Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Day 10

We left Orvieto knowing there was much more we could have seen and, to that extent, I felt a little melancholic; however, it was time to head back to Rome and, the next day, fly home. In the morning we walked around Orvieto some more but as it was Monday the museums were closed. I had especially wanted to see the Etruscan art that had been discovered, sometimes accidentally by homeowners whose floors had collapsed into the caves below. Instead, we bought a few things, took a few more pictures and had lunch at the bed & breakfast where we’d stayed.

We had bruschetti that was excellent followed by the best minestrone soup I have ever eaten. It was so good we took pictures of us eating it. Afterwards, full and warm in the belly, we took the afternoon train to Rome.

In the evening we walked around the Trestevere section of Rome, going in and out of shops, looking for last minute presents and generally wandering around. One shop keeper, in response to our question, directed us to the da Oliveria ristorante for supper. On a whim in this charming little ristorante on the edge of the Ponte Sisto, we decided to have, in addition to salad and mixed bruschetti, the roast suckling pig. What we got was a knuckle, with little meat and a lot of gristle. The meal was well-prepared and presented but…. While finishing the chocolate ice cream torte and our glasses of wine, it started raining. It was certainly not a glorious ending to an otherwise, really good though strange kind of meal

Dodging rain falling in torrents from terracotta rooftops and puddles formed on cobblestone streets, we made our way back to the hotel and asked for a six a.m. wake up.

Now, sitting in an airplane nine hours later, with one more hour to go before we land in New York, the vacation is sliding into a memory. We’re now talking about the last hour getting to Boston, then the cab ride home and returning to work. There’s the dog to be gotten, the cats to pick up, food to be purchased. Life returns to normal.

I like traveling. It has its ups and downs but, all in all, being on the road is a nice place to be.

Day 8 & 9 Tuscany

After returning to Florence from the day spent in Bologna, we hopped on a regional train to continue our trip. We were headed to Tuscany. The plan was to go to Orvieto, rent a car and drive around the Tuscan countryside. We did get through Tuscany, but it was on the train going from Florence, at the north end of Tuscany, to Orvieto, at the southern fringe of it. Orvieto is actually at the top edge of Umbria. Orvieto is where we spent the weekend.

Getting off the train in Orvieto Saturday just after 2 p.m., Judy went to find the Hertz Rent-a-car place. She came back to get me and said, “I have good news and bad news.” The good news was she found the place. The bad news was it had closed an hour earlier and was not going to re-open until Monday. What to do?

Orvieto is built on top of a hillside. It sits a few hundred feet up, on top of what could be called a mesa, is a couple thousand years old and has a wall around it. The train station sits at its bottom. In order to think about our predicament, we convinced the train ticket guy, a dead ringer for John Melilli, only with hair, to let us stow our bags while we took the tram up to the city.

We walked the wall at the top that overlooks the plain below with a view like at the top of the Duomos in Florence and Bologna and discussed our options: take the train onto Rome; take the train back to Florence; call Pamela and spend the weekend with her; or, take the train on to Naples. Judy was in favor of the last option. I was inclined to spend the weekend in Orvieto. We kicked around getting into Naples at night, trying to find a place to stay and figuring, since it was a big, port city, we’d end up paying a lot because we would be hot, tired, hungry, lost, and at the mercy of whoever we ran into.

While we were walking up an ancient street in Orvieto we passed a bed & breakfast and had a bite to eat in a wine bar farther up. While walking back to the tram we stopped in at the B&B, inquired, and decided to spend the weekend. It was a good choice.

We headed back to the train station, booked a trip to Montepulchiano for the next day for a day trip (to at least say we went to Tuscany) and lugged our luggage back up the tram to La Palma, the B&B where we were going to stay. Our room is very nice with a big, soft (sort of) bed, a giant chiffarobe and a full bath. It is clean, attractive and the woman who runs it also runs the restaurant downstairs. Her home cooked food was as good as the room we slept in.

We got settled, walked around the town to get a feel for it and found it was really a nice, very ancient town. It has a lot of history, the streets and buildings are all made out of very old, thick stone and, to me, it was the kind of city that symbolized the Old World.

Sunday morning we got up and took the train to Montepulchiano. While on the train Judy said “I don’t have a good feeling about this.” We got off at the train station, looked around and wondered where everyone was. The station was closed, there were a bunch of old guys at one end of the station and, across the street in a bar there was another, separate, group of old guys.

We came to learn that the town itself was 5.4 miles away, the buses didn’t run on Sundays and there was no response when we called the taxi company. Of course nothing was running it was Sunday. We had a cappuchino and a snack in the bar and then went back over to the platform to wait for the train. We would go to either Sienna or back to Orvieto, whichever train came first. We sat for four hours. It being Sunday, the trains ran on a reduced schedule. It got cloudy, it got cool. We got cool looks from the townies. The barmaid did not appreciate us using the bathroom, even though we had bought something. The old guys looked us over and eventually left. It was like a ghost town.

Finally the train came and we went back to Orvieto. Orvieto is actually a cool place. It has a cathedral that goes back to the Etruscan period. It has caves underneath the city that are 3,000 years old. We went through the Cathedral and then on an underground tour of the caves. We wandered in and out of shops filled with dolls, ceramics, clothing, artwork, silver, jewelry, and knick-knacks. It turned out that Orvieto is known for its ceramics and for its wine. We took a long taste of each and found it outstanding. Rick Steves did not list Orvieto in his travel book of Italy. I think that was a mistake.

We found Orvieto to be friendly, accommodating, of cultural and historic interest with good food, interesting shops with a real feel of the “old world.”

Day 7 Bologna

Judy and I took the Eurostar to Bologna today to visit with Pamela. Tim and Scott left to return to Rome as tomorrow they were returning home. Traveling first class on the high speed train, we had soda and cookies during the half-hour ride.

Arriving at the station in Bologna, we wondered where we were supposed to meet Pamela. The exit gave us two choices: Stazione Oest or Stazione Est. To make what could be a long story short, and to shorten our wondering where we were to meet Pamela, Judy asked a guy with a cell phone if she could borrow it to make a call. Another woman understood Judy and started to make an effort to give her hers. When the guy realized what was going on he became very ingratiating to such a beautiful woman and handed Judy his phone. Problem solved; it helped that I stayed far enough away so he didn’t notice we were together. You have to work it how you have to work it.

“Joody!” exclaimed Pamela, waving her arms in the air as she came across the intersection. “Pah-mel-a,” cried Judy, as they came into visual contact. Hugs and kisses all around for the three of us, a fond welcoming.

Pamela took us in tow for the rest of the day, showing us the sights and sites of Bologna. We climbed the Tower, all 500 odd steps to the top, to overlook Bologna, a beautiful, quaint and ancient city. Judy and I remarked how Bologna was smaller than Florence and how Florence was smaller than Rome. But Bologna made up for its size in quaintness and friendliness.

When Pamela first told us she was going to take us to the top of the tower, built in 1009 and finished in 1019, Judy and I were very impressed but we just looked at each other. The day before, in Florence, we had climbed to the top of the Duomo. After that climb my thighs, knees and ankles ached for the rest of the day. I had been grateful for the bathtub at the bed & breakfast so I could soak my legs and feet. But we knew we couldn’t say no and so off we went.

I think, because the steps up the tower were wooden instead of the Duomo’s hard marble ones, they were far more forgiving on our legs. As I sit here and write this, after having soaked in the tub once again, neither my feet nor my legs hurt as much.

The view from the top of the tower gave a magnificent 360 degree view of Bologna. Unfortunately, the day was somewhat overcast and so the view was a tad obscured. However, looking down and around the city we could see clearly. Pamela and I talked about how the roofs were different than in Boston (She had been to Judy’s office on the 30th floor). We both liked the terracotta tiles here better and how the city looked so much more appealing than the steel and glass structures of Boston.

When we got to the bottom of the tower we were met by Pamela’s boyfriend, Massimo. A classic and attractive Italian guy, he was bright, witty, friendly, nice, and instantly likable. He drove a reproduction of a classic Triumph Bonneville motorcycle. Another reason to like him, aside from his obvious adoration of Pamela, was that he was an author. However, he hadn’t given up his day job as a service rep. for the local Volvo dealer. His mixture of humility, machismo and genuineness was infectious. As he and Pamela were only four months into their relationship it’s hard to tell what the future might bring but Judy and I want to think it will bring them together for a long time.

The two of them took the two of us around Bologna for the rest of the day. We went to the Basilica in St. Petronius square, which was very cool. It was the sixth oldest church in Italy. Inside Massimo pointed out to us the Meridian line. The sun shone on this line such that you could tell the time of day, the day of week, the month, and also the season. I noticed the equinox and solstice markings and the related signs of the zodiac.

In the center of the square was a fountain dedicated to Neptune. It was also the local hangout for teenagers in love and for tourists with cameras.

Next we went to a church that was actually seven churches in one. The original church dated to 64 A.D. and, over the years, the church was expanded on six more times. However, each addition, while on top of the previous one, did not obliterate the ones built before. To some extent it was like being in an Escher drawing in which you look in and see additional layers. We were able to get right into the original core of the seven churches, right where the remains of St. Petronius were found and an altar built over the crypt.

In the church courtyard, so the story goes based on a plaque on the wall, Dante sat, meditated and had a vision. The courtyard had, high on its walls at one end under a set of arches, gargoyles that I’m sure were the ones Dante saw. I was thinking he may have sat on the edge of the well in the center of the courtyard, staring up at the wall while meditating.

It was easily the best church of the trip. It wasn’t the biggest like the Vatican nor the most awe inspiring like St. Peter’s but it was the most impressive because there were, well, seven separate and distinct churches in one. It was an ancient church, not a tourist attraction and it was the real deal.

They took us the through the market section and we saw the fresh fruits and vegetables stands and the meat and fish stands. I saw the largest crab I’ve ever seen and, in a box below it, the smallest crabs ever. I saw crayfish; Judy pointed out a whole octopus. We saw a plucked chicken with its head and feet still attached. We saw all kinds of grapes, berries and other kinds of fruit that I hadn’t seen before on this trip.

Bologna is a laid-back, friendly town, home of Ducati motorcycles. An old, old city of ancient history, it is noted for its use of arches in its architecture. I think, if I were to live in a city in Italy, I would choose to live in Bologna.

At day’s end, we all hugged and kissed each other goodbye. Tears flowed between the girls and we hugged and kissed each other some more. Massimo stayed with us until the train pulled into the station. We enjoyed his continuing to practice his English. I wished I spoke Italian so I could speak at length with him on what I knew were many mutual interests. Maybe there will be another time when we cross paths. Maybe we’ll never see either of them again. Maybe our day together will always keep us in each other’s memory. I know I won’t forget them or the day they gave to us to show us their city and a little bit about them.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Day 5 & 6 Florence

We took the high speed Eurorail train, the Eurostar, from Rome to Florence. The trip through the countryside was uneventful, mostly. Judy didn’t feel well and so I went to the bar car to get her a soda. When I returned the stewards were serving complimentary drinks of soda. As a result, we drank a lot of soda on the train.

The countryside along the way was beautiful. Rolling hills and plains with villas dotted along the way. Built onto the tops of the hills were small villages that overlooked the land. It was very picturesque and peaceful looking.

About an hour and a half after leaving Rome we arrived in Florence. I thought I might feel self-conscious about rolling luggage from the train station to the bed & breakfast we were staying in but in reality we just joined the bands of travelers lugging their luggage to various destinations.

It took us about a half hour to get to where we were staying and, when we got there, at about 1 p.m., we read the sign that said it was closed between 12:30 and 3. Of course it would be, almost everything closes during lunch, except the lunch places. So we lugged our luggage around the block and had lunch. We sat in a street-side plexi-glass booth with three tables. You step off the curb right into the little enclosure. It was closed-in on three sides and had a roof over it; a sort of semi-private public outdoor dining area that was self-serve.

We got back to the B&B closer to 2:30 p.m. and, fortunately, the concierge returned early and let us in. At any rate, after we checked in and got squared away, most of the day was gone and so what we had had planned to do was abbreviated. What we did do was stop at a pharmacy so I could get a band-aid for the blister on my foot and then head out to the downtown area to walk around and get some supper, all of which we did successfully.

In the morning we headed out to the Piazza Vecchio and took a tour of what turned out to be City Hall. City Hall was formerly the home of Cosmo Medici, who in the 1500’s took it from the city of Florence after the City had made it into a castle for its own protection and made it into his private home. Medici expanded it, making it longer, wider and higher. He hired Leonardo DaVinci to design and raise the new ceiling.

Our tour of it took us into the secret rooms of Cosmo, the father, and Ferdinando, his son. The son was very big time involved in alchemy, science, art, and nature. Cosmo had been into banking and had made, as the Medici name implies, a ton of money. The son’s secret room was built like a treasure chest. It was horizontal and had a rounded ceiling, just like the top of a treasure chest. Inside it were paintings, lots of paintings, which represented his interests. In secret panels behind some of the paintings were spaces where he kept his even more secret treasures. Behind other paintings were secret staircases. We took one of them up to the father’s secret room. From the artwork of both the father and son you could get a taste of their private interests but the things they kept in their rooms have been lost to time and replaced by conjecture.

The tour also took us to the underside of the roof of the building where we got a chance to see how it was constructed. The tour guide explained to us that the trusses used were for settling, earthquakes and the like. We were told that olive pits had been found in spaces that indicated they were used as grease, sort of, to lubricate the trusses.

From there we went over to the Duomo, a basilica. The Duomo was older than the Vatican and was probably a rival of the Vatican. Florence, after all, had originally been the capital city of Italy. When Rome became the center and the Vatican was being built, it had to be built bigger than the Duomo. Nevertheless, the Duomo is very impressive. It is built of horizontal slabs of black and white marble. Soaring well over a hundred feet high and taking up a square city block, the Duomo stands out. For 8 euros you could walk to the top of it and get a panoramic view of Florence. We walked up all 486 narrow marble steps. It was worth having quivering thighs, aching hamstrings and getting out of breath to do it. The 360 degree sky-high view of Florence on a sunny, cloudless day was magnificent.

Our next stop was the Ueffizi Museum in which there was a collection of art pre-perspective. They were flat paintings, mostly of people in scenes of life. Masterpieces all by such artists as Botticelli, Caravaggio and some by DaVinci. The museum was horseshoe shaped and didn’t allow photographs. Judy and I, after the Duomo climb, were exhausted and sat as much as we walked. Also, since we weren’t art history buffs, much of the works were lost on us. I did remember one painting of a woman reading another woman’s palm. We missed the painting of the Venus DeMedici.

We then walked over to and over the Ponte Vecchio, the bridge over the Arno river. The Ponte Vecchio, so the story goes, was once filled with common folk selling fruits, vegetables and other ordinary stuff. Cosmo Medici thought it didn’t look good, that it was dirty and, well, ordinary, so he had all the businesses replaced with jewelers. To this day, the bridge is replete with high-end retail jewelry stores. Gold and silver, precious and semi- precious stones made into beautiful, and expensive, jewelry.

Judy wanted to find the Piazzi Pitti. She had been told of a restaurant, the Four Lions, located somewhere near the Piazzi that had excellent food only she didn’t know where it was. As we were walking along I saw a little sign that said Artisan studios with an arrow pointing down a dark, narrow alleyway. This was just after the ceramics store we stopped in that happened to have been where Michelangelo had lived.

Judy looked down that dark alleyway in the dusk of evening and said “I don’t know about this.” Come on, I said, it’ll be an adventure. So we plunged in and found ourselves in a neighborhood full of art studios, art schools, jewelry-making schools, art painting frame makers and restorers, furniture makers and restorers and, biggest find of all, the Four Lions Ristorante.

We had a supper that couldn’t be beat. Judy had ravioli and I had chicken. To say it that way doesn’t do justice, in the least, to its preparation and taste. The house wine was the best ever. The menu was only in Italian and the ristorante was in a building that looked like it was about 500 years old.

As other customers came in and the place began to fill up, we found that the people sitting next to us were Texans who had retired to Costa Rica. We had a lovely conversation with them about retiring in Costa Rica, how great and cheap and wonderful it was to live there and how, six years later, if they had it to do all over again, they would still live in Costa Rica. They were in Italy for a vacation and then headed back to their new found retirement country.

We traded email addresses with them and then headed back to the ranch. When we returned, I sat in the tub for a long time soaking my feet and lower back. It was a good day. I don’t know if I would want to climb to the top of the Duomo again but the experience, like the view, was a lifetime memory.

Tomorrow we’re heading to Bologna for the day to see Pamela. On Saturday we’re going to take the train to Oriveto, rent a car and poke around in the Tuscan countryside for a couple days. Where we’ll go and where we’ll stay and what we’ll see is up in the air and will be the next great adventure.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Hotel Trestavere

The hotel Trestevere, in the Trestevere section of Rome we are staying in is nice. Located on Via Manara in Trestavere, it is about one-quarter up the block of a long row of buildings. It’s clean, decent, simply appointed and small. The staff is friendly and, for the most part, speaks English. The clerk on duty when we came was a Romanian from Transylvania.

Off to the left of the lobby is a small dining room with 5 tables and a picture window that looks out over the street. Next door there is a motorcycle repair shop, which explains all of the motor bikes on the street.

Our room, on the second floor, is down a narrow hallway that has tall windows that open to a common area with the building next door. There are decorative murals painted on the walls. When you go through the lobby and up the stair case there is a 20 gallon fish tank just before making the turn to go down the hallway to our room. One thing we noticed that is pretty impressive is the thickness of the walls. They have to be at least a foot thick and made of brick covered over by plaster.

Our room, painted a pale yellow with white ceiling, is about ten feet by fifteen feet with a very high ceiling. The window at the end of the room is about twelve feet high. There is no air conditioning and I suspect it might get very warm in the summer months. Now, in the beginning of November, the evenings are cool and so the room is quite nice.

Looking out the window of our room we can see the open air market in the square. The market sells fresh fruits and vegetables, meat and fish.

Our room is comprised of a bed that is not quite king size. We have end tables on either side of the bed, a lounge chair and a large chiffarobe for a closet. There is also a low chest of drawers.

The bathroom is about five by five and includes a sink, bidet, toilet, and shower stall. The shower stall, tall and narrow, is such that when you drop the soap you have to bend at the knees, rather than at the waist, to pick it up. Either that or, as I did, open the door.

Each morning the hotel served a continental breakfast. The breakfast consisted of pastries, baguettes, apples, cereal, juice, and coffee (American, cappuccino, espresso).

All in all, it was a very nice place to headquarter in while we explored Rome and its environs.

Rome Day 4

Today we went to the Vatican, the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica and Square. Then we walked over to the Piazza Popola, down to the Mondo Pop store, across to Piazza Navonna and finally back to the hotel, getting there just before my feet fell off.

Our day started out with our tour guide, Laura D’Angelo, meeting us at the hotel. We called a cab and, when it arrived, found that it could only carry a maximum of four people, and we were five. While we were getting first into and then out of the cab, there was a guy on a motorbike impatiently waiting behind us.

He started mouthing off about his being in a hurry and us blocking the street and, initially, the tour guide tried to mollify him. He kept it up and I got into it, telling him to just shut up and go on his way. He told the tour guide, in Italian, he was going to slap her. We stood there yelling at each other and finally the hotel concierge came out and, along with the tour guide, told him he was a disgrace to Italy and to Italians. He eventually roared off on his little 150 cc motorbike, certainly more late to wherever it was he was going than he originally would have been.

The next cab came, a five seater. We jumped in and went to the Vatican. Judy had booked us a private tour, for which we were all grateful, especially when we saw the line of people waiting to buy tickets and the size of the tour groups once inside. The line of people was easily two hours long and the tour groups were of at least 30 – 40 people. Our little group of 5, including Laura the tour guide, was a blessing. An expensive blessing but one we all appreciated.

In the Vatican we walked through halls of walls of statues, across a courtyard as big as a baseball field and down staircases that 10 people could stand abreast on and still not bump into each other. In the courtyard we saw giant statues of peacocks and a golden globe with another globe inside it that was probably 20 feet in diameter. The peacocks symbolized all the good, religious things in life and the globe, a piece of contemporary art, symbolized the world being one.

We walked down halls of floor to ceiling tapestries, halls of frescoes and halls of pieces of statues from a thousand years ago. We learned that at some point an eon ago the statues had fallen, both from earthquakes or vandalism or both, and into disrepair. When one of the early popes had them fixed up for display, the guys working on them would say – that looks about right, and stick unrelated broken pieces together to form a whole. When our tour guide pointed this out to us it became easy to see that the parts forming the whole did not always, but sort of, match. I saw a statue of a dog, about 5 feet high, in which both front legs were different, not only from the body but from each other.

We saw fountains that looked like bathtubs, which we learned was from where the shape of bathtubs came from. But, I think, most historically, we learned that the Greeks were the originators of the art of sculpture and painting. The Romans studied and copied the Greeks. We saw various copies of statues and started to see the variations of them. One of the most famous is a torso, a giant statue of a person without his head, arms or legs from the knees down that Da Vinci refused to try to make whole. He said it was perfect the way it was. The torso then became the basis for many of the statues and paintings of Jesus. When you study the torso and it’s anatomical positioning then look at various works of Jesus, you can see how the later works were modeled after the original.

The Sistine Chapel, we learned, was built by the military. There is one entrance in and, at its other end, one exit out. This was done intentionally. The Sistine Chapel is where the Cardinals congregate to elect a new pope. The room is a square about 500 feet in each direction, the ceiling seemed like it was 100 feet high. DaVinci did all the work himself, as opposed to many other artists, e.g., Raphael, Bernini, etc. who hired helpers.

On the entrance wall is the painting of Judgement Day. The other three walls have artwork that I can’t even begin to describe, other than to say it was beautiful. Our tour guide explained it to us but it all ran together on me and eventually went in one ear and out the other. She was good, had a Ph.D in Art History, and had done her thesis on 19th century Italian art. For me, though, all I could do was take in the visual.

Next we went into St. Peter’s Basilica. We stood there in awe in this gigantic building. The requirement for its construction was that it had to be the biggest building ever – bigger than the Colosseum. The other, more modern restriction is that no church can be bigger than St. Peter’s Basilica. It is extremely hard to describe the Basilica. Tim and I both agreed that when we started to take photographs we first had to overcome the overwhelming immensity and artistry of the place. It was like there was so much to it you just didn’t know where to start.

To say the Basilica is huge is an understatement. Along either side of the main hall are large alcoves with statues that are easily 50 feet tall. One statue was that of King Constantine’s mother with a cross. The story is that she went to get the cross Christ was affixed to and brought it back for her son.

We then went out to St. Peter’s Square, looked around, took some pictures and even stood on the spot that makes the three rows of columns that ring the Square, which is really a very, very big circle, line up to look like one row. Leaving there our guide took us about three blocks away to a corner place for a lunch at an outdoor table that couldn’t be beat. Judy had a mortadella Panini. I had the Panini Colonna, which looked and tasted like Smithfield ham – only better, much better. It was at this place that I figured out the toilet flushing system.

At the public toilets we visited in various places there are two flushing buttons, a large one and a small one. I finally realized that for peeing you use the smaller button which makes for a smaller flush. The larger button produces a larger flush for larger loads.

After lunch we walked across northern Rome to the Piazza Popola. This Piazza was re-designed and enlarged by an early pope who was disgusted by the original one as it was sort of the entry into Rome from points north and he wanted it to look good to the travelers coming into the city. In the center of the Square was a tall obelisk that had been transported (stolen) from Egypt as part of the re-designing.

While we were in the square we watched a Michael Jackson impersonator for a while then headed down the Via to the Mondo Bop, a retail store that sold the type of underground art Tim really likes. He knew all the artists and their work; I bought a Stay Furry button to pin on my jacket. The four of us split up after that, Judy & I heading to the Piazza Navonna and them off to have an adventure of their own.

The Piazza Navonna turned out to be a tourist trap. It is so because of a large, beautiful fountain fed, as they all are, by the viaducts. Nevertheless, we ate supper there. Judy wondered why there were so few people eating then realized it was because it was only 7 p.m., too early for most Italians to eat. It was also not the best meal we’d had and we wrote it off to food for tourists. Any time the menu is written in several languages, Judy’d read, the risorante was really a restaurant and not an authentic Italian place to eat.

After eating we walked back to and over the Ponte Sisto and into Trastevere. Our tour guide had told us that Trastevere was to Rome what Greenwich Village is to New York. No wonder we liked the area so much. We got back to the hotel and I spent the next hour massaging my feet. Judy headed down to the dining area, where the wi-fi connection was, and checked on work work.

The next morning is to be a transition day. Done with Rome, we were taking the high speed Eurostar train to Florence for the next part of our journey.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Rome Day 3

Our day started and ended in the rain. Regardless, being on vacation and having pre-purchased tickets, we set out in the late morning and made our way back over to the Colosseum area. Our tickets were for the Forum and we walked through it in a thunderstorm.

We walked over to Julius Caesar’s pyre. While at it we could see the flowers and other objects people had left in commemoration of his death, or maybe his life. Maybe both. Like I heard a tour guide say, “People leave flowers, photos, souvenirs and other things for him.”

We walked from one end of the Forum to the other, from the base of Capitol Hill to Titus’ Arch. We walked along the path Romans walked two thousand years ago.

The day before, we walked up onto Capitol Hill and came across an antique American car show. I saw a 1946 Packard touring car, a Cadillac from the 1950’s and several other beautifully restored American cars. The car show definitely jazzed up the piazza but did not deter from its antiquity.

On our way down the hill we stopped at a roadside vendor and picked up a few Panini to eat. It wasn’t until we got to the Capuchin crypt just off of Piazza Barberini a few hours later that Tim found he’d been slipped a counterfeit 20 euro bill by the guy. As a result, we all now know what a bogus bill looks like. We won’t get fooled twice on that one.

We decided, since it was raining so hard, to jump on the Metro, the subway, from the Colosseum to Piazza Barberini. Just up from the square was the Capuchin crypt and we wanted to see it, soaking wet or not.

It turned out to not be too difficult to figure out the subway. The hardest part was fighting the jostling and shoving of the line of people to get through the turnstile. The rest of it, starting on Line A and transferring to Line B was like being on the Red Line and transferring to the Orange line coming out of Downtown Crossing in Boston.

When we got to Piazza Barberini we went into a ristorante for lunch and to try to dry out for a little while before heading to the Crypt. It turned out to be a very expensive lunch: I think they saw us coming. Then again, we were in a fancier than fancy restaurant in an upscale part of town. Tim and Scott ordered a beer with lunch. The waitress said “una litre or midi?” They both said the former, not really knowing what that was, and got served a liter, about a quart, of beer in the biggest mugs any of us had ever seen.

Unsure of where we were, in the still pouring rain with Judy inclined to call a cab, we asked where the Capuchin Crypt was. It turned out to be almost across the street. We put our hoods up, re-opened the umbrellas and headed out. It was there, when Tim tried to purchase some post cards, that the clerk/doge/caretaker told him he had a bogus 20. She wouldn’t take it and very patiently and efficiently showed us the difference. A lesson learned for us all.

Another money lesson we’d learned the night before was to not exchange money at an exchange place. It is better, and cheaper, to change money at an ATM. At the ATM you only get charged a 1% fee. At the exchange places you get charged the 1% but then they charge you 6% on top of that for doing it.

It cost us a 2 euro donation to enter the Crypt where, about 500 years ago, 4,000 Capuchin monks had their bones made into the most awesome display ever. You really have to see it to believe it. Describing it is even more difficult. You went down along a hallway and on one side of it was the Crypt. Their bones were made into symmetrical designs that outlined the walls and ceiling. Rib bones formed to make hearts; pelvic saddles formed into pinwheels; skulls laid atop neatly stacked piles of femurs and tibias. Lower jawbones abutted to make circles. There were long lines of individual vertebrae that formed outlines of other designs. At one point Judy looked at a row of hip saddles that embraced the side of a wall and said that you could tell they were male pelvises as the hole in the center was narrow.

There were also maybe a dozen mummies in robes, some lying down and others standing, as if still alive. One was lying on his back with a large cross tucked into his knotted rope belt. There was a full skeleton, looking down, that had been cemented to the ceiling.

I guess, if you wanted to, you could say it was gruesome. More so, however, it was an incredibly artistic display that happened to have had human bones used as the medium.

Afterwards, wet, cold and tired, we decided to head back home. It took us a couple minutes and questioning of someone to get our bearings and then we were off. I saw what I thought was an underground passageway shortcut so we took it. It turned out to be a bookstore under the intersection. All we did was get across the street. Scott and Tim decided to go off on an adventure of their own so we parted ways.

Judy & I headed down the main drag, followed the signs to the Trevi Fountain, then to the cat sanctuary, down to the Ponte Garibaldi, across the River into Trastevere, our side of town. As we were walking along I noticed a plaque on the wall of a house that said “Casa Dante Aligheri.” Dante was the guy who wrote “Dante’s Inferno” about 400 years ago. Imagine that. We had just walked past where he had lived.

We got back to the ranch, changed into dry clothes, rested a bit and then went out for supper. Judy & I decided to stay on our side of the river so we walked around a little, the rain having abated but the weather turning decidedly cooler and found a side street restaurant. It was like being in the North End of Boston. We had a meal that, like the others we’ve had so far, couldn’t be beat. It was a good ending to a wet and soggy, though informative, day.

Rome Day Two

We’ve only been in Rome for two days and already things are starting to run together. We seem to be going to, through or past the same ruins, areas of town and streets that we covered either the day before or today (or was it yesterday?). For example, we know the way down cold from just about anywhere in Central Rome to Trastevere, where we’re staying. All we have to do is get to the Trevi Fountain. We head from there to the Pantheon, over to the cat sanctuary and follow the Via down to the Ponte. We cross over the river and follow the Via down to the Europtical store, take a right and, in two blocks, we’re home. We’ve done the walk in the sunshine, in the rain and in the dark of night and we’ve only been here two days. No wait, this is actually day 2.5.

Yesterday was day 2. Yesterday we walked to and through the Colosseum. We passed by the Forum, which we went through today in a thunder storm. Yesterday, after the Colosseum and an excellent lunch afterwards, we went back to the ranch, rested and re-grouped and then went out for the evening to the Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps and the Pantheon. We were so tired out from walking to, through and around the Colosseum and then back to the hotel, that when we went out for the evening we took a cab to the Spanish Steps and worked our way back on foot.

The Colosseum was very cool. Built in 10 years by 50,000 Jewish slaves, it sat that many Romans who came to watch them, and other slaves and gladiators, get slaughtered in its main arena. We learned that the warm up acts included dogs fighting porcupines, dwarfs fighting one-legged men and slaves fighting against hippos, lions, deer, other (what were considered) exotic animals and other slaves. Hardly anyone got out of the arena alive, except for Russell Crowe and Tony Curtis before him, but that was only in the movie version. Most everybody else who fought under the canvas awning that covered the Colosseum on hot, sunny days and became so much pieces of meat.

When the Roman emperors came back victorious with their bounty of treasures, animals and slaves, they would parade them all through the Titus Arch, down the length of the Forum (which we went through in a rainstorm and so had the experience somewhat mitigated by being soaking wet) and over to the Colosseum, where the living things became entertainment. The booty went to the Capitol on top of the hill to be stored.

Only one-third of the Colosseum is left but it doesn’t take too much imagination to see how immense it once was. Inside, standing at the fifty-yard line, there’s a giant Christian

Cross marking the halfway point of the arena floor. The gladiators/slaves would stand in the middle of the arena and wait, wondering from which part of the circle whatever it was they were going to have to fight was going to emerge. And, all the while, the spectators are cheering and jeering and falling down drunk, just like at a modern football game.

We saw the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain last night. Seeing these two marvels in the evening did not diminish their stature. What I recall about the Spanish Steps was that when you stand at the top of them and look down to the square where the fountain that Bernini made resembling a boat was, the red building to the right was where Keats died and across the street was where Byron lived. The Steps themselves are pretty impressive, what with zillions of people sitting on them, us included, like spectators at an outdoor auditorium. The shops at street level included Dior, Gucci and other high end retail places. Just down the street we went through what is considered the most lavish McDonalds on the planet. We skipped the burgers and fries but did walk through it to use the bathroom and agreed it was pretty lavish. From the Spanish Steps we hiked on over to the Trevi Fountain.

The Trevi Fountain is a very beautiful piece of larger than life art that has 24 little waterfalls (fountains) and about 6 giant statues representing the different forms of water (oceans) in it. Built by Nicola Salvi in 1762 for a pope to represent all forms of water, it is a place to see. Following tradition, we each turned around and tossed a penny over our shoulders into the Fountain for good luck. From there we walked down a side street, fell into a wonderful ristorante for supper, had a couple glasses of excellent wine with our meal and were surprised to find out it was close to 11:00 p.m. Time does fly when you’re having fun.

By the time we got back to our rooms and settled in for the night it was well after midnight. We learned the next day that Tim & Scott stopped in a pub on the way back that was broadcasting the Patriots game. They watched the last quarter of the Pats beating the Chiefs.

Rome Day One

Judy said, “I’m gonna go ask. This doesn’t look right to me, there’s nobody else at this gate.” A minute later we were race walking to the other end of terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport. Arriving at Gate 17 with minutes to spare, I had just enough time to gulp down a bland fat-free frozen yogurt with blueberries. In London it was about 7 a.m.; in our bodies it was five hours earlier, Boston time. Neither one of us felt the plane take off, we were both sound asleep.

Three hours later, in Rome’s airport, we met up with Tim and Scott and our Vacane Roman began. The four of us had a late lunch around the corner from our Hotel at the Spaghettaria and then returned to the Hotel Trestavere to rest and re-group. Later in the evening, after a two hour nap, Judy & I took a left, instead of a right, out of the Hotel, to follow Rick Steve’s Evening Walk from Campo de Fiori to the Spanish Steps. What seemed like three hours later on what was supposed to be a fifteen minute walk, we accidentally found in the northern tip of the Jewish Ghetto, the Cat Sanctuary, the Teatro Argentina and the Area Sacra, a set of ruins.

It was a pleasant walk even though we were never sure where we were. We meandered through narrow winding streets that looked like alleys, dodged cars and motorbikes along the way and poked around in shops selling some really nice textiles. We eventually crossed the Tevere River via the Ponte Mazzini. We ate supper in a pizzeria in the Campo di Fiore. Following along the river under a canopy of giant Sycamore trees, we walked through the bottom end of the Jewish Ghetto and came back into Trastevere over the Ponte Sisto, the bridge we were supposed to walk over to begin with. We never did get to the Spanish Steps, having walked in a circle by making a few lefts and then a right instead of a left, but it was a nice walk nonetheless.

As it was Saturday evening, everyone was out. The bars, pizzarias, trattorias and ristorantes were all open, there were street vendors selling jewelry and in the Piazzo di San Cosimato we watched a fire eater perform to a large crowd. From there we made it back to the hotel and passed out in our room. Looking out our window, I said a silent good night to the homeless guy and his dog sleeping under a canopy on the street below us.