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As a travel agent that specializes in vacations to Europe, my first experience in Italy was with Trafalgar Tours on their – Italy Bellissimo. This is part two of my Italian adventure!
The next morning we headed down to the marina for the crossing to Naples and the journey north to Assisi. The drive through the Umbrian hills to Assisi was spectacular as was the view of the Church of St. Mary of the Angels. After quickly checking in at the hotel, we headed up for our guided tour of the basilica of St Francis. Entering the lower basilica, one sees at the other side of the vestibule the chapel of St. Catherine of Alexandria. One of the best thing about the basilica is the Giotto frescos. The depth and brilliance of the story of the New Testament on the walls is incredible.
The following morning we started out early with Venice in our sights. Before Venice we stopped in Ravenna to visit the Basilica of Saint Apollinaris with its glittering mosaics. After taking time to stop in Padua for lunch we head over to the city of canals. On arrival our tour guide took us to the main gondola station and we all got serenaded while we cruised down the Grand Canal towards St Marks Square. Once there he took us through some of the winding and intricate back alleys to visit some interesting historical but little known buildings on our way to the glass blowing factory.
After getting a good night sleep we head off to visit the Doges Palace and St Marks Cathedral on another chosen optional excursion. Following the excursion we had another optional over to Murano and Burano for a fantastic seafood lunch. The rest of the day was spent shopping and exploring.
On our way to Florence the next day, we encountered a car accident but the tour guide and driver were nonplussed and took us to this charming town of Ferrara. This was probably the unexpected highlight of the trip – all cobblestone streets and people on their bikes with baskets. The castle in town had a moat surrounding it. The area buildings were very well preserved and the smell of fresh baked bread invaded my senses. Moving on to Florence we stopped at the hotel to check in and have some lunch in their beautiful courtyard before heading off to Pisa. The drive to Pisa was beautiful country with rolling hills and fields of sunflowers, grapes and apple orchards.
On arrival into Pisa before you get the Campo de Miracoli, you are welcomed by various street vendors selling their trinkets and cold soda and oddly enough hot dogs. The leaning tower of Pisa – Torre Pendente- was originally built as the bell tower for the Duomo. Tickets into the Duomo were included as part of our escorted tour so off we went to see the amazing interior of this Cathedral built in the 1100’s. Artwork in the cathedral is from such artists as Della Robbia. Having never heard of this artist before, I was astounded and amazed. Everything in the cathedral is beautiful and intricate from the carved archways as you enter to the gilded staircase over the pulpit.
That evening we were taken to a fabulous restaurant on a hillside over looking the town of Montecatini. Needless to say the food was heavenly and the music and entertainment was well worth the cost of the optional excursion. It included wine as well. After an early morning wake up call and a hearty breakfast we went to explore Florence. We had a wonderful local city guide take us to the Santa Croce cathedral.
After a guided visit through the cathedral, we headed off for a walking tour of Florence with a local guide. I loved Florence! The way the city is laid out made it so easy to navigate using the Duomo and the tower as your point of reference you can get anywhere without getting lost. We asked our Trafalgar tour director to help us buy tickets to the Uffizi gallery and head off own our own for a couple hours before meeting up with our travel companions at the Accademia gallery to see Michaelangelo’s David. The rest of the afternoon was ours to explore on our own.
The next day we had our sights set on Siena before continuing on to Rome. In Siena we had our Trafalgar guide walk us through the narrow stone streets up to the Piazza Del Campo. After a brief history of the city he set us loose to go shopping and exploring on our own. Sienna was amazing with its maze of streets and shops and beautiful churches and colorful windowsills.
After we leave Siena we headed south through the Tuscan hills to Rome. On arrival into Rome, the guide had us dropped off at the Piazza Navona and he gave us a walking tour of Rome through the city streets giving us the local history of the city, in particular the Trevi Fountain. Started by Bernini and finished by Salvi – your ears are greeted by the sound of thundering water even before you see it. From there we were taken past the Spanish Steps and down to the Piazza De Popolo where we had a fabulous included dinner with music and singing at Cavona. The restaurant had a retractable roof so we could enjoy the night skies and stars above. After dinner, we walked out and the Piazza was lit up and was breathtaking with all the fountains lit from behind. It was magical.
After a solid’s night sleep, the next morning we head off to the Vatican. Being part of a guided tour of the Vatican, I was literally one of the first 3 people in the Vatican that day. Our local city historian gave us so much wonderful information on the art, history and legends surrounding the Vatican. We spent 3 hours meandering through the Sistine Chapel and St Peters basilica and then we headed over to the Colosseum. I could envision the animals kept in the lower levels and having Nero watch as the brave souls fought for fame. After a fascinating tour with our guide we wandered around for an hour on our own before we headed back to the hotel for a bit of lunch and the rest of the afternoon was free. I decided on a trip to the Pantheon and walked around a couple of the lovely squares – the Piazza Republicca and the Piazza Barberini. That evening we had a wonderful farewell dinner at hotel. In the morning we said arrivederci to our new found friends.
It was a great experience and look forward to going back to Italy soon! The next time I might decide to explore Italy on my own or try a city tour so I can explore places like Siena and Parma in depth.
If you would like to have more information about Trafalgar’s Italy Bellissimo or any other guided tour of Italy, please feel free to call me@ (425) 821.4100 or send me an email.