DAY 1 ROME
On Thursday September 26, 2019 we flew overnight from Chicago O’Hare Airport to Leonardo Da Vinci Airport Rome. Arriving Friday early morning, we next boarded the non-stop Leonardo Express into Roma Termini. Exhausted and energized at the same time, we hiked with our luggage - Rick Steves’ backpacks to check out a few sites on our way to our first hotel – Hotel Museum near the Vatican Museum. Even though the metro would have taken us straight to our hotel and a nap – we were lured by the wonders of Rome. Hopping the metro our first stop was the Santa Scala – The Holy Stairs, that Jesus climbed to face Pontius Pilate. Inside I ascended the steps on my knees – painful, but over the top spiritual. Back to the metro we ventured toward the Baths of Diocletian; however, we encountered a massive student Earth Day rally. Turned back we found the Santa Maria Vittoria Church to see the Bernini masterpiece - The Ecstasy of St. Teresa.
Hiking to the Spanish Steps we descended top to bottom to hop the Metro to our Hotel. As per Rick it was Aperitivo time - Peroni and an Aperol Spritz at an outdoor table.
On the roof top Hotel Terrace late that afternoon, we met up with our tour guide Lisa Friend and our 26 tour mates for the nine days. The only Illinois members – Pete (lived in Seattle 25 years ago) was happy that 14 people were from Washington State. Lisa outlined the tour and gave us our marching orders. She instructed us from use of the money belt to our audio guides and the buddy system.
For that evening’s guided walk, Lisa took us back to the Metro and the Spanish Steps. Even though I yearned to sit down and nap on the steps, I refrained due to the new fines of 250 euros - $280.
Romantics – tourists and writers are drawn to this piazza – from Lord Byron to John Keats, who died in the building to the right of the steps. “Nothing ever becomes real till it is experienced.” – John Keats Tonight Rome was Real.
A perfect night for the passeggiata through Rome. Pizza and Red Wine were the only choice for Friday night dinner. Strolling past the Pantheon onto Piazza Navona and the four Rivers Fountain – (Danube, Ganges, Nile, and the Rio de la Plata – could not remember that one). Dessert could only be Tartufo – the ultimate chocolate gelato at Tre Scalini – a taste not to be missed. Fast approaching 25,000 steps we strolled over the bridge to the Castel San Angelo, into St. Peter’s Square with the magnificent lighted Basilica, and around the corner to collapse at our hotel.
ROME: THE ETERNAL CITY
DAY 2 ROME
After breakfast on the terrace I took an early morning walk into a hidden market. There I found a Wine “Filling Station” where the locals brought their empty plastic jugs to fill with great wine on a budget. Adding prosciutto, cheese, and grapes, I brought back an Italian snack.
Promptly in front of the hotel at 8:35 am with our audio boxes, eyes on our buddies, the group was off for the walking tour of Rome’s Backstreets with our guide Alessandra, a truly chic Roman woman. She educated us on the layered history of the city of Rome - a Lasagna. The ancient ruins on the bottom covered by layers of civilizations. We passed the Largo Argentina – the site of Julius Caesar’s assassination. Ancient Obelisks adorn the city of Rome. Around each corner was another masterpiece. There are no words for the Pantheon – built 2000 years ago this dome inspired all the great domes of the world. Inside your gaze could not resist staring up thru the oculus. Inscribed with the name of Marcus Agrippa, the original builder, today’s dome was the work of Emperor Hadrian. Stepping on the same stone floors as the ancients, I discovered the tombs of Raphael, King Victor Emanuel II, King Umberto, and the tomb of his queen Margherita – the mother of the Pizza: red tomatoes, green basil, and white mozzarella. Time for an espresso and where else but Tazza d’Oro for a Granita di Caffe con Panna – an icy coffee slush topped with whip cream and containing enough caffeine to power a tired tourist.
Into the Church of Sant’Ignazio, we marveled at the Baroque frescoed ceiling that gives you the illusion of rising columns up to the Heavens. The next landmark you could hear it before you saw it – the rushing waters of the sparkling Trevi Fountain! Negotiating the crowds down to the edge, Pete flipped a coin over his shoulder with dreams of our next trip to Rome. Gelato time - best in Vatican City was Gelateria Old Bridge – flavor Profuma di Sicilia: oranges, lemons, almonds, and pistachio.
The afternoon event was the Vatican Museum. Rick’s Tour had our skip the line tickets allowing us right in. Making our way around the galleries of the world’s masterpieces, the jewel at the end was the breathtaking ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. We listened to Rick’s walking tour Audio Guide detailing Michelangelo’s work of genius.
On our own for dinner we checked out Rick’s restaurant recommendations: Ristorante da Fortunato near the Pantheon – As Rick says, “an Italian classic”. This fine restaurant once served Bill Clinton – one of my husband’s heroes. We ate outside within view of the Pantheon dining on Pasta with Truffles.
DAY 3 ANCIENT ROME TO VOLTERRA
After breakfast we checked out of the Hotel Museum and met on the street with our luggage. This is where you could separate the true Rick Steves travelers versus the rest. A student of the Rick Steves travel philosophy, we both carried his full back packs, a small day pack, and the provided money belts. Onto the buses (a Mercedes Benz) – luxury seats, smooth ride, and roomy for our drive from Vatican City to Ancient Rome.
Alessandra met us to escort us through the Forum and Colosseo. A glorious sunny morning, we sat amid the ruins in the shade of olive trees as the story of Ancient Rome unfolded. The massive size of the Colosseum and unbelievable story left us awed. Back on the buses we rode onto the walled hill town of Volterra. The other pleasant surprise was the lunch stop at the Auto grill – a rest stop on the Autostrada with an amazing array of food options, wine, snacks, souvenirs in addition to clean, modern restrooms.