Italy trip report of 3 women

Feb 16th, 2004, 07:26 AM
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Thank you all for your positive comments.

Regarding the hip bath, the hip bath resembled more what Rex described. The depression for the ankle and feet he described was shallower--maybe 3-4 inches deep. When you sit down in it like I did (after hosing off the tub with copious amounts of scalding hot water), the top of the bathtub came up almost to my armpit (I'm 5'1" so that will give you an idea how deep it was.) The hand-held shower head was hung high enough to stand under, but if you stood under it, the water will splash all over the bathroom and make a horrible mess.

Rome installment:

Got the ES train to Rome without incident. Saw a bit of the countryside which reminded me a lot of Napa valley, but the hills were not so steep. The winter light casted a warm pale honey glow over everything as we got out of Tuscany. (It was interesting to note that there was still snow in early Feb. in Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany, but not in Lazio. I didn't think it could be more than 5-10 F difference in temperature.) The train very much resembled an Amtrak or BritRail train and was in huge contrast to the local Trenitalia train from Bologna to Florence and from Rome to FCO. The local trains resembled what I imagined trains to have been like around the 1930's to 1950's in America--separate compartments that are lockable (we didn't know that and ended up sharing a compartment with a young Asian couple on our way to Florence)--no lights so that when you go through tunnels the whole compartment went BLACK. (My Mom and I found this particularly creepy--no wonder Hitchcock films had crimes committed as trains went through tunnels!)

We got off the ES train at Termini without incident. My sister was leading the way, Mom was following close behind her, and I was bringing up the rear, but was easily 5-8 ft. behind because I was wrestling with 2 very heavy bags. As we walked over to the Information Office I noticed that a guy crossed in front of me and headed over to the Information Office. When we got there, my sister brusquely asked if I wanted to pick up anything. I noticed that the man that had preceded us into the office was hovering near by with another guy. When I said, No, but...--she hustled us out of there. After we got out she told me that those guys had followed us in. (This may have been paranoia, but she had spotted 2 characters without bags who hung about us and followed us around when we were waiting at SMN in Florence.) We went through the main hall of Termini--so far no incident, although an Asian woman walked by and shouted at me, Hotel! Information! I shook my head and kept walking quickly--by this time, I had fallen behind about 10 ft behind my sister, although Mom was still 4 ft. in front.

When I got out of the main hall, I found my sister with this guy, who spoke pretty good English. He was carrying her suiter and putting it in his trunk. I'm not going into this here since I have posted a description of this incident elsewhere in this forum, but let me say that I did not realize what had happened until my sister explained it to me once we checked in.

Our hotel in Rome was the Hotel Isa. It was okay if you ignore the cheesy 1970's decor. The room was pretty spacious--almost as big as the one in Florence, and we had a balcony with vines growing around it to give you some privacy from the offices across the street when you sat down on the chairs outside. Since we were 5 floors up, we didn't hear too much of the Rome street noise. The bathroom had a shower stall, again no shower door, but this time it had a laundry line that you can pull out to dry your clothes. One other thing about the bathroom--although it looked modern, the plumbing was obviously old and you really had to flush 3 times instead of once. This was also the first place where we've been to where the TP was precut squares and the maid did not replenish the Kleenex box.

The location of the hotel was also not ideal. It was a mile from the Vatican, and a few blocks from the Castel SantAngelo and via Cola di Rienza. I had picked the hotel because of its proximity to the Prati, an area where middle-class Romans shopped and hung out. Cola di Rienza (CdR) resembled downtown Berkeley or San Francisco. There were quite a few clothes and shoes shops, but very little in the way of restaurants. There WAS however a Coin with a Standa supermarket. That was where we stocked up on our diet Coke, water and munchies requirements.

After that traumatic incident at Termini, we made our own sandwiches from the stuff we got at Coin. Lunch was a pretty cheap affair--5 euro for 3 people.

Dinner was at a restaurant recommended by the concierge--food was good, but they were insulted us by blatantly trying to charge us with items we did not order. After that we were none too keen on Rome, but we decided since we were here, we might as well see what we absolutely must see and just leave.

Well, got to go. Will post more later.

lilleyl2 is offline  
Feb 16th, 2004, 09:19 AM
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To continue with the Rome installment:

Sights we saw while in Rome:

The Vatican: pretty cool, and first class. Only grouse--way too many platforms and signs of maintenance in the Raphael rooms. Need to have a large multi-lingual sign at the ticket area telling you NO CAMERAS of ANY KIND in the Sistine Chapel. (I incurred the wrath of the security guards when I started to power up my camcorder. I missed the sign and my sister's whispered caution.)

St. Peter's: The Piazza was great. Had a picnic lunch on the steps near the colonnade. The Piazza was crawling with cops, keeping an eye on things. When we headed over to the Basilica, we had to pass a security point in the colonnade area. The Basilica was pretty cool--the baldachinno of Bernini was appropriately baroque in this grand church. Had a hard time finding the Pieta, but finally found it just before we headed out. The statue was amazingly small and hard to see because it was behind glass.

Trevi Fountain: Nice but a bit too crowded and hard to find.

Spanish Steps: Ditto

Via Corso and vicinity: Nice, but way too pricey. The shops are really small and the amount of merchandise in the shops are tiny--probably the real estate costs and retail rent are prohibitive.

Coloseum: Impressive on the outside. Didn't go inside--line too long.

Roman Forum: Nice but need to be signposted.

Capitoline Museum area: Grand

Victor Emannuel Monument: Grand but a tad too ornate. (The traffic circle around the monument is DANGEROUS. The city needs to put up traffic lights or have people controlling the flow of traffic. It didn't phase me too much because by then I had learned to just step out and keep my eyes peeled as I walked briskly across. I like to think that my if-you-hit-me-I'll-sue-pants-off-you look in my eyes kept the mopeds and drivers away. )

Pantheon: nice but cold inside. The Piazza was calmer--none of the shady characters in the Piazza Navona. The streets around the Pantheon are very small and reminiscent of the streets in Florence and Bologna.

Piazza Navona: Bernini's fountain was nice, but there were too many shady looking characters hanging about the fountain. I noticed that the cops were hanging round the area.

Food: Grotto d'Azurro on via Cicerone had decent food. If you speak Italian they may not try anything on you. Le Gran Hai Cheng (I'll have to look up the address) offered pretty good stir-fry. The cost for 3 people ordering 4 dishes, 3 bowls of white rice, a pot of tea was 33 euro. Most of the dishes were small by American Chinese restaurant standards, but commensurate with the portions we've been getting in Italy. Most of the dishes were about 3 or 4 euros. (I should mention that Mom spoke Chinese so we might have had slightly special treatment.) The food was simple and resembled home-cooked Chinese food--not too heavy on the sauces or MSG. The food was better than some of the Chinese food I've had in esoteric places, like London or Williamsburg. The food did get Mom's seal of approval.

Overall impression: Rome is the Italian version of NYC, but maybe a tad more dangerous because the cops tolerated more. (Did I mention that there were cops hanging around the main hall of Termini but they did nothing to prevent panhandlers from walking amongst the people quequing up to buy tickets?)

Later, I'll post the impressions of our daytrip (offered through Vastours in conjunction with Enjoy Rome) to Naples, Pompeii, and Sorrento.


lilleyl2 is offline  
Feb 16th, 2004, 10:36 AM
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Lilley, Italy is an European country so I think some of your problems stem from expecting it to be Americanized, such as your idea about the look of sueing someone if they hit you, it is not America, don't count on it.

The Italians have a whole different set of values so you sort of have to get into their mindset to have a wonderful time and not let little things disappoint or annoy you.

I learned that on my first trip to Europe and when I started thinking with the attitude that "oh this is how they do it here" instead of how I thought they should do it, my trips were as wonderful as I expected.
SeaUrchin is offline  
Feb 16th, 2004, 12:32 PM
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Sea Urchin

How many cylinders in the engine of an ancient Roman chariot?
Sue_xx_yy is offline  
Feb 16th, 2004, 08:52 PM
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Sue, I have missed the meaning of your question.
SeaUrchin is offline  
Feb 16th, 2004, 09:37 PM
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Sea Urchin, I don't expect Italy to be America. (It would be boring otherwise.) I'm merely commenting on the fact that Italy is less "affluent" than other Western European countries--like the UK for example.

I liked the small narrow medieval streets, the absence of supermarkets, etc. The reason why I "dwell" on certain things like the hip bath is because I found it curious and thought I should mention the differences so that people who have never been to Italy would have an idea of what to expect. I plead guilty to liking nitty-gritty details like descriptions on how to go from Termini to FCO. For example, many of the travel guides and posts in various fora talked about the gypsies and how they can be spotted. This was profoundly helpful because it alerted me to a potential problem. However, it WAS a pleasant surprise to me that we did not encounter too many gypsies in Florence or in Rome, except at the train stations and the Metro. it's kind of like getting the lie of the land from a map.

lilleyl2 is offline  
Feb 16th, 2004, 09:58 PM
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I wasn't critizing you or your travel style, but some of the hard times you had have to be expected when you are visiting ancient sites such as coldness in the Pantheon.

It just makes a trip abroad easier when a person expects the unexpected, as you have found out now.

Glad you liked what you did like, hope your next trip goes more smoothly.
SeaUrchin is offline  
Feb 16th, 2004, 10:11 PM
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Sue's point beats me too, SeaUrchin. It didn't seem to equate to "when in Rome...", but who knows? Whatever, a lot of wonderful things were invented in America, but not the motor car ... if that's the point.

Neil_Oz is offline  
Feb 17th, 2004, 05:08 AM
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No, Neil, the motorcar wasn't invented in America. Neither was the lawsuit. As for your rather smug inference that your ignorance of the meaning of my remark constitutes some sort of virtue, please bear in mind that SeaUrchin was so horrified by Lil's so-called ignorance, that SeaUrchin felt called upon to enlighten her.

SeaUrchin, while perhaps you meant only to champion the importance of emphasizing the positive when traveling, I was seeking a lighthearted way of reminding you that lecturing others on the cultural values of nations is hardly a modest undertaking. Values aren't necessarily culturally-specific, no matter what the postmodernists tell us.

I have found evidence for the lack of cultural specificity in the account of a certain individual who maintains that while other cultures embrace values of noble simplicity, the people of his own nation - a political superpower - are insensitive, corrupt, and overly fond of luxury. Sound familiar? Yet the author in question, one Cornelius Tacitus, wasn't speaking of America and Americans - how could he, he lived and wrote over 1700 years before the Declaration of Independence. Moreover, the people he criticized for their inordinate demand for luxury were his fellow Romans, the very people you maintain wouldn't complain about the lack of such luxuries as heating in the Pantheon. Assuming that an ancient Roman historian is at least as qualified as you to describe the ways and values of Romans, the people of that city are as capable as Lil of complaining about traffic, the tepid water in the Baths, the insolent manners of the slaves serving in the inns, the egregious ripoffs practiced by merchants, or the inferior quality of the victuals to be found at Suetonious' Wine Bar and Gutted Lamb Emporium.

SeaUrchin, you are of course entitled to your feelings - and so, indeed, is Lil. I wish only to object to your claim that complaints, or even observations that are just less than unconditionally positive, such as Lil's, reflect an ignorance of the values of Roman or indeed any other culture.
Sue_xx_yy is offline  
Feb 17th, 2004, 05:46 AM
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. . . which all boils down to if you don't just love everything and everyplace you go, you take a risk is posting your opinion here.
sandy_b is online now  
Feb 17th, 2004, 10:21 AM
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Oh please keep posting.


I have been reading your report and really like the way you tell YOUR story...

It is always a risk to write, to speak, to sing, to dance, to cook, to agree or to disagree.
I want the people who come to Fodors to keep taking risk and post their travel reports.

BTW: There are some really smart folks on this thread. BUT, try and keep it down so that the rest of us can "watch the movie"...

Oaktown Traveler
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Feb 17th, 2004, 10:47 AM
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Wow, Sue, you know alot of big words!

Did you mean to say they should have portable heaters installed in the Pantheon? Right on!

Now, back to the lilley12 trip report portion on the thread.......
SeaUrchin is offline  
Feb 17th, 2004, 09:54 PM
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Daytrip (Vastours) to Naples, Pompeii, and Sorrento

We took this trip the second to last day we left. We called up the day before to sign up for the tour. This tour costed 100 euro per person, and consisted of hotel pickup and drop off, bus trip from Rome to Naples to Pompeii, lunch, admission and a guided tour of Pompeii, a bust trip to Sorrento then back to Rome. It started at 7 a.m. and ended at about 9:30 p.m. The tour guides spoke English, Italian, Spanish, and German. Unlike other tours, Vastours DID take credit card payment for this tour. Interestingly, we had other people from Green Line Tours and people going to Capri instead of Pompeii on the same bus. This is probably to minimize expenses and maximizes profit.

We got picked up at 7 a.m. While driving to the Vastours office, noticed that there were a lot of cars on the road in Rome, and the buses were packed. The Romans (and Italians) must go to work early to make up for that long lunch break in the middle of the afternoon. (This will undoubtedly surprise some people who might have thought that Latins are more "indolent" because of the custom of siesta.)

When we drove out of Rome, we saw cars driving into Rome on the freeways we were on. However, in contrast to what we might see in America, where the freeways are parking lots around rush hour, there is very little commute traffic. This might mean that the Romans probably live and work in Rome.

The drive down to Naples was pleasant. I did notice that as we approached Naples, the land around the freeway became more heavily cultivated--we saw rows upon rows of cold frames. It was curious to see cold frames at the edge of the road and next to the freeway overpasses.

Impressions of Naples: industrial and a bit run down--a little bit like Philadelphia, but less affluent. Lots of graffitti, lots of clothes hanging from balconies that need to be cleaned and repainted with a fresh coat of paint. Must be nice to have warm enough weather so that you don't need a clothes dryer....At the harbor, the group split up--some people were ferried over to Capri, and would later rejoin the group at Sorrento.

We were taken to a cameo factory and a showroom. I was aware of the drill and was able to resist buying anything. Unfortunately, Mom and Sis did not. I noticed that they were the only ones that bought something.

Drove to Pompeii and stopped for lunch near the entrance to the excavations. Lunch was not as bad as I feared--from the descriptions of the posts here and what I read in the guidbooks, I had feared cafeteria food--pizza, lasagna and water. Instead we had bread, pasta marinara, pork scallopini, some white cake with a light, creamy frosting that contained some unidentifiable liqueur.

Pompeii was VERY COOL. Unfortunately, the guided tour was very superficial and almost a waste of time IMHO. However, my Mom and sister who did not read up on Pompeii enjoyed the tour. It's clear that I WILL have to revisit Pompeii, Herculaneum, and some of the ancient towns around the Bay of Naples.

We then drove to Sorrento. The area around Sorrento was extremely beautiful. When we got there, it was foggy, but the fog was not the wispy marine fog that blows about in San Franciso. Instead, the fog just sat over the ocean, making the horizon indistinguishable from the water. The mountains were limestone, and what was interesting was that there was fencing over the mountains--as if to prevent rockslides. The Sorrento area reminded me a little of La Jolla, except in some ways it's more rocky and had less tropical. There was a profusion of citrus trees--even the trees on the sidewalks were orange trees.

Stopped off again at a wood inlay workshop while waiting for the Capri bunch to rejoin the group. This time, managed to hustle Mom and Sis out of the workshop.

Sorrento at 4:30 or 5 p.m was pretty dead--most of the shops were closed. Wandered into a deli/minimart when it finally opened at 5:30 p.m. Saw that they had some limoncello for 6 euros, but decided to pass on that. (This might have been a mistake--what I finally bought at FCO was smaller and costed more, and made in Sicily to boot!)

The bus was scheduled to leave at 5:45 p.m. But some members of the group were missing. We waited until 6 p.m. Still no sign of the missing people, so the tour leader went in search of the missing people. At 6:15 p.m. they finally turned up with the tour leader--they had apparently got confused and waited at the wrong place.

Finally we were on our way back to Rome. We made a 15 min. stop at a reststop to grab some food, and continued back to Rome. We got to Rome at about 8:30 p.m. or so. By the time we were dropped off, it was 9:30 p.m.

Overall impressions of the tour: it was okay, but I am definitely NOT a tour person. Admittedly, they fact that we did go on the tour meant we saw aspects and parts of Italy we would normally not see if we stuck around the historical centers of Rome, Naples and Sorrento. The tour also made me realize that I want to see more of the Bay of Naples area, but not necessarily Naples.

BTW, Ira did ask and I kept meaning to include it in my post, we had a lot of gelati, in Florence and in Rome. I wished I had gelati in Bologna too, but the weather was too cold...I did find a decent gelateria in Florence, around the Duomo area and discovered "macedonia" flavor--it's a blend of citrus and other fruits, and tasted very delicate with a hint of bitterness from the citrus. Another great place where we had decent gelati was around the Pantheon, at the Gelateria de Palma (?)--my sister took us there because it had been written up in one of our guidebooks.

Despite the less than positive experiences we've had in some of the places, overall, I had a good time. It WAS an adventure because the only arrangements we made in advance were the hotel reservations and the flights to and from Italy--everything else, we did on the "fly." Now that I've done a self-guided trip, the next trip to Italy will probably involve the same degree of planning and prior arrangements. The only things I would change might be learn more Italian, and stay in more central hotels. Winter is the right time to go to Italy--not TOO many tourists, except in Rome, and I still get to see how everyday Italians live.

Well, this ends my trip report.


lilleyl2 is offline  
Feb 17th, 2004, 10:16 PM
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Thanks Lil for taking the time. It was a great, informative read!
klondike is offline  
Feb 18th, 2004, 12:40 AM
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Limoncello actually originates from Sicily. The real thing is more expensive but is usually made from organic lemons and is worth the money.
Your report was interesting in that it gave the viewpoint of what is probably the average tourist.
Feb 18th, 2004, 04:39 AM
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In fairness to me, folks, I was coming to Lil's defense, and while I concede I can be a smart ass with the best of 'em, in this case I was responding to other smart asses. But yes, I take your point, Oaktown, the cure shouldn't be worse than the disease. And I shouldn't have taken the bait to change the subject, especially when Lil didn't herself.

Lil, I did enjoy your honest impressions; your report was a real breath of fresh air. Thank you for refraining from whacking my head with a two-by-four, even though I sure gave you good reason with all my interruptions.
Sue_xx_yy is offline  
Feb 18th, 2004, 10:10 AM
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...ahhhh, I really liked the way this story ended...

Lilley12: Great job. Thanks for hanging in there!

My Best,
Oaktown Traveler
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Feb 18th, 2004, 10:33 AM
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<<Must be nice to have warm enough weather so that you don't need a clothes dryer.>>
Actually even in the colder areas of Italy you would see the laundry hung out to dry. The cost to run a clothes dryer is astronomical in Italy.

Interesting report, lilley.
ellenem is online now  

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