In 2002, my wife and I decided to book our dream vacation. We looked around the world and decided on Italy. We had traveled around the US a little but we wanted the works and Italy seemed like it had everything one could wish for in a vacation. It had great sites to see, amazing history, mouth watering food and it was safe. We right on all of these accounts and have returned to Italy 6 times since this first trip.
As we planned our trip, my wife and I thought it would be best to take a tour. If you have not spent time out of the country a tour is a great way to go. We settled on Globus tours and were not at all disappointed. If you have not been on a tour before, let me explain the benefits of doing so. You are met at the airport, then shuttled to your hotel – which Globus books. Your luggage is taken up to your room and you meet in the lobby the people you will take the tour with. You will also, meet your resident expert, tour guide, your bus driver and a security guard. As you stop at each site, the people on the tour with you become friends. We still have a couple we talk with from this trip.
First things first, when traveling overseas, try to arrive in your destination at night. This will help with jetlag. If you arrive in the morning or afternoon, do not go to bed until night time. I have seen many people say, I am going to take a quick “nap,” and come back from the “nap” 5 hours later. You normally see these people up all night and miserable all week.
Things you learn quickly in Rome are the drivers are crazy! If you are in a car, be prepared for no lane markings in the city. It took me years in Europe to get use to this. Be aggressive, because if you are not you will get hurt. If your are on foot, do not expect anyone to stop for you. Act like you own the road and the cross walk. Do not wait for them to stop for you, cause they will not. Cross the street, like the cars are not there, do not show fear or they will take advantage of you. Best bet for a non-experienced European driver is a tour. If not a tour then taxis, metros, and walk is the next best option.
I also learned that the food you get at your local Olive Garden is not what you can expect in Italy. Food in Rome is very good, but it is bland compared to American food. They will not put salt and pepper on the food or on your table. It will normally offend a Italian to ask for it. They believe that the way the food comes out of the kitchen is perfect! There is no reason why you would need to add anything to their perfection. When we visited Venice, I noticed what I had been missing. Garlic! Only in the north part of Italy do you find garlic in the food.
Our first night in Rome was a walk to the Pantheon and finished up with a wood oven pizza. These two things have become my favorites when returning to Rome. The Pantheon is a large domed church with a hole in the center of the roof. It is not the most beautiful building you will ever see, however, it is spectacular in it uniqueness. It was once an old pagan temple that was converted into a church. Down the road is one of many pizza places, La Sacrestia. This is the moment I began my love affair with wood oven pizza. I could eat I, and I have, for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The next day we visited the Vatican. My first time visiting the Vatican I was only able to enjoy it for a one half day. This tour is best if you take a whole day. The Vatican was more then I expected. The history, the architecture, the size of the building and most importantly the artwork are what will keep you wanting to see more. I suggest that you take a few breaks and get lunch while you are there. To help your visit, enjoy an Italian espresso. Do not assume that there is just one type. Each cafe will have its own brand of coffee and each is unique. Be prepared it is STRONG (1 espresso equals four cups of American coffee), but delicious.
For the Christian or Roman historian the catacombs are a can’t miss. It really does not matter which catacomb you choose. All of them are virtually the same. I really enjoyed the Catacombs of San Callisto. Just to be clear, this is not a morbid tour. It is extremely interesting and you are able to gain a lot of knowledge on the early Church. This is an inexpensive tour that is rich with history. Carving through the tunnels and tombs show early Christian symbolism. The dove in it many forms and the fish, help guide the visitor to the story of the desist. Many of the second and third century popes, martyrs and church leaders were\are entombed here.
Some sites that are worth visiting that are on short drives away are Pompeii, Hadrian’s Villa, and the beach. Pompeii is about a 2 1/2 hour car drive or a 5 hour drive. It is very cool to see, once. I would suggest if you have that time go to Orvieto and/or Florence. In all Italy’s charm and beauty these are my favorites. Hadrian’s Villa is an enormous ruin that one can easily see the power and the prestige an second century emperor had. It is a beautiful trip and walk through eh countryside.
Rome is not known for its beaches, however they are quite nice. Very crowded and on hot summer days it is imposable to walk to the water due to the extreme heat of the sand. The Mediterranean water is perfect. I would suggest a beach along the SP601. There are many to choose from. On your way to or from the beach the Euroma Shopping Mall is a great place to shop for European fashion. It will have many stores you are familiar with, plus many European stores. It is one of the nicest, most “American like” malls in Italy.
The last stop on any trip to Rome is the tour is the Spanish Steps in the Piazza di Spagna and the Trevi fountains. The Spanish Steps can be hard to find by looking at a map, because it is only called the Spanish Steps in English. You want to look for the Piazza di Spagna and enjoy the history and architecture there. Also head over to Ciampini for one of the best gelatos in Rome. Last stop needs to always be the Trevi fountains. Here you can enjoy a beautiful fountain that is fed by an aqueduct. It was created in 1762, and legend says if you throw a coin in, you will return to Rome some day. In Piazza di Trevi, there is a great restaurant, L’Antico Forno. Great Italian food and 5 star service.
I hope you fall in love with Italy as much as my wife and I did. We are always looking forward to our next trip there. Maybe we will see you next time.