Dec 2016: Rome, Naples & Pompeii — Trip Report


Pre-trip Planning

Why did we decide to go away for Christmas? There was the possibility of me going to Japan for work just before the holiday. We figured maybe Suzanne and Kyle could join for a bit after, making it a quite an adventure. While that trip didn’t come to pass, we had the hook of spending the holiday away for a change. We considered Germany, but “we’ve done that” (spending one Christmas there when we lived there) and the real highlight, the Christmas markets, end before Christmas Day. We visited Rome in 2003 (for only three days) and again in 2007 (with Jack and Mary Lou for a whole week). I wanted to go back and Kyle was interested in going, so we decided this was a good time. As I had wanted to go to Pompeii for ages, we decided to finally make it this time, spending a couple of nights in Naples to do so.

In terms of hotels, as we were going to be in Rome for eight nights, including Christmas day, we really wanted an apartment. After spending some time trolling Airbnb, VRBO, and the like, we decided to stay at the same place we stayed in 2007, now known as Floralia Homes, specifically the Red Gloxinia  apartment. (Last time we were in the Blue apartment.) This was more space than we needed but wasn’t much more cost than I could find elsewhere, is in a great location (just a few minutes from Campo di Fiori), and we knew it was a nice place from our last visit. In the end, it was great having the space, the two bathrooms, and the washer and dryer. (Having a dryer is not a given even if a place has a washer.) For the 8 nights, we paid €1460 (about $1525 though it ended up being ~$1750 to get the cash from AAA to pay – they accept credit cards but charge a lot more).

In Naples, we stayed at Dimora delle Arti. I was a bit hesitant as there weren’t many reviews on TripAdvisor when I booked as it is a very new hotel (opened Sep 2016). It ended up being very nice and was reasonable at €270 total for two nights. The location was good (just a few minutes from the archeological museum and its two metro stops). Back in Rome, we stayed at Hotel Italia Roma for our last two nights. We stayed here in 2003 and it was fine back then. In the interim, they had renovated and it was very nice. It was €323 for two nights. To get from the airport and back, we used RomeCabs (€50 each way) and were happy with them.

As we were there over Christmas, we made sure to make dining reservations for Christmas Eve lunch (Il Ristorante Piccolo Arancio) and Christmas Day dinner (Ristorante Virginiae). Both worked out well though I’m not sure they actually had our reservation at Piccolo Arancio. They gave us a table in any case.

For planning, we used mostly Rick Steves’ Rome, though we supplemented it with his general Italy book and a few more from the library or our stock. We also used the Rick Steves Italy travel forum and Tripadvisor. As we had been a couple of times before, we felt we had a good handle with things to start with.

Before we went, I did use Duolingo for a couple of months to pick up some Italian. It’s not really necessary as people in the tourist areas speak English quite well. I felt it was helpful and enjoyed being able to pick up things here and there. I’m not sure it’s the best way to learn a language, I would have liked more info on the grammatical rules and such, but was okay.

Sat 17-Dec – Leaving Home

While normally we’d fly out Friday night, we waited until Saturday due to much going on that time of year. We also flew out of JFK as we could get a direct flight that was reasonable. As it’s a 1.5-2 hour drive (depending on traffic), we booked a car. At the airport, I was able to get us access to the Delta lounge (with a bit extra payment as they were three of us) which was great.

Sun 18-Dec – Arrival in Rome

The flight over was fine. I had splurged (a bit) and upgraded us to Comfort+ which was nice. I’ve gotten very used to extra-legroom seats. 🙂 We ended up being around 45 minutes late. When we arrived, the weather was wonderful, nice and warm and sunny. After a fine ride into the city we checked into the apartment, which was as we expected and laid out the same as the one we rented in 2007.

After settling in a bit, we headed across the street for some excellent pizza. We then walked around the area, a great way to stave off jet lag, heading through Campo di Fiori (just a few minutes from the apartment), through Piazza Navona, where there was a small Christmas market, and up to the Pantheon. Next up was our first gelato of the trip at Giolitti before heading back, with a stop a Coop (same chain as in England where many of my UK colleagues get lunch) for groceries on the way. After relaxing at the hotel a bit, walked over to Taverna Cairoli just down the street for dinner (€38 for a starter and three primis). As none of us had slept well on the plane, we all crashed pretty hard pretty early.

Mon 19-Dec – The Colosseum

I was up on the early side and headed for a coffee at Bar Rossana, which would become my regular morning spot, and breakfast pastries at Roscioli. After breakfast, we hopped the bus down to the Colosseum. We visited the first and second floors on our own and then joined our prebooked tour of the underground and third floor. This tour, which has to be booked through the Rome Cultural site, was very cool and well worth the extra cost (€12 per person). After our visit, we headed behind the Colosseum for lunch at Pizzeria Luzzi, which was a bit touristy. While it might seem obvious to visit the Forum on the same day as the Colosseum as they’re next to each other, the weather was so-so (cloudy and cool) and we weren’t sure how long we’d spend. We decided to come back Tuesday for that and headed up to Santa Maria Maggiore, with a stop at Upim (department store), followed by a walk to Coin (at Termini train station), a stop at Grom (same chain as the two shops in NY City) for gelato for Kyle, and then back to Santa Presseda, perhaps my favorite church to visit in Rome due to the 10th century mosaics, which was closed when we walked by earlier. As it was getting late, we taxied back to the apartment (€9). Dinner was at Da Pancrazio near the apartment. They’re built above the ruins of the Theater of Pompey, where the Julius Caesar was assassinated  during a meeting of the Senate in 44 BCE, and we were able to take a quick look downstairs which was cool. After was a stop for gelato at Mamma Mia (right on Campo di Fiori). All in all, a good first full day in Rome.

Tue 20-Dec – The Roman Forum

After my normal coffee and bakery visit, we head breakfast before catching the bus to San Clemente. This is back by the Colosseum but was closed when we were nearby on Monday. This was a very cool church as it’s a 12th century church built on a 4th century basilica converted from a nobleman’s house which also served briefly as a 1st century church. The basement of this house served as a Mithraeum in the 2nd century. The house itself was built on the ruins of a villa and warehouse, both from the Republican era, destroyed in the Great Fire of 64 CE. Talk about layers of history.

After our visit, we headed back to the Roman Forum. Though the weather was a bit cool and drizzly (the last day of the trip that the weather wasn’t really nice), we spent around 2 1/2 hours there. The Curia (Roman Senate house) was closed for repairs/excavations but they had opened up the back of the Basilica Julia and the House of the Vestal Virgins since 2007. Perhaps some of the money from admissions, it used to be free, was actually going somewhere. We then had a wander around the Palatine Hill, site of the Imperial palaces, for an hour or so before some excellent pizzas at Pizzaria Alla Carrette.

After our extended (due to avoiding rain) lunch, we headed to St. Peter in Chains, with Michelangelo’s Moses statue, followed by a stop at LittleBigTown toys for Kyle, Tiger, and then Carrefour for dinner. I also got my first roast chestnuts of the trip which I love. We had dinner at the apartment before a quick trip around the corner to Alberto Pica for some great gelato. (Alas, no cinnamon which was our favorite from last time.)

Wed 21-Dec – Heart of Rome

This was the day for our “Heart of Rome” walk. After our now standard coffee, pastries, and breakfast routine, we headed out to Campo di Fiori to begin the walk. We headed from Campo di Fiori through Piazza Navona, were disappointed that Ai Monestori was closed, visited another toy shop and then the Pantheon (again), Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, and St. Ignazio. After a cool lunch at Antica Birra Peroni, we wandered through Galleria Del’Alberto Sordi, by Trevi Fountain, to and then up the Spanish Steps, though Trinita dei Monti (the church at the top of the Spanish Steps), and then back down. We happened on Fatamorgana which had excellent organic and natural gelato and had some unusual flavors (basil with walnut and peaches with wine sorbet among others, both very good). We continued to Piazza del Popolo, visited Santa Maria del Popolo, and then walked back through town to the apartment. We saw a lot and did a lot of walking. After a break, we headed to wonderful dinner at Montevecchio where we splurged a bit (we had eaten there in 2007 and greatly enjoyed it). On the way back, it was yet more gelato at Vice.

Thu 22-Dec – Vatican City

This was our Vatican City day. We hopped the bus to just over the river and walked the last bit of the way to St. Peter’s Square. The life size nativity scene was quite impressive. After wandering the square a bit, we visited St. Peter’s Basilica. It was as impressive as I remembered it from our previous visits. We did not climb the dome as Kyle wasn’t keen to do so.

Leaving the cathedral, we headed up to Trionfale Market, wandering around for a while and picking up stuff for our Christmas Eve dinner and Christmas Day lunch at the apartment. We love visiting markets when traveling and this one is quite nice and not touristy like the one in Campo di Fiori. In 2007, it was spread throughout some streets as they were constructing the market building. Lunch was at Da Vito e Dina (where we also ate in 2007). We then headed to Castel Sant’Angelo which was a cool visit as we hadn’t been there before. Kyle was keen to see the military museum but was disappointed it wasn’t as big as the exaggerated size in the guide book.

After a stop at Simply for a few things and a break at the apartment, dinner was some excellent pizza at Da Baffetto 2. Kyle had gelato at Blue Ice while we stopped at Grom (right near Campo di Fiori) for gelato (Suzanne) and dark hot chocolate (Paul).

Fri 23-Dec – Trastevere

I ended up getting up a bit extra early and headed over by the ruins at Largo di Torre Argentina, right by the apartment, before heading up to the Pantheon just as they opened. This was a great experience and worth getting up for. At one point I counted only seven other people inside. After my return and breakfast, we headed out for our Trastevere walk. He hadn’t made it to this district across the Tiber on either of our previous trips so were excited. We spent a good couple of hours, hitting several churches and then getting some wonderful cookies at Biscottificio Innocenti. We crossed back over the Tiber and visited the Republican era temples in the Forum Boarium followed by a stop at the Boca della Verità at Sta. Maria Cosemdin. After a wander through the Circus Maximus (scene of the chariot race in Ben Hur), we stopped by Taverna dei Quaranta for some lunch.

After lunch, we walked along the Imperial Forums, which you can only see from the street, before visiting the Victor Emmanuel II monument. We walked up to to the elevator which then takes you to the roof. The view was very nice, especially as (a) it was sunset and (b) the view didn’t include the monument itself. After a stop at the Coop for dinner stuff on the way back, we had dinner in. I did head head out for another stop at Alberto Pica’s for gelato as I figured it was the last night we’d be able to. We did a ton of walking but saw quite a bit of Rome that day.

Sat 24-Dec – Christmas Eve

After getting coffee, I stopped in several shops for some items for our Christmas Eve dinner and Christmas Day lunch. There were some excellent food shops right near the apartment, including the excellent Ruggeri. To start the day, we walked over to the Capitoline Hill and visited the Capitoline Museums. Despite this being the premier museum of ancient Roman artifacts and my interest in ancient Rome, we hadn’t ever made it. We had a wonderful visit. A real highlight was the “tour” of the frescoes in the Hall of the Horatii and Curiatii. There was just the three of us. They were doing conservation work so there was scaffolding up. Not normally a good thing but the tour was to go into the scaffolding and get right up close to the fresco. I was to the point where you could see the template marks and brush strokes, quite literally inches away. It was amazing.

After the museum, we headed up near Trevi Fountain to our lunch reservation at Ristorante Piccolo Arancio. It wasn’t clear if they had our reservation, but they had a table in any case. After lunch, we strolled around Trevi Fountain again before stopping for gelato at Della Palma, home of 150 flavors. Before heading back for a break, we stopped by Sant’Andrea della Valle and the Gesu church (the latter the mother church of the Jesuit order). After dinner at the apartment, we headed back to Sant’Andrea della Valle for Christmas Eve mass. We lucked out as the church was right around the corner, had an English mass, and had mass at the early hour of 7pm. It was quite something to attend such a mass in such a church.

Sun 25-Dec – Christmas Day

We had a nice Christmas morning in the apartment. We had brought and/or bought a few small gifts. Suzanne even made a paper tree to hang. We got Kyle a Kindle Fire of his own which he was real excited about, especially as Suzanne’s wouldn’t connect to wi-fi due to a minor difference between US and European wi-fi standards. (Specifically, they have an extra channel and the router in the apartment was, of course, set to that channel.) After a late breakfast, we basically hung out for most of the morning. After lunch in, we headed out for a walk around the Ghetto, i.e., the Jewish section. While it was more lively, it wasn’t all that large. Kyle did get yet more gelato.

For dinner, we had made reservations at Ristorante Virginiae. This was absolutely wonderful. It was a prix fixe meal at €45/person and included an antipasto (appetizer), primi (pasta), secundi (meat) and dessert. As Kyle wouldn’t eat most of that, they made him pasta with butter for no charge. With a decent wine, the total bill was €115. We thought that was quite reasonable for a very good meal on Christmas. On the way home, Kyle got another gelato. It was surprising to us that a fair number of places were open, even shops and such, despite it being Christmas. Once back, it was time to pack as we were leaving for Naples the next morning.

Mon 26-Dec – Naples

After getting up early and packing our last few items, we headed out around 8:30 to grab a taxi to Termini station. I was a bit concerned about taxis being available, but we had no problems. We hopped the 9:20 Fecciarossa, the newest, fastest, train type for the ride to Naples. At one point the train hit 300 km/hr (180 mph) which was cool. We hopped a taxi from the station in Naples, which cost more than it should have but I got fed up of arguing over a few dollars, and checked into Dimora delle Arti. The staff here were incredibly friendly and the hotel was wonderful.

We headed out to find some lunch, which turned out to be a bit tricky as quite a bit was closed. Eventually, we had something at Il Tempo del Vino in Piazza Dante. Next up was the National Archeological Museum as a prelude to our visit to Pompeii. This museum houses much of the material excavated from Pompeii and other sites in the area. All of it was amazing, but the frescoes and paintings were especially impressive. They also have a very cool 3D model/map of the ruins.

After the museum, we walked down through town down to the waterfront, grabbing a wonderful sfogliatella on the way. It was very cool to see the late afternoon light over Mt. Vesuvius and the Bay of Naples. Eventually, we hopped the metro back to the hotel before heading to dinner. Of course, it was pizza in the home of pizza.

Tue 27-Dec – Pompeii

After an early breakfast, we headed out for our day in Pompeii. I had been wanting to go for many years and was very excited. We took the older line 2 as it was only one stop to the station. This was a mistake as it stopped several times for no apparent reason and took nearly an hour. At the central station, we got out tickets for the Circumvesuviana train. This train has a bad reputation but it was okay, kind of a gritty commuter rail but not so bad. I suspect it’s a lot worse during the heat and crowds of summer.

Pompeii itself was wonderful. While we have been to Ostia Antica, Pompeii was more impressive though I can’t say exactly why. Perhaps as it’s larger or perhaps as there are some impressively well preserved buildings. Overall, we spent around five hours on site before hopping the train back to Naples and the metro, line 1 this time, back to the hotel.

For dinner, we tried to hit Sobrillo, supposed to be possibly the best pizza in Naples, but it was crazy to try and get in. Instead we went to I Decumani which was also very good and much more sedate. Naples was much grittier and rougher than Rome (or Florence or Venice from previous trips) but was enjoyable. Pompeii was certainly worth it.

Wed 28-Dec – Back to Rome

As we had no big plans today, we slept in a bit before having breakfast and doing our final packing. We hopped the metro to the station, line 1 this time which was faster despite there being more stops, to catch the train back to Rome. I had a panic moment when I thought we were on the wrong train but all was good.

After arriving back in Rome, we walked the 15 minutes or so to Hotel Italia Roma. The staff here was incredibly friendly and the hotel was very nice. We then headed out to Da Trani (so-so) for lunch, headed up to the Baths of Diocletian/Santa Maria degli Angeli followed by a walk down Via XX September and a wander around Piazza Quirnale. After a stop for gelato at Wonderful (it was quite good) we hung out at the hotel a bit. Dinner tonight was not Italian but Chinese at Mr. Chow. It was a nice change.

Thu 29-Dec – Last day in Rome

We felt we had seen quite a bit over the several days we were in Rome. For our last day, we took the metro out to San Giovanni in Laterno, another new sight. We also visited the Museum of the Liberation of Rome which was about the occupation of Rome and liberation of Rome from the Nazis during WWII. It was quite interesting, though small and most of the displays were in Italian. After a good trek by the Colosseum and Forum, we hit Pizzeria Alle Carrette a second time for lunch. For our last bit of time, we visited the Museum of the Imperial Forums which is located in and around Trajan’s Market. While some guidebooks pan this museum, we quite enjoyed it. However, I do admit with all there is to see in Rome, it may not be a “must see” site. After a stop by the train station for a bit of shopping, and a bit of McDonald’s for Kyle, and one last gelato stop (Wonderful though a different location from Wednesday), we headed back to the hotel followed by dinner at Da Tito al Venezia. All in all, a pretty good last day in Rome.

Fri 30-Dec – Getting home

While our flight wasn’t super early, we still booked a car for 7 am, so after a poor night’s sleep all around, we were up and ready to go early. The drive back to the airport was fine and we arrived around 7:30 for our 10:20 flight. It did take a long time to check in and they had messed up our seats, putting me 12 rows in front of Suzanne and Kyle one row behind her. They couldn’t do anything as it was full. In the end, things worked out so-so in that at least Kyle and Suzanne were together. I don’t think having Kyle in a row by himself for 10 hours would have worked well. Additionally, they couldn’t print Suzanne’s Boston-JFK boarding pass. (I suspect I messed up by not including the hyphen in her name on the ticket while she has one on her passport. Booking through Delta for an Alitalia flight probably didn’t make things easier either, though they are partners.) Breakfast was one last set of Italian pastries and coffee.

The flight ended up leaving around an hour late. The seat was incredibly uncomfortable, I think I’ve gotten used to Comfort+ and exit row seats in my travels, and my screen didn’t work. At least I got some reading done.

Arrival in Boston was fine, even on time despite our late departure. Immigration, kiosks, was pretty quick as was baggage retrieval. We were able to print Suzanne’s boarding pass. In fact, we reprinted them all as the Alitalia ones didn’t include the TSA Precheck mark. After a quick trip through security (Precheck is really nice) we grabbed some Wendy’s, mostly for Kyle as he didn’t like the food on the plane. We ended up being upgraded to Comfort+ for the short flight to NY. (I had just made Delta Platinum status on the trip over.) Arrival in JFK was fine, we were out the door pretty quick, and made it home around 8:30. After settling a bit and checking on the animals, all were fine, we were all beat and hit the sack pretty quick.


All in all it was an excellent trip. We did a ton in Rome and had time most days for a break before dinner. The weather turned out great, sunny and reasonably warm, aside from the first couple of full days. They weren’t bad, just cool and a bit of drizzle or rain each day. I think we packed in all we wanted to see. I might have cut a day or two off of Rome but couldn’t really due to the way Christmas fell. It might have been better to simply fly home from Naples but we hadn’t finalized our schedule before booking flights.

As before, the apartment was great as were our other hotels. It is really nice to have the extra space, the kitchen, and the washer & dryer an apartment affords, especially for such a long stay. (I can’t imagine trying for two weeks without a way to do laundry.)

In terms of eating, the food was generally very good. We did find it a bit pricey but we did eat out real meals for most lunches which added up. Often, a quick sandwich or takeaway pizza would have sufficed but (a) this didn’t always work with Kyle and (b) it was nice to get off our feet for a bit. Having a few meals at the apartment helped. I also loved having my “regular” coffee bar (Bar Rosanna) each morning. By the end of the week, Rosanna recognized me and knew what I wanted.

I really love Rome and am glad we returned after nine years. Hopefully it won’t be as long next time. Of course, there are a lot of other places we’d like to see too.