Hotel Review: Crowne Plaza Rome, Italy

Hotel Review: Crowne Plaza Rome, Italy

Below is my hotel review for the Crowne Plaza Rome (IHG brand of hotels).  I stayed at American hotels because I wanted to use points for award reservations and for more modern conveniences.  These hotels are not found in the city center (as most American International brands are not usually in the center of town) but they were all easily accessible, modern, clean and luxurious.  I booked award reservations 4-6 months out from my arrival and found availability.  The toughest was Rome which makes sense given that it’s a large and visited city.

Featured photo by Jason Briscoe.


Crowne Plaza Rome / St Peter’s

Via Aurelia Antica 415 P.O.Box 9076, Rome – 00165, Italy;   Email:

Hotel Review:

My stay was in early May.  This hotel was very clean, modern and everything you would expect from a Crowne Plaza.  It’s not in the heart of Rome but the city is very easily accessible. 

I stayed here using points and was upgraded at check-in to a suite.  This meant an additional, attached room.  My room was a double queen bed layout and the additional room had a couch, extremely huge wooden table (maybe for breakfast or meals), a tv, a walk-out balcony and an extra bathroom (very helpful).

There was always complimentary coffee and tea.  The coffee was Nescafe and I have no idea if it was a distinct roast for Italy but it may be the best instant coffee I’ve ever had.  I had this same one serving package at several other Italian hotels and same deal – really tasty coffee.

This hotel doesn’t have an executive lounge which is a bummer since most Crowne Plazas’ do have them (or is that only in the US?).  In lieu of that, the hotel gave me more points and the suite.

From my rooms’ balcony, I could see a very large Olympic size swimming pool.  Unfortunately, I never made it down to the pool but it was in use by many kids, parents and adults.  I also didn’t get a chance to try out the hotel restaurant.  There is also complimentary wi-fi.

One night we got pizza in the neighborhood near the hotel.  It was an interesting process – the pizza is baked in a giant rectangle which is cut into squares.  There are many options (ie. Different squares with different toppings like potato or mushroom or mozzarella & balsamic, etc).  Then they weigh it and charge by the weight.  The experience was as fun as the pizza was delicious.

Getting to/from:

From FCO airport to the Crowne Plaza Rome was $40 euros for 4 people with 4 carry on bags.  Not sure if that is the going rate or if it’s a seasonal rate but that’s what we paid.  It was a 20-25 minute ride.  Another option is to take a train or bus from FCO to the center of Rome and then take the metro&bus back to this hotel.  I recommend the taxi but if you have the time and want to save the $$, then the bus/train/metro is an option.

If you buy a bus ticket from the front desk (1-2euros), then wait in front of the hotel on Via Aurelia Antica (street).  Take the local city bus (98, 98F, 889 – double check your route) and get off at the metro (stop: Cornelia).  From there, you may access any part of Rome that you want.  If you’re on the bus, you can also see the neighborhood near the hotel which has many shops and food options.  There are supermarkets, pizza places, etc.  In other words, the hotel isn’t isolated as some other American hotels can be in Europe. 

Prior to arriving, I emailed the hotel to ask about transportation.  They shared the following document: Crowne Plaza Rome/St. Peter’s Shuttle


One thing I do want to mention that pertains to all the hotels I stayed at in Italy – hotels charge you a city tax per person for staying there.  This is similar to the resort tax that many hotels charge in Hawaii or other islands.  This appeared to be a tax on anyone who can afford to stay at an American hotel.  Does anyone have a different take on this?  For my 3 night stay, I paid $80 euros which I thought was much considering I got no extra value for that charge.  City tax is $6 euros per person per night.

Recommend (Y/N): Yes

I would recommend this hotel to anyone wanting to stay in/near Rome, use points for a free hotel night, looking for a more modern hotel or just wondering what this particular hotel is like.  It was so nice that I kind of feel guilty that I didn’t spend more time there – I was out early and back late exploring Rome (which is how I spent most of my trip to Italy).


Crowne Plaza St. Peter's Rome

Metro Station - Cornelia

Navigate the waterways and top sights in Venice, Italy

Navigate the waterways and top sights in Venice, Italy

Venice is a city surrounding by water, connected by bridges with no cars allowed.  It is truly unique and no pictures or words can really do justice to the feeling you get when experiencing this special place.

My advice to those visiting Venice for the first time is to wander around, get lost, have a map but refer to it sparingly and to just absorb the vibe of the city.

A couple of Venice Italy highlights:

Murano Venice Italy
venice murano
Kiln Murano venice italy

Murano Island

I took vaporetti (line #4) out to Murano Island as I had not visited this island in my previous travels to Venice.  After disembarking the ferry, I walked into the town where they have numerous glass-blowing kiln companies.  Many of these kiln companies offer a free demonstration of how they make Murano glass.

I attended one which really showcased how skilled an artist has to be to create the glass pieces found on the island.  Some of the artists shared that they had spent years as an apprentice before they could even create certain pieces.

As you walk through town, you’ll find numerous retail stores selling Murano glass pieces.  It’s a good place to shop for souvenirs which include paper mache masks, lace, paper, etc.  There are also cafes along the way.

I found the Murano glass pieces on Murano to be slightly less expensive than the mainland.  As well, many of the pieces are stamped with Made in Murano in the glass (when it was hot and being made).  According to some of the shop owners, that is their mark of authenticity.

On the mainland you will find glass pieces without this stamp.   I cannot say for certain their origin – they may be made in Venice or they may be made in Asia/China.  All I know is that if you are going to pay for Murano glass, make sure it is indeed Murano glass.

venice san marco
venice italy
venice italy

Piazza San Marco (aka San Marco’s Square or St. Marks square)

San Marco is Venice’s most famous and crowded square.  Filled to the brim with tourists and pigeons (it is illegal to feed them, sorry), San Marco sits near the water’s edge with a stunning view of the Grand Canal.  This is a major picture taking spot.

As you walk along the perimeter, there are numerous artists painting and selling their work.  Don’t be afraid to bargain.  I did and got a slight discount.  Some however will not come down in price.  It’s a function of supply, demand and time.  However, don’t leave behind a wonderful memento for a few euros.

In San Marco square is concentrated quite a few sights:

First, the Basilica di San Marco (aka St. Marks cathedral).  Admission to the cathedral is free.  There is usually a long line to get in as was the case when I visited.  If you can make it out here early, do so to get a jump on the line.  To skip the line during peak times (Apr 1 – Nov 2), make a reservation online for $2 euros.

If Mass is in session, you may attend.  However, tourists aren’t allowed to enter and view during that time.  Dress code is adhered to strictly.  There is also a museum, treasury and golden altarpiece.  Admission prices vary for these different areas.  Read more about the history at


venice italy st marks basilica
venice italy st marks basilica
venice italy st marks square
venice italy st marks campanile bell tower

In the center of the square is the Campanile/ bell tower which you can ascend for a beautiful view of the St. Marks square and the surrounding roof tops.  Admission is $8 euros.

Next to the basilica is the Doge’s Palace (Palazzo Ducale).  There are many rooms in the palace with art work throughout.  Visit this site for more information:

Admission to the Doge’s palace is only granted if you have purchased the Museum Pass or the St Marks Square Museum Ticket. 

To get an understanding of what you are seeing, book a tour or audio guide at the ticket office ($5 euros – single / $8 euros – two persons).

The Bridge of Sighs – an enclosed bridge from the palace to a prison – is on the tour of the Doge’s palace.  If you’re not on the tour, you can view the bridge from the outside as well.  Walk east from St. Marks square towards the San Zaccaria ferry stop (Grand Canal) over the first bridge.  Alternately, walk west from the Zaccaria ferry stop – view from 2nd bridge crossing.

view from Rialto Bridge
Rialto Bridge
gondola crossing venice

Rialto bridge

This is Venice’s most famous bridge.  It is a very wide bridge connecting two neighborhoods.  To climb to the middle/center and look out onto the Grand Canal is beautiful.  However, there is no shortage of tourists doing the same thing and many overpriced souvenir shops nearby.  I had a pizza at the foot of the bridge while looking out onto this very crowded scene.  If you are on a gondola ride or taking the ferry (stop: Rialto), it’s also a different perspective of the bridge.  It’s beautiful but very, very busy.

Ca’ d’Oro

This is a neighborhood/district (ferry stop: Ca’ d’Oro) where I disembarked and walked around.  I really enjoyed this section of Venice which seemed to be not as crowded as other parts.  That may have been the time of day (afternoon) or location which isn’t so close to San Marco’s.  The Ca’ d’Oro (translation: golden house) is an art museum called Galleria Giorgio Franchetti all Ca’ d’Oro.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to view but the area was very pleasant to wander and get a gelato.

For more info, check out:

venice italy
venice italy painter
venice italy
venice italy
venice italy

Grand Canal

Lastly, taking a ferry ride, along the Grand Canal, from San Marco’s square to the train station (line #1 vaporetti) is a wonderful way to enjoy Venice.  I took this ride right before/around sunset and highly recommend it.  Try to sit in the front of the ferry.  You’ll cruise along, viewing the city of Venice from the water.  You will pass under the Rialto Bridge and see gondoliers steering their boats in the water.  Just lovely.  You can also do the reverse trip from the train station to San Marco’s.

venice italy
grand canal venice italy
train station venice italy

Getting to/from:

Airport:  Venezia Marco Polo is Venice’s closest airport.  From the airport, take Aerobus #5 ( or a shuttle bus to Piazzale Roma.  This is where all buses coming to Venice convene as it is the closest and last stop for bus transportation in Venice.  Either bus is $8 euro one way.

For water transportation from the airport, check out these links:  water boat (, a shared water shuttle ( or private water taxi.  There are a lot of options: check venicelink for all.

Train:  If arriving by train, confirm that your final stop is Venezia Santa Lucia and not Venezia Mestre (which will require a transfer or train to get to Venice).  Upon arriving, exit the station and you will be facing the Grand Canal with options to walk, shop, eat or take a vaporetti.   In the station, there are some fast dining options and a reasonably priced souvenir shop in the center.

Bus: All buses convene, arrive and depart from Piazzale Roma.  You can’t miss it – it’s filled with buses.  It is a bridge crossing (Ponte della Costituzione) away from the train station, Venezia Santa Lucia.  There is also a parking garage to the right of this area (shown on map below with parking sign).

Internal Venice:


The vaporetto is the public water ferry line.  From the train station, take the #1 or #2 line going left towards San Marco.  If you take the line going right, you will end up at Piazzale Roma (one stop over on #1).  Or you will take a much longer ride around the island on #2 (1+ hour).  Going left on #1 or #2 is faster and more scenic.  Check your line while waiting for the ferry as there are ferry maps and time tables/schedules posted.

While in Venice, I bought a $20 euro 24-hour pass to ride the vaporetti unlimited (including to Murano, Burano, etc).  I will say that I was never checked once for this ticket/pass.  It seemed that everyone just got on the vaporetti.  That said, I have heard that if checked and you don’t have a ticket, there is a $52 euro fine (ouch!).  It just never saw anyone official around the docks or onboard who checked.  One way is $7 euro.

Water Bus Ferry & Taxi

To get over to Murano, Burano or another island, check the water bus ferry line and double check at the ferry stop that the selected island is a stop.  Also check the direction you are going so that you don’t take the longer route.  When I went to Murano, I took line 4.  I can’t remember if it was 4.1 or 4.2 but I do remember that it took a while to get over there (45 minutes minimum).  Maybe there was a shorter option that I missed.

You can also take a water taxi around Venice but this is a more expensive option.


Lastly, there are the gondolas, Venice’s most famous mode of transport.  There are 12 main gondola stations in Venice (Piazzale Roma, train station, San Marco, Rialto Bridge, etc,) and some smaller stations.  During May in the daytime, expect to pay $80 euros (for 4 people) for 40 minutes.  In the late evening/night, expect to pay more.  $80 euro is the base for a ride up to 6 people.  Ie. if you have 2 people, you will still pay $80 euro.

Rialto Bridge

San Marco Square

Bell Tower - San Marco's Square

Basilica di San Marco

Bridge of Sighs

Ca' d'Oro

Train Station

Piazza Roma - Bus Station & Parking

Verona, Italy and all her lovely sights

Verona, Italy and all her lovely sights

All the lovely sights in Verona, Italy

Verona, the city of love, is known for Shakespeare’s tale of Romeo & Juliet.  Although the story isn’t verified to have happened in Verona, visitors consider that a minor detail.  I do too as Verona has so many other wonderful things to see and do – even though I enjoyed the whole Romeo & Juliet part more than I would like to admit.

Verona is designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.


shakespeare romeo juliet verona
walled city verona

Casa di Giulietta

Located a short walk from Via Mazzini (the main street from Piazza Bra) and near the main Piazza delle Erbe, Juliet’s house & balcony draws any and all visitors to her.  Here you will see the famous balcony.  Admission to Casa di Giulietta is $6 euros for you to enter Juliet’s house and of course, stand on the balcony and have your picture taken.

In the courtyard, there is a bronze statue of Juliet and a gift shop with all things love and Romeo&Juliet.  This part of the courtyard is free and many visitors take pictures here of the statue and the balcony.

The gift shop is filled with overpriced R&J stuff but hey, where else are you going to get this stuff?  It’s here or nowhere.  There are cakes and desserts in heart shapes and even ravioli pasta in the shape of hearts.

bronze statue juliet verona
juliet balcony verona
house of juliet sign
love cakes verona
love locks verona

Arena di Verona

Located in Piazza Bra, this is Italy’s 3rd largest Roman arena.  The arena is very much intact and even hosts night opera performances from June-August.  For opera tickets (starting at $21 euros), visit  To view the arena, join the queue to buy an entrance ticket ($10 euro).  I found this arena to be rather cute in its smaller form.

arena verona
arena verona
arena piazza bra verona

Piazza delle Erbe & Piazza dei Signori

Considered one of Italy’s most beautiful piazzas, this square has two piazzas together making it quite large.  It is lined with cafes, restaurants, shops, tourists and a beautiful fountain.   It seems like most of Verona converges here for lunch.  I did and enjoyed the best heart shaped ravioli.

piazza delle erbe verona
heart ravioli verona

Museo Castelvecchio

Walking from Piazza delle Erbe along Porta Borsari, you will pass the medieval gates aptly called Porta Borsari.  Continue further along Corsa Cavour to reach Museo Castelvecchio which houses frescoes, jewelry, paintings, etc.  I walked through/around and walked onto the Ponte Scaligero bridge.  From this bridge, there is a view of Verona and other bridges.  You will really feel like you are in a fortified medieval town.

medieval gates verona
on the bridge castelvecchio
museo castelvecchio

Verona Card & other sights

Other sights in Verona to consider are the San Zeno Maggiore Bascilica, elaborate gothic tombs at Arche Scaligere or the Giusti Gardens.  If in Verona for a day or two, consider the Verona Card for $18 or $22 euros respectively.  This will get you in to the sights mentioned in this blog and others.  Check it out at and select your language.

Getting there:

From Florence SMN station (2-2.5 hour) or Venice (30 minutes) take a train to Verona Porta Nuova.   From Florence to Verona, there is a train change in either Bologna or Padova.

When I made this change over in Bologna, I had to walk underground, come out above ground and walk to another train track.  There really weren’t any signs that I recall and not a lot of people around.  Make sure that there is enough time in between the train arrival & departure to pick up the 2nd train (minimum 20mins for this changeover).

From Venice, there shouldn’t be a changeover because it’s a short trip.  From other cities in Italy, there may be a changeover.  Check the train schedules at  As well, there may be 2 for 1 pricing on your trip so take advantage of that when you book.  For more information on Italian train travel read my post, Discover Italian Train Travel.

Take a local bus from the Verona train station to Piazza Bra, the city center ($1.3 euros one way, valid for 1.5 hour).  Bus #11, 12 or 13 will take you there.  On Sundays or holidays, take #92 or #93.  I took a taxi to my hotel (Crowne Plaza) to drop off my luggage which wasn’t very costly ($12-14 euros).

You can leave your luggage at the station in the luggage room.  However, I felt like there wasn’t an indication of when you could retrieve it.  I was there during the evening (twice/two different days) and saw no one and no movement in/out of the luggage room – but that could just be my experience.

Juliet's balcony & house

Arena di Verona

Piazza delle Erbe

Museo Castelvecchio

Porta Borsari

Verona Puerta Nuovo Train station

What tipped my decision to visit Pisa Tower

What tipped my decision to visit Pisa Tower

It goes without saying, Pisa is touristy. You will be a lemming in the swarm of tourists taking tilted pictures with the tower.  But that is precisely why you should check out this attraction.

As my bus pulled up to the Piazza del Duomo and I caught sight of this spectacle, I knew I had come to the right place.  There is something so fun and silly and youthful about being at Pisa Tower.  Everyone is smiling and happy and they lean over to push upwards, carry on their back or poke fingers at this tower in perspective pictures.  It’s contagious.  If you don’t do these crazy pics you will be the odd ball out.

Pisa Tower was restored in 2001 but is still leaning.  The top’s center leans almost 13 feet from the base’s center.

pisa leaning tower italy
pisa leaning tower italy
pisa leaning tower italy

To climb the Pisa Tower, book tickets ahead or you can pay at the entrance ($18 euros).  I advise to purchase in advance if you are here in peak summer months.  Or if you want to save time standing in line.  It seems there is always a line to climb the Tower.

In addition to the Pisa Tower (which is actually the bell tower to the cathedral), there is a cathedral, cemetery and baptistery on the Piazza del Duomo complex.  For admission prices, visit


pisa leaning tower italy
pisa leaning tower italy

Surrounding the Piazza del Duomo are an infinite number of vendors selling souvenirs and handbags. Pick something up to commemorate your visit.  If you fancy a coffee, there’s a McDonalds that is on the Piazza perimeter.

Getting to/from:

From Florence, buy a train ticket from SMN train station to Pisa Centrale station.  There’s a train every 30 minutes and it’s $14 euro round trip or $7 euro one way.  No need to buy tickets ahead of time because there isn’t a discount for advance purchase.

Once you arrive in Pisa, take a local bus #4 or Lam Rossa to Pisa Tower.  Although I went straight to the tower, the town looked very walkable and interesting.  If you have the time, check it out.

Leaning Tower of Pisa

Piazza del Duomo

Soak in the Tuscan sun in Siena, Italy

Soak in the Tuscan sun in Siena, Italy

Siena is a medieval city in the Tuscan hills.  It is considered a sister city to Florence.  There is a rivalry between the two cities dating back centuries for which one is more artistic and cultural.  While both are beautiful, Florence is a larger city with more to do.  You can visit Siena in a day or two.  That said, I found Siena to be elegant, calm, less touristy and wonderful to wander.

Upon arriving in this beautiful Tuscan town, you will catch glimpses of the beautiful red brick that makes Siena so distinctive.  The bus will have a few stops but will eventually drop you off at the top of the city (Piazza Gramsci).  From there, start walking into the center.  If you notice yourself walking upwards and downwards and sometimes in a circular path, that is because this town is nestled in the hills.

Siena’s historic center is designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

At the center is the Piazza del Campo or town square that is actually a fan shape.  It slopes downward towards the Palazzo Pubblico or town hall.  Climb 500 steps to the top of the bell tower for a view of Siena and the campo ($10 euros).

Surrounding the campo are cafes.  It seems that everyone is outside, sitting in the middle of the campo, sunning, café lounging and eating gelato.

During the summer, twice a year, in July and August, there is a traditional, medieval horse race that takes place in the center of the campo.  It’s called Palio of Siena.  The city’s 17 neighborhoods, represented by a “palio” or banner compete for the win.

Be sure to visit the cathedral and duomo.  The structure is gothic architecture and beautifully intricate.

This medieval city is perfectly suited for you to wander and let lost in.  The narrow, cobblestone streets are beautiful and there are numerous cafes and shops selling Tuscan-made food, pottery and retail items.

Getting to/from:

Bus:  Take the blue Sita bus from the bus station next to SMN train terminal (in Florence).  Try to take an early bus out as there can be traffic en route.  Florence to Siena is an hour and a half with no traffic.  The bus will drop you off in Piazza Gramsci which is inside the city walls.

Siena can also be accessed by bus from Pisa airport.

Train:  Take the train to Siena train station.  Note that the train station is outside of Siena city walls at the bottom of a hill.  There are also buses from the train station to city center (Piazza Gramsci).

Car:  Driving is also an option.  However, you will have to park outside the city walls as cars are not allowed inside the city.

Piazza del Campo

Piazza Gramsci

Duomo Siena

Why Villa D’Este is the perfect day trip from Rome

Why Villa D’Este is the perfect day trip from Rome

Explore the Roman countryside via Villa D’Este in Tivoli. This town is on the outskirts of Rome and makes for the perfect day trip. Tivoli is easily accessible.  Once there, you have a choice of several sights: Villa D’Este, Villa Gregoriana or Villa Adriana.

Villa D’Este:

During my visit (in May), the citrus trees, irises and roses were in full bloom. The smell was heavenly.

Admission: $8 euro Nov-Apr / $11 euro otherwise.

Once you enter, view the hand painted walls of main villa. In some cases, you can’t tell if there is an actual door, window or painting there or if it is a painting.

Villa D'Este mural
Villa D'Este mural
Villa D'Este mural
Villa D'Este Mural
Villa D'Este Villa
Villa D'Este Mural
Villa D'Este Mural

Descend down sloped steps into the garden. There are numerous fountains throughout the garden with jets of water gushing.

Villa D'Este view
Villa D'Este citrus
Villa D'Este sloping garden

Below are square pools of water and the premises are lined with citrus trees, irises and roses.

Villa D'Este entry
Villa D'Este building
Villa D'Este irises
Villa D'Este fountain
Villa D'Este pools
Villa D'Este fountain
Villa D'Este fountain
Villa D'Este roses

The best part of this experience was that there weren’t swarms of tourists. I felt like I had the garden to myself. My arrival was more in the afternoon – around 3pm – so maybe that’s why.

There is also a musical component to the water in the fountains but for some reason, I don’t recall it. I’m sure that would be wonderful.

Villa D'Este view
Villa D'Este entryway
Villa D'Este slope
Villa D'Este statue
Villa D'Este countryside

Villa D’este closes 1 hour before sunset (6:30pm in May). When we left the villa, many of the souvenir shops had also closed. So make sure that you plan your sights according to close times in order to give yourself enough time to enjoy wandering and souvenir shopping.

Getting to/from Villa D’este:

Take the metro Line B to Ponte Mammolo. Exit the station and locate the blue Cortal bus to Tivoli. Round trip is $4.4 euro. Buy a ticket in the snack shop. There is frequent departures with both an express bus and a local bus. I missed the express and ended up taking the local which took 45-60 minutes.

Upon arrival, walk toward the sight you are planning to see first or towards the center of town. There are cafes, souvenir shops, etc.  Villa D’Este (and Villa Gregoriana) are both in Tivoli within walking distance. There are signs pointing to the various sights’ direction.

To get to Villa Adriana, a bus change is needed (orange bus #4).

Villa Gregoriana

Villa D'Este