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Time to say goodbye to Europe and head home. Whirlwind trips like this are so rewarding and overwhelming at the same time. Here, on the last day, I was full of mixed feelings: sad it was over, anxious to see my pups, and needing a vacation to recover from vacation. But– what an incredible experience!
When I got up, I walked back over to St. Peter’s Square. The sun was rising as I watched the nuns and clergy making their way to work. People were already lining up at the Holy Door, waiting for the first service at the Basilica.
I just took a moment to breathe it all in….. Absorb it….. Memorize it….. Knowing it was time but not quite ready to file it away.
The four of us had breakfast (Michael, Mary, George and I)– which opened a little late– causing us a bit of a rush before our transportation to the airport arrived.
By the time we got our luggage downstairs, our transport was waiting for us. I took one last look at the grand columns surrounding St. Peter’s Square as we climbed in the van, bidding Rome a fond farewell. Ciao!
We got to the airport quickly and easily, then said our last goodbyes to George and Mary. (In all likelihood, we wouldn’t see them again for seven months– in Paris!) Then we proceeded to get checked in and head to our gate.
Everything was pretty much on time. We got settled in on the plane and shortly after take off, I watched the tearjerker, Me Before You. I thought it was really well done. It’s one of those sad, schmaltzy, romantic films that can easily be done wrong– but it kept its edge and believability throughout, without getting too sappy.
Over the course of the ten hour flight, I dosed on and off. My head was full of all the places we’d been. Growing up I’d never thought I’d ever see the world like this.
When we arrived at O’Hare, we breezed through customs with our Global Entry clearance and the new, automated ‘self serve’ kiosks that definitely sped up the process.
Peggy had picked the kids (Belle & Dudley) up from their vacation– and took them home before she came to get us. If she hadn’t, we’d have had to wait two more days (Monday) before we could get them.
We pulled in the driveway and it was overflowing with fallen leaves– just the first reminder of all the fall projects still ahead.
We were home.
Looking back, Michael and I had shared another truly amazing journey. We’d expanded our travel log: adding 5 West End shows, meeting nearly a dozen Broadway pros, visited 4 more countries and 18 cities, in addition to sailing the Mediterranean Sea. And– we still have so much more of the world to experience! We made new friends, created memories with old friends and had a thoroughly wonderful time.
I can’t stress enough the value of traveling and seeing the world. The history, different cultures and most important– seeing how others live and adapt– really help put the big picture in perspective.
(Original Travel Date: October 1, 2016)
We sailed into Cittavecchia as the sun rose, ending our seven day cruise. Before we disembarked the Silver Wind, we had breakfast, said a few goodbyes and waited to be called. We were provided transportation from Cittavecchia to the taxi stand at the Piazza Barberini in Rome. From there we headed to Vatican City.
Arriving at the Residenza Paolo VI Hotel, our home for the night– we had plenty of time before our tour. The hotel was literally across a narrow side street from St. Peter’s Square. George and Mary were able to check in when we arrived but our room wasn’t ready. We left our bags in their room and then we went upstairs and checked out the view from the terrace.
Michael had booked our private tour before the trip. This allowed us to bypass the lines at the Vatican Museum which can be quite long. We were supposed to meet our guide by some park stairs near the museum — we just had to find them. After spending a little time in St. Peter’s Square, we headed out around the perimeter of Vatican City– and of course. we chose the long way around.
After about a half mile walk, we found the meeting point and then decided to get a little lunch before the tour. We ended up at a little corner joint — didn’t look like much on the outside but inside it was actually quite nice. We had a nice filling lunch (I had pizza) and then headed to meet our guide.
The Vatican Museum is massive. We only saw a portion of it, marveling at the incredible content as we moved from room to room. Detailed frescos, hundreds of enormous tapestries, thousands of marble sculptures– not to mention the wide variety of architectural styles throughout the museum.
The Sistine Chapel. I’ve always heard this was a must-see in Rome and it is only accessible with a ticket to the Vatican Museum. We were warned before entering that there was to be no talking and no photography inside.
We entered, and were in and out in probably five minutes or less. Why? It was extremely crowded and a little uncomfortable. Visitors were crammed in like sardines, most staring up at the magnificent ceiling. But– people were talking, taking cell phone pictures and prompting the guards to yell at the crowd, repeatedly, to stop doing both.
I kept getting bumped into and brushed against. I was honestly afraid I was going to fall victim to the rumored pick-pockets. It was the only time during the whole trip that I had any concern. I was just anxious to get out of there. By the time I got to the other side of the room– the rest of our party was also there– we all just wanted to leave that claustrophobic environment.
St. Peter’s Basilica. The Papal Basilica is considered by many as one of the world’s most holy places. We’ve toured many churches, cathedrals and basilicas around the world. This is THE basilica, right? Nothing can prepare you for how colossal it really is until you walk inside and experience it for yourself. The tallest dome in the world, it rises 448 feet above the sanctuary.
As we were nearing the end of a Jubilee year, we were still able to pass through the Holy Door which according to Catholic beliefs, cleanses the pilgrims that pass through it. (The Holy door was just resealed by the Pope a few weeks ago.) It is normally sealed from the inside with mortar.
There is no charge to visit St. Peter’s. If you are visiting Rome but limited on time, you should most definitely visit St. Peter’s Square and the Basilica, even if you don’t have time to tour the museum.
For dinner we headed to Su & Giu Cucina Romana on the recommendation of George’s sister. We arrived too early (just after 6) forgetting that most restaurants close after lunch and then open later for dinner. In our case, they didn’t open until 7:30. So we took a walk through the neighborhood and did some window shopping in the meantime.
The streets were quite lively. There were lots of street vendors and people hurrying about. I found a special pleasantness about it all– a wonderful vibe and quite charming. It was enjoyable just to sit, people-watch and soak it all in.
We were the first to be seated when we got back to the restaurant. We couldn’t have shared a more perfect meal for our last night. There was an overabundance of delicious food. We were stuffed!
We took a taxi back to the hotel, George and Mary went upstairs, while Michael and I walked back over to St. Peter’s Square to view it all lit up and snap a few photos.
I’m really glad we planned our trip this way. Saving a day just dedicated to seeing the Vatican was a smart move. There’s really no way to truly experience all that Rome has to offer and the Vatican in one day. Splitting it up the way we did, I feel like we were able to fully experience this incredible city– even if it was crammed into a couple days.
(Original Travel Date: September 30, 2016)
You go on vacation either to relax, for a holiday or event (usually family-related) or to go sightseeing. Most of us joke about needing a vacation to recover from vacation because- let’s face it: vacations are exhausting. I’ve found that no matter what type of vacation you have planned, it’s always important to allow for some down time. It’s good to take a breath, relax and let it all soak in.
Our last three big vacations have allowed us to see the world. We’ve experienced the Baltic region, Southeast Asia and now London and Italy. Having already explored two amazing cities, and barely reached the midpoint of this adventure– Michael and I were both ready for a little relaxation time.
What to do? Our suitcases had to be packed and ready for transport (early) leaving us about four hours before boarding the coach bus. From there, it would be about an hour to Cittavecchia, where we would meet our ship.
So what do you do with time to spare in one of the world’s most famous cities?
You go for a walk in the park.
Villa Borghese Gardens. After breakfast, Michael and I headed to Villa Borghese just to wander around. No rush, no set destination– just a relaxing walk on what was to be another beautiful day with perfect weather.
Who knew that we would spend our time, sitting on a bench, enjoying ducks swimming around the Temple of Aesculapius (built in 1786)? Or, that we would find a replica of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre (2003) hidden among the trees? Well, we did.
Here are some of the images I captured along the way:
Leaving Rome. We walked through the streets after leaving the gardens, arriving back at the hotel with plenty of time before boarding the bus to Cittavecchia.
Upon arrival at the port, we were greeted by the ancient Cittavecchia fortress at the harbor. In just a matter of minutes, we were on board the Silver Seas ship, Silver Wind.
Sailing on the Silver Wind. Since we weren’t technically leaving Italy, boarding was fast and simple and our luggage was to be delivered directly to our room. We got our keys and checked out the room before exploring the ship.
The Silver Wind is a small ship with a modest passenger capacity of 296 and a crew of 222. Silver Seas has paid great attention to detail, providing most of the amenities of a larger cruise ship. Pool, spa, gift shop, casino and four restaurants all beautifully provided.
Shortly after boarding, we ran into Lindsay Mendez (Wakefield) and her husband Philip– they remembered us from last year– and they had just enjoyed a beautiful honeymoon (pre-cruise) in Tuscany.
Once everyone was on board, we had the required muster drill, which was fast and painless. Our luggage didn’t reach our room until about that time; so afterwards, we quickly changed for the cocktail reception and dinner.
We were treated to a beautiful sunset shortly after sailing. It was difficult not to pause and enjoy it– with the flurry of excitement and meeting many new people that was all happening at the same time.
Luckily, George had made dinner reservations for the four of us at The Grill prior to the cruise. We enjoyed dining outside with the ‘Black Rock experience’– cooking our own choice of meat on preheated volcanic rock at our table. It was unique. Our meat cooked perfectly– but bibs were required! Lots of pops and sizzles on the hot stones.
Broadway On the High Seas. Our first concert of the cruise was a special treat: Andrea Burns, taking a break from her Broadway run in On Your Feet and traveling with her husband Peter and son, Hudson.
She is an incredible performer with great versatility and talent. Andrea Burns was in the original casts of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights and Jason Robert Brown’s Songs For a New World among many other theatre, film and television credits.
After the concert (and some unavoidable raving,) we said our goodnights and headed to our room for some much-needed sleep.
There are so many beautiful houses of worship in Rome. Churches, Cathedrals, Basilicas — no matter what they are called, they are full of a rich history and artistry that is a wonder to behold.
On our full day of touring Rome, Michael and I found ourselves wandering in many of these beautiful sanctuaries. They stand open, throughout the day, welcoming anyone to enter.
Here is a sampling of the churches we visited. Many had origins back to the 1st Century but all the current structures date back to as early as the 16th century.
All Saints’ Anglican Church – Est. 1887
Chiesa de Gesu E Maria – Est. 1602
Basilica S. Giacomo – Est. 1600
Basilica dei SS Ambrogio E Carlo – Est. 1610
Chiesa di San Marcello al Corso – Est. 309 AD , rebuilt 1597
Oratorio del Santissimo Crocifisso – Est. 1568
Santi Vincenzo e Anastasio a Trevi – Est. 1650
Basilica dei SS. XII Apostoli – Est. 499, rebuilt 1714
Chiesa San Luigi dei Francesi – Est. 1589
Chiesa di Santi’ Agnese in Agone – Est. 1652
What better way is there to discover a new city than to literally get lost in it? Okay, so maybe not your first choice and it wasn’t ours either– well, kinda-sorta.
At breakfast, everyone had pretty much decided they were doing there own thing. I think Michael and I were the only ones determined to really go sightseeing and see as much as possible.
The best advice I could find online suggested seeing Rome on foot, skipping the tours and the all-access packages like the Rome Pass and the HOHO bus tickets. We had what we thought was a very modest list of sights we had to see. We figured we’d start at the Spanish Steps since it was closest, then work our way down to end at the Colosseum and Roman Forum. We’d just zig-zag across the city and take in what we could, leaving room for a little exploration along the way.
We left the hotel using the Map.Me app… and right off, I thought the direction we were going didn’t make a lot of sense. Long story, short– we walked about a half mile to nowhere. Seriously, we reached a point where there wasn’t even a sidewalk! We knew we’d have to turn around, backtrack and pretty much start over. Nothing like getting lost first thing– and not in a good way.
Once we’d reached the Piazza Trinità dei Monti, located at the top of the Spanish Steps, we didn’t seem to have anymore problems with the GPS and the app. Still, with the Spanish Steps closed, we had to find a different route down to the base to be able to see them. Up top there was a barricade blocking it all off.
We found our way down to the Piazza di Spagna at the base of the Spanish Steps. The steps had been closed for renovation for a number of months. Coincidentally, they had the dedication and reopened them, later that same afternoon after we had visited them.
Just to the southeast, we found the Colonna della Immacolata (Column of the Immaculate Conception) in the Piazza Mignanelli. From here we started our leisure stroll, turning down streets that looked promising and stopping by shops and visiting many churches. (My next post will just focus on the churches and cathedrals we happened upon.)
We saw the Piazza del Popolo from a distance and wandered through. The name’s modern translation is “People’s Square”. I found it to be one of the more beautiful piazzas we encountered.
Next we found Piazza Colonna with the striking and detailed Column of Marcus Aurelius. Adjoining the piazza is the seat of the Italian Government.
I love the architecture and classic style of the buildings found throughout Rome. I also found the numerous news kiosks very charming.
There is literally something new to see around every corner in central Rome. I could spend days just wandering the city aimlessly.
Piazza di Trevi – Completed in 1762, the Rococo (Late Baroque) Trevi Fountain fed by an aqueduct that was built in 19 BC. It is one of the most famous fountains in the world. It is also the centerpiece of this small, extremely claustrophobic piazza.
There is the legend that if you throw a coin in the fountain… you will return to Rome one day. Well, it was so crowded, there was no way we were going to get close enough without taking up valuable time- so no wish was made.
Near the Pantheon, was the Elephant and Obelisk designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. The Egyptian Obelisk was excavated nearby.
The combined work was unveiled in 1667 in its home in the Piazza Della Minerva.
Piazza della Rotonda – is the location of the Pantheon – formally a Roman temple and now a church. It’s excellent condition is due, in part, to its continuous use throughout history.
When you consider the age (completed in 125 AD) and its condition, it really is a world-wonder. The interior is primarily lit by the sun through the nearly 30 foot oculus above, in the center dome.
The Palazzo Madama is the seat of the Senate of the Italian Republic; built on top of the ruins of the ancient baths of Nero.
We happened to stumble upon the changing of the guard taking place as we passed.
Piazza Navona is one of the most popular and visited piazzas in Rome. It features three fountains, including Bernini’s world famous Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers) as the centerpiece.
The historic significance of the space is that it was built on the site of the Stadium of the Domitian, also known as Circus Agonalis. It was an important competition stadium back in the first century AD.
At one time, it was also the home of the city market. Over the years, many films have featured scenes that were shot here.
Finding the Sacred area del Argentina was completely unexpected. In 1927, during demolition work, parts of the holy area were discovered. The original square was uncovered that includes the ruins of four Roman temples and part of Pompey’s Theatre, with portions of the ruins dating back to 241 BC. Julius Caesar was believed to have been assassinated in this square. The area is currently undergoing restoration.
It is also the location of Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary, a no-kill shelter run by volunteers. In addition to protecting them, they sterilizes the cats to help control the city’s feral cat population. There is a no-kill law in Rome protecting homeless cats. We didn’t see any cats here on our visit.
The Piazza Venezia is the central hub of Rome. We actually passed through here four times throughout the day. On one side is the Palazzo Vallenti framed by two churches.
Also on the piazza is Altare della Patria (Altar of the Fatherland), built in honor of Victor Emmanuel the first king of a unified Italy. It was designed by Giuseppe Sacconi in 1885 but not completed until 1925. It is the largest monument in Rome. Immense in size, it is despised by many because a large part of Capitoline Hill and its historic artifacts were destroyed in order to build it.
Colosseum (or Coliseum) was something we had to see. We’d wisely purchased tickets ahead of time to avoid the lines. It included the Colosseum and Palatine Hill/Roman Forum which could be used on two separate days, but only one entry into each location.
When we arrived, the line to get into the Colosseum, even with a ticket, was pretty long. We let a guide on the street talk us into joining a group tour (for only a few Euros since we already had tickets) and he said we’d get in right away. Big mistake. We waited another 20 minutes and still had to wait to get in the queue. We ended up only staying with the tour a short time because the guide was long-winded and wasn’t going any place fast. So we left the group and finished it on our own.
The Colosseum is massive and quite impressive. I’ll admit that the interior was actually in a greater state of decomposition than I expected. Still, iconic– a must-see when visiting Rome.
Leaving the Colosseum and starting to get a little tired, we continued on to Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum. The breathing-taking views from the hill were the highlight of the day. One of the seven hills of Rome, it is one of the oldest areas of the city. With multiple viewing points, we had exceptional panoramic views of Rome, the Colosseum and the Roman Forum below.
After the Forum, we walked out past the Piazza Venezia and on to the Via del Corso where we wisely hailed a taxi back to the hotel. In all, we walked fourteen and a half miles through the city.
Back at the hotel, we had an early dinner/late lunch, having not eaten since breakfast. We had about an hour to kill before we had to get ready for the evening’s reception.
Broadway On the High Seas 7 Reception. As with the last cruise, Playbill Travel hosted a pre-cruise reception with champagne and entertainment. It was a chance to socialize and see friends from past cruises we hadn’t seen yet. We also caught up again with Anthony and Michael, that we met in London.
So in addition to the fact that I was standing a few feet away from Adam Pascal (the original Roger in RENT) during the entertainment– the highlight of the evening was hearing Kate Baldwin sing “Ribbons Down My Back” from Hello Dolly. She will be performing as Mrs. Malloy on Broadway in the upcoming revival starring Bette Midler.
Afterwards, we took a stroll down the street for Gelato with George and Mary before calling it a night.
I think we did pretty good seeing Rome in a day. Not to mention all the churches we also visited, that I’ll share in my next post. (We’re spending the day at the Vatican after the cruise.)
We managed to get lost literally and figuratively in one the most beautiful, historic cities in the world.
Saying goodbye to a city you’re visiting can be hard. Especially when you’ve had great experiences and stayed in a wonderful place.
This was my early morning– saying goodbye to St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel. Before breakfast, bags already packed, I walked through the hotel one last time.
I found myself back at the grand staircase. I had to walk all the way up and down it one last time.
Some London Takeaways
- Public transportation is a must in London. It’s much too big and spread out to walk. Walking neighborhoods, yes; but not if you are sightseeing all over the city.
- We purchased and used the London Pass. We probably just about broke even with what we saw using it and saved time not waiting in lines. I know we visited a few spots we wouldn’t have, had we not had it. If you are the type of traveler that wants to see as much as possible (in and out), it’s likely a good investment. If you are the type that prefers longer visits, especially at museums, for example– you are probably going to save money paying as you go.
- Travel Guides can be handy but for me, I found them unnecessary (practically useless) and it certainly wouldn’t have been practical to carry around the city. If you do your research online ahead of time– there’s no need to purchase/carry/take a book.
- Get a good GPS phone map (app) like Maps.Me to help you get around. I found it to be an invaluable tool and never had to stop and ask directions while using it.
- Safety was never a concern during our visit. Of course, you should always be cautious but I never felt I was in a dangerous or risky situation. I honestly felt safer in London than I did in my last Chicago overnight visit, 45 minutes from home. I bring this up because in Rick Steve’s London 2016, he overemphasizes the necessity of safety steps, to the point of fear mongering.
A few things I haven’t mentioned:
Traditional London Pubs, you know, with the old-style classic exteriors– are abundant. I always love sighting unique architecture. Another thing I noticed as we passed many restaurants– in London, creating a unique atmosphere and ambiance is not only important, it’s the norm. This can be said of many of the small retail shops as well. I mean, uniquely different. It appears British entrepreneurs have a better understanding of what will set themselves apart and draw in the clientele. American business owner should take notice.
Classic British Hearse. While we were on the HOHO Bus, we were passed by a funeral procession and it was interesting to see a British Hearse with large side windows and wreath rails. The coffin and the many floral tributes were in full display to all it passed. You hardly see this in America. The hearse windows are almost always tinted or curtained.
British Telephone Kiosks are alive and well. Often referred to as the Red Telephone Box ; there were many incarnations, with the most common ones (seen today) being the “K6”. We saw them all over London in Red, Green and Black. With the popularity of cell phones, many of the boxes are being re-purposed into WIFI, phone-charging and even work stations. The good news is that these icons aren’t going away.
My View of London
Looking back, I see London as an extremely friendly, warm and inviting city. It’s not at all what I had expected. I thought it would be more like downtown Chicago or NYC. It is full of neighborhood charm, while at the same time– steeped in massive amounts of culture and historic places of interest. As old as London is, it retains its historic appeal, yet feels comfortable and modern at the same time. It is busy– but not chaotic; and it is a quiet city, compared to many others I’ve visited.
This photo probably best embodies how I feel about/picture London in my head:
Off to Rome
Our car to Heathrow arrived early and we were there in a flash. I was so glad we weren’t hauling our luggage on the Tube again. The flight to Rome was on time and we had no issues at the airport or with our flight.
Our transportation and hotel had been arranged through Playbill Travel, so a car was waiting for us at the airport when we arrived in Rome.
Our driver didn’t take the most scenic route to the hotel. I was a little taken aback by the rundown, graffiti-covered buildings on the outskirts of the city. It got better the further in we got, finally arriving at the Westin Excelsior Hotel, a few blocks from the Borghese Gardens.
We arrived mid afternoon and had a short wait before our room was ready. The first thing I noticed when we arrived were the armed soldiers across the street. That was a little unnerving. Then I discovered the following day that we were next door to the American Embassy, which explained the added security.
While we waited for our room, we started looking to see what friends from past cruises had arrived. We knew our friends George and Mary had gotten there that morning– if we could only find them!
We checked in around 4 pm. –Our room was nice enough. — And we got settled in.
We went down to the Playbill Reception Desk, got our stuff and ran into a bunch of friends. After chatting for awhile, we decided to make things simple and have dinner in the hotel.
Eight of us met for dinner at the Doney, and enjoyed good food and conversation before retiring for the night. A big day tomorrow!