3 For Italy
“La Dolce Vita!”
pt I Rome
There are some things in life that just have to be experienced firsthand. A trip to the old country was one of those experiences. So with my father Charlie, and my friend Kelly in tow, we took off on the morning of March 14th 2007 towards the trip of a lifetime.
It was a virgin tour of Italy for each of us that began in Rome. “The Eternal City” was as warm and welcoming as our wonderful tour director MariElena – a native Roman sent to us through Trafalgar Tours, who made our group feel at ease within the first few moments of meeting her.
Our first full day began with a trek through the monumental Vatican wherein resides the historic Sistine Chapel, vibrant and alive with rich colors and an even richer history. But how do you describe a visual experience with mere words? All I can say is that I was humbled by such beauty and in great awe.
From there it was on to the Roman Forum and the most famous monument of ancient Rome, The Colosseum which was started between 70 and 76 AD by Emperor Vespasian who wanted to build something for the people rather than himself. The Colosseum was completed by Vespasian’s son Titus in 80 AD and the opening was celebrated by holding 100 days of games. Formerly known as the Flavian Amphitheatre, The Colosseum got its now famous name because of its close proximity to the place where Nero had erected a huge statue, or colossus of himself. The sheer size of The Colosseum alone is breathtaking. And what visit to the sight of the gladiator games would be complete without a visit from the gladiators themselves? So we took the time out to strike a pose with some fully armed gladiator guys.
The evening is spent with a walk to the Trevi Fountains and it should be made known that the replica in front of Caesars Palace has nothing on the original! We take the time to throw our 3 Euro coins into the fountain. 1 for a speedy return; 1 to find true love; and 1 to find true love in Rome!
Dinner that night is a lively event where my father, gifted with a voice to rival Pavarotti, treats our group to song. It is a full day with a night colored in Vino! We retire to rest up for in the morning we say Arrivederci Roma and move on to our next locale – Florence.
pt. II - FLORENCE
You rarely get to experience little adventures, that is unless you’re some sort of extremist. Touring Italy was my adventure and it would continue in the grand walled city of Siena. Set on three hills Siena, with its medieval flare, is the best preserved walled city in the Tuscany region. It was a charming little town with lots to see and do. Next it was on to beautiful Florence - The Renaissance City, where we were privileged to see such fine masterpieces as Michelangelo’s David and the fine marble architecture of St. Mary of the Flowers. The grand scale of this structure was such that the eyes alone could not take in the full majesty.
During our tour of The David a strong force overtook us and forced us into the streets...it was hunger! As trained athletes Kelly and I are used to eating at least every three hours so when that craving for sustenance kicks in we have no choice but to answer it. So we slipped away from the tour in search of food finding the jackpot at a corner market. But just as we were burden down with fiddles our tour group started loading the bus back towards the hotel! We had no choice but to cut and run, leaving our precious food behind but knowing full well we'd find refuge on the bus in the form of powerbars.
The following day we had time to explore on our own so Kelly and I did what any woman would do in a city renowned for its production of fine leather and gold – we went shopping! So many stores, so little time really. The days excursion ended on a high note as a touch of fate led us to a store Kelly had her heart set on exploring that had previously been closed.
With bags of new treasures in hand we returned to the hotel to ready ourselves for a night in wine country – Tuscany. This easily tops my list as the favorite evening out. With a wine tasting of 6 of Italy’s very best in vino how could it not? One word of advice though, stay away from the Grappo. This was our final taste of the evening, a clear liquid served up in a shot glass. Don't let the looks fool you, it is pure alcohol and tastes something like lighter fluid. It'll strip your throat raw!
We spent the evening in a charming regional restaurant where our host Elena (a feisty, sprite of a woman) greeted us with great food, great conversation, and of course the wine! By the end of that night my head hurt from laughing so much (or perhaps it was the vino) but I remember it fondly as my Pops treated the group to not 1, but 2 new songs.
It was quite a rare treat for me to hear him sing a lively version of Finniculi Finnicula, laced with special words that he and his brother had incorporated into their stage act years before. The party continued with more singing and plenty of dancing until we were reluctantly called back to the bus to prepare for our trek to Venice in the morning.
pt. III - VENICE
With Venice comes rain, and being as though it is the city on the water it becomes a little chilly. But that isn’t enough to stop us from enjoying ourselves. In fact, there really wasn’t any reason to complain about anything no matter if the coffee was too strong or the spaghetti didn’t quite taste right. All you had to do was look around you and realize the majesty of where you were to appreciate the fact that the little discrepancies didn’t matter.
Venice is everything you’d ever seen in movies or on TV, but in person it is multitudes better. This is the home of Murano glass and our first stop is to a glass blowing factory where we are shown just how these exquisite items are made. With time at our leisure we of course hit the local shops in search of treasured Murano trinkets to take home with us. Here we learned that not Italians are created equal as an unruly shopkeeper dismissed us with obvious disdain for tourists. Being of Italiano descent myself I didn't bother throwing back verbal curses, just a touch of the Evil Eye his way. Had my father been within hearing range he would've cut this man down to half his size with simple old school verbage and had fun doing it too. But, just as back home there are going to be jerks that push your buttons...we wouldn't let it ruin our trip. Because the next group of shops and shopkeepers were far more welcoming and then it was lunchtime. We found our meal at an outdoor café where under the safety of an awning we watched a storm drench the streets of Venice while dining on some of the most colossal calzones this side of the Venetian. I mean really, these things were enormous and covered a full size plate with no sparing of toppings! But we had worked up an appetite so those puppies were eaten and enjoyed to the fullest extent.
After that we reconvened with the tour and took a jaunt inside out of the cold and rain to view some more amazing frescos. And what tour would be complete without a ride through the Grand Canal by gondola? This is one of the best ways to see Venice and it would conclude our day there. You really get the feel of the old world architecture all around you. But before we knew it our day in Venice was over. It seemed to come and go so quickly leaving me with a wanting to return and visit the shops and streets of Venice again very soon.
pt. IV - ARRIVEDERCI ROMA
Eight litttle days...how they go by in a blink. I could hardly believe the trip was coming to a close, but my spirits remained high as there was still fun to be had. Our last night would be spent where it all began - beautiful Rome.
We began our last night by first driving past the ancient baths of the Emperor Caracalla and then on to exploring the Catacombs outside the Roman Walls. These underground churches and cemeteries were the sites where the early Christians assembled to escape persecution. The bodies had since been relocated due to vandalism, but the grave sites remained. Just above the Catacombs stood an ancient church where many religious artifacts were stationed, of which was an impressive 600 year old cross that filled one of the far walls. It was a hand made crucifix that to this day no one knows who in fact made it. You could definately feel a presence still lingering in this church. From there we ventured to the Cathedral of St. Paul where inside this massive structure we were shown where St. Paul himself was laid to rest.
That night was our farewell dinner. The entire group ventured to a lovely little Italian eatery called Gladiatore that was stationed right across the street from The Colosseum. Dinner...as it had been most nights was excellent. Conversation was lively as we set up with some of the other tour members who we'd bonded with throughout the trip. We had the stigma of 'Vegas' riding on us and we had to live up to that notion so it seemed that we wound up as the 'rebels' at the back of the bus, causing havoc and just having fun. That was the overall theme of any of the activities...FUN! And the final dinner, although seemingly senitmental, didn't lack in enjoyment either. We were treated wtih song from some amazing Tenors and once again my father lent his voice to song by joining in for a few numbers.
As the night winds on I find I've never posed for so many pictures in all my life. You feel like a rockstar as members from the tour group, looking to capture moments, walk the tables and snap shots as keepsakes of a marvelous trip.
By night's end there is a lovely display of affection for MariElena and our bus driver Michele...both of whom did a wonderful job in producing a carefree and fabulous tour. Stepping outside we see the marvelous structure of The Colosseum lit up under the night sky, a terrific site that had to be captured and remembered. We share laughs and hugs on the bus ride back to the hotel knowing it wil be the last time we are all in the same place at the same time, for in the morning we all go our separate ways home.
If I had to sum up the experience (because that's all you can really do, there was way too much that went down to really touch on everything) I'd say it was the most fun I've had in a long time. I saw amazing places, got to know some interesting people, and above all I came to learn some more about myself. It truly was a remarkable experience and I'm glad that I got to share it with my father. Eighty years young and he finally made it to the old country to see his roots. That makes me smile. And my friend Kelly who I got to know alot better over this time. I can honestly say it wouldn't have been quite as much fun without her. She made the trip a real adventure.
In conclusion I'm going to remember this trip for the rest of my life and I will look back on it often and smile. So what're you waiting for...an engraved invitation?
Causes Cynthia Vespia Supports
American Cancer Society
World Wildlife Fund