Five sisters, two weeks in Italy...

Mar 15th, 2008, 07:06 AM
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Five sisters, two weeks in Italy...

We are celebrating two major birthdays, one recovery from cancer, one Ph.D., one retirement, on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Italy this June (second half). One's been to Italy before like me; the others have never been. One hasn't been out of California except one trip out of state.

We fly into Venice, have 4 nights at Locanda Orseolo; then we take a train to Lake Como and end up (via Varenna) at Bellagio, staying for a week at the self-catering apartments affiliated with Villa Serbelloni. I've also reserved an apartment at La Limonera thinking we or at least I will want a break from the group some times, and I don't need the facilities of the Villa that I think they would enjoy (I've stayed there before).

(We start in Venice because I didn't want the long trek to Bellagio right after the flight from San Francisco and Venice is set up to deal with tourists, has close in airport, etc. Plus LO is a nice welcome to Italy. )

Then we take the train to Ravenna (staying one night) where one sister wants to see the little town nearby where her in-laws were from (Campanio) and we can see the mosaics. Then we have two nights in Rome, and I've arranged the after-hours tour at the Vatican museum/Sistine Chapel.

I'd love to hear suggestions for

1. traveling with family, especially those who don't live together. We get along pretty well, and three of my sisters have worked together (as RNs) often, but we have not traveled together. I am doing the planning and I'm the only one with a basic knowledge of Italian. We will share rooms at least some of the time.

2. I figured the week on Lake Como as a relaxing, "slow travel" kind of week. But I'd like to have some options for interesting day or half day trips, given it's the first experience of Italy for some of the group. Boat trips around the lake would be great, but what about side trips to Bergamo? to Lugano? Is MIlan a feasible day trip by train/boat?

Since three of the group haven't been before they are open to just about anything and have expressed no preferences. Most are good walkers and relatively healthy; most are still observant Catholics; they aren't big shoppers but surely want to look at some shops, Euro notwithstanding.

3. I've found good ideas on the forum here for Rome and a little on Ravenna but any additional suggestions for our circumstances (including Venice for first-timers--I've been there too often to remember what newbies like, and I mostly just walk around and enjoy the city ). Thanks for any suggestions!

annw is online now  
Mar 15th, 2008, 07:13 AM
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Congratulations on all the accomplishments and milestones! It sounds like a wonderful trip. My only advice would be not to try to insist that everyone try to do everything together. Expect to break off into pairs and smaller groups for all or parts of days. I just spent a weekend with my sisters (4 of us) and it gets pretty intense without breaks.

Have a great time. I hope you post a trip report.
Grassshopper is offline  
Mar 15th, 2008, 07:19 AM
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You might consider Verona and maybe Lago de Garda (Sirmione town). Not sure about transportation as we always have a car. Lugano is lovely, as is Locarno (also in southern Switzerland).
simpsonc510 is offline  
Mar 15th, 2008, 07:43 AM
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I do not have any concrete details to add about Italy, just want to say this sounds like you did a great planning a wonderful trip!!

Here's a couple suggestions about group travel...

Don't feel like you need to do everything together. Even plan some entire days apart, or paired off in different groups for different interests. I think the extra apartment in the one week location is a very good idea.

You should try not to feel like you need to translate or handle any/all the Italian language issues that may come up. Plenty of people travel thru Europe with only English, leave some room so your sisters can be creative & learn to get by on their own as well.

safe & happy travels!
suze is offline  
Mar 15th, 2008, 07:45 AM
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Thanks; excellent ideas about splitting up -- I can imagine some hanging out by the pool (during apartment stay) while others shop or walk.
annw is online now  
Mar 15th, 2008, 07:47 AM
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Simpson, mind my asking how you got over to Lugano -- I see there are boat and bus methods for getting there--and is it an ok day trip?
annw is online now  
Mar 15th, 2008, 07:54 AM
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We honeymooned in the Lakes region. Rented a cute little apartment and had a car, so Lugano, Milano, Bergamo, etc. were all easy to access. I don't remember much about the train service there (because we had a car, so I just didn't pay attention), but if you know you can get a train to Como, you can certainly get from Como to Milano. The drive was less than an hour. Check Trenitalia's website.
BarbaraMH is offline  
Mar 15th, 2008, 07:57 AM
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Yup, that'll be me hanging out by the pool -lol! I almost said that in my posting, but it sounded kinda lame. Sometime I like to just kick back at the hotel/apartment during an afternoon.
suze is offline  
Mar 15th, 2008, 08:02 AM
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We always have a rental car. I've not done any boat trips. Sorry I can't be of more help with that.
simpsonc510 is offline  
Mar 15th, 2008, 08:03 AM
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Congratulations on all the milestones! For myself, I can't imagine staying a whole week in the Lakes at the expense of Florence and more time in Rome, but if that's your goal, I hope you have a great trip.

One thing to agree on ahead of time is how you're going to pay for meals. Are you going to divide the checks according to what each person orders, or are you just going to split it 5 ways. Do some want to pay cash and others want to put it on a credit card? Some people get really touchy about this. Make sure everyone agrees on the method ahead of time!

I also agree that it should be understood ahead of time that all 5 of you won't be joined at the hip the entire time.
SusanP is offline  
Mar 15th, 2008, 08:37 AM
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I raised that issue about where to spend the time, and did they want more for Rome, or to stop in Florence, but all seemed satisfied with this arrangement, part of the idea being a restorative rather than city-oriented trip.

But I put it out there that we were making choices. I think that since it's a first time to Europe for one, a first time in Italy for three, that there was some nervousness, warranted or not, that seemed eased by the "week in Lake Como" aspect and by slowing down a bit. (And frankly, getting a weekly rental helps with finances; although no one is particularly on budget, I continue to watch the dollar erode with some apprehension).

On that topic we haven't settled how to handle meals--suggestions? (No one is particularly fussy about who had the more expensive dish or who did or didn't have wine with dinner. All have stepped up to ask what do I owe for reservations, etc. and we are flying biz class--reserved almost a year ahead at a good deal.) Still, I want to avoid trouble!
annw is online now  
Mar 15th, 2008, 08:59 AM
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You can easily make a day trip to Lugano from Bellagio. Ferry to Menaggio, bus to Lugano. Take your passports because they will likely be checked on the bus at the border crossing. Start out early and make sure you know the time of the last ferry Menaggio-Bellagio, or you could be stuck.

A day trip to Milan is easy. It's easiest to buy your train tickets when you're passing through Milan from Venice as the station at Varenna is unmanned. However, it's also possible to buy train tickets in Varenna. The last time we did this (a few years ago), you could buy them at the coffee bar/tobacconist shop just a few yards from the ferry dock. Or ask at the Tourist Info offices in either Bellagio (near the church) or Varenna. Again, make sure you know the time of the last ferry to Bellagio for your return trip.

A day trip by train to Bergamo is also easy, but involves a change in Lecco.

Go to Villa Balbianello one day. If everyone enjoyed that, go to Villa Carlotta another day.

If you're in Bellagio on a Sunday, go to mass at the church. It's beautiful.

P.S. I love Residence La Limonera!

P.P.S. Make reservations for dinner at Bilacus in Bellagio at least one night.
Jean is offline  
Mar 15th, 2008, 09:34 AM
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ann, then it sounds as though the itinerary is right for your group, which is all that is important.

It also sounds as though they would be happy with just splitting the bill evenly at meals. However, I would still talk to them about it and make sure that's the case. Better to have it clear before you go.
SusanP is offline  
Mar 15th, 2008, 10:43 AM
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I think you would be fine with just splitting bills equally. Maybe you could just bring it up on your way to lunch or dinner each day. 'Is everyone OK with splitting the bill equally this time?'
I imagine some days all five of you might eat together but there'll be other times you'll dine in twos or threes and then the choice could be between a slightly more upscale restaurant or a quick pizza somewhere.
At the self catering apartments you might want to agree in advance to eat out the first and last nights (so you'll have time to buy provisions the next day and clear up at the end). That'll leave 5 nights and you get cook one night each for five people... or whatever works for you.

Really the main thing is to be open and discuss financial things before you go so everyone knows what to expect and then discuss things while you're there in case the actual costs are not what one or more expected.
highflyer is offline  
Mar 15th, 2008, 01:15 PM
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Thanks much for the excellent suggestions and any more you may have!
annw is online now  
Mar 15th, 2008, 08:18 PM
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When I planned out the itinerary for my mother, sister and I for Ireland and Italy, I made sure to add one item to each day of our trip. In Ireland they read "pub" and in Italy it read "gelato". Regardless of where you girls end up, you'll have a ball and it's so nice to see sisters making the effort for each other. Just laugh when it gets stressful and don't forget "gelato"!
Also don't worry about the language - everytime I tried to speak Italian, they'd answer me in English!
sheri_lp is offline  
Mar 15th, 2008, 09:03 PM
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Since most are observant Catholics, I'd suggest that you make an effort to locate special Masses for the Sundays you'll be there. We always try to find a beautiful church with good music, and those experiences have been truly memorable.

We went to a chanted Mass San Giorgio Maggiore when we were in Venice and a Mass with a small but wonderful choir in Assisi.

When you've traveled a lot, many of the churches and palaces sort of blend together, but those Masses in gorgeous churches with beautiful music are unforgettable. In Krakow and Prague, first Communions were taking place, and there were infant baptisms as well as a marvelous choir in Copenhagen. All the ceremonies were memorable and touching.
Pegontheroad is online now  
Mar 16th, 2008, 05:12 AM
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Just a quick thought about paying for meals, etc. As long as everyone is fine with splitting everything, we find it's easiest to use the kitty system - it works really well when we travel with friends so you don't have to fumble around for change every time you go out. Everyone just puts 100 euros or something in the kitty, and all collective costs are paid out of the central amount. Just top up the kitty whenever necessary. It's really helpful when you have an apartment as you can just run out to pick up more wine or whatever without collecting money from everyone.

Congratulations on all the amazing events in your family!
pittpurple is offline  
Mar 16th, 2008, 06:09 AM
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Sounds like a great trip. I'm one of 5 and when each one of us turned 50 (still one to go) we did something special, including my mother.
We found the kitty method worked out great, and I still do that when ever I travel.
If credit cards are accepted, my one sister always put the charge on her card. When she got the bill we just sent her the money. She wanted the points and we felt it was easier owing just one person.
Sometimes we did things as a group and other times we all would go in different directions. We would come back together for dinner and it was really good hearing about the different things everyone did.
Have a great trip!
lvktravel is offline  
Mar 16th, 2008, 09:40 AM
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Do a search about the 'kitty system' as mentioned by pittpurple. I've seen previous threads that discuss how well this works for groups, especially when people are not picky about who had the extra dessert or whatever.

Another way I've used is a 'gin rummy running tally'. Where each person's name is in a notebook and they can jot down end of each day any expenses they paid for that were for the entire group. End of trip, you just add up the columns and even out any discrepancy by paying back people who spent more than others.
suze is offline  

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