Katie Strangis and her mom, first-time international traveler Susan Lowes, take on two of Italy's largest cities in this off-season adventure.
We're still laughing about... Our last meal in Venice. When it comes to food, the city is known for two things: seafood and risotto. I had to try some, but my mother is not an adventurous eater. When she ordered a simple fish dish, I smiled and nodded—and then cried laughing when the waiter presented her with a whole fish, head still on, eyes staring up at her. She promptly screamed. (A happy ending: The risotto was delicious, and she loved it!)
Wish we'd known that... It is impossible to find anything in Venice! Addresses mean very little, and even the locals can't figure out where everything is. It took an hour to find our very charming little hotel, [PHOTO] and that was only after I parked my mom and our bags in front of a store and walked up and down every alley. I almost cried in relief when I finally found it—about 30 seconds from where I'd started. Editor's note: Streetwise has a portable map of Venice starting around $8 that has been updated for 2010.
Our favorite part... Our meal at Da Ivo in Venice. It was my mother's birthday dinner, and we splurged on amazing black-truffle fettuccine and a seat by the window overlooking the canal. The service was impeccable but not fussy, and even after it was clear that we weren't going to spend an exorbitant amount of money, the service didn't falter. I think my absolute favorite moment was when the waiter unexpectedly brought out a beautiful dessert with a candle in it [PHOTO] and charmingly struggled through a couple lines of "Happy Birthday" in broken English. Then the staff gave my mom a beautiful box of truffles. We were thrilled. I'd recommend Da Ivo to anyone.
What we should have packed... Rain boots! [PHOTO] While it was fascinating to see how Venetians handle the rain by erecting makeshift walkways, [PHOTO] a good pair of waterproof shoes would have helped. Despite some tough weather, I still recommend visiting Italy in February: We were able to walk into the Vatican and the Colosseum without waiting in long lines, and Venice was lovely without the oppressive crowds and heat.
Worth every penny... Spending the money to take my mom on this trip. As a government attorney, I don't make a lot, but this is something I've dreamed about my entire life. Part of the fun was watching the look on Mom's face when she saw the Sistine Chapel and the Colosseum for the first time. [PHOTO] She finally recognized that I was right—there are better things than Disney World. [PHOTO]
Never again... Will I try to get my mother to listen to me when I say that there are huge fees for overweight bags—€100 lost to Air France! Enough said.
Total rip-off... The gondolas in Venice. I appreciate that they are charming and romantic (and perhaps this was lost on me, traveling with Mom and all), but for €100-plus they seemed like a waste. The gondoliers were singing bad Frank Sinatra songs, and there's just no excuse for singing Sinatra badly. [PHOTO]
Fun surprise... On a previous trip to Rome, I discovered a square in the middle of the city that I called "Ruins with Kitties Square" (because, well, there were ruins and cats everywhere). [PHOTO] My mom and I stumbled upon the square again, only this time it was raining and there were only a few brave cats outside. Mom, the eternal feline lover, was disappointed. I spotted one of the furry creatures walking down a rickety stairway. I followed it through a little door and encountered the most bizarre thing: a sophisticated and charming cat rescue, with literally dozens of cats lolling about. On rainy days, volunteers ensure that each animal has a bed. There was even a separate room for disabled cats. The volunteers gave us a quick tour and then offered us some warm wine (you've gotta love Rome).
Hotel we liked... Hotel Anastasia in Venice (once we found it!) was perfectly located close to Piazza San Marco. The hotel's tiny square was quiet and felt like our own, especially since our room had shuttered windows that opened up for views of the square and one of the canals. An excursion to Murano with a tour of a glass factory was free with our stay.