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Trip Report- Fourteen glorious days with Venice/Florence/Rome/Pierpaolo

Trip Report- Fourteen glorious days with Venice/Florence/Rome/Pierpaolo

Old May 14th, 2010, 12:27 AM
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Aha! So Siena has an escalator. If only we'd known.

Am really enjoying your TR. Was Luca very expensive???
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Old May 14th, 2010, 01:08 AM
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Great report, getting plenty of ideas. I'd also like to know how much your day with Luca cost if its not a rude question. I have his site book marked and am trying to decide whether to do one of his "organised" trips or to hire him for a day to just take us to some wonderful places.
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Old May 14th, 2010, 01:37 AM
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Yay, I've been really busy and have missed a few installments. Now I can sit down with a glass of wine and continue,
Thanks
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Old May 14th, 2010, 01:50 AM
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Sarge - I KNEW, I just KNEW when I first saw your trip report titled "Fourtten glorious days......... with PIERPAOLO" that you HAD to mean that gorgeous young man of Hotel Casci fame!!!!!! LOL. I jsut waited to make SURE. We have stayed at Hotel Casci five times over the last 10 or so years and we love the place, the people and ESPECIALLY Pierpaolo. I am so happy to read that he is still there (as last time we were there some years ago he was thinking of leaving to the USA where apparently he had a gal?).

As for Luca Garapa, another winner. I am one of those who consistently praises him on this board and I am glad you had a great trip with him, albeit the crazy weather day.

For anyone who was asking, his prices are definitely reasonable for the service he provides. If you check his web site on www.hillsandroads.com, you can see prices of both the individual private tours, as Sarge took, as well as his newer small group tours which are less expensive.

Can't wait to read more !
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Old May 14th, 2010, 03:08 AM
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Oh Sarge...first you transported me back to Venice with my adventures with DD, now I am in Florence and Siena. I loved your description of Pierpaulo...yes the Italian men are something. As we walked through the San Lorenzo market you described we were followed by 3 young men singing in yummy accents to my daughter the song "Venus in Blue Jeans." My daughter was beet red but it was so cute...can't imagine this happening around here (it would be called stalking). Your writing style is wonderful....I love reliving these great memories!!! The only time we got soaked with rain was in Siena with a storm that seemed to come out of nowhere too. ahh...good times. Can't wait for more from you.
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Old May 14th, 2010, 05:54 AM
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TDudette and Maudie- Luca was well worth the money. I am sure his website has pricing. I believe we paid him about E32 per hour. (We, of course, tipped him, too.)

We did not want to take the "standard" tour, because there were places I specifically wanted to see (Pienza and the Abbey were two of them.)

Wonderful day and Luca was the best!
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Old May 14th, 2010, 06:13 PM
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Well, I hope some folks are still along for the ride. Florence and Rome to come.
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Old May 14th, 2010, 06:24 PM
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Hi sarge, thanks for the info on Luca, I was really wondering how long you were with him that day. I worded my post incorrectly, we would love to see Pienza too so would say 5 hours be a good estimate, roughly speaking?

Yes, yes please continue.
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Old May 14th, 2010, 07:11 PM
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Just caught up with your adventures, sarge, from the time you left Venice to your last post. Loving every moment of your trip report and the fact that you had this trip with your daughter. Btw, I have been caught more than once with the sudden opening of the skies with rain, hail and electric storms..fun memories inspite of getting absolutely drenched! Florence and Rome to come..good news that!
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Old May 16th, 2010, 10:39 PM
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Day 8 – Florence – NEVER CAN SAY GOODBYE…

By the time we’d arrived back at the Hotel Casci after our Tuscany adventure, I’d decided we needed another day in Florence. I got weepy-eyed when I thought about leaving that beautiful city to head to Rome.

I contacted the front desk and was told I’d have to check in the morning to see if our room was available for one more night. So, we went off to sleep not sure where we’d be the next day.

Fortunately, there was room for us for another night, and so I contacted SleepInItaly to let them know I was not going to be meeting them for apartment keys until the following day. They reminded me that I would have to pay the full balance, which I knew, but didn’t mind. I needed another day in Florence!

We had another marvelous breakfast at the hotel and then set out for Santa Croce. We were not out the door 2 minutes when my daughter decided she simply could not go on without some lighter clothes. As I’d stated, we thought it would be cooler. My DD had only packed jeans.

So, we headed over to the H&M store we’d spotted a couple days before. We spent just under 45 mts shopping for DD. A couple of light dresses, leggings, a couple short-sleeved shirts and two pair of shorts later… Not bad, really, for E68. DD immediately changed into a pair of those shorts.

Then we headed over to Santa Croce. On the way, we looked at purses, as I was fairly sure I wanted to purchase one. I still carry the one I purchased in Florence three years ago; it is in great shape. I also wanted to purchase one for the DD I left home. Unfortunately, she has totally different tastes than either me or my other DD. We simply could not agree on anything.

Santa Croce was a cool respite from the growing heat outside. I was disappointed to see a good section of one internal wall under plastic and scaffolding. We could not view Dante’s tomb, but were fortunate enough to find the tombs of Machiavelli, Michelangelo, Galileo and Rossini. What a magnificent church.

When we left the church, we decided we were hungry for lunch and found a little place on the corner of Borgo Santa Croce and Via De’ Benci. We both had pizza (one margherita, one veggie), water, 3 cokes and one cappuccino. I think we left after paying about E32. Very good, but I didn’t write down the name. Sorry.

We then headed off to the Ponte Vecchio. What can one say about this “billion dollars in gold” carnival? Amazing amount of jewelry. Beautiful stuff. I could have stayed there for some time. Instead, we headed back toward San Lorenzo. I went to see the church, DD went to do more shopping.

The Church of San Lorenzo was the parish church of the Medicis. Michelangelo played a small part in some design features, but Brunelleschi is credited with the current design. It is quite a lovely church and I was disappointed that absolutely no picture-taking was allowed. Fortunately, there was a small gift shop in an apse near the front of the church and they did have some postcards showcasing some of the lovely features of the church. I especially loved the Celestial ceiling in the Old Sacresty. I believe this was painted by Donatello. Lovely.

It was close on 4:30, and since my guidebook indicated that the attached Medici Chapel closed at five, I headed for a side door. Alas, as is not unusual with times in guidebooks vs. Italian time, the guard indicated that the Chapel closed at 4:30, not 5:00. I left broken-hearted. Ah, well, something to see on the next trip, yes?

I arrived back at the hotel room about 2 minutes before DD showed up with her additional loot. We decided to take a short nap before dinner.

When we awoke, we decided to head up to the Piazza Michelangelo for a sunset look at this fabulous city. We also had Pierpaolo make us reservations at Za’Za’, a restaurant we’d dined at on a previous trip. We knew we could not make Piazza Michelangelo on foot before sunset, so asked Pierpaolo to call us a cab. We asked about how much it would be. He said about E15.

When the taxi pulled into Piazza Michelangelo, the meter read E14.90! It WAS the perfect time of day to be there. If you go to Florence, and have not done this, please don’t miss it on your next visit. The views were exquisite. The sun shining off the Arno and the array of bridges for as far as the eye could see. Stunning. Simply stunning. We took some great photos and then walked across the street to the bus stop to ride back down for our dinner reservations.

We were seated outside at Za’Za’ on what can only be described as a perfect spring night in Florence. There was a lovely breeze blowing, but the air was still warm from the heat of the day. We shared pasta with wild boar, spinach ravioli in a truffle cream sauce (OMG!), bruschetta, a mixed salad, two desserts (the tiramisu and an apple tart-both delicious). Our tab was E62. We walked back to the hotel and packed for our train ride to Rome in the morning.

DAY 9 – ROME – THE CITY WITH A McDONALD’S ON EVERY CORNER!

We boarded the 9:40am to Rome and slept most of the 90-minute trip. We exited Termini and took another death-ride to our apartment. Well, this guy wasn’t too bad. He was very much a stereotypical Italian driver, yelling at other drivers to stop or move or whatever. He was also very nice and when he dropped us, informed us to be careful of pickpockets.

We found ourselves arriving at the front door to our apartment entrance at the same time as the apartment manager. I was happy that we were not going to have to wait in the very narrow street with our luggage.

The apartment was on the far north end of Via Guilia, just 50 feet around the corner from San Giavanni dei Fiorentini, 5 mts walk from the Castel Sant’Angelo and about 15 mts to St. Peter’s square. Awesome location. Two minutes to several different bus stops.

We were up only one flight of stairs and in to this good-sized one-bedroom apartment. It looked exactly like the pictures posted on the SleepInItaly website. Large living room with pullout couch for DD, dining area, big kitchen (fully outfitted), good-sized shower in the average-sized bathroom. Large bedroom with light from a balcony door. Lovely apartment. We were very happy with our choice. Here is a link: http://www.sleepinitaly.com/en/show-...d_appartam=165

We paid our balance due to the manager and then began unpacking. We were pretty hungry at this point, and so pulled out the Google map I’d created for Rome restaurant recommendations. The closest place was Sor’Eva, just a 5-minute walk across the Ponte Principe Amedeo Savoia Aosta bridge to the other side of the Tiber.

We had a ham and melone appetizer and then opted for pasta. DD had an arriabiata and I had simple pasta with pomodoro. Good food and reasonable prices. We thought we might return for dinner one night. The staff was very friendly and there appeared to be a number of regulars seated nearby.

We then walked back across the river to explore our new neighborhood. We walked for about an hour or so and then found ourselves at the Pantheon. Unfortunately, for photographers, half of the outside of the front of the building was under plastic and scaffolding. Good news for us, the inside was apparently perfectly sound.

This was one of the items on our “Angels and Demons” list, besides being a “must see” for all who come to Rome. The dome is famous for it’s incredible design and there are dozens of stories to cast their spell. We had downloaded the free Rick Steves tour of the Pantheon and it was just about right for us. The timing was good, too, because the “tour” ended just as the Pantheon was closing.

We got money from a bancomat in the square and then happened upon Armando al Pantheon, a restaurant that came highly recommended from many Fodorites. We stopped in and made a reservation for Monday night, our last night in Rome.

We then headed over to the Piazza Navona. The sun was setting rapidly but we did linger for a bit, as the square was lovely.

We then headed home, walking up the Corso Vittorio Emanuel II. By the time we arrived back into our recognizable neighborhood (20 minutes), we were ready for dinner. However, we were pretty beat. We wanted something to take back to the apartment with us. Unfortunately, the only thing open and close was a place called … please don’t laugh… “The Chicken Hut”. Yes, apparently this was some guy’s idea of what a US fast food place would look like. We ordered two chicken sandwiches, fries and Pepsi to go. Suffice it to say that neither DD nor I ate more than half of that before feeling totally disgusting. We chose a shower and bed, instead.

DAY 10 – ROME - ANGELS & DEMONS CONTINUED…

We woke up to a gorgeous blue sky, a warm and sunny day. We walked down to the little bar on the corner of Orbitelli and Corso Vittorio Emanuel for a quick cappuccino and croissants. We then headed 5 minutes north and walked across the Ponte Sant’Angelo to the Castel Sant’Angelo.

We were absolutely mesmerized by the angels that line the entrance to this ancient site. Each of the eight angels represents a part of the Passion. One holds the cross, another the nails. One holds the lance used by a Roman soldier to speed along Jesus’ death; one holds a spear with a sponge on the end of it. (A soldier heard Jesus proclaim his thirst, and the soldier responded by wetting a sponge and holding it to Jesus’ lips.)

We also relished the story that Bernini had actually designed two angels for this bridge. But when Pope Clement IX saw them, proclaimed them to be way too beautiful to expose to the elements and kept them for himself. They now stand in the church of Sant’Andrea delle Fratte, in Rome.

We bought our Roma Passes at the Castel entrance and up, up, up we went. At least the hike was up an internal ramp, so the hot sun was no worry. We could not believe the views from the top of the Castel. We could have spent all day up there. It was also fascinating to look down into the courtyard and see the leftover military equipment from when this was a fort. The number of cannonballs is astounding!

We chose to take several staircases down, instead of heading back the way we’d come. The sun was really beating down on us when we got to the street. We decided to head out for an early lunch. Again, using my Google restaurant map, we located Tre Pupazzi just a short walk from both the Vatican and the Castel.

We were the first to be seated outside at a shaded table. But the others filled up quickly before we left. I had a vegetable pizza, DD had soup and pasta. She proclaimed neither was anything to write home about; I felt the same about my pizza. (We decided that “ok” food was better than bad food.)

We then chose to head over to the Vatican. We must have spent over an hour in St. Peters. We’d been here before, but it seemed new. I’d forgotten just how huge it was. As usual, the Pieta was inundated by tourists trying to catch a photo; very difficult to do now that it is shielded in glass and several dozen feet away. But my DD did get some gorgeous photos. Michelangelo was a genius- no two ways about it.

We could not travel as far up in the basilica as we’d have liked, as it appeared there was something set up for a broadcast of some kind. There were chairs set up in front of the main Bernini altar, limiting access from the front 25% of the basilica. Fortunately, DD had a new camera with a major zoom lense on it and again she caught some lovely pics.

I lit a candle for a friend about to have cancer surgery. (I lit a candle at pretty much every church I entered; you can’t have too much insurance, right?) We then headed over to the Vatican gift shop to pick up some gifts and a dozen postcards. We then traipsed next door to the Vatican post office and sat and wrote out our postcards. It was then time for our Scavi tour.

I have to say, this tour was so much better than our last one. Our original tour in 2007, our guide was a petite, demure Italian woman. Lovely lady, but she barely spoke above a whisper, and we completed the tour in less than an hour.

This time, we had a classically-beautiful young Italian woman named Cornelia. She was so passionate about the site and the history, you could tell how dedicated she was to telling it’s story. She was an excellent guide and made sure everyone could hear her; lots of eye contact with the entire group of us (15). It took about 90 minutes for this tour. And worth every minute. It was wonderful. Please don’t cheat yourself out of this magical gift- make sure you get a reservation before you go.

After the tour, we walked back to the apartment. We were pretty worn out and just couldn’t think of another pasta meal. So we headed down to the little local grocery store for which the apartment manager had left us a map. We picked up a number of items and went back to the apartment to make (of all things) grilled-cheese sandwiches. Those and some Pringles and Pepsi kept us company while we watched a movie on my laptop. We headed to bed, with a long day tomorrow ahead of us.
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Old May 17th, 2010, 07:35 AM
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Glad you were able to stay another day in Florence. The Roma apartment looks just great. Looking forward to more report.
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Old May 17th, 2010, 09:36 AM
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Great report. Thanks (and no detail is too small-the more, the better!).
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Old May 17th, 2010, 10:05 AM
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"Those and some Pringles.."

Good to see someone else enjoy a dinner of Pringles in Rome. Enjoying the report!

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Old May 17th, 2010, 02:32 PM
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sarge, I'm enjoying your report. I also used Luca a few years ago and had a great time. Looking forward to more!
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Old May 17th, 2010, 02:50 PM
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Enjoy reading your report sarge..I need to go back to Rome although that I was there the first week of October.

Everytimes I go back to Castel San Angelo I can hear in my mind the beautiful music and lyrics of "Lucean Le Stelle", from the famous opera Tosca.I could picture Mario singing that passionate air while thinking at his beautiful Tosca and knowing also that he had just one hour to life.

Tosca after seeing that Mario was death committed suicide and plunged to her death from the top of the Castel wall.

Thanks for the Memories of my beautiful city.

BTW, did you visit the Basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano?
My siblings, my two older kids and me, were baptized there.It was my church..
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Old May 17th, 2010, 03:15 PM
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I am so enjoying your trip report sarge! But just to let you know Dante's body is not buried in Florence but rather in Ravenna. There is quite a history about that which you can read if you go to Google. Back in the 70's, our first time in Italy, I insisted we go to Ravenna and the reason was I wanted to visit Dante's tomb as well as to experience all the beautiful mosaics. If you get back to Italy and I have a feeling you will I think you would enjoy Ravenna also.
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Old May 17th, 2010, 03:25 PM
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kismet- stay tuned. SG in L coming up in next chapters.
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Old May 17th, 2010, 07:09 PM
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DAY 11 – ROME – “We’re walking…. We’re walking…. We’re walking….”

This was a spectacular morning in Rome. Brilliant blue skies, warm sun, light breeze. We headed for our local snack bar for cappuccino and croissants. From there, we hopped on the #62 bus heading to the Forum area.

Since I knew we were going to pass it, I forced my DD off the bus at the Torre Argentina. She had no desire to see the site (or the cats), but I didn’t let that stop me. It seemed smaller than the pictures I’ve seen and, indeed, there were many cats in residence, sunning themselves as if we were not even there. It is quite a beautiful little archeological site all on its own. If you get a chance to see it, do stop by.

We then hopped back on the bus and got off at the Victor Emmanuelle Monument. We walked up the stairs behind the monument in order to take in the grand view of the Forum from the West. Oh, what a view! Scanning the horizon, from the Temple of Saturn to the Colosseum. Overload on archeology! What can I say? Marvelous. Fabulous. Sigh…

We noticed the Via dei Fiori Imperiali was closed to traffic and remembered that it was a national holiday. (May 1st) This became much more apparent the closer we got to the entrance to the Forum. It was suddenly very crowded. The line was long and after 20 minutes of standing in it, (under the searing sun), we had not moved an inch. We decided to move on.

We walked past the massive Colosseum, in awe of the history so near. We decided to head out to San Giovanni in Laterno (St. John Lateran). It was a good hike and took us about 20 or 25 minutes to reach this impressive cathedral.

Just when you think you’ve seen the best that Rome has to offer, you step into this incredible church. Each chapel/apse was more beautiful than the one before it. The ceiling, the Papal altar, the angelic arches, the statues, the floor… am I breathing? Ahh… that is why it is called, “breathtaking”.

This is a must-see on your next trip to Rome. Stunningly beautiful. (And we totally missed the Scala Santa and Sancta Santorum. Bummer! But it will be on the list when we return!)

We spent the better part of an hour here and then we decided we needed to eat. We found a couple of street vendors selling paninis just outside the church in the Piazza di San Giovanni in Laterano. Surprisingly, probably the best street food I had there. DD had a “kebab”, kind of like a gyro. I had a chicken panini with a little mayo and smothered in grilled red/yellow peppers. Really delicious. Hit the spot.

We started seeing a lot of police officers and wondered what was up. As we headed southeast out of the Piazza, we found the apparent reason for this influx of the law. There, at the far south side of the Piazza di Porta San Giovanni, was a huge stage and sound system set up. And thousands of Roman kids in the teen-to-20-something category.

We’d heard from some fellow Texas travelers we met on the Scavi tour that there was supposed to be a major concert in the city today (up to a half a million visitors), to mark the holiday. We just had no idea it was going to lie directly in the path of our chosen course for sightseeing. It was like a mini-Woodstock. It appeared the concert was not going to start for a little while, so we were able to make our way through the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd with a limited amount of redirection. But we were moving pretty fast!

We finally found our way out the southern city gate at the Piazzale Appio. We headed east from there, up Viale Castrense, seeking out the church of Santa Croce in Gerusalem. This was another good distance and realized was probably not the best area of the city. We didn’t feel unsafe, but there certainly did not appear to be any businesses along this stretch of the road.

We finally found the nearly-deserted front entrance to the church. Alas, the sign on the front door stated that, due to the holiday, they would be closing for an extended period of time in the afternoon, but would be open later that evening. (Despite the message, I was proud of myself for being able to decipher the message, though I have very little Italian under my belt.) Of course, we were there around 3pm and they were not due to open the doors again until 5:30. (The guidebook, for the record, said the church was open from 2-6:30pm.)

We had walked what seemed like 10 miles at this point. So, we found the bus stop across from the church. The sign stated that buses WERE running on holidays. However, we waited a half hour and no buses came. We realized, too, that the road the bus would normally take was probably closed for the concert.

After walking what seemed like another 2 miles, we came upon what looked to be a major bus stop at the corner of Viale Manzoni and Vittorio Emanuele Filiberto. We waited there about 35 minutes, along with a dozen other hopeful riders. But there was nothing coming nor going. We finally just decided to hoof it, despite being ready to collapse.

After what seemed like an eternity, we finally emerged onto the Via die Fiori Imperiali. We walked down to the Piazza Venezia to catch a bus. What a circus! If you’ve been there, you know that this square directly in front of the Vittorio Emanuele II Monument has at least a half dozen different bus stops. The lines were horrendous at all of the them.

Fortunately, while trying to figure out which line to wait in (we had several options for buses going in our general direction), we noticed a taxi stand on the north side of the square and lots of taxis lined up. We got into the first one and away we went. Well worth the E8 it cost us to get back to the apartment!

A long shower and short nap, and we were ready for the Trevi Fountain. We hopped on the #62 and were lucky to run into a nice young Italian girl who asked where we were headed. She made sure we got off at the correct stop, just a short hundred feet or so from the fountain.

It was now 9pm and the fountain was terribly crowded. It WAS a Saturday night and a national holiday. We really couldn’t get near it. So, we decided to go for dinner and come back later, hoping at least the folks with families would be gone by then.

We saw dozens of restaurants down Via del Lavatore, but one caught our eye. Can’t say exactly why. Looked really good and there was a waiting line. So, we got in it. Turned out to be Il Chianti Vineria. (www.vineriailchianti.com). Wonderful place. Lots of atmosphere. Though we finally arrived at the front of the line for outdoor seating, a perusal of the existing tables did not look promising for an opening any time soon. So we opted to eat inside.

The walls were lined with old wine bottles and the décor was warm and romantic. (Though I was there with DD, I longed to be there with someone else. Hehe) I had a pumpkin ravioli, DD had rabbit. We then shared a cheese tray that was…well, simply luscious! We both had dessert and cappuccinos. DD had tiramisu and I had an incredible cold dark chocolate mousse. Total was E63 and worth every penny. We highly recommend this place and it will go on my list of “tried and true” Google Rome restaurants!

With our bellies impossibly full, we strode back down the street toward the Trevi. The last time we were here, I’d had the best gelato on the entire trip at a place on the corner by the Trevi. Alas, we’d had too much to eat and I just couldn’t find room for one now.

As we’d hoped, the fountain was now much less crowded. Oh, still a lot of folks, but it only took a couple minutes to wind our way down to the fountain itself for some photo ops. As was the case in our past visit, many people seemed to think my daughter’s excessive picture-snapping indicated she might be a good photographer (she is). So, she was asked several times over 10 minutes to snap other tourists who wanted pictures of themselves in front of the fountain. She was very obliging.

As we were leaving, we found ourselves being pushed aside by a large group of men in nice suits. It turned out to be unintentional. They were part of a large wedding party who was trying to get situated so that they would all fit into their photographer’s picture. It was very cool to see this Italian bride and groom so happy on their wedding day.

It was after midnight when we got back to the bus stop. The buses don’t stop as often, but one finally showed up at 12:25 and we were home and in bed by 12:45. What a long day- but so worth it for the beauty we were blessed to see!
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Old May 17th, 2010, 07:14 PM
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LI- I beg your pardon! Dante IS buried at Ravenna. There is a funerary monument to him in Santa Croce, and that is what we could not view. Not a tomb, just a memorial.

Mea culpa!
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Old May 18th, 2010, 02:46 AM
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Don't worry about it sarge! A wonderful report.
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