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August 15, 2007

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WHERE'S JOHNNY JET?                                 Rome, Italy
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TIBER RIVER
One block away from the St. George, as the crow flies, is the Tiber River. The Tiber is Italy's third longest river; it's 252 miles (406 km) long. The walk along the Tiber could be just as special as it is along the River Seine but sadly it's not. If the city of Rome could dredge the river and clean it up more than they are currently doing, maybe even offering more dinner cruises, this place could be really happening. The tree-lined sidewalks above the river that run parallel with it are beautiful when they're cleaned. There are many bridges and the one closest to the hotel appeared to be home base for a bunch of derelict kids with ferocious-looking dogs. Mike, who is a regular visitor to Rome, was actually afraid to go for a walk down below, along the river, even though the sidewalks there are cleaner and wider. It's a perfect oasis for a morning walk or jog. However, since there are few other passersby, I don't recommend venturing down there at night. Here's more on the history of the Tiber River.

VATICAN CITY
A 10-minute walk from the hotel is all it takes to get to the Vatican. If you haven't been to the Vatican, then you're really missing out ... I don't care what your religion is. I am fortunate to have been on several occasions but each time I walk through those doors, I get goose bumps and my jaw drops. It is truly special. Now that everyone has to pass through metal detectors, there's always a bottleneck at the entrance. To avoid the large crowds, arrive just before opening or closing. Open hours vary, so see the Vatican's homepage for times. The website also lists the mass schedule; daily masses are open to the public and are not to be missed.

SISTINE CHAPEL
Did you know that the Vatican is located in Vatican City and is its own country? In fact, it's the world's smallest country at 0.2 square miles. That doesn't sound very large but Mike and I walked around the whole walled country. It must have taken a good 45 minutes but in the hot sun, it felt much longer. How many times can you say that you've walked around a whole country? Actually, we didn't intend to do this, but we walked all the way around, amazed at how long the line to the Vatican Museum was. Seriously, it was the longest line I've ever seen. It had to be close to a mile long. I only wish that I had known about Viator.com's ‘skip the line' deals so I could have seen the Sistine Chapel. I sure wasn't going to wait in a long line, no matter how quickly it moved. The Vatican Museum entrance tickets from Viator.com cost $38.90USD, which is twice the regular entrance fee. But to me, it's well worth it if you don't have to wait in the long lines ... plus, you get exclusive access! Viator.com is great for travelers; they offer these kinds of deals for sites all over the world. In fact, we are featuring them as this week's website of the week, so click here for more information.

DRESSING IN ITALY
A recent poll by European hotel managers ranked Italian tourists as the best dressers, by far, in the world. The worst dressed by far, were Americans. Sadly, I agree and sometimes I, too, fall into this category; I tend to choose comfort over fashion. But whatever you do, don't wear shorts or a sleeveless shirt to the Vatican or any other church. If you do, you won't be permitted inside. Shoulders and knees must be covered, though long shorts are usually okay. The Italians dress so well that I don't even think they wear shorts to the gym.

ROME
No matter how many times I visit Rome, I feel obligated to visit all the historic sites like The Trevi Fountain, Piazza Navona, Piazza del Popolo, Castel St. Angelo, The Spanish Steps, The Pantheon … I could go on forever. There's so much to see and do in Rome that you really need a vacation after your vacation to Rome. But this time, we didn't run around all over the place. Instead, Mike and I got our exercise by walking everywhere. We didn't take any taxis except to and from the train station. And we didn't go to the Colosseum; we've both been so many times. But I do have a great tip from our trip two years ago that'll help you avoid the long lines at the Colosseum. Click this link for that tip.

BEGGARS
I am in no position to tell anyone what to do with his or her money. But I rarely give money to street beggars unless they are very old, severely handicapped or live in a country without any resources. In Rome, I got ticked off at a few beggars. Young gypsy women dress like old homeless women and curl up on the street in a fetal position with rosary beads clutched in their hands. They are wrapped from head to toe so you can't see how young they really are and they sucker compassionate travelers. One of those suckers was my buddy Mike who, like many, stopped to give them money.

PIAZZA NAVONA
To escape the tourists, you should dine where the Italians dine. Many live and dine outside the city in Travestere, a 10-minute train or taxi ride away. But we didn't feel like jumping on any trains or taxis so instead, what did we do? We went to one of the biggest tourist traps in all of Rome: Piazza Navona. It was just an 8-minute walk from our hotel and the Piazza Navona is a really wonderful square with incredible sculptures and architecture. But at night, the place is flooded with tourists, mostly American, and turns into a Venice Beach-type atmosphere. There are street performers, artists and hawkers selling everything from cheap toys to knock-off handbags. You can even get your name written in Chinese. Now this really bums me out. If I want my name written in Chinese, I'll go to China.

AQUA TIP: Don’t buy bottled water in the popular tourist places. Next to the Trevi Fountain, stores and street vendors sell bottles for 3 euro! I walked two blocks away, down some side streets and found bottled water in a pizza place for 1 euro each. It was such a deal that apparently, Roman soldiers shop there too!

DINING OUT
I told Mike that there was no way I was eating at one of the outdoor cafés in the Piazza. Not only is it tourist central, but it's a prime terrorist target and quite honestly, it's just not charming with the circus all around. Instead, we walked down one of the many side streets connected to the Piazza. There are plenty of places to eat that aren't nearly as touristy. The first night, we ate at Ristorante Virginiae. Although this place was just one block in from the square and still full of Americans, the food was pretty good. I know, it's Italy, its difficult to find bad food. In Italy, most diners eat more than one course so the portions are small. I was cutting back on my food intake so my 9 euro ($12USD) plate of rigatoni was perfect. What I didn't like, besides the cars and Vespas cruising nearby, is that the waiter brought a basket of bread to the table that we didn't ask for and then charged us 2.50 euro ($3.40USD). I felt suckered. I didn't make a fuss because they only charged 1.50 euro ($2USD) for a large bottle of water and 2.50 euro for a quarter liter of wine. Here's a scanned copy of our bill, which also has the contact info for Ristorante Virginiae.

OSTERIA DEL PEGNO
Just a block or two away, down some confusing side streets, you'll find Osteria del Pegno. We walked by it on our first night and I had a really good feeling about it. I tried to get a table but the maitre d' said they were full even though I spotted some empty tables. So I made a reservation for the following night and sure enough, my good feeling was right on! Osteria del Pegno is a gem! It's small and quaint. The wait staff doesn't rush you, the tables aren't too close together and both the food and service were excellent. Next time you're in Rome, definitely make a reservation here and make it for just before it gets dark outside. The streetlights really add to the ambience and make the graffiti on the walls across the alley disappear. Click here for Osteria del Pegno's scanned business card.

GELATO
No trip or dinner in Rome would be complete without getting at least one scoop of gelato. Each night, we went to Blue Ice, which is a chain and by far the busiest gelato place around. With the large crowds, you know it has to be good ... and it was. For 3.50 euro ($4.70USD) I indulged in three scoops (Nutella, chocolate and white chocolate) in a chocolate dipped waffle cone covered with sprinkles. What a way to end the night and my trip to Italy.

VIDEO
Here's a short Johnny Jet video of my trip to Rome, Italy. It's also on YouTube, so it only takes a few seconds to load (though the quality is not as crisp). We also have all the Johnny Jet videos ever made on their servers.

NEXT WEEK
Next week, we travel back to the United States but I don't return to California just yet. Instead, I visit a very special place for baseball fans. Join me next week to find out where I am.



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Happy Travels,
Johnny Jet

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Note: Rail tickets provided by RailEurope.com and the hotel by World Hotels.



Copyright 2007 JohnnyJet, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Pictures From

The Trip

 

Tiber River

 

Tiber River At Night

 

Inside The Vatican

 

The Vatican

 

Part of The Line To Get into Sistine Chapel

 

What To Wear

 

On The Spanish Steps

 

The Spanish Steps

 

Gypsy Begging

 

Piazza Navona

 

Piazza Navona At Night

 

Castel St. Angelo

 

Piazza del Popolo

 

Osteria del Pegno

 

Salute

 

Gelato

 

NEXT WEEK

MEDIA ALERT
SOME OF LAST WEEK'S READER AIR-eMAIL
  • Ischia, eh? So glad to see this today ... I leave for Italy next week! I'm taking a cruise and one of the ports is Napoli ... since I went to Capri 3 years ago, I was delighted to hear your assessment of Ischia. I will be checking to see if there's enough time to get to Ischia and back, and onto the cruise ship before heading off to the next port - and adventure... Vicki K – Los Angeles, CA


  • You really live the life! You lucky bastard. PJ – New Jersey


  • Love those travel news letters. Ischia sounds marvelous. Bon Journno. Tom S. - San Diego


  • Great job on the Ischia video and story! Carol C – Erie, PA


  • Glad you had fun in Ischia - sounds like a great place to visit. Juliet P - Boston


  • Thank you for the posting of the Ischia file on YouTube. My first trip to Ischia (land of my mother's birth and also the birthplace of my father's parents (San Angelo/Serrara) was in 2002, followed by 2003 and 2006. It is truly a beautiful place filled with wonderful people. Till my dying day, I will always love Ischia. My deepest thanks to you again. Sincerely, Frank R. Iacono - Lynn, MA


  • Nice! My grandparents come from the Naples region too. In fact, we are told that large concentrations of us are on Ischia. They own spas or hot spring pools. Too bad we do not know any of them. Ice cold lemmoncello - yeah! The girl in the bikini was not too shabby either. V.D. – Brooklyn, NY


  • My husband's family is in Ischia so we go every year. I guess you can understand how shocked I was to click on the picture of your cousin, Anna Maria. If she isn't the same cousin Anna Maria we have in Ischia, I would be very shocked. Long lost cousin in Virginia


  • FEEDBACK FOR SHERRY
  • Excellent! Marjorie Hewitt - Pensacola, FL


  • Enjoyed reading about your Mexico adventure- I am planning a trip to Mexico City in Sept. and hope to include San Miguel de Allende. Lots of useful information that will be helpful in navigating our time there. It looks like you had a pleasant vacation. Did you actually know anyone in town before you embarked on the journey? Pictures were great, too. Mari Dunford - REPLY: I am pleased that you enjoyed the article and the photos. It certainly was a great adventure for me. San Miguel is a really cool place so you definitely should try and visit in Sept. It is about a 3 hour drive from Mexico City. There is bus service. Check out this link for: more info. Happy Travels! Sherry - Mira Loma, Ca




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