Italy- June 2015

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I remember back in 2008 when my Mom said to me ” You know you can take trains?” Up until that point, I was planning trips to major cities, mostly served by United Airlines. Learning I could take trains to different places, opened up a new travel door for me.  Last year, I discovered how easy driving around is, yet another travel door opened.

A few friends were planning trips to Europe this summer and had asked for some advice. In talking with them about their itineraries, I discovered all sorts of places, I had not previously thought to visit.  Like Cinque Terre, or Siena.

Since I had just visited Paris in March, I figured I would hope over to Italy and check out some of these gems. So I decided to fly to Florence, use it as my base and rent a car to drive around.

**TRAVEL TIP** If you are renting a car, make sure you are rested. It’s not a good idea to pick up the rental when you are coming off an long international flight or even after a long HOT day of sightseeing.

I had booked a hotel about 5 minutes from the airport. It only took me only 30 minutes to find it. One has to be careful driving around Florence as they have these areas that are traffic restricted and if you enter one, you will pay a fine. (And yes for the record, I am expecting a violation notice in the mail).

The next day, I was off to visit the Republic of San Marino.

IMG_4607And officially at 46 countries!  I thought about cheating and just keeping driving, but then technically it would not count. So I parked the car and checked out the town.

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San Marino reminded me a bit of Liechtenstein.  Some interesting historical sites, but nothing that would require days of sightseeing.

After about an hour, I had my fill and decided to head to Arezzo. At this point, I must admit I am very thankful I did not do my normal obsessive research planning this trip. If I had, there is no way I would have been driving around.  On last year’s trip, I vetoed Italy completing based on the fact that I refused to drive on the skinny roads on the side of mountain. Well, I drove on some skinny mountain roads, with some crazy hairpin turns, and I survived. So I guess there is something to be said about conquering ones fears. That and maybe invest in some adult diapers.

After a long hot day of driving, I headed back to Florence. I attempted to walk around the City center, seriously Google, 27 minutes to walk 2 blocks? ( Yes I know, Really? I was still using Google?).  It was too hot, 95f or 36c. I admitted defeated and called it a night.

Up early again the next day, this time heading to Cinque Terre.  I drove to Le Spezia with the plan to take the train up to Monteresso. Again due to relaxed planning, I did not think to check to make sure the trains were running. Yep, train strike. No trains, but if I wanted, I could try to take a boat, along with the thousands of cruise passengers.  So I ended up driving to Riomaggiore. Of course there was no parking. So I did not make it down into town. From what I did see, I was will definitely go back.

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Next stop, Pisa. Because at this point I had become a pro at navigating the mountain roads. I was able to find parking quite easily, which was surprising.  Of course, I got my requisite selfie

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After Pisa, I headed to Lucca another walled city, before heading back to Florence and calling it a day.

On my last day, I headed over to Siena, with a pit shop to do some shopping at the infamous Mall. It’s like any other outlet mall you’ve been too, including Prada and Gucci. Years ago, you could actually get some deals. Now stuff is made specifically for the outlet and it’s full of tourists from all over the world. I will say the prices were about 1/2 of prices here in States, with the strong dollar. So if you are in the area and really want a Prada or Gucci, it may not be a bad idea to check it out.

A friend had talked so vividly of Siena, she made me want to visit it. And yes Kristy,I could see why you loved it so much. I will agree I prefer Siena over Florence.

I will definitely go back, when it’s not so warm, to proper tour around. It really does deserve more then a few hours.

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I still had a few hours before I needed to head back, so I decided to check out San Gimignano. Well between getting lost and not finding parking, this is the closest I got.

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Funny enough, it actually worked out. I needed to head back to Florence to return my rental car and catch my flight. Which was turn out quite the adventure. Silly me, I thought there would be signs for Rental Car Return, there was but along with 20 others. So after about 30 minutes, I finally figured out where to return the car. I made it inside the terminal exactly 2 hours before departure. And that’s when I noticed my flight was CANCELLED. Great.  Let the fun times begin.

The European Union has great protection rights for consumers in regards to air travel. Even though the flight was cancelled due to weather, Lufthansa was required to provide accommodations, food and transportation. More detail on EU 261 can be found here.

I had to talk to a Lufthansa representative to have alternative arrangements made, as I was missing my flight back to Chicago in the morning. They were busing everyone up to Palermo to overnight and fly out of Bologna the next morning. I smiled politely and said NO. Just NO. Not happening. I was hot and tired and frankly, just not interested. The lady just smiled and said, no problem. So I was able to spend the night in Florence and fly to Frankfurt the next morning at 6.30 am. I was scheduled to connect on the United flight at 12:45 pm. As I arrived at the airport in Florence, I got an email from United informing me that my flight was delayed 3 hours……..

I will say is there are worse places to be stuck then the Senator Lounge in Frankfurt Airport.

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Finally 36 hours later, I made it home. Only 8 hours later then scheduled.  I love love love that I am able to meet up with my various friends, those moments alone made up for all my misadventures.

Future adventures await…… Stay tuned.

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