Italy on the Cheap (Mostly), May 2015

Old Jun 4th, 2015, 06:26 PM
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My friend was so excited about the Duomo being outside our apartment windows that she put her new camera out the window to take a picture and it slipped, five floors down and smashed. She was very sad. Poor Mr. Pickle. Love your pictures that you did take though.
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Old Jun 4th, 2015, 07:37 PM
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flpab, I had a death grip on my phone any time I wanted to take a picture, especially in the Colosseum and Siena!

Monday, May 4th Layered Churches and Rome's Center

We slept in a bit since our first stop was just a block from our apartment.

San Clemente Basilica was really interesting - a 12th-century church built on top of a 4th-century church built on top of a 1st-century Mithraic temple and Roman house. You can visit the topmost church for free and see its frescoes and art, and there is a small charge to see the rest.

We caught a bus to Termini because we missed the stop we wanted at Piazza Repubblica. After a stop for lunch (don't remember where, but it was good), I had read that Bernini's Ecstasy of St. Teresa was undergoing restoration, and wasn't sure if we would be able to see it, but I wanted to try since it is one of the sculptures I remembered from a college art history class.

By the time we got to Santa Maria della Vittoria, they were closed for the afternoon, so we walked down the hill to the Capuchin Crypt Museum. Mr. Pickle was interested in visiting here since we weren't able to see any catacombs while we were in Rome. Apparently you used to be able to just see the bone art, but now they have a museum which you have to walk through to get to the bones. If you're really interested in the Capuchin order, you may want to spend time in the museum. Us? Not so much. And once we got to the bone art, it wasn't as interesting as we had hoped it would be. All in all, we didn't think this place was worth the time we took to see it.

We walked back to Santa Maria della Vittoria to find it was still closed - I thought it opened at 2:00 - so we stopped at a farmacia and then found a restaurant on Via Barberini where we could sit down and have something cold to drink.

One thing I discovered in Rome is that most restrooms we used, including the one in this restaurant, didn't have a seat on the toilet (why? that is so weird) and that the men who use them have terrible aim. I guess you're just supposed to hover over the toilet and hope for the best.

Anyway, back to drinks - I read here and elsewhere that it's really difficult to find sodas in Italy. That wasn't true for us - we could always find an 8-ounce can of some kind of Coke product for a Euro. Since Mr. Pickle isn't a coffee drinker, he appreciated a little pick-me-up during the day.

Santa Maria della Vittoria finally opened for the afternoon, and we made our way inside. The Ecstasy of St. Teresa has some scaffolding set up, so you can't get very close, but it is still easily visible. It was a thrill to see it, and the church has quite a bit of really nice art.

From the church, we strolled to the Spanish Steps, with the obligatory gelato stop on the way. We had reserved spots on the New Rome Free Tour, which meets at 5:30 in front of the Keats-Shelley Museum. The tour is tip-based, so you can give your guide what you think it's worth.

We were early, so we walked to the McDonald's just down the street to take advantage of their free restrooms. We never tried any, but I noticed Italian McDonald's restaurants have a much better selection of coffees and desserts than in the US.

We really enjoyed the tour. Our guide, Daniele, combined a sense of humor with a good amount of knowledge. I don't remember everything we saw, but we visited a couple of churches, including St. Ignatius of Loyola Church, the Pantheon, the Prime Minister's official residence, a government building (complete with protesters out front), and finished at the Trevi Fountain. Before we found out about the tour, we had planned to wander around and visit some of these sites, but Mr. Pickle said afterward he didn't think we would have found them all without the tour.

From here, we'd planned to have dinner at Dar Filettaro, one of the few places I'd written down on our itinerary. http://www.elizabethminchilliinrome....filettaro-rome But we got turned around after we got off the bus, and Mr. Pickle was tired of trying to find out where we were going, so we ended up having dinner at Caffe Bianco. We both had pasta here, though I was surprised to be told that they were out of cacio e pepe. How do you run out of something like that at 8:00 p.m.? I never did get to try it.

At any rate, what we did have was really tasty, and they had good house wine. We stopped at Il Fornaio, across the street, and finished the evening with a cherry tart and some kind of chocolate cake, both lovely.

Lee Ann
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Old Jun 5th, 2015, 04:57 PM
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Tuesday, May 5th Yes, We Vatican!

We reserved tickets for the Vatican Museums plus lunch a couple of months before we left. This allowed us to skip the lines and enter when we wished.

We walked to the San Giovanni in Laterano Metro stop, pleased to find the subway wasn't too full. This changed fairly rapidly, especially when we got to Termini. The car was stuffed and there were guys outside banging on the windows and yelling because they couldn't get on.

There were hundreds of people waiting in line to get their museum tickets. We were thankful we had reserved ahead of time!

Since there is so much to see, we decided to concentrate on tapestries, the map gallery, the Raphael Rooms, and the Sistine Chapel. Along with all the gorgeous art, we found plenty of things that made us laugh - the apostle Paul doing a HULK SMASH to escape from prison and a really smug-looking lion were my favorites.

I hadn't realized Raphael's The School of Athens was at the Vatican until I read Fodor's Rome, so I particularly enjoyed seeing it and the other Raphael Rooms. From here it isn't far to the Sistine Chapel - you can tell by the herds of people all trying to get there.

Despite the crowds and the guards' loudly repeated reminders to be quiet, etc., it was such a thrill to see the pictures in the Sistine Chapel. Somehow I'd gotten the impression that The Creation of Adam was one of the larger paintings, so I was surprised to see it was rather small and in the middle of the ceiling.

We had a fairly decent lunch in the cafeteria - juicy, flavorful chicken, ok pasta, veggies, dessert and a drink. For the price, we certainly could have eaten better elsewhere, but we weren't sure how long we would want to stay at the museum, and once you leave the building you can't reenter without buying another ticket.

Mr. Pickle decided he wanted to see some of what we'd skipped in the morning. My feet were sore, and still swollen from our flight and some dehydration, so I ended up sitting a lot in the various galleries. We did see some incredible art, like Caravaggio's Deposition, and it was kind of fun visiting the Popemobile Museum.

Around 3:00, we finally left the museum and walked around the corner (more or less) to St. Peter's Basilica. It was sunny, hot (mid-80s), and humid, so I didn't particularly enjoy standing in the sun waiting to enter the basilica. Fortunately, they opened more lines and we were able to get into some shade.

Again, I loved being able to see beautiful works of art in person, especially Michelangelo's Pieta and Bernini's altar canopy. Eventually I found a place to sit while Mr. Pickle explored a couple of things I wasn't interested in seeing.

I had planned for us to eat dinner at Il Sorpasso, and it was one of the best meals we had. I had a delicious salad of shaved artichokes, shaved red cabbage, and some other things for a starter; Mr. Pickle had cheeses with local honey which he enjoyed. I wish I could remember what I had for dinner, but it was fabulous!

After a stop for gelato and a leisurely walk back to the Metro, I was more than ready to get home, repack, and put my feet up for the night!

Lee Ann
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Old Jun 6th, 2015, 04:29 AM
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Enjoying your trip report!
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Old Jun 6th, 2015, 04:31 PM
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Thanks for taking the time to write this report! I'm writing down all of these restaurants
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Old Jun 6th, 2015, 05:37 PM
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So glad to read your TR Lee Ann! Awful about the new camera.....I did the same thing at Lago Maggiore only it was just a new straw hat. I hadn't even worn it yet and left it on the boat as we were dashing to catch the train!

Do continue, glad you are over the cold, sorry about Dad. I'm with you on that too....
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Old Jun 6th, 2015, 07:51 PM
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Kbmtravel, I found a lot of great-sounding restaurants from reading LowCountryIslander's trip reports. She is also the one who told me about, which has some good recommendations. I was sad when I discovered I couldn't get all the bookmarks I'd saved in Google Chrome on my Chromebook.

Lee Ann
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Old Jun 9th, 2015, 02:28 PM
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Wednesday, May 6th Off to Tuscany

All too soon, it was time to leave Rome and head north. While we got to do the things that were high priority, if we return to Italy, I would like to stay longer in Rome and see more.

We took a train from Termini to Orvieto. At first we were just going to rent the car and start driving, but Mr. Pickle thought Orvieto looked like it would be fun to explore, so we pushed back our rental time to mid-afternoon.

I'm glad we did. We spent a few minutes trying to figure out where we could leave our suitcases (it didn't occur to us to try the Hertz office). The helpful woman at the information center let us leave them in her office until they closed for the afternoon break.

Orvieto's cathedral is really lovely. Since it was built in the 14th century, it isn't as flamboyant as the Baroque churches, and we enjoyed its relative simplicity. It has beautiful stonework, some good paintings (Signorelli's happy skeletons in his Resurrection of the Flesh fresco still make me smile), and an exquisite Pieta by Scalza. The facial expressions of Mary, Mary Magdalene, and Nicodemus are moving.

We had porchetta panini at a restaurant on the piazza (yum!) and retrieved our suitcases so we could look around the town for a little while.

Orvieto is known for its painted ceramic work. We could have spent a lot of money on some nice serving dishes, but restrained ourselves and just bought a Christmas ornament.

After a couple of hours, we stuffed ourselves onto the funicular with a big group of German tourists and headed to the Hertz office.

When we decided to rent a car, we went through the whole process with AutoEurope, only to discover we couldn't pick up in Orvieto through their company. You now have to rent directly with Hertz.

After our experience, I can understand why AE doesn't want to be affiliated with this particular Hertz office! The employees were very slow, and gave us almost no information about the car. Mr. Pickle refused to sign the form without checking the car for damage, and we were treated to an epic eye-rolling and muttering display from the manager.

We rented a GPS, but they didn't show us how to use it, and we had to go back in the office and find an employee to show us how to install it in the car and plan our route. Once we got that figured out, we couldn't put the car in reverse. Meanwhile, one of the employees stood there tapping on the window, telling us to move the car so they could park another one there. Mr. Pickle was getting a little frustrated by now.

Eventually, we got everything signed, installed, and in gear - if we ever drive a Fiat with manual transmission again, we know to pull up the ring to put it in reverse - and got on the road.

We took SR2 to Siena, thinking we would see more interesting scenery than on the A1. This was a really enjoyable drive, climbing through hills and traveling through the Val d'Orcia.

Since we wanted to get into Siena before it got dark, we didn't stop to see much, but we just had to explore a hilltop fortress we kept seeing as we drove. This turned out to be the fortress of Radicofani; it sits above the town of the same name and, according to the woman who ran the ticket office, was once the home of Ghino di Tacco, the Italian version of Robin Hood. The incredible views made it well worth the detour!

As we went back to the highway, we saw signs for the Via Francigena. We'd never heard of this ancient pilgrimage route, and I enjoyed learning more about it after we returned home.

Eventually we got to Siena, where our GPS routed us through a number of the town's narrow, hilly streets (not fun driving time for Mr. Pickle!) before we arrived at the Hotel Alma Domus, our home for the next two nights.

We really enjoyed our stay here. I spent a bit extra to reserve a classic room, which gave us a beautiful view of the Duomo. Breakfast is included, and the staff is very helpful. The desk clerk suggested we eat across the street at Il Pomodorino. Their food looked wonderful, but after we waited in line for about 15 minutes we gave up and went next door to Ristorante San Domenico. It was nice to sit and relax after a busy day. We both had a glass of a local white wine and shared the Caterina de Medici salad and a pizza, followed by a Bacio di Siena - frozen cream-filled, chocolate-covered deliciousness. Our waiter capped the evening by giving us limoncello on the house.

Lee Ann
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Old Jun 9th, 2015, 02:59 PM
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Eventually, we got everything signed, installed, and in gear - if we ever drive a Fiat with manual transmission again, we know to pull up the ring to put it in reverse - and got on the road.

I know we have talked about that dang ring on Fodors. It gets many of us. I use to get mad at the people on The amazing Race when they could not get the cars in reverse. Very tricky!
So glad you explored Orvieto.
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Old Jun 9th, 2015, 03:41 PM
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I am really enjoying your wonderful report! Thank you for all the details.
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Old Jun 11th, 2015, 02:46 PM
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Thursday, May 7th Sojourn in Siena

Siena turned out to be Mr. Pickle's favorite thing about the trip, and I really enjoyed it as well.

After enjoying our hotel's complimentary breakfast (yogurt, pastries, toast, fresh fruit, really good coffee), we walked to the Campo, Siena's public square. For those of you who haven't been here before, one of the events Siena is known for is the Palio, a big horse race held twice yearly. The town is divided into 17 contrade (districts), and winning the race is a huge honor for your district.

We stopped to buy a couple of refrigerator magnets and a T-shirt for my dad on our way to the Museo Civico, which provided some intriguing glimpses into Siena's history.

I had read great reviews of Morbidi, a deli/restaurant, and we enjoyed a delicious lunch there. Originally, we'd thought of picking up some picnic-type items there, but sitting on hot cobblestones didn't sound appealing, so we ate at the restaurant.

Time for our daily gelato stop at Kopa Kabana. Wow! This place is fantastic - a great selection of traditional and unusual flavors. I had chocolate and pepper and Sicilian cassata (vanilla [I think] base with diced candied citrus peel); Mr. Pickle had cioccolato fondente and hazelnut. I wish I had had room for the rose petal gelato, which sounded really intriguing.

Mr. Pickle had thought he would be tired of looking in churches by this point in the trip, but he'd changed his mind, so we enjoyed some time in Siena's Duomo. It has some interesting mosaic scenes laid into the floor.

I like fruitcake, and we'd heard good things about Siena's panforte, so we picked up a small cake and some limoncello on our way back to the hotel. We made a quick stop at San Domenico Basilica, which is pretty much right next to the hotel. The interior had a good bit of scaffolding up, so there were parts we couldn't look at very closely. The parts we could see, however, were a very interesting mix of medieval and modern art. Somehow I think we missed St. Catherine of Siena's head and finger, which are enshrined in their own chapel.

We rested a bit at the hotel before looking for some dinner. As we walked back toward the Campo, we passed Grotta di Santa Caterina da Bagoga and decided to eat there. This restaurant is owned by one of Siena's most famous Palio jockeys, Pierino Fagnani aka Bagoga, who is involved in Italy's Slow Food movement.

This was one of the best meals we had on the trip, starting with an appetizer of three kinds of bruschetta. Mr. Pickle had a pasta with wild boar sauce, and I had a bony but delicious rabbit.

After dinner, we took our panforte and limoncello to the hotel lounge and nibbled and sipped while we checked email and relaxed.

Lee Ann
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Old Jun 15th, 2015, 08:57 PM
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Friday, May 8th Volterra and San Gimignano

We checked out of our hotel and walked to the Medici Fortress to retrieve our car from the free parking lot. After stowing our luggage, we took a few minutes to go into the fortress, which is now a public park with some good views of Siena and the surrounding countryside.

I'll confess that the first time I ever heard of Volterra was in New Moon, the second Twilight novel. After all, it makes perfect sense that a group of evil vampires who sparkle in sunlight would make their home in Tuscany.

Fortunately, Mr. Pickle and I saw a Rick Steves "hill towns of Tuscany" episode, which convinced us that Volterra would be worth a visit.

Again, we enjoyed the beautiful countryside as we drove. Volterra is about an hour from Siena, so it was pretty easy to get there. We never saw the underground parking entrance, but we found a paid public parking area near the ruins of a Roman amphitheatre and walked through the nearest gate into the town.

We only had two or three hours to spend in Volterra, so we stopped to buy a couple of sandwiches and drinks and ate as we strolled along.

Volterra has what is supposed to be an excellent Etruscan museum. However, when we tried to buy a ticket, we found that the price included two other museums as well. Since we only wanted to see the one museum, we decided the price was more than we wanted to pay.

The town is also known for its alabaster products, and we stopped at a workshop to look at their offerings. We found some gifts for our relatives, and since the guys in Mr. Pickle's a capella men's choir usually give each other some inexpensive travel-related gift at their first fall rehearsal, he bought wine stoppers for everyone.

It wasn't far to the main piazza, where the city hall is located. On the way, we stopped at a bakery and bought some kind of fabulous tart with chocolate and candied orange peel, which we had for dessert that evening.

The piazza is part of an important scene in New Moon, but I'm happy to say that we saw no evidence of Twilight-related tourism in Volterra. I did notice one small poster in a shop, but that was all, thank goodness.

Since Mother's Day was on Sunday, Mr. Pickle bought me a beautiful alabaster and silver necklace. I've worn it a few times since we got home, and everyone admires it.

All too soon, we had to go back to the car and drive to Fattoria Poggio Alloro, the agriturismo where we were going to spend the night. They ask their guests to check in before early evening, since the staff is busy cooking and serving dinner at night.

I thought Thomasina (our name for the GPS) would have us drive back part of the way we had already driven, since we could see San Gimignano from the highway, and Fattoria Poggio Alloro is about five km from San Gimignano. Instead, we headed up through some lovely forested hills and eventually ended up on the other side of San G, where there was a highway that led directly to the farm.

We got settled in to our room, which has a room with a nice view of San Gimignano. Mr. Pickle decided a brief nap was in order, so I went into the office/gift shop to look around and see if I could buy a glass of wine. I was delighted to find that the first glass was included in the room rate. I enjoyed a tasty glass of Chianti and strolled around the property, looking at the cattle, vineyards, and olive groves.

After Mr. Pickle got up, he sampled their excellent Vernaccia before we drove back to San Gimignano. We walked along the wall, took lots of tower pictures, looked in some shops, and had a good dinner at Il Fuedo. It's a lovely little town, so different with all the towers.

After we returned to the farm, we bought a half-bottle of the Vernaccia and enjoyed our chocolate orange tart with a glass of wine. They were still serving dinner, which looked and smelled heavenly, but 30 Euros per person was, sadly, out of our price range.

Lee Ann
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Old Jun 16th, 2015, 03:10 AM
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"Vernaccia di St G", probably one of the few northern Italian white wines I bother to drink.

One thing Mrs Bilbo has taught me is to ask for taxi receipts (with the telephone no. on it!)

I once had the whole eye rolling bit from a car agent, went out to find the car was still covered in pheasant blood, took a snap with camera and went back in to show him, "so!" was the response. They have a process, which you have to follow so you did right to follow it.
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Old Jun 16th, 2015, 03:19 AM
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What a lovely trip
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Old Jun 16th, 2015, 07:56 AM
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I still can't believe we were in San Gimignano on the same day! So funny. That agriturismo sounds lovely!
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Old Jun 16th, 2015, 08:46 AM
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I had to laugh about the Hertz-GPS stuff as well as the
in reverse" thing. We had the same "problem" when we rented a GPS from Europcar at the Munich airport as well as a GPS rental from the Hertz office in Florence. They either assume "you should know" how to install and use it or they are hoping you won't ask too many questions. Therefore I somehow think your Orvieto "experience" may not have been as unique as you may have thought.

As to the "in reverse" thing, I have been saying here for years that we learned the hard way about getting a stick shift ( a Renault Megane) into reverse. It is not as intiuitive as some might think and if the car hadn't been parked in such a way at the rental lot in Bordeaux we could easily have been out in the boonies somewhere later and clueless.

Glad your trip was so satisfying otherwise and thank you for taking the time to post the report.
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Old Jun 16th, 2015, 12:56 PM
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Wonderful pictures and TR.

How does one put it in reverse? Press down?
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Old Jun 16th, 2015, 05:28 PM
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Lee ann,

I am so enjoying your TR with all the details. I'm sitting here in Big Sky country having dinner on the patio and enjoying the views. Glad to hear you liked Rome! Fantastic beautiful city!

Do continue,it does sound like you had just a wonderful time.
Dayle is offline  
Old Jun 16th, 2015, 06:56 PM
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Jent103 - I know! Too bad we didn't run into each other.

TDudette, I don't know if this is true for all manual transmissions in Italy, but for our Fiat, there was a ring toward the bottom of the stick shift that you had to pull up while shifting the stick into reverse.

I'm glad you like the pictures, too.

Lee Ann
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Old Jun 17th, 2015, 12:09 PM
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Tricky and not intuitive, eh?
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