Tuscany, Italy - September, 2007
[The pictures on this page are all repeated and identified later on in the trip report - they're just here to tweak your interest! For additional pictures from the trip, be sure to see Katie's Italy pages too ]
Four of us went on this 2 week trip: Barb (me), John, Katie and Dave. Some people are reading this report for information about their own upcoming trips, so I will provide some details, including addresses and web sites where feasible. If you just want to see pictures, feel free to just skim through and look at pictures! [Index at bottom of this page.] If you want additional information, you are welcome to contact Barb or Katie - just email us using the first name @fotosnstuff.net. I will be covering our trip chronologically but will label the sections by location, hoping that makes it easier to find specific items of interest to you.
Although I tried to layout pictures where the placement will "work" with various resolutions, I still recommend a low resolution (larger size) so you can see them better! 800 x 600 is my favorite if your monitor will go that low; or else 1024 x 768. Of course if you have a large monitor, that helps, too!
Finally, my work is always in a proof-reading stage! So if you see typos, or there are pictures missing or overlapping, please let me know (at email above).
We arranged this Tuscany North trip through Untours. This is a great organization to deal with and, if you want some extra local support during your travels, we would recommend them highly. The down side is that there are some events involving a "group" which means some compromises - waiting for those who are late, listening to some questions that may not be relevant to you, etc. But you might make some new friends, too!
Untours arranges the apartment (you can choose among numerous possibilities) and rental car, provides some "settling in" supplies (a couple bottles of wine, groceries for a meal or two), and, at least in Italy, local cell phones (50 € deposit returned when the phone is returned) and GPS systems (available to rent). They send you a map, guide book and planning information ahead of time; a local contact person (in our case Cathy, and her husband Ciro) usually meets you at the airport, hosts an orientation session and at least one group activity during your two weeks. Although we are pretty low-maintenance travellers, we did appreciate the added security of knowing we could call Cathy with questions or in case of emergency. Getting to know her and Ciro a little bit was an extra plus for us.
On balance, I think Untours was a good choice for our first trip to Italy, especially given that our knowledge of Italian is extremely limited! Katie actually took a beginning Italian class and I went through the Pimsler audio Italian I course (I would strongly recommend that). We could say things like "I don't understand" "Where is Via Fieschi?" and "Please speak more slowly!" But we definitely could not carry on a conversation without pointing and pantomiming.
Untours will also book your air transportation, but we chose to arrange our own. They use primarily Air France and that wasn't going to work very smoothly with our connections from the midwest. We booked through Travelocity and were able to put together a package using 3 different airlines that got us to and from Minneapolis at the same cost that Untours charged for a NYC departure. We took a Delta direct overnight flight from JFK to Pisa, arriving about 11 AM and avoided connections in Europe. Coming home we wanted our port of entry to be Minneapolis so that we didn't have to go through immigration and recheck luggage elsewhere, so we connected through Amsterdam with a direct Northwest flight. My main advice here is to be sure you have plenty of time between flights! Given all of the security screenings and passport control, an hour just is not realistic anymore, yet travel professionals are still booking those connections.
The only other things we set up ahead of time were reserving admission tickets to the Uffizi in Florence and booking our overnight accommodation in Cinque Terre. Beyond those items, we decided to just play it by ear. And so - on to the fun part! (Pictures are mostly mine; I believe I credited Katie for hers that I used. Any that I am in you can assume she took!)
1. Arrival, Migliarino, Lucca I, Beach
5. Vineyard, Cinque Terre I
6. Cinque Terre II
7. Mountains, Lucca II, Montecatini Alto