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Trip Report A Trip to Italy...or, I never met a Limoncello I didn't like!

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I’ve just returned from 18 wonderful days in Italy! Thanks to Fodorites for all the great information. If you don’t like long, detailed reports, just skip over this one! This was my first solo trip (I couldn’t convince my husband that he wanted to go to Italy). The trip started out with a bang! In Syracuse, as soon as I hand the clerk my ticket, she says that the flight will be delayed due to the weather in Newark, due to Hurricane Ophelia. Oh, great, just what I want to hear! There is an earlier flight, also delayed and full. I get on a waiting list for standby. I really don’t want to miss that connection in Newark to Brussels, as there is only one per day and I’ll have to wait a full 24 hours to get the next one.

When it’s almost time for my original flight to leave, the earlier one is announced and they call a couple of people for standby. I go up, as people are trying to get any additional seats. She doesn’t have the list with my name! I explained that the guy had written them down because he couldn’t get the computer to take the list. She apologizes, but I say I think those people who just got on should have to give up their seats for those of us who had been put on the list two hours ago. She says she’ll be right back and goes off to the plane. I had visions of her dragging people kicking and screaming off the plane! Turned out there were two more seats, so I get on. Hooray, I’ll make the connection!

The flight in Newark is fully boarded and ready to take off on time, but there are so many planes backed up due to the earlier closer, that it’s 1-1/2 hours before we actually take off. In Brussels, I race across the airport, a LONG way, to get my connection to Venice. The plane is sitting there at the gate, but Continental has cancelled my reservation because there won’t be time to transfer my luggage. So frustrating! I have to wait for the next flight, which also leaves late, and get to Venice seven hours later than planned, but it could have been so much worse if I had missed that Newark-Brussels connection.

I’ll say here that I have arthritis in my knees, which definitely affects how much I do. I’m not handicapped, I can walk and do stairs, but slowly (my husband always says I have two speeds, slow and slower!). I know I’m going to be doing a LOT of walking and stairs and prefer not to add more on when I get back to the hotel, so I want an elevator in my hotel. Most Fodorite recommendations, especially in Venice and Florence, don’t have one, and they’re also scarce in Tuscany, so I will have some different hotels to report on.

VENICE

Although I’m not really worried, I wonder whether it will be a hassle getting my luggage on the vaporetto (I just can’t justify over $100 for the water taxi). I buy the 72-hour pass at the airport for 22E. Note, I’m sure I read somewhere on Fodor’s that you can use a credit card for this. NOT TRUE! Cash only. The pass covers the orange ACTV bus to Piazzelle Roma, where I get on the vaporetto. It’s a piece of cake! The floor of the boat is the same level as the boarding platform, so you just roll your luggage right on. I take it to the Rialto stop.

It’s a short walk with only one small bridge to my hotel, Palazzo la Scala, Calle de la Scale, San Marco, 135E for a single room, ensuite bath, with breakfast. The location is terrific, between Rialto and St. Marks, a little nearer Rialto. I know a lot of people like something quieter, but I like to be where the action is. They have the double windows, so noise is not really a problem except from other guests! Small room as usual, but nice, with desk and chair, bedside table, armoire, safe, phone. The bathroom is small but not too small, quite small shower stall (no tub, but that’s OK, I don’t like baths), good water pressure and plenty of hot water. Breakfast buffet includes cereal, rolls, croissants, ham, fruit, yogurt, juice.

At this point, I’m exhausted so I want somewhere very close for dinner. I try Alla Botte, but it’s full and people are standing outside with their wine, so I continue on to Al Buso, right at the foot of the Rialto Bridge. The food is pretty good, nothing outstanding. I’m just about to ask for the check when a waiter brings me Moscato Giglio, a sweet dessert wine. I don’t really like sweet wines, but I don’t want to be rude, so I take a taste. I’ve obviously been drinking the wrong sweet wine! It’s delicious. When I’m just about done, I tell the waiter I really enjoyed it and he proceeds to refill the glass! At this point, I’ve been up and traveling for over 30 hours, had wine with the meal and now two glasses of the dessert wine. I better leave before I fall asleep at the table! Dinner with ½ carafe wine and water, 33E. Note all my dinner prices will include a small tip. Back to the hotel and crash for the night!

The next morning, I’m off to San Polo, so I walk over to the San Angelo vaporetto stop and hop on for one stop to San Toma, where I get off and go to Scuola Grande di San Rocco for all those Tintoretto’s and Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari for all sorts of things. Neither are at all crowded. Plenty of stairs here and everywhere in Venice! Note that San Rocco is one of the few churches or museums anywhere that accepts credit cards. Most require cash and don’t like it if you have big bills. I wander over towards Dorsoduro and go to Scuola Grande d.Carmini with great Tiepolo ceiling panels. I’m the only one there until just before I leave, two men come in. I really don’t find I’m getting lost much in Venice (I’m good with maps), just a couple of times I realize I’m about a block off. At one point, I accidentally walk down what turns out to be a dead end and hear a man singing Happy Birthday in Italian. Lovely! The sort of thing I love to run into. I don’t want lunch yet, but it’s definitely time for gelato. I generally get gelato wherever I happen to be at the moment I want it, so I don’t have specific places to recommend. I don’t have any bad gelato during the trip!

I continue on to Campo San Barnaba, where the mask shop has post cards of Katherine Hepburn in “Summertime,” and over to Ca’ Rezzonico. The guy at the ticket office is ready to charge me more than the admission price because he doesn’t have change. I don’t understand how they don’t have change when everybody has to pay cash! So many beautiful things to see here. Lots more stairs! I don’t find out until on the way down that there is an elevator. Oh well, going downstairs is actually worse with arthritis than going up, so I take advantage of it.

All of these places are well worth a visit. By this time, the knees are feeling it, so I take the vaporetto again, even though it’s only one stop from Ca’ Rezzonico to Accademia, where I get off and go the Accademia Pizza at the foot of the bridge for lunch, sitting outside watching the canal. Excellent Marguerita Pizza and water, 10E. I walk by Santa Maria della Salute but am too tired to go in, just take the vaporetto back around to San Angelo and walk back to the hotel, doing just a little shopping on the way.

I have to say here that although I’m enjoying all the beautiful things I’m seeing, I don’t seem to be really captivated by Venice. Horrors! Have I planned this trip for so long only to be underwhelmed?

I put my feet up for a while to rest and then go over the Rialto to Alla Madonna, Calle della Madonna, for dinner. I like to try local specialties, so I order the Sardins Soar (a very sweet onion sauce) and the Black Squid with polenta. Both are great. And I never would have ordered sardines if I hadn’t read on Fodor’s that they’re nothing like the ones you find here in the can. How true! They were huge and delicious. Two courses, ½ litre wine, water, 35E.

After leaving the restaurant, I pause on top of the Rialto Bridge to enjoy the view. And it hits me…Ah, yes, I’m in VENICE, and it’s beautiful! I can only attribute my previous lack of reaction to jetlag! I walk over to St. Mark’s Square, and as soon as I enter it and see the Basilica, it hits me again. I love Venice! It’s rather cool (everybody else is in jackets buttoned up to their chin), but I’m rarely cold and don’t mind at all. The square wasn’t really very crowded and there was just a wonderful atmosphere. I sit down to enjoy the orchestra that’s currently playing and have my overpriced glass of wine, worth every penny!

The next morning I want to go over to S. Giorgio Maggiore for the Gregorian chants and go up the Campanile. It is raining and nasty, really windy. The San Zaccaria vaporetto stop has several different spots to get on. I’m having a nice chat with a group of young women from South Africa while waiting. We wait and wait and wait, and finally find out we’re at the wrong one, so we go rushing over the correct spot and go over to the island. By this time, it’s time for the chants to start and we just make it. It isn’t as impressive as I had hoped, but I enjoy it nevertheless.

I never do figure out how to get around to the Campanile. It is unbelievably windy on the island and still raining, so I give up and take the vaporetto back over so I can go to La Pieta on Riva degli Schiavone. After reading the novel The Venetian Mask, I really want to go here. It was an orphange for girls where the mother could leave the baby in a special spot without having to identify herself and the nuns would retrieve the baby and raise it, training them to be a Pieta girl if they had musical talent. Vivaldi taught here. I had posted a question asking whether anyone had been here before my trip and got some more historical information. I love this small church, with beautiful velvet hangings in the altar area, and I can just imagine the girls singing behind the gold filigree grates that are in front of the balconies. One of my favorite things in Venice. (Part of the Biennale was also there, an exhibit of paintings by two artists from Morocco.)

My next stop is the Doges Palace. Lots and lots of stairs, and of course, the best stuff is on the top floors! The first floor, where the Doge lived, only has items they have brought from elsewhere, because the Doge brought all his own furniture and it was returned to his family when he died. Obviously, this is a must-do. After a little shopping, I am very tired and very hungry. I want a place where I can sit down to eat, but walking along Calle dei Fabbri, some bruschetta in a window just looks so good, I have to have it! It’s a little shop with a sign sticking out that just says “Pizza,” and inside in huge letters on the wall, it says “Happy Pizza.” The bruschetta is delicious, with several kinds of mushrooms, red peppers, cheese, artichokes and a spicy oil added (that wasn’t really that hot). Along with water, 6E.

For dinner, I go back over the Rialto to Al Paradiso, Calle Paradiso. They are full and aren’t using the outside tables due to the cool, rainy weather, but I don’t think it’s too cool and he says I’m welcome to sit out there if I like. I’m the only one out there, but that’s OK. The buildings across the very narrow street have all the windows covered and are locked up tight, and I wonder what’s in there. Later, I find out the one directly across is owned by the restaurant and used for wine storage, etc. And the one next door is the home of a family with two little girls who come home with Disney bags. I wonder if they’ve been to Florida, but later I see a Disney store in Florence, so maybe that’s where they had been. Anyway, I digress (I was enjoying just watching the people going by, more than you would think for what looks like an out-of-the way place).

After one bite of my beef carpaccio appetizer, I’m in heaven. Mmmm, I may just have to come back here tomorrow just to have this again! The gnocchi with scallops and spider-crab w/saffron is also delicious, as was my ½ litre of Borgo Molino (house) wine. Then he brings out the Moscato, along with almond squiggle-shaped cookies to dip. Wonderful! 49.22E. I find myself recommending this place to several other travelers that I meet who are on their way to Venice.

The next morning, I have a reservation for Basilica San Marco. Oh, I just love walking past that long line that snakes out into the middle of the square (as it had the day before). Makes me feel like I’m getting away with something! I enjoy my time there and then just do some wandering and shopping, repeating yesterday’s lunch of bruschetta. I do go back to Al Paradiso for dinner and naturally have the same appetizer and the Flat Spaghetti w/King Prawns Genovese. Once again delicious, same price. I go for one last time to St. Mark’s square for the dueling orchestras and am sorry it’s my last night in Venice.

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    Me, too, SusanP! I can hardly wait for more - please continue to share your trip with us. I'll pour the limoncello or the wine for all of us to enjoy as you weave your story. Thanks!

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    I'm having a great glass of wine (Canadian Sav Blanc) and thoroughly enjoying your report while I should be doing other things!

    I was wondering today about Basilica reservations - until I read your report I wasn't positive you could make them - and I've been to Venice once! (if you have the number/email handy, please post! Otherwise I'll search...)

    Please continue - its fantastic!

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    SusanP, I remember reading some of your posts when you were planning your trip. I admire your enjoyment of solo travel, especially with arthiritis which I know can be hard to deal with.

    I am thoroughly enjoying your report since I am also a detailed writer, so I can appreciate being right there with you in magical Venezia. And, I'm looking forward to returning there myself in 18 more days....sigh.

    Thanks for the report. Looking forward to more. :)

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    Thanks to all, I'm glad you're enjoying the report. Jetlag is hitting me tonight, but I may try to do another installment now.

    travelphile, the website to reserve St. Mark's is:
    www.alata.it/eng/booking/sanmarco.asp

    It is definitely worth it! Anything to avoid long lines.

    I was actually afraid I might not like traveling solo, especially for dinner at night. During the day, it's nice to be able to do whatever you feel like doing or want to do without having to consider someone else's goals, but it's nice to have company at dinner. The only very slightly uncomfortable feeling of eating dinner alone lasted about two nights. And I think the second night, the only reason for it was the very small distance between tables and the fact that the couple directly in front of me was having a great time making out. Now, I have no problem with public displays of affection (after all, having someone who can't keep his hands off you can't be a bad thing!), but really, I'm trying to eat dinner here and they might as well have been alone in their apartment. Anyway, I found that very quickly I had no problem eating dinner alone, and in most cases, since the tables are always so close together, you sometimes have company that you didn't expect to have. My report will also tell about a couple of dinners with other Fodorites, which I highly recommend. We had a great time.

    I already have the limoncello in the freezer, maybe I need to go pour a glass and continue the report!

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    I am thoroughly enjoying your trip report. I will also be traveling solo and share the same worries about arthritis.

    Great to know you had no problems with your luggage when you were boarding the vaporetto. Did you take any trains?

    I believe I will have a glass of wine ready for the next portion of your report.

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    Scarlett, It's always time for gelato!
    Simone, It's always nice to have a glass of wine while reading! I did take the train twice, as you'll see. In Venice, there are about 8-10 steps up into the station, no real problem. I don't try to carry the bag up the stairs, it's really quite easy to just pull it up behind you, one step at a time. And if you're going down steps, just put the suitcase out in front of you and let it down one step at a time. Don't let arthrits or going solo stop you from traveling! I'm not saying that I was never in pain, but it's better to be in pain in Italy than at home, and I have the same challenges at home! Fortunately, I'm not yet at the point where it keeps me from doing what I want to do.

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    OK, the next installment:

    The next morning, I’m taking the train to Florence. I have the ticketless reservation, since I wanted a specific train (direct Eurostar, no changing trains) that I booked ahead of time. Since this is my first foray into Italian trains, I figure I need ½ hour to get there and want ½ hour to find the train and track needed, plus I need a little extra time in case something delays me (OCD kicking in here). I hop on the vaporetto (that easy boarding with luggage mentioned before), there are no delays whatsoever, so I’m in the train station an hour before my train leaves. No problem, I’ll just sit here and watch the board to see which track I need. It shows up about 20 minutes before the train is to leave, so I have plenty of time to get out there and on the train. A very nice gentlemen throws my suitcase up into the train for me and boarding is a breeze. (Yes, I could have done it myself, but why refuse such generous help?!) I’m in one of those seats where two people face two others over a narrow table. I have great seatmates (a businessman from Sydney and a couple from Toronto), so the time goes quickly with good conversation. It’s a small world, as the guy from Sydney is amazed to find that I come from a very small village called Sidney!

    I had decided I would walk to my hotel in Florence. It turns out to be a little further than I thought, but I make it. I’ve decided to stay at Hotel Giada, Canto dei Nelli, 2, right in the middle of the leather market, directly across from the bell tower of the San Lorenzo church. While you can hear the bells, I’m never woken up by them. Now, Rex gives a lot of good information here and he gave a rather poor report of this hotel a couple of years ago, but since then, they have installed an elevator and many more recent reports on tripadvisor were very positive, so I decide to give it a try. I had originally booked a room at Ira’s favorite B&B Peterson, but I decide it’s just too far from the center of town (it’s on the opposite side of the train station from everything you want to see, and that extra 20 minutes of walking to get there is more than I want with my knees).

    I like the Hotel Giada. It’s a very small room but only 75E for a single with ensuite bath. The bathroom has a rather funky layout. It’s a long narrow room. When you first go in, there’s the sink, then to the left in the next area is a bidet and another very small corner sink. Then there’s a very large step up (a step I don’t need!) to a third area where you will find the toilet and shower stall. It’s another small shower stall, but again has good water pressure and plenty of hot water. The included breakfast is the same as in Venice except it’s salami instead of ham for the meat. I admit that I would have liked to be even closer to the center of town, but for the price with an elevator, this would have been difficult to find.

    I’m hungry and set off to find lunch. I had Nerbonne on my list, in the Mercato Centrale, immediately to the north of my hotel. I never find it, but I see wonderful-looking pizza at Pizzeria Romano, Piazza a Taglio. I can’t believe I didn’t write down the street, but looking at my map, I think it must have been on Borgo La Noce, running north from Canto dei Nelli. I get a huge piece of pizza covered with thick slices of Buffalo mozzarella and tomatoes and sprinkled with oregano (not the usual basil) and olive oil and a bottle of water for 3.50E. It’s fabulous! One of the best and cheapest lunches of the trip.

    OK, off to Santa Maria Novella, a very impressive church. I’m not sure why this wasn’t on my original list, but thanks to Fodor’s it was now, and I’m glad. Then down the street to Santa Maria Novella Farmaceutica. Surely Thingorjus would never forgive anyone who went to Florence and didn’t go here! Contrary to popular opinion, it’s actually pretty easy to find. They now have an awning that makes it easy to spot. I buy some aftershave cream for my husband that I hope will be wonderful and some special stuff for eczema, which I have trouble with. You could easily spend a fortune in here if you had it!

    I go back to the hotel to put my feet up (something I do every day inbetween sightseeing and dinner). I have a reservation for Ira’s favorite, Il Ritrovo, which is close to my hotel. I hope he doesn’t want to kill me, and I suppose every restaurant has a bad night, but this is absolutely, far and away the worst meal of my trip! When I get there, they inform me that they’ve had to change my table because this group of 10 or 12 people showed up without a reservation. She is leading me into what looks like a “back room,” not even part of the restaurant. I say, but I have a reservation, but she only repeats that this large group showed up unexpectedly. Well, I don’t really care about that, since I had a reservation and they didn’t. She is actually leading me around a large column to a small table that still at least looks out on the rest of the restaurant, and I think, OK, this is all right. I actually tell the waiter that this is OK, I thought she was putting me in that back room.

    I order Rissoto with Yellow Pumpkin and Gorgonzola Cheese. It’s good, but not anything special. My next course is Filet Mignon with shallot, brandy & mustard sauce. When the waiter puts it down in front of me, I think it looks overcooked (note that I had specifically asked the waiter, who spoke excellent English, what they considered medium rare and had ordered accordingly), but of course I don’t know for sure and I don’t want to make a fuss. Well, my first bite of the steak is totally grizzle, and several more bites are also grizzle. And I was right, it was overcooked (think well done, which I thought no Italian cook would ever do to a steak!). The sauce was very good, but it couldn’t cover up the lousy piece of meat. They did offer an after-dinner drink on the house. For some unknown reason, I took the Amaretto instead of Limoncello. (What can I say, it just sounded good…). All around, a huge disappointment for dinner. 41E. (I should note here that later when I meet JenV and her friend in Florence, her friend had the exact same steak and thought it was wonderful.)

    The next morning, I have a reservation at the Accademia. Again, that wonderful feeling when you walk past a block-long line and go right in! Of course, not more need be said about David, and I enjoy other parts of the museum as well.

    Next I go on to the Museo di San Marco, just north of Accadamia, for the wonderful frescoes by Fra Angelico. There is a young American there who is obviously leading an art history class, so his commentary is very interesting. I don’t actually follow him around, but happen to be there for a couple of his explanations. I know that you have to go up one floor (no problem…) for the Annunciation and the dormitory cells, each of which has a fresco in it. Just so you know, that “one floor” is the equivalent of three flights of stairs! Oh well, you definitely have to go up here. When I get to the top of all those stairs, of course I have to sit down for a couple of minutes (when you have arthritis, you never pass up a bench or chair!). Just as I’m getting up to really have a look at the Annunciation, the teacher gets there with his class, so just by luck I get a very interesting background on the picture. Note that these are friars, not monks! I don’t actually know the fine distinctions between the two, but it’s something I plan to look up.

    My next destination is Santa Croce, and I decide to take a taxi due to the distance. A lot of it is under restoration, but there’s still a lot to see, so I’m glad I’m here. I should note here that I sometimes get to the point where I no longer care about the history or background to what I’m seeing. If I’m tired, it’s enough just to soak in the beauty that I’m looking at without further information. I’m sure some people think this is terrible, but I enjoy looking at the beautiful art and sculpture and architecture even if I don’t always know everything about what I’m seeing. What I’m getting at is that I don’t get the audio guide for Santa Croce and still enjoy what I’m looking at and will do so again throughout the trip. I go back to check out the leather school and buy a couple of small items and then get a small original painting in the square.

    OK, I’ve had my dose of art, history and culture for the morning and am off to do some shopping. My first goal is Capecci, Borgo de Greci, to the left off of Santa Croce square, and recommended by Dean (for those of you who remember him and his impeccable information on Italy), for hand-tooled and dyed leather by a father and daughter duo. I have in mind to buy unique bookmarks for all of my brothers for Christmas (with the idea of giving them along with a gift certificate to Barnes & Nobles, as we’re all great readers), but they don’t have any bookmarks right now. However, I buy a beautiful purse for a very reasonable price (I can’t afford those 300-500E purses, and this one is unique and 69E).

    I walk over to Piazza d. Signoria and decide I need a leisurely lunch, so I go to one of the cafes on the square (I believe the one on the northern side of the square) and enjoy lunch in the sun while watching life on the square, 15E. Next, on to Ponte Vecchio for some more shopping. I have gold earrings in mind, but unfortunately, the only pair that I really love are out of my price range. I do get some great red leather gloves to go with my wool winter coat. By this time, my knees have had it and I need a taxi. Like Paris, you need to go to a taxi station, a real pain!, and also like Paris, just because you’re standing under a taxi sign, it doesn’t mean that taxis actually stop there. I am north of Ponte Vecchio and see that the taxis keep turning just north of where I am, so I go over there and finally get one back to the hotel.

    As usual, I go back to the hotel and put my feet up before showering for dinner. I call a taxi to take me to Aqua al 2. There is probably some miscommunication here, as you can’t drive right up to my hotel while the leather market is still closing down. The taxi never comes, and this is the only time I have trouble communicating, since there is a taxi there that I think might be mine (but it isn’t!). He speaks no English, but between another guy, he says he will call me another taxi. I don’t know what happens, but it also never shows up, so I end up walking. After all the waiting for the taxis and then walking, I’m ½ hour late for my reservation. I explain the problem, and they kindly say they’ll fit me in. I wait for about 15 minutes and have a table.

    My Rissoto with artichokes is OK, but the real star of the show is their daily special secondi platter (you can actually get a daily special for each course, but I could never eat all those courses). The secondi is three different filet mignons, all cooked a perfect medium rare/rare, one with a mustard/green peppercorn sauce, one with a balsamic vinegar sauce and one served carpaccio. Absolutely delicious! A free before-dinner and after-dinner drink are offered, in this case limoncello! Why did it take so long for me to try this? I guess it’s all that free Moscato wine in Venice! I love the limoncello…Two courses, ½ litre wine, water, 39E. Only one thing about this place: There were three ladies at the table next to me. They had finished their meal and paid the bill but were still finishing their wine. The hostess (I think maybe the wife of the owner) came over and told them that she needed their table for the next reservation. They are obviously shocked, as am I. When they get up to leave a few minutes later, one of them looks at me, and I say that I can’t believe what had happened. They can’t either. After they leave, about ten minutes later, the hostess tells another table the same thing. So much for having the table for the entire evening in Italy! Two courses, wine, water, 39E.

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    Susan - Great report. And what perfect timing. I am leaving next Wednesday for my first trip to Italy. Like you, I will be starting in Venince then on to Florence and traveling solo.

    I too am a bit aprehensive about eating dinner by myself. But you have put my mind at ease. The spider crab with saffron sounds great!!

    Waiting for the next installment.

    Tom

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    Tom, You'll have a great time. Sharon, I enjoyed your last report, too!

    I didn't mention that I had planned to go up to Fiesole and/or Piazzale Michelangelo for the great views in the late afternoon but was just too tired at the end of the day. I have to go out now but will try to do another installment later this afternoon.

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    Continuing...

    When I get back to the hotel after Aqual al 2, I’m pooped. I decide that I’m not setting the alarm and will just sleep in as late as I like. It’s well after 10:00 am when I wake up, so guess I really needed the sleep! I’m off to the Bargello this morning. When I go past the Duomo, the line is down the whole side of the building, across the street, and starting up the other side. The line at the Bapistry is more than half way around the building. OK, so maybe I won’t be getting inside these two on this trip, as this is my last day in Florence. There’s no way I can stand in line for a couple of hours (standing still is actually worse on the knees than walking). There’s no line to speak of at the Bargello and I enjoy Donatello’s David, among other things.

    I come out and go to Bar Badia, right across the street (Via Proconsola) to the left, for lunch. Panini and water costs 5E. It’s nothing to write home about, but at least I’m not hungry anymore. I move on the Museo dell’Opera to see the original Bapistry doors. The marble choir lofts by Donatello and della Robbia are also amazing, and I enjoy the information on Brunelleschi, having just finished reading Brunelleschi’s Dome before leaving on the trip.

    I come back towards the Duomo and Bapistry. Due to my very late start, it’s close to 5:00. Hooray, the lines are way down. I wait less than 15 minutes to get into the Bapistry, and am I ever glad I got in! The 13th C mosaic ceiling is totally amazing. I think this is my favorite thing in Florence. I get the audio guide to learn more about it and just sit there for a while gazing at the gorgeous work. When I come out, the line for the Duomo is really short, I wait about 5 minutes to get in, so don’t give up if you see a long line earlier in the day, just come back late afternoon. Again, having read Brunelleschi’s Dome, I’m glad I am able to get in.

    Tonight for dinner I’m meeting Fodorite JenV and her friend, Belinda, at 8:00 at Osteria del Cinghiale Bianco on Borgo San Jacapo (recommended numerous times here). It’s a good distance from my hotel, so I take a taxi (and this time I have the hotel call for it and tell them where to pick me up). I had planned to take the bus in Florence a few times and actually had some bus numbers for various routes in my notes. I tried several times in vain to buy some bus tickets. The tabacchi shops were out. Anyway, I get to the restaurant a little early. I had meant to make a reservation but forgot, and they are full. I put my name on his waiting list, and they think they will be able to seat us around 8:15 or 8:20, so that’s not a bad wait.

    I highly recommend meeting up with Fodorites for dinner! We have a great time. Also, our table is right up against the next one, so the couple sitting there become part of the party. This guy is a lot of fun, one of those people who has great stories and is good at telling them. He has us all laughing about, among other things, his adventures with absinthe. We all order the wild boar with polenta. It’s pretty good, but not as amazing as we expected. Sort of looks and tastes like beef stew without the vegetables or potatoes. We keep seeing the waiters go by with desserts that look wonderful, including a sampler of several different things. Jen orders something else, but Belinda & I order the sampler. It is heavenly! And the Limoncello we order goes very well with it. Included are Marscapone Cream, Tiramisu, Cream Puffs and Almond (amaretto) Cake. The Marscapone Cream is sooo good, and it’s served in a little glass that is wide at the top and narrows down to a slender bottom that is too small for the spoon to fit. Good heavens, we can’t leave the rest of the cream in there! Belinda decides that, although tacky, the only sensible thing to do is to use the handle of the spoon to get it out. Seems like a good idea to me, and I promise not to tell about it on Fodors! Jen assures me that she will “out” us and spill the beans, so I might as well tell you now! We get every delicious drop! Mmmmm… Two courses, wine, dessert, limoncello, 33E.

    They serve the wine in these cute pitchers with a raised white boar on the side. I want one! I ask the waiter if they sell them, and sure enough, they have slightly different ones for sale. The bigger one, for olive oil, is 25E, and the small pitcher with the white boar’s head for the spout is 20E. We all agree that they are definitely overpriced. After we pay the bill, however, I decide I have to have one anyway, I know I’ll regret it if I don’t get it. I’m happy to say that I don’t regret buying it, and it reminds me of a fun evening. I get a taxi back to the hotel and finish packing, as I’m moving on to the Tuscan countryside tomorrow.

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    TUSCANY

    I debated a lot about driving in Tuscany. I was going to, but several factors made me change my mind. First, I can’t drive a shift, and automatic cars are very expensive. Add to that the price of gas, tolls, plus I would have felt it necessary to have a cell phone, another expense, and I realized I could hire a private driver for a couple days for less money. Also, I could enjoy wine at lunch or winetasting without worrying about driving after drinking, even though it wouldn’t be big quantities! I also wasn’t crazy about having to both drive and navigate by myself. I used Luca Garrapa, www.hillsandroads.com and this was a great decision. He will design an itinerary for you, but I knew where I wanted to go and just consulted with him to see if what I had in mind was feasible. On to Tuscany…

    I originally have two days booked with Luca. When I want to add today as a third, he is already booked but offers me the option of going with his associate, Alioscia, also a native of Siena and a friend since college. I agree, so Alioscia picks me up in Florence and drives me to San Gimignano. He gives me a lot of interesting information along the way about the area. We arrive just after 10:00 am and I’m very surprised to find the town not at all crowded. We walk up the main street, with me checking out shops I might want to stop in on the way back, up to the church. Alioscia gives me a nice explanation of the paintings in the church, pointing out things I would have missed and giving an interesting perspective on some images. As we’re leaving, a young woman asks if I would take a short survey, so I answer her questions (mainly, how did I find out about San Gimignano, did I like my hotel, where did I do research, etc.)

    We walk further up a path to a higher point with a beautiful view. There is something there with not too many steps (can’t remember, it might have been a fort), but I feel like I’m getting enough of a view right where we are. We end up spending a couple of hours in San Gimignano and I enjoy it. I do buy a small ceramic tile for my kitchen on the way out. Next we’re off to La Botega restaurant in Volpaia, outside Radda in Chianti. (I had read Weadles’ report here on Fodor’s about doing this and it sounded so nice that I decided to do it as well.) As we leave San Gimignano, for a little ways I’m thinking that we could be in Upstate New York, very similar terrain! (Except, of course, when you pass a villa with red tile roof!) This doesn’t continue, of course, as we get nearer Radda. We drive through that and way up a hill outside of it to Volpaia. Certainly someplace you could never get to without a car. There’s a very old stone church here, can’t remember the year right now, and we have a lovely lunch overlooking the beautiful Tuscan countryside. I offer to pay for Alioscia’s lunch, but he refuses, although I did insist on paying for part of it.

    After lunch, we wind our way down through Chianti on the way to some winetasting. Luca had set this up, so I don’t even know where we’re going. We turn off the main road and travel for about another 15-20 minutes on a dirt road to Terra Bianca winery. Looking at my brochure, it’s still in Radda in Chianti. They have another branch with different grape varieties in Massa Marittima. The young lady here gives me an interesting tour of the plant (although they’re not in full operation yet, as most of the picking doesn’t start for another week). They do have the beginning grapes from one area. The grapes taste delicious. We move on to the tasting. The girl says she has never done a tasting for just one person! She says she was a little nervous but that I had put her at ease, which I am glad to hear. I am far from a wine expert. I know red/white and sweet/dry, but mainly I just drink what I like, I’m not afraid to admit I like a cheap wine! I think I tried five wines, including one dessert wine (again, I realize I have been drinking the wrong sweet wines!). They are all good, I particularly like the Campaccio. I tell her that I wish I had room in my luggage to buy lots of wine. She assures me that there is no need for me to buy any at all, but of course I say that I really would LIKE to buy lots. However, I have a train ride in my future and can’t add another suitcase at this point! I do buy a bottle of the Campaccio and look forward to enjoying it. Maybe I’ll save it for our 30th anniversary later this month.

    After the winery, Alioscia drives me to my hotel in Siena, Palazzo Ravizza. I have really enjoyed my day with him, and he has told me lots of interesting things about the area. At Palazzo Ravizza, I have reserved a loft room with garden view, ensuite bath, for 100E per night. This is a great hotel, as reported many times here. Very nice public rooms, several with nice couches and chairs, one with what looks like a game table. One little thing, though. I knew that after the elevator, there were steps up to the loft rooms and I had specifically asked exactly how many steps were involved. The answer was 5 or 6. There were actually 16! Not a big thing for most people, but I would have appreciated a more accurate answer. Oh well, I decide that the gorgeous view makes it worth it! A spectacular view out over the beautiful Tuscan countryside. Normally, I stay in inexpensive hotels (no luxury, no views) because I would rather have more money for nice meals and shopping. I don’t think this is a bad price for this view. The room is large, with a long hallway inside the door before you even get to the area where the bed is. The bathroom is large and has nice blue, yellow and white tile. Unfortunately, one of those shower heads that is stuck on the side wall of the bathtub (also my only hotel with a tub, but as mentioned before, I like showers). The main problem with the shower head is that the spray of water is very wide, which makes it harder to keep from flooding the bathroom. I do much better the second night! I relax and enjoy that great view before dinner.

    I have made a reservation for tonight at the hotel’s restaurant, Ristorante Il Capricia. The meal starts with a delicious Amuse Bouche, bruschetta with salmon and something else I can’t quite identify. The salmon carpaccio is wonderful and the leek & potato ravioli with prawns & sage is also very good. Two courses, wine, dessert with Vin Santo Dessert Wine, 33E.

    The next day, after enjoying my view, I have the whole day to relax and see Siena. I walk over to the Duomo. The restoration work being done results in the entire front being covered by a picture of the front. Not quite the same as seeing the real thing! There is a long line, so I continue on to Piazza del Campo. I’m trying to imagine the mayhem that must reign here during Palio. It’s really not that big an area for ten horses racing around and all those people! Alioscia had told me about the contrada that had won this year (I think the elephant sign) and how it had been many many years since they had won, so the celebrations were still going on. Sort of like the Red Sox winning the World Series after so long!

    I would probably have gone to the Museo Civico anyway, but a picture of a particular sculpture makes me definitely want to see it. There is a lot to see here as well, and my favorite is the sculpture I’m looking for, that of a young girl asleep called “Non mi destate” (Luisa Mussini giacente) by Giovanni Dupre. Just love that sculpture!

    There is a wedding going on in a small chapel in the museum. Later, when I’m sitting in the next room, they come out for pictures. At first it’s difficult to figure out which man is the groom and which is the bride’s father. The groom looks maybe five years younger than the father. She’s the unhappiest looking bride I’ve ever seen. Not one smile while several friends or relatives were taking pictures, just sort of a look on her face that says, well, come one, let’s get this over with!

    By this time, I’m hungry and stop for lunch at Ristorante La Buca di San Pietro on Vicolo di San Pietro directly off the Campo. My light lunch of bruschetta with chunks of tomato, basil & olive oil (delicious) leaves room for Marscapone with strawberries. Mmmmm! With water, 12E.

    Next, I go to San Domenico’s Basilica for the fresco of St. Catherine of Siena. I think the stained glass windows here look very contemporary. Maybe they are, I think there is an audio guide available here, but I’m in one of those moods that often happens later in the day when I’m getting tired where I’m just going to soak everything in without the background information. I slowly work my way back to the Duomo. The steep streets are quaint and beautiful, but make walking more challenging. I have a lot of pictures of very steep side streets with old stone buildings, often pretty flowers from upper balconies. The line at the Duomo is short now, so I am able to go in without waiting very long. Again, I’m glad I get in. The amazing thing about Italy is not only that you find a gorgeous church, but that there are so many of them! I walk back to my hotel to put my feet up and enjoy that wonderful view for a while before dinner.

    I have a reservation tonight at the highly acclaimed Cane e Gato. Now, this is a very small restaurant and I had asked the hotel to make a reservation over a month ago. I ask them to call me a taxi and get to the restaurant. I’m horrified to find that they don’t have my reservation. Oh, no! I’ve been looking forward to eating here for a long time. The owner says he thinks he has room tomorrow night, but of course I’ll be gone by then. He is sorry and sympathetic and offers to recommend somewhere else. I usually have backup restaurants on my list, but since I had the reservations for both nights in Siena, I didn’t include any there in my notes. (Of course, I don’t really know who screwed up here. When I get back to the hotel and tell the desk clerk what happened, he assures me that if they had told me the reservation was made, then it was made.)

    The guy from Cane e Gato calls Al Mangio to make sure they have room and marks on a card how to get there. Fortunately, the walk isn’t long or steep! Although I am angry at what has happened, I decide I don’t want this to ruin my evening and I need to let it go. This restaurant is right on the Campo and I can sit outside, which I always like to do, so I decide to enjoy the dinner. The mussel appetizer is delicious and the lamb is pretty good as well. The dinner is good, but probably not as good as Cane e Gato would have been! It’s expensive (the coperto is 4.50E!), two courses, wine, water, 64.60E. I slowly walk back to my hotel and get a Limoncello at their bar to take to my room and enjoy with a little chocolate—great combination!

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    I am thoroughly enjoying your report.

    Up to this point, which city/town do you consider to have been the most strenuous?

    Also, were you comfortable with the pace of the tours? Did they take into consideration the fact that you might have to slow down here and there?

    I am grateful for the detail in your reports. Thank you.

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    Wonderful trip report, I'm really enjoying it.

    I've come to realise that (apart from sometimes at dinner) I get the most out of travelling alone, and it's so nice to read your experiences and be assured that when I get the chance I will have a great time too.

    But you are not finished yet, and I am eagerly awaiting the rest......

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    Great report. Your last dinner mentioned above reminds me of our recent trip to Florence with family when none of the 3 restaurants we asked our hotel to reserve had a record of our reservation. Like you, the hotel insisted that the reservation was made. From now on, we'll make our own.

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    I'm glad you're all enjoying the report. cw, fortunately, my husband understood my NEED to go to Italy! (Some things, you need to do for your soul...)

    Simone, I think Venice was probably the most strenuous, because in addition to the churches, scuolas and museums all having a LOT of stairs, there are all the stairs on each bridge (although some have a lot more than others--the Rialto Bridge has over 55 steps on each side). Also, you can't get a taxi right to your hotel door unless you're on a canal with their own dock, and then you'd have to take the expensive water taxi. That said, I certainly wouldn't hesitate to go back to Venice!

    As far as the pace of the tours, are you talking about the ones with hillandroads? He is a private driver/tour guide, so I could do whatever I wanted. I had set up the itinerary myself, and if I decided to skip something on the itinerary, I could do so at the drop of a hat. Since I was paying by the hour, if the tour ended up a little shorter or longer than initally planned, that would be reflected in the price and I knew that ahead of time. In each case, we didn't actually know exactly how long it would take to do what was planned. One day was a little shorter than planned and I paid less accordingly. All that aside, both Alioscia and Luca were very considerate, perfectly willing to walk slow when I needed to and go back and get the car wherever it was, then come and get me. I highly recommend them!

    julia, don't let the worry of eating dinner alone keep you from travelling alone!

    Brian, I agree, I would never leave it up to the hotel to make a reservation for me, especially one that was important to me. This was actually the only one I asked any hotel to make for me and I won't do it again!

    More to come...

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    SusanP, along with so many others I so enjoyed your beautiful trip report. I have never taken a private tour, it sounds like a luxery. I always was with my husband, or now with my friends. And so consequently never ever had the luxery of completely choosing where I wanted to go and how long I wanted to stay etc. Thank you for sharing your trip with us. Wishing you more beautiful trips.

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    Here's some more...

    The next morning, Luca picks me up in Siena for the next leg of my trip. Our first destination is Monte Oliveto Maggiore, but we make a few stops on the way. Luca tells me about how no new houses can be built in Tuscany, or at least this area of Tuscany, you can only restore houses that are already there. The land is to be kept for agriculture. We stop on the road up to the very tiny town of Mucigliani, where he shows me the difference between part of the town that has been restored and the rest that is waiting to be restored. A huge difference!

    Luca wants to get a bite to eat and an expresso, so we next stop in another very small town, Asciano. I enjoy seeing the 12th C church there, and we go to the town square so he can go to a small café. I had breakfast before we left, so I go around to take a few pictures while I’m waiting for him. The town square is very small, and I’m sure I’m the only American in town! On the way out of town, we pass a bunch of buses bringing in musicians for a band festival of some kind. Gee, I should have brought my flute!

    Next we stop in Chiusure. Where we stop is actually a retirement home. I’m thinking that if you have to go to a retirement home, this is the place to be. The views are wonderful, including one of Monte Oliveto Maggiore, where we’re going next. These are obviously towns that you couldn’t get to without a car, and I suspect bus wouldn’t be much easier, especially for Mucigliani.

    We have an interesting time at Monte Oliveto Maggiore. I would love to know what’s in all those books in their library and I wonder if anyone besides the monks has access to them. As I suspected, Luca says that it’s something you have to request permission for. Guess you have to be a scholar to check them out. I buy some orange honey in their gift shop.

    We drive on to Montalcino and park near the castle at the top of the town. We stop for lunch at Osteria de Porta al Cassero. I didn’t write down the street, but it’s straight down from the castle, not very far down. Luca says they have the best wild boar here, so of course that’s what I order. It comes with white beans and is absolutely delicious (better than what I had in Florence at Osteria Cinghiale de Bianco). I decide I want wine with it, and he also recommends the Rosso di Montalcino (Brunnelo’s little brother, aged less time), and I love it. I will have this several more times on the trip. Again, I offer to pay for his lunch, but he refuses. Mine is 10E.

    We walk down the hill of Montalcino. I’m surprised, since it’s Sunday, that a lot of the shops are open. I take a lot of pictures of steep streets and doors (I like pictures of architectural details). At the bottom, there is a lovely little park with wonderful flowers. Luca suggests that if I want, I can wait here while he climbs back up the hill to get the car, and he will come back and pick me up. Sounds good to me! It’s a nice place to wait for him. Although I might have gone inside the castle if I’d walked back up the hill, I don’t mind missing that at all! We do stop at the top of town for a few pictures.

    On to Sant’Antimo Abbey. I mention that I’d heard there was a spot to take a picture of it from the distance. Luca assures me we can do this. We stop at one point, and then he remembers picking up someone up the hill where there might be another great view. We drive up through vineyards to a house. A lady comes out and he explains why we are up there. She is Canadian and has some friends visiting and doesn’t mind at all if I take pictures. Turns out we can’t see Sant’Antimo from there, but we get a good spot on the way down. We have timed our visit to Sant’Antimo for the 2:45 pm Gregorian Chants. I enjoy this very much and highly recommend it, but even if you can’t be there for the chants, it’s definitely something not to be missed.

    We had planned to add San Quirico d’Orcia to the itinerary if there were time. There is time, but I have to admit I’m tired. Luca suggests that we can just drive through the town if I like, and this seems like a good idea. I wouldn’t mind going back there sometime, but enjoy what I do see just driving through. We end up in Pienza, where Luca drops me off at my hotel. When choosing a place in Tuscany for a three-night stay, I chose Pienza for several reasons, not the least of which is that it’s fairly flat! (At least in the town itself.) Also, good restaurants, a nice small town easy to get around, good bus connections.

    I’m staying at Albergo Rutiliano. I took a bit of a gamble on this, as I could only find one report on it, although that report was very positive (can’t remember if it was on tripadvisor or somewhere else). It was in the town (although not inside the old walls), had an elevator, and I couldn’t resist the price of 50E per night for a single room with ensuite bath and buffet breakfast. Plus, the communication from them was excellent. The elevator only goes to the first floor, where there are four rooms, and they assure me that I can be guaranteed one of those four rooms.

    I think this is a real gem! It’s only about a 5-minute walk to the main gate (at my slow walk, much quicker for most people) and another 5 minutes to the center of town where the church is in the main square. The bus stop to go to other towns is less than 2 blocks away. I have a nice big, airy room with double bed (two twins pushed together, as usual), decent size bath with a shower bigger than in Venice or Florence, again with good water pressure and plenty of hot water. The hotel also has a lovely pool and it’s own parking. Silvia at the desk is extremely helpful. I want to eat at Buca della Fate. Turns out it’s owned by the same people as the hotel, so she calls and makes me a reservation for tonight. I also want to eat at Latte de Luna. Unfortunately they’re completely booked for two of the nights I’m staying there and closed the third. Oh well, maybe next time. I will mention that I also had Il Prato on my list, and she strongly recommends that I not go there. She says the food is only OK and the service is terrible, that some of her guests who have gone there recently were very disappointed. I’m willing to follow her recommendation and don’t make a reservation there. She gives me a great booklet with all the things to see in Pienza and a map. I’m sure this is also available at the tourist information center, just outside the main gate. She gives me another brochure that shows the same map but includes the location and telephone numbers of all the restaurants in town. Very convenient!

    That evening I walk in to Buca della Fate and enjoy a nice dinner. The selection of Tuscan meats with Pecorino cheese is good, as well as the pork chop and tomatoes. They bring around a dessert cart, and the Tiramisu looks too good to pass up. Add some Limoncello, and what more could you want?!

    I had planned to go to Montepulciano the next day (easy bus connections to get there). But I’m tired by this time and have Rome to come, which I figure will be hectic, so I do something most Fodorites would never consider…I decide to spend two whole days in Pienza, just relaxing and enjoying the town. Most people say that Pienza is good for a two-hour stop, but I’m not sure how you can really see everything and appreciate the town in that time. I love Pienza! I thoroughly enjoy spending two days there.

    My first whole day in Pienza is a Monday, and I’m surprised (due to reports on Fodor’s) that all the shops are open. I think they’re pretty much open every day. They do all close for the siesta, generally from around 1:00 or 1:30 until 3:00 or 3:30. The church on the main square is also open on Monday, but the Palazzo Piccolomini (Pope’s house—Pius II, who designed the town) and Church of San Fransesco are closed. There is a wonderful walking path along the south side of the town wall with a fabulous view of the Tuscan countryside. What better way to spend your time in a Tuscan town than sitting in the sun with that view, enjoying a gelato, maybe reading a little? Heaven! I highly recommend doing this instead of thinking you absolutely have to be moving every minute in Tuscany in order to see as many towns as possible!

    The first day, between seeing the church and relaxing on that walking trail or in the town square, I go to Osteria Sette Vino in Piazza di Spagna for lunch. This is down the street directly opposite the church and has lovely flowers overflowing the wrought iron balconies and outside tables. Lovely spot! I get there late. The waiter recommends the Tuscan bean soup or the Pecorino cheese with bacon. I order the cheese and ¼ litre of wine (my new favorite Rosso di Montalcino!). For some reason, I think this is going to be a bruschetta, on bread, but it’s not. Just a slab of Pecorino grilled with bacon. To die for! OK, I was going to take some Pecorino home, but maybe I need to take more than planned! I ask the waiter how long they cook it, and he motions 3 minutes per side. There are these little green ceramic bowls on the table with the name of the restaurant. I’m thinking how cute one would look next to my white boar pitcher from Osteria Cinghiale Bianco in Florence, so I ask the waiter if they sell them. He says he’s sorry, but they don’t. A couple of minutes later, he comes out with a brochure to show me the store that sells them and how to get there, but I explain that I wanted one with the restaurant’s name on it. He apologizes again, they’re not for sale. A few minutes later, he brings out my bill. It’s on a ceramic plate with the restaurant’s name on it, and he says it’s for me to keep! I am delighted! I’m not sure why he can give me the plate but can’t even sell me the bowl, but I don’t argue. I give him a nice tip and tell him I’ll see him tomorrow. He smiles and nods his head in agreement. A lovely lunch!

    Pienza is a great town for shopping. Plenty of pottery, Pecorino cheese, olive wood spoons, linens and tapestry stuff. I do some shopping inbetween seeing the historical sights and relaxing on the walking path. That evening, I go to Dal Falco for dinner, just down the street from the hotel, just outside the main gate. The food is very good, including Pecorino on the coals, just a slab of the cheese cooked on the grill for a few minutes on each side. There is a group from New Zealand on a walking tour at the next table. One of the couples leaves their camera, and when they come back, the woman starts talking to me. They have walked from Montepulciano today, and it was too much for some of their group, as it was very hot (they all seem to be in their 60’s, I have to admire them for being able to do that). At this restaurant, instead of sweet wine or Limoncello, they bring you Amaro Del Falco with these wonderful cookies with sliced almonds in them to dip in the Amaro. The next day, I try to find these cookies in the shops, but don’t have any luck. I buy another kind instead! The drink is actually Amaro with herbs and is delicious. Two courses, ½ litre of wine, 30E.

    After reading more of my little book on Pienza, I want to go the The Hermitage, or Pieve di Corsignano, some of which dates back to the 11th C. Maybe I should have taken a taxi! It’s outside of town, a pretty good walk, especially for me, all downhill. It’s a very interesting place (note the unbelievably narrow spiral staircase down under the sanctuary to the right of the altar where I guess the hermit monks lived) and certainly not something you would get to in a two-hour visit to Pienza! I really enjoy this, despite the walk back up that hill!

    Later I also visit the Pope’s House and the Church of San Francesco, 13th C, one of the oldest Franciscan buildings in Italy and the only thing remaining of the ancient hamlet of Corsignano (Pienza’s former name). This place has the most amazing Nativity Scene I’ve ever seen. Large white figures set in the side of a rocky hill, with the Holy Family in a cave and many Shepherds plus the Wise Men all set around the surrounding cliffs. Don’t miss this!

    I return to Osteria Sette de Vino for lunch and this time try the Tuscan Bean Soup and wine. The soup has the white beans and large bread chunks, 11.50E. It is wonderful. This time I decide to order ½ litre of wine, as I want to just sit there a while and relax and enjoy the nice square. I have to say that the ¼ litre the day before was about 1-1/2 glass. The ½ litre is more like 4-5 glasses! I don’t know if that’s normal or if it’s because the waiter recognizes me from the day before and knows I’m a repeat customer. In Italy, if you go back the second time, you’re an old friend! It’s a beautiful hot, sunny day, so I just sit there and enjoy…

    The Borgia Palace is also open now (also closed Monday) and holds the Diocesan Museum, but I just don’t feel like a museum after that great lunch, so I don’t make it there. Instead, I go back to the walking path and enjoy some more of that great view.

    That evening, I go to Ristorante La Pergola for dinner, directly across the street from my hotel. I enjoy a Pecorino flan on salad and Rissoto with saffron and lamb ragout, with wine and water, 22E. I’m sorry to leave Pienza but am off to Rome tomorrow.

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    And LoveItaly, glad you're enjoying the report. You really do need to go to Italy when you can do exactly what you want to do. I realize it's nice to visit friends there, but is there something you would like to do that none of them ever wants to do? I highly recommend doing it! That is the biggest advantage of traveling solo, you can do whatever you please!

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    Susan,

    Love the account of your time in Pienza. It is so nice to slow down and really explore one place.

    It is terrific that you went and that your husband knew and accepted your need to go. It means you have a terrific relationship.

    You have lots of good advice and I'm looking forward to Romw.

    cw

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    Hello SusanP, yes dear one you are correct. Now don't get me wrong, with all my beautiful friends in Italy and their enthusiam in taking me to places that most people never know about or go to I am so fortunate and for sure I am not complaining. And my dear late husband and I (always with a rental car) went to places that are never mentioned here on Fodors. So I consider myself very blessed to have been to so many "out of the way places in Italy".

    Maybe I am tired, Susan, I don't know. But the thought of going to Italy on my own, and spending time in Italy on my own has been something I have been thinking about. But I also would love to see all my dear friends while I am there also, I do love them so, and I sure can't afford to go back to Italy every time I turn around unfortunatly.

    Sooo, I have to figure out all of this. Go to Italy, spend time on my own, and then go and visit my dear friends etc. That I guess would be the best solution.

    BTW, how good is your Italian?? Mine is terrible although I do manage when I am there. And did understand the Italian language when I was little. Are you fluent in Italian? I would be interested in that if you don't mind my asking. Thank you again for such a beautiful and interesting report. You make me want to go to the airport right this moment and take the next plane to beautiful Italy.

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    cw, Yes, a lot of husbands might not like their wife going alone. And I thoroughly enjoyed taking it easy in Pienza!

    LoveItaly, I think your idea of going for a while on your own and then moving on to stay with friends sounds like a good plan. I am not at all fluent in Italian, I know very little. I had a brief tape program of things a tourist might need to know that I worked on before leaving, but my grasp of the language was minimal. I really didn't have any problem. I always asked politely in Italian if someone spoke English and they almost always did. And of course, I knew the really important things, like how to order 1/2 litre of the house red wine! :-d

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    cdaunis, After you get to www.trenitalia.com, click on English, then enter your starting point (Venice) and destination (Florence) and enter the day and time you're interested in. It will bring up the trains leaving around the time you've entered. Choose the one you want and click on "Buy" and it will take you right through the process. I think the ticketless option is already checked, so you would have to change it if you wanted to pick up the tickets. However, ticketless is the way to go. You don't have to stamp your ticket or anything, just get on the train, find your seat, and when the conductor comes around you give him your confirmation and he will give you a receipt. Very easy!

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    Thanks, I guess I had the wrong website, I thought you had advised to use Eurostar, no matter, I'll do it today, again thanks. Two weeks and one day to go, but who's counting!

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    Hello again SusanP, can one catch a bad cold over the computer? I have one also! Had a bit of a one, felt great yesterday but woke up this morning feeling so terrible.

    Take care of yourself and don't worry about the balance of your trip report until you are feeling up to it.

    Susan, thank you for your comments to me and you are absolutely correct. I am in the process of working on a trip...no details worked out yet but think it will be wonderful.

    Take good care of yourself and get well soon.

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    Hello SusanP. I am also enjoying your trip report. I returned from a trip to the Amalfi Coast a week ago, and I am also getting over a nasty cold. Must be the air travel... Kudos to you for travelling on your own. My first trip to Italy was also by myself. Feel better, and I look forward to the rest.

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    Thanks for taking the time to recount your adventures. I was especially glad that you enjoyed Luca. We too found him to be terrific. When we were with him for 1.5 days this past March, he said he was about to take on an associate. Sounds like he chose wisely which is great to hear.

    Welcome home.

    Dave

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    SusanP - we stumbled upon Sette diVino in Pienza while we were there last month and thought it was one of our most enjoyable casual meals. We also had the grilled Pecorino with bacon and the white bean soup. With a mixed salad and a mezzo litre of red wine, it was a simple yet fabulous lunch! We were there on a Sunday lunch and seated upstairs where a couple of multi-generational Italian families were also enjoying il pranzo. Quite the local atmosphere. And Pienza itself, I agree couldn't be lovelier. I had a fabulous time gourmet food shopping and admiring the awesome views from the walkway around the edge of town.

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    hazel, I brought home a bunch of that Pecorino cheese as well.

    The cold is hanging on, but I'm getting there. Here's some more, and I'll try to finish tomorrow.

    Luca picks me up the next morning and we’re off to Orvieto. I mention to him that I decided to rest up instead of going to Montepulciano. He suggests that we can just drive through if I like, and I agree. Steep, steep, steep! I have to admit I’m glad I’m not walking either way on his hill! (I know there is a little bus that takes you from the bus station to the top of town, but you’d still have to do a good bit of walking to stop anywhere along the way.) I’m sure I would have enjoyed seeing more here but don’t regret staying in Pienza. Just outside of Montepulciano, we stop at the Church of San Biagio. I had read about the echo effect here, so I go stand directly in the center under the dome and clap my hands once. It echoes a whole bunch of times around the church. Very cool! I’m glad we stopped.

    ORVIETO AND ROME

    We drive to Orvieto and Luca drops me off right at the Duomo and goes to park the car. I sit on the ledge across the street from the church to wait for him and just take in the front. Of course, another amazing church! You could spend half the day just looking at the façade. I’m thinking that they really need a good housekeeper inside, though, the sculptures have a thick layer of dust covering them and there are lots of cobwebs around! I also check out the Etruscan Museum directly across the street. Lots of vases and pottery, it was interesting but I wouldn’t necessarily call it a must-see. I check out a couple of the ceramic shops as well. Note that when you come out of the Duomo, diagonally across the street to the right is a shop that will ship to the US for free.

    I know there is more to see in Orvieto, but I decide I’d like to catch the train to Rome that leaves around 1:25 pm, so we go back to the car and drive to the station. Luca says he’ll come in with me and he takes care of getting the ticket and handles the luggage (22” rolling suitcase and carryon). Getting to the track involves going down one flight of stairs and up another, and my suitcase is heavy by this time with all that Pecorino cheese plus all the other stuff I bought! Of course, I could have done it myself, but it’s nice to have the help. Luca goes further above and beyond the call of duty and waits for the train and just lifts the luggage up to me. He has been a pleasure to travel with. I’m on an IC train, one of those with compartments with six seats each, and I have a nice conversation with an American woman who is an international real estate agent and also is on a shopping trip for a shop she owns (although if you listen to her, you will never go to Rome and St. Peter’s is dark and not worth seeing!).

    I get to Termini and get off and go out to get a taxi to my hotel. The meter seems to be adding amounts rather quickly. I obviously don’t know Rome, but I know basically what direction we go and I’m good with maps, and he doesn’t seem to be driving around in circles, but with a small tip, the ride costs $20 to just south of Piazza Navona. I know there is an extra charge for luggage, and it seems to me there might also be a surcharge for pickup from the train station, but I can’t remember for sure. Hmmmm, I thought taxi rides in Rome were generally supposed to be reasonable, maybe I’ll take the bus even more than I had planned!

    I have a reservation for five nights at a convent, Istituto Santa Giuliana Falconieri, Via San Giuseppe Calasanzio 1. It’s off of Corso d. Rinascimento, just southeast of Piazza Navona. It’s 45E for a single with shared bath. Now, prior to this trip, I would never have even considered a shared bath, so I’m not sure what possessed me to try one this time. OK, actually, I do know! The difference between the hotel I had previously booked and the convent is enough to pay Luca for a third day with a private driver. I’m a little worried that I will hate it! I find that it’s really not that bad. It’s not like a college dorm, where someone may come in while you’re drying off from your shower. You still have a separate room with toilet, sink and shower that you lock while you’re in there. It’s a bit of a pain to have to remember to take everything you need when you go for your shower, but really not a big thing.

    The room is simple and plain but fine (actually maybe a hair bigger than my room in Florence) and the bed is comfortable. And you certainly can’t beat the location, about two minutes to walk over to Piazza Navona and convenient to lots of bus lines, both on Corso d. Rinascimento and Corso Vittorio Emanuale. Sister Katherine is from the US and obviously speaks perfect English, and I really don’t have trouble communicating with a couple of others who are on the desk at various times. If I ask which bus I need, they know, and if I ask for directions and don’t quite understand what they’re saying, I pull out my map and they show me. All were very helpful. Continental breakfast is included (croissants). There is a midnight curfew (actually 11:50 p m), but they now have a guard on duty at night, and when I say that I’m pretty sure I will be late due to the opera, they assure me it will be OK. I tell the girl on the desk that I’ve read stories about people getting back to a convent five minutes late and being locked out for the night, but she is adamant that I don’t have to worry about that happening!

    I head over to Campo de Fiori. Most things are gone. There are a couple of stands selling flowers on the far side, but otherwise all that is there is a big pile of smelly garbage in the middle of the square. Yuck! Not exactly a good introduction to Rome! OK, guess you need to be there a LOT earlier in the day…

    Being a cat lover, I continue on to Torre Argentina to see the Cat Sanctuary. On the way, I realize I never got around to having any lunch, so I get a gelato to hold me until dinner. Of course, you want to take all of those cats home. Even if I could, my cat would never stand for it! He’s not interested in sharing his space. There is one particularly cute young cat who keeps crawling under a piece of cardboard they have at the entrance, so be careful where you step. I go on to the Pantheon and enjoy that. It’s wonderful when you think about how long it’s been standing. I’m amazed how much wonderful art and architecture is free or a very low cost to see in Italy.

    I’m meeting Fodorite Mike (screename barbmike) tonight for dinner at L’Orso 80, Via dell Orso, north of Piazza Navona. I’m not sure how long it will take to walk over there, so I end up a little early. This is not a bad thing in Italy! The street numbers don’t always run they way you think they will, as residential and commercial numbers are intertwined along the street. And I foolishly thought that the 80 in the name of the restaurant meant that was the street number. It doesn’t! So I end up there just about the time we were to meet. He gets there around the same time. Again, I highly recommend meeting up with Fodorites for dinner on your trip! We have a great time. Naturally, we order L’Orso 80’s famous antipasto selection. I take a picture of the more than a dozen dishes they bring for us to share. Who could need more than all this to eat? We don’t but decide we do have room for dessert, so get a chocolate cake flavored with something alcoholic and Limoncello. Mike is a great conversationalist and it’s fun to share dinner with him. As the perfect gentleman, he walks back with me to my hotel on the way to his. A very nice evening!

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    I will not volunteer for the housekeeping job, not one of my favorite chores anyway.

    Wow, I am getting to like Luca. That is some service, well beyond what I would expect.

    Thanks for this portion I am sure it does take lots of time and energy. Now back to your chicken soup………

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    Greetings SusanP,

    When you travel by yourself baby, you don't have to move fast for ANYONE! Well done and good for you!

    Love your title, love your report, love you made your Newark connection!

    My DH and I leave for Florence and venice in, ummmmmmmmm, 106 days! We can't wait. We had considered Luca for a day trip out of Florence. Was there a spot in particular that was your favorite that would make a good day trip from Florence?

    Thank you for sharing your journey with us, I have so enjoyed it.

    A fellow bad knee girl, Tiff

    p.s. Hope your cold is gone! I got rid of mine a few days ago, I think! Ahhhhhhhh, chooooooooo!

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    Simone, I'm not the greatest housekeeper myself! One of my favorite sayings: A perfectly kept house is the sign of a misspent life!

    And yes, Luca was great!

    SeaUrchin, Although I didn't mention it specifically, I appreciated your initial comment after my first segment. I'd love to be in one of those cafes right now!

    Tiff, You are so right, the main advantage of travelling alone is doing whatever you please without holding anyone up. I think Luca is worth every penny (he's actually much more reasonable than some other drivers/tour guides I found on the internet).

    One of my favorite things was Sant'Antimo Abbey, near Montalcino. You could easily do Monte Oliveto Maggiore, Montalcino and Sant'Antimo in one day, or if there were other towns you wanted to do along with Sant'Antimo, you can pick and choose when it's your own tour. I pretty much knew what I wanted to see, and Luca added a couple of very tiny towns to my itinerary that I really enjoyed. If you're not sure what you want, he will suggest itineraries for you. And he knows what time they do the Gregorian Chants at Sant'Antimo, which adds to the experience, but as I mentioned, if for some reason you can't be there for those, it's still worth visiting. Just remind him that you want to stop ahead of getting there for a great spot for a picture of it in its valley. Beautiful! As is obvious from what I've told about him, he will definitely take care of you if you have a mobility problem. Hope you have a great trip!

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    Susan, welcome back! I realized I did not have your email to tell you how much fun we had at dinner so I was glad to see your report tonight. I am impressed with how quickly you got this done. We got back on the 25th and I haven't even transcribed my brief notes yet. Argh! I am the worst with trip reports but enjoying yours thoroughly and laughing as I recalled our fun evening. Happy travels always! JenV

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    We didn't get to see much of Pienza when we were in Italy...it's about time we went back :-) sounds like I could easily do three days or more there. Thanks for the wonderful report.

    What exactly do they do with the Bacon and that grilled Pecorino?

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    Thank you Susan for your detailed response, I greatly appreciate it!

    Look for my trip report this February, hopefully it will bring back the pleasant memories of your trip. A lil something to warm you on an otherwise normal winter's day!

    Thank you again, Tiff :)

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    LadyofLeisure, They just grill the cheese for about 3 mins per side. I assume the bacon is already cooked and they just lay it on the cheese after it's flipped to the second side. Delicious! I also had it just grilled without the bacon. Love that cheese...

    Tiff, I realized afterwards that when I did the Monte Oliveto Maggiore, Montalcino and Sant'Antimo day, it was from Siena, leaving around 9:00 am and ending up in Pienza around 4:00 pm. If you wanted to do that itinerary out of Florence, you might have to leave a little earlier, as it would obviously be a further distance.

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    I've been unable to check in on Fodors for about 6 weeks and what a lovely trip report was waiting for me when I returned, thank you SusanP!!
    I'm so glad you had such a wonderful trip. I too am now longing to go on a solo trip to Italy...

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    TexasAggie, Thanks, I enjoyed your report as well. All that great pizza!

    OK, here's the rest:

    I find the Rome buses to be quite easy to navigate. There are signs at each stop showing exactly where each bus goes and the stops are easy to spot when you’re on the bus. I only get off one stop early once.

    The next morning, I want to go to Santa Maria della Vittoria to see the Ecstasy of Theresa sculpture. Very easy on Bus 62 to the Largo Santa Susanna stop. The sculpture is wonderful and everything I’ve read focuses on that, but this church itself is really something to see. Very ornate, lots of gold and sculpture and paintings all around. They have Theresa’s story available in numerous languages to give you the background.

    I wander over through Barberini Square and on to the Trevi Fountain. It’s pretty crowded but not absolutely mobbed and I manage to get some good pictures. There are too many people down close, so I don’t throw my coin in, but I refuse to believe that this means I will never return to Rome! With five nights there, I only scratch the surface and definitely need to go back. I continue on to Sant’Ignazio di Loyola. Very interesting ceiling here by Andrea Pozzo with four women representing Asia, Europe, America and Africa. I don’t have much time here, as it closes at 12:30, but just before they kick us out, a group of men and women start singing a cappella. It is beautiful! I think they must be on tour as a choral group. (Turns out that this is my day for music, with more to follow later plus the opera.)

    Next I walk over to Santa Maria Sopra Minerva and Bernini’s Elephant Obelisk. Another impressive ceiling with an unusual bright blue background. There is a lot of scaffolding here and a good portion of the church is blocked off. I have what I think are directions from here to find that huge marble foot, but I never find it. I do get a slice of pizza at a local place on Via del Marmo, one of those places where they cut off however much you want and weigh it. I already had some water, and the pizza cost a grand total of 1.40E. Can’t beat that! I go back to the hotel for a rest a bit early due to my plans for later.

    I have a ticket for the opera to see the Marriage of Figaro tonight, so I figure it would be efficient to go early enough to see Santa Maria Maggiore first, since it is so close to the Opera House. Again, very easy to take Bus 70 to get there. When I get off the bus, I go towards what I think is the front. Naturally, it’s the wrong way, so I have to walk all the way around to get to the entrance. Of course, there is a LOT to see here. I slowly work my way up the right side of the church and across the front. I’m at The Lady Chapel near the front on the left and was going to go in, but there are a bunch of people in there, so maybe they’re getting ready for a service. So I’m just standing there gazing in at the chapel when I feel someone tap my shoulder. I turn, and a nun is pointing behind me. I turn around, and walking directly towards me is a procession of about two dozen priests in a double row with candles and a cross. Just as I get out of their way, they start singing on their way into the chapel. Wonderful! The music is beautiful.

    I walk back towards the Opera House to get some dinner. I had posted a question before leaving to see about somewhere to eat, since the one that sounded good, Ristorante del Giglio, doesn’t open until 7:00 and I’m not sure if I can be done early enough. As I come towards it at around 6:30, they are starting to set up the outside tables, so I stop and ask if I can be out before 8:00 if I am there right at 7:00. He says no problem, so I do have dinner there. It’s on Via Torino, directly across the street from the Opera House. The Clam & Mussel Saute and Veal Escalop w/Gorgonzola Sauce is delicious. With small water and wine, 33E.

    For some strange reason, I’ve never been to the opera before. I love many types of music, but even when I lived in NYC a long time ago and went to the theater a lot and even the ballet a couple of times, I never went to the opera. Guess back then I didn’t think I would like it. This is the time to try it! I had looked up the story ahead of time so that I would have at least some idea of what was going on. I enjoy it very much, although my seat isn’t quite what I expected. It’s one of the side boxes, first-come first-served as far as which seat you get (I thought I had a specific assigned seat), and you need to sit right up to the edge of the box to see anything. This means no room to stretch your legs out, which I need to do occasionally (sitting still in the same position for a long time is as bad for arthritis as too much walking/stairclimbing). Good thing there are two intermissions to stretch my legs! But the music is great, and I don’t think it will be the last time I go to the opera.

    You can order a taxi during intermission. I knew this thanks to someone here on Fodor’s. I don’t see the table to do it, though. I realize when I am leaving that I didn’t go far enough when looking. There is still no problem, she gives me a slip with the taxi number and he is waiting right outside. It’s a quick ride back with little traffic (after midnight by this time). Before leaving the hotel earlier, I had reminded the girl that I would probably be late for the curfew and she wrote a note for the guard, so he is expecting me and there’s no problem getting in. I’m glad I didn’t have to leave the opera early.

    I’m tired after all that walking and the opera, so I sleep in a little the next morning, then take Bus 64 to the Cavalleggeri stop for the Vatican (Bus 46 goes to the same stop). I have a reservation with Icon Tours for their 12:15 pm tour of the Vatican & St. Peter’s (25E). Turns out it actually starts at 12:30. I’m getting a little worried that nobody is going to show up, but our guide, Steve, is there right at 12:30. He has just finished taking the group through St. Peter’s. My tour was supposed to be for the Vatican Museums first and then St. Peter’s, and there are a few others who have that reserved as well. I ask him later why they make him do the St. Peter’s portion twice, both before and after the Vatican, and he says it’s sometimes difficult to schedule the morning for St. Peter’s. Sure makes a long day for him.

    We go over to the American Bar, where they check everyone in and people can get something to eat and use the restrooms. I figure I better eat, since I missed breakfast and the tour is to be 2-1/2 hours. Good thing I did, as it goes a LOT longer! The prosciutto & mozzarella panini is OK, nothing great, 3E. I already had water, as I figured I would want it for the tour.

    Steve is a great guide. We go into the Pinecone Courtyard at the Vatican Museums where they have placards set up all around with descriptions of the paintings in the Sistine Chapel. Rather than stand around one of these in the hot sun, Steve takes us over to the stairs at one end in the shade. He gives a very thorough explanation of the Sistine Chapel, including lots of interesting information about Michelangelo and what was going on at that time. He has to keep asking other people who have not paid for the tour to please move over away from the group. A couple of guys just keep sitting there. He finally addresses them directly and they pretend to only speak Spanish. We all know that they definitely speak English! Guess this is an ongoing problem for the tour guides. I think he spends longer on the information than usual, as it is obvious the group is really interested. He asks a couple of times if it’s too much, and nobody wants him to cut it down.

    We see a lot of interesting stuff in the museums (obviously you can’t see it all in one tour) and end up in the Sistine Chapel. It’s definitely nicer to see that ceiling after learning a lot about it. Most of the group had seen St. Peter’s earlier, so there are only five of us for the last portion. However, Steve explains that tour guides are not supposed to give tours in St. Peter’s after 5:00, and it’s just after (yes, it was a lot longer than scheduled because he have us so much great information). He tells us to just act like we are a family looking at St. Peter’s and he will discreetly tell us as much as he can. Of course, it’s something you must see!

    It’s late and I’m much too tired to go back to the hotel via Castel Sant’Angelo as I had planned, so I just take the bus back and collapse for a while! I want someplace close for dinner, so I set out to find one on my list just west of Piazza Navona. I never find it and get to the point where I don’t want to walk another foot, so I just go in the restaurant that is right there. Sometimes this can turn out to be a good thing! It’s called La Danesina Hostaria, Via del Governo Vecchio. I pretty sure I’m the only American in the place, at least in the outdoor section. Most seem to be Italians.

    The menu is in Italian, but heck, I’ve been here two weeks, I think I’m doing pretty well translating a lot of it. Ha! I think I’ve ordered tomatoes and Buffalo mozzarella, but she sets down soup in front of me (guess the word “terrine” should have clued me in!). Oh well, this isn’t Campbell’s--it’s obviously homemade with thick slices of Buffalo mozzarella melting on top and is absolutely delicious! I may have to come again just for the soup. The Saltimbocca a Romano also does not disappoint and is served with a sort of timbale (not tapenade) of whole olives, capers and some sort of grain, I’m thinking something like tahini (do they use tahini in Italy?). Anyway, I love it. Also served with mashed potatoes baked with cheese. I decide to splurge and have dessert when I see Sicilian Cannolis on the menu. Maybe this is a more southern Italian thing, as it’s the first time I’ve seen it on any menu. They bring two huge cannolis and the Limoncello I ordered to go with it. The best cannoli I’ve ever had. I can only eat one. A great meal, 31.50E.

    I wander back through Piazza Navona, looking at the paintings, as I would like to get one. I stop and look at some at one stand with nobody there, but the artist is actually just behind me. I tell him quite truthfully that I don’t have any cash with me (I really was down to about 10 or 20E), but he says go ahead and look. Of course, people probably tell him that all the time. We just start talking and he reaches over and lifts up my gold necklace and drops it inside my shirt and says don’t wear that around here. When he asks what I’ve been eating, I tell him about my experience with the terrine, trying to make it humorous, and a couple of other experiences with menus. He is soon laughing with me. He asks if this is my first time in Rome. I’ve had this question quite a few times, so I give my usual answer: I was in Rome for about 3 days, 45 years ago. I get the usual look as though I must be crazy! (It’s kind of fun to get that reaction.) I explain that as a very young child, I was on a month-long concert tour with a children’s chorus. We talk more and he tells me some interesting things about Piazza Navona and the fountain and, among other things, tells me to watch my purse on the buses. It’s like we’ve known each other for a long time. He says he had had an awful day and thanks me for cheering him up, then walks me back to my hotel and assures me that I have a friend in Rome and to let him know if I need anything. I do think when you’re traveling alone, people are more likely to start up conversations with you, and obviously you meet some great people that way.

    I’m up early the next morning for my 9:15 Scavi Tour and catch Bus 46 to get there. I had requested the reservation way back in March and had received my confirmation ten weeks later. It is worth whatever hassle you have to go through to get the reservation! Fascinating! Note that it would be a good idea to take a bottle of water with you, it was VERY hot and humid down there. The next part of my day is in the other direction from my hotel, so I take the bus back there.

    I ask one of the nuns if there is a grocery store anywhere around and she tells me where to go. I start off and never find it (and later was told that there really aren’t any in that area). However, I’ve gone in the general direction of my goal, Santa Maria in Cosmedin, so I continue on, thinking that I’ll get on a bus for the rest of the way at some point. I end up going right by the Temple of Apollo and the Theatre of Marcellus, which I hadn’t expected to get to. Somewhere along in here I had pizza for lunch in the Jewish Ghetto that was forgettable, so I didn’t even write down the name of the place. I find that once you get over into this area, there is NOPLACE to buy a bus ticket! And I never see a taxi stand, either, so I end up walking all the way to Santa Maria in Cosmedin. I wait in line around 15 minutes to get my picture with the Mouth of Truth. I need to get back to Vittorio Emanuelle II Monument to meet up with my 4:00 pm tour with Icon Tours of the Forum and Colosseum and would be happy to pay for a taxi, if only I could find one. I have definitely walked too much considering I have a 2-1/2-hour tour coming up.

    Fortunately, I make it to Vittorio Emanuelle around 40 minutes before the tour. This is a good thing, I can sit down and rest my knees for awhile. When the guide, Mike, comes, I ask what order he will be doing the tour, thinking that maybe I’ll skip Palantine Hill. He says that will be in the middle but that they come down just a very short distance from where they go up, so I can skip it and wait for them if I like. I’ll see how I’m doing at that point. Mike is another great guide and gives lots of information all along the way. We start with the Mamertine Prison and then on to the Forum. It’s a very interesting tour, but I’m already thinking that I’ll skip Palantine Hill. By the end of the Forum, I realize that I’ve had enough. I tell Mike that I think I’ll just have to skip the Colosseum as well, as my right knee in particular has had it. He is sorry I have to leave and says that if I like, I can come back for the Colosseum portion tomorrow and tells me where to meet him. I thank him but realize I probably won’t do that. I’m sorry to miss the rest, but at least I see the Colosseum from the outside. I make my way over across the street and get a taxi back to the hotel, where I crash!

    Leaving the tour early gives me enough time to really rest my knees before getting a shower and going to dinner. I’m supposed to be meeting Fodorite Barb tonight at der Pallaro, Largo di Pallaro. Barb never shows up, so I’m not sure what happened to her. There is no menu at der Pallaro, you get whatever they’re cooking that night (I knew this ahead of time). I’m served three things for antipasto, a pasta, then veal with homemade potato chips and fresh mozzarella with fagiole beans in olive oil and mint, dessert and ½ litre of wine. With a small tip, 23E. Can’t beat the price for a lot of good food.

    I walk back over to Piazza Navona to see my new friend, as I really did like his paintings, and this time I have some cash! He writes me a nice note on the back of the one I choose. A very nice momento, and we enjoy another conversation. Can’t believe I only have one day left in Italy.

    After the previous day, I was very tired and forgot to set my alarm. Slept right through my reservation at the Galleria Borghese. I love sculpture and really wanted to see this, so I guess that’s a good reason to return to Rome. It is a nasty, rainy day, so my plans for after the Borghese, which had been to walk through their gardens over to the Spanish Steps, wouldn’t have been that great. Actually, I’m not feeling very well, and the gloomy day doesn’t help, so I really don’t do much the last day. I do go for a short walk and buy a large totebag to ease the strain on my luggage and go back and do my packing.

    For dinner, I do go back to La Danesina Hostaria for some more of that delicious soup. There are three ladies sitting next to me (you know how close those tables are) and one of them wonders what it is, so I tell her about thinking I was ordering something else. She is French but is living in Switzerland and is traveling with her mother and her aunt and is yet another person interested in the fact that I’m by myself. When I decide I have to have those cannolis and Limoncello again, she again wonders what that is. She has never heard of a cannoli. I ask her if she’d like to try one, as I really can’t eat both of them. At first, she declines, but I assure her that I will have to leave one, so she agrees. I ask the waitress for another plate and some forks and give them one to share. They all agree it’s delicious. They are ordering espresso and offer to get me one as well, but I thank them and explain that I really don’t like coffee and never drink it. I’m perfectly happy to just finish my Limoncello!

    I have a reservation with www.airportshuttle.it to go to the airport the next morning. I know most people on Fodor’s use limoservicerome.com, but bobthenavigator recommends airportshuttle, and that’s good enough for me! I don’t see why I should pay 45E when I can get the exact same service for 26E. They are prompt (he actually arrives ten minutes early), we have one more pickup over by Campo de Fiori. The vendors are just setting up, a much nicer thing to see than their pile of garbage when they’re done.

    Before I close, I’ll say that I’m happy to answer any further questions. It was a fabulous trip! My flights home were smooth and on time. I had waited until Rome to buy some Limoncello to bring home (why drag it all through Italy) and then somehow never got around to getting it. I wasn’t worried, I was sure I could get some at the airport. After paying the heartstopping amount of 13.70E for a paperback book (I really wanted something to read on the way home), I found Limoncello that was on sale. Hmmmm, I guess I really should buy two… :-d

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    A couple of miscellaneous things I didn't get into in the report:

    Phone Card:
    I bought the Europa card (had to go to three tabacchi shops in Venice before I found one). You can't beat it, 5E for 200 international minutes. I will mention here that when I had dinner with Mike in Rome, he talked about having trouble with minutes being deducted at around 6 minutes for 1 minute actually used. I didn't have this problem at all, it definitely deducted the lenghth of time I had talked.

    Dynamic Currency Conversion:
    It's alive and well, especially in Venice and Florence. My experience was like that of others, often the clerk doesn't know what's going on, but in each case, it was clear to me that the manager knew exactly what was happening.

    Even when I specifically asked before the charge was put through and was assured I would be charged in Euro, it still showed up that US $ amount. As others have reported, they insisted this was just for information purposes. I insisted it be credited and charged again in Euro, and they did it. Obviously, they are depending on the ignorance of travelers.

    When I charged things in Siena and Pienza, I never ran into it.

    I had an interesting conversation about it with the guy at Atmosfera Veneziana in Venice. He doesn't try to use it, as he isn't interested in cheating his customers. He explained that the store doesn't actually get any money per se from this transaction. The bank clearing the transaction gives them a 1% break on their Visa charges, so they do save. The bank gets the rest of the difference, so they're really the ones cleaning up, although that 1% for the store could add up as well.

    I have to admit that it is very wearing to have to constantly be on the lookout for this, and as a result I definitely used cash more than I usually would have. In Rome, I just didn't feel like worrying about it, so I used cash for everything except my hotel, so I can't say how widespread it is there.

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    Oh I'm so glad you loved Rome :-) I too have missed the Borghese on my last several trips and use it as one of many excuses why we must keep returning. Your food descriptions are so detailed that I'm now hungry and it is only a little before 3pm here... :-((

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    Hi Susan P., Have to go out so am quickly saying how much I enjoyed "going" to Venice with you and look forward to reading about the rest of your trip! More later and thanks for a wonderful report!

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    Bravo Susan!

    Thank you for the time you put into writing this report. I greatly enjoyed following you through your travels.

    And now, you must plan a return, if only to visit the Borghese!

    Now it's time to have a sip of my Limoncello that's sitting in the freezer.

    cw

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    Glad you've enjoyed it. I was just saying to my husband that I wrote it as much for myself as for Fodor's. It's nice to be able to go back and read it. And my Limoncello is in the freezer, too!

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    Thank you very much for such an interesting report. I felt that it was especially tailored to my needs.

    I have a couple of questions regarding
    Instituto Santa Giuliana Falconieri. How did you make your reservation, were you able to use a credit card?
    Do you know if they have rooms with bathrooms? By the way, that was a great rate for a room in Rome.

    I want to travel alone because I feel that I may need to rest or stay in my room at times without inconveniencing my travel companion. In your case it seems you were able to recognize when it was time to stop and relax. I loved your attitude. I am glad you enjoyed your trip.

    Thanks again.

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    Susan I so enjoyed your trip report. I think you and I must have the same knees. I was in Italy 3 years ago with my daughter and I had a terrible time with my knees. Gave us a good reason to stop often for wine. I went back this past May and brought with me a fold up chair I had bought from magellians.com and it was wonderful when the lines were long. I could just pop it open and sit. I know what you mean about looking for benches and places to sit. I always have my eyes open. I sat in front of "David" for 1/2 hour until I spied someone getting up from behind him and got over to that bench and sat at his behind for another period of time to rest. Try the seat it is great, folds up like an umbrella. I am returning in November for Thanksgiving and will be there with 3 of our children and hubby. One is studying abroad in Perugia and the other fell in love with Italy when we were there 3 years ago she is now living in Florence. I did take your advice on a few places and will add it to the ones we already have tried and loved. Thank you Fodorites, what a wealth of information you have given me for my previous trips and for the most part your recommendations have been great.

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    Simone, Sister Katherine at Istituto Santa Giuliana (in case you want to do a search, note there is no "n" in Istituto) told me there is only one double room that has ensuite bath. As I mentioned, I was a little leary of going with a shared bath, but the location, elevator and price made me try it. I have to say it really wasn't bad. I never had to wait to use the shower (although I will note that I prefer to take my shower after a hot day of sightseeing before dinner, as opposed to in the morning).

    They do take credit cards. I made my reservation by email:
    s.giuliana@tin.it

    I hope you go and have a wonderful time and I'm glad I was able to help you with more information. If you have any other questions, just let me know.

    kadurk49, There were a couple of times I thought about those fold-up chairs. I've seen them built into a cane as well, although I really don't need a cane. I have to say that most times I was able to find somewhere to sit down for a few minutes when I needed to.

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    Thank you for your trip report, Susan. I really enjoyed it and found it refreshing to see how you acknowledge and work around your gimpy knees. I have bad feet and have many of the same issues, so it was neat to see you be so open and honest in accepting and working with the challenges you faced.

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    Brava, SusanP! The Scuola d.Carmini in Venice and Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome are such gems and I was delighted to recall two of my favorites. Thanks again for your wonderful report. Big sigh for Italy!

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    donco, glad you enjoyed the rest!

    Mary Fran, I hope I encourage others with similar problems to go ahead and travel. I refuse to let my limitations keep me at home! I know there are certain things I can't do (stand in line for two or three hours, climb towers or domes with hundreds of steps are two that come to mind), but you can still see a lot. I'm sure there are plenty of people who get to more than I do, especially in Rome, but the things I missed just give me a reason to go back! I still did do a TON of stairs throughout the trip, but I can't think of a single instance where I thought, "Gee this isn't worth all those steps I just climbed." It was always worth it!

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    I still have a little limoncello bottle on my study file cabinet. A little goes a long ways, as I remember. This bottle came from Capri which I'm sure you will one day visit and enjoy. Thanks, Susan, for remembrances of our several visits in Italy. You were plucky to be on your own.

    I was getting over heart surgery when traveling last June to Central Europe but found that all the walking did me good. But that's not the same with sore knees, right?
    ozarksbill

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    Ozarksbill, No, it's not like getting in shape or conditioning where walking and stairs help you out. Unfortunately, it doesn't help your arthritis at all! Glad you enjoyed the report.

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    Susan, I enjoyed your report as well as having dinner with you in Rome. BTW, since you didn't see the bill at L'Orso as it was a pleasure buying you dinner, the total cost was 49 Euros for all that food, desert and after dinner drink.

    I see Barb is now 2 for 2 in meeting people in Rome for dinner.

    I was thinking of you during the Scavi tour as I thought it was rather "rough" in some of the locations. That being said, it truly was worth staying an extra day in Rome

    I had a great time with my newly wed daughter and son-in-law in Annapolis, Maryland before FINALLY getting back to my GREAT wife in California.

    Happy Travels, Mike

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    Thanks for your report Susan. Your trip sounds lovely, and such fun! Oh, and not to dump on Barb, but she is 3 for 3 as she was supposed to meet us for drinks last March but her day trip delayed her, and she never made it. We did meet ParadiseLost (Walter) so it was a still a good evening. And it was warm enough to sit outside.I wish we could go again this year.

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    Hi Mike, Glad you had a good time on your way back. I didn't have too much trouble on the Scavi Tour, not to say that I didn't need to sit down for a few minutes when I came out! I can't believe I didn't mention your generosity in treating me to dinner. I appreciated it very much, and it was fun evening!

    Suki, I've always thought that I'd love to have Walter as a guide to the Forum and other ancient sites in Rome! Glad you enjoyed the report.

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    Thanks for the great trip report. You were speaking my language, as I also have arthritis and understand the difference between 6 and 16 stairs. We are making our 3rd trip to Italy in May, but our 1st trip to Venice. I was pleased to read your explanation of walking on the vaporetto. I was a little concerned about how that would work. I, like you, end up finding hotels that others may not because they have an elevator. Many times this means paying more, but you do what you need to do ! We will be staying at Hotel Ala in Venice. Also, I LOVED the idea of a private tour guide in Tuscany, but must admit the price scares me to death. You really think it was close to the price of renting a car plus gas? Again, thank you !!

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    Ira,
    I did check. It is about $500 for a week. We will be picking the car up in Florence and then going to Assisi (staying in Malvarina) and then off to Siena for 3 days, with the drop off back in Florence to fly home. I would love a private tour of Tuscany, but I guess that would mean the car just sits while we are there. I thought of just driving to Siena, dropping the car off, doing a private tour for a day and just be without a car for 2 of the days (you don't need one for the town of Siena) and then taking the train to Florence. I can't seem to get the rates to show for that scenerio on Auto Europe and then that also adds the price of the train for 2 back to Florence. I seem to be "challenged" when it comes to figuring out how to use the trenitalia website. I can't find the timetables to get me to their rates! I know I am rambling, but you folks are brilliant, so hopefully you can follow my thought (or unthought) process.

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    cigalechanta, thanks, I enjoyed your recent report on France as well.

    travel52, as I mentioned, I can't drive a shift and an automatic car is a lot more expensive. If I had been driving, I would have felt the need for a cell phone. The car, plus gas, tolls and the phone would have been very expensive. Also, there are sometimes problems with pickup and dropoff on Sunday.

    Luca now charges 30E per hour, I believe, for 1-2 people (not per person). I paid 25E, but he has recently had to increase his price solely due to the price of gas. I set up my days with him so that I was doing the touring on the way to my next stop, where I would stay for a day or two (and wouldn't have needed a car while staying put). That way, I was also avoiding the cost of a bus or train to move from one town to the next. For me, he was worth every penny! And as noted, I stayed at the convent in Rome in order to be able to afford a third day with him.

    If you only kept the car for the Assisi portion and dropped it off when you arrived in Siena, what would be the difference in cost over keeping it until Florence? Only you can decide if what you save doing that vs. what you pay for the private tour is worth it to you. Hope you have a great trip!

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    Susan,

    Just got back from a weekend away and have enjoyed reading the rest of your report. It sounds like your solo trip was just as wonderful as mine was. It was interesting to me to hear your different travel methods (private driver for Tuscany). There are always multiple ways to do things. Some are better for one person than another!

    I certainly agree with you about a solo traveler being more approachable and having different experiences than even just a group of 2!

    Re: car rental for the poster above. Are you getting an automatic? 500E seems very high to me. I got a manual diesel, for 8 days through Autoeurope for $332.

    Buon viaggio!

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    Hi trav,

    www.novarentacar.com will rent you a sedan with Auto transmission for 3 days for 250E. Autoeurope will meet their price.

    To get costs for trains on www.trenitalia.com look up a train within the next 60 days. Click on the shopping cart (we call them buggys here in Georgia).

    ((I))

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    Dayle, Yes, the trip was wonderful and I enjoyed traveling solo even more than I expected to.

    I know back when I was considering a rental car, I tried both Autoeurope and novarentacar. It was so long ago that I'm not sure, but that may have been where the problem with Sunday came in. And of course, in my case, part of my reason for not doing it was I decided I just didn't want to both drive and navigate by myself, especially my first time there. I admire Dayle for doing that!

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    I thought of one thing I forgot to mention. Hotel Giada in Florence and Albergo Rutiliano in Pienza do not have someone on duty at the desk 24 hours. Just thought I'd mention it, as I know that's important to some people.

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    SusanP:

    I am so sorry I didn't get to have dinner with you. I just got back Fri. and am still very jet-lagged, but I wanted to let you know that I was with a group of women who have to be the group from hell. It was a disaster! I tried to get away from them and meet you, and managed to finally get out the door, and then I couldn't find the restaurant. I even called the place, but they didn't speak English well enough to give me directions. I did find a place with same name and in that same area, I think, but it was a regular restaurant with a big menu and not where you were. Just to set the record straight - I have only missed one other GTG!! Last March, we got detained in Naples and did not get back in time. I have met many other Fodorites in the past, including Jenny in Paris and Elaine last fall in Rome. So I guess I'm 2 for 2 for reasons beyond my control and not for lack of trying.

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    Hi Barb, Sorry to have missed you. I figured something must have happened with your group, as I remembered you were traveling with 4 or 5 others. Maybe next time! I look forward to your report.

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    Hi samsmom, if you really want to "bookmark" this thread here is what you do. Click on your Favorites at the top of your screen and then click on "Add to Favorites". That way you will have this thread. Just posting BKM here doesn't mean much as this thread (from 2005) will drop way down the list in a day or two. Best regards.

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    Susan - I know this is an old thread, but I read your description about Hostaria La Danesina and went there on my recent 3 week trip to Italy (I just got back last week). And I have to thank you for your recommendation. La Danesina was incredible! And moreover, the pomodoro y basilico terrine was beyond amazing. I went there 2 days in a row. I though of you when I was there and thought of how I owed you a debt of gratitude for the great recommendation...oh and I had a limoncelllo for you! Thanks again!

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    Tiggy, glad to have been helpful. I was surprised to see this thread again. I love that soup! It's cold here, it would sure taste good right now! I think I've had it on every trip to Rome.

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    Susan that soup was incredible and La Danesina's menu was fantastic - the zucchini blossoms AND pumpkin blossoms were incredible. Plus they had an amazing array of bruschettas and crostinis to choose from. It was a highlight of my 4 days in Rome. Thakns again!

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