Italy Part 2

So, I left the B&B Stella Polare in Verona at 8am on Sunday, May 25th.  The taxi was pricey but I had an 8:45am reserved train ticket to Milan and then a 10:20am train to Varenna.  The Milan train was smooth and that’s where I started catching up on the blog.  I was one train off from being on the same train as my other friends coming to visit for the second part of May.  Then, I committed a big error.  Trains that do not require a reservation require you to validate your ticket, basically date stamp it.  You can buy a non reserved ticket and it is usable for a couple of months, so on the day you decide to use it, you must date stamp it before you get on the train or else risk a fine.  So, on my train from Milan to Varenna, I forgot to do this and then freaked out.  I got off 1/2 way to Varenna in Lecco to validate my ticket which meant that I had to wait another hour before the next train to Varenna.  Well, I only made it to Varenna about 1/2 an hour before my friends did.  Varenna is a town that Rick Steves has made famous with Americans.  You see a lot of them in Varenna and the Lake Como area in general.  I guess we can blame some of that on George Clooney, too, as he has a villa nearby and this is very well known.  The town of Bellagio is also very well known thanks to the hotel of the same name in Vegas.  I can tell you now, the Vegas hotel is NO substitute for the real thing.  Just does not compare.  
Despite being sick, I had started to get sick in Verona, Varenna was really nice. Weather…check, atmosphere…check, good wine and food…check, good friends….we’re set.  We had an apartment in Varenna with a kickin’ view of the lake and mountains so we were able to cook ourselves breakfast and we could have munchies with wine whenever wanted, so we did.  We saw a couple of villas with exquisite gardens and even made a day trip in to Milan. 
Most people don’t like Milan because in the way of tourist attractions, there arren’t many.  You probably have about a handful and you could see them in a day.  As a matter of fact, if you don’t go to the Brera Museum or have an appointment to see the Last Supper, you can whizz through it in about a couple of hours.  You could hit the Duomo and the Victorio Emmanuele Gallery, walk by the Scala Opera House and then make your way back to the train station or airport.  However, I’ve been to Milan several times and have spent a few days there as a base and it is nicer than it appears on the surface.  If you can’t make a lake village a base or have time to chill out over there, then Milan could be a nice base to make some day visits to other cities in Italy.  With the new high speed trains, Florence is only 1:40, Venice 3 hours, Rome about 3.5 hours, Turin is only 1.5 hours away and you can also get to Bologna and Verona within 1.5 hours.  If you like the big American style hotels then you also have a better choice of them in Milan.  Hotels like the Hilton chain sometimes have great deals in places like Milan.  However, Milan is a big conference town and is often full of convention goers from a huge international house wares and design expo to all the fashion weeks you could run in to.  Anyway, it’s an alternative.
Our next destination was Florence where we once again had an apartment at our disposal.  We were there from the 28th of May to the 2nd of June. There were now 4 of us as another friend joined us on our way down through Milan to Florence.  This apartment was quite large for Euro standards and came with 2 bedrooms, another room area in a loft, 2.5 bathrooms and a large living room with a grand piano.  The hallway and kitchen/dining area were also quite large.  Like a lot of Euro places, this one had its quirks.  We discovered while trying to bake and do the laundry at the same time that, well, you can’t.  The lights all went out but we luckily found the light box and solved that problem.  We did not cook and clean at the same time again.  One of the bathroom doors got jammed and it took one of us a little bit to get out of there and then decided not to lock that door ever.  If the door was closed, you knew someone was in there.  The final thing was just that if one person was using the shower, we couldn’t use the water or they would be taking a very cold shower.  Just some quirky things that a 200+ year old building might have.  

We had a great time in Florence with great dinners, food and wine.  Is there a theme here?  If you come to Florence and are going to see a few of the museum sites, you may want to consider the Firenze Card.  It’s pricey but allows you to skip lines and not have to make any reservations to any of the sites.  Most places had a separate line for cardholders.  The most important and biggest line you will bypass is the Uffizi.  We got in less than 10 minutes after we got in line.  That is worth a lot.

Alas, I had to leave the ladies as they headed up north to Milan and I was heading for Rome.  I again went on the very fast train service from Florence to Rome.  This time around I was at a regular hotel that was pretty good for the price.  I booked it through Expedia.  I tried to walk to areas I’d never been before like the Jewish quarter, Isla Tiburtina and the Capitoline Museums.  I recommend the Capitoline Museums.  This was my first time there.  There were quite nice and very informative and they had some neat stuff.  I shelled out some extra Euros for the audio guide and it was worth it.

I also was in Rome to visit with some friends who were on their honeymoon and Rome was their last stop.  We had a pleasant lunch a few blocks behind the Campo de Fiori square and walked around town a bit.  I left them at the Colosseum and made my way back to the hotel.  

I left the next day for London out of Rome’s airport.  The Da Vinci Express is quite good and I’m told that Terravision also has a good service by bus from the airport to the main train station in town, Termini.  Terravision is cheaper but they don’t run as frequently as the train service.  I’m writing this a few weeks later, so my recollections are a bit fuzzy and I’m sure I’m mission out some fun details and observations.  Oh well, I didn’t have time to write then. 


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