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Thread: Vacation to Italy

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jul 2008
    Location
    Alexandria VA
    Posts
    14,909

    Default Vacation to Italy

    We had one heck of a busy vacation, and I'm just now getting caught up so I can toss in a post about it. My wife and I went with two other couples we know so we really had a great time on the tour. I've not had a chance to download my photos yet (been too busy at the store and worked quietly all day Easter Sunday at the store catching up), but I may not even bother. Holly, whom we went with, put up over 1,200 photos of our trip which makes my miserly 250 or so not hardly worth posting! For those so inclined, you can look at her photos (they are quite good) here, and of course all I have to do is see myself in these to know I need to stop eating pizza....

    http://jfmoran.smugmug.com/Other/Ita...8583935_zT4x2h

    This is mine and my wife's second trip to Italy and I just love the place. If you ever get a chance - gp! It's very different than America, and one thing that really impresses me is they way they build. No 2 x 4's and vinyl siding, they use materials that last such as stone and marble. it makes an impression and its just fascinating to see and walk into structures that pre-date the birth of Jesus. The food is wonderful, the people are friendly and we felt very safe no matter what city you are in even in the late night hours. We had great weather the whole week and it was so clear that you could even see the mountains from downtown Rome - which the locals said is quite rare.

    Just a couple of quick notes:

    * Air France is my new favorite airline. The Airbus 380-18 (world's largest passenger aircraft) is spectacular and if you fly Premium Economy or higher in class you actually don't feel like a sardine in a can and your trip is pleasant. We took it both ways from Washington to Paris (then connector flights to Italy) and my wife said 'I'm never flying Economy again". And she's pretty frugal!

    * We went to Venice, a Tuscany winery, Pisa, Florence, Assisi, The Vatican and Rome. Venice is awesome - a bit touristy but tolerable. Pisa is a dirty town, and very highly commercialized with aggressive street vendors. Once you've seen the leaning tower you don't feel the need to go back. The hidden jewel in the trip was the mountain town of Assisi, where the famous St. Francis is from. What a spectacular place! Our time here was too short, just a few hours....this is where you should go for the Italian experience. Florence is all about art and culture - fabulous - but its a daytime city with little appeal after the sun goes down. Rome is Rome....fantastic day or night, like New York City. And the Vatican - St Peter's Basilica is like nothing I've ever seen - the most incredible structure inside that I've ever been in (the Sistine Chapel pales in comparison).

    * One can only tour so many churches before they all start to look the same, so one of my buddies and I went to the World's Largest BMW Motorcycle Dealer after a $ 80 Euro Round Trip taxi ride and we were not disappointed (outskirts of Rome). We left our wives shopping in the markets of Rome to go get our motorcycle fix for the day and when they discovered we were from America and own BMW motorcycles the people at the dealership in Rome loaded us up with free swag to take back.

    * The Eden Hotel Restaurant sits atop one of the highest hills in Rome, just behind The Spanish Steps. If you ever get to Rome and don't mind a $ 100 per person special treat dinner, I highly recommend it. The views of the city are mind-blowing, and the food and service are tremendous.

    http://www.dorchestercollection.com/...zza-dell-eden/

    * Tours are a racket. Be mindful that in Italy, everyone seems to have a cousin or a brother or a friend that operates some kind of business. You go where they take you and it will always be a quality place but cost you 3x more than the place down the street, no doubt your tour guide gets a kickback. We figured this out on the first Gondola ride we took in Venice that was 'optional' at $ 65 per person, but were told we should only go with the 'approved' places they took us to. Since there were 6 of us, that came out to $ 390 for a 35 minute canoe ride. I told the others in our party that I smelled a rat on this, but I was out-voted by the rest of our group and we ponied up. Later on as we had our first Gelato in Venice, I had them all come over to an independent Gondolier operating next to the Gelato place and his response when I asked how much for all 6 of us? $ 80 for the same 35 minute ride. After that, as soon as we were taken to a Florence leather shop, or Murano Glass Factory, etc., we immediately left and went down the street to where we found the same product for much less. Watch out for the tour guides and their sales pitches ("this is a trusted vendor, this vendor is insured, etc). It's a set-up. We went our entire trip with Gate1 tours and I would not use them again because of this, but I suspect all tours run the same way no matter what the company. Just be aware and don't let it spoil your trip - strike out on your own!

    * The Exchange rate for Euros to Dollars is not good, plan on spending more than you expected. It's around $ 1.30 US to 1 Euro right now, so in effect everything is 30 % more there - than here.

    * You cannot get a glass of fresh-brewed ice tea in Italy. That kills me....lol

    A great time, it was good to get away, and good to get back. There's still no place like the USA....
    Duane Collie
    Straight answers from thirty-six years in the business.
    My Private Messages are Disabled - Please ask questions here in the forum.

  2. #2
    bubbaonline Guest

    Default Re: Vacation to Italy

    Thanks for the interesting recap, especially about the tour operators. I notice that Gate1 has some great prices to Italy. I've been looking into Rick Steve's tours (you can see him on PBS). Much more expensive, but it seems from the reviews that you don't get shabby treatment from the tour guides that you got with Gate1.

  3. #3
    Marjflowers Guest

    Default Re: Vacation to Italy

    Many moons ago, as a college student, I did a tour of Europe, and we experienced the same thing. We got to Venice and were herded in a back door (the front door opened onto St. Mark's Square.) to a glass factory for a demonstration. We then had the opportunity to shop in their showroom. We were told that ALL shops on the square were closed; further, if we left the showroom, we would not be permitted to reenter. This would be our one and only opportunity to shop. So shop I did. Of course, once we left, we discovered many shops -- open for business -- with goods being sold for a fraction of what we had paid!

    There were so many bad things about the tour, but it was a good lesson for me. I have friends who travel on tours often, and all are not bad. What's that song, " I Wish That I Knew What I Know Now, When I Was Younger?"

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jul 2008
    Location
    Alexandria VA
    Posts
    14,909

    Default Re: Vacation to Italy

    The Tours are not all bad, because they are well-organized and you DO get to go to the front of the line which saves you hours and hours of waiting if you did it on your own. You just have to be wary about the shops they take you to, because they are all on a kick-back system over there. For example, the leather coat shop in Florence that Gate1 took us to had women's coats averaging 600 Euros. We left and just three blocks later found a nice local ship where we got a coat for my daughter for 180 Euros. Just as nice as the 600 ones. But they use scare tactics in the sales pitches, such as 'you cannot get genuine Italian leather near the Square except for THIS store - poppycock!. I know leather, and that tactic doesn't work on me. Just remember to skip their recommended stores as well as restrautrants and you're in good shape.
    Duane Collie
    Straight answers from thirty-six years in the business.
    My Private Messages are Disabled - Please ask questions here in the forum.

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