Rome and Back
I am frequently asked questions about travel, and now that we have announced our Fall convivial program in Italy, I expect to be inundated by requests for information, to which I shall cheerfully and gratefully respond. Nondimeno, I think it will be helpful if I put together some anticipatory observations.
Before you do anything, you should check your passport and determine that your passport is valid beyond several months of your return date. You may, of course, check out various travel websites as well as the US State Department, and you will find as many answers as there are sources of information. They range from one month to nine months. I have traveled with a passport due to expire in less than three months from my return, but then I am a kindly and harmless old man who inspires confidence in the most suspicious government agents. Italy claims to require an expiration six months after departure from the Schengen zone, and while that seems absurd, I'd do it. If you are on the edge, it is best to get expedited service, either from the government or from a private company. If the latter, be sure to check out its reputation. Most post offices have a passport service. It is best to make an appointment : They can get you a renewal in two weeks or so. This website, dumb as it is, might help: http://www.wikihow.com/Renew-a-U.S.-Passport-at-the-Post-Office. Or go directly to the USPS website and you will find "International" within which category is "Passports."
When to Leave
In planning flights, it is best to think backwards. For the trip over, you’ll to ask yourself at what point you wish to hit the hotel. In the case of our Fall program, we begin with an orientation walk in mid-afternoon. Thus, ideally, your flight should arrive at Fiumicino in the morning. Allow, say, 90 minutes from disembarkation to your arrival by taxi at the Grand Hotel del Gianicolo.
If you are planning on using the train, allow at least one half hour more. You can get off either at Stazione Termini and take an over-priced taxi (better in that case to get a Rome taxi, which is regulated (not a town of Fiumicino taxi!) direct to the hotel. Otherwise get off at the Trastevere Station and walk or take taxi. If you do take taxi, be sure to move quickly in getting off the train, because frequently there are not quite enough taxis. Provide yourself with a map before leaving. Too many people rely on their Smartphones, which, can cost a great deal of money when you use the GPS function, and they can glitch just at the very moment you most need it. The walk is doable, if a bit steep, and Mark Kennedy—who is older than I am—does it routinely.
My personal recommendation is to arrive a day or two early and get adjusted to the time change and recover from the discomforts of air travel. If you plan on this, let us know immediately, if you wish either to book extra night(s) at the Gianicolo or would like recommendations on less expensive accommodations. In this latter case, I should choose either to stay on the Gianicolo (where pickings are very slim, apart from an ex-convent) or in Trastevere. You might also prefer to stay at a hotel near the Stazione Termini, in which case I can recommend hotels and restaurants and things to do.
In choosing a flight pattern, the number of variables makes sweeping generalizations difficult. Before getting into the details, though, let me attempt a few generalizations. Obviously, the fewer stops, the easier the journey. By October 1, however, there are few non-stops, and they tend to be from Kennedy (NYC) and Atlanta. There are many one-stops, however. I recommend against changing planes at Heathrow (London) or Charles de Gaulle. Both are badly run with many surprising inconveniences, such as great distances between arrivals from North America and departures for European destinations. If, however, Air France or British Air have a good and affordable pattern, don’t hesitate to book it. My preference is for Germanic airports, Munich and Frankfurt, of course, but also Zurich and Amsterdam. Air Canada is not bad, and it has the convenience of going through customs/passport control in Montreal rather than in a US airport. The difference is amazing when these services are not operated by thugs.
It is best to stick to one airline, if you can, at least for each way in your journey. If you must change airlines, make sure that you are within a system like the Star Alliance or One World Alliance or that the airlines have a cooperative agreement. Even where such agreements exist, the two companies will blame each other if there is a problem. I once got a terrible run-around because I flew to Athens, on Lufthansa to Munich and then on Aegean to Athens. I had to check in again in Munich and when they lost our bags, Lufthansa said it was not integrated with Aegean’s computers. Of course, flying either United to Rome may mean you are actually flying LH to Munich and Air Berlin to Rome.
In calculating prices, be sure to include the baggage fees, seat assignment fees, carryon bag fees imposed by budget airlines. You may be saving very little to enjoy the inconveniences.
Finally, you may find it convenient to book an “open-jaw” ticket, arriving in Rome (FCO) but departing from Florence, Pisa, or even Perugia. Typically, open-jaw flights are more expensive, but not on Turkish Air or (the last time I checked) Alitalia. SAS and Aer Lingus currently offer such tickets from Chicago and other American airports, and the Perugia-Florence train arrives at Stazione Santa Maria Novella as early as 8:06, from which it is only a 20 minute bus or taxi ride to Peretola Airport.
The program ends with a group dinner on the evening of the 19th. Some of us will stay on in Umbria or take a train to Arezzo or Florence. Those wishing to return to the States by way of Rome can either take a bus directly from Perugia to Fiumicino Airport or take a train to Stazione Termini and change for the airport train. Unfortunately, most flights leave Rome so early in the morning, it would be very difficult to get to Fiumicino in time. There are, however, exceptions: The Aer Lingus flight to Kennedy leaves Rome at 8:35 in the evening. On the other hand, the Iberia Air leaves at 12, which would be rather tight, though not impossible. There is a train at about 6 AM, which arrives at the Termini at 8:36, as well as one at 6:40, which arrives at 8:47. Even with a bit of a wait, you could be at Fiumicino before 10:00 AM.
There are also buses direct from Perugia to Fiumicino, leaving at 6:00 AM, and 7:30 AM, arriving at Fiumicino at 10:10 and 11:10.
If your schedule requires an overnight in Rome, you might consider staying near the airport in Ostia Antica, where some hotels have airport shuttles. Whatever you decide, you might think of contacting us before booking.
Booking a Flight
A great deal depends on your departure airport. Kennedy is probably the best, followed by Hartsfield and Dulles. Overall, Turkish Air tends to have the cheapest flights, though the change in Istanbul adds about 90 minutes to average travel time. On the other hand, it is an efficient airline with edible food. Turkish also permits open-jaw tickets and a stayover in Istanbul—well worth visiting if you have the time.
Prices are surprisingly low this Fall. Two years ago, I paid $1200 for round-trip to Rome. As of today (August 7) one can fly round-trip from Chicago to Rome, October 5 to October 18, for
$684 on Aer Lingus,
$689 on Turkish.
$864 American Airlines one-stop, $1012 non-stop
$814 non-stop on KLM
$488one-stop on Iberia
$715 Brussels Air one-stop
At this point Turkish at $892 is the only inexpensive option, but Dallas is worse. A creative solution is to fly round-trip to Atlanta for $119.
These prices all come from kayak.com, which I have found to be the best source on the internet. Even if you are willing to pay the money to a travel agent—a basically good idea if you have any worries—it is good to get a general idea by checking out Kayak.