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Italy 2004

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Saturday, 11.27.04: The Week in Review (Italy, Week 1)

I'm trying something different here with this traveler's journal. Instead of simply transcribing my daily notes, I'd like to write more careful essays. So, I'll use my usual Week in Review feature to do the basic travelogue listing. I'm making a lot of links to external web pages because, really, who needs me to write another description of famous Italian sites?

[Go to Week 2]

Saturday.  Final trip preparations. Packed up Hermanita and brought her to the vet's for boarding.

ROME

Sunday-Monday. I'm raring to go. A final yoga class fills the morning. We have a taxi pick us up at 1:00 so we don't have to park the car in a lot and look for it under a mountain of snow when we return. We enter our travel cocoon -- citizens of the airport -- and cross the threshold into Roma. With a six-hour time change, arrival is on Monday morning. Took the Leonardo Express from the airport to downtown Rome. Rip-off taxi to Hotel Barberini.

Tuesday.  Through Expedia we had arranged an all-day Grayline Monuments & Ancient Rome Tour.

  • Trevi Fountain as in "3 Coins in the..." Site of famous scenes in "La Dolce Vita" and other movies. Smaller than it looks in the movies.
  • Pantheon Eye-popping building constructed in 27 B.C. and reconstructed by Hadrian in 2nd century A.D. It remains intact because it was converted into a church. You come upon it suddenly and its columns overwhelm you. The dome -- a perfect hemisphere of cast concrete, with an 18-foot-wide round opening to the sky -- makes your jaw drop in wonder. Those old guys were smarter than you think.
  • Piazza Navona Large oblong square, with a famous Bernini sculpture of 4 world rivers.
  • St. Peter's Basilica Appropriately awesome, but the tour group spent too much time at the corny gift shop. Michelangelo's Pieta is behind glass now, but still gorgeous.
  • Lunch with the group
  • Roman forum area, with an outside look at the Colosseum. Your basic ruins.
  • Basilica of St. Paul Your basic fabulous cathedral.

Sleepless hours overnight.

Wednesday. Got up at 9 and enjoyed the hotel's breakfast buffet. We figure out the subway map and buy tickets through the machine -- small triumph.

  • Subway to train station. We buy our train tickets to Florence and spend some time figuring out was the ticket says and where the tracks are.
  • Walk to Diocletian Baths, an ancient site, which now houses a national museum.
  • Lunch is another mini-adventure because we can't find a sit-down restaurant, so we figure our how to order food in a crowded cafe (point and nod).
  • Walk to the National Gallery of Ancient Art at Palazzo Barberini, near our hotel. Great collection of paintings.

Our feet are killing us! We go back to the hotel for a rest, then out again after dark.

  • Spanish Steps. A long walk takes us to a stylish gathering place, with a visit to the church of Trinita dei Monti. Aggressive South Asian street venders push roses into our hands.
  • Walk on to Piazza del Popolo, another huge square. We were hungry, but at 7 P.M. it was too early for a restaurant, so we took the subway back to our own neighborhood.

Thursday. It is Thanksgiving in the U.S. We get up early and take a very crowded subway back to Vatican City to see the museums and the Sistine Chapel. The signage isn't very clear and we get all twisted up, thinking we could enter through St. Peter's Square. We get through the metal detectors before an American guide helpfully informs us we have to backtrack a mile to the other side of the complex.

  • Sistine Chapel. This Michelangelo masterpiece is a main attraction. We float quickly through a maze of galleries to get there. Down some stairs. In summer time folks are lined up all along the way, but we are please to simply walk in, sit down and soak in the grandeur of it. The longer you look, the more beautiful it gets as the three-dimensionality begins to pop out. Every panel has a tale to tell and thanks to my parochial school education, I recognize nearly all of them.
  • Vatican museums. Once we are done with the Sistine Chapel, we have a more leisurely walk through the galleries. They are so absorbing we push ourselves till we are half-dead and can hardly lift our feet.
  • We walk back toward the subway and stop at an ATM. By this time we have realized that the currency exchanges are rip-offs - better to get the cash direct. A nerve-wracking moment, hoping the alien machine will not eat my card, but then - ta-da! - I have 200 in hand.
  • Look for a restaurant and find a cafe with table service. Our Thanksgiving dinner is lasagna for Jim and pizza with a half carafe of chianti for me.
  • Squeezed ourselves into a subway car, back to hotel, indulgence of a nap.
  • Back out to explore some baroque churches: Santa Maria della Vittoria, Santa Susana, San Bernardo. In Santa Susana, I helped a lost Irishman find himself on the map. He asked me if I was Catholic and said yes.
  • Outside, just at sunset, we saw an amazing site: thousands and thousands of black birds were forming clouds and streamers and floating in the air currents. It was miraculous and mesmerizing.
  • Walk back toward hotel through Via Veneto. We are still stuffed from lunch so we decide to have dessert for supper: big cappuccinos, cream puffs drenched in chocolate, and pie (not pumpkin).

Friday. Our last day in Rome, we're in no rush to get up. We decide to take a look at the museums in Villa Borghese, a large park north of our hotel. 

  • National Gallery of Modern Art.  For a change of pace, we go modern.
  • National Etruscan Museum. Back to the past, to the mysterious guys who predated the Romans. Great old beads!
  • As usual we have walked ourselves to near collapse, so we eat lunch in the museum cafe. We're still trying to figure out the food business. We aren't clear who you order from or if you pay before or after. Apparently if you want to pick out your food and eat standing up, you pay the low price. If you want table service with menus, you pay more. We were eager for the recuperative value of a sit-down lunch.
  • I take video on the crowded subway, despite being scolded not to.
  • After a happy hour break in our hotel room we head out again, toward the Quirinale area and a couple of little round churches. We wouldn't want to miss any churches! It is night and we get a good view of the dome of St. Peter's.
  • I have figured out that a "bar" is where you can find bottles of wine to go. A small bottle of chianti suits me fine, makes me shine.
  • We walk toward the restaurant via the Trevi Fountain. I wanted to see it in full swing. I take video of all the romantic tourists.
  • For our last dinner, we went to the tony Via Veneto and found a restaurant with a darling glass-enclosed sidewalk cafe. The food was good but the service was poor, since I had to remind the waiter to bring my wine.

Tomorrow: Florence!

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Rome, Italy: Roman Forum and skyline

 

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