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Thursday, May 16, 2013

Touring Rome with Francesco from MilesandMiles.Net

                   Touring Rome with Francesco from Miles and Miles.Net!
Francesco & M.A.
Our stay was at the four-star modern Hotel Tiber in Fiumencino (near the airport) and it was exceptional.  I even found Fox News on the TV along with ESPN and watched some baseball.  Monday morning we got up and went to the top of the hotel for a fantastic breakfast.  Most European hotels offer a “continental” breakfast but this hotel had scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, hot toast, yogurt, orange juice, coffee and more.

Our private guide, Francesco, showed up right on time at 9am. He is in his mid-thirties, handsome, wavy dark hair and he has a warm smile. I think MA was slightly dazzled by him!  He also spoke excellent English, a lot of which he learned at home from his mother. But when someone speaks a second language well, it is usually a sign they spent some time in the country of that language as did Francesco who came to College Station, Texas for a while. Small world! His tour company is family owned and specializes in the history, the secrets, back roads, cappuccino cafes and ice cream parlors of Rome.  They operate with 17 Mercedes vans running every single day! And btw, they are recommended by Rick Steves.
Why did we elect to have a private guide in Rome? MA did the math. She calculated the cost of cabs to/from the train, if we could get a cab, train tickets to/from town, Hop-on Hop-off bus tours, tickets to venues, long lines and back to our hotel, plus not knowing our way around all that well. Then there’s that knee business and lots of walking is not yet in the cards.  So we coughed up some extra Euros for a personal guide, chauffer driven van and saw sights most tourists never see.
St. Peter's dome

The first stop of the day was Francesco’s neighborhood which is near the Vatican.  We got there via his secretly known back streets bypassing the infamous Rome traffic jams.  The first order of business was his favorite coffee shop where we all had a cappuccino. This was like no other cappuccino I've ever had.  Excellent describes it best!  From there we went to a nearby hill where we had a great view of the Vatican and Rome.  

We then went proceeded to the oldest part of the city where the streets were built for horse drawn carts and pedestrians.  They are barely wide enough for one car going one way.  Somehow Francesco had a way of finding a place to park or if not, he just double parked! When in Rome!! We stopped at the Ciuri Ciuri, a pastry and ice cream shop and he treated us to a really, really good canola, very Italian.  He knows all these people personally and it’s fun to watch the interactions in Italian.  At this point I knew our private tour was the right decision!
Pantheon interior
Our next stop was the Pantheon.  It was built in 126 AD as a temple for all the Roman gods but served as a Roman Catholic Church since the  7th Century You can actually attend Mass on Sunday morning there. The Pantheon consists of a large circular portico with three ranks of huge granite Corinthian columns.  The portico opens into a rotunda which is topped with a concrete dome with a central opening: the oculus.  Almost two thousand years after it was built, the  Pantheon's dome is still the largest un-reinforced concrete dome in the world.

From there we toured central Rome ending at an enormous white marble monument that dominates Piazza Venezia. It commemorates Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of a united Italy. The mounument marked the 50 years of unification.  By the way, I  didn't know this, but it was the Roman Catholic Church which was the major obstacle to Italy's unification. 
Victor Emmanuel Memorial

Our next stop was at the column of Marcus Aurelius, in Piazza Colonna. It is a Doric column featuring a spiral relief. It was built in honor of the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius depicting his victories over the Germanic tribes.

Marcus Arilus Column

Spanish Steps

Next we stopped at the Trevi Fountain, the largest Baroque fountain in Rome. We tossed in a couple Euro coins, took a couple of photos and continued on to the Spanish Steps.  You are supposed to make a wish and toss them in over your shoulder, facing away from the fountain.

From there we went on to the Spanish steps. Francesco said that he did not know why they are such a tourist attraction other than the movie, “Roman Holiday.” Today the food police will ticket anyone caught eating on those steps.

Circus Maximus

Speaking of eating, it was lunch time and Francesco took us to his favorite spot where most of the UN workers come for lunch.  It is called Gustomassimo and it’s near the ancient Circus Maximus.  The Circus Maximus was the largest stadium in ancient Rome.  Popular chariot races were held her for almost a thousand years.  At one point it could seat 250,000 people, one quarter of Rome's population.  I think that's bigger than the Rose Bowl.  Lunch was pasta, salad cheese and Italian bread.  Yum!
From there we drove along the Apian Way and visited an underground Crypt, then the catacombs, one of the ancient burial grounds for the Roman Empire and early Christians.  A church was erected at the entrance.  It has a carved wooden ceiling that is indescribably beautiful.  We made a drive by the Vatican (big crowds there), saw St. Peter’s Cathedral. The Coliseum was next, what a mammoth structure that is and oh boy, the things that went on in there!
Us at the Trevi Fountain
Once again we found ourselves in Francesco’s neighborhood.  He took us to an ice cream shop and they treated us some marvelous ice cream, gelato in Italian. All throughout the day Francesco shared the history of his beloved home town. We were sorry to see the end of our tour as he drove us back to our hotel.  All I can say is we thoroughly enjoyed everything, well worth every Euro.

Tuesday morning early we checked out of the hotel, ate breakfast and got the shuttle to the airport. We flew from Rome to Frankfurt and then nonstop on to Houston (about 10 hours).  MA spent most of the flight with her IPAD games and watched one movie.  I, however, watched five different movies! 

As soon as we got home and unloaded the car I went to get Tanner.  Susan, his adoptive mom from when he was taken into the rescue center, had taken excellent care of him.  I do think he wanted to take one of the Irish wolfhounds home with him as a playmate.  He seems a little puzzled about where his 7 buddies are.

Well then “ciao” as they say in Rome.  Soon as we get two weeks of laundry done we’ll start planning our next trip!
Good-bye from Rome

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