Day Fifteen. Learning to leave the house a little earlier

We enjoyed our tour with Alex so much yesterday that we had signed up to go on a Rome ‘mysteries‘ tour with him today. He had emphasized that the tour starts promptly at 9:00, and so we made sure to wake up in time to make it. We knew the bus went regularly, and figured that if we caught one right around 8:15, we should be right around the meeting point with about 5 minutes to spare. However, life being as life is, we didn‘t make it to the bus stop until 8:20 and, unlike our luck the other day with buses, we were stranded there until 8:40 while we waited for a bus. It was becoming pretty clear to us that we were going to miss the tour, and we had forgotten our pamphlet with the guides phone number. We got to the meeting point about 15 minutes late, and just sat for a few minutes trying to figure out a new plan for the day. While we waited, an American couple walked up to us that we recognized from the tour the day before. They too had had some problems with the Roman transit system this morning, and were wondering if we had been able to reach Alex, the guide. When they found out that we had forgotten his number, their pamphlet was immediately brought to light, and we were able, somehow, thanks to Jan’s phone plan, to get in contact with the guide. The directions seemed simple enough – go to the edge of the square, turn left, and look for a green door. Until we noticed roughly 5 green doors in a one block area. One of them was on a church, and we figured that was the safest bet, and hallelujah, we found our tour.

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While on the tour, Alex promised us that we would try the BEST ESPRESSO. He stated this quite emphatically. We nodded along but skeptically thought to ourselves about the commission he was probably getting from them, or the link he had, or the amount that we would have to pay for a cup. However, we were pleasantly surprised when we all received a ‘free‘ cup of espresso (the tour still cost money), and it really is a great cup of espresso. Deanna and Nastassia, being coffee enthusiasts, were in love with this little cafe, Sant‘Eustachio, for basically the rest of the day. A little gem, even celebrities are said to visit it when in the area.

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The tour led us past numerous churches, where we got to touch a Michelangelo statue, see some architectural tricks, a saint’s skull, and learn a number of interesting quirks about Rome itself.

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The tour ended at the Franciscan Monastery, after which Alex recommended a little place just down the road that serves good, italian food that isn’t overpriced. They had cold pastas for 5 euros, and rice plates for 8. If we could remember the name of it or where it was, we would love to give you a tip, but all we can say is that it was a little down the road from the Franciscan Monastery.

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Afterwards, we headed over to the Pantheon to fulfill one of Nastassia’s architectural dreams. Jan and Deanna had both been there before but had happily agreed to visit the site one more time for her sake.

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Not wanting to waste our last day in Rome, we wandered back through the Piazza Navona to soak in the sun and the vibe of the city. Quite a few vendors had their things set up and it made for a picturesque walk.

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We wandered all the way back to the Vatican in order to get into the museum, that we had missed the other day. Back up past Castel Sant‘Angelo all the way to the museum was about a 20 minute walk, but we were lucky enough that outside the Vatican museum there was almost no line.

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The Vatican museum is filled with cultural treasures and exhibitions that any art lover would adore. Not the least of which, it is attached to the Sistine Chapel, which in and of itself was an amazing thing to see. Deanna had downloaded an audio tour for the Chapel which was a great idea. A good way to get some extra information about a specific site without having to commit to an entire tour.

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After we had had our fill of culture and art for the day, we headed to the Spanish steps for some quality people watching. The stairs are more slippery than you would imagine, but it was a cool place to visit and relax after such a hectic day.

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Coming back to our flat, Jan got quite the surprise. He had a care package waiting for him from his sister, who had sent it to him before leaving on her own vacation. Magazines, chocolate, mentos, socks, and much more, his absolute favorite part was that she had found their oyster cards from a previous vacation and included them. Those will come quite in handy later in the trip!

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After this, all that was left was for everyone to pack up their things and get ready to part ways for a little while.



Day Thirteen. Vatican and Mexican

Putting our Rome transit passes to good use, we tested out the bus system on our way to the Vatican today. Express bus number 30 got us to Piazza Navona, which is only a half hour walk from the Vatican. But that half hour walk includes time to take pictures in some of Rome’s most scenic locations, as well as a leisurely pace.

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We also passed over the Bridge of Angles, and past Castel Sant’Angelo, while St. Peters dome got larger and larger with every step. The clouds teased us all day, and the promise of thunderstorms helped keep the temperature down. Which was good considering we had to be appropriately dressed for the church, and we would have absolutely died from the heat otherwise.

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The line up and security check took us roughly 45 minutes to get through, and once right by the dome, we decided to climb up to get the view from the top before going up. The sign at the ticket office stated that it was 551 stairs to the top, and we decided to put that to test. We counted every single step to the top. At the view down into the cathedral, we were at 240 steps. At that point, you get a closer look at some of the stunning mosaics that make up the churches elaborate decoration.

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Once at the top, we could testify to the truth of the original promise posted at the bottom of the climb. It really is 551 stairs to the top – and 7 of them are downhill. The views from the top are breathtaking, and Rome is spread out beneath you like a map. The only negative is the crowds at the top, but there isn’t too much that can be done to skip the summer crowds besides travel in the winter.

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Back down at ground level, we visited the Vatican Post office to buy some postcards for some family members. We were also able to get a closer look at the Swiss guard that stands by the doors of the Vatican. In 1500 the Pope at that time asked the Swiss army for some mercenaries to protect the Vatican state, and since that time, the Swiss guard has been the personal guard for the Pope and the Vatican.

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After our Vatican adventures, we were walking over to a spot that we had been told of by the lovely Brittany Busenius, and we noticed something along the banks of the River Tiber. Lining the roads of the river, there was a festival type of tent line-up, with some markets, some arcades, and some restaurants and food joints. Feeling a little hungry we stopped at a Mexican eatery and reflected on how funny it was that two Canadians and a German were eating Mexican food in Italy. Multiculturalism at it’s absolute finest. Looking it up a little later today, we found out we had stumbled upon Lungo il Tevere – Rome’s own summer festival celebrating different cultures and cuisines.

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After a little food to nourish us, we continued to a spot that we had been told of by Brit. There is a keyhole in Rome, designed by Piranesi in 1765. The area and gardens belong to the Knights of Malta. This spot has become quite the tourist destination, but still feels like a hidden spot. There is a large, regal, green double door in a small Piazza. Look through the keyhole, and you will see the St. Peter’s Dome perfectly outlined in it. A steady flow of people passes by to have a look, but at no point was it too full or crowded there. At a public park near to that location, we also paused to take some pictures of the Basilica and to enjoy the sunset.

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Our Airbnb host, Daniele, was fantastic in many ways, But what made him absolutely the greatest is that he volunteered to take us on a little night tour of Rome. He took us to one street in Rome where St. Peter’s Basilica is so huge it seems to be right in front of you. A breathtaking view, and hiding right in the middle of a residential area in Rome. We also went to a smaller church which hosts plenty of plays and musical shows, and due to an open plan you can hear everything when you sit outside on a nice summer day.  We also paid a visit to the Colosseum to see it lit up and glowing by the night lights.

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We’d also like to introduce you to Kentaro, or Teddy Bear. Daniele’s dog and our cuddle buddy of the last few days, he’s a rescue from a shelter, and he has to be the friendliest dog imaginable.

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Day Twelve. It’s a big pizza pie!

The three of us had our flight to Rome booked for 8:55 am this morning. We got up bright and early, and got ourselves a cab to the bus station, from where we planned to catch a bus to Dubrovnik Airport. The cab driver, however, offered us a fare straight to the airport that was only 2 euros more expensive than the bus tickets to take us the whole distance, and we decided that 2 euros split 3 ways was worth the headache and extra time that the bus would take us. We were at the airport with plenty of time to spare, and had all our things packed up nice and compact yet again for our early flight. The ride to the airport was breathtakingly scenic, as well. We spent our last kuna on a couple bottles of water and some coffee, and then geared up for Rome.

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No sooner were we in the air then it seemed that we were coming back down again, and by 10 am we found ourselves in a whole different country. Buying train tickets took a little while, but we were able to figure out the cheapest passes to get ourselves for the duration of our stay, and then just had to wait a half hour for our train before shuttling off to Rome to find our flat.

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Our apartment this time was a little removed from the centre of Rome, but our host, Daniele, met us right at our metro station and walked us to our flat, where we got to meet his huge, friendly dog and get ourselves acclimated. We found a free walking tour starting right around the Spanish steps for 4:00 pm in the afternoon and by 3:00 pm were back on the metro headed into the heart of the city. Unfortunately for us as tourists, but fortunately for preservation, both the fountain at the bottom of the Spanish steps, as well as the building at the top are currently being renovated. We snagged a couple of pictures and then headed over to the oldest McDonald’s in Europe for a perfectly tactfully unhealthy post-plane and pre-tour snack.

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Free walking tours are really quite hit and miss. The guides work off of tips, and so usually you get someone who is passionate about the material and also has a personality that keeps you intrigued. But every so often someone is lacking the formula that makes them appealing to you. This happened to us this afternoon. We tried to listen to our guide, but she just wasn’t selling the story to us even one bit. After half an hour it was clear to us that none of us were getting anything out of this tour, and we found a convenient spot in a crowd next to a street artist to ditch our group. We bought ourselves a map and walked over from the Colosseum over to the Circo Massimo to do a little of our own sightseeing and to salvage the day. On the way, Deanna and Nastassia decided to try some fresh coconut from a fruit stand, as the cascading water displays looked extremely appetizing on a hot day like today. Both of us happened to come to the consensus that fresh coconut tastes more like nut than we had imagined it would.

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At the Circo Massimo, Nastassia and Jan decided to relive a taste of Roman glory by having their own foot race. Not until we all got back to the flat tonight did we realize that we must have left our map somewhere on the ground near there, because it’s gone strangely missing from every other place we could have possibly left it. But aside from that, the Circo Massimo was a fabulous place to pick up the energy after a boring tour.

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After the foot race we all sat and talked, and tried to plan the activities for the next day or two. While we sat on the hillside and thought over all the history that is contained in every crevice and crack of Rome, we watched a couple have some splendid wedding photos taken of them right across the field from us. As the sun set and the mosquitos came out, we decided this was the perfect moment to call it an early night and to head back to the apartment.

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Although our location in Rome is a little unlucky due to the fact that it is a little outside the centre, we are perfectly content with the fact that there is a grocery store almost directly downstairs. We didn’t feel like cooking, but also didn’t feel like going anywhere, so a lazy meal was in order. We filled up on some breadsticks and cream cheese, and had fruits and cookies for dessert. Sounds quite meager but we were more than content with it. Now we’re going to bed a bit earlier in order to gain strength for the coming days and also to make up for some of the sleep we lost last night.

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