Rome & Florence Trip Report 2012

Jun 12th, 2012, 01:50 PM
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Rome & Florence Trip Report 2012

We just got back from an amazing one-week trip to Italy, and wanted to share some highlights and tips. We flew to Rome (on US Airways from Charlotte) spent about 3 and a half days there, then took the high-speed train to Florence for another 3 days (then back to Rome to fly out). All our travel plans worked out very well, and we loved our hotels! By the way, we hope it’s not blasphemous to say on a Fodor’s forum, but we almost exclusively used the Rick Steves’ guidebooks and maps, and thought they were great

ROME HOTEL: In Rome, we stayed at the Tiziano Hotel, recommended by my brother who had stayed there a couple times. The location just can’t be beat… right on Corso Vittorio Emmanuel in the historical district. We could walk everywhere, and mainly only used taxis to and from the train station and airport. It was only a few minutes’ stroll to both the Campo di Fiori and Piazza Navona, so walking to dinner was easy. We reserved a standard double room, but they upgraded us to the deluxe, which was beautiful and large, with 20-foot high ceilings! Breakfast was included, but the room wasn’t cheap (240 Euros a night). We still felt it was worth it.

ROME RESTAURANTS: Restaurants we loved were Insalata Ricca (fantastic large salads, pizzas and pasta… casual and fun), Massenzio (near the forum), La Scaletta Degli Artisti (on a side street behind Piazza Navona), Maranega (on Campo di Fiori… amazing ravioli and gnocchi).

SITES: Here’s how we broke down our sightseeing itinerary. Day 1 was really only a half-day, so we just did the sites in the center of town (Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, etc.) Day 2 was Ancient Rome (Colosseum, Forum, Capitoline Museum). Day 3 was Vatican City, and Day 4 was for the sights to the Northeast (Borghese, National Museum, etc.) We bought RomaPasses and thought it was well worth it – 30 euros each, and you get to skip the long lines, and get free entrance to your first two sites. Below is a bunch of detail on the sites for anyone interested.

ROME DAY 1 – We did a quick visit of the Piazza Navona, then went to two of the nearby small churches: San Luigi dei Francesi (with the Caravaggios) and Santa Maria Sopra Minerva (the one with the elephant by Bernini out front). We really liked both of these churches, and it was refreshing to get away from the throngs that we would find at the more major sites. After that was the Pantheon (wonderful, but of course, crowded), and then onto an unbearably crowded Trevi Fountain. Uch! Seriously, we really couldn’t enjoy being there. We even tried coming back a few days later, but the crowds were worse. So anyway, we did what we did most afternoons, which was get a long lunch with plenty wine and hung out On our way back to our hotel, we stopped at the Victor Emmanuel Monument (nice views overlooking the forum), then discovered the ruins of Largo Argentina – and found out that now serves as a cat hospice!

ROME DAY 2 – We started out by purchasing our RomaPasses down the street from the Colosseum (at the Palatine Hill entrance). Lines had already formed by 8:30 am, so we were glad we went and got the passes immediately. We got right into the Coloseeum with zero wait time, and since it was early, it was less crowded and more enjoyable. Then we saw Mark Zuckerberg standing right next to us – he was on his honeymoon, and it hadn’t even come out yet that he was there! I snuck a picture and said “Hi Mark” but was promptly ignored LOL! After the Colosseum, we took a quick detour up to St. Peter in Chains where Michelangelo’s Moses is. I definitely recommend checking this out! Then we headed back to the Forum. I’m not a big ruins person, but it was still nice and I got some great pictures. After lunch at this nice little place, Massenzio, we went to the Capitoline Museum. I have to say that this was one of my favorite things we did in Rome! I absolutely loved this museum. Again, it wasn’t crowded at all, and we got in free with our RomaPasses. It was clean and modern, and had room after room filled with fantastic sculptures and all sorts of interesting things. On top of this, we were lucky that they had a temporary exhibit called “Lux in Arcana,” with all kinds of secret Vatican documents on display. The variety of things to see in this museum was just great, and we really had fun here. Afterwards, we followed the Rick Steves’ guidebook on how to walk from the Capitoline Museum into the Santa Maria in Aracoeli church without having to go all the way to the bottom, then climb the gazillion steps back up to the church! The church was okay, but if you’re not right there, I wouldn’t recommend climbing all the steps. Inside it’s just very ornate (that’s an understatement).

ROME DAY 3 –I had purchased online our tickets to the Vatican Museum. I got the earliest time offered for individuals (9am) and we got there even earlier. However, I was irritated to see how many gigantic tour groups they were letting in before us (starting around 8:30am). So here I’m thinking we’d be among the first ones in, and there were like a thousand people let in before us! Once we got in, we were already stuck behind the tour groups. I was so irritated that I said, “Let’s just run ahead of everyone and head straight to the Sistine Chapel.” Well, my irritation and impatience ended up being a good strategy! We held hands and wove our way through the crowds (it wasn’t easy) and took the “short cut” to the Sistine Chapel. We must have passed like 20 tour groups. When we got to the chapel, there were only a dozen people in there! It was quiet and cool and we could look at the ceiling for like 20 minutes! I had visited the Sistine Chapel (some 20 years ago) and hated it, ‘cause it was hot and we were herded through like cattle. Some friends experienced the same thing recently, so this was really a pleasant surprise. Obviously, since traffic only flows one way in the museum, we had missed everything else, so we basically did another “lap” to see the other rooms. Then, the other “coup” of the day was following the instructions in the Rick Steves’ guide to get to St. Peters by exiting the Sistine Chapel via the door in the right rear. This led us right out onto the steps of St. Peters, completely bypassing the HUGE security lines. Doing this literally saved us hours! Later in the afternoon, we headed over to the Gesu church since it was really close to our hotel, and it was a beautiful place. Nothing worth a special trip, but worth stopping in if you’re close by.
CarolM is offline  
Jun 12th, 2012, 01:51 PM
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ROME DAY 4 – We had gotten our reservations for the Borghese Gallery ahead of time, and chose the 9am slot. We took a taxi to get there at 8:30am. As I’ve read other posters mention, you do indeed have to be there 30 minutes prior to your reserved time. They basically take your reservation and give you a ticket, then check your bags (everything HAS to be checked, even small purses and – sadly – cameras). Such a bummer not to be able to take pictures of the Bernini sculptures. Actually, don’t start me on this topic – I know it’s been 20 years since I’ve been to Italy, but back then we were able to take pictures of everything. I understand how flash can be bothersome to others (or degrade paintings), but with other things, I think it’s stupid to not be able to take photos with the flash off. Rant complete (kinda). Anyway, the Borghese Gallery is very nice, and you can pretty much see everything in under an hour. After this, we took a taxi down to the church of Santa Maria della Vittoria to see the amazing Bernini sculpture “Ecstasy of St. Theresa.” This was closed for renovations when I went 20 years ago, and I was so disappointed – so it was a must-see for me on this trip! Simply amazing. Then we walked to the Baths of Diocletian (a basilica now) and that was nice for a quick visit, then we walked to the National Museum. There’s some great, famous stuff here, and I really enjoyed it! Later in the afternoon, we walked over the river into the Trastevere area, then back over the river into the Jewish ghetto. Interesting area! We wanted to tour the synagogue, but you needed advance reservations with an escorted tour (for security purposes).

FLORENCE – From the Rome Termini station, we took the train up to Florence. Not being used to trains, we were initially confused about finding our track (Milan, not Florence, was the listed final destination for our train), so we learned to only look for the train number, then find the coach car number to walk to on the track. After the quick hour-and-a-half trip, we walked across the street to the small Tourist Information office and bought two Florence Cards. These are similar to the RomaPasses, and we loved being able to skip the lines again. They’re more expensive (50 euros each), but again we thought it was worth it to skip the lines. Our hotel in Florence was this little B&B called “Residenza Giotto” and we LOVED it! We payed a little extra for a “duomo view” room and it was perfect… you could lay in bed and look out the French doors for a full view of the bell tower and duomo! It also had a little balcony, as well as a larger common terrace where you have breakfast. Also, each night we bought a bottle of wine and sat on the terrace, with a gorgeous view of the lit-up cathedral. The couple who run the B&B are really sweet and very helpful, and the location was perfect – on Via Roma, just a block away from the duomo. We thought the room was reasonable at 140 Euros.

RESTAURANT: By far, our favorite meal of the trip was in Florence at Caffe Coquinarius, on Via dell’Oche. We didn’t have a reservation, but went early enough that they let us have a table. If I gush on about the food, I’ll sound like an idiot – but it was seriously one of the best meals I’ve had in my life!

SITES: On Day 1, we started at the Accademia, and because of our Florence Cards, we were able to waltz to the front of a VERY long line, and walk right in. Before seeing the David, we checked out a great little room of musical instruments (Amati and Stradivarius cellos, violins, etc.). Once we were in the main hall, I snapped my first and last picture of the David (without flash) before getting yelled at. I wonder how tourists visiting the U.S. would feel if they were told they couldn’t take a picture of the iconic Statue of Liberty? Never mind… Anyway, of course David and the “Prisoner” sculptures were amazing. Then we went to one of our other favorite places of the whole trip: the Duomo Museum. It was great! It has one of the famous Michelangelo pietas, as well as lots of interesting artifacts, including a newly renovated carved silver altar, original sculptures from the face of the campanile, and lots more. One thing we wish we had done: you can buy a “combo” ticket for the duomo museum, campanile climb, baptistery, etc. (We didn’t see this and ended up buying separate tickets.) Afterwards, we chose to climb the 400-something stairs to the top of the campanile (bell tower). The line to climb the duomo was insane, and we had great views from the campanile as well. Definitely had to stop a few times along the way, but it was really fun and well worth it! Then we went inside the Baptistery. I think most people just admire the beautiful doors, but definitely go inside! The entire ceiling is covered with this amazing medieval gold mosaic. It is really just gorgeous, and there was hardly anyone inside, so you can take your time and enjoy it. I LOVED this. Last thing of the day, we visited the Orsanmichele church (eh). Followed by hazelnut gelato

The next day was Santa Maria Novella church (loved the Ghirlandaio frescos), Medici chapels (followed by shopping for leather), then headed over to the Bargello Museum and the Piazza and Loggia with all the sculptures. Wrapping up the day was Santa Croce church and the Synagogue. (The Synagogue is the building with the green dome.) Security was really tight here, and you had to put your cameras and cell phones in a locker and pass through a metal detector before entering. Pretty sad that they have to do this. The interior was beautiful, but it’s a very quick visit.

Our third day in Florence, we took a taxi up to the Piazzale Michelangelo for views of the city (unfortunately it was pretty hazy that day), then did the easy 20-minute walk back down to the river, and checked out the Ponte Vecchio. From there we visited the Galileo Museum, which we also loved! Then the Uffizi was randomly closed for a few hours for a “staff meeting,” so we went to the Palazzo Vecchio. Thought this was totally boring and definitely could have skipped it. After a quick swing through the Uffizi, we had to check out and take the train back to Rome, where the Tiziano Hotel surprised us by upgrading us to their huge suite with an enormous private terrace! It was a nice way to end our trip. I hope to post some pictures soon, so I’ll follow up with a link once I do that. Thanks for reading, and if anyone has any questions, I’d be happy to answer.

Carol ☺
CarolM is offline  
Jun 12th, 2012, 03:42 PM
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Good info...we head to Rome in September. We just got our Scavi tour reservations at the Vatican confirmed and are now trying to figure out the best way to do the Sistine. A small tour group at 8am or the Friday evening reservations....thanks for your report.
denisea is online now  
Jun 12th, 2012, 04:22 PM
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"then discovered the ruins of Largo Argentina � and found out that now serves as a cat hospice!"

That is the 'Torre Argentina Roman Cat Sanctuary'.

They are actually squatters there, every so often they receive an official Roman Gov't eviction notice which they ignore which in turn the Roman Gov't ignores which makes everyone happy on both sides.

In seems years ago they could only feed the cats from the sidewalk as the site is fenced-in and locked.

But an archaeologist who was working at the site at the time give them a key to have better access to the cats.

And they slowly moved-in over time and now have a very nice operation going on given the small space they have available.

I'm a history buff and normally would agree with an eviction to someone illegally squatting at an historical site.

But the area they occupy is just a partial section of the concrete podium/foundation of 'Temple D', most of which is still under the modern street.

Bottomline; Millions of tourists every year walk on 2000yr old streets in Rome, I don't think the volunteers and the kitties can damage anything of archaeological value on a solid concrete podium but I'm a cat person and maybe bias.
Scroll down to my March 1, 2012 post perhaps you took a photo there that shows the remains of the Curia Pompey where Julius Caesar was assassinated?

That www.vroma....largoargent11.jpg photo shows the assassination site and in the background the cat sanctuary location alongside and under the sidewalk in the background. Regards, Walter
ParadiseLost is offline  
Jun 12th, 2012, 04:35 PM
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>>>I snuck a picture and said “Hi Mark” but was promptly ignored LOL!<<<

I can't believe Mark didn't say hi! lol I ran into William Petersen in a restaurant on his honeymoon in Verona (2003?). I took a pic too. Pretended I was taking a picture of my daughter sitting across from me, but he gave me a dirty look.
kybourbon is offline  
Jun 13th, 2012, 01:40 PM
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Hi Carol,

Thanks for a terrific report.

One question - I am not aware that you need a reservation for the synagogue in Rome. Is this a new thing? I know that the security line can be long. Any insight that you may have would be appreciated!
jamierin is offline  
Jun 13th, 2012, 01:56 PM
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Thanks jamierin, my girlfriend just corrected me about the synagogue requiring reservations. You don't need to reserve but apparently they only offer a guided tour every hour, and that's the only way to get inside. It costs 7.50 euro for the tour and gets you into the museum.
CarolM is offline  
Jun 13th, 2012, 02:22 PM
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on how to walk from the Capitoline Museum into the Santa Maria in Aracoeli church without having to go all the way to the bottom, then climb the gazillion steps back up to the church! The church was okay, but if you’re not right there, I wouldn’t recommend climbing all the steps. Inside it’s just very ornate (that’s an understatement). ≥≥

lol, Carol, when we were there a few years ago, as we were walking down the steps of Santa maria, a bride was walking up! She had stopped about half-way and was talking in a very animated way to someone on her "telefonino" and i imagined that she was berating the idiot [or worse] who had suggested this church as a good place to get married.

BTW - i was going to past the same thing about the Synagogue.
annhig is offline  
Jun 14th, 2012, 05:58 AM
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annhig, very funny! I can't imagine doing those steps in a gown!
CarolM is offline  
Jun 14th, 2012, 06:26 AM
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Nice report, CarolM.
Grazie for posting it.
MarnieWDC is offline  
Jun 14th, 2012, 09:45 AM
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i enjoyed reading your trip report. That was pretty funny about Mark Zuckerburg ignoring you at the Colosseum LOL.... i wonder what he would have said if you asked him to add you?
tailsock is offline  
Jun 14th, 2012, 10:55 AM
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Thanks guys. Yeah, that's it, I'm 'unfriending' Zuckerberg
CarolM is offline  
Jun 14th, 2012, 11:03 AM
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And here's a link to the picture of Zuckerberg ignoring me LOL!
CarolM is offline  
Jul 28th, 2012, 02:31 PM
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Another nice TR! Thanks, CarolM. Hub and I were able to take pix when we saw David in 1997. I did not know about getting to St. Peters from Cistine-great info.

Quite frankly, I don't understand the hostility toward Rick Steves. Although he wasn't the only sources DH and used for our trips, his getting in and out of towns was very helpful.

Where next?
TDudette is online now  
Jul 28th, 2012, 05:14 PM
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Thanks CarolM. Florence and Rome are the bookends to our 2 week trip to Italy in October. My itinerary roughly parallels yours. I will be sure to add some of your recommendations!
italy2012 is offline  
Jul 30th, 2012, 09:37 AM
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TDudette - thanks again! I have to admit that I initially found Rick Steves a bit irritating (maybe corny?) at first... but once I really dug into his materials, I found SO many useful tips and lots of wonderful in-depth material. I also really enjoyed his "Europe 101" for background on history and art - it was the best pre-trip read!

italy2012 - I hope you have a fabulous trip! How can you not???
CarolM is offline  

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