Three Weeks in Italy - March/April 2006

Apr 19th, 2006, 12:22 PM
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Three Weeks in Italy - March/April 2006

Having sufficiently recovered from jetlag and unpacking, and my head finally clearing from the effects of a nasty cold, I am happy to report that, yes, three weeks in Italy is breathtaking yet exhausting. The luxury of a week in a city allowed us to thoroughly explore the hidden gems that we’d otherwise have to skip. (Okay, my feet have still not forgiven me. I tried to take a walk yesterday, and they said, oh no, not yet.) We were able to get past the “Top 10” and really enjoy the beauty that is only Italy, from the lively markets, to the oh-my-gosh-wow moments in the churches and museums, to the undeniable friendliness and charm of its people.

I have to add a post-trip aside before I begin. At the local grocery store the other day, once I finished paying and the cashier handed me my receipt, I automatically said “grazie” to her. She gave me this look, and I had to laugh. Oh, how I love grazie, prego, and all that’s Italian.

Itinerary

Lugano, Switzerland – 1 night
Venice – 7 nights
Milan – 2 nights
Florence – 6 nights
Rome – 8 nights

Hotels/Apartments

Lugano: Walter au Lac (walteraulach.ch) - sort of lakefront (street between hotel and lake) – typical Swiss double room, lovely balcony, probably only 3 rooms occupied. Best features are location and their superb breakfast room with big windows overlooking lake. Free internet in library.

Venice: Corte Grimani apartments (cortegrimani.com) – OUTSTANDING! Wonderfully appointed one-bedroom unit, large bedroom and living/dining rooms with wall kitchen area, superb location, and extremely accommodating staff, free internet in reception area.

Milan: Ibis Milano Central (accorhotels.com) – Clean, good value for short stay.

Florence: Residenza Il Villino (ilvillino.it) – lovely room with terrace overlooking courtyard, very quiet. Charming hotel a short walk from the sights. Owners are extremely friendly and helpful. Free internet in breakfast room.

Rome: Domus Termini apartment (homelidays.com, #68763) – beautifully furnished, large two bedrooms/two baths. Everything about this place was an A+, except for the location. This is a brand new apartment. We were only their second customer. The owner, Mrs. Bianchi, a retired schoolteacher, is as charming as can be. Her son was our interpreter. This was truly a gem of a home, not just your typical rental apartment. The dinnerware was even china! Having decided to go with an apartment rather late in the game, our choices were limited. This place was just across from the Termini station, and the neighborhood was – well, let’s just say it made me a bit uncomfortable walking past the groups of men hanging around in the evenings. No one ever approached me nor threatened me, but it just made me uneasy.

More later...
kopp is offline  
Apr 19th, 2006, 12:40 PM
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Hi kopp, I thought your other thread title was clever, LOL. I honestly thought you had typed 3 X's to represent the three weeks you had in Italy!! BTW, I have returned from long stays in Italy and have done like you, answered in Italian. Ever to the point of answering the telephone and saying "pronto". That has really confused callers.

Looking forward to reading the rest of your trip report.
LoveItaly is offline  
Apr 19th, 2006, 01:59 PM
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The hotel in Florence looks terrific. Can't wait to read mire!!!

Sally
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Apr 19th, 2006, 03:42 PM
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I'll top this for you, since your xxx post is still above it. Glad to hear about Corte Grimani - we'll be there in about 6 weeks!
missypie is offline  
Apr 19th, 2006, 03:57 PM
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LoveItaly - Yes, pronto is a favorite word. So great, don't you think? I love answering my phone that way.

Sally - Il Villino really was terrific. The proprietor, Sergio, was the perfect gentleman, even brought me a tray of tea one night when I was cold and tired. "Just thought you might like this," he said. Charming!

missypie - I hope you like Corte Grimani as much as we did. There's a great cafeteria nearby, too, if you're looking for good inexpensive food. Workers are a real hoot!

kopp is offline  
Apr 19th, 2006, 04:02 PM
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This will not be a play-by-play of our 23 days in Italy. Even I’m not brave enough to tackle that, and I certainly wouldn’t want to bore you with all the details. Suffice it to say that if you have Fodor’s Citypack guidebook, we saw just about everything in the top 25 for each city visited (except Milan), and then some. We also used the Michelin Guide to help us through the palaces and museums. Simply, I will try to list the highlight(s) of each city and give tips where I can.

Venice

The scene: We’ve just traveled across the ocean to arrive in Venice, the city of the Grand Canal, gondolas, and sinking palaces. Quick, hand me the camera while you look at the map. I’ll be right over there….wait a second…why won’t the camera work? Showing DH, I get the What did you do to it anyway? Stay calm, dear. Remember your blood pressure…. Yessiree, our wonderful year-old super deluxe Sony digital konked out not even five minutes after our arrival, never to work again.

All was not lost, however. DH always brings a backup, an older model that worked like a charm. Okay, no mega zoom and low-light gizmos, but considering we took about 4000 photos, I think I’m correct in saying we did okay with it.

There’s nothing like a cool, crisp morning to get your blood moving. Okay, it was downright cold, but we were prepared with our many layers, gloves and scarves. Felt like winter to us Texans, about 45-50 degrees tops for the day. Not really bad for touristing, though. Better than the sweltering heat of the summer when air conditioning is hard to find. Puffy coats everywhere, even grandmas wearing puffy coats. Lots of scarves, too.

We try to keep our purchases of guidebooks to a minimum. Just adds too much weight on a long trip. The two we brought back from Venice included the overview of the La Fenice Theatre and the Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari. Definite WOW moments. We marveled at the fascinating history and beauty of La Fenice, its fires and rebuilding, including the time they couldn’t get water to it fast enough because the canal had been drained for some work. And the Frari’s Basilica – well, words cannot describe its splendor. I am by no means an art critic, but the undeniable beauty of Titian’s Assumption and the magnificent altarpiece by Bellini certainly rank up there with Kopp’s Top 10 List Ever, if there ever was such a list.

Thanks to your recommendations, we had booked the Doge’s Palace Secret Itineraries Tour, which ended up being “way up there” on DH’s Best of Venice list. Being an engineer, he marveled at the rafters and beams way above the main hall. He’d asked a question about termites, only to be told that the wood had been soaked in saltwater for two years before construction to prevent the pests from invading the wood. And after all these years, those are the original rafters. It was quite amazing to walk on them and see the skill that went into their architecture.

Our week was packed with sights, from churches to museums to markets to boat rides. We visited Murano, Burano, Torcello (climbed the tower – when the bells started peeling, we made a quick exit down the ramps – talk about loud!) and Lido. We even saw an art auction at Ca’Rezzonico and a wedding party having their pictures taken with the pigeons in Saint Mark’s Square. Can you imagine? There’s the bride, resplendent in her white gown, with pigeons all over her. Eeewww!

We even had time to visit the Museo Storico Navale, a true gem of a museum, with full-scale models of Venetian vessels of all kinds, lots of old maps, and even some cannons.

We kept NYCTS’s handy-dandy guide to Venice restaurants and pizza joints with us at all times. Not ones to hunt around for a particular place, we had divided her list up into sections so that we knew what to look for and where. We had a couple great meals, many average meals, and lots of good pizza. Venice is filled with eateries, and the ones on the back alleyways are best, away from the throngs of tourists. It was fun to pick up a slice of pizza for 1E, then sit in one of the many piazzas and people-watch. Then we’d get some gelato and rest a bit longer. Okay, it was 45 degrees out and we’re eating gelato, but heck, we’re in Italy, and that’s what you’re supposed to do.

Anyone who has traveled to Venice knows what I mean when I say the “bag men”. They’re everywhere. Okay, give me a lashing, but I gave in and purchased a bag from them. It was just too much to hear them go on and on, starting at “special deal for you, madam, only 150 Euros,” then follow me around until they closed the deal at 5 Euros. Always on the lookout for the police, they’re quick to stash everything back in their bags and be on their way, only to reappear in a couple minutes.

I’ll be the first to admit it: I’m a Pashmina addict. One can never have too many, right? Well, okay, maybe 8 is a bit OTT, but they didn’t take up that much room. Yes, dear, I know we’ve got two weeks left. I promise I’ll be good the rest of the trip….

kopp is offline  
Apr 19th, 2006, 08:03 PM
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Great report so far! I'm looking forward to the rest and can hardly wait till we arrive in Venice this summer. I have spread the word throught my family that the Corte Grimani is going to be great!
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Apr 20th, 2006, 06:44 AM
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Addendum to Venice:

Oh, the missed chances for a Kodak photo op…

There are numerous cafes lining the promenade in front of the canal just passed St. Mark’s Square. It’s early morning, and the cafes have a spattering of customers. A woman, dressed in her puffy coat and scarf, coffee and pastry on the table, is chatting away on her cellphone, oblivious to those around her who are rather annoyed with her loud banter.

Out of nowhere, swooping down upon her, comes this seagull. With one swift movement, it snatches her pastry and flies away.

The woman begins what I’d call the “Classic Italian Hand Jive,” cellphone in one hand, other hand making these “what do you think you’re doing with my breakfast” movements, all to the delight of the customers who quickly cover their own pastries with their hands and look overhead for more incoming seagulls.
kopp is offline  
Apr 20th, 2006, 06:59 AM
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What a funny visual, kopp!

Welcome back and I'm truly enjoying your wonderful report. Can't wait to read more!
Statia is offline  
Apr 20th, 2006, 10:49 AM
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How wonderful, love your observations. Please tell us more and don't cut out too much!
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Apr 22nd, 2006, 06:38 AM
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I seem to be going backwards instead of forward. I was so excited about Italy that I forgot about our lovely 24 hours in Switzerland.

Landing in Zurich, then onto Lugano

I had heard this was a heavy snow year for Switzerland. We landed on March 17th, and the view (once we broke through the clouds) was breathtaking. Everyone on the plane seemed to get up at once to open the overhead bins and grab their cameras. Breakfast can wait. These are the Alps and they’re all aglow with the sunrise of the morning. I’m sorry if the baby across from me just fell asleep. I’m opening my window to capture the moment.

We had originally planned this trip to begin in Rome (the south) and end in Venice (the north), as that would have been the weather-wise thing to do. However, American Airlines was not flying into Rome until April, and we were departing mid-March. So we flew into Zurich. With that in mind, we didn’t want to have a 6 or 7 hour train trip to Venice after our 13 hour flight, so we chose Lugano as our first night, which was only a couple hours from Zurich. It would give us a chance to decompress from jetlag before tackling Italy.

I love the Swiss trains. They are so clean and quiet. And that whistle – oh, how I love to hear that high-pitch from the conductor upon leaving. Gives me shivers just thinking about it.

The ride to Lugano was filled with snow-covered peaks and rolling hills. Having left 85 degrees in Austin, Texas, this was quite a change of scenery for us. We were in the middle of our springtime blossoms, and they were struggling to get out of winter. Not a new leaf or a flower anywhere.

When you arrive in Lugano, you’re at the top of a hill. From experience, we’ve learned that there’s a nifty funicular that takes you to the bottom of the hill, especially nice when you’ve got luggage. Then it was a short walk to our hotel. Our room was ready for early check-in (no surprise, as we were one of only a small handful of guests.) But still, it was nice of them to let us in early.

Lunch gave me my first Rustica Pizza (topped with arugula) while hubby had a calzone. Yum! At a place called Pizzeria Tango, it was in the center of town, filled with business folks. We ate indoors as it just didn’t seem right eating outside wearing two jackets. Total, with drinks, 43.70 CHF.

After sleeping off a few hours, we needed to stretch our legs. Lugano is a summer resort. I can picture the promenade being filled with sunbathers and boaters. It’s a tranquil setting, with hills all around, making it very picturesque. There are a couple churches in town worth seeing (Cattedrale di S. Lorenzo and Chiesa di S. Antonio), with an especially lovely Last Supper fresco. We must have walked for two miles up and down the promenade, and there was hardly anyone to be seen. Wrapped in our jackets and scarves, it wasn’t exactly beach weather, but what a thrill to know we’d arrived and were on our way.

Dinner was at a charming café, also in the center of town. Ristorante Cantinone served a lovely Piccata Milano and Osso Buco with a to-die-for risotto. Filled with locals and even a couple dogs (very well behaved but such a strange site to see in a restaurant), we enjoyed our only dinner in Switzerland for this trip. Total 65.40 CHF.

At night, the town twinkles with the streetlights shining on the water. The traffic has slowed, and it’s literally a ghost-town. Settling in for the night, knowing tomorrow we’ll be in Venice, we dream of gondolas and gelato.

It’s Saturday morning, and we’ve got 2 hours before our train leaves for Venice. There are shops everywhere, and the markets are in full swing. But oh, the candy and pastry shops had their display cases filled with Easter goodies. I have never seen so many chocolate bunnies in my life! Can you imagine tasting a Swiss chocolate bunny? Well, of course I had to – okay, make that several. And then the eggs – well, you have to try those, too. So beautiful. I mean exquisitely crafted eggs, too pretty to eat, decoration pieces really.

Lugano is a shopper’s paradise, from high-end jewelry stores to clothing to shoes. I wish I could figure out how to post pictures, as I’ve got a shot of this pair of shoes adorned with jewels – amazing!

Okay. Now I’m all caught up. Since I’ve already written about Venice, next up will be Milan.
kopp is offline  
Apr 22nd, 2006, 08:24 AM
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Loving your trip report - thanks so much. Can I please just double check the website for the rome apt - I have only managed to find a site in French and with almost all French accommm and (so far) have not been able to find a way to translate it - can I just confirm it is correct and then I will persevere! We stayed at a hotel in that area a few years back and know what you mean but we would certainly consider staying there again if the right place came up.
eliza3 is offline  
Apr 22nd, 2006, 08:28 AM
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Hello eliza,

Once you click on the homelidays site, there is a small British flag near the top. Click on that and it will change to English. Then just type in the apartment # and it should take you to the place.

Like I said, aside from the area it's located in, the apartment was really lovely, large and beautifully furnished. And the owner is such a love!

If you want more info, I'm happy to oblige.

Happy travels!
kopp is offline  
Apr 24th, 2006, 01:06 PM
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40 hours in Milan

The purpose of our side trip to Milan was simple: AC Milan vs. Firenze. Big football rivalry, tickets available, DH is huge fan. Marriage is a compromise. We compromised: you go your way, I’ll go shopping! After all, Milan has some of the best shopping in the world.

Milan gets a bad rap. It never seems to be high up on anyone’s must-see list for Italy. Granted, it doesn’t have the romance of Venice or the art of Florence. However, each time I visit, I come away with something special, and this visit exceeded any expectation I had.

We arrived in Milan mid-afternoon, checked into our hotel, and took the subway to the Duomo area. As luck would have it, the entire front façade of the Duomo was covered with scaffolding and large tarps, making it completely obscured from view. Saturday afternoon mass was being held inside, so we only took a peek. The square was packed – and I mean packed with people. Now I know how sardines feel all squished in their cans. So what to do now until mass is over? Well, it’s Milan and Odeon Gelato is right over there, so let’s go. OMG – I have never seen so many gelato eaters in my life, all gathered in one tiny shop. Pushing and shoving, yelling and elbowing. Quick, pay the cashier first BEFORE ordering – I can’t breathe in here, just get anything that’s chocolate.

Okay. Better now. Church is out, we tour the Duomo. Wow! So massive, yet so stark and bare compared to the opulence we’d seen in Venice. In the past we’ve been able to take a walk on the rooftop, viewing all the pinnacles and spires, but this too was closed, probably due to the construction.

With game time approaching, it was time for an early dinner. Wanting just something quick and cheap, we ate at the Autogrill, a local cafeteria-style place with a great 5* view to the Duomo square. We have cafeterias here in Texas, but none like these. The salads were so fresh, ones that you fill up as much as you want on your plate, and they charge you by the size of your plate, not what’s on it. We had some wonderful cheese ravioli and also a couple veal steaks, freshly grilled. With wine, total was 26E. What a steal!

I love the Milano Galleria area. I love the way the Milanese dress when they go shopping, in their finery with fur coats for the ladies and gorgeous suits for the men. There’s this huge department store that must have 10 different levels. The kitchen department always calls my name. I love kitchen gadgets. Okay, so I just had to have this silver-plated soft boiled egg holder set. (And yes, the eggs taste so much better now!)

Oh, AC Milan won, 3-1, just FYI.

Next morning, we have reservations at 11 am at the Maria delle Grazie to view the Last Supper. (Several years ago, we had been attacked, literally, by a band of pickpockets. So this time I was going to be ready for them, purse locked, pockets empty. However, much to our relief, there were none to be found.) We had purposefully arrived early, about 10 am, hoping to get in early as this was our only real full day in Milan. This fresco was being restored the last time we were there, so now it was back to its original coloring. It is quite something to view, knowing the history, knowing the story, and to be standing in front of daVinci’s Last Supper is – well, it’s quite humbling.

Next on our day’s itinerary was the Pinacoteca di Brera, with masterpieces by Bellini, Veronese, Caravaggio, Van Dyck, Rubens, Reynolds, Raphael, and Tintoretto. Quite a collection of artists and unbelievably stunning. From one room to another, we continued to be amazed by its beauty. Quite a gem of a place, highly recommended.

Then there’s the Castello Sforzesco. This is a collection of several small museums, from musical instruments to archaeology to sculpture to art. Our favorites were an unfinished sculpture by Michelangelo, Rondanini Pieta, and the armor collection, including the armor for horses.

Dinner was at Farinella, a yuppy-style place near the castle. Special of the day was spaghetti with clams (shells included), very light and delicious. Packed with movers and shakers, this was a lively spot with a younger-crowd ambience.

Later that night, we went to the termini to purchase tickets for our train trip to Florence the next day. We noticed the clocks read 9 pm, while our watches read 8 pm. Light bulb goes off. Guess we weren’t so early for the Last Supper tickets after all – it was daylight saving’s day, a week earlier than we have here in the States.

Next: Florence
kopp is offline  
May 4th, 2006, 06:35 AM
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Florence…or “I thought we were going in low season?”

I have never seen so many student groups in my life! They were everywhere, like bees on a honeycomb. Piazzas, museums, churches, restaurants, and even the gelato shops were all filled with students. At Fantasy Gelato one afternoon, there was a particularly talkative and giggly group of high school girls, arms heavy-laden with packages filled with all kinds of treasures. “So, what have you enjoyed most about Florence, this city of the Renaissance, art treasures and sculptures?” In one voice, they all yelled out, “Purses!” “And how about Rome?” “Shoes!” they proudly exclaimed, showing us the shoes on their feet. In the museums, it was quite humorous to watch them with their teachers and lecturers. While a couple students up front would actually be listening, most were in the back, donning that glazed-over look that’s a cross between boredom and sleep deprivation. Many were actually playing games on their phones or I-pods, sitting in corners, while the teacher went on and on about this or that.

Getting into the Baptistery brought into mind Moses’ parting of the Red Sea. The swarms of kids sitting, chatting, yelling, and sleeping were unbelievable. Money well spent by parents? Well, I’m sure they got something out of their trip. Just not sure it’s what I’d have in mind.

We’ve all been through junior high and high school. We know what it means to fit in and look cool. But on the days when they’re going to beautiful churches and other places of worship, why can’t they dress a bit more appropriately? Call me prudish, but I really think a church is no place for mid-sections to be showing with low-rise pants and crop tops or for baggy jeans hanging down practically to mid-buttock, showing half the boxer shorts.

Enough of my rant. Time to get down to the business that is Florence, a splendid city with treasures galore!
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