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Heart of Italy Pre-tour museums/sites in Rome?

Hi, This is our first RS Tour--We're booked on Heart of Italy starting 3/10/19. Is it too early to pack?
The itinerary in Rome has one day in the Vatican/Vatican museums, and the second day Ancient Rome then bus to Volterra. I'm more excited about ancient Rome than I am about Vatican Rome (though I'm stoked for that too). Here's my issue: we arrive with about a day and a half to hang in Rome before we meet the tour--yes, we know about jet lag, but we prefer to hit the European ground running :)
So, we're planning to go the Borghese Gallery, one day, but thoughts on Capitoline Museum (I don't think it's included on the tour?), vs. Museum of Roman Civilization? Any opinions on time efficient Ancient sites/museums not included in the official tour? I should add that my husband has a high tolerance for museum-ing as long as he's well fed.

Also, My 2016 RS Italy book has almost nothing on Voletrra, any thoughts on free time there? Is it a good place to just meander?

Thanks all!

Posted by
2852 posts

Yes to meandering in Volterra. You may want to buy some alabaster there. I bought assorted alabaster Easter eggs that I bring out every year.
Honestly, I don’t think of Rome and museums. Yes to Villa Borghese and the Vatican Museum. Maybe Capitoline Museum and Dora Phamphilj.

Posted by
5623 posts

This is an excellent tour. It was my first one too and unfortunately it has let to an RS addiction, having just finished my 9th and 10th tours this summer, hahaha!!

I've done the Capitoline Museum and thought it was wonderful. It's huge so don't feel you have to cover the whole thing. There is an underground access from one building under the piazza to the other one and if you need to feed your husband the restaurant at the top had excellent views of Rome! I'm not familiar with the Museum of Roman Civilization. The area around the Forum is just filled with Roman ruins. Really, I was shocked. Some of it will just need walking around and reading plaques on buildings, lol!

This was our first European trip so I organized a "VIP" tour/van transfer from the airport (there were 5 of us), mostly because the regular van shuttles were full, lol. Anyway, he took us to the "Aventine Keyhole" which is a keyhole you peek thru to see the dome of St Peters thru the garden of the Knights of Malta complex. We went back to look for it and enjoyed the walk up from the Circus Maximus thru the Rose Garden (probably won't be blooming in March). This might be a good thing to keep in mind on your first day when you want to be out in the sunshine to help with jet lag. Our tour stayed at the Hotel Sonya and we walked there from the hotel to the keyhole but took the Metro back.

Volterra is one of my favorite places! You'll have a walking tour first thing in the AM, then go to an alabaster workshop (so don't buy alabaster until you watch the demo!). The guide will probably point out the windows in the church that are made of alabaster. Then you'll probably have a wine tasting late in the afternoon. Ours was done by the husband of the walking tour guide and was excellent. My 2 nephews were ages 20 and 25 on the trip and this was their first wine tasting experience. We still laugh about looking for particles in the wine! You'll get a map of the town from the hotel (or maybe the guide will give it to you?). After the walking tour you will have lots of ideas about where you want to spend your time. The Roman amphitheater is pretty cool. Or just up and down the pedestrian streets. It's small and you can cover the whole area in the afternoon.

No, it's not too early to pack, hahaha!! At least start your packing list. Do a trial pack. Your bus will leave you at the main square in Volterra as they are not able to drive thru town and you'll walk a few blocks to the hotel. in Monterosso you'll be dropped at the train station in Levanto where the driver will park the bus, then you'll take the train in to Monterosso. I didn't do this the first time I visited Monterosso but I'd consider just taking an overnight bag in to this hotel just because navigating up/down the stairs at the train stations is a pain even with a carry-on size bag. The 2nd time I went to Monterosso (yes...another RS tour, haha!) I just packed a few toiletries, a clean shirt, unders/pjs into my "day bag" or "bus bag".

You'll have a great time!

Posted by
43 posts

You'll love the tour, we just got back a few weeks ago. There is so much to seeing Rome.

You'll love the Borghese, such a awesome intimate experience with incredible art and if you head upstairs first, then downstairs; you'll be opposite the crowd. Check youtube for art historians interpreting the meaning behind the Bernini statues b4 you go. And don't google map "Villa Borghese" google map "Galleria Borghese" to find it. Don't be late and give yourself a good hour to metro then walk there.

Walk around the corner if you see the Aventine keyhole, to see the Bocca Verrata. You're a block or 2 away! Palatine hill, The Baths, the Crypts, Appian Way and Capitoline are Roman sites you may want to target. We did the Bernini/Michaelangelo hunt in the many churches and Plazzas. You'll pass random old Roman ruins as you walk around, some have descriptions some don't.

The Vatican tour is abbreviated, TELL your guide if you want to see the Raphael Rooms, they were not on our Vatican Tour, same with the Forum. Our guide sat in the shade and told stories, we didn't really see much of the forum. Don't hesitate to peel off to see what you want. Have a plan, Rome is big and to see a lot of it you need a plan or more likely an idea that may not be achieved as time always runs out.

We did an dining experience in Trastervere. Barbara and Ferdinand. awesome experience and incredible food. A truly local dining experience. One of the highlights of the tour for us.

Loved Volterra. Get lost in the quaint streets and alleys. Ask the guide to describe the Etruscan Museum in detail before she bails. She will bring you in tell a brief story and she is gone. you are free too linger but walk upstairs to see the preserved tomb. The wine tasting was awesome. we bought a couple of bottles to enjoy later in the tour. The country side is beautiful as you drive to Volterra.

If you love seafood; as soon as you arrive in Monterossa, get a reservation at the Belvedere and get the Amphora!! Its a seafood ciopinni like meal served in an earthenware container at your table. Calamari, octopus, mussels, shrimp, fish and lobster in a tomato based broth. Great presentation for a great meal. Get noodle legs and do a challenging hike between hill towns. Do the boat ride organized by your guide. We saw the sun setting over the Mediterranean on our ride. Have a Spritz and swim in the ocean although it may be cold there in March and I hope things are open, as the Cinque Terre tends to sleep in the winter/off season.

In Florence have the steak! Spend some time across the Arno River. Extend your time in the Uffizi and head to the basement to see more incredible art. Get noodle legs and a timed entry to climb the Duomo for the incredible views and you'll feel every one of the 462 steps!! Gallileo museum is also interesting if you're into science. Our hotel had a Tower bar and we had a spritz as we watched the sun set and the lights of Florence come alive.

Enjoy your trip and don't stress out if you don't see all on your list! I didn't either!. Oh well, looks like we gotta go back :)

Posted by
144 posts

You'll have so much fun! This was our first RS tour in 2014 and I still think of it daily! For your first day I HIGHLY recommend the Eating Europe Twilight Trastevere tour. You get to see one of the original Roman neighborhoods (listen to Ricks Trastevere Walking tour on his audio app) while you eat GREAT food and learn about how to tell good gelato from fake gelato, how to order in a coffee bar, learn about some great restaurants that you can go to on the nights you're on your own for dinner. It's a great way to spend that first afternoon/evening because you are out in the fresh air walking around. Everyone I've recommended the Eating Europe tour to has said it was a highlight of their trip!

Enjoy Volterra it's amazing, lovely people. And an ATM that's very secure in the main square. I wish I had learned more about the Etruscans. If you have time read up about them before you go, they are fascinating and some knowledge beforehand would be great. I spent an afternoon walking around the town while DH and our friends napped. Its lovely. Our guide was Annie Adair, she hooked us up with a local agretourismo where we had a fantastic lunch our first day in Volterra, the wine tasting her husband did was really fun!

And I'm setting aside stuff for my May HO France trip so no, it is not to soon to be packing!

Posted by
13 posts

Thank you everyone! We're so excited to go! If our tour mates are as fun as the posters in the forum, we're in for a great time!

We're keeping your responses to inform our first few days in Rome. I think the car service might be worth it after the flight :)
I especially like the idea of the food tour! Io mangio! (that's as far as my language skills have progressed, but I have time!)

I've heard several people talk about the Galileo Museum, it's on the list too.

Any thoughts on the ease of taking a train from Florence to Venice at the end of the tour? We'd like to hit that as well. (or hotels in Venice while we're at it?)

Posted by
5623 posts

I loved the Galileo Museum in Florence. By that time my family group was a bit burned out on museums but this one was excellent.

It would be very easy to take a train from Florence to Venice altho Venice is sort of a pain in the neck to fly out of. It's just that often you'll have to leave on a very early morning flight out to catch your connecting flight to the US. My suggestion if you have the time and budget is to leave on your intra-European flight in the early afternoon, stay overnight near that departure airport (or spend a few days if you have time) and then be set for your international flight at a reasonable time the next morning. Trying to get transportation (vaporetto, ferry or private water taxi) for a 6A flight is not my idea of fun.

If you can work out a reasonable departure scenario, then Venice is fun. You'll have your Italian travel skills hone (sort of, lol) by then so you'll enjoy yourself. The last time I stayed there I stayed at Hotel Campiello. I chose it because it was near an Alilaguna ferry stop from the airport and I was meeting my brother and SIL who had not been to Venice before. I liked the hotel, they did not. They had a room that was sort of next door to the hotel and had an exterior door right on to the street/tiny piazza. I've also stayed at Hotel Mercurio Venice on a RS tour. It's near Teatro La Fenice (the opera house).

Posted by
33 posts

Hi...We just finished this tour a few weeks ago and loved it!

We got the car service from our hotel (Hotel Museum) which was well worth it. We spent the day wandering...St. Peter's Square, Old Rome, etc. I think I would have done a dinner tour, but we were pretty lagged. The Vatican was definitely a hurried tour, as was the Forum. I would have loved more time there, but we were getting on the bus to Volterra and couldn't linger much at all.

We ate at two really good places near the hotel...Locanda di Pietro and Il Beisagliere Roma ( a real neighborhood place). We also stopped for pizza at one of the pizza shops to eat back at the hotel for lunch. We enjoyed wandering around Old Rome and had our first meal at Cantina and Cucina...excellent! We also enjoyed the Campo Di Fiore for the market and a quick beer to cool off. We never had a bad meal in Italy

Volterra was one of our favorite places. It's just fun to wander the old streets and explore. After the tour, we visited Siena and some of the hill towns and loved those as well.

We got a pass for the boat in the Cinque Terre and visited three towns. More than that would be nearly impossible. We had a great meal at Trattoria Da Billy on Manarola for my birthday lunch. We got there shortly after they opened and while waiting, the host gave all of us a glass of prosecco. Excellent food and view after a grueling hike up the hill!!

This is a quick tour, and we wish we had more days in each place, but for our first tour and first time to Italy, we saw quite a bit in a short time.


Posted by
85 posts

All good ideas! Just want to add our two cents about the car service offered by the Hotel Museum (lovely staff there!). We reserved a car and driver with them for our May arrival, and our British Air flight was delayed at Heathrow. I made a call to the hotel from the airport...Barbara was able to reach the driver...we thought it would be a delay of less than an hour. By the time we landed, we were almost three hours late. I had told them that we didn’t expect the driver to wait, that we would totally understand if he would have to leave... But there he was, holding a sign! Just a gracious, sweet guy!

Be absolutely sure to find Old Bridge’s between the hotel and the closest entrance to St. Peter’s Square. The profumi di Sicilia gelato is just amazing. Have a wonderful time..this is a great tour!

Posted by
144 posts

Train from Florence to Venice is very easy.

If you fly out of Venice take a water taxi to the airport It’s about €80 but worth it. You get to see Venice before it wake up and you feel like you’re in a James Bond movie. I know a great VRBO that’s two bed rooms two baths PM if that would work for you.

Posted by
13 posts

Hi Gretchen, Are the water taxis easy to navigate? We’re flying out of Venice (after months of checking and re-checking flighs) pretty early in the morning to catch a ride back to Dulles. You mentioned early, and I’ve read here that they run early. In your experience, are these reliable? I’m also hoping that our friendly hotel staff (which will be a RS recommendation—Common Rick, Don’t let me down now!) will be willing to assist.

Another question: the Heart of Italy tour ends in Florence, and we’re hoping our guide/new travel friends will be able to help us navigate the train to Venice—do we need to worry about ticket availably in mid/early March?

Thanks all!


Posted by
5623 posts

"Another question: the Heart of Italy tour ends in Florence, and we’re hoping our guide/new travel friends will be able to help us navigate the train to Venice—do we need to worry about ticket availably in mid/early March?"

Yes! Tell your guide you'd like some help on this and they might be able to organize something. Our guide invited anyone who needed help to come with her to the train station. She helped everyone buy onward tickets and did kind of an overview of the train station for those not familiar with public transportation.

Others will let you know if this is the kind of ticket where it pays to buy ahead online due to lower prices. I'm not good with Italian train fares!

Posted by
8 posts

I was on the Heart of Italy tour in late September, and arrived 2.5 days earlier than meeting up with the R.S. Tour. The first day (Friday), I went to tour the Museum Borghese. Tickets are only for a two-hour tour, so make sure you get to see both floors. Start up on the 2nd floor, opposite what most of the crowd does. For supper that night, I ate at the Ristorante de Gabriela, featured in the R.S. Rome DVD, and highly recommended. On Saturday, I had booked a full-day bus tour (7 am to 8 pm) to Pompeii and Positano through which was very informative (Pompeii Ruins) and extraordinarily beautiful (Positano). Sunday morning I traveled by 45 minutes outside of town to Tivoli, to tour the Villa d'Este, which was beautiful. As for Volterra, it was my favorite city to see. With the windy narrow streets, it was easy to get lost, but not too hard to find your way back to the center of town. I hope to go back there one day. Our guide and his wife and children lived there, and she gave a walking tour during the first morning. Make sure you purchase trip insurance. I went through World Nomads...highly recommended and less expensive for my age than the R.S. recommended company. Have fun!!

Posted by
144 posts

I think we bought train tickets in advance, mostly because I was so excited I did everything I could in advance so I could be doing something related to the trip every day ;). Your guide can help you with that and with understand how the signs work on the train platforms. It was easy but crowded.

If your hotel arranges the water taxi for you it will be very reliable. Most hotels have a dock for them. DEFINITELY do the Rick Steves Audio tour of Venice by vaperetto. Really a fun way to get to know Venice and her history. We took a vaperetto to the bus station from San Marco. That’s the first stop for the vaps so they are empty there. That way we could get seats in the front of the boat before it hits the busier train station which is where the audio tour starts.

Posted by
13 posts

Thank you all! I just received my Italy 2019 guide book in the mail. I'm totally ready to go!