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Back from my first trip to Italy

I just came back from my first trip to Italy-my first time ever in continental Europe. We had a fantastic time and I wanted to thank all the people here who helped me out with answers to the many questions that I had in the beginning of April. When I think about all the wondering I was doing back then ("Moneybelts, shirt pockets", "Where keep passport vs. a copy of it?", "What should I take with me while I'm out sightseeing?"), it seems like a lifetime ago. I feel like a different person now. We had a completely fabulous two weeks-three nights in Rome, three in Venice, five in Florence, two in Siena and two in Cinque Terre. So much art and incredible architecture and beauty everywhere. We did six guided tours and loved all of them. The ArtViva evening walk in Florence with wine tasting, olive oil tasting and vinegar tasting held in this beautiful wine shop, all of us sitting around this large wooden table enchanted by the experience we were having, was magnificent. I did a bike ride out of Siena in Tuscany through the woods and up a hill to a castle. Later I did a great hike in Cinque Terre on the path from Corniglia to Vernazza. Cinque Terre had so many quiet narrow cobblestone streets with amazing views of the Ligurian Sea, and we were escorted on our walk by a beautiful soft white cat. And how could I forget the panforte in Siena? I've been back less than a week and it already seems like a dream, a mystical place; an incredible, amazing thing that somehow miraculously happened in our life. Thank you so much to everyone for their help a few weeks ago-you all contributed to it.

Posted by
684 posts

That sounds enchanted. I can't wait to leave for my trip. Now that it is only two months away, I'm getting more exited by the moment!

Posted by
4356 posts

Rick, welcome to The Other Side ;-) Your description sounded 'dreamy', then you called it "a dream, a mystical place"...sounds like you had a fantastic time! (I'd like to think that was our Conan or Sonja escorting you...) Soooo...where are you going to next trip? ;-)

Posted by
170 posts

Rick I was wavering a little bit as to include or exclude Cinque Terre on our planned trip in April 2011, but you just clinched it for me-thanks for writing and happy travels. We`ll look for the cat! Mike DC

Posted by
1501 posts

For us, all it took was one trip: we've been back eight more times and are going again later this year! I kept an Italy photo in my office to remind me of why I was working (so I could afford to travel!).

Posted by
7735 posts

Keep in mind that Rick visited the CT in the shoulder season. They get pretty packed during peak season. That said, Rick, I'm glad to hear you had such a great time. You sound smitten to me. I know the feeling. We leave for our third trip to Il Bel Paese in 9 days. I'm already planning the next two trips to Italy after that. :-)

Posted by
1976 posts

Welcome to the travel addicts club, Rick! Before you know it, travel will be on your mind all the time. You'll have 5 trips planned at any given moment. You'll price international flights even though you have no intention of leaving the country for a while. And you'll join travel forums like this so you can talk about travel and give travel advice and get travel advice and live vicariously through everyone else who gets to travel now.

Posted by
117 posts

Rick, I'm very happy your trip went so great! I have to wait four more months for my trip and right now 4 months seems just a little longer than forever. ;-) Question: the bike ride out of Siena (through the woods and up a hill to a castle) was that a guided tour? Or did you just rent bikes on your own? Who did you book with/rent from? We'll be in Siena for several days this September and that sounds like a great way to spend an afternoon!

Posted by
1446 posts

Sounds like you're officially an Italy addict!! We are planning our third trip to Italy and I can't wait. One of my co-workers can't believe that we're going back for a third time & asked me "is there REALLY that much to see in Italy?" to which I replied "YES". It's an incredible country whose beauty is just astounding. Glad you enjoyed your first (of hopefully many) trips to Italy. By the way, it's funny that you mentioned the white cat that escorted you in the CT because my husband & I just returned from our evening walk and I love cats and told him "I can't wait to return to the CT & see all the cats there".

Posted by
11 posts

Rick, I am leaving for Florence at the end of July & can't wait. Can you tell me more about the Artviva evening walk?

Posted by
65 posts

Bob, as far as my bike tour through Tuscany goes, my original intention was to take a two- or three-day bike tour through Tuscany. But my travel partner is not that much of a bicyclist and felt she couldn't keep up the rigors of 20 miles each day. So I promptly forgot about it. Until, that is, we walked into the lobby of our B&B in Sienna (Albergo Bernini Hotel) which has brochures about this bike ride and other tours you can take from there. The tour is run by a company called MyTour and can be found at http://mytours.it/index.asp?lang=ENG&id_offerta_catalogo=49. That afternoon I phoned them at 0577-289047, and the next day they came and picked me up at the B&B and drove me down to a bike shop just outside the city. They fitted me to a bike and helmet and off we went. I was the only one signed up for the tour that day (the Friday before Easter) but they agreed to take me which turned out to be a delight. I had a German guide who spoke perfect English and was very knowledgeable about Italian history. We rode in the woods and past a mill and across fields of food crops growing, and saw a dozen pigs of an usual color that my guide told me were cross-breeds with the wild boar that lives in these parts. Apparently their meat is in high demand because its fat is supposedly healthier than the fat from regular pigs. At the end of the trip we made it up the hill to Castle Monteriggiono which is a bit touristy but very beautiful and charming. There I was picked up by my taxi and taken back to my hotel. The whole ride worked out perfectly. Now that I've bicycled in Tuscany, hiked in Cinque Terre, crossed the Tiber over this bridge with gorgeous statues on both sides for no reason other than celebration and beauty, seen the two-thousand-year-old ruins of Rome, and felt the beauty of the Renaissance in Florence, I can die in peace. Anything after this is icing on the cake.

Posted by
1516 posts

Rick, We also are going to be in Tuscany for a week in September during our 1st trip to Italy. How many miles was your bike ride to the castle? Might be a fun way to see the countryside. Was it leisurely, or do you regularly bike at home?

Posted by
162 posts

Rick, I'm writing to say I feel you!! We went for our first trip to Italy in March (I've been to London & Paris - Fiance NONE) and we fell in love...It's now a complete month back and I still feel like Italy changed our lives...for the better!! We were planning a large $15K wedding and now, I won't even consider it! I want a small wedding with an intimate dinner of under 30 ppl!! Italy changed my perspective on so many things...all I can say is wow!!! I'm sooo jealy you were there so long, luck you!! We are planning a return trip for March 2012!! Yey to Italy, Yey to the amazing people that help us newcomers and firstimers, yey to RS and again YEYEYEYEYEY to Italia!!! CIAO!!!!!!!!

Posted by
65 posts

Laurie, I would say that the Art Viva evening walk in Florence was probably the most wonderful of all the tours we took in our two weeks in Italy. The first part where we walked and saw the sights around Florence near the Art Viva offices were great, but the last hour where the guide brought us into this wine bar called Obsequium and created such a magical atmosphere with the wine tastings (and balsamic vinegar tastings, and olive oil tastings, and showed us the Five S's of wine tasting) was something I'll never forget. OK, maybe it was so amazing because it was our last night in Italy but I don't think so... The Art Viva evening walk is http://www.italy.artviva.com/tours/16/original_evening_walk. Oh yeah: after the tour and wine tasting, walking back over the Ponte Vecchio to our hotel we passed some street musicians which people were dancing to in the street. And one last thing that was great about the wine shop: they also had the Fig and Walnut Panforte from Siena that I had been looking for since we left Siena a few days before! I took two of those back with me to the US. What a great night.

Posted by
65 posts

Karen, the bike ride to the Monteriggioni castle was slightly customized for me since I was the only person that day. At the end of the trip when we arrived at the castle I asked my guide how long a ride it had been and he said it was about 15 kilometers, so about 10 miles. At times I was working pretty hard as we went through some wooded areas which were definitely stony (I had to get off and walk the bike for a minute once or twice), but that's only because he asked me if I preferred open road or woods and I said woods would be fine so he chose that path for me. I'm a moderate commuting bicyclist at home -- I ride about 20 minutes a day. I'm looking through the flyer for the tour right now and I see it says it's 12 kilometers out and then 12 km back. But he definitely made it shorter for me -- we took a slightly longer path to the castle and then didn't return at all (he said my bike would be picked up by car later in the day) -- and I think they can do that if everyone agrees. It's a totally great way to see the countryside and I wouldn't have missed it for the world.

Posted by
65 posts

Right! When we first got to Corniglia on the Saturday just before Easter, we took the bus. Then on Sunday, after attending 10:00 mass in the church, I did that hike to Vernazza along the trail (RS says it's the most beautiful of all the segments). Oh yeah-the trail begins right near the church. I walked really really slowly and made it last something like three hours. That hike is something I will never ever forget. Then I got to Vernazza and was astonished at how crowded it was several people told me that Easter weekend is packed with tourists but as of Monday it would slow down a lot. I took the train back to Corniglia (one stop!) and then this time I did walk up the zillions of steps back to the town center. That is a hell of a lot of steps, but when you're not in a hurry it's fine. Do you remember where you ate in Corniglia? We stayed at the B&B of Cristiana Ricci who is an absolute delight. We had a really great time there. Walking around town as the quiet of the evening set in was a truly memorable experience (especially the gatto bianco).

Posted by
97 posts

Rick:
This sounds awesome and most of your itinerary is what I am planning (Florence, Siena, CT, Rome) after spending a few days with family north of Venice. Since we are trying to decide on the best time of year to go, how was the weather? I am considering April/May for next year...don't want it to be too hot or cold and wonder if there is a "rainy" season to avoid. Thanks.

Posted by
361 posts

Start planning, your next trip awaits....

Posted by
65 posts

Hi Laura - The weather was perfect. We got to Rome on April 12, Venice April 15, Florence April 18, Cinque Terre April 22, and each city was great. Often we'd start out the day with a light jacket but often by early afternoon we'd take it off. In Rome we had some short sprinkles of rain during our Roman Forum tour but it only lasted about a half hour and then was gone. I'd consider this time of year to be perfect in terms of weather. But even then most of the places we went to were very crowded with fellow tourists. If/when I go back I'd go off-season (I think!) and from what we saw mid-April is not really off-season, though people told me it gets even more crowded later in the season (ouch).

Posted by
97 posts

Thanks for the info....perhaps we will look at April vs. May. What about mid to late October? Anyone know how the weather is during this time and if still really crowded?

Posted by
1833 posts

Laura, the weather is still great in October and there are many festivals that time of year. Enjoy! Congratulations Rick on your great trip. We felt the same magic years ago and it prompted us to relocate to Italy. We had an incredible 3+ years in Rome and traveled Italy almost every weekend! It was probably the best decision of our life and we value the friends we made in Rome and around Europe. We have our Italian photos as screensavers on our three computers (and plastered on the walls of our Copenhagen apartment). We watch many of the videos we personally shot and the many movies made in and about Italy. (On the bottom of that post is a list I'm still building a library from!) We often find ourself paying more attention to the scenery than the movies - That's the beauty of Italia! We're fortunate to be able to go back to Italy on weekends (just came back from a visit last week), and it is like going home again. I guess since Rome's so old, you can go home again! Now that you've whetted your appetite, you'll go back... and there's so much more to see. Our goal is to eventually move back to Italy, probably Rome. We've done the motorino route through Tuscany more than a few times, but I'm also intrigued by the bicycle journey. Now if I could just convince my wife....

Posted by
6898 posts

Hiked from Corniglia to Vernazza. What I want to know is if you climbed the 400+ stairs from the Corniglia train station or did you cheat and take the mini-bus up. We did the reverse, had lunch in Corniglia and then walked down the 400+ stairs. Your trip sounds magical. Sounds like you will be back.

Posted by
396 posts

Welcome to the club! Italy is magical. We stayed at the Albergo Bernini in April for three days. I loved the panforte. Brought lots back...but it's all gone! Already planning my next trip. I am so glad you had a wonderful trip.

Posted by
73 posts

Here is a very easy Panforte recipe from another Italy and panforte addict: Brush an 8" cake pan with oil or melted butter and line with parchment paper. Brush paper with oil/butter. Combine 2/3 cup each chopped macadamia nuts, walnuts and slivered almonds in a large bowl. Add one and 1/2 cups of chopped dried fruits in any combination, I like mangoes, pineapple, blueberries and figs. Sift together 2/3 cup plain flour, 2 tablespoons dark cocoa and 1 teaspoon cinnamon, add to bowl with nuts and fruits. In a a small saucepan combine 2 ounces butter, 2 ounces dark chocolate, 1/3 cup caster sugar and 1/3 cup honey. melt over slow heat and then stir into fruit and nut mixture until just combined. Bake in cake pan at 350 degrees F for 40 to 50 minutes. After 40 minutes keep a watch as it can burn. My oven is hotter and so I bake it for 40 minutes but my friend has to bake it longer. My family and friends love it and I make it all the time. Hope all the Italy addicts who love cooking or baking will find this recipe helpful!!
Devika

Posted by
285 posts

Hi Rick, I know how you feel. I love Italy and I love Ireland. I am going back again this year but heading south to the Almalfi coast. I dream yhat I could have more time and revisit wonderful hill towns in Tuscany. I have some many wonderful stories.
Pat

Posted by
4356 posts

FYI - 'Castor sugar' is also known as 'superfine sugar', but NOT powdered sugar! It'll dissolve better. You can use a food processor to make your regular sugar more fine, BUT you'll permanently scratch up your plastic bowl!!! Just buy the superfine... Thanks for the recipe, Devika! I'm printing it now...:-)

Posted by
73 posts

You are welcome Eileen. Also I forgot to mention that yes superfine sugar works best.
Devika

Posted by
5 posts

Rick, I am also a first timer. Where did you stay in Siena? Would you stay there for a week. As a home base then hit all the sites? Wine tasting ...? Food...? What if I don`t know that much Italiano..
Did you fly into Milano ?

Posted by
12 posts

Rick, we took our first trip to Italy this past April. We spent only 7 days in Florence and Rome. I could do the whole trip, exactly the same, or visit the many other parts we never got to. We started out with more on our itinerary but I am so happy we gave those 2 cities their due. We felt like we really got to see Florence and only scratched the surface of Rome! The new dilemma becomes visit other parts of the world on future vacations or just keep returning to Italy!!

Posted by
65 posts

Carl, we stayed at the Albergo Bernini Hotel which is really more a B&B and was great. In the PBS TV episode of his show that Rick Steves did years ago about Siena (I just found the script of the show from 2003 here), you see him walk into this same place and sit down with the family. (I think they even play accordion for Rick!) We didn't see the family as much as RS did but it was a fine place to be, with a gorgeous courtyard terrace from which we took tons of photographs of Siena's terra cotta rooftops. The web site for the Albergo Bernini is here. Yes, I'd stay there for a week, and it's much cheaper than staying at a hotel in Florence. We took the bus down from Florence which takes about an hour and a half. Food was great. The only problem is that in Siena you run the risk of discovering panforte which can change your life.

Posted by
65 posts

Mary, I have the exact same dilemma! I could do the entire exact same trip all over again, but.... And when I tell people I might go back to Italy next year, they ask me "But don't you also want to go to xxxxx or yyyyy?" and I usually respond with something like "Yes, but...uh, well....you just don't understand..."