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European Whirlwind

Author: Amanda M.R.
Date of Trip: August 2009

When we finally found the Globus Hotel in spite of ourselves and our lack of preparation (are you starting to sense a theme here?), we were greeted by the friendliest desk clerk yet. Everything about this hotel was great except for the tile floors. They echoed badly and kept me up all night the first night. Every time someone walked down the hall, rolled a suitcase, or came in from partying, it sounded like bombs going off. I guess that is what you get for $67 USD per night including taxes.

In Florence, we decided on the hop-on, hop-off bus tour to save our feet. It took us everywhere: Ponte Vecchio, the Duomo, Michelangelo's David at the Accademia, Renaissance paintings at the Uffizi, Medici palaces, and pasta dinners full of tasty wild boar. We were glad that we reserved Accademia and Uffizi tickets in advance (14 euros each) since that enabled us to skip the lines.

tuscany cooking classWe couldn't leave Florence without seeing the Tuscan countryside, so we took a semi-private tour of a 15th century working winery in the Apennine foothills, followed by Italian cooking lessons and dinner in a private home. I highly recommend this all-day experience through Accidental Tourist. It costs 110 euros per person plus tip. The cooking lessons consisted of us, along with one other couple, learning how to make pasta from scratch in a 900 year old farmhouse basement. For dinner, we went upstairs to find our host, Christiana, dancing around in her kitchen with a glass of champagne, celebrating the birth of her first granddaughter. We celebrated with her and then sat down to four courses of the freshest food you can imagine.

On Tuesday, August 18, we took the train from Firenze Santa Maria Novella to Roma Termini. The Marcantonio Hotel was close to the train station and relatively easy to find but, unfortunately, Orbitz had messed up and canceled our reservation. I feared this would be the case when I saw some unusual language on our itinerary, so I called them to double-check before we left home and they said the reservation was confirmed. Apparently they were wrong, and I quickly became grateful for my choice to study Italian survival phrases in the months preceding our trip.

Although my Italian language attempts left much to be desired, the kind desk clerk figured out what I was saying, called Orbitz, and explained the problem. They rebooked us in the nearby Hotel Impero for the same price ($90 USD per night including taxes) and the clerk provided us with a map, circled the location since we didn't speak each other's language, and even called the elevator for us.

When we arrived at the Hotel Impero, they told us we did not have a reservation even though Orbitz and the desk clerk from the other hotel had just gotten off the phone with them. After a little bit of back and forth, they figured it out and sent us up to our spacious room. This was a beautiful hotel with helpful clerks. The included breakfast had quite a bit to offer and tasted great, but I found it not worth the hassle because the dining room was so full. We had to stand over people while they were eating and then quickly pounce on the table if we didn't want people who arrived after us to commandeer it -- fighting for tables is not my cup of tea.

The day after arrival in Rome, we headed off to Palatine Hill for some adventure. After 45 minutes standing in line in the burning sun, we decided it made more sense to skip the line with the 23-euro Roma Pass. We had researched the Roma Pass before we left home, but misunderstood our guidebook and didn't realize you could skip the line until we saw other people doing it.

The Roma Pass was definitely worth it. It provided free entrance to the first two sights (Palatine Hill and the Colosseum for us) and discounted entrance into others. It also provided us with unlimited public transportation for three days. We used the Metropolitana (subway) to go everywhere, including Vatican City.

During our time in Rome and Vatican City, we visited the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's Basilica, but the most incredible sights to me were the Roman baths, Palatine Hill, and the inside of the Colosseum. Standing amidst these ancient ruins made me feel so many emotions at once: awe at how advanced humankind was 2,000 years ago, sorrow that today's structures aren't as intricate and durable, and longing for just a glimpse of how it looked in its day. A wonderful end to an enchanting journey.

On Saturday, August 22, we got up early enough to have our last lazy breakfast before heading to the airport. The day before, we had used a kiosk in Termini train station to buy Saturday tickets from Termini to Fiumicino (Leonardo da Vinci) Airport. They cost 11 euros each. We didn't have to specify a time since the train runs every 30 minutes to the airport -- we only had to specify the day.

We arrived at the airport three hours early as we'd been told to do, so we encountered no long lines. Check-in was smooth, and we were on our way back to the United States on Continental flight 43. We only had to exchange about 20 euros for U.S. dollars since we had done a pretty good job guessing the last time we used the ATM in Italy.

Now that I've been to the Old World and back, what is the best travel advice I can give? Remember safety pins and moleskin and don't schedule a trip longer than two weeks with your husband. (He said the same goes for wives.) In all seriousness, though, the best piece of advice is don't go unless you are prepared to be bitten by the travel bug. We are already saving for the next trip.

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