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Trip Report Rome, Florence and a cruise this fall

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Thanks to everyone who helped me plan this trip here:

http://www.fodors.com/community/europe/rome-florence-10-12-days-or-so.cfm

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.

Rome:
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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    So, I had bought us tickets to the Colosseum and Forum, but had decided that we wouldn't hire a guide for these sites, but rely on the Michelin Green Guide and Rick Steve's audio app.

    I'm glad we did this, because it meant we could set our own pace, and stop and rest when we needed. It was quite warm, and I am 68, my husband 73. We also did it over two days.

    So on our second morning, we took a cab over to the entrance to the Palatine Hill, which is south of the Colosseum. This shaved a couple of miles off our trekking--decided to save our feet.

    The Capitoline was fascinating. No audio guide for this portion, but there was plenty of signage, plus we had the Green Guide. The museum was fascinating, outlining the history of habitation on the hill since prehistoric times. We spent about 3 hours up there, and saw lots. Plus we got the beautiful view down into the Forum.

    The way the ticketing works is that the Capitoline Hill and Forum are considered one entrance. That meant we climbed down the hill and entered the Forum, saving the Colosseum until the next day.

    We strolled through the forum, listening to the guide, and learning lots. It really is a beautiful place, quite charming aside from all of the obvious history. Learned about the Vestal Virgins, and where Caesar's funeral was held. This whole area is the central nexus of Ancient Rome, going up beside the Campidoglio to the north. We were tired after all that hoofing, so we walked back to our area, and stopped for a beer and a bite. Only real tourist trap--had a tuna sandwich that was pretty awful. Had our first gelato nearby our hotel, yum.

    Later on we discovered our local Irish pub, Finnegan's. We went back there a few times, nice folks. I think we went back to the same pizza place that night, had delicious calzones.

    So, the next day of course, we did the Colosseum. This is one of the places in Italy where we had to cope with crowds. Not as bad as the Vatican, but bad. We had tickets, but you still have to line up to get in, and the touts are something fierce! They are mostly polite, just trying to make a living, but still.

    Accessibility is not a very developed idea in Italy. We found a lift to the second floor, which is hidden well away and intended for the disabled. We took it up to the second floor, but when we went to take it back down, they claimed it was broken :). God knows how the fellow in the wheelchair got back down! In general this underlines the attitude we saw in Italy. It's controlled chaos--good intentions, bad execution.

    The Colosseum itself was everything that I remembered. And Rick Steves's guide was very good. It really is a beautiful building, in a lovely setting. I was reminded that it was built in the 2 century CE. I had realized on our first day that it was built on the site of a former lake, nearby Nero's huge palace, the Domus Aureus (which is pretty well completely gone.)

    And right now I can't remember what we did the rest of that day, lol! So I'll ask my husband and get back to you!

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    Sorry for the delay, I'm gathering my thoughts. I realized I couldn't do a day-by-day since I can't remember what we did each day, in some cases. So instead I'll just mention what we did do, and the highlights. Stay tuned, I'm travelling right now.

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    Thanks! Perhaps you could link this report on your planning thread, which I recall was quite long. People will find it easier to locate the follow up.

    Looking forward to the next chapter.

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