Sorry for delay. I have been falling fast asleep fairly early in the evening with no time for coming here.
Final word on hotels. I would stay in any of the hotels again. Pasquale and Altarocca Wine Resort were beautiful, modern hotels. The rest were clean, very well located hotels in very old buildings with varied amounts of remodeling.
GROUP: As usual, a great group of 27 tour mates. Age range 36-71 (I am estimating). Eleven couples, 4 female solos, one father/son. Canada, California, Washington, Colorado, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Iowa and Ohio. I don't know everyone's occupation but some are: nurse, teacher, mail carrier, surgeon, optometrist, social services. I shared at least one meal with everyone. Everyone was kind and interesting. I generally like to spend free time on my own, but I had many invitations to join others for meals and free time activities.
GUIDE: Main guide was Deborah Heyburn. Deborah was born in England but has spent 30 years traveling. She speaks English, Italian, German, and French. She told us that when she was 18 her mother had to force her out of the house, but she never looked back. She back packed through China, Viet Nam and other Asian countries. Basically, she is fearless. She has typical skills of a Rick Steves guide which include organization, planning, thinking on her feet, knowledge, ability to teach, and ability to herd cats. In addition to that she is extremely personable and I liked her a lot. During a tour of the Orvieto Cathedral she gave an extraordinary explanation of a group of frescoes by Luca Signorelli depicting the Antichrist, the Apocalypse, and the Last Judgement--fantastic.
LOCAL GUIDES: Elisabetta (Venice), Marcello (Ufizzi), Marco (Assisi), AnnaLisa (Siena), Benedetta (Siena), MariaLaura (Rome). All added local info and had passion for their locale.
ACTIVITY LEVEL: I averaged 5.5 miles per day. Most active day was 8.2 miles in Seiser Alm, Dolomites and least active day was 2.3 miles in Monterroso. I have a current knee injury (torn MCL likely, MRI pending) and did not participate in climbing all of the towers that I would have liked to. I did hike up to Castello di Vezio as my knee was feeling great that day. Unfortunately that caused my knee to not feel great the rest of the trip. There are a lot of steep grades and stairs to go up and down in Italy. I was able to manage all of this but opted not to do extra tower stairs. I elected to have a very low key day in Cinque Terre to rest my knee and the rest of me instead of visiting the other towns. I also took an afternoon off in Rome after visiting the Vatican to rest in my room. The afternoon after visiting Orvieto I relaxed in my luxurious room with a great view and had a nap.
Comparing this to my Scandinavian trip I see that I learned a few important lessons. I need a little bit of down time at least once a week to keep myself from getting exhausted. I did not do that in Scandinavia. It is also very difficult for me to stand in one place for a long time. I learned to keep moving during town or museum walks that were guided. The whisper boxes with earbuds allow you to hear the guide without being right next to them. So, either finding a surface to sit down for a minute or walking around the perimeter saved me some pain.
FOOD: I am not a foodie. I did not particularly seek out special food during this trip. The tour provides breakfast every morning. Italians typically eat something sweet with coffee for breakfast. The hotel breakfasts typically offered eggs, cold cuts, cheese, yogurt, cereal/grains, bread and sweets (tarts, sweet buns, cake). Completely adequate. Lunches varied and were typically on our own. Sandwiches or pizza, fresh fruit and gelato were the norm. There were quite a few set menu dinners. Some of these were delicious, one pushed my comfort zone (octopus and other seafood) and some were perfectly fine. There was no opportunity to go hungry. contd