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Italy - Tuscany, Florence, Venice, Rome trip report

Italy - Tuscany, Florence, Venice, Rome trip report

Jun 25th, 2004, 01:39 PM
  #1  
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Join Date: Mar 2004
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Italy - Tuscany, Florence, Venice, Rome trip report

We got back a week ago from our two week stay in Italy, and it was amazing! Read on for details...

We started out driving through Tuscany for 2 days - we arrived in the airport in Florence, and rented our car. This unfortunately, took quite a while, as 1) we couldn't find our car in the lot and 2) when we finally found it, it didn't have a real trunk. Not a good idea in Italy, as if people see luggage in your car...they'll take it! We rented through Thrifty, and they were nice enough to give us a free upgrade, since we needed auto transmission, so we got an Alpha Romeo, which drove like a dream! Anyway, we finally got out and drove down to our hotel in Asciano (near Siena). The drive was so beautiful! The map was less beautiful, and we got lost a few times before we finally found Asciano (funnily enough, pronouned A-SHAN-O...we had been asking directions to As-key-ah-no, and no one knew where it was And we got to our first hotel:

Castello di Lenonina Relais
I can't praise this hotel enough! It is a castle hotel (looks more like a small fortress, than a fairy-tale castle). It's a beautiful hotel, and the location is beautiful as well, with sweeping views of the countryside from the road. The room was really nice, and big - like a junior suite almost, and the service was great - everyone was so nice!

Next morning, we headed out to Siena. We got a great view from the tower of Palazzo Publico, and walked around the town. Then we got out our "trusty" map and headed to the castle and vineyard region of Chianti...and ended up back in Siena. Six times. Maps in Italy are not the greatest! The highway divides in unexpected places, and there is no "North/South" direction - the signs only point you towards different towns. So if you don't know where the towns are, you're in trouble! I would highly advise learning simple directions in Italian if you are going to be driving around. (left, right, straight ahead, etc.)

Once we (finally!) got to Chianti, the roads were very well marked, with lots of signs. So we finally got to our castle! Though we were too late to get in a vineyard. But just driving around there is gorgeous! The Chianti road is really worth seeing.

In the evening, we headed back towards Florence...and got lost again! We were pretty happy to be giving up the car at that point, since we were kind of tired of getting lost! Eventually we got to the airport, returned our car, and cabbed it to our next hotel:

Tourist House Ghiberti
A wonderful hotel, though the price was a little steep for our budget. It was not a glamerous hotel inside, but clean and nice, and lots of great ammenities - such as free internet with a computer in each room, and a mini bar with normal prices for drinks. Also a jacuzzi and sauna, which is nice after a long day of walking (and walking and walking!) around Florence. Claudio was SO nice and helpful. He helped us with our bags, got us museum reservations, train tickets, whatever we needed.

And so we arrived in Florence! Since I wanted to see everything, our days were somewhat packed, but we still got in our relaxation times in parks and cafes. The first day, we went to: The Accademia, first thing, so we got to see David in a pretty uncrowded atmosphere. (We had reservations - I would advise getting reservations to the Accademia and Uffizi, since you get to just breeze through instead of waiting on lines. Even if it's only 1/2 hour, I feel the extra euro is worth it. Most hotels will book reservations for you if you have trouble getting through to the number. I pretty much had all our hotels book our reservations.) Then we went to Palazzo Medici-Riccardi which looked really cool from the outside, but was closed on Tuesdays! So we headed to the San Lorenzo market and the Biblioteca Laurenziana, which was great. I love how the "card catalogue" is carved onto the benches - and of course, Michaelangelo's Staircase, which I almost was able to photograph (being an art student) but I had forgotten my ID. Oh well. Then we headed to the Duomo and baptistry doors. The Duomo was the biggest shock to me! I had seen the dome in my art history classes, but I never realized it was so...geometrically decorated! It's really something else! When I first saw it, I was very taken aback, but then you get used to it and realize how beautiful it is. Then we went to see the synogogue, which was stunning inside. The "tour" on the hour was just a woman taling about the history of the synogogue and Jewish community in Florence, for about 15 minutes, so don't feel you have to take the tour to see the building. There is also a small Jewish museum upstairs with objects from the 1500's - 1800's. It was interesting to see how they are the same things we use today, but so old. Then we headed towards the Ponte Vecchio. We had about 2 hours until our reservations at the Ufizzi. As we were wandering we passed the Botticelli exhibit at the Strozzi Palace, which I had wanted to see, so we went in. It was absolutely amazing! Botticelli is my favorite artist, so it was great that they had this exhibit - and it didn't disappoint. The art had me almost crying! I would advise getting the audio guide, so you know what you are seeing, and get the stories behind the paintings. It is a pretty small exhibit - I think the audio guide lasts 45 minutes. (though we were in there for an hour and a half, and I could have spent more. But my friend was done after 45 minutes). Then off to the Ufizzi! The Uffizzi is a little overwhelming, because there is so much there. there are long, long hallways lined with sculpture. In between the sculptures are large paintings. And above those, lined up one after another all along the hall are more paintings. Then there is the hallway itself with painted ceilings, etc.! and that's just the hallways... After the museum, we headed to the Ponte Vecchio to check out the jewelry. Beautiful stuff but...not really in our budget! The bridge was great though. We returned to the Ponte Vecchio for sunset, which was beautiful.

Next day we continued on in Florence - we spent the morning in the Pitti Palace (The Palatine aparrtments were gorgeous) and the Boboli Gardens (pretty, but uphill a lot, so it gets pretty hot). Then we went to the Palazzo Vecchio - they have these fun looking themed tours, where the artists or the Medicis lead you through the palace which are probably great for kids. Unfortunately, it was closed, so we went to the Bargello sculpture museum. Those sculptures are absolutely amazing! They make it look almost like real skin - every muscle deliniated. We hung out a bit, went to the mercato nuovo (I didn't pet the Porcellino, but I did get a picture of it! Maybe that counts too), the Santa Maria Novella Promfumerie (what a smell!!! yum!) and in the evening headed to Piazzale Michaelangelo for sunset. You can sit on the promenade or they have a small cafe overlooking the view of Florence and the sunset. we opted for the latter, since the promenade and stairs were pretty much full. It was gorgeous!

Next...on to Venice!

We took a train to Venice and after a bit of difficulty managed to find our hotel:

Hotel Ca' Amadi
well...we walked down a narrow alley that smelled like fish, into a decrepit looking courtyard, and I started getting reeeeally nervous, but inside it was beautiful. Our room was decorated with pink and gold fabric on the walls, with matching bedspread, curtains and chairs - it was really lovely. We had a window overlooking the canal, (almost ON the canal! it was only about 2 feet up from the water) where you could sit on the ledge and wave to the gonodolas going by! Definately one of my favorite Venice experiences!

We spent the remainder of the day getting lost! First we went to the Ca' macana mask store, where you can see them making the masks - but it was closed. then we tried to go to a costume museum (i forget the name) but we got so lost, we gave up, so we started walking toward the ghetto to take a tour of the ghetto...and got completely lost! Cannareggio and San Marco are pretty easy after the first 1/2 hour, but San Polo and Santa Croce are really tough! So we get to the ghetto...only to be told the tours are done for the day! Oh well. We walked around the shopping area (Rialto bridge, Mercerie) which was really fun. Lots of cool masks and glass and lace and dolls to buy! then we got to San Marco Square...at first, coming from the Mercerie, you just see a glimpse of the Church, and it's pretty and all, but then...you step out into the square and...whoa! It's huge! and beautiful! I don't think I've ever seen anything quite like San Marco square! We came back in the evening to see it all lit up and hear the "dueling bands", which were nice, but not exactly dueling!

We spent our second day hanging out and resting a bit - walking around the city a lot. venice is a grear city for walking, and people watching, and watching the water.

Next day, we started with the Secret Itiniraries Tour in the Palazzo Ducale, which was great. It's always nice to see things the other tourists aren't seeing The palace itself was, of course, beautiful and very impressive. We got all our touristy photos of San Marco, the square, the church, the flags, the poles, etc. Then we shoped some more, heading towards the ghetto for our tour. The tour was open this time, and it was really interesting. After dinner, we went to a clasical concert in the Doge's Palace which was great and then we went on a nighttime gondola ride. It was so, so beautiful - absolutely magical! I think night is the best time to go - verything is very quiet, and lit up and peaceful. It was really special. And my friend asked our gondolier to sing Keep in mind that you need to bargain with the gondoliers. We were told 120e for a 40 minute ride, and got it down to 80e, in 2 minutes. I guess once he saw we weren't going to be "taken for a ride" (excuse the pun!), he went down in price pretty fast.

And then...on to Rome...

We flew to Rome on Volaire Airlines, a highly discounted airline - it was cheaper than the train! (well, until you add in the costs of getting to and from the airport, anyway.) I am still not sure whether I would recommend it. I think the train might have been easier. It only takes an hour and a hlaf, as opposed to 4.5 hours by train, but you use up the same amount of time getting to and from the airport, and the plane was delayed which was kind of annoying. At least with the train, you know what you're getting. We got to our final hotel:

Hotel Romano
I would also highly recommend this hotel. It was pretty and clean and near ancient rome (5 minutes from the Colloseum and we could see the forum if we stuck our head out the window) which we found to be a perfect location.

On our first day, we went to Galleria Doria Pamphili (definatel reccomend it), the "wedding cake" monument - we climbed to the top for great views, and we went to see the synogogue. AT night, we did Rick Steve's "Night Walk Across Rome" - Campo dei Fiori, Piazza Navona, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain and Spanish steps. It's a great walk, whcih we repeated on our final night. It was wonderful.

Next day we headed to the Villa Borghese - we took a tour, which I enjoyed a lot - and the gardens there. They have a beautiful, tiny lake where you can go rowing that was really nice. In the middle of the lake, is a temple with roman statues and pretty flowers. Then we headed to the Vatican Museums, which were just incredible. From there, we went to Castel Sant Angelo and had a drink at the top overlooking Rome. After dinner, we took our "Rome Ruins" walk - there's nothing like a lit up ruin!

Our final day was "ancient Rome" day. We went to the Domus Aurea - nero's Palace, which was very impressive, but would have been more so if we had been able to get an English tour. Because of the timing, we eneded up on an Italian tour which was not the best idea we ever had! It was cool to see though, even if we didn't understand much! Then we went to "Time Machine Rome", a cute (air conditioned) movie-hthat-moves that takes you through the history of Rome. Follwoing that, we took an "Enjoy Rome" tour of ancient Rome - we had a great tour guide and definately "enjoyed ancient Rome." On the tour, someone saw Matt Damon and we discovered the cast of Ocean's 12 was in town! We passed by their hotel later, and almost saw them...but there was only so much time we were willing to wait to see Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts! That evening we did our "Night Walk Across Rome Goodbye Tour", tossed our coins in the fountain, and hopefully will be back one day!

Feel free to ask any questions...I had such a great trip, i want everyone to have one too!

chanad is offline  
Jun 25th, 2004, 02:01 PM
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Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 427
Thank you for your report, I have made some notes. I think you travel a little like I do, alot of times too early or too late, but we have fun anyway!!
nocinonut is offline  
Jun 25th, 2004, 02:26 PM
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Hehe nocinonut

And I can't believe I forgot to say...Thank you, thank you sooo much to all you helpful Fodors Italy folks! I couldn't have planned my trip half as well without you!
chanad is offline  
Jun 25th, 2004, 05:56 PM
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Nice report chanad. I have a question for you. You say you "almost" got to photograph Michelangelo's staircase in the Biblioteca Laurenziana. Does that mean they normally don't allow photography but make exceptions if you can prove you are an art student? And if so, how can you prove that. Does your ID actually say you are an art major? I'm interested because I like to photograph the insides of lots of sites and I'm begining to think that in Florence this is not allowed very often. What can you tell me? Thanks.
isabel is offline  
Jun 27th, 2004, 11:45 AM
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Great report Chanad. Glad you had an enjoyable time in Italia!
Statia is offline  
Jun 27th, 2004, 02:15 PM
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Join Date: Jun 2003
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Thanks for your report, Chanad. I have saved your comments as we are planning our next trip to Italy, the first to Tuscany. I think your suggestion to learn some basic directions in Italian is a good one.
ccthomp is offline  
Jun 27th, 2004, 06:56 PM
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Hey Isabel,

In Italy, you are not allowed to photograph inside any of the museums (even without a flash), but for some places, if you are an art student or teacher, they will let you. (it never hurts to ask) I think all u need is your student ID, but if you think that won't be enough, u can bring along a page of your class schedule showing art classes. Good luck
chanad is offline  

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