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ArabiGuides – Roma!

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ArabiGuide: Rome

Rome is the capital city of Italy and is a major UNESCO World Heritage Site. Gorgeous piazzas, stunning ancient architecture, shopping, and food – Rome has rightly earned its place as one of Europe’s most influential and beautiful capital cities. We’ve put together a very small guide for the ‘Eternal City’ – there’s an incredible amount to do in Rome and there’s no way to do it justice in a blog post!

Getting to Rome

Currently, Emirates and Alitalia fly direct to Rome (Leonardo da Vinci/Fiumicino). The airport is a little way out of the city. Taxis operate the route for a fixed charge of €48 each way but arguably (for singles/couples) the best way to get to the centre of Rome is the ‘Leonardo Express train. This train operates every 30 minutes and costs €14-15 each way. The train arrives at Roma Termini station which is very, very central.  If you’re in a group then you may find it’s more cost effective to share a taxi. There are also bus services but these tend to be a fair bit slower.

Getting around Rome

Driving in Rome is NOT for the faint-hearted. The traffic can be chaotic and the roads don’t always follow a very logical pattern. A great option is the Roma Pass which allows the holder to use unlimited public transport for €30 as well as giving you 2 free museum entries and further discounts on additional museums and galleries.

Public transport (ATAC) is very decent in Rome – buses and Metro trains run on time, are generally clean and are very cost effective. Tickets must be bought at a ‘Tabacchi, or from an automated machine or a ticket window at the station. Tickets have to be bought before travel.

Walking around Rome is a great option as well – there’s just SO much to see that you can miss a lot by relying on public transport. Be aware, however, that many streets are cobbled so this can make pushchair/wheelchair access a little tricky.

What to see

First and foremost on your list of things to see in Rome should be historical architecture – a given for a city that has 2,500 years of history! There are far, far more things to see than we could possibly write in a blog post but don’t miss out on the Coliseum, the Appian Way, Circus Maximus, the Pantheon and the Roman Forum as well as a huge range of other ancient Roman ruins. These areas are home to some of the finest ancient architecture in the world and should always be seen when you go to Rome.

Rome is also home to a massive range of churches (at least 900) and has an incredible range of architecture, design and feeling. Take note: some churches require a certain dress code. If in doubt, dress modestly when visiting.

Rome is home to an incredible amount of museums. The Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel are a particular highlight and should not be missed. There’s also Museo Nazionale di Villa Giulia (Etruscan art), Galleria Borghese (private collection of the Borghese family) and Galleria Nazionale (all forms of Italian art).

Rome’s narrow streets often open out into piazzas. These squares usually contain social areas, restaurants and fountains and are a fantastic way to spend a few hours. In the modern centre, be sure to visit Fontana di Trevi for possibly the world’s most beautiful fountain. Other great piazzas to visit include, but are not limited to: Piazza Navona, Piazza della Rotonda and Piazza Farnese.

Rome is home to some great parks – the highlight being Villa Borghese. These sprawling, landscaped parks contain a number of gorgeous buildings and museums and spread over an area of approximately 150 acres. Easily one of Rome’s best places to take a picnic.

What to do

Probably the best thing to do in Rome is to just walk around and take in the sights but there’s a range of great activities to suit all tastes. Want to see a very hip Roman neighbourhood? Visit Trastevere for an incredible range of cafes and trattorias. The football fans among us can take in a game at Stadio Olimpico home to A.S. Roma as well as S.S. Lazio. Rome is also home to a wide range of opera and theatre, though, you will need to know Italian to enjoy these to their fullest. TimeOut Rome also has great event listings.

Summer and early autumn are home to great events and festivals including Notta Bianca (White Night) and the Estate Romana Festival (Roman Summer Festival).

Rome is divided into several districts:

  • Modern Centre – hotels, shopping, dining, Via Veneto, Trevi Fountain and Barberini.
  • Old Rome – squares, cathedrals, the Pantheon and dining
  • Vatican – The Papal City State, sights, relics and museums
  • Colosseo – heart of Ancient Rome, Colosseum, Roman forum, the Capitoline
  • North Centre – Villa Borghese, Spanish Steps, elegant neighbourhoods
  • Trastevere – the centre of Rome’s artistic life
  • Aventino-Testaccio – off the beaten path with great food
  • Esquilion-San Giovanni – markets and piazzas
  • Nomentano – vibrant night life

What to eat

Rome is crammed full of great restaurants but do look off the beaten path to find the best cuisine that Rome has to offer. Pizza al Taglio shops (literally ‘pizza by the slice’) make an economical and delicious lunch and don’t miss out of spaghetti carbonara – a true Roman dish.

It sounds obvious, but look for restaurants where Italian people to eat to get the best food (and the best price). Rome does have a few tourist trap restaurants and these, whilst still decent, are not as good as the true Roman experience. The centre of Rome can be very expensive for dining – look outside of the centre.

Where to sleep

It’s not hard to find Rome hotels and there’s a huge range of hotels catering for all tastes and costs. Renting short term apartments is also hugely popular and we’re more than happy to help you arrange this option too.

For reference, Rome’s city council introduced an accommodation tax. This is equivalent to €2 per night per person (up to a 3* hotel) and €3 per night person (for 4/5* hotels). This tax is used to pay for maintenance of Rome’s ruins and can ONLY be paid in cash.

What to be aware of

Pickpocketing can, and does, happen. Tourists should also be aware of certain scams that are often carried out. From wikitravel.org:

A recent scam involves men working near the Spanish Steps, around Piazza Navona, and outside of the Colosseum. They approach you, asking where you are from, and begin to tie bracelets around your wrists. When they are done they will try to charge you upwards of €20 for each bracelet. If anyone makes any attempt to reach for your hand, retract quickly. If you get trapped, you can refuse to pay, but this may not be wise if there are not many people around. Carry small bills or just change, in your wallet, so if you find yourself in cornered to pay for the bracelet, you can convince them that €1 or €2 is all you have.

When taking a taxi, be sure to remember license number written on the car door. In seconds, people have had a taxi bill risen by €10 or even more. When giving money to taxi driver, be careful.

Around tourist sites like the Trevi Fountain, Colosseum and the Spanish Steps there are groups mostly of men trying to sell cheap souvenirs. They may also carry roses and say they are giving you a gift because they like you but the minute you take their ‘gift’ they demand money. They are often very insistent and often the only way to get rid of them is to be plain rude. Do the best you can to not take their “gifts” as they will follow you around asking for money. Simply saying “no” or “go away” will get them off your back until the next vendor comes up to you.

Whilst scams and pickpocketing do occur, if you use your common sense then you should be absolutely fine.

 

 

Our fantastic team of leisure consultants are more than able to expertly plan your adventure to Rome. This blog post is definitely not exhaustive and there’s plenty more to discuss regarding Italy’s capital city. Give us a call on 04 343 3929!

 

 

Salalah Offer in Oman

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Salalah Offer in Oman

Something nice for you all today. Not many people realise what a great little getaway Salalah can be – home to lovely, explorable wadis, UNESCO sites and the frankincense souk, Salalah makes a great weekend getaway for those who are looking for something slightly off the beaten track.

This offer is AED1,999 per person (twin sharing basis), for 3 nights and has flights included! Bargain.

Valid until 6th April 2013.


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The Platinum Heritage Experience

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At Al Arabi Travel Agency, we’re always on the lookout for great new suppliers to work with. We recently became a partner of Platinum Heritage and we’re incredibly excited to be selling their products.

One of the most common consumer complaints about desert safaris is that they’re just not authentic enough. This is where Platinum Heritage strives to be different and they very kindly invited us along on Friday 15th February to see their set-up (for reference, we attended an adjusted ‘Heritage Dinner Safari’, though we also got to see aspects of the Platinum setup).

We set out from Dubai around 3:30pm and arrived in the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve (near Al Maha) a little while later. The first thing that struck us was that the company doesn’t use Land Cruisers like most desert safari companies, rather, they use a Mercedes G-Wagon or vintage Land Rovers depending on which package you choose. We experienced both of these vehicles – the G-Wagon was the epitomisation of luxury but the Land Rovers were great fun as well. Open top, old school – just a brilliant way to see the Reserve.

Dune bashing does NOT feature with Platinum Heritage. They take a very careful attitude towards sustainability and conservation so as a result the cars do not charge around the desert. The reserve is home to around 400 Arabian Oryx and countless gazelle as well as desert foxes and hares, so the company steers clear of dune bashing in order to maintain the beauty of the environment as well as the safety of the local fauna.

Somewhat surprisingly, I’ve lived in the UAE for 13 years and have never seen an Arabian Oryx so it was a joy to be able to see these animals in their natural habitat. They were quite used to seeing cars so it gave us a great opportunity for the animal to be calm and for us to observe them in their environment.

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Our desert guide was incredibly knowledgeable. Platinum Heritage staff are trained to be knowledgeable,  insightful and the respect they have for the desert really shines through. Our guide could name every plant, could spot every track and his keen eye ensured that he’d always point out the animals. One of the nicest moments came after we had seen the oryx – we managed to spot a herd of around 40 gazelles that were running full pelt across the dunes. They were incredibly fast and I, sadly, wasn’t able to get a picture of the entire herd.

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The game drive is one of the most obvious differences in what Platinum Heritage does. Almost every other desert safari company can’t offer this (partly due to the fact that only certain companies are allowed access to the reserve) and it really was one of the highlights of the trip. Here’s the G-Wagon that we were in for the game drive (I managed to make it to the top of a steep dune to take the photo):

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After we had our turn in the Mercedes it was time to go in the vintage Land Rovers. I LOVED the G-Wagon but there was something absolutely brilliant about the Land Rovers. It’s probably a bit of nostalgia as my first car was an early model Jeep Wrangler and the Land Rovers reminded me of that car quite a lot (note to self: buy another old Wrangler in the future).

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Next, we were taken to see a falconry display. Most of Platinum Heritage’s falconry team hail from South Africa and are incredibly well-versed in the falcons. It’s easy to see that the guys have a true passion for falconry and are very dedicated to keeping the art form alive.

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The falconry team also had a 5 week old desert eagle owl with them as well – possibly the sweetest thing I’ve ever seen. It was just at the point where it was learning to fly but could only glide about 4-5m at a time; they told us that he’d probably be flying within a week or two.

The peregrine falcon (named Summer) was stunning. Until you see it in real life, you just can’t believe how fast these birds are. They have a top speed of around 300 km/h and you really need to watch carefully as they attempt to hunt the bait. It was particularly interesting how Summer used the group of people to aid in the hunting – she’d fly high in the air before diving back down behind the assembled group and then would pop up from behind the people in order to surprise the bait. It was a great experience and the falconry team made the whole thing incredibly interesting.

At this point we went back to camp where we were greeted with beautiful Arabic coffee as well as wash cloths – the Land Rovers, being open top, could be a little dusty so if you’re sensitive to dust I’d recommend taking something to cover your nose and mouth during the drive as well as wearing sunglasses.

The camp is COMPLETELY different to those offered by cheaper operators. The cheap operators usually have enormous shared camps with hundreds of people but Platinum Heritage offers a much more intimate experience (the camp has a maximum of around 40 people). It’s calm, tranquil and peaceful – you really feel as if you’ve gotten away from the city.

After our welcome, we were shown the traditional ways to make coffee and henna was available for those who wanted it. A shisha area was freely available as well.

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Dinner! Again, a complaint that’s often voiced in regards to cheaper operators is the quality of the food. No such complaints here – dinner was a 4 course meal which all tasted incredibly authentic. First, we had a wonderful spicy lentil soup before being seated at private tables:

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Our second starter consisted of traditional arabic mezze such as kibbeh, hommous, fattoush, sambousek and tabbouleh. However, the main event came after this – we were treated to ouzi, an incredibly flavoursome lamb dish. The lamb is baked in the ground for 6hrs, and served with lamb rice or a vegetable rice. There was also chicken tikka skewers and shish tawook. A full vegetarian option is available but as well but you will need to inform Platinum Heritage (or ourselves) in advance.

The food was genuinely superb – much, much better than the cheaper safari operators can offer and we were able to enjoy it totally at our own pace without being rushed through a buffet station.

After dinner, most of us moved to the shisha lounge for shisha and dessert. Dessert consisted of fresh fruits and luqaimat, which was a great option after a filling dinner. We were entertained by a traditional Emirati dancer (not a belly dancer).

After we had relaxed, we went to view an aspect of the Platinum experience before we left the camp. The Platinum heritage is, essentially, the ultimate VIP experience. The camp is completely private (a maximum of 12 people) – imagine a dining table and majlis, just for you, in the middle of the desert, and you’re pretty close to imagining how it looks. I did try to take pictures but it was very dimly lit (want to make an amazing proposal? This is definitely the spot, so romantic) so my phone didn’t really take very good photos.

As well as the ultimate in desert privacy, you also get a 6-course dinner which you decide before the trip. The Platinum side of the business is essentially all about you; personalisation and privacy.

So that pretty much sums up our Platinum Heritage experience and it’s highly recommended. In terms of pricing it doesn’t actually work out a huge amount more than cheaper operators. The Heritage Dinner Safari that we went on costs AED495 for adults, AED395 for children (call us for bookings) and is well worth the money.  Platinum Heritage has a huge range of packages so please get in contact for a full breakdown.

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