Day 12 – Headed Home

We got up early to get to the airport in time for our flight home. The cab ride was about 40 minutes (and cost 50 euro. Ouch!)

It was a lot easier getting through the airport than it was when we arrived in Italy two weeks ago. The security lines were fairly short & quite efficient. I didn’t like hauling our bags onto a bus to ride to the plane and then hiking up the boarding steps, but it wasn’t terrible. I’m just accustomed to walking through the gate, over the gangway, and directly onto the plane. As we learned in Ed Psych, we like what we know.

Being self-employed, it was difficult to leave work for two weeks. I’ll see if I have any angry phone messages when we land in a few hours, but I set aside a little time each day to answer emails. Most of my clients were understanding once I explained that I was out of the country and would give more detailed answers after I returned to work. Court notices are all via email, so I was able to keep tabs on all my pending cases.

I’m typing this about 2 hours after takeoff. We had a great vacation. As it was our first trip to Europe, we made a few mistakes, but nothing major. I probably overpaid for a few things, but the experiences we had were priceless. We met a lot of nice people, ate a lot of delicious food, saw some beautiful sights, & Lisa saw more than 20 Rick Steves travel guides (which was always a good conversation starter). We hope to go back again someday. With our flexible schedules, maybe we’ll be able to travel more in the coming years.

Day 11 – Rome

Today was our last full day in Rome, and we made it count!

We purchased the Roma Pass, which allowed us to see a few sites for free and others at a discount. We used the pass to see the Colosseum, Forum, & Borghese Gallery. We also stopped to see the Capuchin Crypt (not covered by the pass, but really interesting).

Learning about the lives of the ancient Romans at both the Colosseum and Forum was amazing. I could go on and on here, but you’ll easily find better information online. The size of the Colosseum & the history of the Forum (including the place where Julius Caesar’s corpse was burned) were both remarkable. The stories behind the building of the Colosseum and its history were all new to me. The tours of the Colosseum and Forum took us a little under three hours.

We then headed to Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps. They’re not terribly historic, but they’re great to look at. We had something to drink, did a little shopping, and took a ton of pictures.

We left the Spanish Steps and headed over to the Borghese Gallery. On the way, we stopped to see the Capuchin Crypt. Wow. It’s built from the bones of over 4000 monks. There are also some full skeletons dressed in robes. There is a sign at one point that tells visitors, “what you are now we used to be; what we are now you will be.” It wasn’t a long visit, but it was interesting.

We walked past the U.S. embassy and were told no pictures were allowed. I was kind of surprised. It’s the exterior of a huge building visible from the street. It’s not like I was looking to take pictures of sensitive documents. Oh, well.

The Borghese Gallery is surrounded by a beautiful park. We couldn’t take pictures inside, but we were able to see some awe-inspiring works. As I’ve mentioned, Lisa is much more “artsy” than I am, but even I found the Gallery to be worth the visit.

We took a taxi back to the hotel, had a drink on the rooftop terrace, and then went to dinner at the restaurant next door (the one with the great pizza from Tuesday night). After dinner, we came back to the hotel, showered, and packed for our flight home.

The biggest problem with vacations is that they have to end!

Day 10 – Rome

After our long day yesterday, we slept in a bit today & had breakfast on the rooftop terrace. We had a great view of the city while eating a wonderful breakfast. (I liked the bacon; Lisa liked the croissants, both plain & chocolate.)

After breakfast, we headed to the Vatican Museum. We took a lot of pictures, except in the Sistine Chapel, where pictures are not allowed. It’s amazing to see the riches the church has accumulated. Ancient Egyptian, Greek, and Roman artifacts are all on display, along with a multitude of Renaissance (and earlier) paintings and sculptures.

But the Sistine Chapel was incredible. We used the Rick Steves audio tour and got a brief lesson on the history of the chapel and Michelangelo’s work. The ceiling is much more than just The Creation of Adam. Michelangelo’s history of the world (from creation through Noah’s Ark) spans the length of the ceiling, while the Last Judgment dominates the wall over the altar. The Last Judgment isn’t as famous, but I thought it was more impressive than The Creation of Adam.

After visiting the museum, we headed out to St. Peter’s Square. What a spectacle! A huge open area filled with hundreds (maybe thousands) of people at the base of the basilica and the Pope’s residence. We were planning to go into the basilica, but the line was unbelievably long and in full sun. By the time we got there, we were tired and didn’t feel like standing in the scorching heat for another hour or two. So we took pictures of the exterior and headed back to the hotel.

We had dinner down the street from our hotel at another street-side cafe. Again, we were treated to great food & great wine. We also had some street musicians stop by to play for us a few times.

We hit the rooftop terrace for a bit before going to sleep. Our trip seems to be coming to an end WAY too soon!

Day 9 – Rome

We got up EXCEPTIONALLY early to start our tour to the Amalfi coast & Pompeii.

The tour was taken on three minivans with 6-8 passengers each. At first, I wondered why they didn’t take one bus instead of three vans. But I figured it out soon enough.

We rode for about 3 hours down to the Amalfi coast. What gorgeous views! Quite a few celebrities have homes in this area & our guide told us that the standard home sells for millions of dollars.

The roads down to the coast are incredibly narrow and twisty. If a bus is coming around a corner from the opposite direction, other vehicles need to stop and pull over to let it pass. Buses can’t even reach some of the lower roads. (Hence the use of vans.)

We were able to take a few pictures at one stop, wander through Amalfi for a bit, and had lunch at Positano. The views were all incredible. Houses built into the sides of cliffs overlooking beautiful water. No wonder the rich and famous make this their vacation homes!

After lunch, we headed for Pompeii. You can get more info from Wikipedia than I can provide, but we really liked it. We saw examples of homes, shops, bakeries, and (Lisa’s favorite) brothels. It seems that Pompeii was the Las Vegas of its time. It was the last port before Rome, and merchants and sailors would stop to relax and enjoy themselves. Vesuvius is about 7 miles away. The explosion (which they can pinpoint to the day and time), rained soot & rocks for three days. The people weren’t killed by lava (as I had always thought), but by the poisonous gases and the 15 feet of ash and pumice that buried the city. The city remained buried for over 1500 years. Our tour guide, Gaetano Manfredi,¬†was great, one of Rick Steves’ favorites!

After Pompeii, we headed back to the hotel on another 3 hour ride. We weren’t interested in going out, so we just had pizza at the restaurant next to the hotel. We must have just gotten lucky, because it was the best pizza we’ve had since being in Italy! Nothing fancy (just tomato sauce, cheese, and prosciutto), but all the ingredients were out-of-this-world delicious.

By the time we got back to our room, we’d been gone for 16-17 hours. A long day, but really interesting and definitely worth it!

Day 8 – Florence to Rome

Another travel day. We took the train to Rome (much easier this time, as we kind of knew our way around the train station) and arrived at our hotel around 2:00. I did get taken in by a guy posing as an official tourist assistant who convinced me to take his buddy’s cab to the hotel. I ended up overpaying for the cab ride by about $30. Oh well, live and learn.

We found a laundromat and went to do laundry. The manager of the place was really helpful. He showed us where everything was & how long things would take. While the clothes were in the machines, Lisa & I sat at a small sidewalk cafe, had a drink, and relaxed. The laundry took a little over an hour, and we were back at the hotel around 4:30.

The hotel didn’t have the biggest rooms, the best service, or the most friendly staff, but the rooftop terrace was great! It had a beautiful view of Rome, comfortable seating, and lots of shade. Plus, the bartenders were a lot friendlier than the other workers. We sat up there for a couple of hours and ordered supper around 7:00.

We went to sleep a little early again, as we had to be ready to board the van for our trip to Pompeii & the Amalfi coast at 6:45 the next morning.