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Artist wants to paint in Italy-first trip 2012 fall

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Hi,
I am planning a 2 1/2- 3 week fall 2012 trip to Italy to celbrate my 60th. I am an artist (femaile) and want to spend time wandering around, seeing sites, and doing a little painting and drawing (lots of photograpy) along the way, etc. I am pretty fluent in Spanish, but not Italian; I feel comfortable being alone, although I like meeting people and being spontaneous, and I think the countryside might be as appealing as the city. I might have a friend join in for a few days of the trip.

I think Venice, Florence and the Tuscan countryside (but where??) are most appealing to me. Maybe the Adriatic? Maybe the Amalfi Coast? A day trip to Pisa? Somewhere else? Rome is not so important (too congested). I like the idea of staying longer in fewer places with day trips possible from my "base". What do you recommend?

Fying into Venice seems like a good idea, and then on to Florence. Trains are good, but I am open to renting a car if need be to explore the countryside. Advice--as in "must do", "avoid", "be careful", and "if you can, fit it in" would be wonderful.

You all seem to have wonderful advice, so thanks in advance. I look forward to your suggestions.

Susan

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