Sunday, June 29, 2003

 2003 June 29-July 2--Rome

Starting out in Prague ( PRAGUE) 5 days ago, then on to Ronchamp and Geneva, now we were heading to Rome for the next 4 nights of our 2 week jaunt around Europe.

Sun. June 29, 2003
After spending the night of June 28th in Geneva, we were about to head to Rome.  We wanted to see the Alps by daylight, so we were up at 7:30, showered and packed. Breakfast was free and the Warwick in Geneva had an impressive buffet, even the buffet scrambled eggs were good.  Soon it was time to be heading to the train station across the street. We had paid the reservation fee for first class seats on the Italian premier train (CIS), an extra $11 @ even though we had 1st class passes. We could have waited for a different train, but we were curious about the premier trains (faster and fancier), so paid the supplements. The German ICE train was my favorite premier train and it didn't charge a supplement. The French TGV was my 2nd favorite and it was an additional $3@. The Italian train was just regular seats--albeit roomier in first class, but all facing forward, nothing fancy, just faster then the regular trains, and the supplement was $11@ if you had a First Class Eurail pass.

The views from the trains were spectacular! I was surprised to see how many sunflower fields there were. I expected to see vineyards, but was surprised to see them even on cliffs.
The Alps were a little disappointing, only because I was expecting huge snow capped mountains, but they were still beautiful.
At one point we came across stunning lake views. I later found out this was Lake Como---gorgeous!

Finally we reached Rome. This is one of the few places I had made hotel reservations. I wanted something close to the train station and ended up picking a hotel called the Golden Tulip. The hotel was really nice. The walk getting to it was a bit alarming, even though it was only about 2 blocks from the station. I'm not sure if the area is always that dirty, but it didn't look like a great area to stay in. We even noticed employees hosing down the walls and sidewalk every morning---we were told they were washing pee off the walls. If I remember correctly, there was also a trash pick up strike going on at that time which may have contributed to the dirtiness of Rome in general. If you weren't in a tourist spot, the city was pretty dirty and the 90+ degree heat didn't help. So Rome wasn't my favorite city, but I'm glad we did go there. I reserved 4 nights at the Tulip so we were able to get around without lugging luggage for a little while. The night we arrived there, we just chilled out at the hotel and rested. Another thing I found interesting with a lot of the hotels we stayed in in Europe is that your room key fit into a wall socket and that turned your electric on. So when you left, your electric was turned off. We weren't even given extra keys, so batteries had to be charged while we were there. AC was off while gone, too, but it didn't take too long to cool off.
Mon. June 30:
One of the perks of this hotel was the free breakfast buffet. It was a really great one, too. They even cooked eggs and bacon to order as well as having all these other things set out: fresh fruit, canned fruit, lunch meats, soft cheeses, toast, breads, jellies, Nutrella, honey, pound cake, veggies, salad, olives, mushrooms, pastries, yogurt, cold cereals ... , several different juices, tea, coffee, milk and a very friendly staff. We even got to read US newspapers while eating.

After breakfast, we headed off to find an Internet Cafe. We found one in a Subway sandwich shop. I was able to buy 1 1/2 hours worth for 1.5 Euro. After a quick email home in a very hot unairconditioned Subway shop, we were on our way again.

First stop was the Spanish Steps in the "Spagna" section of town. We did the obligatory climb up the steps.  They are the widest staircase in Europe and were built in 1723-1725.

From there we walked down to the Trevi Fountain and tossed coins in the fountain to insure that we would come back some day.   An estimated 3,000 euros are thrown into the fountain each day. The money has been used to subsidize a supermarket for Rome's needy.  The Trevi Fountain served Rome for more than four hundred years. Goth besiegers broke the aqueducts in 537-38. In 1730 Pope Clement XII organized a contest to design the current fountain.  The fountain was completed in 1762.   In 1998, the stonework was scrubbed and all cracks and other areas of deterioration were repaired and the fountain was equipped with recirculating pumps.

With throwing our coins in the fountain done, we had to have some Gellati. It was excellent, too.

Next on our walk was the Pantheon.  It is a temple to all the gods of Ancient Rome.   Almost two thousand years after it was built, the Pantheon's dome is still the world's largest unenforced concrete dome.  It is one of the best preserved of all Roman buildings and has been in continuous use throughout it's history.   It was impressive to see something that old still in use! They were doing some work on it, but you could still see it's original grandness.
the impressive interior!
A short walk from there was Piazza Navona shopping square, but not much was going on there. There was a large fountain there and a few outdoor cafes, but not many venders.
We continued on to another shopping area--Campo Dei Fiori--which is suppose to have flower and fruit venders, but it was closing down, too. It was still early, so I'm not sure of their hours. Originally I had emailed someone in that area about renting a condo there for 4 nights, but after seeing the area, I'm glad we were staying in the Golden Tulip---close to the metro and train.
Our walk took us along the river and up to some more ruins. I found it interesting that there were ruins all over the city with modern buildings right next to them and the ruins weren't even roped off.

We were looking for the Forum, but had a bit of a hard time finding them. We did enjoy a lot of sights, though.

After walking an extra 9 or 10 blocks, we ended up on the western overview side of the Forum. The view from there was spectacular! We walked on around to where there was a road leading down to the Forum and happened upon a water fountain. By now I was getting over heated in the 90+ temps and used the fountain to cool my head off. That didn't sit too well with a nearby policeman who blew a whistle and yelled at me. So we refilled our water bottles and continued on our way into the Forum. At least in Rome there were drinking fountains. (One of the things I really missed in Europe was tap water with ice in it! You can really take things like that for granted when it's not available. Rome and Paris were the only places were were able to drink the tap water.) Walking through the old Forum ruins really gave me a sense of ancient times.  It is a rectangular forum surrounded by the ruins of several important ancient government buildings at the center of the city of Rome.  It was for centuries the center of Roman public life.  We walked through the forum on our way to the Coloseum.
Walking through the forum.

The Colosseum is an elliptical amphitheater in the center of Rome.  It is considered one of the greatest works of Roman architecture and Roman engineering.  Its construction started in 72 Ad and was completed in 80AD.  Capable of seating 50,000 spectators, the Colosseum was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles such as mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas based on Classical mythology.  The building ceased to be used for entertainment in the early medieval era. It was later reused for such purposes as housing, workshops, quarters for a religious order, a fortress, a quarry, and a Christian shrine.   In the 21st century, it stays partially ruined because of damage caused by devastating earthquakes and stone-robbers, the Colosseum is an iconic symbol of Imperial Rome.

We paid the 8 Euro to enter it. Again, there was a feeling hard to describe! It's almost like we were transferred back in time!
I heard they're going to be putting a "floor" back over the bottom of the inside, but it was open when we were there. Hard to imagine lions and gladiators being down there. Hard to believe they would fill the coloseum and have boat fights. Hard to believe so many people lost their lives there! Hard to believe people would consider that entertainment!!

By now it was 7pm and we had been walking in the heat for over 7 hours. It was time to head back to the hotel. Fortunately we weren't too far from a metro station there and were able to travel back that way. We were ready to shower, cool off and rest and rejuvenate for a short while! About 9 we headed out again in hopes of seeing the Colosseum lit up at night and get dinner (at Subway), but didn't make it as planned. Subway was too hot and all the tables were taken, so we walked 4 or 5 blocks to a Hard Rock Cafe and had dinner there. It was great having a burger for a change and soda with ice in it! Most places we had to buy water and it came in bottles, so ice is a luxury in Europe!

 About 11:10 we asked the waiter when the last Metro ran and he said either 11 or 11:30, so we hot-footed it back to the metro station and caught the last metro back to our station a couple blocks from our hotel.
Needless to say, we slept well that night!
Tues. July 1:
We were up at 9:30 and downstairs for our free breakfast before it was over at 10. While eating we planned our day. There was a heat wave and drought going on at this time, so we decided to head to the beach for the day. So we hopped on a train and headed west, not knowing where we were going. We decided to get off where a bunch of other people with beach bags got off. It turned out to be about a mile from the beach, but it was a pretty neat place---Marina de Cerveteri. There was a private beach there where you could rent chairs and umbrellas for 18 euro, but we decided to go to the free public area. We did find a cafe there and were able to get the last of what they had for lunch---pasta with maranara sauce and tuna mixed in and canteloupe and soda.
 Then we spent about 3 hours on the beach. It was a black sand beach and the surf was rough, but the water temperature was wonderful and we enjoyed our time there, even though we ended up more sunburnt.
Finally we decided it was time to head back to Rome so we walked our mile or so back to the train station. We had no idea what to expect at this little town near Rome, but it turned out to be exactly what we were looking for!
Our timing was good---about 10 minutes after we got to the station, a train to Rome showed up. It was even one of the nicer trains with first class. The one we went out on didn't have first class. Having first class tickets spoiled us with the extra room there!
Back at the hotel we were able to watch CNN and got ready to try and see the forum by night and hit the internet cafe again.
We made it to the internet cafe, but they didn't have turkey for sandwiches, so we walked up the street and found a nice little pizzaria to have dinner at. Here we had to buy water, but the pizza and pasta was really good and we enjoyed the atmosphere.
Then we made it to the internet cafe and did some more email. By then it was too late to go to the Forum/Colosseum, so we went back to the hotel and got our free welcome drink and snacks that was another perk of our stay there (snacks of almonds, raisin mix and puff cookies and for drinks I had a Bailey's and Angie had a Tequila Sunrise.)

Wed., July 2, 2003:
Up about 9 and down for our daily breakfast. Great as always. Then we were off to the metro to go to the St. Peitros (St. Peters)-Vatican area. St Peter's is the most renowned work of Renaissance architecture and remains one of the largest churches in the world.   Contrary to popular belief, it is not a cathedral since it is not the seat of a bishop.  As a work of architecture, it is regarded as the greatest building of its age and it is a very impressive area! As expected there were many priests and nuns and thousands of tourists wandering around. We paid 5 Euro to go up into the dome. The line for that was long, but it went pretty quickly. We were a little annoyed that many people put on t-shirts to get pass the check point (no halter tops, sleeveless shirts, or shorts allowed), then they would take off the t-shirts and be in their halter tops or sleeveless shirts while they wandered around in the bascilicus.

Inside the bascilicus was amazing. Unbelievable with all the marble and gold in there. It was very ornate and very BIG!

The views from the top were outstanding.
Like usual we had our 35mm cameras, digital cameras, and video camera. No mistaking us as not being tourists!

View of the dome from our way up.
An oculus

 more of the interior

 The Papal Swiss Guards

After spending the better part of the day there, we headed back towards the metro station. Along the way we decided to stop at a little cafe and have another pizza.

 And them some more Gellati for dessert.

Back at the room we downloaded pictures and cooled off again. It was still in the 90's. About 8:30 we left again determined to finally get to the Colosseum at night. The Forum was closed, but we enjoyed walking around the outside of the Colosseum taking pictures.

Then we headed back down to the metro. 
 Angie thought she hit the jack pot when she bought a candy bar from a vending machine in the metro and it gave her 2 bars!

Back at the hotel, it was time to pack up and rest up for tomorrow's day of travel---on to Cinque Terre!  To see that, click here:   CINQUE TERRE