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My Way Italy May 2022 + snippets

We finished our RS Sicily and took a much-too-early flight to Venice, where the tours starts. We were fortunate to be able to book the additional days at the tour hotel, so we didn’t have to pack and unpack (and get lost) again. We checked bags since ITA has a fairly low weight allowance for carry-on. I carried a change of clothes for both of us, just in case. Rain greeted us on arriving in Venice. My husband grabbed the bags while I got a 72 hour ACTV pass from the ticket machine. The ACTV bus was out the door and we were on our way.

Snippet 1: The ticket kiosks for both ACTV and Alilaguna next to the baggage claim were mobbed, but the one by an empty carousel had no line.
Snippet 2: Consider carefully whether you want to do Alilaguna or ACTV bus & vaparetto, and follow the RS recommendation for the vaparetto line to your hotel you decide on that. In our case, the ACTV #5 stopped MANY times between the airport and the bus terminal and our hotel recommended vaparetto #1 which also stops MANY times before it gets to San Zaccaria. My husband was NOT happy with this choice.

Wet and tired, we found the very centrally- located hotel and our room was ready. I had booked an afternoon tour with Walks of Italy to do St. Mark’s and the Doges Palace. In light of the rain, it was a good choice. The lines for entry into both were very long. The guide was cheery and informative and it wasn’t difficult to find the meeting spot. We’ve done 3 tours where meeting the guides was in a central location that meant it was a really busy spot, but we’ve never had trouble finding them. We were impressed with how crowded Piazza San Marco was, but it cleared out every evening. After the tour we arranged to meet friends for dinner at a place known for their fish, and when I find the name, I’ll edit the post.

Snippet: The restaurant seemed a bit miffed that we didn’t have reservations but found us a table. There is a preference for reservations that we don’t have in the US.

My husband is a glass-blower, so Saturday meant a trip to Murano. We went early, trying to follow Map Quest directions and a map. Eventually we made it to Fondamente Nove and Vaparetto 4.1 We got off at the first Murano stop, which was a good idea because early in the day the guys trying to reel you into their stores/ furnace are not out yet. We had a quiet walk to the Glass Museum and a nearly-empty museum. My husband was very careful to find shops that had unique glass and ended up buying one of his favorites and chatting up the owner, who enjoyed sharing techniques and actually took us to his son’s restaurant and bought us an aperetivo. From noon on, the town was thick with people. We had booked the cicchetti tour with Alessandro (mentioned in RS guide) that night and that turned out to be such fun. The 7 of us were all on our way to different RS tours. The 2 hours flew and the food was enough for dinner. One of the bars was Cantina Do Mori, which has been in operation since 1462.

Snippet: We were not very successful with paper maps in Venice. We relied on I-phone map app and Map Quest step-by-step directions. The app is great as long as you make sure to put in the destination correctly and not abbreviate. Putting in “Rialto” will take you to something other than the Rialto Bridge. You will see many people glued to their phone diligently following directions.

The weather finally started to clear on Sunday. We got in line for the Campinele in Piazza San Marco and took the elevator to the top for the view. The tower did not open until 9:30. After the view, we took the vaparetto to San Giorgio and rode to the top for more views. Then we found our way to Fondamente Nove and made the mistake of taking the 4.1 instead of the 12, planning to see Burano & Torcello. Big mistake- the line for the # 12 to Burano from Murano was so long and because it takes between 35 and 40 min.to get there, the boats aren’t as frequent.

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Burano was so crowded it was not fun. So, we took pictures, got on the next boat and went back to Venice. The tour group meeting started at 5 pm. The guide introduced himself and explained policy & procedure. We picked travel buddies and were set free for the evening. We had not done a gondola ride, and our tour buddies were interested. Our guide told us where he thought was a good spot and we agreed to meet there at 8:00 p.m. It was easier than I thought to find someone to split the cost and we had a wonderful time. It’s more expensive at night, but it’s a much nicer ride.

Snippet: With our My Way tour there was no group chat where you get to know one another. However, after 6 days, we’ve come together nicely as a group.

Monday was our day in Venice. With pre-booked tickets and an early start, I think most people were able to see what they wanted. We walked to the Giardini area away from Piazza San Marco. They are celebrating La Biennale di Venezia and there were some fun sculptures on the way in pocket parks. We also took a final vaparetto ride on the #1 and this time we knew what to expect. It was mostly a day to wander and enjoy the fact that we knew how to get back to our hotel without using navigation. We picked a cicchetti bar for dinner as we’d had pasta for lunch.

Snippets: 1000 Gourmet has really good pizza and overall a very fresh menu. Antics Osteria Ruga Rialto had excellent fritte misto.

All 25 of us loaded up, walked to the vaparetto stop and successfully made it to the bus. Off to Varenna with Autogrill stops along the way. Varenna is breath-taking and the hotel had gorgeous views of the lake as well as a pool. On the guidebooks suggestion, we had booked dinner reservations with Il Caminetto. There was time to walk along the promenade and see the gardens at Villa Cipressi. We got picked up at the ferry docked and transported up the hills to the restaurant. I had planned on the 3-course dinner for 32e, but we could have ordered off the menu. They only serve 22 a night. It was a memorable meal: appetizers, pate with toast, some ravioli, an outstanding risotto, a mail course and then we opted to share a chocolate layered cake for dessert. Memorable and reasonably priced. They took us back to our hotel area after dinner, which was helpful as we would have had trouble navigating from the ferry dock in the dark.

Without a typical guide, we’ve relied on guide book suggestions more this time. We had a wonderful buffet breakfast, then bought our day-pass ferry ticket. Per guidebook recommendation, we took the ferry to the end, Lenno. Villa Balbianello is closed on Wednesday, so we stayed on board and got off at the Villa Carlotta stop. Even my husband was impressed - the Villa and gardens are gorgeous. I think we were there for about 3 hours. We would have eaten at their cafe but all that was left was inside seating and it was too hot for that. The next stop was Bellagio, which was very crowded. We opted not to walk to Villa Melzie, and tried to find some place to eat. We found a place uphill for pizza, but staff was rushed off their feet. Figuring out which ferry dock to take back to Varenna took some asking, but actually ferry staff is great about calling out the stop. You can kind of tell which boat you need by the direction it’s pointing. Back to the hotel and an aperitivo on the terrace.

Snippets: Ticket lines for the ferry can be long as frequently staff is trying to navigate language barriers. We were glad we bought a day pass and skipped the hassle. I wish we would have paid more attention the the ferry schedule and planned our time so we didn’t end up waiting in the heat. You can check departure times when you get off.

Another snippet: in Varenna the aperitivo drink at the hotel seemed expensive until they brought the platter with chips, nuts, and 3 small appetizers apiece. The people that order a bottle got even more!

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You mentioned that in Italy you do need to make dinner reservations. We have seen people turned away even when there were empty tables available.
Looking forward to more of your report as the My Way trips interest me.’

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Varenna and Cinque Terre were the first time on a RS tour I regretted not bringing a swimsuit. The hotel had beach towels in the rooms and the beach in Monterosso looked so inviting. Again, all 25 of us managed to go up and downstairs and get on the same train from the bus point in Levanto to Monterosso. There was time to drop laundry and then walk both old & new town. Our tour buddies invited us to join them at The Belvedere for dinner as they had thought to make advanced reservations. With another RS group in town, The Belvedere was fully booked. We were able to sit outside and enjoyed their delicious pesto pasta. The following morning we went to the train station and bought the Treno pass even though we didn’t intend to hike, just use the train. It made it so much easier not to have to buy a ticket each time. We took the train to Corneglia and walked up the road from the station to the town. There is a path with some killer zigzag stairs or a shuttle bus.The road was a nice compromise but it was exercise! We actually thought this town was more interesting than Vernazza, maybe because it wasn’t so crowded so you could see the shops and they were more individual. On to Vernazza and there were the crowds. There are lots of shops selling basically the same thing on the Main Street. We did find a great focaccia spot close to the boat dock. Back to Monterosso and dinner in old town at La Belena Blu. Lots of younger members on the tour hiked the available trails.

Snippet- great spot for laundry in the new town part of Monterosso. She did it and even asked the temp for washing and drying - reasonable price and delivered back to the hotel.

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What a fun time you are having! Looking forward to the rest of the trip!

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Patty, what did you find was the best way to make restaurant reservations in Venice? And how far in advance?
Thanks!

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With dinner reservations, I think it depends if you have a particular place and/or a particular time you’d like to eat. The places I really wanted to secure, I made reservations well before travel. The places we were interested in, could be made the day before or when they open for the day. I used a combination of WhatsApp and just stopping by in person. If your more flexible, you can just walk and see what has a spot.

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loving this report, Patty. Thanks so much for all the names of the places you are visiting. Can you please drop the names of the hotels that RS placed you in each city?

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As you probably know, not all tours stay in the same hotel. Here are the ones for our tours:
Venice- Hotel Antigo Trovatore
Varenna- Hotel Royal Victoria
Monterosso - Hotel Punta Mesco - secure wi-fi and beach towels
Florence - Hotel California
Assisi - Hotel Umbra - secure wi-fi
Rome - Hotel Dei Consoli

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Being a huge Eagles fan, I laughed out loud when I saw your Florence hotel! We are scheduled for this same tour in late September and I'm hoping we'll get to stay there as well (assuming the Hotel California has allowed guests to leave!).

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Well, we’re in Rome now! It’s a great location with the Accademia and a great gelato out to the right and the Duomo a couple of blocks to the left.

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Oh dear, I can see where my late night flippant response about being able to leave the Hotel California in Florence went sideways! The Hotel California in Florence is just down the street from the Accademia, etc…

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Glad to hear you enjoyed the dinner at il Caminetto near Varenna. I took the cooking class there when I was there in 2019 and enjoyed it tremendously. I wasn’t staying in Verona itself, but rather in a small village up the hill a couple kilometers and he came all the way up to pick me up and deliver me back at the end of the evening. What a nice man. And the food was delicious. There was a group of young women on an Australian bachelorette party in our class, and that made the evening extra fun.

Interesting to hear that Bill is a glass blower. What a great hobby.

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We are going on the my way tour to Italy in June. Your post has been very helpful!! Thank you for the specific suggestions and tips. It has really helped my planning. I would love to know any other suggestions for Florence, Assisi and the Rome portion of the trip if you have time to update. Also, on the tour itinerary it states you will be free to sightsee when arriving in Rome at 3pm. Does that mean we would be safe to book a Colisseum tour at 3:30?

Thanks so much again for your help!!

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bwhitehead089, a side note to Patty's great report here (well done, Patty!)? If you do indeed end up at Hotel Dei Consoli, it's quite some distance from the Colosseum: see both on a map. There's also no guarantee that you'll arrive precisely at 3:00, get checked in and into your room to drop the bags within a matter of minutes. Then you have to get down to the colosseum and find your tour's starting place; you'll want to get there early. In short, there's no way I'd book a tour starting within an estimated 1/2 hour of arrival.

As well, it sounds as if you've not booked a tour yet for next month?

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Bwhitehead - you’re in for a great time! I would echo Kathy, although we got in to Rome ahead of the 3:00 estimate. It’s a big risk, but you might want to check with the RS Tour office ( try email) to get their advice. I’ll finish the tour report later today, but have you been to Florence or Rome before?

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I have not been to Italy before- we are so excited! Thank you for your responses. I was also concerned we may be cutting it too close. We booked the tour a while back, but still have time to cancel the reservation with no charge. I took your advice and sent an email to the Rick Steves tour operators, so maybe they will confirm the decision to cancel. Thanks again for your trip report. It has been so, so helpful with our planning.

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Next stop Florence, with a few blocks of luggage dragging to the Hotel California. The Accademia is a few blocks out the door to the right and the Duomo a few more blocks to the left. This was our second trip to Florence and we’d hit the major site the first time. This trip we concentrated on the Palazzo Pitti/Boboli Gardens and the Duomo Museum ( Musee dell’ Opera del Duomo). We dropped our bags and walked to the VAST Palazzo Pitti, got in the short ticket line and walked in. Lots of rooms, lots of pictures and lots of stairs. One of the highlights was an exhibit on the restoration work being done on Raphael’s Pope Leo X. I was hoping to see the costume museum, but it was closed. Fortified with cold drinks from the cafeteria, we tackled the gardens. They are immense and on a hill, but the view from the top was worth the hike. I wish I had read more about the gardens so we didn’t get worn out before we’d seen everything. From there we walked to Santa Croce and the leather school. The entrance is further down the same street as the entrance to Santa Croce.

Our guide had really promoted the Duomo Museum. We visited first thing the following morning, after we found the ticket office. If you stand between the Baptistery and the Duomo, the ticket office is on the street to the right and the museum is almost directly behind the Duomo. There were 3 ticket options that included the various parts of the Duomo. We bought the Ghiberti Pass which was the cheapest at 15e. We only wanted the museum part as we no longer climb anything on purpose. What a gem of a museum! Recently redone, it houses the original Baptistery doors and well as Michelangelo’s Pieta. We spent a long time here and I’lm glad we were there before the crowds.

Snippets: Great gelato at Gelateria Carabe out the door of the Hotel California to the right.
We had a delicious Florentine steak at Rosso Crudo on the street running parallel behind the hotel. We couldn’t walk any further. They cooked it beautifully so that there was medium & medium rare. It was a splurge, but a delicious one.

On to Assisi, with a stop in Montepulciano. Each tour stops in a hill town and not the same one each time. The uphill walk took us to legendary Cesare’s copper store and work shop, as well as great views, wine tasting and lunch. Then we all fortified ourselves with gelato and rolled back downhill to the bus. There was more uphill walking to get to Assisi, but the luggage went by van. Assisi has two sections - the uphill section with the Basilica of St. Francis, Cathedral of San Rufino, the Basilica of St. Clare, the Roman Forum and, if you still have energy, Rocco Maggiore. The lower town has the Basilica of Santa Maria. One intrepid couple walked down to it and then took the bus back. The rest of us stuck to the upper section. The RS guide mentions the footprint of the Roman Amphitheater. The “footprint” should be in capital letter as you will not actually see an Amphitheater structure, just where it was. We missed the fine print. There were amazing views from the various terraces at the hotel and they provided a nice spot for bringing your own aperitivo stuff to enjoy.

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The final stop was Rome. By now the heat was everywhere. I will never again travel without a skirt or shorts. We learned that AC only works when windows are shut. There was no real lunch stop on the road, so we got to Rome ahead of schedule. The amazing bus driver (aren’t they all?!) double-parked to unload the luggage, thereby infuriating drivers and the police. Hotel del Consoli is about a block from Piazza Risorgimento, close to the Vatican, a bank with an ATM lobby, restaurants and the Old Bridge Gelato, which was too crowded to get in. Everyone scattered to their various tours, etc. This was our fourth visit, so we spent the day walking to favorite sites, 9 miles worth of favorite sites. We staggered to the Piazza Risorgimento and the delicious Bistrot Ago e Lillo for dinner. They have an amazing Cacio e Pepe.

Our last full day in Rome and the dreaded required COVID test. We opted to do it early and end the suspense. With our “negative” test in hand we were able to enjoy our final day. We booked tickets for 5e for the Mausoleum of Augustus. They only allow 16 in at a time with a tour guide who speaks Italian. She enlisted one of the tourmates who was bilingual to translate. There are explanations throughout in both Italian and English. We had never visited Castel Sant’ Angelo, so we checked the line - none, so in we went. It was much more interesting than we expected and there are great views from various levels. We had a final aperitivo celebration with our tour group on the roof of the hotel, where everyone heading back to the state celebrated their negative tests. Friday morning we shared a van with two other couples to the airport and the British Airways flight home. Masks on the flight from Rome to LHR, but not from LHR to Las Vegas. Finally home

Snippet: We booked our COVID test at Farmacia Fabio Massimo online for 10e. You can walk up, but it costs more. We must have checked the wrong box because the first email and paper didn’t have a QR code. We called and they text the document with the QR code. The Binex proctored tests that I faithfully dragged through the trip got squashed and the seal broke. Doing the test at the pharmacy was easier for us.

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Patty, thanks so much for taking the time to write up your trip reports. I can honestly say we will try to mirror more than one or two of your visits to restaurants and attractions. I noticed that all of our hotels are exactly the same except for one; we will stay at Hotel Aberdeen in Rome. I hope I can keep decent notes concerning our choices for the next two weeks so I can write up my own trip reports as time permits.
- Jon (aka Mr. B)

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Another snippet: public bathrooms are not plentiful in Rome. Use the ones in any museum you visit. However, I did find an excellent one in the ChefExpress/Trevi Gourmet right by the Trevi fountain & the McDonalds promotional sign. Buy something, gelato or a drink and then ask for the code to the bathroom. It’s up the stairs, clean and lovely.

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Great report, Patty. I am glad you and Bill had such a good time and tested negative to come home.

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Hi Patty,

Our fellow tour members Sandra and Tom have certainly been getting around. I think they are in France by now. They have met up with some of our other tour members while on their travels. How fun is that! We ran into Ken, Diane and Ryan at the Borghese Gallery. It’s nice to see a familiar friendly face when you are on your own in a different city, isn’t it.

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I think we must have been on the same tour right before you. Most of our hotels were the same except for Varenna (Villa Cipressi, the best hotel on the entire tour) and Monterosso (Albergo Amici). I have been on one RS tour before and I have to admit I was a little shocked at how nice our entire group was and how well we got along. It was nice to have the opportunity to have a complete breakfast before starting the day (included in the tour). We ended up going to unplanned dinners with fellow tour mates several times. We all went to Giglio Rosso in Florence for our Florentine Steak, it was within walking distance of the Hotel California and a seafood dinner in Monterosso. We never had a problem finding a place for dinner just by walking in without reservations. We found the food to be very reasonably priced and fresh. Very delicious and we lost track of all of the gelato we had, all good. We also had several impromptu group happy hours in the hotels. We went on two food tours, one in Venice and one in Rome that were a lot of fun and quite reasonably priced. We also went on a Friday night Vatican tour that was not busy at all. The crazy place was getting into the Uffizi in Florence. We had purchased tickets in advance and had an entry time but that entry process was so convoluted, I would recommend allowing extra time to pick up your tickets. We were directed to 4 different lines before we finally picked up our tickets. Also, might want to bring mosquito repellent, we were eaten alive in Venice at Hotel Antigo Trovatore. All of that standing water in the canals I imagine. Our tour host and driver were both great. Now that we have been on the tour, I wish we could have spent at least one more night in a few of the towns, in particular Lake Como and the Cinque Terre. We didn’t have the time to see everything that we would have liked to. However, we really enjoyed this tour style and everybody on our tour seemed to do something different but we all had a great time.

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My husband and I are doing this tour in late September. I tried to book Colosseum tickets today but it wasn't working. Seemed like you needed to wait until about a month before your tour. Does that sound right to those of you who have done this before? Also, the Duomo Museum is not open the first Tuesday of the month which is our only full day in Florence. I thought maybe we could do that on the Monday when we arrive but later in the afternoon or evening and climb the duomo the next day, but your 3 day ticket seems to activate on the day you sign up to do the climb. Is that how it is or am I looking at the website wrong?

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...your 3 day ticket seems to activate on the day you sign up to do
the climb.

Yes, to climb the dome you need to purchase the Brunelleschi Pass, and it is purchased according to open date/time slot for that piece of the complex. It isn't good for access for the other parts of the complex before the date you've chosen.

https://operaduomofirenze.skiperformance.com/en/store#/en/buy

"Brunelleschi Pass includes access to all monuments of Piazza del Duomo allowing visitors a complete experience with a single ticket: the Baptistery of San Giovanni, Giotto's Bell Tower, Brunelleschi's Dome, the Opera del Duomo Museum and the ancient basilica of Santa Reparata. The validity starts from the date selected for the visit to the Dome. "