Rome report, late Sept 01

Old Oct 8th, 2001, 08:45 AM
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Rome report, late Sept 01

All of you Rome veterans must have been smiling to yourself when during my pre-trip planning
I was dithering on this message board about taking daytrips to Pompeii or elsewhere. You all showed remarkable restraint. I barely scratched the surface of Rome in 5.5 days and never did any daytrips. I am an avid sightseer, some might say obsessive-compulsive, and I was out every day from 9am to at least 6pm, with a short break for lunch, and there is so much I didn't see that was on my list!
The following expresses my personal reactions and opinions, it doesn't intend to make pronouncements on the intrinsic value of anything I saw or did.

Never have the right shoes been as important to me as they were in Rome. It is not enough that they be comfortable, they have to be sturdy and do healthful things for your feet. If you tour the Forum, for example, you will be walking on broken pavement, slippery rocks, up and down inclines and steps, etc and your limb, if not your life ,will be in jeopardy if you are not sure-footed.
For this trip I had bought Mephistos, and I loved them, but everyone's foot and budget are different. Rome, like other cities in Italy, doesn't make many if any adjustments for people who are disabled, low on stamina, or elderly. Most public sites don't have elevators, and they do have lots of stairs to climb.

I cannot sing loudly enough the praises of Scala Reale as a walking tour organization. Information on my pre-arranged tours was waiting for me when I arrived at my hotel--a nice welcome to Rome. The Orientation Hike, almost 2 1/2 hours rather than the advertised two hours, was very informative, helped me "get my feet wet", and also knocked off a couple of venues (Baths of Diocletian, S. Maria Vittoria church) that were on my must-see list. Their 4-hour tour of the Coliseum and Forum was absolutely essential and one of the best sightseeing activities I have ever done. Not boring for one second, our guide seemed to cover and know everything there was to know. Otherwise, I would have been wandering aimlessly looking at broken columns and trying to understand why one arch was different from another. Scala Reale was also very organized and reliable; when a change in schedule became necessary (due to a lot of English-speakers having canceled), they not only faxed the schedule change to my hotel but called to discuss it as well.
Old Oct 8th, 2001, 08:47 AM
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From Sept 23-Sept 29, 2001 I had near 80-degree F temperatures, and bright sunshine. Evenings were somewhat cooler, but I doubt those temps were much below 65F or so.
I didn't use any of my cooler-weather clothes in Rome, and thank deity for hotel laundry and drycleaning which was indeed expensive, but necessary. I also used up all the little Woolite packets I always take with me.

Car Service that picked me up at the airport: Euroservice, email is [email protected]
Driver was there when I arrived, he helped me with my luggage, he was friendly and a good driver, we chatted a lot on the ride in. His name was Danilo.

Maps: Insight Map: Rome is very good for a macro-orientation and for metro stops, but it, as well as "Streetwise Rome" is lousy for finding your way when you are walking because too many small streets and alleys are not labeled on the map. On the other hand, Michelin's Roma Tascabile was my new best friend. It is a 5X8 spiral-bound book, and it has an alpha list of seemingly all streets. It doesn't however offer a city-wide view, so that's what the Insight Map or the Streetwise map can do for you.

Hotel Santa Chiara. Perfect as far as I'm concerned. My bathroom was larger than I would have expected, although the shower stall was only slightly-larger than a coffin. My single room was decent sized, not overly large, but I have stayed in double rooms in Paris, for example, in rooms that were no larger than this one. If I had one hesitation it would only be that the Santa Chiara isn't very close to a metro stop. Relatively speaking, metro stops in Rome are few and far between. Walking, buses, and taxis are the way to get around. Walking and buses eat up a lot of time; taxis start to add up because the distances are longer than you might think from looking at the map.

In the metro ticket machines take bills as well as coins, and the machines speak several languages. For a single ticket you push the button for "ordinario" and you will still have the option to increase the number of tickets that you want to buy. Machine options are also available for daily passes, carnets, etc.

I had reserved in advance for the Domus Aurea and the Borghese Gallery via
Email service
[email protected]
They charge a commission of course. My reservations were there as promised, you pay for the actual ticket when you arrive at the venue.
The Domus Aurea was great, but the Borghese Gallery was, after the Coliseum and Forum, the next best thing I did in Rome, including the Vatican. I would consider the Domus Aurea to be on the B list, a very good thing to do, but can be skipped if time is really pressing. Since I didn't get to Pompeii, at least the D.A. gave me a limited glimpse of a 1st-century grand domicile, with just a remaining trace of mosaics and wall-paintings.
Old Oct 8th, 2001, 08:47 AM
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The Vatican:
I had written to my local Cardinal' s office to see if they could offer any suggestions or assistance with visiting Vatican City. Even though I am not Catholic, they kindly responded with a letter telling me to arrive at the V. Museums on a particular day and time and to go to the ticket window labeled "Special Visits." That allowed me to entirely skip the quarter-mile-long line of people that were waiting to get in. What was reserved for me was a spot in the daily 11:00 am two-hour
English-speaking tour of the Vatican Museums. Except for the skipping the line part, this arrangement was a mixed blessing, excuse the pun. Our tour guide was knowledgeable, but her heavily-accented English was not loud enough or clear enough to be understood over the general din of the crowds. By the time we reached the Sistine Chapel two hours later, let's just say I wasn't very moved. As we entered the Chapel I was first struck by the noise of the crowd and the oppressive crowd itself. Very few seats are available; most people mill about trying to stare at the ceiling. Once in a while a guard would shout "Quiet!" to the crowd, which had a 4-second effect.
I followed the sign that indicated both the Exit and the way to the Vatican cafeteria. It's a good place to eat, with quality food, lots of salads, and also freshly-roasted meats sliced to order. After regrouping a bit, I walked the 15 minute-walk back to the Sistine for another try. No problem by the way walking from the Cafeteria/restroom area, skipping the other museum areas I'd already seen, and going directly back to the Sistine Chapel. It was very slightly less-crowded at 2pm than it had been at 1:15, but only slightly. I did my best to look at it intently and try to engrave it on my brain, but I can't wait to take a quiet afternoon soon here at home and devote it to scrutinizing Michelangelo's great work by looking at the pictures in a good art book. The real thing was just not the spiritual or aesthetic experience I was hoping for.

Note: when I left the Sistine Chapel the second time, I took the exit that is marked
"for tour groups only." If you walk out with a group, or even just a couple of other people, it doesn't seem to be a problem. I walked out past a guard who didn't seem to care that I wasn't following the rules. If you exit there, you come out right at St. Peter's Square (the Sistine Chapel is actually part of St. Peter's.) It saves you a 15-minute walk from the Vatican Museum exit to St. Peter's. If you take this group exit, you can't go back to the Vatican Museum's cafeteria or bookshop or bathroom.

St. Peter's was awesome, and my English-speaking guide was a British lady, so no language difficulties there. The Pieta is smaller than I expected, some distance from the viewers, and behind plexiglass, so it too was disappointing to me because I couldn't see the sculptural details.

When I go to Rome the next time, I will not hesitate for one second to book Scala Reale's Vatican tour, which is what I should have done in the first place.

Old Oct 8th, 2001, 08:48 AM
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Myosotis, Vicolo Della Vaccarella 3/5, was excellent. Simple décor, inviting pink color scheme. Complete dinner for one with a glass of wine, L 62,000.

One of the restaurants I'd asked my hotel to reserve in advance for me was Vecchia Roma, highly-praised on this forum and elsewhere. For the first time in my experience I got a message back that the restaurant would not reserve a table for one person.

I had one dinner at Piperno, well-known place in the Ghetto area. Their famous
carciofa alla giudecca (a deep-fried artichoke) was delicious, and the service was fine, but I
thought the food otherwise unmemorable and almost twice the price of Myosotis. Their menu is in both Italian and English, and they offered a translation of the name of one of their desserts as
"Fried Grandpa's Balls."

I had dinner two nights in a row at the same restaurant--I've never done that anywhere before.
It was a recommendation from this board, La Tartaruga, via Monte della Farina. That's a small street that starts next to the church of St Andrea della Valle, immediately south of Corso Vittorio Emmanuelle, near the Pantheon/Piazza Navona area. What a great little restaurant!
It is family-run, and the same family owns a farm in Tuscany where they produce their own olive oil and wine vinegar. All the food was outstanding on both nights (the second night I went with some new acquaintances) and as simple as it sounds, the mandarin (tangerine) sorbet was to die for.

I had one very casual dinner on Piazza Navona, at Ai Tre Tartufi. Next door is I Tre Scalini, famous for its desserts and gelati, but doesn't offer much else in the way of food, at least not at the outdoor tables. Ai Tre Tartufi had very good pizza. Pizza not like what I'm used to--this was dinner-plate sized for one person, very thin and crisp crust, toppings were generous but light, not too much mozzarella, not too much sauce. Their gelao may not be dubbed the best, but it was plenty yummy as far as I was concerned. I don't think I've ever met a gelato I didn't like.

I liked Rome very much, but I didn't fall in love with it, it didn't grab my soul the way Venice, Paris, and even Florence have. I will certainly go again, but I found it big, and especially very noisy and hectic. It actually made me feel that my own New York City is calmer by comparison.

I will be adding the above information, and more, to my Rome file, which I will be happy to send to out to anyone within a week or so if you email me directly.

I will also post some new details on Venice which I revisited after Rome.
Old Oct 8th, 2001, 09:02 AM
Neal Sanders
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Elaine, we probably crossed paths several times in Rome to judge from your itinerary. I second your thoughts on the Vatican; 'way too many people and lines (though getting there 15 minutes before the museum opened was a big help. I also went a different morning at opening time for the ride/walk up to the top of St. Peters, which was well worth the 8000L. The interior of St. Peters is actually more impressive from up in the balcony of the dome than it is at ground level. And, the decision to put the Pieta behind plexiglass and 30 feet from the nearest viewing point is a poor security compromise. I just hope your guide didn't make you walk through the Vatican's modern art collection, which is utterly dreadful.
Old Oct 8th, 2001, 09:26 AM
dan woodlief
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Excellent report Elaine. It is people like you and Art who are making me more and more stubborn about going through with my trip, terrorists or no terrorists. I especially appreciated your tips on restaurants, maps, and other things. I have my own Vatican plan, but I don't know if there is a perfect plan for it. I want to visit St. Peter's at 7:00 when it opens (although my wife might hate me for it), then either climb the dome or head over to the museums (I might save the dome for another day when I have a 3:15 Scavi tour). Haven't decided on whether to rush for the Sistine Chapel or just see it when I get there. I hope my weather is at least close to as good as yours. I have a question for you regarding Venice. What is your feeling for how much can realistically be covered in three full days? I want to see 10-15 churches (at least in brief), the Doge's Palace (including Secret Itinerary), the Basilica, the Campanile, the view from Giorgio Maggiore, the Accademia (1 1/2-2 hours), the Peggy Guggenheim Collezione, and walk at least the best areas of each of the sestieri. Should I rule out a half-day trip to Torcello/Burano and just concentrate on Venice?
Old Oct 8th, 2001, 09:32 AM
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I read your interesting posting on your own trip, and it seems you know Rome from several trips.
I don't feel that I learned the
key to Rome, it seems like it has secrets that I just didn't uncover. I do think that my expectations on how much I could or should see and do in a few days were completely unrealistic. I visited many churches for example, but there were 15 others that I wanted to see but didn't. Yet, I now think that perhaps I tried too hard, and may have overloaded my brain and my stamina in the process.

I took a walk on my own through the Ghetto and Trastevere area, but didn't feel that I'd seen anything extraordinary, although Trastevere was certainly more quiet and charming than many other areas in Rome.

Any comments on learning to pick and choose the sights in Rome, and on learning to love the city?
Old Oct 8th, 2001, 09:56 AM
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sorry dan, I was still writing while you were posting.
These are some thoughts.
The Doge's Palace Secret Itinerary is at 10am in English, there might be a second one at 11am, or that might be seasonal. Don't know when you're going.
I enjoyed the SI very much. It takes about an hour. I think the Doge's Palace opens at 9am, in which case you can use that prior hour to see the rooms that are open to the general public.
Assuming you finish with the Doge by noon, you can catch a 12:15pm boat from
the nearby San Zaccaria stop to Torcello. Stay on Torcello for an hour
(have lunch there if you like) and then visit Burano on the way back.
I almost did that myself, but we were pressed for time and did want to do some glass-buying on Murano, so we opted not to get off at Burano, which I still haven't seen.
I would say that Torcello should be on the B list for sightseeing if time is short, but I go there each time and just love it there. I will caution that there really isn't much to see there, and it's an 80 minute ride from San Zaccaria.

We had a hard time in Venice learning when things are open or closed. There is not one guidebook or website I know of (and I consulted several) that has current and reliable information on this subject, and even my hotel concierge wasn't always correct. The best source is a free magazine called
Un Ospite di Venezia/A Guest in Venice
which is available at hotel front desks, tourist desks, train station, some shops, etc. They do, as it turns out, also have a website
The magazine doesn't list many churches or the hours they are open.
The windows of time for visiting churches is approximately 10 to noon
(and some churches like the Salute start pushing people out at 11:50) and then again 3:30 or 4pm to 5pm or 6pm. Doesn't give you a lot of time to see 10-15 churches in three days, plus museums; in fact, I'd say it's impossible.

Give me a little time to revise my Venice notes; I may be able to suggest
some walking itineraries if I put my mind to it.
One day's walk would be to start at the Salute church and walk Dorsoduro, making stops at such places as the Peggy G. Collection,and whatever churches and sites interest you. Have lunch at
Campo S. Margherita, lots of choices including great gelato. Swing over to the Frari church ( a must, imo) and then back into Dorsoduro, finishing the day, if you can still handle it, at the Accademia which stays open until 7pm I believe. Don't do this walk on a Tuesday, the Peggy G. collection is closed.
Or reverse the above walk by starting at the Frari church, circling around
Dorsoduro to end up at the Salute church or the Accademia, from which you can catch a vaporetto
to San Giorgio Maggiore to end your day.
All of the above decisions of course will be affected by the amount of daylight you have and the weather.

My favorite source for walking tours
in Venice is a wonderful book called
Walking Tours Venice by Frommers, but it appears to be out of print. I treasure my copy,and will try to crib some suggestions for you.
Old Oct 8th, 2001, 10:20 AM
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Dear Dan,

I'll add my last Venice experience (second trip) to give you an idea of how much sightseeing is possible. I was there for 3 full & 2 1/2 days May 2000. The only main sight I skipped as the Doges Palace, I saw it on my first trip.

St Mark's
Santa Maria Novella
Guggenheim Collection
Frari Church
Gran Scuolo de San Rocco (highly recommend)
Murano & Burano (a long day)
church where the Doges are entombed, can't remember the name
Ca d'Oro (highly recommend)
Rialto Bridge shopping
enjoyed the dualing orchestras in the piazza one evening too

I also spent time wandering & shopping along the way. Stopped for lunch & gelatto)where ever it looked good. Rode the vaparetto up & down the Grand Canal several times, once at night. Had late dinners & fell into bed about 11-12pm. Out every day by 8am.
Can you believe I still haven't taken a gondola ride in 2 visits? Oh well.. hope this helps & gives you a refernce. I'm a fairly ambitious sightseer or so I'm told.

Old Oct 8th, 2001, 10:26 AM
dan woodlief
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I am leaving in less than an week Elaine, so the daylight hours should be pretty similar to what you just experienced (time changes the week after I leave Italy). I do have a few more questions. Is an hour enough time to do justice to the regular Doge's Palace tour? I have been thinking an hour and a half, but then I might end up visiting twice to get in the Secret Itinerary tour. I would love to do it in one visit. From my guides, it seems like many of the more visited churches, such as the Frari, are open throughout the day. Is this the case? In addition, do you know the hours for the Campanile (I have seen varied times for it), and what is the best way to beat the crowds at the Basilica? I hate waiting in line and will do anything to avoid them. If you don't mind, I could e-mail you my itinerary as it stands now and see what you think. I have had a much easier time planning Rome and Florence, compared to Venice. I am still wondering about a daytrip to Ostia Antica for half a day, but will save that for the last of five Rome days in case I decide against it. Up in the air as well is using one of three Florence days for Siena. I almost had Venice figured out. Then Alitalia cancelled my flight out of London, which meant taking a flight 6 hours later and cost me my whole first afternoon in Venice. I did manage to get a better flight on British Air but still don't get into the airport until 4:25.
Old Oct 8th, 2001, 10:33 AM
dan woodlief
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Thanks Dayle,

I will likely pare down the list of churches to make better use of time. I know from past experience, that no matter how good any museum or church looks on paper (and I do love both), it is easy to overload on them. I am a very ambitious sightseer too, so you provide a good reference. I intend to be out by 7:00-7:30 each day and even earlier a few times. I hope to go out first thing one morning before sunrise to get some shots of Piazza San Marco with few people and good light. Our hotel is pretty close by - a couple of streets east of the square and a hundred yards or so off the canal.
Old Oct 8th, 2001, 10:47 AM
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Please help me.

Is Scala Reale a person or a company that gives tours? How do I contact Scala Reale to book a tour? Are they expensive and how far in advance must I book ?? I will be in Rome late next week.

Old Oct 8th, 2001, 10:58 AM
dan woodlief
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Old Oct 8th, 2001, 11:06 AM
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If life were normal, than Scala Reale would be fully booked for their tours months in advance. In the current circumstances you might have a good chance.
Their tours were about $50 for a single person, don't know if they have a family or couples rate. You also pay a $20 membership fee which entitles you to an Orientation Hike or Orientation Walk, your choice.
Old Oct 8th, 2001, 11:06 AM
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Elaine, what a great trip report. I also find too many people crowded into a museum too distracting to appreciate the art, or "feeling" of a place. For a first time trip to Rome, you certainly seem to have gotten a good feel for it!
Old Oct 8th, 2001, 11:38 AM
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For anyone going to Rome soon or anytime, don't overlook Enjoy Rome tours ( We took the Old Rome tour at night and it was the best tour I ever took anywhere. Just another possibility for you...
Old Oct 8th, 2001, 11:54 AM
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Elain, I meant to thank you for a very excellent trip report! Sounds like you had a wonderful time. I can't wait to return to Roma!
Old Oct 8th, 2001, 12:10 PM
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Thanks, elaine. We'd heard a lot of wonderful comments about Scala Reale before going to Rome last March but when we tried to contact them on their website at least twice, via their tour request forms, we never heard back from them. I wonder if anyone else has had that experience with them?
Old Oct 8th, 2001, 12:32 PM
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Hi Elaine. I have been looking for your report. I am one of the people that will need that trip report. I plan for Rome in April and would like to use it as an idea on what I can and cannot do. I only spent one day there last year, so you can imagine what I didn't see. I wore Mephistos too. Great shoes. I liked them so much, I bought two pair of the sandals when I was in France last Jan. They are about half the cost there. Will be looking for the file when you catch up. Just e-mail me. Glad you are back safe and happy with your trip.
Old Oct 8th, 2001, 12:33 PM
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Glad you ad a good time. I keep telling people to allow at least 5 full days in Rome. But, some still think they can cover all of central Italy in less time than that. They just don't know.
When I made inquiries to Scala Reale for the same time period you were there they answered that they were just too busy to answer me about booking a tour at that time. And, then I never heard from then again. I can only guess that now they are not as busy.
Fortunately, I know my way arund Rome and didn't really need a tour.

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