Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Rome, Italy March 2014

Tuesday, March 18, 2014
Someone pinch me! This morning I checked in for my flight to Rome tomorrow. I have wanted to go to Italy for so long I can hardly believe it's actually happening.
Shopping for essentials a couple of weeks ago:
Washclothes (hotels don't have them in Europe);
Sunglasses (I didn't want to take my good ones);
A translation book (must have!).
Additional shopping the past couple of weeks included:
A converter/adapter gizmo for electronics (flat iron, camera, etc).
Kleenex Pocket Packs (most public places don’t have toilet paper in restrooms so they recommend you carry tissue with you).
A laptop sleeve (I’ll put my laptop in my carry-on tote bag instead of taking my laptop bag due to carry on restrictions.  You can take a laptop bag but mine barely meets the limits of a carry-on and I can  stuff more stuff in the tote bag.)  Plan B - Laptop bag. 
Paul bought a gift for me and my traveling partner which will be disclosed later because she hasn’t received it yet. 
I’m mostly packed including clothes, shoes and underoos.  I just need to finalize in the morning with my bondo bag, misc embellishments and goodies. I leave for the airport in the wee hours of the morning.
ETA: Vaso, the tour facilitator from Run Italy Tours, has been calling Jennie and me "Thelma and Louise" since day one.  We are now the proud owners of Thelma and Louise necklaces. Thank you Paul.

I should probably mention that Jennie is my dear friend who lives in South Dakota.  Jay is our friend who lives in Germany.  We all met on a weight loss website over 10 years ago. This was our first time meeting Jay in person.   Jay had signed up for the Rome Marathon "20th Maratona Di Roma" with Run Italy Tours and we tagged along. Sort of...
Thursday March 20, 2014
I didn't skip Wednesday, it was airplane travel all day.

Travel was smooth sailing the whole way. TYJ.  My flight left and landed on time.  Jennie's flight left and landed on time.  Airport food sucks.  We left NJ right on schedule. 
We arrived in Rome, Italy Thursday morning right on time.  The line thru immigration was long but went fairly quickly.  They waved us right through without even checking our passports. It wasn’t until later that I realized that I didn’t get a Rome, Italy stamp in my passport. Bummer but I’ll live.  Anyhow we took the “green” lane thru customs (nothing to declare) and zipped right through.  We didn't even see an agent but I've been told they are lurking.  We were early so Vaso wasn’t there yet. We went to the café and I had a latte and Jennie thought she was ordering latte macchiato. It was pretty much warm milk with a drop or two of coffee.  Later when we looked in the translation book and we think she ordered a “snack bar”.  LOL.
^My latte was *almost* too pretty to drink^
When we finished Vaso was there with her "Run Italy" sign.  A few other people in the group arrived and she escorted us to the shuttle.  The hot Italian driver carried my bags.  Thank you Stephano.
The roads are very narrow.  Just sayin'… OMG I'm really in Italy!
When we arrived at the hotel our room was ready.  Grand Hotel del Gianicolo is a really beautiful property on top of a hill.  We couldn’t figure out how to turn on the lights.  There was plenty of natural light in the room so we unpacked and tracked down Jay and asked him to show us how to use our bidet!  You have to put the room key in the slot by the door and that turns on the electricity.  Who knew?  Then he helped us figure out our converter/adaptor gizmos and checked out our electronics to see which ones needed just the adapter and which ones also needed the converter. EVERYTHING needs the adapter. It adapts our flat/square plugs to Euro plugs (round pegs). My laptop and camera both can handle 220v so they only need the adapter by my flat iron also needed the converter which converts the 220v to a lower voltage so things don't blow up. Grateful Jay was there or we’d probably still be trying to decipher the code.  Enough of that but I really wanted to get it in for reference when someone else is traveling across the pond. 
Jay took us on a tour. We walked to the Vatican stopping for gelato along the way.  De-lish. 
I don’t know that there are words to describe the Vatican.  I didn’t know where to look first.  

Jay gave us a great tour explaining and describing our way through the beautiful sculptures and painted ceilings. Lots of photo ops.  I think the sky was about to open while the Angels sang. :dork:  It was that amazing.
We went downstairs into the grotto where the Popes are buried.   We wondered through the gift shop and then back out to the plaza.  We walked back to the Passeggiatta Del Gianicolo which overlooks Rome.  It was a beautiful view. 
We wondered around there for a little bit and then hiked back up the hill. (I’m pretty sure it was uphill both ways!)
You can't tell from this picture but the smaller figure in the statue has his arm out straight so Jennie & I immediately started singing "Stop In The Name of Love". 
Love the Vespas.
We stopped at Bar Gianicolo for an espresso.  Espresso in Italy is completely different than the American version. I don't think I'll ever be able to look at coffee the same way again at home.  We went back to the hotel in time for the Meet and Greet with Jeff Galloway.  They had really good appetizers.  Lots of cheesy things (cheesy as made with cheese, not cheesy as in tacky).  I thought the stuffed squash blossoms were fantastic.  We also had Prosecco with O.J.  We mingled around there for a while and then went to Ristorante Carpe Diem Al Gianicolo.  Jay had arrived a couple of days before us and had been there both nights for dinner.  I understand why.  It’s a little neighborhood restaurant just like you see in the movies. Family owned and very friendly. Jay ordered a big pitcher of wine aka un litro vino rosso de la casa.  Very good.  We shared fantastic antipasto.    
We each ordered and “individual” pizza. Big mistake.  Back home an individual pizza is about 6” in diameter.  In Rome an individual pizza is about 14”.  It’s super thin crust but still.  Jennie and I could have easily shared one and still not finished it.  Unfortunately the owner was offended and thought we didn’t like it.  We tried to explain that we couldn’t finish it because we were full but I don’t think he believed us. I didn't know how to explain that I wanted to save room for dessert!  He asked if we wanted him to pack it for ‘take-away’ but we said no because we didn’t think we’d have an opportunity to eat it.  We felt very bad.  We ordered tiramisu for dessert.  Yum. Jennie and I ordered Limoncello and Jay ordered Grappa.  The owner brought our drinks and put the bottle of Lemoncello on the table! 
We had a few shots and Jay ordered another Grappa at which point the owner brought over the bottle of Grappa.  We either had a couple of more shots or the bottle had a hole in it (not) but all of a sudden Jennie says “em, look how much (little) Limoncello there is left in the bottle.  Might as well finish it”.  The owner came by so we asked for the check and when he saw the empty bottle he came back with ANOTHER bottle and the check and said the Limoncello and Grappa were on the house!  Seriously?!  We didn’t want to be rude and offend him again so we HAD to have another, right?  Hey we were walking back up the hill so what the heck.  We got back to the hotel and chatted with Vaso for a little while before turning into pumpkins.  Travel tip: in Italy you have to ask the check in a restaurant.  They won't automatically bring it to you.
Friday, March 21, 2014
We had to be at the shuttle at 8:30 a.m. “and don’t be late or we’ll have to leave without you”.   I didn’t get up until 7 which is really late for me.  We scurried around in the morning so we could take a quick stop at the breakfast buffet before meeting the group.  It was pretty good.  Jay decided not to go on the tour because he wanted to go for his run and then rest.  I teased him that he could only take Jennie and Patti in small doses.  Our tour guide Liala arrived at 9 a.m. and said she was on time and that Vaso tricked us into being early. Tsk-Tsk. Hey, when you have to corral a group,  you gotta-do-whatcha-gotta-do. We started off at the Vatican Museum. 

There are no words.  It was so beautiful.  The gardens and the sculptures and the painted ceilings and the tapestries. Oh My.  Just incredible. 
 ^That's our Vaso^
 ^Yes, you can touch^
We spent quite a bit of time there and then we went to the Sistine Chapel.  Whew.  So much to take in. No photos allowed.  You aren’t allowed to speak inside the Chapel so Liala gave us the low-down before we went in.  Wow, if those walls could talk! I have to admit that I was a wee tad disappointed.  I was expecting a chapel with pews and people praying. I wasn't expecting a big empty room.   After we left there we walked over to the Vatican.  Since we had spent quite a bit of time at the Vatican the day before, Jennie and I decided to sit and wait while the rest of the group got the tour.  Great place for people watching.  We left there and went back to the hotel about 3.  We had about 15 minutes until lunch was ready so we went to the room and relaxed a bit.  Lunch was at the hotel.  Pasta, bread and fruit for me.  Carbs much Italy? They had a few other items that I don't eat like a frittata with peppers and cooked greens of some sort.  After lunch they handed out race bibs, t-shirts and goodie bags.  Jay was going to go for his run and Jennie had wanted to go in the morning but there wasn’t enough time. I said I would go with them and walk.  We all changed into workout clothes and went to the hotel entrance.  Jeff Galloway was there and said he heard there had been some significant weight loss between us and asked how much.  I said about 80 and Jennie said she had just hit the 100 mark.  Jay arrived and said about 38.  Jeff was in ah/awe.  We talked about that for a while and he also started talking about how the brain works.  "Keep it in the front lobe." (Positive*Happy*Thoughts live in the front lobe!)
The man is a fountain of information.  Basically it all boils down to five words: "it's all in your head".  Such is life, isn't it?  We had to pull ourselves away or I could still be there listening to him.  We ventured over to the park.  OMG, this place was so amazing.  It’s called the Villa Doria Pamphilj and is the most beautiful park I’ve ever seen.  Jay took off running then circled back and told me which paths to take and he’d meet up with us when he was done.  Jennie took off running and I walked for a while. She’d run a bit and them come back to where I was and then run again, rinse and repeat.  After a bit Jennie and I started doing a walk/jog.  There were lots of dogs in the park, this one helping himself to a drink of water.

Putting Jeff's tips to the test or as Jay says "small quick steps, not long strides".  Truth be told I didn't run all those steps but I did run from that point forward.  The weather was perfect and the property couldn’t have been more breathtaking. 
^hedge maze^
Jay found us.  Jennie took off running and Jay and I walked and walk/jogged a bit. 
On the way back to the hotel we decided to go back to Bar Gianicolo for an espresso. I'm very much enjoying the espresso here. :wink:  
We went back to the hotel, showered and changed for dinner.  We walked the other direction this time and ended up at Ristorante Il Focolare.  I decided to have grilled lamb because I had read that Rome is known for their lamb. 
It was really good.  Jay had a dinner salad with mixed seafood and his entrée was red shrimp in cognac sauce.  Jennie had a mixed veggie platter.  We skipped dessert because we were going to get gelato on the way back but the Gelateria was closed.  Bummer.  We snagged a cookie at the hotel instead before turning in.
Tomorrow the tour is early.  Breakfast from 6:45 to 7:15, tour bus at 7:30.  We are going to the ruins (Coliseum and Forum) and then she carved out some time for SHOPPING. 
I have tons of pictures to post but since it’s about 11:30 p.m. (Done)
I guess I should close for now and get some rest. 

Saturday March 21, 2014

Gosh, such a jam packed day I’m not even sure where to begin.  As every morning we start with the breakfast buffet.  Salami, prosciutto, cheese, croissant, juice and a slice of poppy seed tart.  I could get used to this.  We got on the shuttle bus and headed to the Coliseum.  Jay ditched us again (been there, done that, his 4th trip to Rome).  The Coliseum is nothing but amazing.  So, so, so much beauty and history there. 
^Run Italy group photo snagged from their FB page^
Liala, our tour guide, should be a history teacher.  She is certainly a fountain of information.  Sometimes it’s a little too much history for me.  I want to know how it was built and what went on there but I don’t really need to know the history of how concrete was made. :hi: Jennie. Sorry Liala.  I just soaked in the beauty and took pictures and tuned out until I heard “Follow Liala” which is Italian for “moving on”.  Standing 'inside' the Coliseum felt a little weird.  I mean you're standing someplace that was once soaked in human blood where people were killed for sport.  Kind of a buzz kill.  After we left the Coliseum we walked thru the Forum on the way to Capitolino Hill, one of the Seven Hills of Rome.  I just can’t find any other words for amazingly beautiful. 
Everywhere you look it just incredible.  When our tour was over we had a couple of hours on our own for lunch and shopping.  We “Followed Liala” and she showed us the main street and where we were to meet later in the afternoon if we wanted to take the bus back to the hotel.  We decided to skip the ‘real food’ and have gelato for lunch.  Choccialato and Limone’.  Ya, when in Rome! 
We shopped along the way to the Fontana di Trevi, aka the Trevi Fountain. Yes, coins were tossed.

We stopped to use a restroom at a pizza place and on the way out got a slice and split it (de-lish) while shopping our way to the Spanish Steps.   Meh.
We didn't really buy that much.  I looked at some shoes but they are crazy expensive. Like 149 eruo ($200+) for bejeweled flip flops.   Then we shopped our way down to the meeting area. Piazza some-thing-or-other, I'll fill that in later cuz I can't remember the name of it. Piazza del Popola. The home of the four lion fountains. 
We “followed Vaso” to the bus and went back to the hotel. Thank you Mario. Jay was waiting for us in the Parlor.  Our feet were killing us.  I mentioned I wanted to go back and fill the jacuzzi tub and soak my feet.  A very nice lady Sonia from our group gave us her package of Epsom Salt Foot Soak. She didn’t have a tub and didn’t want to take it back home.  The foot soak felt so good to me but made Jennie’s feet swell.  She needed ice not heat.  Woopsie.  We rested a while and then went to dinner.  We decided not to do the group dinner. Sorry Vaso. I didn’t really want to eat at the hotel again or eat the pasta buffet (not carb loading for a marathon) plus we’re in Rome for the very first time and there are so many amazing restaurants to explore.  We decided to go to Ristornate Lo Scarpone.  A couple of people from our group had eaten there the day before and Jay passed it during the day and said it looked good.  Jennie mentioned that we could take a cab and Jay said (Jay Said) we didn’t need a cab, it was just down the block and around the corner.  We got there at 7 and were told they open at 7:30.  So hard to remember that they eat dinner here so much later than back home.  Of course we hadn’t had much in the way of lunch so we were pretty hungry and tired and didn’t want to make it a late night.  About 7:15 the guy came out and told us we could go in.  I think he felt sorry for us sitting in the garden entry to the restaurant. It was actually quite lovely and we didn't mind waiting there at all.  We ordered wine which was pretty funny.  They don’t sell it by the glass in this restaurant, you have to buy the small bottle.  We decided on red.  The server went and got four bottles and put them on the table motioning for us to pick.  He tapped his finger a couple of times on one of the bottles.  Hmmmm, could that be a sign?  I picked that one of course.  Jennie ordered the Eggplant Parm and I had Linguini with Lobster.  One of the reviews we read said they were a large group and ordered half the menu.  The Linguini with Lobster was the best thing they ate. 
It was really good.  It came with a half lobster over the linguini which I wasn’t expecting.  I don’t usually like to have use so many tools to get to my dinner when I'm not cooking.  It was already cracked so they had done the work.  Neither one of us could finish our meals.  You have to save room for dessert you know.  We asked about dessert and he said “just come look” and motioned for us to follow him. "Follow Guido." He took us to the dessert table.  Oh My.  I decided on the Cake with Limone' (yes, I love lemon) and Jennie had the Pineapple and Cheese Tart. They were both fabulous.  We decided that from that point forward we are only going to order wine and dessert for dinner!

We walked back to the hotel and I went to Jay’s room. :hi: Jay.  Vaso had given him my 5k shirt since I wasn’t at the dinner and she didn't have mine when the bibs and shirts were passed out. 

Sunday March 22, 2014
Now it’s Sunday and Marathon Day in the Rain.  Not to worry, they gave us ponchos! 
^with Jeff Galloway^
I’ll post photos later (done) since I have about a million and the high speed internet here is not so high speed.  It’s not bad for browsing but loading photos into Blogger takes some time and right now I need something that resembles breakfast before we head out to hit the cobblestones.

Jay came to our room and taped my knee (KTTape).  The doctor had said my knee injury might flare up from time to time and he was right. It swelled on the flight over and has been fairly painful since. Suck it up Buttercup. Thank you Jay.
I did the 5k.  We arrived at the Coliseum and it started raining.  It went from rain to pouring rain to sunshine, to rain and back and forth all day.  We had our meeting space pegged because everybody would be getting back in at different times.  The majority of the group did the marathon.  There were about 10 of us doing the 5k and only one husband opted out of the whole thing so he stayed at the meeting place watching Vaso’s stuff.  She had lots of snacks, water, etc. for when we got back.  The marathon runners took off and us 5k’ers followed.  It was incredibly crowded.  We had heard earlier that there were 19,000 marathon runners and 80,000 signed up for the 5k. WHAT? I think we walked 5k just getting to the starting line! ;)  There was an amazing amount of trash.  They had big red covered weights (don’t know what they were but vision giant bricks) that had been holding down balloons.  The balloons were released but nobody removed the heavily weighted boxes.  Talk about your tripping hazard.  We finally arrived at the start line which Jennie said felt like a cattle chute.  There was trash everywhere from the marathon runners.  They had tossed off their rain ponchos and a layer or two of clothes.  There were goo packets and other miscellaneous debris that was left in the streets by the runners.  Vaso said they come thru later and sweep the streets. There were a lot of dogs and strollers. Anyhow once the crowd made their way across the starting line it spread out so there was some breathing room.  We walked about a mile and of course I had to use a ‘ladies room’. There were no porta potties at the route to the start line.  I finally spotted a small facility in the park so I broke off from our group (which had already broken up a little) and headed up.  There were about a dozen people in front of me, one men’s and one woman’s stall.  I waited about 20 minutes and was glad I did since I didn’t see anyplace else to stop the entire route!  Not a porta potty in sight.  What’s up with that?  I continued on the route to the finish line where Jennie was waiting for me. 
She said she tried to go back and find me to finish with me but they wouldn’t let her back out after she crossed the finish line.  We waited for Rotimi who had already finished but wondered off a bit.  His friend Gin Gin was running in the marathon.  The three of us stood there trying to figure out which way to go.  We knew the meeting spot but what direction was it in?  Thank goodness Jennie had her phone with GPS so she mapped it.  We still were going in the wrong direction so she mapped it again.  We finally were on the right course when we ran into Germana who was Vaso’s assistant at the airport.  She confirmed we were going the right way so we "followed Germana" the rest of the way.  We got back and had to wait a while until the first shuttle arrived.  The weather kept changing from rain to sunshine and back to rain.  I looked at Jennie and said “this is not my favorite day in Rome”.  She said “me neither”.  The wind had picked up so it was cold. I finally asked Germana if the shuttle had arrived and if we could just sit in the vehicle to get warm and wait there until the designated time.  She said yes and while we were walking she contacted Vaso and asked if we could just go back to the hotel instead of waiting for others.  YES!  Hello Stephano!  When we got to the hotel Jennie took a nap while I showered, fluffed and puffed.  She was still sleeping when I was done so I decided to go to Bar Gianicolo where we go for the best espresso I’ve ever had.  I sent Jay a message and left Jennie a note.  It was about 3 p.m.  I got downstairs and Jay was sitting in the Parlor.  We walked down and sat there chit-chatting until 5:30.  That hour and a half flew by.  We talked about everything from premonitions to relationships to the price of cigarettes although neither of us are smokers.  I was curious as to the comparison.  They were 4.5 euro (about $7-8) per pack.  BTW, gas here is sold by the liter but converts to $9.98 per gallon!  No wonder they drive teeny tiny cars and scooters and ride bikes.  We walked back to the hotel and when I got to our room Jennie was about to take a shower.  We talked for a while and then I went back downstairs.  Jay was in the Parlor and so was Jeff Galloway with his family.  Jeff came over and talked to us for quite a while.  We talked about everything from German laws (Jay lives in Germany) to Jeff’s life before his marathon business to what kind of running shoes to buy.  I finally pulled myself away to change clothes for dinner.  They had a post-marathon gala in the hotel restaurant.  Menu at the place settings as follows:
Home Pasta Cow Tail Ragout with Laurel 
(Not a typo.  Home as in homemade and cow tail as in the tail of the cow. Laurel is bay leaf.  When in Rome... or as Tomi from the UK replied “isn’t that just an excuse?”)
Ricotta and Herbs Ravioli with Melted Butter and Cinnamon
Slices of Salted Beef with Spinach Flan and Raisins
Roman Apple Pie with Vanilla Sauce
Mineral Water, Wine and Coffee
They also had an appetizer table set up including Prosecco.  Bread was waiting on our plates.
I’m happy to report that the Cow Tail Ragout was delicious. Very tender, melt in your mouth meat, not very saucy and served over very al dente spaghetti. I didn’t eat much of the spaghetti because there was so much other food on the way. The ravioli was good.  The beef was tasty but mine was very tough and chewy. I couldn't eat it.  Jay said his was tender.  I didn’t care for the spinach flan but others liked it.  I’m sad to report that I’m not much of a fan of the food at this hotel. I'll be generous and rate it 'average'. One of the other girls in our group said she thought the food was amazing.  Those of you who know me, know that I have a fussy palate so YMMV. 
 ^with Vaso^
^Rotimi, me, Jennie, Jay, Gin Gin^
After we ate, Jeff made a nice speech congratulating everyone for their efforts at the marathon/5k. They presented each of us with a commemorative plate of the 20th Maratona Di Roma that Vaso had made for us.  They are handmade in Italy so no two are exactly alike.  They are very pretty.  Jeff’s wife Barbara gave us olive leaf wreaths (which I dubbed Roman Tiaras).  Everyone had their picture taken with Jeff by the official tour photographer, Brennan (Jeff and Barbara’s son). 
At the conclusion Jeff asked if everyone wanted to go for a walk/run in the morning.  The majority of the group said yes and decided on 8 a.m. When that was over we walked down to get an espresso but Bar Gianicolo was already closed.  We walked around the corner to Ristorante Carpe Diem Al Gianicolo, the restaurant we at ate with Jay the first night.  We asked if we could just get espresso and the owner said of course.  He’s so nice and so engaging.  He told us about the cultural differences between Rome and where his family lives in Milan.  Rome is very friendly, Milan, not so much.  
^Me with Marcello^  I'm pretty sure he's a descendant of Roman Gods.  Probably a gladiator in his spare time.  :hi: Jay ~ :hi: Jennie.
We decided we must go back there for dinner Monday night.  
So the plan of the day is Jeff in the morning, breakfast and then hit the streets.  We really haven’t done much in the way of souvenir shopping.  Jennie bought something for her daughter and DIL but nothing for her son and grandson yet.  I bought a scarf and shot glass from a street vendor for me but nothing for Paul, my sister and the boys yet.  Unfortunately the forecast is rain all day which was not part of our plan. 

Monday March 23, 2014
We woke up at 6 a.m. and it was raining pretty hard.  I said I wasn’t going with the Galloway group in the rain.  Jennie decided to go to out for her run.  She said she wasn’t going to hang with the group anyhow.  She left about 7.  Now it’s 8 and the rain has stopped and it’s actually nice out.  The air is crisp but not too cold. I called Jay to let him know we weren't going so not to wait. I'm going to get dressed and when Jennie gets back we’ll go to breakfast and wait for Jay to get back with the Galloway group.  Not sure where we will end up going today but we’ll make the most of it.  After all, it is our last day to enjoy Rome.
Jay clipped the cord and sent us off on our own.  We only got lost a few times.  We made it to the Monumento a Garibaldi at Passeggiatta Del Gianicolo.  We weren’t sure which way to go because our map lacked detail of the small streets.  Travel Tip: Vaso said you ask three people and use the process of elimination.  Apparently locals think it’s funny to send tourist the complete opposite direction.  That worked.  One guy said go one way and the cart vendor guy said the other way.  A couple was walking towards us so we asked them and they said the same as the cart vendor.  They had a more detailed map and showed us where to go.  They also gave us their map because they had a spare.  Thank you tourista’.  We took the long way around but we made it.  Our day reminded me of the Cup Song:
I got my ticket for the long way round
The one with the prettiest of views
It's got mountains
It's got rivers
It's got sights to give you shivers

We stopped for lunch at I’salata Ricca.  I would have given the place a good review because the server was helpful and my salad was delicious BUT the server obviously thought I was a stupid American tourist and tried to tell me (twice) that the tip wasn’t included.  Once when I gave him my card (“gratuity not included”) and again when he brought the charge slip for me to sign.  He went over every item on the bill and then said “tip not included.  Most of the restaurants around include tip but not here.  Gratuity not included”.  EVERYTHING I read leading up to the trip said no tipping in restaurants, they consider it rude.  Well guess what?  There was no tip line on the charge slip so I knew he was lying and I didn’t leave an EXTRA tip.  So there.
~fast forward *** When we got back to the hotel and told Jay he said BS.  "It’s the law here."  It’s built into the prices. ***/end fast forward~

We headed to the Piazza Navona.  It took my breath away.  Once again ‘amazingly beautiful’ doesn’t even begin to describe it. 

^Boys eating gelato~ random, I know^
We wondered thru there soaking it all in, bought a couple of souvenirs and then headed to the Pantheon.  

^Love the wall murals^
Snapped a few pictures and went into a shop or two.  We left there and headed to Campo De’ Fiori which is like a farmer’s market.  We found a Blue Ice (gelato shop) which Jay had recommended.  They have Bailys gelato made with actual Bailys Irish Cream, not just flavoring.  De-lish. 
It was raining and the vendors at Campo De’ Fiori had already closed up and moved on.  The street sweepers were cleaning up the debris.  I snatched this photo off the internet of what it should have looked like:
We hopped into a cab and back to the hotel.  Travel Tip: before getting in a cab, tell the driver your destination and ask how much the fare will be.  That will help avoid surprises and rip offs. 

It was a great day even though we got a little turned around and the rain was on-again/off-again. We covered a lot of territory and saw unbelievable sites. 

We caught up with Jay and headed out to dinner to our favorite restaurant, Restaurante Carpe Diem Al Gianicolo. 
~To be continued ~
~Hold that thought ~
(or as Jennie says)
~ “Stick a pin in it” ~
Gotta turn off the laptop and pack it up.  Our shuttle will be here in a couple of minutes.
We found out that the owner of Ristorante Carpe Diem Al Gianicolo’s name is Marcello.  Well of course it is!  Jay and I shared the antipasto again. I could live on that.  I finally got to try Italian Sausage :hi: Jay.  I ordered grilled sausage and it was like nothing I’ve ever had before. Super tender and exploding with flavor.  
Jay had pizza and Jennie had pasta.  Our new found friends Gin Gin and Rotimi came in when we were done eating.  She finally got her chance to try tiramisu. Oh*Happy*Taste*Buds.  He had a few shots of Limoncello.  I had the tiramisu again and Jennie tried the panna cotta.  Jennie’s definition of tiramisu is “wet boozy cake” and panna cotta is “vanilla pudding”.  I love me some wet boozy cake.  We left there with big hugs and kisses from Marcello. 
We got back to the hotel and had to kiss Jay goodbye since we wouldn’t see him in the morning.  We packed as much as we could before taking a ‘nap’. 

All good things must come to an end. 
~English Proverb~

Tuesday March 25, 2014
We got up at 0-dark-30, our shuttle was picking us up at 6:30 a.m. 
^Vaso's sad goodbye^
I must admit I was kind of weepy on the drive to the airport.  Rome is amazing and was a dream come true for me.  Upon arrival at the airport we zipped right thru immigration (passport check) and found our way to our gate.  You have to arrive three hours before your flight but the time flew by (no pun intended).  We talked to a lady who’s flight was cancelled the day before due to the plane being struck by lightning! Yikes!  They put them up in a hotel but her and her friend were booked out on separate flights this morning.  Her friend’s flight had already been cancelled.  Travel Tip: Always pack an extra day’s worth of clothes and meds.  Luckily our flight departed only a smidgeon late and landed right on time.  It was snowing like crazy at Dulles.  We once again zipped right thru immigration and customs.  We only had to show them our customs form and passport and didn’t have to go thru the bag check line.  Good thing because I would have missed my connecting flight.  By the time we got to the point to check to see what gates we were departing from my flight was boarding in 15 minutes.  Being from a sunshine state I was concerned our flights would be delayed due to the snow but my plane boarded right on time.  We got out a little bit late because we had to stop by and have the wings de-iced.  Scary-Mary to me but routine SOP for them.  Up-Up-And-Away.  We landed in Phoenix right on time.  Luggage was waiting when I got to the carrousel and my car was still there so yeah for that. 
Wee Recap (that’s a mini recap):
Points of Interest:
Vatican – Took my breath away.  So much t take in.  Where to look first?
Passeggiatta Del Gianicolo – Beautiful views of Rome.
Vatican Museum – Amazing gardens, painted ceilings, sculptures and tapestries.
Sistine Chapel – Gorgeous painted walls and ceilings but a little disappointed that the inside was a big open room.  I was expecting pews.  Don’t know why. Maybe because it's a chapel...
Villa Doria Pamphilj – A walk in the park, the most beautiful park I’ve ever seen.
Coliseum and Forum – How are they still standing after all these years?  Another "where to look first" moment.
Capitolino Hill – Another historic building.
Fontana di Trevi, aka the Trevi Fountain – Awesome.
The Spanish Steps.  I was not ah/awe struck.  The lady who sat next to us on the plane going home said that was probably because of all the scaffolding.  It takes away some of the ambiance. 
Piazza Navona – Piazza Navona was my vision of Italy.  Beautiful fountains surrounded by old historic buildings, restaurants with patio seating lining both sides of the piazza (plaza) with stores in between, street vendors selling art work and jewelry, street performers with tip cups and boys eating gelato on a bench.  I love, Love, LOVE Rome.
Pantheon – Built as the Temple of All Gods.   
Campo De’ Fiori – We missed the hustle and bustle because the vendors had already left and the streets were being cleaned. 
Gelato – Yummm. Need I say more?
Espresso – *Oh*So*Good* and nothing like the American version.  I learned something new.  Jay says you are supposed to shoot it, not sip it. 

Ristorante Carpe Diem Al Gianicolo – Fabulous and friendly neighborhood restaurant and highly recommended.  We ate there twice (Jay four times) and I would go back in a heartbeat.  Take euro. 
Ristorante Il Focolare – The food was good but not as friendly at Carpe Diem.  I don’t think I would go back, not because there was anything wrong just not high on the Must-Eat-Here-Again-O-Meter.
Ristornate Lo Scarpone – Very good. 
I’salata Ricca – My salad was excellent but I can’t recommend this place since the server tried to convince me that the tip wasn’t included, which it was, by law!
Hotel - Breakfast buffet was good, other food was averge.

Grand Hotel del Gianicolo hotel was very nice.  The staff was pleasant. It would have been nice if there would have been instructions saying you need to put your room key in the slot by the door to turn on the electricity. They must be used to European travelers.  Thankfully we had Jay to show us the ropes. :hi: Jay. The room was as expected from the pictures I had viewed on their website.  The only negative about the room was the Jacuzzi tub didn’t work. Maybe it needed a magic key! It was very conveniently located.  "All roads lead to Rome."

Run Italy Tours:
Vaso, the facilitator, was AMAZING.  We just love her.  She definitely goes above and beyond. 
Her assistant Germana was very sweet and helpful too. 
Liala, the tour guide. What is there to say about Liala?  Liala knows the history of Rome inside and out.  She is very passionate about her love for Italian culture.  "Follow Liala".
Our drivers Mario, Stephano, Paulo, etc. were top notch.

There are pros and cons to being in a tour group. 

Tours leave very early in the morning. Not so thrilled about having to get up and out so early when on vacation (even though I'm an early bird) but there is a lot to cover so I guess that’s necessary. 
Information overload.  Sometimes we lingered a little too long (IMO) in one place going over the history but others were hinging on every word. 
Vaso makes a frowny face if you bow out of a planned activity (dinner for us; tours for Jay) but I get that.  She's done a lot of work planning and organizing everything. 

You get where you need to go even if you didn’t know you needed to go there!
Someone else is navigating your journey so you don’t have to find your way around.
A bazillion tourist are standing in line to buy tickets as you zip right past them.
Lines a mile long to get into the attractions and you zip right past them.
You get the background and knowledge of what you’re looking at without having to read a brochure.
You have Vaso.  She’s making sure everyone is having a good time and sticking together as a group as much as possible.  You have made a friend for life.
I thought Jeff Galloway was awesome and a half.  Very open and friendly and full of advise.  Vaso said she's going to do the half marathon in Atlanta in December and Jeff is going to train her.  She asked if I'd do it with her.  I talked to Jeff and he said he'd help me too.  I don't think that's going to be happening.  Running is not my thing although as Jeff says "it's all in your head" and being December is pretty much a deal breaker. That being said, you never know where Patti will show up! 
Bottom line – Yes I recommend a tour, especially on your first visit. I would do the tour again, even on my second visit!   

Rome was everything I expected and more. 
Jennie is a wonderful travel partner (which I already knew) and meeting Jay (even though we’ve ‘known’ him over 10 years) was awesome (which I knew he would be).  He is an excellent tour guide too.  Love and miss them both already.
They say there are Seven Hills of Rome. I think we did all 12 of them.  Up hill both ways! 
The entire experience could have only been better if my sister would have been able to join us. 

After all that I forgot to mention the dollar/euro situation.
The exchange rate is 1.37 or 100 euro will cost you $137.00 but then you have to tack on the service fees.  They say don’t exchange money at the airport, the fees are too high. They are.  We exchanged $200.00 and received just a little over €100.  You have to have some euro, for example we were a little too early for our shuttle so we had coffee.  You can’t buy anything with American dollars.  You would need euro to tip your driver (although our transportation was included).   
Everyone says just swipe your card where ever you go.  That doesn’t always work.  The first restaurant I tried to use my card(s) they didn’t work.  The next night my card worked just fine in a restaurant.  The first ATM Jennie tried to get cash from didn’t work.  A couple of days later it worked at another ATM.  You just never know.  Jay said it depends on whether or not that particular bank has an international agreement. 
The first time we had espresso with Jay I was going to pay with my card. "Just swipe your card where ever you go." Jay said you pay when you leave and then snuck back and paid.  He said you don’t use a card at a place like that.  In America, espresso is about $4.00.  In Rome it’s €.90 - 1.5 depending on where you are.  Who knew? 
I checked rates for swiping my card before I left:
My Visa = no service fees (YMMV).
My American Express (green card) = 2.7% service fee (YMMV)
My ATM = 3% service fee for purchases; 3% plus $5.00 if you’re getting cash (YMMV)
Obviously Visa was my first choice. 
In hind sight, a co-worker told me they exchange $50.00 when they arrive and then they go to the bank and change $500 and pay cash for everything until they need to go back to the bank. The bank still charges services fees but not as much as some of the other sources.  Next time I’ll do that. :wink: 

ETA, Again - Fraud Alert, both cards, cancelled and awaiting replacements.  Be careful peeps.