Not Your Grandma’s Bus Tour of Italy, Day I

View from hotel in Venice

View from hotel in Venice

This is the first installment in a seven-part series following writer Cynthia Cunniff through her experience of touring Italy with Insight Vacations. Head back to the series home page for the full Italy experience—or jump straight over to Day 2Day 3Day 4Day 5Day 6 or Day 7 of the tour.



My  travel rep was waiting at Rome’s Fumincello airport for me and some of the other U.S. writers and soon had us on a large luxurious bus headed to our hotel in Rome.

The is rated a five-star property—and wow. In the early 1900s Queen Margherita of Savoy used the property as a temporary home. The hotel is in fact palatial, and the elegance of Queen Margherita’s time there remains, but with the added bonus of modern amenities. The grand foyer includes a huge Murano chandelier and a sweeping staircase that would be Scarlet O’Hara-approved. The accommodations are grandiose and beautifully stylish.

Tip: In Italy, the shower and sink faucets are marked “C” and “F” – the “C” stands for caldo, which is translated as hot.

Step Aside Cliff Klaven….

Royal decor at Regina Hotel Baglioni

Royal decor at Regina Hotel Baglioni

Upon my arrival at the hotel, I met Belinda (cue angelic music here), the goddess guide, the empress of historic Italy, and as I would come to learn a very good olive grower/picker/person as well—our tour guide. I had arrived before most of the group of 29 people, so I had the afternoon in Rome to myself. Belinda set up a meet-and-greet table at the entryway of the hotel and cheerfully let me know how to get to the Villa Borghese Gardens. She also suggested the Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini church, which was conveniently down the street from our hotel.

I decided to combat jet lag by taking a run through Villa Borghese Gardens. As is typical, November in Rome can be rainy, but I came prepared and found that running gave me a great overview of the gardens and its leaf-lined paths leading to hidden treasures of artwork, fountains, museums, cafés and even tombs.

Statue in Bourghese

Statue in Villa Borghese Gardens

Travel in the offseason is something I recommend, particularly in Europe. The crowds are smaller, there’s less touristy junk being pandered and if you pack smartly, you will be completely comfortable. The high season can be extremely hot and humid—yet another good reason to show up in November instead of July. For me, the glistening cobblestones, colorful umbrellas and nip in the air added to the magic of Rome.

At Belinda’s suggestion, I checked out the crypts comprised of human skeletons at Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini. It was macabre, but the type of unusual thing I seek to discover when on the road. No pictures are allowed in the actual crypt and you must purchase a €6 ticket to enter the museum which leads into the crypt area. It was a creepy experience, but I’m sure others would find it interesting. The idea of displays made out of human remains completely grossed me out—and at one point I looked up and a few feet above my head was a chandelier made of human clavicles. Blech, but glad I did it anyway.

Fun Fact:  The many fountains of Rome are fed by 2,000-year-old aquaducts and the water is still drinkable. So, help yourself…just no backwashing.

Palatine Rome

Palatine Rome

The day was capped off with the official start of the tour. This is where “I” became “we” and the en masse travel began. Not a blue hair in the group, and much to the opposite, high energy, interesting folks from several different countries. Belinda took us for an evening stroll through Palatine Rome dating back to 753 B.C.- a sprawling expanse which was the start of Roman culture. Located within a few city blocks, The Palatine is arguably one of the most condense areas of ancient times in the world. Layers of history were before us; Caeser being stabbed, the vestal virgins protecting the eternal flame, Nero burning Rome, and on and on. The architecture, sculpture and grandeur are overwhelmingly big—the message of “you are merely an itty-bitty little mortal” still resonates.

Tip:  The bus has a big stash of Mary Poppins-sized umbrellas, but I found a mini umbrella that fit into my jacket pocket or purse was ideal and less hassle to carry around.

Before I travel, I usually research the history on the area where I’m headed, but this trip was one where that work wasn’t necessary. Belinda’s commentary was so much more than top-line, her sense of history, science, and more importantly, her deep love for Italy was evident in every passionate piece of information. The level of her knowledge was professorial, but never delivered in a dry “Buehler, Buehler, Buehler” fashion. She related what we were seeing to historic everyday man, woman and child and gave us a path into the past that was almost tangible.

Roman cafe Piazza Navona

Piazza Navona

Something nerdy cool we did on the first night of tour was a dinner at the elegant near Piazza Navona that included lively operetta right at our table. The singer and pianist were lighthearted and the familiar pieces were kept just short enough to be engaging even for non-opera lovers.

This is the first installment in a seven-part series following writer Cynthia Cunniff through her experience of touring Italy with Insight Vacations. Head back to the series home page for the full Italy experience—or jump straight over to Day 2Day 3Day 4Day 5Day 6 or Day 7 of the tour.

Cynthia Cunniff

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About the Author

Cynthia Cunniff
Cynthia Cunniff’s writing background spans magazine editorial, travel blogging, marketing and PR. She’s a graduate of the creative writing program at CSU Long Beach and went on to UCLA to further her writing skills. Growing up as a military dependent, she lived in several foreign countries and areas of the US. Post college she returned to international living and resided in London for close to a decade, where she took advantage of proximity to the rest of Europe and traveled extensively. She currently lives in the beautiful South Bay of Los Angeles, and can be found on Twitter and Instagram @localpathworld.

6 Comments on "Not Your Grandma’s Bus Tour of Italy, Day I"

  1. I’ve never taken a tour for any of my travels but this gives me hope that it could be a good thing and a good choice. Great insight. Thanks!

  2. We were planning Italy for spring break, so this is cool to read…thanks cynthia

    • You will have a wonderful time. Let me know if you have any questions. @localpathworld

      • what you reviewed here was an Insight Gold tour not a normal Insight tour. the hotels you stayed at are not used for regular Insight tours only the Gold tours which cost about the same as Tauck tours $5k-$6k. The evening excursions are optional and extra on the standard tours for example the Venice evening you had costs 53 euro extra, the walking trip you mention costs about 30 euro. This review was very misleading to say the least and either by accident or deceit was very misleading to the average reader. As a travel agent I feel justified in taking you to task on this.

  3. Well written review, however what you are reviewing is an Insight “GOLD” FAMiliarity trip for travel writers. This is not what you will get from a normal Insight tour of Italy. The hotels you stayed at only show up on the GOLD trips which are in the same price range as Tauck tours. The evening excursion you took in Rome costs somewhere in the 33 euro range and as an option to a regular Insight tour. In Venice The evening dinner is listed at 53 Euros or about $100 pp. I believe this review is very misleading to the average reader and shows one of two things, you didn’t do your homework or you lack honesty. As a travel agent I feel completely comfortable taking you to task. If it is an Insight tour, review an Insight tour. If it is an Insight “Gold” tour review it as such. There is a big difference between a $3500 tour and a $5000+ tour.

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