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Report 1920: Rome, Tuscany, Venice & Amalfi for Beginners

By nikkihop from USA, Summer 2011

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Page 3 of 16: June 2, 2011 Day Two: Vatican City

photo by nikkihop

Vatican City

I woke up at 6:45am and took a three hour walk before meeting the girls and DB back at the hotel for breakfast (collazione) in the breakfast room on the roof. Really good selection of cereal, pastries, cold cuts, coffee and juice.  This became our routine.

As an early riser and extremely enthusiastic traveler, I'm like a kid on Christmas morning on trips like this. I ventured out alone and walked down the Via Nazionale toward the Victor Emmanuel monument.  As it was June 2, the city was setting up for the big parade, so I wandered along the barricades admiring the police uniforms, which are designed by Valentino and Armani. Seriously.  Mainly, the polizia stand around smoking and talking on their cell phones, but there was no traffic, so I guess there was nothing else for them to do but look good in their chic uniforms.

Very few people were out and about.  I saw Trajan's column and his forum in almost complete solitude. As the morning wore on, I saw a few early parade-goers and their families and felt a bit conspicuous with my camera bag and gawky face.  Rome is a place that inspires the gawky face; it can't be helped. The most amazing thing about my morning was when I walked down the Via Corso and followed the signs to the Trevi Fountain.  There were two Chinese tourists and a gaggle of pigeons there, but no one else in the soft morning light.  I'm not shamed to admit that I had a little La Dolce Vita moment of dreaminess and would have jumped in and danced in the fountain had it not been for those sweet Chinese folks. I shook myself mentally and took photos instead.  

From there, I wandered all the way north to the Spanish Steps, which are worn down to slope toward the bottom and were slick with the morning dew. I am not waxing rhapsodic. I only know this because I slipped and slid - fell down about five of them, plopping neatly on my rump on the second tier of stairs. After a visual re-con to make sure no one saw and a small prayer that I did this before 8:00am when there are no crowds, I chalked it up to an experience. I didn't just see the steps, I fell down them.

I walked back to the hotel and made it just in time to have breakfast and coffee with the girls.  DB was grumpy and not showered by the time I got back to the room. "Today is Vatican Day!" I chirped, and he brightened a little bit. He's secretly dying to see the Pope's digs.

I had pre-booked a five-hour tour for the four of us through Romeing tours. They are awesome. Ian Sumpter was our guide and promised us a €20 discount if we brought him a U.S. Sports logo ball cap. Longhorn cap in hand, we met Ian in our hotel lobby.

When Ian picked us up, DG1 and DG2 were in for a shock. Ian is an extremely good looking Irish bloke. DGs perk up. I immediately started congratulating myself for inadvertently finding the best looking guide with the cutest accent in Rome.  DG2 gives me a high five and we girls all wipe a little drool away before setting off with Ian to the Vatican.  DB acts oblivious. Ian sets off with four little ducklings in tow.  Even DB has a bit of a man crush because of Ian's Irish accent and all the football talk.  DB spent much of his childhood in London. They talk of London and Ireland while we three girls admire from behind.  

Had to take a circuitous route through Rome because of closed metro stations for the parade.  We walk several blocks and don't have trouble with pickpockets on our first metro ride to the Vatican. Let's just all pause to appreciate that Ian picked us up at our hotel and escorted us to the Vatican and booked our welcome driver and Vatican tickets, all for less than €400 for four people. (€240 for the five-hour tour, €81 for Vatican tickets, €60 for the airport van) I know it sounds like a lot, but it was worth every penny and was less than any other tour company offering private tours. Ian was awesome!

Ian took us through the security and started our tour with a very funny intro out on the Vatican patio with full pantomime demonstration of Egyptian, classical, renaissance and baroque art poses.  Ian is very knowledgeable and awfully cute.  Did I say that already?

Had lunch in the Vatican cafe and had the worst pizza in the world.  Like Chef Boyardee, but cold and rubbery.  Had beer though, so all was well.

We saw the pine cone piazza, and the brass globe in the courtyard, which is like the eye of Sauron from Lord of the Rings, before heading into the sculpture galleries, where I promptly lost my glasses in in the Greek sculpture room.  Miraculously, I found my glasses. After all, it is the Vatican.  Thanks Pope Benedict. Never thought I would need to learn the Italian word for glasses, but it actually came in handy when I asked the right docent if he had found any during my search. I nearly had a claustrophobic fistfight with the crowds touching me in the miniature pantheon/octagonal room but DG1 and I made it out without bloodshed.  DB, Ian and I went to the Raphael rooms expecting terrible crowds and left the girls behind at the Sistine chapel. Another miracle: there were no crowds to be seen, so DB and I had a private Raphael tour and met the girls in the Sistine chapel.  We marveled and got the heck out.  

Ian showed us St. Peters and then left us to climb to the dome ourselves. (€20 for four people). We thanked him, tried to restrain ourselves from hugging him, and paid him with cash and Longhorn hat. Next, we climbed the dome ... 551 steps. DG1 at 23 and DG2 at 21 are young, and you'd think they would have more energy and enthusiasm, but both looked ready to fall over by the time we got to the top. DB and I were good, and I was definitely the most childishly enthusiastic at 37. Mass started while we were at the top, so we got to watch the Benediction mass from the cupola at 4:45pm before heading down.

I was up for Castel Sant Angelo and Bernini's bridge, but DB and the girls boycotted any more walking. They plopped down on a stone wall, and I left them outside the Vatican so I could power walk the quarter mile to Bernini's bridge of angels. A couple were getting their wedding photos taken on the bridge, which was romantic and inhibiting, as I was snapping my own photos. I hope I'm not in some couple's wedding album. Weird.

Power walked back, scooped up my pooped compadres, and we all took the  Metro back to the hotel.  We showered and headed off to dinner at a fabulous restaurant recommended by our hotelier right off the Via Nazionale called Petruccis. Four meals, a couple of appetizers, two carafes of wine for €91. Not bad.

After dinner, we all walked to the Trevi fountain.  What a difference! There were a million tourists there! Of course, it's still beautiful, but more like Disneyland. I was so grateful I saw it early and empty and magically. We walked back to the hotel, where the girls and I left DB and then walked to Colosseum to photograph it in all its nightly splendor. Then, we stopped at Il Gelateria again for gelato (dulche de leche this time.)  Bedtime.

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