tips for Italy, part 1
In October 2002, I had a series of email exchanges with Lori Shodis of Cambell, California, who, after reading my experience in Rome on Rick Steves' Graffiti Wall, decided to write me to get tips for her trip to Italy in November 2002. I thought I'd post my replies here because other travelers may find them useful. Below is my reply to her first email:
Gosh, how exciting! I'm envious that you're going to Italy, even though I have just returned there myself a little over a week ago. :)
My friend and I spent the first two weeks of October in Florence, Rome, and Milan. It was my second time in Italy (was in Venice for two nights back in 2000), but it was my first time booking everything on my own, e.g. hotels, museums, trains, etc. I don't know whether you'll be visiting other cities in Italy aside from Rome, but the weather is indeed getting cooler over there. Before I left for my trip, I just checked the weather for my three destinations by visiting Weather.com. It gives you a 10-day forecast of the city, which came in handy for packing purposes. Do bring an umbrella with you, though. We were lucky during our stay, as it only rained once during the night in Rome when we were already safe inside the hotel, and by the time it really rained in Milan we were already leaving, so it did not affect us as much. However, I was still glad I brought my umbrella; it proved useful on that very last day when it poured.
As for the type of clothing, yes, Italians DO dress better than us Americans. The younger generation (teens and 20s) do wear jeans, but the older folks (esp. those in their 60s and above) really dress up when they go out. We saw a lot of older gentlemen in suits and their wives in skirt or pant suits and heels. Those who are in their 30s and 40s were also dressed up. I do not recall seeing any Italian person in sweatshirts, sweatpants or warm-up suits like you see on the streets here. As tourists, I don't think we need to go all out and travel in suits and such, but khakis and sweaters would allow you to feel like you fit in a little more. Many Italians wear this quilted-type of barn jacket (see photo). It's hard to describe them, but you'll know what I mean when you get there and see them. Many men wore navy-colored quilted jackets, and the women have beige, black, tan, etc. The colors they wear in general are more subdued. Not a lot of loud fuscia, bright yellow, orange, etc., like we have here.
On Hotel Aberdeen: Everything you heard about Hotel Aberdeen on the Graffiti is true! They are extremely nice, and the hotel room was a good size (see photo), as was the bathroom. I'm in the process of organizing my photos right now, but will place some online in the next few days so you can see them for yourself . I also like that there's a self-combination safe in the closet; I didn't have to carry everything on me in my money belt. The bathroom was very nice and clean (see photo). You will NOT need to bring your own towels. In general, if you stay at a two-star hotel or better (Hotel Aberdeen is a three-star), towels are included, though the ones at two-star hotels seem to be a little thinner (we also stayed at Hotel Oceania, which is a two-star, just a few doors up the block from Aberdeen). The neighborhood is very safe. The Defense Ministry is literally across the street, and there are soldiers or policemen nearby all the time.
It's also at a very good central location to everything. We walked pretty much everywhere from the hotel. Spanish Steps, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Coliseum, Forum, Vittorio Emanuele II Monument, Galleria Gorghese, and Via Veneto are all within walk-able distance from the hotel. It's about 15-20 minutes to each of these locations. We took the metro (only two blocks away from the hotel) to the Vatican though, just to save time.
Are you flying into Rome directly from SFO? Just be careful when you take the taxis (you've already read my painful experience on Graffiti Wall, where we were charged 40 euros for what should've been 5-euro ride). Make certain that there is a medallion on the door that says "Commune Di Roma", and find out from the driver approximately how much your ride will cost you BEFORE you get in. Once the ride begins, make sure that the meter is running. After that, you should be OK.
On Ristorante Target: The food there was very, very good, and price was very reasonable (cheap by Bay Area standards). I don't remember if I mentioned it on the Graffit Wall, but my friend and I each had a four-course meal with wine and water, and the total came to 67 euros only. That's very inexpensive, esp. if the servizio is already included. Heck, it's reasonable even if it weren't! Do go there and enjoy the food. Now that I know the restaurant wasn't trying to cheat me (at least that's what it sounded like based on the feedback I got from Hotel Aberdeen via email), I will most likely have dinner there again when I go to Rome next time. What was good there? I loved very much their sea bass carpaccio, steak fillet with rosemary, and panna cotta (eggless custard with some sort of berry sauce over it). Even though Rick said it's a "soulless" restaurant, I really enjoyed my meal there.
I also got some euros before I left the U. S., although I bought them from Bank of America. If you are a B of A customer, you can buy them online at your local branch. There was no service fee, but I didn't know how their rates compare to overseas. Still, I felt much better having some hard cash in my hand before I arrived in Italy. If you're not a B of A customer, ask your bank whether they provide a similar service.
There is a self-service laundry called Bolle Blu about seven or eight blocks southeast of Hotel Aberdeen (eight-minute walking time). We did our laundry there at the recommendation of the Aberdeen concierge. Two loads of washing plus one load of drying was a little over 11 euros, and took less than an hour. Rick Steves' Rome book mentions it, but in the 2002 version (which is what I bought) he got the address wrong it should be Via Principe Amedeo 70; maybe this will be updated in the 2003 or even 2004 version. While you wait, you can pay €1.50 for 30 minutes on the Internet via the seven or eight computers in the laundry, but there's free Internet access in the lobby of Hotel Aberdeen, although there always seems to be a fellow traveler in front of the computer. Bring your own laundry detergent (powder-form is easiest to carry) from home. Longs Drugs sells travel-size packages. If you buy it at the laundry it'll cost much more (2 or 3 euros, if I remember correctly).
We had a very fun dinner at Hostaria Romana, another restaurant recommended by Rick Steves as well as the hotel folks. The waiters there are hilarious. They made little traffic noises ("Beep beep!") as they walk between the tables, and they jokingly tried to take our food away from us before we even began eating. It may sound a little strange, but it was just very entertaining. The food itself wasn't as elegant as that at Ristorante Target; it's more, what's the word, peasant-like, but still good.
Sistine Chapel: There was NO shortcut out to St. Peter's Basilica as Rick reported on p. 152 of his Rome 2002 book. We asked the guards and they said it's no longer available or perhaps it just wasn't available that day. We visited the Vatican Museum on the day after the Vatican canonized a new saint, and there was a special event going on at St. Peter's Square (see photo).
Admission into the Coliseum: Definitely get your €8 Palatine Hill / Coliseum combo-ticket at the entrance into Palatine Hill (or the €20 one that gets you into more sights)! The line at the Coliseum was 150-people deep, and I just shook my head. If they only knew about the combo ticket.... The 4-euro audio tour at the Coliseum was not worth it. You can learn so much more by reading Rick's book and other guidebooks.
I'm also pleased to report that we didn't see as many gypsies as I had imagined, or hardly any at all, in fact. On our metro ride to and from the Vatican, we felt quite safe all along the way. You can get your metro ticket from the tobacco shop diagnally across the street from the hotel. It's called Omar's something or other, right on the corner. Postage for a postcard back to the U. S. is 0.52 euros. The ones I sent out from Rome on 10/8 still have not arrived, but the ones I mailed from Milan three days later arrived on 10/15!!!
Gosh, there's so much to tell you! I can keep writing on and on, but I think I'll stop for now. Let me know if you have any other questions, and I'm more than happy to help. I received much assistance from other Graffiti readers when I was planning my own trip, so I'm just returning the favor and paving the road, so to speak.
Hope you find these paragraphs of some help!