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Trip report: Northern Italy with teens. Stupendo!

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Trip report: Northern Italy with teens. Stupendo!

Old Jul 8th, 2010, 11:11 AM
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Trip report: Northern Italy with teens. Stupendo!

Hi all. We just got back from a wonderful trip to Northern Italy. My husband and I took our two boys (15 and 17) on a trip where we flew to Venice and flew home through Milan.

I'll post hotel and car info at the end. We stayed at several places I’d highly recommend.

Day 1: Venice

Our flight landed in Venice, and we took the airport shuttle to Piazzale Roma to pick up our apartment keys. (Our apt. was in the Castello section). From there, we took vaporetto #1 practically all the way to the end (Arsenale stop).

The vaporetto is a terrific way to be introduced to Venice! We were tired, and just sitting there watching the sites along the Grand Canal was truly an amazing way to see the city. We found our apt. easily. Since it was a short walk to San Marco, we decided to walk around there a bit, get dinner, and call it an early night.

I read that whenever you are in Europe, you should look into every church you see, and I try to do that. In Venice, the first church we saw near out apt. looked small, but when I went inside, it had a famous Renaissance painting above the altar. (It was of Christ, and in the sky he was an arc of angels, but the angels had no bodies, just wings coming out of their heads. I need to find out the artists’ name).

Upon leaving San Marco, my husband said: let’s not go directly back, and take maybe a 30 min. walk. We took a walk all right. We got SO lost. At one point, we thought we were approaching the San Zaccaro vaporetto stop (not far from San Marco), but we were on the other side of the Venice! We were in the Cannaregio neighborhood, and had to find our way back to the other side. It took quite a while (and we did have a good map). We sure got a great introduction to that neighborhood (and others). Our planned ½ hour walk took, I am not exaggerating, 2 hours. Surprisingly, no one complained about this, and the boys got very little sleep on the plane.

Day 2

Doge’s Palace.

We walked through on our own. I toured the palace several years ago, so I pointed out the highlights (and things like the Lion’s Mouths). I was looking forward to taking my time to study the paintings in what I call the Bosch Room, which is a room in the palace with several paintings by Hieronymous Bosch, one of my favorite painters. (On my last tour, this room was not included, and I hated knowing I couldn’t have any time to see them). While I was there, my sons and husband wandered away, and then came back. While my son was looking at a painting with me, he was greeted by a boy his age. It turns out it was a friend from HS whose family was on a Venice-Florence-Rome group trip. I think it’s neat that we saw them – and in the Bosch Room.

The boys were fascinated by the prisons, which we viewed at the end of the tour.

Correr Museum

Our Museum Pass included this museum, so we walked around there a bit. They have some interesting paintings and items from Venice’s history.

The crowds around San Marco were growing (we got to the Doge’s Palace at 9am, and dealt with no crowds – it was nice). We decided to eat lunch and then hang out at the apartment for a few hour to re-energize.

Dosoduro

We spent the afternoon exploring this neighborhood, which I remembered fondly from my last trip.

San Pantalon church – Our first stop was to this church, which has an amazingly illusion painted tromp l-oil (sp?) ceiling. Even my son, who is not fond of churches, admitted that it was very cool.

We walked around the streets of this neighborhood, which seemed empty compared to the mobs around San Marco. We got gelato, and I bought some Murano glass earrings. On my last trip, I bought a necklace in this neighborhood, and it’s one of my favorite ones. I found the same jewelry shop, owned by the same young girl, and bought the earrings there.

Day 3: Venice to Sirmione

We needed to vacate our apt. in the morning. We rode the vaporetto #1 back to the P. Roma – I loved this route. We picked up a car and drove to Sirmione, but stopped at Verona on the way.

Verona

We were not planning on stopping here, but we had plently of time, so we wandered around a bit. We got goofy pictures with the guys who dress up as gladiators outside their Colliseum, saw Juliet’s balcony and walked around the main streets.

Sirmione.

At night we walked around this town. We entered the Castle Scaligeri and climbed the stairs to the top, walked over the drawbridge, etc. Nice views. We walked around the narrow streets to the tip, and the Grotto – a shaded park of tall trees and beautiful flowers. It was a lovely place to walk.

Day 4: Gardaland

Gardaland is the Italian version of Disneyworld. I knew my sons would not be thrilled with a trip consisting of many museums and churches, so we took them here for something to do just for them. The rides were very Disney-like: they were themed – and done well – lots of interesting details. We rode a water ride past Atlantis; a river rapid ride through Asian temples; they rode a roller coaster; we all rode a Matterhorn type runaway train ride called Mammoth that was actually quite a long ride; a ride through Egypt and some tombs where you shot at targets (just like the Buzz Lightyear ride at Disney); a Wild Mouse type ride that actually went upside down twice; and Gardaland’s version of Pirates of the Caribbean (Pirates of the Mediterrean?) It was a great ride – lots of interesting details, and I thought it was better than Disney’s version.

It was a very hot day (90), so we left around 4pm. The boys jumped in Lake Garda (there was a small “beach” near our hotel) and we went back into Sirmione for dinner and to walk around a bit that evening.

Day 5: Bergamo and Varenna/Lake Como

We left to drive to Varenna, stopping at Bergamo on the way. We took the funicular (which ran very regularly) up to the Old City. They have an amazingly decorated church and the Colleoni Chapel – we saw many ceiling frescoes and decorations, and lots of statuary decorating the outside of the church. We ate lunch were and then drove to Varenna.

Varenna is a beautiful small town on Lake Como, with beautiful views over the lake and toward Bellagio. We walked the narrow streets (lots of stairs) and took a ferry over to Bellagio for dinner.

Bellagio – my pre-conceptions of Bellagio were wrong – I thought this was a much larger place. We walked around a bit, saw most of the place. I think a big thing to do here is to walk around the Villas with their beautiful gardens, but my family had zero interest in doing that, so we took the ferry back to Varenna. Very pretty views of the lake can be seen on the ferry. We stayed at the Villa Cipressi, which has many lovely gardens and walkways, and we walked around here each night.

Day 6: Side trip to Soglio, Switzerland

The drive from Varenna to Soglio featured the most amazing mountain views – really spectacular. We drove up to Soglio (on a very twisty road) and enjoyed walking around this quiet, quaint village with terrific views of the surrounding mountains. We ate lunch here, in a shaded outdoor garden restaurant, which was part of a historic Swiss hotel. It was like entering another time. (And we definitely entered another place – much calmer with better drivers).

On the way back, we stopped to view a beautiful waterfall – it was a double waterfall, very high, and very scenic. We were able to walk very close to the base, which was neat. The water was cold and the spray was strong enough to ripple our clothes. A bit downstream, the boys hung out in the creek/river for a while. This was a fun stop – and I didn’t even know about it. I didn’t see this dramatic waterfall notated on the map, or in any of the guidebooks.

Back at the hotel, the boys used the mountain bikes provided by the hotel to ride about Varenna. They actually went down a few of the stone staircases. They thought this was fun, which is great, b/c now I can bring them mountain biking with us. We ate dinner lakeside and then went for another brief walk around town. What I loved about this trip was all the walking we did – each night we were able to walk in the most amazing places (around Venice, along Lake Como, etc).

Day 7

Today we had a change in plans. I had originally scheduled us to spend the night in Genoa. I was never comfortable with this choice b/c I read a lot about how seedy it was, and how you had to be careful b/c pickpocketing and similar tourist crime was 2nd in severity only to Rome. I wanted to see the Palazzos and churches, and they boys were not interested in that (at all), so we were able to make arrangements to spend this night at our hotel in Monterosso in the Cinque Terre. This worked out really well for us, b/c we all loved the Cinque Terre, and appreciated the extra time there.

So today featured a 4 plus hour drive. Driving around Milan was VERY stressful. I would get brave enough to attempt to pass, and look to see that the passing lane was clear. Then, I’d put my blinker on, glance again, and all of a sudden, a car going about 95 mph would be in the passing lane. And once cars or motorcycles passed us, they immediately turned into our lane, only about a car length away. Once we got around Milan, the drive towards Genoa and to the CT was fine (thankfully, whew).

We spent the evening at the beach. The boys loved the beach in Monterosso. We bought them snorkeling type goggles and they loved going to the offshore rocks and exploring around there. Along the side of the end of the beach was a cliff (the path up toward Vernazza), and there was a cave that they loved going into. They discovered they could climb about this cave and jump down into the water. This was the highlight of the trip for them. (Go figure). They really loved this – my younger son said the only thing more fun than doing that was skateboarding. I stayed on the beach with a book; I couldn’t watch. Even my goofball husband jumped twice.

Day 8 Cinque Terre – Corniglia and Vernazza

Today we got an early start and took the train to Corniglia. From there we hiked to Vernazza. The coastal views were really pretty – and the water a beautiful shade of blue. I’m so glad I read the recommendation to start in Corniglia, b/c the hike is almost all climbing stairs, getting to the high point, and then going down many, many stairs. I saw on a map that you start at a higher elevation in Corniglia, so it’s easier to start there. Walking down the many stairs to Vernazza, a couple asked me if the stairs ever ended. I felt horrible telling them that they had a lot to go. But it is a great hike and I’m so glad we did it.

Vernazza is a very picturesque town on the water. After eating lunch, we took the train back to Monterrosso and spent the late afternoon/evening back at the beach, where the boys continued to enjoy cliff jumping and rock exploring, and I hid my eyes in a book.

Day 9 – Cinque Terre – Manarolo and Riomaggiore

Today we took the train to Manarolo. We walked around the town and away from the town (toward Corniglio) for a while to get some amazing views of the town. We walked up to the cemetery, which was located away from the main area of town for sanitation purposes. We then walked the Valle d’Amore (sp?) to Riomaggiore. This was a flat, easy, short stroll with nice views of the water. We walked around Riomaggiore a bit and had lunch there. Then we took the train back and spent our final day in the CT on the beach. Our hotel room had a great balcony, and each night we would get a snack at the grocery store we passed on the way back to the room, and we enjoyed hanging out on the balcony, relaxing, reading and eating each evening.

Day 10 drive back to Milan-Malpensa

We checked out and drove back to Milan/Malpensa. It was a Sunday and traffic was so light and the drive easy and not stressful. We were hungry outside of Milan, so we got off an exit and found what looked like a pretty deserted area (it wasn’t far from an industrial area), but we were hungry so we went into the restaurant in the hotel we saw. It turned out to be a fancy type restaurant where people go for weddings, etc. We were very underdressed compared to the other patrons there. We thought we told the waiter that my son wanted a pepperoni pizza, but he got one with zucchini (?). We spent the night at a hotel near the aiprot and flew home the next day.

It was a great trip. I asked everyone what their highlights were:

My husband: Our full day in Venice, and the Cinque Terre

Me: Venice, Soglio, Cinque Terre

Both boys: jumping off the cliff in Monterosso in the Cinque Terre (seriously).
karens is offline  
Old Jul 8th, 2010, 12:56 PM
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A "peperone" in Italy is a pepper -- like a bell pepper (often red, yellow or green) -- not a salami.

Glad you had a great time in Italy!
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Old Jul 8th, 2010, 05:09 PM
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What an incredible trip and great trip report! I'm jealous of every part of it but especially the CT. So funny about your boys' highlight - the cliff jumping. In my minds eye I see old footage of cliff jumpers in Acapulco
Did you take videos of their jumps by any chance?
Thanks for sharing your trip!
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Old Jul 8th, 2010, 06:42 PM
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So nice and informative report! I love Italy and I am glad that your family enjoyed there.
Thank you.
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Old Jul 8th, 2010, 06:56 PM
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You're getting me so excited for my vacation next summer! Love this report.
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Old Jul 8th, 2010, 07:18 PM
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I can't seem to find mention of the hotel you stayed in in CT - in Monteroso? Did you like it? Did it have a view?
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Old Jul 9th, 2010, 04:09 AM
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Hi all.

kwren - I will post hotel info later (I've already spend too much time on the computer). But yes, we stayed in Monterosso, at the Hotel Villa Steno, which I would highly recommend. We had a balcony with a view above the rooftops (it was located up on the hill, not right by the sea, but it was only a 5 min. walk to the beach, and a 10-15 walk to the train).

And zeppole, I did read that pepperoni was a bell pepper, so I did explain. And we did get pizzas with pepperoni/meat on all our other occasions, but we clearly didn't communicate will our waiter well that time, to get zucchini! No big deal, though.
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Old Jul 10th, 2010, 06:55 PM
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Loved reading your report. I have yet to go to Italy and am waiting for the right moment.

Did you gain any insights into Bosch?
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Old Jul 11th, 2010, 04:32 PM
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Hi Dutch. Bosch had some kind of imagination! Often when I try to see Bosch's work, I find it is not at the museum b/c it is being restored. And on this trip, one of his paintings was being restored. But the most interesting painting (to me) was there - it was a large panel similar to the Hell panel in the Garden of Earthly Delights. There is so much to see in those types of paintings of his.
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Old Jul 11th, 2010, 04:38 PM
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HOTELS

Venice. We rented an apartment through veniceapartments.org. A week before we left for our trip, I was informed by them that the AC in our reserved apt. was broken, and they re-assigned us. We were happy with the replacement – it was in the Castello neighborhood, which is only a 10 min. walk to San Marco. Our other choice was an apt. in Canareggio, and I think that neighborhood is too far from the sights. Our apt. had a kitchen on one floor (2nd floor US), and a living room, bathroom and 2 bedrooms on the upper (3rd floor). It was nice to have room, and to be able to come back in the afternoon to re-charge. The price was also very reasonable: 140 Euro/night – and they rented this to us for less than one week (some places don’t rent for less than a week).

Sirmione.

We stayed at the Hotel Maraldo, which is technically in Columbare. The castle and old town area of Sirmione was 1 mile away. This was an easy drive, and there was plenty of parking (at least there was when we went, both times at around 5pm). Our hotel owner did not speak much English, and we spoke even less Italian, but he could not have been more welcoming, friendly, and helpful. We had few needs, and we were able to communicate just fine. Our quad room was quite roomy and was spotlessly clean. It had AC and included breakfast. Across the street was access to Lake Garda.

Varenna. Hotel Villa Cipressi.

This was a beautiful old hotel with wonderful gardens – there were walking paths and terraces beautifully landscaped. This might have been the most we’ve ever paid for a hotel room for our family travels – quad room was 300 Euros (about $360). This was the only quad room I could locate in Varenna, and I was finding 2 person rooms to run about 140 Euro, so I figured that it wouldn’t have been significantly cheaper to book 2 separate rooms at another place. In the quad room, there was a king sized bed in a loft area up stairs. At first, the AC didn’t’ work and it was Hot. Once we did get it to work, its output was meager.
The AC was located in the loft, and we were fine to sleep. The boys were a little hot downstairs, and preferred to have the window open. We were above the restaurant, and one night it was quite noisy until about midnight. (The window did give us great views of Lake Como). If you are interested in staying here, know that there is very loud construction that takes place on the street side, and I read on tripadvisor that it started early and was quite disturbing. We did not hear it in our room, but walking around the hotel during certain times of the day, it was quite loud.

Breakfast was included, and was served on a nice terrace.

The one desk clerk who worked here was wonderful. We wanted to change our hotel reservations for our upcoming hotel, and she made the phone calls for us – she confirmed our next place in the Cinque Terre had availability for us to arrive one day earlier, and she called our hotel in Genoa to cancel. She did not charge us for making these calls.

Cinque Terre – Monterosso.

Here we stayed at the Hotel Villa Steno and this place was terrific. We had a quad room – which was basically a large room with king size bed and 2 twin beds, but there were sliding doors that came out to separate the 2 areas. We had a large balcony (large enough to fit table for 4, chairs, and 2 lounge chairs). We used this balcony a lot at night to relax and eat snacks we purchased at the grocery story on our way back to the hotel. It had nice views over the town. The beach was a 5 min. walk; the train station a 10-15 walk. It included breakfast.

Milan/Malpensa airport. Crown Plaza.

We booked 2 rooms here with Priority Club points. Most airport hotels are located in dumpy, or sort of scary areas. This hotel did not appear to be located near an airport! It was next to a farm in a tiny village type area. We could not find any restaurants open for dinner (it was Sunday night), so we picked up some food at a supermarket. We did get my son a meal at the hotel restaurant – which was $$. The hotel was very nice in appearance, the rooms were also very nice, and the hotel had a gym. (The weight area was lame – no free weights and just a small universal type machine that appeared to only have 3 stations. The cardio equipment looked fine; we did not use it).

Again, I will rant on nicer hotels and internet access – this hotel offered no free WiFi – not in the rooms – and not even in the lobby! There were several computers in the lobby, but you had to pay to use the Internet.

CAR RENTAL

Here is my most important helpful advice: GET A GPS. We actually purchased one with international maps and brought it with us on our trip. In certain areas, we would have been hopelessly lost without it.

For our 3rd family vacation to Europe, we again used AutoEurope to reserve a car. This time we were assigned to EuropeCar. We purchased full insurance, but I did go for a $250 deductible. We returned the car one half day early (Sunday night) at the Malpensa airport, and the clerk gave my husband a really hard time. He claimed we damaged the car (there was a superficial scrape on the bumper). My husband wanted to try to buff it out, but they were rude and said if he wanted to do that, he’d have to go get his own cloth. My husband took a picture with his phone – the bumper was not dented, and the paint was not scratched off. My husband argued a bit, and refused to sign the paper indicating that we damaged the car. So they charged him $50 for refusing to sign!

He sent an e-mail to EuropeCar with this complaint, but we’ve received no response. We plan to take this to the next step. I do not mind paying some $$, but the extra $50 is not reasonable, and I think it’s suspect that the total charge just happened to be for the amount of the deductible.
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Old Nov 4th, 2011, 05:47 AM
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Just found this! Super report. Sounds like you and your kids were pretty happy. What an amazing co inky dink for your son to meet up with a friend in Venice.
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Old Nov 9th, 2011, 02:46 PM
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Thanks, TDudette. Re-reading this brought back some great memories.

FWIW, we finally settled the situation with the rental car only a few months ago. About a year ago, a charge for $250 showed up on our credit card, for the supposed damage to the rental car. Thankfully, my husband had his cell phone, and took a picture of the "damaged" area in question - there was no indentation and what appeared to only be a small, superficial scuff mark.

We had emailed the rental car company 2x, and never received a response. We asked our credit card company to do an investigation and reverse the charges. It took them a LONG time and it didn't seem like they were pursuing it all that seriously (i.e, it seemed like their only "investigation" was emailing the car rental company). Anyway, the charges did get reversed in total - but only about a few months ago.
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