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Back from Italy...tips Florence, CT, Lucca...

We have just returned from 3 weeks in Italy. Here was out itinerary: Arrive MILAN - Overnight Cinque Terre - 3 nights Tuscany, near Siena - 5 nights Florence - 5 nights (Too Many!) Bagni Di Lucca / Borgo a Mozzano - 3 nights (Too Few!)
Milan - 3 nights - depart early third morning.

Posted by
671 posts

Ted: We were in Florence in early March this year for 5 nights. With the exception of the Uffizi and Accademia, there were no lines at all wherever we went (e.g., the Duomo, Gallileo Museum, Bargello, Museum of San Marco, Medici Chapels, Santa Maria Novella, Pitti Palace, etc.). However, since we had reserved entry times for the Uffizi and Accademia, it didn't matter that lots of people were waiting in line (we walked right in at the appointed time). We also had no problem getting into restaurants and had a number of very nice meals. Nights in the city were very quiet and crowdless, and made for a nice stroll. Moreover, every day was 50 degrees F and cloudless - we couldn't have asked for better weather and certainly did not expect a rain-free day at that time of year. So, what I am saying is that I think that you might have enjoyed Florence much more if you had gone during the off season. I felt about Venice like you do about Florence, in that the crowds spoiled the experience and I could care less if I never return there.

Posted by
31076 posts

I agree with Kent, this is turning into an interesting discussion and I would add, a respectful discussion. Ignacio, your comments were interesting, and I doubt very much if they would "anger" anyone. You raised some good points about exploring new "back door" locations, and perhaps that's something I should start doing more on future trips. Ted, the street vendors with the sheets and cheap junk are not limited to Florence. I watched quite a performance last year when I was in Athens, as the vendors would "set up shop" in front of the restaurant where I was having lunch at a sidewalk table. As soon as the Police appeared at the end of the street, the sheet and merchandise were scooped-up and they disappeared. After the Police patrol passed, the vendors were back a few minutes later. This "cat & mouse" game went on continuously, and it was interesting to watch. Regarding the Cinque Terre, I'll be making a return visit this year, and hope that I enjoy it as much as the last time. I prefer to stay anywhere except Vernazza, and will be trying Monterosso this time for a change. I find that the crowds are a bit easier to manage if travelling early in the spring shoulder season, or late in the fall shoulder season. Are you planning your next trip yet?

Posted by
244 posts

Our take aways from this trip: 1. This was our second trip to Italy. On our first trip we had an apartment in Rome for 8 days. This trip was all hotels, and not being able to cook or refrigerate anything was a real hassle and increased the expense. I'll never go to Italy again unless I can get an apartment with a kitchen, aka self-catering in UK lingo.
2. Florence is NOT a beautiful city. It's crowded and full of tourists, at least in the Duomo region where everything is located. Street vendors get to be a drag. Not the ones with stalls, the ones who block the sidewalk with a sheet and sell cheap junk. Rome is much prettier and fun to hang out in then Florence is. Florence is a tourguide's dream. Tons of places to take your tourgroup, talk about this statue or that painting, hop back on the bus, next stop coming up. Piazzas, fountains, sites, vistas...Rome kicks Florence's a$$. We planned five days in Florence based on the hype, and it was too much. Finally, we had several mediocre dining experiences in Florence, one at the Dante restaurant from RS. Florence is so overrun by tourists that bad restaurants can survive.

Posted by
244 posts

3. In CT we stayed in Vernazza. CT is great to visit, but you wouldn't want to sleep there. We were at L' Eremo and it was a difficult climb to our place. I had a friend who was in Vernazza and they were kept up all night by partiers. I would say that CT is best enjoyed by a younger athletic crowd that wants to hike the trails. If you just want to see the town you can cover every inch of Vernazza in 90 minutes tops. If we were ever to return to CT, or advised friends to see it, I would stay in La Spezia or Sestri Levante and then visit the villages via train.
4. Bagni Di Lucca and Castelnuovo di Garfagnana was a joy after Florence. Great area, peaceful, good restaurants, cheaper prices. Tougher to get around without a car, we had a rental car for out three days there. OK, I'll open the floor to questions at this point....

Posted by
1517 posts

The secret to Florence is to stay in an apartment across the river - an easy escape from the tourist hordes. We did this last fall for five days and it was just about right. Our own little piazza with bar and gelateria down below (and a great restaurant) was super. And we found two other great restaurants that were pretty far off the beaten path (plus two not-so-great ones). There's so much wonderful stuff to see in Florence, it's a "must-do," but the crowds are certainly a turn-off.

Posted by
244 posts

@ Janet: Probably good advice. I still think you can see all of Florence you need to in 2 days.

Posted by
253 posts

Ted - Actually, you do need a good week to see all the sights of Florence, which is why we never stay there more then two nights at a time. I agree about most of what you say about this "must-see" city, but it IS Florence. So we take it in increments. It took us five trips before we ventured into the Uffizi', for instance. However, we have found terrific places to eat there. We stick with those on most trips, since we also had one of our worse dining experiences in Florence. But there are fun hangouts bars, one of the most fun restaurants we have encountered, and some good views from hotel rooftops that allow for down time away from everything.
As for the Cinque Terre, we never enjoyed it until we actually stayed there, which we also did in Vernazza for three nights, right over the piazza. Our landlord shared his unfiltered homemade wine with us and we hiked the path between towns, though we also are not all that young ourselves and our fifth floor walkup apartment was a challenge. Our day trips there just did not fit the RS "idea" of it being a great place, mainly because we were not treated all that well by residents. But if you stay there...I don't know, they were just nicer.

Posted by
3 posts

I have to laugh and shake my head when I read these posts. People go to the same places everyone goes and then they complain that there are too many people there. Do you know Italy is a big, big country with many towns and cities just like anywhere? But do you go to these other cities? No. You go to Florence. You go to Rome. You go to Venice. Why not go to some point on the map that is smaller and see what is there? I can tell you the people there may not speak English as they do in Rome and Venice but they are just as beautiful and will welcome you even more. Perhaps the hotel rooms there do not have the tiny soap and fancy toilets that so many Americans can not do without. If you try I think you will find you do not need these things after all. Please don't misunderstand me. I understand you want to see these things Florence has to offer you. And why not? You want to see David and you should! He is magnificent! But do you think you are the only one in the world who wants to see David? Of course not! Everyone should see him for the reason I stated. But you should know that before you leave America so that you know there will be many people in Florence doing the same thing you are doing. What I have learned is that Mr. Steves speaks much of going "through the back door" which I think he means that people should find a path of their own and not to follow everyone else. But then you follow Mr. Steves where he tells you to go! You are not finding your own path if you do that. Florence is crowded with people, yes. Rome is very crowded, yes. But they are also very beautiful. If you want to see beautiful but do not want to see the crowds, then may I suggest you visit the many towns in Italy that Mr. Steves does not speak of? Peace.

Posted by
10337 posts

This thread is turning into an interesting discussion.

Posted by
203 posts

Starting to remind me of the forums on Tripadvisor.....which sometimes is not a good thing......

Posted by
253 posts

You mean there is more to Italy then Florence and Rome, and little bars of soap in the rooms? Dang, maybe I should get out more.

Posted by
3 posts

I do not wish to anger anyone, please. I only wish people would see everything Italy has to offer and not only a few places where everyone in the world comes to visits. For example, I myself lived in San Francisco and I visited New York City and Miami. These places are very crowed. But I do not tell all my friends that USA is too crowed. I understand that the places I go have many people there living and visit. I do not judge america because just what I have seen because I know america is a very big place (my gosh it is huge!!) with much more to see that what I visited. One day I wish to see Alaska. I do not know why. After Alaska then Texas or a place in the middle. Then maybe I will know America? ;-) I wish only that people want to see Italy in the same way.

Posted by
105 posts

Ted, Please tell more about the Tuscany near Siena portion. Thanks, Another Ted

Posted by
203 posts

In my humble opinion, I think posts in response to questions should simply answer the question, not question the OP's travelling style, agenda, budget, or priorities. With that said, if you can't contain yourself and refrain from making comments that impose some kind of judgement on the OP's vacation, maybe the best response is simply to post nothing in response. By the way, this is not directed at any poster on this thread specifically, but in general. This thread seems to be sliding in that direction.

Posted by
253 posts

Ignacio - I take it you are originally from Italy. Believe me, the people on this board are hardly strangers to Italy and all it has to offer. Just remember that while there are many here like me, who have been to Italy close to thirty times, I believe Ted mentioned he had not been there often and no doubt wants to see the main sights first. Understandable, as well as a bit daunting when you know how much Italy really has to offer. As many here have learned, Ted will soon realyze that most of Italy does not have the tourists that Florence attracts and he will then try to work in the Siramione's, the Bolzano's, the Siena's, the Bellagio's, the Multipulciano's, the Orvieto's, the Sorrento's, the Erice's, and the Bergamo's to round out his trips to Rome, Venice, and Florence. My philosophy has always been that if I miss it this time, it gives me an excuse to come back. As for seeing the U.S., you are right about its size. But if you want a well-rounded idea of it, Chicago, Seattle, and New Orleans are good starting points. You already live in my favorite city in the U.S.

Posted by
7737 posts

One thing some tourists don't know about the counterfeit goods sold by those street vendors, is that if they buy any of those counterfeit goods and get caught, they face a huge fine. And the Guardia di Finanza (not actually the Polizia, but they're the ones in charge of this) will nab you on the spot.

Posted by
244 posts

@ Ignacio: I think you and I are saying the same things. We really enjoyed our time in Bagni Di Lucca and Borgo a Mozzano, and that is the small town, non-tourist type of place where we can enjoy the local events and culture. We were in Bagni Di Lucca for the Corpus Christi festival, and it was beautiful. I LIKED Rome. While there are many tourists in Rome, the city is large enough and diversified enough and things are so spread out that the tourists are not falling all over each other, except maybe at the Vatican and the Trevi fountain. Florence, on the other hand, is much more concentrated. Everything is very close; Duomo, Ufizzi and Academia are all within a few blocks of each other. This area becomes a circus of tourists and cheap street vendors. We spent five days in Florence expecting it to be like Rome, but were disappointed. So, my advice on Florence is to get in and get out. If we return to Italy, it will probably be to spend a month or so in a small town like Barga.

Posted by
244 posts

@ Ted: We stayed at this place: http://friendsandfamilyinitaly.wordpress.com/the-guest-house/ Ben and Martha are from the Wash, DC area. They moved to Italy a few years ago. You would need a car or some form of transportation. The place is about three miles outside Monte San Savino. It's on the road between Arezzo and Siena, and about half a mile from a WONDERFUL restaurant called Il Caccitore. They only charge $85 a night, if they have not changed their prices. They are wonderful hosts. About the region...it's very rural and a nice break after spending lots of time in a city. Olive orchards abound, as well as sunflower fields. It's basically small towns that are 5 miles or so apart. Very Chill. Relaxing.

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244 posts

@ Robert: My girlfriend is a school teacher and we can't travel until June. We bugged out as soon as we could on June 6. From what I've heard about Venice I have no desire to go there, for exactly the reasons you pointed out.

Posted by
244 posts

My favorite time in Vernazza was at 6:30 in the morning, before anyone has woken up. Nothing but the lady selling vegetables on a card table and the bakery open (at 7) and a charming girl making Espresso. Empty. Glorious.

Posted by
244 posts

@ Robert:
Thanks for the tip. We probably wouldn't do the 17 hour trip for only 7 days. Our first trip two years ago was in the last two weeks of May because Mollie was in administration so was not tied to a classroom as she is now. Perhaps we enjoyed Rome in May so much more than Florence in June because of the timing.

Posted by
671 posts

@Ted: I also am an academic. We went to Florence (and Tuscany and Milan) during Spring Break this year; total of 7 nights. As a teacher, if your girlfriend has a week in March, IMO that is a great time to see Europe with regard to lack of tourists, if you don't mind colder weather. In fact, I accompanied 10 undergraduate students on a Study Tour to the Netherlands during last year's Spring Break to visit both professional (i.e., in their area of study) and cultural sites, usually one or two of each per day. We found the same situation there as we did in Florence - empty museums, no problem getting into restaurants (even with a group of 14!), etc. Of course, if you need more than a week, then you would have to go in the summer or perhaps during Christmas break. But many of the readers of this Helpline have nice stories to relate about their travel during this time of year. Finally, one other benefit of shoulder season travel is that our roundtrip (economy seat) plane tickets (Phila <--> Amsterdam in 2010 and Newark <--> Florence in 2011) were approximately $750 each, versus >$1,000 at this time of year. Hotels were also cheaper.

Posted by
252 posts

We, too, just returned from Italy, but we must have been in a different Italy from Ted. We did Venice,Florence,Sienna,Pisa to see the tower,CT and Rome (side trip to Pompeii). Overall, we did very well to time our trips to the early morning and late afternoon, we tried very carefully to plan our sightseeing with an eye to time of day, day of the week, order of our visits, and I think we were lucky,too-the day we went to St peter's-after the morning at the Vatican Museum, the line to get in through security was less than 15 minutes long (it was 2:30PM. I tired very hard to have no expectations other than to want a "foreign" experience. Also, having not to long ago done India with a student in a sort of "through the back,back door" maybe I have a different perspective on what busy, crowded,dirty and foreign mean to me.

Posted by
16 posts

I appreciate everyone's feedback! Leaving soon for the heart of Italy tour. Here's what I expect: At times I will enjoy just sitting in the sun and soaking up my surroundings. At times I will be frustrated because I'm in the middle of a huge crowd of people and no one knows what a line looks like. At times I'll be concerned that I'm not dressed correctly. BUT.... here's my main thought.... I'm lucky to be able to travel to experience another culture! My Dad passed away this year. He never made it past the 8th grade BUT.... he was able to visit 23 countries while working as an aircraft mechanic. I'm hoping to follow in his footsteps! Sometimes we just need to take a deep breath and appreciate the moment. Bev

Posted by
23983 posts

Hi Bev Hope you get this before you go. Sorry to hear of the loss of your Dad. Mine was the inspiration for my first trip to Italy before he died. Aren't Dad's great? Thanks for sharing...

Posted by
31076 posts

Bev, I'm very sorry to hear about your Dad. I'm sure he'd be happy to know that you're enjoying your travels so much. My Dad always worried about me travelling in Europe. One of my fondest memories occurred during an impromptu trip to England in 2004 (I didn't tell anyone that I was going). I called him from atop a hill in North Yorkshire, and said "guess where I am?". I still smile when I think of his reaction. Regarding being "dressed correctly", that's not something I ever worry about. I dress in a way that suits me, and if others don't like it, I really don't care. If you haven't been on a RS tour before, you're in for a treat (especially a tour in Italy!)! Do you know yet who your Guide is? Cheers!