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Six Days in Rome – 3/24 to 3/31, Day 1 April 18, 2010

Posted by hslu in Taxes.
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Six Days in Rome – 3/24 to 3/31

Air France sent us a promotional email in early March, 2010. The vacation package for Rome from Air France Holidays included round-trip air fare from IAD, six nights in a 2-star hotel and free breakfasts for less than $900. Sounded like a great deal to us and Bao and I jumped on the opportunity and started checking out details.

The 2-star hotel was recently renovated but it was too far away from city center in a not too good part of Rome. Traveling back and forth would be too time consuming. Upgrade to a nicer hotel was imperative. We chose a 4-star hotel three blocks from Roma Termini; its central train/metro station which was a very smart move. We also signed up for three tours: Ancient Rome, Monument Rome and Illuminated Rome plus a candlelight dinner with entertainment. We also had to pay airport security charges and taxes too.

Our Air France flight from IAD to Paris was completely full because several airlines combined their flights together to increase ridership which improved airlines bottom lines. Our dinner wasn’t too bad. The rice was very good with the sauce the breakfast sandwich was just okay. After a two-hour stop-over at Paris, we boarded an Air Italia flight to Rome. Again it was crowded and we had only drinks and crackers to enjoy.

Dinner on Air france flight from IAD to Paris

Paris Airport

€5 or $7 for a sandwich in Paris Airport

A beautiful ad in Paris Airport
Orange juice on Air Italia – Blood Orange

We arrived at Rome Airport in mid-afternoon, got out of Immigration very quickly and were greeted by yummy gelatos, mouth-watering cookies and delicious chocolates right by the gate. We couldn’t resist but to try their mango gelato which was very creamy with intensive flavor.

Gelatos in Rome Airport

After getting our luggage, the custom officer waved his hand and let us out without even asking a question. We then followed the sigh to the train station which was about 5 minutes away in a separate building. The train ride to Roma Termini cost €12 and took about 40 minutes to reach downtown Rome. Along the way we saw part of Rome that wasn’t very desirable. The walls and bridges were dirty and covered with graffiti wherever there was an open space. The streets were crowded and covered with paper, leaves and trash. The apartments along the railroad tracks were at most 10 stories high and they looked small and old.

Roma Termini was huge and it was filled with travelers and local commuters alike. In a word, it looked like a zoo. Many people lug their luggage behind them and looked for the right platform to go to. There were 29 platforms, many shops, restaurants, cafes, drug stores and souvenir shops spreading out over two floors. We got out of Roma Termini and didn’t know where we were because we could find the street signs. We started walking based on my memory of where the hotel was relative to Roma Termini but I got the direction wrong. We ended up on a block of street with some Chinese shops and a few restaurants. One restaurant was called 望鄉樓 “wang4 xiang1 lou2” which has this interesting display:

望鄉笑迎天下客 “wang4 xiang1 xiao4 ying2 tian1 xia4 ke4” Saw at a Chinese Restaurant in Rome

望鄉笑迎天下客 “wang4 xiang1 xiao4 ying2 tian1 xia4 ke4.”

Hmm, what would be a good 下聯 “xia4 lkian2” for this?

We finally found the street signs and were able to follow them to our hotel. It turned out that there were no street sign posts in downtown Rome. Sometimes, there was no street sing at an intersection at all. At other intersections, we might find just one, sometimes 2, street signs which were carved on the wall somewhere between the second and the ground floors. If you weren’t at the right place, you wouldn’t see the sign at all. We spent about 5 minutes just to find the street where the hotel was on.

We finally found our hotel and it was small with about 50 rooms. The lobby was clean and the gentleman was friendly and nice. I showed him my reservation and he checked his computer and told me that I wasn’t in his system. Hmm, what a bomber!

Hotel Champagne Palace

Entrance of the hotel

I told him about Air France Holidays and he said that he couldn’t find me. I told him that I’ve already paid for the room and he said he’d check. He called around and still could find my record. He finally said that it was apparently that I’ve already paid for the room and he said that we could check in and he’d check again and everything should be okay, he promised.

Our 3rd floor corner room was very small: a queen bed, two night stands, a chair, a credenza which doubled as a dresser, table and TV stand, a 19” CRT TV, a 19” LCD TV on the wall that’s not working,  a sofa, a small bathroom equipped with shower/tub combo, a bidet and a toilet. There was very little walk space in the room except near the door. We had two windows and air conditioning which we didn’t need because the weather was quite nice. According to the website, the hotel had Internet services but I found out that it was not available.

We quickly put our stuff down and went to the front desk again. I asked the gentleman about the Internet and he said that it was cheaper to find Internet access at many Internet Points near the hotel which offered Internet services and oversea phone calls for a small fee. We also asked him for a recommendation for dinner and he told us that there was a nice Italian restaurant about 2 blocks away. He made a reservation for us at 7 PM and off we went to see what Rome was like near our hotel.

Sure enough, there were many Internet Points which charged about €1 for an hour of usage. Many of them were operated by Indians and each store usually had 10 to 15 PCs plus three and three to five phone booths. I registered with one of them and used it to check emails and search for tour information if we needed. Another business we saw a lot was the currency exchange shops. The rates were decided by the company according to the official exchange rate and their profit margins. Do not hesitate to ask around in order to get the best rate. Make sure you pay attention ot each company’s service charges because they could be a lot if you are not carefully.

One of the Internet Points near our hotel

Since it was getting darker, we didn’t want to venture out too far away from our hotel for fear of not being able to find our way back. The first impression I had was that there were too many restaurants: ristorante, trattoria, osteria, pizzeria and café. A large number of them have tables outside for side-walk dinning, completed with umbrellas, table cloth, napkin and wine glasses. A few have propane heaters to keep you warm if it was needed. Waiters in uniform cheerfully greeted us as we walked by them. Daily specials were displayed on a black board and menu was opened displayed near the front door for everyone to see. Then there were many gelato shops which also carried espresso or latte. We also saw many small boutique shops selling Italian sausages, cheeses, candies and groceries. too . Internet Points were everywhere probably because it was not convenient or cost effective to get Internet service at home. I do see many and Middle Easterners and Africans there using telephone to call home. Not very many people used the Internet service though.

We had our dinner at Nuova Stella about two blocks away from our hotel. The restaurant first opened in 1963 and it offered a multi-lingual menu; English, German, French and Spanish, all in one giant book. Hmm, a tourist spots for sure.

Nuova Stella

We ordered a bottle of Chardonnay from Casale del Giglio for €20. It was fruity and little on the dry side. Bread was €3 including bread sticks came in plastic wraps. Italian mix appetizer was €8 which included egg plant, prosciutto, vegetable Frittata, Tuscany salame (with pork fat cubes,) deep-fried zucchini and a few olives. Our waiter let us alone and we took our time enjoying this simple starter. We both liked prosciutto and salame because they were perfect with our wine.

€3 bread

Cheese tortellini in broth was €6 and it wasn’t that good. We also ordered a mushroom and cheese piazza with prosciutto, olive and egg cost €7. The crust was very thin and, unlike American pizza, there was very little sauce. The pizza was surprisingly good even without the sauce: the cheese, the mushroom and prosciutto made the pizza so much better than the tomato sauce we usually have in the United States. The 2 hour meal came to €48 including €4 service charge.

We skipped dessert at the restaurant because we wanted to have gelato at the corner shop across the street from our hotel. Although it was still early we decided to check back with the hotel about our reservation. When we walked into the lobby, the same gentleman greeted us and said that everything was okay and we could have breakfast tomorrow morning before 9:30.

Tomorrow was the first full day of our Rome vacation. Our first tour was in the afternoon but we need to confirm our reservation with the company. We’d first have breakfast at the hotel. We’d then visit one of four very important churches in Rome on the way to the tour company which was less than a mile away. Lunch; we’d deal with that when we’re hungry. Dinner: we still had plenty of time to choose a place to eat.

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