I found this travel agency easy to work with. They were pretty fast to respond to my emails. The itinerary they put together for me was really fun, and they ensured that we had things to do that would work well traveling with 2 children. The hotels they booked were pretty good for our purposes, though the hotel in Bologna was right near the train station, which I would not recommend for anyone spending more time there. For us, we arrived by train, then went out to the Lamborghini factory (quite a bit outside town, we took a cab there and a bus back to the terminal near the train station), then went on a food tour all day the next day, so the location was convenient, though not a very charming section of the city (if there is a charming section ;-). The hotel in Florence was absolutely lovely, but very loud at night. There was a saxophone player right across the street, and he played the same 2 songs over and over until about midnight. Around 3am we could hear people coming back from the bars, some of whom were very animated. These were not the hotel's fault, of course, but even with the windows closed, it was noisy. However, since it was only 2 nights, the location was really great for getting everywhere by foot, and the rooftop terrence has an amazing view and friendly bartenders. There were a few last minute changes that I needed to make, and the staff at the travel agency were able to help me with that. They also were very organized with the itinerary and sent all the paperwork I needed as a zip drive. It was nice having much of the trip prepaid, but of course (as with most travel agencies), I didn't have an itemized list of what each event cost. I'm sure I could have asked, but I felt that the overall value was good, and I'm sure that it balanced out to some splurges and some good values, but letting someone else manage the details is well worth it to me.
We took a tour from Bologna of the Modena area, where we visited a cheese factory to see Parmigiana Reggiano cheese being made. It was a very interesting process, and we were able to see all of the various steps. We had a cheese tasting afterwards, and were able to buy cheese at very reasonable prices there. From there, we went to see real Balsamic vinegar being made, which is nothing like what I expected. The production is small, and truly a traditional practice. Then we went to a factory where they make prosciutto de Modena. Overall, the trip gave us a very good idea of the traditional practices of Italian food production, as well as insight as to how commercialism has changed the quality of these products. We learned to differentiate between the authentic and the commercially produced products, and the pros and cons of each. The trip ended with an incredible (and enormous) meal at a restaurant on the way back to Bologna. There was plenty of wine and delicious food. What I really liked about it was there we ended up trying things that we might not have ordered if we were on our own. However, people need to be warned that the courses keep coming--there were 3 pasta courses, various finger foods, and a couple of meats, then 2 desserts. The menu changes, but I'm sure the quality is always excellent and the quantity is always excessive (in a good way!). Another aspect of the trip that was surprisingly enjoyable was the quality of the drivers that you booked for us. They were really quite wonderful, and made things run smoothly. It was a relief to have experts who were on time and professional, and in some cases, they were even able to help with some translating!
I'm not sure I would do much differently, except I might have spent more time in the Tuscany area. We spent one night in Radda in Chianti, which was fascinating, but I think we could have spent another night there, maybe spending the day in some of the vineyards. However, with the limited time of our trip, that would have cut out time elsewhere, and I wouldn't know what to cut. At the beginning of the trip, we were in Venice. I could have spent another day there as well. It would have been a good trip if we had limited our number of stops, but, again, it was trade-off since we only had a week. Fortunately, we travel frequently, and will likely be back!
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