This trip report is the first of four for a 4 night visit in Rome. For those of you interested, I also have a report on Venice and Florence I have posted on their respective forums. I have the same introduction here as for the others, so if you’ve read the others already, please skim through to the meat of the matter.
Thanks to all the experts on these forums for your unending dedication to those of us who are researching for our trips. You are all gems, and I highly appreciate all of the time you invested in answering my questions!
We had an absolutely wonderful, yet extremely tiring time in Italy. We will all be going back without a doubt! Next time, since I have seen many of the major sights, I will visit with just my boys, who are 9 and 11 (they didn’t come this time because they had summer camp, and my husband refuses to fly so far) and we will just explore. No tours, no guides, no plans.
As my father predicted, we are all currently experiencing postpartum depression : ).
This is Day 1 of an honest, informational Rome trip report, and extremely long, for which I will not apologize. It contains the good, the bad, and the ugly. If you find no fault in anything in Italy, I suggest you stop reading. If you want to learn some useful info, then please continue…..
Our 10 day trip: Venice (3 nights), Florence (2 nights), and Rome (4 nights)
Our group: Myself (36), my sister (34) my dad (62), my stepmother (58) and my favorite aunt (70 but you’d never know it).
Immediate words of advice…..
*Don’t start on the forums trying to pour through scads of information before you know the basics. Get a good guidebook from your local library, read it, and then attempt to piece details together from the information you get in this forum. You will be frustrated and confused if you approach your planning in the opposite manner.
*Pack lightly, especially if you are traveling between towns. I can’t stress enough how important this is. A 24” carry-on size is all you should take. I took something slightly bigger, but the unending struggles with our luggage (one small suitcase each) had us cursing ourselves for not following this advice to the letter. Save yourself a great deal of headache and DON’T pack anything larger than a carry-on. It’s difficult to do, but you will thank yourself in the end. Remember that Italy does have stores and sinks to wash your clothes.
*Wear comfortable shoes and bring band-aids. Blisters and sore feet were the order of the day, no matter if we wore broken-in tennis shoes or relatively new sandals, toured 2 hours or 6. Uneven cobbled streets and walking up and down bridges and stairs was very tiring, active lifestyle or not. Remember that as a tourist you will never look as good as the Italians, because they are not touring for hours… just going to and from work, shopping, or a meal. Just wear what is comfortable. Every night our feet hurt so badly we could cry. It would even be helpful to start walking for an hour each day a few weeks before you leave to get your feet in the mood.
*Carry small packets of Kleenex for the bathrooms…’nuff said.
*Hang on to one menu until the end of the meal at every restaurant, and when you order an item, point to it, say it, and then say the price so the waiter knows you are aware of it, i.e. “Vorrei gnocchi ….dieci euro, per favore.” With the exception of four restaurants throughout our entire Italy trip, any HANDWRITTEN bill had incorrect charges for the plates of food we ordered, and I’m not talking about the extra charge of cover or bread (il coperto or pane.) Inevitably the waiter had written price of the items one or two euros higher on the bill than they were on the menu, or the bill contained additional items we had not ordered (hoping we wouldn’t notice or ask). When questioned they were happy to change the price to what the menu had listed, or take off the bill what was not ordered, but his got to be very tiring being on the defensive all the time, knowing they were purposely trying to rip us off because we were tourists. After the first time we noticed this we watched our bill closely. This was throughout Italy, and was especially bad in Rome. Even the famous L’ Orso in Rome tried this technique.
*Learn the language. The website bbc.com has a wonderful 6 step online tutorial for Italian that came in handy, as well as Rick Steves’ small pocket dictionary. Not everyone speaks English, and if they did we found sometimes their understanding was minimal, based on their necessary knowledge for the job they were performing. Obviously, the Italians were much more receptive when I spoke to them in Italian. I was the only one who made an attempt to learn it, and it became a hassle trying to translate for four other people the entire trip. Everyone said that not learning the language was one of their biggest regrets.
The phrases we used the most: (sorry if they aren’t spelled correctly)
-Dov ‘e (doe vay) ---where is
-Che binario (kay beenareeo) –what track (for the train stations)
-Quant ‘e ? –How much is it?
-Che cosa? –What is it?
-Parla inglese? –Do you speak English?
-Vorrei una prenotazione per ___ persone –I would like a reservation for _____
-Italian numbers 1-100
and of course, please (per favore) and thank you (grazie).
*Log your travels. I did this as a keepsake, saving receipts for the trains, museums, etc. to glue in later. After skipping only one day of writing I had difficulty remembering all the wonderful things we experienced. The amazing sights were endless and began to run together.
Day 1—June 21st—Florence to Rome
Suitcases packed, we readied ourselves to leave Florence. Due to the fact that we would have to walk several hundred meters from the Fattoria to the bus stop with our luggage if we took the bus to SMN, we all decided taxis would be best. We also wanted to get to the train station early to assess the situation, having heard of a two day train strike days before we left.
The owner of the Fattoria attempted to call us a taxi. Apparently when you call you are put in a “phone line” and they send the taxis in the order you have called. After waiting 25minutes, the owner (Cosimo?...not sure) hung up and tried some other companies. We were sweating it at this point, because we had quite a walk to the buses, they are infrequent, and it was looking like that’s what it was coming to.
I finally told him “Thanks, but we really have to get going catch the bus or we are going to miss our train,” and he sighed, and said “We will take you.” My family and I were so tickled by his kindness; I swear I would have kissed the man if he hadn’t had the stoic countenance he did. He woke up his son, Greg, and the two of them loaded our luggage in their truck and car and drove us to SMN.
We offered Greg some money, which he refused, and my dad later told us that Greg’s dad (the owner) also owned a furniture store, and was a regular chatterbox on the way to the station. Apparently he told them all kinds of things about Florence. Greg was as friendly as could be, and informed us that he was going to be going to school in Wyoming soon, for international tourism I believe. My sister asked him what he would do if he met a nice country girl in the US, and he said “Bring her back to Italy, of course.” He also said the reason why we couldn’t get a taxi that morning was due to a fashion show of sorts going on in Florence.
We had a little time at SMN to gather our wits and get some breakfast. My sister and aunt (shame on them) had McDonald’s. My stepmom and I went into a café,’ where she ordered her first ciocolatta (definitely don’t think I spelled that right) which was an Italian version of hot chocolate, and looked like a melted Hershey’s bar. Imagine dipping a cup into the Wonka river, except it’s not sickeningly sweet, but slightly frothy chocolate, churned by the Wonka Falls. TO DIE FOR!!! I vowed I would get one while in Rome, but regretfully forgot. We did manage to pick up packets of it at a Termini station store and brought them home. They had all sorts of flavors, and I believe it was in the Lindlor (sp?) chocolate store. At home my kids licked their cups clean, and said it was the best hot chocolate they ever had, and that was from powder!
We got the 29euro deal for first class to Rome, which wasn’t much different than second class except instead of four chairs across the aisle in 2nd class, there were three, and they served you a drink (juice, pop, water) and a snack (biscotti, crackers and cheese cookies). This trip went very fast. I got caught up on my journal, and we pulled into Rome shortly thereafter. We did see some of the old aqueducts when we got closer to Rome, but the rest of the trip was rather uneventful.
At the Termini station, we exited in the direction of Cinquecentro where I knew a tourist information booth was so we could get our Romapasses. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any hotter….we all moaned as we exited the train station. We could feel the sun searing through our shirts, but I did have to remind myself that we had traveled further south. We did see some gypsies who asked a time or two for money, but they did not bother us.
We found the tourist booth amidst some others, and inquired about the Romapass. The gentleman at the window told us they only had three, but more would be delivered in 15-20min, so we parked it at a little café’ we had passed on the way, and had a couple of Peronis and a smoke.
Side note: I would like to mention for everyone who smokes what the general policy is in Italy. I had recently picked up the habit again after quitting for almost 2 years (one of the top 5 stupidest things I’ve ever done) so I had that monkey on my back the whole trip…
Smoking in general appeared to be more socially acceptable in Italy than it is here in the US. You can’t smoke inside in bars or restaurants, but any outdoor seating is fair game. Tobacchi were easy to come by. Some US brand cigarettes were readily available, such as Marlboro, but only certain types (or flavors, if you will) could be purchased. They were 4euro a pack ($5USD.) Just like here in the US, I tried to be conscientious of others, and tamped out my cigarette (making sure it wasn’t hot) before throwing the butt in the garbage so I didn’t litter. You could smoke in the Florence train station and the Rome Termini near the tracks, but not in the Venice train station. The Rome airport also had a smoking room. When in doubt, watch what others are doing, and look for “no smoking” signs. In areas where smoking is not acceptable, you will see the signs posted.
Anyway, after we chilled for a few we went back and got our passes. For 18euro you get two passes that are valid for three days inclusive of the day you first use it: one plastic one for the museums/sights (you get two sites on their list for free—one of which is the Colosseum--and after the first two you can visit others at a discount) and a paper one for the public transportation (buses, trams, metro.) They are both valid for three days i.e. validated Monday, Tuesday, and expires late Wed., NOT 72 hours—i.e. Monday at 3pm validated, Thursday at 3pm expires. You write your name on the back.
For the museum pass, it was validated at the place we first used it. The transportation pass we validated only once upon first use of the transportation system, which was the metro for us. When we left the Termini to go downstairs to take the metro A, we eventually went through some turnstiles. They had two stamping machines at the turnstiles of the metro, one for the regular metro ticket, and one for the Romapass. You will automatically know which is which because the bigger Romapass will not fit in the other machine. We just put in our tickets, and it sucked it in (very abruptly, scaring the snot out of me), validated it, spit it back out, and gave us a green light to proceed through the turnstile. After this first validation we did not go through the turnstiles again, but walked in the turnstile free lane next to the worker’s booth and continued on. You don’t want to try to stamp it again b/c your original stamp will be stamped over. For more info see romapass.it and click at the bottom on “guida.” Bus maps are NOT included in the little Romapass package, so make sure you pick one up.
The metro was easy to navigate. We were heading on the metro A from the Termini northwest to the Spanish Steps, where the apartment we were renting through rentalinrome.com was located. We followed the signs for the metro A, dragging our luggage down many sets of stairs, and then headed for the Battistini platform (the name of the stop at the end of the line in the northwest direction we were heading.)
Side note: You can find the metro stops around the city by a large, red “M” sign high on a pole. Each metro line (A –orange or B-blue) only has two directions in which they’re going (there and back, so to speak). The platform that you wait is named for the stop at the end of the line in the direction you are going. Every metro stop on the metro A route only has two platforms to choose from, Battistini (NW) or Anagnina (SE). You are either going in one direction or the other. For example, if you need to go northwest from the Spanish steps metro station to the Vatican, you just follow the metro A signs, and then look for the Battistini platform signs, because the Battistini stop is the last stop in the northwest direction (the direction of the Vatican.) Once you board you are going northwest in the direction of Battistini, but you can get off anywhere on the way (i.e. the Vatican.) It does not mean you can only go to Battistini. You are just traveling in that general direction.
Conversely, if you are going southeast on the metro A, the last stop in the southeast direction is Anagnina. If you need to go from the Spanish steps metro station southeast to San Giovanni, you just follow the metro A signs, and then look for the Anagnina platform signs. Once you board you are going southeast in the direction of Anagnina, but you can get off anywhere on the way (i.e. S. Giovanni.)
Don’t stress about remembering these names, there are large, simple maps of the route all over. Just look for the name of the last stop in the direction you are going, and follow the signs to that platform.
The metro is frequent and fast. We had approximately 5 seconds to get on or off before the doors shut and it took off again. My advice to you is DON’T SIT, especially during rush hour. Stand as close to the door as you can, especially if you only have one or two stops before your own. People will cram right in without any consideration as to whether or not you need to get off, and more people will be trying to rush on at your stop while you’re trying to get out. Keep maneuvering to stay by the doors. I truly think they need entry and exit doors like the buses in Florence. It would make it much less hectic.
When we got to the Spanish steps I decided to call our contact from rentalinrome. He said something very quickly in Italian, and then hung up. I tried to keep a straight face so I didn’t show my sheer panic. I wasn’t sure if we were talking to our contact or not, because I couldn’t understand a word he said, so I just told the group “Let’s keep going to our apartment.” Another couple blocks and I tried the number again. The gentleman said a few sentences in Italian, and then hung up on me again. At this point I was terribly concerned, and couldn’t hide it (what if I didn’t have the right number written down? Surely they would have someone who speaks English check us in!!!), so I informed my family of what had transpired.
Well, we decided to continue, considering the apartment was only another two blocks (four blocks total from the Spagna metro stop.) When we pulled our luggage up to the door, a man rode up on a bike, and I caught the word “retarde” which I had remembered as meaning “late,” and realized that he had been expecting us at a particular time because I emailed our train times to rentalinrome before leaving. Due to the fact that we had waited for the Romapasses to come, we were later than he expected. I smiled like a lunatic, though, with the assurance that we were actually going to get into our apartment. Didn’t want to let the fam’ down!
This man turned out to be very nice even though he didn’t speak a word of English, which made it quite a challenge for me. I spoke as well as I could, supplementing with my pocket dictionary. Between my broken Italian and his hand gestures we figured out what was what. He took me to the faucet and ran the water for some time, showing me that you have to wait for hot water. He demonstrated how to unlock the door, and then made me repeat what he did to ensure I understood. These demonstrations went on for a little while, and I looked up the word for “receipt” since we were doing a cash transaction, as well as the word for “key” and “end” so I could figure out what I was to do with the keys when we left.
The apartment was spectacular!!! It was the Vittoria penthouse from rentalinrome.com, and consisted of two levels. The first had a bathroom with tub and shower, two sitting rooms with sofa beds, and a kitchen. The top floor had another sitting room, bathroom and bedroom, as well as the kicker, a 12X10 terrace with two loungers and a table that sat four. We spent a lot of our late time sitting out in the night air drinking wine and listening to the rhythm of the city. It was exactly like the video showed on rentalinrome, and only four blocks from the Spanish steps and the metro…a perfectly perfect place to be. : )
We got situated, and then broke open a bottle of wine in celebration of our arrival in Rome. After about an hour we decided to go. I intended for us to visit the National Museum of Rome first so that we could get a quick recap on the history of the Roman empire, but that went right out the window. As a standby I had also placed the Cappuccin Crypt at Santa Maria Concezione church on the itinerary, which was close by near Piazza Barberini, and we decided to go there….
Very unique place! You will probably never see anything like this crypt again in your life. It was free with a donation recommended, and only took about 30minutes to see, but it was truly memorable. If you take the time to think about how long it took to place all of the bones perfectly, as well as the underlying message they were sending about the transient lives we live, you will leave with a deep sense of respect for the time that we are given here on Earth. It’s a great place. You cannot take pictures, but I bought some postcards for my scrapbook.
The church, itself, above the crypt was also beautiful, and we visited this for a while, being shown some “secret” rooms by a man from Sri Lanka who worked there. He did expect retribution for his effort at the end of this short, 5 minute tour, and was quite pushy about it.
We had a Heart of Rome tour slated with Angeltours for 6pm and were expected to meet our guide back at the Spanish steps, so we took the metro back.. She was a sweet Irish girl (Aiefa?—Eve in Irish) who had been touring the world, and recently decided to live in Rome, having been there only a few short months. The tour was decent, but she was green (and I’m not talking Irish) so the tour seemed very rehearsed and rigid. I do believe she had some of her facts wrong as well, but interpretation of history is in the opinion of the interpreter, so I didn’t take it too seriously. You pick up two different guide books, and they will explain the same statue in two different ways….it’s all up for speculation, so who is the expert? No one truly knows anything for sure, because we simply weren’t there to be in the minds of the artists, rulers, and popes. Just take it as an interesting perspective. We enjoyed our time.
After our tour ended we continued to our dinner reservations at L’Orso, which I had chosen due to the raves about their antipasti misto (assorted appetizers.) That is what we all ordered, and I am not exaggerating when I say the waiter had to make 6 or more trips to our table with several plates of food. My dad looked at me as if to say “Tell him to stop! This is embarrassing!” but he kept on coming. We had meatballs in sauce, the most delicious caramelized eggplant, buffalo mozzarella, fried zucchini, etc. It was all so fabulous, and we could not possibly finish it all.
I would like to say that at this restaurant they fudged on the bill (handwritten—WARNING!) The antipasti misto on the menu was 13euro per person. When we went to pay, the man took the bill and without even looking at it said “22euro each.” In addition to the antipasti misto, we only ordered water and two liters of their house red wine (vino rosso di casa) so somehow they charged us 9euro per person (45euro total) for these beverages and, I’m assuming, cover charge. I asked him “il servizio incluso?” to see if they had included the tip thinking maybe that’s where the discrepancy was, and he said “No.” It just didn’t add up. We were so exhausted, and our feet were screaming in agony, so we just paid it and left because we were too tired to care. All I can say is watch yourself here. Dishonesty is totally unacceptable, I don’t care where you are, and I still regret letting them get away with what they did, satisfying meal or not. I am normally not one to concede. UNACCEPTABLE!
The next day we were headed for the Vatican for a private tour with Jason from vinorossotours.com. I had been having problems with my cell phone which would continue the rest of the trip, so he couldn’t get a hold of me, but he did drop by our apartment and leave a post-it note there with instructions and his phone number. He had really gone out of his way, and it was comforting to know he would go to such lengths for us. I called him with my Europa card (which took almost an hour after several attempts) to confirm that we would indeed be there. We went home, sat on the terrace for a while trying to relax our feet, and then crashed. ZZZZZZzzz ow ow ow ZZZZZZZZzzzz.
If you have any questions, please ask. I am happy to help. I will not waste my time defending myself if someone doesn’t agree. I recently had a poor experience with a few rude people on this website, and vowed not to post this upon our return, but I could not in all fairness not give back to those who need information. This was my personal experience, and I’m telling it as it was.
Thanks again to those who helped us with our plans!!
Rome trip report Day 2 to follow…..