Travel Journal Part #3 – Rome, Orvieto, San Gimignano, Florence, Cinque Terre, and Venice

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As I was rummaging through old journals and art sketch books during Covid, I came across this old journal of a trip we took to Italy fourteen years ago! Saving old things that I think I will do something with at some point is something I do. I thought I’d share this journal since I am very much missing traveling this summer! Reminiscing about a wonderful time we had on this trip to Italy, with friends, which followed a longer trip to Romania, by way of Hungary and Germany. 

Rome, Italy ~

3:00 pm July 25th 2006  – We have arrived in Rome! At least the Fiumicino Aerporti de Roma! Wow! It hasn’t really hit us yet! We are tired after being abroad for two weeks already. Germany, Hungary, Romania… and here we are in Italy, our fourth country to be in this trip!

We finally get all our bags and all seven of us make our way hauling our luggage toward the train into the city. But as we are heading that direction we get an offer to go in a van for 15 euros apiece. Yes, quite expensive, but the train is 10 euros and would take us much longer, so we readily agree! 

Our driver, Fabrizio, is a young man who has lived in Rome his whole life. He talks to us as he navigates toward our hotel. The drivers on the streets of Rome seem to disregard street signs, and Fabrizio drives very fast and goes straight in the left hand turn lanes! We arrive safely at the Hotel Atlante Lemon Garden and get checked in. Our room is nice, spacious and cool also! Yay! This hotel we found on Hotels.com and I’m very happy with it. The accommodations are comfortable and the breakfast which is included has many choices for our group of eight.

Paul and I, together with our girls, Lizzy and Corinne, ages 15 and 11, head out about 5:30 with our friends, Dave and Edie Boschen and their kids, Jordan and Carly. It’s so hot! We walk and walk and walk, seeing many historic and famous sights of Rome: The Vatican, the Vatican City Walls, St. Peter’s Dome, the Tiber River, the Pantheon, Campo de Fioni, Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps. We make sure to stop for ice cold gelato on the way, yummy, and the perfect break on a scorching hot day.

Erwan Hesry

~It’s always a good idea to stop for gelato!~

We search and search for a dinner place, and finally find something that looks good to all of us – pizza, just across from the Trevi Fountain. It is good but cost our family 31 Euros, with drinks at 4 Euros each! We all make wishes at the fountain before moving on. Lizzy and Carly, best buddies, are having the time of their life! 

After seeing the Spanish Steps, we take a taxi back to our hotel. The driver is funny and drives quite fast. Surprise! We arrive back at the hotel very tired, and after showers, using a hand held shower fixture, we head to bed. The bed is comfortable and the apartment with small kitchen we have for our family is cute. 

July 26th ~

We eat breakfast in the restaurant on the top floor (not in the roof top restaurant because it is closed for remodeling). The view of the Vatican is still amazing from this spot. Big windows face St. Peter’s and it’s quite a view! We enjoy an excellent breakfast overlooking the city.

We leave for the Vatican at 10:35 am, a little later than our planned 10:00 am time, because not everyone in our group is ready. We start our day with St. Peter’s Basilica. The lines are long, but they move fast and we get right in. The cathedral is unbelievable! The ceiling is probably 120 feet high. The ornate paintings, statues and beautiful marble floors mesmerize us. It’s hard to imagine this was built in the 1500’s and completed in the early 1600’s. 

Next we walk around the city wall to the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel. There is so much to see! Tapestries, paintings and statues. We stare at the ceiling, marveling at the work of Michelangelo, until they need us to move on. It’s more than we can take in at one time! We visit other exhibits and stay to soak it in for awhile, then head out to explore more of the city around 3:00 pm. Corinne, who is only 11 is getting tired. Maybe it’s time for more gelato!

After we part with our friends, we mull around looking for at shops and getting a slice of pizza at a small pizzeria. It’s yummy, almost like a thinner Sicilian style pizza, or like a pizza place near us, Upper Crust Pizza. It’s very reasonable, only 13 euros with drinks.

After resting at the hotel for a bit, we head out to meet our friends and help them get their luggage over to their rental car. They are heading out of the city tonight as they have already toured Rome and want to see a few smaller towns. We will meet up with them in a few days.

After sending them off, we go back to the Piazza de Navona, the beautiful, Navona Square which is home to the three beautiful fountains, outdoor cafes and restaurants, and cute small shops. The streets surrounding the square are also full of restaurants and shops on small, narrow streets. Dinner is at a small trattoria/pizzeria. We order pasta and the food is very good and they take Visa (most places don’t) and its cheap. It’s raining a bit now. We huddle under the small awning and wait for a break, then head across the square back towards the hotel which is our home for two nights. We stop for gelato on the way of course! This is the life! Who says you can’t have gelato in the rain?!

July 27th ~

We start our day at the top of the Atlante Lemon Garden for breakfast at the top floor restaurant, Les Etoiles. They have such a nice breakfast here, included in the rate and we can’t get enough of the amazing views out the huge windows which frame the Vatican Dome and St. Peter’s Basilica.

After breakfast we check out and head to the bank to exchange some money. The banks are much different here, with very high security, letting in only one person at a time and no backpacks. Paul and Corinne go in while Liz and I head over to the tabacchi shop across the street to pick up stamps for our postcards. This is the place to buy bus tickets also (1 euro each), so we buy some and meet Paul and Corinne and head toward the Colesseum.

When we get off the bus we see an amazing building in front of us, the Vittoriano, and the tomb of the unknown soldier, and also a historical war museum. It’s very interesting, but with so much on our list to see, we keep going.

We pass by the Roman Ruins, the Forums built by so many different rulers, each trying to make their building larger than their predecessor. It’s unbelievable to imagine what any of this had been like in that time.

As we approach the Colesseum we are accosted by tour guides and strange men dressed as Roman soldiers wanting to take our picture with them for euros. It sort of loses the feel of the place for me. But you can’t help feeling astounded when you see this building, trying to imagine the things that happened in these walls, horrid deaths that so many died here, Christians and others that met their deaths here. We can’t imagine that kind of persecution and I pray we would never have to endure it. 

We see many beggars here, and many that appear to be conning us, young hands on one that is trying to pose as an elderly person, that is unable to walk. Their faces are completely covered, you can’t even see one inch of their face so no evidence is given. 

Next we search the map for St. Peter in Chains, S. Pieto in Vincoli, and after much searching the streets, we finally find it to be closed for siesta. We keep going because we don’t want to wait for two hours. We take the underground train back. The first train is hot and crowded, but the second one has air conditioning and t.v.’s!

We shop a bit, getting pizza and icees and Paul treats us each to a foot washing at one of the cold water spiggots of Rome. It’s so hot today and the cool water on our feet and splashed on our faces feels so good and invigorates us to go on!

We make our way back to the hotel to pick up our held suitcases, then taxi to the rental car place on the outside of town. We pick up the car at 3:30 and carefully make our way out of the city in stop and go traffic. Picking up the car at this location works well because we don’t have to drive through as much of the city.

Paul does great driving in this country that is new to us, even though I am nervous beside him. Mostly because of the locals cutting quickly in front of cars and driving down two lanes before deciding which lane they want to be in. The toll freeway to our next destination, Orvieto, is a nice smooth road without many cars, once we make it out of the city. 

Orvieto 

About an hour or so later, we arrive in the walled town of Orvieto. This is beautiful city with a town like feel. We drive the streets for a while looking for our bed and breakfast, The Valentina. We follow the signs to the Valentino, but find it is not the correct place! We finally call our friends, who have already arrived and they direct us to The Valentina, where we meet the hostess and owner, Valentina. She is a very sweet Italian lady who was born and raised in Orvieto. Her place is very charming and nice, not fancy but comfortable, which suits us. The city is amazing, with tiny streets (alleys really!) and cars and lots of Vespas that go fast!

Later, Carly, takes everyone on a tour to the top of the outside wall and we can see the Umbria countryside. It’s so beautiful and romantic. We watch the sunset and then find dinner at a local, small trattoria, where Xtian (Christian) is our waiter. He is funny and our dinner, pastas that we each choose to our liking, is delicious! This is a Rick Steve’s recommendation and we couldn’t be happier with his choice! Xtian pours everyone limoncello following dinner, including eleven year old Corinne and fourteen year old Lizzy and Carly. Everyone tries it (well, not little Corinne ;0) and Paul especially enjoys it. We think it’s courtesy but find it’s been charged on our bill. We don’t care, as the whole experience is wonderful. 

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~Enjoying dinner in Orvieto~

Back to the hotel after that, and to bed, but not much sleep as there is a concert tonight outside our window until around 12:30 am or so.

Then the bells from the church, which is also outside our window, chime every 15 minutes all night long! I don’t sleep much at all but still love Orvieto, and all it’s charm. We wish we could stay longer. Valentina tells us to come back for a week in September. She says it’s the most beautiful time of the year. I think we need to take her up on this. 

July 29th ~

After breakfast of croissants and fruit we browse the shops looking for souvenirs for us and for friends and family. We stop outside the Duomo, the Cathedral, it’s so ornate on the outside front, with black and white stripes on the sides. We peak inside, but they are renovating, so we can’t go in very far. 

We say “arrivaderchi” to Orvieto ~ “Until we meet again”. And we know we must go back again.

Now on to Sienna! This is such a whirlwind of a tour of some of Italy! The countryside is so beautiful! Green hills and vineyards and beautiful casas and cypress groves. We’re heading into Tuscany now! Toscana! Now we know why so many movies and books are centered around this magical place!

Sienna is a little like Orvieto, at least in the center of town, only much, much bigger. We only wish it wasn’t so hot! It feels like 110 out, but Paul says it is not even 100 degrees! The cities rock buildings and stone cobbles  on the streets, radiate the heat around us. We wander the streets  taking the sights in, the Duomo, which is under construction, the Il Campo where the Palio horse race takes place, amazed at the beautiful buildings and cobbled streets in this quaint town.

San Gimignano

We all are exhausted because of the extreme heat, so after touring for half the day, we get back on the road. More beautiful countryside, vineyards, farmhouses and sunflower fields on the way to San Gimignano. The girls think the hilly country roads are fun, like a roller coaster! We arrive in San Gimignano, tired but ready to explore! We park outside the walled city and carry a few things we need to our hotel, which is very close to the main city gate. No cars are allowed inside the gates. It seems as if we should see knights and maidens walking beside us, through this Medieval walled city. It’s incredible, with fourteen standing towers that remain around the city wall. It’s also very touristy here, with many vendors selling the same exact things. The Hotel BelSoggiorno is nice, but our air conditioning is not working too great. Our friends have a beautiful view of the Toscana countryside while our room has a view of the cute main street below. Paul, Corinne and I wander the streets and try to go up one of the towers to view the city, but it just closes five minutes before we arrive!

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~Trattoria Chiribiri is an excellent dinner spot in San Gimignano~

We have dinner all together and enjoy great food and tiramisu at Trattoria Chiriburi. Paul gets a stuffed rabbit dish. All of the food is very good and we like it here. Then, you’ll never guess, more gelato! Corinne is in heaven with three gelatos today! 

And we are so thankful for this trip! We have seen such lovely and amazing things and are so thankful! Thank you God for the blessing of this trip.

July 29th ~

Florence

Wow! Florence! We’ve just arrived and I’m already in love with this city! It is rather difficult to drive here once you arrive, but we made it to the hotel after calling them to confirm we could drive on the streets in this center of town, where it says it for pedestrians only. They confirm that cars are only allowed here if you have a reservation at a hotel in this area or you are a taxi driver. The people don’t move out of the way as we drive through this area, they stare and I cringe thinking we are indeed not supposed to drive here! It seems like we are driving through Downtown Disney! The hotel tells us they will have to call and report the incident but we won’t be fined or charged. When we finally arrive,  the hotel garage sends someone to take our car to a parking across town. We are so thankful! Our hotel, The Hotel Maxim, is right next the Florence Duomo  of the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, and also next to the Disney Store! It’s a wonderful location, though, I might have preferred it better if we hadn’t driven our rental car here! But we are close to everything. We miss our Bargello Museum appointment as we are driving in circles for too long. It’s okay. 

We put our bags down in our room and rest for just a minute before zooming out to to start exploring. We head to the Duomo first, after waiting in line for just a few minutes. The inside is almost stark and simple, except for the fresco on the dome. The dome itself is huge and so intricate. We stare up at it for awhile. There is a rather scary depiction of hell on it. The outside is almost gaudy, but beautiful, with white, pink and green marble in amazing patterns. We get in line to climb the steps up the dome, waiting just a half hour. It begins to thunder and lightening and shower a little. It feels good. We’re thankful it’s not as hot today. 

463 stairs later, we are outside the dome and looking down on the city. Miniscule people and cars line the streets. The dome is 367′ high! It’s spectacular and near the top for one of my favorite things in Italy! The Renaissance dome, was designed and engineered by Filippo Brunelleschi, started around 1418 and completed in 1436, it played a very important role in the Italian Renaissance. This city is so beautiful and truly amazing. 

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~Views from the top of the Duomo, Florence ~

We head for a shopping area next. It reminds me of a outdoor walking mall in Budapest, Hungary. Lots of leather products, t-shirts and other wares. 

We enjoy dinner at I’ Cche’ c’e’ c’e’ (translation, “Whatever Is, Is”), a Rick Steves’ recommendation. There are other couples and families waiting outside for it to open, which it does at 7:15 pm. A lady we meet from Germany says she has been to Florence 26 times and loves Florence as well as this trattoria. We are seated and we notice it gets busy right away with locals and tourists alike. We enjoy the food and the atmosphere very much, from the servers to Gino, the chef/owner who comes over to greet us. His wife Maria serves us, as does Rosa, who tells us she is from a town near Calabria. We tell her my grandpa was from that area also. Gino also worked at a restaurant in Sausalito, California, named Angelo’s, and we connect at that level since we are from the Bay Area in California. Our pasta and “secondi” courses are very delicious! Then we top it off with chocolate desserts  and cappuccino! Always the best to finish off such a nice meal. The dinner is 68 euros for the four of us, but it is very excellent and we are so thankful for the beautiful experience and the wonderful food.

July 30th ~

Today we have a reservation for the Accademia Gallery, at 10 am. 50 euros for our family! You can definitely spend a lot of money on food and museums and sight seeing! We head to the David statue first. We are content to stay there for a very long time, such intricacy and skill by Michelangelo. I can’t believe the detail in his hands, the veins especially. I wonder how long it took to complete it? We wander the Accademia exploring and seeing famous works of art and statues in the many exhibits and halls. We wish we could stay longer but we have another appointment, so we quickly grab picnic lunch stuff at a nearby market and find a nearby bench to enjoy it on. When we were finishing eating, an Italian grandma came to enjoy our bench in the shade with us. She talked to us in Italian and we tried to understand her the best we can. Her name is Anna Maria and she is 84 years old. We talked for a while (she was very cute and sweet) and then made our way back to the hotel. It’s only about 10 minutes away. A great location for us. 

Next Lizzy and I head to the Gallerie Degli Uffize, (The Uffizi) which is just a short walk from our hotel, for more art exhibits. Paul and Corinne decide against another museum, and go exploring instead along the river.

We all meet up for gelato, after Lizzy and I are done. Then we enjoy some shopping, before going to the hotel for showers and a siesta. It’s very hot today here, 97 degrees and very muggy!

That evening for dinner we decide to try Baldovino Trattoria per our nephew, Tyler’s recommendation. He lived in Florence and so we knew he would have some places for food. We sat outside and it was pretty warm, but we enjoyed the very good pizza and people watching in the busy street we were on.

Later, we did the same on the steps of the Duomo, enjoying our last night in Firenze. We will be back, beautiful Florence! 

July 31st ~ 

Pisa and on to the Cinque Terre

We are on our way to Pisa for lunch and of course to see the Leaning Tower. It takes a while to get out of Florence. We had to wait for them to bring our car and figure out the best way to get out of the city. We will be meeting our friends there, visit and see a few things before heading to the Cinque Terre. In Pisa, we do silly pictures with the tower (pictures with illusions of holding it up). Souvenirs and then pizza and lots of water and a pitcher of coke for 10 euros! It’s super hot again too, so we don’t care how much it costs!

Then we are on our way to the Cinque Terre, after considering the best way to get there. We decide it’s best to drive to Vernazza and park above the town, since there are no cars allowed in. You can also take the train in. The drive is on a very, very narrow and curvy road. We have wonderful views of the Mediterranean Sea below the cliffs.

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Finally we make it to the parking area above Vernazza and find a shuttle to help us down with our luggage.

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~The beautiful town of Vernazza in the Cinque Terre ~ photo 2016

Vernazza is very quaint, with lots of locals out and about, cute shops, colorful houses, fishing boats, and beautiful sites of the water. Our family gets settled in our place three stories up, with all stairs. We have way too much luggage!

We all decide to go for a swim in the beautiful blue sea. The local youth are doing flips off the dock into the water.

Then we get ready for dinner, simple pizza and salad, which are both perfect. They even have balsamic vinegar, something that has been difficult to find up until now. Paolo, our waiter, is very efficient and fun. The pizzeria is very busy and he keeps our families entertained. 

Late in the day and early evening, a storm begins to come in and we watch the local fisherman form a line of camaraderie to bring all the boats onto the sand from the docks.

We end the day with gelato and cappucinos and watching the the waves.

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~ Vernazza, Cinque Terre, Italy ~ photo 2016

August 1st ~

Breakfast in our room the following day consists of fruit, chocolate croissants, apple turnovers, focaccia bread, donuts and cheese. There’s a market on the streets outside and we go to explore. It’s mostly fruits and vegetables, and souvenirs, and we enjoy doing some shopping. 

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We take the train to Monterrosa al Mare, the next town over. We stop to walk on the long beach here, to put our feet in the water and get our legs wet a bit, look at shops and have a slice of pizza. This town feels more like a resort town, where Vernazza feels more like a locals town. A few hours later, we take the train to Corniglia. The older kids get off in Vernazza. The rest of us walk back after seeing the next town of Corniglia, on the trail above the ocean. It’s very beautiful, looking over the cliffs to the ocean below. It costs some euros to walk on the trail.

Later for dinner, Paul and I split off from the others to have a dinner alone at a place near the top of Vernaza, looking over the town and the ocean. The view is amazing and the food is okay. We celebrate our 20th Anniversary and still can’t believe we are here ~ in Italy on the Mediterranean Sea! Jordan takes the girls to dinner, then the girls hang out by the water to write in their journals and read. Jordan is a great big “brother”, even to our girls! Paul and I watch from above, checking on them from our perch. We end the night with dessert and cappucinos at an outdoor cafe, with our friends. 

August 2nd ~

Venice

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~Picturesque view of a canal in Venice~

Venice! We arrive on a water taxi that takes us down the Grand Canal! Then to a smaller canal where our hotel is located. The hotel is cute and our room is small but furnished very nicely and elegantly. We tour the area around our hotel and venture into the other areas of San Marco Square, (Piazza San Marco), Saint Mark’s Basilica, the Rialto Bridge, seeing street vendors, Murano glass shops, perfume vendors and cafes. So many things to see here! The girls stop to get Venician masks from a street vendor. Paul stops for pizza. Then a ride for the four of us on a gondola. We couldn’t come to Venice and not take a gondola ride!

Damiano Baschiera

Dinner is pasta an outdoor cafe. It doesn’t compare to some of the other places we have been in Tuscany and Umbria for food here. But we are happy we came to see Venice. It is so different than many other places we have visited in Italy.

August 3rd ~

Our trip has come to an end. We are sad, but since we have been away from so long (3 1/2 weeks including our time in Romania and Hungary), we are ready to get home. Our flight is very early today, so we awake very early and head out in the pouring rain to catch a water taxi. There was thunder and lightning for much of the night, so we didn’t sleep much. We drag our suitcases through the cobbled streets and tromp through deep puddles, arriving drenched to the bus, which will take us back to the airport. 

Goodbye, Italy! We loved our visit and will be sure to come again to see you!

Join the Conversation

  1. Priscilla says:

    LOVED reading your travel log from your journal! Gorgeous photos as well!
    Thanks for sharing!

    1. Laura Sampson Author says:

      I love that you loved reading it! We had such a fun adventure on that trip! So many beautiful sights and being together as a family and traveling with some family friends. One of my favorite trips ~

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