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Well, we’ve been back from our Italy adventure for a bit over a week now and it’s time to reflect on our travels. We have two subjects to talk about this time: Italy itself and traveling on a formal tour as compared to rolling our own. Let’s start with our thoughts on Italy.

And those are: wow! We had a great time. From the hustle and bustle of Rome to the coast of Cinque Terre, we saw things old and new, appreciated great art and great food, and enjoyed the Italian people and culture in ways that exceeded our expectations. We learned that good food can be incredibly simple, good wine can be incredibly inexpensive and good art can be found everywhere. Everywhere.

Some of our memories include:

  • Learning how pesto is made (it’s extremely simple) in a swanky hotel on the Italian Riviera.
  • Being stopped on a side-street in Florence for a short lecture on the history of the street and the flooding of the river by an Italian gentleman who didn’t speak a word of English. Actually, we’re not sure just what we were lectured on, but he was certainly passionate about it.
  • The best people watching we have ever experienced. Both women and men, no matter the age, were stylish and handsome.
  • On a related note, watching women walk the cobblestone streets in extremely high heels was interesting and a bit scary.
  • A taxi ride through Rome that was comparable to any Disney ride. An experience in itself.
  • Discovering that wherever there is a beautiful view the Italians have placed an establishment to enjoy the spot with a glass of wine. Quite civilized.
  • As usual, we were rewarded by unplanned activities. After being caught in the rain we ducked into the nearest site, the Medici Chapel, where we found ourselves in a room with several Michelangelo statues.
  • I was attacked by a urinal. But that’s a story for another time.

Bottom line is that we would return in a heartbeat. There’s more to do.

As to the Rick Steves tour that we were on, we couldn’t be happier. Our guide, Cecilia, was a wonderful woman, passionate about her country and eager to show it off. The other travelers were people that we were comfortable to journey with and as filled with the joy of new experiences as we are. Having local guides added a dimension to the places we went that is impossible to achieve otherwise. Comfortable hotels, excellent meals, great company, what else could we ask for? We would not hesitate to go on another tour with Rick Steves.

Here’s just a handful of the many beautiful shots we took. You’ll be seeing more in the weeks ahead.

Pesto! Sestri Levante, Italy, 9/12/13

Pesto!
Sestri Levante, Italy, 9/12/13

Sunset over Florence Florence, Italy, 9/17/13

Sunset over Florence
Florence, Italy, 9/17/13

Not all art we saw was old. Rome, Italy, 9/8/13

Not all art we saw was old.
Rome, Italy, 9/8/13

The Colosseum Rome, Italy, 9/10/13

The Colosseum
Rome, Italy, 9/10/13

Street Busker Volterra, Italy, 9/11/13

Street Busker
Volterra, Italy, 9/11/13

Artisan working alabaster into a bowl Volterra, Italy, 9/11/13

Artisan working alabaster into a bowl
Volterra, Italy, 9/11/13

The Pantheon, The Colosseum and The Vittorio Emmanual Memorial Rome, Italy, 9/18/13

The Pantheon, The Colosseum and The Vittorio Emanuele II Monument
Rome, Italy, 9/18/13

Street Scene Riomaggiore, Italy, 9/13/13

Street Scene
Riomaggiore, Italy, 9/13/13

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Although we have both been under the weather for the past several days, we are still managing to have a fantastic Florentine experience. We have leaned how to make marbleized paper, how to buy leather (an expensive lesson indeed), how to partially communicate when there is no common language and how to eat very, very well. We have seen policemen carrying their dog’s poop, briefly lost (and barely recovered) our backpack and seen Florence from several different high locations (I am writing these words from the very top of our hotel’s private tower). The weather has been iffy, but it is beautiful now, just cool enough for me to wear my new jacket to dinner!

Tomorrow it’s the high-speed train back to Rome, but for now it’s a glass or two of red before dinner.

Ciao.

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We are in Florence for the last days of our formal tour. In fact, in about an hour we are off to our “Last Supper,” our final dinner with the group. When we made our plans we decided to stay an extra two days here in Florence in order to unwind and perhaps have an adventure or two. We’re glad we did.

Both Patti and I have head colds. Pretty bad ones. My bad day was yesterday when I actually left the group and returned to the hotel early for down time. It’s a bummer because I missed some partially complete Michelangelo statues that I had been looking forward to. Patti told me they were impressive. Her bad day was this afternoon, but fortunately it was free time so she didn’t miss any planned activity.

Florence, like the rest of the trip, is a target-rich environment for photography. Here are a few from our neighborhood. The first is the view from the roof of our hotel. Stay tuned for whatever we get into over the next couple of days. Perhaps we’ll go on a quest!

BTW: I have a great post on Cinque Terra written but it seems to be stuck in WordPress hell. I’ll get it out when I figure out how.

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When we first started planning our big 2013 vacation we knew early on that we wanted to try out a Rick Steves tour, the only question was: where? Turkey was in the running for awhile, but when we looked at the Heart of Italy tour and I discovered the Cinque Terra region, which I had never heard of, I was sold. Five extremely photogenic villages connected by a series of panoramic trails, it was made for me. As it turns out, this is a case of the reality meeting the expectations. Wow. I’ll write more, and show more, after we get home, but here are a handful to keep you until then. Ciao!

(This is being posted post-trip. It was trapped in “Draft” mode & I couldn’t figure out how to post it from the WordPress app. We’ll be posting a summary of the trip later this weekend, but I wanted to give you a glimpse of this beautiful area.)

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A very brief post, since we have no wifi in the room (ah, the deprivations of travel). We went yesterday from Volterra to Lucca to The Cinque Terra. I believe the phrase I’m looking for is OMG! You will see a lot more when we get home. I’m off to eat my fancy breakfast and then hit the trains.

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We spent last night and today in the Tuscan hill town of Volterra. It is a charming small town made for exploring, full of history and good food. We had a meal last night that our guide described as “demanding,” meaning that it demanded a lot of space in our stomachs. It was delicious and, even though we seem to be eating our way across Italy, I’ve had to tighten my belt due to the exercise we are getting.

Today we learned a lot about the Etruscans, saw alabaster being worked and started our shopping. This place is beautiful. I’m just sorry we have to move on in the morning to the Italian Riviera. Between now and then we have to suffer through a wine tasting and search out another decent meal. We’ll probably muddle through somehow.

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Here is a very quick post from the Tuscan village of Volterra. We finished out Rome yesterday with a tour of the Colosseum and Forum. It is what you would expect…very impressive.

More later, we’re too busy to type much! (Plus we need to go walk off our huge dinner from last night. I’m eating like a pig, but I need to tighten my belt!)

Ciao!

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Today we managed to visit the Vatican without lightening bolts striking us down and we came away with one overriding impression. There were WAY too many people there. We dealt with huge crowds from all over the world for several hours. Don’t get me wrong, we saw lots of very cool art and saw some historic sights, but jeez, we were joined by many people often jammed into a very small area. Without air conditioning. And it was hot. But it was worth it.

At the very end of the guided portion we saw the Sistine Chapel. It made the whole ordeal worth it. It’s quite a sight…exactly what I expected and yet different at the same time. I can’t show you any photos from the chapel because photography is not allowed and boy do they enforce it. I saw a guard make someone delete photos. It’s really ok tho, because photos wouldn’t do it justice.

We saw St. Peter’s Basilica on our own, which was also pretty cool, but we were tired, hungry and cranky so we beat feet to find a lunch and cold drink. We succeeded. Tomorrow it’s the Colosseum and the Forum before a bus ride to Volterra. If we have wifi I’ll post again from there. Ciao!

BTW, sorry for the lack of captions on the photos but we’re doing this on an iPad and haven’t figured out how to add them. The pictures below were all from the Vatican — except the one of cold beer at the end.

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We spent the morning doing some slow wander. Although we both slept hard we were still moving a bit slow from the previous days’ travels and we knew that, once the tour started, we’d be going fairly hard, so we simply strolled to a couple of sites, specifically St. Maria de Angeli church (built on the Roman Baths of Diocletian) and the Capuchin Crypt (where the brothers did some strange things with bones).

The tour began this afternoon with a group meeting. We’ll be spending the next week with some interesting folks. We then rode the metro, walked to the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon and the Piazza Navona, and then had an excellent dinner. Wine was served. A bus ride to the hotel and we’re ready to collapse.

Tomorrow it’s off to the Vatican. If we see Francis I’ll try to get a picture.

Here’s some more shots in no particular order.

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So, after 21 hours of door to door travel, we found ourselves in our nice little Roman hotel, the Hotel Sonya. We were, understandably, feeling pretty burnt, hungry & tired. After a quick lunch (pizza, of course, and it was pretty good) we showered, napped for an hour and then hit the streets for fresh air and exercise in an effort to beat the jet lag.

It seems to have worked.

We wandered for hours before eating dinner in a very nice little restaurant. Wandered for almost 5 miles according to my GPS, in fact. My injured feet can attest to that. The sights we saw! Old (OLD) architecture and fashionable Italians! I did, of course, take a couple of photos. It’s hard to separate the wheat from the chafe on a mini-iPad, but here are just a couple from our day.

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