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Old 05-25-2009, 12:51 PM   #1
stultress
Earning My Ears
 
Join Date: Mar 2009
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Viva Italia trip report - 4/30-5/8/09 (adults only trip)

My husband and I kept a travel blog for our family and friends, but it contains information about things that were "surprises" during the trip, and I don't want to spoil things for anyone. So here is the edited version for those of you who have an upcoming Viva Italia adventure or are thinking about booking this trip. Andiamo!

Day 1: Benvenuto

We made it! After 15 hours of traveling and 35 hours with no sleep, we have now made it to the end of our first day in Rome. I am happy to report that our bags arrived in Rome at the same time as we did, although they were a little worse for the wear. One of the outside zipper pockets on Daniel’s suitcase split open, so some kindly airport workers somewhere along the way taped it back together for him. My lovely green Eddie Bauer now has some unidentified black smudges all over the front. Daniel says it gives it character. Somehow we were able to slip right out of the Rome airport without going through customs. Disney magic, perhaps? I hope it doesn’t present any problems when we show back up at the airport to leave and we have no stamp showing that we ever arrived!

Despite the failure of our plan to sleep on the flight to Amsterdam (let me just say there was a German dance team involved), we sucked it up and went through with our plan to visit the Borghese Gallery today. We are glad we did. There was so much to see, but the Bernini sculptures and Carravagio paintings were by far the highlight of our visit. Daniel and I had a great time opining on Bernini’s artistic skill as well as his masterful engineering. Even though we had seen all of his sculptures before on TV, nothing could compare to seeing them in person. I was absolutely amazed by all the different textures Bernini used within each individual piece. Bernini’s work is famous for the action that it shows, as well as the “air” that is incorporated into each scene (as opposed to pieces that are just a solid piece of marble), but words really cannot describe how impressive each piece actually is. Genious comes close, but still it does not seem like enough.

After the museum we rested for a bit before meeting our group for our welcome reception and dinner. We were pleasantly surprised to find that there is another couple our age (just one, though), and they just happen to be from Clarksville, TN. There are 28 of us total, and I think it is going to be a fun group of people. We’ve got a full day tomorrow exploring ancient Rome, so now we’re off to sleep. More to come tomorrow. Ciao!

Last edited by stultress; 05-25-2009 at 06:53 PM.
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Old 05-25-2009, 12:57 PM   #2
stultress
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Day 2 - All Roads Lead to Rome

Some things I forgot to mention in my tired state yesterday. (I refuse to say that I was jet lagged since I spent $12 on my No Jet Lag tablets before we left home. I did feel dizzy/light headed last night, almost like I had been on a boat all day)….

From our lovely room at the Hotel Bernini Bristol, we have a view of the Piazza Barberini featuring Bernini’s Triton Fountain. Bellisimo!

On our way to and from the Borghese Gallery yesterday we unknowingly strolled one of the most famous streets in Rome – the Via Veneto. Apparently it was once the hangout of Sophia Loren and her famous friends, and was featured in “La Dolce Vida.” It’s right outside our door!

So on to today’s adventures…we began with breakfast at the hotel, and Daniel and I had our first cappuccinos here in Italia (actually, it was Daniel’s first cappuccino ever). After having our fill of eggs, meats, cheeses, fruit, and cereal, we were off. We started with the Colosseum, where we were able to completely bypass the enormous ticket line and walk right in, thanks to the magic of Disney. Oh, by the way, today happened to be a holiday in Italy – Labor Day. Not that we would know the difference, but according to our guides, everything was even more crowded than usual. I was afraid we were not going to have much time in the Colosseum, but we were actually there for about an hour to an hour and a half – plenty of time to see it all! After the Colosseum we walked to the Roman Forum, where we saw the center of the world. We saw the spot where Caesar’s body was burned, the temple of the vestal virgins, and many other ruins. Afterwards it was time for lunch in a local trattoria. After a salad dressed with the most delicious olive oil we have ever tasted (obviously) we enjoyed four different types of pizza. Our table won the award for the most pizzas consumed (five pizzas between the four of us – well four and a half really because one of them had some really stinky cheese on it. Hey, we gave it a shot. But Daniel almost threw up). It was a blessedly long lunch of leisure, capped off with our first shots of Espresso, again a Daniel first.

After lunch we walked to the Spanish steps, although we really couldn’t see any steps due to all the people sitting there. Apparently, today is the only day of the year that there are flowers on the steps, so we lucked out there. Next we saw the amazing Trevi fountain and tossed in our coins, ensuring that we will one day return to Roma. Then it was on to the Pantheon, where it was much easier getting in than out. Finally, we strolled to the Piazza Navona, where we enjoyed Bernini’s Four Rivers Fountain and our first of what will surely be a lot of gelato. All of this was before 6:00, and I must say that I wasn’t even tired. Hooray for Disney, and hooray for Espresso!

After a few hours rest we are now ready to hit the town once again for pictures, shopping, and maybe some vino. Tomorrow we’ll visit another country – Vatican City – and have the afternoon to explore on our own. It’s already going by too fast. We’re having a great time and can’t wait to show everyone the 350 pictures we took today. I’m not kidding about that. Ciao ciao for now!
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Old 05-25-2009, 01:08 PM   #3
stultress
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Day 3 - Let's Be Civilized

After breakfast and cappuccino we boarded our coach, bound for the Vatican. We began by visiting the Vatican Museum, although what we saw was only a very small fraction of the treasures there. Of course, nothing could compare to what we saw next – the Sistine Chapel. I had no idea what to expect, but it really was incredible. I had forgotten that the chapel was actually Michelangelo’s first attempt at painting; he was a sculptor first. I guess it’s a good thing he started small. Certainly no words of mine can do justice to what we saw, so I will just say that once again my mind was blown. It is just so amazing to me that someone can have that kind of talent. But what’s even more amazing is that men like Michelango and Bernini were incredible painters AND sculpters. In my mind it seems impossible that someone who is so exceptionally gifted at painting could also produce unbelievable sculptures. It almost seems unfair! One thing of which I am certain, though, is that such talent is a gift from God, and I have now seen it with my own eyes.

Before we ever entered the museum our local guide, Christina, gave us a lot of information on the artwork using an informational board outside. She was very entertaining, and I am happy to say that I got it on video. I haven’t talked about Christina yet, but she was with us for both of our full days in Rome. She is simply a fountain of information about Rome and all of the different things we saw. I know I missed a lot of what she said during those two days because I must say that I had a hard time listening and looking at the same time. I love the way she talks, though. I think I could just listen to her voice all day long.

After the Sistene, we got to bypass the ridiculously long line and walk straight into the Basilica. Boy, did we get some dirty looks. Once again, it was not what I expected. You walk right in, and there is Michelangelo’s Pieta. There was so much to see inside I almost forgot to look up at the dome. Despite all the relics, the altarpiece, and everything else, I finally remembered where I was – in the heart of Christendom – and, realizing that I may never have this opportunity again, said a short prayer of thanks for all of God’s blessings.

Next, we spent some time in St. Mark’s square and took some pictures, then we took a short walk to the Ristorante Venerina for lunch. Four courses later, it was back on the coach then to the hotel for a few phone calls home before enjoying the rest of the day on our own. We were a little confused when our first phone call was met with an answering machine at the Turners’. We couldn’t figure out why no one would be there to answer at 7:30 a.m. It wasn’t until I heard the confusion in my mom’s voice when she answered that we realized it was actually Saturday, which meant mom and dad Turner were in Heber. We really have had no concept of days/dates since we’ve been here, but we really don’t have a reason to, either.

Despite the beautiful weather we had enjoyed all day, at some point during our break it began to pour down rain. Not wanting to waste our last afternoon just because of a little rain, we broke out the umbrella and set off for a nearby church, Santa Maria della Vittoria, to see Bernini’s St. Theresa in Ecstasy. This is one of the churches/statues featured in Angels and Demons, but it was much smaller than I would have expected. After paying our respects to the body of Santa Maria, we bought a calendar and zipped past the lady who was pretending to take donations at the door.

By the time we left the church, the sunshine had returned, so we continued with our plan to take the open air bus tour. We just missed the first one that came by, so after a short wait we hopped on and grabbed our seats up on the roof. The tour took us past many of the sights we had already seen and some we hadn’t. It was a great way to get video of the sights, although anyone who watches it may want to take some Dramamine beforehand. I had fun trying to capture the essence of traveling within Rome, where there are no traffic lanes (and apparently no rules) and buses and pedestrians peacefully co-exist. We were highly entertained by the indifferent demeanor of the locals as the buses barrel toward and past them.

We ended our bus tour at the Piazza del Popolo, where we intended to check out the Berninis, Carravaggios, and Rafaels inside Santa Maria del Popolo. Unfortunately for us, it was time for mass, and the Chigi Chapel was being restored, so we caught only a glimpse before we had to exit. The organ music provided a chilling soundtrack for that part of the video, though! We decided to take the Metro back to the hotel, so we were glad we had ridden the subway so much in New York and had an idea of what we were doing. It took a few moments to figure out the ticket machine, but once we did it was smooth sailing from there. We got back to the hotel and tried to make a withdrawal from the ATM, but it wouldn’t read our card. We got a little worried by this, but we decided to try another machine just up the street. That one worked, so we loaded up on cash for our trip to Tuscany. We had seen a tavola calda during the bus tour that looked like it would be a good spot for dinner, so now that we were pros, we hopped back on the metro and zipped up to the area of the Termini train station. For antipasti we shared three different types of bruschette that were all delicious. Then Daniel had his first plate of authentic Italian spaghetti and I had some yummy tortellini. We were sitting outside, so we were approached a few times by people trying to sell things, but by this time we had learned not to engage and after a short “non” they left us alone. I am still trying to figure out why anyone would be selling a stuffed dog that sings Shania Twain, but I haven’t come up with anything yet.

After a metro ride back, we hit up a souvenir shop and then I talked Daniel into getting some gelato. As we crossed back to the hotel, we saw “the Texans” Stephen and Kim taking pictures in the piazza, and they told us that they and “the New Yorkers” would be hosting a wine tasting on the roof at 10:00. With a plan in place to do some packing and upload our pictures from the day before joining them on the roof, we headed back upstairs. And that’s what disaster struck. For some reason we cannot explain, Daniel had lost 100 pictures, including the ones from Vatican City. I had my camera, of course, but like Daniel said – my pictures are my experience and his pictures are his experience. So it was still a hard blow, and I can understand that. After the initial shock wore off, we did join the folks on the roof, and we were so glad we did. With the great wine, fantastic company, and one of the best views in Rome, how could we not have a fabulous time? By the time we got to bed Daniel had gotten over his disappointment, and we were both looking forward to our time in the country.
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Old 05-25-2009, 01:14 PM   #4
stultress
Earning My Ears
 
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Day 4 - Etruscan Roots

With our time in Rome at its end, we got in our Mercedes to travel to Orvieto. Okay, it was a Mercedes bus, but that’s still a Mercedes. After our guide, Mara, paid for us all to use the restroom, we took a funicular up to the ancient Estrucan town of Orvieto. An uphill climb to the center of town revealed the outstanding Duomo – truly a sight to behold. Orvieto, while still not big, was bigger than I thought it would be. I was expecting there to be maybe four or five shops there, but there were way more shops than we ever could have seen in two hours. I also didn’t expect there to be so many people there shopping and sightseeing, but apparently Orvieto is the place to be in Umbria. After a photo op at the overlook, we were on our own to shop and explore the village.

Daniel and I walked down (and sometimes up) some side streets before getting back to the main road to spend some cash. First we picked up some wine and olive oil, not thinking that we were going to have to carry all that around with us for the rest of the day. The purchase made, we went back to an art gallery I had noticed on the way up. The gallery was that of Umberto Verdirosi,(www.verdirosi.com), a charming man who tried his best to tell us about his work, although he doesn’t speak a lick of English. Ladies and gentleman, I now have a favorite artist. For some reason his work really appealed to me, and Daniel said he has never seen me light up like that about art. After much deliberation, I decided on a numbered lithograph, and I talked Daniel into getting the framed watercolor he had been admiring. Our purchases made, we asked Verdirosi to take a photo with us, and he happily obliged. I would describe Verdirosi’s style as surrealist, although I’m not sure if he would. Anyway, I am really excited to find a spot in our house for my unique new piece of art.

I managed to ask Verdirosi if we could leave our bag there until our way out since we had to trek back up to the top to meet the group, and he said it was no problema. So we lightened our load and climbed the cobblestone hill once more. We decided to pick up two panini con porchetta (wild boar) to enjoy on the bus before meeting up with the group. We took another “family photo” with our group in front of the duomo, and then it was time to leave for the villa. We picked up our bag on the way back down and said a final arrivederci to Verdirosi, who was working away on a new piece at the time. Back down the funicular and onto the coach, we only had one more stop before our Tuscan destination. Although my eyes did not want to stay open, I told myself to enjoy the view of the countryside until we reached the Autogrille. It’s basically a gas station and convenience store. It was somewhere between a fancy 7-Eleven and a mini-Walmart that sells wine and cheese.

The ascent to the villa was an experience in itself. Luckily, our driver Marius has had a lot of experience maneuvering the narrow roads that wind up to the top where the villa is. Once we arrived, we enjoyed a light snack in the courtyard while Tinkerbell took care of our luggage. After a few minutes to freshen up, we got back on the coach for the two-minute ride to the cantina for a wine tasting. The sommelier, Alberto, presided over our tasting of two of the different wines that are produced right here in Artimino. Once we were finished we headed upstairs for dinner and, of course, more wine. Another four-course meal ended with a plan for everyone to bring their newly purchased wine to the courtyard. Our group from the night before grew to include a few more people, and we all hung out in the courtyard until it got too loud and we got “kicked in” to the bar, where the fun continued. Even though everyone was “done” before we left the courtyard, somehow three more bottles of wine were consumed after we got inside. Needless to say, another great day was followed by another great night.
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Old 05-25-2009, 01:15 PM   #5
stultress
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For anyone who happens to find this in the next few hours, I will finish cutting and pasting later tonight!
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Old 05-25-2009, 01:55 PM   #6
mwebsite
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Thanks for the report, can't wait to read more!
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Old 05-26-2009, 12:33 PM   #7
northernlights
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Thank-you for the great trip report. Our family will be on this same trip in July and your report was very informative and very entertaining as well!!
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Old 05-26-2009, 06:00 PM   #8
mwebsite
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Thanks so much for the trip report. We are leaving soon, and I wanted to make sure the trip was as good as in previous years. Sounds like it is! How late did you stay in Florence? It looks like on the itinerary we stay there for dinner, but most of the restaurants don't open until 7 or 7:30 so I wondered if we'd have enough time for a nice dinner?
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Old 05-26-2009, 09:26 PM   #9
stultress
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mwebsite View Post
Thanks so much for the trip report. We are leaving soon, and I wanted to make sure the trip was as good as in previous years. Sounds like it is! How late did you stay in Florence? It looks like on the itinerary we stay there for dinner, but most of the restaurants don't open until 7 or 7:30 so I wondered if we'd have enough time for a nice dinner?
I think we met back up with the group at 7:00 or 7:30. The guides actually give you a printed list of restaurants that are open early so that you can have time to enjoy a nice dinner before meeting the group. I'm telling you - they think of everything!!!
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Old 06-01-2009, 07:39 AM   #10
redzinner
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Viva Italia Memories

Thanks for sharing your Italian holiday with us. It brought back so many wonderful memories from our ABD trip last year.
It was interesting to see the schedule changes from year to year.
For instance in Florence we had lunch on our own and then a group dinner back at the Borgo di Artimino.
I also loved Venice and its style of life!
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Old 06-01-2009, 07:04 PM   #11
glassslipper2004
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Thanks for the great report! We did this trip last summer and your writing brought back great memories.

Didn't you just love Heidi? My girls adored her - as we all did. I think I was hoping she'd get lost and wind up on the Southwest Splendors trip with us this summer...
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Old 05-26-2009, 06:59 PM   #12
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Thanks for a great report! This trip wasn't on my "list" but I think maybe now it is!
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