Italy - 2011

We greatly enjoyed our trip to Italy. Here are some notes. Huge thanks to Board-O on the Venice portion of the trip. Not that much detail on wine, actually. We didn’t go to any vineyards.

Our trip started from Philadelphia on USAIR to Frankfort, then on to Naples.
Aboard the plane we had some mixed nuts, an appy of chicken, goat cheese, beets and pecans, warm breads, a green salad with artichoke and bell pepper, and both my wife and I chose the spinach filled lasagna. The food wasn’t horrible, but no where as good as the food on Air France or Lufthansa. As to beverages, I wanted to try the F. Dulac Blanc de Blanc, but settled for the Alamos Torrontes 2009 as they were out of the Champagne. My wife had Bottega “Il Vino dei Poeti”, NV Prosecco.

Upon our arrival in Naples we were met by our driver who took us to the Hotel Rialto, sitting atop a hill on the Amalfi Coast, near the town of Vietri. http://www.hotels.com/ho241315...e-italy/#description

From this hotel we had excursions to Amalfi, Ravello (visiting the enchanting Villa Rufolo which inspired part of Wagner’s Parsifal), Positano, Paestum (visiting some well preserved Greek ruins), Capri, Pompeii, Herculaneum and Naples. We climbed up to the summit of Mt. Vesuvius (scratch that from our bucket list), and enjoyed the views, the towns, some boat rides. Food included things like eggplants with tomatoes and pesto sauce with parmigiana, gnocchi with buffalo mozzarella, saddle of suckling pig, fried fish, salads with prawns, pasta of all types with various cheeses, pasta putenesca, pasta with seafood, pasta with artichokes, and many other delicacies from the Campania region. In general we had local wines. There was some white called “Falanghina 2009" which was fine. Lots of green apple and grassiness. Most of the reds were made with the Aglianico grape and were decent. These wines have firm tannins and are quite full bodied. We did drink a good bit of Prosecco, which was dry and crisp and very enjoyable. In general the wines were all from Campania, and this is a region which lags in superior quality wines.

We did have the opportunity to visit a water buffalo farm, where they make the famous “buffalo mozzarella” which is pretty phenomenol. The animals are bathed, massaged, cared for, listen to Mozart most of the day, and are milked at appropriate hours by machine. At the farm they have 200 animals. There are only 10 males who are charged with the responsibility of reproducing with the females. I might want to come back in the next life as a male water buffalo in Italy.

Pompeii was a city destroyed in the year 79 by the violent eruption of Vesuvius. The eruption was more of an explosion, and stones rained down on Pompeii, landing on the rooftops and collapsing them causing everyone to die of suffocation or crush injuries. Herculaneum was a city nearby that got zapped in a huge mudslide in about 7 minutes after the eruption. Because of the way the eruption and the destruction took place, these cities are quite well preserved. Terrific mosaics, wall paintings, etc remain, even though this was 1,930 yrs ago (roughly). They expect someday to have another significant eruption, and somehow they think they’ll have 30 days warning. There are contingency plans to evacuate 600,000 people from the area, but they have no plans on where to put them temporarily.

The best meal was one night when we arranged an “Agriturismo” event. A local family has a farm where they grow vegetables, make wine, and have pigs, cows, fowl and other farm animals. We went to this home in the town of Albori, which has a population of about 200 people. It is higher up the mountain from Raito. We were seated at a nice table. Only minimal English spoken here. We enjoyed some wonderful antipasto, including salami, ham, artichokes, about 3 types of eggplant dishes, assorted cheeses, breads. This was followed by two kinds of pasta, one with artichokes and gorgonzola, the other with tomatoes, peppers, and some other type of cheese. We had grilled mozzarella. We had grilled veal. This was all enjoyed with the wine that the family had made, which, frankly, was among the best red wines we had all 12 days. It had no name. Comes in a pitcher. I am pretty sure it was made with Aglianico. The name of this entity that does the dinner was “Il Cavaliere dei Conti”. We had a great strawberry cake and a chocolate cake for dessert. All of this food, plus the ride to and from, all for 33 Euros per person. (less than $50).

In Naples we went to the wonderful Museo Archeologico Nazionale, which had great exhibits of artwork and other objects from Pompeii and Herculaneum. This was followed by lunch at “Anema e Cozzo”, right on the Bay of Naples, where we had bruschetta, spaghetti with clams and mussels, and a salad. I got a picture of me with the pizza making guy.

On the 9th, we got a ride back to the Naples airport and flew to Venice. We took a water taxi to the hotel (Violino D’Oro) recommended by Board-O, who was spot on as to the nice hotel and its terrific location. http://www.violinodoro.com/ You could do a lot worse. It’s an old European style hotel. My wife and I and our baggage maxed out the space on the elevator. The shower is European style, with the shower the size of a telephone booth. (For the young people reading this, you’ll have to look up “telephone booth” on Wikipedia to find out what I am talking about as there are no such things anymore). Our first day in Venice we went to the Gallerie Acadamie, which was outstanding. Then to the Guggenheim collection of modern art which was phenomenal. We also toured the opera house, La Fenice, which was beautiful. There was an orchestra rehearsal going on, and we listed to a bit of the Aaron Copland “Fanfare for a Common Man”. The intonation of the orchestra was about as good as my spelling and typing.

We did eat at Vini da Gigio recommended by Board-O as well. A great meal. More prosecco. I had a caprese salad and chestnut pasta with duck sauce. (Not the gloppy stuff you get at a Chinese restaurant...kind of ground duck meat sauce). My wife had some other pasta which she enjoyed. The waiter was very helpful and the service was great. We also ate at Trattoria Alla Scalla, which is a seafood place not too far from the clock tower. In both of these places we were seated near some Italians, and that made me feel good that some locals were eating at these places, or at least Italian tourists. We had a dinner at Agua Pazzo (crazy water) with more Italians. We had a lunch at a place called “Vino Vino” which as the name suggests has an extensive wine list. It was decent, but not that inspired. Since it was lunch, I think we just had salad and a small pasta dish.

Smoking is not permitted in restaurants. So, the Italians eat their first course and leave the table and go outside to smoke, and then return for the main course. Then, they leave for another cigarette and come back for the dessert and coffee.

We had a private guide take us around the Doges Palace and St. Marks Basilica, which was a good thing because this way we didn’t have to stand in line, just went right up to the front. These places are incredibly beautiful, and the art work is stunning. There are works by Tintorello, Titian, and Veronese. These works are from the 15th century and the colors are bright and vivid. It is truly amazing.

We spent the better part of one day in Murano, where we bought a beautiful piece of glass which I think I will put in my office on the conference room table. That way, it will be a business expense and the taxpayers of the US can partially fund my purchase. Gee, I’ll ask the accountant about writing off the whole trip, though I think I know what he will say.

Another water taxi back to the airport and a direct flight from Venice to Philly. A nice lunch on the plane, this time with the Champagne.
Original Post
quote:
Originally posted by irwin:
cardiac kid:
If you want the name of the guide we hired in Venice who took us around and explained the Doges palace, the Basilica, etc., I'm happy to provide it.


Thanks for the offer irwin. It will be a short 2 day stay in Venice and we plan on doing a lot of self-exploration-- mostly walking and roaming the streets.
I'll be the odd man out by recommending CK to stick with his original plan. We went couple of years ago, end of April and got lucky with great weather, and it was an awesome experience. The lines were short since there were practically no touriest and we had a great time just walking and exploring the city at our own pace. Ultimately it depends on one's travel style, my wife and I like to wake up whenever we feel like it and just be spontaneous.

CK, I would highly recommend a restauant called conte scorta, primarily seafood, approx 10 min walk from st. Marks square.
Regardless of what city you're visiting, balance is a good idea. As Board-O mentioned, do some planning and understand what the major sites are. Make a short-list of "must sees."

Also incorporate wandering around. Planning absolutely everything to a "T" doesn't give you the same opportunity to discover hidden gems on your own, or things that you might find of interest that didn't find their way into a guidebook.
quote:
Originally posted by Board-O:
It seems ridiculous to me to go to Venice for the first time and just wander around for 2 days. You won't know what museums to visit, what sights to see, and where to eat. To go to Venice for the first time blindly is incomprehensible to me.


+ 1 Plan ahead. Buy tckets to sites that you wish to see BEFORE you go & avoid the lines. Read the notes here for what to see and to avoid.
I would concur that you need some planning, especially for knowing which museums, etc. have long lines, which ones you can buy tickets ahead of time, and so on, as Ed mentioned.

Futronic does make a valid point that there is certainly some joy to be found in wandering. Give yourself some time for that aspect, but definitely not the whole time.
Wander after supper, when most places are closed and seewhere you might want to go to the next day when things are open.

Buy tickets to Doge's etc. at www.selectitaly.com

If you do not have a ticket prior to your departure, expect a realistis 1-2 hr wait for most places [especially those that are popular]. Great way to waste your limited time. Razz

Same with dinner reservations at the places mentioned here.

RazzObviously you did make a hotel reservation, juts don't try to wander in. Big Grin
quote:
Originally posted by Board-O:
It seems ridiculous to me to go to Venice for the first time and just wander around for 2 days. You won't know what museums to visit, what sights to see, and where to eat. To go to Venice for the first time blindly is incomprehensible to me.


Of course it will be crazy to "wander" Venice for couple of days and that is not what I advocate. As someone mentioned above, research before you begin your journey. I picked up the Frommers guide and knew exactly what my wife and I would like to visit, however we prefer to do it at our own pace instead of tending to a tour's or guide's schedule. Also, most of the pouplar attractions allow tickets to be purchased online which provides further flexibility. This approach has served us well in our travels while allowing us to be spontaneous.
Planning exactly what you will visit and buying your tickets online is not wandering. It is the opposite of wandering. Doing it at your own pace is not wandering. It's planning. I'm all for planning. I'm all against going to Venice for the first time and wandering.
These are all great suggestions, as is usually the case when I receive advices from this forum. I have learned a lot from all of your postings about your travels to Italy-- irwan, LB, K_H, Gk, B-O, WSparty, Ed, Jc, futronic et al. Thank you Ed for pointing out that we needed hotel reservations. We are staying at the Antiche Figure along the Grand Canal. We are using the vaporetto #1 to cruise the Canal to soak in all the sites and scenes while listening to the Rick Steve audio. Cool We have a long trip ahead of us, with visits to Florence, Siena, Montalcino, Amalfi and Rome thus we thought that maybe we should ease into our trip without over-planning. But we will definitely look into the Doges tour if everyone enjoyed it so much. I recall an unpleasant image in my head about Board-O wringing sweat from his towel multiple times during one of his tours. Smile
quote:
Originally posted by CardiacKid:
These are all great suggestions, as is usually the case when I receive advices from this forum. I have learned a lot from all of your postings about your travels to Italy-- irwan, LB, K_H, Gk, B-O, WSparty, Ed, Jc, futronic et al. Thank you Ed for pointing out that we needed hotel reservations. We are staying at the Antiche Figure along the Grand Canal. We are using the vaporetto #1 to cruise the Canal to soak in all the sites and scenes while listening to the Rick Steve audio. Cool We have a long trip ahead of us, with visits to Florence, Siena, Montalcino, Amalfi and Rome thus we thought that maybe we should ease into our trip without over-planning. But we will definitely look into the Doges tour if everyone enjoyed it so much. I recall an unpleasant image in my head about Board-O wringing sweat from his towel multiple times during one of his tours. Smile


5 times in one room on the top floor. Some people had to leave because of the heat. In mid-summer, the upper floors are an oven. We went early, as soon as it opened. I can't even imagine what a mid-afternoon tour was like.
CardiacKid:
If you're in the town of Amalfi at lunchtime, first look at the Cathedral. The architecture is great. Then walk up the steps to the left of the Cathedral (not the steps to the Cathedral)and turn left....walk up that alley about 50-75 yards and there is a nice outdoor restaurant on the left (the indoor portion is on the right). Had a great meal there. The restaurants at the base of the stairs looked awfully touristy to me.
quote:
Originally posted by Board-O:
It's not like Venice changed a lot in the last few years!

Ha! Well, I was in Venice in 2003, and it was my first time to Europe. The only useful advice on Venice from that experience is to not run through the water fountain in front of the train station. My GF tried to do that as we were trying to catch a 10 pm train to Marseille/Avignon, and she tripped and got a large gash on her knee. She was rushed to a hospital via water ambulance, and we ended up staying an extra night. The doctors did a great job of stitching her up, and my GF toughed it out for the rest of the trip. But it wasn't easy hauling our luggages and pushing her in a wheelchair around Venice! I wonder if that water fountain is still there.

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