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adventureseeker, bobthenavigator, zeppole...10 days in Italy...help!

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My DH & are planning our first trip to Italy for October 2011 which will be during my 30th birthday. Our first and only trip to Europe was to Paris in October 2008. Our main focus will be Florence, Tuscan hilltowns and Cinque Terre. Our trip will be for 10 days excluding travel. I have posted, recently, on this board about which Tuscan hilltowns to visit.

Zeppole-you responded to that post. I took all the replies to that post into consideration but I still need help putting the puzzle together. I have not decided which Tuscan hilltowns to put on our itinerary so I would like some sample itineraries from you Fodorites. I know the trip will ultimately be of our choosing but I would like to know how you would put it together such as:

1) How many days in each place: Florence, Tuscan hilltowns & Cinque Terre?
*Sidenote: we don't mind renting a car, we know it will be a necessity for traveling to multiple Tuscan hilltowns.

Adventureseeker: If you read this post, a note to you...I absolutely LOVED your trip report of your 19 days in Italy! I have actually read it more than once! It is because of you that I want to go to Cinque Terre. I, as well as you, love the planning aspect of a trip.

A couple more things:
1) One Tuscan hilltown I would enjoy seeing is Cortona. I don't have to see it this first trip nor do I have to base my itinerary around seeing this one town but if someone had an idea to incorporate this town and others nearby, I would take that itinerary into consideration. It may not be everyone's taste but I do like the movie "Under the Tuscan Sun" and I don't have any notions that the town will be like a "movie".

2) An inside look: Our trip to Paris was very, for a lack of a better word, rushed. We went for one week, 6 days total, excluding travel. We were NOT overwhelmed by the language barrier or euros but the time change did affect us significantly. We flew from TX so the time difference was 7 hours ahead in Paris. We barely slept a wink on the flight over so we were off to a bad start and we did the ultimate no-no and took a nap! We slept for a couple of hours then went to get something to eat. We just felt so disoriented and it was so hard to adjust because in the mid-afternoon it was breakfast time at home. We stayed in a flat for the week and we wouldn't go to bed until almost 2am and even then it was hard to fall asleep! We would set the alarm between 7-8am but always fall back asleep until 10am. We had the "main sights" that a typical first time visitor has on their list and we weren't intentionally trying to rush from sight to sight. That is not what I want my traveling experiences to be about. With the time difference affecting us, it is what our trip turned into. I know Paris can not be seen in only one trip or even in multiple trips. I do feel I owe Paris a second chance someday. On my trips, I want to savor moments, take strolls, see some sights and experience being in that place. My dream in life is to travel the world, I have so many places I would love to see. I thought of this first trip to Italy and considered Florence, Rome and Venice. I've also considered Florence, Cinque Terre and Venice. I do worry that if we chose Rome or Venice it would Paris all over again. A big city and rushing to sights. I don't want that to happen...how do you avoid this? Ultimately it wasn't my fear of Rome or Venice turning into a rush as why I am not going there for my first time to Italy. I feel a pull towards Tuscany and I must see the five villages of CT clinging the cliff and spilling into the sea. How many of you out there think I should consider Cinque Terre, Florence and Venice? Remember, with 10 days our time is precious! How do you savor the moments and not rush from sight to sight? How do you deal with the time change?

I know this long-winded but I feel it gives in some insight as to who I am and how I want to travel and it will help you Fodorites to create a sample itinerary. Thanks in advance to any and all replies!

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