Sorrento is great for visits to Pompei and Herculaneum on the train. Allow a day for each. Get an audio guide and ask at the tourist info office next to the ticket office for the FREE guide book and map. The stall holders will try to sell you a flashy guide on the way in.
Entrance to Pompei is 5 mins from the train at Pompei Scava. Herculaneum is a 15min walk from Ercolano station. Ignore talk of muggers from tour reps. Visitor guides are expensive for 2 hrs and not as good as audio guides.
For Vesuvius, get the train to Ercolano and catch the mini bus outside the station. More pleasant than the journey on the tour coach. Allow 1 hour for walk up and half for return. Loads of people on maintained cinder track. Take windproof and water.
Both are central for buses (sometimes crowded) trains (regular, cheap and efficient), and jet ferries (cheap and fast to Naples).
Sorrento is great for an evening wander or a cheap supermarket (beware siesta time). Both great for visits to Pompei and Herculaneum on the train.
The scooters looks wild at first site but they are MUCH better drivers than us in the UK. They expect you to walk out in front of them and rarely get irate.
Catch a train to Castel le Marre for cable car to mountain walk or a boat from Sorrento to the Amalfi Coast destinations and Capri.
Don't bother hiring a car - met two couples who had taken them back.
Gelateria della Palma is a gelateria near the Trevi fountain (and other locations). There is an amazing variety of flavours, all gorgeously displayed. The chocolate gelato with candied orange peel is reason enough to return to Rome.
Gelateria della Palma, Via della Maddelena.
If you are facing the fountain, Della Palma is about two doors down Via della Maddelena, which goes off to your right.
It is a food lovers dream. Mountains of Meats, cheeses, oils, sauces, fresh vegetables, fresh pasta, pastries and wines. The staff are friendly. You just pick what you want at a stall and are issued a ticket. Take all your tickets to the cashier, pay, then go back to the stalls to collect your foods.
I only wish my suitcase was bigger.
Via Spadari, not far from Duomo Piazza.
Get there early as queues build up by 8pm. Locals and tourists alike crowd in for the fantastic Tuscan cuisine and super friendly staff. The bill came to 45 euros for two, including wine, fantastic value for money - not to be missed.
Via dei Palchetti 6r, just off Palazzo Rucellai;
tel: 055 210 916;
A delightful restaurant overlooking the Ponte Vecchio on the south side of the river. A meal for two including a reserve bottle of wine and three courses costs around 90 euros. Would recommend booking a table by the window for clear views of the bridge and the Arno.
Via dei Bardi, 58r (near Ponte Vecchio); tel: 055 214 502
Dead cheap and one of the best views of Florence. Drink in the Blu Bar (expensive, but fantastic views), eat in the pizzeria on the square opposite and take a walk up the hill for an even more spectacular view
Buy a bus ticket at any tabac and get the no 7 - it goes from Piazza del Duomo and stops in the square in Fiesole, just beside the Blu Bar (which is at Piazza Mino Da Fiesole, 39; tel: 055 597235).
San Marco, and Savonarola; Angelico's Annunciation is worth the admission alone. You can usually find somewhere in the cloisters just to sit away from the crowds. So much of Florence's history revolved around this convent. If I could visit only one place in Florence this would be it.
Cappella Brancacci: Masaccio's masterpiece.
San Miniato: beautiful small church. Don’t forget the graveyard, and then there's the view of Florence.
San Lorenzo: the old sacristy as well as Brunelleschi's brilliant interior.
Oh and Santa Maria Novella, Santa Croce, Cappelle Medici...
Museo di San Marco: Piazza San Marco; tel: +39 55 238 8608
Cappella Brancacci: Piazza del Carmine; tel: +39 055 238 21 95
San Miniato: Via Monte Alle Croci, 34; tel: 055 2342768
Basilica di San Lorenzo: Piazza San Lorenzo
In these times of security threats, delays, cancellations and concerns about air travel in general, I can recommend European train travel with great pleasure, having enjoyed a memorable journey from Rome to Berlin this summer - all trains ran on time to the minute and reserved seats were waiting; the view from the window constantly changed as we sped through Tuscany, the Alps, across Austria, along the Elbe river valley and finally to Berlin. We had a pleasant lunch on one journey, chatted to a charming Californian couple on another, but generally watched the world go by while listening to music on an ipod (me) or reading a book (my wife). At the end of each journey, we were relaxed and ready for whatever each new city had in store for us, stopping in Florence, Salzburg, Vienna and Prague on the way. It may cost a little more than charter flights but the rewards are substantial.
Start with a copy of Thomas Cook's European railway timetable and plan your route. Find a independent rail operator - Rail Canterbury (www.rail-canterbury.co.uk) are highly recommended. Create your own ideal journey.
A beautiful Pensione in a small square south of the river - it's on the 4th floor and has a fantastic loggia on two sides of the building. Very simple, basic rooms - clean but no mod cons, yet that's the joy. You really feel like you're staying in an authentic pensione, not a hermetically sealed hotel.
Piazza Santo Spirito 9, Oltrarno;
Last October (2005) for our second trip to Italy we booked a week at the Alessandra in Florence. We planned to spend the week on foot visiting the many churches and museums and just enjoying this beautiful and historical city we had briefly visited the year before. We spent a little more and booked their Suite Boccio which gave us a lot of relaxing space to rest and to drop off purchases between our many excursions. The suite, which has a balcony with a wonderful view of the Arno River, made for a most pleasant stay. The rooms were very clean. We didn't find the steps up to be a problem (we're in our upper 60's), especially when we realised we were staying in a very old building, built before elevators, rather than in some modern, no character and no personality hotel. "Mamma" and sons were very accommodating and suggested delightful places for dinners. They were always willing to help with any questions and concerns that arose. We found the Alessandra, as well as the three other hotels in Italy we stayed at during this trip through TripAdvisor, and all exceeded our expectations.
This restaurant is a true Roman restaurant. Its pasta is the best you will ever find. It’s a loud hustle and bustle kinda place - great for quick yet delicious dinners. I go to Rome every year and I have to tell you that if we stay for six days, we eat as Da Francesco on at least four of them. It’s truly great – trust me!
Piazza del Fico, No. 29, just off the Piazza Navonna, down the street from Piazza della Pace; tel. 66864009. No credit cards
For Venetians, whose ancestors fostered an existence built on cruelty, death is never far away. In fact it is only 400 metres across the lagoon. The island of San Michele is a constant reminder of mortality and to which they will all make a final journey in a sumptuous black vessel.
Of course, death in Venice is a problem when there are no extra square inches of soil available, and their solution of erecting stacked rows of tombs on the island of San Michele provides a dignity for those who make their last journey across the lagoon. However the marble sepulchres do not provide a final resting place as the tenancy is short lived, a mere five years, seven if you’re a child. After this the remains are moved to a more permanent rest on the mainland. Unless you’re famous, like Ezra Pound the poet, who enjoys a long term tenancy.
Wander around this melancholy island with its reverence for death. Venetian funerals have a dignity as the sombre black vessel carries the departed to the island accompanied by the mourners in immaculate black. Somehow the placing of the remains in a marble tomb under warm Adriatic sunshine while birds sing, does not seem as grim as the rattling of earth on a coffin lid in a cold, wet cemetery under Atlantic clouds.
The No 52 Vaporetto will take you there, unless it’s your last journey, and even then after ten years the remains are unceremoniously shipped to the mainland.
The area around the Rialto is the best place to eat in, away from the menu turistico of the restaurants in the central areas. The most tempting food shops and bars are here. Cantina Do Mori is a city legend, dark and secret. It serves the best cichetti, a bit like Spanish Tapas, and cheap wine that is drunk by the market traders. Eat in this area and it’s unlikely that you will go hungry or be disappointed.
Food of course is the highlight of each day, and one of the best ways to enjoy it is to take an apartment and shop in the market. If eating out, it can be expensive as can everything in Venice. Remember if you want to sit outside to see and be seen, it may cost you twice as much as sitting inside. Order a panini or tramezzini at the bar and either stand while you eat or take it out to eat at the edge of a little canal or on the steps of a bridge, even cheaper still.
This far north, pasta tends to give way to risotto and with so much seafood from the lagoon, the choice is large. Most menus have a zuppa di pesce, or fish soup, again with an infinity of ingredients. Specifically Venetian is carpaccio, thin slices of beef served in mayonnaise, or bigoli in salsa, noodles in an anchovy or sardine sauce.
Cantina Do Mori: San Polo 429, with entrances on Calle Galiazza and Calle Do Mori, In San Polo;
tel: 041 522 5401
Directions: Go to the San Polo side of the Rialto Bridge, walk to the end of the market stalls, turn left, then immediately right, and look for small wooden cantina sign on left.
Veniceby.com is a great hotel guide for Venice. They have a lot of info on each hotel and also many pictures. You can make your choice with all this in mind and they offer direct contact with the owners.
A fabulous restaurant situated in the very vibrant and lively Piazza Navona. The food is delicious: 'crazy butterflies' - Farfalle in a rich creamy sauce, and you can't miss out on the taste of the Tartuffo - chocolate heaven. You can sit, eat and soak in the atmosphere and be spoilt by the wonderful waiters, for whom nothing is too much trouble.
Piazza Navona, 30
One time home of the Medici family who bought it from the eponymous rival family after it bankrupted them. This is opulence Italian style, all the trappings of people for whom money was no object are here, including paintings by Titian and Raphael. The Boboli gardens at the rear are pleasant enough, but if you have limited time, the Palace is much more interesting.
This is a stronghold, latterly used as a villa, built on a hillside overlooking the city and surrounding countryside. The chief reason for coming here is for the views, including the classic one of the Duomo dominated cityscape. On the way up you can see the house where Galileo lived and the Porta San Giorgio, the oldest surviving city gate, built in 1260.
Go up the Costa di San Giorgio (near the south end of the Ponte Vecchio) then turn right through the old city gate
A must see in Venice is Corradini's Donna Velata (veiled woman) in the first floor library of the Ca'Rezzonico (No 1 Vaporetto). The rest of the collection is a delightful contrast to the proto-Stalinist slate art that adorns the Doge's Palace.
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