No. of Recommendations: 7
We tend to travel a bit more than most. This year it will be nine months, last year it was ten and similar stretches over most of the last decade. I found that, while we were racking up miles, my brain was not able to keep up with all the minutia which I hadn't found compiled in one spot - so I decided to compile it into a book (Take the High Road - A Primer for the Independent Traveler). All the "best practices" joined articles covering topics like how to buy gold in Aasia, how to get clothes tailored, how to use the internet both safely and with innovation, how to obtain foreign currency, how to negotiate prices, use mass transit systems, buy exotic spices and on and on. To that, I added write ups on cities in close to a hundred countries (larger cities in greater detail and smaller towns with just a couple of pages to highlight the best sights, a decent restaurant or two, where to find free Wi-Fi and maybe a market). While there are plenty of guide books on the market, I find this particular curated collection of facts and advice has served me well.

Just for fun, I've included below a few short descriptions and one of a decent sized city (Rome, in this case) for those who might find them useful (in the "original", the sights are highlighted in yellow and cautions, as well as things that cost money, are colored red):

Roses, Spain

Roses is near to some the most attractive and least crowded beaches of the Costa Brava. Just down the road, the vast stretch of beach runs all the way to historic Sant Martí de Empuries, which also has its own charming beach.

The Port of Roses is located less than 500 meters from the town center. This is a tender port for cruise ships.

Rose was founded in the 5th century BC by Greeks from Massalia (Marseilles) the Catalan town is set on a lovely curve of beaches on Spain’s Costa Brava. Remains of the Greek settlement can still be seen. Remains from the Roman period go back to the 2nd century BC and continue well into Christian times.

In the first decades of the 16th century, Roses suffered repeated attacks by privateers from North Africa.
In 1645, during the Catalan Revolt, French troops besieged Roses and captured it. The Treaty of the Pyrenees (1659) restored the town to Spain.

In 1693, during the War of the Grand Alliance the French captured the town again. This time the French occupation lasted until the Peace of Ryswick in 1697. In 1712, during the War of the Spanish Succession, Austrian troops tried to take the city, but were driven off. In 1719, during the War of the Quadruple Alliance, the French again attacked, but failed to take Roses.

During the Napoleonic Wars, Spain was taken over by France. In 1814, when the defeated French withdrew from Spain, they blew up the town's fortifications along with the Castell de la Trinitat. At this time, the ancient town, called the Ciutadella, was completely ruined. Meanwhile, to the east the modern town slowly continued to grow.

La Ciudadela is a nice visit within an easy walk from the ship and costs 8 Euros (5 Euros for seniors) to see. The site includes a small museum tracing the history of the fort through artifacts dating from the 4th to the 19th Centuries. The outdoor portion of the citadel has various bastions and walls with a variety of stonework dating back as far as the Middle Ages. The grounds include a paaleochristian necropolis as well as the remains of the Lombard Romanesque monastery of Santa Maria as well as a number of other interesting areas.

Cap de Creus is a nearby area where the Pyrenees run down to the sea, accessible by way of the beautiful coastal artists village of Cadaqués made famous by Salvador Dalí and Picasso. Also nearby, within the Parc Natural del Cap de Creus is an impressive prehistoric megalith complex with several dolmans, menhirs, cists and inscultures reminiscent of what we’ve seen in the western part of France.

After a false start at heading to the nearby beautiful beach at Cadaques by bus, we changed our mind and took the half hour ride (3.15 Euros) to the town of Figueres (bus number 12 from the main bus station) to see the Theater Museum of Salvadore Dali.

We were not prepared for the crowds or the fact that the museum consists of 23 rooms filled with some of the most entertaining art ever created. Next time we will buy tickets over the internet in advance (which would have saved us about an hour). Waiting for our turn to enter, after finally buying tickets, we “killed time” (bad Dali joke here) in a second Dali museum included in the same ticket price (14 Euro, or 10 Euro for seniors) which was filled with the extraordinary jewelry designed by Dali. Most of this is “normal” by Dali terms and is encrusted with diamonds, rubies, emeralds and other precious stones. Not one to simply design a piece of “knock dead” jewelry, Dali supplied some with motors, so wings flap, hearts beat, jeweled doors open and so on. When we finally got into the main museum, built out of a large theater, we were faced with only limited time to look at hundreds of paintings and sketches, each of which deserved concentrated attention. Many of the pictures made me laugh or chckle. There was a huge (about 2 X 3 meters) painting of a naked lady which, when I photographed her, turned into a picture of Abraham Lincoln, dozens of black/white sketches showing unusual creatures, dripping watches and pointillism landscapes.

Oh well, we’ll try to get back in the future and spend an entire day in the museum.

We got off at the stop before the bus station in Roses (along the nice town beach) as it was a closer walk to the tender dock to get back to the ship.

Note: It is important when taking buses to realize that schedules can change more frequently due to traffic conditions than train schedules. Plan accordingly and don’t cut things too closely when heading back to a cruise ship.

Bilbao, Spain
“It is not down in any map; true places never are”. ~Herman Melville

Again, Oceania supplied a free shuttle bus for the 30 minute ride into the city of Bilbao from the port. Overlooking the port, is a row of mansions which I imagine were built by merchants who owned ships and who wanted to watch them coming into port.

What a nice city Bilbao is! It’s a charming Basque city with 700 years of history. We were dropped off across the street from the Museo de Bellas Artes (Museum of Fine Art) (closed on Monday). Founded from a merger of two galleries in the early 20th century, the museum’s collection covers from the 12th century to the present day and contains an extraordinary variety of art works.

From the museum we walked towards the river along Iparraguirre to our primary goal, the architecturally stunning structure of the Museo Guggenheim Bilbao (Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Website: http://www.guggenheim-bilbao.es/en/), located in the area of Abadoibarra. This is one of the European branches of the Guggenheim Museums (the other being the smaller Peggy Guggenheim Museum in Venice) owned by the same foundation endowed by Solomon Guggenheim, the philanthropist who also founded the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. The Guggenheim building is truly a work of art in itself. Designed by Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry, the Guggenheim Bilbao is a mass of twisted titanium and is one of the most celebrated buildings of the 20th century. It resembles a space age boat covered in glittering metal squares which evoke images of the scales of a fish while the huge skylights are made to look like fins. Built in the 1970’s to solve the traffic problems in the north of the city the quirky Puente de La Salve bridge was given a new lease of life when the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao was built underneath it, literally merging its structure into the bridge’s.

The museum’s permanent exhibit includes pieces by Picasso, Chagall, Warhol and dozens of other famous 20th century artists as well as pieces from other Guggenheim branches. There was a large temporary exhibit of works by Louise Bourgeois as well as some huge metal structures in an airplane hangar sized room on the ground floor. Outside there are numerous sculptural exhibits, such as the Spider sculpture "Maman" (1999) by Louise Bourgeois, which blends with the background of the architecturally revised bridge over the river.

The former capital of the Basque area, Guernica, was completely devastated on April 26, 1937 by German aircraft sent by Hitler to support Franco's troops. To protest the event, Pablo Picasso painted a mural entitled “Guernica” which hung for decades in NYC’s Museum of Modern Art. After Franco died, the painting was returned to Spain. When I enquired whether it was at the Guggenheim in Bilbao, I was told that it had been put on display in Madrid instead of in the Basque province “to prevent it from being damaged in transit”.

For great views of Bilbao, take the Funicular de Artxanda railway for 0.92 € up Artxanda Mountain. Constructed in 1915, the railway links Bilbao center with the recreational area at the summit of the nearby mountain, which contains a park, several restaurants, a hotel, and a sports complex. The station of the funicular is just north of Zubizuri Bridge, within walking distance of the Guggenheim Museum.

We walked north along the river from the Guggenheim crossing the Ponte del Arenal and walking into the Casco Viejo (“Old Town)”. Seven streets, and many alleyways, form the medieval neighborhood of Bilbao, located along the eastern bank of the River Nervión, southwest of Parque de Etxebarría. The Zazpikaleak or Las Siete Calles (The Seven Streets) are: Somera, “upper”, Artekale “middle street”, Tendería “shopkeeper’s”, Belostikale, Carnicería Vieja “old butchery”, Barrenkale “lower street” and Barrenkale Barrena, “lower lower street”.

Probably the most colorful and definitely the most interesting part of the city, the old town contains several historical churches including the 14th century Gothic Cathedral of Santiago (dedicated to the city's patron saint and perhaps, the oldest building in Bilbao, and boasting the Vizcaya region's most beautiful Neo-Gothic tower), the Arriaga Theatre and many of the city’s bars and restaurants. At one time, the cathedral was the center of Bilbao and all the city's main streets converged here.

At the far side of the Old Town, specializing in fish & seafood, the Mercado de la Ribera (Riverbank Market) was built in 1921 and is the largest indoor market in the world. The building itself is a columnless open space which has a unique, translucent floor that enables natural light to permeate throughout the buildings.

We’ve come to Old Town to find the origins of the Basque pintxo (tapas, or small open faced sandwiches) that we lunched on in Barcelona a week ago. After trying them in a couple of bars, we found the Bar Santamaria at Calle Santa Maria, 18. It is a small “hole in the wall”, crowded with locals, which usually means that the food is both good and cheap. It turned out to be excellent. We shared five of the pintxo’s made with combinations like caremalized apple and duck liver, deep fried cod patty wrapped in spiced potato and topped with a pimento jelly and the like. Five of these sandwiches and two generous pours of excellent wine (ordered generically) set us back 12 Euro (cash only here).

On the way back to the ship’s shuttle bus, we walked along Via Don Diego Lopez de Haro, one of the city’s main shopping streets. There are dozens of boutiques and a block sized El Corte Ingles department store with an annex across the street. There is also the Arrese Gozotegia Pasteleria which has been serving outstanding pastries since 1852.

In a country where most tourists think first of going to Barcelona, Seville, Grenada and the Costa del Sol, Bilboa should be way up there with the rest. Since it’s not, you get all the benefits without all the clutter of tourists when you stop here. Bilbao is a surprisingly interesting clean town filled with polite people. It is both eclectic and filled with cultural sites. I think one could easily spend an interesting month long drive-around trip in this part of Spain, the Pyrenes Mountains, Andorra and southern France.

Kerkira, Nisos Kerkira (Corfu), Greece

“Every man can transform the world from one of monotony and drabness to one of excitement and adventure.” – Irving Wallace


The island of Corfu lies a few miles off the Albanian coast. While currently a part of Greece, it’s location, at the mouth of the Adriatic Sea, and its strategic proximity to the heel of the Italian boot has given it a history of belonging to numerous Mediterranean powers and evidence remains of the cultural heritage from each of its past rulers - Byzantium, Venice, France, Russia and Great Britain.

Its legendary history starts back in 1200BC when it is presumed that Homer's Skheria, the island home of the Phoenicians, was Corfu. Corfu was a Corinthian colony between about 700BC and 400BC when their attempt at breaking free was indirectly the cause of the disastrous Peloponnesian War that effectively obliterated Athens and classical Greece. Two hundred years later, in 229 BC, Corfu was colonized by Rome and it was passed to the eastern Byzantine Empire in 722 AD. The Normans took the island, along with Sicily, in 1080 and held them until 1386 when the Venetians were invited in to restore order. In 1460, the body of St. Spiridon was brought to the island and became its patron saint. Every year there are four celebration days on which the body of St. Spiridon is paraded around: Palm Sunday, Easter Saturday, the 11th of August, to commemorate the defeat of the Turks in 1716, and the first Sunday in November to commemorate the end of a plague. Half the male population of Corfu seems to be named Spiros after the patron saint.

Corfu remained under Venetian rule until 1797 and they repulsed major assaults by the Turks in 1431, 1537, 1716. In 1797 Corfu was taken over by the Napoleonic French who laid out the regular street plan for the “New City” and began the construction of the arcaded buildings on the esplanade in Corfu town. At the end of the Napoleonic wars, in 1814, Corfu was occupied by the British who ceded it to Greece in 1864.

The ship kindly provided a shuttle bus at $16 round trip to the Old City. What they “forgot” to mention is that, from the opposite end of the same parking lot, the city bus #16 and bus # 17 will take you for 1.70 Euro (each way) to the same spot in the Old City. For 5 Euro you can buy a “day pass” which will allow you to ride the entire bus system and, by going back/forth through the main bus station, you can also visit the Achilleione Palace (built as a retreat by “Sissy”, the Empress of the Austro-Hungarian during the late 19th century), the Paleokastritsa Monastery and the Mon Repo Palace (situated on top of Analipsis Hill in the middle of a beautiful setting) on the same ticket. As Corfu is the second largest Greek Island, given the time constraints of a cruise, some further sites may not be reachable by bus. There are, of course, also wonderful beaches to laze on. Taxi tours run about 200 Euros for the day and might make sense for a pair of couples (as might renting a car, which would be cheaper, if you did a bit of research ahead of time) as it would be more time efficient than using the bus (just make sure your driver speaks decent English – not just the taxi dispatcher/tout).

I was able to snag free Wi-Fi “across the water” from a motorcycle rental place (from my cabin), but for traditionalists, free Wi-Fi is available in the port terminal, but if you don’t get there early enough to beat the crew, expect it to be somewhere between slow and useless. Most of the restaurants and cafes in town offer Wi-Fi if you make a nominal purchase and, of course, the McDonalds on the Esplanade across from the Old Fortress has a completely open high speed connection.

We are here on Sunday! While the buses are running, much of the town is shut down. Yesterday, this place was as packed as Dubrovnik with seven large ships in town, but today we’re the only one and everyone from the shopkeepers to the Gypsy beggars look as tired as the working girls of Rio the night after Carnival.

The streets of the Old City are lined with souvenir shops, restaurants, jewelry stores and other assorted businesses dependent on the tourist trade. This year’s season ends in about a week or so and the transient shopkeepers go home to other parts of Greece.

My wife decided to get her nails painted (5 Euro for color or 10 Euro if also filed) at the “Fish Spa” (Paleologou Street, 63) which specializes in fish that eat the dry skin off of people’s feet (generally 10 Euro, but reduced to 5 Euro for the day to drum up the laast of the tourist business). In talking to the technician, it seems that the name “Constantinople” (or just “Polis”) is used for the city the rest of the world calls Istanbul. Apparently, Turkey is still, in general, a nonexistent place for most Greeks.

From the standpoint of “value for money”, every jewelry store I dropped into was overpriced (where the price exceeded by too many multiples the cost of the gold and other components to be competitively priced), but some of the most attractive local jewelry is to be found at Spiros Skembri (Paleologou Street, 52/54). This jeweler has been at the location since 1897 and Mariuska Skembri, the great-granddaughter of the founder is still selling expertly made gold and silver objects. I spent a bit of time “reverse engineering” the pricing on his jewelry with her in order to get her to admit the store’s huge markup (OK, so it was a recreational exercise, but interesting all the same). Carrying the matrix of current gold prices I’ve mentioned before is the rational way to address his sort of discussion.

We again found the town’s “synagogue” (which again was closed on Sunday). Nearby we stumbled on the pastry shop run by Rosy Sussij at Paleologou St. 71 and 37 where we had a spinach and feta bourakes (the bakery stocks gluten free, kosher, vegan and dietetic cakes). Her family was Sephardic (originating with the Jews evicted by the Spanish Inquisition in 1492) and had lived at least seven generations in Athens, followed by four generations in Corfu. There are now 45 Jews in the town which had a Jewish population of about 2,500 before World War II when nearly all of them were exterminated by the Nazi occupiers. She said that “there was not much antisemitism in the town other than some ignorant people who refused to buy from Jewish merchants”. Afterwards we had a mixed triangular pastry of feta and spinach (hard to say if it was a spanakopita with cheese or a trikopita with spinach?) from Paranome Apodeih at Spyridonos, 26. This one was better than the bourake, but the sweet pastries at the first place were better (and resembled those which I would expect to find in Istanbul – or Constantinople as it’s known here-about)

Overall, this is a pleasant and diverting town and well worth wandering through (or using as a base to explore more of the island). For those who stay here and want to range further, there are daily ferries to both Italy and Albania.


Rome (Civitavecchia), Italy

“I’d rather wake up in the middle of nowhere than in any city on earth.” – Steve McQueen

We had originally intended to fly immediately to Nairobi, Kenya for the Game Migration, but events intervened. We found out by coincidence in June that Alitalia had cancelled all flights to and from Kenya back in February and scrambled to cancel our already completely paid safari and ended up with a ten day stay in Rome. Things could be worse.

I’ll mention up front that the culture of gratuities which exists in the US is not generally found here. While tips are always appreciated, they are completely optional at hotels (where service charges are generally included), hair salons (where there is a tip box for all to share, taxis and restaurants where a “bread and cover” charge of 1-3 Euros is frequently found. When in doubt, ask a local in advance.

Also, it is customary for diners to get up from their table and pay for their meal at the cashier, rather than have the waiter bring the bill and a credit card machine.

Arriving at Rome train station from Naples, we hopped into a cab for the ride to our hotel. I said “put it on the meter” and the cab driver said “35 Euros – flat rate”, at which point we hopped out aand took another cab who charged us the meter price of 10 Euros (plus a euro per large bag).

Rome is one of the few cities in the world where monuments thousands of years old are scattered around and seemingly taken for granted. The best way to see Rome is to just “get lost” in the city – you’ll be rewarded with all sorts of unexpected gems. While NYC has about 30,000 restaurants, there is no city in the world which has the shear density of restaurants as Rome. Many offer similar menus, but some prepare the food better and/or have better service than others (or, important this summer, have air conditioning). The vast majority of cars on the street are European (mostly Italian and German) with a small handful of Fords and nearly no Asian models. I assume this is a function of taxes or tariffs. People seem to make due with multiple jobs (probably some “off the books”) and there are few loitering or homeless in sight (besides the usual elderly, invalid or Gypsy beggars near religious sites). While there are some obvious immigrants from North Africa or the Middle East, most seem to be employed. There is far less smoking of cigarettes than I remember in the past.

Rome, like Paris, New York, London, Tokyo, Shanghai and the like should rank right up there with visiting the Pyramids, Matchu Pichu, Angkor Wat and other bucket list items. It is unfortunate that, from cruise ships, passengers have to limit their sightseeing of cities which deserve a week or more of exploration to the few hours available.

Italy is the country where Americans regularly press the first floor button on elevators expecting to be let off on the ground floor (forgetting that that is floor “Zero”). It is a country where the default car size is like to toy in the circus act and a motorcycle is more likely to be a Vespa than a Harley. It is a place where architects and electricians with senses of humor scatter switches around hotel rooms which sometimes do nothing and other times cause random lights too come on. The Via Corso (named for the straight route of water pipes) used to feature horse racing, the Piazza Navona featured navel battles and the Spanish Steps replaced a sea of mud. Italy is a land where, in the summer, American and German tourists pay a premium to fight through throngs of sweaty sightseers, to stand on line for hours, or follow guides with flags on sticks during the hottest time of the year (and whines of “I’m melting” can be taken literally with every day above 100F/38C degrees) – and the sometimes non-air conditioned buses and Metros can feature a cornucopia of odors generated by the unwashed masses. (October prices can be 50% of those during the summer in many resort cities and towns – and the weather much more pleasant as well. Lines for most museums can be avoided by reserving entry with an appointment time for about the same price as wasting your vacation standing on line for hours in the sun). Italy is also a country where young people give up their seats on the Metro and bus for the elderly – an action of polite compassion now long forgotten in countries like Germany – not to mention the US. It is also important, not only to cross with the light, but also at marked cross-walks – otherwise you become a target.

That said, Italy (and its neighbor France) can be so picturesque as to warrant the trouble and discomfort of visiting them in the summer.

The iconic spots in Rome can probably be seen in a week of dedicated non-stop sightseeing, but to properly see the city will probably take at least a month (but, during the summer, the heat will undoubtedly slow things down significantly). Trying to see it on a single day from a cruise ship docked an hour away at Civitavecchia is unrealistic – but that hasn’t kept us from coming into town for the day when we hit the port by ship.

The temperature in Rome is about hot enough to melt lead and the sun make Death Valley sound like a vacation spot. So it’s important to start the day early, drink plenty of water (and eat plenty of gelato?) and copy the locals with ducking into your hotel for an air conditioned siesta in the afternoon.

ON THE FIRST SUNDAY OF EACH MONTH, ALL STATE-OWNED MUSEUMS IN ROME ARE FREE

We’re staying ten days this time at the Le Méridien Visconti, which is on the Vatican’s side of the Tiber, not far from the Castello de Angelo. While we usually stay more towards the center of the city, this gives us the opportunity to try something new. The hotel is modern, but the rooms are relatively small and, at least when we first “took possession” lacked most of the toilet amenities as well as having defunct batteries in the TV remote – but all was promptly taken care of. There is no concierge, but the desk clerks have been knowledgeable about everything we’ve hit them with. As usual, some of the recommended restaurants were pretty tourist oriented (we frequently have better luck asking shopkeepers where they would eat lunch). Breakfasts (included in our rate) were varied with fresh fruit, eggs, cheeses, meats, sweet and savory baked goods, cereal, fresh orange juice and coffees made to order. The hotel supplied bottled water each day (appreciated because Rome is as hot as Hades this year). There’s no swimming pool (but that’s not unexpected in Rome). The location has turned out to be walking distance to many of the sights as well as the Lepanto Metro station and a number of major bus lines.

One of the primary benefits of the hotel is that it is located a few blocks from the SIT airport shuttle bus “Vatican” stop with a couple of buses an hour at 6 Euros a head. We are traveling light enough to hoof it to the stop (as the hotel has agreed to store our luggage until we return in a few weeks), but we always would have the option to take a taxi to the bus stop.

In the past we’ve sometimes booked a car service (www.romcabs.com) to bring us to the airport (120 Euros), but the taxis are now fixed price at 48 Euros to the FCO airport. Coming from the airport, the airport taxis charge 60 Euros, but the Rome taxis charge 48 Euros – make sure you know which cab you are getting into. While Uber is an option, they currently charge more than a taxi.

In terms of transferring to or from Civitavecchia, one option is by train. It’s about an hour by train between the port and Rome (in the case of Le Meridien Hotel, the St. Peters station near the Vatican is the closest) and costs a few Euros, then a taxi at both ends – or the bus in Civitavecchia completes the process. The next best alternative (or better if you have luggage) is to use https://www.civitavecchiaport.org/transfer/ to book a transfer. A car (for two with reasonable luggage) currently costs 130 Euros, but sharing can bring the price of a 150 Euro van down for each couple). The downside to the shares they set up is that you have to wait in your hotel (or in the van) while the driver picks up the other passengers – a process which takes about an hour (without any notice where you are in their schedule).

Previously, we’ve also stayed a couple of times at the Sofitel (formerly, called the Hotel Boston). This is located close to the top of the Spanish Steps, near the Villa Borghese and just far enough off the main drag to be as bit cheaper than the other hotels in its class.

The weather at our next stop is expected to be raining on the day we intend to be out of the city, so we decided to replace our lightweight ponchos with new ones. We asked at the front desk if there was a “Chinese Store” nearby and, sure enough there is a typical “we sell everything” one across the street from the hotel. This type of store has become ubiquitous from the US to Europe to Africa to remote South Pacific islands. Interestingly, we ran across a higher end version of this class of store on the north side of the Via Cola Rienzo shopping street named “Flying Tiger Copenhagen” (we also saw another one in the center city) which was reminiscent of the Miniso stores found in China. While Miniso pretended that their products were Japanese, this store tried to give the impression its products were German (in both cases the products are Chinese).

On the south side of Via Cola Rienzo are two fascinating food emporiums next to each other – “Castroni” (at Via Cola Rienzo), 196 which specializes in Italian and foreign items and “Franch” (at 200 Via Cola Rienzo) which is more concentrated on specialty meats. For the more plebian among us, there is a Carfour supermarket across the street from them (downstairs in the basement of a department store).

Also along the street, we found some very funky and attractive European eyewear designs at Design Optical, Via Cola Di Rienzo 23B. The frames are expensive, but unique.

My wife has had her hair done at the local branch of Jean Louis David, a European chain of hair salons (Via Cola di Rienzo, 23) who did not nickel and dime the price the way their Paris salon did. They were middle priced of the salons we checked, but at least were transparent about the costs (but check up front to make sure).

Only a couple of blocks from the Le Méridien Visconti hotel, we found a great little local restaurant. The La Francescana Trattoria-Pizzeria (Via Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina 11-17) provided a great pizza for lunch (with house wine cheaper than soda), but the piece de resistance was its self-serve anti-pasta bar at 8.50 Euros (many of the dishes currently involve eggplant and/or tomatoes). The service here is pretty poor and the indoors un-air conditioned, but the outdoor tables were in the shade, so still a good option in this area. Nearby, the gelato at the Neve di Latte gelateria (Via Federico Cesi, 1 also at Via Luigi Poletti, 6) was as good as it gets with outrageously tasty natural ingredients and at a very reasonable price for Rome (2 big balls in a cone for 2.50 Euro). On the corner, across the street from the hotel is a very inexpensive pizzeria named Miss Pizza (Via G. G. Belli 19). I‘d say it’s better for lunch as they seem to pre-prepare a lot and leave it on the counter until it’s sold. That said, their salads, pizzas and beer are tasty and very cheap.

Other restaurants we’ve eaten at within a short walk of our hotel (in order of preference):

Casa Prati, (Via Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina 41-43) – A modern air-conditioned restaurant with good service and moderately priced excellent food. The courgette (zucchini) flower and onion omelet and eggplant “meatball” appetizers were great.

Pupina (Via M. Dionigi, 37) - A small air-conditioned restaurant with good service and moderately priced food.

La Piccola Irpinia (Via Muzio Clementi, 69-75) – Not air conditioned, but good service and seafood

NOT RECOMMENDED: Ristorante Ambasciata di Capri (Via Ennio Ouirino Visconti, 52) – Charges cover charge (normal), but also service charge (not generally done in Rome). Used tout who tried to attract customers looking at menus of restaurants across the street. Tried to push premium dishes without disclosing prices, etc. Pizza was OK (not great) but atmosphere was pure tourist trap – there are many nearby better alternatives.

Civitavecchia (old city) has few redeeming characteristics other than being close to Rome.

While it is impossible to “see” all of Rome from a cruise ship, we have, over the years, (between stays of a few days at a time over the past four decades and quick stops from ships) spent a cumulative number of weeks in the “Eternal City”.

Civitavecchia is the port for Rome located approximately 45 miles northwest of the city. It is approximately an hour by train from Rome and an hour by car from the airport. As the Italian trains have been a bit erratic over the past year (I guess Mussolini can get the trains to run on time, but the Italians have figured put how to wipe out this last vestige of his rule), figure at least an extra half hour (or more) of delays any time you are taking an Italian train nowadays.

Free Wi-Fi has been introduced to the Civitavecchia downtown area. A highlight was the availability of free Wi-Fi and good cappuccino at the local McDonalds (Server: INFOSTRADA, PW: KUHJVVVWFFN3G in capitals). While you could connect anywhere within the restaurant, the internet only worked properly from the stand-up console in the middle of the first floor.

While many of the passengers continue out of abject terror or apathy continue to pay for the ship’s excursions (transfer to Rome and back by bus is sold at $99), it’s only about an hour and a half train ride from Civitavecchia to Termini Station in Rome.

While there’s a free shuttle service provided between your ship and a parking lot outside the port where a 2 € bus can be taken to the train station (it’s a bit far to walk – about 3km) and, with waiting for the bus figured in, won’t save you any time, it is again permitted to simply walk from the ship (past the fort at the port exit, turn right and walk past the Hertz office to the train station on the left) to the train station. It’s about a twenty minute (1.4km) walk and, unless physically challenged, this is the best solution. Incidentally, the statue of the sailor kissing the woman in Times Square at the announcement of the end of World War II which used to be here has been moved to Norway.

The best way to deal with this is to simply ignore the free shuttle bus and walk out of the port next to the old fortress at the end of the pier.

Trains from Civitavecchia to Rome are about € 5.50 each way. But, in the past, we’ve picked up the “BIRG” card for 13 € (including 1 € tax) from the Tabacchi next to the train station entrance which gives 24 hours of universal local transit – including the train to Rome and all Roman Metro and bus lines.

Check the schedules posted in the stations. (There is usually reduced service on Sunday).
Reserving or researching more complicated travel by train in Italy can be done on http://www.trenitalia.com/.

On our latest trip, because we were traveling with a large suitcase (to be left in Rome for the month of European travel we have planned, only to be retrieved when we stay a night there again before boarding our ship home, we are taking a car service to Rome. Four of us (we shared with another couple) hired Rome-Airport.net (https://www.rome-airport.net/, ask@rome-airport.net) to bring us, in a large mini-van, from the ship to a pair of hotels at a cost of 150 Euros, plus 20 Euros for the second drop-off of the other couple.

While I won’t pretend that the following ad-lib walking tour shows everything in the city, it was the best I could cook up on the fly and would make sense to give the flavor of the place to anyone whose time was limited to a few hours.

While trains are frequent to Rome, this is Italy and the trains are on partial strike. So we left the station about 40 minutes late.

The train into Rome was packed with luggage and people disembarking from a large Costa cruise ship along with everyone else. I was not embarrassed to tell a kid to get his luggage pieces off of two seats so we could sit (and left it to him to figure out what to do with his baggage).


Rather than head to Rome’s main Termini Station, we got off the train at St. Peter’s station in Vatican City (the nearest Metro station would be Ottaviano). It was fun to watch the facial expressions and listen to the exclamations coming from the newbies as we turned a corner and the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica came into view.

We had pre-purchased tickets to see the Vatican Museum and the spectacular Sistine Chapel for 11AM (https://biglietteriamusei.vatican.va/musei/tickets/do ) and had to keep moving to make the appointment. When we reached the Vatican, we started our mile-long trek around the plaza in front of St. Peter’s Basilica. The plaza was as crowded as Coney Island on a hot summer day and we realized that the Pope, surrounded by black and red clad cardinals, was speaking to the crowd from a platform next to a huge “Pope-a-thon” TV monitor.

Entry to the Basilica is free (but there is a fee to climb the dome), but there is a long line at the security check. Make sure to see Michaelangelo’s Pieta on the right side. If you want to send a postcard from the Vatican, the post office is on the southwest side of the piazza.

It’s important to dress “respectfully” when visiting the Vatican Museum (no hat, no shorts, knees and shoulders covered, no torn jeans, etc.) or you may be prevented from entering the Sistine Chapel or the Basica.

Just past the edge of the plaza, we ran into the que for the museum which had thousands lined up for hours for the privilege of buying tickets to the exhibits. The efficacy of purchasing tickets from the museums with appointment times was reinforced when we bypassed the line, walked to the special door and walked directly into the museum.

Interestingly, while taking a shuttle to Civitavecchio to pick up a cruise on August 31st, I noticed that ther was NO line at the Vatican Museum – like nothing, none, peopleless. I guess the vacation rush is over, kids heading back to school, and Europe is about to get back to normal.

The interior of the Papal Palace which constitutes the museum is more lavish and larger than any other I’ve seen – including the Hermitage in Russia, Dolmabace Palace in Istanbul, Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna – or anywhere this side of the Library of Congress. The art displayed is the equal of that found in any of the world’s great museums, but this is humbled by the “Hall of Maps”, the rooms covered with huge murals by Ruben, and of course the Michelangelo masterpiece of the Sistine Chapel ceiling. When exiting the Sistine Chapel, head through the right hand door (rather than the left-hand door leading to other sections of the museum – if in doubt, ask one of the guards) to enter the Basilica to see Michelangelo’s Pieta – perhaps his most accomplished sculpture.

The plaza was prepared for crowds later on in the day but the lines right now were only a couple of hours long. We decided to show off Rome rather than kill the day at the Vatican (well, I probably wouldn’t call seeing the Vatican Museum, Basilica and Sistine Chapel “killing the day”, but it would have seriously limited the remaining time to see the rest of the City and the proper procedure would be to reserve an entry time in advance). After a photo stop including some gaudily dressed Swiss Guards, we headed down the obelisk lined Via Della Concilliazone to the Pope’s redoubt – the Castel Saint Angelo (made famous in Dan Brown’s books).

The Castel Saint Angelo (entrance fee is a few Euros), a short walk, past the ornate Palace of Justice from the Le Méridien Visconti we stayed at was, according to myth, a location chosen around 500 AD by the Archangel Michael, while it was actually originally built as the massive cylindrical mausoleum of the emperor Hadrian around 100 AD. The original cylindrical shape was fortified by the addition of bastions, creating a significant fortification. A tunnel was dug to St. Peters in the Vatican to allow Popes to escape here during attacks on the Vatican. Some of the Popes even created lavish apartments here and lived in the Castle fulltime. This is a mildly interesting building to wander through (and parts provide cool shade on hot Rome days – as long as you understand that you will end up climbing a tower bit by bit).

The city was mobbed with long tour groups; following babbling guides holding up umbrellas and other stuff, and acting like a jumble of centipedes.

We headed across the Tiber River (called Fiume Tevere, another swap of the letter “B” and letter “V” so common around the Mediterranean and the rationale for the name Trastevere for the neighborhood across the river from central Rome) on the Ponte Saint Angelo and turned left (eastward) about a block later to find the quickest route to the Piazza Navona. Over the years, this huge oval has been home to mock sea battles and carriage racing. More importantly, today it is home to Restaurante Tre Scalini (which occupies a series of storefronts almost a block long). While this is a fine (expensive) restaurant, we visited for a specific reason. I had them open up their gelatieria (the far left-hand storefront of the ten which make up the very long restaurant) and sell us tartufo’s (Italian for truffle) now at 6 Euro’s each. Picture a ball of dark chocolate gelato (a creamy soft Italian ice cream) with a cherry and chunks of broken dark chocolate mixed in. Now it’s dipped (and frozen) in hard chocolate. To serve, it is smashed flat like a hamburger shape and served with whipped cream on top. It’s worth a trip to Rome just to eat this confection.

Our current route was in the opposite direction from another option if we had not visited the Vatican and had disembarked at Termini station. The route from Termini station would have taken us to the Great Synagogue of Rome (which has a fascinating tour) and across the bridges through Isola to see some of Rome’s first churches. Lunch would have either been in one of the traditionally Roman restaurants (heavy on artichoke dishes) in the former Jewish ghetto or on the opposite side of the Tiber in the Trastevere part of the city.

Instead, we walked a few blocks further east to one of my favorite buildings anywhere – the Pantheon. It is hard to imagine that this incredible building has stood for close to two millennia and is still an eye-popper. Its massive dome, the world’s largest for over a thousand years, with its open oculus takes one’s breath away.

While our transit passes would have allowed us to take the Metro and busses, the sights are frequently only 4-6 blocks apart, so it’s hardly worth waiting for mass transit (but the distances add up and I suspect we did about seven miles of walking through the city). While Rome is a large “modern” city, similar to other Italian cities, much of it consists of buildings which are hundreds (sometimes thousands) of years old – not “Middle East Old”, but much older than in the States.

From here, the obvious next stop was the Trevi Fountain. The crowds here were intense and the pickpockets were obvious to anyone who knows what to look for (at least three passengers had their pockets cleaned out today in Rome). There is a legend (probably promoted by the fountain cleaning union) that if you throw a coin in the fountain you will return to Rome. We headed north across Via del Triton following a street named “Propaganda” to the Spanish Steps (given as a gift by the King of Spain a few centuries ago to replace a muddy downhill path).

Be aware that pickpockets work the train, the metro and in crowded areas like the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain in Rome.

The most famous fashion streets in Rome are three parallel streets that all meet up with Via del Corso, starting from Piazza di Spagna or near there: Via Condotti, Via Borgognona and Via Frattina. The most famous of the three is Via Condotti, which owes its name to the channels that carried water to the Agrippa thermal spa baths. Today it is one of the most elegant streets in the world, lined with the shops of the most famous fashion labels. At the Steps, we took a left down the Via Condotti to gawk at windows displaying products to a crowd who would most likely end up only wearing the names involved on Chinese knockoffs. Louis Vuitton, Jimmy Choo, Bulgari, Cartier, Fendi, Furla, Valentino, etc., etc. But it’s fun to look.

While we should have dived into the Metro around now and headed (changing at Termini) for the Coliseum, it became obvious that the natives were getting restless and it was feeding time at the zoo. We turned left on Via Corso and dropped into “Antica Tavola Calda Del Corso” (at Via Del Corso, 321). This jam packed place has what seem to be over 100 different varieties of Italian foods on display. You choose what you want to eat, which is put on a tray. You are handed a paper ticket with your bill, pay at a cashier, and then return to pick up your tray and head to a table. Everyone got different dishes, all of which were great. Osso Bucco (a casserole of veal shank flavored with garlic, tomatoes and wine) showed up as did three different preparations of artichokes – and of course tiramisu (a little pick-me-up) for desert.

Well, in for a penny and all that, again we threw logic to the winds and, rather than take the Metro, we walked down the Via del Corso down to the Monument of Vittoria Emanuel II which houses the Unknown Soldier. After watching the changing of the guards (not as impressive as the one in Athens) we climbed to the upper level of the monument to take aerial photos of the Coliseum (there is an elevator which you can buy a ticket to go higher up, but we didn’t as we were getting as bit worn out by now and still had quite a trek ahead of us).

Now we’re heading deep into the heart of ancient Rome. With the Trajan’s Column and Trajan’s Market to our left and the Palatino to our right we marched towards the Coliseum (a bit disconcerting to see that this is the center of a traffic circle) – avoiding the guys dressed like gladiators and centurions looking to make a buck by posing for photos and the bunch of obvious pickpockets looking to make a living. Icons such as the Arch of Constantine and the smaller Arch of Titus are as thick as mushrooms around here.

At this point we figured we’d call it a day. We dropped underground at the Colosseo (Coliseum) Metro station and took the train to Termini Station (two stops). Here we found out that the train back to Civitavecchia was on track #29 – and that tracks 25 through 29 were 400 meters past the last track of the main portion of the station about a half mile hike within the station itself from the subway station (so allow extra time).

The trip back passed some very nice beach areas once it hit the coast and took about an hour and a quarter. We had left at about 9AM and reached the ship at about 6PM which I figure was a pretty good day’s work.
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