I think the mTrip guides are better, but a number of the TVtrip guides went free yesterday, including the Chicago City Guide, and these are not bad. Others that are currently free in the TVtrip series are Paris, Amsterdam, Seville, New York, London, Barcelona, and Singapore. These normally list for about $3.99 each, and have gone free a few weeks earlier, too.
Sorry it has taken me so long to get back and answer this. The private driver was licensed. We found him through a suggestion on a cruising message board. The driver suggested was already booked, but he recommended a friend that was great. When my sister took the same trip, the opposite happened and my driver was booked, so she got the friend and he was just as great. It was worth every penny we spent. I wished we'd had more time, but if you don't, this is the way to go. The art history guide was hired by our driver. She was absolutely amazing. If you have a limited time to see the Vatican, you can't beat it.
Originally Posted by Lani
It's also sometimes useful to hire a guide because often, tour groups can jump the queue, also saving time. The Vatican Museum offers guided tours, and, as noted, there are many private guides out there. The forum on Slow Travel is very useful for recommendations on all things Italy, but I remember in particular there were recent questions about the guided tours of the Vatican Museum.
Originally Posted by Seesul
Oh my word, where has the year gone?!?!
I just went back and re-read all of this valuable information that the smartest people on the interwebs have provided (thank you all so much!)
We are leaving in about 2 weeks and this is the general plan so far:
Day 1 Rome- Historical stuff- Coliseum, Capitoline Hill, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, Forum and probably crush a museum in this day (maybe the Borgia if I can get a reservation)
Day 2 Vatican and all the pomp and circumstance there, looking for an end of the day something
Day3 Train to Florence- Duomo,Piazza della Signoria , Pallazo Vecchio, San Giovanni Baptistery
Day4 Florence- Uffizzi, Gallerie, Santa Maria del Fiore, Galleria dell' Accademia
Day5- Tuscany - Tour booked with Viaggi Dambra to do Chianti region for wine and Villages (Greve and Volpaia)
Because of the brevity, I am opting to put off Venice for another time.
I have a couple of restaurant picks ( Florence Il Latini and La Bussola) but still very open to further suggestions.
And because I know you will all ask, I will be traveling with a TriStar and the Co-Pilot my sweet wife bought me for Christmas!
Oh, I've got to get in some recommendations! Dinner near the Spanish Steps @ Il Gabrielo. Best meal my wife and I had in Italy. It's a "splurge" fancy meal, although still nowhere near as pricey as a lot of places. Every single thing we had was perfectly prepared.
Originally Posted by jeffmac
In Florence, check out the paper stores Il Torchio and the other one I can't think of right now that's right across from Pitti Palace. If you want well-made leather gloves at a very good value, go to Madova. It's just across Ponte Vecchio. They make stuff for lots of major labels but sell their product under their own name in a small shop. Huge variety of styles and colors.
You know you can buy tix in advance to most of the places you're going, right? You definitely want to do this (says the person who stood outside the Vatican for FOUR HOURS because she didn't buy ahead). tickitaly.com. Seriously, it will rock your world.
One thing to maybe do is to return to the Capitoline Hill post-Vatican and watch the sunset. It's a little backtracking, but I doubt you'll want to do very much after going through the museums and St. Peter's. I'm a little concerned with your Day 1 itinerary because jet lag is likely to catch up with you, and you'll want to have time to chill with a glass of wine in the Campo del Fiore or visit a market or two to take pictures (and buy crap, natch). If you are planning for the Villa Borghese, I'd definitely suggest saving the Fontana Trevi for Day 2, as well, since it's nice in the day time but really pretty at night.
One thing to try in Rome is a place with a huge antipasto menu. Basically, the antipasti start coming and you eat until you feel like you're going to die. And then they bring pasta. I haven't been to Rome in a few years, but man, those antipasti. Good memories. Oh, and try and get coffee at Cafe Sant'Eustachio. It's near the Pantheon.
Have fun! Did I mention how jealous I am?
Lifechanging, no sarcasm intended! Thank you so much!
Booked the Vatican tour and bought the Coliseum tix and still playing with the Firenze stuff (sounds so much cooler that way!)
Dumb question...they did not have the early morning tour available so we are on the 11:45 tour. Is there something good that is in or close to the Vatican to do that will likely not be on the 3 hour tour?
Oh dear, I just re-read that last sentence. Gilligan complex.
Autolycus, I will definitely check out Il Gabrielo!
Jeff, glad I could help. Seriously, people in the queue will shoot lasers from their eyes when you walk past them. You, being a good person, will hide your smugness.
Originally Posted by jeffmac
Is your tour for just St. Peter's or just the museum, or both? I'd be tempted to go the Vatican Library or to Mass if I had to kill some time--there's usually a separate entrance that you can enter for services (I just checked the parish website for you--it's in Italian--there's a Mass at 10 a.m. in the Chiesa de Sant'Anna). You could also go to the gift shop (which is super nice, btw) or stroll around St. Peter's Square. The other option might be to stay closer to the city center for the early morning, hit up some open air markets (like in the Campo) or stroll through one of the neighborhoods. Trastevere might be a good option. Then you can just hop a bus to the Vatican City. If you're thinking you'd like a midmorning snack or something, I highly advise steering clear of the Vaticano neighborhood. It's really expensive and it's too easy to fall into a tourist trap selling crappy coffee.
One thing to keep in mind is to try to arrive to the Vatican bit early even with the tickets, since it's possible that there may be a short line for ticket-holders. It will save stress and you will likely appreciate having a few minutes just to gawp. I totally strained my neck staring at the HUGE statue of St. Helena. I wasn't right for days, and it was worth it.
In Florence, make sure you get reservations for the Uffizi and Accademia or you will miss your flight home waiting to get in.
To clarify my last point: Sant'Anna is not IN St. Peter's. It is the parish church of the Vatican City. It's very nice, and loaded with marble and religious (duh) frescoes. I doubt as many people will be there, so that could be a nice stop to prime the pump for the Holy See.
OK, on the plane for Frankurt now so literally just days away at this point! Roma on Friday! Any suggestions on the perfect pizza there?
Thanks everyone for all the input !
Not pizza, but possibly the best gelato in the universe is at Via Principe Euggenio 65 - Fassi is the name of the place. Huge servings and yummy flavours. Also recmmend Church of Santa prassede near Maria Majiore. Fabulous 9th century mosaics and seldom visited. Have fun!
Them's fighting words, jannilee ;). Jeff, you'll also have to check out Giolitti and report back. Hell, have gelato everywhere.
Originally Posted by jannilee
In the Vaticano neighborhood (not Vatican City) you could check out L'Isola Della Pizza. Isle of pizza, yes. I wouldn't say it's the best by any means, but it's tasty and dependable, with a wood-fired grill if you would prefer a steak to pizza.
Oh, and the name is stupid, but check out the Eataly chain of food shops. You can eat in many of them, or pick up good picnic fixings.
If you or your wife like clothes and you have any spare time in Firenze (not likely, give your schedule! :)), a trip to the designer outlets could provide some variety from all the magnificent culture and history you will be absorbing. They are located a short distance outside the city.
I have stayed in Chianti a number of times over the years - it is quite stunning and a place I plan to return to often. If you like food and wine, you will probably wish you had longer there! In fact, I am sure you will leave Italy with plans to return. It is such a richly textured, hugely diverse place.
Have a wonderful trip!