Wednesday, May 21, 2008

12 Days in Italy: Colosseum, St. Peter's, San Gimignano, Pisa, Vatican

In June, we spent 12 fantastic days in beautiful Italy. I had never been to Europe before but Susan had been several times. I think all of her trips included some time in Italy. On one occasion she had spent several months there. Needless to say, she was anxious to introduce me to that wonderful country and its wonderful people.

While there, I took a lot of photos (at one point Susan reminded me I was taking a picture of a very plain wall). Not being used to traveling and just a very amateur photographer, I don't believe I was able to capture the "essence" of our trip, but there are many shots of memorable places. Susan and I so enjoyed our trip and now, we would like to present a few pages of our travelogue.

Our journey starts in Rome and then up to Pisa, La Spezia and Cinque Terre. We then moved on to Lake Garda and then to beautiful Venice. After that, we traveled on to Florence where we were fortunate enough to have reserved a room in one of the medieval towers in a nearby Tuscan, village. While there we visited San Gimignano. Our journey ends with a drive back to Rome where we spend another day prior to leaving for home.


Our trip began with a drive to Miami from Naples, FL. We arrived just in time to catch our Air France flight to Rome. Great food, lousy movies. We had a 1 hour layover in Paris. We arrived in Rome, unscathed and with all our luggage intact. That's a good start!

After zipping through customs, we found our car rental agency and postponed our planned pick-up until Monday (the day we were to leave Rome for other cities). We made our way out of the DaVinci terminal (which was no easy task) and located a taxi.

Shortly after our cab left, the driver was enjoined by another taxi driver in his vehicle. Apparently, our driver had "stolen" his intended fares, us. We were suddenly exposed to the full PASSION of the Italian culture. Fortunately, with all the yelling and fist shaking, no one was hurt and our trip to our B&B continued.

Our B&B was located very near the Colosseum area. On arrival we were informed of our fare and we paid in lire. After careful thought, and after the cab had left, we realized we were overcharged. A word of warning, understand the currency before you get there! The B&B was a fairly typical Italian home but no common room.

Because it was later in the afternoon by the time we "settled" in, we spent most of the remaining day around the Colosseum area. Our B&B was in a fairly nice area among many working families. It reminded me of the working-class neighborhood of my youth in Trenton, NJ. The streets were usually busy with some traffic and people walking to the numerous, small shops which abound here.

St. Peter's

We spent most of our 2nd day in and around St. Peter's. It was a very eventful day in Rome. There was a huge parade down Via dei Fori Imperiali (one of the main streets leading to the Colosseum) and all of Italy was enjoying a national holiday, Republic Day. Getting around was a bit tedious.

We really enjoyed St. Peter's. Our schedule for this day was to visit the Vatican but the line had to be at least a mile long! We decided to skip that until our last day of vacation. Getting to the top of the cupola was a definite experience! It took quite a bit of stair climbing and in claustrophobic areas to get to the top of the dome. After reaching the top, the view was magnificent! It was a beautiful, clear day and you could see almost all of Rome.


We spent most of this day on the road. Our final destination would be La Spezia where we planned to spend an evening prior to our visit to Cinque Terre. Of course we would have to stop at Pisa along the way. We did not plan on spending a lot of time in Pisa, just enough to see the "Leaning Tower" and the Duomo.

We arrived in Pisa sometime around mid-afternoon and were able to park fairly near the Piazza dei Miracoli. It was a splendid, clear day with very mild temperatures. The area was not very crowded and we could enjoy a leisurely tour of the area. Unfortunately, the tower was not yet open for public entry and were obliged to only view it from the outside. It really is a remarkable edifice and the effort to maintain it's appearance is equally remarkable. You can find the stor of that effort at The Leaning Tower of Pisa - official web site -

After taking the obligatory photos of holding up the tower, we headed on to La Spezia. We arrived sometime in the early evening. Because we had not booked any accommodations here, we had to drive around a bit searching for a hotel. We found a very nice looking Jolly Hotel near the harbor promenade. After checking in we decided to walk around and see if we could find a nice trattoria for dinner. Heading down the promenade it wasn't long before we found one. We ejoyed a ver nice dinner served by a great staff. We then head back along the promenade and found a very nice outdoor cafe along the water where there was a lot of activity going on. There was "partying" atmosphere here and we joined right in. After a cognac laced espresso each, we headed back to the Jolly where we decided to have yet another cognac-espresso.

San Gimignano

Our next to last day was spent roaming the countryside a bit and visiting San Gimignano. Apparently this is a shopping Mecca for many Italians. Our host suggested we visit "San Gimi". As you can probably tell from the photos, we really enjoyed it here! The streets wre full of people but not overly crowded. There was also a medieval "event" with parades and a play in the main square. We would frequently run into actors dressed as knights, vassals, ladies-in-waiting, pages, etc. All in all, it was a very fun day.

This was one of the most interesting places for us to spend our evenings and we like to talk about it a lot. Susan managed to find us a room in an authentic medieval tower just outside of Florence. I would have taken more pictures of it, but the tower was under repair, at the time, and had quite a bit of scaffolding around it. Our window did have a beautiful view of the Tuscan countryside and our hosts were extraordinary. Each morning were were greeted with soft-boiled eggs, fresh prosciutto, fresh melon, and fresh fruit.

On our second evening our hostess directed us to a country restaurant not too far away. It took us several passes over the back roads before we finally found it nestled in a nook quite a distance of the the road. It turned out to be a great place to eat and the atmosphere was nothing short of terrific. The patrons, the restaurant, the staff, the area, and the food all combined into one very memorable evening.


Our last day in Italy was to be an eventful one. We left our room in the medeival tower early in the morning and headed back to Rome. Our flight home would leave very early the following morning. We arrived in Rome shortly after noon and we decided to try our luck at seeing the Vatican.

If you have been following along, you might recall our first attempt was frustrated by a (what seemed to be for miles) long line. This time we were fortunate and there was no waiting. However, once inside the crowds were very oppressing. It was difficult to really appreciate the many, magnificent rooms, halls, and art pieces. The Sistine was specially interesting because you were expected to remain silent while in there. Every so often you would hear a loud, double clap of hands followed by an equally loud and long "sssshh". This would quite the crowd down for a while but you could hear the steadily rising din. Quite funny, actually.

I managed to get several nice shots in the Sistine Chapel. It was difficult shooting here. Many of the rooms would not allow flash photography and I did not have a faster film. I had to sneak in the shot of Michelangelo's ceiling because there was NO photography allowed in that particular room.

After the Vatican we decided to find the hotel we had booked while still on the Auto Strasa. Now the fun really started! I had to drive through the center of Rome to get there. I don't know if you have ever driven through Rome, but it is an absolute mad-house. You have to completely ignore the traffic signs & lights in some areas because everyone (and I do mean everyone) else does. With Susan as my co-pilot and navigator, we made it through unscathed. There were many harrowing incidents along the way.

When we finally arrived at our hotel, poor Susan would not leave the safety of the car! We had not researched this last hotel and it was in what appeared to be, a very distasteful area. I had to agree with Susan. Because it was already getting late and we would have no opportunity to see more of Rome, we decided to head towards the airport and try our luck at finding a room near there.

We headed to the airport and stopped to fill up with fuel just near there. A helpful attendant directed us to a nearby coastal city with plenty of hotels. Once there we did find a very nice room at a reasonable rate. We were one block from the beach and enjoyed a wonderful walk and then a very nice dinner overlooking the beach and waves.

After a much too short evening sleep, we awoke and gathered our luggage together for the last time. Then, panic set in! I could not find the car keys! Oh! No! Well, Susan managed to keep me calm while we systematically searched through our room and then our belongings. The keys were finally found and we rushed out to the airport.

The flight home was long and uneventful but we now carried with us numerous, good memories of a wonderful vacation. I definitely want to go back again. It was a fantastic experience!

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