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Trip Report: Best of Venice, Florence & Rome in 10 Days (10/31-11/9 - Part 1)

While Rick Steves suggests spending a night or two prior to the start of your tour in whatever city it may begin to better acclimate yourself, I've never really been one to follow suggestions. Instead, prior to my arrival in Venice, I enjoyed several days in Cornwall & London.

In Cornwall, I stayed at the Jamaica Inn, built in the late 1700s & immortalized as a novel by Daphne du Maurier & film by Alfred Hitchcock (and later others). For those interested in exploring this part of southern England, I found it an ideal location to stage visits to places like Tintagel (legendary birthplace of King Arthur), Slaughter Bridge (the location near his final battle with his bastard son), Dozmary Pool (home to the Lady of the Lake), the Museum of Witchcraft & Magic, Dingles Fairground Heritage Center & other area attractions.

I flew into Cornwall's Newquay Airport & from there, left for London from Gatwick. In London, I chose less interesting lodgings, settling for a Hampton Inn, centrally located in their Waterloo district, very close to the train station & Old Vic, & about a mile away from the West End, which made it ideal for me, as I was there to see some theater. I couldn't get tickets to the Potter play, but I was quite happy with The Woman in Black (as are many others, as it's been running for 27 years), Peter Pan Goes Wrong (absolutely hilarious) & David Bowie's Lazarus. I also caught the final night of the London Blues Fest, which featured Jeff Beck & Van Morrison.

But I'd never been to London before, so I naturally had to do all of the touristy stuff, from things that satisfied my Disney fanboy nature (Regents Park for its connection to 101 Dalmations & St. Paul's Cathedral for its part in Mary Poppins), to the Dickens Museum, Sherlock Holmes Museum, Star Wars scenes & Spirit of London dark ride at Madame Tussauds, Tate Modern, V&A Records & Rebels exhibition on '60s rock & its role in the protest movement of the era, Peter Pan in Kensington Garden, Great Ormond Street Hospital, & countless other places.

My most interesting culinary experience in London was definitely at Dans Le Noir. If you have ever seen the film About Time, with Rachel McAdams, it's the restaurant at the beginning of the film, where they are served in complete darkness. You do not know what you are served until after you have eaten & the wait staff is blind. It's a jarring but fascinating experience.

Even in late October, though I understand it can vary constantly, I only saw rain a single day & even then it was rather brief. I'll happily answer questions about any of the above places for anyone who might be interested.

On Halloween, I made my way to Stansted Airport to Venice & though confused by Venice's many narrow, winding & dead-end streets, I eventually found the tour's first hotel, the Pensione Guerrato. Located steps from the Rialto Bridge & the market, it is tucked down an alley, affording a measure of quiet, at least for those guests who are fortunate enough to be on a side facing away from the clamor of the market.

With our tour meeting not scheduled until 4 pm, I set about to begin my adventure on my own, eager to see some of Venice's
most beloved landmarks, notably The Disney Store & Hard Rock Cafe. Having got those out of my system, I then went off in search of a building that served as the exterior of a library in Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade ("X marks the spot"), & is now hosting a small Leonardo da Vinci museum. After enjoying the exhibit (& dumbly buying a lighter, thinking it was a magnet), I enjoyed a Casanova beverage at the famous Cafe Florian overlooking Doge's Palace & made my way back to the hotel.

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This was my 2nd Rick Steves tour. My first was just last year & it was an extraordinary trip to Ireland. While on that tour, I was by far the youngest, this trip had considerably more diversity in age ranges, which I appreciated, thinking it would mean we'd move a bit faster. Our group was just about 2 dozen people, which while it was also a bit larger than the Ireland tour, was still manageable - even more so with the little radios we all received to hear our guide(s) as we walked through the streets & various museums.
After a welcome & orientation, where we saw children trick or treating (they'd go into shops & enjoy treats of gelato) we departed for a walking tour of Venice & dinner at Bentigodi. I'm no fan of seafood, but those who are seemed to enjoy it tremendously. Things kind of went south for me here, as I caught some sort of virus in London, & spent the night throwing up my hopes & aspirations to the point I was coughing up blood for the next 2 days & unfortunately became Patient Zero for about half a dozen other people on the tour, despite doing my best to keep my distance from everyone.
The next day, we had a local guide provide us with a walking tour of Venice & then went to the colorful nearby island of Burnano (known for its lace) & Torcello (the original settlement of Venice), before returning for an evening gondola ride & dinner on our own. I learned at this point that Venice has the best pizza of the 3 cities we'd visit. The next day, we enjoyed a tour of the Accademia Museum & more of Venice's backstreets, including a look at a gondola repair shop & some other curious corners. I decided to take a ferry to Murano, known for its glassware, on my own.
The next morning, we took our bags to the docks & boarded a ferry that would take us to a bus to Florence. At this point, I threw my back out, & unfortunately would spend much of the rest of the tour walking like a Disney witch. On arrival in Florence, we were given ample time to relax, so of course, I thought I'd torture myself with a walk up a hill to see the extraordinary view afforded by the Piazzale Michelangelo. The Hotel Silla, nice as it is, unfortunately, is a bit off the beaten path, & there isn't much in the way of takeout options, so I went with gellato more often than I should as a meal for the next couple of days.
That first night in Florence, we enjoyed Michelangelo's David, followed by a walking tour & a demonstration of leatherwork. You will be overwhelmed by leather goods in Florence, so it's worthwhile to know the quality stuff from the bad. We then had a group dinner at Giglio Rosso.
The next day, we had an exceptional guide named Angelo, for a walking tour, followed by a cooking class at in Tavola. After this, which allowed for an extraordinary lunch, we had the rest of the day to ourselves, I explored Florence & visited the Galileo Museum & a few of its more famous churches, but not before stopping at a shop named Bartolucci's, which is famous for its Pinocchio carvings. They wished me luck on the coming presidential election (the first of 4 places to do so). Sadly, this was not the country where luck is to be had (that was last year's tour).
This was a big night for me, because I used a bidet for the first time ever. Thank goodness for quality WiFi, because I had to look it up on YouTube, so as to avoid any international incidents involving my posterior.
We began our final day in Florence again with local guides (Angelo & another) for a trip to the Uffizi Gallery to marvel at its extraordinary collections. Caravaggio had always been a favorite of mine, so seeing his Medusa was a thrill. Following that, I visited the Duomo & continued my sad solo adventures to places like the Hard Rock Cafe & Disney Store.

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The following morning, we left Florence behind, but before we were to enter Rome, we would enjoy a visit to a vineyard in Tuscany, parts of which that dated back as far as 500 BC. Going down into the cellar of Tenuta Le Velette, we were told by its owner that there may be bats, so I prepared for a Bruce Wayne moment, where I might be enveloped in the demonic creatures, but sadly, we saw just one, sleeping. I'm not a drinker, but those in the group who were enjoyed pairing various wines with all manner of hors d'oeuvres & learned some of the basics of running a winery, before we were once again on our way.
We arrived in Rome's Hotel Aberdeen & began our walking tour as dusk descended on the city. Then, a heck of a lot more than dusk came down, as what translates as a "water bomb," but was more a hurricane hit as we were within steps of the otherwise gorgeous Trevi Fountain. Our group was scattered, but eventually reconnected as the burst of rain subsided & we made our way to the Pantheon, only to find we arrived just as it was closing, so we made our way to our dinner at Da Pancrazio.
The next morning was spent at the Vatican, where we enjoyed the Vatican Museum & the masterwork of the Sistine Chapel & then the balance of the day was spent on our own (there's a Hard Rock & Disney Store in Rome, as well), & our final day saw a visit to the Church of San Clemente, the massive Colosseum & Palatine Hill, before we parted ways. I took in Guerre Stellari (an exhibition of Star Wars things) & some other things of personal interest, before rejoining the group for a final dinner at Cuoco e Camicia.
I had the good fortune of timing this trip to meet with my brother & his wife who were also vacationing in Italy at the time, so it was a treat to be able to spend time with them, as well as the many great people I met while on the tour. While I myself am the forgettable type, these tours do offer the chance to not only see many extraordinary things, but to create lasting bonds with like-minded travelers.

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2057 posts

You have combined your report nicely. I love that you enjoyed some truly back door experiences (maybe not exactly the Rick Steves definition but still back door-Disney, Hard Rock, etc.) and kept on going and participating as much as you could, in spite of not feeling so great. Nice report, thanks for sharing your tour with us.

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57 posts

I know they're corny, but some Disney Stores have unique items (Think Minnie Mouse dressed as the Queen or Mickey dressed as a leprechaun in London & Dublin). Unfortunately, while I've seen photos of Mickey as a pizza chef, timing is an issue, so the nieces & nephew I was buying for got some other stuff. And Hard Rock? Well, you can only have so much pasta...

There is a great deal to be experienced in Italy & though I was heavily medicated, I still probably moved better than most in my group & covered a lot of ground. I'd recommend this tour to anyone & Rome, especially.

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2445 posts

Your trip report was fun to read.

You make a good point about Disney Stores. I have a hard time finding souvenirs for the kids in my family, and they're all Disney freaks. Thanks for that idea!

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764 posts

Shawn: Thanks for posting your report. It's always fun to read accounts of others' travel. I'm especially interested, as we'll be taking the Venice, Florence and Rome tour next May. Our 19-year-old son will be with us, so I was wondering how the ages of your group broke down. Just curious if our son might expect to have some younger company on the trip. Last year, we took the Best of Paris tour in early June and had a fairly wide range in ages, from a couple of young teens up to several folks in their 70s, with pretty much all ages in between represented.

Sorry to hear of your illness, and I can especially sympathize with throwing your back out, as that has been a near-lifelong issue for me. Glad you were able to carry on.

Cheers!

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9929 posts

I'm so sorry you wound up sick and somewhat injured but I loved reading your Trip Report. Somehow I doubt you are the forgettable type! Thanks for the engaging report!

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57 posts

You're welcome traylaparks. Depending on the store & the time you visit, you can sometimes find a unique Mickey or Minnie themed to the country (it'll even have Disney Store Dublin or whatever stitched into the foot), but this isn't the case at every store. Sometimes it's just t-shirts or spiral notebooks or sometimes, nothing at all. It's always worth a look though, if you have fans you're shopping for.

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It's a tough call, stoutfella, When I went to Ireland, I hoped there'd be younger travelers, specifically single, Kate Beckinsale types, but I was sorely disappointed, as most of those on the trip were retirees. I was the youngest by at least 5 years. This time, there was one woman who I'd guess was in her late 20s, a couple guys in their 30s & then things went up from there. It's a gamble, so I wouldn't worry too much about company. Yes, you'll be spending time with the tour group, but if he's into the trip & the experience itself, it won't really matter who he's there with (especially if you keep the euros coming). And things like the cooking class are not only fun, but serve as team building exercises & great opportunities for bonding, much like the group dinners. And he's also at an age where he should be comfortable going off & doing his own thing, which always makes for a fun trip too, as long as he doesn't get Taken.

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You're welcome, Pam. I'm surprised I haven't seen any posted by others from the group.

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57 posts

Thanks, andi. Really, what choice did I have? You go all that way & hope to have the time of your life, walk so much that the bottom of your feet look like Freddy Krueger's face & then feel like you've acquired the plague & then see that you're going to ride a gondola the next day. How can you miss that? I guess I figured that if I did throw up, there were probably nastier things unleashed in the lagoon over the centuries.

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47 posts

Hi Shawn. Please, please, please tell me where to find the museum that served as the "X marks the spot" library exterior in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade! I love this kind of stuff, having done a Harry Potter walking tour of London where actual scenes were filmed, and seeing Petra (also from Indy's Last Crusade, as you know). Thanks!

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Hi there,

It's the Church of St. Barnaba, in the Piazza San Marco. It was a very easy walk from our hotel, even if I hadn't been determined to find it on my own. And it's one of a few locations from that film. If you're as familiar with it as I am, you'll spot The Bridge of Sighs, a point or two along the waterfront & a couple other places, though they do use a bit of studio camera trickery in spots (like when he comes up out of the sewer). There are a few web sites that offer more detailed accounts.

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490 posts

It's the Church of St. Barnaba, in the Piazza San Marco.

The Church of San Barnaba is not in Piazza San Marco but is in Dorsoduro, not too far from Campo Santa Margherita.

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11292 posts

I missed this trip report when you originally posted it - I'm glad it got updated so I noticed it now. Thanks for taking the time to write it - I really enjoyed it, and I'm sorry you got sick but glad you were able to have a good trip anyway.