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Trip Report First time to Italy: Rome, Venice, Tuscany

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After spending so much time on this forum and Trip advisor in planning our trip to Italy, I thought I should write a trip report in case it will help someone else. Also, if anyone has honeymoon recommendations for our trip in September 2016 please share!

My fiancé & I had a direct flight through Emirates, JFK -> Milan and both flights went smoothly. We saved a ton of money flying into and out of Milan, and even though it wasn't the most convenient, the amount that we saved made it worth it. Plus, having a direct flight was awesome.

Venice: 3 nights

I had heard that Venice was overrated, but this ended up being our favorite part of the trip. I think the key to enjoying Venice is finding less touristy things to do. It was packed with tourists when we went (it always is) but we still enjoyed ourselves. However, I wouldn't go back to Venice for a long time. We feel like we saw enough of it this trip that if we went back we wouldn't enjoy it as much. And, I actually think that 2.5 days/ 3 nights here was plenty. I would only add one more night if I had the extra time.

Highlights:

We stayed at Palazzo Paruta and we were pretty happy with the hotel. The breakfasts and cappuccinos were good. We also bought the rolling venice card (I think that's what it was called) and it was a 3 day vaporetto pass for two people for around 56 E. We used the vaporetto a lot so I recommend getting this.

-The Venice free walking tour: This was our favorite part of our trip to Venice. It teaches you about the history of Venice (so you can see past the tourists) and everything we learned was so interesting. I would even take this tour a second time if I ever go back.

-Real Venetian Kayak: We wanted to do something different than the typical (overpriced) gondola ride that everyone seems to do in Venice. So, we went kayaking and had a great time. Our guide was really nice and it came with drinks and cichetti afterwards. We went kayaking on the grand canal and all of the little canals, plus the lagoon, so we saw a whole new side to Venice that we wouldn't have seen on foot.

-The campanile at San Giorgio: We spent a long time on the vaporetto getting here, but the views and pictures we took were worth it. Plus, much less crowded here than St. Marks.

-Libraria Acua Alta: I spent a few hours here looking through pictures, paintings, books, and other things to take home, and the prices were great. It's apparently on BBC's list of top 10 bookstores in the world?

Favorite restaurants:
- La Zucca! Highly recommend the pumpkin flan and anything with eggplant in it
-Pontini - the seafood pasta and tiramisu were fantastic
- Arte della Pizza: not sure if this is the best pizza in Venice, but we went both days for lunch and it was very good. It was all locals too so that was a good sign.

Disappointments:

- We missed the Secret Itineraries tour. I forgot to book this before we left and when we arrived in Venice we found out it was booked for the next two weeks. If we go back, we would do this tour (and book in advance.)

-Da Mamo (restaurant): We went here on our first night in Venice. It has great reviews but nothing we got was really that good. I would recommend Pontini or La Zucca instead.

- Cichetti in general....maybe we just didn't go to the right places, but we went to 3 or 4 different places for cichetti and none of it was good. I think it would have been better if the bread were toasted?

-Spritz: On our free tour, the tour guide said that 95% of people like spritz. I must be in the other 5% because I thought the orange flavor of the aperol spritz was too strong and didn't enjoy the Campari spritz either. I still recommend you try it though, in case you're in that other 95%!

- We booked our train from Venice to Rome ahead of time and didn't pay extra for the refundable ticket, so naturally we missed the train and had to buy new tickets. Lesson learned: in the future we will either pay extra for the refundable tickets or not purchase them in advance.

Rome: 5 nights

We booked an apartment through Airbnb near Piazza Navona, and it was fine. It wasn't nearly as nice as the hotel or agriturismo we stayed at and the mattress was awful but it was a good price. The best part about it was that it came with a pocket wifi, which we brought with us to use our maps app to find our way around Rome. We didn't end up buying a SIM card while we were there and just used wifi. Next time we go since we won't have the pocket wifi, we may buy a phone or SIM card only to use for data because the maps app was so useful to get around with; we didn't get lost like we did in Venice.

Our trip to Rome started off on a bad note since we were late because of the train and missed the Rome Free Tour we had booked for that day. We ended up getting there only five minutes late but they must leave right on time, we noticed some other people were late to it too and missed it. I think both of us were a little overwhelmed with Rome (mostly because we got lost the first day) but the more time we spent there the more we enjoyed it. Out of Venice, Rome, and Tuscany, Rome is probably the only place I would go back to since there's so much to do there.

I wish we had learned the bus system because we walked so much that my feet were killing me, even in sneakers! There are so many restaurants on my list for Rome that we didn't go to because they were just too far and we were too tired to walk there.

Highlights:

Cooking class through Cook with us in Rome: Originally we had wanted to book a class with Andrea Consoli but he was booked so we booked this one instead. This was a fun way to spend an afternoon. We learned how to make pasta, two different sauces, artichokes, fried zucchini flowers, and tiramisu. It was a fun class and we met a lot of great people, however, I think we would only make a few of the recipes we learned and I wish there had been a meat course since it was so expensive! But, I don't regret it because we enjoyed doing it.

Vatican tour through City Wonders: I'm not an art lover but I thought this tour was pretty interesting.

Trastevere: We loved this neighborhood and next time we're in Rome we will definitely stay here.

Capuchin Crypt: We only really saw the crypt, (and just walked through the museum) but it was pretty interesting to see. It only took us about 5-10 minutes.

Good restaurants: Armando al Pantheon, Ditirambo, Grappolo di Oro, Roma Sparita

Bar: Pimms - great cocktails with outdoor seating

Best gelato: Gelateria Come il Late and Frigidarium

Disappointments:

The Roman Guy tour of the Colosseum, dungeon, third level and arena floor: I think the reason why we didn't enjoy this tour as much is that we had just come from the tour of the Vatican so our attention span wasn't great. However, nothing on this tour really seemed too interesting to us. I wish we had booked the Vatican tour for a different day as the Vatican tour was a last minute booking.

Palazzo Valentini: I had high hopes for this tour but it just wasn't as interesting as I thought it would be and I feel that it was a bit long. It wasn't expensive though, so if the tour sounds interesting to you it might still be worth checking out.

ParmaRoma (restaurant): We had meant to go to a restaurant in Monti one night and we had reservations, but we were so tired that we wanted something close to our apartment. I found this on Tripadvisor with good reviews and a coupon so we went here. The ONLY good thing about this restaurant was the parmesan cheese with honey. The rest of our food was pretty awful and flavorless. I was so mad to waste a dinner on this restaurant when there's so many other good restaurants in Rome!

Beppe e I suoi Formaggio: I was really looking forward to trying this place since I love cheese, so we went here for lunch one day. I'm sorry to say that we must not have sophisticated taste in cheese because we didn't like anything we ordered and it was a pretty expensive lunch! I would recommend this if you like soft cheeses, but we prefer hard cheese and sharp cheese. We also tried pate for the first time and thought it tasted exactly like cat food....Again, this was just our personal preference and I'm sure others would enjoy this place more than we did.

Monti (neighborhood): Unfortunately, we only made it to this neighborhood once or twice since it was so far from where we were staying and we didn't get bus passes. However, I had found a bunch of restaurants here that I wanted to try and sadly, didn't have time to try any of them. I had heard that this was a fun, hip neighborhood but we really didn't think much of it. I think maybe we just didn't find the area people were talking about? This would be a place we would explore on our next trip to Rome. I also don't think we made it to the Jewish Ghetto and Testaccio areas of Rome so we would walk around those next time.

Tuscany: 5 nights

Highlights:

We stayed at Agriturismo Marciano (right outside of Siena) for 4 nights and wow, that place is amazing. It's so cozy and the beds were so comfortable! We loved the family style dinners and we met a lot of great people. I'd have to say the dinners we had there were the best we had in Italy and the best deal (5 courses for 35E each plus a different wine for each course!) Plus, everything we ate came straight from the farm. We bought a few good bottles of wine from here.

Our last day before we flew home we drove to Greve in Chianti and stayed at another agriturismo, Il Pozzo di Villa Caprera. The hosts were incredibly welcoming and friendly and the whole villa is completely renovated and beautiful. But, it wasn't as charming as Agriturismo Marciano perhaps because we were the only guests there for the night so it wasn't as fun. The dinners were great, but also didn't compare to Marciano. We did, however, buy wine and olive oil here. Also, they serve cappuccinos at breakfast which is always a plus. If you are staying in Chianti, I would recommend this place.

Siena: We loved Siena and went to a great place for panini (3E for a huge panini!) and bruschetta for lunch. I forget the name of it but I think it's on San Pietro, next to a gelato place. The food here is great and so cheap, but the menu was completely in Italian and we were the only tourists so we basically guessed at everything we ordered. We also stopped by an artist studio on the same street and purchased several paintings to bring home.


Disappointments:

Ciacci Piccolomini d'Aragona winery: I went to this winery expecting a leisurely afternoon sipping wine on the patio with great views of Tuscany. We went on a Saturday afternoon and were the only guests. The person who gave the tasting was friendly, but had sort of an attitude of "taste the wine quickly and leave." So, we were there for about 20 minutes, bought a bottle, and left. It was kind of a waste of a trip because it took us about an hour to get there, but we did stop at Sant Antimo abbey. Can anyone recommend a good winery in Tuscany for if we ever go back? We meant to go to Castello Verrazzano in Greve but they were closed the day we were there.

The hilltowns: The hilltowns were beautiful, however, I wish I had listened to other Fodorites who said that they are all very similar. We went to Orvieto, Montalcino, San Gimignano, Montepulciano (we were only here for an hour), Pienza, San Quirico, Volterra, and Monterrigioni. I had the preconceived notion that you could just go there and find stuff to do, but I wish I had instead found stuff to do ahead of time (although I did look up restaurants and gelato ahead of time). Honestly, they all looked the same to me, and the shops were all the same and sold the same things. Out of the hilltowns, I would recommend Montalcino, Pienza (although VERY crowded), San Gimignano, and Orvieto, but I don't think it's even necessary to go to all of those. Quite honestly, towards the end of our trip to Tuscany we started speed walking through each town hoping to find something interesting and were disappointed. I wish we had gone to Florence for the day or just stayed at our agriturismo and drank wine and relaxed. The drive to get to the hilltowns was beautiful, though, and we stopped to take pictures a few times. If you go to one of these towns, here are a few restaurants that I recommend:

San Gimignano: Cafe Giardino right outside the gates. Look at the specials menu on the wall and order off of that. We got amazing bruschetta with carmelized squash and bacon and ribollita soup and Panini.

San Gimignano: Gelateria Dondoli: voted best gelato in Tuscany. The flavors are very creative

Orvieto: Trattoria del Moro - Aronne: great pumpkin soufflé and other dishes

Pienza: Trattoria Latte di Luna - try the tiramisu

On our last day, we drove to Milan from Chianti to catch our plane and returned our car at the airport.

Overall, we loved Italy. I doubt we'd go back to Venice or Tuscany, and probably not Rome on our next trip, but we had a great time. Now we have to figure out where we will go on our 3 week honeymoon in September 2016. For our honeymoon, I would like to build in more time to relax and just enjoy our surroundings. We are definitely going back to Europe, but we're not sure where yet and are open to suggestions! We are thinking about southern France, Croatia, Prague. Recommendations??

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