April 28 – May 6, 2000
Rome, Tivoli, Pisa, Florence, Verona, Padua, and Venice
In April 2000, we fulfilled our dream of vacationing in Italy. We had decided to use Globus for our bus tour since we had been so pleased with their service when we toured Greece in 1999. For the 12 ½ hour trip to Italy, we flew Delta out of West Palm Beach by way of Atlanta. We arrived in Rome late due to a holdup in Atlanta, and we missed the early pick-up by Globus. So, we had to wait in the airport for two hours until the next scheduled bus.
One of the first of many surprises for me was seeing palm trees growing in Rome! I assumed it was too far north. Our guide said that they do grow there, but do not bear fruit because it is too cold for them to produce.
We had hoped to arrive early enough to do a little sight seeing before we met with the Globus representative that afternoon. Unfortunately, it was 2:30 P.M. by the time we got to the hotel; and we only had 1½ hours before the meeting. Since it was also raining, I chose to unpack and rest my swollen feet!
Mike decided to go exploring with a couple we had just met by the name of David and Jane from Fullerton, CA. They got to see the Pantheon and a few other sights that we were told would not be on our tour. Because of the Year 2000 celebrations, Globus had to adapt the sights we would see in order to work around the city's scheduled events.
Pantheon - erected in 27 B.C. and rebuilt 118 to 128 A.D.
Rome truly is a wonderful city. Historical sights are everywhere, and I honestly believe you could spend months and months there and never see it all. Our tour was designed to only hit the high spots, but we saw enough to make us want to return some day.
Different angles on Caesar's Forum
Colosseum Constantine's Arch
Our only disappointment was that we did not get to go inside of St. Peter’s Basilica, and therefore I missed seeing the Pieta, which was one of my “must sees”.
Dome of St. Peter's Basilica
We did, however, get to go to St. Peter’s Square; and we were there when the Pope was blessing the crowd. He was under a canopy, and we were nowhere near him, but we could “make him out” after our guide showed us where to look. So, we are now officially blessed!
St. Peter's Square
Our guide had told us that when we visited the Vatican Museum, we would have to be there early to beat the crowd. Since the last Sunday of the month is always free to the public, there would be a bigger than usual crowd. We were there 30 minutes before it opened, but still stood in line for one hour before we got to go inside. The line stretched all the way down and around the corner.
Line waiting to get into Vatican Museum
The items on display at the museum were amazing. We saw gold everywhere, collections of ivory, porcelain, statues, vases, and paintings.
The hallways were fascinating. The ceilings were palettes for many famous artists. You have a tendency to walk down the hallway looking up with your mouth open in wonder.
Vatican hallway Ceiling panel
The Sistine Chapel restoration is finally complete, so we got to see it. We were not allowed to take pictures inside because a Japanese company has the exclusive rights to all pictures for the next several years. They paid for the restoration, and that was the deal. Needless to say Michelangelo’s ceiling was breath taking. Since it has been cleaned, the true brilliance of the colors is almost startling. From what I understand, even the experts did not expect the paintings to be as bright as they are. The thing that did surprise me, was the size of the Chapel and therefore the ceiling. It’s very small. I guess because the pictures we usually see are of the individual panels and not the whole thing, I just thought it would be larger. However, believe me, I was not disappointed! It’s amazing.
That afternoon, we traveled to Tivoli, which is only ten miles from Rome. We toured the Villa D’Este and gardens.
In 1550, the Cardinal Ercole D’Este of Ferrara transformed the villa, which was originally a convent, into a masterpiece. He had been appointed Governor of Tivoli in 1550, and he wanted to out shine all other houses in the area. He built the gardens so that a visitor approached from the lower level and passed along several terraces and literally hundreds of fountains and many, many water sculptures before reaching the villa.
Guests had to climb this hill. Avenue of 100 Fountains
Fountain of Bacchus Mike and Carol
The progression was intended to intimidate people petitioning him for favors, and to show the great power and wealth of the Cardinal / Governor. There are over 500 water jets in the various fountains. I don’t know how many acres the gardens cover; but we were there at least a couple of hours, and we only hit the highlights. I would love to spend a whole day there.
Fountain of Neptune Mother Nature
The next day, we left Rome and headed north for Pisa. We had only gotten a very small taste of Rome and the surrounding area, but we knew that we would be coming back at the end of the bus tour to see more sights.
At Pisa, there’s really nothing there except the Tower, Baptistry, and the Duomo, but that’s enough!
The Baptistry The Duomo
The tower is 180 feet high and at least 16 feet out of whack! We were not allowed to climb up in it because it was being restored and straightened up a little. There was scaffolding everywhere, with big cables pulling the Leaning Tower of Pisa into a more upright position.
The restoration was completed in 2002. Our friend Jean was kind enough to let me use her 2003 picture to make the comparisons below. The angles are not exactly alike, but you can still see that the Tower is no longer leaning as it did in 2000.
From another angle, look at the difference in the lower level.
After taking photos, we proceeded to Florence.
Mike and I both fell in love with this city. To me, it captures the essence of Italy. Since most of the historic sights are located close together, you can walk to most everything that you want to see. The Duomo, the bronze Gates of Paradise, and, of course, Michelangelo’s “David” in the Gallery of Fine Arts.
The Duomo, Santa Maria del Fiore was begun in 1294, and is Europe's fourth largest church. The Campanile or bell tower is 276 ft. tall. It was begun in 1334 and is clad in white, pink, and green Tuscan marble. Perhaps the most famous feature of the Baptistry is Lorenzo Ghiberti's bronze doors known as the Gates of Paradise (1425-1452).
Everywhere you go in Florence you will see replicas of Michelangelo's famous statue David (1504). In the picture above, Mike is standing beside the original, which is in the Academy of Fine Arts.
We were impressed with the gothic church of Santa Croce. Outside, it’s not as ornate as the other big Italian churches, but the interior is gorgeous.
Inside the church of Santa Croce are tombs and monuments of many famous men of Florence.
Tombs of Michelangelo and Ghiberti
Monument to Galileo Cenotaph to Dante
That night we were scheduled to have dinner at a Tuscan inn that was out in the country. On the way to the inn, we stopped at Piazzale Michaelangelo, a park that was high atop a hill overlooking Florence. Our guide told us that this was a favorite place for couples to come before going out to dinner. In the center of the park was a replica of the statue of David. The flowers were lovely. The view was phenomenal, and we could even see Pointe Vecchio.
Dinner at the restaurant was delicious. Unfortunately, I do not remember the name of the inn. We sampled their wonderful homemade wine and then feasted upon a huge buffet style meal. All the while, we enjoyed music provided by a local group of musicians and a really good vocalist.
The next day we were able to do a little shopping. Of course, since Florence is noted for its leather goods, we were “obligated” to buy leather jackets! I don’t know when we’ll ever use them down here in South Florida, but they were soooo soft! High quality and low price convinced us to also get belts and wallets. Gold prices were good, but I restrained myself. I looked for a cameo, but didn’t find one I liked better than the ones I have.
We had two stops on our way to Venice. The first was in Verona to see the setting for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. I took pictures of her balcony. I didn’t even know that the play was loosely based on a true story! Verona is a charming little town, but we weren’t there long enough to explore it.
Juliet's balcony Emblem of the Capulet family
Next stop was at Padua. There we toured the Basilica of St. Anthony, the saint of all miracles. This place was so beautiful, but so ornate. There’s just no way to describe it, but it was by far the fanciest church we had been in so far.
Finally we arrived in Venice. After dinner, we went for a gondola ride. Our group filled up six boats. I was a little disappointed that the gondoliers did not sing like in the movies. Apparently they only do that for festivals. However, Globus had hired a singer to accompany us on our ride. He was definitely not the character one would have pictured, but it was still very romantic.
The next day we took the waterbus to St. Mark’s Square. During Venice’s heyday, the governor was called the Doge’. His palace was absolutely unreal! I don’t think that there was an inch of the ceiling that wasn’t covered with paintings and gold. Frescos were all over. Gold, gold, gold, everywhere!!!
Next to the palace is St. Mark’s Basilica. That’s the one shown in the TV. advertisements. The outside has a Turkish look to it. It’s just as ornate inside. Again, gold, gold, gold!
While in Venice, we toured the Vecchia Murano, which is a glass factory. We learned a lot about Venetian crystal. One of the many things I didn’t know was that the color of the crystal depends upon what metals they combine within the glass. Red is the most expensive color because of its gold content. I had planned on getting one small “Venetian glass” bud vase just to have something from there. Believe it or not, Mike was the big spender. He fell in love with several pieces. We ended up with a water pitcher w/ six goblets. It is blue trimmed in lots of ornate gold. I picked out a small red w/ gold vase. I also got a milk glass bud vase w/ blue crystal inserts and hand painted with flowers. Then, after we had made American Express happy, Mike saw a polar bear that he just had to have. It is clear crystal with streaks of the six colors throughout.
The next day we headed back to Rome. On the way to the farewell dinner that night, we stopped by the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain. After a very nice dinner, we went on an illumination tour of the city by night. That was beautiful. Next morning --- home.
I have not said anything about the Italian food because nothing needs to be said. It was just as wonderful as you might imagine it would be. Now that we have tasted Italy, we know that we must return someday. I certainly hope that those coins that we threw into the Trevi Fountain will work their magic and bring us back.