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An Afternoon in Amsterdam, an Overnight in Assisi, and a Mad Dash Through Rome: Photos with Report to Come

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Jan 15th, 2009, 05:06 PM
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An Afternoon in Amsterdam, an Overnight in Assisi, and a Mad Dash Through Rome: Photos with Report to Come

Hi Fodorites and good evening to you lurkers,

I went to Rome and Assisi (planned) and got to spend few hours in Amsterdam (unplanned; thanks but no thanks Alitalia), Dec. 26-Jan 4.

It was a trip of soaring highs, plummeting lows, laughter and tears (thanks, Mom), some museums I'd never visited, a gazillion churches, a few rather unsettling creches, and of course lots of food. As with all my vacations, I am left with this conclusion: too short! I want to go back. Help me. Anybody. help...I'm the one in the back with the candy bars and the box of wine.

I will start a quickie trip report this weekend, but for now here are some photos. I am just okay as a photographer, but always enjoy viewing the pics of other posters, so I thought I'd share.

http://www.pbase.com/leelygoes/dec_2008jan_2009
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Jan 15th, 2009, 05:44 PM
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I enjoyed your pictures. We were in Amsterdam in October, and I'm going to Rome in March. How far is Assisi from Rome, and how close to Orvieto, if you happen to know.
I'm into photography, appreciate the nice framing and angles you did. Thanks, and more please!
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Jan 15th, 2009, 06:04 PM
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Challiman,
I've been to Schipol many times but had never made it into the city, despite one reallllly long layover on the way to Kilimanjaro. So I was almost glad to be delayed this time.

And Amsterdam was beautiful! Especially the hipster men.

We had wanted to visit Orvieto rather than Assisi this trip, primarily because I have never been there, and also my mother prefers white wine. Turns out there's a gigantor jazz fest late December-early Jan in Orvieto--no room at the inn. So I don't know.

From Rome to Assisi we took the train and it's about 2 hours. There's lots to see in Assisi IMO. Some folks don't care for it, but the frescoes and the basilica are, to me, worth the tourist shops. Plus Umbrian food, especially in winter, is fantastic. We had a great taxi driver on our way out of the city this time, and he decided we had time to see (finally! finally!) Santa Maria degli Angeli in the lower town. On New Year's Day, which is when we visited, between masses, it was amazing.

By the way, I've been to Rome late Feb-early March in the past and we had chilly but gloriously sunny weather. If you get the same, you are in for a treat! Although I'll take Rome and its treasures any time of the year...

maybe not July or August.
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Jan 15th, 2009, 07:12 PM
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I enjoyed looking at your photos. I've been to Rome (during Easter), and Amsterdam several times (one of my favorite cities), and hopefully someday will get to Assisi. I look forward to reading your report.

Robyn >-
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Jan 16th, 2009, 12:14 AM
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Your pictures are lovely Leely2!!
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Jan 16th, 2009, 02:59 AM
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Leely2, we'll be in Rome March 19-26, so our time is pretty tight. We're hoping for decent weather, but we'll take whatever, always prepared. This is a trip with long-time girlfriends, we go every year in March on some European trip. One year in Vienna it hovered around mid twenties and snowed. I live in Indiana, so I was fine but the other women were from So California and they had to really scurry to find coats, hats, gloves and shoes.
Thanks for the information and I'll be following along.
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Jan 17th, 2009, 11:28 AM
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Thanks for the compliments!

I'll try to break this up so people can skim and find what is useful to them. I do a lot of writing for work, so unfortunately the joy of composing trip reports has been sucked out of me. I especially hate self-editing because I'm a lazy jerk. However, I know I use these reports quite a bit when planning my trips. For that reason, I'll try to cover the basics and the weird stuff.

Background:

About a year and a half ago I made a career change--much for the better. The downside is that I now have very little vacation time. So while I am happier in general, I haven’t been able to travel nearly as much as I have in the past, making do with long weekends here and there rather than full-fledged trips.

By last summer I was primed, panting and ready to get away. When I saw flights to Rome from SFO on KLM during the holiday season for under $800 all in, I jumped, knowing that I wouldn’t have to take that many days off work because several were office holidays. Yes, it’s come to that kind of plotting for me.

I invited my mother, who had been making noise about returning to Rome for several years. She had only been once in the past for a few short days. We asked two good friends, also a mother and daughter, to join us.

I did pretty much all the planning (no surprise, I’m bossy and controlling). It’s a lot harder to do when you have a job that drains you mentally day after day. I started to miss my old do-the-work-with-eyes-closed-and-Fodor’s-on job.

Accommodations:

We rented the Bramante Penthouse from Rental in Rome.

http://www.rentalinrome.com/bramante/bramante.htm

It is definitely old and has that um, what have we rented vibe as you go up the stairs. Vicolo della Volpe is tiny and atmospheric in a junky-old-alley kind of way. If you haven’t been to Rome before and are not accustomed to the ambience of some of the tinier little alleys, you may not care for this. I’ve been there, done that and so wasn’t surprised. It may have given my mom pause at first until she got used to it. She is probably the hardest to please out of the group, or perhaps I just worry about her opinion the most (likely).

The apartment itself is true to the photos, although some of the furniture has been updated; the sofas in the living room are red now and the seating in the music room is white, for example. Tatty but classy and old as dirt, with nice antique pieces of furniture, lots of books, umbrellas, crockery, wine glasses, maps, etc. There’s pretty much everything you need there. Warning to real cooks: the knives are dull.

We loved it but it is definitely not for everyone. The stairs from the dining room and kitchen to the first floor with bedrooms, sitting rooms and baths are a little tricky, especially that first step. We didn’t have problems; however I wouldn’t bring young children to stay here.

I chose it because of the terraces, central location, and because I thought this group might want space to be alone and away from each other occasionally. It was almost too big. We scarcely used the sitting room and mostly hung out upstairs in the dining room, which has a sofa and a number of comfortable chairs, as well as the dining table, tv, etc. And the views from upstairs make you feel as if you're truly in Rome. As you make your coffee in the kitchen you are surrounded by rooftops, some rather decrepit; there's no way you could think you were anywhere else.

By the way, they are putting in an elevator. It’s there but not yet closed off and running. But we saw it. I have no idea how long it will be before it’s operating.

I had read mixed reviews of Rental in Rome here, but we had a positive experience with them. Nothing was wrong and everything went as planned. The owners’ representative, not a Rental in Rome employee, was the person we dealt with in the city, and she in particular was delightful. We had fun chatting with her when we checked in and checked out.

Hotel Il Palazzo, Assisi

We planned, rather at the last minute, an overnight in Assisi for New Year’s Eve (my birthday). Guess what? Assisi is booming during the holidays! All the usual suspect hotels were fully booked. I dug deep until I found rooms via hotels.com at Il Palazzo, which I didn’t know anything about. We paid 280 USD for two standard twins.

It’s a great little place, elegant and calm. My only caveat is that sometimes we could hear doors opening and shutting occasionally, so if you are very, very noise sensitive this might not be the hotel for you. I would definitely stay there again and try to get a superior room.

My tripadvisor report is here, and I have photos in my pbase gallery as well, link above.

http://tinyurl.com/96sbc6
http://preview.tinyurl.com/96sbc6

Next up: restos, rain and random perambulations
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Jan 17th, 2009, 02:52 PM
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Hi Leely, I love your photos and am so glad you're doing a report. Can't wait to read more!
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Jan 17th, 2009, 04:54 PM
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Ugh, I am such a ding-a-ling Here is the website for Il Palazzo:

http://www.hotelilpalazzo.it/

Hi, Apres! Get back to your report, stat.
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Jan 18th, 2009, 10:34 AM
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Some restaurant notes

I'll start with my longest restaurant "review." Don't worry, the others will be far more brief.

I do a good amount of restaurant research ahead of time but don’t make many—if any--reservations before leaving. I don’t like to commit that far in advance. As much as I'd like to eat and eat and eat on my holidays, I find sometimes I do so much sightseeing that I just want to grab a quick bite at a pizza joint nearby or eat bread and cheese in the apartment.

However, this trip I made one reservation before leaving: Antico Arco for the Monday evening after we arrived. I figured by then even my mom would have recovered from jetlag and want to go somewhere good.

Wrong. Mom got sick and spent most of the week in the apartment. Poor lady. She was able to go out a bit most days and see some sights, but generally in the evenings she stuck close to home and ate a lot of soup.

Antico Arco
http://www.anticoarco.it/

J, K and I set off in a taxi for Antico Arco about 15 minutes before our 9pm reservation. Because Mom wasn’t there and we knew it was something she’d never consent to, we decided to try the tasting menu (70E).

I can’t remember the wine we chose, but it was moderately priced and good, married well with most of the courses and if it didn’t, we didn’t care because we liked it so much. Maybe a red from the Piedmont?

There was an amuse of some sort of cheese and radicchio, a little fried thing over a very thin mozzarella sauce. Good, good, good.

Next up was a papery puff pastry (perhaps someone can help me out here) stuffed with mozzarella, roe, mullet and maybe a little sun dried tomato; there was something more piquant cutting the richness. J and I liked it, but K wasn’t so thrilled; she said hers had a lot of roe in it and was too fishy.

Then they brought plastic sacks which were cut open upon service at the table. Inside: calamari and beans, I cannot recall the herb, but this was absolutely delicious and we all loved it, even those of us who normally don’t enjoy squiddy dishes. Each of us ate every bite, every tentacle, every drop of bean-y sauce.

Okay, then the first pasta. This was bucatini, I think, with a saffron sauce and mullet. Incredible. I could have eaten pounds of it.

Second pasta. Short macaroni all’amatriciana. I order pasta all’amatriciana pretty much everywhere I go in Rome, every time I go to Rome. To me it’s a perfect dish. I make it at home and it’s never as good. This was a great rendition, quite al dente getting softer as we dug in. High-quality guanciale and plenty of it. Great balance of flavors.

So we all loved both of the pasta courses, no question, and very hard to pick a favorite.

The second, or in this case the fifth, was pork tenderloin, little tender rounds faintly pink held together by skewers made of pork cracklings, or as we say out west, chicharrones. Wow. Also a light drizzle on the plate of faintly sweet sauce which the restauant called sweet-and-sour, but I couldn’t taste the sour. Very good; a light hand was used. Also a soft, grilled green onion that married well with the pork and the sauce. And a mini herb soufflé; we thought it was rosemary but now I’m not sure because I know at some point we changed our minds. And I’ve forgotten. I didn't eat all my soufflé but J and K did. We all finished the pork.

Then a pre-dessert of something. I cannot remember but it was delicious and we managed to eat it all.

For dessert I chose some kind of soft-centered vanilla cake with a strawberry sauce, very good and I’m not a big dessert person. J went with a mango sorbetto. And K chose the trio of chocolate mousses--dark, milk and white--served between cookies.

Incredibly, I think J and I followed all this with grappa! And they probably served chocolates and some sort of petit fours and we ate those, too. Oink.

So, in short we enjoyed this meal. We ended up going back to Antico Arco later in the week. I suspect they segregate the foreigners. Both times we were seated in a small room off the main dining room. There were Italians in that room as well, but also a table of Americans, some Germans and a French-speaking party. However, if this is Siberia at Antico Arco, you wouldn’t know it from the service, which was extremely professional and gracious. When young, attractive people compliment me on what I’m wearing and my butchery of the Italian language, I cannot help but like them. We had the same server and busser both visits, a cute young woman and a cute young man.

Yes, I liked it! Was it the most Roman or even Italian restaurant we visited? No, but it’s a very good place, serving very good food in a calm, pretty and relaxed environment. Not inexpensive by any stretch of the imagination, but again we decided to splurge.

Aside: Has anyone noticed how many of the young people in Rome have small tattoos on the back of their necks? I’m going to ask my Italian tutor, who is rather hip, about that. She'll probably look at me like I'm crazy. Again.

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Jan 18th, 2009, 01:49 PM
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ttt 4 later
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Jan 18th, 2009, 04:28 PM
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Restaurant notes, cont'd.

Cul de Sac
http://web.tiscali.it/culdesac/

Wine bar with convenient location near Piazza Navona. Good, busy, crowded. Lasagna, olives, some kind of red lentil dish, onion soup and a side of eggplant Calabrese were the standouts as was the wine, of course. We all ordered a couple of glasses over the course of lunch (yep, lunch)—all were great.

Go inside and they’ll give you a number. Then you wait.

Because it’s a wine bar they have extended hours, so if you need a late lunch or an early dinner it’s a good option.

Ristorante Montevecchio

http://tinyurl.com/8s82wq
http://preview.tinyurl.com/8s82wq
Sorry, cannot find a website for this restaurant.

We ate here twice, the first time because it was near the apartment and open on Sunday, the second because everyone was tired, wanted to eat early and they had an open table (well, just barely; they remembered us from the previous visit and set up a makeshift table).

The food is quite good--although not great--but it's a nice little place with a small menu and a very small dining room.

On both visits, almost every single diner was either American or English. Despite this and the location right in the tourist thick and throng, you can tell they're not just sending anything out of the kitchen. They care about what they serve and how they present it.

I had a puff pastry stuffed with vegetables and abbacchio scottadito on the first visit. K had ricotta and spinach ravioli in a tomato sauce followed by beef filet in a red wine and peppercorn sauce. We split a chocolate and mint dessert. Had two bottles of wine and two liters of mineral water. Bill was 107E for the two of us.

Second visit I think I had a raw artichoke salad and bucatini all’amatriciana, which I enjoyed of course because I almost always do. K had the veg puff pastry and lamb chops, which she had coveted on our earlier visit. J had a pasta and a veal chop (she thought it was too big…hmm). We all enjoyed our meals.

We shared one dessert and were virtual teetotalers with only one bottle of wine and two bottles of water. Bill was around 137E.

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Jan 19th, 2009, 06:54 PM
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Oh, there was a cheese course at Antico Arco as well. Just because I forgot doesn't mean it wasn't good, especially the fig compote that was served.

Restaurant notes, cont'd.

Checchino dal 1887

http://www.checchino-dal-1887.com/

This was the other true standout. In fact, I might say I preferred this to Antico Arco. Quite different, but everything was top-quality.

Very long narrative aside:
First off, because I don’t really speak Italian I made a reservation for what I thought was Friday night. I was calling on a mobile in the street while trying to find San Crispino. I said we would like a table either for Friday or Saturday at 8pm—early on account of Mom. Prego! No problem, etc., etc.

As we were getting ready to leave the apartment on Friday evening, I asked K to check our notes for the address. She looked in one of our books and said, “Are you sure you made the reservation for tonight? It says here they’re closed through the 2nd of January.”

I became uneasy. When we were walking by Colline Emiliane, we saw a sign saying they were closed for the holidays, either through January 3rd or until January 3rd, we couldn’t really tell which. So seeds of doubt—not to mention confusion--had already been planted. I had asked for a reservation for either Friday or Saturday. WT…?

Adding to my sense of stress was the fact that my mom was finally feeling well enough to go out to dinner and this was going to be her “big night out” at a traditional Roman restaurant.

Regardless, that evening the four of us trundled into a taxi and headed on up to Testaccio. When we arrived about 7:50, it was completely dark, shut up, empty. J hopped out of the cab to peer in. “They are definitely closed,” she said.

With that sinking feeling of personal failure, I asked our taxi driver to take us back to the apartment. My mom, J and K were all saying, “Well, how were you to know?” etc., etc. And I was saying, “I must have made the reservation for Saturday and got mixed up.”

While in the cab, I managed to think for a sec and get my mom’s phone to call Antico Arco. Could they seat us at 9pm? Certainly, Signora. Safe!

And that’s the story of how we ate at Antico Arco twice (not that we wouldn’t have, anyway).

Next night, Checchino Dal 1887.

We arrive right at 8 by taxi. I’m wondering do we or don’t we have a reservation for tonight? But am going full steam ahead as if we do. The restaurant is pitch black inside again, door locked, no staff to be seen. But this time outside people are milling around, obviously waiting for the restaurant to open. I know right then what happened. Still, proceed as if normal. My name, our reservation. Oh but no, we were expecting you last night. He shows me in the reservation book where my name had been for the previous evening, never crossed off like all the others were. Me: Why oh why did I doubt myself? I had it right the first time!

After a lot of looking at the tables, the reservation book, the layout, of the restaurant the darling man said he could seat us but only if we would be out by 9:30. 9:30? Only an hour and a half? No problem, we’re Americans!

And it was delicious…

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Jan 19th, 2009, 07:40 PM
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I'm really enjoying your report, Leely, and loved your pictures!

I'm noting all this for when I return someday. I was very unadventurous on my trip and didn't go to any restaurants (I hate eating alone).

Sorry to hear about your mom getting sick. That's always tough. A couple of years ago, I went on a trip with my parents and sister- we were in Germany, Bern, Florence, and London. Both my mom and dad got violently ill with a terrible stomach flu, they were vomiting for days. Good times.

More, please! (and I have't forgotten about doing my report, I keep gettin distracted is all...reading your report is putting me back in the Rome mood, though. Sigh. I wish I were still there)
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Jan 21st, 2009, 08:56 AM
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Apres,
Thanks for reading. I've been taking a little time off the celebrate change but will get cracking on this report, including some notes about what we actually did rather than what we ate while there.

I've never dined alone in Italy but have done so in France and it doesn't usually bother me. In fact, I kind of like it and find the only bummer is I cannot really justify drinking an entire bottle of wine so I have to stick to by-the-glass offerings.

I'm looking forward to your impressions of the Scavi tour. You went, right?
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Jan 21st, 2009, 09:43 AM
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Hi Leely,

I guess what I don't like about eating alone is I get bored. If I'm on my own, I eat for fuel but my mind's usually on other things. There's nothing I love more than having an excellent meal with good company, though.

I did do the Scavi tour and I really enjoyed it. I felt a little bit like Indiana Jones. The guide on my tour was a very nice guy, a history academic from Romania. Did you do the Scavi Tour on this trip, or on a past trip?
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Jan 21st, 2009, 10:11 AM
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Apres,
I love to eavesdrop and then build elaborate narratives in my head based on what I've heard--even better if it's in a language I don't understand--so dining alone is a lot of fun for me. At times.

Scavi was new to me. So were Palazzo Barberini and Galleria Doria Pamphilj. Rome has so much to offer. Even to those who don't care for the Baroque (not that I'm that idiosyncratic).
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Jan 22nd, 2009, 07:07 AM
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End of dining notes!

The best food at Checchino, according to those of us who do not really enjoy 4th quarter meat, was carciofi alla Romana, tonnarelli with some kind of braised meat, perhaps oxtail, and lamb alla cacciatora, which had a nice kick.

We all really enjoyed this meal and wished that we had been able to linger, have a cheese course, etc. I wouldn't hesitate to go back. Even with the rush, the service was great, the food great, wine was great. The whole deal. We didn't have time for dessert so we had our taxi drop us at San Crispino where had I begun the series of errors that led to our short meal.

Gelato note: This trip I decided my favorite gelato is the honey from San Crispino. But I'm open to more recommendations.
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Jan 22nd, 2009, 07:18 AM
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Report, cont.

Random thoughts
Other than some two- and three-hour meals, most of my time in Rome did feel like a mad dash. I hadn't been in three years, when my sister and I went during her first trimester. So I was really trying to cram my days and nights with as much Rome as I could.

I'm reading Apres_Londee's report while I'm writing my own and I can't help but notice how differently we experienced this city. Perhaps solo travel, which I have done in France but never in Italy, leads to a more relaxed pace. Or just feeling relaxed.

I know that my mother being sick for most of the trip was not relaxing (for her, either!). She did wake up with conjunctivitis one day and I marched down to the farmacia and said in Italian, "My mother, she has the sickness of the eyes." At which point Mom lifted up her sunglasses for a visual effect.

But it's great that you can get antibiotic drops OTC in Italy. Her eyes were better in 36 hours.
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Jan 26th, 2009, 05:19 PM
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Transportation, tickets, etc.

Air travel was fine except for the one leg cancelled by Alitalia. Otherwise, all the other legs were operated by KLM. I fly KLM fairly frequently for reasons mysterious even to myself and think they're pretty good. Last time I was in Rome I flew American. What a fright that was!

My traveling companions are 25% accustomed to flying business or above and complained quite a bit about our flights (cough Mom cough). However, for those of us who normally fly cattle class, KLM is great. Got to see the new Brideshead and Pineapple Express, which I thought was hilarious. Highlarious, I suppose.

And although the Alitalia leg from Schipol to Rome was nonexistent, this did afford me the opportunity to head into Amsterdam for a nice walk in the Canal District, a salad and some wine. It was lovely and I'm dying to go back for a real visit.

It is as easy and as quick (and as worthwhile!) as everyone on Fodor's says to take the train from Schipol to Centraal Station. No problems whatsoever although we had to hunt for a machine that would take our CCs to buy the tix.

Rome Cabs ( romecabs.com ) did our airport transfers, 55E for 4 people with a lot of luggage. I had seen them recommended here and couldn't recall which service I'd used in the past. Now I'm a Rome Cabs convert.

I had made my reservation via email and confirmed with the wrong date--oops. When at AMS I realized that we were going to arrive over in Rome two hours late, I called Rome Cabs to let them know. It was another confusing conversation but they were at the airport when we finally got to Rome.

This impressed me, as I didn't realize until a few days later that I had been giving them the wrong date. Somehow they figured that out.

The drivers were great, especially the guy who took us back to the airport. He was a font of information, very charming and funny. I will definitely book with them again.

Train tickets to Assisi
We bought these at a travel agency we happened to walk by after our Scavi tour. I've done this before; it gives me a little flexibility. Even a control freak enjoys that every once in a while.
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