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Trip Report: June 2022 Solo Trip to Italy

Hi fellow travel forum participants! Wow, it feels so good to write a trip report because it means I was actually traveling this year! This trip was my second solo trip to Italy and sixth time in Italy. Since it was a solo trip, the travel itinerary & style are my own. Although my method of moving hotels a lot doesn’t appeal to many people, the only change I would make if starting all over again would be to spend one less day in Parma.

The total cost for my 24 days (22 nights in Italy) was $3700 plus airline ticket & trip insurance. Cost includes nice Italian-style hotels or B&B’s in the center of the historic districts, all transportation costs, a variety of activities, and all meals including $60 for lots of excellent gelato!

I stayed in 11 cities in 22 nights, at 14 hotels or B&B’s, and during that time I rode mostly Regionale trains with an average travel time on those 12 days of two hours.

After losing both 2020 & 2021, I (along with many of you) wanted to make up for lost travel time, so I stayed a little longer than past trips. Usually I travel in September. Going in June gave me a chance to look for different local festivals in Italy to attend. The dates of the Infiorata in Spello & Luminara of San Ranieri in Pisa set the basis for my travel dates.

Things I did differently because of Covid: I like to eat outdoors, but for this trip I specifically ate all meals other than hotel breakfasts outdoors. I didn’t schedule any indoor cooking classes and went through less museums. I decided to not attend a reserved Doges group tour in Venice because there were too many people coughing in general in Venice! I brought extra items with me - proctored tests, home tests and also extra supplies/meds, favorite herbal tea, etc. in case I tested positive and had to stay longer. I rode a lot of Regionale trains, and I was very happy to be able to choose where & who I sat near….coughing? nope, not there. : )

The cities in this itinerary were: Milan (mainly as a buffer day in case my plane connections lost a day), Stresa, Cremona, Parma, Bergamo, Mantova, Venice, Pisa, Rome (added due to mitigation for a train strike), Spello, Perugia, and finished with one night at the Hilton Rome airport hotel.

Milan: the last time I flew to Europe, we still lived in Seattle. Now with three flights to arrive at Milan, I was really exhausted by the time I took the train from Malpensa to Milano Centrale to stay at Hotel Berna. I had just enough energy to sit in the sun to acclimate and then walk to the gelato shop. I’m a little quirky and don’t use map tracking – just look at a map and start out. Instead of going down the street and making a 60 degree left for two blocks, I made a sharp left. Walked two blocks and no Gelato Giusto! But, I saw Terra Gelato and from the outside it looked good. Oh, yes! Their Salted Sicilian Pistachio was definitely the way to begin the trip!

Stresa: Stresa on Lake Maggiore is one of my favorites - my definition of a relaxing setting, and I like to begin a trip at a familiar location to just enjoy without needing to make any logistic decisions. After returning to Hotel Milan Speranza Au Lac, I took the morning ferry from Stresa across the lake to visit the Hermitage of Santa Caterina del Sasso. A gorgeous setting clinging above the lake & perfect overcast weather for photos! It gave me a chance to climb & exercise and have a little snack at the cafe above near the parking lot. The rest of the day I just enjoyed being in Stresa again, having dinner on the waterfront. It was Italy’s Republic Day which provided a nice ambiance of being among Italians who came to Stresa to celebrate. My hotel room was old, but they gave me a nice side balcony with views of the lake! And a direct view of the chiming bell tower which I enjoyed.

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(Stresa cont.)
Last time I was in Stresa, I also stayed one night on tiny Isola Bella at a small boutique hotel – wonderful memories I wanted to repeat! I took a morning ferry over to Isola Bella after an early morning stroll one last time at Stresa among the gorgeous flowers, stopping briefly into the historic Regina Hotel. Hmm, those clouds look menacing… Wow, the mountain lake area can dump heavy rain! Fortunately, I would have one of my nicest rooms during the trip as a perfect afternoon retreat to relax & study. Later, I walked through the Borromeo Villa and raced through their gorgeous formal gardens, getting drenched! But now I have a very special photo of their 3-story garden showpiece. The weather & wet stone make it look like a b&w photo. Usually, I wait to take photos without people in them; in this case, the colorful umbrellas of three people who braved the weather with me stand out at the base of the showpiece for a nice contrast photo!

Another fun surprise – the white peacocks in the garden usually avoid people. As I was finishing up on a higher level of the garden, the elusive white peacock gave me a loud squawk! I turned around to see him perched on a statue - almost on my shoulder! That evening I ate a wonderful meal at the hotel restaurant, having the outdoor covered dining room almost to myself. My favorite part of Boutique Hotel Elvezia is sitting out on the room balcony, watching the evening lights slowly fade into night over the lake as the last boats & ducks quietly float past and the church steeple of Isola Pescatori illuminates in the distance – a magical tranquil ending to the day.

Cremona: I wanted to come to Cremona to attend a violin concert at the museum devoted to Antonio Stradivari. Since the concerts are on weekends, the order of my itinerary in this area had a bit of back & forth on the trains.

After checking into Hotel Duomo Cremona, I walked the half block to the piazza. Whoa, the emotions hit me! The scene before me of the historic duomo, high clock tower, portico buildings – I was finally here! I have a friend who loves classical music like me and is unable to travel, so when I heard a beautiful violinist in the piazza playing the beautiful evocative “The Prayer”, I decided to make a short video of the site & sound for her. At that point, I couldn’t stop the tears. The poignant melody & my feeling for months that I wasn’t sure I would ever get back to Italy combined with the historic view in front of me…. I had no idea how special that video would be afterwards to watch again several times!

Cremona was such an amazing surprise! I absolutely love non-touristy, authentic cities, and this was a special one for sure! The Duomo interior was a treasure of Italian art frescoes of the Bible! The charming architecture in the historical center, music in the piazza, excellent gelato, and a wonderful conversation with a violin maker! I looked up violin maker studios to see who might be open on a Saturday afternoon. I politely requested a conversation with Katharina Abbuhl in her tiny violin workshop, and she was very cordial, liking that I appreciate music. She said tourists don’t usually come to Cremona - just people interested in violins. She was glad I had reserved a ticket for the concert Sunday where they rotate playing some of the Stradavarius. (Some of Katherina’s violins are in San Francisco.)

The next morning I started the day with a big breakfast at the hotel instead of a small breakfast & espresso because….well, sometimes your “Nonna” tells you what you need to eat! It’s Italy; I just embraced it! ; )

The Cremona violin museum amply told the story of Stradivari and his violins, and the concert was fantastic! The acoustics of the hall were the best I’ve experienced (interesting modern design!) and the Stradivarius sound - wow! If warm caramel butter was a musical sound, that would be it. The trio were superb!

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(Cremona cont. ) Now this clock tower, the highest in Italy, had been looking at me, heckling me, for two days. I absolutely hate open heights! The steps to climb this tower rotate around an interior solid center core, so there’s not a death drop look as a person climbs up the tower. So…here was my chance if I was ever going to try it! I asked the lady at the tower ticket counter if she spoke English. Then I jokingly said, “I’m afraid of heights; talk me into this!” She went to the top of the drawing as it changes shape and said, “Don’t go above here!” It was comical that an Italian couple walked in while I was there and said the same thing to her! I didn’t go to that “scary top part” and survived to tell you. When I came back down, she called me over and handed me a brochure she found in English to keep as my momento. : ) The tower contains an interesting “vertical museum” as you climb, showing parts of the clock. Except for the pendulum, it still uses the original primitive mechanism from 1582, and the diameter of the dial is longer than 26’!

Parma: The only reason I wanted to return to Parma was to see my favorite cathedral again. In 2021, when I cancelled all of my reservations for the second year, not seeing this cathedral was heavy on my mind. Many churches are full of gold decor; this one is filled with warm-toned personal frescoes that show Christ’s birth & several scenes such as healing the man on the stretcher, calming the storm, then finally his crucifixion and resurrection. Standing in the aisle and seeing the whole New Testament beautifully painted from left to right with Old Testament references below it – perfect! Then the icing on the cake! Block furniture with verses from the first chapters of John are embossed in large font in multiple languages, including English. So I’m standing in a church in Italy reading in my own language- so personal.

I stayed in the Palazzo Dalla Rosa Prati Hotel again – actually in the same room my husband & I stayed! Tonight it was time to get serious about food since I only had one more day in this region known as having Italy’s best food in a country of outstanding food. We had one of our favorite meals at La Forchetta in 2016, and it was wonderful to see they were still thriving and doubled their outdoor & indoor seating, plus a garden courtyard. This was an evening when I really missed my husband because it would have been fun to experience this again together! Each dish I chose highlighted their local specialties & history, and it was all wonderful!

Unfortunately, I had reserved a food tour for my second day, and I received an email that they were cancelling it the day before. I checked websites for museums, and nothing of interest was open, plus there was a rainstorm that afternoon. All in all, this was somewhat a wasted day, although I walked around my favorite areas again that evening.

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Bergamo: Bergamo had been on my short list; what a treasure! Three days to enjoy exquisite architecture of the upper Citta Alta – wow! Nothing in upper Bergamo is flat! Lots of up or down - a great workout with beautiful sites!

My first day in Bergamo was the students’ last day of class, so there were cheerful happy voices everywhere. Don’t stay in this medieval area if you don’t like the sound of bells. At night they still ring the bells 100 times because of tradition!

Since I didn’t want to take any cooking classes this year, I looked for possible activities outdoors where I could enjoy something in the food/art categories and to also hear some English spoken for a few hours. (When I travel solo, I try to have something about every four days.) My second day in Bergamo was Art Day! I tried to avoid most indoor activities this trip because of the requirement to test negative to return to the US, but I really wanted to enjoy an Italian art museum again & see some of the work of my favorite Italian painters at the Accademia Carrara Museum! I arrived early and was the only person viewing each floor! That’s a major reason why I love going to the “less touristy towns” - gorgeous art to enjoy at a leisurely pace with no crowd crazies taking selfies in the museum. That afternoon I had an enjoyable private outdoor sketching class with a very nice, very patient artist – Martin Cambriglia (contact is info@martincambriglia.com). He & I both sketched the front of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore through an archway, sitting in the shade.

The next morning, Martin, the young man who was yesterday’s art instructor, met with me for his outdoor watercolor class. We both painted the Piazza Vecchio’s main building & clock tower. It included the lion with the wings on the building, and the tall medieval walls around the upper city are also called the Venetian Wall. Martin spent more time with me than I expected, and I really appreciated his care & professional attitude to help me as a beginner. I was glad some people stopped to watch us paint and asked for his business card. I learned so much from him just in those two days and now have two treasured art pieces with wonderful memories for my walls at home!

Bergamo is the city that was hit so hard when Covid began. Remember the news articles in early 2020 when Italian doctors were forced to make the heart-wrenching decision who would & would not receive medical help and hearses drove by the windows of a home as the last goodbye? I had wondered as I was planning this trip if I would still see the older men gathering socially like they had in the past. I saw much less and so far none in Bergamo. But late afternoon my second day, I was studying the astronomical clock laid out on the ground in 1857. An elderly man came up to me and started speaking in Italian. We did a few broken words back & forth to get across what I was looking at and where the sun would peer over the Duomo to line up the day-of-the-year on the ground. Then he motioned for me to come into the Duomo with him. I didn’t have a blouse with covered sleeves and motioned, but he insisted. He showed me some very special items that I wouldn’t have noticed. He wished me well. I really appreciated that he was willing to share some of his treasured pieces of Bergamo with me, as I’m sure it has been a difficult two years for him.

At Bergamo I stayed in two different hotels near each other. I specifically stayed at the Gombit Hotel two nights because they had refunded my money on my non-refundable reservation in 2020. I definitely wanted to support them this trip in appreciation! It’s a remodeled glamorous hotel adjacent to the Citta Alta Gombit Tower - a special first class experience and nicer than most of my other hotels. My first night, I also stayed at Hotel Piazza Vecchia. Although more modest, my room was still spacious, and the breakfast was also very good.

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Mantova: The Gonzaga dynasty in Mantova was overwhelming! After checking into my B&B, I visited their Palazzo Ducale the first afternoon - ornate rooms that just go on & on! I finally had museum fatigue and headed to the cluster of piazzas for a gelato.

It’s good to have a “no agenda” day during a trip, so that’s what I did for my second day! Lots of misc. photos as I wandered & enjoyed the architecture, people and parks of Mantova. Mantova had several piazzas near each other with great restaurants.

At Mantova I stayed at a unique B&B. Palazzo Arrivabene B&B is an ancient palazzo with a gorgeous entry, sitting room and dining room. My room was easily the largest of my entire trip. The owners provided a beautifully decorated formal breakfast table with antique china, etc. The last morning I needed to head to the train station earlier than breakfast time, and they insisted that they get up early and have breakfast ready for me. I was expecting a coffee & pastry. Instead, it was another breakfast equally as nice as the first one with fresh bakery items he brought in as I sat down.

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Venice: My husband & my favorite European city is Venice, so being there brought back wonderful memories we shared together & that emotional gratefulness of really being there again!

An interesting fact I learned this year from Sarah Murdoch’s travel site was the metal cages on top of buildings in Venice used years ago for the women to obtain their “fashionable” light red colored hair that is seen in many Venetian paintings. They used - ugh!...urine to bleach their hair! I climbed up to the hotel rooftop and saw several of them. I had NO plans to go red using that method!

My first evening, I attended a nice symphony at San Vidal church which is very close to Hotel Ala.

The next morning, I took one for our team! I took this assignment very seriously to report back to our Travel Forum! Since I have been known to eat a lot of gelato on vacation and picky about the quality, I took the task to verify the best response from one of our recent posts - where to find the best gelato at VFR. Suso was repeatedly mentioned for Venice. Oh! This work of art was extraordinary in both looks & taste! I ordered the Tarta de Queso and Manet. (Someone mentioned the Manet in the forum.). It was an intense pistachio that was salted with the texture of peanut butter and underneath was a subtle hazelnut chocolate! The other one was a wonderful cherry cheesecake that tasted just like cheesecake! The cup was a cup shaped cone instead of a paper cup. Two hearty thumbs up! (I may have done a repeat the next day. ; ) ) Then it was off to wander for hours and work off those calories! Eventually I followed the signs on the end of some buildings to get to a vaporetto and headed back to my hotel.

Venice was noticeably different than the other cities I visited. I heard a lot of coughing! Whenever I heard someone coughing, I immediately headed off in a different side direction to avoid them. This alternate route method led to discovering some special courtyards to photograph!

My second evening, I went out to the waterfront at San Marco and specifically focused on capturing some special photos. It is magical! For my last evening in Venice, I did something we had never done previously. I sat at the Florian outdoors in San Marco and soaked up the ambiance - enjoying how each couple or families were posing for photos as the day was winding down. Overall, it was the perfect way to end my time in Venice, appreciating how the gorgeous music completed the atmosphere of the regal piazza. It truly felt magical!

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Pisa: On June 16, the eve of the city's patron saint San Ranieri, the Luminara is celebrated with a big festival along the river at Pisa. More than 100,000 wax candles, positioned on the façades of the buildings, illuminated the frames outlining all of the buildings facing the river. It was gorgeous & a lot of fun to be with the crowd of happy people. A couple invited me to stand with them on the fencing of the bridge after I volunteered to take their photo. We stood for hours and watched the candle outline become the horizon with reflections on the river. The evening ended with fireworks at 11pm.

What a huge blessing! I only had one time during my itinerary when I was taking trains two days in a row. During the ride to Pisa, a large train & transportation strike was announced for the next day. The regionals would be running 6-9am, but my ticket to Florence started at 9:06! So thankful for a heads up, I calmly thought through a Plan B. I also really appreciated receiving a quick response from our forum participant, Roberto, to find out exactly what I should be considering. Since the fast Freccia trains were still running, I checked Florence hotels. But there were no reasonably priced hotels left that would be handy! Roberto also suggested Arezzo, but my favorite B&B was booked. I found a reasonably priced hotel, Santamariarooms, near Rome’s main train station - their last room, so I booked it. The staff there were very nice.

Rome: I used my unexpected day in Rome to walk through the Prati neighborhood after finding a good restaurant for my lunch/dinner. I also saw the Spanish Steps, the Castle Sant’Angelo, the outside of the Vatican, and other spots. The gelato shop given the best recommendations on the RS forum for Rome - Old Bridge was taste tested! It was definitely good, but oh, that Manet gelato at Venice was still on my mind!

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Spello: I stepped into a dream! The Italy villages are so photogenic! Then add colorful flowers, and I thoroughly enjoyed taking numerous photos of the quaint colorful flowered decorated front doors exploring the up & down very steep lanes. Add the excitement of the Spello Infiorata beginning the next day, and it was perfect!

Beginning at 9pm Saturday evening, the prep was in full swing. Huge paper templates, flower petals separated, and long tents to cover the design. The placement of the flower pieces went all night, and it was fun to join the people going through the village looking at the progress of each one with anticipation. I thought being out at 6am the next morning photographing would be early enough. But, lots of people were already there, too. Some of the more intricate pictures were still being finished. There was a long walking path through the village, and the smell of flowers and spices added to the journey. There were over thirty entries of the large murals or the grouping carpet path type design. I counted at least 12 gigantic murals as we watched them the previous night.

Spello’s Infiorata is the reason I came in June. It’s exceeded all expectations! My hotel in Spello was Hotel Palazzo Bocci. It was very convenient, across from the duomo, and nice to stay in a historic palazzo. When I was first planning this trip last winter, I reserved an apartment. Whew, luckily I had switched two months later because that apartment was at the very top of the steep village!

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Perugia:

The Etruscan civilization of ancient Italy covered Tuscany, western Umbria and some sections of northern Italy. Their peak was in the 6th century BC. I wanted to see some of the exciting Etruscan remaining sites to see in Perugia! First, I walked north to see the Etruscan Gate - wow! It gave me a vibe of Rome’s Pantheon. Then going to the far south of the city center, I started up the theme song of Indiana Jones in my head! After researching it months ago, would I be willing to go into this very cool (both temperature & just the excitement) underground area alone? Would I find a lost historical artifact? Will I ever be seen again? : ) Luckily, I did find a few other people in there and no bats or snakes! The Etruscan arches into where the Rocca Paolina fortress was built over the wealthier Perugians properties was an amazing area to explore! Bagliona was the wealthiest Perugian, and the route through there was named after him.

My last activity my final day in Perguia was a museum workshop I found on TripAdvisor in March. It’s a historical museum/studio of painting on stained glass. I emailed the studio to see if they would be open during their short opening schedule on Tuesdays. I was expecting to see examples of the outlined painting on glass seen in several churches in stained glass scenes with faces. I love stained glass, so this was going to be a very nice museum/studio to visit. Instead, this was extraordinary artistry! The Museum Laboratory, Moretti Caselli Studio was like walking through a time warp of DaVinci’s workshop! It’s housed in the one building of the Baglioni family that survived the salt tax war repercussion. The lovely lady in her 80 ’s, a direct descendant, was excited to show me every detail when she saw my level of interest in each aspect. She had studied languages, and her English was impeccable. She walked me through numerous rooms that housed shelves of chemistry study books, shelves of ancient vials of colors used, photography experimentation equipment, ancient wood mannequins (her sister & her tore off some of the fingers when they were young playing in the room!) & armor used to drape cloth & see shadow vs. light, rooms filled with gigantic sketches, etc. created over the years, etc. The highlight of the entire studio/laboratory was the stunningly beautiful 5’ painted stained glass her great great grandfather made of the Queen Margherita Savoy in 1881 to promote his skills! It could have easily been displayed in any elite art museum! What made it even more astonishing, was the opportunity to be seen as a whole with the sketches & beautiful paintings of the subject in the same workshop room that he had created just in preparation for this painted stained glass masterpiece! The glass looked like an actual painting! If touched, I would have thought I would feel the soft texture of velvet on the pillow holding a crown. The pearls looked real; the wallpaper formed a beautiful pattern which hid all traces of lead or copper structure supporting the glass.

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(Perugia cont.)
Another Highlight: Her grandmother’s two sisters continued the skills and were commissioned to make a painted stained glass of The Lord’s Supper for a cemetery in Los Angeles. It was painstaking work with each piece being painted & fired three times. A few pieces that cracked were on display. (Earlier she had shown me a scene with the Lindbergh airplane that had cracked during the three painting/3 kiln firing processes.) Later Italy wanted the same one made “since it should be in Italy”. Fortunately they still had the huge sketch that would fill the walls of a room! During the war, the finished product of several panels was probably lost…. Then one day Rosa & Cecilia were contacted because someone found crates of stained glass, which was still almost all unbroken! So now their Lord's Supper is displayed at a church in Sansepcro. It’s still an active family business with her niece who I met and other family members still restoring & creating more beautiful works. It was a fascinating individual 2-hour tour - very special because of the subject but also the sweet woman sharing her family! Don’t miss it if you’re in that area!

For Perugia, I stayed at a modern hotel, Locanda della Posta Boutique Hotel. I slept very well there, and they were very conscientious about Covid cleanliness at their wonderful breakfast, timed for lots of space between diners. Perugia’s mini metro - the auto-boxes similar to a funicular on the ground were so handy to get from the train station up into the historic city! This hotel was easy to walk to from the last mini metro station.

After Perugia, I took my last train back to Rome & the final one to the airport. My heart was full & my feet were exhausted! I was ready to have a nice dinner, sleep well and fly back home. So many wonderful memories from this very special trip!

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Things that worked well:

I create a spreadsheet that lists all of the trains, departure/arrival, any connecting station, etc. It also lists the next two train times & train numbers if the arrival to the connecting station is late. When a couple Regionale trains were late, this was very handy to know exactly what new train number I needed to take next and just head to the reader board.

Also for trains, I had a screenshot photo of the stops each train would make, so it was easy to check the names of the last two stops before mine. If there were multiple stations with names containing the city name, I wouldn’t accidentally exit too soon.

Arrive early for trains & observe. Although I always travel by train, I learned something new this year. Some of the stations have an East or West (Ovest) section. Luckily at Cremona (I think), I heard a woman ask a person waiting for a train where the Ovest section was located. I would have missed my train to Parma, thinking 1 OV just meant the 1st line… with more detail.

I’m a map girl! I really like to have a printed screenshot tourist map or enlarged 1-page historical center map in my purse. During my last trip in 2019, I just used my phone, and it wasn’t as fun for me. I don’t mind wandering during the daylight and asking someone friendly for directions. It gives me a chance to speak the language, too.

And speaking of the language, I sure noticed that locals appreciated me using Italian words as much as possible. Some times they would respond in English, but there was the level of respect given to them, first.

For this trip I brought four tops, two pants and a dress, plus one longer sleeve top for the plane. My total weight including the suitcase was 17 pounds. I never felt like I needed something more, and I was glad that I brought my 2-wheel suitcase (had considered switching to a backpack).

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Things I would change for next time:
I am very much an over-planner with endless research ahead of time, i.e. what are all of the options I could do in each city? On the other hand, I don’t like an itinerary filled with timed activities. When I arrive, I like to be spontaneous doing what sounds the most enjoyable that day. Because of the quantity of cities I was visiting during this trip, I felt like I spent so much time during Spring with all of the associated research. I would scale it back to a 3-week trip next time if traveling solo. (Or, when my husband comes with me, we do stay longer in each city.)

Funny moments:
I asked a young man for a table for one at a small outdoor café in Mantova. He went inside and came out with the bathroom key! Apparently, my Italian isn’t as clear as I thought! We both had a good laugh about it.

I saw two young men carrying cellos on their backs and rolling a small suitcase each, heading to the Venice train station. Can this still be considered “packing light”? LOL!

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What a beautiful trip report, Jean. It’s so interesting to read about (and subsequently Google) some of these lesser-known towns. Good job on the Gelato taste testing!

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Wow Jean thank so much for posting! Glad you had an enjoyable trip.

Would you be willing to tell what tour company canceled your Parma food tour on such short notice? And did they give a (good) reason? I ask because I’m planning to do a similar day tour from Parma in a few months and I’d like to avoid that company!

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Jean - thank you for this absolutely absorbing trip report! There is so much to glean here -- and you have really made each place come alive. I am bookmarking this for sure. What wonderful experiences you made happen with your interest, warmth and engagement. Fabulous.

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Great trip report as always. You certainly fit a lot into your travels. Can't wait to hear more about it in a couple weeks.

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I just starting reading, but I have to ask, is that a typo on the price????? 😊 I cannot get over how low that is. For 24 days!?!?! Incredible!! Guess I need to find myself another country to travel in besides Switzerland. 😊

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I love your report, Jean! And your picture of Cremona was so evocative - bringing back images and feelings from my one day visit in January 2020. The concert and performance hall truly were magnificent. Now I have to go back and stay a couple of nights!

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I really enjoyed your report, Jean. Some paragraphs made me emotional.

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Accidental Southerner, are you also traveling solo? They cancelled because I was the only one who signed up. (I didn’t keep the reservation paperwork.)

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What a wonderful journey you had! I really enjoyed reading your trip report and felt like I was there with you.

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Carrie, the total price is correct, and yes, it was very inexpensive comparatively. The price difference is quite different away from the major tourist cities, and many times I just ate breakfast, a late lunch and a gelato in the evening or light snack because it was warm weather. Or, a cheap salad for lunch and pasta for dinner. I purchase my train tickets early, so the few that were the more expensive ones were Super Economy priced.

And Martin’s private painting classes were very reasonable in price!

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I thoroughly enjoyed reading your report. I appreciated your choices of locations (as well as proximity to each other) and varied fun activities, thank you for sharing. It’s got me 🤔 😊

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I loved your report! I am also fascinated by what your spreadsheet might look like.

Regarding directions, I, too, look at the map in my room and then just go.

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Accidental Southerner, are you also traveling solo? They cancelled because I was the only one who signed up. (I didn’t keep the reservation paperwork.)

Yes, solo. I’m looking at Emilia Romagna Tours - recommended by forum contributor Ricky from Modena. Maybe I’ll email the company to see if there’s a date or specific tour that already has bookings, so less chance of cancellation.

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Jean, Welcome back! Loved reading your report. You captured it all- sight, sound, smell, touch and taste. All the details that made me feel like I was there! Glad to hear you enjoyed special moments in each location.

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Jean, thank you for your wonderful trip report. It's so thorough and descriptive. I loved reading it. Thanks for the Venice tips; I'll be there the end of September.

I also did a double take at your total cost. And your carryon weight of 17lb. Amazing to both. Experience and detailed pre-planning sure paid off. I'll never get either down that far, but I enjoyed hearing how you managed both. Helps set my goals.
Kathy

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Hi Jean!

Thanks for sharing your wonderful trip with us!

Wow! 11 cities in 22 days! You sure move fast!

Regarding your comment here:

During the ride to Pisa, a large train & transportation strike was announced for the next day. The regionals would be running 6-9am, but my ticket to Florence started at 9:06!

So, your plan A was to visit Florence?

Or travel from Pisa to Spello via Florence?

Other than staying away from people coughing in Venice, and on trains, did you worry about testing positive before your flight home?

Do you have a favorite gelato shop in Stresa?

Ciao!

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Hi Priscilla,

My original plan for that day after Pisa was two trains: Pisa-to-Florence & transfer to Florence-to-Spello.

Once I heard about the train strike, my plan for the train strike day was to get as handy to Spello as possible to not miss more than the morning the next day. I sent Roberto a private message to get his input. The thought that both Roberto and I mentioned was first to just stay in Florence. But, when I looked on Booking.com for available hotels somewhat near the train station that next night the prices were outrageous- like 3x what I was paying for the rest!

Roberto also mentioned Arezzo, and I like that city. I looked there, too, especially at a tiny B&B I liked, but she was already fully booked.

So, I already knew about the Rome-to-Perugia route that goes through Spello, so I decided to just purchase the earliest ticket after 6am that left Pisa and then take the fast train running from Florence to Rome once I saw a reasonably priced room with decent reviews near the Rome train station. All of that worked smoothly. I was in Spello by 11am the next day.

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Priscilla, the L'Angolo del Gelato in Stresa has a wonderful authentic black licorice that was really good!

While I was in Italy, the US rules thankfully changed, so I no longer needed to have a negative Covid test to come home. I still certainly didn’t want to get it or pass it onto anyone else. I took a home test weekly during the trip to check that I wasn’t positive.

My feeling was to still be very careful to have a greater chance of finishing my itinerary - especially since Spello was towards the end of the trip.

My flights home were Rome to JFK, JFK to Seattle, Seattle to Spokane. On the JFK to Seattle, there were so many people coughing, including the two ladies sitting in my row - ugh! I’m staying away from people here in my city until I continue to test negative for a few more days (hopefully!)

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4776 posts

Thanks for explaining your plan B when faced with an upcoming train strike.

L'Angolo del Gelato in Stresa, that’s it!
I recall going there a couple of times when I stayed in Baveno.

You favorite Boutique Hotel Elvezia sounds lovely, I may stay there next time I go to Lake Maggiore.

Definitely bookmarking your post!

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961 posts

What a beautiful report! I really enjoyed reading about lesser known cities and the activities you got to experience. The sketching and the stained glass workshop visit sound like such refreshing experiences. Thank you much for such a detailed description of your solo adventure.

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2145 posts

Jean this is a remarkably valuable report for the rest of us. Thx so much for sharing.
Where did you stay in Venice? I'm planning for next May, and our normal Cannaregio hotel changed owners and is now too expensive. I've a few emails out requesting direct booking prices from hotels, but sometimes this method is slower than just pushing the Book Now button on booking.com.
Again, welcome home!

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4590 posts

Hi Pat, my first night in Venice was June 13. I will add that I reserved all of my hotels on Booking.com around December/January and I know prices have gone up some places now. My hotel in Venice was Hotel Ala - west of San Marco and at the Santa Maria del Giglio vaporetto stop.

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2404 posts

Thanks for taking one for the team with your gelato research. You have a way with words that paints a picture of your trip. I was able to imagine what you were seeing as you wrote it.

This was an evening when I really missed my husband because it would
have been fun to experience this again together!

I'm always grateful to have my wife with me to share our travels. Hardly a day went by when I was travelling solo for business that I wouldn't see something that I wanted to share with her.

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6950 posts

Congratulations on your ability to plan and actually execute such a "moving" trip to Italy. Rick Steves would be proud of your going off the beaten path. Very few travelers have been on such a detailed quest for the best Gelato.

We were also in Venice on June 6-8, and we found it as congested as we wanted. I took my 10 year old granddaughter for a cross town hike over to St. Marks--hitting every little plaza not knowing where we were or where we were going. We finally made it back to the train station where we had an apartment next door. She seemed more interested in eating fast food than the scenery.

I first went to Venice 52 years ago, and they had scaffolding on the front reconditioning the facade. I've been back 10 times over the years, and the scaffolding is still in place on the front. They've done a nice job cleaning the sides of the church, however. I guess it's a work in progress---over the long run.

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120 posts

Jean, thank you for sharing the details of your amazing trip. So well executed, but I would expect no less from an engineer! Did your write in a journal every night? How did you remember all those details? Again, amazing....

Oh, and thank you for taking one for the team! I know it was quite a sacrifice to sample all that gelato so you could report back to the team with your findings!😉

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4590 posts

“ Did your write in a journal every night? How did you remember all those details?”

Terri, I always bring a small notepad with me, but invariably it just becomes a spot to note expenses and what I ate at a restaurant! If my trip is a solo one, I have several friends on Facebook who request & enjoy seeing a few travel photos each day and a short commentary about them - sort of traveling virtually with me. For instance, I shared the details of the painted stained glass studio with them. Afterwards, those comments make it fairly easy to copy/paste the framework of a trip report, adding a few extra stories of interest, the name of the hotels, specifics the forum would care about such as the overall expenses. If we are both traveling, I take better notes because I don’t want to post that our home is empty while we’re traveling. I do have a list in my iPad of things I liked or would do differently that I also update during the trip.

Photos are my easiest way to remember during a trip, so I take a lot of them, do a first cut and then delete duplicates after a few months.

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22 posts

Wonderful trip report . We’ve only been to Rome. I’ve been wanting to plan a DIY trip to some smaller cities in Italy using trains but felt overwhelmed at figuring it out.

Your report gives me some ideas. Question on some of the towns you visited - once you arrived wheee they all walkable or did you take taxis or public transportation?

Thank you again for a great report. I am going to make a note of the hotels that you used

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4590 posts

mboggs1, I usually just walk from the train station to my hotel, but I took a taxi to/from at Cremona (about 10 E) and definitely do it for Bergamo (15 E)! Perugia has a very handy Mini Metro that goes from the valley level station station at Perugia up the steep climb into the historic center. There’s a series of long escalators at the end, or just take the elevator with your luggage.

I purposely pick my lodging to be close to the historic center. A lot of times I am within a block or two of the main cathedral. So, it’s not only handy, I typically just go back to my room to use the bathroom and rest my feet a few minutes unless I’m at a restaurant.

Stresa, Cremona, Parma, Mantova, Venice, and Pisa are flat. If you like to ride bikes, Mantova has some nice areas to do it along the water. I took the vaporetto from the Venice train station to my hotel. I only rode the vaporetto one time from a Point A to Point B destination; otherwise, I’d rather wander.

Bergamo’s Citta Alta is up/downhill as you’re walking. There is a funicular that I took down to head to the Museum Accademia Carrara. And I took a bus partway back and then walked all over the upper Venetian Walls - hilly.

Spello’s train station is a 10-15 walk into the city. It’s a climb but doable, and I was definitely glad my hotel wasn’t higher up in the village! The entire village is either walking up or down - a lot of it has brick elongated platform steps. (Look up pictures of the village.).

Perugia is hilly or flat, depending on if you’re just staying in the very center of the historic main street. Edge streets are hilly. I enjoyed relaxing at the Carducci Garden with the beautiful view overlooking the rolling hills and south edge of the city early evenings. And there’s a gelato shop right next to the hotel that adds the Baci chocolate topping to the cup of gelato - yum! ; ). Since the park is close, I would take it over there to eat.

In Rome I rode the metro twice.

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128 posts

Wow, what a great trip at a great price.

Do you have your photos somewhere where we can see them? I dream of getting pretty photos in Tuscany, but a lot of the towns aren’t reachable by train and I’m too chicken to rent a car and deal with potential fines.

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9904 posts

Oh Jean! What an awesome trip and a wonderful trip report! I am thrilled at your gelato research...you are the gelato queen, lol!!

For your flight over...was the routing Spokane->SEA->JFK->Milan or something else?

I love that you structured your trip around various festivals....

How was the heat? And sorry we didn't keep the cool around for you here, lol.

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4590 posts

Hi Pam, I definitely had some hot days there and thought about how you don’t like to travel in the heat! : ) I used the hottest time of the day to go back to my room, review photos or do my daily post on FB and just relax my legs. I was surprised that every place I stayed had a ceiling air conditioner in the room to cut some of the heat.

Yes, searching for festivals is the first research I do when deciding where to go in a country. They make the trip so much more memorable!

I flew Delta. My flight there was Spokane, Seattle, Amsterdam, Malpensa.
My flight back was Rome, JFK, Seattle, Spokane. (Glad I didn’t have to take that Seattle International flights skywalk!!)

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4590 posts

Hi KB, sorry, I don’t store my photos in a public spot.

If you’re interested in Tuscany, look at my 2018 trip report that I shared a link above in the comments. During that trip I was at Arezzo, Montepulciano, Pienza & Lucca. I always just travel by train & the occasional bus. There’s also the option to sign up for a half-day mini-van tour to see smaller towns not handy by other transportation. My husband & I did that in the Provence area of France to see a series of cute villages & the lavender farm.

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9904 posts

Good to know about your flights, lol!! I just booked GEG to Milan and wound up with an itinerary thru SEA and transiting CDG (3h30m). Since you didn't say, I assume your AMS transit went OK?

(Flying back FCO->ATL->GEG so I can avoid both the horrifying escalators AND the mean guy at SEA Border Control!)

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Mboggs1- I got back a few weeks ago from my 18 day trip to Rome, Florence, Sorrento, Pisa and Siena. I used trains between these major cities. I got the Eurail/Interrail Rail Planner app after purchasing my number of desired "travel days". The app contained all the train routes I needed. Easy to use. I would pick a few train times and decide which worked best for my timing and arrival at the train station. I never learned how to get online seat reservations for the high speed and luxury trains, so I waited in the station lines to confidently buy. If you don't need a seat reservation, just activate the timed ticket and go. I used the RS Italy book for reference and maps and to book my hotels and B n Bs that I wanted and located in the historic cores or near the train stations. In Rome, I took a taxi to my hotel from Termini to be sure I got off to a good start.
In Siena, the city core was distant/uphill from the train station. The taxi driver tried to gouge me, so I got out and successfully took the bus. Google maps gives bus stop points for that mode of travel. Always ask what the fare is before committing to the ride. All the shuttles or taxis I took accepted credit cards. The other cities were easily walkable. In Rome, the bus stop route signs were very easy to figure out. Buy bus tickets (1.5E) at many stores for a 90 minute ride period. You must validate on the bus or be subject to fine. There are ticket checking officials onboard who verify the ticket times. Dont feel overwhelmed.

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1126 posts

I flew Delta. My flight there was Spokane, Seattle, Amsterdam, Malpensa.

Jean, how was your experience at AMS?

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4590 posts

Hi Roubrat, Amsterdam usually runs pretty efficient. It was the same this time. I sit in Economy Comfort, so I’m towards the front of the plane and with carry on & a fast walk, I can move quickly into the passport check line.

I had plenty of time to sit and wait at my next gate.

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mboggs1, once you’re into the planning stage, I like to use rome2rio.com as a starting point. It will give you the transportation options between cities with usually the name of the bus company if train isn’t available. Then go directly to the bus company site to see actual times. Sometimes the bus is only running a work/school route, meaning there’s nothing available for the middle of the day. Don’t use rome2rio to depend on actual transportation time - either bus or train. They can be off in their calculations.

For trains, I use www.trenitalia.com or their app. I purchase all of my tickets ahead of time on-line at home, so I don’t have to worry about needing to validate any tickets at the station (to avoid fines.). The faster trains are cheaper if you purchase a month or so ahead and can obtain some of the Super Economy cheaper prices. If you’re riding one of the Trenitalia Freccia (faster) trains, there’s an option at the bottom of one of the screens on-line to select your seat. I always do that so I can pick an aisle seat and one that isn’t in a quad - two seats facing two seats.

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7988 posts

Thanks for your detailed and helpful report which I will save! We spent two weeks in a house near the top of Spello and loved it there. We parked in a lot at the top of town enoch made it easy.
We like going off the beaten path too and you have given so much valuable advice to accomplish this on another trip.

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3453 posts

Jean, I too love violin concerts and Cremona has been on our radar. I can envision unexpectedly coming upon a violinist on the piazza. “The Prayer” is a beautiful song. I found this rendition:
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=X_MkpWSQUQI

We also enjoyed going to San Vidal in Venice.
The beautiful church set the mood for Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. It was a top highlight of our journey. We enjoyed the violin display there as well. ;)

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116 posts

Thank you so much for your evocative and wonderful trip report, Jean. You truly have a great gift in your writing about travel. Thank you!
I was a solo traveler for many many years in Italy (while for business) and your tips about researching the train tickets for the later depart time due to some problem, and being so prepared, I got a little chuckle out of that, because that is me too! I’m truly admiring your travel plans so so much- what a brave and inspiring and also very cool adventure you have chronicled. I’m so happy for you that you GOT OUT and just did it. You are my inspiration!
Happy travels!

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1787 posts

Re: the Cremona tower. When we went up, the man selling tickets looked at my husband, who said to him "You're wondering whether this fat American is going to be able to make it up there, right?" We did, of course. I think we've climbed almost every available tower on our 13 trips to Italy!

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479 posts

Jean, thanks for great report. We are planning on taking our daughter to Italy in fall 23 after she gets her masters so I'm interested in following these Italian trip reports. Love the idea of visiting less touristed places like Perugia, Bergamo, Mantova etc. I remember wandering around Bologna many years ago and not touristy at all but a beautiful city. Perugia, still remember wandering up and down Corso Vannuci with my sister who was studying at the university for Foreigners back in the 80's. What a great town, except for the allergies as I believe I'm allergic to Umbria in June.

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1780 posts

Jean-I remember that you cancelled your trip to Italy last summer. I felt sad for you. So glad you were comfortable to go this year. Sounds like a wonderful time. I was especially taken by your art classes. Of course, I have no talent but what an interesting way to experience Italy.

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29 posts

Wow, great report! It doesn’t sound as though this is the first time you’ve travelled solo.

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4590 posts

BethFL, yes, that was a very sad day in 2021 when I started cancelling reservations. The itinerary locations were similar for the northern part except I was going to attend the Buskers Festival in Ferrara (September). It didn’t have the Spello/Perugia portion, and Spello was one of the highlights of this trip!

Martin, the artist, was an excellent instructor! He suggested some options of buildings to sketch & paint. The two we did gave us a location to sit in the shade while drawing the subject. We had corresponded ahead of time, and I told him I was just a beginner. He patiently talked through what we were seeing and how we would sketch it, the methods for making light & shadow, etc. I never felt overwhelmed….well except when I was supposed to draw the two lions at the base of the building! I had him draw those, so it didn’t ruin the whole picture! ; )

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682 posts

Jean--wow, your writing makes me feel like I was actually there! What an amazing trip! I especially love the train tips abut having screen shots of the stops and the trains before and after. I get nervous with trains, so will put this to use for our Germany/Austria trip in December! I saw Janis this weekend and we commented that you should be back from your trip by now;)

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1126 posts

Hi Roubrat, Amsterdam usually runs pretty efficient. It was the same this time. I sit in Economy Comfort, so I’m towards the front of the plane and with carry on & a fast walk, I can move quickly into the passport check line.

Good to hear that. They've been having so many issues lately it's hopeful when I hear of good experiences.

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14 posts

I loved reading your trip report. It felt like I was there with you. Thank you for sharing!

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4590 posts

jessicaf227, I traveled fairly often when I worked as an engineer - usually solo.

Pre-2018. I planned several independent trips for my husband & me.
2018 - I kicked off my retirement with a 3-week solo trip to Italy.
2019 - I did two weeks solo in France, and my husband joined me for the third week. That was fun to do a “hybrid trip”!

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4590 posts

Mikliz97 & Janis, some day when I’m back in the Seattle area visiting family or friends, it would be fun to meet up and talk travel!