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tcreath's Italy trip report....Umbria and Rome with a small slice of Tuscany

tcreath's Italy trip report....Umbria and Rome with a small slice of Tuscany

Apr 12th, 2006, 05:54 AM
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The Baths of Caracalla and the mess that was the Rome Marathon….

Do you ever have those days where you wake up excited and ready to go but nothing seems to go your way? Well, this was one of those days. We woke up refreshed and ready to explore. Our plan was to go to the Capitoline Museums, St. Peter in Chains (since I forgot to mention earlier but it was closed when we tried to visit it a few days earlier) and then go to the Baths of Caracalla. So we wake up to a beautiful day; the weather was gorgeous, in the 70’s and breezy, and not a cloud in the sky. We had pastries and coffee at a small pastry shop (forgot the name) and then headed to a bus stop (trying to salvage our feet!) that would take us near the museums. We noticed the streets were empty and as we walked we realized that there was a marathon taking place. We thought nothing of it and found our bus stop, only to be told by a nice Italian gentleman that the buses wouldn’t be running until after 3:00 that day. No big deal; we just walked as enjoyed the weather and Rome. As we approached the Capitol Hill area we realized just how big of a deal the Rome Marathon was. There were people everywhere, cops everywhere, helicopters and reporters everywhere; the city was cut off in half for the marathon runners so it was extremely difficult to get from one side of the road to the other. Almost all public transportation was shut down, and many of the sights, including the capitoline museums, were closed. We were very disappointed, as we both really wanted to visit the museums, and we started to worry about what we could do for the day. We assumed that the Vatican was also closed, as the marathon seemed to be coming from that direction. We then walked over to St. Peter in Chains but couldn’t get in there either because we were on the wrong side of the road, and lots of runners were coming through at the same time.

Defeated, we just started to walk. I think we walked almost the whole city that day! Actually it was quite pleasant until my feet started to throb again. We ate a light café lunch at Café dei Ginnasi, and paid homage to Paris by splitting a nutella crepe (although it wasn’t as good as the ones in Paris…). We ended up going back to the apartment for a short nap and when we came out the busses were running again. We finally got to the Baths of Caracalla, another sight we had high hopes of visiting, and we loved it. We were in the city, not too far from the other sights, but it felt farther away. The baths are in a park-like setting, and there weren’t very many tourists so it was serene. We sat outside the ticket office and ate a snack from a vendor (doughnut for hubby, pistachios for me) and then paid the entrance fee and went in. The baths are just huge, and it was very easy to image how grandiose they would have been. We loved looking at the mosaics that were still intact, and of course petting all the cats that were hanging out. After a few hours we hopped on another city bus back into the city and hung out in the apartment until dinner.

Dinner that night was at one of the restaurants on Piazza Navona. I don’t remember the name but to be honest they all have almost the exact same menu and are touristy, but the atmosphere can’t be beat! We sat outside drinking our white wine and watching the “hockers”. That’s what I call the guys selling their crap at every tourist sight in Rome. Tonight they were selling musical bubble makers that light up. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why someone would want them, but whatever. It was funny to watch. There were bands playing and the fountains were lit up, and we were just enjoying our last night in Rome. Our pizza margharitas were very good, and the cheese platter we split at the end was tasty as usual. Afterwards we each had gelato at Blue Ice (surprisingly good considering the chain is everywhere in Rome) and walked past the Pantheon one last time before we went in for the night.

We spent a few hours packing (a few hours because I bought way too much stuff, including breakable pottery), set our alarm clock for 4:45 a.m., and drifted off to sleep.

Next: Oops, the time changed, and….our afternoon in Brussels?
tcreath is offline  
Apr 12th, 2006, 06:20 AM
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Oops, the time changed, and….our afternoon in Brussels?

As you can probably tell from the title, this was not a very good day!

So, we had a 7:20 flight to Chicago via Brussels. We had pre-scheduled a taxi from Limousine Roma to pick us up at our apartment at 5:20 because I know from past experiences that one can get to FCO pretty quickly that early in the morning. We get up and dressed pretty quickly. Hubby has been fretting for a few days over the possibility of something being screwed up and us missing our flight, so he was anxious from the start of the day. At about 5:10 he gets up and walks around outside to see if he can see anyone. He comes back in and paces. Repeat 3 times. At about 5:30 he is freaking out so he goes and luckily finds a cab right around the corner who can take us to the airport. We rush there with our luggage and hop in. After about 10 minutes DH says hmmm…the taxi clock says 6:45. So I say it must be off. Then another 5 minutes goes by and DH sees a clock on the side of the autostrada and says, not so calmly, that the clock IS right! Uh oh… then I start to remember that a few years ago we arrived in London the day daylight savings time changed and that it happened a week before it changes here in the US. Panic sets in. We get to the airport a couple of minutes later, hubby gives the taxi driver 60 euro for a 40 euro ride (no time for change, he says) and we rush to the SN Brussels counter only to find out that we cannot make our flight. DH was not very happy and asked the lady behind the counter if the time changed? And we felt very stupid when she says yes, it changed yesterday! Apparently we walked around the whole day yesterday not realizing that the time even changed. Now, in our defense there are never any clocks in Rome! And since we stayed in an apartment, not a hotel, we weren’t notified of the time change so we had no idea. Anyways, we had to spend $400 ($200 per ticket) to be reticketed on an Alitalia flight that would get us into Brussels at 11:50. Our flight to Chicago was to leave at 12:30. I knew there was no way we would make our flight, as the airport concourses are long and it takes forever to walk from one to the other, and we had to pick up our bags and recheck them AND go to the American counter (our flights were ticketed through American), all in a matter of 40 mintues, but the lady swore we would make our connection and put us on the flight. Needless to say we didn’t make the connection. It took longer than 40 minutes just for our luggage to arrive.

We found the American Airlines counter and explained our situation. The only thing they could do was put us on the same flight the next day. The customer service agent was astounding. She was very nice. She waived the $400 fee that they were supposed to change for our new tickets after we explained everything that happened, she put us in the bulkhead seats with the seat empty in the middle so we would probably have the whole row to ourselves (which we did) and she gave us hotel information! I ended up writing American Airlines a letter commending them because she was so nice and helpful.

Well, here we were in Brussels. Neither of us had been there before, and we had no maps or guidebooks or anything, but we decided to make the best of it. We found hotel information with a phone to call each hotel extention, so we called the Holiday Inn Express that the customer service rep recommended and got a room. They had a free shuttle from the airport to the hotel and back, and it was waiting for us when we got down to the parking garage. We quickly dropped our bags and rode the shuttle back to the airport and hopped on one of the trains that took us into Brussels. It’s a very short and quite pleasant ride. We got off at central station and followed signs to the Grand Place, which I remembered seeing in guidebooks, stopping to take pictures along the way. I bought some wonderful chocolates from several different shops, and some Belgium place, and then we stepped in the Grand Place and it was amazing. Just beautiful, and how lively it was! We stopped and ate sandwiched and Belgium waffles (of course) in a small café, and we had some ice cream on a Beligum waffle from a small ice cream shop right on the Place the was delicious. At right about this time the clouds started rolling in and before long it was just pouring outside. I don’t mean light drizzle; we’re talking heavy rains, lightening, thunder, and hail. I had an umbrella but as we were walking across the street towards central station it flipped inside out and I just got soaked. Of course there were hordes of people standing underneath the canopy at the station that just watched and laughed as we got drenched, but before long I was laughing too. What a day!

We went back to the hotel, took a long and much needed nap, and ended up eating dinner of salads and beer (my Leffe blonde beer was delicious, and I’m not much of a beer drinker) we went back to the room for the night. DH was very anal about getting to the airport on time after yesterday’s episode so we arrived about 3 hours early….luckily the duty free shops were there to keep me busy! After a long flight and a long drive home, we finally made it. The cats were thrilled to see us, the dog was going nuts, and I realized how great it feels to be back in my own bed.

Next: Miscellaneous thoughts....
tcreath is offline  
Apr 12th, 2006, 07:40 AM
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Next: Miscellaneous thoughts….

Okay, here are some thoughts on our trip:

Umbria: We loved Umbria and all the hill towns. That being said, I think we could have cut at least a day, maybe two, off the time we spent there. We don’t always travel fast but we but we do not travel nearly as slow as others. The hill towns were fantastic but most of them (Todi, Trevi, Deruta) could be seen in as little as a few hours. A few months before our trip I posted a question about whether we should split up the trip or stay in one place, and we decided to stay put. In retrospect I would have split it up and had 2 nights either near Orvieto or near Pienza. Still, we had a fabulous time and I don’t really regret our decision to stay.

We purchased a Touring Club Italiano atlas and it was wonderful. It is much more detailed than the Michelin maps, and I’m glad we found it. I also used a variety of guidebooks and did tons of research for this trip on this board, so I want to thank everyone who helped me out and everyone who ever posted about Umbria. There isn’t as much information out there about Umbria, as most is lumped into a “Tuscany/Umbria” guidebook and leave little room for Umbria, so your information has been invaluable.

Rome was fantastic but I was disappointed at myself for my poor planning. I guess because we had been there before I didn’t do as much research or checked to see if any events were going on. Had I done so, I may have been able to find out about the Marathon or the Vatican being closed before we went and could have planned accordingly. Likewise, I couldn’t believe I didn’t know about the time change. I am usually extremely anal about vacation planning so I can’t believe I didn’t catch this!

Overall we had a fantastic trip. We loved being in Italy again, and are craving to see more. Next year we will be visiting Venice, the Dolomites and the Lakes, none of which we had been before, and I can’t wait. Until then, I need to start planning for our November trip to Croatia!

Thanks so much for reading, and please feel free to ask questions!

tcreath is offline  
Apr 12th, 2006, 07:51 AM
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What a story about the time change!!! I'm sure it was terribly frustrating at the time but it does make a pretty amusing travel story. And... I bet that neither of you will ever forget to check on it again... EVER! ;-)

Thanks for a great report!
TexasAggie is offline  
Apr 12th, 2006, 08:02 AM
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Just in case you might want to add it to your trip diary: The cafe/restaurant that seemed - rightly so! - Viennese to you in Montepulciano is the Caffe Poliziano. In addition to the lovely views, it is old and famous, and it has a very good restaurant down in the cellar.
Eloise is offline  
Apr 12th, 2006, 08:11 AM
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TexasAggie, we definitely learned our lesson! It is pretty funny, now that we are at home, and we got to visit a new city so I guess alls well ends well!

Eloise, it definitely was Caffe Poliziano. I remembered that it started with a "P" but I couldn't remember anything else about the name, which is surprising because we passed about 10 advertisements for it on the way to Montepulciano! It was a lovely restaurant. Thank you for giving me the name.

tcreath is offline  
Apr 12th, 2006, 10:18 AM
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Tracy - What a wonderful report!!

SRS is offline  
Apr 12th, 2006, 10:46 AM
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Tracy, Great report! I was there for the time change as well. I had read about it just before I left, but then forgot about it, but the digital clock in my apartment was one of those that automatically changes the time on the correct date. If it hadn't been for that, I would probably have walked around Sunday without knowing what time it was as well. I didn't leave 'til Tuesday, so it wouldn't have affected getting to the airport on time.

I spent Sunday in the Jewish Ghetto and Trastavere and wasn't affected at all by the Marathon. They had a beautiful day for it!
SusanP is offline  
Apr 12th, 2006, 10:53 AM
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Thank you both for reading!

SusanP, the only clock we had with us, besides my watch, was a travel alarm clock that I bring from home. I guess from now on I will note such things!

Had I known about the marathon we could have went to Trastevere that day as well. The day certainly was beautiful though, and the excitement of the marathon was contagious. That and we got free bottles of gatorade as we walked near the Forum!

tcreath is offline  
Apr 12th, 2006, 01:53 PM
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I really enjoyed your report. Umbria sounds interesting , I'll have to add it to my list of where to go. as for Rome I agree-Love it and all it's chaos. Sounds like you had a great time, thanks for the read.
laartista is offline  
Apr 13th, 2006, 06:25 AM
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laartista, Umbria was lovely and definitely not as "touristy" as some of the places we've been to in Florence. I loved the area and were glad we decided to go.

Thanks for reading my report!
tcreath is offline  
Apr 13th, 2006, 10:05 AM
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It sounds like you still have some things to see in Rome--another reason to go back. I love Santa Maria in Trastevere, too, and always pop in when in Rome.

Looking forward to reading about your next adventure. Thanks for a wonderful report.
Leely is offline  
Apr 17th, 2006, 06:01 PM
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I finally had a chance to finish your report; thank you!

It was soooo nice to re-live Le Case Gialle and the Umbrian towns and landscape through your stories.

Loved the "cat-tales" and other (mis)adventures in Rome. I had to laugh; I thought I was the only person who didn't get to the Sistine Chapel (the usual problems of closed for restoration,etc) until my 4th trip to Rome. And I liked your nice descriptions of your meals!

If you are beginning to plan the Northern Italy trip already, here are two places in Venice to add to your list:
Casa Martini -- love this charming little hotel, run by an equally charming and friendly young-ish couple

Also liked this B&B: Ca'Turelli. Access it through www.veniceby.com, under "B&Bs."

Thanks again and enjoy planning the next trip.
annabelle2 is offline  
Apr 18th, 2006, 07:30 AM
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annabelle, and here we thought we were the only ones to ever go to Rome and not make it to the Sistine Chapel! But now I have yet another reason to go back, or actually two reasons since I also missed San Clemente! Thank you so much for reading my report, and again, thank you for your recommendation!

Being the obsessive vacation planner that I am, I am indeed already researching for our northern Italy adventure next year. We will probably go around mid-September/early October and will also be in Switzerland and the Rhine....can't wait! Thank you very much for the recommendations. I have a word file started for this vacation with various links and posts that I copied and pasted, and this one is going in there. I'm going to check out the links right now!

tcreath is offline  
Apr 19th, 2006, 07:21 AM
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Did I miss your trip report to Croatia or have you not gone yet?

offwego is offline  
Apr 19th, 2006, 09:10 PM
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Dear Tracy,

Truly enjoyed reading your report. Have had the fortune to have traveled in most of the cities you describe, and thanks for reviving many lovely memories.

You wrote about two of my favorite places that aren't mentioned very often here: the Baths of Caracalla and Carsulae.

We had a memorable picnic at the Baths - walked there and back from our Hotel Ponte Sisto - a longish but relaxing hike. An oasis of green umbrella pines and fun to imagine what it would have been like to attend an opera performance here when they were still being staged.

Carsulae - what an experience! Took us forever to find it, following the winding roads approaching it from the south (even with our Italian Touring Club maps The parking lot is like a scene from the Twilight Zone - huge expanse of cement, entrance gates that are disabled, miniature trees growing through the cracks in the pavement and sidewalk. You're not even sure if you're at the right place, because you can't see the ruins from there.

A long walk after first walking through a tunnel under the road. And all of a sudden a huge and modern visitor center - with four young women staffing the place and no one in sight. My husband and I were the only ones at the ruins on a beautiful sunny day in early October. We enjoyed another relaxing picnic while sitting on the steps of the amphitheater.

The ruins are very evocative - can only imagine what it was like on a cloudy, foggy day. A walk along the Via Flamina in this high and quiet place was an opportunity to truly imagine what it would be like in a "frontier" Roman garrison.

Most interesting was our return to the nearly abandoned parking area - Roman ruins and twentieth century ruins ironically juxtaposed.

So glad you had a wonderful trip!
SusanEva is offline  
Apr 20th, 2006, 12:02 PM
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offwego, nope, you didn't miss it! We go to Croatia in November and I am in the midst of planning for it now. This one is proving to be a little tough, especially since we are traveling in off-season when a lot of hotels/apartments shut down for the season. I am very excited though; Croatia has been on my wish list for several years, and I was lucky enough to find a really good airfare so that dream will soon be a reality.

SusanEva, your experience at Carsulae sounds eerily familiar to ours! It is such an interesting place, yet almost completely void of any tourists, at least when we were there. The museum was very interesting and quite modern, and the workers there very helpful. We found the ruins to be quite amazing and are surprised that more people don't visit. There really doesn't seem to be much written up on it though. I just happened to find a little blurb about it in an Umbria book, and there were only a few paragraphs. Its actually quite a shame, because Carsulae is absolutely worth a visit for anybody exploring the area.

Thank you so much for reading my trip report!

tcreath is offline  
Oct 16th, 2006, 10:24 AM
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Tracy and others,

I'm starting to plan a trip to Rome and Umbria for 12 days (10 actually touring) starting the first week of October 2007.

My initial plan was:

- 3 nights Rome,
- train to Orvieto, overnight there,
- pick-up car to Umbrian base for 5 nights,
- return to Rome, overnight at airport hotel to fly home next day.

I've read many reports and was thinking of Bevagna, and specifically Le Case Gialle, for our Umbrian base.

However, after reading your report, Tracy, I'm now reconsidering Bevagna and Le Case Gialle (although it sounds wonderful).

In particular:

1. For those who've toured Umbria, would they prefer a hill town (like Spello or Montefalco) to a valley town like Bevagna?

2. What is your favourite accommodation in the town of your choice, as opposed to out-of-town? I'm not thrilled about driving in the dark after dinner and wine back to our agriturisimo. Our budget is E200 per night.

Thought I'd share www.ortoangeli.com/iluoghi/index.php for a nifty 3-dimensional view of Umbria.

Really enjoyed your report, Tracy.

BowenLinda is offline  
Oct 16th, 2006, 10:42 AM
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Personally, I loved Spello and the Palazzo Bocci, which is a gem of a hotel and fits your budget. It has a very nice restaurant across the street, and there are other good restaurants in town. The problem with the Palazzo Bocci might be parking. If you decide to inquire there, do ask what they suggest for parking. (I didn't have a car.)


I suggested Orto degli Angeli in a post some time ago, based on what I had read about it in "Travel + Leisure" a few years ago. Someone replied and said that it had gone down quite badly. I can only repeat what I heard. (You could try to find the thread by putting >Orto degli Angeli< into the Search box.
Eloise is offline  
Oct 16th, 2006, 12:37 PM
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Thanks for reading my report!

Let me try to answer your question. I think Spello or Montefalco would be a great place to stay. Bevagna is also wonderful, but if you stay in a hilltown you will be rewarded with magnificent views on clear days. Bevagna is so close to Montefalco and Spello (and about five minutes from Case Gialle) so you could easily visit all of them.

If you don't like to drive after dark, I would definitely reconsider Case Gialle. It is a wonderful place but its off of a windy road and the road to Bevagna/Montefalco is also very windy. After dinner and some wine the roads get a little creepy. I would suggest you stay in town, where you can walk to a variety of restaurants. Spello was one of my favorite hill towns in the area, and I've heard great things about Palazzo Bocci, as Eloise recommends above. If you do a search on here for Palazzo Bocci you will see quite a lot of raving comments. I've never been inside, but I know where it is and its in a fantastic location right in the heart of beautiful Spello.

Your itinerary sounds very similar to ours! We did 5 nights in Umbria and 3 nights in Rome. Overall we had a fantastic trip, and I thank you for topping my trip report!

tcreath is offline  

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