I love you, or what is your name?

Roman guardsRoman soldier on horsebackFruit standThe ColiseumDonna outside Coliseum sep 2014Tomb of Unknown Soldier - RomeImpressive ruins of RomeBeautiful churchesMy CappuccinoMy morning started with this lovely cappuccino on the rooftop patio. The waiter came over and said he made this one special for me. Probably says that to all the girls but it still felt nice.  This city makes you feel beautiful.  Another blue sky day 27 degrees.

It is a free day today, so we woke up and took breakfast individually and were meeting in the lobby for 10:00 am.

Forget public transit, these ladies decided to walk to the Coliseum. Before we left, we went to the front desk to confirm our directions. Jo-Ann needed some duct tape for her suitcase. The man behind the counter was very helpful. As we were bidding him a good day, Jennifer wanted to know his name. Instead of saying, Como ti chiami?, she said Ti amo, which is I love you! The man said, I love you too, and we bust a gut when we realized what had happened.  Stellar! Off we went for another 15 minute walk to the Coliseum.  This one was sort of downhill. Before we made it there, we went to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and took pics of lots of ruins, and churches. We were marveling at the detail of the sculptures, the size of pillars, and what is still preserved. Quite amazing to see ancient Roman ruins mixed with modern day.

Being out in this heat was crazy! 27 degrees, no breeze, but no humidity. We looked for any opportunity to find relief from the sun by ducking into churches, galleries, etc.. Finally we made it to the Coliseum, snapped a few pictures and headed to the Tiber River and crossed the bridge to a section of Rome called Trastevere for lunch.

The concierge suggested this area for authentic Roman food, not touristy. It was exactly that. The business men and workers were eating here. It was simple, clean and they had cold beer! Jo-Ann was swearing off coffee today, so she had vini rossi, while the rest of us shared large beers with lemon soda. Sort of a shandy.  Very refreshing. Meals ordered, scallopine with limone, spaghetti with a tomato sauce, grilled vegetables with olive oil and garlic and of course spaghetti with cheese, oil and pepper.  I finished my meal off with an expresso and Jen had a cappuccino.

We all agreed that we had had enough walking and would hail a cab. We hailed and walked, and we walked and hailed.  The cabs would not stop. We were starting to get frustrated from being tired and hot, but fortunately one did stop and got us back to our neighborhood. We practiced our Italian with the cabbie, and he his English. It is amazing how you can communicate when you need to. We left him blowing kisses and ciaos!

We are going to take it easy until 7:00 pm and meet up for our last evening on the town before we head to Firenze (Florence) tomorrow by train. I’m sure that will be an experience.

 

 

 

 

 

Jo-Ann Finds Jesus!

Ferrari store

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Blessed by the Pope
Blessed by the Pope

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We asked a waiter how to get to The Spanish Steps, a popular meeting place for citizens of Rome as well as visitors. A small flower market takes place at the base of the steps every day. In the spring, azaleas and other flowering plants decorate the steps. The Steps have been featured in many films and have been the subject of countless paintings and photographic studies.

The 15 minute walk turned into 45 minutes as we stopped and gawked at the beautiful designer stores that are at the base of the steps. Fendi, Prada, Louis Vuitton to drop a few names. Purses, and shoes, and dresses, oh my!

We made it to the base of The Steps and the boat-shaped fountain was being restored. Time to work up and appetite. We began the ascent of The Steps, all 138 of them, took some photos and then down we came. By then, we were hot, sticky and hungry. Time to find a taxi to grab some dinner.

Jennifer had a clipping from the Globe and Mail on restaurants we should visit. Urbana 47 was close to our hotel so that is where we decided to eat. We walked down this dark street passing a few tavernas and dodging cars and motorbikes until we found it. There were a few tables outside and inside was stuffy, but everyone seemed happy. We asked for a table outside and they placed two metal tables together and threw 4 chairs around it. Here we sat for the next couple of hours eating, drinking and chatting about our day. The food is all local and much of it is organic. First, the thirst-quenching beer was very cold and had an interesting almost brown sugar after-taste. The wine, a Montepulciano red was spectacular. Jen and I had a meal of spaghettini with Pecorino cheese and pepper sauce. OMG it was amazing. It needed nothing, perfection.

Yordie and Jo-Ann had ravioli stuffed with smoked eggplants and provola on fresh tomato sauce. They raved about it.

We laughed while we recounted our day in between bites. I checked in with the girls to see what they thought of the trip so far. The funniest moment was when our non-denominational Jo-Ann told us that next to having her children, today was the most special day of her life. She was totally overwhelmed about seeing Pope Francis and it surprised even her. She was giggling like a schoolgirl who had just seen her teen idol, or Donna meeting George Clooney. LOL I get it, as it was awesome, and that moment is to be cherished. She said even after hours of being in St. Peter’s Square, she still had goosies. Everyone is having a great time.

Our taste buds were dancing and the portions were so perfect we had room for dessert. Not just any dessert, but Tiramisu in a cup. Another OMG moment as fluffy mascarpone cheese, milk, eggs and sugar had been whipped into clouds of awesome and gently placed on a bed of caffe soaked biscuit. Honestly, we were shouting to the rafters that this was the best tiramisu we had tasted!

Dinner for 4 with a focaccia appetizer and 2 bottles of wine 116 euros. Definitely a recommend, here’s the link:  www.irbana47.it

We made the 15 minute walk back to our hotel and turned in for the night. We commented on how safe the streets were. Tomorrow, we are considering venturing to The Coliseum via public transit.

Arrivaderci!

I’m sooo blessed!

imageToday we woke up refreshed and ready for breakfast on the rooftop terrace with the sun shining. Another beautiful day with not a cloud in the sky. 27 degrees with a slight breeze. We gathered in the lobby at 8:30 am with the other tourists to catch a bus for the Classic Rome tour.

We met up with our lovely and patient guide Paula. This was a 3 hour guided walk through the streets of Rome. Being early in the morning of a Sunday, the locals were still sleeping after partying last night. The cobblestones had been washed and we felt cool in the shade as we passed cafés and vendors. The smell of roasted chestnuts and expresso permeate our nostrils.

Paula told us that the cobblestones are 300 years old and made from volcanic rock. They have a subway / Metro but it takes years to make progress for an expansion as Rome is built on ruins. Toronto isn’t the only city to have transit issues. It is not difficult to picture what life was like years ago with all the stone walls, fountains, and incredible architecture.

We visited the Trevi Fountain, however, it is being restored but we still threw coins into it. They say if you throw coins you will return to Roma. It is massive and the water is pumped via gravity. I would love to return and see it restored and in action. I’m sure it is impressive. Next, we went to the Pantheon which used to be a pagan place of celebration that now holds Catholic services. It was built by Raphael who was on par with Michelangelo but who died in his late 30s. Michelangelo lived to be 81. You can only imagine what Raphael could have achieved if he had lived longer. He is actually entombed in the chapel. The dome is open to the sky and was used as

Blessed by the Pope
Blessed by the Pope

a sundial. It was the largest open dome of its time. Water that comes in is drained through the floor. The doors to the opening are closed for mass and they weigh 7 tons. They are so perfectly balanced they can be closed with one hand. Mr. Doors (dad) you can appreciate the craftsmanship! The many monolith pillars weigh 80 tons and were carried from Egypt to Rome. You can still see the rope marks on the pillars that were used to raise the pillars. Incredible!!

Continuing our walk we visited the Piazza Navona with all the restaurants surrounding the cobblestone square which is really a very large rectangle. The middle of the piazza is a rather incredible fountain with an obelisk, and I’m right by the King Neptune fountain. I am sitting on a marble bench updating the blog while listening to some beautiful guitarists. Locals and tourists are wandering and taking shelter from the sun in shady sections. I’m so romanced by this place. The ladies and I cabbed it over here from the hotel. The cabbie had these amazing blue eyes and had quite the smile. Did I say I was romanced? Lol

Off we teetered to the bus who was taking us to Vatican City. I checked the Vatican City website before we left Canada and Pope Francis was to be travelling to another part of Europe. What a surprise it was that he was going to be there. We didn’t have an audience with the the Pope but we certainly were in the audience with the Pope. It was probably one of the most special moments of my life. It brought tears to my eyes. I was blessed by the Pope. Me and the throng of thousands. He spoke for 10 minutes about peace in the world and how he wanted us to pray for him for the strength to continue his campaign of peace. In honour of the event, I purchased a gold peace medallion which can only be bought at that store and it has been blessed by Pope Francis. My brother Kevin teases me when I say I’m blessed, well bro, now it’s official!!! We also bought and mailed postcards at the Vatican post office. The stamps are beautiful.

The gals said we would meet at the top of the hour back at the obelisk.I have 20 minutes left to drink in this atmosphere. Looking forward to seeing the piazza at night.

Ahhhh Roma!

We made it!

The chickies arrived at my place right on schedule and they were greeted with Italian music, prosciutto, cheese, fruit and Prosecco. They got a kick out of it that! The limo arrived on time and got us to the airport in plenty of time. No line up for check in. What’s a gal to do when she has time before her flight? We headed to the Plaza Premium Lounge.

The flight was a little longer than anticipated due to the severe thunderstorm last evening that delayed us boarding, but nothing too bad. It was nice to see Señors Martini and Panno at the airport with their significant others.

We spent 2 hours in the Air Transat lounge before heading down to board our plane. Dinner was a soup and salad and of course, drinks!

Aisle seats for us all and we quickly settled in to the rolling carts, boxed meals and crying babies!  My seat mate, Rosie, a Philipino grandmother from Etobicoke was lovely. She slept the entire trip. Considering she chases 3 grandchildren all day, no wonder.

Jennifer, Jo-Ann and Yordie were able to sleep, but alas, this one stayed up.

The flight was really non-eventful which is what you want. Well there was one funny thing that did happen. When you can’t sleep, you walk up and down the aisle. I was on my way to the back of the plane around 6 am when I came across a woman in the middle section who was frantic as the sun was coming in on her face. The people in the window section had their sleeping masks on unaware the sun was beaming into the faces across the aisle. I asked her if she wanted me to close the blind, and she said yes please. I gracefully leaned across the laps of the husband and wife reaching for the blind. I guess the wife sensed there was something in front of her, gasped and began waving her arms, waking her husband.  I was precariously balanced with one hand on the blind and just was bringing it down when the plane pitched and this graceful lass ended up in their laps! Glad I could be of service! Flight attendants, your careers are safe!  LOL

We touched down in Rome at 1:05 pm and then the fun began. First is passport control and then luggage. The handsome Italian announcer said to keep moving to the left and we kept moving to the left DIRECTLY into the Euro passport line.  People were playing red light, green light with customs, and me holding a Canadian passport decided we should go back to the moving herd of non-Europeans. Jennifer, however, decided she was going to stay and take her chances. We said we would see her on the other side. We were waved through. I don’t think they wanted to bother trying to comimagemunicate. Over at the luggage area we grabbed our bags – no sign of Jennifer. We saw Transat Vacation signs and headed over. The little, bald man with  the sign seemed so stressed. When I tried to give him my name, he said, NO! We asked again, and he said NO. Off we went searching for our contact. I met the contact from Montreal, Mexico, but not ours. Imagine throngs of people, shouting, waving hands, pushing, and indecipherable signage. It was beautiful! We are in Italy and I’m already in love!

We decided to make our way to the exit with rolling luggage. As the doors opened, it felt like Hollywood with people yelling and raising signs. Would I see my name? Not a chance, but I think I got a marriage proposal.  We stood at the Meeting Point, called the tour operator and finally found our contact. It turned out to be the little bald, stressed man who then began yelling at me. I guess, the best defense is a good offense. He told us that Jennifer was inside. That was good news.

With all of us together, we hopped into the van and headed to the Hotel Torino. We drew straws to see who was sleeping withJennifer…just kidding I volunteered. You see Jen has one of those CPAP machines and I’m a very light sleeper. Anyways, as it turned out, the room didn’t have sufficient power outlets for her machine, and she managed to get us 2 single rooms. Excellence! Energized from the bring in Rome, we freshened up and headed out to the train station to get our train seats. We waited in line for 30 minutes and I was laughing at the customer service guy’s face as we explained we were there to arrange our seats. Puzzled, checking our voucher 3 times, he announced we already had seats! Geesh! It was time well spent as we now knew were we needed to go to catch our train to Florence.

Traveling makes you hungry, and we were no different. Off we went in search of a shady, non-touristy ristorante or cafe/bar. We found one across from a beautiful square. We ordered 2 pizzas and a bottle of wine for $20 euros and another bottle. LOL. I said to the girls that the only thing missing was an accordionist. Presto! Along comes the accordion and he was playing Hava Nagilia of all things. We said, Itsliano per favore and he began playing O Sole Mio. I sang along with him and we laughed and clapped….off he went with a few euros for his trouble.

Walking up and down the narrow cobblestone streets we came across a gelateria and each gorged ourselves on beautiful, rich and yummy gelato in a cup.  Might as well skip the cone and save the calories for the pasta!

We headed back to the square where live musica was playing and then back to the hotel. The party was in Yordie and Jo-Ann’s room.  I have no idea what time we went to bed but the 4 of us sat on the bed looking out to the impressively-lit architecture across the street and the moon.

I will sleep like a baby tonight dreaming of this beautiful city.

PS. Pictures will come soon as soon as I figure out the wireless feature. Wifi is sketchy over here too.

1 More Sleep!

Packing is going well. I just need to throw my clothes into the suitcase. It’s looking like I’ll be a lightweight this time. That’s good because I will need room for a new purse and shoes!

Here’s the 21 day itinerary:

Italy (Rome, Florence, Siena, San Gimignano, Chianti Region, Cinque Terre)

Greece (Athens, Patmos, Rhodes, Crete, Santorini, Mykonos)

Turkey (Kusadasi)

I can’t wait for the ladies to arrive at my door.  First, I will need to cull my suitcase and get a good night sleep.

Buona notte amici miei  !

(Good evening my friends)

 

 

 

 

 

Time to cull!

Did you hear the one about the Newfies, the Englishwoman …

The girls are getting excited. Jo-Ann (Yordie’s sister) is flying in on Wednesday from St. John’s, Newfoundland as a precaution. Newfoundland can get fogged in at this time of year and we need her to make our flight on Friday. It will be nice for her to spend some extra time with family.

There is one thing I know these girls have a sense of humour! Jo-Ann picked up the last few items – Canadian flag lapel pins, travel detergent, hand sanitizer and in her own words ‘new jawers so me arse won’t be bare when I gets back ‘ome”!

Gottsta love the Newfies!

Jennifer our Englishwoman has announced she is now getting ready. She is on the right page and packing has begun.

This long weekend has been a fairly quiet one for me. I am trying to get as much sleep as possible to rest up for this adventure. My son, Philip and his partner Liana celebrated their birthdays this week. I can’t believe Phil is 28! Speaking of age, my 81 year old father joined in on the fun and completed the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Way to go dad! Anyone wanting a link to the video or pictures, let me know.

Skype – By the way dad, don’t forget to open your Skype program so we can connect while away. You are showing offline.

My back room is chaotic with clothes, accessories and travel requirements. My laundry/ironing is almost done. I have been practicing my Italian, OMG what a laugh! Can’t wait to say buongiorno when we arrive!

Not much left to do other than purge my clothing selection. I will travel light. The count down begins to travel day, Friday, September 5th.

Very excited!

Ci vediamo dopo

(see you later)

 

 

 

 

 

The Tickets Are Here!

Our travel agent who has been amazing. We presented her with a thank you bouquet in appreciation of her excellent customer service. Thanks Jennifer!
Our travel agent who has been amazing. We presented her with a thank you bouquet in appreciation of her excellent customer service. Thanks Jennifer!

Our travel agent, Jennifer, called us to let us know the tickets were ready for pick up. Tonight, the girls (Jennifer and Yordie) joined me at the agency and we walked through the paperwork and looked closer at the hotels. Our hotels have changed for Rome and Florence but are of comparable value. They are beautiful!

The one we are all really looking forward to staying at is the Royal Mykonian in Mykonos, Greece which is at the end of our trip. Check out this link:  Royal Mykonian Hotel

Yordie is watching Shirley Valentine tonight with her partner and if that doesn’t get you excited looking at the hotel photo gallery will.

We certainly don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves though as there is so much adventure and discovery coming before we arrive in Greece. First Rome, then Florence, Siena, Cinque Terre, Chianti Region. Some of us are dreaming of food (fresh pasta, simple pizza, Chianti wine, cheeses, luscious gelato in flavours of the rainbow). I’m dreaming about all that and Vespas, the Vatican, the Coliseum, Tuscany hillsides, white marble sculptures, spectacular fountains, artwork in colours of wine, sienna, ochre and burnt umber.

2 weeks tonight we will be flying to Italy. Many thanks to our travel agent Jennifer George of Marlin Travel for the excellent service.  We highly recommend her.

Jennifer George (905) 823-0787

 

Getting Ready – 33 More Sleeps

I can’t believe our trip is approaching so quickly. I have to say it is with mixed emotions. I would be remiss in not mentioning Janice. We lost our dear friend Janice (Sprout) to cancer on July 29th. She was supposed to be kicking off her retirement with this trip. She was an amazing travel buddy and we shared 12 countries together. Having the opportunity to spend time with her in her last days will be unforgettable. I will honour her memory by following through on her wishes for us to continue this trip and have a great time. Sis, that is a promise we will keep! We will carry you in our hearts.

When we lose something special, we also tend to gain something special and this instance is no different. We welcome Jo-Ann to our travel posse. You are such a doll and it makes me all warm knowing you are going to be making this trip with your sister, Yordie. I look forward to making memories with you.

Now is the time to begin our preparations. I have drafted the itinerary and will finalize it next week. I can’t seem to get my head around my packing list though! Add in that my son, Phil, his partner Liana and my grandson Marcus are flying in on Wednesday from Calgary for a week’s stay, Janice’s memorial is on Friday and holding down a job! I guess it is a time to be kind to ourselves when life sends our routines spiraling. This will be a good exercise in being present!

Jennifer, Jo-Ann, Yordie hang on to your hats, the next few weeks are going to go by so quickly. I can’t wait to share the experiences with you!