Subject: Italy via Trafalgar Tours?

>On ourfirst trip to Italy we spent about 10 days there, 5 days in Rome then the train to Florence and 4 days there. The train is fast and easy.>

This type of trip is an excellent idea. You can take this group's word for it, that if you base yourself in these two cities, you might not really need a formal guide all the time. The train along the line Rome/Florence/Bologna is fast, easy, and frequent, (it runs at least every couple of hours.) By spending 4 or 5 days in each of these areas, you will have tasted Italy well, without feeling like you are being starved with incredible food lying all around you just out of arm's length. Trying to see too much, on too tight a schedule will only frustrate you, and leave you hungry.

To amplify this idea, you might consider a day trip out of Rome to some place like Ostia Antica, the site of an ancient Roman city, whose ruins are compared favorably to those of Pompei. A day trip like this, with guide, can easily be arranged through a local travel agency (or even American Express,) or maybe through your hotel.

If you plan on 5 or 6 days in Florence, you could easily take a day trip to Siena (autobus is more efficient in this case than the train,) or even a day trip to Bologna which is my favorite real city in Italy. Both are just an hour away from Florence by easy public transportation. Again, your hotel could easily help you with these arrangements; train and bus travel in Italy is very easy and fast. They could also arrange a day trip, by private tour company most likely, to a place like San Gimignano, if that kind of foray into the Tuscan countryside interests you. San Gimignano is perhaps the most heavily touristed hill town in Italy, and the charm of the place suffers somewhat from the sheer volume of day-trippers, but again there is a reason for its popularity. It is uncommonly picturesque, and the are several notable sights of interest. Visiting the museums, the fort, the duomo (with fantastic frescoes), climbing the bell tower, enjoying the street musicians and the beauty of the piazza della Cisterna-- all could easily occupy an entire day.

And if it were to make things easier on you, day-guides can be hired in any of these places. Last October, I used the services of a day-guide in Florence to walk us around and explain some of Florentine history at a different level than that found in the usual guide books. It was very worthwhile.

This type of trip to Italy CAN be done on your own if you choose. The perspective of it, from planning it to doing it, is just a little different, and would require just a little bit more effort. But it would probably be much more satisfying than being carted around on a motorcoach and given a few half-days here and there to try to appreciate this rich, marvelous country. Of course, there would be no shortage of help and advice from this list.

I recognize that for many on their first trip to Italy, Venice is a must. This is entirely understandable. Adjustments can always be made to any suggested itineraries to include a couple of days in Venice. It is a relatively easy train ride from Florence, with perhaps a change in Bologna, (where you could stop for a day!) Joel