I'm accepting Allan's challenge to submit reports on past trips. Our very first Rick Steves tour was the Best of Florence in October 2009. We had traveled to Europe before, but mostly for work and school. We had enjoyed a trip to Italy four years previously, when my sister and her business partner rented a villa in Positano for a summer, and invited various friends and family members to spend a week or so each. It whetted our appetite for foreign travel, and especially for Italy.
So in early 2009 we were sitting around after dinner, saying "One of these days we really need to go back to Italy." One of us said "What are we waiting for?" which was a watershed moment. The next day I headed to the library (no internet at home) and started researching trips to Italy. Much to our surprise, we ended up signing up for a Rick Steves tour - who knew he had tours??? We were sure we wouldn't like it, but thought it would be an easy way to ease into international travel. Well, that was 14 tours ago, and we're still Rickniks!
I'm going to be reporting piecemeal here, adding bits throughout the day or the weekend, but I will add them as "replies" to this topic so they'll all be on the same thread. If this works, I have a lot more tours on which to report!
And I'm going to include pre- and post-tour activities, because that's where we learned more about traveling.
In those early (for us) days of RS tours, we didn't really pay attention to the kinds of things people are asking about now, like how much luggage people had, whether or not the hotels had elevators or air conditioning. So those things are not in my notes, although I will mention them if they pop into my mind while I'm typing.
So we're off!
As it happened, my brother had to join his wife in Chicago the same day we were to leave for Italy, (she was on a business trip,) so he took us to the airport. He was stunned to see that he was taking more luggage for a weekend in Chicago than Stan and I were taking for three weeks in Italy. It was our first RS tour, and we took the "travel light" part of the tour agreement very seriously. We honestly thought we were required to have only one carry-on and one personal item each. But it worked out well for us, and we've followed that plan through to the present day.
We flew KLM to Amsterdam, and enjoyed the flight. My notes mention good food, with wine and liqueurs - and I'm sure we were flying economy class! From Amsterdam we flew directly to Florence, whence we took the city bus to the bus station. From there we walked to the tour hotel, Hotel Torre Guelfa. Our tour packet had contained detailed instructions on how to get there, and we had no trouble. We had taken a short Italian conversation class at our local community college, and had also spent many hours with Pimsleur disks. So when we arrived at the hotel, I gathered my courage, walked up to the desk and said "Buongiorno. Siamo i Xxxxxx, e abbiamo una prenotazione." (Hello, we are the Whosits, and we have a reservation.) The receptionist looked at us and replied in beautiful RP English "You do indeed."
Our room was okay - not as nice as the public areas of the hotel had suggested it would be, but we've found that to be true on many of our tours. Our window opened onto an air shaft, which was disappointing, but it turned out to be a blessing. We later learned from our tour mates that the people who had rooms facing the street were driven crazy by nearby church bells.
We unpacked, then headed out to explore the neighborhood. We found lunch - pizza and sandwiches - and bought a few supplies for the room: cheese, butter, apples, and bread. We figured (and we were right) that we would be eating most of our non-tour provided meals on our own in our room, or picnicking. We wandered past the Duomo, the Baptistry, and Ponte Vecchio. Two things caught our eye: lots of tourists, and amazing street art.