Rose colored glasses don’t keep out the smell

Rome, Italy

I love it when things go swimmingly!  It's great when everything is exactly as relaxing, luxurious, delicious, and romantic as you'd hoped.  On the other hand, it can also be oddly perfect when things take a hilariously strange or utterly wrong turn.  When Dario and I had the opportunity to stay in a swanky hotel in the center of Rome in exchange for a review, we had hoped for the former.  Discovering the latter, however, led to some great experiences we might otherwise have not had.


(For the TL;DR version, check out the summary on

La Fontana di Trevi a mezzanotte (midnight).


The absolute best thing about L'Hotel Cinquantatré is the location.  It's within easy walking distance of both the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps, mainstays for any tourist visiting the Eternal City, and is half a block away from a Metro stop.  Despite having once been a hard charging devil dog, I have some of the softest feet in the world, so being close to the things I want to see is important.

When we arrived at the hotel and squeezed into the wee reception area, I immediately thought of the famous petiteness of Paris hotels.  I also wondered how the heck a person with mobility issues would find the rest of the interior.  A very nice, if somewhat befuddled, lady at reception made copies of our identification.  There was no recognition in her eyes when I said "blogger" or "write a review", but I thought she had it sorted by the time she handed us a room key since she didn't ask for a credit card.

She mentioned that there was an elevator around the corner, so I started to rethink the mobility issues question — until I realized that the elevator was actually up a handful of stairs.  I am always simultaneously confused and amused when I encounter this phenomenon in European hotels.  I understand that most times it happens in a building that was never really meant to house an elevator, so the machinery was squeezed in as an afterthought.  And I do mean squeezed!


Teensy floor and funny feets.


We only had daypacks with us, but we had to do the hokey pokey a few times in order to both fit at the same time.  Naturally, this set us to giggling.  We quickly regained our senses of duty and professionalism, since we were there to Write A Review.  Ahem.

It didn't last long as, upon arrival at our room, we were immediately hit with an olfactory assault that led both of us drop our faux-pro demeanor and make scrunchy faces.  I noticed the overpowering smell of cigarette smoke, while Dario tuned that out entirely and commented on the sewage odor issuing from the bathroom.  I quickly opened the windows and got a blessed blast of fresh air.


Doing the hokey pokey with the window the next morning again.


It was cold and noisy outside, so we didn't keep the window open for long.  Dario closed the bathroom door to keep further sewage stank out of the bed area.  It's too bad, because at first glance, the bathroom was the prettiest part of the room.  The furnishings in the bedroom were functional, but somewhat worn.  We had to do another couple of rounds of the hokey pokey with the window (breathability vs. temperature) before we could settle down.  I was trying really hard to find something good to say about the situation because I still wanted it to be awesome.  So, um…  It was nicely heated and the windows did a good job of keeping out the noise?


It looks so innocent.


Well, ok, there was something else nice — free wifi.  I'm baffled by the fact that hostels often have free (if slow) wifi, while fancy-schmancy hotel chains charge you for it.  So it was nice to have internet.

Sadly, it was not enough to keep even our web-addicted selves in the room for any longer than was necessary.  I was starting to get congested from the smoke smell and Dario swore he could still detect sewage stench.  We bundled up in coats and scarves, and went in search of fresh air and scenery.  A piazza full of clowns and marching bands would have been more soothing at that point.

Alas, in our mad dash to oxygen we left the camera in the room.  I have no proof that the Piazza di Spagna looked not at all like a tourist spot at that hour and season.  Instead, it was delightfully populated by — wait for it — Italian people!  It put me in mind of the lovely nights spent in Naples wandering from piazza to piazza, drinking wine, chatting with friends, and generally feeling overjoyed about being in Italy.  I've been missing a lot of things about Ireland lately, but this reminded me of why I love this country.

We meandered through the streets of the fashion district, laughing at the absurdity of clothing and accessories (we both actually do have a sense of style, but comfort and practicality trump panache every time), indulging in gelato, and finally settling down for dinner.  Yes, gelato before dinner — dessert first whenever possible!  Our game plan was to head back to the hotel, dash back into the room to grab the camera, and then head out to the Trevi Fountain. We like our comforts, so had it not been for the smelly room, we probably would have never realized Dario had become separated from his shadow.


This may help explain his difficulty with the "Live long and prosper" move.


I had forgotten my wee tripod, so despite the lovely lighting around and in the fountain, decent photos were mostly a result of luck and sheer numbers.  I held my breath and remembered the "natural point of aim" trick from the rifle range in the Marine Corps, leaned on walls, rested my elbows on the railing, and took bunches of photos.  After all, if technical skill won't do it, bulk will overcome!


"We live in an awesome country, man."  "That we do, dude.  That we do."


Like the Spanish Steps, there was much more space; everything felt more natural and less touristy.  There were Italian folks present, though there was still a good helping of foreigners occasionally tossing coins over their respective shoulders.  Lots of couples canoodling or posing for photos, too.  A midnight cyclist even showed up to join the party.



Roberto Benigni on the left and The Bicycle Thief on the right.  Maybe.


We also indulged in one of our travel hobbies and took poorly-framed self-portraits.  It was much more challenging with the big camera than with a leetle point and shoot, I must say.  Still, we got some good shots for our collection of This Will Amuse No One But Us photos.  Part of the joy comes from the confused look on the faces of friends, touts, and tour guides whose offers of assistance we routinely decline.  After all, even if our smiling faces obscure the views of some of the most famous monuments in the world, WE will know there were pyramids, towers, and fountains behind us!


Where's your head?


We added to our self-portrait tomfoolery repertoire with one of my favorite photos of the evening: the two of us reflected in the sign of the orthodox Bulgarian church across from the fountain.  (Bulgarian Orthodox?  Who knew!)  Can't say why, exactly, but I LOVE this!

Along a darker part of one of the streets leaving the fountain we passed a most unusual door.  It had metal spikes along the bottom.  I stopped to take a picture because it reminded me of a door we saw in Stone Town in Zanzibar.  I didn't say why I was taking the photo, but when Dario turned around and peered quizzically at my subject, he said, "Do you suppose they have problems with tiny elephants here?"  My thoughts, exactly, Dario!  (And, hey — out of my head!)


Anti-"elefantini" (that's elephant – teeny) door.


Then we couldn't avoid it any longer.  It was cold, it was late, and we were tired.  …back to the hotel.

Since Dario had closed the door to the bathroom, the sewage smell was mostly gone — until we needed to use the bathroom, that is.  Then it came back with a vengeance.  The smoke smell seemed slightly less overwhelming, though it was still quite strong.  Since we had just been out in the cold for a prolonged period, it wasn't as hard to leave the window open this time.  The air got fresh enough to tolerate, so we settled in for some movie watching and snoozing.  At least the bed was comfy.  We had to get up early for the colazione (breakfast), after all, and we had high hopes!



The next morning.  Where to begin…

First there was the shower in the bathroom that comes with a free round of Pong.  Not a great way to start.  I'd even run water in the bidet, sink, and toilet, and closed the shower, plugged the sink and bidet the night before.  I didn't go so far as to stick toilet paper in the overflow hole of the sink, but I probably should have.  I mean, it was bad.


Taken while holding my breath.


Upon closer inspection, I discovered that the loose drain cover which had some mysterious dust on it, along with a few tiny insects crawling around the floor of the shower, was not an anomaly.  When it came to cleaning, attention to detail was sorely lacking.  Dang, and it was such a nice looking bathroom with all the pretty Italian marble and stuff!  I know I've spoken about Italian plumbing design issues before, but this was basic maintenance.

Surely the breakfast would cheer me up!


This photo is titled "Mostly Harmless".


I didn't expect bacon and eggs, as that is simply not the style of Italian breakfast.  Sweet pastries with some sort of coffee-based beverage usually do the trick, and that's fine by me.  There was a small selection of cereal with milk available, but pastries seemed like a tastier alternative.  I opted for un cappuccino e un cornetto con marmellata (cappuccino and a croissant with jam).

The pastry selection was served in the original cardboard box from the bakery, so even if not very upscale, it implied freshness.  And indeed, it was fresh, if silly (smallest amount of jam I've ever encountered in a cornetto!).  Turns out it was the best part of the breakfast.



Funny pastries and frightening beverages.


I delicately spooned out a small taste of the cappuccino to determine the temperature and sugar requirements…  I stopped and immediately made the scrunchy face that had become the signature expression of our experience at L'Hotel Cinquantatré.  Dario had likewise ordered a cappuccino, so I asked him to double check.  He tasted one spoonful, frowned, and tasted another.  Then he, too, displayed the scrunchy face.  "No, that's not right.  …ewww!"  He later described it as having come from a machine whose filter had not been cleaned in so long that the coffee had melted into the metal.  I described it as, "weak, burned, and with a dash of dirty dish rag."

There was juice over by the cereal, so I got us each a glass.  It was reddish, so I thought it came from blood oranges, which is usually one of the best varieties of orange juices in Italy.  In this case, it tasted like it had been made from powdered juice mix.  Sigh.  Well, there's always my old friend tea!

How do you ruin tea?  By flavoring it with dish soap.

*facepalm*  Dario later confessed that he had detected some previously unmentioned flavors in his cappuccino, one of which may have been dish soap, another of which may have been …meat.  It's hard to say, though, since the coffee itself was so bad.

We gathered our things, returned the key, and headed back to the Trevi Fountain to meet a friend who was visiting from Ireland.  The area around the fountain was a bit more crowded than it had been the night before.


Pushing and shoving to have the chance to throw money away.  Pfft, tourists!


We met up with Davey and Peppe and exchanged happy hugs and smiles.  Making new friends is wonderful, of course, but seeing old friends has a special way of warming your heart.



We learned while we were checking out of the hotel that there had been a bit of a mix up with our reservation.  Since we were doing a review, we were supposed to have gotten a larger room and one of the romance packages — chocolates and a bottle of Prosecco in the room.  As a huge fan of chocolate, I was sad to learn of our missed opportunity.  Still, if they wanted an unbiased review, then receiving the same treatment as any other schlub who walked in off the street was probably a good thing.

The conclusion?  The staff were all very cheerful and friendly, the heating worked, the bed was comfy, the wifi was free, and the location is fantastic!  Sadly, it was all overpowered by the stench of the bathroom and cigarette smoke, the lack of maintenance, and the terrible, terrible coffee.  I think the place has a lot of potential, but it needs an overhaul — especially the plumbing — and a dedicated cleaning staff.


Sorry for objectifying you, Davey, but you're just too cute and smiley!


With that being said, we still had a great time.  The stink encouraged us to get out and see Rome at night during the off-season, which was a real treat!  We laughed a lot at the continued failings of the facilities.  And of course, at the end, we got to see our friend, Davey.  All in all, and despite expectations, a very good time!


What disappointments have you turned
into laughter on your travels?


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  1. What a hilarious, in a grim sort of way, experience. I would have been gone at the smoke- wouldn’t have even gotten as far as the sewage. I suspect that this is not a swanky hotel, merely adequate. Someone who reviewed it on Trip Advisor mentioned mold. Thanks for an honest review- it was a bit of lemonade.

    1. For their location (and prices!) I thought it was going to be a swanky hotel. Imagine my surprise!

      I didn’t look at TripAdvisor until afterward. I was surprised at how many reviews confirmed my experience – and that they hadn’t thought of this before asking me for a review. Oh, well – still got to see the Trevi Fountain at midnight. Can’t beat that! :)

  2. Even the title of this post made me laugh!

    1. Thanks, Julia. Glad you enjoyed it! I likewise enjoyed your latest post and am doing my best to get the word out. Really important stuff about civil liberties, privacy, and the Constitution. Keep up the good work!

  3. Seriously… I don’t know if I would be that optimistic if I had to go through those things but I guess it’s all a part of the adventure.

    1. More that part of the adventure, Hoggapants – it makes the best stories later! Isn’t one of the definitions of ironic “expecting one thing and getting another”? Irony makes for hilarious times if you recognize it early enough. Also, we totally would have stayed inside geeking out the whole time if not for the stench – would have missed the fountain entirely! Many thanks to the Stench Gods and Goddesses for a lovely night out. ;)

  4. Surely bad coffee in Italy is a sin?! I think the mishaps that happen on holidays make the holiday all the more memorable. How many times do we recite tales of woe above tales of happiness? Or is that just an English thing? Great post

    1. Thanks, Paul! I’m afraid my crazy multitasking led me to approve your comment and then utterly forget to reply to it. My apologies!

      Yeah, you would think bad coffee would be a hangin’ offense here, but I’ve had some pretty horrendous stuff. A lot of it, according to Dario, has to do with whether or not the machine is properly cleaned and maintained. I may also be too American to truly appreciate genuine Italian espresso, since I’m a big fan of sugar and milk (in tea, too!). Ah, well! It was still a fine adventure. :)

  5. Bemused Boomer says:

    I especially liked hearing about your visit to the Trevi Fountain at night in winter. When I was there in summer, I suspected that would be the only time a person could get close to it. Your picture is great; it’s lovely at night with just a few, bundled up people. Kind of soft and romantic.

    I have a friend whose sense of smell has abandoned her and she stopped drinking coffee last year. You could, in good conscience, recommend this hotel to her!

    1. That’s both hilarious and sad. Your poor friend!

      When are you going to head back to Europe again? The next few months are good for beating the big tourist crowds. :)

  6. Excellent post. Very funny. Specially liked Roberto Benigni and the Bicycle Thief. The smelliest hotel I’ve been in was a place in Barcelona – they’d used that much bleach in the bathroom that you felt like you’d been in a tear gas attack.

    1. I was really hoping someone would get a chuckle out of that. Thank you!

      Sounds like you had the opposite problem we did in Barcelona. Overzealous cleaning? Hmm. We are heading there next month. I think we’ll CouchSurf! ;)

  7. Sounds like a great set of days in Rome, despite the hotel. I like traveling in Italy in the spring and fall, and have encountered poorly heated places, so heat is actually quite important. I am surprised you didn’t ask for a different room. That would likely have been our first move.

    I like the idea of an elevator up a set of stairs. They are there for convenience not for accessibility.

    I’ve not been south of Pisa despite many trips to Italy. Rome is pretty high up on my list.

    1. We didn’t ask for a different room for 2 reasons: 1) the room we originally requested wasn’t available, so it appears they were busy despite the season, and 2) because when the plumbing in one room is misbehaving, it usually means the whole place is pretty much buggered.

      Had I been a paying client, I would have insisted that maintenance at least come and splash some pleasant-smelling chemicals down the drain, or I might have even gone to a different hotel. However, we were there to write about our experience, and that experience included what I shall, from here on out, refer to as Caesar’s Revenge!

  8. I love that you gave a truthful review. Hopefully they will read this and see what they can do to make their hotel more comfortable for guests. At least you still had the opportunity to have some great gelato and sightseeing. It’s good to know this is the time of year to go to Italy!

    1. I’ve been repeatedly surprised at how nice Europe can be during the winter and early spring. My first trip to Paris was in January a few years ago and it was GREAT! Very few crowds and plenty of hot, mulled wine! Gelato in the winter is a bit of an odd thing, but it seems to be fairly common. We weren’t the only ones nibbling on cones. :)

  9. That is a fabulous review :) The hotel may have sucked, but it sounds like you made the most of Rome. And at least you got it for free ;)

    1. That’s very nice to hear, Laurence. We’ve done reviews and recommendations of various outfits before, but this was our first official endeavor. I really wanted it to be a great time. Failing that, I wanted to do a good review. So, thank you kindly!

  10. I love how honest you were in this review!! Sorry it wasn’t that great, but glad you got to experience it! :)

    1. Gee, Diana, I’m not sure how to take that. “I’m glad it was you instead of me” or maybe, “Hahaha! You deserved a smelly hotel room!” or perhaps something even less charitable? :P

      Ok, ok, I know you didn’t mean it that way. And yeah, we’re glad, too. ;)

  11. Excellent attitude!! I think it helps to have someone to laugh with, too. When I’m alone, I often go berserk! Sorry it was so awful, ugh.

    1. If I have internet, I can tolerate a lot. In fact, and much to poor Dario's dismay, I need much more alone time than he does, and often crave some solo internetting. But this time (as with many other of our travel hijinks) it was definitely improved by having a partner in crime. ;)

  12. Ah, too bad about the cappuccino…And everything else! But you hit the nail on the head — “if they wanted an unbiased review, then receiving the same treatment as any other schlub who walked in off the street was probably a good thing.”

    Very fun read – you do have a way with a story!

    1. Aww, thanks, Nina. Glad you liked reading it. The cappuccino was made up for later in the day when we found a Neapolitan pizzeria. First time since coming back that we’d had decent pizza (other than homemade, of course ;)!

  13. This post was a treat to read. I usually get upset when things go wrong and then ,only maybe, try to see the funny side.
    I’ve had coffee that tasted to dish rag before, I feel you pain :)

    1. I think having someone to share it with makes all the difference. If I was alone and stuck in a stinky hotel room, it might not have been as entertaining. Dario’s good like that.

      In fact, if you’re up for another (shorter) read, take a peek at this: We went to Copenhagen for our wedding, but the Little Mermaid statue — icon of the city! — was gone. We had tons of fun with it, though. ;)

      ps: thank you!

  14. Mmm, meat coffee. ;)

    Great, unbiased review. And it’s good you can look at it positively, that the stench forced you to go out and see Rome!

    1. I cannot imagine that was actually the case (meat coffee, that is), but since he said it, I wrote it down!

      And yeah, Rome at night is pretty nice. I’ve seen Paris, London, and Dublin at night, but this was the first time in Rome. Considering that it gets so crazy in the daytime, the night was really nice. Highly recommended!

  15. Although you didn’t get the royal treatment at L’Hotel Cinquantatré, it’s much better for the rest of us to know what we’re likely to find there. I’ll probably look elsewhere when I visit Rome. Enjoyed your entertaining review!

    1. Thanks, Cathy. I would love it if they’d fix everything and invite us back so could write a glowing review. The folks really are nice! In any case, let me know if/when you do pass through Rome. Maybe we’ll be in the area. :)

  16. I really enjoyed your article! Good writing, honest review, and funny!! I will be going back and reading your older entries asap. Getting excited planning a European jaunt for late spring/summer of 2013….and hoping to see you guys on our journey!

    1. Hey, Aristana! We don’t know where we’ll be in 2013, not even which continent we’ll be on, but we will definitely make the effort to coordinate with you. If we’re living in a place where we can host you, consider it done! *hugs*

  17. dario says:

    When nobody is watching I am practicing my ring finger to do the “live longer and prosper” move. Hang in there!

    1. Here’s a refresher: *baci!* ;)

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