A few notes about our trip. There are four of us including my wife and two boys (15 and 13). We planned the whole thing using RS guides. We did the carry on with each of us having a backpack, heaviest was 14#. We also all had travel vests to hold iPads, sunglasses, cameras, tickets, passports, phones, etc. The vest was awesome except when the temps rose above 90 deg then it was a burden. We had money belts but I never used it since I kept the money in an inside pocket on the vest. We flew out July 7th and back July 23rd. We have good friends in Frankfurt and Vincenza so that helped shape the trip. I've lived in Germany when I was a kid (oh so long ago) and still can speak a few words. I've never been to Italy so that was an adventure. I know some will feel we did too much, too fast but our focus was to be tourists, to show the kids the great sites at each local and hopefully spark an interest to return.
We flew American since I have status with them. The flight was delayed a bit but nothing major. Biggest disappointment was no individual entertainment in each seat, thank goodness for iPads. We landed mid-morning and got picked up by our friends who live nearby. We spent a lot of time catching up and took some mid afternoon naps. The next day we day tripped over to Burg Eltz. Wonderful little castle with the family heirlooms lined up in the dungeon/basement. The English tour was good but a bit quick. I'd have preferred to linger in some spots but I'm a sucker for castles. No pics inside. The castle is down the hill from the parking so the walk down is easy or the shuttle is 1E. There is a wonderful photo op if you walk down. The walk back up is very steep and worth the 1.5E per person price. The next day we day tripped over to Rotenburg and walked the wall. We had been here before and bought Christmas ornaments that got stolen out of our luggage on the last trip. This time we paid to have them shipped home since we were packing light. Turns out the shipping was the same as the VAT (which they removed since we were shipping to the US). Only one crystal ornament was broken so not too bad. We ate at home most of the time and the kids loved going to get bread every morning. Laundry was easy since we had a washer.
One Wed the 11th we took a train over to Fussen. Took about 5 hours and was pretty simple. Took a taxi over to Hotel Muller Hohenschwangau. This was our most expensive place during the trip because we upgraded to the family room on the top floor with a view of Neuschwanstein out the windows. The castle had scaffolding but my boys were super excited to see it especially my oldest since he built a model of it for his German class project. We walked up to in the evening and it's a healthy little hike up. We walked around to Mary's bridge and took pictures (no scaffolding on that side) – gorgeous. This was a special part of the trip for me since my parents took me when I was a kid and now I shared it with my boys. We waited a little too long to head down and ended up getting caught by the dark but we had our little RS LED lights and they were enough to keep us on trail. A rain storm hit just about as we were back to the hotel and we got soaked for about 10 mins. The next day we took the bus up to Mary's bridge, and then walked over to the castle for the first English tour. Again the tour was too quick for me but I enjoyed it. We walked down to the horse drawn carts and road them down. The easiest walking option is take the bus to the bridge, then walk down to the castle, then walk down to the carts and ride them down. Off to Italy this afternoon.
We had a few choices on the trains but several options included either local buses or very short connections times so we opted for the slightly longer but simpler route of taking the train to Munich and then to Vincenza. We left about 1pm and got in about 9pm. We had 4 of the 6 seats (the two window and the two aisle) reserved in the 6 seat car and no one bothered us. We had power outlets for the iPads and a sliding door. They spoke four languages in the dinning car, none of which was English but my broken German was able to feed us.
On Friday the 13th we went to Venice. We took a water taxi around to St Mark's square for about 10E each. Nice way to cruise through the city. We did the Secret Tour of the Doge and then finished the rest of the Palace. Kids were looking for hamburgers at this point so we ate at the Venice Hardrock café. It was a blast but of course expensive. Right outside the café they were giving gondola rides which has been a dream of my wife so we took one. It was 80E for 6 of us. Took us out into the main canal and told us history and stories. Also, he warned us not to touch the water because it's so polluted. He was a third generation gondolier and the boat was owned by his grandfather. We walked back out of Venice just strolling and taking our time. It was beyond crowded but we stopped for snacks and drinks and shopping and just sauntered back to the shuttle off the islands. On the 14th we took it easy before heading over to Verona. We did the RS walking tour and it was wonderful. We had tickets for the Opera and saw Romeo and Juliet in Italian. It was pretty easy to follow and there were 3 intermissions to grab food and drinks. Four hours is a long time for teenage boys to sit through an opera so they were happy to have seen it but also glad it was over. Sunday was beach day and we rented two umbrellas on the beach. There was some sort of airshow a little ways over that we got to see. We ate at local restaurants our friends knew and used there washer to do our clothes. One night I left my vest over the back of a chair at a local place. I realized it about 11pm when I couldn't find my phone. We rushed back because it had most of our money, our passports, train tickets, etc. When we got there the owner was overjoyed to see me. He had been calling local hotels to see if he could find out where I was staying. Very very lucky.
On Monday we took the train to Florence. Here we had our only snafu. Turns out there are two trains from Vincenza to Padu and one is the fast train and one is the slow train. We had tickets for the slow (cheaper) train which was supposed to come before the fast (expensive) train. The slow one was late I guess and the fast one came on time (first). We got on because I was concerned we missed the other one. At this time I didn't know there was a fast and slow one. Once on, I asked someone if we were headed the right way and they looked at my tickets and said yes but I was on the wrong train and if the conductor caught me it would be a very big fine. They didn't check our tickets and we got off 20 mins later to catch the next train to Florence. That evening in Florence we went to the church and the sculpture museum behind the church. We stayed at the Katti House. They put us in one room (even though our reservation was for two). The price was the same and we didn't mind. Only the daughter(?) speaks English and she wasn't there for our check in so the conversation was a bit of hand gestures and guessing but we did all right until we wanted to confirm our reservations for David and Uffizi. We couldn't communicate until the daughter was there. My only complaint about Katti house is the free wi-fi was nonexistent. This drove the kids crazy because they were using FaceBook to connect with friends back home. We found plenty of restaurants with wi-fi. The room AC worked great.
On Tuesday the 17th we went to the Terrace Tour at 12:30 which allows you to go up on the roof of the Florence church. It's quite a different experience than you would get in the states. The railing was only about 30 inches tall and we were many stories up in the air. We were asked not to throw anything off the roof so we didn't kill any one below. In some places the passage was a mere 12 inches wide (just for a step) with the building behind you and the off in front of you. Those scared of heights took the step quickly but carefully and didn't look down. During this tour we got to see some paper and plaster sculptures that filled empty nooks on the church before the real sculptures were completed. Sadly they had the fence them off to keep people from writing on them. We went to the top of the dome here, great view, really cool architecture but clearly wasn't design for large crowds. Some of the stairs were so narrow that I had to turn sideways to fit. Also, the way up is the way down so you move in an ebb and flow movement. There was a girl controlling the last ladder (and I mean straight up ladder) and she would get to flirting with a guy and the top would get crowded. Then she'd stop the flow and send down those up top until it emptied. Then she'd send people up again until the top couldn't hold anymore and the line came to a stop and people started mumbling. Then she'd stop the crowd again and send everyone on top back down. At 3 we went to see David, which was amazing for me. At 5:15 we went to the Uffizi to see the masters. My mistake was too much this day. After the first floor we kinda cruised down the hallways headed for the exit. I love museums but the wife and kids were done for the day. The timing was off because we waited to have Katti house help us with reservations, if I had done it online I could have spread it out a bit more but it worked for the one day.
On Wednesday the 18th we sleep in and took the afternoon train to Rome. We had rented an apartment right next to the Pantheon. Loved the location. We really settled in here in the evenings and got to know our neighborhood which stretched from Pizza Navona to the Spanish Steps. We found a grocery store, several ATMS, a bakery, a pharmacy, a whole ton of restaurants we liked, etc. The apartment was on the fourth floor and 77 steps up. We tried not to forget anything when we left because no one wanted to go back up. The biggest complaint here would be the AC. It was advertised as having AC and it did, sort of. It was, of course, an add on in the living room. It dripped into a bucket that had to be emptied because they didn't have a permit to drain it. That wouldn't be so bad except it couldn't cool below 28 C and then only the living room. By the second night the kids were sleeping in the bedroom because they are teenage boys and mom and dad were sleeping in the living room. We didn't cook but we did use the fridge and the washer. On the first night we went on a night Segway tour, by far the best tour ever in the minds of the boys. Every day after that they wanted to know if each location had Segway's to ride and if not could we go back and do it again. I had a lot of fun and it was pretty easy. We had a few who didn't know what they were doing but for the most part if you could stay in front of them it was fine (you have to stay in a single file line when moving from location to location). This was an excellent introduction to the heart of Rome. It helped to get our bearings.
On Thursday we day tripped down to Pompeii. We did the private tour so we had a mini bus pick us up. Takes about three hours to get down there. The guide we had was nice and it was cool being alone so we could ask questions and hear. One thing was there were so many group tours he kinda rushed us at various points to get in and out between the tours. I know he was trying to keep it intimate but I wanted to spend more time in some areas. He knew what he was doing because we saw everything we wanted in the 3 hours we had. We ate here afterwards and then snoozed in the car on the way home.
Friday the 20th was Vatican day. We went with Walks of Italy to the 7:30 Pristine Sistine Chapel tour. Our guide got us back to the chapel plenty quick and we actually go about 50 mins sitting down in various benches talking about the history. I really enjoyed this moment, well worth the cost. Only downside was there are no pictures allowed in the chapel and we had one guy who just keep trying to sneak pictures by pointing his camera up and snapping pics. The guards warned him several times until they came over and demanded he show them the camera. They made him delete the pictures or leave. He deleted them. Our guide had warned us about this before going in. Once done there we walked around, we saw the garage and the painting hall as well as many of the other main halls. There is just too much to see in a day or even several days. It was just right for the kids and wife but I could have spent much more time there. The amount of history as you walk down a hall is stunning. We ended at the Sistine chapel again and it was shoulder to shoulder. You couldn't see the floor at all and it was so loud even though everyone is supposed to be silent. Guards everywhere shushing people and checking for cameras flashes. We went for lunch in the area, worst experience of the trip. We didn't go far enough away from the Vatican to get away from the tourist spots. Food was so-so and the wanted a tip which I regretted as soon as I did but just let it go and moved on.
At 1:30 we went on the Scavii tour. That was spectacular. The guide spoke English but not as her first language so sometimes the details were lost. I knew quite a bit about the tour having researched it extensively and in some cases I knew details she didn't discuss. Amazing tour none the less. It was muggy and humid but to walk on first century streets was too cool. We went up to the top of the Basilica and that was pretty cool but crowded. At least there were separate ways up and down so the crowd flowed pretty good.
On Sat we did the Coliseum tour again with Walks of Italy. Loved the access to the floor, the basement and the third tier. You could get out of the crowds and it was so cool to look out from those locations. In the afternoon we took the Crypts, Catacombs, and Bones tour. Again a good tour with Walks of Italy. We saw once church that was being excavated. It was a 12th century church built on a 4th century church built on a second century church that still had running water from the aqueduct! They say there is another church under that one but they don't have money to dig any more. Our guide said that only 13% of Rome was being excavated and they couldn't do anymore because so much was built on top of each other. Sunday was an easy day. We shopped and walked and packed and got ready to go home the next day.
A few final thoughts. We were tourists in the most touristy sections so take this with a grain of salt but we saw shorts everywhere. Many had scarfs to cover legs and shoulders when needed. Guys had knee length shorts and t shirts. The tours were very value added for a first time exposure. Except for Florence most days were ok in length. Some a little long but nothing some gelato couldn't fix. As I said there were times I could have spent more time in museums but for the family it worked well. We did the data package in Italy for an iPad, well worth it to have the internet when needed. We tried to do it with my wife's iPhone but were with AT&T and it was locked. It was great trip with great memories.
Thanks for posting such a detailed report.
What a wonderful trip! Glad you posted it. Enjoyed reading it.
Thanks guys! Every time I think about it I remember more like the gypsie in Piazza Navaron who wanted to give my wife a friendship braclet. I was very firm in saying no and did some posturing while he wrapped the braids around her wrist. At the end he said "for free" and disappeared into the crowd.
David--we are going to Rome late November. How strict are they with the age requirement in the Scavi tour? I have read different things. Our son will be 12 (but looks at least 15) and our daughter will be 9 (but looks at least 11). Any thoughts? Thanks!