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Trip Report Eternal Italy in 15 days : 2013 Trip Report

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We just returned from a 15-day trip of Italy last night, with sore legs, stiff backs, tired eyes, but upbeat hearts and spirits ! This trip had originally been planned for May, but had to be called off at the last moment due to an illness in the family. We re-scheduled it for August, and kept our fingers crossed till the very end, half expecting another emergency to cancel this trip too. However, fortunately there were no hiccups this time, and everything went off smoothly. In hindsight, May would certainly have been a better time to visit Italy, as the weather would have been a lot cooler (August was really hot), but we managed to adjust our schedules to stay indoors during the hot afternoons on most days, so it was really not that bad.

We are a couple from India in our mid 50’s who take a vacation or two every year (we have a long bucket list of places we wish to travel to !), and love the independent style of travel. With years of travel experience, we limit our number of destinations to 4 cities within 15-16 days, so that we do not waste too much time checking in and out of hotels. However, with advancing age, we were discussing that in future we should be cutting down these vacations to 12-day lengths, as the body can no longer cope with the exertions of longer vacations.

Our itinerary for this trip was :
Venice : 3 days
Florence : 3 days
Sorrento : 5 days
Rome : 4 days

We were to fly into Venice, and out of Rome. We had done extensive planning as usual, using a Lonely Planet guidebook, internet resources, and of course travel blog sites like Fodors. We concentrated on B&B’s rather than hotels, as they appeared better for our cause in a country like Italy, and we were extremely pleased with our selections. So here goes a detailed Trip Report, as we have always posted one on this forum after returning from each of our vacations. Will be posting it in several installments, over several days.

Day 1 : Saturday Aug 10th : VENICE :
We had to leave our home town late evening on 9th August, to reach Mumbai by around 9pm, as our flight out was just after midnight. We were booked on Swiss Airlines from Mumbai to Zurich, with a good connection onward to Venice. The flight out of Mumbai got delayed by an hour due to some mechanical trouble, which caused some anxiety, as we had a tight connection to make at Zurich. Slept about 4 hours on the 8-hour flight to Zurich.

The flight reached Zurich at 6:45am local time, about 30 minutes behind schedule. We had to rush through security once again, take the skyrail to our departing terminal, go through Passport control, and when we arrived at our gate, the boarding for our flight had just started. Just in time, so we heaved a sigh of relief.

Landed at Venice Marco Polo on schedule at 8:35am local time. Got our luggage, bought Alilaguna water bus tickets at the arrival hall, and trudged to the water docks. It was only about 30 minutes or so to Fundamenta Nuove, where we alighted. From there it was only a 5-10 minute walk to our B&B : Alla Vite Dorata. We were warmly greeted by our hostess Aleksandra. We were told that our rooms were ready for an early check-in, and we were led there directly. It was a compact well-managed B&B having only 4-5 rooms, air-conditioning, with excellent breakfast, very clean housekeeping (sheets and towels changed every day), and friendly staff. Extremely well located, being just 5-7 minutes’ walk from both Fundamenta Nuove as well as the Ca D’Oro waterbus stops.

We showered, got ready, and were out of the place by 11:30am. It was a nice sunny day with a high of 31C, which was supposed to be pleasant for Venice in August. And the weather was expected to remain similar for the next 3 days. We started walking in the general direction of San Marco Plaza, but lost our bearings with respect to the map in no time. We just followed the crowds, wherever they were headed. DW kept going in and out of stores doing window shopping. We finally emerged on San Marco Plaza, and the sight of St Mark’s Basilica stared at us in front. Your first reaction on coming to San Marco Plaza has to be a cry of WOW !

It was only noon, but our body clocks registered 3:30pm, and our stomachs were growling. We crossed San Marco Plaza, and went into a side-lane behind the Museo Correr, where we located the Osteria Carla where we sat down for lunch. Had a good meal of pasta salad, and raviolis, with some average quality white wine. Overall good food and good friendly service.

Our stomachs full and satiated, we emerged by 1pm and ducked into the Museo Correr. We purchased Museum passes for E 24 each, and booked ourselves for the 2pm guided tour of the Clock Tower (at a reduced price of E 7 each). For the next hour, we went through the Museo Correr, which is a reasonably interesting museum (although I would not categorize it as a must-see in Venice). It is huge if you wish to visit every corner, but we rushed through it and still took an hour.

At 2 pm we re-assembled at the entry hall of Museo Correr, where we were met with our guide for the Clock Tower. There were only 7 of us on that tour, and our guide Elena was talkative and sweet. Visiting the Clock Tower is possible only through a Tour, and we all walked across the plaza to the Clock Tower where the tour began. It was a very intricate clock, 500 years old, which is fully functional to this day. The tour lasted about 60 minutes, during which we kept climbing up and up, although with generous breaks in between. Very interesting back-room tour of the clock’s mechanisms and its history. We finally emerged on the roof, where two giant figures beat a huge bell every hour, powered by the clock’s mechanism. The roof also offers super views of San Marco Plaza and of Venice city. A nice tour, which I would recommend to anyone. If you go here, you can probably skip the ride up the Campanile, as you get good views from here too.

We exited the Clock Tower just before 3pm, in time to watch the rooftop giants beat the clocktower bell at 3pm. Then we indulged in a round of gelato, and ambled over to the “piazzetta” area near the waterfront. Every now and then we would sit down somewhere to rest our feet, and then start strolling over the plaza again. We finally got in line for the St Mark’s Basilica, which we entered and sat down inside. Did not climb up to the terrace, as we had already seen the “bird’s eye view” of the Plaza from the Clock Tower roof. Then we walked out and went around the corner of the Doge’s Palace to see the Bridge of Sighs – great photo ops.

The fatigue of the travel from India to Italy was beginning to register, so we decided to visit the Palazzo Ducale and finish our sightseeing agenda for the day. This was the highlight of the entire day, and a treat to visit. The palace rooms and the paintings were a delight to watch, culminating in the rooms of justice, followed by a walk across the Bridge of Sighs (Ponte Sospiri) to the prison cells. Then a return walk across the Bridge of Sighs from the parallel walkway which looks out on the other side, before we exited the palace. Excellent visit and thoroughly enjoyable.

It was already 5:30pm. We bought a 48-hour vaparetto pass from a nearby kiosk (to be activated the next day), and started slowly walking back towards our B&B, taking directions from shops every now and then. As we neared our B&B, we sat down at a pizzeria in a square nearby, and had an early dinner of pizzas and beer. Then we returned to the B&B, changed and crashed into bed before 8pm.

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    Thank you for this. We have a similar itinerary planned for October. Looking forward to the installments of your report. Di you have a guided tour of Doge's Palace or merely the Museum pass?

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    No, we did not take a guided tour of the Doge's Palace. I doubt if it would have added substantially to appreciation of the exhibits. We just used our Museum pass, and it is quite simple to do it on your own.

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    Day 2 : Sunday, August 11th : VENICE :

    We slept for almost 11 hours, and got up by 6:30am. Our room had windows which looked out into a canal, and we spent time gazing out, watching people in houses across the canal go about their daily lives.

    Got ready and emerged into the breakfast area by 8:15am. The breakfast area opened out into a canal-facing balcony, where we sat down to enjoy breakfast with super views. Excellent breakfast spread of breads, croissants, fruits, cheese, juices and coffee. Had a hearty fill, and walked over to the Ca D’Oro vaparetto stop. Validated our 48-hour transport passes, and hopped on to a Line # 1 water-bus headed to P. Roma on the Grand Canal.

    This was our first experience of traveling on the Grand Canal, and it was a beautiful sight. However, in less than 15 minutes we had reached one end at P.Roma where we got off. Walked around the block once, climbed the nearby glass & steel bridge to click some pictures, and we boarded a Line # 1 water-bus again, this time headed to the other end at San Marco. This time we were on the Grand Canal for almost 40 minutes, and I could not stop clicking my camera. Exhilarating. It seemed such a waste to sit inside. We managed seats in the open area out in the front (on either side of the pilot’s cabin), where the breeze from all sides hits you. Certainly the best seats on a vaparetto, with fresh air, and no photographic hindrances.

    After a lovely ride down the length of the Grand Canal, shortly before the last stop, we alighted at the Accademia stop, and walked 5 minutes to reach the Peggy Guggenheim Museum. Bought tickets and went in. We had selected this museum in Venice over others, as we knew we would have an overdose of Renaissance art in Florence and Rome later, so modern art was a good option here. Although the entry tickets here were a bit pricey at E 14 each, it was well worth it. Very nice museum, and very well laid out. The sculpture garden is refreshing, and the modern art collection is great. Some works of Picasso, Joan Miro, Salvadore Dali, and a large number of excellent paintings by lesser known artists. When you get tired, you can pop outside on the lovely terrace overlooking the Grand Canal. Best place to enjoy the beauty of the Grand Canal.

    We left the Peggy G museum around noon, and took the vaporetto one stop away to the Ca Rezzonica (these are the benefits of the transport pass). Our Museum passes allowed us free entry here. Definitely worth visiting. A 3-storeyed palace, with a rich collection of paintings of various genres, ceiling frescoes and other art objects. We enjoyed it, although two museums in a row was a bit overwhelming. It was lunch time by now, and we had pre-selected a restaurant in this vicinity called Ristoteca Oniga, which was just 2 minutes’ walk from the above museum. We managed an outside table in the shade, and feasted on their full course vegetarian menu (BTW we are veggies). It started with some mixed veg starters, uniquely and deliciously prepared, followed by huge portion of Lasagne (again very well prepared). Finally, the dessert of fresh pineapples. I tried the Red Italian beer for the first time (Birra Rosso), which I found great.

    After lunch, we again boarded the vaporetto to San Toma (one stop away), from where we walked to the I Frari chuch. Very pretty and unusual architecture. Had planned on going in, but they had huge open doors through which you could look in, which was quite enough for us. By now DW was feeling a bit exhausted, so we rode the water-bus again to Ca D’Oro, walked to our B&B, and rested for about 2 hours when the sun was at its peak.

    By 5:30pm the sun’s intensity had abated, and we were out again. This time we put our maps away, and just strolled off the beaten track in the Cannareggio area, going away from the crowds. We tried hard to get lost, but it is not easy in such a compact city ! However, it was really quiet and peaceful to be away from the touristy areas, and it is a different Venice that you see. We whiled away 90 minutes roaming around like this, sipping coffees at odd cafes, and clicking my camera in by-lanes in un-touristy areas.

    We had planned on a gondola ride this evening, and I knew that the gondola rates go up after 7 pm. However, at 7pm the sun was still strong, so we decided to defer the ride till later, and bear the higher charge. We rode the vaparetto to San Marco Plaza, roamed around a bit, and started looking around for a gondola after 7:30pm, when the sun appeared to be going down, and the atmosphere appeared to be right for a gondola. At this hour, the standard rate for a 40-minute ride is E 100. And we were about to board a gondola at this price when we were approached by an American couple who enquired if we would like to share a gondola ride. They were already 4 of them, and a maximum of 6 people are allowed on a gondola. We agreed to join them. However, the gondola driver acted smart, and asked for a higher price to take 6 people. We knew that this was irregular, so we refused. He signaled to the other gondolas nearby, and they all refused to take us at that price. We walked about 100 metres to the next gondola service area, where we readily found gondolas willing to take 6 people for E 100.

    What followed was one of our high points of the Venice trip. A 45-50 minute ride on a gondola. Just before sunset, in the small canals of Venice, including going under the Bridge of Sighs (where you are supposed to kiss for everlasting love !). The canals were really quaint and beautiful, and we took turns at sitting on the “head seats” of the gondola. The driver even sang for us for a few minutes, and we thoroughly enjoyed the ride. The other 4 people were nice and friendly, and we quite enjoyed their company. We felt nostalgic when it was all over at 8:30pm.

    From San Marco Plaza, we boarded a vaparetto to Giudecca island, where we had planned on having dinner at I Figle delle Stelle, an atmospheric restaurant by the waterfront near the Zitelle stop, with great views of Venice. We sat there, loving the ambiance, and dined on pasta, a dish of eggplant and zucchinis, and roast potatoes. Had my first glass of prosecco wine, which was quite good. The service was slow, but the place was romantic. It was quite late when we were done. We boarded a vaparetto to P. Roma, where we changed to another vaparetto going down the Grand Canal. The Grand Canal feels so different in the night, very quiet and pretty in a peaceful way. Got off at Ca D’Oro, walked to our hotel and retired to sleep at about 11:30pm.

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    hi indiancouple - I have very much enjoyed your previous TRs [the one on NZ has been very well used by me in planning our visit to NZ in November] - and this one looks like being a goody too.

    I've already learnt about tours of the clock tower and marked it down for my next trip to Venice.

    keep it coming!

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    Very interesting thus far and looking forward to more. You mentioned thinking about cutting your travel time due to age but from my almost mid-60s perspective, I would leave the length of the trips the same but cut down the number of locations.

    I would love to go to Venice again, after 40+ years the Guggenheim remains a special memory. Then, the art was on the walls of her house and private garden. Still the same?

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    Thanks annhig, cathinjoetown and marija for the encouragement.

    The Guggenheim remains in the private residence of Peggy, with all exhibits on the walls, and the sculptures in her private garden. I really do not know if things have changed in the museum over the years, as I have not been here before.

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    Day 3 : Monday, August 12th : VENICE :

    DW woke up early, but I slept peacefully till 8am. We got ready, had breakfast and left by 9am. The temperature today was unchanged, but the sun somehow seemed very strong. Today we had planned to visit Murano and Burano in the morning.

    Walked to Fundamento Nuove and boarded a vaparetto to Murano. The ride took barely 10-15 minutes. As we alighted at Murano, there were furnaces everywhere offering free demonstrations of glass blowing. We went into a couple of them, and watched them make small vases and animal figures out of molten glass within minutes. Pretty interesting if you are watching this for the first time. Then we visited the Glass Museum (which again offered us free entry with the Museum Pass), and enjoyed the displays tremendously. This was high quality glasswork, real pieces of art (compared to the junk on display at touristy stores everywhere on the island).

    We did shop around a bit, picking up souvenirs of glassworks, had some sodas to cool off, and boarded another vaporetto to Burano. Seemed like the whole world was headed there, as the vaparetto was crammed full. Even standing space was hard to find, and the heat was oppressive. As we got down at Burano at about 1pm, we immediately fell in love with that place. Should have heeded advice of Fodorites, should have spent less time at Murano, and should have come here much earlier. It was so colorful and beautiful – extremely photogenic with brightly painted buildings, and canals running through them. Strolled around the island, and it was lovely to soak it all in.

    We cooled off with some granitas at a café. Went to the Lace Museum (also free entry with Museum Pass), but it was closed on Mondays. Alongside one of the canals, we saw a lovely restaurant called “Riva Rosa”. The outdoor tables were very inviting, and we sat down for lunch. Had risottos, which were superb. The best ever. Then DW visited many lace shops, and bought various lace souvenirs. Finally, after a lot of strolling and camera clicking, we trudged back to the vaparetto stop. There was a huge crowd waiting to get on, and they were restricting the number of people boarding each vaparetto. We could not get on the next vaparetto, and had to wait 20 minutes before the next one came and we climbed on. It was an air-conditioned vaparetto, so very comfortable inside.
    It was a long 50 minute ride back to Fundamento Nuove, and we had a little snooze on board. Alighted at 3:45pm, walked to our B&B, and rested for 90 minutes.

    We left again in the evening at 5:30pm, walking to Ca D’Oro, and boarding the vaparetto to Rialto. Climbed the iconic Rialto Bridge, which is a great place to click pictures from. Took some of my best photos in Venice from there. The late evening light is best for photography, when the sun is not too strong. Very lively place, and photogenic shots of the Grand Canal from both sides of the bridge.

    We next wandered off towards the Rialto Market, passing through the “flea market” area of Rialto, where we had some excellent juice on the roadside. We were looking for some specific food shops like Aliani, Droghera Mascari etc, but all were closed for August vacations. Went to the specific vegetable and fruit market area; some stalls were still open, but we were told that most open only in the morning. Lovely red peppers and other vegetables in the stalls that were open. We walked to the Grand Canal waterfront, and sat down at a pier, feet dangling down, and admired the environs for an hour.

    Next we boarded a vaparetto to Ferrovia, crossed the bridge, and walked some distance to locate a highly recommended restaurant called “Tea Room Orientale”. Located it, but closed for August vacations ! As we retraced our steps to Ferrovia, and sat down for dinner at a pizzeria. It had a sign showing it had been recommended by Tripadvisor, and it did not disappoint. Had excellent pizzas, and I tried out the Venetian cocktail called “Spritz”, which turned out to be delicious.

    Finally, we boarded the vaparetto for the last time on the Grand Canal, riding it all the way from Ferrovia to San Marco. It was getting dark, and the Grand Canal was at its best. We strolled on San Marco plaza at 9:30pm; it was still lively and pretty, but the maddening crowds were missing. Poor lighting of the Palazzo Ducale and the Campanile (surely the government can do better with such an iconic square ?). Slowly we made our way back to our B&B on foot, buying some Venetian masks on the way. Goodbye Venice. You were enchanting and pretty, and cast a spell on us.

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    I love your report. Too bad you discovered the Spritz at the end of your visit; I have to admit I practically lived on them in Venice -- so cool and refreshing. They sell "kits" to make them at Marco Polo airport (a bottle of Aperol and 1 of prosecco), but you can easily find the ingredients out of Italy.

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    Thanks Delaine. I too regret having discovered Spritz late in Venice. I did try having it at other Italian cities, but it did not come even close in taste to the Venetian version. Have to google it to find out its recipe, and try it at home.

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    Day 4 : Tuesday, August 13th : FLORENCE :

    We had to get up early today. The B&B had left us some breakfast of fruits, cereals and bread, which we ate and left for Ca D’Oro by 7am. Took a vaparetto to Ferrovia, and boarded our Italo Treno train to Florence at 8 am.

    The train reached Florence on schedule at 10 am. It was a 10 minute walk to our B&B here called “A Florence View”, which was right on Plaza Duomo. Its main door opened right on to the Plaza – cannot beat this location. We got a nice large room, very spacious, decorated with antique furniture. Our hostess Giuliana was very friendly and talkative.

    We settled into our new habitat, and left at 11:30am. The first item on our agenda today was to visit the Duomo. There was a long line to enter, but it moved fast, and it took us about 30 minutes standing in line before we entered. They do not allow too many people inside at any point in time, which is good. Once inside, it feels very peaceful and pretty. The paintings in the dome ceiling are fantastic, and we spent 30 minutes admiring the interiors. The outside is even more to be admired. Never seen a church with such a marble facade. Very impressive structure, and one of the most iconic landmarks of Italy.

    We went around the Baptistry, and admired its Eastern gates. Wanted to go in, but now they no longer offer tickets only for the Baptistry. You have to buy a combined ticket, which includes a climb to the Dome top, a climb to the Campanile top, and a visit to the Duomo museum plus the Baptistry. We were not interested in those long climbs upwards, so we skipped entering the Baptistry.

    We walked over to Plaza Repubblica nearby, where we sat for lunch at the historical Café Gilli. We had a good lunch of Raviolis, French fries and good rose wine. The food and the ambiance were both excellent, but the service was very slow. We then returned to our B&B and rested for the afternoon, allowing the sun to reduce its intensity. It was about 32C in the afternoon, which was hot, but Florence can get much much hotter in August, so we were lucky.

    We left again at around 4pm, headed towards the Accademia, having gelato enroute at “Carabe”. Lovely gelato ! We had reserved entry tickets at the Accademia for 4:30pm, but there was a long line even for those with reserved tickets. Fortunately, the line moved fairly quickly, and we were inside the museum at 4:30pm.

    We knew we were going in simply to view the “David” statue sculpted by Michaelangelo. Nothing however prepares you for the effect the statue has, once you come face to face with it. The moment it came in view, it was mesmerizing. I have never never seen a piece of art quite like it. Simply fabulous and totally overpowering. Had to admire it from every angle. Would find a place to sit at every angle, and admire it. Every muscle, every vein in the body had been so perfectly chiseled, the statue seemed “alive” in a strange way. Must have spent an hour viewing David from every conceivable direction. Spent 20 minutes in the rest of the museum, and we left. If you had to visit only one museum in the world, it should be this one, and only to see David (and I have been to many top art museums in the world, so I don’t say it lightly).

    We walked to the train station, and boarded Bus # 13 to Piazzale Michaelangelo. The bus goes all over town, and terminates at the lovely plaza, which overlooks Florence. We reached there by 7pm, and saw the bronze replica of “David” on the plaza. Does not come even remotely close to the “real” thing ! We walked some distance uphill to reach Church Minuato, which is one of the most ancient churches of Florence. It was nice, and there was a lady playing the alphorn in the foreground. Then returned to the Piazzale Michaelangelo, had some sodas, and waited for the sun to set. Very picturesque, with super views of Florence, the Arno river and Ponte Vecchio. Quite a crowd there, and we could understand why.

    We took the Bus # 13 back to the train station, and walked some distance to locate a highly recommended veg restaurant called “Il Vegetariano”, some distance away from the Accademia. Located it, but this too was closed for August vacations. Bad luck ! We were getting tired, and efforts to hail a taxi were unsuccessful. We had to walk all the way to Plaza Duomo, and we just sat down at the first restaurant that we saw on the plaza. Had some average quality food with some cocktails, and returned to our B&B to retire for the night. It had been a nice start to the Florence leg of the journey.

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    Yes annhig, we had anticipated some closures, but not so many. Worse was to follow in Rome with respect to August closures. Have not seen this happen anywhere else in the world, at such a scale.

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    Worse was to follow in Rome with respect to August closures. Have not seen this happen anywhere else in the world, at such a scale.>>

    As I'm not very good in the heat, we tend not to visit southern europe between June and August, so i have no personal experience, but I believe it's to do with the heat normally expected in Rome and Florence in August, so the locals all leave for cooler climes. Paris is supposed to be the same.

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    Hi live42day, you are lucky to be visiting Italy in October. I understand from locals there that May and October are now considered the best times of the year to visit Italy, from a weather perspective.

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    Day 5 : Wednesday August 14th : FLORENCE :

    The hostess of our B&B informed us that breakfast will be served in the room. Great ! We were ready at 8:15am, as we had reserved tickets for the Uffizi Gallery for 9:30am. However, there was some delay, as most of the guests in the B&B probably wanted their breakfasts at the exact same hour ! Giuliana looked a little hassled, but our breakfasts finally came (very elaborate and sumptuous), which we bolted down and dashed off to Plaza Signoria.

    Florence had cooled down considerably today to 29C, with a cool breeze blowing everywhere. Great to be away from the stifling heat. At Plaza Signoria, there was a long line for the Uffizi gallery : one line for people without tickets, and one for those with pre-reserved tickets. Despite having reserved our tickets over two months in advance, we had to stand in line for 45 minutes before we could get our tickets and go in. I am sure they can manage these things better.

    What is there to write about the Uffizi ? One of the largest storehouses of art treasures in the world, with the most number of masterpieces. We loved the Boticelli room (although the group tours constantly hovering around “Birth of Venus” was obnoxious), the solitary painting by Michaelangelo, and many many other great masterpieces by various artistes. The frescoes on the ceilings in the corridors were also great. After about 90 minutes of viewing, we rested with some drinks on their rooftop cafe, and then resumed. We finally exited after spending about 3.5 hours inside, fully satiated, when the mind could absorb no more art ! Very different from the solitary David statue in the Accademia, although it would be a very difficult choice to pick one over the other.

    On the way back to our B&B, we stopped for sandwiches at the “ I Due Fratellini” sandwich shop nearby, which receives rave reviews. We were disappointed; the sandwiches were overhyped and quite bad. Had some gelato on the way home at Perche No,which was great, before resting at our B&B for a few hours.

    We left again at about 4:30pm, making a repeat visit inside the Duomo. Then walked to Plaza Signoria, where we spent some time admiring the various statues around the plaza. Probably the best plaza in Florence, and one can never tire watching the sites in the square. We promised to come back here later, and crossed the Ponte Vecchio to reach Palazzo Pitti. We were basically interested in the Boboli gardens, but its ticket comes along with entry to the Silver and the Porcelain museums.

    We decided to try out the Silver museum, which was average. There was no time for the Porcelain museum, and we walked into the Boboli gardens. This turned out to be a disappointment. Most of the garden was devoid of grass, and there was nothing worthwhile to see. Have seen public gardens a hundred times prettier. Despite the hype, we would strongly advise people to give this garden a miss.

    We walked back towards the Ponte Vecchio, and sat down at a lovely restaurant called “Golden View Open Bar”, which had killer views of the Arno river. We got a window table, and the views were super, and the place was classy. We had drinks, followed by dinner. Good food coupled with impeccable service made it a very enjoyable experience. We exited around sunset, and stopped on the Ponte Vecchio to click pictures in fading light.

    We walked back to Plaza Signoria, and sat there for quite a while. I loved the feel of this plaza. After spending time here, we also strolled over to Plaza Repubblica nearby, and then returned to Plaza Duomo and just sat outside on the steps, watching the scene. So nice to sit here, watch the street vendors, the horse carriages, the people. Finally, one more round of gelato, and off to bed.

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    Day 6 : Thursday, August 15th : FLORENCE (with daytrip to Pisa/Lucca) :

    Today was August 15th, the Ferragosto holiday in Italy. We had planned on doing a daytrip to Pisa and Lucca today. Once again, breakfast was served in our room, and we were off by 9am. First I stopped to click early morning pictures of the Duomo (minus the crowds), and then we walked to the train station to board a train for Pisa. From Pisa Centrale station, it is a fairly long walk to the Leaning Tower (almost 25 minutes), and suddenly the iconic landmark came into view.

    I have been seeing pictures of the Leaning Tower since my childhood, and no matter how cheesy or touristy it is, I always wanted to see the Leaning Tower. My first reaction on seeing the tower was that it was leaning far more than what I had imagined. We walked all around the Tower, and clicked pictures from every angle. Obviously, the tilt appeared much more from certain angles than others. It was great to photograph the Tower, and I must say we thoroughly enjoyed it.

    We had no intentions of climbing up the tower, as it entailed a 4 hour wait, and E 18 per person charge – no thank you. Sat down at cafes, sometimes for sodas, and sometimes for granitas (it was hot again today). Finally, there is only so long that you can hang around a tower that leans, and after 90 minutes or so, we felt that we had had our heart’s fill. We walked over to the other side of the plaza, and found a bus stop where the Lazzio bus to Lucca was to stop. We waited in the afternoon heat for 30 minutes, but no bus showed up, and no one around knew the schedule. So we gave up on the bus, and walked a little further to reach Pisa S. Rossore station.

    The station was deserted and there was not a soul visible there. We bought our train tickets to Lucca from a vending machine, which also informed us that the next train would be at 1:50pm (after another 30 minutes). We had no option but to wait, during which time a couple of other passengers also showed up, as lost as us. Finally, the train arrived, we clambered on, and reached Lucca 20 minutes later.

    It was a very hot and humid day, and as we entered the walled city of Lucca, we ducked into the first restaurant that we saw to have lunch, and to shield ourselves from the sun. We had beers to cool ourselves down, and a slow and leisurely lunch, as we were in no hurry to step out in the harsh afternoon sun.
    At about 4pm, when the restaurant looked like closing down post-lunch, we strolled over to a nearby square, sat on a shaded bench and snoozed for a while.

    As the day cooled down, we walked towards the city walls, and rented a tandem bicycle. The next hour, we behaved like teenagers, riding the tandem bicycle all over Lucca ! There were smiles from various onlookers, but who cared ! However, much of the town appeared to be closed due to Ferragosto holidays. Also, the number of one-way streets made riding a bicycle very difficult. We somehow made it to the Piazza Anfiteatro, and parked the bicycle. What a lovely plaza, full of life. Sat down at a café for some sodas. I could understand why people like Lucca so much. It is a compact little town, not too many tourists, and yet it is full of life and energy. Would have been much nicer if it was not a holiday.

    We returned the bicycle, and started walking around. It was much cooler now, and the humidity had vanished. Came across a lovely gelato bar, with great interiors, where you could mix and match and make your own gelato combinations, with a wide variety of toppings. We strolled to Plaza Michele, where some musicians had drawn a large crowd, walked past Gunigi Tower, and returned to Piazza Anfiteatro to have some wine. If the shops had been open, it would have been far more lively in the town. Unfortunately, the streets looked a little dead today.

    We walked back to the train station, took a train back to Florence. Our stomachs were full from a late and heavy lunch, and dinner was not on our agenda. We picked up some donuts on the way back to the B&B, and on reaching home we retired to sleep. We had an early alarm set for the morning, as we had to leave for Sorrento.

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    Also, the number of one-way streets made riding a bicycle very difficult>>

    indiancouple, you are probably the only people in the whole of italy who would worry about riding a tandem the wrong way down a one way street on Ferroagosto.

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    annhig, some of us are law abiding (atleast when in a foreign country) !!

    To be truthful, we did try going on the wrong side of a one-way street on one or two occasions, but a lady motorist who crossed us waved a wagging finger at us angrily, and we did not wish to disturb the town's peace anymore !

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    Day 7 : Friday, August 16th : SORRENTO (with daytrip to Pompeii) :

    We had to get up before 5am. Our hostess had left us some fruits and stuff in our room for an early breakfast, which we consumed. By 6am we were out of the B&B with all our luggage, headed for the train station. It was a breeze in the morning, with no traffic on the streets. We boarded our 6:50am train headed for Naples. Had some coffee on the train, and took turns in snoozing.

    The train reached Naples on time at about 10am. We walked over to the Tourist Information counter on the station, and bought our 3-day Arte Campania Regional cards (E 32 each, but very good value for money if you do the maths). Then we walked to the Circumvesuviana train station below, and boarded the 10:39am train to Sorrento (train ticket included in the Arte card purchased earlier). Train took a little longer than scheduled over the journey, and it was noon when we reached Sorrento.

    We were booked at a highly rated B&B called Villa Monica, which was up on the hills. The owner Pasquale offered free pick up and drop to Sorrento town as part of his package. We had called him 15 minutes earlier to alert him about our arrival, and he was there at the station to receive us. We instantly struck a rapport – he was full of wit and humor, and it was a delight to chat with him. It was an adventurous ride up the hill to the B&B, with Pasquale assuring DW that he was the best driver in Italy, and that she should not get scared !

    Once there, we got an excellent room, with a balcony with super views looking down at Sorrento. We sat in the living room of the B&B, sipped excellent complimentary red wine, and read through a dossier of tips and suggestions left behind by fellow travelers.

    At about 2pm, Pasquale dropped us back in Sorrento town near the train station, at a restaurant which he had recommended called “Leone Rossa”. It turned out to be an excellent selection. We had a wonderful lunch at very reasonable prices, in nice environs. We then boarded a Circumvesuviana train back to Pompeii (transport free with Arte card), reaching there at about 4pm. Entry into the Pompeii ruins was also free with our Arte card. We rented audioguides at the entrance, which is highly recommended for Pompeii. The quality of narration in the audioguides is very good there.

    The sun was still strong, and it was a hot day, but Pompeii was Pompeii, and we were determined to enjoy it. The signages inside are terrible, and if you lose your bearings once, it is very difficult to locate your position and direction again, without assistance from any street sign. However, the site itself is fantastic. It is hard to imagine such a complete city, 2600 years old, in such an intact state. We loved the Teatro, the Little Teatro, the Public Baths, the Lupanare (the brothel of yore !), the Foro, the Temple of Jupiter. The overall layout of the city and its grandeur, set in 600-700 BC, was mind-boggling. It is truly remarkable that such intactness is there, despite being buried under volcanic ash for centuries. Even the erotic paintings in the brothel are very much visible and clear. We were excited about walking through this historical site, and felt that this was a must-see on any trip to Italy.

    We exited at about 7pm, had some sodas, and boarded the train back to Sorrento. From the train station, we walked to Plaza Tasso, and further for about 20 minutes before we reached a highly recommended restaurant called “Inn Buffalito”. We were told that there would be a very long wait for a table, so we left. We walked another 30 minutes or so, looking for another restaurant called “Mondo Bio”. We found it, but it was closed for August vacations. We had by now been on the road for almost 75 minutes looking for food, and were tired and hungry. We walked to Plaza Tasso, sat down on the first available restaurant (called Aurora Light). The food was bad, but we were too tired to care. Pasquale picked us up at 9:45pm, and we returned to our room for the night.

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    Continuing to enjoy your report! I am impressed by your ability to get out and about so early each morning. We always intend to do that, but somehow it never quite works...

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    msteacher, keeping to a rigorous routine does work for the first few days of any trip. As the trip progresses, the flesh gets weaker, and early morning starts begin to vanish !

    Thanks TXtraveler, will keep posting a few installments everyday.

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    Thanks for your report so far. Just a quick question. How was your experience with the Alilaguna service at Marco Polo. Did you wait long to get the boat? We used the Alilaguna service previously - it was excellent - but that was going to the airport not from.

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    Love reading your reports.
    Tell us how you manage to write all the details so well. Do you take notes while resting daily or do you come to the room at night and jot down the highlights.
    Many of us try to include details but often forget names of restaurants, dishes or even some other facts.
    Your advice would help many other Fodorites.
    Truly impressed by your travels and wonder who you can take time off your work or maybe you are retired or lucky to have enough vacation time.
    You have seen many corners of the world, so I am wondering what are your travel plans for 2014.
    Have a splendid weekend.

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    worldinabag, no problems at all with the Alilaguna service from the airport. We did not have to wait more than a few minutes. I believe the service is quite frequent, and efficient.

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    ileen, thanks for the kudos. I do carry a small notebook with me during every trip, to jot down in brief the places that we covered each day. Usually jot them while resting in the afternoon or evening, or sometimes for the last 2-3 days at one go. Writing a detailed trip report immediately upon return, when the memory is fresh, always helps. And the notebook that I have maintained comes in handy when writing the TR. Without those jottings, there is no way in which I would remember those details at the end of the trip.

    Unfortunately, I am not retired as yet (wish I was), so I do have to work. But I run my own business, so I do not have to ask anyone for permission to take a vacation. We do try to take 2 vacations per year; sometimes only one is possible.

    As for 2014, we have a trip to Australia in mind, and maybe one to Scotland and Ireland.

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    Day 8 : Saturday, August 17th : SORRENTO (with daytrip to Naples) :

    Naples has been a controversial city on all travel forums : people love it or hate it. We were determined to check it out. It somehow attracted me, for the simple reason that many tourists seem to shun it. A place that so many strongly dislike, must be interesting !

    We woke up a little late today, and after a good lazy breakfast, Pasquale dropped us off at the train station by 9:45am. We caught the next train to Naples, reaching at 11am. Instead of getting down at Napoli Centrale, we went one stop further to Napoli Porta Nolana, and walked across the train station to Mercato Porta Nolana.

    The street markets of the Mercato were fascinating. We had a great time walking through them. Fruits were excellent and cheap. Roadside granitas were also great. DW found a shop selling all kinds of beads, and went berserk shopping there. There was a chaos which prevailed there, which reminded us very much of our own city of Kolkata in India. Ordinary people were going about their daily business of buying and selling : women zipping by on scooters buying vegetables, old men selling CDs and MP3 files, someone selling second-hand mobile phones, you could find just about anything you wanted here !
    We must have spent atleast 90 minutes inside the Mercato, and enjoyed it.

    As we exited the Mercato, we slowly walked on Via Duomo towards the Duomo. A shopkeeper from Bangladesh asked me to hide my SLR camera, claiming it was not safe to walk around with it, but we never felt threatened. There were people all around, and I could not imagine being mugged in such a place. We reached the Duomo and went in – lovely interiors. We could only be there for a few minutes before they chased us out – as it was afternoon closing time for the church.

    We walked slowly on Via Tribunali nearby, and veered into Via San Gregorio Armeno, which is a gem of a street. It is actually a narrow alley, full of interesting shops, and full of life. It was very enjoyable to walk on this street and peer into all the shops. We then resumed walked on Via Tribunali, looking for a highly acclaimed pizzeria called Gino Sorbillo. Were told that the pizzeria had folded up, but in the same vicinity we found another pizzeria called Pizzeria Insalata, where we went for lunch. Naples is where the pizza was allegedly invented, and we had to taste the pizza here. The pizzeria lived up to Naples’ fame, and we had an excellent pizza lunch.

    We then trudged over to the Archaeological Museum nearby, which seemed like a great place to spend the hot afternoon (and it was hot today !). Our Arte Card allowed us free entry, but we were disappointed that the museum had no air-conditioning. We did hire audio-guides, but found them useless, as the narration was far too detailed for our liking. The museum was nice, but on a hot and sultry day as this, I think we would have enjoyed it far more if it had air-conditioning. The Pompeii exhibits were great, and we were shocked to see mosaics, glassware and various implements produced in 600 BC still in such an intact condition. Loved the Secret Room, and the ancient porn on display. People were the same even then !

    When we exited the museum, we took a taxi to Castell dell’Ovo on the waterfront of the Bay of Naples. It was cool and breezy here, and pleasant to roam around. Then walked to Plaza Plebiscito and sat on a sidewalk café to have sodas and granitas. The plaza was lovely, but this was the worst weather day that we encountered in this trip, in terms of heat and humidity. We walked a bit on Via Toledo to inspect the shops; 50% were closed as it was a Saturday evening. We walked back to Plaza Plebiscito, took a taxi to Napoli Centrale, and boarded a train back to Sorrento.

    Pasquale picked us up from the train station, and dropped us off at an excellent restaurant up on the hills which he had booked for us, called “Vino Vero”. We had a table on the cliff’s edge with killer views of Sorrento and the Naples Bay. We had a lovely dinner of home-made pasta (scialeteri ??) with eggplants and tomatoes, Diavoloto (cheese stuffed with spicy olives), and excellent red wine. One of the best meals in Italy. On returning to our B&B, we sat awhile on our balcony gazing at the views, before dozing off.

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    Day 9: Sunday, August 18th: SORRENTO (with daytrip to Ravello/Amalfi):

    Today was our third day in Sorrento, but would be our first real day on the Amalfi Coast. We had planned to spend the day at Ravello and Amalfi, and needed an early start in the day. We had breakfast a bit early, and by 8:45am we were at the SITA bus stop in Sorrento downtown. The next bus was at 9:30am, but there was already a long line for it. Our transport costs were included in our Artecards, which were to expire at the end of the day. We got into line – the bus arrived early, and we got seats. It left early too, by 9:20am. Air-conditioned bus – really nice !

    There was strangely no traffic in the morning at this hour, and we made fast progress. Soon the lovely views of the coast came into sight, and we enjoyed the bus ride. After Positano, the views got even better, and we were extremely glad we had selected the bus travel. No problems of congestion on the roads, or of motion sickness to anyone. Super views everywhere. As the bus turned on the winding roads, it missed motorists by inches ! Pity the people who choose to drive a car here – you needs nerves of steel whenever a bus passes you.

    We reached Amalfi ahead of schedule at 10:45am, and immediately boarded a bus for Ravello, leaving a few minutes later. As we alighted at Ravello, we first walked over to Villa Rufolo (very near the bus stop) and went in. Lovely gardens, quite compact, and very well maintained. Excellent views of the coast from here; we loved the flower arrangements and the entire garden for that matter. Spent a full hour here, and it was well worth it.

    Nearby was a restaurant “Da Salvatore” which our B&B host had recommended, and we went there for lunch. Excellent choice once again. Very nice ambiance, very good food and service, and it was an enjoyable meal. Post lunch we bobbed in and out of stores in the main market area. DW bought some pasta herbs, some scarves, and we picked up some ceramic souvenirs for home.

    Later in the afternoon we started walking towards Villa Cimbrone. It is quite a walk, going up and down many many steps. Fortunately, the weather here was not bad. There was a nice breeze, and the humidity was missing – actually quite pleasant today. We finally made it, and in we went. The Cimbrone gardens are considerably larger than the Villa Rufolo ones, but not as immaculately maintained. This place is less about flowers, and more about trees, sculptures and walkways. However, the views surpass that of Villa Rufolo and are simply par excellence. In between, we rested with some granitas. We ended up spending more than an hour here too, and it was also worth it. A different experience to Villa Rufolo, and I would recommend both to any visitor.

    After the long walk back, we boarded a bus going down to Amalfi. We reached there at 4:30pm, and the beach was right in front. I had not planned on doing any swimming, but the water was too tempting. Bought a pair of swim shorts, rented a beach umbrella with two deck chairs, and I plunged into the lovely waters. DW kept a watch over the belongings, and I had a fabulous swim for 30 minutes in the crystal clear refreshing sea.

    Then we walked through Amalfi town, poking into various shops. The Duomo looked spectacular from outside, with its shining gold mosaics, but we did not go in. We liked the feel of Amalfi town. It was lively, and not snooty. Enjoyed walking around, doing nothing in particular.

    We decided to take the 7pm SITA bus back to Sorrento. There was total chaos at the Bus station. Large crowds of people, and no queue. No one knew which bus would be going to Sorrento, and the SITA staff around were equally clueless. Suddenly, one of the buses standing there flashed a sign “Sorrento”, and there was a mad scramble to climb aboard. Fortunately, we managed to get seats on the last row of the bus, and did not have to stand all the way going back. It should be easy to make this whole process a bit more orderly, but no one seemed to care.

    The return journey took much longer, as the bus stopped at frequent intervals, and traffic was heavier. The views in the fading light were even better than the views we had experienced in the morning. Magical experience, and not to be missed. It was past 9pm when we returned to Sorrento. We were tired, and decided to eat at “Leone Rossa” which was close by. The service was expressly quick at our request, and the food once again was very good. We made it in time for Pasquale’s 9:45pm pick-up from town, returned and slept. It had been one of the best days in the trip so far.

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    Day 10: Monday, Aug 19th : SORRENTO (with daytrip to Capri) :

    We had been eagerly looking forward to the daytrip to Capri scheduled for today. Had breakfast at usual time, and Pasquale was kind enough to drop us all the way to the Marina Picolo of Sorrento. We took the 8:45am jet hydrofoil, and were in Capri less than 30 minutes later. On getting off, we first booked a boat trip going round the island (with stop at Blue Grotto) with Laser Capri, starting at 10am. Then stood in line to buy all-day Capri transport passes for E 8.60 each. Does not save much money when you add up everything, but saves the hassle of purchasing tickets every time you use transport.

    Our round-the-island boat was quite compact, and had about 30 people on board. It was a great experience overall, and we would recommend this to everyone. The first stop was the Blue Grotto. There was a line to go in, and our boat’s chance came after a 20 minute wait. We had to transfer into smaller boats, 4 of us in each, pay the entry fee for the grotto, and go in.
    Fortunately, the conditions today were favorable for entering the Blue Grotto, and we were lucky. We had to lie down almost horizontally at the entry point, but once inside, we could sit up comfortably.

    The azure blue color inside was beautiful, and cannot be described adequately in words. Our boat man was great – he took us for 2 full rounds inside the grotto, sang for us, and dutifully clicked our pictures with our cameras. We completely enjoyed the experience inside. When it was time to go out, the sea had suddenly become rough, and the waves were beating against the roof of the grotto entrance. Everyone had to wait for 10-15 minutes till the sea calmed down, and finally, we came out one by one. Many people have described the Blue Grotto as a cheesy experience, but we beg to disagree.

    Our boat trip continued around the island. We stopped at the Green Grotto, and the White Grotto. There were other good sights that we saw in passing. The entire trip lasted 2 hours (including the time at Blue Grotto), and was one of the highlights of our Italy trip.

    By noon, we had completed our boat trip, and boarded the furnicular up to Capri. We had such high expectations of the Piazzetta, that when we came face to face with it, we were somewhat disappointed. We clicked some pics, and boarded a bus immediately for Anacapri. We went for lunch at a restaurant called “Le Arcate”, which we had earmarked, and once again it was an excellent meal.

    I wanted to take the chairlift up to Mt Solaro, but DW is scared of heights and did not want to join in. So I left her to roam the shops, while I rode the chairlift. The ride up was fairly mundane, but the views from the top were simply stunning. I wanted to linger there much longer, but had promised DW to come back immediately. So after clicking a lot of pics, I rode the chairlift back, and reunited with my wife.

    We took the bus back to Capri, and commenced walking towards the Augustus gardens. We did not enter the gardens, but from there we took Via Krupp to walk down. This walk down the winding road to Marina Picolo is something that I would advise every visitor to Capri to undertake; the experience is very rewarding. The views are to die for, and some of my best pictures in the Italy trip were taken while walking down Via Krupp. We thoroughly enjoyed the walk. On reaching down, we boarded a bus back to Capri, and roamed around all the glitzy shops radiating from the central piazzetta. Then sat down and had a very expensive round of drinks at a Piazzetta café (Why not ? You only come to Capri once !).

    Finally, we took the furnicular down, and bought 6:45pm ferry tickets to return to Sorrento (this was the last boat of the day !). Sat at marina cafes and sipped coffee. Poked around some more shops. Then boarded our vessel back, reaching Sorrento at 7:15pm. We strolled around Sorrento a bit, and Pasquale picked us up to drop us off again at “Vino Vero” restaurant up on the hills. The views did not disappoint as before, but the food today was not as good. Chef must be on holiday. Returned home and slept by 10pm. Again, one of the best days in the trip so far.

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    Day 11: Tuesday, August 20th: SORRENTO (with daytrip to Positano) :

    Today was our last day in Sorrento, and we had a light itinerary for the day – Positano. We took it easy, and decided to have a part R&R day. We got up very late, and had a very late breakfast after 9:30am. Pasquale dropped us at the train station at 10:45am. We had planned on taking a 11am bus for Positano, but the long lines that we confronted were scary. After standing in line for 45 minutes, we finally managed to get on to the 11:30am bus, reaching Positano after noon.

    We began a slow, slow walk down Positano from the bus stop, going through all the shops. There was not much else to do. Bought some more ceramic souvenirs on the way. DW bought some junk jewellery. We sat down at a bar for a round of drinks. The waiter was rude, and showed his displeasure at no food being ordered, as he specified that it was a “restaurant, not a bar” ! However, the signages and the menu card proudly proclaimed the place as a bar.

    After resting our feet at the bar, we resumed our downward climb in Positano, and continued browsing through shops. Sat down for lunch somewhere (cannot remember the name), which turned out to be great. It was very cool inside the restaurant, and the food was good. As we continued walking, we reached Spaggia beach, but opted not to swim. Just sat around, watched people, ate gelato and drank coffee. Had heard so much about Positano’s beauty. Could not help but compare it with Santorini in Greece (which we had visited 2 years earlier), and Positano paled in comparison.

    We took the 5pm ferry to Sorrento, as we wanted to see the Amalfi Coast from the water atleast once. Great ferry ride, and lovely views as we sailed. We reached Sorrento 30 minutes later, and took the shuttle bus to Plaza Tasso. We spent the next few hours exploring shops in Sorrento, and did a fair amount of shopping, of pasta herbs, pesto sauce, limoncello and various odds and ends. For dinner we sat down at “La Basilica”, and it turned out to be the best meal we had had in the last 5 days.

    We returned early to our B&B, sat on the sofas outside the common living room and gazed at the stupendous views. This had been an excellent B&B, and today had been a nice relaxing day.

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    Great trip report as always. I admire your energy and adventureous spirit. We tend to travel very slow as we have young children travelling with us (11y and 9 y) Which city is your favorite? We went to Italy this past June/July. Venice was my favorite. Been there 15 years ago, but didn't leave an impression like it did this time! Loved Tuscany as well. Any plan to go to visit Tuscany area?

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    Indogirl, I can well imagine that traveling with kids would pose different challenges, and alter the pace of travel. My favorite in Italy was certainly Rome, although Venice would be close behind.

    We saw a bit of Tuscany in Pisa and Lucca. Did not have the time to drive through the countryside though.

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    Day 12: Wednesday, August 21st : ROME :

    We had to get up a bit earlier today, and consumed a makeshift breakfast of some eatables which had been kept in our room. We loaded our luggage, and Pasquale dropped us at the train station at about 8am. We had made a true friend in Pasquale – he was genuinely witty, humorous, and full of life. We had hit the right chord with him.

    We took the 8:25am train to Naples, which was a fast train, and made it there in an hour. Had a round of coffee at the Napoli railway station, and boarded our 10:12am train to Rome, reaching there after 2 hours. Then a metro ride from Roma Termini to Ottaviano stop, and our B&B was hardly a 3-4 minute walk away from the metro station. The B&B, Quodlibet, was the best that we had experienced on this trip so far. The room was spacious and beautifully decorated. Our host Gianluca gave us an excellent orientation of Rome with a map, together with his recommendations, and we were ready to go.

    It was already 2:30pm, and we wanted a quick lunch. We walked to a nearby restaurant called “Amalfi” on our host’s recommendation, which gave us a decent meal. Then returned to the B&B and rested for an hour or so. We left at 5pm, when it was cool and pleasant. Surprisingly, the humidity did not seem as bad in Rome compared to Florence and Naples. We walked 10 minutes to reach St Peter’s Square, and had our first glimpse of the square and the basilica. We sat there for a while ; DW could not believe that we were actually at St Peter’s Square.

    Next we walked over to Castel S. Angelo, crossed the Ponte S. Angelo (lovely bridge with loads of sculptures), and reached the historic center area of Rome. We walked on Via Coronari, which had interesting shops selling various quirky things, till we reached the northern end of Plaza Navonna. This was a great place, with lots of people around. We lingered near the fountains, especially the lovely central fountain of the 4 rivers. Lots of camera clicking. After spending adequate time to enjoy this iconic plaza, we walked over to Plaza Rotunda and came in front of the Pantheon.

    We had read and heard about the Pantheon in Dan Brown novels, but we were astounded by its beauty when we actually saw it. The most intact structure in Rome surviving almost 2000 years. The hole in the domed roof (of 30 ft diameter) was just astonishing in its beauty and architecture. Never seen anything like this ever before. The interiors of the church were also very compelling in decor, but we kept gaping at the dome and the hole. It was one the best monuments that we visited in this tour of Italy, and we had not come here with high expectations. We were awestruck with this monument’s uniqueness and architecture.

    We walked over to Plaza Minerva nearby to see the lovely elephantine sculpture of Bernini on the plaza, which was an eye-catcher. Then walked over to Plaza Eustachio, also close at hand, and sat for coffee at Café Sant’Eustachio, which is a highly recommended coffee joint in Rome. Truly, the coffee there was one of the creamiest and smoothest that I have ever had. Then we walked to Plaza Farnese to see its unusual fountain, and finally settled down at Campo de Fiori.

    At Campo de Fiori we sat down at a bar to have some drinks. The atmosphere all around was captivating. Musicians, magicians, Brazilian dancers, street performers of very kind ! We focused on one young man who was playing the guitar very well and singing along; his girlfriend was trying to sell his CD’s to onlookers. Just then a lady who apparently lived on the plaza came over and started having a heated argument with the singer, asking him to tone down his volume, claiming that what he was doing was illegal. Some onlookers protested, and I joined in the verbal brawl. We all sided with the singer, and rebuked the lady for shouting louder that the man’s singing. Finally, the singer won, the lady retreated, and the singing resumed !

    Interacted with the Brazilian dancers , who turned out to be from Salvador, a city which we had fond memories of from our Brazil trip 2 years ago. They were thrilled to discuss about their home town with a stranger in a foreign land, and we talked about all the nooks and crannies of Salvador. It is a small world.

    Went for dinner nearby at a very popular restaurant called “Baffetto 2”, which had the best pizzas we had tasted in Italy. It was extremely crowded and there were long waiting lines, and we could understand why. After dinner, we slowly walked back to Plaza Navonna, which appeared prettier in the night. Then slowly retraced our steps to Castel S. Angelo, then to St Peter’s Square, and finally back to our B&B. It was a longish walk back, but very enjoyable. This had been a lovely introduction to Rome, through its Centro Storico area. For me, Rome was love at first sight. The city was just fabulous, and one could understand the true meaning of the phrase : “Rome was not built in a day” !

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    How super to find this TR! indiancouple, your responses to places struck so many chords with me. My late husband and I also kept little notebooks--he recorded where I took photos and I summarized our day's activities and meals.

    We were so impressed with the queues in London, that the friendly jostling in Italy was terrible--at first. As you noticed, no one cared.

    We fell in love with Italy, and Rome energized and amazed us. Looking forward to the rest of your report.

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    Day 13 : Thursday, August 22nd : ROME :

    We had kept aside today for visiting Ancient Rome. We had advance tickets for the underground guided tour of the Colosseum for 9:40am. So we left a bit early today, and by 8:30am we were aboard a metro, headed for the Colosseo stop.

    Unlike Florence, here they handle the advance ticket holders very well. There was absolutely no wait for us, and our ticket acquisition process went through very smoothly and efficiently. This is the system they should follow at Uffizi in Florence. Anyway, we assembled at the designated point for our guided tour. There were 24 of us on the tour, which started promptly at 9:40am. It was an excellent tour, which took us first to the underground section, where the gladiators got ready, were the animals were stored, and where 500-600 people worked behind the scenes to stage the shows that happened on the arena upstairs. Next to the third tier, which gave the best photo ops for the monument, a bird’s eye view of the Colosseum. Finally, we were left to wander on our own at the general level. The tour lasted 90 minutes, and was very informative and well conducted. You get to know how the shows were staged, where people sat, how the backstage work was conducted etc. As for the Colosseum itself, what can be written about one of the 7 wonders of the world ? It was awesome and jaw-dropping. We loved it.

    We exited at about 11:30am, clicking pictures of the monument from outside too. We had planned on doing the Palatine Hills in the morning, but as we headed in that direction, we noticed that the sun was a bit too strong, and we knew that there was not much shade in the Palatine. We had anyway planned on returning in early evening for the Roman Forum, and decided that we would also defer Palatine Hills for the evening, when the sun would be milder. I think we took a wise decision.

    This was the first time in our numerous travels abroad, that we had not had Indian food for almost 2 weeks since leaving India. We usually manage to find an Indian restaurant atleast once in 4-5 days, wherever we travel. We had not bumped into one so far, and were craving for an Indian meal. I had researched several Indian restaurants the previous night on the internet, and we were well prepared. From the Colosseum, a 10 minute walk took us to an Indian restaurant called “Sitar”, where we went. Closed for August vacations – or atleast for lunch (although the sign outside did not say so, and neither did their website)! Bad luck again. Then we went to the nearest metro station, and rode the metro to Vittorio Emanuelle stop. There we walked for a few minutes to locate a highly acclaimed Indian restaurant called “Krishna 13”. That too was closed ! We were now extremely tired, hungry and frustrated. There was one more Indian restaurant on my list, near the Termini station. Rode the metro again to reach there, followed by a 10 minute walk, and we found it. Looked closed, but I pushed the door, and it was open ! We felt as if we had arrived in heaven, and sat down.

    Unfortunately, my cell phone was giving problems that day with the network in Rome, and I was not able to contact the restaurants over phone to ascertain if they were open or closed. This had turned our search for an Indian restaurant into a 90-minute ordeal. Anyway, here we were at some New Delhi Indian Restaurant, where we gorged on Chana Masala, Dal Tadka and Aloo Paratha. It tasted divine and delicious ! Fully satiated, we returned to our B&B for an afternoon nap.

    We left at 4:30pm again, and returned via metro to the Colosseo stop. Went into the Palatine Hills. We had about 2.5 hours remaining to cover the Palatine and the Roman Forum, before they closed down for the day. We had wanted to hire a guide to help us navigate the sights, or atleast an audio guide, but we were too late in the day for both. So we had to do a self-guided tour, aided by the Lonely Planet guidebook. We found the Palatine Hills to be a bunch of rubble, but enjoyed the Roman Forum very much. The structures there were more intact, like the Tempio di Romolo and the Tempio di Antonino e Faustina. We were fascinated by the remains of the Roman columns strewn around here and there, and loved the Rostra, where in Shakespeare’s imagination, Marc Antony delivered his “Friends, Romans, countrymen..” speech. We exited the complex just when they announced closure, at 7:15pm.

    From the Forum, it was a short walk uphill to the Campidoglio Plaza, which was beautiful (naturally, as it was designed by Michaelangelo !). The views from there were also great, and you could get the Roman Forum, the Palatine and the Colosseum all together in one shot. The sculptures on the plaza were itself very pretty, and it was a treat to sit here for a while. We left via the steps of the Cordonata, from where as we turned back, the views of the Campidoglio were the most impressive. As we descended down, we were in front of the striking white Vittoriano II monument, which is one of the most eye-catching monuments of Rome.

    We took a gentle stroll from there in the direction of Trastevere, promising to hail a taxi if we got tired. But we kept going, as the walk was nice, crossing rivers and tiny islands enroute, and we suddenly found ourselves in Trastevere. I loved the feel of Trastevere, and on reaching there could understand why visitors love to spend atleast one night in this area. It is touristy, but very pleasant, with cobbled streets, and an antique look about it. Very lively and has a festive atmosphere. We sat down at a bar and had some cocktails, and then just strolled around Trastevere. Finally, we sat down for dinner at a restaurant recommended by our B&B host, the Il Du Ca. Lovely sidewalk tables, excellent food, but very slow service. We really did not care, as we were enjoying the ambiance. The food could wait for as long as they wished.

    Finally, the dinner was over, and we departed. Took a taxi to return, and the traffic was heavy even at night. It had been another wonderful day in Rome. The city was an outdoor museum. I loved it even more today.

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    Day 14 : Friday, August 23rd : ROME :

    Today was our penultimate day in Italy, and it was also my birthday. DW must have alerted our B&B host, for there was a lovely tiramisu cake waiting for me during breakfast ! Today we had planned on “holy” sightseeing activities at the Vatican. We had afternoon reserved tickets for the Vatican museums, and had planned on entering the St Peter’s Basilica in the morning (and also climbing up the dome). However, our B&B host strongly advised against doing either in the morning, as according to him the lines for both were extremely long in the morning; he advised doing all this in the evening, when no lines exist.

    We heeded his advice, and left late. We just walked to St Peter’s Square, and sat down in the centre near the obelisk, in the shade. We planned on doing absolutely nothing in the morning, but just to sit there and watch. The atmosphere at the square is such that one can never get tired of it. The sculptures and scene all around is such that one can never completely digest it all in a few hours. We just sat, looked all around, and tried to absorb it all. We must have been there for over two hours, and did not feel the time dragging at any point. It was a lovely and relaxed way to pass time. At about noon, we left the square, but not before DW had posed for photographs with one of the young handsome Vatican guards !

    We decided to have an early lunch somewhere nearby. We had recommendations for a restaurant in the vicinity called “La Caravalla”, which we located soon. Had an excellent meal there. Their spicy olive oil (pecanto olio) was divine, which added much needed spice to the dishes. After lunch, we walked over to the entrance of the Vatican Museums, as we had timed entry tickets for 2 pm. Once again, advance ticket holders were handled efficiently, and we got our tickets. Took an audio guide to help us. We were in ahead of schedule by about 1:45pm.

    We spent about three and half hours inside the Vatican Museums, and it was captivating from start to finish. Started with a long escalator ride up, a peep on the terrace outside (where the Vatican gardens could be seen). Then followed the path laid out for us, crossing the large courtyard and entering the series of Museo Pio-Clementino. The sculptures in the octagonal courtyard were superb. Loved the tapestry gallery, where the woven artworks on huge tapestries were stunning. Towards the end of the tour, one enters the four Raphael rooms, which are the high points of the Museum. The “School of Athens” painting by the master will forever remain etched in my mind. And finally the grand finale, the Sistine Chapel. Awesome to enter the holy place. Just a few months ago the new pope was elected here. One has to be a little patient, and it is easy to get a seating place on the side. Here the audio guide was used in full. The narrations of all the paintings in the Sistine Chapel were done extremely well by the audio guide, and I was glad we had brought one along. The “Last Judgement” on the west wall, and the ceiling frescoes (including creation of Adam), all painted by Michaelangelo, were probably the best pieces of art on this planet. The paintings on the walls by Bernini and other masters were also great. Too bad they did not allow photography inside. We sat there for a very long time, knowing we would never be coming back here again, and tried to have our heart’s content.

    We finally exited at about 5:15pm, walking down the lovely spiral staircases. On exiting, we hurried over to St Peter’s Square, where there were no lines at all now, and we were still in time to take the elevator halfway up the dome. From that point, it is an upward climb of 320 steps, which we decided to undertake. I was not sure about DW, but she was game. We huffed and puffed, but finally made it to the top, and I am glad we took the trouble. The views from the top are very rewarding. For one, you can see the entire Vatican premises from atop, which is interesting. The views of all of Rome were also excellent, and it was very pleasant there at 6pm in the evening.

    We climbed down, and landed straight inside the St Peter’s Basilica. We were inside the holiest place for Christians, and the interiors were indeed stunning. The “Pieta” sculpture by Michaelangelo was great, but the numerous other sculptures and paintings inside were no less glorious. We patiently went through the entire church, and it was close to 7 pm when we were finished and exited. We have seen great churches and cathedrals in Seville, Toledo etc, but obviously this one was special, even for non-Christians like us.

    During summer months, Castel S. Angelo opens its doors for extended hours in the night, which our host at the B&B had informed us, from 8:30pm onwards. So we decided to use the next 90 minutes or so in having dinner, to be followed by Castel S. Angelo. We walked over the Ponte S. Angelo back to Centro Storico area, and walked to a highly acclaimed restaurant called “Da Francesca” in Plaza Fico. We were early, so managed a table easily; as the evening progressed, the lines grew longer. Once again a lovely meal.

    We strolled back to Castel S. Angelo, bought tickets, and went in. It was only 8:45pm. They had a free guided tour at 9:45pm. We were a little tired, and decided against waiting so long, and ventured to see the monument on our own. First on the agenda was to walk along the secret passage (which had been thrown open to the public now), which is supposed to provide an escape passage to the Pope if the Vatican is attacked ! We did not walk all the way to the end (there was no hope of him waiting at the other end to receive us !), but walked some distance, and retraced our steps. Then strolled around Castel S. Angelo all over, at various levels, but resisted climbing all the way to the top. There is not much inside to be seen, and by now we had seen enough museums, art treasures and baroque buildings and monuments. After walking through some bastions and terraces, we decided to call it a day.

    We slowly walked back to our B&B, via St Peter’s Square for one more time, reached home and fell into bed. Birthday in Rome - to be remembered for all times !

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    Day 15 : Saturday, August 24th : ROME :

    Today was the last day of the holiday in Italy, and we had deliberately planned it light for the day. We had a late breakfast, and boarded the metro to Flaminio, where we emerged on Plaza del Popolo. Very picturesque plaza, with two lovely identical buildings flanking it on one side. Nice statues and fountains in the centre, with the four lions. Clicked a lot of pictures. Nice statues all around, and a vantage viewing point up the Pincho hill nearby. We did not venture climbing up any viewing points, as by now the body was yearning for rest after 15 exhausting days ! Just admired the views from level zero, and decided to move on.

    We walked on Via Margutta, which is supposed to be the street with art shops and art materials. However, most shops were closed (probably for August vacations), and the street was somewhat deserted. There was a lovely fountain of artist’s tools which was interesting, and there were a few shops open where we poked around.

    When the street came to an end, we were very close to the Spanish Steps, where we emerged next. Lovely lively place. Gorgeous fountain of a sinking boat at the plaza. Huge crowds, just sitting around everywhere on the Spanish Steps. We had no energy to climb, so we cheated and took the elevator from the metro station nearby, which deposited us at the top of the Spanish Steps. Nice views, but I think it looks prettier from below. We slowly walked down. At the plaza below was a lady holding a sign saying “Free Hugs”. We hugged her to our heart’s content, and moved on ! There was a lovely Tea-room nearby, where we dropped in for some coffee. The area around the Spanish Steps are supposed to be a prime shopping area of Rome, and we strolled around. However, all shops were high-end shops of leading international brands, and not what we were looking for.

    We called our B&B host for advice on shopping, and he recommended a street very close to St Peter’s square, which he claimed would have what we were looking for. So we rode the metro back, and focused on some serious shopping in the Vatican vicinity. Bought a lot of souvenirs for friends back home, some clothes, some Italian bottles of wine, and odds and ends. For lunch we went back to the restaurant that we had enjoyed the previous day : “La Caravalla”, which did not disappoint once again. Then returned to our B&B, settled our bills with our host, and rested for some time.

    We had only one item left on our agenda for the evening, which was the Trevi Fountain. We boarded the metro to Berberini. Unfortunately, the Plaza Barberini is being restored, so the fountains were shut. Walked over to Trevi Fountain, and could not believe it when we reached there. I had seen pictures, and knew it was a large fountain, but had not imagined it to be of quite the scale that it was ! It occupied almost a complete block, and was extremely ornate and well sculpted. In fact it takes a very long time of sitting and watching before you can slowly start noticing the more intricate details. The beauty of the fountain is spell-binding, and we were in complete awe of the place. Must have clicked countless pictures. The crowds were heavy, but so what ? After sitting around for some time, we walked over to nearby Plaza Colonna, which was also nice, with a lovely fountain of dolphins and sea-shells. Then walked back to the Trevi Fountain and sat around some more.

    We hunted around for a suitable place for dinner, as we had no specific recommendations. We selected a restaurant which looked crowded and busy, and had an average dinner. Finally, as it was getting dark, we returned to the Trevi for one last time, to see it at night with the lights. The crowds had grown even larger, and it looked more pretty and peaceful at this hour. We threw the coins inside, securing our return visits to Rome, and left with a heavy heart. Walked to Spagna metro stop, and made our way back to the B&B. Finished packing, as we had a very early morning flight out of Rome.

    Day 16: Sunday, August 25th : DEPARTURE :
    We had booked a car pickup for 4am to take us to the airport. So we had to be up before 3am, and get ready. We hauled our luggage down (the bags were really heavy by now with the shopping !). The car pick-up was there, and we made it to the airport in 30 minutes. We had a flight at 6:50am for Zurich, with another tight connection to Mumbai. The return journey was uneventful, we got some sleep, and reached Mumbai by 9pm Indian time the same evening.

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    This brings me to an end of my Trip Report. Hope some people find it useful or interesting. It will serve as a permanent record for us of our visit, so that we can read it and re-live our memories.

    I would be happy to answer any questions, or provide clarifications to any other poster.

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    Well done! Great job of writing details and taking us on your adventures.
    Almost 35 years ago, we took a similar trip and by reading your report, I relived my experiences.
    The historic structures, the Vatican and the Italian culture, friendly folks, delicious Italian food is same as we experienced, but I am sure lots of other things have changed--mainly more tourists, better B&B and lots of internet help.
    Once again thanks for sharing and happy travels in the future.

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    Ileen, I had also visited Italy last in 1980, about 33 years ago. Of course, things have changed completely since then. At that time, Italy was "struggling" to catch up with rest of Europe - now no longer so. It is modern, completely sanitized, and they have done an excellent job of preserving their heritage.

    Glad that I could re-ignite memories in your mind.

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    Thanks everyone for the appreciation.

    Annhig, you know very well that we are off to Sri Lanka in a few months, and I know that you are off to New Zealand !

    After Sri Lanka ? Don't know for sure. Possibly Scotland and Ireland in the summer.

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    Annhig, you know very well that we are off to Sri Lanka in a few months, and I know that you are off to New Zealand !>>

    sadly, indiancouple, I was suffering from an attack of short-term memory loss - unlike you, it seems.

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    Thanks Indogirl, good to know that you have read more of my trip reports.
    We have not yet traveled to France, so a trip to Paris and Provence is very much on the cards, although I do not know when. Plan to combine it with Barcelona, which we left out in our Spain trip a few years ago.

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