Tuesday, September 29, 2009

From Beautiful Provence to Ancient Rome, Feb 2008

Our stay in Vaugines flew by and with the cold weather we felt that we simply must return to enjoy the Luberon when the Scotch Broom and Lavender were in full bloom. There was much to see, but the weather was too blustery and many places were still closed for the holiday. We were ready to fly off to Rome, where we'd been watching the temperatures and it seemed to be a bit warmer.

Before we left on the trip to France and Italy, we had arranged for an apartment rental in Rome. We found an ad on the Home Exchange, albeit for rent rather than exchange. We paid 600 euro for a 10-day stay and felt that this was a reasonable off-season price. The owner lived in China but was from Rome, so let out her flat while she was away.

As mentioned in my last post, Doug had arranged a first class cabin for us, since the trip from Marseille to Rome, with a stop over in Nice and change of trains, would take 12-hours and we'd be traveling all night. When we arrived in Nice--where our first class cabin awaited us--we were dumbfounded to find that in order to get to the departing train it was necessary to lug (and I mean lug) our suitcases, brief cases and carry-on bags down a very steep flight of stairs, cross under tracks, then go up another equally as steep flight of stairs! There were no escalators or elevators and absolutely no accommodations for handicap. I waited first at the top, while Doug carried down luggage one by one (we learned once again about traveling light and train travel--not so easy in winter with bulky heavier clothing), then I came down. We had to repeat the same ritual to get back up stairs, too. We finally did it and found our cabin. One had to go in and sit on the bed for the other to enter. The cabin was about four feet wide and six feet long with two bunks. Thank goodness we went first class, or who knows that we may have been faced with!

We arrived in Rome and were exhausted, not having slept well in our tight stuffy quarters. It was nice to leave the train behind and see about locating a taxi to take us to our apartment. This we were able to do without incident and our taxi dropped us in what appeared to be a fairly nice urban area of Rome. We entered the grounds for this gigantic apartment unit and found the apartment where our landlord's sister lived, as we were told. Unfortunately, she recognized us as Americans but she spoke no English. We had an absolute language barrier. This was our first "uh oh" moment. Then she took us up to the apartment, unlocked the door, put the key in our hands and said "ciao" and was gone in a flash. No instructions and no way was she sticking around for questions

We immediately noticed a strong odor--much like a cat box--and we looked around and it just seemed to be in the wood flooring. We looked for a house book or something that would give us a clue about how the utilities, etc. worked. There was nothing. Not even a neighborhood map. We didn't even know how to turn on the heat and it was mid-winter. We then realized that the apartment did not have Internet nor even a telephone. Suddenly we felt very alone in a very strange place and one that smelled badly as well. Doug MUST (emphasis his!) have an Internet service. He has clients that he must be in contact with daily. He couldn't even call them, because there was no phone. We looked at one another and simultaneously said "we're out of here!" We left our luggage to walk a few blocks into the small community business district where we hoped to find a WI-FI cafe. Not! We walked and walked and nothing. Finally we asked first a pharmacist (no English) then a bartender. Right? A bartender knows everything! He directed us around the corner to a very small boutique hotel where we explained our dilemma to the patron. He said for five euro we could use their WI-FI (we would have paid fifty!). We said "deal!" Doug immediately looked up the Hotel Dei Mellini, where we stayed on our last visit, and they were delighted to accommodate us for ten nights! Thrilled, even.

We went back to the smelly apartment, grabbed our bags and locked the door behind us--grateful to be out of there. The hotel was a paradise for us and they even sent us some excellent Prosecco and a huge bowl of fresh fruit, treating us like royalty the entire stay.

Our hotel was only a block from the Tiber and very near the Piazza Cavour, where there is plenty of dining and nightlife. We were just a 10 minute walk from the Spanish Steps, Piazza Navone and shopping and close to the metro system that would take us quickly to the Coliseum. In addition, we were just a short walk to St. Peter's and the Sistine. We spent each day exploring yet another area of Rome, enjoying her antiquity and her modern life.

One thing that disturbed us was the tolerance for street vendors who were aggressive and many in number. The last time we were in Rome, it was the opposite and there was zero tolerance which made for a much more pleasant visit.

While I'm on that subject, Doug was absolutely sucked in by a fellow in a passing car who stopped initially to ask for directions. That was the first red flat for me. We were obviously tourists, and not Italian. Before I could coax Doug to move along, he was in conversation with the guy and "shooshing" me! Before long, again, he had given the man euros and the man was handing him a plastic bag with a bright orange leather (ha) coat. The guy said he worked for Armani and was gifting the coat to Doug who had given the guy 40 euro. By the time the ordeal ended, Doug knew he'd been had. A good lesson. We brought the extra large women's coat back to Hawaii and told our funny story to the amusement of friends. One of our friends had a sister who was crazy about orange. She now owns the coat. The caveat: Beware, you'll be taken if you're gullible!

We were impressed with the likes of Circus Maximus, where we could actually walk in and about the ruins by using a paved walkway. The huge play ground for the elite, was an amazing spectacle. It was also very interesting to take a self-directed audio/walking tour of the Colesseum. The structure is gargantuan and sat approximately 50,000 people. It was built in and around 80 AD and opened during the reign of Emperor Titus. It's quite amazing to imagine how the structure was actually constructed and how many lives must have been sacrificed just in the building itself. That it still stands, is also quite amazing and shows the quality of design and engineering in such early times.

We dined each day, starting with a light breakfast in the hotel (complimentary) and then would have a snack later or a heavy lunch and generally would skip dinner and just have a snack. The Italian food is quite filling and heavy, so we were able to get by reasonably on one meal of substance a day. The food was, however, delicious--especially the homemade pastas and fresh sea food. We also decided that any Italian wines that begin with the letter "B" must be excellent (Barolo, Barbera, etc.).

Another surprise we enjoyed immensely, was the vast collection of art and artifacts held by the Catholic Church and housed in the Sistine Chapel or St. Peter's Basilica. It was especially surprising to eventually wander into a modern/contemporary museum where many recent works of art are held. It was difficult to focus because our senses were overloaded with art and the exquisite interior and structure of the buildings. The enormity of it all, was breathtaking.

Although the customary summer crowds were nowhere to be seen, there were still a great number of tourists in the city, much to our surprise. We heard that Carnivale was the main draw, because we were nearing the end of Lent and the big celebrations at St. Peter's and all over Italy that would be occurring. We saw many people here and in France, dressed in costume--especially the children.

Because we had not planned on staying in a four-star hotel for ten nights, thinking our 600 euros apartment would be our place to relax, we decided to cancel the final leg of our trip which was to take place in Venice. We had once visited there during Carnivale and found it to be absolutely amazing, so we thought we'd return again. However, with so many beggars and street vendors bugging us, we were quite certain it would be worse in Venice. We were tired and ready to end the trip and even went to far as to wish we'd just stayed at La Jassine.

I do have to say, though, it was such fun to see the exciting places in Rome that we'd only read about and to see them without the throng of summer tourists and during the hottest time of the year. Yes, we're certain that while some times it can be limiting to travel in winter, there are enough good sunny days to warrant doing so and enjoying sites when it's possible to simply stand in front of a bronze and stare at it in awe.

I hope you'll enjoy the photographs below as much as we enjoyed our tour. Until again, ciao!

Flying Into Paris To Connect With Air France, Our Parting Shot--Sweet Sorrow

We Explore A Castle Near Circus Maximus

Piazza Navone Is A Big Gathering Place During The Evening, Even In February!

A Good Bottle Of Barbera, And The Waiter Scored Those Nice Sunglasses Left On The Table!

Ancient Roman Columns Appear Everywhere In Rome

Circus Maximus, A Place For The Elite To Gather

A Centurion Steals A Moment To Enjoy A Panini

When You Visit A Restaurant More Than Once, You Get A Rose, Picture & Happy Patronne!

The Uncrowded Subway To Circus Maximus, February

February, Sunset On The Tiber, Peaceful

Michelangelo Buonarroti's "Pietà" (1501, in Marble) St. Peter's

The Amazing Vestibule Of St. Peter's Basilica

There Are Nearly As Many Gypsies And Hawkers As Tourists In Rome

Don't Talk To Strangers, You Might Get Ripped Off Like This Guy Did!

A Bronze Of Caesar Dominates This Hall Of Sculptures, Sistine Chape

The Only Way To Really Appreciate The Hall of Ancient Tapestries, Is To Sit And Ogle!

Raphael's "School At Athens" Draws A Large Crowd At The Sistine

Even Dali's Surrealism Has A Place In The Sistine

An Entire Wall Of These Wood Carvings (Relief Works) Tells A Religious Story

The Art Is Not All Ancient, Like This Tree That Appears To Float In Mid-Air

If Not Dizzy From The Art, The Stairway Will Do It

The Structure And Interior Of The Sistine Chapel, Is A Feast For The Eyes

The Sistine Chapel Houses Treasures From All Over The World

Like This Hall Of Statues, Every Hall Houses A Treasure Of Some Sort

We Are Amazed At The Beauty Of The Sistine Chapel And Art Within

Coliseum From Another Angle

Memorial Arch For Constantine, Who Brought Christianty To Rome

A Look At Palatine Hill From The Upper Reaches Of The Coliseum

Columns Still Stand On The Coliseum's Exterior

Coliseum Seating: Elite Sit At Lower Tiers & Commoners At Top

At One Time Lions & Gladiators Filled These Sub-terrain Hallways
We Have Fun Listening To English While Touring The Coliseum

We Enjoy A Breakfast of Cappuccino & Pastry While Mapping Out Our Day

1-Day Following A No-Confidence Vote For The President, Carabinieri Guard The Palais de Justice

Sidewalk Dining Is Fun, Even During The Cold Of Winter

During The Week Of Carnivale, Children Dress In Costume

We Chose Not To Return To The Trevi Fountain By Tossing In A Euro--Too Crowded!

A Little Subrosa Filming Of Young Professionals Gathering For Lunch At The Pizzeria, Rome

Our First Authentic Italian Pizzeria Pizza!

People Gather For Conversation At The Spanish Steps On A Saturday (Sunny) Morning

Formal Dress Used For The Celebration Of The Demised King At The Pantheon

Loyalists & Sympathizers Of The Monarchy & The Savoy Family Appear To Celebrate

Italy's First King Is Honored At The Pantheon Where He's Buried

Delightfully We Encounter A Celebration At The Pantheon

Without Knowledge Of Italian, I Say I Don't Understand In French!

A Short Walk From Our Hotel, Down Rome's Famous Shopping Streets, to Piazza Navone

The Hotel Dei Mellini Is Only A Block From The River Tiber

We Finally Arrive At The Hotel Dei Mellini, Rome

We Arrive In Rome At Last

We Enjoy One More Espresso Before Leaving Lourmarin On A Sunny Day!

Next post: It's back to France!

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