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Schielke's European Vacation


Schielke
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If I may offer a tangent that nobody else has, might you consider taking one of your Venezia days and hopping on a quick train northward into Friuli-Venezia-Giulia? You could take in either Trieste, a great and historic city combining the elements of Romance, Germanic and Slavic cultures (plus, the home of Illy espresso!); or you could go to Udine, a pleasant, semi-urban jumping-off spot for the charming towns of Cividale and San Daniele, the latter of which is justly famed for its prosciutto. There is plenty of great food, wine, and history to be absorbed with either tack here. I really enjoyed the area when I was there in August, despite the killer heat. Submitted for your consideration...

Kriss Reed

Long Beach, CA

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I just returned from Paris yesterday as well as Venice a month ago. Both were on business. The first trip the Euro was in the low to mid 1.20's. On Wednesday of this week it touched $1.29 while falling back to $1.24 yesterday.

For anyone travelling to Europe I cannot emphasize what a shock it is to have this rate of exchange. I have ten to twelve trips a year to Europe on business and have done this since the '80's. The French Franc today is roughly equivalent to 4.7 versus the US dollar (with the Euro at 1.28). 4.7!!! In 1985 it was 12, in 1992 it was about 7, weakening to 6.5 later in the '90's. The lira was as strong as 2,200 in 1985 and was 1600 to 1900 through much of the '90's. Today it is about 1400. It is nice to say that something is 20 Euros or 10 Euros or 50 Euros. Just remember that with a credit card you are going to add about 30% on to this price.

For a week in Verona and Venice and five days in Paris there were virtually no Americans. The few that I did find were like myself American businessmen trying to capitalize on the weak dollar. I just want everyone thinking about Europe this year to understand that it is as expensive as at any time in 50 years. It would be nice if the Euro was on par with the dollar. Unfortunately, it's nowhere near.

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Yeah, too bad the dollar sucks overseas right now, but this is really my only chance to go for some time so we are just going to bite the bullet and do it. I think to save money, we will try to cut down on the nice hotels for most of the trip and splurge on perhaps one or two.

Ben

Gimme what cha got for a pork chop!

-Freakmaster

I have two words for America... Meat Crust.

-Mario

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There are quite a few deals out there even on better hotels. Marriott, Intercontinental and others are offering LESS than half price 21 day advance purchases which are non refundable. Airfares are also very low. I just returned from Paris on business. I left Washington for Paris on Monday having bought the ticket only one week to the day before. The roundtrip airfare was $375.00 total. I should note that I did little shopping and there were no expensive dinners over the four days I was there. Nor did I buy expensive wine although I did stop in Auchan and Carrefour and found several E 20 bottles that I thought were worthwhile. If you plan and put off large purchases and starred dinners until the dollar strengthens I think Europe is still quite "doable." This is not the time to go shopping, say, for gold in Verona or a Brioni suit in Rome. On the plus side there are very few Amercans. Italy, even Venice, felt and sounded Italian in the restaurants! A great time to just get out and explore, just be prepared for $5.00/gas (@$1.28 rate of exchange) and you'll be all right. What you save with deals and discounts can help offset the exchange rate.

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Yeah, too bad the dollar sucks overseas right now, but this is really my only chance to go for some time so we are just going to bite the bullet and do it. I think to save money, we will try to cut down on the nice hotels for most of the trip and splurge on perhaps one or two.

Ben

What Joe H said. Plus, though you've probably thought of this, it's probably worth paying the extra fee to get a credit card that gives you airline miles for every dollar you spend. That way you can expedite your return to Europe--hopefully when the dollar is in better shape (for regular folks, as ooposed to corporations).

I'm hollywood and I approve this message.

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I forgot to mention this: it was much cheaper to use my ATM card for purchases than to go to the hassle of exchanging money. I don't know if that's the case now, with the Euro. Beward unscrupulous rates on exchanging money, if you go that route. Places near the center of touristy hot spots (think Siena and the Duomo) charge much more for the "convenience." And I mean a lot more.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Ok,

Tickets have been purchased!

Here is what we plan to do (roughly)

4/18-- I am arriving in Venice on April 18th around noon.

4/19-- Venice

4/20-- Leave Venice during the day sometime by train to Florence. Spend night in Florence.

4/21-- Florence

4/22-- Florence

4/23-- Florence

4/24-- Florence- Pick up rental car either this day or the next

4/25-- Tuscany- Not sure where to go on this day, but the coast might be nice. Find a place to stay on the fly.

4/26-- Tuscany/Villa Min.- Head to Villa Minnozo that afternoon

4/27-- Villa Min

4/28-- Tuscany or somewhere between there and Milan

4/29-- Drive into Milan and drop off car. Stay in Milan

4/30-- Milan

5/1-- Head home at the ass-crack of dawn.

At this point, I think I am at the stage of filling out the things to do in places when I am there. I am certainly open to recs of places to stay or see when tooling around tuscany.

Again, thanks so much for all your help, I really appreciate all of your comments.

Ben

:smile:

Gimme what cha got for a pork chop!

-Freakmaster

I have two words for America... Meat Crust.

-Mario

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First of all, Congratulations!

In terms of things to see in Tuscany, just driving around the beautiful countryside is a great thing to do. I happen to love Siena (which is worth 3 days at least but also worth visiting for a shorter time just to get a taste of it) and San Gimignano (which can be "done" in a few hours but has a totally different feel at night than during the day). And while Pisa itself isn't a beautiful city (it was heavily bombed during WW II, so much of it is in a kind of institutional postwar style), the Campo dei Miracoli is extraordinary. If you go, even though you're on a honeymoon, don't overlook the Camposanto (sacred cemetary) because it includes the remains of The Triumph of Death, a great fresco by Traini. I actually think the Tower is the least striking thing on the Campo, though it's quite beautiful. Do you want any suggestions of things to see in Florence, or do you figure your guidebooks pretty much take care of that?

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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I would really really recommend that you leave Florence one day early, go down to Tivoli and stay at the Hotel Sirene (a lot of bang for the buck), see the Villa d'Este and its hundreds of fountains, and then tootle back up to Tuscany via Arezzo or Cortona.

You're in for so much glory.

If you do go to Siena (which is one of my favorite places in the world), eat at Hosteria Il Carroccio.

From a post elsethread:

My own best meal in all of Italy was in Siena at the Hosteria Il Carroccio. The bread soup is sublime perfection (especially perfect on the chilly day before Easter when we ate there). Their house dessert, a molten chocolate thing, is not to be missed. To find it, face the town hall at the Campanile: point out your right arm to one o’clock: head in that direction walk down the passage (Caseto di Sotto). You could probably just follow your nose; that's I found it. The owner opened the door to talk to someone, and the aroma hit me like those curled fingers of smoke in cartoons—the ones that lift you deliriously off your feet and float you to the table.

Hosteria Il Carroccio

Via Casata di Sotto, 32

Tel: 0577-41165

Edited by tanabutler (log)
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Any guidebook will recommend the Uffizi and the Duomo and (I hope) Baptistry. These recommendations are well-merited but the crowds may be excessive. The last time I was there, it was possible to go to an office and buy a ticket for the Uffizi in advance. But you also have other options. The Pinacoteca at the Pitti Palace is also a great museum, and it is likely to be a good deal less crowded than the Uffizi. (If you walk across the Ponte Vecchio to get to the Pitti Palace, stop in at the church of Santa Trinita, where immediately to your right on entering, you will see some weird, wonderful frescos by the Mannerist artist, Pontormo, but you have to look for them.) Also, the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo is not to be missed. It's across the street from the back of the Duomo and contains originals of a whole bunch of great sculptures that used to stand in the Duomo. It may be that the tour bus routes still haven't reached that museum. The Bargello is also a great scupture museum and is liable to be less crowded than the Uffizi. Unfortunately, as of 1998, the Accademia, where there is a great series of sculptures by Michelangelo, was already crushingly crowded.

It's also worth visiting other churches. At a certain point, I decided that my favorite church in Florence was not the Duomo, though it's great and should not be missed, but Santa Maria Novella, across from the train station. Have a look and see if you agree. Among the artworks inside is a Trinity by Masaccio. There's also a separate entrance for the cloister (chiostro). If it's open when you're there, it's worth going to. There are weird, great frescos of the Story of Noah by Paolo Uccello, a radical Mannerist.

Another great church is Santa Croce, which includes frescos by Giotto. They also have a Museo dell'Opera di Santa Croce, where you can see a flood-damaged but still beautiful Crucifixion by Cimabue, Giotto's teacher. Also part of the admission fee to that museum is a trip to a perfectly symmetrical neo-Classic Renaissance building, the Pazzi Chapel. I found my trip to that chapel very meditative.

Finally, while you're in Florence, you must go to the Piazzale Michelangelo on the Oltrarno side, for the view. After looking at the view from all angles, climb up higher and go to the top step of the church of San Miniato al Monte. The view is even better from there. Then, go into the lovely church. Look around and then go upstairs. On the right side of the 2nd floor, you can enter a room (or was it two rooms?) that contains a great fresco cycle by Spinello Aretino.

Another lovely thing to do is to have a picnic lunch in the Boboli Gardens, but I remember they instituted a fee for forestieri (out-of-towners) at a certain point.

Some other less-traveled and worthwhile things to do include:

A visit to the Cenacolo (Last Supper) di Santa Apollonia, a fresco cycle by Andrea Castagno, for which there is free admission!

If you like Last Suppers, there's also a lovely one by Andrea del Sarto at San Salvi.

You could also take a bus to one of the Medici Villas. The one with the best artwork is in Poggio a Caiano, which has a room of frescos by Pontormo. The trip is pleasant, as is the villa.

Otherwise, walk around a lot, and if you have enough time, you could do a whole lot worse than taking the bus that goes to Fiesole (don't expect an absence of tourists there, however). Your view of Florence will be more distant than from Piazzale Michelangelo and may be affected by haze, but Fiesole is the ancient Etruscan hill city that was there before Florence existed, and the archeological museum and ruins and the old church are worth looking at, though not "must-sees" in the context of a city that's just chock-full of things to see.

Everywhere in Italy, be careful about checking in advance to see whether a church or museum will be open, and even then, be prepared for some surprises. If you're going somewhere just in order to visit a church or museum, consider checking ahead or asking around.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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Which Terre is best? We were thinking this place might be fun!

its quite easy to see all of them by train. but if the weather is nice you should walk between Riomaggiore and Manarola cuz its an easy hike. the hikes get harder the further north you go. Then is when you take the train :rolleyes:

Vernazza and Monterosso are nice and probably the most touristy (but that doesn't mean stay away IMO)

I gotta second San Gimignano. Loved it there.

Born Free, Now Expensive

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Any guidebook will recommend the Uffizi and the Duomo and (I hope) Baptistry. These recommendations are well-merited but the crowds may be excessive. The last time I was there, it was possible to go to an office and buy a ticket for the Uffizi in advance.

You should definitely reserve tickets for the Uffizi (we loved this museum) and the Accademia (where the David is). I was in Italy this past September and everything was pretty crowded. But when you have the reserved tickets, you just bypass all of the people in line. It's great!

The easiest and cheapest way is to call this number in Florence: 011 39 055-294-883. You can call 8:30-18:30 M-F and 8:30-12:00 Sat. Florence time. You will get an English speaking operator and in 2-3 minutes you can reserve for both. This is through the reservation service at the Uffizi and only costs a few euros more than the normal entry fee. This is MUCH cheaper than the commercial booking services. And it's so worth it.

Also, you don't pay in advance...you just give them your name and a time frame that you want to go, and they give you a reservation number. When you pick yup your tickets, you pay. If for some reason, your plans change and you don't show up, you don't lose any money.

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I was frustrated the last time I was in Florence (summer of 1998) because there were long lines to get into both the Duomo and Baptistery, so since I had already seen the insides of those buildings in 1991 and 1994, I gave up and went elsewhere. But for these honeymooners, might it be worth it to pay a fee to bypass those lines, too? Anyone know whether or how they could do that, and what the fee would be?

Incidentally, I climbed up to the top of the Campanile (Bell Tower) the first time I was in Florence, and the view from up there was splendid. The view from the top of the dome is higher, though, for what it's worth.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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Anybody have a rec for a decent Venice hotel room for under 170 euros a night? I am still searching the various Websites, but would love recs based on personal experiences.

Thanks!!!

Ben

FYI, I have reserved an apartment in Florence for 5 days. It is a couple blocks from the Duomo and looks pretty sweet.

Gimme what cha got for a pork chop!

-Freakmaster

I have two words for America... Meat Crust.

-Mario

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  • 2 weeks later...

Some more questions:

Are there any restaurants that I need to start thinking about reservations for at this time?

Any thoughts on meals in Milan? I am thinking about Tano passami l'olio as well as Boccondivino.

And all you coffeehounds, any can't miss cafes?

Again, I appreciate all of your comments!!!!!!

Ben

Gimme what cha got for a pork chop!

-Freakmaster

I have two words for America... Meat Crust.

-Mario

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Lots of great ideas above already for Florence, here are a few others:

For Florence; I agree that the Bapistry is very special; even if the lines look forbidding, most people are not in there that long so it moves quickly.

A 'smaller' item that is also very nice to visit are the Medici Tombs at San Lorenzo Church. Four beautiful sculptures by Michelangelo; it was not very crowded even in August. (Entrance is separate from chuch, on the opposite side of the church building as the front doors).

The Museo dell'Opera del Duomo has a great selection of sculptures, paintings and other artwork including a great pieta also by Michelangelo.

If you have time, it is fun to visit the food market (fruit, vegetables, flowers, meats, olive oils, etc) near the Mercato Centrale.

If it is at all warm enough for gelato, visit Carabe on Via Ricasolli 60r (a few blocks north of Duomo). They have amazing flavors, apple, fior de latte, almond, etc.

*I'm also a fan of the Cadogan guides; their book on Florence also includes Siena, Pisa and Lucca.* (as mentioned above, nice historical background along with the recommendations; walking tours, even if not slavishly followed, give a good idea of some city areas to investigate)

"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

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I have been datamining for restaurant recs in Venice and have come across some fantastic suggestions. My only problem seems to be a large one. I am scheduled to be in Venice from Sunday around noon until Tuesday afternoon when I catch a train to Florence.

It seems many of the restaurants are closed on both Sunday and Monday. Thoughts?

Thanks!

Ben

Gimme what cha got for a pork chop!

-Freakmaster

I have two words for America... Meat Crust.

-Mario

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