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Trip Report - 5 Nights in Rome/4 Nights in London

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Nov 5th, 2014, 01:21 PM
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Trip Report - 5 Nights in Rome/4 Nights in London

DH and I were excited to travel to Rome and London last month. We are both early-fities, and recent empy-nesters. This was the 2011 trip that never happened for DH thanks to a medical issue he encountered shortly before our scheduled trip. DS and I went on without him for that trip, and I have been trying to schedule this for DH ever since. AAdvantage seats opened up in late October of 2014, giving us 5 nights in Rome and 4 nights in London. Not nearly enough time, but with DH's work schedule we were lucky to get away at all. I worked up an itinerary to include all the "must-see" stuff in Rome, less so in London since we had less time there and I had to pick and choose. DH and I have the best time together when we travel. He is quite the history buff, so I can't wait to show him both cities!

Day 1

Austin Bergstrom airport currently only has one flight to and from Europe, which is to London Heathrow. Hence, our first leg is Austin-Chicago. After a 4 hour layover in Chicago, we took off for Rome about 5:30 pm. The flight was incident free, although I did not sleep for one second. DH enjoyed a solid four hour nap. I wish I could sleep like that on a plane!

Day 2

Flight landed in Rome a bit early. Normally this is fine by me, but knowing our official hotel check in time was 2:00 pm gave me some angst. I hate stowing luggage and feeling forced to wander about when I haven't unpacked and freshened up. Our reservations were at the Albergo del Senato, and thanks to their popularity they normally stay quite full. Sure enough, we arrived via taxi about 10:30 am to learn that our room was not ready. Not much we could do except leave our bags and regroup for our first outing: Rick Steves' "Heart of Rome" walking tour.

Yes, I know many on this forum are not fans of Rick Steves, but I find some of his suggestions useful. In this case, I wanted to get my geographic bearings while showing DH some of the "low impact" sights within walking distance. So with map in hand, we marched off to Trevi Fountain... which I discovered is being completely renovated, so no water, lots of scaffolding, a strange plywood walkway circling it for tourists to get close. Hoards of people (this will become a common theme) were lined up to go across the walkway to "see" the fountain. Needless to say, I was disappointed that the first site I had selected to show DH was basically shut down. We marched on.

Our second site: Spanish Steps. We walked to the top and turned around for our first real view of Rome. We were happy in the moment, just appreciating the roof tops and domes, the pretty weather, and even the crowds of people.

My next stop was the Capuchin Crypt and Museum, which is not far from the Spanish Steps. I had not actually visited this before, and was interested in understanding how the monks made art out of bones. We went through their little museum where we learned about the Capuchin order. DH and I thought it was well done, and we lingered a bit. Then we moved on to the bones.

I was not quite sure what to expect, as it sounded almost kitschy to me in a creepy way. Art from pelvic bones and skulls? While I did not particularly enjoy the artistic aspect, I was honestly surprised at my own reaction to these bones. Hundreds of skulls that belonged to live human beings at one time. I had my own little "ashes to ashes" moment and reflected on what a minuscule blip in the universe I am.

At that point, DH was ready for sustenance. I had jotted down a couple of restaurant ideas, but by the time we worked our way back to the Pantheon area I was getting foggy. DH picked one of the less desirable tourist-type cafes with outdoor seating. I had no appetite, and so I picked around at some Penne all’Arrabbiata and watched DH devour Lasagna. He is a marathon runner, and his appetite astounds me. Fortunately, he is easy to please. Internally, I was scolding myself for eating at the exact kind of Rome restaurant I abhor -- touristy, overpriced, and with mediocre food. I should have done a better job of planning our first meal.

On to our hotel. Rick Steves and his tour would have to wait. By this hour, the Piazza della Rotunda was PACKED. The young immigrant men trying to sell "selfie-sticks" (those cheap poles to which one can attach a cell phone and take selfies) were ubiquitous. Huge tour groups, which turned out to be cruise passengers day-tripping everywhere we went during the week, were thick in front of the Pantheon. Musicians were setting up in front of our hotel, and a guitarist started playing "Stairway to Heaven." We would hear this played often over the next five days.

Alleluia! Our room was ready, and not too early. I was fading fast. The staff at Albergo del Senato was courteous and professional, as always. Unfortunately, I had neglected to request a quiet room on an upper floor when I made the reservation. Our room was #105, which is on the lowest floor overlooking the piazza. We could not have asked for a louder room. It also did not help that our room was the smallest of all the rooms they offer. I am well aware of the need to adjust my expectations on room size when traveling to certain places -- Rome and Manhattan, for example -- but this was REALLY tiny. I did not know they had rooms this small. DH and I discussed how to handle it; at the end he was fine with it and I was just disappointed. So we let it go. The hotel was full, and I took it as a lesson to make my expectations known ahead of time when booking my next hotel stay.

After unpacking and taking a brief rest, we headed back out to finish our little walking tour. But first I wanted to swing by the church of San Luigi de' Francesi so DH could see Caravaggio's famous "Matthew" paintings. Sadly, a very pushy tour group had taken over most of the interior, never mind the area around the paintings. We did our best, but moved on quickly. Piazza Navona was just as I remembered it, and it did not feel as crowded and frantic as the other sites we had visited. I showed him the lovely Fountain of Four Rivers and explained about Bernini and his contribution to the Renaissance. DH knows his history but not so much his art, so it feels good to explain things once in a while. We stepped in to the Sant'Agnese in Agone church. This was my first time in this particular church. I had my first "wow" moment, when you walk into one of the many churches in Rome and just feel the visually breathtaking beauty surround you. Do the Romans get desensitized to all of that beauty?

Next, we moved on to Campo de Fiori. I pointed out the medieval features of the square to DH, but otherwise there wasn't much going on at that hour. We sat down at Obika Mozzarella Bar and polished off our first pizza and bottle of wine. It tasted good to me. At that point, I had been awake for 30+ hours straight. We went back to the hotel, and I fell asleep listening to the musicians in front of out hotel playing Dire Straights' "Sultans of Swing." The noise didn't hinder my ability to sleep one bit!
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Nov 5th, 2014, 01:28 PM
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just spotted this, givings, and having read it so far, am hoping that your trip looks up and the noise levels come down.
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Nov 5th, 2014, 02:47 PM
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Love the report so far and looking forward to more. Shame about the Trevi Fountain. Wonder how long this work will go on??
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Nov 5th, 2014, 02:50 PM
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I am sorry to hear of your bad experience at the Senato. Every chance I get I post that I stopped staying at the Senato years ago because of noise (and their prices) and it usually doesn't deter people -- but I hope you will join the chorus. There are some nice rooms there but I honestly think one can be a lot more comfortable in Rome at that price point or lower. But glad you were able to sleep right through partying in the piazza.

I wouldn't regret that first tourist meal -- and I am not surprised your husband thoroughly enjoyed his lasagne. I think all food in Italy tastes best when you are really hungry -- even overpriced tourist food!

Can't speak for all Romans, but I do know a few, and every time I go to Rome they are always checking up on me to make sure I have seen this or that beautiful sight and out-of-the-way church. They seem to never lose sight of how beautiful the city is and are always delighted to hear that visitors enjoy it and appreciate it.
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Nov 5th, 2014, 02:51 PM
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i meant to add that I think it is great you combined Rome and London. Fun pairing!
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Nov 5th, 2014, 04:10 PM
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Good start to your trip report. Bookmarking to make certain to read the rest as you write it.
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Nov 5th, 2014, 08:12 PM
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What an engaging trip report! I look forward to reading more. I've made a reservation at the Senato in January. What did you think of it other than the room?
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Nov 6th, 2014, 06:07 AM
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Thanks for the positive strokes everyone! Can you tell this is my first trip report?

Re: the Senato. This is only my second trip to Rome, DH's first (other than for business). We got burned on a wretched apartment rental in 2011. A kind traveling companion took pity and treated us for our last 3 nights at the Senato. That is the only time I have walked out on a rental, and my memories of the Senato were good ones. I like their staff and their breakfast setup. We enjoyed the rooftop bar each night. The location is central; we are walkers and liked not having to rely on taxis for most of our outings. That said, I am sure there are equally nice hotels for the money. Next time I might branch out.

More to come!
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Nov 6th, 2014, 06:11 AM
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I should say "equally nice hotels for LESS money"! Arghhhh! Need my coffee!
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Nov 6th, 2014, 02:02 PM
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Day 3 - Ancient Rome & Pilgrim Churches

We set an early alarm for our first full day in Rome. I opened our shutters to a perfect, sunny day, and was struck by how beautiful the piazza and Pantheon looked early in the day before the crowds arrived. What a difference from the previous evening! A good night's sleep made all the difference for DH and me, and we both relaxed over coffee and a tasty breakfast in the Albergo del Senato breakfast room. We arrived for breakfast when the doors opened -- 7:00 am sharp. I thought we would be the only ones showing up that early, but the room was packed within twenty minutes. All Americans!

Our first activity of the day was a 9:00 am guided tour of the Colosseum and Forum with a company called Angel Tours. I had read a Trip Advisor review describing it as "Rome Light" which appealed to me since I was worried we would still be too jet-lagged to appreciate Context or one of the more cerebral tours. Boy, did I goof. DH and I both knew more than the guide for the most of the tour. Not sure why they are ranked so well on Trip Advisor and have a "Certificate of Excellence" since the entire experience seemed rather amateurish. I could go on, but suffice to say I cannot recommend Angel Tours in Rome. In spite of the tour, DH thoroughly enjoyed the ruins and Colosseum. Lots of scaffolding and repair work was going on at the Colosseum. Looks like Rome is finally getting around to keeping up their property.

After three hours of wandering about the ancient ruins, we were ready for a lunch break. Hostaria I Clementini, a small restaurant on one of the side streets between the Colosseum and the Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano, opened at noon and filled up quickly. The owner manages the front room herself, helping with menu selections and taking orders. We each had a tasty bruschetta al pomodoro and some gnocchi, both excellent comfort food choices that gave us energy for the second half of our day.

Rejuvenated from lunch, we headed over to the Basilica di San Giovanni. As the first church where Christians could worship openly, I wanted DH to see it before we visited St. Peter's. As a *mostly* practicing Catholic, DH could not get enough of the church sites on our trip. His cell phone came out immediately to take pictures, and we both decided to get the audio tour -- well worth it in my opinion. It included more information than we had time to listen to. It also included the Sancta Sanctorum and the Scala Sancta (Holy Steps) right across the street. At one point I was the only person in the room above the steps (the Sanctorum) and listening to it described as the "first Sistine Chapel" brought it all together for me. For early Christians, it was once considered the holiest place on earth.

Our next stop was a bit of a downer. For something a little different, we visited the Museo Storico Della Liberazione (Museum of Liberation of Rome) since it was not far from the Holy Stairs. DH loves WWII history, and this building was where Italian resistance fighters were brought for questioning and tortured. The cells were left just like they were found in 1944 when Rome was liberated. Unfortunately, none of the exhibits included English translations, so we had to use our imagination. I am surprised someone in the Rome Jewish community hasn't spearheaded that effort as the museum otherwise looks well done.

The last item on my itinerary before heading back to the hotel was a visit to Basilica San Clemente, which is a 12th century church built over a 4th century church built over a 2nd century pagan temple built over a 1st century apartment. They have excavated down as far as the pagan temple which was dedicated to Mithras -- his cult spread during the 2nd and 3rd centuries. Fascinating stuff. Both DH and I found the trip below the street-level church to be quite interesting and well worth the extra cost.

Walked back to our hotel, where we enjoyed our first evening on the Senato's rooftop bar. Michel the bartender fussed over us and brought us little olives, baby pickles and chips to snack on while we drank wine and marveled over the view. The sun was setting, and out came the cameras again. What a perfect evening!

I had not made reservations for dinner, but took DH to a restaurant just around the corner from the hotel that we found on my first trip. La Sagrestia on via del Seminario opens at 7:00 pm, and we were the second couple to arrive. I took a break from pasta and tried their Veal Piccata. It was good but not great. I am a little picky about less than tender meat, but I do like the little half bottles of wine one can order in many of the Rome restaurants - DH had his red and I had my white! Overall a great meal to end a great day in Rome!
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Nov 6th, 2014, 02:37 PM
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Oh I really enjoyed this, Givings. I'm taking notes. Thanks for the followup on the hotel.
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Nov 6th, 2014, 05:59 PM
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GIVINGS, really enjoying your trip report. I haven't been to Rome in many years.

"Michel the bartender fussed over us and brought us little olives, baby pickles and chips to snack on while we drank wine and marveled over the view. The sun was setting, and out came the cameras again. What a perfect evening!"

Sounds divine. Please continue...
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Nov 6th, 2014, 07:11 PM
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Ttt
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Nov 7th, 2014, 02:02 AM
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Great job, keep it coming, am waiting for the London part too!
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Nov 7th, 2014, 07:56 PM
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Sandralist..what Rome hotel do you recommend for a quiet and better experience and value. Disappointed to read about Albergo del Senato.we had terrible problems with internal noise at The Inn at the Spanish Steps.
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Nov 8th, 2014, 09:35 AM
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Day 4 - Scavi Tour/St. Peter's & Poor Afternoon Choice

I had contacted the Vatican office a few months prior to our trip requesting tickets for the Scavi Tour, which is the excellent 90 minute guided tour of the necropolis under St. Peter's Basilica. I took the tour on my last trip to Rome and knew how much DH would appreciate the informative look at the excavation area under St. Peter's high altar.

Knowing that we would spend many hours on our feet that day, we opted to take a taxi to St. Peter's about 8:15 am. Our tour officially started at 9:00 am, but I wanted DH to have a chance to look around St. Peter's Square and see the Colannades and Obelisk before the crowds descended. It was the perfect amount of time to bask in St. Peter's "front yard" (or is it the "back yard") before finding the Swiss Guards to begin the security/check in process for the Scavi tour. A small group trickled to the appointed meeting spot and we were joined by a scholarly-seeming woman who led us down the damp, narrow, humid tunnels all the while giving us a history of the excavations, the early church and, of course, why and how the bones discovered are considered by the Church to be those of St. Peter himself. She had us visualize the narrow walkways as the open, sunlit "streets" they once were before centuries of dirt covered everything. This tour was truly a highlight of our trip, and even though I had already taken it I thoroughly enjoyed a second visit.

Once the tour was over, our group was allowed to bypass the long security lines and enter the Basilica upstairs. With an agreement to meet back underneath the exit sign later, DH and I headed in separate directions. While he listened to a Rick Steves' audio tour, I made a beeline for Michelangelo's Pieta where I patiently waited my turn to get close. Even with the glass barrier, I can't think of a better spot for such a moving piece of art. I took my time appreciating it before moving around the rest of St. Peter's, picking and choosing items from my National Geographic Rome guide book to focus on. I'm not sure of the best way to tackle such a stunning, vast space, but my decision to forego the audio guide and allow myself to meander was the right one for me.

By this time my feet needed a rest. DH wanted to climb the stairs to the dome, so I found a sunny spot in the square and waited while he went to the top. He was happy with the view and another photo opportunity; my feet appreciated the break so I was fine with waiting.

The lunch hour was upon us. The area around the Vatican is notorious for less-than-quality restaurant choices. We selected Tre Pupazzi down Borgo Pio. It's just past the mad crush of tourist spots, and we sat outside and munched on pizza. After studying the map, we determined that walking back to the hotel to freshen up was in our best interest at that point. My afternoon agenda included visiting the Pantheon and a few more of the churches around the same area. We would end up changing our plans, a decision that we ultimately regretted.

On my earlier trip to Rome, I spent a wonderful afternoon in the National Museum of Rome and the Baths of Diocletian including the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli. Based on my description and review, DH agreed to visit. From the get-go, it was not a great outing. The taxi ride over was much pricier than I expected; I believe the driver took us on an unnecessary detour. He dropped us in front of a building I did not recognize, but I had left my map at the hotel. My bearings were a bit off, so after visiting the church we wandered longer than we should have around the fenced area that houses the baths and adjoining hall. Once we arrived at the ticket desk, I realized I had underestimated the time it took to get there; the hour was much later than I expected. Went through security check, stowed our backpack, had an unproductive conversation with the lone ticket clerk who told us NOT to get the audio guide because it was not updated. Wandering about the hall attached to the baths, I realized that much of the galleries were closed off. Confused, I simply KNEW there was more to see. I am embarrassed to say I found out later that our ticket purchase included the actual National Museum which was across the street. THAT was the place that provided me with such fond memories, not the hall/cloister garden attached to the baths. On reflection I believe I was tired and not thinking straight. The National Museum was right across the street; how could I miss it? DH was quiet on the taxi ride back. I'm sure he was wondering what on earth I was thinking by dragging him there.

I had made dinner reservations at Armando al Pantheon, so after our nightly ritual of drinks on the hotel rooftop, we walked across the piazza to the restaurant. They have updated their space since my last visit, and we were seated at a two-top along the banquette side of the restaurant... along with two other couples on either side. It felt a bit tight, especially with so many open tables and space in the rest of the room. I assume they were saving the larger tables for bigger groups (and perhaps "grouping" the early-bird tourists together), but conversation was awkward due to lack of privacy. I think of Armando's as old school Roman cuisine, mostly well done. We shared a small plate of eggplant parmesan before tackling a salad and pasta. This is rich, rich food. While it was all delicious, I am sorry we did not have a conversation with our waiter about portion sizes. Neither of us was able to finish our meal.

By this hour DH and I were ready to retire. We are morning people, and while some would have used the opportunity to take an evening stroll, we did not. After a stellar morning and a less than stellar afternoon of sightseeing, and a delicious dinner, we headed back to our hotel for some much-needed rest.
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Nov 8th, 2014, 11:30 AM
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Looking forward to reading more!
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Nov 8th, 2014, 12:33 PM
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Happy Travler,

I have rented apartments in Rome for all my most recent trips. One hotel in the Senato's price category that I frequently hear good things about is Ponte Sisto, but I have never stayed there. But is an attractive location to me and most of the rooms face an interior courtyard, which eliminates risk of noise.

There are also a couple of hotels on the via Margutta that I would consider if I wanted to stay on that side of Rome.

But I also think people are very comfortable in b&bs like Gens Julia. Rooms are large, staff is friendly -- but it is a b&b, and some people just prefer a hotel.
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Nov 11th, 2014, 05:34 AM
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Hoping OP comes back to finish the trip report, as I'm heading to both cities on a repeat visit in the next 6 months.
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Nov 11th, 2014, 07:01 AM
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AMYB, also looking forward to the London part...
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