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We're back! Trip Report: Family of 5 visits 4.5 cities in Italy!

We're back! Trip Report: Family of 5 visits 4.5 cities in Italy!

Jul 26th, 2013, 05:08 AM
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We're back! Trip Report: Family of 5 visits 4.5 cities in Italy!

We got back from our 18 days in Italy last Friday. Of course, I've been swamped with work since then, but intend to write a report on our trip. My reports are always short and I try to include only helpful information other travelers would want to know (and, ideally, that aren't covered by the guidebooks).

Before I begin however, I wanted to share some exciting news! My sister in law (who is going to Italy next month) was in the bookstore doing her research for her upcoming trip. She got bored and started looking at the Paris guidebooks. She was looking through the Fodors 2013 Paris guidebook when she came upon a page about the Latin Quarter. It was just a picture, but at the bottom there was a quote. Guess who the author of that quote was? Yes! Me! Check it out

I have to start work in a bit, but I'll be back to start my report. Overall my impression of Italy is that it is a beautiful country, but a tad (just a tad) overrated sometimes. Before you slaughter me, let me explain. Maybe it's because we've visited so many other beautiful countries. I can see if we had gone to Italy prior to all our other travel adventures how I would have absolutely gone mad over it. Perhaps 18 days was a bit too much with 3 teenagers (oh the bickering). I compare it to traveling with 3 toddlers really. When I start my report, I'll have more advice on how to make a trip to Italy more fun for those teens. Others on this forum did offer me advice and I took some of it. So glad I did! Finally, I think it had something to do with my research too. I researched the hell out of this trip. I watched youtube videos, looked at pictures, and read, read, read. To be honest, I would advise AGAINST doing that. Don't watch an entire youtube video on the Amalfi Coast Drive. Please, don't do it. You live and you learn

Anyways, I'll be back
layanluvstotravel is offline  
Jul 26th, 2013, 07:50 AM
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That's a brave start on this forum! Look forward to hearing about your trip.
wayfinder45 is offline  
Jul 26th, 2013, 10:11 AM
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I know about travelling with bickering teenagers, I had 4 of them! But you have me hooked already on how you managed it - and I am looking forward to reading all about the GOOD TIMES as well as the BAD ones you all had because that's real life.
julia_t is offline  
Jul 26th, 2013, 02:06 PM
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VERY interested to read this one
ellenem is offline  
Jul 26th, 2013, 03:00 PM
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Marking my place.
johnnyomalley is offline  
Jul 26th, 2013, 03:08 PM
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Have other people never encountered another traveler who was not bowled over by Italy? People have various reasons for their disappointments, but one of the most common reasons is that they took "the Big 3" trip of "highlights" and it doesn't work for a great many travelers. Or else they went to famous scenic spots in peak season and were run down by stampeding crowds.

I hope people don't have to be brave to come onto Fodor's and report back about a less than WOW WOW WOW WOO-HOO OMG! travel experience in experience in Italy. Maybe these travelers were sober most days.
stevewith is offline  
Jul 26th, 2013, 04:58 PM
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Indogirl1 is offline  
Jul 27th, 2013, 06:05 AM
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i got my seat!
mmmooommm is offline  
Jul 27th, 2013, 10:42 AM
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Cathinjoetown is offline  
Jul 31st, 2013, 01:11 PM
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Looking forward to this one!
Donna82 is offline  
Jul 31st, 2013, 01:36 PM
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Can't wait.
Diane60030 is offline  
Jul 31st, 2013, 01:51 PM
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climbing on board for the ride, rough or smooth.

BTW, I learnt from bitter experience that what we liked was not necessarily too popular with our kids. we liked touring, they liked staying put. we like museums, they like water parks. we like gardens, they like zoos. you get the picture. but we all like gelato.

looking forward to discovering all YOUR likes and dislikes!
annhig is offline  
Aug 3rd, 2013, 10:43 AM
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haha annhig-- your family sounds similar to ours
layanluvstotravel is offline  
Aug 3rd, 2013, 10:59 AM
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Can't wait.
TDudette is offline  
Aug 5th, 2013, 02:04 PM
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Great start.
travelmamana is offline  
Aug 13th, 2013, 05:39 PM
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Hello again everyone. I am actually in tears right now. I typed my entire report only for it to disappear. I don’t know if it’s the Fodor’s website or my computer or internet connection. I shall have to relive our trip for the third time. Since so many of you were so helpful to me, I feel I must type this report!

We arrived in Milan on a late afternoon this past June. We were super excited. My husband and I had always wanted to go to Italy. I’m pretty sure there are some old posts I wrote inquiring about going to Italy with pre-adolescent children somewhere on the internet. I’m a mom whose heart is too weak. I have to take my kids with me on vacation. I guess it’s because I work so much during the school year that I feel I need to spend time with them during the summer. Anyways, there are definitely pros and cons for taking teenagers on your vacation to Italy.

We bought our bus tickets (Malpensa Shuttle) at a booth in the airport. The tickets were (I believe) 10 Euros each. We got our tickets, got out of the airport and found the buses waiting on the street. The bus driver validated our tickets for us (throughout our entire trip whenever we used buses, the bus drivers took our tickets and validated them for us). When I was researching our trip, I kept reading about how if you didn’t validate your ticket you’d get fined. This stressed me out. Please don’t feel any stress about this. This just means that there’s a machine that you’ll put your ticket inside of so it can stamp the date on your ticket. You can’t miss it. It’s on the bus right when you enter or on the train platforms (and there are usually several on the platforms). Also, if you buy your train ticket ahead of time on the internet (Trenitalia Website) and you print your reservation, you aren’t going to need to validate anything. That’s because your reservation will be for a specific seat, at a specific time/date. If you miss your train, you’re pretty much out of luck (unless I guess you buy first class? I’m not sure). Anyhow, your 8x10 paper isn’t going to fit in those validating machines.

We didn’t really site see in Milan. We just used it to rest for our train trip to Venice. In Milan, we stayed at the ADI Doria Hotel. I made a reservation for 2 rooms using Expedia. I highly recommend this hotel. It was convenient, clean, lovely decorations, the free breakfast and wifi give us lots of value for our money. We arrived in the late afternoon so by the time we got hungry; the only thing open was a McDonalds restaurant and a pizza place. We ate our first pizza in Italy in Milan and it was superb. We chose it based on a huge crowd outside the door  We checked out of the hotel the next morning after paying our city tax. Be aware that you will have to pay a city tax (usually in cash) per person per night in each city in Italy. That was a pain. I guess it makes sense though—having the tourists pay to upkeep the city they’ve visited.

I had made our train reservations from Milan to Venice early using the Trenitalia website. Here are a few things you should know about using that website: 1. It has a brain of its own. Just make sure you’ve deleted any cookies on your computer before you start. 2. Call your credit card company before you try to make your reservation. Just let them know not to decline the transaction. 3. The site uses the Italian names so make sure you know what they are before you start. (Florence: Firenze, etc). 4. Don’t bother getting first class anything, second class is just fine. 5. You don’t have to register to make a reservation. 6. Be careful that you get direct, high speed routes and not any slow trains that make stops. For major routes, such as from Milan to Venice, I would recommend trying to get your ticket ahead of time so you can save some money. That’s what we did. At the train station, they don’t post the platform on the screens until about ten minutes before the train departure time. Just keep looking at those screens. Keep your reservation in your hand ready to show the train conductor when he walks by (and hold onto it because sometimes they’ll check more than once).
layanluvstotravel is offline  
Aug 13th, 2013, 06:00 PM
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I’m always amazed how easy and convenient the train system is in Europe and Italy was no exception. Our train trip from Milan to Venice was uneventful. We arrived in Venice and bought our Vaporetto (water bus) tickets from a booth right outside the train station. I believe they cost 7 Euros each (times 5, this is so painful). If you go to Venice, make sure you pack light! You don’t want to be hauling around heavy luggage in this city. We spent 3 nights in Venice and by the third night we were really glad we were leaving the next day. Don’t get me wrong. I was pleasantly surprised that I didn’t experience many of the things some people (who admittedly hadn’t cared for the city) had warned me about. We didn’t smell any nasty water smells, the weather was surprisingly very pleasant and we loved getting lost in the alleyways of the city. It’s just that the city is super crowded with all those darn cruise boat tourists. The line to get into the Doges Palace was huge. The line to get into San Marco Basilica was huge. Every line was huge. We ended up seeing the Basilica one day in the afternoon. We, unknowingly, cut in front of some cruise ship tourists. In our defense, they were standing on the side taking pictures in front of the Doges Palace. They did not look like they were part of the line. The only reason I even knew we had cut in front of them was because they started talking about us in English. Being part Brazilian and part Arab, they took for granted we would understand them. I turned around and sincerely apologized to them. Their faces turned red as watermelons and they looked very uncomfortable when I offered them our spots in line. Anyhow, I left the Basilica feeling underwhelmed. Perhaps I’d seen my share of churches? We’ve been to Spain and France and visited many cathedrals. I don’t know what it was but the Basilica was below my expectations. The same was true for the Doges Palace. We’ve seen lots of Palaces in Europe so maybe that’s why? I’m not sure. What I do know is that I wanted to grab the huge banner advertising the special Manet exhibit and tear it down off the Palace. It’s so ugly. They are also restoring the Basilica so there was construction blocking half of it as well. Again, so ugly.
layanluvstotravel is offline  
Aug 13th, 2013, 06:23 PM
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What we enjoyed the most in Venice was walking around and spending the evenings in San Marco Square. That’s what I recommend you do. Just start walking and don’t be afraid to get lost. Getting back to your hotel or apartment is part of the fun of being in Venice! We saw all the famous landmarks- the Rialto Bridge, we walked to the other side, we saw the Ferari Church, San Zacharia Church. We ate our fair share of gelato, Venetian Pastries (I highly recommend a pastry shop mentioned in Fodor’s Italy book. Darn it, I can’t recall its name but it isn’t too far from the Ferari Church. It was delicious!). We also visited the famous market at the Rialto Bridge one morning. We skipped the museums in Venice (my kids got their fair share in Paris so I agreed to compromise with them in Italy). For us, the most beautiful Venetian Art was outside.

Our apartment was actually right behind San Marco Square. We rented it through Sleep in Italy. I highly recommend it if you want to be right in San Marco. Honestly, I’d recommend being right in this location specifically because it is so crowded during the day. At night, you have the entire square to yourself and it is so romantic and so peaceful. (this is coming from people who typically stay further away from the center to save money).

Of course we did not leave Venice without doing the Gondola ride. It was 80 Euros and lasted about 40 minutes but my teens loved it. It was one of the few times they could all sit quietly next to each other without bickering. It’s a unique experience you can’t get anywhere else on Earth and the pictures you end up with are beautiful. So, splurge on the Gondola (this coming from a frugal mom). Do you know what was even more beautiful than our actual Gondola ride though? It was opening our bedroom windows, which overlooked a canal, and watching the Gondolas go by and listening to the guys sing. Not every one of them sings, of course, but when they do, it’s quite lovely and romantic. We got our own show, for free every day, from our bedroom window. The apartment is the Bialena apartment (it’s next to Bar Claudia). The pictures look a tad nicer than it actually is (the oven fan and washer didn’t work. Also, the apartment got plenty of mosquitoes though that’s to be expected in Venice). However, you can’t beat the location and price and the apartment is decent. Again, we had to pay the city tax with cash.

Before I leave Venice, I must say that I had thought Venice was super expensive. It isn't more or less expensive than any other city in Italy. In fact, there were some things I saw in Venice that cost us less than they did in Rome or Florence. Also, all those stories you hear about people getting "ripped off" at the square for a cup of coffee. Whatever. You don't have to sit to enjoy the music at the square. You can stand and enjoy it just fine (actually we sat and no one ever said anything to us). On the other hand, the horror stories about the pigeons.. those are all true. Beware ;-)
layanluvstotravel is offline  
Aug 13th, 2013, 06:51 PM
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We took the Vaporetto back to the train station at the end of our stay in Venice. Again, another 7 Euros each (ugh, again, so painful). I liked taking the Vaporetto to San Marco (St. Zacharia is the stop) and then back to the train station. I wouldn't recommend carrying luggage any other way. Plus, I believe (other than walking) it's the most economical way to do it. The best part is that the Vaporetto is crowded with people so your teens are actually too embarrassed to bicker with each other (and I will pay any amount of money for no bickering!). Oh, I almost forgot! My kids and I tried clams with pasta for the first time in Venice. It was superb. Yumm! Also, whenever they got antsy, we bribed them with gelato. They were pretty happy in Venice, for the most part. However, my overall impression is this: it's a unique city, you MUST see it once in your life, but it isn't one of my top cities in the world.

At the train station, my DH and I had time to walk around (by ourselves). We had some cappuccino and pastries that were delicious and got caught up on our emails. By the way, you get free wifi when you purchase food at restaurants/cafes. The info you need is on your receipt. When we got back to the train station, my kids were finishing up their pizzas. They bought them from the station itself and they seemed to enjoy them.

Again, I had pre-booked our high speed train tickets before we left to Italy. So, we got on the train from Venice to Florence without any problems. We arrived in Florence (make sure you always get out at the Santa Maria Novella-Firenze stop- there's another Firenze stop but it isn't the right one if it doesn't have the full name. We made that mistake once. It was, however, easy to rectify. We just got back on the next train in the direction we were going).

Florence was crowded but in a less annoying way compared to Venice. We ended up staying 5 nights in Florence which I would never recommend to anyone (especially if you have teenagers). Some of you had warned me and, honestly, I tried to change our itinerary but it didn't work out. First, we got very cheap hotel rates for two rooms at the Hotel Delle Nazioni. This hotel offers free wifi, free breakfast (though their breakfast never changes so that's annoying), is right across the street from the train station (which makes day trips very convenient) and the rooms are quite large. We got two rooms (they put us at the end of the hallway which was great because we could yell at our kids as much as we wanted!) and there are even computers you can use for free next to the breakfast area. For the two rooms, we averaged around $220 a night which I really couldn't find another hotel to compete with. I almost forgot to mention the beautiful view of the Duomo outside our bedroom (and there's a balcony you can sit on though you won't want too b/c, again, the mosquitos will attack you). The only negative to this hotel were the mosquitos and there were plenty of them!

Anyway, back to what I was saying. If I had to do it over again, I would have started looking for a hotel in the Cinque Terre earlier. I would have liked to have stayed only two nights in Florence and then two nights in Monterosso, Cinque Terre. Maybe that fifth night in Lucca. For us, it just didn't work out that way (there were no hotels available in Monterosso and the Florence hotel price was too tempting. Again, with kids you've got to make compromises to fit your budget.). Also, had I known how much we were going to enjoy Lucca, perhaps that's where we would have stayed for three nights. Oh well.
layanluvstotravel is offline  
Aug 13th, 2013, 07:02 PM
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Florence is just as everyone describes it. It is one big outside museum. The Duomo and some of the other churches almost look fake. They are unique and beautiful. This is after all the birth place of the Renaissance and you can feel that history come alive in this place. As I learned though, teenagers enjoy "doing" way more than simply "seeing". Hence, two days in Florence is plenty for them. Again, we saw a lot of the famous attractions everyone sees. We enjoyed walking around the historic area and seeing the Duomo, the Palazzo Vecchio, the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella was interesting as was the Basilica Santa Croce, and we ate lots of gelato. Wowzers how much gelato we ate (actually I believe we had gelato every day for the entire 18 days we were in Italy).
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