Rome: the infernal Eternal City

Rome: the infernal Eternal City

It took me a while to get this post up – this trip was, in many ways, a disappointment for us. The negatives were pretty much user error on our part, I think, so we confirmed some things about ourselves as travelers. Herewith, our journey to Rome:

Sunday – arrival

When we arrived at the Rome airport, we checked into taking a train into the city, but at 18 euro apiece and several metro/bus transfers, we figured we were just as well off with a cab for 48 euro total. So, off we went. It was dark, and we really didn’t get a good look at anything. So we woke up Monday with no real sense of the city.

Monday

Not feeling Rome yet. Maybe it was the rain and cold. Maybe it was getting off several bus stops too early returning to the hotel. Maybe it was staying in the ‘burbs rather than in the city center. Maybe it was right after a trip to Barcelona to meet a high school group, with the 5-hour train trip back home before the flight to Rome. In any case, Monday wasn’t our best travel day ever.

We slept in, had breakfast at the hotel, then headed toward the city center. After a false start, we finally figured out the instructions to get to the bus stop: the hard part was getting off the hotel property; from there, it was a matter of just a few blocks. We hoped the rain was over, but it started up again just after we got off the bus at the Piazza Venenzia:

We proceeded with our plan to do the hop-on/hop-off tour bus to get our bearings. And the rain blew in. And it was cold. Even with the awning up and sitting behind the windshield. But we persevered for the whole loop plus another stop. And we got some good pictures:

We managed to have lunch (really good pizza with a restaurant full of American students on spring break – we opted not to speak to them) and do some window shopping with no rain. We wandered for a bit in search of fountains and churches:

We ended up at Piazza Navona, where we got some great pics:

The bus ride back to the hotel was crowded, but the sun was shining.

Tuesday

Another cold, rainy day. Another late start.

We decided to save the Colosseum for later in the week. After picking up our Roma Passes, we headed to the Capitoline Museum, where we spent several hours wandering. We kept finding rooms we hadn’t seen before. Husband focused on faces, feet and hands of statues. Generally, I prefer ceilings.

A magnificent lunch at a beautiful restaurant: Ristorante Vecchia Roma: a lovely red table wine; roasted Jerusalem artichoke; mixed salad with a fabulous simple dressing of lemon, oil, and vinegar; pork chop with rosemary and balsamic vinegar (pork chop doesn’t do it justice); risotto with pistachio and parmesan; crème brulee; and Italian coffee.

A stroll to the Trevi Fountain, where we made our way through the crowd down to the bottom of the fountain area:

Then a taxi ride to St. Patrick’s to pick up our tickets for Wednesday’s papal audience. Between us, we managed to leave a backpack in the taxi. Note to travelers: ALWAYS make note of the taxi number. We’ve since started snapping pics of them. It may help prevent gouging, too.

Then a taxi back to the hotel, where we crashed for the evening and did our research for tomorrow’s visit to the Vatican.

Wednesday

We’re not Catholic, but, man, I love this pope! We were worried about the rain, but it cleared early. We had been advised to get to St. Peter’s Square at least 2 hours early for the 10:00 papal audience, but we didn’t quite make that. Still, we managed to get seats in the first section, maybe 15 rows back. Lots of young kids from all over the world. Francis made his appearance about 9:40 and circled the square several times before approaching the dais. It was like a pep rally: a youth choir singing, band playing, jumbotron focused on the Pope. Lots of joy!

Listening to him speak was like hanging out with a favorite uncle. He joined the crowd in laughing when his cap blew off – that later made the American news. Lots of official translations: English, French, German, and more. He did his own translation into Spanish. Flags everywhere for him to bless. We didn’t even think to take our Texas flag, so it remains unblessed.

We didn’t get to appreciate the Swiss Guard uniforms: they were bundled into coats.

As wonderful as the morning was, the afternoon was the worst travel experience we’ve ever had.

We returned to the Vatican to tour the Vatican Museums. The week before Holy Week, spring break, the day of the papal audience: BIG MISTAKE. It started out crowded, then quickly became unmanageable. Shoulder-to-shoulder and elbow-to-elbow through the whole place, and we could only move forward. No stopping to admire. No moving ahead to the things we really wanted to see. No joy in the Sistine Chapel – guards yelling the whole time to keep moving and no photos – not that we could move our arms to take any had we been so inclined. It soured the whole Rome experience for us. They offer an evening after-hours tour, and if we were to return, I think we would check that out.

3 buses later, we were back at the hotel. At the second bus stop, we ran into a group from Husband’s family’s home area in Kansas. Small world, indeed!

Thursday

Finally, the Colosseum! It was all that we expected! Truly a marvel… Great views inside and outside, and not as crowded as we had expected.

We took the Metro to the Borghese Museum, but the second metro line was closed, maybe due to a strike? So – so much for that idea! We ended up walking from the bus station to the Borghese. Stopped for pasta on the way, of course.

The Borghese is run like a museum should be – the antithesis of the Vatican Museum! We had a 3:00 admission and got there about 2:00. No early entry, so we wandered the grounds and watched dogs playing in the park area. Limited number of admissions, admitted every 2 hours, half sent to the second floor, half starting on the first floor. No rush, no crowd, plenty of time to admire and take photos. We lingered for an hour and a half or so, and left feeling much better about Rome.

After the metro fiasco, we taxied back to the hotel. The driver fussed about how much it would cost, but we insisted he run the meter. It cost less than half what he had wanted to charge, but we tipped him extra because he had to fight traffic back to the city center. Note to self: we are city center people – no more staying in the suburbs!

Friday

With an early evening flight out, we were able to pay 20 euro for a really late checkout. We headed to the Pantheon and window shopped for a bit. Lunch at a fabulous family-run restaurant. A lovely low-key last day in Rome.

 

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best of 2017

best of 2017

Our first year in Spain has been all that we expected – and more.

We saw London dressed in her best for the Christmas season:

We wandered through Christmas markets in Germany:

We admired the snow-topped Alps from our hotel window in Murren:

We watched our oldest propose to his girlfriend at Sagrada Familia:

We explored the Alhambramore than once:

We roamed the Mezquita and the old quarter of Cordoba:

We enjoyed seafood on Mallorca:

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We immersed ourselves in culture in Italy:

We investigated the past in Cartagena:

We revisited Prague, one of our favorite cities:

We tasted wine and tapas throughout Spain:

We spent the weekend in Paris:

We became regulars at Xiringito:

We shared our new home with friends from home:

Best of all, we made really good friends in our new home:

passing the day in Parma

passing the day in Parma

Our last day in Bologna, we went two train stops past Modena: Parma.

At the station, we stopped to ask a carabinieri where we could get good pizza. He was very friendly and helped us navigate our way out of the station and into town. A coffee break to get our bearings, then onward.

First stop, of course: the duomo: the 11th-century Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption.

Then the pink baptistry. Construction on the pink marble octagon-shaped baptistery was begun in 1196.

The museum at the Bishop’s Residence was included in the combination ticket. Its treasures date back to the 12th century.

Helpful hint: you can buy postage stamps at any tobacco store, but mail boxes are hard to find.

Pizza at Ristorante Pizzeria la Duchessa in Piazza Garibaldi, formerly the Piazza Grande under the shadow of the Palace of Podesta.

A stroll through the open-air market and the local grocery, where we picked up Nocino. On the way back to the train station, we stopped at a little market and picked up some Parmesan cheese to bring home.

market cheese

With planning, we could have visited a cheese factory, which would have made the trip complete.

 

more than you could hope for in Modena

more than you could hope for in Modena

A 25-minute train ride, €15 per person round trip, and we were in Modena, with its tree-lined streets and quiet ambience.

First stop: Enoteca Ducale. A real find, in several ways, and we just happened to stroll past it and back up to go in. A tasting of several balsamics, and of course we went ahead and purchased. One of my rules: if you find something you like and want, get it then – you’ll likely not find it again, and you certainly can’t count on finding your way back there, especially on a day trip.

Then to the Piazza Roma, followed by the Piazza Grande and its duomo.

Headed toward Mercato Coperto Albinelli, we found a hat store, and Todd bought a Panama hat (not a Stetson, although they carried them – humorous to us Texans).

A stroll through the mercato. Then a second stroll through the mercato. We could have had lunch there, but it would have involved too many decisions, so we proceeded to the restaurant recommended by the balsamic guy.

What a lunch at Danilo Ristorante! We opted to eat inside, and that was the best decision we could have made. We were quite obviously the only non-locals there. Nonna adopted us. She’s worked there 32 years. She had an English-speaking waiter help us with our initial order, then she took over. After we had finished lunch, she brought us a plate of cookies—made fresh by her that morning—and she convinced us to order dessert. The tiramisu was a life-changer. Then she brought marinated cherries, and wouldn’t leave us alone until every one of them was gone. Then Nocino, the house-made walnut-coffee liqueur.

But we weren’t done yet. The couple sitting behind us beckoned us to follow them. An older couple and four of us, we took a chance. Professor Arrigo Guiglia and his wife took us through the Jewish quarter and talked about the war, then took us to a private Jewish museum on Via Francesco Rismondo and gave us a private tour. So many treasures, it brought tears to my eyes. And he and his wife were so welcoming and giving, even though they spoke no English and Mark’s Italian was basic. This is the kind of thing we treasure about our travel adventures.     

Mark and Vicki headed back to Bologna while we went to the Ferrari Museum. I enjoyed a glass of prosecco while Todd toured. Review: interesting, but not worth the €16 admission.

Back to the train station and back to Bologna. All of Modena was easily walkable.

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How Italy is different from Spain

No judgment either way, just general observations, and not universal:

·       Women are either dressed stylishly, or really not.

·       Women don’t wear hose.

·       Men don’t wear socks with suits or dress pants.

·       Parents push strollers, but carry babies.

·       Small children cry and scream – perhaps related to the point above?

·       People move with more purpose.

·       People don’t stop and block sidewalk traffic just to chat – perhaps related to the point above?

·       While many shops also close in the afternoon, they close for good by 8:00.

·       Lots of bicycles.

·       Pay phones and condom machines on the streets, but no mail boxes.

a perfect day (and some evenings) in Bologna

a perfect day (and some evenings) in Bologna

Our first disappointing NH hotel: only 2 outlets in the whole room. We had to bum an extension cord to plug in Todd’s CPAP – and that outlet only worked when the main lights were on. So we unscrewed bulbs so we could sleep. And we thought we had prepaid for breakfast, but apparently not. For €18 per person per day, we could buy a lot of breakfast elsewhere – so we did!

But many of the staff at the hotel were great. Thanks to the bartender’s recommendation, we had a fabulous dinner on a skinny street a bit off the main street. I don’t think we could have gone wrong at any of the eateries there, but 051 was amazing!

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And the hotel location was great: across the way from the train station (but quiet), at the edge of the city center, with a view from our room of Porta Galliera, one of the old city gates. And what a city center! Porticos mean you can walk in the shade. Bicycles everywhere mean less car traffic. Walkable. Pleasant. Great food everywhere. What a place!

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Our first morning, we found a café that brought barista art to a whole new level – too pretty to drink, but too good not to!

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One disappointment: the statue of Neptune in Piazza Nettuno was completely covered for restoration. But we’re always glad to see restoration happening – it means sights will be there for years to come.

Our touring, of course, began at the duomo in Piazza Maggiore: the Basilica of San Petronio, built between 1390 and 1663. The outside façade had never been finished, but the inside was incredible.

We found the two leaning towersTorre Asinelli and Torre Garisenda—where Todd struggled to get pictures. Damned power lines everywhere! We opted NOT to climb the 154 stairs to the top. In the evenings, that area is filled with high school kids just hanging out.

And after a false start or two, we found the university – the oldest in the western world.

Back near the towers, we stumbled onto a fabulous restaurant for lunch–Ristorantino il Tinello–so good that we returned there our last night in town.

Lots of window shopping along Via Indipendenza, Bologna’s main street.

Do your homework: Todd went to visit the Ducati Museum, but it was closed on Wednesday.

travel travails: Bologna

Every time we fly, we are reminded that we prefer travel by train.

We went to Bologna with our friends Mark and Vicki. Our first trip on Ryan Air—not fans! We pre-paid to check one bag and carried on a carryon, a backpack, and a backpack purse. No problem. They flagged the carryon for gate check. No problem. Then they stopped me at final check-in and told me the bag was too big and we’d have to pay to check it: €50. PROBLEM! We did it – cuz what else are you going to do? And I watched many bags bigger than mine get on the plane and put into overhead storage. GRRRRRRR.

We did 2 day trips from Bologna by train – easy!

Travel travails continued on our way home. The Bologna airport is a hot mess. We waited in line about 20 minutes to check our bag, only to discover that we apparently hadn’t paid for the check on the return trip. The check-in counter couldn’t take payment, so we headed to the ticket counter (poorly marked) to pay. The €60 that the check-in lady said we’d have to pay became €40. We took it, then returned to check-in to show proof of payment and collect our boarding passes.

Off to security, where they scanned the carryon bags, then did the routine bag check. Whatever. We then dutifully followed the crowd to passport control, figuring out that there was a separate line for non-EU passports. After 40 minutes – and several groups pushed through to the front of the line to catch their flights – it was our turn: we were in the wrong line – we had been waiting in the line for travel outside the Schengen zone. GRRRRRRR. We hustled to our gate (which had not been posted before) and stood in line for another 40 minutes – no seats to be had. But Ryan Air let us on with our bag, no questions asked. And no gate check for anyone. Whaddup widdat?