Destination Anywhere

Oh, the best laid plans. We had everything in place; flights, hotels, AirBnBs, tours, SIM cards – yes everything. Then Sue tested positive for COVID. Ugh! (If I actually had Covid, it was asymptomatic. I feel fine.) Time to pivot. We couldn’t stay in the place in Rome, so we did what we do best. We gathered our thoughts and made a new plan.

Part one. Sue took another test and came up negative, but Israel was still out because she would need to get the PCR test from the lab that was already closed, so that was off the table. First, we had to find a place for the next day or two so we had time make real plans. We looked for hotels in Rome, but quickly decided that Venice was a more interesting choice as Sue had not been there.

We checked the trains and found a train leaving in a few hours. We picked a hotel and made a reservation for the weekend. Whew, the immediate issue was settled. We had a quick lunch, headed for our favorite train station – Rome Termini – and boarded the train to Venice.

The train gave us time to think, plan and organize ourselves. We decided to go to Amsterdam, another city Sue has not been to, and visit Sue’s friend Ellen; then head to London to see my daughter Abi. I contacted Abi but on hearing that we wanted to visit – she immediately left London – OK, not quite, she has a business trip starting on Monday and would not be back until we were going to be back in the states. So, no London. After a very brief discussion, we decided to go back to Brugge, which we loved, but only had a day there way back in September.

The next issue we found was that the flights to Amsterdam were very expensive on Monday, but reasonably priced on Tuesday. Once again, after a brief discussion, we decided to stay in Venice an extra day. Note to self, we would need to change the hotel reservation in Venice, but we could do that once we arrived. Sue then started the process of talking to Delta to change our return flights (which were Tel Aviv to JFK and then JFK to Fort Lauderdale) to be a couple of days earlier.

The first thing we found was that flying from Amsterdam was €2,600 while flying from Brussels was €1,200. With Abi unavailable, and our revised plan to go to Brugge, Brussels seemed like an easy choice. The first person quoted the new flight as an additional $800 per person, which seemed excessive as we had paid an additional $500 per person to change our original flight from Rome to JFK to be from Tel Aviv to JFK. So even without any credit from the original flight we would still be paying more for the flight than had we just bought it.

I then started a conversation with Delta, too, and my person quoted a price of $300 per person to change the ticket. Sue checked the Delta website using the modify ticket function and it was giving us was giving us a refund of $500 per person, but for the wrong class of ticket. Sue then asked a Delta pricing specialist why the website was showing a $500 refund and customer service was quoting a $800 increase. The representative came back with a $300 credit on the ticket per person on the international flight using the right fare class and then also gave us a $250 per person credit for changing the date of our JFK to FLL flight. All in, we received credits of $1,100 instead of paying an additional $1,600. There just does not seem to be any rhyme or reason to this pricing system. (Note to Delta: Train your customer service people!) We quickly booked the tickets for both US flights and the flight from Venice to Amsterdam. We then booked the hotel in Amsterdam and the hotel in Brugge. During our four-hour train ride to Venice, we managed to plan the entire two weeks and make all the arrangements.

You know the old saying. When life gives you lemons, make lemoncello.

So here we are, in Venice – the consolation prize. We purposefully selected a hotel that was not too far from the train station, but when we arrived it looked like it was going to be a long walk. Outside the train station there are porters who will take you bags to your hotel on a rolling cart and boy am I glad we did that. The walk to the hotel included two bridges, one of which had 42 steps and was about half a mile – if we didn’t get lost, and we would have gotten lost. Our porter, Mahbubur, is from Bangladesh has a degree in political science and speaks “only six languages”. He works in Italy to send money to his family and has two girls in college, studying nursing and dentistry. I felt somewhat ashamed that this man, who has a better education than I have, was carrying my bags for a living. It is often jarring to be reminded how lucky we really are.

We checked into the hotel and headed out for dinner. We found a place just around 7 corners, 3 bridges and a couple of covered walkways. I left a trail of breadcrumbs so that we could find our way back, but the pigeons ate them, so we will never be able to find that restaurant again. We waited about 30 minutes but sat down on the early side of dinner at about 8:30. The food was good, and we sat and enjoyed ourselves finishing just around 11 p.m. You know – early for Italy.

Today, Sunday, we headed out for a full day of wandering, ostensibly our goal was to get to St. Mark’s Square, but after taking several random turns and studiously avoiding the directions that Google was giving us, we found that we could not actually get from where we were to St. Marks without either crossing at the Rialto Bridge or taking a water bus. Sue had wisely put a patch on Saturday night and so we decided to brave the water bus. We found the station easily (only three wrong turns and two additional bridges) and bought a full day pass for the water bus. The boat showed up, we boarded and went exactly one stop almost literally across the canal and got off. I know it is only April, but there are so many tourists in Venice already, I can’t imagine what it will be like this summer.

After St. Marks we hopped back on the water bus (after a couple of false starts trying to find the right bus and the right direction) and headed to the Jewish Ghetto. Stacy and David (our sister in law and Sue’s brother) had gone to a shop there and we wanted to have a look. After doing a little bit of shopping we decided it was time for lunch.

I don’t mean to sound snobbish or ungrateful for the adventure we are having, but we have been here about two months and are just a little tired of Italian food.  In Rome went to an Asian place, where Sue had sushi and I did not; a Mexican street food place near our AirBnB and found a Persian place on our last full day in the city, all were a very nice change from pasta and pizza.  Today for lunch we found a place that did Middle Eastern (Lebanese, Iranian and Afgani food). They served a selection of five things per person. Afterwards, we wandered around for a while longer, crossed the Rialto Bridge and rounded out the day with dinner at a traditional Italian place, just down the street from our hotel.

Hellos and Goodbyes

As we approach the end of our wonderful stay in Roma, we are faced with more goodbyes. Today, we said arrivederci (or ciao) to our trainer, Angelo, (from Rabbit Sport Center) who not only tortured us with full-body exercises for our aging carcasses, but invited us out for coffee with his partner, Meg. Not only is Angelo a very buff trainer, but he’s an excellent photographer. Meg works for the United Nations, so they are a real power couple, and sweet as well. Meg grew up in Toronto, so we were able to have a more comfortable conversation. Understandably, Angelo was shy about conversational English, but he did great (with some translating of more difficult topics like the differences in health care).

Didn’t have any pics of our new friends, so here’s one of a cat who was my friend while I petted it.
We have no idea who this is, but he accidentally AirDropped his photos to me, so I will call him The Unknown Friend.

Meeting new people, making a connection, learning about their culture and their lives makes life sweeter, but arrivedercis sting. We always say, “We’ll see you again, somewhere, sometime,” and we always mean it. Of course, we are moving targets and so are many of the people we meet. We’re attracted to open people with adventurous spirits, so they are just as likely to pick up and move as we are. It makes having a giant party a bit of a challenge.

Someday, when we settle down, we will issue a permanent invitation to all our far-flung friends and we will truly mean that they are welcome to stay with us. We now have friends in Mexico (in addition to our favs, Kenta and Doug), Brazil, Paris, Burgundy, Rome, Nice, The Netherlands and Jerusalem. Feel free to add to our list.

Although leaving here is melancholy, we will be reuniting with a friend we met in Paris, who lives in Israel. Not only will we meet him, but he is moving out of his place to let us stay there and his mom is meeting us there because he will be at work. Thank you, Gilad and family!

Speaking of Israel … We’ve been assured by all our Israeli connections that we will be perfectly safe despite the reports of increased tension. Passover and Ramadan (and Easter) apparently remind everyone that sharing a tiny piece of land is impossible for all who have the power (but not the will) to change things. Sigh.

We are leaving our AirBnB in Rome on Saturday and flying to Israel on Sunday. One of the foibles of our life (and increasingly feeble minds) is that we make logistical errors. We thought we booked the place until April 25, but Noooooooooooo, April 23. So, we’ll be staying at the airport, which works out since we have a somewhat early flight and are flying El Al, so we want to make sure we get there in plenty of time to get through security. But, keeping all the details straight can be difficult, even with Steven’s excellent spreadsheets.

Easter in Rome

This is our last weekend in Rome, and the weather is warming up. We decided to try and avoid the center of Rome as we thought it would be mobbed with tourists here for Easter (which in Italy is a four-day weekend). For Saturday, we set our sights on visiting the Non-Catholic Cemetery of Rome (yes, that is really its name). We decided to play another round of Dead Person Bingo and see the final resting places of two of the great English poets; Keats and Shelley.

On one side of the cemetery is the city wall and built into the wall is the Pyramid of Cestius. Technically, I believe the wall was built around the pyramid, but the important point is that because it was part of the wall, it was not pillaged during the later periods. It is a 100-foot high pyramid built as the tomb of Cestius that dates from 12-16BC. It is in stunningly good condition, having been restored several times and it is quite arresting to look at. It is one of the amazing things about Rome; you turn a corner and find a wall, a column or a ruin dating back 2,000 years right next to some modern building and people passing by it without even a second glance. Just amazing.

This is what you see through the keyhole

We had a quick lunch at a food market in Testaccio and then climbed the Aventine Hill to look through the famous keyhole of the Buco della serratura dell’Ordine di Malta (which I believe translates to the keyhole of the knights of Malta). It is literally a keyhole in a door that has perfect view of St Peter’s Basilica. We waited in the glorious sunshine for about an hour to spend thirty seconds gazing through the keyhole. It is one of those things that is worth doing once if you aren’t pressed for time and the weather is nice. There are some nice gardens just down the hill and after gazing through the keyhole, we walk down to them and from there headed down to the river and accidentally into the center of the tourist part of the city. We walked past the Teatro di Marcello, another ancient theater that we now has apartments in it. From there we headed up the steps of the Musei Capitolini (which overlooks the Roman Forum), and from there headed back to the Metro to go home.

Sue having a picnic with one old one and one ancient

Sunday was Easter and while we considered going to St. Peter’s Square, we decided against it as we would have to get there around 8 a.m. to possibly see the Pope at some point after the 10 a.m. Mass. Spending hours standing in a confined area to see someone who heads another religion speak in a language that, even if we could hear, we wouldn’t understand, just seemed like too much effort. Instead we headed for Parco degli Acquedotti (which translates to Aqueduct Park, and for those of you from New York, the answer is no, they do not have horse racing there).  It is a large park in southeast Rome that has the ruins of Roman aqueducts running through it. We packed a picnic lunch and headed out there on the Metro. It is on the same line as we are, but at virtually the opposite end of the line. The area around it was very pretty and the park was fabulous. We wandered around for an hour and then found the perfect spot for our picnic. After lunch we walked the rest of the park enjoyed a beautiful spring day. We headed back to the Metro to ride back to our AirBnb and closed our final weekend in Italy.

Next week in Jerusalem!

Just the Bare Bones of Our Weekend

This weekend is going to be a calm and quiet one, no 11 trains, no traveling halfway across the country to go the ballet, not even a quick trip to Florence to see more of the sights. Wednesday as we were discussing our weekend plans, Sue stumbled onto a place called Jerry Thomas, that describes itself as speakeasy and was right near a restaurant we were planning to try. It is named after, surprisingly, Jerry Thomas who is described as the father of the American cocktail. To get in you needed to answer a question about him, which was actually about New York’s old Sunday blue laws. We answered the question, which yielded an email that gave us the secret password to get in. On the site is a link to a phone number and instructions on the times that you can call and make a reservation. This just seemed too fun to pass up, so at the appointed hour, Sue called and found that the earliest reservation we could get would be midnight and also that it is a private members only club, so we would have to purchase a membership for the grand sum of €5 each. Now at this point reasonable people our age would have said either: no and given up on the adventure or perhaps, asked if could we get a reservation for another day at an earlier time. But no way we were going to do either of those (we’re not reasonable). So midnight it was.

We re-arranged our plans and had dinner near our place then settled in for an hour or so before heading out to look for a taxi. There is a taxi stand just around the corner, but, it was empty. On reflection, I guess not surprising, since it was 11:45 and our place is somewhat in the suburbs. However, after about 5 minutes of trying to figure out how to order a cab, one drove by and we hopped in it. The speakeasy is clearly marked on the map, but of course, the “road” it was on was merely an alley. A group of people milling about midway down the alley so we quickly figured out that this was where we needed to be. Plus, the cabdriver pointed. After a brief moment, a man opened the door of what looked like a brownstone or row house and started to call names. He called Sue’s name and we were allowed in. Humorously one woman tried to bluff her way in by claiming to be in another party. The look of derision that he gave her was withering and she slunk back away from the door. The doorman seemed a bit dour, but I guess I would, too, if my job were to make everyone wear a mask, check their green passes, shout names into the unruly crowd and keep everyone quiet in a residential area as they were clambering to get into my workplace. The bar was decked out in early Prohibition. The cocktail menu appeared first, followed by our drinks, which were delicious. We would like to especially thank our server, Luca, who kindly spoke English and brought some focaccia for us. At 1:30 a.m. sharp our reservation expired and we headed home. We had a similar taxi adventure on the way home, but the wait was only a few minutes.

Saturday morning, our niece Genny arrived for a two-week stay.  She got in about 10 a.m. and after a brief stint trying to sleep, we ate lunch and headed to one of weirdest places that we have been to so far. The Capuchin Crypts are a series of chapels under the church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini. The chapels are built with the bones of Capuchin friars. There is a small museum that really just seems to be there to lead the way to the crypts. Apparently when the friars moved to this church they brought the bones of their dead brothers with them. At some point, according to the information in the museum, it was either a Capuchin friar who had fled from France and was hiding in the ossuary or a local artisan who ask permission to create the chapels.

There is simply no way to describe how weird it is; photography is banned so these pictures are from the web, but they do not really do justice the how bizarre the whole thing is. The Paris catacombs, which we visited way back in August, were odd, and the bones were arranged with some artistic flare. But this place was a whole different level of weirdness. There were friars in repose underneath arches of bones. The chandeliers where made of bones, the ceilings were decorated in bones. A couple looked like they had mummified faces. Very creepy. Suffice to say we loved it.

After finishing there, we decided to walk to the Vatican to see where Genny had lived during her time here as a nun…OK, she wasn’t here as a nun, she did a semester abroad in Rome and had an apartment just near the Vatican. After walking past her old apartment, we grabbed the Metro back to our stop and settled in for the evening.

Eleven-train weekend

Yes, that’s right: 11 trains. Sounds a bit overboard (off the rails?)(UGH! She is stealing my jokes!), but it just kind of happened that way. We started out Friday taking a cooking class about 25 minutes (by train) outside of Rome. That required getting to Roma Termini by Metro and then taking the regional train out (stay tuned for a blog on our train mishaps!). Four trains round trip.

Only the local trains were this highly decorated.

Saturday morning we headed to Pompeii. Back on the Metro to Termini for the intercity train to Napoli followed by the regional train to Pompeii. But wait! We went from there to Sorrento on another train. Keep up with me here; we’re up to 8 trains.

Of course, we had to get back on Sunday, so Sorrento to Napoli, Napoli to Termini, and Metro home. Phew! But, it was all worth it because cooking class, Pompeii, and Sorrento!

Friday

Our cooking class was taught by Claudia, with entertainment by Bruno, her husband. They are a great combo. One other couple (Hi Eva & Hosea – sorry Hosea if I have misspelled your name) had also signed up for the class and they turned out to be fun companions (I was a little concerned when we first met them because they are from New Jersey – but despite that – they were really great). We spent a lot of time chatting as we made two kinds of ravioli and beef rolled and stuffed with something (what do I know, sono vegetariana!). While we rolled dough and blabbed, Claudia made a delicious salad of oranges, fennel, fresh olives (from their trees), salt and olive oil (which she makes) and Bruno provided piano accompaniment with Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, Stevie Wonder’s Isn’t She Lovely, John Lennon’s Imagine, and a jazz version of Pink Floyd’s The Wall And Volare! I’ve been in Italy for 4 weeks and it’s the first time I’ve heard it.

The delicious dinner took a bit longer to complete than expected and we ended up rushing out the door at 20:05 to try to make the 20:12 train, a 15-minute drive away. Quote of the weekend from Bruno: “I think it’s impossible, but we will try.” Try and succeed after a mad dash to the platform. Thanks to the conductor who held the train for us while we ran up the steps with very full stomachs.

Saturday

You already know how we got to Pompeii. We did have an OK lunch in Napoli, allegedly creator of pizza, and then got back on the train. BTW, Napoli is a bit gritty, but it’s hard to get a fair judgment from the area around a train station in any city. Certainly no one approached us and we never felt we or our belongings were in danger.

We arrived in Pompeii about 13:30 and wandered for 3 hours. I had no idea how big the city had been. Being there turned Steven and I philosophical. He was musing on the scope of time and I on how beautiful and civilized a place it seemed to have been. Bathhouses, government buildings, commercial streets, an amphitheater and a societal structure of haves and have nots (and the have lesses) all wiped out by caprice only years after a major earthquake followed by rebuilding.

One of the joys of traveling off season (and at what I hope is the tail end of COVID restrictions) is that nothing is overly crowded. So much nicer to travel without elbowing through throngs.

Pompeii shuts down around 17:00, but we reached our limit about 16:30, so we got back on a train and headed to Sorrento.

We had a room in a hotel just around the corner from the train station (Diamond Suite), but when we arrived, we couldn’t find the place. The manager (owner?) Michele kindly came downstairs and found us. He was a wonderfully helpful person and I bet if we were staying longer, he would have had some secretly great recommendations for us. The place itself was no luxury hotel, but it was spotless, had a nice balcony and a comfortable bed (but the shower did have mood lighting!).

After a short rest, we wandered the narrow streets of Sorrento until someone got a bit hangry (not saying it was Sue, but it was totally Sue). After fruitlessly marching around looking for restaurants based on Google information (COVID has changed a lot and times in Italy aren’t exactly set int stone), we landed at La Maison Douce. The food was delicious, but the waiter made the night. He was friendly and comped us limoncello. (Think he knew we had a blog?) Plus, they had FEW gin, straight from Evanston, IL. Who would have thought(I used to live a block from the distillery, and have done the tour…just a few times.)

Sunday

It was a day for (death) marching. We headed down to the water for some photo ops at the Marina Grande. Ah, ancient stone dwellings built into cliffs and the requisite restaurants and their touts beseeching you to eat lunch at their establishment. Plus, an obstacle course for drivers. Why do people buy big cars in Italy?

We realized we couldn’t escape without having an aperol spritz, so we gave in. I knew it would be a bit bitter, and it was. I steer very clear of Campari because it’s even more bitter. I’m plenty bitter without adding to it(notice I am not saying anything).

We planned a late lunch because we wouldn’t be home until well after dinner time. Steven found a place, O’Parrucchiano La Favorita, but neither of us had any idea what a big deal it was. The place was huge, packed and it had lemon groves out back. Once again, the food was yummy. I guess you just can’t go wrong with pasta. We thought we had plennnnty of time, but suddenly it was 16:00, we had to stop at the hotel to pick up our backpacks and our train to Napoli left at 16:24. Oops! Getting the timing right on the little things can be the toughest part of travel. Sometimes we’re sitting around at the airport for hours and other times we’re sweating it out.

We made the train without a hitch, but it stopped for extended stretches at a few stops. Steven turned to me and said, “I think we’re going to be late.” We had left 30 minutes between the Napoli train and the one back to Roma, but we had to find the right track, walk from the local station to the main station, well, we worried a bit. All’s well that ends well, however. We had no difficulties (this time) and made the train with 10 minutes to spare. To cap off a great weekend, we got to the Metro platform just as our train arrived and we were home by 20:00.

Once in the door, Steven said to me, “I’m really tired for 7 o’clock.”

I replied, “It’s not; it’s 8.”

“Then, why does the clock say 7?”

Oops! We had completely forgotten about daylight savings time. No wonder we slept so late. Good thing for cell phone clocks or we really would have messed up our train schedule.

Join a Gym …

Well, it doesn’t have to be a gym, but get yourself into the world of people who really live where you’re hanging out. In Guadalajara, we did yoga and learned some Spanish along the way. We also learned that Mexicans are helpful and friendly.

Monday, we signed up at a gym, Rabbit Sport Center, (and, no, I didn’t translate that) in our neighborhood in Rome. How bad did we feel when the front-desk person repeatedly apologized to us because his English isn’t good?!?! We intended to go in Tuesday but … we may have slept until 10:15. Oops. Delayed jetlag or just old people doing too much in one week? Whatever. On Wednesday, we met our new trainer, Antonio, who speaks English or at least enough English. (at least enough to torture us!)

We got two really important things out of our first day:

  • We can count to 12 in Italian!
  • We now know how out of shape we really are.

We are sore, but we did go back today. We have to make up for living around the corner from Pasticceria Tiramisù plus Italian bread, pasta, and cheese.

We are starting to feel like we live here after a wonderful week with David and Stacey. The downside to that is we aren’t playing tourist except for weekends. Life is tough.

Friday Death March

Friday, we decided to head to Trastevere, a neighborhood not far from us, but difficult to get to by train. It was death march time! The southernmost hill of Rome is nearby and offers views of the entire city. We did our usual and marched up and were not disappointed (But we – or at least I – was in pain). There’s also the Finnish embassy and a statue of Giuseppe Garibaldi, hero of Italian unification, plus a gravel walkway with the busts of soldiers who fought with Garibaldi. Sad to say, in a battle between those known warriors of the world, the French and Italians, the French won the day and Garibaldi and his soldiers’ efforts to protect Rome were in vain.

Garibaldi

We then headed down into the neighborhood of Trastavere, and after a detour to see an overturned Mercedes (roof still intact), we made it. We are jaded, I have to say. Trendy neighborhoods are full of restaurants and tourist shops. That’s fine, but not that exciting to us, there’s a sameness to all of them. Instead, we crossed the Tiber and did what we do best: wandered aimlessly and discovered the beauty of Rome. Everywhere we turned there was an amazing sculpture or an ancient column in a tiny piazza. Now I get why people love Rome! We walked about 7 miles and took in the winding cobblestones and incredible architecture. We sat and had a cafe in a piazza where children were running around after school and just enjoyed people watching. Then, we headed back to our neck of the woods where we had wine at a local wine shop and bar, Vineria Beva Boccea. The waiter was very kind with our lack of Italian and recommended some delicious reds. Finally, we ended the day with Japanese food at Umi Sushi. I know, but we will still eat plenty of pasta.

We have noticed that while Mexicans go for straight 1980s American hair band music, the Italians seem to like their American music with a twist — a very slow twist. They turn it into elevator music with that slow jazz background. Everything from Toto to Madonna to Michael Jackson slowed to half speed with a drum machine. It’s pretty amusing.

Funny aside: Someone in Florence accidentally Airdropped me a bunch of photos. They are all portraits of one man. People: Be careful who you Airdrop. I won’t publish the pics, but someone else might have.

The first four days in Roma

This week has been a bit of a whirlwind, and this portion of the blog is going to cover only Sunday to Thursday. I promise will write more tomorrow or Monday about the rest of the week. I am also only including a few photos. Our amateur photos of Vatican do not do the the art justice, so please use the links to see professional photos.

We arrived in Rome on Sunday morning after a smooth flight. Monday Sue’s brother David and our sister-in-law Stacey arrived from Chicago. They are celebrating their 25th anniversary with a 10-day trip to Italy. Stacey is supremely organized and so we just waited for them to arrive and for Stacey to let us know what we were doing and when.

Tuesday morning was a four-hour tour of ancient Rome. A driver picked us up at our place and took us to the Coliseum where we met our tour guide. The day was cool (40s F) and quite windy. It made for a rude change from the 80°+F that we were used to in Guadalajara. Sabrina, our tour guide, quickly ushered us into the Coliseum and started filling us in on the history of both the building and of ancient Rome. One of the benefits of using a tour, rather than just entering on our own, is that we had access to the “upper decks” of the building. There is a museum on the third level and with Sabrina’s excellent explanations we learned so much. Some of the things we found out included that the building is the Coliseum, not because it is so large, but because there was a statue of the emperor Nero called The Colossus that predated the building; that the building was partially destroyed in an earthquake during the 13th century; that there is no mortar between the large limestone blocks, they were held in place by brass pins and those brass pins were looted during the middle ages, which accounts for large holes in the those blocks (don’t think too hard about the fact that the entire building doesn’t have anything holding the blocks together); that the original bricks used were triangular as they held the mortar better than rectangular bricks; and finally, that you can tell the nicer areas by the quality of the floors. The upper tiers had brickwork floors, the lower tiers had mosaics while the emperor’s walkways were lined in marble. 

After about an hour, we headed to the Forum, which is the original city center for Rome. The buildings along the forum road generally dated from ancient times, many of the buildings are still in very good condition and as Sabrina commented, “The buildings that were converted to churches are the ones that survived.” The rest were looted or, in more modern terms, they were recycled to be used for other buildings. We saw lots of evidence of that in the Vatican (foreshadowing – we go there on Wednesday). The Forum was built in a valley between the hills of Rome, and so one of the first things the Romans did was to design a drainage system to keep the area dry. After the fall of Rome, the area fell into disrepair and slowly over the years ground level rose (due to sediment and fill) to be about 10 meters higher than the original road. The excavations brought the area back down to the original. Once again, Sabrina was very informative and while we were cold, the time passed quickly.

Once we had our fill of the Forum, the driver picked us up and we drove past the remains of the Circus Maximus, and then to the Jewish Ghetto. Sabrina gave us a quick tour of it and then we said good-bye to both her and our driver. We found a nice place for lunch and warmed up and relaxed.

After lunch, I headed back to the AirBnB to do some work, while the others headed to the Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, and Spanish Steps.

Stacey also organized our tour of the Vatican Museum for Wednesday. We started the day by taking the metro four stops and wandered to a little (literally six seats – think of a New York pizza place that has a small railing with a few seats) handmade pasta place that our AirBnB host had recommended, called Pastasciutta. You simply order your pasta and your sauce and they make it up right in front of you. After lunch we had a little while to kill so we wandered near the Vatican and found a coffee shop. Stacey, Sue, and I ordered a drink. I ordered a Viennese, not knowing what it was, and the photo to the right is what I received. Yum!

We met our tour guide, Valencio outside the entrance and he whisked us through the incredibly complicated system to get in. First you show the guards your reservation, then pass security, then get your ticket then head upstairs to the entrance. It is a system that would have made Rube Goldberg proud. The Vatican Museum is simply astounding. The entire layout is set up to lead you through the collection and ends in the Sistine Chapel.  The rooms are stocked full of amazing artwork, there are innumerable statues, mosaics, and other objects d’art from ancient Rome including what may or may not be Nero’s bathtub (imagine a cistern about 20 feet in diameter about 5 feet high). Many of the popes, especially during the Renaissance commissioned gorgeous murals that covered entire rooms. Valencio pointed out that during that time there was a focus on the Greek and Roman philosophers many of whom appear in the artwork.  We looked at room after room of stunning artwork and even the rooms where Valencio said “there is nothing interesting here” were amazing. The final part of the museum tour is the Sistine Chapel, which simply defies description. The rules for visiting include no photos, no loud talking and the tour guides are not allowed to provide commentary.  We spent about 30 minutes quietly contemplating the magnificence of Michelangelo’s work before heading out.

After the Sistine Chapel, we walked over to St. Peter’s Basilica and once again were just amazed by the grandeur of the building and the decorations. We spent about an hour wandering through the basilica with Valencio filling in much of the history. We saw the Pieta by Michelangelo, the massive central alter and soaring bronze canopy that covers the alter, but perhaps most impressive was the Bernini’s sculpture for the tomb of Pope Alexander VII. The way he used the space is amazing. The entire sculpture is over a door to some offices, but he managed create a beautiful and moving piece that has so much symbolism. It is awe inspiring.

After four hours of drinking from the fire hose of history and art, we called it a day and hopped on to the Metro home for dinner and gelato.