Amul’s travel tips for France and Italy:
Here's an info dump of stuff about Italy and France:
Here's the link to the champagne tour that we went on. Definitely reserve in advance as they are highly rated on trip adviser and only take a max of 6 people a day.
Get the Paris museum pass, it lets you bypass the lines at most museums including the Louvre. You can buy it at any museum (go to a less popular one so you don't have to wait in line)
A few good restaurants in Paris that we went to:
http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g187147-d719202-Reviews-Le_Petit_Chatelet-Paris_Ile_de_France.html - right next door is the Shakespeare book store which is pretty cool (they had a reading the night we were there)
We went to Rome, Florence, and then rented a car from Florence and drove around Tuscany.
One really cool (but sometimes tourist trap-y) thing about Italy is that a lot of bars and restaurants have happy hours (Apertivi) where you get free snacks with your drink. The better happy hour deals actually have a buffet that you can pick from. For the most part its worth it and a good time. We did get slightly burned once by someone telling us the drinks were 8 euros but charged us 10 euros after we were done. There will be a lot of places like this in Rome and Florence especially in the various piazzas. House wine is always a good (inexpensive choice) with dinner.
The Roma pass allows you free entrance to two attractions where you can skip the line and then discounts elsewhere (but no line skipping). Its worth it to skip the line at the Colosseum. You also get to ride public transit for free. You can buy it at the airport or main train stations.
The coolest place by far was the Galleria Borghese. It has some of the most amazing sculptures that I've seen. You must reserve tickets in advance (online or by phone), they sell out about a week or two in advance so plan ahead.
Like we mentioned, Rome is interesting but sprawling and crowded. We had much more fun in Florence and Tuscany.
The two biggest tourist attractions are the Academia (where David is) and the Uffizi Gallery. Both of which have long lines BUT you can also reserve tickets online in advances and save HOURS of waiting time. Plan ahead and reserve tickets to save time.
Our other favorite attractions in Florence:
- The Galileo Museum of Science History - no lines, easy to get into and really, really cool!
- The central market - greatest food market I've ever been to. Go hungry and get sandwiches, meat samplers, fruit, nuts, truffles etc. The market is actually indoors in a large building surrounded by tourist hawker stalls selling leather, purses, and souvenirs. A lot of tourists completely miss the indoor food market. Do not miss it!
Some good restaurants:
http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g187895-d3346391-Reviews-La_Prosciutteria-Florence_Tuscany.html - Get one of the meat/cheese sampler platters and a few glasses of house wine. So good!
http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g187895-d2392994-Reviews-Pensavo_Peggio-Florence_Tuscany.html - the cauliflower flan was amazing and they are really generous with the limoncello
The towns we visited were: San Gimignano, Siena, and Greve in Chianti. We wanted to see Volterra but didn't get a chance. San Gimignano and Sienna were the most scenic. Greve in Chianti was a normal looking town but you really go there for the wine.
If you do visit these towns is best to rent a car and GPS is really helpful. My Samsung phone didn't work in Europe but Kira's iPhone GPS did work. Some of the larger cities (Florence and Sienna for sure) have zero traffic zones (ZTL) that you can accidentally drive into and then be sent a $300 ticket. Let me know if you plan to rent a car, I'll send you our PDF version of lonely planet Italy road trips. Make sure you can drive stick shift or specifically reserve an automatic transmission car.
A few restaurants/places we really liked in the various towns:
The Duomo in Siena was absolutely beautiful. It has a "crypt" and a museum and a panoramic view point worth checking out.
http://www.lecantine.it/cantineUtente/index.php?cambialang=en : Self serve wine tasting of more than 140 wines (as well as some Spumanti and Champagnes).
http://www.falorni.it/ - amazing butcher and cheese store in Greve in Chianti
Regarding money, if you have a Bank of America account you can use BNL and BNP ATMs in both France and Italy with no transaction fee. Way better exchange rate than money exchangers too. Also Paris was about 15% more expensive than Italy in terms of food and drink.
Let us know if you want more details on any particular town once you get to more detailed planning.
I hope that helps!