ROME – it wasn’t build in a day and you won’t see it in one either!!

Rome – It wasn’t built in a day and believe me, it will take more than a day to see it!

St Peters Square the night we arrived

Our Immigration challenges newly resolved, we were ready to move on from Siracusa, Italy. The plan was to take Gratitude North to Genoa, then begin a slow and steady trip south ending in Ragusa, Sicily for the winter. But a survey of the weather combined with our previous research of the Med cruising recommendations indicated, we were going to have far less time to make this trip than we had hoped. Watching 1, then another, system work its way across, we decided it was time to consult the Momondo app for flights.

Since we left the US – and in fact many months (possibly years before that) we have not flown anywhere. Strange since Alec and I rarely went more than a week without getting on a plane in our past lives. Now it has been years since we have gone to an airport and I don’t even recall the last time we have flown anywhere. We sold our cars when we left Florida, and while Alec has driven on only a few occasions since we left, I haven’t driven even 1 mile in the nearly 18 months since our departure. We primarily take trains and busses everywhere and closer to home we prefer bikes or walking. Given the time constraints of traveling at 8 knots we decided it was time to go back to the “old ways” or risk missing most of Italy.

The flight from Catania airport on Sicily took 1.5 hours to Rome. There were temperature checks and mandatory face coverings for the duration. The Airbnb in Rome arranged to have a car meet us upon landing and after another 30 minutes (remember no customs or immigration formalities) we were enjoying our first meal in Rome nearly 3 hours after we left the boat. Easy peasy. The Airbnb in Rome was terrific – a wonderful 3-bedroom apartment in a Piazza with views of St. Peters Basilica. It was surreal for me to stand in St. Peters Square on that first night. I believe everyone must feel this – a near disbelief at finally arriving in a place one has only seen in photos and movies countless times before. I don’t know how I have managed 54 years on the planet without making it to Rome before now. I have been to Italy several times – but I think I was just a bit shy after the stories of crowds. Rome is the 3rd most populated commune in the EU and the most populated in Italy. But here we were… Rome. To be sure, what follows of our account will be in contrast to your own experiences given the Covid world in which we live. But I felt very grateful that this was our experience and that I had waited, inadvertently, for this trip. Every place we visited, every photo we took, I was filled with awe and wonder to finally be here in the Eternal City.

Third on the list of the most visited European cities in 2019 (behind London and Paris) – it truly didn’t disappoint. We had planned to “live” onboard about a 30- minute bus ride away but being right in the heart of it all really worked well for helping us to accomplish so much.

A quick word here about the blog and any recommendations you may read here. We don’t advertise through the blog – ever. We don’t earn 1 penny due to the blog. We don’t solicit or receive discounts in exchange for promotion on the blog. We wrote in an earlier piece about the reasons why we do it but just to clear up any questions quickly before recommending things/people/places – we only write to keep a record for ourselves and our 10 year old son of the adventures we are on and also to pay it forward for the hours we spent reading the blogs of others without whom we may never have taken this leap.

My mother, a travel professional for most of her working life (gee, I wonder where I get my wanderlust), recommended the DK Eyewitness book for Rome before we left. Within days of our departure, I bought the Kindle version. I may never go to a major tourist site without an Eyewitness book loaded onto my phone again. No stranger to travel books, I was surprised at the user- friendly nature of this one and the ability to find an attraction, select the google maps link and obtain directions via rail, walk, car or bus anywhere in the guide. So, guidebook in hand and 5 days booked into Rome for our 2 -week holiday, we were off!

There are a million wonderful travel blogs out there and this is not intended to be that so I won’t get too nitty gritty with the details of the sights that we visited but we really packed in a wonderful trip in those 5 days. It is not unusual for me to over-schedule my family on those occasions when we are committed to seeing so much in a short time – this was just such a time. Still – afraid to overwhelm, I tried to stick to 1 large thing per day and let the rest of the day be spontaneous and free.

We began our week at the Capitoline Hill, the symbolic center of the Roman World. The beautiful steps leading up to the Piazza del Campidoglio were designed by Michelangelo in the 16th century. Had we done nothing more but admire the steps, and the Museums from the outside we would have been satisfied but Jack needed to use the rest room urgently – really urgently – so we paid our admission and thus enjoyed at least 2 hours meandering the halls of the Capitoline Museum. Not at all on our list of things to do today- we 3 enjoyed the immense collection of paintings and sculpture. What a terrific reminder to just relax and enjoy the experience. Only because of a need to use the rest room did we make this wonderful discovery and even though we had planned (roughly and loosely) to do something else during this time, none of us was disappointed. At the center of the Piazza is a statue of Marcus Aurelius. We had to pleasure of discovering the original in gold leaf inside of the museum which was moved inside to minimize the damage to the original. Good thing since legend says that when the last of the gold is lost from the statue, the world will end. Yikes…

I swear the guide told Jack to sit atop a 2000 year old column!!!!!

The major thing we had planned for today was a tour of THE COLOSSEUM. I had booked this through Airbnb and we were so in love with our guide. She is an archeologist and intensely knowledgeable about everything in the area. While some guides leave you with a sense that they know everything, but you have learned nothing, she was a teacher and so delightful. All three of us were transformed and as in love with the colosseum as she was. Her info is:
Maria Rita Bertoncini and she can be reached at http://www.visitostiaantica.org
I don’t often share guide info on the blog – but occasionally we find one who is so good at what she/he does, Im happy to recommend them.

On this tour we visited the Forum, Palantine hill and the 3 arches.

Day 2

Having booked a tour of the Vatican and the museums, we wanted to have an easy quiet morning preceding the exhausting afternoon. The tour was 3 hours and included all of the museums, the map rooms, the Sistine chapel, etc. Believe me when I tell you a WEEK is not enough time to see this nearly insane repository of the worlds most beautiful ancient art. There are room upon room full of ancient sculpture, carpets and stunning art work depicting scenes from the bible adorn nearly every wall and frescos occupy even your own mind after spending the day trying in vain to take it all in. It is nearly an assault on the senses seeing as much art in one place – seriously. Intended to be the finale at the end of the tour, we walked into the Sistine chapel and had our breath taken away by the sheer glory of Michelangelo’s work. There is far more written about it than I could ever do justice to here so I will only close this day by saying do some research before you arrive. We had booked a tour called “Pristine Sistine” by a well known tour operator in Rome. I had done this on the advise of a blog that I had read in which the writer receives compensation for tours booked from the link. I have to insert here that I have no issue whatsoever with the YOUTubers and Bloggers getting compensated for their work- but please, if you are booking on the advice of someone who is getting compensation – do your homework first. We booked a very pricey tour which promised a private viewing of the Sistine Chapel before it opened with a lengthy talk about the intricacies. When it became clear that we were not receiving what I had booked, I was told that our tour was exchanged because due to Covid there were no private groups before opening. Our guide then went on to say that it wasn’t necessary anyway because there were no crowds. Well, he was right and there were no crowds. Typically, 40,000 visitors cram the halls of the Vatican and during our visit, there were never more than about 20 people. Still, the difference in price between what we had booked and what we received was substantial and despite multiple emails and requests for the difference to be compensated, we have received nothing. Also, to make matters worse, this tour guide was the least effective of any tour I have booked in the past year (probably close to 15). Just a little reminder here to do your homework when following the advice of someone who is receiving compensation. If this was not enough extravagance for one day, we then went to St. Peters Basilica where mass was going on. It is breathtaking and frankly there are no words to describe it. In fact, we walked into several churches just in passing and I honestly can hardly imagine all of this remarkable art work around every bend. Frescoes and art work adorning every single church in nearly every Piazza. Remarkable.

The lines – empty – getting into the Vatican

Day 3

Piazza Navona was once the social center of Rome. A Baroque Oval Piazza with 3 fountains, aristocracy once strolled the streets and met friends and neighbors or came for an apertivo (a delightful custom of having a very low alcohol beverage accompanied by some small snacks – chips/peanuts/cheese). The most famous fountain in the piazza at the center is called the Four Rivers. It was designed by Bernini. Usually very crowded, it was raining during our visit so there was really nobody around except restauranters’ begging us to come eat – so we did. At and ate… Wow Can I just say that we have not had a mediocre meal since we arrived in Italy.

Day 4 and 5

We saw the Pope in the pouring rain giving his Sunday blessing and we went to Trevi fountain, built in 1762 by Italian architect Nicola Salvi which looks to me like something out of the lost city of Atlantis. Tradition demands an offering into the fountain which will guarantee a return to the city. We did some research and learned that nearly 1.5 million dollars was collected in 2016 but the good news? That money is used to subsidize a supermarket for the needy so dig down and toss those coins away. We saw and the Pantheon and we went to the Piazza Di Spagna and the Spanish Steps.

Plaza Navona 4 rivers fountain

One final thing on our list of places to visit, AMERICA! We all wanted a little taste of America since it has been over a year since we have been home and there is little chance we will make it back this year due to Covid. We went to the American Embassy in Rome. We had hoped to arrange a bit of a tour but everything was very tightly controlled and secure, even more so due to Covid. We did complete paperwork so that they know we are here.

Given that I’m about 500 words over what I like to write on the blog, I’ll leave it here. Rome is an incredibly city and one which we should never have waited so long to see. When Covid is over, give it a week or even 2 – there is so much more to see and 5 days was simply not enough.

In our next post we will cover Portofino, Cinque Terre and Florence.

Siracusa, Italy (Sicily)

What a month it has been! There is way too much to cover in one blog post so I’m going to break it up. While I’m tempted to begin at the end of the trip around Italy since the last week was EPIC, I’m going to begin at the beginning and get to last week eventually.

In our last post you learned about the month- long challenge to get our immigration woes worked out. We thankfully had the help of 3 wonderful professionals at Luise Yachting Agency, Viviana, Giorgio and Roberto, and we are now here hopefully for the winter.

Piazza Duomo Cattedrale metropolitana della Natività de Maria

Lucky for us, we “entered” legally in a city worthy of far more than just the few weeks we have given it. Siracusa, on the Eastern side of Sicily, dates back over 2800 years and evidence of this storied history follows cobblestoned streets, from one end to the next. Itself a UNESCO HERITAGE SITE, We are docked on the island of Ortigia, which is just a stone’s throw to Siracusa. Possibly best known as the birthplace of Archimedes (288 BC) for readers of the blog, this time last year we studied ancient Greece and we worked Archimedes into our Math and Science curriculum. One of the “dividends” Jack has recently paid us, he remembered most of what he learned and while touring the “amusement park” Jack was ready to explain what many of the devices were. One device we had not learned about though was the Parabolic Mirror which Archimedes is said to have used on ships attacking Syracuse. Additionally, Archimedes explains why ships float, and is the brilliance behind nearly every piece of machinery aboard. It was great fun to visit his birthplace and to relive some old lessons.

Jack trying out the Heat Ray to “make” Fire using parabolic reflectors

As embarrassing as it is to admit it, 2 of my favorite things about Europe are the Café’s and the “markets”. So nearly the first thing we do when we arrive is to find out when/where the market will be as they move from town to town. Not here though! The market is so fantastic and busy it is here 6 days a week from 8-1300. So, before we even got settled, we headed into the market to take a look. Fantastic. As are the café’s. One can only pray that our winter home in Ragusa is as wonderful.

We also like to take a city tour if we feel there is enough to see. Wow, there was enough to see for 5 city tours as Siracusa, as it is called by the Italians, was once one of the most important cities of its time. We saw the Catacombs of San Giovanni, (4AD-6AD), the Basilica of St. John the Evangelist, Archeological Park, the Roman Amphitheatre, and the Ear of Dionysis. We learned how papyrus was made and we have enjoyed gallons of a Sicilian delicacy, Granita. While most of Italy is famous for the Gelato, and believe me, it’s good, there is something especially wonderful about Sicilian Granita, particularly on a warm summer day. Granita could best be described as a type of Sorbet (they come in many flavors, but lemon is our favorite). People even eat the granita on bread for lunch. We prefer it right out of the glass. Delicious!! Another specialty of the area is Cannoli. The ricotta here makes the Cannoli taste like it is made of sweet cream rather than cheese. INSANE.

A large cruise ship port, we have seen ships come and go but there has only been 1 ship which had passengers aboard and only 600 rather than 2000. Our boat is docked nearby and below is a photo of our Gratitude with the cruise ship in the background. We are so sad for the businesses which are literally hemorrhaging during this crazy Covid time.

Note Gratitude at the marina

It soon became clear that while we were awaiting documentation from the States and watching carefully the storms brewing in the Med, we were watching the disintegration of our summer cruising plans. There was simply no way to make the multi-day passage to Genoa as we had planned, and then to slowly work our way south. Enter the brilliant and amazing ANGELS OF MERCY at Luise Yachting Agency. We mentioned in the earlier blog piece that they had worked magic with the Immigration issues but now that issue resolved, they came to the rescue again.

St. Peter’s Square in Rome

There is more than one way to see the world – and while we love seeing it in the comfort of our own home, sometimes taking a “vacation” from being on board is fun. I get to find a bathtub and we typically abdicate all jobs and chores while we are vacation. Enter Giorgio, Viviana and Roberto… AGAIN!

Viviana loves cats so she was the perfect candidate to baby sit our Pratt and Whitney (2 cats we travel with aboard Gratitude). Anyone who loves cats will tell you that contrary to their reputation, they are incredibly expressive and loving, and when they aren’t happy with you, they are wonderful at expressing it. No mistake about it. Typically, when we have left them, we know they have missed us by their behavior when we return. Both Pratt and Whitney acted as though we never left! They were loving, happy and sweet and clearly, they had been showered with attention in our absence.

Pratt and Whitney

The Gratitude was also cared for lovingly and n fact, during one storm an agent moved aboard and with the help of others in the vicinity, pulled Gratitude (180,000 pounds) off the dock to keep her safer until the storm passed. Talk about dedicated!

So we just returned from a 2 ½ week “road” trip around Northern and Central Italy. There is far too much to write about in this post so Ill close by saying that I’ll write about all of it in the coming weeks. But a taste of what is to come:

Rome, Portofino, Cinque Terre, Tuscany, Pisa, Florence, Siena, Castagneto Carducci, Bolgheri, and includes stories about History, FOOD, GLORIOUS FOOD, Olives, Hiking, Churches and more Monuments than Washington DC.

Thanks for reading!!