Thursday, March 3, 2016

Thursday, March 3 - Last Full Day in Rome

Tomorrow I catch a 1:00pm Ryan Air flight to The Netherlands -- where I'm excited to be reconnecting with friends and family over the next 6 days. This will be my 4th trip to The Netherlands and I've blogged before about the Dutch family/cousins I have there - first visiting in 2009, then again in 2011 and 2013.   Similarly, I've enjoyed repeating the story of how a seat-mate on the 2009 fight to Amsterdam led to me adding a another Dutch family to my life -- such that they even visited in Portland and we took a driving trip together down the coast to San Francisco.  I'm thinking I won't have much time to blog as I'd rather be visiting.

The cold, rainy weather returned today to Rome -- but there were two neighborhoods I still wanted to try to get in on this trip -- and for which Rick Steves has an audio tour on the app I've mentioned before:  the Jewish Ghetto and the now popular/hip area Trastevere - both adjacent to the Tiber River. Here I'm on the bridge over the Tiber which connects the two areas.

In order to get there, I navigated (gotta love Google Maps transit options) and took a city bus (after studying how their fare system works -- easy, same ticket as used by Metro).

On my walk to the bridge/starting point of the audio tours, I happened upon a church with a stunning altar display, Santa Maria in Campitelli:

Churches are literally everywhere you turn here. Just now I did a Google search to learn that there are 900 churches in Rome.  And the few that I visited are each unique and interesting in their own way -- whether it be the display of wealth, statues, art work -- or even the trinkets.  Once again my thoughts of "what would Jesus think" spun around when not far from this beautiful altar, I saw this -- a coin operated vending maching:

I completed the two audio tours -- and picked what appeared to be a nice lunch place -- but my day got cut short when the meal  -- or perhaps something else I had eaten recently -- didn't agree with me.  I'll spare you the details but suffice to say that not every day is perfect bliss when traveling.  I involuntarily left some of the lunch in restaurant's toilet and some on the Tiber River bank, and headed back to my room which seemed to take forever!  But I'm happy to report that now, just a few hours later, I'm back to myself, finishing this posting and getting ready for my trip tomorrow.  I do often talk about my travel motto: If I haven't had a bad meal, I haven't been pushing the adventuresome-eating envelope enough -- but by "bad" I intend to mean one that doesn't taste good to me.  In this case, everything I've been eating tastes great -- but that's no guarantee that my stomach will agree with my taste!  Of course, I share this part of my journey just to remind readers that every day on the road doesn't go perfectly!

Anyway, it's been an amazing 6 nights here in Rome and I do hope to return someday as there is plenty more to see and do.  "Yet knowing how way leads onto way, I doubted if I should ever come back" (Robert Frost) -- after all, it took me almost 65 years to get here the first time and my bucket list remains full of places -- including here in Italy -- I still want to visit.

March 1 & 2 - The Pantheon and The Pope

I forgot to mention in yesterday's posting, that I continued on from Capitol Hill to the famous, said to be one of the "best-preserved" ancient building -- The Pantheon -- still the world's largest unreinforced concrete dome.  With the continuing assistance of the audio tour app, I marveled at the precise construction and labor involved.  Even the columns are said to have been transported intact from their quarry in Egypt.

Thereafter I made my way back to the Vatican/St. Peter's to try to arrange a ticket to be at the Pope's weekly audience on the following day -- free but only available at certain hours and by again passing through security/metal detectors - and another queue.  I was confused by the process as I ended up in a line with people who had printed reservations for tickets -- but ended up getting the coveted ticket just by asking the decoratively uniformed Swiss Guard at the entry point for the people with reservations.  He obliged. I appreciated the luck to be here on a Wednesday that the Pope was having his audience and to score a ticket -- though in hindsight I think all the ticket got me was a faster way around security the following day.

On Wedneday morning (March 2), I made my way back to St. Peter's plaza around 8am (for the 10am audience) and found a seat as close as I could get at that point.  Plenty of folks were already there.  I enjoyed visiting with those around me -- a parish of visitors and their tour guide for Solanas, Sardinia.  After educating me on their piece of the planet, one gentleman wanted to encourage my visit by giving me his card promoting holiday homes there.  I'll add a visit there to my never-empty bucket list!

Being part of this week's Pope's audience was super-interesting from a people-watching perspective, but all but a small portion of visiting parish introductions is conducted in Italian.  I asked the Sardinian tour guide seated next to me (who had attended many times) whether the Pope made any new pronouncements or said anything about "walls."  She said everything was routine -- but it was clear she was up on current events as she proceeded to ask me about my views on Donald Trump.

I spent the rest of the day wandering (both on foot and Metro) and visited Rome's oldest cathedral -- the first Christian basilica to be build in Rome: St. John's in Laterano (Basilica Di San Giovanni). Certainly as beautiful as St. Peter's, my photos don't begin to capture it, so the wikipedia entry photos will have to suffice.

Similarly, I made my way to the 12th century Basilica Di San Clemente and took the self-guided tour into its foundation that holds a 4th century church built upon a 2nd century pagan temple and a 1st century Roman house.  Learning about the pagan temple's "Mithras" cult left me yearning to study more.  I guess I've always been fascinated how our own American traditions -- even religions -- seem to be an unusual concoction of pagan and Christian connections (Christmas trees, Halloween, etc)

Another most interesting day in Rome.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Mar 1 - Visiting Ancient Rome

The heavy rain of yesterday was just a memory when I awoke to bright sunshine -- and knew that this would be a great day to see beyond the Vatican.  The Metro delivered me directly across the street from the massive Colloseum early enough to avoid any crowds and to be able to enjoy a leisurely, audio-directed (my free Rick Steves app) tour inside and out, and nearby.  I couldn't help but think of parallels to our modern day sporting events when listening to how the gladiator "games" served to entertain the masses -- maybe one difference is that the wealthy/rulers made them free so as to keep miscreants occupied/off the streets.

The Colloseum was just the beginning of this day of contemplation on the rise and fall of the great Roman society.  Right next to the Colloseum is this Arch of Constantine which is less well known, but more significant to our lives today:

As author Rick Steves explains, "if you are a Christian, were raised a Christian or simply belong to a so-called Christian nation, ponder this arch -- it marks one of the great turning points in history: the military coup that made Christianity the year 312..."  I'll spare you the rest of the history lesson though the entire day did leave me feeling that I wish I'd paid more attention in my history classes.

A short walk from the Colloseum and Arch is ground zero for ancient Rome -- two heavily toured areas of ruins known as Palatine Hill and The Roman Forum (essentially ancient Rome's main street). All fascinatingly interesting, brought to life by the excellent audio guide as I walked where Julius Caesar lived (and died) and Vestal Virgins lived (and some were killed).

As with all my travel, no photo does justice to the experience -- but just for the record:

My days' journey continued to Rome's "Capitol Hill" area -- and I enjoyed a silent laugh when I found this statute that seemed to have captured what I had been doing all day -- taking a "selfie." 

Feb 29 - Eating and Planning

On Monday, February 29, I decided to take a day off from typical tourist activities and just walk the neighborhood of my accommodations -- and feast at a highly rated and friend-recommended "hostaria" restaurant, Dino and Tony's -- which turned out to be just a few blocks from my room. It truly was a feast -- including an antipasto, a pizza, two separate kinds of pasta, wine and when I resisted desert and coffee, the owners insisted on bringing me a shot of lemoncello.  It was both delicious and fun -- and I just had a good laugh when I added the Trip Advisor link to the restaurant.  Trip Advisor reports that it is rated 391st out of 8,964 restaurants in Rome!  I'm sure it will remain number 1 of the restaurants I have/will visit here.

After lunch, some serious downpours and my tired legs encouraged me to take a break and do my studying for the days to come.  Unlike tourists booking guided tours, my style of touring requires preparation -- figuring out where to go, when to go, how to get there on public transportation and what to look for.  In addition to my mapping tool, I was delighted to happen upon an excellent app for routing on public transit and a free audio app by popular travel writer Rick Steves that operates like a rented audio tour option at each major attraction here in Rome.  I've always maintained that if you want an easy, mind-less holiday, take a cruise where your only decisions are where on the ship to eat.  Budget traveling in a city where you don't speak the language takes work!  Rewarding work, but work just the same!

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

First 2 Days in Rome - Part 2

One of the many reasons I enjoy blogging (when I have time) is that it allows me to further read about places I've visited.  You might identify: before you visit a place it's often a challenge to relate to the information; after you visit, that task is easier, indeed even fun.  Anyway, in following my own inserted-link to the Wiki entry for the Vatican Museums, I found an even better photo of part of entry line -- so I'm going to insert it here.  The Wiki article even cautioned about visiting on the free, last Sunday of the month.  The lesson -- I probably should read this stuff before I venture out!

After visiting St. Peter's, I explored and jumped on the Metro to head to the supposed 4pm meeting spot for the local free tour.  Of course they aren't really "free" -- but you pay at the end whatever you think it was worth -- and this one gets good reviews and Lonely Planet guidebook reference.

Well, I thought I was in the right place at the right time but could find neither the tour nor the young couple who I had met/visited with at the Basilica.  But about the moment that I was ready to give up on this tour-fail, the young couple found me and explained they too couldn't find the tour.  I'm not sure whether perhaps the tour didn't run on this Sunday or whether we were at the wrong spot, but the three of us hatched a plan to do the "tour" on our own.  I had my trusty and excellent off-line Maps.Me app and the Lonely Planet Rome guide loaded on my phone and "Michael" had the expected route/sites of the free tour on his -- so off we went. At each site, I would read the brief description from the Lonely Planet guide -- as I enjoyed their company on this impromptu tour.

A few of our stops included the Trevi Fountain:

 And the Altare della Patria:

We walked and visited for over a mile -- seeing lots of sights and even though the sun was setting, they were motivated to continue as they were leaving Rome this same night (they had flown to Rome from Poland, but were now driving south with plans to leave the car in Sicily and fly to Malta before returning home).  We talked about their dream to drive/camp across the USA -- which I encouraged, telling them about Staci and Martin's adventure to China that was life changing (for them and me). We arrived at the Colloseum after closing -- but continued exploring nearby until we finally headed for the Metro where we said goodbye at the main Rome Metro Station - Termini.  

Of course I was delighted to have, once again, added new friends to my life and travels -- fully expecting that I will again cross paths with them when they visit the USA -- or perhaps when I visit Poland!

First 2 Days In Rome - Part 1

A comfortable Swiss Air flight ($85 from Zurich to Rome)  brought me into Rome's Leondardo da Vinci-Fiumicino Airport on Saturday afternoon (February 27) and I took a chance on the cheapest way to my accommodations - a €5 bus ride and a €1.50 Metro/subway ride.  I felt like I was back in China for the bus queue (there was none -- just crowding forward) -- but the Metro was easy to understand and use with selectable English prompts on the ticket machine.

Using my favorite booking site (, I had arranged an unusual but well regarded place to stay -- just two blocks from the Vatican and two blocks from the Metro for €46 a night.  The accommodation (which goes by the name "Deluxe Rooms") isn't for everyone because it is just a room in an apartment building -- but it is truly perfect for me. Right in the heart of plenty of activity, sightseeing and restaurants/cafes.

 And my view out the window.  The room is super quiet notwithstanding its proximity to the street as the updated windows are obviously sound proofed.

I love the bustle of a city (Neil Diamond's "It's A Beautiful Noise" comes to mind) -- and I enjoyed walking around my 6-day home and feasting at one of the many pizzerias.

Before I shut out the lights, I made a plan for the next day -- noting that it was the one "free day" of the month (last Sunday of the month) for entrance into the Vatican Museums (home to the Sistine Chapel) -- saving me €16 (about $17.25).

I should have gotten an earlier start Sunday -- because as I approached the Vatican Museum, it was clear that lots of others had my same money-saving plan in mind and the line was an hour long.  I only thought of giving up the plan for a moment because as I walked along the line to find the end, I realized that just waiting in line would give me an hour worth of people watching.  After all, I hadn't come just to see the sights -- one can always get a better vantage from a photograph on the internet -- but I was here for the experience.  Waiting in line and hearing the multitude of languages about me was the experience that the internet couldn't give me.  To be sure, I heard very little English and it was clear that I was among mostly Italian travelers/visitors.

The Vatican Museums including the Sistine Chapel were fascinating -- though I did think more than once about what Jesus might think of the extravagant wealth on display.  I took a few photos just for my own memories -- but nothing worth adding to this blog.  I read in one of the tour books that if one stopped to look at everything in the museums, it would take 2 years.  I compressed those two years into a few hours.

The excitement of the first touring day stayed with me -- and I ventured nearby to find yet another long line to get into St. Peter's Basilica.  By this time it had started to rain and I wanted to reassure myself that I was in the right line and I didn't need a ticket from some other place -- so I asked the young couple behind me in line if they spoke English.  They did -- and gave the reassurance I needed to stay in line as I put up my umbrella (purchased in 2009 in Wuhan, China during a similar downpour!)  And in offering to share my umbrella with the young couple, the line time melted away as we began talking -- they were the age of my youngest (turning 30 in April) and on their own adventure from their home in Poland.  By the time we got through security and entered the Basilica, we had figured out that we both had plans to attend the same "free" tour later in the afternoon. We bid farewell with the expectation we would cross paths again.

The Basilica is beautiful and interesting -- and my thoughts of what Jesus might think took a side-seat to the happiness of being in a place that I had heard about so many times in my life.

To Be Continued