Rome Trip Planning 03/2008
Planning the Trip...
The trip began as a conversation flying down the freeway on our way up to the mountains in February ’07.
Me: Ok, here are my top 5 next trip destinations. One, two weeks in Vietnam…two, two weeks in India…three, a week in Rome…
Before I can say, “Four” the backseat contingent interrupts: “Rome! We want to go to Rome!”
And so it begins….
I didn’t even have to sell the trip, though my suggestions of an apartment in the historical district with a terrace and a view and evenings spent with wine, cheese and prosciutto didn’t hurt.
After much discussion of when to go and the discovery that summer airfare to Europe would require a second mortgage, we settled on Spring Break, the week before Easter in March 2008.
Me (Kristina) and my husband David; late 30-somethings living in Southern California. Our longtime friends Jessica and Tris (hereafter known as J and T) will be our travel companions for this trip. Neither of them has traveled in Italy and this will be T's first trip out of the country. David and I have been to Italy many times, but not to Rome since 1995.
I started with looking at apartments because it was still too early to even buy tickets. It turned out to be too early to book an apartment as well, with many agencies either completely ignoring my inquires, or telling me to contact them in September 07 or even January 08. That didn’t keep me from looking however, and I must have looked at literally hundreds of apartments.
We had a couple of false starts.
There was the super cheap apartment that turned out to be in a horribly ugly neighborhood (when viewed on the online yellow pages-great tool!)
There was the cute apartment near the Pantheon which turned out to have a sofa bed in on of the bedrooms. After many emails back and forth and finally agreeing to book it (even with the sofa bed), the owner told us it was “just too early and she couldn’t possibly book before January”.
Given that we were planning on being there during “Holy Week” in one of the world’s holiest of cities, I thought it prudent to book a little farther in advance. Unfortunately, Holy Week presented another dilemma; increased rents through most agencies by 20% to 30% for the “holiday” week. With the devaluation of the dollar and our need for a two bedroom (and preferably two bathroom) apartment, pickings were slim.
When I started looking at the apartments and planning the trip the Euro was around $1.30.
We really wanted a comfortable place with some charm and hopefully, two equal bedrooms. There is no shortage of apartments with two bedrooms, but usually the second one is geared toward kids (bunk beds, sofa beds, etc.). The nicest ones, suitable for 4 adults, were edging out of our budget and comparable to the cost of 2 hotel rooms. Add to that the “holiday” surcharge and we were out of budget.
Some of the web sites for apartment rentals I looked at were:
During the early planning phases we started talking about what we wanted to see and do while we were there. Because I am the Travel Tyrant, we all agreed that I would do the bulk of the planning, which of course, I do not mind. We also discussed various day trips and the additional option of taking a couple of days to go down to Positano and Pompeii which was heartily embraced by everyone. However, I was concerned about the cost and spending double on accommodations for a few days. I thought we could make it work if we found a cheap enough apartment.
I began sending out my ‘Rome Daily Tidbits” emails. I wanted to share my research with our friends and keep everyone involved during the long lead time up to the trip. I had hoped to send them “Daily” but real life intrudes and I’m unable to quite keep up with that pace.
After obsessively looking at flights, trying to maximize comfort and minimize flight time and cost, I find a travel agent who specializes in airfare to Europe (thanks to the advice of a poster on the Fodor’s forum). Buying through the agent saves us about $300 per ticket from buying online and gets us the exact flights and times I want. Our tickets cost us $835 each.
After looking at hundreds of apartments, I send my “top 10” list of choices and we discuss for a couple of weeks.
We decided on an apartment in a 16th century palazzo in the Centro Storico offered by www.rentalinrome.com. It has two bedrooms, two bathrooms and looks like it’s been remodeled and updated but still manages to keep it’s historical flair. The price is on the high end of our budget, but it really seems to be the best fit for us. Because we’re going to be there when it’s likely to be quite cold, it wasn’t too difficult to give out our dreams of a terrace. The location is fantastic too; within walking distance to many of the sights and on a major bus route. For more on the apartment, go to Day 1 of the trip.
I started to worry about the high cost of the apartment in euros (1700 euro for 8 nights) combined with the drop in the dollar plus the cost of going to Positano. We rationalize it away.
By September, the Euro had risen to over $1.40.
In addition, I decided to take an impromptu trip to Thailand and Cambodia in December so my focus split between Italy and South East Asia.
I book two nights at the Casa Albertina in Positano, the hotel where David and I spent our honeymoon. This is in part a sentimental choice and in part what seems a good value for Positano after researching current hotel rates. It’s still expensive, but I negotiate us a cash rate of 187 euro per night but this is still $260 per night.
When I check our exact tickets online, they are now over $3000.
I started getting active in planning our sightseeing options and emailed Francesca Caruso, a highly recommended personal guide in Rome. While it was still too early for her to commit to us, she agreed to tentatively schedule us in.
Trip to Cambodia and Thailand
Not much planning except to book RomeCabs to airport pickup and drop off and to confirm with Francesca Caruso.
The Euro is now at $1.48.
I put together a budget with all potential expenses; apartment, food, hotel, car rental, gas, sightseeing with the new exchange rate and present this to everyone. We rethink Positano and decide that it’s best to cancel and spend all 8 days in Rome, saving us almost $800 per couple (hotel rooms, car rental, gas, restaurant meals, etc.). I feverishly begin researching day trips outside of Rome and we decide that Orvieto and Ostia Antica (in lieu of Pompeii) might do the trick. I am relieved that we will have more time in Rome and not be rushed.
When I look for our tickets online in January, the exact tickets we have are unavailable. Tickets which are available either have two layovers and cost over $900 for our dates and tickets with one stop are well over $1400 for our dates.
I looked at the costs for renting a car for a day vs. 4 train tickets to Orvieto. The car will give us flexibility and allow us to see more than just Orvieto without costing much more than the train for 4 people.
I continue to research sightseeing and restaurant options, putting them all on my personal Google Map. By now I have over 90 restaurants, and sightseeing pins.
I try to call to get tickets for a special exhibit of an underground excavation of an ancient Roman home and cannot get through. It is the Italian equivalent of an 800 number and impossible to call from the States.
I've also booked the car for a day through www.autoeurope.com. It's going to cost us $97.
I finally managed to get a reservation at the Borghese Gallery where we hope to use our Romapass on it's first day. The Romapass is good for 3 days transportation on busses, trams and Metro, and three days reduced admission to most museums and archaeological sites in Rome. The first two sites are free with the pass, the remainder used over the 3 days have reduced admissions up to 50% off. It is not valid for the Vatican Museum.
I decide that I want to buy some euro before we leave as we will need to pay for our apartment in cash on arrival. Normally I would wait until we get to the airport and just get money from the ATM, but we arrive on a Sunday, very early and if something goes wrong I don't want to be stuck.
I remember there is an "exchange" place in Downtown LA on the same block where I work. I check it out and discover that the rate to "buy" euros is about .04 cents higher than the bank rate. That's not bad considering Citibank will charge me about the same to take money out of the ATM. I plan to buy a couple hundred a week leading up to the trip, but I procrastinate it. I make one purchase of $500 in euro and it nets me 325 euro ($1.52/euro).
The Euro is at $1.53. To look at exchange rates go to www.oanda.com
I go back to buy more euro the week before we leave and the rate is now $1.57/euro. Ouch.
I've finally broken down and bought an international cell phone. It's a Quad band Nokia 6085 and I found it new and unlocked on ebay for around $100. I chose it because it has an mp3 player built in and I'm the last person on the planet not to own an ipod. Unfortunately, a week before the trip, I discover there's no regular headset jack on the phone, nor is there even a regular wired earpiece jack. I need to find an adapter and scramble to get it in the few days before we leave. Other than that, I am happy with the phone as it worked right out of the box with the Global SIM card I bought for it.
I did a lot of research about SIM cards and rates. The least expensive option is to wait until you get to your destination and buy a local card. I really didn't want to spend my time on this short trip doing that, so I decided to buy a prepaid Global card. The advantage is that it will work in over 100 countries and I keep the same (UK located) phone number.
I was going to buy a "Passport SIM" card from www.telestial.com but when I bought my phone on ebay, I found someone who was selling an ekit "Passport SIM" card for much less. It's the exact same product, but cost me $19 instead of $49. The ebay vendor is "ekitmobileusa". Ekit has a website just like Telestial, but on their site the card is $69. Go figure. Anyway, I tried the card with the new phone and it works here at least. I should be able to use it in Italy for .49 cents a minute outgoing and incoming calls are free. I should also be able to use it almost anywhere else in the world we might travel.
The weekend before the trip and I am busy packing and putting together my notes. For the last couple years, before any trip, I've been creating my own "guidebook", geared mostly toward restaurants with a little sightseeing thrown in for good measure. This trip, I created my own Google Map for the first time. While this is fun, it does have some drawbacks when it comes to taking the info with you. You can print it out, but it's in no particular order and you can't change that. So, there was a lot of "cutting and pasting" involved to create my book. Later, I really wished I'd been able to have a printed map marked with the locations because there were some I was never able to find on a regular map once we'd arrived.
Both David and I brought 22" roll-aboard suitcases and carry-on bags. We checked the roll-aboards because it was easier and because they were over weight (for carry on) for the way home on Lufthansa. Plus, both J and T brought bigger bags and we'd have to wait for their luggage anyway.
For me, I bought 5 pairs of pants (one of which was "dressy" and I only wore once), 5 cashmere sweaters, multiple long and short sleeved t shirts, and a couple of other shirts. I also brought 2 pairs of shoes and 1 pair boots. David got less because his clothes take up more space. Everything gets packed into zip lock bags and I packed one outfit for each of us into the other's bag plus a change of shirt and underwear into the carry-ons. We both had plenty of clothes for the trip. The carry on bags holds my camera and computer and anything electronic plus all toiletries.
A note about Photography:
All photos are taken by me (Kristina) unless otherwise noted. I use a Nikon D40x digital SLR which I am still in the process of learning how to use. In addition, on this trip I have the benefit of not only my own pictures, but those of Tris, Jessica and David.
|Rome Google Map|
|Flight to Rome|
|Rome Day 1-Sunday|
|Rome Day 2-Monday|
|Rome Day 3-Tuesday|
|Rome Day 4-Wednesday|
|Rome Day 5-Thursday|
|Rome Day 6-Friday|
|Rome Day 7-Saturday|
|Rome Day 8-Sunday|
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