Two Perfect (Almost!) Weeks in Italy!

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Jun 2nd, 2009, 07:41 PM
  #1
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Two Perfect (Almost!) Weeks in Italy!

I just purchased airline tickets for a trip to Venice in November and started to feel really guilty about not having posted a trip report for our trip to Italy back in November 2008. So, before I ask any more questions about traveling and Italy (and Venice in particular), I decided to post this report. First, a huge “Thank You” to everyone who answered my questions as I planned this trip. You made the planning stress-free and fun! And we had a wonderful time on our vacation. And thank you to all of the Fodorites who posted trip reports – I read so many of them and got so many great tips and ideas!

So here goes – my first trip report – two weeks in Italy in November 2008.

The basics –

Hubby and I flew out from SNA (that’s Orange County, California) in the morning on Friday, October 31and arrived in Florence around noon on Saturday, November 1.

Picked up rental car from Hertz and drove to Montepulciano, arriving around 3pm.

Rented apartment #3 at Al Poggiolo and spent the first week there.

On Saturday, November 8 we drove to Venice.

Returned the car at the airport and took the Alilaguna into Venice.

Stayed at La Calcina for the week and flew home from Venice on Saturday, November 15.

Some “odds & ends” –

· We did carry-on only for the first time and it was great! If at all possible, we will only travel that way from now on. We each had a 19” rollaboard and a messenger bag.

· There were no issues with November 1 being a national holiday in Italy. Everything was open in Montepulciano when we arrived – at least everything that we saw/needed.

· Navigating CDG was a challenge, even with the airport maps and getting “assistance” from the Air France rep.

· The ATM machines were easy to find and use; we had no problems getting Euros. But one thing I’m glad I found out before leaving the U.S. – in Italy your PIN cannot start with a zero. So I had to change mine prior to leaving on the trip.

· We had no problem using our credit card for purchases in the stores and restaurants.

· The local markets and the Billa are great places to shop! I think I have enough Billa “stamps” to get a free shopper (bag) on my next trip!


Friday, October 31 & Saturday, November 1

The flights were fine. We managed to sleep on the ATL-CDG leg. We cruised through the terminal and through immigration (I think it was immigration!) and found the Air France desk easily. We had 70 minutes to make our connection. The AF rep asked us where we were going and if we had boarding passes, which we did not. She then directed us to terminal B. But I noticed that our destination (Florence) was listed on the big board as terminal G (but no gate #.) The rep insisted we had to go to B first to get boarding passes. We went down the steps toward B, but it just didn’t feel right to me, so we went back to the AF desk and asked again. After a few AF reps discussed the situation for several minutes they agreed we had to go to G and told us how to get there. Following those directions didn’t work, so back to the main part of the terminal (whichever one it was we had landed at – never did know that piece of info!) I saw an airport info desk and asked for help – which we got, both verbally and in writing, from a very nice person. And the directions were spot on!

Luckily we got to the shuttle stop just a few seconds before it pulled out – what a relief! Yes, we had to go outside (and it was cold and raining) to get to terminal G. I think we went halfway around the airport in that shuttle – at first I thought we might actually be going into the city!

We ran into the terminal and an AF rep was standing right there – I felt like she was there specifically to meet us! By this time we were really on the edge of making the flight to Florence. At first they told us we were too late, but I begged – told them we just had to be on that plane! And they said no and asked where our bags were. When we said that the carryon bags were all we had, everything changed! The AF rep printed out our boarding passes, ran us over to security (where there was no one in line!) and told us to run to the gate. I think the rep called to the gate to let them know we were on our way because as we were running down the steps we could hear the gate agent calling our name! We shouted back “We’re here! We’re here!”

The gate agent grabbed our boarding passes and pointed us out the door. Oh no! Outside again (still cold and raining) and onto another shuttle! Yes, they were waiting for us. Back around the airport again and finally to our plane. I can’t tell you how many times I said “Merci beaucoup” to those desk and gate agents in terminal G!

As we approached Florence the rain stopped, the skies turned sunny and we could see beautiful Tuscany. It was awesome! And yes, I was so happy I cried.

I’ll post more later. But figured I’d get this up – will really put the pressure on me to finish!
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Jun 3rd, 2009, 07:29 AM
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Here's more pressure to add the next episode . . .
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Jun 3rd, 2009, 08:03 AM
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Hi scfoodie,
I am interested to see that you stayed at Al Poggiolo in Montepulciano apartment 3. I just loved the view from that apartment. We stayed there for a week two years ago and it was the highlight of our 3 week trip of Italy in March. It felt amazing with few tourists that time of year and cool but sunny days. I'm looking forward to reading the rest of your trip report.
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Jun 3rd, 2009, 12:47 PM
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SCFoodie,
Your PIN can start with a zero in Italy. Mine does and has worked in about 100 bancomats. Just like some AF reps, people sometimes give bad information.

Henry
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Jun 3rd, 2009, 01:06 PM
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Continuing the trip report.

We picked our Fiat Panda at Hertz, fired up the GPS and headed to Montepulciano. My husband LOVED the car and driving in Tuscany!!! He wanted to bring the car home as his souvenir.

The GPS worked great and we got to the town quickly – no traffic at all on the autostrada or on the local roads. Georgio met us at the main gate of town and we followed him to the apartment where Elena and Margherita were waiting for us. What wonderful people! And what a wonderful apartment. Here’s the link to it. http://www.appartamentialpoggiolo.it

We were in #3 which has the balcony and outside grill. The apartment was perfect for us. It was great to be right in the town and still have a place to park the car and have the view the Tuscan countryside. We are already planning a return visit and will definitely stay in apartment #3 again.

Found the local Jolly Caffe – I call it Italy’s version of fast food. What a great place to grab a quick bite and glass of wine. We wound up stopping by here every day! Two glasses of house red wine, a pizzetta and a small sandwich cost around 5 Euro. And they always had that day’s sports newspaper available – and it’s printed on pink paper!

After purchasing some essentials for the apartment (wine, cheese, biscotti) we relaxed on the balcony (I brought my iPod and some mini-speakers so we had romantic Italian music to listen to) and then went off to dinner. I can’t remember the name of the place (sorry – except for about 5 hours of “sleep” on the plane, we had been up for about 28 – 30 hours at this point), but the food was delicious – Tuscan cheese plate, pizza margarita and pasta pomodoro – and wine. Yummy!!! We slept very well that night!

Sunday, November 2

It was a beautiful day. Everything was covered in fog when we woke up, but then the sun came out and it warmed up. Had breakfast at Café Poliziano. Then stopped at the market – we needed some food and other items for the week. What a charming place to shop! A tiny little place, but they had everything we needed. Quite a change from shopping in the mega-stores here in the States.

We went to Sunday Mass at the Duomo – it’s amazing! And we wandered around Montepulciano – just to get a feel for everything. It was very quiet there, very few tourists. A few times during the week we had the entire Piazza Grande to ourselves! It was amazingly beautiful and romantic at night.

We splurged on lunch at Borgobuio Restorante. Loved the tapestry runners on the tables and the “wall of wine” in the dining room! The food was fantastic! We had pizza rustica, wild boar with polenta (my hubby said it was the best he’d ever eaten) and pecorino ravioli with pine nuts. And wine of course! (We ordered bottled water and wine – usually the house red – with every lunch and dinner we had on this trip.)

The rest of the day was devoted to discovering our “home town” for the week. We just loved everything about Montepulciano! Great architecture, beautiful art, fabulous wine, delicious food, amazing people!

Oh – indulged in our first gelato today! YUM!!! We were so stuffed from lunch and gelato that we passed on dinner and just had a glass of wine, a bruchetta and a panini at the little bar right next to the Duomo. We got to watch the F1 race on TV with the owner/bartender. That was fun! Although he wasn’t happy because his driver didn’t win. I got the impression that he thought the race was “fixed” because it was held in Spain and a Spanish driver won.

And back at our apartment, hubby discovered all the international television channels – his first experience with that. He was quite impressed and missed it when we were back home.
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Jun 3rd, 2009, 01:07 PM
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Henry - so I changed my PIN for no reason! Oh well. That's what my bank here told me. Good to know for the future. Thanks!
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Jun 3rd, 2009, 01:10 PM
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ellenem - a little pressure can be a good thing!

Colleen - we loved Montepulciano and that apartment so much! And we also saw very few tourists during our stay. The other three apartments were vacant while we were there - had the whole place to ourselves.
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Jun 3rd, 2009, 09:12 PM
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SCFoodie- I also had no problem using my pin (starting with a zero) all over Italy. Sorry you received some bad advice! (You should have asked your Fodorite friends!)hahahah!

Looking forward to more!
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Jun 4th, 2009, 10:54 AM
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Looking forward to your information about Venice. We just returned yesterday after 8 days. Wonderful. Trust your time there was great too. Can't wait to hear about it.
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Jun 4th, 2009, 07:48 PM
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Julie- we'll be looking for YOUR trip report, too!
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Jun 5th, 2009, 12:49 PM
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November 3 – 7 Exploring Tuscany!

Monday through Friday was spent enjoying Tuscany - everything from the local wine to local food, cathedrals to small churches, hill towns to countryside. We visited Pienza, Serrea di Rapolano, Gaiole in Chianti, Vertine, Radda, Montalcino, San Quirico d’Orcia and Cortona.

One of the memorable moments was in Montepulciano when we went in search of a tailor or seamstress. When we unpacked our bags, we discovered that an alteration on a pair of pants packed for the trip hadn’t been completed correctly. And with only a few items of clothing with us (remember, we did carry on only!) we needed those pants. There is a wonderful store in town that sells pretty much everything – so we named it “the everything store!” We went there to ask about a tailor, but with my very limited Italian and the shopkeeper’s limited English it was difficult, although he did offer a sewing needle and thread, so the concept was understood. But another resident was there shopping, and she spoke wonderful English. She was our angel! She gave us directions to a seamstress in town. Found the place with no problem (it’s on the main street right by the famous copper shop.) The seamstress (who spoke no English) understood what we needed and fixed the pants right on the spot – in about 2 minutes. She was wonderful and did a great job! And she would not allow us to pay for the service, try as we might. These three people were so friendly and gracious to us – and perfect examples of everyone we met in Montepulciano.

A recurring theme throughout the week from the residents of Montepulciano was happiness and gratefulness that we chose to stay with them for the week. We were always welcomed with a smile and hospitality. They wanted to know about us, and where we lived, and why we were in their town in November! And the biggest topic of discussion was the U.S. presidential elections. Everyone there was extremely knowledgeable about our candidates and political process. It made for a few very spirited conversations!

A few highlights –

• Pienza was charming, but really smells like cheese-making. While I love the fresh pecorino, I’m not really fond of the odor given off during the cheese-making process.
• Spending the day in the Chianti area with Luca Garappa. All the accolades here on Fodor’s about him are well-deserved. He is a fantastic guide and a warm, wonderful person.
• Visiting an olive mill just as a truck pulled in to unload its bed full of freshly picked olives. Got to see the process from start to finish. And freshly pressed olive oil is absolutely delicious!
• Had our first taste of pici in Montalcino and loved it! We now make it at home.
• We used the outdoor grill on the balcony of our apartment one night – it was the best steak we’ve ever eaten! And the night was perfect. Beautiful weather, delicious wine, decadent chocolate, romantic Italian music, candlelight, and a fire in the fireplace!
• The Etruscan museum in Cortona. It’s so amazing to see such ancient pieces of art and everyday items so well-preserved.
• Enjoyed anther “new-to-us” food in Cortona – fried stuffed olives. Yummy! We make them at home now also.
• Lunch at La Briciola – watching all the local workers come in and eat. And seeing the owner’s young daughter come in from school, eat her lunch and then go off with grandpa. What a slice of everyday life in a Tuscan hilltop town!
• Saw a marching band (about 6 men) going down the street one morning, playing music, while we were eating breakfast. Followed by 3-4 guys with banners and the flag of Italy. We still have no idea what it was for!

It was the perfect blend of day trips and time spent in Montepulciano. We saw and did something new and fun every day, and still took the time to just enjoy where we were and live in the moment. And we know that we will return!

PS - I'll work on posting some photos over the weekend. And next up - a week in Venice!
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Jun 5th, 2009, 01:41 PM
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SCFoodie,
"and still took the time to just enjoy where we were and live in the moment." The best way to enjoy Italy.

Henry
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Jun 5th, 2009, 03:15 PM
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SCFoodie,

Wonderful report!! What town is La Briciola in? I hope to go to Pienza, Cortona and Montepulchiano the first part of July. I am staying in Castellina in Chianti at Fattoria Tregole. Are those towns a reasonable drive from there?
Would like to only do 2 towns a day --my idea is to spend mornings relaxing at the pool, enjoying the hill views and then leave midday thus arriving after most of the day visitors/tour groups have gone. I did that on one one of my trips to Italy when I stayed for a week at a villa in Umbria and it worked out very well. We would have dinner in the last town and then get "home" around 11 pm.
Since we will have just come from 4 days in Rome, the relaxing part sounds like a good idea.

I know this has been dicussed over and over but if anyone can give their opinion of towns near Castellina that are within and hour or two drive I would appreciate it.

After Castellina we drive to Bologna for 2 nights and then to Venice for 3 nights. We leave Venice at 9 pm so will get another almost full day to explore. So excited!!!

I truly value all the help you have given me.

Suzanne
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Jun 5th, 2009, 03:41 PM
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hi foodie,

i'm so glad you got round to posting this.. i can almost taste the food with you. though i'm still not that much of a fan of polenta.

another great example of how much fun there is to be had by stopping in one or two places and really getting to know the area.

regards, ann

regards, ann
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Jun 5th, 2009, 07:18 PM
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Here's a link to a few photos from Tuscany.

http://picasaweb.google.com/scfoodie...31442959586290
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Jun 8th, 2009, 02:42 PM
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suz49 - La Briciola is in Montepulciano. If I remember correctly, it's in a little arch-covered alley/street right off the main street that runs through town from the main gate. I'll search through my mementos sometime this week to see if I can find the address, or at least the street name.

annhig - you are so right! We had a blast exploring the area, but loved returning home to our apartment each evening and enjoying the quiet nights in Montepulciano. And we really, really miss the food! And the wine!
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