About touchaku

Touchako means 'arrivals' in Japanese. We've arrived somewhere on a trip. This blog captures our experiences.

Trip Summary

Like many of our trips, Rome was no exception. It was fast, covered many things but did not go into too much detail. Arriving Monday afternoon and departing early Saturday really only left us with just four full days. We spent three days in Rome and took a day trip to Florence. Deniz had been to Italy before but this was my first visit. We really like history and Rome is overflowing with it. Everywhere you look there’s something historical. A fascinating city!!

What We Liked

It was fascinating to visit one of the older places on earth. The cobblestone roads, historic buildings with intriguing architecture and ruins spread out all over was really interesting. While on the train between Rome and Florence we saw a few ruins an top of hills. Touring the castle was one of the highlights.

Almost everyone speaks some level of English making things a bit easier to get around and order food. The city is pretty clean and the food is amazing.

Italian customs is so efficient. As explained earlier they move hundreds of people through pretty quickly.

Through buying our train tickets to Florence we received a free guide to touring Italy. Through this guide we discovered Colline Emiliane restaurant. This was our favourite place. We enjoyed the restaurant so much we returned the next day. Great food and service with reasonable prices.

The Free Now IOS app was handy for calling and paying for a cab, It is not as smooth and refined as the Uber app but similar convenience.

What We didn’t like

The street scammers at all the major attractions were a real nuisance and ruined the experience of visiting the attraction. They are so persistent that as soon as you get rid of one, the next guy has already targeted you. The sellers of bracelets, roses and various tours were too much. We were on vacation and simply just wanted to enjoy ourselves. We would like to return to Italy again but will avoid these places in order to avoid these people. If we were bothered by one or two people and then left alone it would have been fine. Unfortunately, you have to talk stern with these people and be mean right from the start.

We stayed at Una Finestra Su Monti. It was not a bad place. Newly renovated, clean friendly service and decent size rooms. But we would not recommend this place due to the following reasons. First, it’s not like a conventional hotel where there’s staff always available to help. There’s only eight rooms all located on one floor. But the office is only open during the day. We had no hot water Tuesday night and was unfortunately after the office had closed. There was nobody for us to call. A conventional hotel would have staff on site at all times to help guests. Secondly, it was not very sound proof. All the locks used separate keys in lock tumblers which required a couple of turns to unlock. Late at night as various visitors returned from their day, the keys turning the locks and banging against the wood doors made lots of noise. With no carpeting and hard flooring throughout, every little noise amplified and echoed each time someone returned or walked around. Lastly, it was difficult to get s good nights sleep. The rooms warmed up quickly. They did have A/C units in the room but the fan blew right on the bed which is not a nice feeling. We then opened the window but there was always a lot of noise outside that seemed to amplify in the narrow streets. As such we did not sleep well all week.

Summary

We had booked this trip to celebrate our tenth anniversary. We wanted to choose somewhere different and special. Rome did not disappoint us. We just wish we could have stayed longer. Despite some of the challenges mentioned above, we thoroughly enjoyed this trip. Italy is a beautiful country. While they may not have the greatest reputation for service, we had no issues in this area. If anything, we were quite happy with the service we received at most places. Try to use some Italian while placing orders and they will use their English to serve you.

We could not get near Trevi Fountain to toss our coin in to ensure a return trip to Rome. However, I’m feeling pretty certain we will be back again.

Departing Rome

Unfortunately, I did not get much rest at all our final night in Rome. After staying up late to pack and get things ready for the next morning I was awakened at 3:38am by the people in the next room returning in late. The rooms all use keys that need to turn the tumbler several times. The heavy keychain the hotel puts the keys on make a lot of noise when doing this. Also, the room next to us does not have a private bathroom in the room but instead use their private bath off the hallway. Each time, they go back and forth the footsteps and fumbling with the locks made a lot of noise. Once they settled I thought I could get some sleep. But another couple returned around 4:30am and then made a lot of noise. Then they started arguing. They continued arguing until about 6am. At which time it was almost time to get up. At 6:30am I woke Deniz and we started getting ready. At 7:20am we grabbed a taxi to Termini Station to get our shuttle bus back to Fiumicino Airport for our flight back home. We had already purchased our tickets before our arrival so this part was very easy.

At the airport they don’t have any automated machines so we had to line up to drop off our baggage. Once our bags were dropped off security was fast and efficient.

Next, the Italians have really made the customs process very easy. The system is very efficient and they do a good job of keeping things moving. The process works very, very well. First you follow the directions and place photo page of passport face down in scanner. Then follow the instructions as the door opens and you step inside, stand on the designated spot, look at the camera and wait for the door to open. Then proceed to the counter where you are instructed to open your passport to a blank page. Pass the open page to the customs officer. He stamps it and that’s it. While there was a short line up, it moved quickly. It only took around 15mins to go through security and customs. Amazing!

We then headed to our gate and that’s when things stopped being smooth. At our gate there was already a very long line even though it was an hour before our flight. It was so chaotic nobody could tell which line was going to which zone. The other problem was Air Canada had one line for zones 1&2, and another for 3-6. But they were calling one zone at a time causing chaos as it was already crowded and now people had to jump out of line when their zone was called. The other problem is after calling zone 2, they then called the remaining zones causing a huge mob of people to funnel down to 2 lines. Total chaos!! I really don’t understand why people can’t just sit and wait patiently until their zone is called. It’s not first come first serve. Everyone has purchased a seat. So what’s the rush? And why is there a need to push and butt in line? I just don’t get people and this crazy situation when traveling.

After arriving back home in Toronto we were met with more disorganization and chaos at Canadian customs. An embarrassment really. First we have to be like hamsters and walk up and down, back and forth through the path towards the machines. There’s a guy telling everyone to keep moving in as there’s lots of machines. However, most machines were not working. About one third of the machines were showing ‘out of order’. So, people started lining up at the various working machines. This made things very crowded and added to the chaos. Once done with the machine, there was another very long line to get in. We showed the customs officer our printout and passports. After answering some questions about our trip we then got in the next line to head down to retrieve our bags. We show our customs form and head down the escalator. After collecting our bags we then get in the line up to exit. After showing our customs form yet again we are finally done. I hope they can make this process more efficient.

We are finally home with great memories!!

Next….my trip summary.

Friday Dinner

On our final evening in Rome we got together with Deniz’ cousins and had a nice dinner at Trattoria Al Gran Sasso. A nice place not far from Piazza del Popolo.

We spent the day with her cousin and her husband so took a taxi together to the restaurant. Her other cousin and his family joined us there. It was a great evening with good conversation. The food was good too but I would need another visit to try more of the menu. Hopefully we can make it back some day.

After dinner we each parted ways and returned to our respective places. We returned to our hotel to pack as we had an early morning to depart and start our journey home.

Castel Sant’Angelo

On our final day, we visited Castel Sant’Angelo (Castle of the Holy Angel). It was originally built by Roman Emperor Hadrian to be a mausoleum for himself and his family. It was constructed between 123 and 139 AD. It was later used by popes as a fortress and castle. The line up was not bad and we were inside within 5-10 minutes.

The castle is huge and the architecture of these places always amazes me.

We toured the castle right to the top terrace. The view of Rome was breathtaking.

The architecture of the passage ways are awesome.

There’s also a secret tunnel running to the Vatican that helped various popes escape attack. This castle tour was well worth the 15€. We spent approximately 1.5-2 hours inside. Just before exiting there’s a fashion exhibit.

Trevi Fountain

After grabbing a coffee and a pastry (the Italian breakfast) at the corner cafe, we made our way to Trevi Fountain. Tons of people!!! Could not really get near the fountain itself unfortunately. And I’m already out of patience with the crowds so after a bit of a try to get down to the fountain edge I bailed out.

At this point we are done with the tourist attractions and will be focusing the remainder of our trip either exploring around where it’s not so crazy and spending time with Deniz’ cousins.

I feel like a magnet for the street sellers. They’re like vultures and they’re persistent. And I’ve had enough. At all the attractions as soon as you stop to take a picture we are being approached and chased. They call us “black and white” and call me “Africa”. I have no idea why. But they’re really persistent. They approach talking nice. When you refuse and walk away they will follow trying to break you down. Then they try to get your hand to slip what they’re selling into it. First time I just dropped it and walked away. The rest of the times I was careful to not let them grab my hand again or slip something on me.

At the Spanish Steps, there are many guys trying to sell roses. They were especially persistent to the point where we had to get angry with them. I saw them with other people handing them a rose and letting go. The plan here is that you will catch it but some are smart to just let it fall on the ground. We over heard two girls who first accepted a rose and gave the guy some money. Then, he wanted more. The girl then got mad saying she was not going to give him more because she did not want the rose and did not want to pay anything in the first place.

Then, there are the people trying to sell skip the line tickets and tours. They’re also very persistent. They also don’t take no for answer and follow you. Near the Vatican one guy didn’t like when after he asked what language we speak and Deniz answered “Chinese”. LOL.

I know they’re just trying to make a living but from our point of view, it took away from the enjoyment of the attraction by having to fight these guys off every few minutes. You finally get rid of one and then another has you as a target. It’s ridiculous!To be clear, none of these people I’m complaining about here were Italian. We had to get aggressive back with them and of course they didn’t like it.

Florence

Today, we went on our day trip to Florence. We started by getting a cab through Free Now app from our hotel to Termini Station. We arrived and waited for our train platform assignment. We made our booking with TrenItalia. Your booking confirmation will include a train number, departure time, car number and seat assignment. On the departures board at the train station look for your train number and departure time. The departures board will note the final destination location so you may not see ‘your’ destination listed. Lastly, keep watch for a platform number. Once you have a platform assignment make your way in. Show the guards your booking confirmation and head towards your platform number. Next, look for the red post tags to find your car number. Once aboard go to your seat. Easy!

The ride itself was really nice. According to the train Frecciarossa (red arrow) the high speed train reaches a top speed of 360km/hr!

The views of the country side en route were really nice. Lots of farm fields of vineyards, sunflowers among other things.

Upon arrival at Firenze Santa Maria Novella station in Florence, we made our way to the various places we had selected. Again the sun was quite hot (30 C). We went through the market – Mercato di San Lorenzo – and towards the main attraction, Piazza del Duomo. There we found an enormous basilica. One of the largest in the world. First, we were met by the Baptistery of Saint John.

Followed by the Florence Cathedral. One of the largest basilicas in the world.

And Giotto’s Campanile.

The structures are enormous by themselves and together they combine to make a huge complex.

Within the Piazza del Duomo we stopped at a place for lunch (Le Botteghe di Donatello). We had a grilled portobello mushroom appetizer and both had fried veal scaloppine with fries. I was not expecting too much but this ended up being our best meal so far. The veal was lightly breaded and cut thin. The fries were crispy and both had a very nice flavour.

We then made our way to the Arno River and Ponte Vecchio.

Finally, it was time to return to Firenze Santa Maria Novella train station to go back to Rome and our hotel room. Another good day completed.

Activity tracker stats….16,239 steps and 9.76kms covered today. Yesterday’s totals were 16,515 steps and 10.07kms covered.

First full day

Today, our first full day started out with breakfast at Maranti Cafe. I started my day with an prosciutto and artichoke panini. I didn’t get a pic as I ate it before I remembered. Oops!

Next, we made our way to the meeting point for our city bus tour. It began near the Vatican, circled down around the Coloseum and back. We sat on a double decker bus on the second level where it was open but with a roof. We didn’t know we were supposed to bring our own headphones so we missed the audio guided tour. Here’s some samples:

Next we walked to the Pantheon. An old church built between 113-125 AD. Incredible and breathtaking is all I can say. Just amazing inside.

Next, we walked to the Spanish Steps, Piazza di Spagna. We walked all the way up. The steps are slanted downward after the centuries of use. Nice to be able to walk up now that sitting on the steps are forbidden.

We then walked to the Villa Borghese since we were close. But being late in the day I was not up for renting a bike or electric buggy to tour the park. We watched the amazing sunset and then made our way back down to street level to find somewhere to eat. Being in a touristy area, none of the places looked very good. But we chose a Pizza place to have a salad and water to tie us over. We wanted to try a place near our hotel. That was ‘ok’. We then grabbed a cab back to our area via a ride sharing app (Freenow – nothing free about it though).

Dinner is late here in Italy. The place, L’antica Fraschetta was packed. We ordered a house red, with calamari appetizer. I ordered spaghetti with clams and Deniz ordered Rigatoni Carbonara. Both our entrees were delicious! Better than last nights dinner.

Now, we are re-charging for our day trip to Florence tomorrow. Stay tuned……

Dinner

Being tired from the journey to get here we decided to just walk out and see what’s near to our hotel. While we wanted to try and eat at places local Romans would and try and avoid the touristy places, for this meal it didn’t matter. We looked at a couple of places and settled on Il nido del Pettirosso. A nice little cozy place showcasing Trip Advisor and Roma awards. It’s gotta be good right?

We both ordered pasta dishes with a vegetable starter to share.

Tuna starter. Delicious!!

Vegetable starter. Nice pesto sauce. Everything was delicious!!

My main plate which is another starter. Homemade pasta with pecorino cheese, almonds and dried apricots.

Food was pretty decent but the presentation and service was excellent. Upon leaving the host ran to hold the door open for us. Certainly don’t see this kind of service around much.

Good service, cozy atmosphere and a decent menu make this a good consideration .

Rome

We have arrived! Customs is quite impressive here. Scan of passport, take picture, then proceed to get your passport stamped. Oh, and there are strict instructions to open passport to a blank page so the officers can quickly stamp it. They do a good job in keeping the lines moving.

It’s incredible the amount of pushiness and selfishness at the airport. Around the carousel to pick up bags people think nothing of it to go in front of you. At the bus terminal, it starts as a single line but as soon as the bus arrives and it’s chaos. Everyone swarms the bus! LOL!

After our bus ride to Termini station we then made our way on foot to our hotel. I think on our way out we will take a taxi. Navigating cobblestones with luggage was challenging.

We are freshening up and will head out to look around and find somewhere to eat dinner.

Ciao

Trip Summary

Reflecting back on our time in San Francisco we had a great time. While Deniz had been there before years ago it was my first time. It was great to see somewhere new and experience new things. For the most part everyone we met from servers at restaurants to Uber drivers to store clerks were all very friendly. We had some nice conversations with some of our Uber drivers.

We stayed at the Chancellor Hotel which is an old family run hotel. Great service and very clean. It was also pretty cool staying in an old rustic hotel. The rooms were a good size complete with walk in closet! During our travels in Japan we didn’t even have a closet so this was very nice.

What we liked.

We really enjoyed visiting Sausalito. The views of the bay were amazing. While very touristy it was also quite nice and clean. Lots of nice looking places to eat and many shops to pick up some souvenirs. We also enjoyed all of our tours starting with the city tour by Painted Ladies Tour Company. Getting a tour while riding in a cool vintage Volkswagen van was awesome! Our driver, Mike was a wealth of information despite being on the job for just two months.

Next was our Bridge 2 Bridge tour by Red and White Fleet. We had a nice sunny day for it (and paid a little through some minor facial sun burns). After departing we made our way along the coast towards the Golden Gate Bridge, passed through under it, turned around, passed back under it and towards the Oakland Bay Bridge. We passed close to Alcatraz Island on our way by. We then passed under the Oakland Bay Bridge, turned around and passed back. We then made our way back to our port. This was a 90 minute tour with headsets providing audio history from start to finish. Fabulous tour!!!

Last but not least was our tour of Alcatraz Island. For this tour you need to book at least three months in advance through Alcatraz Cruises which is the only website authorized to sell tickets. After booking your tickets and departure time, you need to arrive at least 30 minutes ahead of your departure time. Once you are on the island you can stay as long as you like. There is a ferry back to San Francisco every half hour and you can take whichever one back that suits your schedule. The cell house was a guided audio tour with headsets to guide you through and provide history and stories. The audio included narrative from some of the inmates themselves. It was so cool to walk down the cell block and hear some of the stories and events that happened right where we were standing.

The steep streets were astonishing. We thank one of our Uber drivers for providing us with a “San Francisco” experience. After asking him where some of the streets were where that cool chase scene in Bullit was, he took us to one that was close. The intersections are all flat but passing downhill through a steep hill makes you feel like your driving off a cliff. You see nothing and then the front nose drops! Quite the experience and we are thankful to our Uber driver that evening for giving us this.

The seafood is amazing. More selection and fresh seafood was so delicious. Being able to order crab and get real crab meat instead of imitation crab meat was a real treat.

The calamari and pizza at Tony’s Pizza Napoletana was amazing! Our leftover slices were breakfast two days later and still delicious.

Maru Sushi was so good that after opening our trip there, we returned to close off our trip.

What we did not like.

The homeless situation is a big problem. I am still shocked by the numbers (140,000 people). I am also still shocked of seeing a couple of homeless men urinating right on a busy street with crowds of people around. I still can’t get over how they don’t even try to conceal themselves. Of course this leads to the other problem, the smell. Everywhere we walked smelled like urine. It was so bad some days I started to call the place San Franpissco. This leads to yet another problem. Almost every store had either a security guard or police officer. These people go on the streets because stores don’t want them using their washrooms. At Macy’s department store the washrooms have a combo lock on it. You need to obtain the code from a sales representative. Jeez!

The cost of eating is also quite expensive there and our low Canadian dollar does not help. A simple breakfast with eggs, bacon, hash browns, orange juice and coffee for both of us was over $50 Cdn. Every meal ended up being between $50-100 for the two of us. This compared to having a top quality sushi meal in Tokyo for around just $30 for both of us. Incredibly, it is easier to eat well and much affordably in Tokyo.

What we missed.

In a week it is obviously difficult to accomplish everything so not surprising that we missed some things on our list. First, we never did ride those cool streetcars. As mentioned earlier it was simply more cost effective to take an Uber pool ride. Unlike public transit that does not go everywhere, Uber pool pretty much picks you up and drops you off where you want. Too convenient. Considering the cable car is $7 per person compared to an average cost of $8-10 for both of us in an Uber pool ride, the decision was easy.

We also did not get to Amoeba Records. It was close to Golden Gate Park when we were there but everything adds up and we scratched it off our list in order to save some money.

While we saw Coit Tower, we did not get to it. Lack of time and again trying to budget the cost of getting around.

We also made it to the top of Twin Peaks on our city tour but it was an extremely foggy day and we saw nothing unfortunately.

Some final thoughts.

We thoroughly enjoyed this trip. We met some really nice people and enjoyed some really nice tours. I am so thankful for seeing the many places around San Francisco. While the food was expensive it was delicious! So glad to have had their famous clam chowder at a couple of places.

Would I go back? Perhaps. But at the moment I am quite content with our trip and have no current interest in going back. There’s no negative feelings behind this. It’s simply that we’ve been there, done that and happy with the outcome. I would though, like to see more of California. Somewhere different. It’s all good! 👍