Trip to a slower pace

Trip to a slower pace

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

More photos to be posted over the next couple of days on SlowTrips...

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Here it is...all in one posting.

Journal…2004 Trip to Roma, Tuscany & Venice

Introduction: After having found we decided to try some apartment accommodations for this trip. We are delighted that we did, as we had more space, a refrigerator and place to prepare some of our meals and the cost was more reasonable in the cities where hotel rates can be quite high.

The Flight:

We flew Business Class, both ways on Skyservice from Toronto to Roma, with a return flight from Venice. The flight was between 8 & 9 hours and non stop.
I booked this flight back in December. It was offered through Alba Tours. We booked air only and saved $200+ each for the early booking. The May to October season to Italy fills up early and there were no lower airfares on any flights for my travel dates.

Roma…the Apartment:

Our apartment manager in Roma arranged a private car to meet us at the airport. The cost was 45 euro. Our party included 3 adults with 2 medium suitcases, 1 large suitcase and 3 small carry-ons. The ride was less than half an hour to Internazionale Domus, Apt. F, Piazza di Spagna, 20.
Upon arrival we were greeted warmly by the apartment manager and shown around. He gave us two business cards with cell phone numbers in order for us to reach him or his assistant at any time. The office phone was only answered when they were there. This would have been a good reason for us to have a cell phone, which we didn’t.
They provided a basket full of cornettos and other breads and a jug of juice for our first breakfast.
The apartment was listed on Venere, which I found through the message board. Other ST members had recommended it and I knew the location and building quite well, as I stayed in a hotel room on another floor in the same historical building last year. The apartment is on the third floor, above the bank and Furla shop, next door to Babbington’s Tea Room at the bottom of the Spanish Steps.

We stayed for 5 nights at 190 euro per night. Unlike some other apartment rentals they did not require us to stay for a full week…Sat. to Sat. and they did not charge our credit card for a deposit. The cancellation policy was very reasonable, as well.
There was a separate bedroom with a double bed, a sitting room with a small sofa bed, kitchenette cabinet with a sink, mini refrigerator, cupboards and stovetop. Many amenities were included in the kitchenette and bathroom.
There was a t.v. in Italian with CNN/BBC news, hairdryer, shower/no tub, an armoire, and the apartment had a window that looked out on the street leading to the metro. It was very quiet when the window was closed. Linens were included, there was maid service each day and the air conditioning worked well. which was great since we arrived with a heat wave! The place was spotless! I used the telephone for local calls several times and my husband used the office internet, but we were not charged for any of it. Check out time was noon.
I would stay here again and would recommend it as a good location to get around to see the sights. I compared it with Hotel del Senato at $245 per night with less space for 3 and decided that Domus International met our needs much better for this trip.

Caffe, Tea Room & Ristorante:

We found a ristorante for dinner that we really enjoyed quite close to the apartment. There were mostly locals eating there, the food was very good and fairly reasonably priced for the area. We returned a second time during this stay. It was called Ristorante Otello alla Concordia at Via della Croce, 81.

Another place we decided to try this year was Babbington’s Tea Room beside the Spanish Steps. We enjoyed our lunch of omelets, salads and mixed grill along with some delicious ice teas, which came in individual pitchers. We were pleasantly surprised that the servings were more than we had expected. I really thought the place lacked atmosphere and this will probably be our once in a lifetime visit to it.

And finally, on this trip we stopped in to the Caffe Greco, a historical place dating back to A.D.1760, where former customers included Wagner, Casanova, Goethe and Byron among others. It is located at Via Condotti, 86. We enjoyed our ice tea (small servings) and caffe while we took photos and people watched. It is a busy place and has some atmosphere. I hope to return some day.

Tours in Roma:

Since my husband wasn't feeling well we decided to wait and book tours to the Colosseum and Vatican the evening before or the morning of. This was a wise decision.

We made our way to the Colosseum and met our tour guide there. The tour was 18 euro each and included our entry, a tour of the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill, which we did not take because my two travel companions lost the guide and I had remained in the Colosseum to spend more time looking around. We purchased a large, book with pictures of how the area and sites looked in the past and how they look today. The cost was 20 euro.

The other tour was booked the evening before through the American Express Office in Piazza di Spagna, (because of the convenient location). It was listed as a 4-hour tour of the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica. It lasted almost 5 hours and included bus transportation from the American Express Office and returned us 5 blocks away from our hotel. The cost was 60 euro per person.

Prof. John Carlo, a former art history and archeology teacher with the University in Roma was our guide. We went through the Candelabra Gallery, the Tapestry Gallery, the Maps Gallery, Raphael Rooms, Sistine Chapel where the Popes are elected and spent a ½ hour looking at Michelangelo’s scenes from Genesis (1508-1512) and the Last Judgment (1534-1541). We were told that the works in the Sistine Chapel had been recently restored. Then we moved on to St. Peter’s Basilica and were given an excellent tour ending with Michelangelo’s Pieta. We bought a book about Vatican City, which is only sold inside the Vatican.

The tour was excellent, the tour guide extremely knowledgeable, but it was way too long with many stairs to climb, hot, and there was a lot of standing, as a result of this my husband spent the rest of that day and the next up in the room resting while the rest of us went sight-seeing and shopping.

Grocery Store Roma:

We bought some meat, cheeses wine & water at GS Dlper Dl at Via Vittoria, 22/A, close to the Piazza di Spagna.

Other sights visited and things we did in Roma:

Keats-Shelley Museum
Trevi Fountain
Piazza Navona
Victor Emmanuel Monument
Piazza del Popolo
Piazza Barberini
Castel Sant’ Angelo
Borghese Gardens
Passed by the smallest sovereign state SNOM at #68 Via Condotti.
Climbed the Spanish Steps…out of 5 counts we say there are 11 series of 12 steps plus 4 more steps at the bottom.
Final count agreed upon was 136 steps.

Things we didn’t do but wanted to do in Roma:

Visit the catacombs, Roman Forum, Palatine Hill, Borghese Gallery.
Visit with Gloria and Stephanie from the ST message board, although we talked on the telephone while in Roma. (So you see there was a GTG, after all).
Tour with Tony Polzer because we could not give enough notice this time…so maybe next time.
Eat at Cul de Sac in the Piazza Navona area again.
Try the pizza at Da Baffetto at Via del Governo Vecchil, 11 near Piazza Navona.

Off to get the car:

We chose to book with Auto Europe, using the click thru on the Slow Travelers message board. We booked and paid in full before March 31st for an Alpha Romeo 146 and received a free category upgrade to a VW Passat- standard. Final cost was 73 euro per day. There were no other charges. We had the taxi driver take us to the rental office of Europcar at Villa Borghese. He didn’t have too much trouble finding it and it was easy to follow the map and be on our way to Tuscany!

Montefollonico…the Hotel Room:

After much research we decided to book Hotel La Costa at Via Coppoli, 15 in Montefollonico as our base to visit a few hill towns in Tuscany. It was an ideal location and we loved it!
We also had the hotel reserve us a table for dinner the evening of our arrival and enjoyed it so much we ate there again on our last evening, which was when we met Bill Sutherland, another member of the ST message board. It was through Bill’s recommendation that we chose La Costa.
He and his wife operate a cooking school and accommodate their clients at La Costa.
We booked the deluxe room (Bella Vista) with Jacuzzi tub and balcony with a beautiful view of Tuscany. It had a queen bed and a single bed added. The Jacuzzi was terrific! Yes, it splashed, but we dealt with it with a sense of humor.
The room had a stocked mini bar, of which we did not use. We bought really cheap water and cola from the supermarket a few steps down the street. A large 1.5 L of water was .45 euro and a can of soda was .51 euro.
A breakfast of breads and coffee were included with the room.
There was a t.v. with Italian stations except for CNN/BBC news.
The bathroom was well supplied with large, thick bath towels. There was also a hairdryer. Also, in the room there was a large armoire and desk.
The one thing that almost kept me from reserving at La Costa was the fact that it was not air-conditioned and the room was cooled only by one fan. I do not sleep well with a fan blowing on me at night. It was cool in the evenings so if I return, it will be in the spring or fall.
Check in time was 2pm and check out was by 11 am. We spent 3 nights at La Costa for 150 euro per night.
At the time of booking we were required to pay a nonrefundable deposit of 150 euro. It was charged against our credit card at that time. Upon arrival we were asked to pay for our full stay.
The only problem I have with this was the fact that my husband wasn't feeling well for 2 weeks before the trip…our flights and all other reservations, even the car rental were fully refundable in such an emergency. I did not ask for any refunds but felt that it is wrong to require such a deposit. A cancellation policy of 1 to 2 weeks prior to arrival seems more reasonable.
We used the Internet in the hotel lobby for a total of 20 minutes at a cost of 5 euro. We were fine with this, as it was convenient and much easier for us than searching for an Internet cafe.

We parked our car down the street from the entrance to our room. There was no charge or tickets for doing this. It was a very narrow road that you enter and exit the same way. The town is very small and very quiet with a small grocery store, pharmacy, butcher shop, and a couple of caffes. It is a place to get away from it all.

The Restaurants:

On our first and last nights we ate at La Costa’s Restaurant, under their terrace. These were the best meals of our trip! The food was outstanding! We had shrimp cocktails, bruschetta with spicy tomato, mushrooms, truffle, garlic and tomato, homemade spaghetti with spicy tomato sauce, puff pastry with mushroom, cheese and meat, grilled vegetables of onions, potatoes, tomatoes and zucchini, veal with truffle, rabbit and roast potatoes. There were 3 of us and we shared.

The second meal we had there included some of the same appetizers and steak with cheese, mushrooms, tiny onions, cannelloni, gnocchi, fruit flambé and chocolate mousse with caramel sauce. The wine was a local of which I do not know the name. Again, the 3 of us shared. Obviously, we would go there again.

On our second night we ate at Il Botteghino, a couple of kilometers from La Costa. We enjoyed pizza, spaghetti, veal, fish, bruschetta, limon gelato and custard with berries. We shared. It was very busy; we sat inside but still found it enjoyable. The power went off a couple of times and apparently does this after a rainfall. Il Botteghino was very reasonably priced. A carafe of house wine was 4-euro, a pizza less than 5 euro.
We would go there again.

Other things we did:

We ate at a caffe in Montepulciano before we walked up to the top of the town.
We toured around Montalcino and purchased wine: Chianti Ruffino 2001, Ruffino Chianti Classico 2000, and Rosso di Montalcino Banfi 2002. Then we returned to the car and found a parking ticket. We paid the officer right there on the street and got a receipt.

We drove to Chiusi and visited the Museo Nazionale Etrusco. It was very interesting, but we did not find anyone to take us to see the tombs under the town. We bought a book there that they had on display at the museum, called: “The Land of the Etruscans.”
On another day we walked around Castiglione d’ Orcia and saw (a ST member) Joanna’s house and lovely garden in full bloom with delicious looking fruit!
We shopped for cheese, olive oil and handmade soap in Pienza.
We drove by other towns, villages and thermal spas but will have to save the walking until next time. So many photos were taken and I intend on posting them in albums with a link attached on my blog when all the computer equipment is up and running properly again.
I would love to return to this area of Tuscany again and spend more time in one place. The scenery is awesome!
So that was our time in Montefollonico and then we were off for a short stop in Florence.

The drive to Florence:

Well, my husband and the Navigator (our child) decided we would take a different route than planned. They wanted to stop for a couple of hours in Siena on our way to Florence, since there is some interest in attending some courses at the university in the future. We did briefly, but only started to look around the fortress walls as it started to rain. This caused a delay and we were back to the drive without seeing much of Siena.
Then we stopped for lunch at a wine bar at Castellina in Chianti and walked through the town briefly.

Florence…the Apartment:

It was the Il Carmine Residence for 2 nights at 130-euro cash per night. It was a very large apartment for 3 adults. Miriam did not want us to pay until our departure. Located at Via Ardiglione, 28.
Check in was 3pm and check out was 10am. This worked out okay for us as we intended on an early start on our departure, but had we been flying out of Florence I would not have liked this check out time. We need to speak up when this is done to us. Would you pick up a car rental at 3pm and return it at 10am? I wouldn’t unless it suited me.
We parked the car at a nearby garage for a total of 30euro. We did not use the car at all while in Florence, although my husband had intended to make a couple of short trips just outside of the city…(not related to the holiday).
Miriam showed us around the apartment, which was very clean and well equipped. It was the most spacious place we stayed with a separate bedroom…double bed, large dresser and armoire. The bathroom had a shower, toilet, bidet and sink. There was a hairdryer, ironing board and iron. The kitchen had a full size refrigerator, electric stovetop, dishes, and a table with 6 chairs, 2 wrought iron day beds and t.v. with Italian stations and CNN/BBC news.
It was air-conditioned but I was asked to turn it off at 12:00 midnight because it is noisy and the neighbors complain. The bedroom and living room both had fans. Again, I was not pleased with this. I do not like to sleep with a fan blowing on me, but we followed her wishes.
It was cooler in Florence at night than it usually is in July so this was not much of a problem for us. I would rent this place again if I were traveling in the spring or fall.
It is located on the Oltrarno side of Florence, but was close enough to walk to the Ponte Vecchio bridge and then walk into Florence that way, which we did a couple of times a day.
There were many shops, caffes, and services right in the area.

Other: Things we did in Florence:

We visited the Santo Spirito Church designed by Brunelleschi in 1435 and completed after his death. This church is quite interesting having 38 side altars, decorated with sculptures and paintings from the 15th & 16th century Renaissance period. Works were by Rosselli, Ghirlandaio and Lippi.

We ate pizza at a café in Piazza della Signoria, we stood in a very long, line up without reservations at the Galleria dell’ Accademia in the heat of the day. Those with reservations were getting in fine. Last year the line up was less than ½ hour. You never know. We would try again later in the day.
We moved on to another line up at the Duomo, to return later in the day, as well. My husband went to visit a local craftsman by the Duomo who was fixing something for him, I went back to the apartment to make several phone calls to arrange my meeting place and time with a ST member and the Navigator went to the church of Santa Croce and got in to see the Tomb of Michelangelo, and the Tomb of Galileo! My husband visited his favorite pen shop where they also sell handmade leather pen boxes.and Florentine writing paper.
We bought a beautiful Florentine hand smocked baby dress and a baby blanket as a special gift for our Italian friend’s grandchild.
Note to myself…go armed with a cell phone of my own next time. Messages to and from apartments do not get through. The Internet is not always a reliable way to communicate, and cell phones do not always work on the receiving end.
Anyway, I made several calls to another ST member to arrange the meeting place but did not get to talk to her. She operates a cooking school in Florence I finally left a message to say I tried to contact her and the meeting would have to wait until my next trip to Florence. We were looking forward to this so much!

By this time we had a fairly “hairy” day and decided to do the laundry. There was a laundry on Via Serragli, a couple of blocks from the apartment.
We didn’t have any meals worthy of mention on this trip to Florence, as we ate in most of the time.
So it was an early departure the next morning…going to Venice via Pisa, at the Navigator’s request and it was a very short visit to view the Leaning Tower and buy a couple of souvenirs.

Off to Venice:

The drive to Venice was not as long as we expected it to be. With only 2 brief stops we were pulling up to Mestre in 3 hours.
On our arrival at Venice …Piazzle Roma we refueled the car and returned it to Europcar. No problems and no other charges.

We dragged our luggage down to the canal and took a water taxi to the boat dock at Piazza San Marco where the apartment manager was to meet us. We were early and the lady in the Venice tourist office called her for us. She came right away and walked us to the apartment, which was half way between Piazza San Marco and the Rialto Bridge. The water taxi was 55 euro with 3 adults, 2 medium suitcases, 1 large suitcase and 3 small carry-ons.

Venice…the Apartment:

The apartment was called Palazzo Amo Sullam and I found it through Venere on message board. It was located on Calle Goldoni. It was beautifully airconditioned! And boy did we need it, as there was another heat wave as we arrived in Venice. The weather was very humid for our entire stay there.
There was only one apartment in the building; the rest of it consisted of meeting rooms and a private residence. The apartment was located on the fourth floor, which you reached by a combination of an elevator and 3 sets of stairs. It was hard dealing with the luggage on the stairs.
The 2 young ladies showed us around the apartment which consisted of a separate bedroom with a double bed…nothing else would fit in the room, a long and sizeable living/dining room with a couch and single bed, cupboard, t.v. with only Italian channels, a vcr with a few English language movies a kitchen with sink, stovetop, mini refrigerator and get this a washing machine…no dryer though, but a drying rack for clothes. There was a small bathroom with shower and nice towels, Body Shop soap, liquid soap, sink, toilet and bidet. The view was fantastic of a couple of bell towers and a palazzo.
I liked the windows in this place. It was like a “loft” apartment we would find in Toronto, but in a restored Palazzo building…quite modernized on the inside.
Giorgio Armani was the shop on the main level of the building.
We paid 180-euro cash per night and we could have paid on our departure but didn’t want to carry the cash around so we paid when we arrived. The young ladies suggested we check out by 10:00am, at which point I said I wasn’t happy about that and pulled out the confirmation …I said I could see checking out by noon or 11:00am possibly, so they agreed they would call the water taxi for 11:30 and we would start to carry our luggage down at 11:15am.
I would stay here again. I liked the location and especially liked the way we departed. The young ladies taking care of us arranged a water taxi to pick us up at the hotel boat dock beside our apartment! Had we known the address we would have arrived that way! The water taxi from the hotel to the airport was 90 euro. It was a thrill and we would do this again!

What we did in Venice:

On our first evening in Venice we went over to Piazza San Marco, and paid 6 euro each to take the elevator up the Campanile. We could see over the entire city, the lagoon and surrounding area from all sides. It was awesome! This is where Galileo demonstrated his telescope to Doge Leonardo Dona in 1609. The first tower was completed in 1173 and was built as a lighthouse. In 1902, the foundations of the tower gave away and it collapsed. This new tower was built and opened on April 25th, 1912.
We walked around the Piazza, the Palazzo Ducale and then went for dinner at a small restaurant…(something) Martini, near St. Mark’s Square. Later on in the apartment we watched the live concert on t.v. that was being performed in Roma at Piazza Navona.

We had read in a guidebook about a festival on the third Sunday in July, but discovered it was actually starting on Saturday evening with fireworks over the Grand Canal, in front of Piazza San Marco. We decided to have pizza and drinks at a waterfront café and stay to watch the fireworks. There were several large boats arriving in the Grand Canal throughout the evening. Crowds started to form quite early and we seemed to be penned in until the fireworks were over. It was a bit of a wait, getting out of there safely. The fireworks were spectacular!
A couple of times during our stay we walked over to the Rialto Bridge area and went to the market and shops to buy vegetables, fruits, leather bound journals wax stamps and such, and later on we shopped for shoes and linen clothes near St. Mark’s Square.
Our second gondola ride through some of the smaller canals and the Grand Canal by the Rialto Bridge lasted 35 minutes and cost 80 euro. Our gondolier said he would sing for 150 euro, we declined, but he sang a bit anyway.
This was our third trip to Venice in the summer time and the first time we have ever noticed a terrible smell (like a sewer smell) while riding along the smaller canals in the gondola.

Harry’s Bar in Venice:

We had read the two pages in a dining guide about Harry’s Bar and decided to stop in for drinks and a snack at 4:45 pm one afternoon, after we had been walking around shopping for a couple of hours.

We found it and got quite a surprise. I walked in and the hostess greeted me, I got as far as the middle of the bar and one of the waiters walked up to me as if he was going to seat us, he looked at my husband and in a snooty manner said, “We have a dress code, you must wear long pants.” We were sent on our way, as another couple (man in shorts) was as well.
There was only one couple seated in the bar downstairs. There were 4 waiters standing aimlessly in the middle of the downstairs bar, a bartender and hostess who were not busy at all and my husband said, “Well, you can see why the place is empty.” And it left me wondering if the man wearing those shorts had been Brad Pitt, would he have been sipping Bellinis in Harry’s Bar?

To Harry’s owner…if you have a dress code POST IT!

It was not even the dinner hour…it was a hot, humid afternoon in Venice.
We certainly won’t go back, but will let others know about our experience and we will contact the management and make some suggestions.

Some of our best experiences in Venice include the Festival Fireworks display. Europeans know how to party! We also enjoyed our gondola ride, the view from the Bell Tower, walking along the narrow streets of Venice discovering so many new places, churches and tiny shops that sell such unique merchandise. I love Venice and will return someday.

Off to the airport:

And the water taxi ride (cost 90 euro) to the airport was the way to end the trip with a blast! It took a ½ hour to get to the airport boat dock and then we walked a few steps and got on the free shuttle to the airport terminal (a five minute ride).

Once inside the terminal we had to wait until our flight’s gate number was posted and then we were allowed to take care of our VAT purchases. The unused purchases and forms had to be shown at the VAT counter before we checked in for our flight. After check in and going through customs, we turned in the forms at the VAT counter by our departure gate.
Check in was unbelievable! There was a line up for Skyservice and going through the front of our line were the people pushing and shoving to get into the Madrid lineup.
Just like on our arrival in Rome…our passports were not even looked at and thrown back at us without a word. Tight security, I guess???
There was also mass confusion at the departure gate. People with transfer tickets boarded first and then anyone and everyone who could push their way through boarded next. I saw an elderly couple get pushed in front of me and when it was my turn I asked the attendant about calling people who need assistance, people with small children and those in Business Class to board first and she just said, “We don’t do this here.”
Business Class was great for space, but we did not enjoy having two 4 and 5 year old girls running up and down the aisles of the Business Class section for 8 hours. And I am not exaggerating. They did not sleep or sit down for more than 10 minutes at a time. They were asked a couple of times to take their seats by the stewards, but they just ignored them.

I always look forward to arriving home when I have traveled for 2 weeks or more. and I am always grateful to be living in my part of the world.

Our trip to Italy was wonderful! We are ready to visit another place next summer. I wonder where that will be?

Just went out and bought the “Eyewitness Travel Guide to London,” however, I'm not sure about this being our next destination.

Ciao for now!

Journal is ready on Word and I will paste it on blogger shortly.
Photos to follow in a few days.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Journal...Roma, Tuscany & Venice...July 2004

Testing blogger for publishing

Saturday, July 03, 2004


My two travel companions ran around frazzled all morning with last minute, "Where are the corkscrews?" "What happened to the suitcase locks?"

With extra family here the washing machine, dish washer and shower have been going non stop (seems like since last night). Atleast 3 of us will be giving it a break for a couple of weeks. Most of the time we are very conscious of the amount of water we use and try to conserve.

So, everything fit in the small suitcases and I am able to lift them. At the last minute I realized I had almost forgotten my Chow!Venice guide, but it's in there now and we are ready to go in a few hours. We have airport transportation coming to pick us up 3 1/2 hours before our flight.

I am hoping to meet a few Slow Travelers on my trip and will check the board and post to the blog when I have access to the internet. Ciao...until I get to Italy.

Friday, July 02, 2004


The two 25 inch lite suitcases were the perfect solution, but guess what? I just walked into the kid's room and noticed the largest suitcase is also coming with us! We will do laundry on our 8th day in Italy, but I don't think the kid believes it.

My husband, recovering nicely, came home with a small shoulder bag for himself since we were not going to let him carry anything. This will probably do no harm.

I've spent time over the last couple of days condensing my notes from SlowTrav, TuscanHouse, TuscanWomenCook, LaCosta, and Diva's site. There are some excellent restaurant recommendations and places to visit with directions. We will just take it one day at a time and enjoy what we are able to see/do.

I also checked the details on Pauline's SlowTrav Anniversary Contest...July 15th at 8pm in Venice, I will try to tune in to find out if I know any of the winners!

Now that the packing is done, I'll enjoy visiting with family who arrived early today, until we leave tomorrow evening!

OFF TO PAMPER MYSELF... the hairdresser's who is also an Italy travel addict.

A few calls and emails were taken care of because of a few changes to our plans, a little bit more packing to do and then family arrive to spend time at my place while I am away. They'll take care of pets, water the plants, keep the yard and pool looking nice and house sit while they have a study/vacation.

More later...

Thursday, July 01, 2004

The digital camera was lost for most of the morning but found atlast! So now it is ready to go and packed.

My husband's International Driver's License is lost so he'll be getting another one in the morning. Today is Canada Day so there wasn't any chance of getting it today.

Most of the packing is done...and I think it is going to work out alright.

Since our first trip to Greece 4 years ago I started packing by compartmentalizing things in drawstring bags made of a net material that I buy at the Mountain Coop store. And I also use the large size ziplock baggies for shampoo etc. This makes the packing so much easier and it's more convienent to find things when we get there. I roll the clothes and find things are less wrinkled. Hey, it works for me.

Now it's time to clean the house as family will be staying here while I'm away. So more later...