Prior to our month-long trip to Paris, Tuscany (mostly), and Amsterdam, I received very helpful guidance from Rick’s Steve’s travel consultants. Upon arriving in Paris, we learned that the Seine was rising, and checked on our reservations through Get your Guide for a Seine cruise and a twilight guided tour of the Eiffel Tower. Cars had begun falling into the river and art was being removed from the Louvre by that time, so no cruise, and I was fortunate enough to locate the manager of the cruise company and with his name and information, obtain a refund from Get Your Guide. No such luck for the Tower tour, as we could not find the person we were supposed to meet in a remote location to obtain our voucher. Lesson learned: Make online reservations only through the site itself, not a separate booking agent.
In trying to depart blustery, rainy Paris, we could not make an online train reservation to Milan. After a taxi ride to Gare du Nord, we discovered that there was a train strike, so we were fortunately able to reserve an Easyjet flight to Milan.
Milan was rainy, but in between showers we took the Hop-on/Hop-off bus, walked a good bit, and enjoyed many beautiful, historic sights—Milan is underrated and highly recommended. We then took a train to the airport and picked up a car for the rest of our journey.
After a delightful tour around Lake Como, we stopped in Lugano, Switzerland and Paradise, a true Oasis worth the stop. Switzerland requires the purchase of a 40 Euro road pass “good for the entire year”—not a bargain for a short stop.
We then went on to Parma and Bologna (the cheese, the prosciutto!), and on to Tuscany.
We had rented three adjacent apartments in an Agriturismo in Incisa, Valdarno, about 16 kilometers south of Florence—a bit dated, and the owners and managers were most helpful and we settled in. We hardly used the pool, due to the incessant rain and chill during the first week. On the fifth night I woke up at 6 AM to a message from my daughter in law in the next apartment: “Don’t go out—someone in a black neoprene outfit and mask broke our lock and is fleeing from the area!” We discovered that all three on our front door locks had been broken, the screen to our bedroom was torn, 400 Euro was missing from my wallet which was inches from the bed, a precious ring was gone, and our friend in the third apartment had 700 Euro taken from his wallet.
It turns out that the message had been sent at 1 AM, and numerous people told us that bands of thieves from Eastern Europe watched travelers come and go, and enter bedrooms in the middle of the night and spray a sleeping agent in the room. After reviewing the night’s events, all of us from the three apartments put the pieces together and the local police came out, and we all felt that we could no longer be safe even in remote location with no security lights, alarms, gates, or windows. So we left for a nearby town where we had friends who owned a centrally-located family hotel. Lesson learned: Be certain that there is adequate security wherever you find lodging, no matter how bucolic or comfortable the setting.
Our friends who have run a family hotel and restaurant since 1906 in Impruneta, 10k south of Florence, were more than accommodating. We had stayed there twice before, and they immediately said, “Yes, come on over, we have three rooms waiting for you.” They not only helped us settle in, park our cars, but gave us great discounts, assistance in traveling throughout Chianti, space for our own items in the kitchen refrigerator, and personal service every evening in the terrace restaurant overlooking the region.
In all the places I’ve stayed in Europe, Impruneta is the best for the hotel/restaurant, family atmosphere, bus service to the central Florence train station every 30 minutes, and easy access to the A1 Autostrada and the Tuscan hill towns as well as to the rest of Europe.