The “official” Best of Italy Tour began today! We embarked on our Vatican experience with the Musei Vaticani. We climbed an amazing spiral staircase up to see ancient artifacts, massive tapestry designed by Raphael, paintings, pottery, and much more. It reminded us of the Hermitage in Russia. The walls and ceilings were works of art in themselves.
At this point we headed for the Sistine Chapel. No pictures are allowed inside as it is considered a holy site where mass is still heard. Once inside, it is everything you have imagined! It is overwhelming to say the least. We bought a book so we could go back and take time to really look at Michelangelo’s work. Surprisingly, the Sistine Chapel isn’t that big! Of course, a clue could have been the word ‘chapel’ instead of ‘basilica.’
Leaving the Chapel, we header for the magnificent St. Peter’s Basilica. WOW! Fortunately we could take all the pictures we wanted. The challenge now is to whittle them down! We’ve been in other grand churches and cathedrals all over the world and St. Peter’s left us almost speechless. It was opulent and yet had intimate, mini chapels where confession was heard or you could prayer and meditation.
One of the most magnificent things we saw was the elegant statue of Mary and Jesus-The Pieta. It was hard to pull your eyes from the masterpiece! It is so intimate and spiritually moving. How could Michelangelo have imagined what was inside that huge block of marble? Unfortunately, not that long ago someone came in and attempted to destroy the statue, so it is now behind protective glass. Pompeii is our next stop, so keep reading!
Our last stop in Rome was to visit the Colosseum where the Roman’s held gladiator battles. The huge structure is right in the center of Rome and remains a tribute to the powerful early Roman Empire. It was hard to believe that this building could have been constructed so long ago! We were awed by the magnitude and architectural complexities of this site. Once inside the Colosseum, you could see all the varied levels, seats, etc. After going through this site, it was time for lunch and then our little foursome headed back to the hotel to rest and prepare for an evening in Rome where the real Italians go-Trastavere.
As the sun set we slipped on a clean set of clothes, comfy walking shoes, and headed out to go where the locals went! Our tour guide gave us great directions and we were most grateful. Such a fun evening walking through winding cobblestone streets, open air cafe’s and people out walking. The rest of the tour group went to do things we had done before the actual tour started, so we decided to explore some more on our own.This was a perfect evening to dine with our friends and find places off the touristy paths.
We found a ristorante where tables were spilling out onto the street. The place was packed with diners and smelled so good. Very relaxed setting! So, why not ask how long for a table to open up? Crazy us! “No problem,” the fellow said. He shoved two large planter boxes out-of-the-way, grabbed a slatted folding table, set it up and put 4 chairs out for us! Perfecto! An hour later, with pasta in our bellies we left. The long walk toward the hotel made room for, you guessed it, gelato! A mere 18, 202 steps this day. Keep reading, we’re just getting started with this trip!
Now about the bus! A bus tour is very different from cruising. First of all, everything is time managed. Bags out your room door by 6:45, breakfast done and on you’re on the bus by 7:45. Then there are things to remember like, “Where do I sit today?” based upon the daily seat rotation chart. Then you ask yourself, “Should I take the steep steps at the back of the bus to get to my seat quickly,” or “take the easy steps up front and then push my way through to my seat?” Keep in mind you have your backpack with you, a camera, and the ladies have purses! Very touristy. A sense of humor is required and perhaps more than one cup of coffee!
The bus is ultra comfortable. All the creature comforts you can think of are on board: restroom, seat trays, armrests, wide seats, seat belts, leg rests, and nice wide clean windows. You could easily fold up a pillow or sweatshirt and take a nap if it was to be a long day of driving. Most of us on the bus were over fifty and a few pushing eighty! We napped! Our thirty-something guide would use his soft, Italian voice over the microphone to say “Wakey, wakey,” when it was time to gather our “stuff” for either a comfort stop (pee-pee break) or time to see our next site.
All 48 of us were pretty good about scooting off the bus pretty quickly…especially for those “comfort stops!” This scenario repeated itself every two days. When you travel via bus, the hotel bed covers are not turned down with chocolates left on the pillow! Definitely not the comforts of cruising!
We got up nice and early and headed back toward the Vatican Square and then passed the Castle of St. Angelo, which runs along the Tiber River. This castle was originally built as a home for the Pope if he needed to escape from the Vatican during times of upheaval or threat. Located in the lower level is the tomb of Emperor Hadrian.
We kept walking until we arrived at The Spanish Steps. IMPRESSIVE! This magnificent structure was built in the 1700’s to house the Spanish embassy to the Vatican. It is a tourist attraction today as the embassy is located elsewhere. The view from the top of the 138 steps is breathtaking.
But let’s not stop there! We continued on our hike to Trevi Fountain. We have no fountains like this in the USA. It is massive in size and made of gleaming marble carved with mythical sea creatures, fish, and ornate spouts. It is said if you toss a coin over your shoulder into the fountain you are sure to return to Rome. Keep reading, our adventure is just getting started!
This was another LONG day of walking (1 7,774 steps). We found a great little street-side ristorante to eat a meal and head for a gelateria on our way home. So far our favorite gelato is vanilla and dark cherry in a cone – not a cup!
To celebrate our 40th Anniversary, Dan and I took off on a tour of Italy via a Trafalgar bus tour. Usually we like to cruise, so this was a departure from our usual mode of travel. Every two days we packed up and moved locations. It was far from a “relaxed” vacation, but it was WONDERFUL! According to my trusty Fitbit we walked 82 miles over a 12- day period. We drove 1, 183 miles and experienced, heat, drizzle, rain, cold, and humidity. Oh yeah, and a few mosquito bites along the Tiber river! A couple from our church joined us as they were also celebrating a milestone event, and had always wanted to see Italy. So the four of us, and 44 new “friends” hopped on a tour bus with fabulous Italian guide named Gianmarco.
This is the first in a series of posts that will take you on our journey through Italy just as we saw it. We will spare you the thousands of pictures we took, and include a couple of favorites. We hope this series will inspire you to embark on your own adventure. Being retired is wonderful!