Wow, it’s been five months and ten days since we arrived in Italy. The countdown to visit family and friends begins.
Bob and I decided one last trip was in order before we leave this fine country, and you know where all roads lead. Yep, Rome it is, with an amazing side trip to the Mediterranean town of Gaeta.
The train was the mode of transportation. I love the train. You can see the countryside, relax and read. As long as I am facing the direction the train is traveling, I’m good.
Rick Steve’s guide book helped with a seamless visit to Rome. I did my homework and planned a delightful two full days of seeing the sights in Rome.
We arrived Thursday midday to a rainy yet warmer day, found the hotel, and took off to wander. No plans for this day except to get a feel for the city.
Friday morning and we’re off to the Colosseum. As you walk through Rome’s delightful streets, it’s normal to see an ancient ruin here and an ancient ruin there. There’re almost as common as Starbucks in the states.
It was rainy and in the 50s so the crowds were light when we arrived at this 2000 year old ruin, the Colosseum. When I go to places like this, I like to think that I’m sitting in the same spot as someone 2000 years ago. What was “game day” like?” I found a painting that helped with the visual, and there it was, a guy tailgating. And I thought Packer fans invented tailgating. It turns out, it’s an ancient activity. Truth be told, I’m glad it’s present day, as I have zero interest in seeing people killed by lions. I’m just saying.
It’s still raining as we walk to the Roman Forum. Thanks to our umbrellas and great rain coats, the weather’s no problem. When in Rome…
The Forum is lots of ruins that were once the commercial center of Rome. With a little imagination, you can see and hear the hustle and bustle of the city so many years ago. Here I needed to find a WC (bathroom) and was happy to discover that it was not ancient, in fact, one of the better WC’s I’ve experienced on our travels.
Next we continue walking to the Pantheon. No ruins here. It’s the only ancient building in continuous use.
It’s later in the day now so we stop for a coffee before walking back to the hotel for a rest and then a nice dinner.
Saturday brings a bit of sun, and we head for the Vatican, but our first stop was Castel Sant’Angelo. Bob loves a castle! It was built as a tomb for an emperor and later was used as a refuge for popes under attack. Lots of mysterious secret passageways.
We walk the few blocks to The Vatican and enter the square. First thing we notice is a crazy long line, maybe 2 or 3 hours to get into St Peter’s Basilica. Once again, Rick Steves saves us. The guide book tells us to buy a ticket that gets us into both the Vatican Museum and the Basilica.
The museum is overwhelming with literally miles of displays. We moved somewhat quickly, lingering at the Egyptian exhibit, the Raphael Room and of course the Sistine Chapel. We learned of a secret door that leads to St Peters, that can only be used by tours, so we just pretended to be a part of a tour and walked with them through the door. It was quite covert of us!
Now we are in the Basilica and it’s beautiful – the size, the marble, the feeling of quiet. I loved just being in this space. Bob headed for the cupola and I found a cafe for a rest and a wine. Here’s Bob to tell what’s up on top………
I couldn’t resist a climb to the top of the dome of St. Peter’s. There are over 500 steps. It all starts out with a spiral staircase, which leads to one ever more narrow staircase after another. Finally you go outside, up another staircase, through a door back into the church, and suddenly, I wasn’t expecting this, you’re inside the rim of the dome of St. Peter’s looking down from a safety cage to the tiny altar below. Then you look at the walls around you and discover that all those grand paintings on the walls of the church are not paintings at all, but rather elaborate stone mosaics, made to look like paintings from below.
Next you enter another even tinier staircase, but this one leans to the right because now you’re actually walking within the dome itself, which is, of course, curved. After a couple of times around, you finally emerge on the outside observation balcony near the very top of the dome, with a spectacular 360 degree view of Rome all around you. My favorite experience here in Rome.
Next we jump on the subway to another area of town for a walk to see the Spanish steps and the Trevi Fountain. Unfortunately the fountain is under construction, but we still got to toss a coin into a makeshift fountain. The legend says if you toss a coin into the fountain, you will return to Rome. I tossed a coin 18 years ago, so it looks like it’s true. I wonder when Bob and I will return?
I called it a night and Bob headed out to hear one of his favorite operas, La Traviata, performed by stars from the Opera Theater of Rome in a Renaissance church downtown.
Sunday we hopped the train to Gaeta to visit our landlord, Tara. We stayed at her beautiful home overlooking the Mediterranean. I honestly think Gaeta and Tara’s family was my favorite part of this week-long adventure. The energy and love of this family is contagious. Our first stop was Tara’s mom’s house for a happy hour. The group included Suzie – Tara’s mom, Giada – 9 year old daughter, Luca – 18 year old son, and Bob and me. We were instant friends. Later, we head back to Tara’s for a perfect dinner. She whipped up a divine pasta with white beans and squid in tomato sauce served over bruschette. Seafood is quickly becoming my favorite food.
The next morning we hiked with Tara in the Parco Monte Orlando, discovering breathtaking views and getting a bit of exercise. We pick up Luca and Giada from their schools. (at one o’clock – for my teacher friends) and headed back to Suzie’s for a delightful lunch. The FOOD!, SOOOO Good. She served a light pasta with tomatoes, olives, and olive oil, followed by a “Tiella”. Amazing. It’s basically a pizza with the crust on the bottom and top with lots of yummy filling. One was filled with octopus. One of my favorites now.
We said our goodbyes at dinner that night as everyone was headed to school or work early the next morning. Tuesday mid-morning, Suzie drove us to the train, we shared a coffee and more wonderful conversation and we were on our way back to Verbania.
On the train ride back, Bob and I talked about how relaxed we were on this trip to Rome. We are quickly picking up the “travel skills” needed to better enjoy this new lifestyle.