Italy 2017: overview

Last summer (2016) we noticed several good sales to Europe, so we contacted my parents to see if they wanted to go on another trip with us. Italy was their favorite option so we booked a week-long trip starting in Bologna and ending in Rome. They’ve traveled with us before so they knew what they were getting into! We ended up spending one night in Bologna, three in Florence and three in Rome.

Tidbits:

  • Bologna has lots of covered walkways with beautiful stone floors.
  • If you are on the train in Economy Plus, you must get your snack and drink on their first pass, otherwise it costs money.
  • In March the crowds weren’t too bad, so we probably didn’t need to pre-purchase our Vatican and Uffizi tickets.
  • Watching people park in Rome is oddly fascinating, as it takes quite a bit of skill and daring to get into some of the available ‘spots.’
  • Unexpectedly, we enjoyed Rome more than Florence.

Where we stayed

Hotel Metropolitan, Bologna

This hotel was in a really good location for us — a 5 minute walk to the main piazza and less than 10 minutes to the train station. Check-in was quick and both rooms were ready before 10am. The front desk was quite friendly, providing suggestions to sights around and town and making a dinner reservation at Donatello’s for us.

Our room was on the smaller side with a white leather couch and a reasonably comfortable bed. We faced the alley, and while traffic on the nearby road was light, we could easily hear each vehicle go by. The interior of the hotel was also noisy with quite a few banging doors early in the morning. All of that was even more surprising since the interiors felt new, so we thought the door and window would have been better sealed. We definitely suggest earplugs.

Hotel Metropolitan  our room @ Hotel Metropolitan 

The bathroom shower was fairly large but suffered from weak pressure, and given the setup, water tends to leak on the floor. Our room featured a tub that looked nice but we didn’t get a chance to try it.

Breakfast was OK – fruit, yogurt, toast. Unfortunately the milk was spoiled so cereal was a no-go. Good number of pastries, and coffees made to order were good.

Overall, the hotel has a great location and was fine for a night – we’d consider other options for a longer stay.

Residenza Castiglioni, Florence

Residenza Castiglioni is a small B&B occupying part of the third floor in a mixed-use building. It was only a few minutes walk from the train station, and about five minutes to the main plaza for Santa Maria. Getting in is a bit involved with a locked gate and an (slow) elevator or stairs. Once we made it to reception we were assigned four keys to get into the building and room!

Our rooms were just off the reception room and rather stuffy. Thankfully, the big windows open wide for air movement. The room itself was a good size with a wardrobe in one corner, a small chair in the other, and a teeny TV over the desk by the window. Bathroom was fine, a little small but serviceable.

room #25 @ Residenza Castiglioni  bathroom @ Residenza Castiglioni

We had two main problems here. One, the windows were not sealed, so it was very noisy at night – we could easily hear the dishwashing from the restaurant down the street for example. Plus, internal noise started at 7am with breakfast setup. Earplugs are definitely needed here.

Secondly, the wifi was terrible. The main option was to login with your social media. Right away that feels sketchy, but even worse, it just wouldn’t work for our phones. After 20 minutes of struggling we went back to the front desk and got a passcode from the reluctant front desk person. Once we were on the network we still needed to login every time we returned to the room and the service was slow.

Breakfast was OK – a few cheese and meat options, cereal, and some pastries. Coffee and hot chocolate was quite good, and served with a smile(y face).

 
our assortment of keys; latte with a smiley face

Overall there were too many issues, and we would definitely not return to this B&B.

Om2Rome

Om2Rome is in the Prati neighborhood of Rome, near the Vatican, and about 10min walk to the metro. Once again, this B&B is in a mixed-use building, with business offices on other floors.  Both reception people were quite friendly and had several good pieces of advice for exploring town (where to catch bus for coliseum, restaurants, taxi, etc.)

We were assigned room 16, quite good-sized with minimal contemporary furniture: bed (firm but comfortable), desk, small nightstands.  One of the nicest parts was the large terrace looking onto an interior courtyard. Thankfully this room was very quiet!

 

Breakfast was very small – toast and croissants, with a few other items. Weakest offerings of the trip, but it’s so easy to find tasty food in Italy that it wasn’t a big deal. The space was tight when there were a few people eating at the same time but the room was whimsically decorated.

We would suggest wine glasses and corkscrew in rooms, or at least accessible. Also note that this was the only place we stayed in Italy without a fridge but it got chilly at night so we kept the bottle of wine out on the patio.

Overall, we enjoyed our stay at Om2Rome and would definitely consider them for a future stay.

Italy 2017: exploring Rome

Sunday

The quick 1.5 hour train ride from Florence to Rome was fairly uneventful. It took us a few tries to find the subway entrance from Termini as it wasn’t well marked and a few entrances to the A line were closed for some reason. We wound up traversing the entire station and then cramming ourselves into a subway car for five stops. (This was the only time we attempted the subway in Rome.) After a quick walk to our hotel, we dropped off our bags and headed out to explore Rome.

Ten minutes later we were looking at this…

Ahhhh. :)

Eric and I both expected to like Rome the least out of the three cities on this trip but within hours, I was completely charmed. Yes, it was crowded; I can’t imagine how/where people find parking; there are a lot of touristy sites and tourists in them; however, it was sunny and with a belly full of a panini sandwiches and delicious gelato, we enjoyed all of it.

Piazza Navona

There were quite a few musicians and buskers in the plaza along with many families enjoying the weather.

Fontana del Moro
Fontana del Moro

rome-12
Sant’Agnese in Agone

Fontana del Nettuno
Fontana del Nettuno

Pantheon

An ancient building surrounded by a modern city, and just as amazing as you think it would be — from the open dome at the top to the massive circular room of altars and mosaic floors that have seen nearly two millennia.

Pantheon  Pantheon dome

Pantheon

Trevi Fountain

Everyone who is not hanging out on the Spanish Steps is taking a selfie in front of the Trevi Fountain. Including us.

Trevi Fountain

mom & I @ Trevi Fountain  Eric and I @ Trevi Fountain

Piazza di Spagna (Spanish Steps)

We made it all the way to the top and managed not to trip over anyone sunning themselves on the stairs!

Piazza di Spagna (aka Spanish Steps)

Monday

Trastevere

After an already full day of sightseeing, Eric and I felt our feet didn’t hurt enough so we headed across the Tiber to this quiet (during the day at least) neighborhood of winding, cobblestone-lined streets.

Giulia

MiMi the Clown  dog paste-up

Trastevere  one way to display a potted plant

Trastevere

We found some good street art and paste-ups, then hit up a wine bar as soon as it opened for a nice bubbly before heading back along the Tiber.

Tiber River views

Vatican City

Before heading back to the room, we decided to get a few shots of St Peter’s Square and add a new country to our growing list – Vatican City!

St. Peter's Basilica @ sunset

St. Peter's Basilica

St. Peter's Square

Italy 2017: food & drink in Rome

Sunday

Looking for a late lunch, we quizzed our hotel guy for options nearby. One of his recommendations was Lo Zozzone, hidden in an alleyway off a tourist restaurant street. There were many sandwich & pizza choices, all a slight variation of meat / cheese / toppings – and everything was delicious!  I ordered #24 – salami, smoked mozzarella, olive tapenade and rocket greens while Eric had #17 – speck (ham), smoked mozzerella and tomato. The sandwiches were enormous (and a reasonable 7,50 each) and we enjoyed the people watching that sitting outside afforded us.

delicious sandwiches @ Lo Zozzone

family selfie in Rome!
before we walked all over the city and wore ourselves out!

Eric had marked gelato places all across the city on our map, so when we discovered a popular place was nearby we got in line. Worth it! Eric had mint and the namesake flavor (a caramel cookie concoction) while I tried the nutella and chocolate.

waiting in line for gelato  enjoying gelato

It was definitely worth the 10 minute wait in line, and good enough that we returned the next day too!

By Sunday evening Mom was pretty tired, so the rest of us headed up the street to Fermento, near our hotel, for dinner. It is a swanky little place with mood lighting and a hipster vibe. I had the beef tartare that was chunky and tasty with a glass of prosecco and Eric enjoyed the paccheri (large tube pasta) with bacon. The service was efficient and polite and we would return on a future trip.

Monday

After spending the morning and most of the afternoon exploring ancient Rome, we needed some nourishment.  Eric suggested a sandwich and beer at a tiny brewpub, My Ale, near the Campo de’ Fiori area. Thankfully, we found a place to sit (taking up half the seats in the process!) and decided to split a “red” sandwich with ham, mozzarella cheese, tomatoes and basil.  We each ordered an Italian beer, Eric the Lariano Falesia (bock) which was really good and me the Bruton Momus (scotch ale) which was okay. It grew on me but I wouldn’t order it again. Regardless, I would return to this place for the sandwich bread alone – it was the best of the trip!

beers @ My Ale

While exploring the Trastevere neighborhood, we gave our feet a break for a quick glass of wine at Essenza Wine Bar. The food menu looked good as well, but I stuck with bubbles and Eric had his second pecorino of the trip.

Essenza Wine Bar  pecorino by candlelight

Our least pleasant (and overall strangest) meal of the trip was at Al Palazzaccio.  I have no idea if it was just an off night but our waitress seemed to want to be anywhere but there: communication was difficult (wines listed by the glass were not actually available by the glass, the bread basket kept reappearing after we had said we didn’t want any) and the food took forever to come out despite the restaurant being nearly empty. Add a drunk old man banging on the window, being overcharged a few euros for Mom’s dish, and the fact that the food was just okay and well, we wouldn’t come back here.

Tuesday

With one more chance for a panini sandwich before heading home we stopped into Duecento Gradi on the way to the Vatican Museums. Eric had the Irnerio (Tirolese smoked ham, buffalo mozzarella, and pachino tomato) with a Ritual Lab Lemon Ale that was really an APA. I had the Pigneto (bacon, pecorino and porchini mushrooms) with a malty ale, the Be Four Paradise Red.  I should have stuck with “ham” vs. “bacon” as the texture was a bit too raw for me in this sandwich. Everyone else loved their choices.

We left the museums too late to get into St Peter’s so our consolation prize was gelato at the Old Bridge Gelateria. Darn.

  

Eric’s parents were resting before our dinner reservations, so we picked up a few snacks for the plane trip tomorrow at a local grocery, then stopped into Lumiere for a pre-dinner drink. For future reference, the free potato chips that came with our wine were nice but $10 would have gotten us a nice plate of appetizers – good to know for next time! Eric got to try another pecorino and I had yet another lovely prosecco. Curious about the reds on the glass list, we split the Malandrino (Multipulciano d’Abruzzo) – it had nice fruit with a touch of green pepper on the finish.

me and a glass of prosecco @ Lumiere  tonnarelli cacio e pepe (bottom) and gnocchi bolognese (top)

Our final dinner of the trip at Su e Giù was great! I ordered a Chianti Classico for the table that went with all of our delicious pasta dishes. Eric had the traditional tonnarelli cacio e pepe and I had the gnocchi bolognese (with a much redder sauce than the ones up north). For our main, we split a plate of hot sliced beef with rosemary, vinegar, garlic and olive oil. Now I know where my much-loved (Chicago-style) Italian beef sandwiches come from! A lovely lemon sorbetto with cookies for dessert rounded out the meal.

Italy 2017: Palatine Hill, Roman Forum, and Colosseum

One ticket gets you into the Roman Forum, Palatine Hill and the landmark Colosseum, so we spent the better part of a day exploring the ruins. We took a (rather jarring) bus ride that dropped us off directly across the street from the Palatine Hill entrance. After a quick security check we purchased our ticket and started exploring the grounds.

Palatine Hill is one of the famous “seven hills of Rome” and was home to a string of Roman Emperors including Augustus and Domitian. It is absolutely amazing that anything is left after two thousand years!

Palatine Hill
the hippodrome, i.e. horse facilities

Palatine Hill
former fountain space

Palatine Hill

From the former palaces we headed down Palatine Hill toward the Roman Forum, first with a great piazza view.

Roman Forum from palatine Hill

Roman Forum from palatine Hill

Then down into the valley itself.

Roman Forum wisteria

Vestal Virgin statue @ Roman Forum  Roman Forum

The amount of history is just staggering, with centuries upon centuries of human activity in this one site.

As we made our way toward the southern exit, I went to check out the Temple of Venus and Rome. Lo and behold, it had a perfect view of the Colosseum.

Colloseum

us in front of the Colloseum

parents taking photos

After a few photos, we walked over to the security check, then made our way to the top ring of the Colosseum.

Colloseum interior

By this point we were getting rather tired and hungry, so we didn’t read all the various signage on how the stadium worked; however, it certainly looked like you could read and learn a lot if you were so inclined. Exploring the whole site takes hours and the opportunity to better understand the history on this site is well worth the effort. Also worth noting, your ticket is good for two consecutive days, if we had more time we likely would have planned to visit the Colosseum the following day instead.

Italy 2017: Vatican Museums

From our research we knew that the Vatican Museums were going to be an epic undertaking. To make sure to see all of the most interesting bits before our feet gave out we planned out a route in advance. We rarely rested, didn’t visit every gallery, and it still took us over four hours of exploring to get through the entire complex! There is a well labelled route that takes visitors one way through a series of galleries, all ending up at the famous Sistine Chapel. I believe we walked about four miles by the end of our visit!

Cortile della Pigna (pine cone)
Cortile della Pigna (pine cone)

Chiaramonti Museum
Chiaramonti Museum, a loooong hall of exquisite sculpture

Perseus with the head of Medusa  Augustus of Prima Porta
Perseus and Augustus of Prima Porta in the Braccio Nuovo gallery

Braccio Nuovo gallery  Laocoön
Braccio Nuovo gallery and the Laocoön

porphyry bathtub of Emperor Nero
porphyry bathtub of Emperor Nero (hard to see in this photo but the stone is purple)

mosiac floor
gorgeous mosaic floor in the Pio Clementino

Gallery of Maps
the ceiling in the Gallery of Maps outshines the walls!

School of Athens by Raphael
The School of Athens by Rafael

more amazing ceilings

Vatican Museum
amazing ceiling and frescoes in the Rafael Rooms

Jesus and his sheep  spiral staircase @ Vatican Museum
Jesus and his sheep; the spiral staircase

The sheer amount of priceless art and opulence is a bit overwhelming to be honest. And, of course, there are several gifts shops along the way so you don’t even have to wait until the end to buy souvenirs. </sarcastic voice>

of course there's a gift shop

We have no pictures to share of the Sistine Chapel as you are not allowed to take pictures in there. Most people were obeying the rules, but the experience of admiring the ceiling was periodically interrupted by loud “SHHHHHH”ing noises from the guards and the occasional “NO PHOTO!”

Overall, I think the Vatican Museums is an experience absolutely worth doing once, just make sure to wear your most comfortable shoes. And the next time we’re in Rome we’ll definitely make it inside St. Peter’s Basilica.