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Florence, Venice, Varenna report

My husband and I visited Italy for the first time September 12-25, 2017. I planned the trip for over a year using Rick's guidebook, this forum and the internet. The most important thing I want to say in this report is that the guidebook was INVALUABLE! There is so much detailed information that was so helpful I can't stop telling people about it. The trip went so smoothly and I credit the guidebook and all those who assisted in putting it together. We spent 4 nights in Florence, 4 nights in Venice, 3 nights in Varenna and 1 night in Milan. The only mis-step I made in planning was not realizing how long it would take to get to Milan Malpensa airport from Varenna and we had a morning flight from Milan back to the U.S. So, we cut one night off in Varenna and stayed one night near the airport. Luckily, I figured this out in time to change reservations before we left (thanks to the forum advice to not try to cut it close from Varenna).

Florence - we stayed at Residenza il Villino, a RS bed and breakfast recommendation. We took a taxi from the airport as it was too far to walk and we were too tired anyway. It was a nice accommodation. The hosts were nice and helpful. The room was large and the bathroom typically small. The breakfast was served in the courtyard or indoors. We ate in the courtyard every morning. The breakfast had a good variety - scrambled eggs, cereal, fruit, pastries and meats and cheeses. The B&B is within walking distance of main sights - Academia, Duomo, Uffizi. We had a wonderful time! Florence is wonderfully alive and crowded and the traffic is crazy! Be careful stepping off the sidewalks, you will be run over! We had the B&B reserve times for us at Academia and Uffizi and that was a wonderful time-saving convenience (as recommended). We were in awe in the museums. One highlight of our Florence stay was a day tour with Tours by Roberto (a RS recommendation) to the Clay Hills of Tuscany. They take no more than 8 guests and picked us up at our B&B. Our driver was our guide. We visited a small village, a working monastery and a winery. We had lunch at the winery and it was wonderful! This was an amazing day trip. In Florence, we walked a lot and saw too many amazing sights to mention. We also spent time just trying to get to know the less touristy areas and finding places to stop for a bite or a drink.

We purchased our train tickets as we went as we did not want to lock in certain times ahead of time. This worked well for us. We used the kiosks at the train stations and had no problem figuring out when or where to catch our train. We remembered to VALIDATE our tickets too!!

So, we took the train to Venice. Forgot to mention in the beginning, we only took carry-on size luggage. Highly recommend this for loading luggage on/off trains and vaporettos. We had already decided we would do laundry in Venice half way through our trip. A drop off laundry was mentioned in RS book and we used it. A little expensive, but well worth it for the convenience. It was 15 Euros per load, washed and dried. At the train station we found our vaporetto dock and loaded our luggage and took the trip through the Grand Canal. What a wonderful way to enter Venice! I loved Venice. Like Florence, it was wonderfully alive and crowded, but no motor vehicles!! Yay! We got off at St. Marks' Square and walked with our luggage through the square (along with many others) to our B&B. We stayed at Corte Campana (another RS rec.) Delightful old building, b&b up several floors, but there is a small elevator which we took only with our luggage at check in and out. The best part of this stay were the hosts, Riccardo and Grace. They are amazing. So friendly and helpful! They spend time giving information and showing you on the map and telling stories. We even shared our iPod with Riccardo so he could listen to some of the music we like.

Will continue this trip report in Part 2!

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Thanks for your report so far. It is incredible the amount of information available in the Rick Steves books, and following his advice makes for so much more of an enjoyable/informative trip.

I'm waiting to hear about Varenna, when you have the time. Thanks!