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Long overdue Trip Report...Venice/Florence/Rome with glorious weather!

Long overdue Trip Report...Venice/Florence/Rome with glorious weather!

Old Sep 27th, 2011, 09:29 PM
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Long overdue Trip Report...Venice/Florence/Rome with glorious weather!

Hi all. First, let me say, I cannot believe how long overdue this is. Unfortunately, I had a lot going on this summer (none of it good), so this is very late. This was my 3rd trip to Italy in the last four years.

Trip Report-10 days in Venice, Florence and Rome
This will be somewhat of a different trip report for me. Mostly because I was ill for most of our stay in Venice, and for a day and a half in Rome. I just want to hit on some highlights. This trip was different also for me, as I left DD#1 home and instead, took my cousin (K).

K is 10 years younger than I; her father and my mother were twins. We did not spend a lot of time together growing up because of our age difference and then geographic distance. K and I reconnected on Facebook about a year ago and I just thought it would be great to do this trip together. She’d never been off the continent and jumped at the chance to go with me. Unfortunately, due to her kids’ school schedules, etc., we were forced to limit our trip to 10 days. Since it went so well, I’m hoping the next one will be 15 days! I think she’s game! Since our grandfather and great-grandparents were born in Croatia, I am already planning an Italy/Croatia trip. Probably next fall. But it’s in the works!

Day 1 Venice
We were to have 3 full days here, due to arrive on a Saturday morning at 8:30am. Alas, our plane had issues and we arrived instead at 12:30pm; thus, losing half a day. Additionally, I’d been ill with a bad sinus infection for several days, and it was not better now. Actually, worse.

So, we dropped the luggage at the apartment in Cannaregio and then off to just walk the Strada Nova. K had her first gelato! Of course, she loved it. Then we headed back to nap.

We were due to meet some fellow Fodorites for dinner, but I still wasn’t feeling all that well. However, after checking email quickly and discovering that one of the other three Fodorites was too ill to attend, I decided to chance it.

So, off K and I went to La Zucca to meet Holly_Uncasdewar and Ellenem. So glad I went. Felt much better after the walk and the food. The company was delightful, the food- delicious. Had a wonderful time. I love meeting fellow Fodorites!

Home to much-needed sleep.

Day 2 Venice
This turned out to be the best day we had in Venice. I was feeling better (not perfect, but better) on Sunday morning. We got up and went shopping for a couple of groceries. Then headed off to San Marco.

K’s first look at the square was fun to watch. A dream come true for her, so delightful for me. We walked through the square, taking plenty of pictures on this bright, sunny day. We headed for the line into St. Mark’s. Alas, the basilica was closed due to a local holiday (more on this later). However, the rooftop terrace was open for viewing. So, K trudged up the stairs and spent some time getting some great shots of the square and Venice.

The sky grew a bit overcast. But not too cold and not rainy…which was a good thing. We wandered around some of the great shops to the south of the Square and found my favorite little enoteca where my daughter and I lunched last year. It was very crowded, but K had become my lucky charm, and sure enough, as soon as we received our food, two of the three bar seats opened up. Lunch was yummy. I had a delicious antipasto salad and K had a tomato and mozzarella sandwich.

K had always dreamed of a gondola ride, and so, after a little more wandering, we decided this was an opportune time to take one. It was now around 1pm.

We negotiated a price and hopped into the gondola, guided gracefully by a fabulous gondolier named Alessandro. We glided under the Bridge of Sighs and were on our way to a great one-hour tour of the back canals of the Cannaregio and Castello. Past Marco Polo’s home and down to San Giovanni e San Paulo. The bright colors of the stucco, the intricate ironwork on doors and windows, the interesting faces on building facades… this is what Venice is all about.

Our gondolier was not only very knowledgeable about the buildings along the canal, but he was also unbelievably skilled when turning corners, facing multiple gondolas coming the other direction. We were impressed.

Upon our return to the pier, our first of many little pleasant surprises on this trip: We heard music in the Square. Not big band music, more like marching band music.

K and I ran over to see a procession of sorts. Of course, we didn’t know what it was about, but there were men carrying large banners, and a group of 40 or so men dressed as what appeared to be 17th-century soldiers! And they were parading through St. Mark’s Square. Unfortunately, we realized we were at the tail-end of it.

K is a photo bug and she knew I was not up for running. She looked over at me and didn’t need to say a word. I said, “GO. I’ll find you!” And she took off to try to head off the procession for some better shots.

We met up a couple of minutes later to the east of the Basilica. There, the procession had stopped and the soldiers stood at attention. Some kind of ceremony was taking place; the “commander” shouting something and the soldiers chanting a reply. No idea what they were saying, but it was kind of exciting, nonetheless.

We tried, in vain, to figure out what was going on, but we couldn’t determine what the locals were saying. The police had cordoned off the area so that tourists and spectators could not pass through the ceremony area.

Finally, it appeared as if they were about to depart and K and I maneuvered ourselves up to the projected path of departure. Sure enough, process out they did and K snapped still photos while I ran my camera in video mode.

We noticed that several people who had followed the procession were carrying the same flag. It was yellow and red and consisted of a large main flag with a lion on it (symbol of Venice) and several smaller similar flags attached to the right of the main flag.

As we are moving back through the Square, K sees someone taking down a huge version of this flag that had been attached to some construction scaffolding. She stops to take a picture.

The gentleman removing the flag turns to see her and says something to her. A bystander tells K that the gentleman is telling her he is “the President”. K plays along and bows to him, saying, “Nice to meet you Mr. President”.

The gentleman becomes very animated and starts to speak rapidly (in Italian, of course). The “interpreter” (bystander) then helps the first gentleman get his point across. He is indeed “a” President… the President of the organization that just held the procession. They are an organization dedicated to “freeing” the Veneto from Italian government rule!!! And the more he talked to us (learning we were Americans), the more excited he got. He tells us that the articles of independence they have drawn up are based upon the US Constitution! That is why he is so excited to meet us.

He asked where we were from. K and I answer at the same time, “Chicago”. He nods and says, “Oh, lots snow. Lots snow.” K and I laugh and nod. He then asks (while making gestures of planting poles in snow) if we ski. K and I say, “No, we shovel!” And both of us start making the hand motions of shoveling snow. And we all break out into hysterical laughter, including the “interpreter”.

We left with copies of documents and the website to sign the petition for independence. And having made a couple of new friends.

I was ready to head back to the apartment for a nap, but K stated she would like to look at a little Venetian glass, if I was up to it. I said that would be fine, but not too long.

We happened into a shop right off the square that I distinctly remember visiting on my first trip back in 2007. On that first trip, I’d found I piece I loved, but did not purchase it right away. And time ran out on us; I could not get back to St. Mark’s before our train left. But, my daughter had seen some similar pieces very close to our B&B, so we quickly walked down there (by Rialto). And as serendipity would have it, found the same piece for considerably less in a little shop there! Bonus!

Well, I had not intended on adding to my 3-piece Venetian glass collection on this trip. But I could not pass up this gorgeous orange vase. It was reasonably priced and I walked out with it- no hesitation this time! And it does, indeed, fit in perfectly with my current collection. It is the highlight. Love it!

By this time, it was late afternoon and I was really starting to get weary. So, we headed back to our cozy little apartment (Ca’ Bianca, in Cannaregio), stopping at a pizza “kebob” to pick up some dinner. It wasn’t half bad. We skyped our families, set our schedule for the next day, showered and hit the hay.
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Old Sep 27th, 2011, 09:42 PM
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Day 3 Venice

I was pretty shaky upon arising. Somewhat off-kilter. Didn’t think I could eat. K very much wanted to head to Murano today. I was o.k. with that. We headed off on the vaporetto to the Piazzale Roma to catch a connection to Murano. That short ride did nothing for my comfort level.

We picked up a couple of apricot-filled croissants and water at a dockside bar. By the time we boarded the boat to Murano, the only available space was indoors. I actually thought that that would be better, as it was a little drizzly and cool this day.

Unfortunately, we weren’t on the boat for very long when I was forced to grab K by the arm and tell her we had to get off at the next stop. I was totally dizzy and nauseated at this point.

Timing is everything and thank heavens, we were not out in the middle of the canals. We were able to get off at San Marco. I had to sit down and try to overcome the nausea. Feeling as ill as I was, I was not looking forward to getting back on the vaporetto, nor walking as far as we’d need to (25 mts) to get back to our apartment.

So, I sat on a bench outside the Doge’s Palace and K went to the top of St. Mark’s campanile. By the time she got down, I was feeling a tad better and felt the vaporetto option was better. We’d be back to our apt in 10-15 minutes.

It was now drizzling a little more. I needed to lay down. K was reluctant to leave me alone, but I convinced her that just because I was ill was no reason for her to miss out on this wonderful city. So, she headed off for a couple of hours, with map and courage in hand.

She showed up about 2 hours later, with Dramamine, to boot! She had been bold enough to head into a pharmacy and, though neither spoke the others’ language, she was able to indicate to the pharmacist what was needed. Awesome!

Additionally, she had stopped at our little local grocery and purchased me some soup and herself a little something for dinner! What a great cousin I have!!! So thoughtful!!!
The soup tasted great and we again got to bed early.

I was so depressed at this point in the trip, because it felt like I was losing valuable time. And this wasn’t the experience I wanted my cousin to have on her first trip to Italy!

We were heading to Florence the following day and wanted to get up early so that we could take in the Rialto Market before we had to catch the train.

Day 4 Venice/Florence

The day broke gloriously bright and warm! And, thank heavens, I seemed to be over the hump, healthwise. We got dressed and finished our packing. We left our luggage and headed out the door around 8am. On to the Rialto Market.

It was just as fabulous as I had remembered from my 2007 trip. Seafood of every kind; vegetables I’d never seen before; flowers and herbs and incredible sights at every turn! K was thrilled that we’d come and had a great time working her camera through the numerous tables and vendors.

This was such a great finish to our Venetian adventures. We caught the 9:30 train to Florence.

We napped on the train and arrived on time at around 11:30 to the Santa Maria Novella train station in Florence. We grabbed a cab for our short ride to the Hotel Casci on Via Cavour.

This was my third stay there and I wouldn’t have changed a thing! I love this hotel and its family atmosphere. I always feel “at home” here. I love the helpful staff, clean rooms, excellent location and personal service. Fortunately for us, my favorite Italian god was already on duty.

Pierpaulo cannot be missed. As gorgeous as the day is long, standing 6’6” and speaking perfect English with a sweet bit of Italian accent. (Excuse me while I go fan myself. Haha)

Even though we were here long before “check in”, our rooms were actually ready, which was awesome. I had booked K and I single rooms here. For the great price, it was a nice break and I thought K might like to have some privacy somewhere on this trip.

The rooms were both small, but perfect for us. Clean and bright. New bathrooms. Plenty of hot water.

We quickly freshened up and headed for the door, stopping at the front desk to ask the staff to please make our museum reservations for the next day.

We were informed that if we had time to do the museums that evening, it was “Museum Night” in Florence. This meant that many of the city’s museums were open to the public, free of charge, from 7-11pm!!! And it included both the Galleria dell’ Accademia and the Uffizi. BONUS! You can bet we were going to take advantage of that! (Turns out, the last Tuesday of every month is “Museum Night” in Florence. Make note for trip-planning!)

We headed out down the street and past the stunning Duomo and its Baptistry. Wow, was it a beautiful day! (Mostly because I was feeling much better!)

We headed down toward San Lorenzo and found a café with street seating. Had a nice, relaxing lunch (save for the smokers next to us who, surprisingly, after a short time noticed that their smoke was bothering us and moved to a table further down the street!) It was a gloriously sunny day.

We decided that shopping was our priority this afternoon. I was happy to find the same lady at the same spot near the Central Market where I have purchased scarves in the past. (I like to give my business to women wherever I can.)

K and I purchased several scarves and were rewarded with a good discount. I could have purchased 50 and I wouldn’t have had enough!

On to the leather! K was looking for a “backpack” type purse for her DD. I wasn’t looking for anything. (You know how that goes!) K ended up with a purse for herself and a wallet for her DH. I purchased a gorgeous leather jacket for K’s DD, because she was the one who agreed to watch the other kids on her spring break from college while Mom traipsed off to Italy. K was thrilled with it and thought DD would be, also. (Turned out it was a perfect fit and K’s DD was totally, totally thrilled.)

Oh, I also bought an incredible red leather purse. Love it. (See what “planning” does???) Every time my M-I-L sees me, she says she wants that purse. And today, on my way into the grocery store, a young woman stopped me and asked me where I got that purse. Poor girl. Don’t think a trip to Italy was on her agenda.

Time kind of flew by for us and we decided a nap was in order before we headed out to dinner and the museums.

Upon awaking, we decided to walk to the restaurant recommended by our hotel. Unfortunately, I didn’t write the name down. But that is ok, as I didn’t find the food all that terrific. It was just ok in my book, though I believe K liked her meal very much. I’m sure it had carciofe, as K was totally into artichokes on this trip. (And who could blame her!)

We didn’t linger, as we wanted to get to the Accademia, fearing long lines. What a surprise and delight to find the place practically empty!!! Along with only one other patron, K and I were alone with the David! It was marvelous. The gift shop proprietor informed us that he thought “Museum Night” was not very well advertised. Duh!

Since it was free and we knew the lines would be short, we headed from their over to the Uffizi. We just made it in the door at 10:00PM and the doors were closed behind us. Although the museum was open for another hour, we were the last ones to be let in. And, as at the Accademia, we were two of perhaps a dozen people in the entire museum!

We were only in the Botticelli room for about 20 minutes when the alarm started to sound, indicating that we needed to start heading for the exit.

I was not surprised (and felt somewhat exonerated) to find that my cousin felt the same way I do about the Uffizi: Botticelli’s-great… Dark, religious, renaissance art-not so much!

It was a lovely evening and we were delighted to find the streets still pretty well populated. There was a solo artist (guitar only) singing some beautiful songs down in Piazza Signoria. I dropped a 5E bill into his guitar case as we passed about 100 people still in the square listening to the “concert”.

Sleep came easy that night.
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Old Sep 27th, 2011, 09:49 PM
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Day 5 – Florence

We awoke to another warm, sunny day in Florence. Had a wonderful breakfast at the hotel. Who knew how much I’d love soft-boiled eggs? Great spread for breakfast here. Fruits, cereal, pastries, eggs, toast, yogurt, coffee (espresso and cappuccino included!), tea. Very good breakfast.

We dropped our dirty laundry at the front desk and off we went.

We headed off to San Lorenzo and the Medici Chapel. I really like this church and I love the “Old Sacristy” designed by Brunelleschi with its beautiful celestial ceiling by Donatello. I also love the bronze pulpits designed by Donatello. The detail is wonderful.

Following directions from the staff, we then found our way around the other side of the church and the entrance to the Medici Chapels. Upon visiting the “Chapel of the Princes”, where the most-well known and most powerful Medicis are entombed, we are sad to see much of it covered in scaffolding.

Alas, as the chapel ages, marble has started falling from the ceilings and sides of the chapel. The scaffolding is to prevent visitors from harm until this situation can be remedied.

From here, we visit the mausoleum where Michelangelo has designed four lovely funerary monuments for the Medici family members entombed here. Dawn, Dusk, Night and Day. They are each fascinating in their own right. And it is a little surreal standing in this small space with four Michelangelo works. Very cool.

From here, we headed over to Santa Croce. Gosh, I love this church. I was so happy to see that the scaffolding that surrounded Michelangelo’s tomb on my last visit was now gone.

We took a number of photos and I lingered a little longer at Galileo’s tomb, as I was nearing the end of a fabulous book about he and his daughter. The book is based on 127 letters found in Galileo’s possession when he passed; all from his oldest daughter. If you have not read “Galileo’s Daughter”, and you have any interest in that era, do pick it up. I loved it.

We grabbed a quick lunch somewhere non-descript and then headed for the Duomo. While K took on the 463 steps to the top of the Duomo, I hit an ATM machine, bought our tickets for the Baptistry and then settled on the Duomo steps with a double-scoop of cherry gelato. Mmmmm.

The Baptistry rocked. So glad we got it in on this trip. The ceiling is stunning. We were happy that there was a fair amount of room on the pews for us to sit and lean back to try to catch the full effect. I think our pictures turned out pretty well, too. The brochure that was supplied inside was also very helpful in deciphering the scenes on the doors. We spent about a half hour in here. And then another 20 minutes studying the doors. Lovely. Simply lovely!

It was nap time. Back to the hotel (a 2-minute walk). We awoke in time to take a taxi up to Piazza Michelangelo for the sunset. (And just before we departed for the evening, our laundry arrived back in our rooms, clean and freshly packaged! Love that!)

I have to report that learning a little more Italian served me well this afternoon. While waiting along the railing on the north side of the Piazza Michelangelo, we spied 5 or 6 Italian teenaged boys. They were loud and obnoxious, as a good number of teen boys are. But then they started spitting over the side of the railing. The competition heated up and the hocking became legendary (at least in their own minds).

I suddenly remembered one of the words I had learned. As I leaned behind my cousin, I yelled quite loudly (and in my best “Mom” voice)…”BASTA!!! BASTA!” You could have heard a pin drop! Hahaha.

They all sheepishly looked around, muttered something to each other under their breaths…and quickly took off for parts unknown! (They don’t call me “Sarge” for nothin’!) hahaha

There were now some evening clouds in the western sky and, while the sunset was quite lovely, we missed the full effect a cloudless sky would have produced.

We were going to walk down to the Ponte Vecchio, but we had lingered a little long and it was going to be dark very quickly. Since we did not know the exact way, nor the area (and I needed a restroom), we picked up a cab at the edge of the piazza. We had the driver drop us off at the bridge and we watched the gold shopkeepers closing up for the night.

It was fascinating to see some of the wooden doors that are yanked and pulled from different cubby holes, as they cover up their windows. K got some wonderful shots of the Arno from the middle of the bridge, just after the sun set.

We walked on and eventually headed for Trattoria Za Za for dinner. We had an outdoor table and were thankful for the heaters, as it had gotten rather cool. Dinner was just ok this night and service poor. But we had full bellies and strode our weary bodies back to Hotel Casci for a good nights’ sleep.
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Old Sep 28th, 2011, 05:31 AM
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Lovely report. Sounds like you had a great time. Can I ask what time of year your trip was? Glad you felt better after a couple days. Being sick on vacation is awful.

More please!

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Old Sep 28th, 2011, 05:41 AM
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I enjoyed this a lot. Are any of K's photos online?


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Old Sep 28th, 2011, 07:50 AM
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Nice, Sarge, thanks.

Have been wondering about you for quite a while. Expected to read that you had moved to Italy! Hope all is well.
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Old Sep 28th, 2011, 09:04 AM
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Looking forward to more!
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Old Sep 28th, 2011, 06:06 PM
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Nice to hear how the rest of your trip went. I, too, have happy memories of our Fodorite dinner at La Zucca. Waiting for the next episode.
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Old Sep 28th, 2011, 07:05 PM
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Thanks all. cpelk- we were there March 25-April 4th or so. Keith- picture link will be on final installment, below. ellenem- It really was a great pleasure getting to meet you and your lovely friend. Hopefully, we will meet up again.. in Venice.

Day 6 Florence/Rome

Another fabulously sunny and warm day in Italy. We finished our packing and had a good breakfast before heading out to Santa Maria Novella to catch our train to Rome. There were no problems and the trip was uneventful. Well, mostly.

We did end up playing “seat roulette” with a woman and her two young children. With our broken language working pretty well, we figured out that she had been given two tickets in our car (across from each other), and one ticket to a car 6 cars from ours! We did some shuffling and determined that if someone boarded along our route who insisted on taking their (one of the kids’) seats, K or I would take the seat in the other car so that mom and kids could stay together. Fortunately, nobody ever did come to claim the seat.

We arrived Rome Termini and piled into a taxi to head to our Rome apartment. As feared by our rental agent, the driver insists we are at the right place and drops us a block away. Good thing it was just a block. We did not have a lot of luggage and found a good Samaritan to guide us. (Or should I say she found us?) The landlord was awaiting our arrival and saw us out the window.

I rented an apartment through VRBO. Never stayed at this one before, and not sure I’d book again. The landlord was delightful, but I felt the pictures on the website did not truly reflect the apartment. It was stated to be a 2-bedroom when, in fact, it was one very large bedroom and a living room with a queen fold-out bed. A very thin-mattressed fold-out queen bed.

I gave my cousin the bedroom and I took the living room. After two days of suffering on the fold-out, we came to realize that the second “bed” in the bedroom was an identical fold-out. We just took that mattress off and added it to mine and I was fine thereafter.

The size of the apartment was fine, but I didn’t feel like the linens were clean. They didn’t smell dirty, but they didn’t smell clean, either. There was a huge rigmarole about recycling and which baskets/buckets were for paper, organic, etc. We ended up just taking our trash out each morning so we didn’t have to worry about separating it. There was a washing machine we did not use and the kitchen was very small.

The best thing about the apartment was its location. It was five minutes south of Castel Sant’Angelo; walking distance was short to Vatican, Spanish Steps, Navona and Pantheon. It was also just off the Via Governo Vecchio with lots of shops and restaurants. And, as stated, the landlord was very nice and accommodating. And the price was very reasonable for the location.

Since the cleaning crew had not yet arrived, we dropped our luggage and took off for Campo de Fiori. We found Il Forno and had some outstanding pizza and cold sodas for lunch while people-watching in the square. It was incredibly warm this day and we picked up some water as we headed for the Vatican. We had a 2pm Scavi tour.

We walked across the nearest bridge and up along the Trestavere neighborhood. It turned out to be a little longer than my back was willing to put up with. We stopped after 20 minutes so I could take some Tylenol.

By the time we made it to the Vatican, my back was killing me and my left thigh was alternating between pain and numbness. (This never went away the entire trip and I have subsequently been diagnosed with a bulging disc. Sigh…)

Knowing that there is absolutely no place to sit down for 45 minutes or more on the tour, I sent K on her own. I had been twice before and I knew I could not make it that long without collapsing. She was a little hesitant, but she went.

While K toured the underground ruins, I headed to the Vatican post office. I was saddened to see that it had been temporarily closed due to construction. They did have a cute little mini-trailer in the square that was the “acting” post office. But all you could do there was buy stamps. Which I did. Then settled into a comfortable spot on a column base to read while K was gone.

K was thrilled that she’d been allowed to see such wonders.
We wandered back toward Castel Sant’Angelo and stopped in a little enoteca to pick up some sweet treats and drinks.

We bought our Roma Passes at Castel Sant’Angelo. K used hers to go up into the Castel and I rested along the river wall. I took pictures, people-watched and enjoyed the sunshine. K had a great time and ended up taking a picture at the top of the Castel that turned out to be my favorite of the entire trip. (See picture link at bottom of report.)

It was time for a nap. It was just a very short walk back to our apartment from here. We laughed every time we took out the apartment door keys. The door to the building had a “modern” key to it. But there were two skeleton keys, one about 8” long, the other about 6” long, that were needed for our apartment door. The series of turns in different directions for each key made it impossible to be less than sober when coming home. Haha. After a day or so, though, we had it worked out.

After our nap, we headed out to find a place for dinner. We ended up in a tiny (and I mean..tiny) place called “Alfredo e Ada” (Via Dei Banchi Nuovi, 14). There were about six tables. If you find this place (and you should try), be prepared for a full meal. And to speak Italian, as nobody spoke English.

We were not that hungry and sorry we were not, as we realized we’d stumbled onto a true Italian charmer. The pasta we did have was delicious. The veggie lasagna was to die for. Truly.

It being Rome, and being early evening, I couldn’t take my cousin back to the apartment when there was so much to see. So, we headed for Piazza Navona. Had a great blackberry gelato along the way. Once in the piazza, we realized that something was going on at St. Agnes in Agony.

Here, K was again our little lucky charm! Mass was being said! We crept in the back door (many tourists were quite respectful and stood quietly in the back of the church), as both K and I were raised in the Catholic faith. Though the mass was being said in Italian, it was still a wonderful experience. We stayed about 20 minutes and then made our way out the door. What an incredibly beautiful church, folks. Make sure you add this one to your checklist for your next trip!

I was wiped and in quite a bit of discomfort, so we headed home. I took a massive dose of ibuprofen and, after Skyping our families, we were off to bed.

Day 7 Rome

Really? Another sunny morning with bright blue skies? Bonus!

I remembered a fabulous little coffee bar off the Corso that we discovered on our last visit. It was very close to our apartment on Via Gulia. I looked at the map and was happy to see that our current apartment was not much further from that coffee bar. So, off we went and found it just as I’d hoped!

The staff is so friendly and the food is yummy. We consumed some morning energy before heading off to the Vatican Museums. We actually walked along the old city wall that runs just north of the main road to St. Peter’s. It was a very interesting walk and we found an interesting little fountain at the end of it.

We had no wait to get into the museums first thing in the morning. However, I was still suffering some lower back problems. Had to sit and rest the back at regular intervals.

K loved the Etruscan art, but I am not a big fan. Additionally, my asthma seemed to kick into high gear this morning. (Thank heavens for albuterol!) K was so sweet and could see that I was suffering. Unbeknownst to me, she had alerted a guard that I might need to have a seat. He came and found me and escorted me to what I’m sure was a chair reserved for museum staff, in a room of the Etruscan exhibit that looked out onto the museum gardens. The windows were wide open and a wonderful breeze was blowing through. It was just so incredibly sweet of K, and the museum guard.

After I rested a couple of minutes, we were off to see the real jewels. The Belvedere Torso, the Map Room, the Tapestry room, the Raphael rooms, etc. Oh, what a fabulous place. K made a brilliant and accurate comment as we made our way to the Sistine Chapel. She said, “I thought the Vatican Museums housed a lot of art. I can see now that the Vatican Museums ARE the art.” So true!

The Sistine Chapel was surprisingly crowded. There were the standard idiots shooting flash photos and the standard guards at the front of the chapel yelling for them to stop.

We did manage to find seats after a couple of minutes. It really is necessary to have a seat here so you can spend the time necessary to examine each piece of Michelangelo’s genius. And looking up for long periods of time could make you awfully dizzy if you were standing!

The chapel ceiling just popped. And I swear it was better than the last time I saw it. I don’t know if some cleaning process had taken place or it was just a better time of day to visit. But I was near tears of total joy by the time we’d spent 30 minutes here. I wanted to stay all day. Alas, other things beckoned.

From the Sistine Chapel, we moved on to St. Peter’s. Every time I enter this amazing cathedral, I seem to have forgotten how enormous it is! It surprises me every time.

Like last year, the area around the altar was again cordoned off for some reason, so we could not get very close for pictures. The Bernini canopy was no less fabulous. Such a beautiful place. I will always find my way here on every trip.

We left St. Peter’s and headed back to the apartment for a nap. My back was still bothering me upon waking, so we decided to find a quick place for dinner nearby. Frankly, it must have been forgettable, because I don’t even remember where we ate this night.
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Day 8 Rome

How could we be so lucky to have yet another sunny and warm morning? After all, it was early spring! And yet, we did. We got up early and found our way to my favorite little corner bar/café.

From here, we headed to the bus stop to catch a bus to the Forum. We had arranged for a private tour of the Forum and Palatine hill. We were meeting Francesca Caruso at 9am. And there she was, right on time!

What a terrific guide! We had a wonderful morning with Francesca and can highly recommend her. It was so nice to have her to ourselves. I also thought her prices were very reasonable. For this particular tour, we paid her E50 per hour for two of us.

I finally got the answer to why so many churches in Rome have so many different-colored marble in them… it was scavenged from this site! And it all made such perfect sense!

We also were very lucky in that our guide told us they had recently opened a large section of ruins where the House of the Vestal Virgins stood. This area was simply beautiful, and fascinating. I also had no idea that Caesar’s body was brought to a temple here and burned. Happy to learn more about the history of this awe-inspiring place.

The sun was pretty hot at this point. And my lower back was again starting to cause issues. But we pushed on to the Colosseum.

K had a blast posing with the “gladiators” we found outside the Colosseum. They have really geared up this racket. They have “unionized”! hahaha There is a head guy (ok, he’s a pimp, let’s face it) who gathers in the crowds and collects the money. You do get your choice of gladiator and up to like five pictures for E25. A ripoff, but hey, everyone has to make a living, huh? And K thought it was kind of fun. The coup de gras was a picture K took of a gladiator talking on his cell phone. Too funny!

Thanks to our Roma Passes, we walked right by the large contingent of tourists awaiting admittance to the Colosseum. As usual, this place was magnificent. I know it seems bizarre, but I find it so peaceful here. Maybe it’s the reverence most tourists seem to feel when surrounded by this massive structure.

We took the elevator up and worked our way down. I took a brief sit while K filled up her digital camera. Then we were off to find some lunch.

Here is the part of the story I hate to report, but must. In Italy’s quest to become an EU democratic poster child, they are starting to lose their identity.

We could not spend five minutes anywhere between the exit from the Forum and the entrance to the Colosseum without being verbally assaulted by hordes of non-natives trying to sell non-Italian-made goods/souvenirs. Not only assertive, but “in your face”, every five minutes. Could not eat our paninis and drink our sodas, sitting on the lawn next to the Colosseum, without being constantly interrupted by these hawkers. It left such a bad taste in my mouth.

Surely, the Italian government can be democratic and offer opportunity to immigrants and at the same time, limit the number of people selling goods here. Why don’t they issue X number of permits and enforce it? It is really horrible. Incredibly intrusive. I really hope they do something about it soon.

So, we finished our lunch and I was in quite a bit of pain at this point. We walked across the street and caught a bus that we were told would take us close to our apartment.

Well, it should have been only a 10-minute walk from where the bus dropped us, to our apartment. But when it is 80 degrees, and you’ve been walking for hours, and your lower back pain is causing your knees to falter…

It took us probably 50 minutes to walk that 10-minute path. I had to keep sitting down and resting my back. I felt so ridiculously disabled. And I felt terrible for K, as she was greatly concerned about me and I didn’t want to upset her.

When we finally made it to the apartment, I chugged four ibuprofen and we both lay down for a long nap.

When I awoke, it was about 3 hours later. Somewhere between 6 and 7pm. I walked (yes, feeling a little better) to the kitchen window and opened it. The air was fresh and warm. What a lovely Rome evening it was starting out to be.

Suddenly, I heard music. Like orchestral music. Very good orchestral music! I was trying to locate the direction, and at the same time yelled for K to awaken. She was already stirring when I called. I yelled for her to grab her camera (knowing how she loved these uniquely-Italian moments). She did, and headed out the door, following the music to her destination. (Again, K has magic powers that allow us to see/do all kinds of cool stuff.)

Upon her return, she told me she’d found a huge police-escorted procession for a saint neither of us had ever heard of! Saint Sympharosa. She got some great pics and we did some research on said Saint. Wikipedia has some info, if you’re interested.

We were both hungry, but K knew I wasn’t up for going out. Her plan was to head out to the local grocery (we were also out of TP) and get something for us for dinner. She was so very brave, getting directions to the grocery store from our landlord and heading out with list and euros in hand!

It was then that it occurred to me that I might be able to assist in her return. I hung my recently-purchased bright red scarf from the shutter of our kitchen window. She managed to make her way back to our street, but was very happy to see the scarf hanging there as a positive identifier. (We have determined that on the next trip, we will bring a baggie of sidewalk chalk so that we can mark our corners and paths at every turn! :] )

Have I told you how awesome my cousin is? She brought soup and fruit for me (both delicious) and some pizzas for herself. She also managed to get the last 4-pack of TP in the store. Great timing!

We planned out our next day, ate dinner and Skyped our families. No outing tonight. Just much-needed rest. (Poor K; a missed night of Rome fun because of my back!)

Day 9 Rome

It’s amazing what a good night’s sleep can do for an old body like mine.

We woke late (I knew we needed the rest) but felt ready to hit the pavement quickly. For those of you who’ve had less than perfect weather, I’m sorry to again rub it in… but the day was glorious. Sunny, nice breeze. Literally, perfect weather.

We headed for Piazza Navona. On the way, we ducked into a coffee bar for some nourishment. Grabbed our sweets and out the door to the piazza. We hung there for a short while, taking in the fabulous sites by day that we’d found on our first night in Rome. The piazza was alive with Sunday morning patrons, artists, and vendors.

We moved on to the Pantheon, but found that mass was still being said. So we spent fifteen minutes in Santa Maria Sopra Minerva (mass was also in session here, but we at least were able to mill around the back of the church and get some nice photos). This is such a beautiful church, home to the tomb of Catherine of Siena. I love this church and hope to have many more visits here.

When we walked into the Pantheon, there was live music. We soon found a small band at the front of the church, to the left of the altar. A very good band and, though we did not find any information about who they were, we surmised college-aged. They were very good and we sat and listened for about 20 minutes.

It was during this time that something in my peripheral vision to the right caught my attention. When I saw what it was, I could barely contain my laughter and pointed it out to my cousin, who almost got the giggles.

Behind the altar, suspecting he was hidden from view, I’m sure, was a priest… leading the band as if he were John Philip Sousa! Hahaha. With the biggest smile on his face, and the widest sweep of his imaginary baton… it was something I wish now I had recorded with my camera video.

Once we settled back down, we took in the rest of the Pantheon and then headed outside into the Piazza della Rotunda. It was getting warm, quickly. We were pretty hungry at this point and decided to have some lunch here. So, we sat down under the canopy of a little restaurant directly across from the door of the Pantheon.

I had lasagna; I don’t remember what K had. But it was pretty good. Additionally, we were totally delighted that not only could we hear the band still playing in the Pantheon (the music seemed to flow out the door like water), but they were playing “The Stars and Stripes Forever”!

It left a huge smile on my face as we paid our bill (no, I do not remember the name of the restaurant, but our waiter was delightful and the food good) and made our way toward the Spanish Steps.

We did some window shopping along the way and K picked up a very “Roman Gladiator-looking” knife for her 13-yr-old son. I personally thought she was nuts, but she assured me he was responsible and collected unusual weapons. I told her it should go through customs fine, as long as she left it in the checked baggage. (and so it was).

The day before, since I was laid up and could not venture out, K and I had talked at great length about our family. I told her how my brother, who passed in 2000, would leave me pennies to find. She told me that she most keenly missed her father at the holidays, as he would always roast chestnuts in the oven for her and her sibs. She learned a lot more about her father’s other sister, whom I spent a great deal of time with while I was growing up. I learned more about her childhood that I missed by living away from home.

So, we are on our way to the Spanish Steps. I know we are close. I am about to look at my guide book when I spot some carabinieri right in front of us. I ask in my best Italian, “Per favore, dove…Spanish Steps”? (Ok, ok, I know it’s not 100%, but I said my best Italian. Haha. Well, hey, they understood!

Well, after getting to the end of the street we were on, we turned left and what should we see and smell? That’s right… roasting chestnuts! It was too freaky-deaky! Of course, K bought a bag and we “toasted” her Dad.

There was a river of people cascading down the Spanish Steps this lovely afternoon. Reading, eating (though I noticed there was a sign prohibiting this; it didn’t seem to phase a number of folks munching on pizza or McD’s), smooching, etc. Some just taking in the sun. We found a small empty spot in the shade and grabbed it.

K then made her way up to the Trinita dei Monti church to take in the view and snap a few photos. It was such a gorgeous, sunny day in Rome. We hung out for a bit and then made our way toward the Trevi Fountain.

I couldn’t believe that I was not experiencing any back pain at this point, since I was in such a great deal of it just the day before.

As you would suspect, the Trevi was extremely crowded. K and I made our way down to the fountain for the requisite pictures and coin tosses. The cool water spraying from the fountain sure felt great! This was my first trip to the Trevi in daylight hours. I still think it is more beautiful at night.

I remembered that some of the best gelato I’d eaten on my first trip to Rome was found right on this square. I was happy to see it was still there, unhappy to tell you I did not note the name of the place. But it is easy to find. Stand looking at the fountain from the front. Turn right. It is the first store on the left as you head down Via del Lavatore.

The blackberry gelato was just as fabulous as I had remembered. Oh, was it even better on a hot spring day!
We got a nice Italian lesson from the young man behind the counter (regarding single cones vs. double cones) and we were off with our gelato.

We made our way back to the Trevi and made some new friends, a couple in their 60’s, from England. The wife had been to Rome 30 years before, the husband never. They both voiced how incredibly beautiful it was and that they will not wait so long to return. (I feel the same way!)

We then walked down to the Via del Tritone to catch a bus up to the Torre Argentina. As we are standing at the bus stop, I happen to look down and see a coin. No way- It is a one-cent Euro! The coin I swore to my cousin she would not see in all of our travels! I told her it was from my brother and he obviously wanted K’s son to have it. It completed her collection of Euro coins for her son. Awesome!

We spent about 45 minutes at the Torre Argentina. As I am owned by several felines, it was sweet to see so many of them napping in the afternoon sun here. I love the “greenness” of this site. It is so beautiful. If I ever got married again, I think it would be lovely to be wed here.

I point out to K that we are fairly close to the actual spot where Caesar was assassinated. Gives me goosebumps just thinking about it. Every single time!

From here, we catch a taxi to the Vatican. We want to mail our postcards so they arrive at home with the Vatican cancellation stamp. Unfortunately, only one of my postcards ever finds its way to my home in the US. I have no idea where the other six or seven ended up. I wonder if there is a postcard purgatory somewhere. (Probably run by Italian postal officials who are laughing their hinies off at what we write.)

It is now nigh on 5pm and I am sitting in St. Peter’s Square crying at the prospect of having to leave Rome tomorrow. Leaving Italy leaves me despondent. I cannot help it. I don’t want to ruin the moment for K, but this place feels so much a part of me, my true being.

Since I am in this funk, when K suggests we try to catch one of the tour buses that stop at St. Peter’s Square, I poopoo the idea. However, as we start walking toward our apartment, I notice that one of the buses that is parked is the 110 Open bus. I remember that we get a nice discount on this bus with our Roma Pass. (This and the look of pure disappointment on K's face changes my mind.) So, I acquiesce and tell K, yes, let’s get on the bus.

Again, a decision that turns out great. And I find K is the lucky charm to seeing the 110 on our way out of the Square.

We take in the sites from the top of the open-air bus, sun is low in the sky and there is a nice breeze up here. We spot several orange trees, weighed down heavy with beautiful ripe oranges, along the roads around Barberini. The bus is only ½ full and we really are enjoying the ride.

As we pass the Circus Maximus, I become aware that I’ve not seen this on previous visits and marvel at its size. I could really picture the events that occurred here centuries ago. What a wondrous testament to Roman ingenuity and their love of competition.

Alas, we depart the bus back at St. Peter’s and head home. We have become fond of a little combo café/enoteca on the Via della Conciliazione at Via di Porta Castello. They have the most incredible fruit tarts and chocolate treats! Of course, we step in and get our early evening treat to take us home. K has become very fond of her apricot/blackberry/whatever looks good… tart. (Me, too!)

I tell K that I would really like to have some “non-Italian” food tonight. We happen upon our landlord as we are entering the apartment. We ask for a recommendation for someplace we can get “carne e patate”.

He is a really nice guy and speaks English very well and tells us he knows a great place for “steak and baked potatoes”. But I have difficulty understanding him, with his still-thick Italian accent. I can glean “Irish pub” and something like “a-b-teeter”. He tells us it is not too far, on Via Governo Vecchio.

I ask if he can draw us a map. He says, “oh, you will see it. It is not far. Just go down to Governo Vecchio and turn left. Not far.”

I’m still not sure I am understanding exactly where this restaurant is, but then the landlord says, “Right across the street from the Frigidarium.” AHHHH!!! I have a reference now! We thank him and clean up/change for dinner.

I recognize Frigidarium (as it has come highly recommended on this board several times), so get on the internet to find it. I have no problem finding it on the map, and so now have a better idea about where we are headed.

It only takes us 10 minutes to find..OHHHH… the “Abbey Theater” Irish pub! It IS right across from the Frigidarium. It is a Sunday night and this place is really partying.

We are fortunate to be seated right away, as literally, within 10 minutes, the place is standing room only! It is only when our waitress comes over that we are told there is a soccer game on tonight. Rome versus Torino. She tells us what color is Rome and we root for them during our meal. (There are televisions everywhere.) This is really a neat departure from all the Italian restaurants we’ve eaten in on this trip. Great atmosphere.

So, the menu looks great. Chicken and steak entrees, baked potatoes with half a dozen different toppings, Irish stew, etc. These, along with standard Italian fare of pasta, etc.
I am not sure if the place is actually run by Irishmen or Italians playing Irishmen. So, when I see just “beef steak” on the menu, and it does not indicate what kind of steak, I start to have some concerns about what might appear under that guise. I see “grilled chicken” with sides of roasted potatoes and salad. So I go with that. K orders chicken fingers.

Now, roasted potatoes are one of my favorite things on the planet. But, I have actually had not great roasted potatoes before in Italy. So, I order a baked potato on the side, just in case. We also place an order for some fried olives, as we’ve never seen these before.

Our food arrives amazingly fast for as crowded as this place is. It looks fabulous. I take one bite of the grilled chicken and am immediately sorry that I have not ordered the beef steak. Oh, not because the chicken is bad… it’s because the chicken is fabulous! Seasoned perfectly, cooked perfectly. Absolutely delicious. I realize the steak would have probably been just as terrific. (Next time!)

The fried olives are great, the roasted potatoes… to die for! Since K did not get potatoes with her entrée, I gave her most of mine and polished off the baked potato instead. All of it was outstanding! The downside was that a) this was our last night in Rome and we would be unable to taste the steak until our next trip and b) we found that they also served an “American breakfast” on Sunday starting at 11am! We’ll have to try that out next trip, too! Here is their website: http://abbey-rome.com/

We had a wonderful dinner, service was very friendly and prices were excellent. Unfortunately, not enough room for Frigidarium gelato on the way home.

K giggles every time she sees the petiteness of the vehicles in this country. Parked so incredibly close and wherever they can, it is like a giant jigsaw puzzle on every side street. I think how cute I’d look on a bright orange Vespa.

We arrive back at the apartment, finish our packing and, after Skyping K’s family, we are off to sleep our final night in this amazing city/country.
sarge56 is offline  
Old Sep 28th, 2011, 07:58 PM
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Of course, I live the life of Ziggy, so we had a devil of a time actually getting home the next day. Flight delayed for hours (Al Italia) and they eventually put us on a “rent-a-plane”. Seriously. Like the side of the plane had something on it like “rentaplane.com”. The upside was that this plane was much larger than our scheduled plane. So there was a lot of room to spread out.

The downside was the staff’s inattentiveness to their jobs. I am not kidding- worst flight attendants I’ve ever seen. I spent each of the two meals on the flight (non-stop Rome to Chicago- a loooonnnnggg flight) assisting a man seated three seats away. He had no hands. And did not speak any Italian nor any English.

The staff ignored his request for some water, not once- but three times.. When a flight attendant walked past me, I had had enough and in a very non-inside voice said, “Get this man some water!!! He has asked 3 times!!! (I assumed “agua” meant water.) They finally brought him some.

What really infuriated me was that the head attendant, at the beginning of our flight, tried to tell this man (in English) that they would assist him in any way necessary. At this point, he appeared to have his hands in his pockets, so I was unaware of his handicap. The attendants then continued to ignore him for the entire flight. They dropped his food tray on the tray table and just walked off. Like, really? That was when I noticed he had no hands.

Whatever language he spoke (I was guessing he was Eastern European) we were able to communicate when needed. He held his bread and I buttered it. I opened his silverware and napkin. Etc. It all worked out o.k. I sure hope he was headed to the US for prosthetics. (My father was only 19 when he lost his left arm just above the elbow, so I was not at all uncomfortable assisting. Just furious at the airline staff.)

Made it to Chicago way past time to catch my original return flight to Dallas. Looking at schedules, I knew I had to hustle to catch a connection. Got through customs pretty quickly and was delighted to find a series of American Airlines counters right out the customs door.

I said quick goodbye to K and got in line. When I finally made it to the front of the line, I was happily surprised to find a real human being behind the desk. Though my delayed flight from Italy was not an A/A booking, the agent still took that into consideration and did not charge me for my ticket change and did not charge me extra for my checked baggage. She just took it, handed me a ticket and told me to RUN!!!

Which I did.

I was dragging pretty seriously at this point and somehow knew I’d have one more challenge before getting home. (I told you…life of Ziggy).

Now, O’Hare is really not very busy at 8pm at night. I have to go through security again to get into the new terminal from which my flight is leaving.

My favorite. TSA agents. NOT! Seriously- they put my backpack through the machine three times before they make me unpack the entire bag!!! Apparently, they were sure my pecorino-romano was TNT or something. Idiots!!!!

I literally walked onto the plane and they closed the door!!! Found my seat. Last seat on the plane- no kidding- it was packed like a can of sardines. I was shocked to actually find some space in the overhead bin. Unfortunately, center seat. I’m sweating like a construction worker from having run a mile and some to catch this plane. I haven’t eaten. I’m feeling really sick. Incredibly tired (I just could not sleep on the plane from Rome to Chicago). All I could do to not lose my mind.

While I was happy to get home, I am still suffering the ill effects of not being in Italy.

Here are pics. I cannot wait to get back. And for those of you wondering… yes, I am STILL trying to find a way to live there for a few years. Haven’t given up hope!

Link to pics: http://italy2011pq.shutterfly.com/

Hope you all enjoy. Can’t wait to get back to my beloved Italy. Trip planning in the works!
sarge56 is offline  
Old Sep 28th, 2011, 08:02 PM
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Post Script... It just occurred to me that 3 times on this trip, we were surprised by band music. And I just remembered that K's father was Drum Major of his college band!!! Probably trying to remind us of this...and we were just "in the clouds"! hahahah
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Old Sep 29th, 2011, 05:25 AM
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Sarge, what an incredible trip you had. Wish I had K and her luck with me for my upcoming stay.

Thanks for sharing.

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Old Sep 29th, 2011, 05:50 AM
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Lovely shots, particularly after the sun came out. Could use a couple of your party
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Old Sep 30th, 2011, 12:59 AM
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Thanks for a great trip report and the amazing photos. I did, however, miss the one of the 6"6 italian god. I had been particularly looking forward to it
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Old Sep 30th, 2011, 06:35 PM
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loveners, I will make a point of going and adding his picture to this album. Try again after 10pm Central 9/30.
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Old Sep 30th, 2011, 06:52 PM
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loveners 174 is the god with my daughter (she is 5'7"). 175 is poster-ready. hahaha
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Old Oct 2nd, 2011, 07:10 AM
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thank you for a great report! Love all the details!
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Old Oct 2nd, 2011, 11:07 AM
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Am so sorry to hear you were in pain but glad you and your cousin made this trip. Such wonderful shots! And the food makes me doubly sighing for Italy.

The attendants on the plane sounded awful. Ironically, I awoke early this a.m. and turned on the local news and there was an clip about a woman who received hand transplants. She had lost both hands and both feet to meningitis. Hope that guy was going to get some help.

Thanks, sarge56!
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Old Oct 2nd, 2011, 05:08 PM
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What an excellent writer you are. We are going to Rome NEXT weekend so I only read the Rome portion and copied down some of your restaurant and site seeing ideas! Thanks for the report!
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