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In September (2014) my husband and I took a 2 week trip to Italy, hitting the major spots: Rome, Florence, and Venice. We also did several group tours outside the cities. For this post I am going to focus on Rome.
One could spend a lifetime in Rome and not see all of it. I had 5 days. The first day there started with coming in from an overnight flight. The best way to deal with that and get over jet lag quickly is to push through. So, we checked in, showered, and went to find a hop-on hop-off bus. I’ve done several of these in various cities around the world; my favorite is the British owned “City Sight Seeing” red buses. We did not use it in Rome, mostly due to their pushy salesmen (who sell for all the bus companies) and being very tired. I do not remember the company but it was not as good or reliable as the red buses, which we did use in Florence. This was my first choice of something to do, our hotel was near the train station and basically nothing else, so we used it as a taxi to get around get our barrings and the city and it did not require too much energy. The rest of day 1 was spent riding around and walking through the neighborhoods around Pantheon. I found this area to be the prettiest in the city, cobblestone streets, homes, restaurants/cafes mixed in with the historic buildings.
We did the regular attractions/sightseeing and several guided tours.,my favorite was the “extended Colosseum tour with the underground, arena floor, and Ancient Rome”. Our guide took us to the Colosseum and the Forum, we got to see more of the Colosseum than what the average ticket holder gets to see. We were able to go into the bottom, underground, where they kept the animals and gladiators. We were able to stand where the arena floor would have been and see the view those gladiators had, we were also brought up to the highest point guests can go and gave a great view of the Colosseum and the Forum outside. The guide was amazing, she knew what she was talking about and absolutely loved it, she kept calling it “my city” and her pride in coming from such an amazing place with such grand history was obvious. The tour also included the Ancient Forum and Palintine Hill.
We also did a tour that took us to the Aqueducts and Catacombs just outside the city. Catacombs were interesting, especially if you are interested in early Christian history; make sure you dress like you are entering a church (plus its chilly underground). The Aqueducts were impressive, in size and engineering. Between the two we walked along the old road to Rome, which is original and if you want to stand in history it’s a good place to start. It was worth the trip out into the country.
The Vatican tour was only worth the extra money because we got in before the crowds and were able to actually see the art. I am rather short so this is a benefit some might not appreciate as much. Lol. This is the only indoor museum we did while in Rome and it was educational on how the Vatican/Pope wanted to be represented. The wealth in the museums and the Basilica is impressive. The amount of “stolen” art from other countries or ancient buildings (ie: the Colosseum) around Rome is equally as impressive. There were two things I was surprised at: The School of Athens is huge: full wall sized and couldn’t get it all in my photo; and the Sistine Chapel is tiny, I knew it was small, but I guess it felt even smaller with the shoulder to shoulder crowd inside. Note: you are not allowed to speak or take pictures inside….this does not stop people naturally. What bothers me is that you are not allowed to take pictures because some Japanese company was given the copy writes to it for cleaning/restoring it, so you have to pay for an image. Ridiculous. Moving on. My husband talked me into going up to the top of the dome of St Peter’s; I found it to be a horrible idea. You take an elevator to the base of the dome, where you can walk inside around the dome (very neat—especially for pictures) and then you take a crazy amount of stairs up to the top. Now I am not in shape by any means, I did make it up there though. But not without feeling like I was going to die; mostly I think that feeling came from the panic attack setting in from the walls getting closer and closer and the steps getting smaller and smaller as you went up (also the steps are stone so they are slick). I refused to go up anything else the entire trip—including the Dumo and bell tower in Florence and the leaning tower of Pisa (my husband went up that one and took pictures for me lol). I’m not trying to discourage anyone from doing it, just know it takes some physical effort and if you get claustrophobic you might want to think twice.
The other major tour we did out of Rome was to Pompeii. We did not care for the tour itself, Pompeii was great though—everyone should go. The tour though…you get on a giant bus with like 60 people and drive from Rome to Naples (which is about 3-4 hours) and do a driving tour (in a bus that you can barely see out of) around Naples. Then they take you to the town of Pompeii for lunch, which was flat out the most disgusting thing I ate the entire trip—and I didn’t even eat the mystery meat—side note: some places call over cooked pork “roast beef”–do not order the roast beef. Then they took us to the ancient city of Pompeii, where you split off to your language local guided tour. Ancient Pompeii was fascinating; the “modern” town of Pompeii was cute. There’s lemon flavored everything right outside the entrance to the park—and it is NOT the sugary lemon stuff we get in the states, it is amazingly good lemon goodness. Also, pick up some lemoncello while you are here. I would go back but I would take the train from Rome and do it on my own other than the guided tour around the ancient city of course. (If you feel safer doing it in a group by all means go for the group—maybe find a smaller group though).
Okay, I am going to share some random things I loved about Rome and then I will let you leave. First, go somewhere nice to eat and order the saltimbocca alla Romana, it is veal cooked Roman style (I don’t usually eat veal but I made the exception here), it’s amazing. I had it at Vinando (http://www.vinando.eu/ristoranteroma/) in the neighborhood near the teatro marcello, the restaurant is beautiful and the staff was most pleasant. If you are looking for high end shops (brands and all) walk around the neighborhoods at the bottom of the Spanish Steps, there are also amazing pizza places near here. Try pizza and gelato everywhere, it is different but good—no one makes it the same. I tried a sweet, a fruit, and a nutty flavor of gelato—all were delicious. But my favorite food was the sandwiches. I know…of all the Italian goodness my favorite is a simple sandwich. But they are so good—everything is fresh, from the bread, the veggies, the meat, the cheese and the olive oil. Thinking about it makes me want to hop on the next plane to Italy.
In short, Rome is a trip everyone should make. I studied history in college so going to Rome was almost a pilgrimage for me. The Romans back then and today don’t do anything half assed, details are in everything, from the art/architecture, to the goods they produce, and finally in the food. My advice to anyone taking the trip is: see the sights but make sure to slow down and take it all in. Oh! And drink espresso….in all its forms. I went to Italy a non-espresso drinker and came home looking for a machine for my kitchen.
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