Italy in August

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Sep 29th, 2010, 08:26 PM
  #1
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Join Date: Mar 2008
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Italy in August

Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who helped answer my questions and gave me great ideas before my trip. I had a fantastic time with my Mom! I'll try to add to this trip report as I get time, but please be patient. Feel free to ask any questions and I'll try to answer.

Photos are posted on Facebook (though anyone should be able to view them, even if you don't have Facebook). I tend to take a ton of photos, so they had to be split into two albums.

Album 1: http://tinyurl.com/29o3tq4
Album 2: http://tinyurl.com/238b5hj

I had so much fun on a trip to Egypt last year that my Mom finally agreed to travel with me this year. We decided on Italy and decided to join a Trafalgar tour group. Mom thought that this would be easiest as they set up the hotels, transportation and a few meals. She was also thinking that if she let me plan it entirely that I would likely drag her out of bed by dawn and keep her moving until midnight (she was probably about right). I agreed to that but warned Mom that she would likely be walking a LOT anyway.

Hotels
The hotels were set up by the tour group so I have no idea what price range they’re in, but I thought they were all extremely nice. The overview of the trip is we left home on August 17 and returned home on August 30. We had 5 nights in Rome (2 nights before the tour started), 3 nights in Florence, 3 nights in Venice and then a night in Rome near the airport.

The Rome hotel was Hotel Una and is about 1 block from Termini station. It was a FANTASTIC location and was very nice for using the Metro or catching a train. It is also very close to Santa Maria Maggiore. The staff is very friendly and helpful.

The Florence hotel was the NH Anglo American. It’s a short walk from the historical center but very close to the river. It’s also apparently very close to the American consulate (I was curious to see the American flag on a building being guarded by Italian soldiers). There is a launderette a few blocks away (it’s two doors down from a tiny supermarket). Be warned if you’re claustrophobic, the elevator really only holds about 2 people comfortably or one person and a 25” roller bag.

The Venice hotel was the Hotel Principe. It’s a very short walk (5 minutes?) from the train station which is very convenient. The light fixtures in this hotel are something else. I thought they were hideous, but some people on the tour thought that they were really neat. This hotel hasn’t switched to keycards like most hotels have and the key “fob” could likely give someone a skull fracture. It’s about the size of a fist and very heavy. Leave it at the front desk whenever you go out. Again, the staff was very friendly.

Our Rome airport hotel was the Courtyard by Marriott. There is a 6€ charge (each way) to use the shuttle that picks up across the street from the Terminal 3 departures area. Check prices on a taxi, it’s likely cheaper or about the same price. The hotel was nice but the bar and restaurant were both very expensive and there really didn’t seem to be anything else in the area for food. Even though it was only a few minutes from the airport, noise was not an issue. I remember two airplanes going over in the evening but that was it.

Aug. 17 - 18 – Flying
We took a puddle jumper to O’Hare and had a few hours to wait. When we boarded our long flight, we pushed back from the gate and then just sat there for awhile. Apparently a valve wasn’t cooperating and they were trying to fix it from the cockpit. We went to a run-up area as they thought that maybe running the engines to full speed would force the valve closed and would fix the problem. Nope. The pilot did a fantastic job of keeping us updated on what was going on the whole time. We went to another gate to give the maintenance crew a chance to play with it. After a bit of sitting there, the pilot made the announcement that it was going to take awhile to fix that valve so they were going to switch planes with one that was set to go to London later on that evening. That would get us moving and they should have time to get it fixed before the London flight later on. He told us what time to be back to the gate to re-board the new plane and kicked us off the plane. Most of the passengers went for food as it was late evening. We re-boarded and off we went. Thankfully Mom had decided to wait until we were in the air to take her sleeping pill. The pilot kept apologizing for the delay and the lead flight attendant assured us that the flight crew was going to come around with dinner as soon as they could get it ready. I couldn’t have been more impressed with United’s entire crew that night. They tried to fix the problem in the fastest way possible and changed the plans as they went to keep things moving. The flight crew got food and drinks around just as fast as they could. They did an excellent job!

We arrived in Rome around 1pm and took a shuttle from the airport to our hotel. It was the same cost as the train and dropped us off right at our hotel. Once we got checked into the hotel we went for a short walk around our neighborhood and went through Santa Maria Maggiore. From there we stopped at a little corner café across the street and behind the basilica. Mom had lasagna, I had spaghetti carbonara. I had pointed to the fettuccini Bolognese but I must have looked like I really meant the carbonara. The lasagna was good, the carbonara was okay but not great. I’m not a fan of that type of sauce. We wandered back to our hotel and crashed before 8pm.

Aug 19 – Rome
The breakfast buffet at the Hotel Una was less than impressive. The scrambled eggs are runny and smelled very strongly, the sausage wasn’t very good and the bacon seemed undercooked. There were a lot of pastries and a few kinds of cereal though. We headed for Termini and caught a train for Orvieto, a little town about 80 miles north of Rome. The funicular (think cable car) going up the hill from the train station to the old section of town was closed for maintenance so we paid the 1euro each for the train. Once you get on the bus, you put your ticket in a little box to validate it. It works very easily but the bus was packed with people.

From the bus stop, we headed towards the duomo. Later on we found out that there’s a bus that goes from that bus stop into the old section of town and to the duomo, but our way was better as we got to see the town a bit. We stopped along the way for our first gelato. I had chocolate and Mom had lemon and both were very good.

The duomo was gorgeous! The front is extremely ornate and the inside was very pretty. I was a bit confused by the San Brizio chapel. All of the artwork inside seemed to be naked people and wasn’t very interesting. The signs throughout the church said no cameras, but many people were taking photos. I asked an attendant/guard inside if cameras were okay or not. He seemed to say that it was okay and didn’t yell at me when I started taking photos.

We wandered around town a little bit and headed back for the bus stop and the train station. We missed one train by about 5 minutes so ended up hanging out in the small train station for almost an hour. The cafés near the train station were closed for the afternoon (offered drinks only) so we grabbed some munchies from the store at the train station and had a picnic in the waiting room.

Once we got back to Termini, we took the Metro towards the Vatican to see where we needed to go and get a guess at time as our Scavi tour was the next day. We thought that we bought 24 hour tickets on the Metro, however we found out the next day that we had actually bought tickets that were good until 24:00 (midnight).

After finding the Vatican and wandering around outside just a bit, we wandered for food. We ended up at Porto Castello, a tiny restaurant just up the street from Castel Sant’Angelo. We both ordered fettucini alla Bolognese, Mom had Sprite and I ordered water. The total came to €17.50. We walked back to the Metro, rode to Termini and home to the hotel.

By the time we got back to the hotel, my feet were really hurting. I wore sandals that I *thought* were very comfortable and would be fine. I was wrong. The straps wore raw spots in a couple places on my feet. Good thing we brought Neosporin and bandaids!
We called Dad using the cell phone and the SIM card we picked up at a Tabacchi shop earlier. The dang phone only lasted 4 minutes before the credit was gone! Dang it. We decided to dink with it the next day and headed for bed.

Aug 20 – Rome
Today was the Scavi tour under the Vatican and a TON of walking. We took the Metro to the Vatican station (it’s about a 5-10 minute walk from the station). This was when we figured out that the 24 hour Metro tickets were actually good until 24:00 and not for 24 hours. The guard at Termini was absolutely no help when the tickets wouldn’t work, but we figured it out on our own when we went back to purchase new tickets from the vending machines.

At the Vatican, you have to go through the security line to get to the bag drop area. If you have anything larger than a camera bag/purse then you’re not allowed to take it on the Scavi tour. They will not hold up the tour while you take a bag over to the bag check area. I wasn’t willing to take the risk of being turned away due to my day bag so simply checked it ahead of time. We were there a bit before 9:00 and the line only took a few moments. We headed across the square to the Swiss Guards who checked our printed off pass and let us through to the Scavi office. The two guards were very friendly and pretty good looking! It’s hard to look very masculine in a jesters uniform, but they pulled it off quite nicely. The attendant in the Scavi office checked our pass, gave us our tickets and told us to stand outside and wait. Pretty soon our guide came out to get our little group (10-12 people I think). Despite what the guy at the bag check tells you, you can’t actually take photos on the Scavi tour so leave your camera in your bag if you check it.

The tour was insanely hot. There is absolutely no air movement in the underground sections and it really hot already. I was very glad to have my bottle of water with me. The tour was 60 minutes long and was very interesting. We got to hear some of the history of the Vatican area and the history of St Peter’s itself. St Peter was buried in an unmarked shallow grave, but they know they have the right spot for various reasons. The people who were alive at the time turned the unmarked area into an alter and tomb and eventually built a tiny chapel over the spot. They’ve also unearthed a small box of bone fragments from the wall of the tiny chapel. The fragments include pieces of bones from every part of the body, except the feet (Peter was crucified upside down so his feet were cut off to cut him down), they’re from a male of the right age and include soil from the immediate area. They believe that Peter’s bones were dug up, put into the box and hidden for preservation. Once the tiny chapel was built, the bones were brought back and hidden in the walls. This tiny chapel and box of fragments is visible during the tour. Everything is built on top of this – the alter and golden canopy on the main level, and the large dome above. The tour finished in the crypt near the grave of John Paul II.

In order to preserve the excavations, they only allow groups of 14-15 at a time, and only about 200 people total each day. If you’re interested, make your reservations well in advance to be sure you get a spot.

After the Scavi tour, we headed out as we were going to come back the next day for a full tour with Trafalgar. We walked to Castel Sant’Angelo and wandered about inside for awhile. If there is a tour, I’m not aware of it and the lady at the ticket desk was not helpful. She seemed put out that we didn’t have exact change. There was little signage throughout the building, which is a letdown. Things like that are so much more interesting when you can read about the history a bit. Mom patiently waited for me in the shade while I walked all around the top taking photos.

We really had no plan other than to see various places as we were in the area and as the fancy struck us. From the Castel, we stopped at a place called Risoto Paparazzi. We both ordered lasagna and it wasn’t too bad. It was essentially Chef Boyardee lasagna, but it was edible and filling which is what we needed right then. From there we headed for Piazza Navona.

We were both pretty underwhelmed by Piazza Navona. The masses of people and the vendors set up everywhere really detract from what could be a very lovely square. I’m sure the fountains took a lot of skill, but are not to my taste. Mom was seriously tired at this point and we were both getting a bit snarky so from there were walked past the Vittorio Emanuel II monument, past the forum and to the Coliseum metro station. We were on our feet for most of the time from about 8:30am to 3:30pm, most of that time walking at a decent clip. We got back to the hotel around 3:30 and found out that the Trafalgar “welcome drink” and informational meeting was scheduled for 4:30. We had showers and met our group for information.

After getting the information for the next day, we headed down the street to find dinner (neither of us was impressed by the menu in the hotel). We found a fantastic little place, Bella Roma at 59/31 Via Cavour (between Termini and Santa Maria Maggiore). We ordered roast chicken and potatoes, fettucini Bolognese and water. Both meals were scrumptious! The total bill was about 24euro. After dinner, we headed back towards Termini to a pharmacy shop in the arcade across the street from the station. I needed more bandaids. I decided to wear my tennis shoes for the day and my feet were perfectly comfortable, but I wanted to keep the raw spots covered with Neosporin and bandaids to keep them comfortable.

We decided that we wanted some munchies in the hotel room, so we headed into Termini to the tiny supermarket. We picked up apples, a banana and some excellent grapes. The trick is to bag your fruits and veggies, noting the item number on the bin you pick them out of. Then you weigh your item and punch in the item number. The scale spits out a sticker with your price. Quick, easy and simple, but you have to know to do it! We saw other shoppers doing that and followed suit. Back to the hotel and time for bed.


Next up: Back to the Vatican with the group, bypassing the elevator to save 2Euro, the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, and more fantastic food.
Iowa_Redhead is offline  
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Sep 30th, 2010, 06:29 AM
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Great beginning! Looking forward to more. Thanks!
irishface is offline  
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Sep 30th, 2010, 07:13 AM
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If you found the San Brizio Chapel too full of naked people, I dread to think what you thought of the Sistine Chapel ceiling and Last Judgment...
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Sep 30th, 2010, 07:24 AM
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Thanks for posting and keep going. But, right now I just have to know if your Mom is going to travel with you next time ? I bet she was so glad that she went on the trip.
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Sep 30th, 2010, 10:32 AM
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Zerlina, I'm a heathen, I don't know the stories. Not knowing the stories meant that it was basically "they're clothed and standing around" followed by "they're naked and standing around". I didn't care that they were naked, but that's the only thing that I took away from the paintings.

Lynn, Mom is not going to travel with me next time. Granted, that is mostly because I'm going to China and she has little interest in going there. She's also such a picky eater that she wouldn't eat anything other than western food which would be a complete hassle. It was kind of funny when I'd tell her something that I picked up from either my previous trip, a guidebook or this forum and then the guide would tell the group the same information a few minutes later.

I think that she had a really good time and would travel with me again. I don't know if she'd go for a tour group again or not. It was absolutely worth it to travel with my Mom though and it's something that so many people don't get a chance to do. We get along extremely well and have very similar tastes in many things so we work well as travel companions.
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Oct 1st, 2010, 01:57 PM
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What a wonderful trip! Waiting for more. In the meantime, looked at every Venice photo - you have fond memories of the local lazagna so one day I will have them too
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Oct 3rd, 2010, 08:18 PM
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Aug 21 – Rome

We started the tour with a trip to the Vatican. With the tour, we mainly walked through directly to the Sistine Chapel. This was okay with me, as I’m really not that much of an art lover (I know, I’m a heathen). I was impressed by the Sistine Chapel, though wish it wasn’t so crowded. It’s hard to appreciate anything like that when you’re packed in like sardines. Add in the constant chiding by the guards to be quiet and it really leaves you wanting to get out more than stay around and appreciate the amazing talent that went into the paintings. From there, we walked into St Peter’s.

That is one massive building! The Pieta was gorgeous. I was really impressed by the details and how realistic the statue looked. The markings on the floor to show the size of the other large cathedrals in the world were pretty funny. As we were with the tour, we really didn’t have too much time in either the museums or St Peter’s. If you wish to look around and you’re part of a tour group, you really should consider touring the Vatican on your own.

Four of us on the tour decided to skip lunch and climb the dome. Our tour guide told us that it was 320 stairs, but she didn’t mention that that was only if you took the elevator part way! The line for the elevator looked pretty long and we had limited time so we paid 5Euro instead of 7Euro, skipped the line and started up the stairs. There are some great views of Rome from the top of the dome! If you’re up for the 551 stairs (or 320 with the elevator), I highly suggest taking the stairs to the top of St Peter’s dome.

When the tour group joined up again, we drove past a few places in Rome (Circus Maximus, the Forum, the round “Mouth of Truth” stone) and then to the Colosseum. The Colosseum was impressively enormous, it’s hard to believe that they could empty that place in 10 minutes! I’m really bummed that they hadn’t opened up the lower levels when we were there (I think they should be doing that soon, if they haven’t already since we were in Rome). Despite the rumors, there is only one confirmed Christian martyr who was killed in the Colosseum.

From the Colosseum, the tour went back to the hotel for awhile. There was an optional tour through Rome, to the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps and dinner. Mom and I decided that it sounded really expensive for a dinner that we doubted either one of us would enjoy (after talking to those who went, we wouldn't have enjoyed the meal at all) and decided to head out on our own. We took the Metro and walked to Trevi Fountain. It’s a very pretty fountain, but is INSANELY packed with people. I did have to laugh at the officer who had the job of keeping people out of the fountain. All it took when someone dipped their feet into the fountain was a shrill whistle, a very impressive glare and finger wag and the person would remove the offending part from the water. We watched this show for a few minutes and then wandered on.

Through no active intention, we ended up at the Spanish Steps. I really don’t understand the attraction here. It’s a set of stairs absolutely packed with people. They’re not even very pretty, just basic stone stairs. We headed over to a café up the hill from the Spanish Embassy and had dinner.

The Café is called Leonardo Café (face the Spanish Steps, turn to your right and walk to the pillar, turn left and walk directly up the short hill) and had FANTASTIC food. I ordered roast chicken with potatoes and Mom ordered pork loin slices with mashed potatoes. Both meals were absolutely wonderful and well priced (28Euro for the two meals and waters).

From dinner, we headed for the Metro and home to the hotel.


Up next: Naples, Pompeii and ants in the pants!
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