Italy - November 2006 Megamail

OK people, I've been sitting on this one for awhile and I know there are a lot of eager people out there with nothing better to do on hump day minus one, so here it is... Drum roll please... The Rome and Venice MEGAMAIL!!! <Insert evil laugh here>

Italy has been on the radar for quite sometime and there is so much to see and do, there is no doubt that we'll return to Italy in the future... but what to do on the first trip? After much consideration we opted for a Rome/Venice combo over Thanksgiving from our good friends at


Our flights on Air France to Rome themselves were on the uneventful side, though we did have to pass through security three times and there were other interesting aspects of our time while in the terminals. In New York, we landed in Terminal 2 and eventually found out that our flight to Paris was in Terminal 1. However, no matter what information board we looked at, Terminal 1 did not exist!

Finally, we made the assumption that Terminal 1 must be in the opposite direction as Terminal 3 and just went for it. Of course, switching terminals meant we had to pass back through security. But before we could do that, we first had to make sure Sam had a ticket to Rome. You see, when we checked in at Richmond, for some reason they could not print Sam's boarding pass to Rome. Everything else was fine, just not that one.

So we waited in the check-in line in New York to see if we could get Sam her boarding pass because, sorry Sam, if it came down to me having a boarding pass and you not... see ya! After a lot of confusing conversations and about 30 minutes, we finally got Sam a boarding pass. We were not entirely convinced that it was a valid boarding pass, but it looked official so we proceeded on our merry way.

The flight to Paris, the first time I've flown into Paris by the way, was eventful for only two reasons: 1) The only movie I wanted to watch, The Sentinel, was somehow blocked so I had to watch the Devil Wears Prada like four times instead. Second, the people behind us would not shut up talking! And worse, the woman was also heading to Rome! Arggh!! But we would find that these would not be the only annoying passengers we had to deal with.

In Paris, we again had to switch terminals so yep, another trip through security. The markings in the Paris airport weren't all that intuitive either so stay on your toes, however the airport itself is one of the best looking I've ever seen. Very cool. Like you are in the belly of a great beast.

Anyway, so we finally get into the right terminal and see the entrance for our gates and get in line. We show our boarding passes to the guy as is the custom nowadays and he says, "no not here, you must go to the next line". We see no obvious indications as to why we cannot be in this line, but he insists and so we go on to the next line, which is huge in comparison.

That lady says, "no not here, you must go to the next line". Sam and I are really confused at this point for again, we see no obvious markings, but she insists so we do so. On the opposite end of the terminal from where we started, we find the third and final line past security. If they were going to insist that we had to go to a different line we would have probably started in international incident. But alas, we got in just fine.

But again, why did have to be in that third line instead of the other two as they all meet up immediately after the security areas, we have no idea. When boarding the plane for Rome, the line was going as smoothly as that one Visa Check Card commercial until Sam gets up there and pays with cash... Seriously, suddenly, the guy had to type fifty million keys into the keyboard. During that time Sam and I gave each other some nervous looks but in the end all was well and off we were to Rome.

After landing in Rome we high tailed it to the train station to take the Leonardo Express to Rome. The information guy wanted me to get the hotel shuttle for 15 euros, but that wasn't going to arrive for another 30 minutes so we took the 11 euro train instead that was leaving immediately. To be honest, we did have a good hike afterwards to our hotel so if you have a long distance or a lot of luggage, the shuttle might not be a bad route to go.

During the train ride we passed south of the city center and got to see some of the enormous city walls built by the Romans back in the 400's. Still in pretty good shape, actually.

After a good 15-20 minute hike to our hotel, which is actually less than five minutes from the main doors of the train station (that should give you and idea of how huge the train station is), we found our flea bag hotel, the Flower Garden. Now flea bag is probably too harsh for no fleas were actually encountered, but I wouldn't recommend it so there you have it.

To top things off, they said "sorry, we don't have a room for you." Huh? They gave some babble that they overbooked and so they walked us down a few doors to another hotel that we were put up for just that first night. I have to say, that hotel, although smaller, was definitely more charming than the Flower Garden.

It was now about noon or a little after and so Sam and I started on a walking tour to see the sites of Bernini until our steam ran out and we had to take a siesta. Bernini was one of the great Renaissance architects and artists. You hear his name a lot with the likes of Michelangelo and Borromini.

Our first stop was to see a fountain in Piazza Repubblica. This is where we learned that pedestrians don't really have any rights in Rome. Cars go very fast and pedestrians have point values assigned to them. Americans are double so be on the lookout.

Along the way to our next fountain we got to see from a distance the Baths of Diocletian. That right there gave us an indication, along with the enormity of the city walls, that the Romans were a very successful civilization in order to support a city of the size that it did. These baths are several miles from city center, where the Roman Forum is located.

The next fountain was the Moses Fountain. Our guidebook slammed it as a poor rip off of a Michelangelo. Yeah, Moses was a little disproportioned, but it is certainly better than I could do.

In Piazza Barberini were two more Bernini fountains: Fontana del Tritone and the Fontona delle Api. Both incorporated bees, the symbol of the Barberini family which flipped the bill for the fountains. Ahh, just more fountains at this point.

We then made our way to Le Quattro Fontane, or "four corners fountains". Some of these were pretty cool and if you look down each of the streets leading away from the intersection, you can see some obelisks, most of them swiped from Egypt when the Romans were still rulers of the world.

We then made our way to Quirinal, a palace built by one of the popes when the Vatican had a malaria problem back in the day. Now it is the Italian president's residence. In the piazza in front of the palace we saw the Castor and Pollux monument. Also, we got our first glimpse of St. Peter's basilica from this vantage point. That monster would be in our view frequently during the remainder of our trip in Rome.

At this point we got hungry and so we found a cute little restaurant, the Ristorante Scanderbeg, to have our first of many pizzas during the trip. Pizzas in Italy aren't too exotic. They tend to be around 12" in diameter, are very thin and are not overloaded with ingredients or cheese. One thing that is common though, the ingredients are grouped on the pizza instead of mixed up. Thus, you might have two 'slices' of prosciutto, one of olives, one of artichokes and one with an egg. I find that I like the mixed up versions much better.

Lunch was cut a little short by some rain (we were sitting outside because it was quite temperate. It would end up raining off and on (thankfully mostly off) the rest of the day.

Next stop was Fontana di Trevi, or Trevi Fountain. This was where we finally met up with all the other tourists. The story behind Trevi Fountain, besides the Roman story in which it was where one of the aqueducts ended in the city, is that if you toss some money in the fountain, you are guaranteed to return to Rome in the future. It obviously works, as Sam had done it in previous trips, and she has always returned! We did our tourist best to follow suit.

We then passed through a very cool looking shopping mall (raining), bypassed Zara, the Spanish clothing store much to my surprise, on our way to a few obelisks, the first of which was the Colonna di Marco Aurelio (that's Marcus Aurelius) and the second was the Obelisk of Montecitorio, or simply Obelisco, and then another Bernini structure, the Palazzo di Montecitorio which now holds the Italian parliament. We then weaved our way to the Tempio di Adriano (Temple of Hadrian), which is now apart of a modern building's facade.

Our furthest point west before heading back for our much-needed siesta was the Pantheon, or Pantheon... hah, just had to keep up with the translations there. This was tourist central stop number two. There is a huge mob of people outside, but the crowds were thinner on the inside, at least for us. This is very much an ancient wonder. Romans were doing so much with concrete ages before Frank Lloyd Wright got a hold of it. And unlike Frank's designs, the Roman's roofs don't leak! Well, this one does, but that is because there is a big hole in the middle, but that was by design.

During our return trek to the hotel we got our first glimpse of the Victor Emmanuel Monument (Il Vittoriano). Victor was one the key figures in the Italian unification late in the 19th century. I have to say, this is by far the largest monument I've ever seen. Simply enormous!

I think we also popped into the Sant' Andrea al Quiranale and the San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, two churches done by Bernini and Borromini, respectively. This is where I made the statement that Bernini blew Borromini away. The sculptures that Bernini did were very impressive while Borromini's work was rather simplistic. Of course, I was tired so that is my excuse if some disagreeing art critic out there is reading this right now.

After a very long nap, we took the metro to Piazza di Spagna, or the Spanish Steps. Even at this somewhat late hour the place was very crowded. I was disappointed in that I did not see any azalea bushes in the area as was promised in the guide.

We then rambled through a commercial area on our way to the Piazza Navona, another very touristy area. There are lots of artists and street crapsmen around. I call them crapsmen because they sell cheap plastic novelties that kids just love. This year the trinket was some sort of Frisbee that goes straight up and then can be collected by a pencil looking device. Interested? I wouldn't rush out and buy your ticket to Rome just yet, that crap will find its way to a county fair near you in just a couple of months.

The best artwork we saw was some 3D paintings of gymnastic figures. Kind of hard to explain but they were different and stylish, and not cheap which is why you won't see them gracing the walls of our house any time soon.

After touring the entire piazza we decided to get some dinner. We settled upon the Ristorante Panzirone, which had a very nice outdoor patio area looking over the piazza. Here we had one of our priciest dinners, but probably also one of the best. Sam introduced me to gnocchi, which is a potato dumpling pasta. We had this a lot during the trip and we found that the smaller the gnocchi, the better it was. This place had the best of the entire trip. We had it with salmon in an alfredoish sauce. Delicious! The rest of the meal was OK, but we always were reminded of the gnocchi here when we tried it at other restaurants during the trip.

After dinner we headed northwest towards the river and the Castel Sant' Angelo. Here we snapped a lot of nighttime photos of St. Peters, the river and Rome in general. We walked along the river southwards commenting about Paris and London and how Rome was shaping up against those places. The river area reminds me a lot of Paris.

At some point we tired of the river and then headed back into the city around Campo de' Fiori. We were encouraged by the signs of nightlife that we were witnessing along the Via del Pellegrino and then our prayers were answered when we reached Campo de' Fiori proper. The piazza was full of cafes and bars and we patronized several.

We were having a great time until about 3AM when apparently there is some sort of law that the bars have to close. I hate those old Roman traditions! Well, now we had to get back to the hotel and Sam convinced me that it would be best to walk and so we did. Ooof. That was a hike! We got back to our hotel around 4AM and immediately crashed.


On Sunday we were awoken at a brutally early hour (8AM) by a knock on the door. It was our breakfast tray so Sam got out of bed to get it, set it down somewhere and then proceeded to go back to sleep. We didn't get up until around eleven that morning and we greatly appreciated the rest.

After being extremely careful not to bump into anything in the bathroom for fear of breaking it, we checked out of the hotel to check in to our real hotel. I was about to smack the reception dude when he said we were too early to check in, but he looked up to see it who it was that was checking in again and made amends by calling up to housekeeping to find the biggest room that was currently available.

The biggest room wasn't all that big I have to say. Our previous place was larger and had more charm than this place. Oh well, can't win them all.

We figured that the Vatican area would be a zoo on a Sunday so decided to see what we could of the ancient Roman ruins. We started by taking the subway to Circo Massimo, or Circus Maximus. Think Ben Hur and you'll know what I'm talking about. Right now it is pretty much a big field that dogs run around and pee in. But judging by the ruins of the Domus Augustana palace overlooking the venue, the emperor had some pretty nice digs.

We headed towards the river to the Temples of Hercules and Portunus, or Templi del Foro Boario. These temples date from the republican era of Rome. They are still in pretty good condition. We bypassed the line to see the Bocca della Verità, but did see some other nice structures in the area from the outside. The best of which was probably the Theater of Marcellus (Teatro di Marcello), which has similarities to the Colosseum.

We then headed up the Aracoeli Staircase, which if you buy a lottery ticket beforehand you are guaranteed to win or some other such nonsense. We didn't buy a ticket and all we won was a trip back down the stairs. Here's a hint, only go up the stairs if the church at the top is open.

Then, up some more stairs to the Piazza del Compidoglio, a work of Michelangelo. Behind the structures up here is where you can finally see The Forum (Foro Romano), the ancient Roman ruins. The Forum is not a small area by any means. We would spend the rest of the day there and probably could have spent a lot more time. For instance, we did not see the Trajan Market (Mercati Traianei).

It was a marvelous day for strolling through the gravel streets of ancient Rome. We wore jackets in the morning but took them off before long. It was sunny and warm and wonderful. I won't bore you (too late!) with all the details of The Forum because I think this is one of the places you just have to go.

But one thing you should know: most of The Forum is free. But there is a part you have to pay for, the Palatine and you should definitely go for it. Here you will find the huts of Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, and the palace that you saw from below at the Circus Maximus.

But the reason you should get a ticket, and get it here, is because it is the same ticket as the Colosseum. Better yet, if you buy the ticket after 1pm, you can use the ticket the next morning to enter the other venue. We would end up using that feature because by the time we made it to the Colosseum that day, it was already closed to new visitors.

By now we were famished so we got a bite to eat at a café overlooking the Colosseum. Here we had a few beers and some sandwiches as we enjoyed the last of daylight, while in the shadow of the Colosseum. Yep, life did not suck that day. Sam indicated that the bathroom at this café, despite having to pay to use it, was one of the most surreal she has ever seen. It was painted black, and was lit by "glow in the dark" lights. It also looked like they just hosed the whole thing down every day because everything was metallic and sterile looking.

While having our beer we considered what to do next and we decided to stroll through the Esquiline portion of Rome on the way back to our hotel. Having stayed up so late the night before we weren't looking forward to another late night.

Our first stop was San Pietro in Vincoli. Let me tell you, this place did not look at all like a church from the outside, but it is well worth seeing. Besides Michelangelo's Moses, which is certainly better than the one at the fountain the day before, it contains the shackles that held St. Peter.

We then strolled through a park and saw the Baths of Trajan and Domus Aurea, the palace built by Nero after he torched the city (nice emperor, wasn't he?), from a distance. Next up were two more churches: San Martino ai Monti and the Santa Prassede. One of these two, I think it was the first one, make sure you bring some change because you can turn on the lights for the ceiling and the altar and it is well worth it. Or... go just before a mass and you'll get it all for free!

Our final tourist destination for the evening was the Santa Maria Maggiore... come to think of it, this was the place you need to see, not those other two places, though fine I am sure they are. This place was built after a snowfall that occurred at the location in August 5, 356.

There are so many comments I could make about that fact I just don't know where to begin. Let's just say, the church was very cool.

Officially done with our tourist excitement for the day, we stumbled to the Birrerie Old Marconi. We had a very nice meat and cheese platter along with some brews in preparation for our meal at La Gallina Bianca, or as we liked to call it, the White Hen Pantry. This restaurant came recommended in our guidebook, which we have to say, got knocked down a few points after eating at this place.

It wasn't that the food was bad, it wasn't great, but it wasn't bad. No, it was definitely the service, or lack there of. It was horrible, probably the worse we had in Italy. Furthermore, seeing nearly everybody with the same guidebook as we had garnered even more suspicion. Our guidebook was excellent at recommending bars in Prague, but as we thought about it, restaurants were mostly miss affairs, so if you are using the DK Eyewitness Travel books, beware the restaurants!


We figured we had Monday pretty well planned out. First, off to the Colosseum to take advantage of the ticket we purchased the day before, and then off to the Vatican. The weather was not nearly as nice as the day before with an occasional drizzle, though we weren't about to allow that to dampen our spirits. Man, I just never get tired of that one!

Having the ticket already for the Colosseum proved advantageous because the line was not short to buy tickets. We, on the other hand, zipped right through. I could go on and on about the Colosseum, but I'll spare you on an already long Megamail, and you have a whole week to go yet. But basically, if you go to Rome and don't see the Colosseum you are a moron.

We then took the metro to the Vatican because it would have been quite a hike otherwise. The metro stop for the Vatican is a few blocks away and so we began our walk to see the museums, which close awfully early for my taste. Upon getting closer we realized that the mob of people that we saw was actually the line for entry. It went clear around two corners! We decided to skip the Vatican that day because we had one more day to go and we would have been rushed once inside so we were making a wise decision... or so we thought. More about that tomorrow.

We then walked over to the Piazza de San Pietro. Here we were dismayed to find that it was closed. Apparently the pope was meeting some big wig and so St. Peter's and the square in front of it were closed off to pedestrians and it wasn't going to be open for a couple more hours yet! So much for a trip to the Vatican.

Dazed by this unfortunate turn of events, we decided to get a bite to eat at a place we saw on Via D. Conciliazione. This just made matters worse. I can't remember the name of the place because they only took cash and so we don't have a receipt, but just avoid this street in general. It is the main one that heads away from St. Peter's and heads towards the river. You are much better served by eating at one of the numerous choices on Borgo Pio, two streets to the north, which we did the next day.

Our meal wasn't good, nor cheap and wasn't served all that well either. Utterly forgettable. And in fact, you are probably wondering how we could ever recover from a slew of unfortunate circumstances. Well, we did, but it did not look immediately promising. We decided to take a walk through Janiculum (Gianicolo), essentially a park that overlooks the river, because the weather finally looked like it was going to cooperate.

The problem was getting to the place. I recommend starting from the river instead of starting from St. Peter's as we did because those damn city walls keep on getting in the way. But once you finally make into Janiculum, you will not be disappointed.

Throughout the park are numerous points of interest, i.e. statues and other monuments, but also there are several places to stop and take in the sights of Rome. Very relaxing. There are even a few cafes along the way in the event you get thirsty. There is also an enormous botanical garden in the area, but the sun was setting fast so we continued our stroll through Janiculum and eventually Trastevere, easily our most favorite neighborhood in Rome.

One of the highlights in this part was the Fontana dell' Acqua Paola, which again commemorates an ancient Roman aqueduct. Not only was it a pretty nice fountain, but I seem to remember it had some nice views as well. Not as nice as in Janiculum, but if you are in a hurry or can't make it all the way up the hill, it is a nice compromise.

In Trastevere we visited a number of churches... if you see a pattern developing, you are correct. Sam and I visited a lot of churches in the early evening hours because a) they were open and b) everything else was closed and c) there is a lot of cool stuff to be found.

So the churches we saw in Trastevere were Santa Maria della Scala, Santa Maria in Trastevere, San Crisogono, Santa Cecilia in Trastevere and San Francesco a Ripa. All have something to offer, though by now I have forgotten what.

Not quite ready for dinner at this point, we felt we deserved to have a wine to celebrate the end of touristy activities for the day and the reversal of fortunes we experienced after the disorienting Vatican experience. We stumbled into a pleasant enough place called Ombre Rosse and if you find yourself in Trastevere some day, you should definitely go look for it.

Here we also discovered our favorite wine of the trip: Falanghina. It is a white, but it is very drinkable because it is neither too sweet nor too dry. We had several glasses at Ombre Rosse along with some excellent complimentary appetizers.

In fact, we liked the wine so much we got a bottle of it for dinner. Dinner, at a place called Barone Marco, was interesting because I was purposely trying to get something different and basically I ended up with beef burgundy over egg noodles. That is simplified, of course, but I was disappointed, not in the food, but in what I chose. Dinner was also interesting because of the conversation we eavesdropped on at the next table. It seemed like two young Americans away at college having a first date. Ahhhh Rome, the city of love!

We were not yet done with the Falanghina because we stopped in at our old stomping grounds, Campo de' Fiori and had a few more glasses until, what you know, they booted us out again! And like the first night, we again took the walk of shame to our hotel. Though at least this time we were aware of a few shortcuts we could take and sliced a little time off the journey.


This was our final day in Rome so the Vatican and St. Peter's were really the only items on the list for today. Anything beyond that was gravy as far as we were concerned. We got up at what we thought was an early time, jumped on the metro, took the few block walk to the Vatican Museum entrance and were promptly awed by the enormous line that confronted us. It went half way to Piazza San Pietro, somewhere in the Piazza del Risorgimento

But fortunately, the line moved swiftly enough. I think we stood in line on the order of 20-30 minutes and when you first look at it, it seemed like it would take hours. During our wait, some snooty Swiss gentleman tried butt in line with us, feigning ignorance to the presence of the line. We mocked him away. Can you believe it... waiting to enter a sanctuary of peace, love and understanding and you get dweebs like that pissing off humanity... or at least just me.

So, I guess it would have been nice to stop and actually see something in the Vatican museums, however this was next to impossible because we were swept up in the throngs of people making their way to the Sistine Chapel. And this was the slow season!!! In fact, that is pretty much what the museum is... one big line to enter the Sistine Chapel. It is a very nice line, mind you, but one that I would have liked to enjoy a little more.

It was during our stay in the Vatican that I realized that tourists, myself being one of them, are really nothing more than zombies, mindless automatons that shuffle from destination to destination, taking snapshots, shuffling a few more steps, taking another snapshot, then feigning ignorance when confronted by the security guard that no photos are allowed. But then, right behind them is another tourist doing the same thing.

If I'm sounding cynical, it actually has nothing to do with the trip, but is attributed to the outrageous hours of work that both Sam and I have been working lately. But this is not the time for that and I apologize for the digression.

But the point of that digression was to distract you from the fact that we didn't really see anything in the Vatican except the Sistine Chapel (Cappella Sistina), which, is not a bad little chapel to have I must say. But I would recommend bringing some binoculars because despite how stunning the artwork by Michelangelo, et al. is, I couldn't help but feel that I was missing half the picture because of the height of the ceiling.

We loitered in the chapel for at least half an hour or more taking in as much as we could. Eventually they asked us to leave because our stomachs were rumbling so loudly that it was distracting from the enjoyment of the other visitors. But before leaving we made sure we sent my mother a postcard from the Vatican post office. I hope you appreciated that mom!

Applying our learned knowledge from the day before, we headed to Borgo Pio to find a restaurant to feed us. Like I said, there are numerous choices and we settled upon Il Pozzetto for some pizza. It was a serviceable choice, nothing remarkable, but nothing bad either.

After lunch it was off to St. Peter's, which was fortunately open that day. The line here wasn't nearly that bad, but judging from the size of the queue area, we were lucky. Actually, we went to lunch a little early that day because we figured the crowds would be fewer during the lunch period at the basilica, and it seems that was case.

St. Peter's, wow! It is difficult to get over the size of the structure, which is enormous, but when you finally do, you come away that the inside is a little sterile in comparison to some of the other cathedrals you have seen, or at least that was my impression. Don't get me wrong, there was no expense spared in the construction of the St. Peters, but it has a monumental feel to it because everything and anything is granite, marble or some other variety of stone.

And the use of the stone is truly impressive. I've never seen so many different shades of granite and marble used so effectively and arranged so dynamically. Here we have another wonder of the world. But again, a monumental wonder that might leave you a little cold.

Entry to the floor level of St. Peter's is free, however if you want to go to the top of the dome you have to fork over a few euros. Sam wasn't up for it and decided to catch some rays in Piazza San Pietro while I braved the heights. The line is slow moving because most people wait for the elevator that goes up half way. But you can also walk up the stairs the entire height for a reduced fare.

I say take the stairs, you'll probably get there faster and your heart will appreciate it as well. During my journey to the top, I encountered a frantic American women that was too scared to go any further because the stairs were very claustrophobic and required you to climb the stairs at a sideways angle, duh, it's a dome! Anyway, I passed her chuckling and listening to her concerned husband shout out questions about how much further it was and could they go back down. I imagine they made it to the top because they only had about 40 more steps to go at that point, but who knows.

The views from the top are much like any other view from a tall structure as you have witnessed, however it does provide a nice bird's eye view of the Vatican grounds including the rail station, radio station and helipad.

After collecting Sam who was sunning herself in Piazza San Pietro we headed to Castel Sant' Angelo, the third and final piece of the Vatican trifecta. This is a fortified castel some distance away from the walled fortifications of the Vatican. And connecting the two is a massive wall that historically allowed for the Pope to flee the Vatican in times of uprising. It was also featured prominently in the Dan Brown novel Angels and Demons, which is why I know more about it than I should.

It looks like the grounds of the Castle are now pretty much a public park because we noticed a lot of dogs being walked in the area. Poor Jake and Lola, the best they get to do is pee on some old Civil War battlefield, while dogs in Rome can pee on the ruins from empires of another age.

Anyway, although the castle itself is nice, I found the self-guided tour very confusing. There wasn't an obvious path and so I left feeling that I might have missing something, while some things we saw two or three times. I guess the best part of the castle was the structure itself and not its contents.

By now it was evening and the attractions were all closed or would be closing very soon so we decided to give the streets of Rome one last thorough walking. Once more we found ourselves walking through the Campo de' Fiori neighborhood and around the streets to the east and south of Piazza Navona. There are numerous restaurants and bars in which to patronize and we took a beer here and there until we were hungry enough for dinner.

Having walked the streets so thoroughly, we had a good idea of which restaurant appealed to us the most and that was Osteria del Pegno, which is on Vicolo Montevecchio west of Navona. This place was an absolute find and we were lucky to get in because although we didn't have a reservation, they had a table available.

By now I've forgotten what I had to eat, but I think it had mushrooms and it was definitely excellent. That along with the house wine and a very nice ambience made for a very enjoyable last supper, if you will, in Rome. And the best part was the bill, which was very reasonable.

Our departure from the restaurant brought us back down to earth because it was raining. Actually, this was a good thing because otherwise Sam would have made me walk back to the hotel again. But with the rain we opted to take our first and only taxi ride in Rome. It wasn't too bad. I'm not sure if he took the most direct route, but I had no reason to complain and it only cost on the order of ten euros and it saved us from the downpour that engulfed the cab during the trip.


We had a late morning train to Venice and considered trying to get in one more tourist activity while in Rome, but in the end we just slept in, had a little of the uninspired breakfast at the hotel and then left to find our train.

We already had tickets for it from our booking at GoToday so all we had to do was find the platform. Everything was easy to find so we had no troubles in this regard. The tickets even indicated which car we needed to sit in so finding that was also easy.

In fact everything about experience was just peachy until our seating neighbors showed up. Oh boy! These were two young college-aged girls from the same hometown back in Ohio that just wouldn't stop talking. Now, some conversations I can ignore, but these I could not because they were spouting off about all their sexual misadventures.

At one point one of them was actually too embarrassed to talk about some particularly juicy encounter so the other said: "Don't worry, you'll never see any of these people again". To which Sam, seemingly engrossed in her book, responded under her breath, but just loud enough for them to hear: "I certainly hope not". They both darted their eyes in Sam's direction and changed their topic of conversation.

It could have been worse though because fortunately for us they got off of the train at Florence, about half way through the four-hour trip. Our next neighbors were oriental and they also talked non-stop and were probably poking fun at me, but as I'm not up on my Japanese, I could sufficiently put their conversation in the background and nod off from time to time.

The train actually drops you off right in Venice, which if you don't already know, is an island. There are both a rail bridge and a road bridge to Venice, however neither travels past the little corner of the island that they arrive at. That means Venice has no cars!!! How cool is that? It does, however, have a lot of bridges with stairs so if you are handicap, Venice could very well be a nightmare.

Once off the train and out of the train station, we immediately found the vaporetti stand. What's a vaporetti you ask? Well, as I just said, there are no cars in Venice, only pedestrian sidewalks and canals so how do people move around besides by foot? As you might have guessed, by boat and the vaporetti is the water equivalent of a bus.

Although they come in a few varieties, they are pretty much the same. There is an enclosed area that is warm and dry, and then there are seats or benches outside for the tourists and finally, the standing area next to the area where passengers embark and disembark.

The day that we arrived was a little brisk so we sat in the inside with our suitcases until our stop in Dorsoduro. Venice has six neighborhoods of note. The most famous is of course San Marco. The others are Santa Croce, San Polo, Castello, Cannaregio and Dorsoduro. Dorsoduro is where our hotel was and is south of San Marco. Our hotel was in the western part of Dorsoduro... or as I frequently called it during the trip: Düsseldorf.

A funny anecdote occurred as we arrived at our stop in Dorsoduro. So we saw our stop coming up and got up out of our seats and stood in front of the door with our suitcases in tow. An elderly woman got up and nudged Sam aside. I figured she wanted to leave the enclosed area so I opened the sliding door for her. Then she made some violent gestures that eventually I understood that she still wanted the door closed so I complied. All she wanted to do was be in front of Sam.

Funny, yes, but it gets better. We arrive at our stop and the old lady (with painfully ugly sunglasses) opens the door, exits, and then turns around quickly and slams the door in our faces. Sam and I blink incredulously and just start laughing. I guess she has seen too many tourists in her day but we were silently hoping the rest of the Venetians were not as friendly as she was. Be sure that they are very friendly, however there were two other incidents of uncommon rudeness that I will tell you later.

After crossing a few canals and making the first of many dozens of wrong turns during our stay, we promptly arrived at our hotel, the Hotel Tiziano. I cannot describe in words how much better this hotel was compared to the fleabag establishment in Rome. It was simply marvelous. We felt like Venetian royalty. We would recommend the hotel to anybody staying in Venice during future trips. Our only caveat is that it might not be as centrally located in the city as other hotels. But if we would visit Venice again, I don't think we would bother looking for a different hotel.

During our train ride to Venice we formulated the plan for the first day and that was to explore the neighborhoods of Santa Croce and San Polo, the two most centrally located neighborhoods. In particular we wanted to check out some churches and cathedrals that looked interesting in the guidebook.

The first was San Pantalon and I would definitely recommend all to see this church that you might otherwise overlook. The main draw here is the ceiling, plain and simple. When you first walk in you are instantly drawn to it because it is much more dark and sinister in appearance than most other frescos in churches. At times I felt I was in hell looking up at the missed possibilities of heaven.

Make sure you bring fifty cents (not 1 euro!!) because there is a coin operated light system so you can see the whole thing better. When the lights are on the painting doesn't seem as oppressive, but it is still equally as impressive. Fine use of perspective too.

Another winner was the Santa Maria Gloriosa del Frari. San Rocco was just OK.

After our church visiting activities, we were ready for a tapa crawl as a prelude to dinner. We really let ourselves wander through the very narrow streets, if you can call them that, of Venice.

Venice is an extremely charming city. Within seconds you can go from being amongst the masses en route to the Rialto Bridge or San Marco to being in a dark alley completely isolated where you doubt a mouse would move if you screamed. It really has a timeless quality about it.

One place we stopped at seemed popular with the locals and its tiny interior could not hold the crowds and as a result they were spilling into the street. We had a beer here and just soaked it all in.

We then headed towards the Rialto Bridge. We knew this not because we were intending to, but because at this point we were following the very wise advice of our hotel concierge. She said when we got lost (notice that she did not say if, but when), just follow the people.

95% of the time that philosophy works well. The other 5% of the time is when you follow some damn tourists that do not know where to go any more than you do.

But, as we were following everybody else, we quickly noticed that the buildings have signs that indicate the ways to major city landmarks such as Rialto, San Marco, the train station and various museums and churches of importance. So, if you stay on your toes, you won't get lost for too long in Venice.

Anyway, after crossing the Rialto Bridge, the first of god knows how many times... honestly, by the end I was trying to find ways to cross the Grand Canal without using that damn Rialto Bridge... we then figured we should find a place to eat dinner because we heard that restaurants closed early in Venice due to the fact that nobody can afford to live there and thus has to commute from the mainland to work. And, many of those people use mass transportation so restaurants close early because they do not have the workforce to close late!

Suddenly, restaurants, or at least reasonably priced restaurants were nowhere to be found so we did a lot of walking before we settled at one in Campo San Polo. Once we walked in we figured we made a mistake because it was quickly apparent that everybody there was a tourist. But, in hindsight, I think every restaurant we ate was jam packed with tourists so I think a restaurant where just the locals eat is now extinct. In the end, the fare was fair, but I wouldn't recommend it.

Before heading back to the hotel for the evening, we stopped in Campo Santa Margherita, which is a large sprawling plaza in Dorsoduro. It has several cafes, restaurants and bars that made it a logical place to stop for a drink in the evening. In fact, we would end up stopping by every night during our stay in Venice.

When we returned to the hotel, I noticed there were still two sets of keys on the table indicating two rooms still had to return. I commented to Sam that I wished at least one night we would be the last to return.


We figured that San Marco would be slammed with tourists, relatively speaking of course because all crowds would be less than the summer ones, during the weekend, so we wanted to see San Marco this day. We started by actually walking in the opposite direction, back to Piazzale Roma, where the main bus station is. There is also a vaporetti station naturally and we hopped on the number 1 route for our tour of the Grand Canal.

This vaporetti route was recommended by our guidebook and confirmed by a novel that Sam was reading that had this quote: "...easier than pick pocketing the wallet of a Belgian tourist on the Number 1 vaporetti."

Actually, that does remind me of another story from our vaporetti trip the day before. Sam quietly asked me if I had my wallet, to which I said yes. She then continued "because the two guys sitting behind you look like they are looking at some wallet for the first time in their lives." So, there you have it, beware pickpockets on the vaporetti. We fortunately didn't encounter any problems.

Anyway, the number 1 vaporetti travels the entire length of the Grand Canal at a sufficiently slow pace so that you can soak it all in. We took the prime outdoor seats in the front and took several million photos. Just make sure you go to the stop past San Marco (San Zaccaria) because otherwise you'll miss some pretty nice views of the plaza.

So, we followed our own advise and got off the vaporetti at San Zaccaria and proceeded directly to the Campanile, the tall bell tower that is part of the trifecta that makes San Marco famous. The line wasn't too bad for us though I've heard it is murder during the summer months. If it is too long you might consider going up the bell tower on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore instead because there are fewer people and you get almost the same views.

Afterwards we went to the Doge's Palace, which is where the Doge, or leader of the Venetian republic historically resided. Actually, I learned a lot in the palace, which doubles as an art museum because the Venetians of old were extremely rich and thus could afford masterpieces the size of modern day aircraft carriers.

Now, apparently, Venice was an extremely rich republic that had elections for the Grand Council that had some 1000 representatives and then above that was some Council of Ten and somewhere in all that mess they chose the Doge. In a couple rooms they had portraits of all the Doges except one. That one was beheaded because he tried to take absolute power of the republic and the people wanted to warn any future power mongers not to try it. That warning proved successful until the republic came to an end when Napoleon paid them a visit.

Many of the houses that you see in Venice today are from the republican era and some are certainly in better condition than others. While others seem to have extremely bad luck associated with them involving murders, suicides and murder-suicides, the last of which struck some famous Italian actor in the 1990s.

But this short history lesson of Venice has strayed me from my original message that the Doge Palace is certainly a must see destination in Venice.

There was one other thing of note in the Doge Palace that I found extremely interesting. In the main hall where the Grand Council had there meetings (Sala del Maggior Consiglio) there was an enormous painting covering an entire wall. This painting was done by Tintoretto, and is a typically religious painting called Paradise. So much for the separation of church and state.

But here is the cool part: in addition to the entire wall, they had each of the entrants of the contest to see who would paint the wall back in the 16th century. So you could see the original painting, much smaller but still huge, maybe 4x10 feet and how there were some subtle changes from the original to the final version on the wall. All the others had a similar theme and in the end I think they picked the best of the bunch, but it was fascinating to see the options that where considered.

After the Doge Palace we went directly to the Basilica of San Marco. Just walking through the doors you instantly see why it has garnered so much attention. It is simply amazing. Instead of a lot of paintings and statues, though there are certainly some of those, the ceiling is completely covered in very small, think 1cm square, tiles, the primary color if which is gold. It is literally a shining example of human achievement. Very, very cool.

Before lunch we hunted down the Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo, which is a house buried in the alleyways of Venice that has a very nice external spiral staircase. You'll definitely need a map and a little imagination to find this one.

For lunch, we found a restaurant, the Bora Bora of all names, which seemed pleasant enough. Sam and I both got pizzas and exchanged halfway through. Finally, a pizza with ingredients spread homogeneously! This was another pizza first for me: lettuce. Yes, I had lettuce on my pizza and it was actually pretty darn good. Not all wet and soggy that I thought it would have been.

After lunch we hushed and bushed... don't know what that expression is, do you? Well in Sam's world that means hustle and bustle. Poor Sam, a doctorate degree and still she cannot talk :

Any way, we sprinted across the neighborhood of Castello. One place we visited was Santi Giovanni e Páolo. For whatever reason I was not too impressed with this guy and the fact that it was kind of out of the way, I would suggest you only see it if you are in the neighborhood.

One thing we did discover here was that apparently there was a group ticket that one can buy to enter a lot of these churches. Keep in mind, many are free also, but the rest charge a small fee. Up to this point we were paying a small fee and then at Páolo they wanted to know if we wanted to buy the group ticket that gets you into a bunch of churches.

We looked at the list and were dismayed to find out some that we'd already seen by that point. But there weren't enough that we still wanted to see to make the group ticket a good deal for us. So keep this in mind when you visit to ask if there is a group ticket because it would definitely be a better deal.

Before too long it was starting to get dark so we hushed and bushed to the vaporetti stand to take the bus back the other way along the Grand Canal. The morning session we concentrated on only one side of the canal so we needed to look at the other side. But alas, we were too late and it got too dark for us to see a lot of it. Or at least take good photos of it.

That brings another point, Venice is a very dark city. Lots of dark corners. But it also seems pretty safe, except for pickpockets.

We decided to take a quick siesta and then trounce around our neighborhood for some tapas and drinks before dinner. This was centered around the Campo Santa Margherita. For dinner we stopped at one of the restaurants in the plaza, the Antico Capon. This turned out to be a fine choice.

To go along with our choice of the house white, I went with some penne arrabiatta or something like that. Basically spicy penne pasta. I think Sam had salmon gnocchi... how original. But, as this was Thanksgiving, I decided to splurge for the full Italian meal and got a second course of swordfish. Yum yum yum. Of course, being so full I promptly slipped into a food coma and we called it a night after only one bar.


The vaporetti, besides having available a single ride ticket, has an assortment of offerings for multiple day tickets. We are pretty sure that we did not choose our multi-day ticket wisely, but if you would you could go to some of the outlying islands like Murano for very cheap.

But as we choose poorly, Sam and I had to wrap up our vaporetti travels before lunch. Our first stop was the San Giorgio Maggiore, which is the church on the island you can see from San Marco. This one is definitely worth the journey because it is not very crowded so you can really soak it all in over as much time as you like, and also because it has the campanile you can go up by elevator. This is cheaper and provides better views, I think, of Venice than the campanile in Piazza San Marco.

Afterwards, we did our Grand Canal vaporetti ride again that we missed the night before. Then we walked around the neighborhood of Cannaregio, which our book said was quite happening with the natives. If it was, the natives were very good at hiding from the tourists.

The neighborhood was very nice and seemed like the 'suburbs' of Venice if you will. Maybe it is more happening at night, but during the day it is pretty dull. We stopped in at another couple of churches in the area though: the Madonna del'Orto and the Gesuiti. Both were pretty nice, especially the Gesuiti. It has a very sumptuous interior though it looks like it should be renovated in the near future due to the size of some of the cracks we saw. We also saw Tintoretto's house, as he lived right there and the Madonna del'Orto was his church.

For lunch, we stopped in some restaurant along the well-worn street of Strada Nova. This is the street that goes from the train station to the Rialto Bridge. Actually, it is one of about six streets that make up the entire route, so please forgive me.

Not to digress too much, but I'm writing this while in the car from Madrid to Bilbao and it seems that every time I look up I see a hillside full of windmills for electricity generation. Mental note, see how much wind power Spain produces. Editor's note: about 4000MW according to Sam's uncle.

OK, so Strada Nova is a nice wide street with lots of shops and restaurants. We ate at a place called Ristorante da Gianni, primarily because the place we were going to go to across the street had a group of like 10 tourists walk in a few seconds beforehand. I don't remember much about this restaurant.

I'm really getting foggy on what we did the rest of the day. I think we stopped in the central post office to buy some stamps. Here another grumpy old Venetian story takes place as some lady just outright went to the front of the line. The post office is located just off the Rialto Bridge and you should go inside just for a look. It is in an old palace that has had its courtyard covered with glass. Very, very nice.

I seem to remember we stopped in for a drink in a place called Muro. This is also near the Rialto Bridge on the San Polo side, but a little more west. There were several other bars in the area including those that are just a window to the street so there are no bathrooms or seating.

One interesting shopping pattern I noticed was the location of the lingerie stores relative to the baby clothes stores... they were often right next to each other. So, the woman buys some seductive garment and then nine months later she comes back for the baby clothes. I see how this works!

For dinner that night we stopped in a small crowded restaurant along a narrow street in San Polo called Osteria al Ponte. Actually, I just found out that there are tons of restaurants called that in Venice so that bit of information probably isn't that helpful. Here we would definitely recommend skipping the house wine, at least the white. Not very good at all. But the rest of the meal was very good. We even got a little more adventurous and tried some of the typical appetizers from Venice.

Naturally, on our way home we stopped in Campo Santa Margherita for a few drinks. I think this was finally the night that we arrived last to the hotel. Yippee!


Having seen pretty much everything that we wanted to see in Venice, Sam and I really didn't have a strict agenda for the day. There were a few other churches that we wanted to see like the San Nicoló dei Mendicoli, which was right around the corner from our hotel, and the Santa Maria della Salute, which is the giant dome across the Grand Canal you see from San Marco.

In Santo Stéfano we witnessed another grumpy old Venetian story. Some old gentleman dropped his cane as he was entering the church. It made quite a noise in an otherwise quite location so everybody turned to see what was going on.

Some young lady went to pick up the cane for him, but suddenly this gentleman hushed and bushed to his cane and picked it up before the woman could. He then held up the cane like he just won a prize. Interesting.

We stopped in a restaurant near Accademia for lunch and was memorable for the unfriendly service. Not bad service mind you, just kind of grumpy. The owners seemed to be two old ladies that have had their fill of tourists over the years. Although the food was good and priced appropriately and the service was prompt and professional... it was just done in a slightly grumpy fashion.

For the remainder of the day we did a lot of souvenir shopping and stopping in at cafes to rest our tired feet. We even got some gelati. We went back to San Pantalon with our 50 cents in order to see it better with light. Heck if I remember what else we did because I am now writing this on the trip back from Spain and have already started that Megamail as well. Wow, a double feature. Aren't you lucky.

Some answers to questions people have asked me:

Does Venice smell? No, the water is surprisingly clean and clear and although there are certain places that have an unfavorable stench, the overall city is as fresh as me.

Do you need to speak Italian? Heavens no. We heard far more English, Spanish and German than we did Italian. However, trying your tourist best will get you some points with the natives.

What did you eat? I told you already, pizza and pasta!

Is it expensive? That really depends. Unlike previous trips where Sam and I generally ditched lunch in favor of light snacks, we generally ate two squares a day. So that did add up. But you can find cheap eats like pizza and calzones if you are on the go.

Oh, hey, speaking of calzones, I remember what we did Saturday night. During one of the previous days we discovered there was a free concert being offered in San Polo, the actual church of San Polo, not just the neighborhood of San Polo, this night. So we took up the offer which was standing room only for a fine orchestra concert. I remember the violinist was pretty darn good and Sam pointed out that one of the singers did not have any sheet music. She recited the entire concert from memory.

So what does this have to do with calzones? Well, before the concert we stopped in at a restaurant nearby called Trattoria da Silvio. Sam got pizza and I decided to get my first and only calzone for the trip. Both entrees were just simply enormous!!! And cheap. Neither of us finished the business at hand. Was it good? Can't remember, but it was filling and it came with a free shot of grappa at the end. You can't beat that can you?


We had to get up early for our plane ride back to the states. We walked our way to Piazzale Roma to catch a bus to the airport. There are two options here. There is a normal bus and an express bus. The basic trade off here is half the time for twice the price. We took the normal city bus and had no problems at all.

The rest of the trip was pretty uneventful as I recall.

We enjoyed Venice more than we did Rome, however if we were to return to Italy in the future, and that probability is high mind you, we would probably only return to Rome. Venice is very nice but you really only need a long weekend to take it all in because it is so small. Rome on the other hand is huge and we barely scratched the surface in our three plus days there.

Next up, as you have no doubt have read is another Spain Megamail. But no grand journeys are planned for that trip so it should be quite a bit shorter than this twenty page masterpiece of excruciating detail.

Until then, ciao!


Eric in front of Trevi Fountain.


St. Peters and the river.


Columns of the Roman Forum.


Sam enjoys the sunny confines of the Roman Forum.


The Colosseum


Cute spectator in the Colosseum.


Modern day gladiator.


Sunset in Venice.


Piazza de San Marco from a vaporetti.


Eric at the Doge's Palace.


Nice house along the Grand Canal.


A Gondola and the Rialto Bridge.


Grand Canal from bridge near Accademia.