Overview
Costs
Exchange rate
Prepaid GSM
Internet
Weather
Health
VISA
Security
Photos

Rome, Florence and Pisa
Part 1

20.05: Munich -> Bozen
21.05: Bozen -> Rome
22.05: Rome
23.05: Rome
24.05: Rome
25.05: Rome -> Florence
26.05: Florence
27.05: Florence -> Pisa -> Florence
28.05: Florence -> Bozen -> Munich

Map of Italy



Overview

This is a report of an 8-days trip by train to Italy in May 2005. We spent a few days in Rome, then some days in Florence and Pisa, driving by car from Munich to Bozen, then travelling by train between Bozen, Rome and Florence. Rome and Florence are impressive due to all historical sights and the culinary offering.
 


Costs

Italy is very expensive place to spend a holiday. We paid 110 Euro/night in a two star hotel in Rome and the same for a three star hotel in Florence. Food in Italian restaurants was quite expensive too. Entry tickets, ice-creams, cafes and pubs were also expensive. Clothes and fashion stuff were instead good value.



Money  / Exchange rate

1 Euro = US $1.30 (in May 2005)



Prepaid GSM cards

Prepaid GSM cards are cheap in Italy and allow huge savings compared to GSM roaming. Calls within Italy are in the 15 Euro cents/minute range. To buy a prepaid GSM card you will need a Codice Fiscale, sort of an identity code which contains data about your name, sex, date and place of birth. Recharging can be done at any Tabacchi store, in variable increments.
 


Internet access

In Rome we found several Internet cafes around Termini station. The one I used was fast and good value at 2 Euro/hour. In Florence prices were higher; there I used the Internet Train Internet cafes.
 


Weather

While we were in Italy, at the end of May 2005, temperatures ranged between 23░C to 30░C. It got quite hot during the day, and it was in fact uncomfortably hot in Rome and Florence. It only rained a little bit in a couple of evenings in Rome.
By the way, even if 23-30░C may not sound that high, spending the whole day outdoors under the sun, pushing a baby buggy, can be quite exhausting. I can only imagine that in July and August, when the temperatures are even higher, it gets really tough in Rome.
 


Vaccinations

None needed for Italy
 


VISA / Entry requirements

As Italy is a member of the Schengen treaty, there are no border controls at the borders to Austria and France. EU citizens need no VISA for entering Italy.



Security

We were warned about pickpockets, but didn't experience any problems. Some of our friends has their purse stolen, so it makes sense to be careful and not give pickpockets too many chances.






29.11 - 30.11.02: Munich -> Bozen
B&B Psenner Waltraud, Lorenz B÷hler Str. 16, Bozen. 48 Euro (24 Euro per person) for an apartment in kind of a large, converted farm house. Room has big toilet and bedroom with TV (no phone).
Weather: sunny and warm in Bozen, 26░C during the day.

We leave Unterhaching by car at 4:25pm and manage to reach Bozen at 6:45pm. That's 2h 20min for 276 km - quite a good time. Despite the Friday afternoon there is no traffic on the motorway. There are some speed limits in the motorway south of Munich, but 50km from Munich, finally there are no more speed limits and I accellerate to 160-170 km/h. In Austria I drive slower, as there is a speed limit on the motorway there. In Italy between the Brenner pass and Bozen, the motorway is full of narrow curves so that it's not really feasible to drive fast there.

It's good that the drive takes only 2h 20 min., as the baby starts complaining after two hours. Babys don't like to be fastened for a long time to a baby seat.

Around 7:30pm we have a dinner in the Nussbaumer restaurant, which has recently (2-3 years ago if I'm not mistaken) been converted to a Mexican restaurant. Shirley has a tuna salad, while I have a pizza (the pizza is so-so).

Around 9:30pm we start looking for the B&B. It is actually quite easy to find it, because it is near the hospital. The room is ok, but the location is quite out of town and tomorrow we need to catch the train to Rome at 9:17am, which means that this evening we have to go sleeping early.

We still don't have a reservation for a hotel or B&B in Rome, because all places which are bookable through the major travel portals in the Internet (expedia, hrs.de etc.) are in the 100+ Euro/night range. It appears that there is also cheaper accomodation in Rome (lots of B&B for instance) and there is a hotel reservation counter in Rome Termini train station, so it should not be a problem finding something tomorrow. By the way, the "cheaper" hotels bookable through the travel portals (those below 150 Euro) are all quite out of town; downtown you find only hotels above 150 Euro/night.



 

 
21.05.05 Bozen -> Rome
Hotel Casali, Via Amendola 95, Rome. 110 Euro for a clean and spacious room with three beds, private toilet, TV and phone. The street below is noisy, but the window isolates well. Overpriced (see below).
Weather: sunny with a spotless sky in Bozen, 18░ already at 9am

We manage to get up at 7:30am and are at the train station in Bozen at 9am, in time for the Eurostar train to Rome. Scheduled arrival is 3:35pm in Roma Termini. The train leaves on time at 9:17am.

The first disappointment comes as we see that the wagons don't have separate compartments - just a big compartment with many seats. And this in the 1st class of the train. The wagon is almost totally empty, but in the Trento station two guys board the train and sit right next to us. Obviously they have a reservation for these seats, but why sit cramped in a tight space when the entire wagon is empty ?

After some time we check with the conductor and then move to a set of four empty seats, which will remain empty until Rome. By the way, the 2nd class has smaller seats and is more crowded.

At 12pm we go to the train restaurant, where the food is not too great and quite expensive. We have some noodles with tomato sauce, 1/2 litre mineral water for 21 Euro. Never mind - we'll skip the train restaurant next time.

The train arrives punctually at 2pm in Florence, then accellerates to over 200 km/h between Florence and Rome. At some point the train stops for about 15 minutes, which means that we won't arrive in Rome at 3:35pm as originally scheduled. The weather is still sunny and warm.

By the way, the Eurostar train has A/C and 220V AC plugs next to every seat, so it is possible to work with the notebook computer. Unfortunately there is no WLAN and no way to connect to the Internet.

The train arrives at 4pm in Rome (Termini station), 25 minutes late. After that our search for a place to spend the night starts. We first call a couple of places in the LP guide, but they are all full. Then we go to the hotel reservation counter in the train station (opposite platform 21), where the guy tells us that the cheapest hotel is a steep 130 Euro/night, unless we are willing to stay out of Rome. More phone calls follow, to places listed in the LP guide. Those below 120 Euro/night are all full - unbelievable, it's as if the whole world decided to come to Rome today.

In the meantime I walk into a road parallel to Termini station with many hotels and pensions (Via Amendola). The first four or five pensions I ask are all full, but finally I find a two star hotel, where the guy tells us we can have a double for 120 Euro/night, but tomorrow we have to change rooms. After some more searching I finally find a cheaper place (90 Euro for a double). When I ask if they have a baby bed, they say 'ah, but then you need a triple room... and the triple room will be more expensive (110 Euro)'.  So I get back to Shirley who has been waiting all the time in the train station with the baby, guarding the luggage.

Since we are tired, we start looking for a place to sit down, from where to make the phone calls. After some looking we notice the Autogrill restaurant on the first floor. When we go up with the lift, the guy says 'trolleys are not allowed', and no he won't let us sit down and have something. So we walk down again and finally find a place to sit down. We order two soft drinks and call several more pensions. They are invariably all either fully booked, have rooms with no bathroom attached, rooms only tomorrow or only for one or two days. At 5:30pm we are reaching saturation level, and I suggest to do an Internet search for B&Bs in Rome. The bill for the two soft drinks is an expensive 7.30 Euro.

After some looking I find an Internet cafe in the telecommunications office in the train station. So I purchase a telephone card for 5 Euro which allows one hour of web surfing. The problem is that the user interface of the computers *sucks* heavily - the mouse key is almost broken, there is no way to open more than one browser window and the browser seems to be an ancient one, as it fails to open the www.hrs.de hotel reservation site. To top it all, the connection speed is painfully slow. But what can you expect from "Telecom Italia" ?

I call some more places, which invariably are all full. Finally we find one place, but it's 80 Euro for a place somewhere in town without own bathroom. So we get back to the hotel reservation counter at the station, where I ask what a hotel a bit out of Rome's centre would cost. Now surprisingly the price is down to 115 Euro, for a double in a hotel, about 15 min. by bus from Termini station. When I ask if it would be possible to add a baby bed, the guy replies that then the room would cost much more (200 Euro). Alternatively there is a hotel in Ciampino (next to the airport for 80 Euro). Great... Since it's already 6:30pm and we all got enough I suggest to go to the hotel for 110 Euro. I first check if the room is still available, then walk there with Shirley. At 7pm, three hours after we arrived in Rome, we finally have a room.

Around 7:40pm we walk out of the hotel and start walking towards the colosseum, which we reach around 8:20pm, after several stops. At 9pm we have a dinner in a restaurant - again this place is overpriced. It's 26 Euro for two spaghetti and a bottle of mineral water (and the portions are small). It seems that the big problem in Rome are not the pickpockets, it's the Romans themselves who do their best to squeeze cash out of the tourists.

We're back in the hotel at 10pm. I then check briefly my emails in an Internet cafe (Via Amendola). Very fast connection and only 2 Euro/hour (50 cents/15 minutes).

I'm starting to think that I will limit the stay in Rome to three full days and leave on Wednesday for Florence. Three days should be enough to see most important things in Rome.
 





22.05.05: Rome
Hotel Casali
Weather: sunny almost the whole day, except for a very thin clouds layer for a couple of hours and an overcast sky around 6pm. It gets quite warm and my skin gets red due to the strong sun.

We get up around 9am, then have a brief breakfast in a nearby cafe (food is so-so). By the time we are ready for sightseeing, it's already 11am.

It appears that the room in the Casali hotel is not that bad. The bathroom has recently been renovated and even has a hair dryer. The shower is fine.

In any case at 11:10am we take the underground to the Barberini station, from where we walk down the Tritone street to the Trevi fountain, which we reach at 11:35am. Needless to say, the fountain is full of people. I can imagine it must be very tempting to get into those clear waters in the summer when it is hot.

By the time we leave the Trevi fountain and start walking towards Piazza di Spagna it is almost 12pm. We  reach Piazza di Spagna 40 minutes later because we stop in a shop buying something, then make a couple of shorter stops either taking photos or checking the map.

Piazza di Spagna is again full of tourists and looks less impressive than in the pictures. The Trinita dei Monti church is undergoing a restauration and the front facade is fully covered by planks. From the church there is a nice view; the church itself is not too impressive.

Around 1:10pm we leave Piazza di Spagna and start walking towards Piazza del Popolo. It's actually lunch time and we spot a Chinese restaurant in Via dei Greci, so we have lunch there. The food is ok and quite a deal cheaper than the food we had yesterday.

By the time we leave the restaurant it's already 2:45pm. We reach Piazza del Popolo, a very nice square with an Egyptian obelisk (by the way, lots of Egyptian obelisks in squares in Rome). We spend 15 minutes in Piazza del Popolo. The next place to see is the Pantheon which is about 2km from there. We are tired and wouldn't mind taking a taxi, but then end up walking.

We walk along Via del Corso towards the Pantheon, making a stop at the St. Ambrogio e Carlo church. While I'm inside and am setting up camera and tripod to take some photos (composition, exposure parameters etc.) the priest of the church walks to me and starts talking to me. To my surprise he doesn't complain that I'm desecrating the church by taking pictures. No, the guy tells me to follow him and leads me to a couple of spots from where you can take good photos. Very surprising - maybe this priest is a photography fan too.

We then continue walking, passing by Palazzo whose name I don't know and Palazzo Chigi around 4pm. After some more walking, an ice-cream stop etc. we are at the Pantheon at 4:45pm, where we spend 20 minutes. Then we walk to the nearby St. Maria della Minerva church, where we stay until 5:30pm. Beautiful church by the way (the interior - externally the church is so-so).

We then walk to Piazza Navona, which we reach at 5:45pm. The square looks interesting, but the sky is overcast, it's full of people and the main church is undergoing renovation. We spend less than 10 minutes there, then try to get back to the hotel.

It takes over an hour to get back to the hotel, as we initially try to get a bus, but bus tickets are not sold anywhere in the area. Then we finally walk to a taxi stand in Corso Vittorio Emanuele (largo Argentina). There it's a long wait until we get a taxi, as there are few taxis. According to the taxi driver, on weekends there are just 4000 instead of 6000 taxis in Rome. The taxi ride is 9.50 Euro + tip.

At 8pm we are out again, having first a small dinner in the cafe near the hotel, then taking the underground to Colosseo, where I take some photos. We are back in the hotel around 10:15pm. By the way, *very* long queue of people in the evening at the train station waiting for a taxi.

 




23.05.05: Rome
Hotel Casali
Weather: overcast in the morning at 10am; by the time we reach the Vatican city it's sunny again and also quite warm. In the evening it is overcast again and it briefly rains.

We get up at 9am and manage to leave the hotel at 10:20am. After a brief breakfast in the nearby bar, we take the underground to Ottaviano station, which is the closest station to the Vatican city. Arriving there at 11:30am, we slowly stroll along Ottaviano road towards the Vatican, arriving there a bit before 12pm. Today is Monday and it appears that it is market day, as there are some market stalls (clothes) along the road.

St. Peter's church and the square is absolutely great and by itself worth the trip to Rome. By the way, when walking to the columns (around 11:50am) we notice a huge queue - the people are all queueing up for the Vatican museum. The queue must be at least 500m long.

To get into St. Peter's church you have to pass through a security checkpoint with scanners.

After some photo shooting we enter into St. Peter's church around 12:30pm. Before we had to leave the baby buggy in a place below and now we are carrying the baby ourselves. Since it is impossible to walk a  long time around with the baby, my wife waits for me outside while I am inside taking some photos. By the way, tripods are not allowed in the church (for that you need a special permit).

It takes an hour to explore completely the St. Peter church - the church is really huge. I meet Shirley again at 1:30pm, and in the meantime Alissia is doing her midday sleep. The next thing to see would the the cupola, but there is a long queue also there. So we get to a cafe just outside the columnade and have some lunch.

At 2:40pm we are on our way to the Vatican museums. Now the queue has disappeared - I'm glad we didn't try to visit the Vatican museums before. It takes only 10 minutes to get into the museums now. Entry is a steep 12 Euro/person.

The museums are kind of nice, but not too impressive. Lots of statues from Roman times, lots of renessaince stuff. We skip the Egyptian section, as my guess is that if you have seen the Egyptian museum in Cairo, you don't need to visit the Egyptian section of the Vatican museum. The Sistine chapel should be the highlight, but actually it is just another room full of frescoes (and full of tourists). By the way, it is very tiring to go through the Vatican museum with the baby, as it is very crowded, hot, you can't sit down anywhere and you have to carry the baby buggy up and down the staircases. And to be honest, there is a lack of great, jaw-dropping sights.

At 4:15pm we are out of the museums and I still want to see the cupola (which closes at 5pm). Since there is no way to get up there with a baby, Shirley waits down, while I go up. This time the queue is much smaller and after 20 minutes, I finally have the ticket and proceed to the elevator. Once on top you have to walk through a maze of narrow and winding staircases until you finally reach the top. Nice views from the top.

I'm down again at 5:10pm. Since we are both quite tired, we get back to the hotel after stopping for an ice-cream (again quite high prices, 15 Euro for two, but everything in Rome is overpriced). We spend the evening not doing much. Dinner in a Chinese restaurant (relatively good value at 18 Euro for two). In the evening it rains briefly.

Some impressions of the day:

==> In and around St Peter there is a dearth of places where to sit down and relax for a minute. And if you sit down somewhere some local Italian will tell you to go away.

==> Romans, especially in tourist locations, are unfriendly and treat tourists like cattle.

==> It was very hot and steamy when we visited the Vatican museums. No A/C. That was in May, when it still was kind of fresh outside. Can you imagine the situation in July/August when it is really hot in Rome ?
 
 




24.05.05: Rome
Hotel Casali. The toilet actually sucks, because the light will switch off automatically after a couple of minutes. During a shower typically you will find yourself three times in full darkness, and have to get out of the shower cabin completely wet, looking for the switch in the darkness. You might even get electrocuted, as the light switch is next to an open AC power outlet.
Weather: sunny and almost spotless blue sky the whole day, except for a couple of clouds which float around every now and then. It is hot and the sun is very strong; quite tiring to push a baby buggy in the midday heat across "rough terrain" (ancient streets made with huge, uneven stones).


We get up at 9am and are basically ready for sightseeing around 11am, after a breakfast in the same nearby bar where we went yesterday. We take the underground and manage to reach the Colosseum around 11:30am. The sun is already very strong and it's full of tourists. I briefly check the Colosseum queue and see that it's quite long. Since there are also lots of staircases (and we would have to carry the baby buggy up and down), I decide to skip the interior of the Colosseum (the ticket by the way would have been 12 Euro per person). Time is also an issue as it is already 11:30am and I'd like to finish the sightseeing by 5pm today.

By the way, sightseeing with a baby can be very tiring, when you have to push the baby buggy across rough roads and up and down staircases. The heat and the strong sun don't help either.

We start walking towards the Foro Romano and run very soon into the entry to the Palatino. After some thinking we skip also that, because there are so many staircases. We're not really in the mode to carry up and down the baby buggy. So we simply walk through the Foro romano until 1:20pm.

At about 1:30pm we are in Campidoglio square and start thinking about how to find a restaurant. Just for a change it will be a Chinese restaurant, and not an Italian one, because communication is much easier for my wife, prices are much lower, the service is much better. Also, my wife can order some food for the baby and explain exactly to the waitress what she wants. In an Italian restaurant instead we would have to feed the baby with some heated glass bottle food.

After some asking, we manage to find a Chinese restaurant in a sidestreet near Largo Torre Argentina. By the time we leave the restaurant and resume the sightseeing it is almost 3pm. This time we walk along Via Arenula towards the Tiber, then turn left towards Piazza della Bocca della VeritÓ, which we reach at 3:40pm (by the way, if you have no baby with you and don't make so many stops you should easily be able to cover the distances in a shorter time).

From Bocca della VeritÓ we walk back along the Tiber, then cross it passing through the Tiber island. On the island we have an icecream, then walk to Trastevere. Trastevere, at least the part we see, looks quite "trendy" and fashionable. We don't really see any run down neighbourhoods. We walk towards the church of St. Maria in Trastevere (nice interior), which we reach at 5pm. We spend one hour in the square at the fountain, relaxing a bit and listening to the music band (there is a band playing opposite the church). At 6pm we finally walk back towards the hotel. We pass by Piazza Farnese and Campo dei Fiori, before reaching the taxi stand in Largo Torre Argentina. There we fetch a taxi back to the Hotel (8 Euro).

In the evening I check the train schedules (there is a fast Eurostar train every half an hour to Florence, at least in the morning) and buy two first class train tickets (84 Euro for two tickets). Then I book a hotel in Florence through the Internet (hrs.de). Since I want to be in town, I book Hotel River for 110 Euro/night, a three star establishment along the river. There is also a three star hotel for 80 Euro per night, but it is 4km out of town and I'm pretty sure the taxi will cost at least 15 Euro one way, so that the taxi fees should eat up the room rate saving. By the way, the hotel (as everything else in Italy) is overpriced.




Copyright (c) 2005 Alfred Molon