While the glory and beauty of Rome seemed a fantasy, the Eternal City, with its history, art, fashion and cuisine was not a world away. It was just a phone call away. In this era of automated customer service and dismissive and distant telephone representatives, Nita Olson decided she wanted to help make people’s dreams come true. So she went to work for DeltaVacations.com and does exactly that.
I was doubtful when I heard you could get on the phone with a Delta Vacations/MLT sales specialist and plot out every detail of an entire, custom vacation. How could a phone rep have the time and patience for that level of personal service, especially at the discount rates DeltaVacations.com offers? I admit to wondering what a sales specialist stationed at their HQ in Minot, North Dakota could know about showing me the world, so I put the system to the test.
My ‘bucket list” dream trip was Rome. I knew next to nothing about Italy or how to make it happen, so I had a peek at DeltaVacations.com and the called 866-238-5378.
Nita started at the finish by asking, “What is your budget?”
I told her I had $2,000 to spend and gave her the dates I was available to travel.
Within moments, Nita found flights at less than the published fares, and even let me choose the routing, times and seats. “Do you want to change planes in Atlanta, Amsterdam, or Paris?’ she asked. “How early do you want to get to the airport? Are you more comfortable in an aisle seat or a window?”
Orderly yet unhurried, Nita advised that I allow her to arrange a private car to take me to the hotel. “This way when you land in Rome, an English-speaking driver will be at baggage claim holding your name on a sign. You’ll be tired, and it’ll be a comforting welcome.”
Nita recommended the Hotel Quirinale, circa 1865, based on its glamorous history and its’ location near the famed Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, shopping, and a Metro train station which would get me inexpensively to the Vatican, the fashionable Via Veneto, and even a day trip to Florence. Puccini, Verdi, and Toscanini frequented the Quirinale in their time, and so does Nita. She’d stayed there a number of times herself! It seems DeltaVacations.com sales specialists have actually visited and researched the destinations they offer, including Walt Disney World, Ireland, Hawaii, Paris, Caribbean, Napa, Mexico, cruises, ski or dive vacations, group trips, weddings, and more.
Like a game of “Price is Right,” Nita let me know each step of the way how close we were getting to my spending ceiling, and helped me make decisions based on my price. We created a flexible itinerary and chose a few organized tours of the Eternal City – the Coliseum, Pantheon, etc. – and a traditional Italian dinner show on the night of arrival, all pre-paid for convenience. My Rome dream trip came true…and my Italian adventure actually came in under my budget. That’s amore!
Some of the details from my experience you may find useful:
-The in-flight entertainment system aboard Delta on my flight from the U.S. included a fun, interactive Berlitz language game which allowed me to pass a little of the flight time learning some Italian on the way! While you can get by in Rome speaking English in many cases, you’ll get a better response from people and enjoy speaking a little Italian. Words such as: Good day, good evening, good night, thank you, please, and do you speak English are helpful.
-Do not rent a car in Rome. The traffic is manic and the twisting roads and roundabouts tangled. Taxis are readily available, and, if you’re just a touch adventurous, the Metro subway is very efficient and inexpensive. For 10 dollars you can ride it as many times as you like all day to places such as Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps and more.
-The guided group trips DeltaVacations.com offers are a great way to easily see everything you’ll want to see. You’ll be picked up at your hotel and whisked to all of the tourist attractions. These tours, given in multiple languages, allow you to skip the sometimes long lines at popular places such as the Vatican Museums, Pantheon, and Coliseum. Taking the “Hop On/Hop Off” double-decker bus tour on the afternoon you arrive is a great way to get acclimated to where things are. You can get fresh air sitting on top and immediately lay eyes on everything you came to see on the 90-minute loop. This will help you plan where you want to spend time on your trip.
-The “Rome by Night” tour bus will pick you up at your hotel and give you a look at the monuments, dramatically lit, and concludes with a dinner and live, traditional Italian music. This is a very suitable way to begin or end your visit.
-A day trip to Florence is a fantastic way to get out of the city and see the Tuscan countryside. Eurostar fast trains run about every hour from Rome’s train station. A roundtrip ticket – best to book ahead – will cost about $100. The non-stop ride to Florence is less than 90 minutes and the train station is in the middle of a compact, entirely walkable town. Just wander. Florence is like an amusement park full of art, cathedrals, shopping, dining and jaw-dropping beauty.
-Exquisite cuisine is such a big part of an Italian visit. Every meal can be an experience, though simply sitting down at any streetside café for a thin crust pizza and half-liter of house wine while people watching is a very affordable and satisfying experience. Via della Croce near The Spanish Steps and Via Borgo Pio adjacent to the Vatican are excellent streets on which to do this, as is Via del Lavatore, where you will find a restaurant called Il Chianti, specializing in Tuscan delights, only a few yards from the famed Trevi Fountain. I highly recommend Il Chanti, especially at lunchtime, for the food, atmosphere, and prices. Purchase gelato for desert next door and eat the frozen treat on the steps in front of the soothing and inspiring Trevi Fountain. For a thoroughly Italian dinner experience, my favorite restaurant was DivinPeccato, at 84 Piazza della Rovere. DivinPeccato translates to “divine sin,” which is ironic given its location adjacent to the Vatican and its status as a favorite with the American priests stationed just up the hill at the North American Seminarian College.
Ciuri Ciuri has four popular locations around Rome if you find yourself desiring an authentic Sicilian cannoli filled with ricotta, chocolate, or pistachio and cinnamon. The Via Leonina is just outside the Metro station serving the St. Peter in Chains church, where you will find Michelangelo’s Moses sculpture.
The most fashionable, and probably most expensive, after-dinner drink in Rome is Harry’s Bar on the Via Veneto, the romantic street Dean Martin sang about. For many years celebrities have enjoyed bellinis, campari, grappa and limoncello while hearing live music in the cozy, sumptuous setting. La Dolce Vita, indeed! Stroll the Via Veneto all the way up to the U.S. Embassy after a visit to Harry’s.
– The biggest celebrity in Rome is Pope Benedict. Seeing the Holy Father is easier than you might think. Each Sunday at noon, he appears in his Vatican palace apartment window to give a blessing in various languages. There is no charge to attend and tickers are not required. The entire “Papal Audience” lasts about 15 minutes, and you can easily get into St. Peter’s Square and have a good viewing spot even moments before what is an iconic world happening. In the anticipation, groups of people in the square sing, dance, bring items to be blessed, and finally cheer in an emotional fashion when Pope Benedict emerges in the window and speaks in their native tongue. Be advised that in August the Pope is likely at Castel Gandolfo, his summer residence 15 miles outside Rome, where he gives the blessing in a more intimate setting. In addition to St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican Museums are home to the world’s most significant collection, including Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel.
-The famed Spanish Steps are just that – three levels of stone stairs circa 1725 leading to Trintina dei Monti church, is one of Rome’s famed landmarks. Below, the bustling Piazza di Spagna (which has a convenient Metro stop), is circled by haute couture shops: Prada, Gucci, Ferragamo, Dolce and Gabbana, and all the usual suspects, most with very attentive, creative sales people to present fashion choices. If you walk straight from the bottom of the steps up the Via Condotti (a street that is like a shopping mall) to the Via Corso, you will find the Basilica of Saints Ambrose and Charles. Despite its plain façade, you will find inside one of the most visually stunning churches in Rome.