek mainland.
I really found the European portion of the itinerary fascinating. So JoeTourist® finally made it to Europe! I subsequently visited Europe again in 2014 on a Rick Steves Best of Europe tour.
Although I would suggest you start with Rome to read about the trip chronologically, if you are only interested in certain parts of Italy, by all means click on a specific city.
- Tripoli to Rome – flight
- Rome (Roma) – Vatican Observatory, Vatican City
- Florence (Firenze)
- Padua (Padova)
- Venice (Venezia)
- Milan (Milano)
The map to the right shows where we traveled in Italy – essentially Rome and north. The red line denotes travel by tour bus, the green line denotes travel by train.
Thoughts on Italy
I liked Italy very much. The people are friendly and helpful, and most speak some English. I didn’t try to speak Italian – I just don’t have any talent for learning languages, and find a smile and some pointing or gesturing gets the job done.
As a group, we had the distinct impression that we were being taken advantage of by the tour operators (Dan Tours on the Canadian side, and Gullivers on the Italian side). We had no paperwork from the tour operator until we were literally at Toronto airport ready to depart, had itineraries changed on us in Italy at the last minute, and we were told we couldn’t see certain sites which were printed on our itinerary. Lots of reasons were given, and none of them made much sense to us. Nothing we could prove, but many of the group were experienced travelers, and we all agreed something was up. Despite this issue, we had a terrific time in Italy.
What did I like best about Italy? Although Venice is certainly a standout for impressive sights, I would have to say my plan for a return trip to Italy would be to go to Florence and explore the Tuscany region between Pisa and Venice. The food and wine in Tuscany is simply amazing, the people are exceptionally friendly, and there are so many sights left to see.
Other than the language, North Americans should experience very little culture shock when visiting Italy. The country is very modern, and has efficient and plentiful transportation, accommodation, and communication services.