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Our First Trip to Italy--March 2023

Photos: I’ve posted some of my photos on google photos. Generally, I do not like people in my photos. 😊 This was a little challenging in Italy.

https://photos.app.goo.gl/EEdUiXay6PubqW1g7

Brief Introductions. We (myself, my sister, and my bro in law) are mid to late 40s and this was our second trip to Europe together. We all traveled to Switzerland in Sept. 2021.

Will this trip happen? In February, my sister ended up in the emergency room with a ruptured appendix, which required a week-long hospital stay. But, she recovered in time and we were soon on our way to Italy.

Packing. We’re like the anti Rick Steve packers as we check our bags. 😊 This usually works well for us, but maybe not so much on the way home this time. More on this later.

A few new things I tried this trip. 1) Turning my wool socks inside out after wearing to air them out so they can by reworn multiple times. 2) I brought an Anker portable charger for my phone which I used most days and was glad to have.

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08TW7BRTJ/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_search_asin_title?ie=UTF8&th=1

3) I tried this stuff that my sister uses for hair—Osis Thrill fiber gum. I’m low maintenance and always have my hair back in a ponytail. This stuff worked much better than my usual hairspray at keeping all the hairs in place. I transferred some to a smaller container. No more worrying about my tiny hairspray bottle leaking.

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000GZ7GGA/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_search_asin_title?ie=UTF8&psc=1

Weather. We had near perfect weather on this trip—cool in the mornings (40s – 50s) then warming up in the afternoons (50s to 60s). This was my 4th trip to Europe in the last 2 years and I’ve had near perfect weather on each trip. There’s no way my luck can continue. I’m preparing for lots of rain when I head to the UK next month.

Starting in Switzerland. As there are no nonstop flights from Chicago to anywhere in Italy during the offseason, I had the brilliant idea to start our trip in Switzerland as Swiss Air has a nonstop from Chicago to Zurich. I’m always looking for an excuse to return to Switzerland. 😊

Lugano—First Home-Base. We spent our first 2 nights in Lugano, Switzerland at the Hotel Dante. This was just long enough to stock up on chocolate and our favorite paprika potato chips before heading to Italy. We had planned on a day trip to Como, Italy, but due to a local train strike, we headed to Locarno instead.

Verona—Second-Home Base. We spent our next 7 nights in Verona, Italy at the Hotel Indigo. We chose this location because my sister and her husband had enough credit card points to cover both our rooms and I was hoping it would be a less crowded place to stay and it was.

Day trip to Venice. Yes, we took a day trip to Venice and absolutely loved it. We loved it so much we did a second day trip a few days later. 😊 This was our favorite place as it is just so unique and a fabulous place to just wander around (away from busy St. Mark’s square). I purchased skip the line tickets for the basilica (6 EUR each), which allowed us to walk right past the super long line. Thanks to RS for the tip!!

Day trip to Florence. Yes, we took a day trip to Florence. Did you know they sell Swiss chocolate in Florence? The Lindt chocolate shop across from the Duomo was like a magnet, pulling us in. 😊 I found Florence to be more city-like than I was expecting. And it was so crowded around Piazza della Signoria due to a couple of photo shoots taking place. There was so much security and police and they were constantly shouting, no pictures, no pictures!!! Ummm, we’re in Florence, we have to take pictures.

Day trip to Lake Garda. We took the 23-minute train to Desenzano del Garda. We loved it!! I think we were the only tourists there.

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Rome—Third and Final Home-Base. We spent our final 5 nights in Rome at the Hotel Smeraldo, a hotel I had seen recommended many times on the RS forum. The staff and location were great!! We went to the gelato place across the street--Fatamorgana Gelato—so many times that the lady treated us to free gelato on our last night. We did all the main touristy things as this was our first time in Rome. I had purchased tickets with special access to the arena floor at the colosseum and these were well worth getting up in the middle of the night to get. Great photos from this location. I also got tickets ahead of time to see Pope Francis. We’re all Catholic and it was pretty exciting. We went back another day and went up to the Dome at St. Peter’s. Not sure how my sister made it up all those stairs, but she did. The Jewish Ghetto and Botanic Garden near Trastevere were both nice areas to explore. Almost forgot to mention, there was a RS tour group staying at the hotel and they were all getting coffee Americano at breakfast. I thought, that’s not really traveling like a local. 😊

Steps. Italy of course is a great country for walking, and walking we did. Not including our travel days, we walked between 14k and 23K steps per day. All 3 of us in our Brooks’ Ghost running shoes.

Flight Home: We had an early flight from Rome, connecting in Zurich. I was so happy to be back in Switzerland, even if just for 2 hours. My sister got a wheelchair and the guy was fabulous. I asked him a question about passport control, and his response was something like “Don’t you worry about anything. You are my guests today and I will take care of everything.” And he did. He even cut in front of line to get us some snacks. 😊 Everything went smoothly, until we got to O’hare. There was a 3-hour delay with the luggage from our flight. Yes, I know, don’t check your bags and you won’t have this problem. 😊 Oh, I almost forgot, we were somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean when a message appeared on our video screens: “There’s a medical emergency. Is there a doctor or medical professional on the flight?” Apparently, a couple of people had an allergic reaction to the dessert containing nuts that was served with dinner.

Traveling Companion Woes. This trip almost ended early with me wanting to ship my sister and her husband back to the US. 😊 I felt like I was traveling with my sister and an 8-year old child. I should have told these 2 ahead of time that there is a “no grumps” policy on my trips. I think I’ll leave it there for now. I may start a separate thread on this topic at a later date.

General Impressions of Italy. I did not fall in love with Italy like I did Switzerland. Switzerland is definitely more my style—very efficient, everything just works, the people don’t bother you, the SBB app tells you where to stand on the train platform, less crowded, etc. That being said, I certainly enjoyed Rome more than I thought I would. Thanks to all the info. on the Italy forum, I was well prepared. Tipping at dinner? No thank-you!!! Being approached for a taxi ride on our way to the official taxi line at the Rome train station. No thank-you!!! Do you speak English, would you like this lovely bracelet? No thank-you!!!

Next up: I leave for Edinburgh and York next month for a solo trip. And I have another solo trip in Sept./Oct. to Belgium and the Netherlands. I was planning a trip to Spain next March with my sister and her husband, but after the challenges on this trip, I need to think on that some more.

P.S. I wanted to get this trip report posted before I return to work tomorrow. If I have some time later, I’ll go in and add some more detail.

Posted by
14156 posts

What a terrific trip you had...in spite of companion woes. Been there with family, totally understand.

Your pictures are excellent! And ..... laughing....you made it to Mr Tiramisu in Rome!! Whee!

Your weather sounds perfect as well. Italy can be too hot for me so I should consider going in March when I go back!

Thank you for taking the time to post!

Posted by
11437 posts

Lovely, well-organized, and concise report! Sounds like a terrific trip! I really want to know about the traveling companion woes. We are joining my brother and SIL next month for two weeks. We usually travel well together, luckily, but there have been moments....

I love Italy but Switzerland has become our addiction the past couple of years. 7 weeks there later this year!

Posted by
7389 posts

Carrie, thank you for sharing the items & ideas that worked well for you! I loved seeing the familiar beautiful sites on your photos, and then….there was Mr. 100 Tiramisu! Well, of course! It’s iconic now! I’ll have to tell my daughter that it’s continuing to show up on the forum. ; )

No advice to share since you tried the two ways I know of to keep everyone happy - lots of gelato & tiramisu.

Posted by
203 posts

GREAT trip report! Thank you for posting. Well organized, hits the highlights. I'd read more from you.
Re: challenging travel companion - yup, we are all ears to hear more about this. There are so many ways even two people can have different travel styles to iron out. Compromise is often possible but it sounds like you should discuss everything in advance of any repeat joint travel.

Posted by
483 posts

Great trip report, and more importantly, great trip.

The flying Chicago to Zurich sounds like a winner, and so I'm bookmarking, as there's no way I will remember until 2025, when we're going back to Italy (3x).

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497 posts

Tell me more about Lugano! Since we’re trying to combine a bit of Italy with Switzerland that seems like a logical transition spot. We’ll either start in Switzerland and head to Italy or Vice versa. Love,to hear more!

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1676 posts

Sounds like a great trip! How did you like Verona? I was surprised that it was my favourite of the places we stayed in Italy.

Posted by
2453 posts

Absolutely beautiful photos! I'm jealous about Mr. Tiramisu.

Posted by
585 posts

Love the way you’ve used different angles for your photos….some different perspectives on familiar places.b thanks.

So, about your traveling companions…..as you can guess we are all intrigued!

Posted by
4979 posts

Carrie,
I think rain is good weather in the UK! 😉
Another well- written, readable Trip Report, and great pix. And you tease with further comments on the "eight year old." (Sometimes my husband acts like that when he's hungry.)
Did you think Lugano looked "less Swiss"- not as orderly or as maintained? Or do I have outside opinion?
Verona looks incredible, haven't had the pleasure yet.
Venice is one of my favorite places, as I return in May for a repeat repeat visit. I love just being there.
Thanks for sharing in the midst of jet lag. Wow- three hours for luggage!
Anxiously awaiting your follow-ups.

Posted by
5258 posts

Hi Carrie,

Thanks for sharing your trip with us!
Wow, it’s great that your sister had a quick recovery and was able to travel.

a “no grumps” policy on my trips.

This should be a rule for life, right?

Looking forward to reading your upcoming trip reports!

Posted by
15975 posts

Nice report, Carrie! I enjoyed both the read and the snaps very much....altho the issue with your traveling companions reminded me of a disaster of a trip with my own sibling some years ago. 😬. High-fives for having a great time in spite of the grumps!

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2771 posts

Photos: I appreciate the kind feedback on my photos. I just recently became interested in photography when I started traveling. I still have a lot to learn. I have the most difficult time with buildings. I find the pictures of just the front of a building to be boring, so I’m experimenting with different angles. Also, if there’s a random person or vehicle in front of a building, an angle can be a way to get the picture minus the person/object.

Mr Tiramisu: I learned about this place from jean’s trip report. I’m always reading the RS forum and taking notes. It’s such a great resource for trip planning. We loved the tiramisu, but found it to be heavier than gelato. So, we went back to eating gelato 2-3 times a day. 😊 Our favorite gelato flavors were Stracciatella and salted chocolate moo milk. Another tip I learned from RS was to avoid the gelato places with the bright artificial flavors. We did end up going to one once, and you can really tell the difference in quality.

Lugano: I wouldn’t consider this an ideal Swiss destination as I much prefer Lucerne and Montreux for lake destinations, but this worked well as a pit stop on the way to Italy. I found it to be very clean, like all Swiss destinations I have visited. There’s a convenient funicular that takes you up and down from the train station to the city center, so you don’t have to use the stairs with your luggage. 60 days prior to the trip, I purchased Saver Day Passes, which allowed us to hop on any train from the Zurich airport to Lugano. This also covered the cost of the funicular. Also in the Italian region is bellinzona, which we visited on our 2021 trip, and really enjoyed.

Verona: This was a great introduction to Italy for us—lots to see and do and not crowded until the weekend. The highlight for me was the Scaliger Bridge as I returned multiple times to take pictures. The Verona arena is right in the city center, but lots of construction around and inside. My sister wanted pictures from the balcony at Juliet’s house, so we did that. You have to purchase tickets online. The mobs of people that came in and out of the small courtyard were crazy!!! There is a church pass you can purchase for 8 EUR for entry into the 4 main churches--Basilica Santa Anastasia, Basilica San Zeno, Duomo, San Fermo. This pass is good for 90 days. There is also the 24-hour or 48-hour Verona card, which we did not get.

https://www.visitverona.it/en/explore/culture-at-an-affordable-price

Traveling Companion Woes: I’m glad there’s interest in this as I could use some advice. I just don’t want to come across as a grump in complaining about the grumps. 😊 I’ve started a new topic on this here

https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/general-europe/traveling-companion-woes

Posted by
1383 posts

Enjoying the report and I'm with you on trying to have no one in my photos, other than me or whomever I am with. :0)

Posted by
77 posts

Loving the pics....a few questions/comments.

Was the pictures of the Pope....was that the general audience, I presume? Usually on Wednesdays?

At Mr 100 Tiramisu...do the tiramisus (other than the classic flavor) have coffee in them, that you can tell?

Your comment about bright colors for gelato is interesting. I have read the same and also that the "better" gelaterias have their gelato down in the silver bins, rather than out in the case for people to see.

I will also be traveling from Chicago to Rome (man I find a lot of Chicago-to-Rome travelers out there) but I will be traveling through Copenhagen. Did you have to go through immigration control when you arrived in Italy? Passport stamped? Just curious.

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2771 posts

cchapin100, no cows in Lugano. ☹ But, my sister was so excited to see a Zweifel paprika chip truck parked in the street. I’ve got a great picture of her standing in front of it. We love those chips so much!!

melmay14, yes, we saw the pope on a wednesday. I emailed the Vatican about a month before our trip and a few days later received an email with instructions on where to pick up the tickets. Info. here if you’re interested:

http://www.papalaudience.org/tickets

It almost felt like we were at a rock concert. People were chanting “papa francesco, papa francesco.”

Regarding the tiramisu, I don’t like coffee and don’t drink it, but I loved the tiramisu. I didn’t notice a coffee taste, just chocolate and peanut butter and all sorts of good flavors.

We flew into Zurich, Switzerland, so we had passport control there. If you are connecting in Copenhagen, you will have passport control there. And then on the way home, we fly out of Rome, connecting in Zurich. Passport control was in Zurich. Passports were stamped both times.

Now, when we took the train into Italy from Switzerland, border control agents boarded the train and just glanced at our passports. No stamp. A message appeared on the monitors letting us know border control would be checking passports and to also have our luggage handy. I didn’t see them check any luggage.

Posted by
77 posts

Thanks! Yeah, I think I will unfortunately miss the Weds Audience. (also Catholic here, would be a pretty cool thing) I am traveling to Napoli and Sorrento. So in order to get a couple of days at both the other locations, I need to probably cut off the Rome portion on Tues, which would give me 2 days in Napoli and 2 days in Sorrento.

I've not pulled a trigger yet on my flight, as I think there is maybe a 15% chance we will be called off for work the Friday I would leave. Which means I could leave earlier. Which would mean arriving in Italy sooner. Perhaps I could fly into Naples, spend time there for a couple of days and move onto Rome.

That said, I think I have resigned myself to be happy with the Sunday blessing.

Great to hear about the tiramisu....I am also not a coffee person.