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Trip Report Venice,rain,Sorrento,rain,Rome,rain in March. Oh, did I mention the rain?

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This was our 4th trip to Italy but my parents first trip there. We were going to visit our daughter who was studying in Rome for the spring semester so we knew we would be spending at least 5-6 nights in Rome. We had two full weeks, and I really wanted my parents to also experience Venice. For our third location I was determined to go someplace we hadn't been yet so decided to stay in Sorrento and explore the Amalfi Coast.

We knew that it had been colder and wetter than normal in Italy as our daughter was living in Rome and had made it very clear that she was waiting to see the sun!! We arrived first in Venice while DD was still doing some traveling for her spring break.

I usually plan our trips way in advance, but we had to wait until our daughter arrived for her program in Rome and got her complete schedule so we would know exactly when we could visit. That gave me just about 6 weeks to plan the trip. I got very lucky though with all of our accommodations and loved the new hotel I found in Venice. Hotel ai Reali is located in Castello very close to the Rialto Bridge but in a small campo next to an interior canal, so tucked away and very quiet. It had just opened in Nov. 2012 but all the reviews on it were excellent. It was a perfect location easy to walk everywhere and close to the Rialto Bridge stop for the vaporetto.

The lobby as well as the rooms were decorated in the grand Venetian style with fabric wall coverings, chandeliers, and marble bathrooms. I had booked a Classic room for my mom and dad and a Deluxe room for DH, DS and I. When we arrived they said they had upgraded us both to a Junior Suite!! Our room was very nice and very large with a nice view of the canal. Probably the largest hotel room we had ever had in Europe. In addition to our king size bed they had a roll away for DS and a couch, coffee table and round table. Unfortunately, the roll away bed was not that large and DS who is about 5’10″ and thin, found it quite narrow. Probably best for smaller kids, not an adult or bigger teenager. The closet was actually a small room so tons of space for us to keep all of our luggage. My parents room even had a fireplace.

The wifi connection in the room and lobby was excellent and the towels were nice and soft and fluffy – probably due to the fact that the hotel was new. The hallways and landing areas were also very large and nicely decorated. They also have a canal entrance if you are arriving/departing by water taxi. Breakfast was served in the restaurant which was nice and the rooms had a view of the canal. It was not one large room but several smaller rooms, and we never had a problem finding a table. A nice breakfast buffet with the usual meats, cheeses, cereals and pastries but also scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage and some yogurt that Stephen particularly liked. The ladies in the breakfast room were very nice and helpful.

DH did use the sauna and jacuzzi which is a nice addition to the hotel. He said they were both nice, however, the jacuzzi was not hot enough and they would not let you turn the jets on because apparently they make too much noise and disturb the rooms below. Too bad, because this is a welcome amenity to a hotel in Venice, and unfortunate that you can not use it the way it is intended. They also have a spa which we did not use, but they generally were offering specials each day at breakfast if you made an appointment that day.

We do not usually eat in the hotel restaurant when traveling, but we arrived in the evening and by the time we checked in and got settled, it was almost 9pm. I had read good reviews of the hotel’s restaurant, Alle Corone, so we decided to just eat there. DH and I shared a salad and DS had a fish carpaccio to start. DH and DS had tagliata which was excellent and cooked a perfect medium rare. I ordered the spaghetti with scampi. When it came it did not look all that exciting, but the flavor was delicious and the scampi very sweet. The servers here were also very nice and extremely helpful in explaining things on the menu. Little sweet treats came with our bill.

On our last night we had determined that our best meal by far was the meal at the hotel so we decided to return there and my parents joined us this time. (The first night they were exhausted and just went to sleep). Another wonderful meal – I had ordered the calf liver with apples and a side of creamy polenta. The dish was quite large and I thought I will never be able to eat that much liver but it was so good that I finished it all!

We had a fantastic stay at Hotel ai Reali. I suspect next year at this time this place will be more popular so I would book further in advance!

Here is a link for pictures: http://www.fromhometoroam.com/2013/05/fantastic-new-hotel-in-venice-review-of-hotel-ai-reali/

I believe I mentioned the rain - well there was so much rain that we experienced Aqua Alta while in Venice. This was our second visit to Venice but my parents were joining us and it was their first trip here. I read quite a bit about aqua alta in Venice, but had noted that it mostly happened in the winter, particularly November and December. For those who do not know, aqua alta literally means “high water” and is a phenomenon which causes exceptional tide peaks in the Adriatic Sea. These peak cause major flooding in the Venetian lagoon, particularly St. Mark’s Square, as it is the lowest point in Venice. I am always interested in experiencing something unique to a culture or city and I always considered that I would like to go to Venice during an aqua alta at some point. However, this trip was in late March so it never occurred to me that it might be happening now.

We were arriving in the evening after a long trip with some longer layovers so I decided we would take a water taxi as our hotel had it’s own dock and entrance from a small canal. I thought this way we would not be wandering at night with our luggage looking for our hotel. Unfortunately, because the water was so high the water taxis could not travel on the small canals under the bridges so we had to be dropped off near the Rialto Bridge and guess what? We had to wander through the streets with our luggage looking for our hotel. Well, it would not be a visit to Venice without that I guess!

I noticed that night the gangplanks were set up near the Rialto Bridge and I thought – Oh my! They must be having an aqua alta with all this rain! The next morning we had a Secret Itineraries Tour at the Doge’s Palace scheduled. We headed over there but stopped when we saw that St. Mark’s Square was flooded. Now here is the tricky part. When it is flooded you can only enter St. Mark’s Square from certain spots without having to walk through the ankle deep water- the two main entrances are up near the entrance to St. Mark’s Basilica. The gangplanks set up are just wide enough for people to walk both ways, umbrellas can make this even more precarious. Please note the gangplanks closest to the Basilica enter straight into the church. The gangplanks located just a bit further from the church go to the campanile and then over to the Doge’s Palace. There are no signs telling you this and we first got on the gangplanks entering the basilica when we needed to head to the Doge’s Palace. We realized too late then had to turn around and go all the way back out from the square and enter again through the other set of gangplanks. Luckily we made it to the Doge’s Palace only a few minutes late and only missed the first few minutes of the tour.

Keep in mind that the high water will only last for a few hours, by early/mid afternoon the water had receded and St. Mark’s square was dry again.

So just try to avoid that area in the morning. If I had known we might encounter this I would definitely have come prepared. Probably would have worn cheap rain boots on the plane because having a pair would have made getting around very easy as we could have walked wherever we wanted with out having to worry about walking on the gangplanks. I have read that some of the smaller B&Bs and hotels provide rain boots for their guests but ours was a larger hotel and did not.

I know our aqua alta experience was actually a bit mild compared to other’s I have heard about but, while a bit frustrating it was also fun to experience something so unique to Venice.

Here is a link for pictures: http://www.fromhometoroam.com/2013/05/experiencing-aqua-alta-in-venice/

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    How wonderful to expose your children to the wonderful world of world travel. Looking forward to more of your trip report. I also enjoyed your blog and will be back. Thanks for the detail.

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    Bookmarking to come back for more! Love your report! And the photos too :-)

    As a photographer, I love acqua alta. The many opportunites for great images far outweigh the trouble and inconvenience for me. Always take my tall boots when traveling to Venice in winter!

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    Thanks to everyone for the kind words. Glad you are enjoying the report and the pictures. Traveling with our kids has been a true joy and it has been so fun to explore the world with them. On to the trip report!!

    This was our second trip to Venice and we had been to Murano before. I would have skipped it this time, and done Burano and Torcello, but my parents were here for their first visit and I knew they would enjoy seeing the glass blowing on Murano. We decided to have the glass blowing factory the hotel worked with pick us up in their boat and take us there as it is free and a bit quicker than the vaporetto.

    Unfortunately, due to aqua alta, the water taxi could not come to the hotel dock, but it was just a minute or so walk to where the boat could pick us up near the Rialto Bridge.

    It is not a long ride to Murano and we were dropped off at the dock of the glass blowing factory and ushered inside where we were able to watch the craftsmen at work.

    From there where we went through their showroom where they did have some beautiful pieces.
    My parents showed some interest in purchasing a chandelier but decided they weren’t sure about the size. We all felt that our salesperson was very helpful and not too overbearing and gracious when they chose not to purchase it.

    From here we decided to walk around the island to pick up the direct vaporetto to Burano. Keep in mind that on the map things may look a bit closer than they actually are as the islands wind around and you can only cross on bridges in certain areas, but it was a nice walk.

    There were many shops there selling a large variety of beautiful lace items from handkerchiefs to large tablecloths. We had lunch at a cute little restaurant, Al Fureghin. Their menu changes daily based on what the catch was that morning. We were there for a later lunch so they were out of many menu items, but we all enjoyed a lunch of sautéed gnocchi with prawns and zucchini which was quite good.

    We walked around the quiet and quaint island, exploring side streets and snapping photos of the picturesque houses. Unfortunately, we did not have time to go to Torcello - that will be for our next visit to Venice!!

    Link to pictures: http://www.fromhometoroam.com/2013/07/murano-and-burano-visiting-the-islands-of-venice/

    I know we kind of did a crazy way around Italy but our next stop was Sorrento (we needed to end the trip in Rome). I looked into taking the train from Venice to Naples but EasyJet was actually cheaper and much shorter. We took at 10:30am flight and arrived in Naples at 11:45am. EasyJet was great - though they changed the gate at the last minute and everyone had to scramble to get there. Also, really strict on the carryons so we had to check our rollaboards which we always carry on, but other than that a very easy flight.

    Our daughter was arriving from Paris (had just spent her spring break in Dublin, Brussels and Paris) and was arriving at 2:10pm. I was originally going to have us take the 12:30pm bus to Sorrento, but when I realized my daughter would likely not make the 2:30pm bus and would have to wait another 2 hrs. alone at the airport, we decided to wait for her and I hired a driver to take us from the airport to our hotel in Sorrento. We used Sorrento First Choice - which we would use again later in the trip and they were excellent!

    We had lunch at the Naples airport in a fairly decent restaurant (for airport food) just as you walk out of the baggage claim area on your right.

    We stayed at Grand Hotel La Favorita in Sorrento for four nights. We chose to stay in Sorrento for the Amalfi Coast portion of our trip because we were there in late March, a bit early for the true season, so not really beach weather and it was a good central location to see much of the Amalfi Coast. Grand Hotel La Favorita is very well located, just a quick walk from the main center of town and definitely quieter than staying on the main piazza. It is a beautiful hotel, with very large common areas, a huge breakfast room and a nice rooftop terrace with loungers and a pool (although the pool was drained while we were there).

    The breakfast buffet was a large selection of pastries and baked goods but not too many hot food items, which was a disappointment considering how large their spread was. But this is very typical of Italy.

    We had a deluxe room and the kids and my parents each had a standard room. Our room was quite large. We had a balcony and a view of the ocean from the side of the balcony. We also had two sinks, a large bathtub and a shower. Our room and bathroom was a bit larger than the standard, but the standard was also quite nice, and I would not hesitate to stay in one in the future.

    The room did get a bit stuffy, and it was too early in the season for them to turn on the air conditioner, but they did bring us a fan. We also slept with the window open, but often the noise of people walking down below did not completely stop until about 1:30am.The wifi is free (no password), but when you return to your room it did sometimes take a few minutes to get going. My parents did have one small issue – their beds were put together but made as two twins rather than a Queen/King. After some communication difficulties the maids came quickly and fixed it. Overall we found the staff to be very helpful.

    One nifty feature was a built in plug into the safe. Great for charging phones/iPads/computers that you may want to leave in the safe during the day. Overall we were very happy with our stay and would consider staying there again in the future!

    Link to pictures: http://www.fromhometoroam.com/2013/08/wonderful-hotel-in-sorrento-review-of-grand-hotel-la-favorita-sorrento-italy/

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    When traveling with six people sometimes it just makes sense to hire a guide to take us around. So after reading great reviews of Blue Grotto Tours I decided to hire a private guide from them for our daytrip to Capri. It was a fabulous idea!! We were supposed to meet our guide, Michele, at our hotel at 8am but we were running a bit late. This made us miss the 8:35am ferry, but had no problem making the 8:55am ferry. Not a big problem for us due to the time of year, but if traveling in high season would make it a priority to be on the earlier ferry and beat more of the crowds. We loved Michele. He was young, friendly, funny and enjoyable.

    From our hotel, Grand Hotel La Favorita, it was just a 5-10 minute walk down to Marina Piccolo to catch the fast boat. Now, I had read that Blue Grotto tours provides you with a convertible and driver when driving on the island. I figured being a group of six we would not be in a convertible and was a bit disappointed. But when we arrived on the island there was a convertible minivan waiting for us!

    Apparently, these are made by Italian coachbuilder Giovanni Vernagallo and are used to shuttle tourists around the island of Capri. Particularly delighted to be in a convertible as this was a beautiful day, and frankly our nicest weather day of the trip.

    We drove on what is commonly referred to as the “Mamma Mia Road” (because you say “Mamma Mia” when driving on it!) up to AnaCapri on the top of the island.

    From here we bought tickets to take the chairlift to the highest point. Michele had told us earlier we would be riding up to the chair lifts and asked if anyone was afraid of heights. None of us are, but all along my mom thought we were going to ride up a mountain in a tram with other people as she had done many times before. When we reached our destination, mom suddenly discovered we each had to ride in our own little chair by ourselves. They were basically chair lifts like for skiing. Since my mom has never skied, she was not sure how to get on or off them. It was too late to back out, so up she went, not even knowing how to wait for the chair and sit in it as soon as it comes behind you. The man who worked there had to yank her around into the right position to get safely into the chair and had to do the same when she got off. But she did it and absolutely loved the ride!!

    It was a beautiful clear day and the views were spectacular as we climbed the 589 meters up the mountainside. We appeared to be floating as we passed over vineyards and terraced farms watching the people working in their gardens below.

    At the top is an area with amazing views of the island and the Bay of Naples. An incredible vantage point. There also was a small shop with souvenirs and snacks. We spent some time up there enjoying the views and taking pictures.

    Back down the chairlift. Michele took us to another viewpoint on Anacapri and told us a bit about the history of the island.

    Now we were given some free time to walk around, explore and shop in Anacapri. Michele had told us about the sandal maker who makes sandals while you wait. You pick out the design, color, etc. and then the cobbler makes them there for you. Michele had also mentioned that every Friday (and today was Friday) a group of college students would come from a student tour group called “Bus to Alps” and 250 college students “invade” the island. He said they would be arriving at the sandal store shortly and suggested we head over there soon and beat the rush. DD and I made a beeline for the store and boy was he right!! About 10 minutes later the students started to arrive. Luckily that gave us just enough of a head start to pick out our designs and get our shoes first in line. It takes him about 15-20 minutes to make each pair of sandals, so you can imagine how long it might take to wait. You can have the sandals delivered to a spot near the ferries in Capri for you to pick up later in the day, or even have them delivered to your hotel wherever you are staying in Italy. But that does not allow you to check the fit and have any adjustments made like we did.

    It was lunchtime and Michele recommended Le Arcate Ristorante & Pizzaeria located out of the way in Anacapri. We had a great lunch of pizzas, bresoala and proscuitto et melone.

    After lunch our convertible taxi picked us up and drove us back down to Capri. Michele took us to the other side and we saw the beautiful Gardens of Augustus and other amazing views.

    From here we had some free time to explore Capri on our own. We loved this island and would not hesitate to spend a night or two here on a future visit.

    Sadly we were never able to visit the Blue Grotto as it was too windy and they were not taking the boats into the Grotto that day. Michele called several times during the day to check in to see if it had opened, but in the end they were never allowing boats that day. He did offer to take us on a boat ride around the island, but we were tired and it was getting a bit windier so we elected to skip that and in return the price per person of the tour was dropped by 15 euros each. We took the funiculare back down to the marina and caught a ferry back to Sorrento.

    We had a fabulous day and loved having Michele tell us interesting things about the island and just get us from place to place without us having to worry about where to get the chairlift/funiculare, etc. As I said, I do not think it would be that difficult to do on your own, but always nice to have a day not to think about anything and it was helpful to have him getting us from one place to another before the crowds hit- why his tip on the sandal store was definitely worth it!!

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    I'm enjoying your trip report and looking forward to more. Your blog is great! I'm going to have to read some of your past travels, it looks like you've gone on some amazing trips!

    We went to Europe, mainly Italy, with my parents and our two kids this past summer. It was a great experience for us. I can relate that with a group of six, having a private guide makes life so much easier!

    Looking forward to the next installment!

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    There are several ways to explore the Amalfi Coast in a day. By bus, ferry or car. We were there in late March when the ferries are not running or running sporadically, so we decided not to go that route. Not being big bus tour people we opted to hire a private driver to take us exploring the Amalfi Coast for a day. After reading great reviews on TripAdvisor I contacted Gerry at Sorrento First Choice. He provides car service but really does so much more than that as he knew where to stop to see great views, told us history and culture of the area and also recommended restaurants for lunch. He came to pick us up at 9am and since there were six of us he brought a nice, comfortable Mercedes minivan. Sadly, the weather this day was not ideal – overcast with clouds and chilly.

    In spite of the clouds, we were able to see some wonderful scenery along the coast – amazing structures, some centuries old, such as towers built by the Saracenes and Normans as a lookout for pirates.

    Our first stop was Positano. I must say with everything I had heard about this place I was anxious to see it. Perhaps it was the weather, but I was not that “wowed” by it. Despite the poor weather it was still quite crowded – and I can not imagine what it would be like on a nice day.

    We explored some stores and DD did find a nice bathing suit cover up (apropos to buy here), and had a quick stop for some espresso.

    We went into the Le Sireneuse lobby and pool area, another place we had been looking forward to seeing. We have been fortunate to have the opportunity to stay in some highly rated resorts and hotels, and again we were not overly impressed by Le Sireneuse. We did not see any of the rooms, and I am sure they are quite lovely. I think we were struck by how small the common space areas were – obvious restraint when perched on the side of a mountain like that.

    We went inside the church, Santa Maria Assunta and there was a very interesting display set up for Easter.

    Obviously, the main attraction in this town, would be to enjoy the beaches, or better yet, be there in the evening when the daytrippers (like us) have gone away and you can enjoy a lovely dinner. Three years ago we spent 4 nights in Bellagio in the Lakes. It was VERY crowded during the day, but at night, everything was at a much slower pace and we enjoyed our evenings there.

    Our next stop was Ravello, where we first stopped for lunch at Ristorante Cumpa’ Cosimo. It is a great traditional trattoria located before you actually arrive in the main square of Ravello. We started out with proscuitto et melone and marinated sardines. The melon was not quite ripe, but the sardines were excellent. It was passionately run by the Nonna, who came out to take our order. I had spaghetti de mare, DH lamb, DS pasta de la mista (a plate of different kinds of pasta), DD gnocchi di sorrentino, Mom fettucine bolognese and Dad roast chicken. The pasta dishes were all delicious, but the lamb and the roast chicken were both overcooked. I would stick with the pasta when eating here.

    Though Ravello is located high on the mountain and not right on the ocean like the other two cities, I think I liked it the best. I really loved the main piazza. It was not nearly as crowded which may have helped to. Can not believe we did not take any pictures in Ravello!

    Our next stop was Amalfi. It has a very striking cathedral in the Piazza del duomo with an impressive set of steps.

    There were many touristy shops here, but I did find a little shop that was run by eight artists who sold their work in the shop (Milleunaceramica Via Pietro Capuano 36). I collect Nativities, and there was a unique ceramic one there I found that I just love! I was delighted to find this charming store on the right hand side about halfway up from the main street.

    We headed back to Sorrento and just in time, as the heavy clouds that had been hanging around all day finally burst open with rain – perfect timing!

    Link to pictures: http://www.fromhometoroam.com/2013/09/a-day-exploring-the-amalfi-coast-positano-ravello-and-amalfi-in-march/

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    We were in Sorrento during Easter weekend. Easter in Sorrento is a great time to be there! There are two Easter processions that happen Easter week. They are deeply rooted in history, and began as simple as a few religious monks walking the streets in the 1500′s. In the 1700′s the processions started to become a more elaborate affair. In the still of the night between Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, about 3am, we were woken by the dirge like music and singing as hundreds of people dressed in white walked right below our balcony. They walk only by lanterns and torchlights, carrying banners and crosses. The White Procession, called this, because of the white robes and hoods worn, symbolizes that Mary is wandering the streets looking for her son.

    The next evening, around 8pm a similar procession occurred, only this is the Black Procession named for the black robes and hoods worn on this night.

    This procession represents that Mary has found her dead son, and a large wooden sculpture of the dead Christ is followed by a statue of Our Lady of Sorrows.

    Both of these processions are very moving, particularly as everything else in the town is silent except for the rustling of capes, quiet footsteps and the voices of the singers as they sing the Misere. Both processions have over 500 people in them, including children. These are not to be missed when visiting the Amalfi Coast at Easter.

    For those who will be in Sorrento on Easter Sunday, we found everything, stores and restaurants alike to be open, and everyone was out walking enjoying the day!

    Link to pictures: http://www.fromhometoroam.com/2013/09/when-is-it-ok-to-be-woken-up-at-3am-on-vacation-when-its-easter-in-sorrento/

    Our two favorite meals were in at Inn Bufalito and Il Buco.

    Inn Bufalito is a casual but modern setting with handsome young waiters who were also very willing to provide assistance in navigating the menu and answer any questions we might have.

    For a starter I ordered the ricotta cheese served with chestnut honey which was delicious and a ton of food! Definitely shareable. DH and DD shared a plate of different kinds of cheeses – all were delicious, again a large serving.

    Considering we were at a restaurant with Bufalito in the name DS and I shared the buffalo steak which was served sliced, similar to tagliata, my dad had buffalo stew and DD had buffalo carpaccio – everything excellent. For dessert we shared a “nut cake” which always sounds so boring in english but when listed in italian as torte di noci is a better description of what this delicious cake was!

    The next great restaurant was Il Buco. I had read great things about it. It is a bit expensive so we decided to save it for our special dinner on Easter Sunday. It is a beautiful old stone building where you walk down into the main dining room. Stunning with curved stone ceilings.

    The service was exceptional - charming, helpful and absolutely no airs despite the upscale food and decor. One thing that was particularly nice about this restaurant is that there were no problems if someone wanted to order the three course tasting and someone else the five course tasting and others just an appetizer or main. With six of us with varying tastes and appetites this was really helpful. Dinner began with an amuse bouche for all of us.

    I started off with the beef tartare and carpaccio with a quail egg, which was served with small cubes of foie gras – all of my favorite things. Then I had the scallops which were cooked to perfection with a fabulous bright green sauce on them.

    DH had the three course tasting menu, DS the five course and he ate every bite! DD had the carpaccio/tartare and the Rumble fish (turbot) which she loved!

    They served an amuse bouche dessert which was enough for me- but did enjoy a few bites of DH’s ricotta cake.

    Link to pictures: http://www.fromhometoroam.com/2013/09/favorite-restaurants-in-sorrento-inn-bufalito-and-il-buco/

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