​​CE in Italy and Europe        World Class Destination CE at its Best

Suggested Items for your Upcoming Trip


You will need a current passport in order to travel to Europe.  This includes all of the European Union Countries, as well as the UK and non EU countries.  If you're going to Europe, you'll need it!  Each country has their own set of specific rules, but without a current, valid passport, you will be denied entry on your flight from North America.  Please keep in mind the following very important detail:  a current passport means that the EXPIRATION DATE OF THE PASSPORT NEEDS TO BE 6 MONTHS OR FURTHER OUT THAN YOUR RETURN FLIGHT FROM EUROPE.  THIS RULE IS FOR CERTAIN COUNTRIES.  BE SURE TO CHECK WITH US PASSPORT CONTROL AND HOMELAND SECURITY FOR UPDATED DETAILS.  Let me give you an example.  Lets assume that you will be traveling to Europe on March 1 and planning on returning March 25.  Your passport must NOT EXPIRE BEFORE September 25.  Its easy to look at your passport and see that the expiration date is after your trip, and feel that you're good to go.  However, even though it may be active during your trip, it also needs to be valid for 6 months following the completion of your trip.  If it's not, you'll be denied access to the flight originating in North America.  PLEASE CHECK YOUR PASSPORT DATES!!!


What a city of extremes.  The Roman Forum and Coliseum lying in the center of town with buses, cars and scooters all milling about in one of the most well orchestrated traffic patterns I have ever seen.  While it might seem like pandemonium, I have learned the trick to driving in Rome.  Just go.  Very simple.  Just go.  If you wait to let someone else in, you will be there for a very long time.  Just go.

There are many, many things to see and do in Rome.  I cannot cover all of them, as it would be too time consuming.   I would strongly suggest visiting viator.com to get ideas of the myriad of things to see and do in Rome.   That will help you to hone down or create a list of things to do.  

As far as suggestions, these are the things that I think are a must see while in Rome, and these can be covered in 3 days:  The Coliseum and the Roman Forum, St. Peters and the Vatican Museums (which will include the Sistine Chapel), Piazza Navona, The Trevi Fountain, The Pantheon, and Villa Borghese, and the adjacent Via Veneto.  You will need tickets to the Forum/Coliseum, and the Vatican Museums.

The majority of art works in Italy and in Rome are housed in many of the churches.  There are Michelangelo’s and Bernini’s throughout Rome.  Get a travel book and go hunting.  In my comments about Florence, I recommended Irving Stone’s biography of Michelangelo, The Agony and the Ecstasy.  While it is long, it will give you a good idea of the talents of the finest artist to walk this earth.  Speaking of ecstasy…..Bernini’s Ecstasy of St. Teresa is an amazing sculpture, found in Rome.

Restaurants abound in Rome.  Some of the best places are off the beaten path.  There are a few restaurants that I always go back to, but there are simply so many, you really can’t go wrong.  I would personally avoid those called Mc Donalds, but that is just me.

The area of Rome called Trastevere is a treasure trove of alley ways and restaurants, off the beaten path, and out of the hustle and bustle of Rome’s center.  Again, you will not go hungry.

Your Trip to Florence

Florence is an absolutely amazing city.  Whether you think of art, sculpture, the Renaissance, food, wine, sights and sounds, Florence resounds in all of these items.

I have been to Florence many times over the years, and have a home about an hour away, so I've put together a few suggestions of things to do while in this wonderful city.

First and foremost, Florence, being the seat of the Renaissance, is chock full of some of the world's most important art museums. Topping the list is the Accademia, which houses Michelangelo's David.  No trip to Florence is complete without seeing David.  Similarly, the Uffizzi Gallery, located on the banks of the Arno River, houses many artistic treasures, including works by Botticello and Michelangelo.  You will need tickets to these museums, and I would suggest you pre-purchase the tickets from viator.com before you head over to Italy, and I would also suggest getting the 'skip the line' tours, as that will save you time once you arrive at the museums.

The town center is just across the Arno River from our headquarters hotel, Hotel Silla, and is known as Piazza Signoria.  This is a great people watching area, and is a true Tuscan town center.  Adjacent to Palazzo Vecchio, with it's tall bell tower, is a replica of David, in the location where he originally stood.  Just a couple blocks to the east is the other major piazza in Florence, in front of the main cathedral, the Duomo.  This beautiful white, green and pink marble church is a must see.  Tickets can be purchased at the door, though often there is a line to get in to the church. For those of you up for the hike, you can walk the narrow stairways up to the top of the Duomo, getting a glimpse of the surrounding Tuscan countryside.  Immediately across from the Duomo is the Baptistry, which holds replicas of the famous bronze doors adorned with biblical scenes.  Hidden away, across the street from the apse of the Duomo, is a small museum that usually goes unnoticed, and unvisited, called Museo dell'Opera del Duomo.  Simply walk around to the 'back' of the Duomo, and you will see the museum; in it houses Michelangelo's second Pieta.  Now the most famous Pieta of Michelangelo is in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.  Beautiful sculpture, and the only one signed by Michelangelo.  The white marble sculpture of Mary holding Jesus as he was released from the cross is a very emotional image.  But in this small museum behind the Duomo sits Michelangelo's second Pieta.  It is in brownish marble, depicting the same scene, but with Nicodemus in the work, whose face is conveniently that of Michelangelo. Michelangelo ultimately was not happy with the work and took a hammer and broke off the arm of Christ, which was subsequently repaired by his students a short time later.  By the way, Michelangelo's third Pieta can be found in the Accademia.

A couple of blocks west and north of Piazza Signoria is the Ponte Vecchio, which is the most famous bridge in Florence crossing the Arno.  On it you will find jewelry shops galore.  Somewhat pricey, but the gold work there is quite beautiful.  And another block west lies the Pitti Palace and the Bolboli Gardens, the home of the Medici's who were one of the most powerful families in the world at the time of the Renaissance.

Directly across the Arno from Hotel Silla, you will see the bell tower of the church named Santa Croce....its about three blocks across the Arno.  Interestingly, this was the neighborhood church for Michelangelo, Dante, Machiavelli, and Galileo when they lived in Florence.  This too is a must see.  Michelangelo's home is nearby and can be visited for just a couple of euros.

One of the best kept secrets in Florence is the Medici Chapels.  The Medici Chapel is part of the Church of San Lorenzo.  San Lorenzo is two blocks east of the Duomo, and has an unfinished facade, so it looks rather, well, unfinished.  If you walk around to the back of this church you will find the entrance to the Medici Chapels.  Definitely a must see.  You will be astonished when you get upstairs into the main chapel where the major Medici patriarchs are buried.  The stone inlay work is absolutely spectacular.

Somewhat behind Hotel Silla, and up on the hill, lies Piazziale Michelangelo.  You should make the walk up to this piazza, as it has commanding views of the Florentine Skyline, the Arno River, the Ponte Vecchio, the Duomo, Palazzo Vecchio, Santa Croce, and the Tuscan hills surrounding Florence.

One of the best things to do in Florence is simply walk the town.  All of the aforementioned suggestions are within 15-20 minutes of walking from Hotel Silla.  Numerous cafes, wine bars, coffee shops and stores (more later) can be found in the center of Florence.  Sitting outside with a cup of espresso, or a scoop of gelato, people watching, is a great thing to do.

Now for shopping.....you will spend money in Florence.  Florence is known for its leather goods, and jackets, purses, brief cases and shoes all can be purchased here.  I have way too many Italian shoes going on in my closets!  At the leather mart (near the Duomo and San Lorenzo), one can find many stalls selling leather artifacts, mostly bags, jackets and belts).  But beware, many are imports from Asia and not of the same quality as the true Italian handmade items. Telling them apart can be tricky.  Look closely at the stitching...if there is stitching that is not holding one thing to another (in other words, just decorative), it probably is a knock off.  I have bought jackets there and have not been disappointed though I'm sure one or two of them have been knock-offs.  For the guys in the group who want fine Italian men's shoes at reasonable prices, email me and I will get you hooked up with a wonderful shoe store in Florence who will give you a discount if you tell them I sent you.  The majority of the shoes there are men's, though there are some women's styles there as well.  They recently opened a women's store about a block away.

To see the highlights listed above in Florence, you will need about 3 days in the city.  There simply is so much to see and do.  Again, I would suggest visiting viator.com to get some ideas as to what there is to see and do in Florence, and plan your agenda according to your preferences.

Something to consider before leaving for Florence:  a movie and a couple of books.  The second movie spun off from The Silence of the Lambs, starring Anthony Hopkins, is simply titled Hannibal.  Most of that movie was filmed in Florence, and you can retrace some of the exact locations while you are there. (The final part of the movie was filmed in western North Carolina, at the Biltmore Estate, which is a great place to visit as well).  As you can tell, I have referenced Michelangelo quite often here.  He spent a major portion of his life in Florence, being sponsored by the Medici family.  Irving Stone's book The Agony and the Ecstasy is an account of Michelangelo's life, and his trials and tribulations in producing some of the worlds most famous and priceless works of art.  Its a good read, but somewhat lengthy, before a trip to Italy, whre you will get to see these amazing works of art.  And most recently, for those of you who are Dan Brown fans (The Davinci Code)....his most recent book entitled The Inferno, is mostly set in Florence. In fact viator has a Dan Brown tour going into all of the secret places mentioned in that book.  For those of you also traveling to Venice while in Italy, The Inferno moves from Florence to Venice, where again, you can see many of the places described in the book.

No matter how much or how little you do in Florence during your stay, it will be a most memorable trip.

Your Visit to Castiglion Fiorentino:

Castiglion Fiorentino, CF for short, is home for my wife and I.  It is a wonderful, small, quaint Tuscan town with very few tourists.  In fact, chances are pretty good that the only tourists there will be from the CE in Italy group.

My first suggestion on what to do while there is to slow down, ... and relax.  It is peaceful and quiet there, with fantastic views of the Val di Chio and the Val di Chiana.  You can easily see the entire city in one half a day, whether you are strolling around the outside perimeter of the city, or are exploring the streets inside the walls.  There are museums with Etruscan artifacts at the very epicenter of the town, on the elevated area surrounding the ancient castle tower, Il Cassero.  The main square, Piazza Municipio, has a wonderful view of the olive groves of the Val di Chio, and the main cathedral in CF, Collegiata.  Conveniently, there is a cafe here where you can sip wine, have a spritz at 6:30 (also known as 'spritz-thirty'), have an espresso, or an appetizer.  At the main 'intersection', and I use that term loosely, in CF, lies Bar Maro, with a large yellow sign out front saying Cafe Sandy.  Bar Maro is run by two wonderful gentlemen, Stefano and Andrea, and it is what I call "il centro del mondo"...the center of the world, as everyone in town passes through that cafe at some point during the day.  Great espresso and cappucino there, as well as morning cakes and pastries.  Along this section of the main street, you will find perfume stores (Sanchini...my wife's favorite store in CF!), book stores, a travel agent, an optical shop, a wedding dress shop, and home appliance store...all the stores associated with small town needs.  Further down the hill, towards the entrance gate to the city, Porta Fiorentino, and just outside the walls, a great view of the Val di Chiana can be had from the small square there with a fountain overlooking the valley.  Great place for a sunset view.

Dining in CF provides you with several options.  My two favorite restaurants inside the walls are Muzzicone and Cafe Roggi.  Fantastic food and pizza in both locations, and great people who run the establishments.  Silvano Roggi and his brother Daniele make some great pizza and pasta, and Silvano speaks great English, as his wife is from Texas.  I will make recommendations of the foods at these restaurants once we get to CF.  Also, inside the walls, along the main street is Bottega del Vino, a small family run restaurant with a very big wine list.  Small menu though, but all cooked to order. Closer to Le Santucce lies Da Giuda, a relatively new restaurant in CF...their terrace out back overlooks the Val di Chiana, and is a great setting for a sunset dinner.  Closer yet to Santucce is La Piazetta, which, not surprisingly, specializes in pizza. Outside the walls, one of our favorite restaurants is Antica Pieve, which is about a mile north of the town.  Great food in a great setting.  But on the way to Antica Pieve, you will pass Mondo Gelato, absolutely the BEST gelato in all of Italy!  Guaranteed!!!

Surrounding Areas:

From CF, I would suggest taking the train north one stop to Arezzo.  Its about a 7 minute train ride.  Arezzo is a great mix of 13th and 21st centuries.  When you leave the train station in Arezzo by foot, you are in the 21st century with modern shops.  Head straight up the street with your back to the train station and in two blocks you will come to a large round about.  Make a right and go another two blocks, and you will find yourself on the Corso Italia, in the middle of 13th century Arezzo.  Follow the Corso Italia up the hill to the top, where the main cathedral will be found, with a wonderful park overlooking the Tuscan countryside.  Adjacent to the park and one block down the hill, is the main square of Arezzo, Piazza Grande.  This is the sight of one of Tuscany's most storied midieval festivals, the Sarancento.  It is also where many of the scenes from Life is Beautiful, starring Roberto Begnini were filmed.  Begnini, by the way, was born in CF.  Be sure to have dinner at one of the restaurants in this piazza on a beautiful evening.

South of CF lies the town of Cortona.  Now Cortona is a beautiful town, but because of the popularity of the movie Under the Tuscan Sun, which was set in Cortona, it has become a tourist town.  Definitely worth a visit, but be prepared to hear more English than Italian.  You can get there by bus for about 3 euros from CF, or you can drive. You can also get there via train, but the train stops at Camucia, which lies below the hilltop town of Cortona....you would then need a taxi to get up to Cortona from Camucia.  To the west of CF lies many of the famous areas and towns of Tuscany, including the Chianti region, the towns of Montepulciano, Pienza, Montalcino, Siena and some of the prettiest countryside on earth.  These areas are best explored by car and a suggested driving route is discussed in another section.  To the south of CF lie the towns of Perugia and Assisi, both wonderful towns that are easily accessible by car and train, with a few stops and changes.  All of these areas are within 45 minutes of CF, making CF a great launching point for an exploration of Tuscany.  I would suggest to get out a map and plan an itinerary of which way you want to go from CF, keeping in mind that Chianti, the towns of Montepulciano, Pienza, and Montalcino, and the towns of Perugia and Assisi will each occupy a day to explore.

You can also rent a car in Arezzo or Camucia if you arrive in CF by train.  Or, as mentioned in another location on this page, you can pick up a car when you depart Rome or Florence.

Suggested Driving Tours/Routes from Florence and Castiglion Fiorentino

Chianti Route From Florence:

Take route 222 south from Florence.  222 is the route that takes you through the heart of the Chianti region. Absolutely beautiful drive.  Stop in as many of the towns as you want to along the way…Greve in Chianti, Castellina in Chianti etc.  You can end this route in Siena, have a little bit of time to see Siena, and head back home.  I would suggest taking autostrada back to Florence from Siena as you will get back quicker than retracing your steps.

Pisa, Lucca and Pistoia

Head west to Pisa…that is about a 45 minute drive.  Something about a tower there and Gallileo…I don’t know. North to Lucca, east to Pistoia, and back to Florence.  That will be a full day.


My first suggestion is to closely study a map to get a feel for where everything is in relation to Florence and Castiglion Fiorentino.  Once you have an idea of the lay of the land, you can plan out an itinerary that is efficient on mileage to and from.  For example, the towns of Montepulciano, Pienza, and Montalcino can be visited in one day.  The Chianti towns in another.  Perugia and Assisi in another.  

Montepulciano, Pienza, and Montalcino.  From Florence, take the A-1 autostrada south to Chinciano Terme and back north a bit to Montepulciano (it’s quicker, trust me).  My favorite wine, cheese and olive oil store is here….Fattoria Pulcino…you can’t miss it as it’s on the main street.  Stop at San Biagio for a few minutes after you leave Montepulciano.  Head west to Pienza, a beautiful gem of a village. As you get about 4 miles from Pienza, off to your left, you will find one of the most photographed villas (chapel actually) of Tuscany.  You will not want to miss this!  Spectacular!!!  And if there is a breeze, watch what happens to the wheat fields between you and the chapel.   West further will take you to Montalcino, home of Brunello wines.  Dinner in Montalcino and then head north toward Siena, and pick up the Florence-Siena Autostrada.  From Castiglion Fiorentino, Montepulciano is about 35 minutes due west, and once there, you can follow the above directions to Pienza and Montalcino.

Siena From Florence:

Take the Florence-Siena autostrada south toward Siena.  Be sure to stop in Monteriggione, one of my favorite towns.  Very small…grab a lunch.  Then head to Siena to explore that city for a day.  Dinner in Siena on the Campo….perfetto!  

San Gimignano and Volterra:

San Gimignano is between Florence and Siena.  It is easier to visit San Gimignano from Florence than from Castiglion Fiorentino.  Head west and north to San Gim and spend a couple of hours there.  Then further west to Volterra.  Be sure to pick up something made of alabaster…most stores will ship to the US and guarantee against breakage.  Dinner and you’re easily back to Florence.

Traveling to and from Destinations in Italy and Europe

OK, so you've decided to go to Italy or another European destination with us, but you're worried about traveling around once you arrive.  Allow me to hit the highlights with my thoughts on this topic.

Firstly, while in Rome, Florence or Venice, you will not need a car.  No cars in Venice anyway!  You can get around those towns by foot or taxi easily enough, and the public subways system in Rome is pretty easy to navigate.  When you arrive at the airport in either Rome, Florence or Venice, you can get a cab easily (water taxi in Venice) to your hotel.  You can also pre-arrange a private transfer to/from the airport on viator.com if you are more comfortable with that method.

Getting between the cities of Florence, Rome, Venice, Milan, etc is easiest via train.  While Italians traditionally have a laid back approach to many things in life, their train system is incredibly accurate and precise.  As you can imagine, bigger cities like Rome have bigger central train stations, and there are many people around.  But all stations have a booth with people who can help you in getting a ticket.  They almost all speak English well enough to help you get from Rome to Venice for example.  There are also kiosks that you can use to purchase your tickets, and they are in various languages.  But a couple of important points to remember about traveling by train in Italy:
1-if the train is scheduled to leave at 9:55, it will leave at 9:55...not 9:56!
2-The track is called a BIN (short for bi-nary...as in two train tracks)  BIN 4 means the train leaves from track 4
3-Hours are on a 24 hour system, so 15:30 is 3:30 PM
4-The big board facing all the train platforms at each station, with the changing letters and numbers, lists the trains that are departing BY THE TIME OF THEIR DEPARTURE, with the trains leaving the soonest at the top of the list.  So if you are at the station 2 hours before your departure time, chances are that train is not even posted yet...when it does get posted, it will be at the bottom of the list and gradually work its way to the top of the list as time progresses.
5-BE SURE TO VALIDATE YOUR TICKET prior to getting on the train!  This is important.  Just because you bought a ticket doesn't mean your finished.  You have a ticket in hand that says what train you are supposed to be on, but it needs to be time stamped (validated).  The validation 'boxes' are about chest high all around the stations, and are usually green boxes about the size of a toaster oven.  Slide your ticket in and to the left, and it will be stamped.  (Some tickets are 'open tickets', meaning they are good for travel from point A to point B without a specific train listed..the validation process assures the rail system that one is not using the same ticket over and over...makes sense when you think about it.)
6-When reading the posted train schedules, be careful to pay attention to the 'details'  For example, you are in Florence, and you want to travel by train to Castiglion Fiorentino, which is where our Tuscany meeting is held.  The departing (partenze) train schedules have all the trains leaving the Florence Station, which is called Santa Maria Novella, or SNM for short, listed by the hour in which they leave, from earliest (upper left) to latest (lower right). Since Castiglion Fiorentino lies geographically on the train line Between Florence and Rome, you will need to look for the highlighted train route to read: Firenze SNM - Roma Termini.  This means the train listed is beginning at Firenze SMN and is ending at Roma Termini.  Along the way, it will stop at various locations, and those various stops will be listed underneath the highlighted route on the paper departure list.  So you have to know some geography in order to read these schedules.  So in the example above, where you want to get from Florence to Castiglion Fiorentino.....say you want to leave florence around 10 AM....you can go to the departure schedules, and look at trains leaving somewhere around 9:30....then look for "Firenze SMN - Roma Termini'.  You find one that says 9:48.  Under that train, it lists several stops, one of which is Castiglion Fiorentino (sometimes listed as Cast. F.No) at 11:08.  This is the train you want to take, as it means this particular train leaves SMN at precisely 9:48 and is heading to Roma Termini Station, and will stop in Castiglion Fiorentino at 11:08.  Actually pretty straightforward when you think about it.
7-There are first class and second class tickets.  There are differences on some of the trains, but honestly, not too much of a difference.  There are also express trains and local trains.  The Express trains are usually called "Freccia" trains....Freccia Rossa (Red) or Freccia Argento (Silver) trains....they are more aerodynamic and sleek in shape.  So If you want to go from Florence to Rome, you can take the local train, with several stops between Florence and Rome (about 3+ hours), or you can take the express train, which will get you there in about 2 hours.

Again, the train stations have manned windows with tellers who can help you if you're not comfortable getting your tickets through the kiosks in the stations.  You can also visit trenitalia.it which is the website for the train system in Italy. You can type in your to/from destinations and a similar schedule as described above will appear.  You can order your tickets on line from trenitalia.it if you so choose.

Getting a Car in Italy

For those of you going to either Florence or Tuscany, you might want to consider renting a car while there.  You do NOT need a car while in Florence.  But picking up a car while in Florence will allow you to explore the Tuscan countryside at your leisure.  Trust me on this....if you pick up a car in Florence, pick it up at the airport.  The locations in downtown Florence are difficult to get to, and the one way streets always are changing, and fines are imposed if you are found going down a closed to local traffic only street (many of them in downtown Florence) or a one way street.  Out by the airport, you are still in the city, but not as many restrictions on where you drive.  Anyway, I would take a cab to the airport car rental location, pick up your car there, and then head out of town.....don't drive back to the hotel to pick up luggage.  Driving in the urban areas of Florence and especially Rome can be challenging.

So why get the car then?  So that you can explore the Tuscan countryside, quite simply.  There are som many things to see and do in Tuscany, and having a car enables you to go where ever you want on whatever schedule you prefer.  You can also rent a car on your last day in Florence, and drive, for example, to Castiglion Fiorentino, which does have ample parking, and then use the care to explore that area.  Lots of options, but having a car for the Tuscany leg of the trip is very beneficial.

You can reserve your car online before leaving for Italy.  I usually use Orbitz.com to do just that.

Suggestions for Shopping in Italy 

Very soon we will be heading to Italy for the meeting.  The following are a couple of suggestions for making your shopping experience in Italy a bit more pleasant, and these suggestions are made from personal experience.

First, the monetary unit used in Italy is the Euro.  I would suggest that you obtain Euros before leaving US soil.  These are readily available from most banks with a week or so notice.  Check with your local bank.  The exchange rate right now is pretty good, but that is relative.  The rate changes daily, so it's about impossible to time it right to get a better rate on a different date.  You will need some Euros for taxis and tips and food/drink once you plane lands and before you get to your destination.

You can always get more Euros when you get there, either by going to a bank or using an ATM machine, but the exchange rate will most certainly be higher at the ATM, plus they will tack on additional charges.  Bank rates will be closer to current rates, but they too will have incidental charges with the transaction.

Using your credit cards in Italy has both plusses and minuses.  The plusses are that most restaurants and stores readily take VISA and Master Cards.  The downsides are the exchange rate, and the fact that your credit card will usually charge you a fee for each transaction, which is usually a percentage of the total amount.  But there's another catch to using your credit card....the VAT.

VAT = Value Added Tax, which is a surcharge added to most purchases in Italy (not at restaurants) for goods.  This is a tax on all residents of the European Union.  As a US citizen, you are not a resident of the EU, and you do not have to pay that tax, ULTIMATELY.  You DO have to pay that tax at the time of purchase, and it can add up significantly when purchasing many things.  However, since you are not a resident of the EU, you can take your receipt to an Exchange Center (Cambio) and get that money back, by filling out a form (have your passport with you) and most importantly, by giving the Cambio your receipt.  Please read this carefully.  You will be getting your money (VAT) back, but you will also be giving up your original receipt.  So when you make a purchase of...say....a leather coat (which you WILL do in Florence), and you charge it, ask for a duplicate receipt.  This becomes important because when you get back home and you get your credit card bill and stop crying long enough to look at it carefully, you can match up each receipt with the charges on your statement.  While it only happened to me once, I did have a vendor in Venice bill my credit card twice for the same item, claiming that I bought two exact items.  Fortunately I had a duplicate receipt to repudiate his claims.

Most vendors are honest.  But pay attention when buying things.  When you are making a purchase in a store with your credit card, usually the vendor will tell you that you will save, say 140 Euros on that 400 Euro coat.  I have seen many foreignors feel they are being ripped off because they are thinking that the coat will cost 400 - 140 = 260 Euros, when in fact they are charged 400 + 140 = 540 Euros.  They will get the 140 back after going to the Cambio, and they will be paying less than a tourist from Spain, but they were expecting a charge of 260 and it was actually 540.  Make sense?  Hopefully it does.  

If you deal in cash (euros), you may have better negotiating power.  Always ask:  Quante costa?  (How much is this?)  Always respond with a shrug of your shoulders and the words:  E troppo!  (It's too much).  You will quickly find out if the vendor negotiates.

Lost your receipt?  No VAT refund, plain and simple.  Always get two copies of your receipts.

Don't forget your Passports and other documents!  

In going through my mental list of things to do, the thought of getting the passports out of the safe came to mind, and it reminded me that I did not mention that previously.  Certainly it goes without saying, but you need a passport to get into Italy.  You will also need it when you get you VAT refund, as described earlier.

Another random thought about re-entering the US after the trip abroad......I will be flying into and out of Philadelphia as the US hub.  One quirky thing about entering the US through Philly is that when you arrive and pick up your bags and go through Immigration and Customs, your carry on bags are considered 'outside' the security area and you will then need to bring your carry on bags through TSA screening process as you normally do when arriving at a US airport.  This can create a problem for you because if you bought some liquids in Italy, such as an aged bottle of balsalmic vinegar, and carried them on the plane in Italy, when you arrive in Philly, they will of course still be in your carry on luggage, but when you go through TSA screening stations, you will not be able to carry that liquid on the domestic flight unless it is less than 3 ounces.  You will have to leave your liquids behind.  I know that's how it works going through Immigration and Customs in Philly, but I cannot say for other US airports.  You can get stuck giving up a perfectly good bottle of wine that you carried on board across the Atlantic Ocean which you cannot carry on board on a domestic flight.  Either put the liquid in your checked baggage when you pick it up, or have the vendor in Italy ship it to the US.