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Barcelona and Italy itinerary...hotels all set, need help w some details

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Apr 7th, 2014, 06:32 PM
  #1
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Barcelona and Italy itinerary...hotels all set, need help w some details

Hello fellow travelers,

I first started planning this trip under the topic "Barcelona, Lake Como and...?" I will be traveling with my DH and two teenage sons, ages 18 and 16. They are fairly seasoned travelers, as we had extended vacations the past two summers in France, Switzerland and Italy. Click on my name for trip reports.

Thanks to tips from many of you, I was able to put together the following itinerary. We have our flights and hotels. Now, I'd appreciate any suggestions to help things flow smoothly. Also, please share any favorite activities or restaurants in any of the towns. We like small family-style restaurants with atmosphere.

Here is what we have so far:
Day 1: Fly JFK to Barcelona. Arrive 9:40 am Day 2
Stay: Hotel Colon, check-in is 2:00 pm. Hoping we can drop the bags and go somewhere nearby for lunch, then very light sightseeing around the cathedral area.

Days 3, 4, 5: Barcelona
This is our first trip to Barcelona, or anywhere in Spain. We have done some research and plan to do a lot more, but if anyone has any "must do's" please share.

Day 6: Go to Genoa, then on to Santa Margherita Ligure
How we'll get there is still undecided. I have done preliminary research on the Grimaldi cruise ferry line, and that looks like a nice way to travel. However it does take 19 hours, and we need to decide if we'd rather spend that time on a ship or on the Italian Riviera. The other alternative would be to fly. If anyone can share their experience with either of these, thank you so much in advance!

Once we get to Genoa, we'll take the train to SML.
Days 6, 7, 8, 9 (or only 7, 8, 9 if we take the overnight cruise): Santa Margherita Ligure
Staying at Hotel Continental. If anyone else is going to SML this summer, I'd suggest booking hotels ASAP. That was the most difficult reservation to get.

Day 10: leave SML, go to Lake Como
We'll travel by train, and I still haven't planned that out yet, but I imagine we'll go through Genoa to Milan and then on to Varenna, where we'll catch a ferry. This should be quite a day!

Days 10, 11, 12, 13: Stay in Bellagio at Hotel Firenze
No specific plans yet, but we'll cruise around the lake, visit Varenna. Does anyone have any suggestions for this part of the trip?

Day 14: leave Bellagio, take train to Siena
We will pick up a rental car in Siena.

Days 14, 15, 16: Stay in Siena at Palazzo Ravizza
We've stayed there before, and it is ideal for driving in and out of town. We'll take various day trips to surrounding hill towns.

Day 16: leave Siena, drive to San Gimignano
Days 16, 17: Stay in San Gimignano at La Cisterna
We've stayed here twice before; it's a nice hotel with a fantastic view. We're so excited to return! We'll probably spend one day there, and the other day visit a town nearby.

Day 18: leave San Gimignano, drive to Florence
Days 18, 19, 20: Stay in Florence at Torre Guelfa
I think my sons will really like this ancient hotel. We'll probably stay in Florence during the days, even though we have a car, since it's so difficult to drive in and out of Florence.

This part still seems a bit rough. We're flying out of Pisa, so we have to spend our last night there. It seems like the best way to get to Pisa is to drive there and then drop the car at the airport before we leave. However. we'll have the car in Florence for 3 days that we aren't using it. Does anyone see a way to improve this?

We have the option to drop the car in Florence, but then we'd have to pay for 4 train tickets to Pisa, and the cab to the airport. So, I'm not sure we'd end up saving much overall...

Day 21: drive (or train) to Pisa
If we drive, we might leave Florence early and go to Lucca first. After spending most of the day in Lucca, we'd continue on to Pisa...
DH and I have seen the Leaning Tower, and didn't much care for the area. My sons will probably be glad to see it, though. We are staying at B&B Il Campanile, which is right near the Tower. I was wondering how safe that area is at night, and whether it might be fun to walk over to the tower at night and see the buildings all lit up.

Day 22: fly back to JFK

So, it looks like a good start, but I'm hoping that some of you fellow travelers will help me to polish up the details! Thanks for your thoughts...
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Apr 7th, 2014, 08:14 PM
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There is a train from Florence that goes directly to Pisa Airport, stopping literally just outside the terminal. I've stayed in Florence the night before a Pisa departure a few times. there is also an airporter bus from Florence to Pisa Airport. Is your flight out of Pisa very early?
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Apr 7th, 2014, 11:15 PM
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The train from Florence to Pisa goes directly to the airport, so if didn't want to stay in Pisa you could drop your car in Florence and get the train to the airport. It's all very easy to do. The trains are also cheap.

Look at www.runnerbeantours.com in Barcelona. Excellent free guided tours. ( ideally you should pre book) we have done the Gaudi one and the Old Town one. Fantastic.
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Apr 8th, 2014, 12:50 AM
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Just across the square from Hotel Colón, you'll find Taverna del Bisbe, perfectly fine for a lunch. One of the more atmospheric places in the area to sit down for something to eat and a glass or two. Excellent spinach, white beans and tuna salad with sweet mustard vinaigrette, fine traditional Botifarra sausage with beans and the tapas were average ok. Very crowded at lunchtime, and not only with tourists. Three course lunch menu with wine/beer or whatever for 11€ Monday to Friday. Fun and friendly waiters with very much to do. Outdoor terrace. http://www.tavernadelbisbe.com/eng/home.htm
http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restauran...Catalonia.html

Another fine option would be Bilbao Berria, also just some 50 meters from Hotel Colón. They serve Basque pintxos, and it could give you at least a vague idea why the Basque country is considered the culinary heartland of Spain: http://www.bilbaoberria.com/en/home
http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restauran...Catalonia.html
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Apr 8th, 2014, 05:35 PM
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Thanks for your replies. I had not checked into a train from Florence to Pisa-thanks for the information. Unfortunately, our flight leaves at 9:15 am from Pisa, so I think it would be grueling to get on a train early enough to be at the airport 3 hrs ahead. Next time, I'll think of that, though.

So, we could still drop the car when we arrive in Florence, and take the train to Pisa the night before our flight. Can anyone think of a way that we could somehow fit Lucca into the equation?

Kimhe: thank you for the suggestions on places to eat in Barcelona. We will definitely check them out!

I realized as soon as I hit the Submit button on my original post that I had only tagged this "Spain"! Does anyone have a suggestion as to how I can get this on the Italy thread as well, without duplicating and frustrating people?

Thanks again!
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Apr 8th, 2014, 06:03 PM
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I doubt your airline check-in counter will be open three hours ahead in Pisa. It is a small airport.
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Apr 8th, 2014, 10:35 PM
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Yes a VERY small airport! This is Europe 3 hours ahead is really not necessary!

Re tagging the report email the editors.
I would drop the car off on arrival IN Florence and then get the train to Pisa the night before.
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Apr 8th, 2014, 10:50 PM
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You could spend the night in Lucca and take a taxi to the airport. On your last day in Italy, take the train from Florence to Pisa, stow your luggage in the train station, see the Campo dei Miracoli, retreive luggage, take train to Lucca, spend night there, arrange for car pick up Pisa airport. It's about a 30 minute drive.
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Apr 8th, 2014, 11:50 PM
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Yes the check in counter in Pisa opens I think two hours before the flight, and even the passport control for leaving the schengen zone only opens 1.5 - 2 hours before the flight.
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Apr 9th, 2014, 12:05 AM
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Those were places very close to the hotel, and good options "somewhere nearby for lunch".

In general:
Traditional Catalan food at 7 Portes from 1836: http://www.7portes.com/angles/index.php
Small, family owned Ca l'Estevet: http://www.restaurantestevet.com/wpre/
Tapas at Cal Pep: http://www.calpep.com/
Pintxos/Basque food at Txakolín: http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restauran...Catalonia.html
La Perla is as Barcelona as it gets, lunch only: http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restauran...Catalonia.html
Paradise versions of traditional tapas at Tickets:
http://www.ticketsbar.es/web/
http://www.foodandthefabulous.com/re...drias-tickets/
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Apr 9th, 2014, 11:47 AM
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Just want to add that we had a good experience at Hotel Continental in Santa Margherita Ligure. It is right on the water with beautiful gardens. Our room was simple but had a large terrace overlooking the water.Most of the other guests were Europeans. Food was very good too. Have a great trip!
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Apr 11th, 2014, 12:38 PM
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Thank you all for the information. We are interested in exploring the option to take a train from Florence to the Pisa airport early in the morning the day of our flight. From your comments, it sounds as though we don't need to be at the airport until about 7:15am for our 9:15am flight, which connects through Amsterdam to JFK.

Kimhe, I checked the links for those restaurants and they look great! Thank you.

I sent a message to the editors about adding a tag for Italy, but have not heard from them yet.

If anyone has any more information or tips about trains, I'd be glad to hear from you!
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Apr 11th, 2014, 01:05 PM
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Well, I just went to the trenitalia website (always a challenge), and tried to look up a train for early morning on August 2 from any station in Florence to Pisa Centrale (since I could not find another station listed for the airport in Pisa).

The website tells me there are no trains of any type that go at that time. Can anyone shed any light on what I'm doing incorrectly? Thanks in advance for any assistance!
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Apr 11th, 2014, 02:33 PM
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There are trains departing Florence at 4:30 (arrives P Centrale at 5:52) and 5:35 (arrives P. Centrale 6:37). You would have to catch a train from P. Centrale to P. Aeroporto (5 minutes away). Train tickets are under 10€.

Your other option is the Terravision bus (4.99€). If you take the bus, you don't have to worry with changes. It's just as fast. Departs from the train station in Florence and goes to the Pisa airport (doesn't go to P. Centrale).

http://www.terravision.eu/inglese/fi..._timetable.pdf
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Apr 11th, 2014, 04:31 PM
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You may be looking too early. I had this exact issue and seem to remember I couldn't book till about 3 months out.
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Apr 22nd, 2014, 12:50 PM
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Thank you kybourbon for the information on the trains and the bus schedule. It's very helpful.

I still can't get the trenitalia site to show any trains for the date. Smeagol, I tried entering in dates a month earlier, and it still showed no available trains.

Here is a link to my search results for August:
https://www.lefrecce.it/B2CWeb/bestF...D=RxUXSIApcm9r

Can anyone tell me when the train schedules will show, or what I'm doing incorrectly? Thanks in advance!
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Apr 22nd, 2014, 05:21 PM
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The train schedules may not show until mid-June. To get an idea, just use dates for next week. The schedules don't change that much.
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Apr 22nd, 2014, 05:33 PM
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Regarding searches for train timetables, are you using Italian spellings? Trenitalia doesn't recognize "Florence." It's Firenze.

You'll have the same issue when you search for trains to Genoa (which is Genova), Milan (Milano) and Varenna (full name is Varenna-Esino).
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Apr 22nd, 2014, 08:13 PM
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Yes, you must use the Italian spellings for cities/towns even if you are using the English version of Trenitalia (Genova, Firenze, Milano). As you type, it will start to autofill and you will have a selection of stations in the bigger cities/towns. Even a small town like Como has several stations, but there isn't a train in Bellagio. You need to take a train from Varenna.

As for schedules, some of your towns are served by the slow regional trains so just enter a date within the next 7 days so prices will show as schedules really don't change much. There are no discounts for them and no reserved seating. Regional tickets bought online have more restrictions than if you wait and buy them there. These trains don't sell out and I wouldn't buy regional tickets in advance.

For faster trains such as between Milan/Florence, these tickets are available 120 days in advance and are reserved seating. Buy early to get the biggest discounts if you know exactly when you want to travel. Other than this train and maybe part of the route from SML to Milan, all the rest seem to be regionals (including Florence/Siena).
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Apr 23rd, 2014, 01:44 PM
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Thank you everyone for your suggestions. I put in the dates for this Saturday, since we'll be traveling on a Saturday. Using the Italian names and being sure to select Tutti i Treni (all trains, even on the English version this is the choice), I was able to locate a regional schedule.

Based on your advice, I'll wait to buy the Regional tickets when we get there. If our flight out of Pisa is at 9:15 am, would we be okay to take the 6:08 train from Santa Maria Novella that arrives at Pisa Centrale at 7:32? Our other choice would be to leave SMN at 5:35, and arrive Pisa Centrale at 6:37.

Assuming a smooth connection time at Pisa Centrale, it appears that we could arrive at the airport by 8:00 am at the latest if we took the 6:08 train. I'm unfamiliar with the Pisa airport, but from previous comments, it appears that we don't need to be there more than 1.5 hours ahead. This scenario would only put us 1.25 hrs ahead. Is that insanely close?

We could also take the bus that leaves SMN at 6:40, arriving directly at the airport at 7:40. My only worry with that would be traffic/construction delays, etc. Oddly, the bus seems quicker than the train...?

Which would you choose?
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