Thursday, June 5th, 2008


After disembarking one last time from INSIGNIA, we easily gathered our bags and headed right out the door to the pick-up area. As the disembarkation process was so easy, we ended up waiting for half an hour until our ROMECABS driver arrived to take us to our hotel in Rome. We were early, he was right on time: 8:30 a.m.


When the driver arrived, we all were a little concerned that we couldn’t get all of us and all of our luggage into the Chrysler minivan… but surprise, he got all the bags in the vehicle and we set off for Rome.


The drive was long… almost 2 hours with the morning traffic… so it was a huge relief (in more ways than one) when we arrived at our hotel in Rome: THE RIVER PALACE HOTEL. Guidebooks, websites and other resources all can try to give you a good idea of what a hotel will be like, but until you get there for yourself, one can have reservations about any place. You have to go on faith.


Fortunately, we were in good shape. The hotel was not the Hilton in Venice, but for a European hotel in a major city, it was about 90 percent of what American travelers would expect from a hotel. The location, just off the Piazza del Popolo, couldn’t have been better… just off the Red Line of the METRO and just outside the gate to the Ancient City.


Everything was in order with our reservations, but as expected, our rooms were not ready yet… it was only 10:30 a.m.. The manager directed us to the lounge with comfy, modern furniture. He provided us with a map and tour information about what was in the area and close to the hotel. So we secured our baggage and set off for a walk to the Spanish Steps area, as it wasn’t far from our hotel. Our guide for the evening walk wasn’t coming until 5 p.m., so the timing was good for a walk to the Spanish Steps, grab lunch, and then head back to the hotel to check in.


So we set off… no guide, just us. I had previously read that we were in a “good area” full of shops and good hotels, but we were all coming from a cruise ship with wide open spaces and the sea to a big, big city. The environment was a complete change for all of us. And there was a little rain… but the hotel provided us with umbrellas, so we were all good (and the umbrellas were a nice touch). It took a little while, but we got familiar with our surroundings.


When we got to Piazza del Popolo we noticed that an area was roped off… we surmised that a foreign dignitary was in the area with all of the security as many were in town for the World Food Bank meetings. Later, we would come to find out that none other than Tom Hanks was in town filming a movie… the follow up to The Da Vinci Code: Angels and Demon’s… and a key site from the book was in this area. We got our hopes up, but we never saw Tom Hanks…


On first impression, Rome is a lot smaller than it looks. In no time we passed all of the upscale shops on Via del Babuino and arrived at The Spanish Steps. Mid-day it had many people sitting on the steps… enjoying their lunch. I can see why this is a meeting place for many. We took a few pictures and tried to find the McDonald’s that jbom had been in search of, but not wanting to go too far afield, we turned back towards the hotel.


So we back tracked and passed The Hotel de Russie… one of our hotel options through Northwest World Vacations. It had a very nice courtyard that we could see from the street… and more pricey than our current hotel. This would be a nice place to stay another time we come to Rome… one day soon I hope J


Time for lunch. Luckily there was a restaurant right near our hotel that looked busy. It was very much a “neighborhood-kind of place” that felt right. There was one table for 4 left, and we grabbed it. Lunch was very good… simple salad and pizza. We all had a good lunch and it wasn’t too expensive… even for the Euro and it being Rome. Jbom and I both thought the pizza was much better than what we had in San Gimignano. We were off to a good start!


Back at the hotel, we were taken to our rooms with all of our luggage. We were right down the hallway from eachother (Rooms 106 and 109), and right off of the courtyard. We had upgraded the rooms to a bit larger than the standard… and the A/C was good… Jbom was a happy man.


At 5 p.m. our guide, Ian, from THROUGH ETERNITY TOURS arrived. I had booked tours for us each day we were in Rome… the guide would pick us up at our hotel and take us on a walking tour of a different part of Rome. Tonight we took the Piazzas and Fountains by Twilight Tour. It would also give us an introduction to Rome and how to maneuver in this big city.


The tour was really wonderful. Ian, from Scotland and an archeologist from Oxford was our guide. He spends about 5 weeks a year on the Pompeii dig and then does the write-up the rest of the year in between giving Rome tours. He was a great guide and I would recommend him to anyone. Ian mapped out for us what we would see in our 3 hours. He adjusted our plan based on how much walking we could all handle. And then we headed off.


We went into the Metro at Flaminio, the station right near our hotel. Ian showed us how to buy tickets for the Metro and we were off. Being rush hour, it was a bit of a crush, but we made it keeping an eye on our bags the entire time. We started at the Spanish Steps (Spagna stop on the Metro) and began there. Along the way Ian discussed architecture, the influence of the Pope’s and how they changed the face of Rome, etc. The walking tour was just amazing… and if it hadn’t been for the tour, we would have walked right by major points of interest without even knowing it.


Specifically, Ian took us into a nondescript church on the outside, but inside, was the most magnificent church I’ve ever seen. The church housed two statues that Bernini sculpted that were added after the church was constructed. I need to email Ian and ask him the name of the church… I have to go back there next time I am in Rome. Kind of breathtaking to be honest…


On our three-hour tour that went by in a flash, we saw The Spanish Steps, The Trevi Fountain, The Pantheon, The Monuments a Vittorio Emanuele II and then ended at The Forum with the Colleseum in the background. And there were many, many other points of interest along the way, including the killer gelato that we had at Ian’s favorite spot!


The tour was just perfect and we learned so much about Rome and it’s history… and we walked all around the Ancient City… feeling it was so accessible to us. And then it was getting dark.. so we were done for the evening. We thanked Ian and he put us in a cab and off we went back to the hotel. It was a fabulous first day and evening in Rome!