On the train to Rome!
First class is great! The bags go in the overhead. The only scary thing was getting on in the first place: it was quite a high step up! The trains usually run on time (so we were told), but ours was 30 minutes late getting into Chiusi, where we had to switch trains for Rome. So once again we had to hustle to make the connection. Run up one flight of stairs (with our luggage of course), then down another...only to find that the next train was late coming in! Puff...puff.
Finally got into Rome at 4 pm and checked into the Hotel Mascagni. Another winner! A tiny lobby, but a beautiful dining room (with rosebuds on each table), and a lovely room with a big bathroom and fluffy towels! So we dropped our stuff and went right out and walked to the Coliseum.
Wow! Really cool. But we didn't see any lights, so we assumed they don't have any night games!!
By the time we got there it was 5:45 and it closes at 7, so we had no time to dawdle. Really neat to see it in person after having seen so many pictures and read so much about it. They had a lot of explanatory signs and exhibits on the "mezzanine" level.
Then we headed for the Forum (nearby), but it got dark and was starting to rain, so we hopped into the subway. It was very crowded as it was rush hour. Pretty much like the CTA except the outsides of the cars were COVERED with very pretty graffiti pictures. (We assumed it was graffiti and not "official" art.)
Then out for dinner..a walk in the rain (so romantic! so vacation!)...and when we got to the restaurant (d'Oro) they had special plastic bags for each umbrella so they wouldn't drip on the floor!!! The food was yummy. Wendy had linguini with pine nuts, arugula, and tomatoes. Wayne had a platter full of mussels and clams. Divine! Wendy then had grilled sea bass with chicory; Wayne had pepper steak. For dessert a chocolate tartuffo (Wa) and mixed gelati with pineapple (We).
Side note: NONE of the hotel rooms we've been in have had any kind of clock! Unusual for the U.S. of course, but here it makes sense. Why? Because they all have those clock towers which chime out the time.....even through the night!
Saturday, September 15
Our last day!
So we had to make the most of it (Translation: MEGA-WALKING!).
First things first: breakfast! Sugar-glazed croissants! Yummo.
The metro was close to our hotel and the things we wanted to see, so we bought an all-day pass. It was about 8:30 and not crowded at all. First stop: The Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel. We got in a line that was about two blocks long (a lot of groups) at 8:55. It moved quickly and we were inside the building at 9:10. You have to go through the Museum part to get to the chapel (and it seemed like there was a gift shop every 20 feet along the way!).
We had audioguides and they were very informative. Many rooms of tapestries, statues, frescoes,
paintings, etc. Finally, everyone is funneled into the chapel. It was beautiful...but hard to keep looking up as so many people were crowding around and the ceiling is so high. But what a sight!
Then we walked a few blocks to St. Peter's. Really impressive! The square! the church!
Inside are statues of many Popes (and even John Paul's body in a glass case!). The best was
Pius XII (?) because his statue had glasses! This was so incongruous with the hundreds of stern-faced statues we've seen the last 2 weeks. We then stood in line to go to the top of the dome, but it wasn't moving at all and the thought of another several-hundred-step climb was just too much.
Side note: Wendy had visited here in the summer of '74. Her recollection: "When I was first here I was struck by the contrast between the extravagance of St. Peter's and the poverty outside in the piazza. I had heard that they'd "cleaned up" the number of beggars, and it did seem like there are fewer, but we did see more people begging here than elsewhere. And the extravagance of St. Peter's hadn't changed at all."
We hopped back on the metro and went to the Spanish Steps.
They were neat, but covered with people and not as big as Wayne had envisioned based on pictures he'd seen (maybe they're bigger when no one is on them!). Then, guess what? It was time for lunch. We went to a pizzeria that was supposed to be good, but it was closed! At 1:30!!! So we ate at the first place we saw. Wow! We sat outside and had delicious salads, but we realized later we never even saw the name of the restaurant! Then we went back to the Steps because Wendy said "We have to climb them! Everyone does!". Well....she did, Wayne didn't.
Then Wendy bought some genuine Italian leather shoes at Bruno Magli.
Then we walked over to the Trevi Fountain.
It was very big and beautiful, but, again, swarming with tourists. We did not realize, and I'd bet a lot of other people don't either, that it is actually built into the side of a building! Of course, like any fountain, one must throw in coins to make a wish. The throng of tourists was about 10 deep, so we could not get close. So Wendy took a coin and took a big wind-up and threw a hard, fast one...right into the head of a lady 5 feet away!! Ouch!! She turned around and we both acted nonchalant as we tried to stifle our giggles.
By now it was close to 3:00 - traditional time for gelato (at least for us!). We went to Crispino's; supposed to be the best place in Italy. It was very good! What was different about it was that they keep the gealti covered (with fancy chrome lids) instead of showcasing the actual fruit, etc. They also have a wider variety of flavors including pear. Wendy had ginger/cinnamon. #1? Perhaps!!!
Then we walked to the Pantheon.
Finally, at about 6:00, we staggered back to the metro. Even though it was Saturday, it was jam-packed. We almost couldn't get off at our stop! Then a little rest before our last big meal. We realized that we had never gotten back to the Forum!! OK: a good reason to return!
We went to Piperno in the Jewish ghetto - based on multiple recommendations for their fried artichokes. To get there we took a taxi to the other side of town; the restaurant is located in a little courtyard off of an alley. We started with the artichokes; fantastic! Spaghetti Bolognese to share, veal for Wayne, sea bass (again!) for Wendy. This "sea bass" is different than the Chilean variety we get at home. Sides of green beans and fried zucchini flowers. They were not as good as some because they were stuffed with cheese!. The final dessert was wild strawberries with gelato (We) and chocolate gelato (Wa). Ahhhhhhhh................
We got back to the hotel after a breathtaking (not in a good way!) taxi ride. Back in the room we packed, settled our bill, talked to the parents and the kids, and called it a day.
One last ride.......
Sunday, September 16
The whole week we had been following the news, especially about when airports might re-open and flights might get back on schedule. As it turned out, our flight to Chicago was the first one that was allowed to leave as planned. So we were very apprehensive about actually getting out. We got to the airport 3 1/2 hours early! They checked our passports before we even got in the check-in line! Then we waited in that line for 2 hours! There were many machine-gun-armed guards everywhere (even more so since our check-in line was right next to one for El Al!). When we got to the front they checked our passports again, plus our tickets, and gave us the boarding passes. They also gave us luggage tags and labeled our bags and taped them shut! The next stop was at another counter for passport check #3! More questions about our trip and our luggage; then it finally made it to the conveyor belt. Then we proceeded to x-ray. It was another long line, but we got through in about 10 minutes (which was good, because the flight time was 1:15 and it was now after noon!). After x-ray, yup, passport check #4....and this time they finally stamped them. Next, to the monorail shuttle which took us to our gate. We passed duty-free shops along the way, but had neither the time, nor the money, nor the desire to stop.
At the gate! And....passport check #5. Also some random baggage checks by stern-faced caribinierri, but we were not selected. Finally we boarded, and it looked like we would be late taking off. We noticed the flight attendants were all wearing special white ribbons. The pilot came on and announced we would be delayed for about an hour to ensure that everyone could board. This was understandable and perfectly fine with us. He also talked very openly about last week's events (this was a United flight), and the precautions we'd all experienced, and that there were many other behind-the-scenes precautions going on as well. He was very reassuring. Finally, we took off. Bye-bye, Italy. When lunch was served (we were in business), it was as usual except that the knives were plastic. Another reminder of what had happened and what we'd be going home to.
The flight was nominal. We talked about our trip and how great it was, but also about the tragic events of last Tuesday. How strange it was not to be there. What it must have been like for the whole country. When (if ever) things would return to normal.
As we approached O'Hare, the pilot came on and said "Welcome back to the USA everyone". I think all of the passengers were holding their breath as we descended. And when we finally touched down, we all broke out in applause. It was quite an emotional moment.