Agent: Kristi “Ali” Macedanz
Direct Dial: 651-789-8821
Travel Dates: September 9 – 18, 2012
The trip was wonderful. We had simply an amazing time and had no issues with any of the details of our itinerary.
Here’s a rundown that I thought other traveler’s may find helpful:
• The Amsterdam airport is a dream to go through. Clean, modern and efficient. Friendly, too.
• Travelers Checks are no longer of use when travelling in Europe. Check to make sure that your credit card doesn’t charge huge fees and be sure to let them know that you are travelling abroad.
• Many Italians speak English, but not all by any means. Learn a few words before going and download Google Translate on your smart phone.
• Call your phone company to check on overseas options and packages for data, phone and text. Personally, I found the data the most useful. Barely used the phone and text.
• Trip Advisor has a great app to help with finding food and things to do nearby. Highly recommend.
• Festivals and community events seem to start about 2 hours later than advertised. However, concerts begin on time.
• As of 2012, GPS on iPhones (4S on 4G) is spotty at times, especially when travelling far from a metro area. Suggest the purchase of area maps if driving. We used a combination of GPS and a map of Tuscany.
• Check out parking areas and garages before going on the trip. Some take reservations. There are a lot of areas in cities where driving is not allowed except by permit and the garages can help with this as they are usually located inside the historic zone.
• If you park on the street, fold your mirrors in!
• BUY THE AUTO INSURANCE.
• Florence: N4U Guesthouse: A very nice, clean place. Young, enthusiastic proprietors. The hotel is a 4-floor walkup, which we knew beforehand. We were fine with this, but I wouldn’t suggest it for older people or those with health issues. The bathrooms were private but not attached to the room. Again, fine, but something to note. PERFECT location. Right near the Duomo; in the center of everything. Very lively area at night, but no issues with noise.
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• Casole d’Elsa: Antico Borgo Poggiarello: Lovely group of old farmhouses. Very secluded. Fantastic food and wine. We thought that this would be a nice place for a small wedding or party as everyone would have their own little house. Not much near here except for the AMAZING Porcini Mushroom Festival that we attended. Highly recommend the festival and the guesthouses.
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• Near Montalcino: Casa Bolsinina: A large home with simply lovely owners who welcome you like family. Again, the food and wine here were fantastic. The countryside was stunning and it was close to some out-of-the-way, less touristy towns to explore. Rodo and I thought that this would be a nice place to spend a few days for simple relaxation.
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• Siena: Locanda Di San Martino: This place was just fine. Nothing spectacular, but a perfect location and just right for the price. Clean, spacious rooms. Comfortable bed. No parking nearby. Nice continental breakfast.
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• Perugia: Hotel Brufani Palace: Luxury. Just beautiful. A true hotel with modern conveniences. Fantastic spa in the under-cellar with an amazing pool, sauna and steam room. The staff was extremely helpful. 5-stars for customer service! Parking available in front of the hotel or in their garage. Great location in the historic part of the city within walking distance of everything. Wish we’d stayed here longer 🙂
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• Rome: Relais Teatro Argentina: Again, location was just right. Within walking distance of practically everything. The owners were terrific – welcoming and very helpful with suggestions of what to do and where to eat. Again, there was no elevator here – only a 2-floor walkup, though. Beautiful, spacious rooms. Nice continental breakfast served in your room.
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Restaurants of note
• Florence: Vecchio Mercato (Piazza del Mercato Centrale): Laid-back and friendly with outdoor seating. Has a spectacular bistecca fiorentina.
• Siena: Zest Ristorante: Offers outdoor seating with an amazing view of the back of the Duomo. Friendliest staff ever. We actually ended up going out for drinks with 2 of the servers the next night. The food is beautiful and delicious. One thing to note is that it is not local Tuscan but Southern-style food. Eat there.
• Perugia: Pizzeria Mediterranea: THE BEST PIZZA I HAVE EVER HAD. Period.
• Rome: Sophia: Hands down our favorite restaurant in Italy. We went there for lunch one day. It was so good, we made reservations for dinner! Fresh, mouth-watering food. More modern-style with veggies and twists on older recipes. The two sisters who own it are bright and beautiful. I would go back to Rome just to eat here.
(Sagra del Fungo, Pievescola)
We arrived in Pievescola for the Sagra del Fungo (Porcini mushroom festival) a bit early. It had been billed as starting at 4. We learned that everything starts about 2 hours later than the advertised time.
We sat around in a little bar sipping Spritzes until we saw some people lining up at a little kiosk across the square. We hopped in line and gazed at the menu written on a large piece of paper. We ordered what we thought was an obscene amount of food — all incorporating mushrooms. Once Rudy finished with the list, the guy asked us what we would like for our mushroom course!
Tortino di Funghi – mushroom tart with a parmigiano sauce
Ravioli di verza con fegatini e porcini – home made ravioli with chicken livers and porcini
Stinco di maiale con cretia di porcini e patate al forno – pork shank with porcini and potatoes
Bistecca di vitello – Veal steak (red, not white – they don’t keep the babies in boxes there)
Oh… and don’t forget the mushroom course: Funghi alla griglia
This was some of the most amazing food I have ever and it was at a festival. Food for the masses done right! The most decadent mushroom feast ever.
Perfume: Aqua Flor
(Borgo Santa Croce 6, 50122 Florence)
An AMAZING profumeria where they make everything in-house. We spent about 2 hours here talking about perfume, its history, and their business as well as trying on scents. These are small batch perfumes not made in mass. This is the place to get yourself something truly unique and beautiful. Rudy and I each came home with a scent (perfume is not just for women there) and we get compliments on them every time we wear them.
Thank you so much for helping organize an amazing experience. We’re looking forward to the next, which I will be sending you an email about presently.
Clare G., Minneapolis, MN.