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Trip Report Trip Report: Bellagio, Milan, Venice, Cinque Terre and Piedmont

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Having traveled to Europe several times (Paris, London, Amsterdam, Prague, Austria, Germany) but, for reasons that now make no sense at all, having avoided Italy, my wife and I, both in our 50s, traveled to Northern Italy in mid-June for 15 days in Bellagio, Milan, Venice, Cinque Terre and the Piedmont wine country. Our itinerary was inspired by this trip report--http://www.fodors.com/community/europe/milan-venice-bellagio-piedmont-wine-country-a-day-in-the-cinque-terre.cfm--which is why I'm posting my trip report here. So, I can now say thank you to john183 for getting us started.

At first, we built the trip around Cinque Terre (because my older brother went there and loved it) and Milan (to go to La Scala) on what was going to be a 10-day holiday. But as our go-to list expanded, so did the number of days, and we finally settled on 15 nights, not wanting to rush through any stop (and not wanting to constantly pack and unpack).

Why not Rome-Florence-Venice for our first trip to Italy? Partly because we didn't want to spend our entire vacation in a tourist crush, partly because we didn't want to spend 15 days visiting museums, historic sites, etc. Put it this way: If we hadn't gone to Italy, we probably would have returned to an isolated island in the Caribbean or Bahamas, where we wouldn't have seen people for days. We hoped this trip would combine scenic beauty with great food and wine with some traditional tourism mixed in, and it did, although I will admit right up front that in 15 days, we visited only two museums, and that's if you call The Last Supper in Milan and a wine museum in Piedmont museums.

I'm pretty sure I'm going to post this trip report on a day-by-day basis, although I might go stop-to-stop. I'll try not to get too long-winded, although I might have already.

Anyway, to get things started, a few overall observations:

1. Driving in Italy. We picked up a car upon arrival at Malpensa, drove to Bellagio, then drove to Milan and dropped off the car. We picked up a car again after Venice, drove to Cinque Terre (with a brief stop in Modena for lunch) and kept it for the rest of the time. I enjoyed driving in Italy. I found the drivers to be aggressive but predictable. I didn't think they were crazy. Some of the roads, especially the last 15 miles to Monterosso, are very winding and narrow with steep dropoffs, but if you stay alert and take care, you shouldn't have a problem. Best of all, having a car enabled us to see and do some things we couldn't have done by public transportation. The hardest part about driving in Italy was figuring out the parking meters. But our rule was: white lines mean you can park there, blue lines mean you have to pay, and if there's a sign in front of the parking space, don't even try to interpret it. Just find another spot.

2. La Scala tickets. Your experience might be much different, and I think our experience was different this year as La Scala is putting on many more performances than usual because of Expo. But we had no trouble getting the seats we wanted for operas on two consecutive nights in Milan. Yes, they were pricey, but no pricier than prime orchestra seats to the Met. For one of the operas, Carmen, I bought center orchestra seats weeks after they'd been on-sale, and our second opera, Cav/Pag, never soldout.

3. We ate our way across Italy. The food was best by far in Piedmont. I'm glad we went there last. If we had gone there first, the food in other areas would have paled by comparison. Milan was second; Cinque Terre third; Bellagio fourth; Venice fifth. That said, we had great food everywhere and were blown away by the pasta.

4. Eating and drinking well in Italy can be very cheap, much cheaper than in the U.S.

5. Other than in Piedmont, everyone speaks English. We tried to open all conversations with a little bit of Italian, just to be polite and respectful, but, other than in Piedmont, everyone responded to us in English. They had us pegged! Some people even apologized for their English. We said, "We're in your country! We should apologize!"

6. Other than in Milan, we didn't think people dressed differently than they do anywhere else.

Well, that's my opening statement! Thanks again, john183. It was truly a memorable vacation.

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