Trip to Italy Report - 17 day report

Aug 26th, 2007, 04:04 PM
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Join Date: Aug 2007
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Trip to Italy Report - 17 day report

August 26, 2007

Hello Everyone,

My wife and I recently returned from a tour of Italy. We used Insight Travel as our tour operator and the 17 day “ Country Roads of Italy “ as the specific tour. This will be a very long post as I hope to give blow by blow details of all the ups and downs, positives and negatives of our trip. Remember this when you sign up for one of these excursions

THIS IS NOT A VACATION ! THIS IS A TOUR !!

I chose Insight over other operators for several reasons- primary was that this tour was the only one that went to all of the places I wanted to go, not just the big 3 of Venice , Florence and Rome. I also was looking for tours that stayed at smaller hotels more centrally located and would give us time to explore on our own.
Insight is one of several operators owned by Globus. They are supposed to stay at better locations and generally give higher quality service as well as comfortable accommodations. I investigated Perillo, Tauck, Colette and many others and Insight seemed like the best value.
Our cost of the tour excluding airfare was $3550.00 US per person.

Before describing the tour I would caution the reader on several things if you plan to go to Italy:
1. Don’t go in mid summer unless absolutely necessary. The heat is brutal and the crowds are overwhelming - especially at the top attractions.
2. Don’t go if you have trouble walking. Walking uphill for long distances is expected and can’t be avoided. Buses are restricted where they can go. Stairs are everywhere. ( 181 stairs in Perugia ) Cobblestones are also much more difficult to walk on than American sidewalks so wear good walking shoes. ( personally I like ECCO’s ) Also, wear clothing made from a fabric that breathes. Avoid clothes made of synthetic materials - you may as well wear a plastic bag !
3. You will always spend more time in places you don’t like and not enough time in the places you do.
4. Don’t go if you always ask: Why? There will always be a reason you will not like. Pretend you are at Disneyland and don’t ask where the ride is going, just get in, fasten your seat belt and hold on!

Note about “ OPTIONAL EXCURSIONS “ If you look at your itinerary you will see several Optional Excursions. First of all, You DO NOT have a choice on which of the excursions are available. This is done by the Tour Company. Our guide denied having anything to say about which optional excursion we would do. Some of them were so seamlessly woven into the day that you did not even realize that this was optional and you paid for it ! Second: If you pay for your optional excursion by credit card you must wait for the end of the tour ( IF you and your guide “remember” and probably the next billing cycle of your credit card for the credit. Our Guide told us (fraudulently) that if we paid in cash for these extras he could refund in cash. But if we paid by credit card we would be subject to a 50% cancellation fee and have to wait for two months to receive the credit.

Note about souveneirs: From our experience, local souveneirs are just that - local. We were surprised that items we saw in one place were not available again in other places. Even simple tacky items did not get wide distribution. So buy it when you see it, you’ll probably not see it again.

Andiamo !!

Friday June 29 - Day 1 - Overnight travel to Rome.
My wife and I were very fortunate as we were able to use credit card miles for 1st Class seats round trip. These were very difficult to get and we needed to book these almost 8 months in advance, but flying from Los Angeles to London and then to Rome in a first class seat with flat bed seating and gourmet meals was a pleasure. We did not need the obligatory recovery day to adjust our body clocks.

Saturday June 30 - Day 2 - Arrival in Rome.
Hotel Sheraton on Via Pattinaggo ( near Da Vinci Airport)
It was great to be back in Italy after a 40 year absence. It is nice to know some things do not change. For example, our flight landed at 12:30 pm. We did not get our bags from Alitalia until 2:30 pm.
After clearing immigration and customs we walked into the main terminal looking for our tour operator. It only took a few minutes to find Insight and check in with their representative. Since our flight arrived at 12:30 PM and the next bus to our hotel was not scheduled to leave until 3:30 we were stuck in the airport waiting. At 3:30 a large group of Insight tourists were split up into several smaller groups depending on which tour they were taking. Our small group was taken to a Sheraton hotel not far from the airport. We were scheduled for a welcoming drink with our tour group and and meeting with our guide at 5:00 PM.

At 5:00 PM my wife and I went down to the bar and found our group - a very small group of only 16. There were two New Zealand couples who were friends and previous traveling companions. There was a family of 4 from Australia plus two other couples from Australia. There were also 4 Americans. A small group has its advantages in that the bus is less crowded and loading and unloading people and baggage is very quick. There is also a a greater chance to get to know other people. But there are also disadvantages to a small group. If the group is too small you must have unanimity on the extra excursions or they will not happen as the group is to small to rent a bus for only 8 or 10.

After introductions and the welcoming drink we were left on our own. Which means we were in a strange city, out in the middle of nowhere near the airport, unable to walk anywhere, unreasonable taxi fare to get into town and the restaurants in the hotel were closed ! It seems to me that the first night, tired from travel is when you need your guide and tour operator the most, yet this was a night when we were left to fend for ourselves. We ate a lousy but expensive pizza in the bar.

Sunday July 1 - Day 3 - Travel to Sorrento with stops at Monte Cassino and Pompeii.
Grand Hotel La Pace on Via Tordara
As the bus pulled out, our guide Diego Lodi (age 63) with three ex wives to support began to give us his personal overview of life in Italy. He complained about taxes, the government and the demise of the Lira in favor of the Euro. Then he complained about taxes again. He told us about how to order in a cafe, what we will find for lunch and the hours Italians eat dinner. He spoke for a full hour and a half......then he settled into a seat and took a nap.
As we arrived at the bus stop in Pompeii our guide said that after the tour we would have time to “find” lunch near the bus. He pointed out a few street vendors and specifically pointed out a restaurant where “ you can get a nice hot lunch or a nice salad.”

At Pompeii we had a local guide take us thru the excavated ruins - a memorable experience.

Looking for lunch was also memorable. My wife and I as well as the rest of the group went to the restaurant pointed out by our guide but the selection was dismal. Wilted sandwiches, dried out steam table meats with unrecognizable sauces. There were no decent salads left. My wife and I left and went to a local street vendor and had a wonderful meal of fresh cut up fruit and melon and a lemon gelato. Most of the group settled for the restaurant. After we rejoined the group and were about to leave the restaurant area I saw the owner/manager (?) of the restaurant go up and shake the hand of our guide in greeting. In his hand was a 20 Euro note - our guide smiled and quickly pocketed it.

We continued on to Sorrento. What an amazing drive with unbelievable views and traffic like in a video game. I drive a lot so I am obsessed with traffic. If bad drivers scare you then sit in the back.
We arrived in Sorrento in the late afternoon. Our hotel The Grand La Pace was up the hill and difficult to find from downtown Sorrento. Easily 2 Km, not very walkable unless you are young and energetic. The hotel lobby was beautiful but it took much work and complaining and 3 tries to get a decent room. Room #1 had a view of the garbage dumpster. Room #2 had no window and Room #3 was set up for 4 single beds. Finally our Guide Diego went to bat for us. We got his room, a king bed overlooking the pool with a distant view of the Mediterranean Sea

Dinner that night was in the hotel. Let me say this at the start - If you are going on a tour and expecting individually prepared high quality meals you will be disappointed. Very few restaurants can handle large groups that need to arrive , eat, and leave together. If you expect institutional food on a par with a college dormitory or a hospital you will not be disappointed.

Monday July 2 - Day 4 - Day Trip to Positano
After a 7:30 wake up call and an 8:00 buffet breakfast with damp eggs, cold meats and cheeses,
canned fruit, sugary desserts and indifferent service we were off to Positano. I must say after being there 40 years earlier and still remembering it fondly I wanted my wife to see this gem on the sea. But first there was a mandatory trip to a woodworking factory where we would be shown regional wood working techniques and be given a “rare opportunity” to buy wood boxes, chests or furniture of all sizes. What an opportunity ! What a wasted hour !
The road to Positano is narrow and winding so shortly before arriving we had to transfer to a smaller bus. Since our group was only 16 this was no problem. The bus let us off maybe 1/2 km from the top of the town. We slowly walked down the narrow streets down towards the local church. This would be our meeting place 2 hours later. We would have to find our own lunch and be back at the bus by 1:00 As a group we walked down to the water front and saw this magnificent town carved into the very cliffside. We returned to the bus and drove back to Sorrento where we were deposited at our hotel at 2:00. I must say that Sorrento is beautiful but why drive so far to one of the true jewels of Italy (Positano) and only be given 2 hours which had to include a fast lunch and a steep walk back up the hill. ? After all, we would be in Sorrento for another day and would have plenty of free time there tomorrow. Why were we given a full half day to do nothing ?
We were now on our own until dinner at an optional preselected restaurant on the waterfront for 56 euros each.

Tuesday July 3 - Day 5 - Excursion to Capri. With optional trip.
After a 7:00 AM wake up and 7:30 breakfast in the hotel we were bused to the Sorrento waterfront for an 8:30 cruise to the Isle of Capri. Upon arrival we were loaded on to smaller local boats for a trip to the Famed Blue Grotto. That is we thought we were going to the Famed Blue Grotto. Our Guide Diego told us that getting to the actual Blue Grotto was both difficult to due to tides and crowds waiting for entry as well as the additional difficulty of transferring into smaller boats and of course the added cost ! Wait a second...I thought we just paid for that. Well... not really. What we paid for was for a boat cruise around the island with views of
“other“ grottos and other island views. We returned to the Island and were bused up to the town of Anacapri where we were given an hour and a half to look around before the included lunch at a preselected restaurant at the cost of 52 euros each. We returned to the town of Capri after lunch and were given 1 hour to look around before returning to the boat for the return trip to
Sorrento. That night we left on our own to find dinner. There was a shuttle bus from the hotel to the downtown area of Sorrento. We found a nice restaurant , strolled the town after dark and finally found a taxi to take us back to the hotel.

P.S. Our host at the luncheon restaurant told us that the wine was made from grapes that he and his wife picked. This wine was supposedly authentic and hand made and not available anywhere else but at his restaurant. But after lunch, while waiting for the bus to arrive , my wife went exploring. She found the delivery man walking down a back staircase and an open shed in which the commercially labeled wine was stored along with cases of empty bottles.

P.P.S. According to our guide, Taxis are required by law to use meters to determine the fare. There was no meter visibly on in the cab. When arriving at our hotel after an evening on our own in Sorrento I asked the driver how much the fare was. He just shrugged and waited. I offered 10 euros and he was happy. Next morning when we told our guide about this he practically called us liars.

Wednesday July 4 - Day 6 - Travel from Sorrento to Orvieto with stops in Frascati &
Castel Gandolfo --Hotel Aquila Bianca on Via Garibaldi
Even though there was a lot of bus time this day it was actually one of the more pleasant
days of the tour. At the town of Frascati we were dropped off and told to find lunch somewhere and meet back in 90 minutes. Luckily we stumbled upon a small square with several stores where we bought salami and cheese and olives and some good bread. Castel Gandolfo is where the Pope has a summer residence. The surrounding streets are fascinating with renaissance architecture and unique shops. A snack was obligatory and easy to find. The town of Orvieto was our first experience with a Roman hilltop town. A fascinating place. I would like to go back there again and explore. After a brief orientation we were on our own for dinner. Our hotel was in the center of town and was obviously the private home of someone very wealthy. The room was quirky and elegant at the same time. The shower was tiny and the AC was barely adequate but the staircases and 15 foot ceilings, the dining room and the large shuttered windows were charming.

Thursday July 5 - Day 7 - Travel from Orvieto to Perugia with stop in Assisi
Sangallo Palace Hotel on Via Masi
Well, we asked for the “Country Roads of Italy” tour and we certainly got the country roads. Long slow winding roads from place to place. Plenty of scenery but nothing memorable. Assisi is an interesting town with a major church. So are all of the towns with major churches. After a while it was hard to remember one from another. We finally arrived in Perugia. Our hotel was in the final stages of remodeling. Some rooms did not have shower doors. The plasma TV with limited free internet access was great but the wood floors had drywall dust and always felt dirty. But the hotel, while being in the newer part of town was also very close to the underground escalators which take you up to the top and center of the city. We had to discover this on our own after spending hours walking around and climbing a long wide stone staircase with 181 steps to the top of town. Like all these towns it has a church with historical significance. Dinner was provided in the hotel.

Friday July 6 - Day 8 - This morning we drove to the small mountain town of Spello. Another small hilltop town with more Roman fortifications and another church, cost: 23 euros. Perugia is home to the annual Umbrian Jazz Festival. The town was jumping with musicians from all over the world. I was also educated in the culinary delight of Porchetta. A whole pig slow roasted with spices, sliced with a crackling crisp skin and served on fresh bread. OOOOOOOOOOHHHHHHH !!!! We ate ours on the front steps of a 13th century church. While it was one of the more exciting places we visited due to the jazz festival we had a lot of free time in a relatively minor town. This was one of those case where we should have stayed only one night, not gone to Spello and spent an extra day elsewhere. Dinner was on our own in town, under the stars with jazz echoing off the ancient stones.

Saturday July 7 - Day 9 - Drive to Venice with stop in San Marino
Hotel Villa Mabapa on Lido Island ( a Best Western Hotel )
We had a 6:45 AM baggage call this morning. Breakfast was the standard fare - runny eggs cold meats and cheeses, or sweet croissant. We drove north to the hilltop republic of San Marino. Beware that this is a long climb up stairs and a long walk to the entrance to the old walled city. Once there we had time to walk around this ancient hilltop town. There were many beautiful designer shops and boutiques and quaint cafes with magnificent views of the valley. We were given approximately an hour and a half to explore and find lunch. Due to reported heavy traffic on the highway our guide directed the driver to take local streets to the Venice ferry dock. This was probably no better than the highway. By the time we arrived at the ferry we had to wait an extra hour for the boat. We were supposed to be taken to the main island for free time and exploration, but due to our late arrival we were instead taken directly to our hotel on Lido Island. The hotel was operated by the Best Western chain. The front of the hotel was charming with a nice back garden. The rooms were adequate but our rooms window was about 2 feet square and looked out onto the roof of the dining room. Since we were so late in arriving we were taken by motor launch in the evening. We were dropped off short of the Rialto bridge and were led by our guide for about 15 minutes thru the streets until we came upon St Marks Square. We were led to a cafe opposite the Doge’s palace where we were provided with a drink and the music of a local jazz band. We all thanked our guide Diego until we realized that this was one of the optional excursions. Cost 43 Euros each. This turned into a 2 hour $112 walking tour that we should have had time to do on our own. We boarded a motor launch soon after and were dropped off at our hotel by 10:00 PM.

Sunday July 8 - Day 10 Venice at Leisure
The next day was a Sunday but it was not very leisurely. Due to our late arrival on day 9 we had to pack a lot into our day off. First we were taken to St Marks Square and and were immediately escorted to a glass factory for a glass blowing demonstration and the “rare opportunity” to purchase some Murano style glass items. Next we boarded a gondola for a ride thru the canals. The canals were more like back alleys. No, we did not go on the grand canal. No, we did not go near the Rialto bridge. Yes, we did go under the Bridge of Sighs. Afterwards we had about 1 hour on our own.We went to the top of the Basilica’s bell tower then walked around for a brief time. Next we were taken by a private guide thru the Doge’s Palace. This was also an optional excursion (34 Euros each). The tour lasted about an hour and a half . We were left with the rest of the afternoon to ourselves to see things like St. Marks cathedral. We gathered again at about 4:00 for the return to our hotel. We were supposed to have an optional excursion to Burano Island to view the colorful buildings and have lunch. This turned into a dinner excursion. We arrived on the island at about 6:00 PM. We were given an hour to walk about on our own before gathering for dinner at a local restaurant. Since it was Sunday evening almost everything was closed. We never saw any of the famed lace manufactured there.

Monday July 9 - Day 11 Journey to Florence
Sheraton Firenze Hotel on Via Giovanni Agnelli
We left the hotel in Venice early the next morning for the drive to Florence. The day was supposed to include a walking tour of the city, viewing of the marble cathedral and baptistry then a visiut to Signorina Square and a visit to Santa Croce. None of this happened. Instead, against the advice of our driver, our guide instructed that we be driven across the entire Italian peninsula to the town of Pisa. This took several extra hours on the road. We had a stop at a winery for lunch. The usual offerings of bread, cheese, olives and cold meats were passed around under a canopy on the grounds of the winery. This was part of the optional tour of Pisa. It’s a good thing we all signed up for the options since we bypassed Florence and were given no other. Again we were offered an “opportunity” to purchase some local wines and olives. Our arrival in Pisa was during the height of the afternoon heat and crowds. We had a private guide show us inside the church but we were not given the option to go into the famous leaning tower. I would say that we got no closer than 100 feet from the tower. We were given 30 minutes for a snack or to shop at one of the hundreds of tourist trap pushcarts or illegal street vendors as we made our way back to the bus. The next two hours were spent getting into Florence and to our hotel - a Sheraton on the outskirts of the city. Dinner was a buffet in the hotel.

I must say that this was the most dissappointing day of the trip. We spent nearly the entire day on the bus. We were given no time to explore Pisa , we were not given the option of actually going into the tower itself, and we were deprived of a half day in Florence as the Pisa excursion should have been the next day in the afternoon during free time.

Tuesday July 10th --Day 12 Florence
This morning we did what we were supposed to do the previous afternoon. We walked thru the Square of Santa Croce on our way to a leather and jewelry store where we were given a 5 minute or less demonstration of Florentine leather work. We were again given the “opportunity” to purchase leather goods or jewelry. Another wasted hour. We returned to the Square of Santa Croce for a brief tour of the church before walking to the Academy Gallery to see Michelangelo’s statue of David. All entrances to the Academy were a mob scene. There were hundreds of people pushing and jamming to get in. This was one of the reasons I decided to take a tour. We had a brief wait outside but were escorted in past the crowds into the building. After our “time” with a private guide we were led into the gift shop. Since this was the end of the days activities my wife and I bactracked into the museum and spent a little more time there looking at David and some of the other rooms that were open to viewing. It was now about 1:00 and we had the rest of the day free. We found a local museum presenting mechanical works of Leonardo Da Vinci and then walked across the Ponte Vecchio to the Pitti Palace. We cancelled out on that nights optional dinner - a Tuscan dinner with wine and music. Instead we strolled the streets of Florence, Shopped for jewelry on the Ponte Vecchio and had dinner at a lovely cafe. Afterwards we took a slow walk, window shopped, watched street performers and street artists ply their trades. A cab for about 15 euros took us back to the hotel that evening.

Wednesday July 11 - Day 13 Florence to Chianciano Terme
Grand Hotel on Piazza Italia
Our first stop this day was in the hilltop town of San Gimignano. This town has also been called the medieval Manhattan due to the towers built by competing families. The town is certainly out of the way of most tours. We were able to stroll and explore on our own for a while, have a lovely lunch at the town square and then walk to the bottom of the town for the bus.
The next stop was Siena. It was a long walk from the bus terminal to the town. We had 30 minutes to find lunch and meet in the center of town for a walking tour. This was one of the most crowded places we were in the entire tour. The town center was spectacular and the steep winding sidewalks to the top were amazing. I must say that this was one of the places that you need to spend at least two days in. It was a shame that we were only given a couple of hours.We were led through out of the way neighborhoods to the local church and were brought inside for the obligatory sightseeing tour. in this case the mummified head and thumb of St. Catherine.
We then drove to the town of Chianciano Terme. This is a resort town mostly for old people to relax in and drink the local hot spring waters. Our guide told us that the water was good for all ailments .This was also an out of the way stop for tour groups. Our guide said that he had not been here for more than 5 years and had a great deal of difficulty even finding the hotel. The hotel was an old one with quirky rooms and plumbing - but the air conditioning worked well and it was clean. It was probably a grand one in its heyday.
Dinner was on our own and hard to find. Within short walking distance there was nothing but gelato or coffee shops.A group of 6 of us walked up a steep hill into a neighborhood and finally found a restaurant. During dinner another group of 4 from our tour also found the restaurant. Finally another group of 4 found the restaurant. That’s right, out of 16 people, 14 ate at this restaurant. it seemed that it was the only one open after 8:00.

Thursday, July 12 -- Day 14
The next morning we got a relatively late start. We drove the short distance to the town of Montepulciano, another quaint hilltop town. We were very much out of the way on the country roads. There were very few tourists here and the streets were empty. A nice lunch and back to the hotel by 1:30. We spent the afternoon at the hotel pool as there was nothing else to do. The town was deserted and the few people out were very old. Lousy dinner in the hotel.
This stop was an example of bad planning . We stayed two nights here and there was really nothing to do. The side trips were interesting but not noteworty. Why spend an extra day here when we could have been in Siena or Venice or Florence or Rome?? Also,we were left on our own at a place where we needed help.

Friday July 13 - Day 15 Drive to Rome with stop in Tarquina
Cicerone Hotel on Via Cicerone St.
A morning drive to the Etruscan necropolis at the town of Tarquina. A truly awe-inspiring and emotionally moving place. A quick tour of the local museum and a fast lunch. Now on to Rome.
We arrived at 3:30, checked into our hotel - on the west side of Tiber - the wrong side I might add. We walked around the neighborhood, saw Hadrians tomb from a distance, had coffee and walked back toward the hotel to find dinner. We met up with another couple from the tour and found a nice dinner.

Saturday July 14 - Day 16
We were brought to the Vatican museum early in the morning. We entered in to the museum from a side street, went directly into the museum and from there into the Sistine Chapel without waiting.. It was VERY hot and VERY dark in the chapel and VERY crowded. It was nearly impossible to get a good look at the ceiling as we were being pushed by the crowd. Next we were taken to St. Peters where we were given the tour. It certainly was not the tours fault, but it would be much more impressive if we went into the Vatican from the front door, St Peters Square as opposed to the back entrance from an unimpressive side street. Not very good PR from the church. Afterward we were led to what seemed like a pre arranged souveneir shop. A waste of time. Next was the Coliseum where we were met by another local guide. I must say that the Coliseum lived upto my expectations. An incredible structure. It was well over 100 degrees so we were happy to go back to the hotel for a shower and a nap. At about 6:00 PM we again boarded the bus for what was to be a sightseeing trip of Rome. Instead we drove a brief time on the Via Borghese and were soon dropped off on a side street. We had no idea where we were being led to - we assumed it was a restaurant. It was still very hot but on we walked. At least it was downhill. Finally, after about a 12 block walk we came upon the Plaza de Espana ,or The Spanish Steps. It was a modest area crowded with tourists and peddlers. We were told to walk around on our own and meet back in 45 minutes. After meeting, we again walked the 12 blocks, this time uphill, in the broiling heat back to the bus. We were then driven back to the neighborhood of the hotel and led to a restaurant for our farewell dinner. The restaurant was a tacky tourist trap complete with a Roman Centurion in costume and opera singing waiters. We were all photographed individually with this costumed host as we entered. We were led to our tables and---what a coincidence !! the restaurant was filled with 3 or 4 other tour groups all having their farewell dinner! The food was modest but acceptable. During the dinner we were offered the opportunity to purchase ( for 6 Euros) the aforementioned picture with an unknown costumed person. During the dessert we were also offered the chance to purchase (for 20 Euros) a CD of the unknown singing waitress. We were bused back to the hotel and we all began to say our good-byes. At that point, our guide Diego was seated at a nearby table set up for tour groups. He had the names and the amounts to be refunded by the tour company for any “extras” that were cancelled by anyone. Our refund, for 2 cancelled extra activies was in the full amount. There was no cancellation charge but I did ask for a copy of the refund form.

All in all, if asked if I would again take a tour I would have to answer yes.
Were there places I found boring ? Of course.
Would it have been nice to spend more time in places like Siena ? Absolutely.
Was the food served good and were the hotels luxurious ? It was adequate.

But for all of the negatives there were more positives. We saw places most tourists seldom see.
The hotels were cheaper on a per night basis than I could have booked independently. I did not have to worry about driving or parking or finding my way around and getting lost on a limited budget of time. We did not have to wait in line in the roasting Italian summer sun waiting to get into the biggest attractions.

What would I do different the next time. I would try and book extra days at the beginning or end of the trip in the city of origin or end. I would also consider taking 2 short tours almost back-to-back with a few free days in the middle.

Barry
Skeeebo is offline  
Aug 26th, 2007, 05:20 PM
  #2  
 
Join Date: Sep 2005
Posts: 246
Hi, Barry!

I've just read your interesting trip report, and I thank you for sharing your experiences with us. I plan on sharing your posting with my sister, who is planning a similar tour to Italy.

I must mention, though, that you have spent a whole lot of money for many unpleasant and unsatisfactory experiences.

Part of the pleasure of visiting Italy is being able to have good quality meals every day, and not have to settle for meals that are merely adequate.

You seem like a knowledgeable fellow. Perhaps you might consider doing what many of us do when visiting foreign countries: travel independently.

You booked your flight independently (and successfully). You could do the same with your hotels, by using a booking service or dealing with the hotel directly. After all, what good is a reasonably priced hotel if it is located in an area where you can't walk around and see some local sites.

Once at your hotel, you could simply book from the front desk those day trips as strike your fancy. You could even take train trips on your own from one town to another. There is no need to drive a car: Europe is not Los Angeles. Even travel from one city to the next can be done by rail.

Once again, thanks for sharing. You have a great memory!

easywalker is offline  
Aug 26th, 2007, 07:04 PM
  #3  
 
Join Date: Mar 2003
Posts: 10,157
Thanks for you report. Many people will find your detailed description of your guided tour helpful as they make their own plans, and for precisely the conclusions you drew at the end--value and less planning. Glad you enjoyed it on the whole.

And it's good for all to be forewarned about all those hidden extras. To have a bad meal in Italy and pay more than 50 euros . . . I always eat well there and usually pay 20-40 euros for a great dinner. My interest in the mandatory shopping stops are simiar to yours. I guess I'll stick with independent travel for now, but if for some reason a guided trip becomes an option I''ll have your good advice to guide me.
ellenem is offline  
Aug 26th, 2007, 07:51 PM
  #4  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 11,134
Thanks for the report, very informative and well written. I have to admit I am surprised that you would take another organized tour.

With the help of the people on this board you can make plans for day trips out of the cities you like (as stated above). It really isn't hard to do and you will be able to see out of way places too.

What are your wife's thoughts on taking another tour?
SeaUrchin is offline  
Aug 26th, 2007, 08:55 PM
  #5  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 854
I really appreciate your thorough review of your tour and frankly, I am amazed at your patience and tolerance of perceived issues. I realize that there is a time and place for such tours but am thankful that I am not among those that are satisfied with them or have to take them.

Thanks again for the vivid description of what to expect in a packaged tour.
Paul
macanimals is offline  
Aug 26th, 2007, 09:36 PM
  #6  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 801
I enjoyed your Report very much as we are very keen on taking Tours - mostly in Australia though - however, I hope you have relayed your criticisms to the tour company. It is always important to them to receive such information from their clients as otherwise they have no real chance of knowing what is working and what isn't.
prue is offline  
Aug 27th, 2007, 03:26 AM
  #7  
 
Join Date: Jun 2003
Posts: 3,760
Thanks for the report. There are a few places in the world where I would only venture out with an organized tour (at least the first time) so the information is really appreciated.

I love good food and detest shopping, so
I am really impressed with your tolerance.

I wonder if you could hire a private guide/driver for a little over the $7k that you spend and then have 100% control over your schedule.
marigross is offline  
Aug 27th, 2007, 07:33 AM
  #8  
 
Join Date: Jul 2006
Posts: 1,228
But the $7000 also included all the accommodation and possibly some food, I understood. I've done a tour (in Turkey), but I wouldn't want to somewhere like Italy, where I generally feel comfortable travelling, and also want longer in each place certainly than the OP got.
Nonconformist is offline  
Aug 27th, 2007, 09:03 AM
  #9  
 
Join Date: Aug 2007
Posts: 1
Before you sign up for all those optional excursions, you have to do your homework! I've been on many (too many) tours to Europe and have found that by reading one or more guide books on Europe you can get all the information you need to find your way around unless you are in a hotel out on the boonies!

For instance, I'll be on the Island of Capri next month, Sept. 2007, and plan to ride the cable car from Anacapri up the mountain rather than taking the optional excursion offered by the tour company -- much cheaper and gives you an opportunity to connect with people other than those on our tour. You need to be a little more adventurous!

In the meantime, I want to take a tour from Rome to Ostia Antica or Hadrian's Villa (have a free day on a Sunday in Rome and museums may be closed); I also want to go to Ravello on the Amalfi Coast from Sorrento. If anyone out there has information about best way to proceed, please respond. Guide book information on the side trip from Rome has not been confirmed by American Express which was listed as a tour operator for this excursion.

ilovetraveling is offline  
Aug 27th, 2007, 09:51 AM
  #10  
 
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Skeeebo, I haven't been on a tour like yours so I am confused. Did you prepay for the optional excursions? And then if they didn't happen you get reimbursed?
SeaUrchin is offline  
Aug 27th, 2007, 09:59 AM
  #11  
 
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To: ilovetraveling

Went from Ravello from Rome via train to Naples. Since you are going to Capri, you can easily take a ferry/hydrofoil to Amalfi and reasonable. There are buses that run up to Ravello for about 1€.

Have a great time! try the Villa Maria for lunch in Ravello. Walk around this lovely little town. Then go down to Amalfi and eat at one of the nice restaurants for dinner.

Where are you off to after Ravello? It is really worth staying there a few days.
mweiner is offline  
Aug 27th, 2007, 10:20 AM
  #12  
 
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Skeeebo, from your terrific writing, you seem like a very intelligent person. I'm sure that in the future you could plan a trip on your own that would be more satisfactory.
missypie is offline  
Aug 27th, 2007, 10:28 AM
  #13  
 
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Hello-I am posting a reply w/out having read this post yet, becasue I am at work and I want to save this to read later and I don't know how to do this, so please excuse this post. Thanks
Leslie
LESLIEMOMOF6 is offline  
Aug 27th, 2007, 10:52 AM
  #14  
LJ
 
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Skeebo: first, thank you for you open and frank and detailed report of a guided tour. The question gets asked all the time on this thread and now we have somewhere concrete to send folks who are curious about this way of seeing Italy.

Now, I will tell you, I read the whole thing and then your assessment that you WOULD do this again and like others was very surprised as that did not seem to be the tone overall. Would you be prepared to expand on your thinking and say what sort of traveler specifically you think enjoys this kind of vacation in Italy versus other kinds?
LJ is offline  
Aug 27th, 2007, 01:06 PM
  #15  
 
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Very informative report. I must say that I was very surprised to hear you say you would do it again! Most of the places you mentioned are not really places no tourists ever get to. You could have a trip that would be so much more enjoyable if you planned it yourself. Just a thought.
SusanP is offline  
Aug 27th, 2007, 01:12 PM
  #16  
 
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hi, skeebo,

thanks for having the courage to post a report of a trip that was less than perfect. you and your wife must be very tolerant people to have endured these hardships without doing the tour guide serious injury.

it sounds as if you are resourceful and enterprising people - just the sort who'd enjoy the challenges of trips you organise yourselves. do you really want to go through the experiences you've described to us again? at that expense?

IMO your report ought to be compulsory reading for those who post questions about whether they should do a tour, or organise it themselves.

regards, ann
annhig is offline  
Sep 1st, 2007, 08:20 PM
  #17  
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Thanks to all who have said kind things about my report.

As to why I would take another tour; I would do so if I wanted only a brief overview of a large area. Next time I plan to only do a small area such as Venice or the Amalfi coast. For this trip I would do the planning myself.

The optional items of the tour were paid to the tour guide at the beginning of the tour. At his point I am waiting for my credit card to be credited the amount.
Skeeebo is offline  

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