Having visited Italy in 2011, I had planned to return with more in depth touring covering new locations along with more time in places I've already been, to see more sites. I had selected Globus' Gems of Umbria and Tuscany which is an 8 day in depth regional tour of these regions along with Insight vacation's 16 day tour, Country Roads of Italy. Unfortunately a month before leaving Insight cancelled this tour and I elected to do Insight's Italian Elegance in its place. Italian elegance is a 12 day, all inclusive tour (no optional extras and most meals included) that visits some of the same places the Country roads tour did. I also had 5 days between tours in the South of Italy basing myself in Bari and taking day trips around the region of Puglia, and now thanks to the cancelled tour, I also had 5 days in the North of Italy basing myself in Bologna to do some independent travel.


May 13
First time using Singapore Airlines. The layover hadn't been booked so I was stuck in the airport for 7 hours despite what I had believed had been arranged. On questioning this it appears to have been a slip up at the Flight centre and they wanted $120 for the 13 hour return layover. Not impressed.

Rome is awesome - again took the Leonardo express for 14 Euros and found the hotel straight away. Everything went as clockwork. Rome has had some new sites excavated around the forum since I was last there and some other buildings I had previously seen were undergoing restorations. In particular there was major work happening on the road by the Forum from the Coloseum to Emanual II monument, Piazza d Popolo and the Spanish steps. The Trevi Fountain had had restoration work recently completed and was reopened to the public. The hotel I had chosen was definitely budget and qwerky but I was too tired to care.
May 14
After breakfast I checked out of the hotel and found the Globus hotel leaving my bags for when my room was ready and went walking (8am - 2pm). The weather was wet but I still walked most of the town before my body started giving way (legs cramping and blisters on feet). On returning to the hotel the staff greeted me by name and had my luggage ready for me to take to the room! The Globus tour 'Gems of Tuscany and Umbria' met for dinner and we were treated to a 5 course dinner with musical entertainment. There was just 22 people on the Globus tour, the numbers being much lower than expected.
May 15
We departed for Narni where we had a British guide take us around. He was very entertaining and informative. Narni is a medieval town that inspired the books of the lion the witch and the wardrobe. On one occasion a local exited her front door and the guide pointed out that she had just exited from a wardrobe. From Narni we proceeded on to a pasta making demonstration and huge multi-course lunch with wine (the pasta was superb being featured in 2 courses!).

We carried on to Spoleto where the rain set in. We entered over the aqueduct towards the fort (Rocco), we didn't enter but we carried on to the cathedral and on down hill through the town. The rain stopped after our guided tour so I spent the next few hours exploring. Again dinner was amazing with many courses.
May 16
Leaving Spoleto we carried on to Spello, another medieval town on a hill. We had time to walk the town before stopping off at an olive oil coop facility. From there we carried on to Assisi where we had two hours free time to explore the place before the guided tour began. The tour took us inside both St. Clare's Church and St. Francis' basilicas (five years ago the insight tour gave us just 45 minutes free time and visited just the basilica of St Francis). We left Assisi for our countryside palace in San Martino Campo. This was the former palace of the Count Domini from the years 1579. We were given a tour of the premises by the owners. One chandelier was an original Murano glass from 1780s and the palace included its own private theatre.
May 17
Today we visited Perguia capital of the region of Umbria with the same guide we had in Assisi. We visited the underground Etruscan and medieval fortifications before having time in town. After this we carried on to the Baci chocolate factory of Perugina. Similarities could be drawn between the factory tour and that of Jurassic park although this one featured Ompa-Lumpas and no tourists were eaten!

After returning to our country palace, we had time to see the palace as described above, before departing for an optional excursion to the ceramics museum at Deruter. The guide Ulander was so passionate about the ceramics and keen to practice her English its was very cool. She showed us the kilns that had only just been opened to the public and showed us pieces from as early as 1300AD.
May 18
Today started with a visit to the town of Cortona, the town from the film 'Under a Tuscan sun'. I climbed to the top of the hill which featured both a church and a carpark with our bus! I returned back to the town gates for an icecream. Very pretty although I didn't recognise any of it from the film as I understand the film featured a composite of a series of towns. From here we carried on to Siena, where we would stay for two nights in the old city. We had some free time before the guide joined us to show us nothing. She walked a few streets and said we wouldn't go in to the unfinished cathedral as we would be in there all day. Seriously! Some guides don't get tips.. this was one of them.

We all took the optional excursion to visit the tiny medieval town of Monteriggioni, whose image is famous on just about every book on Tuscany. Certain parallels could be drawn between Monteriggioni and Carcassone in France as they both are medieval towns held within walls and fortifications. We carried on to a Chianti wine producer, whom also produced its own olive oil, pasta, grains, honey and pork. We had wild boar and wine before finishing off with their own Limoncello. We sampled their 2015 Chianti and also their 2003 reserve which was much stronger (more akin to Merlot aka less easy to drink). The meal was like a banquet and as we finished one bottle of wine it was immediately replaced with another. Meals on the Globus tours are amazing!

We carried on to Siena where I took the opportunity to do some night time photography. The hotel was situated right in the old town - fantastic location - and my room looked out on the soccer field with the Dominico Basilica behind it.
May 19
Today started with a 1.5 hour visit to the Etruscan town of Volterra. I visited the gardens and the Roman theatre before the rain really kicked in and the time ran out. The Piazza with the baptistry had had a new piece of modern art that didn't fit with the rest of the old town.

We then carried on to San Gimignano. Thursday must be market day as the squares were packed with stalls selling clothing, imported junk and food. Now being lunchtime the place was packed and you guessed it, it rained. I sheltered in a cafe on the off chance the rain would pass - another opportunity to sample wild boar panini. We had 2 hours on site so I got to explore more of the town than I had done on my previous trip. We returned to Siena where I waited out another thunderstorm before getting dinner, whereas the optional excursion, that I didn't take, got caught in the storm.
May 20
On leaving Siena we visited another Unisco World Heritage medieval town called Pienza. This town was very picturesque and easily walkable. A good photo taken at every turn! We carried on to a farm near Montalcino where we got to sample the Brunello wines. Brunello is considered by many to be the king of the Chianti's. We sampled 5 different wines from 2015 to seven year old reserve.

From here we carried on to Orvieto, perched high atop a volcanic rock. The Etruscans built their villages on hill tops for defensive purposes whilst the Romans built on the flat near rivers. Orvieto was another Etruscan town. John and I visited the Well of St Patrick at the far end of town before rejoining the rest of the group to visit the underground labyrinth of caves.
May 21
After breakfast we visited the famous Orvieto cathedral before heading back to Rome. We stopped off at the Vatican for free time. We didn't enter the Vatican or the museum which suited me given I had this covered in the forthcoming Insight tour. I was keen to hunt out the Vatican coins but they were all very expensive. We carried on to the hotel Una, which was one of my hotels back in 2011.

That evening on the way to our farewell dinner, we encountered a traffic jam. The police had blocked traffic to allow the AC Milan soccer team to get to a big game that was happening in Rome. We carried on to the Opera at Tanagra restaurant, which featured an audience member getting a shave. It felt rude getting up and leaving just as they finished at 9pm without an encore but we were under instructions to leave then. I tried printing my boarding tickets for the next days flights to Bari but the internet was so slow and my bookings couldn't be found online. Italian hotels suffer from poor internet bandwidth and using a third party agent like Expedia, means the bookings aren't always found.
May 22
Due to increased security I had been advised to get to the airport early. I didn't stay for breakfast with the others, but grabbed a breakfast box before departing on the train to the airport. I proceeded to terminal 1 where the checkin was fast and trouble free. I then waited for 2 hours for my flight to board. On arrival at Bari airport, I caught a taxi for 25 Euros (the taxi driver then tried to get me to share with another couple for another 25). We made it to the hotel where I proceeded to explore the city and to get my bearings.
May 23
I made my way to the railway station and after some exploring I found the front door. The train to Alberobello was well hidden and not frequent that I waited nearly 2hrs for it (9:48am is the first departure). The train took 1.5 hours and I found my way to the centre of town with all the Tully houses. Alberobello is quite unique with their single storey tully houses with mystical spires and markings. Quite different to the other towns I had visited up north and well worth the visit. A bit touristy, but the prices for most things were quite reasonable. After a few hours, I returned to Bari.
May 24
I set forth for Matera, the once abandoned city that included troglodyte caves. After yesterday's effort of carting a jacket around in the heat, I opted for a T-shirt and umbrella - unfortunately it rained. I was watching the clock as the trains weren't as frequent as you would like and if you missed the 2:30 departure (arrival in Bari 4pm) then the next departure was 4:30. The combination of the not-so abandoned city, the clock watching and the rain made Matera less enjoyable than it would if it was on an organised tour. I had enquired on the organised tours and these cost 32 euro for 3 hours aka both the cost and time were not going to happen on the train schedule.

Matera's old town was abandoned in the 1950s when the Italian government used force to relocate the city's inhabitance. But due to tourism some select places the scavi have been reinhabited by hotels, restaurants and souvenir shops. The modern city with car friendly streets are where people live and work now surrounds the old town. Its just the steep narrow paths on the hill slope that has been abandoned. The caves can be seen from the old city.
May 25
Easy day today. I had researched the train to Ostuni and the time table... just didn't know where from. There are so many train companies sharing the station at Bari I kept approaching the wrong info booth. Its very poorly sign posted, with things well hidden and only known to locals. The train to Ostuni was just over an hour but the Ostuni station was 2.5 km from the town, so I had to walk the roads. I thought I'd get arrested as locals were tooting at me and I was past three times by police cars, but I managed to leg it there and back without incident. Ostuni is a white washed circular medieval town on a hill, with narrow one lane streets that cars and vans must squeeze through. I had a great lunch of burger and coffee and explored the place.

I returned to Bari where continued my search for good food places. To date Bari was not doing very well with possibly one of the angriest cafe owners, pushing dried bun panini, a smoking waitress who did the same and left overs from a lunch bar (which to date had been the highlight). Most restaurants don't open until after 7-8pm so fast food is the best option. I found one place with a seriously good feed Texicano (salsa and BBQ sauce on sausage, chips and lettuce in a bun with beer).
May 26
Another day another town, this time Locorotondo and for the first time using the same train company as one of the previous trips. To date each trip was a different company with different ticketing procedures, different info booths etc. After a 1:45hr trip, I explored the place in 20 minutes. It was that small. Very pretty white washed (glary on a sunny day) narrow streets, but not many streets and thankfully, very few cars. I found a restaurant with an english speaking person and had an awesome lunch of bolognaise, beer and coffee. I returned to Bari to hit that same fast food place for their Turkish dinner... very nice.
May 27
After breakfast I checked out of the hotel and took the train (5 euro) to the airport (aeroporto). I had to wait at the airport for the checkin to open. The plane arrived in Rome and I caught the Leonardo express back into Rome, for now my ninth Roman hotel. I walked from the train station to the hotel near the Colosseum and then picked up supplies before joining the Insight group for dinner. The dinner involved shared plates of food something I hadn't done in Italy before - and reusing cutlery between courses?!? Normally we have individual servings but this was one way to get to know the group. The tour had 28 people a far cry from the normal 40 and a number of them had been rebooked from various cancelled Insight tours. There is definitely a downturn in tourist numbers from the countries that make up Insight and Globus' clientele.
May 28
Visited the Vatican museum and St Peters Basilica with a pretty good guide. A Basilica has parts of a saint buried in it. The visit to the museum included their Etruscan collection and Scala del Bramante, a spiral ramp made for one of the Popes. Again we passed through the corridors that included the sculptures, tapestries and maps before seeing the Sistine chapel. After visiting the chapel we carried on to St Peters Basilica before having some free time for lunch and shopping. From there we carried on to the Colosseum and Forum.

That night after we regrouped, dinner was near the Trevi Fountain which we saw illuminated since the restorations. Dinner was better this time than the previous and we were able to joke about the dessert that I finished off the previous night.
May 29
We left Rome and spent the day in Florence. I had already seen David at the accademy museum so I spent the time visiting the sites on my own and managed to cover off all I wanted to see in Florence including Signoria Square, The Duomo, Santa Croce, Ponte Vechio, the boar (Il Porcellino) in the new market, the Pitti palace and Piazza Lorenzo before the torrential rain set in. I sheltered near the Accadamia at the university.

Our hotel was out of town in a picturesque converted 17th century rural village (Borgo San Luigi) in the heart of Chianti country.
May 30
Early start for our trip to San Gimignano where we arrived before all the other tourists. Also, its not market day and the weather was good, so we got to enjoy things much better, including the Gelato from the master Sergio Dondoli (three flavours Michelle, Champagne and Mango). We had an introduction to Gelato by Sergio before having 1.5 hours free time in the town.

We carried on to Siena where we had another guide, this time she took us through the cathedral and nothing else. Its hard getting a good guide. We had 45 minutes free time before departing Siena for more Chianti wine tasting. This time it didn't involve a meal unlike the Globus tour. Dinner followed later with more shared servings and limited drinks, this time I got stuck into the wild boar and potatoes. Interestingly in the previous Insight Italy tour there had been musicians tormenting us during our meals and trying to flog off their CDs, but not this time.
May 31
We left our Borgo for Pisa. Once again, we boarded the little trolley train to be taken to just outside of the old walls. The street stalls had been moved to outside the old walls. We departed Pisa for Lucca. I saw the Amphitheatre and the Tower with the tree on the roof. From there we carried on to the Italian riviera to our hotel in Santa Margherita Ligure.
June 1
The plan for the Cinque Terra was to (weather permitting) visit by boat the five towns - or which ever we could get to. Unfortunately the weather wasn't permitting and we arrived at Manarola, just so to catch the train to Monterosso where we spent 2.5 hours in the rain. The rain was so bad, that for about 1.5 hours I sheltered under the bridge. These towns are so small that they only have one or two main streets, so there is a lot of effort getting to them. I thought maybe I could visit them again after the tour when the weather was better.

We returned by train to Santa Margherita where we caught a boat to Portofino. The rain wasn't so bad here just spitting off and on and the waters were choppy going out but we were able to ride the current on the return for a smoother ride. We had 55 minutes in Portofino. Again like the Cinque Terra, just a few streets if that and very expensive shopping.
June 2
In the morning the weather had cleared, but we had to depart for Baveno and Lake Maggorie. We stopped for lunch at Stressa where they had a market set up. We met up to board our boat to Isola Bella, when the rain kicked in. It rained solidly whilst we were on the island and only let up when we left. I walked around Barveno to check out the places I remembered, but most had gone - tobacconist I got postcards from, the restaurant I dined at, the post office that remained closed when I wanted to post a parcel. The dine-around dinner was much better than the regular meals and I had a filling Pizza.
June 3
A long day on the road planned, with 3 hours to Verona and 4 hours to Cortina d'Ampezzo. The weather stayed fine for our visit to Verona and we got time to explore. Verona was as I remembered it, I set forth to explore more places from my research and covered them all before meeting back at the bus to continue on. It was very crowded with tourists. After Verona the landscape started to change as we approached the Dolomites. The architecture changed to becoming more Alpine/Germanic and the road signs in both Italian and German. We had been upgraded to a 5 star hotel for this trip.
June 4
We set off around Cortina d'Ampezzo stopping for a serious feed of apple strudel and marmot spotting. We jumped on a cable car up a mountain but my body didn't cope with the altitude and I took the next car down. On returning, the rest of the day was free for us to explore. That evening dinner wasn't included which meant we could eat properly. I bumped into Chuck who was also hunting for a restaurant and I had a very good pizza with egg, cheese, meat and tomatoes.
June 5
We left the Dolomites and very soon found ourselves arriving in Venice where we said goodbye to our driver Max. We boarded a launch and proceeded to a Murano glass factory on the island of Giudecca. I made a bit of a purchase and we all carried on via water taxis down the Grand canal to St Marks square (The Rialto bridge is undergoing restorations but at least the Bridge of Sighs is now visible. Last time I was it was all covered up with advertising as it got restored. From there we walked to our hotel a few blocks behind the square. What a location, awesome rooms and very modern!!! After a quick Spritz I headed off exploring. We gathered for dinner passing the Bridge of Sighs. Later that night I went out for some night photography.
June 6
After breakfast, I headed out to explore Venice. I made my way from St marks square over to the accademia bridge before returning to check in with Shona. I then returned to the Accademia bridge which I crossed to Santa Maria d salute then thru to Campo Santa Margherita for gelato and on to piazza roma and the train station. On arriving I bumped into Chuck where we explored the train station before heading our separate ways. I headed on Strada Nova and Fondamenta Nuove then back around the rialto area to the hotel. Next trip was back over the Rialto bridge to Santa Maria del Frari, Campo San Polo and on to San Giacomo dell Orio before returning.

The group gathered again for a gondola ride departing from behind St Marks Square and from there on to our farewell dinner.
June 7
The tour dispersed after breakfast and I caught the water bus from San Marco to the train station (45 minutes costing 7.50) and the first train to Bologna (first train departed 10:42 and cost 13.80). It just so happened that Susan and Keith were also heading for Bologna and were on the same train. I found the hotel okay and immediately got into my laundry.
June 8
That morning I jumped on the train to Rimini for 1.5hrs and then waited for 40 minutes for the bus which in turn took 50 minutes (costing 10 euro return) to reach the Republic of San Marino. All up that is around 3 hours travel one way. I grabbed a tourist cart/train to the top and proceeded to walk my way down hill back to the bus stop. Lots of coin, stamp and toy weapon shops?? I was short on time and actually missed the train I had paid for but the times are not printed on the tickets so I was able to pick up another train with the return ticket. After retuning to Bologna, I spent the next few hours exploring the sites of the old town.
Thursday and Friday
June 9 & 10
Bologna site seeing continued. I visited the Medievil museum which was okay but English speakers were not well catered for, and the archaeological museum with its special Egyptian exhibition which was a special collaboration between several museums and very well presented. After this I visited the markets and generally had a quiet day discovering Panini kebabs for both lunch and dinner.
June 11
Checking out of the Bologna hotel I was surprised by the 8 euro city tax. I guess that must be catered for in the tours that I usually do? I then jumped on the train to Venice Mestre and took a taxi (13 euros) to my hotel in the middle of suburban nowhere. The hotel despite being 4 star was a dive with little more than a supermarket and cafe nearby. I tried a bar for dinner but was majorly disappointed with the caldo panini which was advertised on the bar window. The hotel had offered transfers to the airport but at 35 euros, this turned out to be more expensive than a taxi.
June 12
Early start meant I didn't get a breakfast, just a few chocolate biscuits I brought from the supermarket the day before. I got to the airport to discover that the flight centre didn't include the luggage when they booked the flights. I spent 50 minutes at checkin before being told to pay for luggage in another queue - this didn't move after 40 minutes and the checkin was closing when I escalated it back to them. They then pushed me to the front of the queue to pay my 30euros for 1 piece of baggage. I needed a receipt to proceed but after 20 minutes I was told to just go... racing through security I nearly lost my hat but called back for my 'cappello' to which got a dance from the security chap who found it?!? They were paging my name and I was the last person on the plane which took off 10 minutes late. Luckily my bag was checked through to split as I had no luggage tracking from checkin, nor any receipt for paying for luggage. (... continued Croatia 2016 travel log)