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Italian Cities Q&A with Andi: Venice, Florence and Rome from the inside

on Thu, 01/15/2015 - 10:53
Andi at Trevi Fountain, Rome Untour
Andi has been with Untours for 18 years. In that time she has presided over historic growth. When she joined our staff, Tuscany was our only offering in Italy, and one of her first tasks was to help start a second Italian Untour in Venice. In the meantime, she has set up Venice and seven other Untours in Italy (including our former programs in Sicily).
She counts our Untours in the Italian cities among her favorites: Venice, Florence, and Rome. Here she shares some of her advice and insights.
Which of our Italian city programs is your favorite and why?
Rome! I’m a big city person and I just love the hustle and bustle of Rome.
What are your favorite things about the other Italian cities?
Pedestrian zones and the passegiata. The ability to just sit at a cafe and then walk into an art gallery, or happen upon a concert. And the people watching! Even just sitting on a bench or the stairs of a local church, you can just take it all in.  
Why is it worth spending more than a few days in each of these cities?
There is so much to see and do in each city. Yes, of course you can “see” the major sites in just a couple of days, but can you learn from them? Can you absorb their essence?  
It’s just not possible to have a real in depth experience spending two days and one night in Venice. You never get the chance to “get lost” and find the hidden jewels, or happen upon the locals in their natural environments, in their neighborhoods. You can’t grasp the beauty and difficulty of living in a city built on water. It’s not just about visiting the “important” sites, it’s all about learning how others live, experiencing the differences, and realizing that despite them there is still so much we have in common.
What are your favorite under-the-radar spots in each place?
My favorite spots are always places a little off the beaten path. Or sometimes so on the beaten path that you would think that they are tourist traps. For instance, the little cafe just across from the Trevi Fountain makes a fabulous cappuccino. One of my Italian friends who was with me nearly died when I suggested we have our morning cappuccino there. I had been so many times before I knew that he’d be wowed by the little hole in the wall’s coffee and pastry selection. He was pleasantly surprised. The trick is to keep an open mind.
As far as things to do in each city, I do have my favorites. In Rome it’s the Church of Santa Prassede. It’s a hidden jewel in the heart of the city with fabulous mosaics.
When in Florence I always try to make a point to visit the Bargello. It’s really not under the radar, but it’s a museum that often gets skipped over because of the more well known Uffizi and Galleria dell’Accademia. Not only are the works of sculpture awe inspiring, but the palazzo that hosts the museum is gorgeous. 
And last, but certainly not least, in Venice, one of my favorite things to do is wake up and head out very early, by 7 am, to walk and watch the locals open up their shops, take deliveries by boat and on foot, watch the fish market at Rialto set up for the day, and soak in that first light as it plays on the canals.
If you could live in any one of these cities, which would you choose, and why?
I think I’d choose Rome, though Florence would be a close second. I’d go with Rome because I think after a while I’d feel Florence was just too small for me. And Rome’s weather and proximity to the seaside are an added bonus.
What’s your advice to someone who is considering visiting these cities?
Go see the sites, but also try and talk with the locals. Go buy a sandwich in a small deli where you see locals frequenting. Go to the bakery daily and rub elbows with the locals. 
Ask questions. People are friendlier than you might expect. And even if their English is as bad as your Italian, they’ll try and get their point across. You’ll find that you’ll learn a lot more, eat in better restaurants, probably spend less, and just have a better experience if you just learn to be open and communicate with the locals.  
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