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By Robert Santa Monica from California, Fall 2004

Trip Description: I had another wonderful Italian vacation this last year, two weeks in Rome, with a two-night-three-day jaunt to Naples. Iím not very good at the day-to-day travel journal (Iíve never kept a diary for more than three days at a time) so Iíll just point out some of the highlights of my stay in hopes that they will inspire other travelers to see in Italy what I see and love: the art, the vibrancy, the food, the people.

Destinations: Countries - Italy; Regions/Cities - Campania, Rome

Categories: Hotels/B&Bs; Vacation Rentals; Day Tours; Sightseeing; Independent Travel; Single Traveler

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Page 1 of 5: ROME

I stayed in the same apartment that I stayed in last year, on via Flaminia Vecchia, just off of the Corso Francia, north of Ponte Flaminia, one bridge up-river from Ponte Milvio. The apartment is nothing too special: pleasant enough, but a little run down and not quite as nice as it was last year. The owner asked me to tell her what I thought of the place this time around, and I frankly did. She promises to upgrade everything that needs upgrading, which is quite a lot, and then the place will be much more pleasant; she raised the rents this year (after my stay), and I am not quite sure it is worth what she now asks for it.

But the neighborhood is fantastic. Via Flaminia Vecchia is, to me, a typical nice middle-class Roman shopping street, full of good shops and enough street life to keep me happy. This year, I felt totally at home in Rome; the city fits me like a second skin, and I felt much more confidant about just living and experiencing Rome. There was something tremendously satisfying about the simple pleasures of Rome: planning my day, walking out onto the busy street, buying my Herald-Tribune, sitting on the tree-shaded terrace of my local Bar Luciano, with coffee and cornetto, just being alive, in Rome, and on vacation. Below, in the food and shopping sections, Iíll point out a few local favorites, in case someone else rents in this same neighborhood.

I arrived late on a Saturday night, after a really nice British Air flight from Los Angeles. I got upgraded to first class. Someone once told me to always ask for an upgrade. I always do, and it finally paid off. Upstairs in the luxe little cabin, I relaxed on a seat that reclined into a close approximation of a bed, so, for the first time in my life, I slept on a plane. I liked it so much that I slept on the flight from London to Rome as well.

So the next day, I was perky and not a bit jet-lagged as I tooled around Rome and went to the combination Slowtrav get-together / birthday dinner. Antica Taverna was great, perfect atmosphere, the food plentiful and very tasty, but some of the most fun was in meeting others whom I feel are friends from the message board. And everyone was so nice about my birthday, which I never celebrate. I so enjoyed meeting Judy/Diva, who was so kind in giving me some of her pepper jelly, an apron, and a cookbook! Iíve cooked some dinners at Maryclaireís from the cookbook, and the recipes are fabulous. But now I really want to go to Florence and have a day cooking with Judy. Maybe next tripÖ And Dorothy gave me great of hunk of aged pecorino. Yum. I missed having my usual fall meeting with Pauline and Steve in Italy, but we did get to talk after dinner, and I was so touched by their kindness in popping for the desserts that Steph and I organized over at least a monthís worth of e-mails. That was so nice. Barb and Art, Cheryl, Tony and DanijelaÖwell, I wonít mention everyone else by name, but thanks to all for a great time. It was much fun to meet you all.

A few days later, I did meet Helen from Comfort Italia, whose apartment I won for a week next year in the Slowtrav anniversary contest, and boy, am I a lucky guy. Beautiful apartment, fantastic location just off my favorite Piazza Farnese. Thanks in advance, Helen, for your generosity. Just thinking about it will keep me happy through a year of work.

Skipping ahead a few days, I took advantage of my other great prize from the contest: a tour with Tony Polzer of 3 Millennia Tours. I chose to have Tony lead me through the maze of the Vatican Museums. Tony asked me why I had never visited the Vatican Museums in my previous visits, and I kind of hemmed and hawed. The real reason: sheer panic. I had certain things I wanted to see, but every guidebook I read or plan I consulted only confused me more. This was the perfect solution. I told Tony beforehand what I was really interested in seeing. We met as planned, and I didnít have to think about a thing except the amazing art. Tony planned it so that we saw exactly what was on my list, plus his favorites, the greatest hits, and a few pleasant moments of serendipity, like stumbling across a Francis Bacon painting I really wanted to see. It was a stress-free, exciting time for me, and I am very grateful indeed to Tony. He is a superb guide, full of information, never boring. I can only assume that his tours of other parts of Rome would be just as professional and excellent. My one disappointment? The Sistine Chapel. I have read much on the restoration of the frescoes, including James Beckís scathing indictment of over cleaning, and I saw his point. They look scrubbed. On the other hand, the Raphael Stanze were a revelation, and I spent much time chasing down other Raphaels.

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