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Report From Europe
Our reporters discovered in four European capitals that now may be the best time to visit.

With many Americans spooked about traveling abroad these days, visitors to Europe will have prime attractions, like Rome’s Spanish Steps, almost to themselves. (Gary Lee)


_____From the Archives_____
• Previous Europe Articles
• Previous Europe Photo Galleries

_____Discussion Transcript_____
• European Travel With Rick Steves (11/14/01)

_____Transcripts_____
live online • U.S. Bureau chief for The Guardian (UK) Martin Kettle on Britain's support for America after September 11
• Former chairman of the Joint Chiefs and ambassador to England Adm. William J. Crowe (USN-Ret.): European political and military responses
• Post London Correspondent T.R.Reid :The British reaction

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By Steve Hendrix, K.C. Summers, Gary Lee and Cindy Loose
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, November 18, 2001; Page E01

London’s Not Falling

By Steve Hendrix

In Covent Garden's Jubilee Market, the midday Saturday crowd is as thick as the Tube at rush hour. Shoppers turn sideways to squeeze along the stalls of hand-knitted jumpers, vintage postcards, painted cloisonne.

Still, "It's dead today," enamel artist Bill Harris shouts above the babble of hagglers. "Really. I've seen it so full that you're actually carried along by the flow."

Later that afternoon, at the London Eye – the 440-foot-high observation wheel on the south bank of the Thames built to mark the millennium – visitors are pouring into the ticket office only to find the next available boarding time is almost five hours later. And even then they will face a winding, 40-minute wait in line to climb into one of the slowly revolving cars.

"Yeah, it's quiet," complains a Londoner in a purple blazer and a fistful of brochures who is barking up business for a purple double-decker tour bus. Just across the river, the filigreed spires of Westminster are a bristle of black against the low November sun.

That night, Leicester Square is gorged with theatergoers and pub-crawlers. At a trendy hot spot restaurant called the Red Cube, the rope line is getting ugly. Six or seven would-be diners argue with an implacable doorman. Inside, along the bar crowded with high-styling young Europeans, Kathryn Milofsky, a British television producer, laments the current state of tourism. "No one is coming to London," she says.

This is quiet? This is dead? This is London in a slump?

The statistics tell one story – flights across the North Atlantic are down 30 percent, and those flying are taking off with lots of empty seats. Americans and Japanese particularly are absent at a time when preholiday shoppers from Atlanta and Osaka should be elbowing each other to get through Heathrow. Restaurateurs and tour guides – already coming off a summer lost to the foot-and-mouth scare – have seen another sharp falloff since Sept. 11. Hotels and West End theaters have been especially hard hit. Hilton reports a 20 percent decline; some shows – "Peggy Sue Got Married," "Notre Dame de Paris" – have already gone dark.

But from a visitor's point of view, if you actually come to London you're hard-pressed to find any corner of the city that could pass for quiet. A week ago Saturday, the crowd exiting the Leicester Square Tube station was so thick there was a five-minute pedestrian backup on the stairs. The sidewalks around Piccadilly Circus, Oxford Street and Knightsbridge were gridlocked during shopping hours, mostly with the young travelers from Italy, Germany and Spain who have made London the weekend capital of Europe.

"At the moment, London is easily the liveliest city in Europe," says Michael Prest, a business consultant with offices in Covent Garden, where the piazza at lunchtime is filled with street musicians and strollers. "That's true even if fewer Americans are making the trip."

It may be a historically cheap time to fly here and stay in a tourist hotel, but don't expect to have Trafalgar Square to yourself – or Pall Mall or the Tower. "There are still quite a few people about," says a Yeoman Warden at the Tower of London. In his black tunic and red-trimmed round hat, he's watching latecomers rush to join the still-formidable line to view the crown jewels. He's also listening to the radio, which is broadcasting the first reports of the American Airlines crash in New York. "And before this, I think even the Americans were starting to come back a bit."

It is, in fact, a good time to visit London. The crowds – though still robust – are at least smaller than usual. The cost of getting here has plummeted. (There aren't many bargains once you hit the ground in this expensive city, but there are many more half-price theater tickets available at the tkts booth, even for top shows like "Kiss Me Kate" and "Mamma Mia.") And most important, if you haven't been in a while, you'll find that London – like New York – has reinvented itself in recent years.

At the Globe Theatre, the loving replica of Shakespeare's playhouse, the small auditorium where tours begin is packed to overflowing. Among the crowd waiting to tread the Bard's boards (or reasonable facsimiles thereof) are Linda and Andy Boss of St. Paul, Minn. After Sept. 11, their decision to carry through with plans for a weekend visit to London was helped when their airline agreed to partly match the new cheaper fares that have recently appeared.

"We're glad we came," says Linda. "People have been particularly nice to us when they hear we're Americans. Our concierge called a lot of places and got us tickets to both 'The Royal Family' and 'Chicago.'‚"

They are Americans in London, even if there are fewer of the tourists who scoop up so many of the theater tickets (Americans account for 10 percent of theater sales). At Moat House Drury Lane – a charmless but perfectly located hotel in the theater district – half of the accents in the breakfast room seem to be American. And at the newly rebuilt British Museum a few blocks away, numerous tourists in Yankee ball caps and U.S. college sweatshirts are lined up to see the Egyptian mummies, Greek vases and Roman architectural sculptures.

The museum itself may be the biggest draw. The open inner courtyard has been enclosed beneath a parabolic glass ceiling, and the crowds, numbering in the thousands, are dwarfed by the smart, majestic space. More visitors are strolling in, unimpeded by the guards at the door. In fact, in almost 30 tourist attractions, department stores, restaurants and clubs I visited over three days, only one examined bags – the Imperial War Museum. Likewise at Heathrow, the time through immigration and customs amounted to less than 10 minutes. The extra security officials say is in place is certainly unobtrusive.

"We're not worried at all being here," says Adelaide Hall of Ronkonkoma, N.Y. "Come on, we're from New York!" Hall and a friend are here on a six-day package that cost about $360 each for airfare and hotel. "We've already spent more than that walking around."

It's easy to do. Within the mesmerizing Food Halls at Harrods, for example, a couple of pounds of classic British Stilton and a bottle or two of mature port could inflict a $200 wound on your Visa card. And you have to take a number to do it. "We're busy," says a harried clerk at the cheese counter. "But we are missing the Americans." Upstairs, at the special "luxury" washrooms, an embarrassed attendant is asking petitioners for a Harrods charge card or evidence that they've spent more than 100 pounds. Otherwise, it's about $1.50 just to walk in (there are free, less opulent bathrooms as well).

Even at less famously posh venues, London costs a lot. A simple mussels-and-sausage dinner for one at Belgo – a popular students' spot in Covent Garden – runs more than $40. An A-list restaurant can easily run three times that, if you can get in. Milofsky, the television producer, called eight of London's current hot spots before she got a tentative promise of a table at Red Cube. "I called Momo, Mezzo, the Atlantic Bar, the Ivy, Langan's, the Zink Bar, Nobu," she says. "None of them could do it last-minute."

Worse, a few minutes later, even the Red Cube table fell through, as every reservation had shown up.

"Rotten luck," says Milofsky, as she put on her coat and headed for a curry house around the corner. "You'd never know that tourism has collapsed, would you?"

DETAILS: London

GETTING THERE: Fares to London are plummeting across the board. Virgin Atlantic and British Air, for example, are offering $356 round-trip fares for December travel, including taxes.

PACKAGES: For winter travel, Virgin Atlantic Vacations (888-658-4744, www.virgin-vacations.com) is offering round-trip air from Washington, six nights' hotel and breakfast for $399. With taxes, the total comes to about $535. For mid-January travel, Gate One Travel (800-682-3333, www.gate1travel.com) is promoting a similar package in mid-January for about $500.

WHERE TO STAY: ASA Tours (011-44-20-7388-4443, www.asatours.co.uk) is like the Quikbook of England, offering sharp discounts at 500-plus hotels. Its choices range from "budget student" ($50 for a single with shared shower) to luxury ($150 for a room on Bond Street, with monogrammed bathrobes and a trouser press). In between are moderately priced options in some of London's best areas.

Thistle Hotels, a chain of four-star hotels, offers discounts (some up to half off) on its London properties, as well as theater and holiday packages. Check www.thistlehotels.com for e-deals, or call 800-847-4358. For B&Bs, haunted inns and more, contact the British Tourist Authority (see below).

TIPS: For half-priced tickets to West End theaters, the tkts booth in Leicester Square posts day-of bargains for evening shows and matinees . . . For unlimited travel on the public transportation system, pick up a Visitor Travelcard from Rail Pass Express (800-722-7151, www.railpass.com) before you leave the States. Three-day cards cost $32; four-day and week-long passes also available . . . With the London Pass (011-44-1664-500-107, www.londonpass.com), you can access more than 60 of the city's star attractions with just a flash of a card. One-day passes cost $28, or $35 with transportation; multiday passes also available . . . For weekend shopping, Spitalfields Market, near the Liverpool Street Tube station, is a hipper, less-crowded alternative to Camden Market.

INFORMATION: British Tourist Authority, 800-462-2748, www.visitbritain.com.

Few Americans in Paris

By K.C. Summers

There are so few Americans in Paris right now that you can zip into the Louvre and have the Mona Lisa all to yourself. You can wander around the Luxembourg Gardens on a Sunday afternoon and hear only French spoken. You are warmly welcomed by the Parisians, who break into broad smiles when they discover that you are American. Okay, I made that last sentence up. The French are still the French, after all. They may be glad to see us, but they'd never actually admit it.

Fall is the best time to visit Paris – fewer crowds, lower prices, invigorating weather. And just now, the City of Light is especially appealing. The dollar is strong. Sidewalk cafes are draped and heated for winter. The people-watching is as great as ever. The Catherine Deneuve look-alikes in their high-heeled boots! The little dogs in their new autumn outerwear!

But Americans aren't buying it. In the aftermath of Sept. 11, U.S. visitors to Paris have dropped by 50 percent, according to Aline Carasso, spokeswoman for the Paris Tourist Office. Tourism overall is down 20 percent. It's understandable: Many people are afraid to fly, and the State Department's "worldwide caution" warning Americans of the risk of terrorist attacks abroad has made many nervous about transatlantic travel.

But think about it. Wouldn't just about any tourist destination in the world feel safer than the East Coast right now?

I have a dish of candy on my desk at work. Someone just asked if it was Cipro. 'Nuff said.

"It is very safe here," the desk clerk at the Hotel Verneuil said soothingly, as she checked me in just over a week ago. The small Left Bank hotel has received many cancellations since the attacks, she said, although it has been able to fill those vacancies from a long waiting list. In any case, she insisted, Paris is perfectly safe. "We have more security, more policemen. You don't see them, because they are in plain clothes, so you are not scared. But they are there."

Yes, they are, and sometimes they're dressed in camo and carrying automatic weapons, which can be either comforting or unnerving, depending on your point of view. The city's anti-terrorist security program, known as Vigipirate, has put 7,000 soldiers and police officers on the streets and in train stations, airports and Metro stations. Other security measures in effect:

Metal trash cans throughout the city have been replaced by transparent plastic bags suspended from poles.

Automatic lockers in train stations have been closed.

People entering department stores and museums must submit to handbag and luggage inspections.

National museums are patrolled inside and out, and all visitors must pass through metal detectors and have their handbags and backpacks inspected.

This last directive sounds like a formula for long lines, but on a Friday afternoon at the Louvre, it took only about five minutes for a handful of visitors to pass through a metal detector and run their bags through an X-ray machine. Purses and backpacks were hand-inspected, but only cursorily. Then we pretty much had the run of the place. The crowd was largely French, with a smattering of other Europeans – Germans, mostly – and Japanese. Americans were conspicuously absent, which was fine with me. Much as I love my fellow countrymen, it was lovely to ogle the Winged Victory in peace.

It was the same story the next morning at the Eiffel Tower, but on a larger scale. On a sunny Saturday, Paris's most popular tourist attraction was thronged with visitors. Most were speaking French or German. When you did hear English, it tended to be attached to a Brit, Canadian or Australian.

"There are so few Americans here," marveled Katherine Roche, 25, from Brisbane, Australia, who was spending a month traveling around Europe. Did flying faze her? "It took me 40 hours to get here," she said. "I'm not worried."

Later that afternoon, at the Musee d'Orsay, about 100 people waited in line to view the stunning collection of French impressionist and postimpressionist artworks. Total wait to get through the metal-detector-and-handbag drill: 20 minutes. The comments swirling around the van Goghs, Monets, Renoirs and Manets were mostly in French.

The next day, de»jaΌ vu. Riding the Metro, tramping around Montmartre, strolling the Luxembourg Gardens, doing the sidewalk cafe thing at the Deux Magots – not a fanny pack in sight.

It was beginning to feel downright spooky. So when I spotted a quartet of fiftysomething women speaking "American" in a St. Germain des Pres bistro, I pounced.

It was the first day of their long-planned vacation, and two of them almost didn't make it. "I was absolutely petrified," said Janet Babcock, of Hilton Head, S.C. "We were off and on a million times," added her friend Gloria MacKinnon. "I was very apprehensive. I kept going back and forth."

But once they got here, they said, they were glad they came. "It's just the most incredible city," said Gail Phillips. "We just walk everywhere. We go down back streets and find these little churches – today we wandered into St. Thomas Aquinas and we all lit candles. You feel like you're in God's home."

Their tip for prospective travelers wondering whether to go to Europe: "Don't watch the news. It just makes you more paranoid."

With tourism and prices down, I knew this would be a perfect time to check out fancy restaurants that you'd ordinarily need to reserve months in advance for. But who was I kidding? What I really wanted was a smoky bistro with the menu on a chalkboard and dogs wandering around.

On my first night, a friend and I wandered into an unassuming neighborhood joint, only to get a lecture from the waitress about our miserable timing. It was 6:45 – way too early for dinner in Paris, but we were jet-lagged and desperate. We tried another place, with lace curtains and a handwritten menu in the window. There, the waitress kindly led us to a table and suggested steak frites.

We'd rather have soup, we said. And two glasses of wine.

"No soup! No glass of wine!"

"Salad, then?"

"No salade! No feesh! No cheeken!" She was beginning to sound like John Belushi. "NO MENU!" It would be steak frites and a bottle of wine, or nothing.

Too tired to argue, we stayed put – and were served a meal worth staying awake for. Le Relais de l'Entrecote's "famous sauce" (some kind of herbaceous concoction) turned a simple meal of steak and french fries into an epicurean delight. And it turned out we did need an entire bottle of wine.

It was clear that we'd stumbled into a place beloved by the locals. By the time we scarfed down our creme brulee, the restaurant had filled, with couples and young families and a few sturdy old-timers. When we left, at 9 o'clock, every seat was taken. We paid our bill, bundled up against the cold and strolled through the narrow streets to our hotel, full of good food and wine, happy to be in Paris.

DETAILS: Paris

GETTING THERE: United Airlines flies nonstop to Paris from Washington Dulles and is currently quoting a round-trip fare of $374, with restrictions. Check Orbitz, Travelocity or Expedia for even lower fares – I paid $330 on Orbitz two weeks ago.

PACKAGES: There are tons of good deals right now. United Vacations has a five-day package from Washington for $459, plus about $80 in taxes, that includes round-trip airfare on United or Lufthansa, four nights' lodging and daily breakfast – and they throw in 5,000 bonus miles. Details: 800-328-6877, www.unitedvacations.com/europemiles.htm (buy online and get an additional 1,000 miles).

EuroBound Tours is offering a five-day Paris Holiday Shopping package for $659, plus about $65 in taxes, that includes round-trip airfare on Air France from Dulles, four nights' accommodations at a three-star hotel, airport/hotel transfers, a three-day Metro pass, a city tour and a discount card for Le Printemps department store. Details: 888-672-7476, www.eurobound.com.

Air France has a four-day "Escapade to Paris" package for $685, including fees and taxes, from Washington that includes round-trip airfare, three nights' hotel, daily breakfast, a Seine River Cruise, a Paris city map, and a dining/shopping discount booklet. Travel by March 31. Details: 800-2-FRANCE (800-237-2623), www.airfrance.com.

WHERE TO STAY: The Hotel Verneuil (8 Rue de Verneuil, telephone 011-331-42-60-82-14, www.france-hotel-guide.com/h75007verneuil.htm) is a real find, housed in a 17th-century building on the Left Bank, with a cozy, book-filled sitting room and a great location just a few minutes' walk from the Musee D'Orsay, St. Germain des Pres, the Louvre, etc. The 26 guest rooms are charmingly decorated, with wonderful marble bathrooms. Rates start at $114 a night, double.

WHERE TO EAT: Three wonderful options on the Left Bank:

• Le Relais de l'Entrecote (20 Rue Saint-Benoit) has a terrific prix-fixe meal of salad, steak frites and dessert for about $17. With wine and coffee, the bill for two came to about $55.

• Au 35 Rue Jacob (35 Rue Jacob) is a classic Paris bistro, with the menu on a chalkboard, posters on the wall, and one smoky, noisy room seating about 30. Two can dine very well indeed for $70, including wine, coffee and dessert. The night we were there, specials included a delectable pumpkin soup with chestnuts, leg of lamb with garlic mashed potatoes, duck confit and sole meunieΌre.

• La Brasserie Saint-Benoit (26 Rue Saint-Benoit) is pretty and inviting, with velvet curtains, yellow-shaded lamps and damask tablecloths. The prix-fixe dinner of $13.50 includes a salad, such entrees as grilled lamb chops and salmon steak, and dessert. With wine and coffee, dinner for two runs about $50.

TIPS: Airport officials recommend getting to the airport three hours early for an international flight, but that was way too much time at both Washington Dulles and Charles de Gaulle . . . At CDG, due to heightened security, it now takes longer to get from the check-in area to Satellite 1, the gate area from which many U.S. flights leave . . . Buy a Carte Musees et Monuments for savings on admission to more than 60 art and cultural centers. It's sold at major museums, the tourist office on the Champs-Elysees and Metro stations. A one-day pass is $10; three days, $20; five days, $31. . . A carnet, or book, of 10 subway tickets costs about $7 at any Metro station.

INFORMATION: French Government Tourist Office, 410-286-8310, www.francetourism.com. Paris Office of Tourism, telephone 011-33-8-36-68-31-12, www.paris-touristoffice.com.

Rome Embraces Americans

By Gary Lee

It was late afternoon on the Spanish Steps, and the crowd was caught up in a Roman moment. Locals sporting the latest in Armani sunglasses basked in the sun at one of their city's most beloved gathering spots. A church group from Prague chattered of their morning visit to the Vatican. And nearby schoolchildren from Munich belted out a Bavarian tune. But when a lone American cyclist dressed in Levi's and a baseball cap made his way through the crowd, an oversized U.S. flag flapping behind his bike, everyone stopped and broke into fervent applause.

These days, travelers from the United States get points just for showing up in the Eternal City.

Not that the place is lacking for visitors. With churches decorated by Michelangeo and Caravaggio, the dazzling ancient haunts of emperors and gladiators, and the aroma of anchovies and fresh Parmesan wafting from corner trattorias everywhere, this is one destination that always draws travelers from somewhere. Even in late fall and winter, the combination of mild weather and awesome monuments makes it a favored getaway.

Last week, for example, visitors lined up for an hour and a half for a glimpse of the Sistine Chapel. Youthful revelers by the hundreds thronged the Trevi Fountain, coins in hand. And a performance of "The Barber of Seville" staged at the All Saints Church in the Via del Babuino was such a runaway success, the organizers had to bring out dozens of extra chairs to accommodate the overflow.

This fall and winter, a Rome vacation is more affordable for Americans than it has been in years. Some airlines are featuring round-trip fares from the Washington area for a mere $329. To entice travelers from the United States, Alitalia and other companies are offering packages throughout much of the winter for prices as low as $549 per person for a six-night stay, including airfare, hotel rooms and transfers. (See Details, below.)

Despite a recent State Department warning that "symbols of American capitalism" in Rome might be terrorist targets, the likely locales seemed to have lost none of their appeal. At noon on a Tuesday, the McDonald's on the Via del Corso was packed with lunchers munching burgers and fries. Later that evening, the party crowd lined up at Planet Hollywood. "Am I scared of terrorists?" Emilio Mascati, a 28-year-old Roman, asked with a wry smile. "Maybe a little. But not enough to keep me away from a party."

Since the events of Sept. 11, however, the number of American visitors to Rome has fallen off sharply. About half the normal number of U.S. travelers arrived there this September and October, according to an Italian tourism official. The Excelsior hotel, whose sprawling, marble-floored guest rooms are a longtime favorite of deep-pocketed American travelers, reported a 30 percent drop in reservations this fall. This year, Santa Susanna, the American community church, has hosted 1,000 visitors from the United States; last year, 9,000 came. During two days in early November, the stylish Hotel Mozart near the Spanish Steps had two visitors from the United States and 78 from other countries.

"Thank God some Americans are not afraid to fly," a florist on the Via Veneto said. "I was beginning to think I wouldn't see one again for months."

To be sure, some Americans are damning all the warnings and barreling across the Atlantic for a chance to tour the museums and other monuments in the Italian capital. A US Airways flight from Philadelphia two weeks ago was three-quarters full. On the return trip a week later, nearly every seat was taken.

And all the travelers had glowing reports of their trip. "Sure, I was a little nervous to get on the plane," said John Bonnet, a Miami hotelier strolling the sunny courtyard of St. Peter's Basilica on a Saturday afternoon with his wife and in-laws. "But last night we had the most delicious pasta and calamari I could have ever imagined. And we have just seen the Vatican museums and the Sistine Chapel, the most breathtaking art I have ever laid my eyes on. How could we pass up a chance to see that?"

"The shopkeepers were pretty aggressive, and it was pretty hard to find anybody who spoke English," said Hale Baker, a Hershey, Pa., business executive waiting with his wife to board a flight back home at the end of a week-long tour of Rome and Naples. "But it was one of the finest vacation of our lives. We've been three times before and can't wait to go back."

One of the draws of Rome is the easy access it offers to a stunning array of monumental art and historical architecture. One Sunday afternoon found me strolling through the Colosseum, the massive ruin where emporers gathered to watch gladiators face off against elephants and other beasts as long ago as A.D. 72. The next morning I was gazing at frescoes painted by Michelangelo on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, painstakingly restored in the past two decades. Later that day I took a tour of St. Peter's, the massive church decorated by Michelangelo, Bernini and Giacomo della Porta. Although I had expected thin crowds, they seemed to be as thick as ever, particularly with Japanese and visitors from other countries.

Returning to Rome for the first time in two decades, I was also impressed by the range of art and architecture in parks and other public places. The Piazza del Popoli, dominated by an elegant 15th-century church and a towering obelisk, was an easy five-minute walk from my hotel. The Borghese gardens, covered with lakes and statues and lined with lush trees, made for delightful afternoon jogging grounds.

What really was different during this visit, however, was the post-Sept. 11 embrace the whole city seemed to offer. On learning that I had arrived from the United States, waiters heaped plates with extra helpings of pasta, and even wily shopkeepers seemed to bow with unusual reverence.

But nowhere was the warmth of the Rome more evident than when I dropped into the Trattoria Morgana for dinner on my last night. No sooner had I taken a seat than Ray and April Kilmer, in town for a couple of days from Sheffield, England, invited me to join them for a glass of wine. Soon they were regaling me with tales of everything from their afternoon tour of the Colosseum to their favorite R&B tunes. Before long, Davido, the chef, came out to ask how we had enjoyed our meal.

"Guests from England and the States?" he said, with delight. "Oh, my! Have an extra piece of tiramisu."

DETAILS: Rome

GETTING THERE: Although there are lots of bargain flights between Washington and Rome this winter, none is direct. The best deal is U.S. Airways' fare of $329 from BWI, via Philadelphia, with restrictions. Delta and Lufthansa are featuring slightly higher fares out of Dulles, also with a connection.

PACKAGES: Go-Today.com (800-234-5245, www.go-today.com) is offering six-night packages for $549 a person, double, through February; air, hotel and breakfast included. Book by tomorrow. Alitalia (800-845-3365) has five-night packages that include air, hotel, a half-day tour and breakfast starting at $679 a person, double occupancy. Depart from National, with a change in Newark.

WHERE TO STAY: At the budget Edera Hotel, the rooms are small and the beds a tad hard, but it's clean, safe and just a 10-minute walk to the Colosseum. If you book through Utell International (800-448-8355), a discount reservation service, doubles run about $80 a night, with breakfast. The Hotel Amalia (telephone 011-39-06-397-233-54, www.hotelamalia.com) is a superb choice at the mid-range level. Located in a stylish palazzo just footsteps from the Vatican, it has spacious, comfortable rooms. Until around Christmastime, doubles are going for the discounted rate of about $100 a night for three-night stays or more.

TIPS: Admission to Vatican museums, including the Sistine Chapel, is normally $6 but is free on the last Sunday of every month . . . Weekly Metrebus passes, good on all area public transport, is a great value at about $12. They're on sale at tobacco shops . . . A five-day, $15 museum pass offers entry to the Colosseum, Palatine and four Museo Nazionale Romano sights. Purchase at any of these places . . . The vendors around the square at Vittorio Emanuele offer terrific bargains on leather shoes and other Italian-made goods . . . Sapore di Roma, a collective of restaurants, has organized a great deal, good until Dec. 21: five-course meals at several dozen eateries around the city for about $19 a person, drinks not included. City tourism offices can provide you with a brochure listing the participating restaurants.

INFORMATION: Italian Government Tourist Board, 212-245-5618, www.italiantourism.com.

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© 2001 The Washington Post Company