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Trip Report May 2013--Venice, Ravenna, Levanto, Milan & the Lakes where the Rain Gods Reigned

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Part of my travel planning is to follow the weather forecasts online about a month before our trip. Since this vacation was mainly to the Cinque Terre and Lakes Maggiore and Como weather would play a big part in our daily activities. Weather during April had been very rainy and much cooler than average so I was hoping to see an improvement for May. By the time I was packing for our May 5th departure I was prepared for cool and wet but would be thrilled to see "average" temps and rainfall in the forecast.

Venice---This would be our second visit to Venice. Last October I was disappointed my husband didn't see the magic that I could see in Venice. I wanted him to take another look. This time we would not be so "purpose" driven; we'd let ourselves wander more and seek out the quieter parts of Venice. During our three days in Venice I had two goals. The first was to buy the church chorus pass and explore around the different churches we visited. The second was a boat ride with Vivivenezia that Peter from Australia had taken and told about on Fodors.

I didn't care if we had to slog through rain every other moment of our time in Venice as long as the two hours of our scheduled boat ride were rain free so it wouldn't be canceled.

The small B&B we chose was the Ca' Amadi in the Cannaregio area close to the Rialto Bridge. I had selected a room facing the courtyard but we were upgraded to a room on a canal. Not everyone might think of this as a desirable room location because the water level of the canal was only about 4 feet below the bottom of our window, but I loved it. There was a gondola or two parked across from our window so I could watch all the preparation they did each morning to get ready for the tourists.

The canal we faced was also one of the routes between Canale delle Fondamenta Nuove and the Grand Canale that work boats used each day. Ron and I are early risers so when the boat activity started it didn't bother us. With the windows closed we heard no outside noise so we had great night sleeps during our stay.

The Ca' Amadi was once the family home of Marco Polo. Almost every gondolier would make that announcement as he went past our room. As they started to say "Marco Polo" I enjoyed leaning out the window and waving to the people in the gondolas---I wonder if I'm in any of their vacation photos ;;) The rate of our room at Ca' Amadi was 174 eros per night.

I'm so glad I read Peter's information about Vivivenezia. I thought it might be just the thing that would appeal to my husband. Gianluca arranged to meet us near our hotel at the Theatre Malibran bridge for a ride in his classic Topa. After picking us up he told us about how he and two friends started the not for profit company to give visitors an opportunity to experience the original working boats of Venice.

I know I had the silliest grin on my face the entire time we were on the water because it was just so much fun. We toured the small canals and crossed the water way between San Marco and Guidecca. It was a very different sensation to be in a very small boat rather than on a vaporetto. We crossed the Grand Canal at several different points and one time I told Gianluca I was very turned around and didn't know it we were going up or down the canal. He grinned at me and then proceeded to turn the boat in circles several times in the middle of the canal--fun, fun, fun.

The cost of the boat ride was 60 euros each and lasted about two hours, the website is www.vivivenezia.org. Ron said this was the highlight of Venice---I think he finally could see some of the magic that can only be found in Venice.

For dinner our first night we enjoyed pizza at All' Anfora in San Croce. Our dining experiences on the following nights were not note worthy.

Ravenna---Since we were traveling between Venice and Ravenna by train I chose a B&B a short walk from the train station for our 2 night stay. We were very comfortable at Casa Di Paola Suite. We never met the owner but the manager who spoke little to no English provided all we needed during our stay. I liked that hot and cold beverages and light snacks were available any time of the day. Our stay in Ravenna cost 85 euros per night.

To have so many sights within Ravenna with spectacular mosaics made it worth a 2 night visit for us. We purchased the museum card to visit the two Basilicas, the Neonian Baptistry, Mausoleo di Galla Placidia and Museuo Arcivescovile and also took the bus to see the Basilica in Classe.

This time the rains came during the night and so although the temps were cool it was nice enough to eat outside for our lunches. We don't usually have dinner at the same place twice while traveling but for this trip we did make two repeat visits. One of them was in Ravenna where we dined both nights at the enoteca Ca' de Ven. Good food and wine in a setting of walls of wine racks and dark wood. One night Ron and I each chose a pasta dish, a grilled vegetable antipasti with piadina and a bottle of wine for a total of 42 euros. Our second visit we shared an antipasti, each had a secondi with grilled vegetable contorni, two desserts and a bottle of wine for a total of 57.50 euros, very reasonable.

When I did my research for car rental I was given a price quote from Economy Car Rentals that was the most resonable if we picked up our car at the closest airport to Ravenna which was Bologna. It was a difference of more than $250 for our 15 day rental. Our next destination was Levanto and most trains went through Bologna. Luckily I discovered that the day we would be taking the train to Bologna there was a one day strike only affecting trains in and out of Bologna--great!! The early trains on that Saturday were protected from the strike so if we wanted to be certain to reach Bologna we had to be on a train before 8am. We didn't want our rental to start much before noon so we knew we'd be spending more time waiting at the airport that we would like. We flew out of the airport last October so we knew it was small but had plenting of seating.

When we eventually picked up our rental car at Budget/Avis we were told they didn't have a record of our contract and that the Budge computers were down. I showed them my copy of the contract that I had been given by Economy Car Rentals and the helpful agent just drew up a contract from the paper I provided. I didn't know it at the time but having their computers down saved us some major headaches and expenses. The Travel God smiled on us that day.

I had used my husbands email address for the rental contract because he was the driver. We spend little time online checking emails while vacationing so Ron didn't see the email from Economy dated May 8th (our rental began on May 11th) stating that our contract with Budget through them had been canceled. Ron didn't see the notice until May 13th. What a mess. No explanation from Economy but we do have a contract with Budget thanks to their lack of computers. We refused any additional insurance because Economy covers all excess and now we don't have that as a fallback. We hoped the Travel Gods continued to smile on us regarding the safekeeping our our rental. I'm still furious with Economy and waiting for an explanation how they can cancel a contract we have had for over 4 months. While we were in Levanto we noticed our credit card showed the return of our deposit by Economy----they really did abandon us!! We returned the car to Budget at Milan Airport on May 26th , no questions were asked so now we are waiting for them to come after the deposit that never happened!!

Levanto---Ron and I like slow travel and try to stay in apartments as much as possible. For the Cinque Terre, Levanto gave us a perfect base since we were traveling with a car. The apartment I rented through Homelidays included a parking pass for our car, was a 10-15 min walk from the train station in Levanto and was 440 euros for the week.

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