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

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

Old Jun 19th, 2013, 01:45 PM
  #101  
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alifafa - sorry spelled that wrong above - rental company was called Arbaspaa.
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Old Jun 19th, 2013, 08:39 PM
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Thanks for the info about the tourist office in Manarola. The owner of our place is rather curt in her brief emails to us (her confirmation read something like 'see you in September') so it's nice to know where to go to get the info.
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Old Jun 20th, 2013, 12:06 AM
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I am enjoying your report so much! In September we will be visiting all the places you went to so I appreciate all your observations. I especially loved the section on Manarola, as that is where we are staying too (renting an apartment from Arbaspaa). Every time I read a negative opinion about visiting the Cinque Terre (and there are many!), I have second thoughts about our decision to include it in our itinerary, however now all I have to do is reread your report to know that we will have a wonderful time there. Thank you!
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Old Jun 20th, 2013, 06:27 AM
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kwren - I just wanted to mention that we did have to ask questions from the TI. For example when we asked for a train schedule they simply handed us one without explanation - we went back up to the desk and asked them to explain how to read it. Same with the maps of the trails. I had to ask specifically which trails are open - exactly where does this trail start - etc. When we asked they happily answered. When we didn't ask they weren't just voumteering information. so be persistant. The TI in Manarola is right at the train station before you get in the tunnel. You might want to check their opening days and hours, but they were always open when we needed them!

newgail - I know, I read all the negatives, too. But Cinque Terre was top of my daughters' lists of places they wanted to see in Italy. Having been there, I can totally understand that it wouldn't be for everyone, but the important thing is that you know your style of traveling better than anyone else. Know going in that there isn't tons to "do" in Cinque Terre. No major museums or art etc. It's about the scenery and the feeling and the hiking. I also think that people here think that it has been overhyped by Rick Steves...and it probably has. However the claims that all you will see are American tourists walking around with their Rick Steves books are greatly exaggerated. lol. Most of the tourists while we were there were European - French and German mostly and they were really into the hiking and the hiking gear! We felt positively under equipped compared to them. The girls both rank this as their favorite place we went. I loved it, too. We enjoy hiking and just hanging out looking at scenery here at home so we knew we would enjoy it even more in Cinque Terre. The only thing I would do is to have a nasty weather plan. Because this is such an outdoorsy area bad weather is the one thing that could mess up your visit.
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Old Jun 22nd, 2013, 05:53 AM
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Bookmarking so I don't miss Venice when you get there. Great trip report!
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Old Jun 22nd, 2013, 07:38 AM
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I stayed at Residenza Il Carmine a few years ago in one of the garden apartments. It was very quiet and the wifi worked in the apartment, but the connection dropped at times. The beds were a bit hard. Although these apartments have AC, they also had screens on the windows which is unusual in Italy. About a 15 minute walk from the train station if you don't taxi, but there is also bus service from the station (D I think?). Perhaps too far from the center for some people, but I had been to Florence several times before and didn't have a typical tourist itinerary. There's a laundry down the street and the apartments have folding racks to hang wet clothes also.

>>>One of the cultural differences that came up often while we were on our trip was the attitude toward marriage.<<<

Mammoni.

http://margieinitaly.wordpress.com/2...boys-in-italy/

http://younginrome.com/2012/01/31/wo...e-day-mammone/
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Old Jun 22nd, 2013, 08:57 AM
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Sidny - Thank you. Life is getting in the way of trip report writing. Hope to be back at it soon.

Kybourbon - we really enjoyed staying a little out of the center of Florence even though it was our first time there. I was sure that the apartments around the gardens would be very quiet. Good to have that confirmed. Florence is such a walkable and compact city so we never felt too far from anything and there are plenty of restaurants, etc. on that side of the Arno. The girls and I made use of the laundrymat at the end of the street, it was very handy.

Thanks so much for the links. Fascinating stuff!

Oh, and you were the one who helped me so much with train info! I've been meaning to tell you how much I appreciated it - helped so much to know exactly what to expect. I was nervous about the trains before we left, but feel like an expert now.
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Old Jun 22nd, 2013, 09:02 AM
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loving reading this - the good and the bad. That is the reality of how people travel... we have bad days, we get grumpy. The difference is how you deal with it - does it ruin your day (or your trip) or do you just move on?

I'm getting inspired now to go back to CT. We were there in Thanksgiving 2011 - about a month after the massive floods and rockslides. Many trails were closed and we've promised my eldest (13 years now) that we will go back when we can spend a few days there and hike to her heart's content. We had one of those amazing weather days - clear blue skies, sunshine. The colors just popped! It was actually Thanksgiving Thursday and we had pesto for lunch - and it was amazing. A non-traditional Thanksgiving.
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Old Jun 22nd, 2013, 11:40 AM
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Thanks surfmom - you are right - travel isn't always perfect. One of the things we do before we go on any major trip is to remind all the participants: things are going to go wrong and when they do we will fix it or make the best of it and then pick up, go on, and continue to have a great time.

I haven't responded to everyone who has posted on this report, so just wanted to say again - thanks to all who are reading and thanks especially to those who have taken time to post your own stories, your thoughts about travel, or just your words of encouragement!
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Old Jun 22nd, 2013, 01:08 PM
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The girls had really wanted to see the Tuscan countryside, especially a hill town or two. I really wanted not to have to drive. So we booked a day trip through Hills and Roads. I highly recommend this company. Luca had been our driver six years ago when my husband and I were in Italy, but his company has grown so much that he has hired associates to help him. This time our driver was Maria.

Her van woudn't fit down our road so she parked and walked to our apartment where we were waiting. She is a young and very pretty blue eyed blonde who was born in Holland but spent most of her childhood in Italy. It didn't take long for my daughters and I to realize that we had met a kindred spirit. Funny how you can find them even from such different cultural backgrounds. We all got along famously. We drove first to the Medieval hill town of Certaldo. On the way we went through a town that Maria mentioned was a newer city. Newer? It looked pretty old to us. "What does "new" mean," we asked? Probably the late 1700's or early 1800's. Oh. A *new* city. We got a kick out of that.

Certaldo, on the other hand, was not new. Distinctly medieval. We loved being the only tourists and wandering through mostly deserted streets. There was even one area where we could see the original Etruscan walls. Such layers of history. There was a town hall, and, of course, a church. The village was extremely well preserved with very little of the stucco that covers a lot of the original brick in other places. Beautiful town and views. At one of the vistas the girls could see San Gimignano glowing in the distance.

Suddenly, they had to see that town even though it wasn't on the agenda. Those towers were just too enticing. Maria was great about going with the flow. The drive to San Gimignano was gorgeous! I had heard how touristy and crowded this town could be, but we got lucky and hit it on a slower day. We loved it! It was nearing noon when we arrived so we decided to stop for an early lunch. Maria took us to a place outside the city walls. Unfortunately, I did not write down the name! It looked like a coffee bar in the front, but had a couple of tables in the back where they served salads, and sandwiches, and pasta. Great food and a kind and friendly owner. He was a delight to meet and spoke very little English so once again I was struggling along with my Italian.

Speaking of my Italian...it isn't great, but Maria told me that I had the best accent of any tourist without an Italian background that she had heard. She was such an encouragement to me to continue to learn the language. I wish I had practiced more with her! It is so hard to learn a language that you can't regularly speak and hear spoken, but I intend to continue muddling along.

At the restaurant I had a salad with arugula, tomatoes, pecorino and finnochiona which is a sort of salami flavored with fennel seeds. This sounds like such a simple dish, but it was one of the most beautifully arranged salads I've ever had and so delicious. The owner told Maria in Italian that he likes when she comes in because she loves salads and he loves making them. It was obvious. The girls had sandwiches and were asked if they wanted a whole or a half - they were told that the sandwiches were large. Even so, they both got a whole sandwich and both ate every bite. They are so American.

We spent quite a bit of time in San Gimignano and enjoyed every moment. Maria was a wonderful guide. She told us all about the various towers and the original walls and how the town had been on a major trading route. Very interesting. We ended with some great gelato here as well. Perfect.

Afterward we headed to the Pratesi winery. This is a small, family owned place. We were met by the wife of the man whose family had owned the winery for several generations. Such a lovely woman! She showed us the vines and talked about the various grapes and then showed us how they are produced and talked about the barrels and even how the wine is bottled and labeled. All very interesting. Then she selected four different bottles of wine and took us into her beautiful home. It had tiled floors and white walls and white painted furnishings. Her rose garden was just outside the windowed dining area. Fantastic.

Maria helped with the translation and we got a great lesson about wine and how to use all of our senses when drinking it. My husband and I enjoy wine, but we are far from connoisseurs. I learned a lot. El, My 18 year old, was being allowed to drink on this trip and so far she had taken to wine like a duck to water. She really enjoyed learning more about it and I'm hoping that being taught to focus on the pleasure of a sip will help her not to over-indulge once she goes off to college. (A mom can dream, no?) Actually, Maria unknowingly was giving great lessons - the type that are so much more palatable when they come from a hip young woman rather than an uncool mom! She talked about how foolish people get when they drink too much, and even told a story about how once when she was younger she overinduged and felt terrible and although she was sure her mother was going to be angry with her - her mother simply said, don't drink cocktails.

It was late by the time we left the winery (it takes a while to drive from place to place) but we still made an attempt to go see the Medici summer palace in Poggio a Caino. Unfortunately, we arrived just after a tour had started and 45 minutes before the next one. The guards and tour operators were not succombing to Maria's charms as she tried to wheedle them into letting us go on in. El had been stuggling with a headache which was starting to get worse so after walking around the grounds we decided to head on back to Florence.

Even with the disappointment of not getting to go inside the palace this was a lovely day. We enjoyed Maria's company and talked about everything from movies to books to politics to relationships to differences in culture. Great discussions and a great time.

It was evening by the time we arrived back in Florence and said our good byes to Maria. El was really feeling poorly so Em and I left her to recuperate while we went to find something for dinner. We had seen a place on Santo Spirito that had a constant line of people waiting and then leaving with boxes of pizza. I had noticed that those in the line were almost always very young so I figured the food was probably decent and cheap. It was. We picked up some drinks and fruit at a little market and then some pizzas at Gusta Pizza. No, not the best pizza you will ever have, but it was fine for takeout. By the time we returned Ellen's Advil had done its job and the girls and I enjoyed eating our pizza and drinking our lemon soda in the darkening garden while we recapped the day and enjoyed the wifi.

Later it was back out for late night gelato - a truly memorable and enjoyable day.
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Old Jun 22nd, 2013, 01:47 PM
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great day, KatYK. I've read very good things about Hills and Roads.

do you mind if i ask how much the day cost?
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Old Jun 22nd, 2013, 02:06 PM
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Click the Customized Services link at the hillsandroads website for rates:

http://www.hillsandroads.com/
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Old Jun 22nd, 2013, 02:21 PM
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thanks, ellenm - how did I miss that?
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Old Jun 22nd, 2013, 05:06 PM
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What a great trip! Your daughters are beautiful. I love stories about Moms and their daughters sharing adventures like this!
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Old Jun 22nd, 2013, 11:18 PM
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Hi KatyK,
Thanks for an amazing story, with lots of helpful information. Our group will be travelling to Italy later this year. My wife and I will be with our son / girlfriend, daughter / Husband and 12 month old granddaughter. We have some wonderful things to look forward to. Thanks.
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Old Jun 23rd, 2013, 05:42 AM
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Sounds wonderful! Still enjoying this trip vicariously. If El's headache was caused by wine, maybe you don't have to worry at all?!
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Old Jun 24th, 2013, 07:55 AM
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annhig - it was not cheap! But one of the highlights of the trip especially for my daughters who were really wanting to see the countryside. Thanks ellenem for posting the link.

Grassshopper - thanks so much. Of course, I'm the mom so I think they are pretty girls. Even better they are kind and smart and hilariously funny.

Deno111 - Sounds like a wonderful trip! We have a dream of going to Europe with the entire family. I also have a 1 year old granddaughter. Isn't it the best thing ever?! Hope it goes well for all of you.

TDudette - unfortunately, we think it was from lack of caffeine. She is a coffee addict and as we were hurrying to get out of the apartment to meet Maria she didn't have any that morning. I'm really not too worried. We just joked a lot while we were there about how easily she took to wine while my 21 year old can't stand it. The truth is that all my children tend to be more on the studious side of the spectrum rather than the party side. They are nerds and proud of it. El in particular will just be devastated if she isn't a straight A student in college.
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Old Jun 24th, 2013, 09:17 AM
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One of the reasons that I'm afraid that this report is not particularly helpful (besides the length and detail )is that we have days when we don't really "do" much. We just walk and wander and sit and eat and talk and laugh and absorb and watch the world go by.

This was one of those days.

By now the girls and I felt that we had totally hit our traveling alone together stride. We were having so much fun and it didn't hurt that the sun was finally warm and shiny! This was our day just to be alive in Florence. We started by crossing the bridge near our apartment and heading slowly toward the Ponte Vecchio, lingering and snapping pictures and then finally enjoying the crowds and the shops on this amazing bridge all the while imagining what it would have been like to be a Medici and have our own walkway "far from the madding crowds."

We had a *great* sandwich at a little sandwich shop near the Uffizi called Ino's. This had been recommended by Maria the day before and I noticed was also one of Minchelli's recommendations. Small, bright, modern little place with minimal and uncomfortable seating and great sandwiches. Very little English was spoken here so we pretty much just pointed and guessed. Everything was delicious. They have a variety of what they call salsas to go on the sandwiches, definitely try one of these.

After our early lunch we wandered over to Piazza della Signoria. What a gorgeous piazza! The sun was shining, everyone was smiling, a bride was having photos taken, we were just happy to be there. We wandered around looking at all the sculpture, into the town hall, and observing "fake David" as the girls called him.

Upon leaving the piazza the girls stumbed upon the department store Coin and in we went. I don't know how long we there. My daughters are shoppers and I am not. However, we were all enjoying the experience of a department store in another country. Items were examined, clothes and shoes were tried on, but in the end nothing was purchased. Basically the verdict was that we can get the same thing at home - and cheaper.

Customer service is not the name of the game here! They pretty much left us alone (which I like). However, there was one slightly snooty sales girl, about their age, who over and over felt the need to remind my daughters that they would need bigger sizes in Italian brands because they were American. Yeah. The girls weren't likin' her too much. They felt vindicated when they finally tried on some clothes and, guess what, still wore a small, even though they were American. They made sure to point this out to the sales girl.

I was just a silently laughing bystander to all these, hmmm, cultural exchanges.

More wandering and then we arrived at Santa Maria Novella. I had a surprise for the girls. The Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella. I can't tell you how much fun we had here. We all LOVED this place from the minute we entered. We were also glad that our men weren't around to try to hurry us along. You enter and pick up a list of the extensive offerings - there is a separate price list as well - then you go to the counter and the helpful young women will show you whatever you might be interested in seeing. The place wasn't at all crowded so we stood forever chatting while we tried different items. Yes, we were in our element and we definitely made purchases here! Almond soap, lemon hand cream, minty bubble bath...lots of items. Loved the products and the atmosphere!

We saw other lovely piazzas and buildings and people this day, lingered over coffee, ate gelato, watched the world go by...but finally it was time to get ready for dinner. We cleaned up and dressed up a bit (because it was our last night in Florence) and then headed over to Piazza della Passera. Probably my new favorite little piazza in Florence! It is small and intimate, but the restaurants on four corners make it happy and happening. Smiling people holding wine glasses in a beautiful, miniature piazza in Florence. Not much better in life than that.

We popped into 4Leoni and got their last table of the evening for those without reservations. Whew! I think we got really lucky because everyone after us was turned away or told they could make a reservation for 10:00. No idea how we got a table, but so glad we did! Definitely go here, but definitely make reservations. This was perhaps our favorite restaurant of the trip. The food and service were great. Sit outdoors on the piazza and the atmosphere is perfect. We had the 4Leone salad, bruschetta, house wine, Em had spicy pasta and just a warning, it is very spicy. El and I had pear, asparagus and cheese pasta. (faggotini di pere e asparagi) Oh. My. Goodness. Delicious. I'm still craving it. The pasta portions aren't huge here, but rather than a main course we went with dessert. Delicious light cheesecake and panna cotta. Maybe it was the weather, maybe it was our good moods, but we enjoyed every moment of this meal.

Em stayed home after dinner while El and I walked to the laundrymat on the end of our street. Two young Italian men were folding their laundry as we walked in. One immediately came over and started telling us how to work the washers and driers and how to buy soap out of the vending machine. Between his very limited English and my only somewhat less limited Italian we muddled along. He was very sweet and helpful, but when he started telling me how to use a dryer sheet...I wanted to say, listen whipper snapper I've been using dryer sheets since before you were born. These guys were so funny. They wanted to know where we were from. We are from Arkansas, but I had learned early in the trip to say, un stato vicino Texas. Oh desert and cows. Sorta. Not exactly. Every Italian we met knew and loved Texas! Then they started asking if we had been to California and that they knew everyone there was rich. Yep, some stereotypes are alive and well. They shook our hands when they left like we were all best friends.
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Old Jun 24th, 2013, 05:38 PM
  #119  
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Photos from Venice: http://karentk.smugmug.com/Travel/20...0150860_BDqqDx
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Old Jun 25th, 2013, 07:06 AM
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Nice shots and what a lovely day in Florence!
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