The Ketchums in Italy



Friday July 11, 2003
Home to El Granada


All prices for the Bus and the hotels included all taxes.  This was a welcome change from the States, where many localities tack on ridiculous charges pushing the tax rate over 20%.

the camera

I bought a digital camera for the trip, and was soon extremely glad I did. I had been a 35mm holdout for quite a while, but my Olympus C-5050 took dozens of incredible pictures I would have never gotten with a film camera. I bought a 256M xD picture card and used the SHQ setting. With this setting it fit about 85 pictures on the card (it says 72 when it starts). I just set it on automatic, and it took pictures without flash in dark churches turned out to be fantastic. I was amazed at the settings it selected, but I quickly stopped trying to second guess it once I saw the results. I did figure out you can’t tell whether your picture is in focus from the tiny image on the screen… so I started taking 2 or 3 shots if I wanted to be really sure I got a good picture inside.  I downloaded the pictures to the computer each night and burned a CD each night in case of hard drive failure.  I only came close to running out of RAM once - in Pompei.

I took over 400 pictures, and titled about 220, enough to fill a CD.  Each picture is between 2.5 and 3 meg, and will easily print out a perfect 8-1/2 x 11.  I assume I could make 11 x 14 prints but haven't tried to yet.


The magic number when dining in Italy was €3.50.  Nearly every place we ate, €3.50 would buy you:

- A liter of water - they didn't seem to serve tap water anywhere, you get to buy bottled water. They were familiar enough with American tastes to ask if we wanted 'still' (non-sparking) water.  We'd usually go through two liters with dinner.

- A serving of Coke.  This price was absurd but consistent.  Yes, we paid it.

- A half liter of house wine, which was always very good. Karin and I shared a half liter of wine with most dinners.

Tips were sometimes included, sometimes not.

the bus

Ken told me that since there were six of us, renting a minivan would be cheaper and easier than taking the train.  He was mostly right.  When parking or driving was difficult, I just blamed him!  Alamo was the only major rental car company that had a minivan in central Roma when we wanted one.  Later I found that Hertz had one as well, but it cost more and didn't include insurance.  It turns out Alamo and National (which ironically said they couldn't get me a minivan) partner with Maggiore.  Basic insurance was included with the rate, but it had extremely high deductables, like  €1200 for collision and €2200 for theft.  Full coverage added €90 for the week, which sounded like a bargain once I saw how people drive in Italy.  

The Bus also had the huge benefit of air conditioning - I assume a/c is touch and go at best on the trains.  

Lock you car doors at all times - an American couple at a rest stop on the Autostrada told us how they were tailed just north of Pompei by scooters who wouldn't pass them.  At a stop the scooter riders tried to open their car doors to steal their luggage.

I believe I had the bus up to 150 km/h on the autostrada - many smaller cars weren't going nearly as fast.  The bus was a diesel, and would stall when accelerating from a stop unless I floored it.

the hotels

American hotels tell you exactly what type of bed each room has, how many beds there are, and whether smoking is allowed. European hotels tell you none of that. Instead you simply tell them how many people you have, and they tell you the rate. High end hotels may offer upgrades; at low end hotels you’d better be sure to request a private bath if you want it. I believe every bed we found was a double. I went to the trouble of FAXing detailed requests to each hotel with our reservation information, and most hotels seemed to have taken my requests into consideration – for instance, pushing two double together to make it appear like a queen bed.

I did not smell cigarette smoke in any hotel except the Mach 2, which surprised me since I assumed Europeans smoked like chimneys. I suppose that European hotels also use their windows much more than Americans hotels since they generally don’t have as effective a/c, so this must help keep smoke from accumulating.

We tried to get a late checkout in Florence and it was denied – the maids are only there for a few hours a day (our room appeared more like the maids were there only a few hours a month). This is unlike most American hotels, or perhaps I should say most larger / chain American hotels.

Hotel Sonya Roma


phone 06 481 9911

Page 92 in Rick Steve's Italy 2003

Why? Only hotel in Rick Steve's book with air conditioning and quad rooms. Kent (and Rick Steve) strongly recommend the Hotel Oceania on page 89 but it was full. Ray's recommendation the Hotel Cavour didn't have air conditioning.

Rates require Rick Steve's Italy 2003. 
€119 for a double with private bath, a/c, and breakfast
€155 for a quad with private bath, a/c, and breakfast

Would I go back? Yes.

Good location, elevator worked, free computer with DSL internet access in lobby usually worked. A/C almost worked well enough to keep the room comfortable during the heat wave, as long it was on continuously. Street noise was not a problem.

Breakfast was poor – warm milk, watered down juice, and four rolls, that’s it.

Hotel Minerva Sorrento


phone 081 878 1011

page 427 in Rick Steve's Italy 2003

Why? Only hotel in Rick Steve's book with a pool. It appears every room has a view of the Mediterranean.

Rates require Rick Steve's Italy 2003. 
€135 for a double with private bath, a/c, and breakfast
€165  for a quad with private bath, a/c, and breakfast

Would I go back? Absolutely – I dream of returning to the Hotel Minerva

This is not a hotel, it’s a resort. It could be a 4 or 5 star resort with a little more TLC. Views from every room are unbelievable, pools were great, rooms were generally fantastic. A/C worked well. Breakfast was excellent.

Street noise was a bit of a problem in Bob and Karin’s first floor room.

There were shards of broken glass in our room and around the pool. They didn’t clean it up very well when we pointed it out – they seemed far more concerned about whether we had broken their glass (we hadn’t) than the fact that we were stepping in broken glass.

Sorrento - the Hotel Minerva

Refrigerators were not plugged in when we arrived – in fact there were no cords at all for them, which seemed quite unusual. They delivered cords when asked – the frig was very slow to cool, but silent. I assume this is some energy saving attempt, but it made a poor impression.

Dinner was offered at €20 per person, we didn’t bite – we ate across the street at the Minerveta each night for much less (under €70 for 6 people). Unfortunately they will be closing the restaurant at the Minerveta at the end of this season to build more hotel rooms.

Parking in the garage was cramped, limited (about 8 vehicles), and unmarked - they had us park our ‘bus’ at the Hotel Belair across the road for the same rate (€10 per night).

Bring a beach towel for the beach and the pool (the hotel charges €1 per day to use a towel at the pool). 

Hotel Maxim Firenze


phone 055 217 474

page 213 in Rick Steve's Italy 2003

Why? One of a few hotels in Rick Steve's book listing a/c, quad beds, and a central location.

The first night must be paid in cash. Rates were lower on their web site than in Rick Steve's book. They don't have no smoking rooms. 2 day cancellation policy. We were been promised rooms facing a pedestrian street that should be quiet (it wasn't - it was a noisy alley).
€98 for a double with private bath, a/c, and breakfast
€140 for a quad with private bath, a/c, and breakfast

Would I go back? Not if I could help it.

Location is fabulous (as in central – no views). Elevator worked. Breakfast was fine. Offers computer with DSL internet access in the lobby at €3 every 30 minutes. A/C worked well.

One star hotel. Generally run down. Mold in the shower. Broken plaster. Badly in need of paint. No televisions in the rooms (not that your supposed to spend time in a hotel room in Florence). Street performing mime with a boom box kept us awake.

Firenza - the Hotel Maxim

Parking was at the St. Orsola Street Garage. From the Train Station, head north, then clockwise around the Fortezza da Basso (where there is lots of construction and very little parking). Take Viale Spartiaco Lavagnini east, then make a right hairpin turn down Via S. C. d’ Alessandria, which becomes Nazionale. Turn left at Guelfa, then right on Via St. Orsola, then right into the garage. €21 per day for a car, €24 for a larger car, €30 for our ‘bus’.

Hotel Cannon d’ Oro Siena

no website found

phone 0577 44321

page 242 in Rick Steve's Italy 2003

Why? Kent recommended it. No affordable hotel in Sienna listed air conditioning.

Rates require Rick Steve's Italy 2003.
82 for double with private bath - breakfast is 6 extra, no air conditioning 
122 for quad with private bath - breakfast is 6 extra, no air conditioning

Would I go back? Yes.

Location is good (as in central – no views). Five minutes from Il Campo. Hotel is generally in like new condition.

No A/C (which we knew about in advance) and no elevator (which we didn’t). – we had to haul our bags up 3 flights of steps. Breakfast was offered at €6 per person – we didn’t try it. Bathroom shower had only a curtain and a drain – this was the only hotel we stayed at with this arrangement.

Hotel Mach 2


phone 06 650 7149

Why? Only hotel near airport other than the Hilton which wants over €200. Received a few positive mentions on the Internet.
113 for a double with private bath, a/c, and breakfast (we weren't there for it).
129 for a triple with private bath, a/c, and breakfast (we weren't there for it).

Would I go back? Yes

Location – 5 minutes from the airport. Rooms were clean. Our 4 person room was a suite. This was the only hotel we stayed at that was very much like an American hotel, for better or for worse.

Location – the consensus on usenet is that you should not waste a night in Roma at the airport, even if you have a very early flight out (which we did). Instead get up a little earlier and get a taxi from central Roma to the airport. 

There is absolutely nothing to do around the airport. You could smell cigarette smoke throughout the hotel, but not in the rooms.

The hotel is right in the flight path of one of the runways. Fortunately we only heard two planes take off, but they were stunningly loud.

Friday July 11, 2003
Home to El Granada