Where am I?

I'm taking a two week vacation!

Can you guess where I'm going?

(Image taken from http://historylink102.com, no copyright infringement intended)

The best bottled water? Acqua di Nepi of course!

One of the things that I love about Italy is the passion for food. It's an obvious thing to say, but from the top to the bottom, Italian's love food, preparing it, eating it, talking about it. As an Englishman, this is a revelation and a welcome new world to explore (even if, by default, they don't give any weight to my opinion...). The Italian commitment to culinary excellence is only surpassed by the Italian aspiration to have a strong opinion about food. Perhaps unsurprisingly therefore, the 'which bottled water is the best' discussion is a common debate in most Italian families. In our household, and the household of most Italians we know (living in the Provinces of Rome and Viterbo), the discussion is pretty quick, with an obvious winner - Acqua di Nepi*.

Image from the Acqua di Nepi site 

Acqua di Nepi is found in most restaurants in the province of Rome (i.e. the area around Rome) and the province of Viterbo and is generally regarded by my adoptive Italian family to be a sign of quality. I have to say, that while I'm not usually a fan of frizzante, Acqua di Nepi frizzante (the green label) is wonderfully sweet with a soft sparkle, and I'm defintely developing a soft spot for it.

Nepi itself is also worth a visit, if you get the chance. It's a wonderful town about 30km south-east of Viterbo and about 13km south-west of Civita Castellana. As of 2005, there were 8,438 inhabitants. We were there two weeks ago and enjoyed a lovely walk around the pedestrianized town center, taking in the Borgia castle (from the outside, it was closed on the Sunday we were there) and the outstanding views over the surrounding ravines, right on the edge of the town. We particularly enjoyed hanging around in the square in front of the town hall, which was designed by Antonio da Sangallo the Younger and has a working bell tower. Just in front of it there's a fountain that is believed to have been designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. On the left (when you're looking at the town hall) there is the Cathedral of the Assunta, built in the 12th century over a pagan temple. It was rebuilt in 1831 after French troops had set it on fire during the Napoleonic Wars (according to Wikipedia). Nepi was pretty sleepy when we visited, but it has a certain charm, perfect for a Sunday stroll, accompanied by a bottle of Acqua di Nepi of course!

Getting there from Rome:

By car - Take the SS2 - via cassia from the GRA, then follow the signs for Nepi (it's pretty easy). I'm afraid I don't know if it's possible to get there from Rome with public transport :-(

* Oh yeah, and only drink it out of the glass bottles, as not only is this classier, but it saves on the mounting piles of plastic we're throwing away. Seriously, don't drink from plastic bottles. See this excellent blog piece from Italexpat's blog for more info.

Renting a car at the airport in Rome? Be very careful...

Recently, we organised for about 36 people to fly to Rome for a celebration. We always knew it was going to be tough, moving 36 people (of varying degrees of travel-savvyness) around, but we suggested people hire cars and bring a satnav, and we were prepared for the worst.

Now, Italian road signage is not the best, Italian drivers are not renowned for their driving prowess or etiquette etc. etc., but you know what, our biggest problem was with the car rental at the airport, both airports to be precise!

Now, in my day job, I'm a scientist, and this kind of thing excites me, so bear with me. Six groups of people hired cars, four from two car rental companies in Fiumincino, two from the same car rental company in Ciampino (these are the two airports in Rome). Of the four in Fiumicino, two experienced problems. Of the two in Ciampino, well, both experienced problems and one experienced more than one problem! (Grazie a Europcar, by the way...) So on balance, we can say from the empirical data that Fiumicino fared better than Ciampino, but lets look in more detail at what actually happened.


Budget car rental company:- 2 groups went with this company. Both experienced additional charges at the airport, on top of the price agreed and paid for on the internet. These charges included a road tax, a further insurance charge, a full tank of petrol (I think this one is actually legitimate) and extra mileage coverage ("oh, you're not just driving it to Rome, then you need this further cover"), all of which was on top of the agreed price. One unhappy family paid an extra €189 in total.


There were a number of problems in Ciampino, the first of which has very little to do with the car rental companies.

When you arrive at Ciampino, you are greeted by about three coach kiosks (terravision, National Express and the local bus/metro option) and a caffe bar. At no point do you see any signs as to where the car rental places are. Even if you ask around (and this is on two different occasions), no one knows. Thankfully, we were with one of the groups and we knew that you actually have to leave the terminal and cross the road to a bus shelter with the words 'Autonoleggio'  (i.e. car rental) written on it. Once there, you wait for a small navette bus to come into view. This bus won't have any markings and the driver won't be looking out for you, so you need to keep your wits about you. The bus came sporadically about 3 times in two hours, although our two hours may not be representative (12-2pm on a Thursday afternoon)

Europcar car rental company:

The group we were with (my parents and sister) had hired a people carrier with Europcar and had confirmed everything including the price by e-mail and phone before leaving the UK. Once at the Europcar kiosk, they were informed that they would have to pay an extra €40 'insurance' charge, on top of the agreed price. They argued this (I know it's only €40 but my sister is not one to be argued with), ended up having to phone with their own phones back to the UK (the office in Ciampino said they couldn't do this themselves), who confirmed that they shouldn't pay the extra €40, while the guy at Ciampino said that the UK office was wrong and that they have to pay it. In the end, they got the guy to write a letter confirming that they did pay the extra charge, and then, after over 2hrs of trying to sort everything out, managed to get the car and get on the road.

Anyway, I don't want to write a totally negative post, as I know these things happen and often it's no ones fault, but I do feel there is a 'cowboy'-element to all of this and I expect these are not isolated experiences either in Rome or in other airports. The thing is, you're at the airport, you need a car, so you almost have to pay whatever they want, then try to get everything sorted out afterwards. It just leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. I guess you just have to be careful when renting a car, and be prepared to stand your ground when they spring unexpected 'charges'.

OK, that's my rant over. If you want any more information on this kind of thing, I've found this article in The Guardian newspaper (UK) on rental car problems: http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/2010/oct/17/avis-car-damage

Oh, and the two groups at Fiumicino who had no problems? They were with Hertz*

*Although I'm sure all car rental companies are the same ;-)

For the best view of Rome from the air....

... fly Ryanair into Rome Ciampino!

This is just a short post to jot down a piece of advice I always forget to give to people until they've landed.

If you're flying into Rome Ciampino (in which case you'll most likely be flying with Ryanair), then remember to sit on the right-hand side of the plane for the best view of Rome! You'll get to see the Stadio Olympico, the Vatican, Piazza Venezia, Piazza della Repubblica and the Colosseum, all as you fly past at low altitude on the final descent to the airport. Honestly, it's an amazing view, and a great introduction to Rome.