Practical Italy Part 2 May, 2011
(Mark and Vicki are in their 18th month of travel in Europe over the last two years. Their blog is at TheRoadGoesEverOn.com They are having such a great time that they have decided to store their camper another winter and continue touring another couple of years.)
After the birth of our granddaughter Penelope, we came back to Rome May 7. Actually Mark got back a week before I did as baby was late. He did some exploring on his own including treks out to the Appian Way. Italy, as was Greece, is a land with many strikes and there have been two transportation ones in the last month. Though buses are supposed to run at rush hour sometimes they stop early and you can get caught as he did paying for an expensive cab. We need to learn to ask the TI's about looming strikes and also about free days at museums. We missed out on the free week of museums in April and a free late night at museums in Rome. For those who have been following this, I am going to start pricing things in Euros instead of dollars. Over the past two years the dollar has moved around a lot from summer of 09 at about $1.45 to a low last summer of $1.23 and now moved down from $1.48 to $1.41. Quoting prices in Euros allows you to do your own conversion for wherever the dollar happens to be. I try not to freak out about it when it is high. Our average Euro expenses are about $2500 to $3000 a month so a 15% move costs about $400 or for 7 months in Europe, less than $3000. That is unfortunate but not bank breaking.
We considered moving from our current camper stop, Prato Smeraldo, on the south side of Rome. N 41 48 33 E 12 31 42. because now we are paying 10 Euros a night, up considerably from the bargain rate we had in March. With our ADAC discount card it would be 15e a night at one of the real campgrounds on the north side, but the commute is so easy from here into the city that we just haven't bothered. Do be warned that because of the guard dogs it is difficult to stay out in the city past 10 pm and they are noisy at night. Mark did discover a laudromat at the Basilica San Paulo metro stop at 11e for a very large load.
Two highlights this week have been the National Museum and the Capitoline Museum. Each takes about three hours, and we were blown away by the quality of the exhibits and the excellent signage. The Capitoline was expensive though because of the upcharge for a special exhibition—12e each. Luckily, all the wonderful churches are free, and we have seen some outstanding art work all over town. We also were impressed with our early evening stroll from the Emmanuel monument to the Coloseum with the Forum on one side and Trajan's Market on the other and the soft evening light of Rome all around. It really was special.
We were not impressed by the Sunday flea market in Travestere—yes, it is huge, but nothing very interesting, just a mile or so of cheap clothes, shoes, knock off purses, etc. (To get to Travestere take bus H from Termini.) We also trekked again to St. Peter's hoping to see the part closed for Mass last time—yep, even though it was a Saturday, still partly closed all day for special masses. Definitely, plan your visit on a weekday. We also finally found the best bus routes—64 and 40 from Termini head straight across town towards the Vatican, passing most tourist destinations. To catch the bus back from the Vatican walk back towards the Tiber and turn left just before crossing the street next to the river—the bus stop is a little way down the block.
The first part of May has had beautiful weather-highs in the low 70s and sunny everyday, but the city itself is much more crowded with tourists, not unbearably, but certainly noticeably. One more thing about Rome—many of the ATMs wouldn't take our cards. Apparently others were having the same problem so you will have to be persistent and don't run low on cash. This is the first time we have encountered this level of difficulty in Europe.
We finally tore ourselves away from Rome and headed to Tivoli. There is an official camper stop there but we missed it and ended up parking near the cemetary/ bus station which on a Monday afternoon was about 95% full in the flat area. N 41 57 12 E 12 48 28. Several campers were being stored there but we were the only ones sleeping. It did get more crowded during the 3 nights we stayed there and especially so on Wednesday morning which is market day. It was a great market held in the camperstop/parking area near the river. The road down to this camperstop was very steep from the direction our GPS took us. A better access is from the piazzo at N 41 57 35 E 12 48 06. Look for the Total gas station: the road down to the parking is just beyond it. This area is also the parking for Villa d'Este for oversize vehicles. It is about a half mile easy walk. The bus station parking is another half mile or so further away. The Villa was interesting but expensive at 11E each. The garden had a large number of fountains but was surprising small—about an hour leisurely walking. If money or time is tight this site could be a skip. Signage was excellent inside the villa and sparse in the garden but they do give you a map so you won't miss any fountains. It is nothing compared to the palace of Caserta south of Rome.
We also drove to Hadrian's Villa about 4 miles away in the valley. It takes about 3 hrs to visit and you would save miles if you visited on the way to or from Tivoli. The parking there is 3E for cars and 7 for coaches. We parked on a nearby side street for free. This was well worth seeing unless you are completely Romaned out. It is fairly uncrowded and the signage is adequate. There are no restrooms or food offered beyond the gate and you can only picnic very discretly so keep that in mind.
Orvieto We drove north taking the non toll road through Sutri to Orvieto. Traffic was fine except for the stretch from Tivoli to the Rome circle road where is was pretty congested even outside of rush hours. There is a huge shopping center along this road if you need to stock up. Sutri had some very interesting Etruscan tombs and an unusual Roman amphitheater carved out of the tufa. It is free and right on the road. We parked immediately across the street which would also be suitable for wild camping. N 42 14 11 E 12 13 58. We reached Orvieto early in the afternoon. Unfortunately there is nothing but paid parking here for campers unless you are 6m or close. At 2E an hour we just decided to go ahead and spend the night for 18E. The restrooms were extremely clean with ample hot water for showers and dishes and electric included. There are also 5E washing machines. All the parking is right at the funicular which is only 1 E for it and the little bus at the top. N 42 43 30 E 12 07 34. We loved the town and spent several hours just walking the medieval back streets. The cathedral is definitely a must see stop in Europe both outside and inside though admission is 3E, quite unusual to pay to go into a church in Italy so far. Signorelli's frescoes I felt were really as good as the Sistine Chapel and you can get so much closer. Photos are not allowed but we did sneak a few. The alabaster windows were also unusual and beautiful. Be sure not to miss the views from the castle walls next to the funicular. We will definitely come back here again.
Rick Steves recommended a nearby village Civita de Bagnoregio to see what a really small hilltown had been like. We backtracked to N 42 37 38 E 12 5 34. This is as far as a camper can go into Bagnoregio. From there is a small bus for 1E to the Civita bridge. Ticket lasts 120 minutes which is plenty of time unless you have a meal. The buses left almost 10 minutes earlier than the schedule and one didn't come at all as it was ferrying a load of Japanese from a larger tour bus. The town was moderately interesting and we spent the night. There was a sign in Italian for campers 5E but no one ever collected. If you are coming from Rome on the old roads you might come here first to save diesel.
Assisi was wonderful. We thought Orvieto was beautiful but the buildings in Assisi are extradinary and the Basilica of St. Francis filled with amazing art and stained glass. There was a ticket window to see the Giotto restoration for 10E but we just went in without and saw everything we had read about. At first we were disappointed that the paintings were so dark but at 2pm suddenly all the lights came on and it was much better. The Steve's tour leaves out much of the art so be sure to supplement it. You cannot drive into Assisi and there are only 2 lots for campers. We stayed at N 43 03 35 E 12 35 13 for 16E for 24 hrs or 1.6 per hour. The dump station wasn't working. It is a block to the 1E shuttle bus at the station and only a block beyond that is the Basilica of St Mary of the Angles. So the location is good. Walking to St. Mary's we also passed a laundry. The walk from the Basilica of St. Francis to the Minerva temple has several interesting shops and gorgeous buildings from the 12th through 15 century. Assisi has been a tourist mecca for 700 years so they have kept things nice. As we left Assisi camperstop we noticed there could be some free daytime parking just south of the station but probably only on weekends.
was intended as a longer stopover as our Camperstop book indicated a free place at N43 05 51 E 12 23 04. The camperstop is right in front of the main police station so it seemed pretty safe. There are lots of campers stored there and a couple of vans with children were obviously living there. Free water and dump and a small market on Tuesday and Saturday mornings. The area for the market had a sign and is farthest from the dump; however, there was lots of parking in the camper area and you could get blocked in if you don't leave by 10. It is too far to walk to historic area but the G1 bus stops on the street above the camperstop just across from the Chocolate Hotel—which was a hoot. We did go into the historic area but didn't pay to see museum. Town center had a nice fountain, okay basilica but all skipable. Perugia is only 30 minutes from Assisi so you could probably day trip to it pretty easily.
Having read the book and seen the movie we were looking forward to this stop, but even though we were there by 10:30 am the parking lot up the hill but below the wall was full. We decided to move on. It did look like you could overnight if you could find a parking spot. We should have probably gone to the train station area in the valley and taken a bus up. Hill towns are not designed for campers and barely for cars.
Moving on we accidently chose the best of two free camperstops in Arezza. N43 28 18 E11 53 14. A ten minute walk to the 6 escalators up to the Duomo and historic area. (walk to end of soccer field, turn left, head to the right of brown steeple on the hill). Free water and dump, some stored campers, but lots of touring campers. Arezza is a beautiful town and from the shops, very wealthy. It is quite steep to walk around town but don't miss the Piazza Grande and the walk up to Petriach's house along a street with amazing buildings including the public library covered in coats of arms of past governors. We decided to spend a couple of nights before moving on to Siena to catch up on our History of European Art dvds from The Teaching Company. (we highly recommend their programs for understanding what you are seeing) It would also be possible to catch a bus from here to daytrip to Cortono but we decided not to.
It is now May 25 and the highs are in the low to mid 80s, getting close to uncomfortable in a steel box. I think it safe to say that Italy is best seen before mid May if possible.