The Italian Job
Is 10 days touring Northern Italy a real job??
It is when you’re a Digital Nomad!
This was our biggest trip so far on our European adventure – 2 weeks touring Northern Italy, with side trips to Switzerland & Monaco thrown in for good measure.
Our first stopover was Innsbuck, Switzerland – it’s about a five hour drive from home. Summer or winter there’s plenty to do & see here; if you head into the old part of the city (as we did) – aim for the “Golden Roof” attraction as there’s plenty around there to keep you occupied. It’s a lovely city with welcoming atmosphere. Our hotel looked like a prop from Star Wars!
Next day we drove on towards Italy, ending up in Venice. We stayed on the Lido as it’s quieter (& cheaper) but only a 15 minute water ferry ride to St Mark’s Square. Be sure to visit the Islands of Burano & Murano. I wanted to visit Sand Giorgio Tower with its view across the water to St Mark’s but we ran out of time on the day – the tower closes at 6.45pm (sharp)- we arrived at 6.50!
After three amazing days we packed our bags once more & headed off to Tuscany. We stayed in a little place called Signa, which is 20 minutes by train from the main centre of Florence. Our hotel was a dream & the staff were amazing (email me & I’ll give you their details). We caught the train to Florence ($5.20 for return ticket) as then you don’t have to hassle with driving & parking. Once in the city we got a ticket for the “Big Red Bus” – a hop on/off city tour that isn’t to be missed!
Here’s a tip for you though – if you want to see the actual statue of David (as opposed to a lifesize copy) which is housed in the “Acadamie” make sure you book online in advance or you’ll have a long queue to deal with!
We also went driving in the scenic hills, visited the birthplace of DaVinci & just generally soaked up the atmosphere of what must be one of the most beautiful vistas anywhere in the world (& we should know – we’ve seen quite a few!)
But it’s not all play – us Digital Nomads have got work to do too! It’s just that we can do our work almost anywhere. In this case on the terrace of our hotel room in Signa.
Oh the pain!
Next stop – Pisa, let’s see if we can fix that pesky tower! We booked our ticket & viewing time online ahead of our arrival & it saved us a lot of time. To be honest, this was a bit of a whistle-stop visit on our
way through to Cinque Terra, so we only visited the Piazza Duomo (where the tower is located). Be prepared to be approached by African touters but stay strong – don’t buy anything from them or give them money – once you hand over any cash to one there’s a whole tribe on your heels for more of the same!
So, next stop for the day was Cinque Terra – it’s five small villages on the Italian coast, nestled in the hills overlooking the sea. Very picturesque but unless you enjoy long winding (& very narrow) roads it’s best not to drive!
You can park in La Spezia & catch the train to any of the five towns that comprise the region. We drove to Rommaggione & got a feel for the winding roads (great views but not for the driver!) then parked & caught the train to Montorosso & the ferry back to
Rommagione (to get a view of the towns from the water – spectacular on a sunny day, great on a cloudy one. Ferry is only $10, train was $2.60)
From Cinque Terra to Monaco or, to be more precise, Menton (on the French Rivieria) – 30 mins to Monaco. Why not spend a couple of days in the playground of the rich & famous – even if we are neither!
As well as exploring Monaco we took a drive to Nice ( 30 mins from Monaco) & Cannes (1 hour from Monaco). If you take the coast road you’ll see some amazing views. You can also take the highway for a quick drive – but expect to pay about $10 in tolls (the French love tolls!).
In Monaco, the Prince’s Palace is a must see, along with the highly recommend auto museum just down the road.
From Monaco we were heading to Milan, spending a night in Turin along the way. Just be sure to check museum times before going as they are often closed between noon & 3pm. Monday’s are often a dark day for tourist attractions after the weekend (guess which day we were there!).
The original shroud is only available for viewing at certain times of the year – the rest of the year replicas are on display. Again, check before you decide on your dates if you want to view the original
And so we arrived in Milan – what a beautiful city!
Save some money on hotels – don’t go for a city hotel unless your
budget suits it. You can stay a few km from the city centre & save quite a bit – just be sure to book a hotel that is close to a Red “M” metro station – trains run every 5 mins & there’s a station at Duomo (the main square in the city) that brings you into the heart of the square. A one way ticket (valid for 90 mins on any city train) is only $1.50.
Whatever you do, avoid driving into the city – traffic is a nightmare, parking is difficult & everyone’s nerves will be shot just getting there! Grab the train and relax – you’re on holiday after all! (unless you’re a Nomad of course).
The centrepiece of the city’s culture is the Cathedral, you can get your ticket for the Cathedral online ($2) I would highly recommend also getting the Terraces ticket (extra $8, $12 if you opt for the
elevator option) – this allows you to climb to the top of the Cathedral & it’s breathtaking. Mind you, it is a 169 step climb (I counted!) so if you’re averse to that you had better stump up the extra cash for the elevator option ticket! If you don’t get your tickets online be prepared for a wait as there’s usually a queue at the main ticket office to the right of the Cathedral. However, there’s a second ticket office just
out of sight to the left of the Cathedral (as you face the main entrance) that’s not usually as busy. There’s always a queue to get in to the Cathedral (once you have your ticket) due to the security screening process (thank you to all those extremist bastards that spoil it for us regular folks) – if there’s a few of you, I would suggest you split into 2 groups – one queues to get in and the other gets tickets. That way you’ll save a bit of time.
There’s a hidden gem not far from Duomo – “Piazza Dei Mercanti” it’s a courtyard that is a throwback to the middle ages. If you stand with your back to the Macdonald’s at one end and look forward, you could almost believe you had been thrown back in time to the 16th Century (a pair of ear plugs to drown out the traffic might also help!). Worth a look.
Whatever you do, don’t miss out on visiting Piazza Castello – it’s a huge medieval fortress that was used for military purposes right up until the mid 19th Plenty of exhibits to look at, galleries, art and some lovely greenspace. Awe inspiring!
Best to book online for a ticket to view DaVinci’s last Supper at the refectory of the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie – they only allow about 30 people a time (approx. every 15 mins) into the viewing area.
Time to do some more work – luckily, there’s a decent workspace in our Milan hotel!
Reluctantly, we pack our bags & load the car for our trip towards home. On the way, we’ll be spending a couple of days in Lucerne (Switzerland). At the Italian/Swiss border there’s a $40 motorway charge to be paid by all vehicles – you get a sticker that has to be affixed to the windscreen (& can’t be removed).
You can stay in the town itself (& pay premium rates) but you’re better to stay a few km’s out of town as you’ll get a better deal & some great views of the lake!
Grab a city tourist map from the Information centre (situated at the main Bahnhoff) & you can use it to guide you around the points of interest in the town – 90 mins to 2 hours is all it will take to walk around most of the historical places of interest.
Expect to pay more (a lot more) for food & drinks here. Coffee starts at $5, light meals (sandwiches, foccacia’s, etc) $7-12, Main courses start at $20 but expect $25-30. You can pay a lot more if you go upmarket. Beer is between $8-12 for a standard size glass. Spirits around $8, wine $7-12. Served soft drinks – $5-6
We went to a great bar at the Montana Hotel – Louis’, with awesome views of the city at night.
We also caught up with my wife’s cousin & his family who now call Lucerne home. Great to have some local knowledge to tap into.
Like all good things, the trip had to come to an end! From Lucerne we headed back to Germany, stopping off in Stuttgart for lunch.
What an amazing 12 days, creating memories that will last us for quite some time – and that is the big plus of this Digital Nomad lifestyle, having the ability to create memories without having to worry too much about racing home to go back to work!