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10 day trip to Italy August-September, 2013

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We are two females who usually travel to a Caribbean island every year. We are celebrating two events this year (my friend has received her bachelors degree in nursing, and I am celebrating my 60th birthday). We want to plan a 10 day trip including Venice, Florence, and Rome. We initially thought about taking the safe route and going with a tour; after further consideration, we want to travel independently. We would like to start in Venice and end in Rome. Any advice on places to stay, train travel between destinations (is it feasible for us since we have never traveled in Europe?), places to eat (we are not into high end restaurants, just local authentic food and wine experiences), tour advice... Is it worth it to hire a travel consultant to assist with planning and reservations? Any advice from seasoned travelers to Italy would be greatly appreciated. Thanks a bunch!

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