Thanks to everyone who helped me plan this trip here:
We spent 18 days away, in Italy, leaving the last week of September and returning the second week of October.
We decided we wanted to try an Azamara cruise--had wanted to for some time, and a 7-day trip came up this fall, return Rome. This suited us since it was short, and lent itself to spending time on land before and after the cruise. In Europe, we like to do this, since a cruise-only vacation in Europe does not give you time to experience anywhere in depth. I had also always said I would not take a cruise that went to Rome or Florence for the day--this just seemed absurd.
So, this seven day cruise was to southern Italy and Malta. We spent two days anchored at Sorrento, then on to Taormina, Malta, over to Porto Empedocle in Sicily, then back to Rome. These were all great bonus destinations, because most of them we wouldn't go to on land, not at this stage in our lives.
The cruise was punctuated by 5 nights in Rome before, and 5 nights in Florence afterwards. Flew into Rome and out of Florence.
So it was like three separate holidays really.
We started in Rome, and chose a small hotel, Hotel Grifo, in Monti, which is a delightful area near the ancient part of Rome, and convenient to the (limited) Metro. The hotel was very nice--the staff were super accommodating and helped us out quite a lot. Rooms I think vary quite a bit. We started on the top floor (4th?), in a nice large room with a so-called private deck (it wasn't.) But we had to climb a flight of iron stairs outdoors to get to our room. I had mentioned to them that the elevator was important to us, but I had asked for a room with a terrace, so the terrace trumped our other need. But they offered to move us the second night, which they did. That room was on the 1st floor (one up). It had a nice little private terrace, with no view of course, but in a pleasant courtyard. The room itself was very small, but had a good closet, so we managed.
This was the last week of September, and the weather was lovely. A bit hot sometimes in the sun actually, but not oppressively so.
Food in Monto was good. I had printed out a whole list of recommendations from Elizabeth Minchilli, who lives in the area and does a blog--that was great. Some of her recommendations were the same ones that our hosts gave us for dinner. Not many tourist traps, but you still have to watch out for frozen pizza, for instance. We ate twice at the Pizzeria alle Carette, which was a great little place with a nice ambience about it, and good pizza and calzone. We also ate twice at Osteria della Suburra, near the Cavour metro station, and we loved that place. Sat outside, lots of great things to eat, not too pricey, wasn't overrun by tourists.
I had been to Rome decades ago, but husband never had. First thing we did in the morning while we were waiting for our room was to walk over and gaze at the Colosseum. What a sight to start out with! Beautiful warm, sunny weather, it was a Sunday so everybody was out. We ended up walking through a a district on one of the hills and circled back to the San Pietro in Vincoli church. It was on my list since it contains Michaelangelo's Moses. And it did not disappoint.
We saw so many amazing churches on this trip; some of them are going to blend together, so I apologize in advance. Usually when we walked in, we didn't know what to expect, and were usually completely wowed. This one is worth it for sure, although note, it's on a hill, so at some point you will have to walk up and down to get to it--there is a staircase that goes down to Via Cavour. So thus back to our hotel to settle into our room and go out for our first excellent pizza dinner at Alle Carette.
I had pre-booked two sights in Rome--the Vatican Museums and the Colosseum/Forum/Capitoline. I decided to book the Vatican for our first full day, but later in the afternoon, hoping that some of the crowds would be on their way out. Wrong! It was still packed. We took the Metro over, and walked around St. Peter's square before our time, and admired it--the statuary, the facade. The people-watching was good too; then made our way to the museum entrance. We used Rick Steves' audio guides for this, and several other sights, and they were surprisingly good--I've never been a fan, but they were free so thought we'd try. He did a good job. We shuffled through the Museums, saw some epic art, saw the wonderful Raphael Rooms, and squeezed like sardines into the Sistine Chapel, being shushed every few minutes over a loudspeaker. It was worth it. The ceilings have been restored since I last saw them, and are bright and clear. Thanks to Rick Steves, I understood more of what I was seeing.
We tried for the "secret door" to St. Peters, but no luck, so we went through the rest of the museum and out. Never did get into St. Peters. But one of the things about travelling in these great cities is accepting that you won't see everything.
I think I'll take a break now, and come back and tell you about our adventures in Ancient Rome.
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Thanks to everyone who helped me plan this trip here: