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October 16, Saturday
We started off on early morning 16 October (Saturday) for San Jose airport. [Of course, I have skipped all the boring parts about getting our Italian visa, making all the trip bookings etc]. We took a taxi to the airport, cleared security and were on the plane with no trouble. Unfortunately, our plane got delayed so it was a mad rush at New York to get on to our connecting flight to Rome but we made it in time. And in the process got horrible non-window seats. And to add to it, liquor was not free on the international flight! Both of us just slept through that flight and arrived in Rome early morning on 17 October (Sunday).

October 17, Sunday
The immigration office looked at our passports for like 2 seconds before he stamped it - wonder what he saw in that! Our first experience with Italian driving came with the airport-hotel shuttle driver. He was reading a map, talking to his head office, writing down instructions on how to reach a place, and driving all at the same time! The Americans in the shuttle were sitting tight with the seat belts all in place. We were thoroughly amused as people were driving just like in India. After roaming around for a while dropping all the people off, and seeing half of Rome in a whirlwind, we reach our Hotel Gambrinus tucked away in a small corner in the heart of the city. Our rooms were not ready so we just freshened up, left our bags there, and set off for the day.

Mayur attended the conference [Foundations of Computer Science] he had come all the way to Italy for. I left him at the conference hotel and left to see Ancient Rome. Walked around the Borghese Gardens, and down Via Vittorio Veneto to the Spagna metro station and took off to the Colosseum. The metro station is right next to the Colosseum and man, it was a spectacular view as soon as you stepped out of the station! The huge Colosseum was right there!! I walked around it for a little bit. I saw the 'Arch of Constantine' which is a pretty white arch right next to the Colosseum. I also grabbed a bite from a vendor there who spoke no English at all. I asked for ketchup with my sandwich and she yelled at me because their special Italian sandwich taste was not supposed to be ruined by ketchup. There was a huge line to get to the Colosseum to I took Prashant's tip to purchase the combined ticket at the Palantine Hill. I took off for the Roman Forum.

The Roman Forum is a bunch of ruins of old Roman buildings. In older days, this was the center of the city. All the kings and their families lived here in lavish palaces, and they had all their political meetings here. I joined a local tour and the excellent guide Wendy explained the history behind all the building ruins there. She showed us the burial place of Julius Caesar, the ruins of the temple of God Saturn, the house of the Vestal Virgins, the only temple in Rome dedicated to a Royal couple: the Temple of Antonius and Faustina, the Senate building, and a whole bunch of other stuff. She had really interesting stories to tell with each building so that made it even more interesting. I then went to the Palantine Hill, and saw more Roman ruins. These included the Circus Maximus where the old Roman emperors had chariot races (as in Ben-Hur). Not much is left now but it must have been really impressive in those days when it could seat like 150,000 people!

Here are some of the stories that Wendy told us: The Vestal Virgins were a group of young virgins from the ages of 16-40. Their sole aim in life was to lead the life of virgins and to keep the holy fire going. In the Colosseum, when it was to be decided whether the gladiators should live or die, and the crowd was undecided, it was the Vestal Virgins who decided whether the fate of the gladiators. Apparently evil Nero raped one of these virgins, and then took her to the Senate saying that she had failed her duty and should be put to death! And being the supreme ruler of the Italian empire, Nero got to decide her fate too, and indeed condemned her to death. So much for the wickedness of Nero!

She also told us the story of Saturn - the God of mischief. The Romans were always afraid that Saturn would create havoc among the people so they build temples for him but always had his head covered. Now it was not nice to have his head covered all the time so to appease Saturn, they would uncover his head one week in a year. And in that one week, all of Rome went crazy. They had wild parties, orgies, no one cared for the law etc. Only 3 broken pillars remain from the once-glorious temple of Saturn.

Then there was the story of Antonius and Faustina. Antonius was a good and noble king unlike many other Roman kings, and he loved his wife dearly. So he built her a temple when she died. When Antonius died, the cheap Roman senators decided not to build him a separate temple, and just buried him in the temple with Faustina. With the result, that this temple in the Roman Forum is the only one in Rome dedicated to a couple. She also told her about how Julius Caesar was declared 'Dictator for Life' and killed shortly afterwards on the Ides of March. People still consider his grave to be sacred and put flowers there everyday.

Also in the Roman Forum is the Arch of Septimus Severus built to honor him for his victories. It has an interesting history. The arch has an inscription on top to Septimius Severus and his son, Caracalla, but upon closer inspection one can see that part of the inscription hides another inscription. Apparently the arch was originally dedicated not only to Septimius Severus and his son Caracalla but also to Severus' other son, Geta. After Severus' death, the two sons divided the imperial power, but soon after, Caracalla killed Geta and became Emperor. Of course Caracalla wanted to destroy any memories of his brother, so he covered the reference to Geta with a different inscription. The only mention of Geta is found in some travelers' books who were passing through Rome at that time. They noticed that Carcalla was trying to remove any remains of Geta and mentioned that in their travel logs. So one never knows how their travel logs will be useful which is why I am writing mine too :).

After the Roman Forum, back to the Colosseum. Again I joined a tour, and saw it from inside. The tour guide has the thickest Italian accent and the funniest stories ever! It was a great tour. He kept calling all the Americans 'Americano', rolling the 'R' and emphaszing the 'NO'. He told us about the Vestal Virgins making a decision about the life of the gladiators when the crowd was divided. He also said that the Colosseum only had bathrooms for the men! So the women would just go in some sort of bag and toss it over the Colosseum outside! The funny part was there were some local people there dressed as gladiators and obviously they know all the stories that he tells. When they passed by our tour group, they raised their swords and yelled 'Bathrooms only for the Men! Bathrooms only for the Men!'. He told us a lot about the history of the Colosseum that I have totally forgotten by now. Inside the building, he showed us the entrances for the animals and humans, and where the Caesar would sit, and most importantly the Vestal Virgins. The tour guide really made the old ruins of the Colosseum come alive :). He kept calling 'MichaelAngelo' as 'MichelAngelo' and then hinted that all Michaels - Michael Jackson, George Michael and MichaelAngelo were *birds* of the same category implying that they were all gay ;). The way he told this was absolutely hilarious!

After that I met Mayur at the metro station. We walked down the Imperial Forum to Piazza Venezia. The Imperial Forum had more ruins like the Roman Forum. Piazza Venezia was spectacular - it is a museum with an impressive decor on the outside, what with all the statues, and the fountains. We passed by Piazza Venezia several time in our whole trip, and we never stopped looking at it. It looks lovely both during the day as well as night. This picture was taken at some other time when we passed it, and not the very first day that we visited it. The Romans seriously had nothing to do and had all the money in the world. It clearly shows in all their architecture and to top it all, Venice!

Then we walked around the city. On our way we saw the Fontana Di Trevi [Trevi Fountain]. It is worth every bit of praise that has been accorded to it - but it was hopelessly crowded. We visited it several times in our trip and not once did we find it a little less crowded. Nonetheless, it was a very charming place. Mayur threw a customary coin for a wish (I don't know what he wished for), and I threw one more to return to the Fountain. That was kind of silly because we came back immediately the next day to see it again! We got bored of throwing coins so perhaps this was the last visit to Rome? We went back to Via Veneto for dinner. Dinner was really nice in a small gazebo [glass house] on the sidewalk. And we paid like 4.5 Euros for a bottle of water!! But the food was very good and we had a good time. Then we went to the Piazza di Spagna [Spanish Steps]: these are huge steps that lead up from Rome's most fashionable shopping districts. Again, very crowded place but very impressive. I think it looks better in spring with all the azaleas.

Before heading back home, we had coffee in a bar (yes, they call coffee shops in Italy 'bars']. The coffee in Italy is simply amazing! A cappuccino is like a taste of heaven. It was my first taste of Italian coffee and I simply did not stop drinking it after that. We were having like 3-4 cups a days every day after that first coffee. And most amazingly the coffee is uniformly good all over the places we visited. I wish American coffee makers would take a page out of the Italian coffee makers' book. Before we crashed back home, we saw the Piazza Del Repubblica which has an a beautiful fountain in the center and an amazing display of lights in the buildings surrounding it. Our hotel was just a short walk from there.

October 18, Monday
Early in the morning, Mayur and I went and booked all the train tickets for the journeys in the rest of our trip. Then the day was dedicated to going to The Vatican. I think the Vatican was the most spectacular building I saw in the whole trip, St. Peter's Square with the huge pillars all around it was so impressive. There was a huge obelisk right in the middle of the square. There is so much history in this place but it is a little sad that quite a few of the things that adorn the Vatican were stolen from other places like the Colosseum. We saw St. Peter's Basilica which is HUGE! It had a beautiful nave and a 4-pillar pandal in front of it. The whole church was beautifully adorned with statues, and we also got to see a small priest procession. We stood in the line for some time to climb to the top of the dome. In typical desi style, Mayur found a way to beat the line so we joined it somewhere in the middle :). That helped a lot because they stopped the line completely after some time. It was a steep climb through some very narrow steps but the view was so worth it! We could see the whole square in front of us, the rest of the Vatican city behind us, and all of Rome on all four sides. We stayed there for the longest time possible! We skipped on the Vatican Museums for that day since Mayur had already seen them so I thought I could come back later to see them the next day (which I did).

From the Vatican, we walked over to Castel S. Angelo which was another castle close by. Since it was closed for Monday (most things are closed in Rome on Monday - so like Pune!), we just walked by it. We crossed the famous Ponte S. Angelo over River Tiber. Walked around the streets there before we got to the boat-shaped Piazza Navona. This was a very lively piazza filled with statues, fountains, churches, side walk restaurants and cafes, and as usual people :). There was a beautiful central fountain which consisted of 4 main rivers - The Nile, The Ganges, The Danube, and The Plata. After Piazza Navona, we started to go towards the Pantheon. The Pantheon was a spectacular dome-shaped temple; the dome was one of the largest in its time. A perfect sphere can fit into the dome leaving just a few mms space on the outside. It has a huge opening at the top and it rains inside from there. So the floor is sloped outward towards smaller holes that expel the rain water. Incidentally, I just read 'Angels and Demons' by Dan Brown which is totally set in all these buildings of Rome. It was really cool to read about all these places right after I had visited them - freshened up the menory quite a bit. It was like reading 'Doctors' again after having studied at Yale.

We met Matthias and Gagan at the Pantheon, and all four of us just hung out in the Piazza Navona area. It was a lovely area with lots of restaurants that had tables on the side-walk. We ate at one such cute restaurant, and had the hardest time conversing with the waiter. At least there was a satisfaction that it was not a touristy fake place :). After that we went to eat 'gellato' [ice-cream] at the oldest gellateria in town, and ate the most delicious pista-flavored gellato ever. We searched a lot in other cities for similar gellato but did not find it. The lady at the gellateria got very upset with Mayur because he handed her the money in her hand instead of putting it in the silver dish on the side of the counter, where money is meant to be exchanged. After the gellato Mayur, and I went around looking at all the sites again in night light - the Vatican, the Colosseum, the Roam Forum. And then crashed for the night.

October 19, Tuesday
Last day in Rome that day! Mayur had to attend his conference so I took off on my own. First I went to the local fresh produce market called Campo Di Fiori. This was my second favorite place in Rome (after the Vatican). Very Italian, very authentic feeling with stalls set up to sell things to the local public. It was a very lively market. After that I went to see the Vatican Museum. It was very big and very very beautiful. The Sistine Chapel was the cherry on the cake of the Vatican Museums. 7 Frescoes by MichaelAngelo adorn the ceiling of the chapel and I got a crick in my neck staring at them for the longest time. There were many more beautiful exhibits including Raphael's rooms and the Egyptian room. I spent quite a lot of looking at all the exhibits and then finally went back to the conference hotel to meet Mayur. We missed our reservation to see the Borghese Gallery and Gardens but then it was all worth it!

For lunch that day, we went and had really nice pizza. And the waitress fell in love with Mayur ( or perhaps vice versa) so we had dinner there too! And tiramisu which was not as nice as the American version because it had too little sugar and too much bitter coffee. We also tried to rent a scooter to roam around ala 'A Roman Holiday' but could not find anything nice.

After that, we went and roamed around in the Jewish Ghetto and the old parts of town in Trastevere. Small small small small gallis and a walk up a hill. From there we got a spectacular view of the city, and saw a lovely fountain. Generally spent the rest of the evening around Campo Do Fiori and Piazza Navona. Had dinner at the same pizza place as lunch, and crashed out. Next day to Florence!

October 20, Wednesday
We got up early in the morning and left for the station. We took a train to Florence which was about a 2-hour journey. The Eurostar trains are the good trains in Italy as opposed to the ICN (Inter-City Network) trains which we took for shorter journeys as well. The train was very impressive (similar to Amtrak trains in the US), and came with a pantry car where we had (possibly the worst in Italy) coffee. Took a couple of pictures in the pantry car but did not actually eat there because it was too far away from lunch time. We reached before noon and dropped off our luggage at the hotel which was in the heart of town. And of course, we stopped on the way to have some excellent coffee and pastries :). Then we took off to see the sights in Florence.

Our first stop was Piazza San Marco which was this cute non-descript square with the statue of St. Mark in the center, and the standard pigeons all over it :). For the first time, we got introduced to the dozens of pastry shops all around Florence. We grabbed slices of authentic Italian pizza that I liked very much. Our first stop was the Accademia Gallery which houses the original 'David' statue by MichaelAngelo. It was really a spectacular statue, although clearly of vague proportions; the head was too big for the body, the arms were too big for the torso, and the hands were too big for the arms. But, it was a spectacular statue. Its amazing how MichaelAngelo managed to show preciseness of nerves and muscles in a material like marble. We met Gagan and Matthias there again by chance, although we did not see them after that at all. We then proceeded to see the other sights in Florence.

The main thing in Florence is the Cathedral 'Il Duomo' and the Battistero. The Il Duomo has a huge tower right next to it. Both these buildings were just spectacular. Especially all the carvings on the gold doors of the Baptistery! But they are bang in the middle of downtown and you cannot see them from anywhere else. It suddenly springs up on you. And there were the maximum number of people there that I saw at any tourist place. We went inside the church but were not allowed to take pictures. It was very beautiful and you could also climb up to the top of the dome to see both inside the church as well as to the town outside it. We did not spend much time there, and continued to roam around the streets of Florence.

Florence had MAX shopping in all of the Italia cities we saw - perhaps Milan has more. there were all the European brand shops all over the place: Gucci, Salvatore Ferragamo, Louis Vitton, Armani, Versace, Prada, Fendi, Giorgio Armani, Dolce and Gabbana, Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Hugo Boss, Furla etc. Name it and it was there! And so so so expensive but really pretty designs. In general, we saw that people in Italy (and I am guessing it is true of the rest of Europe) as fairly fashion-concious. Even old ladies would be all properly dressed with nice formal shoes and little jewelry. No locals were dressed in sneakers, shorts, or t-shirts at any time like all the tourists were :).

We walked over to Piazza Del Signoria which is the happening square in town. It has a lot of restaurants, shops, and a bunch of copies of famous sculptures, including a copy of the 'David'. We then decided to just take off to Pisa and walked over to the train station. Pisa was an hour away by train from Florence, and the center of town was about 20-25 minutes walk from the Pisa station. We got there around 4:45pm. 'Il Torre di Pisa' - the leaning tower of Pisa was absolutely stunning. It is a very pretty marble tower, and I think it would have been famous even if it had not titled. And the tilt is so very obvious! I took a trip up to the top of the tower. The steps were worn away due to age and it was hard to walk up to the top. For some reason, the walls of the tower were all wet from inside so we could not hold on to anything. At the top, it was very scary walking to the other side which tilts down, and I thought I was losing my balance. Mayur did not come up with me and I could see a small spec of red (which was him in his red sweater) in the grass while I was at the top of the tower. Right beside the tower was the church and the baptistery. All the buildings were architecturally similar and the whole setup was extremely pretty.

Having seen the main sights in Pisa, we walked back to the railway station and took the train back home. At the Pisa station, we had fries from McDonalds - the only time we ate in a chain restaurant from the US. And we actually had to buy the ketchup! This was a far cry from the free *buckets* of ketchup at US McDonalds :). We got back to Pisa and had Indian food for a change. That made the Italian food more welcome for the next few days. Wonder how these Indian landed up in Florence of all places in the world!

October 21, Thursday
We left early in the morning for San Gimignano, a small medieval town in Tuscany, about an hour away from Florence. While going we took the train to Poggi Bonsi, and a connecting bus to San Gimignano. The town consists of a whole bunch of tall towers that were used as lookouts for enemies in the old days. We could see all the towers from far while we were on our way there in the bus. The town had many small small streets that were lined with shops. It was very cute and terribly medieval (except for all the new fancy shops of course). We roamed around all these little shops. We also went to the center of town and climbed the tallest tower. We got a beautiful view of the Tuscan countryside from atop the tower. The town center also had a plain church and an open-air market that was dismantled after lunch. You can see Mayur hogging on the local specialities including the 'Mandorlato' sweet dish.

There were a few wineries in town and we visited one of them. We had a glass of the famous local wine: Vernaccia which was ok types. The view from there was spectacular and it was fun sitting on the ledge there drinking that wine. Shortly after that, we grabbed some gelato at a local gellateria (still trying the pista flavor :)), and took a bus back to Florence. We lost our local tour book so we were a bit upset about that since we had borrowed it from the library in Santa Clara. But it was not that big a deal and we just paid for the book when we got back to the US. The bus ride back was beautiful through the Tuscan countryside and we reached much faster that the train-bus connection while getting to San Gimignano. We went to our hotel and paid our bill as they had some silly policy to pay the day *before* one left. After that, we took off in the streets of Florence again. Just a quick note about money: it was very convenient to just draw money from local ATMs. So we did not have to carry cash or traveller's checks. We didn't use credit cards as well as all transactions had a 3% fee associated with them.

In Florence, we set off for River Arno and Ponte Vecchio. Ponte Vecchio is the most famous bridge in Florence; it is lined on both sides with jewelry stores and looks dazzling. Some of the jewelry pieces were pretty and as usual, very expensive :). The streets on the other side of River Arno were all full of designer shops and there was also a huge leather market. Incidentally, it is the same river (Arno) that flows through both Florence and Pisa. There are just fewer buildings along the river in Pisa so you can see it much more clearly there. This view of the river is actually from the Uffizi Museum that we visited the next day. On the other side of the bridge was the Piazza Pitti which is a collection of several museums. We were not interested in seeing those museums so we just sat around in the huge courtyard there for a little while. We walked from Ponte Vecchio to Santa Croce that once again had a huge church in the middle of the square. From there, we walked back to our hotel and had dinner at a quaint little restaurant on our way. We tried the local Italian dessert of biscotti with dessert wine, and caramel custard. Somehow we didn't like the desserts at all (including the tiramisu in Rome). Earlier, we were planning to gift our office people with ready packs of biscotti and dessert wine, but after eating it for dinner, we changed our minds pretty quickly :). Tommorrow to Venice!

October 22, Friday
Friday's goals in Florence were fixed: visit the grand Uffizi and do some leather shopping for family. We set off for the Uffizi early in the morning. There was already a huge line there at 8:30AM so it was good that we had prior reservations and got in right away. We got an audio listening guide that took us through all of Uffizi's 40 rooms. The Uffizi was a really nice museum with a LOT of renaissance paintings. My favorite one there was the 'Birth of Venice'. All the renaissance paintings are religious and have Mother Mary or Jesus Christ; after a while it got a bit boring. There were spectacular views of River Arno from the Uffizi. The picture above is a shot of the river from the museum. The museum was nice but I was not very impressed compared to the (stolen?) wonders of the "Victoria and Albert Museum" in London.

After the Uffizi, we walked over to Santa Croce for some leather shopping. We liked a few wallets that were very expensive. We joked that we would have to give our current wallets with all the money inside it and get the empty wallet from the store :). So we didn't buy anything there and walked over to the local open-air market. There also, we didn't really like anything as it was not quality stuff. I bought a couple of wallets for Mummy and Uma from a local shop behind the market. Finally, we checked out of our hotel and left for Venice!!

The train ride to Venice was beautiful. We went through mountains and little villages all covered with fog. And finally after three hours, we got to the famous little city of Venice! We reached fairly late in the evening, and it was dark. We first went to check in at our hotel. The lady at the counter there was so very helpful - one of the best people we met in Italy. She gave us the perfect instructions on what to cover in Venice given the time we had. There was another lady who showed us to our actual hotel (the earlier place was just to check in). She walked fast and fast and away and away - I had the hardest time keeping up with her through the crowded narrow streets of Venice crossing the canals over little bridges all the time. I got a first glimpse of Venice - pulsating, lively, small - it was so pretty! We just dumped our luggage at the hotel and set off to explore. One thing I forgot to talk about was the bathrooms in all our hotels. They were so so so small! The shower stalls could barely fit us - would bang on every side while trying to have a bath - it was very interesting, and apparently very European :).

We walked over to the University town to have dinner. It was a quiet walk through narrow streets and over little canals till we reached a very very lively area. Had dinner and ice-cream there, and then decided to explore the city some more at night. We walked over to Ponte Rialto - THE famous bridge in Venice. It looked very nice at night - all lit up, with many gondolas below it, and lit-up restaurants on both sides of the canal near the bridge. It started to get a little cold so we walked back to our hotel and crashed for the night. Interestingly, that night, the local transport ferries had gone on strike from 7:30PM to midnight so we had no choice but to walk. We got an all-day pass for the ferries only the next day. We got quite lost while walking around but the streets were very small and everything was close by. So we always wound up finding our way back using a poor map and a lot of tourist sign posts. In fact, it was fun getting lost in the small streets of Venice, some of which were not larger than a passageway :). You could stretch your arms and touch the buildings on both sides of the street - what else can one expect in a city that has HUGE parking lot outside the city and no cars are allowed inside it :)? The Romans MUST have been crazy!!

October 23, Saturday
Last day in Italy, Venice here we come! We dropped off our bags at the hotel reception near the train station, bought all day passes and set off for the city. We boarded the ferry bus - the vaporetto - and went straight to St. Mark's square. It took a long while to reach there - about 45 minutes through the central S-shaped Grand Canal. It was a great boat ride; we saw gondolas, private motor boat taxis, bridges over side canals, water coming right up to buildings, personal boats, boats carrying groceries for sale, and boats to take trash out :). Very amusing concept to see this city on water. St. Mark's square was also beautiful - with a magnificent church in the middle and surrounded by museums on all sides. We saw the church from inside and then walked around the market behind it. Venice was extremely touristy with plenty of shops all over. Unfortunately, they still drain the sewage in the canals so the water smells in certain places. It also creates a lot of moss and quite a few of the buildings that have water at their foot, are rotting at the bottom. The local government is doing their best to clean the canals, I wonder with how much success.

Right behind St. Mark's square is a glass-making factory. Unfortunately, it was closed so we could not see it. But there was a mask shop with spectacular masks. There are three main things for shopping in Venice: hand-blown glass items, lace, and carnival masks. The glass items were so pretty and colorful. But the thing that took my heart away were these carnival masks. There were so many of them, so many shapes, sizes, colors, types, and prices - I couldn't keep my eyes off them at all! There was this one mask (to the right) for like 1400 Euros! I wonder who buys them. The masks were of two types: ceramic and paper-mache, and had elaborate decorations all around them. Exactly like some of the masks used in the movie 'Eyes Wide Shut'.

Venice is the central island in a bunch of islands: Mestre, Lido, Murano, Burano, Ask me to pronounce these in an Italian accent when I see you - it sounds really cute :). There were a couple of towers, one in St. Mark's square and one on another island. We would have climbed these to get a good view of Venice but it was a very foggy day so we skipped. We roamed around in the shops buying some more leather stuff, and admiring the masks, lace, and glass items. Then we walked over to Ponte Rialto. It looked different in the daylight but just as charming. We then walked over to the Jewish Ghetto which looked very different from the rest of the city. The buildings were old and looked like they had very short ceilings judging from the distance between windows. We wanted to go and see a Synagogue but they were all closed on account of Sabbath. We grabbed some lunch and did some more shopping. Bought wallets for family and a simple mask as a token of our trip for ourselves.

Then we just roamed around the streets of Venice. There was really not much to see in Venice but I really enjoyed just walking around. It was a totally different concept from anything I had seen before. We ate dinner near Ponte Rialto and then took a long boat ride. This ride took us all around the main island of Venice and was much faster than the ride in the S-canal. Our train was at midnight so we hung out for a while, collected our bags and then waited at the station.

October 24, Sunday
Journey back! We had sleeper beds in the train so we slept all the way back to Rome. The train ticket collector was another one of those cartoon gem people we met in Italy. We reached early morning at the Rome train station. We drank our last coffee in the city of Rome and took another train to the airport. The lines at the airport were infinite and in spite of reaching there really early, we barely made it to our gate at the time of boarding. Not to forget that we did find the time to drink one LAST cup of Italian coffee at the airport. Back to the US! Had a fantastic trip to Italy, and even though we did not put money in the Trevi Fountain on our last visit, I hope we do get a chance to go back some day!!

Hotels that we stayed in (scale of 1 to 5 stars):

Rome, Italy
Hotel Gambrinus Roma
Via Piave 35,
00187 Rome
Tel: 39-06-4871250
Pretty pricey but quite a comfortable room. The room and bathroom were small in size but that is more the norm in Europe than the exception. Very nice service and friendly staff! Excellent location - lovely pizza place right opposite the hotel.
  Florence, Italy
Tourist House Libery
Via Ventisette Aprile 9
50129 Florence
Tel: 39-05-5471759
Great location - walking distance from downtown, a little further from the train station. Clean room, small bathroom. Nothing great but functional and reasonable. They had free internet connectivity.
  Venice, Italy
Ca Speranza
Santa Croce 555
30135 Venice
Tel: 39-347-4346544
The office was right next to the train station but the hotel was a 15-minute walk from there which was quite a bit with all our luggage. The room was functional and clean. Reasonable price for Venice. Superb location.