Italy Tour: Sheila McGraw

We had a wonderful 12 days in Italy with three nights in each location. The hotels were all very good in their own particular ways. We asked Jerry to find us hotels with character and he came up with three winners, all small with dedicated and helpful staff and each with its own unique architecture and d├ęcor. Although the hotels were in old buildings (one being built in the 5th century) they all had new modern fixtures, beds and linen, the bathrooms were very well appointed and all were spotlessly clean. The accommodation was situated in the center of the action so we could walk to virtually every sight we wanted to see. Although they may have a very small elevator, expect to climb lots of stairs if you want character, not a problem for us, but some might not welcome the exercise. The breakfasts at each location were also substantial and each had a variety of selections of protein, cakes, cereal, yogurt etc.

Jerry also booked our train tickets which was a godsend if you've ever looked at the Italian train booking website. His recommendation of travelling first class on the train was dead-on, giving us plenty of leg-room. We met a couple who said they had travelled coach and it was very uncomfortable. It's also important if going by rail to pack very light (which we did) with only a bag about carry-on size and plan to send out laundry from the hotels -- which is fairly expensive -- or visit a Laundromat. The passengers with large suitcases couldn't fit them, or lift them, into the overhead bins and checking luggage means standing in long, slow lineups.

In Venice, in St Marcos Square we were approached by a government rep who asked if we'd like to visit the island of Murano. This is a government attempt to increase tourist business for the real Murano glass and away from the Chinese knockoffs (the crude gaudy stuff) in a lot of the tourist-trap stores. We agreed and he promptly put us on a free private water taxi (regular price about 80 Euros one way) which went through the canal in the city center -- a great trip -- and to the glass factory tour on the island, which is worth seeing. Naturally they are hoping to sell you something, but the pressure is minimal and if you do succumb (as I did) they'll insure and ship it for you. They will then return you free of charge to Venice, although we used our taxi ride to get to Burano... another island that specializes in hand made lace and we ate lunch at Romano's, possibly the best meal we had in Italy. We then paid our fare back to Venice (although you can take the water-bus for a very inexpensive rate). This day was a real highlight and I recommend it as a great way to get away from the crush of tourists and lineups, especially if it is still being offered for free.

Our only complaint on this trip was not Umfulana's fault! It was with the air travel which we booked ourselves on US Airways. There were delays and the planes were in disrepair including broken tray tables and visible duct tape holding a portion of the plane's wing together! The worst part was the cramped seating. We could not sit with our knees in front of us for lack of legroom and it was worse when the passenger ahead tilted their seat back. Even short domestic flights have more legroom than the transatlantic flights of US Airways.

All in all, the trip was terrific and we would book with Umfulana again any time! Thanks Jerry, for your time and effort and expertise. It truly made our stay go smoothly and took all the worry and hassles out of travelling.

Sheila McGraw and Lee McMillian