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Italy (October 2015)

This was my first trip to Italy, a graduation gift for myself (and a treat for my mom). I was debating whether to go on a tour or plan it on my own, and in the end I favored the flexibility of independent travel. The planning was hard work, but I did enjoy it and it was worth it in the end. Plus, I had great advice and encouragement from a friend and, of course, Rick Steves' guidebook (thank you so much, Rick!). Here's a snapshot of our trip to Rome, Florence, and Venice with short side trips to Pisa and Siena:

DAY 1
We arrived in the early afternoon and rested at our hotel in the Monti District. My water bottle was empty and I was really thirsty, so I asked the receptionist (who looked a little like Stanley Tucci) if there was someplace nearby where I can refill my water bottle. He said, "The toilette." I thought I heard him wrong, but he said again, "The toilette." Confused (and in retrospect, foolishly), I thought, It's really safe to drink right out of the toilet here? Then I remembered that toilette does not, in this case, mean toilet. It was a good thing I studied the Italian phrase book beforehand. The hotel was about a 7-minute walk from the Termini Station. We felt safe there - even walking at night - and I liked being close to the major transit hub to easily catch both metro lines and the train to our next city.

DAY 2
We walked to Piazza Campo de' Fiori (the grapes are really good!), then to Piazza Navona (it was fun watching the street performers, musicians, and the artists at work - we even bought one of their paintings and took a picture with the artist), the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain (at the time, the fountain was shut off and was barricaded off due to maintenance work, but we all still threw our coins over - I know it's touristy, but hey, I'm a tourist), Via del Corso (we didn't buy anything), Piazza del Popolo, and the Spanish Steps. Audrey Hepburn is one of my favorite actors, and I sought out her perch on the Spanish Steps, channeling her excitement in Roman Holiday at seeing Rome on her own for the first time.

DAY 3
We took the metro to Vatican City. Unfortunately, we missed the time for the general audience with Pope Francis (the perks of being jet lagged), but we didn't let that dampen our spirits. We first went to the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel (we took the exit route for the group tours, and it took us right out to St. Peter's Basilica - thanks, Rick, for the great time-saving tip!). Then, we went to St. Peter's Basilica, and I climbed the dome for that beautiful panoramic view of St. Peter's Square.

DAY 4
We went to the Colosseum, the Forum, and the Victor Emmanuel Monument. I was glad to have gone to the Victor Emmanuel Monument last. From that high point, we were able to see and appreciate all the places we visited and the long distances we walked. I could still see the roundabout below me, with all the cars weaving expertly between each other and hear the wailing siren of an ambulance. The Pantheon was to my left and St. Peter's Dome was even further to the left, if I craned my neck far enough. On the other side was the Forum and the Colosseum. I actually got teary-eyed as I waited for the elevator down - I was going to miss this city.

DAY 5
We took the train to Florence and then a taxi to our hotel in Piazza dei Ciompi. I thought the location was perfect because our hotel was right next door to a gelateria and only a few minutes' walk to my new favorite grocery store, Conad. We went to Conad every day (I was never a big fan of tuna but I loved their Mareblu brand), and it was fun learning Italian words for things and trying to figure out what was what. We also visited Santa Croce and paid our respects to some of Italy's greatest talents.

DAY 6
We went to the Bargello Museum and then to the Vigil Mass at Santa Croce. It was amazing to be standing where Michelangelo once stood when he attended this church as a child.

Posted by
11294 posts

Great report so far!

To avoid this report getting broken up into pieces, instead of starting a new post for Part 2, just post it as a reply in this thread. That way, the whole trip stays together in one place.

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51 posts

DAY 7
We went to the Duomo and climbed the Dome and Campanile. Then we saw (admired, I should say) the David at the Accademia Gallery. Later, I went on my own to the Uffizi Gallery and Ponte Vecchio. On my way back, I passed through Piazza della Signoria, and I came across a crowd watching a clown. He beckoned a random female spectator and took her for a brief waltz around the square before bestowing an overlong kiss on the flustered woman and smearing white paint on her face - I then quickly moved past as he searched out his next transitory lover. Suddenly, I heard loud, upbeat pop music as a group of young adults descended upon the square - it was a flash mob. It was a very entertaining way to end the afternoon.

DAY 8
Our itinerary changed a little bit as my mom felt unwell, and we ended up going to the hospital late the night before. Luckily, the hospital was only a few minutes' walk away (we couldn't take the ambulance as there was a commotion outside our hotel and the EMTs were trying to calm a boisterous man). I never thought I would walk the streets of Florence in my pajama pants at midnight. After about three hours of lab tests, the doctor diagnosed my mom with a case of exhaustion. Thank goodness it was nothing serious! He told my mom to rest the next day, and we returned home, relieved. However, when my mom took off her jacket, she found the IV cannula still attached to her forearm. So we returned back to the hospital. At least it's only five minutes, I told myself. We also tried to pay the hospital bill at the kiosk there, but the nurse reported it was malfunctioning, so we decided to try again later.

That morning, our friends from the Netherlands visited us. We were planning to go to Pisa and Siena, but my mom was now resting per the doctor's orders. However, my mom was really determined to see the Leaning Tower, so we granted her her wish that afternoon.

That evening, we returned to the hospital to try to pay off our bill. We encountered a different nurse who gave us different instructions, something along the lines of paying at the local bank, which happened to be closed at that time. We didn't want to go back to the hospital the next day, so we tried one more time at the kiosk. Unable to find an option for English, we asked a nearby security guard for help. Despite the language barrier, we successfully made our payment. We really owe that kind security guard for saving our itinerary. If it weren't for him, we probably wouldn't have made it to Siena.

DAY 9
Finally, Siena! My mom was still recuperating, so we couldn't spend the full day as we would've liked. So our visit felt as quick as the Palio. I liked how the Palazzo Pubblico had a "smiling face" (or at least it looked like that to me), as if to show us how glad it was that we were still able to visit the city, although briefly.

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DAY 10
I was determined to get a leather product as a souvenir from Florence. I had gone into a leather goods boutique a few days before and was quickly attracted to a tan jacket in the corner. The salesman, who was wearing a black leather jacket, saw my interest and began talking to me about the exceptional quality and permitted me to try it on. We started chatting, and I told him where I was from. He said that his brother actually married a woman from the same area. "She stepped in this shop, and the rest is history," the salesman laughed. Sadly, they ended up divorcing.

The leather jacket was a bit pricey, and I didn't want to make a rash splurge, so I decided to sleep on it. A few days later, who else did I run into but that same salesman at Conad (I quickly recognized that black leather jacket). I told him I wasn't sure if I could return the next day because I was leaving for Venice. At that moment, his face dropped. I had never seen a salesperson look so crestfallen over possibly losing a customer's business. As I left Conad, I thought, Maybe this is a sign that I should get that jacket after all.

With this newfound conviction, I returned to the boutique, where I was greeted by the elated salesman. Before I could say anything, he jumped up from his chair and headed to the storeroom, appearing with my leather jacket under a plastic cover. I was touched that he kept it on hold for me when I never requested it, and even more so that he seemed to have faith that I would return despite the odds at the time. I was happy to see him cheerful again - it would've been awful leaving Italy knowing that I have disheartened an Italian.

We arrived in Venice in the afternoon and took the vaporetto for a leisurely cruise down the Grand Canal to St. Mark's Square. We walked on the raised planks as the city was experiencing high tide, and I was amused to see one tourist frolicking in the water barefoot, posing for that perfect playful shot.

Our hosts, a couple, told us a little of their story as they led us up the five flights of stairs to their palazzo. "I actually found this place through Rick's guidebook, fell in love with the host, and so here I am today," the wife told us. Imagine that - Rick Steves, not only an esteemed world traveler but also a successful matchmaker!

We spent the evening in St. Mark's Square, and one of the quartets began playing the theme from Summertime, starring Katharine Hepburn and Rossano Brazzi. Of course they would play that, I smiled to myself. I could not help but feel a little starstruck, knowing that I was in the very place where one of the most renowned actors to ever grace film once stood. I remembered the scene when Katharine's character, Jane, finally pushes herself to leave the pensione. As she's wandering about, she hears the sound of chimes. She rushes towards it and finds herself in the very crowded square, her eye immediately drawn to the towering Campanile. I took a moment to share in her gaze as the rest of the scene played out in my head: "Don't change a thing, not one thing!" a tourist exclaimed as she saw St. Mark's Square for the first time.

Posted by
11294 posts

Great stories, both happy (the jacket) and unhappy (your mom's illness). When people talk about how you have to allow that unexpected things, good and bad, happen when you travel, and that these are often the most memorable experiences, I'll try to remember to point them to this report!

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DAY 11
In the morning, we visited the fish market and the Rialto Bridge. Per our host's suggestion, we tried gelato at Suso. He told us Manet was his favorite flavor, and after trying it, I could see why. If I remember correctly, it's pistachio and chocolate mixed together. It was full and creamy, a perfect combination of sweet with a hint of salty. I thought about trying a different flavor next time, but it was so good that I got it again. In the afternoon, we escaped to the quiet islands of Murano and Burano, appreciating the delicate art of their fine glass and lace products.

DAY 12
Our last day came too soon. We spent more time in St. Marks' Square, visiting the Basilica and even dropping in on a Mass said in Italian at an adjacent chapel, where we prayed for a safe journey home. My mom decided to stay a while longer in the Basilica while I went off to the Doge's Palace. The exterior reminded me of a lavish cake embellished with intricate frosting, the kind you would see at an upscale wedding. I was most awestruck by the Chamber of the Great Council, one of the largest rooms in all of Europe. Capable of holding 1200 - 2000 people, the room can accommodate the entire undergraduate student body at my alma mater! But then again, my university is small. It was the grandest room I had ever seen. Paintings showcasing major events in Venetian history adorned almost every square inch of the walls and ceilings. I passed by a group of schoolchildren - all wearing red baseball caps - listening to their teacher. She was speaking in Italian, of course, but clearly she was educating her class about the significance of the room. Who needs a history textbook in a stuffy classroom when you have a magnificent picture book - a pure feast for the eyes - in a commodious palace?

I capped the morning with a panoramic view of Venice from the top of the Campanile (I was grateful that it had an elevator). From there, I could make out our red palazzo with the green shutters, just a little further behind the Basilica. I relished one more opportunity to see another part of Italy, absorbing all of its life and beauty all in one moment.

In the afternoon, we decided to visit Palazzo Barbaro. Our host mentioned that it had a beautiful garden and is one of Venice's best kept secrets. On the way, my mom would stop me every few yards for a photo. Is there anywhere in Italy that is not photogenic? Because we were so caught up with trying to capture every picture-perfect moment, we missed the last entry time into the palazzo. This was the one time where I almost cursed Italy's distracting beauty. We were disappointed but quickly moved on. After all, there were many other gems to stumble upon in Venice. Literally.

Wandering into a nearby square, we found ourselves at an antiques market. We pored over an array of household items, clothing, artwork, books, and knickknacks. Then we came to the table selling jewelry. "Maybe we can find a matching necklace and ring to go along with your sapphire earrings," my mom said as she scoured the small containers. Sure enough, my mom soon found a matching set. She always had a good eye. Maybe it's Italy's way of apologizing for derailing our visit to the palazzo, I jokingly mused. As I secured the necklace around my neck and slipped the ring onto my finger, I wondered, Who wore this before me? What was she like? Perhaps it was fate that we ended up at the antiques market instead; otherwise, I would not have been blessed with a lucky find. Sometimes, we are so focused on the destination ahead that we forget to see and appreciate the good things - no matter how small - that come up unexpectedly along the side of the road. It's okay to take the occasional detour.

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51 posts

Like nearly everyone else who has been to Italy, I wish I could've stayed longer. I did throw my customary euro into the Trevi Fountain, so I'm sure that there will be many more trips to come. There will always be more places to see, people to meet, and more gelato to eat. To all those who have not yet gone to Italy, what are you waiting for? Go! Everyone should visit Italy at least once in their lives. And to all those who are making their first or fiftieth trip, buon viaggio! You'll love it - every single time.

Posted by
2499 posts

So enjoyed your report and charming stories! You had many lovely adventures and, with your Mother, making the trip very special. My Mom can no longer travel but she loves to follow along when I go somewhere. I am going to Italy for my first time this coming Thursday, Oct. 6! Can't wait.🇮🇪
Thanks!
Judy B

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51 posts

Thanks, Judy B! I'm really excited for you (and a little jealous, haha). I left for Italy on Oct 4, so I can't believe it's been a year already. I wish you a safe and memorable trip. I'd love to read about your trip when you come back :)

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2252 posts

Bernadette, you are a wonderful writer and I enjoyed every moment of your trip report. What terrific stories and memories you and your Mom have created. I love Italy, too and am making a note of that special flavor of gelato, Manet? It will be a new one for me and sounds delicious. I am never one to pass up gelato!
Edit to add Congratulations on your graduation!

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51 posts

Thank you, Andi :) This was my first trip ever to Europe, and I'd love to visit other countries as well.

According to our host, Suso is the best gelateria in all of Venice. All of its flavors are great, but he loves Manet the most. I forget where it's at exactly, but I remember that it was in kind of a hidden spot. The host gave us a good map that showed all the alleys, so that really helped.