A Budget Traveler's Guide to Italy 

Tripoto
12th Apr 2019
Photo of A Budget Traveler's Guide to Italy by Mustafa Shahid

It had been only a month since our trip to Egypt (read the Egypt blog here), when the travelbug started biting us again. In our endeavor to measure life by countries traveled to, my friend Nikhil Anand and I started scanning the globe yet again to plan a second adventure. This time we were joined by a third musketeer, our fellow colleague, Ankita Hudedagaddi.

Photo of A Budget Traveler's Guide to Italy  1/1 by Mustafa Shahid
Nikhil, Me and Ankita in front of Castello Sforzesco, Milan

We picked out the long weekend of Easter in April for our adventure. Scientists by profession, we carried out a meticulous feasibility study of the trip, considering factors such as availability of leave, weather at destination, ease of planning and money in hand. Our discussions culminated on a Eurotrip. After a bit of more research we decided to focus on one country rather than haphazardly hitting prominent cities of many countries in a package style tour.

We chose the epicenter of the Roman Empire and the birthplace of Renaissance, Italy, as our destination.

In our 11 day trip to Italy (originally planned for 9 days), we covered a total of 8 cities, spanning almost the entire country. This blog is the first part of a 11 part series and gives a brief overview of the planning, execution and expenditure of the trip. I have also made detailed blogs about each city and every single day we spent in Italy. You can read ahead to get an insight into our planning procedure and expenditure breakdown. If you directly want to skip to the city wise itinerary, you can click here and read about the Pisa experience. Links from that blog will guide you to the other cities.

Why Italy ?

What is the first thought that comes to mind when you hear the word Italy ? This country is not all romance and art as generally portrayed. Travel to Italy is a wholesome and enriching experience. Apart from the boastful history of the Roman empire and the marvels of Renaissance period by some of the greatest artists to have lived like Michelangelo, Donatello, Leonardo and Raffaello (not to be confused with the ninja turtles), Italy is also a cultural, culinary and scenic retreat.

Despite being a small country, each city in Italy has a totally different vibe to offer. Be it the overdose of Renaissance in Florence, the overwhelming history and architecture in Rome, the romantic vistas in Venice, the high fashion in Milan or the postcard perfect landscapes of Amalfi; Italy has a piece of delight for every kind of traveler.

Planning

The planning for the trip commenced early in January 2019. By the second week we had found a cheap round trip flight (operated by Jet Airways) and booked it through yatra.com (read ahead for the fiasco we faced). The next step was planning the internal travel. Except for Pisa, I don't think there is any other city that can be covered in just one day. Constrained by budget and time, we had to make hard choices regarding the tourist attractions to visit. We organized the trip such that the palette covered a little bit of everything, including art, architecture, history, culture, nature and adventure. Travel within the country was done using trains and buses (tickets were booked through Omio.com). We had considered renting a self drive car for more flexibility, but the cost was not affordable for three people. You can definitely consider a self drive vehicle if going in a larger group and are comfortable with left hand drive. There are many self drive companies operating in Europe, you can use Kayak.com to browse among their options.

Being budget travelers, all our lodging was booked in hostels. Hostels are on an average available at €15 - €20 per night, which is at least four times cheaper than any hotel. Our days were going to be jam packed and we only needed a bed to crash for the night. Almost all the hostels we stayed at were very comfortable, some even surpassed our expectations. The bookings were made through booking.com and hostelworld.com. Renting a homestay through airbnb is also a good option if your trip is a bit more relaxed and spaced out.

As per our initial plan, we were going to land in Milan on the afternoon of 12th April (local time). The evening was to be spent going around the city and visiting the San Siro football stadium (home of AC Milan and Inter Milan). The morning session of the next day (13th April) was allotted for a hike along the Cinque Terre, a beautiful coastal hike through five old fishing villages situated in the northwestern coastal regions in Liguria. The post-lunch slot of the day was allotted for Pisa and a train from La Spezia (station near Cinque Terre) to Pisa was already booked. However, as you will read towards the end of the blog, our Jet Airways flights got cancelled and we ended up landing in Rome instead of Milan. This led us to cancel the Cinque Terre plan. While at Delhi airport, we booked a bus from Rome to Pisa and planned to catch our itinerary from there. Everything after that went smoothly and just as we had charted. The last two days in Milan were additional (again owing to the cancellation of our flight about which you can read in the last section of the blog). We utilized this extra time to explore Lake Como in the northern part of Italy.

Breakdown of Expenses

This is a consolidated overview of the expenses. Detailed expenditure incurred per day is provided in the blogs for respective cities. All the costs given below are per person.

1. Visa: ₹8000 (applied through Thomas Cook, you can get it at around ₹5500 if you apply directly to VFS Global)

2. Travel insurance: ₹1000 (arranged through Yatra.com)

3. International travel: ₹55000 (round-trip) (our cheaper Jet Airways flight got cancelled on the day of departure, the original Jet Airways ticket was only ₹39000)

4. Internal travel: ₹9000 (all train and bus tickets were pre-booked through Omio.com)

5. Forex: ₹60000 (roughly €800, we used a Forex card from SBI, more details can be found here)

6. International SIM card: ₹1000 (bought at Delhi airport, it proved to be extremely useful during the travel)

Total Expense: ₹135000

We withdrew cash as per requirement. Most places accepted card payment. All the entry tickets, hostel tariffs and food purchase was managed with the Forex. By the end of the trip, we still had ₹11000 worth of unused Euro (per person) in the card.

Structure of the Trip

In this section I detail the structure of the trip, the cities we visited and the places of attraction we visited in those cities. Detailed blogs for each city are hyperlinked.

Day 2 | Sunday | 14th April | Florence

This day was spent soaking in the Renaissance art and architecture at Florence. Among many interesting things, we saw David, the masterpiece statue sculpted by Michelangelo, and also climbed the dome of Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore. You can click here to read the detailed itinerary and expenditure breakdown for Florence.

Michelangelo's David

Photo of Florence, Metropolitan City of Florence, Italy by Mustafa Shahid

Death mask of Brunelleschi

Photo of Florence, Metropolitan City of Florence, Italy by Mustafa Shahid

The fresco of Il Duomo

Photo of Florence, Metropolitan City of Florence, Italy by Mustafa Shahid

Skyline of Florence

Photo of Florence, Metropolitan City of Florence, Italy by Mustafa Shahid

Basilica di Santa Croce

Photo of Florence, Metropolitan City of Florence, Italy by Mustafa Shahid

Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore

Photo of Florence, Metropolitan City of Florence, Italy by Mustafa Shahid

Day 3 | Monday | 15th April | Rome

On our first day in Rome we covered the ancient remains of the Roman Empire which included the Colosseum, Palatine hill and Pantheon. We also covered some churches and the famous Trevi fountain. You can click here to read the detailed itinerary and expenditure breakdown for our first day in Rome.

Photo of Rome, Metropolitan City of Rome, Italy by Mustafa Shahid

Colosseum

Photo of Rome, Metropolitan City of Rome, Italy by Mustafa Shahid

Palatine hill

Photo of Rome, Metropolitan City of Rome, Italy by Mustafa Shahid

Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano

Photo of Rome, Metropolitan City of Rome, Italy by Mustafa Shahid

Colosseum from inside

Photo of Rome, Metropolitan City of Rome, Italy by Mustafa Shahid

Pantheon

Photo of Rome, Metropolitan City of Rome, Italy by Mustafa Shahid

The oculus of Pantheon

Photo of Rome, Metropolitan City of Rome, Italy by Mustafa Shahid

Trevi fountain

Photo of Rome, Metropolitan City of Rome, Italy by Mustafa Shahid

Day 4 | Tuesday | 16th April | Rome + Vatican

On our second day in Rome, we covered the smallest country in the world, Vatican City. In the evening we Castle Sant'Angelo and the very eerie Crypt of the Capuchin Friars. You can click here to read the detailed itinerary and expenditure breakdown for our second day in Rome.

Dome of St Perter's Basilica

Photo of Vatican City by Mustafa Shahid

The pine-cone courtyard

Photo of Vatican City by Mustafa Shahid
Photo of Vatican City by Mustafa Shahid

Michelangelo's La Pieta

Photo of Vatican City by Mustafa Shahid

The Vatican church

Photo of Vatican City by Mustafa Shahid
Photo of Vatican City by Mustafa Shahid
Photo of Vatican City by Mustafa Shahid

Sistine Chapel

Photo of Vatican City by Mustafa Shahid

Day 5 | Wednesday | 17th April | Naples

This day features our first adventure activity of climbing the volcano known to have buried the historic city of Pompeii - Mt Vesuvius. We also visited its victims, Pompeii and Herculaneum. You can click here to read the detailed itinerary and expenditure breakdown for Naples.

Naples

Photo of Naples, Metropolitan City of Naples, Italy by Mustafa Shahid

Climbing Vesuvius

Photo of Naples, Metropolitan City of Naples, Italy by Mustafa Shahid

On top of Vesuvius

Photo of Naples, Metropolitan City of Naples, Italy by Mustafa Shahid

Herculaneum

Photo of Naples, Metropolitan City of Naples, Italy by Mustafa Shahid

Human bodies solidified in lava

Photo of Naples, Metropolitan City of Naples, Italy by Mustafa Shahid

Pompeii

Photo of Naples, Metropolitan City of Naples, Italy by Mustafa Shahid

Day 6 | Thursday | 18th April | Amalfi

The adventure continued on this day as we visited the azure Amalfi coast and hiked the highly picturesque Sentiero degli Dei - Path of the Gods. You can click here to read the detailed itinerary and expenditure breakdown for Amalfi.

Photo of Amalfi Coast, Amalfi, SA, Italy by Mustafa Shahid
Photo of Amalfi Coast, Amalfi, SA, Italy by Mustafa Shahid
Photo of Amalfi Coast, Amalfi, SA, Italy by Mustafa Shahid
Photo of Amalfi Coast, Amalfi, SA, Italy by Mustafa Shahid
Photo of Amalfi Coast, Amalfi, SA, Italy by Mustafa Shahid
Photo of Amalfi Coast, Amalfi, SA, Italy by Mustafa Shahid

Day 7 | Friday | 19th April | Venice

The seventh day involved cruising on the canals of the the floating city - Venice. Here we visited the golden church of St Mark's and raveled in the art at the Doge's palace. You can click here to read the detailed itinerary and expenditure breakdown for Venice.

Photo of Venice, Metropolitan City of Venice, Italy by Mustafa Shahid
Photo of Venice, Metropolitan City of Venice, Italy by Mustafa Shahid

Basilica di St Marco

Photo of Venice, Metropolitan City of Venice, Italy by Mustafa Shahid
Photo of Venice, Metropolitan City of Venice, Italy by Mustafa Shahid
Photo of Venice, Metropolitan City of Venice, Italy by Mustafa Shahid

Rialto bridge

Photo of Venice, Metropolitan City of Venice, Italy by Mustafa Shahid
Photo of Venice, Metropolitan City of Venice, Italy by Mustafa Shahid

Day 8 | Saturday | 20th April | Milan

Our first day in the fashion capital of the world was spent admiring the Gothic Duomo di Milano. We also had an art overdose at Pinacoteca di Brera and visited the San Siro football stadium. You can click here to read the detailed itinerary and expenditure breakdown for our first day in Milan.

The spires of Il Duomo

Photo of Milano, Metropolitan City of Milan, Italy by Mustafa Shahid

Glass paintings inside the cathedral

Photo of Milano, Metropolitan City of Milan, Italy by Mustafa Shahid
Photo of Milano, Metropolitan City of Milan, Italy by Mustafa Shahid

The Kiss by Franceso Hayez

Photo of Milano, Metropolitan City of Milan, Italy by Mustafa Shahid

San Siro stadium

Photo of Milano, Metropolitan City of Milan, Italy by Mustafa Shahid

Milan's mall

Photo of Milano, Metropolitan City of Milan, Italy by Mustafa Shahid

Day 9 | Sunday | 21st April | Milan + Lake Como

On our second day, we did a little side quest and explored the northern regions by visiting Lake Como, which also happens to be the birthplace of Alessandro Volta. In the evening we visited the Sforzesco castle. You can click here to read the detailed itinerary and expenditure breakdown for our second day in Milan.

Lake Como

Photo of Lake Como, Italy by Mustafa Shahid

Vroom Vroom

Photo of Lake Como, Italy by Mustafa Shahid
Photo of Lake Como, Italy by Mustafa Shahid

Life Electric - dedicated to Volta

Photo of Lake Como, Italy by Mustafa Shahid
Photo of Lake Como, Italy by Mustafa Shahid

Sforzesco castle

Photo of Lake Como, Italy by Mustafa Shahid
Photo of Lake Como, Italy by Mustafa Shahid
Photo of Lake Como, Italy by Mustafa Shahid

Day 10 | Monday | 22nd April | Milan

With majority of Milan already covered, this bonus day was reserved for Leonardo da Vinci's masterpiece - The Last Supper. We had a last meal of authentic Italian pasta before heading for the airport to catch our flight back to India. You can click here to read more on the details of our third day in Milan.

Photo of Milano, Metropolitan City of Milan, Italy by Mustafa Shahid

The Last Supper

Photo of Milano, Metropolitan City of Milan, Italy by Mustafa Shahid
Photo of Milano, Metropolitan City of Milan, Italy by Mustafa Shahid
Photo of Milano, Metropolitan City of Milan, Italy by Mustafa Shahid

The last meal in Italy

Photo of Milano, Metropolitan City of Milan, Italy by Mustafa Shahid

Day 0 | Friday | 12th April | Rome

We landed in Rome at 19:05 hrs. It was already night by the time we exited the airport. Caught a train from the airport to the city and then headed for the hostel. Next day early morning we caught a bus to Pisa.

Day 1 | Saturday | 13th April | Pisa

We reached Pisa by afternoon. Our entire time was spent admiring the sights at Piazza del Duomo which includes the Leaning tower of Pisa. You can click here to read the detailed itinerary and expenditure breakdown for Pisa.

Photo of Pisa, Province of Pisa, Italy by Mustafa Shahid

The Leaning tower of Pisa

Photo of Pisa, Province of Pisa, Italy by Mustafa Shahid

Camposanto

Photo of Pisa, Province of Pisa, Italy by Mustafa Shahid

Battistero

Photo of Pisa, Province of Pisa, Italy by Mustafa Shahid

Cattedrale di Pisa

Photo of Pisa, Province of Pisa, Italy by Mustafa Shahid

Day 11 | Return to India

We flew back to India on 22nd April. After a layover of almost 20 hours at Delhi airport, we caught our flight back to Trivandrum. It had been a thoroughly exhausting journey. It was now time for a small sabbatical from all the gallivanting and focus on work. But you never really can get rid of the thirst for adventure. Can you ?

I hope you enjoyed this account of our experience in Italy. I request you to read through all the individual blogs as well. They are hyperlinked in this blog and are also available on my Tripoto profile. I have documented our experience of tackling the flight cancellation by Jet Airways in the next section. You may read it to satisfy your curiosity or prepare for similar scenarios.

Follow me on Tripoto for more itineraries of exciting adventures. Connect on Strava to follow my running, riding and calisthenics activities. Find me on Instagram and Facebook for any queries or help required with planning your next adventure.

Until next time.

Jet Airways booking fiasco

Believe me when I write this, this is not exaggeration. On the day of departure for our trip (11th April 2019), morning 10 o'clock, I got a message from Jet Airways stating that our onward journey flight from Chennai to Milan was cancelled. Suspecting it to be a prank, I called and confirmed the bad news from their customer care. I would consider it a moment of divine intervention, because I had just returned to Trivandrum from Chennai that day, and was yet to go to office. Stuck in shock midway through my breakfast , I considered it to be a very fortunate event that I happened to be at home and able to read the message as we are not allowed phones in our office, and if I had left for office, this information would have been delayed to me by eight hours. Regaining my composure, I called up my friends at work and relayed the grim message. We still had ten hours before our flight to Chennai. I quickly checked some options over the internet, trying to find flight options to Italy from Chennai, while simultaneously arguing with the Jet Airways customer care to find us an alternative flight. Within an hour, Ankita came back from office and we drove her scooty at full throttle to the Jet Airways office at Trivandrum domestic airport. The staff was quite dazed themselves, it was the onset of big disaster and Jet Airways flights were getting cancelled left and right. As per their available information, the next flight to Italy they could put us in was three days later. Somehow my brain was still stuck at finding an alternate flight solution from Chennai. Suddenly, the sheer genius of Ankita found an Air India flight to Rome from Delhi. We again hopped on the scooty and drove to the Trivandrum international airport to inquire at the Air India counter. The Delhi to Rome flight was scheduled at 14:15 hrs IST the next day. There was a Trivandrum to Delhi flight in the night and one early morning flight the next day as well. One good thing about Air India is that if you are booking an international flight, the cost of the domestic leg in it (if any) is drastically reduced. The Delhi to Rome flight was ₹26000 per person whereas the Trivandrum to Rome flight via Delhi was ₹28000 per person. We confirmed with Nikhil before deciding that we will take the evening flight from Trivandrum to Delhi and then stay the night at Delhi airport.

We were about to make the purchase on the Air India counter when my hyper-jugaadu brain thought of another idea. I checked the same flight on yatra.com and saw that it was almost ₹4000 cheaper. We made a blunder by attempting to book the tickets online at a time when we could have easily purchased them off the counter. After filling in all the details and making the payment, we got a mail from Yatra stating that the payment had not gone through and that the confirmation would be given in six hours. I got a message from the bank stating that the money had been debited. It was like the universe was toying with us. Luckily we were still in the airport premises. We went back to the counter to enquire if any new bookings had been made in our names. They told that if the online aggregator has told to wait six hours, then they will also get confirmation after six hours. Now six hours is a long time to wait. The lady at the counter also informed that only one economy class ticket was available in the Trivandrum to Delhi flight scheduled early morning the next day. The information that was more worrying was that only three economy tickets were available in the evening flight from Trivandrum to Delhi.

We called the Yatra customer care to get some clarity when we met another setback which was luckily the final one for the day. The customer care offices located in Noida were closed due to elections. The automated voice requested us to call after six in the evening. Now we had exhausted all options. With ₹84000 stuck in limbo, we started weighing the probability of somebody else booking those three available tickets versus the Yatra transaction going through. As a last resort, I also called the credit card company and was informed that the merchant had already escrowed the amount. In a moment of sudden belief, we decided to make the booking again, but this time at the counter. Hoping that the Yatra transaction gets declined, we headed home to pack our bags.

Six hours later I got the message from Yatra that the transaction had failed and the money would be credited back. This happiness was short lived, because after landing in Delhi we realized that there was very high probability that our return flight would also get cancelled. The airport was crowded with stranded Jet Airways passengers. Their counters were understaffed. They were only offering refunds and no alternate flight options. Majority of the staff were huddled in corners contemplating their futures. The ruckus kept building until midnight when agitated passengers started chanting "Jet Airways murdabad".

We had not managed to get a definitive answer on the status of our return flight from the representatives at the airport. We called Yatra customer care to get some clarity. Their customer care was very supportive, the personnel informed that all flights will mostly be cancelled and it would be advisable to make a different booking. Our already booked return from Milan to Chennai was at a very convenient time. We were able to reach Chennai early morning and able to catch a flight back to Trivandrum such that we could report to office in time. No other flight was providing us with that convenience. We again did some out of the box thinking. As per our current plan, we were to report back on 22nd April (Monday). The availability of a cheaper and more convenient return flight from Milan to Trivandrum via Delhi (20 hour layover), and the opportunity to spend extra two days in Italy led us to extend our leave by two days. This time we acted wisely, and purchased the ticket directly from the Air India counter. And that dear patient readers, is the end of our Jet Airways booking fiasco.

Thank you if you have read this far. I will again request you to:

Follow me on Tripoto for more itineraries of exciting adventures. Connect on Strava to follow my running, riding and calisthenics activities. Find me on Instagram and Facebook for any queries or help required with planning your next adventure.

Until next time.

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