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Italy – my very belated trip report (sorry!)

Italy – my very belated trip report (sorry!)

Jan 16th, 2006, 05:51 PM
  #1  
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Italy – my very belated trip report (sorry!)

My DH and I took our first trip to Italy in September and, with much help from all the Fodorites on this board, it was fantastic. I promised to post a report when I got back and started to post, but then started a new job and just never had time to finish it . . . so (guiltily) I am finally doing it here.

Trip Summary
3 nights Rome
1 night Orvieto
3 nights Montalcino
2 nights Florence
2 nights Venice
1 night London (really an extended layover on the way home)

Rome

Flew from Atlanta to London Gatwick on Delta. Flight was fine – got an exit row but sat next to whiny children. Had a really long layover and then flew Easyjet (low cost European airline) to Rome.

Hotel – Realis Banchi Vecchi
Stayed at the Relais Banchi Vecchi. 130 euros a night for a clean, beautiful double room with private (marble) bath. No shower, which makes it a bit of a challenge but not as big a deal as I originally thought. On weekdays the rate includes a voucher for breakfast at a café down the street (delicious), on weekends they bring breakfast to the room (good, but not as good as the caf&eacute. The hotel is also not staffed all the time so it feels more like a group of apartments, you are on your own but if you are okay with this you can’t beat RBV for price, location and charm.

Sights -
- Ancient Rome - Did a Through Eternity tour of ancient Rome with Marle as a guide. Highly recommend the tour and this guide – the tour went on for almost two hours longer than it was scheduled to and we loved every bit of it.
- Vatican Museum – Did this w/o a tour guide. Get there early if you want to do it on a Saturday as we did, there are a lot of people in line and the museum closes early. Amazing museum but very crowded. Could barely walk thru the Sistine Chapel. Audio guides were good but there is just so much art (and so many people!) things can get a bit overwhelming.
- Pantheon – A LOT smaller than I thought it would be but still good to see. The last major ancient site that has its marble façade intact so it is good to see it to get an idea of how all the other buildings looked at one time.
- Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain – we just saw these because we were walking in the area, good to see but not as interesting to me personally. Very crowded and I like to avoid the crowds a bit if we can.
- Elton John concert at the Colosseum – we just happened to be in Rome one night when this concert was going on and went to about half of it (we hadn’t eaten b/f going and had to abandon it in search of pizza before we fainted), it was great. We learned we should definitely check out what special events will be in places we are traveling to, if our tour guide hadn’t told us about this we would have missed it.

Food –
- Unnamed restaurant right next door to Realis Banchi Vecchi – very good, very cheap and the owner speaks English and is super helpful. Wish we had gone here twice. I got a shrimp, garlic and unidentified green vegetable pasta, DH got spaghetti carbonera and a glass of wine, we split a bottle of water and possibly the most delicious tiramisu ever for 23 euros.
- L’Orso 80 – good, affordable, would definitely go back again. Had antipasta mista, a prosciutto pizza, half a bottle of house wine and a water for 33 euros. Antipasta is HIGHLY recommended, great variety, huge portion. Pizza was okay. Wine was good.
- Antonios (near Pantheon) – very good, fairly cheap. I had ravioli with pecorino cheese and tomatoes. DH has a massive plate of “mountain” prosciutto and fresh bread and we split a water for 17 euros.
- Antica Taverna – not very good. We split the prosciutto and melon – the prosciutto was fine but the melon wasn’t ripe. DH had the lasagna and it was good, but I had the penne with salmon and it wasn’t that great, a little fishy. We split water and a half carafe of not very good house wine, total is around 27€. Service is also not great and it is the one place in Italy we felt rushed.


Gelato
- Blue Ice – good for “tourist” gelato (i.e. gelato that is piled up high in a glass case with fruit on top; the best gelato places kept the gelato out of sight in metal containers with little round lids)
- San Crispino (near Spanish Steps) – the best gelato I have ever had in my life; would possibly fly back to Rome just for this
audreyleigh99 is offline  
Jan 16th, 2006, 05:52 PM
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Orvieto

Took the train from Rome to Orvieto – easy and cheap.

Hotel – Hotel Duomo
Good hotel – clean, quiet and spacious but didn’t have the charm element at all (weird 1970s décor). 105 euros a night with a big breakfast included. Very convenient, right of the main plaza.

Food –
- La Paloma (sp?) – very, very good and very, very cheap. One of the best meals we had in Italy. Ate here for dinner and again for lunch the next day before we left town. For dinner I had some sort of fettucini-like pasta (which was so fresh it was chewy, delicious!) with tomato and cream sauce, DH had boar, we split a bruchetta, a water and ½ carafe of wine for 26 euros. For lunch I had antipasto, DH had the truffle pasta, we split a truffle bruchetta, and a bottle of water for 25 euros.

Activities –
Saw the Duomo and shopped – we weren’t there very long. There happened to be a festival going on the night we got there and that was fun – street performers and vendors.
audreyleigh99 is offline  
Jan 16th, 2006, 05:53 PM
  #3  
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Montalcino

Picked up a rental car in Orvieto and drove to Montalcino – not as easy as the train but definitely doable (and really there is no other way to get around in Tuscany).

Hotel – Hotel Il Giglio
85 euros a night, not including breakfast. Beautiful hotel, charming and clean and the view over the Tuscan countryside is breathtaking. My favorite all around hotel of the trip. I think we stayed in room no. 2 but any room in the main building with “panoramic view” would be just as good. Even the bathroom was beautifully done up in travertine with a modern glass and stainless shower. Staff was very helpful, they will park your rental car for you too (just make sure they get it if they’ve parked it on a very steep hill, we had a bit of an incident and DH has a perfect driving record and has been driving manual for 14 years – those hills are steep).

Food –
We didn’t have the best luck with restaurants in town here for some reason. The one place I did like I didn’t write down the name of, although it has been recommended on the board. We did have a fabulous lunch at the Fattoria dei Barbi winery – I had ravioli with sage and pecorino (I’m drooling now just thinking of it), DH had boar with polenta and a glass of wine, and we split bruchetta, a bottle of water and then a cheese plate for dessert for 37 euros. The weather was beautiful and we ate outside on the terrace, it was wonderful. Make sure to reserve a table before coming – everyone who does the wine tour sees the restaurant and wants to eat!

Activities –
- Winery tour at Fattoria dei Barbi – decent tour, nothing like the showy ones they do in Napa, but interesting to see nevertheless. DH said the wine tasting afterwards was good – I wasn’t feeling good so I didn’t partake. We bought two bottles and really wish we’d bought more, I haven’t been able to find it anywhere in the states or online for less than three times what we paid.
- Picnic in the countryside – got meats and cheeses and bread from a grocery store, highly recommend doing this if it is good weather, it is so relaxing.
- Shopping in the towns – we stayed in Montalcino and visited Pienza and Montalpulcino while driving thru the countryside.
- Laundry – we only took two 24 inch suitcases so we run out of clothes in Montalcino. There is one public washer and dryer in town and they are very expensive and generally a pain in the butt. My advice – let the very nice lady at the laudromat do your laundry and pick it up later.
audreyleigh99 is offline  
Jan 16th, 2006, 05:54 PM
  #4  
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More to come later . . . really, I promise this time.
audreyleigh99 is offline  
Jan 16th, 2006, 08:49 PM
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Join Date: Jan 2003
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Looking forward to the rest of your report. Keep it coming!
Holly_uncasdewar is offline  
Jan 17th, 2006, 06:08 PM
  #6  
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Florence

For the love of god, do not try to return your rental car to Florence. Or at least get really, really good directions printed out at home before you try to – we had a really awful time of this (during rush hour, of course).

Hotel – B & B Peterson
64 euros, I think. Very basic apartment type accommodations (what you’d expect for the money) but clean. Not sure I would love the location if I was by myself – you have to go past the train station at night to get back to the hotel from the tourist areas and I wouldn’t recommend a single gal doing that. But then again for the money you’ll save you could take a taxi. This was our superbudget accommodation so we could stay where we wanted to in Venice.

Restaurants –
- Za Za – up there with my favorite restaurants in Italy. The Florentine steak is to die for, and everything else we had was good too. Ate here two nights in a row (I know, I know we should try new places, but it’s hard when you know of one that is this delicious). The first night we had prosciutto and melon (it was ripe, unlike in Rome), insalata mixta, gnocchi in tomato sauce, fettuccine with meat sauce (boar, I think), tiramisu, two hot teas (it was cold and rainy) and two waters for 40 euros. The next night we had insalata mista and split a big Florentine steak, I don’t remember how much the bill was but I’d pay $50 to have that steak right now!
- bar downstairs from B & B Peterson – good coffee, good pastries and super cheap (like 4 euros for coffees, pastries and water).

Activities –
- Accademia – the David is beautiful, as are the other handful of other Michelangelo statutes, but there really isn’t much else here. Definitely make reservations, it saved us a LOT of time.
- Uffizi – beautiful but huge (although not compared to the Vatican museum). Again, make reservations (both U and A reservations can be made by phone for a small fee, the number is posted on this board) and be selective about what you go to see, otherwise you’ll just get exhausted.
- Shopping – Florence is a great place to shop (especially when it is grey and rainy like it was for us). For leather check out NOI and the leather school. I got a purse from NOI that was okay, I think their jackets are really their specialty. I saw a purse I wish I had gotten at the leather school, their stuff is amazing, butter soft. I HIGHLY recommend Oro Due for gold – it is small but if you can find something you like it is not a rip off like the stuff on the main street. I got the most beautiful, delicate gold necklace and bracelet there that I’m sure I couldn’t afford in the US.
audreyleigh99 is offline  
Jan 17th, 2006, 08:07 PM
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Join Date: Mar 2005
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"For the love of god, do not try to return your rental car to Florence." I'm laughing at this comment but I was near to tears trying to find the Florence airport to return the car. Seemed like we drove around in circles. Turns out we missed a turn because a plastic garbage bag had blown over the sign pointing to the airport.

More trouble in Cannes this summer returning a car. Why can't they just have car rental returns on the outskirts of the cities??

I like the idea someone else recently posted here - one of you get in a cab & the other traveler drive behind him to the rental place.

Great report - glad you enjoyed it.
cobbie is offline  
Jan 18th, 2006, 09:49 PM
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Join Date: Sep 2003
Posts: 285
Hi audreyleigh99: Thanks for the great information. We are also considering the Hotel Duomo in Orvieto. After your visit, was there another property that you saw that you think you may have preferred? I have also considered the Corso but feel that the Hotel Duomo is in a better location. I read somewhere that the church bells ring quite often, and rather loud, and that some at the Hotel Duomo found this annoying. Does this ring a bell w/ you ( I couldn't resist!)?
Re: Rome: Was your "Thorough Eternity" tour a private or group tour? Did you make the arrangements far in advance?
Thanks for the feedback and also the restaurant tips.
Ljyoung is offline  
Jan 22nd, 2006, 09:22 AM
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Hi Ljyoung,

Unfortunately I did not happen to see any other hotels in Orvieto that I would check out for next time. Maybe try searching on this board for other ideas? Although I seem to remember that most other people here had also stayed at Hotel Duomo, which is how I ended up there. I think there is one other place fodorites (Ira, maybe?) stay outside of town although this wasn't an option for us because we didn't have a car coming into Orvieto.

If you can't find anything else I wouldn't say to stay away from the Duomo; it was a perfectly acceptable, clean hotel, it just didn't have the charm most of our other hotels did. The location is very convenient - up one flight of stairs and you are in the center of town. And no, I don't remember any ringing

The Through Eternity tour in Rome was a group tour - I think there were eight of us total, a nice managable size. And no, I did not make the reservations far in advance - I totally procrastinated and made them like two days before we left for Rome! (if you make them on the website you get a discount, I did do this) I think Through Eternity is pretty flexible, if they don't have something you're looking for just email them and they'll see what they can do.
audreyleigh99 is offline  
Jan 22nd, 2006, 11:25 AM
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Join Date: Sep 2003
Posts: 285
Thanks a99 for the info. Really appreciate it.......
Ljyoung is offline  
Jan 23rd, 2006, 08:26 AM
  #11  
 
Join Date: Nov 2005
Posts: 87
Hi. I'm enjoying your trip report! Could you tell me what company you rented your car from? I'm looking for a rental agency with an office in Orvieto.
CVerga is offline  
Jan 23rd, 2006, 03:00 PM
  #12  
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For the car I went thru autoeurope.com, which is a broker. They found me a car with Hertz. I think autoeurope is the only broker/discounter that has Orvieto as a location. I think Nova is their competitor and is a bit cheaper, but we would have had to pick up in Rome (no thanks!).
audreyleigh99 is offline  
Jan 23rd, 2006, 03:30 PM
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I am really enjoying your report, thank you so much for posting! We had a similar experience trying to return a rental car in Wurzburg, Germany... not fun, I sympathize!
TexasAggie is offline  
Jan 25th, 2006, 10:23 AM
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Hi audrey,

Sorry for the shameless begging, but will you be posting more of your report soon?
TexasAggie is offline  
Jan 25th, 2006, 12:42 PM
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More shameless begging here!
edhodge is offline  
Jan 26th, 2006, 07:35 PM
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Sorry, I got busy at work again and got off track with the trip report. I can't imagine why my boss thinks work is more important that my fodors addiction I promise I will post the next installment tomorrow night!
audreyleigh99 is offline  
Jan 29th, 2006, 07:50 AM
  #17  
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Venice

Took the train from Florence to Venice. Thought we were going to miss it because we arrived at the station exactly five minutes before it was supposed to depart . . . but this was Italy, the train wasn’t even there yet! (it showed up five minutes later) It is sooo nice traveling by train, so relaxing compared to flying. Show up just a few minutes before the train leaves, print your tickets from the automated kiosk, load your bags and away you go. You can get up and walk around whenever you want, there is a food car and the seats are so much more comfortable. Now if only we could get trains like this in the US

I thought I would hate Venice and we would have probably skipped it altogether if it hadn’t been for people on this board talking me into it. I thought of it as an overcrowded tourist trap, sort of the Disneyland of Italy (not appealing to me because half the time I just like observing how locals go about their day rather than seeing all the sights a city has to offer). Venice can be that, and probably is that if you come there on a day trip or on a cruise ship and mostly stay in St. Marks Square. But we had a completely different experience (by staying in a hotel in Dorsodoro and avoiding St. Marks and other super-crowded areas during the day; we went at night when all the day trippers had gone) and I am so grateful to the fodorites that talked me into going! I knew I was going to love it when we walked out of the train station in Venice - the scene took my breath away. You walk out right in front of the Grand Canal. It was supposed to be raining that day, but instead it was beautiful – the buildings were glowing from the late afternoon sunlight. Gorgeous.

Hotel – Pensione La Calcina
Beautiful hotel that sits right on the Giudecca Canal. I loved the hotel overall – beautiful, quiet location; they have a deck perched out over the canal where they serve a very good complementary breakfast every morning; tastefully decorated, etc. However, it is not cheap (but it is a very good deal by Venice standards), you have to book way in advance (like a year would be good), and you HAVE to request which room number you would like to have (because everyone else does this you will be stuck with the worst one if you don’t). We stayed in one of the two rooms on the fourth floor and weren’t crazy about it (we ended up here b/c there were reviews saying that some of the rooms on lower floors were dark so I thought the top floor would be better). You are basically in the attic so the room layout is weird and the windows are tiny and high up so the only way you can see out of them is to stand up right in front of them. If I went again I would definitely splurge on one of the rooms with a full view of the Giudecca Canal – I looked at them when we were checking out and they are beautiful.

Restaurants –
- Alla Botte – this little bar was recommended on this board (the only bad recommendation we got so I definitely can’t complain) and was packed when we got there but we really didn’t like it. The waiter was rude to me (although he straightened up when he saw he was upsetting me), he had no idea about a specials or mixed cichetti plate the other person on the board here had and he completely messed up our check. To top it off it definitely was NOT cheap for what we got and DH had a very upset stomach for a day and a half after we ate there. Would not recommend it.
- Taverna San Trovaso in Dorsodoro – cute little restaurant on a side canal. Another recommendation from the board. Make a reservation if you can, this place gets busy. We split a caprese salad, I had spaghetti with a creamy tomato sauce and shrimp and DH has ossobuco with polenta (delicious!) with a half carafe of house wine, water, tiramisu and tea the total comes to 43 euros (just a little more that Alla Botte and so worth it!).

Activities –
- Secret Itineraries tour of Doge’s Palace – very interesting to see all of the hidden areas of the Palace, would definitely recommend it (although our tour guide was obnoxious – very weird accent putting the emphasis on all the wrong syllables of the words, speaking very slowly, yelling at people if they didn’t walk quickly enough, etc.)
- Murano – interesting, you kind of have to do it. Have to really look to find quality glass at reasonable prices – there are a lot of super high end places and a lot of cheap places that import glass from China. Look for the sticker/stamp that guarantees the glass is made in Murano. And try to go for the smaller shops that might be a little out of the way. I just wanted a few souvenirs so I ended up with a glass bead bracelet (beautiful pink beads with gold flecks in them), a picture frame with gold flecks and a paperweight for the office.
- Mask shops – very cool to see, got a few small souvenir masks.
- Gondola ride – we almost didn’t do this because it was late at night and everyone was telling us it was supposed to storm (you could kind of make out the storm clouds in the dark and it was super windy) and we didn’t want to spend 80 euros to have a ride in the rain. But we ended up going for it and were so glad we did – gondoliers will tell you to do it in the daytime but nighttime is so much better, more romantic and peaceful. The side canals were so quiet and smooth like glass. There were no motorboats out. The only sounds you could hear were muffled noises of people talking or singing coming from apartments. Probably my favorite activity of the whole trip.
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