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12 Days in Italy

Below are our insights and suggestions. We traveled from Chicago to Rome via Alitalia. After reading a number of scathing reviews about Alitalia on-line, we took a chance and booked w/them because they offered a very good fare & a direct flight from Chicago to Rome. W/recent trips to France, Germany and Belgium via American and United that were close to miserable air travel conditions, we were prepared for the worst. However, ended up flying on a brand new Airbus A330 to Rome that was exceptionally roomy & only 50% full. Return trip (Florence via Rome) also on a very new A330, but near capacity. Flight crews were friendly & helpful. Airplane food, well... Boarding in Chicago was simple & easy. The return process in Rome was chaotic & definitely less structured. We did not encounter any issues due to the recent terminal fire in Rome. Unlike the US, in Rome expect to get ferried around on busses to get to your plane. Also, if you're a female & selected prior to boarding, be prepared for a rather public and "hands on" inspection. Travel into Rome: Cab, train or private van. Due to the heat, we didn't want to walk from Termini to the hotel & went w/the private van. We negotiated the same price as the train and were dropped at the front door.

Rome: Our stay in Italy was excessively hot with almost every day getting into triple digits.
- Vatican City: We booked the crypt tour saw a part of Vatican that most do not. It was interesting and got us head of the line privileges. Strongly recommend that you hit Vatican early. We arrived via the 64 bus at 8 am and had the square to ourselves. By the time we left the line was 3 hours just to get into St. Peters. For 15 euro you can get head of the line privileges along with a great audio guide.
- Ancient Rome: Booked a tour with Walks of Italy and were extremely happy with the knowledge and personality of the guide. 3+ hour tour with only 12 people. Spent the rest of our adventures following Rick's self-guided walking tours using the bus and metro system - worked out great.
- Hotel: We stayed at Hotel Sonya. Great location for walking or pubic transit. The rooms were newly updated, clean and quiet. The continental breakfast was great - well beyond the typical limited selection.
- Dining: Get away from the hotel strips and the fancy looking places. Good food is available for great prices when you walk a little bit.
Naples/Pompeii: Naples remains the dirty, gritty place I recall from my Navy days. But if you want to see the best items that used to be in Pompeii, you have to go to the city museum in Naples. Great pizza! Pompeii was a disappointment. The majority of the treasures have been removed and a significant portion of the site is under renovation. The train ride from Naples is an interesting adventure - again, early is better.
Siena: Wonderful town that needs to be experienced at sunrise and after sunset (spend the night if you can). We stayed at Albergo Bernini in the old town (stayed in room #10, w/an amazing view and the hotel's patio is a great place to watch the colors change as the sun goes down while having a bottle of wine). The local pasta is excellent. Getting from the train station to your room is a small challenge when hot. Travel to Firenze by bus was easy & inexpensive.
Firenze:Walk everywhere. We stayed at Hotel Bellevue - loved the local flair of the place. Luciano & Alessandro are EXCELLENT hosts & will go out of their way to assist your adventures. Their travel, food & drink recommendations were great. We were able to visit the Accademia & Uffizi in one day w/out reservations - start early! Climb the Dome early. San Croce was a great surprise. Bus up to Michael Angelo Piazza to overlook Firenze at days end. Pisa & Lucca day trip was great. Do Pisa 1st as they have the bigger crowds, visit the Tower & Field of Miracles then catch the train (2nd station is a shorter walk) & spend the rest of the day enjoying Lucca. GET GELATO DAILY!

Posted by
11613 posts

Scott, thanks for posting, and you gave some great tips.

One thing, the Archeological Museum in Napoli is a national museum, not a city one, in case readers go looking for the wrong place.

Posted by
524 posts

Hi, we plan on visiting Pompeii our last day. Would you please elaborate on why you found it so disappointing? Even if some areas are closed off, are there not alot still open? i also read that about a dozen castes are on display at the amphitheatre at the rear..that is one of the reasons we had decided to go to Pompeii instead of Herculanuum. anyway, just hoping you could elaborate.

Posted by
4370 posts

Concerning Pompeii, I can't think of a similar (outdoor) site that doesn't have all of its treasures removed to some museum(s). Pompeii and Herculaneum were both buried (in different materials) for many centuries; it's a small miracle that preserved items from both sites are as concentrated (by area) as they are. You can blame any destruction, and conversely some of the preservation, of their treasures on the King of Naples. 'The good stuff' was removed and brought to him, and with the reunification of Italy it stayed in Naples. We don't have to visit 7 different countries to see the collection of the treasures of those two communities. I was actually pleasantly surprised by how much is still in situ - the mosaics, the frescoes, as much decoration as still remains on site.'s pretty well known that it's best to visit both the archaeological sites AND the museum (afterwards seems to be the consensus) to get the full picture. A lot of archeological sites (certainly - and very regrettably - including Pompeii and Herculaneum) are covered in scaffolding or otherwise off-limits due to work-in-progress or serious instability that could be very dangerous to be around. There's been a lot written about both H & P concerning their instability and lack of funds dedicated to preservation. Peripheral collapses are a fairly common occurrence every time it rains, so see it while you can. Pompeii is still a HUGE site, so if even half of it is off-limits, it's still a full day's worth of wandering...for me. I realize that 2 hours is plenty for many people, though. To each his own, variety is the spice of life, que sera que sera, In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, and all that.

Siena IS a little gem. Love it (every chance I get).

So Scott, where to next? ;-)