No Audrey Hepburn or Gregory Peck. But the sights that brought a then picture of contemporary Rome to North America several decades ago.
Last Friday I flew from Basel to Rome to join a Trafalgar tour to Rome and southern Italy, including Pompeii, Sorrento, Capri, the Amalfi coast to Positano, and Sicily. As my third foray into Italy, this proving to be the perfect conclusion to my travels, truly a vacation as all I need to do is show up on time. The day before I had several moments thinking I might not make it as I was laid up with a sudden onset, “bring me to my knees” migraine. I’m never really sure of the precipitant, though know this time I’d not been sleeping well, with the energy and glow of the full moon shining in my German bedroom, had indulged in too much Easter chocolate a couple of days earlier, was beginning to reflect on the transition to my upcoming homecoming, and the evening prior helped “BellaThea” prepare for a small dinner party for her T’ai Chi teacher and visiting master, that was to begin an hour before I typically go to bed…hence a very late night…
…Of eating a delicious “slow food” dinner of bruschetta and tapenade on baguette, veal marsala with the now in season, white asparagus and hollandaise, boiled new potatoes, and an ensemble of fruit pastry tortes and espresso
…Of drinking the perfect accompaniment wine, a full-bodied slightly “herbal” white from the neighboring Bucholtz vineyards
…Of sipping the famous Black Forest schnapps, this time my favourite, the plum.
An answered prayer and eighteen hours of sleep and thankfully I awoke Friday morning, tired but blessedly and blissfully pain free. Good intuition to have already lain out and partially packed for a much lighter and smaller suitcase.
Roma…the capital of Italy, holding within the sovereign state of the Vatican, all in the midst of preparations for the beatification ceremonies for Pope John Paul, to begin on Saturday, April 30th. A combination of the good planning and flexibility of Dina, our tour director, an Australian of Italian parentage (who spoke the most lovely Italian with her Australian accent, full of her joy and passion for her chosen home and vocation), with our well-travelled small group of nineteen had us experience in thirty-six hours a full “Roman Holiday” that included:
- An evening “passiagata” to the magnificent, near miraculous Pantheon, the Egyptian obelisk, Trevi Fountain, the “wedding cake” monument to Italy’s first king, Victor Emmanuel, Piazza Navona with the Benini’s Four Rivers Fountain, and my first look at the Colosseum, Ancient Rome and the illuminated St. Peter’s Basilica.
- An early morning date (ahead of closures and crowds due to the beatification) at the Vatican Museum to see the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica with Michelangelo’s most famous Pietà.
- A walking tour in the rain, around the Colosseum, including the Palantine Hills, and the Circus Maximus being set up for the anticipated thousands arriving for the all night vigil and processional ceremony.
As I walked off the path, I stumbled into the Saturday market, another “slow food” delight featuring local cheese, wine, bread and meats. But given our meeting time, I had only time to sample (the downside, so far, of a tour, but precisely one of the reasons I’m taking it now: to get used to the need to accommodate to others!),
Our last evening we visited the Spanish Steps now adorned, for the month of May only, with fuchsia and white azaleas, and walked the “shopping triangle” bordered by Piazza Venezia and Piazza del Popolo, through the neighborhood and artists’ stalls visited by Audrey Hepburn’s character in that famous film.
We dined at the Café Canova, for me a mediocre meal of antipasto (good), two pasta primis (one penne pomodori – not good, the second, a cheese and spinach stuffed ravoli with a light butter cream sauce – good), and a secondo of a roman style veal cutlet topped with proscuitto (tough!?!), corn and mixed green salad haphazardly tossed on the plate over a few potato puffs (frozen, cold), and a tiramisu kind of cake. Free flowing wine and entertainment by a piano-playing, Sinatra-styled crooner, had the room full of several Trafalgar tour groups singing, dancing and becoming travelling friends. Fifty-seven euros, the price for community building!
Sunday, after a night where in a new, modern, four star hotel, I was awakened at three in the morning by serious plumbing noises coming from the sink, toilet, tub and bidet, “Non posso dormire. Ascoltare!” as I held out the phone receiver to make my point. (Thankfully replaced the day before when the morning wakeup kept ringing and pressing 711 for reception wouldn’t register 7, discovered when the handymen came in to fix the TV so I could get internet service for 8 euro an hour!!!!!) By the time a new handyman came, of course the noise had stopped, only to resume at 4:30 am when I was just getting back to sleep. I surrendered, packed, and arrived for a very early breakfast, meeting several of my new friends who’d imbibed in too many after dinner capuccinos.
We boarded our spacious bus, and headed south towards Napoli, and the excavations of Pompei. En route we stopped at the war memorial and cemetery at Monte Cassino, the sight of a seriously botched WWII ally takeover of the mountain where over four thousand, mostly British Commonwealth, troops lost their lives. It was a reflective time as I quietly and respectfully walked to see the dozens of headstones from my city’s two battalions, as only days earlier I had learned from my husband, that his nephew, a member of one, will be deployed to Afghanistan in a month’s time.