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Suzy Gershman’s Postcard from Italy: Driving, Parking and Shopping in Florence & Venice City

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Suzy and her doggieDear Peter,
It’s a miracle that I can even write this postcard since we have been driving all over Italy … and let me tell you, I’m not sure which is worse—the Alps or the drivers.

I certainly understand why Hannibal insisted on taking the elephants!

Once you arrive in a city, then you get lost finding your hotel and then the final insult—you get the bill for the parking.

I had gotten used to paying just €35 a night (about $50) but was staggered when we got to Florence and had to pay €50. I’m trying not to think of that as $75.

SAVING EUROS

Aside from the cost of parking, expenses on this trip have not been too hideous. Hotels, even luxury ones, have deals that are especially attractive if you book five or seven nights with them.

Doggie Venezia HatWe did a total of eight nights with Baglioni and a few other odd nights here and there. Since we hit Florence twice, we stayed one time with Baglioni and another time at the Grand Villa de Medici, a Sina Hotel. The room rate was high on a per-night basis, but if you bought five nights, it fell to about €250 a night, which is equal to any Internet special you can find on a four-star at a close-out price. All Sina properties are five-star, so we got a deal on a palace.

The cost of tipping has gone up—I used to figure €1 per bag, but now I give €5 for two bags and a tote.

One scoop of ice cream in a cone is invariably €2 in every city while meals in casual, often touristy bistros are in the €12-€20 range, which isn’t too bad. Since I am watching my weight, I ate pasta or pizza at lunch and went lighter at night.

I have this book in my kitchen in the U.S. called Eat This, Not That which teaches you how to make smart choices between similar foodstuffs and snacks. I am dying for the Italian version. Only one time on this entire trip—in Rapallo, Genoa—did I even see a calorie count next to the choices on the cart. And yes, the lasagna was the highest in calories.

SHOPPING NEWS

Mannequin in MilanoWith globalization and a weak dollar, there might not be a lot of shopping deals. There’s also the terribly annoying fact that almost everything in the world is made in China anyway, so you are rarely buying local color, craft or style.

The most exciting stores I saw were the newly renovated Oviesse stores, called OVS Industry. Oviesse does cutting-edge fashion for men, women and children at Target prices. There’s even a new Fiorucci line just unveiled called Baby Angel. You’ll find an Oviesse store within walking distance of most tourist trading areas in all major Italian cities, except Venice where the store is on the Lido. Go figure.

My next favorite shopping mass-market experience (forgive me and don’t laugh) was Accessorize, a British chain that’s gone big into Italy. There’s one everywhere, yup, even San Marco in Venice. Furthermore, the style is very current and prices are low for bags, jewelry, hair ornaments and more.

For a splurge, I put my euros on table linens by Lisa Corti who does hot and wild colors suitable for resort cities.

She is sold through Saks in the U.S. but her own stores are much more fun to explore and touch the clothes, bed linens, accessories and tabletop. The store in Florence that used to be over the Ponte Vecchio has moved to Piazza Ghiberti, right across from the famous restaurant Cibreo.

WARNINGBologna Footwear

If you want a great handbag for less than $500, check the sales in the U.S. Or go online to www.ashneil.com. Or save up for a ticket to Hong Kong.

If you want Murano glass—go to Marshall’s in the U.S. If it’s truly made in Italy, the price will be higher than the quality (except in couture categories where you get what you pay for) and if it’s made in China, why pay duty on it or schlep it back to the U.S.?

If you want a seriously unique handbag, you can go the designer route, but I’d sent you to a tiny store called Venetzia that sells the work of local artisans. Among the works, there’s Birkin-style and Kelly-style handbags made of Venetian velvet trimmed with leather.

My best buys:

Two pairs of suede moccasins: one purple, one gray, $100 each;
Bottle of grand fruitee olive oil from grocery store, $15;
Baggy linen dress (dark purple) from Oviesse, $50;
Watercolor of canal scene, Venice, $10;

Biggest of baci (kisses),
SuzyKG

By Suzy Gershman for PeterGreenberg.com.

Go on a shopping spree with Suzy! Join her October 13-21 traveling through Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro with Suzy Gershman’s Born to Shop & Spa tour with InterContinental Hotels. Contact Sarah Lahey at srlahey @ gmail.com for more information. And don’t forget to check out Suzy’s blog at www.borntoshoplady.blogpsot.com.

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