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3 weeks in Italy-just returned-what I learned

3 weeks in Italy-just returned-what I learned

Jun 29th, 2001, 01:14 PM
  #1  
Melinda
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3 weeks in Italy-just returned-what I learned

Just back from 3 great weeks in Italy with my husband, 16 year old son, and a friend of his. A few general observations that relate to postings and questions I've seen on this site in recent months:

1-CLOTHES -Dressing for travel in Italy: We were in Florence, Tuscany, Rome, Sorrento and Venice. It was very hot and there were LOTS of tourists. All people regardless of nationality seemed to be more interested in staying cool than looking polished, or rich, or fashionable. Even Italians. We saw a few men in beautiful suits, and a few women dressed all in black, but mostly saw tank tops, shorts, t-shirts, jeans, linen dresses and pants, sneakers, and sandals. I think the worry of dressing to fit in there is over-done. Whatever you are comfortable in will fit in. The most important thing is pack light, light, light and take good walking shoes.
2-FOOD-Pay attention to sources you trust on good places to eat. We had some wonderful meals and some awful ones and price was not the determining factor. The best pizza we had was at a stand-up bar in the Naples train station. The worst meal was at the Villa Malpensa Hotel Ristorante, where we stayed just to be close to the Milan airport. It was $50 a person and horrible. Gelato was great almost everywhere, and so much better than any ice cream I've had anywhere else. Ate it twice a day and didn't come home heavier.
3-FAVORITE PLACES-My favorite: Venice, my son's: Florence, my husband's: Tuscany. We had 2 days in Florence (not enough), 7 days in Tuscany at an agriturismo (enough unless you can stay a month and really relax), 6 days in Rome (3 days too many, but my husband had not been there and wanted to see it all-later agreed 3 days would have been enough), 1 day in Sorrento (it was charming-would gladly have given up some Rome time for more of it), 4 days in Venice (would have added a couple more).

FLORENCE-We loved Florence-it needs at least 3 days. The Uffizi and Accademia are well worth the wait. There is so much more to see. In the evenings the whole central part of town turned into a big party for people of all ages-music and strollers in the piazzas, people walking in the middle of the street eating gelato-laughing, talking, having fun. Just don't eat at the sidewalk cafe in San Marco Piazza.

TUSCANY-Stayed near Siena, rented a car for a week and drove to as many hill towns as we could, also to Pisa and Assisi. We had some unexpectedly wonderful leisurely lunches in very small towns like Monteroni d'Arbia. We loved Siena and went there for dinner every night -the atmosphere was friendly, charming, and fun. You get a feeling that it is not just a tourist town, but a home town for many people. Don't miss Volterra for the incredible views. San Gimignano cute but too touristy.

ROME-A must-see for many reasons, but crowded, hot, and filthy. Best to plan time there carefully and get out to gentler places. Had a good dinner at Sabatini's, good lunches at La Pilotta near St. Peter's.

SORRENTO-Went primarily to see Pompeii, which we enjoyed. But Sorrento itself was charming, relaxing and beautiful and we wish we'd had another night. Stayed at the Minervetta with a panoramic view of the water, Vesuvius and the beach 400 ft. below.

VENICE-Took the overnight train from Naples. Arrived at 6 a.m. It was perfect. We were really alone in Venice for the first hour, crowds didn't pick up til around 8.30. We walked from the station to our hotel near San Marco, savoring the quiet (birds were the only sound) and the beauty of Venice as the sun rose over the canals. I thought the best shopping was in Venice, and some of the best meals. The best thing about it was just walking up and down streets going no place in particular and soaking up the atmosphere. We did the gondola ride (without musicians) and it was worth it. Our hotel (Campiello) was very quiet, pretty, and had a good air-conditioner and nice shower-a treat coming in from hours of walking in the heat.

4)SHOPPING-Silk scarves were a good deal, especially in Siena. The fabric shops in Venice had beautiful silks (expensive). In Venice, there was nice jewelry, wonderful linen dresses and pant suits at reasonable prices, (and sized for American bodies), beautiful shoes at good prices, purses and belts ranged from cheap and good-looking to very expensive and very good-looking, lots of very chic Italian fashion at high prices (sized for Italian bodies), beautiful papers, books and writing materials, bed and table linens. A lot of the linens and embroidery looked like things I had seen in the linen shops in China-not sure who's copying whom, or if the Venice shops are selling imports. They had woven ribbon scarves exactly like the ones I saw at Nordstrom before I left-for 1/3 the price. In Rome,didn't see much I wanted to buy (but there are some beautiful shops near Piazza del Popolo that were fun for just looking)and didn't find the shops as friendly. Siena is a fun place to shop, especially if you like Majolica.

OVERALL IMPRESSION-If you go in summer, expect lots of crowds. It's more fun if you make a list of must-see's and a secondary list that you'll get to if possible, but don't drive yourself crazy trying to see everything in one trip. The thing to take back from Italy that we appreciated the most was the immersion in a different culture that is more generous to the senses than ours. Learning a little Italian in a night course was invaluable-sometimes it was the only way to communicate in a small town, and just a few words often melted reserve and brought us closer to the people we encountered. We can't wait to go back!
 
Jun 29th, 2001, 01:20 PM
  #2  
Lori
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Well I am glad I am not crazy, and that you did not enjoy Rome too much either. We got back a few weeks ago and we felt the same thing - were supposed to spend the last 5 days in Rome and ended up skipping out early to return to Florence (see my post!) Sounds like you had a great time and your impression on how to dress is exactly what I thought as well.
 
Jun 29th, 2001, 01:20 PM
  #3  
lisa
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Nice report. Interesting to me that you wish you'd only spent 3 days in Rome. You are so lucky to have had 3 weeks altogether -- and it sounds like you made the most of it! Any particular restaurant recommendations you have for hilltowns in Tuscany? We will be staying in Montalcino and will probably visit Montepulciano, Pienza, and one or two others. Also, any other restaurant recommendations for Rome (particularly near Piazza Navona)?
 
Jun 29th, 2001, 01:27 PM
  #4  
Shannon
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How funny! My husband and I were just reminiscing last night about the terrible meal we had at the Hotel Villa Malpensa on the last night of out trip in May. My husband ordered a veal chop with a gorgonzola sauce, and the smell just about knocked me out of my chair (and Iím even a big gorgonzola fan!). I should have known that it was going to be a bad experience when they seemed shocked that we didnít have a reservation for dinner (we had just arrived, and were only staying one night). Service was extremely poor, it took about a half hour to get the check after we had asked for it. Unfortunately, unless you go to eat at the airport, there arenít a lot of options around there.

I also totally agreed with you about Rome. I was glad that we sent and saw everything, but I donít think I would plan on going back. It was so crowded and dirty.

Sounds like you had a nice time!
 
Jun 29th, 2001, 01:44 PM
  #5  
mark
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Nice to know I'm not the only one who wasn't "bowled over" by Rome - except at night, really beautiful. I agree that Rome isn't a gentle city - I'm looking forward to visiting Siena, the Lake region, etc. My friend and I stayed for a week in Rome - next time I'll stop off to rest and shop (2 days max) then off to other regions of Italy. I loved Trastevere.
 
Jun 29th, 2001, 01:53 PM
  #6  
Capo
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Re: "ROME-A must-see for many reasons, but crowded, hot, and filthy."

I can understand the crowded and hot, but can you explain what you mean by "filthy", Melinda? My girlfriend & I were there a few months ago and neither of us found that to be the case at all. It makes one realize how widely varying people's perceptions are. Thanks!

Totally agree with you about Sorrento!

 
Jun 29th, 2001, 01:59 PM
  #7  
Don and Linda
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Hi Lisa, You asked about restaurant recommendations so you might want to read the travelogue we wrote after our three-week visit to Italy in March. Our Web site is non-commercial. http://www.thetravelzine.com



 
Jun 29th, 2001, 02:11 PM
  #8  
Gerry
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I have spent a total of 10 months in Rome on different trips. I agree with the saying "Roma, non basta una vita!"("Rome, one lifetime is not enough.")

Gerry
 
Jun 29th, 2001, 02:32 PM
  #9  
Capo
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Gerry, from our week there, we'd wholeheartedly agree!

For a number of years, I let comments about how dirty/crowded/noisy Rome is keep me away. But, once there, I found it to be none of those...or at least not to the degree I'd expected from all the comments.

While I still prefer Paris -- especially due to the beauty of the Seine, its bridges, and the buildings alongside it, compared to the Tiber -- I'd gladly return to Rome.
 
Jun 29th, 2001, 02:42 PM
  #10  
Thyra
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Thanks so much for the lovely trip report.... my archive is getting full from all of these wonderful journals! I am glad we went to Rome, but thought I didn't care for it because we only HAD 2 days... we could barely see anything... maybe 3 would have been perfect. Welcome back! Where to next?
 
Jun 29th, 2001, 03:40 PM
  #11  
Melinda
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Sorry to sound negative about Rome-clearly it is a beautiful city in many ways. I have been there before, but not in recent years. The change was disappointing. My description of "filthy" applies to the ubiquitous, ugly graffiti, trash in the street, car exhaust and its terrible effect on the air and the beautiful buildings. Compared to the freshness of Tuscany, it really felt dirty. It is still a must-see, though. I loved the old Jewish ghetto area and had a great meal at 'La Taverna del Ghetto' on Via Portico d'Ottavia. If you can get reservations before leaving the U.S., go on the Scavi tour under St. Peter's, one of the highlights. Walking along the Tiber and across the bridges was another favorite. Piazza Navona was a real disappointment-trash and crowds. The little streets off to the sides of it were better. We had lunch in a restaurant on the Piazza-awful salads made with American-type wooden tomatoes, iceberg lettuce and canned corn and olives! We had a great time in Rome but when we go back to ItalyI would much rather see more of the Tuscany hill towns, sit again in Siena's Campo just after the sun goes down to see the incredible blue of the sky contrasted with the buildings there, and see Venice again. We still have the Lakes area to see, and I like the southern Adriatic coastal towns, too. My favorite foods in Italy besides gelati are well prepared spaghetti al pomodoro and seafood, especially calamari. I don't have a lot of specific restaurant reviews, but there are lots of good recommendations on other posts.
 
Jun 29th, 2001, 03:43 PM
  #12  
Diane
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Dear Melinda,

Glad to read your report. Sorry about your opinion on Rome. We were there last year and going again this year and did not think it was dirty at all... Even the restrooms where ever we went were very clean. It really is a great city with the best food I think of all the tourist cities. But that's only my
opinion. Thanks again for the feedback.

 
Jun 29th, 2001, 03:50 PM
  #13  
Gerry
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To be fair, Rome(Paris,too) can be very overwhelming, especially if it is your first Euopean trip or stop. The "culture shock" takes a bit of adjustment. But, the longer you stay, the more you come to realize that you will never get to see everything. My feeling is that if you just spend 2 or 3 days there, you will never get even the beginning of a true picture.
All of the places mentioned on this post are great places to visit but none has the depth of variety of Rome.

And Capo: I don't get the dirty part either. It's one of the cleanest cities I know of. Where else do they have daily garbage pick-up?

Melinda: Thanks for the great report.

Gerry
 
Jun 29th, 2001, 06:55 PM
  #14  
xxx
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TTT for Mark.
 
Jun 29th, 2001, 07:49 PM
  #15  
Gloria
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Well said, Gerry and Capo. Perhaps the enjoyment of Roma is also linked to the time of year one visits it. I spent ten days there not so long ago and can't wait to return. We find it a cultural feast!
 
Jun 29th, 2001, 08:26 PM
  #16  
Art
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Sorry that you didn't care for Rome. When I was there many years ago there was no Grafiti at all, but I have found that the further south you go in Europe, the dirty the cities seem to be. That notwithstanding, I fell in love with Rome. We spent 8 days there including a couple of day trips to Villa Adriana and Villa D'Este. I could have easily spent longer if I'd had the time. Of course there were no where near the number of tourists then as now. I found that Rome, Berlin Germany and New York had a life pulse about them, that they seemed to be alive. I also love Venice and spent 4 days there with 3 in Florence.
Glad that you had a great trip and thanks for your report.
Regards
Art
 
Jun 30th, 2001, 05:38 AM
  #17  
sera
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Rome is by far my favorite city -- the history, the energy, the fact that by law no building can be higher than St. Peter's. It can be crowded and overwhelming, but I've found that if you walk just one block from any congested tourist thoroughfare, you'll have a quiet, beautiful street all to yourself.
 
Jun 30th, 2001, 07:19 AM
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Joanne
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We too love Rome. Were last there about three years ago. Could things have changed that much in the interim? No amount of "dirt" or crowds could have spoiled my first sight of Bernini's Four Rivers Fountain in Piazza Navona. In fact, that piazza is one of my favorites.

Went to France this year, but plan to return to Italy next year, hopefully with another visit to Rome. I often hear comments about "dirty" foreign cities. Can't you look above it? I guess if you look for dirt you are bound to see it!
 
Jun 30th, 2001, 07:20 AM
  #19  
Joanne
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Incidentally, didn't "graffiti" start with the Romans?
 
Jun 30th, 2001, 11:50 AM
  #20  
More
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I did see some(not a lot) graffiti on my last visit to Rome. It was almost all political graffiti relating to the recent elections. It was not obscene, gang graffiti or vandalism like we see in many cities. It's mostly political statement. During election times they will do graffiti and hang banners and signs and have rallys. They have a number of "colorful" political parties. If you think of it as their expression of political free speech, it can actually add to, not detract from the local color. This stuff tends to disappear after the elections. But, then, their governments tend to change a lot more frequently than ours.
 

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