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10 days in Venice, Florence, Rome with family including 2 teenage sons

Back home from the Venice/Florence/Rome Rick Steves' tour. My first btw.

First time in Europe/Italy for myself and my 2 teenage sons. My wife's been to Europe
many times (but never Italy).

We decided to get to Venice a day earlier before the tour started. That was a great
decision, given our flight out of Boston left at 7PM, landing in Paris at 8AM (Paris/CET time) and we strolled into Venice via bus then vaporetto at 1PM (Venice/CET time).
Needless to say, once we checked into our tour's hotel, the 4 of us took a well deserved nap.

TIP: Wandering around Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris between flights, I did not notice any ATMs. Could have been sleep deprived at that point but did notice a lot of Travelex booths with not great Euro/dollar exchange rates. Did not bother with any of them.
Found ATM's though at Venice's Marco Polo airport. Already had contacted my bank, so using
the ATM to get Euros there was a breeze. Withdrew a lot of Euros each day for a while (300)
until we were well stocked. We got home with less than 20 Euros, so we approximated well.
Note, we used Euros for almost all of our transactions and only resorted to credit cards
a few times.
TIP2: Also at Marco Polo, purchased bus and vaporetto tickets for the 4 of us at the ATVO booth there, making our trip to the hotel quite simple. Blue bus to the Piazzale Roma, vaporetto #1 to
Mercato, a very short walk thru the market to the Pensione Guerrato hotel.

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continuing in Venice:

Decided to leave sleepy teenagers in the hotel and my wife and I got ourselves somewhat lost
in the San Polo part of Venice. Came upon many many fun little shops, restaurants, natural
history museum, a school, and the grand canal in various places. Awakening the kids, we
walked a bit more around the hotel area, looking for a place for dinner. Settled on a pizza
restaurant nearby, a little more walking then off to bed.

Friday morning, we decided to walk the Cannaregio area across the Rialto bridge then to
the west. Came across more cool shops, one of which had nice prints of Venice (had to
bring home a small one), and very different Carnival masks (you'll see a lot of these all
over Venice), some were steampunk style, amusing the kids. Found a restaurant with good pizza (Ai Tre Archi) for lunch and meandered back to the hotel.

Later on Friday, we met up with the tour group and our enthusiastic tour guide, Trish, and off for a walk over to St Mark's square (few people there on a Friday, that will change), then a group dinner at Trattoria da Bepi in Cannaregio (nice variety of pasta dishes - I need to somehow get my children to eat seafood!). On the way, Trish gave us a heads-up on this little somewhat hidden restaurant (Taverna Al Remer) where one could grab a few drinks, head outside, and sit on a dock to watch the happenings on the Grand Canal (my wife and I were back there on Sunday for just that!).

Saturday was a busy day, back over the St Mark's for a tour of the basilica (lots of stairs to the top, great views of the square, accompanied by a local guide. Also saw Marco Polo's birthplace (a newer building from the 14th century replaced his 13th century house!), and just a plethora of other historic buildings and churches. Next, a boat ride to Burano (the island where lace is handmade). That town is quite colorful, each building is painted a different color. Toured the area, had lunch in town, bought a small, handmade ceramic house-front for the mantle and enjoyed conversation with the artist. Back to Venice, we found the Vecchia Murano glass factory, saw a quick demo of glass blowing, then to the store, where my wife purchased some glass earrings and some pendants that we will use instead as Christmas tree ornaments. Back to the hotel for a break, then off again, this time to the gondolas with the group. When in Venice! A fun excursion (with music) thru some side canals, then onto the main canal. Thankfully, the ambulance boat did not go thru the Grand Canal as we were floating thru, given the size of the wake it produces!

Sunday was a trip to the Gallerie dell'Accademia in Venice, also accompanied by our local Venice based guide, Corine. The beginning of appreciating lots of artwork on this tour.

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off to Florence - part 1:

Monday - off to Florence/Tuscany. Spotted lots of apple/grape and maybe some olive farms on the busride. Quick lunch at Autogrill Cantagallo, the Italian equivalent of a Howard Johnson's on the highway, just south of Bologna (except that the food was quite good).
Made it to the Hotel Silla, and after dodging some bikers, made it into the hotel, unpacked, took a walk around (the hotel is a bridge away from the Ponte Vecchio, so had to check that out), and back for a quick welcome glass of wine, a chat on Italian history by Trish, and then a Renaissance walk around Florence. Buildings from the 13th century, the Duomo complex (which included an impressive cathedral, decorated on the outside in the 1860's, the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, with an incredible dome (Brunelleschi's Dome), a Baptistery (the bronze doors! (the real doors are at the Duomo’s museum)), and a campanile). We were also introduced to Edoardo, a gelataia near the Duomo. 56 thumbs up if I was counting. Finally after a bit more wandering, a group dinner at Giglio Rosso (pasta 3 ways - ravioli with creamy tomato sauce, gnocchi with cheese sauce, plus Spaghetti all'Amatriciana (spicy) - i think it was spaghetti, could be a different pasta, sauce was great). Then florentine steak (unseasoned), but with arugula (peppery) and parmesan (salty) so no need to season it. Then dessert. Thankfully, one of our tour-mates (Troy) had a birthday that day so we had a selection of desserts along with the birthday cake (almond). Oh yes, and afterward, the digestifs were passed. Wow! Our eldest son Breton had a sip of limoncello. Not a gateway drink!

Tuesday - first breakfast at the hotel - much fun this morning with the pancake machine and especially the automatic hot coffee/espresso machine. Tour of the Palazzo Davanzati, a 15th century palace with our Florence guide Angelo. Also, various other neighborhoods, a somewhat nondescript church with an interesting piece of religious art from a teenage artist from back in the 15th century, more walking and then lunch that we made ourselves at In Tavola, a cooking school. A fun 3 hour lunch! Homemade pasta (in our group, my youngest son Evan took control of the pasta making machine), a chicken/mushroom dish, and tiramisu. The kids ate way way too much! With some free time, we walked around the neighborhood near the hotel, and did a little window shopping here and there.

Dinner was on our own, so we went to Osteria Antica Mescita San Niccolò near the hotel, and had a light dinner, given what we did for lunch. Eating outside, we chatted with a mother/daughter from the Boston area at the next table, and a nice couple from St Louis who were seated next to them. Funny how one does things like that on vacation and seldom at home!

Wednesday, gallery day! Starting out at the Uffizi gallery with Angelo and Tanya, another Florence based guide. Got to see original artwork from Botticelli (Birth of Venus, La Primavera), Francesca (Duke and Duchess of Urbino), Uccello (Battle of San Romano), Titian (Venus of Urbino) or yes, and Michelangelo (Doni Tondo), among countless others . I’ve seen these works in books and elsewhere, but until you see the originals... Just speechless. And yes, plenty of religious artwork also from the 15th century (Raphael, Giotto, Fabriano…), too many to mention. After the Uffizi, came lunch time and some free time spent in the Galileo museum.

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Florence part 2:

For lunch we wandered around before finding this nice little spot. Typical little cafe, seating for 8, standing for a dozen, but after the Uffizi, we needed seats. Nice selection of sandwiches, coffee drinks, etc, but what was fun about this place, was watching the proprietor all by herself, handle the crowds coming in, ordering an espresso, small sandwich, then lingering for a while.
I took a picture of the place when leaving as a momento. Back home, I saw the picture and of course, I cropped off the name of the place. Spent a good 3+ hours on Google maps looking for
it without success. Finally, went to Google street view and a few more hours later found it. Paolo e Francesca is the name of the place. On Via del Neri 38R. Should be on everyone’s list for a cafe in Florence to spend some time in!

Off to the Galileo museum. Full of scientific instruments from the 16th and 17th centuries. Multiple floors full of them. Kids were amazed (as was I) at some of the ingenious machines, equipment and tools created back then.

Back at the hotel, took a walk behind the hotel up to the Piazzale Michelangelo, and was amazed at the view from up of the Florence cityscape. Could see the Uffizi, the Duomo, simply a priceless view. Also on the way up the hill was a public garden (Giardino delle Rose) with more photo opportunities, and full of bronze statues. Evan found a cat meandering around so he had to follow it around (he missed his cat), and take pix of it. This cat probably eats his fill of the local reptile population!

Last gallery of the day: the Accademia in Florence, housing Michelangelo’s David. Yes, seen that statue before in print and video. Yes I knew it was 17 feet tall. Absolutely astounding seeing it live. Trish mentioned that we should look at it at 9, 5, 3 o’clock, and the statue certainly changes perspective when viewing it at those different angles. Simply marvelous.

Off to dinner with the family. Near the hotel, we happened upon Badali, and had a fine meal outside. Started with the salumi plate (I am not getting tired of that!), and various primi pastas. During dinner, we heard a mass yell in the distance. Dawned on me that AFC Fiorentina (Florence’s Italian Serie A football team) was playing that night, across the Arno, probably around 1km away. After dinner, walked to the outside bar next to Badali, Zoe where they had a TV outside, asked for them to put on the game, and sure enough,was able to watch the game along with some fans who wandered by. Football/Soccer is loved by all here. Had a great chat with one of the desk clerks at the Hotel Silla about football and the World Cup (neither the US nor Italy will be playing in Russia later this year. Sad for many fans.).

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Rome part 1:
Thursday, off for Rome, back on the bus for 4 hours. Listening to the Rick Steves podcasts on the way concerning Rome. One of the folks on the podcast will be joining us later in the week at the Colosseum! Anyway, today’s itinerary included a wine tasting lunch. Well, yet another surprise, so after getting off the highway just south of Orvieto in Umbria, and watching the bus driver do a great job maneuvering the bus thru slightly narrow, curvy country roads with trucks coming the opposite way, we find ourselves at Agriturismo Poggio della Volara (in the hills North of Montecchio). Net net, it’s a bed & breakfast situated on a working vineyard/olive farm. Oh yes, there a million euro view from the farm, incredible vistas. The owner Marco greeted us and after a little break, proceeded to tell us his history (architect) and the history of his farm and what’s he’s done to ensure his grapes and olives are top quality by harvesting grapes via a special harvesting machine (really wanted to see that) and having his olives pressed via a new process to keep the acidity levels down. And yes, the wines and food spread were tremendous. He hunts wild boar and we enjoyed the rewards of those hunts, with the various salumi made from those animals. We also tasted his Chardonnay, Orvieto, and Chiani. I typically never buy Orvieto in the Boston area, since it tends to be bland, but his was quite nice. I don’t recall which varietal he grows, probably Trebbiano and/or Greccheto. Questions for next time!

Rome! Settling in at the Hotel San Marco, we take a group walk to orient ourselves. Sites included the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain (packed with people), Pantheon, Piazza Navona, Campidoglio, amongst others. Finally Roman Pizza at Da Baffetto 2 (I liked the 4 cheese one the best, crust was quite thin, way different than Venice/Florence pizza), then a walk back to the hotel, not a straight walk, so we could enjoy more of Rome at night, where all of the important monuments/buildings are all lit up, giving one a different visual perspective. Eventually we made it back, passing yet another gelateria (I think Trish knows intimately where all of these are in Italy!).

Friday - first breakfast at the outdoor roof terrace. Breakfasts (or rather colazione) have been quite good at all 3 hotels. Trying to eat like an Italian (light breakfast - seems to be working). Off to the Vatican. Yes, we could have walked there, but let’s use the Metro (I am a firm believer of mass transit including subways, the family used them last April in Montreal and the 2 prior years in Manhattan). Off the Metro on the 2nd Vatican stop, walking past flea markets and other shops before reaching Vatican City. Met our Rome based guide there. A quick walk in the Vatican gardens to orient ourselves, then onto the Vatican museums. Outstanding! Room after room of mainly religious paintings, as expected, but other rooms had maps, giant maps (I love maps), tapestries, statues, all quite overwhelming. Art everywhere. Decorations everywhere. Walls, floors, ceilings. Too much to describe. Quick break before the Sistine Chapel (yet another cafe with great espresso drinks, just steps away from the Sistine). Hate to use the word overwhelmed twice in the same paragraph, but there you are. That’s what the Sistine Chapel is. Michelangelo painting it in 4 years (with a bit of a break in the middle). Doesn’t get much better than that. Next, over to St Peter’s Basilica. The immense size of buildings built back then (and still now) is a political statement about power. St Peter’s is a prime example of that. Again, an enormous interior with seemingly endless alcoves. They actually measure themselves against other Catholic churches in the walkway to the main altar. St Patricks/NYC (entry door to altar) is this big, other cathedral in Florence is that big, etc, all measured in tiles in the walkway leading to the altar.

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Rome part 2:

Once we were able to step away from St Peter’s, we had the rest of the day off, so we walked around the Vatican a bit more, then back to the Metro to get back to the hotel. Lunch time, we found this little place near the hotel (Cantina Belsiana) that had a large selection of bruschetta, perfect for a quick lunch (my favorite was the porchetta (warm with a touch of fennel. perfect!)), but other bruschetta varieties had tapenade, margarita, caprese, prosciutto. Nice place, good food, fine drinks, pleasant staff, nearby, what’s not to like! More walking around in our free time, stopping at various shops.

Saturday - old Rome - Colosseum/Forum. But, our first stop (which basically was a great historic look at how Rome is built) was at San Clemente. A 12th century church built over the ruins of a 3rd century church (that we could walk down into) built over the ruins of a 1st century house (again, down there also), which was built over something older. This was so interesting from many perspectives. Again, you heard this a lot, where after a flood or an earthquake, the salvageable parts of a damaged building was reused, the the remainder was simply buried. Seeing that firsthand was eye opening. And something for the kids that wasn’t art related! They really enjoyed those catacombs!

Onto the Colosseum. Joined by Francesca Caruso, a Rome based guide (who I had heard earlier on the Rick Steves Rome podcast (nice to match a voice to a face), we walked thru the gladiator entrance at the Colosseum (the kids really enjoyed that), and spent a lot of time listening to her talk about the its history (lots of folks (millions) spent their final day inside). Also the facts about how the Romans used elephants and lions there, basically making them extinct in Europe and Northern Africa. I recall reading about the boat reenactments there, and those were probably done in the first 5 years of the building, before the 2 story gladiator barracks were built under the existing floor (ruins of them are seen to this day). More stories about where the emperor (50 yard line) and senate (endzone) sat. And how the Colosseum was decorated (marble - all gone now) and why were there different shaped holes in the stone (done by different people for different reasons throughout the succeeding centuries).

To the Forum, more stories about ancient Rome and the use for many of the temples still standing and what the forum was used for., Wish I remember that Roman history class I had in the 6th grade! One of things that Francesca kept referring to was before and after pictures, one of which (I think) was of the Antonius and Faustina temple, namely the green door about 50 feet higher than ground level. A hundred or so years ago, that green door was at ground level with the adjacent land being a cow pasture. A little excavation and we have the current viewpoint to that temple and others.

After that part of the tour ended, lunch beconned, so off to the Monti area to find lunch. Afterwards, gelato at FataMorganna near the Cavour Metro stop (on Piazza degli Zingari). Dairy free gelato! Who knew! Essence of fruit and nuts. Great place. Trish for the gelato win!
Quick ride on the Metro back to the hotel, and little downtime, then our final group dinner at Otello alla Concordia near the hotel (we’re from Concord, MA but doubt that that entered into the decision for that restaurant!). Meats/cheeses/grilled veggies/pasta 2 ways. A nice way to end our 10/11 days in Italy.

Kudos to Trish to making this trip special for us and the group. Historian/teacher/taskmaster/gelataria detective, she wore many hats on this tour!

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13691 posts

A fine report of a great trip! I enjoyed the read, and think reports can be great sources of inspiration and information for others with upcoming adventures so kudos for making the effort. :O)

One little note in case you wanted to label pix you had taken there? Unless the comment was tongue-in-cheek, I'm almost positive that the "somewhat nondescript church with an interesting piece of religious art from a teenage artist from back in the 15th century" in Florence was Brunelleschi-designed Basilica di Santo Spirito, and the piece of art was a crucifix carved by 17 year-old Michelangelo. That one also has a lovely Lippi altarpiece.

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comment was indeed tongue-in-cheek.... as it is being explained by local guide, I turned to my 18YO son - so he was 18 when he did this? how about you? his response: 'built a lot of legos!'

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DOH, mrovelli!!!! I had a hunch you knew all about that church but, well, I've learned never to assume anything on the forums so...
Again, a very nice report and I'm so pleased that you and your family had a great time in Italy. :O)

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2214 posts

Great report, thanks for sharing. Just curious since I also have older kids (14 and 11) that we are taking to Europe for their first time, did your sons enjoy the trip??? Did they get museum fatigue at all???

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hi diveloonie - yes, i think it was a combination of lots of walking and lots of museums & churches. they were fine for the first week, but by the time we got to the Vatican Museum, my 15YO was basically done. The last day though, at the Colusseum, he and his older brother were back interested in that. The good thing on this RS tour was that we had enough 'down time' so that we (as a family) could do anything we wanted, for my wife and I, more window shopping and the occasional Aperol Spritz. For the kids, a little R&R with some internet and gelato.

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5752 posts

Tip for next time...

Needless to say, once we checked into our tour's hotel, the 4 of us took a well deserved nap.

A lot of us (Rick included) see this as a mistake. Yes, you fly overnight from North America, you arrive daytime in Europe, and you are both jetlagged plus tired from extreme lack of sleep (and pre-trip stress). It's understandable, natural, and expected to want nothing more than to just go to sleep upon arrival. While that's normal, it's also just delaying your recovery. You take that "nap" upon arrival (which often turns out to be more than a short nap), and your body may still be "stuck" in a North American time zone for another couple days.

Many/most folks suggest toughing it out on your arrival day, trying as hard as you can to simply stay awake (spend time outside, be physically active, get fresh air) until after dinner, then hit the sack and sleep deeply. When you wake up the next morning - which is actually the first real (usable) day of your trip - your body should be mostly adjusted to the local time zone, and you should be able to move on with your plans, more-or-less in sync with the local time. But if you give in to the (admittedly strong) temptation to sleep upon arrival, you may be a zombie for days as you're completely out of sync with the current time zone.

In any case, it sounds like you had a nice trip. Next one will be easier. :)

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Thanks David for your comments on the 'nap'. Yes, I knew that it was a mistake - but for my wife and I - a short few hours, then we awoke to get lost in Venice somewhat and had a great rest of day. The kids after their short nap were fine also and we all felt great the following day, getting up at a reasonable hour (7am Venice time). The only other thing that we could have/should have done more was to do a lot more walking before the trip. Legs felt good, but a bit tired after 3 days of walking in each city. The bus ride was a good break for the feet/legs. Good travels!

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Mark, as a fellow member of the tour group, i have to say that i thought your kids we wonderful. Ive raised two boys, and know what a bored teenager looks like. I did have to tease your youngest about it once. They were well mannered, and had great senses of humor. They will remember this trip for the rest of their lives.

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13 posts

Thanks for the report! I just returned from Florence/Venice last week and hoping to make it to Rome soon. Glad you all had a good trip!

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1179 posts

I disagree slightly about the naps. It’s not black and white.

I find that a nap of one sleep cycle (90 minutes) is quite rejuvenating, especially when followed by a brisk walk outside in the sun.

The key is to set your alarm and nap no more than 90 minutes. It’s also important to be up and about by 3 pm. That leaves enough time to get tired again for a true night sleep.

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Thanks Nancy - the boys were troopers (especially at the end of the Rome visit). They were a little tentative early (with all the grownups!), but started interacting with other members of the tour soon enough (Troy!). We are still talking about the trip almost every dinner time.

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681 posts

So glad the trip went well. I really enjoyed reading your report.

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408 posts

Fun trip report. Thanks for posting. My teen & now young adult kids went on their 1st RS tour when my daughter was just 10 & and son 14 it was not a family tour. Now we are planning their 4th RS tour & she is 16 and he is 20. We all love the tours and the half free time. It works for our family.

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2 posts

Thank you for such a great report!

I am thinking of taking this trip next year around the time that you did. Could you speak a bit about the weather? Were flowers blooming yet?


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hi chintz22 - about the weather - for us, it was perfect. low 70s almost every day, sunny & partly cloudy. the last day in Rome was a tad warmer (high 70's) and around the Colosseum area, it was certainly into the 80's given all of the old stone sitting out there in the sun. we may have had 5 minutes of rain over the 10 days. I don't recall flowers blooming anywhere (will ask my wife if she recalls any)... Given from what I understand how hot july/august is in Italy, a mid-April trip seemed perfect for us since we took advantage of our kids' mid-April school vaca.