Monday, June 8, 2015

#398 When In Rome...

You made it, Italy lovers!  I have reached our final destination on our whirlwind Italian vacation. 

Tuesday morning Julie and I took a train to Rome, which is one-and-a-half hours from Florence.  I love to look out the window at the countryside and hate to miss anything, but I was so sleepy on this particular ride that I kept dozing off.  Sunny + warm = zzzzzzz.  

We arrived at our hotel just before Noon.  We got lost again trying to find the hotel.  I went into another hotel to ask directions and the man was on the phone so had to wait several minutes.  Julie was waiting on the street and thought someone had abducted me. 

We finally made it to Discover Roma.  The hotel manager was waiting for us and was incredibly nice.  He marked up a map to show us all the places to go.  He also told us where not to go after dark.  Our room was ok.  There was no breakfast included or available at the hotel so we grabbed stuff on the street (I think I ate Cliff Bars for breakfast).  Not too exciting.  We also were given a key to get in and out of the building on our own.  I had the man’s telephone number (he told us to take a photo of it with our cell phones) so we had it in case of emergency.

We took off wandering but had to be at the Colosseum by 2 p.m. for a three-hour tour, which included the Colosseum, the Forum, Palatine Hill, Piazza Novella and the Pantheon.  We walked the streets for a while and kept wondering, “Where is all the old stuff?”  We finally saw it.  Holy cow!  The Colosseum is enormous!  

Our tour guide was great – and looked like a young Billy Crystal.  

You look mahvelous!
We rested our tired feet while having dinner right outside the Pantheon.

Pantheon roof - made of concrete.  The hole in the ceiling is the only source of light.  

Later that night we had a free tour of just the Pantheon.  It was interesting to get a different perspective.

Wednesday morning we rode a bus to Vatican City.  Later we found out right after we got off the bus, the bus system went on strike.  Apparently they do this sometimes.  We’d just made it!  Luckily their strikes don’t last long and we were fine going back. 

We decided to tour the Vatican Wednesday.  The pope usually has his audience on Wednesday mornings so we figured we’d avoid the rush in the Vatican Museum.  I happened to see on Facebook that a friend of mine was in Rome at the same time and was seeing the pope the same day.  Neither Julie nor I are Catholic so we didn’t feel a strong urge to spend the time to see him.  We caught another tour to see the museum, St. Peter’s Basilica and Sistine Chapel.  Our guide, Debra, was great! 

Side story – throughout our trip, in each city, we would see what appeared to be old ladies with headscarves and long skirts (I would call them gypsys) on the streets.  Most would be almost prostrate, with their faces bent toward the ground so you couldn’t see them.  They looked so uncomfortable.  I don’t usually give out money to those on the streets in the States, so did not in Italy.  As we walked along in Vatican City, we passed one of these gypsys on the tour.  After we passed her, Debra stopped and gave us some advice, telling us that when we see these women, “They walk like this” and she bent over, walking like a feeble old woman.  Then she wagged her finger and added, “No, they walk like this” and she proceeded to walk upright.  She warned us to never give money to them.  Heck, they may be around 25 years old for all we know! 

Once inside, we mostly saw the museum grounds and some of the inner gardens.  

Cortile della Pigna (courtyard of the pine cone)

Sphere in Cortile della Pigna

Laocoon and his sons in the Cortile Ottagano

We were more concerned with seeing the Sistine Chapel so didn’t take time to see the rest of the museum on our own.  We waited by the doors thinking we had to wait another hour or so, but they opened and there we were!  It was amazing!  I regret that I had forgotten my binoculars back in the room.  (I brought them just for this!)  The Sistine Chapel is small-ish but incredible.  We stood there for a long time bending our heads back looking up at the ceiling.  Even though photos are not allowed, we did see a few people sneaking photos when the guards weren’t looking.  I respected the rules and drank it all in.  Photos wouldn’t do it justice anyway. 

This was outside the chapel on the grounds
The hallway leading to the chapel with ancient maps on the walls

To the left, to the left...
While the chapel is fairly small and simple, the basilica is huge and ornate.  We checked out the downstairs area where some cardinals and popes are buried, and stepped into the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament.  

Basilica altar
Looking out the window from the basilica
Thank you, Jesus!
We were even able to climb to the top of the basilica dome.  More steps!  This wasn’t too bad though, because it was one way up and one way down.  The stairs were inside but we were able to step outside and walk around the top.  What a view!  And who did we meet up there?  A group of women (sisters/friends) from Marion, Indiana.  Howdy neighbors! 

Inside St. Peter's dome

View of Vatican City from the top of St. Peter's dome

Steps inside the basilica dome.  
As we exited the basilica we noticed the long line snaking around St. Peter’s Square, where we had once stood.  This was all the people from the pope’s audience now waiting to go through the museum.  Oh.  My.  Goodness.  Great decision.

you can see the line of people in the background

Later that evening we did Rick Steves’ “Heart of Rome Walk” from Campodi Fiore to the Spanish Steps.  Again, the night perspective was nice and less crowded.  We saw the Trevi Fountain, which was under construction.  We were very disappointed as it was covered with scaffolding.  They had a metal walkway so you could walk out over the actual fountain (with no water).  They reserved a small area of water where you could toss your coin over your shoulder.  It wasn’t the same.

Linda making her wish.  "I wish the Trevi Fountain was not covered in scaffolding!"
The rain started just as we walked across the Trevi walkway and they closed it right after we were done.  Good timing again!  The rain increased to a downpour so we decided it was time for dinner.  We were entertained by the other tourists outside the window that were drenched.  After the rain let up we continued our walk to finish at the Spanish Steps.  Due to the rain the area was mostly empty and quiet.  We had a nice view of the Fontana della Barcaccia, (the fountain of the ugly boat) at the base of the steps.

The next day we walked by the steps and found it much more crowded.

During our night walk we noticed several Madonnas on the street corners. Who knows how old they are?  They fascinate me.  I am intrigued not only by the religious meaning, but how beautiful and ornate they are. I feel like she is watching over everyone walking the streets of Rome.

On our last day in Rome we explored some of the parks.  We noticed that there is not much green space in the cities we visited.  If there is any green space, there are fences around it preventing anyone from walking on the grass.  We stumbled upon the Villa Borghese gardens and spent quite a bit of time in there.  Beautiful!

Our next stop was Palatine Hill, where we spent a couple of hours, and then the Forum  Lots of ruins.  It’s cool for a while and they all start to look the same.

Palatine Hill

We got stuck in another downpour and this time ducked into a bar to wait it out. We had dinner down the street from our hotel at the Historia de Vicenzo.  The area is filled with embassies and our hotel guy recommended it as a good place.  It was.  They charge extra for everything, but I enjoyed the meal and it was very nice inside. 

My first impression of Rome, which didn’t change much during our stay, was of it being a busy, noisy, spread out city.  It’s also more expensive than the other cities we visited.    I’m glad I saw the ruins, but I have to say that Vatican City was my favorite part.  And as cool as everything is there, I don’t know that I need to go back.  For first-timers, the capital city is an obvious must-see. 

The next morning we caught the train to the Rome airport.  We sat next to two women from Chicago.  We enjoyed chatting with them and listening to their stories.  They had been to Paris and Italy for two weeks. 

On the plane we in the middle section.  Thank goodness we had more legroom on this flight.  Julie and I were on either end, with an Italian man in between us (I later found out his name was Nino).  The in-flight movies were an X-Men movie (very confusing) and The Monuments Men (very good).  Our flight food was chicken, rice and salad and a roll for lunch, a snack consisting of a Kit Kat bar and cookies, and a deep dish pizza for dinner.  After two weeks of amazing Italian food, both Julie and I looked at our pizza with disdain.  I ate it of course (I was hungry!) but it just wasn’t the same. 

Back to Nino.  I noticed that he kept asking the flight attendant about the food.  I finally found out that he is allergic to dairy.  He hardly ate anything so I offered him some of my almonds.  He is from Salerno, Italy and was traveling with his daughter, who sat across the aisle from me.  They were headed to San Francisco.  He has an organic farm and was mainly going to attend a conference.  He attended college in California and was also visiting the woman who owned the house he used to live in.  He was really nice and gave me his name and email.  He said when we returned to Italy we could visit him in Salerno. 

We stopped in Chicago, did the customs thing, then had to re-check our bags.  The short flight to Indy had no legroom again.  Drat!  We landed at 8:15 p.m. and I was home by 9 p.m.  I unpacked a little and then got sucked into a Sex And The City marathon.  I finally went to bed at 11 p.m.  I was up for 24 hours! I woke up at 5 a.m. and thought it was 5 p.m. since it was dark.  I was very disoriented! 

In conclusion, this was an incredible trip.  I was super stressed at the beginning, hoping everything would go ok, thinking about catching trains, etc.  But everything turned out great.  And I have found that some of the hiccups along the way can provide the best experiences and stories.  (I'm just really glad my story didn't include losing my bag on a train going the opposite direction!)  

I am also thankful that I could take such a trip with one of my bestest friends - Julie!  We've known each other since the ninth grade and have traveled to New York and various Final Four cities, but this trip beats all of those hands down.  Where shall we go to next JO?  :-)

LG and JO at the Colosseum
Some of my observations and tips for traveling in Europe:
  • Everyone wears skinny jeans!  Men, women, children, elderly.  I felt very self-conscious in Milan but then got over it.  I had only brought boot cut/flared jeans.  Quite honestly, I don’t like to wear skinny jeans when it’s hot.  My legs get suffocatingly hot. 
  • Gap and Clarks are everywhere!  Milan, Venice, Florence and Rome.  Who knew! Venice had the best prices on leather.  Some of the purses I looked at in Venice were 18 euros and they were 25 euros in Florence.  Venice had more variety also. 
  • Public toilets are usually pay toilets that cost around 1.50 euros.  We learned to use the toilets on the trains and in restaurants where we had dined.   
  • Parking is very scarce and the streets very narrow, therefore many people ride bicycles or scooters.  I loved seeing nicely-dressed people riding around town.  Some ladies even ride in heels.     
  • We both got AAA Visa cards with chips in them and they worked fine everywhere except the train station ticket machines.  Mystery!  I did go to an ATM once in Florence and it worked fine.  
  • I brought a couple long skirts with me and found that they worked very well.  They were warm for the cool mornings, yet had great airflow during the hot days.  They also protected my legs from the sun and I didn’t have to wear as much sunscreen.  I felt a bit “nerdy” though, as I wore my walking shoes with my skirts.  I brought one pair of sandals but they were not conducive for walking all day.  After I got home, I researched sandals and found a pair of AEO B.I.O sandals – the Balboa Neutral.  I got a great deal on them and can’t wait to try them out this summer.  They will definitely accompany me on any other overseas trip.  I will be set with these and my walking shoes. 
  • Be prepared to walk.  A LOT.   Julie wore a Fitbit during our trip.  We averaged 20,355 steps per day, with 284,970 total steps for two weeks.  Our high day was September 21 – 28,586 steps.  This was our day in Milan where we took a walking tour.  Yes, I wore my Clarks sandals that day.  (I had worn one of my long skirts and wanted to look cute in the fashion capital of the world.)  That was the only time I wore those sandals during the day.  Lesson learned. 
I have enjoyed writing about my travels.  I hope you have enjoyed reading it.  I also hope that you are able to travel to wherever it is your heart wants you to go.  You won’t regret it.  Happy traveling! 

1 comment:

  1. Thanks a lot for your report. I enjoyed it. Arrivederci :-)