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trip report: Family trip (2 weeks) in Italy

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Jul 8th, 2006, 11:50 AM
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trip report: Family trip (2 weeks) in Italy

It feels like I have been planning this trip forever, and the depearture day finally comes. We have an inauspicious start...the car we have hired to go to the airport arrives late, traffic is everywhere...we manage to takeoff, but 8 hours later when we land in Rome, the driver from the hotel (who I did confirm by email) is no where to be found. In addition, I realize I have thrown out the luggage receipts...what a start!

But the driver finally comes (after 4 phone calls to the hotel and a 30 minute delay), no one asks to check the luggage receipts as we leave the airport, and so off we go. As we drive into Rome, I pinch myself that we are really here! Even the drive from the airport is interesting, and we arrive at the hotel energized by finally being in Rome, and ready for a walk around.

First day in Rome-
Our hotel is a few blocks from Piazza Navonna, and the first thing we do is walk to the Piazza, stroll around and admire the Fountain of 4 Rivers, and after a quick lunch (pizza in a small pizzaria off P. Navonna, where I try ordering in Italian after 2 months of listening to language tapes in my car...surprisingly, I am understood!), decide to walk to the Pantheon and around the Centro Storico. En route, we have our first (of many) gelatos...and I have to interject that while many people on this site have their favorite GELATERIAS, it is all good!

Nothing can prepare you for being in the Centro Storico, and seeing the Pantheon for the first time. It is simply amazing. We also walk to a few of the churches and piazzas in the area, where around every corner there is andother jaw dropping church, statue, whatever. In one church, there's a Michaelangelo statue that you can just walk up to; in front of another, a fabulous Bernini statue in front. The whole experience is fantastic, and while I saw and did many wonderful things during the trip, I don't think I ever felt that same sense of initial wonderment as I did that first afternoon.

By the way, we quickly learned that the people collecting "admission" at the entrances to these various churches (which are all free, as you check your quidebook) are scam artists and beggars posing as admission officials. Someone told us that as we were digging around my purse for the "admission" price to get in!

At around 4pm, DH and DD(age 17) go back to the hotel to nap, and my son(age 12) and I continue to walk around. I had by this time put the guidebook aside, (while I am glad of the research that did before traveling, sometimes you need to put aside your itinerary). For instance, en route to the Trevi Fountain, we hear drums and what sounds like a parade, so we follow the sounds to what turns out to be the changing of the guard at the presidental palace. Also, we encounter the Time Machine movie, which was not something I had planned to do but had read about. It is kind of a cheesy amusement in that part of Rome, but at that point a half hour of sitting in an air-conditioned theatre is a nice break and gives my son a little background on the history he would be encountering over the next few days. It is good for a laugh or two (the intro is interactive, like the beginning of "who wants to be a millionaire, where the person to anser a historical question on Rome first on their keypad gets the most points), and while even my son thought it was kind of stupid (I give it a it serves it's silly purpose, and we continued on feeling revived. We wander a bit more, seeing the Trevi Fountain (crowded but beautiful), Spanish steps (I really don't get this...so overrun with people and vendors, it had no charm for me), and take pictures of every piazza (Piazza Colonna, and a few others), column, obelsisk, and statue...of which there are many, one more amazing than the next.

I am afraid that that my enthusiasm for all the sights and history in the area outlasted my feet; we get back to the hotel a little after 7pm, after getting lost in the winding streets; DH and DD are ready to go out again, and my feet are killing me! Of course, DH and DD want to see all the sights we just saw, so we decide to take a cab to the Piazza Del Popolo, and just walk from there approaching everything from a different vantage point.

We decide to walk and just stop for dinner wherever we end up, whenever we decide we are hungry. After all, I have been told that "you can't have a bad meal in Italy", and I decide that despite the many notes on restaurant recommendations I have in my purse, we are better off just wandering than having a set plan for dinner. I will comment more on this later, but suffice it to say I had some of my best meals this way while in Italy, as well as some of my worst. Then again, we didn't like every restaurant that came highly recommended, either, so I am not sure what the best approach is.

We arrive at Piazza del Popolo, and DS spots a street vendor who rents a segue for about a half hour in the piazza, which DS thinks would be the coolest thing ever. But it is our first night in Rome, and I decide that the vendor will probably be there every night, and I vow to bring my son back at a later date, so we don't stop (by the way, I went back TWICE with my son, the vendor was not there either time, and I never heard the end of it!). Anyway, we walk down the Via del Corso, pass the Spanish Steps, end up at the Trevi fountain, and en route find kind of a touristy restaurant where we eat outside and everyone likes their food. We wander back to the Piazza Navonna, which has a very nice scene at night, with artists and street performers, etc. out and about, and enjoy the evening.

Day 2 in Rome-
After a nice, typical Italian hotel breakfast, the overall plan for the day is to meet a guide that I have hired at the Colosseo at 2:30 pm., as she says that it is a little cooler to view everything in the afternoon shade, and mentioned the possibility of a breeze picking up in the afternoon. So we don't have much of a plan for the morning, and we start the day by going to the Campo Fiori. It is beautiful, and we really enjoy the openair market. After, I look at the map and see that we can walk to Trastevere via the the old Jewish Ghetto area, none of which looks too far, and so we decide to do this. We get lost a few times (actually, a lot!), stumble upon a sight I didn't even plan to see but was amazed by (Octavians wife's garden, in the Jewish ghetto area), tour the synagogue, and walk to Trastevere (amazingly beautiful, with a very cool old church in the main Piazza there. I love this area, and make a mental note to try and come back. We find a quirky place for lunch with an even quirkier owner (enough ice...no more!), but the food is excellent and we enjoy it. We then take a taxi to Colosseo, with time to spare.

Unfortunately, it is blisteringly hot, so we decide to find a cool place to sit while we wait to meet our guide. We find a bar about two blocks away that is airconditioned, and sit and drink the most expensive diet cokes and iced tea of our trip -- but the price of the AC made it worth it. We meet our guide, who is so knowlegable and helps us really understand what we are looking at, and there was no wait to get in because of a special line she was able to take us on; we really enjoy visiting the ancient Roman sites with her.

An aside: my husband anticipates that both kids will have a hard time paying attention to the guide at the colisseum, because of the heat and general fatigue that starts to set in. So he makes a deal with the kids before we meet her: he will pay them $1.00 for each good question asked (25 cents for a less than brilliant question). After 10 minutes with the guide my son asks so many questions that even the guide comments that no one has ever asked her certain questions!!! It turns out to be a costly deal, but at least they both paid attention! Sometimes, bribery works!

Anyway, after 3 1/2 hours touring the ruins, I can see that the kids attention (despite the deal) starts to wane, so they go back to the hotel and I have Daniella to myself for the last half hour. It is an exhausting afternoon but truly remarkable. I highly recommend going to these sites with a guide because you learn so much, and even both kids said they were never bored, she kept it very interesting for them. Without a guide, I am sure it would also be fabulous to see, but the guide definitely puts everything you see in it's proper context.

Anyway, we are exhausted by the day, but are revived after a late day espresso in a local bar. I decide to head back to Piazza del Popolo to look for the segue guy, but enroute Italy wins one of the World Cup games and soccer madness ensues. People are driving the streets honking horns, waving flags, and apparantly (and unknown to us) Piazza del Popolo is where all the locals head when Italy wins at soccer. When we get to the piazza, there are news crews, demonstrations of noisy fans,and so much general hoopla and cheering that we have no choice but to leave and head to another area of the city. We wander back towards the hotel, and have a great meal at a little restaurant recommended to us right next to our hotel. Another full and enjoyable day!

Day Three (last day in Rome)-

I realize there are many sights I am just not going to get to see this trip...my family is tired and we have planned to see the Vatican this afternoon with a guide, so need to conserve our energy for that...

We a ave a nice breakfast at the hotel, then walk to the Castle Sant'Angelo, which is near the hotel and en route to the Vatican. I love the bridge to the Castle, and the view of Rome (after a lot of steps) from the top is beautiful. I am glad we stopped there. We walk to a street called Borgo Pio, and our goal is to find an airconditioned pizzaria or place for panini. we do, not great food but good enough; we never quite get the hang of whether to tip, or whether table service is included...but realize that we probably have been over-tipping and try to be more aware of this aspect which seems different in every restaurant you go to (service included, vs. coperto included but service not included). we go off to meet our guide at the vatican.

At this point I should add that our guide charged $55/hour for our family of four, and we used her for both the colosseum and ancient roman sites (4 hours previous day) and for the Vatican for 4 hours. She was kind of expensive, but an expert on the history and the art, so I did enjoy the perspective she provided. That said, I think we could have enjoyed the Vatican just as much without the guide, (but not so the Colusseum), but that's just my perspective. the Vatican is absolutely amazing, we spent time in the antique sculpture garden, walked down a hall of wall maps of Italy, saw the Sistene Chapel, and toured St. Peters basilica. I know we only scratched the surface, but it was magnificent!

As far as the line to get in, the advice we received from our guide was to go at mid-day, as the line to get in is often much shorter at this time and she wasn't given any special priveleges to get in faster. We went at 12:30 and only waited 40 minutes on line to get in , and the line moves pretty quickly. We met some families during our trip who never did get in to the Vatican, because they encountered a 3-4 hour line, so perhaps the time of day we went made a difference.

THe Vatican blows us away, but after we are hot and tired, so we decide to take a cab back to our hotel, which is walkable but we are really beat. Now comes my "almost ripped off as a tourist in Rome" story --

We were well around of our hotels location in relation to the Vatican, and when we went over the bridge back into the part of Rome where our hotel was, it was clear that the cab driver had gone well past P.Navonna and was planning to take us for a bit of a joy ride. When I questioned where he was going (useful to know Italian, as well as the geopgraphy of the local streets), he finally pulls over (closer to Campo Fiori than Piazza Navonna, even though our hotel is North of P. Navonna), he adds insult to injury by doubling the price on the meter!!! through slight of hand, he takes the meter (which I had been watching) from 5E to 11E!!!
Anyway, I pay him the origingal price on the meter, we have a bit of a shouting match (in Italian and English), and he ends up throwing a few small coins at us out the window of the cab. My kids think the whole thing is very exciting and we now have a story to tell.

We stop at a bar for coke lights and espresso, and decide to go shopping on the Via del Giubbanari for DD. She finds some pretty clothing to buy, and we set out once AGAIN for Piazza del Poppolo for DS segue ride (no luck). Mom sees a few churches there that she wanted to see before leaving Rome, and we head back to the hotel.

As for dinner, I want to go to Trastevere to a recommended restaurant, family is kind of tired. So we pick a local place and have the worst meal of our trip. Not the best way to end our time in Rome, but so be it. Anyway, Rome is charming, and 3 days is just enough for a taste, but not enough time for all the other things there are to see and do. I was blown away by its beauty its energy, its history and its treasures...and will have to come back some day. My kids loved it too, but they are ready to move on. Arrivacerci Roma!

Next update,(to be be continued) in Siena....













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Jul 8th, 2006, 12:00 PM
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Hotel info: the little place we stayed at worked fine for us, but it turned out to be the smallest of all the quads we had. We didn't have much extra space there...on the other hand, it was airconditioned, had a spacious and new
bathroom, and we spent the least amount of time in the room in Rome than any other place we stayed.
Name: Residenza canali ai coronari, $255E per night utilizing the 10% discount they give you for paying in cash. good location for walking to everything. We were in room # 4, but I must say that I thought it had a slight musty smell, which no one else in my family objected to. Nice people at the desk, very helpful.
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Jul 8th, 2006, 12:24 PM
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Dishonest taxi driver, a shame ronnie. And now they are having wildcat strikes because the Italian government plans on deregulating them. You and your family had a lot of beautiful times and a few irritations. Lovely and informative report. I look forward to the rest of it!
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Jul 8th, 2006, 01:41 PM
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love italy:

On the subject of wildcat strikes, the taxi drivers happened to go on strike the morning we were leaving Florence...so my entire family trekked through the streets in the early am pulling our wheeled suitcases along behind us to get to the train station. Good thing wetook the advice here and packed light!
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Jul 8th, 2006, 01:57 PM
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Ronnie, we are enjoying your impressions of Rome so much! Looking forward to the rest of the trip report.
Is this what your son wanted to try?
http://www.segway.com/
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Jul 11th, 2006, 05:35 PM
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Next installment: from Rome to Siena

We leave for the Rome train station early, not knowing what to expect with Trenitalia, and get there with one hour to spare. Trenitalia people in orange vests were very helpful, and the yellow machines to validate our tickets were everywhere, just as reported here. (it also helps to know the word "binario = platform, which we quickly figure out). To get from Rome to Siena, we have to switch trains in Chiusi, and have about 20 minutes between trains to make our connection. Well, our train ends up departing Rome about 21 minutes late, which makes me worry about the tight connection in Chiusi.

Once we arrive in Chiusi, we find out our platform for the connecting train, then sprint with our suitcases down steps, across a long hallway, and up steps to get to our train with about two minutes to spare (it, too was running late). Another good example of why you need to pack light!

Well, once onboard the train to Siena I can finally sit back and relax, and enjoy the scenery, which is just the way I have always imagined Tuscany to look...rolling golden hills, fields of sunflowers, grape vines, olive trees, small farms. I am enjoying the views, and we arrive in Siena before too long. At the train station, lots of people are queued up for the taxis, but taxis are few and far between. Buses come and go, but they are extrememly crowded and we do not want to attempt the bus with two kids, four suitcases, and no idea where the Palazzo Ravizza is. Finally DH spots one of the few cabs, copies the phone # from the sign on it, calls the # for a cab to the train station..voila, two minutes later, our taxi comes.

Our room is not ready so we go out and explore Siena on foot. Siena is an amazing place, and from the first step it is clearly a very different and unique place. We have arrived three days before the Palio, which may have something to do with my overall impressions, but I am charmed by everything about Siena. The winding narrow streets, the contrada flags everywhere, the wrought iron details on the buildings, the medieval feeling of the place. We stayed in Siena three days, and I just loved it. The more I wandered the streets, the more I felt that I was in a very special place.

Anyway, back to the trip report. We have a delicious lunch of pizza, pasta, caprese salad and espresso, then walk to the Campo, where DS is intent on climbing the tower. Their rule at the ticket booth is that a kid under 14 cannot go unaccompainied, (and DH and I don't do well with heights or small spaces), and DD doesn't want to go either... but a lovely family (the Murphy's from Seattle) volunteer to let my son go up with their family. A half hour later, he is back down and raving about the views and great pictures he has taken.

Next on my itinerary is the Museum Publico to see the exhibits, expecially the fresco of good and bad government that I have read so much about. Well, I have seen many impressive frescos in Italy, but this isn't one of them--I am not sure what all the hoopla is about! But hey, we saw it. I actually enjoyed some of the other exhibits in the museum, but overall it wasn't what I expected.

Family is a bit tired, so we go back to the hotel, and the room is ready...Oh my goodness, anyone who ever goes to Palazzo Ravizza must stay in room #4! I am pinching myself, it is so pretty, with a charming balcony overlooking the garden and hillside beyond. This hotel was the one splurge of the trip (for one night), and I am totally enjoying this room (without the kids,too!). They have a room two floors above us, and I simply hope they don't make too much noise and disturb the people around them.

I guess I don't have to worry about that, because my entire family crashes and goes to sleep. I decide to walk around on my own for a bit, and let them sleep for a few hours. The nice thing about this is that besides just wandering, I can check out some of the museums and churches I have read about which might be less interesting to the family as a whole. Even though my feet are absolutely aching, I wander and take lots of pictures, and enjoy visiting the Bapistry, St. Catherine's church, some Hospital "museum", all of which I enjoy. Siena is a place where you can basically toss out your map, because every corner is labeled in a way where you can orient yourself quite easily.

On the way back to the hotel, I stop into various neighborhood food shops, gathering goodies as I go...salami, olives, cheeses, bread...to have wine and hor's doerves on the balcony when I get back. Shopping like this, I feel like a native!

I get back and rally the troops, we nosh on the balcony as the sun sets, and then (after about an hour and a half of strolling ) we go to dinner at a very interesting restaurant called Enzo's. My family is still talking about this meal! I say interesting for the following reason: after the bad meal in Rome, I decide not to take my chances, and instead take the recommendation of some Italian colleagues of my husband who live in Florence. But, I had no idea that this restaurant would be as gourmet and upscale as it was (I think I asked (via email) for recommendations of trattorias that were not too fancy but had very good food -- but this must have gotten lost in translation!) Anyway, this is the type of restaurant where the chef( Enzo)has prepared a starter ( a delicious soup), as well as delicious homemede breads,which they bring to the table with some kind of spread, as well as bringing you fluted glasses of some delicious sparkling wine, and only then --after that delicious beginning --do you order from the menu.

I will spare you the gastronomical details, but the meal we had at Enzo's was phenomenal from beginning to end...it also cost approx $150 E! This was not "the plan", but hey, sometimes you just have to go with the flow; I will just have to check out the restaurant recommendations more carefully from now on. We go to bed absolutely full, and very content.

Next day in Siena...

Enjoyed the breakfast at Palazzo Ravizza on the patio. We woke up early in order to view the pre-palio activities in the Campo-- this morning they will run races in order to select the horses that will compete in the race. We get to the campo shorly after 8, and gradually the place fills, with tourists but also many Sienese who are there wearing their colors, sitting or standing together by contrada. We love learning about the Palio history and rules. Spirits are high and there is plenty of pomp and ceremony, even though this is only a "pre-trotta" event. There are cannons that go off before each race, the mayor and other town dignitaries in the viewing stand, police clearing the track, lots of fans. The races start, and we even see a few races where the jockeys fall off their horses and after the race people have to catch the runaway horse! It is all very exciting and we are very lucky to be in Siena at this time.

After it ends, we walk to the Duomo (gorgeous and unique)and are awed by the black and white striped marble designs and decoration, and also enjoy the side room (library?) with beautifully illuminated manuscripts on display. Hunger strikes and we are hot and tired, so end up having a very good lunch in a nice restaurant with airconditioning, then leave the P. Ravizza (sadly) for our next lodging where we have a room for two nights, called Borgo Grondaie, which is a short distance outside the city walls.

It is HOT, so we are so happy to have a swimming pool. The hotel turns out to be a little oasis right outside the city of Sienna, and we feel like royalty in our little villa apartment, complete with private patio and beautiful gardens surrounding it. We swim all afternoon, and I also do some laundry (I guess I feel a little less like royalty as I am hanging the wash, but hey, at least the views are spectacular!) and my family is congratulating me on finding this wonderful hotel.

After a few hours poolside, DS and I walk to the local supermarket to buy some supplies. Visiting the supermarket was one of those experiences you don't really think about when you plan a trip, but we enjoyed noticing all the differences between it and what we are used to at home. After a long shopping trip (which included having gelato and espresso in the supermarket!) we walk back with our purchases and have a bountiful feast on our patio. It is just amazing how good the food is (and how much we are eating) on this trip. We watch the first palio trotta on TV (my original idea was to go in to the Campo to see it, but family is tired), and then decide to walk to a local restaurant recommended by the hotel for dinner.

We set out with map in hand, and 10 minutes later end up at restaurant called Le Carillon. The remarkable thing is that this is just a little local place...nothing fancy at all...but we have the most amazing meal (maybe our best yet), including a seafood risotto that is to die for, in this little local place. It is 10:30 at night on a Thursday, and the place is hopping! We return tired, and reflect on another very incredible day.

Day 3- Siena/Tuscany

We enjoy sleeping a little later, and after a lovely hotel breakfast, our tour guide Natalie picks us up at the hotel. Since we are traveling through Italy by train and have no plans to rent a car, our plan for this day is to go with a guide who will drive us around so we can see some of the surrounding areas.

Natalie is an amazing guide...charming, friendly, knowlegable, and fun...and she really establishes a nice rapport with the kids. For the record, her contact info is: [email protected].

She has planned a full day for us as follows; head out of Siena on the Chianti Classico road, stop to look around Castellina in Chianti, a very lovely little town, then go for lunch in a wonderful tuscan trattoria in Greve, (sorry I forgot the restaurant name),where everyone's food was very good, and I had a delicious pesto, and a tuscan tomato based soup, with maybe some bread in it, that was amazing), visit a family owned winery (Montagliari) and its cellars with winetasting (they had delicious chianti and super tuscans, and also had excellent 20 year old balsamic vinegar and olive oil to taste), visit the castle of Vicchiomaggio (beautiful views), and then head to San Gimignano. The kids were engaged the entire day, as we all were. It was a very full day, but so enjoyable that I left convinced that I have to return to this region some day!

We get back to Borgo Grondaie very tired from the day but happy to have visited so many beautiful places. After a long swim and feast on goodies that we bought during our travels, and after we watch another trotta on TV (again, too tired to make the effort to go into Siena to see it), we decide a little later on to go into Siena for a last look at the place, and a late dinner at a restaurant that Natalie has recommended. When I inquire about buses into town, the woman working at the desk offers to drive us in after she gets off work. This courtesy was just typical of the Borgo Grondaie, everyone we encountered there was so nice. Anyway, we decide to forego trying the city buses and take her up on her offer. The soccer game (World Cup, semi-finals I think) is being played and we know that it will be a little crazy afterwards if Italy wins, but off we go.

As we walk through the streets of Siena, we encounter two contradas having their pre-Palio dinners. We arrive at the restaurant but have to wait a bit for a table, but we are right near a square where people are watching World Cup soccer on a big outdoor screen that has been set up next to a church. We watch a bit of soccer and then head into the restaurant. We decide to try only local specialties...wild boar sauce on some special pasta, steak Fiorentina, some appetizers, even limoncello after dinner...we like (but don't love) everything we try, except for a delicious chocolate torte for dessert.

We call for a taxi when we get the check, but the taxi driver is not happy about having to drive us to Borgo Grondaie because many of the streets in Siena are closed due to the events of the Palio, and he has to detour all the way around the city. The restaurant owner intervenes, and convinces him to take us, and off we go for a hair raising drive through Siena. It feels like we are going 80mph in streets designed for 30mph...DD asks everyone to fasten their seatbelts, DS thinks it's great! We arrive in one piece, and the driver ends up reducing the price from what is on the meter, apologizing for the longer route he had to take. We give him a nice tip, and go to sleep to the sounds of distant street noise and airhorns, the sounds of Siena celebrating Italy's winning the soccer game.

To be continued...
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Jul 11th, 2006, 06:37 PM
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The Palio and the World Cup? Wow! You have incredible timing and a great trip report so far.

Diane
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Jul 11th, 2006, 07:11 PM
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Nice trip report, Ronnie. As I was reading about the location of your hotel, I kept thinking it really sounded where we stayed, and sure enough, it was. The location of Canali ai Coronari is really great, isn't it? I really liked the quad room we had there - it was actually 2 rooms and 2 baths, and I thought it was quite the bargain. Neither room was large but having the 2 connecting rooms was really nice.
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Jul 12th, 2006, 07:16 AM
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Great report.

We did not enounter the scam artists insisting on a "donation" to enter a church until our very last day in Italy - in Venice. I admit that I fell for it, but heck, it was only 5 euro and the old lady probably needed it much more than we did anyway.
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Jul 15th, 2006, 06:43 AM
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Trip report: Onto Florence and Venice

We get to the Siena train station early, to take the bus to Florence from Siena. For anyone who has to plan transportation in Italy, you will see something called E* link on the Trenitalia website, which turns out to be a very comfortable coach bus (silly me, I thought I was taking a train, I guess the Trenitalia website isn't that clear!). Anyway, the ride is quick and comfortable, no stops, and we arrive in Florence an hour later.
We take a cab to our hotel (Relais Uffizi), which is on a tiny pedestrian alley off the Piazza Signoria (right near the copy of the David!). It turns out to be our most comfortable hotel room yet, a very spacious quad loft room, with big walk in closet, and the location is very convenient. We store our bags and set out to see Florence on foot.
I have tickets for the Uffizi for later in the day. I have heard that Florence is a "walking city" (but what Italian city isn't?), so the plan is to walk around, get our bearings, see the Duomo, and have a nice lunch before going to the Uffizi. We walk slowly up a major shopping street to the Duomo; there is a short line, but it moves quickly. The Duomo is beautiful outside, oddly stark inside. We also see the Bapistry and those famous doors, and a few interesting churches in between. It is hot and there are tons of people around, and after a few hours we decide to stop for lunch. We have our second bad meal in Italy...complete with surly waiter. It causes me to reflect, and realize that what is common to both experiences is that we have walked to the point of exhaustion, and end up in a very touristy area, not taking the time to be selective about choosing a restaurant, instead choosing the first air conditioned place we can rest our feet with an open table. I resolve to check out the menus and plan our meal stops a little more carefully.
Well, after lunch we decide to rest in the room until our 3:30 reservation at the Uffizi. We nap for about an hour, then decide to have have a little snack on the P. Signoria before tackling the museum. It is quite expensive (comes to 18E (!) for one espresso/gelato/fruit and Diet coke -- I realize we are really in the "high rent" district and everything around our hotel is very pricy.

Now about the Uffizi: you may think we are a family of neanderthals, but here is my take. I am the only art lover in my family, and I kind of feel that these huge Renaissance museums aren't all that enjoyable. We spend about an hour and a half wandering thru...it is very hot inside, and while we all find something we like (in my case it was the amazing Botticelli room, for daughter it was a special Leonardo da Vinci exhibit) but overall, it really isn't anyone's cup of tea, especially coming one week into the trip when we have already seen so much amazing art and statuary in Rome and Siena. We regroup, and decide to wander to the Ponte Vecchio.

The bridge is scenic -- maybe even beautiful-- but it is simply one fine jewelry store after another, which is not at all interesting to me since I am not in the market for expensive jewels. DD spots some pretty bracelets in one store which at 15E make nice gifts for her friends, but now I am really worried about what we are going to do in Florence for three days...expensive stores, lots of Rennaisance art, and tons of people, and gelato that costs 6E on the Ponte Vecchio...I am sorely missing Tuscany, and wonder if I have made a huge mistake planning to spend so much time in Florence. I wonder where are all the Italians who live and work around here...where are the stores with fruit wine, bread? I am starting to feel like I am in tourist hell, and for the first time since I have come to Italy, I have lost that magical feeling of BEING in Italy....
After a long and tiring day we plan to go to dinner, and decide on a place that was recommended by one of my husbands Florentine colleagues; it is a a bit far (on the other side of the Arno, and a good walk at that), but described to us as a local trattoria that Italians visit, not too touristy...so off we go.
I suppose the trip gods were not smiling on us, because we have the waitress from hell, who constantly ignores us. It takes 15 minutes for menus, another 15 minutes for water, meanwhile everyone around us gets served, and is laughing and drinking and having a grand old time. DS is cranky by now, and we are sitting outside and he is getting bitten up...everytime we ask for something, it is a big production with this waitress(tomato sauce on the side? we don't have any!), she treats the most simple request as if she has been asked for the impossible. DH's simple chicken dish takes 1 1/2 hours to prepare, my side dish of beans never comes, no one is happy. We walk home cranky and unsatisfied, and that ends my first day in Florence...what a disaster!
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Jul 15th, 2006, 07:37 AM
  #11
 
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Your trip sounds very nice. Wife and I saw many of the same places and sites last summer. We were lucky enough to get tickets (a seat) at the Palio and it was the most amazing thing I have ever seen. When you go back to Tuscany splurge and go to se the Palio. you will not be disappointed.
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Jul 15th, 2006, 08:36 AM
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continued...

THe next morning begins with a lovely hotel breakfast in a quiet room overlooking the P. Signoria, and our plan for the day is to see the Pitti Palace in the morning, the Accademia in the late afternoon, and wander and see whatever strikes our fancy in between. The admission for the various parts of the Pitti Palace comes to 60E for the 4 of us, and after the Uffizi experience yesterday I wonder if it will be worth it, and how we will have the energy to see it (from the outside, it is huge). All I can say is that this turns out to be my favorite place we visit in Florence, and it really helps you understand the vast power and wealth of the Medici...It is just incredible.We take our time wandering rooms filled with art, furnishings, costumes, and other treasures, and end up in the Boboli gardens behind. Family enjoys (and I absolutely love) visiting this palace. Afterwards we wander through the Oltrano, looking for a place to eat. It is Sunday, and many places are closed, but down a narrow street near a big church we find a place. It is simple, but wonderful...very nice friendly waiter, good food, lots of locals...this meal restores my faith in Florence! We decide this little restaurant is our new "favorite place of the trip, and we linger for a good while over our meal.

Now here is where traveling with a family sometimes throws you a curve...I have a 3:30 appointment time at the Accademia, it is 2:00, and my family decides they have had enough of museums and they are not going. So be it...they head one way, and I set out to wander a bit and then see the Accademia on my own. I stop for a little espresso (80cents...take that, Starbucks!), a little gelato(you can never have gelato too often in Italy, and I daydream about opening up my own Gelateria), and just walk and take photos. I enjoy the various street artists and performers that I encounter in some of the piazzas, including an aspiring opera singer in the Piazza Republica, and as I wander I decide to buy bus tickets for the #7 bus to Fiesole, which we can use later.

The line for people without tickets at the Accademia is quite long, and since I have 3 unused reservations (i had reserved for my entire family) I decide to approach someone at the end of the line and do them a favor of saving them the wait. I approach a middle aged couple who turn out to be Norwegians on a holiday, and I am sure they think I am trying to get something from them. I explain the circumstance of my extra reservations to them, and they are kind of skeptical but in a leap of faith they come with me and we walk right it. I buy the tickets for all of us, they try to pay for my ticket which I refuse, and then we go our separate ways.

What can I say about the Accademia...it is all about the David, which is magnificent. I enjoy the visit, which is short because the musuem is quite small, and then wander back to my hotel. Overall I have a wonderful day wandering Florence, and though I am tired I feel excited by how much there is to see and do here.

I reconnect with my family at 5pm...and decide to take the kids out with me for a while, while DH naps a bit longer; and we will all meet a little later to set our for Fiesole. I had passed a nice shoe store during my wanderings, and it is all the enticement I need to get my daughter excited. We stop for a little espresso, more gelato (why not?)and then DS is patient while sister and mom try on shoes. shopping for shoes with my 17 year old daughter is an experience in and of itself. She tries on yuellow polka dot flats, turquoise and white striped heels (when would you wear them, asks mom...when would I NOT, she replies!)Anyway, kids are on a budget for the trip, so she puts a pair of shoes "on hold", deciding to shop more the next day, and off we go to meet up with dad and onto Fiesole.

Fodorites...this excursion was one of the best tips I got on this site...and it was one of the "must do " things to put on your list. The bus ride up there is lovely, and it is a perfect way to end a day in Florence, wandering this little town overlooking the city, and then relaxing and enjoying the early evening as you sit in the Blu Bar sipping a glass of wine at twilight. Truly memorable.

DH has made a reservation for dinner at another place that his colleagues recommended, so after a long while enjoying ourselves in Fiesole, we board the bus back to town, stroll across the Arno, and find our restaurant (4 Leoni). I highly recommend this beautiful restaurant, and we have a wonderful, slow, delicious meal there. We wander back, and reflect on what what truly a great day in Florence.

The next day is our last in Florence. We decide to plan our day more around shopping than museums; although there are a few places I still wish I had visited, it is Monday and most are closed. We start out stopping in the office of my husbands colleagues, just to say hello, which is right on the Via Tournabuoni, and we make a plan to meet a few of them later for drinks before dinner.
We head to the San Lorenzo market, which I had heard so much about, but it is really very junky and I don't know what the fuss is about. DH and DS have had enough of shopping after about 15 minutes, so we decide to separate and the boys go one way, the girls another, and we decide to meet up later in the day. DD and I persevere at shopping, but other than a fake Fendi handbag that my daughter has her heart set on (and bargains down from 95E to $35E), we really don't know what the big deal is about shopping in Florence. Everything is either very expensive, or kind of junky, and we don't really find anything we want to buy except some scarves, ties, and t-shirts as gifts.

We do have a fabulous lunch (Tratorria del Olio--you can work up quite an appetite when shopping!), and we learn that the boys have spent their day climbing up something called Fort Belvedere...then we meet hubby's colleague for drinks, have one last dinner in Florence. I know I have really only scratched the surface of Florence, and hope to come back one day. pack up and go to sleep ready to move on to Venice.

We wake up to a taxi strike, so we walk to the train station with our rolling suitcases in tow. We have reservations on the E* train to Venice, which is very pleasant and we arrive in Venice approximately 2 hours later. Venice makes quite a first impression! Thanks to having posted inquiries here before I left I easily find the ticket booth for the vaporetto, and se set off for our hotel. Then we have a little scare...we almost lose DD. We are boarding vaporetto #1 to go to Ca'Doro, but somehow, DD (who always seems to be walking behind us or ahead of us, never with us) doesn't make it onto the boat with us, and the boat starts to pull away from the platform without her on it! I scream and plead for the boat to stop, because my daughter has no idea where we are going... miraculously the boat does stop, backs up a bit, and they allow her to board. Moral of the story...1)always stay together, and 2) have a good plan in place, in case you get separated!

Anyway, after I calm down, the directions I have are perfect, and we find the Hotel Antico Doge without a hitch. Stow our bags, and find our place for lunch. The boys grumble that they are sick of Italian food (heathens!) choose McDonalds of all places, but daughter and I find a trattoria and have excellent salads and fried calamari. After lunch we walk to the Jewish ghetto (not far from our hotel), and then ride the vaporetto on the grand canal, get off at St Marks square (amazing, son feeds the pigeons, and then we meander back towards the hotel.

Here's my feeling about Venice-- there are really two sides of this amazing place. There is the unbelievably crowded and overly merchandised area around St. Marks square and the Rialto (think Disneyland, venetian style), and then there is everyplace else. We spend the next few days avoiding the congested areas, and searching out (you don't have to search far)where ordinary people live and work. When you do this, it is a marvelous place.
By this point, my feet are NUMB but there is no way I am going to sit inside a hotel room while in this gorgeous and utterly unique place, so we just walk and have fun getting lost deeper into the labyrinth of alleys and canals that surrounds us.
Now Italy is playing the semi final match of world cup soccer this evening, so we decide to head to P. Santa Margherita and find a sports bar to satch soccer and eat bar food. The food is so-so, but the big attraction is soccer on the piazza. All of Venice is out and watching this game, and the atmosphere is electric. We enjoy the soccer, get lost on the way back, and enjoy the end of another amazing day.

Next morning: Being the trip planner, my original plan was for the entire family to to on the Doges Palace tour in the morning and visit Saint Marks in the afternoon -- and I had reservations for both. But my family has their own idea...they want to go to the Lido for a day at the beach. So we go our separate ways.

I head out, camera in hand, and stick to my original plan. And without adding the tiresome details, I enjoy both the tour of the Doges Palace and St. Marks, with quite a bit of wandering various areas in between (other side of the Accademia bridge, and some other areas). Venice is stunning no matter where you go, but it is hot and I end up really tired from the day. I end up back in my AC hotel room at around 5 pm, and family isn't back yet! They come in 15 minutes later, happy from a fun day at the beach. Clearly they had a great time, and I hear about the beach, the water, the lunch, and from my son, the topless bathers (all grandmothers, apparantly-- he was kind of dissappointed). In retrospect, I think it is a good thing that they took the day at the beach...as happy as I was with my day, they probably would not have enjoyed it nearly as much.

I head out to the stores with my daughter, we each do a little shopping, and stop in a little bar and discover Cichetti! We think this the most fabulous thing...why did it take us 12 days to discover this??? And after eating and drinking to contentment, we decide it is a must to bring hubby and son back the next day. Once we regroup, we set out for a late dinner (how can I possibly eat another thing?!) and after a bit of a wild goose chase ( the restaurant we set out for ended up being closed due to some kind of holiday we didn't know about), we walk for close to an hour and end up eating at a little restaurant right next to our hotel. It was good, but we are all exhausted by the end of dinner, and fall into bed.

Next day (our last day in Italy)....

My plan for this last day is to go to Murano and Burano. After the hustle of Venice, what a nice change of pace. We plan to take the vaporetto from F. Nove, visit Burano first, have lunch there, and then visit Murano on the way back.
As you travel into the lagoon, you see these flat and natural looking islands and realize what Venice must have been like at the very beginning...it is quite a contrast to the Venice we see now. Then we arrive at Burano, which is stunning...beautiful, colorful houses, due to its history as a fishing village, I think. We were not interested in buying lace, although we did visit the lacemaking museum, which was tiny and not all that interesting. We had a delicious lunch, and mainly just enjoyed walking around (it's not that big) and taking lots of pictures.

We then board the vaporetto and stop at Murano on the way back, and enjoy looking at all the beautiful glass shops. We did not take a factory tour but happened to enter a shop where someone was making glass, and got to see how it is made. I bought a few gifts, then stopped in a little cafe for a yummy cappuccino, took lots of photos, and felt it was all very lovely and a perfect last day in Italy.

Just wanted to mention that since I had the 72 hour Vaporetto pass I just chose to go that way (even though my hotel offered "free" water taxi and tour on Murano, I didn't want to be beholden to any tour), and the vaporetto transportation was frequent enough and worked out fine.

Anyway, what to do on your last night in Italy? It is bittersweet...we enjoyed this trip, but feel ready to go home also. We take a last cruise down the grand Canal at sunset, go to the top of the Campanile (no line at 6pm, just as promised on this site), wander around, buy son an "Italia" sweatshirt, go back to the little bar for cichetti, eat so much that no one has room for dinner, have one last gelato (boo -hoo), enjoy the lights on the water at night, and then we head back to the hotel to pack.

Next morning: we splurge on the water taxi to the airport, and enjoy the boat ride. We get to the airport over two hours early, and after checking in there is nothing else to do but window shop. To my delight (even though it is basically time for breakfast) we find a gelatto stand in the airport. Who can resist? And that ends my saga....until we return some day! Arrivaderci!















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Jul 15th, 2006, 09:08 AM
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ronnie, I've really enjoyed your report. This is something your whole family will remember forever!
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Jul 15th, 2006, 09:15 AM
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Beautiful and interesting report ronnie!

Florence can get overwhelming in the touristy area and it can get so hot and humid. I have various friends that live in Florence but in residential areas where very few tourist go as there is no reason to.
It always seems so peaceful and even cooler.

Thank you for sharing your family's trip to Italy, I always love trip reports where children are involved, it is interesting to read how children respond to various sites and experiences.

BTW, I can imagine your panic when your daughter did not get on the vaporetto with the rest of you. And I am amazed that the vaporetto backed up so she could board. What a relief that must have been! Wishing you and your family many more trips together.
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Jul 15th, 2006, 01:17 PM
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Really enjoyed your report. I not only felt as if I was there with you, but that you were honestly describing what worked and what didn't. It's so important when you have finite time on a holiday, to get authentic advice, it helps to make your own plan that much better.

I'm sure this will be a report that those planning a trip to Italy will check constantly.
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Jul 16th, 2006, 07:17 AM
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Ronnie, thank you for sharing your story! I am planning a trip to this area and am sooooo excited - got some good ideas from your report.

Cheers,

Murphy
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Aug 18th, 2006, 10:38 AM
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I am planning on going to Florence in October and have thought about using Nathalie for a day trip. Where did you hear about her? Is she affiliated any tour companies? I am a little reluctant to use someone with no affiliation.
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Aug 18th, 2006, 10:54 AM
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Great trip report.

I've copied and pasted all your tips on shopping with a teenage daughter!
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