Monday, August 1, 2011

Eurotrip 2011: Central Rome for dummies

For vacation this year we planned a big one. I wanted to wander around Europe in a GPS spec'd Audi A4 Avant TDI (turbo-diesel) rental car for a couple weeks, finding hotels and what not on the way, and Beth wanted to take a cruise so she could see many places with less effort, as well as some luxury. After some discussion and slacking on my part to book flights or whatever (mainly because I don't like parting with large sums of money), we decided to take the job out of the hands of my web browser and trip-booking-website du jour and hook back up with our travel agent from the Mexico and Jamaica trips from years past. When the smoke from my wallet parted, the plan of action was semi-dry concrete. We ended up with a plan to stay in Rome for a few days before departing on a Cruise spanning four stops and three countries, in the Mediterranean Sea, then take a train from the Rome Termini in Italy to Munich, Germany for my part of this Eurotrip. When I say my part of the trip, I don't mean I wasn't interested in the beginning of the trip, but you'll understand once the German portion of the trip is revisited via these e-pages. I went all out on preparation, even buying extra batteries, memory and renting a new lens for this adventure, the Canon 24-105mm IS F4L, so I wouldn't have to change lenses, batteries or memory during long stints and would get solid image quality in most conditions we'd run into. This plan proved to be very wise.

I worked nine days straight at work before our flight out of the country. I packed about everything days before, but finished up Tuesday night before we flew out Wednesday afternoon. My breh-in-law Chris handled the arrangements and took our car back after I drove us all the airport in Philadelphia. The flight over was long, but I managed to sleep for a solid 4 or 5 hours at some point during the journey which I can't remember anymore. Our plane landed in Fiumicino (Leonardo da Vinci) Airport in Rome with great applause by the entire flight. Tired, but pleased, we got off the plane to make our first mistake - turning $500 USD cash into Euros at the airport. While this sounds like a good idea, the exchange rate they give you varies on how much you convert; so if you have $2k USD to convert you almost get the current exchange rate. If you have $500 you get the 'best we can give you rate'. Later on after the cash ran thin, I found out that going to an ATM will cost you a foriegn fee around 10 bucks or so with your bank, but you get the current rate which was in the ~1.42:1 range. It was ~1.56:1 at the airport. In hindsight I would've gotten about $1k converted to Euros at a US Bank before leaving all together, but a lesson learned for next time is always good.

After turning $500 into about $285 Euros (after the service fee was taken out), we went with voucher in hand to find our booked shuttle to the hotel. Going from Eastern Standard Time (EST) to Central European Time is like doing the typical 'Spring forward' time change six times in a row. I didn't really catch up on sleep until the fifth day of our trip. After realizing it was the equivalent of about 4:30am EST once I turned on my cell phone, we got rounded up by our driver and all the other tourists taking out shuttle to Central Rome. We got situated and began making our way via the Autostrada (Italian Highway System) to the city of Rome by car. Traffic in Rome was an eye opening thing to see. Taxi's represented about half of the cars on the road, sub-compact/smart cars represented another 15%, the rest were either scooters or motorcycles. The flow of traffic was a whirlwind of traffic lights that switched too quickly, people double parking and holding everyone up in individual lanes, pedestrians walking right into the street and blocking right handed turns and those on two-wheeled transport (who looked liked geniuses with how cramped the city is) working their way between cars and occasionally on sidewalks. Our drivers' ability to curse in Italian brought smiles to our faces, it's literally like poetry which I wished I could learn via osmosis for my return home. We navigated the tightest roads and side streets with the smallest of clearances; I was truly impressed and tipped accordingly when we arrived at Hotel Planet Rome.

the main 'drag' half a block from our hotel - Via Marsala
 Hotel Planet Rome was a place in Central Rome with a good price and next to everything. The Rome Termini station, which had railways for connecting Eurorail transit as well as the Rome Metro system and shopping outlets, was just a brisk walk away. Ristorante's and gelaterias everywhere and taxi's hanging out for any desire to be fleeced of 10 Euro for an eight minute drive through cluster-eff city traffic. I initially thought we'd be walking everywhere given most places we needed to go for the walking tours we signed up for were within two miles or so, but after getting there and taking our first stab at walking to a destination for a tour of Ancient Rome, we hailed a cab...drenched with sweat from the July sun.


What a view!
 After checking into our hotel and noticing how absurdly small the bathroom was, we went back out and grabbed lunch at a local store front. Forno (Pizza) and Pasta where on the menu. It was all delicious. In clockwise order starting from 10 o'clock, you'll see a roma tomato, olive and fresh mozzarella slice, pesto rotini, white pizza with sausage and a rigatoni dish with fresh basil, tomato sauce and mozzarella. I guess saying fresh goes without saying. This random small restaurant on the side of the street was better than anything in the US, on flavor profile alone. One thing was clear, al dente isn't just a word here, it's how pasta is cooked everywhere.

We got back to our room and laid around, generally exhausted. Tomorrow we would sleep in and take on Ancient Rome.



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