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Oct 9th, 2006, 04:48 PM
  #1
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Back from Three Wonderful Weeks In Italia - Trip Report

It's hard to believe the trip is over - I've been back only a week and am already planning our return. We had a wonderful trip, made even better by the numerous Fodorite contributions and suggestions we received before we left.

We left on September 7th and spent 4 nights in Venice, 3 nights in Florence, 1 night in Siena, 7 nights at a villa in San Giovanni d'Asso, and 7 nights in Rome.

Honestly, I can't imagine how the trip could have been any better (unless we could have made it longer). The weather was splendid - very little rain, and highs mostly in the upper 70s.

Detailed trip report to come (including restaurant recommendations and reviews of some Fodorite Favorites), but for now, I'll say that I highly recommend all of our hotels, as well as the villa:

Venice - La Calcina - http://www.lacalcina.com/

Florence - Tourist House Ghiberti - http://www.touristhouseghiberti.com/principale.html

Siena - Palazzo Ravizza - http://www.palazzoravizza.it/

Villa Il Tribbio - http://www.tuscany-villas.net/accomm...bio/index.html

Rome - Hotel Due Torri - http://www.hotelduetorriroma.com/

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Oct 9th, 2006, 05:59 PM
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Hi Abby, welcome home. Can't wait to read your report.

Three weeks sounds so utterly delicious! I thought I was lucky with 12 days. Three weeks!
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Oct 9th, 2006, 07:59 PM
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Please do post a report - your trip sounds awesome!
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Oct 9th, 2006, 08:40 PM
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Oh, Abby, please do post as soon as you can. I'm dying for a trip down memory lane. if I can't go back for a while, at least I can read your trip report, which has all the sound of a great one.
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Oct 10th, 2006, 01:42 PM
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So September 7th started off well enough - we arrived at the airport (Ontario, CA) well in advance of our flight. So far in advance, in fact, that we were able to catch an earlier flight to Denver. At the time, I thought this was a good thing, since I was worried about making the connection in Denver (where we were to board a plane to Frankfurt).

Shortly after we arrived in Denver, a severe thunderstorm caused the entire airport to shut down. The plane that was supposed to take us to Frankfurt was re-routed, and we were stuck. For nine hours! It actually wasn't as bad as it sounds, and fortunately, we were able to book another flight from Frankfurt to Venice that had us arriving only 6 hours later than the original flight.

When all was said and done, we arrived in Venice around 7:00 pm the evening of the 8th. The flight from Frankfurt to Venice was actually quite lovely, with gorgeous views of the German countryside and the Alps. I also had a nice view of Venice as we approached the airport. Since we had been traveling for nearly 24 hours, we decided to spring for the water taxi, which took us directly to our hotel, Pensione La Calcina.

Even though I booked La Calcina in January, all of the canal rooms were taken when I booked. Nonetheless, our non-canal-view room was more than adequate, and the staff at La Calcina were a delight. We decided to eat that night at the hotel's restaurant, La Piscina, and we were not disappointed with our first Venetian meal. My husband and I each had antipasti and a pasta dish. I neglected to write it down, but I recall that mine was some sort of cream-based cheese sauce. In any event, La Piscina was a convenient, fine way to start our Venetian adventure.

After dinner, we had a burst of energy, so we decided to wander around, eventually wandering over to Piazza San Marco. We parked ourselves in front of the Florian and enjoyed an overpriced glass of prosecco and some priceless people-watching.

We wandered back a different way and turned in later than we had anticipated, having thoroughly enjoyed our first few hours in Venice.

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Oct 10th, 2006, 01:57 PM
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great start! waiting for more . . .
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Oct 10th, 2006, 03:09 PM
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Thanks! I guess I shouldn't do a detailed account of every day, or this will be the longest trip report ever. We spent the 9th, 10th and 11th in Venice, and although there had been rain in the forecast, when we awoke each day we were greeted with the most glorious, cloudless blue skies imaginable. I consider the entire time in Venice one big "highlight," but some of my favorite experiences were:

- The Basilica, of course. I am a sucker for mosaics, so I was in heaven here.
- The Secret Itineraries tour of the Doge's Palace (booked in advance online) - we had a grumpy tour guide, but her grumpiness actually added to the atmosphere of the tour - it was a hoot!
- The views from San Giorgio Maggiore - wow!
- The Frari Church and the Scuola Grande di San Rocco (I found the audioguide for this to be particularly worthwhile)
- The Guggenheim Collection, both the art and the building (particularly the terrace)
- wandering aimlessly, especially in the Dorsoduro
- nighttime in Piazza San Marco (expensive drinks notwithstanding); I think we sat at each cafe and decided that Gran Caffe Chioggia (across from the Doge's Palace) was our favorite . . . slightly less expensive and better music.

In terms of food, we didn't have any truly outstanding meals in Venice (we were saving up for Tuscany and Rome), but I certainly wouldn't say we had any bad food, either. Some places we enjoyed:

- La Piscina (mentioned above), the restaurant at La Calcina
- Pizzeria Accademia (just off the bridge on the Dorsoduro side) for a quick bite
- L'Incontro Sardinia (Campo Santa Margherita), where we had a good antipasti misto, and I had fantastic ravioli. My husband's suckling pig was just okay. We also met a nice couple from New Zealand who had just started a 6-week holiday! So jealous!
- Il Paradiso, a decent restaurant in the San Polo district near the Rialto but on a quiet side-street. It was here I had my first of many glasses of vin santo w/ biscotti
- Gelato at Paolin in Campo San Stefano; Gelateria Nico in the Dorsoduro was also good.

In terms of shopping, we did almost all of our shopping in the Dorsoduro. We bought some beautiful murano goblets at a small store on the street that you take to get from the Accademia to the Guggenheim, and we bought masks at Ca Macana.

Overall, Venice exceeded my expectations. I found the City to be peaceful, beautiful, exciting, romantic, and relaxing. The people were gracious, and the whole spirit of the City was just -- well, indescribable, really. In hindsight, we definitely could have spent another 2-3 days in Venice (easily).

Next up - Florence!
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Oct 10th, 2006, 04:31 PM
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Sounds absolutely heavenly! I've not yet been to Venice but trip reports like this one make me yearn to go. (Trying to get my husband to go with me September, 2007 - sounds like perfect weather. How were the crowds?)

Looking forward to Florence,
Linda
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Oct 10th, 2006, 05:23 PM
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Abby: Faster, please!!! Great report.
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Oct 11th, 2006, 07:36 AM
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Eagerly awaiting Florence.
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Oct 11th, 2006, 09:32 AM
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Oh Abby, it sounds like you had a lovely time. We love every detail!

Can't wait for Firenze!
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Oct 11th, 2006, 04:19 PM
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Totally enjoying your report! Thanks. I am looking at Venice (on my wall) as I type, sigh...
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Oct 11th, 2006, 05:57 PM
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Thanks! Before moving on to Firenze, I wanted to mention one other restaurant in Venice (thanks, Missypie, for mentioning it on another thread). It's called Osteria da Carla and is just a stone's throw from Piazza San Marco. We had a wonderful lunch there (I had the pasta special that day, which was lasagna), and I was pleasantly surprised to find decent food in a nice atmosphere so close to the tourist crush.

In terms of the crowds in Venice, they honestly weren't that bad, except in the Piazza San Marco and the immediately surrounding areas. Even there, it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be.

The morning of the 12th, we overslept (had a little snafu with the alarm setting) and nearly missed our train to Florence. In our rush, we didn't have time to enjoy one last breakfast on the deck at La Calcina, which was a shame, especially considering that it was yet another sunny, beautiful day.

The train ride from Venice to Florence was easy and uneventful. We arrived in Florence shortly after lunch and went straight to our hotel, Tourist House Ghiberti.

Tourist House Ghiberti was as great as everyone here described. The room was clean, HUGE by European standards, and filled with "extras" like a flat screen TV and a giant computer/business center set-up in the room (which we had no intention of using, but still . . .).

After a brief rest at the hotel, we set out for the Duomo, which was just a couple of blocks from the hotel.

Florence, unlike Venice, was teeming with tourists, and in particular, HUGE tour groups EVERYWHERE. The area around the Duomo was packed. Our first priority was to climb the dome (for some reason, we get a kick out of climbing domes and towers), and fortunately, the line wasn't too long. It was late afternoon by the time we reached the top, and the views were spectacular - a perfect introduction to Florence.

After descending the dome, we meandered across town and over the Ponte Vecchio (also crowded, but quite a site) to the Pitti Palace. We bought tickets for the Palace and the Boboli Gardens just before the cut-off and pretty much had the place to ourselves. We particularly enjoyed the gardens and meeting the Gato of the Garden, Sampsone.

From there, we headed back across the Ponte Vecchio just as the sun was setting (beautiful!). We had dinner that night at one of the outdoor tables at Il Sasso di Dante, where we enjoyed both the food and the views of the Duomo. I had a really nice pear ravioli, and my husband had a wonderful bistecca fiorentina. For all but the "splurge" dinners, we ordered vino de la casa, which, for the most part, was perfectly fine. After dinner, I enjoyed a glass of vin santo w/ some incredible homemade biscotti. By this point, my husband was getting a little more comfortable testing out his Italian, which the waitress seemed to appreciate. We always tried to communicate in Italian when possible, and the locals were very patient with us and seemed to get a kick out of our efforts.

My husband was on a mission to find the best gelato in Italy, so we wandered over to Gelateria de Neri after dinner, where he had what turned out to be the best stracciatella of the trip.

The next day (Wed. the 13th), we had breakfast in the courtyard of the Tourist House Ghiberti. While it lacked the beautiful views of La Calcina's breakfast deck, the courtyard was charming, and breakfast was very good.

From there, we headed to the Accademia (reserved in advance online) to see David. No words can describe how incredible it was to see this masterpiece. My husband and I both love sculpture (his favorite is Rodin, mine is probably Bernini, but we both developed a new appreciation for Michelangelo on this trip). I loved the presentation at the Accademia, and I especially loved the opportunity to sit down and view David from all angles. We sat and stared for a long time, and we could have stayed longer.

After leaving the Accademia, we headed to the Bargello - very underrated, in my opinion. We didn't spend a ton of time there, but it was definitely worth the stop. From there, we went to Santa Croce, which we really enjoyed. My husband bought a beautiful jacket at the leather school located behind the church, and I looked at a few handbags but didn't purchase one . . . that day.

We had a quick lunch at I Fratellini (fantastic mozarella and tomato sandwich with a glass of rosato) and then went to meet a friend of ours who had just flown in and would be one of our villa-mates in San Giovanni d'Asso.

We checked our her hotel, Guelfo Bianco (pretty nice, but a little noisy), and then meandered around and did a little shopping on the main shopping streets. As the sun set (after another perfect day, albeit a little hot), we enjoyed a glass of prosecco at the Hotel Lungarno (beautiful view) and then had dinner at a nearby restaurant, Bibo. I don't recall what I had, but my husband's Pasta del Bibo was the hit of the evening - and of course, I enjoyed a glass of vin santo w/ biscotti.

We had good gelato (not as good as de neri, according to my husband) at a place right off the Arno, but I can't remember the name.

Next up - last full day in Firenze, and then on to Siena!
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Oct 11th, 2006, 07:05 PM
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Great report so far, abby97.

I too have been recommending da Carla since we had dinner there last March. It really is a great little place. I'll bet that the prices at lunch were a little lower than those at dinner. The fish DH had there was fabulous.
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Oct 12th, 2006, 07:49 PM
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The next day (Thursday, 9/14) we enjoyed another breakfast on the terrace and then met up with our friend to visit Museo San Marco. Loved the frescoes - amazing! From there, we visited the Medici Chapel, detouring on the way through San Lorenzo church and the nearby market.

Lunch was at Verratzano, where we enjoyed boar sausage, a plate of various types of cheese, and some lovely vino bianco.

We had reservations that afternoon for the Uffizi - glad I booked ahead, as the line was quite long. I enjoyed seeing The Birth of Venus and some of the other pieces, but nothing there had the same emotional impact for me as seeing Michelangelo's David (or, as I would discover in Rome, Bernini's Daphne and Apollo and Michelangelo's Pieta).

We headed over to Santa Maria Novella after a couple of hours in the Uffizi. Unfortunately, the church was covered in scaffolding. We enjoyed the nearby perfumery and bought some hand cream. Wish I'd bought more, as I have just discovered that it costs twice as much here in LA.

We had late-ish reservations that night at La Giostra, and I was happy we had the chance to rest for a couple of hours before dinner. Dinner at La Giostra was magnifico! The chef greeted us with a plate of antipasti misto (grilled eggplant, roasted red peppers, caprese, proscuitto, and stuffed squash) that was out of this world, along with a complimentary glass of prosecco. I had a wonderful pasta de tartufo bianco, followed by bistecca. Other highlights included my husband's taglierini w/ tomatoes, pinoles, basil and cheese, and our friend's wild boar pasta. We washed it all down with a nice supertuscan. All in all, an outstanding meal (the first of several).
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Oct 12th, 2006, 09:05 PM
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abby,
Thanks so much for posting this wonderful trip report. I'm enjoying it so much. Glad you got to La Giostra--wish I could have been there with you!

I too found the crowds in Florence more overwhelming than those in Venice.

Looking forward to reading more.
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