Trip Report, Italian Christmas, Part 1

Old Jan 4th, 2007, 04:24 PM
  #1  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Aug 2006
Posts: 2,026
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Trip Report, Italian Christmas, Part 1

Hello Italy Over Christmas and New Years!!! Possibly the best vacation I have ever experienced!!!

Hmmm, 5 months of planning, re-planning, re-re-planning. Buying, canceling, re-buying. Yep, Regina and I were finally ready to go.

But first, lets do a review of what happened and how it happened.

We purchased our plane tickets through Priceline in August. Orlando-Rome, Rome-Palermo, Palermo-Milan-Orlando. $791 each, total price, mostly on US Airways, but with the Sicily trips on Air One and Alitalia. The original idea was to spend 5 days in Rome then 5 days in Sicily. This was over $100 each cheaper than R/T to Rome.

Paid for a 7 day car rental from Auto-Europe for $450. Ended up canceling this and getting a much better deal through Cars Italy & Tours (Auto Europa), $290 for 7 days including $0 deductible insurance. Both the car and the company were GREAT.

SNAV had a special on ferry tickets from Naples to Palermo, buy the cheap cabin, the car goes for 1 euro. The original idea was to use the night ferry trip as a hotel night, thus saving a substantial amount over doing a dual location car rental. This is because we wanted to drive down to Pompei for a day. SNAV ferry tickets were $120 total.

Bought 4 nights at the Ostia Antica Park Hotel for $57 per night through Hotels.com. We knew it was 30 miles out of Rome, but didn't think it would be a big deal due to the trains and buses. This changed when we learned of the lack of transport on Christmas Eve and Christmas day. We changed then to Hotel Monte Carlo in Rome for $100 per night for 4 nights. Due to a mess-up by Hotels.com, we were given a $100 credit for their mistake in charging us.

Originally reserved an apartment in Castellemare del Golfo for $300 for a week. Gave a $50,non-refundable deposit.

Prior to leaving, we learned of the pre-Christmas Alitalia strike. We weren't too keen on this happening to us if we were in Palermo, so started considering alternatives, including not going to Sicily at all. Our primary reason was to see the Greek Temples. AHHH, learned of Paestum!

Plans changed in Rome, weather was great, and we wanted to see more, MORE, MORE!!!. So we canned the Sicily idea, taking a hit on the SNAV ferry and Apartment deposit. The negative was, Hotel Monte Carlo was booked solid after the 28th, so we added 2 days back at Ostia Antica (now $85 per night) and got a room at a fantastic B&B in Paestum (Casale Gianceasare) for $100 for 1 night. The new idea was to see Paestum on the 30th, Pompei on the 31st and drive to Milan for our Jan. 2 flight on the 1st, getting a room somewhere on the road on the 31st. We found it in a great hotel in Cassino ($100). The night of the 1st we did make a slight error. We had booked a hotel/B&B in Milan because it was 5 minutes from the airport. The problem was, I forgot we were flying out of Malpensa and not Linate. Since we used Venere for this reservation, we couldn't cancel without taking a $100 hit. More on that later.

And now (drum roll please) The Trip....

Sunday, December 24.

We arrived in Rome after our 3 hour trip from Orlando, 3 hour layover in Philly and 8.5 hour trip across the pond at 8:30 in the morning, Rome Time. We had eaten supper early at the airport and then we did the Lunesta thing as soon as the plane left the ground. While I can't say we slept well on the flight, we did sleep some and rested plenty. No jetlag and ready to see the sights.

We had arranged a car service to pick us up at the airport, (www.romeshuttlelimousine.com). 35 Euros from Fumicino to our hotel. Rossi was waiting when we arrived with his Mercedes wagon and had us to the Hotel in short order, taking us on a quick tour through Rome. I highly recommend this service!!

The Monte Carlo is about ½ kilometer from Termini, (http://www.hotelmontecarlorome.com) across from the British and Turkish embassies. Security is no problem, as there are Caribinari posted 24/7 at each embassy. While it isn't right next to most sites, it was still convenient and gave us no problems our entire stay. The room was a bit small, but the staff was very friendly and helpful. High speed, cable-up, internet service (free) worked great, as we use our laptop for phone communications when traveling, with our Skype In/Skype Out accounts. We thought this was well worth what we paid for it, $75 per night after the refund from Hotels.com.

Even though we were hours ahead of our check-in time, they let us get our bags put away and off we went. We knew about the bus/metro schedule reductions, so we had our plans in place of what to see and how to see it. Before we left the states, we purchased the 7 day Roma Archeaologia Card, (http://www.ticketclic.it/Gb/HTML/mus..._card_roma.cfm ) providing access to a substantial number of locations for one low price. I believe it was about $27 each.

We arrived at the Colloseum at about 11am, walked right past the giant queue, picked up our card at the Internet window and walked right in. Spent the next couple of hours just enjoying the beauty of this magnificent structure. We knew we'd be back.

From the Colloseo, we went into the Roman Forum, just meandering around the ruins. The crowds weren't too bad and the day was perfect.

Next stop, Campidoglio. Hello Michelangelo. What a beautiful Piazza.

Around the corner to the Wedding Cake, yep it is pretty gaudy, but get real, lots of stuff in Rome is gaudy, isn't that what makes it great? We had purchased the 7 day metro card, so we'd just hop on and off city buses as we wanted. Before we left, I found the Metro Bus route website, and printed up a couple of bus route maps on hard board, this made it easy to navigate.(http://www.atac.roma.it/) Get the Roma Citta, Roma Centro and Linee Notturna maps.

We ended up at the Pantheon. A late afternoon stroll around this fantastic structure was just what the doctor ordered, as we knew we were going to return that night for Christmas Eve mass. What many people don't realize is that the Pantheon is a church and we had been wanting to see the service there from the moment we heard of it. Oh, and we aren't religious, we just appreciate all religions. Churches/Mosques/Synagogues/Temples can show a lot about a culture and the history of a people.

We took a few more bus trips and ended up about 3 blocks from the hotel. We had a great dinner at a nice little restaurant about 5 blocks from the hotel. Time for a rest and get ready for the evening.

Next...The Pantheon, Midnight, Choirs, Cold, Beauty and a stunning memory...
daveesl is offline  
Old Jan 4th, 2007, 05:44 PM
  #2  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 3,870
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
dave, I look forward to more of your report, as I also just returned from Rome. Your title says "Part 1." Please post the entire report on this thread. Otherwise, the different parts won't stay together. I was at the Pantheon for Christmas Eve as well! Wasn't it freezing in there?
SusanP is offline  
Old Jan 4th, 2007, 05:54 PM
  #3  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Aug 2006
Posts: 2,026
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Hi, oh man was it COLD, but wasn't that fantastic? Were you over by the choir? We were on the other side, front row. I was the guy with the hurt back, so I had to hobble out at the very end.
daveesl is offline  
Old Jan 4th, 2007, 07:42 PM
  #4  
 
Join Date: Nov 2005
Posts: 2,857
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
How fun that you were both at the Pantheon for Christmas Eve!

Looking forward to more, daveesl!
Linda
LCBoniti is offline  
Old Jan 5th, 2007, 07:40 AM
  #5  
 
Join Date: Mar 2003
Posts: 10,253
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
dave, Great report so far--looking forward to more. and please do add your report here.
ellenem is offline  
Old Jan 5th, 2007, 11:10 AM
  #6  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Aug 2006
Posts: 2,026
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Part 2

Christmas Eve Night-- The Pantheon Mass

Before we left for Italy, we had learned from this wonderful travel board of the Pantheon doing a Christmas eve midnight mass. We knew we had no desire to go to St. Peters for it, but both of us are amateur historians, so the Pantheon sounded great. We were not sure if we'd have the energy left to attempt it, but we figured what the heck, let's try.

After a short rest in the hotel we caught a bus heading in the right direction. We arrived at the Pantheon at about 9pm. It was stunning. There were some people dining in a cafe across the square and a few people roaming around, but other than that, it was dark, quiet and vacant. We got there at 9 because we heard that you needed to be there by 10 to be assured of a seat.

Walking around the darken portico, with only a smattering of lights to highlight this magnificent building was in itself a pleasure. A homeless man was parked on the side and one other man (we later learned his name was Michael) was leisurely strolling through the columns. It wasn't long before we heard lovely singing. It was Michael, we learned he was a member of the choir and he was a joy to visit with.

The doors were supposed to open at about 10:30 or so and the number of visitors began to grow as that time approached and went. During this time, the remaining members of the choir appeared. 11 soon came and went, with people trying to determine why it wasn't opened. We heard that something had happened to the priest. The choir then assembled next to the mighty doors and began to practice for the mass. It was amazing.

This chorus of beautiful voices rising among the huge, darken columns and echoing from the 2,000 year old facade. It was getting colder, but it mattered little to those of us waiting. They sang parts of many songs, getting their timing down for the night's event. Finally at about a quarter to twelve the mighty doors opened. A large number of people attempted to rush in, but one of the priests was having none of that. He ushered in the choir, set up a baracade and then allowed the people to enter, semi-orderly.

We got seats on the front row. The cold wind was blowing through the doors and pouring out of the oculus (the 30 foot hole in the roof). It was stunningly beautiful. Here we sat in the temple built by Hadrian, that has stood for 1900 years.

I can't describe the service, it was too beautiful for description. Not being Catholic, I wasn't really sure what to expect, but the story itself is known around the world. I didn't need to know Italian to understand the meanings. The voices of the choir was breathtaking, the sounds circling around the great dome, it was like a chorus of angels.

I doubt that there were more than a hundred or so people who shared this event, but I will say that it was one of the more moving experiences in my life. We didn't care how cold it was, and it was getting really cold. Even though my back was in the middle of extraordinary spasms, I was not going to miss this event. The service took an hour or so, but the time flew by.

I had to finally give in and hobble out of the church at the end, my back was killing me, but I was really happy. We caught a cab which took us directly to the hotel for 7 euros. We heard lots of horror stories about how Roman cabbies would take advantage of late night tourists. In the two cab rides we took, we felt the prices were extremely low and the drivers were fun. As a side note, the cab ride was so bumpy that it actually massaged most of the pain out of my back. When we got to our room, we had been up for over 36hours, not counting the rest we got on the plane. We hit the bed and slept like logs until Christmas morn.

Next up, Christmas, 110 bus, fountains, statues, piazzas and the pizza stand, oh my!!!
daveesl is offline  
Old Jan 5th, 2007, 03:08 PM
  #7  
 
Join Date: Nov 2005
Posts: 2,857
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Lol about the "massage"! Too funny!

Loved your description of the Parthenon services. What a privilege to share that in such a magical place.

Pizza! Yummmmm......
Linda
LCBoniti is offline  
Old Jan 5th, 2007, 04:38 PM
  #8  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 11,134
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Just reading through some trip reports today it seems like at least three fodorites were at the Pantheon services. How wonderful. davesl, I love your description of the service.

Looking forward to more!
SeaUrchin is offline  
Old Jan 24th, 2007, 04:32 PM
  #9  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Aug 2006
Posts: 2,026
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
The Journey Continues...Christmas Day (sorry it is taking me so long)

We slept like zombies after we go back to the hotel. Honestly, I don't think we slept, I think we passed out. But we were refreshed and ready to go Christmas day.

We decided to do the 110 bus, to get our bearings around the city and just see stuff. The day was beautiful. Took the subway to Termini and found the 110 headquarters. We purchased the full day pass and in a way kind of regretted doing it later, we should have just done the one tour pass since we had the 7 day metro card for public transport.

The 110 is a good way to get an overview of the city, but to be honest it doesn't stop in a whole heck of a lot of places. That means you really need to know where the stops are if you do the “hop-on/hop-off” plan. Also, just because you have a ticket doesn't mean you'll get on. If the bus is full, then you get to wait, maybe the next bus will not be so full or maybe it'll also be packed. This happened to us twice and we just shifted to the public buses.

Anyway, we did the ride from Termini to the stop near the Tomb of Augustus. This is something that we really wanted to see, as we had learned that they had marked out the pediment stones for the Pantheon in the area in front of the tomb. Yes, you can see them. (I guess that's what the lines were).

We then walked back up to Piazza del Popolo and had a relaxing time in an outdoor cafe. Which brings up another point. Before we left, we heard that most restaurants were closed on Christmas. We found an abundance of open cafes and restaurants. At the Piazza we popped into the twin churches, after they completed their Christmas Mass. Hey, one religious experience per trip is enough for me, and the Pantheon would be tough to beat. I just love the artwork and artistry in the churches, so a lot of our report is about churches.

From Popolo we strolled down Via Del Corso and then over to the Spanish Steps. We had a great time, it was packed with people and vendors and people and pigeons. Ok, this brings up another point. We also heard all about the “gypsies and pickpockets”. Well, okay there are street folk, mostly selling pocket books or playing guitar on the subways, but we never felt threatened and to be honest I feel a lot more hassled in Orlando than in Rome. We traveled at night, down alleyways, up dark streets, etc. No problems. Yes, I'm over 6' tall, weigh 200 lbs, have a thick mustache and look a bit like a biker so perhaps I scared them. But I'm happy to report no problems at all on the criminal front.

From the Spanish Steps we then strolled down to Trevi Fountain, over to the Pantheon (again) and finally to Piazza Navona. Navona was great, there was a street fair going on. We purchased a couple of La Bafana animated witches. Yep, once again my daughter gets a really weird Christmas gift from dad, ha ha. You should have seen her eyes the year I gave her the aluminum Festivus Pole...oops I digress...back to Rome...

We were pretty tired by now and figured we'd hop on the 110 to go back to the hotel, it had a stop somewhere near the MonteCarlo. We tried to figure out exactly where the stop was near Navona, ended up missing one bus, the next two were packed, so we gave up and jumped on a public bus. Remember, we had printed out our own bus route map which was absolutely invaluable.

We got off at Termini and were walking back to the hotel. About a block from the hotel we found this FANTASTIC little pizza joint. Two guys ran it, had a small table inside and another outside. For about $15 we got a great pizza and a couple of Kabaps (I'm sure I spelled that wrong). This thing was great. It was like a burrito full of spicy lamb. We all had a lot of fun trying to teach each other words.

We flopped back at the hotel for a couple hours of rest. Night had fallen and now it was time to go on another adventure. We walked back to Termini (about 700 meters from the hotel) and found a night bus that would take us to the Colosseo area. We hopped off at the Wedding Cake and walked down to the Colosseum. It was fantastic. I guess it was about 9 or 10 pm. The sky was clear and a quarter moon was shining. There were very few people there, which made it all kind of mysterious. After going around this fabulous building we decided to take a walk back up towards the Palantine. It was there that we found our little wonder.

There is a small road that you take up to the Forum, but if you follow the road to the left, you end up traveling through some really cool ruins and at the top there is this lovely chapel. On the one lane road to the chapel are little side areas that hold what I guess are the stations of the cross. These are various small statues depicting Jesus. The chapel itself was empty, as was everything around it. It felt so special and a bit lonely sitting there atop the hill.

On the walk down I did my clumsy. Regina and I were swapping cameras and that is when I realized why I was never a baseball player. You know, it is amazing how fast cameras flip around when you drop them and how loud they are when they smash onto the ground. Regina, being the wonderful trooper that she is, just took the broken little Olympus, banged on it a couple of times and said “Well, I don't really need to focus on stuff anyway”. Yes, I ended up buying her a new camera.

We ended up back at the bus stop at the Colosseum, but then realized that all buses must have stopped, so we grabbed a cab. The second need for a cab, 7 euros for the ride back to the hotel and worth every penny (do Euros have pennies?).

Next up...Vatican Tours, Thank GOD for getting reservations, climbing the dome and Swiss Guards.
daveesl is offline  
Old Jan 24th, 2007, 06:39 PM
  #10  
 
Join Date: Nov 2005
Posts: 2,857
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Hi Dave -

My sisters and I also went to the Colosseum/Forum area in the evening and walked up that very same street you mentioned, past the stations of the cross. So beautiful, even eerie, with very few people around and the lighting they have in the ruins. Amazing!

Thanks for coming back to your report and I look forward to more.
LCBoniti is offline  
Related Topics
Thread
Original Poster
Forum
Replies
Last Post
Images2
Europe
45
Nov 26th, 2012 05:46 AM
TC
United States
9
Dec 25th, 2010 09:51 AM
gtrekker2003
Asia
5
Dec 17th, 2008 12:37 PM
Underhill
Europe
53
Jan 17th, 2006 09:14 AM
janice1
Europe
5
Jan 4th, 2004 03:48 AM

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are Off
Pingbacks are Off
Refbacks are On


Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Manage Preferences - Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy - Privacy Statement - Do Not Sell or Share My Personal Information -