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Adventures in Italy with Momma

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Oct 25th, 2014, 03:26 AM
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Adventures in Italy with Momma

After two years of a pretty intense work schedule with no real vacation to speak of, I finally committed to 2-1/2 weeks off and invited one of my favorite people (my Momma) to join me for a trip to Italy (one of my favorite places)! Not only has she never been to Italy, but she's never been anywhere in Europe. So I wanted this to be a trip to remember - and so far it is, though perhaps not for the reasons I originally planned. But more about that later.

I've gotten many hours of pleasure, great ideas and helpful suggestions on this site, so I wanted to share our journey as a thank you to all those who share theirs!

Let's kick off with the basic plan and I'll fill in the actual trip as we go along (or at least as I find wifi). here's the plan:

Leave from LAX Thursday morning on Delta with a 2 hour lay over at JFK, change to Alitalia for an overnight flight, landing in Milan on Friday morning. Malpensa Express train to Milano Centrale and train to Vernazza for 3 nights. Back on the train for an afternoon visit in Pisa, then on to Florence for 4 nights at a little B&B that I'm returning to after a previous visit. Pick up a car and head down to an agriturisimo somewhere near the middle of Tuscany for 5 nights. Then drop the car at Orvieto and back on the train to Rome for 3 more nights in Trastevere before heading back through NYC to LAX. I know this is a bit chintzy on the time in Rome, but the last time I was here, I got stranded by Hurricane Sandy and spent 9 nights in Rome, so I didn't feel as compelled to spend more than this amount of time (I know you all feel bad for me - stranded in Rome for over a week. Yeah, none of my friends did either). But, I also know my Momma and if she gets overwhelmed anywhere it's going to be in Rome. We wanted to focus more on hanging out in little towns near the ocean and in the country, as I'm overdue for a nice rest.

This is largely a do-it-yourself type of trip, which is a little new for Momma - she's used to cruises and tours. But she wanted to try traveling a little more like I do - staying at a variety of apartment types (with the aforementioned B&B thrown in) without a strict time schedule to keep. A little more footloose and fancy free than what she's done before. So I did as much research as I could, in the midst of a few busier-than-usual months of work, drafted up the above Itinerary and off we went!

I'm so looking forward to this (hopefully) trip of a lifetime and to sharing it here with you!

A presto
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Oct 25th, 2014, 04:04 AM
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looks like it has the makings of a great trip, Rose and a great introduction to Italy for your mum.

looking forward to reading more.
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Oct 25th, 2014, 06:52 AM
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ok ttt
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Oct 25th, 2014, 09:47 AM
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Oh please don't make us wait too long for the rest of this!
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Oct 25th, 2014, 10:01 AM
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Can't wait to read more. My sweet momma is our favorite travel partner too!
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Oct 25th, 2014, 10:52 AM
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This has a promising beginning. I am looking forward to more!
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Oct 25th, 2014, 11:11 AM
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Looking forward to reading about you adventure.
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Oct 25th, 2014, 07:51 PM
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Looking forward to more.
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Oct 26th, 2014, 01:10 PM
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Thanks everyone for the encouragement - I've gotten great tips from so many of you, so I'm thrilled that you're along for the ride!

Day 1:

The flight from LA to Milan was easy-peasy - we were impressed with the better-than-expected airplane meal on Alitalia and with how quickly we got our luggage in Milan. I had pre-purchased tickets for a train from Milano Centrale to Sestri Levante at 14:05, which gave us plenty of time to get out of the airport. So we headed towards the ticket station for the Malpensa Express, and guess what we found? Our travel luck had run out and right into a train strike. Not knowing what else to do, we joined some fellow travelers from the plane, found our way to the bus and headed off to the train station in hopes that the strike would not last long.

We arrived at Milano Centrale, where I learned a new word - "cancelato". Two long lines later, we had our tickets adjusted for the 16:05 train and we popped upstairs for a bite to eat (nothing spectacular - just a couple of salami and cheese panini and a coffee for Momma) and settled in to wait. And there was that word again - cancelato. So back to the help desk for another change to the 18:05 train and another wait, while I kept telling myself to stay calm and not freak Momma out. I figured, if push came to shove, we could always find a hotel in Milan for the night and try again in the morning. Luckily, we didn't get shoved. The strike ended at 17:00 and the train came along and off we went. Though our first day was turning out to be more stressful then I could have imagined or wanted, we both decided to just laugh at the absurdity of it all and trust that we would eventually get where we needed to be (with the assistance of many kind strangers and saying a few prayers).

Had to juggle seats a bit, but we eventually made it to S.L. where we caught a Regionale to Vernazza and arrived around 9:45pm. We had reserved a room at the Camere Fontanavecchia on Via Gavino, just a short walk up from the train station (across from the bank and post office, if you are familiar with Vernazza) and were supposed to meet the owner, Anamaria, at the train station. But since we were late and uncertain of our arrival, she had suggested we pop in at the Blue Marlin and ask them to call her. While waiting for her daughter, we decided to order a vegie pizza from the bar to take with us to the apartment, as everyplace in town was closing up for the night. We followed the very sweet Giulia up to the apartment, and she made sure we had all we needed for the night. The pizza was just okay, but food and knowing we had finally arrived and could relax made a world of difference to our flagging spirits. The room was clean and well lit, with a little balcony that we could sit out on and listen to the river flow by. The beds were very comfortable, so after settling in and taking nice hot showers, we gratefully crawled into them around 1:00 am and promptly fell asleep.
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Oct 26th, 2014, 02:35 PM
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Day 2:

After the long trek on virtually no sleep, we both decided that we deserved a bit of a sleep in, so we did. But we finally roused ourselves and set out for the day. The night before, Giulia had recommended a little bar up the street and it turned out to be Il Pirata, which we had read about in guide books and travel sites. We stopped in at the post office first so Momma could mail off a birthday card to my step-dad (yes, I'm a horrible person - I forgot all about his birthday and scheduled the trip not realizing that she'd miss his day... I owe him for being a good sport about it!)

We also forgot that this day marked the anniversary of the landslide in 2011. We got to Il Pirata just in time - they had only 2 pastries left, as they were closing early to commemorate the day. From several boards and books I've read, there are mixed feelings about Il Pirata - they seem to be a love or hate kind of place. But Massimo was exceptionally kind to my Momma and served us up some cappucinos, fresh oj and the pastries - one plain cornetto and one with ricotta cream and walnuts. It was all so much fresher than anything we get at home and Momma was instantly hooked on the walnut cornetto! Plus, they had wifi and Massimo assured us it would be turned on all day, so we should feel free to stay on the patio for as long as we like or to come back later in the day to use it, both of which we took him up on. He chatted with us for a bit before he and his staff closed up and left us happily checking email and letting our family and friends know that we were safe (Facebook does have some uses.)

Once our communications were complete, we strolled into town. A few of the bars and shops were closed for the day, but there was plenty open for us to check out and browse through.

Vernazza was such a happy place to be and strolling down Via Roma, I finally felt that I was in Italy. We looked at pretty scarves and a beautiful red down jacket in the shops before settling on a handful of postcards. We followed our noses into a bakery and got some foccacia for me and a focaccia stuffed with cheese and rucola Momma. Even though the foccacia was not nearly as good as Pugi's in Florence, I greedily ate it up with a smile on my face and didn't realize until I popped the last bite into my mouth that I hadn't even offered Momma a taste! Oh well, I'll buy her the real deal in a couple of days. We stopped at a fresh fruit stand and got a couple of tangerines and bottles of water, which we stowed away for later (and boy was this going to pay off !)

We made our way to the harbor and after drinking in our fill of the beautiful views, Momma suggested we take one of the little motor boats over to Monterosso. She walked up to the guy with the Est Nord tshirt and next thing I know, we're climbing aboard the tiniest little boat - for a second I wasn't sure if he was going to row us over or drive us there! For just two of us, it was 15 Euro a piece - for a group of ten, the rate is 10 Euro a piece. But even though I was white-knuckling it a bit, it was a gorgeous way to approach Monterosso and worth it, in my opinion.

As it turned out, we arrived at the harbor in Monterosso just as a Memorial service to recognize the landslide was getting ready to begin. Having been to numerous memorials at home for 9/11, I recognized the intent of the ceremony even though we couldn't really follow the service itself. We watched at a respectful distance for awhile, then moved on into town.

We stopped for a few minutes in a plaza in old Monterosso to watch some children sliding down a large blow up Winnie the Pooh slide. Spotting a water fountain, I decided to fill up the extra bottle I brought from home and we moved on to do some more window shopping and look for gelato. The stores here have beautiful things and seem to be pricier than in Vernazza, but fun to browse. Found a gelateria called Gelatorosso (I think). Momma's first ever gelato - pistachio! It was quite good, as was my amareno.

We found a bar back on the piaza near the harbor to get a coffee and sit, and somewhere in all this Momma had decided that we should walk back to Vernazza on the trail. The boat driver had told her that it was a 1-1/2 hour walk, so she somehow convinced me we should go. We set off immediately, as it was near 16:00 and I didn't want us to be on the trail when the sun went down.

I'll just say that there are really pretty views from the trail, and we met some lovely and fun people, but folks - think carefully before you do this. It was closer to three hours and I was praying the whole last hour that the sun would not set. The tangerines and extra water came in very handy and we laughed quite a bit about being gluttons for punishment, but we made it and Momma was pretty exhilarated that she did. I was just grateful thatnothing other than really sore muscles happened - my sisters would not be pleased if I let our mother fall off a hillside in Italy!

We eventually made it to Da Sandro for dinner, just past the train station. Momma observed that most Italians seem pretty reserved when you first come in the door, but by the end of the meal they're generally warmed up to you. This seemed to be true at Da Sandro. We split a Caprese salad, an order of trofie in pesto, and an order of a local specialty baked with anchovies, potatos and tomatos. The pesto was so light and fresh - a thousand times better than what we get at home. We followed up with the last slice of the restaurant's chocolate and raspberry cake, which I did not regret. All in all, with a bottle of wine, it came to about 36 euro.

We seem to be thriving on stress for this holiday, but we're determined to start taking it easy soon!
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Oct 26th, 2014, 02:46 PM
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sounds like quite a day, rose.

more please!
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Oct 26th, 2014, 06:59 PM
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Great job, rosecity15. Your mom sounds delightful!
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Oct 27th, 2014, 01:06 AM
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Thanks annhig and TDudette! My mom is the cutest woman that I've ever met, but poor thing - I think she's still a little worn out from that hike. But this is where the beauty of independent travel kicks in... We'll just adjust our plans. Will try to post again later today, but have to go look at train schedules now. Ciao!
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Oct 27th, 2014, 02:37 PM
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Day 3:

To make up for the go-go pace of the last few days, we decided to take things a bit easier today.

Having decided that Il Pirata was now our neighborhood regular bar, we wandered over for our morning breakfast and were greeted warmly by Massimo and his team. Momma had another of her now favorite walnut cornetto and we added an apple pastry and a plain cornetto to the mix. With 2 glasses of oj and 2 cappucinos, it came to 17 euros.

Deciding to go the other direction today, we hopped on the train to Manarola. One of the waitresses from Il Pirata was on our train and she made sure we hopped off again at the right place. We popped into the local coop so Mom could get some water and I coud get a small package of Pocket Coffee (I have an inordinate fondness for this espresso filled chocolate that you just can't get in the US - and I've looked!) we walked up the main roadl a short ways to view the terraced hills and then decided that we should generally stick to either flat or downward heading places today.

Got a little shopping in and ended up in Piazza Capellini overlooking the harbor side of town. The floor of the center of the piazza features a large mosaic/painting featuring several large gulls and many species of fish - I'm guessing all delicacies that they pull out of the local waters. On the hillside up above is one of the more interesting and colorful nativity displays I've ever seen (featuring dolphins, sharks and a few mermaids, along with the Baby Jesus).

Ristorante di Aristide is right there in the piazza, so we decided to stop for lunch. Momma tried the ravioli and I had the mussels, clams and shrimp - both were very good. The shrimp in particular were quite tasty! We also ordered a side of grilled vegies and I had a glass of white wine (I'm on vacation after all). It was about 35 euro total.

With full tummies, we strolled down to the marina. No beaches here, but beautiful deep harbors and a path that leads out around the point - I'm guessing the start of the path that leads to Vernazza. Neither of us were up for part 2 of walking to Vernazza, so we just strolled out far enough to get some lovely pictures of the town and then came back. The water was such lovely shades of blue and green, it would be almost tempting to jump in, but we satisfied ourselves with sitting where we could soak up the sunshine and sea breezes. As a few trainloads of tourists seemed to be just rolling into the harbor, we decided it was time to head back to Vernazza.

Once back to "our" town, we ambled down to see if the fruit store might be open. It wasn't, so the only logical solution was to keep walking to Gelateria il Porticciolo on the harbor. This is reputed to be the best gelato in Vernazza and I can see why. I was disappointed that they were all out of cannella, but my nocciola and Mom's amareno made us very happy. We checked out a few places to see if we wanted to make a reservation for dinner, but by the time we looked at everyone's menus, they were all closed up, so we decided we would take our chances and if nothing else worked out, we would just stop at the excellent smelling pizzaria at the end of the harbor.

After a well deserved rest back at the apartment (and perhaps a 15 minute nap in there somewhere), we finally decided to just pop back over to Il Pirata for dinner since it was so close. What a great decision! Sure, we didn't have the awesome views of the harbor, but the food was amazing and we enjoyed the time with folks we had come to know after the last few days.

We finally had the opportunity to order the anchovies in lemon and oil - this is nothing like what we think of in the states as anchovies. They have such a delicate, buttery flavor, you simply have to try them. Mom had the local version of eggplant parmesian, which she claims was cooked exactly the way she likes it (she thinks that too many places undercook the eggplant). Not ready to leave the Ligurian pesto behind just yet, I ordered the gnocci with pesto and we split a vegie salad (more eggplant!), a half liter of house white wine and a bottle of still water (all which came to a total of 55 euro). Unfortunately, we didn't have room for the homemade Pannicotta. Oh well. I guess we'll just have to come back someday!

The sights and the food today were particularly spectacular, but honestly, the best part of the day was the opportunity to walk arm in arm with my Momma through these charming towns and hearing her talk about her life and experience as a mother and as a woman. This is what I really brought her here to do, and I have not been disappointed.

Buonanotte and tomorrow - on to Firenze!
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Oct 27th, 2014, 02:47 PM
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lucky you, rose, having this lovely time with your mum, and I'm sure that she is having a great time too.

Thanks for sharing it with us.
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Oct 28th, 2014, 10:27 AM
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I'm really enjoying your trip report! I need to get planning a trip with my Momma!
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Oct 28th, 2014, 04:39 PM
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This is a great trip report. I'm looking forward to more!
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Oct 28th, 2014, 05:27 PM
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Really enjoying your report.

I agree about anchovies on the Ligurian coast of Italy--nothing like anything we have here. Just superb there!
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Oct 29th, 2014, 03:29 PM
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Thanks, Everyone. We're really enjoying our time together and writing it all down like this makes me feel like I can hold onto it for even longer!

Day 4:

Today was the first day that we actually set the alarm, as we were supposed to be checked out and on our way by 10am. We were second day post hike, so the soreness really set in and we made a decision to just go on through to Florence today and possibly use one of our Florence days for a day trip back to Pisa (Momma really wants to see that tower - she says she thinks it must be a sin to come all this way and not see it.)

We finally met Annamaria today - the owner of the apartment. She and both of her daughters are as delightful as you would hope for. We had a very happy stay here and were pleased with how clean, comfortable and bright the room was. The beds were very comfortable and the shower had good water pressure - I would recommend these rooms to anyone, as long as you don't mind not having an ocean view. There was a moment of dismay when the wifi was not working well enough to get any of our credit or debit cards to process, but luckily there was a bank across the street where our debit cards worked just fine, so it all worked out. But be warned that the internet is still a little iffy in Vernazza, so just come with options.

Speaking of, my Momma had read up on the landslide that occured in 2011, so she and Annamaria had quite a chat about what it was like for them. It was both inspirational and heartbreaking to hear all that the town, and others nearby went through and all that they continue to go through in putting the town back together. Made me glad we visited, if only to add our little show of economic support for the region.

We popped over to say good by to Massimo and the gang at Il Pirata, with one last coffee and cornetto order to go. Then up to the train station and off we went. We had to take three trains (all Regionale) from Vernazza to La Spezia, then to Pisa Centrale, then to Firenze SMN. Hint for novice train travelers, if you use the restrooms in the train stations, be prepared to pay anywhere from 60 cents to 1 euro for the privilege.

In the category of "it's a small world", as we were getting off the train from La Spezia arriving in Pisa, an American couple got off at the same spot and overheard me talking to Momma as I checked the board for the location of the next train to Florence. The husband said, since I spoke English and seemed to know where I was going, they would just follow us. As we chatted, we realized that we were all at Il Pirata at the same time for dinner the night before. It was fun chatting about their travels while we sped towards Firenze. I think I'm getting Momma hooked on train travel (when there aren't any strikes, anyways!)

Upon arrival in Florence, I found a pay phone to call our B&B to see if we could check in early (and was fascinated to find that you can email and text from a pay "phone" in Florence - this is brilliant!) we're staying at a little place outside of the city center, called B&B Leonardo da Vinci. I found this place on Air BnB two years ago, and though it is not a fancy place, it is very homey and the owner is so sweet, I was looking forward to going back for another stay. In retrospect, it might have been worth thinking of staying somewhere a little closer to town and with a balcony of some sort to make things more comfortable and easy for Momma, but Carla, the owner, and her family are so friendly and kind, and overall it's a really good value, so I think it's working out okay. And Florence has a really good bus system, so...

Once we got all caught up on the latest news with Carla, and got our things settled in and unpacked, we decided we should head out for a little snack and some sightseeing. We strolled down to the Piazza San Marco (which I am inordinately fond of for some reason) and popped in at Pugi. This is the most incredible little foccacia place that I've been to anywhere and I've been dreaming of their goodies for two years. Momma got a slice of an anchovy and caper pizza and I got a large piece of foccacia - that first bite drizzled with golden olive oil was everything I remembered - such heaven!

After all that sitting on the train, we thought it wouldn't hurt us to stroll a little further, so I pointed us in the direction of the Santa Maria del Fiore. We chatted and looked in store windows and I almost forgot where we were headed until Momma looked up and gasped "oh my stars!" her first sight of the basilica and, as we got closer, the dome. "Oh my stars!" That seemed to be all she could say, which will not surprise my sisters in the least. My heart was singing - Florence is one of my absolute favorite places, because it often leaves me speechless, and my city was having the exact effect that I hoped it would on Momma. There is something about the Duomo in the moonlight that seems to cast a spell.

Unfortunately, the baptistry is undergoing renovations, and you can only see a vague picture on the outside covering of what it looks like, but the doors are uncovered, so she at least got a view of that. After promising to bring her back in the daytime, we decided we should start back. I'm not sure if it is to my delight or dismay, but we came upon the new Eataly location in Florence. Thrilled that we got to pop in at this fun store, as I know we won't have time to go to the one in Rome, but I don't know - kinda makes me sad to see something so modern and commercial go in here. But Momma was able to get some fun chocolates for her hubby and a bag of Tarallini crackers for us, similar to the ones we enjoyed from our flight.

After dropping our packages at the B&B, we walked another block and a half to Edi House for dinner. This is a local place that is largely frequented by residents of the local neighborhood (around the Piazza Savanorola area). I enjoyed it last time I was here and we enjoyed it again this time. Momma had a risotto chicken curry type dish and I had a pumpkin and cheese risoto dish, we split an order of bruschetta, a salad with vegies and fruit (which sounds odd, but was quite good), a half liter of wine and bottle of still water for a total of 42,80 Euro. This is not fancy food, but is a solid meal that put a smile on our face before heading home and hitting the sack after another long but glorious day.
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Oct 29th, 2014, 03:52 PM
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Rose - your B&B looks delightful, and i love the pictures of the breakfast on their website.

BTW, did you see that they do dinner too? some of the dishes look very good, and typically florentine. Are you planning to eat in one night?
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