Just returned (early—more on that later) from our first trip to Italy. We are a late 30’s couple that has traveled pretty much around the world. I will break down the trip into the following trip report sections:
Trip Report Rome 4/26-29 PART I
Trip Report Tuscany 4/29-May 2 PART II
Trip Report Italy – The Emergency Room – PART III
Well, here it goes. After a long trip on Continental to Paris (the BusinessFirst service is just terrible, after being Platinum Elite with CO for 7 years, I have come to expect poor service, but it’s always a disappointment when you are traveling overseas on your own nickel to get bad service). We arrive Paris and wait a few hours for our Alitalia fight to Rome. Non eventful flight (it is funny because it was about 30 minutes late landing and the pilot comes one and says “we are almost on time” too funny, as you would never hear that on a US carrier—they just make up excuses).
Get picked up by Marco at romeconnetion. What an AWESOME person. By the time we received out luggage we were over 1 hour late, but Marco was waiting with bells on. He speaks perfect English, and we arranged a 3 hour driving tour with him the next day.
Checked in at the St. Regis (Le Grand) Hotel. At $500/nigh we were hoping for a great experience (and I’m also Starwood Platinum member). Well, we were checked in by Angelo (what a piece of work this guy was). Mentioned to him that we were on our anniversary and also Starwood Plat, and was curious about an upgrade—as Plat member one should receive that). Ended up with a so-so room with no view. Really not a great way to start the trip. More detail here, but not worth wasting my time—bottom lie the St. Regis is NOT worth it, and I would definitely stay elsewhere next time. The concierge sent us to some really bad restaurants (requested non-tourist restaurants with great Italian cooking). Now it goes without saying that there will be tourists everywhere, but maybe a 80% local, 20% tourist is what we were thinking. We ended up at some god awful restaurant (cannot remember name—will try and find and edit post). 100% tourist garbage (the restaurant that is)—not one local. That trend continued the next night at Il Convino. One of those restaurants that you have to ring the door bell to get in, and then it’s SO quite when you are seated you hate to talk (super borning resultant and stuck up service). We got up and left, as we were not in the mood for some stuck up place that is so boring (believe me money is no object for us, but we specifically stated fun and Italian—neither of which this place has). I told the manager that we were leaving, and he got all testy with me…and we had not been there for more than 5 minutes. What a funny experience that was—guy thought his you know what did not stink—we laughed at him and left. If you do make the mistake of staying at the St. Regis, do not listen to their concierge unless you are American tourists that really have not traveled much and would not know the difference of a good restaurant and bad (which I assume the majority of you do).
Next day went to the Forum and Coliseum—interesting but good to see once. Was raining a few of the days on and off, but no big deal. Had Marco pick us up the next day and drive of to all the common spots—he does a GREAT job and again speaks perfect English and is quite funny. Had him arrange a Vatican tour the next day for $150 for 3 hours. This is what we really wanted to see. WOW—what a great experience. Again, Marco hooked us up with a guide named Brandon. Younger guy (from the States, but spoke 5 languages and is a teacher at the local university). VERY smart guy, and very knowledgeable in what is see and skip on the tour. We were SO thankful that we did not end up on some mass tour with what we call the ‘umbrella’ ladies (they hold their umbrella up so their tour of 30-50 people can keep up). What a joke—the only way to see the Vatican is private tour. Could write a whole report on this, but no time. Bottom line—go do it with a private guide, and if you want you want a true experience with a real expert, find this Brandon guide from Marco and you will not regret it. If you want old boring mass tour, stick with the umbrella ladies.
Found a great restaurant on our own by the St. Regis called Target. Awesome food and 90% locals. All in all Rome was great to see once, but don’t think I would go back (as it’s just another large city with way too many tourists stacked on top of each other). Have absolutely no clue what everyone is so paranoid about on the crime. Never felt unsafe (maybe at Termini a little), but never once did we worry about a ting. We travel the world, so understand that if you look like a tourist (camera on your neck, map book out, white tennis shoes, etc) you are ripe for trouble in ANY city you go. It was sad to see all of the tourist that fall into this category and really have no sympathy for them, as you are just begging for attention. Rome is completely safe (we had on about $45K worth of watches on our arms and never thought once about taking them off and leaving in hotel safe—granted they were covered and we don’t flaunt).
We left out of Termini to catch a train to Tuscany (Chiusi) and have to say it’s ideal to just show up to Termini as close to your train departing as you are sitting prey for the seedy looking characters at the station. This is the one place I would say is not that safe, but again if you need to be on your guard at ANY train station in the US also. We did not know which coach was first class (note that it’s the VERY first one—furthest away—so get to the front as soon as you know the track number). The train ride was fine and the Hertz car rental office is across the street from the train station in Chiusi.
As far as the guide books, we bought all of them and they are okay for maps and minor suggestions, but the restaurant recommendations are pretty worthless (think about it, you and a million other tourists are all reading about the same restaurant—chances are it’s going to be loaded with what else—tourists).
More in Part II…