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-   -   TRIP REPORT Ė Rome, Venice and Northern Italy May 2005 TRIP REPORT Ė Rome, Venice and Northern Italy May 2005 TRIP REPORT Ė Rome, Venice and Northern Italy May 2005 TRIP REPORT - Rome, Venice and Northern Italy May 2005 (https://www.fodors.com/community/europe/trip-report-rome-venice-and-northern-italy-may-2005-trip-report-rome-venice-and-northern-italy-may-2005-trip-report-rome-venice-and-northern-italy-may-2005-trip-report-rome-venice-and-northern-italy-may-2005-a-533237/)

Mylesaway Jun 1st, 2005 04:33 AM

TRIP REPORT Ė Rome, Venice and Northern Italy May 2005 TRIP REPORT Ė Rome, Venice and Northern Italy May 2005 TRIP REPORT Ė Rome, Venice and Northern Italy May 2005 TRIP REPORT - Rome, Venice and Northern Italy May 2005
 
TRIP REPORT Ė Rome, Venice and Northern Italy

I spent a lot of time on these boards asking questions and reading other peopleís posts when I was planning my trip to Italy. This community is great. So in an attempt to give back to this community and maybe to help someone plan their trip, Iím posting a report on my recent Rome, Venice and Northern Italy trip that I just came back from.

Iím not going to do it exactly in chronological order, but rather, break my report down into hotels, restaurants and then sights and activities in each city or location.

Of course these are my opinions. Some may agree, and some may vehemently disagree with me. I have a feeling passions are going to flare on my review of Il Bacaro (restaurant in Rome) but thatís what makes this board so great!

But to understand where my opinions are coming from, let me just give you some of my stats and philosophy of traveling. Only to help you decide whether or not you want to listen to me!!

Iím a 42 year old male living in Los Angeles

Married and my wife is pregnant with our first child

When I travel, I like to see as much as I can

But I also like to just walk around and get a feel for the people and places Iím visiting

I tend to splurge on trips

There are the two things I look for in a hotel room in Europe Ė an American type shower, and an air-conditioner in the cities. Not everyone agrees with this, but hey, thatís me!

Iím not really interested in food, and would be happy to grab a sandwich while I sight see, but my wife is very interested in food, and so is my brother and mother.

Oh, yeah, one other thing about this trip Ė I spent 3 days alone with my wife in Rome, and then we met up with my older brother (56) my mother (just turned 80) and my nephew (just turned 20) in Venice. We were with my family for the rest of the trip in Northern Italy.

Thereís no people like family who will eagerly and conscientiously point out how youíre wrong about absolutely everything. Not an ideal group for a vacation, but we were celebrating my motherís 80th.

Our trip was from May 11 Ė May 27, 2005

Letís get started -


ROME Ė

3 days and 4 nights

Crowded beyond belief with tourists. Iíve never seen anything like this. Itís disappointing, because I never got a sense of what the Romans were likeÖall I kept seeing were tourists!

Think, Las Vegas with culture. And this is only the beginning of tourist season! When I return to Rome, next time Iím going off off season.

Hotel:

Hotel San Francesco
www.hotelsanfrancesco.net
390658300051

This hotel is in the Trastavere section of Rome. We liked it and recommend it.

Small hotel with great service. Decent size rooms, even better sized bathrooms. Cost us 190 Euros a night, which included an amazing breakfast buffet each morning with fresh eggs and sausages. I didnít think having a breakfast was necessary for a hotel, but it is so convenient if you can wake up, have breakfast right downstairs, and get your day going.


Restaurants we went to in Rome:

1. Sabatini
Piazza Santa Maria In Trastevere
(06) 581 Ė 2026

I thought the food was very very salty. My wife is pregnant, so while she admitted that the food was overly salted and had way too much garlic on it, she was happy because she could finally taste things!!

The atmosphere was fantastic, though. Youíre sitting outside of an ancient churchÖpeople come and hang out in the square, performers doing their thingÖbut still the square was lower key than the atmosphere in Plaza Navone (which we saw a few nights later) but still very lively. What I mean by lower key was that I found that in a lot of the other Piazzas at night it was a big sceneÖbut that scene was tourists watchingÖother tourists walk around. For the most part. Some of these places were so crowded you couldnít even walk around.

This smaller Piazza seemed to have more Romans hanging out than the others, so much more interesting for me. And I learned later how lucky I was to stumble into this area.


2.Quinzi e Gabrieli, via delle Coppelle 5.
Tel: 06 687 9389.
Reservations essential.

We went here because the seafood is suppose to be some of the best in Rome. This place is hugely expensive. So not for everyone. But this was going to be the night my wife and I splurged.

Food was fantastic. Really great. And we went early so the waiters hung around our table and talked to us a lot. Great placeÖif you want to spend this kind of money. Iím talking about $300 for 2 people!!


3. Il Bacaro
Via degli Spagnoli 27
06-6864110

I read about this place on this board so I wanted to take my wife here for what a lot of people said was a romantic dinner with great food.

Hate to disagree with the board but the worst dinner we had in Italy, not just Rome. The food was tasteless. The menu wasnít traditional Italian, but something a little new. But the dishes were so uninteresting and poorly made I was disappointed.

The service was incredibly slow, although that isnít really important when youíre on vacation. However, my wife, as I said, is pregnant, and it got to the point that after waiting over an hour for our main course, she got really hungry and wanted to leave and go some place else.

The people were very nice, though. And would not let us pay for what we had eaten. I insisted, but they just wouldnít take our money. They said they their kitchen was behind that night. I know this can happen, but from the food we ate there, we were not impressed.

Let the debate begin!!


4. Lunch Ė
Ristorante Dai 3 Amici
Via della Rotonda, 7-8-9
Pantheon
06.6875239

Near the Pantheon. This is a greatÖcheap restaurant with family style service and food. High quality food. The seafood was delicious. Hell, everything was! We loved this place. Lots of Romans were eating here with their families and friends. That should tell you something.


5. DINNER Ė

Ristorante del Pallaro,
Largo del Pallaro 15
(tel. 06-6880-1488 )

This is recommended as one of the best deals in Rome. And it is still 20 Euros per person. Iím not very sophisticated when it comes to food, but I thought this place and the food was great.

No menus...because you get everything this family-run Italian family ristorante cooks up daily!

We sat in the kitchen with Mama who was running the cooking. She didnít speak a word of English, but she served us every course, I rubbed my stomach or pursed my lips to say how good it was, and she kissed me every time.

We had a blast here. Again, I liked the food too!!



Rome sightseeing Ė

These places and ideas are not presented in any particular order. Itís just all the things my wife and I were able to see in 3 days. Could have used 6 days!!

1. Il Tempietto

My wife who is an interior designer wanted to see this tiny temple more than anything else. And it was a little gem. It is considered by art books to be the best example of Renaissance Architecture in its highest most beautiful form.

We went first thing on our first morning. It was near our hotel anyway. Designed by the architect who designed St. Peters. And some say it is based on a design by Leonardo Da Vinci.

Beautiful to walk around it, Il Tempietto is in a little courtyard next to a church. This courtyard was locked, and we went into the school next door for help. Turns out, they have the key to the courtyard! So if you go to see this masterpiece, and the gate to the courtyard is locked, check with the desk at the school. Theyíll help you.

Also, check out the interior of the church Il Tempietto is next to. Itís beautiful too.


2. Vatican Museum

Iím sure this is on the top of most peopleís To See list who come to Rome. And it certainly was on ours. So Iíll only put down a couple of pointers.

a. We took the tour, which I donít like doing because I like to go at my own speed and stop at the things I want to see and read about. But the tour guide was very good and very educational. I had done a lot of reading in art books and tour books before I went on the trip, so I know the guide hit all the highlights and interesting points.

However, the groups on the tours are so large, sometimes itís hard to hear the guide, if not actually stay up with her/him during the tour. So I would strongly suggest that you look into one of those audio guides.

Thatís a rule I have for all the places you are going to go to in Rome. Opt for the audio guide rather than the real person guide. Again, you go at your own speed, you stop at the items you want to stop at, and you never miss anything because youíre in the back of the group.

b. Donít miss the gallery called The Pinacoteca. (I think thatís what itís called.) It has a Da vinci( St. Jerome), which is always rare, and a beautiful Carvaggio (The Deposition). Actually, Iím a major Da Vinci fan, as well as a major Carvaggio fan. So I really really wanted to see these pictures.

However, the guided tour did not include this room as part of the tour. This meant that we went through the entire Vatican museum and the Sistine Chapel. Then our tour ended. So we had to walk back through all the galleries to get to this room. This was a 20 minute walk. Then, when we were finished with the gallery, we had to walk another 20 minutes back to go into St. Peters.

See where Iím going with this? Make sure you stop by this gallery first, when you first come up to the Vatican museum, or your going to add 40 minutes of walking to your day.

c. Try to buy tickets in advance. You donít have to wait on long lines, and you know well in advance the time you are going to start your museum visit.

You can buy your tickets yourself through the Vatican internet site. However, I went through a ticket agency, I think it was called SelectItaly. They were great. There is another ticket broker for Italian museums and sights running out of Chicago. We used them last time and they were also terrific. Itís a little extra for these services, but Iíve never had a problem with any of their reservations, and it saved me a lot of time trying to get my tickets, especially since I donít speak Italian.


d. Know where the Vatican museum tour starts. Itís not at St. Peters Square. If you make that mistake like we did, itís a 25 minute walk around two buildings.

Remember, youíre going to be on your feet all day, so pick your battles! Take a cab or bus to the museum entrance.


e. Buy a small and cheap pair of binoculars. I got a $20 pair before I went to Italy. They fit in my pants pocket. This was a great move on my part, because in places like The Sistine Chapel where the pictures are a little farther away than you think, these binoculars can really help you enjoy the experience. And see things like ďCreationĒ by Michelangelo a whole lot better. Best $20 bucks I spent in a long time, because I used them non-stop on our Italy trip.

By the way, I was surprised at how much smaller ďCreationĒ was than I thought.

Also, while the Sistine Chapel lived up to my expectations, I canít help remembering how nervous I was by the annoying guards who kept repeating ďNo picturesÖNo videoÖSshhhhh!!!!Ē I was nervous that they were going to throw all of us out!! They wonít though.

f. Make sure youíve seen everything you want to see in the Vatican Museum before you get to the Sistine Chapel. Keep in mind that sometimes it's possible to exit the museums from the Sistine Chapel right into St. Peter's, saving time and about a 40 minute walking round trip.

g. Hereís another general tip for Rome and all sightseeing Ė read up on things before you go. The internet is a great resource for everything, and I read up on all the art I was going to see in Rome on several different art and museum sights.

Also, between Fodors and Frommers and Rick Steves, you can get a pretty good idea what you want to see, and a great idea as to what you are seeing when you see it!



3. St. Peters Ė

Have to stay in the church a while to get a feel as to how big it is. You know itís big, but not as big as it really is, because of some optical illusions the architects and artists did to make the place seem smaller.

This is a beautiful structure, and you donít have to be Catholic to be taken by it. Iím not, and I was. Highlight:
Papal Altar and Baldacchino by Bernini

Disappointment: The Pieta by Michelangelo. Because of the glass protection, I didnít get close enough to be moved emotionally.

By the way, I have to confess, I didnít know a lot about Bernini before I got to Rome. Wow. This guy really knew what he was doing!!



4. Coliseum

I have to admit, this was my biggest disappointment in Italy. Obviously this is a matter of taste, but it seemed smaller than I thought it was going to be. And also we werenít allowed to walk around the lower levels where the animals were kept and the gladiators waited to

Skip the guided tour. You are better off using the handheld audio here. Itís really good. Unless of course you get on a tour that takes you to places you canít go yourself. But there didnít seem to be any such tour when we were there.

I know there are guides you can hire outside the Coliseum. I donít know what is included on their lectures. However, when I did run into a couple of these tour guides inside, I listened in for a little bit to hear what they were saying. Most of it was covered by the excellent audio tour you can rent.

Just a personal note: When we were at the Coliseum we were originally on a large tour led by one of the coliseum guides. But the noise inside the Coliseum was so loud, we couldnít hear her. So I went to the front desk and told them I couldnít hear our guide, and they just exchanged my tour ticket for a personal audio recording guide.

But they laughed when I complained about the noise. I didnít know if an alarm was going off or there was a traffic jam outside in the street. The guy at the desk gave me a flier. Turns out, the noise was a work of art!

Gary Hill is a video and sound artist from Santa Monica, California. My neighborhood. And he has an exhibit going on until the end of August 2005. Itís a 3 minute sound that keeps getting repeated and repeated. I swear to god, I thought it was a traffic jam or a faulty alarm. Another annoyed tourist said it sounded like an orchestra warming up that decides not to play together after 3 minutes.

Get the message? This was the worst thing I ever heard! And the Italians laughed. I swear to god, if I had a job in the coliseum, I would have had to quit after a day of listening to this nightmare.

I did promise the Italians behind the front desk that when I get back to LA I was going to track down Mr. Hill and tell him how miserable he and his audio creation made me, and my new Italian friends behind the front desk at the Coliseum.



5. The Forum
Arch of Constantine
Other ancient ruins

My wife and I did not spend a lot of time at The Forum. For all the reading we did before the trip, it didnít seem to interest us as much as other things. Donít make that mistake!!

We walked through the forum for about an hour, and wished we could have spent more time there and taken the tour of the Palatine Hill. This is a must! I was not prepared at how grand and large these ruins were going to be. It was larger than I thought is was going to be!

Plan your day to tour the Forum after you see the Coliseum. Itís just around the corner.



Mylesaway Jun 1st, 2005 04:38 AM

Part 2 of my Trip Report to Rome, Venice and Northern Italy May 2005

6. Trajans column Ė

While weíre on the subject of ancient marvels, make sure you see this masterpiece. Itís only a few blocks away from the Coliseum. My wife and I stopped here first on our way to the Coliseum.

No pictures in a book can show you how incredibly impressive this thing is. And again, because I had my handy binoculars, my wife and I were able to see a lot of the carvings all the way up to the top of the column.



7. SantíIgnazio di Loyola

Worth the trip to see this. The square has curved Roccocco buildings which were beautiful. Iíve never been a fan of the overly done style of Roccocco, but that seems to be the French take on things. The Roman Rococco style seems slightly more subdued, classy, and delightful.

The ceiling paintings were breathtaking. Not that the actual painting was memorable, but the size and sweeping vision of the whole thing was breathtaking.

Although I have to say that the illusion of the dome that is in all the guide books was actually the worst illusion of this sort that I saw in Rome. But checkout this church and the square outside.



8. The Capitoline Museums

Very good collection and worth the visit. The highlights for me:

a. Carvaggioís John the Baptist

b. The famous statue of Romulus and Remus suckling from a she-wolf. Itís more interesting up close because I didnít realize it is an ancient Eutruscan sculpture of a she wolf with the renaissance addition of the two little boys underneath her

c. Statues of Constantine in the courtyard. Itís all in pieces. But each piece is big.

d. The view of Rome from the café at the top of the museum was one of the best views we saw of Rome.




9. The Pantheon

Bigger than I thought it was going to be. And beautiful. An ancient work that should be as high on peopleís list as the Coliseum.


10. Berniniís Four Rivers fountain in Piazza Navarrone

Just beautiful


11. La Maddalena

Go inside this one and look at the work on the ceiling. Huge pictures and some of the figures are stucco, three D. The clouds just hang over the side



12. Santa Maria della Vittoria (Intimate baroque church with lavish, candlelit interior;)

Berniniís Ecstasy of St. Teresa is in here. Beautiful sculpture. Be sure to pay for the light in the little box to the left so you can see it better.


13. St. Peters in Chains Church (San Pietro in Vincoli) Ė
Michelangeloís statue of Moses is in here, as is his uncompleted tomb of Julius II.

There was a wedding going on in the church when we went there, so I was not able to stand in front of Moses and the Tomb. I assume that visitors are allowed to do just that when there is no religious ceremony going on.



14. San Luigi dei Francesi church

This was high on my list to see because it has 3 works by Carravagio inside. I was surprised to see that the place was packed with other tourists. Most of them waiting outside were French, as St. Louis was/is a French saint. But when I asked people why they were waiting outside, they all said they wanted to see the Carravagios. And here I thought I was the only Carravagio fanatic.

My wife and I got to the church at 12:30. That is exactly when they lock the doors for the long Italian lunch. I begged a priest just to let us in quickly, but he said, ďimpossible.Ē

So my wife and I went for lunch in the neighborhood, thatís when we dined at 3 Amici. When we came back a little before 3:30 (when the church was suppose to open to tourists again) the place was packed with French tourists as I said.

Anyway, 3:30 came and went. It was getting close to 4 and my wife and I had reservations to see the Borghesse Gallery in another part of town at 5. We were nervous because you need to make reservations for the Borghesse, and they warn you not to be late.

So since they were so prompt at closing the place down at 12:30, I felt a little justified in wanting them to open it up at 3:30. But as I said, they were late. I tried talking to some French people to get a little revolution in the streets going, but no one wanted to do anything. So I went to the side of the church and rang some bells. Nothing happened.

Then I went to the front of the crowd and started banging on the door. (By the way, I knew there was no religious ceremony going on inside.) All the French tourists were laughing, but none helped me bang on the door. So I banged on it louder.

Finally, a very angry man opened the door. He seemed to be the custodian of the place. I didnít know for sure what language he was speaking, it seemed like Italian but a lot of the French understood him and were laughing, so it might have been French with an Italian accent.

Anyway, he was yelling at me. Fire in his eyes. I pointed to my watch to show he was a half hour late, and pointed to all the tourists waiting. He got angrier. Made a motion that I shouldnít bang on the door. So I said, ďMartin Luther, Reformaccion!Ē This got him angrier, although the French were in hysterics.

Finally an older Frenchman helped me out. He patted me on the back, stepped in front of me, and argued my case to the custodian. Then we were all let inside.

The Carvaggios were worth the public dressing down!!


15. Borghesse

You need tickets and reservations made at least several weeks in advance. I used the ticket broker for this reservation.

This is on top of one of the hills in Rome. A little hard to get to, but you got to go.

Bernini's Apollo chasing Daphne was worth the price of admission alone. One of the most amazing and delicate marble statues Iíve ever seen. This guy knew what he was doing!!

There is another statue, I think also done by Bernini but I might be wrong, in which a greek god is carrying off some woman. The thing that is so amazing about this statue is that the godís fingers are pressed into her flesh and the marble is indented there. I canít describe it adequately, just go see it.

Plus, outside the Borghesse is a wonderful park. Watch Romans playing and relaxing. And the air is cool and fresh here, up on the hill, which might be a vital break for you if you go to Rome in the summer.


16. The Trevi Fountain And THE SPANISH STEPS Ė

Only a couple of blocks away from each other. Both are as beautiful as they say. The Trevi Fountain took my breath away, and was much bigger than I thought it was going to be.

However, both sights were jammed with tourists. We had to fight our way through people to get close the the Trevi and throw the traditional coins over our shoulders so that we could return to Rome one day.

We were in a cab and drove by each sight, popped out to get a little closer, but didnít really have a chance to soak in the beauty of these monuments because our meter was running. But even if we hadnít driven by in the cab, we wouldnít have stayed very long. Rome is packed with so many tourists it makes it hard to move or to take in the places you are seeing.


Just because some of you might find this interestingÖ

17. Mass in St. Peters

My wife and I got tickets to the mass on the Friday we were at the Vatican museum. I was asking a priest about the Sunday noon Papal blessing to the crowd in St. Peterís square, and he told me that it wasnít going to happen that Sunday because the new Pope was giving his first indoor mass at St. Peters.

I want to a Swiss Guard to confirm this info, and he asked if we wanted tickets. I said sure.

My wife was upset because we had to get up at 6:30 to get to the square by 7:30 to make sure we got in with our tickets by 8:30 when the doors opened.

However, as soon as we got to St. Peters on Sunday she realized how cool this was going to be.

Iím not Catholic, not even Christian, but this was an incredibly beautiful and memorable moment Ė to attend a mass led by the Pope in St. Peters church. Iíll never forget it.

They let you take pictures inside when the Pope marches down the aisle. I was standing on a chair for 1/2 hour waiting. Focusing my camera on all the people walking down the aisle. Then the Papal parade started. I focused on some Cardinals and waited for the Pope, looking through my viewfinder. And I waited. And I heard cheers and couldnít see him. Even though I was only 3 people away from the aisle. And then I looked away from my viewfinder and saw that the Pope had already walked by me.

He was much shorter in person, that he walked below my viewfinder!!

Oh well, no pictures, but great memories.


Train Ride

Thatís it for Rome. My wife and I then took a train, Eurostar, up to Venice to hook up with my family. It was a 41/2 trip.

It was hard to get tickets. Even going to the Trenetalia website months in advance, the website never seemed to work in the final steps of buying the ticket.

So we bought the tickets the day before. Make sure you know how to do it. You have to stamp your tickets in a yellow machine before you board, or you are in big big troubleÖeven if you show the conductor your tickets! I donít understand the logic to this, but Iím sure there is one.

Hereís a tip Ė If youíre traveling on one of these trains, go to the lunch car. The seats are more comfortable, the food is actually pretty good, and it just was a more enjoyable ride. We had lunch on the train, and really liked it.



VENICE

From now on, my trip seemed much more rushed and strenuous because I was with my family. And it wasnít that they are my family, but they were 3 more additional people with 3 more different ideas of how they wanted to tour Italy. Also, the age range Ė an 80 year old mother and a 20 year old nephew Ė made it a little hard to juggle different likes and dislikes, as well as physical activity.

My general observations about Venice are this:

1. Larger than I though it would be

2. Lots of tourists, obviously, but it wasnít so overpowering as it was in Rome. The streets didnít seem as crowded and hard to get around. I talked to some other tourists I met taking a picture of a bridge. They were city engineers from Sacramento California as it turns out. They told me that they too had just come from Rome. They also said they bet there were as many tourists in Venice as in Rome, maybe even more, but it didnít seem as overwhelming becauseÖthere are no cars in the streets of Venice. Thus, you can walk in the streets more in Venice, and the streets will also seem wider.

3. Of all the places that Iíve been in Italy, and last year my family went to Florence and Tuscany (which I really really loved), the people in Venice seemed to be the least friendly.

It was immediately obvious how Venetians were not as helpful as other Italians. Theyíre still better than Americans in helping out visitors, but in comparison to the other Italians I met in other cities in Italy, the Venetians were the least friendly.

Which seems odd since Venice makes most of its money from tourism I bet. As a matter of factÖ

4. Venice could be a little more tourist friendly with instructions on how to get around. Again, I donít mean to come off as an American who thinks everyone should speak EnglishÖeven in their own country. Not at all. Itís a lot of fun to work with Italians to get them to understand you from hand motions, and indeed, to understand them. The Italians are so great in that way.

But Venetians in general werenít as forthcoming with their help and time. And it seems to me that if the cityís main source of income is tourist dollars, they could figure out a way to help tourists. Give you an example:

When we arrived at the train station, it took us 45 minutes to figure out exactly where to go and which water bus (vaporetto) to catch to take us to St. Marks square. There was no signage in any other language than Italian. All Iím suggesting is that some large signs around the train station in several different languages Ė English, German, French and Japanese and Chinese(because there were a lot of Chinese and Japanese tourists) Ė would make everyoneís life a lot easier, including and especially the Venetians who are asked to help people in so many different languages.

Another exampleÖMy wife is an interior designer. On our Grand Canal tour we passed the museum for furniture. So we checked the times and found out it closed at 6. We got there at 5:20 and they would not let us in. There was an event at six, I think. However, there were still a lot of people visiting the small museum. I begged and pleaded. I told them how much it meant for my wife, and that we were leaving Venice the next day and couldnít come back. It didnít work.

I know. Maybe it is too much to think we could have gotten in. But again, Iím just comparing the Venetians to other Italians. And I think in other cities that I visited, we would have been allowed to rush through the thing. At least she would have.


Hotel Ė

1. The Anastasia

This is where we stayed. Right around the corner from St. Marks. Great location. The rooms were nice but smaller than those in Rome. But clean. And with air conditioning.

The morning breakfast was strictly Continental. Just so you know. Not as lavish as the one in Rome.

My brotherís travel agent arranged everything from here on inÖand so I did not have a shower in this hotel. If showers are important to you, make sure you clarify this when you make the reservation.


2. Pensione Accademia
ďVilla MaravegeĒ
near the Academy

We didnít stay here, but one night when we were waiting to get into a restaurant, we walked around and my brother took us here. This place used to be the Russian Embassy. My brother had wanted to stay here, but a friend talked him out of it and convinced him to stay closer to St. Marks.

This place was gorgeous, and the rooms were not only beautiful but large. And get this, because it is not directly in the center of town, it was actually cheaper than where we stayed. But much much nicer.

When we go to Venice again, this is where we are going to stay.



Mylesaway Jun 1st, 2005 04:41 AM

Part 3 of Trip Report to Rome, Venice and Northern Italy

Restaurants Ė

O.K. From here on in, my brother and mother were paying for everything. And my brother is a big spender, so we ate at the fanciest restaurants for the most part.

The first night we celebrated my motherís 80th at

1. The Cipriani

Very luxurious. 5 star hotel. For European jet setters who park their yachts (which are bigger than many of our homes) in the private harbor.

The dinner was very expensiveÖI took a look at the bill and gasped. But the food and service was on par with the price.

It reminded me of the Bel Air here in Los Angeles. That elegant.


2. Had a great dinner at Caffe La Piscine
La Calcina Ruskinís house
Dorsoduro, 782-30123
Tel: 041.2413889

Clean and fresh food. Highly recommend this one. And closer to all of our budgets than the Cipriani!!


3. Had dinner at a Tavern right around the corner from The Academy. Iím sorry, I donít know the name, but if you ask people around the Academy for the Tavern, they will send you here. Seems to be very popular.

Food was much more family style than the other two restaurants we ate dinner at in Venice. But I really loved this place too.


Sights -


1. The Dogeís Palace

Wonderful and interesting place. Hereís the deal Ė all the guidebooks I read said to reserve ahead for a special tour called ďThe Dogeís Secret Itinery.Ē So we did. This is a tour that takes you upstairs in the palace, while the general tour which people get when they donít make the reservations in advance only allows you into the state rooms below.

Honestly? My wife and family thought the Dogeís Secret Itinery was interesting. And it was to some extent. But if you donít get on this tour, trust me, you arenít missing a lot. The really breathtaking rooms are all on the first floor, on the general tour. And if youíre pressed for time, just go on the general tour.


2. Accademy MuseumĖ

I heard this wasnít a great museum, but my wife and I really liked it. Mainly because we were introduced to the exciting work of a famous Venetian painter Ė Tintereto. He has a different take on all the old bible subjects. And his work is indiscrible. The best way I can say it is that my nephew who isnít really into art and has a really short attention span thought Tintereto was ďbad.Ē That means good!


3. Scuola Grande di San Rocco

Make time to see this place. Itís covered with wall to wall paintings by Tintereto. Including his ďCrucifixion.Ē Itís called Tinteretoís Sistine Chapel. Just wonderful.


4. Grand Canal tour

We met up with some friends from America in Venice, and they paid for a private boat and guide to take us down the Grand Canal. I appreciated it. And it was great.

Honestly? No need to spend extra money for this. Just get on the vaparetto that goes down the entire Grand Canal and see the buildings yourself. It isnít entirely important to know who lived where or who owned what. The interesting thing is the beauty of the buildings themselves.

5. St. Marks

Iím not into Byzantine art or churches. This one was great though! I was surprised how much I liked the inside. And pay to go upstairs to see the original statues of the 4 horses on St. Marks and a great view of the city.

6. San Giorgio Maggiore church Ė

Designed by Palladio. We went here to see Tinteretoís Last Supper. And it is fantastic.

But while I had read up on who Palladio was Ė the last great artist of the Renaissance. A very important architect Ė I had never been in one of his buildings until that day. And the moment you walk into this place you are taken by it. The interior was simple, peaceful and spiritual.

7. Walking around Venice there were a couple of famous buildings I wanted to see. The one that really lived up to its reputation was: Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo. Itís the one that has the spiral staircase outside. Go see this one. But be warned, itís in a courtyard and very hard to find. We walked around and around in circles for an hour before we found the right alley to go into.

8. Gondola ride

My wife and I went at 10:30 one night. 80 euros. Couldnít bargain them down. But worth it. It was like a Disney Land ride, the beginning of the Pirates of the CaribbeanÖsort of. But real. Or should I say surreal.

We went late and were the only gondola out there. Fantastic.


An interesting story:

I got up at 4 one morning to help our friends take their bags to the airport. Plus I wanted to walk around Venice in the morning. I saw some gondolas around the corner from our hotel. I wanted to see how many there were, and if there were any rental signs for them. I was thinking about taking my wife on that gondola ride.

I walk up to the gondolas. When I got closer, I slipped on the wet marble by the canalÖand yesÖI fell into the canal. Up to my waist.

Let me tell you something, I smelled so bad when I crawled out. And I was only in the canal for like 2 seconds, but my jeans became a sickly green real fast. I had to take them to a laundry that put a special chemical on them to destroy the fungi. I couldnít explain to them that I wanted them to wash my sneakers too, so I had to throw them out.

But yes, I fell into a canal.

We only had 2 full days in Venice, so this was all I could see. I did get up early on the day we were leaving to take some photos at the fishmarket. Up at 5:00. Honestly, Iíd skip it. Wasnít anything special or interesting. Was just like a typical farmerís market. But of course, if you need a destination to walk around Venice, then by all means. But Venice is one of those places that you donít need a destination to walk around.




When we left Venice we went to the mainland to rent the van that the 5 of us were going to use for the rest of the trip as we drove from city to city.

My brother had rented an automatic van from Hertz. He had had trouble with Hertz on our last trip to Italy, but wanted to go with a company that had offices in America.

When we went to pick up our van, we were informed that they didnít have it. Even though my brother had called 4 days earlier and they said that they did have it.

There was a truck strike in Italy for several weeks already, and the new cars were not being delivered. All Hertz had was 1 small car for 4 people. We were 5 with luggage.

My brother was yelling at them, and I went next door to:

Europcar. They didnít have any automatics, nor vans, but they did rent us 2 small cars. And they were great. If you go to Italy, donít be nervous about renting from Europcar. They have offices all over, and as they explained, the people are more helpful because they arenít working for a large international corporation like Hertz.

I was greatful, but bummed because I loved driving in Italy the last time I was there. And these 2 cars were stick, which I donít know how to drive.


Padua

We took a day trip to Padua on the way to Asolo where we were staying for a couple of days.

1. Brenta Canal

We did not take the all day cruise up the canal to see the Palladio Villas. However, we were told we can drive the canal.

Got to tell you, most of the drive, and Iím sure most of the cruise, covers open spaces. Then a lot of the villas are run down. Only a few of them looked interesting.

My advice, I wouldnít spend a whole day on a boat doing this. Just pick a few of the villas you want to visit and drive there.

2. Scrovegni Chapel Ė

Giotto's 14th-century masterpiece and the main site in Padua. And it is amazing. We reserved tickets far in advance, but other tourists at the chapel told me that they had just walked up.

They only give you15 minutes inside the chapel to see the 40 or so paintings by Giotto. This is not enough time. I was disappointed in that. However, this is definitely worth a visit.

Because I was with my family, I did not have time to go to Padua University. But I hear it is great.



Asolo

This is a little town in the mountains about one hour and 20 minutes northeast of Venice. It is beautiful. The air even smells different up here. Later I learned that Asolo has its own ecosystem.

Hotel:

1. Cipriani Ė

Obviously this is expensive, but my brother had gotten a special deal here which made it really cheap. I donít know the details, but I think he has a travel agent card or something.

This place is amazing. The rooms are beautiful, the view gorgeous and the dining room is top notch.

This place is worth a visit if you want to pamper yourself in luxury in Italy.


Restaurants:

Besides the Cipriani, we ate at the two restaurants in the main square of Asolo. I donít know the names, but they were right across the street from each other.

Both were great.


Sites:

1. The town of Asolo is adorable. We spent several days here sort of relaxing. Iím not a good relaxer on vacation. I like to see things.

You can spend a half a day walking around the streets of the town, checking out the local shops. One store is a gourmet food store run by a guy named Ennzio. He makes his own olive oil, wine, and the thickest Balsamic vinegar I ever saw. Go there.


2. Grappa Ė

About 20 minutes away. Famous for Grappa liquor and the Palladio bridge.

Bridge nice but cloudy day so no picture worth taking, and not as beautiful a sight as I was told from the guide books.

But the Grappa winery is a perfect place to pick up bottles of Grappa, brandy and wine for gifts. The bottles are elegant and make wonderful gifts in themselves.


3. Vincenza

Because I was with my family, we rushed through this city. Only spent 3 hours there. Big mistake. Plan at least a day here. Itís a beautiful city with lots of Palladio villas here. And check out the Olympian Theatre he designed. I went inside and I can tell you I have never seen anything like it.

Also, make the trip out of the town to see ďThe Rotunda.Ē This is the building that Jefferson designed Monticello after. Itís wonderful.


4. Villa Barbaro

Palladian Villa near Asolo

You can go inside this villa on Tuesday and Saturday afternoons. A family still lives there. Worth the trip if you are in the neighborhood. There is something about this guyís architecture which is more moving than any buildings Iíve ever been in.

Worth seeing the inside of what it would be like to live in these kind of grand villas. SurprisinglyÖpretty comfortable and homey.

The grounds are beautiful too.


The Drive from Asolo to Rapallo in the Italian Riviera

This is not my idea of the way to travel. Drive across a country in 5 hours, skipping everything in between. Since we had two cars, I took it a little slower in mine, making two stops along the wayÖ

Verona
Lake Garda

1. Verona

This is a beautiful city. Because of my familyís schedule, I could only squeeze in a stop for a couple of hours. We ate in the main square in town, just a few blocks from Julietís supposed house.

But the architecture and feel of the city was great. Plus, the coliseum here seems even better preserved than the one in Rome. It was even more beautiful.

When we were there, every square seemed to be filled with schoolchildren playing organized games. It added to the great spirit of this place.

This is a dayís visit, not shorter.


2. Lake Garda

On the southern most tip of the lake, jutting out on a peninsula is a beautiful medieval town called Sirmione. The Rocca Scaligera, the castle there, is very well preserved and a great place to bring kids.

We spent an hour and a half here, and it seemed to be enough, but very visually memorable.


Rapallo

I did not like this place at all. I mean the town. Itís very run down. Didnít go in here more than driving through the town.

Hotel:
Excelsior Palace
0185.23.06.66

Another luxurious hotel. Itís a little run-down and old. Like the walls on the patio are chipping away. Iím not complaining, because the views are great, Iím just warning you.


2. Splendido in Portofino

Just had drinks here, and Iím sure itís really expensive, but itís also beautiful.



Restaurants:

1. Excelsior Palace

Great. I enjoyed it.


The rest of the places we ate at I donít remember. I know one night we ate in Portofino. It was just alright and they hit us with some sort of tax. It seemed like a scam. But it was a big restaurant by the pier so, I donít know.


Sights:


1. Cinque Terre

Great walk. Not a hike, but a walk. I got to tell you, Iím in the worst shape of my life. Heavier than Iíve ever been. Iíve got a bad shoulder and recovering from a 2 year bout with planta fascitis, which makes it very difficult to walk, no less run.

Anyway, I was really nervous about going on this hike with my 20 year old nephew. Rick Steves makes it seem like quite a trek.

It was very pretty. But there isnít a trail. There are steps. Rick Steves says that at parts itís really dangerous. It rained while we were walking, and some of the stone steps got slippery, but that was about as dangerous as it got.

Sure it gets steep it some points, but you can take your time. And if you think Iím not considering people older than me, all I will say is that there were Austrians hikers in their 70ís handling this walk with ease. More ease than us!

The neat thing about this hike/walk is that you walk for a couple of hours and then all of a sudden, youíre in a town with restaurants and lots of people shopping. And you sit down to get a big meal, and then you go out on the trail again.

Took a day to get there, hike and then return to Rapallo.


2. Portofino

I hated this place. Itís not quaint. Itís not pretty. Itís one street with a lot of shops. My brother had been here years ago, and was greatly disappointed when he returned this trip. Do not go out of your way to go here.


3. Chiavari

This is not a city you visit. But we had a down day in Rapallo, and it is right next door and I had to do laundry.

The thing I miss by traveling with a group of people, a group of people who happen to be my family, is the non-planned little adventures you can have in a foreign land. Just by setting out in the morning towards a general direction or with a small goal in mind.

I needed to do my laundry. There were no Laundromats that I could find after asking in several stores and hotels. Finally, I found a place where 2 women were doing laundry. They said they would have it ready by 4. That was really going to be a problem. It was only 10:30 in the morning, and I didnít have the time to hang around this place until 4. I asked if there was any way she could do it earlier. She pointed to the sign that said they were closed from 12:30 to 3:30. I understood why it was going to take so long, but I was disappointed. She read that on my face. So she told me to come back at 1, she took a coin and rapped on the glass door, telling me to do the same when I came because she didnít want anyone to know that they were there.

I did, I got the laundry. I gave her a big tip which at first she didnít want to take but I insisted. She hugged me and we laughed.

While my wife and I were waiting, I went into a store to buy some batteries for my camera. They took out the old batteries, there were two guys, and they argued about which ones to replace them with, looked through their battery shelf, found the right ones, and then cheered. I cheered too. Big celebration. You canít beat experiences and little moments like this.


Lake Como

I really didnít want to go here, but my brother insisted. Itís pretty and all, but not for me. There are no beaches. I didnít stay long enough to explore hiking trails around the lake. Basically a guy like my brother goes here for the view. Not for me. You should be really into boating to come here. My opinion.

Hotel:

Hotel Villa Flori

I hated this place. The staff was the first one I ran into that was not helpful at all.

Plus, even though we were on the lake, it is a small hotel and we were also on the highway that runs by the hotel. At night we had to close our window because the car noise was keeping my wife up.

Restaurants:

1. Hotel villa Flori

Excellent!! Donít stay here, but come for the restaurant.

2. Hotel Villa Desta

Another extravagant meal, really extravagant, but it was fantastic.


Sights:

1. Bellagio on Lake Como

My wife and I really hated this place. It takes almost an hour to get here by boat. And when you get here, itís a big ďso what?Ē

We did go to the big hotel here, I donít remember the name but it is all the way to the left. I think it was the Hotel Serbellino. It was lush and grand.

2. Milan

We only spent a day in this city and I really liked it. It felt like a 2 day city, at least. I mean, we didnít do any shopping here, but if we did, thatís another day in itself. But what we did see were:

a. The Duomo Ė

The prettiest Gothic church Iíve seen. Make sure you go up to the top to walk among the piers and towers.

b. The Last Supper

They are really strict here. You need to make reservations way in advance, and they will hold you to it.

They only let you look at the picture for 15 minutes. But thatís OK. Itís only one picture.

By the way, the picture is even more beautiful and moving in person. Well worth a trip to Milan alone.

c. Leonardoís Horse

Itís at the race track. Itís an exact copy of the statue Leonardo built for Milan which was destroyed within 8 years by invading armies. A businessman paid to have this statue made from Leonardoís design and notes.

Itís amazing. Got to see it. Itís incredibly realistic, but also there are part of it, like the face, that are bordering on expressionistic. Itís close to what Picasso might have doneÖagain, I mean the face.

I have a feeling if the original statue had survived, it would have been a very important piece of art.

No one I know whoís gone to Milan has ever talked about seeing this horse. And it was a little hard to find a cabbie who knew what I was talking about.

But itís well worth a trip out to the race track to see this thing. One of the most memorable things Iíve ever seen.


OK. Thatís my trip. I hope some of these comments and observations help fellow Fodorites and give them some ideas for their vacations and journeys. If not, well, I tried!!

Myles Berkowitz


Leely Jun 1st, 2005 04:42 AM

Thanks for the report, especially the Gary Hill info. My sister (who is also pregnant, by the way) and I just returned, and we had made a lot of jokes about him, not knowing who/what he is.

Not sure when you were there, but it was beastly hot last week and sooo crowded! Return to Rome in the winter--you'll love it.

Can't wait for the rest of your report.

tcreath Jun 1st, 2005 05:20 AM

Thanks for posting! I enjoyed reading your report.

I agree with Leely...definitely visit rome in off-season! We were there in March and December of last year and had an absolutely wonderful time. The weather was fine (temps in the 60's both times), little to no lines, and not many tourists around.

Tracy

ira Jun 1st, 2005 05:32 AM

Hi myles,

Thanks for a very interesting and informative report.

>You have to stamp your tickets in a yellow machine before you board, or you are in big big troubleÖeven if you show the conductor your tickets! I donít understand the logic to this, but Iím sure there is one. <

Unless you are on an ES* train, your ticket is good for a year. If it isn't stamped, it is assumed that you are trying to take a free ride.

Same for bus tickets.

((I))


Mylesaway Jun 1st, 2005 05:50 AM

Thanks Ira for the info.

And thanks everyone for pointing out that Rome can be a pleasant trip in the off-off season. I would hate to write off such an amazing city, so I will try it again some day soon.

Glad you're finding the report interesting.

Myles

KathrynT Jun 1st, 2005 05:55 AM

Myles,

I really enjoyed your report. I chuckled at your effort to find logic in Italy and gasped at your tumble into the Venetian canal. My kids were wondering what it would be like to "swim" in the canal -- now I'll know what to tell them -- yuck!

Nikki Jun 1st, 2005 05:59 AM

Thanks for writing such an interesting report. Sounds like quite a trip, warts and all. You're the first person I've heard admit he fell into a canal in Venice.

Leely Jun 1st, 2005 06:06 AM

I realized you were posting the rest of your report at the same time I was replying. Just wanted to say I appreciated the opinionated nature of your reflections. And falling into a canal: well, that's an incident you won't soon forget!

Thanks again, Myles.

Intrepid1 Jun 1st, 2005 06:10 AM

Thanks very much for taking the time to post your report and glad that you had a good trip that was memorable.

Jocelyn_P Jun 1st, 2005 06:28 AM

Oh my gosh I can't believe you fell into the canal! I'm sure it wasn't funny at the time, but what a great story you have to tell now.

I'm glad you enjoyed Verona. We spent 8 nights there last May (with a few daytrips) and absolutely fell in love with that magnificent city.

Great report, Mylesaway!

jody Jun 1st, 2005 06:29 AM

REally enjoyed reading your report and the restaurant suggestions!

MarthaT Jun 1st, 2005 06:36 AM

Great trip report. It brought back memories of my 2000 trip.
As long as I have been coming to this board I have never heard or read of someone falling in a canal. You might be the first one here. You win the prize!! LOL.
Seriously though, I imagine that was pretty nasty.
I did love the way you explained everything in detail, it was very easy to imagine being there.

Scarlett Jun 1st, 2005 06:43 AM

OMIGOD, you fell into the canal :O
There was a poster on here not long ago who worried about wearing a life jacket on the gondolas, I hope she is not reading this :)

I have SO enjoyed reading this Miles, thank you so much!
I like the picture in my minds eye of you banging on that church door lol.

Carmen Jun 1st, 2005 06:53 AM

mylesaway: Did you use an audioguide tour for the Borghese Gallery? Or just go it alone? Thanks for all the detailed info...we head to Rome a week from tomorrow.

p.s. I'm just curious about your message header...why the repeats?

Spygirl Jun 1st, 2005 07:16 AM

Thanks for your observations, Myles, I found them really quite interesting and helpful-I totally agree about using a booking service to make ticket reservations for the sights in the big three, it takes all the hassle out of the ticket process, and you can make reservations for several different places all at once. I'm using www.weekendaroma.com.

As for visiting Rome in the height of the tourist season, I'll be there at the end of August, and that is considered low season, when most of the Romans head out of town-it's been a long time since I've been there in the height of summer though, so I'll see how it goes in the intense heat!

I was a bit surprised about your comments on the Venetians, since I actually find them to be among the friendliest and most helpful-but I've never really had a problem in Italy with unhelpful or nasty people except in Rome, and of course, each person's experiences are different when traveling.

As for Sabatini's in Rome, well, I had an encounter with Mr. Sabatini back in the 80's, a very yukky experience,(it wasn't bad, it was just personally "icky") so I wouldn't go back there, but I DO have 3 of the restaurant's very cute pottery wine jugs-so I can look at the name "Sabatini" every day in my kitchen!

ahotpoet Jun 1st, 2005 07:26 AM

Myles
That was wonderful. There was a thread about whether to post trip reports, blah blah blah but after reading this, I say "Absolutely" I just got back from Rome myself and you have me just about ready to hop back on a plane.
Mille grazie
Claudia

Mylesaway Jun 1st, 2005 07:58 AM

Thanks Fodorites for all the kind words about my trip report. I'm getting a kick out of reading your reactions.

Claudia -

The reason I posted this report, and took the time to write it was because of all the help i got on this board in planning my trip. So I didn't see the thread you mentioned, but obviously I vehemently agree with you. Why have a board if you can't let fellow travellers get as specific as possible. It helped me!

Also, about the Venetians, everything is relative, and a Venetian is still much more helpful and friendly than I would suspect an American might be to a foreign tourist. What I meant was that relative to the Tuscans and the Florentines and the Milanese and even the Romans...they were not as nice. But you're right, every experience is different.

Talking about different experiences...

Spygirl -

Does sound creepy. My being a guy...I'm sure I've never had that kind of experience!!

And you're not missing anything spectacular at Sabatinis. You could still go to that piazza at night and have desert without having to go into Sabatini. It just is a beautiful piazza and still seems to have a bunch of authentic Romans hanging out in it!!

Carmen -

1. Normally I would rent an audioguide when I visit museums. I love museums and I find these guides very helpful. My wife is pregnant though, so I knew she was going to be up for a long visit...anywhere!

What I did was to read a bunch of travel books before...Fodors of course...Rick Steves, etc. I got a sense of what the important works were going to be in the museums I was visiting.

Then I looked them up in my old Art History book from college. I use Frederick Hartt. This gave me a sense of what to look for in these pieces and why they were important in the history of art.

Finally, I checked out some art sites on the internet and even the individual museum sites to see what I was going to see and read up about them beforehand.

So I sort of picked what I was going to see beforehand.

But if you have the time, why not?! Rent the audio. I would.

2. As to the repeats in the title of my trip report...I have no idea! But I am computer challenged so I must have done something wrong!

Kathryn T -

If you want to teach your kids a lesson, next time you're in Venice, take a long an old piece of clothing and let your kids dunk that in the canal. It will turn green, I assure you. And I find visual aids much better teaching tools!!

I find it hilarious that after spending several hours writing copious notes abuot my trip, the biggest response has been to my falling into the canal.

I'm a filmmaker in LA. I am always arguing that physical comedy works. People snobbishly disagree with me out here.

Now I'll just show them this thread!!!!

P.S. I still can't sit down or get up easily. I really really hurt my coxyx. Or however you spell your backbone. Big black and blue mark too. Went to the doctors about something else and he said there is nothing you can do about that except soak in hot water. Then he wanted me to give the details about falling into the canal...while he was laughing hysterically.

Doesn't anyone feel my pain here?!!!!!!!!!

Myles


Statia Jun 1st, 2005 08:14 AM

What an interesting, informative and well organized report, Myles. Although I didn't agree with all of your perceptions, we all have different travel experiences and we can all learn from others perspectives. So, I respect your honesty.

The Cipriani in Venice certainly is a special place for a celebration, isn't it?

I can't believe you fell into the canal! What a story for the grandkids someday. ;)

Seems like you have an overall enjoyable trip. Thanks for the report.


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