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Trip Report Bells, Balls and a Basilica – Cooking in Abruzzo; Eating & Drinking In Rome

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Prologue…Pre-trip Details:

After reading a Fodors trip report last year about a Groupon deal for a cooking school vacation in Abruzzo I couldn’t stop thinking about a visit to Italy to cook. My mom and I had been eyeing cooking vacations in Italy for a while and were familiar with the going rate of a week-long vacation.

When the Groupon deal for the “Taste of Abruzzo Culinary Vacation”, at Abruzzo Cibus Cooking School – Italia (http://www.abruzzocibus.com/index.php ) came up in January 2013 we didn’t dawdle on deciding and bought the Groupon deal right away. Frankly, it was a combination of the enticing price, a region of Italy we had not been to yet, the previous year’s Fodors trip report - called Top Chef Abruzzo on the Fodors Europe message board, which really was a big persuading factor- and the fact that this trip included round-trip transportation from the Rome airport to the cooking school at Palazzo Tour D’Eau in Carunchio, Italy, (because I am scared to death to drive in Italy, but I’m really digressing here!) that truly sold us on booking this trip.

Booking the trip through Groupon, but ultimately via Epitourean ( http://www.epitourean.com/ ) was a lengthy process, because, as I was told, this was one of the most popular deals Groupon ever had and when calling to book the dates I wanted for October 2013, I had to make multiple calls at various times of day for 3 days until I actually got an agent at Epitourean. However, once I spoke to an actual person the booking process was smooth and there were no glitches. It’s my opinion that the company was simply overwhelmed with the response to this vacation deal and hopefully for future bookings the backlog of waiting customers won’t be so large.

Mom and I selected the second week in October to take this trip for several reasons. The first and most important was because that would be mom’s birthday week and who wouldn’t want to spend their birthday in Italy (at least that’s how our minds “tick”!). But also, we felt the weather would be a nice mix of cool and sunny. I’m happy to say our weather forecast was spot-on!

Since the cooking vacation was based in the hills of the Abruzzo region, but we needed to be in Rome for the transportation to and from the cooking school, before we purchased our plane tickets we decided that if we had to transit through Rome anyway, how could we not stay in one of our favorite cities in the world, so we hatched a plan.

We would fly into Rome the day before we were to meet the rest of our cooking class-mates (we did this because it was a four hour drive from Rome to Carunchio and neither mom nor I wanted to be on a bus for that length of time after a trans-Atlantic flight) and stay at the Fiumicino Airport Hilton ( http://www3.hilton.com/en/hotels/italy/hilton-rome-airport-hotel-ROMAPTW/index.html ). I redeemed points from one of my credit cards for the room and this worked like a charm. Then upon finishing the cooking vacation we would be transported back to Rome and stay in the Eternal City at the Albergo del Senato (http://www.albergodelsenato.it/ ) for a week before going home, it was the perfect plan for us.

Once we had our accommodations worked out, I began scouring the Delta website for airfare. Since both mom and I have our frequent flier miles through Delta’s Sky Miles program we try to fly with Delta or their partner airlines. For this trip, we choose to book on the Delta website, but we flew Air France in their Premier Voyager cabin, which is the Air France version of premium economy. Our route would take us from Savannah, Georgia to Atlanta, to Paris and then into Rome. This may appear to be slightly out of the way since Delta does have a flight from Atlanta to Rome, but we really like the Air France premium economy seats and with our Sky Miles Gold status, we can take advantage of the lounges in Atlanta and Paris, which we did.

And now the trip begins…

Friday, October 11, 2013

Our travel day began with leaving from home at 2pm for a 5pm flight. We were pleasantly surprised when we arrived at the security check point to find the Savannah Airport has implemented TSA Pre-Check, although there was no separate lane yet (that would come on Oct. 19th), we each got a green card with Pre-Check written on it that allowed us not to have to take off shoes, or belts and we were allowed to keep our liquids bag and computer inside our carry-ons. Finally I feel like Savannah is catching up to the rest of the airports!

All our flights ran on time and as I’ve mentioned previously, we really do find the Air France Premier Voyager seats to be much more comfortable than regular economy. When we arrived in Paris we had a couple hours before our connecting flight to Rome. This was plenty of time to make our way through passport control and find the Air France lounge to relax, check emails and have a bite to eat.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Before we knew it, the time had come to board our flight to Rome and in less than 2 hours we landed at Fiumicino right on time at 4pm. We made our way to the baggage claim area and waited and waited and waited for the conveyor belt to start up. Once it got moving bags started coming around, but it was like an episode of the old I Love Lucy Show. The conveyor belt started and five bags came around, then nothing for 10 minutes, then five more bags, then nothing for 10 minutes, this went on and on. I turned to my mom, shrugged my shoulders and said with a big smile, “This is so Italian”. Our bags did make in on the fourth or fifth go-around.

Fortunately we did not have far to go. We walked from baggage claim through the terminal and followed the signs for the Hilton Hotel. It’s not a far walk, but when traveling for close to 24 hours, it seemed like it took forever. We walked into the hotel lobby and were greeted with a smile and a speedy check-in.

The Hilton at Fiumicino is exactly what one would expect of a chain hotel at an international airport. It suited our needs perfectly, had comfortable beds, a clean bathroom and most important of all, there was a lounge in the lobby where we could get a couple glasses of wine.

We tossed our bags in the room, ran a brush through our hair and toddled down to the lounge. We snagged a couple seats at the bar and in honor of our friends K and S, who were traveling in Puglia, we ordered a bottle of chardonnay from Puglia. With the little aperitivo snacks the bartender put out for us we were two happy ladies, even though it still didn’t feel like it was Italy to us, being in a hotel lobby lounge!

While at the bar we noticed two other ladies sitting a few feet away from us and they were speaking with another couple, telling them they had just spent a week at a cooking school in Abruzzo. When mom and I heard this, our ears perked up and when the couple they were talking too moved on, we introduced ourselves and asked if they had just come from the cooking school in Carunchio. As it turned out they did and they were also a mother/daughter traveling together! Well, our intention to have a couple glasses of wine and then go to sleep, turned into several hours (and more wine then we want to admit to having) of chatting with these ladies about their experience. By 8pm, mom and I were exhausted and said our good-byes to our new friends and took the elevator up to our room. I think I was asleep before my head even hit the pillow!

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