We made it!
After an overnight flight we touched down at Fiumicino airport the morning before our designated "tour start" day. We wanted to have a day to get over jet lag and explore a bit on our own before diving into the tour. Our driver, Alessandro, met us near baggage claim and we were on our way. It was a grey, drizzly morning, but we were excited to be there and ready to get settled and start exploring. Our ride from the airport to the hotel was a wonderful introduction to Rome.
Alessandro pointed out many sites and landmarks, including The Mouth of Truth (made famous by Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday) at the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin. He gave us tips on dining in Rome and explained
to us how to order caffè at a bar. (And yes, we were both DYING for our first authentic Italiano caffè!)
We arrived at the Hotel San Carlo, a quaint hotel in a renovated 17th Century mansion at the foot of the Spanish Steps. We were immediately met with gracious smiles and advised that our room was almost ready. (Impressive, since check-in was not officially until 1 p.m.!) We were invited to head upstairs to the 4th floor roof garden for breakfast while our room was prepared. A delightful spread of pastries, fruit, yogurt, Italian cold cuts and various juices was waiting for us. Waitstaff hurried about taking orders for espresso and capuccino. Tony was thrilled to see mortadella (his favorite!) and it would fittingly be the first thing he ate on Italian soil!
If your schedule allows, plan to arrive a day or two early to explore the area and get over jet lag. Once you've received your final tour itinerary and hotel list, contact the first hotel on the tour and let them know you are with the Rick Steves tour and tell them you'd like to book a room for however many nights before the tour starts. Typically, they will offer you a very nice rate and will be happy to accommodate you if at all possible. When I emailed the Hotel San Carlo, Rosanna quickly responded and helped me book our extra night.
BONUS: When we arrived at the hotel, we met Rosanna and she remembered me from our email correspondence!
After mortadella and the most amazing cup of caffè (another trick is to order caffè americano, espresso with hot water, and they will likely bring you a separate small pitcher of steamed milk. SO delicious!) we settled into our room, put on our rain gear, grabbed our trusty Rick Steves guide book and headed out into the rain to explore.
At the end of our street we found the glorious Piazza di Spagna, the Spanish Steps. Although the steps were closed for cleaning and restoration, the piazza was abuzz with people despite the pouring rain. Street vendors were out in force, no worries if you forgot your umbrella! The smell of roasting chestnuts wafted through the air, while visitors tossed coins in Bernini's Fontana della Barcaccia.
We needed to get some euros, so we stopped at an ATM.
Get a few euros before you head to Italy (€100 should be plenty), and once there the easiest and most cost effective way to get cash will be at a local bank ATM. Make sure to notify your bank of your travel dates and itinerary so they know your withdrawals and charges are legitimate. We also made sure to update our debit cards to chip cards before our trip and got cash along the way as needed. We mostly used cash to pay for meals and small ticket items, and used our credit card to pay for things like our extra hotel night or more expensive items.
Check with your bank on your daily ATM withdrawal limit to avoid panic when the ATM does not spit out the cash you expected. Ahem, not that we would know anything about that.
After a short nap and some freshening up, we headed to Fiaschetteria Beltramme (billed as the oldest restaurant in Rome), where we had made reservations earlier that afternoon. Tonnarelli cacio e pepe, the specialty of the house and a Roman tradition, was fresh-made pasta with cracked black pepper and cheese. So simple. So delicious. Tony got meatballs (of course) with a side of freshly sauteed spinach with olive oil and garlic. Pistachio tiramisu for dessert. This might have been the best dining experience of my life. Everything from the food to the atmosphere was perfect. We lingered for hours, it seemed.
A note about dining in Italy. The Italians LOVE food. It is an art form. When you sit down, that table is yours for the evening. So take your time, savor every bite, and enjoy.
Oh my, I LOVE ITALY!
Your bill may include "servizio" or "coperto", usually €1 or €2 per person. This is the service fee or tip and what guarantees that table is yours for the evening. You won't be rushed out the door.
Your waiter will never bring you a bill without your asking for it. To do so would be considered rude.
To ask for the bill simply say "Il conto, per favore."
Order bottled water with dinner, either Naturale (still) or Frizzante (sparkling). Italians never drink tap water, especially at a restaurant. The cost of bottled water is cheap and let's be honest, drinking Aqua Frizzante makes you feel fancy.
Tipping is not necessary, but we found 5-10% to be much appreciated.
What a perfect first day. We were deliriously happy and tired and fell into bed with full bellies and smiles on our faces, excited for the days ahead!
Arrival Day Photo Highlights
(click for full size slideshow)
Our tour starts tomorrow...and an audience with the Pope!