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Old 04-14-2013, 03:27 PM   #1
mapsd
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My Viva Italia Tips

I'm too lazy for a full trip report, but here's some of the things I picked up from our trip last year:

Your traveling style may differ, but here are some of the things we did to make our Viva Italia adventure even more memorable. I’m also listing some of our after-thoughts and regrets that we wish we would have done differently:
Planning
•Ask ABD about the ages of the kids in your group before booking. No matter who they’re with, they’ll love it, but having a group of same-age kids really makes it special.
•If at all possible, arrive early (or stay longer). The group travel is great, but spending a few days on your own really gives you a different feel for Italy (we spent several nights in Sorrento prior to our ABD & saw the Amalfi coast/ Pompeii)
•Don’t rule out a layover in another country. You’re flying open-jaw anyway & we found it was $200/head cheaper to fly home from London. The bonus miles for getting a British Airways Visa covered nearly all of the cost for the Venice->London hop & the ticket savings covered our London hotel. You’re already in Europe, why not maximize it!
•Have a credit card with no foreign transaction fees & make fewer, but larger ATM withdrawals.
•Us WiFi to touch base with those at home instead of costly international cell plans.
•Pack with the plan to do laundry at the half-way point (the free day in Florence is perfect).
•Have a wish list for your free afternoons/evenings. Some may require advance reservations. We often found what others in the group were planning sounded better, so pick their brains over meals.
•Pack one of yours bags with your favorite snacks from home. Kids (and Dad) get hungry for familiar snacks & as you use them up, you have room for your souvenirs!
•A Rick Steves/Fodor’s Guide comes in handy. Knowing a little of the history lets you enjoy the experiences more.

Dining
•We’re not big foodies, just wanted the best of each region without spending 100 euros
•Half carafe of wine really is cheaper than soda. The house wine is always good.
•Italy loves its multi-course 3 hour meals. We usually stuck with one or two courses
•They see rushing you as rude. You’ll have to ask for your check if you want to keep moving
•Great gelato/coffee everywhere! Remember you pay more if you want to sit. Get it to go.
•Go crazy when ABD is paying for the drinks & take it easy when you’re on your own.
It will be tempting to join the whole group for some of the meals on your own (often the guide will make group reservations). We wished we would have gone on our own more since the large group took forever to order/be served, big groups don’t get the primo tables, & it’s good to have some personal time.
•Try a shot of limoncello at the end of your meal. It’s meant to be sipped!

Now the specifics:
Rome
•Hopefully you came early, if not, no big naps, but take a breather & get on Rome time. Your first ABD day is a big one.
•The afternoon before the welcome meal would be a good time to visit the Borghese.
Go to Piazza Navona for every meal on your own. No better atmosphere. Scope out what others are eating as you walk by. They’re all good. Tre Scalini was our favorite. Once we ate here, we really regretted not getting every meal in the Piazza.
•The Coliseum day is a lot of walking & stairs. Lots of sun. Dress accordingly.
•Vatican Day: Overwhelmingly beautiful! We wished we would have skipped the group lunch (the meal we liked least) & stayed @ St Peter’s to climb the dome.
•Subway entrance 10 steps from the hotel. Easy to ride & can get you close to some of the sites
•Tired? Catch a cab! Not that expensive.
•Our kids loved Castel St Angelo. Creepy Cappuchin Crypt is 1 block from hotel
•Try to get to the Trevi fountain at night (10 min walk)

Orvieto
•The bus ride is where the kids really bonded (they took over the rear of the bus).
•We loved Orvieto! Could have spent twice as long there.
•Great panini shop at the base of the clock tower. Try the wild boar!
•Best gelato of the trip was just out the side door of the church.
•This is your only real exposure to a small Italian village, so take advantage by wandering the side streets.

Florence
•Sounds like the hotel has changed. Too bad, we loved everything about the Artimino villa.
•Hopefully, there’s still access to laundry. This is the best opportunity to do it.
•Florence was probably the least favorite of our kids. More “artsy” than the other cities. We did the Galileo museum & climbed the Doumo. Our kids actually went back with the early group & we had a great couple’s afternoon.
•Ladies, have cash available for purses. The stands right outside the factory have better selection & are willing to bargain more than the rows of stands in the tourist market.
•Have coins ready for the street performers. They’ll only interact with your kids for a “donation.”

Venice
•Venice was trickiest to find an ATM (many out of service). Stock up at the Florence station.
•We weren’t thrilled with the box lunch for the train. Good time to break the “no McDonald’s” rule.
•The train ride to Venice is where you really appreciate ABD taking care of the bags!
•You don’t need to go to the Murano glass factory. Plenty of chances right in Venice proper to buy & see it made.
•Mask making was more fun than I expected. Don’t be afraid to start your mask & let the master craftsman finish it off to make it beautiful.
•The private water-taxi to the airport is another ABD perk that you’ll appreciate.
•Be sure to use up your euro coins before leaving Italy (only notes accepted at exchanges)

Overall
•Your ABD guides know the best spots for picture taking & will take as many as you like with your camera, just have it ready.
•Don’t waste a lot of time looking for the perfect restaurant. There are good ones everywhere!
•The hotel concierge is better at directions than your ABD guide (and he’ll give you a map).
•You can’t see everything, so don’t try!
•Keep a daily journal. Keep your ticket stubs. Snap a pic of hotel/restaurant/museum entrances. Makes it easier to organize pics when you get home.
•Don’t sweat the small stuff. ABD will take good care of you.
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Old 04-14-2013, 07:33 PM   #2
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Great advice!

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Old 04-14-2013, 08:30 PM   #3
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Thanks Mapsd for the review. We have traveled a few times to those cities and find Orvietto to be enchanting. Rome is the "Eternal City" and really is one city where you have to travel back time and time again. Venice is a wonderful city to get lost and we are returning next year (on another tour) and it sounds like you will also. Happy travels......
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Old 04-15-2013, 10:01 AM   #4
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Alacrity found this thread and advised me to read it. Excellent! I'll probably print it off to take with us. We are getting close to the trip, 20 days until we leave for our pre-day in Chicago! Thanks for all the info and advice! As my DH has traveled a lot more extensively, he will be taking the lead as to where we go in "free" time. Can't WAIT!!!

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Old 04-23-2013, 05:11 PM   #5
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location location!

Great tips! Hopefully laundry will still be available - I should probably check that!
Where in Venice did you go to do the mask making? Trying to orient myself for the afternoon off.

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Old 04-24-2013, 06:59 AM   #6
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Great tips! Hopefully laundry will still be available - I should probably check that!
Where in Venice did you go to do the mask making? Trying to orient myself for the afternoon off.

k
I believe the mask making was between St Mark's & the Rialto bridge (about a 5 min walk from the Rialto Bridge).

But everything is so close in Venice that it doesn't really matter where you start from. We were free to wander off as soon as our masks were done (they transport them back to the hotel for you).

You actually will walk right past a lot of the best shopping on the way to the mask shop, just remember where to come back to.
We went without a map for the most part. Nearly every corner has one arrow that points toward St Mark's & one towards Rialto.

Last edited by mapsd; 04-24-2013 at 02:19 PM.
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Old 04-27-2013, 11:40 AM   #7
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Originally Posted by chanibustie View Post
Great tips! Hopefully laundry will still be available - I should probably check that!
Where in Venice did you go to do the mask making? Trying to orient myself for the afternoon off.

k
RE LAUNDRY - We are on the May 19 departure. I checked with ABD a couple of weeks ago - no do-it-yourself laundry at the new hotel, unfortunately. You can send things out if you wish, but that can get expensive. We are bringing some individual woolite packets so we can hand wash in the sink if we have to. Also found some clothespins with hanger hooks at the hardware store that will pack small.
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Old 04-27-2013, 11:44 AM   #8
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And thanks to you OP. These tips are great. We have actually done this trip before, four years ago, but we are going again with my 81 year old sister who has always wanted to see Italy. We missed the panini shop in Orvieto the last time, so that's definitely on our list!
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Old 04-28-2013, 08:01 AM   #9
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Bummer that there isn't an on-site laundry.
You're correct that the laundry service is too pricy. I recall the prices listed in the hotels were a lot more than dry cleaning in the US!

If I had to do it again, I would have taken a cab to a local Laundromat (we saw several). Could have done all 4 loads at one time instead of babysitting one machine all afternoon.

Remember that many/most of the machines there have the detergent dispenser built-in, so you don't need to take your own soap.

Last edited by mapsd; 04-29-2013 at 08:11 AM. Reason: gr
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Old 04-28-2013, 09:13 AM   #10
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We're not ABD'ers per se -we prefer traveling on our own, but these are all excellent tips for any type of travel. The only other advice I always give would be to learn(or have on you) a few basic italian phrases -it will go a long way when in a store or restaurant. This probably is not true in Rome, as a waiter will just approach you and start speaking English -you almost have to specifically ask to order in Italian in some cases.
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Old 04-28-2013, 09:20 AM   #11
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a couple of questions, mapsd. If I remember correctly Piazza Navona is within easy walking distance of the hotel? Also, we didn't use the subway system. are there a great many steps, and is there handicap access? My sister is very active for her age, but a lot of stairs at one go are hard on her. Thanks!
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Old 04-28-2013, 09:25 AM   #12
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We're not ABD'ers per se -we prefer traveling on our own, but these are all excellent tips for any type of travel. The only other advice I always give would be to learn(or have on you) a few basic italian phrases -it will go a long way when in a store or restaurant. This probably is not true in Rome, as a waiter will just approach you and start speaking English -you almost have to specifically ask to order in Italian in some cases.
Very true. You can also cheat a little if you have a smartphone, as one of my kid's friends pointed out to me. So - I just downloaded a free app- you type in your english word or phrase and it gives you both text and audio so you can hear pronunciation. I'll still keep at my basic phrases, but it's nice to have a "safety net". My dh already checked out "where is the bathroom, please?"
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Old 04-28-2013, 11:49 AM   #13
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Very true. You can also cheat a little if you have a smartphone, as one of my kid's friends pointed out to me. So - I just downloaded a free app- you type in your english word or phrase and it gives you both text and audio so you can hear pronunciation. I'll still keep at my basic phrases, but it's nice to have a "safety net". My dh already checked out "where is the bathroom, please?"
That one has helped me more than once!
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Old 04-28-2013, 01:03 PM   #14
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a couple of questions, mapsd. If I remember correctly Piazza Navona is within easy walking distance of the hotel? Also, we didn't use the subway system. are there a great many steps, and is there handicap access? My sister is very active for her age, but a lot of stairs at one go are hard on her. Thanks!
Pretty close. Same direction as Trevi fountain, just a little further. We often took a cab there & walked back after dinner (easier to stop for gelato then!).

Don't recall exactly, but I think it was just a couple flights of stairs. Often had escalator. We never looked for an elevator, but guessing the major stations had one.

A LOT of the cabbies spoke NO English.
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Old 04-28-2013, 03:32 PM   #15
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a couple of questions, mapsd. If I remember correctly Piazza Navona is within easy walking distance of the hotel? Also, we didn't use the subway system. are there a great many steps, and is there handicap access? My sister is very active for her age, but a lot of stairs at one go are hard on her. Thanks!
Not sure where the hotel is, but to put it in perspective -Piazza Navona is a couple "blocks" from the Pantheon. I believe that is one of the stops on the tour. I thought I remembered someone mention that the hotel is in the Spanish Step/Trevi area, which isn't too far a walk.
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