St. Peters Basilica

Italy by Bus

Day 2

Friday, June 1, 2001 - Arival in Rome, transport from the airport to the hotel, meeting with the tour director, Pizza Party & Illumination Tour


Arrive Rome On arrival in Rome, you are transferred to your hotel. The rest of the day is free for exploration. This afternoon, we enjoy a welcome drink with our tour director.

Optional Excursions

(Pizza Party & Illumination Tour This was Marco's version of the "Introduction to Rome by Night" optional (see below), including a meal at a restaurant near the Via Vennetto, one of "Rome's most fashionable shopping" and dining areas.)

Introduction to Rome by Night Cameras at the ready for the many magnificent sights awaiting us as we 'do as the Romans do' and start the evening with a 'passegiata'
(evening stroll) along the Via Condotti to the world-famous Spanish Steps in Rome's most fashionable shopping area. The 'Campidoglio', Piazza Venezia and so much more are included on this evening visit before we linger in Piazza Navona with its many pavement cafes and trattorias to admire the seventeenth century fountains and architecture.

Arrival in Rome

We arrived in Rome a little early, at 09:30AM on Friday, June 1, 2001.
When we got off the plane, we went through Passport Check just before we got to the baggage area. All they did was look at the passports, no questions, no stamping.
Once through passport check, there were people from various tour companies waiting there to assist their customers. The lady from Trafalgar saw us carrying our Trafalgar bags and came over to us right away.
She told us which baggage carousel to find our bags on, and said to wait there for her. Once we got our bags, we waited for a short while, and she showed up, gathering in various other Trafalgar customers, some from our tour, some from other tours. Then she took us through the customs area. This was a large empty area, with no one there to stop us or look through anyone's bags, or even ask any questions.
We then went to an area near one of the building exits and waited for our tour director.

The schedule for the bus to bring us to the hotel was 09:30, 12:30 and 3:30. As we had obviously missed the 09:30 bus, we would have to wait until 12:30.
At one point, we were told that our tour director, Marco, would be back in time that we would be able to leave the airport at 11:30. However, this was incorrect.

The Tour Director

Before I left home, I had checked out the forum on the Trafalgar Tours web site. In all the messages that I read, only one tour director's name was mentioned. This was Marco Vuoli, and all of the comments about him were very positive. Could we be so lucky as to have him for our tour? (Since then I have seen other tour directors mentioned on the Trafalgar forum, most of them rated favorably.)

Marco showed up about 11:45, and then disappeared for a little while as he was looking for more people. About 12:15PM we finally got on the bus, and it left the airport right around 12:30PM.
As we sat on the bus, waiting to leave the airport, I looked around and noticed that, if you didn't look too closely at the signs, this could have been almost any airport in the world. There is just something about airports that makes them all look the same.

But the good news was, YES, this was the legendary Marco Vuoli! To see photos of Marco, and our fabulous bus driver Antonio, click on the "Tour Director and Driver" link in the menu on the home page.

This was the official beginning of our tour. Marco began his commentary right away, telling us about various things we were passing on our way to the hotel.

The hotel

It took most of an hour to get to the hotel, the San Giorgio. We sat in the lobby as Marco talked with the front desk to arrange for our rooms. He then gave us our room numbers, told us that we would meet at 4:30PM, and showed us where, and then he was on his way back to the airport to get more people.

The San Giorgio Hotel in Rome Albergo San Giorgio, 61 Via G. Amendola, Rome 00185

We went to the front desk, gave them the room number and got our keys. We also told the porters which bags were ours, and which rooms we had, so that they could mark them and deliver them to our rooms. This process only had to be done here, as after this, the bags all had tags on them, made up by Marco, that the porters could use to deliver them automatically (with Marco's help). Yes, Marco played a big role in the process of getting the bags delivered to the right rooms at each hotel, and then getting them back onto the bus before we left each hotel. The room was fine — a little small, with two twin beds, but they were pushed together.

Some time on our own

So now we had a couple of hours to do whatever we wanted to do. Many people just took a nap to help catch up to the time change. We went to our room, made sure our bags got there OK, and then decided to take a little walk. When we had pulled up to the hotel, Marco recommended a particular restaurant for anyone who wanted to get some lunch, so we stopped in there first, Le Cafeteria Tulini (Roma, via Gioberti, 28).

We ordered some sandwiches, and ate them standing at the counter. This is something else that I had found out before leaving the states. It is less expensive to eat standing at the counter than it is if you sit at a table. And since we had just spent over eight hours sitting on the plane, we had no problem standing up for a while. We had two sandwiches, a small (about 12 oz) Coke Lite (Diet Coke) and a small (about 12 oz) Peroni beer. This came to 16,000 lire, which is about $7.00. Not too bad.

As we left, I got a small cone of gellato to eat as we walked. Yes, it is as good as they say.

Randy's comments:

"We had some 'Cantaloupe Gellato' on Via Veneto, it was the best flavored ice cream type dessert we've had."

Piazza Vittorio Emanuelle

I had gotten some information about street markets in Rome, and there was one just a couple of blocks away from the hotel, at Piazza Vittorio Emanuelle. We walked to the market, and I got one photo when we were too far away, and all I got were some trucks in front of it. I meant to get another photo, but forgot to do it. The market reminded me very much of street markets that I have seen in Boston and New York City.

Piazza Vittorio Emanuelle II in Rome Karen in the Piazza Vittorio Emanuelle II

Once through the market, we walked back through Piazza Vittorio Emanuelle, named for a man who was once a king of Italy. Until I got there, I didn't realize that there would be palm trees in Italy.

Remains of a fourth century fountain in the Piazza Vittorio Emanuelle II in Rome These are the remains of a fourth century fountain at the northern end of the Piazza Vittorio Emanuelle II in Rome.

La Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in Roma La Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore

After that, we walked back toward the hotel, to a place that Marco had pointed out on the trip from the airport. This was La Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore (see photo above.) This basilica has the tallest campanile (bell tower) in Rome.

a Police car in Rome, in front of a pastry shop

Also, along the way, I happened to snap this photo of an Italian police car sitting in front of a pastry shop.
Looks like things are pretty much the same around the world!

a Smart Car in Rome

And here is a photo that Randy took of a "Smart Car", which you see all over. The Smart car is a two-seater that gets 60 miles to the gallon. In Europe, two eight-foot-long Smart cars can legally park in one standard parking space. Mercedes-Benz is going to market the Smart cars in the US starting in 2006 to compete with BMW's Mini Cooper.


As we walked back to the hotel, we turned onto the street that the hotel was on, just a block or so away. Karen was walking a little ahead of me, and I was not really paying close attention to what was around me, being a little tired as you can guess.
All of a sudden, there was a woman with a baby in a harness on her chest, and two little girls with her. The girls started touching my arms and saying "Bene, bene." The woman was saying something to me, but I didn't catch what it was. I had read about things like this happening, so I was somewhat prepared. I had the passports and a few other things in a pouch under my clothes. Anything else I had of value I had in my front pants pockets. The zippers on my sling pack were set up so that they were difficult to open quickly. I already had my left hand in my pocket. I quickly stuck my right hand in my pocket, and they immediately took off. They took off so fast that I thought they had gotten something! But I checked everything I could think of, and everything was still there.
All I can figure is that by my actions, and lack of paying attention to what they were saying and doing, they realized that I was on to them, and so took off as quickly as possible.

The drink with the Tour Director

By 4:30PM, all 48 people who were expected to be on this tour had arrived, so we were all together for the first time. We had a choice of white or red wine, or juice. Marco went through a "roll call", and everyone gave a little information, like first names and where they were from.

There was not enough time at the 4:30PM meeting to go over all of the optional excursions for the entire tour, but Marco needed to find out who would be taking the optionals these first two days in Rome. He went over the three optional excursions that were being offered. We were thinking of not doing the first one, but now that a meal was included, we decided to do it. (See the description of the optional excursion on this page.)
I felt that the best way to see the Sistine Chapel without waiting forever in line would be to take the optional that included the Vatican Museum and Sistine chapel. And with the optional for tomorrow evening having a meal included also, we signed up for all three. (See day three for descriptions of these two optional excursions.)

Pizza Party & Illumination Tour

So after the meeting, we got on the bus for the first optional, which Marco called "Rome by night, and a bite". We were driven to a Pizza restaurant (La Baia Ristorante, Via Sardegna, 61-63, Roma, Italy. Telephone: +39 near the "top" of the Via Veneto. Waiting on the table for us was wine and bread, with fresh garlic and oil. At most of the meals that were with optional excursions, Marco would say something along the lines of, "be sure to drink lots of the wine, because they will not bring a fresh bottle until you finish the one you have".

Next came a plate with 3 different types of ham, followed by bread with tomatoes, pickled vegetables (carrots, pickles, and some other vegetable) grilled eggplant, zucchini 2 ways, one with tomato sauce. This was followed by an option of pizza or spaghetti (the spaghetti was not supposed to be an option according to Marco). We had the pizza, which was individual pizzas, but quite large, with black olives, cheese, artichokes and mushrooms.

For desert we had tiramisu (excellent) and coffee. In my opinion, this was the best tiramisu we had on the entire tour.

the Entertainers during dinner the first night in Rome at La Baia Ristorante near the Via Veneto in Rome The entertainment was two guys singing traditional Italian songs, with a guitar and a flute, selling CDs as they went.

Rain after dinner the first night in Rome heading to the bus

As we left the restaurant to get back to the bus, it was raining. No one had thought to bring their umbrellas with them, as it was very nice when we left the hotel. The rain only lasted long enough for us to get to the bus! These two photos of the rain are from Randy.

Rain in Karen's hair after dinner the first night in Rome waiting for the bus In this one, you can see the rain in Karen's hair.

We then drove down the Via Veneto (instead of a stroll along the Via Condotti as in the description of the "Introduction to Rome by Night" optional), past the U.S. Embassy (and the Hard Rock Cafe) to the Capitaline Hill. However, according to Marco, it was "too early", so we went on to Piazza Navona.

The Monument to Vittorio Emanuelle II On the way, we went by the monument to Vittorio Emanuelle. You can still see the rain drops on the bus window.

When we were near the piazza, we left the bus and took a walk to Piazza Navona.

The Piazza Navona in Rome

In this photo, you can see the oval shape of the piazza. This is because it used to be a racetrack. Before we entered the piazza, Marco showed us the original ground level of the racetrack at one end of the piazza, about 20 feet below the current level.

Randy's photo of the Piazza Navona in Rome

This is Randy's photo taken in the Piazza Navona. See the brighter area in the middle above the restaurant? There is some construction/restoration going on behind that. The facade is there to cover up the ugliness while that is going on, to give you an idea of what it will look like when it is finished, and to provide space for advertising (notice the white portion of the facade). There were many of these facades throughout Italy wherever restorations were taking place. You can see another facade on the right side of the previous photo.

The Fountain of Neptune in the Piazza Navona in Rome We went past the first fountain, the Fountain of Neptune, (that's Karen posing there)...

The Fountain of the Four Rivers in the Piazza Navona in Rome to Bernini's Fountain of the Four Rivers, in the middle of the piazza, in front of the church of S. Agnese, by Borromini.

After a short while, we left Piazza Navona and walked back to the bus. Because the bus could not park were we got out, it had to go somewhere else while we were walking, and it had not yet returned. So we had a few minutes to walk across the street to a bridge over the Tiber and get a great view of St. Peter's Basilica at night. As near as I can figure, this bridge must have been the Ponte Umberto.

St. Peter's Basilica from the Ponte Umberto at night St. Peter's Basilica from the Ponte Umberto.

St. Peter' Basilica from the Ponte Umberto at night Here is a zoomed-in photo from the same place.

Not a photo of The colisseum in Rome at night

We got back on the bus and drove back to the Capitaline Hill. This photo is a view of a building which looks a lot like the colosseum, but is not. In this photo, you can see people on scooters (at night!) a Rome city bus, a sign for a bar, and lots more.

The Capitaline Hill in Rome Then we got out of the bus again and walked up the steps to the Capitaline Hill.

The Capitaline Hill in Rome at night

Here Marco told us about the museums on each side of the piazza and the statue in the middle. Then, as you can see in this photo, we started to walk to the right between the buildings through a street toward the back.

From an area behind the piazza, we got a great view of the ancient Roman forum at night. Now we finally found out what Marco meant before when he said that it was "too early". The effect would not have been as good if we had gone here before dark.

The Temple of Saturn in the ancient Roman forum at night This photo is one of my favorite shots from the tour. It is the remains of the Temple of Saturn.

Finally, we reach the end of Day 2. From here we headed back to the hotel, where each of us was ready for a nights sleep. We got to bed around midnight.


Marilyn and Beth

Commentary from Marilyn and her daughter Beth about their Best of Italy tour, September 7-20, 2001, reproduced here with their permission.

Day 2, Saturday, 8 September, 2001 - Arrival and first day in Roma

The weather was pleasant in the middle 70's. We had no trouble finding which way to go. Trafalgar reps were waiting for us at the luggage pickup. They took us to an area to wait for our tour guides, right next to a money exchange (we didn't need to use it since we had brought 400,000 lira each). Our tour director met us there around 9:00 am and we were off to our hotel at 9:30 am.
Our hotel for the next 2 nights was the San Giorgio. It is located a few blocks west of the train station and a few blocks east of Santa Maria Maggiore. The hotel is old but clean, had twin beds, a refrigerator, hair dryer, tub & shower, air conditioning (not really cold), you can open the windows, but there are no screens anywhere on them in Italy. [NOTE from Lee: our room did not have a refrigerator]
There are shops and places to eat around it. Make sure you walk away from the train station and not towards it. [NOTE from Lee: we did walk to the train station with no problem. The only problem we had was on the same street that the hotel was on. See the section above labeled Pickpockets] We unpacked and went exploring, went to Santa Maria Maggiore and had lunch in a small restorante.
At 4 we met in the hotel with our TD and fellow travelers for the welcome drink and some information. Then you were on your own or you took the first optional "Introduction to Rome by night". We left around 5:30 and we were back around 10. It cost $22 pp. We took our regular tour bus and you sat whenever you wanted. It was wonderful - we drove and then walked [be prepared to walk like you have never walked before!!!!! during the whole trip, up the stairs down the stairs etc.] to the Pantheon and then to the Piazza Navona where you had a few hours on your own to shop & eat, we had pizza and our first gellato. We then drove around the city viewing the sites lit up. It was great!!!!!!

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Contents © Copyright 2001 Author: Lee Briggs except where noted. All rights reserved.