8th day and time to leave Rome

Saturday 2/27 The wake up call did not come (again!) but Randy woke up at 6:10 anyway. Breakfast at the hotel - and we were tired of it by now! Mario drove us to the airport (cost 74,000 lira, paid to the hotel). We bought soda and candy and around 9:30 we got on the plane, even though there were police at the boarding point. We never learned why they were there but nothing bad happened. We did had to sit on the plane almost an hour because another plane was waiting to be towed off the runway. Glad we weren't on that plane! We left around 10:30 and got to New York by 2:30 (6 hours behind Roman time). We walked over to check out the terminal next door because it had more stores, got Pizza Hut pizza and picked up some Evelyn and Crabtree lotion. At 6 pm we left for St. Louis. The movies were The Mighty, Men in Black, and Ronin (again). Got home, picked up Runt, and finished the day around 10 pm.

7th day in Rome

Friday 2/26  Up at 9:14, breakfast at the hotel.  On to the metro, and to the Marcus Theater.  It’s the only complete one left, and unfortunately for us, not open to the public yet.  Walking around it, we ended up in the Jewish ghetto.  We stopped at a shoe store but they didn’t have the right size.  We found a square with an statue of marble elephant with an Egyptian obelisk on its back. Don't know what this represents, but we liked it.
Near it was a church named Santa Maria sopra Minerva. It’s a really nice church, well decorated and very colorful inside but not as gold-leafed ornate as most. They did a good job with the stained glass windows here - they are very bright and well placed so the church was well lit inside, and the afternoon sun shown through to make colored circles on the interior columns. One of the church's claim-to-fame is a beautiful Michelangelo sculpture called Christ the Redeemer.
In the church are the usual memorials and one unusual one - a glass coffin with a saint's relics. She is Santa Wittoria and here she is, posed in a surprisingly flirty manner with her left hand on her hip and her right hand supporting her head...or rather, supporting her skull, which is covered by thin gauze. We couldn't get very close but it was clear we were looking at her bones.
Next we went back to the Pantheon, to get it burned into our memories for when we are back home. Then we got dinner at a pizzeria - I had a spinach pizza and Randy had a calzone, and we both got ice cream for dessert. Randy found a shoe store and bought a couple more pairs of shoes. He has learned that European shoes fit him so much better than USA shoes. We walked to Trevi fountain again and then went to see the Colosseum at night. Randy bought some more shoes, then we went back to the hotel to pack. We decided to see St. Peters at night so got on the metro and went there. Cashed $40 in travelers checks for the next day. We looked for the restaurant we bought drinks at the first time we were there, but when we finally found it, it was closed. So we stopped at a nice restaurant and ordered appetizers; brochette with tomatoes and mixed antipasti (prosciutto , olives, salami, artichoke hearts), beer and water. The break sticks were very, very thin. While walking around afterwards we stopped at a pastry shop and bought a cheese tart and a cookie with chocolate topping. Went back to the hotel, and on the way Randy got a ham and cheese sandwich and I bought a candy bar. Left a walkup call for 6 am and called it a night around 10.

6th Day - Shopping in Rome

Thursday, 2/25: Up around 8, breakfast at the hotel, and out to the metro. We were looking for Salaria Road because we saw some nice stores there on the bus ride to Florence. We found it and bought some more olive oil in one of the stores. We also found a good fresh market in that area.
We walked though more stores and bought some Italian cook books. By then we were a long way from a train, so we took a bus to the nearest train station. We looked for a bus that would take us to the Appian Way, but they only went there on Sundays, so we couldn’t do that. We went shopping in a nice grocery store with some unusual items; one of the things they sold was frozen octopus. While we were there an older gypsy was also there, and he was being followed and watched every minute by a store employee. Next we went back to the Coliseum and the Forum ruins.  We went into a large building nearby and saw an exhibit about “150 years of the republic”. For dinner we found a restaurant by the Pantheon, where I had spaghetti with clams, and Randy had pizza with prosciutto, mushrooms, olives and artichokes, washed down with 1/2 liter of white wine and cappuccino. Then back to the hotel for the night.

5th day - the Vatican Museum!

Wednesday, 02/24/99 - Up by 7:30, breakfast at the hotel, and left by 9. We changed another $100 at the cambio office near the train station, then took the metro to Vatican City and walked to the Vatican museum. I think it may be impossible to see all of the museum in one day, but we went through most of it, and stopped at the Sistine Chapel twice. Photos are not allowed there but there are so many pictures of it that it doesn’t really matter. I just stood there and stared up. Couldn’t take it all in. Stared and stared until Randy gently suggested I should let someone else have a chance. Stared some more, then finally (sigh) had to move on.  

There are rooms and rooms and more rooms of artwork, covering centuries of artistic styles. We did not care much for the modern art, although it hardly seemed fair to display them anywhere near works by Michelangelo and Raphael. Actually, the works in the Raphael rooms were not his best work, and they were displayed very high up, in a way that made it difficult to really see and appreciate them.
One of the courtyards had some wonderful ancient sculptures, like the Belvedere Apollo. I don't know if photos were allowed there although I tried to take a few. It didn't matter, none of my pics turned out. Apparently my hand was shaking; probably just overcome with the thrill of seeing these famous works. I could hardly believe I was standing in front of these legendary statues! 
All of the ceilings were painted, even the hallways!
Some were painted to look like sculptures overhead. I just kept walking around and staring, although I did use a CD player for a description of the more important works.

And we were able to see the Pieta by Michelangelo. It’s in the main church and is as wonderful as we imagined it. How beautiful! Another place to just stop and stare, trying to sear it into my memory forever. I couldn't believe I was standing in front of it. If I had a bucket list, this would be on it. I could have stood there for hours.
Personally, though, I couldn't help thinking that I would display it differently. The background is made of gorgeous dark marble and while that makes for a very luxurious setting, it does not really show off the beautiful lines and cool surfaces of the Pieta. Just my thought, and they didn't ask me. 

Well, eventually we had to leave. So we walked around the outside, where were street markets were set up, selling everything from jewelry to underwear. We didn’t get anything there but we did go into a store and bought some kind of alcohol in a cute star bottle and some olive oil. By then we were hungry; I got lasagna, Randy had cannelloni (pasta with egg, cheese and olive oil), plus some beer, soda, and one of those hollow bread rolls. We continued shopping near the train station, where Randy bought 2 pairs of shoes and I bought a purse.
Then we went to the Spanish Steps. There were a lot of people there. We climbed the steps and went into the church awhile, and when we came out, Randy bought a line drawing from an artist. We walked down a street with some very nice stores and looked at some of the jewelry stores. There were a few people on the sidewalks who were dressed as statues, standing immobile and  hoping for contributions. At a very small store we bought two pieces of Venetian glass, one for Mom and one for Leah, and a small statue of Davis for Krista. The proprietor worked very slowly and very carefully; he wrapped each item in paper, selected just the right size box for the item, wrapped the box in paper, carefully folded the paper edges down around the box, and finally stuck on the store’s seals. Then he picked up the next piece and did it all over again! We were not in a hurry so was enjoyable just watching him. Later we found a shop that sold good leather items and Randy bought a jacket. The saleslady there was an older woman, originally from Egypt, who had learned English by watching American movies for years. As we left the store, she warned us to be careful of the pickpockets in the area. Time to eat again, so we found a pizzeria and got a pizza with prosciutto ham, a sandwich of salami and cheese, and 1/2 liter of white wine. We stopped at a store and got a few chocolates for dessert, then went to see the Trevi fountain at night. We sat there awhile and learned that although marble seats will transfer the heat right out of you, they will never get warm; they just keeps taking heat away! There are always a lot of people at the Trevi fountain and it is always full of coins. While we were there we watched a woman walk around the fountain, trailing a piece of string in the water.  At the edge of the fountain she quietly lifted the string and removed the magnet attached to it, as well as all of the coins it had picked up. Next we took the metro to see the Pyramid of Caius Cestius. It started raining so we headed back, but we got off one stop early and ended up a long way from the hotel. We eventually got back to the terminal, bought some soda, and called it a day by 10 pm.

4th day, spent in Florence, home of "the" David

Tuesday, February 23, 1999 - Our wakeup call did not come but we woke up at 6:10 anyway. Had breakfast at the buffet (still tasted good!) and were ready for the bus at 7 am. The bus was nice and the staff was friendly; the bus driver's name was Salvadori and our guide's name was Kiara. Salvadori stopped to pick up several more people at other locations before leaving Rome. As we left the city of Rome, Kiara pointed out the old Roman walls as we passed them, and the olive trees and vineyards along the way.  Salvadori played some cassette tapes for us, mostly of good Italian tenors. The ride was 3 hours, with a stop at a service station that had a restaurant and sold groceries and souvenirs. The countryside had a lot of those tall, thin trees that seem so Italian to me, and Spanish-looking houses (well, they looked Spanish to me because of the 7 months we spent in Spain!). At the outskirts of Florence we stopped at a place called Michelangelo's Square, overlooking the town. It's called that because they have a copper version of Michelangelo's David there. And the view of Florence was great!  
The bus is not allowed to be on the main streets of Florence, but Salvadori was able to drop us off in town. Kiara introduced us to Rosalind, a British tour guide who we all nicknamed "Sergeant Rosalind" because she tended to bark orders at us.  The Sergeant, not Kiara, was our tour guide for this part of the tour. She took us to the Accademia Museum first. The first room we stopped in had six of Michelangelo's unfinished sculptures, and she gave us a brief history about them. Only Michelangelo could make an unfinished sculpture say so much.   
Then we went to see the David, which was just as impressive as we imagined. After awhile the rest of the group moved on to a couple of rooms with paintings, but I missed most of that because I went back to see David again. I knew what I was here for, and it wasn't paintings.
Eventually we had to leave the museum for our next stop, which was a nearby church. It was very ornate outside but much simpler on the inside because apparently the merchants who built it ran out of money.  It included an old clock that kept time according to the method used before we switched to the Julian calendar. The clock only had about 11 hours on it because, according to the old system, time was only kept from daylight to dusk.  

Next we crossed the street to see another church, the Cathedral of Florence. This unusual building looks very different from each side. From one side we could see the beautiful dome, with its typical red tiles.
And from another side, all we could see was the complicated, beautiful, gaudy facade. I couldn't get it all in one picture so I settled for one picture of the door.
and another picture of the intricate details above the door.
In spite of this amazing outside, it is best known for its doors. The doors have panels that depict various Biblical scenes and the doors on the east side, created by Lorenzo Ghiberti, are especially nice. They have full bronze panels and were nicknamed "The Doors of Paradise" by Michelangelo. It's easy to see why; the scenes are not specific to Paradise, but the workmanship is exquisite.
Randy and I talked with another tour member, a young lady who had visited Italy as a teenager and was back with her mother and sister. Then we all walked to the restaurant for lunch.  Along the way some gypsies picked the pockets of one of our group, but he noticed them doing it and drove them away, and they dropped his money as they ran. I lost track of exactly where we were, but at some point during the day we could see the Tower of the Palazzo Vecchio.
For lunch we had two kinds of pasta, bow tie and round, slices of pork, peas and bread, water and a bottle of Chianti. We sat with a couple we met on the bus. Salvador and Marie were from New York but were born in Sicily and spoke Italian. The restaurant almost forgot to give us our dessert, but Maria asked for it; ice cream cups with finely ground coffee sprinkled on top. After lunch we went to a leather shop and met up with Kiara again. The salesman demonstrated how they emboss gold onto leather and showed us their leather coats. The coats looked like they were very good quality and the price was reasonable, but I couldn't find any I really wanted. 

Next Kiara took us another piazza with another big church and a lot of sculptures; I loved this lion!
We had a little free time to see the church, which is called the Basilica of Santa Croce. Michelangelo is buried there but his memorial was covered by plywood for some kind of work, so we couldn't really see much of it. One of our group had left to see another museum but couldn't because the line was too long, so we waited until she met up with us again at this church. Then we all walked back together to our bus and took the long ride back to Rome. For dinner we stopped at another pizzeria.  

What an amazing day!  

3rd day in Rome - The Vatican Feb 22, 1999

Up at 8 am and breakfasted at the hotel’s buffet again.  Randy booked a trip to Florence for $75 (120,000 lira) and asked the front desk for a wake-up call tomorrow at 6 am.  For today’s trip, we took the metro to Vatican City.  We went to the first entrance we found, but it was blocked by guards.  It turns out that this is the entrance is to the private residence of the Pope, although that’s not stated anywhere; they just stop you when you try to go in.   
Just around the corner is St. Peter's.  The courtyard is immense, and really beautiful.  There is an arch of columns on each side, not quite a half-circle of columns, that is four columns deep, and an obelisk in the center.  

There is a spot on each of of the monument where the 4 rows of columns on each side line up visually to look like one.  The front of St. Peter's was being cleaned (of course) so the entire front of the building was covered by scaffolding.  We went into the bookstore outside the church first, to look for an Italian Missal for Randy’s friend Brian.  We found one, and also got a small sculpture of the Last Supper for Randy’s co-workers. 

Then we went into the church.  The entire ceiling is covered in gold leaf.  There are huge sculptured monuments to past Popes; everyone seemed to try to make his crypt bigger and better than the one before him.  The “throne of St. Peter” is at the front, set up high and just under the stained glass window of a dove.  Apparently there is a plain wooden chair which is assumed to have been used by Peter, and now it has been encased inside an ornate, gold-decorated chair (although I am not sure why they felt that a man who used a plain wooden chair would want that).  There is also a statue of St. Peter made from dark wood and dressed in scarlet robes.  

We went downstairs to look at some of the older Popes' memorials and St. Peter's grave marker.  In the basement is a small, decorated box in a glass enclosure that is supposed to mark where Peter was buried.  It’s downstairs, but there is an opening in floor so it can be seen from the main level, also.  Peter hasn’t actually been buried here for a long time, but legend says this was where he used to be buried, and a small church built over the spot was the beginning of St. Peter's cathedral.

Back upstairs, looking up at the dome can almost make you dizzy.  It's really beautiful, but it is also so high up that you cannot really see the intricate details.  At the very top is the cupola of the dome, letting in sunshine.
And you are allowed to climb the dome.  There is an elevator that goes part of the way, and after that there are 320 steps.  That's a lot of stairs.  As you get near to the top, the steps get narrower and walls start slanting inward.
The last section of steps is so narrow that the stairwell just twists around one slender column.  But it is so worth it to climb all those stairs, because the view from the top is wonderful!  I don't know how far you can see, but it must be miles.  Standing at the front, you can see the whole of the courtyard, which is amazing.
And walking around the dome, you can see across the whole city.
And if you turn around and look up, you can see the very top of the dome, with that little cupola that lets in the sunlight.
One couple at the top said there was a church in Florence with a higher dome; I don't know if that's true, but this was incredible enough for me!

After we left St. Peters we went to see the Vatican Museum, but as we were arriving the crowds were leaving.  It turns out the Museum closes before 2 pm.   This was a big disappointment, but since we are going to be here for the rest of the week, we can come back.

We stopped at a restaurant for a soda and a beer, and there we met a girl from the US.  She moved to France to teach English and was in Rome for a holiday.  When you are in a foreign country, your ear instantly picks up on a familiar accent.

Next we walked around that section of the city and split a sandwich of prosciutto ham and cheese.  Then we went back across the Tiber river.  We found Navona Square - it’s a nice plaza and very picturesque.  We got some gelato there and walked on to the Pantheon.  This is a round building, still whole, with a columned porch (portico).  Like many famous landmarks in Rome, it sits in the middle of a busy area, with modern (though narrow) streets running right next to the ancient walls.
The portico, is interesting; it looks like they used parts of other buildings to create this.  The front is uniform and regular, with identical columns across the front and sides.
But the columns inside the porch, and their capitals, are quite different from each other.
Inside the building is one main room with cool, gray walls of regular pattered squares.  The building is rough on the outside, but inside it’s been converted to Catholic monuments.  And Raphael is buried here, per his request.
At the very top of the roof is an opening which lets in light, as well as the rain.  Throughout the long history of this building, that fact has influenced how the interior has been decorated and used.
We walked around the area, checked out Ignazio church, then went to see the famous Trevi Fountain.
It’s a large fountain with several sculptures and a large seating area around it.  Love the detail!
We spent some time there before taking off again.  We looked at a wine store and some nice leather stores, and stopped again at McDonald’s "for soda”.  When it started to get dark, we went back to see Trevi Fountain all lit up.  Dinner was soda, chips and sandwiches from a pizzeria near the train station, and we called it a night by 9 pm.

2nd day in Rome - Coliseum, Circus Maximus and other stuff - Sept 21, 1999

We slept from 6 pm until 9:15 am!  When we finally got up, we went downstairs for the hotel's breakfast buffet, which was great - scrambled eggs, hardboiled eggs, pastries, breads, cheese spread, chocolate spread, cheese slices, prunes, peaches, cereal, coffee, tea, milk and on request, cappuccino.  Then we took the underground metro to the Colosseum and paid to go inside.  It’s really an impressive building - it was built around 2,000 years ago, and it's had a rough time of it.  About half of the outer ring was knocked down by an earthquake a long time ago, and much of the outside has big pits in the stones.  
The huge stones appear to be put together with extreme precision, without visible mortar.  On the outside walls some of the missing stones have been replaced by bricks to hold the structure together, and show what it would have looked like.

Inside it is quite complex.  I had not realized that a lot of the rows are really rooms.  I think they were sort of like Box Seats at our baseball games; a good view, shelter from the elements, and access to snacks.
And there is a pretty view out some of those archways at the top level. 
It’s difficult to be see how it was really laid out - where the good seats were and what all those rooms on the tiers were really used for.  I know they had 'status' seating - if you had good status, you got good seats.  But even the good seats, good enough to have the person's name carved on them, don't look all that good to me.  
The floor has long since disappeared, so when you look into the Colosseum, you are looking into the “basement”, which has the feel of a maze.  
There’s some discussion about whether or not it was ever covered, but nobody really knows.  It's kind of weird to look down into those tunnels and think about the people who came through them.  Rough, rough life . . . and probably a short life, too. 
Outside I was surprised to see that one of the main roads goes right by the Colosseum.  That can't be good for it, but it's too late to do anything about it now.
Outside the Colosseum several vendors were selling souvenirs and toys, mostly G. I. Joe dolls that crawl on the ground.  That has nothing whatsoever to do with the Colosseum, but it's what they had to sell.  The vendors seem to have just 3 or 4 items, which they put on the ground, then try to sell to everyone who walked by.  There are several men dressed as Roman solders, ready for a photo-op, but the red tights and cigarettes spoiled the effect.  One of the “solders” was the WC attendant, which cost 500 lira. I gladly paid.
Right beside the Colosseum is Constantine’s Arch, which was being cleaned while we were there, so some of it was covered by scaffolding.  It’s huge, and very ornately decorated with bas-relief sculpted marble.  
The surroundings are very pretty - they have a tall, thin evergreen in Italy that is very attractive, especially when located near a few of the other trees which are pruned into round or flattened shapes.
We followed a path uphill and found a building we couldn’t go into.  It had the Stations of the Cross on the outside but it probably wasn’t a church, so it was probably a convent.  

There were usually cats around; Rome has a lot of cats and they all seem well-fed and content.  
We walked through “Antique Rome” next, where some gypsies bothered us.  We discovered that gypsies travel in small groups consisting of one woman carrying a baby and one or two young girls.  They walk up to people with a newspaper or a piece of cardboard which they hold flat between them and the tourist, and beg for money.  While the tourist is telling them “no”, they pick his pockets under the cover of the newspaper.  They don’t take no for an answer and usually the best advice is to leave quickly.  

The ruins in the area are interesting.  Most of them include one or two tall columns with Corinthian tops, surrounded by several large and small chucks of marble that used to be a building.  The columns often have some brick sections that replace missing marble, to show what the structure used to look like.  At nights they shine lights on the columns. 
We walked over to nearby Circus Maximus, which is a huge, oval, grassy area that is lower than it's surroundings.  There is a bit of a Medieval building at one end, but the structures, if there were any, are long gone.  While we were there, there were several groups of what looked like scouts - kids in uniforms with backpacks and rolled-up tents - who were playing sports.  People also bring their dogs there to run.
For lunch we bought a piece of pizza - cheese on bread - and bottled water.  Then we walked to the central building of that area, the “Victor Emanuel and Tomb of Unknown Soldier” monument.  It’s HUGE, with lots of marble statues and two chariot sculptures on the roof.  Like everything else in Rome this year, some of it was being cleaned or restored, and was hidden by scaffolding.
Next we walked to the Tiber river and saw what we thought was the Vestal Virgin temple, but later I learned it was the temple of Hercules Victory.  It’s a round structure, not very big, but still whole.  We were not allowed to go inside.  We crossed the river and saw a McDonald's, so we went in for a soda and a restroom.  As far as I could tell, McDonald’s is the only place that has public restrooms, so we usually didn’t pass them by.  We walked around on the west side of the river a little more, then crossed back over and walked through several small streets.  They have some small cars and some tiny ones, and a lot of people use motorbikes.  If your car is this small, why not just get a bike?
The traffic is a mix of cars, motorbikes and pedestrians in narrow little streets with blind alleys.  Many of the streets are a sort of cobblestone, which becomes very uncomfortable to walk on. 

A lot of the buildings have old frescos (usually very dirty), or old columns.  Some buildings on street corners have a painted picture of Mary, with a place for people to put candles.  A lot of the people we saw out were wearing black.  We saw a few homeless people, who mostly seemed to mind their own business.  The pizzerias were numerous and usually very good.  Everyone seems to frequent them and the ice cream stores, which are known as Gelaterias.  Their ice cream is quit good and comes in lots of flavors.  In the touristic areas they have a lot of mobile vendors selling food and drinks.  
We found a large synagogue with several movie lights set up around it, although we didn't understand enough of the language to know why they were there.  A little after 6 pm the lights came to light the big monuments, so we went back to see the big white building again.  For dinner we went to a different pizzeria by the train station.  Randy had a bean salad (“insalata di fagioli”), some tortellini, a roll and a beer, and I had gnocchi and soda.  They have unusual rolls in Rome - they look like soft round rolls but they are almost hollow, so they turn out to be all crust.  We got some soda from a little pizzeria that also sold a few groceries, and went back to the hotel a little after 10 pm.  The plan to stay awake on the first day and overcome jet lag seemed to work!

First day in Rome! Saturday, 2/20/1999

We went through customs easily and converted $100 to 165,200 lira at the airport.  The hotel sent a driver, Mario, to pick us up.  He spoke a few words of English and pointed out some of the old Roman walls we passed on the way to the hotel.  At the hotel we had to take several trips to get our luggage upstairs, because the elevator was very, very tiny.  Randy just barely had enough room to stand in it!
But we got everything up to our room, which was decorated in startling colors of red and blue.  
We quickly unpacked and went outside to see Rome.  The hotel was a few blocks from a train station, several pizzerias and an exchange office (cambio).  Randy exchanged another $200 for 342,000 lira at a rate of 1,710 lira per dollar.  We started exploring Rome by going across the street to get bottled water and a tomato pizza.  It was very good pizza; their tomatoes aren’t as acid as ours.  We stopped at another pizzeria for coffee and steamed milk (latte), and at a newsstand for some post cards.  We went to the train station to check it out but didn't find it very interesting, so we headed into the city, where we found a great museum.  It's called Palazzo Massimo aloe Terme, and it's one of several buildings that make up the Roman National Museum.  It had rooms full of beautiful old Roman mosaics, and other rooms full of ancient statues. 
I loved this Discus Thrower, but I was so tired I didn't even get a good picture! 
And I thought this an interesting bust of Claudia Octavia. I wonder how odd our hairstyles will look to future generations?
We also found a department store called UPIN, where Randy bought a meat pounder for our kitchen back home.  For dinner we went to a pizzeria close to the train station and ate inside, although it was somewhat smokey, plus a couple of women sitting next to us looked very stoned.  Randy had lasagna and I had 2 fried rice and cheese balls, which was not what I was expecting.  We tried to do more sightseeing but by this time we were really worn out, so we went back to the hotel and were in bed before 6 pm.