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Trip Report A Trip Report: Springtime in Italy - May 9 to June 2, 2011

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"Italy is like a dream that keeps on returning for the rest of your life."
- Anna Akhmatova

From the moment we returned from our first trip to Italy in September 2009, DH & I yearned to go back. There was so much more for us to see, to discover & to experience in Venice, Pienza & the surrounding Val D'Orcia and Florence. We had a desire to explore Umbria and to go to Rome. I also wanted to see the Tuscan landscape in the spring.

Thus, our plans began to take shape.

ITINERARY:

May 9, 2011: leave Vancouver, B.C. / arrive in Venice on May 10
May 10 - 14: Venice
May 14 - 18: Bevagna UMBRIA
May 18 - 22: Pienza TUSCANY
May 22 - 26: Florence TUSCANY
May 26 - June 2: Rome
June 2: leave Rome / arrive in Vancouver on June 2

It had been an unseasonably cold, wet & dreary spring in Vancouver. In our garden, the camellia bushes & the magnolia tree were late to bloom and the flowers were short-lived when they finally did open. Most of the perennials were showing signs of life with the exception of the ornamental grasses and the wisteria which winds its way up the pergola in our backyard. When we left in early May, the growing season was three, maybe four weeks behind seasonal norms. We looked forward to springtime in Italy and the promise of a colourful floral show!

Next: A Long Travel Day - Are we there yet?

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    "Italy is like a dream that keeps on returning for the rest of your life."

    You've got that spot on! My relatives try to talk me into returning to canada, and to BC specifically. No thank you! I look forward to hearing about your travels.

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    May 9 - 10: Arriving in Venice

    It was our usual long-haul flight experience from Vancouver to Frankfurt: barely palatable food & very little sleep. 9 hours 35 minutes / 5013 miles / 8069 kilometers later we arrived at Frankfurt airport where we had a 5 hour layover. Brutal!

    Then, we had just one more 55-minute flight in a virtually empty airplane to Venice Marco Polo airport. It was late afternoon when we landed.

    We picked up our checked luggage & headed to the arrivals hall where we arranged for a water taxi to take us to the Locanda Orseolo (www.locandaorseolo.com). We paid (€110), received a voucher & walked the short distance to the dock. We boarded the sleek water taxi and soon we were off! It must have been the excitement of arriving at our destination added to the blast of fresh air & sea spray because suddenly, we weary travelers were wide awake! We approached Venice first on open water and then we entered a small canal which eventually connected to the Grand Canal. We were captivated by the scenes of daily life, commerce & marine activity we passed. High tide prevented a trip directly to the Locanda Orseolo. Instead, we were dropped off just beyond the Rialto Bridge and from there, it was a short 5-minute walk to the place we would call home for the next four nights. It was lovely to be returning to Venice & to the Locanda Orseolo.

    Upon our arrival, we were received warmly by Alex. Our superior double room (#25 Pierrot) was large, well-appointed & comfortable. It overlooked the Orseolo Canal. We settled in, freshened up & made our way to the living room for a drink. Here, we met a few other guests of the B&B. We shared travel stories & a little bit about ourselves. It was a pleasant way to unwind. Later, we would go out for dinner with a delightful American couple from Texas.

    We went to Rosa Rossa (San Marco, 3709 / closed Wednesday). The conversation was lively, the wine was excellent & our dinners were delicous: spaghetti vongole & a baked gnocchi. We had been told that there was a Johnny Depp story connected to Rosa Rossa. So, at the end of our meal, we asked about it. Evidently, Johnny Depp dined here while filming The Tourist - which I happened to watch during the flight over! In another small room, there's an autographed jacket hanging on the wall, a series of photographs which captured him writing on the ceiling and then there's the writing on the ceiling! We enjoyed the story but it left us wondering about the circumstances which led to this event?

    I'm not quite sure how we managed to stay awake as long as we did! Happily, the sleep that eluded us on the airplane soon came!

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    Wednesday, May 11th

    We enjoyed a beautiful breakfast ... and I mean beautiful! In addition to the sumptuous buffet, we were offered hot breakfast items. I had a strawbery crepe which was artfully plated. Not only was it delicious, it was also photo-worthy!

    This morning we stepped out into a summer-like day - perfect for our walk through Sestiere de Castello! From St. Mark's Square, we walked along Riva Degli Schiavoni adjacent to the busy Canale di San Marco. We passed the elegant Hotel Danieli and a large number of tourists going the other way! We paused at Rio Dei Gregi to check out the leaning campanile of San Giorgio de Gregi. Across the canal, we could see the island of San Giorgio Maggiore and the lovely white church with its tall, straight bell tower!

    It was in the neighbourhood of Sant'Elena where we saw locals walking their dogs through the park; chatting with friends while sitting on a shady bench or sprawled out on a seat in the sunshine reading a book! School children played happily on the playground nearby. It was a peaceful area, yet vibrant & full of life! We saw few tourists until we came to Via Giuseppe Garibaldi, a broad street lined with shops & restaurants. It was here that we stopped to buy a bottle of sunscreen as the day became more sunny & warm!

    We contined to the Arsenale which is a former shipyard and is still is partly used as a naval base. There was evidence of an art installation being put up between the two towers which mark the water entrance into Darsena Arsenale Vecchio. We assumed it was for Venice's Biennale.

    Along the way, we visited a few churches. Basilica Santi Giovanni e Paolo is an impressive 14th C Gothic church which is known as Venice's Pantheon. It houses monuments to no fewer than 25 doges! Santa Maria dei Miracoli (technically in Cannaregio but in the vicinity of the other churches mentioned here) is an early Renaissance gem located on a small square alongside a canal. Its pretty interior is decorated with pink, white & gray marble. We also went into Santa Maria Fromosa located on a large square of the same name. There were entrance fees to all and we wondered whether we should have purchased the Chorus Pass (16 churches for €10).

    It was on Campo SS Giovani e Paolo where we stopped for a quick but unexciting lunch.

    Eventually, we found our way back to St. Mark's Square with its throngs of visitors! We were glad to enter our own peaceful Campo San Gallo & the Locanda Orseolo.

    Tonight we had dinner reservations at Vini da Gigio (www.vinidagigio.com) in Cannaregio. It's leisurely dining in a restaurant that is lively & bustling! It serves traditional Venetian cuisine. We enjoyed: prosciutto & melon, osso bucco with polenta & potatoes / turbot with sauteed aritchokes & potatoes, cinnamon creme with prunes / chocolate semifreddo with wild strawberries and a bottle of Montepulciano Nobile. Our dinners were superb!

    During our meal, an Italian gentleman was seated at the table next to us. We watched as he ate course after course and drank an entire bottle of white wine! But, he had no dessert! Soon, we found ourselves engaged in a conversation together. It began with the usual innocuous topics of strangers but food & Italian culture soon became the central topic. We learned that he is a pastry chef with a shop in Noto, Italy near Sicily. He spoke passionately about his philosophy & approaches to food and about his craft. We were anxious to learn more & he was happy to tell us! He extended the evening with an offering of grappa - the most delicious, smooth (apricot) grappa! What began as a wonderful dinner turned out to be a most amazing, memorable night!

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    Correction: It should read "Wed May 11th - We were glad to enter our own peaceful Corte Zorzi & the Locanda Orseolo."

    The Locanda Orseolo is located on Corte Zorzi not on Campo San Gallo. Sorry!

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    I'm reading! I'm enjoying! Noto is in Sicily. Correcting merely because if I met a pastry-maker with a chocolate shop in one of the Sicilian Baroque towns, you can bet I'd put that as a stop on my next Italian vacation. Just a thought.

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    This is a good review right here. You showed the great things that happened during your vacation. I commend you for this really great review and it's nice to see and know that you had a great time.

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    I'm reading too, looking forward to the next installment.

    I'm considering getting the Chorus Pass myself for out trip in October, but didn't know if it would be worth it for our 3 night stay. I'll be interested to see how many churches you make it to and if you think it would have been worthwhile.

    Thank you for taking the time to report.

    CindyP.

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    Leely2: Thanks for the correction! You can bet if we make it to Sicily, we'll be seeking out the bake shop/cafe in Noto!

    Austen, Janet & Cindy: September/October is a wonderful time to be in Venice or traveling in Italy! When we were there in 2009, the weather was perfect - especially in September, summer-like but not too hot - and the crowds were not so intense. Hope you all have great trips!

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    Hi! Cindy: Picking up a Chorus Pass could be worth it, especially if it's your first trip to Venice. Check out a website like the one below to see the list of churches. The average entrance ticket is about €3 so you would have to visit 4 churches to make it pay. It is possible that not all the churches you will want to see will be covered by the Chorus Pass.

    www.chorusvenezia.org

    Hope this helps!

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    Thursday, May 12th

    As exciting as it is to travel to a new destination, there are rewards for returning to a place where you've been before. For us, it meant that we had already visited many of the important sights in Venice and now, we were free to explore the city in a different way. Our time was more relaxed & less intense and our days were filled with new & sometimes familiar experiences!

    Today was all about boat rides! We purchased our 48-hour vaporetto passes at the Rialto stop. We walked over to the Fondamente Nove where we activated our passes before boarding the LN boat to Burano.

    On Burano, we encountered brightly coloured buildings; multiple opportunities to buy lace garments & tablecloths; and groups of school children with their teachers on their own tour of the island! We noticed that Burano has its own church with a leaning bell tower!

    Next, we were off to Murano to have lunch at Busa Alla Torre Da Lele on Campo San Stefano. We asked for a shady table but the sun gradually crept beyond the edge of the market umbrella. Fortunately, it was a quick pasta lunch for us!

    Shopping was on our agenda this afternoon, We found ourselves popping in & out of glass shops along Fondamente D. Manin looking for small plates for gifts and a necklace for me. I saw many beautiful things but nothing appealed to me. The necklaces were looking very much like the ones I bought during our last trip ... until we crossed a bridge. On the other side of the canal, I was drawn to the window display at Domus Vetri D'Arte (Fondamente dei Vetrai, 82). At last, I was looking at some unique pieces of jewelry! It did not take me long to decide on a necklace of black, white & clear blown glass beads of varying sizes, shapes & designs strung together with silver chain. I also bought coordinating earrings. My quest for glass plates would have to continue.

    I love the way merchants wrap purchases like little gifts! It is curious though that I was rarely, if ever, given a store receipt when I paid in cash! My shopping experience on Murano was no different.

    We took the LN vaporetto from Murano back to Venice. We stood up all the way so that we could see where we had walked the day before & watch our approach to the San Zaccaria stop near St. Mark's Square.

    Tonight the evening air was chilled by cool breezes. We were seated outside on the terrace at Acquapazza (www.veniceacquapazza.it) on Campo Sant'Angelo. It was good to have reservations. This place was filling up! Here we had: a caprese salad and a seafood risotto of generous proportions. The €10 coperto (for two) included a small plate of bruschetta (tomato, eggplant), lemon cake for dessert & glasses of chilled limoncello. While the food was FANTASTIC, the service was efficient, bordering on brusque. There was one grumpy server who treated everyone with equal disdain! So, we left the restaurant feeling full but disappointed by our dining experience.

    We could hear the dueling bands play as we neared St. Mark's Square. Our pace seems to slow down & we always take each other's hand whenever we enter the square at night. It truly is a magical place to linger after dark!

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    2010, I am reliving my trip to Italy just this past spring. I've been negligent in getting my trip report completed. You've inspired me to finish it quickly. :)

    I am enjoying your report. Can't wait to read more!

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    Friday, May 13th

    After passing through the iron gates off Corte Zorzi, we turned left and headed towards Sestiere Cannaregio. We walked along quiet streets & crossed many bridges on our way to Campo di Ghetto Nuovo.

    Campo di ghetto Nuovo is a large square with tall, leafy deciduous trees. Benches are placed in the shade of the trees and they were all occupied this morning. There is a tranquil, serene atmosphere here. A memorial which consists of 7 bas-relief wall plaques in bronze on the theme of the Holocaust was a somber reminder of a dark time in history. We quietly moved on.

    At Ponte D. Scalzi just before the train station, we crossed over the Grand Canal to Santa Croce. We consulted our map frequently as we made our way to the Church of San Rocco. Inside, we found breath-taking paintings by Tintoretto! Outside, men were painting the exterior of the church. DH was most interested in the Monetti man-lift parked out front! Although retired for many years, he couldn't resist checking out this innovative piece of equipment & thinking how useful it would have been for his work crews needing to reach tall, tight places! It was a busman's holiday after all!

    We had a fine pizza lunch at Ai Sportivi on Campo Santa Margherita.

    Instead of going to Ca'Rezzonico, we decided to continue our walk through the Dorsoduro. We made a quick stop at Venice's most famous gondola repair & construction yard on Rio San Trovaso. From across the canal, we watched two men working on gondolas. I don't know why we were surprised to see that gondolas are flat-bottom boats! We learned something new today!

    At the southern most entrance to the Grand Canal sits the baroque Church of Santa Maria delle Salute. It's huge, ornate & impressive with views across the canal toward St. Mark's Square, San Giorgio Maggiore & the Giudecca. Cooling breezes blew steadily which made this a perfect place to sit & watch life on the canal float by!

    We made our way back to the locanda. We stopped in the bar for a cold drink and we chatted with Barbara, the charming owner & Alex. What fun!

    Here, I must comment on the delightful staff at the Locanda Orseolo: Barbara, Alex, Gigi, Igor & Chiara. They are lovely hosts who so effortlessly made us feel like treasured guests in their 'home'. Everything was done to assure our comfort & enjoyment! Over the course of our stay, we had memorable encounters with each of them! And that's the main reason we returned here again!

    Tonight we went to A Beccafico (www.abeccafico.com) on Campo Santo Stefano. We were seated outside at a table in the front corner (facing outward) where we could watch the evening activity on the square! Our servers were excellent: professional, helpful (translating the menu, recommending dishes ...) & personable - a perfect balance!

    They served Sicilian specialties & wines. We had: an aperitivo of prosecco + mango juice with creme de menthe, tomato & buffalo mozzarella salad / bruschetta with tomatoes, a bottle of Sicilian white wine, veal marsala with polenta & fennel / pasta (a long penne) with swordfish & eggplant in a light tomato sauce, a digestivo of a Sicilian sweet wine or limoncello or both(!) and pear with ricotta cheese on a cake base / creme with lemon cake. Our meals were superb & the beverages were deliciously amazing! What more can I say?

    It's our last night in Venice.


    Next: Leaving for Bevagna

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    2010 - I am so glad I found your very comprehensive Trip Report! We are planning another trip to Europe in 2012 and this time I want to see Venice. Could you answer these questions - I would really appreciate it:

    Where can I find your ealier Trip Report on Venice Sept 2009?
    As first timers I would need to read it!

    Is the water taxi the only expensive way to get to your hotel and was this your second visit to the Locando Orseolo? - it sounds like it.

    Thanks so much,
    Tod

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    Thanks everyone! Glad this trip report is helpful for those who are planning an up-coming trip and perhaps, it's an entertaining bit of reading for others!

    sarge56: Yes, one of my own concerns is that I will 'run out of steam' mid-way through the report! When I start writing in point form, you will know why!:)

    tod: To find my 2009 trip report, just click on my name.

    Re: water taxi - It is expensive but it is also quick & direct (barring high tide) to get to the Locanda Orseolo which has canal access. (And yes, that was second time we stayed at the L/O.) You'll have to check with your hotel to see if a water taxi can take you directly there.

    An alternative is to take an Alilaguna. We used this option on our first trip. As a start, you can find out more about it on the link below.

    www.venicelink.com

    There are overland options which are less expensive.

    Since it's your first trip to Venice, I would recommend you approach Venice by boat (water taxi or Alilaguna). It's an incredible experience!

    Have fun planning your trip!

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    Saturday, May 14th - From Venice to Bevagna

    We took the #1 vaporetto from the Rialto stop to Piazzale Roma. It was a short walk to the Avis office. We were processed quickly & our car, a blue Lancia Musa was brought out from the parking garage. We had 20 minutes left on the parking ticket to load our luggage into the trunk, do a quick visual check of the car, adjust the mirrors, set up the GPS, open up the Michelin Tourist & Motoring Atlas, buckle up & exit! By 10:30, we were on the road to Bevagna!

    It took us 5 hours to reach Bevagna, mostly on the auto strada. We made one stop at an Auto Grill for gas & lunch. When we passed Perugia & drove by Assisi, we knew that we were getting close!

    The GPS directed us to enter Bevagna through Porta Foligno. We were told that we could drive directly to our hotel Palazzo Brunamonti (www.brunamonti.com) at Corso G. Matteotti,79; drop off our luggage; and receive parking instructions. Unfortunately, the street was blocked off just short of the hotel & we were forced to turn onto a narrow side road. At the end of the road, there was a one-hour parking lot. So, we parked the car & rolled our bags to the hotel. Ah, but there was a trick! The entrance to the hotel was not at the front door on Corso G. Matteotti. It was in fact at the back of the hotel according to the plaque beside the door! We must have looked puzzled because two elderly gentlemen gestured for us to follow them. One fellow pointed excitedly with his cane as he stood at the top of the alley at the side of the hotel. It was apparent that we needed to go down the lane to the end of the building & turn left! "Grazie!" we said in unison! Midway down, I turned around to look back. The old gentleman was still standing there and he gave me one last thrust with his cane directing me to continue on. "Grazie! I called to him and waved! With their precise instructions, we found the entrance! Perhaps it was a good thing that the street was blocked off! It was probably easier to arrive at the hotel on foot rather than by car!

    We checked in, took our bags to our very large, corner room (#26) and went to re-park our car in an unrestricted lot just outside the town wall. Upon our return, Katia gave us a tour of the hotel: the living room, the breakfast room and the area which was being renovated - the new front entrance & lobby! With its curved stone walls & ceiling, it was going to be lovely! We settled in & had a nap in our cool bedroom. There's something to be said about the stone construction of an old palazzo!

    Katia called La Trattoria di Oscar www.latrattoriadioscar.it) on our behalf to reserve a table for dinner tonight. We were a little early but Filippo was waiting for us! There were two tables already set up on the patio. We chose the one by the planter filled with cheerful red geraniums! We had: small plates of fresh cow's milk cheese with lentils served with Filippo's bread, a platter of black pork salumi, cheeses + tomatoes, raviollini stuffed with cheese & topped with a rich ragu / roasted chicken leg, broad beans with chick peas & boiled potatoes, panna cotta with dill flowers & olive oil / apricot ice cream with brandy. We had red wine by the glass tonight. Our meals were simple but exquisite! We were treated to an exciting taste experience of fresh flavours & surprising combinations! Already, we were planning to return to La Trattoria di Oscar ... possibly on Monday!

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    Hi! annhig:

    When we researched the Umbria part of our trip, Bevagna 'ticked' all our boxes:

    - location: central to the places we wanted to visit
    - easy access: in & out of town for day trips
    - parking: at the hotel or easy, available public parking
    - a 'Goldilocks' town: size/population - not too small/not
    too big/just right
    - some choices for accomodations
    - restaurants: we like to park the car at the end of the day
    and walk to a restaurant for dinner

    We found that Bevagna was a wonderful place to stay. It was pretty. It was a town with some historical interest. Lovely people! I think it's a place on the verge of being 'discovered'!

    Our dinner at Oscar cost €61.

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    @Tod- I travel on a budget and have never taken an expensive water taxi.

    As you depart the Venice airport luggage retrieval area, to your left is the ticket windows for other transportation. We bought our 3-day vaporetto pass there and it included a ticket for the bus that takes you directly to Piazzale Roma. Normally E3 or E4. 30-minute ride and much less expensive than an E40-80 or more boatride. You can then use your vaporetto pass to take any number of rides along the canal, all included. Just an fyi if you would rather save your money for a better meal or shopping. :)

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    Sunday, May 15th

    After an ample breakfast & good strong cups of coffee, we grabbed the GPS, our trusty map & guide book, Authentic Umbria - Touing Club of Italy and set out on this sunny morning. But, were those ominous dark rain clouds we saw lurking in the distance?

    As we walked along Corso Matteotti towards Piazza Silvestri, we passed by three well-worn wooden chairs placed just outside a doorway. Two had saggy, blue cushions & the third was bare. On the back of each chair, the following names were printed in large block letters: E-DE-JOVANNE, E-DE-ANGILINO-ER-POSTINO and E-DE-CINCINO-ER-FERROVIERE. We wondered who would be so special to have designated seats just for them. We also wondered if two belonged to the old-timers who directed us to the hotel yesterday. (It would be after we returned home & put the names into an on-line translator that we learned: Angilino was a postman; Cincino was a railway man; and Jovanne, well, his job was being Jovanne!)

    We passed through a small Sunday market of antiques/old stuff & crafts in town on our way to the parking lot. At the bridge, we stopped to look at the river that runs beside Bevagna & flows into a lavatoio, a wash-house to do laundry!

    The drive from Bevagna to Spoleto was very scenic. There seemed to be a photo-op at every turn: a gentle hill, a lovely green field, a grove of olive trees & wild red poppies which grew alongside the road. It was rustic yet beautiful.

    We entered Spoleto through Porta Garibaldi and walked up Corso Garibaldi. Being Sunday, most shops were closed. We veered to the left, clambered up steep steps, passed by Chiesa S. Nicolo and continued to the 12th C Romanesque Duomo. The interior of the Duomo was large & impressive with its many side chapels and frescoes on the main altar. We made our way across the large Piazza de Duomo and climbed up the wide stone steps. At the top, we stopped to look back. This was definitely a vertical hill town! Our climb continued up to the Rocca/fortress & along a narrow road to a view point. From there we saw the Ponte delle Tori, an aqueduct/bridge which spans the deep gorge joining the Rocca to the hill of Monteluco. Its 9 pillars are connected by 10 arches. Made of limestone, the Ponte delle Tori was constructed about the 13th-14th C.

    We stopped for lunch at a cafe/bar & sat in a spot protected from the brisk winds that began to blow. We shared a beautiful antipasto platter + a delicious composed salad. It was a bit too much food but we took our time & did our best!

    Well, the dark clouds we saw earlier finally reached Spoleto & it began to rain! We were not dressed for this kind of weather so we made a dash for the car! Thank goodnes we were wearing quick-dry tops. With a little heat and the car fan on 'high', it wasn't long before we were dry! When the skies opened up even more, we decided to cut our outing short. Good decision, for a severe thunder storm rolled over Bevagna this afternoon. Even the pigeons perched out of the rain under the protective eaves of a building across the lane from us!

    It was disappointing that we didn't see more of Spoleto as planned. We hoped to find time in the next few days to return.

    Fortunately, the rain slowed down in time for dinner! We had reservations at Ristorante Osteria Il Podesta (www.ristoranteilpodesta.com). There were 2 large tables with Italian families out for Sunday dinner which created a convivial atmosphere! We enjoyed: vegetable soup with spelt / mixed bruschetta, duck with apples & roasted potatoes / grilled beef with fennel and a demi-bottle of Sagrantino Apella. No dessert - we were full!!! But, we could always come back another night, couldn't we?

    Under cloudy skies, we went for a short walk to the Piazza Silvestri. There were few people out. The town was quiet tonight.

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    Monday,May 16th

    With rain predicted for this afternoon, we thought it would be prudent to take our jackets & wear appropriate footwear for our trip to Assisi. I had anticipated parking in this popular town might be challenging. So, in preparation, I printed out directions to the Mojano Parking Garage (www.mojanoassisiparking.com), a modern, underground paid parking lot. We were all set ... or so we thought!

    Typically, DH who is driving & I have this conversation whenever we approach a T-intersection in the road:

    DH (excitedly): Which way do I go?
    DW (slightly panicked): Oh, I don't know!
    DH (exasperated): Well, you should! You're holding the map!
    DW (desperately): Okay, okay, turn ... left!!!

    So, when we reached the base of Assisi, we turned left! The road wound its way up. At least we were going in the right direction! Parcheggio Matteotti came up suddenly and we made a quick decision to park the car here!

    In a small structure where the parking attendant sat, there was a large city map mounted on the wall which marked "You are here". It was a good thing because the map in the guide book I brought was hopelessly inadequate! We followed a sign to "Centro" and we came out onto Piazza San Rufino where the Cattedrale di San Rufino sits. We slipped into the cathedral and momentarily escaped the swirling winds.

    Like most visitors to Assisi, we were here to see the Basilica di San Francesco but a wrong turn led us up & down a multitude of lanes & steps. Along the way, we were treated to pretty views, lovely homes with gardens & planters filled with colourful summer annuals; and a shrine which was tucked into a corner where two lanes converged. So, we weren't really lost. We were just being treated to some of Assisi's hidden treasures! Well, okay ... we were lost and in desperation, we asked a postman for directions to the basilica! In Italian, he explained that we needed to go straight & then turn right. (DH & I took a beginner Italian class last fall during which we learned some basic vocabulary & expressions. Today, it came in handy!)

    As we approached the 13th C Basilica di San Francesco, we were struck by the positon of the basilica and the white-washed brick facade with its splendid rose window. Even as a non-Catholic, I couldn't help but feel I was entering a deeply spiritual place: the upper & lower churches and the crypt of St. Francis. It truly was a special experience!

    We made our way up the crowded main street of town past shops, cafes & a bakery with an enticing window of pasteries! We visited the Church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva with its exquisite interior! We were able to find our way back to our car directly and on our way out of Assisi, we drove by the Mojano Parking Garage! Guess we should have turned right instead of left!!!

    Deruta which is known for its ceramics was our next stop. We only entered a few shops where we saw beautiful pieces decorated with traditional Umbrian designs. We didn't buy any ceramics in Deruta, just lunch!

    We decided to go to Redibis (www.redibis.it) for dinner by default - Osar was closed due to the chef's illness; Ottavius was closed on Mondays; and we had just been to Podesta the night before! What a superb choice that was!

    The Redibis is located in an ancient Roman theater. The setting is stunning and the decor is clean & smart. In one corner, there is a large, open fireplace.

    Here's what we had:

    - 2 glasses of dry white wine
    - a surprise in a tin box - bruschetta with tomatoes
    - a bottle of Montefalco red wine
    - the tasting menu (€45 per person):
    > beef carpaccio
    > gnocchi with tomato, mushroom, bacon & marjoram
    > lamb with artichokes
    > creme with dark chocolate and served with grain in
    sweet milk

    The food was exquisite and the service was impeccable! This was fine dining!

    It left us wondering how could there be so many good restaurants in such a small town. And we had one more night in Bevagna!

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    terrific TR!!! love your details and LOL'd reading abt you and your DH and the directions: sounds QUITE familiar...
    we are going mid October and I'm afraid I'll often be in the same situation as the "navi-guesser" .
    hope you continue this TR: it's terrific and I'm taking lots of notes. :)

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    we also stayed at Locanda Orseolo in Venice in 2008: LOVED the place and its owners as well (we had same room you had)
    BEST breakfasts ever and incredibly thoughtful hosts! brings back happy memories reading abt Venice. We're not going there this time (heading south to the AC) and spending lots of time in Tuscany as you did.

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    Tuesday, May 17th

    This morning was dedicated to Bevagna!

    HIGHLIGHTS:

    o churches: Basilica of S. Silvestro (Umbro-Romanesque), Collegiate Church of S. Michele Arcangelo (late 12th/early 13th C), Chiesa Di S. Agostino (14th C with Umbrian School frescoes), Chiesa de San Francesco (with electric heaters!)

    o the narrow lanes, interesting front doors to homes & unusual door knockers, beautiful flower displays in containers (I took many photos of container plantings to remind & inspire me when I got home!)

    o walked along part of the ancient wall surrounding the town & through the gate at P. Garibaldi

    o Circuito Cittadino (€5 for 3 sights; 2 of which we were taken through): Museo Civico, Teatro Torti & Edificio Termale

    o pizza lunch at Miccheletto on Largo Gramsci, 1

    We discovered that there are more churches & restaurants than commerce in Bevagna!

    In the afternoon, we made a dash to nearby Spello. We just wandered the streets & enjoyed the views from this pretty town. We picked up some olive wood cooking spoons, a paddle & tongs for a gift - beautiful and practical!

    When it was time to leave, we couldn't remember the direction to the parking lot located outside the city wall! It is so rare that DH & I have a 'senior's moment' at the same time! Even after a visit to the Tourist Office to check a good map of the town, we were still uncertain! Short of walking the entire outside perimeter of the wall, how hard could it be? Spello is another vertical hill town so our search was exhausting! With a bit of luck & time, we eventually found the lot! We were happy to be in our little car with the air conditioner blasting and to be heading home to familiar territory!

    Note to self: Pay attention to where we leave the car & where we come into town. Take photos of the car park & street signs, if necessary! ;-)

    Tonight we had dinner at Nuovo Ottavius (Via del Gonfalone, 4c). The restaurant is located on an ancient site. The attractive dining room has a vaulted stone ceiling & it feels cozy. Despite our limited Italian, we were able to communicate with the owner & server. Put it this way ... we would not go hungry tonight! We enjoyed: bruschetta mista, roast pork with side dishes of spinach & roasted potatoes and a bottle of Montefalco red wine. It was like nonna's home cooking - delicious & comforting! However, the ending was a bit disappointing. The panna cotta was not to our liking.

    The restaurant was filled with mostly Italian-speaking diners. The atmosphere was lively & fun! The service was well-paced & unhurried! What a great way to celebrate our last night in Bevagna!

    We loved our stay in Bevagna! It's a quiet town where ordinary people live, work & go out at night. Life felt relaxed & easy here!


    Next: Tuscany - Pienza & the beautiful Val D'Orcia

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    2010, my cousin and I determined that on the next trip, we are taking sidewalk chalk so we can mark our way back to our apartment. hahaha Another good hint- take picture(s) with your cell phone of a nearby landmark or sign when exiting your car. Should help you get back to it. (Alternative is to video it. My camera has video option, some do not.)

    Your adventure in dining sounds wonderful! Thanks for sharing! Can't wait to try some of these places myself!

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    Thanks, everyone for hanging in there while my travel tale unfolds! I'm wondering if it's getting a bit 'tedious' to read with all the details. Thinking about changing up the format & compressing the information & stories for the Florence & Rome portions - that is, Where we stayed / What we did / Where we ate ... instead of a day-by-day account. Any feedback?

    In the meantime, stay tuned for Pienza!

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    Wednesday, May 18th - From Bevagna to Pienza

    We left Bevagna under sunny skies. We made one last stop in Umbria - Montefalco, the town of wonderful Sagrantino wine & cloth. We parked & walked into town through Porta Sant'Agostino and we began our ascent. In a little shop, I bought dish towels with an olive motif to go with the olive wood utensils from Spello. We went into Chiesa de S. Agostino (12-14thC) with its crumbling frescoes. Continuing on, we came to the town's circular main square, Piazza del Commune and we were treated to pretty views from the town wall. You could hardly call our brief stop a visit but I am glad we took the time for a peek at Montefalco! We found our car with no problem and soon we were on the road to Pienza!

    We arrived at the Piccolo Hotel La Valle (www.piccolohotellavalle.com) about 12:30 just as Marco, the owner was arriving. We exchanged handshakes & warm greetings. It was lovely to be back! Once in our room (#218), we set down our luggage & immediately stepped out onto the balcony to gaze at the valley view. Yes, it was just as we remembered except now in the spring, the landscape was green & lush! It was breathtakingly beautiful!

    We went into lunch for a quick lunch at the Piccolomini Caffe (Corso Il Rossellino, 87). I had a mortadella foccacia sandwich while DH had a panini with prosciutto & cheese. He also had a local micro brew beer. It would sustain us for the rest of the afternoon!

    We had timed our stay in Pienza perfectly for the gardens at the Villa La Foce (www.lafoce.com) in Chianciano Terme are open for guided visits on Wednesday afternoons! The renaissance-style gardens were designed & built by Cecil Pinsent between 1927 and 1939 for Antonio Origo & his Anglo-American wife, Iris. Stories about the restoration of the gardens & the buildings on the property and the family's dedication for social change were very interesting. We walked through the lemon garden, under the wisteria pergola, past formal clipped hedges & fountains. There was just so much to see! Not only were the gardens a feast for the eyes but the surrounding landscape was beautiful, too! We looked across to the famous, well-photographed Strada di Valoresi, the cypress-lined road that zigzags up the hill. My secret wish that day was to able to walk the entire property on my own, undisturbed!

    We went to Ristorante Dal Falco for dinner with no expectations to duplicate our memorable experience in September 2009! It was nice to see familiar faces there. The restaurant was filled to capacity & it was lively! We enjoyed: bruschetta mista, veal steak + a side of grilled vegetables / pici all'aglione (homemade pasta with tomato, garlic & hot pepper sauce) and a carafe of the house red wine. It was a casual, 'light' dinner for us!

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    Thursday, May 19th

    After breakfast on the sunny terrace, we left for Cortona with GPS & map book in hand. Our journey today was not without its challenges! How the heck did we get so turned around & lost?!?! We put on many more kilometers than we should have to reach our destination. We parked our car under the shade of a tree in a (free) parking lot. Perhaps our luck was changing!

    It was a short walk from the parking lot to escalators that moved us up to the lower part of town. There were interesting shops, art galleries & cafes on Via Nazionale, the town's main (and only flat) street. We eventually found the TI on Piazza Della Repubblica which turned out to be an on-line kiosk placed in a hot unmanned office! The website was in Italian - not very helpful. So, off we went with the inadequate map in our Eyewitness Travel Top 10 Florence & Tuscany guide book.

    Our visit to the Duomo was cut short when we were shooed out. It was closing time for lunch! We thought lunch was a terrific idea & we found a table in the shade at Bar Cafe Signorelli on Via Nazionale. It was also the perfect vantage point for people-watching!

    There was a wedding at the Palazzo Comunale on Piazza Della Reupubblica today! We watched as wedding guests entered the doors of the city hall. Just shortly after 1pm, the newlywed couple made an appearance on the balcony and the entrie piazza erupted in cheers & applause! And when they came down the stairs of the Palazzo Comunale, thrilled on-lookers clapped once again & snapped photos of the happy scene! Yes, I was one of them!

    After lunch, we made the climb to Chiesa di San Francisco which houses relics of St. Francis: a cassock, a cushion & a bible. Next, our vertical tour took us to the iron gates of San Niccolo, a tiny 15th C church set on a cypress-lined courtyard. Unfortunately, the church was closed. We paused to enjoy the sweeping views with Lago Trasimeno at the horizon. Oh, these views never get tiresome!

    Our trip back to Pienza was somewhat more direct, relying on road signs instead of the GPS! Just outside of Pienza, we parked the car just off the road beside a huge field of red poppies! DH found a trail that took us across the field amongst the flowers. It was well-worth the dusty shoes for this vantage point! I took a million pictures!

    We had dinner at Latte di Luna (Via S. Carlo, 2/4). We had two wonderful dinners during our last trip & once again, we enjoyed our meal! (In the planning stages of our trip, DH & I debated whether to try new restaurants or return to old favourites. At home, we go back to places we enjoyed. So, we gave ourselves permission to do the same on holidays!) We had: bruschetta mista, roast pork with crackling and sides of vegetable timbale & roasted potatoes, hazelnut semifreddo and a demi of Montepulciano Nobile.

    We took our roly-poly selves for a stroll to the town gate & back to the hotel. Along the way, we checked out a restaurant for tomorrow's dinner! How could we even think about food & eating?!?!

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    Friday, May 20th

    Our wonderful morning in Pienza began with a visit to the town's weekly market. It was fun to wander amongst the stalls & to listen to the chatter of vendors as locals made their purchases! Although the market was small, there were the usual eye-catching displays of fresh produce, meat, fish, flowers & potted plants, house/kitchen wares, clothes and underwear!

    From town, we passed through the Porta al Murello. Just on the other side of Piazza Dante Alighieri, we found the start of Viale Santa Caterina, a wide gravel promenade with views over the Val D'Orcia. At the end, we came upon the small Chiesa di Santa Caterina. Next, we followed a path onto a road that took us to La Pieve di Corsignano, a church which dates back to the 8th C.

    Back in town, we were treated to a blacksmith demonstration in front of the Chiesa di San Francesco. While DH was interested in the blacksmithing, I was more captivated by the large group of pre-schoolers who sat in two lines supposedly watching the demonstration! I saw little fingers poking neighbours and put in places where fingers shouldn't go, namely up noses! Some children were fascinated by passers-by & birds flying overhead. Yes, these things were infinitely more interesting to a 4 year old than watching hot burly men hammering pieces of iron! The charm of young children is universal! :)

    We had time before our tour of the Palazzo Piccolomini to admire the palazzo's interior courtyard & to stroll through its formal garden. There is something pleasing about the structure & symmetry of a renaissance garden. This garden is surrounded by 3 ivy-covered walls and a rear wall with 3 arches which frame the valley view. There are 4 double boxwood hedges around rectangular beds of rose bushes with well-clipped trees placed at each corner. A fountain & a well with the family coat of arms are the garden's only sculptural elements.

    The palazzo which was built in 1459 was the summer residence of Enea Silvio Piccolomini, Pope Pius II. On the tour, we were led through some key halls & it was interesting to see the rooms, the furnishings & decorations. Unfortunately, the guide took us through rather briskly and she did not seem open to questions. There was little opportunity to linger & have a closer look in some of the rooms. Pity!

    Over lunch on the cool back patio at Piccolomini Caffe, DH & I reminisced about out accidental adventure on our last trip as we navigated the steep (15% grade) & narrow, sometimes impassible streets of Petroio! We had been very traumatized by this experience! So, we decided to face our fears and return to Petroio this afternoon! This time we parked in a designated lot outside the town & walked in! Who knew that it would be pretty town with churches, attractive homes, shops, cafes & a terra cotta pot museum? Because of the timing of our visit, most places were closed. But we were glad to discover that Petroio is a pleasant town after all! :)

    Next, we followed the signs to Santa'Anna in Camprena, a former Olivetan Monastery. It was inhabited from 1334 & it was completely restored to its present form between 1400 and 1500. Today it is an agriturismo (www.camprena.it). What a lovely spot for a peaceful stay!

    Tonight we went to Trattoria da Fiorella (Via Condotti, 11). We enjoyed: a mixed crostini with prosciutto & a garnish of fresh green olives, tagliatelle with cinghiale sauce / grilled lamb + a side dish of mixed vegetables, panna cotta with fresh strawberries / a warm ricotta cheesecake with chocolate and a demi of Montepulciano Brunello. Just a few comments: We had never before tasted fresh olives (no brine). Ah, so that's how an unadorned olive tastes! It was delectable! Also, we were told that the ricotta cheese was made just that morning in their kitchen and then it was baked in the torte. Now that's fresh! We were sent away with handshakes & warm wishes! We were so glad that we decided to return to Fiorella!

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    Saturday, May 21st

    We shared the road to Pitigliano with cylists, motorcyclists & a few hikers along with the usual traffic of fast cars & slow farm vehicles.

    The ancient hill town of Pitigliano, known as 'Little Jerusalem' is perched on volcanic rock over densely forested ravines. Two giant arches support the Medici aqueduct. The panorama is stunning! We first read about the town in the travel section of our local newspaper. The article focussed on the Jewish quarter & its history and it was fascinating. It inspired us to come!

    We arrived at the door of the Synagogue only to find them closed. Of course ... it was Saturday - their holy day! This missed opportunity was a result of our poor planning! What were we thinking?

    We did visit the Cattedrale S.S. Pietro e Paolo (sec xvi) and later, the Palazzo Orsini. The entry tickets to the palazzo also included a chance to pat a very large golden retriever asleep on the front steps - the ticket seller's dog!

    We had lunch on the town's main square at what turned out to be a self-serve cafeteria. We were grateful to be guided through the process in a kind manner! Although our food choices were marginal, the people were very nice & it was lovely to sit at a table on the square. We watched a rather big dog leap into the cool water of the fountain, take a big drink & do a few laps around! Not its first time, we suspect!

    The drive back to Pienza through the Tuscan countryside was filled with visual surprises at every turn: wild poppies growing at the side of the road; small towns perched on hilltops; long driveways to lovely houses; sheep grazing on grassy fields; and of course, the picturesque approach to Pienza!

    So far, we had put our walking shoes through rigorous tests although it didn't feel as if the mileage we put on exceeded the calories consumed ... oh, dear! Who knew that we could eat so well & drink so reasonably in the Umbrian & Tuscan towns where we stayed? The regional fare was amazing - fresh, flavourful & so wonderfully prepared! Also, we lived by the adage: Eat dessert. Life is uncertain. (Anon) Wise person!

    Marco recommended Trattoria La Chiocciola (www.trattorialachiocciola.it) just around the corner from the Piccolo Hotel. There's a large patio for warmer evenings and inside, there is a charming dining room! The placed filled up with Italian families, a group of young friends, couples like us & a solo diner. We had: bruschetta mista, ravilloni with truffles / spaghetti with cinghiale, vin santo + biscotti / tiramisu and a demi of Montepulciano Bamfi. We enjoyed our dinner & the warm, relaxed atmosphere of the Chiocciola - translation: snail!

    Tonight we joined many others out for an evening stroll - our last one in Pienza!


    Next: From Pienza to Florence

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    hi again, 2010,

    what a co-incidence, i was in Pitigliano in May too! I agree about how stunning it is, and relatively undiscovered. our teacher [i was on a trip with the language school i was attending] took us to another similar hill town too, on another day, but I can't remember the name of that one.

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    Hi! annhig:

    How wonderful that your teacher took you on 'field trips' giving you opportunities to use language in real life situations! What a great experience for you!

    DH & I took a beginners conversational Italian course last Fall. It was fun ... until we got to verbs. I thought my brain was going to explode trying to learn all the regular/irregular verb forms!!! Forgot almost everything (expressive language) by the time May rolled around but our comprehension & familiarity of the language kicked in when we needed it!

    What did you discover in Pitigliano?

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    Dear 2010: Please continue with as many details as you are willing to take the time to type in. I love reading and learning as much as possible from trip reports. There is absolutely nothing tedious about your report. I'm not even going to many of the places you have been and I still get a lot from them.

    I understand if it gets tedious for you though, so I will be happy with whatever you choose to do.

    But my vote is....keep it coming!

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    Continued brava's, 2010. DH and I finally took pix of our wine bottles and menus-spent so much time writing down stuff before. A photo of your parking place makes great sense!

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    What did you discover in Pitigliano? >>

    here is an extract from my trip report: "we are visiting a near-by hill-top town called "Pitigliano". Our first stop is a "photo-opp" - a chance to take pictures and observe the town's history from afar, as it's history is evident from its appearance. In essence, it looks like a trifle - every layer tells a story, with the etruscans at the bottom, the roman and medieval layers above and renaissance layer like whipped cream on top. then we drive into the town and start to explore, with Maria giving us the historical perspective in very great detail."

    sadly, that was it. the etruscan excavations were shut, and no-one seemed interested in the jewish quarter, which was a shame. also my fellow students were keen to get onto our next destination which were the hot springs of saturnia, where we were due to have a swim - strangely that was more attractive than Maria's very detailed explanations [in Italian, not all of which I understood!] of local history!

    but it whetted my appetite for the town and i'm sure I'll be back.

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    cpelk: Thanks for your feedback! It was both reassuring & encouraging! It sounds like you are presently planning your own trip to Italy! How exciting!

    TDudette: Thank you as well! And your idea of taking photos of wine bottles & menus is BRILLIANT!!!

    annhig: Your 'trifle' analogy describes the town's history very well! And you will return tto Pitigliano. Just don't go on a Saturday like we did! ;)


    Next installment coming soon!

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    Tdudette, the photos of menus is a great idea. I've been photographing signs as ways to remind myself where I was that day and it really helps when identify things when looking at pictures later. Snapshots of menus would be a great souvenir; the best kind, free and takes up no room in my luggage.

    2010, yep, heading for Italy the first 2 weeks of October, our first trip. Venice, Florence, Monticiello and Rome. I'm reading obsessively.

    CindyP.

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    Sunday, May 22nd: From Pienza to Florence

    With assistance from our GPS & a bit of good luck, we made it directly from Pienza to Florence airport! After our last escapade in 2009 returning our rental car in town and months later receiving a traffic ticket in the mail for driving within a restricted zone, we thought it would be less stressful and cheaper to return our car to the airport! It was a short cab ride (€25) to the Tourist House Ghiberti (www.touristhouseghiberti.com) where we arrived mid-day relaxed & happy to be in Florence!

    We left our luggage and headed directly to the Duomo. We weren't prepared for the mass of people on the Piazza del Duomo so we slipped into the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo (www.operaduomo.firenze.it). The museum houses works of art which have been removed from the Catheral Complex over the centuries. The ancient palazzo was once the headquarters & workshop for the opera, or cathedral works. Donatello & Brunelleschi are known to have worked here and in the building's courtyard (which no longer exists in its original form) is where Michelangelo carved David. It's an amazing collection showcased in a beautiful environment - renovated in 1999. We were so glad to visit this small but important museum!

    Next, we headed for Museo Salvatore Ferragamo (www.museoferragamo.it)! It takes a historical look-back of the the famous Italian shoe designer, Ferragamo. I had even convinced DH that it would be fun for him to see! Well, you can imagine how distraught I was - and DH, too - to learn that the museum would be closed until May 27th! :( Only one thing to do in this situation ... EAT!

    We had lunch at Cabiria Ristorante on Piazza San Spirito on the other side of the Arno River. DH had a tasty pizza with prosciutto & mushrooms and I had a fantastic composed salad of tuna, carrots, corn, tomatoes, fresh mozarella cheese & greens! Yum!

    Back at the Tourist House Ghiberti, we were shown our room (#4). It was large & faced the back of other adjacent buildings - made more picturesque by a colourful planter outside our window filled with cheerful annuals! It was quiet & peaceful here. Our room had all the comforts we remembered including beautiful bath products & a PC with internet connection. We settled in, cooled off & relaxed for the balance of the afternoon.

    We were off to dinner at Osteria-Pizzeria Zio Gigi (Via F. Portinari, 7/R) around the corner from the T/H Ghiberti. The placed was packed & lively tonight! We had: antipasto Zio Gigi, penne with bacon & mushrooms / spaghetti vongole, 1/2 liter of the house red wine and two large bottles of mineral water. I remembered from a previous visit that the seafood pasta was very good but highly salted. So, I asked for the 'low-sodium version' of spaghetti vonogle. I'm not sure if the cook actually received my request or if he did, what he did with it! All I know is the I was thirsty after eating every delicious noodle & clam from my plate!

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    July 6,2011. Thanks so much for your written review of your 2nd trip. I read and printed your 1st trip and plan to use it next year when my boyfriend and I go to italy for 3 weeks. My friend used it and said it was perfect to the T.Thanks.

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    Hi! wineauxs2italy: I am so glad that my 2009 Italy trip report was helpful! I still remember how exciting it was for us to be going to Italy for the first time! Have fun planning your trip!

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    so enjoying this TR! hope you keep going to end of your trip
    taking notes for our trip this October.
    thank you SO much for taking the time to write in such terrific detail!!!

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    Monday, May 23rd

    Today was all about going to new places & revisiting favourite ones!

    New places ...

    > Chiesa di Santo Spirito (Piazza S. Spirito) - As we approached the church, we were aware of its plain, simple exterior. But when we entered through the door, we were blown away by its proportions, the alter, the side chapels & the art! I am glad that I carried a silk shrug in my purse because I needed to cover my shoulders in this church.

    > Museo Galileo (Science History Museum) (www.imss.fi.it) - What a treat! It was filled with ancient scientific instruments in the areas of mathematics, physics, optics, clock mechanisms, mapping & medicine, to name a few. There's a room dedicated to Galileo. The collection of globes was particularly beautiful! It was a nice change from churches & palazzos and well worth a visit!

    Old favourites ...

    > Roberta Firenze (www.robertafirenze.com) (Borgo S. Jacopo 74r and 78r) - I am not comfortable shopping at the street market where it is difficult to ascertain the source or quality of merchandise nor in stores with high-pressured sale people. The leather hobo bag which I bought at Roberta Firenze on our last trip has held up well: zippers still work, stitching is all intact and the leather gets softer over time. My shopping experience was pleasant & enjoyable! So, the shop keeper was pleased to know that I had been there before (in this shop on Borgo S. Jacopo closest to Via Maggio). I bought a gorgeous two-toned (cognac/dark brown) handbag with handles + a detachable shoulder strap and a decorative chunky silver chain. What I loved about this bag was the interesting hardware & the fact that the lining is light coloured! No longer would my stuff fall into the dark abyss of a purse with black lining!

    > Via Calzaiuoli is my favourite shopping street to window shop! It's a pedestrian-only street. One only has to be mindful of the occasional bicyclist, commercial vehicle or taxi cab and take care not to get caught up in a tour group! Here, the window displays are beautiful - where garments & accessories are so artfully displayed that one simply must pause, gaze & appreciate!!! Earlier in the day on our way to the Oltarno, I spied an interesting scarf in the wondow of Falconeri (www.mobile.falconeri.com). It would be a perfect 60th brithday gift for our friend! So, on our return trip, we stopped & I asked to see the scarf. The saleswoman showed me different ways to wear it! Well, I bought two, one for our friend & one for me!

    > During our last stay in Florence, DH would stop at a Tabacchi on Via dei Servi to look at the handsome pipes displayed in the window. The shop was usually closed since we were often on our way back to the T/H Ghiberti in the late afternoon. With a little encouragement from me, we went into the tiny shop! The lovely gentleman was delighted to hear our story & to have us come in! He showed DH a number of pipes. Finally, DH chose a Savinelli, a 2010 limited editon pipe as a souvenir of our trip! It was boxed up with a few extra small accessories and we were sent off with a handshake, a smile & an arrivederci!

    > We had 8pm dinner reservations at Osteria Del Cinghiale Bianco (www.cinghialebianco.it) where we enjoy the food, the ambience & the service! We were warmly welcomed & seated a cosy table for two! We had: a caprese salad, roast lamb with potatoes + a side dish of spinach / ravioli stuffed with potatoes & topped with lamb ragu, creme mascarpone with cookies / panna cotta with mixed berries, a demi of Brunello di Montalcino & glasses of icy cold limoncello.

    During our evening stroll, it occurred to us that the restaurant was closed on Wednesday & we were leaving Florence on Thursday. If we wanted another dinner at Cinghiale Bianco, it would have to be the next night! Back at the T/H Ghiberti, Claudio was kind enough to call & book a table for us on Tuesday night!

    I was so full! I decided to go on a fast ... at least until breakfast the next morning!;)

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    We are going to Tuscany in August, so I am reading your trip report with great interest. We will make special note of the restaurants you loved. Still waiting for you to tell us all about Florence and the rest of the places you went and where you ate and shopped.

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    Tuesday, May 24th

    We first learned about the Bardini Gardens (www.bardinipeyron.it) in a newspaper article by our local gardening guru about his family's visit to Florence. In a large colour photo, there he was holding his young granddaughter while standing below a long pergola of blue wisteria! It took my breath away! I cut out the article & vowed if we ever returned to Florence in the spring, we would go to the Bardini Gardens. This was my chance!

    We crossed the Ponte alle Grazie over the Arno and followed Via Dei Bardi to the entrance of the garden. The entry ticket included the Bardini & Boboli Gardens, the Galleria de Costume & Museo degli Arenti. The Bardini Gardens were simply lovely! The baroque stairway is the garden's centerpiece. It is flanked by flower beds & adorned with statues. Looking from the bottom of the long stairway upward was amazing but from the top, we were treated to sweeping views of the garden below & Florence, beyond! The garden consists of areas of varied plantings. Unfortunately, we missed the camellias in bloom (March) and the wisteria corridor, azaleas & rhodedendrons (April). We were too early to see the hydrangeas (June, onwards) but we did see roses! Beautiful roses! As we wandered along paths, we discovered a small canal, a grotto & statues tucked amongst trees. The Bardini Gardens felt intimate & peaceful.

    On the other hand, the Boboli Gardens were vast with large open spaces. The gardens & lawns looked parched - not very appealing. Located at the back of the Pitti Palace, parterre gardens with colourful begonias were quite attractive. We sought shaded paths down to the exit.

    We made our way back to Cabiria on Piazza S. Spirito for an early lunch of cold salads, beer & water on this hot day!

    Re-energized, we went to the Medici Chapels (www.fienzemusei.it/medicee/index.html). It was disappointing that so much of the chapel was covered in scaffolding and some paintings & sculptures were removed as the restoration work continues. However, it was impressive to see the proportions of the space; the beautiful altar with its inlaid decoration and the intricate design of the marble floor. Highlight: Michelangelo's sculptures: Dawn, Dusk, Madonna & Child, Duke Lorenzo, Night, Day, Duke Giuliano.

    In preparation for this trip, DH & I read Agony & the Ecstasy: a biographical novel of Michelangelo by Irving Stone. While the size of this novel was initially daunting, the story was so captivating & interesting that it was not a difficult book to finish. It gave us the historical context of the life & times of Michelangelo and helped us makes sense of what we saw in Florence and later, in Rome.

    When we were in the Church of San Lorenzo, we found out that the Laurensiana Library is open only in the morning. Thus, our plans for Wednesday were beginning to take shape!

    We had another great evening at Cinghiale Bianco! The restaurant was packed & lively once again! We enjoyed: mixed bruschetta of tomatoes / basil & spinach / white beans, cinghiale stew with polenta / papardelle with cinghiale ragu, sorbetto al caffe / sorbetto al limone and a demi of Brunello di Montalcino. As we left, we explained to the owner, Marco why he had to feed us two consecutive nights! He was certainly appreciative of our return!

    Street entertainers were drawing big crowds tonight! It was fun to stop & watch as we took a longer route back to the T/H Ghiberti!

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    Wednesday, May 25th

    This morning we headed directly to the Mercato Centrale. What a feast for our senses! We saw colourful flowers, fresh produce, baskets of dried fruit and sacks of various rice & grains so artfully arranged! The aroma of strawberries evoked thoughts of summer! We were drawn to cases filled with cheeses & salami, fish and meat, including tripe & other mysterious 'parts'! Not only is this a place for the home-cook or a gourmand to shop, it is also a wonderful place for a photographer, amateur or pro!

    We went back to the Church of San Lorenzo and the Biblioteca Medicea Laurensiana (www.bml.firenze.sbn.it) which Michelangelo was entrusted to design & build. From the upper gallery of the cloisters, we entered the vestibule where the gray sandstone staircase leads up to the reading room. The sunlight illuminated the stain-glass windows which cast a soft light into the long room. Wooden benches & book stands lined the length of the reading room on either side of a marble aisle. Off to the right, there is a beautifully decorated rotunda. In the rooms beyond, there are examples of hand-written manuscripts in Latin & Greek (9th-15th C). We were too late to visit the library yesterday. We were so glad we came today!

    Next, my quest for a clutch purse led us first to San Lorenzo Market (since we were in the area) & then to Via Calzaiuoli where the quality-to-price ratio is greater! We stopped for lunch and a chance to ponder before heading back to Roberta Firenze. Here, in the second shop on Borgo S. Jacopo, I found a perfect clutch bag! I really appreciated DH's patience this afternoon! :)

    We found ourselves back at the Piazza Della Signora. We ducked into the main hallway of the Palazzo Vecchio for a quick peek. Florence's city hall was very impressive! We navigated our way across the crowded piazza & we stopped for very expensive gelato on Calzaiuoli. But it came with a seat & it was deliciously refreshing! That gave us enough energy to make our way back to the sanctuary of the T/H Ghiberti!

    Based on Lorenzo's recommendation, we went to the Accademia Ristorante for dinner. The food & the atmosphere were great! The air conditioning added to our comfort. We enjoyed: proscuitto & melon + a basket of wonderful breads, stuffed ravioli with mushrooms / flat hand-cut pasta with clams, coffee + chocolate tartufo ice cream / sorbeto di limone and a carafe of chilled rose wine. If we had an extra night in Florence, we might have returned here for another dinner!

    Cooler evening temperatures & quiet streets made for a pleasant walk home.


    Next: Rome ... at last!!!

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    May 26th - June 2nd: Rome

    While the plans for the Venice-to-Florence part of our trip came together nicely, the Rome portion was very challenging to organize for whatever reason! It was our first visit to Rome.

    One of the obstacles was organizing a 7-day itinerary around a guided tour of the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel & St. Peter's Basilica and a timed-entry/date to the Borghese Gallery. While we don't like to have a tightly scheduled plan, we saw the necessity to pre-book arrangements for these popular sights. Also, we intended to buy the Roma & Piu Pass. So, we needed to line up our visits to the Borghese Gallery, the Colosseum/Roman Forum/Palentine Hill & Tivoli (Villa D'Este) on three consecutive days. All that and then find a way to organize our other days without ending up with a frenetic plan!

    Next came the daunting task of deciding where to stay, what we needed to book in advance, how to get around & where to eat!

    The whole process soon became overwhelming. It was time to turn to the Fodor's travel community for help & guidance and you came through - BIG TIME! Thank you! :)

    The good thing was we had allocated one week in Rome. So, we could visit important sights AND we would have unstructured time to do ... whatever! Also, we always had the option to change our plans (and we did!). While our days always full, they were never frantic or too exhausting. It turned out to be a perfect ending of our trip!


    Next: Some practicalities ...

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    Can't wait to hear your details for Rome. I will only have 5 nights in October in Rome, and I am having serious trouble narrowing down what I want to do and when. I have booked a Scavi tour already, but I just want to do and see everything. Rome has been a dream of mine for years, decades actually. It's hard to pin a my dream down to a schedule.

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    During the planning process, we had so many questions about transportation, where to stay in Rome, which tour company/ tour guide to use, should we buy a Roma Pass & which pass to buy and how to reserve an entry-time for the Borghese! As first-timers, there were so many details to sort out!

    Here's what we did ...

    What we booked before leaving:

    > purchased train tickets from Florence to Rome through the Trenitalia website (www.trenitalia.com) / printed out our tickets / presented them on the train when requested

    > Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel & St. Peter's Basilica Tour with Daniella Hunt (www.rome-tours.com) - first contacted Daniella in January via e-mail with our request & date preferences / arranged a date / after getting our input, she pulled together a loose outline of a tour

    > Borghese Gallery - checked the on-line system (http://www.ticketeria.it/ticketeria/borghese-regolamento-eng.asp) regularly for ticket availability dates / when our date appeared, phoned Ticketeria directly to book the date & entry time for our visit with an English-speaking agent / received a confirmation # which we took to the Borghese Gallery ticket office + our Roma Pass (as one of our free entries) / easy!

    > Hotel: Albergo Cesari (www.albergocesari.it) - made our reservation directly with the hotel via e-mail / about 4 weeks prior to our stay, I e-mailed the hotel to re-confirm our reservation & to let them know our approximate arrival time / made a hard copy of the confirmation letter to bring, just in case


    How we got around:

    > By taxi - from the train station to the hotel / from the hotel to the Colosseum and to the Borghese Gallery - on these days, we elected to save our feet for the visit & a leisurely walk back to the hotel, mostly down hill / we found taxis to be reasonable & of course, direct

    > On foot - the location of our hotel (near the Pantheon) was central to everything we wanted to see / had good walking shoes & sandals

    > Note - A transit pass came with the Roma & Piu Pass. Although we did not use it, it was good to have as an option for the 3 days our passes were active.

    > Shuttle service to the airport - arranged through the hotel / €55



    Next: How our days unfolded ...

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    Thursday, May 26th: From Florence to Rome

    An American couple at the Tourist House Ghiberti shared a cautionary tale about how the wife's wallet had been lifted from her purse in the train from Rome to Florence. While DH & I packed our bags, we planned our actions for our train trip from Florence to Rome. With heightened awareness, we took a cab to Santa Maria Novella & waited to board the train which was scheduled to depart at 10:10am.

    We found our carriage & lifted our suitcases onto the rack above the seats. Strange that the two empty seats next to ours were littered with magazines, newspapers & a lady's purse. Across the aisle in one of the two single seats, the third member of the family sat & offered to change positions later, if we so desired. It turned out that after drinks & snacks were served, I dozed off while DH remained on high alert! At 11:45am, we arrived at Roma Termini. We followed the signs to the taxi stand outside the terminal building and in a short while, we were at the Albergo Cesari (Via di Pietra, 89/A)! We had arrived with our luggage & wallets intact!

    Our 4th floor corner room (#43) was large, attractively decorated & very comfortable! Breakfast is served on the roof top terrace and in the evening, one can go to the terrace for a drink. Outdoor space with views over rooftops is very much a bonus! We were going to enjoy our stay at the Cesari.

    We needed assistance from the front desk to orient ourselves. Let's see ... if we went out the door of the hotel & turned left, we would come to the Pantheon. Turn right, we would hit Via del Corso. That's all we would need to know! But just in case, we slipped the hotel's business card into our pockets! Also, we turned in our unwieldy Michelin fold-out map of Rome for the small map provided by the hotel. Yes, it was much easier to manage although the tiny print would sometimes prove challenging for our 'old eyes'!

    There is a set of smooth stone pavers that goes down the centre of the street in front of the Cesari. Evidently, it's a path that leds to the main attractions of Rome! So, on our first outing, we turned left & followed the path (much like Dorothy's yellow brick road to discovery in the Wizard of Oz!) through Piazza de Pietra where we counted the 11 columns from Hadrian's Temple. We stopped for a pizza lunch at L'Arcano (www.larcano.it) with its outdoor seating on the sunny side of the building. We opted for the air-conditioned dining room. We saw lots of appetizing food being served here!

    We continued to the Piazza della Rotunda and the Pantheon with its distinctive concrete dome. From inside, the coffered ceiling & its enormous round opening demanded an "Oh, wow!" response as we marveled at the medieval technology & engineering that went into its construction! Our thoughts were broken by the loud speaker announcement in different languages requesting silence from the crowd! We walked around the perimeter of the church admiring the main altar & the chapels. We stopped at the tombs of Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of unified Italy and Raphael who died at the age of 37 in 1520.

    We temporarily lost the stone path on our way to the Trevi Fountain! Instead, we found ourselves climbing up one of Rome's seven hills to Piazza del Quirnale. The Palazzo del Quirnale, the presidential palace and other handsome palaces lined the vast square.

    Back on track, we joined the mass of tourists at the Trevi Fountain to get a glimpse of this famous landmark & to take a multitude of photos! We successfully wound our way down to the fountain's edge and of course, we tossed a coin into the fountain & made a wish!

    We came upon the stone path again quite by accident! It did indeed lead us directly back to the Albergo Cesari!

    It was a short walk to La Sagrestia Ristorante Pixxeria (Via del Seminario, 89) near the Pantheon. We were seated next to a table of two families (tourists) which consisted of oblivious parents & two small but old-enough-to-know children who were very active. As the little boy ran by our table for the umpeenth time, I put on my best stern primary-teacher face, wagged my finger & said, "No!" (Oh, dear! Did I actually just do that?!?!) Well, the boy stopped in his tracks and did settle down somewhat. A bit later as the families exited the restaurant, the young boy skirted past me sheepishly. I gave him another glance & waved good-bye!

    Fortunately, we persevered because we had an outstanding meal and eventually, a relaxed evening! We enjoyed: a caprese salad, wedges of light pizza-like bread sprinkled with rosemary which were served between courses, tortellini with peas, bacon & cream sauce with cheese / tender flat pasta with the same sauce, apple strudel / chocolate & vanilla ice cream and a demi of white wine! The servers were attentive & personable! Even before we left, we were already planning to return here again!

    We went for a walk after dinner but kept the Pantheon in sight - wouldn't want to get lost on our first night in Rome!

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    Friday, May 27th

    It was quiet on Piazza Navona when we arrived. It was about 10:00am. We stood beside the Fontana del Moro and looked across the entire length of the piazza! It was amazing! We had a closer look at the beautiful Fontana dei Fiumi & Fonta del Nuttuno. Next, we popped into the Chiesa Sant'Agnese in Agone. What a gem!

    The morning temperature began to rise & the crowds began to build as we approached the Ponte Sant'Angelo. From the bridge, we could see the dome of St. Peter's Basilica. Vatican City was our next destination! We walked past Castel Sant'Angelo and along Via Della Concillazione which led us to St. Peter's Square. It was an impressive sight: the colonnade, St. Peter's Basilica & the obelisk at the centre of the square. We saw lines & lines of tour groups that seemed to go on forever. We were so glad we decided to arrange a private tour with Daniella Hunt (www.rome-tours.com) whom we were meeting later. We found refuge in the shade of Bernini's columns until it was time to find a restaurant for an early lunch.

    We had been warned to avoid restaurants on Borgo Pio! So, we were prepared & armed with the names of two restaurants in the vicinity of the Vatican: Ristorante Giapponese Konnichi Wa (www.konnichiwasrestaurant.net) & Mama Ristobistrot (www.mama-ristobistrot.net). Today our tastebuds were hankering for Japanese food! When we arrived at Konnichi Wa, we were surprised to find a somewhat up-scale restaurant & an extensive, varied menu. We had: wakame goma (similiar to gomae, a Japanese spinach salad), chirashi (rice bowl with beautifully arranged tuna & salmon sashimi), green tea/vanilla ice cream and Asahi Beer + bottled water. The food was unbelievably delicious! (And being from Vancouver, we are fussy about the quality of our fish!) It was pricy (€47) but it was also a nice change for us! Now, we were fed, rested & prepared to meet Daniella at 1:15pm for our tour of the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel & St. Peter's Basilica!


    Next: The tour and the rest of the day ...

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    Friday, May 27th continued ...

    Daniella gave us a peek into what could be a life-time of scholarly study in the art history of the Renaissance as it pertains to the works housed in the Vatican Museuems! Her lively, interactive approach was most engaging and she was FUN! We knew right from the beginning that we needed to pay attention because she was going to ask questions! Our responses & comments helped her tailor her 'lessons' to our interests.

    We began our tour of the Vatican Musuems in a shady corner of Cortile Della Pigna while Daniella set the stage with a brief history lesson of Pope Julius II. We made our way through the Museo Pio-Clemento. We stopped to examine the extraordinary Laocoon, the statue of Apollo and a marble torso left as a fragment to display.

    We walked through the Galleria dei Candelabri & Galleria Degli Arazzi. In the Galleria Della Carte Geografiche, we stopped to find places we had visited on an ancient wall map of Italy!

    The Sistine Chapel was next and it was here we spent a great deal of time. Even after all the books & texts we had read, we were not prepared for what we saw: the magnificently decorated walls, Michelangelo's ceiling & the Last Judgement. We were mesmerized! Once again, Daniella's instruction & stories gave meaning to what we were looking at! The spell of this place was broken periodically by calls out for silence! Poor guard whose job it was to keep the rising din of voices to a respectful level! At one point, Daniella nudged us to watch a priest slip through a door beside us into private administrative offices. We had a peek as he opened & quickly closed the door behind him!

    Outside in the shade of the Sistine Chapel, we took a short break. Daniella seemed to know these cool, quiet places to rest & to prepare for what we would be seeing next!

    St. Peter's Basilica was an assault to our eyes - the dimensions, the volume of space & the highly decorated baroque interior! The highlight for me was Michelangelo's Pieta set in a quiet corner on it own. It was breath-taking! We were surprised to learn that the entire basilica is decorated with stone & metal! Imagine, not a lick of paint has been used here! As we walked, we could hear beautiful singing from somewhere within the basilica.

    When we exited onto St. Peter's Square, the sun was lower in the sky and the crowds had dissipated. We ended our 4-hour tour in front of the obelisk. What a rich & memorable afternoon it was with Daniella!

    Surprisingly, we had the energy to walk back to the hotel although our feet were grateful for a rest before dinner!

    We went to Faciolaro (Via dei Pastini 123) not far from the Cesari. We sat at a table outside. There was a mix of diner, Italians & tourists enjoying their evening! We had: a caprese salad, roast lamb & potatoes / risotto with mushrooms, a 'cheesecake' torte and a demi of a Tuscan red wine. Our dinners were very good!

    The streets were busy with pedestrians tonight. It's the start of the weekend for many!

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    Saturday, May 28th

    With all the walking we did each day, we sure slept well at night! Sometimes, we even fit in a nap in the afternoon!

    Here's the route we took today:

    > First stop: Tourist Information Booth on Via del Corso to pick up our Roma & Piu Passes. We will activate them tomorrow at the Borghese Gallery.

    > Campo de'Fiori with its market stall of fresh produce, dried fruits, food products, house wares & clothes! Interesting to see the variety of tomatoes & beans that are available, some were not familiar. I stopped to look at the beautiful array of fresh-cut flowers, especially the peonies & the sunflowers - reminders of summer! We bumped into Daniella Hunt who was doing some shopping! We had a bit of a chat, just like old friends! Lovely!

    > We crossed over the Ponte Sisto to the Trastevere. Here, we navigated the narrow streets to the Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere; climbed uphill to the Cloister of San Pietro in Montorio (just closed - darn!), past the Fontana Paolo and followed the signs to Passeggiata del Giancolo. Our walk was shaded by tall umbrella pines which lined both sides of the street to the Piazzale Giuseppe Garibaldi. From the look-out, we saw spectacular sweeping views of Rome! It was fun trying to identify buildings & landmarks! And we would have to find out what that large bright white building was! Once we made our way down Gianicolo Hill, we stopped for lunch at a small restaurant just off Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere. Before crossing the Ponte Sisto, I bought some Italian home & garden magazines at a kiosk - a bit of inspiration & great souvenirs!

    > We back-tracked through Campo de'Fiori & Piazza Navona. We made our way to the Piazza de Montecitorio where a 6th C BC Egyptian obelisk stands and then over to the Piazza Colonna to see the column-shaped monument that honours Marcu Aurelius. It seemed that at every turn of a street corner there was a piece of history & a potential photo-op presenting itself to us!

    > Back at the Cesari for a nap!

    Tomasso, at the front desk tried to get dinner reservations for us at Abruzzi tonight but there was no answer at the restaurant. He recommended Taverna Antonina (www.tavernaantonina.it) and called ahead for us. We were seated at a table inside next to a set of french doors which opened to the patio. We were well-cared for tonight! We enjoyed: an antipasto plate, roast lamb with potatoes / grilled lamb chops + a side of grilled vegetables, panna cotta with strawberries / chocolate torte and a demi of the house red wine. Our dinners were superb! We were offered a digestivo which we declined but I was given a gift to take away with me - a copy of their 1939 menu with the prices in lire!

    It was another fine day in Rome!

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    I was surprised to hear that you were "warned to avoid restaurants on Borgo Pio". I had asked on this forum for recommendations about where to eat prior to our visit to the Vatican Museum, and was referred to Tre Pupazzi on Borgo Pio, where we ended up having a delightful lunch - delicious food, good service and decent prices.

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    TDudette: Yes, we just followed Daniella past all the line-ups! :) I'm not sure how we would have approached a self-guided tour or navigated the Vatican Museums on our own. The collection is so vast! It definitely warrants another visit, at least!

    hazel1: I'm so glad you were able to find a restaurant you liked for lunch prior to your Vatican visit! There are lots of restaurants in the area but most opened at 12:30. That did not allow us enough time to eat & then meet our guide @ 1:15. That was our challenge! I think the 'warnings' referred to places on Borgo Pio where the service & food may be inconsistent & pricy. You were lucky! Thanks for sharing the name of a good lunch spot!

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    Sunday, May 29th

    It was a quick cab ride to the Borghese Gardens and just a short walk to the Borghese Gallery. We arrived ahead of our 11:00am reservation but that gave us time to get our entry tickets (with our Roma Passes) and to check in my purse.

    We could identify those people who had read Rick Steves' Rome guide book in which he recommended going directly to the Pinacoteca (Painting Gallery) on the first floor and then move to the main hall & rooms on the ground floor! Yes, there were a few of us trying to find the stairs to go up! By the time, DH & I were ready to see the statues, paintings & other works of art downstairs, we were crossing paths with the guided tours! It was good advice!

    It is an impressive collection of ancient, Renaissance and neo-classical art. What was remarkable was seeing the art in the very rooms they were created for! It look us about 90 minutes of our 2-hour time slot to complete the tour of the Borghese Gallery.

    We walked into the park and joined the Italian families & tourists who were enjoying a leisurely Sunday afternoon! Many were walking while others cycled or enjoyed a picnic in the shade of the trees. Folks sat on benches reading newspapers. What a lovely place to be!

    We decided to have lunch at La Casina dell'Orologia (dal 1922). It was in a lovely setting in the park and it should have been a pleasant experience! There was an extensive menu posted but we found out once we were seated, they had very limited offerings that day. Evidently, there was a 'problem in the kitchen'. Of the many pizzas & salads listed, they only had one pathetic Margherita pizza and one very uninteresting salad of rocket, shrimp & corn served with packets of olive oil & vinegar. It turned out to be cafeteria food at restaurant prices (€37.50, with drinks). Then, we had to stand outside in a long, slow line-up for the restaurant/bar's one toilet that had an attendent! So, not only did we have to pay for a poor meal, we also had to pay for the privilege to pee! UNBELIEVABLE!

    We were happy to be on the path to Il Pincio. From the terrace above the Piazza del Popolo, we stopped to look at the amazing view of Rome!

    From the Piazza del Popolo, we followed the signs & the crowds to the Spanish Steps. We learned that the Sicilian soccer team was scheduled to play the Inter-Milan team for the Italian championship today in Rome! Supporters of the Palermo soccer team wearing pink t-shirts & waving large flags had converged on the square & on the famous steps! Cheers & chants filled the air! We would return to the Spanish Steps another day when it was not so busy!

    Our last stop: Chiesa di Sant'Ignazio. This is the church we saw from the roof top terrace at breakfast. There was a surprise waiting for us beyond the church's front doors! Inside, there was a beautiful frescoed ceiling, main altar and side chapels!

    We had another wonderful dinner at La Sagrestia! We received a warm welcome back & attentive service! We enjoyed a fabulous hot appetizer of articholes with potatoes & beans, a great veal piccata with lemon & butter / the BEST EVER spaghetti carbonara, a demi of Chianti Classico & we were brought glasses of chilled sherry! It was a SUPERB meal!!!

    We had our espresso & limoncello on the rooftop terrace at the Cesari! What a lovely way to end the evening!

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    Monday, May 30th

    Since our arrival last Thursday, we've seen how cars, trucks, motorcycles and pedestrians co-exist on the streets of Rome. It's interesting, eye-opening & maybe just a little bit terrifying! Yes, as pedestrians, we would have to pay attention here! We felt most confident crossing the street beside an elderly person or in the wake of a mother pushing a baby buggy. No one would dare hit them, right? We also learned that one does not hesitate. Once you've made the commitment to go across, you GO!

    There was a transit strike today and the hotel arranged for a taxi to pick us up. Our driver took us down busy Via del Corso & around Piazza Venezia where the traffic seemed to converge from all sides! Straight ahead, there stood the unmistakable white building we saw from Piazzale G. Garibaldi - the monument to King Victor Emmanuel II! We moved cross-country slipping unscathed behind, in front of & between cars onto Via de Fori Imperiale! There were preparations being made for the celebration of the Italian Republic on June 2nd, a national holiday. The traffic was slow & bumper-to-bumper all the way to the Colosseum!

    We were glad to be at the Colosseum on the early side - fewer people, not as hot. Nevertheless, having the Roma Pass sent us to a short line and through the turnstile quickly. We walked around the arena level & the upper level constantly looking out, down & up. It was pretty amazing! Eventually, the place started to fill up & heat up! Time to make our exit!

    We walked by the Acro di Constantino on our way to the Palentine Hill. Not sure what I was seeing as we crossed the Roman Forum other than the remnants of temples, crumbling walls & rubble. But the walk-through was enough for us today!

    The momentum of going downhill carried us all the way to Campo di Fiori! We stopped here for lunch - great pizza + mixed salad! I picked up a turquoise linen scarf at a market stall on our way through.

    While many shops were closed for the afternoon, we headed back to the hotel for a cool shower & a rest. It was the perfect thing to do!

    Later, we went to visit the Church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva and the curious baroque elephant with an obelisk on its back that stands on Piazza della Minerva! The interior of the church is stunning - cobalt blue & gilt with a series of round stain-glass windows high up along the walls.

    Next, we were on a quest for a packing tube for my Taverna Antonina menu. We went into a 180 year old art supply store called Ditta G. Poggi (Via del Gesu, 74-75). It was a fantastic shop but it did not carry a suitable tube. The UPS office was sold out but we were directed to Cartilia on Corso Vittorio Emanuele II. Success! It too was an interesting store (posters, pictures, journals, albums ...) but DH was anxious to get to our next church!

    When the Gesu church was first built (1568), the walls were white & the decor was plain. Later, the church became crusted with baroque decoration! We must be getting saturated by churches. We were in & out of this one rather quickly!

    The atmosphere was friendly & authentic at La Cave di S. Ignazio da Sabatino (www.dasabatino.it) on Piazza S. Ignazio. We enjoyed: a small plate of tomato bruschetta & rice with cheese balls (complimentary), caprese salad, spaghetti puttanesca / saltimbocca (which the server recommended over the curry chicken DH originally ordered! Good call! DH said it was excellent!), Roman cookies (like small pancakes with chocolate, also complimentary) and a demi of Montepulciano Nobile. Everything was delicious! As it sometimes happened, we began to chat with the couple seated next to us. The conversation was light-hearted & fun! It was an enjoyable evening!

    We were off to find out whether Abruzzi (Via del Vaccaro, 2/P. SS Apostoli) was open for business or not. It was! :) So, Tomasso kindly called to make resvervations for us for tomorrow night.

    Only two more days and dinners in Rome!

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    Tuesday, May 31st

    Today we had planned a trip to Tivoli to see the gardens at Villa D'Este. The thought of a long bus ride did not appeal to us, so we decided not to go! We wouldn't get full use out of our Roma & Piu Passes which would have given us a discount on the entrance fee to Villa D'Este. Also, we did not use the transit card at all! On the other hand, having the pass put us in the short queue at the Colosseum and it came with a decent map. So, regardless, it was worthwhile for us to buy the pass ... maybe!

    Our approach to the Spanish Steps was less crowded than it was on Sunday - more 'suits', fewer tourists & sports fans! We hadn't noticed there was a fountain, Fontana della Baraccia at the bottom of the steps - too many pink-shirted soccer fans covered the square that afternoon! We climbed to the top of the stairs & looked back down Via Condotti. Being here conjured up scenes of the movie Roman Holiday! Is that why I suddenly had an urge to sit on the steps & eat gelato?

    We wanted to do some gift shopping but somehow Modigliani at Via Condotti, 24 (www.modigliani.it) eluded us! How did we miss it? Instead, we went to c.u.c.i.n.a. (come una cucina inspira nuovi appetiti) at Via Mario de'Fiori, 65 (www.cucinastore.com). What a fantastic kitchen shop! Here, we bought 2 c.u.c.i.n.a. aprons, a chef's hat & a shopping list (in Italian) for friends who were looking after our dog while we were away! Perfetto!

    We discovered Fincato - La Casa Habano (www.fincatolascasadelhabano.com), a tobacco shop in the vicinity of our hotel! It's a handsome wood-paneled shop with a cigar lounge upstairs. DH bought a tamper/cutter combination, an accessory for his Florence pipe!

    After taking our purchases back to the hotel, we went to the Galleria Doria Pamphilj (www.doriapamphiji.it). The entrance fee was €10.50 per person and included an audio guide. In hindsight, the audio guide would have enhanced our experience but instead, we elected to go through without one. It is considered to be one of Rome's richest private art collection and it's well worth a visit. Personally, I was over-stimulated by the arrangement of paintings hung from floor to ceiling in highly decorated rooms but that's me!

    We returned to L'Arcano on Via dei Pastini/Via delle Paste, 102 for a pasta lunch. We stopped again at the Pantheon to stare at the amazing domed ceiling! We took a circuitous route back to the hotel only to discover that our room had not been made up! So, I took that as a 'sign' to go to Antica Murrina (Via della Guglia, 69), a shop that sells Murano glass jewelry! (It's en route to the Pantheon & each time we passed by, I would slow down for a peek! ;)) One final purchase: a pendant with turquoise leaf-shaped glass & silver pieces on a silver chain and its matching earrings!

    At last, we had dinner at Abruzzi (Via del Vaccaro, 2/P. SS Apostoli - closed Saturday)! It was casual & homey and served good food! We had: an antipasto plate (self-serve antipasti buffet inside - wonderful selection!), roast lamb with potatoes / sablefish drizzled with olive oil & lemon + a side dish of spinach, vanilla & chocolate ice cream, a demi of Montepulciano Nobile & at the end, bottles of Sambua & Amaro were set on the table! When we finished our espresso, there was a total of 8 empty beverage glasses + cups on our tiny table! What can I say ... it was another great meal!

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    Wednesday, June 1st

    There's no need to go to the gym in Rome with its seven hills - just put on your sturdy walking shoes & go out the door! We think in Rome, our energy expended finally exceeded the calories consumed! :) Today, we found ourselves walking in the vicinity of the Colosseum again!

    Evidently, the locals revile the Monumento a Vittorio Emmanuele II, the 100 year old monument to the first king of united Italy! It's referred to as an over-the-top neo-classical 'typewriter'! We saw this huge white structure from different viewpoints around Rome so we had to come for a closer look! As we climbed the front steps of the monument, we were aware of the stark white marble that surrounded us & how it contrasted the warm tones of the city. We understood the revulsion. From here, we watched the traffic move around the Piazza Venezia - more entertaining from up here than being in the midst of the chaos!

    Around the side of the monument, we found a long set of stairs going up! At the top stood the Basilica de Santa Maria in Aracoeli. The organ music we heard as we stood at the door drew us in! Then, from the large terrace, we could see more sweeping views of Rome - for once, minus the 'typewriter'!

    Preparation for tomorrow's celebration continued: construction, clean up, police presence & military planes flying overhead. We had to circumnavigate the grandstands & sidewalk closures as we made our way to Via Cavour.

    Somehow, we found the narrow steps that took us up to the Basilica di San Pietro in Vincoli (St Peter in Chains) on Piazza di San Pietro in Vincoli. We were here to see Michelangelo's Moses which was originally intended as part of a 40-statue funeral monument for Pope Julius II and the reliquary that contains the chains of St Peter. I was unbelievable moved by both! DH waited outside on the covered porch of the church while I spent a bit more time inside!

    The sky looked ominous as we headed back towards the Pantheon. We decided to go to Piazza Navona for lunch & we chose a restaurant with good coverage over outdoor tables! DH had gnocchi with gorgonzola - delicious, creamy & rich! I had gnocchi with tomato sauce & fresh basil - delicious & fresh tasting!

    Well, the rain did not materialize! So, we took a little walk through the neighbourhood of Campo di'Fiori before returning to the hotel.

    Reservations at the Taverna Antonina assured us of a table on the patio. It was our last dinner in Rome and in fact, of our holiday! We enjoyed: an antipasto plate, mixed grill of chicken, lamb, beef & sausage with chikory / spaghetti vongole, ice cream with mixed berries: blueberries, raspberries, teen-tiny strawberries + red currants and a demi of the house red wine. The dessert was beautifully presented and without a doubt, it was the BEST dessert ever! It certainly confirmed the adage we tried to follow throughout Italy: Eat dessert. Life is incertain. (Anon)

    The evening was cooler but still very pleasant for our stroll past the Pantheon and across the Piazza di Pietra to our hotel!

    Our last set of stairs for the day was up to our 4th floor room. The elevator was occupied by wedding guests making their way to the roof top terrace for a reception ... with music ... just above our bedroom! Oh, well! Tomorrow's a travel day!


    Next: The final installment ...

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    We think in Rome, our energy expended finally exceeded the calories consumed!

    Oh, come on now, you can do better than that--simply need to devote more time to eating.

    I have really been enjoying your report. Thank you!

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    Thursday, June 2nd: Italian National Holiday/Travel Day - We're going home!

    The airport shuttle service we had arranged through the hotel was waiting for us when we came down to reception at 06:30 to check out. We allowed ourselves extra time because of street closures for today's celebrations in Rome. We did take a roundabout route out of the city but the morning traffic was light. The drive to the airport was quite pleasant!

    The Lufthansa employees were jovial, talking excitedly about holiday plans after their shifts today! Good for them! We checked in & found a snack bar where we got 2 panini, 2 cappuccino + 1 caffe americano. Ooops! But it turned out that the extra cup of coffee was welcomed this morning!

    Our flight was late leaving Rome but we made our connection at Frankfurt airport despite crazy line-ups to go through a passport check! The second leg to Vancouver was long but uneventful.

    We completed our Canadian declaration for all our purchases based on the running total I kept in my little notebook. Of course, we had no receipts! No worries - the customs officer was not at all interested in our shopping successes! We came out of the terminal and into the same cool, gray drizzle we had left 4 weeks ago. Welcome home!

    When we arrived home, we could see from the state of our garden that the weather hadn't changed much while we were away. The plants had suffered from exposure to cool, wet days and lack of sunshine. There were only two things that thrived in the garden: the weeds & the moss! Oh, dear! But that also meant we would be home to enjoy our own floral show once the sun made an appearance! Now that was something to look forward to!

    Despite the light rain, DH's priority was to get the backyard lawn cut in preparation for our dog's arrival home later this afternoon. Actually, we were also taking delivery of our friend's dog. They were leaving on a business trip tonight. So, even this portion of our trip had been well planned!

    We had Szechuan Chinese food delivered tonight! It was deliciously wonderful!

    I climbed into bed first & the dogs decided to join me! DH thought he would stay up a little while longer. About two hours later, he woke up on the couch with the TV blaring and when he came to the bedroom, he found the three of us sleeping soundly! Hope our snoring didn't keep him awake!


    "No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old familiar pillow."
    - Lin Yu Tang

  • Report Abuse

    Thursday, June 2nd: Italian National Holiday/Travel Day - We're going home!

    The airport shuttle service we had arranged through the hotel was waiting for us when we came down to reception at 06:30 to check out. We allowed ourselves extra time because of street closures for today's celebrations in Rome. We did take a roundabout route out of the city but the morning traffic was light. The drive to the airport was quite pleasant!

    The Lufthansa employees were jovial, talking excitedly about holiday plans after their shifts today! Good for them! We checked in & found a snack bar where we got 2 panini, 2 cappuccino + 1 caffe americano. Ooops! But it turned out that the extra cup of coffee was welcomed this morning!

    Our flight was late leaving Rome but we made our connection at Frankfurt airport despite crazy line-ups to go through a passport check! The second leg to Vancouver was long but uneventful.

    We completed our Canadian declaration for all our purchases based on the running total I kept in my little notebook. Of course, we had no receipts! No worries - the customs officer was not at all interested in our shopping successes! We came out of the terminal and into the same cool, gray drizzle we had left 4 weeks ago. Welcome home!

    When we arrived home, we could see from the state of our garden that the weather hadn't changed much while we were away. The plants had suffered from exposure to cool, wet days and lack of sunshine. There were only two things that thrived in the garden: the weeds & the moss! Oh, dear! But that also meant we would be home to enjoy our own floral show once the sun made an appearance! Now that was something to look forward to!

    Despite the light rain, DH's priority was to get the backyard lawn cut in preparation for our dog's arrival home later this afternoon. Actually, we were also taking delivery of our friend's dog. They were leaving on a business trip tonight. So, even this portion of our trip had been well planned!

    We had Szechuan Chinese food delivered tonight! It was deliciously wonderful!

    I climbed into bed first & the dogs decided to join me! DH thought he would stay up a little while longer. About two hours later, he woke up on the couch with the TV blaring and when he came to the bedroom, he found the three of us sleeping soundly! Hope our snoring didn't keep him awake!


    "No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old familiar pillow."
    - Lin Yu Tang

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    Thanks so much for this review! My fiance and I are traveling to Italy for 12 days in September for our honeymoon, and we're staying at Tourist House Ghiberti in Florence. I know you arrived there from the airport, but would you recommend taking a taxi from the train station? It doesn't seem very far, but I'm not sure I want to drag my luggage all that way. Any other advice or suggestions you can offer about TH Ghiberti or the surrounding area would be greatly appreciated!

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    Hi! erries:

    First, congratulations! September is a wonderful time to be honeymooning in Italy!

    I would recommend that you take a cab to the T/H Ghiberti from the the train station. You are correct, it's not that far but with luggage, it's the simplest way!

    When you arrive at the T/H/G, you will see a buzzer at the front entrance - ring it & someone at reception will buzz you in. There is a small elevator that will take you up to the 1st floor or you can walk up the stairs. Remember, you are entering a historic building - don't be put off when you first go in! The T/H/G really is lovely! I hope you enjoy your stay!

    You will be just one street over from the Duomo. I remember during our first trip to Florence, we always looked for the church dome. When we saw it, we knew which way was home!

    If you click on my name, you can read the Florence portion of my trip report A Trip to Northern Italy: Sept 14 - Oct 5, 2009.

    Have a wonderful trip!

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    Hi! Cindy:

    Glad you've found this trip report informative!

    Have a wonderful trip in October! You'll be visiting some of my favourite places!

    I will be interested to know what Italy is like in October - the weather, crowds, scenery!

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    Thanks so much for this report. It was wonderful.
    And I'm also staying -- also on my honeymoon, also in September -- at THG, so thanks very much for the directions.

    erries -- what dates will you be there? We'll be there Sept. 3 to 8. Maybe we'll bump into you?

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    Great report! Thanks for sharing!

    I got fat just reading your TR - maybe you didn't put on any weight, but I sure did! :)

    Many, many moons ago when I was in Rome, the locals called the white monstrosity: "The Wedding Cake". Good to know they still scorn it.

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    Hi! hikrchich:

    Congratulations to you, too!

    Just one more 'tidbit' since you are staying at the THG ... If there's a restaurant you really want to go to, ask Claudio, the owner to call ahead for you. This way, you avoid being disappointed by arriving at a restaurant & the place is full. With the exception of our first night, we had dinner reservations for the other evenings!

    Have a great trip!

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