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Just back from Rome/Florence and thanks to great advice our trip was great!

Just back from Rome/Florence and thanks to great advice our trip was great!

Jan 6th, 2006, 11:03 AM
  #1  
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Join Date: Feb 2003
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Just back from Rome/Florence and thanks to great advice our trip was great!

Hi all,
My family of 18 just returned from a whirlwind 8 days in Rome and Florence and thanks to great past postings, I received all the helpful info I needed to make a great trip for all!
Really, I do thank everyone who contributes to this forum.
I'll just give a few highlights as to what was helpful to me.
In Rome we stayed at the Hotel Nazionale which was in a perfect location in my opinion. It is situated next to the Italian Parliament building on a quiet piazza with no car traffic.
The hotel was only a 2 min. walk from the Pantheon, which was my personal favorite site, and minutes from all other attractions. Hotel staff was accommodating and included breakfasts combined breads, cereals, meats, cheeses, juices, coffee and pastries. Yum.
I also had pre-booked three tours with Through Eternity tours. The guides met us each morning at the hotel at the designated times, complete with headsets so while walking, everyone could hear the guides explaining the sites we passed.
We toured the Roman Forum and Colosseum the first day, the Vatican (complete with Scavi tour, which I had pre-booked according to supplied phone numbers from Foderites) the second day, and the catacombs the third day.
I actually ask Angela, through my emails to Through Eternity Tours, to shorten the tours by about an hour and a half as we had ten children/young adults from 11-22 and wanted to keep their interest level without overload. (So basically we toured 3 1/2 hrs a day as opposed to 5).
She basically said they could do anything and the timing worked perfectly. The weather, however, wasn't perfect on our first day to the Forum and Colosseum as it was in the low 30s and raining.
Non-the-less, we soldiered on with umbrellas and the sites were spectacular anyway. Our guide that day was Marle, who was awesome.
The Vatican was quite spectacular and after our tour we had about an hour to grab a bite to eat before the Scavi tour started.
We were all looking forward to the tour after reading so much about it. However, the Swiss guard was very slow to let us in at our designated time (even after looking at my confirmation) so we were unable to report to the Scavi office until about 7 min. after our appointed time.
The man yelled at me when we got to the office and I thought he wouldn't let us on the tour at all. I just kept repeating in a nice, sincere voice that we were all ready to go past the guard about 10 min. in advance of our time, but he wouldn't let us in. I had to say it about 3 times and he raved on a bit, then split our group, but let us go.
One part of our group had a sweet Nun guide their tour and they thououghly enjoyed it. Our guide was extremely hard to understand so I don't think we got as much out of it as they did. However, seeing that part of the Vatican, which was off limits for 400 years, was amazing anyway, as were the bones of Peter. I guess if I was to offer advise, I'd say to keep after the Swiss guard to let you in on time. I didn't pester him after my initial communication, which probably was my mistake. Couldn't have hurt.
The kids really enjoyed the catacombs, which were more impressive than I was expecting. We had so much history given in our first three days, our heads were spinning with all the information. We did save the second half of each day for wandering around, enjoying the sites, statues and of course, food.
Our guide for the other two tours was Bianca, who was teriffic. Both guides were exceptional in personality and knew lot about everything we saw. I can't imagine seeing Rome, or at least parts of it, without a guide. Unless you were reading as you went, you would miss so much.
As the catacombs tour was scheduled Dec. 31, we finished mid-day and decided how to spend our evening. We ended up at a Rock concert at the Piazza de Rebublica which was quite a great experience. This piazza has two semi-circular buildings that were ablaze with laser pictures while the music was playing. It was a spectacular show. The music was a tribute from the 50s, 60s and 70s and featured mainly American artists. It was pretty interesting to be in Rome and hear Elvis, Beach Boys, Supremes, etc. They did play some Beatles and at the end had some Italian music, but 90 percent was American. They also had snippets from Martin Luther King during the presentation. The crowd of thousands loved it. So did our kids. My 11-year-old was disappointed they didn't have an actual countdown, just had a huge 2005 that switched to 2006 on the buildings, and that was it. But the fireworks, champagne, etc flowed and it was loud and crazy. One of our college-age kids started a congo-line on our way out (it was bumper-to-bumper people in the piazza) so that we all grabbed eachother's backs and danced our way out, hanging on for dear life. There were many thousands of people there!! When we got outside the piazza we had about 40-50 additional people in our line; it was a hoot!.....
I also, after trying many days to figure out how to book 18 people together on the train from Rome to Florence and back, finally broke down and used Budget European Travel for our train tickets before we left. (They were mentioned on this site several times also). Linda, was so efficient, booked us at a group rate and we all sat together. I also had the tickets in my hand before we left, which worked well for me. We paid a little extra per ticket for the service, but it was well worth it to me.
In Florence, we stayed at the Hotel Davanzatti, which was also perfect for our group. Fabrizio, the owner, his wife and father were ready for us when we arrived at noon, with restaurant recommendations in hand. He even called for them to have our tables ready. Each night, Fabrizio provided complimentary champagne and appetisers in the dining area for several hours and it was a great time to visit with others staying in this small hotel.
We really loved this hotel and the location was absolutely perfect for wandering around Florence. Again, great breakfasts.
I also took Ira's advise on calling the Academia ahead and booking a time to see the David. SO very glad I did as the line at 9:30 a.m. was around the building. We just walked right up and were given access the min. we arrived. That is GREAT information. and the phone call was actually less than 2 min. to make. Thanks for that.
The only other comment I have is about our hotel the last evening back in Rome. We stayed for one night at the Hotel Miami, which is located about 5 min. from the Termini. We actually walked (all 18 of us with bags - it is a visual) to this location as it wasn't raining. It was on a nice street and the hotel was nice and clean for that brief evening.
As some in our group had to be at the airport by 5 a.m. we weren't at that hotel long enough to make much difference.
We are now going through the 400 or so pictures my husband took and will relive it all again this weekend, along with my olive spread, new purses and wallets and Santa Maria Novella lotions I purchased while there. Italy is awesome! Thanks for the help. Jane
jane00 is offline  
Jan 6th, 2006, 11:20 AM
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Wow! What a group you were! Good planning. It sounds like you all had a great time.
Catbert is offline  
Jan 6th, 2006, 11:23 AM
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Jane,

It sounds like your family had just a great time! How fun to be in Rome on New Year's Eve. The concert must have been great. It does seem like the Italians like to play American rock, doesn't it? I had the same experience at a community fund raising evening in Montalcino.

Congrats on arranging and pulling off a trip for 18! You are now qualified to give advice on Fodor's.

Ciao
Dayle is offline  
Jan 6th, 2006, 11:34 AM
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dcd
 
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Gotta love Fabrizio!! I know we did. Glad you had a great trip. Sounds like you had your hands full. It was nice of you to play tour guide. I'm sure it will be a trip they always remember. Thanks for sharing.
Dave
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Jan 6th, 2006, 01:00 PM
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Oh my gosh that sounds like a fun trip. Did you like Rome or Florence better? How about the kids, which one did they prefer?
wliwl is offline  
Jan 7th, 2006, 09:34 AM
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Hey wliwl,
Can't really say which one we liked better. They were both the best in their own way. We love cities, even the kids, so Rome was fun for us all. The older kids would take off at night and we had no hesitation for them to do so. (Though they stayed in the general area.) In Florence, it has perhaps a more quaint feel, but was always hustling with people, etc. Again, the kids would walk around on their own, and we felt good about them doing so. Actually, I think our kids are happier in larger environments with more options of things to do, so both cities met our needs. Jane
jane00 is offline  
Jan 13th, 2006, 09:06 AM
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Jane00:
Wow! how did you pull this off? Looks like you did great in planning.
Family of 12 planning to spend Christmas in Paris and New Year's in Rome this year; flying from 2 diff. airports.
Been to Paris several times and Rome once but not with the whole gang.
I was going to wait for specials thru go-today.com but worried about the choice of hotels they'll offer.
Thinking of booking our own hotel soon and flights around Sept. when some airlines offering specials for winter.

thanks.
passion4travel is offline  
Jan 13th, 2006, 09:35 AM
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Making arrangements for 5 almost did me in...I cannot imagine 18! You get the gold medal!
sandi_travelnut is offline  
Jan 13th, 2006, 02:31 PM
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ttt
dewdrops is offline  
Jan 13th, 2006, 04:10 PM
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HI. Can you give me info on booking the Scavi tour. I have emailed them, but never heard back. I read on another forum that you get an automated reply when you email them, but mine never came. You mentioned phone numbers for booking this. Any help you provide would be most appreciated. Thank you for taking the time to post your wonderful trip report. I really enjoyed reading about your trip. It sounds wonderful.
mauitammy is offline  
Jan 13th, 2006, 05:48 PM
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Jane00

Your trip report was fun to read, and I agree that you are a champion trip planner.

We had a 16 person trip to Naples, Florida, about 3 years ago, but no one had to do much planning. It was really fun, though.

Anyway, you did a fantastic thing, and I am really glad you all had a good time.
tuscanlifeedit is offline  
Jan 13th, 2006, 06:53 PM
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Eighteen people!Wow-you're impressive!
massagediva is offline  
Jan 13th, 2006, 10:25 PM
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Great report.

We overlapped some --we arrived in Rome on the 18th. Eleven of us (including my family) went back on the 30th and five stayed on until Jan. 4.

I tried to stay away from being the organizer, although a few times I got sucked back into it. It was all worth the effort though.

I saw the references for that concert. It looked fun.
5alive is offline  
Jan 16th, 2006, 10:51 AM
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Hi Mauitammy,
This is the email address that responded back to me about my request for the scavi tour.

[email protected]

After they responded we could go, they wanted everyone's name and age. However, I don't think this is the address I first used to contact them.
But I did find the information on this site after searching "scavi tour" in the search box. You'll have to read through the responses to find email addresses. Hope this helps.
(Sorry I don't still have it, but I first contacted them last August.) Jane
P.S. 5alive - The new year's concert was awesome! A little wet, but great!
jane00 is offline  
Jan 16th, 2006, 10:58 AM
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It sounds like a wonderful trip! I'm particularly interested in the catacombs tour you took. We're going in May with a couple of friends and are looking for recommendations on which catacombs to chose with logistical details. Thanks, in advance!
dorkforcemom is offline  
Jan 16th, 2006, 12:01 PM
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dorkforcemom,
I have that information at home and I am at my office right now. I'll get back with you in about an hour, after I get kids from school! It is funny you should ask though, that is one tour I shortened and we just saw one catacomb site, as my group was pooping out on tours and it was new year's eve! We feel like one was enough though, to get the picture. I'll be back in touch. Jane
jane00 is offline  
Jan 16th, 2006, 01:21 PM
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Ok dorkforcemom,
I have the information now. We saw the Catacombs of St. Sebastian, which were big and great to see. I think the guide said there were 7 miles of tunnels underground. On that tour we also went to the Basilica of San Clemente which has three levels of different time periods, the lowest being a 1st century road with buildings and early Christian meeting rooms. Because of time, we didn't see other catacombs, but feel like we saw plenty at St. Sebastians. The church on the top of the catacombs also contains interesting relics. Jane
jane00 is offline  
Jan 17th, 2006, 07:25 AM
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Thanks for the info! Was this one of the private tours you arranged? or...did you show up at the catacombs & arrange a tour there...
dorkforcemom is offline  
Jan 17th, 2006, 07:58 AM
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No, I had arranged everything before we left for Italy through the Through Eternity people via email. They set up which catacombs we saw and guided us also through the Basicila of San Clemente, as we had a large group. (We also had use of a van for just our group on this particular day as the catacombs aren't within walking distance from the hotel and we didn't want to brave public transportation with such a large group.) However, a guide working at the catacombs took us through that site, not our guide from Through Eternity, who accompanied us underground. So I would imagine if you went to the catacombs, paid your admission, a guide would be taking you through the site. It didn't seem as if they let you wander down there by yourself. Some other visitors to the catacombs arrived as we were leaving, and a guide was paged to take them down. You probably ought to check it out online. Jane
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Jan 29th, 2006, 11:26 AM
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great report!
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