Italy for Beginners


Jan 8th, 2010, 07:10 PM
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Italy for Beginners

Sorry if I make any rookie mistakes- I'm new here. I appreciate any advice you all may have about travel (and forum etiquette!)

Here's the big picture:

Budget $5,000
Trip Date: Sometime in September
Trip Duration: ~2 Weeks
Travelers: Husband (seen Italy) & Wife (hasn't, but has always wanted to)
Tentative Locations List: Florence, Rome, Venice and Sienna(?)
Husband loves museums, ruins/historic sites, and architecture (Cathedrals, etc.)
Wife interested in Renaissance art ,Italian music, shopping, glass/ceramics workshops, and getting the "local" experience (likes Italian architecture and museums, too, just not as much as hubby)
Both love good food and comfy (but not extravagant) lodgings- think B&B. Both very curious about the Ponte Veccio. (sp?)

Any advice re: itinerary, buying tickets, points of interest, lodging, etc.? Any and all comments welcome and appreciated!
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Jan 8th, 2010, 07:11 PM
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PS: Neither of us speaks Italian (though we plan to study hard!). We are NOT willing to drive in Italy. We prefer walking and public transportation.
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Jan 8th, 2010, 07:34 PM
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I'm not a B&B person, so I'll leave it to others to make suggestions.You have a wonderful list of places to visit.
Florence especially is the place where one can overdose on the glories of Renaissance art.
That's not new; google Stendahl Syndrome.
I'd say take four days. Make advance reservations for the Accademia and the Ufizzi (far from my favorite museum, but it must be seen), and also go to Museo San Marco and the Bargello, two treasure houses,, where advance reservations aren't necessary. I'd also add in the Museum of the Works of the Duomo, which has just a few marvels, such as a late Michelangelo Pieta. Space out the museums with visits to the Baptistery, the Duomo, and Giotto's Bell Tower (all practically next door to each other.) And throw in some of the primary churches, such as Santa Croce, San Lorenzo (and the Medici Chapel) and three or four others.

Go to Siena by bus (from Florence, bus is the easier way) and stay at least one night, seeing the marvels of Sienese architecture and ambience. I'd say 1.5-2 days.

In my beloved Venice, (you could start or end the trip there), take at least 3 days. You can visit glass factories and showrooms on the lagoon island of Murano, though Murano is not especially beautiful. You can buy much the same glass, at all prices, in Venice itself. On a beautiful day, take the vaporetto to Burano and Torcello. Have lunch on one island or the other, stroll, and take some pretty photographs.

Rome: the days you have left. MInimum of three for getting a taste of it; four is better and you still won't have nearly enough time. Florence is Michelangelo's city; Rome is Bernini, post-Renaissance. Not that there aren't masterworks by Michelangelo in Rome, there are, but most of what one sees in Rome is either ancient (such as the Forum and Colosseum) or apres-Renaissance. Rome is large, and the metro of limited use; it takes a while to get form one place to another. Buy the Roma pass; not only is it a transport pass, but it lets you skip the ticket-buyers' lines at the Forum and Colosseum. You can also arrange advance tickets for the Vatican Museums. Crowds are lighter, relatively speaking, from 2pm until closing.

Use guided tours from agencies such as Context Rome or Enjoy Rome, or other agencies; they can provide very useful overviews, and will arrange the sightseeing in an efficient way.
I especially recommend that for the Vatican and St Peter's. You can always go back for more, either on this same trip, or on another.
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Jan 8th, 2010, 07:42 PM
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We could not be more happy with Panella Residence in Florence. It is a wonderful B&B with the sweetest, most helpful owners. It gets excellent reviews on Tripadvisor as well. It is in an ideal location. Check it out!
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Jan 8th, 2010, 09:03 PM
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I second the suggestion to do walks with Context tours. Our family of 5 did three walks in Italy with them a couple of years ago. In Rome we did the Vatican and Ancient Rome walks and in Florence the Ufizzi.

The walks were well organized, the guides were extremely knowledgeable, personable, and engaging. They took the time to answer our questions and explained the details of each exhibit, building, painting and associated historial events; key details which escape the typical tour groups.

In short, these walks were the icing on the cake of a wonderful vacation.
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Jan 8th, 2010, 11:23 PM
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I cannot too highly recommend Montepulciano, if you want to visit a smaller - but historic - village with all that you mention, including Italian music and including the "local" experience. You can walk throughout the village, or bus to Siena, Firenze, Roma, Perugia, and on and on - though a bit far from Venice. If you are interested in Montepulciano, I can recommend vacation rentals or hotels.
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Jan 9th, 2010, 02:41 AM
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We have just returned from Italy and stayed at the Daphne Inn B&B in Rome - Piazza Barbarini. The staff were excellent - very helpful and spoke very good English, room comfortable and the location convenient.
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Jan 9th, 2010, 05:35 AM
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Does the $5000 include airfare? If so, from where? If you need to use $2000 for airfare and only have $3000 for a two week trip you will need to look at budget B&B's. How many hotel nights will you have in Italy?

I would fly into either Milan or Venice (depending on airfare deals) and depart from Rome.

Venice - 4 nights
Florence - 4 nights (day trip by bus to Siena)
Rome - 4 nights
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Jan 9th, 2010, 05:49 AM
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Hello 2Aquias, if this was my trip I would fly into Venice and depart from Rome. You probably know but this is known as Open Jaw or Multi City flights and shouldn't cost you anymore than arriving and departing from the same airport. And of course you would not have to backtrack which would save you lots of time and money.

I would personally fly into Venice and depart from Rome as usually the departure flights from Venice are so early in the morning if one is heading home to the US, I will assume you live in the US.

With your plans you will find it easy to take the train from Venice to Florence and than on to Rome after enjoying Florence. And as elaine advised taking the bus to Siena is the best idea as the bus takes you right into Siena. Best regards.
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Jan 9th, 2010, 06:14 AM
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I like kybourbon's plan.

Over the years my tastes and preferences have changed. Years ago I would have said Venice 2-3 nights, Rome 3-4, and the rest in Florence. I used to love Florence to no end and could stay there for weeks. It's a vibrant, bustling city and quite compact.

But, on my last trip to Italy 2 yrs ago I found that I could have stayed a week or more in Rome, and the same for Venice, and we were more than happy to bug out of Florence after 3 hot, crowded days.

Rome is expansive and highly varied. This was the first trip we used apartments, and our location in Rome was perfect. It enabled us to explore and enjoy Rome at a leisurely pace, and not try to cram everything into a short visit. Down time at 'home' made us feel like we were 'living' in Rome, even if it was just for a week. It's easy to burn out if you push yourself to the limit day after day.

Ditto for Venice (apartment). The peacefulness of Venice is serene - no buses, cars, scooters. There are cruise ship/day tripper crowds during the day, but early/late they are all gone and we felt like we had Venice to ourselves. I'm not even sure we hit all the must-see sights in Venice, as we just had fun exploring and getting lost.

After visiting Venice we went to Florence. It was much more crowded than I recall previously, perhaps because this time we were visiting with the children, and needed to keep aware of where everyone was. By the time we got to Florence we'd already had our fill of Renaissance art, and art in general elsewhere. Of course we visited the Accademia but were quite happy to skip the Uffizi. It was no fun getting jostled by crowds in the Duomo, San Lorenzo market, and even inside the Accademia.

Your situation is different. Two of you, not 4. September, when things aren't as busy as the height of summer.

Regarding Siena, I would just do that as a day trip from Florence. It'll save you from having to pack/move/checkin one extra time, which will save you 1/2 a day. From Florence you could easily do a 1/2 day trip to Pisa if you plan it well and get an early start. Many will tell you Pisa is overrated - it's just a tipsy bell tower afterall. Others will tell you it's got far more to offer than just the tower/basilica/baptistry area and you should consider a few days in Pisa. To me it's one of those places you always hear about and I'm glad I've been (4x) & brought my family to take the silly "hold up the tower" pictures.
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Jan 9th, 2010, 06:49 AM
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Lots of good advice. I agree with Elaine, the Uffizzi is not my favorite either but I am so glad that I saw the Botticellis and Caravagios (sp?)

However, one of my all-time favorite museums is the Borghese in Rome; the Bernini sculptures are magnificent and you can wander through the gardens after the museum for some outdoor activity.

I think you'll have a wonderful trip.
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Jan 9th, 2010, 07:25 AM
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Good questions, KYBourbon- thank you.

Our $5,000 budget DOES include airfare (we're hoping to find some deals...) but this far out if we need to save up a little more, it might be do-able. We live in Virginia, so we can fly from Baltimore, Dulles, or Reagan pretty easily.

We don't mind "mixing it up" a bit in terms of lodging- perhaps a hostel one night, some budget hotels for a few days, and maybe one night in a nicer place...

The exact number of nights in Italy is negotiable. We're trying to be flexible to save money, so if it's 12 nights or 15 nights, we should be ok.

I hadn't thought much about an open jaw booking, but you all make some great points about those. I'm going to have to consider that very seriously as I think there are some definite benefits to that. WOW! I'm so glad I brought my questions here! You all are terrific!
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Jan 9th, 2010, 08:34 AM
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If you're on a strict budget, consider staying in convents -- unless the curfew seriously cramps your style. Here's a helpful link:

Don't make the mistake of staying in a cheaper place away from the historic center of each city. To me it's throwing away vacation money. For example, Venice is expensive, but you lose so much of the experience if you stay in Mestre or the Lido.

kybourbon's plan is excellent. Siena by bus from Florence makes a good day trip (though Siena is thrillingly dark and medieval at night). And the open jaws flight into Venice, out of Rome. Flights from Venice (connecting to the US) leave very early, so if you depart from Venice, you lose time on the ground.

Obviously Montepulciano is not appropriate with so few days and no car.
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Jan 9th, 2010, 09:19 AM
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Lots of great advice so far, thought I'd throw in my two cents.

Florence: I definitely agree that Sienna is a day trip from Florence - it's fairly easy to get up there via bus and/or train if you plan ahead a day. Have a nice lunch, visit the main sites and then head back to Florence. I'd also echo other people in saying that the most time should be spent in Venice and Rome

Venice: I stayed at the Pensione Accademia and was absolutely delighted with it! Small but very nice rooms, a wonderful feeling of privacy, front and back gardens at the hotel, amazing morning breakfast and a fantastic concierge named Luciano who will help you with anything you need to know. In my opinion Venice is best seen by just walking (or boating) around the city and finding little canals to explore. Also if you find some beautiful artwork being done on the street speak with the artist - some of the most interesting people there (well not all of them, but some).
In terms of food, Venice is known for its seafood and risotto. Alla Madonna is always a good restaurant to try. Sitting in San Marco's Square is lots of fun but be ready for the price of drinks - they're exorbitant!

Rome: From what you described it sounds like you might both enjoy a day trip to Tivoli. The Villa D'Este and it's gardens are stunning and provide a beautiful view. For a more historical/ruin glimpse you can also check out Hadrian's Villa of very very ancient ruins.
Also in Rome I would spend a half-day/day exploring the Trastevere area which has a wonderful and bit different feel to it then the rest of the city.
In Rome make sure to have Arrabiata pasta and saltimbuca if you can. Also, there are two Baffeto's located in Rome - best pizza I had in 13 cities in Italy.

Hope this helps! Enjoy!
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Jan 9th, 2010, 11:16 AM
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Since this trip isn't until next September, and you are still figuring out your total number of nights, you have a lot of time to some research before locking yourself into how many days/nights you want in each location.

You say you have an interest in glass and ceramic making, and perhaps taking classes in Italy. That suggests to me that you might want to a lot more time to Venice and Firenze (Florence) than a tourist with no compelling interest would think of doing.

Also, many tourists go to Italy without ever allotting any time to hear music performed -- and hearing music in Italy is your particular best shot at enjoying a "local" experience, given the fact your chosen destination are among the most overrun with foreign tourists in Italy. Once you've researched where best to fulfill that desire to experience Italian music in Italy, you'll know how to divide your days for your trip. (I don't know about music in Montepulciano, but you would need a car to get there.)

I'm guessing you already know that glass making and classes is a specialty of Venice. I'm not sure what kind of ceramics most interest you, but you might appreciate knowing about this ceramics school in Certaldo, reachable by bus from Firenze

The ceramics town of Faenza is reachable as a day trip from Firenze using public transportation,. Up the hill by bus from Firenze is Italy's terracotta pottery center, the town of Impruenta. In the close-by area of Murgello, there is both the museum of 19th c. Chini ceramics and all the famous Tuscan discount designer brand shopping outlets (but you might want to arrange a taxi back!)

Finally, I've spent a lot of time in the museums of Florence on repeat visits. I know that reactions to the Uffizi are quite split, but a great many experienced museum lovers intensely dislike the Uffizi, and consider it one of the most tiring and annoying museums in Europe for its layout, overcrowdedness and the difficulty of actually seeing the art. Given the way your describe yourself, I can't imagine you enjoying being in it (or the Pitti), If your husband sees something in a museum he feels certain you would want to see, go back later that day and he can show it to you. . Otherwise, plan to be doing something else! (But do know that there are Della Robbias in the Bargello.)

Have a great time!
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Jan 9th, 2010, 11:19 AM
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PS: Because reservations are required for the Uffizi, some people think you can't make them the same day or hours ahead of time. It can be done.
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Jan 9th, 2010, 12:11 PM
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If your $5000 includes airfare and you have to allocate $2000 for that you will only have $3000 - or 2000 euros for the whole trip. A basic pension (perhaps shared bath, no AC and stairs versus elevator) will be about 100 euros a night - or 1300 for a 14 day trip - leaving you only 700 - or about 50 euros per day for BOTH OF YOU travel between cities, transit in cities, meals, sightseeing etc. Do NOT plan on any shopping with that budget and assume a lot of meals will be sandwiches on park benches with tap ater from you hotel in your own bottle.

For example, the entrance to the Forum and Colisseum is 11 euors per person - leaving you only 28 euros for the day for meals and transit.

I think you need to either have a shorter trip or save up considerably more money.
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Jan 9th, 2010, 12:23 PM
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If you live in Virginia, last year Delta was offering extraordinary deals to Florence airport. All flights included a stop in Atlanta, but the Atlanta flight left late enough in the day that you could comfortably take a late morning flight out of one of your airports and connect. The fares were as low as $300 RT, taxes included. Don't know if they'l do it again, but keep your eye out! Even if you can't find fares THAT low, from the East Coast I wouldn't expect to pay $1000RT to Italy.

Airports you should consider given your present wish list of destinations: Milan, Pisa, Florence, Bologna, Venice and Rome (not all of those will offer you a non-stop).
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Jan 9th, 2010, 12:34 PM
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I should add: But keep saving money! Don't count on a deal!
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Jan 9th, 2010, 12:39 PM
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Regarding accommodation - another possibility might be limiting yourself to two destinations for a week each and renting an apartment. Towards the end of September might count as "offseason" for some. You might be able to find an apartment within 30 minutes of central Rome, on a decent train or bus route for reasonable cost rather than city centre.

The problem with this is that all three of the "main" cities are expensive, but you might find some on assorted websites - I tend to use or,. but there are many others.

I was going to suggest that driving on highways and rural Italy is not really a huge issue, but cities can be a real pain. Trains and buses are easy enough.
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