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Italy itinerary help please - omit Venice, add Ferrara?

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I am planning an 11 night trip to Italy in the beginning of May, for myself and husband. He has never been there before, and I was only in Florence briefly several decades ago.

He loves visiting museums and seeing the "big" sights. I like that too, in small doses. But I prefer just walking and getting a feel for an area, or watching from a sidewalk cafe. I also like mixing big city with less urban, when possible. We usually manage quite well by compromising. (In Paris, one day he went to the Louvre and I just walked around the city for 9 hrs straight. Most of the rest of the time we spent together, and we were both happy.) We both don't like to be too rushed, and prefer to have at least 3 days in a place (but I don't think that will be possible this trip - we will have to do some 2 nights).
This is the problem. There is so much we want to see here!

So far I have:
1 - Milan (just first evening because we are flying in here late, from US west coast)
2, 3, 4, 5 - open
6, 7, 8 - Florence
9,10,11 - Rome (we will fly home from here)

I was thinking of Bologna for nights 4 and 5, because the science museum sounds interesting to us, we love food, and we have a reservation to see the Ducati motorcycle factory tour near there, on Day 5!

So that leaves nights 2 and 3. I wanted to go to Parma or Ferrera or somewhere like that (would love to see cheese being made!) But everyone tells us we can't skip Venice. From what I've read it sounds too crowded and not so appealing...I would rather drive (or train) through some smaller areas. But would we be foolish to skip Venice? Or is there any way to see it as a day trip, without being ridiculously rushed? Any insights would be most appreciated!

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