December 9, 2018

Tuscany (Florence, Siena, Pienza/SQ), Italy – Itinerary and planning (4 days) – part 1 of 2

part 2 here

I found a bargain back in January this year with Qatar Airways to Rome, so I planned for a trip there and just came back a week ago. It was a 2 week excursion (actually 12 days, if you minus out the long traveling time) – 4 days in Tuscany, and 1 week in Rome. My overall expenditure turned out to be lower than going to Japan (not surprising at all). Here’s the itinerary for you bastards who might be interested. Going to split the trip into 2 parts, one for Tuscany and another one for Rome. As usual, the customary disclaimer before you proceed…

– Actual travel time took 2 weeks. You’d need a day to get to Italy by flight, and another to come back. The place is fucking far. Refer to a map. If you choose to go by other means of transportation (other than flying), you’d need to allocate more time.
– Trip was done in mid November, considered winter season by the locals. This season has a relatively short day time. The itinerary takes account on that short daylight and compensates by starting earlier in the morning.
– This is an itinerary post, I’ll do a separate post for what I think about the places I’ve visited.
– This was planned based on 3 pax – my wife, my 12-yo daughter, and myself. I managed to hit 95% of what I’ve planned (with the exception of 1 particular day), with almost perfect timing accuracy. If you’re planning for a group of more than 4, this probably won’t work as well for you.
– The main objective is sightseeing and to experience both rural and urban Italy. The itinerary involves a lot of walking, with at least 11k steps (up to 21k steps) each day. That’s roughly about 8km – 15km of walking per day. If you have mobility issues, this is not going to work for you.
– The itinerary hinges on the assumption that you’d do your own planning/research on public transportation. You can choose to splurge on taxi or go easy by subway/bus, or even rent a fucking car/bike. Doesn’t matter. Just Google around for info. (for the record, the Tuscany part in this itinerary was done with a rental car – which according to me, is the most efficient way to get around between the places).
– If your religion prohibits you from visiting buildings or monuments of other religious faith, this won’t work for you too. (A lot of churches, including a visit to Vatican City).
– Some of the days are weather dependent, meaning, it cannot be done without a clear/blue-sky weather. You need to proactively check the weather forecast (when it’s within a week away) and shuffle the days around. I actually had to shift a few days around. One of my planned days did not happen and had to be substituted with an impromptu plan.
– I’m going to do something different with this itinerary sharing. Instead of including the time/hours like the actual itinerary, I’m going to just share the locations and let the readers plan it out on their own – as different assholes might have different ideas about spending time, so… why limit it?
– This is just my own planning and shared to give everyone an idea how to make it their own. It is definitely not the best, with individual preference, travel date and financial factors considered. If you think there are flaws with my planning, that’s probably because you suck or we simply have differences.

*warning: long post ahead…

Prep (general)
Winter clothing – It’s about single digit degrees in November at Tuscany. You need winter clothing. For me, single digit degrees is just like my lab on an average day – so I swagged around with just a waterproof windbreaker. If you’re not as tough as me, you need to bring more layers to keep your sissy ass warm (peel as you go).

Lodging – The good thing about going in November or winter months, is everything is off peak and rates would be cheaper. Utilize AirBnB, not primarily for cost saving but convenience to cook and do your own laundry, because a lot of stores will be closed during the autumn/winter months at most rural areas, and it will be hard to get shit done / eat out. (it was like a ghost town when we visited Tuscany).

Driving permit – If you’re going to rent a car, check if you’d need an international driving permit from the transport department (for Malaysians, yes). Get that prepared before you go.

Meal budget: If you decide to be thrifty, a budget of EUR 10 per meal per pax should be good enough. A regular sized pizza costs around EUR 7 and a regular drink costs anything around EUR 2 – 3. I allocated EUR 15 per pax per meal, for 2 meals a day.

Offline map – While Google Maps is very dependable for figuring out public transportation needs, it sucks for navigating streets or off road footpath on foot. For this needs, get yourself an offline map app like OsmAnd, which uses Openstreetmap and allows you to navigate without having an active internet/data connection, just plain old GPS. I use this app 90% of the time in this trip, including driving (which came as a backup plan when my Waze failed at one of the remote hills at Tuscany). Make sure you tag the places you want to visit prior the trip.

Google translate – It has this little camera icon under the text translation page that allows you to translate Italian in real time. This will come in handy figuring out if it’s cheese or meat in your menu.

Moisturizers – You need something strong that allows you to hydrate your skin. Get something like petroleum jelly or anything that sticks to you like an industrial grade grease… otherwise, you risk of getting winter itch or eczema which can inverse your holiday with woes and suffering from the dry winter weather.

Umbrella – November is a wet month around the regions in the itinerary so, bring umbrellas or raincoats.

Connectivity – By means of wifi or mobile data. You need it to check weather, do paperwork if you need to file an insurance claim, or perform an online check on opening hours / ticket rates / etc.

Day 1 (Tuscany): Arrival, get shit together, Civita di Bagnoregio, San Quirico D’Orcia

Arrival day. Depending on the time of arrival, one can squeeze in a couple of relaxing points of interests to drop by. For me, my arrival time was in the wee hours in the morning (Qatar Airways, weekend flight). I planned to drive a rental car from Rome FCO airport, to the Tuscany region. One can of course go by public transport such as combination of train rides and buses – but it will be long and inconvenient (not much cheaper either) if lugging along some bags. Based on my research, using a rental car would be the most efficient – although not necessarily the cheapest (it wasn’t expensive, by the way). The experience of the road trip itself would be nothing short of epic (as I found out). I picked San Quirico d’Orcia (SQ) [wiki] as my Tuscany base and the distance was about 200 over km away from FCO airport (Other choices – ‘Pienza’, ‘Montepulciano’, or even bigger cities like Siena/Florence can be considered).

As I planned to make the journey via non-tolled roads (for the views), the drive would take around 3 fucking hours. I figured that it wouldn’t be a good idea after a long haul flight and would be a problem if I get a jet lag. So the plan was to find a stop worth stopping – preferably, halfway between FCO and SQ. Place was this ancient town called ‘Civita di Bagnoregio’ [wiki], which is renowned for its views. Stopping there allowed us the time to rest, and to kill some hours before the earliest allowable check-in time at the hotel (though that wouldn’t likely be an issue in the winter months – place was deserted anyway).

FCO (Airport) [location] – Allocate some time to clear immigration and bags. Can be anywhere between 30 – 60 mins. I touched down in the wee hours of the morning, so, the crowd was manageable. I also allocated some extra time in the airport which I called ‘get my shit together buffer time’. I allocated about 1 hr for that. The time can be used to do things like – toilet break, clean up, grab some food, set up the phone, file claims if you have issues with your flight/bags, get directions to the car rental agency, and how to drive out from the airport, et al.

Civita di Bagnoregio [location] – Entry to the town requires EUR5 per pax. Recommend to park car at the base of the town here, and walk towards Civita di Bagnoregio. Just pay at a parking machine nearby, get a ticket, and display it on the car’s dash (inside). EUR3 – 4 is enough for a 3 hour excursion. The walk will cut through a scenic small town, and a fantastic viewpoint of Civita here (see cover pic for day 1). Walk will end at Civita itself. Spend some time roaming Civita, a relaxing pace takes 2 – 2.5 hours. Find opportunity to grab lunch here too.

San Quirico d’Orcia (SQ) [location] – SQ during the winter months is pretty deserted, but give one an opportunity to appreciate the serene beauty of the old town with no photobombs or annoying old people tourists from China. Car is not permitted within the walls, so one can park nearby and stroll into the town and go wild with the camera. A casual and relaxing pace of roaming this place takes only 1.5 – 2 hours.

By the time we’ve completed SQ, the sky’s already dark and we went back to our lodging (a hotel) for a night’s rest. We picked a hotel because of the free breakfast – as it would be difficult to look for food in the winter months around town (hell, even the convenient store had very restricted opening hours). I was completely knocked-out by about 8pm.

Day 2 (Tuscany): Terrapille hike out, Pienza

Weather dependent and free standing day. Meaning, you need good weather to do this day and can be used to trade around with the other Tuscany days for a good weather. This cannot be done if it’s a rainy day, or has rained the day before – because the tracks will be muddy and it could be real messy (if not dangerous).

Plan was to visit and roam a nearby town called Pienza (wiki) and a hike out to the fields near the town. There’s this famed area unofficially called ‘terrapille’, which was the filming location of ‘Gladiator’ – you know the scene of general Maximus riding a horse half dead back home to find his family massacred by the Roman legion? That’s the place (minus the dead bodies). My plan was to originally rent bikes for the countryside, but the bike shop was closed. The backup plan then kicked in – to walk. I later found out that it was fortunate that I hadn’t rented bikes as the roads and landscapes weren’t feasible for bicycles anyway (hilly and uneven tracks). So my plan was Pienza – hike out – hike in – Pienza again.

Pienza [location] – About 15 mins drive from SQ. The drive itself cuts through the scenic countryside. Visit early in the morning, like 8 – 9 am, no crowds and plenty of free parking around. There are a few POIs in Pienza itself worth checking out. Just google around. This place is also famous for its pecorino cheese, that is cured with ashes of leaves unique to the region (I only found out from a local in Rome, the week after the visit, fuck me). The town itself isn’t big, takes 1.5 – 2 hours if done at a leisurely pace (just like SQ), can break the roaming into 2 parts – morning and afternoon (after the hike). Buy some food, for the hike.

Pieve di Corsignano [location] – Ancient church just right outside the walls of Pienza, a short walk away. This ancient church is creepy as fuck (it reminded me of the film ‘Evil Dead’ of the original 80’s version) but charming in its own way. The way to the ‘terrapille’ is just right next to the church, and general Maximus would have passed this church on his way home…

Terrapille and countryside [location] – The location marks the path of where Gladiator was filmed (see cover pic for day 2). Walk through this path, and enjoy the scenery. Path would lead to a villa called ‘Agriturismo Terrapille’, which I think is a private property or something. We roamed the landscape, all the way towards Vitaletta (another scenic church) [location], which would require about 10 – 12 km worth of walking. Sounds intimidating but the scenery is so surreal, that you’d not complain (at least for the first 2 hours). Take your lunch on the go, from the food purchased at Pienza.

Pienza [location] – Back for more roaming around or to find more food (after all the walking). If time is close to late afternoon, can go for an early dinner, or simply just to buy food for dinner. Call it a day after Pienza (should be pretty exhausted).

Day 3 (Tuscany): Day trip to Florence

Florence is located quite a distance away from SQ/Pienza area, about 2.5 hours’ drive, so plan accordingly. Note that Florence itself warrants more than a day’s worth of exploration so, this is pretty much compressed to what we could cover on limited time. Also, cars are prohibited to enter within the city walls, just like Pienza/SQ and most of the ancient towns/cities around Italy. It’s called the ZTL zone. You go in with a car, you get hefty fine. For rentals, just park at one of the many paid parking outside the walls (or if within the walls, they will offset the vehicle from getting fined – check first). We parked our car here.

Plan is to walk from the parking lot towards the direction of Michelangelo Square, up on the hill, and visit all the POIs along the way. Then from Michelangelo Square, take a bus back to the parking lot and call it a day. Sounds simple, but this is the longest day of all itineraries in the 12 days. (I’d choose to stay over at Florence if given the chance, there’s so much more to see than just a day trip).

Academy Of Florence Art Gallery [location] – Museum, known as the Accademia or its full name, Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze (wiki). EUR8 per entry. Famed for Michelangelo’s David sculpture, and shitloads of other paintings. Can be crowded but if it’s early in the morning, should be manageable (don’t waste time if queue for ticket is too long – time constraint). Allow up to 1.5 hours of exploration

Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore [location] – a.k.a Florence Cathedral. Trademark of Florence (see cover pic for day 3) [wiki]. Impressive building. Can opt to pay a fee to enter/climb the tower (Giotto’s Bell Tower) next to the cathedral. Usually, very long queue, and time consuming. Time check to enter.

Basilica di San Lorenzo [location] – Another historical landmark [wiki]. Though it doesn’t look as impressive as the Florence Cathedral, it is actually older. For a package, you can enter for a few sites with a single ticket or something.

Medici Chapel [location] – Located right next to San Lorenzo’s Basilica, the Medici Chapel [wiki] is another landmark (actually a museum of sorts, consisting tombs) by the Medici family – rich family of the old times who were very influential. As such, they have awesome sculptures decorating their tombs in this chapel here.

Mercato Centrale Firenze [location] – Right outside the Medici Chapel, towards the northwest side. Central Market is a building about 20 – 30 meters away [wiki]. Food stuff inside, interesting visit if you’ve ever wondered how the Italian market looks like. You can have your lunch here as well (cheap eats). There are peddlers manning food trucks and leather products surrounding the streets around the building as well.

Palazzo Vecchio [location] – Historically significant to Florence [wiki]. Very remarkable building. Has a David’s replica at its entrance (if you didn’t get the chance to see it at the Accademia). Its tower is as high as a 30 storeys office building. You can pay about EUR14 to enter its huge museum, and to climb that tower that offers a magnificent view of Florence (view of the Florence Cathedral).

Ponte Vecchio [location] – Historically significant bridge (alright, look, every fucking thing in Florence is historically significant, if you can’t tell already). Just cross this bridge to get to the other side. Merchants and shops (albeit mostly jewel shops) are abundant, if that fancies your interest [wiki].

Michelangelo Square [location] – About 1.5 km walk from Ponte Vecchio on the other side of River Arno. This square, or piazza, offers the view of the city of Florence, and has been an inspiration of many artists over the many centuries. Ideal plan was to tapau some food for dinner there, and eat your dinner while watching the sun set over the city (which should happen at around 4.30pm during mid November. Once done and satisfied, just take bus #12 to Ponte Rosso 02 station (15 stops), using the ATAF ticket (EUR1.2 for 90 mins, purchase at any newspaper mamak stall around the city or from a machine)

The drive back to SQ/Pienza, if you’re staying there, can be challenging as most state route roads are without street lights, so, plan accordingly (I’d have chosen to stay at Florence – this was too rush for me).

Day 4 (Tuscany): Day trip to Siena

Siena is located about halfway between SQ and Florence, or an hour’s drive away. Like Florence, it has its own ZTL zone so, car has to be parked outside the wall and walk in. We parked our car here (EUR10 for a 5 – 6 hours I think – in a way it’s still cheaper than KLCC basement parking). Same strategy here – plot a route around the city, and visit everything along the way. Plan was to start at the main square called Piazza del Campo, and go anti-clockwise from there, covering as much area as we could. Siena has a lot of charming narrow alleys, and to me, it is more charming compared to busier cities like Florence (i.e Florence has better buildings, Siena has more charming streets/alleys).

Piazza del Campo [location] – Starting point [wiki]. Located about 1 km from the parking lot. The square itself is concave and paved with red bricks, quite a view and very unique. We spent time here watching the sun comes up.

Palazzo Pubblico / Torre del Mangia [location] – Right next to the piazza, is this very prominent building with a high ancient clock tower – the townhall and Mangia tower (see cover pic for day 4 – that’s the clock tower) [wiki]. You have to pay to climb the 400 over steps tower (we didn’t do it, too exhausted from too much walking the days before). Costs about EUR40 for a family package to visit several locations including the tower and a museum full of fancy work.

Walkabout (Via di Citta) [location] – From the square, start to roam around the streets, along Via di Citta, towards the Siena Cathedral.

Duomo di Siena [location] – Siena Cathedral, awesome building. Get the Opa Si Pass (can be purchased from the office right opposite the Duomo), for EUR8 per person, which allows access to the cathedral, Piccolomini Library, Baptistry of San Giovanni, Crypt and Museo dell’Opera. At the museum, make sure to climb up all the way to the top floor, which has a secret staircase to a facade that offers a panoramic view of Siena (see the cover pic, that was taken from the facade). The several locations would take about 2 – 3 hours to complete at leisurely pace.

Walkabout – Roam around the north side of the city, counter clockwise back to Piazza del Campo. During this time, it would be wise to grab a lunch nearby. There’s a restaurant that serves fucking exceptional cum-in-your-pants inducing pizza – here.

Completing the walk back at Piazza del Campo, one should be exhausted enough to want to go back for a rest. For the driver, there’s a 1 hour driving to be reckoned with at the end of the day. (can also choose to have dinner at Siena).

Day 5 (Tuscany): Car return, drive back to FCO

There’s no day 5 but a car return day. Due to return the car to FCO, and then take an airport transfer to Rome. The highlight of this day is, the drive itself is as enjoyable as a sightseeing trip. For most of the 3 hour journey, we’re greeted with the beautiful Tuscany wallpaper-like countryside scenery. See pic cover for example – yeah that’s me driving and my phone with Waze on. (make sure to set the GPS to ‘avoid toll’).

I’m going to share the itinerary for Rome in another post (as part 2).

michaelooi  | places  | 

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