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20th Anniversary trip to Italy

Hi all,
I am surprising my wife with a Spring trip to Italy for 11 days (13 total - 2 flying days) for our 20th anniversary.

It is a first time to Europe for both of us. I haven't told her yet.

My tentative itinerary is as follows:

Leave U.S. on May 23, 2015 and fly into Venice at noon on May 24 - stay two days

Night train to Vernazza (via La Spezia) May 26 - stay two days

Early morning train to Florence on May 29 - stay 3 days { Day-trip to wine country while in Florence }

Early morning train to Rome on June 1.

Leave Rome for U.S. on June 4.

Let me say that I booked (executive class) plane tickets months ago (the first day the airline offered advanced booking) and I ignorantly chose to fly in to and out of Rome.

I have since watched every lecture and tv show on Italy that Rick Steves has made. I've also listened to every one of his podcasts on Italy - and just finished reading 'Europe Through the Backdoor 2014'. I now realize that I should have booked "open-jaw" flights so I could fly in to Venice and out of Rome. Hindsight! Anyway, it can still be done, it's just going to cost me and extra $180 to change it (plus, the last leg will not be executive class).

So, my question to you guys is: What do you think of the Itinerary? I have an art history degree so I can't go to Italy without visiting Florence & Rome... and, every photo my wife has ever seen of the Cinque Terre brought on the statement "..it's so romantic, that is on my bucket list". Therefore, the only place I have wiggle room is Venice.

We plan on staying in Bed & Breakfast's exclusively (carrying nothing but 9"x22"x14" bags), so that will save money. We are not wealthy, and I've been saving for this for a long time. But the money saved is not the most important thing - I want to breathe in the culture and get to know the Italians who will see us as people instead of a dollar signs. And, I want to live more like a local than like a tourist while I am there.

That's it. Any and all advice is welcome and will be very much appreciated.

Posted by
694 posts

Sounds wonderful to me. Congrats on your anniversary. I can't advise since we will be in Italy our first time next May. Enjoy!

Posted by
3460 posts

Try changing the path a little: and think in terms of nights.

Keep in mind the times you can check into your lodging and where you would check your bags if room is not ready.

Venice 2 nites May 24 & 25 early afternoon train to Florence.

Venice-Florence 2H05m May 26th

Florence 3 nites May 26,27,28

Florence-La Spezia 3H54m May 29,

Vernazza 2 nites May 29,&30

La Spezia-Roma mid morning train 4hrs. May 31

Rome 3 nites May31, June 1, 2, 3

travel June 4

If at all possible add a nite to Venice...you will be jet lagged

PS May has 31 days
Have fun

Posted by
2865 posts

Watch out! You may get hooked. We visited Italy for the first time in 1984 and have been back fourteen times since then. Trip #16 is coming up this spring. Seriously, this sounds like a wonderful way to celebrate, and you sound like a real sweetheart. I hope your wife already has a passport, because the need to get one will end the surprise part. Don't wait too long on those; as summer approaches business revs up at the passport office. May is not so far away as you may think, and you are traveling at a time when tourism starts to get really heavy. I would start reserving lodgings now. The really nice, reasonably priced places fill up fast. I like using www.booking.com because you can see immediately if a place has availability, and you get instant confirmation. They also have reviews from people who have actually stayed at the listed places. They don't, however, have all places on their roster. If you want to book directly, you could look at their site, then google to get the contact info for the hotel/b&b that appeals to you. Don't fret about not doing open-jaw. Florence to Rome is not a terrible journey. Next time you'll know.

Posted by
30971 posts

gk,

Congratulations in advance on your anniversary! That will be a wonderful surprise for your wife, but hopefully she doesn't browse this travel forum.

As gerri mentioned, I'd also recommend changing the order of visits, as it's a more efficient route and will avoid backtracking, and I'd also suggest Venice > Florence > Vernazza > Rome. Also, as mentioned, think in terms of "nights" rather than days (I can post a suggested Itinerary if you're interested).

As this is your first trip to Europe, I'd highly recommend packing along a copy of the Italy 2015 guidebook, as that has an enormous amount of information on touring various sites, restaurants, transportation, etc. Some Museums are closed one day a week, so it's important to know what day that is! Also, doing some homework on using the rail system in Italy would be a really good idea, as there are some potentially expensive "caveats" to be aware of.

Is there any possibility you could squeeze an extra day into your holiday and spend three nights in Vernazza? You'll have to allow for travel times between locations, so two nights will only allow about a day and half there. I suspect that once you arrive there and see the place, you'll wish you had booked more time. Since this is the "bucket list" destination for your wife, at least one extra day would be highly recommended. I would also highly recommend getting lodgings booked there VERY early, as June will be VERY busy in that area.

One other comment about Vernazza is that you likely won't find "breakfasts" in many of the small lodgings there. If breakfasts are important, I'd suggest staying in Monterosso instead, as that's the largest of the five towns and therefore has the greatest number of hotels, restaurants, other tourist amenities and also the nicest beaches. Many of the small hotels in Monterosso operate on a "B & B" basis. I can suggest a couple of good hotels and restaurants there if you're interested, and that would be a great place to "splurge" to provide a really nice first visit to the C.T. for your wife (I say "first visit" as I suspect you'll want to return).

Regarding the trip from Vernazza to Rome, there are a few direct trains each day from La Spezia to Roma Termini with a travel time of about 3H:45M, so it would be a good idea to connect with one of those. It's very easy to get from Vernazza or any of the C.T. towns to La Spezia via the local trains (only takes a few minutes). You can see all the transportation details on the Trenitalia or bahn.de websites.

Regarding your plans to use "early morning trains", one point to keep in mind is that if you arrive at your hotel too early, the rooms may not be serviced yet and therefore you'll have to store your luggage for a few hours. Most places will store luggage for arriving guests, but my preference is to get into my room when I first arrive, and then start touring. I usually leave mid-morning so that I can arrive by 13:00 or so and then have a relaxing lunch at my new destination.

Good luck with your planning!

Posted by
11613 posts

Congratulations on your anniversary and a great surprise!

Your itinerary looks good, make sure you get to the Museum of San Marco and the Bargello in Florence and the Borghese Gallery in Rome.

And the passport! Maybe the application could be a Valentine's Day or Christmas gift?

Posted by
9421 posts

Congratulations and compliments on your romantic gesture! As Gerri said, a different order of travel is in order. You said: Night train to Vernazza (via La Spezia). There is no true overnight train. You could leave Venice at 18:25 and arrive at 23:54, but not many lodgings in Vernazza would be happy whit your arrival so late. Neither would you, I fear.

It kills me to say this as I love Venezia, but maybe you should skip it. If the Cinque Terre is "bucket list" material, and you are an art historian with an eye on Rome and Florence, why don't you give yourselves a break, skip Venice, add one night to the CT and the other night where you desire? Fly into Firenze (or you could fly into Rome and on arrival take the Frecciarossa easily enough so you don't have to change your tickets), and then go to the CT and back to Rome. It's an option anyway.

You can save $$ by buying your high-speed rail tickets in advance as long as you know your plans are firm since they are not refundable. Trenitalia starts selling them 120 days out and the lowest fares sell out fast so note your calendar accordingly.

In Venice (edit), this is a very nice and very conveniently located B&B. In the CT we prefer Manarola as it is a little quieter at night. Even if you do not stay in Manarola, be sure to eat at Trattoria da Billy and ask for a table outdoors, on the terrace below the restaurant.

Posted by
11613 posts

Somehow I missed the night train in your itinerary. The high-speed trains have replaced almost all the night trains within Italy, plus getting good sleep on one is a crapshoot.

I always buy major train tickets in advance - you can get a €9 fare from Milano to Venezia up to 120 days ahead, other fares are available at €19 or €29, depending on destination.

Posted by
45 posts

PART ONE of TWO:

Wow! Thanks so much for all the great advice and suggestions. I am putting them into my "Tips" folder.

Okay, to comment on a few of the things you guys mentioned:

Our anniversary is actually next week (Nov. 19th) and I created a hard-cover photo book & had it professionally printed for her. The first pages says "..since we cannot go to Europe in person until we retire, I made this book so we can use our imaginations to visit all the places we've dreamed of going...". Each page that follows has a photo of an attraction with a blurb about what we are doing there (via imagination) right at that moment. I go through each of the 4 locations we want to visit with plenty of pictures. And then on the last few pages I say "SURPRISE, we're really going to Italy in the Spring". I follow that with photos of the plane tickets and the itinerary, etc. I think she's really going to be floored when she gets to that 'Surprise' page.

Anyway, to the comments...

Rosalyn, my wife does NOT yet have her passport, but that is number one on my list of pre-trip 'to dos'. Zoe mentioned an application as a Christmas gift, but I'm not taking chances... I hope to get her application submitted 2 weeks from now. And btw, thanks for the compliment. But I think most husbands would do the same thing for their wives if they could afford it and knew it was important to them. Case in point: Look at you with 16 trips! Your hubby must be the king of sweethearts. :)

Gerri, I like your tweaked itinerary. Then Laurel mentioned omitting Venice altogether which got me thinking about what you said regarding jet lag. Really, the only thing that I'd like to do in Venice is the touristy Gondola ride and maybe an evening vaporetto ride with my wife. Any other absolute "must sees" should squeeze into two days (even considering jet lag), don't you think?

Yes Ken, I'd love to see your suggested itinerary. Thanks for offering. And, "Italy 2015 guidebook" is already a stocking-stuffer item for my wife this year. Her other presents will include a 9"x22"x14" bag, a day bag, a money belt, and some wrinkle-resistant clothes. Jeez, I think I'm turning into Rick Steves .

Zoe, I added the Museum of San Marco, plus the Bargello in Florence, and the Borghese Gallery in Rome to my "to see" list. Thanks for the suggestions. Also, is the €9 fare you mentioned for high-speed trains? That sounds incredible. Maybe I misunderstood and that was for the older & slower trains. It just seems so inexpensive.

Laurel, thanks for the tip on Manarola over Vernazza. But, is it as picturesque? As you know Rick always RAVES over Vernazza. So I haven't even checked AirBnB for places at Manarola... but I'm open to the idea.

Regarding attractions... With my love for and education of art (combined with the fact that I've been sculpting for 30 years), I can't leave Italy without seeing Michelangelo's David, the Pietà, Rape of the Sabine Women, Apollo and Daphne, and Donatello's David. I'm bummed that the Trevi Fountain is closed for repairs since it was also on my 'sculpture' must-see list. Any other sculptures I shouldn't miss - even if I'm under time constraints? Also, which attractions MUST have reservations, and how far in advance do I need to make them?

Of course the Colosseum, Sistine Chapel, Uffizi Gallery, St. Peter's Basilica, and Vatican Museum are on everyone's 'Italy to-do list'. My list has these and a few more. But I don't want to bite off more than we can chew. So, I need to concentrate my list down to the essentials. Then, if time is left over, we can do more. Capisce?

Posted by
45 posts

PART TWO of TWO:

As I mentioned in my original post, we want to take a day-trip to the Wine Country (either Tuscany or Umbria). Since I've never been, I don't know which is better. We love wine so either would probably work, but I want to get the most out of that one day. Any recommendations or wineries, towns, etc.? I learned that Tuscany was Medici influenced while Umbria was St. Francis influenced. So, it stands to reason that Tuscany might be a bit more laid back but more expensive. But I'm just guessing. I plan on getting my international driver's license so we could rent a car in Florence and head to either area if that would be better than a bus.

Okay guys, sorry for the novel. It's just so nice to communicate with people that have been there and done what we are about to do, I seem to overflow with questions [ and I'm sure I'll have more :/ ]. But thanks again to everyone for being so nice. I really do appreciate all the advice. I want this to be the best anniversary/vacation ever, and you all are pointing me in the right direction to make that happen.

If anyone has anything long-winded they would like to send me, email it to gk@usa.com with ITALY in the subject line.

Posted by
655 posts

Make sure you have a box of Kleenex handy when you give this present to your wife! I needed one when I read about the photo book you made for her as an anniversary gift :) She is going to LOVE it! I haven't been to Italy yet, so can't really offer any advice, but just wanted to give you two big thumbs up for doing this!!!!!

Posted by
11613 posts

You are the best! The €9 fare was the fast train, it's a super-economy fare that disappears within days of posting sometimes. Same high-speed train, but you are committed to that specific train. Your e-ticket will show your train number, carriage and seat numbers, and departure time. Departure track # will be posted on the electronic departures board at the station, usually at least 15-20 minutes before departure. You can go to the Trenitalia website to check prices 119 days from today to get an idea of what the cheapest fares will be. The only caveat is you won't have the option of last-minute decisions about when to depart.

I save hundreds of dollars every year by getting the low fares (but I take trains a lot). If you are taking regionale trains, you won't get big discounts, but fares are very inexpensive and tickets are good for an extended time period before you validate them (no need to validate fast train tickets).

Posted by
2865 posts

Just on the wine question . . . as a newbie, and without a car,* I suspect that signing up for an organized winery tour might be a good bet. We've never done one (living within an hour and a half of the Napa Valley, we're less interested than some might be), so I haven't a clue as to the cost. They do get mentioned fairly regularly on this site. Try a search, or just put up a question. I think you'll get plenty of responses.
Also, imo, Venice is magical. Lots of art to see there, too. Since you've got your tickets to fly there, I recommend keeping the two nights you've allotted for it in your itinerary.
*Oops, I just noticed that you are considering renting a car for getting around in Tuscany or Umbria. Rental rates are pretty high in Italy, especially the per day rate on short terms. You can check on the www.AutoEurope.com site to get a sense of the cost. Balance that off against the cost and convenience of an organized winery tour.

Posted by
3279 posts

Hi gk - what a wonderful surprise present -- but hope your wife hasn't been scanning the Rick StevesTravel Forum recently ;-)

You might want to add one or two electric outlet plug adapters as stocking stuffers for the 2 of you, if you'll be bringing any electronic devices on your trip. Happy 20th Anniversary!

Posted by
45 posts

Ha, good point Cyn, though I'm fairly certain my wife doesn't know the Rick Steves Travel Forum even exists. To her, traveling to Europe has always been a dream that would have to wait until we retire. I can't remember even mentioning the word Italy for several years now (been vigilant not to say or do anything that would let her suspect something other than a nice dinner on this anniversary).

Oh and thanks for the heads-up on the power adapters. I've added it to my packing list.

Posted by
45 posts

Rosalyn,

Thanks for the wine country / car rental tips. I started looking at winery tours after your other post. We've been to Napa and loved it. But everyone says that the Italian wine country is amazing... better than north Cali and even blowing away the French wine regions.

So far, we still have our tickets flying in to and out of Rome. I have not paid to change them yet as I wanted to weigh all the options, and hear from you guys on this forum. But as it looks right now, we probably will fly to Venice, train to Florence, train to Cinque Terre, train to Rome, then fly out of Rome to U.S.

I'm so glad I found this forum!

Posted by
4506 posts

Congratulations! What an amazing anniversary present!!!

Make sure your wife also gets a pair of comfortable walking shoes, she will definitely need them on this trip!

You might consider flying into Venice or Milan & this way you'll spend more time on your destinations rather than on the train.

I agree with Ken, and try to avoid 2 night stays.

I also agree with Laurel, regarding skipping Venice, especially if you decide NOT to change your flights.

Believe me, 11 days go very quickly when you're on vacation and even faster when you're traveling from place to place!

While in Cinque Terre, you must go to 'Via dell'Amore', (path of love), a magnificent pathway which connects Riomaggiore & Manarola.

Check this link for more info: www.cinqueterre.eu.com/en

Enjoy your trip!!!

Posted by
243 posts

There have been so much good info already posted to your question, I will try add to the great suggestions.

Being an art lover, 3 days in Florence is really a small amount of time. I would avoid the car rental and visit wine country via a tour. We took a guided tour with 3 other couples and visited three wineries in Chianti. They picked us up in Firenze, visited three wineries, had what was described as a small lunch (but there were many courses and an abundance of food), stopped in Greve, and brought us back to Firenze. It was an all day event. I'm sorry I don't have the name, but you can research via the internet.

Another wine option is the Verrazzano Vineyard just north of Greve. They do a tour and wine luncheon. You do not learn much of the technicalities of the wine making process, but I have never felt the passion of the wine making process with any of the other tours that I have taken in Italy, France, or the US.

Cinque Terre: I have stayed in Vernazza twice, including this summer. I do prefer this town, but Manarola is also a good option. I like the fact that these towns are so tiny and on the sea (Monterosso is not huge, but it is a bit larger than the other 4 towns). If you are avid hikers, you may want to stay three days, as there are many trails beside the ones that lead to the 5 towns.

Make sure that you visit the Borghese Gallery as the Bernini sculptures are breathtaking. (Take the guided tour).

Someone else mentioned getting the RS Italy guide, make sure you do as his guide gives the most practical advice of any guidebook that I have used.

Hope you have fun!

Posted by
1803 posts

What a wonderful gift for your wife, and a great adventure for the two of you. I would agree with changing your tickets to arrive in Venice. You COULD fly into Rome and hop right on a train to Venice, but I think it's worth the money to change the tickets. You might even consider adding a third night to Venice, taking it from Rome. You will be jet-lagged, and Venice is just magical and so romantic.

Good idea to travel light. Encourage your wife to look at the Lands End modal t-shirts; they weigh nothing, take up little packing space, dry quickly, and come in lots of colors.

It's also good idea to stay in B&Bs (or small hotels). B&Bs usually give you breakfast (often skimpy, but at least a start!). The lodging recommendations in the Rick Steves book are usually reliable. He generally puts you in a good location, near the downtown areas and train stations, which you will want. Don't try to save money by staying out away from the center of town. Before reserving, double-check lodging on Trip Advisor and Booking.com, to get current reviews. Some people recommend reserving through the B&B owners directly, to possibly get a better rate. Sometimes, though, owners will want an advance deposit; if they accept deposits via credit card (and if rooms are cancellable up to a few days in advance) I will do this. However do not attempt a wire transfer. It is very expensive from the US. I personally like booking.com. You can instantly see what's available, and can usually reserve (and cancel) with no fees, up to a few days in advance of your visit. This is helpful in case you have an itinerary change. Read the descriptions carefully; occasionally booking.com has a hotel that DOES charge for cancellation. June is a busy time in Italy. I would recommend finalizing your itinerary and starting on those reservations quickly.

Regarding Manarola -- it's very picturesque. We have stayed both there and in Vernazza. Both are beautiful. I don't think you can go wrong. It's an easier walk from Manarola to both Riomaggiore and Corniglia. From Vernazza, the walks to Corniglia and Monterosso are a bit more challenging. Go to Trip Advisor and look at hotel photos from both places, and read the reviews -- you will soon get a sense of which is best for you.

And regarding a wine tour vs car rental: driving a car in Italy requires knowledge of ZTLs, will probably require you to bring a GPS and IDP with you, and is just more complicated, especially for just one day. I'd look into a tour.

Finally, make sure the outlet plug adaptors you buy are designed to work in Italy. There are a couple of types of European adaptors, so do a little research before you buy.

Posted by
30971 posts

gk,

A few additional thoughts to add.....

On the topic of Plug Adaptors, it's a good idea to take at least two of the Euro Plug Adaptors, as they're small and easily misplaced. You can find them cheaply at many stores like WalMart, Target and also in the Travel Store on this website. I wouldn't bother with the fancy all-in-one devices as they're expensive and awkward to use. Why pay $30 for something when a $2 model will do the same job. If any of your appliances use a grounded plug, I also like to use a grounded Plug Adaptor, and this model is the one for Italy.

One other important point to mention. You must check EACH appliance that you're going to be travelling with, to ensure that they are capable of operation on 220 VAC electrical systems. Plug Adaptors do NOT provide voltage conversion. Look for the words "Input Voltage" on the charger or power supply for each device. If the spec's state "Input 100-240 VAC, 50/60 Hz" then you'll only need inexpensive Plug Adaptors to use the devices in Europe.

If you plan on travelling with a Smartphone, note that some phones sold in the U.S. may not have the necessary frequency bands for operating on European cellular networks. For example, most of the Trac / Go phones will only operate in the U.S. With Smartphones the aspect of data roaming will also have to be considered, as the charges can be HUGE.

Regarding which of the five Cinque Terre towns to stay in, as I mentioned in my first reply you might consider Monterosso as well. It's my favourite of the five towns of the C.T.. Be sure to click on the "beaches" link that I provided for a view of Monterosso. While there be sure to try something with Pesto in the area where it was invented.

If you decide to rent a car, note that EACH driver will require the compulsory International Driver's Permit, which is used in conjunction with your home D.L. You may never be asked for it, but if you are asked and can't produce an I.D.P., hefty fines will follow which must be paid on the spot! You'll also have to be vigilant to avoid the dreaded ZTL (limited traffic) areas which exist in many Italian towns and cities. Again, hefty fines for violations. When driving in Italy, a GPS or at least a good Map are prudent.

The Itinerary suggestion below will provide a few ideas, but of course you'll have to do the fine tuning according to your preferences.

Continued......

Posted by
30971 posts

gk,

Although you haven't changed your air tickets yet to fly into Venice, my Itinerary suggestions assume that you'll do that. Keep in mind that flying round trip to Rome will require both additional travel time and cost when you arrive in Italy, so spending $180 to change the tickets may actually save money in some ways (ie: two tickets from Rome to Florence on arrival day will be ~US$87).

Perhaps something like this would work......

  • May 23 / Sa - D1 - Flight to Italy
  • May 24 / Su - D2 / N1 - Arrive Venice, take Alilaguna from the airport to the stop nearest to the hotel you choose. In addition to the B&B that Laurel mentioned, you might also have a look at Pensione Guerrato, which is a favourite.
  • May 25 / Mo - D3 / N2 - Venice touring (plan some rest breaks during the day, as you'll still be getting over jet lag).
  • May 26 / Tu - D4 / N1 - Train to Florence (travel time 2H:05M via Freccia high speed train - there are numerous departures, and a 10:25 or 11:25 departure are the ones I'd consider - NOTE that these trains have compulsory reservations which are specific to a particular train, date and departure time so your tickets can be used only on the train listed on the ticket - reservations are provided with the ticket - Departure station will be Venezia S. Lucia and arrival station Firenze SMN - for lodgings in Florence, have a look at Katti House).
  • May 27 / We - D5 / N2 - Florence, touring (Reservations for the Uffizi or Accademia are highly advisable - details in the guidebook).
  • May 28 / Th - D6 / N3 - Florence, touring (more touring or day trip to Siena - use Bus as that's the easiest method - you could also take a wine tour from Florence and THIS is one possibility.)
  • May 29 / Fr - D7 / N1 - Train to Vernazza (or other C.T. town) - one of the quickest trips will be a departure at 10:28, arriving 13:37 (time 3H:09M, two changes - two of the trains are Regionale, so you MUST validate your tickets prior to boarding the train on the day of travel, or you may face hefty fines, which will be collected on the spot! - check the Trenitalia website for details and times).
  • May 30 / Sa - D8 / N2 - Vernazza, touring (check the guidebook for lodgings)
  • May 31 / Su - D9 / N1 - Train to Rome (one of the quickest trips will be a departure at 09:28, arriving 14:25, time 4H:57M, one change at La Spezia - arrival station will be Roma Termini).
  • Jun. 1 / Mo - D10 / N2 - Rome, touring (depending on the touring you plan to do, a Roma Pass may be worthwhile - details in the guidebook - note that Galleria Borghese is closed on Mondays - reservations required on days when it's open).
  • Jun. 2 / Tu - D11 / N3 - Rome, touring (if you're interested, you might consider a day trip to Orvieto, a beautiful Umbrian hill town, about an hour each way by train - the Signorelli Frescoes on the ceiling of the Duomo are incredible!).
  • Jun. 3 / We - D12 / N4 - Rome, touring (perhaps the group here can suggest a fantastic restaurant for a memorable anniversary dinner and your last night in Italy)
  • Jun. 4 / Th - D13 - Return flight to U.S. (use the Leonardo Express to get to FCO - 0H:32M, €14 PP - this is a Regionale, so again DON'T forget to validate your tickets prior to boarding the train).

There are lots of possibilities, and this is only one suggestion. You might consider dropping one day from either Rome or Florence and adding to the C.T., as that's your wife's "bucket list" item.

I didn't suggest hotels in Rome, as it would help to know which part of Rome you prefer. I like the Termini station area as it's so very convenient for transportation. I like to stay either at Hotel Sonya or Hotel Aberdeen.

Good luck with your planning!

Posted by
45 posts

Macy, thanks for the tips.. especially Via dell'Amore'.

Posted by
45 posts

Nick, I appreciate the tips. I'd love to stay longer in Florence, it seems like an art lovers paradise. But, being short on time and long on wants, I'll have stay with 3 days unless you think I could knock a day off of Rome and be happy.

Posted by
45 posts

Charlene, thanks a bunch. I've decided against a rental car. Everyone has advised against it here and when I googled it, I even saw other people saying it should be avoided unless you are staying in the country. So, wine tour it will be.

Posted by
45 posts

Ken,

I don't know what to say... thank you so much for taking the time to share all that information and for creating a comprehensive itinerary for me. You went way beyond anything I expected. Sadly, Pensione Guerrato is already sold out for my Venice days. So, I'll go to AirBnB and find a Bed & Breakfast in town. They seem to have more suggested properties with reviews than Booking.com or Trip Adviser.

And, I don't "prefer" any part of Rome over another because I have no practical knowledge. So, all suggestions are welcome - as long as there are B&B's there. :)

I really appreciate your (and everyone else's) help!

Posted by
30971 posts

gk,

You're very welcome! A few thoughts on hotels in Rome.....

There's always some spirited debate here on the Forum on whether to stay in the Termini area (close to transportation) or more in the central part of the city, perhaps close to Piazza Navona. If you have the Italy or Rome guidebooks, you can have a look at the accommodations listed there, as the books have suggestions in many parts of the city.

The Termini area may not have the same "character" as some other areas, but I find that I'm only in the hotel to sleep and shower, so where the hotel is located is not really much of an issue, as long as it's convenient. One other place you might look at is The Beehive, which is owned by an American couple. It's VERY popular so you'll have to book WELL in advance! One other part of Rome that's very popular in terms of "character" but doesn't have the same ease of transportation is the Trastevere area. If you'd like to consider staying there, one hotel that I thought was very comfortable is Casa San Giuseppe. You could also have a look at some of the listings on the Ron In Rome website.

For lodgings in Venice, again check the guidebooks as there are lots of listings there. if you can afford a "splurge", you could always stay in the same hotel that Clooney used recently (I believe it was the Belmond Cipriani).

Posted by
3279 posts

I wholeheartedly recommend the Trastevere neighborhood, where we rented an apartment for a week in December 2012. It's charming, had a great outdoor market just 2 blocks from our place (even in December), and the #8 Tram gets you easily to the historic center and the big sights. Consider the 2 or 3 day Roma Card, which gets you free or reduced admission to major (and even many minor) sights, as well as covering your transportation by tram, bus, and metro over that time.

Posted by
30971 posts

gk,

"While in Cinque Terre, you must go to 'Via dell'Amore', (path of love), a magnificent pathway which connects Riomaggiore & Manarola."

One important point to mention is that the Via dell' Amore is one of the four Sentiero Azzurro trails and a couple of them were closed all of this year. The Via dell' Amore is the easiest of the four, as it's mostly level and paved. However a severe rock slide occurred there in September 2012, which seriously injured four Australian tourists and the trail has been closed since then. It's expected to re-open again, probably around 1 April 2015, but I haven't seen any current information on that.

The trail from Manarola to Corniglia has been closed for most of the last few years due to severe slide damage. The remaining trails from Corniglia to Vernazza and Vernazza to Monterosso have been closed for short periods of time this year to repair damage, but have mostly been open. It should be noted that there's an extensive network of trails in that area in addition to the Sentiero Azzurro trails, and those have been open. However they extend farther up into hills and take longer, so are a more "robust" hiking experience.

It would be prudent to check the status of the trails just prior to your trip, using these websites.....

http://savevernazza.com/traveladvisortrailupdates/

http://www.parconazionale5terre.it/sentieri_parco.asp?id_lingue=1

The latter web site indicates that ALL of the Cinque Terre trails are closed at the present time due to a weather alert (hopefully my translation is accurate).

Posted by
4506 posts

@ Ken, Thanks for the info regarding Via dell'Amore.
We were there a few years ago (before 2012) & it was open, so hopefully it will be open when gk & his wife are there!

Posted by
999 posts

We were just in the c.t in Oct and unfortunately the via dell amore was still closed. There is a bar/restaurant on the trailhead from riomaggiore to manarola and it is a lovely place to sip a glass of vino and enjoy spectacular sea views. Regarding which village to stay in--this was our 4th visit here & we have always stayed in vernazza. Love the evenings here when the daytrippers have cleared out. Any of the towns would be nice but I probably wouldn't stay in corniglia as It is not as convenient to the train station. Happy anniversary and buon viaggio!

Posted by
30971 posts

gk,

Here's a revised Itinerary, based on the most recent information you provided. Using return flights from Rome will complicate the Itinerary slightly, but it's relatively easy to re-arrange. Would something like this work….

  • May 23 / Sa - D1 - Flight to Italy
  • May 24 / Su - D2 / N1 - Arrive Rome / FCO. Buy tickets from FCO to Vernazza (you'll be given 2 or 3 tickets) - take Leonardo Express from the airport to Roma Termini and from Rome to Vernazza. As you're travelling with carry-on only, that will expedite getting to the airport rail station. You'll still need to go through Passport Control (If you're in Business Class, you'll de-plane before those in "sardine class", so you may be able to avoid a long queue at Passport Control). I'd allow at least 45 minutes at the airport, so you may be able to connect with a 13:38 departure of the Leonardo Express, arriving Roma Termini at 14:10 (DON'T forget to validate prior to boarding the train!!!).

The next departure from Rome to Vernazza isn't until 15:57 (arriving at 20:38), so you'll have a 1H:47M layover at Roma Termini (be sure to notify your hotel that you'll be a "late arrival"). There are lots of restaurants in Termini, so you can stop for a meal (I always do that, as the breakfast on the plane is quite small - you might try the Roadhouse Grill). The train from Rome to Vernazza will stop at La Spezia Centrale, where you'll transfer to the local train for the short (18M) ride to Vernazza.

  • May 25 / Mo - D3 / N2 - Vernazza, touring
  • May 26 - Tu - D4 / N3 - Vernazza, touring
  • May 27 - We - D5 / N1 - take train to Florence (one of the quickest trips will be a departure at 09:28, arriving Firenze SMN at 12:00 - time 2H:32M, 2 changes in La Spezia and Pisa Centrale, 1st & 3rd legs via Regionale so DON'T forget to validate, 2nd leg via InterCity so compulsory reservations).
  • May 28 - Th - D6 / N2 - Florence, touring (reservations for Uffizi and Accademia highly advisable)
  • May 29 - Fr - D7 / N3 - Florence, touring
  • May 30 - Sa - D8 / N1 - take train to Venice (use Freccia or Italo high speed, 2H:05M - departure station Firenze SM Novella, arrival station Venezia Santa Lucia - a 10:30 departure would get you to Venice at 12:35).
  • May 31 - Su - D9 / N2 - Venice, touring
  • June 1 - Mo - D10 / N3 - Venice, touring
  • June 2 - Tu - D11 / N1 - take train to Rome (use Freccia or Italo high sped, 3H:45M - departure station Venzia S. Lucia, arrival station Roma Termini or Tiburtina (if using Italo) - a 10:25 departure would get you to Rome at 14:10).
  • June 3 - We - D12 / N2 - Rome, touring
  • June 4 - Th - D13 - Leonardo Express to airport - Return flight to U.S.

There are some potentially expensive "caveats" when using public transit in Italy. If you need more information, I can send a PM with a short summary. Regarding train changes, you'll often have to go down to a tunnel (sottopassagio) to move from one platform to another. The electronic display boards will show the train number (ie: ES-9419) and the platform (Binario) where it will be departing from.

If you use this suggestion, my preference would be to spend three nights in the C.T. at the beginning. While it will be a bit of an ordeal after a long international flight, you'll have "lie flat" beds on the plane so you may be able to get some sleep which will help. I sometimes "press on" and do long travel days, as I'd rather get to the destination I want rather than wasting a night somewhere else (you'll be in Rome at the end of your trip anyway). The C.T. will be an excellent location to both recover from jet lag as well as get used to the fact that "we're actually in Italy"! You may agree with me after watching http://vimeo.com/15933568.

Continued.....

Posted by
30971 posts

gk - Part II.....

You could of course reverse this Itinerary and travel FCO > Venice > Florence > Vernazza > Rome. Another option would be to spend one night in Rome when you arrive there, and deduct a night there at the end of the trip. I'm sure there will be a variety of opinions on this point, but I feel that the C.T. would be a MUCH better first location to spend in Italy, especially considering the occasion.

For your rail trips from Florence to Venice and Venice to Rome, if you're willing to commit to a specific train, date and departure time, you can save some money by pre-purchasing tickets. Be sure that you're clear on which stations you'll be using, as many cities have more than one. For the trip from Vernazza to Florence, it will be just as easy to buy your tickets when you arrive there, preferably a day or two before that trip. As I recall, there's a small ticket office in Vernazza and there will be Kiosks, so buying tickets won't be a problem. Monterosso has a full service ticket office, so you could buy your outgoing tickets when you visit there.

Have you chosen accommodations in each of the locations you'll be staying? Let me know if you want a few restaurant recommendations for Monterosso.

You may find it helpful to obtain €100 or so for travel funds until you get settled at your first location. There's some debate on that point, but I always like to have some local currency on hand for meals, taxi fare or whatever.

Also, as it's your first trip you may find it helpful to read Europe Through The Back Door prior to your trip, as it has a lot of good information on "how" to travel in Europe. You'll need to consider things like....

  • Financial products - credit or ATM cards (be sure to notify your financial institutions that you'll be travelling)
  • Electronic gadgets - you'll need to check EACH one to ensure it will operate on 220 VAC electrical systems. Plug Adaptors will be required as well.
  • Money Belts - always a good idea where pickpockets operate.
  • Cell phones - if you want to pack along a phone, you'll need to ensure that it will work in Europe. Speak to your home network regarding roaming costs. There are many options available for those that travel with phones.

Buon Viaggio!

Posted by
5316 posts

Inquiring minds want to know -- how was the anniversary surprise ??

Posted by
45 posts

Ken,

You did it again! I think your revised Itinerary might be the perfect solution. And the detail.. it's like a friend living in Italy created it for us. Your suggestion of decompressing in the CT was sterling. Sooo much better than trying to relax while navigating the chaos of a big city like Rome on our first day out of the chute. Great call, thanks you very much.

I definitely am willing to commit to a specific train, date and departure time to save money by pre-purchasing tickets, but I have no idea of how to go about doing it. Would I contact the rail/transit companies direct or maybe use a web service? Can you tell I'm new? And, you mentioned making reservations in advance to the most popular attractions. Rick says the same thing, but doesn't say how far in advance, and how the reservations are made? Do I need to go to each venue's web site individually to make a reservation?

Before I forget, please share with me the "expensive caveats when using public transit" that you mentioned.

As for accommodations, we have not yet chosen any. We wanted to solidly hammer down the itinerary before we made any reservations. We have been looking on AirBnB.com, Booking.com, and TripAdvisor.com at places we might like to stay though... so we have ideas. I would love your restaurant recommendations for Monterosso. I have documented all recommendations you (and the other RSF contributors) have given me, and welcome more.

Oh, I must tell you, I watched the Land of Sciacchetra trailer you sent.. the scenes are majestic. I can't wait.

Thanks again for all your help, Ken. I really do appreciate your kindness and time.

ps: were you serious about the "Roadhouse Grill" in Rome?? Not the most Italian sounding place. :)

Posted by
23579 posts

Italo Treno is the privately owned high speed train with the leather seats and very comfortable trains at the same price or very close to the national railway, Trenitalia, previously known as FS (Ferrovie del Stato). Click the British flag in the upper right corner to change Trenitalia to English.

Given a choice, I'll take .Italo Treno whenever I can, but they do cover a very much smaller network. I find their booking facility much better and easier to use.

Do you have an iPhone? Not available, as far as I know, on other platforms but excellent if you have an iPhone is an app called Pronto Treno which is so easy to use for all of Trenitalia's trains.

Posted by
45 posts

Laura & Chani,

The surprise was phenomenal. I gave her the book. She said "I thought we weren't giving each other presents". I said, "it's just something I made for you". To my astonishment, she started crying on the first page - lightyears before the SURPRISE page. When Dawn suggested I bring a box of Kleenex to the restaurant, I just laughed because it didn't occur to me that my wife would actually cry real tears.

Anyway, she was going through the pages, weeping softly and wiping away the tears with each page-turn. Then when she got to the shock & awe page, she looked at me, first in confusion, then disbelief. I shook my head 'yes'. Well, she broke into a huge smile, asked "really?", and jumped up out of her seat and came over to hug and kiss me. She started crying more, but was smiling at the same time. I don't think she could have been more excited. It was really much more than I expected. Women, go figure, right?

Over dinner and through a couple of bottles of wine she grilled me for details, which I gladly gave. It's been sooo hard keeping all this a secret for so long. We went home and stayed up late talking, planning, and looking at everything Italy on the internet. Since then, she's had her iPad out every night looking at one thing or another pertaining to the trip.. which won't take place for nearly 6 months. Haha.

Thanks for asking. It was a fun night. She loves surprises, but this was obviously the best one I've ever given her.

Posted by
11681 posts

I am late to the party, but I see you have gotten excellent advice.

I am going to suggest one slight modification of the itinerary: make a loop journey and avoid backtracking by going Rome to Cinque Terre for your first stop, then to Venice (train up the coast then to Milan, change trains there for Venice); then Florence and back to Rome for your last few days.

There is a direct Intercity train from Monterosso to Milan each day, departing mid-morning if I remember correctly. By booking well ahead you may be able to get the €9 super economy fare on this train. You can get to Monterosso from your village! whether Vernazza or Manarola, by regional train. The train from Milan to Venice is a fast Frecce train, taking 2 hours 45 minutes. Again, you can get a good fare on this train by booking in advance.

Now that your wife knows about this you two can have fun researching things together.

Posted by
30971 posts

gk,

You're very welcome! I'm glad the information was useful.

Buying tickets for Italian trains....

Note that the discounted Super Economy and Economy tickets are only available up to three months in advance (AFAIK). With Regionale tickets, just buy them when you arrive in Italy as they're difficult to purchase in advance, and there's no price break for doing so.

Regarding the "potentially expensive caveats", I'll send those to you via PM.

Regarding accommodations in all the places you'll be staying, I'd recommend having a look at the listings in the Italy 2015 guidebook, which has reliable places in each of the locations you'll be staying. You might want to pack the guidebook along on the trip, as I've found that it's a good reference source to have.

I can't offer any lodging suggestions for Vernazza, but if you were staying in Monterosso, I would enthusiastically recommend Hotel Villa Steno or Hotel Pasquale. Many of the places in Vernazza don't provide a breakfast and for my travel style that's a "deal breaker". Both of the hotels I mentioned above do provide a sumptuous breakfast (I should note that I've only stayed at Villa Steno, but have talked to many who have stayed at Pasquale, and they seem to provide similar services - they're both owned by the same family).

I'll send my Monterosso restaurant recommendations via PM also.

Regarding the Roadhouse Grill, I suggested that as it's one of the few places that provides more of a "sit down" atmosphere. While McDonalds at Termini also has seating, it's not quite the same. There are lots of small Deli's that sell Panini's and other light foods, but they don't always provide seating. In any case, you won't have any problems finding food at Termini. You could just "play it by ear" and see what looks good when you arrive.

Of course with a long layover, you could venture outside of Termini and check the restaurants in the surrounding neighborhood. One place you might try is the Trattoria I Leoni D'Abbruzzo which is on the corner of Via Vicenza & Via Palestro, about a 12 minute walk from Termini. The one concern I have about that is that if they're busy, it may take awhile to get your food on the table and you wouldn't want to miss your train!

Posted by
11681 posts

Ken, would you say that Monterosso is as romantic as Vernazza and Manarola? Remember the Theme of this trip is a celebration of love and romance.

I have looked at a lot of photos of Monterosso, and Google satellite view. It seems like more of a standard Italian beach town, complete with sandy beaches, rows of umbrellas, and cars. None of that charming "village spilling down to the sea" look that Vernazza and Manarola have. (Oddly enough,msome of the photos found under Google Images are actually Vernazza, although they are labeled Monterosso).

If his wife got that "I have to go THERE!" feeling from a photo, I will bet it was a photo of Vernazza or Manarola, not Monterosso. Both are stunningly beautiful, as seen from the sea, and as seen while walking through town. I am not a sedentary person, but I loved spending an hour on our baclony just gazing at the sea and the vineyards on the hills.

We personally preferred Manarola, which is quieter and less packed with day-trippers than Vernazza, and offers good swimming in deep water ( from rocks, no beach). Hotel La Toretta in Manarola is one of the most romantic places we have ever stayed, but if they prefer B and B's there are probably more on offer in Vernazza---though I do not know how well the town has recovered from the disastrous mudslide that hit them a couple of years ago.

Posted by
30971 posts

@Lola,

The Itinerary suggestions I posted used Vernazza as the destination in the C.T., since that's where the OP indicated they would be staying. I mentioned Monterosso just as a suggestion as I thought that would also be an excellent place to stay on a 20th anniversary trip (and the hotels usually provide breakfast). Hotel Villa Steno is above the old town, so it's very quiet and the balconies provide a nice place to admire the scenic ocean views with a glass (or two) of Prosecco, while enjoying the views of the town "tumbling down to the sea".

I'm divorced so perhaps my "romantic, love and romance skills" are getting a bit rusty, but I thought my suggestion was a valid one to at least offer for consideration. I definitely agree that La Torretta would also be a wonderful place for an anniversary trip, but I considered this statement in the first post.....

"We are not wealthy, and I've been saving for this for a long time."

La Torretta is on the "high end" of the price scale for C.T. lodgings and the minimum price for a room appears to be €200 per night (about US$245), and the Romantic Room at €250 per night (about US$307). I wasn't sure the OP wanted something in that price range. The rates at Hotel Villa Steno are a bit cheaper, especially at the low end, and Monterosso provides some good features....

  • Although Monterosso is larger than Manarola, the "old town" has a similar small town ambience (at least IMO).
  • As it's the largest of the five, it provides more choices for accommodations in various price ranges and comfort levels, including more "conventional" hotels as well as B&B's, and also the greatest variety in restaurants.
  • It has the nicest beaches.

I expect the OP will continue with their original plan and stay in Vernazza, and there are lots of lodgings there listed in the guidebook to choose from.

Regarding the disastrous mudslides of 25 October 2011, both Monterosso and Vernazza were substantially repaired and back in business within about six months. Completion of all repairs, with things like restoring the community gas system in Vernazza are taking longer, but when I was back there in 2012, there were only a few signs of the damage remaining.

Posted by
9421 posts

gk
Vis a vis when you can buy train tickets, at Italo they sell far in advance and you can buy tickets for May right now at terrific savings. Note they do not serve all routes. For example, they go Venezia to Firenze but not Milano to Venezia. The lowest priced tickets are not refundable, but it is a way to afford first class service on a beer budget.

At Trenitalia you can buy 120 days in advance. Same caveats: no refunds on the lowest fares.

The only time I recommend against buying in advance is arrival day. If your plane is late, you have to throw away the tickets. But if you only paid EURO 19 for the ticket, it might be a reasonable gamble to take.

Posted by
13967 posts

gk, what a great story. Thank you for sharing it with us. After that, it feels like you and Rosalyn are part of our family, so c'mon, tell us your name too.

Now to serious matters. Sights and reservations for for them.
CT - none. My only advice there is to take the ferry from one end to the other in the late afternoon, with the sun behind you for some of the best views.

Venice If you want to take the Secret Itineraries Tour at the Doge's Palace, you should book in advance, since they sell out. Start at http://palazzoducale.visitmuve.it/en/pianifica-la-tua-visita/secretitineraries/ and just keep clicking on on-line booking links until you get to the calendar. Tickets are usually offered 3-4 months ahead.

Florence You should book in advance for the Uffizi Gallery for sure and probably the Accademia as well. The official site is http://www.b-ticket.com/b-ticket/uffizi/ (at the bottom of the page is a link to the English site). Tickets for the Uffizi and the Accademia are now on sale for all of 2015. Some people have found that they can get Accademia tickets in the afternoon on the spot with no waiting. I'd probably spend the €4/ticket booking fee though.

Rome For the Borghese Gallery http://www.galleriaborghese.it/borghese/en/edefault.htm you must book in advance, but there's a catch. If you want to use the Roma Pass, you can't use the online booking system. You have to phone them during their working hours. Usually though, if you give your hotel a window of time, they will make the booking for you. It's a good idea to book in advance for the Vatican Museums as well http://biglietteriamusei.vatican.va/musei/tickets/do?action=booking Right now tickets are on sale through February.

There's no need to rush to book anything. You can take a look at the Borghese and the Uffizi (those tend to sell out fastest) in February or March to get an idea of whether they're selling out.

Posted by
11681 posts

Thanks for the clarification, Ken.

I wasn't actually suggesting Hotel La Toretta for them, as he mentioned they are looking at B and B's. But if they want one splurge in a romantic setting, that would be it. Prices appear to have gone up since our stay in 2010 ( and we got an 8% discount for paying cash). We had a "classic" ( lowest price) room with a lovely balcony and that was perfect. The "romantic"'rooms do not seem to offer much in addition to justify the extra €50. Maybe the room and bathroom are larger?

Posted by
45 posts

Thanks Laurel and Chani,

I have documented your suggestions and will definitely be using them. I appreciate your help.

LOL Chani... my wife is not "Rosalyn". It took me a minute to figure out where you got that, but then I CTRL-F the name from within this thread and saw where, early on, I was responding to lady by the name of "Rosalyn" who had given me some advice. After re-reading it, I can see how you could have thought that was my wife's name. I guess, in my reply, I should have typed her name and then skipped down a line before I started my sentence. Oh well, I'll learn. :-)

But to answer your question, my wife's name is Tricia, and my name is Greg (but everyone calls me G or GK).

Anyway, I'm sure I'll have more questions (maybe a lot more) before the trip, so I hope I don't wear out my welcome.

Thanks again

Posted by
45 posts

Nigel,

I appreciate your info regarding Itali Treno. Somehow I missed your post when you first sent it. Apologies.

I do have an iPhone and plan to take it with me on the trip (though I don't yet know how badly AT&T will gouge me). I figure can use it for the camera and emergency calls if nothing else.

Also, I tried to find the app you mentioned (Pronto Treno) but couldn't locate it in the App Store. Might it be spelled another way? I hope they haven't discontinued it.

Anyway, thanks for your tips.

Posted by
11681 posts

AT&T won't gouge you too badly long as you have data turned OFF. This is essential. Your phone will load emails and perform other operations even if you do not access them, and you will be charged. So make sure data is "off", and confirm that if you turn the phone off and back on.

You can use wifi for free, and take photos. Phone calls, if you do ot sign up for the foreign plan, are around $1.25 a minute. We do not bother to sign up for that because we use FaceTime to call home for free. A few calls to restaurants, lodging hosts, and so on does not add up to much.

Posted by
30971 posts

gk,

Regarding the Pronto Treno app, I also tried to find it and wasn't successful. I even resorted to corresponding with someone from the C.T. and she indicated that the app is only available on the Italian and U.K. App Stores. For some reason, Trenitalia doesn't make it available to the rest of us? However, it appears to be available for iPad only on the Canadian App store. Not sure why that is?

I've been using another App called Info Treni and it's worked well so far.

Posted by
844 posts

Oh, my gosh, this is the most fun post that I have read in a long time! gk, I certainly hope that you have turned your wife onto the RS travel forum and let her read all of these responses. I was happy when Chani mentioned the reservations at the Borghese since you first indicated that art is important and that you are a sculptor. Our first trip to Italy was self planned and it was before I found this website, years ago. We have been back multiple times and I know that our more recent trips have been more efficient and we have learned a lot. sounds like you are learning and getting great advice.

Back to the Borghese, when you get a reservation, you must check in there 1/2 hour before the reservation or they may give it to someone waiting in line without one. It is well worth the time, we have been back on each subsequent trip.

I will be watching this to see how your plans develop, so please keep us informed and we will all be looking for a "trip report" when you return.

Have a good holiday, and a great trip
Mimi

Posted by
45 posts

Thanks Mimi,

We are trying to do a really good job at planning now so our trip will develop as well as possible. I'm sure we will run into wrinkles along the way, but if we iron out the major ones before we leave, I'm hoping the majority of the trip will be amazing.

Thanks a lot for the tip about early arrival to the Borghese. We are definitely going to visit the Borghese with reservations, but it good to know that we should get there 30 minutes ahead of time. These are the experience nuggets I value, and why I love this web site.

We will definitely share when we return, but (depending on the availability of reliable wifi ) I hope to upload photos to our web site and/or Instagram account while we're there -and post a link here for anyone who's interested in what we're up to on our second honeymoon. Haha.

Thanks again, and stay tuned ;-)

Posted by
13967 posts

It sounds like you're ready to start thinking about sights. Here are some of my faves that I don't think have been mentioned yet.

Venice For art, the Frari Church (Rick has a free audio guide for it). Ride the vaporetto the length of the Grand Canal (Rick has a free audio guide for it) at least twice, once during the day and once after dark. The best seats are in the front of the boat (if there are any), second best is the very back of the boat. Another overlooked sight is the Correr Museum. The best time to visit the Basilica is between 11.30 and 12.30 when the mosaics are floodlit. Spend the money for the museum there as well. It gives access to indoor balconies with close-up views of the mosaics and the outdoor balcony overlooking the Piazza.

Florence The Medici Chapels if only for the Michelangelo sculptures. I believe the Bargello has been mentioned. The Duomo's museum called Museo dell'Opera del Duomo is in a separate building and has a very good collection especially sculptures.

Rome For art lovers, it's easy to spend an entire day in the Vatican Museums. If you don't have that much time, plan ahead. For instance, the paleo-Christian museum and the Pinacoteca are in a separate building, so you should visit them before going into the main building complex, if you want to see them. Skip getting the audio guide. While it's pretty good, it will mean having to go all the way back to the beginning to return it and get your photo id back. (Be sure to take your driver's license to use for that.) Just about every church in Italy (perhaps in Europe) is an art museum. One worth putting on your list is the Church of St. Louis of the French (San Luigi dei Francesi). The interior is much more French (Baroque) than Italian, and the bonus is several Caravaggios. The church is across a plaza and around the corner from the Pantheon and in the plaza is a Bernini fountain. So if you're going to the Pantheon, it's worth stopping in for a few minutes.

Posted by
104 posts

Gk:
This thread has been very interesting to me, I am planning a similar trip in September/October 2015. I may borrow some of your ideas! I am thinking of some version of the book. It is our 25th, my wife suspects something though. I also look forward to your trip (and pre-trip) reports.

Ken:
I might just take the itinerary as you have laid out and use a start date of September 25, give or take a week. Does your plan take into account that you are in a particular spot for a weekend or weekday? We will fly into Venice and out of Rome. I think the itinerary will be on of the pages in the book, maybe the final page. I will not purchase tickets until we have dates firmed up a little more.

Thanks,
David

Posted by
5316 posts

GK -- while in Firenze, there are wonderful Fra Angelico murals at Museo San Marco. A personal favorite since Art History 101. Low entrance fee and no lines!

Posted by
30971 posts

wiess73,

"Does your plan take into account that you are in a particular spot for a weekend or weekday?"

No, I didn't determine days based on day-of-the-week, but more on the travel dates and the number of days desired for each location. Many sights are closed one day of the week, but usually open weekends. You'll have to check the guidebook to determine the closing day for any sights you're planning to see.

Posted by
104 posts

Thanks Ken. The Rome guidebook was an anniversary present this year, Santa is bringing the 2015 Italy and 2015 Florence & Tuscany guidebooks plus the Italy travel planning map. I will likely use the same setup you have suggested, a Friday night flight from here puts us in Venice around noon on Saturday. St. John's has direct flights to Heathrow (5 hours) then BA to Venice, BA will also take us back to LHR.

I think I will start booking the lodging early in the new year.

Posted by
30 posts

Wow! What a wonderful post to read and like others have commented, your surprise brought tears to my eyes. Happy 20th Anniversary! You and your wife are going to LOVE Italy. My husband and I went there this summer and we stayed two nights in Monterosso... loved it! I wish I had booked at least 3 nights in the Cinque Terre. So if you can spend more time there, I'd recommend it. Since it's two days before Christmas, Merry Christmas everyone and may 2015 bring you more happy travels!

Posted by
45 posts

Thank you to everyone for your suggestions/recommendations/tips/help. Here's a quick update....

We completed our lodging reservations last night and all places look delightfully Italian (no international hotels), just quaint B&B's and family-run hotels. Our next steps are to make museum/attraction reservations. Then, I suppose, I'll make train reservations - to get the early-bird discounts. ;)

Anyway, Santa brought all of our luggage, bags, money belts, adapters, guide books, and maps. So, I think (except for wrinkle disguised clothing) we are almost set.

We will be in Florence from the 28th of May 2015 - checkout 1st of June and are planning to do a wine tour or visit a winery the 30th or 31st. So, if any of you guys are going to be there at that time and enjoy wine and Tuscan countryside, let me know and we can get a deal on a group tour.

Well, that's all I have for now, but as I stated in an earlier post, I will update more as things come together. Plus, I plan to provide a link to a blog or web site to update while we are in Italy. I figure photos and some commentary might help future travelers.

Just 138 days until we viaggiare in bella Italia ! :-)

Posted by
6 posts

Congratulations! What a great plan! The only thing I would add is that the first time we went to Italy/Europe I was so tired the first day--in fact, exhausted. I needed to nap at about 3 p.m. local Rome time. So if you have any wiggle room, I would leave your first day there as loosely planned as possible.

I also want to second the Borghese Museum--we only went because we were staying nearby and tickets were included in our room, but it was one of the highlights of our trip. It was the first place we went when we visited and we were in awe, plus it was in a park setting, not crowded and charmingly smallish and not touristy at all.

I would also consider doing a formal tour or audio cassette of some of the places you really want to see. When we went to see the Roman Forum we were disappointed that all of the signage and information was only in Italian. We weren't sure what we were looking at half the time. I don't know why I was surprised that there wasn't anything in English, but lets just say, I wasn't prepared for that.

Posted by
45 posts

Hey, thanks for the tips.. especially regarding the signage. I have an app that is suppose to translate to English whatever is painted on a sign in another language. It has worked (somewhat) when I've tried it at Italian and Mexican restaurants. However, I don't know how much data that will take or how much it will cost me. So, a guide or audio tour recordings might be the best way to go. I have already downloaded the RickSteves app and all of the Italy segments - so at least I'm that much prepared, but I'm sure I'll need more.

As for resting after the long flight, Ken convinced me, in one of the first response posts here, to do just that. We are flying into Rome and then jumping straight onto a train to Vernazza. Which will make for a very long first day, but then to rest on the Italian Riviera for 4 days. Ahhhhhh.... cannnot wait.

Posted by
4506 posts

GK,

Don't be surprised if you fall asleep on the train on your way to La Spezia from Rome!

Just in case, set your alarm so you don't miss your stop.

Have a wonderful trip!

Posted by
1260 posts

What a wonderful trip! As far as art in Florence goes, I second Laura B's suggestion of the Museo San Marco, and also suggest The Brancacci Chapel, for its frescos.

Posted by
13967 posts

I enjoyed all the RS audio tours - be sure to download and print out the accompanying maps. Even though there are directions in the audio, it's a lot easier with the map in your hand.

Posted by
45 posts

Oh, good idea Chani. Having a paper map for each will be good. I was going to photograph each one and keep them on my iPhone (and probably still will just in case I lose one), but having to pinch and stretch each image will be a pain, plus the paper pages will take up no space at all.

Thanks for the tip. Thanks to all you guys, I'm really getting everything together to make this the most perfect vacation/second honeymoon ever!