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VERY long (and overdue) trip report for Paris and lots of Italy - Umbria (and Florence, Perugia, Orvieto and Assisi), Positano, Capri and Rome

VERY long (and overdue) trip report for Paris and lots of Italy - Umbria (and Florence, Perugia, Orvieto and Assisi), Positano, Capri and Rome

Jan 4th, 2006, 01:14 PM
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VERY long (and overdue) trip report for Paris and lots of Italy - Umbria (and Florence, Perugia, Orvieto and Assisi), Positano, Capri and Rome

Trip of a Lifetime - Paris and Italy
September 13 - October 1, 2005

At a neighborhood "gourmet" dinner in Knoxville (Tennessee) 18 months ago, after the consumption of much wine (and probably a comparable amount of other alcohol), 12 to 14 friends and neighbors started talking about spending a week at a villa in Tuscany. Little did we know that such spirited discussion would actually result in eight of us being there in September of 2005. A fine time was had by all, as will be recounted in perhaps excessive but hopefully entertaining detail below. There were many photographs of the trip (some of which are the standard tourist pictures of "sights to see" in the various places we visited while others include the fun-loving Knoxvillians – some photos are even almost “artistic,” if I do say so myself), but they exist in a separate digital universe (at http://photos.yahoo.com/samandnancytn)

To make a long story somewhat shorter, Sam (the author of this travel diary) was the travel agent for the group. Sam was accompanied by his lovely wife Nancy, by friends Ken and Beth, Paul and Mary, and Bob O. and Bob C. (oh the inconvenience of travelers with identical first names!) Using the Internet extensively (particularly Fodor’s Bulletin Boards, Trip Advisor, and Slow Traveler), Sam selected a group of eight villas in Tuscany and Umbria (identified as less touristy and less expensive than Tuscany but gloriously beautiful and not quite as crowded) and submitted the group of eight, with web-page descriptions, to the rest of our group. We hemmed and hawed, but we ended up selecting a villa in southwestern Umbria, Villa Rosaccia , handled for us by Vacanza Bella (of San Francisco). The cost was about $7,200 for the week, or $1,800 per couple, a price that was comparable to the cost of a nice beach house rental on the Carolina coastline (a strange metric but useful for some of us). The villa has 6 bedrooms, 6 bathrooms, several living rooms or parlors, a library, and a large kitchen (with seating for 12 or so); we also had a swimming pool (pretty to look at, but our group was much too busy going out, eating, drinking vino, etc. to make use of the pool itself. The villa also had outdoor seating – a pergola, an outdoor pizza oven – the list goes on and on. It is surrounded by breath-taking vistas, and located a few kilometers from the nearest town of any size (Montecchio or Guardea) and perhaps 25 kilometers south-southeast of Orvieto (a sizable city).

The logistics of our trip were as follows. Other than the week at the villa (and the arrangements for the villa), each couple was on its own. Each made its own plane reservations, decided whether (and where) to extend the trip, and if so, to make all those arrangements (e.g., for accommodations). As it turned out we (Sam and Nancy) decided to spend the second week with another of the three couples (Ken and Beth), and Sam made all the arrangements (after consulting with the other three in the group, generally over a bottle or two of wine) for the second week. Also as it turned out, Sam and Nancy left for Umbria four days earlier than our planned occupancy because the only way we could use our Delta Frequent Flyer (FF) miles for first class travel was to agree to take an earlier flight to Paris and spend three nights there – all in all not a bad “condition” and one with which Nancy wasn’t too upset.

Rather than continue in this vein about logistics and what we did, the rest of the trip report will simply be chronological, from Day 1 (out the door of our house in Knoxville on our way to Paris) to Day 19 (out the door of our hotel in Rome to our home in Knoxville). To simplify the reader’s task, our trip had four major segments: Paris (Days 1 through 5, September 13 – September 17); Umbria (Days 5 through 12, September 17 – September 24); southern Italy (Days 12 through 16, September 24 - 28), and Rome (Days 16 through 19, September 28 – October 1).

Day 1 – Tuesday, September 13 - to Paris

The adventure begins. We said good-bye to our two Welsh Corgis, Abby and Geordie, and were on our way. Beth (who, with Ken, was leaving 2 days later) picked us up around 10:30 am and took us to the Knoxville airport. The flights (Delta from Knoxville to Atlanta and Air France from Atlanta to Paris) went smoothly, especially Air France first class. But of course, before boarding our Air France flight in Atlanta, we had time to partake of the ample freebies in the Crown room at the Atlanta airport – no sense not taking full advantage of our first class reservations. There were five people in first class on our flight to Paris (with seating for 12) and two flight attendants – needless to say, we were well attended and served. Nancy was afraid that Sam was going to ask one or both of the flight attendants to accompany us to our hotel in Paris after telling her they reminded him of a young Catherine Deneuve. I think that was after the champagne, the wine with dinner, the wine after dinner, and the cognac (I think I also had a single-malt scotch or two, but I’ve forgotten). The dinner itself was as good as anything I’ve ever had on a plane - foie gras, salads, tournedos of beef with truffle sauce, cheeses, breads, and assorted pastries with coffee. After a few hours slumber we woke up to a nice breakfast repast (as the French say, il faut manger) before landing at Charles de Gaulle (CDG) outside Paris at about 7:00 am the following day (Wednesday, September 14).

Day 2 - Wednesday September 14 - gay Paree

CDG does not disappoint. It is confusing, hectic, and crowded – and that’s even before you actually get inside the airport from the plane-side bus. After finding and claiming our luggage (TOO DAMN MUCH luggage), we found the stop for the Roissy bus (named, I think, for the town of Roissy which is adjacent to the CDG airport) to Opera Garnier in the 1er Arrondissement in Paris. Even at 7:30 in the morning, the bus ride took well over an hour, so a word to the wise is to leave plenty of time to make connections. We bought our three-day museum passes at an American Express office right next to the Roissy bus drop off point at Opera Garnier.

Having done lots of internet research to prepare us for the initial culture shock (aka looking at map after map so as to know the quickest route from the Opera Garnier to our hotel [Hotel Brighton (218 Rue de Rivoli); http://www.esprit-de-france.com/pres...?lang=EN&id=7], I suggested to my sweet wife that we could walk – after all we had rolling luggage. Well, eight to ten blocks on an internet map are much longer in person, particularly fighting pedestrian traffic while looking for street signs and struggling with curbs and a few cobblestones. Sam only hoped that divorce would not result from the hasty decision to take this short walk. But finally Sam finds Rue de Rivoli, and we are only two blocks from our hotel.

Of course arriving at your hotel at 9:00 am is not a good thing – rarely will a room be ready for occupancy at that hour of the morning. But the front desk told us the room would be ready in an hour and they would be happy to let us leave our luggage with them while we went to a patisserie at the end of the block for a coffee and croissant. We returned to the hotel front desk, got our key, and with the help of a doorman and a VERY small elevator, went up to the fourth floor (fifth floor for Americans) to Room 411. Oh My God!!! Although the room was somewhat small and the bathroom was simply adequate, the view was absolutely spectacular. We had a real balcony (meaning, large enough for two people to stand on comfortably) so we could look west toward the Eiffel Tower, south to (across the street from) the Tuileries Garden and the Seine, and Musee d’Orsay, and east toward the Louvre. Of course we could also see the top of the Grand Palais, Hotel Invalides, and many other sights, but that was before we knew what they were.

We took clothes out of the suitcases and then went for a walk in the Tuileries, a gorgeous garden even when not much is in bloom. School children, perhaps 4-5 years old, were there en masse for a “field trip,” and later we saw other little ones with their parents in the Tuileries taking pony rides. As enjoyable and relaxing as our walk through the Tuileries was, Sam insisted that we press on to the Louvre. Remembering advice from my advisors on Fodor’s on how to avoid virtually any line whatsoever, we entered the Louvre through the Porte des Lions on the south side of the Louvre (of course having our 3-day Paris Museum Pass also shortened the process). Knowing that our time was at a premium (so much to see and do in three days!), I took us fairly quickly through the ground floor of the Denon Wing up to da Vinci’s La Giocanda (Mona Lisa). The Louvre was pretty crowded for a Wednesday morning, but we still got close enough to the Mona Lisa and other exhibits to enjoy them, amazed at the patience of the Louvre “guards” shouting to the throngs that flash photographs were not permitted. We saw the rest of the must-sees in the Louvre, taking 2-3 hours, before settling in at one of the museum’s cafes for a bite of lunch (unremarkable).

After lunch, we trekked across the Seine to the Musee d’Orsay. It’s a lot of art in one brief period of time, but it was oh so worth it. I’ve never seen quite so much wonderful Impressionist art in one place at one time, and the building itself (an old train station) was also incredible. Before leaving the Musee d’Orsay we checked out the interior of one of the clocks you can see on the outside of the building, and then went out on the balcony of the Musee d’Orsay to enjoy the view of Sacre Coeur, the Louvre, up and down the Seine – it was like being in a fairytale.

By now, we were getting tired (maybe 4:30 or 5:00 in the afternoon), so we grabbed an ice cream to eat on our walk across the Seine on the pedestrian bridge (Pont Solferino across the street from the front of the Musee d’Orsay) and then through the Tuileries to our hotel. We asked for a restaurant recommendation at the front desk, and the concierge suggested L’Imperiale (240 Rue de Rivoli, 75001 Paris), just a couple of blocks west of the hotel on the Rue de Rivoli. We asked him to make reservations for us for 8:30, figuring we needed a two-hour nap to get back to normal. When we walked to the restaurant we passed the Hotel Meurice (a mega-star hotel costing probably 6-7 times what we paid at the Hotel Brighton). Our dinner – a cheese sampler, salads, and then a steak au poivre for me and a tournedos de boeuf for Nancy, and a shared dessert (and a bottle of wine of course) was good but really not great, particularly considering the cost of $160 – it was really the champagne cocktails we enjoyed even before our cheese plate that made the cost seem out of sight – at $20 per glass. Those were the last champagne cocktails of our 18-day trip. After dinner we strolled back to our hotel along the Rue de Rivoli, amazed at all that had happened to us in such a short period of time. Knowing that we’d planned on “doing” Versailles the next day, we didn’t do much after getting back to the hotel – a quick bath for Nancy, both of us standing on our balcony looking at the Eiffel Tower to the west and the traffic down below and then to sleep.

Day 3 – Thursday, September 15 - Versailles and more gay Paree

Although we contemplated “doing” breakfast at a patisserie each day instead of at the hotel (at an extra cost of 8 € per person per day), we surrendered to the convenience (and quality) of the Brighton’s continental breakfast – plus, our experience the previous day at the patisserie was that it would not cost must less than that there. We walked across the Tuileries and the pedestrian bridge across the Seine to catch the train (RER) to Versailles. The ticket agent in the subway/RER station was the only person during our entire trip who was the slightest bit cross with us as we tried to explain what tickets we wanted, but then I noticed that he was equally cross with others behind us in line – maybe just a bad day for him.

The trip to Versailles took maybe 30 minutes (cost of 2.65 €/person or about $3.50/person). As we walked from the train station to the “front door” of Versailles the sense of scale and enormity was overpowering. It was a bit chilly that morning, so we were glad once we got inside the palace. Although we didn’t get audio-guides for the palace itself – we just walked through and read the descriptive plaques (and occasionally overheard a guide giving a tour), we did get the price-included audio-guides for the dauphin’s and dauphine’s apartments (an extra charge of 4.5 €/person not covered by the Museum Pass), and it was a good idea. Versailles is really overpowering. After finishing up the regular part of the palace as well as the tour of the dauphin/dauphine extras, had a bite of lunch in a cellar café inside the palace and then took the shuttle mini “train” (at another extra nominal cost) to the Grand Trianon and Petite Trianon. We spent some time walking around the Petite Trianon (including the Belvedere) and the Queen’s Hamlet (Marie Antoinette’s attempt to “connect” with nature and the life of her subjects – based, as I recall, on a noblesse oblige concept that told the nobility how to get back to nature, including breast-feeding their own children!). We caught the shuttle train back to the main palace and then walked on back to the train station to head back to Paris. Once we got on the train, a “troop” of musicians got on the train, played a bit of jazz, and then walked through the train cars for tips – some delightful entertainment for a Euro.

After getting back to our hotel, Nancy decided it was time to go shopping – after all we have a 21 year-old daughter back home expecting something from this trip (where we’re spending her inheritance). We walk to Place Vendome (about 5 blocks from our hotel), looking for Dior clothes, but we find only jewelry stores (all locked up). The guard at the Dior jewelry store (Dior Joaillerie, 8 Place Vendome, in the 1er Arrondisement) lets us in and after Nancy asks to look at a scarf, the clerk shows her a scarab – close but not close enough! After determining the source of our confusion, the clerk directs us to the Dior clothing store a few blocks farther on (at 28 Rue Royale in the 8th Arrondissement just down from La Madeleine). We finally made it to the correct Dior store, and a sales clerk took us up to the 2nd floor to look at scarves (Nancy had guessed that a scarf might be something we would actually think about buying for our daughter after looking at the prices). Sure enough, she found a scarf and turned me over to the clerk for payment. When the clerk asked if we wanted to take advantage of VAT avoidance, I said that that only applied to purchases at a store over $175 (or thereabouts), thinking that SURELY a single scarf wouldn’t cost that much - - - WRONG! (turned out the scarf cost 265 €, or closer to $320 – oh well) The clerk and my wife had a chuckle as I filled out the forms (which we weren’t able to use due to our extremely short layover at CDG on our return flight).

Well, finally shopping done (for now), so back to the hotel – by now almost 5:00 pm. We take a bathroom break and start walking again, go to the Batobus dock near the Musee d’Orsay where we purchase two two-day passes for 13 € each (unlimited on and off service at any of eight docks on the Seine). We go up (?) the Seine toward the Eiffel Tower. An incredible cruise, lights everywhere, the Eiffel Tower in full glory of running lights. We got off the Batobus at Pont Alexander (the Champs Elysees stop - not quite to the Eiffel Tower) and walked toward the Champs Elysees, walking by the Grand Palais and the Petit Palais. We saw the statue of Winston Churchill on Avenue Churchill, lit up, and took a picture (actually turned out pretty well). We walked back toward the Seine, to happen upon a TV crew filming some scene on the Alexander Bridge. Avoiding the crowd there, we walked across the bridge, looking at the beautiful bronze (gold-looking) ornamentation on the bridge. We finally got back to the Batobus, took it upriver to the Eiffel Tower and then back downriver to the Batobus dock near Musee d’Orsay. Much to our surprise, the Tuileries was closed – locked down. We took a cab from the Left Bank (took a while to find a taxi stand at this time of night, but finally found one (with a Vietnamese driver) to take us to our hotel. By now it was pretty late for dinner, but we found one (after walking away from a few where the menu just didn’t look that interesting) on Rue St. Honore near the Palais Royale – Au Dauphin at 167 Rue Honore. The price (total of 100 € or about $120) was comparable to that at L’Imperiale (without the champagne), but I think the food (and the ambience) was much better. Again, we each had an appetizer (foie gras for Sam, soupe provencale for Nancy), an entrée (cassoulet for Sam, veal chops for Nancy), a desert (gananousse for Sam, pyramide for Nancy – both of them chocolates), and a bottle of wine. My cassoulet was one of the most incredible meals in my life. Fat and happy after finishing our dinner (around 11:00 pm), we go back to our hotel for our nightly views of the Eiffel Tower, the Musee d’Orsay and other beautiful sights.

Day 4 – Friday, September 16 - Ste. Chappelle, Notre Dame, Left Bank, and all the rest we could fit in

We awoke Friday morning to cool temperatures and a slight drizzle. After our continental breakfast and armed with small umbrellas, we headed out to catch the Batobus to Notre Dame, Ste. Chapelle, and the Left Bank – a lot to do in one day, but very much fun. We first walked around Ile de la Cite toward Notre Dame, discovering that this is a totally different atmosphere than where we’d been in the 1er Arrondissement. Notre Dame was very crowded (because of the rain people stayed indoors?), but still quite enjoyable. We went through the separate side chapels, fascinated with the history of its construction. We went outside and walked toward the Palais de Justice and Ste. Chapelle. At Ste. Chapelle we lucked upon a tour (in English) conducted by an art history graduate student from the Sorbonne. She took our group upstairs (the royal part of the church built by St. Louis – King Louis IX), where she taught us how to read the stained glass. As beautiful as the stained glass is at Notre Dame, Ste. Chapelle puts Notre Dame to shame.

After a morning of churches and drizzle, we stopped for a glass of wine and a croissant at a sidewalk café on the Ile de la Cite, and then across the Pont Neuf for a quick walk through the Left Bank. Sam found a gallery showing works by Dali- he thought he had found an original print and was prepared to buy – turns out they weren’t, but even the reproductions were exorbitant (shades of black pottery from years ago). Using the Rick Steves Paris book, we wandered around the Left Bank for a couple of hours (using his walking tour as a guide), and went by and in Saint Germain des Pres church. Fully walked out, we stopped for lunch at a sidewalk café, the Café de Flore, where our nearest neighbors appeared to be artistes, dressed in artiste garb with their canines, etc. Of course, maybe we fit in at this café – at the first one we stopped at there was a sign saying “No Shorts” on the one day I’d decided to wear shorts – the crazy (and fashion-challenged) American tourist wore shorts on the one day that was cool and rainy. Oh well.

Fortified by our wine, sandwich and coffee, we took the Batobus upriver to the Eiffel Tower. By now the rain and drizzle had stopped, but it was still pretty chilly. The line at the Eiffel Tower was about 30 minutes (not too bad I guess), and we went all the way up (at a cost of 12 € per person as I recall). Although the pictures we took from the top didn’t turn out to be very good, the views were spectacular. After our descent, Nancy wanted to walk to the Arc de Triomphe but I balked so we took our second cab in Paris. Since there was not a lot to see between the Eiffel Tower and the Arc, that wasn’t a bad decision (and it only cost about 5 &euro. The cabbie dropped us off at the Arc, and we took the obligatory photograph (Nancy in the foreground in one, and me – a tiny me – in the foreground in another). We walked down the Champs Elysees, stopping in a Swatch store for a couple of inexpensive watches and at the Peugot store to look at their “dream” car. We finished up our walk at the Place de la Concorde, taking a picture of THE spot where the revolutionaries guillotined the royal family, where their heads were followed by those of earlier revolutionaries. We got back to the hotel before dark, packed our bags, and started walking around the Rue St. Honore to find another restaurant for dinner. This time we found a northern Italian restaurant, Delizie d’Uggiano (virtually the only one we could find open for some reason), a portent of our trip tomorrow to Rome and then on to Umbria. Ambience was very nice, food was OK, and the price was horrendous (about $150).

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Jan 4th, 2006, 01:17 PM
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Continuation of an impossibly long trip report

Day 5 – Saturday, September 17 - to Umbria

The next phase of our adventure begins- off to Italy! Upon checking out of the Brighton (three nights at 165 €/night plus three buffet breakfasts for each of us at 8 € each, for a grand total of 543 €, or about $650), the hotel called us a cab- the cabbie didn’t know what terminal to take us to catch our flight on Alitalia! He had to stop and call a friend, because it wasn’t listed anywhere on his multiple lists. There was a bad wreck on the way to the airport so we were glad that we left in plenty of time. There were very long lines in the airport- and very confusing- but no problem with the flight. We had a slight problem with Sam’s carryon bag, with a baggage guard before a security guard sent him back to the ticket counter to check his carryon. We did have time to have a snack and a drink at the first class lounge at CDG before our flight. Our Alitalia flight was OK, with an adequate lunch served. We arrived in Rome at Fiumcino (Leonardo da Vinci Airport), got our bags, and met Ken and Beth (their flight landed 30 minutes after ours did) as planned at the baggage counter- very glad that that part went smoothly. Beth thought she had a message on her cell phone, which was worrying, but it turned out to be nothing. We got our rental car, with Sam driving and Ken “navigating” and away we went to our villa in Umbria!!!

We actually had no problems and arrived at the driveway to Villa Rosaccia shortly after dark. The only problem was almost getting the car stuck in mud when we drove up the wrong driveway!!! We immediately noticed that there was only one other car there; it
turned out that the Bobs and Paul and Mary were already there, but the Bob’s rental car had not been delivered as planned - big and unfortunate drama.

The villa is wonderful- everyone is thrilled with Sam’s selection. Large rooms, lovely view, and our room is the best of the best!!! We all drink the wine and eat the bread and cheese and salamis that Sam had asked the villa to be provisioned with – not a bad end to the day at all. Of course, the eight of us had had many opportunities to drink wine and eat together, so it was like old home week.

Day 6 – Sunday, September 18 - Little towns in Umbria and chillin' at the villa

We explore the little nearby villages (Guardea and Montecchio) in the rain. There wasn’t much to the farmer’s market in Guardea that had been advertised by Vacanza Bella, and in Montecchio Sam starts driving up a street (possibly 2 lanes, but very narrow ones), only to meet a parade coming from the other direction. It turns out that Montecchio is celebrating with an olive oil festival. Sam has to back up the car as the parade, led by a couple of priests and the “queen” of the olive oil festival (an older woman dressed in white lace) with a band composed of villagers in costume, marches toward our car. We watch the festival for a while, until it’s clear the remainder of the festival has been canceled due to the rain.

We get separated from the Bobs and Paul and Mary, and go off in search of a restaurant, Ristorante Semiramide in Melezzole, that according to information from Vacanza Bella is supposed to be just up the hill from the villa. It turns out to be about a 45-minute drive, but is worth every minute of it! We get the last table (turns out a wedding reception/dinner had been scheduled at this wonderful restaurant in this very small hill town), and have possibly the best meal of our trip. We are all enthralled by the place.

We drive back to the villa, and hang out until Stefania (our housekeeper) and her daughter bring the five-course dinner we had arranged to be a celebration for Bob O’s birthday. The dinner was wonderful, consisting of antipasto, veal saltimbucca, beans, bread, salad, and tiramasou, and, of course, local wines (we lost track of how many bottles). We all have a wonderful birthday dinner with and for Bob. After such a huge meal (and Sam has started drinking anisette), it’s time for bed!!!

Day 7 – Monday, September 19 - on to Perugia

Sam and Nancy and Ken and Beth drive to Perugia, about 50 kilometers northeast of our villa, in the rain. On the way up there were magnificent panoramic views when the weather cleared, views of Lago Alviano, hill towns, and valleys. Perugia, the capitol of Umbria, is a large city (maybe 150,000 people, but the vast majority of those living down the “hill” and not in the historic part of the city). We had difficulty finding the right parking lot, but after we did we simply took an escalator up the “hill” into the city. The duomo was interesting, but the museum we wanted to see was closed. We did, however, go in the Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria for their special exhibit of medieval art (“Una Rinascita nell”umbria medievale”). There was also a fascinating fountain in the center of the main square, with bas reliefs representing various biblical scenes (as well as one showing Romulus and Remus suckling the she-wolf).

The places we had recommendations for lunch were closed, and we ended up at the Caffe di Perugia, which was pretty mediocre (our standards are getting higher). The gelato after the lunch was very good, however. After driving all around looking for a place to have dinner, we drive back to the villa. The rest of the party has an equally hard time figuring out what to do about dinner, so we drink wine and eat the leftovers from the night before – considering how good that dinner was, that’s not too bad.

Day 8 – Tuesday, September 20 - winery tour and tasting, eating, olive oil museum and more eating - one meal too many, or will it ever end?

Paul had arranged a tour of the Falesco winery (both Paul and Ken work at liquor stores and are wine experts, so we all benefited from their knowledge). Unfortunately, we didn’t get a message the winery left with our housekeeper at the villa the previous day that the location of the tour and tasting has changed. As a result we drove to Viturbo (actually in Lazio province) about an hour away, and it turned out that the people in Falesco had called and said that we should meet them at their NEW winery near Montecchio, 20 minutes away. By the time we get to the winery for the tour and tasting we’re at least an hour and a half late, but both the tour and the tasting (6 wines made by Falesco) were wonderful. And of course our Falesco hosts served bruschetta with the wines, so we are fat and happy again.

Undaunted by being full, however, our caravan (by now all three cars since the Bobs had finally gotten their rental car) traveled all the way to Montecchio (the winery was out in the country) to a restaurant we’d seen on Sunday but had been closed, La Perla. By now it was probably 1:30 or 2:00 pm, and we were the only people in the restaurant (other than the owner and his wife (?). They served us a wonderful meal of various antipasti and pastas (mine was with porcini mushrooms, Nancy’s with sausage, others a basic marinara), and the regular (by now) several bottles of wine. A small puppy came into the restaurant and came over for handouts, possibly the cutest puppy I’ve ever seen. Had it not been for problems with customs and our Corgis back home, I’m sure I’d have brought “Eros” home with us. The final adventure of the lunch was Nancy getting stuck in the restroom just steps away from our table. Beth had gone earlier, and when Nancy had been gone for a few minutes we heard a tapping at the door and the sounds of a door knob being turned, with no resulting Nancy. We were cautioned for silence and, sure enough, after going up to the door, we could hear Nancy say that she couldn’t get the door unlocked. At this point, the owner showed up and communicated with us (and Nancy) that she should hand the key to the restroom through the open window to him after he got outside, after which he’d use it to unlock the door. Sure enough, the moment is captured for posterity, with Nancy grinning and the rest of us applauding her/our success. Grateful for the successful breakout of his diner, the owner of La Perla offered all of us complimentary grappa. A few of us tried the Italian “moonshine,” (actually a final distillation of grape skins), but Sam was the only one who really developed a taste for the fiery liquor.

Well after such an inglorious lunch, we left La Perla for other venues. Some of us had noted an “olive oil museum” on the way to the restaurant, so we decided that we needed to investigate the manufacture of olive oil. Since the “museum” was only a mile or so outside of Montecchio, it didn’t take long to get there from Montecchio. We all piled out of our cars and invaded the museum. We may have been the only visitors in the last month or so. We were greeted graciously, and as we toured the two rooms of the museum (made up of a few pieces of old equipment as well as many photographs), the docent (that’s what she’d be called at a major museum at any rate) apparently summoned her help, and they prepared a table for us – a table of different olive oils, tapinades, breads, and wines. They showed us to a table set up with these delicacies, and the eight of us enjoyed local products for quite some time. Since the tasting was free, we all thought the least we could do was to go back to their gift shop and make a few purchases, which we managed to consume over the next two days and nights.

By now one would think we were full. Well, we were. We were so full we retired to our villa, our beds and couches, and slumbered for a bit. But, of course, after arising, we encountered the problem of what to do about dinner. Fortunately, the Bobs had had lunch at a restaurant in Baschi on Sunday (when some of the rest of us were in Molezzole), some 10 kilometers north of the villa. They had become great friends with Luciano, the proprietor of the restaurant, and had made arrangements for him to close up his restaurant on Tuesday night and devote it, in its entirety and including, Luciano had told the Bobs, an extensive wine cellar, to our party of eight. Full of anticipation, we all trekked to Baschi. Upon finding the restaurant (downstairs in a cellar – and that’s not the wine cellar), we were shown to a table after hugs from Luciano (who resembled Frankie, a portly and balding minor mob boss in Godfather Part II). This was to be a MULTI-course meal with wines especially chosen by Luciano. Ken (one of the two wine experts in our party) was so keen to see the extensive wine cellar he asked to be allowed to visit it right away. He was gone for oh, I don’t know, perhaps 15 seconds. Apparently Luciano’s wine cellar was not so extensive after all. Nonetheless, we all still wanted to have a wonderful meal and experience Luciano’s Umbrian hospitality. We were served a glass of Luciano’s house wine (I think actually made by Luciano, since we didn’t see a label on the bottle) which was just OK, and we chatted as we watched Luciano prepare some bruschetta over a single can of Sterno. So far, not so good. Oh well. After the bruschetta, Luciano’s wife (we presume) appeared from upstairs with pots of pasta – pretty good pasta – not great but not bad at all. I’m sure I’ve left out a course, but the next course of note was something that we understood to be marinated pork cutlets – but turned out to be, we THINK, raw wild boar marinated in lemon juice; this is, apparently, quite an Umbrian delicacy, but not one which corresponded with the palates of all present – my dear wife, Nancy, cut her cutlet in half and put half of it on my plate for my consumption, whereas Beth put her cutlet in her purse and covered it with a napkin. I’m not sure what the others did, but this “delicacy” did occupy much discussion in the remainder of our travels. Thinking that a bottle of better wine might appease our palates, Ken insisted on picking out a bottle of wine from Luciano’s cellar. This did not set well with Luciano (it may have been perceived as an affront since it was not the same as the wine he’d picked out for us), and as it turned out it didn’t set well with the rest of us either – it had a peculiar retsina type taste, but not as good as retsina, much more of an actual turpentine type taste. Well after the turpentine wine, Luciano brought us our dolci (our sweet), which appeared to be a store-bought pastry. It was OK; it was actually very good; it may have been the best part of the meal. I don’t mean to be mean or rude or ungrateful, and I assure the reader that all of us were really quite cordial and well behaved in front of Luciano, but it did take some effort on our part. For just as this was assuredly THE worst meal that any of us had in Italy, there is little doubt that Luciano was quite proud of his establishment and his hospitality. That being said, one of our party was heard to say, “Of course Luciano shut down his restaurant for the evening for all of us; he probably had more business with us and made more money with us than he had in the previous 6 months combined.” Enough!!!

Day 9 – Wednesday, September 21 - Ah Orvieto - what a duomo!!!

After breakfast (i.e., coffee for Sam and a little more for the others), Sam and Nancy and Ken and Beth departed for Orvieto, about 12 to 15 kilometers northwest from our villa. The other four of our party had gone to Orvieto on Monday (when we were in Perugia). The others told us that if we didn’t take the funicular up the mountain to Orvieto that we should be on the lookout for a particular parking lot – the last parking lot before entering the historic part of Orvieto, where the roads are so narrow that one must fold in both side-door mirrors on ones car in order to avoid scraping the side of the car. We missed that parking lot. We drove and drove up the mountain/hill, and the road kept getting narrower and narrower. Sam and Ken folded in the mirrors on both sides, and Sam kept a careful eye on at least the driver’s side of the car. After making a few turns, Sam spied something that appeared to be a wide spot in the road, if not more. Thank God, it was more – an actual parking lot, one block from the duomo.

We got out of the car, found where to pay for parking and walked toward the duomo. As we rounded the corner of the piazza, the Orvieto duomo was before us. Oh My God – what a piece of art, what a piece of work. The façade of the duomo was so incredibly beautiful, and so detailed, it appeared that it had to have been painted. But it would have been painted 600 years ago (or more). It turned out that the façade was all mosaic – the most beautiful and detailed mosaic we saw anywhere. The façade compared favorably with anything we saw subsequently in Florence or Rome (or anywhere else I have ever been). We entered the church, staring in awe at the incredible beauty inside (as well as outside) and I remarked on how unbelievable it was that such a church could have been built and maintained by a relatively small town like Orvieto. That comment, in fact, applies to much of what we saw in Italy – the smallest of towns might have absolutely inspirational art and architecture. The final, and perhaps most incredible, part of the inside of the Orvieto duomo, was the side chapel, the cappella nuova (a special, fee-added chapel) which was, apparently, the inspiration for Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. The frescoes, started in 1499 by Signorelli and completed over a period of several years, depict doings of the Antichrist, hell, the crowning of the elect, the angels leading the elect to heaven and the entrance to hell, the resurrection of the flesh, and the destruction of the world.

Across the piazza from the duomo was an archaeological museum we visited, after which we started going up and down the tiny shopping streets of Orvieto – Ken looking for wines, Nancy looking for ceramics, Beth also looking for ceramics, and Sam just looking! After some success, we found a restaurant (of course we were always looking for restaurants), Ristorante dell’Ancora (Via di Piazza del Popolo, 7, Orvieto; http://www.vinit.net/cgi-bin/links/jump.cgi?ID=2368), which was delightful. We ate alfresco, with a nice antipasto, pasta and wine. The setting was beautiful – no particular view, but the vines overhead provided shade and cooling relief on a somewhat warm day, and the company was wonderful.

Another hour of so of shopping and wandering around town followed, and then we walked back to the main piazza, found an outdoor café serving wine, grappa, coffee or whatever. We sat, we talked, we enjoyed. Then we set off for home – for our villa.

Of course, once we got back to the villa we had to face yet another eating problem. Some of us had noticed a restaurant in Alviano, a few kilometers distant down toward the lake (i.e., Lago Alviano), so we caravanned there and arrived there at 7:00 pm to become the first diners and the only non-Umbrians of the evening. The meal was quite adequate, but the event, the dinner in its totality was superb – amazing what a lot of vino and good times can do to a meal. After dinner, we did finally retire back to the villa, whereupon Sam drank most of the rest of the bottle of anisette while the others drank wine.

Day 10 – Thursday, September 22 - Daytrip to Florence - not enough time but SO glad we went

The next day was our daytrip to Florence – to Firenze. Sam had already purchased first-class tickets over the Internet from Trenitalia (total cost of about $56 per person roundtrip, whereas second class would have cost about $43 per person roundtrip) for our round trip between Orvieto (the closest station to our villa) and Florence. The train left Orvieto around 8:00 am, so we all left the villa by 7:00 am to be sure we didn’t miss the train. So far, so good. Sam had also reserved tickets at the Accademia (for 11:00 am for 9.5 € per person) and the Uffizi (for 2:00 pm also for 9.5 € per person) for the six of us (the Bobs would be visiting Florence on a tour during their second week in Italy after the villa so chose not to “do” Florence with us).

The train ride to Florence was uneventful but with pretty countryside views. Getting into Florence’s train station was not particularly noteworthy, but once you got a block or so away from the train station in Florence toward the historic part of the city, it was a different world. Very commercial – very, very up-scale commercial. Also wonderful art. Before going to the Accademia, to see Michelangelo’s David and other Michelangelo and other Renaissance art, we went to the Mercato Centrale – a giant flea market type of area – with leather goods, clothes, jewelry, and gobs of touristy stuff too. We got to the Accademia around 10:30 am, discovered the gate to pick up our reserved tickets, and actually entered the Accademia around 10:45 am. A bit of wandering around in the museum, and then I looked down a corridor and saw David. I stared, I ogled, I got closer and closer – I saw the veins in his arms and hands (among other parts of his anatomy), and the perfection was absolute. Mouth dropping open type of perfection. Unimaginable perfection.

Well the rest of the Accademia was also wonderful, but the David does, absolutely does, stand out. We finished at the Accademia and started looking for a restaurant recommended by various Fodor’s advisors – Il Retrovo. After considerable searching and asking for directions from locals who had shops presumably near the restaurant, we found it, and it was closed. So sad. Therefore, Plan B – go back to Mercato Centrale and find ZaZa’s Trattoria (also recommended by Fodor’s friends) – a trattoria on the square (Piazza del Mercato Centrale, 26/r; http://www.trattoriazaza.it). We found it, we ate there, and it was fabulous. Most of us got some form of beefsteak Florentine (Sam actually skipped antipasto this time). Sam’s cost 68 € per kg (that’s how it was priced) but wanted less; the waitress told me that there was a 12 oz portion (yes, she knew English weights) available for something on the order of 16 €, about $20. I ordered, it came, and I was happy – very, very happy. It was the best steak I’ve ever had in my life. It was a perfect cut of beef, about 2 inches thick, sliced on the diagonal almost all the way through, seasoned with olive oil and other herbs and spices, grilled to perfection, and absolute heaven. If you’re ever in Florence, go to ZaZa’s and get beef – that’s all there is to it – beef and maybe a bottle of good wine.

After lunch, we wandered toward the Florence duomo and basilica. Also spectacular. We saw Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise on the Baptistery (a very large crowd though), and we looked at the duomo and basilica from the outside but didn’t have a chance to go in – we ran out of time. We saw the model of Michelangelo’s David on the square, as well as other outside art work, and then made our way to the Uffizi for our 2:00 pm reservations. We wandered though the Uffizi for a couple of hours, seeing the highlights, and then on to Ponte Vecchio for a little window shopping before our 7:00 pm train back to Orvieto; Ponte Vecchio is devoted almost entirely to gold and silver jewelry (and a few diamonds and other gems thrown in for good measure) – the merchandise was pretty, and pretty expensive. On the way back to the train station, Nancy was on the lookout for leather and found a shop that was willing to sell her two purses (one for her, one for our daughter), so the shopping objective was met. Much too little time in Florence – next year we’ll spend time going into the basilica and duomo, and may skip the Ponte Vecchio and maybe even the Uffizi – there are many other places to go and see in Florence.

We made it back to the train. Sam and Nancy and Ken and Beth got in their first class cabin, while Paul and Mary got on their second class coach – their agent got them the wrong seats – no problem, right? Well we had a pleasant train ride back to Orvieto, the four of us got off the train, and looked for Paul and Mary – no dice. We looked in all directions, we went to where they had parked their car – still no Paul and Mary. We found a restaurant near the train station in Orvieto – Trattoria da Dina – nothing fancy, mainly a place for us to stop and ponder what had happened to our friends. Beth has her cell phone, but we know that Paul and Mary don’t know the number; we know that Paul and Mary don’t know the number at the villa either. We can’t imagine that they slept through the stop, but don’t know what happened. After we eat dinner, we drive back by their car- it is still there. So we went home to the villa.

Not knowing whether to be mad or worried, Sam and Nancy went upstairs to bed, as did Ken. The Bobs were already asleep (by now about 11:00 pm) and we decided there was no sense in waking them. Beth stayed downstairs for a while. An hour or so later, we hear noises down stairs, and Nancy goes down to investigate, returns to tell me the story. Apparently Paul and Mary were unable to open the door on the train when it got to Orvieto, and had to go to the next stop. They did not have Beth’s number, the villa number, an Italian dictionary, or anything - fortunately others were in the same situation. We were thinking we were going to have to call the police or Interpol!!! We are ALL in bed that night by 2:30 or 3:00 – some by much earlier than that.

Day 11 – Friday, September 23 - a perfect Umbrian hill town - Assisi

Our final full day in Umbria. We had agreed the night before that we’d all drive to Assisi – about an hour’s drive from the villa (maybe only 60 km, but some distances over hilly terrain). We stopped just below Assisi at the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Angels (Santa Maria degli Angeli), a beautiful church and lovely grounds, including a long mall-type of expanse leading up to the church. We drive on up to Assisi and all park in what appears to be the parking lot most convenient to the town – but it makes no difference since we will be walking the remainder of the day. We all then walk up the hill (away from the town), way up the hill, toward Rocca Maggiore, a historic fortress that protected the town – recall that the town of Assisi was founded by Etruscans before the fall of the Roman empire. After taking a few moments for this old man to catch his breath, we start winding our way down the hill toward town with the Basilica of San Francesco being our ultimate destination.

At this point the group separates, agreeing to reconnect at the Basilica at 2:30 pm. All of us except for the Bobs start looking for a place for lunch, while the Bobs want to walk further down the hill and explore more before eating. Ken talked to a couple of shopkeepers who recommended a trattoria, which the six of us enjoyed at a somewhat leisurely pace. We then walked down the hill, looking at both historic buildings (they had to be historic since everything in the town must be well over 700 years old) and the beautiful little side streets with homes displaying red geraniums on their balconies.

We finally get down to the Basilica – around 2:45 pm - not bad, I think, to be only 15 minutes late). Unfortunately there had been a misunderstanding with the Bobs – they thought that we would have already finished seeing the Basilica by then and be ready to return to the villa. Oops!

Well the Bobs went on back up the hill toward the car park while the rest of us entered the Basilica (starting with the Upper Basilica and then the Lower Basilica), including the crypt where the remains of Saint Francis (and his 4 companions Leo, Rufino, Masseo and Angelo) are buried, as well as a room devoted to various reliquaries (including the robe of St. Francis) and a cloister for the brothers. It is a beautiful church, full of frescoes by Giotto depicting the life of St. Francis, and quite inspirational – maybe St. Francis transcends the Catholic Church – a man of peace and humility who loved animals and who worked on behalf of the poor – a Godly man if ever there was one, perhaps.

After visiting the Basilica, the six of us start our trek back up the hill toward the car park. We do manage to do a little window shopping (Ken and Paul are on the lookout for good wines) and have a gelato before getting back to our cars. When we get to the cars we rejoin the Bobs and then all set out for the villa. After Sam and Ken return to the restaurant we’d gone to in Alviano to get some pizza for the troops back at the villa, our task for the evening is to pack for the remainder of our trip. Sam and Nancy and Ken and Beth are staying together, going first for a couple of days to Positano, then to Capri for a couple of nights, and finishing in Rome. The Bobs are taking the train to Rome to join and organized tour for a week or so, and Paul and Mary are off to Sorrento for a few days before returning to Knoxville.

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Jan 4th, 2006, 01:28 PM
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Next installment of impossibly long trip report
Positano and Capri

Day 12 – Saturday, September 24 - Arrivederci Umbria and buongiorno Positano

After breakfast, we all leave the villa, leaving Stefania a few Euros as a gift (she had done some laundry for us and not billed us), and go to the Orvieto train station. It turns out that all eight of us are on the same train to Rome, at which point the Bobs will join their organized tour and the rest of us train on to Naples (Sam and Nancy and Ken and Beth in first class and, once again, Paul and Mary in second class due to their travel agent’s mistake).

Before we can catch the train to Rome and then on to Naples, we have to get rid of our rental cars. Avis had told us that they had closed their office in Orvieto but would send someone up there from Terni to take the car (the Bobs and Paul and Mary rented from Hertz, so they had no difficulty returning their cars). We are all very concerned that the Avis people won’t show up in the Orvieto train station to pick up our car- they finally do - although in Italian fashion, none too soon, and not before Sam ( and the rest of us) are starting to sweat.

We arrive at the Termini train Station in Rome but don’t change trains. We leave Rome and arrive in Naples on time (around 2:30 pm) – eating lunch on the train. A porter, who looks very much like a thug, takes advantage of us at the station, and charges $20 per couple to take our bags a very short distance to where we are met by a colleague (Antonio) of the driver Sam had hired for us (Francesco Marrapese). We are very glad to have a driver, as Naples (at least the part around the train station) is hot, dirty, and confusing. Antonio takes us along the Amalfi Coast (spectacular) to Positano, which is built along the cliffs along the edge of the Mediterranean. Unbelievably scenic and beautiful. In Positano itself, cars can only go so far- from there it is necessary to hire a porter (who takes our bags on a small golf cart-type contraption) and walk down stairs and narrow vine-covered alleys (lovely) to our hotel - La Tartana (Via Vicolo Vito Savino, 6/8 – 84017 Positano; www.villalatartana.it). Sam did it again. We have wonderful views of the town, the Mediterranean, the dock, and the Isle of Sirens from the balconies of each room.

As we unpack and settle into our rooms, Ken goes out and buys a couple of bottles of wine. We toast each other and our trip from our adjoining balconies and decide to walk around a bit – window shopping in the “streets” around our hotel.

Our hotel had recommended a restaurant for us for dinner and made reservations and arranged a free taxi for us to the restaurant. Now a bit about getting about in Positano. To catch our taxi to the restaurant, we had to walk back to where we’d been dropped off with our luggage by Antonio. There we’re picked up by a driver in a minivan, who then picks up four other people at two other hotels and then takes all eight of us to the Caffé Positano (Via Pasitea, 168/70; www.caffepositano.it) – quite a ways up the hill from our hotel. Although the total distance is probably only a kilometer at most, it takes maybe 20 minutes to get there – the minivan has to backtrack and make innumerable turns on switchbacks to get there.

We are seated at an outdoor table overlooking the bay and the lights of the town, where we enjoy a wonderful meal (except for the scampi that Beth ordered, which turned out to be giant, scary-looking prawns). After dinner we decide to walk back to our hotel, using a well-marked and well-lit set of stairs that go directly down to the beach – maybe a vertical drop of a couple of hundred feet. We got back to our room, had a glass of wine on our balcony, and then went to bed.

Day 13 – Sunday, September 25 - Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast - and Franceso (or as the ladies say, "mamma mia, what a stud!")

Today is our day for a tour of the Amalfi Coast and Pompeii. Francesco! Ah, Francesco! Sam had investigated a number of possible private drivers for us for a day trip on the Amalfi Coast and Pompeii and, after reading one review that said that Francesco was easy on the eyes for the ladies, let Beth and Nancy pick. He more than lives up to his photo (a male masterpiece irresistible to women of many ages). His bearing and his sense of self are almost awe-inspiring. His English is flawless, and we quickly learn that Francesco has MANY female friends in small towns all along the Amalfi Coast, all of whom call out to him as we pass by and he waves with self-confident machismo (or whatever the Italian equivalent of the Spanish concept is).

We leave early in the morning for Pompeii, and our private tour. Francesco has arranged a morning tour when it is cooler with the best guide - Enzo. Enzo is a character, possibly what Francesco might become in another 30 years or so. Sporting silver hair and dressed to the nines in a sky blue sport coat (with a silk handkerchief in the front pocket), white shirt and silk tie, pressed slacks, and beautiful leather loafers, we feel we are being escorted by a contemporary nobleman. Of course, the fact that he finagled a smooth entry to the restroom for the ladies without having to wait in a long line impressed Nancy and Beth pretty much, and that other Pompeii guides appeared to step aside as Enzo and the four of us approached, were both pretty compelling recommendations – in addition, some of the other guides told us that we had il professore as our guide and should feel honored.

Well Pompeii was incredible. We spent only a couple of hours there – it would have been possible to spend many more hours, but miles to go before we could sleep. Francesco drove us over the mountain to Ravello (on a road that didn’t exist 40 years ago and allows one to get to Positano and other Amalfi Coast towns without going through Sorrento), where he dropped us off for lunch at the Garden Hotel Ristorante. We had an inside table but at the floor to ceiling windows, so our view was pretty spectacular. There was an engagement party (or something like that) taking place in our room, so the wait staff was a little neglectful, but the manager apologized profusely to Francesco (but not us?) when we left (we know about it because Francesco apologized to us). On the other hand, the food was very good.

After lunch, the four of us wandered around Ravello, giving Nancy a chance to go into a cameo store recommended by Francesco (Camo’s Cameos and Coral Factory, Piazza Domo 9) – pretty good clientele apparently, with pictures of Hillary Clinton, Pope John Paul II, and other notables and letters from the same thanking the owner for the tour he gave them of his facility. We didn’t get the tour, but Nancy did buy a cameo for a necklace and matching earrings, so all was OK with the world. When Nancy finished she walked around a bit while Sam sat on a bench in the town piazza, watching a wedding party assemble for the big event. The four of us finally reconvened and walked back to Francesco and his Mercedes minivan to continue our trip on the Amalfi Coast.

Well after another fine lunch (and the requisite two bottles of wine) and Francesco’s mellifluous voice describing the various towns we went through on the coast (Amalfi, Priaino, etc.), we all got a little sleepy. It was a beautiful drive. He dropped us off at the drop-off point in Positano around 5:00, giving us a chance to do a little more shopping before we went back to the hotel (you can never do enough shopping in Positano).

We had dinner that night at Lo Guarracino in Positano (Via Positanesi d' America, 12 84017; http://www.loguarracino.net/indexeng.htm), a small restaurant on a rocky ledge overlooking the Mediterranean recommended by Francesco. It turned out to be a little less fancy than the Caffé Positano from the previous night – but the waitress (owner?) was a hoot. Smoked incessantly, stroked Sam’s hand, laughed and probably a little tipsy. The food was OK, and Sam had a grappa after dinner (that became a routine for Sam). We walked back to the hotel and went to bed, knowing that tomorrow afternoon we’d be heading to Capri.

Day 14 – Monday, September 26 - on to Capri, incredibly expensive but magical Capri

We took it pretty easy this morning – restful breakfast on our balcony, cleaning up, packing (to avoid having to do it later), and then out for a beach walk and shopping. The four of us walked down next to the water and took off our shoes for a barefoot walk – not really the right experience for the Positano beach, since it’s made up mostly of small to larger pebbles rather than sand. We then headed off to the small shops – the ladies really liked Positano. Ken and I pretty much walked in and out of shops, then hung around the outside of the shop doors while Beth and Nancy did their thing. We picked up a couple of souvenir type things for Cindy (our dear daughter) – such as a tee shirt and small bag.

We returned to our rooms and started lugging the baggage downstairs to be held by the front desk while we went off for lunch – the people at La Tartana were so helpful. We went to a nearby hotel (Albergo Ristorante Buca di Bacco) with a dining room overlooking the beach – we were the first people there for lunch, but since we have a 1:30 ferry over to Capri we wanted to get started early. The meal was good, but not great. We went back to the hotel, settled the bill (total cost of 300 €, or 150 € per night), and the porter helped us cart our luggage to the dock – down a few stairs and some cobblestones – maybe a total of a couple of hundred meters. After tipping the porter (God knows he earned it), we picked up our ferry tickets and waited for a while on the ferry.

The ferry ride from Positano to Capri was uneventful but delightful. We sat for a while inside the ferry, then Nancy and I joined Beth and Ken on the upper deck of the ferry. The views of the Sorrento Peninsula were incredible. We went past the Sireneuse Islands and on to Capri. When we docked in Capri there was a “tall ship” just outside the harbor, and then hordes of people at the harbor itself. We eventually found the entrance to the funicular (the cable car that takes you up the mountain to the “town” of Capri) – it turned out not to be far from where we got off the boat, but nonetheless it escaped our eyes at first.

On our ride up the funicular (cost of 1.3 € per person), I realized how lucky we were that we booked a hotel on top of the island in Capri and not in the harbor part of the island itself (which I’d considered briefly). The harbor area was crowded, noisy, and, as it turned out, far from what we learned was the special atmosphere of Capri – the piazzetta, the ritzy/glitzy shops, the beautiful hotels and bed & breakfasts, the incredible gardens (formal and informal), the bougainvillea (purple and salmon-colored when we were there). After getting off the funicular (maybe a 10 minute ride), we consulted our internet map and directions and walked to our hotel – La Minerva (Via Occhio Marino, 8 – 80073 CAPRI; www.laminervacapri.com).

La Minerva was incredible – expensive, but well worth it. Our room had elegant furnishings, was tastefully decorated (Mediterranean blues), had a bathroom with a huge tub (large enough for two!) with Jacuzzis. The bathroom even had a picture window overlooking the Mediterranean. The hotel is on the top of the eastern, Capri part of the island (the west side of the island is Annacapri), so perhaps one thousand feet above sea level. Our rooms also opened onto our semi-private terraces – a bricked/tiled area of maybe 300 square feet with Norway pines framing the view from our terraces. We settled in our respective rooms and met on our adjoining terraces – time for sharing a bottle of wine (Ken was always prepared it seemed).

The four of us walked up to the piazzetta, slowly, grandly, on our way towards a restaurant that Ken had seen on an earlier solitary walk. It’s hard to walk quickly on Capri – not because of any particular physical limitation, but rather the ambience and the people (from everywhere) and the shops and the Capri feel – so we arrive at the restaurant, Ristorante Buca di Bacco, around 7:00 pm, still way earlier than proper Europeans would dine. Nonetheless, the host seats us at a table and gives us menus and a wine list, and pretty soon others come in to dine. The meal is very good – not great. After dinner the four of us stroll back to La Minerva and make an early evening of it.

Day 15 – Tuesday, September 27 - an easy hike, gaden-hopping, window shopping and a bit of grappa for Sam

We wake up the next morning and call for our breakfast to be delivered to our room and terrace. About 10 minutes later it’s there – coffee, fresh orange juice, yogurt, rolls – just enough to get us started. It’s beautiful on our terrace – looking out over the Mediterranean and next door as Ken and Beth have their breakfast too.

We start out on a walk to the Arco Naturale, by way of Via Tragara, the Belvedere di Tragara and the Faraglioni rocks. On the way we pass a number of hotels or small villas, and at one of them Nancy and Beth think they see Barbara Eden (Jeannie herself) sitting at a table alfresco with someone! It’s a very long walk – in fact after a mile or so, Sam has to give up before getting all the way to the arch, so Nancy stays behind and rests with Sam next to the Villa Malaparte while Ken and Beth walk on. They return 30 minutes later and say that it was nice but not essential (in other words, Sam’s fatigue was not a bad thing). On our return to the “civilized” part of the island, we go past the trail to the bathing “beaches” next to the Faraglioni, and Nancy, Ken and Beth hike down and back; it turns out that the “beach” was, once again, small rocks and pebbles – but still beautiful.

After freshening up at the hotel, we head off for the piazzetta, shopping and looking for a place for lunch. We stop at Ristorante Villa Verde and have a pretty good meal, but the service is pretty slow – that wouldn’t be bad if we’d had a bottle of wine to keep us company, but the service was slow getting to us in the first place. After lunch the two couples separate (it would seem like we were joined at the hip almost!), and Nancy and Sam head off to look for the Augustine Gardens. We finally find them, a short walk south of the piazzetta looking toward Marina Piccola – absolutely gorgeous. We also walk past several beautiful hotels and their gardens and perfumeries. Before we go back to the hotel Sam has to have an afternoon gelato to keep his strength up – and to support the local gelato industry.

After getting back to the hotel, Sam and Nancy start the packing process – we hate to leave but we also hate the idea of having to hurry tomorrow morning. Ken met us across our terrace divide with a bottle of wine, so we decided before heading to dinner to toast the Isle of Capri. For dinner that night, we decide, after some cajoling from the wives to get fancy, to go to the Terrazza Brunella (via Tragara, 24/A - 80073 Capri; http://www.terrazzabrunella.com/salsa/en/index.html) – a “famous” restaurant not that far from our hotel – actually located at the Villa Brunella. It was an elegant dinner – with an antipasti, a primi, a secondi, a dolci, and wine – of course wine (all of which set us back around $160). It was a 2-3 waiter evening, and we felt like we were royalty. After the 2-hour dinner, we strolled back toward “town” and the piazzetta, where we had to sit at a table alfresco at one of the bars surrounding the square for the wives to enjoy a Cosmo while Sam has a grappa – Ken must have met his limit, since he simply watches over us and doesn’t drink. Before we leave the outdoor café a friendly dog drops by our table for a treat (the waiter had left a few nibbles when he brought us our drinks). Foolishly we fed the dog, at which time another dog showed up – one hell of a dogfight ensued, that spilled over to a couple sitting at the table next to ours. Guess the waiters weren’t too happy with us, as they broke up the fight and sent the canines on their way.

When we got back to the hotel, the four of us walked around the common area for a while, Sam “discovered” what he thought was a courtesy bar with bottles of all sorts of liqueurs and grappas. Sam was, of course, still thirsty, so the on-duty desk person came over and poured him a grappa and Nancy a campari – Ken and Beth declined yet another drink. We took them to our room to finish them – Sam enjoyed the grappa, but campari must be an acquired taste – neither Nancy nor Sam could drink what tasted like cough syrup.

knoxvillecouple is offline  
Jan 4th, 2006, 01:31 PM
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Final installment - sorry folks for the length

Day 16 – Wednesday, September 28 - Ciao Capri and on to beautiful Roma

Upon awakening Nancy called the front desk for our room service breakfast, and once again it was there in a matter of minutes. While we were having breakfast on the terrace, Ken peered over the side and took our picture. Ken and Beth got their breakfast a few minutes later, so Sam reciprocated. Life is tough!

The front desk made arrangements for our ferry tickets and a porter to take our bags to the dock, letting us relax and not have to worry about logistics – how nice. We settled our bill with La Minerva (270 € per night, plus we were charged for an orange soda from our minibar and the grappa and campari from the night before – darn), but even though it was twice as much as what we paid in Positano, we’re glad we did it – it’s fun to act like royalty or celebrities or rich people, at least once in our lives.

After taking the funicular from the piazzetta back down to the dock, we go to the correct docking location to get our ferry to Naples. There our faithful Francesco meets us at the pier (we agree that we need to try to get Francesco for next year). Francesco shows us a much nicer part of Naples, and takes us to train station, finds us a nice waiting room (where we have the wine, bread, cheese and salami that Ken bought at a “grocery” store on Capri) and shows us where to catch our train. After lunch we catch our train around 1:30 p.m. to Rome (we arrive in Rome around 3:30), and the Nicolas Inn.

After getting into Rome’s Termini Stazione, we wait in line patiently for a cab to take us to the Nicolas Inn (Via Cavour, 295, Scala A, int. 1, Roma, Italy 00184; www.nicolasinn.com). Just before getting to the front of the line, a gypsy cabbie offers to take us – at a cost of 45 €. Thinking that’s a bit high and having been warned about gypsy cabbies, we decline and wait five more minutes, and take a cab to the hotel for 8 € (that’s right, 8 €, not 45 &euro, and we tip the cabbie a couple of more Euros for having to deal with the luggage from 4 adults.

One of the two owners, Francois (his wife Melissa, an American, is the other owner), happens to be on the sidewalk when our cab pulls up to the B&B, so he helps us lug our not inconsiderable baggage through the courtyard and up the stairs to the Nicolas Inn. Melissa is “off duty” for now, so Francois checks us in and gives us the keys to our rooms, the front door of the Nicolas Inn, and the front door of the building (quite a set of keys!). He also recommends, as a first night dining venue, the Trattoria da Valentino – a small place just a few doors down the street from the Nicolas Inn – after we tell him that we’re going to go on our own walking tour for a few hours and will be too tired to seek out a “fine” restaurant tonight. He also shows us the closest “grocery” (more like a convenience store in the U.S., but it sells wine unlike an American convenience store) where we can buy essentials (e.g., bottles of water, Lite Coke, etc.).

After unpacking our clothes we take our cameras and maps and head out on a “short” walking tour. Fortunately for us, the Nicolas Inn is VERY convenient – a block or so from the Forum, a couple of more blocks from the Colosseum, and, in the other direction from the Colosseum, the Vittorio Emanuelle monument. Since we’ll be doing a full-day tour on Thursday of ancient Rome and the Vatican we opt to skip the Colosseum and most of the Forum for now. Dodging traffic along the Via Dei Fori Imperiali (we were told the following day by our tour guide that Mussolini decided to build a grand boulevard on top of many Forum excavations as a symbol of his greatness), we walk up to the Piazza Venezia for a close-up view of the Vittorio Emanuelle monument (but not too close or we might go blind!). We then consult our guidebook and map and decide to start looking for the Trevi Fountain, since Sam doesn’t recall whether our tour will include it in our itinerary. We walk up the Via dei Corso and start seeing signs to the Trevi Fountain and follow them. When the crowd gets increasingly larger, we figure we’re close, and there we are – there over the heads of “thousands” of other tourists and people hawking “touristico crappola” we see it. We got close enough to take a couple of pictures of Nancy and Beth tossing coins in the fountain, and we actually even got a “clean” picture of the fountain by holding our camera high above our heads and aiming in the right direction.

I’m sure it’s beautiful when not surrounded by hordes of people, but enough was enough. We took off, this time looking for the Spanish Steps. Using a similar approach (guidebook, map, crowd following, and signs for tourists) we get there in a matter of a few minutes. It also is a bit too crowded for our tastes. We walk up the steps, look down the steps, and then head for our hotel. Fatigue is starting to weigh in, I think, and it takes us longer to get there than we’d anticipated.

Before going up to our room, Ken has the GOOD idea of stopping in the convenience store and getting a couple of bottles of wine – actually one bottle of wine and a bottle of chilled prosecco. Almost immediately upon getting to our rooms (I think we’re the only people there at this point), we settle in to Ken and Beth’s room, in various stages of exhaustion and aching feet, and start to enjoy the prosecco. After finishing it we went downstairs to go to the Trattoria da Valentino (Via Cavour, 293 – 00184 Roma), a very small, neighborhood-type trattoria, with very simple but good food and drink. We had a very nice meal – bread, wine, “gassy” water (which I’ve neglected to indicate we had at virtually every restaurant we’ve been to since we’ve been in Europe), a primi, a secondi, and a shared dolci and coffee – all for $45.

Well we headed back to our rooms and a relatively early turn-in time, since we had a full-day tour of ancient Rome and the Vatican scheduled for the next day, which would be Ken and Beth’s last day since they left for home on Friday, September 30, instead of Saturday, October 1 (when we left). Fortunately we slept well.

Day 17 – Thursday, September 29 - Ancient Roma and the Vatican - a FULL day's touring

Melissa checked with us about breakfast the next morning and had it brought to our rooms around 8:00 (the Nicolas Inn has no breakfast room, per se). Our guide from Through Eternity (www.througheternity.com), Andrew Moran, showed up a few minutes before 9:00 to start our tour. Andrew is a young (perhaps mid- to late-20s) Irish graduate student (a young Oscar Wilde?) taking a sabbatical. He’d taken a masters degree in architectural history from Trinity College in Dublin and was now taking some time off (figuring what to do when he grows up?). Andrew gave us a summary of what our itinerary for the day would be, and we told him to drop the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps, since we’d taken care of those items yesterday – this apparently pleased Andrew since he said that he had no particular fondness for either of those. Basically we’d see ancient Rome during the morning, have lunch, and then take a taxi over to the Vatican Museum and Vatican City for the afternoon.

Talking the entire time he was walking, sometimes walking backwards so that he faced us, Andrew took us first to the Colosseum – an incredibly large structure, surrounded by heavy, fast-moving traffic. After crossing the Via Dei Fori Imperiali we see “gladiators” who approach tourists to have their pictures taken en costume for a fee (I’ve heard it cost 10 &euro. Not wanting to be suckered in by such a ploy, we avoided them, except Beth did try to take their pictures gratis, but the pictures didn’t turn out – very weird in that the pictures turned out, but the gladiators simply didn’t show up in the photo. Well we “do” the colosseum – very grand structure, intricate engineering. Andrew dispels some myths about the colosseum, including one that alleged that the floor of the colosseum could be filled with water for mock navy battles.

On to the Forum! After passing the Arch of Constantine (areas next to it still being excavated), Andrew took us into the Forum. Incredible to think what was going on around here a couple of thousand years ago. Andrew told us that the excavations (starting really in the 19th century) went down probably 40 feet or so. At the end of the Roman Empire, the invading barbarians had destroyed all but one of the aqueducts, meaning that water was not available in sufficient quantities to support Rome. The population of Rome went from perhaps 1 million at the height of its glory to a population of perhaps 500. Incredible. Among other structures, Andrew pointed out the Temple of the Vestal Virgins, the location where Julius Caesar was cremated and buried (no longer there), and, of course, the many arches, temples, and courtyards. The structures that have survived the “best” are those that were “adopted” by succeeding generations (usually as a part of the Catholic church). The last building on the Forum tour was the prison where St. Peter was allegedly incarcerated prior to his crucifixion.

After the Forum, we walked on to various fountains (e.g., Fountain of the Four Rivers by Bernini) and piazzas (Piazza Navonna), before we got to the Pantheon. Sam had not realized that the Pantheon is an ancient structure itself, built by Hadrian in the 2nd century A.D. to be a temple for all the Roman gods. It came to be a final resting place for all the greats, including Raphael. After the Pantheon, we took lunch at L’Insalata Ricca, Largo dei Chiavari 85, a pizzeria with outdoor seating – a pleasant but unpretentious place (turns out Sam later found out it is a chain restaurant, very popular with tourists but also with locals); Sam had linguine with pesto, Nancy had spaghetti carbonara, bread, gassy water, and wine for about 20 € (Ken and Beth also helped us pay for Andrew’s meal).

After lunch, we caught two cabs to take us to the Vatican Museum, where Andrew took care of the tickets (we paid, he got them). Even on a Thursday afternoon, it was pretty crowded. We walked through the galleries until we got to an outside courtyard (Cortile della Pigna, where the pignoli or pine cone bronze statue is), where Andrew let us have a seat on a bench while he gave us some background. Then on to the rest of the museum and galleries and chapels – the most memorable, at least for Sam, were Egyptian and Assyrian sarcophagi, mosaics, statuary (the Laocoon), the gallery of maps (almost pre-Renaissance frescoes of maps of the known world), the Raphael Room, followed by the Sistine Chapel. The Sistine Chapel was almost a letdown, probably because of the huge crowd – anyone with claustrophobia would have had a problem – and the lighting (pretty dim). The Raphael Room was incredible though.

After the Vatican Museum, we walked out into Piazza San Pietro (in front of the basilica), looked at the large statues of St. Peter and St. Paul on either side of the piazza and at the obelisk in the center of the piazza. After entering the church we walked up and down the aisles, including the side chapels. We saw Michaelangelo’s Pieta, but now behind plexiglass (after a vandal attacked the statue in 1972) and the 13th century statue of St. Peter that people still pass by, touching or kissing the feet of the saint when going by. The huge columns by Bernini (Baldacchino) dominate the nave of the church and the papal altar, where only the pope can celebrate mass.

Put a fork in us, we were done!!! After going back into the piazza, Andrew said his farewells, and the four of us got in the queue to catch a cab back to the hotel. A couple of groups tried to sneak to the front of the line (much to the consternation of those waiting in line) but were unsuccessful. We finally got our cab and returned to the Nicolas Inn. We convened in Ken and Beth’s room again for some liquid refreshment to discuss dinner plans (Ken and Beth’s last dinner in Rome, since they were to leave early on Friday). We decided to follow Melissa’s advice and go to La Taverna dei Fori Imperiali (or the Ristorante Santa Cristina; the remaining evidence is confusing). A wonderful meal, which Sam followed up with a grappa (he had to keep the tradition alive).

We turned in early, since Ken and Beth had to leave early the next morning (Melissa had arranged a taxi for them at 6:00 a.m.), and Nancy and Sam had reservations for the Scavi Tour (tour of the excavations below St. Peter’s, including Roman necropolis and the remains of St. Peter) at 9:00 Friday morning. We said ciao and arrivederci to Ken and Beth Thursday night – no way we were getting up to say goodbye as early as they were leaving. Ken and Beth agreed to take our car to the airport parking lot when they get back to Knoxville, so we have avoided almost all parking fees – a nice benefit of having such good friends.

Day 18 – Friday, September 30 - Scavi tour and the Borghese Museum and gardens

Our last day in Rome. Nancy and Sam had breakfast and got a cab for Piazza San Pietro by 8:15. When we got there, the Swiss guards wouldn’t let us go to the Scavi tour office until 9:00, so we went into the Vatican gift shop where Nancy attempted to buy a rosary that had been blessed by the pope. The clerk acted offended that such items would be for sale – or maybe we just misunderstood. In any case, no rosary for Nancy’s friend at work. When 9:00 a.m. rolled around, we went to the Scavi tour office and collected our reserved tickets.

This is possibly the most difficult to get and prized tour in Rome – excavations going back to the 1st century – and is not for the faint of heart or those with claustrophobia (in fact one lady had to drop out of the tour shortly after it started due to her claustrophobia). The areas shown include the original road from the Tiber River to the area where St. Peter’s basilica now is, and a necropolis pre-dating the Christian era filled with family crypts of Roman families and their slaves; even the sarcophagi of small children and infants are there, as well as urns and other assorted possessions of the rich Roman families. The final prize of the tour are the remains of St. Peter (or at least purported to be his remains), contained in a plexiglass container some distance from the path of the tour. His remains are directly below the papal altar, which is directly below the Michaelangelo dome of St. Peter’s basilica. Looking up the airways up toward the papal altar you can see the Michaelangelo dome. All in all, this is an incredibly moving sight when you stop and think about the history of the Catholic church, the Italian renaissance, and where we are today.

After finishing our Scavi tour, Nancy and Sam went to the taxi queue in the piazza to get a cab to the Villa Borghese for a tour of the gallery (tickets reserved for 1:00 p.m.) and the gardens. We got to the museum early and had a bite to eat at the small café in the basement – just a panini and a coke. We were still early so walked around the gardens immediately surrounding the museum (including the Secret Garden) and then took a trolley ride around the grounds – a quick way of seeing the expansive gardens. When we got back from the trolley ride it was time to get our tickets, check our bags and get started. The art in the Borghese gallery is incredible, particularly the statuary of Bernini (Rape of Prosperine and Apollo and Daphne) and Canova (Venus, as posed for by Napolean’s sister, Pauline Borghese). There are also beautiful mosaics (4th century), paintings (Titian’s Sacred and Profane Love) – all in all a beautiful collection, relatively small (compared to the Louvre) but beautiful.

After finishing our tour of the Borghese museum (restricted to 2 hours per ticket to avoid huge crowds), Nancy and Sam started walking back toward the hotel and then got a cab the rest of the way. Sam had figured out that the San Pietro in Vincoli (St. Peter in Chains) was not far from the Nicolas Inn – perhaps 3 blocks – so we decided that our last and final tourist trip would be to that church to see not only the reliquary (i.e., the chains by which Peter was chained) but, more importantly, the statue of Moses by Michaelangelo. Sam remembered seeing it when he was here with his parents and sister almost 45 years ago, and in his mind’s eye was far away, not 2-3 blocks. In any case, Sam missed the “street” it was on but Nancy saw it – really just a set of stairs leading up to the church. It was almost dusk, and the lighting in the church was nil; fortunately, the church had installed a light system that, after paying half a Euro, would light up the statue for a few moments. Others were there too, so we all cooperated (by taking our turn paying the 1/2 Euro) to look at and photograph the incredible statue. The reliquary, a set of chains under glass on the altar, looked old and could have been the original chains – who really knows. To the faithful I’m sure they are the real chains, and to others it doesn’t have to make a difference – they are still inspirational if only for other reasons – that so many can work together for so many years - so many centuries - to build an institution like the Catholic church that can sustain such monuments and such faith.

After our sojourn at San Pietro in Vincoli, we headed back to the hotel – to pack for the next day and to go out for our final dinner. By this time we don’t pay a lot of attention to how neatly we pack, just stuff everything in so it will fit. We do remember to put all of our “valuable” items, including purchases from Paris and Italy that we haven’t shipped home, in our carryon baggage – just in case! We went to another restaurant recommended by Francois and Melissa – Ristorante La Cicala e la Formica (Via Leonina, 17) – hard to find but well worth it. As usual, we’re the first ones there (around 7:30), but they seat us at an outside table, set with candles (which the waitress lights) and linen tablecloths. We have a very nice meal – a bottle of wine, a bottle of gassy, a shared antipasti, then a primi and a secondi for each of us, followed by espresso – a total of 72 €. By the time we’re settling into our primis, the restaurant is filling up, and by the time we leave, there are no tables left.

Day 19 – Saturday, October 1 - Arrivederci Roma - so sad!

Fortunately, our flight is “late” so we don’t have to get up before daylight and, in fact, have time for breakfast. Our taxi (the same driver that Melissa had arranged for Ken and Beth, an older gentleman) picked us up at 9:00 and got us to Fiumcino before 10:00 (for a 1:00 p.m. flight). It was not clear when we got to the airport which line to get into, so Sam lined up at what we thought was the likely one with most of the luggage while Nancy checked on the others. Sure enough, we went to a different (much shorter) line, got checked in and went through security to the First Class lounge for a final grappa – turned out to be a single-malt scotch, since the only grappa that Sam found was at the airport duty-free store, which Sam, of course, bought to take home.

Our flight from Rome to Paris was uneventful but very late (left late). By the time we got to Charles de Gaulle airport we had perhaps 20 minutes to make our flight. Fortunately we were met by an Air France staff person, who raced us through the airport and had us cut in line in the second security queue to get us to our gate. The staff person said they would hold our plane – thank goodness they did. Of all times, this was the time that Nancy was selected for a random thorough search, and boy it was thorough. The security person asked Nancy what every item in her purse and billfold was unless it was immediately obvious. I was searched thoroughly too, but whereas my search may have taken 2-3 minutes, Nancy’s search was easily twice that long. Long story short (well, somewhat short), we got on the plane only to find that Nancy’s assigned seats was in Air France business whereas Sam’s seat was in first class. After much complaining that we had “paid” for first class, it was all to no avail – there was not an extra first class seat, so Sam had the option of sitting in first class and leaving Nancy in business or of surrendering his first class seat to Nancy’s seat-mate and joining Nancy in business class – being reasonably smart, Sam opted to sit with his dear wife for the next 9 hours.

The return flight(s) home were not nearly as much fun as the ones going over – and only partly because of the Air France screw-up. It hit us that our adventure was almost over. We still had a relaxing trip to Atlanta, where we went through customs, waited on our flight to Knoxville (also late), and finally got to the Knoxville airport and our car around midnight (and Delta/Air France did manage to lose Sam’s bag – and found and returned it a week later). We got home before 1:00 a.m. and fell into our bed – home sweet home.

Now Sam starts doing the serious planning for our trip next June – a 12 night cruise of the Mediterranean with our daughter Cindy and Sam’s sister Cindy. What fun that will be!!!

knoxvillecouple is offline  
Jan 4th, 2006, 02:10 PM
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Wow--what an impressive report. You folks seem to have fun---grazie for sharing.
bobthenavigator is offline  
Jan 4th, 2006, 02:12 PM
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This is a great report Thanks so much for posting all the details. Your hotel in Paris sounds wonderful. Do they have a website?
TexasAggie is offline  
Jan 4th, 2006, 02:22 PM
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Nice report. Thanks for sharing! It's 37 and gray here in Chicago today, and the mere thought of the room terrace of La Minerva (we were there a few months before you) is .... ahhhh, distracting me from my work!
ms_go is offline  
Jan 4th, 2006, 02:27 PM
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Texas Aggie -

The Hotel Brighton is part of a "group" of hotels represented as Esprit de France - that web site is: http://www.esprit-de-france.com/pres...p?lang=EN&id=7

Another web site (http://paris.travel.spb.ru/list-g-l/mql227.htm) provides a link to rates for the different kinds of rooms. People should be aware (as I became aware from reading reviews at Trip Advisor) that the Brighton has different kinds of rooms with different prices. Although the renovated rooms at the front of the hotel overlooking the Tuileries ARE more expensive than the others (overlooking a courtyard I believe), the price (185 Euros/night when we were there) is very good - I think a room with a comparable view at the Hotel Meurice (a MEGA-star facility) just up the street would possibly be 4-5 times that amount. Of course, the Meurice has other amenities that the Brighton does not, but the view is the same.

KC
knoxvillecouple is offline  
Jan 4th, 2006, 02:33 PM
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Thank you for sharing your report. I love Hotel Brighton as well and in the three times I have gone to Paris that's the only hotel I have wanted to stay at. The views are magnificient and worth the extra money. Did you get an opportunity to meet Jean Luc who works there?
Madison is offline  
Jan 4th, 2006, 02:38 PM
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Thanks for the kudos on the trip report - I'll have to point them out to my sweet wife who claims that I have diarrhea of the mouth (or pen or PC).

I don't think that Jean Luc was "on duty" anytime we were near the front desk - but I agree that the Brighton is a thoroughly charming and great hotel - particularly for a first-timer who wants to be enthralled by the views from a hotel balcony. I suspect next time (notice I'm admitting there will be a next time) we'll likely stay elsewhere - just to be in a different "neighborhood" and get a different feel - St. Germain de Pres, Marais, not sure.

KC
knoxvillecouple is offline  
Jan 4th, 2006, 03:06 PM
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Fantastic trip report knoxville, of course I hope you know I have not gotten my errands done this afternoon as I have been sitting here reading your trip report from beginning to end!

I have never been to Paris but am so familar with your travels throughout Italy. You two and your friends obviously travel well together, that is wonderful.

I am returning to Italy this year..and your report make me feel more anxious than ever to get there..if that is possible!

Thank you so much for sharing your trip. P.S. I love grappa also!
LoveItaly is offline  
Jan 4th, 2006, 03:54 PM
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Great report. You were there the same time I was (although I didn't do Paris, just Italy). Sounds as though you and your friends travel exceptionally well together.
SusanP is offline  
Jan 4th, 2006, 04:02 PM
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dcd
 
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Very impressive report!! Thanks for taking the time to share. Last March we visited some of the Italian cities you did and your wonderful narration brought back all kinds of warm memories. We're excited to be travelling to Paris in April for the first time, and we will benefit greatly from your observations. Glad to see that friends can and do travel well together. Sounds like an absolutely wonderful experience. Dave
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Jan 4th, 2006, 06:17 PM
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cpd
 
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Wow! What a fun read. Enough to make you start planning a trip to Italy - even if you shouldn't!!
cpd is offline  
Jan 4th, 2006, 06:51 PM
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Fantastic trip report! I enjoyed your writing style and attention to detail.

The Musee d'Orsay is my favorite museum in Paris -- both the art and architecture. I loved your description:

<< Before leaving the Musee d’Orsay we checked out the interior of one of the clocks you can see on the outside of the building, and then went out on the balcony of the Musee d’Orsay to enjoy the view of Sacre Coeur, the Louvre, up and down the Seine – it was like being in a fairytale. >>

Woody
Woody is offline  
Jan 4th, 2006, 07:05 PM
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Thanks alot! I just cut and pasted all the parts I need for Italy later this year from your report. This is better than a Rick Steves book! We're also staying at La Minerva on Capri, for 3 nights, so we were happy to hear you loved it.

Steve R
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Jan 4th, 2006, 07:21 PM
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I injoyed reading your report so much very interesting the way you have written it as well as gives much good information. I was in Paris a week several years ago, and was in Rome last Jan. for 8 days,but have yet to visit other places you went in Italy. I am really anxious to go back to Italy.
Thanks for sharing.
maryanne1 is offline  
Jan 4th, 2006, 07:57 PM
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Thank you so much for taking the time to write this lovely report. Don't worry about it being long, some of us really like long. Loved your pictures, and it looks and sounds like a great trip.
Nikki is offline  
Jan 4th, 2006, 08:03 PM
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Oooops, I got so involved in the wonderful report I forgot there were the photos! Thanks for mentioning them Nikki.
LoveItaly is offline  
Jan 4th, 2006, 09:07 PM
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Bueno sera - Absolutely wonderful trip report. Taking many notes as we'll be there in May this year and can't wait. Will try Grappa, LOVE Campari and drink until my teeth turn red (not really, but it sounds fun
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