Word of warning:
This may very well be the least helpful trip report ever written here. I am not an expert on food or history or art or how to use trains or how to schedule a day to see as much as possible or...you get the idea. . However, we are really good at sitting in cafes and watching the world go by and completely enjoying another place and culture.
I'm still going to write this (possibly unhelpful) trip report for two reasons. First, these forums have always proved to be such a boon to my trip planning and I'm going to do my best to give back a bit. The second reason is a bit more selfish - I would like to relive our trip.
Trip of a lifetime:
I typically don't like the phrase "trip of a lifetime" however I suspect that this really was a once in a lifetime trip. I got to spend two weeks in Italy with my two grown/almost grown daughters - just the three of us, without our men - before lack of time and jobs and life get in the way for them. It was lovely, probably more lovely for them than for me. I cherished every moment.
Me, the mom, a woman of "a certain age." Em - My 21 year old daughter, a busy college student who also got married back in October. Yes, she is a semi-newlywed who left her husband to go on this trip. He was sweet enough to encourage her to go because, "who knew when she would get another opportunity like this." Exactly. Smart man. The timing was also perfect as finals ended and she had some time before her summer job started. El - My 18 year old daughter. This trip was actually meant to be a gift for her high school graduation. The original plan was for El, me, and her dad to go. My husband realized that he wasn't going to be able to leave work for two weeks in May (his busiest month) so he bowed out and Em got to take his place.
Late May through early June.
Fly into Rome, 4 nights. Train to Manarola, 3 nights. Train to Florence, 4 nights. Train to Venice, 3 nights. Fly home from Venice.
We flew KLM, which is now actually Delta. Where we live (without an international airport) it sometimes feels as if Delta is the only airline with multiple choices and decent connections. We flew through Atlanta and Amsterdam both ways. I hate the Atlanta airport with a burning passion and everytime I go through there I swear, never again! Unfortunately we have a saying where I live, "you have to go through Atlanta to get to heaven." We just don't have that many options. The airport in Amsterdam - very nice. Free wifi through the whole thing, too.
Dang it! We had some cool days. A couple of days were not just cold, but also rainy and windy. We weren't totally prepared for this as far as our clothing. The Europeans were just as unhappy about the situation as we were. In Rome they were bundled up like it was freezing rather than in the 60's. Very unusual weather for this time of year. Most days it cleared and warmed up enough to be comfortable in the afternoon. I guess the moral is, unless you are going in August, be prepared to layer. You just never know.
I managed to pack in a carry on. First time ever. I was very proud of myself. It was also my first time to travel without my husband so I knew I would be on my own lifting and needed to pack light. I was so glad I did and realized that I could have packed even lighter. Once you do this - you will never go back. I advised the girls to do the same. They didn't. However, they are younger and stronger than me so it wasn't as big of a deal.
What we wore:
I'm including this because it is such a big question, especially for women traveling to Europe for the first time. Here is what we discovered: It really doesn't matter what you wear. If you aren't Italian or don't live full time in Italy you aren't going to be dressed like an Italian. From what I observed Italians don't look at anyone else to determine what to wear except for other Italians! They dress very similarly to one another. Much less diversity than in the US.
Oh! This tickled us. Camo is "IN" in Italy. It was everywhere! People were wearing it and it was in the stores. Ok, y'all. We are from the south and lots of people wear camouflage...people who hunt! It got to the point that one of my daughters was stalking camo clad people to take photos to send back home to prove that this was a trend. Camo bags, pants, shirts, umbrellas, camo on camo. Anyway - we thought it was interesting. If you are a hunter going to Italy - you are set for clothing!
My way of packing light was to select a color palette of black, grey and white with a couple of splashes of coral. I look very boring in all the photos, but...it worked. Oh, and I ignored conventional wisdom and brought jeans. At home I wear jeans and skirts. No trousers, no knit pants, rarely a dress. I didn't see the point in not dressing like myself while on vacation. So, three pair of jeans and 2 skirts went into that suitcase and I didn't regret that for a minute. Comfortable shoes are a must. Even if you have to wear shoes you would not typically wear at home. Can't stress this enough.
The girls brought fewer jeans, more dresses, and even a couple of pairs of shorts. They looked cute and appropriate. Oh, and they looked American. No big deal. We didn't care and no one else seemed to either.
I used Elizabeth Minchelli's apps for Rome, Florence, and Venice. Also Parla's Rome. Trip Advisor app - way less helpful. I had a menu translator. And Rome - Insider's guide by Flaminia Chapman.
Love and adore and highly recommend the Streetwise Maps. Perfect size and waterproof and easily foldable and accurate.
Two of us had Baggallinis. My first experience carrying one. I have to give it mixed reviews. There were so many pockets that sometimes it was hard to get to things I needed. As in, now where did I put the tickets? Or my passport? Then I would have a miniature moment of panic as I searched each little compartment. However, I certainly felt like my money was secure.
Never for one moment did we feel unsafe. Never for one moment did we feel that we were in danger of being pickpocketed. (Perhaps it was the Baggallini? ) The only time we felt that someone might be trying to take advantage of us was when we were shopping for a leather jacket in Florence. We used taxis on occasion - we were never overcharged. If you have been to New York or Chicago - Rome is a breeze!
Other tourists are so annoying. Some of the places we went were extremely crowded. If you are going to choose to go to Italy during the high season...just be prepared for that. Honestly, we found the crowds stifling and overwhelming a couple of times. And wow, cultural differences are really striking when it comes to tourist behavior. That sense of fairness some cultures have with regards to a queue? You know, first come, first served and all that. Forget it. After a couple of days the girls and I were saying, "We are not nearly aggressive enough!" So, we adapted. When in Rome...
Truthfully, we found the differences fascinating and I think this was one of the things that was so enriching for the girls. Human beings may be like one another in the big things - we all love our children - but in the little things, we are so different! We observed and discussed what we were seeing at length. These were some of the best moments of the trip!
Oh dear. That was such a long introduction. I will work on my brevity.
Next up: Rome.
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Word of warning: