Subject: Italy travelogue (longish)
Hi Ziners!

After three years as a member of the TravelZine, I'm finally submitting a travelogue about my family's two weeks in Italy. Hope you enjoy it.

Cast of characters: me, wife Shellie and 4-year-old son Charlie. flight from Paris Orly to Venice Marco Polo on Thursday, May 19: 1 1/2 hours flight time. Flight was uneventful.

>From Marco Polo, we took the water bus to Venice's Piazzale Roma, where the land buses and taxis go. The trip took almost an hour, which is almost twice as long as the bus, but more fun. We were all very excited to see Venice as our boat approached it.

Our hotel, Ca' della Corte ( was a short walk from the Piazzle Roma. Our room was large and sunny, very pleasant. We took our breakfast of coffee and pastries upstairs on the roof # even nicer as the weather was perfect (sunny but not hot).

Our three-day visit included the usual tourist stops: Piazza San Marco; a visit to Murano, the island noted for its glassmakers (some of the glass is gorgeous # and expensive! We bought a vase and are eagerly awaiting its delivery.); the Rialto bridge; trips on the vaporetti (the water buses that go up and down the Grand Canal); a visit to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection (nice, but not a great art collection, IMHO); lots strolling through Venice's narrow streets and window shopping; a short trip across the Grand Canal in one of the gondola ferries (fare was 1.50 euros. A regular gondola ride along the canal goes for about 60 euros; we passed it up.)

We were supposed to leave on Saturday but Shellie contracted strep throat. Our hotel called a doctor, who gave her the diagnosis and wrote a script for an antibiotic. The doc cost 30 euros (can you imagine that, for a house call!). I had lots of trouble finding a pharmacy that was open. While Shellie slept, Charlie and I returned to St. Mark's to go into the church and see the four gold horses that figure prominently in a book on Venice that we bought for Charlie. It's called ``Vendela in Venice,'' and it was a terrific guide (as good as a ``real'' travel guide). But then it rained, and we spent much of the day indoors in an apartment owned by the hotel that was, luckily, vacant (our hotel room was taken).

The next day, Shellie was feeling lousy, but we decided to drive to our next destination: a farm in the Chianti region of Tuscany. We picked up a car (Europcar, reserved through AutoEurope - excellent service) and drove the three hours to the farm. Our car was a four-door Fiat Stilo with a diesel engine # excellent car (which we got with a free upgrade).

The farm is called Il Bacio (the Kiss) and grows organic grapes and olives, and makes wine and olive oil. Our hosts were Sonia and Franco Rossi and their eldest son Andrea. Very lovely people. The farm is spectacular, just what we were hoping for. Verdant hills, vineyards, olive trees. It was so wonderful to open our window each morning and look out at paradise!

Our apartment was Spartan, but very comfortable. We often cooked our own dinners, and ate outside, watching the sun set over the hills. And we were so lucky with the weather: almost always sunny and mild.

The farm is perfectly located: less than a half-hour by car south of Florence, and a half-hour north of Sienna. Florence and Sienna were both lovely. Highlights: In Florence we took a two-hour guided tour of the Uffizi Gallery (sorry, I've forgotten the name of the tour organizer). Charlie was a prince during the tour. (For the Uffizi, definitely reserve tickets or take a guided tour, which includes tickets, or else you'll stand in a very long line).

Sienna is a lovely town, and its main attractions the Campo (main plaza) and the Duomo are must-sees. Shellie and I were both blown away by the interior of the extraordinary Duomo with its alternating dark and light marble.

The big disappointment for me was Pisa. The tower and the neighboring Duomo were very nice, but the row of schlocky souvenir stands that line the entrance to the tower and church compound really detract from them. We spent barely an hour there.

We did a lot of driving on the autostrade, and found them okay, but not up to the road conditions of the French autoroutes. The tolls seemed to be lower than those of France (which are expensive, I indeed).

Our return flight was from Venice, and because it left in the evening we had a few more hours to spend in Venice. Such an amazing place.

The flight was almost two hours late getting off, and so our vacation came to a frustrating, and tiring, end as we waited in the airport.

PS: Sorry I don#t have any more specifics (eg name of the tour company, glass company etc). This report is based on notes I made in my new Venetian leather notebook after we returned to Paris. (I can't even recall the name of the leather shop, though it was right on the Rialto bridge.)

Bons voyages a tous! Evan in Paris