Rome Day Two – How Free is Free?

Walking to our free group tour of Rome. Such a beautiful walk, even though we had occasional bursts of rain. Nothing like yesterday, however!

We awoke to more rain, but at least it wasn’t another 12 inches.  The television stations are all in Italian, but it was obvious that 12 inches was big news.  It really threw me that it was raining.  I didn’t not pack for rain.  This is Italy, land of sun, grapes and vine-ripened tomatoes.  Oregonians have rain, we have so much that we even name a vicious killer football team after a waddling bird with webbed feet.  I did not pack for rain, and I’m feeling a bit cheated.  This is a not a replay of our cold Siberian/Asian vacation, is it?

Due to jet lag and all the naps while waiting out the rain yesterday, I woke up at 3 am and tried to figure out why I was having so many computer email troubles.  Sadly, I think part of my troubles was the wine and food consumption from the night before.  “Get a grip and get back on plan” I muttered to myself – and the day did go much better food wise.  

Our last big visit to Rome had been ten years ago.  We have had a couple of really short visits while in transit to other locations, but not to stay.  Roman history is my love, and I have a list of places to see again to cover more in depth, and new places to go.  While compiling my list of sites, I had come across a “free” walking tour of Rome.  Free is a very good price, so I reserved our spots for today and figured we could drop out if it was a scam.

The time changes had us up early, and we hit the free breakfast in our hotel.  This is obviously going to be our “free” cheap tourist day!  We had stayed at the Hotel Atlantico before, and I remembered a nice meal with a lot of choices.  That was in my 85 pounds heavier pre-Weight Watchers, pre-vegetarian days.   The choices are now a bit changed for me. It was a sumptuous site. Platters of cold meats, baskets of bread, juices, and a giant tray of tempting pastries.  The fruit was canned and swimming in heavy, sugared syrup.  There were scrambled and hard boiled eggs, plus a barista churning out espressos, cappuccinos and hot, rich hot chocolate as quickly as she could prepare them.  

Inwardly groaning, I really don’t want to consume the same amount of food as yesterday.  At this rate, I’m going to have to buy a new Italian designer wardrobe to have clothes to wear home.  Well, that thought is comforting; I can go shopping!  I ended up with some eggs, a piece of bread so good that I wanted to swipe the loaf and stick it in my purse for later.  It helped that my stomach was still a bit queasy from our romantic outside dining the night before.  That sounds so much better than saying I had a hangover.  Italian espresso is wonderful, but very strong, and I can’t drink my normal daily pot.  If I did, we wouldn’t need to rent bikes with an electric motor, the caffeine would keep me powered on high for hours.

The rain had stopped, although carrying an umbrella sounded like a good idea. George shocked me and said we should walk to the tour location.  I mapped it and it was about a mile and a half to get there.  With his gout prone tootsies, it seemed a bit risky, but he insisted.  We hit the streets with one eye on the rainy sky and the other on crazy Italian drivers.  Street vendors were everywhere selling umbrellas.  I bought one for five Euros that the Dollar Store would have rejected for quality.  The handle falls off each time it is opened, but it sort of works. 

Cobblestones in Rome are known as “Sampietrini”, which translates as “little St Peters”. The first cobblestones were laid in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. They were made from volcanic rock around the area, and are still being recycled for use today, although they do get new ones from Vietnam. Slick when wet, notoriously uneven, they can give a baby whiplash in a stroller. But they are also beautiful, charming and Rome would not be the same without them. This is a selfie of George’s feet. He was pretty proud of walking all the way to our walking tour.

Walking in Rome is a wonder.  Everywhere you look there is something incredible, covering a span of over two thousand years.  It is also very easy to fall and trip.  Cobblestones are everywhere and the footing is tricky.   The last couple of years have been difficult health years for George, and his stride is much slower, shuffling gate. I have always walked fast, with a determined destination in mind. I have taken a vow of patience for this trip, and will not get irritated at our slow pace. In this land of a church on every corner, I feel quite religious about this vow of patience.  Let’s just say the Roman Legions wouldn’t have drafted George as part of their infantry.   We strolled along the streets and avoided slipping. Neither of us fell down, or was hit by a car, and we saw an array of amazing buildings.

To be truthful, by the time we got to our destination, I had chewed my tongue bloody exercising “patience,” but we made it with time to spare.  The rain held off, which helped, but George was exhausted.  And now we are going on a “walking” tour? The hills of Rome aren’t particularly steep, but we had climbed from the bottom of one to the top and back down again.  George had to rest, so that meant a visit to a restaurant – oh no, more food.  I had tea, he had gelato and it really started to rain.  

We met our group, at the bottom of the Spanish Steps.  Galileo had been held prisoner in the building at the top during the Inquisition.  Crazy man had believed planets orbited the Sun – what was he thinking!  Byron, the poet, had died in the house at the base of the steps of tuberculosis at the age of 28.  I stood on the steps, dazzled by history, and overwhelmed at the beauty, when an old man pressed a couple of roses into my hand.  Thinking he wanted money, I said no, but he shook his head and closed my hands around the flowers with a gentle smile.  It was like he understood my emotions and wanted to add the gift of a beautiful rose to the moment.  I thanked him graciously and glowed.  Then he shuffled over to George, smiled and demanded 15 Euros.  My lovely husband, looking at my face, and being a person who cannot say no to anyone, handed over the money.  This snapped me out of my obvious tourist euphoria and I tried to give them back, but they both looked horrified.

I felt so stupid.  Good lord, what was I thinking?  Of course the old coot wanted money!  Now I had roses (which clearly marked me as an easy touch) to haul around all day on top of it all.  At 15 Euros, I didn’t want to toss them.  We walked down the gorgeous Spanish Steps, a bit wiser and our pockets lighter.  I jammed the damned flowers in my backpack, and noted that I was the only sucker in our group to have them.

The tour was really amazing!  Free was a very good price!  Okay, at the end he did ask for donations, which I gladly gave.  I later found out to be a tour guide in Italy has to have a degree and be licensed. Because it was free, he couldn’t have a prescribed tour and could only cover the topics that interested him.  He loved architecture (I think he was a retired architect) and we walked the streets discussing how to identify when buildings were built – Renaissance versus Baroque, how to tell if pieces or sections of ancient buildings were incorporated.  Literally, the wall of a small store can have columns from 2,000 years ago in it.  We went into some churches and he pointed the theatrical touches Bernini, the Baroque sculptor and architect, had used.  He literally was the architect of the Baroque movement in Rome.  We strolled past Bernini’s home and learned about his life. Most buildings have an inner courtyard, and it is here the ancient finds are used for decoration, and even placed in the stucco as decorations.  Ancient roman pottery, statues, building decorations were embedded in the courtyard walls. It was a grand tour that took over three hours.  I loved every minute of it.

Can you think of a better place in the world to rest tired tourist feet? Sitting in a sidewalk cafe in front of the Pantheon. Yes, yes, yes! The food was mediocre, but who cared?

George, however, grew more and more tired.  He finally dropped out near the Pantheon, and I left him sipping espresso and eating olives.  I finished the tour, left a generous tip for the free tour guide, and happily walked back to find him.  One of our missions is to find cute Italian baby clothes for our friend, Marilyn.  We had walked through the designer district on the tour and and noted a couple of locations to go back to.  George was still not feeling well, and the best looking shop wasn’t far away, so I decided to walk back, pick up some items and return to George.  Sounded good as a thought, but I turned left instead of right and ended up way off track.  Actually, a couple of miles off track.  I had the time of my life.  Getting lost in Rome is like being lost in a treasure chest full of gold.  I had a map, and eventually made my way back to him – minus the baby clothes.

George was in no condition to walk back to our hotel, so we limped slowly to the subway.  He really wanted to find one particular children’s store we had seen.  The one I thought was so close.  The streets are very winding and confusing.  We got lost, had to sit and have gelato to rest awhile, but we did find it.  And it was closed.  Erg.  But the subway lies right beyond the Italian designer district, and I’m happy to report this new baby will be wearing genuine Baby Armani, bought in the heart of Rome.

The elusive children’s clothing store. It was closed! But, from my free tour, I learned that the building is an example of incorporating an ancient roman column into the construction of the building. The city is so overwhelming that I would have walked past it and not noticed, except for our information tour guide. I’m noticing so many more things about the construction of the city!

Slowly, ever so slowly, we limped back to the Metro subway and went back to our hotel.  The weather had slowly improved, and hopefully the rain is gone.  The Pope is Catholic, right?  We had a romantic seafood dinner on the roof of our hotel.  It was amazing, although the waiter was appalled that I passed on wine.  All in all, food choices were much better and I more than made my 20,000 step goal.  Our dinner was staggering delicious.  George had an amazing chocolate confection for dessert; I stole a few bites and loved a large bowl of fresh regional fruits.  And I didn’t require assistance to walk back to our room!

George picked our next adventure.  We have a small private (licensed this time!) group tour of the underground of the Colosseum, and around the Forum.  I hope he is going to be able to make it; he really wants to see it.  We went there ten years ago on our own, but you have to have a tour to see the underground and the uppermost level.  I remember thinking that Safeco Field in Seattle is the same basic design.  This should be awesome!



Author: Traveling Grandma

As an aging mother of six and grandma to seven, travel was always a dream. Diapers, work and an eccentric high-maintenance husband just seemed to keep those trips a distant desire. Eventually, however, the kids potty trained, lived through the teenage angst years and left the nest to start their own families. Work still gets in the way for my husband, but it does help pay for the trips! Can't do much about the eccentric, high-maintenance husband; after 36 years I have reconciled that he will never pick up his underwear. He's my partner for life, travel companion and can always be counted on to do something totally odd. It makes for a good story, and besides - without his major financial contribution, we would sitting at home year after year, watching yet another rerun of NCIS. Due to a major health scare, I recently retired - and love retirement! I have always LOVED to cook. My love of food, and birthing those babies, led to an 85 pound weight gain. After joining a weight loss program, I shed the weight, went to work for them and found a new career. For me, it was a dream job. How many people can say they loved their job? I got to work together with people and help them live a healthy lifestyle, and lose weight. And it changed the way I cook! Instead of coating foods with fat and/or sugar, I've learned to bring out the real flavor in foods and keep them healthy. It's a joy to travel the world and explore new foods. I'm always on the lookout for different foods and willing to try almost anything. George, my husband, is always aghast at my choices. He's looking for a McDonald's while I'm trying to find the best local eatery. Checking out grocery stores and food forums in different countries is endless fun. Bringing back cooking ingredients keeps the memories alive every time they are used in a recipe back home. Paprika from Budapest, Sumac from Turkey, dried squid from Japan....what a lucky person I am to experience it all. Life is interesting everywhere, and there is always something humorous to be found, even in my own backyard of Mt Hood, Oregon. I love to journal and people have been telling me for years to become a writer. As Medicare is now a prominent part of my life, I figured this was as good a time as any. If I don't do it now, I'll be writing stories about my neighbors in the nursing home. A big trip will probably be whacking along in my walker to the day room to watch the Travel Channel. I take heart that Colonel Sanders started his finger lickin' fortune late in life because he wasn't afraid to try something new. So here I go!

2 thoughts on “Rome Day Two – How Free is Free?”

  1. I have always enjoyed your adventures. You are a fantastic story teller! I cant wait to hear more.
    I hope you are doing well now, I think of you often. Lori


    1. Lori! How are you doing these days! It’s so nice to hear from you, and I’m glad you are enjoying the blog. I’m finally feeling healthy enough to start getting back to it. Life is good!


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