Idyllic Italy Trip Report - Dec. 2010

Old Jan 4th, 2011, 04:51 AM
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Idyllic Italy Trip Report - Dec. 2010

We left Miami on Friday Dec 17 for a red eye flight that layed over in Munich and then went on to Rome. Of course with all the chaotic weather our flight out of Miami was delayed about an hour. This left about 20 minutes to make our connection in Munich. The entire flight over I was stressed about missing our flight. We landed as expected an hour late and we booked it out of the plane into the terminal to connect. We must have been a sight – 4 Americans running like lunatics through the Munich airport. To my surprise – we had to go through customs and security in the airport even though it wasn’t our final destination. Fun!! We made it through security and found that our gate was the last gate in the terminal and we continued on our run. We made it to the gate to find the flight boarding; we got on line and proceeded on to the jet way where my 8 year threw up everywhere!! Kind folks passed us by and handed us tissues and wipies. When we boarded the plane we told the flight attendant about the mishap and he actually told us that if they have to land the plane during the flight for an emergency it would be very expensive – for us. So kind. How about a glass of water?? Anyway we made the flight and landed in Rome. Somehow by the grace of Gd our luggage made it too. We found our luggage and our driver and we were off to our apartment in Rome!

We had booked a one bedroom through Italyperfect.com close to the Via Veneto. Many folks thought we would find the apartment to far out for our liking – but we really did enjoy the location. It was a really nice neighborhood, with restaurant that locals eat in, and a supermarket around the corner. The Barberini Metro was 10 minutes walking and there was a bus stop and tax stand about a 3 minutes walk away.

The following is our Rome itinerary:
Day 1 – Walk to Trevi Fountain and back and discover surrounding areas and gelato shops.
Day 2 – Sleep really late, waste a lot of time, spend a few hours at Termini buying all our train tickets – then head to the Forum and Coliseum. As all the advice states we went to the Forum first to buy our tickets and had no line. We bought the audio tour – which we realized was a total snoozer for the kids – we should have downloaded something on the ipods. At the Coliseum we were able to skip the long line and head right in. We rented the audio tour again which was much better than the one at the Forum. In the evening we were lucky to hit the empty Capitoline Museums. It was us and maybe 10 other people.
Day 3 – Pompeii – we took the fast train to Naples and then the Circumvensia to the Scavi stop. We had arranged in advance for a private tour with Fiorella Squillante. She was fantastic!! She really did well engaging the kids and we had Pompeii to ourselves. It was really empty!!
Day 4 – Pristine Sistine Vatican Tour with Michael of WalksofItaly.com. We were up before the crack of dawn to get over to Vatican City. We were a total of 8 in our group. We were all given little earpieces to hear the guide, which was great because I have a major hearing problem! We did make it to the Sistine Chapel very early and there were only a handful of people in the room. It was a special experience! The tour was interesting and kept my older son’s (11) attention. My 8 year old was in and out. Apparently he was listening the whole time – at the end of the tour he was able to answer all sorts of questions. Afternoon – Pantheon, Piazza Navona, and San Pietro in Vincoli.
Day 5 – Jewish Ghetto in the morning on our own. Subterranean Tour with Simona of Walks of Italy in the afternoon. This tour was great for the boys – we visited Catacombs, the Capuchin Crypt, and Church of San Clemente. The Crypt was really creepy and the kids will remember it forever! Our guide was a mother herself so she was really great at keeping the kids involved in the discussions. We really learned a lot of this tour and feel that all our questions about Roman history (not just what was on our tour) were answered.

Day 6 – Leisurely morning in the apartment and pack up to head our to Florence. Will continue later . . .
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Old Jan 4th, 2011, 05:38 AM
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I recall all your planning and it's nice to see the results for your family. Enjoying your report, but hope you will add an extra "return" between paragraphs to amke it easier to read.
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Old Jan 5th, 2011, 05:55 AM
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Can't wait to read more!
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Old Jan 7th, 2011, 04:23 AM
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We had a fun time getting to Florence. Remember we are 2 adults, 2 kids and 3 BIG pieces of luggage (not to mention the backpacks!) So we started off rolling our bags around the corner and down a couple of streets to a taxi stand. Low and behold a taxi picked us up – we must of looked pathetic! We were off to Termini – it was a quick ride and I am sure we were ripped off – is there really a one euro per bag charge? Now we were at the train station and had to find our track. Why is it that the “fast” trains to further locations get their track assignments only 10 minutes before the train leaves? No track assignment so we go and eat. When we get back it is a mad dash to the train and now we have to get the kids and the bags situated. Of course our seating is weird and not really “together.” Throughout the trip everywhere we left our lodging and got on a train and made it to our destination is was a large victory (and exhausting!)

So on Day 6 we arrived in Florence and it was the MOST gorgeous day!!! We even ditched our winter coats and strolled around in our fleece! Not me – I had on a really cute sweater jacket that was actually visible and not hid under a wool coat.

We dropped our bags at Lasa casa del Garbo – which thankfully the cab driver knew exactly where to go (we had read that people had trouble finding it). Our room was one of the apartments and it was really spacious!! We had a kitchen, large bathroom with 2 sinks, and bedroom, and another sleeping area with a living room connected. The wifi was a little funky and really was only usable in the kitchen. The bathroom had a super hot shower and a heater – nice touch on a cold day.

We headed out to the Duomo with our free audio guides of Florence downloaded on our iphones. We visited inside the Duomo and then made our way to climb the Dome. Super fun experience – except by the time we reached the top it was raining. So much for the beautiful day! That evening was fun though as the Christmas cheer was out in full force! There were many street performers, musicians, and folks milling around. My favorite was seeing the Hare Krishas – so they were singing away!! I haven’t seen them since college – so its been a looong time and their music is so catchy!!

Day 7 – We sailed through the security and ticket office at the Ufizzi – not one person in line!! What a score!! Since we were staying around the corner we left our jackets, backpacks, cameras, etc at the apartment, which made for an even more enjoyable experience. Before leaving for the trio I had bought my kids 4 books – one of each of the artists – Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Raphael, and Botticelli. They had been looking at them for some time and at dinner the night before we all took turns reading them again. What a fantastic idea – the kids were so excited when they found something in the museum that they had read about in the book!! We had also downloaded the audio guides on their ipods, so they could follow the “tour” on their own. It was really an incredible morning and the kids really did well and made it with no problem for almost 3 hours!

After the Ufizzi we headed returned to our rooms to pick up coats and umbrellas. We began our search for a yummy lunch – which we found near the leather market, it was a teeny place that was packed!! It was somewhere near Via S. Antonio and Dell‘Ariento.

After lunch we headed to the Accademia to meet David. Again no one in line, how fabulous!! We spent many hours admiring David!! My eight year old decided to “sketch.“ I will keep his picture forever – how memorable an experience for him!!

As every day in Florence at this point we had snack and rest time . Snack today was gelato and rest time was time for the kids to watch tv and mom and dad to sync our phones and check in back east.

Dinner was going to be tough as it was Christmas Eve – we were tired and cranky and hit the jackpot!!! Around the corner from the hotel was Frescobaldi - they were open and had only one little table left to offer us. It was a terrific and relaxing meal!

Day 8 – We all stayed in our jammies till noon – we all needed to sleep and veg!! Then we headed out for lunch. We found I Matti open. We did as the Italians do and had a multi hour lunch and then just milled about the streets of Florence – unfortunately there was more rain.

Day 9 – head to Pisa!! Definitely an adventure. We bought train tickets that morning in the Florence station to Pisa. Got off in Pisa and took a very expensive cab (again I am sure we were “taken”) to the tower. We immediately bought tickets to climb the tower – 80 BUCKS!!!! Can you believe what a fortune!! The day cost us a fortune between train tickets, taxis, and the climb!! We had about an hour to take in the sites before our climb time. We had fun taking the touristy pictures of everyone holding the tower, pushing the tower, etc.

The climb was definitely fun and Im glad we did it – the view from the top was amazing!! I’m sure on a clear day you can see forever. The top is very small and they only let a handful of folks up at a time. It really didn’t feel safe and I held on to my 8 year old who was quite nervous!

Day 10 – Unfortunately the majority of our stay in Florence was quite cold and rainy. I think that most of the world was experiencing crappy weather as well. On Day 10 – our last in Florence we woke to the sunniest, clearest sky and of course it was time to pack up again and head out. My husband spent the morning retaking all his pictures with the beautiful sky in the background.
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Old Jan 7th, 2011, 04:50 AM
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Still enjoying your report (and, yes, a 1 euro per bag charge for large luggage is correct.)
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Old Jan 7th, 2011, 05:11 AM
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Thanks for posting this, we leave next week! Can't wait.

Can you tell me a bit about your Pompeii guide? Why was she so good? Can you post contact info for her, too? I see she's with Context Travel (?). Am curious to know how much she charged, too, if you don't mind.

Grazie, and keep the report coming!
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Old Jan 7th, 2011, 10:40 AM
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Nanbug - we hired Fiorella without Context.
Her website... www.vesuviusvspompeii.com
Her email ... [email protected]
130 euros was the fee.

What made her good:
She was really passionate about the site as well as knowledgeable. As we were traveling with our 2 boys - she made she she didn't lose them. She spoke to them to make sure they were following. She asked them questions and really focused her tour to them. We were lucky to basically have the place to ourselves - which gave us the ability to be relaxed and not have to worry about crowds.
She was warm and friendly and fun.
Does that help?
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Old Jan 7th, 2011, 11:00 AM
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Excellent, thanks, Momma. I'll email her today, she sounds very good.

Looking forward to hearing more about your trip...
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Old Jan 7th, 2011, 05:50 PM
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Nanbug - tell her we say hi
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Old Jan 7th, 2011, 09:16 PM
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Really enjoying your report. I appreciate how you prepared your kids for things. They get so much more out of travel if they know more about the things they are seeing.

The extra charge for big bags is usual. You know, in the great scheme of things, I never worry too much about getting ripped off now and then - just rack it up to the cost of getting to where I want to be when I need to get there. It is more than made up for by all the times someone goes out of their way to help me, or gives me some extra little gift.

Thanks for taking time to share your trip with us. Is there more? I hope so.
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Old Jan 8th, 2011, 05:27 AM
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Yes, there is more to come. Sometime this weekend I'll finish.
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Old Jan 8th, 2011, 07:49 AM
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What a harrowing start to your trip. Glad all the effort paid off.
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Old Jan 8th, 2011, 08:04 AM
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Its a great report. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

I am interested in how your Vatican guide organised the tour at the first slot in the day. Which day of the week was it? Did he start at the Sistine end? How wonderful that you had no crowds - that gives me hope to avoid crowds on a weekday in mid-March.
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Old Jan 8th, 2011, 02:17 PM
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Great report. I am going to Florence in early March and am very curious about the weather. Also, where did you get the Florence tours for the Ipod? Great idea.
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Old Jan 9th, 2011, 06:08 AM
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Patricia - its a special tour called Pristine Sistine.
See details here ....http://www.walksofitaly.com/tour_boo...ll_listing/6/2
We started at the regular entrance and raced to the Sistine and then eventually worked our way back to what we had missed.

look11 - they were free courtesy of Rick Steves. I know everyone cracks on him - but they were free!! It saved us alot of money in buying the audio tours at the museums, wish we had figured it out in Rome too.

Goto to itunes, podcasts, italy and you should find them there under Rick Steves Audio Tours. If you cant find them let me know and I'll try to post a link or something.
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Old Jan 9th, 2011, 08:27 AM
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So again, we packed up the bags, the kids, the coats, and the purchases and rolled our way from Piazza Signoria to Santa Croce to catch a taxi to the train (it sounds backwards, but that’s what the hotel recommended and it worked out OK.) Of course because I am neurotic we got there really early and everyone was bored. We ran across the street and picked up a few slices of pizza and some drinks for the ride.

We boarded the train from the wrong side of the car (we did that on our first train ride too) and had to roll through everyone to get to our seats. We had difficulty finding a spot for the luggage as the train was packed and coming from Rome. We finally found a place for the bags, the coats, the kids, and us and collapsed into our seats. The estimated travel time was 2 or 2 and ½ hours to Venice. We made a lot of stops along the way and our luggage keep dislodging from it resting spot and rolling though the car. Very funny to the kids – not so funny to the rest of the passengers.

We made it to Venice and got the bags down to street level where we needed to purchase Vaporetta tickets to get to our hotel. I tried to buy my 11 year the “student” ticket for those 14 and up – it didn’t work – we had to prove his age – so we ended up spending a fortune on the 48 hour passes for the family. In hindsight – we really didn’t need to ride as many times as we did; walking may have been faster in some cases. I think we should have just paid for the 3 or 4 times we really needed it. I think we calculated that it was 5 or 6 rides to break even. We even met 2 separate sets of American couples who offered us their leftover passes that were due to expire after they had departed, but we had already purchased our tickets. People are nice. I digress .

We got onto the boat and sailed to S. Marks. It was a long ride and of course my 8 year had to go to the bathroom. Ugh!!! When we finally arrived at the stop we rolled everyone and everything off and ran into Harry’s Bar before an accidents could occur! We weren’t quite sure where the Westin was from this point and we asked a few times along the way which way to roll ☺ Did I mention I used points? I booked us 2 rooms for 3 nights at the Westin at a total of 72,000 SPG points. I think it was well worth it as both my husband and I applied for the SPG credit card last year and each received 30,000 or 35,000 points (I cant remember which it was) for applying and spending $1,000 in a certain number of months (again I cant remember.) But low and behold – we really felt as if the stay was FREE!!! The kids were in heaven at the sight of the large flat screen TVS. I was pretty excited about the super thick towels and bathrobes. Sometimes a girl needs a little comfort from home (did I mention at this point I was coming down with the flu?)

I was quite comfy in our room but I realized we needed to go out and start taking in Venice. I think this afternoon we spent just milling about. It was late already and the kids were hungry and we ate an early dinner at a horrible restaurant, but meet a lovely Swiss couple that gave us a recommendation for the following night. We stopped at Beccafico to make a reservation for the next night.

Day 11 – Breakfast, which included a giant cappuccino, the Jewish Ghetto, milling around some local shops to purchase breads, cheeses, and other snacks to take back to the hotel where we had a picnic on the floor ☺ So much fun – we even watched Hotel for Dogs in Italian. Afternoon – Doge’s Palazzo, St Marks. Kids liked walking over Bridge of Sighs from the inside and checking out the prison. They took lots of pictures “arresting” each other and locking each other up. They liked the giant room in the palace – we were told it is the largest of its kind in Europe. My husband thought it would be funny if they raced. They all got in trouble! It was funny. Mommy liked the maps room, I have a thing for maps; it was amazing to see the Venetians view of the world at that time. Dinner – Beccafico. Restaurant was packed – they were turning away those who didn’t reserve. Very nice meal although I felt horrible and couldn’t really taste my food. My husband and kids liked it a lot. Our Swiss friends from the night before were at the next table enjoying their meals as well.

Day 12 – Long boat ride to Murano at the request from my 11 year old who loves Glass Blowing as a result of a cruise on the Celebrity Solstice. We finally arrive in Murano and start to browse galleries. This is our last day of vacation and my kids were DONE! My 11 year old had a brutal cough as well as me feeling really sick. We meet a cool artist who took us to his gallery and we were admiring chandeliers. My kids were fighting and laying on the floor – seriously they were cooked. SO much for the trip out to Murano – we were there less than an hour when we turned around and grabbed to boat back towards St .Marks.
We spent the afternoon doing our final shopping and milling around near the Rialto area. We had dinner at a wine bar near the hotel at the recommendation of our concierge. It was pretty good. Very crowded. I was very thirsty and we ended up spending US$20 on bottled water (hubby wasn’t too happy with me.)

Day 13 – 3:30 AM wake up call. And the beginning of the longest day ever!!! 4:15 water taxi to aiport. Flight 1 at 6:40: Venice – Frankfurt. Flight 2 – Frankfurt – Miami. Layover – plenty of time to get to our connection. Long walk in switching terminals, had to pass through customs, but not security. Everyone visited the restroom and we bought 4 big pretzels before boarding flight 2. Packed flight – 8 year old asked every hour on the hour how much longer. Finally land in Miami, wait on seriously long time at customs, get to the baggage claim and wait, and wait, and wait. Hubby says he hears our name over the PA. I think he is crazy. We wait some more. He hears our name again. I go find a person and ask. Yes, it us they are calling, our bags are still in Frankfurt. We now have to go to another place in the airport to the baggage office and deal with the bags. We wait on line, kids are going bananas. They tell us bags will come tomorrow, delivered to our house by the evening. We are so tired –we don’t care. We go home and the taxi driver wonders why we have no luggage.

Day 14 – Bags show up close to 10pm – hooray they made it home too.

I guess we didn’t get much accomplished in Venice. It was really cold – in the 30s. 11 year old and I were really under the weather. Everyone was really tired by this point of the trip.

Now that we are home and the bags are unpacked and we have thawed out - I realize how much the kids learned!! My 8 year already did a presentation at school and the 11 year is writing his now. Its funny with the kids - even when you think they aren't listening - they are!! Even when they are complaining - they are learning. Even when they are fighting - they are still enjoying! Great memorable trip for us!! I don't think the kids will ever forget it!!
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Old Jan 9th, 2011, 11:08 AM
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MBM - congratulations on giving your children a gift that will last them a lifetime! Great report!
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Old Jan 10th, 2011, 06:30 AM
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Thanks ekc!
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Old Jan 10th, 2011, 10:30 AM
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Thank you for the really detailed trip report. DH and I are headed to Italy for the first time in May, and I picked up a few great tips by reading it
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Old Jan 15th, 2011, 12:38 PM
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Glad you enjoyed Frescobaldi. I once arranged to meet a friend there for a glass of wine, who got stuck in Venice and couldn't make the date or call me (she was on a bus). So I ended up working my way through wine, nibbles, a pasta and then finally shot the moon with a bistecca. I thought it was all very good! It is inevitably touristy, being so close to piazza Signorini, but it has panache.

Good thing the Venetians no longer up lock up people for real for misbehaving in the palace.
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