Monday, July 30, 2012

A Touch of Rome - Comfortable Accommodations near the Vatican in Rome

During our recent visit to Rome, we stayed at a bed and breakfast called A Touch of Rome. This very reasonably priced lodging was nicely situated on Piazza del Risorgimento - a couple of blocks from St. Peter's Basilica, from the entrance to the Vatican Museum, and from the Ottaviano Subway Station.

It is one of two B&Bs that are owned by the same people and located in different parts of an eight-story building. The other B&B is called A View of Rome ( Both B&Bs focus on American clients. Normally, I would not choose lodging that focuses just on Americans because I like to use foreign travels to meet people of other nationalities. However, in this instance, A Touch of Rome seemed to suit our needs. I made my choice on the basis of Trip Advisor reviews. As usual, the reviews were spot on.

The owner of the B&B, Daniele, his colleagues Simona and Livio, and his staffers Lourdes and Filippo were all extremely nice, helpful, and friendly. I had several very nice conversations with Daniele, and with Lourdes, who is from Peru. Both spoke excellent English. My dealings with Simona and Livio were via emails in English. Their English was superb.

When I called Daniele from our car to inform him we had arrived, I learned that he was outside waiting for us. He showed us where to park for a few minutes while we checked in. He also took our luggage up to our room.

The price for our room for four was 144 per night. The room, which was located on the fourth floor, was large and clean, with a modern bathroom. We had a king size bed and two single beds. One thing we liked about the bathroom was that it had a medicine cabinet behind the mirror above the sink. This made it much easier to store our toiletries. The view from our window was a boring view onto an uninteresting courtyard. In this instance, the view was not important.

The room had free WiFi, and a big-screen TV, which could also be used as a computer. Another nice feature of the room was that it had lots of electrical outlets, which made it easier to recharge all of our cameras, smart phones, computers, ereaders, etc.
The price of the room did not include breakfast, so it is not quite a Bed and “Breakfast.” (The sister B&B, A View of Rome, does provide breakfast.) We were provided a free breakfast on Sunday, when Zero Cafe, a nearby restaurant with which A Touch of Rome has an agreement, was closed. On that Sunday, we were served breakfast at A View of Rome. That breakfast was very nice - a tasty omelet, bread, coffee, and juice - served by Filippo.

As I mentioned, A Touch of Rome does have an agreement with Zero Cafe to serve a reasonably priced breakfast to its clients. There is a choice of an €7 or €8 breakfast. We all had the €7 breakfast, which was nice and which included a ham & cheese omelet, toast, choice of coffee, and a nice size glass of orange juice.

One great recommendation from Daniele was to have dinner at Da Vito e Dina, where we had a delicious and very reasonably priced meal.

For our departure, Simona arranged for a large taxi to take the four of us to the airport for a fixed fare of €50.

See TripAdvisor for reviews, photos, etc.:

Friday, July 27, 2012

Florence's Trattoria Le Mossacce, Ordinary Food, Reasonable Prices

Our first meal during our trip to Italy this month was at Trattoria Le Mossacce, Via del Proconsolo 55/R, in Florence. Most of our meal was very ordinary. However, Spezzatino alla Fiorentina, the only Tuscan dish any of us chose, was terrific. Prices at Le Mossacce were very reasonable.

Meals we had elsewhere in Florence were much better, so I would not recommend Le Mossacce.

The night we were there, all of the diners were foreign tourists - primarily Americans and Asians. The restaurant was completely full.

My daughter and granddaughter each had ravioli stuffed with spinach and ricotta for 6. My grandson had rigatoni with meat ragu for 6.50.

I started with tagliatelle with meat ragu for 6.50. I then had the Spezzatino alla Fiorentina (Florentine-Style Spezzatino). Spezzatino is a beef stew. Every bite was fantastic. (I did not notice any vegetables in stew.)

My daughter and I shared a bottle of 2008 La Braccesca Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, from the Tuscan town of Montepulciano, for 22. It was very nice.

Small bottles of mineral water were 1.30, and the cover charge for small baskets of bread was 1.50.

Service was acceptable and the atmosphere unexciting.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

La Casa del Garbo - Great B&B in the Heart of Florence

During our stay in Florence, Italy earlier this month, we spent 5 nights at Casa del Garbo (, a wonderful bed and breakfast in what I consider to be the best location in Florence - Piazza della Signoria in the very heart of Florence’s historic city center.  As usual, I had used TripAdvisor to identify the lodging that I thought best met my criteria.

Looking toward Casa del Garbo behind the Statue

Casa del Garbo offers comfortable, well-equipped rooms, a fantastic location, nice and helpful staff, a nice view from some rooms, an excellent price, and a decent, if unexciting breakfast. The only downside for some guests might be the lack of an elevator. I did not mind because the exercise was useful. I would stay there again in a heartbeat and would recommend it wholeheartedly.

Looking Toward Casa del Garbo at Night

We had two rooms, which were located next to one another on the third floor, and whose prices included breakfast:
1. The Lorenzo Suite at a special rate of €145 ($183) per night, instead of the standard high season rate of €160. This room had a small kitchen and dining area, as well as a sofa. One great feature of this room was its view onto the Piazza della Signoria. I never tired of this view.
2. The Cosimo double standard room at a special rate of €110 per night instead of the usual rate of €125 per night. This room did not have a view.

Bed in the Lorenzo Suite

The excellent staff people with whom we dealt were Marcello and Natalia in the front office and Virgilio, who served breakfast and helped with our luggage.

Breakfast can be served in a guest’s room or in the breakfast room. We preferred to eat it in our room because it had a small dining area where all four of us could eat while looking out onto the piazza. We also chose the time breakfast was served to us. The typical breakfast we were served consisted of:
- choice of coffee. My daughter and I had the delicious cappuccino.
- a small bottle of juice
- choice of a slice of bread or croissant (with butter and preserves)
- fruit, usually strawberries, cherries, watermelon.

Dining Table in the Lorenzo Suite

 This is a part of Florence where it is inadvisable to bring a car. There are very strict regulations against driving in this part of Florence; the streets are very narrow; and the hotel does not have parking. The hotel can arrange parking.

Like most hotels and B&Bs these days, Casa del Garbo offers free, secure WiFi.

There are twoATM machines ("bancomat" in Italian) on the next block. I used one of them several times. There are a number of restaurants, gelato shops, a pharmacy, and other shops around the piazza and on nearby streets.

Transportation between Florence's Peretola Airport and Downtown Florence

There are a variety of ways to travel the relatively short distance between Florence (Firenze), Italy's Peretola Airport and downtown Florence. (The airport is also known as Amerigo Vespucci Airport, and is fairly small.)

The Vola in Bus shuttle goes from the airport to Santa Maria Novella Train Station, which is located a few blocks from the historic center of town. Bus tickets are 4.50 per person and can be purchased on board the bus. However, you would still have to get from the train station to your hotel.

A taxi to the center of Florence would cost about 15. (Make sure to use a taxi with a meter or to negotiate a price.) If I were only with my wife or on my own, I would us a taxi.

On our trip earlier this month, I chose to use a private van operated by Metroline Tours and Transfers ( at a cost of 50. I chose that approach because there were four of us with lots of luggage. We would have needed two taxis. It was nice to have a driver waiting for us to take us to our hotel immediately. The cost was 50. I made reservations in advance via email ( with Alessandro Ramalli of Metroline. I was very happy with the service.

Metroline provides other services such as tours in Tuscany.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Maison Tofani, An Incredible Hotel in Sorrento

One of the many delights of our recent stay in Italy was the wonderful boutique hotel, Maison Tofani (, at Via San Cesareo 34, in the heart of Sorrento’s historic district. It was terrific in every aspect - comfort, ambience, staff, location, breakfast buffet, and resident kitty cat. As always, I made my selection based on TripAdvisor reviews, and, as usual, was delighted with the results.

I have to start with praise of the gracious owner, Maria, because it is she who sets the tone by hiring such wonderful staff and by setting the high standards which are reflected in every aspect of the hotel’s operation. Secondly, I have to praise Giovanni Fiorentino, the Guest Relations Manager. He epitomizes the best in hotel management. His colleague Diletta was very responsive to my email correspondence.

We had two rooms, both of which came with breakfast:
1. A double deluxe room with Jacuzzi shower and a small balcony, overlooking Via San Cesareo, which I consider the main tourist shopping street in the historic part of Sorrento. This room cost 209 ($261) per night. The bed in this room, which was shared by my grandson and me, was incredibly comfortable. We both wanted to take it home.
2. A double loft room with a terrace that had a view of part of Mt. Vesuvius. This room cost 179 ($224).

The breakfast buffet was incredible with a wide assortment of terrific pastries and fruits, eggs, meats, cheeses, juices, preserves, coffees and teas to order, etc.  On one morning, I counted at least 16 types of beautiful pastries. The fruits included both fresh and canned fruits. One morning’s fresh fruits included melons, watermelon, cherries, pears, plums, oranges, strawberries, kiwis, grapes, pineapple, and bananas. Most of the fresh fruits and eggs came from a property owned by Signora Maria and located a short distance away.

The pictures below give some small sense of part of this terrific breakfast.

Breakfast Pastries

Some of the Breakfast Fruits

The breakfast room is a large, elegant, high-ceilinged room with a striking ceiling mural. Vita, the young woman responsible for breakfast, was extremely efficient and helpful, with a heart-warming smile.

Every morning at breakfast, Signora Maria was in attendance as the perfect host. I had several interesting conversations with her.

There is no better way to start a day than breakfast at Maison Tofani.

The hotel has a beautiful roof terrace with tables, chairs, and lounges chairs. It offers views of Mt. Vesuvius, the nearby hills, and the rooftops of Sorrento.

 Vesuvius from the Rooftop Terrace

The hotel owns three nearby restaurants - L’Abate, La Lanterna, and Dolce & Gelato Sorrento. We had a nice meal at L’Abate. My wife and I had also had a nice meal there 5 years earlier. I will describe our meal at L’Abate in a later posting.

The hotel offers many other services too numerous to list. Check out its web site for additional information.

We departed from Sorrento by rental car and could not drive the car on narrow Via San Cesareo, where Maison Tofani is located. However, Giovanni advised me to drive the car to nearby Piazza Sant’Antonino. He then arranged for Luigi, a member of the hotel staff to bring the luggage to the piazza and load it into our car. Giovanni’s suggestion and arrangement worked out perfectly.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Cell Phone Service in Florence, Italy & Other Parts of Europe

Whenever I travel to Europe, I try to obtain local phone service, including Internet access for my smart phone. The costs are generally significantly less than roaming with a U.S. carrier.

Internet service on one's phone is now less important since most hotels in Italy offer WiFi service. However, smart phone Internet service away from one's hotel is still very useful for using Google maps for telephone GPS navigation, googling for restaurants, etc. (While smart phone GPS does not require an Internet connection, Google maps does. The off-line downloadable versions of Google maps only cover small areas. From my experience, free Android off-line GPS navigation apps are not yet as good as the on-line versions.)

In order to obtain local phone service, you need a world phone that has the European GSM frequencies. On my recent trip to Italy, I used my U.S. Samsung Galaxy S II.

The service I obtained in Florence, Italy was incredibly cheap. I found a prepaid deal with Wind, one of the main Italy cell-phone providers. For something like €20, I got an Italian sim card with an Italian phone number, and one month of service that included 150 minutes of local calls, 1 Gig of Internet service, and 150 local text messages. (The actual introductory monthly cost of the service is €9, but there was a cost for the Sim card and stores could not make a sale for less than €10.)

I purchased the Sim card and part of the service one day for €10 at the Music Center S.A.S. di Poggi e Pomerani store at Via Martelli 33R, one block north of the Duomo in Florence. I then had to wait overnight and activate the Internet part of the service the next day. I did that at the Porta Rossa Telefonia store at Via dei Tavolini 3/R. (I could have returned to the Music Center store to do that, but the other one was more convenient.)

The service worked beautifully for the 15 days I was in Italy - from Venice in the north to Amalfi in the south.

Additional minutes can be added to the service by purchasing additional time at phone stores, tobacco kiosks, etc.

The Music Center store I used to purchase the service also sells cell-phone service for Tim, another major Italian cell-phone service. There is another Music Center store across from the Duomo, but it does not sell cell-phone service.

The Wind service  I purchased is called "All Inclusive" (The name is in English). You can find an Italian-Language description of this service at
Clerks at the store may not speak English, but you could print out the web page at the URL above and show it to a clerk.

The Italian word for cell phone is telefonino.

Hotel Discounts in Italy

In addition to other hotel discounts and specials, small hotels and B&Bs in Italy often offer discounts for paying in cash. I have received such discounts during two trips to Italy in the past few years. You should ask when you check in or prior to arriving.