Ahhh, Italy… At Last

Well, we survived the flooded Tibre in Rome (and Arno in Florence) and are slowly adjusting to life back in Cairo (which essentially means we’re coming to accept that we are no longer in Italy). We refused to leave the house our first full day back, but did venture out for a commissary run on our second day.

To sum it up, we LOVED Italy! (But who couldn’t/wouldn’t?!) We spent the first seven days in Rome, then took a train to Florence for two days, then back to Rome for our last night. Personally, Rome was my favorite; primarily due to the grandiose, Baroque, jaw-dropping, overly-ornate churches, the beautiful architecture at every turn, and the people who were extremely nice. Florence was beautiful too, however we did run in to more than one (significantly more) people who were a) less than helpful, and b) rather snarky. So that definitely colored my impression. But I did fall in love with the Duomo in Florence, in particular the Baptista (got a neck cramp from gazing at the mosaic ceiling there).

I have written up our vacation, in very long, typical-Julia, blathering-on style and I will not subject everyone to my ramblings. However, I will share some snippets and some photos.


December 8, 2008 – Day of Departure
We left Cairo, purposefully, on the first day of Eid El Fitr; hoping to avoid witnessing the mass slaughtering of sheep. As our car to the airport pulled out on to 26 July Street, Ron glanced sideways and muttered, “Eid’s begun.” “Yes, twenty minutes ago!” our helpful driver added, noting the time of 7:20am. I did not glance where Ron was looking, as I understood what he meant.

Once we arrived in Rome, after a mere three hour flight, we hopped on a train that took us directly in to Termini Station in Rome. We had arrived!!

Our hotel, the Monte Carlo, was very nice. It had a quaint old-fashioned iron elevator, that insisted you close the door securely or it would not move. Our first room was possibly taller than it was wide, giving the impression, aided by the blue striped wallpaper, of being at the bottom of a giant hatbox. But it was clean and had a street view. The problem with it was the bathroom, which was by far the smallest “full” bathroom I’ve ever seen or used. It had a wonderful towel-warming rack (delightful in European winters), but it was placed so close to the toilet that singeing would occur unless one sat at an angle – which toilet seats are just not comfortably designed for. The shower was too small for any adult, other than Twiggy, to turn around comfortably in, and you had to open the doors and practically step out if you had any need to actually bend. I made a call the next morning to see if we could get another room, and for a mere 15 Euros/day, we could get one with a non-dollhouse bathroom, as well as “complimentary” breakfast. So we did. And it was well worth it. We lost the view of the street, and traded it for industrial roofs, but we weren’t there to window-gaze. The bathroom was luxuriously large, with a whirlpool tub, and the breakfasts were really lovely (with amazing pastries and a delightful server who smiled when she saw us each morning and knew after a day that I wanted hot tea and Ron wanted espresso). In addition, the entire staff, from the front desk to the maids, were pleasant, nice and always helpful (which, in comparison to our experience in Florence, was greatly appreciated).

So after getting settled our first day, we wandered back out and upon examining the map, decided to amble in the direction of Trevi Fountain. As we were talking, we came to a church and Ron suggested we stop in. From the outside it was rather unassuming, with a basic stone front. In fact, until I looked up and saw the cross at the top, I didn’t even realize it was a church. And yet inside I was stunned speechless. The Santa Maria della Vittoria church was Baroque like no Baroque I’ve known before! Gilding to the ceiling, high arches, paintings and decorations that required one to just stand in one spot and slowly turn as you absorbed what your eyes were trying to take in. The detailing was phenomenal and I could not have been more impressed… or so I thought. As Ron was perusing the side alters, he motioned me over to the one closest to the center alter. There we were, standing in Rome in a happenstance church and facing Bernini’s “Ecstasy of St. Teresa” marble statue (completed 1652). It’s very famous in art circles, or anyone with religious or historical learning’s, but to me this was the first time I’d heard of or seen it and it was the beginning of a vacation of Bernini appreciation.

From here we wandered across the street to the church of St. Susanna, which, minus a Bernini, was equally impressive and stunning. We continued on down Via Barberini, and as we were coming around a bend I saw a large fountain in the middle of a big square and my first thought was, “Trevi Fountain is a lot smaller that I thought.” We wandered up to it, complete with the setting sun and an eccentric (or crazy) man addressing passersby with great flourish. I can’t recall if it’s at this point, or a little later, that we realized we were not at Trevi Fountain at all, but rather at the Fountain of Triton in Barberini Square (at least we discovered that it was designed by Bernini in 1643 for Pope Urban VIII). Fair enough. It was a lovely fountain.

As became another theme in our vacation, we decided to find a restaurant for dinner based on the plethora of beautiful lights draped across the street. We wandered up a tree-lined street, with lights draped everywhere, and cafés and trattorias all lined up. Dinner was great. The weather was clear but cool, and since we still didn’t know the bus system, we soon decided to retrace our steps back to the hotel with hopes of finding a grocery store along the way. Luckily we did, so we stocked up on granola bars, bananas, pumpkin seeds (these gave us a chortle on our last day in Rome… read on), cookies and some fresh rolls (that magically turn to stone within 24 hours).

By the time we got back to the Monte Carlo we were thoroughly exhausted and fell into bed in our jack-in-the-box room and slept the deep sleep of the very contented.