Summing up Italy

We’ve been home for a week now.  I still haven’t started organizing all the photos, but I suppose it’s time to sum up our Italy experience.

Best Part of the Trip

Joe: Walking around the ruins of ancient Rome, imagining the things that had happened there, telling Julie stories of those days.  The moment when I realized that the road I was on was most likely the road that Cleopatra took into town, and was certainly the road that all those Triumphs took – Scipio, Caesar, etc.

Julie: Florence and the amazing Uffizi Gallery and all the art therein.

Best Meal

Joe: Enzo e Piero in Florence.  The food was terrific, the atmosphere relaxed.  It felt like it was run by a family (which I believe it was) and was completely comfortable.  And did I mention the terrific food?

Julie: Ristorante Quadri in Venice.  Again, the food was terrific.  The service was much more formal, but still friendly.  (A lot more expensive too!)

Best Tour

Joe: Hard choice – either the Pompeii Trip or the ancient Rome trip that included a ground-level visit to the Colosseum.  (Though neither was my favorite guide – both guides were good, though.)

Julie: Rome Catacombs and Tombs.  Combines the gruesome with the soulful – two things that Julie loves.  Also had the best guide of any we had all week (and Joe agrees with this).

Note: we did a total of ten guided tours during our trip, all set up with City Wonders tours (http://citywonders.com).  They weren’t all amazing, but they were all good.  I’d recommend them for tours in any of the places they do tours.

Best Travel Tool

Joe: His iPad.  I arranged a data plan that would work in Italy.  The iPad was amazingly helpful.  I navigated everywhere using Google Maps.  We chose restaurants using the TripAdvisor app (another thing I strongly recommend: their tool for finding nearby restaurants was incredibly helpful).  I could look up miscellaneous details online at a moment’s notice, and amuse myself with Wikipedia articles on things we were seeing.  And even find Julie a good shoe shop in Rome.

Julie: She got a book on Rome, and later one on Florence, that showed how the sites looked now and back then.  Julie had a lot of fun holding up the images of the ancient glories next to the actual sites.

Favorite piece of Art

Joe: Bernini’s sculpture of Daphne and Apollo at the Borghese Gallery.

Julie: A medieval painting of the Annunciation at the Uffizi.

Favorite City

Joe: Rome.  I’ve never been anywhere that had so much truly vital history.  Astonishing.  Plus, I find that I really like the baroque style of both art and architecture, and Rome is a great center for that style.

Julie: Florence.  Hard to deny the draw of the Renaissance.

Best Concierge

Joe and Julie: The staff at the Porta Faenza in Florence.  They recommended great restaurants and helped us find shops that had things that we were specifically looking for.  By contrast, the concierges in the other hotels tended to direct us to touristy restaurants and did not have useful information.

Some useful travel tips

  1. To find a good gelato shop, ignore all those shops with bulging mounds of colorful gelato in a display freezer in the window.  The gelato bulges because it has artificial stiffeners in it, and it’s so colorful because of artificial coloring.  Instead, find a place where the gelato is stored in simple canisters in a freezer, and where the colors are muted.  These kinds of places are few and far between (I found one in Rome, two in Florence, and one in Venice), but they are worth the search: the gelato in them is amazing.  The best gelato I had was at Edoardo’s right next to the Duomo in Florence.  Truly amazing stuff – I had it there twice and each bite was like a taste explosion in my mouth.
  2. Be careful of the taxi drivers in Rome.  There is a fixed cost of 48 Euros to get from the airport into Rome, but other than that insist that they turn on the meter.  (And insist they don’t turn on the meter if you’re coming from the airport.)  And make sure you monitor the route they take.  This isn’t always an issue: we took four taxis in Rome and only one tried to rip us off.  But there was that one.  (He didn’t succeed.)
  3. Be careful where you look for masks in Venice.  Most are Chinese imports – even when they say otherwise.  We went to Ca Macana, where they make masks.  You can even paint your own there.  Great masks.
  4. Don’t stand in line for tickets at the Colosseum.  Walk a couple blocks to the entrance to the Roman Forum.  There’s no line and the ticket is good for both the Forum and the Colosseum.
  5. When visiting a crowded art museum like the Uffizi, make sure you’re there around closing time.  The crowds thin out and you can actually get close to the famous paintings.  Sometimes these museums will have late hours one night in the week: those are great times to visit as there are no crowds.  (We also used that hint when visiting the Louvre a few years ago.)
  6. Do your research on restaurants.  As I mentioned above, Trip Advisor is a great resource.  The hotel staff may be a good resource or they may just direct you to the tourist traps.  Be careful!

I’m sure there are more.  But we found the above particularly useful.

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