Italy Summary


This is a long entry because Cheryl loves Italy...

We flew from Athens to Venice.  Our flight was originally scheduled to leave at 4pm and for the first time on our trip we (Todd) did not reconfirm.  When we got to the airport, we found that the flight time had been changed to 9pm and it was going to be delayed by an hour on top of that.  The Athens airport was very modern, so there was plenty to keep us busy, namely bookstores, good (but expensive) food and an Internet café.  Since we were going from one European Union country to another, there was no customs or immigration control.  After the two hour flight, we rushed to the nearby pier and took the last ferry of the night Venice’s main stop, San Marco (near St. Mark's Square).  We then caught the local water bus to our stop, San Marcuola.  By the time we walked the short distance to our guest house, Pensionne Al Portico, it was after 2am and we fell into bed exhausted.  The next morning an utterly charming area of Venice lay right outside our door and we spent the next four days exploring this wonderful city.  Our room had two king size beds, a small kitchen and a bathroom - very simple, but well situated with a small canal outside the window, unused because of construction on a nearby building.  We booked the accommodation through Hostel World on the Internet.  One thing that added to our enjoyment of Venice was that the weather was not yet hot and the canals had no foul smell which we had read about.

After Venice, we validated our Eurail Passes and took the train to the town of Riomaggiore near La Spezia on the west coast.  Riomaggiore is one of several towns in the Cinque Terre region with charming old pastel buildings built straight up cliffs above the ocean.  The water was clean and beautiful.  There were no cars in the town, just one bus which ferries people around.  After waiting three hours (!) for the bus to take us to our hostel (there were no taxis), we were forced to find other lodgings within walking distance.  The apartment we found had a main room with small kitchen and bathroom and a loft with two twin beds for the girls.  It was very charming and looked out onto the small harbor.  The next day we relaxed and swam off the rocks nearby and that evening we cooked a meal with fresh pesto, pasta, shrimp and cheese.  It was a treat to eat in, after so much time in restaurants over the past six months.

We spent three days in Riomaggiore and then got on a train for Rome, where we met with our friends from Kona, Bob Triantos, his daughter Laura and her friend Alexa.  We toured Rome for two days, taking in the main sights such as Saint Peter's Basilica, Sistine Chapel, the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain and Colosseum.  We also shopped and tried to stay cool as it was around 100 degrees both days.  Our hotel in Rome was the Atlante Star, which had a good location near the Vatican, friendly staff, a tremendous view from the rooftop terrace, but was a bit overpriced for the quality.

We took the high speed train from Rome to Florence with Bob, Laura and Alexa.  Our hotel in Florence, the Astoria, was very nice and centrally located for us to walk to the marketplace and a fine restaurant just down the street called Regginella di Firenze.  We all took a walking tour of the city that we learned about from Bob.  One night, near Michelangelo's statue of David, we ran into Kona friends Gary Vancil, Linda Walton and their daughter Stephanie.  What a surprise that was since we had no idea they were in Italy - it is indeed a small world (after all).  We agreed to meet them in Siena a few days after that since we would be there at the same time.  The next morning, we saw Bob, Laura and Alexa off at the station.  They were headed to Venice and we packed up for our bus ride to Siena.

In Siena we decided to live it up and stayed at the Grand Hotel Continental.  We all agreed that a better hotel has not been had on this trip.  It was beautiful with 5-star amenities and gorgeous furnishings.  The weather was still around 100 degrees and our hotel was was an oasis of relaxed cool.  We walked around Siena the next day, visiting the main attractions and caught a falcon show, where the main birder let us play with a owl eagle chick and falcon chick.   It was a hot walk back to the hotel, where we rested and then met Gary, Linda and Stephanie at 6pm in front of the Duomo (church) as planned. We toured of the inside of the church and then had dinner together near the Piazza del Campo (the main square).  While we were in Siena, the town was full of Palio fever.  The Palio is a bareback horserace that takes place twice a summer in the Campo.  This race has been regularly scheduled here since the year 1651.  The next race was three days away and the excitement in the town was palpable.  We watched trial races early the next morning and then went back and checked out of our hotel.

Our next stop was the small hill town of San Gimignano about 20 miles from Siena.  Through the hotel we arranged for a car to take us there and also do a sort of  driving tour of Tuscany.  We arrived in San Gimignano in the late afternoon and checked into the Hotel Leon Bianco  (  It was a lovely place, right on Cisterna Square.  We were lazy in SG; we shopped, ate leisurely meals and worked on the website.  The views of surrounding Tuscan countryside and ambience of the town were unbeatable.  After two nights we caught a taxi to the nearby town of Poggibonsi (a.k.a. Pudgy Bones) and caught our train to Milan.

After reading the novel DaVinci Code, Lauren expressed interest in seeing the original painting of The Last Supper, which is in Milan (Is that really Mary Magdalene to the left of Jesus?).  Back in Venice we learned that tickets to view the painting sell out weeks in advance during the summer months.  We found a place on the Internet to pre-order tickets.  So we bought four tickets online.  After arriving in Milan, we checked into our hotel and took a taxi to the Santa Maria delle Grazie Church for our 4:30pm viewing of the painting.  It was wonderful to see this amazing work.  That day, July 1, was also Todd & Cheryl's 16th wedding anniversary, so we had a nice glass of wine and some appetizers before retiring to the hotel for the evening.  We only had one night in this interesting city before traveling to Switzerland to meet our RTW friends the Foxes.

Kona Moment:  Hawaiian fabric and prints are very popular in Italy this year.

Starbucks:  None that we saw.  After 10am it is hard to get coffee with milk since most people drink espresso.

Weird McDonalds Menu Item:  Fried mozzarella sticks and Exotic Fruit Sundae

Cultural Moment:  Feeding the pigeons in St. Mark's Square (Piazza San Marco); watching the boats glide up and down the canals of Venice; eating Caprese salads (fresh tomato slices, basil  and mozzarella cheese).