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Four Friends, Eight days, Easter Week in Rome-a Trip Report

Four Friends, Eight days, Easter Week in Rome-a Trip Report

Mar 30th, 2008, 12:06 PM
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Four Friends, Eight days, Easter Week in Rome-a Trip Report

I just got back from eight days spent in Rome during Easter week 2008 with my husband and two of our friends.
The following report is bound to be lengthy and filled with all the tiny details of what we saw, ate and drank so I apologize in advance. I have a website for my travelogues, and I'm an avowed foodie and photographer, so I will be posting links to my pages with photos as we go.

The trip began as a conversation with friends on our way up to a weekend in the mountains in February ’07.

Me: Ok, here are my top 5 next trip destinations.
One, two weeks in Vietnam…
Two, two weeks in India…
Three, a week in Rome…
Before I can say, “Four” the backseat contingent interrupts: “Rome! We want to go to Rome!”

And so it begins….
I didn’t even have to sell the trip, though my suggestions of an apartment in the historical district with a terrace and a view and evenings spent with wine, cheese and prosciutto didn’t hurt.
After much discussion of when to go and the discovery that summer airfare to Europe would require a second mortgage, we settled on Spring Break, the week before Easter in March 2008.

The players:
Me (Kristina) and my husband David; late 30-somethings living in Southern California. Our longtime friends Jessica and Tris (hereafter known as J and T) were our travel companions for this trip. Neither of them has traveled in Italy and this is T's first trip out of the country. David and I have been to Italy many times before, but not to Rome since 1995.
Kristina is offline  
Mar 30th, 2008, 12:37 PM
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Planning:
I did the bulk of the research and planning of the trip (because I'm obsessive like that) which included booking the apartment (we used www.RentalinRome.com), airport transfers via www.romecabs.com, reservations for the Borghese Gallery, RomaPass research, Scavi Tour tickets, and booking private guide Francesca Caruso for the Coliseum and Forum. I also researched day trips for Orvieto and Ostia Antica and car rentals.
For the details of the planning process, including the hunt for the perfect apartment for four, the drama of the rise of the euro and its’ effect on our travel choices, and all about buying an international cell phone and SIM card, please see my web page:
http://www.wired2theworld.com/ROMEplanning.html

In addition, while planning the trip I wanted to keep my friends involved so I started sending them emails called “Rome Daily Tidbits”. They were interesting things I’d found during my research or things for which I wanted to get feedback on from them.
They can be seen at : http://www.wired2theworld.com/RomeDailyTidbits.html

I also created the 5 “Golden Rules” of travel for our trip:
1. Always eat lunch before it gets too late.
Most restaurants in Italy are not open between lunch and dinner. (Hint: Make sure Kristina gets food before 2PM. or she gets cranky).
2. Speak up.
If you are unhappy about something, want to do something else, don’t want to go somewhere, it’s your fault if you don’t communicate. The rest of us aren’t mind readers.
3. Don’t be a martyr.
No one will respect you for it and you will be miserable. This goes hand in hand with rule #2.
4. Be brave when it comes to food. Taste everything.
5. Roll with it.
Plans can go awry. Strikes happen. Museums close randomly. Have a back up plan.

Everyone was required to abide by the rules or risk banishment. ;-)

Finally, I created “20 Questions” for the trip which included things like “How many gelati can 4 people eat in 8 days?”, “How many times will Jessica say, “I can’t believe we’re really here!” like a gleeful schoolgirl?” or “Who will have the first jet lag induced meltdown?” For the rest, go to http://www.wired2theworld.com/RomeQuestions.html
The questions have not yet been answered, but will as soon as I can find the time to tally up the number of cups of coffee we drank and the number of photos of food among the 2000+ photos taken.

Now that's all out of the way, on to the rest of the report!
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Mar 30th, 2008, 12:46 PM
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Sounds like a great beginning! Thanks, Kristina!
ekscrunchy is offline  
Mar 30th, 2008, 01:07 PM
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Sounds like this will be a wonderful report! Do continue!
a_cafe_of_dreams is offline  
Mar 30th, 2008, 01:07 PM
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Hi Ekscrunchy! Many thanks to you again for your restaurant recs before the trip. I'm sure you will see some familiar ones in here.

Flight to Rome, or, The Saga of the Seats

When we booked the tickets almost 9 months ago, we were able to get our seat assignments for the LAX to DC leg, but not DC to Rome. Every few months I would call the travel agent only to be told, "still nothing available". In the meantime, the aircraft on flight #1 changes and our seats are suddenly in "Premium Economy", an added bonus for the first flight.

Then, about a month before departure the agent says we have seats for flight #2, but they are not together and are in the back of the plane, none of us even in the same row.
Later we discover that J and T's seats on flight #1 have been split so they have no seats together or with us.
Much stress follows as we call United, call the travel agent, try online, all to no avail. Then, in a stroke of luck, the girls get seats, one behind another in Premium Economy for no extra fee! At this point they can do nothing else and plan to get to the airport at 5 AM to see if they can get their seats moved to be side by side.
I check in online 24 hours before departure and am offered the opportunity to upgrade on flight #2 to Premium Economy for $89 per person. Sold! This allows us more leg room and the certainty of seats together.

March 15, 2008 Departure Day

We are up at 4 AM.
Ok, I'm up at 4 AM after about 5 hours fitful sleep. David, in his usual pre-departure way, has not slept at all. The typical pre-trip chaos ensues. Do the cats have enough food and water? Do we have our passports? Can we find all the cats? Do we have all our bags? Are we ready?

Ready or not, we are in the car on our way to LAX by 4:50 and are there by 5:15. Thanks to Mom for the ride.
Because I have checked in online we have our boarding passes printed. We try one of the self serve kiosks and it does not work for us. We're directed to the check in desks next door and find ourselves at another kiosk, this time with someone who can make it work and give us bag tags. J and T are at a counter a couple of stations down and have managed to get their seats changed to be together. All is right with the world.

We are so early, we end up spending an hour and a half in the Terminal 7 Starbucks, drinking coffee and watching the Cowboy next to us get drunk.
Yes, I said "Cowboy", complete with weathered black hat, scuffed boots and shiny belt buckle. Why he was knocking back beer after beer at 6:30 AM in the La Salsa next to the Starbucks is beyond me.

At this point I give the girls their "wired2theworld Big Lasagna Tour 2008" goodie bags for the plane. The bags include the guidebook I created from my Google Map, a guide I created for Ostia Antica, our itinerary, Burt's Bees lip balm, gum, granola bar, dried cherries and almonds, emergen-c packets and wet wipes. Everyone needs a little something fun to start a trip, don't you think?
(for photo of the goodie bag and link to Google map see http://www.wired2theworld.com/ROME2008flightday.html )

The flight to DC is fine and only takes 4 hours. We're on United and no food is offered, only food sold on board. When we arrive in DC we head to Gordon Biersch for lunch of garlic fries, salads and burgers.

When we get on the plane for Rome, we're told it's going to be a full flight.
Then we sit and wait for other passengers. And we wait some more. Finally, everyone just gets up and moves, hoping to take some empty rows of seats. Of course, it is then that our missing passengers arrive.
This is the first time in a long time when I've been on an international flight where they have charged for alcoholic beverages. I'll usually have a glass of wine, but I'm not willing to pay $5 for bad wine. J does and confirms that the white is terrible.
Dinner is pretty bad; choice of "salisbury steak" and pasta. Breakfast is even worse; a fruit cup and inedible, cold, hard, pastry. The best things about the flight are the on time arrival and getting to finally see the movie Juno.
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Mar 30th, 2008, 01:49 PM
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Kristina,

Looking forward to the rest! Your hubby is brave, to go on a trip with 3 women.

Dayle is offline  
Mar 30th, 2008, 01:56 PM
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Love this! Looking forward to more.
LCBoniti is offline  
Mar 30th, 2008, 02:05 PM
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March 16, 2008
Arrival, Palm Sunday
1 Euro= $1.57


The flight arrives on time and we have a 20 minute taxi to the gate. It takes so long I think, we've landed in Florence and the plane is driving us to to Rome. Lines at immigration are slow and long, but we don't need to fill out any immigration forms (another first in a long time) and we get a stamp in our passports. When I ask one of the flight attendants why we do not have to fill out any arrival paperwork on the plane he says "Because we are a civilized country."

As soon as we land, I turn on my new phone. Sure enough, it works just fine and within about a minute I see "Vodaphone IT" and I have service. For more on the phone and the Global SIM card, see the "Pre-Trip Planning" page on my website. Initially, J's Blackberry "worldphone" does not work and she's furious until she discovers the people at Verizon have installed the SIM card backwards. After that, her phone works fine too and everyone is happy.

An aside- this is the first time I've traveled internationally with a phone and now I'm hooked. I used it to make restaurant reservations, call home and was able to give out my number in case someone had to call us (which Francesca Caruso did on the day of our tour). J was able to get email and voicemail on her Blackberry (vital for her job) and to be honest, I would have loved for my phone to do that too since we had no wifi access in the apartment. However, I don't think my SIM card will do that even if the phone has email capability. Anyone know?

All of our bags arrive and we walk straight through customs to find Stefano from Romecabs.com waiting for us. The drive from the airport is quick and while he is concerned we'll face street closures due to the Rome Marathon, everything is easy and we arrive around 8:30, an hour before our scheduled meeting with the person who is to let us in to the apartment. Stefano drops us at a little bar/cafe about a block away with a gift of a bottle of Chianti and a promise to return in 8 days and pick us up at 4AM for a return trip to the airport.

We sit for an hour and have our first cappuccinos and pastries. There are many people walking up Corso Vittorio Emanuele II toward the Vatican (about 6-8 blocks from us) most likely for Palm Sunday mass. Many are carrying some sort of greenery but not palm fronds (later we figure out these might be olive branches). We see many nuns in full habit and even a group of what I dub "baby priests"; 8 or so shockingly young young men all in black suits with white collars. Seven cappuccinos and 3 pastries cost us a whopping 23.5 euros. Don't forget when sitting at a bar the cost is usually 2x the cost of standing at the bar. In this case, cappuccinos are 1.3 euro at the bar and 3 euro at the table. It's worth it to be able to sit outside for a while after being on the plane for so long.

Kristina is offline  
Mar 30th, 2008, 02:52 PM
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I'm loving this report! I laughed at the comment about the length of taxi time and the plane drving you to Rome! Looking forward to more.





Marianna is offline  
Mar 30th, 2008, 02:56 PM
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This is a fun read -- thanks for writing it -- now back to the housework while daydreaming about Rome.....
mebe is offline  
Mar 30th, 2008, 03:34 PM
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The apartment

We walk the block down the street to the apartment and the RentalinRome contact person arrives about 10 minutes after we do. Checking in is painless. She briefly shows us the apartment and we pay her the balance of what we owe in euros. It was nice to have the euros in advance and not worry about the airport ATM. However, I wish I'd separated out the money for the rent, because in my jet lagged state I could not do the math and ended up giving her 60 euro extra (which of course she hands back after counting it). She departs, also leaving us a bottle of Chianti so we now have two bottles and we've only been here an hour. Is this an omen?

The apartment is called the "Accetti Palace" on the RentalinRome website . To me it looks a little smaller than in the photos, but J thinks it looks larger.
There are two bedrooms, one with double bed (a queen size mattress on a frame of 2 antique twin beds pushed together) and a bedroom with two twin beds (also antique). The double room (ours) has only one window which looks out on the small side street. The twin room has two windows, one on the side, one facing the piazza and consequently gets much more light. The rooms are good sized and have very high ceilings; ours coffered, the other bedroom and the living room have the original 16th century wooden beams.

J and I decide we have to unpack. The double room only has a dresser in which two of the drawers are locked. It has no closet in which to hang clothes. The twin room has an enormous armoire and a big dresser so the girls let us share the "closet" for hanging clothes.
There are sets of towels (one large, one small) for each person, but no extras, something I would have liked considering we are here for 8 days. There is only 1 pillow per person, again no extras. There are extra blankets in the armoire however. There is radiator heat around all the baseboards and while it is cold outside, we are never cold inside so the heat works well.

The living room, dining area and kitchen are all one space. The kitchen has a large refrigerator and freezer by european standards and a dishwasher. It looks like it's been recently remodeled along with the bathrooms. There are two bathrooms, one with a jacuzzi jet tub, one with a shower. For the size of the apartment, two full bathrooms is a nice luxury. The living room has a comfortable sofa with two matching chairs in slightly worn upholstery. There is a TV with channels only in Italian and a VCR. No internet access to be found.

The location is fantastic, on Piazza Sforza Cesarini right off Corso Vittorio Emmanuel and about a 10 minute walk from Piazza Navona. There are 2 restaurants and a small cafe right on the piazza. Yes, there is a little noise from the traffic on the busy street, but I only notice it when jet lag wakes me up at 3 AM.

After unpacking, the exhaustion is starting to hit, but I'm starving. It's too early for a restaurant lunch so we go to a grocery store about a block away to the left. The store is an unusual warren of tiny rooms, but we find everything we need for a fantastic lunch. We buy four different kinds of cured meats, 4 different cheeses, mixed olives, marinated sardines and bread along with other supplies and bring it back to the apartment. With one of the bottles of Chianti, it's a fantastic first meal. Afterward, most of us decide to nap while David cleans the kitchen (he slept a lot on the plane, I slept not at all).
Kristina is offline  
Mar 30th, 2008, 04:33 PM
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Piazza Navona

We get up around 2:30 pm and decide to go out walking toward Piazza Navona and the Pantheon.

We hit the Piazza Navona first and admire the smaller fountains at the end. The stunning Bernini Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (the Four Rivers) us still under restoration scaffolding, but we are able to peek inside through the viewing areas.

We check out the Church of St Agnes in Agony and then walk to the far end of the piazza and around the outside where we check out the ancient underground entrance to the racetrack on which the template for the piazza was created (photo below). The old arch is 25 feet below current Rome street level.

Pantheon

Meandering through the narrow streets, we make our way to the Pantheon. It's pretty incredible to 'round a corner and have something as magnificent as the Pantheon come into view. Rome is filled with moments like this; around every turn is something new an amazing.

The Pantheon is truly "awe-inspiring" and even though it's crowded, we hang out and take tons of photos. I'm still learning how to use my camera and David and I spend a lot of time trying to get the sky outside the oculus (the hole in the top of the dome) to be in focus with the inside ceiling of the dome. I learn later that this is impossible.

From the Pantheon, we're in search of a restroom and end up wandering the streets, going into the McDonalds (too crowded), and traipsing through a hotel next to the church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva. However, we can't find the hotel's bathroom and stop in a little place nearby called Cafe Minerva for panini, lemon soda and T and J's first gelato. It may be 7 euro for a panini and soda, but sometimes it's worth it for access to a bathroom. At one point during the trip we consider calling it the "bathrooms of the world tour". Public restrooms are few and far between, even in museums.

Don't be a martyr or your head will end up in Sienna

After the snack break we head back to Santa Maria sopra Minerva church, first admiring the elephant obelisk in front with it's unnaturally long trunk.
Santa Maria is a gothic church on the inside (one of the very few in Rome), but from the outside you can't tell; it's quite plain. Walk inside though, and it's a mass of soaring arches, gold and stained glass.

Apparently, St Catherine is entombed here, yet her head is in Sienna.
Thus, we coin a phrase which will resonate throughout the rest of the trip, "Don't be a martyr or your head will end up in Sienna". This later morphs into the lighthearted warning of , "I have a box big enough for your head..." for anyone of us verging on martyrdom (and thus at risk of breaking Golden Rule #3).

We continue walking and end up at the Trevi fountain at sunset. It's very, very crowded but we manage to get in the obligatory coin toss before heading back to check out the Pantheon at dusk.
Kristina is offline  
Mar 30th, 2008, 05:53 PM
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Frigidarium, our new Friend

On our way walking toward the Piazza Navona, we see a gelato place called "Frigidarium" (Via Del Governo Vecchio, 112).
David is so enamoured with the name that he insists we return on our trek back from the Trevi fountain.
We stop, and there is a jovial man behind the counter who spends lots of time chatting with us. His English is limited, as is our Italian, but he is incredibly patient and we have a great time talking with him. The gelato turns out to be fantastic.
We have:
J: Tiramisu & Coffee
T: "Mozart"
K: Coffee & Chocolate
D: Choc & Lemon

Stay tuned for more on Frigidarium..
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Mar 30th, 2008, 05:57 PM
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Trattoria Da Luigi

Our first dinner is right on our Piazza Sforza Cesarini at a place called Trattoria da Luigi. It's Tris' birthday, but we're all a bit out of it from the jet lag so figure it's best to stick close to home. The restaurant ends up being the perfect choice.

For antipasti, we have zucchini flowers stuffed with mozzarella and anchovies. They are are dipped a batter similar to tempura and then deep fried. They're wonderful, and in my opinion the best of the trip.
We also have an order of Abacchio a Scottadito (lamb chops), orecchette with broccoli and panchetta, penne with tomato/vodka sauce, 2 orders of eggplant parmesan and a side of spinach with lots of garlic.
Everything is absolutely fine and tasty and with 2 beers and a bottle of house white wine, dinner for four is 80 euro.

A little tipsy from the wine and jet lag, we're happy to be so close to home and while D takes the stairs up to the 3rd floor the rest of us take the miniscule elevator.
When we open the door, David is standing there and says, "you need to push the up button". Loopy, we think we haven't moved at all, and move to push the button, but we've already arrived.
Really, it was funny at the time. Hilarious. You had to be there.
Kristina is offline  
Mar 30th, 2008, 06:41 PM
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Photos for Day 1 can be seen here:
http://www.wired2theworld.com/ROME2008Day1.html

There are lots of pictures of the apartment, the Pantheon, Santa Maria sopra Minerva, and of course, food!
Kristina is offline  
Mar 30th, 2008, 06:47 PM
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Kristina...

Love your writing style and this report! Looking forward to the next installment!
LowCountryIslander is offline  
Mar 30th, 2008, 07:55 PM
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Kristina: I've been reading your report and sneaking a peek or two at your website, which I think is strikingly good!! Your photos are marvelous. What camera did you use? I also love the way you have set up your photos, and the souvenir tickets, etc. I wish I could do that. I've been doing it in photos albums but would love to do it on the web.
Great writing also. Brings back Rome so vividly. Ohhh, that Pantheon - just so perfect!
Will keep watching...
taconictraveler is offline  
Mar 30th, 2008, 08:40 PM
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Thanks for the nice comments! It makes all the time and effort worth it to know that people enjoy or benefit from it. I know I learn so much from other's reports, that's why I always post them here too.

I use a Nikon D40x which is a digital SLR. I just got it for Christmas, so I'm still learning how to use it with the manual settings. All the the photos on the site are by me unless otherwise noted. T took as many photos as I did so there are quite a few on there by her as well.
This is my first trip with a "big" camera and multiple lenses and I wasn't sure how it would go, but carrying it around was rarely a problem. I had a good bag, so that helped a lot.
Kristina is offline  
Mar 30th, 2008, 08:54 PM
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Continuing to be a wonderful report. Thank you for the all the details, and the links to your website and your photos. They are fabulous. My first trip to Rome [or Europe for that matter] is less than a month away, so I'm soaking it all in!
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Mar 30th, 2008, 09:04 PM
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a_cafe-
I know just how you feel. Right before a trip I'm looking for every little detail I can find. How many days will you have in Rome?
I have to say, spending 8 days there was just heaven. So many people go for just two or three (myself included in the past) and hate it. I loved not being rushed. Still, we were pretty busy! Even if you only have a few days, you can still get a good taste, so I'm not trying to discourage anyone, but I think for Rome, the more time, the better. My friends had never been before and they absolutely loved it.
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