Saturday, April 30, 2011

Rome on $85 a Day – The Colosseum

This lush passageway belies the brutality that occurred in the Colosseum arena beyond where gladiators fought for their lives. Many of the gladiators were slaves who were trying to earn their freedom. If a slave survived for three to five years, depending on his contract, he earned his freedom and had a guaranteed job thereafter training gladiator recruits.

David and I were privileged to be one of the first to see this staging area where the gladiators waited to be called to the arena, and the animals were housed that did battle with unlucky convicts. Our guide told us that the ancient Romans were quite efficient in the way they dealt with criminals as there were neither debates over the death penalty nor huge sums of money expended feeding and housing prisoners. In ancient Rome, if a prisoner was convicted, he quickly faced his destiny with a lion in the arena. I suppose this provided entertainment for the crowds, an efficient dispatch of justice, and a meal for the lion--an efficeint, if brutal, system.

Our guide pointed out a canal where water from the Tiber River entered the arena,. Here, if the stage were flooded, marine battles could be enacted.

The keystone arches, as well, of course, as the rest of the structure, were a masterpiece of engineering. The entire structure was completed in eight years, but the gouging of the walls to extract iron ore severely weakened the structure.; Today it looks pockmarked, and, part of that weakened area did indeed collapse when an earthquake shook the walls.

The Underground area of the Colosseum and the third tier of seating in the arena have only been opened to the public this year, so this tour is truly a treat. Not only did we walk the paths that the gladiators trod thousands of years ago, but we were also admitted to the very highest tier of seats with amazing views of the city. From this vantage point, we could see the Forum, Constantine Arch, and the Palatine Hill.

The Palatine Hill was the most important one of the seven hills of Rome. According to Roman mythology, Romulus and Remus were born in a cave on the hill and raised by a she-wolf until adopted by peasants. The twins rose to power by killing the opposition, even battling each other for leadership. Victorious Romulus gave his name to this Eternal City, and Palatine is etymologically related to the word “palace.”

Practicalities -

You can bypass the two-hour lines completely if you order your tickets in advance from   We paid 55 euros, $78, for two.  By the way, a tour (about 1 1/2 hours) is the only way to see the underground and third tier as these areas are quite securely locked and only the guide has a key.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Rome on $85 a Day - Food

It required three airports, fifteen hours of flying, and an entire day of sleeplessness (Can anyone sleep on a plane?), but the rewards have been worth the sacrifices. Instead of losing weight, as David and I usually do when we walk for miles each day, we will probably gain a few pounds on this trip.

We sleep-walked through our tour of the apartment and collapsed on the bed as soon as Morgan, our landlord, left. But later that night we discovered the little restaurant across the street with the best lasagna either of us has ever eaten, and this morning we prowled the aisles of the market that is literally our next-door neighbor.

In Rome, pizza is sold by the inch!
The market owners plied us with samples although it didn't take much persuasion for us to snap up a quarter-kilo of this and a few slices of that. Back at the apartment, I don't think we said a word to each other except to moan in pleasure at the next morsel of food to sample. We discovered the food of the gods in Paris, but Rome is giving that city a challenge.

Our gift wrapped dinner!
Everything we need is just steps or a block or two from our apartment. At the grocery, we picked up essentials like dish detergent, yogurt, and paper towels; the best gelato in town is across the street at Tony's; and tonight's take-out lasagna was up the street a half block the other direction. The two cookies we bought for dessert were wrapped like a gift; when we tasted them we understood why!

Our first full day in Rome ended with our watching the sun set over the rooftops from our penthouse living room. This room is surrounded by eight-feet high windows on three sides so we literally have a bird's eye view of the city.

David just informed me that it's time for gelato, and I don't need to be told twice.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Italy, Spain and (maybe) Morocco for $85 a Day*

Our suitcases are lined up near the front hallway like pack horses all in a row. And pack horses they will have to be since they're carrying all we need for five weeks. 
On some blog or another, someone quoted travel guru Rick Steves who supposedly said that traveling with more than a carry-on bag meant that you were packing your fear.

If that's true, then David and I must be terrified.

We've each got the largest suitcase American Airlines allows plus a smaller carry-on satchel. (But I'll bet Rick Steves doesn't use special shampoo only available at Sally's Beauty Supply.) Still, I've pared down my usual overload, so I'm relatively pleased with the bags I'm taking. Even if I am checking a suitcase, at least I'm relatively sure it will be below the weight limitation.

Although I  do have a few lingering concerns about slinging that bag up on the scale tomorrow, I have no worries about our pet sitters, whom we met for the first time this afternoon. (See the blog article, Free Pet Sitting.)  This wonderful couple from Phoenix are as delightful as we thought they'd be. David and I have no doubt they will conscientiously care for our pets and our house. They've actually given us the greatest gift of all--peace of mind for the next five weeks!

So, I hope you're ready to go too. Don't worry about your luggage but do remember to go to bed early tonight. Tomorrow's going to be a very busy day.

*These calculations are based on this exchange rate: 1.0 Eur = 1.42 USD

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Europe on $85 a Day* - Good Eats for Cheap

David and I are planning a five-week trip to Italy, Spain, and (maybe) Morocco for $85 a day per person based on shared accommodations. This is the fifth in a series of articles telling you how to travel as cheaply--and comfortably--as we do.

This is my 12 euro Coke. After walking at least 18 miles one day in Paris, David still wanted to see the Arc de Triomphe, a half mile further up the Champs d'Elysee. Since my feet refused to take another step, I decided to wait for him at one of those charming sidewalk cafes, ordering the cheapest thing on the menu--a $17 Coke! Since it was the most expensive Coke I ever plan to drink, I had to take its picture.

Ordering $17 Cokes is not part of our budget strategy, but if you follow our approach to food costs while traveling, you won't miss expensive drinks and you'll whittle your travel budget down to the bone.

And, believe me, you will not suffer. In fact, I think you'll enjoy more authentic food, learn more about the country, and interact more with the people than you would if you ate in restaurants every day of your vacation.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Tightwad Travel Tip - Europe on $85 a Day -- Or Less!

I've stumbled on a wonderful website called Price of Travel which does exactly what its name implies.  This site tracks travel prices for cities around the world and posts the results in an easy-to-read-and-compare format.  Additional information about the city, its attractions, and museum costs are also just a click away.

In the Price of Travel's own words, here are the items they price for each city.  Note that all costs are based on two travelers sharing a hotel room and taxis.
One night in the cheapest 3-star hotel available with a good location and mostly positive reviews. Hotel prices are per person based on double occupancy, so the full nightly rate is double what is listed for each city here.

Two 3-kilometer taxi rides per day (one ride paid per person)

One cultural attraction, such as a popular museum, per day

Three meals per day using the top end of the range of our “budget meals” for each city

Three beers (or wine) each day as an “entertainment fund.” Non-drinkers might have dessert and coffee or attend a local music performance instead, so this is a general benchmark that should be proportional for each city.
David and I will be traveling  in Italy for $85 a day which is $30 less than the price listed on the site because we're staying in apartments, not hotels.  But, still, this is an invaluable site for getting a general idea of daily costs.  

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Europe on $85 a Day - A Convenient but Costly Vacation Rental Apartment Service

David and I are planning a five-week trip to Italy, Spain, and (maybe) Morocco for $85 a day per person based on shared accommodations. This is the fourth in a series of articles telling you how to travel as cheaply--and comfortably--as we do.

Our private terrace and villa rental in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
In Monday's article, I noted that finding a luxurious apartment at a hostel price is not difficult, but it can be time-consuming. David and I spent almost two weeks locating our apartments in Rome, Florence, and Sorrento although our Torremolinos, Spain, choice was made within a couple hours.

Most tightwad travelers have more time than money and won't mind a time-consuming search, but if you are in a hurry, worrying about making a mistake, or simply need someone to walk you through first-time-jitters, there is an alternative.

Untours, a company that has been providing independent travel accommodations and support services for 36 years, shares my travel philosophy. Their 2011 brochure states that they want to meet people's travel needs, " a way that would allow people to unpack their bags, absorb the local culture, and actually live in Europe....Untours provides curious travelers with virtually everything necessary to enjoy a new culture as an insider."

To accomplish this, Untours provides trip-planning information; ground transportation in the form of a city transit pass; an orientation session with the on-site expert who is also available, via telephone, to help with any problems that arise; a dinner or special event with the other Untours visitors in the neighborhood; and, of course, an apartment.

You will undoubtedly find it comforting to have someone meet you at the airport and provide you with some basic groceries for your first breakfast in Europe, but the apartment where you will, "...enjoy a new culture as an insider," is expensive. When someone else does the legwork finding you an apartment, such convenience is costly.

I checked the "sampler" prices for a two-week package: one week in Florence and another week in Rome. The base price is $2349 but the Rome apartment I chose had a $91 surcharge (I noticed other surcharges for other apartments of $400-600 per person.) so the total price was $2440. Per person. That means two weeks of an Untours trip costs $4880 for two people or $349 dollars per day!

The Untours apartment rental costs each person $174 per day as opposed to the apartments David and I are renting in those two cities for 44 euros* ($63 at 70 cents to the euro) per person per day.

Europe on $85 a Day - The Way to Meaningful, Interactive Travel

(In a March 21 blog post this year, travel guru Arthur Frommer expressed his dissatisfaction with the traditional approach to vacations.  Instead of visiting an area where he ricocheted from one tourist attraction to another only to collapse from exhaustion in his hotel room every night, he wanted a more meaningful interaction with the people and the terrain he encountered during his international travel.  Here's an excerpt from Mr. Frommer's blog.  Read the entire post here. )

     "Rather, I began to understand that the travel I enjoyed was associated with people and ideas, the travel that enabled you to experience other lifestyles and ideologies, new and different cultures, totally different ways of dealing with urban and social problems, provocative assumptions and opinions that contradict everything you normally believe. To look upon what was different from your own life, I concluded, was part of the adventure of life."

(Mr. Frommer goes on to suggest ways to find appropriate lodging to facilitate this philosophy.)

Monday, April 4, 2011

Europe on $85 a Day - Luxurious Lodging at Hostel Prices

David and I are planning a five-week trip to Italy, Spain, and (maybe) Morocco for $85 a day per person based on shared accommodations. This is the third in a series of articles telling you how to travel as cheaply--and comfortably--as we do.
Entry to our Paris apartment

David and I have filet mignon tastes but a peanut butter budget, so we have to find lovely lodgings at low prices. Luckily we know how to do that.

On this trip, we will spend 33 nights in Italy and Spain for 2,574 euros, or an average of 78 euros per night. That translates to 39 euros per person, less than what most hostels charge. But we will get so much more than any hostel can provide for almost the same price. Our "hostel budget" will get us an entire apartment with our own kitchen, living room, TV, wi-fi, and laundry facilities. And even more remarkably, if we reserved a hotel with the same amenities, we would be spending three or four times the 39 euro daily rate.

Finding the perfect place at the right price isn't always easy. Actually, for a week or so, it's a full-time job. We make no appointments and even friends are forewarned that we won't have time to answer e-mails! But the concentrated effort always pays off with great accommodations at cheap, cheap prices, so the pain is worth it.

Once you're convinced that an apartment is the best way to have a home away from home, you'll find that there are many resources to help you.