The first shops we came across were very high end and provided great window shopping for the girls. They close off traffic to this road in the evening as it very popular with tourists and locals. We located a great restaurant 2 blocks off the main road. Dinner was traditional Italian Cuisine with a 1 liter carafe of wine costing 8 euro. We crossed over the main road to see the two historical sights along the walk. The Arch of Piece and Augustus' Tomb are right next to each, but were closed as it was later in the evening. We crossed over the road again to pass the Spanish Steps and then back to the main road. The walk terminates at the quite large Victorio Emanuel Monument.
We had to get up a little early the next morning as we had reservations. Beth, my dad, and I had booked a tour with a group for Vatican City. Julie, with a little persuasion from our walk the night before decided she wanted to do some shopping. We were picked up by a bus, then transferred to another, and headed towards Vatican City. Our tour guide provided a tour on the way pointing various sites. One in particular is the American Embassy. It is a beautiful compound which belonged to a queen and then inhabited by the US after WWII. It is the largest US Embassy in the world.
For those you that don't know, The Vatican is actually a country, the smallest country in the world. We arrived to find possibly the largest tourist attraction we encountered in Italy. There were people everywhere. The tour consisted of 3 parts with our guide.
The Vatican Museum - This museum contains 3 separate halls. The first hall was filled with various busts and statues. It was not air conditioned and our guide hustled us through here and into the 2nd hall which was thankfully air conditioned. This hall contained tapestries/quilts. Most of them were 15 feet x 10 feet intricately depicting various religious and historical events. They take anywhere from 10 to 15 years to complete. The final hallway is the map room. Each distinct region of Italy was broken down in a map. Most every town, including small hill towns can be found on these maps.
Sistine Chapel - From the Museum we entered the Sistine Chapel. Guides are not a lot talk to groups in the Chapel, so we provided information in a courtyard where replicas of the frescoes are displayed outside. We had 15 minutes to gaze upward and at the surrounding walls. I was surprised at how many people were inside the chapel, please see three paragraphs below for my feelings on this.
St. Peter's Basilica - After leaving the Sistine Chapel, you walk down a set of stairs, past the Pope's Apartment and down into the basilica. It is the largest church in the world and quite amazing inside. Our tour started with Michaelangelo's Pieta Sculpture. One of the many pieces he did for this compounded. His work in the Sistine Chapel has a fabulous story. We were shown various important parts of the basilica. There are plaques on the floors marking how big other churches compared to St. Peters. For instance, St. Patricks in New York would fit twice end to end in St. Peters.
The tour ended in The Vatican Courtyard. It is a large courtyard complete with big screen jumbotrons. They are used for special ceremonies and major holidays. Our guide told us a great story of when she lead a group to the courtyard for the election of the new pope a couple years ago. Hard to imagine nearly 100,000 people in this courtyard. We then had time to wander through the gift shops and then back on to the bus.
Time for my rant - I absolutely enjoyed my time at the Vatican. However, I would have to classify the experience as bittersweet. Granted, I am a tourist, but there were just so many of them there. There are very explicit rules when going to The Vatican. There is no flash photography allowed there. You must be silent and take no pictures in The Sistine Chapel. It was disappointing to see how many people show such a sacred place, such disrespect and not follow the rules. They are were so focused on taking pictures that they weren't able to enjoy the space let alone impact the experience of other visitors. For those of you wondering, we did not even bring our cameras. Looking at the ceiling of The Sistine Chapel was a mix of an amazing work of art with the constant flicker of flashes and people talking very loudly. I felt some sadness that people felt they were better than the rules. When one is a tourist, you must respect the places your are visiting.
Off Soapbox, sorry, but it had to put that in.
After our tour, we returned to our hotel to change. Vatican City has specific clothing requirements to enter St. Peters, but such clothing would overheat you quickly walking around Rome. Now, the only non-Italian meal we ate the entire was lunch on our last day in Rome. Walking past the Hard Rock, we were lured in by hamburgers and fries. It was a nice change as well as the fact they played excellent music while we dined. We spent the afternoon walking through Rome and visiting some of the shops we had seen the night before. We finished the afternoon with cold beers in a bar overlooking one of the busier piazzas.
That night, we did an abbreviated version of another walk Rick Steves had in his book. We started at Piazza Navona. It is one of the busiest piazzas in Rome. Filled with locals and tourists a like. There were street performers and local artists displaying there work. The piazza is line with great restaurants. We chose the one that provided complimentary drinks. After dinner, we watched a full street show of a performer and then head to the Colosseum. Julie and My dad had to see what it looked like all lit up at night. We headed north walking past the forum.
We walked past the Pantheon which had the front all lit up. The square around it was bustling with people. We were lured into an Italian Version of Baskin Robbins. This gelato shop had more flavors then any other shop we had seen during our time in Italy. With gelato in hand, we wandered through the streets towards the next spot. There are no roads leading towards Trevi Fountain. You walk around a corner and there it is. It was quite beautiful all lit up. We took pictures and tossed a coin over our left shoulder for good luck (a local tradition). We walked back to our hotel and called it a night. Rome after dark is perhaps one of my favorite parts about the trip.
The following morning, we packed our bags and had our last breakfast in Italy. We made our way to the airport and made sure to be early. Little did we know our plane would be late. It wasn't too bad though, we made it to Frankfurt. Our hotel was on the airport property, no cabs or trains, it was kind of nice. Although, we decided to venture into Frankfurt for dinner.
Now after coming from Italy where the train kiosks are very easy to use, I thought Frankfurt may be the same. Boy was I wrong, there system was so difficult to figure out. It took us 20 minutes just to get tickets to go 5 stops. We even had to change trains at the 3rd stop. Luckily, a local pointed us in the right direction. We got off at the correct stop and emerged from the station. Frankfurt is beautiful, very modern looking. It was quiet with little traffic in the downtown area. We walked the streets and found a place to eat. We returned to our hotel with ease, although it was a little difficult buying tickets again. We ended up in the hotel bar for one last drink, just to squeeze the last minute out of our vacation.
I woke up early to use the awesome gym our hotel had. Part of my plan was to get up early in the morning, so that I would be tired and sleep on the plane. We headed to the airport and got in line to check our bags. We were treated to a guy who left his bags unattended. Luckily, a ticket agent talked with him about 3o seconds before the police showed up. They were literally seconds from shutting down the entire terminal. Which brings me to another quick rant. I am absolutely amazed at how many people do not understand, you cannot take bottles of water or any other drink for that matter through the security check. Further, pleading with the security guards does not work either.
We got on our plane only to find out the flight would be 10 hours instead of 9 and the movies hadn't changed since our flight over. Oh and I didn't even sleep a wink. I was in the middle row aisle and the person two seats next to me wanted to sleep with the window shade open, so the sun was right in my eyes. Oh well, we made it home safe.
With over 1000 pictures to go through, we begin to reflect on what an amazing trip we had. Anthony Bourdain, writes, the more I travel, the more I begin to appreciate my own country. I couldn't agree more as I see this to be true.
Thanks to all who followed along on this journey. I will send out links soon to view our pictures and check back here every now and then as I may post some more thoughts about trip.