Frank's tips are also awesome. Yes yes, do NOT bother renting a car for Rome. Eek! You're familiar with those teeny tiny Smart cars, yes? A lot of people in Rome drive those because the alleyways are so narrow and crooked, and there is no parking for full-sized cars. People park their Smarts like Americans park their bicycles. You don't want to have to worry about that. Plus, it's VERY easy to get around by bus, train, or walking.
Hop-on, hop-off buses are fantastic! They're available in many tourist destinations and they are a great way to get a "lay of the land." You can get a sense of general neighborhood areas (my suggestion is that you take a city map with you and follow along; the bus may actually offer a little map brochure for this purpose), how far things are, keep an eye out for anything that looks really interesting, look out for things you recognize from photos, keep tabs on the places you know you'll be visiting later. Price is pretty reasonable, especially if you consider that you'll have an all-day pass so you can use it later on in the day to get somewhere else. There will be some things the bus probably won't go to (such as the Pantheon or the Spanish Steps) but still very well worth it.
Originally Posted by Frank II
Ooooo I just went to check Rick Steves' website, and I forgot he has a great little iPhone/Android app! I checked, and he has walking tours of the Colosseum, the Forum, the Jewish Ghetto, Ostia Antica (this requires a drive or bus ride to the outskirts of the city, but it's fascinating), the Pantheon, Pompeii, St. Peter's Basilica, the Sistine Chapel, and Trastevere. Looks like you could have Rick Steves as your persona guide!
I do agree though, signing up for a tour at the Vatican is probably worth the extra money. If nothing else, it lets you skip the humongous line just to get inside.
Pictures of gorgeous Italian trains with equally gorgeous names.
3 most important things, select your airline and your hotel very carefully and try to convince your wife to use a Tom Bihn Bag.
Below is a link of Rome's yearly average temperature and precipitation.
Rome Climate - Climate of Rome Italy | World Climates
That should help you and your wife plan for your travel wardrobe. It might sound silly but consider a rain hat instead of an umbrella, it is lightweight, fold to nothing and can be secured with straps if its windy.
You might want to consider hiring a private guide and car for your time in Rome. We had limited time after a cruise and found it was cheaper than a night in a hotel. We only had one day, so he picked us up at our hotel and since we wanted to see the Vatican, he dropped us off there for a private tour, led by a young PhD in Art History. She was able to get us to the front of the line. Our tour was incredible (though I wish we'd had the afternoon to browse it on our own. The afternoon tour was by the private driver. He interviewed us to get an idea of what we wanted to see. We listed a few things and then to him to show us his favorites and that he did. The advantage was that he could double park and get us close to things on a very hot day. For lunch we asked for a reasonable restaurant with authentic Italian food, one that he would take his family to. It was unreal and we were the only tourists there. They treated us like royalty, making sure we all got personal favorites.
If you can swing one day like this, or better yet one day with the car and another with a morning tour at the Vatican, the rest of the day on your own, I highly recommend it.
Something I forgot to mention but is very important.....if you decide to take any train in Italy, you must remember to validate your ticket before getting on the train. There are yellow or orange boxes that you stick the ticket in and it gets stamped with the date. Do it just before boarding.
Should you board a train without a valid ticket, the conductor will more than likely fine you and you are required to pay on the spot. The fine, last I heard, was 50 Euros per person.
Not surprisingly, someone has made a Youtube video on how to do it:
‪How to Validate Train Ticket in Italy by Rooms and Menus‬‏ - YouTube
Seesul, it sounds like you found a great deal. Quick question. You mentioned that you hired a "private driver." Do you mean that you got the personal services of a professional driver with a limo or cab license? I'm thinking that's how he was able to double-park, yes?
How did you go about finding the driver, and was the art history tour guide someone your driver got for you?
Travel Apps for Italy
@Jeffmac, Lani and Frank have given you lots of good suggestions. Since Lani has mentioned the Rick Steves apps, and it's apparent that you have an iPhone and an iPad from your earlier posts, I'll add some suggestions of free apps from the Ministry of Culture (MiBAC):
Originally Posted by Lani
The first app is in Italian but has maps, photos, links to web sites for tickets, and listed hours, as well as descriptions of the top 40 sites. You may find the connections for the photos slower to update if you're running the app at high network traffic times outside the country. (All the other apps I mention work offline, without an active network connection).
The second app gives a 3D reconstruction of the buildings in the area around the Colisseum with audio description (English or Italian). You can run this in offline mode (without an internet connection) and as you pan around, you'll be able to select an audio narration of the history of the buildings you view. The narration continues as you move towards other buildings, although you'll see the new structures highlighted as you move. You can stop and switch to the tracks for the new structure(s) at any time. While the display is more impressive in the HD iPad view, it's more convenient on an iPhone, since you tilt the device in the direction of the structures you want to view; if you hold it flat on a table you'll only view the ground, even though you can still use the compass navigation controls to move to different structures for the audio narration.
The Rick Steves' Audio Europe app lets you select and download tracks for your "playlist" from a variety of categories (e.g., "General Europe", "Italy", and "Italy (Venice, Florence, Rome)". "General Europe" has sections discussing topics like Architecture or Art Appreciation for Travelers, Art outside of museums, Bike Touring, or Driving, Business customs, Food Specialities, Castles, dealing with Fear of Flying, etc. There are several specific walking tours in the "Italy (Venice, Florence, Rome)" section. You can try these out, and then decide whether you're interested in the specific paid apps (with images, maps, and videos) for St. Peter's Basilic and Ancient Rome ($2.99 each currently).
The Rick Steves apps are very well executed for the mobile medium. Some other things you might do:
The second list of suggestions is very discretionary. Even though the digital images won't compare with viewing art in person, I find that in a lot of instances that I want to refer to details of the artwork (before and after seeing the original). It's hard to take note everything you want to view on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, even if you've read about this beforehand. There are whole series of Overdamped art by various artists and sculptors. If you want some background popular reading, try your public library downloads (eBooks and/or audiobooks) through the free OverDrive Media app. You can use this for both scholarly and popular works (e.g. Ross King's "Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling" or "Brunelleschi's Dome" in eBook or audio format), as well as conventional travel guides. I linked to the Amazon Kindle site for one example, but you can get the same book at other sites/formats, or go to Smashwords if you want to get a version (in any format) that is free of DRM.
I'll just comment that the Lonely Planet guides as apps (e.g. Lonely Planet Rome) feel a bit as though they stuffed the printed guide into an app: it's OK for the content, but clearly not optimized to take advantage of the media format, the way the Rick Steves apps are. A number of these guides, including the one for Rome, were free for the week following the volcanic eruption in Iceland that stranded several passengers.
Finally, the mPassport series of apps are interesting: they support medical needs of English speaking travelers abroad by giving information on hospitals, emergency numbers, pharmacies and their hours, along with lists and contact information for English speaking doctors and dentists that have been pre-vetted by HTH International. What's particularly useful, even if you don't have a medical emergency, are the drug equivalency guides and the "Medical Translations" section that lets you look up phrases and sentences covering medical situations in either English or the other language. This all works without an internet connection, and will use the GPS of your iPhone, if available. (The only additional feature that relies on an internet connection is hearing the spoken audio for the translated phrases in Italian, Spanish, German, etc.). These apps have all been free at some time or another. If you want to try this out, you can get mPassport Vienna or mPassport Barcelona, which are both free for the month of August. Not all cities are covered, and not all of the covered cities have the Medical Translations feature, but their are apps for both Rome and Florence.
If you have traveled to Germany before, you will be familiar with the procedure for validating tickets on public transportation that Frank described for Italy, since a similar system is in effect there.
Moriond, are you a reference librarian? What a fantastic post! Wow!!!!
PS: If you're a librarian in Hawaii, let me know! I got my MLIS at the UH and worked at SLIS as its student services officer for many years before private industry recruited me away to California (so I know a lot of librarians in Hawaii).
I am going to add, don't over plan. A vacation is also about getting breakfast in bed or in the room balcony looking at the gorgeous scenery, taking leisurely strolls and eat load and load of yummy food.
While I do think major museums are better enjoyed booked in advance, churches and monuments can be walked in and enjoyed peacefully with your wife by finding a quiet corner away from the tours.
That said, Moriond, as always, is an encyclopedia!
Everyone's already given great advice and it sounds like you've decided where you're going, but I'll chime in just for the general feeling of the thread! I lived in Italy for a total of six years and love it dearly. It is the home of my heart. My son and I are going later this month to meet up with my husband, who's an overseas contractor. Our plans are to visit Venice and Florence and structure the visits around our son's interests (science, architecture, and the sites in the game Assassin's Creed.) We're flying in and out of Venice, which I've done before and find to be very easy. Of course my son and I will be carrying TB bags! I'll probably carry my Tri-Star and he'll have an Aeronaut. So easy to get around with public transportation and stay light on our feet!
Also, my art teacher taught me a very important way to approach museums-- choose just a handful of works you want to focus on, rather than trying to see everything in the museum. You'll absorb a lot more about the few works you spend a lot of time with. So I have a few things I want to see, like some specific works at the Guggenheim in Venice, along with some statues in Florence. We will also be spending a lot of time soaking in the gorgeous September weather and having espresso at cafes!
Thank you for the very personal reply on this! Venice is definitely on my bucket list, just no sure I can make it this trip...
Jeffmac, if you have the time, I'd put in a plug for Orvieto. It's 1.5 hrs from Rome by train, and a great place for a day trip. The old city (centro storico) is perched on a tufa cliff; from the train station you get up there via funicular. There are a few cars in the upper city, but it's very walkable. The cathedral is beautiful, there are a surprising number of good restaurants and the most amazing gelato (Pasqualetti--there's also an outpost in Rome).
Mrs Badger and I stayed in Orvieto for 10 weeks while she was doing a course in Italian, and we are planning a brief return trip this Christmas. This time is sure to be even better, because we'll be traveling only with carry-ons, and not two suitcases fully of my dissertation books. :D
Originally Posted by Lani
Nope, not a librarian -- just a consumer of books! @jeffmac for more good, free iOS travel apps this week, check out the mTrip apps that normally list for $5.99. The one for Rome should go free about 24 hours from now, and the one for Venice goes free a day later. For other cities, and the scheduled release, check this TUAW article on "mTrip offers free iPhone travel guides". Today's free cities are London, Berlin. San Francisco, Madrid, Dublin, and Shanghai. (Today means as of about an hour ago, and the availability doesn't seem to last 24 hours).
Great! I am going to San Fran this month and Madrid next month. Perfect timing!
@moriond: thanks a ton for that link! I happened to click it today and lo and behold, Venice was available! BTW, the other cities for today are Barcelona, Stockholm, Munich and Hong Kong.
moriond -- I was able to snag quite a few of those for free!! Unfortunately, I missed the day they had Chicago for free, and it's one of the cities we'll be visiting next month on a trip. These guys are actually so good I might go ahead and pay for one.