Tuesday, July 4, 2017
Sunday, July 2, 2017
Thursday, June 29, 2017
Our room has a unique quality. When all else is quiet, you can hear the low throated, deep rumble of the subway as it passes in the tunnels a few blocks away. It is not loud, or disturbing, but it is there.
We are off to the Vatican today to attend mass with Pat and Bill. Mass is scheduled for 9:00 am at St. Peter's in the Vatican. We are meeting Bill and Pat at the last column on the right farthest from the church. We caught the metro to Octavian station, then walked to the side of the Vatican. It all appeared to be barricaded, so we hustled around to the front and passed through the first security check. Once inside the perimeter, we seated ourselves in the shade near the first pillar and waited for the Caldwells. 8:10 am turned into 8:37 am and no Bill and Pat. Sally had gone to the reateoom10 minutes ago and had not returned. I began to wander around a little bit, wondering if I had missed them while looking down at the iPad. Suddenly Pat called out from inside the secondary security perimeter. They had come in through the side entrance we thought was closed, found Sally and were waiting for me. I quickly went through the X-ray check and joined them.
We headed up toward the largest church in all of Christendom, St. Peter's Basilica. Once inside, we once again marveled at the sheer size and opulence. I had assumed that Pat and Bill had been here before, but I was wrong. They had been to Europe long ago, when Beth and Ross were babies, but Switzerland was as far south as they had traveled.
We spent a few minutes gazing around, then Sally began the quest to find where mass was being held in this massive space. A few inquiries and we discovered that mass had been postponed until 10:30 am. hmmmm . . . Now we had about an hour a half, but were a long way from the rest of Rome. We decided to skip mass with plans to attend an evening session and walk across the city with the goal of returning to the Vatican by 11:30 am to attend the Pope’s noon audience. To make it back on time, we were contemplating a taxi.
Our first goal was Piazza Navore, with Bernini’s Four Rivers Fountain. We walked the narrow streets, winding our way there. Once in the Piazza, pat listened to the Rock Steves audio tour of the Piazza while Bill and Sally chased down a Coke and a bottle of water. From there we walked over to the Pantheon. We went inside, walked around the circumference, then popped back out on the street, headed for the Emanuel monument and Michelangelo's steps up the back side. Once on top of the steps, we could look down into the Forum area and see the ruins. Since it was Sunday, the main road by the Forum (Via Dei Fori Imperiali) was closed. We walked down to this broad 4 lane road and hung to the right side, looking down into the uncovered ruins of the Forum. We walked the length of the road to the Colosseum. Pat and Bill had not been to any of these areas in the days before, so we enjoyed they Arch of Constantine, the Colosseum and walked up toward Palatine Hill. The crowds and lines were enormous. We did not even consider trying to go inside. The view from the outside was enough.
From the colosseum, we headed for the church “Peter in Chains”. Here two objects were to be found, the actual chains that King Herod used to imprison Saint Peter, and the marble sculpture of Moses done by Michelangelo. Sally and I had seen both 6 weeks ago when in Rome for the first time. We thought Pat and Bill would enjoy seeing them. We worked our way up the hill and into the church. The first thing we noticed was that mass was in progress. Sally asked Pat if she would like to participate. She immediately replied yes. Mass was being held in the area to the right of the main alter by a elderly and kindly priest. Sally and Pat headed that way, Bill and I headed to the right side of the alter where Michelangelo’s Moses sat, then to some chairs next to the pews to wait for Sally and Pat.
After mass, we left the church and headed toward the subway station. I thought we would ride the subway back to our respective places to rest and wait out the hot weather (92º+). Back on the Main Street, we stopped for lunch at a restaurant posting €8 euro lunches. We sat down. The forward and boisterous waiter described a couple of items. Sally repeatedly stated she was sure these offerings were from the €8 menu. He deftly ignored her statements, as if his English was failing him at those moments. All four of us had the same meal (kind of boring!), roast chicken, fried potatoes and a salad. Bill and Pat had been saying all morning they wanted to buy our lunch for touring them around Rome, which we kept refuting. As we finished, Bill and Pat made it to the register first. I arrived with my card to split the bill, but Bill was insistent that he pay. I don’t know what the cost was, but I hope the waiter stuck to the €8 menu. I have a feeling, from his actions, that he did not.
We walked from the restaurant up to our B&B. Bill and Pat stopped in for a half an hour to cool off and chat, then they walked the block and a half to the Barbarini Metro Station and rode back to their place to rest, take care of airline tickets and make arrangements for Pat to stay in Europe with Joel while Bill flew home to work. Sally took a nap, I caught up on the blog.
About 6:00 pm the Caldwells returned and we headed out to dinner. Sally had found another Rick Steves inexpensive suggestion for eating. We had walked past it on our way back from Peter in Chains church and checked it out, now we were returning for dinner. Ross and Crystal were joining us.
Dinner was €10 or €12 each, either pizza, hamburger or lasagna. Between the six of us, we ordered all combinations. Each was happy with their meal. After dinner, we walked back to Via Dei Fori Imperiali and walked back in the direction of St. Peter’s, taking a slightly different course than earlier in the day, heading for Campo di Fiori, a piazza near Trastevere. Just past the Pantheon we decided we had walked enough (it was 10:30 pm). Ross and Crystal headed to their place, us 4 headed back toward our place, passing Trevi Fountain on the way. We parted outside our door. Bill and Pat rode the metro back to their place, we retired to ours.
Living next door to the best people in the world is one thing. Getting to tour Rome and Venice with them is even better. What an amazing and special day!!
Sunday, June 25, 2017
Finally! Today, I get rid of this cursed car! Yes, it carried me to places public transportation does not go. Yes, it allowed me to travel Tuscany back roads I would not have seen. Yes, it ran great and gave me no mechanical problems (other than scraping it against a low rock wall and scratching the paint). But, driving a car is not traveling in another country. It is traveling shielded behind steel and glass, insulated from everyone and everything. The windshield is like a big TV screen, the driver’s seat like a recliner from a living room. I could experience the same thing in my house in Toledo by watching a video taken by someone driving down the roads. Get me out of this car! Put me on foot or a bike where I can feel the temperature of the air, smell the subtle odors on the wind, feel it on my skin. Let me stop and look in any direction at anytime. In the car, my eyes are glued to the road, my hands to the steering wheel, my feet to the pedals. I might as well be chained to this infernal thing. Granted, it whisked me to the “sites”, but the sites are not the experience. The journey is the experience, and chained to this car by hands, eyes and feet I miss the journey. I am ready to be set free.
We were up at 5:30 am this morning, and out the door by 6:50 am, headed for Rome via the coast. The quickest way to the airport and the drop off for our Europcar Rental is inland and down highway A3, but driving the freeway in a foreign country is not a new experience. I might as well be on I-5. We chose to drive the back roads to the west coast, then travel along the Mediterranean, skipping the major highways as much as possible. This route added about half an hour to our trip. Although I could only glance at the territory we traversed, chained to the wheel, Sally got a good view through her TV Screen/Car window of the terrain, vegetation, architecture and cities as we zoomed by.
We rolled into the Leonardo di Vinci airport about 9:45 am, missed the correct turnoff to our rental agency and looped around again, grabbing the correct turnoff on the second pass. Up on the 4th floor we found Europcar and pulled into a parking stall. We emptied the car, then stood to the side while the inspector looked over the car and found my scratches on the passenger door. We signed the correct paper work admitting to the deed. I had called our VISA card company the day before and found what documentation they needed to cover the damage. I went through the list with the rental car agent, a nice young Italian man in his early 30’s, and gathered all the proper documents. With that, I was rid of the beast and back to traveling the way I like best, on my feet.
Instead of taking the train (€13 each) from the airport to Termini station in Rome, we decided to try the bus (€4.50 each). We found the ticket agents, found the bus and were soon seated in comfy seats with nice air conditioning. We had to wait about 15 minutes for the bus to depart. The ride was about 35-40 minutes, much longer than the train as we wove through Rome traffic to Termini station, but I was free to look out the windows or down at my phone for as long as I wanted with my eyes, place my feet anywhere I wanted and hold Sally’s hand-freedom not granted to the driver of a car.
It was about a 20 minute walk through the streets of Rome, dragging Sally’s suitcase, my pack on my back in the 85º noon heat, but it felt good. We arrived on the street of our AirB&B. A woman was talking on the phone. I started to search my phone to find the exact address of our place when the woman ended her call and asked if I was Jeff. I said Jeff was not coming, but I was his dad and we were here to stay in the place. Although her English was a little rough, I think she understood when we explained Jeff was in Mannheim visiting the groom-to-be (Joel) in the hospital recovering from a terrible motorcycle accident.
She showed us our apartment. Wonderful. A large room and 4 tiny rooms connected by a single hall. It had everything we needed. Kitchen, full bath, fridge, a comfy bed and air conditioning. We made ourselves comfortable, too comfortable. We took showers to clean off the sweat, crawled into bed and took a two hour nap.
Pat Caldwell texted us about quarter to five, asking if we wanted to joint them, the Freeman's and Jerry Boileau for dinner. We said sure, when and where. About 5:30 pm Pat texted us again to let us know Kathy Freeman had made reservations at a rather expensive restaurant and would expand the number on the reservation if we wanted to join. Thank you Pat. She provided a elegant path for us to back out of a meal that was beyond our budget. We declined, but agreed to meet them after dinner for a walk.
Jeff had texted us from Germany, giving us an update on Joel. He was doing well, considering. He was approaching two weeks in the hospital. They had removed an intravenous pain killer delivery system the day before, and the pain in his leg and especially his foot was ramping up again. But, his double vision was lessening and he was in good spirits, enjoying having Jeff there. The circulation in the injured foot seemed good, except for his big toe, which was showing signs of restricted blood flow, turning colors and withering. It is expected they will amputate it in the coming days.
We headed to the wine bar we had enjoyed 6 weeks ago when originally in Rome. They offer about 10 different cold salads in a buffet, €3 a plate, plus a glass of wine for €3. We had a wonderfully tasty and filling meal.
Afterwards, we walked down toward the Forum, listened to a accordion playing street musician that was exceptional, then strolled up Via del Corso, looking in the shops before turning off toward Trevi fountain. We were surprised to see that all the merchandise is the windows had changed. All the summer clothing was gone, and the fall fashions were on display with slogans like, “Fall is Blooming”. Seemed a little premature as the first day of summer was 3 days ago.
Near Trevi fountain we found shops that had some of the items we were seeking to bring home to friends. We didn’t buy any. We still have two days at the beach in Anzio, Monday and Tuesday nights. We didn’t want to buy a bunch of stuff, then haul it there and back. Our last night in Italy is Wednesday, and we spend it in Rome. We will buy the stuff Wednesday afternoon. That way we only have to drag it to the airport, throw it on a plane, and pick it up in Vancouver BC on our return trip home.
We got a text from Ross that their meal was done and would we like to meet. We agreed on Trevi fountain, under the Farmacia sign. And appropriate sign for Bill. We continued to look in the shops a bit more, then wandered to the piazza in front of the Trevi Fountain and found Bill, Pat, Ross and Crystal hanging out under the sign.
We strolled to the Spanish steps through the crowd packed streets, at 10:30 pm. At the steps, Ross and Crystal parted company for the river front music scene and then home. We visited with the Caldwells a bit more, then escorted them to the Spanish Steps Metro Station and bid them goodnight. We strolled back to Trevi Fountain, then up to our room a few blocks away where we rested a few minutes before calling it a day and climbing into bed.
This morning was more like a vacation than traveling. We lounged around the place, reading, writing and relaxing. Last night’s late night and the joy of solitude had us feeling lazy. Assisi was two hours away, Orvieto was one hour ten minutes away and both on our to see list. But, we just couldn’t summon the energy to make the 5 hour or 3 hour round trip. Instead, about 1:00 pm, we headed out the door, determined to drive to a couple of hill towns and see the countryside.
Jeff was on his way to see Joel in the hospital in Mannheim, Germany. He was scheduled to arrive about 12:30 pm, but we had not heard from him yet. We got one short message early in the morning, an answer to my question as to the quality of the wifi that was supposed to be available on the bus . . . broken. This accounts for why we have not heard from him.
We began driving up the valley, the same route we have been taking for the wedding, then turned of and head down the valley of the Orcia river. After about 25 minutes, we decided we had gone too far and should have made a turn. We were trying to follow a Rick Steves driving tour backwards, and missed the turn. At our turn around I did not have cell reception, so we retraced our route until we reached a likely intersection. Here I stopped, discovered I had cell service and used Google Maps to discover our route. Now we were on the right path. We stopped at a chic Tuscan Restaurant, then followed a gravel road to carry us to the town of Monticchiello. We were a bit low on gas, the light was coming on. From here, we made the short 10 Km drive to Pienza and found a gas station. We walked through the town, buying a gift or two for friends, then headed back to our place in Bagni San Filippo. It was now about 4:30 pm.
Sally cooked a delicious dinner of green salad with spinach ravioli, then we put on our swim suits and head down over the hill to the hot springs. A few nights ago with Andy, Jeff, Brian, Tabitha and Emily we had found a pool that was warm, but not hot. Since then, we had explored the pools and found some hotter ones. These are the ones we headed for. We found one that was about the same temperature as the hot tub back home, maybe a degree or two hotter. We alternated between it and the pool in the warm river flowing by. Super hot, then cooling. A couple of cycles and we were ready to stagger back up the hill to our home.
We had to be out early in the morning for our drive to Rome, so we spent a few minutes tidying up the place, sorting out our remaining food and packing. We had to drive the two and one half hours to Rome, and be there by 10:30 am to turn in the rental car, but since I had scraped the passengers door against a rock and scratched the paint, we hoped to get there a little early to work out the details with the rental company “Europcar”.
We have heard no news on Joel today, other than he is still in the hospital. His surgery was cancelled yesterday due to lack of circulation in his big toe, which is not good. Jeff says he is doing good, but tired of not seeing well and being in that room. Amen to that.