Tuesday, 1 May 2012

IATTOUR Apr 14-18 Rome

What the Heck! After getting over the shock of hearing my name called while in the WC at the Rome Airport—who knows me here?!!  And…there was Wendy, fresh off the plane from Victoria (via Calgary and Frankfurt) with her dad, Ron.
Rendezvous Rome with three groups of disparate travelers.  We all met at our rented apartment a short bus ride away from Termini...We loved our little apartment in Rome.  There was room for the six of us (Glenda and Lyse were already in Rome after their Italy tour) as it came with two bathrooms, three bedrooms, a fully equipped kitchen and view of the Roman Aqueduct out back.  It was right on a bus stop and (for us) within walking distance of all the historic sites (with a little grocery/wine store down a block or so).  Even more importantly, it had the sweetest little patisserie and espresso shop just around the corner.  We had frequent flyer miles in that place!  After a long day of sightseeing/gelato consumption, it was the perfect place for eating a shared dinner, examining our “booty”, drinking “a bit” of wine and laughing about the day’s adventures. 
 Church of the Day-"Basilica di San Giovanni"

We learned the hard way that all roads lead to the “Termini- aka main train station”.  Lose your way, climb back on a bus or subway train or tram going back to the Termini and you can always find your way back home.  You can wander a long way off course on these curvaceous Roman roads.  Sadly, we didn’t earn our pathfinder badges on a few days.  BUT there is nothing that a good gelato can’t fix!

Rome seemed busy...where do all of these people come from?   Just think what it would be like in August!  By 8:30, the tour groups are stacked 10 deep around the Coliseum. Wendy, Ron and Glenda pose for a classic photo pose inside the forum shooting back to the Coliseum! We decided that we would just walk around the outside and go another morning.  Maybe we could check out the forum?  No…trapped outside and wandering into numbers of dead ends, we finally elected to walk to the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps and up toward the Palace Gardens.   

Now where did everybody go?

At least we didn’t have to line up here, but oh there were crowds...we forgot this was the weekend after Easter..lots of extra tourists.  Wendy was almost a lucky, lucky lady--lucky enough to receive a FREE bouquet of roses.  Turns out that the hawker handed them to her and then targeted Ron for the payment.  Along the way passed a few high end car dealerships. Then we braved the metro.

Up early to avoid the crowds next day with Ron and Wendy, we took in St. Peter’s Basilica before the hordes arrived. First stop, we had to clear Xray and metal detectors where Tony demonstrated “how to get a Swiss Army Knife through Vatican Security” ...he missed the discussion last night at dinner about the dos and don'ts of getting into the Vatican.

                                                                              No crowds here!
Even though Tony and I have seen this site before, we stood in awe gasping at the opulence of the Basilica.  

Second stop, climb a thousand stairs to the top of the dome.  Claustrophobic on the way up, but what a view.  Did we mention Wendy's Dad is 83 and was almost running up the stairs!  He's a tough act to follow, but inspiring!  That's a long way down...are those ants- nope just more tourists.  The mosaic work up in the cupola is spectacular.

Wendy helping out at the Vatican

The view from the top is spectacular.  You know why there is no skyscrapers in Rome?   No building is permitted to be taller than St. Peter's Basilica.

Third and last stop, the Vatican Museums/Sistine Chapel.  Well, we weren't so lucky with our timing here.  After lining up for an hour, having a delightful chat with a young lady from Guatemala, and turning down increasingly desperate offers from potential tour guides (45 Euros down to 25 by the home stretch), we were in.  Wandering down the halls, it was almost too much to take in.  We passed by sculptures collected from various ancient sites, the maps of Catholic territories and the Flemish tapestries (Wendy’s favorite), strange pieces of contemporary art, and finally the renaissance masterpieces by Rafael and Michelangelo.  Tony and I were amazed at the restored ceiling in the Sistine Chapel with its glorious colours (not like that 35 years ago!).  A bit toured out, we exited to find that the hour long line was gone.  Moral of this story—always check with "Rick Steves" first.  It turns out that apparently mornings—especially holiday Monday mornings are the worst.  Who knew?!

Next, meet up with Lyse and Glenda at the Pantheon, which is large, historic, beautiful...and has no line-ups.  


 Also, The Pantheon is right next to a splendid gelato shop—with generous taste tests.  We were sold!
The Roman version of Lyse--Armani shades and gelato

And then...hit the town.  No, Tony and Ron didn’t join us for this segment—the shoppers tour.  Glenda and Lyse were already experts from their previous week in Italy, but it didn’t take Wendy and I long to catch up.   (It is very hard to resist Pinocchio!)

Wendy playing Geppetto

Sleuthing out the restaurant where Wendy's friend had eaten 40 years before, we divided to circle the block.  Wendy and Glenda rounded it and still hadn't found the fabled "La Secreta" or met up with us...because Lyse and Elaine had found something even better. No, not gelato...a family run furniture business.  Through an friendly interpreter, Lyse soon had made fast friends with the patriarch, taken group photos and explained that her Canadian-Italian father built furniture in Victoria, BC.  This was even better than finding a piece of Italian wood for him and almost as good as connecting with the Gentile Vineyards! 

Lyse's Roman League

By our last day in Rome, we had it all figured out--hit the tourist stops first thing and then on to the shopping later.  First stop of the day...the Coliseum where everyone re-imagined its glorious/notorious past.  Even better, we took photos of the recreation poster as a visual aid.  Gladiators, Christians, Emperors and Despots, this place has seen it all.  Although most of its marble facade was stripped for Vatican City’s construction, it is a monumentally impressive place.

Wendy and Ron discussing stats on money earned from this site

As with Bodrum, the orange and lemon blossoms fill the air of the Forum with fragrance. 
I think it is a good thing that we didn’t go with a guide or a map as we managed to see all of the Colosseum and Forum that morning with plenty of time for gawking/photo taking and time left over for late lunch/shopping.   

Tony headed off to meet a business acquaintance for a sumptuous lunch and while the rest of us stopped for pizza.  
 During our lunch, Wendy accidentally made eye contact with a street busker- accordionist and took one for the team, paying out 2 Euros for the pleasure of his previous song and a photo.  Thanks Wendy!
Glenda and Wendy consult the stars/Rick Steve's map


We spent the early afternoon checking out sites on Wendy’s list.  First, the mouth of truth, a pilgrimage site that operates as a lie detector.  Fibbers beware, this mouth can take off your hand!  As we are all always truthful, we came away with fingers intact, but a few Euros shorter for having visited the crypts below the church.
Victorious shoppers
What are these gladiators up to?

 Yup...we came, we saw, we conquered! And we would do it all again, tomorrow.
The Vatican counsel giving its blessing to Glenda's next adventure!

We spent our last evening in Rome with the company of our friends having a few toasts.  It appeared that Glenda and Lyse had gotten a limo service arranged for the 0530 pickup in the morning then all off to bed as 0530 comes too quickly

....Next morning, Elaine and I were waiting with Glenda and Lyse for the limo...but no show!  Fortunately we were able to flag down a cab and they were off to the airport with time to spare.  

Elaine and I, Wendy and Ron had a leisurely breakfast then finished packing and caught the bus to Termini, then the airport bus to FCO where we were going to collect our rental car.  This all went smoothly and we were heading north towards Tuscany by 11am.  Now to learn how to work the GPS and figure out all the French commands our Renault rental.

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