Aug 17, 2010,
Hi, I think many of the trip reports suffer from too many personal descriptions. We had a trip for 7 nights in Rome, 3 in Florence and 3 in Venice during late June / early July. Here are some punchy, straight-to-the-point tips, focused on what may be missing from other trip reports.
BEFORE YOU LEAVE
* Book a time to visit Galleria Borghese through phone. Check their website for the phone number.
* Book a time for Uffizi. Call the number. (We missed our 9.30 booking and landed up at 12.30, but still got our reserved tickets).
* You need to pay to use the toilets in all the railway stations in Italy (Eur 0.5 - Eur 1). Steep!
* You will end up walking a lot. Wear good shoes, and carry a hat and/or an umbrellla.
* Almost all the museums are closed on Mondays.
* We think it makes more sense to buy guidebooks rather than audio guides. With audio, sometimes the comments are too detailed. If you stop the audio for a painting, you have this suspicion that you have missed out something important. With a guidebook, you can glance through the contents quickly - so the time for each painting is more in your control. Plus you have something to carry back home.
* There are many water fountains, particularly in Rome, from which you can refill your bottles.
TRENITALIA BOOKING AND ITALY TRAINS
* If you have a question, call their helpdesk. They do answer or call back. But be prepared for unclear telephone lines.
* You have to a different credit card for every booking; else it will be rejected.
* Lowest priced tickets (called Meno 30) are available only for adults. If you are traveling with kids, after you choose the train, you first specify the number of kids and then click on "Add Price" for the adult tickets.That way, you will get the lowest price.
* The carriage numbers are mentioned in small letters on the doors of each carriage. The big numbers "1" and "2" on the carriages are not the carriage numbers.
* Use the washroom on the train before getting off. That way, you avoid paying Eur 0.5 - 1 for the washrooms in the stations.
* When you have to get off at intermediate points, get ready 10-15 min in advance by gathering your belongings near the door. The train may stop for just 1-2 minutes and you will be fighting for space against the incoming passengers as well as other outgoing passengers as well as those obstructing the walkway for no reason! (We lost two bags that way when the train from Rome to Verona stopped in Florence for just 60 seconds.)
* Some cities have multiple stations. Be sure of where you are getting off and don't assume all trains go to the central station.
* Don't lose any of your bags in the trains or you will never see them again. The entire Trenitalia system does not have a "Lost and Found" office.
* If possible, get into the train early. (Once, on a trip from Naples to Rome, another family landed up just after we had sat down and claimed the seats. When we compared the tickets, there seemed to be a clash of bookings. But since we had already occupied the seats, they said something in Itallian and went away. We don't know why and what happened to them.)
* Pizza Margerita = Eur 4 - 7, but generally around Eur 5.
* A basic pasta (say, pasta with tomato sauce) = Eur 6 - 8
* A basic sandwich (say, with mozzerella and tomato in Panini) = Eur 3 - 4
* You need to always buy bottled water in restaurants for Eur 2-3. We did not know how to tell the guy we have our own water or to just give us tap water! I guess we were too shy!
* Since public transport is Eur 1 per person, you may like to take a taxi if you are a group of 4.
* Taxis ply by meter, but be careful to note the meter before you get off. Drivers may try to cheat (once, the driver pressed some button on the meter as soon as we reached the destination and the meter showed Eur 18 for what should have been a ride of Eur 7. When I expressed shock, he quicky brought it down to Eur 9!)
* As soon as the taxi stops, the driver wipes the meter clean. So notice the meter before it stops and let him know that you have noticed it.
* There seems to be a night charge between 10pm and 7am. The meter starts at Eur 5.90 instead of Eur 3.90.
* Taxis used Tariffa 1 generally, but Tariffa 2 sometimes. I could not tell why.
* Examples of taxi costs:
Trastevere - Galleria Borghese = Eur 10
Trevi Fountain - Trastevere = Eur 8
Colosseum - Trastevere = Eur 8
Trastevere - Vatican Museums = Eur 12
Vatican Museums - Trastevere = Eur 8
Trastevere - Etruscan Museum = Eur 10
Trastevere - Termini = Eur 10
* Book before you leave your hometown. Call their telephone - check their website for the telephone number.
* You need an ID to pickup your reserved tickets.
* Even with a reservation, reach 30 minutes in advance to buy the tickets and deposit your bags.
* You get 2 hours to visit.
* There are two floors full of stuff. You cannot spend too much time on each artwork. It is better to have an idea of the top pieces you wish to see. One way to do that is to visit the bookshop before entering the exhibits. We saw a book called "10 Masterpieces" which would have been a perfect introduction, but unfortunately we saw it only after visiting.
* Get an audioguide after you deposit your bags. There are printed explanation sheets in every room, but sometimes they are missing, and sometimes they are not great. It is worth investing in an audioguide.
ANCIENT ROME (FORUM, PALATINE HILLS, COLOSSEUM
* Buy tickets with no queue from the entrance to the Palatine Hills on Via di San Gregario, ahead of the Arch of Constantine
* If you want to listen to every word of the guide, plan for 2.5 hrs for the Forum, 2 hours for Palatine Hill and Museum, and 2 hours for the Colosseum.
* You get a map along with the audioguide for Forum/Palatine Hill, but the directions in the accompanying map are not great.
* It does not matter in which order you see the Forum, Palatine Hills and Colosseum.
Time required: 3 hours at the Forum and Palatine Hill if you spend a reasonable time. Not much in Palatine Museum.
VATICAN MUSEUMS AND ST. PETER'S
* Book your tour before you leave home through internet.
* We chose the 3 hour tour of the museums and St. Peter's. The actual tour lasted 2.5 hrs (1.75 hrs in the Museums and 0.75 in St. P). We were generally happy with the tour, but the guide skipped Raphael Rooms even though she had 0.5 hrs more, which is not professional. In the tour, we spent only about 5 min in the Sistine chapel, but it clearly deserves more time.
* If you wish to see the Pope, you need to get other types of tickets.
* Wear full trousers and shirt/T-shirt with sleeves to comply with the dress code.
* After the first official tour, we wanted to go back to the Museums. We went at around 10:30 on a Wednesday, around the time when the Pope was supposed to be giving an audience. We found we could just walk right in and get tickets
* They let you take water inside if you have your own plastic (but not glass) bottle.
* You can take photos everywhere without a flash, but no photos at all inside Sistine chapel.
* There is a drinking water tap on the other side of the road bang opposite the Museum entrance.
Time required: 3 hours if you spend a reasonable time (incl 20-30 min in the Sistine chapel)
- 1 hour at St. Peter's.
NATIONAL ETRUSCAN MUSEUM
(We saw only half the exhibits since there was a "strike" when we went)
* The cafetaria was exorbitant. No self service.
* You can leave the bags in the ticket counter.
* No water fountain.
Time required: a bit more than 1 hour for the stuff that we actually managed to see, which we understood was about 40%