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Trip Report Trip report - Ischia, Subiaco, Assisi, Bologna, Padua, Venice & Malcesine

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Having started this nearly 3 months ago, I've finally been prompted to try to finish it by seeing a Fodor's editor looking for experiences of Bologna. So I'm now up to Bologna & will start posting - thinking that once I've started I'll have to carry on and write up the rest. So here goes...

Overview
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After 3 week trips in each of the last two years we'd decided we needed to do 4 weeks this time – we thought work would seem more bearable if we thought of it as only having to work (& put up with the Scottish weather) for 11 months of the year, then having a month in Italy ! The shape of the trip was a week just relaxing at the start and end with 2 busier weeks sightseeing in the middle.

The third week was booked first : we'd only previously stayed in Venice during the Biennale and DH (who is more into 'old art' than I am) thought we should go there during a non-Biennale year to see more of the 'normal' Venice sights. So we actually booked the Venice hotel (La Calcina where we've stayed each time before) the week after coming back from our 2007 trip !

For the first week we wanted to go to Ischia again, for the 3rd year running, for total relaxation in beautiful surroundings.

Therefore the second week was dictated by the fact we'd have a week to travel from Naples to Venice, plus DH's desire to see more 'old art' – which eventually resolved itself into a sort-of Giotto trail. (We'd done the well known Piero della Francesca trail a few years earlier and both really enjoyed that : although my main interest is contemporary art, I'd enjoyed the 'old art' more when just concentrating on one or two works at each location and doing my homework on them beforehand.) So we booked 2 nights each in Assisi, Bologna and Padua (not wanting to include Florence in this trip and thinking that the one work in Rimini didn't really seem worth the detour). When looking for an idea for the first night between Naples and Assisi a list of suggestions by the ever-helpful Steve James led me to discover the Benedictine monasteries at Subiaco, and I thought staying there would be interesting and maybe quite special.

For the fourth week we wanted to go somewhere we hadn't been before, to spend a similarly lazy week to the first. Neither of us had been to the Italian Lakes before so guided by Tripadvisor reviews I ended up booking a hotel in Malcesine, which sounded to be one of the prettiest locations on Lake Garda.

Our flight out was Edinburgh-London-Naples and our fight back Venice-London-Edinburgh, both with BA. We booked a hire car for the second week but otherwise used public transport.

Since this was a 4 week trip we tried to live as inexpensively as possible while still eating nice food and having a drink or an ice cream whenever we wanted. We had semi-joked beforehand, as the pound dropped against the euro, that we'd be living on pizza slices from roadside stalls - but that would have been no fun. I'd hoped to get away with an average daily expenditure of €100 for the 2 of us, excluding accommodation, but found we needed more like €150 to have a (still fairly modest) nice time and do everything we wanted to do.

Unfortunately every second year our main holiday coincides with Big Football – the World Cup or the European Championships – this year it was Euro 2008 so I had to put up with some of that in the evenings...

Reports on each location to follow.

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    Week 1, Sant'Angelo, Ischia (7 nights)
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    For the 3rd year running we stayed for a week on Ischia at Casa Celestino in Sant'Angelo – here's a link to my Tripadvisor review from our first stay - http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g580216-d504720-r5937794-Casa_Celestino-Sant_Angelo_Ischia_Campania.html This year we paid €170pn B&B.

    We think it's idyllic and the perfect place for a week of relaxing – lying on the beach, reading, swimming, sleeping, eating and drinking. The only drawback for us is the time it takes us to get there from Scotland – 14 hours this time to get a taxi from home to airport, fly to Gatwick, hang about there for 3 hours, fly to Naples, bus to port, hydrofoil to Ischia Porto, bus round island, walk last kilometre.

    Again we hoped we'd feel like going to a Sunday afternoon concert at La Mortella (the former home of Sir William Walton, outside Forio) – we did this the first time we visited Ischia and had a lovely time exploring the beautiful gardens and enjoying the concert which was introduced by Lady Walton herself. But sadly for the 2nd year running we couldn't face going anywhere the day after our mammoth journey to Sant'Angelo. (The first time we'd stayed for a week in Naples first so only had a short journey to Sant'Angelo.)

    So basically we just spent each day on the beach. For 5 days this was just the Sant'Angelo beach where we were perfectly happy, renting 2 loungers and an umbrella each day at the Banana Beach Club which offers a discounted rate of €10 per day for Casa Celestino guests. We enjoyed our relaxing routine of all day on the beach with a lunchtime sandwich and beer from one of the nearby cafes, back to the hotel late afternoon to sit on the balcony with a bottle of Prosecco from the nearby shop and cakes from the wonderfully named La Dolce é La Vita, nap, shower then out for a Negroni in the square, dinner followed by a post-dinner ice cream also from La Dolce é La Vita. Some evenings we sat down & had a post-dinner drink outside LDeLV while DH watched the football (on an outside screen) and I read my book or people-watched.

    The one day we varied it a bit was to go to another beach, that at the bay of Sorgeto. I'd seen mentions of this place and its natural thermal pools and volcanic mud in various places but had thought that it seemed it bit difficult to get to, via walking/bus/steps. But this year I finally worked out that the taxi boats from Sant'Angelo harbour would take us there for €5 each, each way, so we did that one day. I was a bit disappointed however and wouldn't bother again, at least in the summer. Although we got there by about 10.30, because the bar/restaurant doesn't have many loungers/deckchairs/umbrellas (they just occupy a narrow concrete walkway alongside the restaurant and above the rocks) we got just about the last 2 and had to sit apart. This also meant that we were very close to the restaurant which got very noisy at lunchtime, especially during a bizarre interlude involving the staff turning the music up really loud, singing along and walking round playing toy instruments and banging trays. It was more difficult to access the water for normal swimming due to no beach, just big rocks (the easiest way was to climb down from the planks which comprised the jetty) and we found we didn't enjoy the thermal pools – sitting in hot water wasn't really a fun proposition on a hot day, and even though we had rubber shoes we found picking our way in over the rocks quite slippery. The volcanic mud was not, as we'd thought, free for all; a guy had set up stall selling facepacks/backpacks/whatever to whoever wanted one. It may be nicer at a cooler, quieter time of year, but we decided we much preferred the Sant'Angelo beach.

    For dinner, to keep down costs we ate alternate nights at the Da Pasquale pizzeria, which we'd found quite good on previous trips. The pizzas were still good but we were disappointed this year not to be able to order an Ischian-style rabbit for our last dinner as the father of the family (who presumably shoots and/or cooks them) was away. Two other nights we ate at the hotel, where the food is pretty good but we always end up having problems with smokers at nearby tables lighting up while we're eating, and one night at Dal Pescatore in the main square. We'd had a very nice lunch there last year and it was more expensive than the others places we were eating in Sant'Angelo, so we decided to go there for my birthday dinner. Unfortunately this was disappointing and the service was poor bordering on the contemptuous, so I wouldn't recommend it.

    But despite those few niggles, we had a lovely week in Sant'Angelo again and would quite happily continue to return every year. It is the most relaxing place I know.

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    Hi Caroline - I'm enjoying your report. Time I planned another trip to Ischia, methinks :)

    I stayed in Forio a couple of years ago - but loved the looks of Sant'Angelo for a future visit.

    Looking forward to the next installment ...

    Steve

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    Thanks guys. Next instalment...

    Week 2, Sat-Sun, Subiaco (1 night)
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    From Sant'Angelo we travelled back to Naples airport to pick up the hire car at the airport – I booked via rent.it & it turned out to be with Targarent which seems to be a Fiat subsidiary. All quite easy. Decided to try viamichelin.com's 'Discovery' route to Subiaco but didn't work too well – est. 2.5 hours ended up being 4 ! All lovely scenery and nice small towns, though. Especially as we got higher up nearing Subiaco, I was very struck by the profusion of wild flowers which we don't seem to see any more in Britain. Although I've been to Italy many times before, on this week's driving it seemed more mountainous and with more extensive uncultivated areas than I'd been aware of before. On this day the scenery and houses also looked surprisingly Alpine, considering we only went north just past Rome.

    As mentioned above I came across Subiaco, which I hadn't heard of before, following a list of suggestions from Steve James. Here's a link to my Tripadvisor report on our stay at the Foresteria of the monastery of Santa Scolastica -
    http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g1137663-d1127601-r18635419-La_Foresteria_del_Monastero_di_Santa_Scolastica-Subiaco_Lazio.html

    After our night at the Foresteria, on Sunday morning we were up and out early in order to visit both monasteries before they closed to visitors at 12.30. First we walked over to Santa Scolastica where we enjoyed our tour – there was only an Italian guide available when we arrived at opening time, but he was very nice and between our limited Italian and his limited English we understood most of the commentary. The parts of the monastery we were allowed to see were beautiful, historic and very interesting, with parts of buildings dating from many different ages back to Roman times, and three lovely cloisters in quite different styles. We then drove uphill some more to the monastery of San Benedetto where Saint Benedict founded his order and where Saint Francis was a humble brother. Note that the monastery is still quite a long uphill walk from the car park, so would be difficult for anyone with mobility problems. The setting is really spectacular with the monastery buildings perched over a sheer drop and surrounded by mountains and forest. From the entrance we worked our way back down hill through the several chapels and back through the ages to the grotto originally inhabited by Saint Benedict (the Sacro Speco). On the way we saw masses of beautiful frescos including a contemporary image of 'Brother Francis' as he was then. It was rather sad to reflect that these enormous and beautiful complexes of buildings are nowadays inhabited by very few monks.

    We then set off to drive to Assisi. The town of Subiaco itself, from just driving through it, looked like any other small Italian town.

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    Week 2, Sun-Tue, Assisi
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    I'd booked the Hotel Berti based largely on Tripadvisor reviews and its location ¡V in the city, right next to a gate in the walls and normally with parking very nearby just outside the gate. My Tripadvisor review -
    http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g187905-d530062-r18838200-Hotel_Berti-Assisi_Umbria.html

    It wasn't as easy to find as I'd hoped, even armed with a map ¡V DH ended up waiting outside the gate in the car while I set off on foot to find the hotel, which I eventually did via a roundabout route. We were then able to drive in but needed to go via the same roundabout route due to the one-way system ¡V you can't drive in through the Porto San Pietro but need to enter the next gate round to the left. We were able to leave the car just outside long enough to unload the bags, then DH took it off to park. While he was doing that I was shown the room which as I said in my review, I was rather disappointed with. But it looked better with the shutters open & the light off, it was quieter with the window closed and the aircon on, and I decided it would do for 2 nights.

    Assisi itself is beautiful ¡V in all my many visits to Italy I thought that this was the loveliest and best preserved of all the ancient towns I'd seen (well, loveliest apart from Venice, I suppose, which is of course one of a kind). I had read beforehand that no new buildings or significant alterations are allowed within something like a 20/30km radius, but it seems surprising if they have actually been able to enforce this and presumably the law doesn't date back all that long. I noticed that *no* houses seemed to be for sale or rent, so maybe it's all owned and tightly controlled by one body ¡V the Church, perhaps ?

    After settling in, a beer, nap and shower we went out for a stroll up to the Basilica to check the route and admire the outside, then in search of dinner. We struggled a bit as the streets were eerily deserted and little was open ¡V presumably because it was Sunday ? and/or the fact there was a big football game on ? Eventually we ended up back looking at the hotel's sister restaurant, Da Cecco, but after perusing the menu we decided that we didn't feel like a full meal (it started being very hot that day ¡V c.33 degrees C - and I wasn't feeling great). So went to the Enoteca San Pietro a little further along the same street : although we could only choose from the more restauranty dinner menu and not the more enoteca-y lunch menu, I just had 2 cold antipasti and it was nice. Then back to the hotel and an earlyish night for me for PH watched the football on the bar TV over a beer or two. I see I noted later "Italy knocked out of Euro 2008 apparently". ƒº

    The next morning we were up earlyish and after a pleasant breakfast outside walked up to the Lower Basilica just after its 8.30 opening. Altogether we spent about 3 hours in the Lower & Upper Basilica and it was quite magical. The frescos are beautiful, we'd done our homework and had a good guidebook which explained the subject of each ('Art for Travellers ¡V Italy' by Ann Morrow & John Power, which we found very useful throughout this week despite the odd mistake). The book and preparation really enhanced my appreciation. What made it extra special, though, was the peacefulness. We almost had the place to ourselves until about 10am; but even when it began to get busier, people actually respected the 'silence' and 'no flash' signs ¡V quite the opposite experience from visiting the Sistine Chapel, for example. Even guides were only allowed with radio mikes (which they spoke into very softly) ¡V what a good idea. (I'd noticed in the Baptistry in Pisa last year that most of the noise actually came from guides shouting over each other.) The only downside of enjoying it so much for so long was that I developed a sore neck !

    After a quick look round the Church of San Pietro (not much to see) we then returned to the Enoteca San Pietro for my ideal lunch of platters of cheeses and cold meats. Again it was very nice and this just filled the gap before the Church of Santa Chiara reopened at 2pm. This was rather a tiring, long walk uphill (it was very hot again) but worth it, and we also looked round Santa Maria Maggiore en route. There was a service on at Santa Chiara but the tourist flow was very well organised around it. All very interesting and I spent a long time contemplating the Crucifix of San Damiano (which inspired St Francis). Then a quick beer and a quicker look around the Duomo ¡V too tired for the crypt museum by now - and back to the hotel via an ice cream. I saw a bus for the first time on our way back and if visiting Assisi again (which I would), I'd make sure to work out how to get buses up the hill ¡V everything is uphill and to me was further than it looked on the map. Two or three full days would have been better as there were other interesting ¡Vsounding sights we didn't get to, and I was very glad we stayed in the town and not outside.
    After a nap and a shower we had dinner at Da Cecco and it was very nice ¡V DH's ravioli stuffed with ricotta, mushrooms & truffle with truffle & pecorino sauce was fantastic. And then another earlyish night.

    On our second and final morning DH went back up to the Basilica for another look at the frescos while I packed, then we checked out and drove down the hill to Santa Maria degli Angeli, just a couple of kilometres outside Assisi. The Basilica there is built around a small chapel, formerly a cell, where St Francis died. This was again very moving and I spent a while in contemplation. Then lunch in a nearby pizzeria and on the road to Bologna.

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    You've captured perfectly what I love about Assisi (and I know it has its detractors). Thanks for taking me back. We stayed at La Pallotta but I'm sure you'd find it even drearier than the Berti! Then again it was only 35 Euros a few years ago.

    I'm enjoying your report and looking forward to reading about Bologna.

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    Thanks guys ! Steve, visiting the monasteries at Subiaco was really worthwhile and I'd recommend it (it also provided interesting further background on St Francis before our visit to Assisi) - so thank you again for steering me towards it. But I suppose I'd say it's not not necessary to stay there :-)

    Next episode...

    Week 2, Tue-Thu, Bologna (2 nights)
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    I'd also booked the Hotel Paradise based largely on Tripadvisor reviews and its location in the historic centre, plus added advice from Monica (thanks Monica, if you’re reading !). My Tripadvisor review - http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g187801-d203490-r18911089-Paradise_Hotel-Bologna_Emilia_Romagna.html.

    The only drawback was the very narrow streets surrounding the hotel which were difficult to negotiate in our (fairly small) car - we had expected this, but still managed to scrape the car when pulling up outside to drop the bags. The owner welcomed us then gave us a parking permit and marked up a street map with the one way system and likely streets to find a parking spot, which we were able to do not far away.

    Really, apart from the trip to Subiaco which would not otherwise have been possible, this week would have been easier by train.

    Anyway, once we'd got rid of the car we loved Bologna and loved the hotel. I really hope we will be able to go back – there was lots to see, great food and just a really nice, relaxed atmosphere that we liked.

    The first night, after recovering in the room for a while over a beer then a shower, we strolled through the centre and had a very nice meal at Teresina which was recommended on the Slow Travel website. Due to our budget this was about the smartest place we ate, but it was still reasonable at Є68 for 2 courses for the 2 of us with wine, water & tip. Despite it still being very hot (we sat in the alleyway outside, by choice), after plates of different cold meats we both felt we needed to try the typical Bolognese tortelloni in brodo (the waiter obviously thought we were mad & checked that we knew it involved hot soup !). Then another earlyish night.

    The next day, our one full day in Bologna, after a bit of a lie-in and a leisurely breakfast we got to the Pinacoteca at around 10am. Unfortunately the rooms containing the Giottos were closed for work on the airconditioning ! Oh well, although that scuppered the Giotto trail element there was plenty more to see. We spent a little time wandering round the galleries which were still open (but weren't very exciting), then set off to walk through the university area to the main square. We spent a little time in the university museum but didn't find it very interesting (maybe it's more interesting to families) and passed on the opportunity to ascend the tower when we heard how many stairs it involved. Then we were waylaid in piazza Verdi (opposite the opera house) by a fun contemporary art installation of washing machines playing an 'opera' comprising extracts from existing works arranged and doctored to resemble a washing machine cycle. This was great fun and we ended up taking a seat to hear the full performance (c.50 minutes) – initially with a beer at a nearby bar, then out in the square on the benches provided when the bar owner put on loud music in competition.

    It was then getting towards lunchtime so we looked at a few wine bars / wine shops with food which were recommended in various guides. Some were closed at lunchtime and the famous one on via Marsala (very near the hotel) looked a bit intimidating and seemed to have standing room only – and we wanted to sit down. We ended up having a very nice simple lunch sitting outside a modest bar/café called Marsalino, also on via Marsala, which basically just looked like a bar and seemed to be run by a young couple. Extremely reasonable at Є33 for a primo each (penne al ragu / tortelloni with butter & sage) followed by a plate of bresaola each plus wine and water. Then an ice cream from Gelateria Il Sogno on the same street – family run, very nice ice cream but flavours limited due to an earlier power cut !

    We then walked back towards the main square again and explored the buildings around them (some of them the best mediaeval buildings I've seen, I think), then the surrounding small streets which are known for their food shops and stalls. Enjoyable, but disappointed that the famous Tamburini wasn't that much more impressive than Valvona & Crolla here in Edinburgh. Had more ice cream from the exciting-looking Venchi opposite – nice but not the best. Then round the Cattedrale and back to the hotel for a lie down. (Did I mention it was extremely hot again ? The local paper seemed to have headlines about people dying of the heat !!)

    For a light supper we went to another winebar, the Olinda Faccioli, this time recommended in an old Osterie d'Italia. In a way this was my favourite of the places we ate that week - it was just an old-fashioned wood-panelled wine shop with a couple of small tables, and the proprietor was very nice (without being chatty). We shared platters of cheeses and cold meats and a bottle and a half of different local wines and it was a real feast for only €44. The only downside was that we were the only customers – we were there c.8.30-10 I'd say, so maybe the regulars go in earlier (after work) and later (after dinner) ?

    Then another early night for me while DH watched football for a while.

    As I mentioned before, we do hope to return to Bologna for a longer stay. We really liked it and there was lots we didn't have time to see, including the new modern art gallery in Bologna itself – plus I've just now read about this, not far away - http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/travel/holiday_type/arts/article4825599.ece

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    Week 2, Thu-Sat, Padua (2 nights)

    Again I'd booked the hotel, the Belludi 37, based largely on Tripadvisor reviews and its location in the historic centre, very close to the Basilica of St Anthony and not too far a walk from the Scrovegni Chapel. My Tripadvisor review - http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g187867-d237356-r18911806-Belludi_37-Padua_Veneto.html.

    We arrived early afternoon, found the hotel quite easily and checked in – we were able initially to park right outside to drop the bags, then the receptionist advised DH which way to go to drive the car into the yard at the back. After dumping our bags in our room and admiring our view of the Basilica of St Anthony, we headed out initially for a quick lunch. Since it was quite late we just went to the pizzeria Il Borgo across the road, which being so close to the Basilica we didn't expect great things of, but the pizzas were pretty good.

    Next we stopped at the tourist information office opposite the Basilica and ended up buying Padova cards, after being impressed by a leaflet on 'Padua – City of Frescos', seeing how many interesting sights there were to see and that many were free or reduced price entry with the card. 48 hour cards were €15 each and we never quite worked out if they saved us money or not. I'd already booked and paid for an evening visit to the Scrovegni (Arena) Chapel for our second day and nobody at the related museum seemed sure of whether an evening ticket for the chapel covered entry to the museum as well : I didn't think it did since it's cheaper than daytime admission, because the museum is closed in the evening I assumed. (The staff seemed confused by our visiting the museum at a totally different time from our chapel visit !) If we'd had to pay for the museum the cards would definitely have saved us money, as it costs €12pp. As it was, the card bought us free/discounted entry to a few attractions and a couple of free tram rides. The card does seem to cover an enormous number of attractions, including many such as Palladian villas outside Padua, so for anyone with more time to spare and/or packing in more in than we did, I think it would be a bargain.

    Anyway, we then started our sightseeing at the Basilica. Until I'd read the guidebook I hadn't realised that this is a great place of pilgrimage as it contains St Anthony's tomb. We got confused looking at the side chapels until we realised that the chapel which normally contains the tomb, on the left, was closed for restoration – but (presumably since it is in such great demand) the tomb had actually been moved to another chapel, on the right. It was quite moving to see how pilgrims related to the tomb, and to see all the photographs and offerings left by people who believed the saint had helped them. The Basilica itself is free but there is a charge (with a small discount for the Padova card) to go into the associated Oratorio and Scuola di S. Giorgo, both of which have fantastic frescos. Then quite good ice creams from Gelateria Panciera on Via Umberto I, just round the corner (it was still very hot !) and back to the hotel for a nap.

    That evening we walked towards the very centre of the old town and had dinner at another place listed under 'wine bars' in the old Osterie d'Italia, although it seemed to be more of a restaurant really – the Osteria dei Fabbri. This was really good, to the extent that we thought about going again the next night (and perhaps wished we had). DH had bigli (?) pasta with duck ragu then rabbit with balsamic sauce & polenta; while I had mixed cold meats followed by ravioli stuffed with aubergine with a sauce of smoked Scamorza and mixed seeds – still quite reasonable at €71 including wine, water & tip. On the way back, quite late, we saw a queue, went over to investigate and found it was for an ice cream shop, Grom on via Roma. Thinking it must be good we joined the queue and it was fantastic !! Definitely the best we tried in Bologna and in my top 3 or 4 anywhere.

    The next morning we were up quite early to go to the Museo d'Eremitani to collect the tickets we'd booked online for our visit to the Scrovegni Chapel at 7pm, and to see some of the museum. The museum & chapel are about a 25 minute walk from the hotel, right through the centre. The museum is quite extensive so we didn't tour it all, but what we saw – including the Giotto crucifix and the Scrovegni Chapel multi-media room – was good. The multi-media room involves a film (not the one shown at the chapel itself) and exhibits including a reconstruction of the Virgin's Mary's house from one of the frescos, and a section on the materials used in making the frescos. We then wandered back through the centre via a quick sprint through the Museo del Risorgimento (free with Padova card) on the piano nobile of the historic Caffe Pedrocchi (quick because a) it was about to close for lunch and b) some sort of convention was taking place in the main room). Then a pre-lunch Proscecco & nibbles in Caffe Pedrocchi itself before lunch at Godenda. I think this was also from Osterie d'Italia but it wasn't really what I expected, being a young & trendy sort of place. Still, they had a good choice of wine by the glass & we had nice enough platters of mixed cheeses - €30 with a glass of wine each, a bottle of water & tip. Then visited Il Battistero della Cattedrale (free with card) and saw more spectacular frescos, then a quick visit to the upper floor of the Palazzo della Ragione (normally free with card, but we had to pay - a reduced price - as there was an exhibition of jewellery on). By this time the market had just about packed up – we'd decided earlier that we didn't have time to fit in a good exploration of it on this trip, and we have seen other Italian markets, but it sounds worth visiting for anyone with the time. One of our books – Plotkin, I think – had a good section on exploring it with notes on particular stalls to look out for. We finished our afternoon by walking back to the hotel for a rest – via more ice creams from Grom !

    On the way out again for our evening visit to the chapel we decided to get the tram from just round the corner to save our feet, and it was very fast and efficient (and free with the card). In fact we got there so early we had to have a wee drink outside a bar opposite :-) Then to the Scrovegni Chapel, which was one of the highlights of our whole trip. We'd scoped out exactly where it was in the morning, as we knew we had to be ready to go in when the doors opened. I must stress that it really is worth doing this or allowing plenty of time to find it : a few minutes before we went in, a family appeared on the other side of the park railings a few yards away, asking how to get round to where we were - and we didn't see them again… At exactly 7pm the outer doors opened and we entered the foyer area to cool down while we watched the film (for those who don't know about this already it's like a big airlock entry, designed to protect the frescos from the outside atmosphere, pollution and humidity.) I seem to remember that up to about 25 visitors are allowed at a time but we were fortunate in that there were only about 10 of us. After about 20 minutes, it was into the chapel. Again we were so pleased we'd done our homework as it really helped us to get the most out of it : we knew what we were going to see and how best to approach it, I took in the 'Art for Travellers' book which had a very good guide to the frescos and we both had binoculars / opera glasses. I'd booked a double length slot of 40 minutes actually in the chapel – only available in the evening - as opposed to the usual 20, and we were so glad of that too. It really was quite overwhelming.

    Afterwards we felt we needed to wind down with Negronis, so wandered back through the centre & ended up sitting out in piazza dei Signori near the university. It was very busy, particularly as we seemed to be in the middle of the graduation season, so there were periodic outbreaks of singing and other types of carousing ! Then dinner at Osteria l'Anfora, another interesting old wine bar from Osterie d'Italia. It wasn't very friendly and the loo was the worst I've ever come across in Italy, but dinner was quite nice and I got to try burrata for the first time - €67.50 for 2 courses each, wine, water & tip. We were amused by DH's 'tagliata d'Angus' :-) In sum we were pleased to have experienced the place but would probably have done better to have gone back to the previous night's place. Finally more ice creams from Grom on the way back to the hotel.

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    Week 2, Thu-Sat, Padua (2 nights)
    --------------------------------------------------

    Again I'd booked the hotel, the Belludi 37, based largely on Tripadvisor reviews and its location in the historic centre, very close to the Basilica of St Anthony and not too far a walk from the Scrovegni Chapel. My Tripadvisor review - http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g187867-d237356-r18911806-Belludi_37-Padua_Veneto.html.

    We arrived early afternoon, found the hotel quite easily and checked in – we were able initially to park right outside to drop the bags, then the receptionist advised DH which way to go to drive the car into the yard at the back. After dumping our bags in our room and admiring our view of the Basilica of St Anthony, we headed out initially for a quick lunch. Since it was quite late we just went to the pizzeria Il Borgo across the road, which being so close to the Basilica we didn't expect great things of, but the pizzas were pretty good.

    Next we stopped at the tourist information office opposite the Basilica and ended up buying Padova cards, after being impressed by a leaflet on 'Padua – City of Frescos', seeing how many interesting sights there were to see and that many were free or reduced price entry with the card. 48 hour cards were €15 each and we never quite worked out if they saved us money or not. I'd already booked and paid for an evening visit to the Scrovegni (Arena) Chapel for our second day and nobody at the related museum seemed sure of whether an evening ticket for the chapel covered entry to the museum as well : I didn't think it did since it's cheaper than daytime admission, because the museum is closed in the evening I assumed. (The staff seemed confused by our visiting the museum at a totally different time from our chapel visit !) If we'd had to pay for the museum the cards would definitely have saved us money, as it costs €12pp. As it was, the card bought us free/discounted entry to a few attractions and a couple of free tram rides. The card does seem to cover an enormous number of attractions, including many such as Palladian villas outside Padua, so for anyone with more time to spare and/or packing in more in than we did, I think it would be a bargain.

    Anyway, we then started our sightseeing at the Basilica. Until I'd read the guidebook I hadn't realised that this is a great place of pilgrimage as it contains St Anthony's tomb. We got confused looking at the side chapels until we realised that the chapel which normally contains the tomb, on the left, was closed for restoration – but (presumably since it is in such great demand) the tomb had actually been moved to another chapel, on the right. It was quite moving to see how pilgrims related to the tomb, and to see all the photographs and offerings left by people who believed the saint had helped them. The Basilica itself is free but there is a charge (with a small discount for the Padova card) to go into the associated Oratorio and Scuola di S. Giorgo, both of which have fantastic frescos. Then quite good ice creams from Gelateria Panciera on Via Umberto I, just round the corner (it was still very hot !) and back to the hotel for a nap.

    That evening we walked towards the very centre of the old town and had dinner at another place listed under 'wine bars' in the old Osterie d'Italia, although it seemed to be more of a restaurant really – the Osteria dei Fabbri. This was really good, to the extent that we thought about going again the next night (and perhaps wished we had). DH had bigli (?) pasta with duck ragu then rabbit with balsamic sauce & polenta; while I had mixed cold meats followed by ravioli stuffed with aubergine with a sauce of smoked Scamorza and mixed seeds – still quite reasonable at €71 including wine, water & tip. On the way back, quite late, we saw a queue, went over to investigate and found it was for an ice cream shop, Grom on via Roma. Thinking it must be good we joined the queue and it was fantastic !! Definitely the best we tried in Bologna and in my top 3 or 4 anywhere.

    The next morning we were up quite early to go to the Museo d'Eremitani to collect the tickets we'd booked online for our visit to the Scrovegni Chapel at 7pm, and to see some of the museum. The museum & chapel are about a 25 minute walk from the hotel, right through the centre. The museum is quite extensive so we didn't tour it all, but what we saw – including the Giotto crucifix and the Scrovegni Chapel multi-media room – was good. The multi-media room involves a film (not the one shown at the chapel itself) and exhibits including a reconstruction of the Virgin's Mary's house from one of the frescos, and a section on the materials used in making the frescos. We then wandered back through the centre via a quick sprint through the Museo del Risorgimento (free with Padova card) on the piano nobile of the historic Caffe Pedrocchi (quick because a) it was about to close for lunch and b) some sort of convention was taking place in the main room). Then a pre-lunch Proscecco & nibbles in Caffe Pedrocchi itself before lunch at Godenda. I think this was also from Osterie d'Italia but it wasn't really what I expected, being a young & trendy sort of place. Still, they had a good choice of wine by the glass & we had nice enough platters of mixed cheeses - €30 with a glass of wine each, a bottle of water & tip. Then visited Il Battistero della Cattedrale (free with card) and saw more spectacular frescos, then a quick visit to the upper floor of the Palazzo della Ragione (normally free with card, but we had to pay - a reduced price - as there was an exhibition of jewellery on). By this time the market had just about packed up – we'd decided earlier that we didn't have time to fit in a good exploration of it on this trip, and we have seen other Italian markets, but it sounds worth visiting for anyone with the time. One of our books – Plotkin, I think – had a good section on exploring it with notes on particular stalls to look out for. We finished our afternoon by walking back to the hotel for a rest – via more ice creams from Grom !

    On the way out again for our evening visit to the chapel we decided to get the tram from just round the corner to save our feet, and it was very fast and efficient (and free with the card). In fact we got there so early we had to have a wee drink outside a bar opposite :-) Then to the Scrovegni Chapel, which was one of the highlights of our whole trip. We'd scoped out exactly where it was in the morning, as we knew we had to be ready to go in when the doors opened. I must stress that it really is worth doing this or allowing plenty of time to find it : a few minutes before we went in, a family appeared on the other side of the park railings a few yards away, asking how to get round to where we were - and we didn't see them again… At exactly 7pm the outer doors opened and we entered the foyer area to cool down while we watched the film (for those who don't know about this already it's like a big airlock entry, designed to protect the frescos from the outside atmosphere, pollution and humidity.) I seem to remember that up to about 25 visitors are allowed at a time but we were fortunate in that there were only about 10 of us. After about 20 minutes, it was into the chapel. Again we were so pleased we'd done our homework as it really helped us to get the most out of it : we knew what we were going to see and how best to approach it, I took in the 'Art for Travellers' book which had a very good guide to the frescos and we both had binoculars / opera glasses. I'd booked a double length slot of 40 minutes actually in the chapel – only available in the evening - as opposed to the usual 20, and we were so glad of that too. It really was quite overwhelming.

    Afterwards we felt we needed to wind down with Negronis, so wandered back through the centre & ended up sitting out in piazza dei Signori near the university. It was very busy, particularly as we seemed to be in the middle of the graduation season, so there were periodic outbreaks of singing and other types of carousing ! Then dinner at Osteria l'Anfora, another interesting old wine bar from Osterie d'Italia. It wasn't very friendly and the loo was the worst I've ever come across in Italy, but dinner was quite nice and I got to try burrata for the first time - €67.50 for 2 courses each, wine, water & tip. We were amused by DH's 'tagliata d'Angus' :-) In sum we were pleased to have experienced the place but would probably have done better to have gone back to the previous night's place. Finally more ice creams from Grom on the way back to the hotel.

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    Caroline this is an excellent report!

    I see that you made quite a few visits to GROM! I laughed at this because last night I was wandering around in the Village (New York City) trying to find GROM. (I finally did find it (Bleeker and 6th Avenue) but by then had already succumbed to another gelato place a few blocks away.

    I did take a look at GROM and was amazed. Each flavor had a card detailing the source of the ingredients: Sfusato lemons from Amalfi; hazelnuts from Piemonte, pistachio from Bronte, etc etc.. But the counterpeople are besegied by customers wanting to sample every flavor before they buy!

    http://www.grom.it/eng/pages/pistacchio.htm

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    Hi eks - thanks ! I hadn't realised GROM existed anywhere else, so thanks for that link. Lucky you, having one in your neighbourhood ! I see there is one in Paris, though, so hopefully I'll get there on our flying visit next month.

    I hadn't seen that about the special Bronte pistachios before, although I'd noticed that our favourite ice cream shop in Venice makes much of the fact that its pistachios are from Sicily (and charges more than for any other flavour).

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    Hi caroline - enjoying your trip report. You really have done excellent homework beforehand! I agree that the entrance to the Scrovegni Chapel is not easy to find. I'm jealous you booked the double session.

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    Thanks everyone !

    Week 3, Venice (7 nights) – Day 1
    --------------------------------------------------

    On leaving the Padua hotel we damaged the car for the second time, backing out of the hotel's yard under the direction of the receptionist ! This time we scraped it against a parked car in the street outside; luckily the receptionist stayed to discuss the problem with the car's owner, who I think owned the shop outside which he was parked, and he said the damage to his car didn't matter. We then had an uneventful drive to Venice airport to drop off the car, except that the traffic got extremely busy on the motorway as we neared Venice and we had an extremely long wait at the toll, so were glad we'd set off much earlier than we thought we needed to. When we stopped for petrol I took the opportunity to wipe the various scrapes with a wet cloth which made them look much less bad ! Dropping off the key and paperwork with Targarent was very quick and easy and we never heard any more about the damage. We then walked to the Alilaguna waterbus stop and caught the next boat for Zattere.

    For the third time we were staying for a week at La Calcina – we like Dorsoduro as a location since it's convenient for getting about but relatively tranquil, we like the Zattere for its open aspect and La Calcina itself is an oasis of civilisation after a tiring day. For the second time we had a front corner room on the third floor which we like very much for the views and privacy; however the price has increased so much over the last few years – and is up again another 11% for 2009 - that we have decided we need to go for a room without a view next time.

    We don't seem to have done much with the rest of our first day except eat, drink and relax. We went almost straight out for lunch since it was getting late, went into almost the first place we encountered walking west along the Zattere ('Alle Zattere'), had quite nice spaghetti with clams/mussels respectively but paid over the odds for it (€43 with wine, water, cover & service). Then up to our favourite local ice cream shop, Lo Sqero, just round the corner, for the first of the week's many coppette (one of my flavours that day was maracuja which was exceptional); then to our old fave wine shop almost next door, the Cantinone Gia Schiavi, for some water and Proscecco; then spent a couple of hours relaxing on the hotel's roof terrace with our Prosecco; then back to room for a nap and cooling down, very hot and tired – it had been a fairly exhausting week. It was difficult to get up again but after a shower we managed to drag ourselves out, quite late, for dinner at the Ristorante San Trovaso which we've used quite a lot on our previous visits. It's not haute cuisine but it's good honest cooking with an emphasis on fish, very reasonable for expensive Venice and has a nice open courtyard. We weren't very hungry so just had a plate of frittura di pesce each, €47 with wine, water & tip. Then bed, it somehow being nearly midnight.

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    Week 3, Venice (7 nights) – Venice Card considerations
    -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Again I'd looked into buying Venice cards and decided they weren't worth it *for us*. I'm not saying they aren't worth it for others, but it's worth working it out in advance – although all the possible combinations (especially if you don't have a planned itinerary) make it hard to be sure in advance.

    This year, the cheapest price for a 7 day 'Transport' card is €47.90, or €69.90 with Alilaguna.

    The cheapest price for a 7 day 'Transport + Culture' card is €62.90, or €84.90 with Alilaguna.

    (Considerably more if not bought online in advance – and I was doubly glad I hadn't done that last year, when our flight arrived so late we couldn't have picked them up anyway because everything was shut.)

    What we actually spent on things covered by the cards was as follows.

    As regards transport, we each spent €12 on Alilaguna from the airport on day 1 and bought a vaporetto single at €6.50 on days 3 & 4 (walked all day then got a boat back), a 72 hour pass covering days 5-7 at €31 and a single again on day 8 – a total of €62.50 each. So the only way we would have saved money on transport alone would have been to buy a €47.90 card without Alilaguna and a separate Alilaguna ticket at €12, which would have meant saving €3.60 each.

    As regards the cultural tickets on which the card would have saved money, we went to none of the included museums or other cultural sites / events, and we bought a Chorus Pass which covered the same churches for €9 each. So it definitely wouldn't have been worth our buying a 'Transport + Culture' card.

    Conclusion : for us, it may or may not be worth buying a 'Transport' card but it's a close-run thing. If we'd been going back to the airport that would have changed the calculations, and if it were a Biennale year the calculations would change again since on at least 3 days we'd be just going backwards & forwards to the Giardini/Arsenale (and you can make 2 x 24 hour cards cover 3 days). For us I don't think it would ever be worth buying a 'Transport + Culture' card as we are never likely to visit that many of the covered museums etc in one trip (and it only gives €1 off Biennale tickets).

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    Caroline this is a terrific report! With good information on the hotel in Bologna, and so many other tidbits..

    Good job on the car dents not passing notice!

    Now we have to come to Edinburgh (I've never been) and check out Valvona and Crolla! It looks like a great place!



    http://www.valvonacrolla.co.uk/

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    I stayed at La Calcina with my mom once. I attribute her love of Venice to the comfort of the hotel. And we also enjoyed Taverna San Trovaso.

    And I second yk: thanks for explaining the Venice Card options. I never seem to take advantage of these various city transportation cards because I can never decide if I'll really use them.

    Please continue.

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    Thanks very much, everyone.

    It's just too difficult, isn't it, trying to work out whether the Venice card is worthwhile ? It very much depends on exactly what you are going to do & how much you will use boats - and I suspect most of us don't have that organised a plan !

    I think people often assume it's cheaper to get a card as they'll be using vaporetti every day, but we generally don't - some days we might just walk everywhere and other days we might just get one boat back at the end of the day.

    eks, do please come to Edinburgh ! There are lots of nice places to eat :-)

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    Thanks bfrac ! Here we go.

    Week 3, Venice (7 nights) – Days 2-7
    ------------------------------------------------------

    Since this week was mainly for DH to look at old art I rather hoped he might have done some prep, but he didn't – ho hum. So on the first morning he revisited the Accademia while I preferred to relax on the hotel's terrace, catch up with postcards etc and read the guidebook. He bought a combined ticket for the Accademia and the Ca' d'Oro for €11 which saved a few euros.

    Our general routine was out & about sightseeing all day, an ice cream from Lo Squero then buy Prosecco & water from Schiavi (aka Il Bottegon) , relax on the roof terrace, nap, shower, a Negroni or Spritz on the Zattere, usually at Nico, dinner somewhere nearby. Fortunately the European Cup finished on our second night 

    The weather continued fairly hot and sunny all week (c.30-32 degrees C) apart from one day when it rained all morning – we rather enjoyed a lazy morning off, reading by the windows in the hotel lounge – and was cooler for the rest of that day (c28 by late afternoon).

    Sightseeing
    -----------------

    On the first few days I attempted to construct an itinerary including the churches highlighted in 'Art for Travellers' plus such of the Chorus churches we'd be near. My mistake was trying to fit too much in – I found it quite stressful having to keep my eyes glued to the map all the time while negotiating all the little twists & turns and it was tiring. It was also a bit stressful trying to fit in as much as possible before a lot of churches closed at midday. (A big advantage of the Chorus scheme is that their churches are open all day 10-5.) From a starting point of visiting 8 churches (+ finding 2 closed) in one day, early in the week, we eventually decided we should only aim for one sight at a time, then take a refreshment 

    The churches we visited included Santa Maria della Salute, San Trovaso, Santa Maria della Visitazione, the Frari, San Polo, San Giovanni Elemosinario, San Giacomo dell'Orio, San Stae (which we'd only previously seen as a Biennale exhibition space !), the Gesuati, Santo Stefano, San Giovanni Crisostomo, San Zanipolo, San Francesco delle Vigne, the Madona all'Orto and Santissimo Redentore . We attempted several others (San Cassiano, San Silvestro, San Salvatore, Gesuiti) without managing to find them open. We also visited San Girgio Maggiore & went up the campanile (in the lift !) and loved the amazing views in all directions : we were also surprised that it wasn't busier and we didn't have to queue for the lift. Unfortunately, this is where I think I left my camera  Although I hadn't been using it that much in Venice – you can usually get better pictures by buying postcards, certainly of interiors where photography is not supposed to be permitted anyway.

    While we had the 72 hour vaporetto passes we visited Torcello, which was the sight of the week. We arrived c.11am after using 3 boats to get there and were glad we didn't leave it any later – it was lovely and quiet when we arrived but getting a bit busy by the time we left (although still nothing by central Venice standards). It's a beautiful quiet walk of about 1km alongside a canal to get to the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta and the nearest we've yet been to being in the countryside in the Venetian lagoon. Once at the cathedral we were astonished and enthralled by the mosaics – we had no idea how spectacular they are and they appear to be in pristine condition, as if new (perhaps recently restored ?).

    On the way back from Torcello we stopped at Murano basically just for lunch (the second time we've done that now ) but managed a look at the two churches. Again we didn't bother with the glass factories / museum / shops but just noted that the work on display was not to our taste.

    On the second day we had the vaporetto passes we visited San Michele, the cemetery island, which was very interesting. It seems much bigger once on it than it does from the boat going past, with lots of different sections some of which are dedicated to different churches (e.g. Eastern Orthodox) or different professions (e.g. nuns, priests, military); also public chapels, private family chapels & family tombs. We found Stravinsky & Diaghilev but not Ezra Pound. Unfortunately the main church was closed but we were able to look into the surrounding cloisters.

    We also :

    - visited the Ca d.Oro, weren't terribly impressed but got the impression it wasn't all open. It was fun to stand on the balcony overlooking the Grand Canal and imagine what it must be like to live somewhere like that.

    - passed by the Cini Collection a couple of times but it didn't look as if it is ever open.

    - noted with interest the building site at the east (Customs House) end of Dorsoduro where the new contemporary art gallery is going to be.

    - visited the Friday market at Sacca Fisola at the end of the Giudecca but it's not very interesting - although we were pleased we managed to get DH some flip flops since his old pool shoes had disintegrated on Ischia !

    Next, eating in Venice.

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    Sorry to read you lost your camera. I think I may be sorrier than you--does this mean you won't be posting photos?

    Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta sounds lovely. I have never made it to Torcello but will put it on my list for "next time."

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    Venice - lunching
    --------------------------

    On the majority of days we ate cichetti and had a couple of glasses of wine at a wine shop :

    - three times at our 'local', Schiavi (now open for a few hours on Sunday but with a smaller selection of cichetti) which we really like – average €18 for 5-6 cichetti & 2 glasses of wine each – bargain ! One day DH had a porchetta roll instead of cicchetti & that was very nice too (and only €3.50 !).

    - and once at the famous Do Moro near the Rialto when we were in that area. A bit more expensive at €28 for 5 cichetti & 2 glasses of spumante each, but all very nice.

    On the way back from Torcello we had nice pasta at Ai Frati on Murano – tagliolini with prawns / spaghetti Scoliero, €40 with wine, water & tip.

    One day we found ourselves at lunchtime in an area of Cannaregio where we'd struggled to find somewhere for lunch on a previous visit – the only nice-looking menus we found were the ones offering a full 'workers' lunch' and we didn't want to eat that much. We ended up at the Ristorante Da Bera which I seem to remember was part of a hotel, just of the main San Marco-station drag, and it actually wasn't bad. I just had bresaola & DH had lemon spagehetti which was rather good & which I wished I'd had - €41 with wine, water & tip.

    Venice - dining
    -----------------------

    We tend to be quite boring & not go far from the hotel when dining in Venice, mainly because we're usually exhausted.

    After our dinner there the first night, we went back to the Ristorante San Trovaso one night but were rather disappointed. DH had salmon carpaccio (g) & grilled sole (vg), while I ordered gnocchi with prawn, salmon & cream (g) then eel (which DH had last year & was vg then – really crispy). I was halfway through my gnocchi when a waiter reappeared saying there was no eel and wanting me to choose something else right then as the kitchen would be closing soon. I was quite put out at this, my gnocchi were quite filling anyway & I didn't want them to get cold while I pondered so I just ordered a plate of mixed cheese. We didn't go back that week.

    On our second night we ate at the Casin dei Nobili on Sotoporteggio di Casin dei Nobili which we'd enjoyed before. We always have to wait for a table here, which I guess is a good sign, but only for 10 minutes or so. Nice courtyard. Later we realised that the new restaurant with a deck on the Zattere, which seemed to be just in the process of opening, was an offshoot of the CdeN, so we were pleased about that. Both restaurants have classic-ish style food with a few modern touches and interesting combinations. The new restaurant also had a very good raw fish menu and I enjoyed a few things I hadn't previously realised were nice raw ! So we actually ate at one or the other every remaining night.

    On our first visit to the original restaurant DH had little prawns with polenta followed by tuna with a mustard & pistachio crust, while I had octopus terrine then pennette with prawns & rocket - €76.30 with wine, water & tip (reasonable for Venice, but we really noticed the difference in prices between Venice & everywhere else we went this time.) On our second visit (the night the new restaurant was shut !) we both had the prawns with polenta, then I had the tuna (as DH's had been so good the other night) and he had whole seabass baked all'acqua pazza - €81.

    On our first visit to the new restaurant on the Zattere we had the best meal of the week. To start we shared a platter of all the various raw fish & shellfish options, each with its own little complementary salad, and that was fantastic. Then DH had gnocchi with lamb and thyme while I had fish ravioli – both vg. Again not too expensive at Є81 including wine (a nice Tocai Friuliana), water & tip. Since we enjoyed it so much we went again twice more and it was mostly very good– 1) C – raw prawns then fried courgette flowers stiffed with ricotta, mozzarella & anchovy; DH – raw salmon & turbot then tagliata di tonno - €82; 2) C – raw squid salad then monkfish soup, DH – fish ravioli then rabbit al cacciatore - €98 (we had liqueurs that night ). The only dishes which were less than excellent were my two on the last occasion – the raw squid wasn't very exciting (just how you'd imagine, really) and the monkfish soup was rather bland.

    Venice - ice cream
    --------------------------- As well as our local fave Lo Sqero, which we went to every day, we also had good ice cream from the Gelateria San Stae (my top favour there – Prosecco !) and La Calcina's own Gianduiotti on the terrace (much nicer than that at Nico).

    Just Malcesine to come, now.

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    Caroline it is lunch time here and you have made me very hungry!

    I always wanted to go to San Michele; will put it on my list for next trip to Venice (have not been there in about 6 years so maybe time for a return visit one of these days..)

    I remember Schiavi had a wonderful baccala mantecado....we stayed not too far from there and went a couple of times for wine and cicchetti. Just reading your report is making me long to return to Venice!

    I must say, too, that I am very impressed by the number of churches you managed to visit!


    Ok..looking forward to the last bit..

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    Hi eks - yes, one of the baccala cicchetti is my favourite at Schiavi, though I can never remember which one. Where did you stay near there ?

    Last instalment now...

    Week 4, Malcesine, Lake Garda (7 nights)
    -------------------------------------------------------------

    Our journey to Malcesine was reasonably painless, just a bit tedious – vaporetto to the station, train to Peschiera del Garda, bus to Malcesine, c.10 minute walk to hotel. We had a quick beer & sandwich lunch at the café opposite the station in Peschiera.

    (Handy hint on Venice Santa Lucia station – pausing at the prospect of carrying our wheely bags up the not-inconsiderable flight of steps, we noticed a porter with trolley disappearing up the right hand side of the station (as you look at the façade from the canal side). We followed him and found a ramp which took us right to the platform area.)

    Our hotel was the Casa Barca, review here - http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g194807-d659942-r18944822-Albergo_Casa_Barca_Wellness_Hotel-Malcesine_Lake_Garda_Veneto.html.

    I have to say we didn't totally take to Malcesine. Although the setting is beautiful, the old town is nice and I'd understood it was one of the smaller, prettier and less family orientated places on Lake Garda, there was something about it which we didn't really like but couldn't quite put our fingers on. Of course it is quite touristy, but so are lots of other places we like in Italy, like Venice and Capri. I think it may be more of a package tour destination – certainly our hotel was used by package tours – but I'm not sure whether that should make a difference and if so, what difference. It just didn't feel the same as anywhere else we've been in Italy.

    We also weren't too impressed by the weather which was, er, exciting. As mentioned in the hotel review it was cooler there than the rest of the places we stayed, although still warm enough for sunbathing most of the time; but there was an average of one huge thunderstorm a day. One evening we thought we weren't going to be able to get out for dinner, and another day we were lucky to get back from the beach club before the storm hit. (On that day it was particularly spectacular, as we watched what looked like some sort of tornado advance across the lake, and all the balcony / garden furniture was hurled about by the wind. Later we saw TV news which seemed to feature extensive storm damage in northern Italy.)
    Maybe we were unlucky but we've got the impression from talking to people that this is normal for Lake Garda – and maybe the Italian lakes area generally ?

    Anyway, we still had an enjoyable, fairly lazy week. We didn't do much except relaxing (lakeside, hotel poolside, hotel roof terrace, balcony, bars), plus eating and drinking of course. I decided this was a nice compromise way of doing things – one gentle bit of sightseeing per day and lots of sitting around eating, drinking & relaxing : usually we are either walking round sightseeing all day or just lying on the beach all day.

    One day we visited the castle which was fairly interesting, and featured an unexpected bonus in the form of a small exhibition of Andy Warhol's 'Ladies and Gentlemen' prints, rather bizarrely. There were also several bronze sculptures dotted about and we discovered that these were part of the annual invited sculptor's show, and that the few different sculptures we'd seen around the town were left over from previous years' shows. We'd seen posters for a concert there one evening but realised when visiting the castle that the 'theatre' seemed to be a large marquee to one side – if it had been in an open air part of the castle it would have been more appealing, although would mean risking a storm.

    One day we took the boat over to Limone to explore. It's even smaller and at first sight looked perhaps prettier than Malcesine. However as we walked from one end of the village to the other and back again we changed our minds – it is maybe *too* small, we didn't see a single restaurant without pictures of the food outside (we had thought to have lunch there) and the 'beach' area was really depressing. So after a drink by their Porto Vecchio, that walk and another drink we got the boat back to Malcesine for lunch.

    I would have liked to go to Sirmione one day to see what that was like, as I'd heard it is nice, but we decided we didn't really fancy 3/4 hours each way on the boat, or getting the bus.

    We left it until our last full day to try the cable car but got there and there was an enormous queue so we didn't bother. We'd had a bit of a lie in that morning as it didn't occur to me that it would be busy ! It always looked a bit cloudy up at the top anyway.

    (It only now occurs to me that I don't think I've ever mentioned what time of year this trip was – it was the second half of June and first half of July. So Malcesine was the second week in July, before most schools in Europe break up.)

    We went to a 'beach club' two days and enjoyed that despite it being a bit of a hike – about a mile, although mostly along the lakeside which was nice. There are two beach clubs side by side, each with its own restaurant – we chose Lido Sopri each time, as the restaurant (pizzeria with wood-fired oven) looked slightly better and it had a jetty for swimming off (along most of the lakeside it was a matter of picking your way in over the rocks, apart from a few private jetties including one belonging to the Hotel du Lac (which looked nice & was well situated)). A fairly decent pizza & a large beer each was €20-25. I had looked forward to swimming in the lake but didn't enjoy it much – it was very cold and seemed much more difficult to swim in than the sea, I think because it still had waves and currents but didn't have the salinity to aid buoyancy. And somehow we just didn't like the lakeside as much as the seaside. The surrounding scenery was of course beautiful, but to me not as nice as swimming off Ischia or the Amalfi Coast.

    Another area where we did well was eating. Although the town is obviously touristy and there were some pretty dodgy-looking places with photos of the food outside, particularly near the main harbour (one place even advertised chip butties !!), we found it easy enough to pick out nicer sounding menus, didn't have any disappointing meals and in fact had some of the best food of the trip there. Most times we just wandered around, having a drink in the old town en route, until we found something we liked the look of and went in. We just pre-booked for 2 dinnera, once for Al Porto Vecchio which always seemed busy at night and once for Ai Gondoliere for our last (Friday) night (both times after enjoying lunch at those places). Looking back over my notes, we generally seem to have eaten twice at places we liked and always managed to eat outside – several places had nice courtyards. Here's a list of the restaurants we ate at - all the prices include wine, water & tip.

    Lido Bagni Paino – 2 dinners. This was fairly cheap & cheerful and our first night we got there too late for anything but pizza (after 10pm), but it was a nice location next to the lake, quite good pizza and good full menu. The first time it was €30 for 2 pizzas + the usual. The second time DH had mixed smoked fish (vg) then grilled Branzino (translated as perch but we thought it was sea bass, vg) and I had cuttlefish salad then 'Persico fish' (which we thought actually was perch) with lemon & capers – fish a bit tasteless but sauce nice – €64.50 including disappointing tomato salad. (I'd never had disappointing tomatoes in Italy before but had them twice in Malcesine before giving up. Maybe theirs come from Dutch hothouses rather than southern Italy ?)

    Al Corsaro – 2 dinners - offered a 10% discount to residents of our hotel. This was part of a quite smart hotel near the lake in the old town, the food was very good but still very reasonable. The first time DH had pike with polenta (vg) then grilled mixed lake fish and I had sea trout carpaccio then tagliatelle with perch, clams & mangetout - €61 including liquorice liqueurs (while waiting for it to stop raining – lovely, much nicer than it sounds).


    Taverna dei Capitani, one dinner (DH – ravioli stuffed with perch with butter & sage then grilled sole, C – smoked fillet of leverello (translated on the menu as "white fish" & I can't find any other translation) then ravioli stuffed with cheese & pear in walnut sauce – all extremely good, €65) and one lunch (DH – tagliatelle with sea bass & wild mushrooms, C – gemelli with prawns & ginger, €34), eaten in the nice courtyard.

    Ai Gondoliere – which I'd seen recommended on Tripadvisor – one dinner (don't seem to have taken notes) and one lunch (bigoli with sardines, tomatoes & olives / gnocchetti with prawns & courgettes, disappointing tomato salad - €37).

    Enosophia – just one dinner (DH – spaghetti with red mullet then little pieces of rabbit with rosemary & polenta, C – prawns with ravigote sauce then fritto misto di mare (squid, small octopus, whole smallish prawns), €65).

    We ate ice creams most days from La Dolce Vita (!) which had lovely fresh fruit flavours plus a few interesting ones like chocopico (chocolate & chilli – which flavour combination we also had as a liqueur !). One day we had ice creams from Cento Per Cento by the castle and they were very good too. Most days we bought water for the room and wine for the balcony from one of the shops in or on the way to the centre, and found Fragolina a bit of a revelation ! (Strawberry-flavoured sparkling wine which I've never seen anywhere else.) Local 'limoncello' OTOH tasted much weaker than and not as nice as the real thing. (Dutch lemons maybe ?  ) Most days we had a Negroni in the old town before dinner, mostly sitting outside at the Bar Castello.

    So it was a good week for eating, drinking and relaxing, but we wouldn't go back to Lake Garda. I think I'd still like to see Lake Como and maybe some of the other Italian lakes, but probably as an out of season short break rather than for a week in the summer.

    Finished up with a fairly smooth but long day's travelling home – walked to bus stop, got bus to Verona, train to Mestre, airport bus, flight to Gatwick, hung about at Gatwick for 2 hrs, flight to Edinburgh (delayed ½ hr), long queue for taxi – 12.75 hours in total :-( But worth it, obviously !

    So all in all a fantastic hol and I'd now be planning another month next year, if I thought I'd still have a job then  But we have fantastic memories, which writing this report has helped to keep alive.

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    Caroline: Thanks so much for taking the time to write this lovely report! I've never been to Lake Garda; I have to admit that I had never heard of Malcesine before I read the name in this report! I like your traveling style..plenty of relaxing thrown in along with the sightseeing!

    I think you still need to keep Lake Como on the to-go list, but maybe, as you said, not for mid summer. Forget about swimming there, though, I've been told it is never really warm due to its depth! We saw lavarello on many menus in the Lake Como area; I guess it is a popular lake fish. They often served it there with a green sauce, or grilled.

    So....where next?

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    Thanks eks.

    I'm assuming that even if we still have jobs next year, our bonuses (aka holiday money in our house) will be non-existent. So I've just booked a week at La Calcina for the Biennale in June, in the hope we can at least do that - but have booked 3 weeks off work just in case something turns up :-)

    Oh, and in the meantime we are scheduled to visit friends who've moved to Cyprus, for a week late April/early May. And my FIL has booked us all on a 3 day mini cruise around the North Sea in early April, to celebrate his 70th. So nothing of great gastronomic interest, I suspect - although our friends in Cyrpus apparently have a local 24 hour cake shop with a cake for each day of the year ! And DH is looking forward to the mixed kebabs :-)

    Starting to think I should start work on my 'bucket list', though, so really must get round to organising an out of season short break in Naples so as finally to visit Pompeii, Herculaneum & perhaps the Phlegrean Fields if there's time - hoping to do that on UK Air Miles. And am periodically looking at flights to Milan (which at least we can fly direct to at the moment, with Easyjet) & booking for 'The Last Supper'.

    How about you ?

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    Follow up on the Grom chain of ice cream shops, after visiting the Paris branch on Saturday. It's on the Rue de Seine just off the bvd St Germain and was still open at 2310 - we sort of expected it would be since ice cream shops are open late in Italy, but I don't think Paris has caught on yet as we were the only customers.

    We went for more 'winter-y' flavours this time - I had zabaglione and caramello al sale and DH had Crema di Grom & gianduja. I am sad to report that while they were good, I did not enjoy them as much as I enjoyed the flavours I had in Padua. They were too sweet and creamy for my taste - daresay I say it, perhaps more like American-style ice cream ? The sale in the caramello was not really discernible : I'd had the same flavour earlier at Berthillon and it was fantastic there.

    Since (to quote the Grom website) "the centralized production allows for compliance with strict productive standards", I assume it was just those flavours that disappointed us rather than the Paris shop.

    But I daresay the fact that we were in cold rainy/snowy Paris in late November instead of very hot Padua in July may have contributed to our lack of enjoyment :-)

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    Happy New Year, Caroline!

    I spent much of the first day of the year dreaming about..surprise..future trips.

    For a week-long trip next fall, the idea of Ischia occurrred to me and I did some reading--this and your other report--here and on TripAdvisor.

    Before I badger you with a lot of questions, could I ask you to comment on this slightly negative take on the beaches of the island:


    http://www.slowtrav.com/italy/campania/ten_days_on_ischia.htm

    Many thanks!!

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    Hi eks. And a happy New Year to you too ! I am also dreaming of Italy, although at least it's sunny here today (and about minus 1 degree C).

    Re that report - ewww ! I honestly haven't seen any rubbish in the sea off Ischia & I've swum in it nearly every day of the 3 separate weeks we've spent there. The only thing I do remember seeing is one time after a few hours of high wind and heavy rain, there was a lot of vegetation floating about, but it had cleared the next day. Of course, we have been about the same time each year - the second half of June - but apparently June is when the writer went too. (I did wonder for a moment if it might be possible it gets like that at the height of the season, although if so you wouldn't think the problem would be peculiar to Ischia.)

    I have to say, on rereading the article, the writer does seem to have some iffy attitudes ("I was drawn to Cava del Isola by reports that it had a younger population and thoughts of beautiful bikini-clad Italian women. Both turned out to be true, and I comfortably settled in with my peers" ?!) and seems not to expect that Italian beaches will be full of chairs you have to pay for !

    As you can tell from my report we like to do very little on Ischia so I haven't visited many beaches - just the Sant'Angelo & Sorgeto ones I mentioned above, plus we crossed part of the Maronti beach to get to the Aphrodite-Apollon 'thermal gardens' (www.hotelmiramare.it) the first time we went. I understand the Maronti beach used to be several miles long but was broken up by a storm a few years ago, but there are still sizeable sandy stretches like the one we crossed. Small boats from Sant'Angelo will take you to various beaches.

    We have also seen a few others from the bus. Forio has an extensive beach but to me Forio was too big all round - I was glad we didn't stay there the first time, as I'd originally thought to. From what I remember the Lacco Ameno beach looked nice - not too big or too small. The best bit of beach in Ischia Ponte seemed to involve clambering between fishing boats.

    The Sant'Angelo beach is small, and parts are stony once in the water, but we like it. As I expect you have, I've always found Italian beaches (outwith high season) only get unpleasantly crowded at the weekend and Sant'Angelo has been the same.

    If you make it to Ischia, I wonder if you'll visit the restaurant perched on a rock, apparently in the middle of nowhere, which we have seen & been intrigued by from the CD bus. We've never managed to stir ourselves to find out how to eat there, or even if it is worth the trip.

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    Caroline: Welcome back! And many thanks for all of the information. It is really helpful to read your impressions of the various locations on the island. I still have to decide if it is "worth it" for us to take the trip, which involves two flights and the ferry and bus, for just one week, which is all we have now. We would go in September, so it will not be as crowded, I think, as when you were there.

    About Forio: Do you think it is honky tonk?



    This hotel looks lovely; do you have any comments? Location?

    http://www.albergoilmonastero.it/en/albergo-il-monastero.asp


    On Sant Angelo: I like the sound of this area very much, but wonder if it a good base for exploring..Are there many restaurants from which to choose? Is it easy to get around by bus from here to various sites? (I would like to rent a car but am not sure about the availability of automatics on the island--(???) ) Without a car, is it possible to really explore the island? (Get to the interesting places to eat at night?)

    Most important: We can't spend more than a couple of hours on the beach at one time, and I am wondering if you think there is enough to keep us busy off the beach. Are there lots of pretty walks? (I loved the combination of sightseeing and relaxing that we did last year from Amalfi and am looking to replicate this style of vacation this year; I would welcome any ideas!!)


    I apologize for asking all these questions so early in the planning process. Along with Ischia, other destinations under review are the northern Costa Brava around Begur/Aiguablava (direct flight from JFK to BCN is a plus) Puglia, and the Sorrentine Peninsula..

    Have you spent anytime outside Sorrento? I am wondering how this area compares to the Amalfi coast..(maybe I will start a new thread on this..)

    Many thanks! And, just as important, where are you headed this year?


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    Hi eks. The journey to Ischia is a bit of a pain, even from here, but worth it for a week I think. Since you want to explore more than we do there, Sant'Angelo (while it is the prettiest location for staying put) is not the best base. It's at the furthest reach of the bus routes of Ischia Porto/Ponte and about it's a c.15-20 walk uphill to get the bus from. So visiting Procida, for example, would involve the walk to the bus stop, up to an hour on the bus, then waiting for the next hydrofoil. When we went to Procida it didn't work out well (slow bus, plus we went to IP for a hydrofoil that turned out to have departed from elsewhere) & we didn't have enough time there. (There are a few hydrofoils from Forio & Casamicciola if you can get a comprehensive timetable but most are from Ischia Porto.)

    So since you want to explore, I think Ischia Porto/Ponte would be your best base. It also has the advantage that since the buses start at Ischia Porto, you can generally get a seat before they get too crowded. (They are very frequent so if you aren't quick enough to get a seat on one, you can just wait for the rest.) It's a couple of miles between Ischia Porto & Ponte but there are frequent local buses between the two, the 7 I think.)

    So I think the Albergo Il Monastero would be perfect - it seems such an exciting idea, always seems to get rave reviews on Tripadvisor & I would like to stay there myself. We visited the castle on our first trip to Ischia & I thought about asking to see a room, but didn't have the courage. I'd got the impression from TA that the rooms were very simple (and there's no a/c but I believe it gets breezes) but they look smarter than I'd imagined on the website.

    Re getting buses around generally - I've only got them in the daytime and it's a good (if crowded service then). I think you could get to anywhere you wanted to by bus. Not sure how late they run at night, though. Let's see if we can find a timetable... Not as such, on a quick look, but this site claims they run 0430-0100 ! http://www.ischia.it/portaleischia_uk/ischia/gettingischia/wellcomeischia.pdf

    As well as walks up Monte Epomeo etc, before our first visit I researched restaurants and found what sounded like some nice ones which involved getting a bus to one of the towns and then a bit of walk. We didn't do any of these in the end, of course (too lazy !) but I'll see if I can find my noptes from then. It did sound like there were places worth the trip, if you don't mind a bit of a walk.

    So although we've never had a car there, I don't think you need one.

    Re Forio - er, what does 'honky tonk' mean ? :-)

    I haven't spent any time in or near Sorrento, just passed through Sorrento itself which doesn't look nice. It's very popular with British package tours & has a 'full English breakfast' sort of image, although there are of course some grand old hotels on the cliff edge. There is a Michelin-starred restaurant on the peninsula I think - Sant'Agata ?

    Off to meeting now, 'speak' soon.

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    Many thanks, yet again, Caroline!

    "Honky-tonk" means kind of tacky--shops selling plastic plates with Mt. Vesuvius; plastic menus with dishes listed in four languages, etc.


    What were your impressions of the Porto-Ponte area? Are there good beaches within walking distance of the Monasterio hotel? The no a/c might be an issue in late September, though...it can still be hot then, I think.. Let me go back to TA and take a look at other hotels in the area just to get an idea of a few options..

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    Hi eks. We didn't spend a lot of time in Ischia Porto or Ischia Ponte, apart from at the castle. They seemed nice enough, though, and Ponte has a pedestrianised small historic centre (basically one street from what I remember). Both had nice wine bars which also did food.

    The only beaches I remember seeing, from the castle, which is in Ponte, were to the right of the causeway out the the castle looking landward, i.e. in the direction of Porto but still in Ponte - and they had boats on them. There may well be others I didn't see, though. This is the best picture I can find offhand, looking landward from the castle - http://www.italyguides.it/us/campania/isle_of_ischia/pictures_of_ischia/pictures_of_ischia.php?RECORD_INDEX(gallery)=34. I think Porto would be just off to the right of the picture.

    The first hotel you list is at Porto, near the corner of the harbour, so a mile or two from the beaches I saw but handier for buses and boats from the harbour.

    The second is in Ponte and from the main page picture it looks almost opposite the castle so I would think it should be near to the beaches I saw - but less handy for boats and not at the bus terminus (for getting on buses first).

    Right, honky-tonk is what I'd call Sorrento, then, but not Forio. The thing I didn't like about Forio as opposed to Sant'Angelo is just that it's much bigger - and, I suppose, less picturesque, but still perfectly nice. So you wouldn't want to be staying on the outskirts & walking into town all the time. I seem to remember it's known for its baroque churches.

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    eks, sorry about the abrupt halt there, my last sentence or two didn't seem to 'take'.

    I've found my notes from when we first visited Ischia - I spent a few hours in a good local bookshop noting down all the Ischia recommendations from the many guidebooks covering it, before deciding which one to buy, so can give you a list of interesting-sounding restaurants (as at early 2006) if you'd like ?

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    hi caroline,

    I've really enjoyed your account - not least because my italian teacher [!] comes from Ischia.

    regretably we don't have too much time to talk about it as she keeps our noses to the grammatcal grindstone.

    regards, ann

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    Thanks again, Caroline. I would love to read the restaurant information,but I guess I should wait until we make our decision before putting you to the trouble of copying all that down here.. We are mulling over the options and will no doubt be back to ask more questions!

    Did you find great eating on the island and compared to other places you've traveled in Italy?

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    hi caroline,

    phew - that's expensive. did you have to buy your own books as well?

    the whole 3 terms through our local further education college [that my DS goes to during the day, with some of the same teachers - don't know where they get the energy from] cost me £140 plus the book, [though I could borrrow it every week for the lesson if I wanted though that makes homework a bit difficult,] which was about £15 plus, I assume, the exam fee if I do it. [GCSE].

    £180 a term is a lot. there are about 16 of us doing it - started with 20 but a few fell by the way-side. if it were £180 /term, i suspect there would be less than half that number.

    i supplement the lessons with listening to my Michel Thomas tapes which i find excellent- though someone else said that italianissimo is very good too.

    reagrds, ann

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    For some reasopn I've only just noticed there were responses on here since I last looked - albeit a year ago !! So in case you're still looking...

    eks, sorry I missed your question - but now you will have been able to form your own view ! On the whole I'd say wse've generally had good food on Ischia - never top flight but we weren't really going to those sorts of restaurants. And we did have a couple of poor experiences which I've rarely ever had anywhere else in Italy - in all my years of going I can only recall 1 bad pizza meal in Capri and 1 really bad meal altogether outside Positano. Maybe it's a bit more a case of caveat emptor in seaside places ? Although it never happened in Amalfi.

    Ann, we started classes again in September and it's now £200 per term for the 2 of us :-( (Although I suppose £220 for 2 sounds worse rthan £100 for 1.) Plus the book which was about £38 - DH & I are sharing one although that's not ideal. This is at the Italian Cultural Institute in Edinburgh. I suppose local authority classes (which I started off doing when I lived in London) may be cheaper, then ? I suppose we are used to the place now, though. There are only 6-8 of us in our current class but I think they take up to about 20. I've never tried tapes and suspect if I bought a set I might never bother - I am very lazy and do hardly any homework. But I should do more if I'm ever going to make much progress. When do you listen to them ?

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    hi caroline,

    i graduated like about 12 others from our GCSE class [all passed, mostly with A/A*] and am now embarked upon the AS level, which is costing £180 for the academic year. [3 hours per lesson now].

    we started off with over 20 students [the equivalent spanish classs had 30+!!] but our class is now down to about 8 regulars with a few who make it from time to time. I am still listening to dear old Michel and have promoted myself to his advanced CD which I usually listen to either on the way back from or on the way to my italian class.

    this plus my homework [about an hour a week] is the sum total, but I know I'll have to start doing more as the exam approaches. I'd have liked to have spent at least a week at a language school in Italy before the exams but it doesn't look at the moment like that's going to happen, so I'll just have to cram in as much conversation as possible to pur week in Rome in February.

    I have found that with lessons of 3 hours, i have really started to make some progress with writing and reading, but conversation remains a problem - my brain is jsut toooo slow.

    are you still doing classes?

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    Hi ann ! Yes, we start again on Monday. Gosh, you are very dedicated ! All very impressive. Your classes are 3 hours ?! Ours are only 1.5 hours and I find that a bit much. And my homework usually consists of a quick half hour, just doing the specified exercise and wrriting our tutor an email about what I've been doing, during my lunchbreak in the Friday before each class.

    How long did you study before doing GCSE ? I actually started from scratch about 18 years ago ! Have had various breaks but am still only 'Beginners Plus' :-( I'm not too bad on basic reading and writing but still rubbish at speaking and particularly understanding what others say.

    I wish I had your application.

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    hi caroline,

    i'm a long-term student too - i first went to italian evening classes about 25 years ago! then our very good teacher left to go and live in Italy, and i tried a bit of spanish, until my kids came along and i found i was too busy.

    about 5 years ago we went to Italy on holiday with the kids, and I found Michel Thomas, which set me off thinking that I'd like to do some more classes. a few of us mucked about with a succession of not very good private teachers after that, until last year, I signed up for the GCSE, which started the grammar from scratch to exam in one year. I found that I must have absorbed more than I'd thought from all those other classes, as I did quite well!

    it's definitely the tapes that have helped me most with the speaking...I'm not brilliant but as the blessed Michel says, i can get the ball over the net.

    as for application - I say I'm determined, DH says that I have obsessive tendencies.

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    What a fascinating trip report! My second re read as I have just heard rumors that Aussie budget airline, Jetstar may be offering cheap fares to Rome and Greece later on.So much detail and good tips. I hope you get to Naples and Pompeii. You will love it and we will love your report-Kerry

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    Hi Ann. Gosh, GCSE in a year, v. impressive indeed - perhaps you will inspire me to do more homework ! I think I will looking into getting those tapes you use. Where did you get yours ?

    Hi Kerry. Thanks very much for those kind words ! Coincidentally, just last week I found I had enough Airmiles (UK scheme, ours largely accrued through grocery shopping & petrol) for flights + 3 nights in Naples, so I booked and will finally get to Pompeii & Herculaneum in early May ! Shame the miles wouldn't run to 4 nights so we could have visited the Phlegrean Fields too but that's not so important.

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    hi caroline

    it wasn't quite in a year - more like 5 spread over 25!

    the tapes/CDs are by an elderly cove of eastern european origin who ended up teaching languages to celebs in Hollywood. just look for "Michel THomas". he started with French, German, Italian and Spanish, and has spawned a whole stable of other language courses which I suppose lack his personal touch. the format is that there are two students having a lesson from Michel - you become no. three.

    The beginner's course of 8 tapes /CDs will take you quite a long way - it took me to GCSE. I got mine from e-bay of amazon -i can't remember which. you could see if the library has got them if you want a taste.

    have a great trip to Naples!

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    Hi Ann. Righto, thanks for the info and the good tip about trying the library. This bloke sounds quite interesting in his own right !

    Unfortunately we won't have much time to enjoy Naples itself in May as we'll only have 2 full days, so our focus will have to stay firmly fixed on Naples & Herculaneum. We did actually stay in Naples for a week in 2006, though, and loved it so much that we couldn't drag ourselves out of the city. Plus that time, as with our main Italian holiday most years, was in late June - so I kept on telling myself we'd go back tro visit P&H at a slightly cooler time of year.

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