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    by mkataoka Fodor's Editor | Posted on Nov 28, 16 at 01:31 PM
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Trip Report Two hot blondes in Italy

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I have to confess that the title of this is a little misleading as it has nothing to do with our looks but everything to do with the fact that is was 100 degrees when we landed in Rome and didn’t really cool down until we arrived in Venice almost a week later.
So with that out of the way here is our report on our August trip to Rome, Florence & Venice.

Who we are: Mother - mid 50’s, 1st time to Italy, Daughter mid 20’s, 3rd time to Italy. We are both admitted “foodies” and I had done quite a bit of research on restaurants for each of our cities before we left. We wanted this trip to be a mix of the touristy “must sees” , fun excursions and time to just experience each city with no agenda. And of course eat good food and drink good wine.

Where we stayed: Rome – Hotel Romance, 500 meters from the Colosseum; Florence – Hotel Hermitage, overlooking the Ponte Vecchio; Venice – Hotel Becher, on a small canal with it’s own landing for gondolas and water taxis.

A special thank you to all those who ask and answer questions on this sight. I spent many hours reading this forum and even though I posted very few questions of my own, I gleaned valuable information from all those who shared their knowledge, wisdom and insights. So with one carry on size bag each, an interchangeable wardrobe centered around black and white, 2 pairs of comfortable shoes, a list of ”must do” restaurants and a small array of all the first aid items I thought we might need, we set off for Italy.

Day one - We arrived in Rome after a sleepless overnight flight from the US and breezed through baggage and customs to find our driver waiting for us. We booked the driver through Driver in Italy, and although he spoke no English he got us to our hotel a few blocks from the Colosseum with no problems.
Fortunately we were able to check in early and after a brief rest we grabbed the Rome map and ventured out to Trastevere for lunch. A very hot walk! Unfortunately we were not able to see as much of Trastevere as I would have liked because we were so hot and tired by the time we arrived we just wanted to find somewhere with air conditioning that we could sit and eat.
After lunch and a Gelato stop - 1 pine nut (my favorite of the whole trip) and 1 strawberry - we headed back to our hotel to rest and cool off. What should have taken us 20 minutes took us almost 2 hours as we missed a street and wound up walking way out of our way and past what looked like a military base with high walls on one side of the road and a hospital on the other! Our visit to Rome was not staring out well!
Miserable and sweating we arrived back at the hotel for showers and a rest before heading out to dinner.
We found our first “must do” restaurant I Clementini with no problems as it was just a couple blocks from the hotel. However it was not open yet so we stopped off for a glass of wine and a snack. About an hour later we tried again and found them open. We did not have a reservation but they were able to seat us in the back room. The food and wine were excellent. We ordered everything from the specials they were offering and were not disappointed! At a mid point in the dinner they opened the roof of the “backroom” and we were able to dine under the stars! By the time we left the place was packed. Dinner, bottles water and wine under 70 euros. This first day was ending rather well.
After dinner we walked to the Colosseum to see it lit up at night. The Colosseum at night is beautiful and we took lots of pictures. Although there were a fair amount of people out it was not crowded at all. A very nice end to our first day in Italy.

Day 2 - After a good nights sleep, we headed over to the Colosseum for our pre booked guided tour of the Colosseum, Forum and Palatine hill. Our guide was very good and tried her best to find us places “not under the sun” to stand while she was showing and explaining the various sights and history, but since the temperature was 98 degrees we had no other choice than to keep going and enjoy it the best we could. 3 hours later and ending with a trek up to the top of Palatine Hill, we both agreed that we had never been so hot and exhausted in our lives. Off to find lunch, collect our luggage and take a taxi to the train station for our 4pm train to Florence.

A note about Rome: Rome was not part of our original itinerary but was added on at the urging of several who said we “had” to see Rome if we were going to Italy. I know we did not stay long enough to do it justice in the eyes of many and while I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Ancient Rome I have no desire to go back anytime soon. In fact we were both happy to leave Rome behind and arrive in Florence.

After another taxi ride to our hotel by the Ponte Vecchio, we cleaned up and headed out to dinner for our 8pm reservations at our second “must do” restaurant Quattro Leone. Armed with our map we thought we left plenty of time to get there in time, but after getting lost twice and getting wrong directions once we finally found it. Before you start making any blonde jokes, we are both able to read a map and are fairly good with directions, but we were to about to learn that streets in old Italian towns are not laid out in any logical order and sometimes an obscure little alley way is the only way to get to where you need to go!

Dinner was an interesting affair with a waiter that could translate the menu better than he understood English. Dear Daughter (DD) ordered salad and mussels and got a steak, which the waiter said was a muscle and could not understand that it was not what we ordered. I ordered a salad and the famed pear ravioli. I received the ravioli as my first course but no salad! I ordered the salad again, but it would never arrive. Of all our meals in Italy, this was one of our least enjoyable. The wine we ordered with dinner was good and it was our first encounter with the dessert wine served with little biscotti’s. The dessert wine would prove to be an enjoyable recurring theme throughout the rest of our trip! An acceptable but not entirely pleasant evening. Cost: about 80 euros – a little high considering I only got ravioli, wine and dessert.

Day 3 - We pre-booked tickets to the Accademia for 11am and spent the morning wandering in that direction. Along the way we happily discovered some of the sights that I had wanted to see. The statue of David is amazing! However the longer you look at it the more you see how disproportionately large his hands are compared to the rest of his body. The rest of the museum was not large but had a terrific room with numerous sculptures and some rooms of wonderful paintings. The sculpture room has a very odd piece in the middle and neither of us could figure out what it was doing there. There is a mannequin like modern man bending down looking into a puddle. Very odd and out of place!
After lunch we headed to the train station to catch a train to Figline/Valderno and our cooking class with Chef Claudio. This was a highlight of the trip! Although when we arrived we were very hot and wondered how we would be able to cook without melting ourselves! After a few minutes we were joined by another couple and headed to Chef Claudio’s classroom kitchen which was downstairs and thankfully much cooler!
We made pasta and sauce, stew, mushroom risotto, peach ice cream, zabaglione, another dessert and a few sides. All the produce we used was grown right there in Chef Claudio’s garden and orchard! After dinner we were led out to his pool area where there were tents and tables with linens and we were served the food that we made. Even though his place seems to be in the middle of nowhere, every table was full within a short time. It was a beautiful night eating under the stars in Tuscany!
After a late night train back to Florence, we took a taxi to our hotel and collapsed into bed in our wonderfully cool room!

Day 4 - When we planned the trip we didn’t want to have everyday so pre-booked that we failed to just experience the city we were in. So today was a day with nothing planned. We wandered around, we got lost, we stumbled upon the leather market and shopped, we ate gelato and took pictures. Or rather I took pictures, since dear daughter has been here before, she did not see the need to take pictures but rather jokingly mocked me for taking so many! We crossed over the Ponte Vecchio with it numerous glittering jewelry shops and found some delightful sights there. And since it was so hot out, we ate more gelato! We had planned to go into the Duomo on this day but the lines were too long.
After a rest in our wonderfully air conditioned room, we went out for a pre-dinner spritz on one of the squares. We had asked our hotel to make us an 8pm reservation at Coquinarius for dinner. When we arrived our table was waiting and we were seated by an energetic fun loving, young man who spoke decent English. He proved to a delight on both of our evenings here. We ordered wine, anti pasta and a meat course. When we asked our waiter for any other suggestions, he mentioned that we had not ordered pasta. Having had quite a bit of pasta recently, we decided to forgo it for this evening. However not to be deprived our waiter brought us a small plate of their pear ravioli anyway. We were so glad he did, because it was amazing. After more wine and dessert (compliments of 2 gentlemen at a nearby table) we decided not to go to the restaurant we had planned on for the next night but rather make a reservation to come back to Coquinarius. We liked the food and wanted to try some other menu items. Dinner, 3 bottles of water and wine - 70 euros.

A note about eating out in Italy: There is almost always a cover charge. Ours ranged from 2 – 5 euros per person. You have to order bottled water as they do not serve tap water. Some restaurants have a/c and some do not. Even the ones that do are not much cooler that the outside temperature. Tourists start eating about 7pm, locals start to come out at about 8 but the places don’t really get busy until about 9. Some restaurants don’t even open until 7:30. We always asked about specials and recommendations and were rarely disappointed. Limoncello and dessert wine seem to be standard after dinner and many of the restaurants have a house version. Wine can be ordered by the glass, the ¼ liter, ½ liter or bottle. Meals are prepared when you order them and most kitchens are very small. If you go expecting American style service you will be disappointed. Our dinners frequently lasted 2 -3 hours and we did not mind it one bit.

Day 5 - We booked a private day trip into Tuscany and were picked up at our hotel by our driver Sergio and headed off on our “off the beaten path” tour. This was a truly delightful day seeing the Tuscan countryside. Sergio was a delight to travel with and shared a lot of his knowledge of the area with us. We went to an olive oil mill, a winery and a few quaint towns. Loro Ciuffenna was particularly beautiful. It was much cooler away from the city. We had lunch high up in the mountains over looking a picturesque valley. We were the only tourists in the place and it was wonderful! On our way back to Florence we stopped for gelato in Figline. Then it was off to Coquinarius for another delightful dinner.

Day 6 - We said goodbye to Florence and boarded a train to Venice. After buying a 72 Vaparetto pass, we boarded for the hour long ride to our stop. We wound our way through the streets and over a bridge or two and arrived at our hotel. For me the vaparetto ride down the Grand Canal was awesome as it gave me my first overview of this beautiful city!

A note about Venice: Since DD was in Venice for 10 days for her honeymoon in January, I relied on her to get us around. A map in Venice is really only useful to get you from one general area to another. Not all the streets are on any given map. Landmarks are your friend, even if they are random ones like they were for us. We would remember a shop display, a gelato place, a church or a marker in the street. You will get lost. If you see something you want to buy, buy it. Chances are you will never stumble upon it again. It is not that big a city, so eventually you will find your way back to where you want to be. I also relied on DD to recommend restaurants. She did not disappoint as every meal in Venice was amazing as we went to all her favorites from her honeymoon.

After checking in and armed with our map and camera we headed out to see the sights. Venice is a photographer’s delight. Around every corner is another canal, a bridge, gondolas and beautiful buildings! Venice was by far my favorite city.
After a late afternoon nap and a thunderstorm the temperature cooled down and was actually quite chilly when we headed out to dinner at Avogaria, a restaurant that is a delightful mix of old and contemporary. This was by far our most expensive meal at 199 euros. But it was also our most extensive meal with several courses of food, a bottle of white wine, 2 glasses of red and dessert. Surprisingly we made it back to our hotel with little difficulty.

Day 7 dawned bright and sunny and we headed out to see some more of the city. When people say get gloriously lost in Venice, it really is not a suggestion. It is a fact! You will get lost so make the most of it. Today we went to the less touristy parts of Venice and just wandered and saw more of this glorious city. At this point maybe you are thinking “how can you just wander around and not be bored?” Easy, It ‘s Venice and it’s beautiful! We found a lovely shop with Murano glass and bought a few pieces of jewelry for ourselves and as gifts. We also found the mask shop that DD bought her mask in when she was here. I found one I loved and they wrapped so I could carry it on the plane. We dropped our packages at the hotel and headed out to the Florian in St Mark’s square for spritz’s before our dinner at a Beccafico. Dinner was another hit. We were seated outside in the square and the temperature was delightful! They were out of the lobster salad that DD had raved about so I ordered the mussel soup as an appetizer. This was an amazing combo of mussels and wonderful broth under a dome of puffed dough. I could have eaten all of it but knew I never would be able to eat the rest of the meal! After dinner they bring you little glasses, a bottle of limoncello and a bottle of dessert wine on the house. You are free to sample as much or little as you want. Dinner, water and wine - about 130 euro.

Day 8 - This morning we had tickets for the “Secret Itineraries tour” of Doge’s Palace. On this small group tour they take you to the upper floors of the palace where the offices and some prison cells are. They also tell you about one of their more famous prisoners, Casanova, and the history of Venice and the role of the Doge. It was all very interesting. Afterwards you are able to tour the rest of this magnificent Palace on your own. Since DD had already seen the rest of the palace, she went off in search of a cappuccino while I spent the next hour or so going through the rest of the palace and the prisons. For lunch we went to Dorsoduro to another of DD's favorite places then in search of a particular gelateria that was closed on her previous trip.

After more sightseeing, a rest and a change of clothes we headed to the vaparetto and a trip to the rooftop bar at the Molino Stucky to see the sunset over the city. After watching the sun go down and the lights come on along the grand canal we once agian boarded the vaparetto and headed to a tiny little place that had the best eggplant parmesan and lasagna. We had to wait 30 minutes to get in but it was so worth it! This was by far our most rustic and inexpensive meal, but it was just as delicious as our more expensive meals. Dinner, water and wine under 60 euros.

Day 9 - Sadly we had to say goodbye to Italy. We made our way to the Alilaguna stop by St Mark’s and transferred to the airport for our 10 hour flight home.

This was truly a wonderful trip and I would love to go back to Italy again. But next time I would go in the spring or fall. August was too hot and we wound up not being able to everything we wanted to because of the heat. We knew when we planned the trip that August would be warm but it was the only time DD could go between finishing law school and staring her new job. Also Italy was having a particularly hot and dry summer this year.

A few final thoughts: ~ We spent more on taxis and bottled water that we thought we would because of the heat and the fact that the tap water did not agree with me in Florence and Venice.
~It is really only tourists that wear shorts, but we saw some Italian women wearing longer more stylish ones. Cool cotton dresses in solid colors seem to be the preferred dress code for women in the summer.
~We did have to buy another suitcase in Venice to bring home the wine, leather goods, and other souvenirs we bought.
~Make an effort to learn a little bit of Italian before you go as it will help greatly in communicating, especially in restaurants. Most Italians know at least some English but seem to appreciate if you know at least a little bit of Italian.
~We never felt unsafe at any time walking around these cities even late at night. We also never encountered any pick pockets, but did see some beggars.

I hope this report will be of help to others, as so many insights from others were helpful to me.

Ciao!

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