Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Arrival in Rome

Our flight from the USA went well -- no major issues on the whole. The seating on KLM was crowded, and the seats felt smaller than ever. I would have saved a lot of money and been more comfortable if I had mailed myself in a crate, but the food was very good.

Our apartments are very nice, and the landlady is friendly and helpful. Its a multistory apartment building west of the city. It gives a real flavor of European living, and at a rate much better than a hotel. Each apartment is well-appointed in a "eurostyle" like Ikea, and has free wi-fi. We each have a kitchen and patios with little city views. I have a corner apartment with two such terraces.
We went out to eat, which was both expensive and delicious. We were at an odd hour, so we could only order appetizers. I had salmon and cheese, while others had a variety of interesting appetizers that aren't standard fare at home.
After that I had to sleep. I had not slept the entire journey and had been awake for about 30 hours. I awoke after a few hours (around 11pm local) with a text from Angelina (a student) that she was locked in her apartment and couldn't get out. Apparently most of the others had gone downtown with Mr Lawhon. They returned within the next half hour so I guess all went well.

As an aside, the locks on these doors are high quality by American standards; a single key turn closes 4 separate deadbolts both at the foot and the middle of the door. The doors cant be left open to the outside. I guess we have to be careful to only close the deadbolts when everyone is outside, or when everyone is inside.

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Monday, May 23, 2011

Bringing Money to Rome from the US

One of the challenges of my trip here was how to handle cash for the entire group. As I see it there are basically four ways to handle bringing cash to rome:
  • Bring cash and exchange to Euro
  • Bring Traveler's Checks and exchange to Euro
  • Bring credit or debit cards and spend as needed
  • Bring cash and exchange for Euro
    Has the downside of having you risk a lot of cash. Furthermore, foreign exchanges are not prevalent in Rome. The airport exchanges offered rather poor rates; worse than I saw in Houston.
    Traveler's Checks
    Same as above but with added costs and security. The exchanges may give you a slightly worse rate with TC than with cash, plus many banks charge a fee to purchase the checks to begin with. Traveler's checks are becoming less vogue and some banks have stopped issuing them.
    Pretty safe. Check with your bank, but mine (Wells Fargo) charges 3% per transaction, plus whatever conversion rate they give you, plus whatever fees are associated on the European side. Limited to your daily spending limit (determined by your bank), often around $500, but you can ask your bank to raise it. Also, if you use this method be sure and tell your bank so they don't cancel your card as stolen.
    Im still deciding what is best. I opted for the first and last methods because I wanted to get the most for my money. I am regretting bringing cash somewhat after seeing the rates I am getting at the foreign exchange (It's not the market rate you see on the internet). I expect I may do better with plastic even with the fees if my home bank's exchange rates are better. I'll post an update when I find out.

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Thursday, May 19, 2011

No refunds if the world ends on Saturday

There have been reports that the world will end on Saturday, May 21st (read more here). If the world ends I will not be available for student advising, and no refunds will be given for the Rome trip.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Rethinking the Itinerary

To emphasize the flexibility in the itinerary let me tell you what changes I'm already contemplating.

Previously I had thoughts of the Vatican on Wednesday the 1st, but I've discovered that the Vatican is free on the last Sunday of each month from 9:30AM to 2:00PM. Besides, I'm thinking we should spend the night down near Pompeii and catch Herculaneum on the return trip. So why not take an extra day south of Rome and visit the Capri Island? Now that would be a beach day to remember!

Stay posted here for daily updates.

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Monday, May 16, 2011

Gearing up for Rome

I am getting ready to take 11 students on a trip to Italy to visit the world's largest archaeological site: Rome. This trip has been in the works for 10 months and its finally coming to fruition. There is going to be so much to see and do -- I'm trying hard not to over-plan so that we also have plenty of flexibility. Here's my thoughts for a tentative plan:

Sunday, May 22, to Monday, May 23: Travel between Houston and Rome

Tuesday, May 24: Rome in a day

We will take it easy our first full day in Rome. With no planned events, we'll possibly take a bus-tour of the city so we can get our bearings. We'll also take care of business today, go shopping, buy things we need, etc.

Wednesday, May 25: Ancient Rome

We will spend the afternoon in the heart of ancient Rome. We will visit Palatine hill (legendary place where Remus and Romulus were suckled by a she-wolf), the Colosseum, and the Forum (where many of the ancient temples and government buildings were located). Time permitting I would love to visit the Capitoline Museum (The most ancient public museum in the world) and possibly the Palatine Museum as well.

Thursday, May 26th: Borghese Gallery and really cool walking tour

The Borghese gallery is Rome's most well-know art museum (but also contains a fantastic musical instrument collection). After leaving the Borghese we will take a nice walking tour that hits a lot of really interesting places, including the amazing church made of human bones (Capucchin Church of the Immaculate Conception), Spanish Steps, and a few locations featured in Angles and Demons.

Friday, May 27: Venice

A long day trip to the sinking city. We will travel by train, get out and say "ah Venice!" then come home.

Saturday, May 28:

Day trip to Ostia, one of Ancient Rome's oldest colonies (back when "Italy" was considered the frontier!). This ancient city is set in the forest, and one can see a much more thorough glimpse of ancient life than in downtown Rome -- and less touristy. There is also a recently discovered shipwreck in Ostia -- We will find it if we can. If possible, I'd like us to continue on to the coast and spend some time at the beach before coming home.

Sunday, May 29: Rome (Optional: Christian Rome)

I think we'd be remiss if we didn't watch a Roman Catholic mass at some church of great historical significance while we are there. Rome is, after all, the birthplace of Roman Catholicism (and also the extermination of paganism, but we cover that most other days). This might be a good time for Lawhon to give his "Christian Rome tour" where he hits up the sites of importance to early christians. I might lead an alternate group to the Field of Mars. Anyone want to see an Opera at the Teatro Dell'Opera di Roma?

Monday, May 30: Pompei

The famous city destroyed by Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD. I personally think that this is an all-day thing and we should just spend the night at Pompeii so we can visit Herculaneum in the morning (Herculaneum is another city destroyed by the same event).

Tuesday, May 31: Herculaneum

Spend some time at Herculaneum and then head back to Rome. Hopefully we can stop along the way and see a few interesting things. Lawhon suggests we take the Circumvenza, a regional train used by the locals, which is apparently a great cultural experience.

Wednesday, June 1: Rome Vatican

Guided tour of the Vatican lead by the Pope himself. If the Pope is not available, we might have to take a different private tour.

Thursday, June 2: Florence

Another day trip, we'll head to the birthplace of the Renaissance. Anyone want to see Michaelangelo's David? Theres a lot of Renaissance artwork to be seen in Florence, and some of the most amazing architecture in all Italy. Also, this is wine country (just saying).

Friday, June 3: Rome (American Academy in Rome)

The American Academy in Rome is the oldest American overseas center for independent study and advanced research in the arts and humanities. We will try to meet with Professor-in-Charge, T. Corey Brennan, who will show us their archaeological study collection.

Saturday, June 4: Rome (shopping)

Our last full-day in Rome is reserved for last-minute shopping.

Sunday, June 5: Paris

Monday, June 6: Arrive Houston

Does that sound over-planned? It might be. I left out a lot of things I want to do, such as underground catacombs, Appian Way, the Pantheon, Circus Maximus, visiting a historically significant synagogue, the Museum of the Roman Ships, and much more. That's enough for now. Stay tuned to this blog to see how far we stray from my plans.

Location:Houston,United States