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March 14, 2009

Yes, I am going to Italy!

I mentioned in this post how much I enjoyed following other Slow Travelers as they decide on a location, start planning their trips, and then take off!

Here's a quote from that post:

I have excitedly following my blog friends either on their trips to Italy (Girasoli, Palma, Jane) or as they plan them (Sandra is one of them), and I have to say that I was particularly excited when Andasamo told us that she had indeed jumped at the chance of spending three weeks in Italy (Florence, to be exact) in October! How fun. This also made my own desire to go back to Italy stronger.

I am also thrilled to be reading about Kim's trip to Paris, especially after everything she has been through! And while catching up on blogs this morning, I realized that Girasoli bought her ticket and is ready to go this summer! Yay! Her recent series on Bologna has been great inspiration - not only for me but for Sandra who is going there as well.

Anyway, since I focused my February blogging on Norway, I never wrote about my trip or even the fact that I have a ticket and am ready to go to Italy in late April! I am not sure why, but somehow planning for an Italy trip feels even more special than planning for other trips. One reason might be the fact that there is SO much information - for instance, Trip Advisor has reviews for something like 1500 hotels in Rome! Also, it is fun because I get to share it with friends and ST friends alike - many people have been to Italy, while not many have an opinion on where to stay in Rivas, Nicaragua!

I'll start a new post writing about the planning and the decisions having to be made. They are fun decisions, though!

March 15, 2009

Planning for Italy: Indecision 2009

Planning for Italy is FUN! I think I am currently driving my boyfriend and friends crazy with constant chatter about hotels, rental cars, train tickets, and the like. I haven't been to Italy since the summer of 2004 so this is a pretty big deal!

Since I got my ticket (late January) I have gone back and forth about how to structure the trip. I'll have fifteen nights there, and currently (but changing every day!) the plan looks like this:

  • Three nights in Lecce, Puglia, staying at the Casa dei Mercanti. Lecce is supposed to be beautiful and I look forward to exploring this Baroque city.
  • Two nights in Rome, with the arrival of the wonderful J.! Possible hotels: The Inn at the Roman Forum, or Residenza Canali. Or somewhere else! Definitely one of the indecisions.
  • Four nights in Bologna. I was going to stay at the Orologio, one of the Bologna Art Hotes, but now I switched to the Commercianti (also an Art Hotel). The Orologio is cheaper on the weekend but the fourth night, a weekday, was twice the price, so it made sense to go with the slightly more expensive Commercianti. Still, 99 euro a night for a double at a four star hotel seems good! (I just checked again now and the average nightly rate now is 14!)
  • This were the serious indecision comes in! We have six nights and the idea is to meander through the north of Italy, mainly the Alto Adige, and end up in Salzburg, visiting J.'s friend. I can't decide whether to spend the majority of the nights in one place, or a new place every night, or how long to stay in Salzburg... We are also considering visiting J.'s friends outside of Munich. So I'll have to get back to you on this one!

We will use trains to go to Lecce and then Bologna, but probably rent a car for the last portion, although trains are a possibility as well. Some of the places I am considering between Bologna and Salzburg are Trento, Bolzano, Bressanone, Castelrotto, and villages inbetween. I don't really want to stay in too many places, but we'll figure this out when we know when is the best time to visit friends. We could skip the two nights in Rome, but Rome is always tempting - and how fun to share it with someone special!

Planning has been FUN so far and it is amazing how many reviews and opinions are out there. Just reading and planning and dreaming is such a treat! I can't believe that in just a month and a half I'll be sitting on a train in Italy, listening to my favorite language...

March 16, 2009

Indecision 2009: Thanks for the comments and ideas

You guys are the best! I am answering the comments from yesterday's post here as I think there were many good ideas.

Annie, I think I'll do as you say and not skip Rome! :)

Jane, Teatro della Pace looks really nice but with the promotional rate, The Inn at Roman Forum is actually a tiny bit cheaper. I'll keep this one in mind though!

Marta, Castelrotto does sound nice - I will check out some hotels there. I leave towards the end of April so Castelrotto would be in early May.

Girasoli, Nicolas Inn sounded perfect - but they were all booked! I might check in again from time to time, though.

Sandra, I am flying into Rome, and then catching the train to Lecce, which takes about 5 1/2 hours. I used FF miles so I didn't have a lot of flexibility, plus I like the train! Residenza in Farnese looks nice but actually turns out more expensive than the Inn at Roman Forum. Canali is still in the running, though! 165 euro per night for a double. (And yes, I love the Daily Show...)

Marcia, I have been enjoying following others travel so I am excited to have you follow along! Bologna is pretty great, hope you get to see it one day.

March 23, 2009

Indecision 2009: Things are shaping up

I don't know about you guys but after February Blogging I was exhausted! I have only written a few blog posts since then. Anyway, my Italy plans are shaping up. Some things have changed: We are no longer going to Salzburg, as J.'s friend has to travel that weekend. We will probably go to Munich instead and visit other friends there.

I also realized that renting a car in one country and dropping it off in another is expensive! So to save some money, we might pick up the car in Bologna on Tuesday morning, use it until Friday, drop it off in Bolzano, and take the train from Bolzano to Munich. That will give us 3-4 days of driving around and exploring, while still dropping the car off within Italy. I am reading lots of interesting posts on Slow Talk about the Trentino/Alto-Adige area and it sounds and looks gorgeous. It seems OK not to have reservations there, especially since it will be mid-week. It will be fun to hunt for cute places to stay! I also think it is funny that J. speaks German and I speak Italian - will he be treated better??

J. wants to see a soccer game in Italy, most likely it will be the Bologna-Reggina game in Bologna. Here is the schedule for Serie A for the month of May. We are also considering a day trip to Parma from Bologna.

I don't know why planning for a trip to Italy is so special - maybe because there are so many resources and opinions out there - but even though I have had fantastic vacations over the last five years (Brazil!), this trip planning is more fun than any trip I have planned in a long time! And since I am enjoying the planning, I really feel I am getting more for my money as far as the trip goes.

March 30, 2009

TrenItalia

I usually wouldn't mind buying all my train tickets in Italy, but for a few reasons I wanted to buy the ticket for my first train ride (Roma-Lecce) the day I arrive. I didn't want to be stuck without at ticket at the train I wanted, and by buying in advance, you can take advantage of the 20% cheaper Amica fare.

But from reading Slow Talk, I got a little worried - there were many threads were people lament not being able to buy tickets on the TrenItalia website with US credit cards. Two of the latest threads were these: Trenitalia booking tix b4 you go and TrenItalia online tickets. The last thread provides a link to a post on the Fodor travel forum: Trenitalia – How I Successfully Bought Train Tickets on the Web, where a poster by the name of Michael explains step by step how he was able to buy tickets - and it seemed extremely difficult!

So Sunday morning I armed myself with a US credit card, a Norwegian credit card, and determination. I registered, got a password on email (right away), and started the purchasing process. I found the train I wanted, clicked on it, selected my class and fare, entered my card information - and that was it. I was the holder of a second class reserved seat ticket from Rome to Lecce.

I don't know if I was extremely lucky but none of the bad stuff happened - and I did not use a CitiBank card, as recommended, or call my credit card company to tell them that I was going to buy from an Italian site, or any of the other things that were supposed to guarantee success. I did do the process in Italian but I can't imagine that makes a difference. Edited to add: I used the American credit card, a Visa card from a smaller bank.

I plan to buy tickets for another train ride as well, because it is on May 1 (Labor Day) and because I want to get the Amica fare. I am crossing my fingers that it will be as easy!!

Indecision 2009: Hotel Orologio or Hotel Commercianti?

In this post, I said I had decided on a hotel in Bologna; the Hotel Commercianti, one of the Bologna Art Hotels. The Commercianti is a four star hotel, while its sister hotel, Orologio, is a three-plus star or something like that. I decided on the Commercianti because the total price there was lower. Now, however, the Orologio is cheaper so I've got a reservation there too! The price difference is small but from the reviews on TripAdvisor, the Orologio is a better hotel. So I guess we'll go with the slightly cheaper hotel with better ratings... I did like the idea of a four star hotel for a low price but maybe we'll be happier at the three star Hotel Orologio... It comes recommended by other Slow Travelers as well. Both hotels are right by the Piazza Maggiore so the location will be good no matter what.

I am going back and forth a lot but it is pretty fun! Especially since I have been very lucky with the prices so far. I'll make sure to let you know what I decide!

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March 31, 2009

Decision 2009: At least I decided on a guide book!

I waited patiently for a Border's Reward coupon (when I didn't need one they seemed to come all the time but now nothing for several weeks!) and after work today I happily headed down to the book store to pick up my chosen guidebook, Lonely Planet's Italy (latest edition is 2008.) Research online is great but I do like to have a real book with me, especially one that covers everything. I have always liked Lonely Planet for Europe trips, and I was very happy with my Brazil guide as well. (For Central America, I think Moon Handbooks are better - especially the Nicaragua one which was written by a good friend!)

I have used Rough Guide and others in the past but feel that Lonely Planet's Italy guide is comprehensive and well researched. I am especially looking forward to reading the sections on the Trentino and the Alto-Adige; I trust LP to provide info for each little paese (or is it dorf up there?)

April 2, 2009

Decision 2009: Pizzeria Gianna

A fellow Slow Traveler started this discussion on restaurants in Bologna, which made me think more about what I ate when I lived there. I really am no gourmet, and was even less of one then, but of course I did enjoy the wonderful foods that Bologna has to offer!

One place in particular saw a lot of my business: Pizzeria Gianna, a small pizzeria on Via Santo Stefano, close to to where I lived. I must have gone there three times a week! Of all the pizza places in Bologna, I was lucky that a really great one (or rather, one that I really liked) was so close to my house. Can't wait to go there!

I did a quick search for it earlier today and there is even mention of it on the internet! Pizzeria Gianna, Bologna. It is located on Via Santo Stefano 76, a short walk from Piazza Santo Stefano. If you are walking from the piazza, it is on your left, shortly before getting to Via Fondazza. It is a very basic place, you can sit along the bar or along the window, but great for a tasty pizza!

April 5, 2009

Decision 2009: My BB in Lecce

Now with more photos!

I wanted to write about one more decision I have made: My bed and breakfast in Lecce, Casa dei Mercanti. Unfortunately, their website has been down for the last 48 hours and may still be so when you try to click the link. It also means that I can't post any photos from it - except from this one photo I found on Google Images. Edited to add: Website is working now! However, it is all flash so I am having a hard time copying any images. You'll have to wait for my own. :)

I had wanted to post a photo from my particular "junior suite", named Corallo, because it looks so pretty with the reds and pinks! (I'll add photos when the site is back up.) Also, the price is great, just 55 euro for a double used as single, including breakfast. They have also organized a guide for a walking tour the first day. They don't have many reviews online but the ones that are there are very positive. Each little suite has a kitchen and the decor looks beautiful in all of them. Interestingly, I have gotten the impression that most tourists in Lecce stay in BBs. There are lots of BBs and not a lot of hotels.

Hopefully I will be happy with my choice!!

Sign at the entrance of the suite:
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Dining room:
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Bathroom:
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Weird long photo captured from the virtual tour:
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April 11, 2009

Packing: Cutting down on the electronics

As you already know, I am getting max value for this trip by spending countless hours planning, thinking, wondering and obsessing. One of my goals for this trip is to pack light. I am usually pretty bad at packing light. I can never quite imagine what the place is going to be like, what I will want to wear, temperature, etc. For instance, I am always cold so I make sure that I have some warm clothes with me.

For this trip, I will try to cut down on electronics. I was going to bring only my camera and charger, but today I added one more electronic accessory: a curling iron. I like using a wide barreled curling iron to shape my hair and usually when I go to Norway I use a converter and an adapter to be able to use it. Very annoying and bulking, and not conducive to packing light! I had planned to not bring one to Italy but then I read some threads on Slow Travel about curling irons, and it dawned on me: I need a dual voltage curling iron! I read lots about it and it should be fine. I then went to my local Rite Aid and got this one from Conair. It was on sale for only 11 dollars, so I think it was a good buy. I'll use it with an adapter plug and I should be all set!

Some of the things I will not bring are my laptop, iPod, cell phone... Hopefully I can go two weeks without any of those!

And as I always do when I talk about packing: here is the customary link to Girasoli's extremely well packed ziploc bag! On her advice I went and got some small Nalgene bottles and I hope that downsizing my toiletries will help me pack light.

April 13, 2009

Packing: Can I do the tiny suitcase?

So my big decision of the week is: Can I pack in a carry-on size bag? Actually, it is even smaller, it is only 19 inches. I want to check it, so I will also have a carry-on backpack and of course a purse. In my carry-on I will keep my reading materials, printouts of hotel reservations, train tickets, camera, my most important toiletries, etc. I will also wear my bulkiest shoes on the plane!

I have never been good at packing lightly and I really hate it when I feel that I left something behind that I really need, which makes me over-pack instead. But I want to change it! :)

So I did a little test tonight: I stuffed as much as I could into my little suitcase. (There was probably a little more room left, but not much.) This is what I was able to fit in:


  • 4 sweaters
  • 3 pairs of jeans
  • 1 other pair of pants
  • Tweed jacket
  • Cute jacket
  • 4 long sleeved t-shirts
  • Underwear and socks
  • 2 pairs of shoes
  • Some toiletries
  • 1 fat Lonely Planet

Edited to add: This is just what I was able to put in - I will move stuff around; for instance, two pairs of jeans is enough, and I may not need four sweaters. And I will need some short sleeved shirts in case it is warm in Lecce.

In addition, I would of course wear pants, sweater, a pair of shoes, and a jacket on the plane, which means one more outfit. I can do laundry in Bologna midway as well. I would need more shirts, though. Oh, and the much discussed curling iron! Hm... I guess I can put some shirts in my backpack. I also need something nice for my party in Bologna, but I am thinking that it will be jeans/nice jacket or something like that. No room for booths and skirts, for instance.

I guess I am so used to having extra room that having just enough worries me - what if I buy clothes, for instance? (I can easily fill a big duffel bag for a long weekend.) But I would LOVE to have a tiny bag for train rides and the like. If I find that this is not sustainable, I'll have to get some kind of small rolling duffel - I don't want to take my regular sized suitcase, as it will be annoying on the trains.

To be continued!

(Speaking of packing, here is a link to a discussion on Slow Talk about "Packing heavy." It's pretty funny!)

April 19, 2009

Disclaimer: I have never stayed at the Hotel Orologio!

A few weeks back I was discussing whether to stay at the Hotel Commercianti or the Hotel Orologio, two of the Bologna Art Hotels. The discussion was very much leaning to the Orologio. One of the outcomes of this discussion was that my blog friend Sandra, of A Journey of a Thousand Miles, decided to switch her summer reservation to the Orologio. She was originally going to stay at the Hotel Porta San Mamolo, which comes warmly recommended by many Slow Travelers. I felt slightly guilty that she had switched hotels, especially because she wanted a quiet hotel, but I could live with it.

Now, however, another blog friend, Girasoli (of Shaved Ice and Gelato fame, has switched over as well!! And she loves the Porta San Mamolo! Now I feel responsible for the decisions of two other people... They both got great deals, and I love a good deal myself, but I sure hope they are happy with the switch!

Therefore, I wanted to post this public disclaimer - I have not stayed at the Hotel Orologio and my recommendation is solely based on other people's comments. Please do not sue me if you don't like it. :)

(To make matters worse, my friend is now staying at the Commercianti and I am thinking about switching back...)

May 13, 2009

Tornata!

I am back! Sorry I didn't blog at all while I was gone, but there was so much fun stuff to do! Work is a little crazy now but here are two photos, the first from Otranto (Puglia), in the very south of Italy, and one from San Genesio (Alto Adige), in the very north. It was all marvelous; Puglia, Alto Adige, and everything in between!!

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May 28, 2009

Where to begin??

I am so sorry I have been missing in action! First it was work, then I had visitors from the homeland - and then the visitor broke an arm in Boston! So I just got back from Boston and am trying to catch up on work and everything else.

Before I start writing more detailed about the trip, here are some highlights! It really was the best and most awesomest trip ever.

  • The hospitality in Puglia. It was not my first time in Puglia but once again I was floored by the warmth of the people. Loved it!
  • Hanging out with friends in Bologna. All those wonderful people, so many great memories. Meeting my friends' baby!
  • Trento (in the Trentino). We spent an evening there en route to Bolzano, and it is such a lovely place! The town is beautiful, surrounded by mountains and with the most gorgeous square. We had a fabulous spritz on the piazza before the biggest dinner I had in Italy. I couldn't finish half of it! Trento is called the painted town because of the beautifully decorated buildings there. I want to go back!
  • My BB in Lecce: Casa dei Mercanti. Well priced, central, super clean, spacious, gorgeous!
  • Carciofi alla giudia in Rome...
  • Hiking and horseback riding above Bolzano. SO beautiful! Hiking in Norway will never be the same - in Italy they do it right: when you get tired, you find a little mountain restaurant that serves good food and delicious drink. And the weather was beyond belief!
  • Spritz (with Aperol.) It gets its own line. It's that good. I'll add aperitivo in general to this.
  • Lunch in Mantova: Great food, cheap sparkling white wine, a gorgeous sunny day. A perfect stop between Bologna and Trentino-Alto Adige (although a little off the highway.)
  • Having J. with me in Italy! I think we should move there. :)
  • The piazza in Trento:
    IMG_3581.JPG

May 30, 2009

Lo spritz!

Sandra and Nancy asked about spritz in the comments to the last post, so I wanted to write a quick note about spritz. Spritz is an aperitivo that is common in the Veneto and surrounding regions. (On this trip I had them in regions that border the Veneto, such as the Trentino and Emilia-Romagna, but I also had it in Lecce so although it comes from the Veneto, it seems to be available in a lot of places.)

Spritz can be made several ways, but the most common version is spritz made with Aperol. Aperol is an Italian aperitivo made by the Campari company. It is a beautiful orange color (and in my opinion tastes nothing like Campari.) Aperol only has 11% alcohol. Spritz is made with either prosecco or white wine, Aperol, and some sparkling water. I think the ones I had were most often made with white wine, although the prosecco ones are delicious! You can also make spritz with Campari but I didn't see that much.

Spritz is a wonderful pre-dinner drink because it is not too alcoholic (important when drinking on an empty stomach!) and because it is refreshing and delicious, of course. I can't think of a better end of a day, beginning of an evening than to sip a spritz in a beautiful town square, while munching on some chips or other aperitivo type snacks. Yum!

To order it, simply ask for "uno spritz". Some places that automatically meant with Aperol, other places they asked - you can add "con Aperol" to make sure.

Aperol is sold in the US and many European countries so it is easy to make at home. We are experimenting with the best ways to mix it - opening a bottle of prosecco when you only need a little bit seems silly so we have been using mostly white wine - but for a party, I want to use the prosecco!

There seems to be many differing opinions on the proportions of a spritz - some say equal parts Aperol and wine, others say one third to two thirds, then a dash of sparkling water.

Spritz and snacks in Bolzano:
spritz.jpg

June 14, 2009

Italy 1: Getting to Lecce

I apologize for being the worst blogger ever lately! I gave you a teaser a few weeks ago, along with some excuses, but now it is time!! (Although I have one more excuse up my sleeve: The comma key is pretty much stuck, making it hard to write commas...)

Two weeks before leaving, I got a cold. I remember thinking that I was glad I got it in time to get well before I was going to leave… Well, I got to eat my words because my cold turned into a flu and a particularly painful cough. I tried resting as much as I could and drinking lots of water, since there wasn’t much I could do. When I had been sick for ten days, the Tuesday before my Saturday departure, I went to the clinic. I didn’t think I had anything that I needed medicine for but I figured I should check it out. The doctor said my cough sounded like croup but that I didn’t have pneumonia or anything like that, but she gave me an antibiotic anyway, along with some cough pills and cough syrup. (I was not happy about taking an antibiotic when she wasn't sure it was necessary, but at the same time I felt I had to do what she told me!)

Unfortunately, I didn’t get any better and Wednesday, Thursday and Friday was a feverish blur. On Friday I was really worried that I had to postpone the trip, but there was really no way to do that without spending a lot of money. Friday night I was able to get out of bed for a little bit and that made me hopeful that I could actually do it. Good thing I had written a detailed packing list weeks in advance, which made packing very easy! I had also decided to go with a carry on size suitcase which meant I just couldn’t take a lot of stuff.

Continue reading "Italy 1: Getting to Lecce" »

August 30, 2009

Italy 2: Casa dei Mercanti - my hotel in Lecce

I really, really enjoyed where I stayed in Lecce. Casa dei Mercanti is somewhere between a BB and an apartment rental, but really feels more like a hotel.

I wrote two reviews one for Slow Travel and one for Trip Advisor. They are similar, of course.

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I am copying some of the text here, because I wrote it when it was still fresh in my mind!

It is rare to not have any complaints about a hotel, but this bed and breakfast really is perfect! It is located on Piazza Sant'Oronzo, right in the middle of Lecce, but my room (Junior Suite Cremisi) faced the quiet back side of the building so there was no noise at all.

While Casa dei Mercanti is called a bed and breakfast, it is more like really beautiful self-catering apartments with great amenities. They are newly renovated and everything looks brand new and inviting. The junior suites are the smaller ones but still have a full-sized kitchen with all amenities, a dining table, sofa, flat screen TV in the main room as well as in the bedroom.


Continue reading "Italy 2: Casa dei Mercanti - my hotel in Lecce" »

Italy 3: Enjoying Lecce

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I have friends in Puglia and have visited several times, but had never made it to Lecce, so when I knew I was coming to Italy I really wanted to go there. I also hoped that by going to Puglia I would have a better chance at warm weather. (Ironically enough, the warmest weather we had was in Bolzano, but what can you do!)

I was very happy with my hotel/apartment, Casa dei Mercanti, and slept like a baby. I had a ten o'clock guided tour Monday morning, but I didn't have any problem getting up. Breakfast was a cornetto at the corner bar, and I was happy to see that although cool, it wasn't raining, despite the forecast.

The hotel had arranged a guide for me; I had wanted to take a tour so that I could both get to know Lecce and learn more about the Baroque churches that fill the city. (Just one of the many things the hotel helped with.) Angela the guide was waiting for me in the hotel office and we headed out to Piazza Sant'Oronzo. We started down Via Vittorio Emanuele in the centro storico and she gave me a great intro to Lecce's history and art. Angela is an art history graduate and a licensed tour guide and often leads groups of school kids around the city - so I think it was nice for her, too, to just have to show one person around! Wherever we went there were lots of school kids and she said she was happy to have a break from them!

Continue reading "Italy 3: Enjoying Lecce" »

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