Italian Espresso Review
11 Jul 2012 Kris Sharpe said
So I took this tour back in September and I always said I’d write a review for it, but I never got around to it. I’ve been feeling guilty about not writing one because I found so many other peoples reviews helpful; that’s why I’m finally doing it now lol. To start off, the tour was awesome and I had a great time. Our tour guide, Angie, was AMAZING and was full of life and energy. She was very knowledgeable and overall a great person. I guess the easiest way to break things down is day by day, so here it is…
Day 1 …(Day 2, by Contiki standards, the first day is a travel day)
First of all, I was traveling with my friend Jaimie. We arrived in Rome three days early and right before we left they changed the hotel that we were supposed to be staying in. Also, after we arrived they changed the hotel at the last minute again, so that was a little confusing. Luckily we were staying in a hostel for those three days with internet access so we got the e-mail as to where we were supposed to finally stay once it was time to meet up on Saturday.
The meeting time on Saturday was at 4pm. We met in the lobby and Angie went over the itinerary, did paperwork and gave us or room keys. The meeting only last about an hour. We did not do the walking tour that night because Angie said, generally most people are too tired to do it after all of that traveling, and that they tend to appreciate it more the next day (which she was right about). Instead, Angie had us meet in the lobby about an hour or so after the meeting (if we wanted to) and walked us to a couple different restaurants near the hotel. It was nice, because about 10/15 of us went to one of the restaurants and we had a good time getting to know each other. After that we headed back to the hotel for the night because the next day we had an early start. I can’t remember the name of the hotel that I stayed in, but I didn’t like it. I’m American so maybe I have different standards, but I thought the walls in the room were really dirty and the bathroom didn’t have a shower curtain. Word of advice, keep your clothes outside of the bathroom because everything will get soaked, and the shower head was the detachable kind and it had a tendency to spin.
Just a heads up, most of the days you have to wake up at the ass crack of dawn. So have fun, but don’t get too wasted the night before or you’re going to hate yourself for it in the morning. Anyway, in the morning I took the imperial walking tour. It’s a lot of fun, and I wouldn’t recommend skipping it. The tour guide is really funny, and although a little long winded at times, very knowledgeable. We saw the Roman Forum and the Colosseum. The tour was just under two hours. Also, if you are going on this tour during warmer weather months make sure you bring water with you. And it’s true; you can drink out of the fountains there. I promise you won’t get sick, everyone does it, save yourself a few Euros and carry around an empty water bottle.
After the imperial walking tour we headed to the heart of town and took a little lunch break. FYI the service in Rome sucks. I am a server so I’m allowed to say this. I am very patient and not very demanding when I go out, but I received some of the most horrendous service of my life in Rome. It has nothing to do with eating in large groups either, remember I was in Rome three days before the tour started with just one other friend and we received pour service throughout Rome (and most of Italy for that matter). Also, in my opinion, the food got better the further north we got. I really didn’t care for the food at all in Rome, and it’s not just because I’m American. I work, and eat in fine dining and I love a good old dive bar too, I’m just saying I wasn’t impressed with the food in Rome.
After our lunch break we took a walking tour of the Piazza, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, and Spanish steps. After the tour we had about two hours of free time. You can continue to walk about if you like, or you can catch the metro back; the stop is really close to the hotel. For dinner almost everyone went to the pizza dinner. For social reasons and for atmosphere I’d say attend. We got a pizza demonstration, where the guy made the dough from scratch and we learned the history of the place. Also, there was live Italian music. As far as the pizza was concerned, I’m sure most of you would love it, but I’m biased as hell on this one. I know that the Italians may have invented the pizza, but I think the Americans perfected it. I need a little more sauce and a little more cheese on my pizza lol. After the restaurant, Angie walked us to a bar and we all had drinks and had a good time.
So when Jaimie and I read the itinerary before the tour started we were confused to if we actually got a tour of the Vatican or not; so we took a tour of it on our own before we met with Contiki (which I regret). I’m sure we would have gotten more information from a tour guide if we had waited, but like I said we weren’t sure if we’d get to do it at all so we went ahead and did it on our own. The tour takes you to see St Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican Museums, and the Sistine Chapel.
At 1pm we departed for Florence. Along the ride we took a 30min break and when we arrived in Florence we only had enough time to shower and get settled in by the time we needed to leave for dinner. I found this hotel dirty as well. I mean it’s not a whole in the wall or anything like that, but it needed some basic detailing as far as moping and cleaning the walls. The dinner was ok. We had spaghetti and meatballs, salad, and tiramisu for dessert. After dinner we went to a Karaoke bar, which was a lot of fun! They had happy hour until 9:30, and there’s dancing and they serve these huge tiers of beer to share.
At 9:15am we went to a leather demonstration. If you are planning on buying leather in Florence DO NOT SKIP this. The woman gave us a lot of useful tips on spotting real and fake leather, and also how to avoid the scam artists. We were only at the leather shop for an hour before we headed to our walking tour. The walking tour was 1.5 hrs and we saw the Point de Vecchio, Duomo, the fake David in the square and the Medici house. Afterwards, our tour guide pointed the way to the museums. We went to the Accademia; it only took an hour to do. Seeing David was as amazing as everyone says. Instead of trying to go to the Uffizi we went to the Petti Palace. It’s close to the hotel and there isn’t a wait and it’s only €11,50 to get in. The palace is beautiful and so are the gardens.
At 6:00pm we meet for dinner. They took us to the countryside. The view was gorgeous and that’s where we took the group photo. When we arrive to the restaurant they welcomed us with complementary sangria. Also, there were bottles of red and white wine awaiting us on our table. The food was AMAZING. Don’t skip this meal. I was very impressed. After dinner we went to a club called Space. Since it was the middle of the week it was dead, but we had a great time. They also gave us a welcome shot :)
We left for San Gimignano at 9:15am. It’s a small beautiful town about an hour away. We spent two hours there. All of your time there is free to explore and eat lunch. The pizza there was a hell of a lot better than Rome’s and the gelato was really good as well. It really was probably the best pizza I had in Italy. Around 1pm we left to tour the winery. The women that did the tour were very nice and laid back. They weren’t long winded they gave the important facts, then got right down to business; the tasting. We tasted Chianti Classico and Reserve, and we had a dessert wine with cheese.
We got back from the winery from around 4:30 so some of us went to climb the Duomo. The view is excellent and it’s a great opportunity for pictures. Overall, after the winery the day is free to do as you wish.
We got up early and went to Pisa. We where there for about 1.5hrs. There isn’t much to see in Pisa so take your pictures in front of the tower and have a quick lunch. After Pisa it was about another two hours to Verona. Along the way we stopped at a rest stop for another 45min so if you don’t get a chance to eat in Pisa you’ll have another opportunity at the rest stop. In Verona you’ll have time to walk around and do a little shopping if you like. We met up for dinner around 4pm. Like I said earlier, the food continuously got better the further north we traveled. For dinner we had gnocchi, fried turkey and potatoes, and for dessert we had sorbet. After we left Verona we checked into our hotel at 10pm. It was a long day and everybody was exhausted so we just headed straight to bed.
Unlike the other hotels we stayed in, the hotel in Venice is very swanky and the breakfast is really good. It was more of a continental style breakfast by American standards. It was nice to finally have a hot breakfast in terms of eggs lol. The other hotels had very simple breakfasts; beagles, croissants, cheese, ham, cereal, stuff like that. Unfortunately for us, it was rainy and cold most of the day. In the morning we did the glass blowing demonstration first because we were trying to wait out the rain. The demonstration is very cool and short. They give you a discount on the Murono glass so it’s nice if you are thinking of buying something. There are Venetian mask all over Venice, but that same building had some really nice ones.
After the demonstration we went on a walking tour; the tour is about 1hr to 1.5hr, so we ended up having free time from like 1-5. It’s true about what they say about Venice, get lost, and don’t be afraid to do so. The city is very safe and trying to navigate your way around via map is impossible. There are signs on the sides of buildings pointing to Saint Mark’s Square, the Santa Lucia train station, and the Rialto Bridge. Once you get a sense of where those three places are you’ll be fine. Try to stay west of the Rialto Bridge when it gets close to the time to meet up for the Gondola, there isn’t a fast way to get back to St. Marks Square. If you venture out too far you’ll end up running half the length of the island to make it back in time like we did lol.
The Gondola ride was so much fun; we bought bottles of Processco so it is definitely worth going. It’s a must do in Venice, and a lot cheaper doing it as a group than if you tried to do it on your own. Afterwards, we went to Dinner; it was very good and they served us a four course meal. Venice was my favorite place for food overall. After dinner we headed back to the hotel. The hotel is in the middle of nowhere and it’s a hassle to try to go to Mestre if you want to go out. The island doesn’t have much of a nightlife, just a few bars near the Rialto bridge. Instead, we all hung out in the lobby and drink the wine we had accumulated and spent our last night drinking and saying our goodbyes.
The next morning everyone departed, but Jaimie and I stayed another day. I know that the bus will take you back to Rome if you need to or a taxi can take you to the airport from the hotel. If you do decided to stay an extra day I would suggest getting a hostel or hotel on the main island since it’s closer to everything. When we left after our extra day in Venice we took a bus to the airport which was very inexpensive and runs very frequently.
Overall, the tour was a blast and I would definitely recommend it. Angie was the best and the people were great. Go. Enjoy. Have Fun. :)
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30 Jul 2012 Danielle said
Thanks for the review! Do you happen to remember what hotels you stayed in? I am reading reviews and am a little nervous about the quality.
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31 Jul 2012 Petra said
what a review. sounded like a lot of fun. im booked in to simply Italy feb 14 2013, im picky with accom it has to be clean!.. after reading your review i really cant wait!
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31 Jul 2012 Kris Sharpe said
I can’t remember where we stayed in Rome because they changed the place three times and it’s not on the travel documents they sent to us. As for the other hotels, the Contiki documents call them something different then what they are if you try to look them up online. We stayed at the Hotel Firenze as listed on your Contiki document, but if you try to look it up it should be Albergo Firenze. It’s in Via del Corso, Piazza donati 4, 50122. On your Contiki documents the hotel in Venice says it’s called Hotel Airport Venice, but if you want to look it up online it’s called Vime Venice East, in Quarto D Altino. Hope that helps :)
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