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Trip Report Lovener's 2012 Great Italian Caper

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How does one describe the adventure of a lifetime?

We’re normally “frugal-splurge” travellers – we’ll scrimp & save on things that don’t matter to us but happily spend lavishly on the things that are important to us. For the benefit of cost-conscious travellers, we’re going to share the costs of the adventure (perhaps barring one or two handbag purchases ;)

Lovener2 & I are in our thirties, we work hard to allow us to play hard, and we were travelling with our parents, all in their late sixties (good god, I hope they don’t ever read this, my Mother would be horrified to have her age even generally ‘outed’ on the internet).

When we started saving for the great Italian caper, we initially planned a good 4 week holiday covering a wide range of destinations. Well, the more we read, the more excited we got, and the next thing you know, 4 weeks became 6 and then who’s going to notice an extra week when you’re already going for 6? ? so 6 weeks became 7.

The great Italian caper was a special trip for us. My parents (Pop & Dorrie) had never visited Europe before and it was Lovener2’s Mum first major trip away following the passing of Lovener2’s Dad a year earlier. We were to be married (a surprise we’d kept hidden from the parents) and we tremendously thankful that my Mum Dorrie was with us, having been diagnosed with a terminal cancer two years earlier.

Enough about us & on with the trip.

Here’s the breakdown of the trip:

Day 1: Auckland (NZ) to Hong Kong
Day 1-4: Hong Kong (flying to Venice via Zurich in the evening)
Days 5- 12: Venice
Days 12-19: Canal boating in the Friuli
Day 19: Transferring from Casale to Lucca
Day 20: Lucca – Manarola (Cinque Terre)
Days 21-24 Manarola (Cinque Terre) [parents went home after CT]
Days 24-31 Pienza, Tuscany
Days 31- 34 Elba Island
Day 35 Transferring from Elba Island to Fano (overnighting in San Leo)
Day 36 Transferring from Fano to Ortisei (Dolomites Mountain Range)
Days 37-42 Dolomiti
Day 43 Milan to Bangkok
Days 43-45 Bangkok
Day 45+ Bangkok to Auckland

I’d stress that our final itinerary bares little resemblance to our early intentions. It was refined through the help of fodorites and a lot of research and, which I love doing. I also smile when I look at the itinerary because there are parts of it that make sense but then there’s that criss-cross from Pienza to Elba to Fano. All because of Andrea Bocelli ☺. The hardest part to plan was the Tuscany bit. The number of possible amazing choices was overwhelming.

I’ve started this trip report on August 3rd – 3 months to the day since we departed and will make an attempt to post day-by-day.

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    Day 1: Thursday 3rd May 2012

    New Zealand and Italy are very far apart. We enjoyed many jokes with Italians about digging through Italy’s soil, right through to the other side of the earth and resurfacing in NZ. The jokes aren’t far wrong.

    To avoid a 26 hour + flight, we broke our journey with a 2 night, 3 day stopover in Hong Kong. Hong Kong is an amazing mosaic of high energy east meets west, and one of my favourite Asian destinations.

    We make our first attempt at being cheeky and try our luck getting all 5 of us into the Koru Airline Lounge. We know we’re good to get 4 of us in but the 5th spot is a bit tricky. Lovener2 is attempting to charm the Entrance Hostess who is both smiling at husband-to-be & eyeing us all up to calculate anticipated food & beverage consumption at the same time. Thankfully we’re saved by a lovely traveller who offers to make one of us her ‘guest’. Gotta love it. Entrance Hostess gives us a wry smile and open-sesame, we’re in ☺

    We travelled AirNZ: the total airfare per person from NZ to Italy return was NZ$2300 per person (~E1500). It was a midnight departure, perfect for those that can sleep on planes. Not so perfect for me who spends every one of the flight’s 11.5 hours staring enviously at everyone else sleeping peacefully…

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    Jamikins, you'll just have to be patient hearing about Honkers for a few days until we get to Venezia. Don't fret though, I won't drone on too much about Hong Kong when there are great Italian tales to be told! :)

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    Day 2: Friday 4th May 2012

    Even at 7.30am, Hong Kong is buzzing. We get ourselves sorted for the Octopus transit cards – these turned out to be magnificently easy to use and convenient, especially when getting used to a strange currency.

    Our next stop was the money machine. We awaited our turn and had trouble getting the machine to work until we discovered that the reason why it didn’t want to work was because it still had a load of cash waiting to be collected. We frantically looked around but in our jetlag haze, none of us had any recollection of what the previous punter looked like. We noted the time of the transaction and tried unsuccessfully to get Airport security involved. We eventually found the police office and handed over the cash. It was a significant sum so I am hoping it eventually reconnected with its owner.

    The Airport Express train was an excellent way of getting to our apartment rooms in Tsim Sha Tsui, the Chi 314 Residence:

    Chi 314 Residence
    314 Nathan Road
    Tsim Sha Tsui (Kowloon side)
    (exit b, Jordan MTR)
    +852 2912 3982

    We can’t recommend the team at Chi 314 enough. It’s a great facility for tidy, clean, nothing flash but very pleasant accommodation. For Hong Kong, it’s very reasonably priced. Our rooms worked our NZ$120, E80 per person per night.

    We happily wandered the streets for the remainder of the day and made a beeline for the tailor where Lovener2 needed to covertly organize for his wedding shirt to be made. We were very pleased with all of our purchases at William Cheng Tailor. We had 3 mens shirts, 1 ladies shirt, 1 jacket, and a dress made. The total cost was less than a ¼ of what we’d pay at home and the quality superior. I would have confidence ordering from home. Their postal service for the items we didn't want to lugg around for the next 6 weeks was very cheap and prompt.

    William Cheng 10am-7pm
    8/F, Han Hing Mansion, 38 Hankow Road

    852 2739 7888

    The travel was starting to catch up with us by now so we headed back to Chi 314 for a quick snooze. We awoke only feeling slightly refreshed but energized enough to wander to the Temple Street Night Markets for a browse and a delicious cheap eat.

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    Day 3: Saturday 5th May 2012

    We awoke to the mugginess of Hong Kong weather and it wasn't long before we all felt like we needed a second shower. Today we decided to go to Oceanpark to see their panda bears.

    We caught City bus 973 from Tsim Sha Tsui (Kowloon side). The bus is a comfortable scenic ride and we were at the park in no time. Oceanpark costs NZ$45 (~E30) and is open 10am-7.30pm during May.

    Oceanpark was immensely enjoyable and to see their two pairs of panda bears was a real thrill. They exude serenity despite their formidable size and are remarkably child-like in their play.

    It's been some 15 years since my last visit and the park owners have invested heavily during this time. There was a great variety of animals, rides, displays and it was far less tacky than I had expected.

    We'd originally planned just to enjoy the cable car ride up and then to zoom in to see the panda bears but we soon found the light fading into night-time. This resulted in a dash back to the bus to make it back to the tailor for the next round of fittings. The trip to the tailors revealed that they'd done a great job and I suspect the second fitting visit was more for our benefit than theirs.

    Dorrie was, by this time, itching to do some shopping. It's probably time to point out that my Mum takes shopping into an art form and gets tremendous enjoyment from every step of the process. She is, without question, the only person I have ever met that achieves pure delight even from a simple browse of a shopkeeper's wares. Dad & I were mindful of the bridges and steps of Venice that lay ahead so made valiant attempts to postpone the shopping until a later leg of the journey... not all that successfully.

    Feeling a bit buggered by this point, we meandered back to the Tempt Street Food Market area and fed both our bellies and souls on stuffed crab, salt & pepper squid, seductive Singapore noodles, and butterflied prawns.... (hmm, mental note to self- do not write trip report at dinner time when what's on offer at home is uninspiring....)

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    Day 4: Sunday 6th May 2012

    Our goal for today was to get out of Hong Kong and have a look in the outer areas. We had made an advance booking at Loaf On – a Cantonese seafood restaurant in Sai Kung.

    Loaf On
    49 Market Street
    Sai Kung
    Ph 2792 9966

    Loaf On has received a Michelin star and we were after a special lunch. Given it was a Sunday, I was expecting the restaurant to be packed but this wasn’t the case and we enjoyed a nice quiet lunch of razor clams, stuffed crab, scallops in garlic, and butterflied prawns.

    I don’t know if I got overhyped in my enthusiastic anticipation of the Michelin starred restaurant (the Michelin rating system isn’t used in our home country, NZ) but the meal was very nice but not exceptional. The meal worked out at E52 per person for lunch (which was 10x more expensive that the food we’d eaten at the Temple St Night Markets but honestly, the food was only 3x better, in our opinion).

    The most lovely part of the day was spent wandering around the Sai Kung neighbourhood where dogs are treated with more reverence than children and given pride of place at the dining table. On a Sunday, the Sai Kung streets become a fashion catwalk for Hong Kong’s most primped & preened pooches. Truly astonishing.

    A fabulous day drew to a close and we stopped by the Chi Residences to pick up our bags before boarding the Airport bus. Our flight to Venezia was operated by Swiss Air (all very precise) and departed at 11.15pm for Zurich before connecting through to Venice. Twelve hours of staring wistfully at other people peacefully sleeping to endure before arriving in La Bella Italia.

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    Day 5: Monday 7th May 2012

    I find it hard to describe to the feelings that surge through me arriving in Venezia without sounding like a complete knob… My heart starts to race and then I feel all glowie. Coming into Venice via Switzerland was breathtaking. The plane came through the clouds to reveal snow on the Swiss Alps and before we knew it we were staring down on what is, my undisputed magical kingdom, Venice.

    Lovener2 & I had been making valiant attempts at Traveller's Italian mastery and now was time to put it to the test. I navigated the VeniceConnected machine to pick up our pre-booked vaporetto passes but to my dismay, the bathroom cards did not come out of the machine. After a couple of unsuccessful retries, it was time to make some enquiries at the nearby desk. I immediately felt my throat dry up and my palms get sweaty. Thankfully, it was just an unfounded fear and enough tourist Italian rolled off my tongue to get me understood, successfully redirected to the correct desk in the greeting terminal, and a week’s worth of bathroom cards into my (still sweaty) palms.

    Taking the Extended Grand Canal Tour (through Venice Link see is the only way to arrive in Venice if you can spare the funds (e155 for 5 adults). Our water taxi driver was Dennis, a Venetian local, who had been raised on Saint Erasmo. Dennis got just as much enjoyment as Lovener 2 & I did watching the expressions on our parents’ faces as we started to navigate through the Venetian canals.

    When you come from a young country where the landscape is dominated by bright greens and blues (& the oldest building we have dates to the 1820s), Venice’s soft light and pastel-hued palaces (dating back to the 13th Century) are almost incomprehensible. Nothing can prepare you for it & one must quickly try to regain their dignity and pick their jaw up from the bottom of the Canal before too many Venetians notice.

    I had to pinch my good fortune to be returning to Venice. Lovener2 had brought me here to celebrate my 30th birthday 5 years ago and now we were returning with our parents to be married in 4 days time. The sun was shining and I couldn’t be happier.

    Dennis stretched our ride out for as long as he could (“lentamente per favore” with a big smile paid off!) but we did need to exit the water taxi eventually. We arrived in Castello neighbourhood and we greeted by our Halldis apartment representative (Dennis had been kind enough to ring them & advise of our arrival).

    Our Halldis apartment, Venis Terrace (E2,200 for seven nights) (see turned out to be fabulous. It was far far larger than I had expected (never been all that good at understanding sq. meterage!) but this made for a very comfortable stay with 5 people that don’t normally live together.

    Dorrie & Lovener2’s Mum were starting to look a bit rough by now (poor Mum’s health conditions meant she had to be awoken hourly during the long plane ride, almost a form of torture for her!) and decided to take a wee nap.

    We popped next door to the handy Coop supermarket and trawled the aisles examining all the wonderful products. In my jetlag haze, I almost picked up a vegetable item without putting the glove on but clicked just in time after receiving the evil stare down from a local. My favourite shopping moment was enjoying the stares from locals as we ordered items from the delicatessen in Italian. They could, of course, have been staring at the extent to which we were butchering their beautiful language, but we’ll choose to remember the stares favourably ;)

    It was approaching lunch time by now and I didn’t dare try and work out how long we’d been awake for as my eyelids were getting r e a l l y h e a v y. A splash of water didn’t do much to reverse the situation.

    The very special Nan McIlroy arrived at 1.30pm for our Venice 101 (see For Lovener2 & I, this was a bit of overkill. We’re pretty familiar with Venice and well-researched. It was, however, excellent for giving our parents more confidence navigating & I will personally treasure the friendship that has come from meeting Nan who is a delightful soul. Nan was generous with her time and gave us some fabulous dinner recommendations that did not disappoint.

    We’d been thinking about what to do for dinner and Nan became rightfully worried that we’d hoped to dine on a Monday without a reservation. Whilst reservations are not required everywhere, they are essential for the smaller neighbourhood places where Venice’s food gems reside. Nan booked us into La Cantina.

    La Cantina
    Strada Nuova

    La Cantina has a fabulous atmosphere within its wine bar and small eatery. Apparently well-loved for their fish, on a Monday they serve meat. A boost of iron was just what we needed to counteract the jetlag. We were seated beside the Chef’s area and enjoyed a lovely banter backward & forward (A chef can quickly spot a couple of foodies as Lovener2 &I started to drawl at the amazing produce and meat he had at his disposal).

    We might have got a bit cocky about of Italian prowess and ended up over-ordering. It seems you order a platter of the meat (note the use of the 'singular') your choice and we interpreted this as the platter coming with duck, beef steak, lamb, and pork and venison (rather than having to choose between them, duh!). This might have been frustrating if it hadn’t all been mouth-wateringly delicious. We rolled ourselves back to the apartment knowing we’d been treated to magnificent meal which was very reasonably priced at E25 per person. We had eaten like kings.

    My head hit the pillow and I drifted off to sleep thinking “how could we possibly top this amazing day?”

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    Oops. Lovener2 tells me I've missed out a whole chunk of our first day in Venezia.

    It was such a beautiful clear day that we decided to push through the jet lag and go sightseeing. Rain was forecast for much of the week ahead and we wanted to be sure that we got a great view of Venice from above.

    Leaving at 6pm, we vaporetto-hopped across to Saint Giorgio Maggiore and paid the E5 entrance fee to take the lift to the top of the bell tower. This bell tower gives a magnificent & quite different vantage point. We were blessed with blue, haze-free skies which only made Venezia's charm stronger.

    I personally prefer the view from Saint Giorgio Maggiore's bell tower over the St Mark's Campanile. A little more distance from the square provides a great perspective and the throngs of tourists were absent. We didn't feel any time pressure or as though we were blocking someone else's view. It was peaceful and mesmerizing.

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    Day 6: Tuesday 8th May Venice

    I’m not quite sure how I do it, but as my normal at-home routine, I awoke by 6am. I lay in bed listening to the sounds of the canal below: boats going past and Venetians calling out to each other as the navigated the canal outside our bedroom window. I opened the shutters to see another lady across the canal opening her shutters too (also in her nightie but Italian numbers are decidedly smarter!).

    I’m normally a get-up-and go kinda gal so needed to adjust my expectations that we’d all be able to leave the apartment 20 minutes later together. Lovener2 & I went for an early morning walk and rediscovered the hugely delicious croissant with apricot (which would later play a contributing role in a significant holiday weight gain, particularly after the concept of ‘second’ breakfast was conceived where one consumes another pastry mid-morning after the early morning pastry has been forgotten). The highlight of the walk was watching the gondoliers clean up their boats in ready for a day’s tourist business.

    We were on a bit of a mission today. We wanted to do a bit of sightseeing and then find a way to ditch the parents so that we could attend to some top secret wedding business.

    We visited the majestic Basilica Saint Marco together (prebooked through Alata ) where we had a guided tour. We had a wonderful guide whose passion for Basilica knew no limits. My favourite moment was when she was warning everyone to watch their footing on the uneven Basilica floor “be careful, the floor is like a mountain” . We then slotted the parents onto the 11am tour of Dogues Palace which was our parking spot for them while we rushed off to do the secret wedding business.

    Our wedding business was to be a fun insight into Italian life. We had been determined to make the arrangements ourselves without a wedding planner. We knew that with careful organization and getting lucky with helpful administrators in the NZ Embassy and Venice Commune, we could do it.

    Our job for the day was to take our paperwork (documents that had already been to Italy for processing) to the Preffetura. The Preffetura seems to be the Ministry for citizen matters. We knew we needed to go there with the paperwork and pay the E14.62 stamp duty.

    We navigated our way there at pace (knowing we needed to get everything done before the Dogues Tour was over). We headed in and clearly failed the “looks like an Italian” test and were shooed out by the security guard with the Italian equivalent of "bugger off, pesky tourists". We produced our paperwork and talked our way into the facility, taking our number to be served.

    It was about this point that the efficacy of Traveller’s Italian began to fade. With good humour and thinking laterally about the Italian language, we ascertained that the E14.62 stamp duty was not a fee that we paid in cash but in fact a sticky stamp that needed to be purchased from a newsagents. We also needed another photocopy of our passports which we’d had certified at home.

    So off we trotted to the newsagents for the E14.62. My proudest Italian language moment was asking for the stamp in Italian. The ‘helpful’ newsagent assured me that I did not need that kind of stamp and wanted to know what I was posting & where. I had a giggle and then insisted it was correct and that we needed it for the Preffetura. Time was starting to become a bit pressured by now so we hop footed it back to the Preffetura.

    Well, it seemed the bureaucratic adventure was only just beginning. We smiled triumphantly as we handed over the e14.62 stamp and our extra copy of the passports. The frown on Annah, the Adminstrator’s face, indicated we’d got something wrong. I interrogated my brain for more Italian verbs & nouns to get me through the situation. It seemed that the stamp was required to either authenticate or process the piece of paper we had provided and now the passports were copied onto an extra piece of paper, this required yet another E14.62 stamp. Not only that, the passports needs to be witnessed at another office across town which handled different matters of the citizen….Oh crumbs, now we really needed to battle time for both picking up the parents and getting back to the Preffetura before they closed for “la pausa”.

    When arrived across town at the Venezia di Commune for the Affature? we were hot and bothered and most definitely lacking in Italian style. We looked like tourists that had got hot and bothered and decided to come into the nearest building for some free air-conditioning. It’s hardly surprising that the locals glared at us as we took our number and then slumped into the seats provided. The heat was steaming off us by now. We received many sideways glances.

    The international language of “All Blacks” and rugby broke through any cultural barriers with the Commune Administrator. We were in & out within about 30 minutes with hopefully everything we needed. We raced back to the Preffetura and with 15 minutes to spare before “La Pausa” and declared victory over bureaucracy. Hurrah ☺

    We lunched at a favourist tourist haunt near the Rialto bridge and reminisced over the lunch we had enjoyed at the exact same place 5 years earlier when we were falling in love.

    A “La Pausa” of our own was definitely required; we’d clocked up 14kms of walking before lunch.

    For dinner we ambled along to Osteria Alla Staffa:

    Osteria Alla Staffa
    Castello calle Ospedale

    La Staffa was fantastic. A tiny place with a lovely buzz about it. Flavourful, family-style cooking with a menu that changes regularly. Thankfully Nonna’s lasagna is a consistent menu feature and is not to be missed. Pop ordered it and I tasted it (and then spent the remainder of the meal looking longing at it, despite my own meal being fabulous). Our meal worked out at about E14 each for main courses. Definitely share an appetizer as the servings are large. Nonna also makes the tiramisu – despite disliking tiramisu, I decided I needed to give it go on the strength of Nonna’s lasagna. It was perfect and I found myself in love.

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    ps- we highly recommend paying the small fee to go upstairs to the Treasury in the Basilica San Marco. It's fascinating and you also get access to the outside part of the Basilica. Amazing views.

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    see here for day 6 photos:gondoliers cleaning up their gondole in the gondola parking yard, Basilica San Marco, wedding paperwork at the Preffetura & Commune, dinner at Osteria Alla Staffa

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    I married in Venice is 1989 and, like you, we did the paperwork on our own. Your details of the scramble from the Preffetura to purchase the marcobolli brought back fond memories. I'm enjoying your vacation with you.

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    * thanks for all the kind replies & compliments of Lovener2's photographs. Ellenem, glad we could bring back some lovely memories for you. I'm also jealous of those of you with great trips planned to Venice soon! I just can't get enough of the place!

    Day 7: Wednesday 9th May: Exploring Venice

    Today we wanted to pause a little, knowing that we had a few big days ahead of us. We sent Lovener2 & his Mum off to explore together at the Rialto market and it was time for Dad to start carrying Mum’s shopping bags for her ☺

    Being in an apartment certainly makes things easier for doing your washing but one thing travellers should remember (when renting an apartment in a first time location), is that you also miss out on local connections available through the hotel staff. Occasionally it is nice to be able to check your directions with the concierge. This wasn’t a bother for us in Venice but did require a bit more pre-planning. It wasn’t something that I considered when booking our accommodation.

    For our internet connection, we purchased a E20 sim card from the Tim office which wasn’t far from Rialto. We used this in our iphone for calls and used it for internet connection to our laptop using ‘hotspot’ and a cable to connect the laptop to the iphone. The card worked for 30 days and was more than sufficient for our internet use. Simple to use, no issues.

    Feeling the need to see if my credit card was operating appropriately & my nightie looking decidedly drab in comparison to my neighbour's Italian number, I ventured forward to the local Intimissi branch and did my annual stock up. Now seems a good time to talk a bit about the Tourist Refund Scheme, which was soon to become my new best friend… ☺

    Tourist Refund Scheme Low-down:

    * spend a minimum of E155 in a participating store (we found it was available in most places)
    * take your passport (or know your passport number)
    * make sure you & the retail assistant fill out every part of the form
    * keep hold of the forms
    * don’t use the goods in any way (they must be brand new when you leave the country)

    Retail businesses use one of a number of scheme administrators so you may find yourself with different colour envelopes from different providers. Some providers, have an outlet in the main centres and you can actually collect your tax refund (could be up to 22% cash back) before you even leave the country. Fantastic! One warning though if you do collect before you depart: you must depart within 30 days of collecting the cash or the refund will be clawed back off your credit card).

    The easiest way to take advantage of the scheme is to quarantine the goods you’ve bought in a separate part of your suitcase and store your forms carefully. When you get to the Airport, pay attention. First checkin but do not check your bags in (explain that you have to collect your refund first & the goods must be available for sighting), then go through customs, then look for signs to the Tourist Refund/Customs agent. Next, show your forms and the goods to the Customs Agent who will stamp your form. After they've done the stamping, they will put your bags onto a special luggage conveyer belt behind them. You then walk to the nearby TRS booths (match the brand off your form to the booth, you may need to line up for multiple booths).

    The scheme works incredibly well – we only had two small issues. We had one retailer that didn’t fill in the form completely which made the Customs Agent very grumpy. Our second issue related to an expensive pair of earrings which were the only item the Custom Agent asked to view. When I purchased these, they were essentially packaging-less and the Agent didn’t like the fact that he couldn’t tell if I had used them before leaving the country. We did witness one very upset tourist who checked their bags in first and then tried to claim their refund – they lost a lot as it was a multiple thousands handbag that they’d bought. The signage isn’t fantastic so one needs to be on their toes and follow the rules outlined above.

    After doing my own bit to get the Italian retail sector out of recession, I met Lovener2 and his Mum for lunch in Dorsoduro. I arrived 20 minutes early and sunned myself on a bench in the square and people watched. It’s a lovely neighbourhood and fun watching people purchase their fish for dinner and kids playing soccer in the square.

    The initial lunch spot chosen had a lovely location but unexciting menu so we enjoyed a pre lunch drink there before moving onto Ristorante Oniga.

    Ristorante Oniga
    ‪Campo San Barnaba
    Dorsoduro 2852‬
    041 522 4410

    This was a fabulous lunch where we enjoyed good banter with the waitstaff and other travellers seated nearby. We enjoyed 1 antipasto, 3 primi, 1 secondo, and 2 contorni plus beverages for E90. The oven roasted rosemary potatoes had a wonderful, earthy flavour and would be in the running for most favourite side dish of the entire trip. I’m not sure what they do to those potatoes from Saint Erasmo but they are truly delicious. The mains were prawn and pumpkin pasta, octopus spaghetti and fresh fish.

    We wandered around leisurely for the remainder of the afternoon. There was a glass bead shop I wanted to check out (Riflessi Veneziani (glass beads and jewelry)
Santa Croce 1834-1867. Alas they were closed for “La Pausa” and I wasn’t motivated enough to return later in our stay after peering through the window.

    We also visited Antica Legatoria Piazzesi- Venice’s oldest paper shop: Sestriere San Marco 2511/c (Campiello della Feltrina - Santa Maria del Giglio). I have to say that our visit to this store was tremendously disappointing. The shopkeepers are no longer Italian and were unhelpful. Almost nothing was priced and one got the feeling your capacity to pay was being sized up when you enquired over the price of anything. We left empty-handed.

    A lovely day drew to a close so we meandered back to the Apartment to cook our only home-cooked meal of the stay. We did our own version of Steak Florentine and didn’t do too bad! Btw – a note to all of you out-there ‘determined that you’ll rent an apartment in Venice and then save lots of money going to the markets and cooking your meals’… I’m not sure the intention matches reality, particularly when one has cut through the tourist trap restaurants and discovered a few local osterias where delicious mains can be had for E12…. ☺

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    Thank you so much! This is a fabulous report so far, and I can't wait to read about "the big day!" You are a great story-teller and have a good sense of humour. And I appreciate your insights about the little things--like the fact that in an apartment, you lack a concierge. We are renting an apartment when we go to Venice in September, and it's our first time there (though we've been to other parts of Italy). So that's something to think about. Your photos are great as well. Can't wait to read the next installment!

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    oh gee, thanks everyone :)

    Day 8: Thursday 10th May: “il mio compleanno”

    (bare with me here, there is a tenuous link from the pre-amble to the write-up of the day's activities....)

    Five years ago, I felt remarkably relieved that Lovener2 & I were travelling to Venezia to celebrate my thirtieth birthday as the thought of being the centre of attention (& “old” to boot) filled me with dread. I've subsequently grown into my skin a bit more & now realise there are far bigger things in life to worry about! Lovener2 also probably hasn’t clicked that I now aspire to be somewhere remarkable for all major birthday milestones ;) Returning to Venice exactly five years later was very special, particularly for me to be able to share the milestone with my parents.

    We knew this was going to be a special (read: expensive) trip for us and we had been diligently saving for the trip for over 3 years. We made many sacrifices to be able to afford a few special treats – I’d spent months researching where in Italy we were going to enjoy 3 fabulous meals. I came very close to running a spreadsheet shortlist of all my preferred possibilities before Lovener2 caught me out for over planning (my defense of “you start enjoying the trip the moment you start planning it” didn’t cut it & a fair bit of playful mocking continues to follow...). I had to abandon plans for my super spreadsheet that was going feed in reviews from a variety of different websites (discounting any reviews that mentioned foods I disliked) and then pop out the magic answer for my 3 fabulous meal locations, hehehe ☺. See, I can laugh at the twisted joy I get from planning too ;)

    I settled on 3 meals in a less scientific fashion – il Ridotto (Venezia), Antiche Carampane (Venezia) and Le Calandre (Padua). Just after I had secured my highly sought after reservation at Le Calandre (the jewel in the crown of my selections), I started talking with the lovely Nan McElroy from YourfriendinVenice.

    I’d asked Nan to help me arrange the gondola for our wedding day. Being no-fuss types (& needing to save $ for other things we valued more), we didn’t want a gondola decked out in wedding garb. What we wanted was a great meandering ride from our Apartment to Palazzo Cavalli. Nan planted the seed about the possibility of being taken in one of the wonderful gondolas that belonged to Arzana (see, Venice’s gondola preservation society. The more we read about the vision & foresight being shown by Arzana’s founders, the more shallow our desire to eat at Le Calandre became… So to cut a tale of much angsting over dinner at Le Calandre short, we swapped our meal at Le Calandre for a ride in a reproduction antique gondola.

    Luckily for us, as part of the wedding arrangements, we were able to view the gondola that would be taking us to Palazzo Cavalli the next day for our nuptials. This was how we were to spend part of my birthday.

    What a birthday treat it turned out to be. Visiting the Arzana workshop was like a trip to Santa’s Grotto. It was a fascinating collection of antique gondole and wonderful artefacts associated with gondoling activities. What we loved most was imagining the lives of the gondoliers that had used the equipment we were admiring. There was an enormous variety of shapes (different boats, oars, lanterns, fishing nets) and the colours ranged from bright & fresh to aged & distressed. We loved being there and will treasure the memory for much longer than a meal at Le Calandre.

    Our next adventure was to visit an old friend, Andrea. Andrea D'Agostino is a master artisan jeweler:

    Bottega Orafa ABC di D'Agostino Andrea
    Calle del Tentor 1839 Santa Croce 30125
    Venezia ITALY

    Andrea is a lovely kind soul who we met on our last visit to Venice. His personality, workmanship, and artistry would make anyone warm to him. Our first purchase from him was a ring Lovener2 gave me on my 30th birthday which combines layers of rose gold, palladium, and white gold. I treasure it and was hoping to procure another such treasure for my 35th.

    Andrea remembered us well from our first visit and we enjoyed a lovely afternoon chatting in basic Italian and basic English and admiring his latest work. It was impossible to leave the shop empty-handed when faced with such an amazing collection of treasures. As we parted the store, and spoke of our plans for tomorrow, Andrea was so pleased for us and offered to come along. We were chuffed.

    Well, it seemed we were overdue for a lesson in the Italian way of doing things - everything was going far too smoothly... I’d made an appointment several months earlier at a manicurist in Dorsoduro (it was token attempt to do something ‘bridely’). Well, we got there and put my Italian to the test again. It was a rather funny exchange followed between myself and the two Italian manicurist Madams. Chief Madam (with her caramel blonde hair swept up in a fairly spectacular Beehive) used her bright pink, diamante-encrusted talons to claw through the appointment book and pronounce that no appointment existed. Much huffing and puffing was emitted from the Beehive until I advised when the appointment had been made. A nonchalant Italian laugh was followed by the proclamation that they never made appointments that far in advance. Well, it’s lucky I’m not a bridezilla because it could have been ugly!

    Next up we had drinks scheduled with the lovely folks from Slowtrav at La Cantina.

    Packing too much in plus a few wrong turns meant we ended up being terribly late. Our parents’ navigation skills were also put to the test, needing to navigate their way there solo. Thankfully the slowtravs are as lovely in person as they are online and were very gracious about our lateness.

    Several bottles of prosecco later, it was time to head to dinner.

    We were greeted by Giovanni at il Ridotto

    Il Ridotto
    Sestiere di Castello (n. 4509) in Campo SS. Filippo e Giacomo
    041 5208280

    I’m still not quite sure what to make of our meal at il Ridotto. Parts of it were sublime but the main event itself was a touch disappointing. Giovanni’s passion for the food was clear and his execution precise. We loved almost all of the degustation menu but the main event was a bit hohum. It was a lagoon fish served on lentils and Dorrie’s had been double salted. I wish I had realized earlier and we would have returned it to the kitchen as it was essentially inedible. One aspect I’m not so sure of is the fact that males & females were served different courses – particularly when the blokes’ ones were better!!!

    The meal itself was special for different reasons, namely the Offer & Acceptance. You see, Lovener 2 & I had discussed getting married for many years but there’d never actually been an offer or an acceptance. I started making this point a bit more loudly in the months preceding the trip until Lovener2 clicked that he just might not get away without the formal offer and acceptance taking place ☺

    So after at least 3 bottles of prosecco over a few hours, Lovener2 plucked up the courage and got down on a bent knee and issued the offer. I was so embarrassed with all the fuss that I said yes very quickly and the smiles began. It was a lovely feeling and special moment. The discussion that followed with the parents was hilarious. Fifty questions followed, mostly all variants on when & how will the marriage take place. Lovener2 offered up “well, how about tomorrow?” which was quickly snatched by the two Mothers (clearly concerned that the deal needed to be sealed before either Lovener2 or I changed our minds) until they decided that would be too difficult and a host of insurmountable obstacles were raised. We finished the meal with “well, tomorrow it is”. I think our parents went to sleep wondering would there really be a wedding tomorrow???

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    I must say, what a lovely report. I am enjoying the read, with excitement for our upcoming trip to Europe, including a couple of weeks in Italy. Love love love it! Can't wait for your wedding report!

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    * It's so nice having you all here for the ride too *

    Day 9: Friday 9th May: “Auguri, Auguri”

    Getting married wasn’t something that either of us felt we needed to do. We were happy & had already faced enough of life’s hurdles together to know that each of us was in it for the long haul. It did, however, mean a lot to my Mum. But, if we were going to do it, we needed to do it our way.

    ‘Our way’ involved waking up to a glorious day in Venezia. Lovener2 & I went out for first breakfast (by now we’d added the custard-filled pastry to the repertoire as well…) and then made our way to:

    Giulio Hair Studio
    Castello Campo Santa Marina
    (+39) 041 5203351

    Giulio’s opened at 9am but when we arrived at 8.30am the Salon was already full. No appointments are taken, you simply take a number and wait your turn. I was asked what I wanted and I managed to describe (in Italiano with a few hand signals!). I was immediately asked if it was for a wedding and took a leaf out of Caramel Beehive’s book and inserted a nonchalant laugh & said it was for “la festa” :)

    The next 40 minutes in the hair salon were amazing, I felt part of the community as everyone sat there chatting about their plans for the day and the weekend ahead. I managed to follow about 40% of the conversation, much of it gossip relating to the next day’s wedding of one of the ladies that worked there. It was a lovely time watching Italian ladies (all clearly regulars) come in for their blow-drys and weekly chat session. I'm sure they didn’t buy my “la festa” hair-do excuse for a minute!

    My hairdresser was great and did exactly what I was after, putting a few curls in. It was a bargain at twice the price so I thanked everyone with a nice tip. I bounced my way out of the tiny salon, knowing that we needed to get a wriggle on (not before second breakfast though!)

    Lovner2 & I enjoyed a lovely quiet walk back to the apartment, both excited about what was to come. We couldn’t dilly-dally too much though, it was 9.30am and the gondola was picking us up at 10am.

    Lovener2 looked magnificent. Not a suit wearing type, by nature, he scrubs up wonderfully. He had had a suit custom-made by Rex Massey-Molloy of Earl and English ( It had an old world charm to it and suited his non-conforming, inner-bohemian nature perfectly. My dress was vintage and I had it remade to travel a bit more easily (a wedding can hardly be a secret if the bride is carrying a wedding dress bag around!!). I did the lace embroidery myself.

    We helped each other dress and then exited our room to see our parents’ face drop in surprise and shock – goodness knows what they were expecting us to wear, perhaps something more casual??

    Below the apartment our slowtrav friends had arrived, having kindly offered to come and take some photos for us. Truly special people.

    The gondoliers, Lino and Giovanni, looked rather dashing in their blue & white Arzana uniforms. The gondola was a reproduction of a 15th or 16th century gondola with an enclosed cabin (we were going to need it, it was stinking hot). We were helped into the gondola and gently glided down the canal.

    The next 2 hours rushed by despite the gentle glide of gondola. There were smiles all round as people on the sides of the canals or in other watercraft looked through the windows of the cabin to see a bridal party. People shouted out “auguri” or congratulations and it felt as though the whole of Venice was smiling on us.

    We’d never been on a gondola before and this experience simply could not be topped. Giovanni and Lino were skilled operators, making the propulsion of a very large vessel carrying 7 adults look easy, despite the heat and busyness of the canals. Giovanni was the epitome of smooth elegance and even managed to make pushing off the odd building as we rounded a corner look graceful.

    We stopped at the midpoint of the journey for a bottle of prosecco, we could reason that it was after lunch back in NZ ;). This was a gift from the lovely chaps at Arzana, we really are big fans.

    Not long after, it seemed it was time to enter the Grand Canal. My heart started to race a little, I’m not sure if it was wedding nerves or simply the excitement of being in this wonderful gondola amongst the hustle and bustle of the Grand Canal. Lino and Giovanni had their work cut out for them as we skillfully cut a path amongst all the other watercraft. It was a real thrill to pass under the Rialto bridge.

    Our lovely slowtrav friends were there to meet us at Palazzo Cavalli, the place where the ceremony would take place. Palazzo Cavalli is off the Grand Canal itself, near Ponte dell' Accademia and next to the Palazzo Barbaro. It was midday now and the sun was beating down, the wedding dress was starting to feel like a thermowave oven. It was time to get inside.

    Now, when it comes to getting married in Italy, if you’re not Catholic holding a season pass, there aren’t many options. However, I doubt there many registry office weddings around the world held in 16th century palaces either ;) Palazzo Cavalli was a wonderful venue. Perhaps it was because we were the last wedding before “la pausa” but there wasn’t a soul around (I confess that I had a fleeting thought of ‘oh goodness, maybe we did need a wedding planner after-all….).

    We waited outside the largest room that seemed to be a formal waiting area. As we listened we could hear a wedding going on inside. There was a bit of a wait and I was starting to feel a bit hot & bothered, as well starting to fret about having one of my infamous ‘low blood pressure faints’ which only ever occur in high profile occasions. As I look back over the photos, Lovener2’s also looking a bit tense. For a couple that weren’t bothered about getting married, it had suddenly come to mean a lot ;)

    Our time finally arrived and we were taken into a beautiful room. Its balconies opened onto the Grand Canal and it featured magnificent ceilings and gorgeous flower arrangements. Our marriage was officiated by Elisabetta who wore a lovely sash in the colours of Italy.

    The civil wedding vows themselves are quite endearing in Italian (see and fitted well with our views on life. We particularly liked the bit about equal responsibility for the running of the household and taking the talents & aspirations of children into account when child-rearing.

    The ceremony itself was beautiful and over within about 25 minutes. We were delighted to have our only Italian friend (who was a link between our current journey to Italy & our previous trip) Andrea with us. He had closed his shop especially and traipsed to the other side of Venice to join us. It was special.

    Our parents looked really happy. The two Mums signed the paperwork and that sealed the deal. There were lots of Italian kisses and a gift of gorgeous Murano glass from the people of Venezia. It was all quite touching and overwhelming. As we were the last wedding of the day, we were encouraged to enjoy our time in the Palazzo (which for us meant enjoying the view on the balcony towards the Rialto bridge). It was remarkably special and I remembered how much I had to be thankful for.

    Things had been going pretty smoothly until now. Has anyone come across any wedding dresses that hold maps, trip itineraries or cellphones??? No, me neither. We were missing the name & the address of the wedding lunch. We had to laugh, it was quite funny. We’d been so focused on the wedding itself that we hadn’t paid much attention to what came after the wedding.

    We wracked our brains for a few minutes and for a while there I thought we were going to have to buy another gondola ride and hope that if I described the lunch venue, the gondolier would take us there. Probability of success?? Pretty low. Thankfully I remembered that we were pretty close to the Commune so the dress was hitched up and Lovener2 accompanied me to beg a map off the Commune. Thankfully, it’s pretty hard to say no to a couple of newlyweds and the lovely chap in the Commune gave us his map.

    We had, of course, only solved part of the problem. We still had a wedding lunch booking at a restaurant that I could not recall the name of (it wasn’t one of the top3, haha) and Venice is a large place. All I could remember was that it was a fairly good hike from Palazzo Cavalli and that it backed onto a quiet canal and served Venice’s best pizza.

    I was now feeling hot, bothered and flustered as we were to be the last lunch booking of the day for the restaurant. It wasn’t my fear of missing out on lunch but rather my fear of having a ‘no-show’ for the restaurant and making it hard for tourists to book there in the future that was bothering me. Luckily two policemen approached (perplexed brides scouring a map are obviously a rarer sight and we’d piqued their curiosity). I explained the no pocket dilemma, they laughed and told me where we needed to go. The dress was hitched up again and we were off (feeling much relieved).

    The walk through the streets of Venice was amazing. We stopped for more prosecco & a quick cichetti nibble and for many tourists that wanted to share in our day. The loveliest part was all of the “auguris” we received from Italians both young and old as we walked the streets. People seemed so genuinely happy to see and celebrate us getting married. It was very touching.

    We arrived at il Refolo for lunch. We knew wanted a casual lunch and Lovener2 wanted some pizza. If you have to indulge in pizza, il Refolo:

    il Refolo.
    Campiello del Piovan
    Santa Croce, 1459
    +39 041 524 0016

    does a very good job. The setting on the side of a canal was perfect for the setting we were after. Several bottles of wine later, we meandered back for a late “la pausa”.

    Travelling with one’s parents, one does need to insist on a few limits. Like not staying at the apartment on your wedding night ☺

    Being the frugal splurge traveller that I am, we had made a booking almost a year earlier at one of Venice’s 5 star hotels. We had to pay in advance and it was non-refundable. No problem. Or at least it was no problem until the Venice Commune advised us that it would cost several more thousands to get married on a Saturday (& we therefore needed to move it to the Friday!). We could hardly get married one day and then have the flash wedding night on a different day. Months of begging backward & forward with the hotel followed with no joy. No joy, until the booking person realised that we were from NZ. What followed was an offer to move our non-refundable booking to the night before,on the proviso that we bring a 2XL All Blacks Jersey for them. Priceless. Initially I was shocked & hacked off at the sheer audacity of the request but as time passed, the funnier it became. We put it down to another dimension to the Italian experience and packed a (very expensive) 2XL All Blacks jersey into our luggage.

    We (ok, me especially) loved staying 5 star. We had a beautiful room with fabulous linens and a roof top garden that had an uninterrupted view of some Venice’s most famous sights. Just gorgeous.

    Being the sentimental sooks that we are, we had booked our wedding dinner at Antiche Carampane:

    Antiche Carampane
    San Polo 1911
    30125 Venice
    Tel 041-5240165

    On our last visit, we got lucky dining at Antiche Carampane. We were walking down the lane and noticed the “no pizza, no pasta, no menu turistica” sign outside and wandered in to eat. We had no idea we were eating at one of Venice’s best restaurants. Our Italian was very basic back then and there were no translations but we still had a lovely meal and enjoyed the company of the maître ‘d very much. There really was no other choice in our minds when we thought about where to eat for our wedding dinner.

    We had a lovely outdoor table and enjoyed a fine feast. I was particularly enamoured with Moeche and John Dory. We drank fabulous wines before moving onto desert. I decided the sgroppino from the desert menu was really a drink so it could be my drink which would then free up another choice for desert ;) For someone that previously disliked Tiramisu, I now seem to be showing signs of addiction… It was a magnificent meal and afterwards we happily chatted with the maître ‘d that had served us five years earlier.

    It was a fabulous magical day and my head was now ready for the pillow & goodness-knows-how-many-thousand thread count pillowslip :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :)

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    MOST FABULOUS!!!! Congratulations Loveners! Outstanding and beautifully written report on a most special event!

    May I wish you both much happiness, joy and health....and many years of travel ahead of you, which you will continue to provide the rest of us with your delicious and delightful descriptions!


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    Yes! So true about the well-wishers saying "auguri" everywhere. Since it was raining on my day, we also heard,"Sposa bagnata, sposa fortunata"--Wet bride, lucky bride--even from the maigistrate who performed the wedding. I affirmed, in my wedding garb, "Sposa bagnata, sposa bagnata!" Our City Hall wedding so long ago was in Ca' Farsetti near Rialto in the city council chamber. The location you had sounds even more dramatic.

    Congratulations and best wishes!

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    Congratulations on planning and executing a wedding done for all the right reasons!,

    You two are a marvelous antidote to all the current Bridezilla TV Shows!!!

    Excellent story, so delightfully written. Many thanks.

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    Day 10: Saturday 12th May: “Arrest me, arrest me”

    [just resuscitating the trip report back to life! Apologies, life has been crazy. Hopefully I haven’t lost you all]

    Venice in spring time really is just gorgeous. We enjoyed a lovely breakfast on our private roof top terrace, soaking up the sun, clear blue skies and birds darting around the church spiers (almost using them like a ski slalom course). As we looked over the railing, we could see the canal below and Bridge of Sighs in the background. Even now, almost 4 months on, I remember how happy & content I felt at that moment.

    We had a slow start to the day and found ourselves on the St Marco side of the waterfront by lunch time. We wandered into Wildner for lunch:

    Castello 4161 – 30122
    041 522 7463

    We enjoyed people watching while lunch was prepared. Lovener2 had his moment as two rather gorgeous policewoman in their full regalia walked by – one blonde and the other brunette. I think he thought all of his Christmases had come at once as he contemplated exactly what would be required to be arrested ☺

    Lunch at Wildner was excellent. We enjoyed asparagus & scampi risotto (can there be a better flavour combination??) and baby artichoke ravoli. The bottle of prosecco seemed to evaporate in the spring air. The meal was delightful at E60. Service was entertaining and despite its touristy location, we were impressed with the meal which used beautiful seasonal ingredients in a non-fussy way. I won’t describe the creamy texture of the risotto as I’m getting hungry!!

    Next on the list was a trip to the Mercatino dei Miracoli (a non-professional antiques market held 6 times a year: March, April, May, September, November, December). It’s located on Campo Santa Maria Nova in Cannaregio. Take the vaporetto to the Ca' d'Oro water taxi stop.


    The Market of Miracles is a fun event where local stall holders bring along bric-a-brac. It was a great opportunity to practice our Italian and see more locals about. We had a really fun time pouring over glass beads, old fabric, time pieces, crockery, art works. It would have been rude to have left empty handed when it was so clear shopping was a sport. We enjoyed many laughs and a bit of haggling here & there.

    Lovener 2 purchased an old watch which he loves, it has lots of character and charm. We had a good giggle with the stall holder when it fell apart about 90 seconds after money had changed hands.

    My special find was some older heavily woven antique fabrics which I knew would make the perfect gift for my Mum on Mothers’ Day the next day. Beautifully inked in rich jewel tones. Just gorgeous fabrics.

    A little cat nap followed before we returned to La Staffa for dinner. I needed to secure my own full size portion of Nonna’s magnificent lasagna for closer inspection. Could it really be so good again?? You betcha. Oh to be able to cook that well. It had a fine layer of peas beneath the béchamel sauce. Nonna doesn’t need a recipe but her son tells me I just need to keep making it every day and my technique will improve….

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    Day 11: Sunday 13th May: Catching up with the Slowtravs

    It was nice to have a slow start to the day today as we started thinking about tomorrow which was a changeover day (where we would be moving from Venezia up to the Friuli). An apartment does make life easier for getting the washing done.

    It was time for the shopping girls to get shopping. Mum & I wandered over to the Coin department store and entertained ourselves inside for a couple of hours. It’s a small department store and will be fun for anyone who makes department stores a special interest area, such as my Mother. We came out with several items for the grandkids and a couple of scarves.

    The highlight of the day was reuniting with our Slowtrav friends over dinner. It was so nice to see everyone and to be able to say thanks for sharing in our special day. It is wonderful to be able to connect with like-minded travellers and we’d really encourage people to participate in the get-togethers that occur whilst travelling for online communities. It was a good meal with great company. I did laugh a little at our parents’ initial apprehension about meeting up with people “from the internet” so it was nice to see them making friendships formed on a common bond of travel.

    By now, some travel changeover day anxiety was slipping in, so we left relatively early to do the obligatory suitcase repack.

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    Day 12: Monday 14th May: “which direction will the train come from???”

    [There is a certain level of obligation that comes with being the trip organizer and I naively thought my job was done once we arrived in Italia (having booked the tickets and made the plans for where we needed to be & when), I was flattered? that my research was expected to extend as far knowing which the train would be arriving from!!!]

    One thing we would highly recommend is packing light and being prepared to ship items home as needed. I had originally planned to only bring a single cabin bag with me which would have been too optimistic given our itinerary but the joy of travelling does increase with lighter luggage. It’s hard to be an independent traveller if you can’t lift your own luggage comfortably up and down steps and onto trains.

    On that note, we were pleased to discover the “Scatola” or bright yellow boxes available at the Italian Post Office. The scatola come in a variety of sizes from slightly bigger than shoebox size right through the Scaltola maxi which be about the dimensions of three shoe boxes. The scatola can be sent to your home country either surface mail or by courier.

    During our travels, we sent some 7 boxes home to NZ. The first box we sent by courier as the Postal worker was very discouraging about the surface post option. By courier, a 4.2kg box cost e65 to NZ. It arrived 5 days after we sent it. As the trip went on, we got very relaxed about sending our boxes by surface mail even though no-one could tell us how long it would take – maybe 3 months?? In a very non-committal way was the closest we got to a time estimate. The boxes come with a tracking number but we never ever saw any tracked movement about our parcels.

    The longest any box took to arrive back in NZ was 6 weeks. The dimensions of the package didn’t seem to matter; it was the weight that was of interest. There seemed to be weight brackets for the pricing. These seemed to be 4kg, 6kg, and then between 8 & 10kg. You have to weigh carefully as even it is 5 grams over the weight bracket puts you into the next higher price bracket. A 4kg surface mail box to NZ was about e40, a 10kg box was e60.

    There are a couple of things you should consider when posting your boxes home:

    1/ no liquids (even makeup) – a big no-no which we were told would stop the box being delivered

    2/ you’ll need to push hard to get the “surface” mail option. Everywhere we posted, there was a lot of resistance to sending via this method.

    3/ it’s handy to bring your own tape to secure things inside

    4/ we’d recommend buying the box & getting the necessary form in advance so you have it in your suitcase for when you need it and can then just drop off at the post office.

    5/ don’t forget to take a number at the post office to be served (just like at the deli) and avoid going at lunch time. Post offices seemed to open late and close early.

    6/ lastly, think carefully about what descriptions & values you put on the box. One friendly postal worker recommended always making the total value less than e60, and keeping descriptions bland.

    Strangely, you’re not allowed to post used / second hand items. I discovered this when trying to mail home some clothes that I wouldn’t need again. Just alter your description accordingly and make sure nothing’s whiffy!!


    Travel Changeover days always seem to bring a bit of stress for people. It’s also one of those areas where peoples’ personal preferences sometimes don’t align perfectly. Whilst Lovener2 & I dislike rushing, we also consider being 2 hours early for a train to be 2 hours of completely wasted holiday. It soon became clear that my travel preferences didn’t align perfectly with my Mother-in-Law’s and this probably created a bit of stress on both sides. My advice for this is that the buck stops with whoever makes the arrangements so everyone should follow their lead… but then I would say that because that would mean doing it my way :)

    Our plan for today was to take the train from Venice Mestre through to Latisana-Lignano-Bibionen(on the Venzia-Trieste line). This was a 55 minute journey, very pleasant on a cheap ticket purchased in advance over the internet.

    Travelling in a group of 5 does require a bit of planning for getting on & off trains. Those that are unable to lift their bags need to stay well clear of the entry way and it’s helpful to have one person on the platform lifting all the bags up and one person in the train moving them out of the entry way. It was a nice train ride through the countryside and it reminded us a lot of home.

    We had a pre-booked taxi arranged to take us from Latisana-Lignano to Precenicco base (5km) but there was no sign of it on arrival. A couple of phone calls saw it arrive 10 minutes later and we all crammed into a tiny van like taxi which resembled Postman Pat’s delivery van.

    We were taken to the Le Boat headquarters and received great treatment from the local team. This was a relief as the booking process with LeBoat’s Australian office (the Australasian agent) was dreadful and had led to us almost cancelling our arrangements with them in the lead up to the holiday.

    When booking the canal boat we wanted to make sure that we had a large enough boat that no-one would suffer immediately from ‘cabin fever’. We booked a Magnifique (see which on paper sleeps 10 but 5 was a good number for it and I’d be weary about sleeping more than 6. The boat was made up of 2 bedrooms in the front, one living area, a kitchen and two bedrooms in the back with their own bathroom facilities. It had an upstairs deck with a seating area / shade cloth and had room to store bikes. There’s not much room for luggage storage so bear this in mind if you do plan to have the maximum number of occupants – check to see where your luggage goes.

    We really loved the canal boating experience and would highly recommend it as a way of seeing a different part of the countryside and to engage with locals. When hiring a canal boat, it’s important to remember that it’s not like doing an organized cruise where you need to be in a certain place on a certain date. It’s more like hiring a car where you agree to pick up in one location and drop it off at a particular location. We struggled a lot with the Australian LeBoat office partly because we thought we needed to be in particular places on specific dates and started getting concerned when we couldn’t get details about where we were meant to be & when.

    The LeBoat hire was for 7 nights and cost e3890. We had been very careful to enquire about extra costs in advance but struggled to get these from LeBoat. The estimates we were given were completely out-of-whack. I’m not sure if this was a break down in communication between the local Italian office and the Australian office or because the route we using had only been in operation for a year and information was scarce. This was very frustrating and I’m not sure that we would rebook through LeBoat again as frankly dealing with them was very painful until we started working with the General Manager. I certainly would not rely on any of their information for trip budgeting. We’ll detail the actual costs as we write up the details for those of you keen to get a good feel for the costs involved.

    The local boys at LeBoat were delightful. They were both very funny & patient as they showed us how to operate the boat. We had a few anxious moments starting off but they stayed on the boat with us until we were confident with turning and parking the boat.

    The canal boats generally are available for pick up from 4pm which means if you are travelling in Spring, as we were, your first night destination needs to be a close one. We’d already had the changeover day stress and didn’t really want to be parking up the boat solo in the dark.

    We putt putted along for a bit over an hour to a place recommended by the LeBoat boys. It was an absolute treat. We were allowed to park up outside a friends’s special home. The friend we met was Daniele, a rather dashing 30? Something, who had inherited his grandfather’s fishing house. It was called “Bilancia di Bepi” (the scales or balance of Bepi). See: and

    I’m sure that photos are not going to do Bilancia di Bepi justice. Imagine a tranquil stream with a quaint charming fishing hut / homely residence. Outside is a giant mechanical net which Daniele mechanically lowers into the water. The fishies swim past and when Daniele feels like it, he presses the button and the ginomous net is mechanically raised out of the water and all the fishies congregate in the bottom of it. Daniele then rows out to collect the fishies which then brings back to the house for delicious deep frying.

    Daniele was a most wonderful host. He helped us park up the boat and fished for us. Dinner was deep fried anchovies and small fish bits (perhaps a small flounder or sole?). Even anchovy haters such as myself would be converted. It was nothing but a pleasure to meet Daniele and we talked the about ecotourism and sustainable fishing into the night. Daniele inspired us with his long term dreams for Bilancia di Bepi and his desire to share his special gift from his grandfather with others. He has the passion & energy to see his dreams realized and we hope to return one day and see how he’s got on. It was an amazing spot and special travel experience :) :) :)

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    This TR is gorgeous! Thank you for sharing your wedding and all the wonderful pictures.

    Daniele's cat eats well, eh? The LeBoat experience looked super. loveners, you know how to plan a trip!

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    I'm enjoying sharing the trip details & hoping that it helps others (either with trip planning or a bit of daydreaming!). We know our trip plan improved a lot from all the great info we learned from fodors & slowtrav in the lead up. I also think reading others' trip reports is a great way to stay motivated as you save hard for your own trip.

    Daniele's cat has a dream life. She waits until he brings in the bucket of fish and begins his sorting process. She turns up her nose at small fish and waits until Daniele spoils her with a big one (at least the size of your hand with fingers outstretched). She then runs off to a quiet corner and chomps her way through it.... our moggies wouldn't know what to do with it!!

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    This is just great! I love the way you travel and the way you have planned, AND your reporting, with so many accessible photos. Can't thank you enough, and wish you many blessings in your life together!

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    Hi Fodorites, things have been a bit manic. But I promise that I will finish this trip report :)

    Day 13: Tuesday 15th May: “Yeah, I think I’m just gonna back out of here…”

    It was really exciting to wake up on the boat with the anticipation of a day’s boating ahead. We had all slept well outside Daniele’s fishing hut – it was so quiet and peaceful.

    Daniele won my affection even further when he delivered us a bag of pastries from his local bakery. Both the custard cream and jam varieties. Delicious. Feeling well fortified for the day ahead, we untied the ropes and set off.

    On a boat our size, we quickly worked out our various roles. The Mums were in charge of scenic sight spotting, tea making and sun seeking, Lovener2 & Pop were our alternating Captains and my job was to arrange bridge / lock access, ropes, and strategic laundry drying placement (there’s a fine line between getting one’s washing dried on deck without putting one’s knickers on display…) ;)

    LeBoat supply every boat with a series of maps and a location guide. Tucked inside our papers was also someone’s old map where they’d marked up their impressions of places they’d visit. Very handy!

    After we untied and got the ropes in order, Captain Lovener2 took the helm to drive us to lunch. This is the beauty of cruising. One can sit (or lie!) on the deck, soaking up the sun and watching the world go by until one arrives at a magnificent lunching location. What could be better? And then in the afternoon, it’s more of the same. You can pull the duvet over to ward off any wind chill, be warmed by sun, wave at people as they ride their bikes alongside the canal, take in the sights and then find yourself somewhere new for dinner ☺

    We cruised the canal – there were more mechanical fishing nets like Daniele’s. In fact, Daniele’s one was small compared to others we saw along the water way. We saw birds nesting beside the water ways, flying fish and traditional fishing huts which were made of thatched grasses. If you didn’t know that you were in Italy, you might have thought you were in Africa or the Pacific looking at traditional indigenous dwellings. We never expected to see anything like that at all.

    After consulting the previous cruiser’s map, we decided to test their judgement by checking out a lunching spot that had been marked up with ‘very nice lunch’. It took a few hours and then we saw it - a basic looking outdoor restaurant alongside a small but very flash looking mooring up pontoon thing.

    We approached the very flash mooring up pontoon thing…. And soon discovered that the Magnifique’s turning wasn’t really all that responsive. Well, especially not in very flash but very tight mooring areas when surrounded by very nice boats. It felt like we were a large bus trying to parallel park in between expensive Ferraris and Porsche.

    I still remember the strangely high-pitched quiver of Lovener2 as he declared “yeah, I think I’m just gonna back outta here”. Tensions were highs and by now we had at least 10 people standing and watching us from on top the very flash mooring pontoon thing. There were several moments where I thought “crumbs, it’s going to be a miracle if we don’t crash or clip something expensive here…”

    Lovener2 held his cool and was encouraged along by several folks on land. We managed to get on land, by now desperately in need of a drink.

    Trattoria di Tognon Gianmauro did not disappoint. In fact, I think it was Lovener2’s favourite meal of the whole trip.
    Anfora Grade
    335 7522209
    Located on the island of Amphora between the lagoon of Grado and Marano (not Murano!)

    Gorgeous alfresco dining. Mum & I shared Branzino for two, Lovener 2 savoured his razor clam pasta dish. I forget the name of the dish but it was made with the pasta off-cuts so all roughly cut and roughly sized pieces of pasta. Other dishes we tried were spaghetti della mare and delicious lightly fried squid and octopus. Yummy. All topped off with a rather lovely ricotta tart. The meal (a grand feast) plus a bottle of prosecco, some soda and 2 large bottles of beer totaled E155.

    What made the meal most enjoyable was our conversations with the hosts. We managed to get by with our Italiano and have several hosts with ‘Mauro. ‘Mauro took quite a shine to Lovener2’s Mum which was really funny. Kisses were exchanged but the romance seemed to fizzle when Lovener2’s Mum didn’t enjoy the raw shrimps that ‘Mauro had caught. It was a funny afternoon and a perfect antidote to the stressful park up of the boat. We didn’t know it at the time but this was our first and only difficult park-up.

    We tootled off and stayed in Grado for the evening. We berthed at proper Marina (E40) called Lega Navale Italiana Sezione di Grado see:

    Grado ( is a small resort town with a lovely relaxed feel to it. Approximately 9,000 residents live there. There’s a pretty historic centre and some nice sandy beaches. Town folk were friendly and helpful. It looked like a great place for stay for a month or two.

    Many of the tourists we saw here were German and many restaurant menus seemed to Italiano/German. We enjoyed a simple meal at a German style place, Osteria Al Gial. After strolling the township, we returned to the Marina. We rested our heads and thanked our blessings for not having crashed into any expensive boats or marina pontoons during the day ☺

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    Day 14: Wednesday 16th May: “Dangerous Shoals”

    We awoke in Grado to rain and lots of it. The visibility was far too poor to set forth so Mum & I decided we would entertain ourselves at the shops until the weather cleared. This was a shopping mission only suitable for the truly dedicated as the weather was horrendous.

    We made it to the first shoe shop and had to wait outside in the shop’s porch for a minute for the water to stop running off us. We weren’t met with a warm welcome as I suspect we both looked like drenched rats. The shoes were beautiful. And there were lots of them.

    Once the shop assistants realized we were serious purchasers with an eye for beautiful shoes, we were looked after well. I think our bedraggled appearance had led them to mistakenly believe we were tire-kickers instead of “serious shoppers on a mission to purchase” who had braved the horrendous elements to get their store. They helped me box up & wrap my purchases ready for posting home and gave us good directions to the post-office.

    We had fun wandering the rest of the shops and had another fun experience at the post office. I was getting better at stringing odd nouns & adjectives together to roughly convey what it was that I was after and didn’t have to resort to any hand signals this time ☺ After 10 minutes queuing and some form filling, one pair of scrumptious red suede ballet flats, one pair of lovely mushroom heels and some strappy sandals were on their way home and Lovener2 was none the wiser when Mum & I returned to the Boat ;)

    The weather didn’t clear. We decided to set off at 12.30pm rather than stay another night in Grado. It didn’t make for fun navigating as the visibility remained poor. We decided to set forth for Lignano Sabbiadoro (see: which is one of Northern Italy’s main summer resorts. ‘Sabbiadoro’ means golden sands in Italiano. Lignano Sabbiadoro has about 6,000 residents and is about 20km from Grado.

    Getting to Lignano Sabbiadoro turned out to be a bit of an adventure. It seems that if you see a sign saying “pericoloso bassofondo” or something similar, it pays to pay attention…

    Right on point, Lovener2 decided to go for his shower. I’m not sure how we did it, but honestly it felt like everytime he would pop downstairs for 10 minutes, we seemed to get ourselves into bother.

    The channel we were in seemed to get progressively shallower and shallower. We had mud being churned up and felt ourselves dragging along a bit as though someone was holding onto the boat. All this time, the rain was pelting down and we were spraying window cleaner on the window to stop it misting up.

    The channel seemed to have uneven patches of mud in it and we spent about 30 minutes feeling like we were going around in circles as we traversed different parts of the channel trying to find a stretch of water that was deep enough for us to go through. In the poor visibility, turning around and trying to find the channel going in the other direction wasn’t an option.

    We just needed to maintain our cool and quietly edge our way forward hoping it wasn’t going to get any shallower. All this time, I’m outside on the boat deck watching out for the channel marking posts and making sure that we didn’t hit any of them. At the same time, I’m scratching my head trying to think through what the insurance situation might be if we did end up running the boat aground. I didn’t even notice how wet I was getting…

    Well, Neptune must have just been having a bit of fun with us as we did make it through that stretch and thankfully found a deep & tension-free channel of water to Lignano Sabbiadoro before nightfall.

    There was no-one at the Ponte Verde Marina (E55) when we arrived. A quick phone-call saw the charming Max arrive in his little Fiat Panda. Max was a real charmer and keen to help us out. We asked where he like to eat dinner in the area and with that we were whisked into the car for a 15 minute drive around the township while Max described his favourite eateries and dishes at length. It was really fun. Many Italians take their food seriously and one shouldn’t naively ask about a favourite eating spot without recognizing the importance of the question ☺

    Later that night we wandered along to Ristorante Willy:

    ‪Via Casa Bianca 9‬
    ‪33054 Lignano Sabbiadoro Udine‬
    ‪0431 428743‬

    It was a lovely meal and I was very pleased to see the return of the Scroppino on the desert menu – hurrah! The fish dishes served at Willy’s were excellent and the menu had a great range of choices. Mum got a bit of a surprise with the Inglese Beef / roast beef when it arrived. It sure didn’t resemble any roast beef we’ve seen before. I think she had visions of a few slices of beef rib roast with lashings of gravy but what arrived was really a beef carpaccio, served raw… After a few brave mouthfuls on Mum’s part, there was some plate swapping. Deserts were rather delicious.

    And so another adventure-filled day on the boat drew to a close….

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    Day 15: Thursday 17th May: “A feast fit for a King”

    It’s fair to say that today would be considered a budget blow-out. There wasn’t any frugalling that went on today but there was a whole lot of splurging.

    One of the great things about the canal boat trip was the fact that we just knew nothing about where we were going and where we could stop for meals. It was an adventure that unfolded as it happened.

    So at about 11.30am we happened upon a lunch spot and decided to stop. It was a glorious day and there seemed to be a lovely outdoor area.

    Ristorante Ai Casoni
    Via Laguna, 14 - 30020 Bibione Pineda (Ve)
    tel. +39 0431.438556 - fax +39 0431 446301
    info @

    Not quite ready for opening, we were encouraged into the outdoor seating area and soon found ourselves happily acquainted with a bottle of prosecco until it was time to go through the main dining area.

    It was nothing short of delightful. We decided to make this Mothers’ Day lunch and dutifully made our way through the cold seafood platter, the hot seafood platter and then onto the primi/secondi. My risotto was delicious and Lovener2 & Mum had the most wonderful whole fish secondo. The fish arrived on its own trolley and the waiter squeeze the fish bones through a hand-held crusher to add to the already delicious sauce. It was a magnificent meal made all the more entertaining by the waiter.

    I forget the waiter’s name but at first I thought he was auditioning for the Royal Ballet but in actual fact he was just serious about his job. Every arm movement was a huge sweeping move – he was like an Albatross as he stretched his wings out to deliver and collect every plate. It was quite funny to watch.

    After all that eating, there was no other option than to roll oneself back to the Boat and have a snooze. Thankfully the tide had gone out so we needed to wait a few hours before going anywhere which provided a legitimate excuse for a kip.

    We set off later that afternoon for nearby Caorle (see: and berthed at the Caorle marina (E78).

    We wouldn’t return to Caorle in a hurry. It looked like it was a beautiful township that had got tourism wrong. It’s obviously very popular from the hordes of German & Dutch tourists we saw but for us it resembled a Dutch Disneyland in the township. It was all bright lights, flashing signs, noisy tourists trains, etc which gave the town centre a horrible feel. I’m not sure if they were trying to replicate Venice’s Burano-style colourful housing but to us, it came across as tacky. Such a shame as the township is really beautiful with an interesting tower, a tranquil old Church and bell tower and some pretty beaches. The sunset was beautiful.

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    Day 16: Friday 18th May: “I know a place, said Sergio”

    Today we looked at the map and decided to head towards Jesolo (see: . It was a another great day of boating. The sun was shining and Mum & I sat on the deck sunning ourselves whilst taking in the sights. There was a great variety of scenery on route, we saw more nature reserve places as well as the Adriatic sea.

    We lunched at Jesolo – Cortellazzo at a place called Al Traghetto Cortellazzo:

    Al Traghetto Cortellazzo
    0421 378020

    We had enjoyed an excellent scampi risotto whilst watching activity on the bridge across the river. It seemed to be a private bridge where a man collected $ from every car and bike that went across it.

    We then headed off towards Jesolo and came across an interesting looking township called Chiesa Nuova. It was a beautiful quiet river area and we decided to berth up for the night alongside the riverbank. One thing that is a bit hard when canal boating in this region, is that it is difficult to tell what is a free public berth versus someone’s private berth. I wasn’t keen on being woken in the middle of the night to be told to move on! We decided this one looked like a public one and tied up for the night.

    We took the bikes for a ride around the township which was fun. We found ourselves in the backstreets quickly and met an elderly chap who was concerned about knowing where we were going. We explained that we were out on a bike ride and looking for places to eat tonight. Well, something got lost in translation and the elderly chap, Sergio, decided that “he knew a place” well, in a few minutes time we were seated in “Paninoteca Da Sergio” with Sergio determined that his grumpy looking staff member would cook us something. She didn’t look impressed. We weren’t even hungry as it was only a few hours since the risotto but we all looked at each other and knew we needed to take one in the spirit of international cultural relations. Thankfully, we managed to talk him out of pasta and instead just had an enormous platter of cold meats and cheese to deal with.

    Now, one could be forgiven for thinking that we’d been done over here. But in fact, Sergio was a real darling (who just so happened to own a Panini bar) and we had a wonderful afternoon together. He lived nearby and kept popping back and forward to his house to fetch various treasures to show us, including a much loved kitten which he had stuffed inside his suit jacket as Mrs Sergio didn’t like the kitten to leave the house. It clearly wasn’t the first time that the kitten had made an appearance at the Panini bar. We loved meeting Sergio and hearing all of his stories. He was enormously proud of his family and took great delight in telling us about his son’s promotion.

    Several hours later we returned to the boat & I was relieved to see it still there and not bunted out of the way by another boat. Later that night we hopped across the road to the Old City Pizza Grill for a bite to eat. There was lots of fun & laughter in the place. All the staff were busy and working really hard, our poor waitress was moving about so fast I had to see if she was on roller skates.

    It didn’t take long to get to sleep alongside the riverbank.

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    Day 17: Saturday 19th May: “Ah, Venezia at last”

    We awoke early this morning and biked off to collect the pastries early before getting a start on the river. We had a bit of sea to cover today, getting through Chiesa Nuova to Jesolo Lido and hoping to make Burano.

    There were a number of bridges and a lock to navigate as well so my Italiano was put to the test again. I learnt quickly that confidence is key – fake it if you don’t have it. It seems to make it easier for Italians to understand what you are saying.

    We made it to Jesolo Lido in time for lunch. It was gorgeous. Sparkly water, golden sand, just delightful. We had lunch at the pontoon of Ae Bricoe (we think!). Everyone seemed pretty happy with their meals. I was ecstatic with mine – lobster tortellini. So yummy that I struggled to share it.

    We lay on the beach at Jesolo and soaked up the sun for ten minutes before wandering back to the boat. Jesolo Lido looked like a lovely area for a summer holiday. There were plenty of camp grounds, gelateria and a great swimming beach. We liked it here a lot.

    Next we motored on towards Burano. We had held off visiting Burano when we realized it was possible for us to park up there in a Le Boat mooring. I was quite excited about this as we’ve loved previous day trips to Burano and I was keen to see what it was like at night without as many tourists around.

    We love Burano and its brightly coloured houses which give the place a joyful feeling. We all wandered around for a while before Lovener2 & I got ourselves ready for a dinner date. We had made a reservation at Al Gatto Nero which we had been looking forward to.

    Trattoria Al Gatto Nero
    Via Giudecca, 88
30142 Burano (VE)
    Tel. 041 730120


    Al Gatto Nero deserves all the praise it gets on various review sites. It is a top class restaurant and we enjoyed a lovely romantic meal together. The service was excellent, the meal was flawless and beautifully presented. We particularly enjoyed a lovely desert wine called fragolino dolce vino. If we’d known this would be the only time we’d see it, we would have indulged even more! On learning we were honeymooners, we were introduced to the Chef/owner and given a special memento. It was completely unnecessary and we were both quite touched.

    Sleep didn’t come quite so easily tonight. It seems Le Boat’s free moorings are on the Boy Racer track and the boat sloshed around uncomfortably as each time they raced past.

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    Day 18: Sunday 20th May: “Much awaited retail therapy in Murano”

    Mum was positively itching to get to Murano to see all the glass and have the chance to add to her collection. You could see the excitement in her eyes and she was eager to get there.

    Lovener2 & I got up early and took the vaporetto from Burano to Torcello for a quick look. We took the 7am and arrived at 7.05am. We had a wander around Torcello for an hour or so before heading back to Burano.

    Torcello is tranquil and very pretty. We enjoyed a quiet stroll around, admiring the lovely buildings and gardens. We even got to see a local resident walking her goat along the waterway. We’d like to return to Torcello and stay overnight one day.

    We made it back to Burano & collected the folks in time to catch the 8.26am ferry to Murano.

    We had a lovely morning walking through Murano, admiring the public glass sculptures and attending the Glass Museum’s exhibit on my favourite Venetian glass artist, Ercole Moretti. It was a wonderful exhibit and great opportunity to learn more about the history of Venetian glass. We had been hesitant about going and were very glad we went.

    Lunch was at Trattoria Busa Alla Torre. I won’t provide the location details as frankly it was not a good experience at all. See here for our trip advisor review.

    We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering Murano. I regret not purchasing a particular vase as it as a bit expensive & still early in our trip. Won’t make that mistake again!

    We continued our Murano tradition of purchasing a large vase that was so large & fragile it would need to be carried by hand for the rest of the trip. This is our signature move ☺ It sure is beautiful despite having to be lugged around for the remainder of the trip… We also picked up some lovely Christmas ornaments.

    My parents bought us two special gifts. My Mum picked out a fabulous necklace set from the studio of Ercole Moretti for my birthday the week prior. It is in the fiore design and great primary colours. I just love it. My Dad picked out a decorative wall plate about the size of your palm for Lovener2. Both very special gifts.

    It was time to return to the boat and make our way to Casale Sul Sile. It was a 3 hour trip and we didn’t leave until 4.30pm so it was time to get a wriggle on.

    It was an uneventful motor but we were soon to be reminder of Venetian Nan’s earlier advice “Don’t leave dining on a Sunday to chance”… We walked up and down the small township of Casale Sul Sile and we could find was a pretty divey looking pizza place. It was a veritable dining disaster.

    We returned back to Gelateria we first spotted and the dismay on our faces was clearly evident. One would have thought the calories we had consumed in the previous 3 weeks would have been enough to tide us over until breakfast, but no!

    A couple picking up some icecream on their way to a party came to the rescue. We were astonished by the couple’s friendliness and hospitality. The gentleman made 2 trips to take us in his car to a venue that he owned and then arranged for his chef to cook us a meal. Unbelievable hospitality.

    Ristorante Discoteca
    Via Belvedere 90
    31032 Loc. Canton – Casale sul Sile (TV)
    Tel 0422 821714 Cell 392 6553576

    We had the most fantastic meal- beef fillet, pork fillet, roasted chicken. The restaurant was located in a beautiful building that looked like it was a great location for events. The price was very reasonable, one of the cheaper meals of the trip, which made the experience even more humbling. When we had finished, we asked to order a taxi but were informed the owner was insistent on returning us to the boat personally and would not hear of a taxi being called. A memorable evening.

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    I've enjoyed every bit of this report. It is surely an all-time classic for Fodors.
    Congratulations, once again, on your marriage, and on a wonderfully colorful, wholesome, informative report. Best of fortune and happy travels in the future.

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    I don't know how I missed the beginning of this trip report, but I am most grateful to you for continuing! It is terrific and I am enjoying the pictures for each day as you go! Can't wait for the rest. Best wishes on your wedding and may you have many happy travels ahead!

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    Just when you though our trip report was abandoned... it continues :) Don't fear, we will not abandon it - it's just a slow labour of love!

    Day 19: Monday 21st May: “Boats, trains & automobiles”

    Sadly, the great Canal boating experience needed to come to an end. We would have been happy staying on the boat for longer but there were more amazing places to see and more delicious dinners to be had in-land.

    We had a lovely night’s sleep in Casale sul sile (even better because it was a free mooring ☺ ) and set off at 7.30am, arriving at the Le Boat base in Casier an hour later. It was nice to have a relaxing start to the day given that it was going to be a day of boats, trains & automobiles.

    Returning the canal boat took a while so it was good not to be rushed. There was a damage inspection (this seemed to focus on ‘did we block any of the toilets?’) and paperwork to complete.

    We managed 29.2 hours of motoring over the week and petrol cost e13.50 per hour, adding E394 to the canal boating experience. This was triple the amount we were advised to budget for fuel by LeBoat. The LeBoat experience (hireage plus fuel) cost E630 per night for 5 people.

    So what was canal boating really like? ← I thought I’d do a little tangent here before telling the day’s tales…

    • We loved it and considered it to be a fair (but not great) price.

    • It can be done more cheaply – we hired a gin palace size but would not have liked being on a smaller boat. For our family group, this was the right size. We would never recommend ordering the boat that takes 5, if you have 5 people – it will be way too small.

    • There wasn’t a lot of storage so think about where you will store your luggage. We had a spare room so stuck it in there.

    • Yes, it is a good idea to pre-order some cleaning materials and groceries for the boat. Don’t go overboard (pun count +1), but a few basics to tide you over (pun count +2).

    • Check out your hiring company carefully. Our experience of dealing with LeBoat was very frustrating. It came right in the end but they certainly tested our patience when we were planning the trip. We put this down to it being a new route and our Australasian office hadn’t received much information about it. After talking to other cruisers that were also checking in their boat the day we did, it seems we were pretty lucky with the quality and cleanliness of our boat compared to theirs.

    • There were a few hidden costs – we tried really hard to get info on these out of the LeBoat office but this was a new route for them and frankly, they didn’t know much. We were told, “free moorings are everywhere” – well, there might be but if there aren’t people around and your Italian isn’t proficient enough to ask if an unattended mooring is for anyone to use, it’s pretty hard to find them. We found 1 free mooring over the 6 nights. Petrol was double what we were advised.

    • We wouldn’t bother hiring bikes for the route we did. Walking would have been perfectly fine.

    • An adventurous spirit helps. Be prepared to go with the flow (pun count +3).

    • Having basic Italian & a working phone will help speed up the opening of bridges / locks. Without this, you will probably have to wait some time for another boat to come along…

    • We met some amazing people like Sergio and Daniele that we’ll never forget. We were humbled by the kindness of people we met along the way. Some of our boating experiences (like Darling Lovener2 parking up for that first lunch ‘yeah, I’m just gonna back here’ in his high pitched nervous voice & the rest of us always getting into boating mischief every time Lovener2 went for his shower) still have me smiling and laughing as I write about this almost 9 months later.

    o.k, tangent over. Hopefully that was helpful for anyone considering hiring a canal boat for the Friuli area.

    We caught the 12.22pm train to Venzia Maestre (20 mins plus the obligatory 10 mins late running for TrenItalia regional service) followed by the 1.09pm fast train for Firenze Frecciargento. It was an enjoyable 1hr 51 minute journey, especially the drinks and snacks service.

    From Firenze we journeyed on to Lucca (an additional 1hrs 20 minutes, all things going according plan – which they very really do on a regional train). The journey progressed smoothly until we stopped for no apparent reason. Being in laid-back holiday mode, we were happy waiting and looking out the window at the country-side. We made it into Lucca about 1.5 hrs later than expected.

    It’s easy to understand the popularity of Lucca. It is a lovely leafy township with a relaxed feel within the walls. After checking into our accommodation, we walked the walls of the city and stumbled upon some lovely shops. It was great to be stretching our legs again.

    We stayed with Simona & Giulio, hosts of:

    Bed and Breakfast Evelina
    Via Streghi, 12 - Lucca
    Tel: + 39 348 4273318

    Simona & Giulio were fabulous hosts and we really enjoyed our stay. This B&B strikes the great balance of guest privacy & connection to the local community. Simona is a wonderful cook and this was the breakfast of the trip. Breakfast boasted an amazing array of preserves (from the family farm) and delicious baked goods. My favourite was Simona’s evilly delicious chocolate tart. How she managed to make a chocolate tart taste savoury and suitable for breakfasting, I’ve no idea but it’s a good thing I don’t live close by as I think I’d be inventing excuses to stop by each morning around breakfast time ;)

    For dinner Simona recommended:

    Osteria san Giorgio
    Via San Giorgio 26 - 55100
    Tel: 0583 953233

    Dinner was delicious and the Osteria had a warm inviting feel to it. The menu featured traditional dishes of the region and everything was expertly prepared. The 2.5 course meal was approx. E35 per person. As you’ll notice from the photos, the serving sizes are generous and there was definitely no need to order two courses. Favourites included the Tuscan ham, the soup, the chicken … I’ll stop going on here it was so yummy. The house wine was also excellent.

    Strolling through Lucca’s streets at night was very romantic – the moonlight was bursting through the dark skies.

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    Day 20: Tuesday 22nd May: The Cinque Terre at last

    We awoke in Lucca after a wonderful night’s sleep feeling excited about finally getting to the Cinque Terre today. I’ve been fascinated with the Cinque Terre for a long time and couldn’t wait to see if reality matched the area I’d been dreaming of.

    But first the shop windows of Lucca beckoned. And heavily beckon they did…

    We had fun strolling around Lucca’s wonderful shops and I made another trip to the post office to mail home some treasures (this really is the way to go). I acquired some great shoes for work (cute lace up brogues) and, as there was 50% off your second pair, I got an extra colour. I paid E35 for shoes that back home I would easily have had to pay at least E240. Amo l'Italia!

    Our stop in Lucca was to break the journey from the Canal boat final destination and the Cinque Terre. It was a great overnight stop and we would have liked to have had longer. Shopping aside, Lucca offers visitors lots and it would be a great base as part of a longer Tuscan adventure.

    After lunch we travelled Lucca-Viareggio (20mins) and then took a 34 minute fast train from Viareggio to La Spezia Centrale. This was followed by the short 10 minute hop from La Spezia to Manarola.

    Your first view of Manarola’s tiny houses & lemon trees precariously perched on the cliffs is nothing short of magnificent. It was a very welcome sight after we had seriously questioned whether we should visit only 7 months after the Cinque Terre’s devastating mudslides and flooding in Oct/Nov ‘2011. We were glad we had come.

    We had hired an apartment for the next 5 days and this was a good choice (not that we did any cooking!). Our apartment came recommended through friends and it was a great recommendation. An uninterrupted ocean view from a 3 level apartment which we rented through ArbaSpaa are the local management company:

    Casa Bella Vista
    via Belvedere 223.

    It cost E330 per night and I think it would have slept 8 people easily. The kitchen was well-appointed and there was a great roof balcony where one could easily watch the world go by over a glass of lemoncello.

    After settling in we enjoyed a lovely stroll down the hill to one of Manarola’s lovely restaurants:

    Trattoria Locanda il Porticciolo
    Via Renato Birolli 92
    Tel / fax +39.0187.920 083

    Our photos highlight that it was another excellent meal drawing on the coast’s wonderful seafood. The Tiramisu was also delicious.

    Our bellies full (again), we pushed ourselves up the hill feeling very content and ready to discover more of the Cinque Terre tomorrow.

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    see here for Day 20 The Cinque Terre at last:

    I love the photo of my Mum staring down her prawn & vegetable dish. It was enormous. Luckily there was some leftover for me to eat too. yum yum yum.

    All these food photos have made me hungry & reminded me that there are jobs to do so no more posting today. Have a great day everyone.

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    Day 21: Wednesday 23rd May: Mooching around the Cinque Terre

    We awoke to find sun pouring in the window and opened the shutters to see the Adriatic sea (or as one American blogger {}describes it “Where Heaven Meets the Ocean & is only Distinguishable by the Thin White Horizon”) – I cannot think of a more perfect description.

    We had a lovely breakfast on the rooftop terrace which was doubling as an eating area and laundromat for us. The little store at the end of the path had the very delicious marmalata croissant and even featured a slightly more waist-line sympathetic sized custard cream pastry.

    Fortified on pastries and armed with our Cinque Terre train & park pass combo, we set off to explore. As others have previously written, it’s difficult to make the combo pass financially worthwhile but it is convenient. It’s probably better to think of it more like a park donation.

    We started today by walking along Lover’s Lane to Riomaggiore. It was a lovely stroll and perfectly accessible to everyone.

    Arriving in the township we weaved through tiny alleys almost reminiscent of Venezia. Riomaggiore is a pretty little village and we loved wandering down the steps to see the fisherman catching food for the table. Again, it seemed like a blissful life on a gorgeous spring day.

    We had a delightful lunch at:

    Ristorante Dau Cila
    Via San Giacomo

    We enjoyed a delicious lobster pasta and a selection of grilled and fried fish. The lobster pasta was scrummy.

    Today we wanted to explore and get a feel for how the villages hung together. I was also keen to see the area Levante further north as others recommend it as a lower cost way of experiencing the Cinque Terre.

    The train timetable in late Spring wasn’t as frequent as I had imagined it would be and my tip to travellers is: on arriving in one village work out what possible train(s) you want to catch for your return journey. This applies to the villages within the Cinque Terre and the nearby towns. Not all trains stop at all villages and you might find the timetable a little out-of-sync for what you would ideally like.

    Sestri Levante is located on the coast roughly halfway between Genoa and La Spezia. It’s a township surrounded by two bays (the Bay of Fables/Storytales and the Bay of Silence) and a population of around 20,000. The Bay of Fables was named after famed story tale writer Hans Christian Andersen (The Little Mermaid, Thumbelina, the Princess & the Pea) who lived there for a short time in the 1800s.

    Levante township felt very relaxed but on the short visit we had there, we did not make an immediate connection or desire to return and base ourselves there one day. It was undergoing the all too-common identity-crisis about whether to become a tourist town or not. It’s possible that its charm sits slightly beneath the surface but for us, it would not be an alternative to staying in the 5 villages themselves, unless there really was no alternative. In Spring time, the train timetable would be infrequent enough to make a stay in Levante a bit frustrating at times. Perhaps during Summer this isn’t the case.

    The tourism office in Levante was helpful to us in trying to work out exactly what tracks were and weren’t available due to the mudslides seven months earlier. The reality of what was available was quite different to what was reported on the Internet. I’m glad we came in a relaxed frame of mind, happy to support the rebuild efforts wherever we could. If we had had our hearts set on walking all the places that were reportedly open, we could have been very disappointed. Throughout all our time in the Cinque Terre, we saw the communities working tirelessly and bravely together. It is understandable that when so many livelihoods are at stake & the flow of tourists vital for survival, that occasionally the propaganda about what’s open and what’s not gets a little ahead of schedule ;)

    Dinner was at the wonderful Trattoria belonging to Billy:

    via Rollandi 122, 19017
    Tel: 0187 920628

    Billy’s Trattoria lives up to its name. We shared delicious seafood linguini, licci, prawns, whole fish, panacotta, a mouth-watering tiramisu and, after a bottle of prosecco, some limoncello and grappa, rolled ourselves down the hill to our house on the cliff top. Can’t remember how much the meal cost, the limoncello must have been good ☺

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    Day 22: Thursday 24th May: Charming Corniglia

    Lovener 2 and I were keen to get out and stretch the legs properly and shake off a few of those second-breakfasts that had become a bit too regular. Corniglia’s hills beckoned. Our walk for the day was from our home in Manarola to the village of Corniglia via the High Trail.

    I’m not sure about the exact distance but it was roughly 50-60 mins uphill (steep), 1 hour gentle undulation across grape terraces and about an hour down hill into Corniglia.

    We loved this walk. The hour uphill was challenging after almost 3 weeks of excellent rations but rewarding on reaching the top. It was mostly steps but the amazing views provided ready excuses for those my-lungs-are-about-to-explode moments. We had a cracker of a day with about 30 degrees of heat.

    These high trail walks are a photographer’s dream – gorgeous blue ocean, pea green coloured vines trail across the hill like old-fashioned telephone wires. There are rickety cable cars, lemons waiting on trees to be juiced, and weather-beaten workers tending the vines.

    It was a lovely stroll across the plateau through the vines. There was hardly another walker on the track at all. We enjoyed the time together, just having fun in each others’ company and taking in the sights. It was pretty hot and I would imagine this trail is pretty hard work in Summer.

    The stroll down is steep and not easy on the joints. If you had any knee issues, you would want to take it easy or take a walking pole. I wouldn’t attempt the path in rain unless you wanted the fast route down ☺

    Walking down the hill and seeing Corniglia village emerge was lovely. Corniglia is a wonderfully pretty town and it got more exciting with every step closer to the town – or was that lunch calling? By now it was getting close to 2pm and we were absolutely starving.

    We decided that we would try and support mud-slide damaged Vernazza for lunch even though there were plenty of alluring options in Corniglia. We took the next train to Vernazza.

    In May 2012, it was clear that Vernazza was in the midst of a transformation as the mudslide debri was being cleared away one barrow-load at a time. The pace of the working was frenetic as the town was being prepared for the Summer season and much needed return of tourist trade.

    We had the most disappointing meal of the trip in Vernazza which still leaves me feeling ripped off and taken advantage of. We ate right on the waterfront at a place called :

    Baia Saracena
    Piazza Marconi 16

    It is easily identified by being very close to the water, with outside tables sporting green and yellow umbrellas. Avoid at all costs. Do not be tempted ever. I think I’ve got a photo of the lasagna which came highly recommended by the waiter. There was no Bolognese style meat and I’ve no idea how they could pass off the white gloop as béchamel. Truly horrendous. Speaking politely with the waiter brought complete indifference, even when we pointed out that the e18 bottle of prosecco we ordered was in fact not prosecco, just sparkling wine. The appalling service and horrendous gloop pretending to be food was really disappointing. We weren’t expecting gourmet but we didn’t expect to be ripped off and treated badly when we had gone out of our way to support the village in its recovery efforts.

    We wandered back to the Apartment and enjoyed time chatting to the locals on the path who were preparing the wool for the neighbourhood knitting circle. If your vocab falls short, hand signals can be entertaining for both sides of the conversation ;) There was another group further around the corner getting set for an early evening game of cards. They had their table set up beside the ocean and it looked like a pretty blissful kind of life. They were a bit harder to crack conversation-wise.

    Lucky for us, Italia’s reputation for wonderful food would be restored at dinner. We ate at:

    Marina Piccola
    Via Lo Scalo, 16, 19010

    0187 920923

    It has mixed reviews but we thoroughly enjoyed our meal and had excellent service.

    After a long day, it was time to rest our weary heads…

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    Day 23: Friday 25th May: Becoming old-friends in Monterosso al Mare

    Today Pop and Dorrie headed off to enjoy the Corniglia walk that Lovener2 & I had done yesterday. For those unable to cope with the steep incline, it’s possible to take a green shuttle bus from the top of the road that runs through Manarola (about 20 metres up the hill from the grocery store) right to the top of the steep bit. It finishes on the hill top plateau where you can enjoy lunch, walk along the grape-clad hills , and then down the hill to Corniglia without the steep hill-climb. You can get a timetable for the green shuttle bus from the information centre in the train station area. A great shortcut if the sun is beating down.

    The rest of us went to explore lovely Monterosso al Mare which was also badly impacted by the October 2011 mudslides. Lovener2 & I especially wanted to go because we had made a donation to the recovery effort and wanted to show our support in person.

    Our recovery donation had purchased a small tile in a wall that will be constructed one day. Our tile was one of the first to be purchased and we were greeted like old friends in the Monterosso al Mare commune office. In fact, they insisted that we have our photo taken with the Mayor. Poor bugger ;) It was very sweet and lovely and made us feel like we had helped when they really needed it.

    We had a lovely little lunch at one of the seaside ristorantes. The sun was shining and the beach looked very inviting with gorgeous golden sand twinkling away.

    After lunch we wandered through the old town & new town as much as we could. There were lots of people busy working away and it was great to see the town thriving after such a terrible natural disaster. The town had lots of little treasures in it and we loved just wandering around and poking our noses into the town’s lovely little nooks and crannies.

    We probably poked our nose a tad too far in one particular shop and soon found ourselves right inside a lovely art gallery. Escaping from the gallery with our credit card unharmed proved impossible. There were too many alluring treasures for that to be possible. We bought ourselves a lovely illustration of Corniglia, the artist had captured the soft light on the grapes and village perfectly. We treasure it.

    A very pleasant dinner was at:

    Ristorante Trattoria “LA SCOGLIERA”
    Via Renato Birolli, 103
    Phone +39 0187 920747

    Tonight would be the last supper for our travelling group of 5. I’m not sure any of the family wanted to go home but it was time to start the honeymoon!

    Some final thoughts on group travel:

    • Travelling with your family is lots of fun and it’s worth taking some time to find out what works for everyone (& what doesn’t). For the person who’s organizing stuff, it’s actually really annoying to hear “I don’t mind what we do” when there is an amazing smorgasboard of great things to be sampled that can be easily tailored to individual preferences.

    • It’s great to split up every now & then so you have fresh tales to tell of your adventures.

    • It’s good for one person to have oversight of all of the travel arrangements but that doesn’t mean one person needs to make every arrangement. A good balance could be achieved by having one person in charge of the master plan but then allocating a segment of the trip for each person/couple to organize.

    • If finances allow, it’s great to not be crammed into tiny accommodation so you have a little space.

    • Develop a fair and transparent way of splitting costs. For us, it was easy to jot down in a notebook who paid for what and then split it all up evenly. This meant that everything was allocated fairly with no-one paying too great a share and we also didn’t bother restaurants trying to split bills when they’re busy.

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    Day 24: Saturday 26th May: On the road again

    Bags got packed and we hit the rails again. We needed to get the parents to the railway in La Spezia Centrale so they could head back to NZ via Milano. Lovener2 & I needed to get to the Hertz office before 12 to pick up the rental car. As it was a Saturday, the office closed early so we couldn’t afford to be late. The need to get moving made the goodbyes a little easier.

    Still, as official travel organizers, it was nice to know we were moving into the chilled out part of the trip and we could have a few more lazy honeymoon days ☺

    Our rental car was from Auto Europe. We booked and paid in advance and it was a real bargain (compared to what we pay for car rental in Asia pacific). We had a manual Fiat Punto and it was E525 for the period May 26th to June 13th. This included dropping off at a different location and unlimited mileage. We got stung at the end of the trip with an additional e150 for having one additional driver. This did annoy me a bit as I was very upfront about this with Auto Europe and made enquiries about the extra charges and wasn’t advised of this. When our paperwork came through, it showed the car being hired in one name and the other person’s name as a passenger. We should have clicked then as it seems both names should have been in the car hired by box (we assumed this was a reference to the credit card booking name). Without any documentation to prove the conversation with AutoEurope, there was very little we could do.

    Bringing our own GPS from home saved us an additional E10 per day which was a good saving given the length of our car hire.

    Our drive today would take us to our home for the next 7 nights (E170 per night including an amazing breakfast):

    Tenuta Santo Pietro
    Localita' Santo Pietro,

    The driving was a little un-nerving at first given we drive on the other side of the road back home back we soon got into the swing of it. Our top tips for those who are used to driving on the other side of the road:

    • Limit the time each person drives before swapping over or having a break. We set a limit of 45 minutes. This worked for us. Italian driving is fast and you have to be very alert about what is going on around you. 45 mins seemed about the time when our concentration waned a little so good to swap over.

    • When entering the highway from an on-ramp, try this system: the driver focuses soley on getting up to motorway speed while the navigating passenger focuses on whether there is a gap and if it is safe to pull into the highway or not (this tip is especially important if you drive on the other side of the road normally as your brain is trained to look in the wrong place!)

    • If you set your speed by the speed of cars around you, expect a ticket at some stage. Ours haven’t come yet but we know they will at some stage…. ☹ We didn’t set out to speed at all but probably weren’t clued up enough on what speed limits applied when and just tried not to be the fastest or slowest on the road. What we didn’t realize is that the fancy traffic technology measures time it takes you between two points and then tickets you if you were going to quick. Ouch!

    • GPS are great but expect the odd strange instruction.

    • Don’t get put off driving by other people! Despite travelling at higher speeds than we do at home, we actually felt safer on the roads in Italy because all the drivers are paying attention and know exactly what is going on around them. Sure, not everyone indicates but if you’re paying attention and constantly checking your mirrors, you know when someone is making a passing move, speeding up or slowing down…

    We enjoyed our drive to Pienza and found our accommodation easily. It was a nice relaxing drive and we seemed to get more excited as we approached Tenuta Santo Pietro. We were really looking forward to having some quiet time to ourselves in this gorgeous location.

    Driving through Tuscany to Pienza was really different to what we had expected. It looked so much like home. Given we were travelling in spring time, the hills were a very lush green – this all makes perfect sense because it was spring but it was a total mismatch for the Tuscan image in my head which only had golden hills! ☺ ☺ I’ve gotta laugh about it now.

    Tenuta Santo Pietro belongs to a younger Italian American family who are putting their heart and soul into establishing the business. They’ve done a great job. The place is beautiful. Simply beautiful both inside and out. We loved the interior decoration and the grounds were immaculate. In spring, it wasn’t quite warm enough to jump in the pool but on a summer’s day it would be perfect.

    Tenuta Santo Pietro have a great team working there. Everyone clearly took a lot of pride in their job. The in-house meals were fabulous and we looked forward to breakfast each morning. A top class effort by the team working there.

    I’m not sure that I would, hand-on-heart , recommend Tenuta Santo Pietro for a honeymooning couple. It describes itself as a “tranquil oasis” in Tuscany but we found the place the opposite. We may have picked an unlucky week but we were woken up a couple of times by other guests using the kitchen (which basically backed straight onto our bedroom) and kept awake by a large group that had come to the restaurant (not guests at the property) for a late meal and singing. Another day we returned from our day’s outing early as we wanted to chill out for the afternoon only to find the restaurant had been hired by a very large group (looked like a huge family celebration) and after lunch they then hung out around in the grounds and pool area.

    I think by the time we reached Pienza, we had really been looking forward to some quiet time as a couple and I think we should have asked Tenuta Santo Pietro a few more questions before we booked. We made assumptions on its quietness, based on its description of itself, and the fact that it had only a small number of rooms, which proved to be wrong in the week we visited. We had no idea that they took very large group bookings for meals and made the facilities available for non-guests occasionally.

    The team there were generous, kind & lovely people, the food exceptional, the buildings are gorgeous and the grounds and outlook are stunning. If you are desperate for a quiet, tranquil break, just check first what else is planned during your visit.

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    Love the last few installments! I think DH and I ate at that exact same restaurant in Vernazza on our honeymoon... They managed to serve virtually inedible fish which is hard to do when it's as fresh as it should have been! That was in 2004 and I'm sorry to hear that not much has changed.

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