Day 1 - Rome, Italy
I watched the sun rise as we pulled into Venice and docked this morning. Shortly afterward, three more big cruise ships pulled into the dock too. I liked the name of one of them - Costa Fortuna…
We found Sally and Pat in the Lido for breakfast just like every morning - after the first couple of days we didn't coordinate breakfast time, but ended up showing up at almost exactly the same time anyway. They were scheduled to disembark about half an hour after us. After breakfast we said our goodbyes - it has been way too much fun cruising with them.
Sally was a little worried about getting Pat and their bags to their hotel… I hope it all worked out well for them. People have been very helpful in accommodating Pat - but Sally was almost more worried about people being too accommodating - sometimes people won't let them chart their own course.
We hauled our (now heavier with souvenirs) backpacks onto our backs and headed off the ship. We used the (now familiar) People Mover to get to the main Plaza le Roma transportation hub, then walked across the bridge to the train station (it didn't seem quite as hard without the packs). The kids are troopers. We had about an hour to kill in the train station, so we sat along the tracks and caught the breeze and watched the trains and people, figuring out how the system worked. Fortunately it is about 10 degrees cooler than last time we were here (though still hot enough).
We had a set of 4 seats facing each other with a table in the middle for our train ride. I got caught up on my blog while playing Pinochle with the others (I think the blog probably suffered a bit - sorry). Our hotel, Hotel Sonya, was just a few blocks from the train station. We went out the wrong door and ended up going past a very seedy block on our way around the station, but then we were into the heart of the city, more concerned about being run over by a taxi or motorbike than being mugged. We had told the kids to be cautious about pickpocketers, especially in Rome, and they were a bit paranoid at first. We told them about the guy we met from our ship that had lost his wallet from his velcro'd pants pocket on top of the Acropolis. The elevator in the hotel was an old one in an open metal cage, and the bellman said only two to three people at a time should go in it (though we were on the 3rd floor - really the 4th floor in American-speak since floor 1 starts above the main level). The elevator had a mind of its own as to what floors it was going to stop at to pick people up too, so sometimes we had to wait forever for it to choose us (only when we were the most tired). Fortunately it wasn't too busy of a building. Our room was huge! The ceiling had to have been at least 12 feet tall. We had a queen bed and two twin beds and still had plenty of room.
After settling in, we were hungry, so went down the street to a café and had pizza and lasagna. I'm always shocked at the bill at the end by the time we have tiny drinks and food and bread and service charge. At least we were all full when we left.
We set out to explore our neighborhood, found the Metro station, and took it to the Coliseum (note to self - don't take the Rome Metro at rush hour - we had to CRAM our way on and stand like sardines - welcome to the big city). There were no lines to get in the Coliseum, so we toured the inside. It hasn't gotten any more impressive since last time I saw it, in spite of reading cool books about it. Nobody else was much impressed either. About the time we were being kicked out for closing time, I found an exhibit on Gladiators which was quite interesting, but the boys had already begun waiting in the shade for us to go off and see stuff while they rested, so they missed the exhibit. We were hot and THIRSTY! Fortunately there was a drink stand right at the exit selling icy water bottles (inside was frozen) for exorbitant prices, so we got some just for the boys. That kept the boys entertained for almost an hour melting their ice and sipping it as we explored the city further. About the time we ran out of water again, we started seeing water-fillers - free-flowing drinking spigots located in the squares which seem to be standard issue for mainland towns around here (Greece, Turkey and Italy have all had them). The heat wasn't too bad, since it was evening - in fact, when we passed the meteorological center (you just never know where you might wander in a big city), it said that we were a few degrees below normal today! What a blessed relief!
We checked out a lot of ruins and statues and loved the Victor Emmanuel Monument (huge and clean and lots of statues - the locals think it's gaudy). There aren't a lot of Metro stations around, so we had a long walk back. We wandered through the university section of town - apparently they are on summer break too, as it was rather dead. We poured the kids into bed too tired for dinner (a big, late lunch sufficed).
Day 2 - Rome, Italy
We let the boys sleep while we got breakfast at the hotel - yummy! Potato dish, egg dish, croissants, rolls, cereal, yogurt, OJ - a buffet to keep us going for a long time today.
Jim and I took off to do some exploring while the boys ate breakfast and rested in the room (and watched Barney in Italian). After getting lost once, we got our bearings and got the hang of the city and found we could get around fairly well. We visited the Pantheon and Trevi Fountain (not many people there first thing in the morning), and saw all the government buildings including the palace where the governor must live.
Jim wanted to keep going, but I knew we had a big day ahead, so he took Zach to the Rome Museum a few blocks from our hotel, and I stayed in the room and washed a ton of laundry (how quickly four people can amass laundry when we are hot and sweaty every day!). Noah hung out and played games on his iTouch.
Our goal for the afternoon was to get to the Vatican about 2:00. We took the Metro, having to buy new tickets since the good for 24 hours ticket was really good until 24:00 (midnight). Ah well, we now know one more thing.
We hadn't eaten lunch yet, so we stopped at a pizza place. The pizza was served by the slice, cut with big scissors to the size you want. The locals eat it folded in a paper holder.We must have looked like Americans eating each piece open individually with our fingers. They have great pizza here.
We walked over to the information booth inside the Vatican square, and they told us to start back where we were at the Museum entrance. We walked back and got right in - again no lines. We saw the lanes where the line snakes around the building, but we followed Rick Steve's (travel book) advice and avoided the crowds by going in the afternoon. The museum had a lot of cool statues and art and mosaics and tapestries well preserved. We wandered through the buildings to the Sistine Chapel where we had a hard time taking in what we were looking at. It was a very high ceiling and the paintings were smaller than I figured, so I didn't study them well. It was really crowded too. We took the back door out the chapel through to St. Paul's Basilica (thanks again to Rick Steve) and saved about a 20 minute walk around the outside of the building in the heat. We ended up in the Basilica just as the 5:00 mass was finishing up, and so we got to hear the cantor and the organ - always a thrill in a cathedral (though the acoustics are such that unless you are in the forward chapel, you don't get the full effect).
Our toes were tired, but we wanted to see the city at night, so we took the Metro over to the Spanish Steps to walk the highlights at night. We were unimpressed with the crowded steps - little to see but a throng of people, so we moved on toward the Trevi Fountain, looking for an outdoor café for dinner along the way. We found one near the fountain and learned that we have to request every course or they just wait for your signal. It was a REALLY long dinner until we got the hang of it - along about dessert time. We tried the fixed-price dinner, which came with either coffee or fruit, but we didn't get that part right, so we ended up paying for the coffee. We're learning as we go. Noah tried the espresso and loved it - black. Go figure that a guy as picky about food as he is, would love the taste of coffee.
After dinner it was late, but we walked some more through some squares to the Pantheon. About that time the boys were running out of steam, so we bought them gelato and listened to a guy play the electric guitar really well in the square. The gelato wasn't enough to revive Zach, so I half-carried him on the 15-or-so minute walk back to the hotel where we all fell into bed exhausted.