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Beth Sep 20th, 1999 03:41 AM

Back from first trip to Italy -- had a GREAT time!!!
Hi All! <BR> <BR>many of you were very, very helpful while we were planning our trip, and while I was obsessing over all the details. So a huge thank you to all of you, but especially Cheryl, Denise from Australia, Bob the Nav, Paulo, Richard, Barbara and many others. This was our first trip to Italy, and my first trip planned/booked entirely via the internet. I'm happy to say the result were fantastic. I have lots to share, I'll probably post a few time (including a seperate posting just for the food experiences), so here just some highlights. <BR> <BR>We started with 4 nights in Rome. I was surprised to find how much I really liked Rome. It felt more real than the other places on our itinerary. We were never bothered by pickpockets, or crime. We walked a lot, but also used taxis occasionally. The Sistine Chapel more than lives up to its hype. That and the Raphael Rooms were amongst my favorite sights in Rome. I used Scala Reale for tours of the Vatican and the ancient sites and loved it. They are small tours (7 people max) and very well educated and sholarly tour guides. I particularly recommend them for the Ancient Rome tour, as it is so hard to comprehend otherwise. <BR> <BR>Venice was beautiful. Is it sacrilege to admit that I enjoyed the Accademia in Venice more than the Uffizi? My new favorite Italian artist is Veronese who painted the Feast of the House of Levi, and first runner up is Titian. But Venice is a little too crowded and touristy. Sometimes I lost sight of the city because it felt a little like Disney world. <BR> <BR>We didn't have enough time in 2 nights to really see Florence. In some ways this was the least satisfying part of the trip, if only because I always wanted to fit in something else. I definitely want to go back to Florence. And seeing Michelangelo's David was definitely a highlight. I've heard many of you say it took your breath away, and I didn't really understand. Well, now I do. The emotional impact of this work is amazing! It even brought a tear to my eye, and made my husband speechless. <BR> <BR>After Florence we spent a week based at an apartment in Chiusi in Southern Tuscany. I have mixed feelings about the success of this. We choose an in-town apartment instead of a countryside villa because we wanted to have easy access to restaurants so we could go to dinner without using the car, and because we wanted to be close to the highway. We were successfull on these counts, and the apartment was nice, and had a great view. But Chiusi doesn't have much charm itself, and it was VERY noisy at night and early in the morning. Also it took us longer than I expected to get anywhere, so we didn't see as much or get as far as I expected. We did get to the Chianti area, Montepulciano, the countryside around Montalcino, Siena, Orvieto, Arezzo and Cortona. Siena and Orvieto were my favorite day trips, as both cathedrals were fabulous. The day we went to Arezzo and Cortona was the biggest disappointment. Cortona is very pretty, a charming hilltown, but there wasn't much of anything there to do or see. For charming hilltowns you are better off with Montepulciano which has a couple pretty churches and lots of wine to taste. And we went to Arezzo only to see Piero Della Francesco's fresco cycle of the True Cross, only it was "chiuso per restauro" ("closed for restoration", my least favorite new Italian phrase!). I was under the misguided impression that the restoration on this would be finished by now, or at least that most of it would be visible. Unfortunately very little is actually visible (about 3 panels of 12). I guess I should have checked in advance. <BR> <BR>Siena definitely lived up to its hype, I LOVED it. I would go back there, or stay there a day or 2 on another trip. I have a tip for those of you who go to Siena by car. It is very difficult to find parking near the top of the hill, especially if you arrive after 10 AM as we did. The only place we could park was a big lot on the Via Pescaino (might have the spelling wrong). But this turned out to be great because there is a bus that leaves from across the street from the parking lot and takes you all the way up, through the Fontebrandi gate into the center of Siena. The only trick is getting bus tickets. There is a Tabachi where you can buy them about 1/4 mile of relatively flat walking from the lot. It would be even better if you could find them somewhere before you parked (must be a tabachi at a gas station or something). In any case this was a huge feet-saver, and perhaps the best 80 cents I spent the whole trip. Paulo, we used your strolling tour of Siena and really enjoyed it. Our favorite sights were the frescos in the Piccolomini library inside the duomo, and the good and bad government frescos in the Palazzo Publico (okay, the artist escapes me at the moment, but I think it was Martini). <BR> <BR>I'll post more later, as I remember things. If anyone has any questions feel free to ask here, or by e-mail. <BR> <BR>

Mary Sep 20th, 1999 04:09 AM

Beth: <BR>Sounds great...I leave Friday with my husband, and can hardly wait! <BR>Do you happen to remember how much Scala Reale charged for the tour? Some of the web sites I've seen charge up to $150.00. Seems pretty expensive for a walking tour, you're the first person I've seen post a recommendation. Tell me more.

FT Sep 20th, 1999 04:32 AM

Beth, what a great post! It was good to read such a positive account of your trip to Italy--i can't wait to go back in December, after which time I will post my own glowing account to this forum!

Beth Sep 20th, 1999 05:52 AM

Mary, <BR>I think we paid Scala Reale a total of $190. This included 2 tours for 2 people, plus the optional orientation walk. We didn't take the orientation walk (a 2 hour morning walk) but I talked to others who did and they really liked it a lot. Also the Scala Reale folks were incredibly helpful before my trip. They got me reservations to see Nero's Domus Aurea, they booked me a driver for a private Rome by night tour, and they helped me with dinner reservations. The Vatican tour had just 2 couples, and was led by a German woman working onher doctoral thesis in Italian Art. (Her English was excellent, she studied in the US for several years too.) Our Ancient Rome walk was led by an American student of ancient History working on his thesis on the Roman civil war between Pompey and Julius Caesar. So while its true that the were not cheap, I really loved the tours. I liked being able to talk to the guide and get a really in-depth information. I kept seeing people on bus tours with 40 people and one guide, and I was really happy with my choice. I hope this doesn't sound too much like advertising! I just was very happy with the service and wanted to let you know.

Beth Sep 20th, 1999 05:54 AM

FT, <BR> <BR>I'm sure you'll have a great time. I suspect December is a good choice to go. The only thing I would change about my trip is I would go LATER in the fall. They had unseasonably hot weather while we were there. It was 90 degrees F, and 90% humidity, we were REALLY, REALLY, HOT! By the second week it was a little better, but still awfully warm.

Mary Sep 20th, 1999 06:49 AM

Thanks, Beth. You make the tour sound too good to pass up. We'll try it, and tell you about it when we get back. Everyone in this forum is so helpful - it's a great place to plan your trip.

Paulo Sep 20th, 1999 07:31 AM

Glad to hear you fully enjoyed your experience. Just to set your records straight, the Effects of Good and Bad Government frescoes in Palazzo Pubblico are by Ambrogio Lorenzetti. By Simone is the Maestą in the Globe Room. The famous equestrian portrait of Guidoriccio is also attributed to Martini but there are at least 9 out of 10 chances that it isn't! Most probably, by Martini is the badly damaged fresco just below the Guidoriccio. The frescoes in the Picolomini Library are by Pinturicchio. <BR> <BR>Paulo <BR>

Beth Sep 20th, 1999 07:45 AM

Hi Paulo, <BR>thanks for setting the record straight. I actually did write down all those details in my journal, but of course I didn't have it in front of me when making the post. <BR> <BR>Someone from this forum suggested the journal idea, and also taking a glue stick so I could glue in postcards and ticket stubs. This was a great suggestion. I think the journal is one of the best souvenirs from my trip.

Beth Sep 20th, 1999 07:55 AM

More on our trip... <BR> <BR>Orvieto is definitely a worthwhile day trip if you are in the area. Although not as interesting as Siena, it has a lot to recommend it. <BR> <BR>They handle the tourist crowds better than most of the hill towns. We could park easily in the big lot by the train station. We bought an "Orvieto Carte" from the tourist office by the train station. This cost L20,000 and includes the following: round trip ride on the funiculare to the hill top; free use of the buses to get from the funiculare to the Duomo (although this is not a bad walk); admission to the chapel inside the Duomo with the Signorelli frescos of the Last Judgement; a guided tour of the tufa caves beneath the city; admission to the clock tower so you can climb to the top; admission to the Museo Civico. We did all these things except for the Museum (okay, it was our last day, and we were tired!). The "subterranean tour" is moderately interesting. It takes about an hour and you see some of the man-made caves that are beneath the buildings in Orvieto. Some were dug by the Etruscans for temples or wells, others were used in the middle ages and the renaisssance for wine cellars, olive presses, and dove cotes. It was something different to do. We climbed the clock tower which had an awesome view. And we visited the frescos which again, were amongst the best we'd seen.

Barbara Sep 20th, 1999 08:07 AM

Hi Beth, <BR> <BR>Glad to hear your trip was so successful -- planning ahead does pay off. You'll know you're hooked if you started planning the next trip on the flight home. <BR> <BR>Ciao, Barbara <BR>

Beth Sep 20th, 1999 01:04 PM

Barbara, on the plane on the way home my husband asked when were we going back? this from someone who was nervous about going, in the first place! I'm certainly ready to start planning the next trip. After all I didn't get enough time in Rome or Florence, I didn't go to Pompeii or Amalfi, the Lakes or Cinque Terre! <BR> <BR>

cheryl Sep 20th, 1999 01:23 PM

Beth--welcome back! I just arrived home and I am trying to find the words for my wonderful trip. I took Scala Reale's Arte Vaticana tour also and found the guide to be extremely knowledgable. I don't think I would have gotten as much from my tour of the Vatican without taking the tour. Just fabulous! Gald to hear you and your husband enjoyed your trip-cheryl

Rosie Sep 20th, 1999 02:04 PM

Beth, I too enjoyed Orvieto. As for the food there, we had a wonderful meal at the restauraunt "The Etruscan". Heavenly, is the only word I can use!! The service was phenomenal, Every aspect of the meal was memorable.

Beth Sep 21st, 1999 04:50 AM

Hi Rosie, <BR>In Orvieto we ate at a place called Osteria Del Angelo and it was fabulous too. My husband actually ate pigeon for the first time, since we had just come from seeing all those pigeon holes in the caves, and it was remarkably good. And it was nice to drink white wine again (we'd been in Tuscany a week already drinking nothing but very fine reds). Yes, Orvieto definitely has good food to recommend it too.

lisa Sep 21st, 1999 10:20 AM

Beth: Thanks for the wonderful post. Just reading about your reaction to seeing the David for the first time made me flash back to MY first time seeing it, which made me all teary-eyed just thinking about it. A totally vicarious, art-induced emotional memory -- ahh, such a beautiful thing, and what a gift to see it. Makes you feel lucky to be alive. Thanks for reminding me.

BOB THE NAVIGATOR Sep 21st, 1999 12:11 PM

Beth, I am delighted you had a great time---your enthusiasm is evident. Next <BR>year let's do the Lakes, Cinque terre, <BR>and the Bernese Oberland---starting and <BR>ending in Zurich. That is a much different experience than the art and <BR>culture cities.

Diana Sep 22nd, 1999 10:11 AM

Beth, <BR> <BR>Perfect timing! We're leaving next week for Florence, Tuscany and Rome. RE: Tuscany, I've heard that we need to advance book with wineries for tastings. Is that correct ? Suggestions ? Also, were the lines for the various museums as bad as we've heard ? We've pre-booked the Uffizzi & Vatican Gardens. Any others recommended ? <BR> <BR>Thanks in advance for your response.

Beth Sep 22nd, 1999 10:53 AM

Hi Diana, <BR> <BR>yes its true that for most wineries you need to book in advance for tours. At some you will be able to taste anyways. Some will have tasting rooms in town. If you go to Montepulciano definitely stop in the tasting cantina for Fattoria Del Cerro. It was one of the nicer places, and great wines. We did not make any advance reservations for winery visits and I sort of wish we had. There were two we visited which are open without reservations. One was Fattoria Barbi which I highly recommend. They gave a nice tour of the cellars at 3PM (maybe there were other times, but thats when we went), and they had a very nice restaurant. We got there a little before 1 so we could taste, eat, and then tour. We also went to Castello Banfi, where they have a tasting room and a glass museum. But this was aless satisfying stop. They were kind of rude in the tasting room, and the museum was boring. <BR> <BR>we carried back 12 bottles of wine. I wish I could have carried more. <BR> <BR>Oh, if you do go to Montepulciano (and if you are a wine lover, I imagine you will) there was a fantastic restaurant called La Grotte. Its outside the Centro Storico, its actually right next to a church called the Tempio San Biagio. You'll see signs to both, so its easy to find. The church is worth a visit inside. And the restaurant had a lovely garden and great food. And they have an affiliation with Avignonesi winery, so they have lots of their wines on the menu. We had a wonderful, relaxing lunch there. They are a little pricey. About $100 for two for 3 courses plus dessert, not including wine. <BR> <BR>I pre-booked the Uffizi, the Accademia and the Capelle Medicee in Florence. The line for the Uffizi was at least 90 minutes, I was glad I had the reservation. There was no line at the Accademia at 5PM. There was no line at the Capelle Medicee when we arrived for our 9:15AM reservation, but there was a fairly significant line at 10 (although probably only about a 30 minute wait I would guess). You might want to pre-book the chapel, or try to go early. <BR> <BR>I think the tour groups do the Vatican museums in the morning. We took the Scala Reale tour which starts at 1, but is too small to have special entrance to the museum. At 1PM there was no line. Also, St Peter's was nicely uncrowded when we got there at around 4:30. In fact a service was starting at 5:30 and we saw a Cardinal in procession, which was kind of cool. <BR> <BR>If you want to see Nero's palace you should pre-book. See my posting about "Nero's Domus Aurea" if you are interested in details. <BR> <BR>In general I always saw the worst lines between 9:30 and 11 AM. Its my belief that these were the big tour groups. We actually never got into the Duomo in Florence because we arrived there at 10 and I didn't want to wait in line. Same thing happened at St Marks Basilica in Venice, only we managed to go back at 4:30 and breeze right in. <BR> <BR>Don't miss having the bistecca fiorentina at Buca Lapi in Florence. I got the recommendation from this forum, and its outstanding. Its by far the biggest slab o' beef I have ever seen. And it was more than my husband and I could finish (and we are NOT lightweight eaters :-) ). <BR> <BR>Hope you have a great trip.

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