Travel slowly, staying in vacation rentals (villas, farms, cottages, apartments)
Report 55: Kim's Family Extravaganza--An extended family travels together to Rome, Venice and Tuscany.
By Kim from New Jersey, Summer 2002
Trip Description: 9-Person Family Vacation
Destinations: Countries - Italy; Regions/Cities - Florence, Rome, Tuscany, Venice
Categories: Hotels/B&Bs; Vacation Rentals; Cooking Classes; Day Tours; Foodie Trip; Sightseeing; Wine Trip; Independent Travel; Adult Children w/ Parents; Adults and Young Children; Small Group: 5 to 9
Page 1 of 20: Opinions and Observations
Well, I finally finished writing my trip report for our trip last June. I'm going to start by posting some general opinions/observations below and follow with a post for each day.
I warn you all - it's pretty long. Oh, Pauline, I'll post hotel/restaurant reviews hopefully this week. If it's okay, some of them will be cut and pasted from my report.
Anyway here it goes...
Opinions and Observations
Oh, one note, while we were there the exchange rate was almost even. It started at 94 cents to the Euro and by the time we left was 99 cents to the Euro. For the purpose of my trip report, Iím giving prices in USD Ė you can read Euro if you like but for me, theyíre close enough.
Hotel Del Senato
We loved this hotel and I would not hesitate to recommend it. Nicer than the four stars we stayed at on a previous trip (Visconti Palace in Rome, Croce Di Malta in Florence and Gabrielli Sandwirth in Venice), you cannot beat this hotels location. Walk outside the front door and you are in the Piazza della Rotunda, the side of the Pantheon directly in front of you.
If the location doesnít float your boat, try the roof top garden open to hotel guests only. About eight tables populate the patio with incredible vistas of Roma. Rarely filled with other guests we enjoyed pre-dinner and sometimes post dinner drinks in this locale. Michele, the bartender, a real sweetie, serves a great drink and will run down to the supermercato himself if they run out of snacks (e.g., cherries, olives, nuts and Pringles for our girls).
If you donít go for location and the terrace, our quad room had ample space for the four of us. Yes, it was only one big room but we had plenty of room to move around. It contained a large bed (king size and not two twins pushed together if I recall), and two chairs that opened into single beds. The large bathroom contained duel sinks, large Jacuzzi tub (thereís a story here), toilet and bidet.
My in-laws double was a bit cramped but still very nice all though Aunt Annís single did seem small. She also had some problems with the a/c, which were fixed our first day. This actually became a running joke, so Iím not sure if Annís a/c problems were due to a busted system or Annís misunderstanding of how to operate the thermostat. Note though, our room was always cool and comfortable.
Finally, we found the staff to be helpful and friendly, from the breakfast room, to the front desk to afore mentioned, Michele.
Iíd stay at the Del Senato again in a heartbeat.
Iím torn on this hotel. First, let me tell you we loved the location. We didnít find it inconvenient to be in Dorsoduro and rather enjoyed being away from the crowds around San Marco.
Our room, on the ground floor across the courtyard from the reception area was lovely. Itís probably a suite for someone else but for us it served as two rooms with a bathroom Ė perfect for us and the kids. It does not have a room number. They call it the fountain room (la Fontana).
You enter in what would be the living room area but for us the couch opened into a bed for the girls. The room contained a large armoire, desk, refrigerator and television, which by the way played Cartoon Network in English with Italian commercials Ė the girls were happy.
At the back of this room was a door to the large bathroom w/ tub, single sink, toilet and bidet. To the left of the room was the door to our large room (yes our own room)! Our room contained a bed, desk, armoire and our own television too.
In front of our room, we had our own patio w/ table and two chairs Ė very nice. The courtyard was good for the kids and it had a bench swing on which Sammi did not waste an opportunity to sit.
The breakfast at the Accademia was plentiful, eggs, cereal, fruit, croissants, salame, cheese, juice, milk, and cappuccino or espresso for the asking.
Now for the torn part. The Accademia does not accept credit cards for deposit. So in August, they sent me an e-mail explaining they would need a personal check for deposit for the first nightís stay. They gave me the room rates in US dollars Ė actually I believe the wording was, about this in US dollars. So I sent them a check for $600 USD for the three rooms. When I get home, Iíll get the exact information.
They sent me an e-mail that they received and cashed the check and told me itís worth in Lira. I SHOULD HAVE PAID ATTENTION TO THIS E-MAIL BUT I DIDNíT. Yes my fault on that part.
But hereís what they (or the bank) did. They took my $600, USD and converted it to Euro by converting it to Lira first at the pegged rate of 1910 Lira to the dollar (not the rate of 21xx on that August date). Then they converted it to Euro coming up w/ 594 Euro. Well, either a direct conversion to USD to Euro on that date would have yielded or a direct conversion of USD to Lira on that date would have yielded more Euro's. Either way, we lose.
So when we checked out and expected our first night to already have been covered, we found we were shorted. Yes, I know youíre saying I should have paid more attention to the earlier e-mail. But, the we did the same thing for the Hotel Hermitage, and when we checked out there, our first night was covered by my previous check (as weíd assumed it would be), no dicking around with the exchange rate. Not only that, but the attitude of the clerk at the Accademia was a patronizing and insulting.
So thatís the story. Iím torn on recommending the Accademia because a large part of me feels they acted unscrupulously with my cash deposit, given ten months in advance. If that hadnít happened, I wouldnít hesitate to recommend them.
Hotel Hermitage Of the three hotels (I donít count the Rome Airport Hilton in the mix because a Hilton is a Hilton is a Hilton), this was the "shabbiest" of the three but not necessarily shabby overall. Itís pretty much what I expected of a three star. Yes our room could have used a painting but the common areas were done nicely.
The hotel has a great location, as you approach the Ponte Vechio to go towards the Oltrarno, youíll see a road to your left and a small alley off the road. Itís at that alley.
Our quad room (two separate rooms (tight squeeze on both)) and a bathroom (small) was on the second floor. Itís fine for walking up from the street but can get noisy at night. None of our rooms (two doubles, a single and the quad) had a refrigerator and the hotel did not have newspapers in the lobby (uneventful story here).
The reception area for the hotel is on the fifth floor and thus, this is the only hotel that Iíve stayed at in Italy that requires you to take your keys with you when you leave the hotel. You need the keys in order to enter the hotel after midnight (no one mans the reception desk). You also need a special code to call the tiny slow elevator to the ground floor.
Of the three hotels, the a/c worked the least here with mandatory shutdowns from 10:00 AM to 11:30 AM and from 8:00 PM to 8:30 PM. Actually, the a/c worked fine but what would happen is after the shutdowns, it had to be manually started and if you werenít in the room, when you returned several hours later it could be warm.
The Hermitage does have same day laundry, which we used; two pairs of Chrisís pants and one of Beckyís outfits, plus a shirt was about $20 bucks.
The hotel does have a rooftop garden from which I forgot to take some pictures (bummer); trust me, itís beautiful. You can have drinks or breakfast on the rooftop. Just stop at the reception area and ask them to send the server/waiter up to get your order.
Breakfast was minimal, juice, basket of croissant, crackers, cereal and espresso or cappuccino. You could order other things like eggs for about 3 bucks extra.
Iíd stay at the Hermitage again for location/garden but Iím not sure for the price that I wouldnít just return to the Liana and bare the extra walk. Tough call.
Traveling with a Large Group
Iíve discovered something. Traveling with a large group of family or friends is like traveling on a tour. You will always be waiting for the lone straggler. Spontaneity? Whatís spontaneity? I think you can best compare traveling with a large group to something like driving a Mac Truck. It will take a long time to get the truck moving to cruising speed and a long time to get it to stop. Iím not saying thereís anything wrong with this but for warned is for armed.
Next time, I will have a better set of ground rules for my traveling companions or at the very least, be a bit more selective of those companions (oh did I mention that my traveling companions were my in-laws - get the picture ?
Traveling with Children
What was I worried about? It amazes me how well they adapted. Sure they had their cranky moments (Becky in particular had a daily meltdown about 8:00 pm but would be fine by 9:00). Yet, they were such troopers. Armed with sketchpads, color pencils, Mad Libs, coloring books, a few puzzle books and some Pollypocket dolls, they managed to entertain themselves for 18 days. Who needs all those expensive toys?
Oh, and thereís nothing that canít be cured with Gelato, cold water, a fountain or some Coca Cola. Sometimes we had gelato three times in a day (late morning, late afternoon and post dinner) and you just have to say what the heck.
Iíll admit it - scream and yell, call me a bad mother if you like, but I gave my kids some Dimetap on the plane to Italy. I tell myself to help with the congestion but if it helped them sleep a bit (and it did Ė about 4 hours), then all the better.
Myself, after the dinner service I took two sleepytimes (aka Tylenol PM w/o the pain reliever). That combined with the two glasses of red wine, and I slept great. Next time, I wonít even wait until after the dinner service, Iíll conk myself out right from the beginning.
Anyway, when we arrived the kids still got zonked and napped for 2 Ė 3 hours (from about 11:00 AM - 2:00 PM) but after that, no issues.
On the return, we stayed awake for the entire trip home (except for Sammi who napped for 2 hours). As soon as we walked in the door, we threw our bags into the foyer, changed into our bathing suits and went to the swim club. We kept the kids outside until about 6:00 PM. Everyone in the family was asleep by 9:00 PM. I awoke at 4:00 AM. The girls woke around 5:00 AM. The next day, we pushed ourselves to stay awake a bit more and that was it. We returned Sunday and by Tuesday, Iíd say we were all adjusted.
Canít complain. Two good flights. Two good flight crews. Decent meals (see trip report). Decent movies. Iíd fly them again.
I found Italy (in general) to be more crowded than my November 2001 trip but I donít think/feel it to be nearly as crowded as our Oct/Nov 1999 trip. Iím not sure if tourism is still off (although according to some we talked to it is) or if my memory of that first trip fails me. But, for example, in November 1999, we could not get into Santa Maria Della Fiore w/o waiting in a long line late in the day. On this trip, around 4:00 or 4:30, we walked right in.
I used my Italian a lot on this trip. I think we visited more places where it was required but I also believe that when I approached someone and spoke in Italian, they responded in Italian, even after it became apparent (3 seconds into the conversation), that I spoke at a 4-year old level. Many times, I think they would have spoken English if I needed but Iíd like to believe that everyone appreciated my efforts.
Slow Travel vs Fast Travel
Originally, for this trip I planned to rent an apartment for one week in Rome and rent a house for one week in Tuscany. Part of me wishes Iíd stuck to that plan.
I know there are many "hummingbirds" out there that like to flit from place to place but itís just not for me. I realized that each "travel day" caused me anxiety, another chance to encounter a strike, another chance for erroneous paperwork, another chance for a missed connection. Yes, I know itís silly to worry about these things but when youíre Julie McCoy herding six other inexperienced travelers around (Chris is more experienced than I), it wears on you.
From my own personal experience, I prefer to stay rooted somewhere. To develop a relationship with the man behind the counter at the Enotecca or woman who makes my cappuccino each morning. I think the kids too, preferred to stay rooted Ė for as much as they enjoyed the train rides, I think the packing, unpacking, and moving was hard on them too.
So, next time I plan a trip, you must all remind me of these things
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