Saturday, September 7, 2013

Italy 2013 - Day 1 (Toronto/Rome)

Normally you are asked to arrive for international flights at least 3 hours before the flight.  Today I found out that American Express has a priority customs line.  While others who did not have this had to queue into one line, AmEx cardholders get to bypass the line completely.  They still go through the same customs checks, but they don't have to wait.  So I ended up on the other side of customs with 2 hours to spare.

Air Transat's plane looks nice, but it certainly did not feel comfortable to me.  The food wasn't very good (both the dinner and the breakfast were so-so, I wasn't able to finish the dinner).  The movies on the flight were surprisingly recent though.  I saw Oblivion, Monster's University, Star Trek 2 among others.

Upon arrival, there is a mess of a line for going through customs.  Instead of a line with rope to help create a line, there are simply two areas, one for European passport holders, one for non-European passport holders.  The line for the non-European passport holders was enormous.  It took about 30 minutes to go through customs.  The agents didn't even seem to care about us.  When he was given our passports, he just looked at them and handed them back.  There wasn't even a stamp.

The express train from FCO to Roma Termini (Rome's main train terminal) was 14 euro and they did have conductors checking everyone on board.  There wasn't much to see for the trip.  It takes about 30 minutes.  There is an option to take a bus, but we were not sure how long it would take compared to the train so we opted for the train.

We booked Arches Inn B&B which is located just off of Cipro Metro station.  Very convenient and nice location.  The host was nice, he stayed almost 1 hour longer than expected (I said we would be there for 3:30, arrived at 4:30) since we ran into some difficulties with getting a metro ticket.  The metro system works similar to ones I have seen in Boston.  There is a slot to enter your card, it is validated and at the top your card gets returned to you.  1.50 euro for 1 way, 6 euro for 24 unlimited usage and I think there was a 3 day unlimited usage option for 16 euro.  The host provided us with all the details that we needed.  The location actually has 3 rooms, but noone else is expected to join us for a few more days so we have the entire place to ourselves for now.  Kitchen is fully stored, breakfast is included as items in a cupboard, one per room, including danishes, bread, coffee, cookies, milk, juice and yogurt (the last 3 being kept in the fridge in separate levels).

After we settled down and changed (it feels like 35 right now), we were off.  We walked along Vatican City and saw a whole bunch of people selling souvenirs along the way and fake purses and bags.  Overall, I don't feel unsafe in the area like I was told, but we shall see later.  This may be due to the fact that school has just started so there are less people around.  From there we went to the following:

- Piazza Navona (nice little square, lots of small shops trying to sell type souvenirs like keychains, spray paint art, drawings, etc).  The fountain here was beautiful as well as what looks like a church (you run into a lot of things that look like churches)

- Pantheon (it was closed, but the place is huge from the outside)

- Trevi Fountain (WOW, this place is really big, huge tourist attraction, lots of people trying to find a good place to take photos, there are actually people there with polariods offering to take pictures, but everyone there already has a camera or two or three... we paid for one since the fellow did take quite a few pictures for us while we were there and we talked for a bit)

- Spanish Steps (lots of people here, actually saw at least two groups taking wedding photos here, it looks nice, but I liked the other locations better)

- We ate at La Montecresto for dinner, ordered ravoli and a prosciutto pizza, both were good, service needs work though.  Big tourist place, one person brought a big group with him, at least 40 people, price did not seem unfair (pizza was 8 euro, ravoli was 9)

- We ate at a random pizza shop, they have a big pizza and they slice it for you based on how much you want, price by weight (interesting idea).  Pizza was okay.

- Gelato #1 was at a random place we stopped by at.  2 euro for one flavour one a cone, didn't seem unreasonable.  This was very good, mixed berry.

- Gelato #2 was at another random place.  We saw a sign saying 150 flavours so we went in.  I don't know if they had that many, but they did have a lot.  At least 6 sections worth.  All different.  This place was not as good.  May have to do with our choices.  Champagne and Strawberry something.  Champagne is weird, does taste like it though.  Strawberry was interesting, the strawberry pieces are actually chocolate!

Tomorrow's agenda is Colosseum, Roman Forums, Palantine Hill and random walking!  This place is very nice so far I must say.  Looking forward to the rest of the trip!