“Hi Matteo, some of this information I have just taken from our daily blog. I have included a photo from each comment, but have hundreds more if there is something specific you might like. Hope some of it is of use, Elaine x
1) Accommodation Paris:
- a) Staff – very friendly and helpful (especially Beatrice).
- b) Breakfast – basic.
- c) Proximity – walking distance to some sights and metro (and supermarket very close).
- d) Room – good.
- e) View – none.
- f) Noise – none.
- g) Other – I was very impressed that when I asked about how to get to the hotel you said to get a taxi and it would cost approximately 20 Euros, well you were spot on, thanks.
2) Venice airport transfer: friendly driver to taxi boat. Taxi boat driver unsure of where our accommodation was so dropped us off where he thought and left without checking to see if we were at right location when it was almost midnight. Luckily someone from the hotel was waiting nearby to direct us, but at first we were worried that this man was taking us somewhere else.
3) Accommodation Venice:
- a) Staff – friendly but not always available. We could phone them at any time eg; we needed some wine glasses, so they would tell us where to find them.
- b) Breakfast – basic and not available until 8:30am, so we didn’t have much time to eat the first morning as our guide came at 9am and then the second morning as the boat left at 9:30am in St Mark’s Square. Then the third morning our check-out was 7:30am, so they had to supply us our breakfast the night before and put it in the fridge. They weren’t even on the front desk at this time and we had to self-check-out as discussed with them the night before (although he did pop his head in to tell us that the taxi boat called and advised him of the number).
- c) Proximity – too far away from St Mark’s Square for the morning boat tour (but supermarket and ferry close).
- d) Room – good size.
- e) View – lovely garden.
- f) Noise – none
- g) Other – on our second morning we had no hot water.
4) Venice walking tour: lovely guide. She took us around the streets and canals of Venice explaining to us about the buildings, culture, waterways, shopping and much more. It was great hearing all about Venice from a local. She showed us where the gondolas were made and many churches. We went to the Rialto Bridge (which unfortunately was covered with scaffold) and then to Saint Mark’s Square. She took our photo and was great negotiating us to the front of the line at the Basilica di San Marco which was amazing. We went to the top and through the Museum. She recommended a restaurant nearby where we had the best pizza we’ve ever eaten.
5) Tickets for the Doge Palace: thank you. You did have a time on the program 11:30am, but as I presumed this didn’t mean we had to go at this time, so we went after lunch. We still had to wait a while in a pre-purchased tickets only line, but I think it was still quicker and easier.
6) Group Boat Tour on the Lagoon Islands: to enable us to have breakfast and make this tour by 9:30am we bought ferry tickets which were a lot more expensive than expected. Then we had trouble finding the pier and arrived just in time. The boat had commentary in lots of languages including English, so we knew where we were and what we were looking at. The tour took us to some lovely places. First stop Murano to a glass blowing factory. We watched them make a gondola and vase. We looked around but everything was very expensive. We also looked at other stores before getting back onto the boat. Next stop Burano, famous for its lace and very colourful buildings. We looked around the shops and took some photos before getting back onto the boat. In Torcello we looked around the church and stalls and bought some glass souvenirs and a scarf.
7)Gondola Tour: again I presumed that the time on the program 6pm didn’t mean we had to go at this time. We didn’t want to go all the way back to the hotel, only to have to come back to this point later that evening. We found the meeting point without too much trouble. The ride was fun traveling through the canals and talking to our gondolier.
8) Venice train station transfer: we had a very fancy taxi boat and a very entertaining driver. He had his Italian music up loud and he was singing and dancing between beeping his horn so as not to hit any other boats coming around the corner at the same time.
9) Train from Venice to Florence: easy to find and catch, a great way to travel. Just wish as with all the trains that they advised you earlier which platform the train was coming on and also that they wouldn’t let other people sit in your designated seat.
10) Florence train station transfer to hotel: was waiting as expected and took us to the hotel. It was interesting to see him drive into the road that the hotel was in since there were so many people in the street waiting to get into the Galleria dell’ Accademia, as well as people trying to sell posters that were laid on the ground.
11) Accommodation Florence:
- a) Staff – friendly, but not always available and the lady that greeted us on arrival didn’t know much.
- b) Breakfast – at the OK Café (not far away), was great.
- c) Proximity – what more could you ask for, right across the road from the Galleria dell’ Accademia as well as walking distance to other sights (supermarket very close).
- d) Room – the best of the whole holiday, included kitchen, loungeroom and we didn’t have to share a bedroom with our daughter.
- e) View – garden courtyard.
- f) Noise – at night people can be heard loudly coming up the stairs and they would trigger automatic lights to come on which would light up through a window in the hallway.
- g) Other – on arriving unsure of how to get access. It isn’t obvious what doorbell to ring and without being able to contact you on the phone I don’t know how long we would of waited (as we did try some of the buttons on the intercom).
12) Perfume Masterclass: we were lucky to only have one other person in our group to do the class, so it was very personal. We learnt all about fragrances and how to make them. At the end we had our own bottle each of fragrance that we had made ourselves. We all thoroughly enjoyed it.
13) Florence walking tour and Accademia: we met him outside at the door at the arranged time. He was very knowledgeable. We learnt much about art, Florence, food and the world deriving from all things Italian. He took us into the Galleria dell’ Accademia to tell us all about Michelangelo, De Vinci and the Renaissance period. We saw the original David and were told the story about his creation. Then to the Duomo to be told all about its creation and the Baptistry. Along the way we were taken to a shop that creates artwork from stones and shown the best place for ice cream. At the Piazza della Repubblica we were shown the oldest café in all of Florence and a map depicting the town and how it was formed. He talked about fast food and slow food and where to buy the best food and leather. Then to his favourite place, the Piazza della Signoria where the town hall is, the replica of David and the Uffizi Gallery. He told us all about the richest family in Europe who made all of these treasures still here to this day.
14) Full day excursion to Pisa and Lucca: this was the first time George drove us and by the time he took us somewhere for the last time we had gotten to know him and enjoyed his company (plus he is a very good driver and knowledgeable about where we went). He stopped firstly at the Michelangelo lookout over Florence. We were early enough to beat all the buses, so almost had the place to ourselves. After some photos it was back into the van for Pisa. The countryside was nice and the rain had stopped by the time we reached Pisa. George let us out to explore and we just had to phone him when we were ready. We already had tickets booked to go up the Leaning Tower of Pisa so we headed there first. It wasn’t hard to find where we had to change the voucher for the ticket, but no one told us that as security was high, all bags had to be checked into a locker. So we did that and again not knowing I took my camera in its camera bag only to be told to go back again and check my camera bag in as I wouldn’t be able to take that up also. It was a great view from the top. Then we went into the cathedral for a look around. Back into the van, next stop Lucca. We wandered around the town and stopped for pizza and wine. We walked back along the wall before meeting back up with George for the drive to Levanto. We travelled past many country towns, through many mountain tunnels and then down a windy narrow road to reach this coastal town.
15) Accommodation Levanto:
- a) Staff – friendly.
- b) Breakfast – great, heaps of variety hot and cold as well as being able to order.
- c) Proximity – not close to anywhere, but that didn’t matter except when we arrived and had no where to eat for dinner.
- d) Room – good.
- e) View – balcony overlooking the ocean, amazing. Lovely sunrises and sunsets.
- f) Noise – none.
- g) Other – we were greeted with a welcome wine, cheese, bread and prosciutto. It seemed like we were the only people in the hotel and they were happy to shuttle us into town whenever needed. Then we just had to phone them from town at a designated spot for them to pick us up.
16) Private walking tour of the Cinque Terre: our guide, Diego, met us at the meeting point with no problem. We got onto the train, first stop Monterosso. We walked through the new town with its hotels and what they call a beach (full of rocks), then over to the old town. Walking through the streets (not what we’d call streets) we looked at the houses and churches and were told all about the history. Then back onto the train for the town of Vernazza. Here we walked up the hill to the old tower which was a windmill for some fantastic views. The ocean was rough so just as well we weren’t thinking of catching a ferry, as all travel by boat was cancelled due to the weather. All the mountains are covered with terraced vineyards where the growers have a monorail system to get the grapes down. Next town we stopped at was Manarola. After a look around we stopped for lunch in a restaurant referred to us by our guide. It was a wonderful meal but it cost far more than we would have usually paid. Unfortunately it then started to lightly rain and with the wind from the ocean also got cold. No matter we pushed onto our last stop of Riomaggiore. The most famous path ‘Via Dell Amore’ (the Path of Love) is closed from a land-slide so we had to just look at it from a distance.
17) San Gimignano and Chianti full day excursion: happy to have George again drive us. He took us to the winery and then to the town of San Gimignano. Here we walked around the town, had some gelato and took a few photos before heading off again to the hotel.
18) Wine tour and tasting: we were shown around and told the history of the winery as well as what they make and grow. It was more like lunch than just delicacies tasting with lots of wine. The variety of different foods that were made by them were yummy. After we couldn’t eat anymore they bought us some Vin Santo (Italian desert wine traditional in Tuscany) and cantuccini (Italian almond biscuit). So by the time we left here we were well and truly happy.
19) Accommodation Radda in Chianti:
- a) Staff – friendly (but they didn’t tell us about the pool until a day later when I asked them if the only pool they had was in the spa down the road). Then when we found out about the pool that was available to us and not extra if you went to the spa, that was great.
- b) Breakfast – great variety in an amazing room.
- c) Proximity – in the middle of town, but a very small town.
- d) Room – large with separate room for Kate. There was even a bell with a rope that we can ring (but I don’t think anyone comes).
- e) View – the beautiful hills of Tuscany where I watched some beautiful sunrises and sunsets.
- f) Noise – none.
- g) Other – did you know this hotel is listed in the book ‘Top 100 Hotels in Italy’?
20) Private Chianti bike tour: we were picked up by our guide, Marco from Discovery Chianti, for the day appropriately dressed in his best cycling gear. He drove us to where we were starting our bike ride, Greve in Chianti. We were given our bikes, helmet and water and told about the bike before we headed off. Riding on the narrow streets with the traffic was interesting, but it wasn’t long before we were off on the country paths without many cars. Marco made many stops along the way explaining to us about the crops (particularly the wine vineyards and olive trees), the houses, churches and other points of interest. He showed us through the village and through the countryside on the other side of town before going back to his place. Our daughter didn’t really take to the bike riding right from the beginning and at first Marco was a bit distressed about what to do. We got through it though after 18km and lots of stops. Here we were given lunch of various local foods and of course Chianti wine. Followed by Vin Santo (but better than the one we had the day before) and cantuccini. Since we didn’t feel like more bike riding (our butts already hurt) Marco decided to drive us around to a few of the other villages. We walked around the castle of Montefioralle, drove through Panzano in Chianti and to the church of Pieve di S. Leolino.
21) Florence train station transfer: it was great to have George drive us again. He drove us to the train station in Florence. George has been our driver now on a number of occasions and this was the last time we saw him. As we enjoyed his company we left with a hug and an Australian koala for him to stick to his window to say thank you.
22) Train Florence to Rome: again many thanks for your call in relation to this train as I know although you have it mentioned on the program, I would of still worried if we had the right one not knowing there were two.
23) Rome train station transfer: as your phone call mentioned we were met as requested no problem. He dropped us at the hotel across the other side of the road.
24) Accommodation Rome:
- a) Staff – good.
- b) Breakfast – good.
- c) Proximity – great.
- d) Room – good, it was nice to have a bath tub.
- e) View – balcony over the road and ruins.
- f) Noise – some from the renovation.
- g) Other – restaurant on top level (above our floor) was being renovated and the view from this would have been nice to see.
25) Pizza making class: this was done with another family (from New York) and we had a fantastic time doing the class and getting to know them. We didn’t take a taxi like you suggested, but left the hotel early and walked seeing some of the sites of Rome. So we got there early, but they didn’t start until after the starting time as they were waiting for other people (that didn’t show). Seemed strange at first doing the class in a corner of the restaurant while they were serving other people and waiting on tables. But after we got into it, you didn’t seem to notice them. After we made our pizzas we enjoyed the dinner. We got a rolling pin at the end of the class. The instructor took our email address and promised to email us the recipe, but as yet we still haven’t received anything?
26) Ancient Rome walking tour: our guide met us at the hotel early as arranged. Our tour started right out our door with the Tempio di Portuno and Tempio di Ercole Vincitore, apparently some of the oldest ruins in Rome. We walked past the Arco di Giano to the Circo Massimo, which is an ancient Roman chariot racing stadium. Then through the aqueduct and the Arco di Costantino before arriving at the Colosseum. The line wasn’t too long, but our guide found a way past that and we were in. It was great having her with us as she explained all about the 70,000 people that would watch gladiatorial contests, re-enactments and performances. We heard all about how they would get free tickets and sometimes win the animal meat that were killed, how they were seated, what they would eat and cook and how the pulley system worked that allowed them to have the animals, gladiators or performers enter or leave the arena. It was very interesting and the place is amazing to walk around. Then we walked into the Roman Forum, a huge complex of ruined temples, basilicas, and arches. It was the ceremonial, legal, social, and business centre of ancient Rome. We walked around here for a few hours looking through the ruins and being told all about the Fresca’s, mosaic floors, gardens and fountains. There were also great views from here over other parts of Rome. We were lucky that only recently a new section here had been excavated, renovated and opened to the public, Santa Maria Antiqua.
27) Vatican transfer: our driver met us at the hotel as arranged and drove us to the Vatican. Then he introduced us to our guide.
28) Vatican private tour: our guide took our vouchers and exchanged them before navigating us through the people and into the museum. We walked around looking at the sculptures, paintings, tapestries and the amazing building. She explained everything to us and spent a lot of time telling us about the works we would see in the Sistine Chapel. She had to tell us all about it before we went in, as when you’re inside you’re not allowed to talk. The Chapel was also amazing, but you got a sore neck after a while trying to look up at the artwork on the ceiling. Then we went to St Peters Basilica and she told us all about this building, its interior works and the Popes. We finished in the Piazza which is breathtaking.
29) Port transfer: we were picked up at the hotel as arranged. He didn’t seem to speak much English and my thoughts on how close the port of Civitavecchia was were quickly squashed as I was hoping the whole way we would get there quickly. This driver was driving very fast and weaving in and out of the traffic so much we were grateful to arrive safely.
30) Ostia Antica and Rome airport transfer: we disembarked the ship at 8am and waited until 8:15am before we started to worry about where our driver was. We tried calling all the numbers we had for you with no response. He arrived to our relief at 8:30am. He then drove us to the entrance of Ostia Antica and organised where to meet our guide. We met up with our driver again at the conclusion of the tour and he then drove us to the airport.
31) Ostia Antica tour: we meet our guide Sophia at Ostia Antica, a large archaeological site close to the modern suburb of Ostia, that was the location of the harbour city of ancient Rome. The site is well known for the excellent preservation of its ancient buildings, magnificent frescoes and impressive mosaics. Sophia spent more than 4 years studying the site and helping excavate an area that is now preserved in the museum, so she was an amazing guide. The site is big so in the few hours we had we only saw parts of it. As you enter on what was the main road you pass by the crypts. Then you enter the town and pass by baths, warehouses and stores. There are also various points that you can climb to what would of been the first floor which give you amazing views of the site. The mosaic floors on some buildings are still in amazing condition and in places you can still walk on them. The theatre isn’t as large as others we have seen but still impressive. The pub still has an original frescoe which shows what food they served. Finally we went underground to see where a cult used to worship.
Tipping: Without knowing what each individual driver, guide and accommodation cost, it is hard to determine who and what was worth tipping. As you suggested, it wasn’t necessary for us to give any tips. This trip was something we have been saving up for over the years. We didn’t want to do everything on the cheap, but we couldn’t afford to do everything top of the range either. So although we felt that some of the drivers, guides and accommodation were worth tipping, our entire trip expenditure didn’t allow us to outlay more money. We did however give a few people some Aussie souvenirs in appreciation.
Restaurants suggestion: Since arriving home I have looked over everything you gave us and now see that your suggestions would have been great for us to try. But at the time of us traveling and with so much to follow I forget that I even had this information. Maybe next time this information would be of more use on the phone with a reminder to look at it?
We have already recommended you to a friend as we were extremely happy with the trip overall. The mobile phone was great to have and many thanks for the added surprises in the parcel. After all our emails and then phone conversations during the trip we would have enjoyed meeting you. Maybe next time! Mille Grazie”
Elaine Bricknell (Mortdale – NSW, AUSTRALIA) – MARCH/APRIL 2016