Reeder COMPLETE Italy Report

Old Apr 26th, 2004, 09:17 AM
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Reeder COMPLETE Italy Report

We have been back from our 16 night Italian adventure since March 25th and am just getting around to starting this report! Shame on me--but better late than never!? I did keep a daily journal which will help my aging memory quite a bit.

We left Southbury Connecticut on the Connecticut Limo(which is generally a bus ride)--just sounds spiffy heading for JFK. At the start I should mention this might not be our option on future big trips like this. Waiting for "the ct limo" on return was an hour and the ride took over four hours as we stopped at LaGuardia also and made three stops in NY state before entering Ct.(This trip should have been 2.5 hours max) Next time it will be nice to have one of those men standing there with our name on a card and be whisked off!!!!

Our Delta flight was direct , fine and uneventful. We arrived Rome about 8:30 am , rented our car (a Renault Scenic 4 door) and were off to find Baschi Italy in Umbria. We found our way(easily) to A-1 and made it to our first stop Baschi in 1.5 hours or more. Found our way to Torre Vecchio on 800 acres, long horns, farming( fruits and veggies etc). It was a very scenic farm amidst the Umbrian hills. Not many people around off season and the buildings on this agritourismo

(I used both Karen Brown books for our stay and went exclusively with places she recommends. We have used her in Ireland and France in the past quite successfully.. We find the places exactly as she has described)

To repeat the buildings were quite spread out and we found ourselves lost on this farm more than once.. There seemed to be miles of good dirt roads on this property. We had a one bedroom apartment which was out of the history/picture books. Kitchen was simple , old fashioned had a large fireplace , good size bathroom and large bedroom with queen bed. It was in an old building made of stone and brick. I thought it would be a cool place to stay in the hot summer days--literally cool. We went to lunch in Orvieto which this place is just a few miles south of and had a tasting lunch at a restaurant Rick Steeves recommended called Patrizio's. We had many courses, small amounts, of what was described as true Umbrian cooking. They were quite nice to us. However you must understand we are there at what for us was 6 am on no sleep so really unfair to judge this restaurant.

The zuppa was good and the antipasto. I wasn't too sure about the raviolini stuffed with rabbit or the duck course. I tried it all but didn't finish much. John had a very BIG lunch as result. Dessert was very good and with house wine $72 E. (this was to be our most expensive lunch and/or dinner of the entire trip and we could have eaten most satisfactorily here for much less. Jet lag ordering let's call it!)

We came back to our apartment--made a fire to warm us up and took a nice nap. Dinner was at 8 and we got lost finding the dining room. They came out to rescue us. This is when we found out we were the only guests. Danieli and her husband Paulo greeted us warmly and joined us for dinner which Danieli had prepared. They shared their homemade white and red wine and even a superlative homemade cherry grappa after dinner made from the leaves of ripe cherries. For us the meal tasted delicious-various brushetta, pasta Mingherlini (their surname), pasta with meat sauce, beef and broccoli rabe and zuppa englesa for dessert, expresso etc etc.
This is the best part. Both were warm , friendly, interested and interesting. They practiced their English on us and we tried our hand at Italian with them. Somehow it worked out well and we had a wonderful warm evening--just what we were hoping for! We were both glowing as we headed back to our apartment saying "What a wonderful way to start our trip!"

Next morning I was up before John (not a normal occurence) and very cold!!I I started a fire and made expresso actually cafe latte and read my book until sleeping beauty woke up. The deal here at this farm is to make your own breakfast and they provide the fixins., cereal, milk, cookies, jam and crackers and juice. It was ample and we liked actually sharing the fire and views on our own. We were packed and off by 9 am.

It was sort of chilly and rainy. We did well finding our way to Todi and Spoleto (hilltop towns but we bravely drove up and around them) Todi is smaller and very charming. We then went up to Monteflaco and parked in the square. We did some wine tasting at a great enoteca right in the square.It is called L'Alchimista. Guy was very nice and also very generous with samples. We tried at least four Montefalco reds and others. They put out proscuitti and bread just for us and we felt as though we were at a party! We bought two bottles of wine there (we felt we had to) and browsed some of the shops in the square.

They had a great shop for cloth napkins, table cloths etc (made in Montefalco I believe) I ended up with two finger towels with bees on them. (I collect bee things for a special reason)

We then went to Bevagna another charming town but we walked this town. Karen Brown recommends an inn and restaurant there but it had not opened for the season yet. We just went down the street to an osteria (Osteria del Podesta) and had a nice lunch. The antipasto was sensational and huge to share. They gave us complimentary glasses of Prosecco. Yum!! It was my first experience with this delicious bubbly and NOT my last! John had raviolitini in red wine sauce which he loved. I just had a vegetable terrine side dish. With house wine bill was $32.E. A nice place. We walked the town a bit through the residential area and found ourselves curious about what the residences looked inside and what their lives are really like in a medieval town.

We then found our way to Bettona -our destination for the next two nights. While our stay was on an agriturismo outside of town we stopped into the medieval town of Bettona to check it out. I wanted to email the kids and asked a man on the street(Carmine) where there was an internet shop or whatever. He said there were none in the town but we could use his in town hall. He was the zoning officer. I set about my task of writing chatty email to the kids of our adventures (I can be verbose) while John was TRYING to communicate with this man who had no English whatsoever. My husband has absolutely no Italian. It was hard for me to concentrate as I was laughing so hard from the background conversation I almost wet my pants. Somehow though they got maps out and talked "zoning" and seemed to communicate. I wish I could say the same for my long email which never arrived back here????

We then found our way to Torre Burchio, sort of a ranch-- B&B on 1500 acres. Talk about miles of road to get there??? Incredible --up high and just gorgeous country. Driving up you can see Assisi in the distance on a clear day. The sun is out now and weather really getting nice which is to continue throughout our trip until we finish in Venice !! Yeh!!

We were warmly greeted here and enjoyed the capuccino and biscotti they served us on arrival. Our room was in a separate building (motel like but not really) across from dining room and main office with great views of the hills. Our room was large comfortable with vaulted ceilings. We took a much needed delicious nap and went to dinner at 8. (Note here: wnere possible we took half board so we could try the foods of the farm and hopefully really meet the people) Our dinner was a five course affair, quite good with bruschetta, two pasta courses (gnocchil and a cheese and proscuitti pasta) then pork and spinach and dessert plus their house wine and water. We hit the rack and were up early for breakfast which consisted of capuccino,water, cereals, jams, honey and two pastries, juice etc. More than enough. (Buffet style)

Then off the 7 km to the main road and Assissi. We are absolutely loving the scenery here. The hills, farms, and green everywhere with snow capped mountains in the background are spectacular!! We are finding our way around quite nicely on the backroads! Next report starts in Assisi! Helen

We parked at the top of Assisi in the underground parking lot (1.05 E per hr) So we started walking down into the town (down is a good thing in Italy as there are so many hills, steps, cobblestone steets etc in Italy the calves take a real beating!?) I think personally the Italians are part goat or something!!! especially those living in the medieval towns which are all uphill!!

Assisi was very quiet on our visit there-not overrun with tourists as I had anticipated. It was a clear sunny day and the views from Assisi of the surrounding countryside are wonderful. Assisi is a beautiful town and we had a sense of peace and calm while there. We visited St Francis' Basilica of course, took lots of pictures there. We read the tour from Rick Steeves book of the major sights (frescoes on walls) within the Basilica. On this day only the church was open. I bought some medals for family and friends in the giftshop. We browsed some of the shops but did not really buy anything except a St Francis ornament for my tree.

This is a lovely stop on your visit to Umbria and should not be missed. Also a couple of hours is all you need to see and get a feel of this town (although there were not many tourists for us) We slowly walked the streets and browsed and got a good feeling for Assisi. I waited in a nice little park at the edge of town while John trekked back up the hill to get the car.

We then headed in direction of Deruta, Connari, Signoria to name a couple. We stopped at a pizzeria/ristorante for some pizza enroute but the place didn't serve pizza until the evening. We ordered house wine and water and antipasto Toscanini (namesake of restaurant.) It came with bread and breadsticks and was ample for the two of us. (15 E)

We found our way to Deruta and and were able to drive right up and into the town and secured a parking space in the center. I am not a devotee of Deruta but it is bright and colorful and makes great gifts. Again there were no crowds and several shops were closed perhaps for siesta. I found one shop in my price range and bought several gifts which he wrapped carefully with bubbl
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Old Apr 26th, 2004, 09:30 AM
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I couldn't get it to print in the whole thing so it will be here but in segments. What am I doing wrong?
We then headed in direction of Deruta, Connari, Signoria to name a couple. We stopped at a pizzeria/ristorante for some pizza enroute but the place didn't serve pizza until the evening. We ordered house wine and water and antipasto Toscanini (namesake of restaurant.) It came with bread and breadsticks and was ample for the two of us. (15 E)

We found our way to Deruta and and were able to drive right up and into the town and secured a parking space in the center. I am not a devotee of Deruta but it is bright and colorful and makes great gifts. Again there were no crowds and several shops were closed perhaps for siesta. I found one shop in my price range and bought several gifts which he wrapped carefully with bubble wrap etc. I bought myself a liter pitcher I may use on occasion as a vase. Nice guy, nice shop and he gave me an angel ornamnent as a gift.

Enroute back to Bettona (which is excellently situated to visit all these towns) we drove thru Torgiamo-another walled town. Quiet not extraordinary. We also went back into walled town of Bettona to explore a bit.It was VERY quiet with little business or shoppping there.

Back over the dirt roads to Torre Burchio and we drove around the massive grounds there a bit. John took a Jeep tour of their wildlife preserve to see the wild animals (wild boar was of particular interest) --his thing. He enjoyed this tour seeing the 40 or so horses they have plus the boar, pheasant, various deer etc. I used the time to take a nice much needed nap.

This place is quiet today. There are only two other couples (who spoke only Italian) for dinner and they were not very friendly to us or themselves. Not much English is spoken here but we keep trying to communicate with staff etc. Just a note: they are expecting 90 people for dinner tomorrow night Friday . However we will be moving on.

Dinner tonite was exceptionally good--various brushetta, soup (mushroom and spect (sp?) -Note :We have seen a lot of spect in Umbria (like a fat barley), pasta with potato,cheese and pork then beef and salad. Again zuppa englesa for dessert and coffe.

We both are very tired travelers tonite and I make note my husband quickly is a snoring fool beside me. We liked this place. It certainly has a ranch feeling and as such is quite unique. Our room was very comfortable, the views terrific and we found it nice and quiet. It is also situated very well for touring this part of Umbria.

My notes tell me it is now Sunday March 14th about 6 pm and John and I have just finished a toasty nap in our very comfortable bed. Saturday was a very LONG day for us. We started out by getting lost trying to go east to Montepulciano and take a scenic ride to Siena. We ended up on the Autostrada at Perugia after a quick drivethru of this hilltop city. It was a cool city full of tourists on a beautiful Saturday. It looked like a fun place to stroll through--lots of shops and restaurants etc and even plenty of outside vendors. I jumped out to check Deruta prices on the street. If it was the real thing prices were much cheaper than in Deruta!

We then bombed to Siena which is trickier to see. You really can't drive into the town (plus too many tourists mob the streets ) Weekends here really make a difference on tourist traffic) We found a free parking lot and hoofed it 10 minutes or so to town. It is a bit hilly Siena (although not bad) but after last few days my calves and feet are screaming at me. No they were really cursing bad words!!

We found our way to Piazza del Campo and from there a restaurant Rick Steeves' recommended called Taverna de Giuseppa--a little UP a street to the right of the Municipal Bldg at 132. Regarding Rick I swear that man is part goat too as everything he recommends seems a hike up a hill.

This restauarant was very charming, sort of in a cave, candles lit for lunch. Staff was busy, helpful, friendly and explained the Italian menu to us. We had water and wine, a good bread with olive oil and balsamic, then an antipast of eggplant stuffed with cheese and ham baked. Just Delicious! We shared that and then ordered two different pasta dishes to share as well. One was remarkable--gnocchi with cream, spinach, cheese sauce with pistachio topping. (I even sent this description to Rachel Ray to see if she could come up with a 30 minute knock off of it for all of us) Our bill was around 35E.

We then went toward the Duomo which was interesting. My feet and legs are fading fast here. We then sort of lost --each other for a few minutes. Years ago as a child my father spent a long time teaching me to whistle with my two (thumb and middle) fingers in my mouth. This came in handy as repeated attempts brought my Johnny back to me. We are both very tired and resorted to taking a taxi to the edge of town. John went on to get the car while I rested my cursing calves!

Siena didn't do much for either of us so it is not on my top ten. In fairness we had a very long day (wasted a lot of time trying to find shortcuts etc) so we were tired and maybe a bit cranky at this point. I am pleased to say this was the crankiest we were to be the entire trip. I guess even though we knew better--just don't cram too much into a day! Next report--on to Tuscany!!!

Date: 04/19/2004, 04:15 pm
Message: We are departing Siena now and heading for Tuscany! We are staying in an apartment on the grounds of Casa Sola, (another agriturismo from Karen Brown) located in the Chianti Region near San Donato.

We arrived at the villa and met the charming owners. We once again are their only guests and the first of the season. The apartments are across and down the road from their villa up a lovely driveway though olive and wine orchards. It is set up high,very private,with lovely views. Our apartment is in the front (more of a little cottage) and was surprisingly spacious and comfortable. A big shiny kitchen with dishwasher etc. It had a huge living room with brick and beam vaulted ceilings. There was a huge bedroom with large glass door leading to a private patio. There was also another private covered patio with picnic table and chairs. Things are color coded here.

Our apartment is red and our shrubs bloom red flowers. The bedspread and dressy table skirt are red and white also. This place is right up John's alley and he LOVES it. He is walking around like he is king of the manor.

Casa Sola makes their own wine and olive oil (that is distributed in NY and NJ) and is quite good.

We asked the owners for restaurant recommendations. They do not serve meals here however the place sounded so cool we decided we could forego the meals. They gave us a couple of names and their favorite pizza restaurant. As you know we were quite tired so opted to go out for pizza. They said we would find it in the old town of San Donato a Pozzio. We had a hard time finding it and finally asked someone on the street who directed us. We went in and it was like a soda shop with pinball etc. This couldn't be right we said. It looked like a teen center. So we asked and were sent upstairs. Upstairs looked like the old church hall. Big with a stage up front. There were many tables set around with numbers on them and white paper tablecloths. We thought it might be some sort of big family party. However they ushered us in and seated us--presenting us with a very limited menu.

Time for a paragraph I guess??? Everyone around us was getting pizza so we did too along with water and vino del casa. We really couldn't figure this place out. Zero atmosphere, clearly everyone knew everyone else. We were "the foreigners!"

Our pizza was thin crust, crisp and so delicious with the freshest of vegetables. We devoured it and ordered another which went down almost as fast.

In course of our meal I mentioned we were staying at the Casa Sola. Our waiter's wife just happens to be the secretary there. He said "You must come to dinner here tomorrow night as my wife is the cook (Small World) and she is doing fish" (This was thru an interpreter and my limited understanding.) We said we would be back. We had to take our number to the cash register and were we in shock when the total bill came to 10 Euros!! (For two pizzas and wine , water) Now we KNOW we are returning tomorrow night!! They also refused to accept any sort of a tip!

We couldn't figure this place out. The answer to this puzzle will come soon.

We slept in on our first of three gloriouos nights on our vineyard until 8 am which is unheard of with us. We elevated my feet last night as they are swelled. A combination of too much walking and more salt than my norm. I should have gone into training for this trip?? My hair has been a headache and real problem so I have resorted to my hat wardrobe folks! Basically I am starting to fall apart here??

We hadn't stopped last night for juice or milk so we set out on an empty stomach to tour Chianti area. We found a pasticceria in Greve and had capaccino and brioche. John (apple of course) and all for less than $4E.
You couldn't buy a capaccino at home for this in some places. We are finding food bargains here left and right.

I must say the capaccino tasted so good with all the sugar I put in it!! (I don't use sugar very much at home but here it is giving me a litttle pick me up to start my days!! ) I am so-o stiff and hobbling around. Going downstairs is the hardest. Sort of a reverse osmosis of the calves!! Once I exercise a bit they seem to loosen up.

So today we drove for hours all through the Chianti area, Greve, Castelllini, Radda etc. We stopped at a couple of farm markets on Sunday which were fun. The back roads offer dream views and sights. We went off the beaten track a bit looking for Volpaia (which we never found) but stopped at a wine shop in teeny weeny Bada all Passignano. We tried just one glass to share of Tenuta, a Chianti Classico for 5E.and chatted with some Americans from Chicago who happened upon the place and were tasting. Most of the tasting places we passed were closed on Sunday. Keep this in mind when you are traveling)

By the time we found an osteria that was open on Sunday we were into Siesta time of 2 or 2:30. We ended up in a bar in Castellini and ordered "Italian Fast Food" Sandwiches and calzones they stuck in a George Foreman like grill. Not very good but cheap and filling. We also had some Chianti here.

The place was filled with
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Old Apr 26th, 2004, 09:34 AM
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By the time we found an osteria that was open on Sunday we were into Siesta time of 2 or 2:30. We ended up in a bar in Castellini and ordered "Italian Fast Food" Sandwiches and calzones they stuck in a George Foreman like grill. Not very good but cheap and filling. We also had some Chianti here.

The place was filled with men just sitting watching soccer. This experience felt like we were doing what many do in Chianti area on a Sunday afternoon.

We also stopped for a couple of gelatos before leaving town for 5E. I got John a jumbo waffle cone as he has been good today about his stomach. (Don't let my husband et overly hungry or watch out!!)

Back to Casa Sola to pretty up for our "Fish Fry"??? More about that on the next report as we continue on in Tuscany. Helen


Author: Reeder
Date: 04/20/2004, 08:37 am
Message: Well we blew the wad last night at dinner? Our waiter was so excited to see us arrive. He immediately brought out his wife Maria from the kitchen where she was cooking "the fish"!

In a weird way being the "only foreigners" was like being the guest of honor. While most of the diners didn't seem the least bit interested in us--when I made a little kid cry by pretending to keep his toy truck the whole room was laughing.

Of course there is more to this than I have told you. The kid was like three or four. In my VERY bad Italian I told him he was a "bueno hermano" (I know I know I was speaking Spanish) and I guess the kid sure as hell knew it wasn't Italian! He responded by yelling a word that sounded like "Papeety" to me. With this the room was in an uproar. Our waiter told me he was saying bambino or so I thought. He might have been swearing at me for all I know. Dinner?

Oh yes. Maria's fish meal was Italian clams (they are very small no more than half inch or so) and mussels over spaghetti in a red sauce. It was very tasty. We preceeded it with an antipasto, wine and water. and ended with biscotti and sweet wine for "dunking" they said. I was already stuffed so we only ordered dessert for my husband. They would not hear of it and brought out two anyway. The wine was served in 8 ounce cups filled to the brim with sweet dessert wine. The total bil for this was (are you ready?) 19.50 E.

Before leaving I went over to boy's table and called him "bueno hermano" once again (You see no one has told me yet I am reverting to Spanish) I think I am being cool and nice and kid starts screaming that Papeety word again as crowd goes wild. We leave hearing kid in distance repeating the word as we leave and are thinking this was another fun evening!! But was that kid swearing at me? You will have to wait and find out until I do in this narrative.

We are up the next morning at 8. I'm having yet another bad hair day so to heck with it--It will be another hat day. John had a couple of bowls of cereal and then we head in direction of little town of Monteggiore. It is a very small adorable town that was sleepy just waking up when we arrived. We had cappuccino and donuts at sidewalk table which ws more pleasant than I can describe here. We just sat and watched the town wake up, stores open etc. We walked around a bit, lit a candle, in the little church there and then headed for Montepulciano. (If you are in the area do stop and see this little town . For us it was a memorable special little stop.)

We were hoping to avoid the highways and enjoy the scenery but after geting lost a bit succombed to the Autostrada.
Montepulciano looks great from the outside but getting to the top of town requires truly the skills of a mountain goat!

The first cantina recommended by Rick Steeves was closed until 4 pm. Then we saw the church and lit a candle for Shawn. We have been lighting a candle in every church we find for him so the Catholic Church and Candle Companies of Italy are doing well by us. Sure hope Shawn is getting some benefits from our prayers upstairs.

The next cantina we tried was recommended by Kaen Brown called Cantine dei Redi. A man in the square assured me it was Aperto! The door was open and we walked (what seeemed) like 400 steps to the cellar where the kegs are. News Flash!!--place is closed so no way out of keg rooom but to rewalk up those 1000!! stairs I mentioned. I was talking a lot about goats here!!!

We then headed to a teeny town K Brown recommends called Montichiello. (It is enroute to Pienza and not to be missed) This is a very charming as she says unpretentious town--totally non touristy. (Population 120.) The drive in and out was spectacular.

As KB mentioned La Porta is a fabulous place to have lunch. It is warm and sunny today so we can sit out on the veranda and soak in the sun and panoramic views. Terrific. After our long drive and HIKING visit to Montepulciano it was the best respite of all.

Of course the wine and water arrived than a shared antipasto. John had spaghetti (a thicker type they called pica) with a ragu sauce (which he loved and devoured) I had ravioli stuffed with pecorino cheese, truffles in butter sauce which was superb. We also ordered grilled vegetables which were good. Our bill was less than 35 E. We walked around the little town visited the church etc.

We then went to Pienza where we found a good parking space closeby. (Pienza was much more level) It was very quiet there--just a few American tourists. We visited the church, did our candle thing, browsed a bit and left. KB had a couple more suggestion of places to visit between Pienza and Montalcino but in interest of time and fatigue we headed straight for Montalcino.

We were able to drive in and right up to the Fort. We checked that out and then on to a degustatione to sample some brunello!! We had brunello in Montalcino I can report. I am not a big lover of red wine or an afficionado but brunello does nothing special for me. I was surprised when John (the red wine man) said he wasn't that impressed with it either. Could fatigue be a factor? I don't know.

We also sampled Montecino grappa with honey!! Wow that had a kick!

Today we are missing our daily nap and really feeling the effects of our "vacation". I think in retrospect I should have booked us for a couple of days in the Montalcino general area so we could have seen it at a more leisurely pace.

Also in retrospect our time here at Casa Sola has flown by. My husband LOVES this place and the spaciousness and comfort of our apartment.(aka Honeymoon bungalow)

Since our "Pizza Place" is closed we stay in and relax with cheese and crackers wishing we could stay here longer. We will be back Casa Sola!! Tomorrow we are off to San Germignano, then Pisa and finally Levanto for a day in Cinque Terre. The "real" story of the "Pizza Place" unveils itself in next episode!
Chow! Helen


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Old Apr 26th, 2004, 09:36 AM
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Author: Reeder
Date: 04/20/2004, 10:19 am
Message: Tuesday March 16th. What a beautiful day today is!-clear, sunny and the warmest weather yet.

We got up early before 7 so we could have some time to enjoy Casa Sola for a couple of relaxed hours. I took many pictures of this beautiful place from all angles. John had some cereal--we showered ,dressed and left rather reluctantly.

We stopped at the Villa to check out hoping Matteo Gamburo, the owner's son, would give us a tour of the cellars. They make a great wine and also olive oil. Fortunately he was available and gave us a private tour.

A young man well educated in the science of winemaking and the process of olive oils. Matteo clearly loves what he does. It is not a large operation but quality all the way. We did buy some olive oil (as not available in US and yet another bottle of their wine 2001)

We also saw our "fish chef" Maria their secretary--remember her? So now we get the lowdown on "the pizza place"-- and the "kid", his outburst and my spanish "outburst"??? This is when I find out I was speaking spanish? Hello? And the word he was calling me was not bambino but an Italian word for "Idiot"!!!!--which I guess even to a three year old I appeared to be. (And I have a feeling Maria was being kind in saying the word meant idiot?? What do you think?) In any event the little "brat " got such a laugh with his outburst he will be repeating it for awhile.

It turns out our "Pizza place" was a community effort. The people of the town (population 1000) take turns volunteering on the weekends only at our pizza place. All the profits of this endeavor go towards maintenance of the building--which is in fact a teen center and offers lots of programs for children. So you see we were really having a great bargain, great pizza and supporting a local charity. If you are ever in this area on a weekend night give it a try. It could be particularly fun with a large group!! Now that I have solved the puzzle for you we will move on to San Gemignano.

Today is a very nice clear day and we can see San Gemignano in the vista from the Villa Casa Sola! I might add here that after yesterday we felt sort of "medieval towned out". However everyone says San G is not to be missed so off we went. Where we parked it was a hike up but not bad. We checked out the COOP grocery there (I just can't help myself) and found prices even for tomatoes comparable to our prices.

We sat outside in the square near the well and had capaccino and brioche. Delicious but more pricey than other towns ie Capaccino was 2.50 E each. It was pleasant sitting out in the sun sipping our caps and people watching. It wasn't too crowded --but lots of Americans.

I bought a few things here. We are not great shoppers on vacation. (MY husband hates to shop and I could take it or leave it) I did find a olive oil bottle with sunflower and bee on it I purchased for myself. They also had some cheese graters set in olive wood which were different and I got those for the kids, also one for myself. So for us --this was bigtime shopping!

We are now heading for Cinque Terre but took a quick stop off in Pisa! It was sort of a shock from all our travels thusfar--TRAFFIC!!! It was sort of a mini Rome with bicycles and motor bikes swerving in and out. It is a big college town it would appear.

We luckily got good street parking with a view of the tower. We followed a couple of teens to Palazzo Cavaliere. Fodor's recommends an Osteria de Cavaliere. We would never have found it on our own. Food was good. They had lunch plate specilals for 11 E. John had salmon steak with gnocchi and calamari and I had osso bucco with risotto. (This was not the best osso bucco I have had but John said his salmon was delicious.) We had 1/2 liter of wine plus water and we shared the salata ricci which was good. (We haven't been having our ususal intake of salads while in Italy) Our bill was 38 E and that included 2.50 cuperto each.

We then strolled back to the tower area which was so much smaller than I pictured. We only went into the Baptistery (and the church of course) for 5E each. A friend who visited Italy in January said for her the echoes in the Baptistery were bone chilling so we wanted to give them a hear.

Rick Steeves says for a 3E tip the man at the door would sing for us if we asked. Well I asked and he said "NO" --only for large groups. Here is where we should have flashed our tip first I guess. Well we had already paid our 10 E and I was determined to hear the echoes. Now the Baptistery had "SILENCIO!" signs everywhere but I suddenly turned into one of those obnoxious Americans we all hear about. I stood near the font and belted out a tune!! "O Solemeo"" not once but twice to my husband's shock and horror. A guard from above did scold me into silence.

Shortly thereafter a large group came in and for ^6E the man said he would sing for them and they complied. For all of 20 seconds he gave an operatic sound I swear. Figure that one out 6E for 20 seconds?? That guy probably drives a maserati??(sp) The echoes were awesome for me as it was difficult to appreciate my own fabulous echoes while singing under pressure!!

Soon we hit the road for Levanto where we are spending two nights to check out the Cinque Terre. We LOVED the Cinque Terre and the next narrative will tell you all about it! Helen

Date: 04/21/2004, 10:01 am
Message: We have just left Pisa now enroute to the Cinque Terre area, specifically Levanto. Levanto is a five minute train ride north of Monterossa the first of the five unique towns.

When planning this trip I had my husband's likes in mind and I just knew he was going to like the Cinque Terre!! I wasn't so sure about it as it just sounded STEEP!! I feared hiking straight up mountainous roads to see anything. It did turn out to be very steep but as you will see we figured out a way and managed just fine having a glorious day there to boot!

Levanto is a pretty rather compact town on the water. As KB says it is a faded old resort town but quite charming in its own way. However it is busy and active.

We are staying at the Hotel Stella Maris which is downtown on the second floor of an old palazzo. We had our choice of rooms (there are about 6 or 7) as once again we are the only guests. Owner is a very gracious lady who informed us they had just opened the day before for the season. We can feel the polish on the doors!

Such a different accomodation than last night. Perhaps 20 foot frescoed ceilings, heavy old furniture, chandelier in each room etc.

We had signed on for half board but she tells us now that her kitchen isn't open yet. I think she wanted the business so "forgot" to mentionn that in our correspondence. I am not happy about this but we shall see how it works out. I should mention that this hotel is the most expensive lodging for our entire trip including Venice. She will be serving us breakfast though.

We need to do laundry badly at this point and hope to accomplish that tonite or tomorrow. A week has passed and it just flew by. We can't believe it!

My notes tell me we wish we had longer at Casa Sola--by far our favorite at this point. Tomorrow we will walk to the train to Cinque Terre. I don't tell my calves about what is coming next!

Now about Levanto. We took a long walk before dinner down to the beach and all around. It was pretty at dusk and quite warm. The restaurant we were "assigned" to was next to the hotel and called Trattoria Cavour. We were pleasantly surprised.

We each had steamed mussels in wine herb sauce. Then John had spaghetti with seafood which he devoured, followed by a mild fish in foil with herbs, potatoes and olives. I had the lasagna with meat. It was good but different(more cheesy) followed by jumbo prawns cooked with brandy (It came flaming to the table) Quite good. We shared the special dessert which was cake topped with ice cream, and fresh fruit then a respberry sauce. We washed it all down with water and their house wine.

Another big day and we are tired. I was writing this part at 10 pm and I noted John is snoring away beside me.

We are taking the train tomorrow to Cinque Terrre. We met a couple at dinner who had hiked most of it that day. Not moi!!

Brekfast was served buffet style and was more than ample and generous considering just two of us in the entire hotel! We walked to the train station.

I have to add here a funny occurrence. Please know my husband is not a linguist and has no desire to become one. Wherever we go he tries to learn the word for beer or wine and that is all he needs to know. Now we think we are going in the right direction to train station so not quite sure. I ask a lady on the street in questioning way "Tren Italia??" She doesn't know what I am asking. I ask another person "Tren Italia" Again no clue. Now my husband pipes in "Statione??" And she says "SI Si " and points us down the road. At this point I hit my husband and he can't believe it himself. He is speaking Italian!!! Not sure if it is coming across as funny but we thought so at the time.

At the train station we bought a Cinque Terre Carte. It cost about 5E each. This is good for one day and you can ride the trains as much as you want, hike the trails, use the buses in each town and even ride an elevator up to Riomaggiore. It is an excellent value.

We went to the furthest town Riomaggiore first and planned to work our way back. (Not even a 30 minute ride with all stops before it included)

Rick Steeves gave us a walking tour of Riomaggiore (we took elevator up). Then John took off to hike to Manorola and I took the train (which was late) so John was waiting for me. We looked around a bit and then John took off to hike to Corniglia. I hopped on the bus (green buses you just hail anywhere). I had no idea what I was doing or where I was going but this ride stands out in my mind as the best experience.

The bus was going up up to the sky. (I was watching my watch here as I wanted to catch next train) They run hourly. As I said the ride was most interesting as I was the only "foreigner" on the bus!! Everyone knew everyone else on and off the bus. The bus driver was part of the constant conversation (several going on at the same time.) They waved (everyone on the bus except me) to everyone we passed.

At one point the bus driver said something about me and every single person on the bus turned around and looked at me. I think he said I had no idea where I was going and he was right. The bus went high into the hills (and the views were astonishing) before it turned around and returned to town. I made the next train by the skin of my teeth. I loved by bus ride and felt I got a small sense of life and people of Cinqe Terre

John was just arriving into Corniglia as I got off the train. He loved his first hike but for the second he took the coastside trail and halfway they had closed the trail. He decided to go on anyway. He said he climbed over fences, shimmyed down something. I didn't want to hear the rest. He probably could have been arrested and it was surely a dangerous hike. He was sweating profusely and done with hiking for the day!!

There are 365 steps up to Corniglia so the fool decided to do that.(Even Rick Steeves advises to take the bus) I waited for the bus which came (however driver took a LONG break.) I met John in town and we walked around a bit. This is the quietest town in my opinion of the five.

There was a restaurant there that KB recommends called Ceci but it was closed on Wednesday as were several others we were thinking of. John is getting hungry so watch out Helen!

We took the train to Vernazza which is just a delightful town. It is just plain cute with a darling bustling little harborfront.

We had an absolutely delicious lunch at Gambero Russo! We ordered the seafood antipasto for two @ $28. It was FABULOUS!!! They delivered it in several course. This was a relief after they showed up with one small first course (which I thought was IT!) I stayed away from the sardines and anchovies but loved the stuffed anchovies. Also on it were prawns, mussels, calimari , tuna with larde and stuffed mussels. But the best surprise was the carafe of house white wine--the white wine of Cinque Terre. I LOVED it!! It was so delicious--ever so bubbly. We also tried their ravioli with cheese in pesto sauce. Very good. They served us a complimentary sweet wine of CT with some sweets. Our waiter kissed my hand on the way out. We HIGHLY recommend this place.

We spent a couple of hours in Vernazza and it was to be our favorite of the towns. John had a gelato before we took the train to Monterossa.

Monterossa has the nicest beach and probably is the most commercialized but we like it. Have I mentioned the weather is warm, sunny and glorious today. It was the perfect weather for a trip to CT. John couldn't help himself but wade into the water (he said it was warm) in his jeans!! We walked along the beach and then hopped on the bus. We took a complete run of the bus up inn the hills on one side and the same on the other side. The views were terrific. Now John is experiencing the "bus ride feel". Again townspeople were chatting away and young bus driver was completely involved in all converstaion. (Bus driver left us off at a particularly picturesque place for pictures and came back for us ten minutes later.) The bus even stops at the cemetery which was a busy stop with older women visiting their beloved. One lady told me her husband had been gone for five years. It is fun trying to communicate although I am weak at it. I make two years of college Spanish go a long way along with my high school latin.

We caught the 5 pm back to Levanto which is a five minute train ride and walked back to our hotel. Cinque Terre is VERY special-- a little bit of heaven on earth. We would love to come back someday (and during an off season time like this without all the tourists) We are very tired but satiated. The best tired ever! Tomorrow we head for Lake Como and more adventures to come! Helen

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Old Apr 26th, 2004, 09:40 AM
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The last night in Levanto: I rested and wrote a long letter to friends who were most helpful in planning our trip. John (the darling) went to the laundromat. (We are dangerously low on undies!) He got lost and then the wash cycle took an hour. He was afraid the place would close before it was dry so he came home with the WET laundry!! We laid them out to dry all over the hotel (with owner's approval) Good thing we were the only guests.

Dinner again at Trattoria Cavour. John had the steamed mussels again and I ordered the cold seafood antipast that John helped me with. (This seafood antipast was large and excellent) John had the seafood pasta again, then grilled fish. I had stuffed mussels and a salad. Fish is the name of the game in this part of Italy for sure!!! We got the same dessert to share.

We met a nice couple from Australia on a one month trip and we had fun comparing notes.

I was tired but didn't sleep well. I went hard all day and in reality am the walking dead. For some reason right shoulder area is now very painful all night and into the next day.

We had another nice breakfast and owner's son in law gave me a bottle of white wine he thought we would enjoy. We checked out and headed for next stop Lake Como.

We had hoped to check out Portofino but passed it and with long ride ahead just pressed on --past Genova, Milano and finally to Bellagio.

Now this is a pretty approach coming into Bellagio with the lake so blue and the mountains as a backdrop. We were both impressed. It was as pretty as people would be.

We had a delicious lunch at Silvio's just on outside of Bellagio. We tried the seafood antipasto--their specialty which was very good. Then we each ordered lasagna with fish sauce and ravioli stuffed with fish. Both were very good but I loved the lasagna.

Apparently Silvio's people are all fishermen and the fish tasted so fresh. This place had a great sunroom with great views of the lake. It looked like a charming place to stay also. We would recommend it.

We walked around Bellagio for awhile waiting for our car ferry to Varenna. (Two people, 4 dr car--9.40 E) Bellagio is VERY pretty with tropical trees right on the lake. Quite nice.

The ferry ride over to Varenna was beautiful and kind of exciting. We got out the binoculars to check out our home for the next two evenings. It was right on the lake at the ferry dock called Hotel Olivedo.

Laura, the owner greeted us warmly and said we had a very beautiful room.on the third floor Room 25. No elevator here--STAIRS!!! John went ahead with the luggage(keys were left in the door) The room was nice with patio overlooking lake etc. We settled in-- and much later realized we were in Room 15 not 25. The third floor in Europe we were to find out is what we consider the fourth floor!

We stayed put even though the room upstairs was much larger and had two patios but why more stairs?? It appears to be a nice charming old place, big bathrooms and comfortable beds etc.

Candles were lit on the tables for dinner. Laura runs the show here and does't miss a trick. Laura takes the food orders and there are choices. We had pumpkin gnocchi and meat filled raviolis. The pumpkin gnocchi were good but the meat raviolis were the best I ever had.

We both ordered fish and roasted potatoes. The fish was good (I guess) but not filleted well (I hate getting bones in my fish) so John ate most of it. This man has been having a fine time for his stomach! Dessert was tiramiso and poached pears--both were good.

There are more guests here than we are used to perhaps seven couples. It is a small hotel. Most guests were American, one Australian couple and one from Spain.

John took a walk after dinner and I hit the bed with Laura's antique heating pad? (Quite a thing to see!!) My shoulder was really painful--not sure what that was all about. I took some extra nonaspirin, the heating pad and hit the hay.

Bright and early the next morning a big truck was lining up for the first ferry below our room so we got up and at 'em!! My shoulder was still sore but much better than last night. We readied for our adventure on Lake Como.

Breakfast was simple but ample--cereal, breads, jams, oj and my cafe latte with lots of sugar to get me going.

We were off before 9 to Mennaggio.(A one day ferry pass cost 7.50 each) I wanted to just ride the ferry from town to town it was so beautiful!. Not a real warm day but sunny. The shimmering lake, cute towns with mountain backdrop is spectacular! John wanted to walk the town which we did but little was open yet. We did find a Post Office and mailed a couple of letters I wrote.

Mennaggio was a nice town bigger than I expected. Then back on the ferry to Bellagio where we walked and browsed the shops some more. More steps here going up. My legs are beyond the point of pain by now--they are just numb!!

Bellagio is a very nice town but a bit pricey. For example I found the exact same things I bought in Deruta and Siena (both touristy places) for over twice the price. The Deruta products add Bellagio to the writing on the bottom which I guess makes them more valuable??

We then took the ferry to Cadenabbia which seemed quieter, very nice homes etc. We had a snack and glass of proseco (yum!) then caught the ferry back to Varenna via Bellagio. These ferry rides are not long --very very pleasant and efficiently run on time.

We then walked through Varenna which I found charming although not many shops, restaurants etc are open yet. John decided to hike up to the monastery (the fool) and I went back to the hotel.

He returned a couple of hours later complaining about his aches all over. (Could we have both picked up a bug?) . Of course when we both catch a bug his is always worse than mine. We napped for a couple of hours. John still doesn't feel right. He took some alka seltzer and a hot shower. He thinks some red wine may straighten him out.

John did fine with dinner that night although his stomach still doesn't feel right. Hello? (I have to tell you this man starves when he doesn't feel well and always feels he needs to feed and feed well whatever bug or illness he has!!)

We both had the meat filled raviolis which Laura said were a specialty of the area. Then we had a weak salad and sort of shared veal with wine and lamb chops. They were fine not extraordinary. (Do we sound like we have been eating too much for too long or what?) I think so. We ordered some desserts as well. We had poached pears this time with a custard and the tiramisu (which John sickly devoured)

I was busy chattting with several several of the other guests (this night all American) about our day and travel experiences in general. It was a very pleasant evening but we were exhausted after a VERY full day.

After breakfast the next morning we were on the road to the Dolomites! Hotel Olivedo was great for its location--very well priced, good value,(rooms were spacious and views to die for) however the stairs could be an impediment. I would say the food was ordinary--except for those raviolis!!

Next chapter on to the Dolomites Mountains and Tyrol Sud!!

Author: Reeder
Date: 04/23/2004, 01:54 pm
Message: I hope at number 8 I am winding down on my reports here. I was rubbing my eyes like crazy last night after a day on the computer, reading etc.

We are now on the road heading to the Dolomite Mountains. We took the back roads to and through the mountains. The views were absolutely outstanding once we hit the mountains. However the drive was uphill, downhill, and too many tight curves for me! I know it was a tough drive for John but he felt it was well worth it!

It took us about 4.5 hours of driving. Enroute we stoppped briefly in Bolzano and then headed for our hotel--or what I thought was out hotel???

Now in my defense in this area of Italy both German and Italian are spoken. Many hotels and businesses for that matter have two names as a result. once we hit the mountains the Tryrolean influence in architecture etc became apparent.

I confirmed our reservations in another hotel name but thought it was the name for this other place. Confused? Yes I guess I was.

Well John and I find our way to Hotel Uherhof in Bulla. What a place!! Divine!!I set up high all alone with the most beautiful view of the mountains. The place was new, cheerful. Balonies with views in every room I think. It seemed so charming and the people were very nice! I was excited and I could see my husband was as well.

We were at the WRONG place!! They had a room for us but of course we were confirmed elsewhere. The elderly lady there in broken English told us "Oh the place you are going is so congested and NOTHING like this!! I felt sick as we drove away!

Our real hotel Swatzer Adler was in Suisi about 20 minutes away. I was nervous but as we drove into Suisi --what a charming town it was. We found our hotel--the right one--Hotel Swartzer Adler easily! We could not yet tell from the outside.

However we were received so warmly with a handshake by owner's daughter who acted like she was expecting us. She personally escorted us to our room and proudly showed it off to us. It had its own patio with views of the mountain and a church steeple in between as promised. Our bed had two wonderful white down comforters on it and everything was light, bright immaculate. (yet warm) We like this place immediately. She told us we MUST take the cable car up the mountain and we agreed we would.

Dinner was a buffet of Tyrolean specialities. I ate too much of the hors d' table not realizing they would continue to set up tables with more food. Too much food but very good. Here they set up soups, salads, hors d' things as buffet and you are served your main entree. We appeared to be the only Americans there. There were both Italian and German speaking people there. It seemed hotel was filled.

I wanted to shop for wood carvings but the shops were closed Saturday afternoon and all day Sundays. Poor planning there on my part.

We were fortunate to have had a beautiful sunny day on Saturday as sunny was fogged in. They have a great transportation system in these towns to and from the slopes. We walked to the edge of town and took the bus with other tourists and mainly skiers and snowboarders to the cable lift. The buses are new and equipped to carry ski equipment etc. Being a Sunday I got to speak with many kids (who were taking English in school) and that was fun.

We took the cable car up hoping the clouds would burn off. They tried but no way. We hiked around on top a bit (Hello?) and both thought it was a good experience. I think they said the cable car was two years old. Each car could hold fifteen people and gear.

We had a very nice lunch at a busy cafe/bistro (I don't know what you call it in German/Italian.) I had a huge bowl of minestrone goulache soup and salad and John ordered Lasagna.(with wine) We know A LOT of food is coming tonite at dinner so trying to save room. It was a busy spot on a Sunday afternoon--lots of families. We sat between a German family and a large Italian family. It was a festive atmosphere.Bill was 14 E with no extra charges.

We had our lunch after driving through Ortesei and Castelrotto one more time. Charming towns also but everyone was on siesta or family Sunday dinner. We saw no one out.

We came back to hotel and relaxed in solarium at three before we each had a delicious one hour massage.(42E each) Me at 4 and John at 5. He did the sauna in between. Hotel offer both sauna and steam room. They also provide nice robes and slippers in the rooms.

We needed this respite since we have been to and done so much in the past 12 days. We relaxed under our down comforters until dinner. Hope they don't serve too much food.

I should add here that our masseuse did not speak a word of English which made my massage so much more enjoyable. I didn't even try to start a conversation. That was nice!

Dinner on this evening was delicious but again so much food. I watch in awe as those around us devour course after course and yet so trim!! John is thinking he is just about "wined and fooded out" at this point. We did not feel very hungry when we got to the dining room.

Our table awaited us with the remains of the wine from last night (nice touch) We just each had a glass of wine but drank lots of water with lemon.

They put our a salad table each night with wonderful offerings. There was a platter of tomato and mozzarelle, marinated ceci, various grilled veggies, carrots, lettuce with a multi choice of vinegars and oils and two different salad dresssings.

The soup pot was a clear broth with vegetables dumplings. Then came out a meat and cheese lasagna.(We are sampling these in VERY small portions.

The main dinner was breast of duck, duchess potatoes and glazed carrots. (As I've said previously I am not too sure about duck but this was so tender and delicious. (I ate more than John!--now that is a first) With his stomach still a little testy and his body so relaxed after his wonderful massage he really just wanted BED!!

Dessert was cheese filled crepes with a raspberrry coulis. First time John had neither his nor mine. We figured out that in the last 12 days (including both of our dinner desserts and some lunch desserts) he has had 28!! of them. So he could say no this once! We both collapsed before nine blissfully under our down comforters. Again i will repeat we have the best feeling about this place.

The next morning the sun was shining again (too bad we don't have one more day here) Church bells woke us at 7! We showered and dressed packed and went to breakfast. Same substantial breakfast buffet as yesterday yet neither of us feel hungry. I think I forgot to mention here that they had an orange juicing machine . It came out like blood red orange juice (so good) but the oranges were smaller orange inside with a tinge of red. John was my orange juice maker each morning.

We managed to get down a slow very good breakfast. We had fresh fruit cup, a bowl of muesli mixing three different kinds) topped with dried fruit, hazelnuts, and almonds, then cafe latte, a brioche (stuffed with preserves) and the juice.

I know I am going on in greater detail about this place and food. However the breakfast offering was the BEST of the entire trip and the most healthful to boot.

Patrizia and her mother Elsa ( a true family owned operation) could not have been more gracious to us. Both had excellent English I should mention. You could just tell they really wanted us to enjoy our stay. Elsa told me the people of this area are "special people" and she is right. This was a great choice.

Suisi is a charming town well situated in the heart of the Dolomites with great bus service for skiing and sightseeing if you will.

We left the mountain planning to stop in Bolzano/Bozen enroute to the Venice area. We both hated to leave and kept stoppping the car to catch a snapshot of this view or that. You really don't hear too much about the Dolomites but it is a true find if you go.

Next report we are on our way to Venice!!!

Author: Reeder
Date: 04/25/2004, 09:59 am
Message: Leaving Suisi and Hotel Swaztzer Adler we are going to work our way towards Venice. Where has the time gone we ask ourselves? How could we already be on the last leg of this trip!! But last leg it is and it will be to Venice where we have never been before. We are really looking forward to seeing this beautiful city.

Enroute we stop basically to shop in Bolzano/Bozen. We are loooking for a cooperative of wood sculptors from this region that Patrizia told us about. Bolzan is a charming little city for sure. We had a hard time finding this coop near Walther Piazza and I found little of interest. I did come away with a carved angel ornament for my Christmas Tree collection. We also found the shop with special ceramics that I had admired decorating our hotel.. I can't think of the name--perhaps Fund? or something
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Old Apr 26th, 2004, 09:43 AM
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Author: Reeder
Date: 04/25/2004, 09:59 am
Message: Leaving Suisi and Hotel Swaztzer Adler we are going to work our way towards Venice. Where has the time gone we ask ourselves? How could we already be on the last leg of this trip!! But last leg it is and it will be to Venice where we have never been before. We are really looking forward to seeing this beautiful city.

Enroute we stop basically to shop in Bolzano/Bozen. We are loooking for a cooperative of wood sculptors from this region that Patrizia told us about. Bolzan is a charming little city for sure. We had a hard time finding this coop near Walther Piazza and I found little of interest. I did come away with a carved angel ornament for my Christmas Tree collection. We also found the shop with special ceramics that I had admired decorating our hotel.. I can't think of the name--perhaps Fund? or something like that. Unique pieces but nothing that knocked me over so we didn't buy anything. We parked in underground parking under Walther--so convenient.

We then hit the autostrada and head for Trentino where the Council of Trent convened. We got very lost here and basically saw nothing and got back on the autostrada. Again we tried a stop in Verona--got a glimpse of the Plaza Bra but found parking impossible so we bailed out of there too. I think (no I know) we are both overtired at this point and may need to rest up for Venice experience.

I had intended we might stop in Vicenza but given our luck today abandon that idea. We head to our next stop a B&B (agriturismo) in Levada. It is called Gargan.

This place is about 30 km from Venice. In my planning I thought a night here and good rest with early start tomorrow to drop off car and get into Venice early would make sense. This place is north of Padua -they call it Padova)

It is STARKLY different to our lodgings of last night. It is an old house with very little English spoken. Once again we are the only guests. Our room is large overlooking the gardens--brick floor, antique furnishings.

Although there was a gate at the entrance we had to buzz in--it is not as fancy as it sounds. I was writng this while John naps. It is rainy and damp outside (as it will be for the next few days) and it is very chilly in this house.

I am sitting in a little room she directed me to which serves both as breakfast and (in our case dinner ) room and sitting area. She offers me a glass of wine which I happily accept. I don't see any fireplaces around. Luckily my husband is like a furnace at night and I suspect that may come in handy tonight?!

Dinner isn't until eight and frankly I don't know what to do with myself except write. I can't drive the car? Where would I go anyway? Would love to email the kids who are back now from their trip to Dominican Republic. Maybe she will let me use their computer?? I doubt it.

Overall impressions so far as I seemed to have the time right then. John and I have seen and done a lot--from the hills and medieval towns of Umbria, to the vineyards and olive orchards of Tuscany, to the sun and sea at Cinque Terre, to the beautiful lake and mountain backdrop of Lake Como. to the mountains and people of Tyrol Sud, and now just outside Venice and yet another sea! This trip may be too jam packed for most people but it worked for us quite well.

We did not come for a rest but to see and enjoy new places and experiences. It has been an adventure for us from start to finish.

Doing my research for this trip, starting months back, I had my husband's likes in mind and tried to get him to the places he would most enjoy. Each destination offered us something new and different. We have gained so much from the people we met and places we have seen.

My husband woke from his long nap (I know why didn't I nap in my exhausted state? I just don't "nap" that well.) We ventured out in what is now pouring rain to find an internet shop to check in with the kids. We soon realized we were in the middle of nowhere. We finally found a "biblioteca" and sent a free email. We then got so lost you wouldn't believe. Fortunately I remembered the name of the town we were staying at as we left with no books directions etc.

Since it was just "us"-- no need to dress up for dinner. Antonia (I now know her name) has set up a small table for us. She served a veggie quiche, then meat stuffed ravioli with meat sauce, thin sliced pork with zucchini and green beans. Dessert was ice cream with cocoa and shredded chocolate. We refused coffee and grappa but she INSISTED bringing out a tray full of homemade grappa saying "we would sleep better" We did so and ultimately did so. Antonia is very sweet and trying so hard to make us comfortable as her only guests. I am sure that having a couple of rooms filled in general makes it easier on the hosts as hopefully there will be conversation amongst the couples.

In any event we are far more comfortable here at this point after dinner. Could it have been the various grappa we sampled? I don't think so. Antonia is very sweet and trying so hard to communicate with us.

Antonia's son who runs the farm came in to talk with us after dinner. He had preety good English and we had an interesting conversation with him.

Our night was quiet and comfortable (and our room was warm!!) and we awoke to church bells again today. Breakfast was at the same little table and quite generous. A bowl of assorted fresh fruit, cereals, yogurts, baked cake, juice etc. Our stay here including wines and grappa was 110 Euros.

I found Antonia warm and charming. This place was a good choice for our purpose--an inexpensive restful stay and getting an early start in Venice the next day etc. It is quiet here and restful if you will. I think it is a good little stop inbetween here and there or just to catch your breath.

Our trip to Venice was only 30 km but a slow drive in the morning commute. Leaving our car at Piazzelle Roma was weird as we couldn't find the car rental drop place and ended up just parking car outside the office on the busy street.(as directed) We crossed the street and bought a one day pass for the Vaporetto and made our way down the Grand Canal for the very first time!! We are jammed into this vaporetto with all our luggage but are we excited!

Venice and our impressions in what I hope will be the last report. H

Author: Reeder
Date: 04/25/2004, 12:05 pm
Message: Okay guys--we are on the vapporetto going down the Grand Canal!! It is a damp chilly day but do we care? We are in Venice for the first time and both of us are excited.

It is very much like we pictured alll these years except we are finally here seeing for ourselves.

We get off at the San Marco vaporetto stop. Our hotel ---Hotel Flora--had sent us explicit instructions. We get lost just a little bit but it is fun.. We were to find everything we did and saw in Venice to be fun. In general we are not city people and this is the only city we have visited in our trip. John liked Venice from the getgo --a lot!!

We were greeted warmly at the Hotel Flora. I had read some not great reports about this hotel on this thread and others before we left. I in turn contacted the hotel about our room size as that was a complaint and was assured the room would be "a good size" I never knew what that meant? I also let them know we would be arriving before noon.

Our room was ready for us when we arrived before noon and it was a very good size overlooking the garden. We were pleased and I was relieved. I went immediately to make dinner reservations which Sergio at the desk very graciously did for me. My first choice was La Zucca. (I bought a copy of Chow Venice) Unfortuntely they were closed for renovation. (They should be open now ) So we made reservations at San Trovaso in the Dorsoduro area.

We settled in and then headed out to Murano and Burano. The hotel arranged for a free motor taxi ride to Murano. This was cool and saved us a great deal of time we would later find out as we took the vaporetto back. Basically it was a fun
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Old Apr 26th, 2004, 09:46 AM
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Our room was ready for us when we arrived before noon and it was a very good size overlooking the garden. We were pleased and I was relieved. I went immediately to make dinner reservations which Sergio at the desk very graciously did for me. My first choice was La Zucca. (I bought a copy of Chow Venice) Unfortuntely they were closed for renovation. (They should be open now ) So we made reservations at San Trovaso in the Dorsoduro area.

We settled in and then headed out to Murano and Burano. The hotel arranged for a free motor taxi ride to Murano. This was cool and saved us a great deal of time we would later find out as we took the vaporetto back. Basically it was a fun taxi ride through the side and back canals. I was a little nervous we would have someone on our case at end of the ride but we were left on our own.

We are not big fans of Murano glass. We did see a demostration or two and browsed the shops. Most appeared to be the "real" thing but many of the shops with tourist trinkets screamed "made in China" to me anyway. We then went to Burano which is a cute more charming island. We weren't interested in lace but browsed the shops a bit. We had some wine and a snack and took the long trip back to Venice.

We checked out St Mark's Square now and browsed some shops. Our hotel is not far from St Mark's near some upscale shops--down a little alley--. It was very quiet in the hotel's area. By the way we would really recommend this hotel.

We relaxed in our room for a bit and headed out to dinner. We took the V to Accademia nand it was easy to find from there. (it was also an easy walk from our hotel as well) We were early so stopped in a bar and tried our first "spritz" We had it with compari but my husband found it bitter so would have liked it with apernol better I think.

Despite the horrid weather we are managing just fine. John is liking Venice better than I could have hoped.

There was a large crowd outside the restaurant when we arrived. We were glad to have reservations. We ordered water and house white wine (which was good). John had the zuppa del pesce which was delicious and a meal in itself! I had vegetable soup. We then shared the tortellini with cream sauce and peas. The we shared veal in wine and a side of sauteed mushrooms. This was more than enough food for us. The desserts looked delicious but no way Jose!! Too full! Our bill was $47 Euros.

We were so pleased we made reservations for the next night. Our hotel had made reservations for us at Da Alberti for the next evening and we would decide later.

Our breakfast bright and early the next day was quite good. Delicious blood red orange juice, pastries, yogurt, fruit, bread and many jams etc. The hotel seemed pretty busy and most guests were American. March is a good time for rates I guess. Our room rate was $130.

We headed out to St Mark's Square and a tour of the Doge's Palace. The secret itinerary tour was filled so we rented an English tour tape and went on our way. (By the way the weather is still rainy and cold but we manage) We needed our winter jackets and hoods here for sure.

We enjoyed seeing the Palace and the tour took us awhile. We are not really into art per se so I think our tour was just fine for us. We moved on then to St Marks' Church which is quite beautiful.

Following this the hotel had made a special appointment for John and off we go to find it. He had a noon appointment with Benito (Rick Steeves' always has him cut his hair when in Venice!) He recommended this as an interesting diversion while touring Venice and it was for sure!

Since my husband needed a haircut anyway it fit in perfectly. Benito is located behind St Zulian's Church --not far from St Mark's. It is a one man shop. He has a female assistant who gives a massaging shampoo before Benito goes to work. My husband said it was like "haircuts used to be" Of course he still uses the old razor etc and gives a full 30 minutes to each head.

My husband and I were very pleased with the results and it was a very relaxing half hour for us both. I sat in the warmth of the shop and watched. John is very tactile and it was fun seeing him enjoying the pampering--not to mention how he loved the showing off!!! We kidded Benito about Rick Steeves' description of him as a sculpture--Michaelangelo of hair . It was fun and the haircut was about 22 Euros.

I didn't buy much here in Venice . I did find a Murano angel for my collection and a pair of stud Murano earrings for my daughter. Would you believe they had not a pair of studs on Murano? They were all dangly. I was to find both in San Palo area for much less later in the day than in San Marco area.

We then dropped things off at our hotel, took a bathroom break and little rest. We found our way to Vino Vino not far from our hotel. It is a little place and quite busy and bustling. I am told it is a favorite of the gondoliers. You look at food displayed in counter ( perhaps a half dozen choices) point to what you want, order wine and they deliver it to your table along with nice basket of bread. We each had white lasagna with vegetables which was delicious and a very large portion. The stuffed tomatoes looked good but when I went back to try them they were gone. My husband went back and ordered the stew which he devoured. The cold rainy weather and a haircut work up a man's appetite. Our bill was $28. Euro.

We then headed to the San Palo area where we wanted to visit a glass shop recommended in Chow Venice. I collect bees and he reportedly specialized in insects. Tiny shop, nice man--no bees. Too delicate he said.

We walked around this area a bit. Less tourists, charming and we found the shops etc less expensive. It was definately more our speed.

We did not take a gondola ride on this trip. It was very cold and wet and as such not very appealing or "romantic" I think gondoliers were having a slow few days here as not too many gondolas out and about. I asked one gondalier his price and he said $60 per hour which is much less than the going rate I believe on a nice sunny day.

Instead we took the vaporetto to the Ferrovia train station. From there we headed back down sitting outside in front of a slow vaporetto. As we rode I read to John Rick Steeves' tour of the Grand Canal. it was pretty chilly and wet out there but very interesting and John really enjoyed it.

We got off at San Marco stop. I went to find an artist there also recommended in Chow Venice but he had taken the day off I guess.

What we did next has horrified some on this post but we did it and I make no excuses. We were walking right by Harry's Bar in the late afternoon and I was telling my husband the story of it--its history, reported prices for a martini etc. Someone at that moment was coming out so we grabbed the door and went in. Now you must understand my husband is easy and would do whatever I wanted on this trip. It may be an" institution" but the front room was dark and non descript. The waiters seemed busy cleaning the place up. There was maybe one table with patrons. Noone even looked in our direction.Had I wanted to sit down we would have. I didn't. (So I am to blame and as such the foolish tacky one in this marriage) It was a long day and I needed to put my feet up so we turned on our heels and left. We did not act aghast as was suggested--merely turned on our heels and quietly left. I did say to my husband when outside "Well we have BEEN to Harry's Bar" I don't want anymore comments on this as I have heard them all. Perhaps had we sat and imbibed I would have a different respect for it but we didn't and I don't.

As tired as I was we found our way back to the supermercato we had browsed thru earlier in the day for some wine. I found it very interesting looking in grocery store comparing products and prices--not to mention seeing unique products we cannot find here. John ended up buying a cheapo wine he found disgusting and disposed of. We had had a very full day!

We had decided to do an early dinner so cancelled our 8 pm reservationsat Da Alberti and went for 7 at San Trovaso. We walked this time back to the restaurant. They opened their doors at 7 and the place was immediately filled.

John again had zuppa del pesce and I had lasagna. It was a very large portion and John finished that off for me. (His stomach is now all better) We then had fried prawns and salad which we shared. I really tried to save room for dessert but no way. Bill with water and house wine was $46.50.

We both would definately recommend this place for one night at least during a stay in Venice. We are not on a tight budget per se but like to be sensible with our spending. This place offers great food at affordable prices.

We then took a long ride to the Ferrovia train station (where John got himself a gelato) and rode the Vaporetto one last time down the Grand Canal--this time in the evening. It WAS pretty at night and romantic or as romantic as it gets for two old tired tourists.

At one stop my husband said "Here comes the Navy" and on come uniformed boys and young boys at that. They looked like babies to me. They had fairly good English and we learned of their Naval school in Venice. They came from all parts of Italy. It was the 16th birthday for one of the boys and they had been out to dinner to celebrate. He was so sweet. Before he left the ferry I asked him if he had received a kiss for his birthday and he said no. I asked him if he wanted one and he said "Yes" So I gave him the kiss his mother couldn't give him on his special day. Fun.

We liked Venice a lot and found it very easy to find our way around. It was very special despite the less than nice weather. I continue on these past few days like the walking dead. My feet are now quite swollen all the time and my knees are shot but I have been pushing on.

We depart Venice by boat (10 Euros each ) about an hour ride to the airport.. The airport security was very tight. Our flight Delta was fine and uneventful butlong.

We took the Ct Limousine home (but never again) Private limo service for us from now on! It took much too long. My feet are really swollen now to the point I am having trouble walking.

I crashed for two days on our return with my feet elevated. John never missed a beat and got back to work, tennis, golf and the yard right away!! It must have been ALL that good food and wine!!!

It was a great trip from beginning to end and exceeded all our expectations! It was one of our best trips ever. After 34 years of marriage it never ceases to amaze me how much we enjoy each other and get along. A trip like this (however hectic at times) just brings us closer and more appreciative of each other and what we share.

Italy--we love you!! Helen


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Old Apr 26th, 2004, 10:10 AM
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i am enjoying the report very much and look forward to the final parts..
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Old Apr 26th, 2004, 11:24 AM
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Great report. So fun to read. You write so honestly and with so much joy.
Have not been to Italy,but your report makes me want to go.
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Old Apr 26th, 2004, 02:02 PM
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Sorry but you have seen the sum and total of my reports. Our trip ended in Venice! Hope it inspires someone to go, gives someone at least one good idea or tip. I sincerely hope it helped you "feel Italy" with me. Perhaps brought you back to your own special trip there. My husband liked reading each segment and said "It was like taking the trip all over again!" which made it all worthwhile for me. We had a WONDERFUL time together on this trip--did I give you a clue of that? Helen
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Old Apr 26th, 2004, 08:15 PM
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Old Apr 27th, 2004, 04:55 PM
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Thank you for taking the time to write this trip report. I had a great time reading it and I can tell you had the best time living it.

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Old Apr 27th, 2004, 05:47 PM
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Dear Yipper:
Yes we had just the best of times and it has been fun sharing it with you all! H
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Old Apr 27th, 2004, 06:51 PM
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What a GRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRREAT report! It was so interesting to read, and will be very informative for people going to Italy in the months to come. Wish I were one of those people. Thank you.
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Old Apr 28th, 2004, 01:25 PM
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Old Apr 28th, 2004, 03:38 PM
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Old May 1st, 2004, 06:40 PM
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reeder---thanks for your reply to my comments...i often read late at nite and this must have been the case when i made those remarks...obviously the report was finished!!

i guess i read the report because we had just returned from an italian can read our very long report on this forum: "Venice and Florence Soujourn" in the italy section...we were there from march 5-17, 2004...

we are from outside boston and are about your ages so it is a bit fun to compare things....we leave three weeks from today for a month in thailand and bali....give some consideration to SE
Asia for a future trip....thailand is especially wonderful...this will be our 6th trip there in the last 10 years...reasons: wonderful people, cheap,fabulous shopping, great accomodations for a very reasonable price, lots to do, completely different from europe, great eastern and western food at 1/2 the american price and served more beautifully....etc...
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Old May 2nd, 2004, 10:51 AM
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I would very much like to learn more about your trip to Thailand etc. We are not sure of our next destination and your ideas sound terrific. Please let me know when and where your report is to appear. Thanks Helen
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Old May 2nd, 2004, 12:47 PM
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Just to let you know I did look up your report on Italy Sojourn, printed it out!!! and enjoyed it immensely!! You write stream of conscious style and it is so enjoyable!! It takes time and yet is clearly an effort of love!! Happy Birthday by the way to you both. I am "almost" there but not quite and not planning to observe any more birthdays as a result. Our next trip is a long 5 day weekend to the Cape this month where we met 35 years ago this summer so it is special to us. Somehow being there sitting in catatonic state staring at the ocean renews my soul. Happy traveling! H
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Old May 2nd, 2004, 08:09 PM
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helen...i posted a msg to you at the end of my soujourn report...can you go there and look at it..sorry
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