Trip Report - First time to Italy

Jun 19th, 2008, 07:04 AM
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Trip Report - First time to Italy

Thank you to everyone on Fodors for all the help I received planning my first trip to Italy. The trip was more wonderful than I imagined it would be. It wasn’t a relaxing trip. We were going almost non-stop for 16 days, and came home needing some rest, but it was the perfect trip for us.

This was our itinerary:

3 nights in Venice - Locanda Orseolo
2 nights in Florence – Alloro B&B
2 nights in Cinque Terre, Monterosso – Hotel Pasquale after 3 nights we rented a car in La Spezia, drove to Pisa to see the Tower and spent
1 night in San Gimignano - Bel Soggiorno
2 nights in Pienza – Piccolo hotel - then we dropped the rental car in Orvieto and trained to Rome
4 nights in Rome – Hotel Santa Maria

I started planning this trip, to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary, more than a year ago. I knew I wanted to use Delta frequent flyer miles, so I booked the flights in the middle of the night 332 days in advance. There are no direct flights from SLC to Italy, so we had to fly SLC to Philadelphia, Philadelphia to Paris, Paris to Venice.

Our flight out of Philadelphia was delayed 30 minutes and we only had a 90 minute connection time in Paris. So when we arrived, we only had an hour at Charles de Gaulle to change terminals, go through passport control and security, and get to our connecting gate. Luckily, the flight was delayed slight and we made it.

We took the water bus from the airport to Venice and it was wonderful seeing Venice for the first time from the water. It looked just like something you’ve seen in a movie all your life. But this time it was real!

On the recommendation of so many on Fodors and Trip
Advisor, we stayed at the Locanda Orseolo and it lived up to its reputation. The staff was so friendly, always greeting us by name, and helpful, they even bought our train tickets to Florence for us. The hotel is well located, and the breakfasts are amazingly delicious, especially the Nutella banana crepes. It was nice chatting with others staying at the hotel during breakfast.

Our first night we ate at a little place called Anna Bella, a cute little place with windows that open onto a canal, with only ten tables, that the hotel recommended. The food was delicious, service was great, and reasonably priced for Venice. After dinner we wandered over to St. Mark’s square to hear the orchestras.

The next day we went on the Secret Itineraries at the Doge’s Palace. I thoroughly enjoyed walking through the old prisons and learning about what life was like centuries ago, my husband on the other hand thought it was just okay.

That night we ate at Taverna San Trovaso near the Accademia. The food there was fabulous! It was our favorite meal on our entire trip. The prices were very reasonable and the line of people waiting to get in when they opened precisely at 7:00 p.m. was long.

Our final night in Venice we ate at Ostaria all'antico Dolo. The food was good, but we felt overpriced.

Our favorite spot in Venice was a street called Via Garibaldi. It was away from the crowds and residents strolled the street with their shopping baskets and children. There was a beautiful entrance to the gardens. It was just so beautiful and peaceful we went there three times during our stay.

Next up Florence
BarbaraS is offline  
Jun 19th, 2008, 08:18 AM
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Yeah, Barbara! I'm so looking forward to reading the rest! You really need to post that great picture of DH in the ocean at Monterosso!
Dayle is offline  
Jun 19th, 2008, 08:40 AM
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Waiting for your next stop . . .
ellenem is offline  
Jun 19th, 2008, 02:25 PM
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Thanks for the encouragement. You're welcome to check out my pictures at

Although it had rained off and on throughout our stay in Venice, when we arrived in Florence the rain had stopped and we were able to walk from the train station to our B&B. The Alloro B&B is located in an apartment building with another B&B and several other apartments. There is a lovely little courtyard on the main floor, but the B&B is on the 2nd floor.

Our room was spacious, with a large double (king-sized) bed and a mural on the ceiling. The owner was at the B&B when we arrived, but does not live there. Breakfast is served in your room and was delicious.

We had reservations to see the David that afternoon and headed over to the Accademia with map in hand. Unfortunately, we got a little lost, but a kind American girl studying abroad walked us to the door. I was expecting “The David” to be in a much more impressive building!

Dinner that night was at Rosticceria La Spada, recommended by our B&B. The food was very good and reasonably priced. After dinner we wandered over to the Duomo and were amazed by how beautiful it was, especially all lit up at night.

The Uffizi was on the agenda for the next day. I did not make advance reservations, so we were there at 8:00 a.m for an 8:15 opening and we were about 20th in line and had no problem getting in quickly. We really enjoyed the Uffizi – that is the kind of building I was expecting the David to be in.

After the Uffizi we went to Santa Croce, the Duomo, climbed Giotto’s Tower, then took a bus to Piazzale Michelangeo. Dinner that night was at Trattoria Marione. We had planned on going back to eat at La Spada because we enjoyed it so much, but when we walked by Marione, there was a line of people waiting for it to open. Since it was also recommended in Rick Steve’s, we thought we’d better give it a try and it was wonderful.

We packed a lot of sightseeing into two days – even in a downpour. My husband, who never uses an umbrella, even bought one in Florence it was raining so hard. The umbrella vendors seem to magically appear. Although we liked Florence and were glad we spent some time there, it wasn’t our favorite stop.

Up next Cinque Terre
BarbaraS is offline  
Jun 19th, 2008, 03:53 PM
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Loved your photos. It reminded me of my trip two years ago. Great memories...thanks for reminding me.
sdtravels is offline  
Jun 19th, 2008, 04:52 PM
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Thanks for sharing your photos. I want to hear about the Cinque Terre. BTW we rented an apartment for a week, 1/2 block off of Via Garibaldi from vrbo and just loved the location too
jrecm is offline  
Jun 19th, 2008, 05:08 PM
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Thanks for posting your report! I'm enjoying reading about your trip and am going to look at your pictures after I post this. I look forward to hearing more!
flymeaway is offline  
Jun 19th, 2008, 05:55 PM
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We,too, returned our rental car in Orvieto, at Avis; they tried to get us for an extra day. We are contesting it, since the agent logged us in at the correct time, well before the deadline.
charnees is offline  
Jun 20th, 2008, 07:25 AM
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Barbara, your trip pictures are fantastic. Have bookmarked your post for ideas in planning our upcoming trip to Italy and look forward to reading your future posts as well. In prep for our trip, I'm looking for a new digital camera. What did you use to get these great pictures? Was it a point-and-shoot? Thanks.
pcooper is offline  
Jun 20th, 2008, 02:19 PM
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Thanks everyone for the kind words and checking out my pictures. I love taking vacation photos and I love my camera. It is a point and shoot, but I really use the preprogrammed settings, a Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3. I love the long zoom.

Cinque Terre

We are scuba divers and most of our vacations are beach vacations. So while researching this trip I learned about Cinque Terre. I knew it would be a place my husband and I would love, and we did! The colorful houses, the beautiful ocean, the relaxed atmosphere, great food, and wonderful, friendly people. I would love to go back and spend more time!

We arrived in Monterroso on the train to a beautiful sunny day. Since most of our days had been overcast and rainy, my husband decided the first thing he wanted to do was to swim in the Mediterranean Sea. But the minute he got his swimming suit on, the weather began to change. By the time we were down to the beach it was starting to sprinkle. By the time he was in the water it was a downpour. While he played in the rain in the sea, I read a book under a nice little cove.

We had a wonderful lunch at Ciak on the patio. My husband had a beautiful, delicious seafood spaghetti. Dinner that night was at L’Altamarea, which had good food and was fairly reasonable.

The next day we bought the Cinque Terre pass and set off on the train to visit the five towns. We did the hikes between Riomaggiore, Manarola, and Corniglia. We would have hiked further, but it was a bit rainy and muddy, so we took the train to Vernazza.

In my notes for Vernazza, I had a recommendation from Fodors for a little restaurant named Il Pirata Café, so we stopped in for lunch. The café is run by twin brothers. Lucca was our waiter, and he was very charming, yet silly.

After a wonderful lunch, Lucca asked us if we wanted dessert. I told him we were too full for dessert, but he insisted that we should have dessert. So I said okay, I’ll have the orange cannoli. He said no. You do not want the orange cannoli, you want the strawberry slushy with cream. So I smiled and said okay, I’ll have the strawberry slushy with cream. He was right! The strawberry slushy with cream was amazingly delicious!

Later that night after finishing up our pizza at Pizzeria da Ely, nothing on the menu looked good for dessert and my husband suggested we go back to Vernazza for a strawberry slushy. Since there was a train leaving in ten minutes, we rushed to the train station and hopped on the train. I said to my husband we should ask the nice Italian man standing near us if the train was going to Vernazza. The man said “No Vernazza”, “No Vernazza”. We hopped off the train, the doors closed, and it sped off in the other directions.

Luckily, the train we wanted was one rail over and we hopped on, got off in Vernazza and walked up the hill to the Pirata Café. Lucca was outside and we told him we came back for a strawberry slushy. Lucca said no. No strawberry slushy at night! So my husband and I just looked at each other smiled, and said well how about the orange cannoli then. Lucca said no. You do not want the orange cannoli, you want the strawberry panna cotta. So of course we had the strawberry panna cotta, which was to die for! I really must figure out a way to get that recipe!

That next morning we had another lovely breakfast in the beautiful breakfast room of our beautiful hotel, the Hotel Pasquale. The staff of this hotel was wonderful, the rooms were great, the location was great, and the view was amazing. I would definitely stay there again.

Next up Tuscany
BarbaraS is offline  
Jun 20th, 2008, 03:06 PM
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Wow. Thanks for the photos. I am wondering if you are a good photographer or is it just not possible to take a bad photo in Italy?

Thanks again.
arteagac is offline  
Jun 20th, 2008, 03:56 PM
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I love your report. We did this trip a few years ago and still talk about how great all of it was. Your pictures are wonderful.

yipper is offline  
Jun 21st, 2008, 06:29 AM
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We took the train to La Spezia, took a taxi to pick up our rental car at Avis (reserved through Auto Europe) and headed out on the autostrada. We wanted to make a quick stop in Pisa on the way to Tuscany. I had been reading posts on Fodors about whether or not Pisa was worth a stop, but for my husband seeing the Leaning Tower of Pisa was a highlight. I guess it really said “you’re in Italy” to him. We only stayed a couple of hours, but it was well worth the time for us.

Our next stop was San Gimignano and a little hotel just inside the walls, Bel Soggiorno. This hotel was very nice, clean and had lovely antique furniture. We had a room with a street view, but probably should have booked a room with a view of the Tuscan hills. I had no idea how beautiful it would be! The hotel had a wonderful restaurant with a wall of glass windows to sit at and enjoy the view. It was breathtaking. Although my pictures of Tuscany were nice, I don’t think they captured the amazing beauty of Tuscany. We were blown away.

When planning the trip many thought we shouldn’t spend just one night in a town, but I’m so glad we did. You get such a better feel for a place spending a night there, then just a few hours in the day. I think it must be hard to fall in love with a place if you’re only there a couple of hours. San Gimignano was definitely one of our favorite hill towns.

The next morning we were off to visit Siena. We toured the Church of San Domenico, and the beautiful Duomo, hung out in Il Campo and had a nice pizza at Il Bandierino, which was a fun place to people watch.

After a few hours we left for Pienza and our lovely hotel, Piccolo Hotel. Pienza was our favorite hill town and we had a wonderful room with a balcony and a view of the Tuscan hills that was awe inspiring. I highly recommend this hotel for the Tuscan area. We took a tour of the Palazzo Piccolomini, which gave you, as Rick Steve’s puts it “a fascinating slice of 15th century, aristocratic life”.

Dinner the first night was a Latte di Lucca, it was delicious and packed. They were turning people away, luckily our hotel had made a reservation for us.

The next day we visited Montalcino and had lunch at Grappolo Blu, which had the best bruschetta I have ever eaten. We spent the afternoon in Montepulciano. which was our least favorite hill town. Perhaps because it was the end of the day and we didn’t spend enough time there.

The next morning we drove to Orvieto, looked around the town for about an hour, and returned our car to the rental office. I would love to go back someday and spend more time in Orvieto. We walked to the train station purchased tickets and hopped on a train to Rome!

Next up Rome
BarbaraS is offline  
Jun 21st, 2008, 07:03 AM
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Lovely! Anxiously waiting for your Rome installment!
2010 is offline  
Jun 21st, 2008, 07:05 AM
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Nicely done Barbara, I loved your pics of venice.
bobthenavigator is offline  
Jun 21st, 2008, 07:12 AM
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Barbara - I am laughing while reading your account of Lucca at Il Pirata and I can't wait to read this to my husband. Last year my husband was hiking the trail near the restaurant and stopped to get a bottle of water to take with him...Lucca struck up a long and lively conversation and told him to bring me back that evening for dinner. We arrived and while Lucca seated us, my husband tried to pick up where they left off that morning with their conversation and Lucca just quietly listened and nodded his head as my husband tried to chat it up. Lucca left and my husband was very puzzled -- this didn't seem to be the same talkative, funny guy he visited with that morning....well it wasn't! We discovered that Lucca has a twin brother!! Anyway, Lucca appeared and continued to entertain us throughout the evening - while reading your account I could just hear him! We returned the next morning for the recommended breakfast pastry which was fresh and scrumptious!!! My husband took a photo of me with the two brothers and it serves as a treasured memory. Can't wait to experience Il Pirata again!! Glad you got "experience" it on your trip.
caroltis is offline  
Jun 21st, 2008, 07:15 AM
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Lovely photos Barbara.

Brought back some great memories of our last trip to Italy.

Royal is offline  
Jun 21st, 2008, 07:25 AM
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I stayed with friends at the Hotel Pasquale a few years ago and we too thoroughly enjoyed its location and would highly recommend it. Their breakfast was very good - basic, small rooms but were clean and most with views right on the water. Be advised however that there is no elevator so slepping up 4 flights of stairs with luggage can be a bit of a workout! The train passes close by but it truly didn't interfere with our sleeping at night.
caroltis is offline  
Jun 21st, 2008, 07:30 AM
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Carol - I don't know if it's a recent addition, but the Hotel Pasquale does have a nice little elevator.

Thanks for all the nice comments on my pictures. Of course I didn't post the bad ones. And many of them I tweaked a bit in Photoshop. I love the shadow/highlight function. It did a great job fixing some of the photos that were way to dark.
BarbaraS is offline  
Jun 21st, 2008, 08:45 AM
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Barbara, I'm really enjoying your report. Great pictures! Looking forward to Rome.
SusanP is offline  

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