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A Week in Italy -- Part I

Author: RichardNika
Email: Corona70@aol.com (More Trip Reviews by RichardNika)
Date of Trip: April 2006

I'd never been to Italy, even though I've done a lot of traveling in my life. My wife and I were on our way home to south Florida from Turkey and we stopped in Rome on a Sunday. She'd been there a year earlier and was an excellent walking guide. We stayed in a strange "hotel" on the Via National. We had to use one key to open a huge door, walk through a courtyard and use three more keys to finally reach our room. There are bargains in Italy but not for hotels. I did a lot of research and we ended up being lucky to pay 100 Euros ($125) a night for a nice but not fancy room with private bath. That first evening we just walked and walked, saw some ruins, some neat fountains and Trajan's column.

We started out by taking a taxi to the Borghese Galleries. Taxis, by the way, are not expensive in Italy, not even in Rome. The Borghese is an incredible art museum. If you want to see it, you need to order your tickets online, in advance. You have exactly two hours to see it all, then you're kicked out and the next group is admitted. The art is diverse and incredible - paintings, miniatures, sculpture and jewelry. You have to remember to always look up at the ceilings, where some of the best art is found. In every room, the upper wall and ceiling art makes it appear that people, usually cherubs, are holding up the ceiling.

If I had to pick one favorite piece,it would be a large painting of the Last Supper. The Disciples look like a scruffy bunch of poor street people and casual workers, which is probably what they did look like. They were eating, of course, and a dog was crouched on the floor, waiting for scraps. Jesus looked a little less scruffy, but no less real.

We left when our time was up and walked endlessly through the Borghese Gardens park. It was a beautiful day, and Romans were out with their kids. Everyone was out walking, biking, pedaling little vehicles and buying snacks, soda and beer. We finally reached an overlook, from where we could see the whole Roman city panorama. Then we backtracked and ended up in a desolate area, but were relieved to find a Metro tunnel. Down in the tunnel, we found a supermarket, where we got food and cold drinks for a fraction of what the park kiosks charged.

We walked and walked. The Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain were jammed with young folks enjoying their Sunday. Most impressive, perhaps, was the Pantheon, the only structure surviving totally intact from ancient Roman times. Carefully constructed to avoid collapse, its ceiling's round hole or "oculus" had a mystic quality to it, and as I looked up at it for the final time, a crescent moon was framed in it...on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

Monday morning, I saw my wife off at the main railroad station, returned to the hotel for breakfast, and then left my luggage behind and headed for the Vatican. I'd been warned about pickpockets on the bus there, but my money belt was secure on my tummy, inside my undershirt. Don't go to Italy, or anywhere for that matter, without one!

The line for the Musei Vaticani is long, and when I finally got inside, I walked what seemed like miles of incredible arty-lined corridors before reaching the Sistine Chapel. The art was extraordinary, endless exquisite statues of all sizes, some amazingly realistic, paintings, tapestries, Etruscan pottery. Wear walking shoes! I finally made it into the Sistine Chapel, where the famed Adam and God scene is just one of dozens on the ceiling. The area was jammed, with benches along the side. I stood by the benches, waiting for someone to give up a seat, then just sat and looked. The signs prohibiting flash photography and loud talking were completely ignored, despite occasional outcries from guards.

I made my way back to the train station and my late afternoon train to Venice, about a 5 hour ride. I had a one week Italian rail pass, and a young snotty female conductor threatened to fine me 50 Euros for not having entered the starting date in my own hand, which no one had told me to do. The train was the only one on my trip with American-style seating. It was also the most comfortable. We crossed a causeway right into Venice. I walked down the station steps and faced the Grand Canal and a large station for vaporettos - public water buses. I found my hotel, checked into a comfortable and reasonable (E65) room and then walked around a bit and patronized the internet cafe, then turned in.

I had the next day, up through mid-evening to explore Venice, and set out with gusto. I had never seen so many tourists in one place. The vaporetto took me to St. Marks Plaza, which was jammed with people and, strangely, an enormous 40-50 foot high blown up photo of the Empire State Building. I went through the cathedral, then toured the Doges Palace, which is a three hour project. A great deal of Renaissance art and furnishings are left there, but the "bridge of sighs" where prisoners were herded, and the dismal dark cells are also not to be missed.

There were some excellent museums I could have visited, but my time was limited and it was already early afternoon and, as one guidebook says, the main attraction of Venice is Venice itself. I took two more trips on the vaporetto and went for long walks, getting into neighborhoods where people actually lived in ancient 3, 4 and 5 story apartments. I walked all three bridges, and enjoyed seeing not just the tourist-filled gondolas - and I did not hear a single gondolier singing! - but also the working boats, including a garbage boat equipped with a crane, collecting residential trash. I would have liked to have seen the brown UPS boat making its deliveries, but missed that. I saw a plaintive poster for a missing cat named Ginger - I hope she turned up.

Continue reading A Week in Italy: Part II.

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