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Old 06-20-2009, 02:41 PM   #1
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Join Date: Aug 2008
Location: Orlando, Florida
Posts: 1,367

Trip Report: Viva Italia June 11-19

We're baaack!!! Here is our report from our trip. After more than ten months of planning, we can't believe we're back home! We highly recommend ABD!!!

Day 1: Benevenuto! – We (“We” is my DS15 and me) were greeted by Marc, our tour guide, who, come to find out, was a first-time tour guide for Viva Italia (we didn’t find this out until the end of our tour but it didn’t matter; he was great). We took a van to our hotel, the Hotel Bernini Bristol. The traffic was horrible but we finally arrived and were greeted by Cinzia, our other tour guide. It was around 9 AM and our room wouldn’t be ready until 1 at the earliest. She gave us a map and some suggestions of things to do while waiting. She also gave us complimentary tickets for an open-air Rome bus tour which we decided to save until later. Tired and weary, we headed out into the streets of Rome down to the Monument to Emmanuele. It was massive and impressive and we climbed a very steep staircase to get to the top. Given that we were going on about three hours of sleep, it seemed even steeper! We headed back to the hotel and on our way back hit a pizza shop and grabbed two pieces of pizza and two bottles of water. Mmmm, we said to ourselves (after a week of eating “real” Italian food though, we look back and realize this was pretty gross). Neither of us wanted to admit it wasn’t very good. Back at the hotel, our room still wasn’t ready and we were zombie-like. Finally we got to our room and, against the advice of our well-meaning friends, we napped. We had to! Two hours later, plus a shower, and we were good as new. We went to meet our fellow adventurers! Dinner was good, we did a “get to know you” game, and introduced ourselves. We got our instructions for the next morning and then we headed out to the Trevi Fountain, one of my personal favorites, and to get a gelato. Now THAT was good.

Day 2: All Roads Lead to Rome: Met very early and were introduced to our local guide, Stefano. He was incredible. However, we used “Whispers”, personal audio devices, and they were not good at all. We heard about every fifth word Stefano said, and just tried to make the best of it. We saw the Colisseum, The Forum, had lunch, and then took a two-hour walking tour that hit the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, and Piazza Navona. After that, we had time to ourselves so we headed back to the hotel to rest up before dinner. We decided to go back to Piazza Navona and eat at Café Bernini, which ended up being one of our favorite meals – gnocchi and pizza (we have simple tastes!), but it was good and the service was good too. Walked back to the hotel via quaint alleys, and got “a little lost in the city”, but all was fine. We got a gelato before bed, of course.

Day 3: Let’s Be Civilized: Today was the Vatican. Again we met Stefano and had to endure the every-fifth-word guide given by him. I so wished we could have heard him better as he was a wealth of knowledge, not to mention very pleasant. The Vatican Museum was very interesting, but hot and stuffy, and kept you moving at a fairly steady pace. We went into the Sistine Chapel, eyes ceiling-ward, but no pictures! We then went into St. Peter’s Basillica, which was almost too much to take in. It is crammed full of art and statues and mosaics, and it’s fascinating, but overwhelming at the same time. Outside was very impressive. St. Peter’s Square was massive and we enjoyed taking pictures there. We had lunch with the group then were on our own for the afternoon, so we used our bus tour tickets and toured around Rome, and got off at the Castillo de St. Angelo. This castle had great views from the terrace, and we enjoyed that stop. We walked to the Spanish Steps to have dinner, and waited for it to get dark so we could see the city lit up. Well, it gets dark really, really late in Rome and we waited forever! Finally, we clicked a few shots and headed back, too tired to wait out the darkness…but still were able to grab a gelato!

Day 4: Etruscan Roots: We took a bus to Orvieto, a stop along the way to Artimino. Unbeknownst to anyone, including our tour guides, there was a medieval procession going on in Orvieto that seemed to last HOURS! We probably should have enjoyed this more, but since we didn’t know what it was and got stuck in it several times, we were more annoyed than impressed. The procession stopped at and went past the Duomo, which was so beautiful and big from the outside; however none of us could get inside because of the events going on. For lunch, I had a mozzarella and tomato salad and DS had a boar and truffle sandwich (they’re famous for that supposedly) right outside the Duomo. We left there and got on the bus, headed for Artimino. What a beautiful place! The scenery and overall feel of Artimino was breathtaking. We found our rooms (seemed each room was different!) and we felt lucky to have scored an end room, and one with a shower, albeit a tiny one. We went over to the Cantina for wine tasting, where DS got his first taste of wine (I’m not a wine drinker). Dinner was served outside overlooking Tuscany…so beautiful! After dinner the kids swam and played games in the dark, and finally got to make friends and bond after so much walking/touring in Rome. Everyone seemed to finally relax a little.

Day 5: Tuscan Holiday: This was our “day off” of sorts. We got to sleep in finally, then had breakfast and met to make pasta! I have read reports before of going to a castle to make pasta, but they have changed things due to guests not enjoying being on the bus so much. So, they make the pasta right there at the villa. We each got a pile of flour, egg, olive oil, and spinach. Lots of messy hands, but everyone seemed to enjoy this. We ate lunch in the restaurant, then had the afternoon to do whatever we wanted at the villa. The kids swam, played games, and explored the area. Adults talked, read, and laid out all afternoon. The kids walked to the gelateria right down the road and DS thought that was the best gelato of the trip (too bad I missed that one!). Dinner was a “Tuscan Barbecue”, but I have to admit I prefer American barbecue much more! But, the scenery more than made up for it as we watched the sunset over Tuscany.

Day 6: Romance and Renaissance: We were off to Florence. I admit I was not exactly looking forward to this day, and I was right to not get excited. Seeing the statue of David was amazing and fascinating. But it ended there. We toured a little bit and the streets were extremely crowded and it was HOT. That would have been o.k., but after our group lunch, we had SIX hours on our own. If you’re like us and can only look at so many churches and so much art, and shop so much, then you’re bored. We went to the Pitti Palace to see the Boboli Gardens. We spent 20 euros to see shrubs and fountains and be extremely hot. Sorry, I can’t get excited about Florence. We were very happy to get on the bus and get back to the villa. I sincerely hope Disney will re-think giving groups that much time in that city, especially on a tour where the kids (and adults too!) want to go back to the beautiful villa and enjoy that some more.

Day 7: Venetian Fantasy: We arrived at the train station to find out our train was delayed 25 minutes. Finally on the train, they informed us it was going to be cloudy and windy in Venice, which might prevent us from riding a gondola. However, it turned out we WERE able to ride the gondola and I for one welcomed the cloudy skies as it kept the temperature down! The gondola ride was a fun way to start that part of the tour and Venice ended up being probably our favorite city. We toured St. Mark’s square and the St. Mark’s Cathedral, among other things. There are lots of narrow alleys in Venice, and we couldn’t really tell where we were and where we were going! Our tour guide there, Laura, was excellent. We went to our hotel via water taxi, and the Dei Doggei Hotel was by far the nicest hotel, amenity-wise, that we experienced (although we had a horrible view of a work area and a metal roof). We met up with some of our fellow adventurers for dinner – adults at one table; kids at another – and ate at Pizzeria Vesuvias, which was delicious. All exhausted, we headed back to the hotel but not before all getting a gelato before bedtime!!!!

Day 8: Carnevale!: We went to the mask makers via a traghetto, which is a gondola type boat that you STAND UP IN. Even though you’re only crossing a narrow canal, it was a bit scary. Someone in the previous traghetto even screamed, which we found to be quite funny. We all got to choose a mask to decorate, and it was a very fun group activity, and even more fun that night when we saw our creations! During our afternoon on our own, we had lunch (gnocchi for me; pizza funghi for DS) then walked around Venice, which we enjoyed. We took the elevator to the Bell Tower at St. Mark’s and realized – what a surprise – that the bells do actually ring!!!! We were about ten feet from the bells, if that, and kept our hands over our ears the entire time they were pealing away. Pretty cool! That night was our farewell dinner, which was outstanding. We all left feeling like we had indeed had a great adventure.

A few thoughts: I’m sure there are better tour guides than others, but we enjoyed our tour and our fellow adventurers, and we all exchanged e-mail addresses upon leaving. Let’s see, for some random thoughts…bring flushable wipes as the toilet paper stinks. Always keep euro coins in your pocket – as we found out, you have to pay to use the toilet, unless you’re actually eating in the restaurant! Bring your own travel alarm clock. Don’t expect to sleep much – you are up, showered, and ready to go by 7:45 or 8:15 most days. I think they might not accurately represent how much walking you will really do. It was a LOT of walking and I honestly don’t know how the junior adventurers in our group managed. They were excellent children (we had a great range of ages), and it was quite a bit of walking involved in every city. If you’re a Diet Coke drinker, you will have to switch to Coca-Cola Light, which was still good, although a bit more like Coke than we’re used to. If you need wi-fi, the only place you will find for free is in Artimino; otherwise you will pay dearly for it. Meals were good, however some better than others. You will eat more pizza and pasta than you can imagine, and on the rare occasion we had roast beef, it wasn’t very good at all. Take notes or keep a journal! We have gone over our notes many times and relived things that might otherwise have forgotten. There is just so much that you will do you can’t possibly remember it all, especially those little things that were special.
Me ; DH ; DS19; DD17; DD12; DD6
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