The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

The thoughts expressed here are my personal thoughts and sometimes reflect my political views. As a private citizen I have every right to express these views.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Off to Rome??

Uh-oh. It's been only 10 months since our last visit to Rome, but Diane and I are once again itching to return. We've made a number of visits during the past decade and, God willing, will make many more in the years to come.

I'm unable to articulate fully why Rome holds such an attraction for us. Because we seem to like everything about the city, it's hard to know where to begin. There's so much to like: the Vatican; the basilicas and churches; the opportunity to stroll through the remains of ancient Rome; the food, the wine, the noise, the people...We like it all.

Dome of St. Peter's from the Vatican Gardens.

If you've never been to Rome, you should definitely put it at the top of your "bucket list." And don't be put off by what you may have heard about the high prices and crowds. A little planning and online research can go a long way toward making your trip both affordable and enjoyable. I hope the following tips will help you plan a truly unforgettable trip.

1. How long? Unless you expect to make more than one trip, plan to spend at least a week in Rome -- ten days is even better. There's so much to see and too often visitors try to pack too much into each day. "Overbooking" your time will only make for a stressful vacation and deprive you of one of the joys of a visit to Rome: learning to ease into the pace of the city and its people. Take some time and make it a true vacation during which you will come to know and love the city and its people. One of my desires is to find the wherewithal to rent an apartment and spend a full month in Rome. Maybe...we'll see.

2. When to visit?
For me, the best time of year to visit Rome is in the spring or fall. Late September and October or April and early May usually offer fairly nice weather. Just be sure to plan far enough ahead so you can book reservations at the hotel of your choice. These can be popular times. The winter months -- from November through March -- tend to be colder and rainy, although we once visited in November and were blessed with fairly comfortable weather. Summers can be hot and during August much of Rome shuts down as the Romans go on vacation elsewhere. Summer is also the season for lots of open-air shows and festivals of all sorts. For what it's worth, my next trip will probably be in mid-September or April.

3. Booking Flights. I usually book our flight first, before making hotel or other reservations. Deals on airfares are definitely out there these days. You can purchase a round-trip ticket to Rome for $700 or less...often a lot less. And this is from Orlando! If you're flying out of New York or some other major international airports on the east coast, you'll find much cheaper flights. If, like us, you're retired and have the ability to travel at off-peak times or on relatively short notice, you can travel even less expensively. Here are some suggestions:

The Colosseum
  • Check lots of different travel websites before booking your flights. Memberships to these sites -- Orbitz, Travelocity, Expedia, Cheap Flights, etc. -- is free and can sometimes save you big bucks.
  • Be sure to check out the individual airline sites as well. They sometimes have limited time offers you won't find elsewhere. For example, on our last trip we flew via British Air, thanks to an email they sent me advertising a limited time offer (48 hours!) for 1/2 price tickets to Rome. The flight, from Orlando to Rome, included a plane change at Gatwick (London). Most airlines also offer package deals that include your hotel stay. If you're considering one of these deals, just be sure that the hotel meets your needs. (See below.)
  • If you have the time and don't mind changing planes a couple of times, you can often get remarkably low-cost seats. On one trip, we flew to Rome from Orlando via New York and Paris, changing planes at each stop. It was a bit tiring but it sure saved us a bundle. We probably won't do that again though. Our aging bodies have asked us to limit future trips to one plane change.
A wall in the Trastevere district of Rome

4. Check out the Package Deals. This leads me to another suggestion. In addition to the packages offered by airlines (addressed above), there are travel firms that specialize in putting together low-cost packages that include airfare, hotels, airport transfers, side trips -- pretty much whatever you want. Back in 2005 Diane and I used one of these firms -- go-today.com -- for a trip that included Rome and Venice. The package advertised three days in each city, but we extended each stay by several days. They offered a range of five hotel selections from basic tourist class up to a deluxe luxury hotel. Since the hotels were named, I was able to visit each hotel's website and get a better sense of the accommodations and services offered. We ended up choosing a mid-range hotel in each city and were extremely happy with the result. The folks at go-today also reserved airport transfers for us, upgraded to first class our train trip from Rome to Venice, and arranged a one-day side trip to Orvieto during our stay in Rome. Everything went smoothly and we had no complaints whatsoever.

San Angelo Bridge

5. Choosing a Hotel. I hate to recommend specific hotels because everyone's tastes and budgets vary...so I won't. I will, however, offer some suggestions that might help you choose the best hotel for you.
  • For me the most important consideration is location. I want a hotel where I can walk to many of the places I intend to visit. If I plan to spend a lot of time at the Vatican, then I want a hotel nearby. If I intend to spend most of my time in the historic center of the city, then that's where I'll want to stay. On our last visit, we split the difference and chose a small hotel in the Prati district located about a third of the way between the Vatican and Piazza Navona. It turned out to be a good choice.
  • Once you've narrowed down the general location, you can go to websites such as hotels.com or bookings.com and search for hotels during the time of your trip. These and similar sites allow you to narrow down the search based on such factors as location in the city, price, services offered, customer ratings, etc.
  • Keep in mind that you probably won't spend much time in your hotel room. You can spend a lot of money on luxuries you will never or rarely use. When in Rome the main thing I'm looking for in a hotel is a good night's sleep.
  • After location, my selection criteria include: no noise at night; a comfortable bed; an adequate breakfast; and free Internet access for the little netbook I take with me. You will probably have other criteria, but the important thing is to consider them before booking your room. Check out the customer reviews and see what others have experienced. And be sure to visit the websites of all the hotels you are considering. If you have questions don't hesitate to email the hotel directly. Prior to our last trip, I developed quite an email relationship with the manager of the hotel where we ultimately stayed. I was always pleasant and respectful and never neglected to thank him for taking the time to answer my questions. As a result he upgraded us to a larger room the day after our arrival. I also gave them a wonderful review on the website we used to book the hotel. I expect they'll remember us should we choose to stay there again. Being nice always pays off.
  • Unless you're wealthy (I'm not), price is always a factor. Don't necessarily accept the price listed on the hotel search website. Visit the hotel's site as well and see if they have any special deals during the time of your visit. It also doesn't hurt to email or call the hotel directly and see if you can negotiate a better price.
  • My only negative suggestion regarding hotels is to avoid the area near the Rome train station (Stazione Termini). The negatives? It isn't the best neighborhood, although recent reports indicate that the police have cut the crime rate substantially and many people now consider it a fairly safe area. It's also a noisy area because of the traffic and the nighttime activity. The positives? There are some nice hotels with very reasonable rates. You also have ready access to public transportation that can take you anywhere in Rome and beyond.
(By the way, I took the above photo of Pope Benedict XVI during a Wednesday general audience in November 2005. It is possible to get a seat close to His Holiness.)

That's all for now. In my next post I'll pass along suggestions on what to see and do while in Rome and how to obtain tickets to some of the real neat stuff like papal audiences and tours of the excavations under St. Peter's Basilica.

Blessings...

2 comments:

  1. I found a very interesting initiative: Rome low cost. It's promoted by the city coucil. This is the article where I red the news (in italian): http://www.marcopolo.tv

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for the link, Fabio. It just shows how the economy is driving local governments, like Rome's, to seek ways to attract tourists' scarce euros and dollars. I'll nose around the web and try to find an English language description of this initiative.

    ReplyDelete