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Rules? What Rules?: jent103 Goes to Italy


May 26th, 2011, 08:18 AM
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Rules? What Rules?: jent103 Goes to Italy

I still can’t believe this trip is over, after a year+ of thinking, months of planning and a very stressful month leading up to it! I’m starting to write on the Monday after we returned on Friday in an attempt to remember things as much as possible, though I’ll post later as I get the pictures edited.

As usual, this is partially for my memories, partially to help others planning in the future, and partially to say thanks in my own way to all those who answered questions and helped us plan (annhig, ellenem, kybourbon, kyliebaby, and marigross’s trip report come to mind, but I KNOW there were more!). Y’all are semi-famous in my world.

This first post will have the basics - hotels, tours, etc. - for those just needing information. I’ll get into the “story” and more details after for anybody who’s interested! We left Nashville for Rome on May 7 and returned from Milan on May 20, so we had about 11.5 days of actual sightseeing time. We booked our flights back in October for $922. General itinerary:
May 8-13 - Rome
May 13-16 - Venice
May 16-19 - Lake Como (based in Bellagio)
May 19 - Milan

US: jent103 & M, ages 30 and 29 respectively, known each other since college. jent103 (me) is a type A introverted planner who takes lots of pictures and was in charge of all the details and logistics (though M eventually took over Map Duty). M is an extroverted low-maintenance travel companion who enjoys flirting with Swiss Guards and pronouncing Italian words with an Arkansas accent. We do well together. Our previous Italy experience is neither extensive nor recent.

KNOWLEDGE OF ITALIAN: Pretty much zilch, though I have a rarely used Spanish minor and could get the gist of a lot of written text. I had very good intentions of learning a little Italian before we left. This did not happen. Nearly everyone we needed to communicate with spoke great English, so it wasn’t a big deal really, but we did feel bad about it. I’d like to learn a little before a return trip.

BUDGET: We’re cost-conscious (spending less means I can travel more!), but we do both have grownup jobs now after a few years in grad school, so we ate real food and didn’t stay in hostels on this trip. We ended up averaging €112/night for lodging. Most of our full restaurant meals cost somewhere between €30-40 for the two of us, though it varied a lot. We rented an apartment in Rome and ate in quite a bit there.

LODGING: In short, I’d stay at all these places again, but depending on your needs, some of them may not fit everyone.

Rome: Piazza del Fico apartment from Sleep In Italy (https://www.sleepinitaly.com/en/show...d_appartam=247 ). For €120/night, we each had our own bedroom and shared a bath, kitchen and living room. Negatives: noise from bar across the street, one not-stellar bed (the other was fine), only warm water. Positives: location, location, location!, responsive owner/agency, TV, wifi, washer.

Venice: Ai Tagliapietra b&b (http://www.aitagliapietra.com/ ), about five minutes from Piazza San Marco once you know your way! No negatives at all. Great location, great owner, tv/wifi. Lorenzo also gets the award for Best Hair Dryer of the Trip (not that the competition was great, but still). Booked at €90/night but got a small discount for paying in cash.

Lake Como: We had to change our plans relatively last minute (more on that later) and ended up staying in Bellagio at Hotel Centrale (http://www.hc-bellagio.com/ ), paying €120/night. Negatives: noise (our room was right next to the steps down to the lobby; we may have gotten this room due to our late booking - it was never enough of an issue to request another room, but I had earplugs ); shaky wifi; old TV with 2-3 channels. Positives: Good location, friendly and welcoming staff, good room.

Milan: Hotel Berna (www.hotelberna.com ) at €113. No complaints here (except the hair dryer, if we’re being picky). Positives: very close to Centrale station, security key, elevators, at least two very helpful front desk staff every time we were there, great wifi.

TOURS/ADVANCE BOOKING: I planned ahead quite a bit for Rome, but really nothing beyond “what’s there?” for anywhere else. What we did book ahead:
- Car service from Fiumicino: Rome Cabs (romecabs.com) based on recommendations here. No complaints.
- Scavi tour: I emailed the Scavi office in November, six months ahead, and was pleasantly surprised to be able to book that early.
- Colosseum “dungeon” tour: We booked via Tickitaly rather than Pierecci, before I knew about the Pierecci option. It cost us a few more euro, but in the end I was fine with that. Booking with Tickitaly was easy as pie; we knew what we were getting, and they were very responsive via email. Our €27 (each) got us access to both the lower (“dungeon”) level and the very upper level of the Colosseum (most visitors only go to the middle level), with a very good guided tour, plus access to the Forum and Palatine Hill.
- Cooking class: We booked a cooking class with Chef Andrea Consoli at Le Fate restaurant in Trastevere (www.cookingclassesinrome.com ). The class is €65/person, with an optional wine pairing with each course for €20. This class was great and I highly recommend it.
- Galleria Borghese: I booked online (paying an extra euro apiece, but again, the convenience was totally worth it to me) for an 11am slot our last full day in Rome.

What we did NOT book ahead: Vatican Museums, Roma Passes, any other guided tours. For us, these were good decisions.

LUGGAGE: If I hadn’t been a carry-on-only convert before, I SO am after this trip. We saw so many people with huge suitcases struggling on trains and bridges and steps, but we had no problems with luggage at all. We did one load of laundry near the end of our time in Rome (five days into our trip).

Neither of us took a laptop, but M has an AT&T iPhone and I have an iPod Touch, which for the uninitiated is basically an iPhone without phone capabilities. This let us check email, Facebook, news, etc without lugging a computer around - I was so thankful to have it! M’s phone let us make a few phone calls to apartment/b&b owners; she had to activate the international plan for $5.99, then it was 99 cents/minute for calls and 50 cents per text.

I downloaded a few iPod apps before the trip; the most helpful one was Rome2Go. (There are Venice, London and Paris versions as well.) These apps have basic info on main attractions, plus searchable maps. If you’re connected to the internet, it will use your GPS capability to show you where you are as you move around. This app was much more helpful than our paper map because you can zoom in and out, as well as search for street names - obviously it doesn’t have every tiny arco and piazza, but it had more than enough to get us around. There are “information” links near churches, attractions, etc., so you can tap on a church icon and make sure it’s the one you want. The maps for Venice2Go didn’t have as much detail, so it wasn’t quite as helpful, though we did still use it. CityMaps2Go is by the same developer but has only maps (no attraction information) for quite a few cities. I downloaded the map for Milan, which had our hotel already stored as a point of interest, so we were able to figure out quickly which direction to head from Centrale. We didn’t really use it otherwise, but we were only in Milan for half a day. None of these require internet connection once they’re downloaded.

GUIDEBOOKS: Not many, really. I had Blue Guides for Rome and Northern Italy (I ripped the Northern Italy one apart to take only the sections we needed). Those were good for history and background. Everything else was researched online.

I think that’s it for logistics and basics. Next, on to the trip!
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May 26th, 2011, 09:32 AM
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Keep it coming! My sis and I (who share many of the same travel characteristics as you and your travel partner) will be heading to Italy in November. Great practical advice so far.
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May 26th, 2011, 10:38 AM
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Great start jent - can't wait to hear about the trip!
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May 26th, 2011, 11:09 AM
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We just got back from Rome and Venice on Friday. We also did the Scavi Tour (the Swiss Guards were letting folks go into the office a full 1/2 hour ahead). The underneath/top tier of the Colosseum tour was so worth it. I think I enjoyed our day at the Borghese the most. The Borghese Gallery is simply amazing but we wandered the entire gardens, visited the Biopark and rented one of those 4 seat, electric, bicycles (over by the Biopark entrance). Definately worth doing!

The best part of Venice (my 6th trip) is to contact Row Venice and book a 2 hour trip to learn the art of Venetian Rowing. It was the most amazing thing I've ever done and we rowed pretty solid for 2 hours...us...not the teacher. Jayne does the stearing while you are in the canal but once you are out on the Venice Lagoon you are on your own. These 2 hours were the absolute highlight of our entire trip and one of the top 5 things I've ever done in my life). The secret apartments tour of the Doge's Palace is also worth booking.

Book ahead and pay the extra for your tickets. We skipped every line and we were first in the door at both the Sistine Chapel/Museum and at the Colosseum. Our picutres of the Colosseum without so much as one other person anywhere in the photos or that we could see really made it exceptional. Get to the Colosseum by 8:00 am.
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May 26th, 2011, 12:17 PM
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I just wanted to say hello to you jent, and I am happy to see and to read your trip report. It sounds like you are over your jetlag. I look forward to your next installment and I want to say that you have given some good information for those that are planning a trip to Italy.
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May 26th, 2011, 12:27 PM
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You had me at the descriptions of the two of you. This is going to be fun to read.
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May 26th, 2011, 12:53 PM
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Please keep it coming!
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May 26th, 2011, 12:56 PM
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Thanks, y'all! Loveitaly, the jet lag has morphed into just plain tired, but we're getting there!

M is definitely fun and very quotable, as you'll see! We've been friends for 11 years, though we haven't lived in the same town since 2002, and she's one of my favorite people. She is, thankfully, patient with my type A, uberpunctual tendencies, and appreciates their results, if not my desire to be at airports and train stations ridiculously early.

Here's a link to where the pictures from the whole trip are (or will be - I've only gone through two days' worth so far!). I'll post links to individual days as I post, but the entire "collection" will be here.

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May 26th, 2011, 04:13 PM
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Looking forward to more...
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May 26th, 2011, 06:47 PM
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78 photos until gelato. I hope your priorities become more properly aligned.

Nice pics!
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May 26th, 2011, 08:20 PM
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Jean, I can only blame that on the jet lag. Thanks!
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May 26th, 2011, 10:48 PM
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Making sure I can find the next chapters, the beginning has me looking forward to what's to come.
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May 26th, 2011, 11:36 PM
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Same here ...
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May 27th, 2011, 04:27 AM
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If your major wasn't photography, it should have been. Some excellent photos. What camera did you use to get such good low-light results? Seriously, jent103, get thee to a gallery-you have the eye.

More TR please.
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May 27th, 2011, 04:44 AM
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I loved your photos. I always am interested in night pics, and I had to laugh at the funny old car and the tight parking situation. Can't wait to read the details of what sounds like a fun trip.
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May 27th, 2011, 05:49 AM
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I hope I don't disappoint with the actual report! More to come a little later today, I promise.

TDudette and irishface, thank you so much for the kind words! No photography major; my dad's a longtime amateur photographer, and one of my brothers and I both picked up the habit. Cropping and a few tweaks on the computer cover a lot of sins too! TD, my main camera is a Canon Rebel XTi with a 17-85mm lens, bought used off my brother when he upgraded to a 50D. The Vatican shots, though, were done with a point & shoot Canon Powershot SD700 - I was afraid my bag with the padded camera insert wouldn't be let into the Scavi area, so I just stuck my P&S in my pocket that day. (Turns out the camera bag would have been totally fine. Oh well.)
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May 27th, 2011, 05:51 AM
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Anxiously awaiting the rest of your report. We will be doing Chef Andrea Consoli's class as well in September (he has graciously "penciled" us in since he doesn't take reservations this early-I love him already!!). I'm off to your photos now
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May 27th, 2011, 06:20 AM
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Enjoying your report so far. Yes, it is nice to hear about the trip after answering all your planning questions. Waiting for more . . .
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May 27th, 2011, 08:06 AM
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Okay, here we go!

Day 1: Jet Lag, Prosciutto & Roma at Last - Sunday, May 8

Our flights to Rome, via Atlanta on Delta, were the best kind - completely uneventful. (I watched Rabbit Hole. It was not as depressing as I thought it would be. M watched Life As We Know It. It ended exactly as I thought it would.) However, I only got two hours of sleep and was physically and mentally exhausted from a stressful month preceding our trip, so this day will be interesting.

After immigration we proceeded to the meeting area designated in the YouTube video sent by Rome Cabs (yes, I’m serious, and it was actually quite helpful). Our driver pointed us to the bancomat, waited patiently while we waited in line and M accidentally tried to take out 45,000 euros, and escorted us to the car. We rode quietly to the center of the city, as I thanked my stars for seat belts and realized for the first time that lane lines are more guidelines than actual rules. M called our apartment owner from the car; from my end the conversation sounded like “Hello, this is jent103, we have a reservation? Yes... okay... yes... okay.” Who knows. I *do* know that I am so glad we booked a car service - it would have taken us years to find the right place in our mental state (probably even on a good day!).

The driver couldn’t actually get his relatively large sedan down to Piazza del Fico, so we had to walk a little bit. He walked us to the door of the apartment building and we buzzed the intercom for #7. The owner let us in, but we weren’t sure which apartment was the correct one. I remembered that it was way up there, so we just walked to the top floor and knocked. Turns out this was the owner’s actual home - the rental apartment is one floor down, and apparently when we called an hour ago, he had asked M if we were downstairs already. Oops. Alessandro seems nice, if very reserved. He showed us around, we worked out deposit and payment, and he told us vaguely where a supermarket was. All we really retained was something about “fifty meters.” Have I mentioned that we didn’t get much sleep?

The apartment was great for us. The bathroom is just inside the front door - not huge (being Europe and all) but enough space. Each of the two bedrooms has a window and faces Bar del Fico across the tiny piazza. There’s a small dining area with a table, a small kitchen with a microwave, gas stove, oven and washer, and a living area with a loveseat and a couple of wooden chairs. Sitting around to socialize wouldn’t be super comfy for more than two people, but for us, no problem. The kitchen looks fairly recently renovated, and everything was clean.

Checking out the bedrooms, we looked out onto old Roman buildings and restaurant workers getting things ready for the lunch crowd while listening to jazz and Don Henley. Sunday in Rome - we’re here! We unpacked, took showers and decided we should probably go find that supermarket, then get some lunch - our plane “breakfast” (seriously unidentifiable - some sort of egg somehow stuffed into some sort of bread?) wasn’t going to hold us long. We walked down Via del Corallo and ended up on the main street, Corso Vittorio Emmanuele II. (Me: “This street looks like it has stuff.”) We decided to turn left. We had no idea where Alessandro’s fifty meters was supposed to come in. We walked a little ways and saw a sign for a Carrefour Express, with an arrow pointing down along some mystery street. All right then. We twisted and turned and eventually found it, actually much closer to the apartment than we realized.

The thought was to get breakfast items and some things to make a couple of light dinners. I had vague notions of prosciutto and baguettes and soft cheese for breakfast. But I didn’t really see any baguettes (more a French thing, as it happens), the bread area was somewhat limited, and the deli counter guy was a little intimidating. We wandered around kind of aimlessly for awhile, picking up fruit and that was about it. M got some Nutella (obviously) and found some sandwich bread.

Committed to this prosciutto idea but not thinking clearly, I thought “well, at home a quarter pound of deli meat would be two or three subs’ worth... a quarter pound is a half kilo... how do I say half?” Yes, some of you see impending doom already. My Talking Italian Phrasebook app (sponsored by Fiat - note that this was not on the recommended list) said a half was “un meta.” All right then. I bravely walk into the deli area and ask for “un meta kilo di prosciutto.” The man behind the deli counter is probably in his 60s, bald with a mustache and grumpy. He asks me how many grams. My jet-lagged, sleepless brain cannot compute that one kilo = 1,000 grams. I look perplexed. He looks irritated. He finally gets that I want 500 grams, and gives me a look like “Really? Are you sure?”

Faking confidence, I nod.

“Prosciutto di Parma? Prosciutto di ?”

“um... di Parma.”

He starts slicing. M has joined me in the deli room by now and is watching him slice: “Um, that looks like a lot.” Me: “Yeah... I know.” We finally tell him that’s enough.

“So, FOUR hundred grams.”

“Yes. I guess so. Grazie.”

I grab a couple of random bread things with rosemary. We pick up some farfalle, a roasted chicken, prepared pesto and a bag of salad, and head for the checkout. And yes, for all those wondering, it did indeed occur to me later that a quarter pound is not half a kilo, but in fact more like a tenth, and that would still be a pretty good amount of prosciutto. Expensive mistake? Yes. Oh well.

We made it back to the apartment, stowed our groceries and decided to go to the restaurant downstairs, Francesco’s, for lunch. Our waiter was friendly but the food was okay. I got roasted chicken with potatoes. The chicken was dry. I have no idea what M got or how much it was.

After lunch we decided to walk to Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, maybe the Trevi Fountain if we felt like it. The weather was warm and gorgeous. We set off. Piazza Navona, art stalls, fountains: Check. We wound our way to the Pantheon, where we found our first mob of people. I tried to listen to my Rick Steves podcast, but gave up quickly. Rick is a cheesy slowpoke. We probably spent 20-30 minutes inside, looking at the oculus and the tombs of kings and Raphael. Then we headed to the Trevi Fountain, passing the Column of Marcus Aurelius and Zara (both equally important) on the way.

We got to the Trevi Fountain and were immediately in the midst of a mob scene. So. Many. People. Clearly I wasn’t going to be getting fabulous artsy shots of the fountain. We probably stayed five minutes, then headed back to the Zara, on the way passing a group of girls sitting at a cafe wearing tank tops with “JUSTICE FOR MICHAEL JACKSON” ironed on the back in hot pink letters.

We shopped a bit then decided to head back to the apartment, somehow winding our way to Via dei Coronari. Walking down the street, M pointed out a gelato place and suggested we get some. Me: “Gelato del Teatro! That place is supposed to be good!” Thanks to marigross’s trip report and M’s sharp eye, we have now found our local gelateria. And oh my goodness, was it ever good. M got tartufo and hazelnut or something. I got cioccolato and white chocolate with basil. Delicious, just the right amount and €2. The chocolate actually tasted like... chocolate.

Exhausted, we head back to the apartment for the evening. That’s right: We’re in Rome, and we’re in pjs by 5pm. We were so tired I didn’t even care. We barely ate dinner; M got 13 hours of sleep that night. I held out till 9 but honestly I don’t think I would have had any trouble sleeping till 8 the next day anyway.

Pictures just from today: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jenthom...7626792263820/
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May 27th, 2011, 08:24 AM
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LuvToRoam, I meant to tell you - if you love Chef Andrea now, you will adore him after the class! Coming up on Day 4. I really can't wait to go through the pictures from that day!
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