Italy – Day 10, Sunday

We ordered a taxi for 4:30AM and he was actually there 10 minutes early. The hotel had picked up our bags the night before and brought them downstairs, so we wouldn’t have to bring them down 4 flights of stairs. We kept only what we needed for the night, brought it down with us and packed it in the suitcases. Since we would be leaving too early for breakfast, the hotel packed us a breakfast for our early departure. The clerk took us to the taxi and the driver put our bags in. It was cold and we stayed inside, although it would have been great to stand in the front to see Venice in the early morning. The boat ride was a perfect end to a perfect vacation. The trip took about 20-25 minutes and we were dropped off at a dock. We walked for what seemed forever to get to the check-in desk. We had checked in the night before, which ended up saving us from a huge line at the airport. We showed our boarding passes on the phone and went to another counter clerk to drop our bags, then went through security and to the gate. We boarded for the 6:50AM flight and were delayed leaving, but knew we had a long layover. Frankfurt airport has passport controls all over the airport, so you don’t wait in the long lines that you wait in at Atlanta and most other airports, which is very nice. The fog was terrible in Frankfurt and our plane was delayed 45 minutes taking off, probably because of the fog.  It was good to get home to Atlanta.  I have Global Entry and we used the Mobile Pass for Shannon.  We found it best to go ahead and get my Global Entry pass first, then go to the line for Mobile Pass and then let them have my receipt and scan in the Mobile Pass.

Things I learned – It is best to order train tickets ahead of time, if possible, as it seems that certain times sell out fast. Not sure the extra money for first class is worth it. The My Taxi app is great or one of those apps, but look for a taxi stand first. Getting a European SIM card was a good idea to use apps like Yelp and Around Me to find the closest areas for restaurants, particularly in touristy areas. Probably best to get a hotel that is not too close to a tourist attraction, as fighting our way through a crowd at the end of the day is not fun. Having a hotel at the end of a long trip makes sense, as they usually supply a pretty good breakfast. I don’t think there is a need to order water every time you go to a restaurant. It makes people mad to pay 5-6 euros for tap water or bottled water and if you are drinking something else anyway, there is no need to order water. Just keep a bottle of water with you all the times. Find a credit card that does not charge a foreign transaction fee and try to use it exclusively. For the Vatican and Coloseum, the “skip the line” ticket is probably worth it, but probably not much of anything else.

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Italy – Day 9, Saturday

We woke up on our own time and went downstairs for breakfast. I have turned Shannon on to the chocolate croissants and we took a couple of plain ones for the pigeons. I made a run to the pharmacy and the ATM to pick up some more cash, while Shannon stayed upstairs, then we decided to use our return vaporetti tickets to take a ride to San Marco, which was nice. Since last year, Shannon changed her mind about riding in boats, so it was fun for her. We did have trouble validating her ticket, so I told her to just go under the barricade. We waited for the boat for just a few minutes and probably 50-60 people got off, so we were able to get seats and just enjoy the ride and views along the Grand Canal. As we were arriving at our final destination, sure enough, they asked to see our tickets. It took me a minute to find them, but when I did, they were apparently happy with the result. (Thank goodness)

When we arrived at San Marcos Piazza, the walkway was lined with all sort of little stands selling everytrhing imaginable and then I realized it was Saturday, which would be a huge tourist day. Shannon really wanted a painting, so we stopped and bought a watercolor of a typical scene in Venice. We then walked through the square and the bells run for noon, so we decided to stop for lunch.  

Friends had recommended Rossopomodoro, which is a chain restaurant, but we noticed it had reasonable reviews, so we deicded to try it. Shannon got her typical pizza Margherita and a coke and I got a calzone and vino rosso. Both were very good. We sat inside as the weather was cool and a little windy. Also, the walkways were packed with tourists, so we were out of all that. We wasted the afternoon away, eating gelato and doing a little shopping, went out to dinner to a great little restaurant in the alley behind our hotel and then went in early to pack for an early morning departure. This was our best meal in Venice and we decided that the food in Rome was much better than in Venice.

Italy – Day 8, Friday

We enjoyed our hotel, as it was very quiet on the 4th floor, until early in the morning when people started to get up. One of our neighbors apparently got locked out, so he/she knocked and knocked and knocked. We got dressed and went downstairs for our first hotel breakfast. We packed some croissants to go and started out. We used Google Maps to get us to St. Mark’s Square, but ended up just using the road signage. I was shocked at the crowds and thought that there were so many people, that we would not see pigeons, which was what Shannon most wanted to see. In any event we navigated the crowds toward the water and it cleared out a little. We did find a few pigeons, but as expected, when we fed one, then many more showed up. Shannon enjoyed feeding them, but didn’t want any on her. One landed on my arm and just stayed there for awhile. Obviously, it was very tame. 

 We were there for a few minutes and then just started walking. We bought a few trinkets in a Venetian glass store and then walked some more. We went into some stores and looked and then found our way back to the water. We stopped for coffee and coke. We wasted the rest of the day just walking around, taking pictures and being together. It is mid-afternoon and we are having a bowl of spaghetti, coke and Spritz. We are upstairs in a cute little restaurant — just sitting. Shannon says she likes Venice better than Rome, although she liked the food in Rome better. I agree, although our dinner last night was good. I am not surprised she likes Venice. Although it is very crowded, you don’t have to contend with traffic and everything is so close by. We have walked a lot, but we have seen a lot. There is a lot to see between the Rialto Bridge, where our hotel is, and St. Mark’s Square, where most of the action is. We took a siesta and then went out for dinner at a restaurant close by. We also made arrangements for a water taxi to pick us up early Sunday morning for our early flight to Frankfurt. 

Italy – Day 7, Thursday

We woke up early and packed, then hung around the apartment for awhile. Shannon felt better and I forced her to eat some cereal. I had a couple of cups of coffee and then we lugged our suitcases down the 2 flights of stairs and out the door. We called a taxi, but the one that responded was too far away, so we hailed another one. He seemed to know Rome a little better and was there in 5 minutes. He knew English very well, so we talked the entire trip. We arrived at the train station very early, so we stopped by the Vodaphone place to see if they could figure out why I couldn’t make phone calls in Italy. He used the speaker and for some reason, it seemed to work — probably the phone. In any event we stopped by a cafe and had an early lunch — sandwich and red wine for me and pizza and coke for Shannon. We were here 2 hours early, so we were pretty relaxed. I had purchased first class, so Shannon could see the difference. It wasn’t much more and she rides for free.  

I called the hotel in Venice to see if they could send a porter to pick up bags, since I know we have to go across the Rialto Bridge to our hotel. They could not send a porter, but they said that there would be freelance porters there. She guessed it would be 30 or 40 euros, so I’m going to have to think about that one. I don’t think the hotel is far from the bridge. As it turned out, I read some more on the train to Venice and found out that there was another stop that we could take that would keep us from having to cross the bridge, which was Rialto Mercato. We purchased our tickets on the number 1 vaporetto, which goes directly down the Grand Canal, rode 3-4 stops, got off and walked for about 3 minutes to the front of our hotel. The hotel was in view of the Rialto Bridge. Our room was on the 4th floor and the front desk said we could have a room on the first floor tomorrow, if we wanted it. This one is pretty quiet, so we will think about it. Shannon will be in heaven because there is tons of shopping here. I’m not sure she can afford it, but at least it is here.

We looked up a restaurant on Trip Advisor and used Google Maps to get us there. We went down plenty of alleys and in places, it was obvious Venice needs rain to wash things down. The restaurant didn’t have what Shannon wanted, so we walked back and stopped at a restaurant along the way. We met some really nice people from California, Kevin and Lorina, who were waiting on a cruise. It was nice to be away from the crowds and the road noise in Rome and dining al fresco once again.

Italy – Day 6, Wednesday

We started out a little late, but…….no matter. We took a MyTaxi and arrived in time to see the Pope in his PopeMobile riding around the piazza. The Papal Audience included probably 10,000 people, but it was still a kick. There were 2 very large screens on either side, so we could see him anyway. We did use our selfie stick, so we may have a video — not sure, though. I believe the Pope spoke right on time at 10:00AM and that was pretty cool. He was very matter of fact as he preached and I heard the word “Esperanza” many times, which translates to “hope”. We will look at the actual translation later on YouTube. It was actually pretty wonderful and I hope Shannon will remember it for a long time. 
We started walking out during the benediction and heard it all, although we couldn’t understand any of it, then we heard the crowd singing in Latin. We had the words on the back of our ticket, but we decided it would be best to get in front of the crowds. We saw the taxi stand on our left as we left the Vatican. We had planned to take one, so that worked out well. The traffic was awful and there was construction on the way, but we made our way to the Capuchin Crypt. The taxi driver seemed a little confused, even when I showed him the name written out, but I found the address and he knew where to go. I guess it’s not on many people’s itinerary. We arrived at about 11:30AM and checked to be sure it did not close during lunch or something, then decided to look for a lunch spot. We searched through Yelp and found a pizza place close by that had good ratings, but it wasn’t open yet. We decided to just throw caution to the wind and eat at another pizza place. As usual, it was excellent. Shannon is even allowing me to take her picture, as long as I loan her my sunglasses. She seems to like them. 2 glasses of red wine for me and I read the information about the crypt to her, so we were ready to cross the street and make our visit.

We were advised not to take pictures, but who could resist?!? Shannon was scared to death, but we were able to get a couple of good ones. We paid them back by buying some souvenirs in the shop, so I hope they won’t mind. I do believe the museum has changed a little, as I didn’t remember the paintings, etc. It is possible that we skipped it before or I was so jet-lagged that I didn’t remember. In any event we moved pretty quickly through the museum to get to the crypt part. It is actually bones from several hundred Capuchin monks that have been arranged into beautiful patterns. If you can get over the fact that they are bones, it is quite beautiful. And at the end there is a sign that says “What you are now, we used to be; what we are now, you will be.” Pretty darn chilling, but true. We were close to the Borghese Gardens, so we walked the few minutes to get there and passed by the top of the Spanish Steps and took a few pictures. The city of Rome has its 7 hills and it is wonderful to get so many panoramic views of the city. We spent some time in the Gardens, bought some limone gelato, called Shannon’s mother and then called a cab to take us home. We had him drop us off at the other end of Campo dei Fiori and we walked through the marketplace as they were shutting things down. We always seem to be wandering around during the day and Shannon had not seen it in operation yet. We walked around a little more, went into some shops, bought some pastries and then headed in for a glass of wine and a snack. After a few minutes, Shannon said she didn’t feel well, so she went to bed and I finished my bottle of wine. We leave tomorrow for Venice and we pre–booked our tickets this time. We will have some time between checkout and our train, but I would rather have too much time, than be rushed.

Italy – Day 5, Tuesday

Another beautiful day waking up in Rome. Today we have a tour of the Colosseum and the Forum with a tour group. We left the apartment around 8:30 or so, calling a cab via the MyTaxi app. They were there within 4 minutes. This time our taxi actually drove down the pedestrian street to meet us. He spoke perfect English, as he had lived in New York for awhile. He dropped us off, as we had instructed through the app, and it took us a few minutes to find the meeting place. There were hundreds of people around, but we found the meeting place and were there early, so we went into the cafe next to the Metro Station. 14 euros for a coffee and orange juice. The orange juice was sour, so we sent it back – the worst rip-off ever!!!!

Our guide was on time, really nice and spoke very good English. Most of the tour operators these days seem to be using the little transmitters that you wear around your neck with ear phones attached. It makes it really nice to be able to hear everything they say without interruptions from other tour guides. We started off in the Forum with a group of about 10. We met some people from Alpharetta, Ga, who were very nice. Again, Shannon was the youngest, but she seems to fit in very well with any group.

Many years ago, the Forum was open to anybody, but now you must have a ticket. We learned about the Vestal Virgins and about the reasons behind why the Forum and Colosseum were in as bad a shape as they were in. We then walked across the street to the Colosseum. The lines were very long to get in, but we went straight to the front of the line, which was very nice. Our guide took us on the first and second levels, explaining about the Colosseum and what took place during its hey-day. He then handed us over to an archeologist, who took us to the bottom level of the Colosseum and explained about the original reenactment of naval battles when the Colosseum was flooded and then later when a basement was built and a wooden floor installed. She brought alive what occurred, telling us about the 80 trap doors in the floor that would let out predator-type animals that had been starved for 3 days and the trap doors that would also house different types of vegetation in order to reenact historical events. It sounded like they needed a choreographer to make sure everything worked together. She talked about the probable awful smells that were down there and the fact that there probably wasn’t a lot of oxygen to breathe with hundreds of people working below to open these trap doors, bring animals in cages to the proper shafts, etc.

We then went to the top floor — at least the top where tourists could go and we were able to see a panoramic view of the Colosseum and much of Rome. We also heard about the new excavations of Nero’s palace that sounded wonderful, but tourists could only go in on weekends. During the week, archeologists are working there.

We left the Colosseum and wanted to find a restaurant, so we opened the “Around Me” app and at least knew in what direction we needed to go for lunch. Many times we find that it is easy to go in the wrong direction. We found a cute little restaurant close by and sat outside. We were joined just a few minutes later by a Canadian couple that were a lot of fun. They enjoyed Shannon and we had great fun talking politics, as we were in agreement. Two of their 3 children lived and worked in New York and Washington DC, so they were very familiar with the politics in the US.

We caught a taxi to take us to pick up our Papal Audience tickets. We were given an orientation about what to do and what to expect. They recommended that we get there at 7:00AM to get in line for security beginning at 7:30AM for the sermon that would begin at 10:00AM. We are definitely NOT doing that. Maybe we won’t get a seat, but I am not spending our vacation getting up before dawn to hurry up and wait for 3 hours. We’ll survive without a seat.

After we picked up our tickets, we walked on over to the Trevi Fountain where there had to be 5,000 people. It is amazing to me how much more crowded touristy areas are than they were 40 years ago. It was definitely a mad house and there were security people there that constantly blew their whistles to keep people from doing certain things, such as sitting on the edge of the fountain. Shannon and I did the obligatory throwing of a coin into the fountain and had our pictures taken. We sat around the fountain for 45 minutes or so, then left to walk to the Pantheon. It always amazes me that such a structure seems to be in the middle of nowhere. Rome is amazing that way. The Pantheon was so crowded that they had an entrance and an exit. The piazza was crowded, too. We stayed inside for 45 minutes or so and then walked back to our apartment. We actually came from a different direction, so I was surprised when we saw our next door restaurant.

Italy – Day 4, Monday

Today we scheduled a tour of the Vatican. We ordered a taxi through My Taxi last night, but we had no response until this morning. Our street is for pedestrians, so we asked him to meet us at the corner of the street and another that was closer to the Vatican. I made coffee and we both ate a banana. He arrived at 7:45AM – 15 minutes early, which was perfect. We walked the 30 feet to the end of our road and he was waiting. The fact that you know the name of the person driving makes it much easier.

He drove like a madman to the back side of the Vatican Museums and there was already a huge line forming. We were early for our 9:00AM tour, so we ate some breakfast at a cafe across the street from the entrance to the Muse Di Vaticani. Shannon ordered pancakes for 14 euros and I had a cup of espresso. The espresso was good, even for 3 euros, but the pancakes were cold. Shockingly expensive, too. We met our guide and the 20 other tourists and went straight to the front of the line. It was so crowded, though. Much more crowded than the last time I was there. The Vatican museum was as expected with its wonderful tapestries, statues and paintings. We also, of course, visited the old papal apartment, which was part of the museum. The Sistine Chapel was last and looked amazing. Many years ago, I had visited and thought the painting was very muted. They cleaned it the following year and I went again with my children a few years later and the colors were so vivid. They are still vivid, but perhaps not as much as when it was first cleaned. It was pretty hard to see with all of the people. 
We moved with the enormous crowds to visit the Basilica and our guide showed us several things throughout the cathedral. It is still huge. Then, of course, she saved La Pieta for last and told the story of the vandal that broke Mary’s finger and destroyed a portion of her face. We noticed a young Mary with a 32 year old Christ, which Michelangelo was criticized for at the time. We also learned that no one knew he had sculpted the Pieta, so he engraved his name. He was in his mid 20’s at the time and such a genius.

We remained in the Basilica for awhile and then walked outside into the sunshine. As we walked down the avenue, we found a cute little restaurant. We sat on the patio and both ordered pasta – Shannon a coke and me a red wine. The breeze outside felt very nice after being stuck inside crowded rooms. 

We left the restaurant and headed straight down the avenue walking past the Castel Sant Angelo and the Supreme Court building. We walked past two street performers, one playing Memory from Cats with a violin. Shannon always has to give them money. Then we passed by two guitarists who played something I didn’t recognize, but they were very good. Again, Shannon asked for some coins to give them. I thought I knew my way back home, so that Shannon could shop a little, but apparently I didn’t because we ended up in an area close to the Spanish Steps. We looked around the very expensive shopping area and then decided to sit at the fountain at the bottom of the steps. You can’t really sit just at the fountain; you have to sit on the steps, so we did. There was a policeman there making sure no one was drinking sodas or eating their lunch on the steps. We were able to find some shade and just people watched for quite awhile. I thought that we would just walk to the Trevi Fountain and then maybe the Pantheon, but we got off track. We did go into a Sephora Shop and made a small purchase. We continued walking towards our apartment and some shopping, but decided to stop off for a snack. Shannon had a coke and I had a Spritz and some bruschetta — always better in Italia.

We decided to take a taxi back, so I used the “my taxi” app. Such a great app!!! They were there in 2 minutes and worth the 8 euros not to have to walk. Tonight my Vodaphone account is finally working, so it will be easier to pay for the taxi with credit card. With no wi-fi on my American phone, I had to pay them cash. Still a great app, much like Lyft, Halo or Uber.

Italy – Day 3, Sunday

The alarm woke me at 8:30AM (2:30AM) our time, so we could try to get on Italian time. I woke Shannon up a little while later, but we actually didn’t get out until around 11:00AM. We tried to find a market close to our apartment, but we were not lucky. After getting instructions from our server last night, though, I think we may find one. We decided today we would go to the Victor Emmanuel Monument (lovingly or not so lovingly referred to as the Wedding Cake and recently the Typewriter).

We used Google Maps and made a stop by the pastry shop on the way. Google Maps took us right there. A wonderful way to get around a big town without looking so much like a tourist!!! We also planned to visit Capitoline Hill and the Capitoline Museum. We walked right on over and visited for the rest of the morning and early afternoon. I had been 30 years ago, but never visited my last several trips. We saw the symbol of Rome, Romulus and Remus and the she-wolf, and some other fabulous art. We took the lift to the top of the monument, which I had never done. It was really a great view of Rome and we got a sense of where we wanted to go next.

Our plan was to take a look at the Circus Maximus where they used to have chariot races and to see the Appian Way. We found it and stopped for lunch at a cafe next to the Circus Maximus called 0,75. We had wanted to eat outside, but it was too hot. We ate inside and were glad. We met some people from Sicily and a woman that had gotten frostbite climbing in the Alps. Shannon had a margherita pizza while I had a ham and cheese pita. Except for the arugula, it was good.

After lunch we walked up to the Appian Way alongside the Circus Maximus toward the Giardino deli Aranci. I knew the garden was highly rated, but had never been there before. We walked up the hill on a hardly traveled, mainly pedestrian road, to the garden. We turned in and walked through the garden. As we made a turn looking towards the city, I was shocked to see the dome of the Vatican Cathedral. It nearly took my breath away;  I suppose because it was so unexpected. As we walked closer to the short wall overlooking the city, I could see loads of young people sitting on the wall. Of course, we had to do that as well. I had read that this was a garden for lovers and we definitely found that to be the case. The garden by itself may not be one of the top gardens I have seen, but the view was absolutely spectacular. From there, we visited the Basilica of Santa Sabina. Again, not one of the more beautiful churches, except for the fabulous marble inside and the apse ceiling. We also noticed an area to the right of the basilica where there was a hole in the floor with fencing around it. We turned on our phone light to look down. We couldn’t see too much, except that it looked like an old column. Upon returning home and reading about it, we realized that this was originally a temple honoring Juno and one of the original columns. The temple was torn down, but many of the columns were saved and are currently used in the basilica. We walked around a little because this seemed to be more of a neighborhood area – the Aventine Hill.  We came to a piazza (can’t remember the name) and there was a line of young people waiting to look into a hole in a door.  We were curious, but not curious enough to wait in line to see nothing perhaps.  We walked back down towards the Tiber River and my Shannon actually flagged down a taxi! We made the short trip home to get cleaned up for dinner, but as we were walking down our street, we found a small market. Very small, but now we have coffee and wine — the most important things, but then some other small things that might help a little, too.  Our apartment has toilet paper and linens, but nothing for the hungry/thirsty traveler.  Several years ago, a friend showed me how to use the little coffee makers that Europeans use a lot and I have found that little bit of information has benefited me many times over the last 2-3 years. The a/c in our apartment is feeling quite nice tonight. As a matter of fact, it is so nice that we are staying in. A bottle of wine and cokes for Shannon, so we are good. We have coffee and bananas for them morning.  We ate a big lunch too late, so we will try to get on a better schedule tomorrow. I will miss my Spritz, though.

Tomorrow to the Vatican!!!

Italy – Day 2, Saturday

We arrived early Saturday morning and our connection was very close, but our bags had been checked through to Venice and immigration took about 5 minutes. We had an hour, but then had plenty of time to get a snack and a drink. The Frankfurt apricot was very easy to navigate. The  plane left on time and we arrived in Venezia wlithout problems. We decided to make it easy on ourselves and took a taxi to the Mestre train station. We could not get the next 2 trains (Saturday), but we did get a train 90 minutes later, but had to settle for second class. No problem!!!! We walked across the street to a little cafe and had a coke and a Spritz, which is the “it” drink in Italy still – Prosecco and Aperol. We borrowed a phone from the people sitting next to us and called Marco to make sure he or Daniela would be there to greet us at the apartment at the right time. We rearranged our luggage and about 30 minutes before the train was to leave, we walked over to the station, checked to be sure that the train was still at the same binario (platform) and it was. We checked it several times and when the train arrived, we knew it was the right one. We found our seats with ease and are on our way to Roma now. We both feel surprisingly good.
We arrived in Rome and bought a new SIM card for the phone, then took a taxi to our apartment. The taxi could not get down our road as it was only for pedestrians. We looked for our number and found it right next door to a really nice restaurant (one we will keep in mind) as it was packed later that night. We called our landlord and he said Daniella must be upstairs, so soon after, she arrived downstairs and did not know one English word. She showed us 4 keys to get into our apartment on the second floor and we arrived to a really cute apartment – 2 bedrooms and 2 baths. We were very happy to be here and unpacked, then went out to explore and get some dinner. We decided to walk the other way and soon found ourselves in the Campo de’ Fiori, which I believe means Field of Flowers, a very well known piazza in Rome. We ate dinner right in the piazza and the host was very very nice. Gave us each hugs when we left. I guess we will have to go back!! We were really tired and came back home. I was asleep before my head hit the pillow.

Italy – Day 1, Friday

My granddaughter and I have decided to make an annual trip during her fall break for as long as she wants to travel with her “Mimi”. She is 13 now and has the eyes of a hawk, so she sees things, such as directions in an airport, long before I do, which is very helpful. I remember she was good at that last year when we were negotiating through the tubes in London. I think she has even improved. We got an amazing price on Lufthansa to Venice with a stopover in Frankfurt. The plane was not comfortable, but the Germans really do a wonderful job of orgalnizing getting on the plane. It makes sense to me that the back of the plane should load first and they do this.