Summer Winter Vacation IX
When in Rome...
by Jeffrey Scott Duly, Age 47
Italy is one of those places I wanted to go for some time but had not yet gotten to. The thing is that there is a lot to see. It is a long country. So it required a plan. I decided to use the same strategy I used in Japan. I made home base in Rome and took day trips out to other places. I couldn't go too far away on these trips, so I did not see places like Milan or Venice. Perhaps on another trip I can see northern Italy. As always, if you choose you can just skip ahead to the pictures here. And I will let you know there are a lot of them, more than I took on any other trip. If you want to read a little more than I have with the pictures, including hyperlinks to various web pages, read on.
Prologue: The US Airways flight to Philadelphia was uneventful. Actually there was an event that was happening while I was in the air. They had chosen a new pope. I had booked this trip several months ago, well before Pope Benedict XVI chose to step down. The consequences of that decision was bound to affect my visit to Rome. I sat next to a young woman who was travelling with a little pit bull puppy which was quietly kept under the seat in front of her. The Philadelphia-Rome leg left about twenty minutes late, a trend that would continue on the trip back. But there was no one seated next to me on that flight, giving me a little more room to stretch when trying desperately to get some sleep, which I did not. The US Airways Airbus 330 had good leg room in economy, more than I think I've ever seen before. The meal was pasta with broccoli, a roll, salad and a brownie. It wasn't bad. I watched Argo which was pretty good and a few television shows (30 Rock, Big Bang Theory and Arrested Development) before my ultimately unsuccessful attempt at sleep.
giovedi, 14 marzo (Day 1): We landed at around 8:45 and after no immigration to go through I was able to buy a ticket and board the Leonardo Express train into Rome. Then I bought a 7-day transit ticket which covered all of my Rome travel for the trip, including the Metro trains, buses and trams. It was a pretty good bargain for €18. The A Touch of Rome B&B was only a couple of blocks form the Ottaviano station. I got there at about 10:00 which was what I was expecting. When I got there I was greeted by a nice chambermaid who spoke almost no English, but she called one of the managers who invited me over to the other B&B they run in the building, A View of Rome. The two guys who run the place are Daniele and Livio, both nice guys who really go a good job. I dealt most with Daniele. He was very friendly and helpful during my stay, giving me tips on where to go, what to see and even restaurant suggestions.
Once I put my things away in my room I was out to see the city. I had no real plan for this day other than to roam (no pun intended) and see a bunch of the typical sights like the Spanish Steps (the lovely Audrey Hepburn was nowhere in sight), the Trevi Fountain (near which I bought a gelato), the Pantheon and St. Peter's Square. I would go back to St. Peter's and the Vatican a couple more times later in the trip. I got dinner at a place that Daniele recommended, Vito Edina. I had some really good bruschetta and spaghetti before heading back to the room for an early bed time after a long day and a half.
venerdi, 15 marzo (Day 2): I did have a bit of a plan for this day as well as every day for the rest of the trip, not that I necessarily kept to it. It was going to be Roman ruin day. Actually several days were Roman ruin days but this one was to cover the Forum, Palatine Hill and Colosseum. Daniele offered a tip that was similar to the ones I have seen elsewhere. That was to buy a combination admission ticket at the Palatine Hill entrance which covers all sites because that ticket office would be much less crowded. So first was Palatine Hill. It is one of the seven hills of Rome and where there was a palace of Roman emperors for three centuries and located not far from the Roman Forum, the political and religious heart of Rome. Lots of ruins of temples, government building and such at the Forum. After a wander around the remaining columns and structures it was over to the big stadium, the Colosseum. It was completed in 80. That would be year 80 C.E., which means that what remains has been there for almost 2000 years. And we think old ballparks and stadia like Fenway Park and Franklin Field are ancient because they are over 100 years old.
After seeing all that ruiny stuff, I went to see some other things that were either listed in my Rick Steves book or that Daneile pointed out on the map that morning. There was the Domus Aurea, San Pietro in Vincoli, Terme di Caracalla, San Giovanni in Laterano and Scala Santa. After a long day I once again took Daniele's recommendation for a restaurant for dinner. I had rigatoni in a delicious cheese sauce for first course and meatballs for the meat course at a little place called Ragno D'Oro.
sabato, 16 marzo (Day 3): Saturday would be the first of my day trips out of Rome. The previous afternoon I bought a return ticket to Florence on the Frecciargento at the Termini Station. Before boarding the 8:25 train I grabbed a ciambella (a big doughnut) at a cafe in the station and a pair of black socks at a shop. The pair of old black socks I brought and wore that day were very saggy. The pair I bought were quite long. After an hour and a half train trip, I was in Florence, or Firenze in Italian.
There were a couple of things I planned to see in Florence. I did not go to the Uffizi Gallery or the Galleria dell' Accademia which are two of the main tourist sites. The lines tend to be quite long if you don't reserve ahead and I've never been one for art. Sure, I would have liked to have seen Botticelli's The Birth of Venus and Michelangelo's David, but I would have waited so long in line I wouldn't have been able to see much else. What I did plan to see were the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, the Palazzo Pitti, the Ponte Vecchio and the Museo Gallileo. In addition by walking around I saw the Piazza della Signoria, the Basilica di Santa Maria Novella, the Chiesa di Santa Croce and just a lot of old stuff around the city in general. I had a panino for lunch. There were just so many little places in Florence and Rome selling them. I didn't plan dinner very well. By the time I was done wandering about I didn't really have a lot of time for a proper meal, so I just got a fruit cup, which they call macedonia, at the train station. By 8:00 pm I was back in Rome to rest up for Sunday.
domenica, 17 marzo (Day 4): The resignation of Benedict XVI did create some changes in my plans. I had initially intended to tour the Vatican Museum on Friday, wander about Rome on Sunday and ride the Via Appia Antica on Wednesday. But since the Sistine Chapel was closed on Friday due to the enclave (the cardinals had chosen on Wednesday but I guess they needed to put up the folding chairs and clean the place up a bit), I had to move some things around. So I wandered on Friday, did the Vatican Museum on Wednesday (the chapel was reopen on Monday) and rode the old road on Sunday. This actually had a benefit in that the Via Appia Antica is closed to all but local motor vehicle traffic on Sundays.
The Appia Antica was the largest, widest and fastest road back in its day. It's day was back in 312 B.C.E. and it was one of 29 roads that spread out from Rome. When they say "all roads lead to Rome" this was the most important, running from Rome to the port city of Brindisi 430 miles away to the southeast. In planning ahead I learned that there were some bicycle rentals on the old road, so I thought that would be a cool thing to do. In addition I could see all of it in less time than if I walked. Parts of the road have been paved more recently (although more recent than 2300 years ago could be just about anytime) with smoother more organized stones. That made for a bumpy ride. The original stones are extremely bumpy and quite difficult to ride on with a bike. That's why most cyclist ride on some worn paths beside the road in those spots. The first seven miles or so from the start of the road is surrounded by a park, making it seem like taking a ride in the countryside. There are a few catacombs along the route. I first visited the Catacombs of San Callisto, which was the burial place of nine 3rd-century popes and the martyr St. Cecilia. I also went to see the nearby Fosse Ardeantine where 335 Italians were murdered by the Nazis as a reprisal for the killing of 32 German soldiers by a bomb attack. Then it was the long ride out the road to see the sites along the way. I didn't really notice it on the way out because the road seems flat, but it was in fact a slight incline going away from the city. The ride back was much easier, well except for all the bumps. After a bit of laundry at a laundrette near the B&B, I headed out to see some of the sights lit up in the dark. Then it was up to the Stadio Olimpico to see AS Roma take on Parma. They won 2-0 in a match that wasn't very close. Since the match didn't start until 8:45 p.m., it was a long night. I didn't get back to the room until 11:00. I had to be up early to catch a train to Naples the next morning.
lunedi, 18 marzo (Day 5): Monday was going to be another day of ruins. This time those destroyed by the eruption of Vesuvius. I took a 7:35 train to Napoli (Naples to you and me) and bought an Campania Artecard (the Archeologia del Golfo one) which covered admission to the sites at Pompeii and Herculaneum and the Museo Archeologico Nazionale as well as all transportation. It costs less than the combined admission to those sites and transportation fares so it is a good deal. I had a cornetto con cioccolata (croissant with chocolate) at a cafe in the station before catching the Circumvesuviana train out to Pompeii.
The archeological site at Pompeii is pretty large. I'm sure everyone knows the fate of the ancient city of Pompeii, but just in case someone doesn't, here goes. In the year 79 C.E. (that's A.D. to you Christian folks) Mount Vesuvius blew it's top and the volcanic output of hot gas and rock buried the cities of Pompeii as well as nearby Herculaneum. Pompeii is now a big tourist site averaging over two million visitors a year wandering its streets among the remains of the old buildings. I walked around listening to the Rick Steves walking tour on my phone, seeing homes, businesses and public spaces of the ancient city. After a few hours in Pompeii I caught the train to Herculaneum. It can be argued that Herculaneum is a better site than Pompeii due to the fact that the way it was buried in lava and ash preserved the upper stories of the buildings and some of the wooden objects. It is certainly smaller than Pompeii and takes less time to see. Much of the artifacts from Pompeii and Herculaneum are housed in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Naples which was the last stop on this day trip. The real last stop was dinner, a big margherita pizza at Antica Pizzeria da Michele. I didn't know it until I was there, but apparently it was where Julia Roberts ate in the movie Eat, Pray, Love.
martedi, 19 marzo (Day 6): Another day, another altered plan. Tuesday was going to be a trip out to the ancient coastal town of Ostia (yeah, I know, more ruins) and then down to Anzio and Nettuno where the allies landed in January 1944 as part of their mission to liberate Italy. However, things got pushed back when I decided to go to the inauguration of Pope Francis for a couple of hours first thing. I had not intended to go, but as I was walking out of the door that morning and could hear the goings on from the Vatican I realized that it would be stupid not to go see the new pope. So I stood among the assembled masses in St. Peter's Square (which is round) and watched the proceedings. The new pontiff made a speech that I didn't understand because it was in Italian and most of the rest of it was Latin. But I got to see the guy in person (albeit from a distance) which not a lot of people get to do.
After the delay I hopped the train out to Ostia Antica and saw the ruins there. Unlike Pompeii, it was not destroyed by volcano but was simply abandoned when the Tiber River changed course and Rome fell. It was buried in swampy mud that preserved a lot of the buildings. Sure, ruins all start to look alike after a while but the towns are quite different which make their stories unique. Rome was the heart of a mighty empire. Pompeii was a middle-class commercial port and Herculaneum a wealthier coastal town. Ostia was a working town, the port city for Rome.
Once I had my fill of ruins I caught the train back into Rome and then a commuter train to Anzio. Because of the ceremony at the Vatican my timetable was pushed back a couple of hours. I got to Anzio and visited the Anzio Beachhead Museum, which is a little room with World War II artifacts. It is the Villa Adele, a 17th century mansion, along with the Archeological Museum. A quick walk down to the coast and a look at the Mediterranean and then back to the train station to go a few more miles to Nettuno. I had hoped to see the Sicily–Rome American Cemetery and Memorial. As the sun was setting I rushed from the station to the cemetery, thinking that it closed at sunset. But it closed at 5:30, an hour earlier. So I peeked in the gate, walked around Nettuno after dark and caught the next train back to Rome. I just grabbed some pizza from a nearby place before calling it a night.
giovedi, 20 marzo (Day 7): Last day and finally the Vatican Museum. I had learned before I left to make a reservation ahead of time to avoid the long line at the ticket window. I made two reservations, the first for Friday and a second for Wednesday. I made the second one in case the Sistine Chapel was not open by Friday, which it was not. For some reason the online reservation page was not taking payment when I reserved. That was to my advantage allowing me two reservations. I simply brought my confirmation to a ticket window inside and paid cash there. It saved a lot of time. Once inside I saw lots of things that the various popes had gathered from other parts of the world. Lots of statues and pieces of antiquity. The Sistine Chapel was impressive. They do not allow photos. Guys in blazers walk among the crowd watching for people who try. I did clandestinely snap a quick one of the ceiling on my phone. It's not a perfect photo, but I got it. After the museum I went into St. Peter's Basilica. It's a really big church. A really, really big church. They have marks on the floor that note how big other churches are in comparison.
There were still a couple of walking tours in the guidebook I wanted to do that I hadn't gotten to yet (Trastevere and the Jewish Ghetto), so after a little shopping I did them as the day (and the trip) was coming to an end on a pair of very tired and blistered feet. I got dinner, a lasagna and a macedonia, at a local place and went back to the room to back up for the trip home.
venerdi, 21 marzo (Day 8): Rather than catch the Leonardo Express back to the airport, Daniele recommended the SITBus, which was cheaper and left from a stop only a few blocks away. He was such a nice guy that on his way to the B&B that morning he stopped by the bus stop in his little car to say goodbye. Not chancing it I took an early bus giving me extra time at the airport before we left. I'd rather be early than late. This is where I really started to get annoyed with US Airways. We sat on the runway for twenty minutes or so because the plane was loaded with too much fuel and we were too heavy to take off. So we sat there with engines running burning off the extra fuel. Of the flight back across the Atlantic I had a beef and potato lunch, watched a few movies (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, The Do-Deca-Pentathlon and Hitchcock on the plane entertainment system and Chalk on my iPad) and worried about the delay.
I was supposed to have had a 1 1/2 hour layover in Philadelphia that got pared to only about an hour. That was cutting it close because I knew I would have to go through U.S. Customs and back through the TSA security which would take time. I got to the gate as they were starting boarding. I would be going to Charlotte and then to Nashville because it would get me home earlier than if I simply took a Philadelphia to Nashville flight directly. But it was a little more stress because the flight to Charlotte left almost an hour late for some unexplained reason. My layover in Charlotte was scheduled to be 1:06. Losing almost an hour was cutting it very close. But the pilot announced that the flight would be about 1:10 minutes, a half hour less than was on the itinerary. Why they bother to keep longer schedules when they can take less time is beyond me. (Actually I do know it is so they can build in delays and still arrive on time.) But anyway while I was expecting only about ten minutes to catch my flight to Nashville I had about thirty, time enough to buy a little fruit cup at a shop and get to the gate as the flight was boarding. That flight left on time, getting us back to BNA at around 8:30 and me home a little later.
Epilogue: I managed to accomplish just about everything I planned with the added bonus of seeing the new pope. I avoided the problem I sometimes have of overwalking on the first day and wrecking my legs. But I did so much walking that I brought home two big blisters on my feet. In Rome, Florence and Naples (including Pompeii) there were loads of tourists. And I wasn't even there during a heavy tourist season. I heard plenty of American voices as well as languages from across Europe and Asia. In fact if there was anything particularly annoying about the trip (apart from the ineptitude of US Airways to keep to a timetable) was the numerous large tour groups. Some places have narrow passages and even a medium-sized school field trip or tourist group can clog things up.
Some general and superficial impressions of Italy: Italians seem okay. They weren't rude that I could tell. Those that I came in contact with were generally friendly and helpful. I did see several women with those beautiful big brown Italian eyes. And there's just something about the Italian language that makes everyone who speaks it sound annoyed about something. And they do talk with their hands. I saw a man taking on his phone with his hands flailing. I do that too for some reason and I have no Italian in me. The food I had was good. Nothing to knock my socks off, but Italian food is my favorite so even bad Italian is better than good Indian food. And they do love their pork over there. Just about every panino has prosciutto on it and pasta dishes usually have bacon (or at least something they call bacon).
BACK TO THE PHOTOS INDEX TO THE PHOTOS