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Tales from Venice, Bologna, Pienza and Rome

Tales from Venice, Bologna, Pienza and Rome

Old May 13th, 2013, 11:06 AM
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Tales from Venice, Bologna, Pienza and Rome

We are back! After over a year of planning, it’s hard to believe that our trip to Italy is over. We had a fantastic time, in no small part to the help that I received on this forum. So thank you to each of you who took the time to respond to my questions, and to those of you whose trip reports I read and gleaned millions of helpful tips. I found trip reports to be the best source of ideas, so I am writing one in the hopes that I can also be of help to others…and perhaps a few of you will find it entertaining as well. Because travel wouldn’t be the same without a few mishaps!

I am a detailed planner like many of you and also am overly verbose, so if you like details, this is the trip report for you! We spent two weeks in Italy (April 25 – May 10) and visited Venice, Bologna, southern Tuscany, and Rome. In addition to the day-by-day, I will try to give insight into my planning decisions because I found that really helped me to read about others’ experiences. So…let’s get started!
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Old May 13th, 2013, 11:17 AM
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INTRO

Many of you have read this several times when responding to my questions, but to recap: My husband (39) and I (34) are exhausted parents of an almost-2-year-old and wanted to take a big trip prior to having another child. I am fortunate to have wonderful parents who flew across the country to watch my daughter, while the two of us skipped away to Italy. Travel is our biggest hobby (followed closely by food and wine) but our travel has definitely slowed down in the last few years once we became parents. Together and separately, my husband and I have visited many areas of the world, but neither of us had spent much time in Italy. This was my husband’s first trip to Italy (notwithstanding a brief border crossing into the Italian Alps while he was doing the Haute Route), and I only briefly visited Rome, Florence, and Cinque Terre in college…where I did no planning (What? You can’t see the Sistine Chapel on Sunday? Fine…then we’ll just head to Florence…What? You can’t see the David on Monday? etc.) I had a great time on that college trip, but for all intents and purposes, this was a first-timer’s itinerary.

We travel mostly to experience other cultures, which we find difficult to do when inside a museum all day. So while we certainly hit the biggest sights, we try to build in plenty of time for sitting in cafes and wandering around. For the most part, I succeeded in planning a trip tailored to our interests, though many people might find the items we skipped to be the reasons they traveled to Italy in the first place. You will find that this trip report is light on art museums and heavy on eating and drinking! We also really love to see new places by walking, so we did a lot of walking in each of our destinations.
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Old May 13th, 2013, 11:27 AM
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More, please! This will be good.
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Old May 13th, 2013, 12:21 PM
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I'll be following along, too! Can't wait for more.
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Old May 13th, 2013, 12:24 PM
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Thanks for the encouragement - I need it!

PRE-TRIP PREP

I am an obsessive planner and enjoy the planning of my vacations almost as much as taking them. I had originally thought that we would do a pretty standard Rome, Florence, Venice trip, thinking a week would do it. Rome was a must for my husband and I didn’t do it justice the first time around, and I really wanted to see Venice because of how unique it is. We just assumed Florence because isn’t that what you do? But when I inquired on Fodors about places to experience food (one of our priorities), I realized that Emilia-Romagna was a place we shouldn’t miss, although it hadn’t even crossed my mind at the beginning. And after reading trip reports and other posts, I realized the value in mixing in some countryside time. Since we had especially enjoyed our countryside drive during our honeymoon in Spain five years ago, it made sense. My husband hates truffles (blasphemy, I know) so I figured Umbria was out, but southern Tuscany looked great due to our interest in wine and beautiful scenery. But now, I had way too many places that I wanted to go in a week. We were lucky that we were able to extend our trip to two weeks (which got us more bang for our buck out of the cost of plane flights anyway), but we would still need to cut things out. So with the idea that we would return, we dropped Florence as a base (in addition to already having eliminated Pompeii, Cinque Terre, and the Dolomites, which were all early contenders), and settled on Venice, Bologna, Pienza, and Rome over 14 nights.

My advice – don’t book any plane tickets until you know where you are going, why, and what you want to see in each place. Because once you start looking into things, you might change your mind and you don’t want to make the mistake of booking plane flights that don’t optimize your itinerary. And remember, this is YOUR trip! Just because someone tells you that you can’t possibly miss the David or Pompeii or the Lakes or the Amalfi Coast (all of which well-meaning friends told us), doesn’t mean it’s the trip for you. I hope to visit all of those places some day, but we felt that the itinerary we settled on offered some good variety and fit our specific interests. And I only had to defend our choice of Bologna 50% of the time that someone asked about our trip!
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Old May 13th, 2013, 12:29 PM
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Well, let's get to it. I already enjoy your witty style.
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Old May 13th, 2013, 02:18 PM
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I can't wait to read more. We leave in a few weeks and I am so excited!
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Old May 13th, 2013, 02:32 PM
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MORE PRE-TRIP PREP

We started thinking seriously about taking this trip one year prior, but booking our plane flights last October sealed the deal ($1250 each on United/Lufthansa). We booked flights from the US into Venice and out of Rome. Open jaw is the way to go (another great tip from this forum), and if you input it correctly on the flight websites, the cost is no different. I kept waiting for a fare sale because we were flexible on our dates, but nothing was happening, and in the end just decided to go ahead and book flights so that I could start planning everything else. Fast forward to January, and I was re-arranging our seats online, and noticed that the last leg from Munich to Venice was no longer part of my itinerary! After a mild panic, I called United and they told me that that leg had been cancelled. They had no options to re-book me within my existing fare code at that time (though assured me that it would be booked eventually once the schedules were re-posted). While on the phone, I was looking up flights on my computer and found better routing that was less expensive! So I asked to cancel; they agreed since my original flight was no longer available. Then I booked the new tickets for $100 less per person! Woo-hoo! Seriously, that never happens. I searched on kayak.com to find the fares, but was routed to vayama.com for booking, which I had never heard of before. But I had no problems with them and everything went smoothly. The new route was still on United/Lufthansa.

I subscribe to the belief that doing a lot of planning in advance allows you to be more flexible once you arrive at your destination. Having all of the information up front let’s me make decisions on the fly once we are traveling, because I know what the options are or what the unintended consequences might be. I am certainly the planner in our family, so while I got my husband’s input on various decisions, I was pretty much in charge – just the way I like it! I swear he likes it that way too! I wound up with a pretty detailed itinerary where some days were more set in stone and others provided a variety of options depending on what we felt like doing. It was also a major goal to avoid overscheduling. Having a small child means we don’t get much sleep these days, so we wanted to have plenty of time to relax and were willing to sacrifice some sightseeing in order to enjoy afternoon naps and leisurely glasses of wine. And we have learned the hard way that overscheduling does not make a fun vacation, even if you aren’t exhausting from childrearing!

We are scrimp/splurge travelers. I try to save money in areas that we don’t value (luxury lodging, for example), but will spend a lot of money on a unique experience or a fabulous meal. So you might find it odd that at times, we spent more on dinner than we did on a hotel, but that’s how we like it!

One other challenge to planning is the exchange rate. How do you budget when you have no idea how the rate will fluctuate? I guess that is something that only overly-in-advance planners have to deal with! I just decided to plan for a 1.3 to 1 exchange rate and hope for the best, which luckily worked out well.

To research the trip, I used this forum extensively, as well as Slow Trav, Chowhound, and a few other random websites like Ron in Rome and Venice for Visitors. I also checked out numerous guidebooks from the library, and purchased two Rick Steves guidebooks (Italy & Rome) to take with us.

Okay…I’ve already written a novel, and we haven’t even gotten on the plane! But my next installment will detail the fun of flying during the sequester and our first days in Italy…
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Old May 13th, 2013, 03:05 PM
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You sound a lot like me and I can't wait to read about the actual trip. Keep it coming!
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Old May 14th, 2013, 03:34 AM
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Looking fwd to read more on your trip. Cheers!
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Old May 14th, 2013, 03:40 AM
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in...
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Old May 14th, 2013, 04:35 AM
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Hurry with the next installment...
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Old May 14th, 2013, 05:05 AM
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We started planning our next trip the day after we got home from one! We then kept a guide in the "reading room" for the next months and marked places that looked interesting. We generally had our tickets 4-5 months in advance.

Eagerly awaiting your next post!
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Old May 14th, 2013, 06:55 AM
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THURSDAY, APRIL 25 & FRIDAY, APRIL 26 – FLIGHT/VENICE

The morning of our departure, I was already receiving notifications that our transatlantic flight (Denver to Frankfurt) was delayed. Hooray for the sequester! It looked like we would probably miss our connecting flight from Frankfurt to Venice. I did hope we would make up time in the air – and it seems like flight times are padded so much these days that if you actually leave on time, you always arrive early. But I knew when I booked our somewhat close connection (just over an hour), that there were several more flights later that day into Venice, so I figured it would work out okay. I emailed our Venice airport transfer and lodging that we expected to arrive late, so that no one would be waiting around for us.

Our flight from Jackson Hole to Denver departed in the afternoon – great for getting a little more sleep that morning and not feeling rushed so that we could start off on a good note. We had lunch in the airport with a nice view of the Tetons and then our first flight went off without a hitch. We thought it was hilarious that they were making gate announcements to call your congressmen if you were unhappy with the delays. Once we arrived in Denver, as promised, we saw that our next flight was postponed. We spoke to the gate agent who told us that we had a good route and that we should make up a lot of time in the air and should make our connection – great news! So no need to go ahead and book a later connecting flight.

I hadn’t flown Lufthansa in ages. I had looked up the plane in advance and knew that Lufthansa was retrofitting our type of aircraft with individual TVs in coach, but had only finished about half of the fleet. I had also booked my husband and I on the side of the plane with 3 seats – one on the aisle and one at the window, hoping that no one would book between us and we would get the whole row. As we boarded, we walked through Business Class with bated breath (First Class was upstairs so that we peons didn’t even walk through that section) and ta-da! Individual TVs! We were thrilled because we knew that would make the 9 hour flight pass a lot quicker. We got settled in, remarked on the couple extra inches of legroom compared to a domestic flight, and kept our fingers crossed that no one would join us in our row. Fifteen minutes later we took off with the whole row to ourselves! Our travel luck was tipping in our direction and we weren’t complaining.

The flight itself was great. Plenty of food and drink and on-demand movies. European airlines are just so much nicer that US airlines. The little things, like offering brandy after dinner, just make it seem special. Of course, my husband feels that it’s necessary to accept every offer of booze – he doesn’t even like brandy but it’s free so why not! I declined except for one small glass of wine; I think he had 5 or 6 drinks. The food was even fine…my husband loved the tiramisu, but he can be pretty easy to please.

We arrived in Frankfurt and I was feeling good about our potential to make our connection. But Frankfurt is the weirdest airport. I swear we taxied forever and then we got off the plane and had to wait on the tarmac for busses to take us to the terminal. The bus drove circles around the airport, teasing me as we drove right past the announced gate for our connecting flight where I saw our plane still there. By the time the bus got to where it was going and we wound around through various security and passport checks, I knew we were screwed. Oh well. They had already booked us on the next flight, and we just needed to head to the customer service desk to get our new boarding passes. I was bummed that we had to wait four hours because I was hoping to have a little more time in Venice on our arrival day, but I knew there was nothing I could do about it, so chin up!

Now, you might be thinking, they are in Germany, Germans are known for their efficiency, I’m sure they will be through that customer service line in no time, especially because there are only about 10 people in front of us. You would be thinking wrong. I am not exaggerating when I say that we sat in that line for almost two hours, which especially given the short length of the line, was ridiculous. At one point, we did not move for 30 minutes. Maybe we should have gone ahead and rebooked while we were in Denver. But we made friends with our fellow line-standers and now I was grateful for our 4-hour wait! Once we finally made it to the counter, it took about 2 minutes for us to get our new boarding passes. Shouldn’t there be some kind of express lane for people that just need something quick?

At this point, we were totally exhausted from our overnight flight, but struggling to stay awake in the hopes that it would help with our jet lag. My husband, who can sleep anywhere, took a catnap on the lounger chairs in the waiting area against my advice, and I tried to read a magazine with glazed-over eyes. (How appropriate that the current issue of Vanity Fair featured an article on Audrey Hepburn’s life in Rome!) I also took the opportunity to go to the ATM to get our first chunk of Euros.

Our next flight went smoothly and finally – we were in Italy! We arrived on Friday around 6PM, about 5 hours late. This was excellent proof that you should not plan too many things on your first day because you never know what might happen when flying…and all things considered, we didn’t even have that big of a delay.

It was kind of surreal to actually be in the Venice airport and starting to actually do the things on my long-planned itinerary. But in a good way!

More soon...
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Old May 14th, 2013, 07:30 AM
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Great start - looking forward to hearing more!
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Old May 14th, 2013, 07:51 AM
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Thanks again for all of your encouragement. A newbie like me really appreciates it!

FRIDAY, APRIL 26 - CONT'D

We had pre-booked a shared water taxi through Venice Link (27E each).

http://www.venicelink.com/index.php?...hk=1&Itemid=43

I had wanted to start our trip on a “wow” note and after some spirited discussion on this forum, I decided that a shared water taxi was the best compromise of a wow arrival and our budget. We had considered the Alilaguna and the bus/vaparetto route as well. We walked to the desk, showed them our vouchers, and waited about 20 minutes for the other passengers to gather. We then walked down to the boat dock (my husband was impressed that I knew right where to go because I had even looked up these minor details). I should probably mention here that we did carry-on only, which was the best decision ever. We had no trouble walking to the dock which took less than 10 minutes. There were 3 couples making various stops, and we were the first stop! The weather was dreary and threatening to rain, so we didn’t have the windows or the back sunroof open. So everyone just sat inside and tried to look around (with me occasionally popping my head out the front to take some photos). For that reason, it was a little less “wow” than I had envisioned. But we got to our stop in no time, so for efficiency alone, I think it is a good option.

We were staying at the Ai Tagliapetra B&B, which I found through this forum, and I would highly recommend it.

http://www.aitagliapietra.com/

We paid 100E per night, including breakfast for two. Great location, the owner Lorenzo is friendly and helpful, the room was basic but clean, and most importantly, in expensive Venice, the price was right! We never even considered staying on the mainland – why travel all the way to Italy and then ruin your trip with a bad hotel location? I would much rather sacrifice the level of lodging for a good location. I’m not in Italy to see a hotel; I’m there to walk the backstreets of Venice once the daytrippers have left!

We called Lorenzo from a payphone at the dock and waited less than 5 minutes for him to meet us. He led us to the hotel, enjoying our first look at the canals and small passageways winding back to our B&B. It was probably around 8PM at that point, so after quickly getting settled in our room, we got a suggestion from Lorenzo for a restaurant around the corner. We sat upstairs and the atmosphere was perfect to feel like we were really in Italy, which still felt surreal. We had a carpaccio and parmesan salad, grilled vegetables, and a pizza with artichoke, ham, and mushroom. You will find, as in this case, that my husband and I usually share everything so that we can try more things. We also ordered red wine – we tried to order a carafe of the house wine, but had some language barrier issues with the waitress. We knew the house white was sparkling and thought she was trying to warn us that the house red was also sparkling. Since I didn’t want that, we ended up ordering the slightly more expensive “named” wines by the glass. In retrospect, I think that she was trying to tell us that the house wine was on tap, which would have been fine with us. Oh well, no big deal. With 3 glasses of wine, a bottle of water, and the ubiquitous coperto (is it coperti when plural?), the bill came to 52E. It was now almost 11pm after a long two days of traveling, and we were more than ready to sleep! Our flight delay had actually made it easier to accomplish my plan of staying awake until a normal bedtime, to help with jetlag. So we walked 10 feet back to our B&B and went to sleep with visions of Venice dancing in our heads!
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Old May 14th, 2013, 03:56 PM
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I am really enjoying your report! Keep it up!
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Old May 14th, 2013, 05:37 PM
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I really am enjoying your trip report. More, more,more,
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Old May 15th, 2013, 01:28 AM
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me too - hurry up - get writing
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Old May 15th, 2013, 01:35 AM
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Same here! Really enjoying reading about your travels - keep it coming!
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