- Jun 26, 2003
oilBabe and I have been gone for almost three weeks. We just returned yesterday from Italy. Left out on 7/17 flying to Rome. We spent three nights there staying in the city center in a good hotel, walking distance from Vatican City and the other City Center visitor draws. Had our first and only pick-pocket experience on the train heading back to the hotel from the Colosseum. A young looking gypsy girl was acting strange at the entrance to the train and sure enough tried to check out my left front pocket. I caught her hand, yelled at her and threw her away from the train to some cheers from folks on the train. She would have liberated my $2 reading glasses in their case as anything important was tied down and buried deeper. Headed to the Ciampino airport to pick up our rental on Saturday. This confused the cab driver as we were certainly American and Americans fly out of Fiumicino. I managed to convey to our cab drive in broken Italian that we were getting our rental car there so we were not driving in the Rome city center. He thought that was good move. So for 30€ plus a 5€ tip for putting up with our voluminous luggage and bad Italian, were were at the Hertz counter getting our nearly brand new Ford Fiesta 1.25L Gutless accelerating, but would run all day long doing 3500RPM at 130KPH on the Autostrada. Then engine was quiet as the only noise we heard was from the tires while cruising. oilBabe relaxed as she wasn't sure about my driving in Europe. I guess she wasn't convinced that my three years living in Germany prepared me for the trip. For the most part, the GPS worked. I missed a turn in Naples on our way to Positano, but found our way anyway. The curvy roads had oilBabe a bit nervous as we approached Positano. Missed our Parcheggio (parking garage) on the first lap of the town and had to make another lap. Another 40€ to park the car for two days as we explored this town built on the bluffs overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea. Two nights there, then off to Greve in Chianti for five nights in a rental home where we explored places such as Sienna, San Gimignano and Pisa to name a few. After five nights, we left our rental home, drove up to Maranello to see the Ferrari Museum before heading back to Florence. Our first major mistake of the trip was turning in our car at Hertz near the train station in Florence. Had I to do it over again, I would choose the airport as the turn in. The GPS was useless as it couldn't figure out where we were and we couldn't see the names of the streets on the sides of the buildings. One way streets that made up a canyon made it difficult to find our hotel. Not to mention the ZTL which we had to get our hotel to put in the waiver so we could drive for two hours in the restricted part of central Florence. If I do it again, we probably wouldn't have stayed in Florence, but spent two or three more nights in Greve, driving to a train station outside the city to enter via the rails. We drove our little black Fiesta over 1600km, paying around 1.80€/liter of Senza Pb (unleaded) averaging around 7L/100km fuel consumption. I've not done the math because I'm not sure I want to know. We did quadruple the mileage on our little rental car from about 500km to over 2100km on the odometer. Three nights in Florence, visiting museums including being the first tourists to see "David" before we left last Tuesday. Caught a train from Florence to Venice, spending three nights in this monument to mans stubborn resolve to live where he's probably not meant to live. Walking and the Vaporetto (water bus) was the way we got around. After three nights, took the train to Rome for our return flight. We just stayed in our hotel near the train station as it was nice and we were a bit tired of exploring. Not to mention the 20€ we paid for 24 hours of WiFi, access to the minibar in the room and 15% off in the hotels restaurant worked in our favor. We used all to maximum benefit. Awoke the next day, packing up our treasures to come home when I get a message that our flight from Rome to Chicago is canceled. So we used the WiFi to call the airline and get things sorted. We end up with a bonus night in Rome, a routing through London for our return trip yesterday and another great story. What I loved about Italy. The food. Goodness, it just tasted better. I believe the ingredients are fresher, more natural preparation, and not as much added sugar and salt compared to what we get here. The meats and vegetables were incredible. Pizza wasn't all crust and you could taste the fresh toppings. Beef, chicken and veal were all very flavorful. Driving. While Florence was frustrating, for the most part, while not as disciplined as Germans, Italians are better drivers than we have here in the US. I was shocked by the numbers who were on their phones while driving, which I believe is prohibited, but apparently not well enforced. The other thing that struck me as that folks would speed on the Autostrada until they came to the well marked speed measuring devices where they slowed to the limit, be it 130, 110, 100 or 90kph, depending on what was marked. I wasn't as fast as the locals on the roads in Chianti, as I wasn't about to do 70 or 90kph on some of those unfamiliar roads. But getting over allowed them to make three lanes out of two and pass in places I wouldn't dream of choosing. But that's how it's done. I didn't care for the crowds or keeping my head on a swivel in the tourist packed areas. As I experienced, pickpockets were a real issue. But tying down my important items, a couple hundred € and $100 stashed in my money belt, and some barrier items/distractions in other pockets such as my reading glasses and a coin purse with a few € in coins seemed to be a workable solution. The only thing I ended up losing was a hat I got in Peru that I left in a restaurant in Positano. In Venice, we had an east Indian get escorted out of the Piazza were we were enjoying our last bottle of Chianti Classico. He was selling some lighted little helicopter things we'd seen for the last three weeks and we thought we would try our negotiating skills. We got him down from 5€ for one to two for 4€. He came back, without his bag full of items with two, looking for the Policia as we gave him the 4€ for the two items we were bringing home for the kids. Lots of beggars and peddlers, but far more good than bad. We only had one bad experience at a restaurant. They had the sign saying Visa Si (yes we take your card) and wanted cash, alleging his machine was down. I had read about this game, so I played along, telling him I only had a 50€ bill, so either he could take the 50€ or try to run my card. Imagine our collective "surprise" when the card ran. He got our worst review on trip advisor. But all in all, a very good experience. Lastly, my impression of Heathrow, based only on my three to four hours stuck in the International Terminal, is that it's a mall that just happens to have an airport attached Photos later, I have about 1200 photos and videos to go through, including some Autostrada and drives to and from Positano to go through.