Trip Report - Beauty Overload: 2 Weeks in Europe (Italy, Austria, Sweden)

italdesign

Level 2 Member
#1
I spent the first 2 weeks of July in Europe and loved it. Want to share a little bit of the experience.

[Summary]
-4 days in Florence
-2 days in Cinque Terre
-4 days in Vienna
-1 day in Salzburg
-1 day in Hallstatt
-3 days in Stockholm


Beautiful Hallstatt

[Flights and Trains]
^Outbound - 62.5k Delta miles for Toronto to Florence via Rome (Alitalia Magnifica business class). Additional 10k UA to get to Toronto.
^Inbound - 45k TK miles + $225 YQ for Stockholm to Atlanta via IST (TK J). Additional 8k WN to get home. 55k Aeroplan for 2nd pax on same TK flight.
(this didn't work due to Turkey coup; see below for details)
^4.5k BA for Florence to Vienna on AirBerlin.
^7.5k BA for Vienna to Stockholm on AirBerlin, + $135 for 2nd pax on same flight

Trains
^Florence to Cinque Terre (RT) - $35
^Vienna-Salzburg-Hallstat-Vienna - 135 for 2 pax

Last year I suffered from not booking international intra-EU trains until T-3 days, when prices surged. This year I booked about T-5 days out for intra-country trains only and prices were normal, I believe. However, I believe intra-country trains may not have dynamic pricing like international trains.

[Hotels]
Hyatt: (12.5k + $150 + DSU) x 2 nights for Park Hyatt Vienna
Marriott: 15k x 3 nights at Courtyard Vienna Messe
Choice: 10k x 3 nights at Clarion Hotel Sign (Stockholm)
Club Carlson: free apology night at Radisson Blu Altstadt
$32 x 2 nights for Cinque Terre hostel
$65 x 3 nights for Florence Airbnb
$155 for nice Florence hotel
$155 for Hallstatt hotel

[Intro]
The hardest thing about planning a Europe trip is narrowing down the places to visit when there are so many interesting ones. I aim to combine redemption sweet spots with my desire to visit the destination. I'm happy to pay cash for a dream destination without chain hotel or mileage redemption, which I did a few times on this trip. This time I aimed to visit some "countryside" as well as cities.

For the most part, I didn't plan day-to-day activities until close to reaching the destination. It worked out OK, mostly.

I once proclaimed: "Europe is the red headed stepchild of (premium) redemption, chance to use my 2nd class programs. Saving 1st class miles for real long haul." Many programs only charge a small premium for travel to SE Asia vs Europe, when the distance (and opportunity to fly premium) is often 2x. For this trip I tapped into my Delta and TK miles - programs that are better suited for Europe than SE Asia, for which I'm saving my AA and AS miles.

Please enjoy this trip report.

Staircase.jpg
Staircase @ Melk Abbey
 

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italdesign

Level 2 Member
#2
[Outbound flights]

I had used Delta miles for Alitalia Magnifica business class from Toronto to Italy, but first I had to fly United to get to Toronto, for which I paid 10k UA miles. There was no availability from Delta. I had a few hours of layover in Chicago and used a UA lounge there. Some (all?) of the ORD UA lounges were being renovated and I had to research which one to go to. I can't remember which one I went to, but I was impressed - the awesome view of the 747 won me over.

UA ORD lounge.jpg

The 2 domestic UA flights were good by domestic standards, echoing TravelCodex's recent post that UA service is improving. Upon arriving at Toronto airport I headed to the Priority Pass lounge - it had a shower while no SkyTeam lounge did. The food was passable.

I was very curious to try Alitalia Magnifica class. There aren't many great premium cabins to Europe, although several good ones are emerging, including this one. Upon boarding I was thoroughly ignored for 10 minutes. Service was fine for the rest of the flight, and I always appreciate the option to defer the first meal until after sleep (which was granted). The star of the cabin was the seat. I had chosen a window-facing seat and loved it as much as a reverse herringbone window seat. It was private enough for me (and I like privacy).

Alitalia seat.jpg

The food was very good, in particular the dessert:

Alitalia dessert.jpg

I opted to sleep immediately after the 11pm departure. I had one of my better sleeps on a plane, thanks to the comfortable bed. Arriving at Rome airport, I used one of Alitalia's domestic lounges before connecting to Florence. It was fine except for the insect-attracting food.

The flight to Florence was uneventful and included nice views of the countryside outside of Florence. Upon landing I took the bus to the train station. I couldn't wait to explore the City of Renaissance in this most majestic country.
 

italdesign

Level 2 Member
#3
Florence

Signoria 1.jpg

More than anything, Florence is a city of history. A replica of David stands at the same place where it has stood since 1504. The rest of Piazza del Signoria, the historic heart of the Florentine Republic where those citizens gathered for hundreds of years, is yours to stroll, photograph, and people watch; one can't help but wonder what it was like to be at the exact same spot 500 years ago, surrounded by the same structures. The museums are awesome once you get inside (the wait can be hours), with the works of da Vinci, Michelangelo and other masters of the Renaissance dispersed with other works of the eras (so a tour guide might be helpful).

Signoria 3.jpg

Nowadays it's not often in my travels where I experience something unexpected that makes my jaw drop to the floor. Yet that was the only possible reaction upon first witnessing the Piazza del Duomo at night.

duomo 1 small.jpg

I'll never forget the sight as I first approached the otherworldly figures fronted by the octagonal baptistry with green zebra-like patterns. It was unlike anything I'd seen before, and I loved it.

duomo 2.jpg

No trip to Italy is complete without daily enjoyment of gelato and other local cuisine. While nothing wowed me as much as my first food experience in Venice and Rome, it was still very good.

gelato.jpg

The tourist crowd is insane in July. The line for Uffizi is multi-hour long and you have to stand in the 95 degree burning sun for much of it. English is heard more than Italian in the historic district. As usual, less crowded paths exist often adjacent to the beaten paths.

Highlights
^Leisure strolls of the historic center, soaking in the incredible history.
^Escaping the bustle and getting a taste of local life at residential streets across the river, where pizza and football dominate.
^Amazing sunsets from Piazzale Michelangelo and rose garden overlooking the city with Tuscan hills in the background.
^Guided tour of Uffizi, the world's first public museum featuring who's who of the Renaissance.
^Piazza del Duomo at night (an otherworldly experience), and climbing the duomo AND bell tower for 2 x 360 views.
^Airbnb room is in a fabulous historic building with ultra high ceilings. I need to unlock 3 doors with 3 diff keys.
^Culinary highlights: bisteca, tortellini with truffle, ice coffee, daily gelato (or two).

sunset 1.jpg

duomo 3 pano.jpg
Why climb the bell tower - for this view of the dome

Ponto.jpg

truffle.jpg
Tortellini with truffle

sunset 2.jpg
 

italdesign

Level 2 Member
#4
After 2.5 incredible days in Florence, I took a train to Cinque Terre (CT). I would return to Florence for one more night to stay in a countryside villa - an experience I didn't want to miss. On the train to CT, this vista came into my view:

italian mountain.jpg

The incomparably beautiful Cinque Terre awaits.
 
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