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Trip Report 19 Days in May: Rome Followed by a Cruise (Sicily/Turkey/Greece)

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As always, Fodors proved to be a fabulous resource in planning my trip and so I wanted to give back a bit with a trip report. My apologies for it taking so long to get started!

I always like to start with a background on who we are and how we like to travel. Therefore you don't waste your time reading if our interests don't match, etc. In addition, I like to provide some background on how I planned the trip....my thought process and resources.

Our Background:

I am 33 and my husband is 44. I'm in academia and DH is in sales. We have no kids, except for furry ones (1 dog and 1 cat). Therefore, the trip report will not contain any information about children and children's activities.

I love to travel and DH doesn't. But he loves me and he tags along. In general, I go-go-go all day long and he hangs out at the hotel or around the hotel. Therefore, when we travel, the hotel is VERY important. It needs to have all the typical US amenities and be convenient for him. The hotel ends up making up a big part of our budget. No B&B's for us.

In past travels (i.e., our Benelux trip in Fall 2010) I tried to force him to do a lot of cultural things and he was miserable and grumpy. I always feel like he's missing out on life if he doesn't see a certain church or painting. However, after the grumpiness of the last trip, I decided to try things differently on this trip. I would not force him to do anything he didn't want to and so be it. At least he had the opportunity.

What do I like to do? I love art, architecture, churches, and ancient ruins. In terms of art, I am generally an expressionist/impressionist kind of person. So Italy in all of it's Baroque and Renaissance splendor would be new to me. In addition, I am not at all religious but am fascinated by religion. So again, Italy and it's Catholicness (for lack of a better word) would be interesting.

What don't we do? We don't drink wine or beer. I don't drink at all, and DH occasionally drinks whiskey. We aren't big foodies (I don't eat anything that comes from water). We're not outdoorsy people (no hiking, no biking, etc.).

My motto has always been "You can rest when you die." Life is too short and every day should be lived to the fullest. Therefore, my itineraries may seem VERY overwhelming to some people. But it works for me, and that's really all that matters. The world is so big....who knows when I'll return to this region again, so I try to take it all in.

Coming up.....trip planning.

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    Trip Planning:

    This trip originally began with the cruise. We cruise approx. 3 times per year. We were originally booked on an Alaskan cruise and it was cancelled. Since we were moving in mid-July, we decided we needed to rebook on another cruise in May. So we started looking at Europe. Rome was always the #1 destination on my bucket list and I knew I didn't want a cruise that only stopped in Rome for 1 day. That narrowed our choices considerably.

    Once we decided on the cruise, then we had to figure out how to get to Europe. We had a ton of frequent flyer miles on American and DH started getting insistent about flying in either business or first. Given that we had so many miles we decided to search for first class award flights. The trip originally started out being about 3 days pre-cruise, followed by the cruise, but given the award ticket availability we ended up flying out 10 days before the cruise.

    So, now...wow...I have 10 days to plan in Rome! I was all over the place. Do I want to try and squeeze in Venice and Florence? Or do I really want to devote time to Rome? I decided to focus all my energy on Rome, given that it was my dream destination.

    I grabbed guidebooks galore, watched a lot of Rick Steves episodes and started planning. After a lot of advice on here (some of it negative - saying I was doing "too much") I decided on the following itinerary:

    Day 1: Miami -> London (10 hour layover) -> Rome (late arrival)
    Day 2 - 6: Rome
    Day 7: Day trip to Florence
    Day 8: Day trip to Orvieto
    Day 9: Day trip to Ostia Antica
    Day 10: Rome
    Day 11: Cruise - depart from Rome
    Day 12: Sicily
    Day 13: Sea Day
    Day 14: Athens, Greece
    Day 15: Kusadasi, Turkey
    Day 16: Crete
    Day 17: Sea Day
    Day 18: Rome -> Madrid (overnight)
    Day 19: Madrid -> London -> Miami

    As you can see, our flight routings gave us some layovers. We booked somewhat last minute in first class, so we didn't have much choice.

    Hotel: Oh wow, the choices were so overwhelming in Rome. Trying to find the amenities we wanted made it even more difficult. DH is a bigger guy, so anytime the reviews said "Small bathroom/shower" I had to run away. If a typical American thought it was small, then chances are DH wouldn't fit in it. In addition, we needed something with Wifi and elevators.

    We ended up choosing the Artemide Hotel. I'll provide a full review later, but let's just say that it was expensive and worth it! Many people on here said we should be closer to the "action" and this hotel would be too far away. I disagree. It was great and helped keep off the pounds :-)

    Transportation:

    We pre-arranged private cars to/from airports. I bought train tickets on the day of travel. We used taxis throughout Rome, and also buses.

    On this trip I think I used almost every single mode of transportation: plane, train, automobile, funicular, chair lift, subway, bus (private & public), cruise ship.

    Restaurants:

    I didn't bother doing any research. We relied on hotel recommendations or restaurants with a good menu. It worked for us. Remember, we're not foodies.

    Money:

    We just did ATMs upon arrival. I had 30 euros left over from the last trip. That worked out good for us.

    Cruise excursions:

    We booked everything privately with a group I met on the internet.

    I prebooked all tours for Rome beforehand.

    I ended up with a giant spreadsheet to organize when things were open, etc. and then transferred this to my "travel book" that I bring with me on all trips. It basically has a page for every day and says what I have booked and what I have planned for the day. That way, if I don't make it to everything I can still have that page and figure a way to fit the site in later.

    I think that's it....planning this trip took about 5 months. Not every day or anything, but on and off.

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    twiggers - I think I remember your TR from your last trip. [i particularly recall your DH's excursions in amsterdam's brown cafes]. and i admire your practical approach to planning within your parameters.

    So I'm looking forward to this one.

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    Oh, I'm looking forward to this report since I have a similar predicament. I'm a go, go, go type and my SO could sit in a cafe, have a diet soda and watch the world go by.

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    Hi all! Sorry for not getting more out....we're moving next week, so it's been crazy! I'll get some more written this weekend.

    As for DH....yes, he ended up pretty happy. We brought an iPad and a laptop along with 2 movies we had from Netflix and a season of the Sopranos.

    Since we had free internet at the hotel, DH would veg out during the day and watch TV/movies that he downloaded from iTunes (I preloaded the account with $50 before we left). I'd come back in the late afternoon and we would go out for dinner together.

    ANN: You are correct re Amsterdam. I pushed him a bit too much on that trip and have learned. He really is content to just veg out in the hotel....that's relaxing for him. I couldn't fathom that, but differences are what makes the world so great!

    The other thing that helped is that we both have iPhones and put the international plans on the phones. We were able to text pretty cheaply....so he would know when I was coming back, etc.

    I'm a big control freak, so it was hard for me to just leave him be....but he was happy :-)

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    I love to go go go too and my husband is the relaxing type. The big difference? He doesn't want to miss anything. His preference would be that I sit and relax with him, which I do try to do a bit for him, but usually I want to see as much as possible and he begrudgingly (at first) comes along, but of course ends up enjoying himself.

    I can sit at home :)

    I'm very lucky that he goes along with whatever I plan for us and usually loves it.

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    kwren: I am lucky too....he just goes along with whatever. Mine is content with seeing pictures or seeing it from a bus/taxi/car. Me? I need to touch the building and imagine the history.

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    Day 1: First class air to Europe, a quick day in London, and arrival in Rome.

    As I previously mentioned, we were flying first class to Europe. We had enough miles and DH was pretty insistent that he would only go if I could get him up front. I was able to work a small miracle and get the tickets.

    Flight number 1 was MIA -> LHR on American Airlines. We took a cab to the airport (we're only about 10 minutes away) and arrived pretty early. We'd never been in an airport lounge before, so we wanted to take full advantage of our first class privileges.

    We weren't able to do online check-in, so we went up to the counter (no line) and checked in. It was very quick and she was able to check us in for our BA flight (LHR->FCO). We decided to check our bags because we didn't want to schlep them around London or pay for storage (more about the packing later - but note, that we did travel for 19 days with just a carry-on each plus 1 backpack).

    Security was a breeze and we went to the airline lounge. Meh, nothing really special. Some crappy snacks and free drinks (that was nice). We just had soda, but you could get a nice buzz on if you did drink.

    We went over to the gate about 15 minutes before they said boarding would start. Sure enough...boarding was late. Eventually they called us up and we were in line behind Jared Fogel (the Subway guy). The biggest celebrity I've ever seen in real life.

    Anyhow, we got on to the plane and up to our seats. There are only about 14 seats in first class and oh boy! It was so cool being up there. We were playing with the seats (they swiveled and fully reclined into a bed) and chatting with the captain. There was champagne (we declined) and other drinks available.

    Since I knew it was a long flight (almost 9 hours) I went and changed into pajamas I had brought. Much more comfortable than sitting in regular clothes.

    We took off on time and dinner service started immediately. The food was pretty good....I had some type of chicken dish, fresh made salad, fruit, etc. My only complaint was that the service was too long. I wanted to try and sleep! I ended up skipping dessert and trying to sleep.

    Having the fully reclined bed was a nice treat. I was able to sprawl out on my stomach and catch about 4 hours of sleep. Woke up in time for breakfast and changed back into my clothes and freshened up.

    Arrival at LHR was also a breeze. Because we flew first class we were able to get special express immigration cards. Thank goodness! The line was awful....we probably saved about 60-90 minutes!

    We had about a 10 hour layover in London. I did this on purpose because my husband had never been to London (I've been several times). Now, knowing that my husband isn't a huge fan of public transportation and wouldn't want to do any walking....I planned an easy day for him.

    We took the Heathrow Express into Paddington (I got a B1G1 ticket special to save money). It was really quick and comfortable. Once at Paddington I had arranged for a Big Bus tour that departed less than a block away. I prepurchased tickets online to save a few pounds.

    It took us a little bit to orient ourselves and find a stop. In the meantime, I grabbed a little Paddington Bear souvenir. We found the stop and there were tons of people milling around. It was so congested! Finally a bus showed up and it was packed. People were starting to complain. I finally found a worker and got my tickets validated and we got on the next bus.

    Now, the Big Bus Tour is not something I would ever do. I prefer using public transportation and seeing things up close. But since I've been to London a few times I did this for DH. I mean, he really just wanted to see the biggies (Big Ben, Westminster, etc.) and would be content to see them from a bus window.

    But oy! This was a mistake. The traffic was horrendous. The tour was supposed to take 3 hours and it ended up being 4.5 hours for the full loop! It was painful at times just inching along in traffic. I mean, if would be so bad if you're inching along next to Big Ben, but that never happened.

    DH was jetlagged and grumpy (he didn't sleep on the plane...even with an Ambien), but he was grateful he could just sit and that I wasn't dragging him around. Anyhow, I would NEVER recommend this tour to anyone!

    We took Heathrow Express back to the airport and went through security. It was quick and easy. No signs for business/first express lines, but we just asked and were directed to the right place. We took advantage of the British Airways lounge. It was MUCH nicer than the AA lounge. More food, better drink selection, and so much seating. We found some really long couches and DH finally got an hour of sleep.

    Our flight to Rome left on time. We were in business. Nothing special in Europe. It's basically coach seats, but no one is in the middle seat. The food was OK.

    We arrived in Rome around 10 PM. We taxied forever (or so it seemed...was really about 20-25 minutes) and then there were buses that took us to the terminal. Figured out where our luggage would come out and then prayed to the luggage gods. While waiting I spied an ATM and took out some Euros (I only had 30 euros on me). Easily withdrew 500 euros (contrary to a lot of reports that Italian ATMs only give 200-300 at a time). And voila! Our luggage arrived...BOTH pieces. Amazing!!!

    Immigration was a breeze and out to the arrivals hall. From extensive reading I knew I needed to go outside to the official taxi stand. Several shuttle drivers approached us, but we just said no. We grabbed a taxi and heard our first of many "prego"! We learned quickly that it has a multitude of meanings. Our taxi driver spoke limited English and didn't understand the hotel I was telling (Marriott Garden Inn). Fortunately, I had written down the name and address and showed that to him. We arrived quickly and the total was 12 euros. I only had a 20 and wanted to give him 15 euros. He tried to say he didn't have change, but I insisted I only wanted 5 back and he magically found that.

    Check-in was a breeze and somehow I got free breakfast, even though that wasn't part of my online reservation. The room was more than adequate and had free internet. It really looked just like a typical US business hotel. Big bathroom, big bed, and a flat screen TV (full review on Tripadvisor).

    We were zonked....long day of traveling on just a few hours of sleep.

    Tomorrow we head into Rome!!! I was so excited for that experience. I chose this airport hotel because it was 50% less than my city hotel and I didn't figure it was worth it to pay that much just for a quick sleep.

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    Day 2: Our First Day in Rome

    I am beyond excited for this day! I have been waiting for this since my Freshman English professor talked about putting coins into boxes to see paintings.

    We woke up around 7 AM and went downstairs for breakfast. It was just your typical hotel breakfast. Nothing special.

    We had arranged for a car service (Rome Cabs) to take us into Rome. The cost was 50 euros, which is comparable to what a can would cost. I just figured it would be easier to have something prearranged and not worry about a cab potentially ripping me off.

    The car arrived right on time. He was this cute little Italian guy wearing sunglasses and driving a Mercedes. DH said he was the "Italian Transporter", for anyone who has seen those movies. OMG, the guy drove so fast! 140-160 kmh! Wowsa!

    Along the drive my DH swore that he was going to rent a scooter. He had talked about it for weeks and done all kinds of research. I kept telling him "Everyone on Fodors says you are crazy." But he was adamant. We, as we started getting into the city he rapidly changed his mind. There we were, sitting at a red light and it was like a swarm of bees....all these people on scooters. Darting in and out of traffic. It was crazy! I've never seen anything like it. We were just staring in amazement. DH quickly changed his mind and proclaimed that "These people are crazy!"

    As we started getting closer to the historic center, the driver pointed out some of the sites in his limited English. And then...there it was...the Colosseum. Oh wow! My heart quickened and I was like a giddy schoolkid. I couldn't believe it...there it was. Wow.

    We arrived at our hotel and we were early. The Artemide Hotel is located on Via Nazionale, about a 10 minute walk from Termini. It is consistently ranked #1 on Tripadvisor and it was easy to see why. I'll spend a little more time later talking about the hotel.

    Anyhow, it was too early to check-in. They had upgraded us! I learned later that it was because we were staying so long (9 nights). They told us the room would be ready around 1 PM and we left our bags there and went out for some sightseeing.

    Now, I had a big huge list of things to do. Well, not that big, but focused on Pantheon area. We caught a cab right outside our hotel and headed to Campo de Fiori. The morning market was in full swing and it was interesting just to wander through and see the different fruits and vegetables.

    We then navigated our way over to Piazza Navona. It wasn't too busy and we were able to snap some pictures and relax a little and then walked over to the Pantheon. Oh wowsa! I had seen this on Rick Steves, but seeing it in person? Such an overwhelming experience. Even DH thought it was very impressive! We walked inside and took pictures. It was VERY crowded in here and in the square outside.

    Once outside I decided I wanted to hunt down Giolitti's gelato. I was a little turned around, but we eventually found our way. Wandering down the little streets and alleys was just so Italian (or what my mind thought was Italian). We arrived at Giolitti's and I got in line at the counter. oops...I didn't realize you need to pay first and THEN order. Now, I knew I wanted strawberry and DH wanted peach, but I had no clue what I was doing and what the words were in Italian. So I just pointed. Turns out I ended up with a strawberry/raspberry and a peach/orange. And O.M.G. that gelato was like eating little slices of heaven....if heaven tasted like explosions of strawberries in your mouth! Just amazing. I don't think I can eat ice cream again.

    We caught a cab back to the hotel (8 euro) and were able to check in. Our room was great! It was VERY big, mini fridge that was stocked (for free), big bathroom, our own little hallway, and we had our own private patio area (I don't think there were any others in the hotel). This was great because DH is a smoker, so he had a nice place to relax and smoke outdoors.

    Did a little unpacking and vegging and then I decided I wanted to head back out. I had a few churches on my itinerary. DH, of course, had zero interest in that, so I left him at the room. I caught bus #64 back to the Pantheon. It was very easy to read the bus stop signs and validate my ticket, thanks to Ron in Rome's website.

    On my itinerary was Sopra Minerva, Gesu, San Ignazio, and Francesi. What struck me about the churches in Rome was that they are very unassuming from the outside. Not all the crazy Gothic architecture that I was familiar with from other European trips. But then BAM, once you walked inside it was just breathtaking! The Caravaggio inside Francesi was particularly striking. It always just amazes me at the works of art and beauty inside churches. Now, I am not a religious person...so I'm not there to pray, but I realize that the money of a city/village, etc. is always tied up in the Church. So where else do you go to see the good stuff?

    I then wandered over to Doria Pamphilj. I bought the audio tour and wandered through the villa. It was very interesting to see how the rich lived. It was so ornate and over the top. However, I'm not sure that it was worth the 10.50 euros.

    I looked at my map and realized I was really close to the Trevi Fountain. Even though it wasn't on my itinerary, I decided to head over. As I was wandering I stumbled on the Bortobucci wood store. Buying a Pinnochio was on my list, so I grabbed one from here.

    Now, the Trevi fountain was everything I thought it would be! Before I even got there I could see the crowds and hear the fountain. I pushed my way through and got all the way to the bottom. Kept my bag close to me the entire time. I threw my coins and took pictures. I really wanted a picture of myself in front of the fountain (one of the downfalls of traveling alone). I saw a couple of girls who wanted pictures taken so we swapped cameras and took pics of each other.

    I totally got lost getting back to my hotel! But in a good way! Just aimlessly wandering down streets was so much fun. This would become a theme of my time in Rome...I was always getting turned around and lost, but it allowed me to stumble on sights that weren't originally on my list of things to see.

    We went out to dinner at a restaurant down the street called Berzitello. Mmmmmm, such good food in a casual environment. DH had a calzone, which he declared to be delicious. I had a pasta dish...bucatini with a tomato/bacon sauce. The exact name is escaping me right now, but it was yummy.

    We got to talking to a couple next to us from England. Turns out they were staying at our hotel, so we walked back together and had a few drinks in the bar. We arranged to get together for dinner the next night. It's always nice meeting new people when traveling.

    Still jet lagged and ready for bed! Tomorrow is a big day in ancient Rome!

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    TD: Lol, I really couldn't think of a more sophisticated word! Coming into the city and seeing everything....literally took my breathe away. I was just in awe. I can't imagine becoming immune to seeing those sites every day.

    And yes, definitely more to come! I hope to get through another day or two tonight. The cruise portion will come much quicker, since I had already written that review for another website (specific to cruises).

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    Great report. It's so nice to read about a couple with very different interests traveling happily together.

    And I love Rome too! Even after several visits I can relate to your sense of awe.

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    Can't wait for the rest of Rome as that's where I am right now! I have a day at the Vatican, including the Scavi tour, and a day trip to Pompei planned, but also 2 days with nothing planned (well one is today and I purposely chose this apartment so I could start the day at the Campo de Fiori market. I'm hoping that my husband wakes up soon - and my kids don't - so we can mill around and hit a cafe to get some early people watching in.) It already sounds like you'll have some great ideas for me!

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    Day 3: Ancient Rome

    Today was my planned day in Ancient Rome. Prior to departure I had booked the Colosseum underground/3rd level tour. It happened to open up before I left and after calling a few times (bookings weren't available so early) I was able to get things booked. I was booked on the 9:40 AM tour, so I was up early and grabbed some hotel breakfast (included with our room). Left the hubby and walked to the Colosseum.

    Many people on here advised against my hotel. Saying that it wasn't "in the heart of things." However, I was never really THAT far away from things. The Colosseum was only about a 15 minute walk and I got to stroll down a small street where shop owners were up early cleaning the streets. It was so quiet and a nice glimpse into daily Roman life.

    And then all of a sudden the street just opened up and there it was. In all of it's glory. The Colosseum. Seeing it up close...so different from just whizzing by in a car. The street I took was at the back side, so I had to walk around. Not that I minded at all. Every angle of the Colosseum has something different to see.

    There was already a long line to get into the Colosseum, and I couldn't help thinking "Didn't any of you read a guidebook before coming here? Buy a Roma Pass or prebook!" Nonetheless, I walked right on by and went up to the reservations desk. Everything went smoothly and I got my little sticker and my ticket.

    Our tour guide showed up...awww he was so cute. He was from Naples and kept apologizing for his "Napoli English." He was wearing these super tight pants, suspenders, and a striped shirt. So cute LOL

    The tour started with some history about the Colosseum. It was very illuminating, as I don't remember much about Roman history from school. Then we went underground. Now, I had pictured being able to walk around the center part (silly me), but that was not what happened. We basically walked in a small area that is right under the wooden stage area they built. He provided a lot of information about how the gladiators entered/left the Colosseum, the animal elevators, how water got in and out, etc. Very informative.

    He took us up to the 2nd level and then we climbed a private set of stairs to the 3rd level, that is only open to people on a tour. And wow...this was better than the underground part! Wonderful views of the Colosseum itself and of Rome. I was able to take some beautiful pictures without people jostling around you, etc. Oh, and there is actually a surviving "vomitorium" (tunnel) that was interesting to see.

    The guide took us back down to the 2nd level and we were on our own. I took some more pics and stopped in the gift shop. The tour lasted about an hour total.

    Next up on my itinerary was Palatine Hill. I was going to use a Rick Steves walking tour in his guidebook. So, I walked out and stopped at the Arch of Constantine for some pics. And then started walking towards the Arch of Titus. I swear I saw a sign that said Palatine Hill, so I walked all the way up this hill to a little church and it was a dead end. Bummer. Turned out and found a worker and got sent in the right direction.

    There was a bit of line for entry, but not too bad. It was a little hard orienting myself in here. Probably because it's all ruins and hard to figure out where I was. Eventually I found my way and followed along to Rick Steves tour in his guidebook.

    I found the House of Augustus to be very interesting. It was amazing to see frescoes that have survived so long and with such vivid colors. Otherwise, the Hill wasn't overly exciting.

    Next up was the Roman Forum. This time I had a Rick Steves audio tour on my iPhone. I wandered around following his prompts. For me, it was just really interesting to try and imagine this as the hub of Roman life. To think of soldiers, beautiful women, and caesars walking these same paths. It really is quite overwhelming to think of all the history that has come before us.

    I had it on my itinerary to visit the Mamertine Prison, but things have changed. It is now 10 euros to visit and you can only go in at certain times (guided tour). They wanted 7 euros to visit without a guide. It wasn't a "must see" on my list, so I passed.

    Next up was Capitol Hill. They were setting up a stage for some type of even taking place that night. I went into Capitoline Museum. Totally touristy, but I loved the big pieces of the Constantine statute that were just sitting in the courtyard. But the showcase of the museum (at least for me) was Bernini's Medusa. Wow. Now, I have NEVER been a sculpture fan, I usually pass right by them in museums. But wow...Bernini...how does a man do that with his hands???? I can see what all the hubbub is about. The agony on Medusa's face...I've never seen anything like it.

    I then walked over to Santa Maria Aracoeli. Wow, that church is really over the top! I mean, I've been to other Catholic churches here in the US and in other parts of Europe, but the churches in Rome are just so...what's the word?...extravagant? Sumptuous? Amazing?

    Then over to the Victor Emmanuel monument. Now, the guidebook says people in Rome aren't big fans of the monument, but I thought it was very impressive. Just the sheer size of it. I mean, when I read about the monument in the guidebook I thought "OK, just a little monument" boy was I wrong! As I walked down the stairs there was a cop whistling and yelling at people who were sitting/laying on the steps. I guess that is a big no-no.

    Next up was a long stroll over to Bocca Della Verita. Whew, it was getting warm out. I had forgotten sunscreen (silly me) and was starting to get a burn on my chest. I grabbed some ice water from a vendor and started my trek. Saw a church along the way and popped in to cool down for a few minutes. When I arrived at the church, there was quite a long line. But I had walked all this way, so I was sticking around. It took maybe 10-15 minutes to get up. I made my donation and had some people behind me take my picture.

    Took a look at my itinerary and realized I forgot to visit Trajan's Column. oops! I was right next to it earlier!!! Doh! So, off I went...trekking back. Thought I would take a shortcut, but that didn't work out. So, I got lost again. No biggie. Stumbled on another church. Wandered in and regrouped.

    Arrived at the Column, which was very impressive! Wandered by the ruins of the Imperial Forum and then strolled back to the hotel. At this point it was late afternoon and I was finally hungry, so I popped into a little gelateria and had a strawberry/mandarin. Yummy!

    Tonight we ended up having dinner with the British couple we met the night before. They were so nice and we had a great time! I don't remember the name of the restaurant, but the food was overpriced (or so we thought). But we had a good time and that's all that really matters.

    Today was a long day...but it was interesting. When I posted my itinerary on here everyone thought I was nuts. In the end, I was able to do everything on my itinerary and was still back at the hotel by 5:30 PM. And that even included getting lost 2-3x. It was a great day for me! What works for some people won't work for others.

    Tomorrow is a visit to the Borghese Gallery, some churches, Spanish Steps, and more!

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    twiggers, great report, I'm enjoying reading about your rambling around Rome. Looking forward to hearing about the Scavi tour, I have one booked for October. I'm still waiting and hoping the colliseum underground will be open in October.

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    Thank you aimee!

    Cpelk: Thank you...it definitely felt like a lot of rambling. Getting lost proved to be one of the best parts of the trip. Not sure how I managed to do it so often LOL Yes, definitely more details about the Scavi tour coming. It was simply amazing though.

    TD: Aww thanks. At 33, fortunately, I still have the go-go-go attitude and my body keeps up. Figure I should do it while my body can handle it!

    Amalfi: Thank you! More to come. I have a few more days until we move, so hopefully I can get through a big chunk or finish things off.

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    Day 4: Borghese Gallery, some churches, Spanish Steps, Capuchin Crypt

    I finally got a solid night's sleep. I think the jet lag is all gone now. In what will become a routine, we head downstairs for breakfast....some toast, runny scrambled eggs, and fruit. I'm really sorry....but European hotels just don't do American-style breakfast properly. Oh well....gave me more calories for the pasta and gelato. And it was always enough fuel to get me through the day. In addition, I never really expect "American" food when abroad...it probably would have been better if they didn't even try.

    On today's schedule was a prebooked time slot at the Borghese Gallery. I was planning on trying to navigate via bus, but I was running a little late so I just grabbed a cab. I couldn't get anyone to stop in front of the hotel, so I started walking towards Termini and saw a cab letting people out. I asked if he could take me and the driver said yes. As he flipped a u-turn (on a major street!) I then noticed that he had not reset the meter. It said 4.90 instead of the normal 2.90. I didn't feel like making a scene and he ended up saying 10 euro instead of the 11 euro on the meter. So it worked out.

    Walked up to the Gallery and was a little confused on where to go. I walked up the stairs and the guard told me to go downstairs. Walked downstairs and stood in one line to get my tickets. Then I see another line for audio tours and live tours. I was a little early, so they weren't selling the audio tours yet. About 15 minutes before our entry time they started selling them. I opted to just do the audio tour. I like to go at my own pace.

    Walked outside and everyone was milling around the stairs waiting to be let in. Finally let in...and wow! What a beautiful museum. The setting was just perfect. Normally I breeze through museums, skipping the era/style that don't interest me. My favorite style is impressionism/expressionism and I never really had an interest in Renaissance/Baroque. Too realistic and portrait perfect for me. I prefer the heavy brushstrokes of Van Gogh. In addition, as I said before, I was never a sculpture fan. This all changed in 2 short hours.

    The Gallery has an amazing collection. And the Bernini sculptures? If you see anything in this Gallery, these are the pieces to see. Worth the entry fee alone. Apollo and Daphne? How can there be so much emotion in a piece of marble? Really? How can a human being's hand do that?? Simply amazing. Even if you are not an "art" person, I recommend seeing one Bernini sculpture. I also appreciated seeing them in this setting because you can get up close and see the sculpture from so many different angles (as opposed to the churches...more on that later).

    I made my through the museum in about 90 minutes. More than enough time for me...maybe not for others. After leaving the museum I decided I would walk to Piazza del Popolo. Yup...more Twiggers ramblings through Rome. I totally got lost! But guess what? Another opportunity to meet fellow travelers. We were trying to get to a similar place and they had GPS on their phone (well, so did I, but I didn't want to waste data...I didn't mind being lost in Rome).

    I finally made my way to the Piazza. Somehow I ended up at the top of the Spanish Steps, I'd eventually make my way to the bottom (more later). I just kept wandering and voila! Finally made it to the Piazza del Popolo and Santa Maria del Popolo. I came here to see the Chigi Chapel. Total bummer...it's under construction :-( What was interesting though was that a service was taking place. So I plunked myself down in a back pew. I had no clue what was being said, but I knew I was in a Catholic service with all the standing and sitting. I had no clue what to do, so I stayed seated and just relaxed. At one point the people around me started shaking my hand. I just went with it! I wanted to see the Caravaggio, but I had no clue when the service would end and access was restricted, so I made my way out.

    Decided to stroll down Via Del Corso. My goal was to get to the Spanish Steps without getting lost! Popped into a gelato shop...meh, not as good as Giolitti's. Daily gelato would become a theme of this trip!

    Since I was doing OK on time, I decided to pop over to the Ara Pacis. This wasn't a "must see" but I had the time. I paid the entry fee. And meh, it wasn't really worth it. You can really see everything from the windows.

    From there I headed down Via Condotti. All the hoity shops were fun, but I've been in most of them before and really have no interest in high end shopping. I can do that at home.

    It was raining out, but not horribly. The umbrella vendors were merciless though! Man, every 5 steps and they were in front of you! A stern "NO" usually gets them to back off. Finally got to the Spanish Steps and I've got to ask....what's the big deal? I didn't really get it. Just a set of stairs.

    Capped off my day at the Capuchin Crypt. It was closed when I arrived, but I spent some time chatting with others who were waiting. I've got to say, talking to other travelers is so fun. To hear about where they are from, where they've been, and where they are going. It's great to share stories and recommendations.

    Got into the crypt and another wow. I cannot believe that someone created this. I had a Rick Steves tour and ended up being a tour guide for a few people around me. That was kind of fun! This was a euro well spent, and I highly recommend it to others! It's definitely something you won't forget.

    Turns out that the crypt was very close to the hotel. I think I got back around 5 PM. Lounged around a bit and went out for dinner. We just wandered around and had some pizza and stopped for gelato. Yes, it is OK to have gelato more than once a day. If someone tells you otherwise....well, just ignore them!

    Coming up tomorrow....Scavi tour, St. Peters, and Trastevere.

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    Love your take on the Spanish steps. We went there yesterday and after going down, my family had the same reaction! Not impressed. I'm glad we didn't start at the bottom and go up. They certainly would not have been happy with that at all.

    Just as you did, we followed the steps with the Crypt. I had been there before, but didn't mind going again so my husband and kids could see it. It's so beautiful! Hard to believe that bones can be made into such lovely art.

    I'm interessed to hear what you did in Tratesvere. We went last night to wander around and ended up in a little place called Popi Popi. My son ordered Spaghetti Carbonara and it was the best pasta I've ever eaten (well, I tried to eat iit, all I got was a couple of tastes!). My daughter's Fettucini Popi Popi wasn't far behind. Thursday we'll be heading back to visit the Santa Maria churrch.

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    "What was interesting though was that a service was taking place. So I plunked myself down in a back pew. I had no clue what was being said, but I knew I was in a Catholic service with all the standing and sitting. I had no clue what to do, so I stayed seated and just relaxed. At one point the people around me started shaking my hand. I just went with it!"

    These type of memories are my favorite part of traveling! I'll never forget wandering into Santa Maria in Trastevere shortly before mass was starting and deciding to stay. Everyone around us was helping us follow along with each hymn. Being Catholic, it was at foreign and familiar at the same time.

    I'm also loving the reluctant husband angle. It gives me hope that one day I can bring my boyfriend to Europe, and have us not kill each other!

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    kwren: I'm glad I'm not the only one who wasn't impressed! I felt like I should have been, because everyone lists it as a "must see." Trastevere....loved that little neighborhood. Enough that I convinced DH to go back for dinner.

    aimee: The key to the reluctant husband is to ask "What do I need to do to get you to do this?" He said first class air and for me to leave him alone during the day. Done and done. It took some effort with the air tickets and using frequent flyer miles, but it worked. Marriage is all about give and take...guess what I have to do now? Sit on a houseboat for a weekend....kind of like pulling my fingernails out. I also drag him to concerts now and then (Lady Gaga was a recent one)...so now I'm being dragged to someone named Ted Nugent. It works for us :-)

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    All of the pre-trip photos we saw of the Spanish Steps made us expect a vast area covered with buckets of azaleas. In March, there were no flowers but a blooming lot of tourists!

    Ah Bernini. Did you get to Santa Maria della Vittoria church? If not, go back now! LOL.

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    Re the Spanish Steps - "I'm glad I'm not the only one who wasn't impressed! I felt like I should have been, because everyone lists it as a "must see."

    I think the only people who seem to have the Spanish Steps as a "must see" are those who've never been to Rome (or Italy, for that matter). Whenever a poster states this as a important itinerary stop, I'd say that most Fodorites try to dissuade them of the notion that they are anything special.

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    To me, the Spanish Steps are just a way to get up and down a hill. Although I must admit, on this last trip in early May, with the azaleas in bloom, it was beautiful. I wouldn't put them on a "must-see" list, but if it works to incorporate them into your walk - why not? It can be miserable crowded there at times, though.

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    TD: Yes yes yes! I did go to Vittoria! Will be posting all about that later!

    hazel: I will join the group of dissuaders. However, I think there is so much hoopla surrounding them that you want to go, "just in case."

    elnap: We were there mid-May as well and it was pretty, but just not really anything special. Not at all what I had pictured.

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    Day 5: Scavi tour, St. Peters, Trastevere, Jewish Ghetto

    Today was a day I had really been looking forward to. For a few reasons: 1) I had heard a LOT of good things about the Scavi tour; 2) Seeing St. Peters in real life; 3) Crossing another country (Vatican City) off my long list.

    After a big breakfast, I decided I would take a bus to the Vatican. My hotel told me to get on the bus that said St. Peters. Silly me, I assumed that meant it would stop at St. Peters....no such luck. Fortunately, I was not the only tourist who made that mistake. We got off at the end and hopped on a bus at the front of the line and got back off 2 stops later.

    At this point I was starting to worry. I had about 30 minutes to make it to my tour. I walked really quickly from the bus stop to St. Peters. And then just had to stop in my tracks for a second. Yes, I am really in St. Peter's Square. This venerable piece of real estate that I have seen in movies and heard my Catholic friends talk about.

    Couldn't stop too long though, I was running late and there was a HUGE line for security. No way did I have time to stand in that, so I walked under the columns and went all the up to a barricade. I showed my receipt/reservation to the guard and he let me right in through the metal detectors.

    I had to walk all the way around in front of St. Peters and I asked another guard where to go. He pointed me to the funny looking Swiss Guard. I tried to approach him, but oh boy! I got yelled at. Another couple was laughing at me because the same thing happened to them. I guess I got too close! I was instructed to wait and he came to me and looked over my reservation and told me "10 minutes."

    Had a nice time chatting with a couple who had just disembarked from a cruise, so we had that in common (although I would shortly be embarking on one). Had fun watching people get scolded by the Swiss Guard. I also snapped a few pictures.

    We were then told we could walk through and go to the Scavi office. Showed my reservation and told to wait outside. A pair of priests walked up and would be on our tour. What a nice treat. Started talking with them and it turned out that one of them was a Notre Dame alum, so we had something in common (I am also an ND alum).

    Now, remember, I am not Catholic or religious. Turns out this tour is a big pilgrimage thing and that seeing St. Peter's bones is really a big deal if you are religious. Religion doesn't matter on this tour though....you will be chilled and amazed no matter what you believe.

    We started on the main level where our guide (who was amazing...actually wrote a book on the Scavi) gave us some background on the Vatican and St. Peters. I really had no clue about the rock and the significance of building on St. Peter's tomb.

    Then we climbed down. Whoa. I have no clue what I was expecting on this tour, but this was not it. There are little, narrow alleys and then all the mausoleums. How perfectly preserved everything is. For me, it was like seeing a New Orleans cemetery underground. The story of how this city of the dead was created and destroyed was amazing. I'm tellin' ya, I learned SO much about the church and Catholic history on this trip. Fascinating history!

    Then the bones....many people on the tour crossed themselves and the priests both said prayers. We ended up exiting where all the popes are kept and then you walk up and out of St. Peters.

    This tour....I've got to say it again...simply amazing and by far one of the BEST parts of my time in Rome. If I visited again, this is something I would see again and again. I think you would see something new every time you visited. If you have the time in your schedule, please make the effort to do this.

    Now, I could have packed all of the Vatican in one day, but for once I decided to not do things so crazy. After all, I have lots of time in Rome. So today I decided to do St. Peters and the climb up the dome. St. Peters was jam packed, is there ever a time that it isn't? I was very overwhelmed at the sheer size of the church. I used a Rick Steves audio tour, but it might have been nice to have a real guide. There is so much in here! Michaelangelo's sculpture is beautiful, but it is such a shame that it is kept behind glass. As I am starting to learn, sculpture needs to be enjoyed up close!

    Exited out and got in line for the climb up the dome. It was probably a 15 minute wait. I was in no hurry. I decided to take the elevator up since it was only a 1-2 euro difference. Might as well save my poor feet! Quick ride up and then you have to climb the rest of the way. The climb really wasn't that bad, the stairs weren't especially steep. Plus there was some cameraderie with fellow climbers.

    Once on the top you have a breathtaking view of Rome...I walked around a few times and snapped some pics. It was quite windy up there. Walked back down and stopped halfway at the gift store for a souvenir (a rosary bead). I was going to take the elevator back down, but the line was too long so I decided to walk down. Going down is ALWAYS easier than going up. Plus I was getting hungry!

    Oh, and I will say, climbing the dome was not nearly as hard as climbing the bell tower in Brugges! That one was murder on the legs!

    My afternoon itinerary had me hopping over to Trastevere. I was going to try and figure out the bus, but it was such a beautiful day that I decided to walk. Amazingly, I didn't get lost this time! I kept following signed for Villa Farnesina. This was marked on my list as a "see it if you have the time." Since I was passing right by I thought I would pop in. Well bummer....it was closed :-( My guidebook said it was open later, but I guess not. Oh well.

    I kept on walking as I needed to get to a certain spot to start my Rick Steves walking tour. But then, what do I spy? A stand-up pizza shop where they weigh your pizza. I had heard all about this! So I pointed out a mushroom pizza and grabbed a water. And she said "3 euros." Then handed me my pizza a few minutes later. I tried to pay for it and she said "No, 3 euros, you already paid!" No way!!! I was used to paying 3 euros just for water. What a deal!! I looked at what the locals were doing and grabbed a bar stool and munched away. It was warm and crispy and hit the spot. I walked out and what do you know....a gelateria right next door. Ordered my "fragola"...see, I'm learning some Italian...and started to walk. Interesting note here...every single food thing I ordered in Italy I would snap a picture of...you know, food porn. Well, this American woman walks up and says "You do it too!" And that opened up an interesting conversation about food porn and weight gain LOL

    Did my walking tour of Trastevere. It was a very beautiful little area of Rome. I had St. Cecilia on my list, but it was closed at the time. I did see Santa Maria in Trastevere...and whoa! Holy mosaics (no pun intended)! And another funny...the lights went out, so I went over to pop in a euro to take some more pics and this guy behind goes "Oh wow, THAT'S what those machines are for. I've been taking pictures in the dark this whole trip." It made me giggle and want to hand him my guidebook (or any guidebook for that matter).

    As I finished up my walking tour I realized I had a lot of daylight (and stamina) left and decided to walk over to the Jewish Ghetto. I mean, it's right there, so why not? I had a Rick Steves walking tour and followed that on my iPhone. The Portico d'Ottavia ruins were very beautiful. It just constantly amazes me how there are just ruins everywhere.

    Following this I decided I would attempt to walk back to the hotel. Yup, lost again! But I stumbled on the Largo Argentina ruins....so once again getting lost proved to be a good thing.

    I really liked Trastevere and I wanted my husband to see it, so I managed to convince him we should go there for dinner. We took a cab over there (10 euros) and I managed to get him into Santa Maria in Trastevere. He said it was amazing! See, the guy would like some of this stuff if he just gave it a chance.

    We wandered around the alleys a bit as the sun set and couldn't decide on a place to eat. We ended up at some restaurant that looked like all the others. I ended up having carbonara. It was good, but a little bit TOO al dente. We walked for a little after dinner and then hailed a cab back to the hotel.

    All in all it was a great day! Tomorrow is part 2 of the Vatican where I have a guided tour of the museum/Chapel booked.

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    I am loving your trip report so far. My husband and I are departing for Rome in August and then taking a cruise (I think the same one you took as it has the same stops). I am excited to hear about your cruise and the activities you chose for each city.

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    london: We were on the Navigator of the Seas! It was a fabulous cruise. We booked all private tours and had a blast! But yes, definitely more on that part of the trip coming up.

    Thanks Leely!

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    Rome Hotel Review:

    Just taking a quick break from the daily reports to comment on our hotel. We stayed at the Artemide Hotel located on Via Nazionale. I literally spent hours and hours searching for hotels. Originally we were thinking of booking an apartment to save money, but DH was a little leery of it (although, after this trip he said we should try it next time). So I needed a hotel with elevators, free wifi, and a large full-size bathroom (preferably with a tub, as I know stand up showers can be VERY small in Europe and DH is a big guy).

    I really did want to be in the heart of things....Piazza Navona area, but it was just not going to work. I almost booked a hotel next to the Pantheon, but several reviews said "small bathroom" and that was enough to steer me away. If an average person is saying it's too small, then it would be too small for DH. Soooooo, the Artemide Hotel it was. I remember posting and asking about it here and many people said that it was "too far away" and I wouldn't get that "authentic Roman experience." I'm going to shoot that down right now.

    The hotel was conveniently located to quite a lot. A 10 minute walk from Termini, 15 minutes from the Trevi Fountain, 20-25 minutes to Piazza Navona/Pantheon area, and only 15 minutes to the Colosseum. Shoot, I even walked back from the Vatican (via Trastevere/Jewish Ghetto). There was a bus stop right across the street. In addition, there was a grocery store across the street for nighttime snacks and lots of great stores all around. We never wanted for anything. Oh, and an ATM right next door (that always gave us 500 euros).

    The hotel itself was great. The staff was VERY friendly and helpful whenever I had questions about how to get somewhere. There was a bar on the main floor where we had drinks with new friends a few times. Wifi was free, although it wasn't the fastest in the world, but it worked. TV had your typical European hotel channels (lots of news and soccer), but it did have pay movies (which DH liked). There was a stocked mini bar that was free as well. Water, soda, beer, and some snacks. There was an exercise room, but I never used it (despite bringing my running gear with me!).

    The room was fabulous. As I said before, we were upgraded and ended up in this great corner room with a private patio. The bathroom was really big with a full bathtub/shower. Great water pressure and temperature (I love hot showers). The bed was very comfortable and we had a flat screen TV. This room was larger than your typical US business hotel.

    Was it worth the 200+ euros per night? Not for me personally....but to keep my DH happy so that I could fulfill a lifelong dream of visiting Rome? Worth every.single.penny.

    In all, I would highly recommend this hotel to picky travelers who want the comforts of home.

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    FYI for future: We stayed at Raphael, literally 2 minutes from Piazza Navona. We were upgraded to a junior suite and the bath room was quite large and had a separate big tub. Shower ok size.

    Sitting area with 2 chairs and flat tv screen. Don't know about wifi but they did have a free compute. Roof top lounge also.

    Keep it coming please!

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    Oh Twiggers, just LOVED your report and enthusiasm about the Scavi tour. I can't wait for October. I may swoon or something dramatic while I'm there. You sound like a wonderful traveler, I hope to be as cheerful and flexible as you were.
    CindyP.

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    TD: I do remember checking out that hotel, but they didn't have a room for our 9 days.

    Cpelk: I am sure that you will LOVE the Scavi tour. It is something I will remember for a long, long time.

    elnap: Thank you!

    I am now in Texas (my new home state) after driving for 2 days straight from Miami. Bored in the hotel waiting for our belongings to arrive, so I'll be posting some more today!

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    Cpelk: I am sure that you will LOVE the Scavi tour. It is something I will remember for a long, long time.>>

    though i am totally unreligious, i found it really moving and very memorable. standing below the main altar as they were starting to say mass was an extraordinary experience.

    afterwards you can just nip into St. Peter's without having to go through the security barrier again, which is a real bonus.

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    Day 6: Part 2 of the Vatican - Museum & Sistine Chapel

    I was VERY excited for today! I have heard so much about the Sistine Chapel and couldn't wait to really see it in person.

    I told my husband that he needed to go to the Vatican so that he could count Vatican City as a visited country. So he came along. We took a cab this time. Got there quickly and walked into the square. The line-up to get into St. Peter's was horrible! DH thought it was impressive and took a few pics and then hopped in a cab back to the hotel.

    I walked over to the museum. It is a bit of a walk from the square. I started to see line-ups of people for the museum, but I remember from reading on here that when you have a reservation you can just cut to the front. I've got to say, prebooking everything has saved me hours of waiting in lines! There was quite a lot of pushing and shoving to get through the metal detectors.

    I had a guided tour booked through the Vatican. I went up to the marked reservations desk and got my ticket and then stood around waiting for it to start. They handed out our headsets and the tour started on time.

    We had a really nice tour guide. She took us out back to where they had boards with pictures of the Sistine Chapel. She said she needed to start with describing this because she wasn't allowed in the Chapel. She provided a 10-15 minute overview of the chapel and even used her iPad to show us more detailed images (loved the use of technology). I thought it was a really good history lesson and just fascinating to learn how he painted it and how it was different sizes, etc. Very fascinating!

    We then went into the museum. And wow....it was so crowded. And this wasn't even the official "busy" season yet. I mean wall to wall people. Hard to move around and hard to actually see the sculptures.

    We were a little rushed going through things, but I was OK with it because I was really starting to get tired of statues. For me, the highlight of the museum was the Raphael rooms. Simply amazing. Really, Renaissance art is growing on me. It's not going to replace Expressionism/Impressionism as my favorite art period, but I do appreciate it a lot more now.

    She dropped us off at the Sistine Chapel which was incredibly packed. I had a Rick Steves audio tour that I listened to on my iPhone. It pretty much repeated much of the information that she had provided, but it was better hearing it at the actual time so I could put the story with the actual images I was seeing.

    I was able to find a seat and relax for a minute and just take in everything. Loved hearing the guards constantly telling people to "ssssshhhhhhhh" LOL

    After leaving the Chapel I went over to the Pinoteca to see the Caravaggio & Raphael paintings.

    Oh, and my favorite painting from the Raphael Rooms was "The School of Athens." I loved the colors....so vibrant!

    Overall I felt like the Vatican Museum was a little overrated. Too many statues and I'm not a big statue person. Plus the crowding...a real turn off for me.

    After leaving the Museum I decided to walk down to Castel Sant' Angelo. I totally remember seeing this in Angels & Demons. I paid 8.50 euros for entrance and climbed to the top. The views were nice, but nothing special. I had better views from the top of the dome. I was disappointed.

    I did walk over the Angel Bridge and that had to be the best part. Yes, even though I said I don't like statues, there is something about Bernini!

    Caught a bus back to the hotel and walked a few blocks over to do some laundry. Was able to drop it off and have 2 loads done for 16 euros. We just went to a nearby cafe and grabbed a quick bite to eat while waiting.

    For dinner we just popped into a restaurant across from the hotel. Bleh. They charged us a 3 euro cover charge and the food wasn't even that good. Turned the corner and popped into the local gelateria for some fragola!

    Coming up....my day trip to Florence.

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    London: They charge in dollars. There are ATMs that dispense dollars and euros though (but charge a big fee). Sicily and the two Greek ports only took Euros. Turkey took anything you had.

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    Day 7: Day Trip to Florence

    Just a quick preface: Everyone on here said "Oh no, you can't see Florence in a day. You're shortchanging yourself." Well, I didn't want to pack up and leave Rome and DH had no interest in Florence, so it had to be a day trip. The way I see it, I get to see a bit of Florence and if I want more then I'll come back one day. I don't see anything wrong with that.

    My plan was to take the fast train to Florence to maximize my time in Florence. I didn't prebook tickets because I was worried about missing the train, etc. So I just woke up, ate breakfast, and walked over to Termini. The train station is so big and bustling! A little overwhelming. I did see the automated stations that everyone had told me about. I walked up and was about to start figuring things out when some woman comes up and just starts doing it for me. Asks me where I'm going, which train, etc. I stuck my money in and got a ticket, and then she asks "A euro for a coffee, ma'am?" Darnit....I finally fell victim to a scam, but this wasn't one I had read about before. Oh well, I gave her the euro.

    Then I just stood around waiting for my train to show up on the big board to find out which platform. I've done trains in Europe before, so I figured I couldn't screw things up this time! So far so good. Got my platform number and off I went. I double checked that I was on the right platform (I've messed this up on a previous trip). It's nice that there are electronic signs for each platform and things are VERY clear.

    Got on the train. I was 2nd class and again, I had learned this the hard way from previous travel. I made sure I got on a train car marked "2" and not "1." But I still messed things up. In Italy they assign you a car and seat number! Doh! So there I was, vegging out and someone comes up and says I am in there seat. The car I was in was pretty empty, so I just moved to another row.

    The trip to Florence was uneventful. We sped along and I just stared out the window at the scenery. It was nice to get out of the hustle and bustle of the city of Rome.

    Arrived in Florence on time and immediately set out to find the T1 office. Fortunately, it's right across the street from the train station and on the back side of the St. Maria Novella church.

    I didn't have a set plan for Florence. I had a Rick Steves audio tour and a list of "must see" sights. In addition, I had reservations booked for Uffizi and Accademia. Really, my sole purpose for visiting Florence was to see David.

    Got my city map and stopped into St. Maria Novella. Um, paying to enter? So not impressed with that. I really got used to everything being free in Rome and in most other places in Europe. Is it because Florence is so touristy? Anyhow, I was NOT impressed with this church. Just so stark and bare inside. I'm really getting used to the opulence of the Roman churches.

    Walked over to the Duomo and did a Rick Steves audio tour. The exterior is really just awe inspiring. I love the stripes and the color. I thought about climbing the dome, but the line was long and slow moving. The line to get into the church was also long, but quick moving. Once again, the inside of the duomo was quite boring. Just too big and open.

    I think I know what it is....the churches in Rome look like neighborhood, community churches that are used daily. These churches in Florence look like museums. I don't like it.

    I really used to be a big fan of the churches that were so ornate on the outside, but after seeing the churches in Rome (plain outside and opulent inside) I am changing my mind.

    I then wandered over to the Uffizi Gallery for my reservation. On the way over I stopped for gelato (shocking, right?). Yummy...one of the best I had with little pieces of fruit in it. Mmmm mmmm mmmm.

    Outside the Uffizi was so crowded. There were several cruises in town that day. I wasn't really sure where to go for my reservation. I asked at the various doors and was told to go to door 1, which is actually across the walkway from where everyone was standing. They were very strict on the time. I was early, so I had to stand around for about 10-15 minutes. No biggie, I didn't want to be late....so better to be early. I got my tickets and then walked over to another door.

    I did the Rick Steves tour of the Uffizi. It took about an hour, which was enough for me. The Botticelli's were the highlight for me. Absolutely beautiful!!!

    Wandered down to the Ponte Vecchio. What is the deal with all the locks everywhere? I took a bunch of pics of them. The bridge itself was interesting, but I'm not really a big jewelry person, so I didn't go into any of the stairs.

    From there I decided to make the trek over to Michelangelo Piazza. It was highly recommended by the gal in the T1 office. Oy, what a trek. My legs were killing me after that climb up. There wasn't really much up there, but the views....made it all worth it! I highly recommend it if you have the time.

    Walked down and over to Piazza San Croce. It was very crowded. And once again....pretty church on the outside, pay to get in, and disappointing on the inside. Bleh....not impressed with the churches in Florence.

    Followed my map over to the Accademia. It was really chaotic outside. Vendors and people just sitting all over. I didn't really know where to go, so I just walked up to the front with my reservation printout and was let in. Which was nice since there was a long line and I was 15 minutes early.

    David....really, my words probably aren't worthy of this masterpiece. I've seen it on TV and on the internet, but seeing it in person. Wow. Amazing. I did a Rick Steve audio tour for background information and circled around 3 or 4 times. It really is amazing what a man and a chisel (is that what they used?) could accomplish.

    My last stop was at Basilica San Lorenzo and again (theme of the day) totally disappointed. Maybe I'm just churched out? Maybe Rome has ruined things for me (in a good way)?

    Bought my train tickets with 10 minutes to spare. Ran to the train and back to Rome.

    Tonight we went out to dinner and I had Cacio e Pepe. Oh.My.God. This has to be the best thing I have eaten in Rome. So cheesy, but with a little heat from the pepper. So delicious. I got a recipe online and have made it several times since I have been home (I brought some bucatini home with me).

    My thoughts on Florence:

    It was a beautiful city and I wish I had the evening to wander down some of the streets....but, for me? Maximum of 2 days in that city. I don't drink wine and have no interest in Tuscany, so it wouldn't make sense to return and use Florence as a base.

    Coming up....a day trip to Orvieto (DH actually came along!).

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    Happy: This was the first I had encountered this. None of the churches in Rome charged an entrance. In addition, I did a Benelux trip last fall and don't recall charges to enter churches either.

    Perhaps the ones in Rome are able to supplement because of charging for lights? Or because they just seem to be used and have a regular congregation? The ones in Florence just seemed so vacant and empty....no life to them.

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    The churches you entered in Florence do indeed have congregations. They just have way more visitors than most of the other churches in the city. The two churches you named, Santa Maria Novella and Santa Croce, are two of the most visited (with only one day, even you chose to visit them) and have added the entrance fee in the last 15 or so years to balance the wear and tear of so many visitors. Both also have set hours when the church is not open to visitors so their regular congregations can pray and worship in peace. Both churches also contain masterpieces of Italian painting, but it sounds like you're more attuned to the opulence of the Baroque churches of Rome.

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    We didn't go to Florence, but did stop at the Piazzale Michelangelo on the way past the city gong to Pienza. I have to agree with your take on the views - just gorgeous.

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    From there I decided to make the trek over to Michelangelo Piazza. It was highly recommended by the gal in the T1 office. Oy, what a trek. My legs were killing me after that climb up. There wasn't really much up there, but the views....made it all worth i>>

    actually there is quite a lot up there - two churches, the rose garden, a nice bar/restaurant with gelati and pizza, another bar overlooking the view - I easily filled an afternoon/early evening.

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    Twiggers. I'm still following along, looking forward to more of your report.

    I completely understand why churches charge for visitors. The upkeep on these buildings must be overwhelming. As a Roman Catholic, I know that a lot of people see the oppulence of the buildings and assume that the Church is rich. In most cases that is not so. Yes, they could sell off all of their treasures to pay the bills, but then those treasures would be in private collections and we would never get to experience them.

    I paid fees last year for every Church I entered in Russia. Some of them were called "photographing" fees, that you paid if you wanted to take pictures inside. I was happy to pay the few rubles they asked. I even scolded my roommate when she did not pay the fee and then "snuck" a few photos.

    It would be a shame for Churches to decide that tourists were causing too much trouble and choose to lock their doors and only let members or locals in, and then we would miss so much beauty.

    I'm sure it is easy to overdose on Churchs in Italy. Or to overdose on museums, ruins, etc. I'm trying to plan my upcoming trip to balance these wonders with some down time and a lot of just plain old strolling around and people watching. But I'm very glad to hear you did not overdose on Gelato! I've yet to read a trip report where someone wrote that they got sick of the Gelato.

    CindyP.

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    I guess the reason it turned me off in Florence is because I wasn't expecting it after all the churches being free in Rome (and other European cities I have visited). I understand why though.

    Cindy: How can anyone get sick of gelato? LOL I'm back home and can't even eat ice cream anymore. I've been ruined!

    Ann: Ah yes, I saw the restaurants. They were completely empty though. Didn't know about the rose garden, but not my cup of tea.

    Elle: Ahhhh, so they must bring in chairs, etc. for service days? I did walk around and look at the paintings, but I didn't see any that were of interest to me.

    Italian paintings never really did anything for me. I'm not a big fan of portraits (seems to be a lot of those everywhere) or the realism that seems inherent in Renaissance art. I ran into the same problem when I was in the Netherlands/Belgium. The classic stuff just bored me. I'm a Van Gogh, Munch, Monet kind of girl.

    I think it's the color. I absolutely LOVE bright, bold colors in art. So I think that is why the Botticelli's and some of the paintings in the Raphael Rooms appealed to me.

    The Caravaggio paintings? Meh, I can take them or leave them. I do appreciate why they are such a big deal, but it's not something I'd hang in my house.

    I remember looking at Rembrandt's and thinking the same thing. The realism is amazing, but not my cup of tea.

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    Day 8: Day Trip to Orvieto

    Finally! A trip where I could convince DH to go. I was only able to do this by assuring him we wouldn't be there all day long.

    We chose to visit Orvieto because we had seen it on an episode of Rick Steves and it looked so quaint and it was only a short train ride from Rome. I also was in need of an escape from the churches and museums. I gal can only take so much!

    We took the Regionale train (I think that is what it is called, it was the cheapest option). The train was leaving from the furthest track, so we grabbed a quick snack and had to hustle to catch it.

    Contrary to what I've read in the past, the train was very clean and was on time. DH enjoyed seeing some of the scenery. We arrived in Orvieto and walked out and caught the funicular. It was 1 euro each and was jam packed! Took us up to the town and the bus was waiting. Hopped on the bus to the church/duomo.

    The church was beautiful on the outside. I left DH on a bench and went inside. There was a charge to enter and from my quick glance I didn't see anything of interest. Just another big and empty church.

    So DH and I wandered up and down the streets. It was such a nice mix of locals and tourists and wasn't overly crowded. On one side alley I found an olive wood workshop and popped in. The smell was so good! I ended up with a small wood bowl. They were a little pricey!

    And the ceramics...oh my! Ceramic shops all over the place. It was agony trying to decide what to bring back home. I just wanted a few small trinkets....one for me and then some gifts. But oh man, those big huge vases? One day I will return and buy one!! The colors are so vibrant and beautiful.

    We decided to have lunch on the duomo square. Probably not the best choice. We just had sandwiches...bleh. It was dry, plain, and overpriced. Oh well.

    We hopped on the bus, funicular, and train and returned back to Rome. It was early enough in the afternoon that I decided to visit a few churches near the hotel.

    The Baths of Diocletian/Santa Maria Angeli were very interesting. I used my Rick Steves guidebook for background information. When I'm doing research I use multiple guidebooks, but I always find myself coming back to Rick. Anyhow, I was so impressed by the huge granite columns...this church was so vast! But yet it still had that opulence that I've come to love about Roman churches.

    Next up was Santa Maria Vittoria for the Bernini! Wow, this church was so small and just jam packed. I did pay to light up the Bernini (and heard the "Oh wow, I didn't know you could do that") and snapped a ton of pictures. Then paid again just to stand there and observe. It was a beautiful sculpture and it was so interesting to see it "in situ," the way it was meant to be. I wish I could have gotten closer though, to really see the intricacies of the emotional expressions.

    Walked back to the hotel and went for dinner. Tonight was Taverna dei Monti which we had found on the internet. Great little restaurant! I had the cacio e pepe again. Yes, when I find something I like I tend to stick with it. It wasn't AS good as the first place, but it was yummy.

    And yes, there was a gelato stop on the way home :-) Fragola....as usual.

    Coming up....short trip to Ostia Antica and I'd also like to spend a little time dispelling some of the myths surrounding travel to Rome.

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    Twiggers. I'm afraid that I will be sorely tempted by ceramics when I am in Italy myself. And an olive wood cutting board is on my shopping list. I'm really not much of a shopper or souvenir buyer, but a few things that I will actually use when I get home, and be reminded of my trip when I use them, that's for me! I'm guessing you can ship ceramics home if you buy anything heavy.

    I'll be very interested to hear your Ostia Antica report, it's on my maybe list for Rome. I only have 5 nights there, so I'm not sure I want to give up a day in Rome for it.

    You are doing a great job on your report! It must be like reliving the whole thing. Did you take notes while you were there?

    CindyP.

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    Hi Cindy,

    Thank you for taking the time to read it :-)

    The olive wood was amazing! Are you going to Orvieto? I didn't really see it when I was in Rome, nor did I see a lot of the really bright ceramics. The stuff in Orvieto actually had the name of the town painted on the bottom.

    And yes, they will all ship stuff home! I knew I would be moving cross-country, so I didn't even want to take the chance. Next time I go I will definitely buy something big.

    I did take some quick notes every day. I just bought a really tiny notebook to jot impressions and activities.

    As you'll see, Ostia was actually only a half-day. About 30-45 minutes each way plus about 2 hours at the site. Of course, you could spend a lot more time there, but I did a Rick Steves audio tour and a little wandering and was happy. But more details to come.

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    I have never heard of an olive cutting board but it sounds like a wonderful souvenir. I don't remember seeing them the last time I was in Rome. Did you see any in Rome or just on your side trip? Thanks!

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    I did not see any olive wood in Rome, but I wasn't looking really hard for it. The only place I saw it was in Orvieto and it was actually a workshop with a little storefront.

    They had everything....spoons, bowls, napkin holders, cutting boards, etc.

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    Day 9: Ostia Antica and some more churches

    At this point I'm starting to feel at home in Rome. I'm not getting lost as much and hearing Italian on the streets just feels normal. It's such a beautiful, expressive language and I love watching Italians talk! I am used to hearing Spanish all the time (I lived in Miami at the time of this trip) and although the languages are so similar I prefer Italian.

    When planning this trip I agonized over whether to go to Pompeii. I really didn't have a big interest in going, but it always seems to come up as a "must see." I was actually more interested in Naples. I did a bunch of research and went back and forth and decided NOT to make that a day trip. I already had Florence as a big day trip (and expensive) so I would save Naples/Pompeii for another trip. I decided to go to Ostia Antica. It was highly recommended by Rick Steves and travelers on this board.

    For this day-trip I followed the directions provided by Rick Steves in his book and it worked flawlessly! I walked to Termini and followed signs for the metro (I even gave directions to some fellow Americans - who said they were so delighted to hear English LOL the opposite of me!). I took the Metro and then hopped on the Lido train. To find this train I just followed everyone and there was a train waiting. Arrived in Ostia and followed directions to the site. There were only about 4-5 people from the train going the same way.

    For this site I once again used a Rick Steves audio tour. I think it is imperative to have some type of tour, whether audio or from a guidebook. I mean, you could walk around the ruins, but you wouldn't know what anything was. There aren't really signs or anything.

    For me, it was just so fascinating to see how people lived 2000 years ago and just blows me away that things are still standing after all this time. I spent about 1.5-2 hours wandering around. It was pretty empty there....there were a few elementary school groups and a group of college students from Penn State, but otherwise it was empty. And it's really neat that you can just wander up and down the alleys (what used to be alleys) and never run into another person.

    There were some great surviving mosaics...just amazing...how does this stuff survive? And seeing these beautiful mosaics really makes me want to have one in my house one day.

    There are a lot of broken columns everywhere and some lone solitary columns standing in foot high grass. There is a surviving apartment buildings that you can walk into. And a great spot that you can walk up some stairs and get a great view of the area and see the remaining outlines of houses and stores.

    After finishing my wanderings I headed back to Rome. It was very easy doing things in reverse :-)

    After arriving at Termini I decided to hit up a few churches on my list. First up was Santa Maria Maggiore. The mosaics are just beautiful. Seriously, how in the world did they do this?? Isn't it amazing how every day in this city just brings a new wonder?

    Then over to San Giovanno in Laterno and across to the Holy Stairs. Now, originally I had no plans to climb up the stairs. I'm not religious. But I got there and it was fascinating to watch people climb on their knees. So I figured "Why not?" and why miss out on an experience. So off I went. And O.M.G. that was one of the most painful things I've ever done. I cheated at times and leaned back on my toes to take the pressure off my knees. But I ended up with bruises and very sore knees. I didn't see any blood in the little holes and didn't feel closer to anyone. But oh well, I can say I did it :-)

    Then off to San Clemente. I did pay to walk down to the lower levels. This was one church where it was worth it to pay the euros. It was so interesting to see this different layers of Rome. To think that thousands of years ago everything took place 20 feet below where we walk today.

    Capped off the day at St. Peter in Chains. Had a nice stroll by the Colosseum. The highlight of this church is Moses by Michelangelo. It was a beautiful sculpture and I paid to light things up (once again I heard the "Oh wow I didn't know you could do that" LOL). I'm surprised this church isn't hyped up more in the guidebooks...the sculpture is really nice.

    That evening I was able to convince DH to go to the Pantheon area for dinner. We caught a cab and he took us on a crazy drive through back alleys, twisting and turning. I think it was the long way (cost more than normal), but it was fun.

    We chose a restaurant right on the square so we could people watch. The food wasn't very good and it was overpriced, but we paid for the atmosphere of the square.

    Wandered around a bit and ended up at Giolitti's again. This was my first introduction to gelato and since I've had it all over the city I wanted to compare. It was good, but I'm not sure it was the very best that I had. I really like the one I had in Florence with the little bits of fruit.

    We wandered over to the Trevi fountain for one more look and then hopped in a cab. It was more expensive this late at night (11 PM) and DH, having heard my story from the other day, told the driver "Hey, that's too much" and the driver told him it was a "night fare." DH almost got out until I remembered that there was indeed an evening fare.

    Wow, only one more full day left in the city! I can't believe how fast our time in Rome went.

    Day 10: Last Day in Rome

    Well, we did nothing! Went and did laundry in the morning so everything would be fresh for the cruise. And just vegged out! After going, going, going all week it was nice to just veg. Watched some movies, caught an afternoon nap, and relaxed.

    Went to go to our favorite restaurant on the last night, but sadly they were closed :-( So we wandered around and ate at another place. The food was good, but not as good as our favorite. Capped off my final night with some gelato!

    Tomorrow we depart for our cruise :-)

    ----
    Before chatting about the cruise, I'm going to devote a post to my experiences about all the warnings I heard about Rome.

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    Looking good! I have to stop at Ostio to go out to lunch but will return to finish reading. I absolutely agree with you about so many of the ornate churches being plain inside and vice versa!

    Am not certain about David, but I do think some of those statues are formed by "lost wax" method. I will look it up and report back!

    Keep it coming, please.

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    OK, back from lunch and errands. Hub and I traveled to Ostio and to Pompeii and the later "grabbed" me in a way Ostio didn't. I suppose all the drama with the volcano. Some of the old maps in the Vatican didn't even have Vesuvius on them. We also got to the Naples museum to see more of the Pompeii relics. Anyway, maybe on your next trip!

    I agree with you also about Giolitti's gelato and the best being in Florence. We had some nice still in Pisa also.

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    I think David was carved as well....at least from what I remember.

    I would love to visit Naples....something about the grittiness is so appealing. But that will wait for another trip :-)

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    I thought I would take a moment to talk about things like crowded buses, pickpocketers, scam artists, dirty toilets, scamming cab drivers, etc. All those dreadful warnings that I heard before going to Rome.

    Let's start with the biggest one: pickpocketers

    I was never pickpocketed. Nor did I ever feel particularly unsafe. I rode on the bus, subway, and trains. However, I do take normal precautions that really are just commonsense whether you are in Rome, NYC, Chicago, etc. I wore a cross-body bag, never carried more than $100 euros (unless I knew I would be shopping), and only carried one credit card on me (even though I brought several more). I tried not to flash my iPhone around when possible.

    I always looked like a tourist though....my guidebook was almost always in my face/hands or a hotel map.

    I never saw anyone get pickpocketed either, nor did I hear any tales from anyone that I talked to while traveling (and I was always talking to someone everyday).

    When in a crowded situation (bus/subway) I did make sure to keep my hand on the strap of my purse.

    Really...all the dire warnings on here made me feel like I was guaranteed to get accosted, but that just wasn't the case.

    "Watch out for all the scam artists throughout Rome. They'll hassle you for money."

    The street vendors are relentless in Rome! I don't know how many times I was approached for umbrellas, etc. It seemed like there was one every 10 feet. A very firm "NO" usually gets them to back off. Or you could walk around with sunglasses, a hat, a shawl/pashmina, and an umbrella and they'll stay away LOL

    They seemed perfectly harmless to me, just annoying. Now, I did not run into the rose or bracelet scammers at the Spanish Steps. Oh, and I saw the Gladiators, but I already knew the scam so I just ignored them when they asked for a photo. However, the British couple we met didn't know about this and had to fork out 5 euros.

    Again, this is all just common sense. You don't get something for free in this world. If people just did a tiny bit of research before traveling, they'd be much better off (i.e., like putting coins in boxes to light up works of art LOL).

    "The buses are really crowded"

    Yea, this one is a truth! It depends on the route and the time of day, but the main routes are always crowded. Keep your purse close and be prepared to yell "Scuzi" and push your way through everyone to get off the bus. Chalk it up to a fun Italian experience!

    "The toilets are so nasty"

    Not anywhere I traveled. The toilets were just fine. It was a little weird seeing toilets without lids....but if you are a woman you are probably used to the public toilet squat anyways.

    "The trains are dirty"

    I was on one Regionale train to Orvieto and it was a very nice train. And of course, the high speed train was great too. So, again, I didn't experience this warning.

    "Be careful of cab drivers. They'll try to scam you"

    Hmmmm, on this one I am going to say it is a definite possibility. When we arrived in Rome our driver tried to pull the "I don't have change" scam, but I persisted and he relented. Then another time the driver didn't reset the meter when I got in. As a traveler, it is definitely worthwhile to spend just a few minutes learning about the cab rates/rules and paying careful attention.

    "You'll gain 10 lbs from all the food"

    HA, this is a good warning! I only gained about 2 lbs....you end up walking so much during the day that I say "eat whatever you want." You won't ever get pasta as good as this in the US. In fact, since I've returned I have not attempted to even eat at an Italian restaurant. I'm afraid that I've been ruined forever!

    "You won't have as enjoyable a vacation if you don't stay in the Navona/Campo area"

    This is just downright false. I had so many comments on various boards about my choice of hotel. But you know what? I had a fabulous vacation! I walked everywhere and thoroughly enjoyed all the opportunities to get lost. My hotel was great and had all the amenities I wanted. I couldn't get that for the same price in the Navona/Campo area, so I actually would have suffered being over there. In the end, despite all the great advice on the boards, only you know what makes a good vacation for YOU.

    "You need to slow down and relax. You have too much planned"

    Not at all! I found myself with hours of downtime every day. I got lost countless times and stumbled on new churches and sites. It was the PERFECT speed for me.

    "Italians can be rude"

    We never encountered this. Everyone was really friendly and pleasant during our interactions with them. It's a big, fast-paced city...so it's not like I expected to strike up conversations on the street or anything. But the restaurant workers, hotel staff, etc. were all great.

    "Learn some of the language so you don't look like an ignorant American."

    Right, like I'm going to learn to speak Italian. LOL. I used a lot of "scuzi" and "prego" and that was about it. "Buon giorno" was another one we used. I tried....often my Spanish and French got all confused and I'd use one of those languages LOL

    I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Rome. I felt like 9 days was TOO long. If I could redo the planning I would have done 5 days in Rome, 2 days in Florence, and then popped over to Venice. But it wouldn't have worked out too well because we had to be back in Rome and we were restricted on flying into Rome because of FF miles. The 9 days did allow me some day trips to Orvieto and Ostia, but we ended up with one empty day on the end and a few days where I was done by the early afternoon. I do feel like I really explored the city though and I saw everything I ever wanted to, plus a lot more. So I am satisfied.

    Would I return to Rome? In a heartbeat, but only for a couple of days and if it was part of a larger trip. Or maybe another cruise departed from there or something.

    OK....so now onto the cruise part of the trip.

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    Our cruise was booked on Royal Caribbean Navigator of the Seas. We had been on 4 previous cruises (3 with Royal), but never in the Med and never on this class of ship. If you want more info on the ship/company, I highly recommend www.royalcaribbean.com or checking out www.cruisecritic.com.

    That said....here we go....

    Embarkation Day

    We had a mini-bus scheduled to pick us up at our hotel (organized through our group on Cruise Critic). About 6-8 others were meeting up at our hotel, and then there were pick-ups at other hotels.

    It was nice to chat with everyone that we had been talking to online ☺

    Bus picked us up and it was about a 45-60 minute drive out to the port. One last drive past some of the ancient sites of Rome.

    We arrived at the port and paid our driver (worked out to 18 euros per person). It was not busy at all….this was about a 1 PM arrival. There were clear signs everywhere directing us to the ship. The first stop has signs that say “Luggage check” where you can drop off your luggage. We walked right on by and followed the signs to “check-in.” We had to show our printed sea pass a few times before getting in.

    There was a priority line for platinum and suite guests (we were both) and we walked right up. Check-in was VERY easy and quick and we were given our room cards. I had ordered a soda package ahead of time and the Coca-Cola symbol was printed on the card.

    The weird thing….they put a sticker with our room numbers on our passports and we were instructed that we had to turn in our passports and we would get them back on the last night. I’ve never had this happen before! A little worried, but nothing that I can do about it.

    Walked right onboard and to our room, which was ready and waiting for us. Normally we check in very early in Miami (11 AM), so it was weird being able to get right to our room. Decided to hold off on unpacking (we had carry-ons only) and head up to the Windjammer.

    It was a little busy, but not too bad. The food selection was about the norm. I opted for some salad, because I had been gorging on pasta the last 9 days. The salad was pretty good, they had a lot of options for veggies (cucumber, mushrooms, etc.) and they had ranch dressing (all of our previous Royal cruises did not have ranch).

    Back up to the room (or down) to unpack and then we had a 3 PM meeting in the Schooner Bar with folks who were going on our tours from Cruise Critic. Mostly this was an opportunity to learn faces and names….since we were going to be sharing tours on each of the ports. Apparently everyone had the same idea….there were a whole lot of meet-ups taking place at the Schooner Bar. Next time I’ll choose somewhere else.

    We checked out the main dining room (MDR) menu, but weren’t really impressed so we went to the Windjammer (buffet). The food was OK. But let me qualify that statement: I just got on the ship after spending 9 days in Rome with some of the best food I’ve eaten. So almost everything will pale in comparison.

    The selection in the Windjammer was good. You had US food, English food, and European food. The same food being served in the MDR was also down here. I had the pork medallions, which were actually quite good. The roasted potatoes were dry. I’m a sucker for bread rolls….and RCCL never disappoints ☺

    We have a soda package and I only drink Sprite Zero. On our last cruise we were able to get it in the Windjammer, but this time they said no. Oh well, I’m not going to push it. In addition, we tried to get it at the Café Promenade bar and he tried to tell me “No, only sodas from the gun” but I told him that Sprite Zero is included in the soda package and he relented.

    We went to bed quite early and didn’t do much onboard. The movie selection in the room is not too bad. We’ve seen everything, but they’re all relatively recent releases (within the last 2 months or so) combined with movies with a Roman theme (i.e., When in Rome, Roman Holiday, Under the Tuscan Sun).

    Tomorrow is our day in Messina!

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    Our cruise was booked on Royal Caribbean Navigator of the Seas. We had been on 4 previous cruises (3 with Royal), but never in the Med and never on this class of ship. If you want more info on the ship/company, I highly recommend www.royalcaribbean.com or checking out www.cruisecritic.com.

    That said....here we go....

    Embarkation Day

    We had a mini-bus scheduled to pick us up at our hotel (organized through our group on Cruise Critic). About 6-8 others were meeting up at our hotel, and then there were pick-ups at other hotels.

    It was nice to chat with everyone that we had been talking to online ☺

    Bus picked us up and it was about a 45-60 minute drive out to the port. One last drive past some of the ancient sites of Rome.

    We arrived at the port and paid our driver (worked out to 18 euros per person). It was not busy at all….this was about a 1 PM arrival. There were clear signs everywhere directing us to the ship. The first stop has signs that say “Luggage check” where you can drop off your luggage. We walked right on by and followed the signs to “check-in.” We had to show our printed sea pass a few times before getting in.

    There was a priority line for platinum and suite guests (we were both) and we walked right up. Check-in was VERY easy and quick and we were given our room cards. I had ordered a soda package ahead of time and the Coca-Cola symbol was printed on the card.

    The weird thing….they put a sticker with our room numbers on our passports and we were instructed that we had to turn in our passports and we would get them back on the last night. I’ve never had this happen before! A little worried, but nothing that I can do about it.

    Walked right onboard and to our room, which was ready and waiting for us. Normally we check in very early in Miami (11 AM), so it was weird being able to get right to our room. Decided to hold off on unpacking (we had carry-ons only) and head up to the Windjammer.

    It was a little busy, but not too bad. The food selection was about the norm. I opted for some salad, because I had been gorging on pasta the last 9 days. The salad was pretty good, they had a lot of options for veggies (cucumber, mushrooms, etc.) and they had ranch dressing (all of our previous Royal cruises did not have ranch).

    Back up to the room (or down) to unpack and then we had a 3 PM meeting in the Schooner Bar with folks who were going on our tours from Cruise Critic. Mostly this was an opportunity to learn faces and names….since we were going to be sharing tours on each of the ports. Apparently everyone had the same idea….there were a whole lot of meet-ups taking place at the Schooner Bar. Next time I’ll choose somewhere else.

    We checked out the main dining room (MDR) menu, but weren’t really impressed so we went to the Windjammer (buffet). The food was OK. But let me qualify that statement: I just got on the ship after spending 9 days in Rome with some of the best food I’ve eaten. So almost everything will pale in comparison.

    The selection in the Windjammer was good. You had US food, English food, and European food. The same food being served in the MDR was also down here. I had the pork medallions, which were actually quite good. The roasted potatoes were dry. I’m a sucker for bread rolls….and RCCL never disappoints ☺

    We have a soda package and I only drink Sprite Zero. On our last cruise we were able to get it in the Windjammer, but this time they said no. Oh well, I’m not going to push it. In addition, we tried to get it at the Café Promenade bar and he tried to tell me “No, only sodas from the gun” but I told him that Sprite Zero is included in the soda package and he relented.

    We went to bed quite early and didn’t do much onboard. The movie selection in the room is not too bad. We’ve seen everything, but they’re all relatively recent releases (within the last 2 months or so) combined with movies with a Roman theme (i.e., When in Rome, Roman Holiday, Under the Tuscan Sun).

    Tomorrow is our day in Messina!

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    Day 2: Messina (Sicily), Italy

    I was joining a tour organized by someone on CruiseCritic. Everyone on the tour (about 20 of us) met up at the Café Promenade at 9:30 AM. Our tour was right at 10 AM, which was also docking time. Meeting at this location was a great idea! Lots of space and everyone knows where it is. The announcement to disembark was promptly at 10 AM and off we went.

    Our tour was booked through Mario Astone and included a visit to Castelmona, Taormina, and a few stops in Messina. It was 40 euros per person.

    We had to wait about 10 minutes outside for another group….they got on our bus and then were dropped off a few blocks away. Our group was on a mini-bus and Sandra was our guide. She is relatively new to the company and this was her 3rd tour.

    We drove along to Castelmona (or maybe it’s Castelmola) and Sandra pointed out a few things along the way. I wished we had more information on the history of Sicily. We arrived about 45 minutes later to Castelmona(mola) which is a little village perched about 4000 feet up. It was very cute and quaint. Not something that the ship’s tour visits. We had the town to ourselves. We spent about 45 minutes following our guide around….there were quaint little shops (ceramics and embroidery). We also stopped in this little bar where everything was shaped like penises. And I mean everything….from the door handles to the sink faucet! It was quite entertaining for us prudish Americans LOL

    We left the village and headed back down to Taormina. We had to take a chair lift (well, it’s like a chair lift but you’re completely enclosed) up to the town. The guide left us at the main gate and gave us almost 2 hours to explore the town on our own. I walked up to the Greek Theater ,which costs 8 euros to enter. Apparently they were setting up for a Santana concert, so we couldn’t get the full effect of the theater (the modern concert seats kind of ruined things). Then wandered around and found a little restaurant. I had maccheroni (the Italian spelling) with tomato and eggplant. It did not look like US macaroni…it was very long, almost like Beefaroni on steroids lol. Grabbed a biscotti from a bakery and a granita (strawberry flavored). I much prefer gelato over granita, but it was still tasty.

    We then headed back to Messina. I caught a little nap on the bus. We stopped at a Norman church (not at all impressive after visiting churches in Rome/Florence) and the astrological clock. The clock was interesting, but it would have been better to be there at 12 noon when it goes off. The clock is only a short walk from where the ship docks, so you could easily walk there on your own.

    I got back to the ship around 5:30 PM and tonight was formal night. I’m not a fan of formal dress, and since I was packing light I didn’t want to drag along heels and a dress just for a dinner. The menu didn’t look that appetizing anyways. So we headed to the Windjammer again. I wasn’t that hungry (after my pasta lunch) so I just had some fries and gravy (a Canadian thing) and some bread rolls. The chocolate praline cake was very yummy!

    After dinner we headed to the main show. Tonight’s show was called “Now and Forever” and was a collage of Broadway songs. Meh, it was pretty bad. The dancing was alright, and the orchestra was good, but the singing…yikes. They probably wouldn’t have made it past Simon on American Idol/X Factor. They also managed to butcher the Mamma Mia portion….which made me want to book some Broadway tickets when I get home (I’m sure something is playing in town).

    That was our day! Off to bed we went….ordered some room service snacks (hot chocolate and cookies) and watched part of a movie on TV and went to bed.

    Oh, tonight we had to move our clocks forward one hour to get ourselves on Greece/Turkey time.

    Comments on the Ship Condition:

    Overall, the ship looks and feels good. I was just on Adventure (sister ship) at Christmas and there isn’t much difference….aside from having full glass balconies. However, there are definitely areas where improvements are needed. The carpets on our deck (deck 10) are looking REALLY bad. Lots of stains and just worn out. Also, I could tell that the chairs in the MDR (we had breakfast in there on Day 3) were getting old. I’m not sure when she is due for a dry dock, but I noticed rust on our balcony. None of this is detracting from the enjoyment of our vacation though ☺

    Comments on our Room (Junior Suite):

    The first thing we noticed is that it feels bigger than previous junior suites (Liberty & Adventure). It’s wider as opposed to longer. The balcony feels much bigger than normal…we had 3 chairs, a lounger, and a big table outside. The bed is comfortable. Shower has great pressure and super hot water. Pretty clean…a few of the drawers are a bit dirty inside. The safe looks new and we have a flat screen TV and a coffee maker/tea kettle.

    No ice anymore….you have to tell your steward if you want some.

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    Day 3: Sea Day

    Usually I dread the sea days. As I said before, we’re not pool people and we don’t really drink. So sea days are usually pretty boring for us. Fortunately, we came prepared! We brought a few Netflix DVDs and had downloaded some rentals through iTunes while we had free Wifi in Rome.

    The morning started off well enough. Was able to sleep in a few hours. Oh! Before I forget, we had to move our clocks forward 1 hour during the night….so that probably explains the sleeping in. Woke up and decided to go to the MDR for breakfast. The special was huevos rancheros, which DH said wasn’t that good. Apparently it was missing a bunch of pieces (i.e., beans and something else). I had a made to order omelet, which was good.

    Following breakfast we decided to attend one of the trivia games in the Schooner Bar. It was totally random trivia and we were awful! It was just DH and I, whereas other groups had 4-6 people. So I’m going to blame our horrid score on only having 2 brains instead of 4-6 brains.

    Following trivia we went up to the Cosmo lounge to attend the official Meet & Mingle. Apparently 44 people had registered and only about 20 showed up. Many were from our group that were doing tours together. I ended up winning a magnet and a USB drive (yippee LOL). Then went down to the Windjammer for a quick lunch. Once again, the food was OK. It wasn’t great and it wasn’t horrible. About what I expect on a cruise, so I really have no complaints. Back to the room and had a quick nap.

    Up for dinner at the Windjammer. And then we had decided to attend the C&A reception. This was our first cruise as platinum (we had 38 cruise credits pre-cruise) so we decided to attend and see what it was all about. It was scheduled to start at 7:45 in Ixtapa Lounge and we arrived on time, but they weren’t letting people in. Finally let everyone in a few minutes later. They were serving champagne and rum punch. The rum punch was actually tasty ☺ We kept that poor waiter just bringing more and more LOL We had run into the people from our tour group and sat with them…hence all the drinks. Also had some yummy snacks….spring rolls, mozzarella sticks, chicken wings and some dessert (mmmmm…chocolate covered strawberries). The captain did his speech and we was actually interesting to listen to. Maybe it was because we was only 35 and so his jokes were actually funny! Then we tuned out the rest of the people and just chatted with our group. Kept on chatting and chatting and then decided to walk over to the Promenade.

    We really like the Two Poets pub. They were playing Irish music tonight and DH likes it because you can smoke in it (yes, this is a ship with interior smoking: Two poets and part of the Schooner Bar).They also have Sprite Zero and that makes me a happy girl (I have a drink package). We hung out a bit and then the 70s disco party started. I’ve never attended one before and it was a lot of fun! Kind of corny, but still fun. Once it ended we all parted ways….early day tomorrow!

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    Day 4: Athens

    I was really looking forward to this day! I’ve always wanted to visit Athens, but have never been interested in making a big vacation out of it….so a quick day was perfect for me! I had organized a tour through Nikos Loukas for 17 of us and we paid the extra 200 euros for a private guide to take us through the sites (total cost was 880 euros). We met at 7:30 AM on the Promenade and walked right off the ship.

    Our tour guide was waiting for us and off we went. We decided to do the Acropolis first because it was supposed to be quite hot out. The alternative was to go at 2:30 PM when the crowds thin out, but we were worried about the heat. We did the entire Acropolis and I have to say, I can’t imagine doing this without a guide. She was a wealth of information and was able to direct us away from the crowds (and it was crowded!).

    Traffic was VERY bad in the city, but after the Acropolis we drove around to the Parliament building and were able to see a changing of the guard (very cool!) and I got my picture with one of the guards. We had to hurry back because the police were ticketing all the cabs and our bus driver wanted to avoid a ticket. We then drove up the tallest hill in Athens, which is a place that the big buses cannot go (very narrow streets). The view, oh wow! It was simply amazing!! Well worth the drive.

    Drove back down and stopped at the stadium for quick pictures and drove past the Temple of Zeus. Drove around to the Plaka, which took quite a bit in all the traffic. The guide walked us through part of Plaka and then left us on our own for lunch and/or shopping. We stopped at a restaurant to have gyros. I have never eaten them in the US. Not sure why, but I’m glad my first taste was in Greece. I will definitely order it again, it was VERY yummy. Did a little bit of souvenir shopping. The “evil eye” was everywhere and it was strange. I was in a store and asked the owner about it and said my friend from Turkey had told me about it. He got a little weirded out when I said Turkey and said “In Greece it means good luck and is different from Turkey.” Well, that sounded like what my friend had told me (i.e., that it is used to keep away the bad) but he said “Oh, but we’re Orthodox and they are Muslim, so it is different.” Oh well, I didn’t want to argue any more.

    A small group of us ended our shopping early and met the guide to do a quick tour of the new Acropolis Museum. It was so interesting. It costs 5 euros and is a new modern building. When you walk in the ground is clear glass and you can see the excavations that are underneath. Not a good place to wear a skirt LOL. The museum itself was quick and easy to go through and was very interesting. Too bad most of the originals are in the British Museum ☹

    Back with the group and our guide took us on a “behind the scenes” tour of the Plaka. We climbed up a bunch of stairs and ended in this quaint little neighborhood where the houses were all white washed and looked like the houses you picture on a Greek island. It was so interesting!! Strolled around these little streets (really more like sidewalks) for a bit and came down to the flea market area. Back on the bus and to the ship.

    It was a long day, but well worth every single penny (only 52 euros per person). Our tour was longer and more intensive than anything the ship offered and was MUCH cheaper than the ship excursions.

    Back to the room and boy was I exhausted. Climbed into bed and decided to watch a DVD (Black Swan). Made it through the movie (just barely) and then grabbed a quick 45 minute nap. Woke up refreshed and went to the Windjammer. The dessert was yummy yummy yummy (brownie sandwich) and turkey dinner was being served, and it was pretty yummy. Ran into a couple from our tour group and we went down to the Irish pub to play some cards. We played Uno for about 2 hours and listened to the guitar player. We wasn’t that great….he played REALLY old songs and would only play portions of each song. I keep reminding myself that all the really good musicians have contracts ☺ Stayed up MUCH later than I intended (we have an early, early day tomorrow), but had a great time!

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    Day 5: Kusadasi, Turkey (prounounced Kush-a-daci)

    Let me just start by saying that this ended up being our favorite port of the entire cruise! And everyone with us said the same thing. We booked a tour through Ekol, which was a company highly recommended on the port of call boards. It was only 42 USD and we had 14 people. We were scheduled to go to Ephesus, House of the Virgin Mary, St. Paul’s Basilica, Temple of Artemis, and the obligatory rug demonstration/sales pitch (which they don’t really tell you about, but you always end up going to). Our guide was Ahu, and she was fabulous!

    Our tour pick-up time was 8 AM, but we were off the ship a few minutes early. There is a little section where tour guides wait with names, but we didn’t see ours and kept walking. It didn’t feel right, so one of us went back and we did find our guide. We had a very nice mini-van that was very comfortable.

    Our first stop was the House of the Virgin Mary because our guide wanted to beat the crowds and indeed, we were the first ones there. It was so calm and private to have the place to ourselves. Ahu explained the history of the house and left us with free time. No photos allowed in the house. When you come out there is a fresh mineral water fountain, which is said to have powerful healing properties. I had a little taste….boy, did it taste like minerals! When you walk down there is also a long wall that is filled with prayers. People write on anything and everything! Lots of toilet paper wrapped up and even a baby wipe. Fortunately, I had my little travel journal/notebook and ripped out some pages for everyone who wanted to write a prayer. I’m not religious, but I figured it couldn’t hurt.

    We then stopped at Ephesus. This was the longest part of our tour. We started at the top and worked our way down. Now, the Terraced Houses were not part of our tour, but we all wanted to do them so our guide agreed and we had to pay 15 Turkish Lira each. Our guide had us stop at a store where the owner exchanged everyone’s Euros/USD. I gave him 20 USD and got 30 TL, which was perfect for me because I like to keep one bill as a souvenir.

    Ephesus was amazing. Really makes me think that I would have liked to visit Pompeii, but oh well, that will be the next trip to Italy! Our guide did a wonderful job navigating us through the crowds and keeping us in the shade (the sun did get quite hot). We stopped at the Terraced Houses about ½ way through and OMG, it was simply AMAZING! The mosaics…wow…just wow. And there are stacks of boxes full of marble pieces that the archaeologists are trying to piece back together. Just amazing.

    There is a little shopping area at the end of the historical site. The vendors are quite aggressive. It reminded me of being in Jamaica or other Caribbean ports. So be prepared! Also, this is one of those ports where you can barter and you can pay in pretty much any currency (most common ones were USD and euros).

    We then drove over to the Temple of Artemis. Not really much to see, and St. Paul’s Basilica was in the background (the ruins). Darn the British Museum for having all these wonderful sites (frankly, to be a little political, I think these all belong back in their rightful countries; but it was making me want to visit the BM the next time I am in London).

    Finally, we were taken to the carpet factory. Lunch was not included in our tour, but our guide had arranged for a meal to be served at the factory/carpet place (not sure the right term since the carpets are supposed to be hand made – who knows if they really are). Lunch was 10 USD and was divine! We had salad, appetizers (these wonderful little goat cheese filled rolls that were deep fried; also had eggplant and potatoes with a tomato sauce and zucchini), main course (chicken kabobs, lamb meatballs – which tasted nothing like lamb, they were so yummy), bread, and Turkish wine and beer. Very filling and tasted VERY good.

    We had the obligatory carpet presentation. Showed us how they get silk (which was very interesting), how they die the silk/wool, and then some women were weaving the carpets. I’m skeptical, but I don’t think the women sit there all day working on carpets….it’s all a show for the tourists. Then they took us into the big room and started pulling out carpet after carpet. They were so beautiful. If I owned a home and had the money, I’d buy one in a heartbeat. They were amazing. Maybe on a future trip, once we’re settled into our new city (we’re moving next month). They served us an apple tea (tasted like apple juice) and then the wolves descended trying to sell the rugs. I avoided eye contact and went to find a toilet. One girl in our group got dragged to another room and shown some rugs….one of which was $27,000!!! There was nothing in that room under $200….and the $200 was machine made and was smaller than a door mat. Most rugs started at around $1200 for the smallest size.

    Following that we were dropped off at the Bazaar, which was right next to the port. We had about an hour to shop before we had to be back onboard. We wandered up and down the narrow streets. It was mostly filled with carpet shops, leather shops, scarf shops, and then the misc souvenir shops. I stocked up on evil eyes, Turkish Delights, and bought a scarf. I was able to bargain and negotiate on everything. The vendors were aggressive though, but a firm “no” could usually get them to back off. Avoiding eye contact also worked well. They are sneaky though….I wanted to bring back this itty bitty Turkish rug (maybe 1’ x 1’) and the guy said “$10” and I said “OK, I want a pink one.” So they take you into the shop and I picked one of them and another guy comes in and says “$40”, um what? Bait and switch to the extreme. I said “No, the other guy said $10.” He offered $30 and I walked out. They were cheap, machine made souvenirs and not worth that amount (to me anyways). The same thing happened at the scarf shop. So just be aware and savvy ☺

    That night we were exhausted, but went to Chops Grille. We had a coupon from our TA for a free meal and we went with another couple from our M&M group. We did have to make reservations and they tried to say there were no openings at 8 PM, but we pushed and they magically found a table (and the place was half empty the entire time we were there). Dinner was pretty good and took about 3 hours! Definitely not what I’m used to in the US. I had the filet mignon and it was tasty! The dessert was yummy….I had the red velvet cake. Didn’t taste as good as my cupcake recipe, but it was yummy.

    Off to bed (quite late) because we have another early day tomorrow.

    Comments on Ship Experience So Far:

    We have been very pleased with the Royal Caribbean experience. It consistently meets our expectations. The staff is very friendly and attentive.

    I am surprised about the hours of the Windjammer. It always closes at 9 PM, which I found really odd for a European cruise. The Europeans probably think it’s even stranger!

    The Café Promenade does NOT have little ham & cheese croissants ☹ Disappointed. But the cookies are still good ☺

    My stateroom smells like smoke every time I come back in. DH smokes outside with the balcony closed, so I know it’s not that. Plus, it smelled like that when we walked in on embarkation day. I haven’t said anything because it’s not super horrible, but for a really hard core non-smoker it could be a major turn off. I did write it in on my guest survey though. I hope the previous people were fined!

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    Day 6: Chania, Crete (Greece)

    This was another early day! We had a smaller group today (only 10 of us) that were going on a private tour. We had organized the tour through Lefty. He couldn’t take us himself (we were too many), but I think it was his wife, Maria who was our guide. The cost was 55 euros pp (1/2 price for children).

    We exited the ship on time and they were waiting for us. Lefty was there to introduce himself and off we went. We drove away from the port (Souda) and up a little higher where we stopped and had a great view of Chania and the bay/harbor area. Also in this area were the tombs of two politicians. In addition, there was a very small church. It was so quaint and small….especially compared to everything I had seen in Rome.

    From there we drove down to Chania. It was quite early and there were no tourists yet and many of the small shops were just starting to open. Our guide walked us through the market and explained many of the herbs and cheeses that are used in their cooking. We then walked over to the harbor area where she left us for free time to explore. We wandered around the small little alleys/streets. It was so quaint and beautiful! Went back down the leather street and stopped in a bakery and had some baklava (yum!) and another treat (that I can’t remember the name of). Went back through the market where I picked up some olive oil soap (very popular here and cheap).

    We got back on the bus and drove up to an olive oil factory where the owner explained the process and answered all of our questions about olive oil. They also had some for sale and it was so cheap. 1 litre for only 5 euros! That would be so expensive back home. Since I’m doing carry-on only, I am having one of our new friends from the ship send it to me when they get home.

    Following the olive oil plant we drove to the village of Vamos. It is a small village of about 2000 people. We had a few minutes to walk around and then our guide presented us with a surprise. Local Cretan tea and pastries (with mizithra cheese inside). It was very yummy. Then back to the ship.

    We got back on early (approx. 2 PM) so I went back to the room and took a nap. Three back-to-back days of early tours, long days, and late nights had me tired! Woke up and met our new friends for dinner and then drinks down in the Schooner bar. We went to Studio B for the International Dance Competition (not really very good), but it was mostly to get good seats for the Quest.

    Ahhhh, the Quest. We went on our last cruise and it was a blast. It didn’t seem as packed on this cruise though (more on the lack of people on the ship later). Our group leaders were an Italian couple who didn’t speak English. The first item was a cruise compass, so I ran down the stairs and handed it to them. One of the CD staff asked me to stay down there because they didn’t speak English. I saw this for several groups. We had a blast! The poor Italian guy….they wanted a girl in a man’s shirt and he didn’t understand, so we just started undressing him LOL It was a blast though.

    We followed it up with dancing at the Club 20 party in the Solarium. It was so refreshing to hear some Top 40 pop music as opposed to the old timer stuff they play in the bars on the ship (I like 70s music, but even my DH – who is 44 – didn’t know half the songs they sung).

    We went to bed quite late. I wasn’t drinking, but DH was….and he slept very well ☺

    Some random thoughts on the people onboard:

    The ship NEVER felt crowded. It seemed like it was half empty or something. They never did say how many were onboard (or we didn’t hear), but I know they were heavily discounting rooms before the cruise and this is one of the ships coming back to FL early. There were a few people who boarded in Kusadasi.

    There were NOT a lot of children on board. This is likely due to the time of the year. Most European children are still in school.

    The ship had a good mix of people. Quite a bit of Italians, and a lot of people from the UK. There were a lot of Americans as well. All announcements were in English and Italian…sometimes Spanish (or maybe I just thought it was Spanish and it was really Italian).

    A lot of older people….by that I mean I saw a lot of white hair. Not a lot of young couples or college-age people.

    Thoughts about our room:

    We were in a JS, starboard, deck 10…just behind the hump. We had a lot of vibrating, but it was never a big deal. The room was spacious and clean. There was a coffee maker and a kettle. Flat screen TV. Couch with a chair & ottoman and glass table. Room was quite wide. The balcony felt very big, but they cluttered it with too many chairs, so we had them remove one. For some reason the balcony felt much bigger than in the past….not sure why.

    Our stateroom attendant, Alex, was great! Very friendly and did a great job. We tipped him extra at the end. Everything was in our room when we arrived (shore excursion for DH, coupon books, etc.).

    We were quite satisfied….only thing that was disappointing was that the room smelled like cigarette smoke. Not sure why someone felt the need to smoke indoors when they had a balcony room. It wasn’t horrible, but was enough that I noticed whenever we first walked into the room.

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    Day 7: Sea Day

    Not much to write about here. We were total vegetables. We had to turn the clocks back one hour.

    Breakfast in the dining room because I was craving some real French toast (the stuff in the Windjammer was horrible). It was pretty good and we had some good tablemates.

    Back to the room and watched a movie we had rented on iTunes. Napped a little more. Dinner in the Windjammer (chocolate cake was incredibly yummy), and then vegged in the room with friends.

    Oh, did the dreaded packing. For some reason I felt like I had less in my suitcase than before, but we had an extra duffle bag crammed with souvenirs.

    Disembarkation:

    Can I just say how effortless this was? OK, that said, here is what happened.

    The night before we got our luggage tags. Group 17, 7:30 AM. However, we already had plans to walk off ourselves at 7 AM, since we had a private transport booked for 7:30 AM (with members of our roll call).

    We woke up early (5:45 AM) and we were already docked. In fact, when I woke up once at 5 AM we were already docked. Showered and did the last bit of packing and had enough time to go up to the Windjammer for a quick pastry/OJ.

    The Windjammer was packed! They said it opened at 6:30 AM, but it must have been earlier. Grabbed a couple of small croissants (OK, they have croissants here, why no ham & cheese croissants in the Café Promenade?) and an OJ.

    Headed down to the Promenade to meet our group at 6:45 AM. The notice we got said that self walk-off should meet in Boleros. We decided to skip that step and see if we could head right to deck 1 and get off. All the elevators going down were PACKED!!! So we grabbed one going up and then went back down. Arrived at deck 1 at 7 AM and got right off.

    Walked through the luggage building. It looked organized, but we all had our own luggage so we just kept walking. Waiting right at the end of the hall was our driver!! Yay, she was early. We had booked through Rome Cabs and it was 190 euros for 7 people. Well worth it.

    We were at the airport 40 minutes later. She must have been doing 100 mph on the freeway (160-170 kph). Dropped one party off at the Hilton and we were at T3 (last group was at T5).

    I’ve never had such an easy disembarkation. No passport control or customs or anything.

    Now, T3 at FCO: People warned us that it was be complete chaos. Um, I guess they have never been to Puerto Rico! This was an oasis of calm. We were flying Iberia to Madrid (overnight layover). Our flight didn’t leave until 3 PM, but we were trying to see if we could get an earlier flight. Unfortunately, American Airlines lied to us and we couldn’t do standby on an award ticket (will be sending them an email later). Right now we’re just vegging in the first class lounge and taking advantage of having free internet.

    Another thing: Even if you have them take your luggage down….it was all down there by 7 AM.

    Oh, and don’t plan on being off before 7 AM. It won’t happen. They were turning people away before 7 AM.

    I do regret not booking the 10:15 AM flight….we could have easily made it. Oh well, I would have been stressing about it.

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    Our flight home had us going through Madrid. We finally arrived and took a taxi to our hotel. Our hotel was recommended on here: Hotel Plaza Mayor. I have never been more disappointed with a hotel. The room was small and cramped...the TV was at some odd angle on the wall and there was a horrible sewage smell. The shower was so small that DH couldn't get into it. Thankfully it was only 90 euros and it was a good location.

    We spent a little time wandering the area and had dinner at some restaurant on the square (not sure which square). Meh, disappointed. It was paella and I wasn't impressed at all. I felt like I've had better in the US. It was bland and boring and overpriced. Oh well. I'm probably just grumpy because we're on our way home and at this point we just want to get home.

    Set a wake-up call for 4 AM and arrived at the airport. Took quite a while to finally get to our gate area.

    I've got to vent a little about gate etiquette in Europe. There is none! People crowd around the gates with their 5 pieces of oversized luggage. They push and shove to get on. I thought the US was bad....but nothing compared to our gate experiences in Rome, Madrid, and London. Getting off the plane is just as bad! We had people pulling down luggage as the plane was taxiing, it was crazy!

    OK, so our flight from Madrid to London was fine and we did our terminal transfer in Heathrow without problems. Love having the business/first class express lanes for things.

    Our London to Miami flight was on British Airways and was first class again. A much nicer experience than on American. The service was better and the food was delicious. Service was a lot quicker and they actually make your bed for you! The beds were skinnier than on American, but it was no big deal. I was able to get a few hours of sleep, which I knew I needed because I had to stay up and get back on Miami time (had work the next day). Customs in Miami was crazy and disorganized, but we weren't surprised. It was Memorial Day after all. Grabbed a cab and was home!!! It was nice to be back home and with my doggie :-)

    -----
    Well, that's it. This was the #1 bucket list vacation and it was everything I dreamed of and more. Rome was simply amazing!

    Greece? I don't think I'll be returning...Athens wasn't everything I thought it would be. Maybe another cruise and visit some of the islands?

    Turkey...wowsa! I cannot wait to go back!! I would love to visit Istanbul one day. The food was great, the culture was fascinating...a great country to visit.

    Italy I will definitely be returning to. There is just so much to see in one country. I'd like to still visit Venice, Naples, and Pisa...maybe the Amalfi Coast.

    ----
    Coming up next for us is a Caribbean cruise at Christmas and our big summer trip will be an Alaskan cruise, followed by another Caribbean cruise.

    We're thinking of returning to Europe in summer 2013. I almost have enough miles right now for a first class trip! Likely Paris, a return to Amsterdam, and a Baltic cruise. Cruising works for us....allows us to visit multiple countries to get a "glimpse" and decide whether or not to return. DH LOVES the cruises because it has all the amenities of home, but he can see another country.

    Our glimpse of Turkey will definitely lead us back there one day!

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    Thank you for doing such a detailed trip report.

    DH and I were in Greece in the 1980's and we also felt the British should have returned the antiquities they were "protecting". At the time, however, we weren't impressed with the older museum so am glad to hear about the modern one.

    I'll try to make this short but in Athens a lovely woman in a sari, carrying a large tote bag, sat down at our outdoor table and said, pulling out an obviously machine-made lace table cloth, "My mother made this. It is only $50." [she said 50000 drachma but I'm embellishing here].

    We shook our heads and got up and continued on our walk. Later we sat again for a drink outdoors and yet another woman wearing a sari and carrying a similar tote bag joined us. "My mother made this" and she too pulled out a lace tablecloth. I said "Oh, we just met your sister!" "How much did she want for hers?" asked ms. Sari. I lied and said $15 and the poor woman almost fainted!

    We truly enjoyed those little selling games!

    Again, thanks for the TR! Good luck with your move.

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    Thanks so much TD! I kind of took all the selling stuff with a grain of salt. If you let it get to you then it just ruins your time.

    We are all moved in and settled...thank goodness!

    Gail: It was my pleasure! Thank you for reading my small novel!

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    Great report. I've been to Rome many times. Unlike you, I've found that nine days is not too long for me but I like to unwind, have very long lunches and dinners, etc. This past spring I had a week+ in Sicily (first time) followed by a week- in Rome, and I just wanted to say that given your interests, I think you'd really enjoy a longer visit to Sicily. The sights are tremendous and it feels like a world away from the rest of Italy (okay, a bit of hyperbole).

    Thanks for writing all this!

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    I hope that all of you guys that are reading and loving the report , won't think that Greece is not worthseeing....

    It is a great country with hundreds of great places to see..

    Sounded that the OP wasn't must thrilled about the visit of Athens, but even Athens can be a great city, if you are not limited to just a few hours..

    Many Fodorites have been there already and can confirm my words....

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    love2c: Thank you for the compliment! I appreciate it :-)

    Thanks Ronda!

    Clausar: I was just comparing it to the other places that were on my cruise. Yes, there is more to Greece than just Athens. And, yes, we only saw the real touristy stuff. However, our little glimpse left us thinking that Athens is not a place we would visit again.

    For me, as I've already said, I use my cruises as an opportunity to assess whether or not I'd like to visit a place for a longer time. I typically pick ports/cities that I am unsure about. For example, I KNEW that I wanted to spend days in Rome....so I would never pick that as a port on a cruise. However, somewhere like Barcelona? Not high on my list...so I'll see it as part of a cruise. Paris? High on my list, so I will make a separate trip.

    It's just being economical with my time and my money. I would, however, like to visit more of the Greek Islands and may just use a cruise to do that.

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    Twiggers, I liked your report, mainly because it is you and because you will not let anyone, any other traveler or travel book to dictate to you what you should like and not like.

    What makes Fodors and similar sites fun is the different perspectives, ideas and observations of very different travelers. Everyone is unique, of'course. But you are more unique, in some ways because you refuse to pay lip service.

    Do i feel the same way about everything you write. No. But if I did, why should i enjoy your report? The magic and mystery of travel and places one travels is in the eyes of the beholder.

    Thank you for sharing with us your views and feelings of magic and mystery and also including some very practical information.

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    Chelebi: Thank you! I appreciate it. I think places like this are a fantastic wealth of information. Differences are what makes the world go 'round, so I'm bound to get responses saying I'm nuts for traveling the way I do. Oddly enough, I tend to run into more people that are like me, as opposed to ones who go slow. I think this is probably a result of Americans not getting a lot of vacation time. We want to see the world, but have limited time in which to do so. So we pack it all into a 2 week trip, hoping that one day we'll go back for more.

    Aimee: Thank you! And no, he didn't go on a single cruise excursion. He wanted to stick with excursions under 3 hours, and there was no way any of my tours fit that bill. But it worked for us....he would go and wander around the port area and eat. And that was good for him. It really worked out well in the end....we were both happy! It's taken awhile to find that compromise.

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    hey twiggers, just my 2 cents on barcelona: please don't pick it as a port on a cruise. i spent a week in barcelona in '07 and i think it is one of the most magical places in the world. gaudi's creations throughout the city is simply out of this world. spend at least 2 or 3 days there and enjoy the paella and sangria (i know you don't drink much and neither do i!) :)

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    love2c: We were actually contemplating a cruise departing from Barcelona so that we would have a few days beforehand to see the city! My paella experience in Madrid was so bad....but I'm sure that was an exception.

    aimee: There were indeed long days and he would have been miserable. In Athens he did do a cruise ship tour on his own that was 3 hours. He was happy with that!

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    Hi there,
    This is a very helpful trip report. I am planning a europe trip as well and this is going to be my first time there. So a lot of confusion as i am going thru the planning . Though the report is very detailed but just a few things i wanted to know .
    1) What websites did u go through for hotel bookings?
    2) How did u go about the cruise booking?
    3) The private cabs are available there easily or did u prebook that as well?
    4) Also any hotel recomendations/trip reports you have on amsterdam and paris as well?

    Help much appreciated
    Priyanka

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