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Another Italian Trip Report - May 2005

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We left for Italy on April 28th, but spent the first four days in Nice, France to unwind from jet lag. There were four of us on this trip. My husband, my brother and sister-in-law and me. I was the only one who had previously been to Italy, having visited in 1996, 1998, and 2000, but I had never been to Tuscany so I was excited to add some new highlights to the trip.

Since I didn’t journal on this trip I will not get into too much detail, but will note the hotels and restaurants when I remember them.

We arrived on a NW flight from MSP to Amsterdam with a connection to Nice, France. Our luggage was transferred directly to the KLM flight to Nice, so we had to just show our passports and we went straight through customs without delay. Our arrival in Nice was at 10:00am and we went directly to our hotel to change and hit the pavement.

Hotel Gounod
3 Rue Gounod
Nice 06000
Tel: 33 4 93 16 4200
Fax: 33 4 93 88 2384
Email: [email protected]
Our double room was on the 4th floor, €126.80.
The facilities of Splendid Hotel next door are available to Gounod guests: outdoor pool on roof, sauna, heated Jacuzzi, fitness and panoramic bar/restaurant. They were not available for us in April as they were being renovated.

Day 1: Our hotel was one block to the right and 6 blocks straight down from the train station and about 4 blocks from the promenade. Very convenient. The rooms appeared to be newly redecorated. Cloth on walls instead of wallpaper and coordinating spread and drapes. Nice clean new bathroom and a little balcony 2’ x 4’, but great to step out on and get some air. After a quick clothes change we walked up Rue de la France and over to the Cours Saleya market in Old Town Nice which has a daily flower and food market. There were numerous stands some professionally displaying their wares to family farmers selling their produce and live chickens right from the farm. We found some great fruit and purchased some raspberries, strawberries and bananas. Those Minnesota winters leave you craving fresh fruit. Spent about an hour walking around the winding streets looking at homemade pastas, olive oil products, fresh bread, wine and lots of the local produce. The afternoon walking in the warm sun pasted fairly quickly, we returned to the hotel for a quick nap, a change of clothes and we were back walking along the Promenade de Anglais where we stopped at the Hotel Negresso to see the beautiful lobby and an art and antiques exhibit on display there. There were many pictures of the past history of the hotel that we found interesting. Longing for the day to end, we had a non descript dinner somewhere and we were in bed early.

Woke to pigeons cooing outside. They get up way too early for me. Enjoyed our buffet breakfast of meat, cheese, eggs, cereals, yogurt, croissants, jams, jellies, etc. Coffee, tea, milk, juices . . . . The staff was extremely nice and courteous as was the front desk personnel. There was internet connection in side room off the front desk for guests’ to use at a nominal cost.

Day 2. For our first full day in Europe we trained to Villefranche Sur Mer from Nice. Every single day of our 28 day trip was warm and sunny so I won’t comment on the weather. But we sure were fortunate. Spent a little time in town, walked around the fortress and along the quay looking at the beautiful boats, and past the beach packed with sunbathers, some topless, which was an added attraction for our Midwestern husbands, but they were discreet, behind the sunglasses and we didn’t linger. We took the walk along the beach, past many beautiful villas to Cap St. Jean Ferrat. We stopped at the Villa and Gardens Ephrussi de Rothschild where we toured her Villa and gardens. Cost: €9.00 for two. There are 7 separate gardens which surround the villa and it covers over 10 acres. The gardens were in full bloom with spring flowers and they were well worth visiting. Took lots of pictures. After a few hours we headed to Cap St. Jean Ferrat and along the waters edge where there were many restaurants. Non of which were open since it was around 4:00pm and they were closed until evening. We continued on to Bealieu along a very nice promenade where there were lots of locals out with their families strolling and enjoying the evening. We decided to take the train to Villefranche and have dinner there.

Restaurant La Grignotière
3, rue du Poilu
06230 Villefranche
Tele: 04 93 76 79 83
Fairly Expensive: €160 + €15 tip for 4.
My dinner: Filet Rossellini rare with foie gras and a dark sauce. Butter lettuce with chevre chaud on warm toast. Bordeaux wine. Husband: bouillabaisse. The owner of the restaurant was very nice, came by the table often to visit, and was quite funny. We ate inside as the evening was chilly. It had a lot of ambience, was small, quaint, cozy and comfortable. Glad we ate here. Was on our top 10 list of favorite places we ate at on the trip.

Day 3: Monaco for the day. The train station is gorgeous. Very large, sleek and clean. Not like a train station at all. We walked out the front door of the station and walked down a very steep set of steps, past the Church of St. Devote which we looked into and found ourselves on the main street. Right and up the hill to the palace or left and up the hill to the casino. We took the right to the palace side and walked up the very steep hill to the palace which was not open at this time of year. We walked along the narrow, streets to the old town, shopping and eating and visited the cathedral where Prince
Rainer and Princess Grace are buried inside. There were lots of fresh flowers as Prince Rainer had died within the month. Visited the Exotic Gardens which meandered down the hill with many beautiful vista stops looking out on the Mediterranean which was aqua blue today. Many different types of plants and blooming flowers. You don’t have to be a gardener to really appreciate the beauty here. Over the top.

Spent the late afternoon in the Monte Carlo casino (€10.00 entrance, need passport) which was a hike across town and then straight up hill. The casino is breathtaking. Gorgeous frescos on the ceiling and tapestries and grand salons and private rooms where those that wish to can gamble in private. The décor is what we came to see. Tried our luck in one of the back rooms at some slots where €30 was gone in 2 minutes and then we just people watched at the roulette tables. One gentleman put down €4,500 (gave the man nine €500 notes for chips and proceeded to loose it and did it again. Not in my league. Found the former bar where there are naked cigar smoking nymphs painted on the ceiling. Read about these in Rick Steves book. No longer a bar, but you can see inside the room which is not in use.

Dinner tonight was a club sandwich, potato chips and a beer. Tasted great.

On our approach to the train station and the looming steep steps before us, I luckily noticed that as you approach the steps to your left there is an entrance to the train station that bypasses these steps. When you get to the end of the wide well lighted enclosed passage way there are escalators up to the tracks. We then trained back to Nice and got a good nights sleep.

Day 4: Tonight we plan to take the night train to Venice so after breakfast we stowed our luggage at the hotel and took the bus to St. Paul de Vence. We asked someone where the bus stop was and they directed us, saving us walking to the bus station on the other side of town. It took 50 minutes to get to the perched village of St. Paul de Vence. A charming place, an artist community which had a lot of nice shops. Purchased a watercolor painting and my sister in law some hand crafted enamel jewelry. Had lunch at an outdoor café, chevre chaud salad with lemonade (sprite). Bussed back around 400pm, stopping on the beach along the Promenade Anglais for a drink and some people watching.

Our train leaves for Venice from the Nice Ville station at 907pm, train: #369, arriving in Venice at 736am. I did purchase these tickets from euraide in Florida before I left. Spoke with Herman at Euraide and he was very helpful with my reservations. I also made my other night train reservation with him. I get nervous that we won’t be able to get two private sleeping couchettes so I pay the booking fee and buy ahead. I’m over 60 so I don’t wing it anymore.

We stopped at Sapori Italiani, an Italian meat/cheese market and picked up some fixings for our dinner on the train: Salami Milano, Fromage Peccorino, and the butcher selected an Italian wine and sent us to the nearest bakery for bread. Had a wonderful dinner on the train as we passed from France into Italy. Tomorrow we will be in Venice.


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    Day 5: Had a very good nights sleep on the train. This isn’t always true, but the wine helped ease me into slumberland and I managed to fall asleep until 5:00am at which time we pulled into the Verona station so after my husband did his thing with shaving at the sink and got himself dressed I did the same. There’s only room for one person to move about at a time. Our breakfast arrived at 645am. Cappuccino and a biscuit. We arrived at the St. Lucia Station in Venice at 736am on time.

    Purchased a ticket €5 per person on the #82 vaporetto to Rialto stop. Our choice for a hotel here was from the Rick Steves book. I really wanted to stay at La Calcina, but alas it was booked We lugged our luggage up and over the Rialto bridge and through the market – that being produce, junk and fresh fish, etc. and took a right at the Calle drio la Scimia where our hotel was located. Not the best approach to your hotel – the butcher was just cutting the head off some big fish and cleaning out the gutts as we walked by.

    Pensione Guerrato
    Rialto, Calle drio la Scimia
    240 San Polo
    30125 Venice
    Tel/Fax: 041 528 5927
    Email: [email protected]
    Rate: €115 which include a large breakfast. Proprietor: Roberto & Piero

    We left our luggage at the foot of another long set of steps and proceded to the reservation desk where we were warmly greeted by Antonio. Our rooms weren’t ready this early in the morning, but we had a very nice breakfast in the dining room while Antonio had our luggage brought upstairs.

    With time still left on our vaporetto ticket we decided to boat to Piazza San Marco. Pass good for 90 minutes from issue time. We entered the Piazza at the opposite end from the Basilica to give us a wow view as we passed through the arches. Even at this hour of the day, around 930am it was packed with people. Having been to Italy 3 previous times, I just couldn’t get over the number of people that wanted to go at the same time I did. It was never so busy. There were actually more people than pigeons in the piazza. Now that’s something. The orchestra was in full swing with the Strauss waltz playing in the background as we entered. The Basilica was spectacular – and we were able to tour it later in the day. For now we oogled at all the expensive merchandise in the shops around the piazza, bought some Murano glasses.

    We had dinner at:

    Ristorante San Stefano in the piazza of the same name. We ate outside at umbrella tables. Had salad, seafood risotto which was good, but not great and wine. Too salty for my taste. Would have seemed better, but our waiter was very surly, no conversation and very abrupt with the service. The wine always was good. Since it was an early dinner we had plenty of time for our evening walk. We strolled over the Accademia Bridge into the Dorsoduro neighborhood. This is where we should have eaten. There were numerous cute, charming, quaint, romantic, little out of the way places to eat. The tables outside had flickering candles on the table, cloth napkins. They looked so much more inviting than the restaurant that we chose. We were hungry and stopped without thinking.

    The Dorsoduro is a charmng out of the way neighborhood with many of these charming restaurants/hotels. It is very non-touristy, but of course we are all tourists. Quiet and pleasant after fighting the crowds along those narrow, Venice streets. We spent the better part of the evening walking around here, planning on which restaurant we would eat at tomorrow night. The La Calcina has a restaurant on the Quideca Canal. The hotel looked like a wonderful place to stay. Book reservation early as they fill up fast.

    Day 6: We split up as a couple the following day so we could have some time apart which is a good idea. Then we could share what we did that day with each other. We walked back to the train station, over the bridge and to the right to see what this area was like. There were lots of junky shops, but the hotels had 4 stars on many of them. Not a bad neighborhood. Went in a few churches and people watched at each little piazza along the way. My husband and I then ventured back to the Dorsoduro
    neighborhood for lunch.

    Ristorante “L’Incontro”
    Rio Tera Canal
    Campo S. Margherita
    A very good restaurant not far from the Accademia bridge. Pasta with pumpkin, antipasta salad, house wine. Appeared to be popular with locals. No English menu, but not difficult to figure out.

    Ristorante Cantinone Storico
    Had a pleasant dinner at table on the canal. Don’t remember what we ate, but it was good and I would have remembered if it wasn’t. I do remember we had fish and pasta, salad, and dessert. I tried the Limoncello for the first time, and liked it.

    Day 7: Trained to Rome today. Loved our hotel.

    Hotel Cellini
    Via Modena 5
    00184 Roma
    Tel: 39 (0) 6 47825204
    Fax: 39 (0) 6 47881806
    Email: [email protected]

    This hotel is not far from the Termini train station. It is just around the corner from the Piazza Republica. Lift takes you to fifth floor. There are only 5-6 rooms, but they are impeccably furnished. Their website will show you a room and it looks just like the picture only better. Bathroom with window, very new, great shower, tile, sink and the ever present “bidet”. Guess I didn’t get my monies worth since I never use it. I shower all over every day. Service bar in room, king bed, great mattresses. Would highly recommend. Third trip to Rome, my best hotel so far.

    The breakfast was served in a nice room, good meats/cheese/cereal/yogurt, etc. Coffee very good.

    Our one mistake was to take the Metro to St. Peter’s today. Bought ticket from machine which was very easy. It was around 9:00 which is obviously rush hour time. We let 2 trains go by as they were full and then some. But decided to go for the next train. So as soon as 4 people exited the train we jumped on. We were closer than sardines. It was actually very scary. If you were in the middle you could have suffocated to death. I was holding my sister in law around the waist holding her in. When the door opened at the next stop she would have fallen out. Another passenger got in and I couldn’t tell you have he did. Never again at rush hour.
    As we were walking to St. Peter’s around the outside wall, we were approached by Christina, a young English speaking woman who offered to give us a free tour of St. Peter’s without any obligation.

    [email protected]

    We agreed as did about 8 other people along the way. Her tour was excellent, she pointed things we would know nothing about, making it a worthwhile experience. For the entrance fee of €12.00 + €20.00 for her services she would also take us on a tour of the Musei Vaticani and the Sistine Chapel. Because she was so enthusiastic and knowledgeable we agreed and were not disappointed. Previously on my visit to the Museum, I looked saw, and didn’t know what I saw. She explained a lot and we were glad we did it.

    At the recommendation of our hotel and a very good choice. This restaurant made our top 10 list of great restaurants in Italy.

    Ristorante del Giglio

    We had grilled Tuna, scallopine gorgonzola, roasted chicken, various salads, Merlot wine and dessert. It was across the street from the Opera House. The restaurant was very nice, service impeccable, food great. Price: €151 for 4. Best part about Italian restaurant is they don’t rush you and serve you at a leisurely pace, forcing us American eaters to slow down and enjoy the experience of dining. We caught on real quick.

    Saw the usual sights of Coliseum, Trevi Fountain, Piazza Narvona, every church we went by, Spanish Steps, Harry’s Bar, Via Veneto and the world wide Blockbuster Video store.

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    We spent three days in Rome and then trained via Naples to Sorrento for a 3-night stay.

    Day 10 to Day 12 – Sorrento/Capri.

    Our train out of Rome left at 827am from Termini station directly to Naples with a change to the Circumvesuviana train into Sorrento, which was the end of the line. So far our trip was going well. No complaints, no issues. We arrived in Naples walked to the down escalators following the signs to the Circumvesuviana and on the left we purchased our tickets for about €3 each. Then proceeded down the escalator to the train platform.

    We each had our own luggage to contend with, so as the train arrived we approached the door and we tossed our luggage on to the back platform of the train. I was quite annoyed with a young man playing his accordion in the middle of the steps and a young woman with him trying to collect money as we tried to get pasted them. The ruckus they created should have turned on the light bulb in my head, but no. Eventually they jumped off the train as it left the station, and my husband had his wallet picked from his front pocket in those deep pocketed Colombia pants with flaps. When he put both hands on the luggage to toss aboard, a third person lifted the wallet. It’s not like my husband hadn’t been warned, but men will be men. I posted this altercation on this site when I returned to warn travelers of being aware of any commotion, it usually a scam. He lost his Visa credit card/ bank debit card/ driver’s license/ and medical card. It was over an hour before we could get to a phone and call my daughter to have her cancel the cards and put a watch on the account. Luckily I had a Visa and debit card too. But my husband’s blood pressure was up for a few days. We eventually got over it and resumed our fun time, but it sure put a damper on for a day or two. I did heed other people’s advise and had a copy of all the cards with us in another location, so we had the numbers, etc. Just a bad inconvenience.

    Hotel Bristol
    Via Capo 10
    80067 Sorrento
    Tel: 081.878.45.22
    Fax: 081.807.19.10
    Email: [email protected]

    Price: €190 included a really great breakfast in a room with a view. Floor to ceiling windows overlooking the Bay of Naples, beautiful Italian tiled floor, pale yellow table clothes with daisies on each table. This made for a wonderful breakfast and great start to our day.

    The amenities at the hotel were great. Roof garden pool, exercise room, piano bar with tables on balcony with spectacular view of Bay of Naples. Nice furniture in the common areas and nice room. It is an easy downhill stroll to town. Staff helpful and pleasant.

    Il Buco Ristorante
    Il Rampa Marina Piccola 5
    Piazza Sant’Antonino

    We celebrated my brother in laws birthday here and it was a remarkable evening.
    Il Bucco is tucked into a little passage way off Piazza Sant’Antonino. It had levels or tiers as the street curved down. There would be 2-3 tables on each tier, candles, table clothes, centerpiece of flowers, and a great menu. Very upscale. Very expensive. €284 dinner for four. All courses, wine, dessert. The presentation was so fantastic, very artistic. I believe it has a Michelin Star or two. We are getting to the age where you can’t take it with you, and you only go around once, and I’m here so let’s do it. So some of our choices were a tad on the higher priced side, but we skimp during the year so we can enjoy.

    Ristorante La Favorita
    O’Parrucchiano dal 1868
    Corso Italia 71
    This restaurant is on the main street, but as you enter and walk up a few steps you come to the most beautiful setting. There are tables among lemon trees, beautiful shaded gardens, and the place is huge. We had no trouble getting a table. Even though it appeared to cater to tour groups or small nations, it was a very nice restaurant with excellent food. We had excellent pasta with porcini mushrooms, fish baked in parchment paper, fresh salad, wine and dessert.

    Lunch was usually just a sandwich at some cute outdoor shady spot under an umbrella. More to rest the weary feet than for hunger.

    Enjoyed the trip to Capri. Buy ticket for funicular at ticket counter near marina in Capri, not at funicular itself. You don’t want to wait in line to be sent some where else. Hiked around a bit, saw some stunning vistas and took great pictures. Shopped, ate light lunch, and had an interesting experience on the Isle. The underwire of my bra popped out and was poking me. My brother in law insisted I go into “intimissimi” lingerie shop, which is Italy’s answer to Victoria Secrets. After numerous bras were tried on, and nothing fit, I finally found a comfortable one in some size I know not what, and asked the sales lady if she though it fit. I said there was a lot of cleavage and I was bulging out a bit. Well . . . I found out it was “Bella” all that extra stuff that doesn’t fit into your C-cup, so I bought it. Now I never think I have a fat bust, but a BELLA one. It sure helps the ego.

    Orvieto next . . .

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    Oh dear eurogals, you do not know how much I am enjoying your trip report.

    And the "bella" that is dolce, si? Those d*mn underwire bras that we all put up with. Oh well, think of this as a special Italian adventure, you must have been frustrated but imagine it is something you will always remember.

    BTW, on of my favorite restaurants in Sorrento is La Favorita. Isn't it beautiful? You can not imagine how many friends in the area of Veneto I have sent to this restaurant. Nothing like a woman in California telling Italians where to dine, LOL. They all have loved it also.

    Now, for the the rest of your wonderful report please!

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    eurogals, I'm enjoying your report. I'm really interested in Ristorante del Giglio, as I need a place to have dinner before the opera. I can email them, but in the meantime, do you know what time they open for dinner? I will need to eat early that evening before the performance.

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    Susan P,

    I am not sure if it is 7:00p or 7:30. This restaurant was highly recommended by our hotel. When we arrived there, w/o reservation, it looked as if it was closed but it opened exactly on time.

    Sorry I can't be more specific. You would think that if the Opera is across the street that it would cater to those who want to eat first.

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    eurogals right about del Giglio opening early. We also stayed at Cellini (best hotel of our trip!) and and ate there based on their recommendation. The other GREAT place they recommended was il Gabrielle. It was fantastic.

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    Thanks for that info. I'm not sure 7:00 is early enough, though. The opera starts at 8:30, but I have to be there early enough to pick up the ticket (want to leave enough time in case I have to wait in line for this), find the seat, etc. Can I be done eating at del Giglio in less than an hour? As you mentioned, I know in Italy you're expected to relax and have a long dinner (which I would normally enjoy), but maybe if they know I need to be done before 8:00 they wouldn't drag it out.

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    Day 13 - Orvieto

    Today we caught the early train from Sorrento, the Circumvesuviana, to Naples. Once again our mistake was to leave during rush hour traffic. Since Sorrento is now the beginning of the line, the train was empty when we boarded. I took the second to the last seat in the back and kept my luggage at my side, the overhead bins would not accommodate it. Big mistake. As the train picked up more and more people, I got the rudest stares and comments in Italian because my luggage was taking up a seat. When this process of stares and rudeness began there was plenty of room for everyone. As more people got on a nice gentleman took my bag and put it in the aisle and took the seat next to me. He said it would be fine there. Well it wasn’t . The entire trip was the woman behind me looking over the seat and pointing at my luggage and yakking in Italian to whomever would listen. I’m not irritated easily, but her constant yakking and pointing put me over the edge. The aisle was packed tight with people, but I managed to drag my luggage and myself to the platform in the back, where I guess I should have been in the first place, and stand for the remainder of the trip, looking at her and making her uncomfortable. So I can be BAD sometimes. You learn your lessons the hard way.

    We got through the Naples station and on to Orvieto without further incident. The funicular was waiting as we approached and a couple just getting off gave us their ticket as it was good for one hour. We did the same when we left Orvieto. There is a bus at the top which we boarded and it dropped us off at the Duomo where our hotel was just around the corner.

    Hotel Duomo
    Vicolo di Maurizio, 7 -
    05018 Orvieto
    Tele: 0763 341887
    Fax: 0763 394973
    [email protected]
    Price: € 105 including breakfast

    We really like this hotel. It was just around the corner from the Duomo, down a few steps. Our room was very large, beautiful furniture, spread and drapes, air conditioned, great bathroom with shower. The price was very reasonable. There was a nice patio outside with tables and nice flowers.

    Charming town, interesting Duomo, more on the outside than the inside. The mosaic façade was quite spectacular. Meandered the streets, looked at lots of ceramics for which the town is famous.

    Lunch was just to the left of the Duomo as you faced it. At outside and had a meat and cheese plate with bread and beer. Now are you beginning to realize we are of German ancestry? Nice spot, was very busy so others thought so too.

    I really wanted to eat tonight at Consoli Sette. The recommendations were awesome from all the Fodorites, but they were closed on Wednesday. My brother in law picked -
    Tipica Trattoria Etrusca
    Via Lorenzo Maitani
    In doing my research for places that came highly recommended – I had a sheet listing the favorite choices and some I noted for the worst places to eat.

    We really enjoyed our dinner here. I remember I had cinghale (wild boar), salad, grilled vegetables, bread and red wine. Everyone liked their dinner that night. The waiter was very pleasant, send us some after dinner drinks, and took us down to the deep, deep, deep, wine cellar under the restaurant for a tour. It was very old down there. When I returned to our hotel and looked at the list the comment was “I didn’t think you could have a bad meal in Italy, but I was wrong”. We found it just the opposite. Now had I read this comment before dinner I probably wouldn’t have gone there and would have missed a good meal and a fun evening.

    The reason we picked Orvieto was it was very convenient to pick up our rental car here. We rented through Autoeurope, and picked up our car at the Hertz dealer which is just to the left of the funicular and around the corner. All went well and we were off to Tuscany.

    Day 14 – Pienza

    We absolutely adored Pienza, our hotel and the restaurants in town.

    L’Antica Locanda
    Corso Il Rossellino 72
    Pienza 53026
    Tel: 39 0578749509
    Email: [email protected]
    Price: €80

    We arrived in Pienza and found parking easy. Our hotel was just inside the arch of the wall of the city. Barbara Vacchelli was the manager, and after ringing her bell she arrived and let us in. We did have to go up some steep steps to the reception desk on the same floor where our room was located. The other couple took the room further up which had a view from their window of the expansive countryside. All the rooms were furnished with antique furniture, hand painted metal headboard, lace curtains and we had three window, no significant view, but we loved it. Huge bathroom with large window, all very modern, and clean. For breakfast we were given a coupon each day for any of the bakeries in town for a roll and coffee of your choice. This worked well for us. Now we could eat lunch.

    Trattoria La Buca delle Fate
    Corso Il Rossellino 38a
    This restaurant was just next door to our B&B. I was introduced this night to “Pici” an Italian pasta with a hole in it, kind of like a narrow straw. We only found this on the menu in Tuscany and we all like it. My sister in law bought some dried “Pici” to take home, but I don’t think it will be as good as the freshly homemade variety. This was cooked “al dente” with porcini mushrooms. Veal with white wine and lemon and a salad, bread and the bottle of red wine. We usually had a bottle rather than the house wine and they were all good. We always drink red regardless of what we are eating.

    Ristornate Dal Falco
    Piazza Dante Alighieri 3
    A business friend of my husband’s recommended this restaurant and we were very happy we tried it. No one ever recommended it on the Fodor site, but I will now. It’s a family run operation, and those are the ones I really like to eat at most often. As I said previously I didn’t take notes, but I do remember that I thoroughly enjoyed my dinner as did everyone else. I did order the almond cookies for dessert and they served it with vin santo. Read a lot about it on this site so though surprised when I got wine with my cookies I was glad to try it. Not my favorite, don’t like sweet wine, but my brother in law did and ordered it on a few other nights.

    Ristorante Il Rossellino
    Piazza di Spagna, 4,
    Phone: 0578.749064
    Another wonderful spot for dinner. There are only about 5 tables in this restaurant on the Piazza di Spagna, but they do a wonderful job with their dinners. The diners become very familiar with each other and there is a lot of laughing and sharing of trip experiences. Try to go here.

    Next installment Sant Antimo, Montalcino, Montepulciano, Bagno Vignori and the Val d'orcia.

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    eurogals: Wonderful trip report! I cannot wait to read more. Thanks for taking the time to include addresses and phone numbers.

    I'm terribly sorry to hear that your husband was pickpocketed, but am glad that he got over it and did not let it spoil the rest of your trip.


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    Betsy: we were charged 105.00 euros at the rate of 1.326846 for a total of $139.32.

    Day 15 and Day 16.

    We spent three days in southern Tuscany with Pienza as our base. What we liked about staying here was the easy access in and out of town with the car. The town sits high up on a hill, but the town itself is relatively flat. We found the other hill towns had such steep hills to climb. There is a lovely walk just outside the gates that take you on a quiet cypress lined road, past a very beautiful cemetery. You could really relax here. The neighbors would come out at night and sit on their front steps and visit with each other. Just behind our hotel or B&B was the Via del a’mor which was a street right on the wall where you could see for miles the beautiful countryside as it swept across the horizon. Breathtaking. There were stone benches here and there and I would wash my hair and come down and sit in the warm sun to dry it, people watching and staring at the gorgeous scenery. Met a nice couple from the Netherlands and had a good conversation with them.

    I read an article by Stu Dudley on the site entitled “Southern Tuscany Drive”. Found it very helpful and we heeded his advice as we drove through the countryside. Our first stop was in Montalcino. Originally I had wanted to stay here, but I couldn’t get a reservation in the hotel I wanted, so Pienza won out and I am glad for that. Many people rave about Montalcino. Worth a visit, but I like Pienza better. We parked our car by the Fortress discovered we had a flat tire and while our husbands had it repaired the girls went to the flea market in town. Lots of stuff was being sold from trucks that appear to pack up and move to the next town.

    From here we drove to the abbey at Sant Antimo to hear the monks chant. The day couldn’t have been nicer. Warm sun with a gentle breeze, lots of poppies growing wild along the roads. People picnicking on the abbey grounds as we waited for the monks to begin their chant.

    The schedule is posted on the door and they begin promptly. All is silent in the church as they begin their 3-4 times a day chant. The day is warm so the coolness of the church is welcoming. I sit in the front pew so I can get a good view. With heads bowed they arrive in their hooded robes and sandals and take their position. There were seven monks – 3 on the left and 4 on the right facing each other. No eye contact – no expression. They begin, their chants echo through the church as we all sit quiet and still. Very humbling experience, the simple life dedicated to Christ.

    The drive was beautiful and we stopped at every town we came to. It was getting to be late in the afternoon as we arrived in Bagno Vignoni. In the center of town is the mineral pool and you could feel the heat rise from the waters as you approached. You can’t put your feet in it like I thought, nor would I have wanted to as it didn’t seen real clean. We did continue on down the street to where there is a public area where you can pay to use the pool. They have changing rooms, showers, lawn chairs. It’s attached to a very nice hotel. Here the waters are about 115 degrees F. On this day we didn’t stay, but returned the following day with swimsuit and bathing cap (required even for the men – ala Mark Spitz) and spent a very pleasant afternoon bobbing around the waters. These waters have some medicinal value. Helps with respiratory problems, rheumatoid arthritis, and other ailments. We did lots of walking these first two weeks and the warm water certainly felt good on our weary bones. Nice way to spend a day, a mini-vacation away from your vacation.

    We stopped by
    Osteria Enoteca la Porta in the town of Montechiello
    via del piano 1,
    Phone: 0578.755163
    It was very busy and we were not able to eat here, but I wanted to see this restaurant since I had heard so many rave reviews from others. Nice setting, great outdoor seating. We had to settle for a sandwich from another restaurant just down the hill and sat out in the field in the tall grass, viewing the countryside from our lofty spot. My sister in law is from the farm and hates the smell of hay so we didn’t linger too long here. Of course I love all the sights and smells of the country and she doesn’t. Reminds here too much of small town USA I guess.

    Montepulciano today. Lots of up hill climbing again. Not to my liking. Those years of smoking have finally caught up to my husband and me. We should have quite sooner. Lots of good shopping in this town. Good restaurants. Wine shops where you could taste and sample bruschetta which was being made as you entered. They were no fools on that one. The garlic just brought you right down the hill and into the store.

    We tried on lots of shoes where ever we went. Did purchase a few pairs, but suitcase space was at a premium so we were frugal.

    Can’t rave enough about the beauty of Tuscany.

    We reluctantly left our little nest in Pienza and were now off to our hotel near Castellina in Chianti.

    Belvedere di San Leonino
    Castellina in Chianti
    Tel: 0577 740887
    Fax 0577 740924
    email [email protected]
    Price: €130

    If we were reluctant when we left Pienza, we were thrilled when we approached our new destination. The Belvedere is out in the country on an quiet road lined with olive groves and vineyards. It’s an old stone farmehouse with lovely, well maintained gardens that terrace down to the pool. As you sit by the pool relaxing after a long day of sightseeing, looking out over the hills you truly feel blessed.

    The rooms were lovely, fresh flowers on the dresser, large with view of vineyard in the back, comfortable chair, and our bathroom was upstairs, life a loft and was large and modern. Dinner is served if you sign up in the morning. It has a set menu and we did eat here on our last evening there. It was a foggy night and we decided to not chance the winding roads. This is a family establishment and the father was out watering the gardens each morning taking care the property looked perfect. The staff at the front desk was very helpful with suggestion for dinner and sightseeing in the area, and there were many books in English on Tuscany for the use of the guests.

    For dinner our last night we had steak Florentine for four. You could have had the set menu with the entre of wild boar or for € 30 per person you could have the steak. We were the only ones who chose steak and everybody else just stared and drooled at us. It was marvelously delicious. The first steak we’ve had on this trip.

    The town of Castellina in Chianti was about 15 minutes further along the road. A nice town, easy to park. There was a wine tasting event in town the day we arrived. You buy a glass as you enter this stone covered promenade and you can taste the various wines offered by different vineyards in the area. Each has a table set up with cheese, bread and 4-5 of their different wines. There were lots of people here. None seemed to be tourists. My husband found us a restaurant along the way and we made a reservation and waited for it to open.

    Al Gallopapa
    Via delle Volte 14
    Castellina in Chianti
    Tele/Fax 0577-742939
    email: [email protected]

    This restaurant has a Michelin star and it is well deserved. There were so many things brought to our table to eat that I don’t remember what they were. To begin you have a glass of pro secco, then a large white plate the size of a platter and in the middle is a small very nicely presented appetizer the size of a ritz cracker. It was delicious.

    We must have had 5-7 changes of plates during this meal. My main course was pigeon breast. It was great. But my sister in law couldn’t believe I would eat such a thing. She was not experimental in her food choices. We all really enjoyed our meals, dessert, and wine. It was a very expensive night and had we known how expensive we might have picked another place, but we did enjoy it.

    This is a special kind of restaurant, for a special occasion, not just a Tuesday night stop.
    Glad we did it – definitely recommend if you want elegant and gourmet food and surroundings.

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    Oh eurogals, still enjoying your trip report so much. Question, if you didn't journal this trip how do you remember so many details? I am amazed. Your report is a wonderful read, thank you for sharing.

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    I spend so much time preparing for this trip. I have a detailed itinerary, a Quicken spreadsheet that updates as the euro changes, the receipts from the trip, which detail the food eaten, and of course a good memory.

    Before even leaving home for the airport, I have every inch of the trip covered in my head. Kinda like a hobby during the winter. I do a newletter that is quite extensive that I give to my brother and sister in law that I am very proud of and it is so much fun to do. There is detail on each country we visit with the hotel, suggested restaurants, and things to see and do. I go a little over board, but it saves not knowing when I get there.

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    Eurogals, when you were in Castellina in Chianti, did you visit Ricavo? We are going to Italy Oct 2005 and have 4 nights stay at Romantik Hotel Tenuta di Ricavo. Any comments, anyone? Also, signed up for cooking class with Fagioli as per Fodorites recommendation.

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    Katerburg: Sorry, we did not. Have no information on this. Will be interested in your cooking classes though. Would love to do this with my husband who likes to cook and bake.

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    Days 17, 18, and 19 – Chianti region.

    The chianti region was beautiful, not the same as southern Tuscany. More trees, but still lots of open spaces with the vineyards and olive groves scattered about. We visited Greve in Chianti and proceeded to Radda stopping at as many of the wine estates as we could and still manage to drive safely on the winding roads. It was misty out, but that didn’t deter our pursuit of the vineyards for their wine tasting. This was a very enjoyable part of our trip.

    It was fairly early when we arrived in Greve so we got ourselves another good cup of cappuccino and a doughtnut at the local bakery. The shops were just beginning to open. There is a wonderful meat store with lots of salami and sausage hanging from the ceiling. It was packed with people. They had every imaginable type of sausage. Bought some for later in the day to eat with cheese and bread and some to take home in the suitcase. We are always bummed about not having these types of stores back home.

    We did lots of driving today, in and out of the vineyards and managed to buy at least a bottle at each enoteca. Met lots of other tourists and shared our stories and some pointed out directions to places they just visited and we would go off in pursuit. It was a very enjoyable day stopping at all the towns along the way to Radda and then back to Castellina to our little bit of heaven. Arrived back around 4:00p and rested by the swimming pool, sampling a little cheese and salami and waiting for dinner. Such a life of leisure, Will I be able to come down to earth?

    Our last day in Chianti was spent in Siena. We parked at the St. Francisco car park and just across the street there is an escalator that takes you up the steep hill into town. What a nice feature.

    FYI: The Basilica di San Francesco is at the top of this hill so we entered for a visit. There is an interesting story regarding 223 hosts that were stolen by thieves for the silver chalice they were in. This happened in 1730 and the hosts are still intact with no deterioration for all these years. This also appeared to be the church of Padre Pio, the priest who had the stigmata of Christ’s wombs. This is probably only of interest to Catholics.

    Wandered through the streets, visiting all the churches on our way to the Campo.

    The Campo was just packed with tourists. Do the Italians really like us invading their cities in such mass? Of course it is good for the economy, but the crowds in some high tourist areas are overwhelming. We sat for a while in the campo, taking lots of pictures of the campanile which we couldn’t go up in, large crowds waiting. Not on our priority list. Visited the Church of Catherine of Siena, who is the Patron Saint of Europe. Bought a book about her life which I shall read some day. We visited so many churches that they all run together in my mind. To our disbelief there were churches on every block and one time two churches side by side. Each a different parish. That is another story in itself.

    Day 20 and 21 – Florence

    Decided to drive into Florence to drop off the car rather than Siena. I mapped it our street by street from the internet on and it wasn’t difficult to find the Hertz drop off spot. It was near the train station and they called a cab for us. I’m not saying that driving in Florence isn’t easy , but it is doable if you just take your time and have a good navigator to watch for the street names, which are on the side of buildings, etc. Also streets are very narrow and if a truck stops to unload you just have to wait it out until he is finished. No room to go around.

    We did arrive at our hotel safely.

    B&B In Piazza della Signoria
    Via dei Magazzini, 2
    50122 Florence
    Tel: 39-55-23.99.546
    Fax +39 055 2676616
    Email: [email protected]
    €360 per night for the two rooms.

    This was a fantastic place. We had connecting rooms, the Beatrice and Dante. You can look on the website and take a virtual 360 degree tour of the Beatrice room bathroom. It is just beautiful. Frescos on the wall, sunken whirlpool tub for two, nice large French windows in the bath. I gave this room to my brother and sister in law. She loves baths and they would both use the whirlpool. My husband is not a whirlpool type guy, so it would not have been appreciated by him. He’s a shower and go. They were in 7th heaven. At the end of each day they would sit and soak and . . . . whatever and they always had a smile on their faces.

    We were greeted as we arrived, someone brought our luggage up the flight of stairs to the reception area, offered us refreshments as we waited to check in and were very helpful in any suggestions we needed. On the day were checked out we were presented with a very nice bottle of Chianti wine for each couple. A very nice gesture, and the wine was excellent.

    All rooms are decorated with great furniture, flat screen TV, only good for CNN and coffee and tea. Outside the door is a Culligan water cooler with hot and cold water. There were many choices of tea in each room.

    The breakfast room had a long communal table with a wall of windows looking out on Piazza della Signoria. There was everything you could imagine to eat. Fresh fruit plate, basket of good rolls, large platters of meat and cheese, yogurt and they will fix an omelet or however you might want your eggs. I had a nice bacon omelet, yes bacon. It was gooood. Everyone shares stories of the previous day and it was a friendly atmosphere.

    I saw some of the other rooms and they were all very nice. It is more expensive than previous places I have stayed at in Florence, but definitely worth the splurge.

    I did purchase 10:00am tickets to the Academia to see DAVID from the internet before we left home. Http:// €22 per person, not the best deal, but worth it to us. With our printed off vouchers, we walked past the long line of tourists waiting to enter and presented them to the ticket agent and in 2 minutes we were in the museum.
    David speaks for itself when you see it. Remarkable work Michaelangelo. You can see every little muscle, every vein in the hand and it’s all in stone. Definitely my favorite piece of art.

    There is lots to see and do in Florence: Pitti Palace, Boboli Gardens, Santa Croce, Uffizzi, Medici this and that, the piazzas, shopping, and the San Lorenzo market. We headed for the San Lorenzo market. My brother in law (BIL) needed to find a bag in which to put all his purchases of wine, cheese, and various other items too numerous to mention. We shopped the narrow streets lined with vendors selling lots of leather goods, knockoff purses, neat Gucci summer bags, etc. Entered the two story market building with the food. Here he (BIL) purchased more salami, pecorino cheese, which I have failed to mention, but was an overwhelming favorite of us all, and they shrink wrapped it to take home on the plane. Loved looking at all the variety of mushrooms, cheese, meats, and the chickens with the feet attached and whole pigs. Are you getting the picture here – we are food lovers more than art lovers.

    Il Ritrovo
    Via de Pucci 4/A
    055 281688

    We stopped by to make reservations for the evening. I believe it was a Thursday night. There were so many posts regarding this restaurant, a few who thought it was ok, that I definitely wanted to try it.

    Not a disappointment. This was on our top 10 lists for good places to eat. Marco is the owner and because it was not a busy night for him, and his wife didn’t speak English, he would come by our table and entertain us with his many funny stories, we just had the best night there.

    Everything is made by him on the premises, fresh every day. It was a great meal and of course I don’t remember what I ate because I didn’t journal and we didn’t pay for the meal this night so had no receipt of what we ate. But I do know it was good, we oooohed and aaaahed a lot during dinner. Hmmmmmm. We spent a lot of time there eating and listing to Marco’s stories. He offered us after dinner drinks and another bottle of wine, he appeared to be very insistent, but we declined as it was getting rather late and we were leaving early in the morning. Did we insult him by not accepting his kind hospitality?

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    This is a very belated ending to my trip report. My mother of 91 passed away and I just never got back to finishing the report.

    So I'm just adding a few paragraphs to get closure to my report.


    Florence, Italy
    Il Ritrovno Restaurant

    I have since learned that Antonio has moved on and no longer has his restaurant. What a shame.

    After a wonderful stay in Florence we were off to the Cinque Terre and Vernazza for three nights. This was truly a highlight. I had previously been to the Cinque Terre in 1996 and things certainly had changed. Of course it was swarming with people, why wouldn't one of the most beautiful spots on earth attract the masses. The harbor had been revamped since my last visit and it was now a meeting place for weekend Italians out to catch some sun. Under the brightly colored umbrellas that dotted the harbor families gathered to spend the day together enjoying their free time. Children surrried about, bikini clad beauties stretched out on the cobbled terrace taking in the rays and teenagers and grandparents enjoyed the day. A wedding was taking place at the small church in the harbor and everyone was there to cheer the happy couple as they exited the church.

    We had a room overlooking the harbor (Maria Franca's Rooms) and we did our laundry and hung it to dry "Italian Style" for all the world to see. The view was wonderful and it was enjoyable to see the early morning merchants out sweeping up after a busy night, washing down their restaurants and chatting among themselves across the harbor.

    We walked in the early morning from the southern most village of Manarola along the Via della Amore to Riomaggiore, on to Corniglea and up, up and over and down to Vernazza. This was quite a trek for me as I felt it was strenuous. The day was warm and the trails were busy. Many german power walkers on this route. But when it was over and done with it felt great to have accomplished this walk.

    Our travel partners did the walk from Monterosso back to Vernazza the following day, but my husband and I opted for the train.

    We trained to Milan where we caught a very nice train called "Pegasus". We had a 5-course dinner on the train as it passed through some of the most wonderful scenery in Switzerland. We arrived in Basel around 9:00 pm to catch the night train to Amsterdam and had the Double Deluxe compartment with a shower/Toilette and other amenities. A splurge that was welcome.

    We stayed at the Canal House on Kaisergracht in the Jordaan district. We just love this hotel. A memorable restaurant our last night was The Season’s and I put this on my top 5 choices for a good night out.

    My Italian Trip took place last May 2005 and being this is May 2006 and I have no travel plans before me, the weather in Minnesota is cold and rainy for two weeks now and more in store for next week, I only have this travelogue to fill the void until I'm off again. Looks like 2007 France (Normandy/Loire/Burgundy/Provence) I hope.

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    Thank you eurogals! My condolences about your beloved mother. Thanks for coming back on Mother's Day to complete your report.

    Hope you're getting your plans in place for France 2007.

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