Just wanted to share a few tidbits of information regarding our recent trip to Rome in hopes of helping everyone plan a smarter trip.
Who: My wife and I – mid 30s
Travel Experience: Well traveled both for business and pleasure
Trips this year – 4-5
Occupation: Business Owners
Education Level: Post Graduate Degrees
Travel Philosophy: Very value oriented but will splurge for quality or what we consider a special experience. Do a lot of prior research and book what you can early
Restaurants – if you plan on eating at restaurants recommended by the guidebook or website you reference, make sure you make reservations. Easiest to plan out where you want to eat on what night and give all the information to your hotel concierge and have them set everything up.
Why I say this? Restaurants look like you can just walk in….and you can but you won’t get that nice outside seating that attracted you in the first place. You’ll get put in the cellar, which isn’t that bad; but with reservations, you’re close to guaranteeing any seat you want. Basically, every restaurant we went to (small, medium, big) asked us if we had made prior reservations. I figured this out after our 2nd night, and our dining experiences only became more memorable once we learned this lesson.
Money Changing – I do know that the recommended way of getting Euro is via ATM machines using your bank card from home. Anyway, should you need to change dollars to Euros, we learned that the banks were more competitive than little change shops (signs that say Cambio). A great way to know the value you are getting is to visit several Exchange shops and banks (you can find a number of places to change your money in any given tourist area) and ask how many Euro you will get if you changed $100. My background is in finance and I still found this the most practical way to quickly understand where to change your money. We consistently found the banks to give the best rate and the shops with a western union or travelex sign to give the worse rates. The differences can be huge! For example, banks averaged 79 euro for $100, change shops offered 73-76 euro and a couple of western union change places offered 59 euro for $100. Though you don’t want to spend too much time trying to find the best rate, a little research that won’t take long will get you more euro for your dollar.
Hotel Review – we stayed at Albergo Del Senato…excellent, excellent location… Could walk to many major sites and Piazzas. Areas is nice at night. Hotel is quaint. We found the staff to be friendly. Hotel room (Jr. Suite) was clean, relatively spacious and had a nice wood smell. View was of the Pantheon. Was about 75 feet away from the nearest Column.
Rate was E280 for a Jr. Suite, but cheaper doubles may be available. We were deciding between the Del Senato and the Grand Hotel de la Minerve. Despite E280 still being expensive, we chose it over a most likely tiny E350 room in the Minerve. As you can see from the hotels we were looking at that we wanted to stay in the Pantheon, Piazza della Rotunda area.
Transportation – used romeshuttlelimousine.com --- trouble free, efficient, competitive rates. Email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Rate was E35, driver with sign at airport, MB vehicle. Cristiano is contact name.
Recommendation – whenever we go to new cities, we’ve always taken a hop on hop off bus early in the trip (usually the first or second day). And everytime we’ve taken it, we were thankful we did. We just love to get a perspective on the entire city, how close or far things are, etc…. Take this bus if you’re like us. I think it was about E14-15 per person and allowed you to hop on and off all day. Even though guidebooks tell you where to buy tickets, check first with your hotel to see if they sell the tickets. Our hotel had the tickets, the official map which showed the different stops and the concierge was able to point us to the closest stop to catch the bus.
Tour recommendation – finally decided on official tour with the Vatican. Was torn on this one as I was heavily considering a private tour company, specifically, Roman Odyssey, Three Millenia, Icon. Wanted private tour company thinking that the stories they would tell would be more colorful, less censored. Frankly, we were fine with the Vatican-led tour and would recommend the tour. Lots of money saved, too. Nevertheless, if you do want to use a private tour company, I can tell you that the Roman Odyssey folks are extremely courteous and I would choose them in a flash if I wanted a private tour in Rome. I had to speak several times to the Roman Odyssey folks to cancel, and they were courteous and gracious. They were also efficient at communicating via email and even left messages at our hotel closer to the scheduled tour date. Three Millenia was efficient at email correspondence. Unfortunately, Icon, as good and fun as they may be were terrible at email communication. Actually, they never returned our email and we were willing to book 2 tours with them. This affected our decision not to use them since we, ourselves, are business people and believe in a certain amount of professionalism and courtesy.
Weather – I don’t know what changes occur in weather in late September thru the end of the year, but we were surprised at the contrast the weather could take in any given day. We would wake up willing to bet our savings that there would be no rain. By the early afternoon, it was showering heavily. A small umbrella would be helpful. If you don’t want to take one from home, there are many “umbrella sellers” waiting for you to get off the bus, out of the Vatican, etc…. willing to sell you a small umbrella for E5. We didn’t want to carry the “long” umbrella from our hotel and so we gave in to buying. The best price we got was E3.
Worst Value – One thing I learned was that, especially for lunch, in the middle of your sightseeing/touring day, sometimes you’re not in the mood to search out that recommended place you read about in your guidebook. Reality and practicality take priority and you look for something that’s close by….especially if it’s raining, you’re tired, etc…. I swore to myself not to eat at heavy tourist traps, but we ended up doing so, and sure enough, I thought it was the worse value for our money. We exited the Vatican Museum at the true exit (vs. the exit leading to St. Peter’s from “the Chapel”) for our personal reasons. My wife was hungry and tired and I knew we didn’t want to deviate too far from the Vatican because we were returning after lunch to visit St. Peter’s. We decided to eat at a large, roomy, air conditioned restaurant at the corner (across the Museum entrance/exits. Anyway, make a long story short – we spent about $24 on 2 plates of spaghetti that basically looked like it had refrigerated ragu sauce on it and they heated the whole thing up in the microwave. Oh, I shouldn’t forget to mention that we got 1 bottle of water. For lunch, especially, if you are value oriented and know that you might splurge a little more for dinner, I’d seek out or notate in my head places that serve sandwiches and pizza as I pass them by and return to them for lunch.
Safety – Not at anytime did we feel any threat…and we even did a lot of night walking down streets that were empty. We did wear mini-messenger bags that were swung to the front of our bodies and we were very, very comfortable with that. We did see some people carrying huge backpacks that they were wearing on the front as well. Didn’t look comfortable or worth it to me, but, hey, to each, their own.
Cell Phone – the first thing we did was get our phone activated so that family and our business could contact us from home. It was trouble free getting activated. We have an UNLOCKED, GSM, TRI-BAND phone. That’s all I can speak about. There are little shops here and there that your hotel can point you to that sell the sim cards. Our sim card was with a company called “Wind” and it worked fine. I think the sim card costs us E25 or E30 with a E5 credit, I think. Something like that. WHAT NOT TO DO. Don’t call home using your cell phone. I tried to call for an experiment and noted that we got charged something like E2-E2.50 for one minute – way too much! Instead give your number to those that need it and have them call you. There is no charge to receive calls. The caller will be the one that is charged the normal long distance feel. Also, note that using your cell to make local calls to restaurants, tour companies, etc... is reasonable. Regarding calling long idstance, we did figure out a reasonable way to call home. I personally use an old ATT Sam’s Club calling card that requires us to dial 1-800-506-9511. Thing is, you can’t dial that number from Italy. Instead, what you can dial is the ATT country access code, which is 800-172-444, the prompt will then ask you dial your desired number, it is at this time you can dial your own access number to your calling card. We could dial this way, not get charged any Euro, and access reasonable long distance rates to call home and work. This should work for other L-D companies as well.
Anyway, that’s all for now…will write more later if I can think of anything….