I’m going to start by warning you that I don’t have much good to say about Rome. It was not the most pleasant day. Most of the issues were caused by our guide who seemed determined to lose the whole lot of us anywhere along the way. Most group tour guides in Europe carry something tall to make them stand out from the crowd – an umbrella, or a selfie stick extended with something dangling from the top. Our tour guide was an ancient Italian lady who stood all of 5 feet tall. She was dressed in beige and carried a tiny beige umbrella which she didn’t seem to think necessary to actually open and hold up. It tended to rest about shoulder height on her. Note – she was wearing beige. The umbrella was beige. If you look at pictures you will see that 90% of the architecture in Rome is also beige. She was an expert at camouflage. She vanished against the backdrop of old buildings. She also seemed intent on leaving us behind. Stay tuned for more on that.
Our first destination was the Trevi Fountain, which I was quite eager to see. It was closed. Yep, closed for renovations, all blocked off with scaffolding. Why did they even bother taking us there? Apparently so our guide could stop for ice cream. “You have free time to explore. I will be in ice cream store. We will meet at the church.” This was accompanied by a hand wave generally encompassing the entire square – and four separate churches. Then she vanished. Poof, no more tour guide. We spent our free time in the square wandering from church to church, avoiding the sidewalk salesmen desperately trying to unload selfie sticks for only 5 euros. We peeked into the ice cream store, but with its beige walls we couldn’t have seen the guide even if she had still been inside. More of our tour group began collecting and we tried to figure out which church she meant. Finally we stationed representatives at every church, with instructions to call the rest of us if she showed up. Which she did, eventually, as she sort of materialized out of the shadow of a beige wall, and our much relieved flock headed off to the next stop.
That next stop was the Roman Forum. Now, I’m a bit hazy on my Roman history, and I keep meaning to look up what, exactly, the Roman forum was, because goodness knows I didn’t learn anything about it from our guide! She had rather a shrill, old lady voice and her accent was much more pronounced than our previous day’s guide, and quite frankly, all of us were experiencing great difficulty understanding her. Part way through the Forum I just gave up and pulled the earphones out so I didn’t have to try to decipher what she was saying. I spent my time instead focusing on following her without falling flat on my face. That beige, low-riding umbrella was nearly impossible to see against the beige buildings, and we were walking along uneven cobblestones, which necessitated watching one’s feet quite closely. The pattern became watch the feet, look up, find the umbrella, glance at the building, look quickly back down at the feet. All through the Forum. As we were leaving the Forum, she pointed out a lookout spot where “is popular to take photos. You take photos, I wait here by trees.” And she waved rather vaguely at a grouping of trees about a block away. Obediently, our entire group turned their backs on her to take photos. Which was her signal to turn and flee. Luckily, Stephen didn’t trust her, so he followed her along the path, down to the trees, around the trees, and around a freaking corner to disappear in a throng of tourists! At the tree line he yelled for me to come because she wasn’t stopping! I in turn yelled at our group that the guide was leaving, and I raced after Stephen, who was keeping the fleeing guide in sight. After turning yet another corner, she finally stopped and some of the group caught up to her, at which point she had the nerve to say, “Oh, so few. Where are the others?” Um…waiting for you back at the trees, like you told them to?
I think we had lunch in here somewhere, but I have to admit, I simply cannot remember – no, wait, it’s coming back. It was a pizza and burger restaurant, upstairs, with long tables and there was a set menu that was included with our tour. I seem to recall that the food was good, but there was nothing really outstanding – no, wait, wasn’t this the place with the statues of Obama and Putin dressed as ancient Romans? Yes, yes it was! And Sean had his photo taken next to them. Yes, that was lunch in Rome, I remember now. The tour guide was nowhere around for lunch. Well, maybe she was, but since the walls were beige there too – well, you know how she could blend in.
Next stop was the Colosseum. For me, this was the highlight of Rome. Luckily, Stephen and I had watched an amazing Discovery channel documentary all about the Colosseum and knew what was what, because once again I had to pull out my earphones since I couldn’t make head nor tails of what she was crackling through them. The Colosseum was packed with tourists, and it truly didn’t take much imagination to transport myself back in time. All the people milling around me were suddenly dressed in togas, and there was an air of excitement in the air as we made our way into the seating area to find our seats for the upcoming spectacle. Shaking my head, I came back to the present just in time to see the tour guide duck sharply into a side alcove where she hid while our group filed on past, carried by the flow of bodies around us. Stephen nodded at me that he had seen her hide as well, so we waited by her alcove for her to emerge, and when she did, we continued following her. The Colosseum was everything I’d imagined it would be. History right there in front of me. I could touch the stones touched by thousands of Ancient Romans and place my hand on a piece of history. I loved it.
We managed to follow our guide out of the Colosseum and to the edges of Vatican City, only suffering a couple near losses as she ducked into yet another alcove and zipped around a corner, turning left after she told us she would be turning right. By this point there was a great deal of grumbling and growling from our tour group, and I sincerely think that had the tour lasted much longer the guide would have been in serious danger. However, this was the point at which she left us on our own to enjoy free time in the Vatican. Our journey back to the bus and ship would be supervised by a different hostess who had actually been with us all day, but who seemed equally skilled at camouflage and vanishing techniques. The Vatican was – well, the Vatican. There were throngs of people everywhere, and huge lineups for the Sistine Chapel etc. None of that was high on our list of “must do’s” so we opted to enjoy some ice cream and sit in the shade in St Peter’s Square and just enjoy people-watching. There is a portable post office set up in the Square so you can send postcards with the Vatican City postmark. Sean considered sending his dad a postcard, but we hadn’t taken any addresses with us, so he couldn’t.
At the appointed time we made our way back to the pre-set meeting point and followed the hostess – wherever it was we followed her to. And this, my friends, is why I really need to blog trips immediately after the trip because I forget little details like how we got from the Vatican City to a bus which took us back to the port and our ship. And thus, that tidbit of information has been forgotten, never to be recorded in the annals of history.
Next stop, Florence. I think. Yes, I’m sure.