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Italy Trip Report Sept 03 - read at your own risk

Italy Trip Report Sept 03 - read at your own risk

Oct 15th, 2003, 08:40 AM
  #1  
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Italy Trip Report Sept 03 - read at your own risk

Finally got something resembling a trip report of our second trip to Italy in September. Read at your own risk - I'm not a great creative writer like many on this forum but maybe someone will pick up some useful info or it will prompt some questions.
Will probably require a number of posting to fit in so here goes:
Day one of second trip to Italy with my wife.
Flew Lufthansa from Denver to Milan with a change in Frankfurt. By 3:00 pm we had our luggage and were headed out of the terminal to try to get the bus to Como. A check of the schedule confirmed my fears ? the next bus wasn?t scheduled to leave until 6:45 PM. DON?T BELIEVE THE BUS SCHEDULES ON THE MALPENSA WEBSITE! We knew there were options to take a train into Milan and then another train to Como, etc., etc., but we were too tired at this point so decided to bite the bullet and take a taxi. Luckily a single woman who was in the same predicament approached us to ask if we wanted to split a taxi. That made the decision easy. Spent fifteen comical minutes trying to negotiate a lower fare using our fractured Italian until we finally gave up and agreed to pay the metered fare of approx 90 Euro. After a wild one hour ride with a suicidal taxi driver we arrived at the ferry dock in Como in just enough time to catch the 4:20 ferry. Taxi driver tried to stick us with an additional 10 Euro charge above the metered price supposedly for tolls even though I had noticed that the only toll he had paid along the way was 2 Euro. We weren?t sure if he was on the level or not and the ferry was about to leave so we paid him only adding a small tip. We arrived in Bellagio at 5:10 and discovered that in order to reach the Hotel Belvedere we had to carry our luggage to the top of Bellagio that involved walking up a series of stairs equivalent to a ten story building. Not that tough unless you are carrying a fifty pound suitcase in each hand. We finally reached the hotel and were surprised to find that the hotel faced the other side of the lake, not the side where we had arrived by ferry. For those who don?t know, Bellagio is located at the point where the lake divides like an upside down letter Y so has views in both directions. Checked into room 314 and were thrilled to see an incredible view of the lake from our balcony. Our room was average sized but very nice and appeared to be recently redecorated. Very quiet setting and friendly staff. I highly recommend this hotel. Try to get a balcony rather than a second floor terrace. Although the walk to and from the ferry with luggage was tough the hotel was only a five minute walk to the upper part of the town. That night we had a good but not outstanding dinner at Ristorante Barchetta. The house red wine tasted awful mostly because they served it ice cold.
BoulderCO is offline  
Oct 15th, 2003, 09:15 AM
  #2  
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Day 2
Awoke to a cloudy day with light rain so spent the day shopping. Had a great lunch at La Laterna where they had the best panini sandwiches as well as beautiful waitresses (not that I noticed). Dinner that night at Trattoria San Giacomo. Great experience, unbelievable ravioli appetizer prepared with just butter and sage, excellent fresh fish from the lake, and good reasonably priced Chianti. A dessert of assorted regional cheeses was the perfect finish.

Day 3
Awoke to a perfect warm sunny day as it would be for the rest of our trip. Took the ferry to Mennagio and walked around for an hour or so. Decided we were glad we stayed in Bellagio. We thought it was just the right size and had the right amount of dining and shopping options. Didnt feel too large or busy at all. I think we would have been bored in the smaller villages. We ferried back to Bellagio and returned to La Laterna for another panini sandwich and to pretend not to notice the waitresses. Had very average pizza for dinner so didnt bother to remember the restaurant name. I do remember our waitress was from London and she made me very envious when she told us that she could fly from London to Milan for fares as low as 5 Pounds!. That night we had a nightcap sitting on our balcony and enjoyed a memorable scene of the full moon rising over the Alps and shimmering across the lake. Lake Como and Bellagio are incredible, certainly one of the most beautiful and relaxing areas we have ever been.

More to come.
BoulderCO is offline  
Oct 15th, 2003, 09:44 AM
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Can't wait to hear more!
PS-Glad to know that you are ignoring the beautiful women!
anotherjudy is offline  
Oct 15th, 2003, 10:16 AM
  #4  
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Day four
On to Santa Margherita. Took the bus rather than the ferry to Como as the schedule was more favorable and it took us directly to the San Giovanni train station. The bus ride was very enjoyable, it followed the shore of the lake making for great views and passed through dozens of interesting little towns. Took the train from Como to Santa Margherita and then a taxi to Hotel Jolanda. Turned out it was only a ten minute walk but we didnt know that and it was getting late. Our junior suite was beautiful and very large with antique reproduction furniture and artwork. Very friendly staff. We thought it was a good value for 160 Euros although no water views and some street noise.

Day five
Ferry to Portofino. Walked up to the castle to take the classic shot looking down at the village, shopped, and had lunch. Again we were happy that we stayed in the larger town of Santa Margherita instead. Portofino is beautiful but much too small to suit us,and very expensive. SML was just the right size. Dinner near our hotel that night at Da Michele was excellent.

Day six
Checked out, walked to train station, and took a fifteen minute train ride to Chiavari where we picked up our rental car from Europcar. We were hoping we could drive to Monterosso, park and ferry to Vernazza for a few hours on our way to Tuscany. Big mistake. All the parking lots were full and the place was a mad house. Decided we would have to see CT on another trip. Probably best to take a train to CT rather than drive given the limited parking. We grabbed lunch and decided to drive on to walled town of Monteriggioni. Stayed at Hotel Monteriggioni where our room was nice but extremely small. We had visited Monteriggioni on a previous trip and thought it would be a magical experience to stay there at night after the day-trippers had left. For some reason it didnt seem quite as magical staying there as we had hoped. Maybe we were just tired from driving all day. It is certainly a worthwhile visit if you are in the area but I guess it didnt really warrant a second visit.
More to come
BoulderCO is offline  
Oct 15th, 2003, 12:54 PM
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Day seven
Checked out and planned to stop in Siena for a few hours on our way to Pienza. Fortunately we warned by the desk clerk that a huge soccer match was scheduled that day between Siena and Milan. He told us we should avoid Siena at all costs. We were OK with that since we had been there before. Instead we took a leisurely back road drive to Pienza made possible by a series of wrong turns. But we ended up going through some of the most incredible scenery we have ever seen in Tuscany. The road ran approximately southeast out of Siena passing through the town of Asciano. We arrived in Pienza and walked around for a couple hours before making the ten minute drive to our hotel L Olmo. We had stayed there before and loved it. It is located out in the country a couple miles south of Pienza and has only seven rooms, five of which are large suites with huge living rooms and bedrooms. We had asked for the same suite as before because we loved the corner bedroom and views of Pienza in the distance. Had dinner that night in Montichiello, a cool little walled hill town about two miles away. The only real restaurant in town was called Taverna di Moranda. It had maybe six tables but the food was incredible. My wife had the lamb and I had the guinea hen. Including a first course and wine the bill was 42E.
Day eight
Shopping at Montepulciano. We had never been there before and really enjoyed it. Much larger than Pienza but definitely a classic hill town. Shopping was terrific, found some excellent values on ceramics and prints. Dinner that night in Latte di Luna in Pienza. Another fantastic choice, my wife had the duck and I cant even remember what I had but I enjoyed it. Its a lively place with small tables close together and excellent prices. Seemed to be a custom here that all the women kissed the owner on the cheek on their way out. Even the tourists did it, even my normally reserved wife kissed him. After a half liter of the house wine I almost kissed him. Definitely need a reservation , very popular with the locals.
More to follow
BoulderCO is offline  
Oct 15th, 2003, 03:07 PM
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Day nine
Daytrip to Montalcino to stock up on Brunello. Bought four different bottles of 97 Riserva at the Fortezza (should be great in 3 or 4 years), had lunch, made a quick stop at Bagno Vignoni to admire the old water system and roman spa, and then spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing by the L Olmo swimming pool. Dinner at La Chiocciola in Pienza. Not much kissing going on here but terrific food.
Day ten
Checked out and drove on to Rome Fiumicino airport to turn in the rental car . Took the Leonardo Express to Rome Termini and taxi to Albergo del Senato hotel. Beware of the guys who insist on helping you load your luggage into the taxi and then demand a payment of two Euro. Taxi driver said it was an illegal practice but I am sure they nail plenty of tourists. I just gave him half a Euro for his 15 seconds of effort and ignored his demands for more. We had decided to stay at the Del Senato based on recommendations from people on this board. They were right. Very nice lobby, great service, and we somehow ended up with a huge room designed for four people that even included a rarity in Europe, two sinks in the bathroom. Only downside was construction in an adjoining building that woke us up at 8 in the morning every day. Best part of the hotel is the location right next to the Pantheon. Next best thing is the rooftop bar. We made sure to visit every night before dinner for a cocktail or sparkling wine and to watch the sunset. Then again after dinner for Limoncello. Great views of the Vittoriano monument and all the church domes including St Peters. Enjoyed many long conversations with Michael the bartender. He is not the happiest guy in Italy but very generous with the Limoncello. Dinner that night a few blocks away at L Angoletto. The restaurants name was a hint that seafood was probably their specialty but we were ready for meat at this point and ordered the steak. It was excellent although it seemed pricey after Tuscany, about 70 Euros for two courses each and a bottle of wine.
BoulderCO is offline  
Oct 15th, 2003, 10:27 PM
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Your trip sounds wonderful. Thank you for sharing!
Allison is offline  
Oct 15th, 2003, 10:36 PM
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Ah, I see Roberto at Latte Luna is still popular with the ladies!

Great report!
nocinonut is offline  
Oct 16th, 2003, 07:20 AM
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Day eleven
Walked to Campo d Fiori to grab a peach before walking to the Vatican. Revisited the Sistine Chapel and found it just as mind-boggling the second time around. Walked back to Piazza Navona, bought some paintings, and enjoyed a drink in one of the outdoor cafes. Dinner that night at Ecce Bombo just west of Piazza Navona. Excellent restaurant.
Day twelve
More walking. Visited Trastevere and checked out Santa Maria church which I had read was the oldest Christian church in Rome. Very impressive. Had the worst pizza we had ever had in Italy in a little restaurant nearby and then walked back to the Forum, Vittoriano monument and Spanish Steps. Had a very average dinner that night near our hotel. I think the best restaurants are in the small side streets rather the main walkway that connects Piazza Navona with Pantheon and Trevi Fountain.

Day thirteen
Train to Milan for final night at Villa Malpensa.
Day 12 fly home.
All in all a terrific trip with enough spare time to relax and shop.
On our first trip to Italy we had crammed too much in and didn?t allow time for R & R. On that trip we arrived in Italy on 9/11/01, which put a bit of a damper on things. Some things we learned. Find a local COOP stores for great prices on snack food, bottled water, beer, fruit, soft drinks, etc. Also good prices on wine (including Brunello) and Limoncello. To call the U.S. or make local calls get a phone card from any Tabacchi shop, we got well over an hour of talk time back to the states out of a 5 Euro card. We used a AAA cash passport card to get cash at ATMs. You preload the money at a AAA office and then draw from it at any Visa ATM. Worked great just like a debit card but if lost it no one can use it without your PIN number and even if they somehow got your PIN your loss would be limited to the amount put on your card. A great option for people who dont already have a debit card. One warning for men. Bring a neck brace! You will be constantly assaulted by the sight of incredibly beautiful women. I still contend that I didnt notice them, although I did discover upon returning home that I now have an owl like ability to turn my head completely around.
BoulderCO is offline  
Oct 16th, 2003, 07:32 AM
  #10  
ira
 
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Hi Boulder,

Thanks for sharing. Enjoyed your report.
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Oct 16th, 2003, 07:46 AM
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GAC
 
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Boulder: excellent report, thanks for sharing your experiences.

For the benefit of Fodorites reading this thread, let it be known that Boulder did not have the benefit of knowing that he could have avoided the exorbitant taxi fare by taking the train from the Malpensa Airport Train Station (lowest level, reachable by elevator from the arrivals level) to Como Nord Lago Station (transferring at SARONNO Station with a 30 minute wait). Total travel time 89 minutes (including connection time), fare of 6.95 Euros (combined ticket for both trains), departures every 30 minutes daily.
The extremely easy transfer at the small SARONNO Station requries a train change and use of the underground tunnel.

Once at Como Nord Lago (facing the waterfront), the Como Bus Terminal is 20 yards across the square. Buses leave roughly hourly to points on Lake Como (including Menaggio and Bellagio). Ticket costs 2.75 Euros and there is a cafe/bar next door where you can wait for the departing bus. Bus schedules are found at www.sptcomo.it

There are also ferries and hydrofoils nearby, but they are less frequent and more expensive than the excellent bus system.

The SPT Como Airport Bus from Malpensa to Como currently leaves ONLY three times daily, so knowing about the frequent and inexpensive train option is useful information.
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Oct 16th, 2003, 09:33 AM
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GAC

You are right. I didn't know about this option at the time. We just wanted the easiest way at that point and splitting the taxi fare made it more palatable. But I will remember this for next time.
BoulderCO is offline  
Oct 16th, 2003, 11:25 AM
  #13  
aj
 
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Boulder,

Thanks for the great report! I can't wait to return to Italy this May. We will also be in the Lake Como area and your description really makes me want to fly over now! I am gald you had a wonderful time.
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Oct 16th, 2003, 12:01 PM
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vw
 
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Boulder
Thanks for the report. Brought back many memories from our trip in 2000.
For your info. there is a taxi in Bellagio that will take you up the hill to the Belvedere Hotel. We did it for a cost of about $5 US.
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Oct 17th, 2003, 03:10 PM
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Thank you so much for your report. We will be returning to Italy this June and this time plan to spend time in Venice, Milan and Como. You information will help in planning the trip. I'll be sure to get two neck braces - one for my husband and one for my son.
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Oct 17th, 2003, 03:44 PM
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Welcome back BoulderCO,
interesting report, I really enjoyed.
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