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10 days in a Italy Between Two RS Trips

Like many others, I’ve received a lot of good advice through this forum, so I would like to pay it back by describing my time in Italy as a solo traveler between two Rick Steves trips. I started my five week adventure in Italy with the Rick Steves southern Italy trip, which I enjoyed tremendously, but which I will not cover in this trip report. I ended my trip with the best of Switzerland Rick Steves trip, which was also enjoyable, but which is also not covered in this report.

Our Southern Italy trip ended in Naples, and I stayed on an extra two days in order to discover more about this fascinating city. Although it is accurately described as gritty and dirty, it is also a place of indescribable beauty and very friendly people. I stayed in an Airbnb near the train station. This location was not my first choice; however, the Airbnb host had notified me only two weeks before my trip that my original apartment choice was not available, and offered me this secondary choice. With such a short time until my trip, I didn’t have a lot of other choices. The apartment was beautiful and recently renovated, but the location was not optimal. However, it was convenient for me to access the train station on the day I left.

The Rick Steves tour does not include a visit to the Santa Chiara Church, which I would highly recommend for the beautiful tile work in the cloister. I also enjoyed a tour of Napoli Sotteranneo. Together with several of my RS tour companions, I attended a free choir concert at the beautiful Gesù Nuovo church on the night my tour ended. The concert ended with an unforgettable Pie Gesù solo. For a panoramic view the next day, I rode the funicular up to the Castel Sant’Elmo and then walked down the approximately 400 steps back to the Spanish Quarter. I ran into a very large political demonstration with a parade stretching around a km. down the main street. While the demonstration was peaceable, it was really large, so I took the opportunity to pass between parade units and go to another part of town. Unbelievably, while I was walking on SpaccaNapoli, I ran into the granddaughter of a friend, who was bumming around Europe. We enjoyed the concert together and then I took her and her travel companion out for dinner afterwards. On the recommendation of an Italian friend, I had been to Nennella a few nights earlier for dinner and thought the girls would enjoy the singing, dancing waiters and the friendly atmosphere. What I found out was that visiting Nennella on a weekday was far different than visiting on a weekend. We waited over a hour in a smoky, large crowd for a table (they don’t take reservations), and the restaurant was overcrowded, full of noisy bridal parties and students dancing on the tables and chugging cheap wine. Not at all enjoyable for me, but my two young companions enjoyed it. After a very late dinner I returned to my air BnB, did a load of laundry and got ready for my trip to Bologna the next day. (Continued)

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I took the FrecciaRossa to Bologna, having made reservations several months earlier to save on the fare. In Bologna, I also saved money by staying in a monastery. This was my first time staying in a monastery, but it certainly will not be my last. I paid only €50 for my single room, which had a private bath and a balcony. While some monasteries had earlier curfews, the only restriction at my location was that I had to be in by 1 AM and couldn’t leave before 7 AM, which was fine with my schedule. The monastery was located within easy walking distance to the town center, had free laundry facilities and offered lunch and dinner, in addition to the included breakfast. One night I decided to eat there in order to see what type of food was offered. It was incredibly inexpensive, €15 for a four course meal including wine, and the food was quite good. There were also options to have fewer courses for as little as €9.

I had booked a Bologna greeter, through Global Greeters, and enjoyed a four hour free walking tour through the city. In addition to me, there was one other couple, and we had all requested to see things not normally seen by tourists. Our guide was quite personable and very knowledgeable. We toured the city library, which is built over Roman ruins, and which contains a beautiful historic atrium. I was amused to hear that until very recently there were intramural basketball games played here under the beautiful ancient ceiling frescoes and over the glass floor tiles showing the Roman ruins. We also toured the 7 churches of Santo Stefano and the beautiful inlaid wood choir seats in the San Domenico cathedral. Global Greeters are available in many European cities and are a free and fun way to see a city through the eyes of a local.

I spent a day on a food tour by Amazing Italy food tours. While this is somewhat expensive, it is worth every penny. The group is limited in size to 10 or 12 people, and their tour operator picks people up at designated places in the city, early in the morning. We started with a tour of the parmigiano cheese factory, followed by tours of a family owned balsamic vinegar factory and a prosciutto factory. The final tour option was either a test drive at the Ferrari factory or a wine tasting at a vineyard. I chose the wine tasting. All of this included many samples of the wares at each place. Then it was followed by a four course restaurant lunch, which lasted well into the late afternoon. I really enjoyed this tour.

Other things in Bologna that I would highly recommend seeing are the San Petronio church, with the meridian line and the chapel with the fresco of hell by Giovanni da Modena; the anatomy hall, and the terra cotta statuary at the Chiesa di Santa Maria Della Vita. I also enjoyed visiting the Sanctuario di San Luca, on the steep hills above the city, which had been the start of the Giro d’Italia bike race the week before.

I enjoyed gelato at Gelateria Gianni, which has a large variety of delicious flavors. My dinner splurge was at Setti Tavoli. While small (7 tables), it has delicious food and a friendly atmosphere and was full of locals rather than tourists. (Continued)

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The third area I visited between RS tours was Lake Como. I had been in Varenna many years ago with my husband, and wanted to return. I also figured that this location would make the trip to Switzerland for my Swiss RS trip more convenient. However, for this stay, I did not stay in the city proper, but elected instead to stay in an Air BnB in Perledo, a tiny village on the hill above Varenna with stunning views of the lake. While my Airbnb was comfy and the balcony views were, indeed, stunning, it is noted that it would have been better for me to have a car, rather than needing to walk down a steep hill and back up or take a taxi in order to leave and return to my apartment. I just figured it was a good substitute for the treadmill and stair master in my hometown gym.

Mostly, I just relaxed and enjoyed the beautiful views and the ambience of the lake area while I was staying here. I was fortunate to be there on open museum day, which entitled me to a free visit to one of the villas along the lake, along with a guided tour of its beautiful gardens. While waiting for the garden tour to begin, I was interested to note that the free garden tour was offered only to those who asked for it in Italian. The visitors who came and spoke in English were required to pay admission. The tour was also in Italian, which stretched my language skills a bit. After the tour there was a concert by the local high school orchestra.

I took the cooking class offered by the restaurant Il Caminetto, located in another village on the hills above the lake. The owners came to Perledo to pick me up and to take me back at the end of the class. I had a terrific, fun time at the class, and enjoyed the restaurant so much that I returned there for dinner the next night.

The only snag in my trip to Lake Como was that the ferry schedule changed from winter to summer on the very day that I planned to travel. I had made a plan to travel by ferry and scenic lakeside bus to Como to pick up a train to Lucerne. However, with the spring changes, the bus would arrive in Como after the train had departed. The lovely, very helpful staff in the tourist information office in Varenna were able to figure out for me an alternative route on an express ferry to Como, beginning in a city a short taxi ride away from Varenna. I arrived in Como to see preparations underway to welcome another stage of the Giro d’Italia bike tour. I caught my train with time to spare, arriving in Lucerne the day before my RS Switzerland tour began.

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178 posts

What a great way to bridge the gap between 2 tours, Patricia. Most all your plans paid off and your days sound lovely. Thank you for sharing!

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1 posts

I really enjoyed reading about your adventure. Could you please tell me the name of the Convent you stayed in Bologna.
Thank you

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901 posts

Anyone can visit the website monasterystays.com to find information on European monastery locations. The site is comprehensive, describing location, amenities, restrictions, etc.

Posted by
3352 posts

Thank you, Patricia, for sharing your days between RS tours with us! I’ll make a note of the monastery info, too. Are you planning to share some highlights, later, of your RS tours? I’d especially like to hear how you enjoyed the Southern Italy one.

Posted by
595 posts

Great report, thank you! I have never heard of staying in a monastary, how interesting! I also would love to hear more about your RS tours during this trip, if you choose to do trip reports. I am trying to decide between the Southern Italy and Adriatic tours for my next RS adventure.

Posted by
679 posts

Thank you for all the great information. I bookmarked the Greeter information and now plan to do the same with monestary. Sounds like a great way to sandwich in a wonderful stay in Europe.

Posted by
922 posts

What a great break between your RS tours. I'm really enjoying reading your reports.

Posted by
141 posts

Thanks for sharing your independent travel highlights! You have some great memories and hopefully, photos.