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Soliciting Italian travel advice, California style.

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Hi there.

A good friend and i are planning a celebratory trip to Italy in either May or September of 2014. I know it seems like a long time away but we want to make sure that we make the absolute most of our trip while we're there. We are both youngish (26 and 31) single girls and this will be our first trans-Atlantic trip and my first major travel trip ever, besides to Vegas but I live in California so that doesn't really count.

Below ive included a trip itineray that we are considering and I'm really just wanting to get some brutally honest advice from something other than a guide book. The itinerary below is an independant trip through Virgin Vacations. All tours are optional. We are wanting to visit the typical Trinity of Italy (Venice, Florence, and Rome) and want the best experience possible in our short time visiting. Please offer any advice possible to help make this my first (and hopefully not last) trip of a lifetime.

Should book a package? Book individually? In May? In September? We thought about picking one tour per city and exploring on our own from there. How much spending money is necessary? Is there anything we may need to budget for unexpectedly? Any good book or bloc recommendations? Restaurants and bars? Tips for traveling by Rail? Dressing for May/September weather?

Please, please, please... any (goodhearted and nice) advice is welcomed.

So, here we go:

Rome, Florence, and Venice, 10 day trip, Independant

16 Sep 07:30AM [US 1610] US Airways [LAX] Los Angeles CA
[CLT] Charlotte, NC 16 Sep 02:57PM
16 Sep 06:10PM [US 720] US Airways [CLT] Charlotte, NC
[FCO] Rome, Fiumicino, Ital 17 Sep 09:30AM

Transportation to Hotel.

Rome Sept. 17:
Check In at Imperiale Hotel, three nights in Rome. Free day.

Sept. 18: Ancient Rome Tour. Free morning/late afternoon.
Today's tour will feature the classic splendor of the Roman Empire. Leave Piazza San Bernardo, adorned by Moses Fountain, and head to Piazza Venezia where you will admire the Memorial to King Vittorio Emanuele II and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Continue to the square of the Capitol, and admire the unique sight of the Forum, Colosseum, and Palatine Hill, one of Rome's most ancient districts. Walk along the pavement of the original Roman grid, which crosses the ruins of the Roman Forum, the Curia, and the Reggia. Enjoy views of the Temple of Vesta, the Arch of Titus, and the Triumphal Arch of Constantine. Continue with an inside tour of the Colosseum, a giant ampitheater used for gladiatorial contests and public spectecales, and the largest building ever built in the Roman Empire.

September 19: Illuminated Rome by Night Tour/ Free day.
This evening, depart Piazza San Bernardo for an illuminated tour of Rome's historic piazzas and fountains. Along the way to the famous Piazza della Repubblica, enjoy flood-lit views of the Palazzo Margherita, Porta Pinciana, Villa Borghese, Piazzale Flaminio, Via Flaminia, Piazza del Popolo, Piazza Augusto Imperatore, and Via del Corso. Arriving at the Piazza della Repubblica, visit Trevi Fountain, the largest and most exquisite Baroque fountain in Rome, before continuing along the Via Quattro Fontane to view the equally impressive, Fountains of the Four Seasons. From Piazza Venezia, enjoy charming views of the Memorial of King Vittorio Emanuele II and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. From this prime vantage point, admire the Capitol, Imperial Forum, Colosseum, Palatine Hill, Aventine Hill, Circus Maximus, and the Great Synagogue, overlooking the former Jewish ghetto. Conclude this fascinating tour of the Eternal City by night with views of the Castel Sant'Angelo and St. Peter's Basilica on your return.

Florence Sept. 20:
First Class Transport to Florence, 2.5 hours
Check In at San Gallo Palace. Three nights in Florence.

Sept. 21: Florence Morning City Tour. Free afternoon and night.
This morning, depart by coach for a short stop at Piazzale Michelangelo, one of the most ideal vantage points of Florence. Continue on to visit the Accademia of Fine Arts to admire Michelangelo's David. Next, tour the Piazza del Duomo in the heart of Florence to view the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, the Battistero di San Giovanni, and the Campanile of Giotto.

Sept. 22: Pisa Tour from Florence. Free evening.
This morning, enjoy a relaxing drive through the beautiful Tuscan countryside towards the historic University city of Pisa, famous throughout the world for its architectural beauty. Enjoy a leisurely walk through the Piazza dei Miracoli to view Pisa's most prized landmark, the Leaning Tower, as well as the Baptistery, and other famous monuments for which the city is known. Lastly, visit the city's Cathedral.

Venice Sept. 23:
First Class Transport to Venice, 2 hrs.
Check In at Hotel Bucintoro, Two Nights.
Free day.

September 24: Walking Tour of Venice
This morning's walking tour through the most charismatic and important historical places in the unique city of Venice begins with an orientation of St. Mark's Square, considered the historical heart of the city, where you will learn about the Square's main monuments including the Golden Basilica of San Marco, Ducal Palace,the Bell and Clock Towers, and the Procuratie buildings. Proceed to Santa Maria Formosa Square and Campo SS. Giovanni e Paolo, the second largest square in Venice. Continue on to the corner of Marco Polo's House and Malbran Theater. Then, return to St. Mark's Square through the Mercerie, a series of interconnecting streets that connect Ponte di Rialto and St. Mark's Square, and are the main streets in the city for shopping. Please note: This is a walking and orientation tour of Venice that does not include entry into any landmarks.

Sept. 25: Check Out

25 Sep 11:35AM [US 715] US Airways [VCE] Venice, Italy
[PHL] Philadelphia, PA 25 Sep 03:20PM
25 Sep 05:55PM [US 709] US Airways [PHL] Philadelphia, PA
[LAX] Los Angeles, CA 25 Sep 08:59PM 0

These are all four start hotels within walking distance of the main attractions and first class transport between cities. All the tours are individually selected so we can opt in or out of any of them. They are priority tours with a tour guide and you do not have to stand in the lines you would typically have to stand in to see these. Total Price: $6,830.64 for both of us. All hotels have a private bathroom and twin beds with a breakfast included.

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