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Italy September 26-October 7

Discussion in 'Non-Vegas Trip Reports' started by IowaRyan, Nov 2, 2013.

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  1. IowaRyan

    IowaRyan Low-Roller

    Jan 2, 2006
    Trips to Las Vegas:

    My Trip Report

    Sorry this took so long to post, been running my butt off at work since I returned. I don't mind, the trip below was worth it. Enjoy.

    Trip report: Venice, Florence and Rome September 26-October 7

    Participants: myself, Ryan (R) and my wife Carrie (C)

    Synopsis for those who don't want to read all this: Long flights suck, we had fun, go to Italy.

    Thursday, September 26/Friday September 27 (pre Venice)

    Left Des Moines via Delta, landing in Detroit. Here's where the trip gets fun. C says the gate for the next flight (Air France) is A20, which of course is a half mile away. Hustle to gate A20 and gee no flight. Look at the board one more time and lo and behold it's actually gate A60, which was pretty close to where we started out. Oh we'll, get to A20 and board the plane for the long haul from Detroit to Paris.

    The flight was OK; we had booked premium economy which appeared to be a marked improvement in terms of room, comfort and food over economy. Still, like any long flight it sucked. The seat felt like granite by the time we got to Charles De Gaulle airport on Friday morning. Change of planes was ok, immigration was fairly efficient; as usual had a mile long walk to the next gate. Flight left CDG on time and landed at Marco Polo airport about an hour and a half later. No more customs since flight originated in another EU country, we found our guide and off we go to our first stop--Venice.

    Friday, day 2 Venice

    After navigating the massive airports in Detroit and Paris, Venice's Marco Polo airport is small and easy to navigate. Like most visitors we took a water taxi from the airport to our hotel, the Hotel Bonvecchiati.

    The Hotel

    The hotel was a very nice stay. Our rate included breakfast each morning. The room was reasonably large, particularly by European standards. The front desk staff was very helpful and friendly.

    The sights

    The Grand Canal
    Ponte di Rialto (Rialto Bridge)

    The Grand Canal is the main thoroughfare through Venice. There are numerous other canals throughout the city. Besides water taxis the main way of traversing the Grand Canal is either a gondola or the vaporetto (water bus). The vaporetto runs 24/7, stopping at various points along the Grand Canal. In my opinion everyone should ride it at least once, it's an easy and relatively cheap way to see at a lot of the Grand Canal.

    The Rialto Bridge is one of the main bridges spanning the Grand Canal. It is an absolute must if you visit Venice. Hundreds of tourists gather on it at any given time to wave at the people in water taxis below and to have their picture taken with the Grand Canal serving as a backdrop. It's a little hectic but worth the hassle.

    Past the bridge is a large market area where you can buy everything from cheap tourist crap to nice silk ties/scarves, Murano glass, etc. It's a fun area; just off the market area is a large selection of shops and restaurants. We had dinner at some non-descript place south of the market which was delicious. C had the veal, I had calamari. We took a leisurely route back to the hotel (read: we got lost) and called it a night after being up pretty much non-stop for 30 hours.

    Saturday Day 3 Venice

    Touring starts at 8:30 so up early for breakfast, including yummy croissants. Breakfast is a great time to people watch and hear snatches of other languages (Russian, German, French, Mandarin, and of course Italian).

    The sights (in no particular order)

    Piazza San Marco (St. Marks Plaza)

    This is the largest square in Venice and the only that can claim the title Piazza. It is a massive square, anchored at one end by the Meuso Correr and on the other by the Basilica di San Marco. The long sides of the square (technically a rectangle) are taken up by shops, restaurants and bars. St. Mark’s bell tower is across from the Basilica and can provide great views from the top. St. Marks is a must see and probably the most popular attraction in Venice.

    Campanile (St. Marks Bell Tower)

    As mentioned previously the one can ride to the top of the bell tower for 8 euro, it's worth the money. The bell tower is not an original. The original collapsed in the 16th century, the one that took its place, albeit with the original largest bell still intact, was erected around 1919.

    Palazzo Ducale (Doges Palace) and Ponte dei Sospiri (Bridge of Sighs)

    When Venice was an independent Republic the leader was called the Doge. Doges place is where the Doge lived. The building also housed the legislative branch as well as the judicial branch. The prison compromised the bowels of the building.

    The enclosed bridge that connected the prison to the area where court was held is the famous Bride of Sighs. It is a fallacy that the bridge was named for lovers who would sigh as they passed under it; rather it was for prisoners going to court or their eventual execution, sighing heavily along the way. The funny thing is if you’re not careful you can walk through the Bridge and not even realize you were on it if not paying careful attention to the guide.

    Basilica di San Marco (Basilica of St. Marks)

    This is one of the most awe inspiring churches I've ever been in. What made it particularly special was the extended time C and I got to spend in when we attended Saturday evening Mass. Yes it was in Italian but Mass is Mass and we generally were able to follow along pretty well.

    Museo del Vetro (Murano glassblowing museum)

    A fun little trap the tour company lays out for you. Watch an interesting example on how to make hand blown glass, proceed to be shown how they add color, then gee--wanna buy it? or the hundreds of the other glass goodies for sale? Spend anywhere from $50 to $50,000, but hey shipping is included! Despite her best efforts C was unable to prevent me from buying a little expensive souvenir.

    Museo Correr, Museo Archeologico, Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana

    All three of these museums are housed in one large building. The ticket you buy to get into Doges Palace also includes the three museums, interesting and worth a couple hours of our time.

    After seeing all of the above we settled for some thin crust pizza (deep dish is more a product of Chicago than Venice, or anywhere else in Italy) in one of the numerous pizzerias around the hotel. We arrived back at the hotel after taking a very leisurely walk (really got lost this time) and called it a night.

    Sunday, day 4 Venice

    No set tour for the day so C and I are on our own. After a slightly later breakfast we set out for the day.

    The Sights

    Ca' de Oro (Gold house)

    The Gold house used to be a private residence which was given to the city of Venice. It has an interesting, small collection of artwork. While worth the trip probably my least favorite place we visited while in Venice. A fair amount of the artwork on display was "modern art" which I guess I'll never really appreciate. I'm mean really, I could make a 3x3 display of cotton balls, put in a frame and call it art too.

    A slightly amusing event the bathroom incident occurred at the Gold house. C really had to go to the bathroom so she ignored the "do not enter" sign. I was standing there minding my own business when the cleaning lady appeared. She took one look at me, pointed to the “do not enter" sign and started scolding me in Italian (mind you I wasn't in the bathroom). I then watched her yell at C for committing the unforgivable sin of having to respond to the call of nature at an in opportune time. I told C that would teach her not to drink so much coffee at breakfast.

    Gallerie dell'Accademia (Accademia Galleries)

    After being somewhat underwhelmed by the Gold house our next stop-- the Accademia Galleries did not disappoint. This is a huge art museum. While we there they had a special display of the works of Leonardo da Vinci. I came away from reviewing his work with a much deeper appreciation for the contributions Da Vinci made not just to art, but also to many areas of science. The nice thing about the Gallery is they only allow 300 people at any one time. This assures you of not having to fight hoards of other people and truly appreciate the artwork.

    Basilica de' Frari (Basilica of Santa Maria)

    This is the other MUST-SEE church in Venice, definitely worth the time and 3 Euro each.

    After doing all of this we grabbed a pizza at a little pizzeria near the Rialto Bridge. A word on pizza so far: it's not exactly like the pizza back home. The pizza we had tonight was better than what we had the night before but still not quite the same. I should stress that it's not bad, just different. A proud moment: we successfully navigated our way from the Rialto Bridge back to the Hotel without any mishaps. It figures: just as we begin to master the city it's time to move on to the next city.

    Monday, day 5 Venice to Florence

    We woke up to a cool and breezy Venice. We've gotten pretty lucky so far this trip with the rain. Other than a little light mist we have been able to avoid it pretty well. Apparently it rained while we in the Accademia but was pretty much over by the time we came out of the exhibit. The first day and half or so of our trip was slightly warm and humid, the last day and a half it's been cool and damp.

    We took one final stroll to the Rialto Bridge, stopping at a Taberica along the way to buy a stamp for a postcard. The postcard cost .50 euro, it cost 2 euro (roughly $3) to mail it back to the United States. At those rates the family may not be getting anymore postcards.

    We took one final picture in front of the Rialto Bridge before strolling back to the hotel. Along the way we stopped at a small coffee shop for a quick espresso. Venice shops routinely charge more if you sit--if I wanted to sit down the espresso would cost 4.5 euro, if I stayed standing it cost 1.5 euro. I choose the standing option--one good swallow and I was done--entire time in shop was less than 5 minutes.

    We walked back to the hotel, checked out and took a water taxi to the train station. Our time in Venice was over.

    Random thoughts on Venice

    1) It's a beautiful city and definitely worth a few days stay; it is also one of the most crowded cities I have ever been in. The crowds can be intense at times, especially if there are several cruise ships in port.

    2) Sitting down costs money-- always ask if there is a service charge for sitting in a cafe or bar.

    3) The gondola rides appeared way overrated. Many of the Gondoliers, mostly young men in their 20’s, appeared bored as they wound their way through the various canals. If you wanted to be serenaded you had to pay extra for another person, not the Gondolier to sing. Total cost for a gondola ride for two, at night, with a singing was approximately 240 euros. Maybe on your honeymoon but that's it! One could share a gondola but what's the point of an allegedly romantic ride if you got to share it with a bunch of strangers?

    Monday, day 5 Florence

    We arrived in Florence via train. The train ride was very pleasant; it takes about 2 hours to travel from Venice to Florence. For those who have only ridden American trains their European cousins are steps above. The only similarity was the train made numerous stops prior to getting to Florence. Our Monograms representative met us at the train and helped transfer us to the Albani hotel.

    The Albini hotel was an interesting hotel, have been recently renovated. The lighting in the room was rather interesting; the need for bright light was lessened by the electric lime green walls. Lime with lots of dark brown crown molding actually doesn't look all that bad. The restaurant was passable with the same typical breakfast buffet we had in Venice with one important exception-- the coffee was much stronger. The staff was very friendly and helpful; interestingly they started with English rather than Italian when you spoke to them. Nice but in some ways too easy for those looking to try out their budding Italian.

    Really didn't do much sightseeing today. We wandered through the Central Market, locating a restaurant recommended by a friend of mine along the way-- Ciro and Sons. Ciro and Sons provided the best meal if the trip so far. I had a filet sliced thin with arugula and shaved Parmesan cheese. While I've never had greens with a steak before it worked very well. C had spaghetti with lobster. We also had a small appetizer and split an order of Tiramisu. All of this with a good bottle of wine made for an outstanding meal. We ended up sitting next to a couple who was on their honeymoon-- he was a farmer from Australia, she was from Gloucester, England. Sitting next to them was a nice couple from Canada. The six of us had a very nice dinner together. After a healthy amount of wine and Grappa we took a leisurely stroll back to the hotel. The only difference from Venice was there was no getting lost-- compared to Venice Florence streets are a little easier to follow.

    Tuesday, day 6 Florence

    Our local host arranged for everyone in our group to get a wakeup call for 7 am-- really nice of her. After a quick breakfast which was passable but still totally forgettable we're off to explore Florence.

    The Sights

    We stared out at the Galleria Accadamia (Academy of Fine Arts) to see Michelangelo's masterworks including the original statute of David. This was one of the highlights of the trip. They have the David in a large hall at the end of the hall, preceded by other unfinished works by Michelangelo. he guide was able to provide some interesting details about the statute of David and Michelangelo himself.

    An interesting moment occurred while looking at David. A young woman, I would estimate between 22-25 years old locked eyes with me for a moment while she walked passed me. As she walked past she slowly drew her hand across my shoulders ever so lightly, so lightly that I was unsure it had occurred until another woman in our group loudly reported to me, and my wife, that the young woman was "hitting on me" as she reported in graphic detail how she ran her hand lightly across my back. C, clearly comfortable in her exclusive place in my life, quickly dismissed the whole incident as a ploy for her to pick my pocket. For my part I believe it was a clear act of a young woman yearning to expand her sexual universe-- alas as I am already spoken for and unavailable for an undoubtedly pleasurable experience. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

    After leaving the Gallery we went on a walking tour of Cathedral Square, Signoria square, and Santa Croce square. We then wandered down to Ponte Vecchio (aka the Bridge of Gold) along the Arno River. After taking some pictures we went to the Uffizi Galleries.

    The Uffizi Galleries is the largest art museum in Florence. It includes original art by Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo amongst others. It is massive in size and scope. Fortunately we had a guide who made sure we saw all the important works. We spent almost 3 hours in the Uffizi, leaving on total art overload.

    After we left the Uffizi we tried and failed to locate the Basicala Santa Croce. Tip: don't assume the huge church you see is the one you want to go to. Florence is easier to navigate than Venice but can still get you turned around, especially after you've been on your feet all day. We settled for a little gelato on the steps of the Basicla San Lorenzo before heading back to the hotel for a couple of hours prior to dinner.

    We didn't we feel very adventurous for dinner, ending up back at Ciro and Sons. This time we got pizza and no wine, which equals a much smaller bill. The pizza was excellent. Headed back to the hotel and called it a night.

    Wednesday, day 7 Florence

    We tried sleeping in a little bit but the children in the room next to ours we up by 7:30 so we were too whether we liked it or not. Had cereal for breakfast—I’ve gotten real tired of scrambled eggs for breakfast.

    The sights

    Basicalla Santa Marie Novella: another fabulous old church with an interesting small museum to boot.

    The Cathedral of Florence aka the Duomo: this is the largest church in Florence. From the outside it looks magnificent, but once you get inside its kind of plain, especially in comparison to some of the other churches we have seen on the trip; impressive but not nearly as flashy as some of the others. At the Cathedral you can climb to the top of the bell tower or the Dome. We passed-- climb a winding narrow, winding staircase of 400+ steps for a view? Nah--I'll buy a postcard.

    The Baptistery of St. John: another older church that is in the shape of an octagon. The frescos on the ceiling are pretty awe inspiring.

    Royal apartments in Pitta palace: the Pitta Palace, the former home of the Medici family and subsequent rulers contains several museums including the Royal Apartments which were fantastic. The Royal apartments are a series of rooms with interesting artwork.

    After touring the apartments we worked are way back to the hotel, stopping along the way for some pizza and a little light shopping. After a brief stopover at the hotel we headed to dinner at Trattoria Trebia. Trattoria Trebia was a fantastic restaurant serving basic Florentine food in huge portions. C had roast beef while I had the roast veal. I also had the traditional white bean soup which was delicious. We wandered back to the hotel stopping one final time at Ciro and Sons to have our picture taken with the owner. For all intents this concluded our time in Florence since we were leaving the following morning for Rome.

    Random thoughts on Florence

    1) Florence is louder, busier and more crowded than Venice

    2) It’s also cheaper and easier to navigate than Venice

    3) Felt more like an American city than Venice

    Thursday, day 8 Rome

    After another forgettable breakfast buffet, day 2 of my boycott of scrambled eggs, we boarded the train in Florence, arriving in Rome at about 1 pm. Our local guide met us at the train station and insured we transferred to our new hotel, Starhotels Metropole.

    Starhotels Metropole is nice, clearly the nicest hotel we have stayed in so far. The room was decidedly larger than the rooms we had in either Venice or Florence. A very modern, sleek hotel as compared to the older style hotels we had in our first two cities.

    We set out for a quick view of some of the sights. Initially we took a tour of the city via an open air bus, C taking numerous pictures along the way. After completing this we visited the Trevi fountain and the Spanish steps. Both sites were enjoyable. C threw the traditional coin in the Trevi fountain, thereby insuring our return. We then walked to the Spanish Steps where we saw the conclusion of a very public wedding.

    After climbing to the top of the Spanish Steps we visited the "monster house" a house that looks the face of a monster-- the doorway of the house is walking into the monster's mouth. We then walked back to the hotel, making liberal use of the Google maps app on C's phone. Florence streets were at times confusing; Rome’s streetscape is a nightmare to get around. In addition to crooked streets that seem to change names with each block you also have to factor in homicidal taxi drivers and crazy scooter drivers. Nevertheless we managed to get back to the hotel in one piece. After a short time in the room we went to Alessio for dinner. C and I split an appetizer, C had ravioli for dinner while I had lasagna, both dishes were delicious. After finishing dinner we walked back to the hotel and called it a night.

    Friday, day 9 Rome

    Our day started very early, the hotel wake call coming at 6 am. After yet another forgettable breakfast buffet, day 3 of my scrambled eggs boycott, we met out local guide Simone for our trip to the Vatican City.

    Vatican City and the Vatican Museums

    Our tour through the Vatican Museums started with the Gallery of Tapestries and Gallery of Geographical Maps before arriving at the Sistine Chapel. The Sistine Chapel with the masterwork of Michalengo is simply awe inspiring. I have seen numerous pictures of the Sistine chapel but nothing is quite like actually being there. The story behind Michalengo being persuaded to paint the Sistine Chapel is interesting. At the time he was persuaded (i.e.: threatened) into painting the Sistine Chapel he had never painted frescos before. He had established his credentials as a sculptor, not a painter. Nevertheless, he taught himself how to paint frescos, utilizing other more experienced artists as teachers. Once he felt he had mastered how to paint the frescos he kicked the rest of the artists out, spending the next 8 years, 18 hours a day painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Michalengo was in his 30's when he painted the ceiling of the Sistine chapel; many years later, when he was in his 60's he painted the "blue wall"-- the front wall of the Sistine Chapel depicting the Last Judgment. He also designed the original St. Peter's Basilica.

    After visiting the Sistine chapel we visited St. Peter’s Basilica. St. Peter's Basilica proved to be as impressive as the Sistine chapel. The enormity of St. Peter's Basilica cannot be understated. All I can really say is it needs to be seen to be truly appreciated. After we left St. Peter's Basilica we toured St. Peter's Square, getting to see the Swiss Guards in the process. Our tour ended, no surprise, with a tour of a gift shop offering all things Vatican and Papa Francesco.

    Our trip back to the hotel was delayed in part by a general strike which completely snarled and stopped traffic on the streets around the hotel. Our guide wisely had the bus driver pull the bus over and had the group walk the last 500 yards or so back to the hotel. C and I got a quick slice of pizza and met our group back at the hotel for the afternoon tour of Ancient Rome.

    Ancient Rome

    Our tour started with the Colosseum. The Colosseum is very interesting. On the main floor of the Colosseum they show what the subfloor of the Colosseum where the gladiators and the wild animals were kept while waiting for their time to fight. The Colosseum for gladiators was the ultimate stop-- the movie Gladiator (with Russell Crowe) accurately depicted the how gladiators had to prove their worth in lesser venues before they would be allowed to fight in the Colosseum. As shown in the movie only the Emperor could ultimately decide whether a vanquished gladiator lived or died.

    After we left the Colosseum we visited Palentine Hill and the Roman forum including the Arch of Constantine. We saw other sights in the greater forum area including the Arch of Titus, the Basilica of Constantine and Maxentius, the Arch of Septimius Severus, the Curia, and the Temple of Antonius and Faustina. We ended our tour in the Piazza Venezia which provided a final spectacular view of the Roman forum and the Colosseum. We finally got back to the hotel at about 6:30 after being on the go pretty much non-stop since about 7:30. We got a takeout pizza from a local bar along with a half-liter of wine and called it a night.

    Saturday, day 10 Rome

    No pre-arranged tours today so we sleep in until 9:30, being awakened briefly by thunder storms that rolled in overnight. We managed to get down to the restaurant in the nick of time for breakfast and then mapped out our day. First stop: the Pantheon.

    The Pantheon is the most well preserved monument of Ancient Rome. It was rebuilt by Emperor Hadrian in A.D. 125 as a temple for all the gods; it was saved from destruction by being converted into a Christian church in A.D. 605. It is a building of perfect proportions 142 feet wide by 142 feet tall. The very top of the dome is open so when it rains, like it did a little today, they rope of the center of the building.

    After visiting the Pantheon and doing a little shopping we worked out way back to the hotel, passing by the Trevi fountain as we walked. We had booked a mid-afternoon tour of Christian Rome.

    Our first stop was the Catacombs of Santa Callisto located along the Appian Way. The Catacombs were very interesting. An actual church was located underground at the star of the Catacombs. We escorted though 2 levels for the Catacombs observing the different type of tombs that people were buried in.
    Our second stop was at the Basilica of St. John (San Giovanni) the Cathedral of Rome. This is the largest church in Rome, technically excluding St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City. After touring the Basilica we crossed the street and toured the Latern Palace including the Holy Staircase. The Holy Staircase has approximately 32 steps and could only be ascended on your knees.

    Our last stop was the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore. This large, beautiful church is the most important church in Rome dedicated to the Virgin Mary, there are over 60 churches in Rome that are so dedicated.

    After the tour was over we walked to the Church of St. Peter in Chains (San Pietro in Vincoli) and observed the chains that St. Peter wore before he was crucified. An interesting fact about St. Peter was he was crucified upside down at his request. He did not want to die in the same manner as Christ. An interesting side note to our trip to this church was there was a wedding occurring while others, including us, toured the church. Neither bride or groom or their respective families seemed to mind. I presume that they know to expect that when they booked the church.

    After we finished touring the church we stopped at a little Trattoria on the way back to the hotel for a slightly early dinner. I grabbed some gelato at the bar down the street from the hotel and we called it a night.

    Sunday, day 11 Rome

    On our last day in Rome we decided to take a tour of Pompeii via a local tour company. The morning in started very early, arriving at the agency terminal at about 7:15 for a three hour trip south to Naples and then on to Pompeii.

    A word on the tour: like many tours it was somewhat contrived-- we had a stop at a "museum" on coral and cameo making. The part dedicated to showing how cameos were made took about 30 a seconds with the rest of the time left to peruse the various wares for sale. After this we went into the city of new Pompeii for lunch. Lunch was a joke. First we walked about half a mile from where the bus dropped us off to a little restaurant located near the city square. Once we arrived we were given the option of soup or pasta for our first course with a choice of "meat" or "fish" for our second course. C and I should have run at that point and just found a sandwich or slice of pizza to munch on but we held out hope that lunch would prove to be worth the trek--it wasn't. The pasta and sauce was tasteless; the fish C had was some limp filet with little flavor; the pork I was given was even worse. Our last course was a sad collection of mixed fruit. The owner should be prosecuted for crimes against gastronomy.

    Finally after a 3 hour drive, being subjected to a shill sale for cameos and a lunch that reminded me of what I ate in my old high school cafeteria we finally were allowed to see the ruins of Pompeii. I'm happy to report that Pompeii was worth all of the BS leading up to it. We had a very interesting and through two hour tour of the site. We were able to view original artwork and saw a few skulls/bones just to keep things interesting. The entire site is huge and we clearly did not see everything but I'm satisfied we saw the highlights. Overall the tour was worth it, the other crap notwithstanding.

    We finally made it back to our hotel at about 10 pm, which was about an hour and half later than I expected. We ended up eating our final dinner in Rome in a small restaurant about 100 feet from the hotel. Despite have some of the clear signs of not being very good (i.e.: an owner or manager standing outside beckoning you in and being pretty empty) it proved to be an excellent final dinner. One last gelato from the bar and it was back to the hotel to pick and prepare for the long trip back to Des Moines the following morning.

    Random thoughts on Rome

    1) It's not the easiest town to navigate in, what makes it worse are some of the cartoon like maps the hotels and tour companies give out, just plan on getting lost at times and asking a lot of questions. Better yet, bring a smart phone with a Google Maps app.

    2) The desire to be independent and "save" money by avoiding tours can save you money but also cost you a lot of time. As a general rule I avoid organized tours, but in Rome the persons visiting the various sites with a tour group have a distinct advantage in terms of being able to get in a lot quicker. As an example when we were at the Colosseum I heard a man complaining that he had been in line for three hours to get tickets; similar stories were heard about the Vatican museums. In comparison our entire tour, as described in preceding paragraphs, took a little over 3 hours.

    3) It’s quite possible to get a good meal in Rome for 25 Euro or less, including wine. Unless you are really into wines and certain vintages just drink the Vino del Casa (house wine).

    4) Speaking of food unless you’re really hungry or a big eater think twice about getting the pasta dish (primi) and the secondi course (secondi) -- usually a meat or fish with vegetables. Generally one of the two was plenty.

    5) Maybe it was just because of the time of year when we went but the hordes of gypsy kids we were warned about never materialized.

    6) I thought 2 and a half days was ok for both Venice and Florence, in Rome we could have easily have filled up at least another 3 days.

    7) Many of the finest treasures in Rome, like the Pantheon or the Trevi fountain are surrounded by more modern buildings such that it would be fairly easy to miss them. While there is some signage you won't necessarily always see it. Don't expect the locations of all of the sites to be easily identifiable.

    Monday, day 12 in transit from Rome via Paris

    I wasn't planning on really including the flight back but as I sit here it has the prospect of a being a bit more memorable than planned. The trip from the hotel to the airport was fine. We had a private driver who zipped along in a very nice Mercedes Benz. We got to airport in plenty of time, check in was easy, and after some delay they finally announced our gate. We boarded the plane and discovered we were seated in business class since this particular plane does not have a "premium economy" section, nice to see the airline err on the side of nicer service rather than lesser.

    Once we boarded the plane we had about 20 minutes to make an on time departure, something important since we had a very tight connection in Paris. As I sit here after enjoying a very tasty repast due to being in business class I know that we are in for some changes once we finally arrive in Paris since our flight out of Rome left 1 hour 5 minutes late. While it remains unclear I am assuming at this point we and our luggage will not be on the next flight. It remains to be seen what comes next.

    RUUUUUUNNNNNN! Ok made it to the airplane, listening to the Beatles, emergency over. Our flight from Rome was pleasant enough; the run from one terminal to the next was not, we literarily we among the last three or four people on the plane. I know what you may be thinking, stuck in Paris, not so bad it's not like its Birmingham, AL. The foregoing sentiment would be true enough if a) the flight they put us on was late enough to be able to actually go into Paris and enjoy the sights; and b) the class of service on the next flight was equal to or better than what we lost. With our luck we would be put on a flight soon enough to make a trip into Paris impossible and we'd be stuck in economy.

    Flying back at 34,000 feet at 524 mpg listening to I Am the Walrus, is not the worst way to finish the trip. We watched a few movies and finally landed in Detroit. Once we got through customs we realized that while we made the plane our luggage did not. Waiting in the airport for our third and final flight we got our first taste of American food-- a real honest to God bacon cheeseburger and fries. The food in Italy was great but it was nice to eat American food again. Sitting at the gate I got rid of about 200 emails before boarding the flight from Detroit to Des Moines. My legal assistant has me booked solid from Wednesday on so hopefully I'll get the rest of this done before the plane lands in Des Moines.

    Final thoughts

    1) The Italian people were gracious, friendly and always willing to help.

    2) You don't have to be anywhere close to fluent in Italian to get by, but mastering simple phrases like "Good morning" "Good evening" "please" and "thank you" helps break the ice. A lot of waiters seemed pretty amused when I asked for the bill in Italian.

    3) Air France is an excellent airline for international travel and there food is excellent. Premium economy is worth the extra cost.

    4) I was impressed with our tour company, Monograms. They struck a nice balance between providing guidance were needed (like at the transport points) and setting up basic tours on one hand while at the same time making sure you had plenty of independent free time. The hotels they choose we're more than adequate and in one instance (Starhotels Metropole) were excellent.

    5) Make sure you take a large enough memory card for your camera-- we took over 1300 photos.

    6) A smart phone with Google maps or some other GPS is nice to have. An Italian SIM card can be purchased through Vodafone or TIM for about $30 is worth the cost.

    7) If you have some time prior to going take the time to get in shape. I would estimate we walked at least 5 miles a day, much of it over very rough uneven surfaces. Don't be surprised to find that in order to access many of the sites you have to climb several flights of stairs. At the Uffizi Galleries before you ever lay your eyes on one exhibit you'll climb about 150 steps-- this refrain is true for several of the other sites we visited. Buildings over a hundred years old generally don't have elevators.

    8) Best place to relax and soak in the vibe: Venice

    Best food: Florence

    Best sites: Rome
  2. buomalley

    buomalley Tourist

    Sep 18, 2010
    Trips to Las Vegas:
    A very enjoyable report! Thank you so much for the time and effort you put into this. Well done! :nworthy:
  3. jpw711

    jpw711 VIP Whale

    Mar 10, 2009
    Southwest Missouri
    Trips to Las Vegas:
    good read!
    Holiday Gift Shoppe
  4. Terry Benedict

    Terry Benedict VIP Whale

    Jun 27, 2010
    Trips to Las Vegas:
    A nice read, thank you.

    I went to Rome and Venice in 2008. When we got back I wish we would have spent more time in Rome than Venice. We're planning on going back to Florence and Rome in 2018 for my sister's 40th birthday. Can't wait.

    The cool thing about Rome is you walk down the street, turn a corner, and BOOM, there's something a thousand years old. It's sweet.
  5. Stryk

    Stryk Tourist

    Jul 20, 2012
    Trips to Las Vegas:
    We did Venice, Rome, and Florence back in Feb. My second time, my wife's first. Everyone should go if they have the chance. I was hoping you hit the casinos in Venice. We kept on planning to, but it hard with so much else to see.
  6. Terry Benedict

    Terry Benedict VIP Whale

    Jun 27, 2010
    Trips to Las Vegas:
    We went to the first casino in the world in Venice. It's heavy on roulette.

  7. Pattie

    Pattie Low-Roller

    Oct 1, 2012
    Trips to Las Vegas:
    Thank you so so much for writing this tr. We have been thinking about a trip to Italy for about a year and I think your report has confirmed our thoughts that we should go.

    Sounds like you didn't get tunneled and had no problems tipping, either! That makes the trip a win-win!

    Seriously, nice report.
  8. TomTWI

    TomTWI High-Roller

    Jan 28, 2012
    Trips to Las Vegas:

    Thank you very much for this trip report it brought back so many memories. We were in Italy in Sept for two weeks and in all the cities you were except Venice. We also visited several smaller shrines and towns. Also took the same exact optional tour to Pompeii (Cameo factory and restaurant) except we continued then on down to Sorento and Island of Capri.

    Totally agree with you on learning some basic Italian was well worth the effort.

    I know now I have to plan another trip to see Venice and other northern Italy cites. I was in Modena and Turino for work but that doesn't count for sight seeing although the food was amazing.

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