Sunday, October 13, 2013

And More Rome

We've spent the past few days walking and seeing the sights of Rome.  There is so much to see...and in these eight days we've seen a lot!  More baroque churches than we can count; ancient Roman ruins everywhere; elaborate fountains on every corner and pizza; columns and columns and columns...and the list goes on.

We love the pizza, the gelato, the sights...but not the Metro.  Seemed like every train was like line #4 in Paris: packed to the gills.  On the Metro was where we encountered the pick pocket team. That was a little dicey, but they got nothing from us!  The picture below is taken while waiting on a Metro train.  You'd think, by the lack of people on the platform, that you'd be getting onto an empty train.  Not so!  In fact, most of the people of Rome are already on that train and there will barely be room for one more!

Rome is a city of almost 3 million people.  And it seems like every single one of them was walking the street with us on Sunday, especially in the Campo de Firoi area!  That entire piazza was packed wall to wall.  We managed to find a Tavolo to rest our feet and sip on some wine before heading on to Castel Sant'Angelo.  This was originally Emperor Hadrian's tomb, then it was the popes' fortress, then a prison, and finally now it's a church.  This place is huge!!!!

We did luck into a Praetorian Guard re-enactment at the Pantheon.  Dumb luck that!  There were Senators, Ladies, Centurians and lots of Praetorians.  It was cool to see them do their close-order drills.

And the hills....can't forget the hills.  Rome is built on 7 hills.  Our hotel is atop the Quirinalis...which we have walked up and down maybe twenty times.  (Okay, maybe not that many..but a lot!)  We've also been on every other hill at least once or twice.  That's a lot of hill climbing to say the least!

One of the strangest sights we've seen was under the Chuuch of Santa Maria della Immacolata Concezione.  There you'll find the bones of about 4000 Capuchin Friars laid out in "artistic" style.  They aren't sure exactly who filled these six crypts with these works of art; they just know it happened between 1732 and 1775.

We've seen so much here...yet so little.  We saw lots of churches, but not even one tenth of the churches there are to see.  And...even the churches we visited hold so much that we left many works of beauty and treasure unseen.

And, we've had some incredible meals here...including pizza of course!  Lots of pastas, lots of wine, and lots of fun waiters.  Our favorite was near the Pyramid of Cestius at a taverna.  He didn't speak English and we couldn't say much more than "grazie" and "ciao".  This gentleman was also serving a large party and every time he'd take them a dish he'd bring it by our table first.  He'd point at the food and say what it was.  We still weren't exactly sure what we were getting, but he basically told us what to order and so we did.  It was wonderful!!!!  Deep fried zuchinni blossoms stuff with cheese, deep fried olives, a fish pate and Aleta had a salad with unknown red mushrooms.  All delicious!  Afterwards the waiter took Aleta to the back and helped her pick out a dessert for all to share.

Yes, lots of great memories made here...sights, food, wine and people.  It was a great way to continue to celebrate Monte and Aleta's 30th wedding anniversary.

We did toss coins into Trevi Fountain so you never know...we might be back!

Grazie, Roma.  Grazie.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Walking Rome

Today was our day to just walk around central Rome.  Nothing fancy to see...just walking.  Of course, you can't walk anywhere here without seeing ancient Roman buildings more than 2000 years old, or incredible Renaissance works of art, literally on on the corner, or churches filled with Baroque wonders and artifacts from the ancient Christian world.  Yep...just a walk.

Our hotel is right off XX September Avenue, so named because this is the street that the victors over the papal armies road after the final battle for Italian unification.  Just a block away from our hotel is a intersection where large bas relief sculptures are on all four corners. Each scuplture is a foutain representing key Italian rivers and goddesses.  This is just how it is in Rome....there are statues and fountains everywhere!  Here's one of the four:

Walking on we are in the Presidential Complex...lots of highly armed and serious looking men around here.  Some of them are the Corazzieri, the elite presidential guards.  This elite unit's regimental headquarters is directly outside our hotel's windows.  We've seen them come and go on their horses and we've seen them inside the entrances to the key governmental buildings.  These guys are kick ass...minimum height is 6' 2.8" and they are highly trained.  You can't miss them on duty as they are dressed in old-style uniforms with plummage and all.  I've been repeatedly warned not to joke with them....and not all of the warnings have come from Monte, Aleta and Mona.  Zoom in on the pic below and you'll see two of teh Corazzieri.

Our first major stop of the day was Trevi Fountain.  Yes, of course, we threw coins in the fountain...why would you not?!?!?

There are a lot of cool street performers in Rome.  We hope this was one of them:

Next major stop was the Pantheon.....the engineering here is beyond compare!  (I don't know why the font just changed, but we will all just have to deal with it.)  This structure is about 2000 years old and is still in great shape.  I won't bore you with all the incredible details of this awesome awesome building but suffice it to say that no other dome like it was built for over 1000 years....not until the Duomo in Florence which used this dome for a model.  The dome itself is made of concrete with a base 20 feet thick...narrowing as it goes up.  The only light is from a 30 foot circle at the top...the ocular eye...and it's wide open to the elements.  The floor is concave to drain away the water.

I could tell you lots and lots about the Pantheon, but I'm restraining myself.  How about one more picture then I'll move one.

Our next stop was Piazza Navone.  This was our favorite place from our first visit and we were so glad to be back.  This used to be a chariot racetrack but it's now filled with beautiful fountains, artists, restaurants and tourists.  It's simply delightful!

Love love love this place. We'll be back!

How the hell do they do this?!?!!??

I digress.  We then walked across a bridge over the Tiber and walked on the other side for a ways.

Then back across to end up at our final destination of our walk...The Spanish Steps.  Here we relaxed with a few thousand of our closest friends.  Somehow, I half expected to see Trae and Tiffany walk up and say, "hi!"

Our walk ended with a ride home on the Metro where we encountered a team of pickpockets.  Suffice it to say that we kept all of our valuables and they ran off as fast as they could.

Now, we're ready for dinner and another evening of swapping stories...some of them true.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Colosseum and the Roman Forum

Today was to be yet another big day...the Colosseum!  We caught the B line Metro and got off at the Colosseo stop.  Did you know that Rome has only two Metro lines?  That's not many for a city of 2.6 million.  It's not that they don't want more lines, it's just so hard to build them here.  The problem is that literally all of Rome is a vast archeological site.  Anywhere you dig you run into artifacts and the digging must stop so that everything can be examined and cataloged.  Very much like Athens.

Immediately as you exit you see it...THE Colosseum!  It's huge and amazing!

Last time Mona and I visited we didn't have enough time to go inside...we had plenty of time no for an inside we joined the throngs of people in the Vomitorium to queue up for tickets. really is named the Vomitorium.  So named because the Colosseum is designed to spew out its 50,000 spectators in as little as fifteen minutes!  (Right, Linda L?)

Just standing in this line is a thrill as you get an up close look at the incredible engineering of this massive structure.  Massive arch after arch...holding up millions of pounds of concrete, bricks, and granite.  It's mind boggling!  And did you know the Colosseum was built by slaves?  About 70 AD a pesky kingdom would not yeild to the Romans' simple demand of all conquered lands: "Add our emperor god to your list of gods."  Simple, right?  Not for the Kingdom of Judea, so the Romans tore down their temple and enslaved the Jews and brought them to Rome.  The slaves' first task was to build the Colosseum.  Thus began the Jewish Diaspora.

Once we got our tickets we could finally go inside inside!  Incredible!  Reminded us so much of Busch Stadium that we could imagine the vendors, "Bud, Bud Light, Bud Select, waaaterrr!"

We walked around on three different levels...amazed....simply amazed.  This all used to be covered in white marble.  And there used to be canopies on top, manned by sailors to keep the spectators cool.

The picture above shows the basement where all the gladiators, beasts and victims waited their turn to be in the big show.  You can also see the recreated floor showing where the action would have taken place.  There were elevators (seriously) bringing the animals and participants up to the main floor from the basement.  Beasts here included lions, bears, tigers, hippos, elephants, alligators and anything else the Romans thought might be fun to play with.

I lost track of how much time we spent inside, but finally it was time to crawl away and find some lunch.  After some antipasit and wine we were ready to go to The Roman Forum!

The Forum was the centerpoint of Roman political, social and religious life.  It was all there....temples, tributes, the Senate, palaces...along with souvenier sellers, pickpockets and hookers.  You could get it all at Forum!

Then, the Forum was all white and beautiful with statues everywhere.  Today, it can seem to be piles of stones and rocks...but with a little imagination it all comes back to life.  It's indeed amazing to think that you're walking where Julius Ceasar walked...along with Mark Anthony, Cleopatra, Caligula and a host of others that we've only read about.

Some buildings have only a column or two left behind to mark their spot in history.  Others stand fully intact save for the marble that has been stripped away.  

It's hard to believe all this was built thousands of years ago...while America was still in the stone age.

All too soon it was time to take our weary feet and leave the Forum.  Up the hill we trudged...headed for the Metro stop.  But wait, there was one more little mystery for us to see.  On the sidewalk were huge garbage bags with people in them.  What the heck???  After a bit of writhing about the garbage bag was lowered and this was what you saw:

This guy is easily two feet off the ground.  Two feet!  One hand is on top of the post, one hand is outstreched.  There is nothing below him but sidewalk two feet down.

That was enough for us!  Headed back to our hotel for some wine and opera!!!


We caught another fast train out of the Termini station and headed for a day trip to Firenze...or as we say in English, Florence.  We soon moved out of the rainy Rome region and back into sunny Tuscany where we saw olive groves, vineyards and beautiful green hills.  At 150 mph it was only 90 minutes before were we in Florence. 

We started with a visit to the Basilica Santa Maria Novella which is right across the street from the train station.  This gothic church was took over 100 years to build and it's probably most famous for being the church where they first began to attack Galileo.  The picture below is of the altar in this church.

Now we walked through the crowded streets and made our way to the Piazza San Giovanni which is connected to the Piazza del Duomo. There's a lot to see here!  First thing you see is Giotto's Bell Tower which was completed in 1359.  It towers (pun intended) over the nearby Baptistry of Florence and the Duomo...Santa Maria del Fiore.  The Baptistry has the Doors of Paradise, as called by Michelangelo, which were said to have begun the Italian Renaissance.  

Santa Maria is capped by Brunelleschi's dome.  No domes had been built for a thousand years becuse the art/engineering of such domes had been lost with the fall of the Roman empire.  However the builders of this church wanted a dome and built the church without completing the roof...waiting for someone to figure out how to built a dome. It took many years for someone to figure it out, but finally Brunelleschi did...using the Roman dome in the Pantheon as his model.  This dome was the inspiration for many subsequent domes including Michelangelo's design of the Vatican dome.  The picture below shows the Bell Tower with the dome to the right of it.

After marveling at these sights we wandered down Via dei Calzauiuoli which is lined with upscale shops along with gelato shops serving up some of the most delightful treats in the world.  

Soon we came to another famous piazza...Piazza della Signoria.  Here is where is you'll find many of the famous large sculptures of Florence all outside.  Most famous of all is Michelangelo's David just outside the door of Plazzo Vecchio.  (Actually, the original David is in a nearby museum...moved there after his arm was broken off when someone threw a piece of furniture out the palace window.)

Also here are a few people...come from all over the world to see these statues in this square.  It almost looks like a mob scene from up on the platform: 

The equestrian statue is of Cosimo I de'Medici and the tall statue is Neptune, crowning the Fountain of Neptune.  It has the face of Cosimo and it's said that Michelangelo thought it was a waste of money  It's near this fountain that Savonarola led the burning of books and art, hoping to to bring a return to Medieval values....and also where Savonarola was hanged and burned in 1498.

We then walked through the Avenue of Heros that cuts through the middle of the Galleria degil Uffizi.  Here are statues of many of the greats of Florence....Machevelli, Galileo, da Vinci, Michelangelo, and even Amerigo Vespucci.

Afterwards, we stood high above the banks of the Arno gazing at the Ponte Vecchoio which has been home to goldsmiths and silversmiths since the 1500s.  Did you know the Arno had a massive flood in 1966 which resulted in over six feet of mud and water in many of these famous sites?

Our last stop of the day was Basilica Santa Croce. Here are interred many of Florence's notables including Galileo, Michelangelo, and Machiavelli.  It's amazing just how many people are interred here.  The pictures below are of the altar and Galileo's tomb.

We saw so much here in Florence...but there is so so much more to see.  You could spends a week here and only scratch the surface. Maybe we'll get to come back someday!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013


We started our journey to Rome by catching a local train from Monaco to Ventimiglia.  The train was packed with students on their way to the university in Menton so it was a pretty noisy and boisterous ride.  At Ventimiglia we had to change from a French train an Italian train.  This train then took us along the Mediterranean first to Genoa and then north to Milan.  All the way through to Genoa we had lots of seacoast views with the mountains meeting the seas.  Then we traveled through the mountains and saw lots of villages with colorful homes scattered along the mountains.  Finally, we got up on the plains leading to Milan and seeming every town had a Renaissance tower peeking above the rooftops.

We had a travelers' lunch in Milan and then caught our final train of the Rome.   This was a red Trenitalia high speed train that took us through the heart of Tuscany and finally into Rome Termini Station.  A short, but Six-Flags-wild, taxi ride and there it was; Hotel Oceania, our home for the next eight days. From the outset, we were pretty sure this would be a different experience from our normal Marriotts.  First, there was the tiny for two with luggage:
Then there was the courtyard:
This is the view we have when sitting out to drink our wine on the hotel terrace. Actually, it is very cool as we got to hear someone practicing singing the scales.  Very Roman!!!!  We love this place!

Our primary objective for our first full day was the Vatican City.  We caught the Metro to a stop about ten minutes away from our destintation.  About five minutes into the walk we were caught in a torrential downpour.  Luckily, we had umbrellas and ponches so we weathered the rain quite well....and the ladies got to watch a Swiss Guard do his guarding in the rain.  

Our first stop after the rain was the Vatican Museum...luckily, we have purchased tickets online otherwise we would have had to stand in a mile long line. The pic above shows a small section of the line alongside the wall of the Vatican City.  

The museum was incredible..beyond description and at the same time very tiring on our poor feet and backs.  Will post an ablum with the pictures...but unfortunately, they didn't allow pictures of the Sistene Chappel so you'll have to read about it. Trust me, no pictures can compare with the reality.  The picture below is not the Sistene Chappel, but just one of the beautiful ceilings in the museum.

Next was St. Peter's. words can describe this place.  First up is Michangelo's brings tears to your eyes.  Then spectacle after and architecture beyond compare.  We happened to some people slipping down alongside a statue of St. Peter.  We decided to follow them and found ourselves in the crypt below the main floor.  There we got to see St. Peter's tomb along with the internments of many many of the lucky we got to go down there.  (Will post the St. Peter's pictures on an album as well.)  The picture below is of the main dome of St. Peter's.

Of course we had to find a cache in this country, the second smallest in the world (after Monaco).  This turned out to be more difficult than expected...but after much climging and sweating (not just me) we managed to find the cache.  Whew!  Glad that one is, we just have to find one in Italy.

We're having fun in the cafes and restaurants here...except when my "roast pork" turned out to be pig knuckles.  At least the wine was good!

Rome is turning out to be an experience unlike any other...but of course, what else would you expect from the Eternal City?


Thursday, October 3, 2013


We made our way to Monaco via a TGV high speed train from Gare de Lyon in Paris.  High speed trains are wonderful, but for one minor detail.  Don't try to look at the scenery up's all a blur as  it flashes past.  Just look out into the distance and you're fine!  Another word to the wise, don't jump out of your seat when another train flashes past you in the other direction.  You hear almost a sonic boom as the two trains fly past each other.  (This reminds me of a storybook math question from the 8th grade:   You're on a train traveling to Marseilles at 230 miles per hour.  You cross paths with another train going the opposite direction, also at 230 miles per hour.  How many feet high do you jump?)

Our journey took about 6 hours across France taking us along the western edge of the French Alps and to Provence and the Cote d'Azur.  We got to see snow capped mountains, castles, chateus and many many vineyards.  Finally, we reached Marseille and got our first glimpse of the Mediterranean.  Beautiful!  Now our train slowed down...winding its way between the mountains and the coast...stopping at cities we've only read about:  Toulon, Cannes, Antibes...until we finally arrived in Nice where we switched trains for the last leg of our journey.  That final train made a stop at Villefranche Sur of Carl and Heather's favorite spots.

You know you're in Monaco as soon as you get out at the train...that's because most train stations are concrete and tile...not Monaco, it's all marble and polished granite.  Took us a few bumps to get a taxi, but finally got one and were on our way.

Soon we are at our new home for a few days, the Marriott Cap d'Ail. The hotel is steps away from the Mediterranean and is actually in France.  As you leave the hotel you turn left and you're in Monaco and if you turn right you're in France....on the French Riveria, oo la la!

Lots to see here...the sea, the yachts, the city perched between the sea and the mountains, the architecture and of course the Art!  Seemingly everywhere you look you see beauty.  But of course, we first had to find a geocache!  Found one by the helioport and quickly got that piece of business out of the way.  (Note: many of our pictures are greyish...that's because it's been overcast and rainy since we've been here.  It's also been about 74 degrees so it's been quite nice for sightseeing.)

Our first objective of the day was Princess Grace's Rose Garden.  It's only a couple of blocks from our hotel so off we went.  Anticipation was high, as this is one of Mona's favorite spots.  However, the anticipation was quickly smote (Should that be smitten, smoted or simply smushed?) as the gardens have been dug up for rennovation.  ARGH!

We hopped the shuttle to the old city which is perched high on a plateau overlooking the sea.  This location used to keep the Monegasque safe; until pirates and the occaisional conqueror figured out how to breach their walls.  But still...this is where it all began and the palace,  the cathedral and a warren of shops and cafes is still here.  Streets are incredebly narrow, but cars, trucks, cycles and pedestrians share them with little incident.

We did some shopping, some "cafe-ing" and some touring...actually it's hard to separate the three.  We saw the changing of the guard at the palace and checked out the awesome views of the sea and surroundings.  We also visited St. Nicolas' Cathedral where Prince Rainier III  and Princess Grace are interred.

There are tunnels everywhere in Monaco.  As you would expect, most are for automobiles, but there are many other uses.  For instance, the train station is largely a huge tunnel carved into the mountainside.  Also, there are many pedestrian tunnels.  For instance, the tunnel shown below which connects one side of a plateau to a mall at the base of the other side of the plateau, near the Port of Fontvieille.

We've used this tunnel twice so far.  Once, to get from the Old City back to the hotel.  And then to get from the hotel to downtown for dinner.  You take an elevator built into the rock to get to and from the tunnel...elevator on one end, mall on the other.  

As I mentioned, we walked to dinner, using the tunnel.  On the way home we walked around the Port of Fontvieille looking at rocks, water and yachts.  Absolutely beautiful!

About 10:00 the next morning we scored some great seats at the Cafe De Paris which is adjacent to the Monte Carlo Casino.  This is a great spot to people watch, car watch and see some great Art from all over the world.  The view is constantly changing and you can almost get lost in time fact we spent several hours here...sipping wine and occaisionally getting up to see the details of a car or whatever it was that caught our eye.

Of course a visit to the casino is a must.  None of us won a million Euros, but Aleta was up a little and Monte got to order his martini "shaken, not stirred."

We headed back up to the old city and had dinner in a little cafe situated on a narrow medieval street and then we enjoyed some of the night time views such as the palace below.  It was quite a walk home but worth every step!

Next day we headed for Nice...about 20 miles east on the Riveria.  We boarded Bus 100 and paid our 1.5 Euro each and off we went.  This is a local bus that travels the lower corniche from town to town.  (There are three primary corniches (roads); one on the bottom of the mountains; one midway up and one near the top.  This bus took the lower corniche.)

The ride is beautiful with lots of beautiful views of the coast along with sightings of castles here and there.  Finally, our first view of Nice:

We got off the bus and headed for Vieux Nice the old part of the city.  Here you'll find narrow medieval streets and buildings that are centuries old.  Even though it's Sunday most of the cafes and many shops are open.  We wander through the streets and come upon a gala scene...flags, costumed people, church officials in their finest and a military band playing patriotic French songs.  It's a celebration for the saints of the local church.

We're told this fete could take hours so we move along.  One of the things I want to try is the local treat "socca"'s crepe like but made out of chick pea dough and it's about 2 1/2 feet in diameter.  We find a shop and I get to watch it's good, but give me a nutella crepe any day!

We found a nice little cafe for lunch.  I tried the Sardines Nicoise....ummm...not my favorite, but good.  But everyone else's dishes were awesome!  Hard to get bad food in Nice!

Finished our day with a night time visit to the casino area...great views at night!

It's about time for us to leave Monaco.  We've had a great time, but are looking forward to our next adventures!