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    by mkataoka Fodor's Editor | Posted on Nov 28, 16 at 01:31 PM
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Just Back from 6 weeks in England, Paris and Italy

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We've actually been back 4 weeks after a brilliant trip - I have had a yearning for years to go to France and at last convinced my other half that we should make the 22 hour journey from Sydney. I would have liked to have seen absolutely EVERYTHING and gone EVERYWHERE on this trip - but sanity prevailed and the leisurely pace of our itinerary was perfect.
London - 5 nights
South West England - 6 nights
Paris - 7 nights
Milan - 3 nights
Venice - 4 nights
Tuscany - 7 nights
Rome - 5 nights
Positano - 5 nights
Rome - 1 night before our flight home

We are in our late 40's and this was our first trip to England and Europe - we booked our flights and a couple of hotels through a travel agent - the rest of our accomodation we booked over the internet and we organised our rail travel between cities when we arrived in each destination. We knew very little French and Italian but we had a number of useful phrases we could use in (hopefully) the right situation - it was fun to try rather than just speaking English. I had done a fair amount of research, but we were very much novices - however we coped fine. My advice to anyone is "just do it". We will certainly be going back to do it again.

This may end up being a rather long report - but everything is starting to rush back into my mind as I start to write.

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    London
    Flying over the coastline, the English countryside looked like a patchwork quilt - the small neat farms a far cry from seeing Australia from the air.

    Arrived at Heathrow, headed for the Underground and caught the train to Gloucester Road station. The Atlas-Apollo Hotel in SOuth Kensington was a 5 minute walk from the station. A basic hotel in a row of Georgian terraces we booked through our travel agent - we had a big room with bathroom overlooking the street on the 3rd floor.
    We liked this area, probably less than 10 minutes by underground to the city centre. A Sainsbury supermarket and coffee shop nearby and quite a few little restaurants.

    Our room wasnt ready so we left our luggage, caught the U/G to Leicester Square and headed to Trafalgar Square. There was lots of construction under way and not many people around - but here we were in London - what a great feeling! The National Portrait Gallery was our first stop, and then we found St Martin's-in-the-field Crypt where we disappeared downstairs into the warmth of the cafe for coffee and a snack. We were just in time for a lunchtime concert in the church above - a young girl playing the harp in this beautiful church - it was quite a haunting, magic performance.

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    We used the Underground a lot, buying daily Travel Passes. We experienced typical "English" weather for the time we were here - from sunny and mild, to sunny and windy, to misty rain and cool, to foggy and cold. But that suited me fine - I didn't come all the way to England to have hot and sunny "Australian" weather.

    DAY 2
    Red Bus tour, a river cruise, the Tower of London (had a very interesting chat with one of the Yeoman Warders who lives with his family within the tower walls), pub dinner at White Horse Inn (cnr Rupert & Archer Sts, Soho - very nice - table upstairs by a window - great for people watching).

    DAY 3
    St Paul's Cathedral & crypt (walked up 525 steps to the top of the dome and have completely overcome my fear of heights), did a tour of Shakespears's Globe theatre (and went back the same night to see a performance of Richard II - fantastic!), and short visit to British Museum

    DAY 4
    Catch U/G to Green Park - walk to Buckingham palace for Changing of the Guard but it was cancelled because of rain (had interesting chat to a policewomen on a horse who should she would keep an eye out for us there the next day & give us a wave - I love talking to people like this - it gives you a real connection with the locals), went to Harrods for lunch, then to the Victoria & Albert Museum (I liked this museum better than the British Museum) and the Natural History Exhibition which was set up in the open. After dinner we wandered along Oxford street to Marble Arch and then down Park Lane to Hyde Park corner to catch a bus back to our hotel.

    DAY 5
    Catch U/G to Notting Hill Gate and spent the morning at the Portobello Road Markets - what a great, lively area and market this is. We browsed for antique brooches for our daughter (she ended up with 4 - we couldn't decide on just one). Had lunch and a couple of drinks in a funky old pub on the way back to the station - it was just like something out of the 70's. Caught U/G to Lancaster Gate, wandered through Kensington Gardens then along High Street Kensington and walked back to our hotel.

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    Next Challenge - to pick up rental car from Marble Arch and find our way out of London. It was a Sunday with not too much traffic about so it was not too difficult - we missed one turn early on but just went in a huge circle back to where we started from, and this time we got it right. The roads are great, with goods signs giving you plenty of time before you need to turn or take an exit.

    First stop Stonehenge - raining - we bought a 7 day Heritage Pass here. The audio tour was great and gave it all more meaning. Old Sarum was our next stop - sunny, but very cold - Salisbury cathedral was originally built here but was then dismantled and rebuilt where it now stands - amazing.

    We took the long way to Salisbury, driving through Middle, Lower and Upper Woodford - 3 tiny villages, very pretty. Found Bridge Farm B&B - we had booked this on the recommendation of friends who had stayed there - when we arrived I wanted to stay the next 6 nights here, not just 1. It was a gorgeous old place with wisteria vines covering the walls and a stream (with swans) meandering through the back garden and Norma(our host) was just lovely. We had dinner that night at the Old Yew Inn - very nice and very friendly publican.

    Next morning we went to Salisbury Cathedral - every church, every old building continues to take our breath away - how did they build these magnificent buildings so very long ago? We did a guided tour up to the spire - to see the size and number of huge timber beams that were hoisted up so high, and how they coated the domed ceilings and created the vaulted ceilings - wow! We bought traditional pasties for lunch and then headed towards Exmouth. Just near Shaftesbury we saw a sign pointing to Waldour Castle - a five mile drive along a narrow winding road, through picturesque villages and up steep hills bought us to one of our favourite places - well worth a visit! There was another couple there when we first arrived but then we had it all to ourselves. The audio tour was excellent. The back of the castle is mostly ruined through past battles but floors have been rebuilt at the front of the castle and you are able to go up the original staircases to the top (about 4 floors). The setting is magic - real Robin Hood type country.

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    We seemed to have a slight problem over the next few days in that we would drive through somewhere really nice with charming, traditional little B&B's in the middle of the day - then when we needed to find somewhere to stay later in the day, nothing looked as appealing. While Exmouth looked fine on the map, maybe Dawlish or Paignton (a little further on) may have been better - or maybe we just missed the best parts of Exmouth. However, each time I didn't exactly feel excited about where we were going to spend the night something always happened to make it special. At the B&B in Exmouth we met two couples at breakfast - from New Zealand and Wales, and from a very polite 'good morning' proceeded to have the most fun breakfast we have ever had - we laughed till we cried!

    Next morning we head off towards Dartmoor, stopping at Paignton on the way - the brightly painted beach huts along the promenade are just gorgeous, as were the (only other) couple at the beach. They had obviously arrived on holiday and taken up residence in their beach hut. They were braving the blustery, cold wind and grey skies no matter what, dressed in shorts and summer tops - but sitting on their deck chairs wrapped in blankets.

    Next stop was the pretty little town of Ashburton (in Dartmoor National Park). We had lunch at Studio Tea Shop - was just like walking into your aunts lounge room - two orders of grilled cheese on toast and cries of "ooh my poor grills overloaded" came from the tiny kitchen - we felt like old friends when we got smiles and "bye bye's" as we left. From there it was to Buckland-in-the-Moor and Widecombe-in-the-Moor where we stopped to look at the old village church. We then drove miles through narrow lanes with high hedges on each side until we came to the high windswept moors and saw lots of wild moor ponies.

    Arriving at Bude, we went through our daily search for a B&B to stay the night. Stayed at Surf Haven, opposite the golf course and near a very rocky beach with more beach huts (but not nearly as pretty as the huts at Paignton). The owners of the B&B were very friendly - they had a son who had spent a couple of years in Sydney ( instant conversation starter).

    Had dinner at Marina on the Green pub - I couldn't decide which beer to have, so the barman poured 2 different beers into small glasses so I could try before I ordered - how cute is that?

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    Next morning, after our best 'full' English Breakfast so far, we headed down the coast to Crackington Haven. It was very rocky beach with steep, shale-like cliffs. It was starting to rain and we could see the mist moving in over the water. We saw a group of hikers walking along the coastal path, so decided to follow them for a short way - we walked for about half an hour, then sat and just watched the mist really roll in. It must have been a perfect place for smugglers in days gone by! One day we will come back and do a real walk along this amazing coastal path.

    Next stop is Boscastle - very pretty little harbour, witches museum and gorgeous B&B's. We walk along the sea wall - the rain is falling heavier, the fog is getting thicker.

    What a day to visit Tintagel, place of the origin of the legend of King Arthur. The remains of castles, palaces and numerous other buildings cover this steep, rocky outcrop which is barely connected to the mainland - these days stairs lead you up, down and all around, but to think a whole community of people lived here - you could almost imagine the pomp and ceremony that must have happened here, the ladies in their finery sitting in garden areas, the paths leading from here to there, the parades of the lords and their ladies. We could barely see to the edge of the cliffs because of the fog, but it certainly added a medieval, mystical feel to our visit.

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    We had intended to go right down the Cornish Coast to Penzance and St Ives, but as Paul and I like to 'linger', we were never going to have enough time this time, so we decide to head to Bideford to try to find a B&B for tonight - no luck, so we continue to Barnstaple - still no luck. We look at the map and see that Lynton is not that far away - the New Zealand couple we met at Exmouth had said Lynton was rather nice. So we head off through Exmoor National park in the thick fog (we could only see about 50 metres ahead) to Lynton. What a gem! Lynton (up high) and Lynmouth (down low at the mouth of the river by the ocean with a beautiful little harbour, shops and B&B's) were definitely favourites - The town of Lynmouth was partially washed away by a flood in 1953 and the sides of the river had to be rebuilt. There is a beautiful walk which zig zags down the steep embankment from Lynton to Lynmouth and a water operated train/cable car which connects the two towns. We stayed at the Denes B&B - again we lucked out with friendly, helpful owners.

    Valley of the rocks is a short drive from Lynton - on the way back we encountered goats with huge horns jumping the hedged boundaries of the fields they were in, and then fighting and clashing horns in the middle of the road as we were trying to pass (have a photograph to prove it!)

    We had a Cream Tea at Lacey's tea rooms in Lynton - couldn't help but overhear some of the gossip of a group of local ladies - just as well we didn't know the people they were chatting about!#?!

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    Next night we stayed in Wells at Bay Tree House B&B. Following morning we tourned Wells Cathedral and the Bishops Palace before heading to Bath. We parked at Newbury and caught the park & ride bus into Bath. We did a tour of the Roman Baths and then did a walking tour of the town which was free and was excellent.

    Out last night in England we stayed in Hungerford - we had booked this by phone the previous day as this weekend was a long weekend (Bank Holiday) and the car was to be returned to Heathrow the next morning. Our B&B was by a canal - the next morning we went for a walk and a short way along the canal we came to a lock and a gorgeous little brightly painted houseboat. We found out that it if you walk alongside the canal, about every half hour or so you will pass an inn. That is another thing to put on our list to do next time!

    We arrived at Heathrow without too much trouble - but did not have directions as to where the Hertz Depot was, so we headed to Terminal 4 - no sign of any rental car depots. Lucky for us we spotted a Hertz shuttle bus and the driver said to follow him - it would have taken us ages to find it otherwise.

    The airport was crowded with holiday weekend crowds -Paris here we come!!!

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    PARIS
    Arrived at Paris CDG Airport 4.30pm on Saturday - grey and raining - caught a shuttle bus to the RER station - then a train to Les Halles. My first heartstopping moment in Paris was a young fellow busking, playing a piano accordian on the train - here I was - Paris at last. Arrived at Les Halles & struggled off with our luggage - trains were very crowded. Next challenge was to find the Metro line to Ettienne Marcel - only a couple of stops away but it seemed like those underground tunnels go for miles and all their arrows pointing the way seemed topsy turvy compared to "Australian" arrows!#*. Well we eventually arrived at our station and lugged our suitcases up even more stairs. I always pride myself on having a really good sense of direction but I was totally bamboozled when we surfaced onto the street so off we headed in the wrong direction. Luckily we soon realised and we headed back and found our hotel for the next 7 nights (it was only about 200 metres from the station) - Hotel Tiquetonne on rue Tiquetonne in the 2nd arrondissement. This is a brilliant 1 star hotel - VERY basic - but in a great area - the elderly lady at reception did not speak English and we spoke very little French, but by the end of the week we were just like old friends - you should have seen her trying to impress on us that the front door was locked at midnight and we had to be back in the hotel by then. There was always an old German Shepherd in the hall or in the reception area - just their form of security I guess! We had Room #9 on the second floor, which overlooked the narrow cobbled pedestrian street which was lined with an interesting array of shops (tattoo & body piercing, hairdressers, patisserie, restaurants, etc), with apartments above the shops - there was a tiny lift but we always used the spiral staircase. Our room with private bathroom was quite big with very high ceilings and tall windows that opened floor to ceiling to give us our 'window balcony' - we had a curved wall which backed onto the spiral staircase, rich red carpet, curtains and bedspread and a speckled pink wallpaper - very Parisienne to my mind! The hotel was very noisy the first night but fairly quite for the rest of the week. Just around the corner was rue St Denis - a pedestrian street (actually a red-light district) which led all the way to the Seine. We never felt unsafe - there were always a lot of people around. At the other end of our street was rue Montorgueil - a lively market street and behind us was Grand passag de Clerf, an upmarket arcade of arts and crafts. All this for 46 Euros per night!!!!!

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    Paris (continued)
    We visited all the main tourist sites, places I had only dreamed about for years - I was in seventh heaven - the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame (including climbing 375 steps to the top), St Chapelle, Rodin Gallery, the Louvre, Arc de Triomphe, Champs Elysses, the Pompidou Centre, Hotel des Invalides, Sacre Coeur and Montmartre, we walked the Marais, Place des Vogues, the Latin Quarter, the Luxembourg gardens and the banks of the Seine and our last day we spent at Versailles. The Musee D'Orsay was on strike both days we went there and the day we went to the Marais was a public holiday (Ascension Day) and the Picasso Museum was closed - c'est la vie! We did heaps of walking but also used the Metro quite a bit. It is very easy to work out which line you need to take and we bought the carnet of 10 tickets as we needed them.

    Throughout the week we bought fresh cherries, roast chickens, bunches of cherry tomatoes, baguettes, pastries, and wine from shops in our area (this really tested our French, but what fun) - lots of picnic lunches and snacks. Our breakfast each morning was coffee and pastries with the locals on their way to work at the bar of a little cafe just by Ettienne Marcel Metro station. We did not eat at expensive restaurants - just small places that looked inviting, wherever we happened to be when we got hungry.

    Little things we loved - people riding their bicycles sitting up ever so straight, some even singing or whistling as they whizzed by; all the polite "bonjours" - the experience of asking at our hotel where to find the Laundromat (I recognised the street name amongst a flurry of other information that was offered) and then doing our laundry with lots of help and sign language from the other people in the Laundromat, the gendarmes blowing their whistles and waving people away from sitting on the grass

    We bought our Eurostar tickets to Milan on our 2nd day in Paris - this was a bit nervewracking as we stood in line trying to memorise how to ask for the tickets in French - we bought the tickets at Gare de Lyon so we knew where to go on the day we were to catch the train - very easy! we thought. However on the day we arrived at the station complete with luggage it all looked very unfamiliar - we had come up a different escalator at the other end of the station - it took us a while to find the right platforms but then, after validating our tickets we boarded the train and proceeded to have a very comfortable 6 hour journey to Milan. The scenery as we passed through the Alps was stunning - MASSIVE snow-capped mountains and small towns and the roads which seemed to go disappear through tunnels under the mountains at every turn.

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    MILANO
    As soon as we reached Italy the weather turned HOT. The train station at Milan sounded like a sideshow alley with the announcements continually coming over the loudspeakers. We decided we would buy our train tickets for the next leg of our trip to Venice while we were at the station - there were a lot of people standing around in the ticket office, but no-one was actually lined up at the windows. So up we went and started trying to ask for "due biglietti a Venezia" - the guy at the ticket window started giving us a hard time and then we realised that we needed to take a ticket and wait for our number to be called - Whoops! After waiting with our ticket for ages and not much happening we decided to go get our tickets from a ticket machine - very easy!!!!

    Caught Metro and found Speronari Hotel (just behind the Piazza del Duomo) after asking a very helpful gentleman. Again this hotel is fairly basic - we did have a fan (which we needed) in our room which was at the back of the hotel - they do sell drinks and snacks at reception and the staff were very friendly and helpful. The location was excellent!!!

    We had booked tickets for the Last Supper for the next morning ? very worthwhile - quite a moving experience - pity that the friars had enlarged the door into their kitchen and cut off the feet of Jesus!

    Our one and only "pickpocket moment" - getting on the train back from the Last Supper, two women unobtrusively blocked my way - I didn?t think too much of it, but normally if someone wants to get past, people will move aside - they didn't. I had my small bag across my shoulder, all 3 zips closed, but something made me reach down - one zip had been opened and a pack of tissues from my bag were on the ground. I pushed her hands up - she was very pregnant and had quite a big tote bag - this, with the fact she was very close to me gave her the cover she needed to fiddle with the zip on my bag. Well - I was in shock - I pushed past her to where Paul was standing and told him what had happened - my legs were like jelly. She did not get my wallet (which did not have anything of value in it anyhow), and I glared at her - she just looked back at me and then got off at the next stop. I then started to think I was just imagining it!?!? What is the 'best' thing to do in this situation? - If my wallet had been gone I would have made a fuss!!! Was a good lesson - made us very aware!

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    Milano (Continued)
    We headed back to Piazza del Duomo ? there was lots of activity, barriers all around the piazza, TV crews, loud speakers and people everywhere wearing lolly pink t-shirts and riding bikes. We were in the middle of the last race of the month- long Giro D?Italia bicycle event. The announcers were whipping the competitors and spectators into a frenzy as they sent the riders on their way, one by one, complete with their police escort and support vehicles.

    We were in the Navigli area later in the day and that was part of the route for the race ? people were lining the streets cheering, police were waving their little lollipop batons to control the traffic and pedestrians as the police motorbike came through blaring their siren, then the rider, then the support vehicle complete with horns blaring and the occupants waving and encouraging their rider. Such excitement!- such a great day! Lots of shops in the Navigli area were closed (it was Sunday), there were market stalls set up along the canal and there were some interesting art studios and shops in very picturesque little courtyard buildings.

    We also went for a walk in the area around Loreto station ? our daughter had stayed at Hotel Vallazze (1 star) in this area a couple of years ago and had fallen in love with the area. While it was quite a lovely street and nice area (again no shops were open ? it was Sunday!) I was happier that we were staying right in the centre of the city.

    We headed back to the Duomo and caught the lift to the top ? it was amazing ? we were literally on the roof, up amongst all the spires. The religious quest to be as close to the heavens as humanly possible is very evident with the height and number of ornate spires on this church ? who on the ground was ever going to see all the intricate carving and decoration ? We were amazed that we were allowed to clamber where ever we wanted ? there were only a few security people up there. We could look down from the roof into the church through a gap in an open window ? there was a service taking place ? we were so high up and we could hear the voices and music wafting up ? quite surreal. An interesting observation, some of the gargoyles at the top of the building were designed to be used as very effective drainage to carry water away from the side of the building when it rains. There was a thunderstorm the next afternoon (the only rain we had while in Italy) and torrents of water poured from the open mouths of the gargoyles, about a metre out from the side of the church.

    We encountered another public holiday on the Monday (all the shops were closed again today) ? Republique Day. We caught the train to Lake Como for the day. From there we caught a ferry to Bellagio. Again spectacular scenery ? the high, high mountains coming right down to the waters edge, the beautiful lake and prettier than pretty towns along the edge of the lake. Bellagio was quite busy but we climbed the steep little streets and wandered until we found a delightful restaurant for lunch. Then back to Milan and more walking and more food until we called it a day.

    Getting on the train at Milano Centrale to Venice was an experience. We had booked on an Intercity train, but the platform the train was leaving from was not announced until just a few minutes before the train was due to leave. This created a crush of hundreds of people complete with luggage all moving towards Platform 8. We got on the train but then I stepped aside to let some more people on before the train actually pulled out. This meant Paul and I were separated by about 10 people. The compartments were packed and the narrow corridors were packed, it was hot and everyone was trying to move along. We eventually got to our ?booked? seats ? with people already sitting in them. No worries! ? I passed our tickets up to Paul and the people in our seats manoeuvered themselves and their luggage out of the compartment and Paul and I manoeuvered ourselves in. By this time about 25 minutes of our journey had passed. Whew! ? time for a drink and something to eat ? I had a couple of squashed panini I had been lugging behind me. Two men opposite us then reached up into their luggage and retrieved a plastic bag with lots of big chunky sandwiches in it and a bottle of red wine and proceeded to picnic. Silly us ? we only had water ? next time we will bring wine! Two ladies and a small child then took out their food for the trip and even though we didn?t understand a word that was spoken, with smiles and heads nodding it felt that we were all friends embarking on an exciting journey.

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    Fabulous trip report - I've been reading it aloud to my husband, who actually MUTED the TV! Your journey reads like a novel. I especially love that you find the people as interesting as the sights. That's what traveling should be.
    I'm also fascinated that Australians get so much time off. When we were in Italy 2 years ago, we befriended 2 couples from Australia who were in the middle of an 8-week European trip.
    I'm 59 and a home-health physical therapist, with no benefits. When we go on vacation, I go without pay. My husband is 61 and gets 2 weeks off a year. America is SO far behind the rest of the world when it comes to leisure time. You're SO LUCKY!!!!!!!

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    Hi Hagan

    Here in Australia we normally get 4 weeks annual leave. Paul had actually accumulated enough leave for our entire holiday, but luckily I have a very understanding employer who approved leave without pay for me.

    Maybe we are a very leisure oriented people - I know I have a one-track mind (holidays) - and its a LONG way for us to get to Europe so I think we feel like we need to make the most of it.

    But - with or without pay, we certainly plan on going back as soon as we can organise it.

    Helen

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    No pressure, Helen, but I hope you make it to Positano before my wife and I head off to Europe ex Gold Coast on 21st August. We're also spending five nights in Positano - at the Pensione Maria Luisa - and looking forward to your thoughts.

    Doug

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    Still enjoying your report, Helen. I forgot to mention that your time in Paris sounds eerily the same as our first time there. I'm talking nearly every detail! I enjoyed reliving it. Thanks.

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    Wonderful report and I was sooo delighted when you mentioned your visit to Crackington Haven.

    For the last several years a large group of friends (most of us met at university in the early 90s) take a week's holiday together in the UK. We spent the first two years in Crackington Haven staying in a large house just near the main pub by the beach.

    After that the owners sold it to a commune group and we found alternatives but I stayed in touch with the owners of our first place and we visited and joined them for dinner on subsequent visits.

    In recent years we've been to other parts of the UK such as Anglesey in Wales, but I have fond memories of Bude and Boscastle and many other places round about and am still in touch with the Crackington Haven friends.

    Thanks for bringing back the memories and for a wonderful report.

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    Thanks for the feedback! If anyone would would like any info - please ask - we have prices, timetables, etc at hand.

    Dougw: now I'm back on line I hope to post the rest of my report in the next day or so - so POSITANO is coming!!!!

    Helen

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    VENEZIA
    We were greeted at Venice railway station with a very helpful and friendly information officer who quickly corrected my pronunciation of our hotel (Alcyone) and told us which vaporetto to catch and where to get off ? we bought our Eurostar tickets for our next leg to Florence at the travel agents office at the station before we walked outside and got our first glimpse of this magic city. We bought a 3-day Vaporetto pass and headed to the Rialto Bridge. From here it was just a short walk to our hotel ? again a basic but pleasant hotel with a tiny, tiny bathroom ? but no fans, no A/C ? but, I really felt like we were in the real Venice ? I know the hotel is right on the tourist path between the Rialto and San Marco but the shutters on our windows looked like they had looked like that for centuries, we looked out onto a small disused courtyard with wooden gates at the end and if you put your head out the window and looked down we could just catch a glimpse of a canal and we could hear the gondoliers singing coming from the canal as well. Hows that for a canal view? Dinner tonight at Ristorante Grande Canal - a ?touristo? restaurant right by the Grand Canal on the opposite side of the Rialto Bridge - food was average, but for our first night in Venice the location was great. After dinner a stroll to Piazza San Marco.

    DAY 2
    We caught a vaporetto to Lido, walked across to the beach and paddled in the Adriatic Sea. On the way back we got off at S. Elena, and walked through the lush green gardens and then made our way back to San Marco Piazza, stopping for lunch along the way at a little restaurant near the Naval headquarters. We also stopped at Palazzo Querini Stampalia to check out the building and courtyard built by architect Carlo Scarpa. Dinner is pizza and birra by the Grand Canal.

    DAY 3
    Vaporetto to San Toma - we find our way to Hotel Iris (a hotel we were considering) and then wander through the San Polo area, stopping to have a couple of beers and write postcards at a bar in a piazza by the ?Universitario di Archittura?. We continue our wandering and come across a tiny deli -we buy salami, mortadella, cheese, bread rolls, pastries and aranciatas - the lady serving us was VERY patient as we fumbled and bumbled our way with ?bad? Italian, hand gestures and facial expressions to ask for what we wanted. BUT it cost us almost nothing and was our most delicious picnic (on the steps of the church at Stae vaporetto stop). The tiny piazzas in the back streets could be almost deserted or be filled with small children playing and the parents and grandparents socialising ? depending on the time of day you passed. The narrow alleys with washing flapping from lines high up on the walls, people coming and going and the beautiful old doors leading from the street into their homes made me wish I had a key to glimpse the life these Venetians lead. I absolutely loved the doors (and door knockers) we saw wherever we went ? I could have easily brought home a shipping container full of doors!!

    Later this afternoon we headed to the Dorsoduro area and walk some more - our wanderings along little alleys, beside canals, through tiny piazzas, watching the canal traffic and restorations going on, the Venetians coming and going to and from work, to and from the shops, picking up their children from school was our favorite way to spend our time in Venice. We had dinner at Bar Accademia - right by the Accademia Bridge - lots of locals were eating here - it looked like they were ordering delicious little snacks that weren?t on the menu!! The advantage of being a local I guess.

    DAY 4
    We caught a vaporetto to Murano, past the island of the dead ? enjoyed the glassmaking exhibition, then wandered through the shops by the main canal.

    We walked some more through San Marco, looking at watercolour paintings. I actually think we covered most lanes and canals in Venice ? we walked till we could walk no more!! Then we sat and ate and drank some more!! We did eventually find and buy a watercolour painting from Nicola Tenderini at his little shop just on the other side of the Rialto Bridge. Dinner tonight was at an Osteria just past the fruit and vegetable markets. We loved San Marco piazza. Most nights we would buy gelato and just enjoy the fun and showmanship of the bands ? one night a lady with a magnificent voice who was in the crowd of people watching would sing along with the band. Her voice would erupt from different parts of the piazza from time to time ? she was having a ball! The sky in Italy at night is such a beautiful ?midnight? blue ? like nothing I had ever seen - and to have such brilliant buildings silhouetted against the sky took my breath away night after night.

    The vaporetto ride along the Grand Canal was pretty amazing ? all those magnificent old buildings and their incredible high ceilinged rooms that you can see from the canal ? you can almost imagine the excesses of life along the canal in past times. The sound of the gondaliers calling to each other across the canals - as I think about it, I just want to be there!!!!!!

    We loved the daily early morning activity of all the delivery boats bringing supplies in to the bars and cafes - crates being unloaded from the boats and then carried on trolleys to its final destination - all before the day tourists arrive. The delivery of a load of clothes driers to a warehouse was also an amazing feat of balance - the deck of the boat was piled high with the driers and they were unloaded through huge doors that opened directly onto the canal. When all the driers on top had been unloaded, they then removed, one by one, huge planks that formed the deck - they then had another layer of driers underneath!!!

    I have just fininshed reading ?A Thousand Days in Venice? by Marlena de Blasi - if you have ever been to Venice, you must read it - you will love it!!

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    Helen, enjoyed your trip report so very much. We were in Paris last fall for 14 days and plan to go to London in the spring. Your "other than London" report on England makes me want to do some time outside the city this time. Did you and Paul have problems adjusting to the driving pattern in England?

    Mike

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    BARBERINO VAL D?ELSA, TUSCANY
    We were now old hands at catching trains. We decided Eurostar was the way to go from now on. From Venice we arrived in Florence and had directions to get to the bus depot which was right by the train station.

    We were to catch a bus to Tarvanelle, where we were to be met by Giovanni who owns the apartment we were staying in for the next 7 nights, Luna di Miele in Barberino Val D?Elsa (see website HYPERLINK "http://www.bardotti.com" www.bardotti.com ). Well the apartment was perfect . Even better than the web site and the view from our bedroom window was just breathtaking! The village was just like a postcard, but with just enough shops, restaurants and lovely locals to make this a really special week. We did not have a car as driving on the ?wrong? side of the road just seemed too scary. With a car you would see a lot of the surrounding countryside and villages and wineries, but we were happy to stay in the village and check out the local bars, restaurants, gelato shops, walk the surrounding areas, have picnics in the local parks, Paul did some pencil drawings and by the end of the week we almost felt like locals, people were recognising and greeting us and our Italian was slowly, slowly getting better.

    We did spend one day at San Gimignano and one day in Siena but did not get to Florence as planned. The bus service is very good although we did spend a lot of time in the piazza in Poggibonsi as we always seemed to just miss the connecting bus. This was OK though, as this park was obviously the centre of the daily passegiatta. We would watch the procession of Vespas drive into the carpark across the road, the arrival of people young and old, the greeting of friends. And here we were sitting in the midst of it partaking of our daily gelato!!

    We had originally booked an apartment in San Gimignano but were to pick up the keys in Colle Val D?Elsa . While searching for bus timetables I came across above site and changed my mind. Lucky!! While San Gimignano is amazing and I loved it lots, Barberino was a lot smaller and a lot more personal.

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    Hi Mikex:

    I take it you mean driving on the left hand side of the road? This was no problem for us as its the same in Australia. There were lots of quite big roundabouts - so we did find ourselves going around in circles a few times until we could manoeuvre ourselves into the correct lane to exit!!!!

    In Tuscany it would have been a BIG advantage to hire a car - but it just seemed to be too stressful to suddenly start driving on the "wrong" side of the road - luckily the bus and train system was so good.

    However, if you were to hire a car from a town out of London and get your bearings on the smaller, quieter roads it may not be such a problem.

    Helen

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    Thanks Helen, Forgot you guys drive on the other side too. My wife is concerned about my ability to adjust since her brother had trouble when he was there and he was 20 years younger than I will be. Oh well, we will make it one way or the other.

    Mike

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    Helen, I am really enjoying your report. We also went to London, Paris and Italy this summer but I could never write a report that "glows" like yours. I'm so glad you enjoyed yourselves so much - even the pickpocketing experience didn't seem to deter you from having a wonderfu experience. I am looking forward to any further details.

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    This is such a wonderful report. As a first time traveler to Europe you experienced so much and project a total sense of enjoyment and appreciation in telling us about it. wonderful. Thanks.

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    Thanks for the response on my report, Helen. I'm still very much enjoying your report, as well. I can agree with so many of your insights of Venice.

    I, too, read 1,000 Days in Venice when I returned. It brought back a lot of memories.

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    I'm enjoying following you around Europe, if only in my mind's eye, as I read your wonderful report. I went to the website you posted, www.bardotti.com, to check out your apartment in Tuscany, but couldn't find Luna di Miele on the site.

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    Hi Betsy

    I have just looked at www.bardotti.com and it looks like they have combined 2 apartments. Luna di Miele only had one bedroom and catered for 2 people only and it now looks like the Attico apartment (which was across the hallway from us) is for 2-6 people. The first lot of photos under Attico were the apartment we stayed in.

    It was so good booking directly with, and meeting the owner of the apartment - we e-mailed him many times between booking the apartment and actually arriving. Giovanni was very helpful and it was a "real" Italian contact.

    Helen

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    ROMA
    Next stop Roma!! How hot can it get. Rome was like a sauna. Thank goodness for the little fountains of spring water that are all over the place. Filling up water bottles and splashing cool water over our faces was a life saver.

    We caught a taxi from the railway station to our hotel, Residenza San Pantaleo, which is just around the corner from Piazza Navona in a beautiful old building with a magnificent old open, wrought iron lift to take us to the 4th floor. A wide spiral staircase circled the lift and we also had a key to the massive front door to the building which was locked at weekends and after 7pm at night. Again we almost felt like we really lived there, having our own front door key. Our room was quite basic but very pleasant, we did have a tiny balcony overlooking a courtyard. There was a problem with the air-conditioning while we were there which was uncomfortable in the heat. Waking to the sound of Florian?s (Owner/Manager) voice in the hallway as he discussed the problem with the air-conditioner repair man for the second day in a row was like being saturated to the very core with day-to-day Italy. I?m sure he didn?t draw breath for a full 5 minutes!!

    Our first afternoon was the Panthenon (with a mass and beautiful singing by a choir in progress), the Trevi Fountain and Piazza Navona with pasta for dinner at Antonio?s Trattoria (between Pantheon and Piazza Navona). Rome was definitely the most crowded place we had encountered in our entire trip. What a vibrant city!

    DAY 2
    We started out towards the Colosseum, but not far from our hotel we came to some ruins that had been excavated . We were astounded! We read all the signs, took photos, walked around the whole area. We were soon to find out that if we did this whenever we came across similar sites that we would never venture very far at all. The whole city is like one giant archaeological dig!! At the Colosseum we did a guided tour (for 7 Euros) which was excellent. All this history is just mindboggling. We had lunch at a café on the way to St Clemente Church. We took one of my favourite photos here, Paul just casually having lunch and a beer with the Colosseum in the background!!! We saw the excavated lower levels of St Clemente. This whole city must have been so much closer to sea level than what it is today, they just kept on building on top of old building sites! Dinner in Piazza Navona tonight.

    DAY 3
    The Forum is our first stop. We followed the Lonely Planet tour for this site, but when we had finished (at the end away from Piazza Venezia) we heard a FREE tour that was just about to start. If it had not been so hot we would have done it again. Excavation is still taking place at the Forum site, very painstaking, scraping and brushing the soil away bit by bit. This afternoon, we head to the Spanish Steps. They were beautiful and very crowded, but there was no colour, no flowers at all lining the steps like all the photographs show! Walked back towards the Trevi Fountain and had dinner at a tiny restaurant , the waiter was very friendly and brought us complimentary Limoncellos at the end of our meal.

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    Roma (Continued)

    DAY 4
    Shopping and browsing in Campo di Fiori. The fruits, vegetables, all the stalls just look so wonderful. Paul found a barbershop here and got a haircut from Mario!! From here we headed to Trastevere, very different, very quiet, not many tourists at all. We wandered and found Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere and Basilica di St Cecilia. While these two churches looked quite small and not-too-special from the outside, walking inside is like a magical transformation with centuries of history contained within the walls, not to mention the ornate decoration, paintings and statues to rival that you see in the well-known, huge churches. We would quite often just wander into small churches as we passed. Sometimes a service would be in progress, but always we were amazed how beautiful they were, even the very simple, less ornate churches. We had lunch at a tiny bar and were entertained by a couple playing the piano accordion. Loved the fruit stalls selling containers of cool fruit salad ? and also went into a department store to buy a few cooler, sleeveless tops to wear ? definitely did not pack for this heat.

    DAY 5
    Piazza Barberini. By the time we find the church with the bones of the Cappuchin Monks it is closed, to re-open at 3.00pm. So lunch it is and then a walk to the Borghese Gardens and gelato before going back to the Cappuchin Monks ? how creepy are the displays ? even the light fittings you walk under are fashioned from human bones!! We pass Chiesa di San Luigi dei Francesi on the way back to the hotel and decide to go in.Restoration is under way with workers up scaffolding behind sheets draped along the walls. At the back of this church is a huge painting by Michelangelo. And this is a church we had walked past many times and had not previously noticed. How blase we become!

    From the back of Piazza Del Campidoglio you get and amazing view of the Roman Forum (just one more incredible photo opportunity). The three beautiful palaces in the Piazza were designed by Michelangelo and the afternoon we were there they were setting up for a huge outdoor concert, with stages, lighting, sound equipment, grand pianos and seating taking up the centre of the piazza. A rock band was rehearsing , while being videoed. A complete mix of the old and new. I did see a lot of posters around the city advertising concerts at the Colosseum and St Peters and the like. What incredible settings!!

    Next morning and we take only our second taxi ride of our trip ? back to Termini Station to catch a train to Naples on our way to Positano, our last destination. At Naples station we were bombarded with drivers wanting to take us to Positano (80 Euros was the going rate) and warning (or trying to scare us) about pickpockets on the trains ? but I had it all worked out that we would catch the train to Sorrento and then the bus to Positano (for about 10 Euros for the two of us). The bus trip from Sorrento was unreal ? the narrow winding road, hairpin bends and the sheer drop down the cliff to the water below, the sound of the bus horn warning oncoming traffic of our approach. I loved the roadside stalls along the way with their strings of red chilliesand lemons hanging all over them.

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    Dougw

    I have just checked out the website for Pensione Maria Luisa - it's beautiful!! We bags staying there next time we get to Positano!!

    As you have most probably researched, it is above Fornillo Beach which is the next beach along from Positano, an easy 15 minute walk along a pathway built dramatically on the side of the rocks which drop steeply to the water. At Fornillo there is a hotel right on the beach and three or four cafes/ restaurants and sunlounges and umbrellas for hire as well. Just out from the beach there is a big rock that sticks out of the water. The afternoon that we were there it was the popular thing to swim out to the rock and then perch on it before swimming back to shore. We did not venture up the steep path behind the beach - it was a very hot day and the path was very, very steep.

    You will have a wonderful time - the whole area is stunningly beautiful.

    Helen

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    POSITANO
    We got off at the last stop in Positano and with luggage in tow headed down Via Cristoforo Colombo to our hotel, the Savoia. Again this was in a great position , an easy walk down to the beach and in the middle of everything. A lovely, family owned hotel with friendly staff and a view from every room. We were here for 5 nights and were lucky enough to be upgraded to a suite. We had a terrace overlooking the ocean, a balcony overlooking the town and a window balcony right in front of the bed overlooking the hillside. Pure magic!!! Paul was in his element here, straight down to the (stony) beach and into the beautiful cool, clear water. We had a couple of evening picnics on the beach, buying our food and wine from the little deli just down from our hotel. The bunches of tiny tomatoes were delicious and you could eat them just like a bunch of grapes. We sat on the side of the beach where there were lots of Italian families and the most gorgeous brightly painted boats (both up on the rocks as well as in the water). The other end of the beach had sunlounges and umbrellas you could rent for the day, but we were never there for the whole day so we were content to sit amongst the kids playing soccer on the beach. There were small boats, big boats and ferries continually coming and going. You can go up the coast, down the coast, sightseeing, diving, snorkelling, to Capri, to the Grottos OR you can just sit and marvel at how stunning it all is. There are restaurants at little beaches further along the coast and they have boats that will pick ou up and bring you back to the wharf at Positano.

    We ate at La Pergola (right on the beach) a couple of times for both lunch and dinner. We always lucked out with a table right at the front, and the food was not too bad, the staff were very friendly. La Guarracino is another restaurant we frequented - it is on the the edge of the pathway which leads around to Fornillo Beach. With a table by the railing you look straight down into the water way below and you can just see the beach at Fornillo.

    Again, it was lovely just to wander and browse in the shops, take a break to have a birra or a coffee. We bought most of our momentos from our trip here, probably because we did slow down and actually relax while we were in Positano. Travelling is hard work!!!! Our daughter bought us ceramic house numbers when she was in Positano 2 years ago, so we bought the ceramic letter tiles to spell Campo di Fiori (how cheesy is that, we wracked our brains to come up with an Italian name!!!) which Paul has framed and hung by our front door along with the Cave Canem (beware of the dog) tile we bought at Pompeii. They look great. We also bought 4 (large) typically Italian tiles which go together to make up a pattern. These will eventually form a table top. Our favourite souvenirs were bought from an antique/second hand/junk shop just down from the bus stop. The first day we went in we saw two things we loved but had to think of the logistics of getting them home. Plus we didn?t want the old gentleman in the shop to think we were TOO keen. We went back a couple of days later. The Lions Head door knocker was still there and so too were the pair of old wall light fittings that I had fancied. These really were the little bit of Italy we wanted to take home!!!!! Well, it was hot and we were all starting to sweat as we tried to bargain a good price. The shopkeeper tried to tell us the glass on the light fittings was Murano glass (sure!) and that the door knocker was a genuine antique! After a bit of umming and aahring we decided we would pay his last price. I am sure we got ripped off, and he was trying to tell us he was not happy selling them so cheaply. All good natured and all part of his game but what a great story to go with our special souvenirs.

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    Positano (continued)

    We ventured to Pompeii one day, catching the bus to Sorrento and then the train to Pompeii. Again, how amazing to think that ALL of this has been excavated, and there is still more excavating to be done!!! There were not too many people, and it was very hot, but we seemed to be able to mostly walk on the shady sides of the streets. The fact that way!!!!! before Australia was even settled, the way of life was so structured, so sophisticated, their design and building achievements so incredible. It just blows my mind. A refreshing, icy, fresh lemon slushie as we walked back to the station for our return trip to Positano and we were once again shaking our heads saying I don?t believe how amazing that was!!!! The bus and train trips were also part of the experience - for instance there is a train station between Sorrento and Pompeii that is literally just steel scaffolding suspended high up above a steep gorge just by the railway line. A bit nerve-wracking if you happen to have a fear of heights.

    We dragged ourselves away from Positano on yet another day to go to Amalfi. We caught the bus there and the ferry back. The trip was amazing both ways. On the way there, a truck was blocking half the road, so the traffic was inching its way through. At one point the rear view mirror on the bus caught on the drain pipe of a house we were passing, pulling the pipe off. The driver stopped the bus, got out to re-adjust his mirror and then continued on his way. Then, as if to make up for lost time we wizzed along that narrow winding road, with all the passengers hanging on and sliding from side to side on our seats. Just like a roller coaster ride!! Again, Amalfi was another place just too beautiful for words. Just amazing!

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    Positano (continued)

    On Sunday afternoon we were sitting on our balcony having a vino while trying to decided where to go for dinner and we heard music. Church, marching type music. As it came closer we could see a procession of girls and boys dressed in white, followed by Preists walking under an ornate white canopy that was being carried along. People were standing by the side of the street watching. When they all got to the Piazza at the bottom of our street they all gathered around a white table that was covered in flowers and there was singing and prayers and so on. After the ceremony they then paraded back down the street towards the church. How their lives are so intertwined with their traditions and religion! It was so beautiful.

    We loved Positano and really did NOT want to leave ...... and it was sad to think our holiday was almost over ..... depression was just about to set in !!!!!!! We lugged our luggage one more time up the hill (past our favourite antique shop) to the bus stop. We always arrive early when catching buses or trains and just as well we did this time - a bus pulled up just as we got there (DO NOT RELY ON BUS TIMETABLES if you have connecting trains you want to catch. Also if the buses are full they will not stop). Also the traffic through Sorrento was horrendous and it took us forever to get to the Train Station. A tip that may be helpful: the bus stops at Meta train station about 15-20 minutes before it gets to Sorrento. Meta is then about the third train stop from Sorrento on the way to Naples. SO..... if you look like you are going to miss your train from Sorrento, by getting off at Meta you can gain at least 20 minutes!!!!! Well, we had no problems and after a short wait at Naples Station we were once again on the Eurostar, back to Roma.

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    ttt

    Very old report - I have just been re-living my very first European trip (& only trip report I have done).

    I now wish I had taken the time to do a report for each trip.

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    Thanks Bilbo.
    Hi chacha - This is the only report I have done, though if you scroll down past the London section you will see details on Sth West England, Paris and then Italy.

    Cheers
    HelenJ

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