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Milan, Venice, Bellagio, Piedmont wine country, a day in the Cinque Terre

Milan, Venice, Bellagio, Piedmont wine country, a day in the Cinque Terre

Old Jun 1st, 2012, 01:48 PM
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Milan, Venice, Bellagio, Piedmont wine country, a day in the Cinque Terre

Milan, Venice, Bellagio, the Piedmont wine country and a day in the Cinque Terre - May 2012

My wife and I along with another couple visited parts of Northern Italy for two weeks in mid-May and had an absolutely fantastic time everywhere we went. In a landslide victory - Italy retains its #1 position as our favorite country to visit. We did more walking, climbing, eating and drinking than we thought possible. It seemed no matter where we were – the “Oh My God - look at that” statement was flying fast and furious. We met wonderful people and had so much fun on this trip that it should probably be illegal. It was our first time travelling with the other couple and we all got along great.

Yea I know many of you are saying too many places in too short of a time but it worked for us. When asked which of these places we liked best, we have to say that each of the five is so different from the others that they are hard to compare. But if we were forced to choose, we would say our time in Bellagio has a slight edge over the others – but all were great. I don’t know if our weather was normal for mid-May in the areas we were in but for the most part we had good weather. Most days were sunny with only a couple of them being a little cloudy/windy/chilly and we only had to pull the umbrellas out twice for a few minutes each time.

So is it possible to not have anything go wrong on a two week vacation with lots of logistical challenges? The four of us did a lot of advance planning and research over several bottles (maybe even cases) of wine. My wife and I used Delta frequent flyer miles for our tickets – our friends bought theirs. After lots of negotiation, we all agreed on an itinerary and the places where we wanted to stay (they all lived up to their good ratings) and we bought (Last Supper, La Scala and train tickets) or reserved (all places to stay, rental car and limo) as much as we could online in advance. We re-confirmed all our reservations a couple of weeks before we left.

We had a good idea of the things we wanted to do and were able to do most of them. But it was the spontaneous little things that either just happened to us or that we decided to do on the spur of the moment that made this such a great trip. We had one waiter in Venice with a really bad attitude and one flight attendant on the flight back that was just plain rude. But everything else went pretty smooth. We brought our own GPS that worked great, had some good regional maps for backup and some decent city maps. Even though we were pretty well prepared, we were still incredibly lucky to have everything work out as good as it did.

I had taken a trip with my college roommate in the 70s and we came up with a motto that we referred to whenever a decision had to be made. It was “This is no time to be conservative – let’s pull out all the stops”. Before we left, our group decided to adopt this motto for any decisions that would have to be made on our trip. Surprisingly enough it turns out our normal vacation mode pretty much follows our motto so we rarely had to refer back to it for help when we were making decisions. Too much fun!

I usually just jump right in and start writing a very detailed day by day report of our trip but this time I think I’ll try (notice I said I’ll TRY) to just write a quick paragraph or two for each day so you can get the cliff notes version of what we did without having to read a long and boring report where I would probably describe in nauseating detail how absolutely fantastic everything was. I had originally thought that this would be a more relaxing vacation than what we normally do. But somehow we were up and going fairly early every day and just seemed to keep going. Maybe our next trip to Europe will be relaxing – yea right!
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Old Jun 1st, 2012, 01:53 PM
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Milan – 2 days

Milan Day 1: We had an on-time overnight flight from Atlanta (farewell drink at One Flew South) to Milan arriving very early on Thursday May 10th. Three of the four of us had several good hours of ambien-aided sleep. A limo met us at the airport and took us to the Lancaster Hotel. http://www.hotellancaster.it/inglese/home.html We were very pleased with everything about this hotel (including the location) and the service from everyone was outstanding. After grabbing a quick coffee at about 10 AM near our hotel, we took a nice walk through Parco Sempione to Castello Sforzesco then on to the Galleria Vittoria Emanuele. For good luck, each of us took a turn spinning on our heel on the bull’s private parts – or at least where they used to be. Now I’m not claiming this little ritual was responsible for all our good fortune on this trip but…….we did seem to have more than our share of good luck.

We had a late, long and expensive lunch (our own fault for letting Salvatore from Sicily talk us in to some outrageously expensive but good dishes and prosecco) - then toured the inside of the Duomo and went up on the roof – both were great. Back to the hotel after a quick gelato stop for a short rest then out for dinner on Via Monti – our favorite neighborhood street. On the way back to the hotel we stopped at a store for some basic necessities (a big box of tissues, bottled water and wine – LOL!). Had a lemoncello at the hotel bar before calling it a day.

Milan Day 2: Good breakfast at hotel (included in the price) then took tram to see Last Supper (had reserved and paid for the 9:30 English tour online the day tickets went on sale for our date). Fifteen minutes seems way too short to see such a masterpiece but it is well worth it. Then we met a girl on the tram (she overheard us talking, excused herself and asked if we minded if she helped us out) as we headed to the fashion district. She was very nice and very helpful (actually led us to Montenapoleone Street and told us lots of details about what to do at La Scala). Had lunch, window shopped and took tram back to hotel.

We had an early dinner at a neat small place next to hotel. The owners spoke no English and the wife ran back to our hotel to get Tatiana from the front desk to interpret but we had it all figured out by the time she got there. We dressed for La Scala (had bought tickets online for Tosca the day they went on sale for our date) and had the hotel order a taxi. Tosca and our whole La Scala theatre experience was great! Crazy taxi ride back to hotel where we again had a lemoncello at the hotel bar and called it a day.

Milan does not get very good reviews on this forum but we had a great time during our two days there and the areas of the city we visited were very nice. I know there is a lot more to see but we were very satisfied with what we did and would certainly recommend spending a couple of days at the beginning or end of your trip if flying in or out of Milan – especially if you can score Last Supper and/or La Scala tickets.
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Old Jun 1st, 2012, 02:40 PM
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Good start, look forward to more.
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Old Jun 2nd, 2012, 06:57 AM
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Venice – 3 days

Venice Day 1: Another good breakfast at the hotel, packed and had hotel order a station wagon taxi to take us and our luggage to Centrale train station to catch our 11:35 train to Venice. Train was on time and we easily found our first class seats, stowed our light luggage on the racks above and our big luggage on the floor between the seats. Uneventful two and a half hour ride to Venice made a little easier by the free prosecco offered in first class. Because I had chosen the ticketless option when I bought the tickets, I showed conductor our payment receipt, he scanned the bar code and it took all of 2 seconds. Very efficient.

Easy getting off train and out to water taxi area. Had to call B&B (our iPhone worked great) and they gave taxi driver directions to water dock. Our B&B said it should cost about 50€ but taxi wanted 80€. I held out and he finally agreed to 50€ - but I gave him 55€. Longer walk than expected to B&B (tides weren’t right for taxi to be able to get to the B&Bs water door) and Alberto met us part way to help with luggage. We really liked our B&B. http://www.cabonvicini.com/eng/rooms.html Our room was the one in the picture.

Decided to go for lunch before unpacking and found a neat place with a nasty waiter – really BAD attitude. Then walked towards Accademia Bridge and wandered around some more through very beautiful areas. Bought a 72 hour vaporetto pass and took it back to our neighborhood. Weather was good so we took a gondola ride through a neat deserted area of Venice. Took our first traghetto ride (yes we stood up) and found a restaurant with a great outside garden area for dinner (didn’t notice cash only until we were paying – barely had enough). Back to B&B where we all came to our room, attached camera to TV and drank wine while we looked at some of the pics we had taken so far. Eventually went to bed and still hadn’t unpacked – great first day in Venice!
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Old Jun 2nd, 2012, 07:03 AM
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socaltraveler - thanks - it's a slow process putting this together and I'm having a hard time keeping it down to cliff notes size. When it comes to talking about Italy I tend to get a little carried away.
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Old Jun 2nd, 2012, 07:18 AM
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I've been waiting for this! I'm so happy to hear your trip was such a huge success. Very happy for you.

Arriving in Venice - hard to beat that feeling

Can't wait to read more.
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Old Jun 2nd, 2012, 07:46 AM
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Although we didn't get to a performance at La Scala (we went to the museum), hub and I crammed much of what you did into one day in Venice. I like your way better!

Very enjoyable TR!
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Old Jun 2nd, 2012, 08:15 AM
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bmking to travel with you.

great start!
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Old Jun 2nd, 2012, 09:05 AM
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lantana - it's good to hear from you again. You are right about the feeling of arriving in Venice - we had all been to Venice before so it wasn't quite as magical as the first time - but very close. You should be on a short countdown to your trip now, right?

TDudette - Milan was such a nice surprise for us. Of course seeing Tosca at La Scala, the Duomo and the Last Supper were fantastic but we really liked everywhere we went. Our way was nice but even if I only had one day - I would still recommend spending some time in Milan.

annhig - thanks - I can't possibly convey in a short report just how much fun we had on this trip - but hopefully some of our excitement will come through.
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Old Jun 2nd, 2012, 10:32 AM
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Venice Day 2: A good continental breakfast was delivered to our room at the pre-arranged time. Finally unpacked before we left for the day. It was a cloudy, windy and chilly morning so we stopped for a quick coffee then took our second traghetto ride across the canal (water was a little rougher this time but we stood up again) to a vaporetto stop and took it to St Marks. We went to the top of the bell tower and the sheltered side was nice but the windy side was crazy windy. Even so, the view was terrific. Wanted to go in to St Mark’s Basilica but there was a Mass so we went up to the museum and the roof where the horses are. I had to check my backpack at a place about a half block away from the entrance. Stopped for lunch at a nice little café. As we ate, an old guy brought a huge steaming bowl of penne pasta in and it turned out all the waiters at our café had ordered this pasta from some other place for their lunch. The old guy quickly chugged a beer as his tip and left – pretty funny actually.

We then headed towards the Arsenale to check on the America’s Cup races that were going on. We LOVED the neighborhood we walked through (some kids were having a soccer game in one of the campos) to get there (tons of pics of many very beautiful buildings). Saw several of the boats sail out from the harbor to the race area and watched some of the race on the big screen TV they had set up. Strolled around with a glass of wine seeing lots of interesting things and really enjoyed our time here. After we left the Arsenale, we stopped at a tiny café for a coffee and the waiter gave the bill to the ladies – because it was Mother’s Day (which we had totally forgotten) and he jokingly said the mothers should pay. We had these kinds of fun and silly interactions everywhere we went on this trip.

Back to the B&B where we rested for an hour before having a very good dinner at a nearby restaurant recommended by the B&B. We then went to see the dueling bands at St Mark’s Square. Four bands were playing but it was so late and chilly that there were very few people there so it was not as fun as we hoped it would be. Several people were dancing but the bands were not dueling like they did the last time we were in Venice. Tried to stop at Harry’s Bar but it was closed so we took a vaporetto to our stop. It was sort of spooky walking through the dark and deserted streets towards our B&B - every now and then meeting a lone walker - but it was neat too. I guess I have read too many of Donna Leone’s Guido Brunetti murder mysteries - most of them set near our Venice neighborhood. Finally found our B&B and went to bed – another great day in Venice.
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Old Jun 2nd, 2012, 11:02 AM
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Enjoying your report! Thanks so much for sharing.
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Old Jun 2nd, 2012, 11:55 AM
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I can understand about the arrival not being as magical as your "first time". Sounds wonderful nonetheless.

I'm enjoying every word of your report. The story about the waiters "ordering out" for their pasta made me laugh. Did you ask them where they got it?

It really comes through in your writing how much fun you had. How wonderful to have another couple you can enjoy traveling with. That's very special. I have one friend like that. And a few family members

Yes, my countdown has begun - 39 days 'til my daughter and I fly to London! Thank you for remembering
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Old Jun 2nd, 2012, 12:37 PM
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Venice Day 3: Woke up to a beautiful bright sunny day. Breakfast was delivered to our room again. Began the day with a great tour of Doge’s Palace. Before our trip, we joked a lot about getting put in Italian prison for various infractions so we took plenty of pictures of us behind bars in the jail. We stopped for a wine at the Palace’s cafeteria before catching a vaporetto to the Zattere Promenade area. This ride was incredibly beautiful. Lots of brightly colored sailboats in the brilliant sun with St Mark’s, the Doge’s Palace and the bell tower in the background - unbelievably gorgeous. The ride went across to some stops on the islands (which were incredibly beautiful too) and many families looked like they were going home. We commented that it was just a little different commute than we have here in Atlanta.

We had lunch at a nice restaurant on the water close to the Zattere stop and went in search of a place supposedly with the best gelato in Venice. We found it and the gelato was delicious. Wandered some more. We watched as workers used a huge machine to drive new pilings in and another machine to pull old pilings out. Saw the supposedly last gondola repair place left in Venice. Took vaporetto to Piazzale Roma to see where we would pick up rental car the next morning. Then decided to just wander back to our B&B. Came to Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari which we had wanted to see but it was just closing. A very nice ticket person told us that Mass was starting in 10 minutes in a side chapel and they would open the doors to the church for that. We waited and went in once they were opened – fantastic church – my wife rated it possibly the best she has ever seen. Back to the B&B and rested an hour before having dinner at a nearby more modern-decorated restaurant but the food and service were very good. Back to B&B and had a glass of wine while we packed to leave in the morning.
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Old Jun 2nd, 2012, 12:50 PM
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Modeen - thanks - even though we've been back only a week and a half, it's a lot of fun trying to remember all the fun times we had.

lantana- thanks again - the little cafe only served paninis and desserts so I guess they just had to have their pasta. It looked great! 39 days will go by quickly. I still haven't watched an episode of DT Abbey yet. I don't even need to ask if you are you going to watch the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebration, right?
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Old Jun 2nd, 2012, 01:14 PM
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Sighing for Italy...
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Old Jun 2nd, 2012, 01:23 PM
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Do you remember the names of the restaurants where you ate.... AND the wonderful gelato place?

Thanks.
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Old Jun 2nd, 2012, 01:23 PM
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I enjoyed reading about your trip and Bellagio is always a favorite of mine. We are in Rome from Oct. 7 to the 18th this far and I have such a hard time figuring out the train system...we want to go to Bellagio for an overnight. Could you tell me what web page you used to book the train?
thank you
Elizabeth
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Old Jun 2nd, 2012, 08:57 PM
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Elizabeth,

the official Italian Rail website was posted on your other other thread. Click on your screen name to find your other posts. I'll paste it below again.

http://www.fsitaliane.it/homepage_en.html

In any case the train to Varenna-Esino is an R (Regionale) train, and does not have reserved seats. You can only buy the tickets online 7 days in advance, but it is a bad idea to do so because the online tickets are impossible to refund, while a paper ticket is refundable.

You want to go from Rome to Bellagio, so you will need two tickets: a ticket from Roma Termini to Milano Centrale--this will be on a fast train that you CAN book ahead--and a ticket on the R train from Milano Centrale to Varenna-Esino.

The full train schedules beyond mid-june have not yet been posted. Just use dates for the coming week to see the possibilities.
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Old Jun 3rd, 2012, 05:54 AM
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Yes, thank you John I'm watching coverage now on BBC America.

Looking forward to more of your report. And, hopefully, some of your great photos (hint, hint).
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Old Jun 3rd, 2012, 07:42 AM
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I bet the gelato place on Zattere was Da Nico.
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