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Italian Trip Report / Part Uno - Gravysandwich

Italian Trip Report / Part Uno - Gravysandwich

Old Apr 7th, 2005, 02:02 PM
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Italian Trip Report / Part Uno - Gravysandwich

"Oh well, oh well, I feel so good today,
We touched ground on an international runway
Jet propelled back home, from over the seas to the U. S. A.

New York, Los Angeles, oh, how I yearned for you
Detroit, Chicago, Chattanooga, Baton Rouge
Let alone just to be at my home back in ol' St. Lou.

Did I miss the skyscrapers, did I miss the long freeway?
From the coast of California to the shores of Delaware Bay
You can bet your life I did, till I got back to the U. S. A.

Looking hard for a drive-in, searching for a corner cafe
Where hamburgers sizzle on an open grill night and day
Yeah, and a juke-box jumping with records like in the U.S.A.

Well, I'm so glad I'm livin' in the U.S.A.
Yes. I'm so glad I'm livin' in the U.S.A.
Anything you want, we got right here in the U.S.A."

With all due respect to Chuck Berry, I didn't completely share those sentiments when we "de-planed" at JFK last night. We had a fantastic time in Italy, including our time in Rome from Saturday to Wednesday. Our 5 year old son cried in the cab on the way to the airport yesterday, "Do we have to leave Italy?". It would have been a little unseemly for me to do the same thing, but I shared his feelings. What a beautiful, ancient, vibrant, and hospitable place! Having traveled extensively, I know that overseas travel can be fraught with glitches, but our 11 days in Italy were as close to our script as can be imagined. And when there was a bump in the road, we just dealt with it and carried on.

Time does not allow for my full trip report right now. Consider this a preface or an introduction. I will try to provide a few installments over the next few days. Suffice it to say that a great time was had by all, and for those of you who are pondering a trip to Italy, avail yourself of the many knowledgeable posters on the fodors.com site. I can't thank many of you enough for giving us the heads up on many of the big and small things we needed to know. When traveling abroad, the devil can be in the details, so do your homework.

More to come when the brain clears up a bit.

gravysandwich


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Old Apr 7th, 2005, 02:07 PM
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welcome home, when you can, do share details
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Old Apr 7th, 2005, 02:21 PM
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Hi gravy,

May I suggest that you continue your report as posts to this thread?
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Old Apr 8th, 2005, 01:16 PM
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OK, Ira. Will be glad to.

To review a bit for anyone who is interested, we just returned on Thursday from 11 days in Italy. The "we" was my wife, our 5 year old son, and myself. Our trip started in Venice, then to Tuscany, and concluded in Rome.

We were scheduled to arive in Venice at 10:50 AM local time, and the wheels on the Delta 767 were down at exactly 10:50 AM. To their credit, Delta was on time on each leg of of the trip, and the service we received from them was first rate.

As we touched down in Venice, I was reminded of the first time I flew overseas in 1991 to the UK. I remember looking out the window and seeing the lush green morning countryside of England, and it made me feel a litle giddy just to know that I would finally be able to see places and things that I had always read about and seen on TV and in movies. I mention that because I got the same kind of feeling when we punched through the clouds at 10000 feet on our final descent into Venice. In the next ten days, I knew I was going to go into sensory overload with Italy's sights and sounds.

Customs was a breeze and the airport was a ghost town at 11:00 on Easter Sunday. I must admit it felt a bit odd being somewhere other than in church on Easter Sunday, but Venice was a pretty good tradeoff! We opted to take the Alilaguna to our B&B, rather than the water taxi (which would have been a very cool, albeit expensive way to enter Venice). The fare was 10E per person, bit I may have unnecessarily paid for our 5 year old. I found out as our trip unfolded that children his age are exempt from most fees in Italy, including the Metro in Rome, the Vatican Museum, The Accademia in Florence, and all Duomo's that we visited. After waiting out one departure, we finally piled in and were on our way into Venice. My apologies, but I don't remember whether it was the Red Line or the Blue Line (Red, to San Marco, I think). Anyhow, I was under the impression that the boat would take us into Venice via the Grand Canal. After a fashion, and several stops, I realized that we were most definitely not entering Venice via the Grand Canal, but were taking the route that skirts Murano, and goes around the tail of the fish to San Marco. A bit of a disappointment, I must admit, but it was neat to see the perimeter of Venice, that we would not have seen otherwise.

After finally reaching our stop at San Marco, we disembarked, and entered the maze that is Venice. We were armed with good directions to our B&B, the Ca' del Doso, operated by Anna and Marco. As you can imagine, Venice was just teeming with people on Easter Sunday, and not a soul seemed to notice or care that we were American tourists lugging suitcases to our hotel room. This was a bit of a relief, because I had this preconception that we would be quite conspicuous. Then I came to the brilliant realization that tourists in Venice were not terribly unusual - in fact, we were quite commonplace.

A couple of remarks about our hosts and the accomodations. Anna and Marco were both delightful, and were ready for us upon our arrival, calling us by namewhen we walked in. The room where we stayed was smallish, but exceptionally clean, and had a view of the street below. Our breakfasts were typical lite Italian fare, with croissants, cheese, biscotti, etc. The elegant tray was prepared and waiting in our room each evening, and a percolator was provided for tea, coffee or cappucino preparation. One insight into the hospitality of Anna and Marco -when we were escorted into our room, Anna presented our son with a beautifully wrapped package, which revealed a football sized chocolate egg. We thought that this was great gesture, and above and beyond the call of duty. It was also a nice introduction to the Italian people. I should also mention that they offered us great assistance when we discovered that we had purchased the wrong electrical adaptor (long story). For those of you who have been to venice, it is not exactly flush with Wal Marts and Radio Shacks. They even let us use their extra one until we were able to find one. Very nice people.

We gathered ourselves and walked to St. Marks' square, and our son immediately engaged the pigeons. Our room was about an 8 minute walk from the square, and I decided immediately that Venice is without quesion the most unique city on the planet (and one of the most beautiful). Despite the hordes of people, there was room to maneuver, and we just wandered from ensemble to ensemble listening to the blend of jazz and pop music that they offerd up. A few days later we ponied up the 4.50E "e coperto" and enjoyed a caffe latte and an espresso while listening to some great jazz. BTW, our waiter deliberately pointed out the cover charge on the menu to eliminate confusion. This was a nice gesture, and I appreciated his full disclosure to us. Best $28 I ever spent on two cups of coffee!

More to come......
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Old Apr 8th, 2005, 01:31 PM
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Great trip report so far! What was your son's favorite thing in Venice (besides the pidgeons)? We have friends bringing a 4 year old to Venice this summer and would love to pass on any tips
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Old Apr 8th, 2005, 02:26 PM
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Great start--waiting for more. . .
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Old Apr 8th, 2005, 07:04 PM
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TexasAggie, the list of fun things for a child of 5 to do in Venice is not endless, but creative parents can keep a child happily occupied. First and foremost, the chasing of the pigeons in St. Marks's Square provided lots of free entertainment, but purchasing a 1 or 3 day pass for the Vaporetto will give you unlimited access to the waterways. If you are lucky enough to get a seat in the front of the boat, you will be in A-1 viewing position, and this will keep adults and children alike, happy. Our little boy was indifferent to the Basilica tour, but it was free for him, and only 3E each for us, and he didn't mind it terribly. Rememnber, there is gelato waiting around every corner, and that will make a child happy no matter where they are.

Speaking of the Basilica, it was awesome, and we enjoyed the view from the outdoor terrace. It afforded a nice view of the mammoth square, and the Campagnile Tower. I wish I could offer a report on the view from the tower, but we never were able to brave the longish lines to go up. The Basilica line moved very rapidly, and is well worth doing. With a young one, we had to be judicious about which lines we were willing to tolerate. Incredibly, I have no horror stories to report about long tourist lines anywhere in Italy. Some of it was luck, and some of it was good planning. More on line avoidance later.

We hung in as long as we could on our first day, but succumbed to sleep at 6:30 that evening. During the day we walked the waterfront, had a late panini lunch at a local favorites spot recommended by Marco, watched the gondolas go by, and even saw a huge cruise ship go by en route to the terminal.

Monday would be our only full day in Venice, but we had made no concete plans. We rode the Vaporetto up and down the the Grand Canal a bit, jumped off at the Rialto Bridge, took in the Basilica, had some gelato and stuck our head in a few cathedrals. Generally, our time was deliberately unstructured (with the exception of touring the Basilica), and we simply enjoyed the wandering and walking of the streets. Venice almost invites you to get lost, but it is so small, that getting lost is half the fun. We also enjoyed the Vaporetto ride that begins at the Zacharia stop, bypasses the entrance to the Grand Canal, wraps around to the vicinity of the cruise ship terminal, and ends on the Grand Canal at Rialto. Essentially, we circumnavigated the island on the Vaporetto, as well as bi-sected it via the Grand Canal.

Some of the fodorites might take issue withour lack of structure in Venice, but fine dining and museums were not great options for us, so we were perfectly OK with exploring Venice, and hoping to be pleasantly surprised (and we were).

Venice was pricey, but not the tourist trap that we were forewarned about. It was a little aromatic, but never stinky. Don't go there if you aren't prepared to spend a liitle bit more than in some other Italian destinations. Remember that Venice is self contained, and everything has to be brought in. As a result, life is more expensive to live in Venice. My advice is just to go with it, and recognize that you are in one of the most wonderful places in the world. As they say, if you want to play , you gotta pay. Our smallish B&B was 145 E per night, and we considered that a value, because we wanted to be in the San Marco district. On my next trip, I will opt to get a room on the Grand Canal, or even on a side canal. I know the age old retort about only spending time in the hotel room to shower and sleep, but I could fill some quality time with a bottle of wine overlooking the water between showers and sleep!

I am glad that we did not stay on the Lido. It would have robbed us of time transiting back and forth, and I frankly would have felt a little detached from life on the mainland. Money can be saved on accomodations, but I don't care for the time tradeoff.

Our last day in Venice was only a half day, as we were scheduled to pick up our vehicle for the trip to San Gimignano later that day. At the imploring of our son, we returned to St. Marks's Square to terrorize pigeons, drink overpriced java, listen to the violins and wonder what we did to deserve the good fortune of being in Venice.

We had no spectacular meals to report on. Nothing bad, either. I would recommend the tourist menu offered at many of the trattorias and restaurants, if you are unsure about what you would like to eat.

OK, so the cashier at the Vaporetto ticket chiseled me out of 5 euros (I counted my change very carefully after that), the walls are blemished with too much graffiti citywide, and the gondola rides are too expensive, nothing diminishes the charm and ancient beauty of this place. When I think that we almost bypassed Venice because of some dissenting opinions we had heard, I am glad I tapped into this site and read some of the pro Venice reviews. I hated to leave on Tuesday. But, I would say the same thing when we left San Gimignano, Siena and Rome.

More to come...

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Old Apr 9th, 2005, 01:15 PM
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Hello gravysandwich, I just got home late last night from my trip and so just saw your thread. I am so glad that you enjoyed Venice, and it sounds like you knew how to enjoy it. I can just see your little one chasing the pidgeons! Welcome home, and I too look forward to the rest of your trip report.
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Old Apr 11th, 2005, 07:09 AM
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We reluctantly left Venice on Tuesday, but not before we took one final voyage on the Vaporetto in the Grand Canal. Our rental car was through Auto Europe, and we made arrangements to pick the vehicle up before 1:00 (closed between 1:00 and 3:00). After going to an extraordinary effort to catch the Vaporetto on time with luggage in tow (can you say OJ running through the airport?), we arrive at the location at 12:40 to find the place closed up tight. Of course, we assume that we will see nobody until 3:00, but about 15 minutes later, the staff magically appears, and we are on out way in our Ford Fiesta. The attendant was a bit surly, but not everyybody can be happy all the time. BTW, this was a more than acceptable vehicle, with plenty of room, good acceleration, and brand new.

The drive to San Gimignano was relatively uneventful, but we noticed that the Italians don't like to clutter up their roadways with excessive directional signs! After finallly getting onto the Autostrada, we cruised to San Gim. It tool me about 30 seconds to learn not to tarry in the left lane on the Autostrada! Against my better wishes, we arrived after dark, which meant that we had to navigate our way into the walled city after the place was closed down. Miraculously, the car found its way to Via San Giovanni and we plopped down at the Casa di Giovanna ready to begin our adventure in Tuscany. One note: trying to find a parking place in San Gim after dark is no fun at all!

About the Casa di Giovanna: We booked 3 nights there at 70E per night. The room was incredibly spacious, and the bathroom was very large. as well. The room was quite clean, but a tad chilly at night. Giovanna (who speaks no English), is a gracious hostess, and prepared a nice breakfast of toast, croissants, breakfast meats, cheese, coffee and juice every morning. Although my Italian was very remedial, I found that I could communicate throughout the country with almost everyone - except Giovanna. I wouldn't discourage someone from staying here because of this, because her grandson speaks passable English. But, on a couple of occasions, communication was an issue.

San Gim was like something from medieval times. Wait, it is from medieval times! It cuts a dramatic profile on the horizon with its towers, and it was very exciting to see it on the road from Poggibonsi as we made our approach. It only gets better the closer you get. We were like kids in a candy store as we wandered through the streets. Unlike what I read and heard, the city was not crowded at all. The weather throughout the trip was 65-70 F, and the sun shone almost the enire 11 days we were in Italy. Real chamber of commerce weather. We climbed the tower (all 200 feet of it) and it offered a spectacular view of the region. It is a beautiful patchwork of green fields. We also had the auditory experience of hearing the tremendous pealing of the bells while atop the tower. I caught the moment on video. Good stuff. A stroll through the modest, but beautiful Sant' Agostino is worthwhile.

Risk Steves recommended the Trattoria Chiribiri, which was OK, but on our last night there we ate at the Trattoria
Righoletta (sp?). It was excellent, only about 6 tables, and it was obvious that the food was being prepared by a professionally trained / educated chef. I had a balsamic chicken breast that was outstanding. Our first truly memorable meal. This restaurant is just outside the main gate on the right. (not the pizzeria!)

We left San Gim on Friday bound for, regrettably, just one day in Siena. We loved San Gim for a variey of reasons, not the least of which was the "cool factor" of staying inside an ancient walled city (which had not completely lost its soul to tourism). We liked its location as a staging area for day trips and I particularly enjoyed the twisty, hilly roads around SG. We had a big time throwing the responsive Fiesta into the turns on our way in and out of the city (it's a Dad thing). We also struck up a modest friendship with an older American couple staying at our B&B who were visiting Italy for the umpteenth time, and they provided some good insight in to the country.

Our visit made me want to suffer through "Tea with Mussolini" again, just to see the shots of San Gim.

We day tripped to Florence on Wednesday, and to Pisa on Thursday. I will write more about that later.

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Old Apr 11th, 2005, 07:55 AM
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gret report, G
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Old Apr 13th, 2005, 04:40 PM
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Thanks, ira. Here comes some more....

On Wednesday, we day tripped into Florence. I know all of you purists will grimace that we only allocated one day to Florence - and you are right! What a beautiful and elegant city. The only reason we had to abbreviate the visit was because we didn't feel that our 5 year old would tolerate the museums and the attractions that would interest us, and not him. I am glad that we did make the trip, because the opportunity to view David at The Accademia was literally, worth the price of admission. One note: be a smart tourist and reserve your slot for this at least a day in advance. The number is 055-294-883. Ask for an English speaking operator, and then you are in business. For those of you who have not been before, the line waiting to enter this very nondescript building is quite long, and can be easily avoided with one phone call. BTW, while it is on my mind, buy a 3E phone card (or more, if you plan on a lot of in country calls) as soon as you can. This assumes you are not cell phone equipped. Tear the perforated corner off, and you are ready to use it. Don't forget to hit "OK" on the phone after you have completed dialing. We came back with a little bit of time remaining on our card, but that was no biggie.

Back to Florence...we drove from San Gim and hit the wall of traffic about 9:30, and it forced us to take an alternate route to the train station (our parking destination). We got a bit lost, but getting lost in Tuscany is not such a bad thing. Having driven now in Rome and Florence, Rome was like a day at the beach compared to Florence. Scooters everywhere! I considered opening my driver's door while motoring, on a couple of selected occasions, but resisted the impulse in the interest of Italian - American relations. I might elect to take the train next time, but driving here is manageable as long as you have a navigator who can also be an extra set of eyes.

When we finally reached The Accademia, we went to the short line next to the entrance and the street vendors, and went inside in just a few minutes. Make sure that you arrive within 15 minutes of your reservation. Much of the art in this building is remarkable, but it all pales - as it should - to David. I encouraged my 5 year old to stop and try to soak some of it up. He was more interested in the modern art display of black bricks piled into a corner than in David. Oh well, I tried. I won't give my amateurish reflections on the sculpture, other than to say that it is almost a spiritual experience to sit and digest the greatness of it. Florence was another place that this forum talked us into, and for that I am grateful. We took in the Duomo(which was not as ornate on the inside as we had expected), and elected not to scale the tower (too full of pasta), and later drove over to the Boboli Gardens. We walked around there quite a bit (mostly for an energy burn for our young one). A beautiful setting, but we found the grounds a bit unkempt, much like some of the parks in Rome. Still well worth doing. It would have been better with a pinic lunch in tow. My most lasting impression of the Gardens is the view that it offered of Florence with the backdrop of Tuscany. It was worth the climb to an upper terrace just to see it. Later, we saw, but did not walk across the Ponte Vecchio Bridge. And on our way out of the city, I made the very bad mistake of following a couple of scooters into a heavily congested pedestrian area, and was gently chastised by the Carabinieri.

All told our day in Florence was much too short, but I am glad that we went. To have left some of those nearby treasures unseen would have been a major travel faux pas. We dragged into the Trattoria Chiribiri in San Gim that night for a slightly better than average meal, and went to bed with visions of scooters dancing in our heads.

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Old Apr 13th, 2005, 05:03 PM
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Hello gravysandwich, have enjoyed reading your report. Had a good chuckle over your thoughts about opening up the car door regarding the scooters, LOL, but thanks for keeping the Americano/Italiano good relationship in balance!
Good idea, LOL!


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Old Apr 14th, 2005, 07:44 AM
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We acquiesced to the temptation to visit Pisa in the afternoon on Thursday. The drive on the back roads was pleasant, and much more interesting than the Autostada. It took us a bit more than an hour. We had spent most of that morning in San Gim (climbing the tower, walking the city, eating panini and chasing them with pistachio Gelato -ain't life great!). So we felt that we would succumb to the pressure to go see the Leaning Tower, and I am glad we did.

Pisa is a nice, but unremarkable city, with some very notable exceptions. Those being the legendary tower, and the awe inspring Duomo which is adjacent to it. The crowds were very mild (perhaps late March, early April is indeed the time to go to Italy to beat some of the crowds). Then again, we didn't arrive in Pisa util 2:30 that afternoon, so I suspect that much of the heavy tourist trade had come and gone by them. Whatever the reason, we attemped to purchase our tickets for the Tower, and were informed that children had to be 8 or older to scale the Tower. That left Samuel out, so we made a collective decision that if he couldn't go, neither would we. Maybe this is a rationalization, but I feel that the true appeciation of the Tower is from the outside, anyhow. It does, indeed, have a scary amont of lean. As I felt with so many things that I saw in Italy,it was very satifying to see something in person that I had seen in only in books, movies and TV (not to mention Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons). The Duomo, on the other hand, was an absolute jaw dropper. It rivaled any Basilica, cathedral or Duuomo that I have ever seen. It was stunning in its enormity and beauty. As I recall, it was either 3E or 5E to gain admittance. I wandered for some time in there, until I got the customary "Dad, can we go now?!"

This is not intended to offend anyone's religous sensibilities, but the saturation of sacred artwork throughtout the country was inspiring and enriching to me. I am not Catholic, (just a lowly United Methodist) but the sheer volume of religuous art that pervades Italy I found to be a great testament to man's celebration of God and His importance to the artists of their day. OK, I know most of them were getting paid to do it, but the passion that is so evident on the canvas, or in the sculpture continues to be an affirmation of the role that God played in their lives. Our trip didn't begin as a pilgrimage (even though we arrived in Rome on the day the Pope died), but our exposure to the genius of Michelangelo, Botticelli, Raphael and others, did add a spiritual component to the trip.

We patronized the vendors for some junk food (it would be a nice gesture for the city fathers to clear out that blight on the landscape of tacky vendors close to the Tower). Despite that, it is a nice area, the weather was beautiful, we felt compelled to see it since we were so close. We walked back to our car and enjoyed the beauty of the old city wall. All in all, a nice afternoon. I heard conflicting opinions on whether we should make the trip, and I am glad that we did. I certainly would not recommend against it!

Back to San Gim that night for our last night. As my final act of self indulgence that day, we bought 200 grams of chocoate pie and a couple of caffe lattes, portar via and enjoyed then in the room as we laid our heads down at the Casa Giovanna for the last time.

Siena awaited for the next day.

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Old Apr 14th, 2005, 09:34 AM
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Gravy,
Thanks for the info on Pisa. I had been debating whether to spend a day to go there or not, and now I will.

I too was blown-away by the art in the churches, which I think is better than any museum. I think I threw my neck out on the Vatican tour.
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Old Apr 15th, 2005, 07:53 AM
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On Friday AM it was on to Siena, as we said "arrivederci" to Giovanna, and the beautiful San Gimignano. On the road leading away from the town, I scaled a hill and took a couple of photos of San Gim perched atop its hill, looking very formidable indeed (formidable for an approaching army 500 years ago, that is). San Gim, and Siena, to a lesser degree still make me feel that I was transported in some Jules Verne like time machine and ploppped down there half a millenium ago. I am sure that there are other other equally enchanting places to use as home base when touring this region (Volterra, for example), but I would return to San Gim in a heartbeat.

Our plan, which so far had been almost flawless, was to drive to the Best Western in Siena (59E per night, hard to beat), drop the car off, spend the next 24 hours in Siena, and catch the train to Rome later in the afternoon on Saturday. Well, it looked good on paper, until we found our that we had to drive to Ovieto, drop the car off, pay a 25E cab fare back to the hotel (which was just outside the gates to the city), take another cab into the train station on Saturday afternoon, etc., etc. So, despite my son's wishes to the contrary, we bailed out on our train trip and kept the car for our last leg into Rome. More about that "E" ticket ride on my Rome post.

The Best Western was as close to an American hotel as any we stayed in during our visit to Italy, and they had an excellent breakfast with eggs, breakfast meats, cereal,juices, coffee, yogurt, etc. They were a 3 minute car ride from a parking area, and then you just hope to be lucky to find a reasonable close parking place to the walled city.

Our impessions of Siena were that of delight and wonder. It seemed like San Gim on steroids, but we loved it nonetheless. After a taxing vertical hike into the city, we happened into the main city square where all the activity was. We particularly enjoyed the open feel of the piazza where hundreds of people were just being lazy, soaking up the sun, eating a lunch, and being generally unproductive. Our 5 year old immediately began to cause chaos amongst the otherwise content pigeons. At the advice of Rick Steves, we had a pizza combo (huge quarter slice pizza, drink, salad/potato/fruit desert) at a place whose name escapes me, but it is right there on the square, and they don't mind in the least if you carry your food tray outside to soak up the ambience. As I recall, the combos were around 7E, and the pizza was very large and not half bad. I would give the name of the eatery, but I am not writing this from home, and am trip notes challenged.

After al the pigeons were chased out of Siena, we climbed the wall adjacent to the city hall (and it was indeed a climb) to the very top of the observation area. The view of Tuscany that it afforded from there was worth the climb. It was postcard kind of stuff. I reall reading that it is the tallest secular tower in all of Italy, and it is a must if your legs and cardiovascular system are ready for it. I won't belabour the point, but this is one of the most beautiful spots on God's green earth, and this bird's eye view is not to be missed.

After descending from the tower, we eased over to the Carabinieri standing close by, and coaxed them into letting Samuel take a photo with two of them. Hopefuly, it will be his only mug shot. The Carabiniei were good sports, and even smiled a bit.

We wandered around the city all afternoon, and found our way over to the Duomo, which was spell binding in its beauty and opulence. It was my favorite activity of our brief time in Siena, and I could have spent 90 minutes inside just studying the artifacts. I didn't do it, but an audio guide here might be a good investment. The whole experience was stunning, and it even rated slightly higher on my personal Duomo meter than the one in Pisa.

We activated our small eatery rule for dinner that night, and easily outpaced the late arriving dinner crowd by sitting down at 7:30. Dinner did not disappoint, accentuated by our now standard "metra" liter of casa rosso.

We did have a geographical boo boo exiting the city, and walked quite a bit more of Siena than we were prepared to just to find our way out of the city to our car. You know how easy it is to get lost in those 1000 year old medieval towns! We will leave a trail of pebbles next time, a la Hansel and Gretel. Before our circuitous path out of town, we closed out our evening by looking in some of the art shops, ceramic stores and other other specialty shops. What a charming and inviting place to visit.

A few reflections on Siena that I gathered from our much too short stay. And I should qualify them a bit because one day there does not an expert make. We found the city to be very appealing and vibrant, but found one dynamic a bit disturbuing. To put in into context, we live in Charleston, SC, which is a huge tourist mecca. One unsettling trend here is the dislocation of generations of family owned shops in lieu of chain stores due to excessive retail space rental prices. We are now seeing a lot of GAP, Abercrombie & Fitch, Banana Republic stores, and the like replacing the specialty stores that have given Charleston its endearing charm. I saw this same thing is in Siena, and I hope that this beautiful old city is not on a path to lose some of its ancient identity by following this trend. Other than this, and the less than accessible parking, we could have been happy in Siena for several more days. I have heard many posters on this forum claim that Siena is their favorite address is Tuscany, and I can see why.

One brief moring in Siena awaited us on Saturday, and then were off to visit the jewel in the crown, Rome. I can't imagine why I was excited about seeing the Sistine Chapel, the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain, The Spanish Steps, The Catacombs, the Pantheon. But...we were beginning to hear rumors that the Pope's health was failing rapidly. But... there was no chance that he would die while we were there and affect our visit to Rome, right? Right?!

The Rome saga is to follow.

gravysandwich
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Old Apr 15th, 2005, 10:22 AM
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I love your report, I can't wait for Rome. Thanks for taking the time to tell us about your trip.
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Old Apr 18th, 2005, 01:34 PM
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Thanks, Sea Urchin. The culmination of our trip tp Italy follows....

We said goodbye to Il Campo (called the most beautiful square in Italy) and the charm of Siena to make our way to Rome. I did not realize that Siena was a city of 60,000 people. They must come out late at night when everybody has gone to bed, because Siena was far from being overcrowded. We'll be back, for sure.

I had forgotten that we had to return our vehicle to the Termini Stazione in Rome by 1:00 when we departed from Siena at 10:15 (brain cloud). So we made a rather hasty trip down the Autostrada to the Eternal City. It was fun for a change being the passer instead of the passee in the left lane. I didn't know that our Ford Fiesta could do 160 kmh! Despite our elevated rate of speed, we didn't neglect the lush scenery dotted with walled towns and majestic villas that we clipped past. There seems to be something incongruent about traveling at a high rate of speed down a modern highway in such an ancient country. It made me want to slow down, peel off onto a secondary road, and pay for the extra day on the car rental - almost.

I won't bore everyone with the reconstruction of our route into Rome, but it is worth noting that - without exception - I was told, have read and have seen on TV travelogues - DO NOT DRIVE IN ROME! I would like to go on record that driving in Rome is not so bad after all, as long as you aren't particular about staying in your lane. The Italians are very flexible when it comes to creating lanes of traffic on their motorways! Maybe I would reconsider my position if I had arrived at rush hour during the week, but we hit the city limits on Saturday about 12:30 , and it wasn't too crazy. In my deranged sort of way, it was kind of fun. Kind of like my own personal "Survivor". Anyhow, I digress. After paying the 16E toll, we drove another 15 or so kilometers, and found ourselves smack dab in the Termini area, but were unable to navigate to the station. A sign somewhere indicating a train station would have been helpful, but that would have taken the challenge out of it. Finally, at the gentle request of my wife, I pulled over, turned on the flashers, and communicated with a delightful Italian gentleman about directions to the Termini. He sketched it out on a napkin, and in another 10 minutes we were at the desired coordinates....except, I was on the diametric opposite side of the station, and had to walk all the way through the station to find the rental car return. Having read all the posts about gypsies, pickpockets, and other street urchins, I was in Kung Fu mode as I made my way over to Platform 24 to find Auto Europe. Fortunately, I didn't have to catch any flying gypsy babies, beat away a horde of prepubescent girls trying to jostle and distract me, or scream "Polizia!" while being accosted by a well coordinated team of Oliver Twist type pickpockets. Come to think of it, it was just like any other train station that I have been in. So for those of you who have gotten freaked out reading the Scams section on the Rick Steves Graffiti Wall, relax when you get to the Termini. Keep your wits about you, look like you know where you are going, don't make unnecessary eye contact (can you say New York City?), hang onto your bags, and you may possibly survive the experience. Just remember that you are in a big city, and not in Mayberry, and you may live to tell about it.

By this time, we were a few minutes late, but the counter attendants said it was would be no problem. I was most impressed with Auto Europe. They were by far the cheapest, easy to work with, and did not try to load us up with a lot of extras at the counter in Venice. They will be my choice next time. Finally, it is hard to put a value on the the peace of mind one has with the full coverage protection that they offer. If something happens to the vehicle, you are fully covered. I wouldn't even consider a lesser level of coverage whle renting a car in a foreign country.

OK, enough about our entry into Rome, but I did enjoy the cool little streetside gas stations where you pull in and pull out. Very expedient, indeed. This was a welcome sight, beccause we had to top off the tank before we dropped the car off.

Our B&B, the Nicolas Inn, was about a 15 minute walk down the Via Cavour from the Termini. The walk was very safe, the streets were lively and vibrant, and the best part of all was that we were finally in Rome! It didn't matter a bit that I was carrying 50 pounds of 5 year old on my shoulders, while pulling a 30 inch Samsonite suiter down the street. BTW, I didn't have to dive off the sidewalk to avoid an errant car one time in 4 days. I guess I missed that part of my Rome experience!

We arrived at the subtle entrance to the Nicolas Inn and were buzzed up by Melissa. She was from the region known to Italians as Chicago, located on Lake Michigan. We unbagged, got a quick orientation, and made a beeline to the Colosseum. I will spend some more time in my next post discussing our very nice hosts, because they were instrumental in our enjoyment of Rome.

I will end this installment with my initial reflections on my first look at the Colosseum. Firstly, it is beautiful in its decay, because its former splendor is still so evident. It seems to me to be the centerpiece of Roman Civilization, emblematic of everything that was great and perverse about the Roman Empire. I felt compelled to walk completely around it before I entertained any ideas to go inside. Who can say, it may be the most famous landmark in the world, and I was under its spell. Sound a bit corny? For those of you who have seen it before, don't deny that little bit of goose leather you got when you saw it for the first time. For those of you who have yet to see it, it is a must see. Not just a tourist "notch on the belt" must see, but something that will give perspective and context to where you are. I am not sure whether the daytime approach or the night time view is the most desirable one, but either way, it is unforgettable. Much as I remember the first time I peered into the Grand Canyon, got out of the car and walked up to, and then around Stonehenge, this was one of those impressions that is not likey to fade with time.

More to come. We just got here!
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Old Apr 18th, 2005, 10:43 PM
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The sound of silence is deafening...
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Old Apr 19th, 2005, 05:13 AM
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I for one enjoyed your trip report!
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Old Apr 19th, 2005, 05:33 AM
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Well done gravysandwich! Thanks for sharing!
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