I am back from my 7 night trip to Rome and am posting my first TA trip report. First, let me thank all of you who gave me such great information as I was planning the trip. My husband is not able to travel and I wanted to see Rome. I have a great deal of business travel experience so I decided to travel solo and I had a wonderful time.
I flew from Newark airport on Alitalia. I should have upgraded to economy comfort (airbus 330). I think it would have been about $100 extra but wow that section of the plane is so quiet (no one there) and curtained off with better seats and it would have been well worth it. However, I did not know the difference till I boarded and there was no upgrading at that point. The Alitalia crew were downright surly on this flight and the plane was packed. However we arrived on time at FCO in Rome and had no problems with the luggage or passport control. So I cannot complain too much—the food was inedible so just buy yourself a nice sandwich for the flight and enjoy that with a soda or glass of wine at meal time.
I took the Leonardo da Vinci train to Termini station with no problems and found the Hotel Artemide with little difficulty after a quick 10 minute walk with my one overnight case. I arrived at the hotel about 9 am and they gave me a voucher for breakfast and guided me to the breakfast room –the breakfast was absolutely wonderful and the staff were so professional and courteous. I really appreciated the thoughtful touches and the caffeine worked wonders! When I finished and came back to the desk they told me to go out and see Rome and come back later to check in.
I took part of one of the Day Tours of Rome walking tours in the book by Dave Williams. These self guided walking tours are great! I started with the one near the Termini station and saw Ste. Maria Vittorio with the Bernini statue of St Theresa (incredible), Ste. Susanna, and Santa Maria degli Angeli e Martyres church which has the magnificent red granite columns from the Baths of Diocletian and the meridian timepiece. I also bought my Roma Pass which was hard to find due to the shortage during that time.
After checking in at 1 pm, I changed and walked to the Colosseum to join my Context Tour of the Colosseum and the Forums (3pm to 7pm). Met a couple with their daughter who were staying at my hotel (though we did not know this) and another young couple. The tour was good –not great—and having listened to the Rick Steves’ audio tour I think he does a better job (and it is free)—but it was good to meet and chat with fellow travelers. I walked back to the Hotel Artemide in order to get my bearings and had dinner at Brecci which is right up the block and recommended by the hotel. It was good food, not expensive and I did not feel uncomfortable sitting alone. After this I was beat from jet lag, excitement, and anxiety and I slept soundly.
Day Two: Underground Rome and Churches
After another wonderful breakfast at the hotel (I knew I would be eating far too much here) I walked north to the Piazza Ste. Lorenzo in Lucina to meet my Underground Rome Context Tour at 10 am – I got a late start today due to overdoing it the first day. This tour was wonderful and set the stage for my wanderings for the next few days. We went beneath several churches and other sites and the docent really introduced us to ancient Rome and the layers upon which modern Rome stands today. Met more nice people on that tour (they limit tours to 6 people so everyone gets a chance to interact as they walk from site to site) and this was helpful for a solo traveler because you get to verbalize your reactions to the city and get some feedback. After the 3 hour tour I walked through Campo de Fiore and had pizza and a glass of wine at a café there as I watched the market close up for the day. Then I headed over to Piazza Navona to check out the artists’ displays and found an oil on canvas that I loved (and eventually bought a few days later). I checked out some more art in various churches that I had made notes on and walked back to the hotel arriving about 5 pm. After a two hour siesta I had dinner in a most forgettable little Trattoria up the block from the hotel cause I was too tired to venture any further and then went up to the Rooftop garden at the Hotel Artemide to have a glass of wine. Another hit! Very courteous staff and a beautiful setting. There is actually no real view but you can see St Peter’s in the far distance and it seems away from it all. Great glass of cold Chardonnay too. I chatted with a few people who were having drinks there and then headed for my oasis of a room—great room –I booked a double room for single use and it was great.
Day Three: Borghese Gallery and Ostia Antica
I had a 9 am appt at the Borghese Gallery today and the instructions said to be there 30 minutes ahead of time. Being a “time urgent” person, I reluctantly skipped breakfast and left the hotel at 7 am to get the 910 bus at Piazza della Repubblicca. I found the bus fairly easily and headed out with the morning commuters arriving at the Gallery at about 7:40. Incredibly, there were three other people there and it was pleasant to wait in the park and watch the locals going for their morning runs and walks and the Park workers beginning their day. I was surprised to see no coffee wagons or anything nearby—could have used one. When the gallery finally opened I booked a guided tour and met my group at 9:10 at the desk. The guide was wonderful –knowledgeable and enthusiastic and made the tour so enjoyable and I learned so much! Having taken only one required Art course in college I needed a real primer. I had done some reading before arriving in Rome but this really helped. I am hooked now! I saw people just wandering past the paintings not really knowing what it is they were looking at (that would have been me for sure) instead of renting the audio guide (5.50) or getting a human guide for another 1.50 Euros. It makes all the difference!
Bought some souvenirs for my art loving friends here and then I took the 910 back to the Hotel Artemide. After getting some food and resting a little I took the Metro B to Piramide and changed for the Lido train to Ostia Antica. Great train ride which reminded me of my Brooklyn childhood days taking the non airconditioned train to the beach. People were on there with their kids in bathing suits and picnic stuff and it was very very hot but I magically got a seat (NYC training) and enjoyed the ride. The passengers opened the windows and it was really pleasant. Ostia Antica was fantastic and a great breeze was blowing in from the water so it was so pleasant compared to the streets of Rome! I took the Rick Steves’ tour and loved it. It was interesting to see the different sorts of tourists here at Ostia Antica—everyone sort of looked like an archeologist—compared with the masses at the Colosseum Spent at least 3 hours here and headed back to Rome on the train and then the Metro. I cannot remember what I did for dinner that evening but I know I slept well.
Day Four –Florence
Again a great breakfast (I was now making three trips to the buffet) and then I took the high speed train to Florence at about 9 and arrived at about 10:30. Great ride! Stopped at the Church of Santa Maria Novella to see the Giotto crucifix and walk around and then headed for the Accademia to see David. I had purchased a ticket for 12 noon online (Florence art) for way more than the Accademia website price but there were no “official website” tickets left when I had finally decided which day I would go to Florence. The line was long but seemed doable but with one day only to spend there I am glad I did not spend it waiting in line. I took the Rick Steves’ audio tour and also rented an audio guide. I did the rented audio guide first and then went through Rick Steves’ tour cause his really concentrates on only a few pieces and there is so much more to see there. I spent over 2 hours there and barely had time to grab a gelato on my runwalk to my 3pm Uffizzi appt. –again I had bought an expensive online ticket. Wow this place was great too and I used Rick Steves alone for this one cause he does a really thorough job. Note that it is really helpful to listen to these audio tours before you go and decide if you need to supplement them at all. It was almost 6 pm when I left there and headed to the Ponte Vecchio for a quick walk across and then I did Rick Steves’ Renaissance Walk tour and ate a pretty good pasta dish at a restaurant in Piazza Repubblica in Florence. Caught the high speed train back to Rome and enjoyed a glass of Chardonnay at my now favorite nighttime spot—The Hotel Artemide Rooftop Garden. Always met nice people to talk with or wrote in my journal. I really could have used another day in Florence to see all that I wanted to see but now I have a great reason to return!
Day Five Sunday in Rome
Today I was really tired of being on schedule so I had a leisurely breakfast with no place in particular to go. Had planned to do the Appian Way today but really just felt like seeing more art in the various churches and wanted to purchase the oil on canvas at Piazza Navona so I just decided to chuck my well researched plans for the Appian Way and do as Rick Steves says “pace yourself, assume you will be back”.
I decided to take part of another of Dave Williams’ self guided tours through Rome and took the Metro A to Flaminio to Ste. Maria de Popola to see the Chigi Chapel. Unfortunately it was under renovation and I could only view a small portion. However, I did see the Caravaggios in the Cerasi Chapel and then found my way from there to Sant Luigi dei Francesi where there are three Caravaggio’s –incredible—also I fortunately was standing near a small group of people (4) who were on a tour with a guide who was a wonderful art historian. He expounded upon every detail of the Caravaggios and I felt like I should have at least paid him something for eavesdropping!!! What a treat!! Caravaggio is my absolute favorite. I did move quickly with my coins to get the lights back on when they went out so that all could enjoy the work. Stopped off next at Dave Williams’ recommended (with good reason) Della Parma near Piazza Navona for an incredible gelato and then did the Rick Steves tour of the Pantheon. I had been there on the Underground Rome tour but Rick Steves added something extra. Can’t say enough about that guy! After the Pantheon I went to Piazza Navona to peruse the art work. I haggled with the seller of the oil on canvas that I wanted and took a wine break on Piazza Navona before I went back and bought the oil on canvas by Vanni (we settled on 50 euros) that I had been admiring as well as 6 small (5x7) watercolors from another seller for 45 euros total. Upon my return home I went to Michaels and bought sale frames and gave them as souvenir gifts to friends and family. They were a big hit and maybe cost me $14 apiece. Really nice too. I am having the oil on canvas stretched and custom-framed to hang in my home—Love it!!
Took the bus back to the hotel to rest before the evening adventures. Interestingly, I saw a man who seemed quite suspicious looking –he was sort of jockeying for position and seemed to be talking to himself but yet totally aware. Having lived in NYC all my life and riding NYC Transit all my life, I thought that this guy was odd—moving erratically from front to the middle of the bus –but I kept my travelsmith crossbody bag close and stayed vigilant. My suspicions were confirmed later that same evening on a different bus!! (More on that later)
Took a short rest at the Hotel (a true oasis –free mini bar stocked daily and though I do not usually drink beer there were several evenings when I thoroughly enjoyed the cold beer [and it was cold] from the free mini bar along with crackers and cookies upon my return at around 4-5 pm for my siesta. Also the hotel has a bathtub which was great for washing off your dirty tired feet mid day and at night as well as washing out your clothes to wear again—bring a few small plastic clothes hooks. Again, great hotel—can’t say enough about them!
Then headed out for Trastevere to do Rick Steves’ Trastevere Walk –once again BRILLANT! I took the H Bus as directed by Rick (who was fast becoming my patron saint) and noted a group of Americans who were obviously staying in the area on some educational adventure. I asked where to find my stop and they directed me well plus provided insightful conversation all the way there.
I went to St Cecilia’s and saw the little sign that Rick points out for the entrance to the underground where you can see the actual home of St Cecilia who hosted religious services in her home. This is a pretty funny anecdote: I noted the sign that said 2.50 Euros but I did not see anyone who was collecting the tariff so I just went on down below. I was really enjoying the place (after my great underground Context Tour) and wanted to explore all the nooks and crannies and then I remembered that I had not paid anyone and so no one had seen me go down there and it could be closing at any time and I might be spending the night with the ghost of St Cecilia!! Wow!! my Brooklyn 1950-1960’s Catholic school education really got hold of me there and I hotfooted back up the trail and got out of there—and when I emerged I noticed the nun sitting at the far end of the site and I went over and [repentantly] paid 2.50 Euros and she said Grazie Senora. Honestly, I would have been happier if she was a little more upfront and visible and I could have enjoyed the site knowing that she knew I was down there—ugh! Funny experience though.
I continued on the Rick Steves tour and found myself on the touristy end of Trastevere and enjoyed watching people figure out where they would eat. Then I went to Ste. Maria in Trastevere and was spellbound for one hour. Benediction was in progress and this really took me back 50 years!! There was a beautiful choir (Sunday evening at 7 pm) and incense and the whole Catholic “works” of my Brooklyn Catholic childhood. I just sat there with my mouth open for a long while. When I recovered my senses and headed back out to the streets I found a nice little place called Gino’s in Trastevere and had a good pizza before heading back to my personal oasis at the Hotel Artemide and a glass of Chardonnay at the Rooftop Garden. Again, every evening there were delightful guests to chat with.
Now for the aforementioned shady guy anecdote: I got on the H bus to head back to the hotel and I noted that the same guy (suspicious looking guy from the 40 bus in the afternoon) has gotten on this bus and he is doing his same weirdo number. Now though, I noted that he moved from front to back and then stayed in the middle section eyeing people as they got on and off. Mayor Bloomberg, the wonderful mayor of NYC has taught us all well that “if you see something, say something” so I told this fellow (who was well dressed and with a young woman) who was standing now directly in front of the suspicious guy that they should watch out because the guy behind them was a pickpocket. They said “what” and I repeated it. They then turned to the pickpocket and told him what I had said—then I realized that I had just informed the pickpocket’s accomplices that I knew he was a pickpocket! The pickpocket himself then gave me the finger and looked menacingly at me but I was on the ball enough (exteriorly) to give him my NYC “buzz off and don’t mess with me face” –but I was really worried that they would follow me off the bus and knife me (they had more important matters to attend to so I need not have worried). Enjoyed my Chardonnay in the safety of the Rooftop Garden that evening!!! Note to self: unless you are a very physically imposing young man, do not attempt to head off a pickpocket. Note to physically imposing young men: do your fellow man a service and if you see something then say something.
Today at breakfast I met a lovely couple who were going with their adult children to the Vatican—me too! In fact, we were booked on the same tour. We enjoyed a lovely chat and then I headed out to the Metro to go the Vatican Museums. I had a 10:30 Vatican Museum tour planned and then a 3 pm Scavi tour booked. The official Vatican Museum tour was a disappointment –too many people being herded through. I guess that if you want to really see something you need to know exactly where it is and then forget the guided tour. We stood for at least 30 minutes in front of posters of the Sistene Chapel while the guide explained the work and then told us that we were on our own in the Sistene Chapel. This was the official Vatican tour so perhaps another tour would have been different. I was happy that I had Rick Steves’ Sistene Chapel audio guide with me and again it was great. I would never have remembered any of the information the guide had given when we got to the Sistene Chapel 3 hours later. I walked back to the Pinocettera (sp?) to see a few pieces that I wanted to see but could not locate them and none of the staff knew where they were either. I guess I should have expected this with the volume of people who visit each day but it was still disappointing. I would suggest booking the Vatican Museum tickets online to avoid the lines and then renting an audio guide and going at your own pace. That is, unless you have a member of your party who is not that interested and then the herding would be great! I left the museum and found my way to St Peter’s Basilica to meet my Scavi tour. Much shorter lines for the bathroom there too!
There were long lines for St Peter’s and our guide had said to go after 4 pm (we started our tour late and I did not get out of there till about 2 pm). I subsequently learned that they do not allow tour groups after 4:30 so I guess that is why she suggested this. I found the Scavi entrance after three inquiries and waited till 3 pm. Great tour and great tour guide! Very informative and an impressive place. When we finished the tour (1.5 hours) we could go right up to St. Peter’s without going through security again. Again I did the Rick Steves audio tour and was again impressed. I took the Metro back to the hotel and ate a Breci again which is right up the block from the Artemide.
Day Seven: Day Trip to Orvieto
This was my last day in Rome and I wanted to see a medieval town. After breakfast, I went to Termini to get a train to Orvieto. The hotel staff had printed out the schedule for me but I was under the impression that I could get the nice high speed train there too. Not so! I bought a regional train ticket cause the intercity was sold out and besides it only took 10 minutes longer on the regional for half the price. I also bought a return ticket (intercity). I forgot to validate the ticket (you don’t need to validate the high speed train tickets) and when the conductor showed up he said he was going to charge me 20 Euros as a fine. I showed him my fast train ticket and explained that I had not had to validate that one and got confused and so he wrote on my ticket and let me off the hook. The three people across from me had done the same thing and then he let them off too. Orvieto was a nice day trip. I walked around awhile and then took the underground cave tour which was fascinating. After that I had a porchetta pannini with a glass of Classico wine at a little café on the square and had a lovely conversation with a woman and man from South Africa and a woman from New Zealand. They were all on a tour and did not have time to take the cave tour. I walked around some more but by now siesta was in force and everything was closed. I walked so far that I found myself at the funicular and so took it down and exchanged my ticket for an earlier train. The ticket person did not speak English at all but a lovely woman translated for me. The ride back was horrible! Several cars (mine included) did not have air conditioning and the cars that did were jammed with people. It was really hot and like a sauna in there. I did meet a nice young Finnish couple who were travelling to Rome with their son and we spent the time chatting and the time went by quickly enough.
Upon returning to the Hotel Artemide, I decided to eat dinner (my last night) at the Rooftop Garden. I had not eaten there before because it seemed like there were mostly couples and I felt a bit funny sitting alone. Well, I should have eaten there every evening. A wonderful meal (I already knew the wine was great)—best by far of anything I had eaten in Rome! When I was finishing I was about to take my remaining wine to my room to get packed for my departure in the morning when a couple from the UK that I had briefly met at breakfast asked me to join them to finish my wine and talk. We had a wonderful conversation for quite some time and I thoroughly enjoyed my last evening.
Day Eight Flight back
The hotel had booked a car (45 euros) for me cause I did not want to buck the train and the trek to the terminal and I had an uneventful check in and really lucked out on the flight cause the woman next to me said the airconditioning was hitting her neck and she needed a different seat. I was able to put my feet up a little and read in peace. The flight back is never so grueling as the one going over and I did not have much jet lag on my return. My husband picked me up at Newark and I have been reliving my journal notes with him since then. So glad I kept a journal—I would have forgotten half the stuff.
Some notes on the Hotel Artemide:
Great hotel and great staff. I liked the location on Via Nazzionale cause it was convenient for me from Termini and for my trips to Orvieto and Ostia Antica. I would have liked to rest mid day but I never really got an early morning start (except once) and so really needed the hours (10 am to 5 pm) to get any sightseeing done. Yes, it was hot in Rome but really no hotter than walking around Manhattan in business attire so it was definitely bearable in cotton clothes and sandals (Privo sandals worked very nicely). Then I would get back to the hotel at 5 and rest for 2 hours and go out again for dinner. The Rooftop Garden is a wonderful place. The mini bar is handy and the air conditioning was comfortable. I can see why they get great reviews. Perhaps being closer to the center would be nice for dinner but I think you really can’t do better than eating at the Hotel Artemide Rooftop Garden.
Some notes on travelling solo:
Though it is a bit lonely at times, the freedom can’t be beat. Other people were always asking each other “what do you want to do now?” and I could just do what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it.
It helps to be friendly and not hesitate to talk to people at adjoining tables.
It also helps to bring a small journal and write down your thoughts – this is good at restaurants too—sort of gives you something to do while waiting for your meal.
I was nervous at times when travelling by train but no more nervous than when travelling abroad for business.
People are naturally curious about why you would be travelling alone and it was a great conversation topic. I would definitely do it again.
I hope to return to Italy and Rome in the near future and again thanks to all of you on Trip advisor for your invaluable advice.