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Trip report – Madrid and Rome (one multi-part thread)

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Nov 15th, 2007, 03:29 PM
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Join Date: Nov 2007
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Trip report – Madrid and Rome (one multi-part thread)

My husband and I just returned last week from a 21-day trip to Madrid and Rome, which included a three-day visit with friends in Belgium. For years, I have "lurked" on the Fodor's forums and Slow Travel Talk websites, gaining valuable information for trip planning. I have finally registered on both sites, and as a "thank you" to those sites and participants, I offer the following trip report. I have written one report in the hopes of posting the same content, albeit formatted differently to comply with posting rules, on both websites.

I understand there may be some message length restrictions on Fodor's, so I will try to post this report in three segments as replies to this one thread (see, I have been "listening"!). Here is the first "installment" which provides a little background and trip planning resources used:

Background

We are a newly retired couple from New Mexico in our mid-60s and mid-50s. One of our retirement goals was extensive travel. We have been to Europe four times – as well as visits to Panama, Peru, China, Alaska, and Hawaii. In addition, we lived in Belgium for a year in the early 1980s. The goal for our return to Europe this fall was two-fold: spend a few days in Belgium at the home of friends in our old "hometown," and a week or so each in Rome and Madrid – two cities we had not yet visited in our previous travels. The difference this year was to experience "slow travel" by renting an apartment in both cities.

Our focus was the art and architecture of these two wonderful cities – with an emphasis on local food, both in our apartment kitchen as well as out and about. And all of this on a budget… we are retired, after all. We used frequent flyer miles for the airline tickets, and we are not "souvenir hounds," by any means. Excluding any airlines costs and the three days/nights with friends in Belgium, we averaged $290 per day for 17 days. This included lodging, food, airport shuttles, metro/tram/buses, entrance fees, and first-class train tickets for a day trip to Pompeii. Also excluded in the average daily cost was $300 we paid for travel insurance – we are "of an age," as they say, and with prepaid/committed costs for apartments, we felt this added expense to be worthwhile.

Over the years, I have become an avid "over-planner" when it comes to travel (hence the screen name of Love2Plan). And I think these efforts paid off for this latest trip, as we had a wonderful and very relaxing, almost stress-free vacation. Ok, not "vacation," but perhaps "trip" (I don't suppose one can have a vacation from retirement).

Trip Planning

Internet Resources

The first two websites listed below were the most helpful, and these are always my starting point for any trip planning; the third (TripAdvisor) I find more of an adjunct than a first-line source of recommendations and advice. And, again, I wish to thank all of those on this forum for their wonderful insights, advice, recommendations, and helpful ideas.

• Europe forum on Fodor's
• Slow Travel Talk forums:
http://slowtalk.com/groupee/forums
• Trip Advisor's reviews and forums:
http://www.tripadvisor.com/

Other resources on the internet, in no particular order, include:

• currency conversion:
http://tinyurl.com/6qij

• driving/walking directions and maps:
http://tinyurl.com/4fgc8

• packing: http://www.onebag.com/

• travel tips on every subject from Rick Steves:
http://tinyurl.com/2qykmr

• travel tips from readers and fans of Rick Steves:
http://tinyurl.com/yv27ks

• Maribel's Guide to Madrid:
http://tinyurl.com/2zdasz

• Maribel's' Guides to other regions of Spain:
http://maribelsguides.com/

• Friendly Rentals (apartment rentals in Madrid, Barcelona, and other cities in Spain):
http://www.friendlyrentals.com

• Really Rome (holiday apartment we rented in Rome):
http://www.reallyrome.com/

• Rome is Home (holiday apartment we almost rented in Rome; Really Rome was a little less expensive at the time):
http://tinyurl.com/yr5lv4

• Roma Pass (3 days of bus/tram/metro transportation, 2 free museum entrances, and other discounted museum entrances):
http://tinyurl.com/2dguuu

• Rome bus/tram/metro route calculation (click " calcola il percorso," then click the Great Britain flag for English, followed by entering origin and destination):
http://www.atac.roma.it/

• Madrid metro route calculation (enter origin and destination address – or point of interest):
http://tinyurl.com/nvnaa

• weather:
http://www.wunderground.com

• holiday (bank and public) information:
http://www.timeanddate.com/

• Italian train system (in English):
http://tinyurl.com/2gmkwa

• Spanish train system (in English):
http://tinyurl.com/33q9a

• Italian Autostrade (freeway) information and trip planning (in English):
http://tinyurl.com/eoxrs

• Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and French online dictionary:
http://www.wordreference.com/

• Rome airport shuttle service – this is the "Rome Shuttle Limousine" company (excellent!):
http://tinyurl.com/23sgx8

• Madrid airport shuttle service:
http://tinyurl.com/3cuyet

The internet tends to dominate the resources I use, but the following books were also helpful. The latter two city guides were approximately 7.5 by 4 inches by 0.5 inches in size, and were quite easy to carry around in purse or pocket, and each had particularly good street maps. In addition, the two language phrase books were also pocket-sized and contained additional, helpful information beyond what the titles imply. Here's the list:

• Rick Steves' Rome 2007
• Rick Steves' Spain 2007
• The Rough Guides' Rome Directions (published in 2005; new edition coming out in 2008)
• The AA Essential Guide Madrid (published in 2005)
• Rick Steves' Italian Phrase Book and Dictionary (published in 2003)
• Rick Steves' Spanish Phrase Book and Dictionary (published in 2003)

Non-Internet Resources

• neck pouches (only for travel days – the advantage of the apartments we rented was our ability to leave valuables locked in the apartment) similar to the following:
http://tinyurl.com/2kyj78

• security travel purse for me (Pacsafe's Citysafe Handbag):
http://tinyurl.com/2tavf2

• security travel bag for husband (Pacsafe's Metrosafe 200) – not large, and wonderful for small camera, maps, guidebooks:
http://tinyurl.com/34kgew

• very important – a compass to orient oneself to the street map, for example:
http://tinyurl.com/2dqodb

• noise-cancelling headphones for the flights; husband prefers his Bose headphones, but I enjoy my Sennheiser (model PXC 300) brand – they're half the price of Bose, but just as effective (I think!)

• iPods for the flights – not only do we download music from CDs at home, but podcasts from NPR programs and Spanish and Italian language CDs were downloaded, too (for me – he's rather "mono-lingual"!)

Cash Issues

We purchased a small quantity of Euros at our hometown Wells Fargo bank just prior to travel; it was very useful to have a few hundred Euros with us, and therefore we did not need to immediately find an ATM in a jet-lagged state at the airport. The conversion rate was very favorable and the only added cost was a $6.50 "shipping" fee. (Although we picked up the Euros at our local branch, they could have been sent via FedEx to our home.)

We each carried an ATM card and a different credit card from each other; however, we did not experience any difficulty with ATMs or credit cards, nor did we ever feel "threatened" or concerned with safety. As other posters have stated, the best advice is to always be aware of one's surroundings and to be prudent with carrying a minimum of valuables in a secure manner. The security purse and travel bags mentioned above provided this security very well. My husband did not carry a wallet, but had 50 Euros, a credit card and a copy of his passport in a zippered pocket in the front of his jacket. Although not impossible, it would have been hard for a pickpocket to gain access to this pocket undetected.

We were able to use credit cards for 2/3 of our cash needs. It is worth noting that our Rome apartment was pre-paid via PayPal just prior to our departure, and our Madrid apartment did allow credit card payment on arrival for the balance. There was a 3% surcharge for the convenience of using the credit card for the Madrid apartment – which we thought worthwhile to avoid concerns with carrying 1,000 Euros in cash). In Madrid we did need to pay cash for a 200 Euro security deposit (refunded on check-out) and a 40 Euro cleaning fee. For both apartments, we paid a 20% deposit when booking (PayPal for Rome and VISA or MasterCard for Madrid).

We carried only photocopies of our passports during the day, and left the originals locked in the apartment. Photocopies were acceptable to show as ID when using a credit card, for example. The only place that did not accept a copy was the Naval Museum in Madrid, which required the original ID (the building houses other military offices, hence the increased level of security).

Next stop: We're on our way….
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Nov 15th, 2007, 03:33 PM
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Trip Report Continued (part 2)….

Tuesday, 16 October – Friday, 19 October (American Airlines and Belgium)

Our flight to Europe involved only one change of planes, with a 5.5-hour layover in Chicago. Both were on American Airlines (MD80 to Chicago and a 767 to Brussels). Seat room in economy was minimal and somewhat miserable on the flight to Brussels, particularly for my 6-foot husband. We managed some sleep. He tried taking melatonin (1-2mg) at the new bedtime in Belgium and it seemed to help some, but did not by any means eliminate jet lag. We did try the inflatable neck pillows, but decided they were not all that comfortable. The flights were uneventful, weather-wise; we left Chicago on time and arrived in Belgium at 7:30 the next morning.

It was great to be back again in our former home town. We toured our old neighborhood (on bicycle!), shopped, stopped for beer and coffee, met more friends, and in general had a wonderful time. During our stay, we also made a day trip to Lille, France, which is actually an old Flemish town (called Rijsel in Dutch) of about 225,000. We happened to be in Lille on the day of the French rail strike (18 October). There were relatively peaceful demonstrations in the town square, which were quite colorful with flag-waving, fireworks, and flares. One evening, we drove to the city of Gent for a dinner with two other couples at the fabulous Belga Queen restaurant, which is housed in a 13th century former grain storage house overlooking one of the many canals that meander through this lovely old city. One side note was the restaurant's restroom area… the stalls are all glass, with fully visible interiors until the occupant enters and locks the door. The glass becomes opaque until the door is unlocked again. The sink area was "unisex" – and right off the bar. The food was outstanding, and uniquely Belgian – quite an evening, to say the least!

Saturday, 20 October (Rome)

Our two-hour flight to Rome was on SN Brussels, the reincarnated Sabena airline. Although a regional jet, it was quite comfortable and seemed to have more leg room than the typical Airbus in the US. We had made prior arrangements (via email before leaving the States) for a reservation with Rome Shuttle Limousine for airport transfer to our apartment (and for a return to the airport). The 35 Euro cost was about the same as a taxi, and yet we were met in the arrivals hall by our driver who held a sign with our last name, and helped us to the Mercedes parked at the curb. His English was minimal, but he did manage to point out some notable sights on the way to our apartment in the old Trastevere neighborhood southeast of the Vatican (Via della Lungaretta, 171). The apartment was just south of Isola Tiberina in the Tiber. His attempts all began with "sorry," as in "sorry, the Vatican," "sorry, a convent," "sorry, St. Peter." We loved it!

Our American ex-pat landlady answered the ring – she lives on the top floor (4th level) with her Italian lawyer husband. The 18th century family-owned building contains two tourist apartments (2nd and 3rd levels, respectively), as well as a restaurant, formerly owned and managed by her father-in-law and his father, which is located on the ground floor.

The Really Rome Holiday Apartments are exactly as advertised (and pictured) on their website, and as reviewed on the Slow Travel and TripAdvisor websites. We were very pleased. Shelley had provided for our every need, and was a wealth of information and assistance, including the loan of a cell phone and the provision of wireless internet access in our apartment. This was not an advertised feature of the apartment, but she gave us the password and we were able to receive the WiFi signal well from the desk in the foyer of our apartment. She had also thoughtfully provided many other touches, including a starter supply of coffee, sugar, pasta, garlic, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar, together with a bottle of wine. The apartment included a washing machine, as well. The street noise was minimal, and the apartment was very quiet at night.

The kitchen did have an Italian coffee pot (the model is called a "Moka" – and it's just like the ones we have at home, made by Bialetti). We brought with us a milk frother for making lattes – similar to this:

http://tinyurl.com/2pjzts

We also brought our own coffee. Yes, really. For several years, we have continued to routinely order Lavazza Qualita Rossa coffee – espresso-ground and vacuum-sealed in 8-ounce bricks:

http://tinyurl.com/2ffeqh

Three of these little bricks traveled quite nicely in our suitcase, next to the frother. We wanted to wake up to our usual morning coffee, without wondering where to find it in the neighborhood.

After Shelley's orientation (by now it was almost 6:00pm), we headed out to the neighborhood supermarket for shopping. We stopped and picked up a pizza to take home ("da portar via, per favore" – one of my best Italian phrases; the other is "una tavola per due, per favore"). We were off to a great start!

Sunday, 21 October (Rome)

After my husband made our customary morning latte (yes, I'm spoiled!), we headed out to explore the city. The weather was on the cool side and somewhat windy, with winds of over 30mph. But we brought warm clothing to layer, and in the narrow streets it was not that bad. Our first objective was to walk to the Colosseum and pick up our two Roma Passes that we had ordered (and paid for) online prior to leaving the States. The 20 Euro pass includes three days of bus/tram/metro transportation, two free museum entrances, and discounted museum entrances. We later wished we had purchased four of them in advance, for a total of six days of transportation. They are available in museums and tourist information offices, but often sell out and usually are for cash only.

Once we discovered the Rome bus system's website, we used it extensively to plot out our various bus/tram routes. With the Roma Pass, traveling around the city became quite easy. Just get on and go. The Pass only needs to be stamped by an on-board machine the first time it is used. Walking the narrow streets was a different matter, since the street names changed quickly and the maps were often difficult to read. The compass we brought turned out to be essential, in order to orient ourselves to the map once we stepped off the bus or tram.

In the morning, we walked around the Pantheon, Forum, Colosseum, and Circus Maximus areas to acquaint ourselves with the general layout. We stopped for our first gelato… this time in our neighborhood of Trastevere (Fonte della Salute, Via Cardinale Marmaggi, 2, just off the Viale di Trastevere). We also picked up a pizza for lunch (life is short – eat dessert first!). This particular gelato place was good, but not THE best. In fact, we found two other places that eclipsed this one… but we'll share that information further on.

After lunch, we headed for the Piazza Navona and Campo de' Fiori neighborhoods. The former is a lovely square, with the 17th century church of Sant'Agnese in Agone on the west side. We took one of our landlady's suggestions to walk over for dinner in Trastevere to the Cave Canem restaurant in Piazza di San Calisto. Yes, that does mean "beware of dog" in Latin… but the meal was certainly not to be wary of – it was perfect! A lovely little neighborhood trattoria, with house wine in a charming ceramic jug and not that expensive either.

Monday, 22 October (Rome)

Armed with our Roma Pass, we headed out early for the Colosseum and Palantine Hill. We bypassed a very long line of tourists waiting at the Colosseum to buy their tickets, and walked right in with our pass to this amazing first century amphitheater. The weather continued to be sunny, but cool – perfect for fall sightseeing. We stopped at a local ATM for our first attempt at withdrawing Euros. It was not a problem; we used the ATM at the Banca Popolare Commercio e Industria, one block from our grocery store, the Supermercato Standa (Viale di Trastevere 60). In fact, the ATM had instructions in English. We made it a point to only use ATMs that were part of a bank, and only when the bank was open, should we encounter a problem (although we never did).

We returned to the apartment to cook some very nice veal scallops, along with fresh pasta and wine, for lunch. We then walked to the church of Santa Maria in Trastevere, a 4th century church that is one of the oldest in Rome. A little more window shopping (and gelato, of course – at a chain called Blue Ice; not bad – but better ones ahead!). Back to the apartment for a dinner of insalata mista and linguine carbonara; the latter was thanks to a small collection of recipes which was provided in our kitchen by our landlady.

Tuesday, 23 October (Rome)

Another great day, with better weather... warmer and sunnier. We visited the Borghese Gallery, located in one of the largest and most beautiful parks in Rome. The villa and grounds are truly impressive! Their website is most helpful:

http://tinyurl.com/2fxscx

While the entrance fee is covered by the Roma Pass, one can only visit with advance reservations made either on-line (www.ticketeria.it) or by telephone 06.328.101. There is an additional 2 Euro reservation fee (not covered by the Roma Pass). The reservation entitles a visitor to a two-hour non-guided tour of the gallery at a specified time slot, with the necessity of arriving 30 minutes early to insure entrance. These reservations are best made well in advance.

The marble statue of Apollo and Daphne by Bernini was remarkable as were many of Bernini's other pieces on display. But the rooms of the museum itself were almost unbelievably ornate... well worth the entire trip to Rome! We got there and back by local bus which was an adventure in itself, since we forgot to plot the return trip on the computer at home and the bus did not follow the same route. However, we did find the return bus stop (several blocks away from our arrival bus stop) thanks to the bus route maps on display at each covered bus stop.

We then had a wonderful lunch at Enoteca Corsi, a small lunch-only restaurant located near the Pantheon (Via del Gesu, 87)... one of Rick Steves' and our landlady's recommendations. In fact, she has a delightful blog on everyday life in Rome, and devoted a page to a description of the restaurant:

http://tinyurl.com/33yhan

The food, service, and atmosphere of this wine-shop and restaurant really were fabulous! We followed that with gelato, of course, from one of our two favorites, that we promised to mention: Gelateria Caffe Pasticceria Giolotti (Via Uffici del Vicario, 40), located north of the Pantheon.

Wednesday, 24 October (Rome)

Our original plan was not to visit the Vatican on a Wednesday, due to the size of the crowd for the weekly papal audience. However, knowing that we might have to stand outdoors in line for the Vatican Museum and St. Peter's Basilica, and owing to the sparkling sunshine, we opted to go anyway.

We stepped off the bus one stop earlier than planned, thanks to the suggestion (in Italian only, of course) of a fellow passenger. She was quite correct – we ended up just around the corner from the southwest entrance (metal detector) to St. Peter's Square. There was not much of a line at the time (around 10:00am), which was surprising to us. However, this was not one of the main entrances. As we walked into the square, we realized it was filled with literally thousands of people. We stood next to a nearby cloth-draped barrier, and were told by folks next to us that the Pope would appear very soon. And that he did, driving by in his white, open air, Jeep-type car within 12 feet of where we stood. There were enormous television monitors for the huge throng to see (and hear) the Pope speak – together with biblical readings in six languages.

As the Pope started speaking (it was in Italian, we think), we headed over to the Vatican Museum and waited only 30 minutes on line. The Vatican Museum was a bit overwhelming. It's a huge facility and most items are poorly labeled. We didn't have much time to look at the massive collection of statuary and Etruscan artifacts, as we moved through the museum building to find the Sistine Chapel with the rest of the masses. The Sistine Chapel however was worth the wait in line, in spite of the forced march through the Vatican Museum to get there. "Silence" and "no photo" were frequent sounds in the Chapel, but like many tourists, we managed to take a few without flash (thanks to the image-stabilizing feature of our Canon PowerShot SD800 – a great camera!). Finally, we took a quick trip through St. Peter’s Basilica. Another Bernini masterpiece, the great altar, was quite a sight. St. Peter’s is very impressive. My husband said he would not have to visit another church… he’s seen it all!

We ended up with a very mediocre lunch, however, at another Rick Steves' recommended restaurant, the Hostaria dei Bastoni (Via Leone VI, 29, near the Vatican wall). Sadly, the seafood risotto contained one emaciated shrimp. But we made up for it with another dinner of veal at home, and relaxed with a limoncello, classical music on the radio, and a few sounds of laughter from the restaurant below, while planning the next day's events.

Thursday, 25 October (Rome)

We decided to tour the Villa Farnesina not far from our apartment in Trastevere. It's a 16th century Renaissance home with fantastic ceiling frescoes. We then headed to Termini train station to purchase tickets for a day trip to Pompeii on Saturday.

As we were on the east side after our relatively simple ticket purchase, we went to the National Museum of Rome, the Museo Nazionale Romano Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, with its fabulous collection of Greek and Roman statues. We also stopped by the Church of Santa Marai degli Angeli, which was partly designed by Michelangelo in the 16th century.

For dinner that evening, we walked over the very popular Pizzeria Ai Marmi, or Cassa Mortaro as it is locally known (meaning "the Mortuary" due to the marble-topped dining tables). It is located at Viale di Trastevere, 53 (just north of Piazza Mastai, near the cinema and the McDonalds); the only sign is "Pizzeria" just over the door. The pizzas are the typical thin-crust Roman variety – and it's great fun to watch them being prepared for the wood-fired oven.

Next stop: More of Rome
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Nov 15th, 2007, 03:35 PM
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Trip Report Continued (part 3)….

Friday, 26 October (Rome)

Today was one of the few days of rain we experienced, so we headed for the Paul Gauguin exhibit at the Complesso Vittoriano (near the Victor Emmanuel Monument) while the apartment was being cleaned for us. Later, we had lunch at an excellent and reasonably priced restaurant near the Pantheon, called Restaurant Coco (Piazza delle Coppelle, 54). It is located behind an open-air fish market, and offers an excellent business lunch buffet in a pleasant atmosphere for a reasonable 10 Euros. We were able to sample a variety of local specialties, including the fried squash blossoms. And, since we were near the Pantheon, it meant another trip to Giolotti a couple of blocks away for gelato! Woo hoo!

The previous afternoon, we made reservations for this evening's dinner – again, at the suggestion of our landlady – at Trattoria da Enzo (Via dei Vascellari, 29). A few blocks from our apartment, they only have two seatings, either 8:00pm or 10:00pm. It is a wonderful family-run neighborhood trattoria, specializing in local Roman cuisine. So, of course, we had to try Roman artichokes Jewish style and they were fantastic. This review from the New York Times in 1988 sums up the dish quite well: "In Roman restaurants the versatile artichoke appears in all sorts of guises…. But no artichokes undergo such a spectacular transformation as 'carciofi Romani alla giudia,' Roman artichokes, Jewish style. French-fried and flattened out into the shape of a large chrysanthemum bursting open past full bloom, the artichoke's sole embellishment is a dash of salt and pepper. The core is soft and flavorful while the leaves, now transformed into crisp burnished gold petals, are crunchy and crackling."

Saturday, 27 October (Rome)

A combination of the express bus to Termini, the EuroStar train (high-speed – about 150 mph) to Naples, and a regional train brought us three hours later to Pompeii. This ancient seaport was destroyed in the 70 A.D. eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, entombing 2,000 of the city's 20,000 inhabitants under many feet volcanic ash. Most of Pompeii has been uncovered and provides a fascinating view of life in the first century AD. Much of the art is gone (in museums around the world), but many of the buildings are largely intact with frescoes and mosaics. Due to the late hour we returned to Rome, we opted for another pizza – da portar via, of course – and a nice bottle of Chianti (or was it Barolo or Bardolino? no matter, it was a pleasant and relaxing meal "at home"). At least we gained another hour of sleep; the Europeans changed from daylight savings time a week before the States.

Sunday, 28 October (Rome)

Since our last day in the Eternal City dawned with clear blue skies, we decided to return to Palatine Hill and also tour its museum. It was quite a sight to see where Rome was founded almost 3000 years ago. We headed home for lunch, stopping at a biscotti shop a couple of blocks from the apartment. We decided we were very glad we did not discover this little gem on our first day, or we would have been there every day, only to regret the added weight later….

We also decided that we could not leave Rome without seeing the two tourist sites of Trevi Fountain (which was lovely, but with horrible crowds of people – making it impossible to enjoy) and the Spanish Steps (also, miserably crowded).

We saved the best for last: a trip to the west side of the Tiber to a fabulous Sicilian gelateria: Gelarmony (Via Marcantonio Colonna, 34). Again, this was on the recommendation of our lovely landlady, and she has devoted a page on her blog to extolling its virtues:

http://tinyurl.com/2kztum

Well, we have to admit she is correct – it is THE BEST. And, as a bonus, we brought two cannoli home. Both the gelato and the cannoli are the "real deal" – they're Sicilian and unquestionably worth effort to hop the tram and the bus to get there (halfway between the Vatican and the Villa Borghese park).

Monday, 29 October (Madrid)

In the morning, our Mercedes car and driver from Rome Shuttle Limousine arrived 10 minutes early, and got us to Fiumicino airport in a little over half an hour, despite the rush-hour traffic. The Iberia flight was excellent, albeit a little turbulent and late due to air traffic issues at Barajas. The new T-4 terminal is huge and very nice, but the luggage-handling system leaves much to be desired – it took "forever" to retrieve our bags. We had made arrangements for the express service with AeroCity Airport Shuttle Service for 28 Euro. Their 17 Euro shuttle service includes up to three interim stops, for other passengers. The express service is non-stop for a single group only. The only difference from the Rome service is that the driver was not waiting in the arrivals area. After exiting the customs and immigration area in the T-4 terminal, there is an AeroCity booth about 300 feet to the right. The attendant escorted us to the curbside shuttle parking just outside the terminal, and we were on our way.

From the airport, we called the Friendly Rentals office as instructed, and were told that the check-in agent would be at the door of the apartment within 30 minutes of our arrival, and he was. All members of the Friendly Rentals staff speak excellent English and, like our check-in agent, many are British transplants. Scott was very helpful with an orientation to our first-floor (one above the ground floor) apartment (Calle de Valenzuela, 10) which was located in a very safe and lovely neighborhood a block west of the Retiro Park and four blocks north of the Prado and the Hotel Ritz. The apartment was exactly as advertised and pictured on the Friendly Rentals website. Their first and major market is in Barcelona; however, they have 140 holiday apartments in the city of Madrid. The apartment not only included a combination washer/dryer, the kitchen had a dishwasher as well. In addition, there was an ADSL cable and wireless router, which worked very well with our PC. The cost of the apartment was the same as what we paid in Rome.

As it was now 7:00 in the evening, we walked along the north side of Retiro Park to a mini-supermarket (basically a convenience store run by the Corte Ingles chain). We also purchased an Italian-type coffee pot (made in Spain, about 20 Euros), since the apartment only had an electric coffee maker. We could not do without our morning lattes. It was fun to shop in the evening at a small, neighborhood kitchen shop, while strolling through the tree-lined streets adjacent to Retiro.

Tuesday, 30 October (Madrid)

The new coffee pot worked well this morning… one can never have enough of these (besides, it will find a home in the Airstream trailer upon our return!). We walked over to the Prado before the 9:00am opening time, in order to avoid the lines. However, the museum was closed due to a VIP-only event which was to celebrate the opening of a new wing and new exhibition the following day. In fact, the Prado was to be open to the public without charge for the next five days to mark this event. No matter… we headed across the street to the fabulous Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, a remarkable art collection housed in a 19th century palace. As one guide book described it, the collection "picks up where the Prado left off." We found this to be true, and enjoyed especially the Impressionist works.

We then purchased a strip of 10 Metro tickets (6.40 Euro), and headed over to the Puerta del Sol for lunch at the Museo del Jamon (Carrera de San Jeronimo, 6)… not a museum, but a deli/cafe with an unbelievable selection of charcuterie! We were not disappointed, and spent a pleasant lunch in the upstairs restaurant section. I am now a huge fan of jamon Iberico!

Also in the Puerta del Sol is a large department store and supermarket, the Corte Ingles (think upscale Wal-Mart on nine levels). The supermarket section on the lower level carried everything we needed to stock the apartment. With grocery sacks in tow, a two-stop Metro ride, and a short walk later, we were home and preparing our first dinner while the washing machine caught us up on two weeks of laundry!

Wednesday, 31 October (Madrid)

Once again, we were up early to avoid a protracted wait at the Prado Museum. We arrived shortly before nine in the morning, and only waited about 30 minutes. By the time we emerged, around noon, the lines were incredible and hours in length! We decided to try an Indian restaurant at the recommendation of our British check-in agent ("just like back home in London!") in the Lavapies section of central Madrid… nothing remarkable, but a good lunch break.

We then walked over to the Palacio Real, a most impressive 250-year-old royal palace which turned out to be far more than we expected. A couple of rooms into our self-guided stroll through the palace, we attached ourselves to an English guided tour group (at the end of which, we tipped the guide for his wonderful descriptions of each room). The royal pharmacy and royal armory are also included in the fee, with separate entrances that open onto the courtyard of the palace. All in all, a fascinating look at the former home of the Spanish monarchy, now used principally for state occasions.

A quick stop for dinner items and wine, then back home for time on the computer to plan the next day's events.

Thursday, 1 November (Madrid)

We've had wonderful weather here (sunny every day, but cold at night - actually not much different than our home in New Mexico). It's a very clean city, much more so than Rome – although, we think we do enjoy Italy a bit more. It is remarkable, however, that we can place our garbage on the street every night (yes, nightly) after 8:00pm, and it is collected before dawn. In the morning, the street sweepers and street cleaners are everywhere (even on holidays and weekends). What a difference!

We decided to head northwest of the Royal Palace, and see the Museum of the Americas, complete with Inca gold and a fascinating mummy. Of course, there's not much gold left after it was melted down to pay for more expeditions and art acquisitions! There was no English guidebook available, but it was still an interesting collection – particularly the development of mapping the Americas. We walked a bit around the adjacent City University of Madrid – a lovely campus.

We returned in time to see the Plaza Mayor at night – a beautiful spot, but it had the feel of a tourist trap – and then stopped for tapas at an interesting bar off the Puerta del Sol, near the Corte Ingles. It's called Casa Labra (Calle Tetuan, 12), and it has been open since the late 1800s. In fact, it is the place in 1879 where the Spanish Socialist political party was founded. We tried their "croquetas de bacalao" (fish croquette), which are well-known by Madrilenos, and of course had a cana of beer. Not being great fans of deep-fried foods, a lot of the tapas we saw on display didn’t seem all that appetizing.

Friday, 2 November (Madrid)

Yes, we just couldn't get enough…. we went back to the Prado first thing in the morning. This art museum is so large – and has such a wonderful collection – that two days are really needed to see everything.

In the early afternoon, we strolled over to the Teatro Real area, hoping to stop early enough to snag a spot at the La Bola Restaurant (renowned for their cocido), but as we suspected they were booked quite far ahead. We did find a charming little restaurant nearby, the Cafe de la Opera. It was a very pleasant setting, with excellent selections for lunch on their "menu del dia."

After little grocery shopping on the way home for dinner items, we relaxed in the apartment with a Woody Allen movie that evening.

Saturday, 3 November (Madrid)

Two interesting art museums were planned for today in the beautiful Salamanca neighborhood. The first, Museo Sorolla, became our instant favorite and is the home of the Valencian artist, Joaquin Sorolla (late 19th century), who is often labeled the Spanish Impressionist. His home and art studio seem as though he just stepped away, with fountains trickling in the Moorish garden.

A tough act to follow, the Museo Lazaro Galdiano was next. This family's fabulous collection of art and decorative objects is set in a Renaissance palazzo, the Parque Florido, the beautifully restored home of a major Spanish book publisher.

We hopped on the Metro toward home, but stopped for a walk through the Retiro Park, vowing to return the next day with other Madrilenos for their Sunday afternoon stroll.

Sunday, 4 November (Madrid)

The weather was almost perfect... about 70 degrees and clear. We spent most of the morning at the 18th century Academy of Fine Arts on the Calle de Alacala, where both Picasso and Dali studied. We then took the Metro to a church on the other side of town, the Ermita de San Antonio y Florida. The Ermita not only includes ceiling frescoes by Goya, the famous Spanish painter of the 18th century, but is also the site of his tomb. Unfortunately, the ceiling was largely blocked by scaffolding used in refurbishing efforts. Across the street was an Asturian tavern we wanted to try, the Casa Mingo (Paseo de la Florida, 34). This is a local favorite, with a limited menu. We split a whole roasted chicken, ensalada mixta, and the house specialty of a bottle of sidra (hard cider)… quite good and not at all sweet.

After lunch, we walked up the hill toward the Plaza de Espana for a 22-minute (5 km round-trip) ride on the Teleferico. This cable car was installed in 1969, and provides spectacular views of the Madrid skyline.

Shortly before dusk, we joined the hordes of Madrilenos in their Sunday afternoon stroll in the twilight of the Parque del Retiro. There were street musicians and dancers, sketch artists, tarot card readers, and impromptu drum concerts near the lake which was filled with small row boats in the fading sunlight. A very pleasant way to end the weekend.

Monday, 5 November (Madrid)

Our last day in Madrid again dawned clear and bright. We strolled around the Puerta del Sol and the Plaza Mayor for a last lingering look. The late afternoon was filled with packing and check-out of the apartment with the agency representative. After 21 days, it was time to head back home.

Tuesday, 6 November (Iberia and American Airlines)

The AeroCity shuttle driver arrived 10 minutes early, and less than half an hour later we arrived at Barajas despite the morning rush hour. As mentioned above, Iberia is our new favorite airline for economy tickets – generous leg room as well as good seating, service, and food, and we arrived 30 minutes early in Chicago. Not that we needed to, since we were slated for a 4-hour layover prior to our American flight back to New Mexico.

As we said in the beginning, this "slow travel' approach with apartment rentals is the ONLY way to travel – with minimal stress and reduced expense. At this writing, we have already booked more frequent flyer tickets for a return trip to the island of Kauai. Only, this time, we have rented a small beach cottage that includes a Japanese soaking tub overlooking a private garden with a little waterfall. What's not to love?
Love2Plan is offline  
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Nov 15th, 2007, 06:50 PM
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Posts: 252
Wonderful trip report Love2Plan with a lot of useful details and links. I am planning a trip to Rome in April and I am planning to visit all of the sights you visited. The travel purse looks cute and practical. Thanks for posting.
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Nov 15th, 2007, 07:14 PM
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Glad you enjoyed the report, RDL. It's a shame Shelley isn't offering short-term stays (ie, less than one month) at Really Rome in 2008... it was a wonderful apartment, for the same cost as a hotel (125 Euro/night).

Yes, the PacSafe purse has been fantastic (I used it in China, too), with all its security features - particularly the ability to clip/lock the zipper. Most Italian women wore their purses (me included) with the shoulder strap across their chest. I never worried about security all. And it was easy to get in and out of. There's a slightly larger version, but it was a bit too wide for me.

Enjoy your April trip - do check out the Roma Pass!

L2P
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Nov 15th, 2007, 07:19 PM
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Oops... I meant RLT (not sure where RDL came from!).
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Nov 18th, 2007, 06:49 PM
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Love2plan,
Thanks for the detailed trip report! We plan to travel in February to Rome for a week (a hop). We will use your info well. We followed so much advice from Maribel and others when we traveled in Spain two years ago, such good info had me addicted to Fodors! It's amazing what tidbits can enhance the trip so much! I love to plan too, so I think your screen name is wonderful.
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Nov 18th, 2007, 07:25 PM
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Wonderful, well-organized report--but I wouldn't expect anything less from someone with the screen name Love2Plan. I went immediately to the Rome apt. website. Saddened to see they are now only taking monthly rentals.

Looking forward to Madrid! Thank you!
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Jan 12th, 2008, 07:57 AM
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Thank you for all the helpful links you provided
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Mar 24th, 2008, 12:32 PM
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Mar 24th, 2008, 12:49 PM
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I have to give a thank you to love2plan for your very thorough trip report and wmaxwell for topping it

thanks Deborah
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Mar 24th, 2008, 06:30 PM
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terrific report - bookmarking for Rome Oct '08. Thanks
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