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Trip Report Rules? What Rules?: jent103 Goes to Italy

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I still can’t believe this trip is over, after a year+ of thinking, months of planning and a very stressful month leading up to it! I’m starting to write on the Monday after we returned on Friday in an attempt to remember things as much as possible, though I’ll post later as I get the pictures edited.

As usual, this is partially for my memories, partially to help others planning in the future, and partially to say thanks in my own way to all those who answered questions and helped us plan (annhig, ellenem, kybourbon, kyliebaby, and marigross’s trip report come to mind, but I KNOW there were more!). Y’all are semi-famous in my world.

This first post will have the basics - hotels, tours, etc. - for those just needing information. I’ll get into the “story” and more details after for anybody who’s interested! We left Nashville for Rome on May 7 and returned from Milan on May 20, so we had about 11.5 days of actual sightseeing time. We booked our flights back in October for $922. General itinerary:
May 8-13 - Rome
May 13-16 - Venice
May 16-19 - Lake Como (based in Bellagio)
May 19 - Milan

US: jent103 & M, ages 30 and 29 respectively, known each other since college. jent103 (me) is a type A introverted planner who takes lots of pictures and was in charge of all the details and logistics (though M eventually took over Map Duty). M is an extroverted low-maintenance travel companion who enjoys flirting with Swiss Guards and pronouncing Italian words with an Arkansas accent. We do well together. Our previous Italy experience is neither extensive nor recent.

KNOWLEDGE OF ITALIAN: Pretty much zilch, though I have a rarely used Spanish minor and could get the gist of a lot of written text. I had very good intentions of learning a little Italian before we left. This did not happen. Nearly everyone we needed to communicate with spoke great English, so it wasn’t a big deal really, but we did feel bad about it. I’d like to learn a little before a return trip.

BUDGET: We’re cost-conscious (spending less means I can travel more!), but we do both have grownup jobs now after a few years in grad school, so we ate real food and didn’t stay in hostels on this trip. We ended up averaging €112/night for lodging. Most of our full restaurant meals cost somewhere between €30-40 for the two of us, though it varied a lot. We rented an apartment in Rome and ate in quite a bit there.

LODGING: In short, I’d stay at all these places again, but depending on your needs, some of them may not fit everyone.

Rome: Piazza del Fico apartment from Sleep In Italy (https://www.sleepinitaly.com/en/show-piazza_del_fico-navona-pantheon-roma/appartam.php?id_appartam=247 ). For €120/night, we each had our own bedroom and shared a bath, kitchen and living room. Negatives: noise from bar across the street, one not-stellar bed (the other was fine), only warm water. Positives: location, location, location!, responsive owner/agency, TV, wifi, washer.

Venice: Ai Tagliapietra b&b (http://www.aitagliapietra.com/ ), about five minutes from Piazza San Marco once you know your way! No negatives at all. Great location, great owner, tv/wifi. Lorenzo also gets the award for Best Hair Dryer of the Trip (not that the competition was great, but still). Booked at €90/night but got a small discount for paying in cash.

Lake Como: We had to change our plans relatively last minute (more on that later) and ended up staying in Bellagio at Hotel Centrale (http://www.hc-bellagio.com/ ), paying €120/night. Negatives: noise (our room was right next to the steps down to the lobby; we may have gotten this room due to our late booking - it was never enough of an issue to request another room, but I had earplugs :) ); shaky wifi; old TV with 2-3 channels. Positives: Good location, friendly and welcoming staff, good room.

Milan: Hotel Berna (www.hotelberna.com ) at €113. No complaints here (except the hair dryer, if we’re being picky). Positives: very close to Centrale station, security key, elevators, at least two very helpful front desk staff every time we were there, great wifi.

TOURS/ADVANCE BOOKING: I planned ahead quite a bit for Rome, but really nothing beyond “what’s there?” for anywhere else. What we did book ahead:
- Car service from Fiumicino: Rome Cabs (romecabs.com) based on recommendations here. No complaints.
- Scavi tour: I emailed the Scavi office in November, six months ahead, and was pleasantly surprised to be able to book that early.
- Colosseum “dungeon” tour: We booked via Tickitaly rather than Pierecci, before I knew about the Pierecci option. It cost us a few more euro, but in the end I was fine with that. Booking with Tickitaly was easy as pie; we knew what we were getting, and they were very responsive via email. Our €27 (each) got us access to both the lower (“dungeon”) level and the very upper level of the Colosseum (most visitors only go to the middle level), with a very good guided tour, plus access to the Forum and Palatine Hill.
- Cooking class: We booked a cooking class with Chef Andrea Consoli at Le Fate restaurant in Trastevere (www.cookingclassesinrome.com ). The class is €65/person, with an optional wine pairing with each course for €20. This class was great and I highly recommend it.
- Galleria Borghese: I booked online (paying an extra euro apiece, but again, the convenience was totally worth it to me) for an 11am slot our last full day in Rome.

What we did NOT book ahead: Vatican Museums, Roma Passes, any other guided tours. For us, these were good decisions.

LUGGAGE: If I hadn’t been a carry-on-only convert before, I SO am after this trip. We saw so many people with huge suitcases struggling on trains and bridges and steps, but we had no problems with luggage at all. We did one load of laundry near the end of our time in Rome (five days into our trip).

PHONE and IPOD/IPHONE APPS
Neither of us took a laptop, but M has an AT&T iPhone and I have an iPod Touch, which for the uninitiated is basically an iPhone without phone capabilities. This let us check email, Facebook, news, etc without lugging a computer around - I was so thankful to have it! M’s phone let us make a few phone calls to apartment/b&b owners; she had to activate the international plan for $5.99, then it was 99 cents/minute for calls and 50 cents per text.

I downloaded a few iPod apps before the trip; the most helpful one was Rome2Go. (There are Venice, London and Paris versions as well.) These apps have basic info on main attractions, plus searchable maps. If you’re connected to the internet, it will use your GPS capability to show you where you are as you move around. This app was much more helpful than our paper map because you can zoom in and out, as well as search for street names - obviously it doesn’t have every tiny arco and piazza, but it had more than enough to get us around. There are “information” links near churches, attractions, etc., so you can tap on a church icon and make sure it’s the one you want. The maps for Venice2Go didn’t have as much detail, so it wasn’t quite as helpful, though we did still use it. CityMaps2Go is by the same developer but has only maps (no attraction information) for quite a few cities. I downloaded the map for Milan, which had our hotel already stored as a point of interest, so we were able to figure out quickly which direction to head from Centrale. We didn’t really use it otherwise, but we were only in Milan for half a day. None of these require internet connection once they’re downloaded.

GUIDEBOOKS: Not many, really. I had Blue Guides for Rome and Northern Italy (I ripped the Northern Italy one apart to take only the sections we needed). Those were good for history and background. Everything else was researched online.

I think that’s it for logistics and basics. Next, on to the trip!

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