Saturday, June 18, 2011

Hotel Santa Prisca in Testaccio Rome

Not a luxury hotel, not even a 3 star hotel, Hotel Santa Prisca is a solid bet for consistency. We have been going there for over 20 years on and off, and it never changes. The rooms are familiar, only the linens have changed, and our favorite staff member, Giuseppe DeLuca is also still there with a warm greeting and great information about the neighborhood and Rome in general. Hotel Santa Prisca is an old fashioned property converted from a convent, at least part of it has been converted into a hotel. The sisters still teach school in the other wing and you can see the beautifully lit stained glass windows of the convent chapel on the top floor each evening. As you may surmise, the rooms are small, but they are comfortable and include a bathroom, desk and closet along with the bed. Rooms are set up for singles or couples, so you won’t find a triple or quad room here.

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The hotel is dependably clean and the gardens keep it shaded and comfortable, even when the air conditioning is unavailable. In May it was hot, but the air conditioning doesn’t come on until June and probably throughout the summer until early fall, if the temperatures warrant it. Since all rooms are above ground floor, it was easy enough to just leave the windows open all night, since all hotel guests are respectful of the property and keep quiet, or so it seems. There are lounges available for guests as well as a dining room for breakfast and a bar. You’re also welcome to sit outside to eat any food you may have purchased in the neighborhood. for me the most convenient amenity is a free computer available to all guests.

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Breakfast is a matter of choice, you can have the continental breakfast that you paid for with your room rental or opt for cooked eggs or eggs and sausage for an extra fee. Personally we have always gone across the street to Pasticceria Barberini with it’s wonderful pastries and drinks, and not bothered with the breakfast here, but for the sake of this review, I did have breakfast at the hotel in order to take a few photos.

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The top photos are of a roll that I always associate with Rome, I believe it’s called a rosetta because the 5 sections remind one of a flower. It is crisp like a baguette on the exterior with a hollow interior and is the roll that was the standard breakfast in Rome along with a cappucino, when I first started traveling to Italy. I still like to spread some Nutella on it. The center bottom photo shows another standard breakfast item in Italy on the bottom section, a dry crisp that we might know as Melba toast. Not much taste, dry as dust, but alright with some butter and jam. I usually slip a package in my pocket to feed to the birds.

The neighborhood is what makes me like this hotel so much. Directly across the street is Pasticerria Barberini that has recently expanded to include gelato and panini, Perilli (see full review on RestoReco), a classic Roman restaurant. Volpetti, the ultimate salumeria along with it’s own tavola calda, Volpetti Piu, around the corner. Within a block is Oasi di Birra the best place for beer and snacks in Rome, Mercato Testaccio with great prices on shoes and handbags as well as items one expects in the local open air markets. There are also a number of other wine bars, pastry shops, gelaterie, restaurants, and businesses that are utilized by tourists including a laundromat, and a camera supply store, where I made an emergency purchase of digital storage chips for my camera, quite an accomplishment considering the age of my camera.

Largo Manilo Gelsomini 25
00153 Rome Italy
Tel 06/5741917
FAX 06/5746658

Friday, June 10, 2011

Where to Stay in Florence?

Our experience with accommodations in Florence has been limited. For years we stayed at Tony’s Locanda on Via Faenza, but those days ended when the family sold it and it became “gentrified” (i.e. doubled in price). As with most cities, the cheaper hotels can be found near the train station and I suspect Via Faenza is still riddled with 3rd floor walkups at reasonable prices, but one star hotels are not going to work for us.

One year we had the bright idea to rent a large apartment that slept 8 and invite friends and family to join us. Even for free, our friends left early to avoid sofabeds, so we nixed that idea in the future. Still it was a lovely apartment and it was great fun to be able to shop the markets in both Florence and Bologna to make dinner for our guests. I failed to photograph the master bedroom and a single bedroom, but did manage a photo of 3rd bedroom with its "wet bath", the old fashioned type of Italian bath that allowed the shower to spray the entire room and drain into the middle of the floor. My cousin and her husband were great sports about accepting that room and allowing other guests to trapse through in the middle of the night to use the toilet. It makes for an amusing travel story, though not very amusing at the time.

Our next rental experience was superior and worked out well. A colleague at work told us about a one bedroom apartment that he and his wife were very pleased with and offered me a link to the property. I contacted the owner, Rossella Ristore, and we have since become personal friends. Even when her apartment is not available we get together for lunch. Next year it will be available during our required dates and we are looking forward to renting it again.

On the one occasion when her apartment was not available, I made a reservation on for Il Cestello, a small hotel in the Oltrarno area of Florence and were it not for an allergy to mold, I could have enjoyed my stay there. It had been booked on a nonrefundable basis for the low rate of 118 euros per night. The bathroom shower had mold in the grout between the tiles, therefore I had to make a complaint and asked for bleach. The young man at the desk wanted to accommodate me, but could find none. I bought some for myself and scrubbed down the shower, but it did not remove the mold (although I did not get my allergy so it could have killed it). In the morning the manager offered to give us an alternate room, even one he could rent for a higher price, but every room he showed me had the same problem. When we explained that I couldn’t afford to get sick and were leaving early, he kindly offered to give me a free room on another occasion, but if the mold were a continuing problem, which it appeared to be, that would not work either. He tried, but keeping healthy on vacation was worth losing one night’s lodging. Still for anyone not allergic to “muffa” and who can tolerate it aesthetically, it was a good value.