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Falling in love with Italy again! Lake Como, Cinque Terre and Tuscany

Falling in love with Italy again! Lake Como, Cinque Terre and Tuscany

Old Apr 16th, 2024, 12:39 PM
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Just enjoyed a stroll through Tuscany with coffee myself!

Coral22, we love Renaissance towns as well. Feels very "royal" to us! I read that Parma has that feel.
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Old Apr 17th, 2024, 12:55 AM
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I’ve also enjoyed reading your report. Love Italy!
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Old Apr 17th, 2024, 04:50 AM
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Loved reading about your day with Ciara! And your lunch sounds wonderful. I like the idea of having lunch at the farm. Will keep that in mind for our trip! Definitely want to visit Pienza, too!
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Old Apr 17th, 2024, 05:21 PM
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Thank you all!
It is so fun to take this trip down memory lane!

With our cancelling our day to Siena and not getting in the car that day, we missed out on Sant' Antimo Abbey which would have only been 10 minutes south of Monatalcino. It is supposed to be lovely monastery and your can hear the monks practice their chanting in the morning and evening. This is one of the things that slipped through the cracks, we just forgot.

As a place to go if we needed another lunch, we found this place that looked wonderful, but we didn't go after all. It is a deli/cafe and has a lovely location and seating and would be nice to pick up picnic items, about 20 minutes from Pienza. Da Rita e Eraldo.
https://www.ritaeraldo.it/english/

We had one more delightful breakfast and bid a fond farewell to Annaliasa and her lovely staff. We definitely could have used a couple more nights in this area. We all thought maybe 2 nights in San Gimignano and 3 nights in Pienza would be our ideal. But, of course, we visited very few towns. We are headed to Florence and thought on the way up we would stop in Cortona and Arezzo. We reevaluated and dropped Cortona and headed for Arezzo. This is not small, it is a city, but surprisingly, an enjoyable visit. The cathedral is gorgeous and the shopping is more extensive. I really enjoyed the furniture shops, the housewares shops and the different artisan shops. It was a glimpse into what some of the home interiors would look like. We did't buy anything but it was really fun. We found another outdoor cafe and soaked up ambiance. We were turning our car in, in Florence so we were embarking on the last leg of our successful driving adventure.

Our car rental return was near the train station, and goodness, this is our first real exposure to the dreaded ZTL. We had seen them in most places we were, mainly just the Main Street. When you googled parking, that was always outside any danger zones. Now, we would be headed through a ZTL. We had contacted our car rental service, and they said we were exempt from any tickets. I had read that every car going through the ZTL was photographed, and then the "White Pages" were consulted to see who was a resident, had a business pass or had an exemption. But they said stay at the rental office until they put you on the list, don't accept, "we will do it later."

We were staying at Hotel Cerratani, compliments of Chase Sapphire miles. The men wanted to drop us at the hotel first but we had a hard time finding it. It was on a 3 way corner and had a very small rounded entrance and a small, low sign. Our directions told us we had gone past it, so around the block and through another camera, yipes. We found it, quickly unloaded and headed in.

This is a beautiful hotel, very elegant and in a fabulous location. The men made it back and we explored our neighborhood, and wow, is it crowded. We freshened up and headed to La Buchetta, which was a nice walk close to the river. We had originally agreed to order one steak Florentine and other entrees to share. We really wanted to try it, but our friends were not interested any more. We still had a great meal, everyone ordered pasta or fish and it was a very delicious meal and a fun evening.
And good news! We never got a ticket.
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Old Apr 18th, 2024, 09:50 AM
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I put Da Rita e Eraldo and Podere Il Casale on my restaurant list! Thank you, coral22!
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Old Apr 20th, 2024, 06:31 AM
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coral22, I sent you a PM the other day. Just wondering if you received it?

Looking forward to your report on Florence!
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Old Apr 20th, 2024, 01:16 PM
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Karen,
I just saw this and responded.
Sorry! I am visiting family and didn't bring all the notes I needed to finish. I will wrap it up soon!
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Old Apr 22nd, 2024, 02:33 PM
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This hotel is lovely and in the middle of everything but not too noisy. When we booked, we used miles, but had the option to pay $28 each for breakfast. We hated to commit to that, not knowing exactly what was included and also, thought, that is a lot to pay for breakfast. We booked separately from our friends, who did add it on. It turns out, you weren't getting it at a discount by doing it earlier. We felt like we were still full from dinner, so a coffee and a muffin from a nearby shop was plenty.

I was lucky enough to go to Europe one summer for 6 weeks when I was in college. I went with a girlfriend, a backpack and our Eurailpass and we enjoyed our extensive travels and the fantastic exchange rate. That trip included time in Florence where we spent a lot of time viewing the art, museums and the Cathedrals. When DH and I went to Italy before children, we revisited all the same highlights. This time we only had 1 full day there, so we decided to not include those locations.

Our friends had never been to Italy, so we suggested, that we should split up so they could get to see them. But they decided to skip that which really surprised us. They had originally talked about hiring a guide for the entire day but we were not interested in that so I found a private guide for 3 hours that we could customize a tour how we wanted. We used Withlocals and our guide was Dina. She was a Florence native, very well informed and really listened to what we requested. We picked a 9:30 start time to beat the crowds, too late! We met at the Column of Abundance, which is a monument built in the beginning of Ancient Roman Florence but had replaced a monument from Ancient Florence and is considered the center of Florence. The crowds were already overwhelming and we commented on it and Dina pulled out her phone and showed us a picture from the same spot in August and it almost looked like it had been artificially produced, it was literally body to body.


We requested a tour with a history and Medici family focus, to visit some local's favorite shops, to see some artisan shops, ceramics, and ending up at Mercado Centrale for lunch. So we did an extensive tour in the nearby area and although we all love history, it was exposure to a lot more detailed information. She pointed out architectural details and tile work, and took us in landmarks that were almost empty. Our friend peppered her with questions and Dina was very well informed. I vaguely remember, on another trip, when we did a tour of Pompei that our guide said to be a guide in Italy, you had to take an extensive course and pass to get your license.

We sat in the Piazza del Duomo and had a coffee, with her compliments, and saw a 5 across, block long line waiting to get into the Duomo, yipes. Because it is free and you don't get a timed entry, I recommend getting there 15 minutes before it opens. We looked at some ticket options, and there are a lot of multi location options that would require some investigation. We wanted to see the Baptistry, and its beautiful mosaics but that is being renovated so it is only open on Friday and Saturday. I was curious about Michelangelo's secret room in the basement of the Medici chapel. He was trying to escape the death decree by the Pope because of his views during the upheavals with the Medicis and stayed down there for a few months, sketching on the walls to fill his time. It was about to open to the public, for a limited time, from November to March, with limited days and hours, and did and sold out immediately. They extended it from April to July 2024, so if you are interested, I would check into that right away.


We continued on to the Ponte Vecchio and crossed, it had the gorgeous views, but what a madhouse! And all of the junky shops lined up all of the way. We were the least bit interested, but Dina said never buy from any of those. She took us through the neighborhoods and shops in the Oltrano area, so delightful! Our friend asked her if this was the more affordable housing and she said, quite the opposite, this is where residents move to escape what we had just witnessed, if they could afford it.

We strolled the lovely streets and shops with the goal of returning after our tour was over.Dina brought us by a jeweler that had been there for hundreds of years and admired their windows full of their elaborate and ornate designs. It was time to be heading back across to the Mercado. I mentioned how much I loved seeing the fresh produce and flowers and she said those would mostly be packed up by now. Another detail that had fallen through the cracks. Dina asked where we were having dinner and we told her. She made face and said that was too touristy and it had recently changed owners and the food wasn't as good. She suggested we make our big meal lunch, and have a light dinner at the Mercado on the second floor and then we would still see it. Good idea! She called ahead to the restaurant, Trattoria La Casalinga, and had them save us a table. On the way, I started worrying that it could be her cousin's failing restaurant, but as we approached, we were thrilled to see that the line was out the door. We were ushered right in, another benefit of having a guide who knows the manager. The lively, energetic environment and the delicious salad and pasta were perfect. We were surrounded by locals, who probably said after we left, if Americans are going to start coming here, I am finding a new place!



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Old Apr 23rd, 2024, 07:17 AM
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coral22, if it makes you feel any better, you didn't miss the (live) chanting at the Sant'Antimo abbey. AFAIK, that hasn't happened since before Covid. Recordings are played.

FWIW, we found the abbey at Monte Oliveto Maggiore near Asciano much more interesting.
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Old Apr 23rd, 2024, 07:36 AM
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Thanks, Jean,
That does make me feel better and good advice for future travelers.
Also, a good reminder to double check information from pre Covid.
In planning Italy and Ireland,we found many B&Bs, restaurants, shops and experiences had permanently closed.
And many also had reduced hours.
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Old Apr 23rd, 2024, 10:19 AM
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coral22, I enjoyed reading about your day in Florence! And it's helpful to have the name of a tour guide in case we want to do that. Would you happen to know if Dina can give private tours of the Uffizi? I think it would be more enjoyable to have a private tour of such a grand art museum. Something to think about for our trip next year.
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Old Apr 23rd, 2024, 02:09 PM
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Karen,
If you look at the Withlocals site, they list a Uffizi tour. You do pay by the tour and not per person, so it was more reasonable for the 4 of us.
I like their website, because they show you pictures of the guides and give you mini bios, so you can go with their specialties. A lot of their tours have specific itineraries, but you can adjust it quite a bit to fit what you want.

There were quite a few options with other tours, including small groups tours.
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Old Apr 23rd, 2024, 02:55 PM
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Other than Newark that sounds amazing
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Old Apr 23rd, 2024, 05:46 PM
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We said our goodbyes at lunch. We really enjoyed Dina and were happy with our tour. She was more reserved and private, but she was very responsive to our emails and itinerary changes. She was also very perceptive, and I could almost see her evaluating our reactions to things and continuing the tour based on that. And like all of the best teachers, she inspired us to further explore the history of Florence when we returned home. I caught glimpses of her being a little weary, she said they had record heat and record crowds all summer. It was 90 degrees the entire week before we arrived. She said season usually started in March and ended November 1, with a short busy Christmas period. She had started tours in February and she said she was booked through the end of the year. When we had to put our trip on hold, we didn't book the guide in Siena or Florence, and when we finally moved forward, the Florence availability was fairly limited. Since the tours are non refundable, it is a little bit of a guessing game, not getting anything or not getting a refund.

We continued on exploring the lovely shops, charming streets, and peeking into the beautiful courtyards of some of the residences there. We didn't intend to buy much, but still enjoy window shopping and popping into special, different spots. The antique shops, art, maps, linens, clothing, handbags, ceramics, etc. The men headed into different shops and so did we. We saw some gorgeous sweaters, scarves, and handbags.

We saw a beautiful handbag store with one in the window that was stunning, it was black with a gold clasp, with a soft triangular shape. I knew I could not afford it because of the impeccably dressed staff, the underlit glass shelves and the security guard. Did you ever notice how in a luxury store, whatever they are selling, they quickly assess yours to tell how likely you are to make a purchase? I can only imagine how horrified they were to glance down and see my black nylon Baggalinni bag from TJMaxx. I love it for travel because of all the zippers and pockets and it can endure any weather. I actually do own some nice purses. I must say, they were very friendly and helpful to me, even though they didn't make that $1700 sale.
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Old Apr 24th, 2024, 07:06 AM
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We continued on with our afternoon to the Pitti palace and Boboli Gardens, This is a massive fortress. It has quite the history from its original owner, to the Medici ownership to even being possessed by Napoleon. It is huge, ornate, and a mainly Renaissance palace with an extensive art collection. We were able to walk right up and get the combo ticket, there were visitors there but it wasn't too crowded. We spent 90 minutes there and continued out to the gardens. These are extremely formal and sculptured and apparently influenced many formal gardens around Europe. They occupy 75 acres and some of it is hilly with gravel roads. With the combo pass, it wasn't a big investment, but we weren't there long, just to get a feel for it, but to me, it is not a must do. There are so many different combo passes in Florence, it could make your head spin, but there is one that includes the Uffizi, Pitti and Boboli, that seemed like a good value. Also, there are a few free days scattered throughout the year, even though there is no timed entry for that, so the lines to get in could be long.

We had planned to go to the Piazzale Michelangelo, with its beautiful views of the river and the city, but the climb up was not calling to us, we were out of gas.So we headed back to the hotel via Ponte Santa Trinita and paused to enjoy the beautiful views and the river, and the Ponte Vecchio, from a distance. There is something about the golden light here, that is lovely.

We are back over the river and they are all still here. I know I sound like a broken record, but this is the middle of October. When we first looked at hotels, I was strongly considering the Oltrani area and now after, being there, this is what I strongly suggest. It is an easy 10 minute walk over the bridge, and you get a break from the crowds, especially at night. The crowds are less than the day time, but it is not like the difference in CT where most have to leave because there aren't that many accommodations. And make sure to get restaurant reservations if you have some finer dining in mind.

It is nice to put up our feet and freshen up. We had made a reservation at Zeb which gets rave reviews but we didn't want to head over the river again and a nearby one, that Dina had vetoed. So we had cancelled them both earlier in the day and were heading for our adventure at Mercado Centrale. This is a higher end Food Court above the market stalls on the 2nd floor. To get there, we experienced, the stalls full of bargain purses, scarves, and inexpensive jewelry and again the crowds. The food area was long row tables where you were definitely at sitting with others, but there was still space, we weren't on top of anyone. We had a nice young couple from Germany next to us, and overall it had a more international clientele. The food was reasonable and quickly prepared but his would have been a much better choice for lunch, if at all. I was visualizing getting local food from stalls in the actual market, so plan to go in the morning so you can see the actual market. I got a nice big bowl of Ramen, which hit the spot with my lingering head cold, a pretty good Brunello from the wine shop, and a wonderful dessert. I can't remember what everyone else got, It was a full meal, but they thought it was good. It was a fun lively experience, but I don't know that I recommend it. We wandered around some more, but with the early sunset and the long day, we headed back to pack up. This is place you could enjoy some nightlife and many were, again, solidifying my recommendation of Oltrani.
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Old Apr 24th, 2024, 07:28 AM
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Just to clarify, the Pitti Palace is definitely worthwhile, Boboli gardens could be skipped.
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Old Apr 24th, 2024, 07:50 AM
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This along he lines of the pictures Dina showed us
https://www.alamy.com/florence-tusca...3&searchtype=0

https://www.alamy.com/stock-photo-fl...3&searchtype=0
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Old Apr 24th, 2024, 03:18 PM
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You are making me homesick for Florence Coral! Was there last April and again in November. In November I stayed in Oltrarno for a week after spending 3 nights in the centre; I love Oltrarno, there is a lovely market in Piazza Santo Spirito on the third Sunday of every month and there are indeed many many interesting shops and restaurants. We ate at Casalinga too- I actually stuck my head in one morning and inadvertently interrupted their staff meeting but they were gracious and funny about it and made a booking for us for dinner-so good! Glad you enjoyed it too.
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Old Apr 24th, 2024, 04:18 PM
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raincitygirl,
Thank you for checking in and sharing your experiences! Did you find issues with crowds? Do you feel like Oltrarno is a good spot for a first time visitor, or that they would miss a lot by not staying in the city center?
I am envious of your frequent visits, that is the way to really experience it! Are you planning any future visits?
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Old Apr 24th, 2024, 05:33 PM
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Coral22, interesting observation about staying in Oltrarni vs the center. I will consider that. We are first time visitors to Florence with the exception of a daytrip in the 1970’s.

We plan on visiting the Duomo, Accademia, and Uffizi for sure. Would the Pitti Palace be more of the same? I was considering Boboli Gardens but will think about that now. Have you visited the Bardini Gardens? Would that be a better choice?

We will have 4 nights in Florence, so about 3.5 days. We are wine drinkers. Would our visit be more varied and interesting if on one of the days we schedule a small private group tour to visit wineries? We could also do this while staying in Tuscany. I realize this is subjective but just interested what you and other Florence visitors recommend.
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