Italy 2005


May 10, 2005 – Venice, Italy

Today we woke up at 7 and got ready to leave Switzerland. After a breakfast of cereal and croissants, we checked out and prepared for our train journey to Venice. The ride was breathtaking from Spiez to Milan. The train was up on the mountainside passing through tunnel after tunnel. You were able to see the valley below, and another mountain across, with roads and traffic way up high. It was hard to believe we were whipping around the hills way up there.

After passing the border into Italy, we immediately knew it. Four men swarmed in, one with a dog. The people sitting in the first set of seats were interrogated about where they were from, where they were going, etc. Then three men went through every inch of their luggage, occasionally questioning some items. I freaked out, thinking that this would happen to each of us, but it didn’t. Our passports were briefly checked, and then the conductor was on his way. One man passed us by with his gun hanging off his belt. Talk about intimidating!

My first impression of Italy, not quite as clean as Paris or Switzerland, but beautiful nonetheless. Balconies were decorated with colorful clothing slung over ropes, just like in the pictures. The Alps in northern Italy were more green and lush than in Switzerland. Five hours to go before reaching Venice, with a train switch in Milan.

Most people on our train coach were from Canada. The young girl across from us began chatting. We learned that she had taken a month off work to travel abroad by herself. She was hoping she’d still have a job when she returned. I was impressed. I don’t think I would be that brave. She was going a similar route as us, which we found pretty common of several tourists we met.

The train switch in Milan was pretty easy, but this time first class seats had us in little rooms with six seats, with the aisle being on the side of the train. We shared a car with a little, old Italian couple. I felt like we had to be really quiet the whole time, because we obviously could hear every word of each other’s conversation. They could understand English, but we didn’t know what they were saying.

Three long hours later, the train pulled into Santa Lucia station, jutting onto a peninsula made just for the train. I really had to use the bathroom, but I was startled to find what looked like a ticket entrance when I followed the WC signs. Huh? Ricky figured it out. Seventy cents later, the gate behind the turnstile parted and I entered the lady’s toilettes. I was going to make sure I got my money’s worth out of that bathroom visit!

Upon exiting the station, Ricky and I arrived on the steps made famous from pictures of Venice. We paid 10 euro to take Vaparetto 82 (water bus) to our hotel. Vaparetto’s are very efficient. They just bumped right into each dock, lassoed the cement post, people hopped off, people hopped on, and two minutes later, the waterbus was on the move again. There was no messing around. Ricky enjoyed seeing the “garages” right along the canals, with arched openings to pull the boat right into from the water and park for the night. A half hour later we arrived at the San Marco Stop. Thank God Ricky looked at the hotel map before we left, because somehow after winding through tiny streets, he found our little Locanda Ca’Valeri.

Our hotel had a tiny, yet elegant entranceway. Our room was the first at the top of the winding staircase, with a tall ceiling (like all the hotels and buildings in Europe), wooden beams, hardwood floors, antique furniture and Murano glass chandeliers with pink, red, and blue accents. Three windows, probably about 6 feet tall, decorated our room with curtains and bedspread of deep red and green. The bathroom appeared to be newly remodeled with light brown tiles on the floor and walls.

The streets of Venice were probably wide enough for three people to walk side by side. They jutted out every which way, and you never knew if you’d end up in a hotel, a square, or just a dead end. We got lost on the side streets and found a quaint restaurant with vines decorating the ceiling beams and glass chandeliers and lamps. (The island of Murano, which is nearby, is famous for its glass, so Murano glass is everywhere in Venice.) Ricky tasted his first Italian pizza, and I the gnocchi’s (once again) – very delicious.

The Canadian couple next to us began chatting and we spent our entire dinner sharing travel tales and information. Both probably in their 50’s, he with a cowboy hat and she with dark hair except for a few bleached streaks in front, were a fun couple from Vancouver. They told us horror stories of driving in Florence, which we would later experience, first-hand).

After dinner, we found Piazza San Marco, or St. Mark’s Square, dimly lit in the moonlight. Several people sat in a large outdoor café, listening to a live band. Then we walked to the Rialto Bridge and took in the views of Venice, sparkling in reds, greens, and yellows against the water. Gondolas passed underneath us, occasionally an Italian melody echoing through the air. Unfortunately, our cameras couldn’t capture the magic, so we just sat back, and took it all in.

May 11, 2005 – Venice, Italy

Breakfast was served in our room, with rolls, bread, and hot chocolate. Today our tour began at Doge’s Palace. Pictures were not allowed on the inside. It reminded us of a smaller version of the Palace of Versailles, with heavily decorated walls and ceilings in every room. There was a neat Map room, with a large globe in the center and different maps painted on the walls. This Palace was connected to the basilica, and different from most kingdoms in that it could be entered, or easily ambushed, because it was located at street level. Unlike the palaces and castles built high on a hill or surrounded by moats. It was said that the rulers of Venice trusted its people.

Ricky and I wandered through the streets, getting lost and then finding our way again, snapping pictures and having fun. St. Mark’s Square was packed with people and pigeons. Vendors sold food for 1 euro so that visitors could hold out food in their hands, and be swarmed with pigeons. They landed right on their hands, and sometimes shoulders and heads. We laughed at the pigeons that would hop right over each other’s backs to get to the food. Ricky and I weren’t up for being crapped on, so we just took pictures of other people instead.

Then we joined the short line for a ride up to the Campanile Bell Tower. It was super windy at the top, and just as we arrived, the bells began ringing. Almost every one at the top covered their ears, but I was amused. I took a video of the ringing bells. The views were spectacular. Terra cotta rooftops covered the city.

We were exhausted at this point, so we stopped back at the hotel to rest a little while. Because shorts are not allowed in the basilica, we changed our clothes and headed for St. Mark’s. It reminded me a lot of Notre Dame on the inside. After a short visit, we sat in the square and people watched for about an hour. It was fascinating to observe tourists from all over the world. A few American tourists joined us on the steps, and chatted about their church group tour. The remainder of the night consisted of dinner, souvenirs, and finally, bed.

May 12, 2005 – Florence & Pisa, Italy

Ricky and I savored our last hours in Venice this morning. Our vaparetto ride to the train station was nice. The sunshine hitting the water splashed light on all the ancient buildings. We bid farewell and found our train seats. Three hours on the train went slowly again. Luckily, we had reserved tickets on the full train, and it was a two seater.

We arrived in Florence and found the hotel rather easily. It was not in the most attractive part of Florence. I almost died when I saw our B and B. It was like an apartment building, up the dark, dreary stairs. The doorbell had to be rung to open the dead bolted entrance door. There were about 3 rooms. Ours was the heart room. The rooms brought back memories of the dorms in college. It was pretty dingy, with a flowered bedspread, two dressers, and two windows. No TV. The bathroom was up one step and pretty basic. Only one roll of toilet paper. We really didn’t like that the owner apparently came into our room to drop off our credit card receipt while we were gone. Oh well. Only one night. And a steal at 67 Euro!

We dropped off our backpacks, and trudged back to the train station. The trains left every half hour for Pisa, and we caught one train about 2 minutes before it left. Unfortunately, almost every seat was taken already. We sat on a fold down seat in the entranceway for the first half of the trip. The landscape was not so impressive this time.

When we arrived in Pisa, we walked a little bit out of our way before asking a couple women for directions. You’d think you could spot the leaning tower from anywhere, but not so. It isn’t as tall as it may seem. We had a quick meal, and then were bombarded with men trying to push watches and African elephants on us. Annoying. The same men approached us over and over again.

The buildings along the river were pretty, and the Tower façade was detailed in white. We took the typical pictures, pretending to lean against the tower, and hold it up. Being pressed for time, we skipped the climb to the top.

The six o’clock train ride back was uneventful, except for the two horrifically smelling men that chose to sit next to us. Ricky kept nonchalantly pulling down the window for fresh air. It was dreadful.

Before going back to our bed and breakfast with no breakfast, we walked toward downtown Florence, snapping pictures as we went. We visited the Ponte Vecchio bridge, the oldest in Florence, that has shops and houses clinging to its sides. Pretty different. My Rick Steve’s guidebook told about how during the War they were ordered to blow up the bridge. The general had both buildings on either side of the bridge blown up, sparing the unique bridge from destruction. The sun set over the river, ending our evening on a peaceful note.

May 13, 2005 – Tuscany: Siena & Montepulciano, Italy

Today we slept in a little bit, packed up our things, and grabbed a light breakfast. We weren’t supposed to pick up our rental car until 1 p.m., but in our exhaustion, we decided that we’d skip the morning tour of Florence and find Hertz a little bit early. We were in luck. By 10:30 we had our car.

Ricky got in the little Ford Fiesta and whipped through the streets of Florence, finding our way right out of town with an amazing stroke of luck. The car was jerky at first, not like the automatics in the U.S., and the way it changed gears still made it feel like a stick shift. But, that little car could book!

We coasted down the four-lane highway, Ricky gradually adjusting to the Italian drivers. It is no joke that the left lane is only for passing. These little cars and motorcycles come up behind you from out of nowhere! There were hardly any emergency lanes on your right, and the left lane was embraced by a railing the entire way. We marveled at the teeny space they gave you to whip over to the emergency lane if needed. It didn’t seem like there’d be enough time to come to a stop before hitting the railing! I clung to the handle almost the entire three days, as if that would save me from those crazy drivers and 60km/hr turns.

Siena was about an hour from Florence. We circled round and round up toward the top of the hilltown. After parking near the castle ruins, we climbed to the top and took several pictures, trying to imagine it in medieval times. We walked towards the center of town, and all the neat vendors lining the street sparked my interest. There I purchased a cool backpack with sequins, but not wanting to lug a lot of souvenirs, I stopped at that. Although the piazza was supposed to be gorgeous, it looked too far away, so we headed back to the car for the most exciting part of our drive: the scenic route through Tuscany.

The scenic route was on a road called S146, according to Rick Steve’s, the prettiest in all of Tuscany. It was breathtaking, but I tried not to say too much, because poor Ricky had to concentrate on the curvy roads. He pulled over a few times to catch his breath and enjoy the views. The wildflowers were so beautiful along the roadside, in bright reds, purples, yellows, and pinks.

Our final hilltown stop was in Montepulciano. It was a very steep walk to the top, and Ricky stayed behind to catch up on some email and well-deserved rest. I hiked up slowly, trying not to be obvious as I huffed and puffed up the hills. It never ceased to amaze me how these cars just whip around the people and sputter up the deep inclines. There were several locals walking the streets, mostly older Italian woman, and a few men. I felt that they were probably used to the tourists, but maybe not pleased that their town is overrun with them in the summers. It wasn’t too crowded on this day.

My directions to our accommodations were good, but we underestimated the mileage, and turned around too quickly before arriving. This led us on another path of confusion and frustration, accidentally ending up on the Auto Strade before turning around and trying again. Twice. Finally, we went down our original path, but only 5 minutes further this time, and found our bed and breakfast.

The couple was waiting for us at the door, because we had finally broken down and called them for directions. They were so kind, the woman originally from Switzerland, her husband Italian. She later told us that she fell in love with Tuscany, and there is no place she’d rather be. Their bed and breakfast is actually a 1700-year-old converted Church. There are six rooms downstairs. Our room was Tuscan through and through.

She gave us a tour of the upstairs portion, where they live, and it was lovely with high, slanted beamed ceilings and plenty of windows to take in views of the hilly landscape. She preferred the other kitchen, which was a separate little hut outside the main house.

This would probably be my choice of places for a summer retreat. The only bad thing, the bees are about four times as large as ours, but they didn’t seem to bother us. There were lizards and large flies, too. The mountains in the distant were like shadows, looking like a backdrop against the blue sky. Breakfast was a spread of coffee, tea, juice, cheese, cereal, assorted jams, cookies, and apples. I did not want to leave this place.

May 14, 2005 – Caramanico, Sant’ Eufemia, Italy

After Ricky tore me away from the beautiful La Ghiandia (meaning: The Garden), we took off for the Abruzzo region of Italy, the most remote we would experience on the entire trip, but well worth it. We rode through the longest tunnel we’d ever experienced, right through a mountain. Ricky cruised at about 140 km/hr. It was an easy drive, until we turned off for Caramanico. The road signs were confusing, pointing left, but not specifying which road to the left. We took the first one, and ended up on a winding, unpaved road. The only plus was that we stopped and took pictures of some gorgeous land with red wildflowers.

Two hours later, after finding our way back to the main road and starting over again, we arrived in Caramanico, dodging construction, and our car climbed the main road into town. I spotted the Mazzocca Hotel quite easily, and Ricky squeezed the car between a tree and another car for parking.

Caramanico apparently becomes touristy in the summer, and some sort of event was going on that particular weekend. We walked into Mazzocca Hotel, and tried to ask for a room. In Italian they told us they were booked because of whatever was going on in town. Then I pulled out my pictures of Grandpa and Ricky tried to communicate to them that I was a Mazzocca. The two men at the counter were also Mazzoccas, cousins who ran the hotel. They did not know the names I showed them of Grandpa or his parents, but it didn’t stop them from yelling to some other Italians on the street, who also ended up being Mazzoccas. They seemed happy to meet us, but did not know the relation. We think they were trying to tell us that on Monday there would be a Mazzocca reunion. Unfortunately, we couldn’t stay.

Eventually, they decided that they did have one room they’d let us stay in, and only ended up charging us 50 euro for it. The room was nice, with tall ceilings, and a balcony with mountain views. The woman served us a nice breakfast of; you guessed it, bread, rolls, meat, and cheese. Of course she made us fresh coffee as well.

We hopped in the car and somehow ended up at the creepy old cemetery. The graves were more like 6 or 7-foot tall monuments, some of them rooms, which had entire families buried together. The grass was long and unkempt, with a few rocky pathways among the hillside of graves. It was freaky.

Ricky and I thought we should split up, but that was a mistake. We both ended up uncomfortable in the deserted cemetery, and I scared Ricky half to death when I found him. He had just seen an open tombstone and walked closer to take a look when he saw his own reflection inside and it was moving! It was a mirror. Then he approached a gravestone with an opening at the bottom. He bent down cautiously to see what the large bag was at the bottom, hoping it wasn’t a body in there (most likely cement or rocks) when I spotted him. I whispered frantically; “Ricky!” and he jumped about ten feet! In retrospect, it was quite funny. He thought they were speaking to him from beyond!!!

We took several pictures of Mazzocca headstones and found my great grandmother, Carmine’s mother. We think we found his brother who died as a child, but weren’t sure because there was another name on the tombstone. A grave was next to it with no name, which made us wonder if that was Carmine’s father, but there is no way to know for sure. Several tombs had no names or dates.

Next we drove a little further up the hill and found Sant’ Eufemia, a tiny little town with more buildings made of large stone. There were a group of old Italian men gathered in front of a store, who all turned to watch our car drive by, and then turn around. Thanks to Ricky, we actually stopped and ask them where Nicola Timperio lived, Grandma’s cousin. We easily found the house next to the town’s Church, knocked on the door, introduced ourselves, and found ourselves being pulled into the door and kissed on both cheeks. They probably didn't have a CLUE who we were at first.

Ricky communicated in Spanish/Italian and I just sat and smiled a lot. Nic remembered a few words of English, not bad for a 91-year-old man. She spoke only Italian, and even though she knew I didn’t understand, she just talked and talked and talked to me anyway. We pulled out pictures of Grandma and the family, and left them some to keep. We had a nice visit.

Nic’s wife made coffee and put out a plate of pizzelles, which she later sent with us. She started yelling “Manja, Manja” to Ricky, who looked at her in confusion. I leaned over and told him, “She wants you to EAT.” That is one word I remember hearing in Italian. Ricky said she was ranting about how the food in Caramanico’s restaurants is so expensive, and not that good. She also made Nic go to the store and buy some sort of meat for us, which we insisted we were not hungry for.

We still hadn’t figured out what exactly it was, but they were trying to tell us how to cook it. Ricky tried telling them we didn’t have a refrigerator, and no place to cook, but finally I told him just to agree to take it. Nic and his wife just yelled at each other in Italian, which was amusing, but a little daunting…

Two hours later Ricky explained we needed to go before it got dark. We were afraid we wouldn’t find our way back to the hotel otherwise. The roads were so curvy and steep. Before we left, Nic got out his phone book and called Grandma, making each of us speak to her. A few minutes after we hung up, the phone rang again, and Nic’s wife was speaking in Italian, apparently not understanding the person on the other end of the phone.

Finally she realized they were asking for Jennifer, and handed the phone to me. It was mom and dad! They heard we were there from Grandma and called to talk, since we had barely been able to contact them since Paris. While we talked, three loud voices behind me kept chatting, making it difficult to hear.

We got back to our hotel and went across the street to a restaurant for dinner. It turns out that it had opened the week prior, and they didn’t have a menu yet. The food was good.

May 15, 2005 – Tivoli, Italy

We had some fun on the way to Tivoli, laughing at some of the road signs. I just had to draw pictures of the road signs that we saw so we could remember them. There were hilarious signs in the tunnels, showing a person running up stairs, with fire at their butt. Then another showed a car bumping into a truck, going uphill, mind you. The sign for a curvy road was pretty funny too. At this point, anything would have been funny…

Tivoli was not our favorite place, but it was okay. The city was crowded and warm. We arrived on some sort of Market Day, so vendors lined the street, and it was packed. It took us 45 minutes to wait for a parking space to open up. (Ricky is so patient; I would have had a fit if I were driving!)

We met the owner, Fabio, at the entrance to the apartment holding his tiny newborn baby. His wife, Suzanne, let us drop our bags off, and asked us to come back in an hour, and she’d have the room ready. It was a cute little apartment, with a kitchen, bathroom, large bedroom, and an arched entry onto an enclosed patio with a gorgeous view of Tivoli. It had hard wood floors, adorable decorations, and my favorite thing, a guest book with messages written from all the guests who had stayed there. It was fun to read where people were traveling from, and see the messages written in all different languages. There were even some drawings, although some not appropriate to tell about…

Tivoli was probably the only place we encountered a downright rude waiter. Well, actually, I think he was the owner. We sat down for lunch, ordered bread, water (which they charge for there), and a pasta dish each. When Ricky asked for the check, the man said, “Why? Just go, you hardly ate anything anyway, just pasta, no fish…” We looked at each other in confusion, and smirked at the bill a few minutes later. For eating nothing, he had no trouble charging us the 24 Euro for lunch!

After a half hour walk, and no sign of the information center, we turned back and decided to take the car instead. Good thing, because Adrian’s villa was quite a drive from our resort. We gladly paid 2 euro for front parking, 16.50 each to enter, and fought a group of old people to get our tickets. I wasn’t exactly sure what Adrian’s Villa was, but I knew it was famous. Basically, it was ruins of a brilliantly designed town for its day, built under the Emperor Adrian. We should’ve gotten the audio guide so we’d know what we were looking at, but we listened in as other tour groups passed us by.

Later we walked the streets of Tivoli, packed with crowds of a different sort, not quite as well dressed or quiet. Ricky ordered pizza and found that it had sardines. Never again, he assured me. The crowds were getting to me, so we called it a night.

May 16, 2005 – Rome, Italy

We finally arrived in Rome after spending 2 hours circling one-way streets, desperately trying to figure out where to return our rental car. We eventually found this tiny parking garage on a one-way street, about 5 blocks from the railway station. Even after stopping for directions from the Hertz office inside the station, it was still hard to find. The garage had a floor for each car rental place. I guess we are not used to space being such an issue. We assumed the lot would be right there by the office. Now we know better.

After easily finding our hotel, about a 10-minute walk from the train station, we set out to do laundry, and Ricky talked the guy into giving us free Internet while we waited. Finally, clean clothes and a chance to communicate with family!

We were grateful to unpack for the last time. After finishing laundry, we walked to the Trevi Fountain, had dinner in a great little restaurant, people watched, laughed at guys trying to sell silver jewelry and these ugly, squishy animals. When we returned a few days later, we noticed about 20 of these guys, and they’d just follow one behind another and put these things in everyone’s face. We wanted to smack this dumb couple that actually bought one. One guy put one in Ricky’s face, said “3 Euro,” and after half a second said, “Okay, one euro.” We were like wow; we didn’t even say a word. That’s some easy bargaining. They kept coming up to us. Still no for the twenty-fifth time! We tossed the coins over our shoulder to ensure our return to Rome. Looks like it worked quickly. We returned two days later!

Tuesday, May 17 – Rome, Italy

Today we woke up around 7. We didn’t want to miss our continental breakfast, ending at 9 15. We made it. It was crowded, though. There were about 15 tables, all filled. I had frosted flake-like cereal, but not quite as good. Then the waitress brought fresh coffee and rolls. The hotel was okay. Not worth 660 euro, in my humble opinion. It had no air conditioning, it’s on the 3rd floor, there’s barely room to walk around the bed, but otherwise, clean and plain. A safe was hidden in the wall behind the window curtain.

The man at the front desk was fun. He greeted us in English, but when I said “ciao”, he said, “In Italy, you speak Italian, bravo!” He was so happy that I was trying. Then I learned how to say a few more things and he was very happy about that. (In Europe, you turn in your room key at the front desk when you leave. Each time you come in, you have to ask for your key.) So, I practiced saying 239, our room number, but by the time I got it memorized in Italian, the man already knew our room number by heart. But I said, “Wait, I practiced it!” so he waited for me to tell him in Italian, and then handed me the key. We were both pleased. It’s really the little things in life…

It was kind of rainy out, so we decided to skip the Coliseum and head for the Vatican Museum instead. We walked to the Termini station, about a 5-minute walk, and purchased a 2-day open bus pass, so we could hop on and off this bus to the major sites. The only problem, it takes 2 hours round trip. We would end up seeing the entire city about 6 times over two days. So, if you are in a hurry, you do not want this bus. But, we liked it because you could sit on top, which is open, and view the sites while listening to commentary in your headphones. Very cool. Rome is much more spread out than we thought.

St Peter’s Basilica is a very beautiful church. The lines were long, but it took maybe only a half hour to queue through. Then we grabbed some pizza, surprise, surprise, for lunch. Only 10 euro. We walked about 10 minutes to the Vatican museum, between rain and sunshine.

We breezed through the hallways and headed straight for the Sistine Chapel. I know, shame on us. But, we were so tired after two weeks of walking everywhere. We thought we had found the Chapel, and we were surprised that it looked more like a long skinny hallway. But, this had to be it, because the walls and ceilings were covered with magnificent paintings. Although, the design didn’t quite match Rick Steve’s guidebook description. Um, yeah, wrong.

Then we found the real thing. Mostly everyone ignored the requests for silence and no pictures, which is really a shame. It was astounding, imagining that poor Michelangelo spent 4 years on his back with a very sore arm painting this chapel, when he insisted that he was truly a sculptor, not a painter.

Actually, his sculpture in the basilica of Mary holding a crucified Jesus was gorgeous. I think it’s called The Pieta. Apparently, the story goes that when it was first completed, Michelangelo overheard two people looking at the sculpture, commenting that some middle rate sculptor had done it. This made him so mad that he chiseled his name onto Mary’s sleeve so everyone would know that it was his work.

Rick Steve’s guidebook told us about the shortcut out of the Museum through the tour group exit, and all we could say was, “Thank you, Rick!” It saved us a half hour walk. Then we hopped on the open bus, because we thought the sunshine would allow us to see the Coliseum. But, by the time we neared there, an hour later on our open tour bus, it started raining again. So, instead we decided to get off at Termini and go back to the hotel.

When we arrived at Santa Susanna to pick up our tickets for the audience with the pope, they weren’t there yet. Then after a half hour the priest told us that there was a mix up and no tickets would be sent, and we could just show up on Wednesday with no tickets. Hmmm. Then we found Hard Rock cafe on the map, and had an American dinner, thank goodness. Nothing like a good old BLT and strawberry daiquiri to hit the spot after 2 weeks of pizza and gnocchis. And bread, lots and lots of bread.

May 18, 2005 – Rome, Italy

We got up early today, anxious to catch the pope at his papal blessing. We arrived with no problem at 9 45, and found seats on the aisle, easier to sneak out if necessary. The man next to us was from Ashville, NC. We chatted with him for a while and found out that his son is a travel writer.

It was nice and sunny when we sat down. Twenty minutes later the rain started to fall. Luckily I had worn my sweater, but no jacket. Ricky had no jacket either. We figured it would pass. Umbrellas popped up all around us.

As it started to rain harder, Ricky pulled two emergency ponchos out of his backpack. Thank God he was a boy scout! As we sat, nice and dry with our ponchos on, the heavens opened and poured down on us! (I think they were laughing up above!) People began screaming, running, and pushing. Some giggled, like us, who enjoyed watching the chaos.

The rain seeped in through any openings it could find in my poncho. Luckily, our cameras were safely stowed inside our backpacks, which were also tucked under our ponchos. The ground below us became a huge puddle of water. People used anything possible to cover up. I saw a man with a plastic bag ripped apart, and placed over his shirt. Others actually grabbed chairs and put them over their heads! Still a half hour until the pope was scheduled to arrive.

Right before he came out, the clouds parted, and the suddenly the sun shone through! Like a miracle before our eyes. People began climbing on their chairs, and my irritation grew. Then it began. Young and old alike scrambled onto their chairs, giving me a perfect view of everyone’s legs. I looked around and realized it was hopeless; I could either join them, climbing on wet chairs with slippery sandals, or not fight it at all. I watched a woman take a tumble off her chair onto the wet ground, and chose the latter. As they screamed and yelled and cried, I was mesmerized, not by the pope, but by people.

Ricky pushed forward and was able to see the pope quite well and take some pictures. I waited for the commotion to die down, and watched people push forward and climb onto any chair they could find. Suddenly, the pope asked people to take their seat, and hundreds of people scattered, trying to figure out where their original seat was. I think I was the only one whose chair didn’t move in our entire row, which was obviously no longer a row.

What a way to ruin the moment. If everyone sat or stood for that matter, wouldn’t we have the same view as everyone standing on chairs? I don’t get people sometimes. After Ricky and I fought to move out of the commotion a bit, I got a nice clear view of the pope, mostly from the large TV screens on the outer edges. We watched for a while as the pope did a blessing over everyone.

Next stop: Roman Forum and Coliseum. Ricky skipped the Forum, and instead took pictures as I did a Rick Steve’s walking tour through the ruins. It took me a half hour to figure out what I was looking at, but it was cool nonetheless. We lucked out with free admission at the Coliseum, due to some cultural event that week in Rome. We enjoyed that very much, imagining the gladiators and crazed audiences thousands of years ago filling the arena. Ricky couldn’t resist having pictures taken with the dressed up gladiators out in front. They were funny. One guy put his hat on Ricky’s head and gave me a sword, which we pointed at Ricky. Another highlight of our trip. What a day!

May 19, 2005 – Rome, Italy

Today I had hoped to do a day trip to Pompei, but because I am stingy with money, I wasn’t sure about booking the trip through our hotel. I was certain that there had to be a cheaper way to get there. Well, I was wrong.

Ricky and I got up early, went to the information center at the train station, and found out how expensive and inconvenient it would be for us to take a train to Pompei on our own. First we’d have to go to Naples, then switch trains, etc, etc. We decided for that price, we’d rather pay a little more and have someone cart our butts down there in comfort. So, we signed up through the hotel and tried to figure out what to do with our free day.

I then remembered that we never went to see the Pantheon. We took our sweet time and sauntered there around 11 am. It is the oldest building in Rome that has been continuously in use since it’s opening. I believe it was built to honor the Gods. The opening in the top is actually about 30 feet across, so you can look straight up to the heavens. The floor is slightly slanted so that when it rains, the water drains to the sides. Architects in the US copied the outer design of the Pantheon for some of our buildings in Washington D.C. with the large, white columns. Truly, I’m not quite sure why else it’s famous, but I know it is. (That sums up many famous buildings we saw.) No, I’m only kidding.

Then we did what NOBODY should attempt: We ate at McDonalds. Not a good thing. On a serious note, it really wasn’t too bad. Just a little different taste than what we’re used to. Today we pondered taking an early flight home, only because we were so exhausted. The few hours of rest at the hotel did much to improve our spirits, though. Once again, we found ourselves at Trevi Fountain, such a perfect spot to sit and people watch. We spent the evening relaxing and packing for home, since Friday’s day trip would consume every waking hour.

May 20, 2005 – Naples & Pompei, Italy

We were up at 6 today, picked up by a Trolley, which brought us literally around the block to the tour station. Had we known, we could have easily walked. What’s one block when you’ve spent more than 2 weeks walking miles and miles through ten different cities? But, I digress…

We left with a full bus at 8 a.m. Unfortunately, this tour could not reach Sorrento. We were told that at this time of year, the Sorrento area is too congested. Later we learned that Naples was also very crowded with lots of traffic! Our tour guide was amazing. She spoke four languages! So, as we drove along, she had to repeat everything FOUR times. Poor girl. I was impressed.

After 2 hours, we arrived in Naples, and took a ten-minute photo break on the bay. It was gorgeous, with Mt. Vesuvias looming in the background. Naples is the largest city in Italy. Boy, did we see lots of undies hanging from people’s balconies! It seemed like every single apartment (and there were tons) had laundry hanging out. Then we hopped aboard again and were given a panoramic tour of the city. After sitting in traffic for an hour, we arrived in Pompei, a fifteen km distance.

We had lunch at Hotel Victoria (included in the tour price), which caters to tour groups. Before serving us, we had a fascinating five-minute tour of a coral and cameo factory, only to be dropped in the gift shop for the remaining fifteen minutes. (Yes, I’m being sarcastic). There were several groups there at the same time. The cameos were indeed pretty, just not our thing.

We sat with Chris and Daniella, a couple from our tour bus that was from Australia. They took 5 weeks off work to travel. It was fun talking to them, hearing about their travels to New Zealand, Fiji, etc. After learning that it was a 20-hour flight to Europe from Australia, we no longer complained about our 9-hour flight home the following day. Lucky for them, they were off to Sorrento for a few days. Oh well, maybe next time.

An additional tour guide joined us for Pompei, so that we were able to split off into smaller groups. Our guide spoke Spanish and English, and was excellent. We would not have enjoyed Pompei nearly as much had we gone on our own. It would be really hard to tell what we were looking at. The tour lasted about two hours. We had a little free time before we set off for Rome.

The people of Pompei were really quite smart. For example, built right into their stone streets, were chiseled out holes to tie their horses on the roadside. There were also three very large rocks leading across the street, at sidewalk level. This enabled them to walk across the street with dry feet when the street was flooded, which was common living so close to the sea. The rocks were placed so that the carriage wheels could still fit right in between. Inside the homes, holes were left in the ceilings, with fountains and baths strategically placed below to collect rainwater. The largest home in Pompei was massive, having two gardens within its walls. We were back at the hotel about 10 p.m.

Reasons you must visit Italy

1. Tuscany and Venice are far more beautiful in person.

2. The view of Naples with clothes hanging off every balcony is priceless.

3. Italian driving: make up your own rules. Anything goes!

4. There must be more churches per block in Rome than anywhere in the world. (Just count the steeples and crosses)

5. In Tuscany the insects are magnified three times as large as at home

6. Ancient hill towns with spectacular views

7. Children playing soccer in the courtyards

8. Lively, animated Italians

9. To witness the canals of Venice

May 21, 2005 – Final Day in Rome

We took a taxi to the airport. It was an Italian man who drove us, probably in his late twenties, who could speak some English and was very friendly. He asked us both if we’d ever been to L.A. It was kind of a weird question at first. I wondered why L.A.? Then he turned to Ricky. He said, “Oh, the girls there, are they like Baywatch?” Ricky couldn’t understand what he was saying, but I was cracking up. I responded, “No, not exactly like the beaches you see on Baywatch. Some girls look like that, but not all of them.” In his dreams!

The flight home was long. We slept only about 2 hours total, and were fed a lot. At that point, we couldn’t wait to touch down in Chicago. We just felt bad for the several passengers who had to connect to another flight after that! Tia Tere and Abuelita met us at the airport, and we couldn’t have been happier to see their faces!

So, now we are left with one burning question: Where do we go NEXT???