Saturday 16 August 2014

European Adventure: Day Nineteen - Travelling to Rome, Italy

Today was probably the most overbooked day on the trip, but that stemmed mainly from travel times and distances.

When originally booking the trip Italy was added on toward the end. Initially it was going to end in Vienna - but Dad thought it would be nice for Brian and see Italy and possibly his sister and brother-in-law who live there. Sadly our trip was booked at the exact time they were leaving to visit the US, so we didn't get a chance to see them or the home they have made here. Despite this, we still decided to go to Rome and see as much as possible. When our trip got extended due to airline availability (since it was booked on points) the Italy portion was extended a little bit longer allowing us to add Florence and Venice on.

In order to make the drive back to Vienna for our flight to Rome, we had to leave the hotel by 3:30am. It made for one super early morning! The drive back was nice – very dark, but the roads were dead. It rained a little bit on and off, but by the time we reached the highway it was clearing up. We stopped twice – once for coffee and croissants at a Autogrill and then at a gas station by the airport.

We dropped off the car at the rental car agency and then began the long process of checking in for our flight and waiting. We got to the airport almost 3 hours in advance which was early, but it was better to be early then to miss our flight. 

We sat at an airport restaurant for most of the time having breakfast and coffee. Brian showed Dad how to use Google Maps to track places he has visited, so he spent the time entering in various places. Brian and I both read and played on our tablets – thank goodness for free Wifi! Before heading to the gate I stopped at some of the stores to look around and bought my brother something I had been trying to find while in Austria.

A few minutes after getting to the gate the three of us were called up to the front. We were a little uneasy and worried that we had been bumped due to overbooking, but it turned out we were upgraded to business class! Apparently they had overbooked the flight and we were three of the people they upgraded. I am not sure why – whether it was because we had booked so early or because we checked in early, or if it was because there was three of us, but we were thrilled.

Our flight was delayed because they needed to use a larger plane, but we were able to board first and get settled. There were three seats on each side, but in business class they kept the middle seat empty. We were given a meal of fruit and cheese which was a pleasant surprise… and the hour and a half flight flew by – literally! J It was a rough flight, but thankfully it was quick.

When we arrived in Rome we gathered our baggage and grabbed a cab taking us to our hotel. We had used points and I picked a Best Western a few minutes away from the Vatican. The room Brian and I had was decent – a bit small but recently renovated. Dad’s room however was a closet. He could almost touch each side when standing in the middle.

We rested at the hotel for a few hours before heading out for dinner. We walked a few blocks and found a restaurant that was open for drinks. The hostess didn’t want to seat us as dinner didn’t start for an hour, but the owner was there and insisted it was fine. She seemed a bit annoyed at us for being there but we didn’t have to interact with her much. Dad ordered pasta, and I ordered these meatballs in an orange sauce and we shared them. The orange sauce sounds strange but it was actually delicious! Dad and I are hoping to recreate that recipe sometime soon.

After dinner I had arranged a private night tour by the company Rome Chauffer. I had initially wanted to use a different company but they were booked and recommended this company instead. They gave me the same tour at the same price, and since we had such a limited amount of time to see Rome, I thought this was a great way to see as much of the city as possible. I was a bit apprehensive and not quite sure what to expect but it was well worth it.

Our guide – Sergio – was knowledgeable and friendly. Dad had been to Rome about six times before this and loved this tour as he learned and saw things he hadn’t previously.  We started the tour with a stop at the Vatican where we got to take photos and learn the history. Sergio talked about the up and down relationship that Rome and Vatican City have, and pointed out key spots in the square. There are a few places you can stand where the pillars surrounding the square line up, which was interesting. I also hadn’t realized that the statues that line the buildings are that of former Popes. Sergio talked about the newest Pope and explained how he is loved by most Italians and renewing some interest in religion.

Sergio then drove us up to Gianiculum Hill which provided some amazing views of Rome from above the city. Sergio walked around with us pointing out various landmarks and giving some information about them.
Afterward he drove us over to the Colosseum so that we could see it lit up at night. It wasn’t the greatest view, but it was really cool to see it at night.

One spot we went that I was really excited to see was Piazza Venezia where we got to see the beautifully lit monument dedicated to Italy’s first king, Vittorio Emanuele II. This impressive and imposing structure has been nicknamed the “wedding cake” because it is made of pure white marble and appears to glow at night when bathed in lights. In this Piazza was also the building that Mussolini gave his speeches from which Sergio pointed out to us.

We got a chance to visit Trevi Fountain which is usually a beautiful “spectacle of lights dancing on water pouring from its original 1st century BC aqueduct, Aqua Virgo however this was under construction and covered in scaffolding. This was disappointing as I had planned to throw a coin in from over my shoulder as legend says if you do you will be back in Rome someday soon!

Sergio brought us up to this building which was the Knights of Malta Keyhole view of St. Peters. If you look through the keyhole you can see the Vatican in the distance, which was really cool.

 Our last stop was at the top of the Spanish Steps which was a really cool way to see the city.

Dad and Sergio 

Me in this area back in 1997 -- different angle though!

Throughout the course of our tour we learned a lot about Rome, and got to see countless sights both with stops and also from the car. I really learned a lot, and it was a great way to see the city.

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