Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Bad day in Rome...or...I hate guided tours...or...American Express travel services are pathetic

Hi! We are in Florence now! We left Rome this morning and enjoyed our first train ride. It was easy, and we checked in to our hotel with no problems. It is about 2 blocks from the station, which is handy. It is a short walk to everything we want to see in Florence, and so close to the train station, which will be helfpul for our trip to Pisa tomorrow.

Our last day in Rome was a little rough. Luckily, we had seen pretty much everything we wanted to see there in our first four days, so we didn't feel like we lost to much time. It is a little funny now, but we had a series of misfortunes that resulted in a very strange day! I hope we used up all of our bad experiences in one day. haha

We started out fine...we slept in until past 8:00! That is late for two Wallens in Rome. Anyway, our first stop was the Castle deAngelo, which is a castle near the Vatican. It is also near our hotel...but not near enough! We stopped at a corner cafe for a pastry and cappucino (which was delicious) and then it promptly started raining. Not the gentle drizzle of a nice May day. It was a torrential downpour. Being diehards, we put on our ponchos and started running to the castle. By the time we got there, we were soaking wet from our knees down, but happy other than that! The tour was pretty good. Well, it wasn't a tour, we just walked through ourselves. It was creepy, especially because of hte rain. I think it was worth the soak...Rose might diasgree.

Anyway, we then ran back to our hotel (still raining) and rested for a little while. We had stopped by a market and purchased fruit, cheese, and bread for lunch, so we ate that in our B&B. Then, we dried out in time to leave for our only tour of the catacombs, which we purchased from the American Express office.

On our first day in Rome, we stopped by the American Express office to get help booking a specific tour of underground Rome that I found and wanted to book. I didn't know if they spoke English, so I needed help with the phone call. AS an American Express customer with a travel card, I thought this would be no big deal. The girl at AMEX acted like it was the most inconvenient day of her life when we asked her to help us make the call in Italian. She wanted to sell us one of their tours instead. I explained that the tour I found was more comprehensive the the AMEX tour, so I just wanted her to help me make the call. SHe dialed and handed me the phone. I told her it was in Italian and I needed help. She said to keep listening and they would repeat the message in English. They didn't. I told her they didn't, and asked if she could listen and translate, and she huffed audibly (literally) and took the phone. She said that there would be no tours for the five days we would be there. I find that hard to believe, but there wasn't anything I could do, so I said okay. She then said that their tour included three different catacomb stops, and asked if I wanted it. Since it was only a few more euro than the one I wanted originally, we consented and paid 40 euro each for the catacomb tour. I asked her specifically if it included tours of 3 different catacombs, and she said yes. So, that was fine. It would have taken us all day to walk or try to figure out the bus system to get to three catacombs, so we figured it was worth it. THe tour was booked for yesterday, our last day in Rome.

Well, we showed up at 2:30 for the tour as we were told. They were 30 mintutes late picking us up, which was annoying. But, I got over that. Then, as we were driving, the lady giving the tour announced that it would be in English and in Spanish. Ok, I thought, no big deal. As the tour went on, though, we realized that this guide normally does only Spanish tours, as her English was not very good at all. Now keep in mind that we have had many little tours in various places in English by people who didn't speak English as their first language. Every other tour was great, and the English was fine for a tour. This girl, however, did not know many of the key words to give the tour. There were four spanish speaking people on the tour, versus 24 english speaking people. Since I speak Spanish, I could tell that they were getting about 50% more information that we were in English.

Then, at the beginning, the tour guide announced that we would have three stops...two at two different basilicas in Rome, and the third at the catacombs. I was surprised, since I was told that there would be three catacomb visits. Oh well, too late now.

We stopped at the first church, which was absolutely gorgeous. Since we were on a guided tour (which I HATE) we were herded through, with only about 4 minutes to actually look around. It was so frustrating. I usually need at least 30 minutes in a cathedral to take it all in, and we had 4 minutes! Then we had to sit on the bus for 20 minutes waiting for everyone to load up. It is such a waste of time. Then, of course, we rode forever in the bus, which made me carsick. (Did I mention I hate guided tours????)

The second stop was the catacombs. We stopped, the guide purchased our tickets for a standard tour, and then told us to meet her back on the bus when the tour was over. So, we paid all of that for the standard 5 euro tour given by the catacomb people! I have to say that the actual catacomb tour was pretty good. The guide was very interesting and had a lot of helpful historical and contextual information. We couldn't discuss anything on the actual walk through the catacombs, since they are so narrow and you can't stop for long, but he said we would gather after for a Q&A session. I was looking forward to that, but as we exited the tombs, our tour guide was there telling us that we didn't have time to stay and had to get back on the bus. That was even more frustrating, since that was exactly what we wanted to see on the tour. But, we obediently got back on the bus and rode back into Rome to the next stop, the second church.

This church was gorgeous as well. It was the official Cathedral of Rome, I belive it was San Giovanni of Laterno or something like that. It was breathtakingly awesome as well. But, like before, we entered and she told us to walk right through and not stop because we didn't have time. Well, I wasn't about to walk through that church in 5 minutes, so I informed her that Rose and I would be leaving the tour and would walk back to our hotel. She said fine so we stayed.

The church was so beautiful. They have 12 gigantic sculptures by Bernini Jr. (son of the famous Bernini) of the 12 apostles. They are magnificent. We ended up staying at the church for an hour to soak up the beauty.

By the way, I will be calling American Express to request a refund for this rip off. I don't get mad very often, but I was very mad at this. We have learned oru lesson though, and will not do any more guided tours through tour companies.

I will say that we have had some excellent tours of specific locations. Today we had a tour of the Duomo in Florence by a volunteer. It was excellent. The information was very thorough. She had us captivated for almost an hour....and it was free! Also, the tours of the Roman Forum, Coliseum, and Pallatine Hill were only 3.5 euro each, and worth way more. It is ironic that the only expensive (40 euro) tour that we took was through American Express and horrible. Never again. You can see so much more on your own, and have as much or as little time at the sites.

I think Rose covered the rest of our frustrating day! It was all worth it though. Now we are in Florence and having a good time. It is really pretty here. It is much cleaner and nicer than Rome. The people are nicer also. We went to the Duomo, as I mentioned earlier. It is another beautiful church. This one has a great story, as we learned on the tour. I'll let you google it if you want to learn more...the Internet is too expensive for me to write it all. haha

This afternoon we went to the Ufizi Gallary, which is a great art museum. There were several rooms of Donetello paintings, and a couple Michaelangelos. We had a good time, but all of that art makes my eyes hurt. We stayed for about 2 hours and then left for dinner. We had a quick delicious dinner. I had vegetable soup and lemon chicken, and Rose had......drum role please.....two beef dishes! Talk about major role reversal. :) Anyway, it was great. Now we are writing you, and then we will go reserve our tickets to Pisa for tomorrow!

I hope you are all doing well and enjoying our posts! We are having a great time, despite the occassional mishap. We have hurting feet. I think when Rose tripped yesterday it actually affected my ankle, since I'm the one hobbling today. She feels great!

That's all for now! Is the weather nice there? It is beautiful here! We haven't been hot since day 1. It is in the low 70's most of the time, and the sun is out right now. It is pretty nice. I'll sign off for now and write more tomorrow!


1 comment:

Jay said...

Katie - sounds like you are having quite an adventure! FYI - My hard drive crashed last week so I thankful to be able to use your computer for a few days. We miss you here at the office.