The Best Stopover Ever!!

Trip Start Aug 02, 2010
Trip End Feb 15, 2011

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Flag of Italy  , Lazio,
Wednesday, August 25, 2010

(Aileen) So Rome wasn’t originally on our itinerary for the big trip, but came about as there is no direct way to get from Croatia to Corfu (even though they are practically within sight of each other). No plane, no train, no ferry, no bus.  And of the various indirect options available a stopover in Rome was an obvious choice.

We stayed at a great hotel, Hotel Duca D’Alba which Dave has stayed at before and so knew we could rely on it, including the spectacular location only one metro stop from Termini and a great breakfast.

As I had never really visited Rome before, Dave had to put up with re-visiting some of the main tourist sites again, which we covered with our Roma Pass.  25 euro gets a card that: is good for three days, gives free access to public transport in Rome (buses and trains), provides free access to the first two tourist attractions you go to, and discounted access to any others after that, online subscription to real-time updates from venues, restaurants and others promoting current special offers. Entrance to the Coliseum alone is 12 euro by itself. It’s a really great initiative from the city council. So what did we do?

A city tour is one of my favourite ways to get inducted into a new city so we made that our first stop.  We had the front row on the top of the double decker – best seat in the house.  Sitting in direct sunshine for 1.5 hrs is a bit warm, but there's no better way to get an introduction to such an amazing city. I was taken aback by just how beautiful every street is with hidden piazzas and a statue on every corner. 

The Spanish Steps has been in my mind since I was a girl and one of the kids in the class had parents who had been married in Rome and had photos taken on the Spanish Steps. We took the train to the Spanish steps, and between repeated offers of flowers "for the beautiful lady", we took a few pictures and had a few taken of the two of us together. Travel tip: if you have an SLR and you want someone to take a picture of you, look for someone with another SLR. Language barriers and point and shoot people that don't know what a viewfinder is can lead to some funny (at best) pictures. 

(David) The Vatican Museum
The audio guide was a great decision. When there’s just so much to see and learn in this place, it really helps to have something to provide some focus. Despite being my fourth time there, I still saw several new things (and even a few new rooms!).

Highlights of the Vatican Museum:
- Having an audioguide in the Sistine Chapel. You need something to help you unravel the amazing sight before your eyes.
- The Transfiguration by Raphael in the last room of the Pinacoteca. It was the centerpiece of only three paintings in the large darkened room, with a single row of chairs against the opposite wall for sitting and contemplation. Beautiful.
- The hall of maps (both of us) and the hall of candelabra (Aileen)
- The Braccio Nuovo . Beautiful light.

St. Peters
I’ve been here on every trip I’ve made to Rome, but never climbed up to the cupola atop the dome. Aileen’s fear of heights kept her feet firmly on the ground for that one! The cupola visit offers amazing views of Rome (and an especially great perspective of St. Peter’s Square) but I was a bit disappointed that you don't get a good view (at least not an unobstructed view) of the church interior.

St. Peter’s is truly awesome in the original sense of the word. As the seat of the Catholic Church for nearly 2000 years, it is truly humbling to be present where so many others have walked, and prayed.  This current Basilica, owes its’ design and scope to Michelangelo but the interior fit-out and décor is all Bernini. He did an impressive job. We were a bit disappointed when the church attendants started ushering all of the tourists to the back half of the church and we couldn’t see all the parts that we wanted.  But then the organ began playing for a mass beginning in the chapel in the apse! The other upside is the cordoned off areas allowed rare glimpses of a clear St. Peter’s altar without all the tourists and a few amazing sunbeams coming through the high windows – so special.  We also visited the treasury museum within the Basilica – not sure it was worth the ticket fee but the highlight has got to be the reliquary containing St. Peter's finger. Creepy stuff. Another contained a vertebra from the neck of another saint. Are those REALLY fragments from Jesus' cross? Before we left Aileen asked one of the church attendants if she could get some holy water. She was then taken into the sacristy and they filled a .5 liter bottle for her! We found a souvenir shop nearby and got some little holy water bottles to divvy out the spoils among the family. She even went back the next day to catch a guided tour and had an excellent guide who obviously enjoyed his job.

We visited Piazza Navona (another Bernini masterpiece), where we sat on a bench to drink some water, watch the crowds, take in the piazza, and give our feet a much needed rest. From there we walked the short distance to the Piazza della Rotunda to see the Pantheon before it closed for the night. I always liked the Pantheon, but never knew that it was almost 2000 years old. Definitely one of the best preserved buildings from antiquity.

From there it was a short walk over to the Fontana di Trevi, one of the must do items on Aileen's Roma to-do list. She was surprised by the size of the fountain, taking up almost the entire piazza. We sat there for a few minutes watching the crowds and again marveling at the sheer prettiness of Rome.

My fitbit registered 20,237 steps for the day, and our feet could corroborate that number!!

(Aileen) The food in Italy is amazing as always. The first night we stopped at Gusto in Piazza Augusto.  This one place alone personifies why I could never live in Italy - I'd be huge.  The produce was so fresh that even a rotten cook could turn out a good meal, but actually the chefs here are fantastic and we had a great meal including fried zucchini flowers and a Margerita pizza that was a work of art, along with a few glasses of prosecco on the terrace afterwards - divine.  Gusto has a pizzeria, restaurant, wine bar and grocers – exactly the type of place I’d love to own if I was ever stupid enough to go back into operations.

The second evening the trusty Lonely Planet book served up Vineria Il Chianti as a dinner option, just down the street from the Trevi fountain. Just to say up front - dinner was outstanding. We had easily the best prosciutto we have ever had and after tasting their bresaola I now know what all the fuss is about. Pumpkin and mint ravioli was another outstanding dish and a bottle of Rosso di Montalcino from Banfi where I went on a wine scholarship when I was in college – always good. 
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Martin on

Excellent - good info for our trip in a couple of weeks. Glad to hear you're both having a great time and doing some proper relaxing. All fine here, nothing to report.

David P on

We wanted to take a honeymoon that involved Rome but never made it as we moved to Dubai straight after getting married; it's still on the list however and this blog only reinforces that desire!

Sounds like you two are having a great time, we're enjoying the English weather (really!) and settling back in.

David & Alexandra

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