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We're back from Italy! What a great trip!

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Hello everyone,

We just returned from the best trip of our lives! We had 14 days in Florence, Tuscany & Venice, and thanks in large part to help from fellow fodorites, it was a dream trip.

I'll be posting lots of details in my trip report and I'll be happy to answer any questions.

Day 1: Fly into Venice, take bus to train station & train to Florence

We had a direct flight from Philadelphia to Venice, which was so much better than connecting at another European airport first..for one thing, our bags got there when we did! I slept a bit on the plane, thanks to Ambien, which I took for the first time but only 1/2 tablet, since I was a bit worried that it would be too strong. It did work for about 3 hours, but that was all I needed. DH didn't take any, and didn't sleep a wink, but he caught up on the train later.

I was quite brave on this trip, and after reading everyone's advice on bringing cash, we only brought a few hundred dollars for emergency use only, and headed straight to the ATM at the Venice airport. The ATM was a bit intimidating at first, but a kind fellow tourist helped me navigate the buttons. Then we took out what I thought would be enough for the first several days (it wasn't), and then headed to our next adventure: the bus to Mestre station.

It turned out that all I needed to do was go to the information booth to buy the bus tickets for Mestre, then we went to wait for the bus outside. Noticing the locals, I went & stamped our tickets in the yellow machine, DH loaded our bags on the bus and we climbed aboard, feeling quite proud that we'd gotten this far.

When we reached Mestre, the local people all seemed to drift off, and we stepped out into the blazing heat at the stop, which was at the side of a building. It looked like a long walk with our bags to the station entrance, so we took a shortcut behind the building. I think that this was actually the service area, and we were in fact the only travelers walking briskly along toward the trains. We earned the first bemused looks of the trip, but it didn't slow us down.

Usually I make my train reservation online, but I've always already been in Italy on the day scheduled for the train. This time we were flying in, and I never really trust the airlines' arrival times. Knowing that missing the train could be costly if we had a reservation, and since everyone said it was so easy to just buy the train tickets at the station, I had decided to try it.

As we reached the main area of the station & got our bearings, we headed for the area to purchase tickets. Remembering all I'd read on this website, I bypassed the line waiting to buy tickets, and went right to the machine. Unfortunately, the 10:45 train was full! Drat--maybe I should have made a reservation. However, there were still seats on the next train, so I bought the tickets, and we went outside to wait for the train.

The train tickets were a bit confusing to DH, which led to some worries about which car the seats were in. Even though I was sure I knew, I agreed to go confirm it with the information people.

Getting help from Customer Service is interesting. I was trying really hard to do the right thing this trip, since a few faux pas have occurred on past trips. The door was closed, and with my limited Italian, I could determine that only one person was welcome inside at a time.

I dutifully waited outside the closed door, but a couple of other people just went right in. They looked like they might have the right idea, but I really didn't want to get off on the wrong foot, so I continued to wait. Another man started to go in ahead of me, but then I pointed out the sign. He was French, and apologized for missing the sign. Then both of us stood outside for a moment, until the next person went in past us and then we decided to join the crowd inside.

When it was my turn at last, the woman confirmed that our seats were where I had thought, but it was still worth my time to go there, because my train was listed on the board as Roma, not Firenze. Firenze is just a stop along the way. This could have messed us up, so it turned out well that I'd gone for help.

Then we had the issue of dragging our bags down the stairs, through the tunnel and up the next stairs to the train platform to await the train. This trip, the third bag was really DH's things: all my things for the 14 days were in my carry-on! I think next trip, DH might be a bit more organized in his packing. That extra bag was a beast more than once on the trip!

We did manage to manhandle the bags onto the train without too much incident and then we were on our way to Florence. DH slept the whole way, but I was worried that we'd sleep through our stop, so I stayed awake. Besides, I was too excited to sleep!

Days 1-3: Florence

We stayed at the Relais Cavalcanti, a very nice no-frills Bed & Breakfast centrally located near the Mercato Nuovo. We stayed there on our last trip, and the room had a nice view of the tower of the Palazzo Vecchio, so we were looking forward to another stay.

To the first timer pulling up to the Relais Cavalcanti, it looks as though this couldn't possibly be the place. It is right next to an outdoor Irish Pub, with a graffiti covered sliding door to the left of the entrance, and Vespas parked along the sidewalk. However, we knew that this was the right spot and walked confidently to the nondescript brown door and rang the bell as several people in the cafe looked on.

When there was no reply to our first ring, we rang again...and again received no reply. Since I'd called ahead from the station in Venice, I knew that they were expecting us but this was still a bit worrisome. We were about to examine our options, but just for good measure gave another ring, and this time received a reply.

We were let in and dragged our bags up the long flight of stairs to the elevator. (DH says it doesn't really make sense to have an elevator, if you have to drag everything up a flight of stairs first and I must say that I sort of agree with him there).

We dropped our bags in our room, and then we were off to start having some fun in Florence. (Translation: I wanted to shop, and DH was patient with that) After a couple of hours of wonderful window shopping on the Ponte Vecchio where I just narrowly avoided spending every cent budgeted for the entire trip on some awesome earrings, we returned to the bed & breakfast to get ready for dinner.

Here is a summary of the restaurants we went to in Florence. I had done a lot of research on this site and chowhounds.com and tripadvisor among others, since we weren't that thrilled with our restaurants last trip. These were all highly recommended:

First night: Trattoria Quattro Leoni: a wonderful casual and inexpensive little spot on a quiet piazza in the Oltrarno. We had made reservations online, and I'd recommend it since they were very busy. We were greeted with two glasses of prosecco, and the service was warm & friendly. We sat outside and had a wonderful first night in Florence. The total bill for two dinners with wine was only about 50 Euro!

Second night: La Giostra
This is a more romantic and intimate restaurant, with lovely atmosphere. It was started by a Hapsburg prince and his two sons, and I was very excited to go there. I had originally requested an outdoor table, but when we had seen the restaurant's outdoor seating that afternoon, we knew that indoors was the way to go. Not to mention, it was about 95 degrees and we needed relief from the heat! Our meal was more expensive but not outrageous. Highly recommended.

Third night: Acqua al Due
This was promoted as a lively, bustling place with reservations essential. We had our reservations, and I was looking forward to another great night. Unfortunately, it was NOT a good night. For some reason, our waiter never gave us any service! People who had come in at the same time as we had, and even later were eating their third course before we had even received a thing! (And, no, I don't think we'd committed any offenses...our English-born waiter had been very friendly to us when he'd taken our drink order, but then studiously ignored us for the next hour.) When I finally asked about it, as our neighbors were receiving their secondi, he acted somewhat surprised, then came over and apologized with some story about one of the ovens not working. Finally, our meals arrived and we thought all was well, until we tried to order espresso. 15 minutes later, still no espresso, so we asked for the check (it was 10:00 by then). At that point, he acted shocked and said, "Oh, you ordered espresso, didn't you?" So we said that was okay we no longer wanted it, but he brought it anyway with the bill. We paid the bill and left, very disappointed with such poor service, but determined not to let it ruin our entire night. I would NOT recommend this restaurant; the woman who runs it is very abrupt, diners are practically sitting in each others' laps, and the food wasn't even that good.

Fun things to do at night in Florence:

Piazza della Republica is usually a hopping place. The same gypsy band was there that we saw last time (three years ago). We like to sit at one of the outdoor cafes with a glass of wine and people watch.

Piazza della Signoria is also very active at night. It's fun to sit at one of the cafes there and admire the statues and take lots of pictures that all look the same of the Palazzo Vecchio.

Street musicians play outside the Uffizi (we really enjoyed the guitar player this year who played Simon & Garfunkel and other baby boomer tunes) and a more hip area is the Ponte Vecchio, where we felt more like chaperones but it's so beautiful we didn't care.

Favorite stores:
There's a small store at the corner of the Santa Croce Piazza right across from the Peruzzi store that sells beautiful gold leaf items. The couple who run it are lovely, and it's a great place to pick up truly nice souvenirs.

Signum (between Piazza della Signoria and Piazza Santa Croce) sells prints of antique maps which I'm a sucker for, as well as beautiful leather books and gilt edged stationery.

The Misuri leather store in Piazza Santa Croce has some great deals on quality leather goods, and the Gold Market store connected to it carries some nice jewelry.

The Erboristeria in Piazza della Signoria (right next to the pizza place, across from the Rivoire cafe) has some very nice perfumes and body lotions with authentic old fragrances like Limone di Sicillia and Lavender. Much less expensive than what you'll find at Santa Maria Novella, and very high quality. Great gifts.

Farmacia Santa Maria Novella: on this fourth trip to Florence, I was determined to locate this mecca of fragrances and body lotions. We did find it at last, but it is in a less than attractive area and quite a long walk. The building is very lovely, and I received personal and attentive service (I was the only customer at the time). The products are special but very costly. I did buy a few things and I'm looking forward to trying them.

Ponte Vecchio: I didn't buy anything there this trip, but i Ristori carries quality jewelry and has great service. Dante Cardini is another nice shop to deal with. Some of the stores don't seem as nice as these two, and I can vouch for the honesty of these merchants. Word to the wise: never pay the asking price. They'll almost always come down if you ask what their best price is. Paying cash also helps in most stores.

Sights to see:
After the Uffizi and the Accademia (David), San Lorenzo church has many wonderful masterpieces. The Bargello is also highly recommended if you like sculpture. Capelle Medicee doesn't take long, and contains some beautiful works by Michelangelo.

Tip: every afternoon, we would find the restaurant where we'd be eating that evening. That way, we could make all the wrong turns ahead of time. This was a great help in getting to the reservations in a timely manner, and much more calmly!

Well, sorry to be so long-winded, but I hope some of this is helpful to anyone planning a trip.

Next time: Fun Times Driving Standard...Where's Reverse? ...Driving through Chianti region to San Quirico d'Orcia

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    Looking forward to hearing more of your great trip. We also stayed at the Relais Cavalcanti and had the same first impression. But we loved it there and found the staff very helpful.

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    Great trip report, cybertraveler. I've got to get off my toucas and do up a report from our trip last year. :)

    We came across Quattro Leoni quite by accident on the way back to our apartment from Pitti Palace and they were clearly doing a land-office business. We got reservations for the next evening and definitely didn't regret it one scintilla.

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    Very timely report for me, as I am going on a 2-week trip to Rome, Umbria and Florence in September. I have reservations at Relais Calvacanti which I found recommended on Fodors and am looking forward to it.

    The steps aren't a big problem for us. The room we had in Bath last year was on the 3rd floor from the street and 4th floor from the basement dining room. Now THAT was a climb.

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    Hello again,

    Thanks everyone for reading and your positive comments.

    jdc26: The Signum store is easy to miss, since it's in a cellar. It's on Borgo Dei Greci, right between the Piazza della Signoria and Santa Croce. You'd love all the tinted copies of antique engraved maps. We've framed a few and they're great reminders of our trip.

    LoisD: Anna & Francesca at the Relais Cavalcanti are very helpful, and they'll make dinner & museum reservations for you in advance: highly recommended to avoid the lines. It's a very quaint building with nice rooms.

    So, on with our saga...

    Fun Times Driving Standard...through Chianti to San Quirico d'Orcia

    Fortunately for us, DH had enough Marriott points to get a "free" car for the driving part of the trip. We weren't planning on paying 400 euros for their travel insurance, but since our insurance said that we absolutely had to sign up for the insurance in Italy we did. Money had a way of slipping through our fingers on this trip...

    Well, we had a reservation at 9:00 to pick up our car at Hertz, but this was vacation and we didn't feel like rushing, so we mosied over around 10:00. The Hertz office turned out to be a small, stuffy glass fronted place on a street near the train station. Since there was no air conditioning, and there were already a few people in the room, I opted to wait outside with the luggage.

    Even though it was early, the sun was still relentless. It was definitely going to be another scorching hot day, and I stood in the meager shade of a sidewalk vendor's stall. More people entered the Hertz office until soon it was packed with people and luggage. The line didn't appear to be moving, and everyone was very listless in the heat. I was glad that DH was second in line. Finally he emerged with the keys, and we were to go get our car "around the corner". Again, the adventure of tracking down a location! Well, it turned out to be a parking garage not far away, and we rolled our bags over to collect the car.

    I should interject here that we both drive automatic cars at home. We had been thinking of requesting an automatic in Italy, but it was going to cost a LOT more, and from what I've read you often don't get the requested vehicle anyway. DH had owned a standard Audi in the past (18 years ago), so he was pretty confident that it would come right back to him. Personally, I had never been very good with the Audi...so we had agreed that he would be doing all the driving.

    Well our car turned out to be a Renault, not the Passat we had thought we were getting. DH was pleased with this; they all seem the same to me. We got into the car in the garage with about 4 Italian mechanics looking on, and DH wanted to be sure he knew where all the gears were, so he manipulated the shift a couple of times. When he was satisfied, he put it into first and we lurched out of the garage!

    Our first challenge was getting out of Florence. We had our new TomTom920 (bought on recommendations from Fodorites!) and I programmed it to get us out of town. We didn't have a good street map of Florence, but we'd been walking all over for the past 3 days, and I had a good idea where the river was. Once we got over the river, I was sure that we'd be all set.

    The drivers are a little crazy in Florence, and the traffic zoomed by the parking garage. I could tell DH was a little rattled by the lurching start in front of the mechanics, and he wanted to avoid doing that in traffic. An opening came up and he jumped into it. The Tom Tom gave directions, which didn't seem to take into account the construction ahead of us but he dutifully followed the Tom Tom anyway. I bit my tongue, since this was going to be a long trip. However, in a moment we had circled back and we were right in front of the Hertz office again! So, I suggested that we ignore the TomTom and just go across the river at the first opportunity.

    I should mention that DH was having quite a bit of trouble with the standard transmission, and his shifting was not very smooth. About the time we passed the parking garage on our circuitous route out of town, I started to notice the smell of burning rubber. DH was not exactly panicking, but I could tell that he probably wanted to shoot me for signing him up to drive through Tuscany for the next week...

    Well, we ignored the TomTom and took the first turn toward the river, determined to cross at the first bridge. The car was roaring but we pushed onward, and before long we were at the Amerigo Vespucci bridge. We crossed and by now there was a definite smell of smoke and we could see smoke coming out of the engine! We were losing power, but we made it across the bridge, and pulled to the side of the road, with no idea what to do next.

    I pulled out my trusty iPhone (yes, I did buy one, and it turned out to be a lifesaver more than once on the trip!).

    I called Hertz' help line and got the automatic prompts in Italian and English (as the traffic whizzed by). When I tried to get the emergency line in English, all we got was a busy signal, so I tried the emergency line in Italian. (My Italian is very weak, but usually people understand the gist of what I want to say).

    Luckily the woman who answered spoke a little English, but she didn't want to help me at first. Finally after much confusion she took my cell phone number for them to call me back, but I really didn't think that we'd be hearing from them soon.

    This had all taken enough time that the engine had started to cool, and DH admitted that probably the problem wasn't with the car but with the way he'd been driving it. (You think?) So he decided to try it again and get us off this bridge area.

    He did and miraculously it started. He eased out onto the road, but wanted to pull over & park to get his bearings before going any further. I totally agreed with this, and he pulled into a slanted spot right after passing an old arch. There we sat for a few minutes, and then decided we were calm enough to continue.

    DH put the car into reverse but as he applied the accelerator, he realized that it was really in 1st gear and we almost leaped onto the sidewalk. He tried again, but again no reverse. Starting to get nervous, he tried over and over but could not get it into reverse.

    I noticed an old Italian man walking towards us on the sidewalk and we called over to him to help us. He kindly came over to the car, but didn't speak any English. Still we were able to communicate that DH couldn't get the car into reverse. (I think the man probably could already have figured that out, if he'd been watching us as he walked up.) He tried to show DH how to do it, but it didn't work.

    Then a young Italian couple came by and we asked the man to help us. He came over and showed DH the "trick" to getting it in Reverse (apparently you have to push it in or pull it up first). With many grazies, we prepared to back into traffic and resume our trip. The nice old man even went out and helped direct us--the Italians are such nice people!

    So, we were really on our way! How beautiful the countryside was as we drove along, and before long we were confident enough to pull over to take some pictures and videos. The pictures were lovely and peaceful; they didn't capture the noise of traffic zooming past us the way the video did.

    The TomTom was better on the open road, but we still weren't really used to the Italian system. You never really know the name of the road you're on; you just look for the signs to the town you want to go to. As we came to a fork, the TomTom told us to go left, and we weren't that familiar with the towns on the signs, so we went left.

    After we'd gone a while and the area became increasingly remote, we had the feeling that we should have gone right. We came to a small settled area with a store and a parking area so we pulled in to turn around. A man watched us from his pickup across the street; I had the feeling that the only tourists they ever see are the lost ones!

    For some reason, DH felt the need to go into reverse for this maneuver, rather than do a U-turn...and once again could not find Reverse! The man in the pickup across the street kept his eyes on us, and I got the feeling he was waiting to see if we needed help before he left. After a few more attempts, DH finally got the car into Reverse, and manipulated the car back into the road with a minimum of lurches driving right past the man like we'd been intending to do all that.

    So, on the road again...we needed the TomTom to get us through all the round abouts near Siena. It was super with those, and we bypassed the city and continued on our way.

    The sky was beginning to darken as we neared San Quirico d'Orcia, and just before we pulled into the town gates the clouds burst into a downpour. This was our first time driving in a medieval town, and the narrow streets would be challenging enough without the rain. Luckily it's a small town, and before long we came upon the Palazzo del Capitano, which is where we were staying.

    We pulled into a small parking area across from the hotel entrance to wait out the downpour and DH ran in as soon as there was a lull to register. In a few minutes, he was back, with a smiling girl who worked for the hotel. She was to show us to our room in Casa Camaldoli which is a separate building of the hotel.

    She directed us around the corner to Casa Camaldoli and we parked momentarily outside the door. The street is so narrow that only one car can fit, so as soon as another car came we had to move. The rain continued and we ended up dragging our luggage up the short incline to Casa Camaldoli and arrived like two drowned rats.

    Our room in Casa Camaldoli was lovely! Very old and authentic with a beautiful wrought iron canopy bed--and air conditioning! We also had a terrace that we looked forward to using once things dried out.

    We had dinner at Trattoria Al Vecchio Forno, which is affiliated with the hotel. Very highly recommended! You reach it by going through an enchanting series of arches, passageways and flower-lined streets, and the restaurant is charming! Authentic Tuscan cooking, and they speak very little English--which I love, so I get a chance to practice my Italian. No outdoor seating, which we do enjoy but otherwise perfect.

    San Quirico d'Orcia was to be our home base for the next few days as we explored some of the beautiful areas of Val d'Orcia. It's a great little town, and you really get a peak at the lives of the people who live there. There are a few tourists who stay there, but mostly it's the local people who are out at night. It's a very different feeling than you get in the larger cities like Florence, where everyone seems to be a tourist.

    We also ate at Il Tinaio, which has outdoor seating with a nice view of the Collegiata. We didn't care for the food as much at Il Tinaio, but you can't beat the atmosphere!

    Once again, I seem to be a bit long-winded...it's so nice to have an audience!

    Next up:
    Breath-taking moments in Val d'Orcia

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    Oh cybertraveler, I am loving, absolutely loving your trip report. And your descriptions have me laughing so hard. I am sure at the time the "smoking car" was not funny..but really you have such a way with words! And driving into a little Italian town with streets so narrow..didn't the city planners realize that someday people would be driving vehicles versus horses? The fun of being in Italy!

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    Again, wonderful report. I'm so enjoying this and more importantly makes me even more anixous for my upcoming trip to Firenze. I will definitely find my way to Signum.

    Don't keep us waiting too long for more on your lovely trip.

    jdc

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    cybertraveler, I'm really enjoying your report. I can just imagine the conversation you and your husband were having while the car was smoking! I'm glad things worked out for the car.

    Looking forward to more.

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    Cybertravler - I don't know if you read our trip report from Italy, but we had a similar experience in Florence with our car rental and although we didn't have smoke we did have a wrench symbol on the dashboard that flashed menancingly. Someone told us it meant we were low on oil, so we filled it up. It stopped flashing, but still stayed lit.

    We also arrived at our destination in the Tuscan mountains in a rainstorm. And we never so happy to climb into a dry bed.

    Enjoying your report.

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    cybertraveler

    nice trip report. looking forward to more.

    we stayed in san quirico several years ago at Palazzo Capitano and really loved every minute. so glad you enjoyed your trip

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    great post. Thank you.
    question about insurance and Hertz with mMrriott points. You really had to pay a lot of insurance? Isn't that included in the award? Because I was (am?) planning to do that myself but I think I may be better off with a straightforward rental than using up points.
    Thank you in advance
    Lp

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    Hello again,

    Thanks for all your nice comments. It's fun to share the stories now, even though at the time you're not too sure how it will end up...

    Rickmav, I didn't read your report, but it seems like we shouldn't expect to just get in the car & drive like we do at home. All those little lights can be very disturbing!

    Lp, yes I just got the credit card bill and it was over $600 for the "free" car. You might want to look into points vs. straight rental.

    So, on with our excellent adventure...

    I forgot to tell DH's experience trying to park legally in San Quirico d'Orcia. If you recall, it was pouring rain when we arrived. After dragging our bags up the 5 floors to our room, DH needed to go back out in the downpour to park the car legally. The girl from the hotel had told him to just park "over the bridge", so he went over the small bridge, parked and came back to get ready for dinner.

    When we arrived at the hotel for our dinner reservation the girl asked if he'd been able to park without any trouble, and he told her where he'd parked. From her facial reaction, it was pretty clear that he'd parked in a very illegal spot, so we decided that it would be best for him to move it before dinner (and before it got towed). So, back he went to the car (at least it had stopped raining by then) and I waited at the hotel.

    Actually it was fun to wait. The street is so narrow, and the doors to the homes are about 8 feet apart. It seems to be the custom around 7:30 for people to put a little chair out on the street by their door and just sit and talk with each other. The hotel has a small table & two chairs, and I sat at one, but I felt like I was intruding a bit on old friends. From my perspective, it appeared as though they had done this every evening for the past 40 years, and it was very special to see it.

    Meanwhile, DH was driving around the outskirts of San Quirico and finally found the parking lot outside the town walls.

    He was anxious because he thought that he might never find me again, and he didn't even know the name of the hotel. (Not to mention that his Italian is extremely limited, and he probably couldn't have pronounced it if he did know it.) Fortunately, since it is such a small town, he didn't have any trouble finding me and arrived perspiring only a bit from his rapid climb up the hill in the 90 degree heat!

    This turned out to be a recurring theme throughout the trip as you will see later...

    Day 5:
    Breathtaking Moments in Montalcino and Pienza

    We had another lazy start to our day and we just made it down in time for breakfast. We wanted to eat in the terrace garden, so we climbed the stairs but found only one other couple eating and no one appeared to be waiting on tables. So, we went back down to the deserted dining room and again only heard the sounds of the help cleaning up in the kitchen. Finally it occurred to us that it was a self-service buffet and we made our selections from the meager remains on the buffet. Even though it was awkward with our cameras & tote bag to carry our plates and glasses up the marble staircase to the garden, we were determined to eat there and made it up without incident.

    Once there, we regretted our choice somewhat since it was already very hot and stuffy there. July really isn't the best time to visit Italy, but unfortunately for us it's the only time. We quickly downed our food before we broke out into a sweat, took a few pictures and headed out for the car.

    I had no idea that DH had had to park so far away the night before, and it was a bit of a downhill hike to the car. It was fun because we walked by a clothesline along the wall where someone had hung up a couple of pairs of shoes to dry (they probably got caught in last night's rain as well). I took a picture of that.

    We also saw a patient grandfather trying to coax his 3 yr. old granddaughter off the sidewalk with little success. I was struck again by the close family ties of the Italians, and how all the generations stay connected.

    All in all, it was a peaceful start to our morning, and I was sure that the hair-raising parts of the trip were behind us.

    We got down to the parking lot where our car was baking in the sun, threw open the doors to let out the heat and programmed the TomTom (which for some reason we had started to call "Alice") to take us to Montalcino.

    The original plan had been to go to Montalcino for an hour or so, then get to Sant'Antimo Abbey in time for the 12:45 chants that we'd read so much about. However, we weren't so sure that would work any longer with our late start; but we were willing to give it a try.

    Montalcino really isn't very far from San Quirico and we'd passed the sign for it on the way down the day before so it was easy to get there. It was a beautiful, sunny and very hot day and the scenery was breathtaking as we drove along. DH couldn't see it very well though, since the roads are very curvy and traffic came roaring at us around every curve.

    "Alice" (TomTom) got us to Montalcino and with the help of Stu Dudley's wonderful itinerary, we knew enough to drive to the upper parking lot and watch on the round-about for the sign to Sant'Antimo Abbey.

    The roads are extremely steep approaching Montalcino, which necessitated a lot of shifting gears and I began to worry that we'd have a replay of the day before. I didn't want to shake DH's confidence though, so I kept those thoughts to myself.

    As we came to the round-about at the top of the hill where we were supposed to find the parking area, we started to have a bit of drama however. We couldn't figure out which turn was for the parking, so after a full circle of the round-about, DH pulled over into the very steeply angled and tiny parking lot of the small store at the top of the hill.

    We looked around and couldn't imagine where any parking could be. All we could see was the very busy road, the steep walls of Montalcino, and a dirt patch at the bottom of the hill.

    We finally decided that the dirt patch must be the parking, so DH prepared to get us out of the parking lot and back into the traffic circle.

    Did I mention that the parking lot was steep? Approximately a 45 degree angle, and very narrow. DH knew that he would only have a split second to get it into 1st gear and leap into the traffic, or risk coasting backwards down the hill.

    In yet another of the series of hair-raising moments, he threw it into gear at the first opening in the traffic and literally pealed out of the parking lot. Once again, getting astounded looks from other drivers and passers-by!

    So, the next step was to circle the round-about until we reached the exit for the lot. ("Alice" was totally useless at this point.) We exited and DH tried his best to go down the steep hill smoothly.

    When we arrived at the bottom, there was a mystifying arrangement of spaces, as well as a dirt lot. He took the first spot he saw, amazed that there was one free so close to where we wanted to go. There was some sort of machine dispensing parking tickets, but no one else seemed to be using it, so we decided to ignore it as well.

    We needed to climb up a very steep flight of stairs to reach Montalcino, reminding me again that this is one reason we did this trip now while we're still capable of climbing such things. It was hot, but we paced ourselves. When we reached the top of the stairs we emerged onto a very busy road that curves around the town walls. It was a bit scary getting across the road, but then we were all set on the road leading into the fortress.

    We knew that we'd only have time for a few pictures at this point if we wanted to get to Sant'Antimo in time for the chants. Even so, the time was worth it. The views from the fortress were breath-taking and we took a few nice photos. Then we had to go right back down to the car.

    When we got to the car, we were approached by an English man coming out of the dirt parking lot who asked if we were English. We replied that we were Americans, and he thought that would do, then he asked us if we needed to pay to park. We told him about the machine and that we had ignored it like everyone else. He seemed hesitant to do that and I don't know what he decided.

    As we came to learn more about Italian parking, I'm pretty sure that we were parking in a residents only or paid parking area and that the dirt parking lot was the free part. I guess we were just lucky not to get caught...however, I have been reading another thread here about someone getting a ticket notice months after their trip and I'm kind of holding my breath about this and a few other situations which I'll share later in this report...

    Getting up the steep hill from the parking lot was a bit of a challenge for DH, but the only hair-raising part was when he had to burst into the traffic circle. After that all was fine.

    Well, the TomTom was completely useless for Sant'Antimo. It didn't know there was such a place. Luckily, we knew to look for the signs so we just trusted in the Italian system (and my Touring Club Italiano Tuscany map) and we set off following the signs for Sant'Antimo.

    The road got more beautiful the further we went. We noticed throughout our trip that just when we thought we'd seen the most beautiful place on the planet, we'd turn a corner and something more wonderful would be there.

    The view of Sant'Antimo Abbey as you approach is breath-taking. We'd seen pictures of it, but nothing compares to the immensity of being there. It is definitely one of the most peaceful places we've ever been.

    We parked along the road and joined the others who had come to visit. There were a lot of people, but it wasn't too crowded. We were in time to go into the church for the 12:45 vespers.

    DH and I are both Catholic school graduates, so we're familiar with Gregorian chant. Neither one of us thought that what we heard was actually Gregorian chant (others our age will remember Tantum Ergo type chants). This sounded more like Latin prayers that were sung. Either way, it was very moving to see the faith of the monks and their chants have an other-worldly quality that is very peaceful. We could have stayed quite a while, but I started to feel faint in the heat so we left after about 20 minutes.

    The fresh air revived me and we spent some time wandering the grounds of the abbey, trying to keep to the shade. I desperately wanted a picture of the two of us together, and targeted an Italian grandmotherly type as the person to ask. However, she was involved with her husband and I presume her son in a conversation about what to do for lunch...and I know enough not to interrupt in any conversation, especially about lunch.

    So I took a few pictures of DH and noticed the grandmother looking at us warmly. I approached and asked in my broken Italian if she would take our picture. She was glad to do it, but couldn't make our point & shoot take the shot. She made several attempts, saying something like "Non e fato" then her three teenage grandsons came up for their picnic. "Ragazzi," she called and told one of them to take the picture. Obediently, one boy came over and took a great shot of us that I think I'll frame.

    After that we were back on the road, feeling so confident and glad that we'd decided to take this adventurous driving trip.

    Next up: Pienza

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    Hello again,

    On to Pienza!

    After Sant'Antimo, we didn't think there could be a more scenic place in Tuscany but we decided to push on with our itinerary and continue to Pienza.

    As many of you probably know, Pienza was redesigned by Pope Pius II to be the perfect Renaissance city. All I can say from our perspective is that at least he put it where we could park on flat ground! As we approached the town, DH found a spot on a side street within view of the town walls and grabbed it. It was a short, pleasant, shady walk into the historical district--almost disappointingly easy at this point!

    Immediately, we were enchanted by the beauty of the town and we enjoyed strolling through the narrow streets. Since it was after 2:00, we knew from experience that we'd better find lunch fast or risk being turned away hungry.

    We came upon a lovely small piazza with outdoor restaurants and chose a table with a view of the ancient well, now covered with flowering plants. Lunch was delicious; we were starting to enjoy the Italian way of lingering over meals. Most of the stores would be closed anyway, so we just sat & enjoyed the moment.

    This was the part of the trip that we hadn't really had time to research much before we left, so we didn't know very much about Pienza or what to see there. We consulted our Rick Steves Tuscany book, always a good resource. Once we had oriented ourselves, it was easy to find the Piazza Pio II and we visited the Duomo.

    There are gorgeous views from the town walls and we took some wonderful photos. The heat made it hard to stay in the sun for long, so we headed back to the shade of the narrow streets.

    As we walked along, we came to a small shop that sold art prints. We usually like to pick up some art to remind us of our trips, so we went inside. They had beautiful prints of San Quirico, Sant'Antimo abbey, and San Gimignano all by the same artist. I just knew that they'd look perfect in our home (I could decide where later), so we bought all three, after much debating as to which scenes were the "best".

    At home, we often like/need a coffee break in the late afternoon. Since the coffee in Italy is so delicious, we had gotten into the habit of getting a couple of cappuccini freddi (so proud to learn the plural this trip!) each afternoon. We usually would do as the Italians and have it at the bar (for about half the cost of sitting down). It's also more fun to be in with the local people, although none of them ever spoke to us or even looked our way. We just like to be there anyway!

    The funny thing is that the cappuccini freddi were never the same drink twice; even when we would return to the same place, we never knew exactly what would be served when we placed the order! In Pienza, they served the drinks in regular cappuccino cups with foam, looking for all the world like regular cappucino, but they were cold--sort of!

    Our original plan had been to continue to Montepulciano, but by now the Italian spirit of tranquility was beginning to sink into us and we decided to take the time to really enjoy Pienza, return to San Quirico to experience that a bit and visit Montepulciano the next day.

    We were going on the philosophy that we would be returning to Tuscany, so there was no need to pack as much as possible into each day. We'd visit as many towns as we felt like, and save the rest for our next trip. It was so liberating!

    So we drove back to San Quirico d'Orcia and strolled around for a while. We bought our daily gelato, thinking we'd eat it in the main square. There was some space available at the end of one of the benches along the wall, but four of the local older men were sitting at the other end and I just had the feeling that we wouldn't really be appreciated there.

    So, we went on into the park and found a shady bench to sit on. When we walked back, we saw that one of the other "regulars" had assumed his seat on the bench, and knew that we'd made the right call on where to sit!
    So far, we hadn't made any major faux pas on this trip...other than driving, that is!

    Next up:
    Montepulciano and the most amazing shop we've ever seen

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    Oh cybertraveler, I am smiling, laughing and so enjoying your trip report. And I know you are also starrs! Your dear husband cybertraveler, trying to figure out WHERE to park your car while you sat out amongst the Italians on the sidewalk enjoying yourself..and your husband not even remembering the name of your hotel..priceless!

    And cybertraveler, when you want to relax for a bit click on rickmav's name and read her trip report, you will enjoy it and relate to it I am sure!

    I have said more than once, I stopped all subscriptions to travel magazines as none of their articles can compete with our Fodorite's trip reports!

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    cybertraveler,

    I am laughing so hard at your husband "peeling out" in the hilltown! I laid my rubber in Montepulciano when we missed the parking lot, got trapped on the narrow one way streets and stopped behind the town shuttle bus with an eager Italian stuck to our bumper! I startled a few locals too!

    It was ALL the car's fault. Way too much play in the clutch.

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    Hello again,

    Thanks, LoveItaly, for your comments. It's nice to know you're enjoying this report, and I have to say that DH & I roar laughing every time I read him the latest installment.

    Sherhatfield, I have some pictures on BubbleShare (not all 800). Here's the link:

    http://www.bubbleshare.com/album/441382/overview#15423805

    Redhead, BarbaraJ and Steph: I hope that you're getting some good tips for your upcoming trips. Please feel free to ask about anything I might not have mentioned...

    Tip: Buy a beautiful leather-bound journal at Signum, with the handmade paper if you can. I did and I'm filling it with my trip stories. I've always had plans to do it in the past, but never did. Having such a beautiful book makes me want to write in it!

    Well, as promised, we're on to:
    Montepulciano, and the Most Amazing Shop We've Ever Seen

    Once again we were off to a lazy start the next day. It was nice to have so much time on this trip, and part of the fun was NOT rushing, which is what we do every day in our "real" lives.

    This time, we opted for breakfast in the somewhat air-conditioned hotel dining room at Palazzo del Capitano. Since all the tables were full, this was obviously considered the better choice by the other guests as well. We loved the cappuccino each morning, and the buffet was pretty good. Mostly, it was just a treat to be waited on for breakfast!

    Afterwards, we once again made the long trek down to get our car in the parking lot. It was another baking hot day, so we carried extra water bottles. I was getting sick of wasting all those euros buying water!

    It was a familiar, but still breath-takingly beautiful road to Montepulciano, as we'd gone that way to Pienza. However, the hills seemed higher after we passed Pienza and the terrain became even more spectacular. Vistas of olive groves and vineyards dotted with golden homes were around every curve, framed by the blue mountains in the distance.

    I knew when we were approaching Montepulciano because I recognized San Biaggio Church at the base of the mountain. (This was really too steep to be called a hill, in my opinion.) The walled city spread across the top of the mountain, gleaming in the sun; once again Italy surpassed her previous beauty!

    We needed to park at the base of the hill outside the town walls and hike up to enter through the gate in the wall. This was definitely steep, and took a little effort in the heat, but we were getting pretty fit by this point.

    We stopped a couple of times on the way up to take photos of the amazing view below us and again before entering the gate. This was truly the most spectacular so far!

    The town gate was just as I'd read about castles-an outer gate, then an open passageway before another gate. I could imagine medieval people pouring boiling oil on invaders in the passageway, and I was glad that they don't do that anymore.

    I was enchanted with the gate area. Just inside the second gate were two tiny wooden doors, and we stopped to take photos. Looking back through the gate, the arch framed a view of far-away vineyards---lovely!

    We continued along the road, passing a cantina with an oak barrel cutaway used as shelves to display bottles of their wine.

    Almost as soon as we started to enter the main part of town, we came to a ceramic store with lovely bowls and plates hung on the wall around the door. Since I really wanted to get some ceramics, we went inside the small shop--probably no more than 10' by 12', and filled with ceramic objects of every description, painted in vibrant patterns and colors.

    There were too many to absorb, but the owner was friendly and encouraged to look AND touch, saying that he could make any shape in any pattern. He urged us to look downstairs at the rest of his showroom. I really didn't want to, but we did just to be polite. I'm so glad that we did!

    We went down about 3 steps to another room about 12' square. It was lined with shelves stacked with the most beautiful ceramics imaginable. More were displayed on tables, hung on the walls and stacked on the floor. A ceramic garden of lemons, grapes, flowers and leaves danced around the small room covering casseroles, pitchers, bowls, urns, plates, and bottles of every size and shape. It was amazing!

    Even more amazing, as we turned to our right we saw an ancient brick staircase through a fairly long curved archway descending to another room. The walls of the staircase wer hung with bowls and plates in a myriad of colorful fruits and patterns. There were little niches full of large bottles and vases, and the sides of each step had a fantastic urn or vase.

    This was a magical place; even DH was amazed by it. We pulled out the camcorder and camera; this was a shop to remember!

    We descended the staircase and emerged into a somewhat larger room. This was obviously much older and looked as though it had been carved out of light brown tufa rock by the Etruscans. It had rounded walls and ceiling and was about 15' in diameter. Larger bottles and urns were displayed around the floor, with a couple of tables filled with smaller bottles, pitchers, and bowls. It was incredible, but there was yet another staircase...

    This was only a few steps up to the final room. It was carved out of the rock and rounded like the previous room, but the ceiling was lower. In the middle of the room was a kiln dug in the floor. A small sign said that it was from the 13th century. Wow!

    This room had only a few extremely large pieces, so we returned to the previous room. There were so many patterns to choose from, and each more beautiful than the next. However, I knew that DH could only stand so much deliberating on my part, so I quickly chose one and we went back upstairs to the main part of the shop.

    I can see why he wanted us to see the rest of his store; you would never guess that such an amazing site would be part of this small shop. We bought a nice bowl and a couple of small items.

    I restrained myself from placing an order for 6 place settings--we still hadn't been to Siena, San Gimignano or Venice, and I needed to have some money left to spend in those places! However, I did take his card, and I gave him my address. Can you believe that he actually recognized the name of our suburb of a mid-sized city in New York state? Someone else on the street next to ours is also one of his customers! Small world...

    We had spent a lot of time and money, and we'd only just entered the town--I liked shopping in Montepulciano!

    By then it was after 1:00, so we wanted to find a nice restaurant with a panoramic view to spend the next couple of hours. This was so different from Florence, where we would have grabbed a panini on the street and kept shopping. Here, it really looked like things would be closed for the next two hours. But, we were starting to like that!

    We walked down the narrow street--keeping to the shade. As we walked, we could hear the strains of string instruments playing classical music. Soon we reached the building where the concert was and the beautiful music of Beethoven poured out of the windows above us. What an enchanted day!

    We came upon a narrow walkway between some buildings that had a menu on a stand and promised outdoor seating. We went down the walkway and emerged onto a lovely little terrace restaurant between two buildings. We happily settled there for the next two hours, enjoying the view of Tuscany below us and sipping Vino Nobile.

    We'd decided to just see Montepulciano today, and save all the other towns for another trip. This was good enough! After lunch, we explored the town, visiting the Duomo and taking some photos of the views from the town walls.

    One goal of our trip was to sample some excellent wine and buy a case to ship home. Rick Steves recommends Contucci Cantina right down the hill from the Duomo, so we headed there.

    We went in and right away were surrounded by the ripe, earthy smell of the wine fermenting in the old oak barrels. We toured the cellar, took a few photos and headed to the sampling room.

    We liked almost every wine we sampled, but finally we selected enough for our case. We won't see the wine until September, because "Italy doesn't do August", but that's okay. I just have to be sure no one steals the box from our doorstep when it's delivered!

    After that, we hiked down a shortcut road to the car. We were so glad that we'd chosen to just visit one place that day, and experience it in a relaxing way. We were really starting to assimilate the Italian pace of life, and we loved it!

    Next up:
    Back in the fast lane: Siena

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    cybertraveler,

    I love hearing about your shopping experience with the multilevel shop in Montepulciano. It's just so true that if you slow and and take the time to really look beyond the obvious, you dicover more than you ever dreamed.

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    Team, I think we are in the presence of a modern day Scheherazade. Cybertraveler is holding us for ransom for her next installment and then again ... Let's hope Hollywood does not hire her in ... LOL

    CT, congratulations on all counts.

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    Hi, Cybertraveler,

    Thanks so much for your great report! My next trip to Italy will involve some driving, so I'm enjoying hearing about all the small towns you visited. Looking forward to more!

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    Hello again,

    Thank you for the kind compliments; it's so motivating for me.

    A couple of tips before I continue the story:

    WiFi:

    The following all provided free wifi:

    Relais Cavalcanti in Florence, Palazzo del Capitano in San Quirico d'Orcia, Antica Residenza Cicogna in Siena, and Hotel La Cisterna in San Gimignano .

    I did need to ask for the code at all of the places. I imagine that many other places have wifi available too. ..but don't think "free" when you think Venice. At the Pensione Accademia, you can buy a card for 2.50 euro that gets you 15 minutes, and I didn't see any free wifi spots. If anyone knows of any, please post.

    Hairdryers:
    I bought a new adaptor before the trip, since the old one never really works with my "travel" dryer, and the new adaptor didn't work either. However, the following had excellent hairdryers:
    Relais Cavalcanti (need to ask), Palazzo del Capitano (need to ask for the adaptor, though), Antica Residenza Cicogna.

    La Cisterna and Pensione Accademia have dryers like the first hair dryers that came out. They are a long flexible tube that blows out a weak flow of air. Not enough for my thick hair! Next time, I'm planning to buy a hairdryer in Italy if I run into dryers like that again.

    So, now on with our story...
    Lost...in Siena

    After the idyllic peace and beauty of three days in Val d'Orcia exploring some of the most incredible places in Italy, we were looking forward to even more in Siena.

    I've always wanted to go to Siena, but it's a bit off the beaten path so we'd never had time to go before. I'd seen lots of photos, read about the Palio and couldn't wait to see Piazza del Campo.

    Since we'd driven around Siena on about a dozen round-abouts on our way to San Quirico d'Orcia from Florence, we knew the way back. Elisa, the owner of Antica Residenza Cicogna where we would be staying, had also sent us specific directions by email, and included her cell phone number.

    Even so, and even with the TomTom, approaching Siena with the intent of entering the city is somewhat daunting. There are several exits for the city, and the TomTom mispronounced all of them until I finally deselected "Pronounce names of all foreign streets". After a harrying few miles, we exited and started to look for the Fortress free parking lot. From the number of cars parked along the streets, it looked like parking anywhere else might be a challenge.

    As we were looking, DH couldn't believe his luck to find a spot right along the street on the hill leading into town. He pulled in, even though we had no idea if we were near the Bed & Breakfast. I noticed a sign above us which looked ominously like: "Parking Reserved for Residents", so I worried that this time for sure we'd be towed. DH suggested that I call Elisa & ask her, so I pulled out the iPhone, glad again that I'd signed up for the International calling plan.

    Elisa confirmed that we were indeed parked illegally; even better, she explained how to know where we could park. This is important:

    Blue=residents or paid parking spots
    Yellow=not for us either
    White=okay

    DH pulled out of the spot with nowhere near as much of a lurch as earlier on the trip and we continued our search.

    There was a lot of traffic, and it felt like driving in any large city. This was very different from the other walled towns. No empty white parking spots were visible anywhere. Then we came upon a large parking area, circled around and saw a lady leaving-Yay!

    We pulled up assertively behind her as she loaded her bags and children--no other driver was going to sneak in and grab that spot. She glanced at us over her shoulder, and I got the feeling that they don't do that in Italy. Eventually she pulled out and we were ready to pull in ...when we noticed the "forbidden" blue paint along the outside of the spot.

    In fact, now that we looked, the entire lot was all blue spots! Frustrated, we left and continued driving. As we drove, we could see that every spot was taken, so DH decided to pull down a side street. Before long, we came to a lot between two small apartment buildings.

    There were a lot of spots, and we pulled into one but couldn't imagine that we'd be allowed to park there. We saw an unsuspecting woman walking by (we were getting used to accosting anyone who happened to walk by us by now), and I asked her in broken Italian if it was okay to park there. She replied, "Yes--okay. It's white!"

    Great! At least we had a spot, but we had no idea where we were. We decided to program the TomTom for a walking route to the B&B, then try to locate where we were by cross-referencing.

    It looked like a 20 minute walk on the TomTom! Our three bags had gained a LOT of weight since the beginning of the trip, and we also had the wine from Montepulciano to carry, since we were afraid to leave it in the car. This didn't look good, so DH decided that we should keep looking for another spot.

    Now that we were somewhat oriented, we felt a bit more confident as DH pulled back onto the main street. We continued searching and then came upon the elusive Fortress parking lot--identifiable only by the steep walls next to it and the P sign.

    However, every spot appeared taken. We cruised through the lot anyway, just in time to see someone ahead of us snag a spot as soon as it opened up.

    We decided to lay in wait for an open spot. It couldn't be long before someone would leave, and this was where we HAD to park.

    Our patience was rewarded within a couple of minutes! We were thrilled to see a couple approach the lot and head towards their car, but which one was it?

    We lay back a bit; we didn't want to cruise past their car and have to circle back once they were out of the spot--we'd be sure to lose it. We hovered as they walked on, ready to pounce.

    Finally, they reached their car at the end of the lot and we pulled right up, signal on and waited aggressively, ready to speed in ahead of any other contenders.

    They took their time loading the car. We didn't care; we could wait them out. Finally they left and we squealed into it, elated to have such a plum spot at last.

    Once again, we programmed the TomTom for a walking route. This time it was a 15 minute walk. We prepared for a hot hike. Suitcases were stacked and divided, water bottles stowed and we set off--me in the lead holding the TomTom as it read out our directions.

    (Here I must digress! I never told this part. Every time we would reach a town over the past few days, we'd always bring the TomTom with us when we left the car rather than risk it being stolen. We'd always forget to turn it off, and usually just as we would enter the gate of the town surrounded by other tourists, it would pipe up loudly from our bag: "Turn around when possible". This was somewhat embarrassing, but hysterical!)

    Back to our trek...
    We followed TomTom's spoken directions with no pride at this point. After all, we were hiking through the middle of what appeared to be the business district rolling three overloaded bags and carrying a box of wine; pride just doesn't have a place there!

    We had no idea where we were. We adopted a steady, strong pace to make good time, but it was extremely hot and climbing up the hill was a challenge. Next trip: less luggage!

    We reached a confusing and very busy intersection with parallel streets and couldn't decide which way TomTom was telling us to go. (We'd had some bad advice in the past from TomTom). In the heat & with the bags we didn't want to get lost & backtrack.

    I requested a sanity break, pulled out my iPhone and called Elisa again. I tried to describe our location and she gave me the name of the piazza we should look for. I couldn't really understand her, even after she'd repeated it, so I just said okay and we continued on.

    TomTom became totally useless with all the crazily intersecting streets, but we seemed to be reaching the historical center of town. We decided to use the old "accost a stranger" tactic. The man pointed out Via dei Termini; it was on a sign on one of the buildings off a piazza...we were practically there!

    With great relief, we wheeled our bags downhill and came upon the less than imposing entrance to our B&B.

    We know that entrances don't necessarily reflect the interiors in Italy, so we weren't concerned. I did wish that it wasn't located at the bottom of a narrow canyon of streets.

    However it was encouraging to see that the tiny lobby was crowded. Two other families were checking in at the same time. This place must be a find! There was no room for all the people and luggage in the lobby (it's only about 4'x10'), so Jerry waited on the street with the bags until the lobby cleared out a bit.

    The B&B really was quite nice. We had the Angels room, which has a frescoed ceiling. There are two windows, but we never opened them because the view is just the building 15' away across the street. No light would enter, only heat and street noise, so we kept them closed. That was okay, though, since we didn't plan to spend much time in the room anyway. It does have a good location in that it's only about a 5-10 minute walk to Piazza del Campo.

    The room was hot, so we turned on the air conditioning, dropped our bags, grabbed our cameras and went out to have fun in Siena.

    It is a lovely city, and bustling in comparison with the small towns of the past few days. It seemed larger and busier than Florence, or at least more spread out and definitely more confusing!

    We set off to find Piazza del Campo to have lunch. Using our map from Elisa, after about 5 minutes it appeared that we should be near it but it was nowhere to be seen. Then we remembered: Siena is all hills. We looked through an archway between buildings and saw the base of the Palazzo Pubblico!

    We quickly went down the staircase and emerged into the spectacular beauty of Piazza del Campo. Nothing can adequately describe the majestic beauty of this place. The Palazzo Pubblico is a masterpiece of harmonious design, and the buildings surrounding the piazza are out of a storybook. Throngs of people moved about, yet it didn't seem crowded because most people avoid the heat in the center of the piazza, leaving a lot of open space.

    We chose a seat at the Cafe Fonte Gaia, not expecting great food or service, but we were there for the view. Actually, the food and wine was fine. We enjoyed lingering, Italian style, and planned what to see with the help of our dog-eared Rick Steves book.

    Siena was almost as confusing as Venice in its layout. Streets radiate from Il Campo and curve along hills. Usually I can get my bearings fairly easily, but in Siena, DH was the one who kept us from getting lost. I can do N-S-E-W, but when those start going up & down hills, I get disoriented quickly!

    Elisa had marked our two dinner restaurants on the map, and we thought it would be good to locate our restaurants ahead of time. We hadn't written the names of the restaurants near the dots, but I thought I'd recognize the names of the restaurants when I saw them.

    The first dot appeared to be on a street leading off near the Palazzo Pubblico, so we headed down that street. Most stores were still closed, or maybe there weren't any shops there. It's hard to tell in Italy. When closed, the most charming shop can become nothing more than a locked grey sliding door, covered in graffiti.

    That said, we still hadn't seen any sign of a restaurant as we neared the last part of the street--and that was all uphill in the stifling heat. We were sick of wild goose chases in Siena, so I was happy to see a Tourist Info shop.

    I went right in and asked if Osteria da Divo was nearby. No--it was off the other way. (So that must have been the other dot on our map!) So I asked for Taverna del Bronzino, which I thought should have been the other dot nearby. Blank looks greeted that name, and the man said that he'd never heard of it, was it in Florence?

    Hmmm...not good, but I wasn't too worried. We thanked them and decided to check again with Elisa later. Meanwhile in the spirit of Carpe Diem, we'd just enjoy the day.

    But first we had to hike up a very long, steep road on our way back to Piazza del Campo. We made it up somewhat limply, and were just about ready to bag the rest of the exploring and spend the rest of the day hanging at the Cafe Fonte Gaia.

    But then we reached the shopping area! I saw an Erboristeria and, even though I'd spent too much at Santa Maria Novella in Florence, I couldn't resist going in. DH waited outside.

    Typically, the shop was about 8'x10', very ancient with a miniscule wrought iron staircase behind the desk reaching to the next floor. Carved wooden cabinets lined the shop, filled with perfumes and lotions of Italy. Paradise!

    I was surprised to see some Santa Maria Novella products among the stock, and made a mental note to buy in Siena next time and skip the trek in Florence. After sampling a variety of heavenly scents, I chose an Acqua di Genova lotion in a wonderful citrus scent. I can't resist!

    We decided to try to find Osteria da Divo, where we'd be eating that night. After going down another deserted looking street, we came to a closed, dirty rolling steel door with OSTERIA painted graffiti style across the top. Somewhat horrified, even though we are intrepid travelers, we reassured ourselves that even if this was the place, we could still change our minds.

    But I couldn't believe that it was the Osteria, so I popped into another open shop and asked for the restaurant. The shopkeeper knew of the restaurant; it was right around the corner!

    We came to the corner and saw a sign for the restaurant, but it was a long downhill wall and we knew that we'd have to climb back up, so we decided that was good enough and returned to the B&B.

    Dinner that night at Osteria Da Divo was wonderful, and I'd highly recommend it. Service was impeccable, and the food delicious. Part of the restaurant had seating in some ancient Etruscan tombs, which some people would probably like, but I requested the main dining room and much preferred it.

    After dinner, we joined the quiet crowd on Piazza del Campo, just enjoying being in such a wonderful spot on a warm summer night.

    One thing that surprised me here and in other Italian towns was that the parents bring their very young children out to play in the cool piazzas at night until almost midnight. Even more surprising is how happy and well-behaved the children are--not tired acting at all. As a mother, I find that amazing!

    My theory is that they must nap during much of the heat of the day, and night is their playtime. It certainly is wonderfully comfortable at night there.

    We enjoyed sitting on the Piazza and listening to the bells toll the hour, wishing the night could last forever, and decided that all the effort to get to Siena was definitely worthwhile.

    Next up:
    Day 2 in Siena: Art, Churches...and Contrade?

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    Hello all,

    I'm still working on my Siena day 2 (much shorter than the saga trying to find our B&B), and then a very harrowing tale of our unbelievable entrance to San Gimignano. Please stay tuned!

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    Hello again,

    I'm back with more about Siena. We were only there two days, but it felt like a long time, since we spent so much of it trying to find our way around in the unbelievable heat. We felt like mountain climbers by the time we left!

    Sights we saw on Day 2:

    Duomo: a must see*****
    Museo dell'Opera del Duomo (in the unfinished nave of the Duomo)
    St. Catherine's neighborhood church (we think)
    San Domenico church
    Palazzo Pubblico

    Restaurant: Taverna di San Giuseppe

    It was a lot to see in one day, but Siena really isn't that big. The one thing that would have been nice would have been a topographical map; all the maps make it look like the streets are flat--and they certainly are anything but!

    We started by buying the double tickets at the museum (per Rick Steves, so we could bypass the line at the church). The museum has some beautiful sculptures, but my favorite part was the room full of old altars. The gilt paintings on these were amazing, and they had a very different feel from most of the art in Florence.

    From there we went to the Duomo, and I can't say enough about the beauty of this black & white striped church. The floors alone are a wonderful history of the 200 years it took to complete the church. There are huge inlaid pictures and it's interesting to see how skills improved over the years.

    The Piccolomini Library in the Duomo is one of the most beautiful rooms either of us have ever seen, and it was thrilling to see the originals of some very famous frescoes. I couldn't believe how large they are!

    Some of the areas were covered for maintenance, which was disappointing, but we still got to peek at Michelangelo's statue of St. Paul, which is much smaller than any of the other works we've seen by him, although still incredible.

    We spent the most time in the Duomo of any church; there is so much to appreciate. It's unbelievable how much they packed into that church! If you go to Siena and only have time to see one "sight", that is definitely the one to pick!

    We took a lot of time finding San Domenico church, and I don't think it was worth it. I never understand the logic or appeal of relics.

    Since we were in the neighborhood, DH wanted to try to find the church St. Catherine attended. We followed a group of men who were at San Domenico; they seemed to know where they were going and were holding a guide book. Since we knew the church was in that direction, we just followed and soon enough they led us to the area.

    There were actually two small churches joined by a breezeway with a statue of St. Catherine. It was nice to see them, but I'd rather have been at the Cafe Fonte Gaia.

    And that's where we headed next! After hanging at the cafe for the lunch break, we went to Palazzo Pubblico specifically because I wanted to see the famous fresco by Martini of the mercenary general. Once again, I was amazed at the size of the fresco. We also enjoyed the frescos showing Good and Bad Government, but they are a bit deteriorated, which was sad to see.

    Dinner at Taverna di San Giuseppe was another treat, not quite as special as Osteria da Divo but excellent food, atmosphere and service. They also have an underground wine cellar and we were able to go down & take some photos.

    After dinner, we went back to the Piazza del Campo to enjoy watching the local people on their evening stroll. Everyone in town seemed to be out that night. I loved looking at the shoes and handbags they wore! I can't believe they can walk in those heels, but they make it look easy. I did notice a new fashion trend among the teenage girls: boots with their shorts or short skirts. It reminded me of go-go boots in the 60s!

    A little before midnight, a large group of solemn men of all ages marched past. I noticed that they were all wearing scarves or pins with the same colors on them, and I pointed them out excitedly to DH. A contrada group??

    We noticed that the atmosphere in the piazza seemed to become a bit quieter after they went through, and I commented to DH that I thought something political might be going on.

    The bells tolled midnight, and most of the tourists were heading back to their hotels. As we got ready to leave, I heard what sounded like chanting from the opposite corner of the piazza. It sounded like many voices repeating the same chant, and I also heard the banging of drums. We sat back down to listen because it was obvious that they were drawing nearer.

    The walkers had cleared off the promenade, and many of the tables were empty. We felt like we were two of the few people there who weren't locals, but we weren't made to feel uncomfortable by that.

    It felt like it might before an approaching parade, mixed with an approaching medieval army!

    In a few moments, they rounded the corner. It was a large group of 40-50 people, carrying a banner as the chanting grew louder. As they approached we could see that it was the same men who'd passed by previously wearing the same colors. Now, they were joined by what appeared to be their extended family members. Everyone wore very serious expressions, and they did look a bit intimidating!

    We decided it was time to leave Il Campo to the Sienese. We had no idea what we had just seen, but I have a theory that it might have been the victors in the first Palio, strutting their stuff for the upcoming Palio.

    I guess we'll never know (unless some fodorite enlightens us), but just witnessing such a uniquely Sienese moment was a privilege and a high point in the trip.

    Next up:

    San Gimignano, and our most spectacular entry into town EVER!

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    Helli cybertraveler, I am so enjoying your trip report and especially enjoyed your visit to Siena. For some reason, why I have no idea, I have never visited Siena. As I sit here in our hot weather I got worn out for you, the heat, the hills, the luggage and wine. But you made it and had a wonderful time! I have no idea about the men you saw parading but it could be from their victory at the last Palio or it could have even been the anniversary of some long forgotten battle. I have seen that sort of thing in a small city in the Region of Veneto. Quite a spectacular sight.

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    Hello again--

    Thanks for your replies.

    MomDD, I think one of the best parts of traveling is looking forward to the next trip, so I'm sure you're enjoying this phase. Let me know if you have any questions and I'll be happy to help.

    LoveItaly, I was surprised to read that you've never visited Siena. I think that you would enjoy it...but probably not in the summer! I know I would have enjoyed it more if more places had good air conditioning--and I don't even like air conditioning usually.

    Reminiscing is another great part of traveling, and this board is one of the best ways to do that.
    :-)

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    We are leaving for Rome/Florence and don't know where yet in Tuscany for 10 days in late October. Your report is so entertaining and informative.

    I didn't see a name for the great ceramics place in Montelpuciano (sp - OK out there - Don't make fun of me). I would love to go there!!

    Did you see any of the monastaries? I have been looking at these as places to stay?

    Thanks again.

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    Hi Goldiept,

    The shop is called Creazione d'Arte, and I hope you do go there. The man couldn't have been nicer, and his work is beautiful. My new bowl is such a great reminder of that day.

    I never looked into an abbey as a place to stay, although I did research a lot of agriturismos. Let me know if you'd like any of those names.

    Another place highly recommended by our cab driver in Florence was Bagno Vignoni. She said that she used to love to go there with her husband, pre-kids. We didn't get there this trip, but maybe next time!

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    Hello cybertraveler and the fodorite family! I've been reading (with GREAT delight) all of your stories for the past several weeks... I've only just discovered this amazing place!

    OMG!!! Everything in a carry-on? PLEASE give me some packing hints, as my lovely daughter and I are planning a trip (first one abroad) to Italy next May. Thank you and I'm back to reading your wonderful story...

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    Welcome anitajane,
    How wonderful for you and your daughter to share this trip!

    As for packing all in a carry-on, I have to say that it took a LOT of planning. I planned out exactly what I would wear each day, and planned hand washing for the first day in a new town so that it would have time to dry by the time we left.

    Mostly, everything was either white, green, brown or black which all went together. I re-wore every "bottom" (usually a skirt) about 3 times, but not all in a row. I started most skirts with a night wearing, then 2 "days". Then I just needed tops for the 2 days, and I washed and re-wore some of those.

    Of course, my clothes are a lot smaller than DH's, so it wasn't as easy for him. Plus, his method of packing is basically throwing in a shirt for each day and pants to be worn twice.

    I brought way too many shoes, though! I had agonized over the quest for comfortable walking shoes for months. Every other trip I wore sandals and I was fine, but for some reason this time I packed mules, flats, and two pairs of somewhat dressier sandals with heels for night. LOL--I only wore two pairs of Cole Haan flip flops with Nike Air for the entire trip--even nights! Next time, I'm leaving all the others at home. No one notices your shoes, and I was safe and comfortable walking on the cobblestones.

    This trip was definitely the one to convince us to pack as little as possible in the future. Maybe we can avoid the comments like we received from the man at the vaporetto station in Venice..."Sir, what are you doing with all those bags?"

    :-]

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    I am so enjoying your trip report - especially your driving adventures. However, they do make me nervous for our upcoming driving adventures in Tuscany. There are "3 couples of us" renting a villa for a week in late Sept. We pick up our rental "mini-van" in Florence and are a little nervous about getting out of the city, though we already have a map and directions for the "ring road" and A1 south to Lucignano area. We have driven a stick shift, but those roads are a little nerve-wracking! Can't wait to read the rest of your report. Hope to visit the ceramics shop in Montepulciano, too.

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    <<
    OMG!!! Everything in a carry-on? PLEASE give me some packing hints, as my lovely daughter and I are planning a trip (first one abroad) to Italy next May>>

    I am getting really good at this and am now packing for 16 days in Italy. My husband and I will each carry a 22inch bag and a medium sized backpack. We did the same last two trips and it worked out fine. We are the type that dress for dinner and do not wear jeans so our packing is creative more than backpacker style. We both like fashion :).

    We both pack with a base color scheme, mostly black and we have found that layers are the best option for unpredictable weather.

    My list includes:

    3 sets work out clothes
    5 pair slacks (wear one, pack 4)
    10 tops (short sleeve, long sleeve, turtleneck)
    4 pair shoes (wear one)
    Pashmina
    Travel raincoat
    umbrella
    underwear
    Belts and accessories to dress up my basic outfits

    All of this fits in my packing cubes and into the carry on bags.

    It is all about the fabrics in my experience. We both pack microfiber slacks and DriFit shirts for my husband. I pack a lot of jersey tops that I can wash and wear. These fabrics travel very well, wash and dry easily and look great. I can pack twice as much in the same space as I could with bulkier fabrics.

    So, it can be done and it is worth the effort. Good luck!

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    Hello again,

    Thanks for reading, and I hope it's helpful!

    mktopks, you should probably have a much less exciting drive than we did, if you've driven standard in the last 18 years. DH was definitely a little rusty, but there was also the issue of finding reverse. I'd recommend that you have someone show you how to find it when you pick up the car. It might also be a good idea to have them mark your map for the best exit out of town.

    kfusto, I'm impressed: workout clothes! I used to do that when we'd go to resorts where I knew that classes would be offered, but I've never seen a single fitness club in Italy! In fact, I was wondering if they even would have any customers. It just doesn't seem to go with their philosophy of life, and they already look pretty fit. DH & I did see a lot of bikers/tourists in Tuscany, but only one runner during our entire trip. How/where do you workout when you're in Italy?

    Well, as promised, buckle up your seatbelts and prepare for the most spectacular entry into...

    San Gimignano!

    DH and I were kind of eager to leave the heat, hills and crowds of Siena and get on to San Gimignano. Of all the places we'd be visiting, I have to say that the Manhattan of Tuscany was the one I most looked forward to. I absolutely love history and couldn't wait to go there.

    We decided that there was NO WAY that we were going to repeat our luggage carting experience through the steep streets of Siena back to get our car at the Fortress parking lot, so we asked Elisa if it was possible to get a cab. Certainly, it was the easiest thing in the world since there is a cab stand about 200 yards down the road from her place!

    What took us about 20 minutes walking was a 5 minute ride that cost 8 euros--the best bargain of the trip! We both wondered why Elisa didn't just suggest a cab in the first place when we booked the room. I guess she personally never dragged luggage through the busy streets of Siena. We took the cab driver's card and will definitely save it for the next trip. I highly recommend that anyone else just call a cab; ask your hotel or B&B to get you the number.

    So we set off cool & composed for our ride to San Gimignano, and it was an easy ride there since it isn't very far from Siena. We arrived about 11:00 a.m.

    We had permission to drive into the old town just to drop off our luggage (thank goodness!), so I had programmed the TomTom with the exact address. (We were staying at La Cisterna, which is right on Piazza della Cisterna.)

    However, as we approached San Gimignano, the TomTom started directing us what seemed to be the wrong way. Lots of tourists were arriving, and it got kind of confusing. We decided to pull into a parking area and call the hotel for directions, but the only free spot was in a dirt parking lot at...you guessed it...the bottom of a steep hill!

    Even though by then DH really hated to do it, he inched the car down into one of the free spots in the dirt lot. Tourists were arriving rapidly and I was afraid that no spots would be left after we dropped off the luggage, but we really had no idea where to enter the town.

    I pulled out my trusty iPhone yet again, and called the hotel. I asked for Silvia, who I thought might remember me from the numerous emails we'd exchanged over the past few months (that's another story). Sure enough, she was the one speaking and she did remember me. I told her our location was in a "dirt parking lot at the bottom of the hill", in hopes that she could direct me from there.

    Apparently she never has had to park there, because she didn't have any idea where that might be. But she told us to just keep going until we got to the San Jacopo gate and that we could drive right in.

    Okay, sounded good so DH held his breath and put the car into reverse. It was a little scary since there were a lot of families and small children unloading their cars behind us, and I seriously was worried for their safety.

    They escaped with only a covering of dust as DH backed out the best he could, then he faced the challenge of getting up the steep dirt hill between the families that were trekking up it. (We live in hilly upstate New York; it's similar to trying to drive up an icy hill from a dead stop in the winter.) Well, again the dry dust billowed behind us and he skidded a little bit on the loose gravel, but he got up the hill and made it to the exit gate.

    The gate would not open.

    Apparently, it seemed that some sort of token or ticket must be needed to activate the gate. Oh, noooo! This meant that we would have to back down out of the exit lane and re-enter the parking lot...and go right by all those same people again!

    As I said, pride had no place in this trip, so we somewhat shamefacedly made our way back down the dirt hill and found one of the few remaining spots left. Now I was sure that it would be filled when we returned to park the car after unloading the luggage.

    DH set off on a quest to find the way out of the lot. I used the time to pull out my nice leather trip journal that I'd bought in Florence, and wrote about what we were experiencing right then. It did take him a while, but then he returned with the necessary ticket (how did we ever miss that on the way in?)

    With a great burst of dust, DH backed loudly out of the parking spot, scattering a whole new set of tourists and earning many politely masked stares of incredulity. This time, he skidded out at the top of the dirt hill and couldn't quite make it to the top.

    As the tourists trekked up the hill, DH had to back down--in neutral, since he didn't trust reverse, which made it seem to me like he had no control of the car. Although, he claimed that this was in fact the way to do it.

    Remember: we do have many years of experience driving up icy hills. This actually gave us an advantage here. We know that you have to get enough speed, or you just won't make it up the hill. DH got a running start at the bottom of the hill and zoomed up at a good clip. Well he made it up the hill, but now people above us were quickly sending their children off to the side of the road.

    I really was mortified as we drove past the nice families, but at least after that we did get out the exit gate without any problem.

    Free! However, the next puzzle was how and where to get in the city walls. We had a few tense moments when DH wouldn't listen to reason, as I pointed out the sign for San Jacopo, but once that was ironed out we headed for the entry.

    There was a red traffic light at the gate, which gave us a moment to get our bearings. The TomTom told us to turn right at the light, which was a hairpin turn into a very steep brick road on the side of the hill. While this didn't look good, the alternative (going through an EXTREMELY narrow arch) looked even worse.

    To make things even more exciting, we were once again stopped on a steep hill, and there were tourists on both sides of the road. With no other option, when the light turned green DH made another running start and made the turn. At least this time it was only noisy, and not dusty as well!

    We had turned onto an equally steep road. The bricks didn't seem to give us very good traction and DH was constantly worried that he might not make the hill.

    The road led to an even narrower lane that hardly looked wide enough for our car. Thankfully, there were no other cars around! We navigated through several more alleys following the advice of the TomTom mostly because there was no way to turn around.

    We did reach a road with a lot of shops and tourists, which was encouraging, so we continued up through a very narrow arch and inched through the tourists, placing our trust in the TomTom.

    Finally, we emerged into a piazza that we later discovered was the Piazza del Duomo, right next to "our" piazza.

    This is a small piazza, and amazingly a big white Mac truck was attempting to turn around in it! The truck was so big that it literally filled the piazza from the equally incongruous sound stage being set up at one end to rest next to the bottom step of the church at the other end.

    We were totally flabbergasted! Two carabinieri were trying to direct the truck driver as he maneuvered the massive machine, and there was a great deal of interest on the part of the local townspeople and tourists. We had no idea where to go, and our destination was on the other side of the truck!

    One of the carabinieri came over to us and I was glad for the help, but he didn't speak English. Using my most charming approach, I tried to politely ask where we should go, but he really wasn't being very friendly. Finally I realized that we were in trouble...apparently DH had been going the wrong way on a one way street! (Probably the whole entrance route had been the same, IMHO)

    The carabinieri was losing patience with our lack of Italian, so with a lot of "mi dispiaces", we got off with a severe "occhi vedere", which from the gesture he used to accompany it probably meant "Use your eyes to see!" He directed us to park at the side of the piazza and went back to the truck. This guy was definitely having a bad day!

    Rather than risk any more driving, I volunteered to go seek out the hotel while DH stayed in the car. I climbed a few stairs to get around the truck, walked past the local people who had set up chairs to watch the truck, and easily found our hotel in the next piazza.

    I went back to get DH, and we took a couple of bags to bring to the hotel and check in. While I checked in, DH went back to get the other bags. I told Silvia about our harrowing entrance into town. An older gentleman behind the desk seemed to speak only Italian, but from his expression I got the impression that he also understood my story. They both seemed of the opinion that we were slightly insane; Silvia tried politely to hide it, but I can't say that the old guy did.

    Suddenly from nowhere I heard the very loud approach of a car squealing in and out of gears. I just knew that it had to be DH and I think my facial expression must have revealed my horrified disbelief, because the nearby employee who'd also heard the car kind of laughed.

    Sure enough, it was DH. Somehow he'd managed to maneuver around the Mac truck, the locals in their chairs and the tourists and get the car into the right piazza. I was very glad that I'd missed that ride!

    Silvia gave DH directions on the legal way out of town, and he set off to park the car. Unfortunately, by now all the spots had indeed been filled, and in fact the carabinieri had CLOSED THE TOWN to all cars! He ended up parking in the next town, and walked about a mile to get back to the hotel. Luckily, his experience in San Quirico must have helped his directional skills because he had no trouble finding his way back!

    After that we totally enjoyed our time in San Gimignano. There are so many shops, and a particularly nice pottery shop in Piazza della Cisterna called Carpe Diem made me very glad that I hadn't spent all my money in Montepulciano. After much deliberating there over items that would cost a fortune to ship home, we ended up buying a beautiful little pitcher which is now gracing my kitchen shelf. I smile every time I see it!

    I also bought a great purse on sale at the Furla store. This was something I REALLY didn't need, but it was 30 percent off. I felt like celebrating, so what the heck! I bought the purse and charged it on Capital One.

    Then we wandered around and took some of the best photos of the trip. If you go, you MUST go to the fortress at the top of the hill. We climbed the short, but still somewhat scary flight of stairs to the top. There is a small viewing area there, and the view is absolutely unbelievable. More photos!

    That night we had dinner at the hotel restaurant, and I have to say it was the least memorable of the trip. It is brightly lit which we never like, and the only other patrons were two families with small children. In addition, the waiter seemed a bit abrupt and unfriendly which didn't add much to the ambience at all. Next trip, we'll just eat out on the piazza and enjoy the night view for a lot less money.

    After dinner, we sat out in the piazza along with a lot of other people. The sound stage in the adjoining piazza was for some big Italian star that we'd never heard of, and they had shut off access to that piazza for the duration of the concert. We could hear the music, which was okay, but we sort of felt cheated a bit. We had been looking forward to a quiet night in a scenic small town, and this wasn't quite the same. Still it was beautiful, and we enjoyed the moment with a glass of wine. Both of us decided that next trip we'll definitely spend more time in San G--it was our favorite small town in spite of all the insanity getting into town.

    The best part was that we still had Venice to look forward to! We couldn't believe what a wonderful trip we were having.

    Next up: Yet another memorable arrival into...La Serenissima



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    <<How/where do you workout when you're in Italy?>>

    We are in Italy for 16 days in October in Milan, Bologna, Florence and Rome. All of my hotels this trip have fitness centers.

    When they don't, I go for a run before the day gets started, easy to do in most places as that is really a high priority for me when choosing hotels, a safe spot ofr an early morning run.

    Over many years of travel I have always managed to find a gym near to where I am staying. If the hotel does not have one, then I ask the concierge or front desk prior to arrival and make sure I know where it is.

    I am committed to a fitness routine and even though we walk many miles a day when in Europe, I want to be able to have an extra glass of wine and chunk of cheese. For me, that means staying on track with my workouts.

    I am enjoying your travel tales and getting excited about my own upcoming trip while reading of your adventures. Thanks for taking the time for write with such detail :)

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    That was the funniest installment yet. I could just picture (hear) your husband arriving at the hotel. Trust me, we've all been there at one time or another in our travels.

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    Hi again,

    kfusto, you sound like my sister. She can't handle a day without a good run or bike ride. I'm more of the yoga type these days. I always catch a class right before we leave, and if any classes are offered I take one but I had no hopes for a class in Italy.

    bfrac, thanks for your comment--I have to say that was one of the most memorable events of our trip! LOL! I'm just hoping that there weren't any of those hidden traffic cameras on any of those one-way streets so we don't receive any tickets in a couple of months!

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    DH & I hope to stay at the Hotel Leon Bianco across the piazza from La Cisterna so we read your installment about San Gimignano with interest! We are now considering going directly to P3 upon our arrival, parking the car and walking to the hotel with our luggage! Your thoughts???

    2010

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    2010,

    DH says there's no way that you'd want to do that--we just made the wrong turn. If you park outside, you'll have a horrendous walk with your bags.

    If you go past all the parking, you will come to San Jacopo. DH says this is a large arch with a bench outside. Then you go until you get to the light.

    That's when you go STRAIGHT through the very narrow arch. Our mistake was turning right at the light instead.

    Once you know the way it's not that bad, but get some more specific directions from your hotel. I'd also recommend getting there early, so that you'll be able to park in the lots outside town before they fill.

    Have a wonderful time--San Gimignano is heavenly!

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    cybertraveler:

    Right! Will take heed based on your experiences in San Gimignano!

    We will be travelling in September 2009 and we are hoping to face lesser crowds than in the summer. Our plan is to drive from Bellagio, Lake Como to San Gim, probably arriving early afternoon & praying there will be a parking spot for us!!!

    I have enjoyed following your journey through Italy! We will be visiting Florence, Tuscany & Venice as well!

    Thanks!

    2010

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    2010,

    Your trip sounds wonderful. I've always wanted to get to the Lake District, and hope to go there on our next trip. How long will you be in Italy?

    You'll probably have fewer crowds to deal with in September, but if you don't find a spot it won't be so bad. DH didn't think parking in the next town was that big a deal, since it was so close.

    Please let me know if I can be of any more help~

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    cybertravel:

    We are planning a three-week trip, beginning in Venice then going onto Bellagio. In Tuscany, we are looking to say in San Gimignano, Pienza (although we had considered San Quirico) and Florence - 4 days in each place. It will be our first trip to Italy!

    Your trip report has been so informative & entertaining and your comments have been most encouraging! :) Thank you!

    2010

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    Great report Cyber. Started reading it yesterday and took notes on the places I haven't been.

    "I liked shopping in Montepulciano"
    From the sound of that shop I think I'll like it too!

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    2010: How exciting to visit Italy for the first time and have such a wonderful itinerary! Four days in each place will give you time to relax and settle in.

    You'll love Pienza. Please post after your trip about your hotel; I'd definitely consider staying there on a future trip.

    Thanks for your kind comments. I'll be posting about Venice soon, so hopefully you'll find some tips there, too!

    laartista, if you're an artist you'd love that store!

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    LOL, TDudette! I must say that we ate gelato daily, ordered way too much pasta & risotto, but I didn't gain any weight. All that walking and climbing hills has some advantages!

    :-)

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