I just returned from my ~first~ trip to Italy and I had a fantastic time! I don’t see as many Trip Reports on this forum as the Yellowstone forum, but thought I would post anyway. I traveled with my family group…my brother, SIL and their 2 adult sons. During planning we had debated about where to go and the SIL and 2 nephews voted for Italy. My brother and I have travelled internationally before, but it’s been years and years and YEARS plus we had not been to Italy, so our skills were very rusty. We decided to do the Rick Steves’ Heart of Italy tour so neither he nor I needed to worry about transportation within Italy or figuring out daily itineraries. This was the perfect decision for us. I didn't ask questions on this forum, but I lurked a LOT, so thanks to the regulars for your consistently good information!
We flew in a couple of days ahead of the tour to have extra time in Rome before we met up with the tour, then did a couple of days in Rome with the tour plus 2 nights each in Volterra, Monterosso al Mare and Florence. I frequent the Yellowstone forum and we are always moaning because people only have a couple of days to spend in Yellowstone which is not enough to see it adequately, so I knew going in that these days would not be enough! We selected the tour length based on the number of days the older nephew could be gone from work (not enough time!!)
Our Heart of Italy tour was absolutely wonderful and the Rick Steves tour guide, Trina, was just awesome. The younger nephew (age 20) is very interested in the Medici family, so every place we went, she would pull him off to the side and tell him something related to the Medici. I thought this was so very thoughtful of her! The local guides for Musei Vaticani, the Colosseum/Forum, Volterra, Lucca and the Uffizi were very, very good and the other tour group members were fun, interesting and a real pleasure to travel with. I was not sure I would like the whole tour group thing as we are pretty independent folks, but the dynamic of this tour/guide/group was unbelievable. Rick makes you sign a statement acknowledging there are *no grumps* allowed, and that held! I didn’t hear anyone complaining about anything…except there was too much food!! lol
The group meals were delicious and by the time we were in Florence, we had developed the skill of picking good places to eat on our own! My brother and I both eat plant-strong, so I had a small concern about eating in Italy, but had decided I could fall back on Insalata mista and pasta with tomatoes and basil. I don’t even know why I wasted time worrying! It was surprisingly easy to get meals without cheese or meat! Since it was so chilly when we were there, we tried a good sample of Tuscan soups. These may have been cooked in a meat-based broth but did not taste chicken-y or beef-y. And yes, I am doing a search this morning for a Tuscan farro and bean soup recipe! I did try a little pecorino and some gelato, but it was my choice! My brother and I both lost 7 pounds and we ate and drank wine like there was no tomorrow!
We saw most of the basic sights in all the cities we visited. I particularly enjoyed the Basilica San Clemente in Rome and not just because it was hot as heck outside that day and the main Basilica, the old Basilica and Mythraic temple on the lowest level were very cool and uncrowded. We also liked the Knights of Malta keyhole view. I loved Volterra especially after the day trippers had left (had excellent lentil falafel at the organic cafe there) and I liked Monterosso as well. Most of the group went to all the other villages in CT, but I was pooped so I spent time in a sidewalk café and on the hotel terrace (both overlooking the sea) writing in my journal and people-watching. In Monterosso, I also enjoyed waking up early to the pounding surf and watching the folks of Monterosso going about their business before the tourists were around. In Florence, I particularly liked the Galileo Science Museum.
Things I did wrong:
-In my inexperience, I sort of goofed up on the flight times going over. We fly out of a small Idaho town, so there is not much choice but to have a 6 hour layover in Seattle before the international flight leaves, but I somehow gave us a 5+ hour layover in Amsterdam when there were clearly earlier flights we could have caught with no problem to Rome. That certainly extended our travel time so we were pretty beat by the time we got to Rome.
-Security checks: These seemed sort of random to me, but perhaps with more experience in international travel they would make more sense. The security station after the passport control in Schipol when you move from the International gate arrival to what I guess is the Schengen zone kind of threw us for a loop as well as the security after passport control at SeaTac. (Also didn’t realize there would not be a bathroom until after the passport control line at SeaTac!) I was ready for the security at the gate when departing Schipol for Seattle.
-Carry on requirements: I had booked thru KLM and had Delta or KLM flights outbound, and had not keyed in on the fact that the flight from Florence to AMS on the return was Alitalia. In the back of my mind, I knew Alitalia had stricter rules for carryon than Delta did, but I was not ready to have to check my carryon bag (too heavy…did my 10 scarf purchases really weigh that much, lol??) and had to scramble at the desk to retrieve my chapstick out of my liquids bag. I had put a lock on the carry on handle just as an afterthought, so could quickly lock it, but that was about it. This was definitely a rookie travel mistake that I won’t make again.
Things I did right:
-Since there were 5 of us I thought a shuttle from the airport would be the best bet. RomeCabs was completely booked for the regular shuttle, so I booked a shuttle with an hour’s sightseeing tour. I thought it would help us get oriented, lol! Well, it didn’t help with that, but somehow in an hour we managed to see the overlook from the Giancolo Hill (I believe that is right??), zoom thru Trastevere, see St Paul’s, Piazza Navona, Trevi fountain, Spanish steps, Via Veneto, Pantheon, Colosseum, Forum, Palatine Hill, Circus Maximus, Knights of Malta keyhole (and yes, we somehow found our way back here on foot!), the Vittorio Emmanuele monument, and of course a lot more. The driver scared the socks off us, but we live in a very small town (rush hour is 3 cars and a loaded log truck, lol) and were not used to traffic anyway.
-Packed light: We all managed to carry on, at least going. I wore everything in my suitcase. I had an umbrella packed and at the last minute I threw in a rain jacket and am glad I did. It was chilly enough in Volterra, Monterosso and Florence to need a jacket and it was raining buckets in Florence so difficult to keep dry with just an umbrella. I also took an extra pair of shoes which worked well when one pair got wet walking thru Florence in the rain.
-Hand wash: I washed on the first night we arrived at a hotel, which was good because my shirts and socks were not completely dry in Volterra after 36 hours as it was so cool.
-Attitude: Went with the attitude that this was a *scouting* trip and that we could not see everything, but that we would see what we could, and still spend time eating and drinking well!
-Eating/Drinking: We tried to eat in places off the main tourist streets and largely succeeded. We all ate unfamiliar foods and enjoyed them immensely. We found the servers very helpful and instructive. We always tried to start off in Italian and they usually started in English. We laughed so hard in Lucca when we were desperately trying to order coffee and bottled water at a bar so we could use the bathroom. We were ordering in Italian and fumbling around when the older barman leaned on the counter and said sternly, *Don’t you people speak English?* I am sure he uses that joke every day, but it was so unexpected and funny.
All in all, we had a wonderful time! We found Italy to be beautiful and interesting and the Italians so very warm and charming. The younger nephew is ready to move to Rome immediately and the rest of us are ready to go back for another visit. We will also take another Rick Steves tour to another area. This was definitely a good value for the money.
Glad to be home and glad to be back to my Yellowstone folks!