Visiting Rome, Tuscany & Cinque Terre, Florence, and Venice

latest webpage update: May 26, 2010
** If you are planning to drive in Florence or Pisa or Rome, click here for important information **

     In the spring of 2009 we began planning an October trip to Italy and Spain. We would be 4 retired Canadians. We are Phil & Heather from Winnipeg and we were joined by long time friends Denis & Hilda from Calgary. The internet is a fantastic resource and both couples shared researching travel plans. We made our own airline reservations. They made the train, rental car(s) and European flights and our last night's hotel reservations. We looked after the Rome, Tuscany, Florence and Venice hotel reservations and, believe it or not, it all went off with only minor problems. When you make your airplane reservations 6 months before you travel and seasons change be prepared to have some flight times changed or flights CANCELLED. This can cause ripples.
     It is now December and the trip is already a memory but I am happy to state that our Italy experience far exceeded our expectations. What I found most surprising is that in spite of all the research I did, almost everything was better than I imagined! Our plans included; Rome, Tuscany, Florence, finally Venice, then on to Spain. We bought travel books about the cities we were going to and borrowed a couple of Rick Steve DVDs that were informative and accurate - highly recommended. However the best investment I made was to take a couple of beginner's Italian courses, more later. Note that throughout the underlined text are links to a definition, or picture of the subject, or in some cases an internet link.
     • Click here for image display information. Click on most thumbnails for bigger, more detailed pictures and as well, Windows IE Explorer 7 displays a small + sign on many of these enlarged photos which means that clicking on that photo will display the full size image.
     • For $$$ costs I use € for Euros and simply $ for Cdn funds and during our trip the €1 = $1.60 or so.
     • Just about every restaurant we visited will be talked about and will include our opinion(s). If we really liked the restaurant we will provide more info with links. We did save many business cards and these pictures will be included as well. Not to worry, no extensive reviews will be included, only our impressions. Same with hotels, pictures, impressions, costs and any other information which may be of value to the next tourist.

Rome, The Eternal City

     Tuesday - day 1. After an 8 hour flight made quite bearable in pods in business class on an AirCanada Airbus 330 (thanks to Aeroplan airmiles), we arrived about 11:00am. We managed to locate the airport shuttle and enjoyed our €11 ride to Hotel Sonja (Hotel Opera Roma), Rome: 3 day bus/metro passRome: 110 on/off bus our home for the next 5 nights. €11 each is a very good price by the way for four adults with luggage. A couple of hours later and we were off to find the termini which was about a 15 minute walk in the bright Roman sunshine from the Hotel Sonja. On the way we stopped at a tabacchi (tobacconist/newsstand) and purchased three day passes for unlimited bus/metro travel, at €11 this is a good deal for tourists. We located a 110 double decker bus and managed to find seats on the upper level and plugged into the multiple language headset system that worked, sort of.

110 bus in Rome     We have found it a good investment to find an on/off bus (double decker is best) when visiting a new city. A map is fine for research but nothing beats the real thing. There are so many places of interest so you have to plan your day, especially if you're a senior and walking great distances is something you vaguely remember doing in your youth... Internet research suggested the 110 which begins at the termini. There are other similar bus lines so I would recommend doing your own internet research for the time you are there because the 110 is quite popular and I can easily imagine the "on/off" feature being "on/off/wait wait/on" in the busier months. Some images from our ride on October 7, blue skies and +25.
Colosseum Colosseum L Colosseum M Vittorio Emmanuel change Vittorio Emmanuel L Vittorio Emmanuel M Tiber River Tiber River L Tiber River M bridge over Tiber River Colosseum L Colosseum M L M L M L M

     For first time visitors, Rome is almost too much to grasp. Each turn presents something interesting and then your partner or friends point out something you missed. There is always the entertainment of watching the swarming presence of scooters as they weave in and out of the crowded streets. No pickup trucks here, they wouldn’t be able to move never mind trying to find a large enough parking spot. In two weeks I never did figure out how the Italians knew that double parking was acceptable in certain areas. 110 ride was worth it as we mapped out our plans for Wed-Thur-Fri.

     The first evening we went to find a pizza restaurant, ostensibly to find out if the Italians make better pizza... Funny thing, the pizzeria recommended by our hotel, the Est Est Est, was not open and hadn’t been for a few weeks so we wandered down the street and found our first trattoria, aptly called Trattoria Fulvmari. Trattoria Fulvmari, 10 via principe amedeoWe enjoyed a very good meal and of course a bottle of “vino rosso della casa” - a phrase along with “acqua naturale” we would use many times ("red house wine" and "non-carbonated water"). Over dinner we decided to visit the colosseum and Roman ruins on our first full day in Rome.

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The Colosseum, Palentine Hill and Castel Sant’Angelo

     Wednesday - day 2. I’m willing to bet that architects or architectural students would have a great time here. From the outside it is of course impressive, but only from the inside can you appreciate both its great size and symmetry. A visit to the colosseum is definitely worth the effort but be wary of summer crowds, especially on weekends or holidays. We then roamed, more accurately we strolled the palatine area and admired both the Arch of Constantine and the Arch of Titus. Tickets for the 110 bus are valid for 24hrs so we managed all of this within the time frame.
     We had a late lunch this day and I have to say this was our only disappointing meal in Italy. On a side street relatively near Castel Sant’Angelo we located a pizzeria. Our first negative clue was that they were not featuring pizza even though outside was a neon "Pizzeria" sign! No pizza until evening - we should have left but we were thirsty and a little hungry. The waiter (perhaps the owner) convinced us the cannelloni was very good. It was just ordinary but the cold Italian beer was excellent. We also learned our first "bread on the table" lesson - take a bite and you pay a service charge, the bread is added to the bill. The waiter even more or less demanded a tip and we more or less gave him one, vowing that we had learned our "tourist" lesson.Castel Sant Angelo But at least our thirst batteries were recharged and we made our way to Castel Sant’Angelo. So much for one tourist visit per day! It seems we walked forever, especially round and round to climb inside the castel. We never did find the tunnel referred to in the movie Angels & Demons, but we did get to walk through the magnificent drawing room of (pope) Paul III’s apartment.La Gallina Bianco, 6 via antonio rosmini The view of Ponte Sant’Angelo is worth the climb.
    It turned out to be a long walk to the nearest metro stop. Funny, it didn't look that far on the map...
    We did manage to have pizza that night at La Gallina Bianca which was only a few blocks from our hotel. While it was good it wasn’t any better than what we can find in Winnipeg, but the gelato next door made it all worthwhile.

The Colosseum     Just about everyone has seen pictures or videos or movies featuring the Colosseum in Rome, but it is more impressive than any image. colesseum ticketThe tours are good as are the audio guides but regardless, be prepared to be amazed. You cannot help but wonder what it was like for the first time visitor in 80AD. Seating up to 50,000 patrons, just that number of people exceeded most cities in the known world. Ingenious design featuring multiple exits per level meant the Colosseum could be emptied in 5 minutes. It's not immediately obvious, but the colosseum is actually built in a small valley or depression otherwise it would tower over all the other structures. So while it is large and dominates the area you can see from the map (in palatine section) that is doesn't overpower the temple area just to the North.
    The crowds were sizable for October so I have to wonder what it would be like in the summer on a weekend - wall to wall I imagine.
Colosseum Colosseum Large Colosseum M Colosseum Colosseum L Colosseum M Colosseum Colosseum L Colosseum M Colosseum Colosseum L Colosseum M Colosseum L Colosseum M Colosseum Colosseum L Colosseum M Colosseum Colosseum from Palatine hill L Colosseum from Palatine hill M

Palatine Hill     The majority of the major Roman facilities are located on and around an area of Rome called Palatine Hill. For history buffs this would be a "must see", but be prepared for lots of walking. There is an active archaeological dig going on and it doesn't take too much gazing to imagine what the area looked like almost 2000 years ago - fantastic! There are also two arches; Arch of Constantine (commemorating Constantine I's victory over Maxentius at the Battle of Milvian Bridge on October 28, 312) and Arch of Titus (commemorating the capture and sack of Jerusalem in 70AD).
    The Palatine consisted originally of three summits: the Germalus to the north; the Velia, a kind of isthmus that linked the Palatine to the neighbouring Esquiline Hill; and the Palatium to the south. The Palatium was the highest of the summits and later gave its name to the entire hill. [Encyclopedia Britannica]
    The Roman Forum (Latin: Forum Romanum), sometimes known by its original Latin name, is located between the Palatine hill and the Capitoline hill of the city of Rome. It is the central area around which the ancient Roman civilization developed. Citizens referred to the location as the "Forum Magnum" or just the "Forum".
    The area of the forum was originally a grassy wetland. It was drained in the 7th century BC by building the Cloaca Maxima, a large covered sewer system that drained into the Tiber River, as more people began to settle between the two hills.

    The inscription featured in the 8th picture translates to: The Senate and People of Rome (dedicate this) to the divine Titus Vespasianus Augustus, son of the divine Vespasian.
map of the Palatine Palatine hill Palatine hill L Palatine hill M Arch of Constantine Arch of Constantine L Arch of Constantine M Palatine hill Palatine hill L Palatine hill M Palatine hill Forum L Forum M dig dig L dig M Arch of Titus Arch of Titus L Arch of Titus M Arch of Titus inscription Arch of Titus inscription L Arch of Titus inscription M

Castel Sant’Angelo     The Mausoleum of Hadrian is a towering cylindrical building in Rome, initially commissioned by the Roman Emperor Hadrian as a mausoleum for himself and his family. This building quite dominates the Rome skyline and we first thought it was a church, primarily because of the large angel on the very top. Turns out it isn't and wasn't a church but was originally a mausoleum, then a prison, then a fortress for the pope, then a castle and finally a museum. Regarding the large angel: legend holds that the Archangel Michael appeared atop the mausoleum,Castel Sant Angelo sheathing his sword as a sign of the end of the plague of 590, thus lending the castle its present name..
    In spite of what the ticket says we did pay an entrance fee, we just didn't visit the museum. We just climbed (and climbed and climbed) the circular road/path in the interior. Eventually you do reach the top and the view of Rome is quite stunning as is/was the Pope's receiving room. You aren't allowed to take pictures of that room so I stood outside and took a picture of the inside.
Castel Sant Angelo Castel Sant Angelo L Castel Sant Angelo M Castel Sant Angelo Castel Sant Angelo L Castel Sant Angelo M Archangel Michael Archangel Michael L Archangel Michael M Paul III's apartment Paul III's apartment L Paul III's apartment M map and more map and more map and more view of Rome view of Rome - large view of Rome M Ponte Sant Angelo Ponte Sant Angelo Ponte Sant Angelo

#1 - looking East across the Tiber River, the brown Castel Sant'Angelo, behind is the white courts of justice.
#2 - Castel Sant'Angelo
#3 - statue of St. Michael atop Castel Sant'Angelo.Legend holds that the Archangel Michael appeared atop the mausoleum, sheathing his sword as a sign of the end of the plague of 590.[Wikipedia]
#4 - Since the 14th century popes have converted the structure into a castle/fortress. A photo of the receiving room of Pope Paul III's rooftop apartment.
$5 - At first look, at least from the thumbnail, you only see a plan drawing of the castel, but just on the bottom of the picture there is a semi-circular "thing". Left click on this photo and you will see that this "thing" is where a cannon ball struck many years ago. Proof positive that this indeed was a fortress in it's storied past.
#6 - For those that need to know directions, this picture was taken from the roof of the castel and is bearing about 120°. On the left, the white structure is the Vittorio Emmanuel monument. The Palatine hill is behind in the distance and slightly right.
#7 - This photo from the castel faces south and views the Ponte Sant Angelo, originally the Aelian Bridge or Pons Aelius, meaning the Bridge of Hadrian, was completed in 134 AD by Roman Emperor Hadrian.

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The Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's Basilica

     Thursday - day 3. When you are going to visit the Vatican; wear comfortable shoes, comfortable loose-fitting clothes, bring water and be prepared for lineups unless you are part of a private tour. It was our intent to visit hotel Roma della Opera the Sistine chapel and then St. Peter's Basilica. We did but we did not know that in order to visit the Sistine chapel you must first visit the Vatican museum(s) along with many, many other tourists even though it is a Thursday morning in mid-October. The Vatican and the Sistine chapel in particular, must be the number 1 tourist attraction in Italy or share that ranking with the Colosseum.
    After breakfast we were out to find a bus to the Vatican - easy. Once in the vicinity be prepared for a long walk for the Sistine chapel tour is only available from the East side of the Vatican and you must go through the Vatican museum first, even though the Sistine chapel is adjacent to the East side of St. Peter's Basilica. You walk down Via di Porta Angelica, then Viale del Bastioni di Michelangelo and finally Viale Vaticano. In high tourist times just waiting in line can take 3 hours and then there is a crowded walk through the various halls and rooms of the Vatican museum. It is almost overwhelming but finally you reach the Sistine chapel. I have to admit I was a little disappointed, not with the splendor of the art, but it is likely always crowded and you don't get to spend enough time. As well there are rather loud "whispered" messages over the PA system repeated every 2 or 3 minutes, telling everyone to be quiet and cameras are not allowed - both warnings are routinely ignored. But I am glad I went and will likely visit again next time we are in Rome.
    After the tour finished we found a sidewalk café for much needed refreshments and then we walked back to St. Peter's square and joined the line of people waiting to visit the Basilica. The lineup was short and this time admittance was free. St. Peter's Basilica is the largest Christian church in the world and can accommodate up to 60,000 people - I can believe it! None of the 4 of us is Catholic which meant the significance of much of the art and sculptures was lost to us, but not Michelangelo's Pieta or Bernini's "Cathedra Petri" and "Gloria".
Baccanale, Campo di Fiori, Rome     According to the time stamp on our digital camera we spent 6hrs doing the above - impressive, so we returned to our hotel for a rest, a gin and tonic and to discuss where to go for dinner. We had watched a couple of Rick Steve's DVDs so we decided to take his advice and head for Campo di Fiori (meadow of flowers) to dine under the stars. The piazza was crowded with a mixture of younger locals, tourists, and we seniors. We enjoyed a good meal at the Baccanale with, as usual, vino rosso della casa. This restaurant was set up very near the fountain and statue of Giordano Bruno that is located at the very spot he was burned at the stake in 1600 after the Inquisition declared him a heretic. We returned the next day to see the other face of Campo di Fiori, a daily outdoor market.

Vatican museums, St. Peter's Basilica
vatican museum courtyard vatican museum courtyard L vatican museum courtyard M L M Perseus Perseus L Perseus M L M Lacoon Lacoon - Large Lacoon M L M hall of maps hall of maps hall of maps

L M hall before Raphael's rooms hall before Raphael's rooms hall before Raphael's rooms St.Peter's Basilica St.Peter's Basilica St.Peter's Basilica St.Peter's Basilica St.Peter's Basilica Large St.Peter's Basilica M dome of St. Peter's Basilica dome of St. Peter's Basilica L dome of St. Peter's Basilica M St.Peter's Basilica St.Peter's Basilica L St.Peter's Basilica M

#1 - courtyard, Vatican museum
#2 - the Chiaramonti Museum, named after its founder, Pius VII, has changed only slightly in appearance since it was first laid out by Antonio Canova.
#3 - Perseus holding the head of Medusa (by Canova in 1801)
#4 - on the right of the photo is the bronze casting of Hercules. It seems this sculpture was found in a Roman garbage dump a few centuries ago. Apparently there had been centuries old rumour about this casting.
#5 - the Lacoon; although this Greek sculpture dates to 42-20BC, it was not found in Rome until 1506 in the ruins of Titus' palace. The incredible detail and accuracy of human structure doubtless affected influenced the course of Italian Renaissance and Roman sculptors including Michelangelo and Bernini.
#6 - floor artwork of inlaid marble.
#7 - hall of maps, interesting to see century old maps of the (then) known world.
  — row 2 —
#1 - dome in the Vatican museum.
#2 - getting nearer to Raphael's rooms and our ultimate goal, the Sistine chapel. No pictures there but it is well worth the long walk and the waits.
#3 - St. Peter's Basilica, stunning both in size and grandeur.
#4 - St. Peter's Basilica
#5 - dome of St. Peter's Basilica
#6 - rising moon over St. Peter's Basilica

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Campo di Fiori, Borghese Gallery, Trevi Fountain - all in one day!

     Friday - day 4. I seem to recall that we had decided to limit our tours to 1 a day, or perhaps 2 maximum, so much for limits... Plans today included a morning visit to Campo di Fiori, an afternoon tour of Borghese Gallery, and an evening visit to Trevi fountain - a very full day. Again we successfully travelled on Rome's excellent bus/metro system and found the piazza and market without difficulty. The previous night it was crowded with visitors and fun-seekers, now it was full of the sights and sounds of a busy market and we tourists were the definite minority - very refreshing. We found our way to the termini to catch the bus to get us near the Borghese Gallery. We had purchased oranges at the market and then purchased sandwiches at Borghese for an outside lunch. Music was provided by a nearby busker playing his saxophone - he played very well I might add.
    Here, when they say no cameras please, they mean it. At Borghese Gallery you must hand over your camera or video camera. We liked the idea and it made it more comfortable for everyone. While I found the art interesting I was completely amazed and taken by the Bernini sculptures. First was the Rape of Persephone, then Apollo and Daphne, and finally David. Bernini's work is almost alive and what is great about the Borghese is that you are close enough to the masterpieces that you could touch them. Perhaps Apollo and Daphne is the most provocative, you can see the changing form of Daphne from a lithe young woman into a Laurel tree - absolutely amazing. They say that if you could run your fingers across Daphne's fingers (as they become leaves) the extremely thin, fine marble would produce a tinkling sound. Borghese Gallery is situated in a large park called Villa Borghese gardens. A large park (148 acres) complete with a lake, many trails, and a little tour train, dates back to the 1700s. It's present English style dates back to 1903. I would highly recommend a visit to Borghese Gallery but you must reserve tickets at least a day in advance as they limit the number of daily visitors. Give yourself plenty of time to actually get to the Gallery if you are taking public transport - #910 bus along Pinciana and stop near Giovanni Sgambati. It does require some walking and "finding".
    Can a North American tourist in Rome miss visiting the Trevi fountain? I think not. Funny thing though, the fountain is not easy to find, meaning it's not on a big, popular street, and it is always crowded. Trattoria Tritone, via Dei Maroniti, RomeWe visited there on Oct 9 at 7:00pm in the evening and we had to wait for a chance to sit/stand near the waters and toss in our three coins. On the way we found an attractive looking sidewalk café, Trattoria Tritone. The waiter beckoned us in but we said we would be back, and we were. Roberto (perhaps Antonio?) saved an excellent table for us and we enjoyed a good dinner under a canopy of vines and stars. Roberto said he personally made the tiramisou and it was the best we had in Italy and that is no small compliment. Chunks of chocolate were in the filling - wow! Roberto loved the ladies and gave them each a small ceramic dish - charmers these Italian men.
    Saturday morning we departed Rome for Tuscany by train. Rome was fantastic, we must come back again.

Rome images
Campo di Fiori Campo di Fiori Large Campo di Fiori M Campo di Fiori Campo di Fiori Campo di Fiori Campo di Fiori Campo di Fiori L Campo di Fiori M Norceneria Norceneria Norceneria Campo di Fiori Campo di Fiori L Campo di Fiori M market truck market truck L market truck M Campo gents Campo gents Campo gents Campo gents Campo di Fiori Campo di Fiori

Borghese Gallery Borghese Gallery Borghese Gallery Rape of Proserpine Rape of Proserpine Rape of Proserpine Rape of Proserpine Rape of Proserpine Rape of Proserpine David David David Apollo and Daphne Apollo and Daphne Apollo and Daphne Apollo and Daphne Apollo and Daphne Apollo and Daphne                    

#1 - the fiori in Campo di Fiori
#2 - I looked but there wasn't a date stone but I'm willing to bet this building is 200+ years old.
#3 - at night, the awnings on the right become outdoor restaurants
#4 - a typical norceneria - what great smells greet you when you enter! Butcher shops in many Italian towns have a sign indicating that they are Norcenerias, or butchers of pork products.
#5 - check the prices, €2 for 2 kg of fresh tomatoes is $1.46 lb
#6 - 3-wheeled "trucks" are very common in Italy.
#7 - some gents who are likely resting after setting up the market.
#8 - another market shot
  — row 2 —
#1 - Borghese Gallery, worth a visit but remember to book your tickets at least a day early.
#2 - Rape of Proserpine by Bernini. The first Bernini sculpture you view - astounding detail from all vantage points
#3 - detail of Rape of Proserpine. Note how Pluto's fingers are pressing into Proserpine's thigh. This sculpture dates from 1623.
#4 - David by Bernini. Michaelangelo and Donatello had already created sculptural interpretations of David before Bernini's masterpiece. He was 25 when he sculpted his lifesize, dynamic David about to loose his sling and slay Goliath.
#5 - Apollo and Daphne by Bernini. You can spend a long time just standing here trying to visually drink it all in. I think that's why they limit the number of visitors and the visits. This sculpture alone is worth coming to Italy again for a visit.
#6 - detail of Apollo and Daphne. Bernini's attention to detail is amazing. Daphne's hair is changing from long curls to bark covered branches. Bernini also manages to give emotion to the marble figures. Look at Daphne's mouth, apprehension at getting caught perhaps and then realizing she is changing from her human form, but will the change be fast enough?

     [Pictures 2, 4 and 5 were obtained from the internet as cameras are not allowed at Borghese Gallery.]

Rome - parting shots
detail of Arch of Constantine fish store, Campo di Fiori Vatican museum Mussolini made speeches from this balcony butcher shop near Trevi Fountain Vatican Swiss guard street scene, Corso Vittorio Emanuele near Campo di Fiori Oct 8/09, Trevi Fountain

Rome Termini Rome Termini Rome Termini

  Rome Termini, catching a Saturday morning train to Florence. This was the first rain we saw in Italy and was local to Rome.

Rome tourist recommendation #1: Depending on your length of stay, buy at least the 3 day transit pass, good for unlimited bus or metro travel. An very good bargain (€11 in 2009) and the bus system is excellent for tourists. Keep in mind it is also excellent for pickpockets and do not carry wallets etc in your back pockets, or front pockets either unless they can be securely closed. A German tourist was pickpocketed on a bus we were on. It happened so fast at the rear door of a bus stop, just before the bus was to leave. The thief was gone in a flash. I happened to catch a glimpse of a young man who hurried across the street in front of the bus, cutting through traffic. If he was the thief you wouldn't have guessed - well dressed and sporting stylish sunglasses. The tourist and his wife hurried off the bus as well and managed to cross the road too but the thief was long gone. You are easily recognized as a tourist, remember that.
Rome tourist recommendation #2: If you are going to visit the Sistine chapel spend some time on the internet to find out about guided tours. TripAdvisor is a good place to start. It may turn out to be the best investment you make!.

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Tuscany Toscana

     Tuscany. The very word invokes visions of beautiful, rolling misty hills, small fortified towns built on top of those misty hills, vineyards, romantic dining as the sun goes down. Think of the movies; Under the Tuscan Sun or the Gladiator or Midsummer's Night Dream, the list goes on. Tuscany is all of this and more.

     Saturday - day 5. We took a fast train from Rome to Florence. Perhaps I should clarify that the train we took may not have been fast in European terms, but for Canadians it was a rocket. Not only that, but it left on time and it arrived on time. Unbelievable.
     There was construction on our walk from the train station to the Avis car rental. A detour meant we walked for at least 1/2 an hour in the midday heat, pulling our heavy luggage. Good thing it wasn't raining! Our rental car turned out to be a new VW Passat Wagon, diesel 6sp manual, very comfortable, fast, and great gas mileage. We filled up the car with luggage and people, Denis hooked up his TomTom gps unit affectionately called HAL, and we were off. We were quickly out of the city and headed south and west into Tuscany. Oddly, it felt like we were finally beginning our holiday as we were on our own, far from the crowds and the ease of moving around Rome on public transit
     Perhaps it was the many movies we have seen about Tuscany and Italy so we thought the hills would be dry and brown in October but we were all quite surprised how green and verdant Poggio Asciutto B&B it was. Our destination was a farm B&B called Poggio Asciutto near Greve in Chianti. HAL directed us along the twisty narrow roads with his pleasant (sort of) British accent and we found Greve without difficulty. We had to stop here as we were past lunch hour. Fortunately we found an excellent pizza restaurant in Greve called La Cantina Pizzeria.
     A couple of years ago my wife Heather had read an article in the Winnipeg Free Press about this great sounding farm B&B in Tuscany. She saved the article and from time to time I would look on Tripadvisor for reviews. There weren't many but all were uniformly excellent so when the dream of going to Italy and Tuscany came into focus, Poggio Asciutto was a natural October morning in Tuscany view our our B&B window choice. Only several kms South of Greve in Chianti, HAL found Poggio without difficulty and we met our hosts for the next days, Massimo and Eva. Poggio is a working farm and they grow olives and grapes. We arrived just at the end of the grape harvest and in fact some of the guests were out in the fields picking the quite tasty Sangiovese grapes. We returned to Greve and bought salad veggies, olives, porchino cheese, prosciutto and wine so we could enjoy a simple evening meal. Poggio would be our "base camp", so every morning after a good breakfast we were off to explore this picturesque province filled with stunning panoramic views and charming hilltop villages.

     Sunday - day 6. A hearty breakfast and we were off, map and HAL, to visit Siena. The word "siena" can be defined as; "... a name derived from the most notable Renaissance location for the earth, Siena, Italy, and is short for terra di Siena, "earth of Siena". An old and very beautiful city, Siena competed with Florence for many years to be the dominant city state in Tuscany during the Renaissance. When you finally reach Piazza del Campo you are struck with both the muted yet vibrant colours of the magnificent buildings, and the intricate brick pavement. Palio di Siena Everywhere there are people, couples, singles, families, tourists. And while you are visiting the shops and people watching, you remember that twice a year they hold a bareback horse race, the Palio di Siena, in this very square. Thousands of people, 10 horses and riders - it must be incredible!
     It's strange that while we visited Rome for several days and saw ancient sites, somehow Siena felt older. I guess we didn't see that similar part of Rome, the part where people lived day-to-day. Every corner seems to be a picture in waiting, and always this brownish-red coloring. We did get to the Duomo and while it is truly impressive, it is almost too much, too intricate and too full of priceless art.
      There are many who find the Duomo's massive columns of alternating white and dark green marble layers Siena Duomo (cathedral) to be very Siena Duomo (cathedral)attractive. I find the overall effect is too busy and detracts from the purpose of the building, but this is a personal opinion. The interior is quite fantastic, not only for the patterned marble columns, but the inlaid marble floors, the art and the treasured religious sculptures. Artists and sculptors include Bernini, Michelangelo and Donatello as well as many other works of art. Just like St. Peter's Basilica or Borghese Gallery you are viewing priceless art, works that are centuries old and there are no copies - this is it. It almost takes your breath away.

Seina street Basilica di San Domenico Piazza del Campo Piazza del Campo Piazza del Campo Large Piazza del Campo M Piazza del Campo tiles of Piazza del Campo Siena Siena jewellry shop in Siena

Siena Duomo
Duomo Duomo Large Duomo M Duomo exterior detail of the Duomo exterior detail of the Duomo exterior detail of the Duomo Large exterior detail of the Duomo M Duomo Duomo Duomo Large Duomo M oculus by Duccio Pinturicchio, Pius III oculus, The Last Supper, Pastorino de Pastorini in 1549

Siena Duomo
Duomo Duomo Large Duomo M Pisano pulpit High Altar Duomo Duomo floor L Duomo floor M Duomo fresco Duomo fresco Large Duomo fresco M Pope Alexander III Ste. Catherine St. Bernardino Mary Magdalene

  — row 3 —
#1 - view down to the length of the Duomo to the High Altar and Oculus. On the left can be seen the Pisano pulpit.
#2 - The cathedral's earliest remaining work, "Salvation and the Last Judgement" by Nicola Pisano. This pulpit is considered by many art historians to be Nicola Pisano's masterpiece. It is made of Carrara marble and was sculpted between 1265 and 1268.
#3 - High Altar Presbytery.
#4 - The floor of the Duomo is a series of 56 slabs of marble mosaics created by numerous artists between 1369 and 1547. Fantastic art on the ceilings, walls and floors, the effect is incredible.
#5 - Detail of fresco behind the high altar.
#6 - Statue of Pope Alexander III, finished by Ercole Ferrata in 1665-66. Alexander lived in interesting times regarding the Church of England, and regardless of his actions before, he canonized Thomas Becket after Thomas' death in 1170.
#7 - Saint Catherine of Siena. She died in 1377 while he was endeavoring to heal the Great Western Schism.
#8 - St. Bernardino by Raggi, 1660.
#9 - Mary Magdalene by Bernini. Stunning in it's realism.

Siena tourist recommendation #1: If you are going to visit the Duomo in Siena, I recommend doing internet research first. A good place to start is this excellent Siena link.

Siena tourist recommendation #2: If you are driving, and unless you know of a good parking lot, a good idea is to park at the train station (it has underground parking) and take a cab to and from the old city of Siena. It won't break the bank (ask for cost before you start) and it will save your legs and maybe a traffic ticket.

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     Monday - day 7. In the spring of 2009 I had taken a couple of Italian courses and as a result met other adult students who were also planning to visit Italy. Two of the students were planning to stay at a villa/vineyard Tolaini Estate vineyard Tolaini Estate vineyard Etruscan T, entrance to Tolaini Estate in Tuscany and gave me an email link to Banville & Jones, a local wine company who are partners with Tolaini Estate, a vineyard in Tuscany. I mentioned in my email that we would be visiting Tuscany and would we be able to take a tour of their vineyard. Quickly a reply came back that our tour was confirmed complete with date and time, detailed map instructions, and a phone number for a Tolaini Estate contact who spoke English - wow! Thanks Tina in Winnipeg and Paolo in Vallenuova, Tuscany.
     Denis had entered the lat/long for the vineyard and although our destination was only Ceramics store about 25km from Poggio we left two hours early as we were in unfamiliar, hilly country. HAL took us right to the driveway for Tolaini estate where we met Paolo who gave us a very informative tour. Harvest was finished a couple of weeks before our visit so all was quiet, the grapes were fermenting. Tolaini is a very modern winery which produces world class Merlot-Cabernet-Petit Verdot blended wines. On our way we had passed through a beautiful hill town called Radda in Chianti. Later, on our way back we shopped at a well known ceramic store called Rampini CeramicsRistorante Verrazaano Chianti in Greve.
     After a great day of touring we made it back to Poggio for a much needed Gin and Tonic. That evening we took the recommendation of Eva, our Poggio host, and dined at the Ristorante Verrazzano in Greve. Again a very good meal with excellent Chianti wine. Ah, the tough life of a tourist.

Cinque Terre

     Tuesday - day 8. Cinque Terre, which translates to Five Lands, is both an Italian Cinque Terre sign national park and a UNESCO world heritage site on the Mediterranean Sea. Five villages, Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore, are carved into the rocky Italian Riviera shoreline. Until recently the only modes Cinque Terre train ticket of transport were by foot or train, but now you can drive to the towns although parking can be a significant challenge and really not worth it as the trains are efficient and cheap. Learn from our experience. We had planned a long day trip, driving from Poggio Asciutto via Autostradas (combination of freeways and toll roads) to La Spezia, parking the car and then taking a train to and from Riomaggiore, the first or southernmost village. This plan did not work. The drive to La Spezia was fast, however it is a big city so locating the train station was a bit of a challenge, and then we could not find a place to park. Because we were tourists we did not want to chance having our rental car towed away for a parking offence, we gave up and found our way out of town and over the mountain range and to the coast then drove to Riomaggiore, a very pretty drive along the spectacular, rocky coastline. We did manage to find a parking spot (€16 or €18 for 6 hours) and we then were on foot, enjoying our first Cinque Terre village.
Cinque Terre train ticket       As well as trains from other cities, there are trains which stop at all the little villages so in effect, it is like an on/off bus. The tickets are cheap and if you want to, you can walk between the villages. This can be problematic for seniors so we limited our walk to the first walk (or in our case, the last, to be accurate) between Riomaggiore and Manarola which takes about 20-30 minutes.
     I should also mention there is a boat that operates from town to town, sort of like a bus service on the water. We didn't try it but it is worth investigating. You can see the boat in the 1st picture below, just about to turn into Manarola. Probably everything you read about Cinque Terre is true. The houses near the waterfront are painted vibrant colours, laundry hangs everywhere and adds to the ambiance. There are many restaurants and of course they all cater to the tourists. Each village is different and each has its own charm. This is one area that you should spend two or three days, wandering, relaxing, slowing down to a distinctly easy pace, and understanding that you really don't need a car to get around.
     This was our longest travelling day in Italy, and of course included an hour or so in La Spezia before getting to Cinque Terre. But it was worth it. I'm pretty sure we will return some day and take our own advice and either stay in one of the villages, or stay in Lavanto which is a little North of Monterosso al Mare, and take the train back and forth.

Cinque Terre
Riomaggiore Riomaggiore Riomaggiore Monterosso al Mare Monterosso al Mare Monterosso al Mare Manarola Manarola

Vernazza Manarola Cinque Terre walking path Manarola lover's locks great name

  — row 1 —
#1 - Riomaggiore, the first town to come into view when you drive over a small mountain range from La Spezia. You can see in the distance the Northernmost village, Monterosso al Mare. Remember, this was October 13 and the weather was gorgeous, about +22c and not a cloud to be seen for the whole day.
#2 - It's quite a step walk from where you part down to the harbour and train station. Being Sunday there were lots of tourists many of whom were Italian.
#3 - Just an interesting alley.
#4 - Monterosso al Mare, the Northern most village of Cinque Terre. It is referred to as the "Italian Riviera" by the locals. It is the only town to have a (sort of) sandy beach.
#5 - Rick Steve (excellent travel resource) recommends that in spite of our North American "dislike" for anchovies, try them at Monterosso. The local fishermen catch them fresh the night before and they are then lightly fried with lemon. They are very good, especially with beer.
#6 - Another part of the village of Monterosso al Mare Note the colourfully painted houses perched on the rocks.
#7 - I don't know which I part of this photo I like; the stacked houses on the right or the face in rocks on the left.
#8 - Same subject as #7 above but further away, taken on the path from Manarola to Riomaggiore.
#9 - an interesting landscape (seascape?) photo by Denis

  — row 2 —
#1 - Down to the harbour in Vernazza with a look back at the colours.
#2 - Manarola.
#3 - It takes about 20 minutes to walk from Manarola to Riomaggiore so it is the shortest and easiest section of the path from Riomaggiore to Monterosso al Mare. If they are going to visit more than one town, most tourists walk one way and take the train back (or vice versa).
#4 - There must be a tractor around somewhere. How else would they get those boats up this hill? The harbour is at least 1/4 mile away!
#5 - This photo was taken on the path, the section called "Via dell'Amore". Couples build these lock "trees" and throw away the keys. The reason? The lock symbolizes their enduring love. We thought this was a cute idea until we saw the practice in many other places, Ponte Vecchio in Florence for example.
#6 - I took this picture because of the name of this pizzeria, "Il Bomber". Is there a connection to the Flin Flon Bombers in Italy?

Cinque Terre tourist recommendation #1: Driving to visit Cinque Terre. Unless you know where to park in La Spezia in order take the train to Cinque Terre, you may be better advised to drive to Lavanto and park there. In fact, it has good hotels and might make a good "base of operations" to visit the other villages. Do your internet research, it will be worth it.

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     Wednesday - day 9. This would be our last full day in in Panzano in Chianti We decided to stay in the area and visit (need I add that most women tend to define "visiting" as "shopping"...) nearby towns as we had dinner reservations at Poggio Asciutto to celebrate my 66th birthday.
these building date from 1400 Roman bridge      Eva, our host, had suggested that we visit an old Roman bridge not far from Poggio so we decided to find it this morning. The bridge was built at least 1900 years ago and is still able to support some farm vehicles. Nearby was a very old set of buildings dating from the 1400s. The kitchen in the smaller building on the left has been restored to its original appearance. Great looking buildings in a beautiful setting.

     We arrived in Panzano at noon and found a restaurant I had researched on the internet, one with growing grapes in Tuscany a great view from their terrace. Lunch began with an appetizer of prosciutto, cheese and pistachios, followed by a pasta dish, and of course "vino rosso della casa" - quite enjoyable thank you Ripleys. Panzano is located half way between Florence and Siena and dates from 11BC. Another reason to visit Panzano is to shop at Macelleria Checcucci, one of the oldest butchershops in the world, never mind just Tuscany. Wouldn't you know it, they were closed.

very old butchershop in Panzano in Chianti view from Il Vescovino restaurant in Panzano in Chianti restaurant in Panzano in Chianti   • The touristi Canadese; Denis, Hilda, Heather and Phil
  • Our lunch.
  • The view from the terrace of Il Vescovino - a typical valley in Tuscany.
  • Checcucci has two stores in Panzano, this is the original.

the sweeper Santa Maria Assunta Il Vescovino      You usually enter Il Vescovino from the parking lot, which it the back of the restaurant, but when you leave Il Vescovino by the front door, you are instantly in the old town, narrow cobblestone streets and buildings. Every corner yields yet another photographic opportunity. Given its position on top of a hill and because many stores were closed, the village was very quiet, almost deserted and you felt you were in a different, long ago time. The little old Italian lady sweeping her front step completed the rustic picture and she gave me a big smile when I said; "Buongiorono signora." As we approached the church of Santa Maria Assunta, the bells sounded, echoing across the valley. "Il Vescovino" means "Little Bishop" - grazie to my Italian teacher Patrizia.
family crests in Panzano      Santa Maria Assunta is a pretty church and the stained glass windows were particularly interesting. Most stained glass windows in Catholic Churches depict holy scenes or saints, but the upper windows of Santa Maria Assunta were family crests, reflecting Panzano's sometimes contentious history as it is situated halfway between the dominant city states of Florence and Siena.

Castellina Castellina

Panzano, these two pictures are of the same scene, distant and closer. The church of Santa Maria Assunta is on the right in the distance.

     Although we had passed through Castellina several times during the week we had not been able to find the business area, so this time we asked directions. Castellina has many shops and is a good village for strolling and window shopping. The wine store is operated by a large vineyard and features a great selection of Chianti wines as well as a well stocked ordering store and a wine museum.

Images of Castellina

Castellina delicatessen Parrocchia Ss. Salvatore Rocca delle Macie wine store very old wine, not for sale shopping 'cave' favorite transportation in Italy

     Dinner this evening was a hearty Tuscan stew enjoyed at Poggio Asciutto. Massimo was the chef Eva with my birthday cake 50+16 not simply 66 with assistance from Eva and her father Jorge. Heather, my always organized wife, had ordered a cake so all guests enjoyed a piece of my birthday cake. This evening we enjoyed several bottles of wine produced by Poggio Asciutto. A great evening was enjoyed by all.

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Florence Firenze

     Renaissance - Florence. Can you say one without the other? No other city's history is so Michelangelo's David (copy) in the distance intertwined with the Renaissance. While it is generally accepted that the Renaissance began in Florence, there is no clear consensus as to why it did. Likely it was the combination of the wealth of the emerging middle class, the powerful Medici family of Florence and their significant support for the arts, and the fortunate emergence of several major artists, Da Vinci, Botticelli and Michelangelo, all who born in Tuscany.

     Thursday - day 10. As we were only about 1 hr from Florence and the rental car did not have to be returned before 3pm, we had a lazy breakfast and last morning at Poggio Asciutto. Eventually we set off and programmed HAL to take us the most direct route to Florence. We stayed on small roads and passed through villages but were finally stymied when we encountered a street fair in the outskirts of Florence. The roads in the area were all one way and the major route was closed so we had quite a time finding a good detour as HAL insisted we turn around and follow "his" instructions back to the problem. We did eventually reach a point near our hotel to deposit the ladies and our luggage while Denis and I returned to Avis. This time we walked a different and much shorter route back. Our reservations were waiting for us at the Hotel Boccaccio and after a short respite we were off on foot to spend the afternoon exploring Florence.
     The first thing we needed to find was a restaurant. I recalled reading about a very popular neighbourhood trattoria that was on our route to the center of old town and the Marione turned out to be a very good choice.
     Downtown Florence is easily the best city I have ever walked around. The Florentians have managed, not without great difficulty and expense, to ensure many old buildings are still standing and are now modern stores, offices and hotels. What makes the Florence the "best" is that everything is close and walking from place to place is very easy. One minute you are admiring the Cartier store and the next you are listening to a jazz trio in the Piazza della Repubblica - fantastic. The only real difficulty is deciding what to visit and where to spend your limited tourist hours. Unless you are young, meaning boundless energy, or you have many days, you must plan what you will visit and what you will leave for next time. In our case we had only one afternoon and evening and one full day. As it turned out this was not nearly enough time to see our own, rather limited plans.

panforte leather purse anyone? Piazza della Repubblica, very good jazz trio A Bentley in front of the Ferrari store   • First stop, the Ferrari store to buy souvenirs. Bring LOTS of money!
  • Piazza della Repubblica.
  • There are many, many, places to shop, from cheap (sort of)
    to very expensive.
  • Didn't try the panforte, never got by the gelato store...

Strange little fact ... Ferry Porsche stated in his autobiography "Mein Leben", the (Ferrari) Prancing Horse is, in fact, the coat of arms of the city of Stuttgart. The same Prancing Horse is part of the Porsche emblem.
You be the judge..

mime shopping in Florence Ponte Vecchio - gold! shopping   • Occasionally his eyes would move, otherwise he was motionless!
  • Along the way to Ponte Vecchio.
  • What every woman wants to see - gold!
  • just a side street shop...

     This night we asked our hotel front desk for a dinner recommendation. His choice was Trattoria La Carabaccia (Via Palazzuolo 190/r), a short walk. It featured many pieces of art and antiques and was quite attractive. However dinner was simply OK, not great, the prices were on the high side, and for the first time on our holiday in Italy, the vino rosso della casa was too new. In North America, when I ask the hotel staff for a dinner recommendation, I wait for their reply and then I ask; "but where do YOU go for a good meal?" In my experience the recommendations are always different and the latter is a better choice. My Italian was too limited to follow my own advice.

     Friday - day 11. Heeding internet advice, accademia ticket we had made reservations for the accademia the day before for 11am. Turned out there was only a small line up so the extra David, by Michelangelo service charges of €5 each was unnecessary. Again we rented audio guides and in our experience(s) these are marginally OK but are no substitute for a knowledgeable guide, not even close. The pièce de résistance of the Accademia is of course, Michelangelo's David. Standing at 4.34 meters or 14.24 ft, he is truly impressive. Michelangelo's David seems to be serene and does not appear to be concerned that he is about to do battle with the giant, Goliath. On the other hand Bernini's DavidMichelangelo, Bernini is life size and is captured as he swivels and tenses his muscles, about to loose his sling at Goliath. I prefer Bernini's interpretation. Click on the thumbnail on the right to see the two Davids.
Accademia      The hallway which leads to David is lined with Michelangelo's unfinished prisoners or slaves - figures struggling to free themselves from their granite prison - very powerful images. These sculptures, which are purposely unfinished, lead you towards David. The whole effect is quite dramatic and even if you are quite art-unaware (as I am), you are drawn to the beauty and fine detail of Michelangelo's creations.

[Cameras are not allowed in the Accademia so the above pictures of sculptures are found on the internet.]

     Another room off to the side of where David is located contains many bust and plaster casts that would have been used for design and proportion before actual marble sculpting was done. We found this interesting and informative. There is also a museum room of musical instruments and for most us, our first (and only?) chance to see a Stradivarius violin up close. There is also a cello by Amati and I personally found this more interesting because as a youth, Stradivarius was apprenticed to Nicola Amati ["Nicola Amati... originated and perfected the form of violin, viola and cello as they are known today."].
     As we had already visited the Duomo in Siena, Florence's Duomo is almost déjà vu, at least from their exteriors of alternating marble layers. Their interiors are markedly different; Siena is ornate and intricate, while Florence is almost stark and simple, both are beautiful.

Florence Duomo
Duomo Duomo Duomo Duomo Duomo dome Duomo Duomo Duomo, floor detail

Florence Duomo
Duomo, main portal Duomo, main portal, fresco detail Duomo, main portal, clock detail Duomo, main portal Duomo, above main portal detail Duomo Bapistry door Duomo Bapistry door detail

  — row 1 —
#1 - White, pink and green marble - the effect is quite different and beautiful.
#2 - Detail of some of the statues adorning the Duomo. These are at least 50-60 feet above the street and yet their perspective (i.e. height vs width) is correct as if you were viewing them from street level - amazing.
#3 - The bell tower
#4 - Looking toward the altar. The interior is almost barren compared to the Siena's Duomo or Rome's St. Peter's Basilica.
#5 - The dome features scenes from the Last Judgement and was painted by Giorgio Vasari and Federico Zuccari between 1572 and 1579. It has been recently restored.
#6 - Many of the stained glass windows date to 1434-1445. Some were designed by Ghiberti.
#7 - A view looking East, near the altar. The originals of many of the statues and paintings are on display in the Museum Opera del Duomo. Next time we go to Florence we will be visiting that museum!
#8 - The floor of the Duomo with the OPA symbol which is shorthand for "opera della metropolitana", or cathedral works committee.

  — row 2 —
#1 - Above the main portal, fresco portraits of four Prophets or Evangelists by Paolo Uccello (1443) and the "... one-handed liturgical clock shows the 24 hours of the hora italica (Italian time), a period of time ending with sunset at 24 hours. This timetable was used till the 18th century."
#2 - Detail of the fresco portraits.
#3 - Detail of the one-handed clock.
#4 - The main portal.
#5 - Detail of the main portal.
#6 - Duomo Bapistry, South doors. Widely known as "The Gates of Paradise", the bronze-casting and gilding was done by the Venetian Leonardo d'Avanzano, and took six years, the doors being completed in 1336. The doors we see today are copies, the real panels are being restored and kept in a dry environment in Museo dell'Opera del Duomo.
#7 - Panel detail of the Duomo Bapistry, South doors.

     This was our last night in Florence so we decided to have dinner at a little restaurant Hilda Trattoria Il Giardino, Florencehad spied on our previous night's walk to Trattoria La Carabaccia. Funny, Trattoria Il Giardino was only a few doors North of our hotel, perhaps 1/2 block! You could easily pass it by as you had to descend a few steps. We enjoyed an excellent meal; two of us had excellent Florentine steaks, the vino rosso della casa was good, and the staff were fun and seemed to really enjoy we four tourists speaking our very limited Italian. I would think this was our best restaurant meal during our trip to Italy. A fitting end to our time in Florence. Tomorrow morning we would catch a train to Venice, the city of canals.

Florence - parting shots
ah, Florence, ah Italy! little trucks, common sight in Italy detail from 'The Last Judgement' he was so good we both 2 cds check out the reflections Florentine art, how old? centuries from the sublime to the not so sublime best way to get around a city in Italy Ponte Vecchio Florence

  Ferrara, on the way from Florence to Venice.

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Venice Venezia

     Venice, city of the famous, the infamous, poets and musicians, and home of Marco Polo and Vivaldi, known for many centuries as "The Bazaar of Europe". I read somewhere that everyone should visit Venice, now I believe it. Perhaps the reason one enjoys Venice so much is that you have only two choices of getting around, on foot or by boat, that's it, no bicycles, no scooters and no cars. You don't really notice it too much the first day, but by day 3 you realize that you are adapting to the rhythm of the city. You must plan your day's activities and plan where you will be dining in the evening. That is not to suggest that you cannot do things on the spur of the moment, of course you can, but everything you do will be done on Venice time.

     Saturday - day 12. We took the train from Florence to Venice. I was expecting mountains and was mildly surprised by the many miles of flat farmland. The soil was a light brown, quite different than the black loam we see Venice on the horizonnear Winnipeg. Finally though, the farmlands gave way to buildings as the approached the outskirts of Venice, and then the causeway linking to Venice (on the water). Our train stopped on the causeway for a few minutes and then slowly entered Santa Lucia train station. Venice at last. Our first task was to purchase 3 day transport passes. Not cheap at about €33 each but still a bargain if you use them. Given that this was a Saturday in mid October, I was surprised that in front of Santa Lucia Venice train station Venice public transit - either by foot or boat the vaporettos (water taxis) were crowded whether arriving and departing from the docking area of Santa Lucia Station. We had to wait for a 2nd 'bus' and wrestle our luggage aboard. It is then that you realize that you are simply an ordinary tourist in a city of thousands of tourists. Every day of every week of every month, Venice is a city of tourists and yet we did not meet anyone who worked in Venice who was not polite (or at least civil) and patient with us. That the citizens have adapted is no small achievement on their part. We exited our crowded vaporetto at the Ca D'Oro stop and walked a short distance to our hotel, the Foscari Palace, our only 4* hotel on our trip but worth every €. After checking in, I simply walked out the front door and there was Venice. I want to say the view was fantastic but it was more than that. I think 'stunning' is a better description.

traghetto crossing the front door (mat) of the Foscari Palace looking North down the Grand Canal taken at the the Foscari Palace front door   • The blue barber poles mark private water taxi stops, I think...
  • People are boarding the traghetto for a trip across the canal, €1 each way.
  • The view out the front door of the Foscari if you arrive by water taxi.
  • We did take the Santa Sofia traghetto across to see the morning market.

     The rest of Saturday we just roamed the streets in our area, Cannaregio. That evening we tried (unsuccessfully) to dine at the Vini Da Gigio so we made reservations for Sunday night and then roamed Strada Nova until we found a very satisfactory neighbourhood trattoria. I think we were the last dining guests they allowed in, good for us. We walked back to our hotel under clear skies and +10c or so, cool enough for a coat, even for Canadians... We decided our sightseeing choices for Sunday and Monday and decided that rather than visit museums and galleries, we would wander and not get carried away as we had in Rome, age does require some travel adjustments. The only musts were a visit to Piazza San Marco, find a Venetian mask store, and a late afternoon gondola ride.

     Sunday - day 13. Unlike many great marvelous scenes, Venice is not static, everyone and everything moves on the canals, your eyes are always drawn to new motions, new boats, the sights and sounds of living in this remarkable canal city, this living anachronism. Everywhere you look is a picture, or several. It is almost overwhelming. The picture on the right captures this feeling. Our hotel, Foscari Palace, offered us a morning 'free' trip to visit Murano and the see the glassblowers at work. Transport was by private water taxi - quite deluxe. Heather (and the rest of us) could not help pointing and saying 'wow', almost sensory overload.

Images of Murano

leaving Venice for the island of Murano Murano, 'main street' Murano glass blower, for the tourists... another (little) tourist, a pigeon had just taken off shopping street in Murano Murano, the art of glass blowing

     This is a common sight in Italy, a place for coffee and a light snack, a practice I could get used to very quickly. This was a coolish day so everyone was bundled up.
     The walk back to our hotel was very enjoyable as every street is different and many reveal scenes that could be right out of a tour book. Next on the list was to take a traghetto to cross the Grand Canal to catch a "Southbound" vaporetto to Piazza San Marco and then find the area where most of the mask stores are located. We managed to score a seat on the vaporetto and actually had our tickets validated. This was the only occasion during our time in Italy that we saw someone checking tickets, as they use the honour system. It was sort of funny. We four were sitting in the middle of the boat and the middle of two rows. As he moved down the line, I held up our two (three day) passes. He looked at me and then our friends in front of us, and then sort of looked skyward and shrugged, as if to say; "tourists, they always have the passes!"
     Arriving at the vaporetto stop for Piazza San Marco, you are immediately surrounded by people - tourists, hundreds if not thousands. It must be almost uncomfortable during busy tourist dates. We muddled our way through the throngs to find the quieter side streets, and masks (check out this Wikipedia link mask info). Like other traditional Venetian trades, making masks is a disappearing art, along with glass blowing, and some say, gondola manufacturing. We did some tourist shopping in this store.
     Venice is a maze of walking streets and small canals with gondolas plying most of these small canals. It can be busy! The picture on the left shows 4 gondolas proceeding one after the other, like playing tag. We had previously decided to take a gondola ride nearer our hotel so we continued our walk toward the Piazza San Marco. For some reason we neglected to look right while crossing a small bridge and so missed the Ponte dei Sospiri or "Bridge of Sighs", the name given by Lord Byron in the 19th century. The romantic legend (i.e. not necessarily true) is that crossing the Bridge of Sighs was the last view of Venice that convicts saw before their imprisonment. While researching on the internet, several times I had read that if/when you visit Venice you must; go for a gondola ride, and, enjoy a cappuccino while listening to live music on the Piazza San Marco - time for #2.
Piazza San Marco      The picture on the left says it all; Sunday October 18, a cool, late fall early afternoon, and look at the people! I found it most interesting that many of the tourists were Italians out to experience their own UNESCO city. We did do the Piazza San Marco "tourist" thing, savour a cappuccino while listening to live music. While it's enjoyable, it is quite expensive; €16 each ($25Cdn) got us several tunes and a cup of coffee.

who needs bread crumbs tuning up for the tourists   • Avoid Piazza San Marco if you don't like pigeons
  • Despite the cool weather, lots of people for the coffee and music.
  • Yes, we did the "tourist" thing. It was great fun people watching

vaporetto stop San Giorgio   • Cruise ships moor to the right of San Giorgio island, very close to Piazza San Marco.
  • Watching the vaporettos come and go is always interesting.

     Last night we found Vini Da Gigio restaurant quite by accident while strolling the smaller streets near our hotel. As it was then too busy we made reservations for Sunday - tonight. So after a civilized g&t, or two, we leisurely made our way to Da Gigio. Our dinner was very good as was the vino della casa - a fitting end to an excellent day of seeing some of the sights of Venice. Tomorrow we will go for a gondola ride.

Venice      Monday - day 14. After a great breakfast at our hotel we were off to explore another neighbourhood of Venice. Our hotel, the Foscari Palace, is located in Cannegario. Yesterday we walked around San Marco. Today we planned to cross the Grand Canal by traghetto to explore San Polo and then return to find a gondolier.      Crossing the Grand Canal by traghetto is easy and well worth the €1. I even managed to 4 pictures of the Rialto markets remain standing (á la venezia) for the short journey. We disembarked right beside the "Rialto Mercado Frutta", Rialto Fruit Market. I'm pretty sure the Venetians don't rely only this market for their fruit and vegetables or the near by meat market for their meat, as both shopping areas are more expensive than supermarkets in Winnipeg. San Polo is a great neighbourhood to walk around, peer down narrow streets, and just watch the people. Venice feels old. I know it is but Venice feels old in a way that is different than Rome, for example. In Rome, ruins are made of stone and marble but no-one lives in the ruins. In Venice, people do business in stores that in some cases are more than 500 years old, and many citizens live above many of these same stores. Can you imagine doing ordinary electrical or plumbing repairs?

who needs bread crumbs side street little restaurant   • The church of San Giacomo di Rialto dates to the 11th century, the clock to the 13th. Apparently the clock is also somewhat famous for never being accurate...
  • Side streets in San Polo with the ever present little restaurants.

     After a morning of wandering, we finally had lunch at one the many outdoor restaurants near the Ponte Rialto. What a great place to people watch! Again that "old feeling", sipping wine within meters of one of the most photographed bridges in the world. Ponte Rialto dates to the 1200s, when it was constructed of wood, which of course burned. The present marble structure dates from the late 1500s. Shops line both side of the bridge, always busy with the constant flow of tourists.

Ponte Rialto

#1 - San Polo, walking towards our lunch restaurant beside the Rialto.
#2 - Taken from the bridge looking "southwest" towards our restaurant.
#3 - Taken from the bridge looking "northeast". That's Vivaldi's palace on the left (the white building).
#4 - The Rialto is always busy. As you step off the bridge, that's the Cannaregio neighbourhood on the left, and San Marco on the right.

     We decided to explore the area near the Rialto and find Il Milion. If we were successful we would return for dinner tonight. It took some detective work, but we were successful and in the process found an interesting small church nearby, a quiet refuge from the throngs of fellow tourists. A couple of hours later we decided it was time for a gondola ride so we checked out the area near our hotel. We agreed on a price before the ride (€80 for 20 minutes) and greeted Alex, our gondolier. I would have to say, that regardless of what you read, if you do your research so you aware of prices and have some idea of the area you want to see, a ride in a gondola in Venice is worth every €! We did leisurely pass by Marco Polo's home, and Casanova's as well. Most homes have two entrances, a street entrance and a canal entrance - neat! Although Alex had a good tourist patter, he did not really speak English so questions we had about his descriptions went unanswered - too bad. He did point out that there is very little serious crime in Venice - where would you escape to, or how would you escape? He also told us he was a 2nd generation gondolier and a new gondola was worth about €35,000 (about $56,000Cdn), so it is a serious investment. There were many others enjoying their rides as well and of course we all said "Ciao" as we passed. When we made our way on to the Grand Canal we had to give way to a Venetian water ambulance - very exciting! Here is a link to a YouTube video of our little adventure.

Our gondola ride

#1 - Start of our ride - that's Ponte Rialto in the distance.
#2 - A quiet, gliding ride.
#3 - Many of the canals are wide enough for two-way gondola traffic.
#4 - It doesn't take much imagination to place yourself here, a couple of hundred years ago - not much has changed.
#5 - Interesting name plate!
#6 - That's Alex, our gondolier. Behind him you can see the Ponte Rialto and Vivaldi's white palace on the right near the bridge.
#7 - Lots of traffic in the Grand Canal. Alex was always on the lookout!
#8 - Venetian gondola, a great, lasting memory.

Venice tourist recommendation #1: If you use the internet to research transportation in Venice you will find recommendations to take the "Blue ATVO" bus from the Venice bus terminal to Marco Polo airport for €3. You can, but if you already have a local ACTV day or 3 day pass, at the bus terminal you can take the #5 bus (from stop A1) to the airport and save your €s. There is plenty of space for your luggage and the bus only makes a couple of stops on the way.
Venice tourist recommendation #2: If you are going to visit the church of San Giacomo di Rialto, near the outdoor market of San Polo, apparently they often perform Vivaldi concerts in this church. Check out this website for info and you can email for a schedule. Too bad we didn't know that beforehand as attending a Vivaldi concert within a short distance from his palace would have to be memorable!

     To end this day, also our last full day in Italy, we walked to Il Milion for dinner. A very good meal and even better wine. Check out our mini review. We enjoyed pleasant walk back to our hotel. What a great city!

     Tuesday - day 15. Our last day in Italy. We were scheduled to fly from Venice to Barcelona, Spain at 4:00pm. This was the only vacation glitch. Originally, about six months before our vacation, we had booked flights to depart Venice at 11:20am for €65 each. About 2 months before we left for Italy, the airline itself changed our reservations to 4:00pm. We could have had our original departure time back but it would now cost €320 each! We should have overnighted in Barcelona and enjoyed the drive along the Mediterranean from Barcelona to Jalon. Instead we drove in the dark. Next time!
     We had a great two weeks in Italy. Everything was better than we imagined; the people, the food, the wine, the tiramisou... Venice was my personal favourite. For me, visiting Venice in Italy is similar to visiting 'old' Quebec City in Canada. Both cities have made serious efforts to retain much of their original (and beautiful) architecture. Many times while walking the streets, I tried to imagine what it would have been like to visit Venice in the 1700 or 1800s, presuming that you had the means or opportunity which would have been quite unusual. Other than motorized boats and electric lights, much would be the same. The same buildings, the same churches, and in several instances, the same restaurants - fantastic.
     Whether you have been dreaming or planning a trip to Italy, do it.

     Venice Epilogue: About two weeks after we returned to Canada, mid November, we caught a mock funeral for the city of Venice on TV. Many local citizens boarded gondolas "decorated" for funerals because Venice is dying. We all know it is sinking into the Adriatic, but as time passes, fewer and fewer people live in the actual city of Venice - it is getting far too expensive.

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Hotels in Rome, Tuscany(B&B), Florence and Venice

Rome hotel: Hotel Sonja , ***, 58 Via del Viminale. [€140 night - booked by internet]
hotel Opera Roma     This is where we had our reservations and where our shuttle bus delivered us but it is not where we stayed. We were sent across the street and down to 11 Via Firenze to the Hotel Opera Roma (69 Firenze on Google Earth). A newly renovated hotel; excellent downtown location, attractive rooms, quiet, good breakfasts, and helpful staff. It features the smallest elevator I have ever seen, 2 people or 1 person and 1 big suitcase. But hey, it went up and down as requested and beats the stairs which can be tiresome for we seniors. While the rooms are a regular size for Europe, they are small by North American standards and the lounge and breakfast rooms are small too. Wireless internet was available, a little cumbersome to use, but it was free!

    - I would rate the Hotel Opera Roma as 7.5/10. The rating would be higher if the prices were lower.

    - If you are using Google Earth, decimal coordinates are 12.495490 W and 41.900044 N.

Tuscany B&B: Poggio Asciutto Poggio Asciutto [€80-90 night - booked by internet]
Poggio Asciutto     Located a few kms south of Greve in Chianti, Poggio Asciutto offers attractive and quiet accommodations in the heart of Tuscany, the province of Chianti, a famous wine producing region. Situated between Florence and Siena, many interesting villages are just a short drive away; Greve, Radda, Panzano, and Castellina to name a few.

    As well as offering breakfast, you can arrange dinners at Poggio, prepared by hosts Massimo and Eva. You can even take cooking classes if that is your wish. If you are there at harvest time bring old clothes and you too can pick grapes! We were given very spacious rooms. In our case we had a kitchen and smaller loft bedroom as well as a large master bedroom. The views out of the shuttered windows, the rolling green hills of Tuscany, were a definite plus. We found Poggio Asciutto to be exactly as advertised and would return.

    - I would rate Poggio Asciutto B&B: as 9.5/10.

    - If you are using Google Earth, decimal coordinates are 11.327860 W and 43.553875 N.

Tuscany Poggio Asciutto horses Poggio Asciutto signs Max the cat and friend relaxin' at Poggio Poggio Asciutto B&B:, Tuscany

Florence hotel: Hotel Boccaccio , ***, 59 Via Della Scala [€105 night, superior room - booked by internet]
Boccaccio     This hotel is only a very short walk from the termini in what looks like, at first glance, an older, rather run down area. This is, however, misleading. Perhaps it is the always visible graffiti that plagues every larger city in Italy. Boccaccio is well situated and the main tourist attractions, Galleria dell'Accademia, Ponte Vecchio, are less than 1/2 hour walk.
    The elevator will hold 4 adults - good, and the included breakfast was very good. There is also a small bar on the main floor but we did not try it out. The superior rooms were clean and comfortable and included a Jacuzzi bath/shower. Wireless internet was available but not free. For whatever reason we were upgraded to the only room with a balcony, with 3 flags no less!

    - I would rate the Boccaccio as 8.5/10. This hotel was the best $$ value hotel we stayed at in Italy on this trip.

    - If you are using Google Earth, decimal coordinates are 11.246261 E and 43.775092 N.

Venice hotel: Foscari Palace , ****, Campo Santa Sofia [€110-220 night, superior room - booked by internet]
Foscari Palace     We decided to ignore our budget, maybe we'll never again get the opportunity to visit Venice. Having said that, your best bet is to make your reservations directly with the hotel. This is not easy and you will likely end up using This is ok, but the prices really vary so be prepared to search. Regardless, this is a great hotel, perhaps it is better described as a boutique hotel.
    Foscari is excellently located, quite close to the Ca D'Oro vaporetto (literally a water bus) stop. There is a traghetto (boat) stop just outside the entrance. You use a traghetto to cross the Grand Canal for €1 rather than walking to find a foot bridge. We liked this location because we were within walking distance of much of Venice and it was easy to catch a vaporetto to Piazza San Marco.
    Foscari Palace dates from 1520 and was rebuilt to hotel standards about 8 years ago. It is well furnished and has both a small bar and a small rooftop terrace, with attentive service at both. A 4 person elevator - excellent! Foscari featured the best breakfasts we experienced in Italy. You could even get bacon! The only issue is that you may have to wait to be seated.
    We had reserved superior rooms and were rewarded with two rooms on the 3rd floor, both with a balcony which gave us a side view of the Grand Canal, again, excellent. Internet access was free and the hotel supplied us with an internet cable.

    - I would rate the Foscari Palace Hotel 10/10. This hotel was the best, as in most attractive and most features, of any hotel we stayed at in Italy on this trip.

    - If you are using Google Earth, decimal coordinates are 112.334658 E and 45.440412 N.

view from the other side of the Grand Canal lobby of Foscari Palace 3rd floor balcony views, left and right

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Restaurants We Liked

Tuscany restaurant: La Cantina Pizzeria , Greve in Chianti
La Cantina Pizzeria La Cantina Pizzeria     This is the first restaurant we found in Greve and parking was a bit of a problem but worth the effort. At first glance we thought the pizzas were too large for 1 person but the waiter explained they were really thin so a large pizza was OK. The pizzas were great and he was right about the size. The toppings on mine (in front of the beer) were prosciutto and gorganzola cheese - excellent! Here is the Cantina Pizzeria website.
    It was so good (and cozy) that over the next 4 days we came here twice more!

        - If you are using Google Earth, decimal coordinates are 11.315430 E and 43.584092 N.

Florence restaurant: Trattoria Marione , 27 Via della Spada
La Marione La Marione     The Marione is always full and they do not take reservations but our afternoon wait was only about 15". Great Italian ambiance, meaning noisy and the welcoming smells of simmering sauces, garlic, cheeses, all the elements to create a good meal. The Marione features good food, good wine, reasonable prices, and a mixture of locals and tourists.
    La Marione We tourists were all proud of the fact that we had "found" this place... The special on the menu on the left, is "stinco al forno" which means "roasted pork shank", but we just had salads, pasta dishes and of course, "vino rosso della casa."

        - If you are using Google Earth, decimal coordinates are 11.250539 E and 43.771753 N.

Florence restaurant: Trattoria Il Giardino , 61 (red) Via della Scala
Florence easy to pass by     It would be easy to miss this great restaurant - check out the picture on the left. But when we had walked by here the night before, Hilda went back and peeked in. She said it looked like a friendly neighbourhood trattoria, just what we were always on the lookout for. With two rooms, it is much larger than it appears from the street. We were pleasantly ushered into the rear room with smiles from everyone there. This room features a large window that gives on to the grill so you can watch the chef at work! Everything was good, salads and pasta and dessert, tiramisou for me, of course. Heather and I ordered a Florentine steak, not the big one that is for two people, just a steak. They were cooked simply on a grill with a bit of salt and pepper and they were really, really good. Heather sent hers back for 2 more minutes and it returned just slightly more rare than medium.
    Trattoria Il Giardino features good food, good wine, reasonable prices, many local and those tourists fortunate enough to have found it. Worth mentioning too, was the excellent service. We had a lot of fun "speaking" Italian and thoroughly enjoyed our evening. We were pleased to have finally found a friendly, neighbourhood trattoria. Here is the Il Giardino website.

        - If you are using Google Earth, decimal coordinates are 11.245958 E and 43.775266 N.

Venice restaurant: Vini Da Gigio , Cannaregio 3628
Vini Da Gigio     We, or rather the ladies, found this restaurant simply by wandering around on Saturday night. Da Gigio was rather busy and they didn't have room for us so we made a reservation for Sunday night at 7:30.
    As expected from looking in the window the night before, Da Gigio has that certain Italian atmosphere, antiques, experienced waiters, great odors wafting through the air, and of course, good food. I tried the black ink pasta - very good! The "vino rosso della casa" was also very good. I noticed a Michelin sign on the wall so I assume this was a Michelin rated restaurant. We enjoyed our meal as did the other diners this night. Next to us was a young family from France and even the children enjoyed themselves. Do however, bring your wallet, Vini Da Gigio is not cheap!
    Eating in Venice is always a bit of an adventure as there are many restaurants and many are tourist oriented. That's not a knock, just an observation, so finding a neighbourhood restaurant requires research and then time to find it in the labyrinth of twisty streets of Venice. Here is the Vini Da Gigio website.

        - If you are using Google Earth, decimal coordinates are 12.333726 E and 45.441934 N.

Venice restaurant: Osteria Il Milion , Cannaregio 3628
Il Milion     Finding Il Milion was a challenge. I had decided to take along a couple of addresses of interesting restaurants and from my research I knew that finding them would be difficult, which was true. Matter of fact I gave up on one and decided it would be Il Milion. Denis and I took 2 tries to find it partly because it is actually found by walking under an arched building (hard to describe unless you see it), sort of a short tunnel. Finding Il Milion is worth it however.
    Among our group we tried the salads, pasta, fish and tiramisou. The vino rosso della casa was particularly good, very smooth - we enjoyed two bottles. For the first and only time in Italy, the wine was unlabelled which suggests to me that it was decanted from a barrel perhaps?
    Service was excellent and it is such a pleasure to dine without checking your watch. The restaurant only has one sitting per evening so without reservations you will not likely get in. We went on a Monday night but had made reservations on Sunday. Here is the Osteria Il Milion website.

    "Il Milion is the oldest Osteria (restaurant) in Venice still in existence today. With a tradition extending back more than 300 years and a location near the rear of San Giovanni Crisostomo, this restaurant is named after the book written by Marco Polo'"

        - If you are using Google Earth, decimal coordinates are 12.337437 E and 45.438890 N.

looks just like an Italian osteria should look like notice the 'tunnel' to Il Milion on the right

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Image information:
    • Mouse hover: If you are using MS Explorer, placing the mouse for a couple of seconds on most pictures will cause a message to display. This feature DOES NOT work with Firefox.
    • This website features pictures of the sights, lodgings and restaurants we visited. Small pictures are thumbnails of larger pictures. For most images left mouse click on the left half of the thumbnail and you will load a LARGE 1920x1200 image while the right half of the thumbnail loads a medium 1200x800 image. Press the Back button to return.
    • We saved many of the tickets and business cards of places we visited and the like. These are displayed as small images on the right or left of the text. Left mouse click will display a larger image.
    • Some thumbnail photos will feature a red lower left corner. This indicates that clicking on the Large (left) side of thumbnail will load a LARGE (not 56k friendly) photo. If you click on one of these photos make sure you press F11 to view the full size image.
    • Press the F11 key for full page viewing, then press F11 again to restore the normal window view.

    One of the more puzzling, almost irritating practices in Italy, at least in Florence and Venice, is the strange way they have of numbering street addresses. It appears there are several (2 ??) numbers in use for businesses. There are red numbers and black numbers and they do not appear to be numerically related to each other. On the internet the address for Roma della Opera is 11 via Firenze yet Google Earth says it is 69 ?? We had some difficulty locating our Avis car rental agency in Florence for exactly the same reasons. Google Earth shows 13 Via Borgognissanti, Avis shows 128r (there is a red 128 on the building), the black numbers on either side are 92 and 94 - hmmm. So when setting out for a specific place such as a restaurant, it is essential that you obtain good directions from someone otherwise you may get really frustrated - especially in Venice.

Hot off the presses: I just noticed on a business card for the Trattoria Il Giardino that the address is "Via della Scalla 61 Rosso" which translates to "Red 61 della Scalla Street", so I closely checked the pictures I had taken. Aha, on the left of the door is a red 61 while on the right is a black 67. So, when you have an address (at least in Florence) note or ask the colour of the street address. It will save you a lot of frustration.

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- Just People -

[ move your mouse across the smaller images ]

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** ZTLs - Limited (Restricted) Traffic Zones **

    We visited Florence the 15th and 16th of October 2009. On April 9, 2010, imagine our surprise to receive a €105 ($165Cdn) for entering a restricted traffic zone some 8 1/2 months earlier! Back in October we drove into the city, passed by the train station, let our ladies off with their luggage as our hotel was simply across the street. We then turned left on Via della Scala, in order to travel two blocks and execute 2 right turns to return our rental car. I had done extensive research for this trip but nowhere did I ever see reference or mention of "ZTLs". Here is some info garnered from the internet now that I know what a ZTL is.

    Official instructions for Florence ZTL from the official Florence Commune site:
ZTL Traffic Restricted Zone
    The entire historic center of Florence (generally speaking the part located within the 19th century ring ZTL camera - 2009 -roads which is a protected ‘UNESCO Heritage Site’) is a “zona a traffico limitato” (ZTL) or restricted traffic zone. Special rules govern access to, as well as transit and parking in this zone.
    Non-residents are prohibited from driving and parking within the ZTL at the following times:?- on weekdays (mondays through fridays): from 7.30 a.m. to 7.30 p.m. On saturdays: from 7,30 a.m. to 6 p.m.??- and (from 17 May to 31 ZTL sign - 2009 October 2009) also on friday, saturday and sunday night (from 00,00 to 4 a.m. ??The boundaries of the ZTL are marked by special road signs and have a series of ‘access points’ which are controlled by cameras that automatically detect the number plates of all the vehicles passing through. Transit through some of the ‘access points’ (those reserved exclusively for public transport and emergency vehicles), is prohibited at all times, 24/7.
    Tourists in cars who need to travel within the ZTL to reach their accommodation facilities or a garage can obtain a temporary access permit, although they should still pass through the authorized ‘access points’ only, excluding the lanes reserved for public transport and the pedestrian zones which may not be used at any time. In order to obtain this permit, the number plate of the car concerned should be given to the relevant hotel (or garage) which will undertake to forward the same to the appropriate office.?This permit will be issued for a maximum of two hours for baggage transport purposes and, therefore, only on the arrival and departure dates (a permit may also be issued to tourists without a hotel booking entering the ZTL to find accommodation). For the rest of their stay, clients should park their car outside the ZTL, in a commercial garage or the hotel’s own private garage.

    I would also note that neither our hotel or more especially, our car rental agency, mentioned ZTLs. Here are a few urls if you wish to read more. Forewarned is forearmed. City of Florence, Slow Travel - note the year!, and Rick Steve, and this excellent site Italian traffic tickets
    In the picture below you can see our hotel flag on the upper right. Further down the street is the red circled ZTL sign and over the road is the ZTL camera. No chance to make a u-turn and if we had gone around the block we would have received another ticket!! As of April 2010 they are changing these signs and providing better warning. My hunch is the overwhelming number of motorists are: a) refusing to pay the tickets, b) writing whomever they can to express their displeasure and more seriously, c) will not return to Italy.
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Visitors from Calgary & Winnipeg

Denis & Hilda

Phil & Heather

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On to Spain (under construction)

nothing beats visiting far away friends      After touring Italy for 14 days we spent the next 8 days in Spain with British friends we met in Cuba 'way back in 2005. Rita and Ron spend much of year near Jalon, on Spain's Costa Blanca. Here we all are in front of our favourite neighbourhood bar in Jalon, Aleluya's. That's Ron, Denis, Rita, Heather and Hilda. Here is a view of the area looking southeastward and that is the Mediterranean in the distance. Clicking on the picture will load a LARGE and WIDE image.

a view of Costa Blanca

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