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Frank Bernheisel: The View From Here
Frank Bernheisel
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Frank Bernheisel
Posted 11.09.12
Just Outside Washington

FRANK BERNHEISEL

ITALY: THE GRAND TOUR

The Adventure Begins | We flew from Washington to Rome, with a brief stopover at London/Heathrow to change airplanes. Our Grand Tour was executed by Trafalgar and offered fourteen optional excursions -- at extra cost, of course. We opted for all.

(We left Washington|Dulles at about 9 p.m. and arrived in London Heathrow at 9:25 a.m. the next day. Left for Rome at 11 a.m. and arrived in Rome at 2:20 p.m. If we had it to do over we would fly direct. Heathrow is a mess and we had to go through security even though we never left the terminal. London is five hours ahead of us and Rome is six. So I make that about twelve hours travel time.)

A Trafalgar representative met us at the Rome airport and took us to our hotel in Rome, near the Vatican and the Castel Sant'Angelo. We had a brief time to get settled, and then a meet and greet with our tour guide for the trip, Antonella, and the forty-five other tourists.

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Guide Antonella and Driver Antonio

Once into our coach, we had a short orientation tour of Rome that ended at a trattoria for dinner -- with wine and music. Songs provided by an attractive singer in a black dress with a flirtatious manner, accompanied by a guitar player; songs were some opera and some schmaltz.

Our driver, Antonio, ran that big bus through the narrow streets, around tight corners and squeaked by both moving and parked cars by inches. Amazing! Off to a great start.

In the morning, back on the bus early for our Vatican visit. There we met our Rome guide, Ziggy, a German who has lived in Rome a long time, knows the history and art, and clearly loves the city. Ziggy took us through the Vatican and the Vatican Museum explaining the various artifacts dating back to the Roman period(we all had little radios so Ziggy could speak to us.)

On to the Sistine Chapel, Saint Peter's Basilica, and the square. (Groups get a special deal and the line for groups is much shorter or none at all.) After the tour, we had a break to buy stuff and get a bite to eat across the street from Vatican City.

At the souvenir store, you can buy religious items such as rosaries that will be blessed and delivered to your hotel in the same day.

After the break, back on the bus to the Coliseum and a photograph of the tour group. Ziggy got us through the Coliseum ticketing and again, there preference shown to groups. After orientation, we were on our own.

The upper tier overlooks the city and the old Roman Forum. I was surprised that the modern streets are twenty feet above the level of the forum -- 1500 years accumulation of demolition and debris.

(Apartments in the area sell for around 15,000 Euros per square meter -- that's $1092 per square foot.)

Antonio turned in another amazing performance threading the bus through traffic to our hotel. Later, we did and evening walking tour that included the Pantheon -- built in 118 and converted to a Christian church in 608 -- and then dinner on our own on the Piazza Navona.

Throughout Rome and elsewhere there are non-Italian immigrants hawking stuff, like an irradiant plastic figure that you throw down which Splats! and then reforms.

Observation: there are a lot of churches in Rome.

In the morning, on the bus early and off to Pompeii, which is three hours south of Rome by Autostrada.

I was surprised by the small size of the farms and the number of derelict industrial buildings. Did I mention the churches? Also, there was more litter and junk than in Rome.

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Pompeii Street

Enrico, our local guide for Pompeii, walked us through the 2000-year-old streets and explained what we were seeing. The buildings were just columns and walls up to two stories. Most of the artifacts and frescos were in the museum in Naples.

(Kathy and I saw two separate exhibits from Pompeii last year, one in Washington and one in Charlotte, NC. Those shows were big help putting a human face on Pompeii.)

on to Sorrento and up the hillside covered with olive and lemon trees to our hotel. Our hotel was half way up the mountain and our room and balcony looked out over the Bay of Naples with a spectacular view.

The bath, as did the rest of the tour hotel baths, had a tub with a hand shower, which are functional. and I prefer a real shower, but when in Rome ...

Kathy claimed she didn't figure out how to avoid drenching the floors until our final hotel -- a Sheraton with a US-style shower!

For our evening in Sorrento some of us opted for the trip over the mountain to Positano and a drive along the Amalfi Coast. The drive would have been more fun in our Porsche but our 20-passenger bus, not the big one, did fine.

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Amalfai Coast

Shopping was available. Most of the items were very expensive. We opted for a glass of wine and then it was back to the hotel for dinner.

Next installment: On to Capri

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