We have returned from a wonderful 4 week trip to Italy. Firstly, many thanks to all you great people on the forum who have posted your own reports, written words of advice and answered my questions and those of others. You have helped to make our trip a success.
Flew in to Rome, arriving at 8am after 34 hrs of travel. Managed to stay awake and get our bearings around the city until night. Spent 4 nights in Rome.
Travelled by train to Florence. Stayed four nights.
Train to Venice and stayed four nights.
Train to Pisa. Left luggage at stationsand spent 2 hours sseing the tower and the Field of Miracles. Collected luggage and got a taxi to airport to collect our rental car.
Drove to Pontedera, 15ks from Pisa, and stayed overnight. Visited the Piaggio Museum - my partner owns a Vespa scooter and belongs to a scooter group.
Drove to Sinelunga in Tuscany - 45ks SE of Siena -to the cottage we rented for a week.
Day trips from the cottage to San Gimignano, Siena, Montepulciano, Chianti region - Castellina, Greve, Radda, and days just relaxing and reading in the garden, gazing at the views, wandering into the village piazza for coffee, gelato etc.
Drove to Rome through little back roads, discovering delightful villages on the way, taking the full day for the journey.
Returned car at the airport, stayed overnight at a hotel airport and flew home next morning.
It is very difficult to pick out only a few highlights as we had so many wonderful experiences of different kinds. Venice was magical and Tuscany even more beautiful than in the touristy photos. It was really good to see the famous art works in the museums in the various cities. The interiors of the churches and basillicas were works of art in themselves. Even the smallest, plain looking chuch on the outside housed beautiful paintings, frescos, statues, mosaics and other decorations. In one church we were there in time to hear a group of Monks chanting vespers in the church crypt.
Hiking the Cinque Terre trails was well worth the effort. We did the two easiest ones on one day, and had a god look around those towns. The next day we took the train to where we had finished and did the next leg, and spent some time at the town at the end. We repeated this for the last part on the third day. Unfortunately the boat that travels along the entire coast calling in at the villages was not running during the days we were there. That was our only disappointment of the whole trip.
Very easy and a great way to get around the country. We bought tickets at the railway station in each city/town, a day or two before the next journey. We used the ticket machines which give you a language option to start with, then prompt you through the process of choosing the station of departure and arrival, type of train, class, and timetable options. We put our credit card in for payment and the ticket popped out. We chose Eurostar and intercity trains. For these you get a reserved seat. The ticket gives the carriage number seat number. There is an options to choose carriage and seat but we just ignored that and went to the next screen when booking. We chose second class for all the journeys. Very comfortable seating. Large luggage racks overhead and at the end of each carriage. We took our own food and drink.
I have seen much discussion on the forum about what to wear. People seem to be concerned that they will stand out as tourists and they wont be a well-dressed as the locals. Forget all that. Italy is so full of tourists that the locals can seem out numbered. People were wearing pants of all colours and types and lengths. Some in jeans but I think they would be very hot. No women in shorts, men in long shorts. Lots of people had pants that could zip off at, or below, the knee. My partner found those to be very useful. Women were also wearing skirts - nice an cool for the hot weather. Shirts, t-shirts, tank tops, tops with little straps were everywhere. Footwear was sport shoes - white with other colours predominant -contrary to concerns from posters about this, strong walking shoes and all kinds of sandals. I advise against sandals with thin heels for women as the ground can very unven, with cobblestones and other surfaces in which you can catch your heel or turn an ankle. At night a light cardigan or a shawl/pashmina was sufficient for this time of the year. Partner wore long sleeved shirt, and a light jacket when it was a bit cooler. We dressed in smart casual for dinner out - black pants or a skirt for me, with a nice top. Dark trousers and shirt for him.
Reservations for museums etc
I booked ahead by email with Angel Tours for a Forum/Colleseum tour. We enjoyed the tour, good information without too much detail and not too long as we didnt want to spend hours trailing around. We decided after that tour to do their Vatican tour and it was no problem to get in to that one for two days later. I was glad we had booked these because the queues were very long and we would have wasted a lot of time in line. Though there was a line for the Vatican Museum because of increased security due to possible repercussions from a recent speech by the Pope.
Booked online about 3 weeks ahead for the the Borghese Gallery. Essential as numbers are restricted and you can only spend 2 hours there ( which is enough). When we arrived for our time slot we saw a number of disappointed people being turned away as it was all booked out that day and for several days ahead.
Booked Academia and Uffizzi by phone 3 weeks ahead. Very easy, one phone call for the both and only a few minutes on the phone as the reservation person did it all very efficiently. She gave me a reservation number which I quoted when we paid and collected the tickets.
Boooked online for the Secret Itinerary Tour of the Doges' Palace. The only way to do this tour is by booking ahead and it was one of the highlights of our trip. After the tour you can visit the rest of the Palace that others can buy tickets for, by lining up.
If you are keen to climb the Leaning Tower you should book at least a days or two ahead. Tickets are sold in 20 minutes time slots and numbers are restricted to -I think - only 30 per slot. We didn't book as we weren't sure what time we would get there. We found that there was several hours wait until the next available time. We were running out of time to collect our rental car and get to the place we were staying that night so we didn't wait. However we were quite happy seeing the tower - the lean is much more dramatic than we expected.
I researched wineries on the forum and contacted Castille d' Verazzano - just out of Radda in Chianti - by email shortly before we left, for some more information. When we arrived in Tuscany I rang them and booked a tour and tasting for two days ahead. When we arrived we found we were the only ones that day and we enjoyed our 'private' tour. We were shown the grounds of the large villa where the owners live,, a drying room and the cellars - and were able to ask lots of questions about wine-making. As there was just the two of us the guide took us into parts where the wine was being made, which they dont''usually do on the tour. We then had a tasting of several of their wines with explanations about them, what to look for in the taste of the different wines,etc.
If anyone would like more details of our intinerary within any of the places we visited, or any other information, please post your questions in this thread and I will answer as promptly as I can.
Finally - Italy is a very romantic place. My partner unexpectedly proposed to me and we are now planning our wedding for March next year. Unfortunately it wont be in Italy