** Warning! Long report! Stop reading now if you don't like details.
Overall: This was a terrific tour! I loved being off the beaten path for some of the time and being on back roads and in the country. The people we met were wonderful and welcoming and seemed happy to see us.
Group: As usual the RS group was a lot of fun. There was one solo traveler. I had a single supplement but was traveling with my brother and SIL so the solo person had a single accommodation with no extra charge. She was very happy about that! The group was all couples except for the solo traveler and me plus a Mom/daughter duo but I felt like most everyone was open to mixing with others. The welcome dinner certainly had the talking/laughing level of a farewell dinner! As always with a RS group people were interesting and interested and had sharp wits. I enjoyed hanging with people for aperitivos!
Activity Level: The most strenuous day was Civita di Bagnoregio where we walked a good distance thru town to the causeway/bridge, then over the causeway. I did not realize how deep the gorge was that we had to cross and my height chicken kicked in. Yikes. The reward at the end was a semi-deserted town, bruschetta and a bunch of cats. It was not my favorite but I did not find it physically taxing altho many did.
Guide: Trina!! Yea!! I did this tour with my brother and SIL. We had done Heart of Italy in May 2013 with Trina as our guide and we were thrilled to be able to travel with her again. She is a marvel. I always feel slightly guilty that I don’t take notes during her talks about history because they are marvelous. She was surprised to see us and said that is the first time she’s ever had repeaters. She didn’t run away or try to get someone else assigned to the group so I guess it was OK. She has such a fun and inquisitive nature. If someone asked a question she didn’t know the answer to she was immediately on her phone looking up an answer. It was fun to watch her with the farmers and small business owners along the trip. They obviously enjoy her as they just beam when they see her coming!
Local guides: Awesome as usual. We had local guides for Padua, Ravenna, Assisi, Chianciano Etruscan Museum, Lucca, Carrara and I probably missed one! For me one of the hallmarks of Rick’s tours is the quality of the local guides. In particular I liked the Assisi guide but they were all passionate, informative and interesting.
Hotels: The hotels were great. In Montone I wound up being assigned to an apartment which was huge! They were all well-located except for Levanto. Well, the Levanto hotel was well-located for Levanto, but if you are visiting the Cinque Terre then you should stay there not in a nearby town. I had stayed in Monterosso twice previously and would have preferred the selection of restaurants there to the ones in Levanto.
On Being Vegan: Trina was super about being proactive with restaurants for vegan meals. There were some times in the smaller locations that they did not really understand vegan. At one point the people went out of their way to make a dish without cheese but it included egg. I ate it as the restaurant was so happy they had tried to accommodate us. You just can’t hurt people’s feelings sometimes. Interestingly the best vegan food was at the truffle hunt farm with Mama and her friends cooking in the kitchen!