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Rome: Ruins, Relics, and Rip-Offs: A Mixed Bag

Rome: Ruins, Relics, and Rip-Offs: A Mixed Bag

Jul 4th, 2009, 03:29 PM
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Rome: Ruins, Relics, and Rip-Offs: A Mixed Bag

Rome:

Background: This trip was two years in the making for me, travel junkie and middle school teacher, my partner (DP) an insurance agent, and Linda, an old college friend of my partner who travels with us on some of our big trips. My sweetheart and I have been together for 20 years and travel well together. As she says, she finances it, and I plan it or “I make it happen and you make it work.” I use a variety of sources: this board, tripadvisor, Frommer books, Rick Steves, and lots of websites. We had all been to Italy before focusing on Venice and Florence (loved those two cities) and DP and I had been on an 9 day whirlwind Trafalgar coach tour of Italy with DP’s mom and sister in 2001 (one day only in Rome). We flew Lufthansa out of San Francisco to Munich then on to Rome with a Rome-Frankfurt-SFO return. We were all able to use FFMiles. We upgraded to Economy Plus on the way home and those seats were well worth the extra $149 per person.

Hotel Canada: As per our custom, when we stay in a big city for an extended period of time, we always stay in two different hotels. I know most would argue about some lost time, but we enjoy exploring different parts of the city, different nearby dining experiences, different hotels I’ve researched, etc. Hotel Canada was our six night stay in a triple room with three single beds. I am always particular when the three of us travel to make sure the triple room has three real beds. I don’t want one of us to have to sleep on a rollaway or cot. What I think Hotel Canada did with us was to give us a deluxe twin bedded room, move furniture around, and add another bed. Sounds cramped but the flow of the room, the nooks and crannies, the big closet, and chest of drawers, allowed us all to unpack our suitcases. It worked out well. . The place was spotless, the linens were quality, and the towels were big and somewhat thick. An amenity kit was excellent with a pairs of slippers, slippers that I washed when I came home and are wearing right now! The room was beautiful with nice furnishings, excellent mattresses, heavy drapes and shutters to block out the hot sun, two sets of windows to block out street traffic…..I couldn’t believe how we lucked out.

The reviews I had read on tripadvisor were spot on. The rate was an AARP 189 euros a night inclusive of taxes and an “American breakfast.” The reviews of the breakfast on tripadvisor motivated me to switch from the number 2 ranked hotel for 225 euros a night for a triple to this one. I knew a good breakfast was important for our friend being the three solid meals a day person that she is. DP and I would substitute gelato and a Cliff bar for a meal, but I knew Linda wouldn’t feel comfortable with that. The breakfast exceed expectations. Scrambled eggs, bacon, fresh fruit, yogurts, cereals, several kinds of fresh pastries, cold cuts and sliced cheeses, juices, sometimes grilled eggplant, fresh tomatoes/mozzarella cheese, great coffee and hot chocolate. Clearly a 15-20 euro breakfast in terms of Rome prices. The breakfast room was bright and airy and there were tables that could seat more than two. The office staff was professional and helpful; mature men (there didn’t seem to be any women in power) who all seemed to take their job seriously. There was a bar in the lounge area where snacks were laid out in the afternoon like nuts, Bugles, and other light morsels. I could ask for a glass of ice cubes, no problem, or a bucket of ice. One late afternoon we headed out in the rain. The head manager saw me and offered me a hotel umbrella. Nice touch! I would highly recommend this hotel.

Hotel Canada was located around the corner from the Castro Prieto metro and within a 15 minute walk of Termini (or a one stop metro ride). The #492 swung by a nearby corner and this was a handy bus for the Pantheon, Largo Argentina, Camp de’Fiori, and the Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps. Most buses passed through Termini so we took full advantage of metroing down to Termini, coming out of the station, and looking for our buss. Rick Steves explains well in his Rome 2009 how the buses work and some key routes. We would buy the all day passes on a heavy metro/bus day. Castro Prieto was on the same line as the Colloseum. OK trattorias in the ‘hood, nothing exceptional. A laundry mat was down a block and over half a block. A load to wash and dry was 8 euros. With the WIFI code and a password, DP was able to use our little notebook in the room. With her own business, staying connected was important, and she downloaded our pictures every night and sent them out (w/ reverent and irreverent commentary) to friends and family.

Hotel Montreal: We split up into two rooms for the remaining four nights. Whenever we travel with Linda, we part ways during the trip for a night or two (if we are city hopping) or the second half of a longer city stay. I like the privacy, and I think we are all ready for some space. We drew me to Hotel Montreal were the OK reviews on tripadvisor, a Rick Steves endorsement, and the price was right: 115 euros a night cash for the double room and 90 euros cash for the single. The fact that Hotel Canada and Hotel Montreal have the Canada vein running through them is just a coincidence!

I realize now that I/we have moved beyond budget hotels in Europe,esp. this one. Yes, the hotel was very clean and a block away from a metro station. HOWEVER, the bed was very uncomfortable. We have a thermapedic mattress at home and love it. We could feel coils push up on this bed. The bath towels were small and thin, and the hand towels were of the dish cloth variety. Air conditioning was good, safe was small so it couldn’t house our notebook laptop. The hotel used an air freshener that though pleasant smelling to me, was pervasive. If one has an allergy or reaction to perfumes, I wouldn’t recommend staying here. No useful drawers or nooks, so we left the two suitcases on the day bed and lived out of them. I hate that. I like to nest in my hotel room. The co-owner, Pasquele, who had the 3-11PM shift was a sweetheart and helpful. He’d let me use the internet without paying the 2 euro per ½ hour charge. I listened to him helpfully dispense advice to other travelers while I was working. The breakfast was horrid. Watery coffee, Tang-like juice, a croissant wrapped in plastic like they were purchased in bulk for the week, bread like a hot dog bun. Cereal, yogurt (one type-natural), two pitchers of milk—one warm and the other warmer and that was basically it. Gosh, I felt so spoiled after Hotel Canada’s breakfast. We were a block away for the Vitorrio Emmanuel metro stop. Though buses passed by the Santa Maggiore church steps from the Hotel, we never did click with any of them, not like the 492. Both hotels were considered to be three stars; clearly Hotel Canada at the top of that category; Hotel Montreal at the other end.

The City Itself: I felt early on that Rome and I did not jive. It was hard to feel a good vibe from the city. I know many of you would disagree, but I’m just sharing my own experience. Though all three of us are friendly (with DP downright gregarious), we found very few Romans the same. About five or six times, I found I had to correct a merchant on change or correct someone on the terms of a sale. Several men were bullies in their desire to make a sale or push expensive food in a restaurant. We had a few highlights with people. Getting off a bus just outside the Vatican, we struck up a conversation with newly ordained Father Rick from Pittsburgh. He was studying in Rome and was open, animated, and friendly, filled with the Holy Spirit. He spoke warmly of the Pope having met him a few times. I still remember his happy face and easy smile. Pasquele, the co-owner of Hotel Montreal, was quite a character telling us stories of his experiences with Rick Steves over the years and then sharing his philosophy around running a hotel. I will also remember another American who stood with us as we overlooked the ruins of the forum and shared his extensive knowledge about what the place looked like in the past. Despite the cautions about pickpockets on buses/the metro, we were neither victims nor witnesses of any crimes . We have traveled in big cities before in Europe: Madrid, Paris, London, Munich, and to a lesser extent Florence, Venice, and cities in Provence where we felt connected (despite the language barrier) to the citizens in a way we didn’t in Rome.

The Sites: We took in a lot of sites. I had charged a reservation time on the Vatican Museum website and printed out the appointment sheet at home. I called the Borghesse Gallery from home and made an appointment and was given a reservation code. I did both of these about two weeks before we left. I grouped some activities together so we could take advantage of the three day Roma Pass. We used the Roma Pass for the Borghese Gallery (first free entry) on our Day 4 and the Collosseum (second free entry and skipped a long line) and the Capitoline Museum (reduced admission). Paid for itself then and included three days of metro/bus transportation. Other sites we visited/took in: the Pantheon (a highlight) Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, Piazzo Navano, Campo de’Fiori, the Trastevere neighborhood, and about nine churches/cathedrals. The lookouts from the inside of the Capitoline Museum over the ruins of the Forum left me breathless. Our first big day we began in the National Museum of Rome. Wowza! Loved the busts of the famous emporers.

We all fell in love with the Bernini statues in the Borghesse Gallery. I have wanted to see the Daphne/Apollo in the “flesh” for the last thirty years! DP was moved to tears by that sculpture and the Hades/Persephone sculpture. We saw Bernini’s fountains in squares, his St. Theresa in Ecstacy, his work outside the Vatican and inside St. Peter’s, not his Medusa as it was visiting a museum in Austria, and his simple tombstone in Santa Maggiore. We saw relics: manger pieces, saint pieces, St.Peter’s chains, a marble column Christ was whipped against, the Holy Stairs taken from Jerusalem and brought to a church in Rome. Though I am not a Roman Catholic (Anglican Catholic my Episcopal priest father would say) I am fascinated by people’s long held beliefs around relics. Whether it is true or just Middle Ages-money-making-propaganda, I don’t know.
We saw remarkable mosaics—the best in a little church St. Prassede, five minutes from Santa Maggiore, filled with colorful (reds and blues) Byzantine style mosaics. Golds were glorious, too, rivaling those I have seen in Ravenna just on a smaller scale. . Saw the famous she-wolf Romulus and Remus sculpture that I remembered from 7th grade World History. The babies, I learned, were added during the Renaissance. The majesty and awe of the Vatican Museum culminating in a very crowded Sistine Chapel was also a highlight.

Orvieto: We took a day trip via train to Orvieto on our Day 3 to see the cathedral and do some ceramics shopping. Once we arrived the rain began to fall. Had our first Rick Steve’s recommended restaurant and it was a winner—Re Artu, just off Piazza della Repubblica. I had wild boar over fettuccini-type noodles. It was very tasty and not too wild. Great ambiance and excellent service. Two other tables had people clutching their Rick Steve’s book and we all had a good laugh over that. The shopping was a disappointment. A lot of things there I can find at my local TJ Maxx store on a good day. Store after store sold similar pottery pieces—not the kind of treasure pieces we have found in Bellagio, Southern Spain, and Mexico.

Shopping: Shopping in general was a disappointment. Sure we bought a leather purse or two and some scarves and souvenir-type things, but not the kind of fun-little-store-with-interesting-merchandise shopping like in Paris, Bellagio, Florence, or Arles. Via Cola di Rienzo near the Vatican was a nice stroll with some larger store shopping. Stopping in at Castroni was a highlight: a varied emporium of teas, mustards, jams, and spices. The recommended Via Sistina near the Barberini metro was a bust for us and the stores around Campo de’ Fiori lacked any real charm or they were few and far between.

Squares: When I think about the great communal squares/plazas I think of the ones in Aix en Provence, Arles, and Madrid. Campo de’ Fiori and Piazza Navona just didn’t do it for me. In the case of Navona, it seemed mostly a commercial enterprise with most of the art vendors selling the same art work. Sure the fountains were great to see, and in Campo de’Fiori we were in the place where Caesar was murdered. I don’t know, I just wasn’t charmed like I thought I would. Same with Trevi/Spanish steps. It just felt like a mass of unconnected people.

Other Comments:
• First time I brought an old pair of slippers for the flight. I felt so much more comfortable. Packing my toothbrush and toothpaste on my carry-on also helped me to stay fresh. A 600+ book lasted me the trip over.

• I had purchased a Baby Bliss hair dryer the last time we were in Paris, and I took it on this trip. Far superior to any hotel hair dryer for my thick hair and no blow out with the electrical system. A pair of scissors came in handy. I had set aside a handful of wire clothes hangers to take, but forgot to pack them. They would have come in handy in both hotels to hang up additional clothes, esp. in the Hotel Montreal where storage was a problem. Glad we brought our corkscrew for wine we brought back to the hotel. I also brought a nice bar of soap that lasted the entire trip. No little squares that always landed on the bottom of the shower to melt. Washcloth, too, in a zip lock for the shower and to take in the backpack for a cool wipe down on a hot Rome afternoon.

• I bought a laminated Rome map from Amazon (by Borch) and it was invaluable. I had ripped apart a Frommer’s guidebook, pages from a Pauline’s Frommer’s guidebook, and a carried a complete Rick Steves guidebook at all times. I would cross reference all three for information on a particular site. The Steves book has a lot of practical info., while Frommer’s style is one I like. I didn’t care so much for the Pauline format. For the ruins, there is a book with a then/now feature---plastic overlay showing how the ruins looked at the time of the heyday.

• Got a blister forming or toes chafing? Try Compeed brand band-aids-one of our two new wonder drugs. The other is Nivea Cold Crème (in a tin out of Germany) for the neck.

• We had nine full days, and I think Rome itself needs at least 6-7 days to see/experience the major sites. When booking your Rome hotel, note the metro access. Ask about what busses pass by the hotel. Review websites that tell you what bus goes where. Frontloading your trip with this kind of information is vital. Traveling in a big city can be overwhelming esp. when it is hot, you don’t have your bearings for a minute, or a member of your group is cranky/hungry/needs to use the restroom. Always take advantage of restrooms in museums, cathedrals, major department stores, and restaurants. Public restrooms outside sites don’t seem to be available.

• I always make sure we have euros before we go in case we need them right away (as we did for the shuttle- only accepted cash). Fortunately, I had saved enough from our last trip (around 170 euros) so finding a bank when we arrived was not a top top priority. Travelers cheques are passé as most people access money from the AMs. We always take a little US cash in case our cards don’t work. Know your pin numbers (4 digits) for all your cards, even credit cards for a cash advance in a pinch (high fees though). Check your credit card fees on transactions. While most credit cards charge a 1% fee my State Farm credit card did not charge me an additional fee like my United Mileage Plus did. The max we could withdraw a day from our checking accounts using an ATM was 250 euros though the machine goes as high as 500. Despite the fact that I called BofA about my trip, I was locked out when using my ATM the first time. I did have to call from Rome and straighten all that out. Some banks have “sister banks” in other countries that eliminate the$5.00 transaction fee (on top of the 1% of your withdrawal fee).

• Last bit of advice: The History Channel’s Rome: Engineering an Empire (part of a series) is a must see for adolescents and adults (not dry at all; great special effects). This two hour program highlights emperors, construction, and conquests. We also watched Simon Schama’s Power of Art DVD with segments on Bernini and Caravaggio.
Janeyre is offline  
Jul 4th, 2009, 04:31 PM
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Join Date: Jan 2003
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Thanks for the great report. I had the same experience of Rome - some wondrous sites and sights but overall never quite connected. The very first time I went to Rome was a super hot July, the place was packed with tourists and I left ahead of schedule after one day. A couple years later I was back in early October - much better weather, crowded but less so and it was pleasant but still no "click." I wouldn't turn down a free trip to Rome, glad I visited, but don't plan to return soon. Maybe I just need to visit with a Romaphile. As a friend says, that's why they make chocolate AND vanilla ice cream.
Seamus is offline  
Jul 4th, 2009, 04:48 PM
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Yes seamus..A chacun son gout..perfect expression.


However to compare the fountains of Aix on Provence with the ones of Rome..the phrase of :A Cacun son Gout..is indeed a good phrase.Just like comparing apples with oranges..
kismetchimera is offline  
Jul 5th, 2009, 01:20 PM
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Janeyre: Thanks for the report and especially for that "Last piece of advice" I haven't seen either show, but will find them now.

I've only been to Rome once, but lucky enough to spend 9 days total, and in three different hotels. I agree with you that different hotels give you a totally different aspect of a city, and all in all, I fell in love with Rome, but I'm an easy mark for just about anything in Italy!!
taconictraveler is offline  
Jul 6th, 2009, 10:04 AM
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I think all cities/towns are like that, they either click or they do not. I have never clicked with Paris or Venice but it was love at first sight with Rome in 1974 and continues to be.
kfusto is offline  
Jul 6th, 2009, 10:20 AM
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Join Date: Nov 2008
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Thank you for your report. My husband Keith and I will be in Rome in early September. We also plan on taking a day trip to Orvieto.

I haven't been to Rome since June, 1998. I can remember that I did not like most of the Romans I met.

But, I did love the feel of the city. My favourite place was the Borghese Gardens.

Happy Gay Pride,
Thin
Cries_Van_Notebook is offline  
Jul 6th, 2009, 10:55 AM
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Thanks for your trip report, Jane, really enjoyed it.

I think it makes a difference if you stay in the historic center - Pantheon/Navona/dei Fiori area. I've noticed a pattern that people who stay elsewhere (Trastevere excepted) tend to like Rome much less.
LAwoman is offline  
Jul 6th, 2009, 07:10 PM
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Thank you for a great report, Janeyre. Even though you feel you didn't click with Rome, I'm glad you still enjoyed the wonderful artwork. I was in Rome for the first time this winter and the mosaics at Santa Prassede made a huge impression on me as well.
Apres_Londee is offline  
Jul 6th, 2009, 08:37 PM
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Janeyre: Thank you for your insightful trip report. Sorry that you and Rome did not "click" although a few experiences seem to have made an impression. From my last trip to Rome (1993) I remember it as hot, intense and full of graffiti -- yet we return later this month! As you know, we travel with kids this time so perhaps the splendor will shine through! Thank you.
ddtripper is offline  
Jul 13th, 2009, 03:35 PM
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Join Date: May 2003
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I agree with LAWoman's comment re:location. I think it makes a tremendous difference in your overall impression of a city if you stay in an area that isn't particularly inviting.

Our first visit to Venice was disappointing to me and I had no desire to return. But circumstances brought us back for an entire week and I fell in love.
I happen to love Rome better than anywhere on earth, but Venice, as different as she is, is a very close second.

You sound like you had a great trip regardless and you travel with a good attitude.
IMO That makes the difference between a memorable experience and a disappointing one.
iluvitaly is offline  
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