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Trip Report May 2015 Rome/Florence Trip Report

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My husband, son, and I took a trip to Italy to celebrate our son's college graduation. We spent 10 days with a home base in Rome but side trips to Florence and Pompeii.

Monday/Tuesday

We were flying Air Canada from Los Angeles to Rome with a stop in Toronto. Our flight was early Monday morning so we spent Sunday night at the LAX Concourse Hotel, dropped off our car in the morning at QuikPark and took the shuttle to Terminal 2. Security was quick and painless. I had purchased exit row seats so we had a comfortable flight to Toronto and we grabbed lunch at True Burger in the Toronto International Terminal. Dinner was served on the flight to Rome and it was decent for airline food. As soon as meal service was over I took a Tylenol PM and slept most of the way to Rome. Once in Rome we practically got waved through immigration and after quite a long wait for our luggage, we left baggage claim and found our driver holding a card with my name. We piled into the Mercedes wagon and took off toward Rome. This was our first introduction to Rome drivers and it convinced us that we made the right decision not renting a car. We white knuckled it to the apartment in Prati, north of the Vatican, and had to be dropped off in the middle of the street due to no parking. We had about an hour until we were to meet the gentlemen with the apartment key, so we dragged our bags to the restaurant directly across from the apartment. We were not given menus, just told what was available for the day. My husband and I ordered the Carbonara and our son got the Cacio e Pepe. We were not very impressed as the pasta was quite al dente, but we just assumed that it was the way they did it in Italy. The server talked us into a dessert of hard cookies dipped in a sweet wine which was interesting, but not something I would do again. Three pastas, two bottles of water, and one dessert came to €37,00.

We met the gentlemen with the key to the apartment and took a little time to unpack and took turns showering off the trip. I think we all wanted to nap but knew better, so we grabbed the cameras and headed out to check out St Peter’s Square. It was a 15 minute walk and it gave us a feel for the neighborhood. St Peter’s was fairly empty and we took a bunch of pictures and checked out where the security entrances were, saving that information for another day. We walked back to the apartment and checked out a bunch of the stores on the way. My son (23) saw a store that specialized in Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Assassins Creed, Game of Thrones, and other such merchandise making it nerd heaven. We had to spend some time checking out this place. We made it back to the apartment and browsed Yelp for a place for dinner. There was a highly rated restaurant, Bella Napoli, listed as less than .1 miles from the apartment, so we had our dinner location. We walked the 20 steps to the end of the block, looked north, and found the restaurant less than half a block away. We asked the server for a table and he indicated that they were not yet serving but we could have a seat and wait. He brought us a bottle of water and a basket of bread and breadsticks while we looked at the menus. Once they were ready we ordered a liter of house wine and placed our order. Our son started with bruschetta and we ordered a plate of salami and prosciutto. I ordered grilled prawns and calamari, my husband gets beef rolls with mozzarella and prosciutto, and our son got risotto with scampi. For dessert, one got panna cotta and the other got gelato with strawberries, I had an espresso. With two bottles of water the entire meal came to €80,00 and the food was great. We ended up having three more dinners at this restaurant and each one was better than the last. We decided to do a lap around the block to get to know the neighborhood a little bit. We found a gelato place on the same block as the apartment where a small cone was €1. We each had a small scoop thinking this would be our regular gelato spot, but we never made it back there for the remainder of the trip. Finally, we dragged ourselves to the apartment and it seemed like only minutes later that we were all asleep.

Wednesday

We couldn’t sleep but decided to take advantage of it and we got an early start. We stopped at a bakery on the way to metro station, and this ended up being our breakfast stop for almost every day of the trip. Three cornetti and three cappuccinos was €3,30. We took metro line A just a few stops past Termini and decided that rather than take Line B, we could just walk to the Coliseum. We arrived at the Coliseum before the ticket booths open so we got in line to wait. This was the only ticket I had not bought in advance and I wanted to make sure we went in good weather. Once the booth opened, we only had about a 15 minute wait, and then we were inside experiencing history. It’s an amazing structure, but is hard to separate the building from the horrible events that took place there. I had read ‘Those About to Die’ before the trip and I could not get the images of Coliseum events out of my head.

Once we finished exploring, we headed across the way to The Roman Forums. I had purchased the book, Rome Then and Now, and it really bought the forums to life. The book has photographs of the current forum and overlays showing how the buildings looked in their prime. People saw what we were looking at and came over to check it out with us. I could have sold that book right then and there as we were leaving, but I promised it to someone heading to Rome in the fall. While we took our time with the forums, our son took the camera and went to explore Palatine Hill.

From the forums, we decided to make the walk to the Victor Emmanuel Monument. I read such horrible things about this building, but I did not think it was bad. We climbed the steps and checked out beautiful work inside. We were on our way to the elevator to the top when our son checked out the church next door and pulled us over to see it. It was stunning and we spent some time checking it out. Back to Victor Emmanuel where we paid for the elevator to the roof and it was worth the €7 as the views were stunning. From there, we realized that we were not far from the Pantheon, so that was to be our next stop. But first, we needed to find some lunch. We knew not to go anywhere directly next to a tourist attraction so we walked a few blocks before looking for someplace to eat. We found a restaurant on a small back street, the one place where I did not write down the name, and decided to stop there. We ordered some cheese and tomatoes for a shared appetizer. My husband had fettucine with tomatoes and mushrooms, my son had spaghetti, and had Cacio e Pepe. We shared a liter of house wine and had a bottle of water. The entire meal was under €50,00 and it was delicious. We tried finding this restaurant later in the vacation, but we were unsuccessful.
Back to walking and we made our way to the Pantheon where we had our first encounter with overly aggressive selfie stick sellers. We spent the next hour exploring the Pantheon and then made our way to Piazza Navona, where the sellers were even pushier. My son finally bought one for €5 thinking it would keep the sellers away if they saw one in his hand, but it was no good, they continued to get in our faces.

Finally, we started getting tired so we made our way back toward Vatican City and toward our apartment. But wait, Castel St Angelo was right in front of us. We had to stop! Who cared that we had done half of our Saturday list today. There was a small line for tickets, but once inside we were so happy that we stopped. There were not that many people inside and it made it great for exploring. This is a very interesting building as it has had so many uses over the years. We split up as our son had a lot more energy left than we did, and made plans to meet at the patio/bar. After taking all our pictures, we settled down and my husband ordered a cocktail and I got a glass of wine and we enjoyed the views of St Peter’s square. Our son met us and also ordered some wine and we toasted our first full day in Rome. While sitting there, a light rain began to fall, and people cleared out so quickly that we were the only people left. The rain was very light and only lasted a few minutes, but it gave us a very special experience having this beautiful place to ourselves. Finally, we had to admit that we were done and made the walk back to the apartment. By this point, the pedometer showed that we had walked over 10 miles for the day. We rested for a short while and then took off to find dinner.

Prior to the trip I had read about a local restaurant, Dino and Tony’s, so we made the 3 block walk over there. This was the only bad meal of the trip. The reviews on line were really good, so I was shocked with how bad the food was and how badly we were treated. As soon as we sat down the aggressive service began. The owner/waiter tells us he is going to bring us antipasti. We said no, we wanted to look at the menu. No, you want antipasti. I said no, I’m allergic to some foods and want to choose. What are you allergic too? I tell him all zucchini and eggplant. No, he is going to bring us some salami and prosciutto and some pizza. Okay, tired of arguing we agree. Then we go to order and I got the special, pasta amatricana. My son tries to order something else but the owner tells him no, he wants the special, its better. No he doesn’t, but he gets talked into it. My husband ordered a pizza. The server brings out four plates; one with the meats, a cheese pizza, a white pizza with zucchini and a plate of terrible fried things. We ate the meats and the first pizza. We tried the fried things and my son tried one bite of the zucchini pizza. The owner came by and asked with why we weren’t eating. I told him that I had mentioned that I was allergic to zucchini and his response was to eat around it. He told us to eat the fried things and we said they weren’t to our liking and he actually argued with us that they were good and was very rude when he removed them. Once the mains were served, my husband liked his pizza, and I thought the pasta was okay, but my son hated it. I knew that would happen as he was greatly offended by the service and just wanted to leave. Finally, we got the bill and we were shocked to see that the bad appetizers, that we never wanted, cost €9 per person. They weren’t worth that total. With half a liter of house wine and one bottle of water the meal ended up costing about €85,00. When checking Yelp reviews after we got home I realized I should have read the one star reviews because all of those reflect the same experience we had with things being pushed on us that we didn’t want. We got a little lost getting back to the apartment and once back our son announced that he was hungry and heading out for food. We went to bed but he headed to Bella Napoli for a second dinner.

Coming up - St Peter's Basilica and Testaccio

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