Saturday, December 29, 2018

Italy: Tivoli Villa d'Este in the rain

Traveling does not always have sunny days................

Often your schedule may not be that flexible or allow you to 'go another day'.  You may plan a museum day if the forecast is rain 
unless it is the only day you can visit the famous garden in Tivoli Italy.

My day to see Tivoli, after 5 years of saying 'I need to go there', was  during a heavy rain storm in Rome.

It is an easy train ride from either Termini train station or Triburtina and takes approximately an hour.  No other passengers clutching tour books or maps, just a few day shoppers and lots of students.
From the train station to the town center

Signage to the villa is sparse.  After you exit the train station take the bridge across the river and head uphill.    Having no map and not finding the tourist office, I used google maps and as usual was taken on a wild ride.   However, I did see some charming parts of the town that will have me returning for another visit when it is not raining!   

Trento Square, 5, Tivoli

The ticket office  hall leads you to the courtyard.  On the opposite side you will find a small room to store bags/coats etc while you hike the garden.   The friendly woman behind the counter did not ask for any fee as I took the key from the locker I had put my back pack in.

She reminded me the closing time had changed since this was the first week of daylight savings and we had a chat about reading.   Since I speak very limited Italian it was very kind of her to spend any time chatting but she enthusiastically told me how much she enjoyed the author she was reading.     The small joys of interacting with Italians.

There was limited daylight left so I opted to spend my time exploring the gardens and left the massive villa for another day.
You must go to the ground floor (basement) to access the garden.
There are several verandas and patios off the villa that offer a view of the treetops and some of the water art.   

Photos of some interior rooms are at the end of this post

With no directions on which exit to use I took the elevator to a lower floor where I found a door that led to the stone terrace and more flights of stairs to lower parts of the garden.   

There are fountains everywhere!  There is rushing water playing music whenever you near a fountain.   The gardens go on but I may have only seen a small portion after a few hours.    Navigating the slippery steps and landscaped inclines became an effort after a few hours in the downpour.    The sound of all the rushing water battled with the many fountains and waterfalls.   

The hundred fountains stretched across the front of the villa.
The Hundred Fountains

Great descriptions of the garden features and the villa's history can be found at Wikipedia.  

                   There were only a few other visitors in the gardens.

                                   Fountains and water falls competed with the downpour.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Rome: taking the Green Tube instead of the bus

Not a bus, Not a train:   the Green metal tubes that can take you around Rome without a tourist in sight....................TRAMS

You can find the older green trans outside the Termini station

   Rome:  This trip Home to Italy found me at a WWII Nazi interrogation center, Mussolini's rented home during the war and my first visit to a catacomb.   There were still many traditional as well as unique places in Rome I had not visited. 

After my great experience with Prontopia in Venice and Florence I requested a local to help me to explore the city by tram.

Porta Maggiore

Painting by expat artist Kelly Medford 

There are a number of options for traveling from one part of Rome to another: metro, the extensive bus system, taxis and walking (for me up to 5 miles).  

Available in most major cities, the Hop on Hop off bus can take you near most of the major sites.  I avoid the bus unless I know the number of stops to my destination or find a bus that terminates at my destination.   Too difficult from a crowded bus to see the street signs to prepare to exit a crowded bus calling out permesso!

But the green metal trams that you find outside the Termini, train station, have been a mystery and on this trip I planned a tram adventure.    "The history of trams in Rome dates from 1877 with horse drawn trams.  Electric trams followed and by 1905 there were 17 tram lines."1    The same Wikipedia article lists details of the numbered tram routes to identify the start and end of the route.

Bess, my Prontopia local in Rome, be sure to request Bess

Requesting to meet a local:
What a fortunate match to have Bess available for my booking.  A long time resident of Rome, Bess is an expat who can answer any of your questions and quickly understand how to best assist you with your visit to Rome.     

Since it was already dark when Bess met me at my hotel (you pre-arrange where to meet your local) we decided to walk/talk and have an apperotivo so I could spread out my well worn paper map and ask about the tram routes that would show me parts of Rome that tourists might never find.

Bess quickly gave me the web site and app (there is always an app) for the tram routes.    What the web site would not offer was information from a local on which tram would take me to a local market, a neighborhood that tourists don't explore and an alternatives for traveling around Rome.

I always bring a paper map after Google maps took 2 hrs to send me to the wrong location and then the battery died

The next day with a copy of the tram route map I started my adventure with the route from termini to Borghese Gardens and at the Vatican.    Since it was not rush hour I had a seat for the entire trip.  Tip:  sit on the right side of the tram to be able to read the tram stop signs so you can track your route.   Warning, this is a slow ride but totally enjoyable.

The metal cars clank on rails embedded in the pavement with metal antenna  tethered to the electric wires overhead.  
As pedestrians run in front of a tram trying to avoid waiting for them to disgorge passengers and take on more, the warning bell sounds reminding me of a kiddie ride at an amusement park.

A tram travels more slowly than the bus and allows you to view the street scenes you pass that are not listed in a tour book.  In the older tram I felt as if I were in perhaps the 1950's.   You have a glimpse from your window of life in Rome and if you have the inclination you can hop off and explore.   I used a multi day transportation ticket that was good for trams, buses and the metro.   Another piece of information Bess shared with me.

My second day 'traming' was not as successful.   I traveled to one of the markets Bess suggested and planned on continuing toTrastevere.   Not paying enough attention I took the tram in the wrong direction.   Not a disaster since you can disembark and take the correct tram.   I also took the tram to the biggest cemetery in Rome, Cimitera del Verano.  FYI returning to Termini required a change of trams just as the commuters started to fill the cars.  But a trip to the cemetery is well worth the effort and you can walk from the Termini as well.  The tram drivers are totally separated from the passengers so there is no opportunity to ask for assistance.  Ticket validation machines are inside each car.

Other tram options:
I saw online there may be companies offering evening tram tours that include dinner and one that offers Jazz as well! and  I do not represent either company and can not confirm tours are still available.

I must thank Prontopia for inviting me to use their services for Rome.   I shall return to explore other parts Italy with them soon.

1. Wickipedia, Trams in Rome

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Saturday, December 15, 2018

"If you want to know a city book a local with Prontopia"*

Venice   Rome   Florence

If you are visiting for the first time,  an independent traveler or returning often, Prontopia can simplify your travel 

 Use Prontopia to book a local to help eliminate some of the stress of travel

Arriving in a new city where you do not speak the language and signs may not always include a translation, can be exhilarating as well as a challenge.   Navigating transportation from the airport or the train station can add to travel-stress at the start of your trip.
Daily life in Italy always makes me smile

  • Now, thanks to Prontopia much of the worry can be eliminated by booking a local via a simple mobile app.  Find help on demand when arriving in Venice, Florence or Rome
  •  to become oriented to the city
  • reach your hotel
  • understand the public transportation systems  
  • meet a scheduled tour or 
  • find the best route to a must-see sight, Prontopia can help.

Read more about Prontopia at

Prontopia is similar to the ‘uber’ concept but designed for walkers and those using public transportation, particularly in areas with pedestrian only zones.  

If you have a busy schedule and limited time to see as much as possible in each city, Prontopia can save you time and offer great tips of where to find the best restaurants, places not to miss as well as assisting guests with special interest that may not be covered in a tour book:  gardens, ‘secret’ museums or even vintage shopping.

Until I read about the benefits of booking a local with Prontopia, I thought I could easily manage on my own and had no need for a guide.   After all I had lived in Italy short term and now return 2 or 3 times a year, I feel like a local in a few cities.    

Prontopia is far more than a meet and greet program.   The concept of locals interested in meeting travelers from other countries and sharing their knowledge and love of their city, would offer an opportunity  to ask questions and have an experience that I could not replicate on my own.   At the end of my meeting, I had made 2 new friends, found a tea shop and a great restaurant!

Venice is a city I get lost in every time I visit.    Finding a map of Venice with ‘street’ names, identifies the location of churches, points of interest, museums etc is not always easy. 

Even with the best map, navigating Venice’s more than 100 islands, 400 bridges and 170 canals 1 that often do not have signs, is a challenge.     A veteran of many trips to Venice, my paper map continues to help me with the never-ending turns and twists that are the charm of Venice.   Sometimes a route may literally end at a stone wall.   You back track and try a different turn and can be rewarded with a vignette of daily life in the city: a soccer game, laundry day, the daily sweeping and washing of the front step or an animated chat with a neighbor.    All this is what makes me love Italia!

Venice, Italy is an amazing city to experience and one of the ‘big three’ stops for most tourists.     From your first view of the Grand Canal on the steps of the Santa Lucia train station to the tranquil garden setting in the Castello sestieri (neighborhood),  Venice is an immersions of sites, sounds, smells and tastes that calls me back every trip Home to Italy.

Early visitors to St Mark’s square are only a fraction of the huge groups that will fill the square later in the day.

Testing the limits of my skill with an app, I booked a local in Venice to meet me at the train station and go with me to my hotel.         Meeting at the busy train station was a small challenge since there were hundreds of people milling around or waiting for a vaporetto.  Describing myself as short and wearing all black did not distinguish me from half of the large crowd.    We quickly located each other as two people  talking with each other only a few feet apart!   You immediately like Eloisa.  Her bright smile and energy are genuine.  And we did not have to rely on my limited Italian, since you can book a local who speaks English.   


Quickly we decided that walking to my hotel would be quicker and more comfortable than the boat.   Crossing fewer bridges and taking back passageways we arrived at the Fondamenta Zattere where the wide, level esplanade offers cafes facing over the water to the Guidecca.    This quiet area, away from the crowds that can make Venice seem like a theme park, is often filled with only locals going to the post office or the supermarket that are located here.   You may be tempted to just sit in one of the caf├ęs and not see another museum or stand in line at another tourist spot for an hour.

During our walk I peppered Eloisa with questions on where to find solo-friendly cafes, the boats to some remote islands in the lagoon and the shop selling fashions created by inmates at the local prison.         She quickly gave me suggestions and answers.    One of her suggestions was an interesting restaurant frequented by students, that would be near my hotel.  The restaurant was closed that day, so we continued to nearby Campo San Barnaba passing a Tea shop that I would visit later in the day.   In the Campo we found many outdoor cafes, other restaurants and the book store where an event was planned that evening.  
Stopping in one of the cafes, with a map of the entire lagoon spread between us, Eloisa helped me identify the islands I might reach by public boats.  Some of the more remote islands required private transportation and would have to be put off until the next visit. 
Eloisa identified neighborhoods that were not well known to tourists and suggested walking routes to visit the Jewish Ghetto and the area beyond the Public Gardens.   So much to see in only a few days.    However, the few hours with Eloise saved me from wasting time visiting the constantly busy tourist office to request the information she shared.   Without her help I am not sure I would have accomplished half of my goals for this trip.   During the transportation strike later during my visit I should have booked a local to find alternative transportation to the Lido. 

The time spent with Prontoipia was so enjoyable it is hard not to instantly consider the locals you meet as friends!   Far more than a guide service, I decided to book a Prontopia local when I stopped in Rome, later in the month!
If you want to know about a city you are told to ask a local!    Even better book a local with Prontopia.

I have to disclose that my app skills were greatly lacking to make my first appointment.   Thanks to Ilaria Nardone, Italy Marketing & Recruitment manager for Prontopia the app was linked to my credit card and I received a one on one tutorial on how to book a local. 
 Ilaria was available any time I ran into a problem (which was often) and assured my bookings were placed correctly.

I want to thank Shannon Kenny for inviting me to try the Prontopia app during my trip Home to Italy.  The opinions in the post are my own.

* a quote I am searching for the author


CEO and founder Shannon Kenny, launched Prontopia in April of 2017 with the help of engineer Davis Brimer.   Shannon had divided her time between California and Italy throughout her professional career as a historian and social entrepreneur since 1997.  The business plan for Prontopia includes the mission:   Prontopia is a public Benefit Corporation committed to cultivating human rights awareness through global connectedness and human understanding.  We believe that together, we are better.  Through purposeful grassroots action, we help travelers, locals, and communities arrive to a better place without delay.

Next:  Prontopia local Bess helps me ride the green, metal tube  


Although I appreciate your comments, promotional links will not be posted.  For international visitors, please send comments translated to English and include your email address to receive a response to any questions.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Great news for travelers arriving /leaving from Rome

Great news if you fly to or from Rome, Italy

I almost missed this news since I have been traveling for months but if you go Home to Italy via Rome you can now take a direct train to the airport from a few cities without a stop/change in Rome!

What is more exciting to me is the news that you can take this route from with Florence, Pisa, La Spezia, Genoa and Venice.  For me it means no more train changes with luggage!

I found this post on Conde Nast Traveler.   To find details I did the typical G search for Frecciarossa and found the following:

Article is from The Local IT      I can not wait until they have a direct train to Milan's airport!   No more changing trains in the city....

From next month, travellers will be able to take one of Italy's high-speed trains directly to and from Rome airport without going into the city centre.
"         "

Starting on December 18th, Frecciarossa fast trains will connect the capital's main Fiumicino airport with Florence, Pisa, La Spezia, Genoa and Venice.
While the cities are already linked by rail, running the high-speed line via the airport will save inbound travellers a trip across town to either Termini or Tiburtina station on the other side of Rome.
There are plans to introduce similar services to and from Milan's Malpensa airport from 2019, said the director of the Italian state railway company, Gianfranco Battisti, as he unveiled proposals on Tuesday for a "great integrated transport network" between Italy's airports, train stations and ports.

From next month, travellers will be able to take one of Italy's high-speed trains directly to and from Rome airport without going into the city centre.

Starting on December 18th, Frecciarossa fast trains will connect the capital's main Fiumicino airport with Florence, Pisa, La Spezia, Genoa and Venice.
While the cities are already linked by rail, running the high-speed line via the airport will save inbound travellers a trip across town to either Termini or Tiburtina station on the other side of Rome.
There are plans to introduce similar services to and from Milan's Malpensa airport from 2019, said the director of the Italian state railway company, Gianfranco Battisti, as he unveiled proposals on Tuesday for a "great integrated transport network" between Italy's airports, train stations and ports."