Italian Wonders

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When I talk to people about travel and ask them where they want to go they often respond with “Italy”. Italy has almost everything you might want in a European destination - history, beauty, culture, fine food and ease of travel.

The public transportation system in major cities works well and trains operate quickly between cities. Air service between the U.S. and Italy is good and frequent and the country is easy to include in a multi-country European visit. You can enjoy fine hotels almost everywhere.

Travel anywhere in Europe today is not inexpensive, so take plenty of money and be sure to exchange several hundred dollars for Euros at the airport when you depart the U.S. It will make the first part of your travel much easier. And, the dollar today is not easy to use in Europe anymore.

To begin planning, I suggest using a travel agent because they can save you money almost everywhere. Make sure the travel agent is familiar with Europe and has connections there. They will also have a supply of brochures for you to take home to begin deciding where you wish to travel.

If this is your first time to visit Italy, I strongly urge you to book a tour. The tour company takes care of all the details allowing you to sit back and enjoy the country. They will book all your hotels, sightseeing and supply the transportation. If you are the independent type, keep in mind Italian cities have heavy traffic, few parking spots and everything on the street seems wild. Travel in a coach is much easier and you leave the diving to others.

There are restrictions with a tour, you have to be ready to leave at the time the tour director sets and you must have your suitcase outside your hotel door at an appointed time. After a couple days you get into the discipline necessary for 40 or more people traveling together.

All tour companies allow proper time for you to explore on your own in the various locations. They know free time is important for the tourist. Also, by taking a tour most of your entrance fees and extras are paid in advance of travel.

Most Italian tours begin in Rome, a city that dazzles with historic ruins and culture.

On one of your first days you will be guided through Rome and visit the highlights of this great city. Included will be Circus Maximus which was designed for chariot races, stand on a hill to see the Roman Forum which includes the Coliseum, then perhaps the Carcalla Baths, and on one of the days there you will be given a complete tour of Vatican City which is 43 acres within the city of Rome and in itself an historic area.

On another day you will have the opportunity to see Piazza Navona and the Fountain of Trevi. You might even wish to throw a coin in the fabled fountain.

Your tour company may even give you a free day to explore Rome on your own. From your hotel you may wish to hire a car and driver to make the day easier. Perhaps you want to drive the Apian way or visit a department store or do a second visit to Vatican Square.

Now, your tour will take you out of Rome, probably to the one and only Venice. Here you find giant bridges, ornate palaces and romantic gondolas. There is no other city in the world like Venice - hundreds of years of history, the canals, music and tiled St. Mark’s Square. Your tour guide will explain the glorious history of La Scerenissima, one the greatest trading centers of the world. You get a feeling of its wealth and power by the riches of St. Mark’s Basilica and the great multi-story homes along the Grand Canal. A gondola ride will be included in your tour itinerary. You might even be given a chance to visit the Murano glass factory to see how their items are made and perhaps have an opportunity to purchase a keepsake to take home. When you get some free time find your way over to the Rialto Bridge to visit the various shops.

Perhaps next, you will visit one of the stars of Italy: Florence. Some say this is where Italian cooking was born - at the court of the Medici. I enjoyed my first taste of real Italian pizza here only a few months ago and believe me it was better than any I had tasted in the U.S. Your tour may include a walking tour of Florence to see various sites where history unfolded.

These may include the Accademia to see Michelangelo’s original Statue of David, Signoria Square filled with Renaissance masterpieces and the church of Santa Croce where the tombs of Galileo and Michelangelo are located. That evening you will be treated to a fine Italian dinner at a restaurant your tour has chosen.

Nearby, is the city of Pisa where you will have the opportunity to visit the leaning tower. If you are athletic and in good shape, you can walk up the seven flights of stairs to the top - Don’t worry, it won’t fall over. I did this when I was 19. I couldn’t do it last fall.

From here the tour will probably head south to Naples aboard a high-speed train, there you’ll be met by a guide and travel by coach to Pompeii. On Aug. 24, 79 AD, mighty Mount Vesuvius erupted, burying Pompeii under tons of hot ash and pumice. The city entirely disappeared until 1746, when it was accidentally discovered and excavation began. Your guide will take you through the streets of Pompeii to see the well-preserved homes and other buildings of the city. It will give you an idea of what cities were like at the time of the eruption.

The tour will then return to Sorrento for a few nights stay. This is a fascinating area. You might even have pizza for dinner. Your restaurant may feature Neapolitan music. You can hum along. You might even get a lesson on how to dance to the melodic melodies.

After the stay here, it is time to leave Sorrento and take a boat trip across the Gulf of Naples to the enchanting Isle of Capri. You will have the opportunity to sail into the caves and enjoy the green water’s effect. Then it’s back to Sorrento for a night’s rest.

The nearby Amalfi Coast is a scenic wonder of small villages nestled along the steep cliffs leading down to the water. The travel buses can’t use the winding streets; only private cars can navigate this stretch of road. Your tour company will probably charter a boat for you to cruise along the coast to view the wonders of this area. From Positano you can take a walk through the town to enjoy the sights and snoop the shops. Many movies have been filmed here and you just may recognize the town from the big screen. Lunch at a restaurant located on the side of the cliff would be memorable here. You have to taste real Italian spaghetti while in Italy and perhaps this is the place to do it. Spaghetti is different here than at home. You decide which you prefer. From Naples your tour may include travel to other parts of Italy. It’s all good believe me. The best time to visit anywhere in this part of the world is spring and fall. It’s not so hot and humid and better for walking. You’ll love Italy and want to return again sometime.

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