Thanks everyone for the great suggestions and tips. Let me address some of your questions... We will be in Italy from Monday, August 30th to Saturday, September 11th 2021. Our friends (the other couple) are flying in to Milan on Saturday morning at 9am. I originally chose to take the train from Venice to Milan early Saturday morning but changed it to Friday night so we could be certain to be there so our friends wouldn't be waiting on us if our train was delayed or something else happened. The 4 of us want to take the hydrofoil/ferry from Como to Bellagio, Tremezzo, or Varenna (haven't yet decided). Our friends have been to Italy before but not to the Cinque Terre. That is a "must do" for them... also, my wife and I love it, so that's why we'll visit it again. Florence and Rome: we all have spent a good bit of time in both of those cities on past trips (I have 2 art degrees and am a mediocre sculptor so I've devoured both cities).
The current itinerary breaks down as follows:
Leave Atlanta on Sat or Sun (Aug 29 or 30) If we can leave on Saturday, that would give us a third night in Venice.
Mon & Tues nights in Venice
Weds & Thurs nights in Verona
Friday night in Milan
Sat & Sun nights in Lake Como
Mon & Tues nights in Cinque Terre
Weds & Thurs nights in Florence
Friday night in Rome
Sat morning fly home
We are going to Florence this trip primarily to have a Tuscan 'base' as we want to spend two days driving through the countryside visiting wineries, eating with Dario Cecchini, and just soaking up everything from the region. We made Rome our departure city because my friend's favorite restaurant is there - hence the 1 night. Our flight leaves early Saturday morning. Back to the subject of Verona; I was not considering a visit to Verona specifically to break up the train ride (timewise). What I meant was.. instead of adding a third night to Venice and then riding straight to Milan early Saturday morning, we could see another charming town along the way. I have read several people on the forum say that Venice is so small that one can see/do most everything in 2.5 days. I see here that some of you think that may not be exactly right. So, please let me know how much time you think my wife and I would need to really appreciate Venice.
Finally, a tad about us... we love unique cities/towns (Florence has been my favorite forever) and old-world charm. We like good wine and good food. We considered going to the Parma/Reggio area to experience (what we're told) is the best cheese and olive oil anywhere. But, they are pretty far out of our way. We also thought visiting the Ferrari, Maserati, and Lamborghini factories would be fun. But they too are out of the way. I, personally, would love to see really great craftsmen creating (be it leather, marble, wood, metal, etc.). Put me in front of a talented leathersmith's bench and I'm happy for hours. Okay, now my 'cons': We are not interested in touring more churches. I do love architecture but I've seen so many churches in Europe that to get me to spend time visiting another one, well, it would have to be more spectacular than any other I've seen in anywhere.. barring Vatican City.
To sum up, I think I'm probably like most of you. I like unique and interesting things. I realize that some really young people might think a mime or juggler is interesting and unique. While some older generations might find spending a full day in a lace shop stimulating. I am obviously somewhere in the middle because both of those ideas would drop me into a coma. A scooter ride through Tuscany on a sunny autumn day and a picnic in a rolling meadow sound like a perfect time to me. Throw in 12 more fun-filled days and you have the dream vacation for which I am hoping. Thanks guys. I really do appreciate the input from each and every one of you. Please keep sharing.