Friday, April 6, 2012

Rome, Italy

The next day we traveled by train to Rome. I love Rome! It's such an amazing city, one that some people thing is too "city-like" to have so many treasures, but a place that I can't ever get enough of. This was my second trip to Rome, so many of the things that we were going to see (mainly because Ida had never been to Rome), I had already seen, but was ready to get back to. We trekked quite a while to the hotel, which was located near the Colosseum. We dropped off our stuff and decided to head out.

We walked about 5 minutes to the Colosseum and because we had the "Rome Pass", a card that you can buy many places which allows you access to multiple sites without waiting in line, we walked right in. The Colosseum is an amazing structure. Steep stair cases with so many exits and entrances, you can see how they would get thousands of people in and out quickly. I once read that they built the Colosseum, and others like it around Europe, so that it could be completely empty within 10 minutes of an event ending. I always wondered why we don't build our structures like this now because it takes people forever to empty major arenas! We walked around and took many pictures. You can actually see the barracks where they kept the prisoners before battle. This is a place where you can see the age and really imagine what happened hundreds and thousands of years ago, kind of like what they show in the movies.

We then walked through the Roman Forum where the remains of "Old Rome" are. It's a huge area that you can just take your time and walk through imagining what life was like back then. It was a relaxing afternoon and it was nice that we weren't in a hurry to get anywhere. Once finished here, we headed back to the hotel to get cleaned up and make a plan for dinner. 

The next day, we had a tour at the Vatican. Don't think that you get in quickly just because you are on a tour, however, it was much better waiting an hour or so as opposed to being in the general admission line, which wrapped around one entire side of the Vatican. If you are in the general line, there is no guarantee that you will get in. There are so many people who want to get it, it's crazy! We toured the Vatican Museum for many hours. It's so large and there is so much to see and learn. We had the headphones which narrate the entire museum, and I would highly suggest these to anyone taking the tour. It is the only way you are really going to learn about all of the intricacies of what they are showing you within this museum.

At the end of the tour, you are allowed to go into the Sistine Chapel. It was NOT what I expected. You hear so many stories about the paintings and the magnificence of it all...but it was a small, dark, rectangle of a chapel. The paintings were amazing...the extent of what there is to see and feel within the chapel is enough to really make you sit and think. It was hard to really take it all in with the number of people crammed in to such a small space, but I'm thankful to have been able to witness it in person. 

From here, we walked into St. Peter's Basilica, which is always great as well. It was a fairly quick line to get through and took some time to walk through. Yet another beautiful sight in Rome. Then we walked to the Castel Sant'Angelo. This is a huge structure on the river that you can walk to the top of and see out over the entire city. The views were amazing!

Continuing on our walking tour, we walked to the Trevi Fountain. This is found in a small square, hidden in the center of the city, but hundreds of people manage to find it every day. It takes some maneuvering to get to the fountain to throw your penny over your shoulder, wishing for the opportunity to return to Rome...but we made it through the maze of people. If you can find a place to sit and relax for a minute, this is a wonderful place to just sit and dream. Continuing on, we walked to the Pantheon. Another large, square structure, that has a large hole cut into the ceiling through which the gods can come down through. They were holding a small mass inside, but it was great just to see it and be a part of daily Roman life.

We returned to the hotel to clean up after a long day of sight-seeing, and then headed out for dinner. The food was great and the wine was even better!

The last day in Rome, we just relaxed and took in Roman life. That evening we met up with Ida's cousin who lives in Rome and we walked around, enjoying everything lit up and looking beautiful in the shadows of the night.

Rome is a place that I would tell everyone to go. It's an amazing city with so many things to see and people who are proud of their heritage and their city.

Florence & Pisa, Italy

We arrived in Florence around 11am and headed straight to the hotel to drop our bags off.  The train station in Florence is in a great location and you can access pretty much anything from that point. It was a small, family run place that had three rooms with a shared bathroom. It was interesting, but very clean and well secured. We dropped out stuff and ran out to check out some of Florence before heading to Pisa to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

We started with a large church across the street from the train station. Ida's mother had told her that at 12 o'clock noon, the sun shines through a small circular window high on the west end of the church and puts a ray of light right in the center of the church. It's supposed to be beautiful. The church was gorgeous, minus the screaming children inside, but there was no sub spectacle. Regardless, it was another beautiful cathedral in Europe.

We then jumped on the hop-on/hop-off bus that toured us around the city. They had two routes you could take, each of which took a couple of hours. We joined the first route, the sun was hot, but we were able to see many of the major sights in Florence.

From there we headed back to the train station to go to Pisa. The ride was about an hour long, and we took a city bus from there. The square where the tower was located was a madhouse! There were people everywhere taking pictures and just standing in the middle of the sidewalk. (I wish that there was one tourist place in the world, where people would step aside to take pictures and do their staring...people always stop where ever they feel like and never think about those around common sense anymore!) The Leaning Tower was smaller than what I had expected, but amazing all the same. You could see people making the trek to the top, hugging the wall as they walked in circles. We took lots of pictures and then stopped at a local eatery to have some pizza. The food was good and I always find it amazing to sit at a sidewalk cafe with such beautiful sights in the background. All of the old buildings and castles and cathedrals, places you would never find in the US.

It was now time to head back to Florence. We took the hour long train ride back and decided that we were going to grab the bus back to the sights of Florence and ride it to the top of the hill that overlooks the city. By the time we got up there, the sun was starting to set and we were able to grab some amazing pictures. Florence is a place where you need a few days to really explore all of what it has to offer. We simply didn't have the time, but we were able to get an overview of what was there for when we could get back.

 I would suggest Florence as a stop for anyone headed to the Tuscany region in Italy. Give yourself at least three days to get the major sights in, a week if you want to dive in deep.