Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Rome - Day 3

Day started with a walk to the Pantheon. This was probably one of my favorite areas to walk through as it reminded me of Old San Juan. There are a lot of little stores in the vicinity which were fun to explore.

The Pantheon was bustling with people walking in and out. As mentioned in a prior post, the police and military with their guns were parked near the entrance making sure we were all safe and behaved appropriately. A visit to this area wouldn't be complete without a cappuccino from the nearby La Casa del Cafe. It kept me alert through the afternoon.
In the afternoon we visited the Vatican Museum. One can get lost in the many rooms and corridors in this institution. The highlights of the museum is the Sistine Chapel in which photography is not allowed. It is hard to stop those pesky camera phones from snapping away but they still try hard just like they try to keep people quiet.

When we left the museum, we made one last stop at St. Peter's Square. In the afternoon the place was full of visitors and there was a huge line of people waiting to enter St. Peter's Basilica. By nightfall, the place was empty and access to the basilica was a breeze. The only down side of the night visit was that our feet hurt from walking all day...
Lessons from the day:

  • It is a long walk from St. Peter's Square to the entrance of the Vatican Museum! Plan your time accordingly.
  • avoid the lines at St Peter's Basilica and visit late in the day

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Rome - Day 2 - Rome in the Rain

Trajan's Forum
We spent the second day (more like half the second day as getting out of be was not easy) sightseeing. Lucky for us, the tram line that ran through our street ended a short walk from the Coliseum. The guidebooks have a lot of warnings about pickpockets in public transportation and after riding the tram on a weekday I can understand why. Sardines in a can have more breathing room. Our family did not have any issues pickpockets but the books do make you a little paranoid.

The best way to describe traffic in Rome is organize chaos. During our flight into Rome, one of the "Romans" on board was telling another passenger that they should not drive in Rome as Rome has its own undocumented rules. I'm not sure that they actually have any rules. I did not encounter a lot of traffic lights which made crossing the streets was an interesting experience, more so at roundabouts. In one of the crossings we watched a policeman step into the street without even looking at the oncoming traffic and magically all traffic stopped as he moved through the congested area. Our family just ran behind him...
The week before our arrival in Rome was the tragic terrorist attack in France followed by the bomb threat for the Vatican and tourist locations in Rome. Needless to say, security was high. Police and military personnel were found near all tourist and major public transit locations with their guns in hand. While photographing the image above, the same police car drove past me about 6 times slowing down as they got close and watching carefully was I was doing.
Temple of Mars
All the area around the Coliseum is filled with wonderful ruins and historic sites. You can easily spend two days exploring and taking in these sites. Its amazing how much has survived for so many centuries.
Trajan's Forum
It rained all day and there is little refuge in ruins so at the end of the day we were a little soggy.

Lessons from the second day:
  • Be kind to your feet and wear comfortable shoes
  • It requires a leap of faith to cross the congested streets in Rome
  • You get to know your fellow commuters in the public transportation,
  • There is no such thing as too many gelato stores. There are gelato stores next to each other across the street from more stores.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Rome - Day 1

It took a long time but we finally crossed the pond. After 18 hours of travel (in part thanks to the first snow storm of the season) and countless in-flight croissants, we arrived in Rome (Italy, not Wisconsin). Although we were concerned that our luggage was going to get lost, it did manage to arrive on our same flight. After leaving Chicago on a cold morning, it was great exiting the plane on a warm sunny morning.

It doesn't matter how much airlines advertise leg room, there is never enough, less so if the person in front of you decides to fully recline the seat (good luck trying to get out to go to the bathroom). Needless to say our legs were a little stiff and some walking was desperately needed. Thinking back to that what we did that first afternoon is kind of a blur, perhaps because of the jet lag but we eventually made it to a restaurant in Trastevere. There are a lot of restaurants along the cobblestone streets of this area so finding a place to eat is relatively easy. Menus are posted outside and as soon as you stop to browse through it, the staff will try to engage you so that you sit at their establishment.
Trastevere street scene
After a great dinner, we just wondered around the lively streets and eventually made it to the Tiber River. There is a nice wide riverwalk on both sides of the river that seems like a great place to ride a bike. On the James Bond movie Spectre, a car chase ensues along this riverwalk concluding with the with car falling into the river (see a few seconds in this video).
Ponte Sisto and the Tiber River
Standing in Ponte Sisto we could see in the distance the dome of St. Peter's Basilica. Since the night was comfortable, we kept walking along the river. Castle of the Holy Angel came into view after the river bend.
Castel Sant' Angelo
Castle of the Holy Angel and Ponte Vittorio Emanuele II

From the Castle it was a short walk to the Vatican. I've seen pictures of the St. Peter's Square crowded with thousand of people so it was striking finding the whole place empty at night. The only people we saw along the area were homeless who take shelter on the buildings near the square. It is rumored that the Pope has ventured quietly out at night to take care of those in need around the area.
St. Peter's Square as seen from Via della Conciliazione
It was close to midnight when we headed back to the apartment for a much needed rest...

Lessons from the first day:
  1. if you wait for the bill at a restaurant, you will never leave.
  2. not ordering wine during dinner (and maybe lunch) is not kosher and asking for water does have a high price, probably as high as a glass of wine.
  3. walking at night along the Tiber River river requires an umbrella. Those things that look like swarms of bats flying around are birds and they seem to target practice on anyone (or anything) moving (or standing) along the banks of the river. I wouldn't want to be the guy that has to clean this car: