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Trip Report Our Zurich and Milan/Venice/Florence/Naples trip report

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One year in the planning, the trip is finally here. This is to be our 25th Anniversary present to each other, though Therese (my wife, best friend, and everything else) left all the planning to me. Therese's mom arrived at our house in Templeton, CA a few days ago, to watch our three kids 12, 14, 15. They don't really need much supervision, but since none of them can legally drive, they do need someone to get them to school, scout meetings, 4H meetings, golf practice... Basically they need a chauffeur. They also need someone to remind them to take care of the animals - four Rhodesian ridgebacks, 40 chickens, 6 turkeys, 2 horses, 2 goats, and a hog scheduled for harvest while we are gone.

I have made all the air, hotel and rental car arrangements using points. For work, I fly enough American miles, drive enough Hertz cars, and stay at enough Hyatt's to have decent status and point totals. That plus Amex points, and it all gets used on this trip.

We started our trip to Italy in California, renting a car at the local Hertz, and driving up to San Francisco, staying in the Hyatt SFO. This way we avoid parking fees. Luckily the Hyatt is also a Hertz drop off location, so we did not have to drop at the airport, and catch a shuttle back to the hotel. Grabbing a hotel the night before, allowed us to get the 8:30am flight to JFK, with plenty of sleep.

Tuesday morning we grabbed the shuttle to the airport, sent one bag through checked luggage, and easily got through security, and onto the flight to JFK. We had less than an hour to make the connection to Milan, and got to the gate as they were boarding. I checked email for the last time, and also looked at the AA app and noticed the checked bag had not gotten scanned onto the Milan flight. I was hoping it was just a technical glitch. The flight to Milan was uneventful, the aircraft was supposed to have been a newer 767-300, but a last minute swap-out left us on a very old version with angle-flat seats (not the best rest I have had), food was OK, but nothing to write about.

Arriving in Milan at 8:30am, we were the first off the train, down to immigration, then in to baggage claim to pick up the checked bag. You guess it, no checked bag. We waited until all bags were off, then headed over to lost luggage. Deborah, the nice AA agent confirmed the bag was still in JFK, and said it would make the next daily flight... Two weeks earlier I had done a quick preliminary packing (yes, I am a bit anal), and decided that a his and her bag was not the best idea. So I had split our clothing out with a couple of days in each bag, and only the larger liquids (which my wife required we bring) in the checked bag. Normally I would just carry on my bag and messenger bag, but you don't get to take the 25 year anniversary trip, by squabbling over the little stuff. We had each taken a few pair of pants (I use RoughRiders gear and love it for scouting, and I bought a RR shirt with a hidden pocket for the trip. I loved it as well. No relation, just a happy customer.) and a weeks worth of underwear/socks and maybe five shirts. Therese says she would have brought more tops. I brought a wool jacket for dinners, etc. but it was so hot I would have preferred a lighter blazer, oh well.

The AA agent had agreed that the bag would be delivered to the Park Hyatt Milan once it arrived, and so we grabbed the Trenord train to Milano Centrale. We have a few minutes before our train so I grabbed my first cafe of the trip. The barista is angling for me to dump all my change in his "tip jar", this is a new one for me. I give him 20cent euro and retrieve my shot. Hoping that is not a harbinger of changes since our last trip to Rome five years ago. I still had about €30 and change from that trip and other trips, including some Swiss franc. We search for a bench to no avail, so we stand for a while until they post our train. We take the high-speed train to Zurich. Why Zurich? Well, it is a bit of a long story, but suffice it to say that my previous job had me flying to Switzerland once or twice a year, and I really wanted Therese to see it. She just had visions of chocolate shops and guys in lederhosen (I keep telling her that's Bavaria, whatever).

The train ride was scenic, and the day was clear and warm. We arrived in Zurich HB, and get off the train and immediately get a pretzel, and walked over to the Park Hyatt Zurich. We have these bags that we got for our last Europe trip that are carry on size, and have backpack straps that come out of zippered sections (got them from Mountain Equipment Inc. in California), and they are comfortable for about 25 lbs. Checking into the Hyatt, we get an upgraded suite because of my status (I really travel a lot in the western US). The room is enormous, with a sitting room , a bedroom, an office, and a huge bathroom (Therese's favorite feature is the automated toilet, with heated seat). So far I am doing really well in Therese's eyes. We freshen up and head out to Adler Swiss Chuchi for some cheese fondue. We walk across the Limmat (river) and into old town, wandering down the narrow streets to reach the restaurant. It's busy, but we had a reservation, and choose a table inside. The outside tables are nice, but the smoking is not that appealing to us. We order up a double helping of traditional fondue and dig in, cleaning the pot (and I think we surprised the couple next to us that only had a single). After dinner we strolled back to the hotel, walking along the Limmat and past all of the tiny shops. It was a long two days, but we were finally "in the vacation".

As a side note, I am an software/network engineer by trade, I love to learn things, but I am not really an expert on any of them. Language is a classic example, I took seven years of Spanish back in high school and college, but rarely use it, I can order sushi and count in Japanese, my Italian is weak at best, and my Swiss-German is non-existent. Yes, I have been to Zurich many times, and the lovely Swiss have enabled my ignorance by learning English, like I could never learn their language. Does that make me an ugly American? Or did I just successfully blame it on the Swiss?

Thursday began early for us, probably just the time change. So we texted the kids (9 hours behind), then FaceTime'd for a few minutes, then headed down to the restaurant for breakfast. They serve a buffet (for €34 each), but as part of my status I get breakfast free. Truth is, when I am traveling on business, I usually plan a business breakfast, or just grab a Starbucks and a croissant. But this free thing is coming in handy for this. Fully fed and rested, we start the "chocolate tour" of Zurich. I have written down eight shops, figuring we have time for half of them. Ha, the gauntlet has been thrown down as far as Therese is concerned. We head for #1, Laderach, a great selection of bulk chocolate. You ask for a type, orange flavored, with nuts, etc. and they break off chunks to reach a requested weight. We leave with several pounds. On to #2, Sprugli, who specialize in Luxembugerli, and truffles, a couple more pounds. This process repeats itself, as we criss-cross downtown Zurich, seeing the sights and accumulating chocolate, next Aeschbach, then Truff... We eat lunch at the Zeughauskeller, traditional sausage, potatoes, and sauerkraut, it was delish. Then back out for more, Teuscher, Max, Honold, finally finishing at Cafe Schober for a hot chocolate, and some Peclard chocolate. By the way, at one point I need a toilet, so I pop into a Swiss public toilet. Holy Toilet Batman! It's like a smart toilet and it's really clean. It auto-flushes when you unlock the door. This is a great country, I'm sure the taxes are high, but they really put the money to work. It's so clean everywhere, and while we do see homeless, etc. it is very limited. By the time we get back, we have enough energy for a sandwich in the hotel bar, and head to bed.

Friday morning begins the same, quick chat with the kids, and down for breakfast. Then we head out on a walk in the park near the Zurichsee (Lake Zurich), and around the newer parts of town, it starts sprinkling a bit, but not hard. Then we head back to the hotel to check out. While we are in the lobby, I get two emails, one from AA confirming the lost bag is now in Milan, and a second from the Hyatt in Milan confirming it is there. We hike back to the train station in Zurich, to catch the train back to Milan.

Why is it that there are no seats in any of the train stations? And why does everyone in Europe still smoke? We go out onto one of the platforms to find a bench, and avoid the smoking. Don't get me wrong, I'm not militant about the smoking thing. I have an occasional cigar, its just that living in California we just forget how prominent it still is in other places.

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    The train ride back to Milan, is just like the ride over, very scenic, but a bit more cloudy. As we pass Alth-Goldau I see a spray painted sign that says "Immigrants not welcome". This is the first time I really notice the issue they are having in Europe over the massive immigration going on. I enjoy the train ride, but happy to finally arrive in Milano Centrale. I strap on the backpack and we head to the Park Hyatt Milano. As we exit Milano Centrale we see a sea of young African immigrants, mostly selling selfie sticks or just begging. I am sure this is not what they planned on when they left home for a better life. I'm not trying to be political here, I just find it sad that people give up on their own country, and feel they have to start over.

    The walk is a bit long, and the streets are crowded, but my GPS skills get us directly to the hotel and we check in. The upgraded suite is not quite ready, so they park us in the lounge with a complimentary beverage. I start with a Chianti, and I am so excited to be back in Italy and plan on trying as much local wine as possible. I don't keep the labels, I am not that kind of drinker, I just drink what I like, I am more likely to drink the house red. And a few minutes later we get escorted up to the room. Not quite the palatial room from Zurich, but a very nice room, with complementary fruit and wine. Wow, the status really means something here in Europe, I am lucky if they even notice me in the States. A quick call down to the concierge gets us a reservation at Trattoria Milanese, and we head out to dinner. The streets are still a bit wet, but the sprinkling has stopped. Dinner is quite good, the Risotto Milanese is very good, and the rest of the food is good, but everything is a bit too salty for my taste. We turn in, as we have to get up early to get to Chiesa Maria delle Grazie, for our tour of the city starting with DaVinci's "Last Supper".

    Five years ago we took a tour of the Vatican and Colosseum using "Walks of Rome", and were quite happy with it. Expensive, yes, but the knowledge of what to spend time on and what to skip, helped us get the most from the visit. This time, after several weeks of not being able to get a simple "Last Supper" ticket, I broke down and went with the tour. I looked up Walks of Italy again, as they are English focused.

    It seems we have overcome the jet lag, as we oversleep. We get up and rush out the door, grabbing a cab to the Church to meet the guide, not an auspicious start. The streets are fairly empty though (it is Saturday), and we make it in plenty of time. The tour takes us through DaVinci's Cenacolo, then on through the city to the Castello Sforzesco, a stop at a bar for a cafe and brioche, and then on to Teatro Scala, finishing at the Duomo, with a tour of the roof. Very informative, and Valeria the local guide also gives us some food recommendations afterward. After the tour we head straight to Sorbillo, for a Pizza Frita. That would be deep fried pizza, served in heavy butcher paper. Street food at its finest. Then we cruise the shopping district, gelato in hand, but find most of the stuff is from the States anyway. We head back to the hotel, which just happens to be attached to the Vittorio Emmanuel Mall, spinning on the "bulls balls" for good luck as we pass by. We finish with an aperitivo in the hotel bar.

    All of my attempts to get in to Risoelatte or Ristorante Cracco have failed, so the concierge gets us into Giacomo Arengario which overlooks the Duomo. We get seated in a prime outside spot, even though the weather looks a bit ominous, it's not too cold. The meal itself is delicious, Therese has the Taglioni pasta with Langostino followed by Tuna Tataki, while I go with the Lobster Ravioli, and Veal Milanese. As we finish dinner it begins to rain, and we quickly call for the bill, and head back to the hotel.

    Sunday begins with breakfast in the hotel, we store a small backpack full of Swiss chocolate and snow domes (don't ask) with the hotel, and then I treat Therese to a cab ride to Milano Centrale. OK, she now has a full backpack, and her purse, and I don't want to get her burned out carrying the big bag. We get to the station a bit early, and again, no benches... I'm not sure I understand why.

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    Eventually we board the train to Venice and upon arrival at Santa Lucia we get our passes for the vaporetto. Then we board the next #1 boat and get off at Sant' Angelo. I had google mapped the paths before we left, and so finding the hotel was a snap, and up to the room. OK, maybe getting the palatial room in Zurich is backfiring now. This room is small. No really, it's tiny, and it has a really low ceiling. But everything works, so we drop our bags, and head out to explore. We get about 150 feet (just in Campo Santo Stefano) when Therese announces that she needs food. For Therese that means 'now', she doesn't handle hungry well. So we make a quick dash over the Accademia bridge, and through to the Fondementa to one of the touristy places on the water, and get a pizza. While we are there we watch one of the cruise ships go by... I don't think I have seen anything that big before, they are enormous, I'm guessing its 4000 people. It is scary to think that the infrastructure of these tiny islands can even remotely try to support that kind of traffic. The food is OK, it gets the job done, and we head out down the fondementa, and around the tip, then grab a vaporetto to San Marco. Even at 5pm it is still very busy, but quite the site. We grab a gelato, and weave our way back towards the hotel, ending up near the Rialto, but eventually finding Campo Sant' Angelo. We decide to have a late snack of seafood risotto at one of the places in the Campo, then head off to bed.

    A beautiful Monday morning finds us heading out to explore. Therese has decided she wants to see Murano, so we grab a cafe at the bar on the corner (same waiter from the night before). I should mention that I love espresso, it's what I drink at home from Starbucks, and I am loving the "cafe" in Italy. Therese... well, not so much. She has tried espresso a few times, and it is just to strong a taste for her. Our waiter makes her a hot chocolate, and it is so thick and creamy, she is in heaven. We finish, and weave our way over to Fondementa Nouva to get the vaporetto to Murano. We wander around Murano, and over by the Faro stop we watch them making "glass things", we go a bit farther, and find another shop that does a demo, we even buy a few glasses, negotiating for a cash deal, and have them shipped back. We head back to Venice, getting off at Arsenale, and head to CoVino for lunch. We each do the full lunch, and have the seat to watch them make each dish. I have mantis shrimp and Therese has penne with meat sauce, then we finish with cassetta and cheesecake of some kind. It is all super delicious, and super fun. We head back to the hotel for a quick nap, then head out later to cruise by Legatoria Polliero Venezia near the Frari, and then have pizza near the Rialto Market. The food was good, but the waiter seemed angry, not at us, but he was definitely distracted. Not our best meal, but it is striking that we have had so many good ones. We hop the vaporetto back to Sant' Angelo, and walk though our Campo noticing that the trattoria from last night is closed.

    It's Tuesday, and time to get some laundry done. So I find a review on Yelp for Lavanderia Gabriella, and it looks positive. We head over to the bar to get a cafe and a coco, but it's closed, so we go down a few doors and get our cafe and brioche at a different place. We weave through the streets towards San Marco and find the laundry, one small bag for €15, seems like a deal to me. The lady there speaks limited English, but hey, its laundry. We drop the bag and agree to pick it up the following day, we have tickets to the Ducale Palace this morning, and we are not sure how late we will go. We get to the palace early, and sneak into the back of the church, as we hear some chanting, we listen for a while, and sneak some pictures. Outside the crowds are getting big, so we move over to the Palace entrance and get inside to look around before the "Secret Itin" tour starts. We enjoy the tour, and then cruise the palace as long as we can handle the crowds. When we can take no more we bolt out the front and head toward Arsenale and back to CoVino - darn, it's closed. We go around the corner a bit and come to Corte Sconta, they have room on the patio, and the owner seats us. What a nice lady. We have a wonderful lunch of seafood pasta, tuna, and dessert. Therese has an entire split of white wine, and an espresso. She generally drinks neither, so this is a breakthrough. Maybe the best meal I have had on the trip, just perfect. I decide to make dinner reservations for the following night there as well. We then walk up Canaregio toward the Jewish Ghetto, and it starts to rain, we break for a quick cafe and bathroom break at Bar Colleoni, then continue on to the Jewish Ghetto, and take the synagogue tour. Back over to Ca'dOro for a gelato and some of that nougat stuff Therese likes and we head back to the room via the Grand Canal. These vaperetti are really handy. Out late for a quick snack of pizza, and then back to the room.

    Wednesday morning I go out early by myself to get the laundry, and as I go by I notice the place with the coco is still closed up. I grab the laundry and then back to the room to get Therese and head over to the Accademia. Today is art day. The art is more my thing, my parents collected for years.and our house is filled with oils (nothing significant, but we like it), so Therese puts up with it for the day... We cruise the Galleria, then grab a panini as we head to the Scoula Grande, and the Frari. We stop at Polliero's and buy a few things as gifts. He is truly a nice man, and oh so shy, but does great work and is fun to meet. Then back to the room for a nap, before dinner at Corte Sconta. Again, one of my favorite meals. We shared an appetizer of tuna in balsamic, then Therese had the gnocchi and tuna venezian style, and I had the black spaghetti and fried prawns. I cannot recall what we had for dessert, but we had to roll back to the hotel.

    Thursday is our actual anniversary, and we have big plans. After reading about kayaking through the canals, we made plans to do the four hour tour with Venice Kayaks. After our usual breakfast cafe and brioche (the first place never does open again), we took the early morning vaporetto #1 to San Marco, and then the #4.1 to Certosa, and meet up with our kayak mates Ger from Ireland, and Hanno from Germany. Finally we meet Loretta our guide. She is a Venetian, but looks more like a Swede, tall, brunette, and athletic. She speaks very good English, and has a great sense of humor. We test out our skills in the little boat harbor, Therese and I working on our communication as we are in the double kayak. I grew up in Oregon with a whitewater kayak, but Therese is a newbie to this. Loretta decides we are good to go and we head out of the harbor and break across the channel to the Arsenal area, then weave through Castello, breaking for lunch at Bar Colleoni (I suddenly realize this is the place across from the hospital that we had a cafe a couple days before, coincidence?, maybe...). At lunch our guide Loretta tells us that this is a career change for her, she had always kayaked for fun, and worked making wedding dresses, now she guides full time. You can tell she really loves it.

    The view from the water is truly amazing, very different, and the lack of crowds is awesome. After lunch we load up and head out to San Marco, Loretta snapping pics the whole way. Then back around under the church of Santo Stefano, past our hotel, down the Grand Canal, through Dorsoduro, across to Guidecca, and then across the lagoon to Certosa. It is a full day, and a lot of paddling even with experience. We take the vaporetto back to Arsenale and weave our way back to Bar Colleoni for an aperitivo, then back to the room for a shower and a rest. Later we head out to Antiche Carampane for dinner. The food and service are good, but I am just too tired to truly enjoy it all. A really fantastic day overall.

    Friday morning we are up and packed and after a quick breakfast at the usual place, we check out and take the boat to the Ferrovia stop. We grab a couple of panini and water to go, then we board the train to Firenze. It's a quick trip through countryside that reminds us a lot of home in the Central Coast of California, with a bit more green this time of year (ok, these days in California we just have brown and burnt spots, but rain is coming... isn't it?).

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    We arrive right on time in Firenze, and strap on the backpacks and head to the hotel. We are staying at the Pitti Palace al Ponte Vecchio, and while it is less than half a mile to the hotel, I go a bit slower as Therese is carrying a pack as well. She does exceptionally well for the whole trip, and we are so much better off for the lack of a roller board clunking up and down stairs, and over cobblestones. As a side note each bag is about 12kg or 25 pounds. Ok, in backpack mode it does not look as stylish as a Louis Vitton, but we live on a ranch and don't really care what most people think. We arrive at the hotel, check in, and plot out the rest of the day. We decide on a quick bite, pizza at Amici di Ponte Vecchio Da Stefano down the block, and then just wander around the Oltrarno side of the river, out past the Pitti Palace, to the Roman gate, grab a gelato, and back to the hotel. If we have time the Boboli Gardens look interesting, so on the list it goes. On our way back we notice a whole bunch of self service laundry places, so we make a mental note. Back at the hotel I try to get a dinner reservation, bad planning on my part for being so late on a Friday night. I get one for 9:30 at Osteria Cinghale Bianco and we share an insalata mista, and Therese has the pumpkin ravioli, while I opt for the sirloin steak. The steak is perfect, but Therese says the pumpkin is so delicate that the ravioli barely has a flavor. We walk the block back to the hotel and turn in.

    The Hotel Pitti Palace has a complimentary breakfast every morning on the roof, overlooking the city. The view is stunning, with the Palazzo Vecchio, the Duomo, and the rest of the city. The breakfast is traditional Italian pastry, as well as lots of English options, and fruit. Plenty for us, but truly the nespreso coffee leaves me a bit wanting. We each grab a piece of fruit and head out to explore. We have no particular plans for today, well so I thought... Therese advises me that we are going to check out the leather school (I know what that means). So off we go to San Croce, we weave our way across the Ponte Vecchio bridge, and past the Uffizi, then through the neighborhoods to San Croce. We go behind the Church and find the Scoula do Cuoio. It's Saturday, so all the craftsmen are off, but Therese spends 30 minutes and a few hundred euro on gifts for the kids and her mom and herself. She is not a shopper, in general, but she is having fun, and I am only too happy to enable it. We decide to come back on Monday to get the pieces embossed, and off we go weaving north. Quick stop at a cafe for some real espresso, walk past the Temple Ebraico (Hebrew) with several troops outside. We peak inside, but they are closed for the Sabbath. So we make another mental note and keep going, weaving west, coming upon a little market area (it's not the central market, but much more local), wish I could find it again, but... We cruise through, Therese buys a cute dress for one of our daughters, we check out the food counters, and then we continue on, past a school, with hundreds of students getting out, on a Saturday. Do they go to school on Saturday in Italy? Is this a special school? We keep moving... finally coming to a large Campo with hundreds of tourists. It's Piazza San Marco and the Galleria Accademia. We have reservations on Tuesday, so we move on, to the Duomo, it gets busier. It seems that everyone is at the Duomo for the weekend. Therese announces hunger... Here, in the touristy area? Really? I recall in my research a Caffeteria inside the the Biblioteca that overlooks the Duomo. We make a few mis-steps but arrive at the Caffeteria del Oblate. I have a salad (really craving a salad), and Therese has the hamburger. A hamburger in Italy? It seems this is the latest thing, and this one is very good. Afterward we head back to the room, and relax. We head out for an early dinner to an Osteria I have a made a note on, but it's closed. I find out later it is only open for lunch, so I guess my notes weren't perfect. So we wander around and find a pizza place that has a Neapolitan style oven, and go in. The O'Vesuvio pizzeria is fairly empty, but we are early and the pizzaola makes a good show of it, and 3 minutes later we have two pizzas in front of us. Now, I make pizza at home, on a big stone of marble in the oven. It's just not the same, and I really want a real pizza oven, but watching this young man was amazing. And the pizza is delicious. They speak very good English, and have a California flag flying out front. We finish dinner and head back to the room, weaving through the masses of people on the Ponte Vecchio bridge (don't they ever go home?).

    Early Sunday morning the pigeons are cooing right outside our room. I remember seeing that they are €18 per kilo at the market the previous day. But with no way to collect them, they live to wake another guest. This being Sunday, we figured not much would be open, so we opt to get up early, breakfast upstairs, and then head for the train station. I had promised Therese a beach day. From Firenze SMN we head to Pisa, as we heard there was a building there with a slight tilt. Turns out that there is, and everyone in 500 kilometers heard the same thing. We walk from the station to the Torre de Pisa, walk around the grounds of the church, then walk back to the station. The crowds of tourists with "selfie sticks" are really starting to annoy, ok, annoy may be a bit strong, but after you get hit by a few... Anyway, at the station we get a ticket to Viareggio and continue on. At Viareggio we get off and head to the beach, about eight blocks down. We find the beach and chose a simple looking Bagno with an umbrella and two chairs for €10, we get a couple of sandwiches and a big bottle of water for another €10, and we are set. We lay out and watch the vendors harass the tourists, and get slightly darker, in my case very slightly. Clearly we are not the professionals that some of these people are, they are a shade of chocolate. I am much closer to white, but we slather with sunscreen and enjoy. After about four hours we pack up and walk toward the center of the beach scene, grab a gelato, and head for the train station. The ride back is uneventful, but I realize I have made no plans for dinner again... We take a nap and call the kids and then head over to the Cinghale Bianco to see if we can get the in. They give us the table at the bottom of the stairs, and Kiara waits on us. She is a tiny little thing from Sicily, we share a salad again, but this time we opt for the big steak, Bisteca Fiorentine. 1.25 kg or 44 oz. is a big steak even for a Texan (and we are not Texans). The older gents at the table next to us are locals and we strike up a great conversation. Therese and I split the big steak, and we still need a walk after dinner, before we turn in.

    The usual breakfast on Monday morning in the hotel, and then off to the Scoula di Cuoio to get the stuff embossed. We wait in line as another American couple had the same idea, but it seems like they have dozens of relatives. The nice young man embossed wallet after purse, and it goes on, and on. We finally get our turn, and as we leave, the couple comes back with more stuff. They really do make good gifts... After the leather school, we take the San Croce Church tour, and see the tombs of Galileo, Machiavelli and Michelangelo, and the rest of the church. There is an exhibit on the floods over the years, and pictures of the devastation from the last flood. That must have been crazy in the 12th century to have flood waters of 20 feet over the banks of the Arno. Afterward we head over to the Osteria Boungustai, and have a very nice local lunch. For the afternoon we take a siesta, and then head out to do laundry. We struggle to find those places we saw just a few days before... So much for the mental note. We finally find the place and get help from a local mom/daughter doing their own stuff. When done we go back to the room, drop off the clothes, and head up to Piazzale Michelangelo for the sunset. We bring our own vino, and just sit and enjoy. Even now Signor Bounarotti does not disappoint. The view is fantastic, even if the crowds are a bit large. Afterwards we head back to O'Vesuvio for pizza, and then bed.

    Tuesday is museum day, with the Uffizi at 9am. We have breakfast and walk over. We are early, but they let us in and we wind our way through, doing our best to avoid the giant groups of Asian tourists. Not that they are the only ones, but their groups seem to be the largest, and when they go in a room, you can't get anywhere near an item. We check out the sculptures, and the Botticelli's, Leonardo's, and the Michelangelo's. Then we head back in the direction of the Jewish Temple, finally finding it, and taking the tour. Interesting, but certainly not the level of art that is in any of the equivalent churches. Therese asks to go back to the Bibleoteca for a burger, and who am I to refuse. Then a quick siesta before our reservations to see David at the Accademia. The real David is very impressive, as are the unfinished works by Michelangelo. We stroll afterward and back in Oltrarno find trattoria 4Leoni and have a simple pasta dinner. The little piazza is filled with locals having aperitivo and kids playing.

    Wednesday we get up late have breakfast and head over to the Pitti Palace. The architecture and art is amazing, though Therese is done way before I am. She humors me. We go get pizza by the slice (at Amici again) and sit by the Arno in the sun, eating lunch. We stroll for a bit, then head back to the room so Therese can research Napoli. We head out to the Central Mercato, but the outside vendors are closed for some holiday. The sign is on every vendors wagon, but we can't quite decode it. Oh, well. The central market is open, we get gelato and continue on. After a quick siesta we stroll over to the square with the 4Leoni just to people watch. Later, we have 8:30 reservations at Cinghale Bianco again (OK, yes I have a beef problem. Did I mention we raise beef on our ranch?). We get seated at the same table, and by now we are almost locals with the staff. This time we go more modest in food proportion however. We share the spinach and ricotta dumplings. I try the crostini toscana with chicken liver and have the sirloin again, Therese has a mixed salad and the pork, it's all delish. We finish with the dessert assortment.

    Thursday finds us having the usual breakfast and then packing up, and heading off to Napoli. So much has happened in such a short time.

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    We walk to Firenze SMN, and catch the train to Napoli Centrale, then we grab a subway to Piazza Amadeo, super easy and we never feel uneasy, just everyday Neapolitan's doing their daily thing. We walk to the Pallazo Alabardieri. It's very nice, and we have an inside room, so hopefully it's quiet. One of the drawbacks to living in the country is we get used to silence, we live on 80 acres (200 hectares) and sometimes sleeping in the "city" is tough. We get settled in the room, and head out to explore, walking along the shore, and back into town to the Piazza Trieste e Trento. Finding the Sorbillo, we get a Pizza Fritta and stand and watch the people pass by. People keep staring at me.. OK, I have a passing resemblance to Willem Dafoe, I don't really see it, but it seems others are not convinced. In Napoli I get asked no less than three times, and many more just stare... maybe I need to change my hairstyle... why couldn't it be Brad Pitt? We grab a gelato and head back to the room.

    We wake early and head out to Birdy's bakery for a cafe and brioche, and then we take the funicular up to the area with the Castel St. Elmo. It's really well marked, and though you can't go in the buildings (it appears they use them for offices), the view is spectacular. It not quite clear today, and it might be smog... maybe morning haze, we hope for the latter. Still a good time, then we take the subway on to the National Archaeological Museum to see all the stuff from Pompeii and related areas. Really interesting stuff, and we get to see a bunch of local students touring, and stopping at various pieces where different students would have to give a short speech on the item. So cool. We finish and walk downhill and find Pizzeria Attanasio and each get a pie (do they call them pie in Italy?). Then we walk on, grab a cafe, and Therese tries a "Baba". It looks easy to make, and full of Rhum, but she is not a huge alcohol fan so not her favorite. We continue walking past Castel Nuovo and back to Piazza Trieste e Trento, and then take via Chiaia back to the hotel for a nap. We stop at a burger place to get a bottle of water. We pass no less than three burger places. It really seems like the burger is taking off in Italy... Later in the trip we find more burger places packed with locals.

    Later Friday, we get dressed up, as much as we can with our limited wardrobes, and head off to the Teatro San Carlo for "Le Nozze di Figaro". I had thought about trying to get tickets in Milano, Venezia, and Napoli, but we are opera novices and this was the only one I thought we would really enjoy. The opera is just fantastic. What a great music hall, the oldest in Europe, I just lovethe clock on the cieling wher the hand stays fixed and the numbers move on a wheel. And its a great performance. A late night, but worth it.

    Saturday is our day for a tour at Pompeii and Herculaneum. I love just wandering but having a guide is so useful for finding the relevant stuff, and skipping the other stuff. So we grab a train from Amadeo to Girabaldi, find the Circumvesuviana line and grab the next train to Sorrento. Only once we get on, one of the locals tells us this train goes to Sarno... Darn it. We get off, then we wait, then we get on the train to Sorrento. Seventeen stops later we get to Pompeii Scavi and meet up with our guide Sergio. This is a personal tour, just Therese and I. Sergio is local, really tall, and plays keyboards in several bands. He gives us the quick Pompeii area briefing, and wastes no time getting started. We speed walk through the various sections of Pompeii, staying ahead of much of the cruise ship tours, occasionally crossing the lines and going into the closed off sections to see stuff. We stop in the "House of the Faun", we saw all the actual artwork at the National Museum the day before. Now seeing the site is amazing. The tour is fantastic for us. Sure, I can see how others may not appreciate the high speed style, but it suits us perfectly. We finish on the other side of the site by the Amphitheater, and he offers to shuttle us to Ercolano for lunch and the rest of the tour. He drops us at a local Pizzeria (Spagaeteria), the food is good, and the family running the place is so much like every family. Watching the brothers mess with each other, the daughter do all the work, and Gino run the whole thing. Just good people. Sergio picks us up and hour later and we walk down the street to Herculaneum, and we breeze through the site for another two hours. When we finish, he drops us at the Ercolano station and we head back to Napoli and the room for a rest.

    As a side note, except for the bit of rain in Zurich, and some "morning mist" we have been unbelievably lucky to have had phenomenal weather for the whole trip. The whole time in Pompeii and Herculaneum it was sunny and clear. But when we wake from our nap it is drizzling a bit. And, of course, I haven't made any arrangement for dinner. From previous 'yelping' I have my mind set on Milagros, a tapas place in Chiaia. So we walk over, getting there just as they open at 7:30, and luck into a table. It's an interesting place as they don't keep the door open, you have to buzz to get in, and once we are in, we are the only ones inside. We order a tasting menu and the Sangria. We go course after course of amazing food, all by ourselves. By the dessert truffle and digestif, people are starting to come in, and we are stuffed. One of the best meals I have ever had (I gave it a Yelp review of 5, which I never do), all for €54. Just unbelievable.

    Sunday morning we head back to Birdy's, but this time we take a seat upstairs and get the full English breakfast, then back to the room to check out and head to Milano. The rain hasn't stopped since yesterday, in fact it is stronger. We hang out in Napoli Centrale, looking unsuccessfully for a seat, until the delayed train shows up. The hi-speed trains are really fun to ride, 170 mph through the countryside, we sit next to a mom and a daughter, the daughter is doing homework on Sunday night... Just like back home. The more I travel the more I see how much we are all alike, sure, different food, different history, but the same families, same kids, same dreams. We arrive at Milano Centrale, and I make a critical error. Therese says she can walk to the hotel, we've been sitting on a train for four hours, we can use the exercise, so I proceed. Bad idea...

    My son is a boy scout, in fact an Eagle Scout, and SPL of his troop. We recently finished the hiking merit badge with a 20-mile hike (along the California beach) in eight hours. So I can walk, and I can walk with weight... Therese... not so much. We make it to the hotel, but she has this look on her face, like she is going to kill me in my sleep. We check in, get an enormous suite again, and head down to the lobby bar for food. After a drink and food she returns to herself, and I no longer fear sleep. We exit the bar and walk over to the Vittorio Emanuel mall next door, we each take a turn spinning on the "Bulls Balls", then head back, stopping to retrieve the backpack full of Swiss chocolate.

    A full night sleep and we grab the free breakfast in the hotel, a quick cab to Milano Centrale (no, really, walking was not even an option), and a quick train ride to Malpensa Airport, and our plane ride home. Finishing this off now on the flight to Miami, while Therese watches every movie on the player. After customs our next flight to SFO, then when we get to SFO we have a rental car waiting for the drive back home.

    A really wonderful trip.

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    Great trip report. I am enjoying revisiting some of my favourite places.
    We will be in Milan next June and I have taken note of your Milan walking tour. Thanks for the recommendation.
    Sounds like you had a great trip and lots of good planning. happy 2th Wedding Anniversary.

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    Thanks Aussie_10.

    Milan was very much a surprise for us. We enjoyed the walking tour, and just wandering around on our own (over by the Sforza Castle). I think we could have spent a few more days exploring out from the "historic center".

    I think we also felt the same with Naples, we saw the sights, but could have stayed a bit longer.

    I did much of my planning by lurking on these very boards, there is so much good advice and knowledge. It was really helpful. Thanks to all who post.

    BTW, it seems that Therese has her mind set on going to the land "Down Under" for the next vacation (with kids). So it starts again.

    Dave

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    A great read, thanks. To have the experience of "Figaro" as a novice...well, it IS surely one of the best pieces of music ever written.

    Your report makes me want to spend several days each in Milan and Naples. (did 5 days in Florence recently).

    Thanks again.

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    Just some information, since you asked!

    In Italy most schools are six days a week. The hours are something like 8 to 1:30 with no lunch break. The kids go home for lunch, which often means grandma and grandpa pick them up at schoool and take them to their house for lunch. Some families have a baby sitter. It's normal that one day a week, the kids return to school for another few hours. The total class time is usually about 40 hours a week.

    Some larger towns give parents a choice of five days a week with longer days. This is more convenient for parents who work, but I think the six-days-a-week model is still the prevalent one.

    No, pizza is not called a pie in Italy. I think the word "pizza" is in origin a generic word for bread. Consider the Greek pita and the north African pita. Also, in the part of Italy where I live, there's a traditional cheese bread called "pizza di Pasqua" (Easter bread). Since I'm in an etymological mode, I'll mention that I think Pasqua is related to the Hebrew "Pesach". In fact, Passover in Italy is known as "Pasqua ebraica".

    The first time I saw pizza was in the 1950s, in a seaside town in New Jersey, where a lot of the summer visitors were Italians from South Philadelphia. My uncle brought us a pizza, which we (an Irish immigrant family) had never seen before. He told us it was an Italian tomato pie. I didn't know its name until some time later. It was not at well known in that area until sometime in the 1960s.

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    @bvlenci - Thanks for the school info. I also figured "pie" was an "american-ism", but thanks for the confirmation.

    As for Rome, yes, we were there five years ago, staying in a flat above the Campo de Fiori. We had such a great time, we wanted to see more of the country. It was really the spark for this trip.

    Dave

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