Four years had passed since my 40th Birthday Trip to Italy and in that time my second cousin was preparing to graduate from high school.  To celebrate this milestone I gave her a trip to Italy and invited her mother, my first cousin, and our identical twin mothers to join us.  Our 14-day Rome to Milan Multi-city Trip would be the first time for my second cousin, along with her mother and grandmother to explore the beautiful country of Italy.

Upon landing in Rome we made our way to the Piazza Navona neighborhood to check into the Hotel Navona.  After the younger members of our party wrestled the luggage up two flights of stairs (no elevator) the twins settled into their room and I joined my cousins in our cozy room before venturing out for a walking tour of Rome to visit the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, and other highlights followed by dinner in the Piazza Navona.

The Piazza at night is filled with the sounds of splashing water from its majestic fountains which are each artfully lit at night.  Shaped in a racetrac oval (because the space was originally built for chariot races and athletic competitions), the Piazza outer edges contain shops and restaurants for al fresco dining providing prime vantage points to watch Italians enjoy their la passeggiata (late afternoon stroll).  Street artists set up in the middle near the fountains and after an early dinner we surveyed the canvas paintings, purchasing several that still hang in our houses. 

After a private, skip-the-line (which was wrapped around two sides of the museum) tour of the Vatican Museum on our second day, we spent the third day in Pompeii with a private guide who brought the ancient city to life.  We marveled at the engineering and beautiful architecture and plaster painting which made the once grand villa interiors beautiful.  The gladiator training grounds were a sobering reminder of the violence of the Roman culture and yet also reminiscent of our current day US football.

On a quiet Sunday morning we taxied to a rental car location where we loaded our luggage for the drive north to San Gimignano.  The year was 2004 and we were still navigating via paper maps.  Imagine our difficulty as we wove our way through densely populated streets whose names changed every time we looked up!  Eventually, we were successful finding our way out of the city of 2.5 million people and onto the roadway headed to Orvieto, our shopping and lunch destination.   After our purchase of Italian ceramics and a tour of the zebra striped Duomo (exterior photo) we turned the car towards our destination for the evening, Hotel La Cisterna in the central piazza of San Gimignano where we snapped photos of the twin sisters and their multi-generational offspring.

After a restful night overlooking the peaceful rolling hills of Tuscany we made our way to Greve in Chianti, approximately 15-20 minutes south of Florence.  Our stay in Chianti was punctuated by Driving Rule #1: No u-turns on the Autostrada!  With this lesson learned, we respectfully made our way to Pisa to see the Leaning Tower on our way to Portofino to check out this seaside resort village before making our way to Lucca for an overnight stay before heading to Venice.

Note: After several trips to Italy I scratch my head over this itinerary – this was a very long day of driving and is not optimal.  Portofino should have either been eliminated from the itinerary or placed on the end as we were heading to Milan.  Pisa and Lucca are a very easy day trip – Portofino, while beautiful, was out of our way and required a full round trip to get there and then back to Lucca. 

After dropping the rental car in Florence we took the train to Venice where I enjoyed a second magical night of music (see 40th Birthday trip) in the Piazza San Marco.  With two additional days in Venice, we enjoyed a Vivaldi chamber music concert and were able to tour both Burano and Murano islands where we purchased Venetian lace tablecloths and glass candies.  These items remain cherished reminders of our time together to this day.  One rookie mistake on the table cloth!  I failed to take my table measurements with me and purchased a cloth that was too little.  After paying over $500 for the return shipping and replacement shipping I finally secured the right sized cloth.

The most magical finding of the trip was about to occur: our first trip to Villa Belvedere on Lake Como!  We arrived via water taxi and dragged our luggage over small pebbles to the hotel entrance.  The fragrance of dinner met our arrival and as we completed the check in process with Mr. Cappelletti we took turns taking the tiny elevator to our rooms, each with double doors opening out over Lake Como.  Our time at Villa Belvedere was filled with attentive and gracious service which, as you will read in other posts, became a compelling reason to repeatedly return while the hotel was owned by the Cappelletti family.  

Our 14-days of celebrating a high school graduation came to a close in Milan.  We had flown approximately 10,000 miles, traveled 500 in-country miles, visited 16 cities, stayed in 6 hotels, and seen more beautiful things than we could ever remember.  In hindsight, the truly unforgettable moment was simply the time that we were able to spend together.  As our mothers have aged the opportunity to repeat a trip like this is no longer a possibility.  Life lesson: Travel together while you can!  

Mary Beth I have a passion for creating and experiencing unforgettable moments and sharing those with others. I hope that this story has helped you experience one of those moments.

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