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May 2013--Venice, Ravenna, Levanto, Milan & the Lakes where the Rain Gods Reigned

May 2013--Venice, Ravenna, Levanto, Milan & the Lakes where the Rain Gods Reigned

Jun 1st, 2013, 07:24 PM
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May 2013--Venice, Ravenna, Levanto, Milan & the Lakes where the Rain Gods Reigned

Part of my travel planning is to follow the weather forecasts online about a month before our trip. Since this vacation was mainly to the Cinque Terre and Lakes Maggiore and Como weather would play a big part in our daily activities. Weather during April had been very rainy and much cooler than average so I was hoping to see an improvement for May. By the time I was packing for our May 5th departure I was prepared for cool and wet but would be thrilled to see "average" temps and rainfall in the forecast.

Venice---This would be our second visit to Venice. Last October I was disappointed my husband didn't see the magic that I could see in Venice. I wanted him to take another look. This time we would not be so "purpose" driven; we'd let ourselves wander more and seek out the quieter parts of Venice. During our three days in Venice I had two goals. The first was to buy the church chorus pass and explore around the different churches we visited. The second was a boat ride with Vivivenezia that Peter from Australia had taken and told about on Fodors.

I didn't care if we had to slog through rain every other moment of our time in Venice as long as the two hours of our scheduled boat ride were rain free so it wouldn't be canceled.

The small B&B we chose was the Ca' Amadi in the Cannaregio area close to the Rialto Bridge. I had selected a room facing the courtyard but we were upgraded to a room on a canal. Not everyone might think of this as a desirable room location because the water level of the canal was only about 4 feet below the bottom of our window, but I loved it. There was a gondola or two parked across from our window so I could watch all the preparation they did each morning to get ready for the tourists.

The canal we faced was also one of the routes between Canale delle Fondamenta Nuove and the Grand Canale that work boats used each day. Ron and I are early risers so when the boat activity started it didn't bother us. With the windows closed we heard no outside noise so we had great night sleeps during our stay.

The Ca' Amadi was once the family home of Marco Polo. Almost every gondolier would make that announcement as he went past our room. As they started to say "Marco Polo" I enjoyed leaning out the window and waving to the people in the gondolas---I wonder if I'm in any of their vacation photos The rate of our room at Ca' Amadi was 174 eros per night.

I'm so glad I read Peter's information about Vivivenezia. I thought it might be just the thing that would appeal to my husband. Gianluca arranged to meet us near our hotel at the Theatre Malibran bridge for a ride in his classic Topa. After picking us up he told us about how he and two friends started the not for profit company to give visitors an opportunity to experience the original working boats of Venice.

I know I had the silliest grin on my face the entire time we were on the water because it was just so much fun. We toured the small canals and crossed the water way between San Marco and Guidecca. It was a very different sensation to be in a very small boat rather than on a vaporetto. We crossed the Grand Canal at several different points and one time I told Gianluca I was very turned around and didn't know it we were going up or down the canal. He grinned at me and then proceeded to turn the boat in circles several times in the middle of the canal--fun, fun, fun.

The cost of the boat ride was 60 euros each and lasted about two hours, the website is www.vivivenezia.org. Ron said this was the highlight of Venice---I think he finally could see some of the magic that can only be found in Venice.

For dinner our first night we enjoyed pizza at All' Anfora in San Croce. Our dining experiences on the following nights were not note worthy.

Ravenna---Since we were traveling between Venice and Ravenna by train I chose a B&B a short walk from the train station for our 2 night stay. We were very comfortable at Casa Di Paola Suite. We never met the owner but the manager who spoke little to no English provided all we needed during our stay. I liked that hot and cold beverages and light snacks were available any time of the day. Our stay in Ravenna cost 85 euros per night.

To have so many sights within Ravenna with spectacular mosaics made it worth a 2 night visit for us. We purchased the museum card to visit the two Basilicas, the Neonian Baptistry, Mausoleo di Galla Placidia and Museuo Arcivescovile and also took the bus to see the Basilica in Classe.

This time the rains came during the night and so although the temps were cool it was nice enough to eat outside for our lunches. We don't usually have dinner at the same place twice while traveling but for this trip we did make two repeat visits. One of them was in Ravenna where we dined both nights at the enoteca Ca' de Ven. Good food and wine in a setting of walls of wine racks and dark wood. One night Ron and I each chose a pasta dish, a grilled vegetable antipasti with piadina and a bottle of wine for a total of 42 euros. Our second visit we shared an antipasti, each had a secondi with grilled vegetable contorni, two desserts and a bottle of wine for a total of 57.50 euros, very reasonable.

When I did my research for car rental I was given a price quote from Economy Car Rentals that was the most resonable if we picked up our car at the closest airport to Ravenna which was Bologna. It was a difference of more than $250 for our 15 day rental. Our next destination was Levanto and most trains went through Bologna. Luckily I discovered that the day we would be taking the train to Bologna there was a one day strike only affecting trains in and out of Bologna--great!! The early trains on that Saturday were protected from the strike so if we wanted to be certain to reach Bologna we had to be on a train before 8am. We didn't want our rental to start much before noon so we knew we'd be spending more time waiting at the airport that we would like. We flew out of the airport last October so we knew it was small but had plenting of seating.

When we eventually picked up our rental car at Budget/Avis we were told they didn't have a record of our contract and that the Budge computers were down. I showed them my copy of the contract that I had been given by Economy Car Rentals and the helpful agent just drew up a contract from the paper I provided. I didn't know it at the time but having their computers down saved us some major headaches and expenses. The Travel God smiled on us that day.

I had used my husbands email address for the rental contract because he was the driver. We spend little time online checking emails while vacationing so Ron didn't see the email from Economy dated May 8th (our rental began on May 11th) stating that our contract with Budget through them had been canceled. Ron didn't see the notice until May 13th. What a mess. No explanation from Economy but we do have a contract with Budget thanks to their lack of computers. We refused any additional insurance because Economy covers all excess and now we don't have that as a fallback. We hoped the Travel Gods continued to smile on us regarding the safekeeping our our rental. I'm still furious with Economy and waiting for an explanation how they can cancel a contract we have had for over 4 months. While we were in Levanto we noticed our credit card showed the return of our deposit by Economy----they really did abandon us!! We returned the car to Budget at Milan Airport on May 26th , no questions were asked so now we are waiting for them to come after the deposit that never happened!!

Levanto---Ron and I like slow travel and try to stay in apartments as much as possible. For the Cinque Terre, Levanto gave us a perfect base since we were traveling with a car. The apartment I rented through Homelidays included a parking pass for our car, was a 10-15 min walk from the train station in Levanto and was 440 euros for the week.
DeborahAnn is offline  
Jun 1st, 2013, 08:06 PM
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this is a really enjoyable read. looking forward to more.
the idea of the boat trip is great - bookmarking for my trip.
millie2112 is offline  
Jun 1st, 2013, 08:21 PM
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Nice report. Bookmarking.
travelmamana is offline  
Jun 1st, 2013, 09:50 PM
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I'm glad that the boat tour in Venice worked for you. We loved it.
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Jun 1st, 2013, 10:29 PM
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I'm enjoying reading your report. My husband and I will have four nights in Venice in September and I remember reading about the Topa tour ages ago but couldn't find the information again - thanks for the link!
four_maccas is offline  
Jun 1st, 2013, 10:29 PM
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Enjoying your report. I started reading because I'm going through Venice withdrawals (it's been years), but now I'm freaked because I have a car booked for July with Economy Car Rentals in the the Czech Republic! Maybe I should switch to AutoEurope.
Leely2 is offline  
Jun 2nd, 2013, 02:18 AM
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Enjoying this report...more please!
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Jun 2nd, 2013, 03:27 AM
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Thank you for your comments, I've read many of your own trip reports and comments during my travel planning so your compliments mean a great deal to me.

Peter, thank you again for posting about Gianluca and his boat project---it really was the highlight of our entire trip for my husband. He is a water watcher, enjoying just being near it but he does not swim so is very nervous when he is floating on it. Never would he get in a kayak but he loved the Topa experience.

Leely, we have used Economy 5 or 6 times without a problem. This could have caused lots of stress and unplanned additional expense for us if Budget's computers hadn't been down the day we rented. I still haven't heard from Economy but I did send a message to their customer service asking for an explanation before I start recommending online that people avoid using them. You might want to ask them about the dependability of a contract with them. I'm glad our rental for France this September is with Kemwel!! Deborah
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Jun 2nd, 2013, 04:10 AM
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Levanto---I did a lot of research before I decided where to base ourselves for our week in the Cinque Terre. I was OK being close to the villages without being in one of them. After reading so much about hiking being the focus of a visit to that area I was definitely feeling like an "underachiever".

I was reminded of two things regarding how I like to travel after our stay in Levanto. I like to visit places of hills and mountains but I want to live in the flatlands. Also, when just daily living can be a challenge, I don't like walking to be one of them!!

Levanto for us was a perfect choice and judging by the number of French visitors we encountered it's very popular with them also.

I get great pleasure out of being a temporary resident which being in an apartment for a week gives to me. From searching for a bakery for our breakfast foods to seeing the server who presented us with a delicious meal the night before out doing her shopping the next day and receiving a greeting from her is my kind of fun Levanto gave me that.

We visited the 5 villages as a leisurely pace. We arrived on a Saturday in Levanto and just spent the evening getting settled.

Our apartment was to have wifi but the kind owner explained he had just changed providers on Friday and it wasn't working yet. A visit to the Tourist Information got us the link for their free service plus a second wifi provided by the town of Levanto which we never got to work for us. So we had to go sit outside the TI for a couple of days to get our emails. That was the reason we didn't even know about our canceled car rental until the 13th of May, two days after we picked up our car

Weather continued to be cool but mostly sunny during the day so we were able do everything on my want to do while there list.

It was such a quick train ride to the village closest to Levanto which was Monterossa. It was crowded on a sunny Sunday in May but not packed. We did do a short walk on an upmarked path in the hills above Monterossa but along with not being comfortable on water my husband is also uncomfortable with heights so we didn't climb very high. Ron is a wonderful travel companion so I like to make sure our travels are within his comfort level.

We ate at a place that was not on my resto list called Al Carugio on via S. Pietro. We both had pasta shared an antipasti and drank the house wine. The cost of the meal was 42 euros. It was a family run restaurant which we like.

Monterossa was our only trip outside of Levanto that Sunday, keep in mind slow travel is our preference. We walked around enjoying the family life we were seeing in Levanto and enjoyed a simple meal of bread, cheese, ham and sausage with wine for dinner. Food is part of our travel experience but seldom the focus of it.

more later today. I hope I'm not boring you with this "slow travel" report. Deborah
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Jun 3rd, 2013, 05:04 AM
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Weather was pleasant on Mon, May 13th so visiting 3 of the 5 villages was our plan. We purchased the one day Cinque Terre card which included use of the local trains between Levanto and La Spezia for 10 euros a person.

Our first village that day was the smallest, Corniglia. Getting to the town center from the station would require walking 300 or 400 steps, can't remember which number but neither were appealing to us. Having the CT card included the use of the shuttle bus for no additional cost--priceless!!

We used the Rick Steves guide book to find the best views of the sea while walking through the narrow streets in Corniglia. It was very quiet that Monday morning, too quiet for us so we spent only about an hour there.

We went to the next village, Manarola, in time for our midday meal. We ate at La Scogliera on via Birolli, the street leading to the harbor. Ron and I both had their signature seafood pasta, shared a swordfish carpaccio and somehow managed to finish a liter of house wine. The bill was 50 euros and small change. Not sure if it was the influence of the wine but we thought Manarola the prettiest of the villages

After all my research I was expecting to enjoy Vernazza the most so had left more of our time that day for visiting there. For some reason it just didn't appeal to either of us as much as Manarola.

Since we had the CT card we thought we would walk a little on the only portion of the popular #2 path that was open, Vernazza to Monterossa. It was, as expected very crowded, so you had to pay more attention to all the people surrounding you rather than the surroundings themselves. Not fun so we didn't walk very far.

Looking at the forecast for the week, Wednesday was looking like heavy rains were expected so we decided to visit the last CT village, Riomaggiore, Tuesday morning and return to Levanto to take the 2:30 boat down to Portovenere. This would give us only 45 minutes to visit Portovenere but we would be able to see the CT from the water which was highly recommended. It was a plan that worked well and yes, we certainly would have enjoyed seeing more of Portovenere. What a beautiful port town.

Wednesday morning before the rains came we were able to visit the outdoor market. I had broken my sunglasses and wanted to find an inexpensive pair to get me through the rest of our trip.

You could easily stay in Levanto without a car and also visit Pisa but since we had a car and it was definitely going to be a day with heavy rains, we drove to Pisa rather than use the train. The drive on the autoroute was not relaxing with the heavy rains nor was the road in and out of Levanto. There was nothing remarkable about our visit other than seeing the Leaning Tower in person. It was raining so heavy we took our photos, visited the Duoma which was free but you had to first get a ticket for access. Even in the rain the Tower is beautiful.

If we had our large meal at midday we would eat lighter for dinner and with an apartment it was usually a meal of bread, wine, cheese and meat.

Surprising to me because I expected to get tired of the "same food", on this trip we only chose to eat in Italian restaurants, rotating between pizzas, pastas and secondi with contorni and almost always having a antipasti. Often the antipasti was a caprese salad because we were trying to see if it ever was prepared the same in any two locations--never had that happen!!

To give you an idea of the cost of dining in Levanto we ate at:

Antica Taverna Garibaldi, 2 pizzas, wine and beer, price 30 euros

Da Tapulin, 1 antipasti, 2 secondi, 1 contorni, wine and water, price 41 euros

Pizzeria Miky was 45 euros. We had a delicious meal but I can't remember exactly what we had until I look at all the photos of food that I took.

Two more days in Levanto before we move on to Stresa on Lake Maggiore. Deborah
DeborahAnn is offline  
Jun 3rd, 2013, 06:45 AM
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Jun 3rd, 2013, 06:46 AM
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Bookmarking. Sounds like a wonderful trip. How strange to have your car contract cancelled!
TDudette is offline  
Jun 3rd, 2013, 03:08 PM
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Tdudette, yes, and I'm still waiting for an explanation.

While in Levanto I wanted to visit Portofino. Thursday was forecast as sunny until late afternoon so we took the train in the direction of Santa Margherita Ligure with a change in Sestri Levante. SML was what Ron expected Levanto would have looked like but didn't, the Italian Riviera.

Using Rick Steves directions it was an short walk to the harbor and the TI office and from their to Trattoria Baicin for lunch; noted for their Ligurian food. Lunch cost 35 euros.

After lunch we walked back to catch the small commuter bus to Portofino. Not many seats, mostly standing space. It was a wild ride around all the curves with the driver sounding his horn to alert oncoming traffic.

Clouds were gathering so we expected our visit would be short. I had read that Portofino was small and exclusive but I didn't realize it would be so very uninteresting to me. It was the only place on our trip that was a disappointment. We walked around as a light rain started but there wasn't anything that compelled us to linger. With the rain gathering force it was a very large crowd at the bus stop. I don't know how everyone managed to squeeze into that small bus but it made for a very uncomfortable but thankfully short ride back to SML; a town that looked even lovelier after the disappointment of Portofino.

On our last full day in Levanto we decided to stay put. There are not many noted tourist sights there but the beach is spacious with enough wave action to attract surfers. There is also a bike/walking path on a former rail line that takes you to Bonnassola and on to Framura, mostly through well lit tunnels. We had a wonderful leisurely walk. The temps were cool but the sun was out so we were able to enjoy some wine on a deck on the beach in Bonnassola.

Levanto has 70km of footpaths surrounding it, which is why most of the visitors were wearing Goretex and not cashmere

STRESA and LAKE MAGGIORE

Last October Ron and I stayed 9 nights in Verona and took several day trips to Lake Garda. I wanted to see for myself if the Italian Lakes were as different as they seemed while doing my research.

I've glad we chose Stresa as our base for our 4 nights on Lake Maggiore. We stayed at La Fontana with a room on an upper floor with a balcony overlooking the lake. Our rate was 115 euros per night. I wish the weather had been nicer so we could have actually sat on our balcony or explored the hotel's lovely gardens. The owner of the hotel was a darling man. He apologized for the weather when we check in and always had something amusing to say to us.

From the hotel the ferry and town center were a 15 minute walk, pleasant when it wasn't raining. In the evening for dinner we chose to drive and park in the large lot along the lake. It was 1.20 euro per hour and the meters were active every day until 10pm.

Sunday morning we drove to Lake Orta. It was nice to have the sun shining and others must have thought so as the parking lot in Orta San Giulio was filling up quickly. The town felt crowded and noisy so we promptly caught one of the boats to the Isola San Giulio.

Sunday is not a good day to visit the island unless you want to attend the church service at the Basilica It takes less than 30 minutes to walk the single cobbled path around the island.

Back in the town with narrow streets thick with crowds we decided to head back to Stresa. Our drive should have been easy but the main road was closed and our gps had a hissy fit and we ended up driving on a road that can only be described as someones paved wheelbarrow track, it was that narrow. I just kept willing that there be no oncoming vehicles and for the rain to hold off until we were off the mountain. Stresa was a welcome safe harbor for us after our white knuckle ride. Deborah
DeborahAnn is offline  
Jun 3rd, 2013, 08:19 PM
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Great report! Thanks for sharing.
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Jun 4th, 2013, 01:07 PM
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I've read that Portofino is best enjoyed from a boat. Hub and I never drove--always took bus, train or hired someone--you are brave!
TDudette is offline  
Jun 5th, 2013, 11:11 AM
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I'm sorry but it seems my trip report has taken on a life of its own and must now be called a travelogue minus photos

Lake Maggiore's leading attractions are the 3 islands close to Stresa collectively called the Borromean Islands. Isola Bella has the villa and grounds, Isola Superiore is known as the fishing village and Isola Madre is mostly gardens with a small palazzo.

The owner of our hotel told us his favorite island was Madre and he talked with such passion that I did a mental shift of how much time we would spend on each island, and with the possibility of unpleasant weather we might not have gone to Madre at all before talking to him.

On Isola Bella we enjoyed our time touring the villa using the audioguide, the rooms were stunning and the many grotto rooms were quite an eyeful. Out on the grounds a large group of noisy school children had the beautiful white peacocks strutting around with their tail feathers unfurled. I never realized how gorgeous a bird that is all white can be.

We went to the fishing Island for lunch but with the rainy weather the lake had risen so high that the outdoor dining that was close to the water was now IN the water. The restaurants I had considered had no empty tables and I don't imagine anyone would be rushing their meal to walk around outside. We found a small sandwich/pizzeria where we were warm and dry, mostly because it was a very small place and our table was next to the refrigerated display case with a running motor that kept my feet nice and warm!!

I'm so glad we went to Isola Madre and we were certainly not the only ones there but it was still so very peaceful after the other two islands. Even on a cool day there were so many unusual looking birds walking the grounds, some interesting sculptures of dogs laying in different positions and a villa with displays of puppets on the upper floor. It was interesting to see and read about the efforts a community will go to in order to save Europe's largest Kashmir cypress tree after it was knocked down during a tornado in 2006. Tornado???? never thought of Italy having tornadoes--suddenly cool and rainy is not bad weather

Our last full day on Lake Maggiore was solid heavy rains. We didn't want to spend it cooped up in the hotel, lovely as it was so we drove toward Locarno. It wasn't much fun driving for Ron but we hoped there might be a break in the rain and the sky did look a little brighter going north---talk about optimism!!.

I'm sure Cannobio is worth a stop but less so during pouring rains. We stopped near a park along the water's edge and the swings and picnic tables were now in the lake. A stop in Locarno was not appealing either but we did find something that I would love to go back to revisit. The drive between Locarno and Domodossola was so beautiful that I would love to take the commuter train that I saw while going through the area. I noticed a number of waterfalls along the way but there wasn't room for Ron to pull over so he could see them. I'd like to go back so he could see the lovely mountains from the comforts of a train. I know there is a narrow gauge train that runs between Domodossola and Locarno as part of the Lago Maggiore Express but it doesn't run every day in the off season so was not available during our visit.
DeborahAnn is offline  
Jun 5th, 2013, 11:24 AM
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Jun 5th, 2013, 06:18 PM
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Deborah,

Enjoying your trip report! Thanks for taking time to do it. I'm sorry you didn't have better weather. I think I lucked out with just 2 days of heavy rain on my Sicily trip from 4/20 - 5/12.

When I visited the Ligurian coast, we stayed in Santa Margherita Ligure and really liked the town. We trained to Riomaggiore and hiked 4 out of 5 villages on the Cinque Terre. We took the short boat ride over to Portofino (15 min.) and just enjoyed an easy 1/2 day of strolling and a long wine-filled lunch watching the yaghts, but agree not really a lot to the town aside from the beautiful tiny harbor.

Do continue....
Dayle is offline  
Jun 5th, 2013, 06:22 PM
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Yes, continue, and since you mentioned photos... (okay, you said "minus photos" but still!).

The weather wasn't great but the rest of the trip sounds wonderful.
Leely2 is offline  
Jun 6th, 2013, 03:07 PM
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Thanks for the comments, now I know why there are so few trip reports--it's a lot of work!! I am enjoying reliving our trip by writing it however.

Leely2, I enjoy the photos that you include with your trip reports and when I put in the mention of no photos your name was one of the people on Fodors that came into my mind--such a high standard you set with your TR's AND photos.

Dayle, I've been reading your TR about Sicily and believe I am so far away from being ready to take on that part of Italy. I never needed my trusted Rick Steves' Italian phrase book & dictionary anytime on this trip. I don't think that would be the case in Sicily. I probably have "no business" going to Sicily with my little to no Italian language skills Deborah
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