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Keira-Caitlyn’s Italian Escape – Planning, Packing, and Adventures in Rome, Florence, and Venice – with a brief stop in Amsterdam.

Keira-Caitlyn’s Italian Escape – Planning, Packing, and Adventures in Rome, Florence, and Venice – with a brief stop in Amsterdam.

Old Nov 11th, 2007, 04:19 AM
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Keira-Caitlyn’s Italian Escape – Planning, Packing, and Adventures in Rome, Florence, and Venice – with a brief stop in Amsterdam.

First, I would like to start off by saying thank you to all Fodorites for your invaluable advice. I did not ask many questions in the planning of my trip, thanks to all the wonderful advice given in new and old threads.

Background info: I am a mid-30’s American female, traveling solo. I’m a non-drinker, a non-smoker, and a vegetarian. I have asthma, bad allergies, and bad knees, all of which you’ll see comments about later. My interests are architecture, art (particularly statuary and mosaics), history/museums, and atmosphere. I am not picky about food (other than it meets my dietary restrictions), so I’m not going to name every place I ate; most of the time I just grabbed pizza or a sandwich to go. I travel domestically several times a year, but this was my first overseas trip. It was my graduation present to myself – I just finished graduate school the day prior to my trip!

My budget for this trip - including airfare, hotels, transportation, meals, souvenirs, etc. was $3,750 US. When all was said and done, I ended up $10.09 under budget. I had 11 days and 11 nights, which included the day I arrived in Rome, but not the day I left Amsterdam.

I had no qualms about traveling solo, and encountered no problems at all as a single female. I felt completely safe walking around these cities after dark. I must add though, that I used to teach self-defense and martial arts, so I worry little about my ability to defend myself should the need arise. Mostly I just used common sense and stuck to lighted areas.

I’ll start off with pre-trip info. I’m including a lot of detail for those who might need it, so feel free to skip to the parts you are interested in. Feel free to ask any questions you may have.


Booking Airfare, Hotels, Tour/Museums, and other Reservations

I ultimately found my best airfare deal through Kayak.com and purchased my airfare through Orbitz. My open-jaw ticket into Rome and out of Venice was purchased 7 months in advance of my trip. I started watching airfares 11 months prior to my trip, and the fares did not vary by more than $20 at any given time. My start date was not flexible but my end date was. Ultimately, I decided on a flight with a 20-hour layover in Amsterdam on the way home, so I could do a brief tour of the city. I also decided to pay a little extra to get a noon flight out of Venice instead of a 6am one.

I booked all of my hotels myself via website or e-mail six to seven months prior to my trip. They were all recommendations from other travelers.

I booked the following tours/museums prior to my trip:

- Borghese Galleria (3 weeks prior via website)
- Scavi Tour (I requested 6 months in advance by email. I sent a second request 6 weeks prior to my trip. I received my confirmation 2 ½ weeks prior to my trip.)
- Arte Vaticana tour with Context Rome (1 month prior via website)
- Twilight Walking Tour and Colisseum/Forum/Palatine Hill Tour with RomeWalks (1 month prior via website)

- Accademia and Uffizi (asked hotel to book for me 1 month prior)

- Secret Itineraries Tour of the Doges Palace (2 weeks prior by website)
- Ghost Tour of Venice (1 week prior on website)

Luggage and Packing

I must first say that I am a light packer by nature and planned to take carry-on luggage only. Based on recommendations, I purchased Delsey “Helium Lite 100” luggage prior to my trip. I got the 21” Carry-On Suiter and the Personal Bag. I bought them on clearance online for half price. For my daily bag, I purchased an Eagle Creek Vagabond from my local REI store with a discount coupon; I packed this bag in my Carry-On.

In the Personal Bag, I packed:
- Eagle Creek Comfort Travel Blanket
- Eagle Creek Comfort Travel Pillow (inflatable)
- My iPod and earphones
- Paperback books for reading on the plane
- Eagle Creek Passage Wallet (later transferred to daily bag on arrival)
- Toothbrush, travel size toothpaste, and floss; hairbrush
- Airborne and headache medicine; small pack of tissue; prescription medication
- Extra shoes and pair of socks, set of undergarments, quart bag of skincare products

In the daily use bag, I packed:
- Maps – Streetwise Rome, Florence, and Venice
- Eating and Drinking in Italy menu translator
- Sunglasses
- Mini umbrella
- Mini flashlight
- Mini notebook and pen
- Digital camera (Canon PowerShot A570IS) with 1G memory card
- Extra batteries for camera
- Moleskin and blister pads
- Mini sewing kit

In the Carry-On Suiter, I used:
- 1 Eagle Creek Pack-It Folder 18
- 1 Eagle Creek Half Cube

Clothing I wore/packed:
- 3 pairs of knit black pants
- 2 short-sleeve shirts, 1 ¾ sleeve shirt, 2 long sleeve shirts, 1 lightweight turtleneck
- Underwear
- Pair of pajamas
- Black knit cardigan
- Black CoolMax socks
- Eagle Creek Undercover Soft Silk Moneybelt

Shoes I wore/packed:
- Clark UnFasten
- Privo (these were only worn on the plane and around the hotel)

Other Stuff packed:
- iPod travel charger and plug adaptor
- Space bag (for dirty laundry)


Details about Hotels

Rome – The Beehive.Via Marghera 8. This is located about 2 ½ blocks from the Termini station. Cost: €75/night. Two stars.

- I found it to be quite convenient to all modes of transportation.
- The room was large, with a double bed. (They do not have “single” rooms.) The bed had an extra-firm mattress, but lots of fluffy pillows and blankets.
- There was a sink in the room, and the toilet and enclosed shower were down the hall.
- There is a café that serves vegetarian breakfast and dinner for reasonable prices
- The entire hotel is non-smoking
- They have a resident cat

- Cons:
- I had room #6, which is right behind the reception desk, and faces the street. The walls are fairly thin there, and I could hear conversations at the desk.
- The street lights and nearby neon hotel signs are quite bright; even with the curtains drawn, it was never dark in my room at night.
- Hot water ran out quickly.

Florence - Hotel Nuova Italia. Via Faenza 26. This is located about 3 blocks from the train station. Cost: €79/night. (I was quoted €85, but they charged me less.) Breakfast buffet included. Two stars.

- Bed was regular firm, not hard as a rock.
- Staff was very friendly and helpful.
- Location was convenient.
- Private bathroom, even though the shower was the kind with the hole in the floor, with lots of hot water.

- Even though I requested a non-smoking room, it was obvious that the room had been smoked in before. (And yes, I knew I was taking this risk.)
- Towels were rather thin.
- Bedding was rather thin, although there was an extra blanket in the wardrobe.

Venice – Ca’Formenta. Via Garibaldi. This is located between the Arsenale and Giardini boat stops. 10 minute walk to St. Mark’s Square. Cost: €129/night. Breakfast buffet included. 3 stars.

- Well-decorated room with private bathroom; fully enclosed shower, fluffy towels, and heated towel rack.
- Comfortable bed.
- Rooftop terrace.
- Non-smoking room, and no smoking in common areas.
- Extremely helpful staff.
- Sell tickets to local performances with no commission.
- Nice buffet breakfast.
- Quiet location, but convenient to walk or take the boat anywhere.

- None. I loved this hotel and can’t say enough great things about it.

Amsterdam – Hotel Bellevue. Martelaarsgracht 10. This is located 1 block from the Centraal Train Station. 5-minute walk to the Red Light District. Cost: €79.73/night. 2 Stars.

- Friendly, helpful staff.
- Restaurant on the lobby level.
- Non-smoking room.
- Convenient to major attractions.
- Elevator.

- Bed mattress was thin; I could feel the springs poking through. Also, bed linens were thin and had to go to the lobby to request a blanket.
- Staff was not always at the front desk, and sometimes had to wait several minutes for someone.

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Old Nov 11th, 2007, 04:21 AM
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My trip started with an uneventful flight from Atlanta to Amsterdam on KLM on a Wednesday evening. I was not able to get my seat assignment in advance, so I ended up with “the dreaded middle seat”, which turned out not to be so dreadful at all. Our flight was not quite half full; this ultimately meant for me that the seats on either side were unoccupied. I had plenty of room to stretch out, sleep, etc. The vegetarian meals were surprisingly quite decent. The service was quite attentive, with my cute male flight attendant coming around every hour with beverages (sometimes coffee and tea, others water and juice) and every two hours with hot lemony face towels. After a 4-hour layover, I caught my connecting flight to Rome, which was uneventful and similar to domestic flights in the USA.

Day 1- Thursday. When I arrived in Rome around 2pm local time, it was raining. No worries; I pulled out my rain poncho and walked the three blocks to my hotel (the Beehive) after taking the train into town. I checked in and dropped off my luggage. I then headed back out to begin my adventures! After much frustration, I finally figured out where to buy a Roma pass (3-day bus and metro pass, plus 2 free museums and 50% additional museums) and promptly hopped the metro. I randomly got off at the Circus Maximo stop. I was greeted to the lovely and impressive site of Palatine Hill upon emerging from the station. I walked down one side of the Circus Maximo, which looks like a big dirt racetrack, where the public arena once was. I then walked back up the other side past the ruins of Palatine Hill, and over to the Coliseum. Since I had a tour scheduled for this area for another day, I continued walking for several blocks, until the wind threatened to break my umbrella. I hopped the metro back to my hotel, to be greeted with a message that my “Twilight Walking Tour” had been cancelled due to the weather. I headed back out and grabbed some pizza for dinner, and then decided to take a nap.

Day 2 – Friday. I awoke at 2am, wide awake. The rain had stopped so I decided to do my own night tour of the fountains. I headed for Barberini Palazzo. The streets were quiet but wet, and the atmosphere was wonderfully peaceful. I did have one man who followed me for several blocks, wanting to buy me a drink, keep me company, etc. He eventually called me rude after I said no for the gazillionth time and stopped. Upon arriving at the statue at Barberini, I ran into another young man, this one flirty and pleasant. We had a fun time trying to hold a conversation with my horrible Italian and his extremely limited English. After a bit, I said goodbye and he kissed my hands and cheeks. I continued on to the Spanish Steps, which were surprisingly smaller than I thought they would be. Moving on, I went to the Trevi Fountain. It was now 3am and I had the fountain all to myself, besides a discreet policeman on the far side of the plaza. (Policemen are assigned to all the major sites, it seems, since I saw at least one patrolling or stationed at each area.) Under a full moon, I wrote in my journal and marveled at being in Rome. I spent quite some time taking in the details of the fountain, which was absolutely amazing, of course! I threw my coin in the water, and eventually wandered back to my hotel for another nap before my busy day. I bought a bottle of water and some fruit for breakfast from a vendor just setting up his cart.

I had two tours scheduled for the day; the Scavi tour at 10:30am (the excavations under St. Peter’s Basilica) and the Arte Vaticana tour with Context Rome at 1:30pm(covers the Vatican Museum, the Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica.) The Scavi tour was excellent and was led by a priest named Stephen Giovanni from Connecticut. I was particularly impressed with how vibrant the paint still was on the walls; I also especially liked the mosaics and detailed carvings of the sarcophagi and cremation vases. I found it interesting that the Pagans who ruled Rome always cremated their dead yet built these elaborately decorated tomb chambers with niches to hold the cremation vases. A word to the wise for those who schedule this tour – it’s insanely warm down there, so wear lightweight clothing! The tour dumps out into St. Peter’s Basilica at the end, which is nice if you want to see it but not stand in the lines outside.

The line outside of St. Peter’s Basilica was insanely long (like 2 hours to get in), so I was thankful that my Arte Vaticana tour started at the Vatican Museum entrance, which had about a 10-minute line. All I can say is “WOW!!!” Impressive collection of paintings, sculpture, etc. What I love most about the art here is the great attention to detail – not only in the “main” item, but also in the floors, doors, and even in the window shutters. Artistry is everywhere! Our guide, Eric, was informative while injecting a realistic but humorous look at the politics and egos relating to these historical pieces. I would absolutely recommend him (and Context Rome) to anyone who wants to do a tour of these areas – I got so much more out of it than I would have with just an audioguide. Our group was small too – they limit it to 6 people.

The only drawback was that this tour is long (I think it was 4 hours?) and my knees and feet were killing me. I sat down whenever possible. It made me thankful I did these sites now, since my knees will only continue get worse over time.

I then met up with Tom, a fellow traveler that was going to be in Rome at the same time as me, for dinner. Most of the restaurants were not open yet, so we wandered around the Santa Maria Maggiore until we ended up at a restaurant Tom had eaten at before. I had pasta primavera; it was decent. Afterwards we walked around some more and had some not-so-great gelato. We decided to meet up again on Sunday to explore the Trastevere area.

Day 3 – Saturday. I decided to eat breakfast at my hotel, which has a small café. I had fruit crepes, which consisted of kiwi, bananas, and apples – delicious! I then headed out for my scheduled tour of the Borghese Galleria. Another word to the wise – do not walk from the Spagna metro stop as the instructions say – it takes you through the entire park, which is a very long way. Instead, take the bus, which drops you off close to the entrance. Unless you want to walk, of course - the park is lovely and I saw many people there with their dogs and having picnics or just relaxing. It was a bright sunny day fortunately. You are required to pick up your reserved tickets half an hour in advance, although I have no idea why, since you will just end up sitting there bored, or walking around for a bit. Despite my initial irritation at this, it is well worth the wait!

What impressed me within the Borghese Galleria were the statues of “The Rape of Persephone” and “Apollo and Daphne”, as well as the duo-material busts (the head was one material, the bust another - red and brown marbles, sodalite, and multi-colored agate.)

Afterwards I walked back to my hotel, stopping on Via 20 Settembre to grab a slice of pizza with mozzarella balls and sliced fresh tomatoes on it…yum! Since it was so nice outside, I dropped my coat off in my room. I then headed out yet again to see the mosaics at Santa Maria Maggiore. I meandered around and eventually ended up at Palazzo Barberini, so I decided to visit Galleria Nationale di Arte Antica. Perhaps I’d just seen too many Jesus and Mary paintings in the last few days, because I wasn’t overly impressed with the museum. However, the very last room made it all worthwhile. The room at first appears empty, with a few large padded benches in the middle. I wondered if the displays had been removed. But then I noticed someone on a bench lay down and look up. So I looked up – and Wow! I had to lay down myself to admire the ceiling.

After I finished, it was 5:30pm. I realized I had meant to visit the Cappuchin Crypt on Via Veneto today, but that I would not be able to make it in time. Oh well, another reason to come back! (Like a needed a reason…) Instead, I set out on a quest for good gelato. I went to San Crispini’s, which is reputedly the best in Rome. I got pear – and I understood why this gelateria had its fame – it was so delicious! Despite the surly guy behind the counter that fussed at me for not having the correct change (I gave him a 5€ bill for a 3€ gelato…you would have thought by his reaction I gave him a 50€…), it was worth it. FYI, I found that everything in Rome is rounded to the nearest 50 cents or dollar; no small change needed here.

I walked over to the Pantheon, which is a fascinating mix of a Pagan temple exterior and Catholic Church interior. Despite my aching feet and bad knees, which constantly encouraged me to turn back, I pressed onward! Eventually I ended up at Piazza Navona and splurged on a nice dinner at one of the restaurants there. I had a nice table on the outer edge of the patio, so I was able to watch the crowds of people milling about. There were a large number of artist booths set up, as well as various musicians playing. Near where I was seated, a woman was singing lovely ballads in Italian and French, accompanied by a man with a guitar. I bought one of her CDs for 10€, and I’m listening to now as I write this up. Despite the large number of people, it didn’t feel crowded.

I ate at a restaurant named 4 Fiumi. I ordered hot chocolate, a bottle of water (everything is bottled here, no fountain drinks!), caprese salad, and eggplant parmigana. The food was fabulous. As I was soaking up the atmosphere around me, I started crying. I just wanted to shout, “I’m here! I’m really here! I made it!” Towards the end of my meal, the lady singing left, and another musician starting playing old Eagles and Pink Floyd tunes. While enjoyable, it changed the mood significantly. After I finished eating, I watched the firespinner on the other side of the plaza for a while. Just to be a glutton (because I was absolutely stuffed from dinner) I stopped at Bar Tre (another reputedly excellent gelato place located in the plaza) and got a scoop of kiwi gelato. It was wonderful, but melted faster than I could eat it

I decided to brave the bus system, which I never did manage to figure out. Note to self: don’t ride the bus after you’ve just consumed a large volume of fluids. The speed of a vehicle traveling fast over those cobblestone roads is horrible on bladders. I had to get off and find a bathroom. I then hopped back on the bus, where I got into a nice conversation with Rufus, a man from Africa (I forget which country he said he was from.) We discussed our experiences and impressions of Italy thus far. I hobbled back to my hotel room to call it a night and nurse my blistered pinky toe.

Day 4 – SundayI once again had breakfast at my hotel, this time French Toast. I headed off for my scheduled Forum, Coliseum, and Palatine Hill tour with RomeWalks. There were only 3 of us in the group, which was really nice. Our guide was Daniela. She did a wonderful job of creating scenes of what all these ruins were like during their prime. I was very impressed with the peacefulness of the Coliseum, given all the death and injury that had occurred there. Perhaps it is due to the way of life and death at the time, thus an absence of grief. Or maybe it was due to the high occurrence of cremations as opposed to burials; it seems to me that the spirits of those that have been cremated move on faster than those that have not. I bought a souvenir book that has pictures of the ruins as they exist now, with transparent layover sheets with recreations of the scenes at time, to help me remember the visualizations.

I then met up with Tom at 1pm for our visit of the Trastevere area. We stopped by the “cat sanctuary” – Piazza Venezia, I think it was? – basically, an area of ruins that has a bunch of stray cats. The neat thing is that there is a charity of some sort that feeds and looks after the cats that live there. We only saw about 4 or 5 cats though, all tabbies except for one black cat.

We stopped for gelato at some random place, which tasted more like ice cream than gelato. We then went around the corner and decided to eat a restaurant, where the food was okay but the service was horrible. After meandering the streets some more, I opted to eat yet more gelato, this time at Ice Blue, which also has a great reputation. Coconut, this time – it was delicious! Eventually we headed back to the Coliseum area, where I said goodbye to Tom.

Somewhere between the Coliseum metro stop and the Termini metro stop, my wallet was stolen. I have an idea of when it happened – the train was very crowded, and several young men in succession bumped me. My wallet was inside a zipped middle section of my bag, with a buckled flap over it, but when I got off the train, I noticed the flap was twisted. Sure enough, I went through my bag and my wallet was missing. However, it was the end of the day and all I had in my wallet was about 10€ and some change, plus my driver’s license. I refused to let it bother me or let it be my last memory of my time in Rome. All those things were easily replaceable – now if they had taken my camera or my journal, I would have been upset. I had all my important stuff (ATM card, credit card, passport, etc. in my goes-under-clothing money pouch belt thingy.)

I went back to the hotel and grabbed up my dirty laundry. The Laundromat was about 2 blocks away, 6€ to have someone wash and dry a load, with internet access for 1€ for half hour. I checked my email and whatnot, then headed back to the train station to purchase my train ticket to Florence for the next day. I was glad I did it then, because there were only 3 seats left for the train I wanted. (I could always have taken a different time, of course, if it was sold old.) I ate dinner (mushroom and carrot quiche) at my hotel café, then went back to pick up my laundry. Afterwards, I packed my bags for my next adventures in Florence.
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Old Nov 11th, 2007, 04:22 AM
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Day 5- Monday. When I arrived in Florence a little after noon, it was sunny and warm. I walked the three blocks to my hotel (Hotel Nuova Italia) after taking the 1 ½ hour train from Rome. I checked in and dropped off my luggage, then it was time to start exploring!

I headed out to Piazza Republicca, moving on to Piazza di Signoria. Here, I followed my iPod audioguide downloaded from PocketVox. One side of the square, called Loggia Dei Lanzi, has a lovely section of statuary. Afterwards, I went to the famous Ponte Vecchio and drooled over the fantastic jewelry displayed. Florence is definitely the place to be if you want to shop, but alas, I could not afford such things this trip.

I found Florence difficult to navigate, since the streets are very short or winding, and continuously end in little 5-way squares. I ended up at a particular intersection a dozen times during my stay, while trying to find my way back to my hotel. It was very frustrating.

The food in Florence was fabulous. For lunch, I had a pomodoro (tomato) and mozzarella sandwich; it was on herb bread with oregano, yum! The bread in Rome was hard and bland; not the case in Florence! For dinner, I ate at Ristorante Pizzeria Lorenzo De’ Medici. I ordered Crespella Fiorentina (spinach and cheese crepes) that came in a lovely creamy tomato sauce, which surprised me since the sauces in Rome had been very light and minimal. It was also the first place I had seen Pepsi – there is only Coke in Rome. I had my favorite panna cotta for dessert.

Despite the large number of vendor carts and tents in the merchant areas, Florence felt less touristy to me. In fact, everyone here largely ignored me. No flirty men here like there was in Rome. (I don’t think I had been winked at as much in my entire life as I was in my few days there!) The shopkeepers seemed a little hostile here – they stood in their narrow doorways, seemingly blocking entrance to their shops, no greetings or smiles, etc. The exception was the hotel staff – they were great! Perhaps it was just that they are more protective of their merchandise – high quality leather goods, scarves, and 18k gold jewelry.

The air in Florence was more stale and smoke-filled. I had to use both doses of my asthma medication, which I had not done thus far. The city shuts down early – by 8pm, everything was closed except a few restaurants, and I headed back to my hotel.

Day 6 – Tuesday. I had requested reservations for the Uffizi and Accademia through my hotel prior to my trip for this day. I was glad I had done so, as it was a rainy and blustery day, and the lines were very long for non-ticket holders. I went to the Uffizi in the morning. It was magnificent and I highly recommend it. The floors were beautiful with their mosaic tile. The sundial room was particularly impressive. The Niose room had lovely statuary. But what I loved most was that in the long corridors, the walls have high ledges between the top of the doorframes and the ceiling, where hundreds of family portraits are displayed.

Rainy day + Holly + Florence = shopping, which is exactly what I did after my tour. I bought 2 long-sleeve t-shirts that I overpaid for but didn’t care, 2 cashmere scarves, and a photo album covered in handmade Florentine paper. And some postcards to mail to my friends back home, of course.

In the afternoon, I toured the Accademia. It should come as no surprise that I loved the statue gallery the best. It was mostly Pampaloni and Bartolini plaster casts of statues that are located elsewhere in the world. The instrument gallery was also particularly interesting to me. Yes, I saw the David statue in all of its glory, of course, as well as Michelangelo’s “Slaves” series.

For lunch I had another pomodoro and mozzarella sandwich. I could easily eat these things everyday, and they are only about €4-5. I also got a hot chocolate, since it was nippy outside. It was served with a spoon, which I thought odd, until I tried to drink it. It was as thick as chocolate syrup.

After stopping by my hotel to drop off my goodies, I ventured out to do yet more shopping. I was thwarted in my efforts though. I was sad that I was not able to purchase a pair of brightly-striped tights I had seen in one of the undergarment store window displays, but they were closed. A pendant that I had wanted turned out to be more than I was willing to pay. Dinner was not good, either. Defeated, I stopped by the train station to purchase my ticket to Venice for the following day. I was glad that I had come, but I was ready to go and doubt I will come back anytime soon.

What I disliked about Florence the most was the energy there. It was depressing and somewhat angry. It was a bit of a psychic shock after coming from Rome, which has lovely light-hearted and vibrant energy. Whether this came from the living or the dead, I could not say. All I knew is that it creeped me out and I wanted to leave.

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Old Nov 11th, 2007, 04:23 AM
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Day 7 - Wednesday. I arrived in sunny and breezy Venice a little after 2pm. Upon exiting the train, I was greeted to the lovely site of many boats upon the water – vaporettos, water taxis, and gondolas. I cried; it felt like I had come home. (As many of you know, this trip was in part a spiritual journey, but I’ll write more about that later.) I purchased a 72-hour vaporetto pass and hopped on the boat going towards my hotel. Since I was one of the last people on the boat, I got to stand up on deck (there are seating areas below deck) with my hair tangling in the wind and drops of water splashing against me. I didn’t mind; in fact, it felt quite wonderful.

My hotel, Ca’Formenta, was situated between the Aresenale and Giardini stops, right on the boardwalk and facing the water. The location was great – a 10-minute casual walk to St. Mark’s Square, and a 2-minute walk to the vaporetto stops. The staff was fabulous – extremely helpful and courteous, and the room was great - I would absolutely recommend this hotel to anyone. After checking in, I went to the rooftop terrace and wrote in my journal for a bit.

Time to meander the streets, which is where the true charm of Venice lies. I explored the area around St. Mark’s Square. I was disappointed that I did not see any of the famed pigeons (although I did the next day; it must have been too late in the day for them.) The square, was in fact quite empty except for a few vendors hawking their wares. The architecture is simply marvelous here; a combination of many cultural influences that come together with amazing detail. One of my favorite things was the window decorations of the Doges Palace – they are filled with iron grids of small circles which hold pastel-coloured glass.

I now knew why my attempts to shop in Florence were thwarted – so many lovely things to buy here – fanciful glass jewelry, plates, and figurines; handcrafted lace handkerchiefs and tablecloths; decorative paper; and the list goes on. Although some travelers say that it all begins to look alike after awhile, I never felt that way; each store had its own selection and style.

I had pre-booked the Ghost Tour of Venice for the evening, which seemed very fitting since it was Halloween. Venice was much more navigable that I had anticipated, and I arrived at the Rialto Bridge (the meeting spot) an hour before. This was no hardship; I grabbed some pizza and a cup of sliced fruit at one of the many food vendors in the area and stood on the bridge, soaking up the atmosphere and watching the gondolas pass underneath. Venice has an amazing subtle vibrancy to it that contributes to its charm. The lack of cars and bikes and the casual pace here seems to make time slow down and even revert sometimes.

The tour was quite fun, even though it was a large group (I think there were 18 of us.) Our guide’s name was Telia (not sure how it’s spelled, but it sounds like that.) It twisted and turned down the back alleys and campos of San Marco Sestiere (St. Mark’s district.) The stories were amusing, not scary. It also painted a picture of the lifestyle during various times in Venice.

Day 8 - Thursday. I ate breakfast at my hotel, since it is included in the price. A nice buffet of croissants and hard rolls, accompanied by a selection of jams, soft cheeses, and butter; fresh squeezed orange and grapefruit juices; a variety of granola and toppings; and sliced meat and cheese. I saw this small stack of containers labeled Crème Alla Pera – loving most things made from pears, I had to find out what it was. Pearsauce – like applesauce, but better! Yum! Also, the croissants had a thin spread of orange marmalade in them, which was delicious.

I had pre-booked my Secret Itinerary Tour for the morning, and I must say this was one of the highlights of my trip. I highly recommend it. Our guide’s name was Rebecca. It involved touring the areas where trials were held after hours, including working areas like scribing rooms, secret meeting rooms, the torture chamber, the jail cells (including where Casanova was imprisoned), and a walk in the rafters to see the original construction of the building. Afterwards, I explored the rest of the Doges Palace. My knees were killing me after that from climbing so many sets of stairs, and I went back to my hotel for a nap.

I woke up just before sunset (which was around 5pm each day) and sat on one of the benches near the water to watch it. It was so beautiful it brought tears to my eyes. I cried a lot in Venice.

After the sunset, I wandered the neighborhoods behind my hotel. This area is residential and not touristy; it gave a nice glimpse of what life here is really like, with laundry strung on lines out the windows and whatnot. I then headed over to St. Mark’s to do some shopping. I purchased a black silk scarf with orange paisley velvet burnouts. I also bought a pair of multi-colored striped tights. But best of all – I found my Carnivale mask, which was my prized purchase in Venice. There is a large variety of subjects and styles of masks available in the shops, and I ended up with a seahorse face, hand-painted in a mottled combination of dark oranges and bronzes and coppers! I did not come across any others like it in other shops in Venice. The lady at the store packaged it in tissue and bubble wrap for the journey home. (And it did make it home undamaged; although in hindsight, I wish I had shipped it, since it took up so much room in my luggage.) It cost €35.

Day 9 - Friday. Another sunny and beautiful day, albeit windy and a bit nippy. Today was my adventure to Burano! I took the boat to Punta Sabbioni, where they make you get off and catch another boat to Burano. Much to my misfortune, the boat to Burano that was waiting for us was filled, and I was left behind on the dock with an elderly couple. It was quite chilly on the water, and nobody told me it was going to be an hour for another boat. There is nothing to explore around this area, just FYI. I had serious misgivings as time passed and my head and hands became frozen. I wished I had a hat and gloves with me (I did have on my jacket and scarf.) I almost caught the boat back to Venice, which came every 15 minutes. However, I toughed it out, and was later glad that I did so.

Burano is just lovely. I use that word too much to describe Venice, but it’s true. I loved the brightly colored buildings with simply architecture, and spent some time wandering the residential areas on the island just looking at them. The boring white female underwear and black male underwear hanging on the clotheslines seemed a rather stark contrast to the vibrancy of the buildings.

I ate lunch at Leon Coronado, a pizzeria. When I went to get up after my meal, I tripped on the table leg and made a loud crash. Nothing was hurt but my pride, but the lady in charge made me sit down and brought me a glass of water and a packet of sugar. I thought that was very sweet of her. I did end up developing a nasty deep bruise on my hip later, and had to keep my daypack on the other hip for the rest of my trip.

The lace was amazing. I’m not into lace, but I was very impressed and had to buy a few items. Several of the shops I walked into had little old ladies sitting off to one side, crafting it. I purchased several bookmarks, a table runner, a jacket and evening bag, and a small rectangular piece that I have no idea what I will do with, but had to get it. I would have loved to get one of the multi-toned skirts or bodices, but they were out of my price range. I also bought several glass pendants here, since I found several more unusual and unique pieces here than in Venice. Just a FYI, the pieces come with little Murano certificates of authenticity, so you can make sure you are not getting China-made ripoffs, which is evidently a problem there. Also, the merchants have stickers in their windows that show they are an authorized dealer. Another side note – the public restrooms cost €1 to use, but they are immaculately clean. (This was true on Burano and Torcello.)

After I spent a bunch of money, it was time to leave Burano. A boat was pulling up as I neared the dock, with a man yelling, “Torcello!” This sounded better than that place I was stuck waiting for an hour, so I took the boat even though I did not know anything about Torcello. It appears to be a working land – very green, with crops and animals. I also saw several tabby cats, which I had not seen at all in Venice. Everyone there has dogs, it seems.

I followed the path to the Basilica di Santa Maria Assunta. I purchased a combo ticket for the Basilica and il Campanile di Torc (bell tower.) I climbed the bell tower first. Up and up and up I went – and just when I thought I could not take another step, I was at the top. Magnificent views of the land and water all around. The neat thing about this tower is that it has ramps, with stairs only at the corners. My knees appreciated that. However, the ramps are narrow (1 person wide only) and the footing is rough stone, so it can be tricky. The Basilica is a lovely building. The half dome above the altar has nice artwork that is not overdone. The floors are beautiful mosaics of polished stone – multi-coloured agate it looked like, alternating with light grey slabs of marble. The tops of the columns enclosing the area with the pews have an amazingly delicate filigree lace type of design.

I then headed back to the boat stop, and back to Venice. I spent the evening exploring the far northern area of San Marco Sestiere. I hopped the vaporetto to the Fondamente Nuove stop and wandered over to the Ca’ D’Oro stop. This area is mostly residential and quite a bit more rundown than the others I had visited thus far. I then took the slow boat (the #1 vaporetto makes almost every stop in the canal) back to my hotel, enjoying the water and night scenes passing by.

Day 10 - Saturday. This morning I headed out to the Dorsoduro Sestiere, to do my iPod walking tour from Campo Angelo Raffaele to Zattere. This walking tour covers Tintoretto masterpieces and guides you through several churches. Afterwards, I wandered the streets and purchased 2 lovely pendants. The shopkeeper struck up a conversation with me, asking me how I liked Venice and whatnot. I was telling him of my various plans for the day, and he asked me, “Have you been to Frari? You must see Frari!” After showing it to me on a map, I saw that it was in the direction I was heading anyway. It was closed when I arrived, but would be re-opening in a half hour. So I wandered the streets some more and came back.

It was definitely worth the wait. I rarely feel any “holy” energy in churches, but this was the exception. And the decorations – just Wow! Statuary, mosaics, paintings, magnificent carved seating, etc. Absolutely worth the €2.50 entrance fee, and another highlight of my trip. And don’t forget to look at the stained glass behind the main altar too, it’s beautiful.

After visiting other chiesta (churches) in the area, I hopped a boat back St. Mark’s Square. Since this was my last day in Venice, I had to…feed the birds! I paid my €1 euro for birdseed, and I don’t think I’ve giggled that much in a very long time. It was so much fun! A word to the wise though – wear long sleeves. I had on short sleeves and they scratched up my arms a bit. I then headed back to my hotel for a nap.

I woke up half an hour before sunset, and headed back to St. Mark’s Square to do some final shopping. Watching the sun set against the water while I walked was beautiful. I was so blessed to have all sunny days and clear, starry nights while here. I grabbed some pizza and gelato for dinner. After returning to my room to drop off my purchases, I headed back to St. Mark’s Square yet again, this time to attend a Vivaldi concert that I had purchased a ticket for through my hotel.

I was quite impressed to see a performance of the “Four Seasons” with only 7 musicians. The performance was held in a small concert hall on the back side of the square. There were maybe 10 rows of 12 seats, so it was very intimate. On the way back to my hotel, I stopped to listen to a guitar player that had gathered quite a crowd. It was very lovely, and a fitting end to my time in Venice.

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Old Nov 11th, 2007, 04:24 AM
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Day 11 - Sunday. I cried that it was time to leave Venice. I would love to live there. Alas, it was time for me to move on, and I was starting to miss home. I had a 12:20pm flight, so I caught the boat to the airport at 10am. I was very glad that I had paid a little extra to leave at that time instead of 6am. The gelateria at the airport was surprisingly good, where I got a scoop of Panna Cotta and a scoop of ACE (which is an orange, carrot, and lemon blend.)

My flight was uneventful. I had to check my suitcase in Venice all the way through to Atlanta, since they were only allowing 1 carry-on per person due to a full flight. Luckily, I had anticipated this happening and put a change of clothes in my personal bag. When I arrived in Amsterdam, I took the train to town and purchased a city map. It was less than useless, and I pondered how I was going to find my hotel – The Bellevue, which was supposedly located near the train station. I decided to wander around to see if I could find it on my own – and, as luck would have it – it is right across the block from one of the exits to the train station.

Amsterdam was overcast and dreary, with dark-colored buildings and a lot of modern architecture. After leaving cheery and low-key Venice, it felt like a slap in the face. I felt that I had made a bad decision in deciding to go with a 20-hour layover. After pouting in my room for about an hour, I said to myself, “Holly, what the heck are you doing pouting in your room? You’re in Amsterdam! Any other day, you’d be thrilled to be here!” So I put on my jacket and headed out. I was surprised that it was warmer here than in Venice.

Anyway, I gained a better appreciation of the city as I explored. There is some interesting architecture here, even though it is angular and somewhat stark. Even the train station is beautiful, with a lot of gold gilding. French fries seemed very popular – there were stands everywhere! It seemed almost stereotypical – food place, food place, coffee shop, mushroom shop, food place, food place, etc. A lot of vegetarian options, which was nice; in Venice I hadn’t found much to eat other than pizza and sandwiches.

The air seemed very stale here, filled with cigarette and marijuana smoke. It really set off my allergies and asthma, despite my taking my medication. I ended up back at my hotel, where I took a shower to open up my sinuses again. I ate at the restaurant at the hotel, which was delicious. The waiter could see that I was suffering, and offered to find me an aspirin, which I thought was very sweet. That was what I did like most about the city – the people were very friendly and helpful.

Starting to feel better, I headed out again. I visited a Sex Museum, which was quite comical with its posed mannequins and photo commentaries. I then headed over to the Red Light District – which was underwhelming, as expected. Most of the girls looked extremely bored, sitting on stools in their windows. I saw very few trying to entice customers, despite the large number of people milling about. I was glad to see a variety of women, not just skinny blondes. They really need male booths though, IMO! I’m glad I got a glimpse of the city, so that I know I have no desire to go back again.

So ended my adventures.
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Old Nov 11th, 2007, 09:46 AM
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Holly-I really enjoyed your report.
I appreciate the way you detailed out your planning-very organized! I also can relate to how certain cities have a specific "energy" and have felt that way before myself. I encourage you to give Florence and Amsterdam another chance some day, you might be surprised at how a place can change in a different season or a different time in your own life.
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Old Nov 11th, 2007, 10:09 AM
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Nice report, Holly. When was your trip? I, too, didn't care much for Florence on my first visit. But I've been back about 10 times now. (I think it's the draw of the shopping)
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Old Nov 11th, 2007, 10:28 AM
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My trip was from Wednesday, October 24th through Monday, November 5th. Just got back this week.
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Old Nov 11th, 2007, 12:04 PM
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Hi Holly,

Great report. It was great meeting you in Rome. I am so glad you didn't let the theft of your wallet ruin the rest of your trip.

And like I told you, I just knew you were going to love Venice. So when do plan on going back?

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Old Nov 11th, 2007, 12:11 PM
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Not sure...I have so many other places that I want to visit, too.

My next trip will be Prague, or maybe Peru. Might have to wait until 2009 though due to financial reasons.
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Old Nov 11th, 2007, 10:46 PM
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Here is the link to my pictures that I took in Rome. I put the major sites in the main section, but there also 3 sub-albums - Vatican Museums; Statues, Monuments, and Fountains; and my Hotel Room.

<a href=http://s236.photobucket.com/albums/ff218/keiracaitlyn/Rome%20Oct%202007/>My Rome pics.</a>
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Old Nov 12th, 2007, 10:32 AM
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Holly, I enjoyed your report. I know just what you mean about the energy in the air in Rome. I feel it as soon as I arrive! Sounds like a great trip.
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Old Nov 12th, 2007, 01:03 PM
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Nice, detailed report-admirable, the amount of traveling and walking w/bum knees - I have fine knees and I was whooped by the evening, I have honestly never walked so much in my life - I am one of those whose car pulls right into the garage, 3.5 ft. away froom the kitcehn door - haha - didn't necessarily say it was a good thing, jsut so happens that is my lifestyle - so I know the walking that one does in the European cities - as in everywhere. But what gifts one finds at the end of the walks, huh? And along the way, right? Just wanted to say give Amsterdam another visit, the city and the people are so kind and gentle and peaceful, we stayed in a canal house at the intersection of 2 canals and we fell in love - truly go back,get into the city proper, you'll be surprised.
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Old Nov 12th, 2007, 03:21 PM
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Keira caitlyn - I enjoyed your report.

It reminded me of my one and only solo trip to Scotland when I was 18.

I've never been to Venice but I have been to Amsterdam. I enjoyed it, but I think after Venice, which sounds enchanting, Amsterdam would seem, well, a bit underwhelming.

We also went to the Sex Museum. I thought it was a hoot -- the best bit was watching the other people and their reactions. All different ages and types. My favorite was the elderly English husband and wife seriously studying the "art" as I assume they would in any other museum
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Old Nov 12th, 2007, 09:06 PM
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Here is a link to my Florence photos:


And here is the link to my Venice photos:


Many pictures in the sub-albums, again.
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Old Nov 13th, 2007, 07:15 AM
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Nice pictures
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