Day 15

It was a shock to already be headed for our last stop, Rome! The days had gone by so quickly. We took advantage of a quick toilet stop to do a group picture with Sauro and our bus.

Entering Rome was quite at odds with the peacefulness we’d just experienced at the agriturismo. The traffic very quickly became gridlocked so we got an eye full of the motorbikes weaving amongst the cars, the multiple (unmarked) lanes of the roundabout converging to get through one archway, and the very creative street parking. Apparently sometimes when people double park, they’ll just leave a note on their car saying where they can be found!

After a bit of a detour, we finally arrived at our planned drop off point and said goodbye to Sauro. We had time to get settled in to our rooms and grab a quick lunch before meeting up in the lobby to head for the Vatican museums and Sistine Chapel. Lynne, Ed, Mom and I just stayed on our street and found a little spot with pizza by the slice and a variety of plates to choose from. I got a mushroom pizza and Mom went for a vegetarian lasagna for under €10!

We gathered up, switched our tour radios for the Vatican approved (holy) radios, and then headed for the metro station down the street. After Sarah explained how the metro worked, we were off to the very busy Vatican. A local tour guide led us through the maze of the museums and into the Sistine Chapel. It was amazing to see Michelangelo’s masterpiece but the crowds somewhat took away from the experience.

The Vatican was overwhelming, but we we’re done experiencing Rome for the day. A few people choose to head back to the hotel for the evening, but most of us stayed with Sarah and took the metro to the Spanish Steps. At this point in the day, everyone’s tummy was starting to grumble and we definitely felt like we deserved a drink after tackling the Vatican mid afternoon. Sarah took us to a little restaurant nearby where we got a light dinner and prosecco.

Re-energized, we walked on to our last stop for the day, the Trevi Fountain. It was pretty crowded but we managed to wiggle our way down to the bottom step.

Day 16

The last full day of the tour arrived so quickly! Although a tour of St. Peter’s Basilica wasn’t included, Sarah offered to take anyone interested to see it early this morning. Although we got there early (~8 am), the entry line already sprawled halfway across St. Peter’s Square.

Thankfully the line moved fairly quickly and after an easy security check, we were on our way into the church. We listened to Rick Steves’ audio tour while we walked through the church. The elaborate bronze structure at the far end of the church sits above St. Peter’s tomb. The Basilica is also home to one of Michelangelo’s Pieta carvings.

I was astonished to find out that everything that looked like a painting in this church was actually a mosaic of fingernail-sized chips of stone. We were able to get up close with the mosaics when we went up in the dome. To get to the cupola and see views of the city, we had to keep climbing.

The climb was well worth the views. The extensive gardens of the Vatican looked like a very nice place to take a stroll. On the opposite side, we could easily see the “arms of the church” encircling St. Peter’s Square.

After our tour of St. Peter’s, we grabbed pizza at our new favorite stop and rejoined the group to go on a historic Rome walking tour. Maria Laura, our guide from the Vatican, took us first through the Roman Forum, bringing to life the chunks of stone with her stories of the past. She included a bit of etymology of some common words we use today which I found particularly interesting.

After the Forum, we walked through the Colosseum, so called because of the colossal statue that used to stand in front of it, long gone now.

From the Colosseum, we walked to the Pantheon, passing many excavation sites, the Victor Emmanuel monument, and Palazzo Venezia, where Mussolini made many speeches.

Unfortunately the Pantheon was closed when we arrived, and our chances of getting in later looked slim. We opted to continue our tour, which concluded at Bernini’s Fountain of Four Rivers.

After admiring the fountain and parting with Maria Laura, we elected to take a half hour to grab a small snack and drink. Sarah spotted a bar down a side street with bruschetta and drink for €7.

As this was the last real day of the tour, we had a group dinner reservation a couple blocks from the hotel. In order to get us all back there efficiently, Sarah herded us to the nearest bus stop. As you might imagine, squeezing the 28 of us onto a bus was quite the comical ordeal. To add to the excitement, one of the ticket validation machines wasn’t working! We managed to work together and get everyone’s ticket through the one working machine and made it back to the hotel without further challenges.

Our final group dinner felt like a big, happy, family gathering. With delicious food, great company, and fabulous stories to share, the night was over all too quickly. I can’t speak for other tour groups, but I think we developed a really special bond with everyone in ours. We’ve already started talking about when we’re going to visit each other in the states!

Being that the restaurant wasn’t a great place to have an end-of-tour wrap up, we finished up our dessert and wine and walked back to the hotel. We tried to gather in the courtyard outside the hotel, but as soon as Sarah had said her bit, the multiple conversations between the 28 of us got way too loud and the concierge had to come out and shut down the party, twice.

This trip was such a long time coming and it was surreal that the end was here. It was going to be strange to be on our own traveling through France.

Day 17

Our tour group gradually dispersed. Some were staying on in Rome for another couple days, some left for home, and some, like us, were continuing our travels in Europe. After a final farewell to our friends at breakfast, Sarah, Mom and I left for the train station to continue our adventure. Sarah happened to have a train departure time close to ours so we got a little extra time with our amazing tour guide. I truely feel like we’ve gained 26 new friends and look forward to seeing them again in the near future!

This concluded our Rick Steves Best of Italy Tour, but my Mom and I still had another week of traveling through France. If you’re interested, hop on over to “My Journal” for the full story.

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