Our guide Eva took us on an afternoon tour to see some of the areas of Venice such as the Santa Croce and San Paulo districts. We had been introduced to Eva by her sister Susanna who we had found on a Tours By Locals excursion during a cruise the previous year. Our tour went on to the Dorsoduro district where we viewed a Gondola factory. We were told how this took great craftsmanship to create the boats and the expertise was passed down by each generation. The blade on the front of each gondola represents the regions of Venice flowing through the Grand Canal. Eva took our group to St Marks plaza and provided some of the history of Venice and the Doges. At one time, Venice was a very powerful and wealthy empire that controlled many areas south of the city. The Doges (dukes) were elected from the many wealthy families of the time who all owned palaces along the Grand Canal. Eva gave our group a great introduction to Venice and we agreed to have one last tour with her the morning of our departure. After the tour we took a gondola ride to get the full appreciation of floating around the canals in a very traditional way. That evening we ate at a restaurant on the grand canal that had been recommended by our hotel.
On the second day, our hotel arranged for a few private water taxis to take us to Murano to see the glass blowing factories. We then planned to take a vaporetto to Burano to see this colorful fishing village. Many times, the large glass manufacturers will pay for the water taxis of tourists hoping they will buy something. Well boy, were they right! After a great glass blowing demonstration, we walked through the galleries admiring all the works of art. We bought enough that the glass manufacturer paid for a private water taxi for us to go to Burano! This little fishing village in Burano is known for the colorful buildings painted in these bright colors to help the fisherman find their way back to the island. There are hundreds of shops and restaurants on this island. After finishing our shopping and having a little lunch we headed back on a vaporetto to our hotel. That evening we had a very nice dinner at a restaurant near St. Marks Square that we had eaten at before.
Our last day we got up early to take one last tour which was more of boat ride on a vaporetto with some information provided by Eva on what we were seeing. We think our group received some great knowledge of Venice during the short duration they were there. Early in the afternoon we headed to the train station for our trip to central Italy where we were to meet Eva’s sister, Susanna.
When we arrived at the Orte Train Station in central Italy, Susanna and some of her friends brought cars to pick us up and take us to Vetralla where she lives. It was somewhat humorous watching us take our many pieces of large luggage and fitting it into these vehicles. Fortunately, one of the vehicles was a large van and we were able to get everything in and drive on to Vetralla. When we got there, we went directly to Susanna’s garden which had been set up with a very long table to seat 20 people. Susanna is an opera singer, when she is not a tour guide, and she built the garden as a small theater to perform opera. We were there to have a few appetizers, but our group was starving after a long train ride. It turns out the few appetizers, turned into many appetizers that our group could not finish. These appetizers were unique Italian dishes that our group loved. While eating we had some great conversation with Susanna, her husband and some of her friends who were there. After eating these appetizers and drinking some wine, we were taken to our rooms. We were staying in some of the residences in the village. Each couple had their own bedroom and bathroom but there were 6 or 7 people living in each apartment or house. The places were very nice, but they did not have air conditioning and only a few had fans. Even with the windows open many of these bedrooms were warmer than what we are use to. We Americans do love our air conditioning!
The next morning, we got up and went to the local café where we were treated to a free pastry and coffee as part of our lodging package. We walked from there to a nice bus which took our group on our tour. Susanna’s husband, Rudolph, took us on the tour since she was busy getting ready for her show that afternoon. Our tour started down the Cassia Road which is one of the roads where the expression “all roads lead to Rome” came from. It was one of the most important roads of its day (2000 years ago). The area we were in was originally populated by the Etruscans who lived there before the Romans starting in 600 BC. In 300 BC the Romans conquered the Etruscans and their empire began. We went to Viterbo which is one of the best-preserved Roman cities and is also were the Pope lived and ruled in the 13th century. Every year there is a festival there where 100 men carry a 100-foot statue of Saint Rose to the church. We went on to Bolsena to see the Basilica of Santa Cristina. This basilica houses the remains of two miracles. The first is about Cristina who was born to a rich governor of the area and wanted her to be a Pagan Princess. Instead she was visited by an angel and proclaimed Christianity as her true religion. When her father tortured her in many ways, she continued to be devoted to her Christianity beliefs. She was eventually a martyr when she was beheaded and eventually a saint. Another miracle occurred in this basilica when a priest, Peter, on a pilgrimage to Rome was having doubts about his beliefs and wanted a sign to help guide him. He received this sign when his consecrated host began to bleed. This Basilica of Santa Cristina holds remnants of both miracles. We were fortunate to have an English-speaking priest in the church who allowed us to take some pictures that were not normally allowed. He also explained what we were seeing in the basilica. We took a few pictures with him, even though he was embarrassed because he was only wearing shorts and t-shirt.
We then went to Hostaria del Ponte in Lubriano to have lunch and watch a special opera presentation by Susanna and her friends. We had a very nice lunch in this pretty fancy restaurant, as we watched a very entertaining opera. Besides Susanna, her husband, another friend and a singer from Rome came to entertain us. It was humorous and interesting along with some great singing! Most all songs were in Italian, but it really didn’t make much difference. Everyone in our group enjoyed the experience, it was awesome!
The tour ended with a trip to Civita de Bagnoregio which is the “dying city”! This was one of our favorite sights to visit when we first saw it with Susanna over a year ago. It was built on a hilltop 2500 years ago by the Etruscans but over the last 500 years or so earthquakes and erosion continue to decrease the size of this city. Now the city is surrounded by cliffs on all sides. The hilltop city has now turned into a city on a pedestal. Where you could once just walk out of the city on a road, today they must use a long pedestrian only walkway that hovers over 50 feet above the valley below. Only 6 to 15 people live full time in this city. It is truly a unique sight to see if you ever have the opportunity.
The following day we took a train down to Rome. During our cruise we had already stopped in Rome for one day, but since most of our group had never been to Rome, we came back to Rome for 4 nights after the cruise. There is so much to see in Rome we knew that one day would not be enough.
On our one-day trip from the cruise port, Civitavecchia, our group took a train that had been pre-booked, directly to the large Roma Termini Station. From there we walked around to visit some of the main sights. We saw the Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain first. It is interesting to note that the Trevi Fountain was built so that ancient Romans could get their daily water which the aqueducts brought in from the mountains into the city. We then took a quick visit to the Pantheon before heading over to Campo de’ Fiori to have a little lunch. From there we headed back to the Termini with some quick viewing of the Colosseum and the Vittorio Emanuele building. This was a long walk for our group of just over 10 miles.
When we came back to Rome on July 2nd by train from Tuscany, most of our group had a tour at the Vatican Museum to go to. This allowed them to see the Sistine Chapel and the St Peter’s Basilica also. That evening we had a pleasant dinner at a restaurant in the area where one of our group members knew someone who had a friend that owned the restaurant. It was actually a very good meal. The next day we had a full day tour lined up for a golf cart tour (Rolling Rome) that started in the afternoon. In the morning most people went to St. Peter's Basilica and several of us climbed to the top of the cupola which provides you a great view of both the inside of the basilica but also the outside into the Vatican Gardens and out around the city of Rome. The golf cart tour started with a guided tour of the Colosseum and some of the surrounding area (Constantine’s Arch and Palatine Hill). After seeing this we had an early dinner (part of the tour) and then did a night tour on the golf carts. They took us by Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps before going up to Villa Borghese to take some nice sunset pictures of Rome. While we were there a young Russian couple was there, and the young man proposed to his girlfriend who readily accepted. It helps to remind you what a romantic city Rome really is. Our golf cart tour went by the Pantheon at night and Navona Plaza which is always a nice place to visit in the evening.
The next morning half of our group headed back to the US while the rest of us went on another golf cart tour. This tour took us along the hillside that overlooks the Tiber River and Rome where we learned about the history of the Republic of Rome. They also took us to the Trastevere area of Rome which has many of the family style restaurants along with a myriad of different shops. We went by Trajan’s Market which is very well preserved and looks more like a theater. It is the first indoor shopping mall ever created! We visited some other sights in ancient Rome including Circus Maximus. The next day we had one last golf cart tour. We saw new sights and spent some time inside the Pantheon. We visited a Malta “consulate” which had a keyhole where you can see the Vatican through it. The keyhole was especially interesting since you are seeing three countries at the same time. The keyhole itself is in a building from Malta, while you are looking across Rome (in Italy) and eventually seeing the Vatican (its own country). We also saw a garden where when you view the Vatican it looks like it gets smaller the closer you get to it because of an optical illusion in how you view it. We spent time looking at the Ancient Roman Forum and saw the statue of Romulus and Remus with the shewolf were legend has it that Romulus created Rome after killing his twin brother. It was very enjoyable viewing Rome on these golf carts, and it allowed you to see so much more in a short time. If you ever get to Rome, consider booking these early because they are not available when you get there.
This ended our 3-week trip with our group. Everyone but us flew back to Atlanta. We rented a car and spent 7 days driving around Italy before flying to Paris to begin our 3-week river cruise. Please go to this web link to see the pictures during this part of our trip.
Sharon & Greg