A Walk Across Italy: Pisa to Ravenna

Nov 15th, 2008, 07:59 AM
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A Walk Across Italy: Pisa to Ravenna

Walking Across Italy: Pisa to Ravenna

Oh how I hate to write trip reports. Why oh why do I record everything and with best intentions set off on the trip only to come home and procrastinate for months. This time, it’s only last month that we arrived home. Not too long but still, I didn’t starting writing that week, or the next, or the next. We left home on October 5th and came back on the 22nd and here it is November 15th and I can put it off no longer.

Our flights out of Boston were a little whacko due to booking them 10 months if advance to get the best options out of our FF miles. A free ticket is a happy ticket. We flew into Pisa and out of Venice so that we wouldn’t have to train back to our starting point, wasting time and money. I couldn’t believe this was possible with FF miles but after a phone call to Delta I was told that this was indeed possible for the same 50,000 miles per ticket, as long as we flew into an out of cities within the same country. Hooray for us! However our ticket involved leaving from Boston, flying to LGA, transferring by cab or bus to JFK and then to Pisa. Coming home it would be PSA to JFK to BOS, not as bad. The cost for both of us was 3K plus if we had bought the tickets out of pocket! Cost with FF miles (only accrued by using my Delta Sky Miles Amex Platinum – not from actual flying) was only about 150. for both of us and of course the yearly card fee of 135. I’ll take it! To us it’s well worth the money spent in the miles that we earn with the DSM/Platinum. Enough said about such mundane but important matters nevertheless.

So, the day arrived but I hadn’t been able to get our boarding passes online. Not freaked out but wondering why, we arrived at Logan early and I searched for a Delta podium that was staffed. I walked up and asked the staff member about the boarding pass since what I had printed out had no bar code. I mentioned that we had to fly to LaGuardia and then transfer probably by cab to Kennedy. She look at my printout and then said “Oh, I can do better than that.” And promptly changed our tickets to fly directly to Kennedy. Little things have been happening like that ever since we changed from the DSM Gold to the Platinum. Now they ASK us where we’d like to sit. So nice. This year we had row 18 both ways in the Economy Plus area of the plane. It’s still the cattle car but since I don’t want to use those precious miles to upgrade, my 6’1” husband will just have to grin and bear it and economy plus does give you a tad extra room. So, we saved the cabfare (didn’t want to chance the bus – takes longer) of around $35. and also, on the commuter train from our town to Boston, the conductor never came around to collect the $15 that we owed the T. Paul thinks it was because of the playoffs at Fenway that allowed us the free ride – I dunno but we took the freebie happily.

We arrived without fanfare in Pisa after the usual groggy redeye and proceeded out of the terminal and started our short walk to the hotel. Never in my life have I ever walked out of an airport and straight to the hotel in less than two miles! It’s a wonder the aircraft doesn’t clip the top of the leaning tower on the way to landing. It’s that close – check your google earth. Amazing. As we walked we noticed one thing above all else – the dust. Everything but everything had a layer of dust and dirt. We later found out that it hadn’t rained much more than a drizzle for three months. Ah Italy. Now Italy isn’t exactly what anyone would call a rainforest but this is October and it’s still dryer than dust, EXCEPT for today, as the skies looked to be threatening rain. We arrive at the Royal Hotel Victoria on the Arno (I had printed out the mapquest map at home from the terminal to the hotel) in less than a half hour and sure enough, they had our reservation. This is generally the only time we make a reservation for lodging as we like to have somewhere to go after we land. Other than that it’s usually “No Reservations” and that’s the way we like it, so that we’re free to walk as little or as much as we care in a single day and just end up at a b&b somewhere; always a bit of an adventure. The Royal Victoria was great with a huge room, wonderful staircases – I love stairs – and a breakfast buffet to beat the band, as we would find out the next morning.

After ditching our major league backpacks (purchased a few months ago specifically for hiking and a thousand times better than the old ones), I take my little day pack, stow it with our passports and other important papers and off we go to find the bus to take us out to Marina di Pisa to take a look at the Mediterranean and dunk the soles of our boots in, pick up and pocket a pebble to carry to the Adriatic, and begin the real part of the “walk”. The bus stop for busses heading out of Pisa was only about a half mile from the hotel, the fare was nominal and the ride was less than interesting. We watch for landmarks and signs because I wanted to stop a bit before the town of Marina di Pisa and thus have less miles to walk back to the hotel. We hit the stop cord at just the right moment and hopped off. It’s raining. Sure, it doesn’t rain for three months until we arrive to walk across the country. Right. Got it. Unperturbed we head for the nearest bit of sea which is another little walk of maybe 300 yards, scramble down the rocks and with our own little fanfare, dip our boots in the water. I wasn’t watching and a wave rose up and covered my boot. Oh heck. But Paul had rubbed the mink oil in so well at home that the water just beaded up and rolled off. The man knows how to take care of boots – he was a telephone lineman for 20 years before going into the engineering sector.

We each choose a small stone to take with us and off we go, back to the hotel by foot, the only way to travel! At home, I had figured it would be 8 miles from Marina di Pisa to the Royal Victoria but now I was hoping for just 7. Of course we hadn’t slept on the plane much more than an hour and we were both pretty zonked, but walking doesn’t take that much out of you (at least it doesn’t for us) and it certainly doesn’t require much attention when all one needs to do (today) is follow the Arno. No problem. However, it wasn’t raining when we left the hotel so we didn’t bring our rain jackets or baseball caps. My Covidien Red Sox cap (I work for Covidien, a global healthcare company, the BEST company) was still buried in my backpack as was Paul’s. Ah well, nothing to be done about it now. To say that the walk back was uneventful is probably the understatement of the year. It was flat and, well, trashy. We couldn’t believe the amount of trash by the side of the road. Water bottles, cigarette packets, used syringes, nasty used “personal” items, more cigarette packets, more bottles. Wow. It kind of looked like Route 1 in the 1950’s. On the way to school back then (in the 50’s – I’m 58), we used to play Lucky Strike. Whoever could run ahead and stomp on the most Lucky Strike packets on the way to school, won. I don’t know what we won but it passed the time I guess. My father died at age 56 from lung cancer – two packs of Luckies a day did the trick. Now we’re here at the western edge of Tuscany and there are Lucky Strike packets enough to wallpaper an entire home. Go figure.

Anyway, we got back to the Hotel Royal Victoria after walking 7.2 miles and decide to hit the hay. It is 3:15 and it took 2 hours and 40 minutes so apparently I wasn’t up to speed just yet! We are zonked and brush our teeth, crash into bed and sleep – glorious sleep. We can get a pizza later – much later.
lizcakes is offline  
Nov 15th, 2008, 09:03 AM
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Interesting start. Although I spend a lot of my time in Italy walking, I have never actually done a walking tour, so I look forward to the next installment with some interest.
willit is online now  
Nov 15th, 2008, 09:10 AM
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Hi Liz! I've been waiting for this report; so glad you've started it. So you brought rain to Tuscany - I'm sure it was welcome!

I'm curious about your backpacks - what brand, etc. What makes them "major league?"
adrienne is offline  
Nov 15th, 2008, 02:06 PM
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I am exciting to read your next post--please keep enthused and keep it coming!
ellenem is offline  
Nov 15th, 2008, 03:39 PM
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Topping for Liz!
adrienne is offline  
Nov 15th, 2008, 04:23 PM
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What a fun beginning! Looking forward to more . . .
LCBoniti is offline  
Nov 15th, 2008, 04:27 PM
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Well I love to walk but I couldn't walk as much as you two do lizcakes, as least I don't think I could.

I absolutely love the beginning of your trip report and can hardly wait for the next installment!
LoveItaly is offline  
Nov 15th, 2008, 04:35 PM
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Wow, that's a lot of walking while you're jet-lagged! Looking forward to more of your report.
Samsaf is offline  
Nov 15th, 2008, 04:41 PM
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By the way, we stayed at the Hotel Royal Victoria - we loved it. Didn't get the breakfast, though, since we had to catch a plane. But the receptionist made us coffee and served us cookies before we left (at 5am).

However, we heard a very loud, angry conversation outside our room in the middle of the night - which was not heard by anyone else staying on that floor. My sister swears the place is haunted . . .
LCBoniti is offline  
Nov 15th, 2008, 06:26 PM
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Lizcakes, I've been looking forward to this since your walk across part of France. I am sure you and Paul will be entertaining us for the next few weeks with your trip report and photos. Keep it coming!
Coquelicot is offline  
Nov 16th, 2008, 05:06 AM
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Hi Liz,

I love instant gratification.

I just finished reading your France walk and wondered if you were back from Italy and I'd be seeing this report any time soon.

I mentioned I had spent time in Ravenna and so look forward to "talking" with you about your impressions!

Thanks for sharing.

gruezi is offline  
Nov 16th, 2008, 05:49 AM
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This is a long walk! Can't wait to read more.

We have stayed two times at the Royal Vic-the term "old world charm" applies to it and the staff, eh?
TDudette is offline  
Nov 16th, 2008, 10:39 AM
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Adrienne: We had almost regular school-type backpacks and thought they were good enough the last two years, until we saw a couple of 20 year olds with the "real" hiking backpacks on a metro coming from CDG. We both said: THAT'S what we need! A longer, skinnier backpack specifically made for hiking.

So off we went to REI this past winter. LOVE REI!!! and a salesman there helped to fit us. Correction: he FIT us - knew all the right things to look for on each of us. Paul got the "big guns" and I got a quite different shorter version. But then Paul is 6'1" and I'm 5'1". They are HEAVEN. Paul has a Gregory Z55 and I have Gregory Z22. None better as far as we're concerned. I have no idea how much each one cost. Really. We just went, tried on and tried on, filled them with the bag-weights that REI provides. Walked around in them and bought them, along with silk sock liners, hiking socks (NON-COTTON!! cotton kills you feet I now know, at least for hiking), special blister bandaids, etc etc. We spent maybe $300-$400. WELL WORTH IT.

These packs have a light frame that criss-crosses in the back and holds the pack away from one's back - allowing for air to circulate. Plus they're l-o-n-g-e-r than a normal backpack and distribute the weight so that it feels like nothing along with a mesh that sits against your back giving it stability and breathing comfort. Golden. I kissed mine several times on the walk. ; ) That is, when I wasn't kissing my boots. Ah, love my boots. I would keep those babies on all day, go out to eat with them on and would've slept in them if Paul hadn't give me one of those side-long looks: "Now Liz..." I kissed my boots a lot.

TDudette: Yeah, love the Royal Victoria, just shabby enough to make you comfortable but enough old charm to dazzle just a bit. But boy, again, how dusty was that entryway?? Pisa was so dirty and dusty, but architecturally glorious!

Samsaf: No, NOT walking when you're jeglagged is worse! We did that both in the Cotswolds and in Paris and said we'd never waste that much precious time again. Because you can't sleep the moment you arrive anyway. At least we can't. The two or three hour walk is a great way to get ready for a nap! No problem whatsoever. And I'm OLD, LOL!

Loveitaly: Nah, you could do it. Remember it's just one step at a time as slowly as you want. There's no one there pushing you. You just stop whenever you feel like it and go when you're ready. That's also the reason we would NEVER, on a bet, EVER, do a tour, in any way, shape or form. What a total waste of time. I know, I really shouldn't hold back. I should tell you how I really feel, right?
lizcakes is offline  
Nov 16th, 2008, 10:49 AM
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I'm also looking forward to more. One of the reasons I live on a staircase in Italy is just so I don't have to walk on roads that I have to share with buses, trucks, motorcycles, farm vehicles, very elderly people, parents pushing strollers, etc. There are almost never any sidewalks in Italy, or even shoulders to the roads -- so I can't imagine walking from Pisa to Ravenna. The gas fumes alone would do me in, and I'd be a nervous wreck from the traffic zooming past my elbows.

And yep -- lots of trash on the truck routes.

So I'm wondering how the rest of this story goes! There are lots of beautiful towns coming up I hope!

zeppole is offline  
Nov 16th, 2008, 12:56 PM
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The Good, the Bad, and the Pizza Pizza Pizza.

So, we woke up at around 6 pm from a 3 hour nap and felt hungry, so what else is new?? Down we go to the front desk and ask for a recommendation for a pizza place as we’ve got to have pizza in Pisa. How could we not? We’re not adequately dressed for anything much better and never will be on a hike, so it’s off to pizza we go. Since the HRV is right on the Arno and we’ve just crossed the “middle bridge” (mezzo ponte? – can’t remember, it’s over a month!) to get there, we follow the desk clerk’s directions right back over the bridge and look for the street but alas that particular restaurant is closed on Mondays. Rats. Search search search for another one and finally plonk ourselves down at an outdoor table (the rain had stopped) at a restaurant next to another couple. Paul orders a pizza and I order spaghetti. Our waitress replies “No. No spaghetti.” Rats. Paul thought this was an absolute hoot. In Italy and NO SPAGHETTI??? He would use this line several times in the next 18 days. I instead order the lasagna and we also get an insalata mista each, Paul gets a Castello birra and I a quarto of casa rosso. Paul’s pizza was heaven. Dontcha just love that thin crispy crust drizzled with olive oil? We can get it here in Boston’s north end but rarely in other places. My lasagna, I kid you not, tasted like they had just taken it out of it’s little plastic tray, thawed it and zapped it in the microwave. Now, that may not have been the case and I really had no way of knowing, but that’s sure what it tasted like. Should have ordered the pizza! Woulda coulda shoulda. Que sera sera. No big deal, it made our tummies happy enough, we had coffee to finish and off we went back over the bridge to see the leaning tower.

Pisa is so walkable! Nothing is that far away and I kind of wish that we could have stayed longer, dust or not. I liked the city. The architecture was interesting and so far, the people had been welcoming. No problem! Twilight was turning to darkness as we approached the campanile and even though I (and everyone else) have seen approximately four trillion pictures of the tower, it really is quite impressive in real life. None of my photos came out – it was getting that dark – but I don’t really think I need MY photo to remember the leaning tower. I also knew that unless we came back early in the morning and were the first in the queue for tickets, we would never be able to climb the thing. Oh well, can’t do it all. The masses of trinket sellers was quite impressive! It rather looked like the approach to the Eiffel Tower I thought. Different men, different trinkets, same objective: lure those tourists. Still, honest work and I suppose there are a lot of takers, I’m just not one of them.

So, away we go back to the HRV. When I get the photos up on the Shutterfly website (thanks again Adrienne), you’ll see the dozen photos I took of this place. It was an absolute joy to look in all the nooks and crannies with each floor being a tad different. Loved it. But touring the hotel wasn’t high on our list at that point and the jet lag was really starting to grate on us. By 9:24 we were DONE, showered, clicked the TV on for a moment or two and then settled down in a VERY comfortable, crispy-sheeted, king-sized bed. I think France ships all their hotel space to Italy – we could have danced in this room. Night night!

We wake early and start our yearly walking regimen of repacking our backpacks and then head down to the dining room which is on the second floor. I really don’t know what to expect because I had read that it was a “fabulous” buffet on TripAdvisor and a “terrible” buffet. We walk in, and it’s a food Shangri-la, I kid you not. There is everything but everything there. I like to start with Muesli and so I do and whole milk (!). I live on skim milk except on vacation and it tastes like cream and I feel like a calorie bandit! Yeah baby. Whole milk on my muesli – it doesn’t take much to make me happy. I do miss the plain good old croissants that we got in France – the cornetta with the powdered sugar isn’t quite the same and I know Paul hates it, still, when in Rome… We have fruit and glorious cappucini and there are cold cuts and bread (for the Germans and the Dutch?) but we leave that alone. Ah, the coffee – heaven! Back up to the room and pick up the packs and so out to our first full day of walking. Oh, yesterday we did a total of 13.24 miles what with walking from the airport to the hotel, walking back to the bus station area, Marina di Pisa and back to town, out to dinner and over to the Leaning Tower and back to the hotel. A respectable 13.24.

We head out with map in hand and camera in pocket, east northeast, knowing that we must keep to the top of the Arno “loops” lest we keep following roads that follow the Arno – we DON’T want to do that. Our objective for the day is Vicopisano where I have a couple of b&bs listed and it looks to be an easy 11 miles. This year, instead of writing the b&b addresses and phone numbers on my maps, I just entered them all into Word and printed that out. I cannot lose this list or we’re up the creek without a paddle, because our “route” (what there is of it) depends solely on what I have listed for lodging. We don’t just walk willy-nilly, rather we walk with a b&b “area” in mind. If there is only one b&b listed for a 20 mile stretch, we make sure that there is “room at the inn” by phoning them first, however we don’t have a phone yet or rather, we don’t have a SIM card for our phone and we’ve got to get one before too long. Vicopisano however has at least two b&bs plus hotels, so we’re safe-ish. It’s also October and a bit out of tourist season, at least for areas outside of the major cities. There should be room somewhere.

It’s not as easy finding one’s way out of a city as you would think. Signs are not the same as in the U.S. – we learned that years ago in France and it appears to be much the same in Italy. This wasn’t out first foray into Italy as we came here in 2005 for our 30th anniversary and rented an apartment for a week in Todi, Umbria and also (horrors) rented a car for the week. Boy, that was the “old” days, lolol!! Now we’re “a piedi” and our map isn’t a 1:25,000 which would show each and every road – with ease – but rather it’s a 1:50,000 so following it is more of a challenge. So we use the compass rather a lot and keep heading east east east, taking care as I said not to lose track and walk south down to the Arno. We walk for what seems like hours and at times we can climb up onto sort of a walking ridge next to the road and thus escape any traffic, but up on these ridges, there are black flies to beat the band!

We walk into clouds of the foolish things and they change to sort of white flies after awhile – but they are absolutely everywhere and then the traffic doesn’t seem like such a bad thing after all. But there are some good things – fig trees! We keep passing fig trees! They are ubiquitous. There are so many figs that the homeowners must have to pay men to truck them away. No problem. I pick one up from the ground and break it open with my fingernails, so sweet, SO Nabisco! I will never ever eat a fig Newton again without thinking of this particular walk. It puts spring into my step and carbohydrates into my bloodstream. We also pass pomegranate trees but they are on someone’s property and we leave them – sadly. We take a wrong turn or two (it’s SO easy), get back on track with the compass and find ourselves after 3 hours only seeing a sign for Campo. Sigh. I thought we were so much further. We walk on and spot a Carrefour supermarket and decide to buy a knife as they always come in handy for lunch breaks along the trail. (A coltello – we add to our list of Italian words.) We buy one and are ready to pay just about the total national debt as there was no price on it, only to find that the foolish thing cost 49 cents. We win.

We spy a great blue heron (just like home!), and zillions of lizards skittering away from us on our path (not like home but I love them!). It’s warm for hiking but we don’t mind because it’s not raining and we’re getting tan to boot. Of course since we’re walking almost completely west to east we will be sunburned on our right sides only. A little weird that. We march on and there’s really not much scenery to comment on at least at our walking pace – perhaps if you’re zooming along in a car… The Pisan hills are to the left of us and we finally find the road that leads directly to Vicopisano, skirting the hills to the left of us and the Arno to the right. Yay! I can finally start looking for Lenzi’s B&B and we find it just where I had it circled on the map. Thank you Google Earth. We ring the doorbell but there is no answer so I trot next door to a hairdressers and inquire. She directs us back to the main street and around the corner where we’ll find the entrance. Sure enough, Massimo Lenzi has a “real” business of terracotta pots – a massive place. We head into the large shop and ask about the b&b and we are asked to wait. Massimo comes out and speaks wonderful English (for which I am very thankful) and shows us through the backyard of the house and into the coolness of the foyer. He heads somewhere for a key and returns to show us to our room. As we ascend the stairs he points out “This is my apartment on the right and here is yours on the left”. We have a whole apartment. Sure enough, we go in and there is a full kitchen, separate living room with patio off it, large bath and three bedrooms. He shows us to a bedroom, we ask him about possible restaurants for dinner and off he goes back to the business.

We have walked 14.55 miles and of course I had thought it would be 11 miles. Last year in France whenever I said, “It shouldn’t be more than 11!” Paul would answer with “That’ll be 14 then.” It got to be a joke and oh so true. Today was no exception – I don’t know how we do it! My feet had gotten hot during the day but this time, the moment I felt a bit of an itch (which signals the start of a blister), we would stop, dry our feet in the breeze, hang our socks on a shrub or tall grass or whatever, sprinkle those feet with good old Gold Bond Foot Powder (which I had also dosed them with in the morning), apply those special blister bandaids, and off we would go. Worked a charm. I NEVER had a blister the entire time. They tried, oh they tried, but I headed them off at the pass. I also had something that we called “toe hats” and I don’t really remember the name but you put them over your toes and it protects them from rubbing on the shoe or each other and creating blisters. Heaven. I’ll never travel without them again. All of these things along with my very decent Timberland Chocurua Trail hiking boots made for pain-free walking. I always wondered what it would be like to walk without pain on the trail and now I knew – absolute heaven.

Heading into the town of Vicopisano, we look around and check out the Tuesday night crowd. Very small town and very well kept and we like it, feeling very far away from Pisa. We walk right into town, circle around and head back on the treelined road right out again and into the pizza place that Massimo had told us about. Lots of different kinds of pizzas all baked in front of us in a wood-fired oven. We talked with the owner and all he wanted to talk about was U.S. politics! Oh yuck! LOL. Still, we had quite the chat whilst waiting for the pizzas to cook and he was happy as were we. I took his photo as he stood proudly in front of the oven. I think he was from Bangladesh and he spoke quite a bit of English but he said it was rusty, and he spoke almost no Italian! The girl at the register spoke no English whatsoever but with my beginning Italian we conversed nevertheless. I love this aspect of traveling!

Back we went to Lenzi’s, put the pizzas on the coffee table (Massimo had told us it would be absolutely fine), clicked the TV on and had our dinner. Pizzas to die for yet again! We had really wanted a sit down restaurant but this was OK and probably the best option for our tired bodies. While we were eating our doorbell rang. At first we didn’t realize that it was “ours” but we both bounded out to the hall and opened the door. It was Jonathan, Massimo’s partner and he asked if everything was acceptable and if we needed anything. Jonathan was an Aussie. I had to listen for a minute and quickly discounted a Brit accent, swerved towards a Kiwi accent and discounted that and then asked if he was an Aussie. He said that most people couldn’t tell especially since he had been living in Italy for quite awhile and gives tours (with the dreaded flag) in Firenze. So score one for Liz! but I did live in London, also in Glasgow, then down to New Zealand (my mother and family come from Auckland) and we’ve traveled to Australia, so no excuse if I can’t hear the correct accent.

Once again, perfect beds, firm mattress and crispy sheets and lots of hot water in the shower. What more can you ask for? Tomorrow we head for Fucecchio, once again without reservations but hope for a hotel there.
lizcakes is offline  
Nov 16th, 2008, 02:20 PM
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hi liz,

oh, goody, another trip report from you where I can read about your suffering feet.

WHat - no pain??? fie on you - that can't be proper walking.

but a great start - over 25 years ago DH and I made our first trip to Italy and had a flight out of Pisa, and ended up staying - guess where? - the hotel Royal Victora. I still remember the bathroom was the size of our bedroom at home and the room itself was enormous.

so when we took our kids to Florence a year or so ago, we just had to stay there on our last night. what do they say? - never go back. they had divided the rooms [or at least, the ones we had] and the bathroom was the size of a small broom cupboard. and the racket from outside at about midnight was immense.

but the ambience was the same - faded grandeur sums it up. don't you love those photos and memorabilia of all the people who have stayed there?

and as you say, a terrific breakfast.

looknig forward to the rest of your trip, step by step,

regards, ann
annhig is offline  
Nov 17th, 2008, 06:27 AM
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As always, following your progress is so enjoyable- especially the little funny comments along the way!
BlueSwimmer is offline  
Nov 17th, 2008, 07:18 AM
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Ann, on our first visit to RVH we had room on Arno side and it was, unknown to us, a festival day-they set off fireworks most of the night! We remembered to ask for back room after.

So glad your "footmobiles" were not sore, liscakes! Will add Vicopisano to our list of Italy places.

TDudette is offline  
Nov 17th, 2008, 08:49 AM
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Hi Lizcakes,

Great report so far. I can't wait to hear more!

zoecat is offline  
Nov 17th, 2008, 12:05 PM
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Liz: Yesterday I walked across France with you. Now, on to Italy!

Faster, please! I love your reports.
JeanneB is offline  

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