Italy: How to Handle Rome’s Crazy Train Station

Surviving Roma Termini Train Station

Roma Termini is a huge train station.  If you are planning on training around Italy at all, odds are you will be there at some point.

What We Thought of Our Experience

We were super on guard and prepared for this and it ended up being a fine experience.  If you can navigate trains or public transport in other countries, you should be fine here, but pay attention to the below tips before you go!

Roma Termini Station

Things to Know About Navigating Roma Termini

1. Get there early.  Do yourself a favor and give yourself time to sort everything out.  Even with these tips, the place is chaotic and being in a rush is no bueno.

2. It’s served well by public transport.  We took a direct bus from our AirBNB in Trastevere.

3. Ignore those who ask if you need help.  They don’t work for the station and will try to pickpocket or fleece you.  Those that actually work there will be behind a desk or counter and will not actually seek you out.

4. Buy your tickets at machines or you can wait in line for a human.  Yes, you can buy your tickets online ahead of time via RailEurope or similar sites.  Remember to have cash if you don’t have a European credit card.  Read more about using credit cards abroad here.

5. Waiting in line for a human wasn’t that bad.  Your results may vary, but the line seemed to move quickly.  We waited about 15 minutes after being confused by the machine.

6. Platforms are easy to find.  Everything was pretty well marked.

7. There are plenty of food options.  Nothing ah-mazing foodwise, but there are options and better than we’ve seen in other cities (Gare du Nord in Paris, I’m looking at you!).  If you get there early and need a bite before getting on the train, you will be fine.

8. Stamp your ticket at the machine before getting on the train.  This is not a subway/metro and there are no fare gates that prevent you from getting on the train.  However, you need to punch/validate/stamp your ticket at one of the green machines before boarding (they look like this).

9. Watch your stuff, beware of pickpockets.  Train stations generally are easy pickings for thieves.  Do not leave bags unattended.  Do not set your purse on the ground next to you.

Photo courtesy Prasad Pillai via Creative Commons license.

Italy: Taking a Food Tour in Rome

Best Rome Food Tour

Mr. P and I are all about food, especially when traveling.  A coworker recommended Eating Italy Tours to us, so I booked a Trastevere walking tour.  To be honest, I did zero research and just booked it.  I trust the foodies at my office.

Our Thoughts on the Food Tour

Come on an empty stomach.  We ate so. much. food.  Some places we had little bites.  At others, it was much more.  We sat down as a group and shared three platters of pasta and wine at one stop and sat at another restaurant for dessert at the end!

Best Rome Food Tour

We learned a lot about local food and how it’s made.  So many of the places we stopped at had been in business for decades or even generations.  The pride in their work was evident and the food was amazing.  At the porchetta shop, the owner’s 90+ year old mother still sits at the register.

Best Rome Food Tour

We learned how to tell real gelato from fake.  I consider this a necessary public service announcement so I wrote about it in its own separate post.

Best Rome Food Tour

Easy-going, good-sized group.  As you know, I don’t like tours generally.  I make exceptions for food tours and this one was great.  I didn’t feel like I was getting herded along.  It was nice, down to Earth, and with a good-sized group.

We went back to several places we visited.  Later on that same day, Mr. P had to go back and get a porchetta sandwich.  It was a real porchetta emergency.  We also had snacks and dinner at one of the other restaurants and had the best cacio e pepe of our time in Rome!

Best Rome Food Tour

You get a list of the stops at the end.  Don’t worry about writing everything down!

They helped us with restaurant reservations.  We passed by a restaurant that we’d been trying to get into for dinner.  Even though it wasn’t on the tour, the guide stepped in for us and got us dinner reservations!

In sum, I’m still dreaming about what we ate.  It was that good.

Best Rome Food Tour

Should You Go?

At 75€ per person, it’s a bit pricey but you get a huge amount of food and an English-speaking guide.  I wholeheartedly recommend it if you even remotely like food.  You don’t have to be a big foodie to enjoy it, it’s paced well, and you get to stop in places you never would have thought to check out.  It was time very well spent for us!  They cater to some food allergies/issues, so check it out!

Eating Italy Tours

Note, I am not listing our stops on the tour here as it would not be nice to the company.  I received zero compensation from the tour company for my thoughts here — they don’t even know I’m writing this review.  To the extent we visited any of the stops on our own, I will talk about those experiences in another post.

We traveled to Italy in May 2015.  Click here for all of my tips and things we wish we’d known before our trip!

Italy: 8 Key Tips for Visiting the Colosseum

Rome Colosseum by Natalie Parker

Click here for all of my Italy tips!

What We Thought of the Colosseum

I’ll be honest: I’m glad we went, it was cool, but I wasn’t in awe.  It didn’t rise to the awe-inspiring moment of the Eiffel Tower.  Your results may vary, of course!

We weren’t in the best mindset when we got there because a bunch of the roads were shut down, we had to walk a long way, and it was really hot.  Still, I think I enjoyed sitting outside and looking at it more than picking my way through the inside.

8 Tips for Visiting the Colosseum

1. Get an advance ticket. Buy advance tickets here and you can get in a special line.

2. Sometimes the advance ticket line is huge, but don’t despair. When we got there, the line for people who already had tickets was twice as long as those without.  We were pretty pissed (see above about it being hot).  Don’t despair. Our line moved quickly and we were inside within 20 minutes.

3. A Roma Pass gets you a dedicated entrance but . . . it seemed weird. Yes, their line was way shorter. But once they got inside, their line ground to a halt and we passed some of them. Did they need to use their pass to print a ticket once they got inside? Sometimes that’s the case with monuments.

4. There are restricted areas if you’re not on a tour. I’m not a tour person and I felt a tad ripped off that I couldn’t access the third level or the main platform, It seemed like a racket. Still, I don’t think the tour would have been worth it for us — we saw plenty. If seeing every last nook and cranny is important to you, book a tour. You’ll also get to skip the line.

Rome Colosseum by Natalie Parker

5. Bring a picnic, especially if it’s hot. The food options close by aren’t great. I wish we would have taken some snacks to eat inside the Colosseum or nearby in the Forum.

6. If you’re visiting the Forum after, ask for directions. We didn’t and walked the long way around in the hot sun. There was a closer entrance!

7. Bring a map of the Forum. We had a really hard time finding exits.  There was a moment when I thought “we’re trapped in here!”  Sure, we could have used this as an opportunity to explore the Forum more, wanderlust and all that jazz.  But it was hot and we were tired.

8. It’s worth the climb up Palatine Hill. There are great views of the Forum and Colosseum. We wish we’d brought a picnic here!

What would you add to this list?  Was your experience different?  Please share!

We traveled to Italy in May 2015.  Click here for all of my tips and things we wish we’d known before our trip!

Programming Note

Paper Project by Natalie Parker

A short note today for my scrapbooker / crafty audience:

You may be wondering all of this travel is great, but where are the paper projects?  Or not, maybe you love everything I write in which case, thank you!

But seriously, where are the projects?  I’ve kept this off-blog for several reasons, but we had a major issue with our new home.  As a result, I haven’t done a paper project since we moved last year.  It’s been tough keeping our heads above water but we finally have it behind us.

This weekend I worked on my first paper project in months.  It felt so normal and for that I’m thankful.

For the near future, you’ll still see a lot of travel-related posts.  I want to get all of my Italy posts from last year’s trip up, then I’ll write more about our big adventure around the world.  The paper will return as I get more time to work on paper projects!


5 Tips about Packing for Travel from the Book Wild

Wild Book by Cheryl Strayed

Have you read Wild? Maybe saw the movie with Reese Witherspoon? Don’t worry, no spoilers here.

I read the book and it struck a chord about packing for travel. No, gallivanting off to Europe is not the same thing as packing for Cheryl’s hike. But there is a lot to learn from her story.

In the book, she tries to pack everything she thinks she might possibly need. She literally cannot load her pack onto her back, it’s that heavy.

1. Every little thing contributes weight. Sure, an extra razor here, or shirt there by itself doesn’t weigh that much. It all adds up!

2. Get rid of things as you go along. On our last big trip, I had printed airline and hotel confirmations for everywhere. Like Cheryl does in the book, I got rid of each page once I no longer needed it. Every little bit counts.

3. Pack exactly what you need for toiletries. If I need 15 makeup wipes, I pack 15, not the whole pack of 25. Do 5 makeup wipes really make a difference? See #1 above.

4. You can buy it if you need it.  I won’t ruin the story, but Cheryl ends up needing something super key for her journey which she is able to get eventually.  While hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.  In the 1990’s.  Without a cell phone.  If she can do that, I should not have a problem buying something on the road if I really need it.

5. Do your best and everything will be fine.  Can you be the perfect packer?  No.  What if it’s your first trip and you don’t know what you need?  Shouldn’t an expert be helping you?  If her story tells you anything, it will be okay.  Get your stuff together as best you can and go!

Don’t Give into Fear and Other Great Travel Links

Airport Departure Board

It’s time for another round up of great travel bits I’ve saved!

Best Flight Map Ever for AvGeeks.  Ever.  You can select an airport and see all the flights all over the world it flies to in a cool graphic way.  Try it!

Don’t give into fear (or how to travel to a place you know nothing about).  This post x1000.  Fear mongering about travel is something that infuriates me like no other.  On that note  . . .

Thoughts on Colombia.  I loved this summary of Ford and Lucky’s trip to Colombia, especially the commentary from their friends before they left.  Given the changes in the miles and points landscape, expect to see many more people exploring South America.

Why butter is better in France.  You know that you’ve always wondered.  I’ll dream tonight about le beurre.

Does Visa shortchange you on exchange rates?  This is the first I’ve read about this and I’ll need to pay attention on our next trip.  Anyone else do the math?

No more fee to travel to Argentina!  Argentina rolled back the $140 reciprocity fee for US travelers.

Alaska is buying Virgin America.  Color me bummed about this.  I really like both airlines, but I’ll be sad to see the coolness of the Virgin brand go if this goes through, not to mention losing an airline that’s headquartered in the Bay Area.

Photo courtesy Yazan Badran via Creative Commons license.

London: The Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race

Oxford Cambridge Boat Race, Putney, London

One of the more random things I got to do during my month-long work stint in London last year was watch the Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race.  Or simply, The Boat Race.

It’s an annual race on the Thames between eights from Oxford and Cambridge and people take it seriously.  The rivalry between both schools is akin to an Alabama/Auburn or a Michigan/Ohio State, if you will.  Since I love spectacles and sporting events, I was there!

Oxford Cambridge Boat Race, Putney, London

I actually got wind of it from my coworker, a Cambridge alumnus himself, when he was asking me about the finer points of college football rivalries.  He said the only thing Britain has like that on the non-pro level is the Boat Race and it was happening that. very. weekend.

Oxford Cambridge Boat Race, Putney, London

I took the bus to Putney Bridge and met a coworker and friends to check it out.  People crowd into pubs, houses, yards, and all along the bank of the Thames.  Much beer, bubbly, and Pimms is had by all.

Oxford Cambridge Boat Race, Putney, London

As seriously as the rivalry is, the socializing is as well.  Walking around, one can’t help but think, “can this be any more British?”

Oxford Cambridge Boat Race, Putney, London

Seriously, a bicycle cart with champagne.  I can get behind this.

Oxford Cambridge Boat Race, Putney, London

I was in luck last year and got to see a major milestone.  Although the men’s race has been run over a hundred years, the women’s rowing teams have been competing for around ninety.  Last year, 2015, was the first year that the women’s race took place on the same day and at the same place as the men’s.  I got to watch the ladies put their boats in and cheer with the rest of the crowd.  You go girls!

Oxford Cambridge Boat Race, Putney, London

If you go this weekend

The 2016 race is this Sunday, March 27.  Women start at 3:10pm and men at 4:10pm.  Get there at least an hour early to get a drink and take in the scene.

Head to Putney Bridge.  The race starts at Putney Bridge and ends in Mortlake.  Putney is easily accessible by bus or tube.  Use the Putney Bridge tube stop and cross over the Thames, or East Putney and walk down Putney High Street to the river.

Blink and it’ll be over.  Here’s the thing, it’s a boat race.  Everyone will cheer when they get ready to go and the boats will be by in a matter of seconds.  On the one hand, it’s not hugely exciting all told.  On the other hand, it doesn’t take up your entire day — I visited the Tate Britain earlier in the day.

Who should you support?  If you’re a person who expects to win, like a Yankees fan, go with Oxford.  If you’re someone who supports teams that tend to let you down and snatch defeat from the jaws of victory (like myself), go with Cambridge.

Oxford Cambridge Boat Race, Putney, London

I inadvertently supported Cambridge by sporting my new scarf that happened to be the Cambridge color.  It all worked out in the end!