Monday, August 3, 2009

Rome, Italy – Post Cruise – These Boots Were Made for Walkin’

Sunday, July 19, 2009 – Rome, Italy – 91F – Sunny

Another beautiful but warm day in Rome – shade had better be abundant because we are planning another grand walking tour.  This one starts at the Vatican and covers some of the major sites not yet visited.

Per plan, we took the Metro to the Ottaviano Stop, the closest one to Vatican City.  We didn’t need to ask for any directions – we just needed to follow all the faithful.  We entered the complex from Via Ottaviano through a massive gate

Rome - Via Ottaviano Entrance to Vatican

Vatican Gate – Via Ottaviano

Once inside, the size and grandeur of the Vatican was simply amazing.  Piazza San Pietro – St. Peter’s Square (not actually a square but many squares in Rome are not).  The square can accommodate upwards of 400,000 people but this day contained a modest group of tourists mostly (you can tell by all of the camera’s clicking).  By the way, the square is lined with over 280 Doric Columns (no, I did not count them).

Rome- Vatican Square

St. Peter’s Square – Vatican City

Somewhere among these columns is Ellen – A chance to play “Where’s Ellen”

Rome - wheres Ellen

On occasions when the square is at capacity and some of the attendees cannot directly see the proceedings, the Vatican has provided Diamond Vision type Screens at locations throughout the square.  The Vatican is clearly tech savvy.

Rome- Vatican old and new

Large TVs so everyone can see

Basilica San Pietro – St. Peter’s Church – built to recognize the Saint’s burial site – is recognizable world wide.

St. Peters Basilica

St. Peter’s Church

Just so no one thinks I took this picture from Wikipedia

Vatican - E and Me

Ellen and me at the Vatican

No, my face is not obscured because I’m in the Witness Protection Program – it was hot and humid and the hat was essential equipment.

Although some folk believe the Sistine Chapel is in the Basilica, it is actually in the Vatican Museum.  We did not opt for the museum as we have an aversion to very long lines; we did enter a line headed for the Basilica.  As we made our way to the entrance (through many checkpoints) – I had only one thought on my mind - “Are my shorts over my knees” – there were many people wearing shorts but they seemed to meet the decorum requirement.  A couple of tugs and the shorts passed muster at the entrance. 

For some reason, this line did not go into the Basilica but instead it wound through an exhibit area containing various historical artifacts and items from the Vatican’s long history.  Included were sarcophagi of various past popes – I did manage to snap a picture before we were told “no cameras” (there were no signs at the entrance about cameras and one of our earlier guides said pictures were allowed in the Basilica).

Vatican - Pope Sarcophagus

Sarcophagus of a past Pope

The Italians in the crowd had the chutzpah to snap pictures right in front of the security personnel (even after they had been warned not to do so).  Perhaps they understand the system better than we do.

A visit to the Vatican would be incomplete without a picture of the famed Vatican Guard – decked out in their familiar garb; this one moved so little I thought he was a mannequin (and maybe he was).

Rome - Vatican Guard

Vatican Guard

Exiting the Vatican complex, our next stop on the walking tour is the magnificent, Castel Sant’Angelo, located along the banks of the Tiber River.

Rome - Castel Sant'angelo

Castel Sant’Angelo

This structure, built by the Emperor Hadrian in the 2nd Century AD, has been a mausoleum, fortress (complete with moat, which still exists), and summer palace for the past Popes.  Today, the street near the Castle is lined with souvenir vendors.

Looking back from the Castle – down the Via Della Conciliazione - one gets a great view of St. Peter’s Basilica as well as the grand architecture of the area.

Vatican from Castel Sant'angelo  

The view from Castel San't’Angelo

We cross the Tiber River at the scenic Ponte Sant’Angelo


View from Ponte Sant’Angelo

We arrive at the our destination, Piazza Navona.  In 86 AD, the Emperor Domitian used this area as a stadium; the site was scavenged for its stone and then restored during the Renaissance.  Today, the Piazza is a pedestrian area lined with restaurants and home to scenic fountains, an architecturally interesting church, and a magnificent obelisk.

Rome - Plaza Navona

Piazza Navona

We managed to find someone to take our picture against one of the beautiful fountains.

Rome - Plaza Navona and us 

Just three or so blocks from the Piazza Navona stands one of the most impressive and best preserved ancient monuments in Rome – the Pantheon

Rome - Pantheon 

The Pantheon

The Pantheon was built in the early 2nd Century by the Emperor Hadrian.  It has held up well during the centuries due to the use of granite by its builders.  Its name suggests that it was originally a temple to all of the gods of Rome; it was changed into a church (Santa Maria ad Martyres) at the beginning of the 7th Century.  The dome is the largest in the world just edging out St. Peters by a couple of feet (how did they know?).

The dome has a circular opening so it is possible for rain to soak the  floor – a drain has been installed to deal with any water.  Inside the Pantheon, it was wall to wall people. By the way, the obelisk in front of the Pantheon is not about to fall – an optical illusion.

You cannot visit Rome and not see the Pantheon – mission accomplished.

Our final destination was the Jewish Ghetto Area; we had visited this area and its magnificent Synagogue before the cruise.  However, another tasty kosher hamburger seemed like a worthy goal.  Walking is the only practical way to get there as the Piazza Navona – Pantheon area is devoid of M Stops; it is actually a shorter walk to the Ghetto than to a train stop. 

We headed toward the Tiber River but the street names (which change every block in some cases) confused us enough to ask for directions.  A policeman gave us directions to the Tiber – problem solved. Not.

The problem is the Tiber river and the way it winds its way through Rome.  When we got to the river, we found ourselves back at the Castel Sant’Angelo.  So five bridges later, and about an hours walk, we arrived at the FK Kosher fast food restaurant in the Ghetto.  At least, we had worked up a good appetite.  Most importantly, FK Kosher had a washroom (it’s such a small place, I would have bet against this). 

We refueled both body and spirit with a hamburger and a double burger (for me), fresh fries (better than McD) and a mini-Coke Lite.  The way home would be easier (relatively) since we were going to catch the metro at the Circo Massimo M Station.  Still, this required our walking up and then down the Aventine Hill – another of the seven hills of Rome.  A short Metro ride home and this day of wearing down our New Balances was over.  The count: 19, 800 steps (over 8.5 miles).  These boots really did some walkin’ this day.

Monday, July 20, 2009 = Rome, Italy – 85F – Sunny

We had intended to see a bit more of this great city but the heat and our tired selves decided otherwise.  We strolled about the area near the hotel and had our last lunch in Rome at one of the neighborhood restaurants.  At about 3 PM, we grabbed our luggage from hotel storage and made our way to the M Station.  This 1 Euro trip would take us to a train station adjacent to one of the subway stops.  Then 5.5 Euros would take us to Fiumicino Airport.  All went well until we were informed that the earlier train (not ours) trains to the airport could not leave the station due to trouble down the line. 

Instead of waiting for our train, we hopped on the earlier one (which was stuffed with passengers and luggage) and about 20 minutes later, the train started moving.  It was a Tower of Babel experience with all of the languages spoken by the folks on the train.  In about 30 minutes we were in the British Airways terminal at Fiumicino Airport.  We used self check-in (scanning our passports as ID – very cool) and then checked our bags through to Chicago.  Our Airbus A321 did its usual scary fast and noisy roll and quick rotation and soon we were over the Tyrrhenean Sea (I didn’t realize that the airport was that close to the water).  It reminded me of take offs at LAX.

Over the Tyrrhenean Sea

 Climb out from Rome

Looking down we could see a cruise ship departing from Civitavecchia (look carefully)

Rome climbout - cruise ship

Another cruise ship starts on its voyage 

Kudos to British Air for supplying meals on a flight less than two hours long (also had food on the earlier BA flight to Rome).  They always have a veggie option and the cream cheese and veggie sandwich was tasty. 

As we approached London, I noticed a strange rainbow effect off the starboard wing – can’t explain it but it wasn’t a reflection off the window.  It disappeared while I was looking at it.

Heathrow - Look to the Rainbow

Look, look to the rainbow

The approach to London was magnificent with the Thames River, Millennium Eye and Parliament clearly visible.

Heathrow - London 2

On final approach to London

We found the right shuttle transportation and successfully arrived at the Holiday Inn, London Heathrow. 

Tuesday, July 21, London, England – 60F – Rain

It’s time to go home.  A quick breakfast in the room, then a short shuttle ride to the Terminal and soon we were on our Boeing 767, which would take us to Raleigh-Durham International Airport – then a connection would take us to Ohare.

The 767 climbed out through the London rain and soon we were over the clouds


Climb out from London

The Transatlantic flight was relatively smooth and we were pretty comfortable in our roomy exit row seats.   The plane entered North America over Newfoundland and flew down the East Coast on its approach to Raleigh-Durham.  Our short layover in Raleigh gave me a chance to check a-mails (free Wi-Fi) and catch up on things.

The short flight on the Super 80 to Ohare was smooth and soon the familiar skyline of Chicago was visible albeit not inviting.


Final approach over Lake Michigan

Danny, our son-in-law, met us in the baggage area and he already had our luggage (how did he do that?).  Soon, we were home, going through a ton of mail.

It was a great trip…smooth flights, great ship and staff, fantastic itinerary, excellent sailing conditions, engaged lecture audiences, Neapolitan pizza, and the best ever traveling companion. 

What else can I say –