Tuesday, June 19, 2018

20 Things to Know When You Visit Rome

It's your first time traveling to Italy, and you're a bit apprehensive because you're not sure what to expect when you get there.  I've learned a few things from my days in this country.  Most tourists like to begin their vacation in Rome, so here are some things you should know when you visit the City of Eternal Light.

1.  Dress fashionably.  The last thing you want is to stand out looking like the "foreign tourist", then becoming a target for pickpockets or gypsies.  The Italians refer to them as the Roma people.  You'll find them in large cities, like Venice,  Florence, and Milan.  Rome is right up there on the list.  They work singly and in groups, mostly in crowded places.  When you see them, it is suggested you ignore them.  If you're approached by them, don't make eye contact and keep on walking.  They are not dangerous people, just annoying as they try to make a living by begging for money.

2.  Speaking of fashion, Rome is home to so many fashion houses.  This is why everyone, men and women, looks so nice.  Their street fashion is casual and chic with a lot of women wearing dresses and great accessories.  The men tend to wear slacks of different colors more than the basic jeans.  Italian men also save their shorts for the beach towns rather than the city.  It's not a terrible thing if anyone wears shorts, but as a tourist, it sure breaks the spontaneity of walking into a church on the fly or looking like a pickpocket target.  The new color in sneakers this season?  White.  Worn with everything.  When I was in Rome two years ago, the color was black.

3.  Still, on the subject of fashion and the tourist, you will undoubtedly be visiting a lot of cathedrals and places of religious significance.  It is important to remember that you are visiting a country that is Christian with 88% of the population belonging to the Catholic Church.  Avoid getting stares from the locals by dressing appropriately for church.  In the summer months, skirts and dresses to the knee and longer are a great choice.  Capris are acceptable, too.  Cleavages and shoulders should be covered, so bring a nice sarong or pashmina to wrap around your hips to cover your knees, your shoulders or in some churches, to cover your hair.  Jeans are acceptable but in the hot summer months, wearing natural fibers would be a better idea.  Please do not wear ripped jeans.  It's considered disrespectful.  There is no air-conditioning in the churches, and when it's packed with people, it gets very hot and stuffy.  Consider packing leggings if you're going to wear shorts or short dress for the day, and just slip them on in a restroom before you enter the church.  If you're a man and not fashion-conscious, consider wearing convertible pants.  In a visit to a cathedral many years ago, I and others were startled when we heard a church security guard yell at a teenage girl because she was dressed in shorts and a tank top.  She was led out of the church so fast and separated from her group.  You don't want to have a moment like that, believe me. Some churches might provide paper clothing so you can cover up, but that just makes you look, and I'm sure, feel ridiculous.

4.  Flip-flops are footwear you just don't wear in the city.  Not only are they unsafe when walking on cobblestone and hilly dirt paths, but Italians just don't do that.  Flip-flops are for the beaches or pool areas.  Also, you will not be able to enter the Vatican wearing flip-flops.  The guards will escort you right out.  They don't care if you stood in a line for two hours under the hot, hot sun waiting to get in. 

5.  Rome is a very big city with so much to see.  Make the most of your time by knowing exactly what sites you want to visit.  Mark it on your map.  Then spend one day wandering in that district and surrounding areas.  The next day, see tourist attractions in another district.  You can save yourself some cab fare by just walking a route that connects the sites.  The city is very walkable.  It's a lot of walking, but you can do it!

6.  If taking a cab is your choice of transportation, know exactly where you need to go.  Cab drivers know all the tourist spots, but if you want to get to a specific hotel, restaurant or shop, they will need an address.  Keep a list of your hotels and other places on your notepad or cell phone, including addresses and phone numbers.  Uber is also available in Rome.  Yay!

7.  Tipping is not required in Italy.  I kept telling myself that on my last visit there, but I still continued to tip because it's what we do in the U.S.  I felt bad if I didn't give a little something. Keep in mind that waiters get paid way more than our waiters in the states. Waiters and cab drivers are getting spoiled with foreigners leaving tips and are now expecting them.  But really, you don't need to leave a tip.  When dining, do look over your bill.  If you see the words servizio or coperta, you're probably already paying a service or cover charge, or both.   If it bothers you to not leave a tip for your meal, then leave small change.  

8.  A few shops in Rome will close anywhere between 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. to observe riposo, or rest. They typically close at 8 p.m.  The Italians work to live, not live to work.  

9.  Observe meal times in Rome.  The restaurants tend to start serving dinner at around 7:30 p.m. to accommodate visitors' dining habits. Romans usually won't sit down at the table at until 9 p.m. or later.  Lunchtime is served after 1 p.m.

10.  Before sitting down at a table, check the menu and decide if it fits within your budget.  When you are finished with your meal, review your bill to make sure everything adds up correctly before you pay. A few unscrupulous restaurants include extra fees on the bill.  If you want to dine on a budget, look for restaurants outside the tourist hotspots.  You'll likely get faster service, and the owner might want to chat with you!  Having that conversation with the locals helps to bridge that universal gap in cultural knowledge and understanding.

11.  The major attractions in Rome draw thousands of tourists every day.  In the summer months, expect long lines to tourist sites and, and if you can afford it, book a private guide for skip-the-line access. 

12.  Cappuccino is a beverage to enjoy before noon.  Italians like to make this their breakfast. Afternoon, you can have expresso or macchiato.  After dinner, ask your waiter for a Caffe corretto which is an espresso with a little alcohol, usually grappa, Cointreau, Grand Marnier, or sambucca.

13.  When greeting a stranger, do not greet them with a Ciao.  This cute word is reserved for family, friends, and little children.  Always greet with a Buon giorno (good morning), Buon pommerigio (good afternoon), Buona sera (good evening, and Buona notte (good night).  These words can also be used as a formal goodbye.  Salve is another formal way of saying hello or goodbye.

14.  The first time I met an Italian stranger (it was in Rome), I was immediately kissed twice, once on each cheek.  It was more of an air-kiss.  I was shocked because it's not the American way, but I loved it!  So don't be inclined to push someone away from you when all they want to do is warmly greet you.  They might even kiss you three times!  Do as the Romans do, I say.

15.  If you're lucky enough to drive in and out of Rome (let's say you're doing some day trips), do stop off at an Autogrill.  This uber-combination supermarket / drug store / souvenir shop / delicatessen / coffee bar can be found throughout Italy.  I love the Autogrills.  It's like a glamorous 7-11 store on steroids.

16.  When ordering a beverage or food at an Autogrill or food joint, you need to pay attention to.  If you're just buying packaged items from the shelves, pay at the register and your purchase is complete.  However, if you're looking to buy a handcrafted sandwich, follow these steps.  
  • Look over the different sandwiches and other goodies in the refrigerated case.
  • Go to the register and let the cashier know what you want.  Pay for it, plus other items you pulled from the shelves.
  • You will be given a ticket.
  • Take the ticket to the sandwich counter.  It may be crowded so you're going to have to establish if there's a formed line, or if you'll have to elbow your way to the counter. 
  • Hand your ticket to the person behind the counter, and wait for your sandwich. 
But then, there are other cafes where you must select your food item first, then pay last.  It's okay to ask the staff how you should proceed, or if they're too busy, just watch the crowd for a few minutes to see how they're getting their food.

17.  Do drink your coffee standing at the bar.  Sitting down with your coffee will cost you extra.

18.  Don't expect tap water or ice cubes at the restaurant.  Bottled water is available for purchase, usually 2 to 3 euros each.  You can pick either acqua  naturale (still) or acqua frizzante (sparkling).  While the tap water is perfectly potable, its just not the norm at restaurants and one of those things you don't do in Rome. You can insist on a glass of tap water, if you really want it, but your waiter may be a little put off by the request.  Also, the restaurants do not provide ice cubes for your water and soda because Italians don't drink their beverages cold.

19.  Bring your favorite water bottle.  You will find great-tasting water from the fontanelle spigots found throughout Rome.  Water falls into plain tin basins or come from elaborate fountains.  You can wet your whistle or fill your water bottle.  Surprisingly, you will find the water to be very cool, and it's free.

20.  No traipsing in, climbing on, and eating and drinking near fountains and historic landmarks.  A ban was in place last year to ensure adequate protection of the historical, artistic and archaeological capital of Rome.  Break the rule and you will be fined.

Follow these guidelines, and you will have a stress-free and wonderful time in Rome because you knew what to expect.  And be kind to your host country and its people.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Time for a Travel Tune-Up

I'm in Paris at the moment, and the weather here is lovely  - sunny with floral-scented breezes.  In January, when I was getting ready to book our river cruise, I realized that my passport had already expired.  Panicked, I had to renew my passport before Viking Cruises sold the last couple of cabins.  It made me realize that a frequent traveler needs to stay on top of these things.  So before you make plans for your summer travel, here are five things you must check for hassle-free planning:
1.  Check your passport.  Note the expiration date.  It must be valid for at least six months beyond your trip.  Have four blank pages for exit/entry stamps and visas.  If not, you need a new passport.

2.  Check your luggage.  Are the handles and wheels stable?  If they wobble even the slightest, get them repaired.  Or better yet, buy new luggage.

3.  Assess the credit cards you use for travel.  If you frequently fly, be certain your cards earn you frequent flier points and include perks such as free checked bags, early boarding, or airline club passes.

4.  Use airline miles/points.  Most have expiration dates.  If you don't have enough miles/points for a ticket before they expire, try to use them for small purchases, such as gift cards or magazine subscriptions.  

5.  Or purchase those additional miles to help you get that free flight.  It will be well worth it.

Monday, January 1, 2018

My 12 Most Memorable Moments in 2017

Happy New Year to my family and friends near and far.  What a year 2017 has been.  Gerry and I found new places to explore here in San Diego, lost friends and family members, but celebrated the births of new ones, most especially our granddaughter.  When I bump into someone, I'm always asked where we traveled to in 2017, or where we're going to in 2018.  With Gerry accepting a contract position with AT&T, we didn't go anywhere internationally, but we're definitely bound for France and, hopefully, Uganda this year.

Time spent with loved ones is always significant, but my selection for most memorable moments are chosen for its wow factor and what moved me to become a better person.

Here are my 12 most memorable moments for 2017.


A mini-twister tore through my town in January and took down the beautiful California pepper tree that I loved so much.  The giant tree on the backyard slope splintered under the forceful winds and caused it to crash to the ground.  The tree destroyed patio furniture and a hot tub.  Miraculously, it missed the house. 


I've lived in San Diego, off and on, since 1964.  I've also, over the years, visited a few Spanish missions throughout California except for this one, just 19 minutes from my home.  In February, Gerry and I finally toured San Diego de Alcala, the "Mother of the Missions", a National Historic Landmark.  The first of 21 Spanish missions established, in part, by Father Junipero Serra, it was founded in 1769.  It is a very beautiful and serene place to visit.


Here's another place we finally visited after all these years of reading about the gorgeous spring wildflowers in the Anza Borrego Desert.  What took us so long to see this beauty in our own backyard?  I wrote about it back in  March.  You can find that article here.  It was such a delight to see so much nature.


Another San Diego historic place I kept seeing mentioned in newspapers and magazines over the years, the Santa Margarita Ranch at Camp Pendleton.  It has a very long, colorful and vibrant history, and has seen many U.S. presidents and dignitaries come through its many rooms.  Tours of the Santa Margarita complex (Ranch House, Chapel and Bunkhouse Museum) are conducted on the first Tuesday, second Wednesday and third Thursday of the month, from October through May.  These tours are available by appointment only.  You're confirmed for the tour when you receive a letter from the United States Marine Corps at  Camp Pendleton.  It's worth the time and effort to get on the property.  For more information, click here.

The day I earned my disaster responder vest.  This photo was taken at Cinco de Mayo in Old Town, but I actually received my vest two months earlier after months of classroom and online training.  I am so proud of myself!


We traveled to Nashville to do more sightseeing in the city, but especially to visit our little princess-adventuress, Presley.  We hadn't seen her since last December, so we were so excited to see her.  Isn't she a beauty?  It was great to see her mommy and daddy, too! 


The Great American Eclipse on August 21st!  I spent my  morning at the Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park to witness the total solar eclipse.  It was an awesome experience to be with families sharing their solar glasses with strangers who didn't own one.  I shared mine with an older French woman who hadn't seen an eclipse in years, and with a little girl who was seeing her very first eclipse.  Afterward, I purchased postal stamps that showed a dark planet, but when exposed to the sun, reveals the earth.  Very cool!


Kaylee Marie McMillen was born on August 6. She is our third grandchild, and second granddaughter.  What a blessing.  I was fortunate to be present at her birth.  I was working a Red Cross shelter in El Centro when Summer texted Gerry and I that she just lost her mucous plug.  It was a race against time as Summer had a fast delivery when Kyle was born.  We didn't want to miss Kaylee's birth!  She arrived
past 12:30 midnight, 7lbs. 8oz., 19.5" long, and a dimple in her right cheek.  She's a real beauty!


We went to Catalina Island for the first time ever in June with my sister, Cindy and her husband, Arnold.  Their first time, too.  The island has a very relaxed vibe, so relaxed that our lunch lasted over two and a half hours.  I didn't care much for the long ferry ride going to and from the island, though.  We'll need to take a speed boat next time.


Any time Kyle spends the weekend with us is a highlight.  He's pure joy because his face lights up when he discovers something new in the house or garage, he laughs easily, and he's as witty as his Grandpa G.  One of his favorite things is "his bathtub".  Kyle also likes to call this tub his boat!


On August 27, I deployed to Texas to assist in disaster relief in Hurricane Harvey.  I ended up in the country town of Sour Lake with this great group of Red Cross volunteers.  We offered our support and resources to Bruce, the town's mayor, and his family who ran the shelter.  I served as shelter supervisor, then manager when our manager had to depart, then public information officer.  It's very satisfying to provide support and comfort to those in need following a disaster. You become family with those you serve with in times of need.  I hope to return to Sour Lake in the future and see how everyone's doing.

No longer pass holders, we'll go to Disneyland every few years and make a mini-vacation of it during the holidays.  We enjoyed the park before schools went on winter break.  It felt more relaxed, meaning it wasn't extremely crowded.  We booked a king suite on the Concierge Level to check out the newly renovated Lounge which is stocked with savory and sweet treats, including fruits and vegetables, wine, beer, champagne, milk, coffee, soda and juices all day long.  It was worth it to pay the extra money.  We also celebrated Kat's birthday, my son Gary's girlfriend, at the elegant Cathay Circle Restaurant in California Adventures.  The place is very elegant and the food a foodie's delight.  This was a great holiday getaway!

With the start of the new year, I wish everyone good health and happiness, I wish to see more sunsets, read more books, stay consistent with my blog, and connect with more people on my travels.  Memories can be fleeting, so try to stay in the moment as much as you can.  This is something I need to practice.  How about you?