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Trip Report We're finally on our way - on the road again!

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Background: My husband, Stephen and I are in our early 50's and were scheduled to do a modified version of this trip twelve months ago however, two weeks before leaving he ended up in hospital and our plans were in disarray. Now, we are finally on our way!

We prefer a relaxed travel pace and don't confine ourselves to the considered 'must see' sights. Having said that, we usually 'hit the ground running' and manage to pack a lot into our days. For each place we visit we independently list what we'd be disappointed not to see and accommodate that into our plans. Otherwise, I prepare a sightseeing grid with opening times for various attractions grouped geographically and we see how the day pans out. Not long before departing I check out the web to see if there's any events happening that might take our fancy.

We use public transport to get around (pretty sure we'd end up not speaking if our canoeing experience in Vietnam was anything to go by).

For this trip we are spending time in Italy, Slovenia, Croatia and Switzerland - 5 weeks in total.

Apart from accommodation we have pre-booked the following:
* train travel between Milan and Verona and between Verona and Venice
* Verona - Aida opera performance
* Venice - Secret Itineraries Tour, Torre dell'Orologio and the Treasures tour of the Duomo

Bags and baggage: we have gradually downsized from a netbook to an iPad2 and finally to an iPad mini and gone are the days when we'd lug around two SLR cameras, a variety of lenses, numerous filters and a tripod. Instead, we take two cameras: a Canon G15 and Panasonic TZ20. We each wear a travel pack which we find convenient in walking to and from stations and last year we ditched the day pack for everyday use and each wear a cross body bag - Pacsafe for me and Country Road for Stephen.

I have scoured the forums and am indebted to maitaitom, mr_go, Isabel and Peter_S_Aus among others who generously provide a wealth of information via their comments and trip reports. I hope this report will assist others in their planning.

We leave for the airport in just over four hours - it has been a long time coming and I am a little bit excited! Amanda

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    Saturday 31st August - planes, trains and automobiles

    Both our boys (21 and 24 year olds) were tied up with commitments so we found ourselves on a train, actually two trains, to get to Sydney's Kingsford Smith Airport. It took an hour and a half to reach the airport from home (thank goodness my mum could drive us to the station) and in what seemed to be record time compared to past experiences we'd checked our bags in and gone through immigration and security screening with plenty of time for our 3:15pm departure with Singapore Airlines.  As Stephen was working interstate in Melbourne for the last two years, returning to Sydney this year, we are both used to taking the train to reach the domestic terminal on a regular basis so it was no big deal using public transport as opposed to being driven. Probably a lot less stressful than sitting in traffic!

    Eight hours later, after a relatively comfortable flight we are waiting at Changi Airport for our flight to Milan, which unfortunately departs in another four hours. We've walked from one end of the terminal to the other a couple of times and visited the butterfly house which could only have been better if the butterflies were awake and fluttering.

    In a little over fourteen hours we will be in Milan! I had grand plans for Milan until 'we' discovered AC Milan are playing the evening we arrive....

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    Oh, I love real time trip reports! Looking forward to following along.

    Also, super jealous of the ability of Australians to be able to take 5 week vacations. I actually get 4 weeks a year vacation time (high for the US but I've been at my job forever) but my company rarely approves anything over 2 weeks at a time and even that is an issue.

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    @Kristina - we realise we are both very fortunate to be in a position to take time off from work to travel - I am able to take long service leave which I have plenty of and, as this trip was booked prior to Stephen taking up his job in Sydney time off was part of the deal. Compared to other countries we have very generous holiday conditions.


    Sunday 1st September - a day where we well and truly confirm I cannot read a map and even if I use the GPS facility of my phone with the offline map I still go in the wrong direction!

    Our plane touched down slightly ahead of schedule at 8:05am and an hour later we were sitting on the Malpensa Bus heading for Stazione Centrale. We are staying at the Hotel Berna, which should have been a five minute walk but turned into a much longer expedition as first I took us in the completely wrong direction then when we finally found the street it was in I took us left instead of right. At least we were wearing packs so didn't have to lug our bags behind us. By 11am we were in our room and forty minutes later we were out the door.

    When we found out AC Milan were playing today we thought we'd go along to the match but as it wasn't starting till 8:45pm we decided to see how we felt later in the day and headed to the duomo, with a couple of detours on the way: the Gardini Pubblici , Museo Poldi Pezzoli and the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.

    Strolling through the gardens was a pleasant alternative to walking along the streets to reach via Mazzini, the location of the museum. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit and the collection was superb. Highlights were: two glorious paintings by one of my favourites, Botticelli ; a couple of sculptures by Bertolini, an artist I discovered at an exhibition in Florence whose sculptures remind me of characters from a Jane Austin inspired movie; richly carved timber cabinets; and small but stunning collections of jewellery, porcelain, and decorative pieces. Among other things there were tapestries, a collection of chronometers, portable sundials and a room full or arms and armoury. The staff were all very friendly and it is the first time we have had one of the guards insist on taking our photo at the top of a sweeping staircase then consulting us about the quality of the photo to make sure we were happy with it! I read somewhere that if you enjoyed The Wallace Collection in London then you would probably enjoy the Poldi Pezzoli - they were not wrong.

    From here it was a hop, skip and a jump to Piazza della Scala and one of the entrances to the covered passage. There were hordes of people but we joined the throng as, being keen photographers, we tried to capture the perfect shot before reaching the cathedral on the other side - wow! Even the scaffolding and a high tech advertisement for mobile phones playing on one of the sides of the cathedral could not diminish its beauty. We ventured inside after having our bags checked by security who were definitely enforcing the rule that shoulders and knees must be covered, then wandered around admiring what we could see that wasn't covered for restoration.

    By now it was around 3pm and we hadn't eaten since breakfast on the flight over: I was starting to feel a bit dizzy. We decided that rather than searching high and low for something out of the tourist trail we would find a place close to the cathedral. After much "discussion" we ended up at La Locanda del Gatto Rosso in one of the side passages of the Galleria. Yes it was in the middle of touristville but the food turned out to be very tasty, the staff were friendly and we spent an hour relaxing over our meal and plotting our next move.

    By the time we left Stephen was starting to wane and jet lag was setting in so we made the decision that attending a football match that wouldn't finish till around 10:30pm would be foolish. We headed to the stairs to the cathedral terrace: I am wearing a pedometer so what's another 250 steps! The breathing going up was fine but the thighs hurt a bit - well worth it to see the spires close up even though there was a lot of scaffolding. We spent about an hour on the terraces and decided to head back to the hotel, however, I convinced Stephen to head back via the grounds of the Castello Sforzesco that for some reason I thought had sweeping views over Milan. Don't know where I dreamt this up but we did have a walk through relatively deserted streets until we hit the main drag leading to it.

    Stephen was rather sceptical of my comments about the views but did concede if you could access the ramparts then you probably would have one. So, we walked the grounds from one end to the other then back again before winding our way through the Brera neighbourhood to the Public Gardens again. This is where I made my second navigational error and, as one of us was a tad jet lagged, I was not particularly popular. With more twists and turns than anticipated we reached the gardens, which were incredibly busy with dog walkers, kids and parents kicking balls around and lots of people sitting on benches or relaxing on the grass. We joined them and spent a very relaxing time sitting on a bench lamenting that we'd not found somewhere to buy a decent gelato from. We have a gelato rule and we really wanted to stick to it!

    The gelato rule - no matter how long you are staying in a town or city you can only have one gelato and you have to 'work' to get it by walking. We instigated this a couple of years ago and, boy, when you decide to have that gelato two things happen: firstly you are really picky about where you purchase the gelato and secondly it tastes divine.

    So, with our thoughts on gelato we headed back to the hotel and, wouldn't you know it, but just down the road, on the same street was a gelato place, called Duomo, with the flavours in covered containers and not a huge mound of brightly coloured fluff in sight! Two coppetta grande later we were savouring scrumptious lemon, melon, peach and raspberry as we walked past the hotel to the end of the street. It was here we discovered just how far I had led us astray this morning - if we had have crossed the road where the bus dropped us off then the hotel would have been a three minute walk! I have now officially resigned as the navigator.

    We returned to the hotel around 7pm having covered just over 12km.

    Tomorrow morning we head to Verona for two nights. As this has become a tad long winded I will try and cut down future additions.

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    Monday 2/9/13

    We thoroughly enjoyed our brief stay at the Hotel Berna and at 8:15am walked the short distance to Milano Centrale arriving with time to spare before our train. We boarded at nine and alighted around half past ten in sunny Verona. Fortunately our B&B was located close to Piazza Brà and the directions we'd printed from Google maps worked like a charm - a rare event based on past travels.

    We decided to purchase Verona Cards and during our stay they have been put to good use. Our first stop was San Zeno Church and it was a joy - I was in fresco heaven. We followed this with a walk along the river to the Scaligero bridge, which we wandered across while waiting for the Castelvecchio museum to open at 1:30pm.

    In we went and an hour an a half later emerged having seen an incredible collection of sculptures and paintings plus armoury. Also, it was great to walk the castle walls for the view over the river and back towards the bridge. It was surprisingly quiet compared to the streets of Verona which were rather crowded.

    By now it was 3pm and we well and truly needed lunch so headed towards town and found a nondescript bar/eatery selling panini which hit the spot. Fortified, we set out for the church of San Fermo and had another wow moment: more frescoes and a second church underground with frescoes from the 12th and 14th centuries.

    Wandered along the river to Ponte Pietro which we found difficult to photograph but gave it a god try before heading to the Roman Theatre and Archaeology Museum - we had such high hopes and were a bit disappointed as the amphitheater was set up with a stage for a concert and seating had been installed in the bottom half. I imagine this would be an excellent venue for attending a performance: it had an cosy feel about it but it was nothing like the picture I had in my mind's eye. Also we did not find out until we reached the entrance to it that the archaeology museum closed on the 3rd June for renovations.

    Back we went to Ponte Pietro then decided to wander the streets to the Lamberti Tower and pay the extra euro each to take the lift rather than take the stairs all the way to the top. We were there not long before the bell struck 6:30pm - extremely loud when you are next to it but at least it only rang once. Fifteen minutes later we took the lift down then wandered to Juliet's balcony where we spent about two minutes before going on our merry way.

    We wandered some more before returning briefly to our B&B then about 8:30pm enjoyed dinner down the road at Caffè al Teatro.

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    Thank you for your comments - I am encouraged!

    @Peter_S_Aus - we'd class the Castelvecchio among our favourites too. Based on your trip reports we've organised a topa tour with Gianluca for next Friday.- looking forward to it.

    Wednesday 4/9

    As I'm sitting waiting to leave for our walk to the station with time to spare (I thought our train left at 9 but it doesn't depart until 9:30) this is how we spent our time yesterday.

    We began the day with a visit to the Arena where they were setting up for tonights performance of Aida, which we have tickets to attend. From here we tried to take less crowded pathways to the Church of Saint Anastasia, that although relatively simple on the outside, was richly decorated inside - stunning ceiling, more frescoes and glorious paintings adorned the walls. We enjoyed half an hour plus sitting down contemplating the wonders of its interior.

    One more church was on our 'must see' list so with Stephen leading the way, through less populated streets, we reached the Cathedral Complex and again were blown away by the incredible works inside. Again is was great to sit and enjoy the serenity as others came and went.

    Our next stop was a photographic exhibition by the Swiss Magnum Photographer René Burri held at the Scavi Scaglieri Centre for International Photography. He's a photo-journalist well known for his photos of major political, historical and cultural events that have take place since the late 1950's. The collection was impressive and the venue was impressive too: in an underground Roman ruin.

    From here it was a very late lunch before wandering a while and taking our time to get back to our room where we relaxed for an hour or so out of the heat. It is much hotter than we anticipated.

    Must go - got to get ready to move!

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    Thanks for reporting as you go! Your gelato rule is much stricter than ours. Our rule is that whenever you are in Italy you must have at least one gelato per day. Two if it's really hot.

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    To finish up yesterday we had seats in the poltrone section of the Arena for Aida and it was an amazing experience.

    This is what we did today.

    A twenty minute walk to the station followed by first class (discounted) seats on the FrecciaBianca train saw us arrive in Venice around 10:45am.

    Our accommodation is at the You and Me B&B located close to Campo San Polo and, with instructions in hand from our host, a proper map of Venice, Google instructions and an offline map on my phone we were confident we could tackle the laneways of Venice and reach our destination by walking. Success! With only one zig when we should have zagged we reached the front door in just over twenty minutes.

    Stefania, who runs the B&B is a delight and our room is exceptional. We are spending four nights here. After she gave us a thorough introduction to Venice we were on our way - heading for the Frari Church and the Scuola Grande of Saint Roch and the next door church.

    While we thoroughly enjoyed our visit to the Frari we were blow away by the Scuole Grande and I can now add Tintoretto to my list of favourite artists. What an amazing achievement - magnificent. We were in for a treat when we entered the church as a quartet (two violins and two trombones) were practicing inside being conducted by a fellow who was obviously passionate about his music.

    For the rest of the day and into the evening we wandered the streets, firstly through Dorsoduro to reach the Fondamente Zattere, which we walked along before turning inwards again to meander through backstreets which were devoid of tourists until we reached more populated areas and finally the point where all and sundry were snapping away at entrance to the Grand Canal and across the waters to the island of San Giorgio Maggiore, which took on a glow in the late afternoon sun. We joined the throng.

    We are keen photographers and enjoy a friendly rivalry as we search for the perfect shot. From here Stephen led us to the Piazza San Marco, which did not appeal to us at first sight. We are back again tomorrow and will reserve our judgement but just on first impressions we felt we preferred ones we'd visited in Siena, Turin and Bologna a couple of years ago. However, they were much smaller and intimate and perhaps it was the crowd of people and the hawkers that left us a bit cold.

    While looking for a particular restaurant in the Castello area we took a number of wrong turns but managed to find our way in the end. We returned to San Polo via the Rialto Bridge around 9:30pm after a very long but interesting day.

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    Thursday 5/9

    My internal alarm seems to be set for working hours and I find myself still waking each morning before 6am ready to face the day. Stephen, on the other hand appears to have slipped into 'holiday mode' a bit more easily. While I'm using the time to sift through photos perhaps tomorrow I will venture out by myself hoping that if I travel in a relatively straight line I will find my way home.

    Today we have two things planned: a St Mark's Cathedral and its Treasures Tour booked through the cathedral website, commencing at 11am; and a visit to the Torre dell'Orologio scheduled for 2pm. Apart from that we'll see how the day pans out.

    After reading 'The City of Falling Angels' I was keen to see the Teatro La Fenice so we set off around 9:40am hoping to find it easily - it wasn't until we were virtually there that we had any difficulty in locating it and shortly before ten we entered. The inside was beautiful and we both wish we'd had more time to linger longer than the forty minute audio guide coverage but unfortunately had to get to San Marco in time for the cathedral treasures tour at 11am and we wanted to make sure we didn't get too lost on the way.

    Before leaving home I was not sure whether or not to book this tour but it proved to be interesting and informative, took us to a couple of places not available to the general visitor and allowed us to skip the very long line snaking its way to the entrance. What we did find annoying was the widespread click, click, click, flash of general visitors as they took photo after photo. Whenever we enter a church and do not see a sign forbidding photography we always ask whether or not it's allowed and act accordingly. Here, we followed the rules and while we may not have a photo to show for our visit we have the memory of this incredible interior with mosaics glowing as the lights were lit. Our visit didn't include the upstairs museum and terrace so we made our way here and spent not quite an hour enjoying the views both outside and to the cathedral's interior plus the exhibits inside. I am a patchworker and quilter so particularly enjoyed the extensive collection of tapestries on display. Compared to the crush down below the area was virtually devoid of tourists.

    By now we had just over half an hour to meet at the Correr for our visit to the Torre dell'Orologio so found a panini for lunch then headed into the museum where our ticket printout was exchanged for a sticker and not before too long seven of us were heading across the square with Elena, our lively and bubbly guide. The visit to the clock tower was a highlight of our stay for a number of reasons: the enthusiasm and the manner in which Elena presented the information about the history and the workings of the clock tower and the incredible view. While I was not too enthusiastic about the piazza yesterday afternoon it did look very impressive from above.

    Not sure what to do and wanting to get out of the sun we decided to wander over to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, which we'd been planning to do on Sunday morning. We spent a couple of hours here enjoying the modern art and the quietness of the garden and its sculptures.

    After a very full day we meandered back to the B&B stopping at numerous canals along the way to take photos focussing on reflections in the still waters. By 7:30pm we were both snoozing, waking up some time around ten to decide we'd forgo dinner tonight.

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    Friday 6th


    We were on our way today by 9:20am heading to the Doges Palace and the Secret Itineraries Tour; stopping on the way to purchase 36 hour vaporetto passes at the Rialto stop. On finding our guide for the tour was, once again, Elena we knew we were in for a treat and her presentation did not disappoint. We spent about an hour and a half doing the tour then wandered around the rest of the palace by ourselves, taking roughly an hour to do so.

    Our next destination was the canal near the Arsenale stop where we'd arranged a topa tour with Gianluca to start between one and one fifteen. A very big thank you to Peter_S_Aus who shared his experience with the tour as, based on his report, we decided to arrange one for ourselves. I had previously emailed Gianluca a photo of the two of us and I'm glad I did because while we were waiting at one bridge near the Arsenale stop he pulled up in the other canal - I was vacillating between the two bridges and found him with his mobile in hand and our photo looking for us. In no time at all we were on our way and had a wonderful time zipping along the back canals of Venice for the next hour and a half. He very kindly dropped us off at the island of San Maggiore, which was our next port of call.

    Standing under the bell when it rings is not pleasant: it is loud and, at 3pm rings about sixty-one times. I counted. The view, however is superb and we spent half an hour at the top admiring it and taking numerous photos before visiting the church.

    Just after four, we took the number two vaporetto in the direction of the train station and, sitting outside, watched Venice go by. We stayed for the return trip to San Marco before alighting and exploring the Castello neighbourhood.

    Our B&B host's husband owns the restaurant Al Giardinetto in Castello and we thought we'd head there for dinner. Along the way we popped into San Zaccaria for a quick visit. As the restaurant didn't open till seven we walked the back street of the area, for the most part devoid of anyone except some kids playing soccer or riding skateboards. We returned to the restaurant where we spent a leisurely two hours enjoying a delicious meal in a garden setting.

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    Sunday 8/9

    Today we leave around midday to take the train to Gorizia, where we plan to stay for the night before walking to Nova Gorica in Slovenia where we will take the train to Lake Bled.

    Our final day in Venice saw us popping our head into the Rialto Market for a minute before continuing to the Fondamente Nuove vaporetto stop to take the boat to Burano - we were on the 9:10am departure. I had read somewhere that it was a good idea to alight at the stop at Mazzorbo and we were the only ones on the packed ferry to do so. We then had a very pleasant stroll through deserted streets, detouring via the island's church, before crossing into Burano. By getting off here we skipped the hordes as they got off the boat and walked in a straight line down to the main square - we had a much more leisurely and enjoyable approach to the island. We spent a couple of hours photographing colourful buildings and visiting the lace museum, which was informative and interesting.

    Our original plan was to visit Torcello next but when we returned to the vaporetto stop we found that the regular services were suspended and only an hourly service was available. Due to the fact that the next boat returning to Venice was scheduled to come in a few minutes we decided to return to the mainland where we wandered the streets of Canaregio and the Jewish quarter before purchasing our train tickets.

    A walk through Sante Croce and San Polo saw us return to our room about four where we rested for an hour or so before venturing out once again. This time, our destination was the Campanile. At 6pm there was no line to speak of so up we went in the lift. It was crowded at the top but we were still able to enjoy a stunning view over the city.

    To finish the evening, after dinner we took vaporetto #1 down the grand canal from the train station to San Marco, departing around 9:45pm. It took longer than we anticipated to reach our destination and there really wasn't much to see. A quick walk through the square to the sounds of the musicians and we walked back to San Polo arriving some time around eleven.

    While we were ambivalent towards Venice on our first meeting it has definitely grown on us and we have warmed to its charms.

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    @NanBug - we usually like to spend a minimum of two nights, preferably three or four but somehow it didn't work out this time. We've a few more two night stops than we'd prefer but have a couple of longer stops at strategic intervals.

    @ctoner - thank you for your kind comments. I always keep a journal when travelling that I write up when we get home - it usually turns into an epic!


    Sunday 8/9 the day continues

    After an extremely relaxing morning we left our room and headed for the station, allowing plenty of time to make a few wrong turns along the way. Surprisingly, we made it in just over fifteen minutes without the aid of a map and nary a wrong turn along the way.

    Our regional velocity train was already waiting so we hopped on board and at precisely 12:04pm we were on our way, arriving in Gorizia two and quarter hours later. By three we had checked into the Best Western and were out the door to explore. After the crowds of Venice, Gorizia was like a ghost town - there was not a lot open and there was hardly anyone about.

    Seeing we want to catch the 7:30am train tomorrow morning we decided to walk to Nova Gorica in order to purchase our tickets to Bled Jezero and to gauge how long it would take us to walk there. With a slight delay to consult the map it was around half an hour so we figured this would be manageable in the cool of the morning wearing our packs.

    The main tourist attraction of Gorizia is its castle so we climbed the very steep hill through a park, complete with a baby deer leaping across the path as we wound our way to the top. For three euro each we gained entrance to the castle and its museum - what a gem it turned out to be. Apart from well decorated rooms in the period of its heyday there was a musical instruments collection spanning three rooms with a wide variety of instruments creatively displayed. We love an armoury museum and this had a small collection displayed, once again, with artistic flair. Those in charge of the complex certainly have put their heart and sole into it to create a very interesting and well laid out display. Views over Gorizia and into Slovenia added to its appeal.

    Finding somewhere to eat in Gorizia on a Sunday evening was easier said than done. After scouring the streets to no avail we eventually ended up at a local place down the road from our accommodation with tasty food, friendly service and exceptionally reasonable prices.

    Tomorrow we head to Slovenia: spending two nights at Lake Bled and three in Ljubljana.

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    @msteacher - glad you've enjoyed reading about our trip. We usually have a fun time on holidays when I am not frustrating Stephen by leading us in the wrong direction!

    I have started a new report in the Slovenian forum - here's a link.

    http://www.fodors.com/community/europe/the-journey-continues-from-italy-to-slovenia.cfm

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