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Principi, la Befana & no crowds--Early Jan. in Rome: Julies' (AKA Pollyanna) trip report

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When we first contemplated a long visit in Rome I'd asked here if someone who had liked a week and a half stay in a Paris apartment would also enjoy the same in Rome. People overwhelmingly told me yes. I'd tucked that info away in my brain thinking about how and when a trip would work out for us. In early to mid Dec. I found a Dec. 29 flight with such an attractive price that we decided to go for it. I know many of you obsessive, early planners will probably gasp, but I managed to organize a good trip in just a couple weeks. And, at the same time, I was working and trying to get ready for Christmas, including hosting Christmas Eve for 15 at my house. And, to top it all off, I even managed to get those scarce a hens' teeth tickets for a scavi tour under St. Peter's.

We've managed to travel a lot in Europe because we are budget to moderate travelers. Those same principles held true for us on this trip. We prefer to stretch our travel dollar and do more traveling rather than splurge on one big trip. We don't deny ourselves the opportunity to do or see anything but do watch the budget. And, we've found that trips can be just as good or better this way. We prefer apartment stays because we have more room to spread out, want to have a kitchen, and find them to be more affordable than hotels since we are not paying for all the hotel personnel. We got what I am sure was a last minute deal on an apartment--we filled in on a last minute cancellation. Nice apartment and great location for us. http://www.liveromelikearoman.com/apartment.htm
After hearing what we were looking for, Franco on this forum had suggested that Trastevere might be the best location for us, and he was right. Thanks again Franco.

We ate out very little, so, if you are looking for restaurant reviews, stop reading. The one place we got a lot of food though was just around the corner from our apartment in Trastevere. Forno la Renella is a bakery that is much more than a bakery, and I'd read somewhere that it is the best in Rome. They have a fantastic selection of truly excellent pizzas and sandwiches and lots of good sweets too. Food is priced by the kilo and you can eat there at a long counter or take it out.

We flew into Rome and then hopped on the train to Venice for 5 nights. Trip report here:
http://www.fodors.com/forums/threadselect.jsp?fid=2&tid=35103027

After our 5 nights in Venice we arrived in Rome on Jan. 4 for an 8 night stay. We apparently just managed to hit one of Rome's deadest weeks. For a tourist, this was great. No lines and instant accessibility to all of the biggies.

An extra added attraction was that for the Italians the Christmas season wasn't over yet. Many churches display principi (sp.??) or manger scenes. These were kept up until after Epiphany--Jan.6. On Sat. Jan. 5 we decided to walk over to see the famous Piazza Navona and discovered that there was a big fair type atmosphere for children dedicated to la Befana. Santa was there as were a few entertainers, and there were lots of stalls selling things aimed at children. Too bad it was raining! It was here that I bought my only souvenirs of the trip--some la Befana characters for my very young grandchildren to hang on the Christmas tree. (The only other souvenirs I bought were bags of spices and dried tomatoes from the spice guy in Campo di Fiori.) The dollar is just too bad for me to consider much shopping.

Before we left home I also discovered there would be a free Christmas concert in a church on Celio Hill on Epiphany. It was lovely though we stood through the entire thing because it took us a lot longer than we thought it would to get there, and all the seats were taken by the time we got there. It was also interesting to discover cultural commonalities and differences. Most of the carols, but not all, were very familiar to me. And, those with British or American roots were sung in English just as some of the traditional carols were sung in the Latin we've all heard them sung in. Something that was interesting to me as an American was when Handel's Hallelujah Chorus was sung. In the US audiences stand when this piece is sung. Supposedly, as I understand it, the tradition began when George III first heard this performed and was so impressed that he stood up causing the rest of the audience to have to get to their feet also. Or so the story goes... Anyway, Italian audiences don't stand.

I've already posted other threads about this trip and will not repeat what I said there. Here are the links to those reports.

If you want to know about clothing to take for a winter trip.

http://www.fodors.com/forums/threadselect.jsp?fid=2&tid=35100680

Here are my tips for Rome.

http://www.fodors.com/forums/threadselect.jsp?fid=2&tid=35101159

Here are some more off-the-beaten-path places to visit.

http://www.fodors.com/forums/threadselect.jsp?fid=2&tid=35102715

And, I have to mention the Borghese. We liked the sculptures, in fact they were fabulous, but had an unusual experience there. I am not posting the link to what I wrote because it generated so much controversy here.

Another comment I have is on the Vatican Museum. I wish someone had told me ahead of time that it is the museum building itself that is also absolutely fabulous. There is sensory overload for the visitor. We had heard so much about the exhibits and the horrible crowds but not about the setting itself. We had actually contemplated not visiting after we heard about all the crowds and read that, other than the Sistine Chapel and Raphael rooms, equally good exhibits can be found in other Roman museums. We spent five hours there, and we can say that it is undoubtedly the best museum we have ever been to. In fact, we would have spent more time if they weren't closing.

And now, a word on churches. There are a zillion in Rome.
And, we took the advice we had heard about being sure to stop in if you find an open church because it may not ever be open again. This was good advice, but we did have church overload. And, in fact, because of this by about day 4 my husband was getting a bit sick of the whole scene and of Rome. Now that I've been home nearly two weeks I look back on all the photos we took and there are lots of church scenes from all different types of churches. But, there were too many and they all run together in my brain. I'd tried to keep them straight in my head by taking a shot of the name of the church either before or after we visited, but there are still too many. And, for the most part, I remember lots of other things much more vividly than the churches. So, a piece of advice from me, cool it on the churches and don't overload.

All in all, we had a good trip. 8 nights was about right for us to see and do what we wanted. There were just a couple things we didn't get to do, and I am sure if we were kamikaze type sight-seers we could have done those too. But, our thought is that vacations should be relaxing too rather than just one sightseeing marathon. In fact, laugh, but you’ll never believe how we spent our last two nights in Rome. Our apartment had some old tapes and a VCR, and we hunkered down in front of Godfather parts I and II.

I think everyone should visit Rome at some time because so much of western history and tradition is centered in Rome. And, our trip made it all come together. (Now, having seen Rome I'd like to visit the other iconic city of western religion--Jerusalem--but my husband will freak out and talk about safety issues.)

We had a good trip and enjoyed what we did. Rome has a lot to offer, and 8 nights gave us a good amount of time. Will we visit again? I don't know. There are lots of other places in the world we'd also like to see. And, I have to be frank, for us if it came down to a comparison between Rome and Paris, we prefer Paris and will return there even though we've already spent 2 weeks there. Why do I say that we prefer Paris? We enjoy how the city is focused on the Seine.
We love the small street markets with all different types of foods, and we didn't seem to find these in Rome even though we looked. And, as far as the nitty-gritty, transportation is easier in Paris. Don't take me wrong and interpret this to mean that we had a bad trip; I'm just offering some comparisons that matter to us.

Thanks to all who gave me pre-trip advice!

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