Trip Report: Rome, Orvieto, and Florence with Eight Women 2013


I planned this trip for many months. Eight women traveling to Italy-- Rome, Orvieto, and Florence-- for a total of 10 days (including travel days) May 9-19, 2013.


I spent hours on the internet pouring over hundreds (thousands?) of reviews for accommodations that would meet all of my requirements; 1) location, 2) free breakfast, 3) free wifi, 4) inexpensive, 5) all twin beds, 6) triple rooms available, 7) ensuite bathrooms. First I read the negative reviews, then I read the positive reviews, then I started sending inquiries into availability and rates.

Here were my selections:

Rome-La Papessa
Orvieto-CasaSelita
Florence Hotel Europa
Rome—Tre Moschettieri (for those flying back out of Rome)

The plan was to fly out of Orlando to JFK on Delta, connecting on Alitalia to Rome. I had everyone’s confirmation numbers, and had carefully selected the overseas seats based on their preferences. But you know what they say, “We plan, God laughs”.

Due to the Air Traffic control problems with the government, our flight was very late getting into JFK, so we missed our Alitalia flight.  And since it was the “fault” of ATC, Delta informed us that they were not responsible for us. They rebooked us to fly out the next day. We found the Hilton Garden Inn in Queens (it was nice, by the way). I spent many hours contacting our hotel in Rome, our airport transportation, and making changes to our Vatican and Scavi tours that I had set up months in advance.

We flew out on Alitalia the next day. I had never flown Alitalia, and I will avoid flying it ever again. The gate people were not customer oriented. They required us to weigh our carry on luggage. The food was horrible. The on flight entertainment was not up to par with Air France or the Delta flights I have taken in the past. The flight attendants were less than friendly.

We arrived in Rome and our driver was not there in the waiting area. I used the pay phone and my onesuite.com account to call Rome Shuttle Limo (www.romeshuttlelimousine.com) and they told me the driver was parking and would be there any minute. Thank goodness.

We arrived at La Papessa B&B, which is on Via del Corso right in the middle of the old section of Rome. The location is ideal, a short walk to Piazza Navona, the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, and the Pantheon. It’s my favorite area to stay in Rome. Via del Corso is easy to find so I knew we would be able to explore Rome and find our way back to the B&B.

La Papessa is on the 4th floor of an old building. The elevator is so small it’s not worth taking, so we dragged our luggage (carry on only for everyone!) up the marble stairs. The B&B was a bit of a disappointment. I had read many great reviews and frequently stay in wonderful two star B&B’s. This was more like a one star. The beds were cots, the rooms were very tiny, and it was rather gloomy. But the location was great, and we could get wifi in the breakfast room. The breakfast offered good coffee, bread, yogurt, and hard boiled eggs, which was nice.

I had made reservations with LivItaly Tours (livitaly.com) and asked that the owner, Angelo, be our guide. He was wonderful, extremely knowledgeable, and even sent a driver to pick us up at the hotel when our new flight arrangements made it challenging to make the tour on time. Angelo was my Vatican guide in 2009 when he was just starting the company. His company now offers many great tours of the area and even a cooking class in Rome. I highly recommend LivItaly Tours.

The Vatican was extremely crowded. It was Saturday in May, probably the worst time to visit. Angelo had suggested a special tour before the Vatican opens, when there would be no crowds. Although tempting, I knew it would be impossible to gather my group together before coffee and breakfast. As it was, with our flight delay we barely made the tour at 10am.

After a very informative tour of the Vatican and St. Peter’s, Angelo dropped us off at the entrance to the Scavi Tour. I had read that this was a “must see” in Rome. I was very excited that I was able to get us all reservations.

I think it was a combination of jet lag and a very difficult to understand tour guide, but the Scavi Tour was one of the most boring tours I’ve ever experienced. I couldn’t wait to get out of that dank, humid place! If you are interested you can read up on it on your own, but to me, there are so many other far more interesting things to see and do in Rome.

Like….eating granite! My favorite place in Rome is right next to the Pantheon, Tazzo D’Oro. You may think it’s just a coffee shop, and it does have the BEST coffee, but you have to try the caffe granite con panna. It’s like a coffee slushy with whipped cream.  I love it even more than gelato and I LOVE gelato!

Since we lost a day in Rome, we only had time to explore a few areas. We went to all of the “attractions” close to our hotel, and ate at an unmemorable restaurant that caters to tourists on the street near the Pantheon. My advice, do your research for a good family run bistro and map it beforehand so that when you are tired and hungry you know where to go.

Next….the train to Orvieto.

We took taxis to Termini. We bought our tickets (2nd class) and made our way to the platform. It was very confusing and I was glad we had a former New Yorker with us to lead us to the right train. Suddenly several men all in matching tee shirts eagerly offered to help the women with their bags. Before I could warn them, they were handing over their luggage. The men efficiently took the bags on the train and then aggressively demanded a tip. When they weren’t satisfied with the tip that was offered, they wouldn’t leave. Finally, after everyone strongly said “NO!” they got off the train.  Lesson learned.

I was so excited to arrive in Orvieto. None of the other women had been there and it is one of my favorite places in Italy. And CasaSelita has to be one of my favorite places to stay. It didn’t disappoint. CasaSelita is an old farm converted to a charming B&B on the outskirts of Orvieto in the middle of the gorgeous Umbrian countryside. Selita and her husband Ennio run the pristine B&B. (You can read my review on tripadvisor here.) For those who can’t decide between staying in town or out in the country at an agriturismo, CasaSelita is a perfect blend of staying in the country with easy access to town.

Now we will pause for a brief advertisement from the Orvieto Chamber of Commerce.

Not really……although I should probably be appointed an honorary Orvieto ambassador. To me, Orvieto offers such a rich travel experience. An easy hour train ride from Rome Termini (no longer than many Americans’ commute to work every day), Orvieto is an ancient town that sits majestically on a hill overlooking the Umbrian countryside. There is a car rental agency right down the street from the train station for those who want to explore Umbria and Tuscany by car. If you are based in Orvieto, you can enjoy excellent restaurants, interesting history, a gorgeous Duomo, cooking classes, bike riding, and shopping. If you are into wine, the Orvieto area has some of the finest wineries. If you didn’t get through your bucket list of things to see in Rome, you can hop on the train, explore Rome all day, and be back in Orvieto in time for a relaxing dinner away from the crowds. And staying in Orvieto is much cheaper than a hotel in Rome.

And now, back to my report.

Since we were such a large group, Ennio and Selita picked us up in two cars at the train station. When we arrived at the B&B, we drew names to see who would pick out their room first. Everyone checked out the four rooms carefully. Each room had a different layout but all were exquisite—down comforters, ironed sheets, modern bathrooms, and a private outdoor sitting area. The beds can be king or separated into two twins—I had requested all twin beds for this group.  I went first and selected a room next to the main “living room” that opened to the backyard. The yard was filled with roses and rosemary. What a view!

Here is a link to my pictures of CasaSelita. Click here.

Selita made us coffee and we relaxed, unpacked, and admired our surroundings. The peaceful countryside was such a culture shock from the crowded hustle bustle of Rome! Selita showed us the path behind the B&B up the hill through the olive trees to town. We couldn’t wait to explore our new “hometown” for the next four days, so all eight women climbed up the hill to the base of Orvieto. As we climbed, we would turn around and admire the gorgeous view of the countryside below. Once in town, everyone enjoyed exploring the ceramic shops, the clothing stores, stopping at the ATM, and taking a much needed gelato break.

We ate dinner at Trattoria del Moro. Thank goodness I had made a reservation because they were packed. The food was some of the best we’ve ever had! It was a lively, fun night of eating off of each others’ plates and trying local specialties like the wild boar and the truffle pasta. Magnifico! It was so good we made a reservation for the next night!

We left Trattoria del Moro full of good food, Orvieto wine, and tired from our journey from Rome. But we had to see the Orvieto Duomo. As we rounded the corner, it took us by surprise. Breathtaking. The 14th century Duomo stands majestically in the middle of this little town. It is hard to describe if you’ve never been there, but the Orvieto Duomo is worth an unscheduled stop in Orvieto, if for that alone.

Walking back to the B&B made us feel like we had the best of both worlds, the ancient town and the peaceful Umbrian farmland.

The next three days in Orvieto were perfect for eight very independent women traveling together. We began each day with a leisurely breakfast at the big French table in the main room. There were fresh breads with jams made from the figs and fruit grown on the farm. Selita taught us how to eat the yogurt as a topping for the granola as customary in Northern Italy where she grew up. We had fresh juice, good strong coffee (is there any other kind in Italy?) and even homemade cakes. Ennio, who is the sommelier in the area, often joined us for breakfast and even offered to have a wine tasting for us one evening.

After breakfast everyone did exactly what they wanted to do. A few took a car and explored Lake Bolsena and the ancient town on the eroded hill, Civita di Bagnoregio.  Founded by the Estruscans over twenty-five hundred years ago, the hilltown only has 15 residents and is accessible by a long walking bridge from Bagnoregio, the town next door.

Some of the women drove to Assisi to see the home town of St. Frances. It is only an hour and a half from Orvieto and a beautiful drive. Others chose to stay at CasaSelita, reading, napping, and Skyping family and friends back home from the lounge chairs in the sunny back yard.

We all frequently climbed the hill to town to explore, tour the Duomo, visit St. Patrick’s well, walk the scenic walkway, tour the Estruscan caves, and of course, eat gelato.

After four days in Orvieto, we were all ready to stay for the summer! But we still had a few days in Florence to experience.  At first we were going to take the train straight to Florence, but we decided to splurge on a driver/guide.  I hired Luca from Hills and Roads (hills and roads.com) to drive us through Tuscany, with a stop in Sienna and a fabulous lunch at a farmhouse out in the county.

Luca picked us up at CasaSelita right at 9:00am. Unfortunately, it was a cold, gray, rainy day. Luca had planned to take us to some of the little villages along the way, but instead we went straight to Sienna. Sienna is Luca’s hometown so he was a perfect person to show us around. His knowledge of the region made it so much more interesting than if we had gone by ourselves. After Sienna we drove to a farm out in the country, where we were treated to a special lunch prepared from food grown on the farm. The dining room, originally the barn for the cattle, had old wood floors and a big window overlooking the countryside. The first course was a large plate of homemade pasta and tomato sauce. We heartily ate every bite. Then, to our surprise, came another course. The food just kept on coming—fresh ham and salami, grilled vegetables, breads, cheeses, and of course, wine. We were stuffed, but couldn’t resist dessert!

After lunch, we piled into the car. It was still raining and our bellies were overly full, so it was very easy to fall asleep as we drove through Tuscany on our way to Florence.

Florence!

Before I tell you about Florence, let me take a brief moment to talk about our packing situation.

When I started organizing this trip, years ago it seems, all of the women knew that I am a “carry-on only” kind of gal.   (See my article about traveling with just a carry on here. I don’t have many rules, and believe everyone should be able to do what works for them, EXCEPT when it comes to carry ons.  I don’t want to wait while someone looks for their huge suitcase on the turnstile. And I sure don’t want the drama that unfolds when the airline loses someone’s luggage. But most of all, if you stay in great little inexpensive B&B’s, you will probably be dragging your own luggage up a few flights of stairs.

Having said that, before the trip there was much discussion among all of us about what we were bringing for 10 days in Europe in May.  I’ve been in Rome during a heat wave and it is not pleasant. I encouraged the women to take tank tops, tee shirts and a couple of things to layer over them, very light pants and capris.  I also told them that, for me, a thin jacket with a hood is better than an umbrella, because my umbrella always seems to be in the room when it starts to rain.  Just before we left we looked at the forecasts for Rome and Florence—hot, hot, hot.

The weather in early May can be unpredictable, so I brought a combination of clothes for cooler nights and hot days. I also packed a couple of colorful scarves to extend my limited wardrobe. At the last minute, I added a hoodie and a pair of long yoga pants for relaxing in the room and going down to breakfast. Plus, I was going later to the Amalfi Coast by myself, so I threw in some long “beachy” skirts and sandals.

As I said before, “We plan, God laughs”.

Out of 10 days, we had maybe 3 sunny, warm days. The rest were rainy or overcast, in the low to mid 60’s.

So, with just our 18”-22” carry ons, we never wore half of our clothes! We wore our jackets with hoods, our one or two long sleeved shirts, our scarves tied warmly around our necks, and our long pants. I was so cold I wore my tanks under my long sleeved shirts, the hoodie, AND my jacket.  I wrapped the yoga pants around my feet at night to keep them warm!

We were able to do a load of laundry at CasaSelita, which was a big help. (I always ask about laundry facilities or services wherever I’m staying.)

After the trip I asked everyone what they could have done differently. They all said they could have easily taken less stuff. Most said they brought too many “must have” toiletries. Everyone agreed that the light weight hooded jacket and the scarves were the most valuable items. Personally, from now on I will always have a pair of yoga pants and a hoodie!

Back to our trip……

Florence!

Luca dropped us off right in front of Hotel Europa, conveniently located just a few blocks down Via Cavour from the Duomo. I picked Hotel Europa because of the good reviews I read on Tripadvisor.  I had stayed at Hotel Casci right across the street and I loved area—so close to the Duomo, around the corner from the Accademia, and just a block or so from the San Lorenzo market. I really liked Hotel Casci and the rate is comparable to Hotel Europa, but I wanted to experience a different hotel this time.  They are both two star hotels so neither is fancy, and both have a good breakfast and free wifi. Both offer a discount for paying in cash.

Here are links to both hotels: http://www.webhoteleuropa.com/    http://www.hotelcasci.com/

Like Hotel Casci, Hotel Europa is in an old building with a tiny cage elevator that barely holds one person with luggage. The hotel lobby is on the 2nd floor (our 3rd), so we dragged our bags up the stone staircase. We were greeted by Robert and Miriam and showed our rooms. We had two triples and a double. The rooms were basic. The triples were next to each other at the end of a long hall, and the double was just below. We opened the big shutters and were able to talk to each other out of the open windows. It was fun to pop our heads out the windows and make plans! We couldn’t get wifi in our rooms so we had to go to the lobby to make calls and Skype.

Even though it was still raining, we had to get out and see some of Florence. We all agreed that our farmhouse lunch was so big that we would skip dinner and have gelato for dinner.  All in favor, say I!  I had been to Florence before so I led the way to what I thought was Grom, my favorite gelato place in Florence.

I am directionally impaired, so even though I was leading this group of 8 women, in the rain, though the streets of Florence at 8pm, I had no earthly idea where I was. I didn’t tell them that, but they began to be impatient and question where I was taking them. “Let’s just stop here!” several of them exclaimed, stopping at a small gelato stand near the Duomo. No, it’s just down one of these streets. I really thought I was going to be lynched if I didn’t find Grom soon! We kept walking, further from our hotel, down different streets. Finally, off on a side street, I saw people with ice cream cones. Grom? No, but a big, popular gelato store with tons of different flavors.  I don’t remember the name, but everyone enjoyed their gelato very much, and gave me kudos for leading them there! I left it up to the ones with a good sense of direction to get us back to the hotel.

After a hearty breakfast, including hard boiled eggs, and great coffee, we gathered in the lobby at 9am to walk to the Uffizi for our 10am reservation.  At my request, Hotel Europa had made our reservations for the Accademia and the Uffizi and had emailed me the confirmation numbers.

When we got to the Uffizi, there were several very long lines, all going into different doors. We felt very smug that we had reservations and didn’t have to stand in the long lines! The lines must be for the people who didn’t plan ahead like we did! I took out our confirmation and walked up to an official person and said in my best Italian accent, “re-ser-vay-she-own?” and he pointed to the long line across the walkway from the main entrance.

We waited in the rain. The line actually went pretty fast. I took our confirmation to the desk and read out the confirmation number. The clerk handed me back our tickets. We walked out and found another very long line of ticket holders and waited to be admitted. Thank goodness we got there early!

At the entrance to the Uffizi we had to go through a security screening. No big purses, no backpacks, no big cameras. One of us had brought a camera that she had to check. We all walked up the marble steps, finally ready to see the Uffitzi. At the top of the stairs was a person who checked tickets. I gave her ours and she said we couldn’t go in! She pointed out that the tickets were for the Accademia, not for the Uffitzi!

Youhavegottobekiddingme!!!!

Did the ticket person give us the wrong tickets? How could this happen? I pulled out our confirmation. Then I realized….there were two confirmation numbers and I had given them the one for the Accademia.

Go ahead and say it. “We plan, God laughs.”

My group could have been fussy but they were very understanding. They would wait by the elevators on the bench while I ran with one of the others back to the end of the line at the ticket office.

It only took us twenty minutes or so to wait in the two lines to get into the Uffizi. We reunited with our group and presented the correct tickets to the person at the top of the stairs. Then we all decided to go our own way at our own pace. Since it was a rainy day we canceled the bike tour we had planned for the afternoon (ibikeflorence.com), so we had plenty of time.

I shared my iPhone and one ear bud with one of the women and we listened to Rick Steves’ Uffitzi Tour (downloaded before the trip through the Rick Steves Audio Europe App). It was entertaining, but it was the same tour I listened to during my 2009 trip. Some of the paintings had been moved and it was hard to follow. Plus we had to walk around like Siamese twins to be able to both hear the tour. In hindsight I should have given her the iPhone and rented the audio tour for myself.  Or, I wish now that I had hired a tour guide for our group.

After the Uffitzi we found a little place to sit and eat lunch. I had the ribollita, or bread vegetable soup. For those not familiar with this wonderful Italian soup, it is always made with local vegetables and good Italian bread. When I don’t know what to order, or I don’t want a big meal, I order ribollita. 

During lunch we talked about our “bucket lists” for Florence. One of the women wanted to see Michelangelo’s home, another, the jewelry stores on the Ponte Vecchio. Everyone wanted to explore the Duomo and go to the San Lorenzo market near our hotel. It was (another!) rainy afternoon. We all walked over to the market so we could easily make it back to the hotel if we were cold and wet.

Stall after stall after stall after stall…..leather, scarves, more leather, purses, jewelry, people trying to get you to “look lady, do you like my purses? How much do you give me?”  When you are carry on only you have to be picky about what you buy. Is it important enough to check your bag? Do you need to buy another bag just to hold your purchases?

 At first it was fun and lively, then it got old. Too many people hawking their stuff. We looked, we touched, we bargained.  One woman bought a very nice briefcase for her husband. Another woman bought a gorgeous red leather purse.

The next day in Florence was a whirl wind. We said goodbye to two of the women who took the fast train to Rome to fly back to the US. Another was flying out that night to visit a friend in Paris. The rest of us had one last full day to do everything we wanted to do, including a visit to the Accademia to see “The David” (with the correct tickets!), and purchase any last minute gifts and souvenirs.

We gathered at breakfast and walked around the corner from the hotel to the Accademia. The lines were long, but by this time we were experts at finding the right entrance. We agreed on a time and meeting place and each went our separate way. I had the Rick Steves audio tour on my iPhone.

I went straight to The David. How is it possible that Michelangelo carved this magnificent sculpture out of a raw piece of marble? How can a raw piece of marble take on such life-like human characteristics? The eyes gaze. The expression is determined. The body is….well, pretty darned extraordinary.

After studying The David for several minutes, I went to the partially finished sculptures. These are almost as intriguing to me as The David.  They look as though the figures are literally trying to break free of the large boulders of rock from which they were sculpted.
After the Accademia the other women went exploring, and I went back to the hotel to pack and pay our bill. Tomorrow the remains of our group were going to Rome for one last night, and then flying back to the US from Rome. I was going to the Amalfi Coast for a week by myself. I needed to look at the train schedules to Naples and figure out how to get to the little coastal town of Praiano from there.

I just had one thing left that I wanted to do—go to Piazzale Michelangelo at sunset for the beautiful view over the city.

We splurged on a taxi to take us to Piazzale Michelangelo. We drove over the Arno River, through the residential area. Next time I come to Florence I think I’d like to stay on that side of the river for a totally different experience. The taxi let us off at what looked like a parking lot. I led us over to the ledge where several people had congregated to get a good view. Couples were handing their cameras to strangers to take their pictures with all of Florence in the background. It was sprinkling intermittently, but we didn’t care. It was our last night in Florence, our last night together.

At 8:00am the next morning, the taxi came right on time to take what was left of our group to the train station. I bought my ticket to Naples, they bought theirs to Rome. They walked me to my platform. I was about to embark on a new adventure—my first solo trip, one week on the Amalfi Coast.  I must admit I was scared, not of traveling solo, but because actually getting to the Amalfi Coast seemed confusing and precarious.

We said our good byes, knowing we would see each other “back home” with stories to tell and enough private jokes to keep us laughing until our next travel adventure.






































2 comments:

  1. Absolutely loved your blog.It was so informative for a first time traveller to Italy. Im visiting in October and Im gonna look up all the hotels & activities you recommended. Can you put up something on Naples & Capri also ?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for your comments! I have not been to Naples or Capri, but if you read about my trip to the Amalfi Coast, there are a lot of good recommendations about that area. Keep reading for future trips and travel tips!

      Delete

I love hearing from you so please feel free to comment. I approve all comments before they are published to keep out spammers. Your comment will appear as soon as I see it. Thanks so much for reading Annie's Travel Nuggets!