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5000 stairsteps, 40 ciao bellas, 12 trains, 8 pizzas, 3 women, 1 report

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Jun 7th, 2013, 01:43 PM
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5000 stairsteps, 40 ciao bellas, 12 trains, 8 pizzas, 3 women, 1 report

Word of warning:
This may very well be the least helpful trip report ever written here. I am not an expert on food or history or art or how to use trains or how to schedule a day to see as much as possible or...you get the idea. . However, we are really good at sitting in cafes and watching the world go by and completely enjoying another place and culture.

I'm still going to write this (possibly unhelpful) trip report for two reasons. First, these forums have always proved to be such a boon to my trip planning and I'm going to do my best to give back a bit. The second reason is a bit more selfish - I would like to relive our trip.

Trip of a lifetime:
I typically don't like the phrase "trip of a lifetime" however I suspect that this really was a once in a lifetime trip. I got to spend two weeks in Italy with my two grown/almost grown daughters - just the three of us, without our men - before lack of time and jobs and life get in the way for them. It was lovely, probably more lovely for them than for me. I cherished every moment.

The players:
Me, the mom, a woman of "a certain age." Em - My 21 year old daughter, a busy college student who also got married back in October. Yes, she is a semi-newlywed who left her husband to go on this trip. He was sweet enough to encourage her to go because, "who knew when she would get another opportunity like this." Exactly. Smart man. The timing was also perfect as finals ended and she had some time before her summer job started. El - My 18 year old daughter. This trip was actually meant to be a gift for her high school graduation. The original plan was for El, me, and her dad to go. My husband realized that he wasn't going to be able to leave work for two weeks in May (his busiest month) so he bowed out and Em got to take his place.

The timing:
Late May through early June.

The itinerary:
Fly into Rome, 4 nights. Train to Manarola, 3 nights. Train to Florence, 4 nights. Train to Venice, 3 nights. Fly home from Venice.

The flight:
We flew KLM, which is now actually Delta. Where we live (without an international airport) it sometimes feels as if Delta is the only airline with multiple choices and decent connections. We flew through Atlanta and Amsterdam both ways. I hate the Atlanta airport with a burning passion and everytime I go through there I swear, never again! Unfortunately we have a saying where I live, "you have to go through Atlanta to get to heaven." We just don't have that many options. The airport in Amsterdam - very nice. Free wifi through the whole thing, too.

Our weather:
Dang it! We had some cool days. A couple of days were not just cold, but also rainy and windy. We weren't totally prepared for this as far as our clothing. The Europeans were just as unhappy about the situation as we were. In Rome they were bundled up like it was freezing rather than in the 60's. Very unusual weather for this time of year. Most days it cleared and warmed up enough to be comfortable in the afternoon. I guess the moral is, unless you are going in August, be prepared to layer. You just never know.

Packing:
I managed to pack in a carry on. First time ever. I was very proud of myself. It was also my first time to travel without my husband so I knew I would be on my own lifting and needed to pack light. I was so glad I did and realized that I could have packed even lighter. Once you do this - you will never go back. I advised the girls to do the same. They didn't. However, they are younger and stronger than me so it wasn't as big of a deal.

What we wore:
I'm including this because it is such a big question, especially for women traveling to Europe for the first time. Here is what we discovered: It really doesn't matter what you wear. If you aren't Italian or don't live full time in Italy you aren't going to be dressed like an Italian. From what I observed Italians don't look at anyone else to determine what to wear except for other Italians! They dress very similarly to one another. Much less diversity than in the US.

Oh! This tickled us. Camo is "IN" in Italy. It was everywhere! People were wearing it and it was in the stores. Ok, y'all. We are from the south and lots of people wear camouflage...people who hunt! It got to the point that one of my daughters was stalking camo clad people to take photos to send back home to prove that this was a trend. Camo bags, pants, shirts, umbrellas, camo on camo. Anyway - we thought it was interesting. If you are a hunter going to Italy - you are set for clothing!

My way of packing light was to select a color palette of black, grey and white with a couple of splashes of coral. I look very boring in all the photos, but...it worked. Oh, and I ignored conventional wisdom and brought jeans. At home I wear jeans and skirts. No trousers, no knit pants, rarely a dress. I didn't see the point in not dressing like myself while on vacation. So, three pair of jeans and 2 skirts went into that suitcase and I didn't regret that for a minute. Comfortable shoes are a must. Even if you have to wear shoes you would not typically wear at home. Can't stress this enough.

The girls brought fewer jeans, more dresses, and even a couple of pairs of shorts. They looked cute and appropriate. Oh, and they looked American. No big deal. We didn't care and no one else seemed to either.

Apps:
I used Elizabeth Minchelli's apps for Rome, Florence, and Venice. Also Parla's Rome. Trip Advisor app - way less helpful. I had a menu translator. And Rome - Insider's guide by Flaminia Chapman.

Maps:
Love and adore and highly recommend the Streetwise Maps. Perfect size and waterproof and easily foldable and accurate.

Bags:
Two of us had Baggallinis. My first experience carrying one. I have to give it mixed reviews. There were so many pockets that sometimes it was hard to get to things I needed. As in, now where did I put the tickets? Or my passport? Then I would have a miniature moment of panic as I searched each little compartment. However, I certainly felt like my money was secure.

Safety:
Never for one moment did we feel unsafe. Never for one moment did we feel that we were in danger of being pickpocketed. (Perhaps it was the Baggallini? ) The only time we felt that someone might be trying to take advantage of us was when we were shopping for a leather jacket in Florence. We used taxis on occasion - we were never overcharged. If you have been to New York or Chicago - Rome is a breeze!

Tourists:
Other tourists are so annoying. Some of the places we went were extremely crowded. If you are going to choose to go to Italy during the high season...just be prepared for that. Honestly, we found the crowds stifling and overwhelming a couple of times. And wow, cultural differences are really striking when it comes to tourist behavior. That sense of fairness some cultures have with regards to a queue? You know, first come, first served and all that. Forget it. After a couple of days the girls and I were saying, "We are not nearly aggressive enough!" So, we adapted. When in Rome...

Truthfully, we found the differences fascinating and I think this was one of the things that was so enriching for the girls. Human beings may be like one another in the big things - we all love our children - but in the little things, we are so different! We observed and discussed what we were seeing at length. These were some of the best moments of the trip!

Oh dear. That was such a long introduction. I will work on my brevity.

Next up: Rome.
KayTKay is offline  
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Jun 7th, 2013, 01:54 PM
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hi Kay,

you've no need to worry about your TR writing style - you're doing famously so far.

the best piece of advice amongst many gems:

"Here is what we discovered: It really doesn't matter what you wear. If you aren't Italian or don't live full time in Italy you aren't going to be dressed like an Italian.""

ain't that the truth!
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Jun 7th, 2013, 02:10 PM
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Your introduction was just the right length--it has me waiting for the next installment.
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Jun 7th, 2013, 02:19 PM
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Great report. Keep on writing, your TR style is just right. Waiting for Rome!
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Jun 7th, 2013, 02:21 PM
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I have two grown daughters, and wish we could have done this trip. Happy you could.
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Jun 7th, 2013, 02:22 PM
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I'm hooked! Looking forward to the next chapter.
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Jun 7th, 2013, 02:25 PM
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You trip report is going to be a pleasure to read. I look forward to the next installment.
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Jun 7th, 2013, 02:27 PM
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NO! NO! Don't work on your brevity! I like your report just the way it is. I'm enjoying your style. And, I'm certainly along for the ride with you as you relive the trip. Anxiously waiting for the next installment!
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Jun 7th, 2013, 03:47 PM
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Thanks to everyone for your encouraging words. I'm going to try to post a link to our Rome photos. I'm not a photographer.

Let's see if this works.

http://karentk.smugmug.com/Travel/20...9854677_gc95Kr
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Jun 7th, 2013, 03:53 PM
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lovely pics - and not smug at all!
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Jun 7th, 2013, 04:13 PM
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Great report Kay! Waiting for the next instalment and dreaming of Rome.
Your photos are really good and all three of you look lovely.
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Jun 7th, 2013, 05:14 PM
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The trip got off to a bad start in, of course, Atlanta. We sat on the airplane at the gate for almost two hours. Then they had to let us off for another two hours while they brought in another plane. Mechanical difficulties. Finally we were on our way. Of course we had missed our Rome connection in Amsterdam. We were supposed to arrive in Rome at about 9:00AM - instead we arrived at about 3:30PM. I had arranged a car through our hotel. Fortunately I was able to contact them and they were great about rescheduling.

I've gotta admit - not a great first impression of the Rome airport. After landing we taxied forever through what looked like fields, then had to take a crowded bus to the arrival terminal. The section we were in was filthy. Then it took an hour for the girl's bags to arrive. The good news is - they did arrive!

I was so happy to see the driver holding the sign with our name. Yes, I COULD have taken a taxi or figured out how to take the train...but we were so exhausted by that point that having someone drive us was a relief. The cost of the driver was 50E - not much more than the taxi. Our driver was so kind and gave us all candies as we got in the car. He was probably a little older than me and spoke broken English. I speak broken Italian so between the two of us we were able to communicate. It was a pleasant ride.

We stayed at Maison Giulia on Via Giulia. We were in the Gonfalone one bedroom apartment. The owners of the hotel were kind and helpful. Alessandra speaks perfect English. Upon arrival they took our bags to the apartment in a little golf cart contraption. That was nice because the apartments are down the road from the hotel. Farther than I had expected. I was worried about this set-up at first, but it ended up not being an issue.

We liked almost everything about our apartment. The beds and pillows were comfortable. It had a ton of wardrobe space - enough for all three of us to completely unpack. The kitchen was small but efficient. Yes, the shower was tiny. Teeny. Diminutive. You know, really small. Honestly, I'm not sure that my husband could have fit comfortably. But he wasn't there and it was ok for us. Manageable.

The one issue that keeps me from wholeheartedly endorsing this place was noise. Granted, I'm a light sleeper. I was incredibly relieved when we arrived at the apartment to realize that I could hear no street noise. None. Their windows are wonderful. I soon learned that the problem is noise from the other apartments! We could hear talking, doors opening and closing, people going up and down the stairs...most of the time it was bearable and the noise didn't last long. However on Saturday night a woman clicked around in heels from about 2 - 3AM. Seriously now, who leaves their heels on when they get in from a night on the town?

And the worst? The evening before we were to leave we had gone back to the apartment after dinner to pack up and prepare for our departure. El was in the shower. Em and I were quietly using the wifi in the living area. Suddenly our peace was interrupted by the loud and passionate sounds of a woman somewhere in the building. Loud.Passionate.Noises. Loud. Em and I stared at each other for a minute and then burst into stifled laughter. When it happened again and again we realized that we were probably listening to someone's porn. Maybe. Who knows? It was over by the time El got out of the shower. She takes LONG showers. We told her what had happened and she said, "What! Why didn't you come get me?!"

Perhaps the experience would be different in one of the other apartments or in the hotel. I hope so, because there were so many things to like about this place. Or you could wear earplugs.

After settling in and cleaning up we decided to go out for an "early" dinner. The hotel had recommended Al Ballestrari as a good place near us. On our walk there it started raining and only one of us, um...me, had had the foresight to carry an umbrella. We were all trying to huddle under it when the umbrella sellers began to materialize out of thin air. Where do they come from? And where do they put their umbrellas when it's not raining? We learned later that they somehow quickly exchange them for splat toys.

Obviously we were seen as the perfect target for their sales pitches. I bet 12 of them had approached us by the time we escaped into the safety of the restaurant. We were all helplessly, exhaustedly giggling about their shocked reaction as we said no to one after the other.

We were the first people seated at the restaurant at 7:00. The waiter seemed a tad grumpy due to the fact that we actually arrived at 6:55 just before they opened. We aren't open, he said (even though the restaurant door was certainly open) and asked us to wait for the next 5 minutes. We were too tired and hungry to let his fit of pique bother us. The food was good. We had bruschetta, a pizza, calcio and pepe, carbonara, wine of course. Yes, a ton of food. I told you we were starving! We shared everything and ate almost all of it.

Back to the room to sleep off our jetlag. We were in Rome!
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Jun 7th, 2013, 05:42 PM
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I am loving the report and your style or writing. We were in Rome last September and am getting the bug to go back and look forward to your next segment of the trip report.
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Jun 7th, 2013, 05:47 PM
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Ohh Kay,
This is wonderful, keep it coming. We are planning an Italy trip next May so I love all the details. Would you call May high season?

We are still deciding between April and May, and the factors seem to be weather and crowds. In the end, I feel we are all tourists, so I cannot be too upset if others decide to visit the same places we will, but we have more chances of better weather in May. What do you think?

ANd great pictures, too
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Jun 7th, 2013, 06:10 PM
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Waiting for the Manarola part (hoping that the 5000 steps aren't all there) as tonight that's exactly what I started researching, and then on to Florence for us too. Perfect timing for your report!

I'm probably jumping the gun, but if you could tell how and why you picked Manarola and if you wished you had stayed in a different town or not, we'd be so appreciative. My husband wants to stay in Vernazza and I'm leaning more towards Corniglia or Manarola. You might be the tie breaker, but in any case, we could use your insights! Can't wait for all your info!!!
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Jun 7th, 2013, 06:46 PM
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xyz99 - I don't know what is technically considered high season - but what I do know is that 6 years ago my husband and I went to Italy in very early May and the crowds were much thinner than when my daughters and I went in very late May. Is that because of timing, luck, or the passage of 6 years? I don't know. Still, I would probably go early in May if I had a choice.

Kwren - It actually depends on whether you will be using a car or taking the train. The trains come in at the bottom of the villages and cars at the top. I'm going to guess you are going to train in and answer based on that. We picked Manarola because we started selecting a place to stay in Cinque Terre fairly late in the planning process and most places were already booked! So choose early. That said - we fell in love with Manarola - but yes, many of our 5000 stairs were there. We stayed in a place near the top of the hill. We also spent a lot of time in Vernazza, it looked like a wonderful place to stay as well. And it isn't as steep. Manarola was a little quieter. I don't think you can go wrong with either. Personally, I wouldn't select Corniglia. We visited and were very glad we hadn't stayed there. It is just too hard to get to. Talk about stairs! At least with the others the town proper starts right near the train station so you can fortify yourself for the climb up. Not so in Corniglia. You climb hundreds of stairs after you arrive on the train before you are in the town. Hope that helps.
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Jun 7th, 2013, 06:58 PM
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My memory is there are around 350 stairs from the train station up to Corniglia. Beautiful view from the top and a quieter town as many do not want to make the climb up.
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Jun 7th, 2013, 07:05 PM
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That sense of fairness some cultures have with regards to a queue? You know, first come, first served and all that. Forget it. After a couple of days the girls and I were saying, "We are not nearly aggressive enough!" So, we adapted. When in Rome...

We found that out quickly! Can't wait to read more. We spent two days in Cinque Terre, beautiful weather the first week of May this year. Your pictures are great.
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Jun 7th, 2013, 07:54 PM
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KaytKay,

Love the description of camo as the season trend! I realize now I did see quite a bit of it in Sicily too, but not enough to register with me as a trend

Can't wait to read the rest....
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Jun 7th, 2013, 09:23 PM
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Love your trip report so far! My mom and I are headed to Italy in 10 days for our dream trip. I'm 39 and she's 62 so we're a generation older. I have two girls ages 6 & 8 and I can't wait to take a trip like this with them someday. I also can't believe I'm leaving them behind with my husband for two weeks! The pictures are great! We're starting in Venice and flying out of Rome. We will be staying in Vernazza among other places along the way. Keep the report coming!
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