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Thursday, October 2, 2014

Trafalgar Tours Italian Scene Review - Days 1, 2 and 3

Tour Travel Tips here
The Italian Scene Tour by Trafalgar is a great way to see different regions of Italy and in a short time: Rome, Sorrento, Assisi, Venice, Italian Lakes and Florence. It's a whirlwind tour criss-crossing Italy with stays of mostly one night in the cities visited. Our tour director, Federica was amazing and teamed with a skillful driver (Salvo) they made our tour run smoothly.

Plan to spend 15-20 euros for dinner on the nights that it isn't included (included dinner at the hotels was not impressive anyway) and around 10 euros for lunch. Buffet breakfast is provided every day. If you don't want to pay the service charge at restaurants, take your sandwich or gelato with you to eat on a bench or on the go. Also, hotels are on the outskirts of the towns listed so if you want to do any additional sightseeing, you will have to pay for a taxi or if time allows take a local bus.

Many in depth local tours are optional and an added expense (you'll get a list of these with your travel vouchers).
Another additional expense is the airport transfers. Although these are offered, there are few times that you can take them to and from the airport. If your flight doesn't coincide with these times you will have to pay for a taxi (around 50 euro). As we were in Rome a day earlier, transfers weren't available to us, but we were able to take the Trafalgar transfer returning to the airport (6:30 a.m.).

The hotels we stayed in were pleasant and adequate. Some of the showers took some getting used to and don't expect air conditioning to make the room cold. However, they will make it a little less hot and take some of the humidity out. (It was extremely humid in Rome although locals said it was unusual for September).

Tour Day 1 -  Travel Day
We chose to arrive a day early in Rome and what should have been a travel day was our first day in Rome. The Ergife Palace Hotel allowed us to check in as soon as we arrived (8:30 a.m.)  We headed to the bus stop and found our way into the city. I would highly recommend doing this and making the most of your time in Rome.
As with most of the hotels on this tour the Ergife is not close to the city center (over 8km). Coming from the hotel, we turned right at Via Aurelia and walked until we came across the McDonald's sign which is close to the Metro (about 20 minutes). We found public transport relatively easy. The Metro is a good place to get tickets for both bus and subway. (You will need to take 3 or 4 escalators down to get to the ticket machines). The 46 bus (bus stop on Via di Boccea) takes you to Piazza Venezia (make sure you take the bus going in the right direction). We walked around the Piazza Navona (a few stops before Piazza Venezia) then followed side streets to Castel Sant Angelo before taking the No. 46 back (bus stop on the opposite side of the river to the Castel) (count the number of stops before you get on the bus so that you know where to get off). Most Italians can communicate a little in English so learn a few phrases (Dov'√® means where is) and along with hand signals and a notepad to write down numbers or places, you can get along fine. We found everyone we spoke to in Rome really helpful.

Tour Day 2 - Rome
We weren't scheduled to meet with the tour group until 5:00 as most people were still arriving so we set off early to see the sights of Rome. This time we took the  Metro to the Spanish Steps,  walked up them to the Borghese Gardens (the largest park in Rome) and then took a taxi (10 eruo) to the Pantheon. From there we walked to Piazza Venezia, where the monument to Victor Emmanuel is the backdrop and sometimes called the wedding cake by locals. We also walked the steps to the right of the monument where, at the top, you can view old Rome. After returning to the hotel we joined the welcome meeting with the tour director and our group before heading to a local restaurant (optional experience 47 euro). Although expensive, there was a night time bus tour of Rome and the meal (delicious) was accompanied by opera singers wandering around the subterranean restaurant which was supposedly built on the site of Roman baths. It was a great way to meet and get to know people from the group. Note: Wine included.

I found this video on You Tube. It wasn't the night we were there (they asked a priest to sit in the barber chair the night we were at Le Terme Del Colosseo).

 Day 3 - Rome Sightseeing
We chose to take the optional Sistine Chapel and Vatican Museums (76 euro) which I found very disappointing and not worth the cost (the tickets to the Vatican and Chapel showed 16 euro on the ticket). Not that the sights were not amazing, but it was so crowded it was difficult to appreciate the beauty. There were so many groups, it was difficult to hear the guide (even with ear phones) and it was very claustrophobic. After leaving the chapel, the tour headed to St. Peter's Basilica, but with the crowds and the humidity I didn't spend much time in there as I felt a little unwell after the pandemonium in the Sistine Chapel.  Included in the optional was a tour of the Colosseum which was much more informative. If I had the chance to do it again I would visit St. Peter's which is free and just view the Colosseum from the outside while the others were taking the optional tour. In the evening there was another optional tour of Rome with a stroll around Piazza Navona and Piazza Venezia (33 euro). We chose instead to go (by taxi) to the Campo di Fiori, a popular haunt of Romans, where we ate delicious spaghetti and pizza and watched the comings and goings of locals in the square.

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