I just wanted to thank those of you who contributed ideas and suggestions.
In the end I did go for the "madcap" itinerary and happily it worked just as I wanted it to. For sure, had to make some harsh "executive decisions" (mainly pragmatic ones avoiding "big ticket" attractions in high season)
Here is a transcript of my nightly Facebook updates for anyone that can be bothered
Day 1 18:24 Wednesday 7 June
7 hours since landing in Rome
So far I have:
Meandered my way out of the airport
Got on a not-quite-right-but-not-disastrous train
Got on the Metro
Checked in at hotel
Dealt with some work emails on my day off
Ate a lovely and bargainous panino
Looked at the Colosseum
Looked at the Forum through the railings
Wasted 15 minutes walking toward dead ends around the Forum
Walked to the Pantheon, managing to lose my bearings
Enjoyed sitting in the Pantheon and seeing the light come through the top of the dome
Enjoyed funky fountain sculptures in several places notably Piazza Narone.
Barely broke pace walking past the Trevi fountain which seemed to be similar to lots of less celebrated fountains
Walked up to Chiesa di Santa Vittoria which is ace
Going to feed 50c to the Ecstasy of Saint Theresa
Then after writing “seven hours since…”:
Back to hotel for a shower and a 40 minute lie-down, then back out into town to find some dinner and then just stroll around for an hour, back down to Piazza Foro Traiano which looks nice lit up at night, then back up to hotel via the Colosseum.
Day 2 written at 21:32 Thursday 8 June
Ok, day 2 in Italy.
It's a Thursday but weirdly felt like a Sunday, especially weird given that yesterday was annual leave and today was a work day (my day of "travelling from UK to Florence" cough cough)
There was a plan to go Galeria Borghese and Maxxi, in the Villa Borghese park. Got up at a decent enough hour, packed up, checked out, left bag at hotel, got Metro 5 stops to Piazza Popolo which is the entrance to the park although maybe not the best entrance to use for Galeria Borghese. 25 minute foot slog in the heat and, no great surprise as I had been forewarned and was taking a chance....all tickets sold out until 13 June. And the cafe wasn't yet open. No problem,says I, I'll walk on to Maxxi which is also in the park. Except it's 35 minutes on foot. No problem, I'll walk 20 minutes and stop for a coffee and maybe breakfast. Except the first coffee stop was the Museum of Modern Art and it looks so nice and grand and lovely, I decided to "do" that instead. Also, i feared that the exhibits in Maxxi might be a bit TOO modern-clever-abstract-highbrow for me. Really enjoyed the more "classical" modern art museum especially the installation video of Michael Winslow (off Police Academy) doing typewriter noises ????
Thought about walking up to Maxxi just to see the building and get lunch but it was not practical in terms of time so I sacked it off and just ambled back through Rome stopping somewhere random for lunch
Train to Florence, had a nice chat all the way with an Australian artist who is about to stay 3 months in Florence to learn Italian in order to get onto an art restoration course here. Checked in at nice hotel, wandered into the city , took silly selfies, had an ice cream, had dinner, now back in hotel doing some homework.
Tomorrow after work maybe I'll go to the Bill Viola new exhibition/installation, happily it is open till 8pm (actually open till 11pm tonight !)
Florence is a lot less hectic than Rome despite being more compact and full of nice things to behold from outside.
Day 3 written at 22:26 Friday 9 June
Italy, day 3, and I actually had to go to work having almost forgotten why I was here. Sore head in the morning of a hot day having stayed up till 2.30am drinking beer and following the election. Brief rejoicing before I heard about the DUP nonsense. Total faff as the taxi booked for me by hotel reception still had not turned up after 30 minutes because of "a problem in the street" which did not seem to be stopping any other traffic. Walked 4 minutes to station and queued a whole 3 minutes at taxi rank (hotel receptionist had warned me against doing this as there would be a really long wait....sigh).
Presentations done, I don't care if the class took any of it in, frankly they don't need to. Met a nice Dutch colleague who, like me, is likely to make this trip twice a year so we'll arrange some social evening next time.
Could have nicked off at 2 but I had not bothered to book the Uffizi and frankly it was too hot for yet more wandering so I stick around for some lab demonstrations, learned a few things and in fairness this IS a full work day.
Finally back to hotel, changed trousers for shorts and made a bee-line for city centre.
Having ignored the Vatican etc in Rome in favour of a modern art gallery, I today eschewed the Accademia and Uffizi in favour of a temporary exhibition of video installation legend Bill Viola which was dead good for the most part even if the pamphlet descriptions are a bit Pseuds' Corner. Mind you his early works from the mid 1970s were crap so I don't know how he made a name for himself in the first place. But it was nice shelter from the sun and given that some of the pieces were well over ten minutes long, it gave time to reflect on things etc. Things such as no longer having nightmares about UPS having lost £30k of laser alignment equipment (that's another story)
Then just wandered around town again, hoped to get a cold beer and a snack at the San Spirito square which seems to be the cool hangout, but the bars etc looked tawdry and overcrowded , it's more a place to hang out on the steps with mates and a couple of your own beers. So went to try to take pretty sunset pictures
Finally a nice seafood linguini. Back in hotel to pack up and get an early night
Still have not had red wine
three more days to add but I am not allowed to, I don't know if someone else has to reply first or if we have to wait an hour before I can reply to my own OP....
Glad you enjoyed the National Gallery of Modern Art. A long time ago I spent a year at the British School at Rome which is next door, and we frequently went to the cafe at the Galleria for Sunday breakfast. Nice art gallery, and probably not that many ordinary tourists go there!
Day 4 Saturday (didn’t write it up on Facebook on the night, as I was tired!)
Up at 7am for breakfast, pack up and check out of Florence hotel, leaving bag and jacket with them for the day.
8.05 meet-up with "Bike in Florence", the tour company(Piero and Elena) with whom I booked a 1 day group cycle tour around Tuscany.
Two more pick-ups (two American women and 4 English tourists)
I say "cycle tour", it was a very easy day in terms of biking.
We travelled by van for about an hour to San Gimignano, known as "medieval Manhattan" because its towers are seen as a fore-runner of the "skyscraper" and are a real standout on the skyline when viewed from a distance. Many villages around this area used to have towers but most fell into disrepair or were plundered for materials; San Gimignano's towers stayed up mainly due to a decline in population during the plague, before people needed to plunder the towers to use the brickwork for more practical houses. An interesting little place to spend an hour.
Then back on the van and we drove to a sensible starting place and actually got on the bikes, for perhaps a 6.5 mile ride to Montereggiano which is barely a village, but an impressible looking hill fortress which was a barracks in the middle ages. This was Chianti country and we had a wine tasting session (at noon on a hot day after exercise and not yet any lunch!), I learned a thing or two. The two Englishmen engaged in a bit of "posh surgeons off the Harry Enfield / Paul Whitehouse show", all "ah Derek are you getting vanilla and bark off this one?"
Then another 5 or 6 miles of countryside, then back on to the van to be driven to Siena where we had 2 hours to look around, which flew by really - just a bit of a wander and of course a late lunch. Siena's buildings all seem to be the shade of red known as siena, I wonder if that is pure coincidence? ;-)
And then just back on to the van and back to Florence for about 5.45pm, and onto the 6.30 train to Venice. Reached my airbnb for 9pm, this was in the "suburbs", a district called Mestre which is totally separate from the main Venice islands, but only 15-20 mins by bus. Purely functional - blocky industry and residential, but much cheaper than staying in Venice itself. Although it was Saturday night I didn't feel like dancing! Just nipped out for a nondescript pizza and beer and made a start on the posh heavy Chianti I'd bought earlier in the day in a fit of madness ;-)
Day 5 written at 21:57 Sunday 11 June
Day 5 (I think) in Italy
Arrived last night into a b&b in a Venice suburb, it is a 15 minute bus ride from the centre.
Nothing I wanted to visit was open before 10am and it is too hot to spend long on random wandering so I didn't make an early start. On the bus at 9.15 and on the water bus to Murano by around 9.45.
Got off two stops short of the Museo Del Vetro so I could feel that I have walked at least a bit. Really enjoyed Museo Del Vetro, yes it is just a load of pretty glass but it is well explained (in historic terms but not in terms of technique). Spent 1.5 hours there. Then back to the main island to go to Museo/Palazzo Fortuny which is a bit of an oddity, being a four floor former big house/workshop/gallery belonging to, er, Signor Fortuny. No permanent exhibits, as far as I can tell. It is 95% modern art, some of it contemporary. Currently a Kapoor and a Gormley, but also older stuff like Man Ray, De Chirico etc. I liked the randomness of it. It is not ramshackle or hodge-podge yet it has that feel to it. Getting there was annoying , my first experience of walking through Venice. It looked like a pain in the neck to try to use water buses (couple of changes and walks between stops anyway) but walking 30 mins on a Sunday in June with plenty of crowds around and the labyrinth that is Venice....not fun!
And THEN to the Basilica San Marco
Now, a top tip
If you are definitely going to visit a place renowned for a visual "wow"factor , try not to see any images of it. I deliberately did this with the Basilica, I had no idea what to expect. As I rounded my final corner into Piazza San Marco and suddenly saw it in all its glory, I involuntary let out a "Holy smokes" (except I didn't say "smokes"...)
I'd pre paid a 2E fee to jump the queue but this meant I had to be there between 3.25 and 3.35 or I'd have missed my window. Actually the queue looked to be only 25 mins which was surprising for a June weekend afternoon but then when you read the following maybe it makes sense...
I hadn't realised that you only really spend 10-15 minutes in there. You aren't exactly forced through in a limited time slot (and you can nip off into a prayer area but only for actual praying) but there is a constant flow and you find yourself going with it. It helps that they are fairly strict on "no photography" and that people respect this. So there are few blockages from people gawping at LCD screens.
I was mostly blown away by the amount of gold that must all over those domes. Tacky ostentatiousness ! Made me think of Trump.
Then a dull interlude where I realised I'd better eat something, I wandered randomly away from the Piazza and ended up eating nondescript rigatoni in a random little place.
Peeped in some shops, I don't doubt that the glassware in the thousands of trinket shops is 99% not hand made by master Murano blowers, but there are some nice wine bottle stoppers with glass tops for not that much money (15E) so may treat myself tmrw.
Then wanted to pop into free Enki Bilal exhibition but got confused and couldn't find the major museum hosting it (Museo Correr in Piazza San Marco, obvious when you know where it is but they had big banners up for various exhibitions in there on all four corners of the Piazza so you get drawn into checking each of those out to see if the museum is under one of them). By the time I'd found it they were closing the ticket desk as it was 6pm which is final entry time for 7pm closing. Annoying as I didn't need an hour and didn't strictly need a ticket as the Bilal exhibition is not part of the main museum. Oh well.
Had a bit more of a wander and then it was 7pm and I realised I'd been on the go for 10 hours mostly on my feet and that I need to realise I get tired. I had had thoughts of staying out in Venice until after dark but common sense dictated "amble back to b&b while there is no rush". Another boat ride, cheeky beer in a park, and bus back to Mestre.
Decided on cheap takeaway pizza for dinner as I have been spending quite a bit of money
Sleepy now but need to get through this fine wine and sort out packing for checkout tmrw
Tmrw I plan to go to the Peggy Guggenheim Museum/Gallery and then I need to be away to the airport by 1.30
Day 6 written at 23:17 Monday 12 June
Day 6 and somehow the most rushed of all despite "winding down". Up early to pack and head into Venice again. Set off from b&b at 8.05am, and including some faff with trying to find a toilet (none at Piazzale Roma, had to go to Ferrovia and then find a 1 Euro coin as the change machine was broken), it actually took until 10am just to get to the Guggenheim for opening time. Queue was only 7 minutes though. Went through the Guggenheim efficiently but without rushing too much (although didn't linger in sculpture garden), all done by noon ok. I didn’t buy a wine bottle stopper. Water bus back to Piazzale Roma to get bus to airport, have lunch, sort some work stuff out, then noticed there was a massive queue to get through security. Stress stress stress. Then herded into overcrowded fire trap of a stairwell, waiting to get the plane. Flew to East Midlands, bus home and straight to climbing wall then pub. I'll never learn.