Trip Coach: April 10, 2007
Christopher Winner, editor of Rome-based website TheAmericanMag.com, answered your questions on planning a trip to Italy.
Christopher Winner: Greetings, this is Christopher Winner in Rome. It's a lovely, sunny afternoon here. You've certainly given me a nice dose of questions and I'll do my best to answer them. Bear in mind that everything I tell you represents my views only. For every suggestion I make, there's no saying you can't invent something infinitely more resourceful. If I don't get to your question, feel free to be in touch with me individually through The American's website. I'd remind you of one thing concerning travel in Europe in 2007: your dollar now equals less than 70 euro cents, and it doesn't promise to improve. Something to think about. Now, fire away.--Christopher
Sarasota, FL: We want to take in the Wine country at harvest time in Italy...is there a wine-focused trip by bus, rail, or another way? Lived in Sonoma for years and have always wanted to see Italy and south France for the harvest season. Thanks, Rob
Christopher Winner: Dear Rob: Yes, there are wine tours -- almost too many to count. You'll find many online. Those, of course, are the organized kind. Otherwise, come to Rome in vendemmia (harvest) season, late September, rent a car here, and drive into Umbria, Lazio, and Tuscany. There are plenty of towns that are in high harvest around that time. See www.slowtrav.com.
Lincoln, Mass: I will be in Rome this June 23-30. I will be traveling with my extended family of 17 people ranging in ages from 14-88. We will not all be together every day. What are the must sees aside from Vatican museums and roman monuments (ruins)? Also, how can we avoid lines?
Thank you very much. Agnes
Christopher Winner: Dear Agnes: First off, you won't avoid lines. That's simply impossible. Rome is beloved by tourists from West and East, so you have a confluence of arrivals and a city-within-a-city of tourists in the summer season. Don't worry about this. My advice: WALK. The great French writer Stendhal was so charmed by this that he wrote three volumes of memoirs titled: "Promenades in Rome" -- all about his walking tours, bumping through backstreets. Take walking tours through the center, map in hand, and let yourself stumble onto things. Go to Trastevere, the neighborhood nearest the Vatican, and walk up to the Garibaldi stature on Monte Mario. Explore behind the Coliseum, and walk the tiny green streets around the Aventine Hill (Aventino on a map). There is a beautiful park, the Celimontana, behind the Coliseum, but few go there. Don't make too grand a list, because you'll find there's simply too much to see and think yourselves disappointed and having missed out. Remember, there's no such thing as missing out on a city when you're in it. Take it in. Whatever you enjoy is unique to your time there.
Huntington Beach, CA: I would like to plan a trip to Sicily. I'm debating whether or not to take a group tour or base myself in one city and take organized day tours. Also, since I'm retired, I can travel any time of year. What is the best time to avoid heat or heavy rains? Your views on this would be appreciated.
Christopher Winner: Sicily is beautiful, confusing, and challenging for travelers of any age. It has its own peculiar rhythm in which time seems to slow down. The coasts, for example, are remarkable, but rarely visited comprehensively because they're a bit often the beaten track (with the exception of few famous resorts, Taormina, for example). Probably the best way to see it, honestly, is with a rental car and time on your hands -- allowing for misadventures. But if you want a more realistic approach, I think your best bet is either spending some time in Palermo and Catania, and moving out from to nearby local towns, or taking a tour. If you do plan a tour, I strongly recommend you do so from the United States so that your situation is organized when you arrive. You do not want to find yourself in Sicily trying to make it up as you go along, unless you're extremely adventurous. As for time of year, avoid the high season. Shoot for October, even November. The climate is temperate. Sicily is always about 5 to 10 degrees warmer than Rome. Another option is March, before Easter, or May, just after. June through September are the hottest months.
Omaha, NE: I have 2 full days to spend in Rome. How do I fit in all of the most important sights.
Christopher Winner: I'll stress this many times: Don't try to fit everything in. So many people come to Rome with a laundry list and then rue what they don't see. Just pick the things YOU find most interesting and see them. ENJOY THE CITY. Sights don't necessarily define a trip. Traveling is best, I think, when you leave a place satisfied that you've plumbed its mood. Of course, go to the Vatican and walk by the Forum, but otherwise I fall back on my old suggestion: Take the map out, pick a point near the center (the Trevi fountain, say), and walk. Or go to the popular piazza Campo de' Fiori and take a trip down Via del Governo Vecchio, which has a slew of artisan stores. The center, in Italian, is centro storico, or historic center. A promenade through the narrow streets of the center can yield as much satisfaction as the bigger sights. I remember 30 years ago when I first arrived being exhausted in the Forum, and then meandering up to the mayor's office on the Capitoline hill (next door) for a break. There, I found my favorite balcony in a tiny piazza that overlooks the full sprawl of the Forum. The view from that spot (also the mayor's view from his windows) was worth the day. That's how Rome is: one place, even obscure, that's worth your day.