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Crying in the chapel…..

Arriving in Rome we were taken immediately to our hotel – The Giulo Cesare, where we were greeted by a rep of VBT – the quite dapper, Dr. Utr. Ius Frank Van den Broeke.  Snappy jacket, purple tie, white hat and a bicycle.

After a brief orientation, with special instructions about how to always “stand to drink” our cappuccinos or risk paying double the price, Dr. Frank left us to discover the Eternal City on our own. We, along with Gerhard, Duffy and Val (our fellow VBT’ers) set out to see what we could see.  We got the full experience during our walk about. Sunshine, then rain, then wind.

Just as we began our climb to the top of the Spanish steps it began to drizzle. Before we reached the top it began to rain. Within seconds the “step” vendors went from selling scarfs and Pinocchio magnets to selling one-time-use-only umbrellas. We decided to decline all vendor offerings for the moment and instead took cover from the elements in the Trinità dei Monti church located atop the Spanish Steps.

While inside pretending to be interested in the frescoes adorning the walls I caught sight of what I had initially thought to be statuary in the nave. Just as I was about to head back out into the rain I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye. One of the silent white kneeling figures came to life and began to sing and then one by one each of the “statues” slowly rose and began to join in this prayer song. These statues were nuns and for one brief moment I was spellbound by the beauty of it all.

Of course I got a good poke from TWWNCBUIP when I asked if the Singing Nun might be expected to make an appearance.

The next morning we had an appointment to meet Dapper Dr. Frank who was to be our guide through Ancient Rome. Our meeting time, 8:30 a.m. at the Metro Station just outside the Colosseum. He had arrived early to get tickets from a ‘secret’ gate to avoid the lines–the good news was that the admission to all the historical sites today was free in celebration of Rome’s 2,762th birthday.  The bad news was that just as we arrived at the gate, the lines of tourists began to dissipate because a “strike” had been called and no one would be admitted to any of the Ancient sites until 11:30 a.m.

Undeterred, D.D. Frank had a backup plan.  He reversed the order of our tour and without missing a beat he took us through the Capitoline Museum for a special showing of  some of the letters from the Vatican’s private archives, which included among others, King Henry VIII’s petition to the pope to annul one of his many marriages.

Later that morning, the “strike” ended and we enjoyed a trek through Ancient Rome that was peppered with many historical and often hysterical asides that made for the most engaging several hours.

[slideshow]At three p.m. Frank had to leave us to cycle back to our hotel to meet up with a second group of VBT’ers who had just arrived from a walking tour of the Amalfi Coast. Since we had been walking the ancient sites since 8:30 in the morning with only one cappuccino for sustenance TWWNCBUIP and I thought we’d grab a slice and a salad.

After our pizza and salad we meandered through the streets until we found the perfect Gelateria (that would be one that had a nice bench close by) so that we could savor not only our ice cream but the sights and sounds of Rome in the late afternoon. Today we were lucky because not far from our bench was an old fellow with a portable piano and a Dean Martin repertoire. Finally our moment in Italy with a Dino soundtrack. An ideal end to a perfect day.

The next morning we were scheduled to tour the Vatican. During breakfast at our hotel, TWWNCBUIP quite suddenly was taken ill and I had to seek out a farmacia. The medicine didn’t help much but she was determined to see the Sistine Chapel so off we went no matter how ill-advised the idea.

We set out for the subway only to find out that the “metro” was on strike today. Since it was again raining, I made my first purchase of a ‘single-use’ umbrella from one of the magically appearing every time a drop of rain falls vendor and started out on our walk to the Vatican.

We stopped once on every block just to reaffirm that we were on the right route. (I do not believe that there is even one single “square” block in all of Rome.)  We finally arrived beneath the walls of the Vatican two minutes before our tour was to begin. We were soaked to the bone and TWWNCBUIP was looking pale enough to have been confused with one of statues.

Still we continued on. We met up with our assigned tour person who, while like our dapper doctor may also have been a Phd, he was dry as toast compared to the stylish, funny and well-informed Frank.

As we passed through dozens of rooms of ancient armless, headless, fig leaf covered priceless works of art ornately tiled floors and gilded ceilings, TW felt worse by the room. Somewhere into the second hour of the tour, she went ahead of the group in search of the ladies room.

She found a guard who led her through the maze of tourists and I followed behind after informing our tour guide that we would be leaving the tour.  I lost sight of TW and we became separated for hours.

Somehow I wound up outside the building and the guards would not allow me to reenter.   I had all the money, the only phone and the card with the hotel name and address on it. TW had not even one Euro.

As I waited outside, Duffy and Gerhard (who just happened to be at the Vatican on the same day) actually ran into TW who they said was sitting in a corner of the Sistine Chapel with a guard who had been trying to reach me on the phone (they thought that perhaps some tears might have been shed). I later found out that TW had mistakenly given the guard Chicken Boy’s number instead of mine.  I still had no way to reach her.

After an hour or more I received a phone call from Italy (my first). It was a French woman who knew the “code” for reaching a U.S. cell phone and offered her phone so that TW could call me.

The guard suggested that I meet TW at St. Peter’s Gate because he would escort her from the Sistine Chapel to Saint Peter’s to help avoid some of the crowds.  Sounded simple enough. Turned out that Saint Peter’s was on the opposite side of the Vatican from where I was (don’t forget that the Vatican is a country).

So after walking half way around the country I arrived at St. Peter’s  – along with about 5,00o others leaving the country and another 5,000 arriving for a concert with the Pope.

Believe it or not, the very same French woman who had offered her phone to TW at the Sistine Chapel just happened to bump into her again standing with the guard just inside Saint Peter’s. Realizing that we would never find each other with so many thousands of people crowding through to the massive church this very kind French lady called me again and directed me go to the obelisk at the very front – there were only a few hundred people in this area and she felt that we would be able to find each other.

We were soon reunited. I promised not to elaborate but suffice it to say, TW was very happy to see me.  During my search I made a few new rules for our trips – everyone has their own money, phone and passport.

It was a wonderful trip  and thanks for sharing some of the highlights with us. Below is a little video of probably my favorite afternoon of the trip. Getting a pasta making lesson from Debora’s Nona (grandmother).[wpvideo epArKHYm]

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