Monday, November 27, 2017

Italy--Day 3: Rome

Rome--May 31

This morning we ate breakfast--mostly leftovers from food we'd brought and bought last night--and then met up with the rest of our group out on the street. Casey tried to get some cash but was rejected by the corner ATM. Luckily Rex's card worked, so he bought bus tickets for everyone at the news stand across the street. We wandered through a market on the way to the bus stop and tried another ATM, but it rejected our card, too.
We got to the Colosseum pretty early--the ticket office was just opening. Casey had bought us tickets online but we had to exchange the printed reservation for actual tickets.

Right away we were approached by several people offering guided tours. (Because we hadn't bought our tickets early enough, we'd missed being able to buy the ones that included guided tours already.) We ended up paying separately for a guided tour, and it was okay. But we probably would have gotten as much or more out of Casey's downloaded audio tour. Our group ended up being large enough (our 10 plus 4-6 more) that it was hard to hear our guide sometimes. Plus she (Patricia) had a strong Italian accent. (Yes, I know--English speakers are spoiled and expect to be catered to around the world. Still, the people who approached us were native English speakers, so we had certain expectations before we were handed off to our Italian guide.)

The Colosseum is awesome. If I remember right, it used to be faced with marble, especially the inside entrance gallery, but all the marble was later pillaged for other buildings.  It was never used as an auditorium--the acoustics weren't that good. It was used as a sports/battle arena. They could even flood the arena and enact water battles with scaled down, flat-bottomed boats. And while that sounds cool, the reality is that lots of people died for the entertainment of the upper classes. So we enjoyed this architectural wonder with some modern compunctions.

It was already baking hot by the time we left. We were supposed to meet up with our tour group again at noon to be guided through the Forum but we had an hour or so to kill so we walked around looking for water and souvenirs. We also tried another ATM and then, because we were getting nervous about having cash, we exchanged some at a money changer in a Metro Station. DON'T DO THAT!! If we'd known how badly we would come off after the unlisted fees, we would happily have let the others in our group keep sharing their cash with us until we got it straightened out with our bank.

So we walked to a little grocery store, where some of us bought snacks. Throughout our time in Italy we used the nasoni (street fountains, sometimes shaped like noses--literally means big noses) to fill our water bottles and never had any trouble. 

At the appointed time we went back to the Colosseum for the second part of our tour, which failed to show. Somehow, we weren't all that surprised. We stood in line to get into the Forum and while we waited we chatted with some people from England who had also been in our tour group for the Colosseum. 

Casey gave us highlights of Forum as we walked around it. There is a ton of history in this mall-sized area. I'm not going to share any of it. Okay, except for one thing: Vestal virgins could retire after 30 years in the service of the Goddess Vesta. They would be between 36 and 40 years old if they made it that long and then they were allowed to retire with a pension and marry. Who knew?

We left the forum around 2 p.m. then walked past Trajan's column. 

More places that we walked to this day:
The Church of Sant'Ignazio di Loyola

The Pantheon. (Photo bomb cred.: Rex Harris)

Outside the Pantheon. On the left side of this square is a shop where several of us bought sandwiches priced by the pound. They were delicious. We only ate lunch so that we could then eat gelato.

The gelato shop. First of many. I ordered mango and chocolate mousse and was surprised when it was actual chocolate mousse, not chocolate mousse flavored gelato. (Later on, one of us ordered nutella, thinking it was going to be nutella flavored gelato, but nope.) Luckily, I love chocolate mousse! And mango is my all time favorite flavor of gelato.

We also walked to and through the church of San Luigi dei Francesi. Then to a TIM shop to set up phone service on Casey's phone, which enabled us to call our bank and ask them to clear our ATM card for use in Italy (we'd pre-authorized our credit card, but not our debit--bleh). 

Then the Spanish steps. 
 Not really sure why this place is so popular. It is a lot of steps. That's something.

If you climb to the top, you can get to the Villha Borghese gardens. There's a nice view of Rome from there. But first we had to shake off the rose seller who had attached himself to Lissa. The rose is "free" but then he tried to guilt Rex into paying something for it, as the nearest man who might feel responsible. Lissa eventually got him to take it back. There were a lot of different people who tried to sell us things on the street. Roses, splat toys, water bottles, elastic flingy helicopterish LED toys, etc.  
We were tired by then, so we found a couple of benches on either side of a shady road through the gardens and sat down for a while. People jogged by. People ran by. People rode segways by. Probably tourist people. We just sat there and rested our feet while the time went by. 

Then we pulled ourselves together and set out for the Trevi Fountain. On the way we bought groceries. Should have bought those after, probably.

It was very crowded there. We threw some coins in, of course. The last ones worked, after all.  (You know, the legend says that if you throw in a coin, you'll return to Rome someday. Plus, they remove the coins each day and use them to fund a grocery store for the poor.) 

Then we had our second round of gelato for the day. If we hadn't walked around 10 miles a day, we probably would have gotten really fat in Italy.

On our way back to our flats, we went through the Piazza Navona and watched the vendors fling their tiny LED whirlycopters (I don't really know what to call them) as high as the obelisk in the middle of the square. We bought a couple to take to the kids at home. 

Back at the flat we ate fresh fettuccine with two kinds of sauce. Star made one sauce with sausage, zucchini, onions, and marinara that was to die for. I made a sauce with Asiago and cream and butter that was also to die for, because of the artery clogging richness of it. We tried to recreate this food experience at home, but it just wasn't the same.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Italy-Day 1-2--Getting there

Epic Italy Trip--2017
How did this epic trip come about? Well, you may recall that we essentially promised each of our kids a Senior trip. Lissa really wanted to go to Italy, despite me dangling Japan in front of her, and when our friend Star bought herself and Sophie tickets to Italy during an awesome Black Friday sale, we all piled on. Our group consisted of: Casey, Lissa, and me (Songers), Rex, Jenny, and Megan (Harrises), Star and Sophie (Primms), and Jan and Hannah (Hubbards).

I will skip over the meetings and the hours of pre-planning and planning. In the end Casey basically had to cut through our mob-think to do the organizing and he bought all the tickets for venues, etc. When you travel it's nice to have someone like Casey along.

We left Utah Monday morning and got to Rome Tuesday night. Why does it take so long to get from here to Italy? Well it's 5,748 miles away. And we had to go to Los Angeles first, which is in the wrong direction. And we stopped in Dusseldorf on the way. So yeah, getting there is not half the fun. It's a pain.
But did these girls have fun anyway? Yes they did.

And Star bought them Kinder Eggs. The kind that are illegal in the U.S. (Because children in the U.S. cannot be trusted not to choke on the toy inside the egg, apparently.)

We left the morning of May 29, after giving Rosalie her traditional birthday breakfast in bed.

Yes, we left on her birthday. Did we hear about it from her, despite taking her on a birthday date on Saturday and giving her all her presents plus cake and ice cream and grandparents on Sunday? Yes we did.

I don't sleep well on planes. Except that one time we were in business class seats that turned into beds. Those would have cost around a $1000 dollars more and were just not worth it. Especially considering that we'd be getting to Rome around 10 pm Tuesday and going to bed again.
I did try a new thing that worked better than anything else I've tried: I tied my head to the headrest with a scarf. Yeah, it looked awesome. But no head falling forward to snap me awake every few minutes. Those travel neck pillows never worked so well for me.

We had arranged for a company to pick us up at the airport so that we wouldn't have to hassle with inflated taxi fares. It took a few minutes to connect with them but then we divided into two vans and drove through the city to our two flats. The driver pointed out sights to us as we passed (the lit-up dome of St. Peter's, the Castello San Marco) but it honestly meant little to me at that point. The vans had to let us off a few hundred feet away from our doors because they were in a pedestrian zone. It was dark and disorienting for me that night, but by day we realized what a cool little corner we were in.

Our rental manager led us through the smaller flat first. We went through a street door and then down a hallway toward an open courtyard with (am I remembering this right?) statuary(!). But before we reached that we turned (and ducked) left through another door, down a couple of steps, and then up more steps and through a final door. Hubbards and Primms stayed there. Above is a view of their window from the street.
Our flat was around the corner to the left of this through an outside door, then a hallway and stairs and then the flat door which opened by turning the key around 5 full rotations, with a heavy click on each turn.
This is a view of our other flat, by daylight.

Beginning a theme for us in Italy, the air conditioning didn't work. When we tried to turn it higher, the fuse would blow. But the windows cooled us pretty well for the three nights we were there. (I think Casey would disagree with me on this.) Casey wore ear plugs after the seagull mewling in the air shaft woke us up several times that first night. I relied on my old trick of sleeping on one ear while an audio book played in the other. It was a non-fiction account of the men who worked to save the art of Italy during World War 2. Put me right out.