On leaving academia I imagined my lifestyle of subsidised international travel for conferences would end, but we received an invitation to present at SAS’ Analytics 2015 in Rome, and I was lucky enough to be selected. The event was being held over three days at the luxurious Parco dei Principi Grand Hotel & Spa, which has conference facilities on the lower levels.
Using my birthday the week before as an excuse, my partner and I decided to extend the trip, tagging on three nights beforehand. Our personal budget not really stretching to the PdP, we spent those at the nearby Hilton Garden Inn Rome Claridge instead, but used the ‘saving’ to justify a king deluxe room. Both properties seemed a bit removed from the centre of Rome, but the nearby Villa Borghese gardens turned out to be a delight I’d overlooked on my previous visit to the city.
There’s not much to report from the journey; although the original proposal was to fly with Alitalia, the only realistic options tha fit around my work schedule were with BA, so it was the by now entirely familiar EuroTraveller experience. With the Friday evening outbound being a 767 with a 2-3-2 cabin config, we were able to secure ourselves a lefthand pair of seats; for the return on a more typical airbus I was able to grab us the exit row. We also upgraded the catering out of LHR by visiting Gordon Ramsay’s Plane Food in Terminal 5 to get take-away picnics:
These are available most of the day, and you can customise the starter, main and dessert with four options for each; my selection, show above, had a trio of breakfast pastries, Scottish smoked salmon, a salad, and a chocolate pecan brownie with cream. They’re packaged in an attractive miniature coolbag equipped with plastic cutlery, and at £14 each, seem well worth it to be spared the onboard offering of a ham roll and some biscuits! Fortnum & Mason now take a similar approach, with their adorably-named ‘hamperlings‘, if you’re looking for a fancier (but pricier) option.
For the first time, I had a car waiting for me at the airport – SAS were happy to provide a transfer to the Parco dei Principi even though we wouldn’t be checking in for another three days! From our host we learnt that we had been sharing the flight with Spandau Ballet’s Tony Hadley – somehow that didn’t seem worth adding to the celeb spot thread on Flyer Talk – before being whisked to the hotel. With an Italian driver and late-night roads, that took 35 minutes; legally, it should probably take 45, but this made up somewhat for a lengthy wait at baggage reclaim.
Parco dei Principi
As with the Waldorf Astoria Cavalieri I sampled on my previous visit, the exterior of the Parco dei Principi is not an architectural marvel, but the interior is highly ornate. It’s not a style I could live with long-term, but it makes an agreeable change from more anonymous business hotels. We were lucky enough to receive a fifth floor balcony room overlooking the grounds and the park beyond, which turns out to be the correct direction for enjoying a sunset too.
The breakfast buffet spread was excellent, although I’ve no idea what the asking price would be normally or even if this was the standard service or a custom arrangement for the conference. Unfortunately I can’t report on the spa; I had hoped to make use of the indoor pool (apparently a rarity in Rome), but it seems the spa is an all-or-nothing arrangement. With a €40 daily fee, I wasn’t going to investigate, although it looks wonderful from the promotional images on their website. As can be seen, there’s an open air pool too, but unsurprisingly for November it was unavailable.
On my previous trip to Rome I had followed a fairly aggressive schedule tour of the main sites – whilst recognising, of course, that there is far more to do in Rome than can be covered in a few days, I pushed myself through the heat and crowds to visit as many as possible. This time we took a more relaxed approach, favouring undirected wandering and open-air attractions such as the Palatine hill. In this way we racked up 10-15km a day on foot, but if that sounds a bit too energetic, keep in mind it was fuelled by plenty of Italian food! We were fortunate enough to be blessed with clear skies and comfortable temperatures (pushing into the 20s), and on one remarkable evening got to experience the murmuration of starlings at sunset.
As usual, I’ve collected together a few of the photographic highlights from along the way, which you can find here.