Roman Charm (Part 1 of Europe 2022)
I started planning this vacation in July, on my own. I decided to forgo the services of a travel agent because I had a few very specific things I wanted to do and see if we were going to go this far, and I couldn't get a sense of what it would cost me to have someone else make all the plans.
Booking.com has it's horror stories, as every 'discount travel' site probably does, but I've always had great experience with it. We used this service to go to an all-inclusive in Jamaica in 2018 as well as a weekend road-trip to Niagara falls in 2019.
What I like about the website is that, in most cases, you can create a booking without paying right away. You can also agree to an increased charge for the right to cancel the booking within days of your arrival. For me, that made planning easier because I didn't feel like I was 'locked in' to anything if I decided to amend the itinerary. I was also grateful for choosing to go that route because there was a distinct possibility we were going to have to cancel our entire trip- that's an entirely different story.
So let's start at the beginning. American Airlines has a daily direct flight from Chicago O'Hare (ORD) to Roma Fiumicino Leonardo da Vinci (FCO) that leaves in the late afternoon and arrives the following morning, early, in Rome. Round trip tickets are, on average, $500-$800. Our flight left on time and I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of food and beverage services supplied on the flight. The crew served drinks (wine), then snacks, then drinks (more wine), then dinner, then... you guessed it... more drinks (and more wine) before they turned the cabin lights off and encouraged everyone to snooze. I was able to grab about two hours because coach seats are still coach seats, and three glasses of wine means having to get up to pee. About ninety minutes before arriving in Italy, the crew mimicked the sunrise in the cabin. They served more drinks (I stuck with coffee) and breakfast right before we landed.
My first booking was at Chilling Jacuzzi Suites. I liked the idea of having an in-room hot tub after a long flight and what would prove to be a long first day adjusting to the change in time zones.
This is an apartment in a building a few blocks from the Vatican that has been divided into three separate lodging spaces. They are connected by a shared hallway, which is secured with an exterior main door. Before arriving, I contacted the owners of the space to ask for advice on getting from the airport to the apartment. They at once booked us with a transport car, and we easily found our driver as soon as we exited the airport. We had to wait about an hour before we could check in, so the owners also suggested their favorite nearby cafe where we could enjoy our first cappuccino and second breakfast of the day.
We had a good laugh when we arrived at the location to find the smallest elevator we've ever seen- so small we couldn't both fit into it with our bags. Our room was on the fourth floor, so using the stairs was out.
The room was just as it is described in its listing. It was charming, comfortable and clean. Amenities included complimentary coffee, wine and pastries. The bathroom was modern and everything worked well. There was a television with a ready-to-watch Netflix account loaded up, and free wi-fi. The room is also less than two blocks from the nearest Metro station, making it perfect for seeing the city efficiently.
We set our bags down and headed out to see the city. I very much looked forward to a soak in the tub after our first scheduled tour- the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican. I will say that my one little complaint of the room was that, even though the tub had fabulously hot water cascading from the faucet, it took nearly forty minutes for it to fill up. It's little details like this that reminded me just how wasteful we are in the U.S.- and why tubs are generally nowhere to be found in little Italian apartments. Still, our first two nights in Roma were comfortable and relaxing.
The tour of the Vatican and Sistine Chapel was also booked through the Booking.com website, and it was a decent tour. There were a ton of people, so crowds were thick and our tour guide walked too fast for everyone to keep up with him.
On Saturday and early Sunday, we hit the major tourist sites, including a tour of the Colosseum and Palatine, made through Viator. This tour guide was phenomenal- a great wealth of knowledge of the area and history. We also made it to the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon.
One of my favorite parts of this trip was when we decided to take the Metro as far as we could on one of the lines, to a couple of landmarks on the map that looked interesting and off the beaten path. We stumbled upon the Musei di Villa Torlonia , a beautiful little park district that features an art school that is open to tour as well an odd home full of stained glass. There was also a villa full of art that we should've probably taken seriously, but couldn't help laughing...
We walked a total of twenty-three miles in our first two-and-a-half days in Italy, so our first scheduled train trip was a welcome break for our legs.
I purchased all railway tickets between cities ahead of time, so the only purchases we made for transportation were to buy passes for the subway systems in each city we visited. This worked out great, so that we minimized time in train stations trying to figure out the regional trains. We were actually able to jump on an earlier train than the one I'd booked, so we arrived in Gaeta before dinner.
Here's a breakdown for this leg of the trip-
Transfer from airport- $55
Two nights at the Chilling Jacuzzi Suites- $289
Three-Day Metra Passes for 2- $50
Vatican and Sistine Chapel Tour- $75
Gladiator Tour with Floor Access- $122
I didn't record what we spent for food and drink, but we were pleasantly surprised that a dinner for two with wine seemed much less expensive than what we spend at home- part of this is because it's not customary to tip in Italy, and it's definitely not expected. Which is good, because service wasn't all that great. We learned pretty quickly that the system is to seat yourself, get someone's attention, order all at once, and after they bring your order, don't decide you need anything else because you'll never see them again. No one was exactly rude, but we definitely didn't get the feeling that hospitality was important to Roman business owners.
That said, the food was well above my expectations. Every meal we ate was fresh, fabulous, and carb-heavy. Which worked out well considering the mileage we were logging.
My one criticism of Rome was that I don't remember it being so trashy. We lived in Italy from 1991 to 1994, and took several trips to Rome during those years. In my memory, Rome wasn't plagued by overflowing dumpsters and just general trash strewn about as though no one cares. It seems that the city is having a hard time keeping up with the sheer number of visitors post-covid.
Despite this one detractor, the city was still as beautiful as I'd remembered it. Rome has a great vibe, and two-and-a-half days was the perfect amount of time to see the sights and experience the culture before moving on.