Italy 2011


Sept. 22 – Oct. 3, 2011


Thursday, Sept. 22

We’re on our way! 

After taking the Super Shuttle to SFO, we met Peggy and Bill’s daughters, Casey and Kimberly while we were waiting in line to check in for our flight. Bill never made it. He misplaced his passport and had to get an expedited one from the S.F. office where he was now. He's booked on a later flight this afternoon.

Our UAL Flt.#900 left at 2:00PM and after 10 ½ hours in the air plus a 9 hour time differential, we would arrive at Frankfurt on Friday morning.

Friday, Sept. 23

Coming Together

We arrived in Frankfurt at 10:45AM and were on our way again at 12:30PM. We got into Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci International Airport, also known as Fiumicino to locals, (airport code FCO) about 2:00PM and between then and 3:30PM, Gary’s and Corina’s flight and Terye’s and Gabrielle’s flights also arrived. After getting bags and clearing Customs in different Terminals, we all managed to meet up. We got tickets for everybody on the Leonardo express train to take us the 30 kilometers into the center of Rome to Rome’s Termini Station. Casey and Kimberly came along with us because Peggy had been checking with United Airlines and when she was pretty certain that Bill really would be on the next flight in, decided to wait there at the airport for him.

From the station, we walked to the Hotel Selena Roma. On the map it looks like about 3 blocks - BUT - we came out of the station at the far end and it is one very long station! The 3 blocks seemed more like 3 miles!

We got everyone checked in and by the time they were all settled in their rooms, it was almost 7:00PM! Mary & Chris had arrived a couple of days ago and were in a twin room and we swapped our double with them. Brian and his family arrived earlier today and were in their room already.

At 7:30 PM we all went next door to Caesarus Pub and had a beer or soda while waiting for everybody to assemble. When we told our waiter, Paolo that there were 13 of us and maybe 2 more he said he’d get the downstairs ready for us and we could have dinner there. It was shortly after 8PM when we went downstairs for a good old-fashioned Italian dinner. Peggy and Bill finally got there just as we were leaving and some of the group stayed with them - we went to bed. It’s been a very long day!

Saturday, Sept. 24

Colosseum and Fountains

We all had breakfast in the Hotel’s dining room between 8 and 9AM and most of the group headed off to “The Time Elevator” movie about the history of Rome in 5D (virtual reality motion), and then they were going to head over to the Colosseum. I wasn’t into doing a lot of walking, so Ginny and I went to the Cavour Metro station and got a subway car to the Colosseum. We came up out of the station right across the street from the Colosseum and that’s when we discovered today & tomorrow are free entry days (World Heritage - Europe). There was a huge crowd of people all around it and the line to get inside went on forever, so we decided to just wander around the outside and Ginny got a ton of photos. We never did see the kids so around noon we took the Metro back to the Termini station and went back to the hotel to freshen up.

Later we went back to the Termini Metro station and took the A Line train to Barbarini station. Ginny got photos of the Triton Fountain in Barbarini Piazza and then we started walking to Trevi Fountain. After walking several blocks uphill, we asked a guy where the fountain was and he told us to go back the way we came and to look for the signs pointing the way. We did and found it finally.

There was another huge crowd of people at the fountain so we went to the Bar Trevi and sat at an outside table. While we relaxed and people-watched, we split a banana split and we each had a large Peroni. It was about 4PM when we went back to the fountain and Ginny worked her way through the crowd taking photos from all angles. We took a taxi back to the hotel and Heather & Keith were sitting at an outside table at the Pub so we joined them. Keith had just woken up from his nap. We were soon joined by the rest of the gang when they came back from the Forum and we all sat outside at tables put together for us by our waiter, Silvio. 

At 7:30, we all walked over to the Holiday Ristorante around the corner and had pizzas and beer on Bill! 

It was around 9:30 when the group took off for the Trevi Fountain and Ginny & I took Keith back to our room and played with him 'til Brian & Heather came for him.

Sunday, Sept. 25

Sight-seeing in the City and the Hard Rock Café

At 7:30 AM, Ginny got up and went to breakfast and then went with the gang to the Colosseum. While they spent most of the time yesterday around the Forum, they also managed to get tickets to get in the Colosseum for this morning.  I wasn’t feeling too great – lower back and legs really aching - so I stayed in bed until 8:30, went to breakfast and then just went back to the room.

Ginny left the group when they were finished at the Colosseum and came back to the room shortly after noon. The others all went to Borghese Gardens and rode 4-wheel bikes around the Park and then they all went over to the Piazza di Spagna and the Spanish Steps. While they were doing that, we went down to the Metro station and got the A Line Metro to the Barbarini Station. We started walking to the Pantheon but my back was screaming so I got a taxi back to the hotel and Ginny continued on. She got photos of the Pantheon and the fountains in the Piazza Navona and got back to the room about 5:00PM.

We went down to the Pub next door at 5:30 and had a beer while waiting for everyone to show up. When it was decided that we would go to the Hard Rock Cafe for dinner, Peggy said she tried, but they don’t take reservations, so we'll just have to take our chances.

Brian, Heather & Keith rode with me in a taxi & the rest walked the few blocks.

We managed to get 2 tables (8 at one & 7 at the other but they were in different rooms). Most all of us had good old American burgers, fries and beer and Peggy paid the bill! 

We all walked back to the hotel and when we went up to our room, the rest went for gelatos.

Monday, Sept. 26

Hop-On Hop-Off, Sight-seeing in the City

After we all had breakfast, all but Casey who has schoolwork to do and Heather who is out running (21 miles!) decided to come with us on a Hop-on Hop-off bus tour of the city. While we were walking over to the Termini station, a guy on the street corner hawking for the GTL Open Top Bus Line said he could give us a group rate. We went with him to the ticket office to get tickets and then he went with us to the #1 stop at Termini Station. We took the bus all the way around its route but Terye and all of her family have 1:30PM tickets for the Vatican, so they all got off before returning to the #1 stop.

It was about 1PM when we got off the bus and walked back to hotel. I stayed and rested up while Ginny went out looking for photo ops.

At 3:30 PM we got the Hop-on out to St. Peter’s Basilica and just walked in - no line. As we were going in, deep thunderclaps started and when we came out about an hour later, sidewalks were wet but it was just sprinkling a tad.

Even though it was raining, it was a ‘soft rain’ so we decided to take the Hop-on back to town. Naturally, all of the seats below were taken so we sat up in the open deck and got rained on. It was about 5PM and we were right in the middle of rush hour, so there was very heavy traffic but it only took about 45 minutes to get back to the #1 stop.

We went back to the hotel and got into some dry clothes and then went down to the Pub next door where everyone would be gathering but no one was there yet. When we told the Pub waiter that Paolo said we could have the long table downstairs again for dinner, he said Paolo was off today but he would make sure it would be ready for us and they set it up. The group eventually showed piecemeal and we had a good time and a good dinner.

After dinner, Ginny and I went back to the room for the night and the rest of the group went off on their own again.


Tuesday, Sept. 27

Train Ride and getting oriented

After breakfast, we all checked out at the desk and assembled outside, and made the short (this time) walk to the Termini Train Station. The hi-speed Frecciarossa Train #9520 to Florence took an hour and a half to go the 176 mile distance. When we exited the Florence train station and got out on the street, Mary pulled out her iPhone and her GPS app showed us the way to the Hotel Europa. We got everybody checked into their rooms by 1:30 and we all went to Little David’s (Davidino's) down Cavour St. by the Duomo and had lunch.

It was around 4pm when we left the restaurant and everyone wandered off to explore this magnificent city on their own. We had agreed earlier, at lunch, that since it was so late in the afternoon, we wouldn’t be getting together for dinner this evening. We went back to our hotel and got a receipt for our reservation tomorrow at Uffizi Gallery. Then we walked over to the Uffizi and walked around it, but never found the reservation door that we were told to look for. Finally, we went in the main entrance, got our 9:15am reservation confirmed and found out what to do in the morning. Satisfied that we really could get in tomorrow morning without having to stand in a long line, we walked across the Ponte Vecchio to the other side of the Arno River and sat down for beers at the Ristorante Cantadino’s outside cafe. Pretty soon other members of the group started to wander by and seeing us sitting there having a good time, came in to join us. It wasn’t long before the whole group had wandered by and we ended up taking over half of the outdoor area! We all had drinks but I don’t think anyone ordered anything to eat. Then, just as they had come in, they started to leave, mostly to go shopping and soon just Mary & Chris were left with us. It was about 8pm when we left the cafe and walked back to the Piazza della Signoria by the Palazzo Vecchio. There were all kinds of arts and crafts displays and artists and performers doing their thing and just a ton of people milling around! We left Mary and Chris there after saying goodnight to them and headed back to the Hotel. On the way back, we ran into Terye & Gabrielle with Keith - Brian & Heather were going exploring. We told everyone to meet downstairs at 8:30 tomorrow and we went up to our room for the night.

Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2011

Uffizi Gallery and Florence Sightseeing

We had breakfast in the 2nd floor dining room and then met up with everybody outside at 8:30am. When we got to the Uffizi Museum, even though it wasn’t 9 o’clock yet, they let us in right away. We spent the next two hours admiring the treasures, the most beautiful of which, in my opinion, is “The Birth Of Venus” by Boticceli. It was 11:30am when we went back to the hotel. The rest of the gang went off on their own. I stretched out and rested up while Ginny went looking to see if we can get our Academia tickets for tomorrow.

At 2:30pm we walked down to the Duomo and Ginny got more photos of the front in mostly full sun and with hardly any shadows obstructing the beautiful art work in the marble on the facade. Then we stopped in a sidewalk cafe and Ginny had a small bottle of Rose and a bowl of artichokes for a snack and I had a beer. The weather is just right and it was very pleasant just sitting outside, people-watching and enjoying a nice cold Peroni! Shortly after we started to walk around a bit more, we spotted and stopped for gelatos near Piazza della Signorina and then continued our walk to the Ponte Vecchio Bridge for more photos of the river view. That’s where and when we bought a mask for Kimberly's 15th birthday present to go with her card. Then we continued on over the bridge and walked down the street where we had an apartment during our stay here in 1999 and sitting down at a table in an outside café, we each had a beer and a bowl of potato chips. It was around 5:30pm when we decided to head back to our room and I stretched out while Ginny downloaded photos to the iPad.

At 6:30, by pre-arrangement, we met the group downstairs - Heather and Keith didn't come - and we went to Osteria dell Agnolo for dinner. This was a very nice place with excellent food and we all had a great time! Bill asked for the bill and paid it - Peggy said she was going to get it but Bill out-muscled her! 

It was after nine when we left the restaurant and we just went back to the hotel - I’m not sure what the rest of the group did.

Thursday, Sept. 29, 2011

Academia and The Leaning Tower of Pisa

After breakfast, we met outside and went to the Accademia Gallery where we had reservations for an 8:30am entry. Once inside, we split up with the plan for everybody to meet up again at 1PM in front of the hotel.  We toured both floors but spent most of the time in the area with Michelangelo’s David and his (Mike’s) four slaves.

When we left the Accademia, we headed back to the hotel to rest up a bit and then we went out for gelatos and more photos until we met the group back at the hotel.

At 1pm we all walked over to the station to get the train to Pisa to see the Leaning Tower. We took the regional (slower) train at 1:38pm that stops in S. Rosare Sta. about 4 blocks from the Tower instead of the faster one at 1pm that only goes to Centrale Sta. which looks to be on the map about 2 miles away. However, we didn't get there until 3:30pm (about an hour late) because there was a fire by the side of the tracks and they weren’t letting any trains pass until it was out.

When we finally got to the Tower about 4pm, we split up again and agreed to meet back at the entry arch at 5:30p. Ginny got lots of photos while we wandered around the Tower and the Baptistry and then we found a Tobacchi (Tobacco Store) and got bus tickets for all of us to get back to Centrale Station.

At 5:30 we all met up as planned, figured out where the bus stop was and had just a short wait before the bus came and it took us back to the area by the train station. We tried to find a place for dinner around the station but there wasn’t a single restaurant around that was open – not a one! So, we decided to take the 7:30 train and go back to Florence.

We got back into Florence at 8:30pm and found a place to eat on the way to the hotel - pretty lousy pizza – but the Peroni made up for it!

We were back at the hotel at 10:30 and ready for a good night’s sleep!


Friday, Sept. 30, 2011


We had breakfast and got everybody checked out of the hotel by 9:30am. I got a taxi to the train station and Brian & his family came with me. The rest of the group walked. 

Our train #9404 to Venice was delayed coming in so we had about a two and a half hour wait before we finally boarded but once on, we breezed right along and arrived in Venice about 2pm.

We found the Vaporetto (water bus) docks just a short walk from the train station and took the ½ hour boat ride to Piazza San Marco. We knew our hotel, Albergo San Marco was near the Piazza, but rather than all of us wandering the streets looking for it, most of us sat down at an outside café on the Piazza. While Ginny & Mary went searching with the help of Mary’s trusty GPS app., we had a beer (Guinness), or two, and watched Kimberly and Gabrielle play with the pigeons. Mary came back about 4pm after they finally found the hotel and Ginny stayed there and took care of all the paper work. 

After we were all checked into our rooms and freshened up a bit, we met down in the lobby at 5pm and Heather, Bill & Peggy had a beer with us at a sidewalk Cafe while Mary took the rest of the group to the Hard Rock Cafe and got tables for all of us. Brian came back and found us and we followed him over there and we had a good old American dinner - burgers & beer!

After we all left the Hard Rock, everybody went off on their own and Ginny & I walked down to and wandered around the San Marco Piazza for about an hour.  It was about 9pm when we went back to the hotel.

Saturday, Oct. 1, 2011

Grand Canal, Kimberly’s Birthday Dinner and Gondola Rides

While we were having breakfast in the Hotel restaurant, Ginny went over to San Marco Piazza and found the Vaporetto ticket booth on the dock and got tickets for everybody. Then we all went down there and boarded one that made several stops on the Grand Canal and rode it all the way around to the other San Marco Piazza station.  It’s a pretty neat boat ride on the Grand Canal with interesting things to see all the way around.

It was shortly after noon when we walked back to the hotel and after freshening up, Ginny went out to get more photos of the Rialto Bridge and the surrounding area.

When she came back and rested up a bit, we both walked over to the 'Devil Forest' Pub - an 'Olde English Pub' with Irish beer on tap - and we each had 2 pints of Harp!

We got gelatos on our way back by the hotel and since it was only 4 o’clock, decided to sit down at a table on the street where we were yesterday and ate our gelatos. We ordered a pint of Kaiser beer for me and a glass of wine for Ginny and when Brian came by, he joined us and had a beer too.

We went back to the hotel at 6pm to freshen up and get Kimberly's birthday card and then we met the group for dinner out front at 6:30.

Earlier in the afternoon, Bill and Peggy found the Trattoria Conca d’Oro Pizzeria situated in Campo Santi Filippo e Giacomo, an outdoor square, where they had arranged to have large enough tables set together to accommodate all of us for our dinner tonight. By the time we got there, it was getting dark and the lanterns were lit, the weather was beautiful, the food and drinks were great and all in all it was a very nice way to celebrate Kimberly’s 15th birthday dinner!

After dinner, we found a gondola pier, piled into 3 of them, 4 or 5 to a gondola and went for a great hour-long cruise around the Grand Canal. I really wanted to belt out a few lines of “O Sole Mio”, but I had been warned that if I did, I would suffer dearly for it. Discretion being my long suit, I bit my tongue and just hummed it silently in my head and everybody enjoyed their ride! It was a very nice way to end a birthday celebration and I bet it’ll be a memory that Kimberly will have for a lifetime! 

We got back to the hotel about 10:30 and went off to bed - a long but great day!

Sunday, Oct. 2, 2011


We went down to breakfast at 8:00am and at 8:30, Mary & Chris left for the Vaporetto station to get a boat for the train to Milan. And once again we were saying 'Goodbye', not knowing when we'll see them again...

After breakfast, Ginny got her bags ready to go tomorrow morning while I was checking out the news on the internet with the iPad. When she finished, we headed over to the Vaporetto Station where we'll get the boat to the airport tomorrow and got tickets for everybody. On the way over there, we walked thru the Piazza and I found a neat 'Venezia - Gondola' tee shirt for Keith.

After we bought the Vaporetto tickets, we wandered all over the San Marco and the Castello Districts, sightseeing, picture-taking and looking for kinder eggs. We never did find the real kinder eggs but we did find some Japanese 'Super Hero' ones made with papier mâché, not in a shop but in a cafe!

We went back to the hotel about 1pm and I stretched out! Man! Was I ever beat from all that walking and my back was screaming! Ginny rested a bit and then she went out for a gelato before meeting the gang at the Basilica. They were going to join a group for a guided tour of the place but I needed a rest more than more sight-seeing. 

Ginny came back around 3pm and rested up until it was time to meet up with everybody

in the lobby at 4pm. We all walked over to the Vaporetto Station, got tickets and 

rode the #2 line boat all the way around again to the San Marco - Zacarria Station.

When we disembarked, we found a great backdrop for picture-taking in front of one of the bridges and we all got different family group photos. Unfortunately, Mary and Chris had already left and weren’t included in any of these photos. However, we did get another four-generation one – This time with Terye, Brian, Keith and the old man!

On our walk back to the hotel area, we found the place where we sat down to have drinks right after we first checked into the Hotel and they were just setting up for dinner. They were able to put all thirteen of us at two outside tables and we all had a great ‘last supper’ in Italy.

It was around 8pm when we went back to the Hotel and since everyone was leaving at different times tomorrow, we said our goodbyes then and wished everyone a safe trip home. Then it was time for us to head up to the room.

Monday, Oct. 3, 2011

Back Home

We were up early and down to breakfast at 7am. Then we got our bags, checked out of the Hotel and met Brian, Heather and Keith in the lobby before walking to San Marco Plaza to get the 8:00am Alilaguna Linea Blu Vaporetta to the Airport. The boat dropped us off at the airport dock at 9:20am and we had about a ten-minute walk to the terminal. Once inside the terminal, we said our good-byes and Brian & family left to go to the gate for their 11am flight to Philadelphia. Our flight didn’t leave until 2:15pm so we were able to get our boarding passes at a kiosk but we couldn’t check our bags until 11:15am. We found an empty table where we could sit down at a Cafeteria in the ticketing area and had snacks and then we got our bags checked and made our way out to the gate. The line was very long, and it took us an hour just to get thru security! 

We left on time at 2:15pm, got into Frankfurt at 3:45pm and left for SFO at 5:25pm. We arrived at SFO at 8pm (PST), got our bags, cleared Customs, hopped in a taxi (no line) and we were home at 9pm!


(But then I always say that – don’t I?)

© Virginia E. Vail 2012