Natasha, of our Fond du lac office recently went on a trip that she has dreamed about for years. This magical trip to Italy and Croatia was full of family heritage and incredible experiences.
In September I traveled to Europe for the first time with my husband (Adam) and my father and mother in law. Adam and I had dreamed of this trip since we first got together because we really wanted to see where his beloved Grandma Caterina grew up (Rovingo- once Italy before WWII, now present day Croatia). We decided it would be best to take a guided tour around Italy, and then travel to Croatia on our own to stay with relatives who still reside there.
TOUR ITINERARY OVERVIEW– ITALY
Day 1: Checked in at the hotel, had our orientation with our tour manager Oriana, went to bed early.
Day 2: Saw many of Rome’s ‘highlights’ – St. Peter’s Square (with a blessing by the POPE), the Roman Forum, and the Coliseum (all included). We purchased the optional tours in which we saw the Vatican, Trevii Fountain, and the Spanish Steps. TIP: The pick-pocketers are BAD in Rome. My father in law almost got his wallet taken from him at the Coliseum. However, nothing screams TOURIST quite like a fanny pack, passport necklace, and a shirt with a million zippers….
Day 3: Left Rome in the morning, stopped in Pisa along the way to Florence. Purchased the optional excursion as an introduction to Florence – stopped at a lookout point to see a spectacular panorama of the city and had an amazing dinner in the Tuscan Hills. The restaurant’s name was “La Certoza” – and I would highly recommend a visit here! Everyone had a roaring good time!
Day 4: Walking tour of Florence and its many Piazzas. Loved this city, as most people do. We did purchase the optional tour of the Uffizi Gallery, which holds some of the world’s greatest Renaissance art. I was never particularly interested in art – so this was a snooze fest for me. I’m still glad I saw it once.
Day 5: Departed Florence and stopped in Milan for a couple of hours. Milan is a big cosmopolitan city, and is considered to be the most “European” places in Italy. One things that really ‘wowed’ me here was the famous gothic Duomo. It’s a must-see for anyone stopping in Milan. After Milan we drove to our final destination, Lake Maggiore in the Italian Lake District. BEAUTIFUL!
Day 6: Spent the day in Lugano, Switzerland. It was extremely clean, eco-friendly… and expensive! Very picturesque, though. We did the optional excursion to Monte Tamaro where we took a cable car up the mountain for lunch. Great views of the Alps! I also did a bobcart luge down part of the mountain while my husband zip-lined. This tour was worth every penny. Would love to see more of Switzerland someday.
Day 7: Left Lake Maggiore, drove to Verona. We did a walking tour of the city, which is the fourth most visited city in Italy (after Rome, Venice, and Florence). We saw Juliet’s balcony and Romeo’s house! We left for Venice later that afternoon. We purchased the optional “Venetian Nigh Out” tour – and it was spectacular! We took a boat there at sunset and we saw St. Mark’s Square all lit up. The city is PACKED with tourists, but it’s a place everyone must see once as there is no other place like it in the world.
Day 8: I spent the day sick in bed with a migraine, but my husband explored Venice with the tour group. He even took a most romantic gondola ride with his parents….
Day 9: Our only rainy day – we departed Venice and stopped in Ravenna, a city known for their intricate mosaics. We then drove to Assisi, the town of St. Francis. This stop was meaningful as my alma mater, Cardinal Stritch University, is Franciscan affiliated, and I learned a lot about this Saint while I went to school there. Regardless, I think Assisi is an enchanting town for most tourists…
Day 10: Drove to Pompeii – a must see sight for History lovers as its remains are literally ‘frozen in time’. Next we drove to Sorrento on the Bay of Naples. The Almalfi Coast is beautiful, but you’ll notice it’s ‘dirtier’ than the north.
Day 11: We took a boat to the Isle of Capri (included). This island was so beautifully filled with vibrant flowers, lush foliage, and lemon trees. It was also FULL of tourists – however, it did not take away from its charm. We purchased the optional tour of the island, and a boat ride around the island – which again, was worth more than we paid. I would not want to navigate that island on my own – dodging crowds and lines of tourists at every turn.
Day 12: There was nothing on the itinerary except if you wanted to purchase an optional trip to Positano. We had the best sweet treats at a pastry shop here. We were also able to dip our toes in the Mediterranean Sea for the first time. The beach there was described in the tour’s description as “enchanting”, but it was small, dark, and rather uninviting. However, it’s typical of the area due to the nearby volcanoes. The excursion was short, and I would have liked more time here. We drove to Rome that afternoon, and we purchased the optional “Farewell Dinner”. This dinner was the best meal I had while in Italy – PLUS, we got to see the Pantheon which we didn’t see when we were in Rome at the start of our tour.
Day 13 (September 14): Tour ended with breakfast – and we were transferred back to the airport according to our flight time.
TOUR SIDE NOTES:
A ‘buffet’ breakfast was included every day, however it’s important to note that it was usually a continental style breakfast.
All included dinners, as well as the optional dinners, were usually four course and very good!
Tour Guide and Driver-
Our tour guide Oriana was exceptional – very knowledgeable, informative, and friendly. She was a native Italian, but her English was impeccable.
Our driver, Carmine, was impressive! How he navigated through those narrow streets and made those hairpin turns are beyond me!! And not a scratch on the bus! He also kept the coach very clean day after day. When he wasn’t driving, he was caring for the bus.
Very comfortable and clean! It was the same quality as Globus – but as I mentioned earlier, no Wi-Fi. HOWEVER, our tour guide said that is a good possibility that Wi-Fi will be on the Cosmos coaches in the near future.
All of the local guides for the included excursions and optional tours were wonderful. Absolutely no complaints about any of them! Also, the headsets provided worked out beautifully.
All of the hotels we stayed in were “First Class” – and we even used some of the same ones Globus was using. However, it’s important to note before traveling to Europe as the standards and amenities are different than what we may be used to in America. The rooms are usually smaller, the buildings are older, and washcloths and shampoo are not always provided! Even though some of our hotels were located outside of the city, it was still within walking distance to some kind of public transportation.
We flew to Trieste, Italy from Rome on the day our Italy tour ended. My husband’s second cousin (whom we never met before) picked us up at the airport there and drove us to Rovigno/Rovinj, Croatia. The drive was only about an hour – but we crossed through three countries- Italy, Slovenia, and Croatia. The borders were a breeze and NOT intimidating! We just showed our passports, they were stamped, and we were on our way.
We arrived at our cousin’s villa where we stayed for four nights. It was an interesting experience as our family knew very little English and we knew very little Italian and ZERO Croatian. Because Rovinj was once Italy, the town is bilingual.
The town itself is spectacular – medieval, quaint, and set on the sparkling Adriatic Sea. I honestly think we will see it on more and more European guided tours. Croatia, as a tourist destination, is growing – and I do believe this will be the HOT destination SOON. It recently joined the European Union (July 2013) and will be switching to the Euro in a couple of years. This will give it a huge boost in tourism, I think.
The four days we spent there, we explored the town, attended a festival (Fest of St. Euphemia), visited with distant relatives, and saw the house Adam’s grandma grew up in. His grandma still owns land there – over 50 acres of rolling hills with olive groves and mature fruit trees……AND you can also see the Adriatic Sea from higher vista points of the land (CHA-CHING)! Our cousin also took us on many boat rides which included feeding wild dolphins, fishing for sardines, and cliff jumping!
We are planning our next trip back to Europe in a few years – but this time we will spend MOST of our time in Croatia. I’m dying to see Plitvice National Park, which is only a couple hours from Rovingo/Rovinj. I would LOVE to become a Croatia specialist some day!
The trip was a dream and it couldn’t have gone more smoothly (despite the minor flight delays). My in-laws were impressed with my recommendations and planning. The planning of this trip, along with experiencing it for myself, gave me a confidence boost for selling Europe to clients!
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