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Trip report-first timers in Italy-long, sorry!

I feel a bit silly writing this, but I enjoy reading trip reports, and there are probably other newbies out there, so here goes....
First, thanks to everyone here who takes the time to respond to the concerns posted. You have no idea how valuable your experiences are to other less-traveled readers.
Hubby and I are in our early 60's, newly retired, and this was a trip to celebrate our 40th anniversary. I am of Italian heritage, and it has been a lifelong dream to visit the country my gramma spoke so lovingly about. We decided to plan the trip ourselves to avoid too much time on a ship or bus. And we are sooooo glad we did this our way! I spent over a year researching and planning-half the fun of a trip for me. My husband is happy to let me plan and he never complains-he is the perfect travel partner! We had 18 nights total. Packed only a carryon each, a Civita day bag, and my small Travelon messenger bag.
We flew to JFK on a small shuttle, so when we were seated in our Delta premium economy seats, it felt like business class! Glad we spent the extra money-those few extra inches were greatly appreciated by my tall husband. Great flight, we only slept maybe 30 minutes, but arrived in Milan wide eyed and ready to go! (Large movie selection available and food was not that bad!)
We did not take any euros with us and ATM machine in the airport worked perfectly. Used our chip and signature cc for all of the regionale train tix we purchased along the way-I had purchased super economy tix online for most of our train travel.
First stop, Varenna. Lovely! Stayed with Laura in the Villa Torretta-perfect location, clean, comfy, quiet suite. We will be back! Toured the lake on the ferry, took in the gorgeous scenery and relaxed-we made it to Italy!!! 😊
Next stop-Cinque Terre. Stayed in Monterosso at La Casa di Zuecca. Sweet little B&B run by Stefano-very likable host! It was very hot for the 3 1\2 days we were there-first week of Sept. Loved the day we took the ferry to Portovenere-which was my favorite of the towns-and then stopped at 3 of the other towns on the way back. Celebrated our anniversary in Vernazza at Belforte-fantastic view, perfect meal, and they treated us like royalty!

When we arrived in Monterosso, there was a mob of people all along the Main Street as we made our way to our accomodations. I was disappointed and worried that all the reports of overcrowding were indeed true....however, after 4pm, we noticed the crowds were gone, and it was fairly uncrowded the rest of our time there.
Off to Lucca-my favorite stop! B&B snafu right before we left home-my reservation ( made 9 months ago) was cancelled at the last minute-no explanation-but they did us a favor, as we lucked into a room at La Boheme, and I cannot say enough good about them! We will be back for an extended stay! We needed to do laundry, and met the most delightful man-owner of Laundromat-he spoke no English, but we communicated just fine! Sink washing clothes worked well, we just wanted to wash a load while we had the opportunity.
On to Florence. Still very hot (90's) but we loved the city. Stayed in B&B dell Olio- great location, perfect host, clean and lovely view of the Duomo. Glad wad prepurchased skip the line tix to Accademia and Uffizi. We visited David early morning-no crowds. Uffizi was a different story....we entered at 3:30, and the tour groups were so obnoxious! Tried to hang back and let them move on, but then another group pushed into each room. Hope to go back in off-season and enjoy the works of art more. There is so much to see in Florence-we hope to spend a week next time.
Bologna next-mostly planned because hubby wanted to take the all day tour of cheese, balsamic and prisciotto production. The day we arrived was the only day of steady rain we had-and perfect timing-walked under the porticos and stayed dry! Gorgeous churches and buildings, and food tour the next day with Alessandro was awesome! Continued......

Posted by
142 posts

Continuing....oops-this should have been added to my Florence notes...
We especially loved the Oltrarno district, and will stay there when we return. Florence was very crowded, but by exploring areas away from the sites, we could enjoy ourselves. Our only encounter with "pickpockets" occurred walking on a crowded street mid afternoon. A "mime" (dressed in white with white face paint) grabbed me and started giving me a "European cheek kiss"....I felt her hand on my crossbody bag, which had a lock on the zipper, and my valuables were pinned inside the bag in a zippered pouch. I pushed her away ( kinda forcibly for the small woman I am, haha) and she started saying " here-take your change".... And held out some coins. I grabbed my husband and we vamoosed into a shop. He checked his pockets, and all was well. Pretty bold mime! Pretty sure her partner in crime was sitting on a bench waiting to get into my husband's pockets.
After Bologna, we headed for Venice, our final stop. Forecast said rain all day, so we were pleasantly surprised to walk out of the train station to sun and 76 degrees!
We. Love. Venice. Stayed at Pensione Guerrato, and loved every minute. We were a bit surprised at the cost of meals and wine in Venice, compared to the rest of our trip, but seeing how the infrastructure works, it's totally understandable. Venice was crowded near the sites, but lots of fun as soon as we walked a few minutes away in any direction. San Marco was ridiculously crowded. We took laundry to be done early one morning, and had the square to ourselves. Other than that, it was wall to wall people.
Fun cruise around the island-we boarded the #2 vap at San Marco, got front row searts, and rode the entire route. Perfectly lovely! Enjoyed Burano, thunderstorms rolled in, so we did not make it to the other islands. Next time!
We departed from Marco Polo airport-took the Alilaguna-and it was an easy process. Landed ahead of schedule in JFK. Will try to avoid JFK in the future-crazy! They appear to be trying to get really organized, but get have a ways to go!
I took the time before we left to attempt to learn some conversational Italian (Pimsleur and Duolingo) and it helped, if you don't count the times when the reply came in fast and furious Italian! 😊 I look very much Italian, and more than once, servers or shop owners started our conversation in Italian. My hubby got a kick out of that! We live in a small rural Midwestern town, and no one would mistake me for a local at home! Haha.
Food was wonderful and different in each city, wine was plentiful, and people were lovely. And I need to teach Starbucks how to make a caffe shakerato! We had no jet lag upon arrival-stayed wide awake until 10pm, awoke feeling great the next day. However, we felt the jet lag upon returning home. Glad we did not need to go to work or function for a few days!
It was so much fun chatting with fellow diners from all over the world, and I feel a bit inadequate, as so many people speak English as a second language. I hope to become more fluent in Italian before our next trip.

Trains were very easy to use.
Almost forgot to mention restrooms! There are more types of toilets in Italy than I ever imagined! It was a running joke between us to see how long it took to figure out each one. The best was on Bellagio-it was a car wash setup! Put in your coins, take care of business, and get out in less than 15minutes, because rather lights turn off, the door locks, and the stall is cleaned automatically like a car wash! Too funny! But efficient!
Sorry this is so long! Hope it helps another newbie.....
Ciao!

Posted by
1733 posts

Thanks for the trip report - very enthusiastic and informative. Glad you had such a great time!

Posted by
11292 posts

Loved reading your report. Sounds like all that preparation work (and it sure is work) paid off.

"There are more types of toilets in Italy than I ever imagined!"

Ain't it the truth! We in the US take a certain kind of toilet uniformity for granted, and it's quite a shock to see just how many ways you can design and flush a toilet, isn't it?

Posted by
1845 posts

I enjoyed your report! Thanks for sharing your experiences :-) makes me want to go back.

Posted by
11613 posts

What a great report! I hope the weather cooperates more next time.

Zoe.

Posted by
67 posts

Sounds like you planned well and had a great time, thanks for sharing. I flew back from Europe recently on Delta premium economy and it was the best economy trip I ever had, good food and plenty of room (of course being in the bulkhead row on the side in a 767 helped a lot). And JFK customs was a madhouse, we'll try to avoid it in the future.

Posted by
823 posts

Jill,

Next time you go to Italy (or anywhere else for that matter), consider staying in holiday apartments instead of hotels or B&Bs. It's a real delight. While in Venice, we had an apartment overlooking Rio Marin, a quiet canal just a five minute walk to the train station but surrounded by really good restaurants. I found short-stay apartment living in Venice, Florence and Rome truly wonderful as we had space to be comfortable and all the conveniences of home.

Posted by
28134 posts

That sounds like a lot of fun...

Thanks for the feedback and writing your story

Posted by
961 posts

Jill - What a delightful trip report! So glad you found your way here and got the advice you needed before traveling. I took several pics of toilets on our trip. It was funny to see (and use) so many different kinds. I think my favorite was a black and white striped one (sans seat) in St. Goar. Happy to read you had such a good time and are planning on a return trip.

Posted by
2492 posts

Jill, sorry to hear about the pickpocket attempt by the mime-gal. Surprised, as we were just in Florence for several days (now in Venice, and don't want to hijack your thread) and while we saw these same mimes and could see the potential of a huge annoyance factor, we did not see them as a direct threat, perhaps because where we saw them it was in places where the police were also nearby. Actually I feel more threatened by the barrage of people on the squares in Venice who accost you with roses or toys directly in your face, that they will make contact with you and demand that it is now yours, or else are setting you up for an accomplice. Interesting as we have seen almost no police presence in Venice, while Florence was armed.

Posted by
6950 posts

Congratulations on taking the time to study your trip--ahead of time. You traveled just slow enough--not to far and not to fast. It sounds as if you had a model trip.
When you return, please let know your next itinerary.

Posted by
943 posts

Great trip report! I was in Italy in May and visited Venice, Florence and Monterosso and reading your blog brought back many wonderful memories.

Posted by
2283 posts

Great report. I just got back from Italy myself (will be a while before I have time to write a trip report), and I especially enjoyed your comment on the toilets. It became a running gag with my husband whether or not I could not figure out how to flush the toilets. I think there were only two I never did figure out, and I had to say to my husband, "Sorry but we can't come back to this restaurant."

Posted by
4784 posts

Jill,
I enjoyed reading about your trip, it sure sounds like you really enjoyed yourselves, thanks for sharing!

BTW, happy 40th anniversary!

Posted by
10 posts

Thanks so much for your trip report! I really enjoyed reading it and the info is entertaining and helpful! I will be a traveling newbie, too, next April and so appreciate the trip reports. Glad you had a good time.