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Dreams Really Do Come True: Pompeii and Other Wonderful Places in Italy

My travel dreams started when I was about ten years old and read a National Geographic article about Pompeii. The thought of walking through the streets of an ancient city thrilled me. I’ve taken many trips since then but never made it to Pompeii. My husband wasn’t interested, and since there were so many places we both wanted to go, Pompeii never rose to the top of the list. This year when we decided to go away in November, he said to me, “We should go to Pompeii. You’ve always wanted to go, and now would be the perfect time to do it.” Twist my arm!

Getting to Rome

For the first time ever, we flew Delta One on the JFK to Rome leg because we were able to upgrade at a reasonable cost over premium economy. I’ve heard other airlines have better first-class service, but it seemed pretty great to us. I especially liked that every little item of food wasn’t wrapped in plastic. In coach, it’s so hard to get everything open, and then you dine with all this trash on your tray. I also loved being able to lie flat, although the lay-flat seats were a little awkward if you prefer to sleep on your side as I do. I didn’t sleep much, but laying on my side kept my back from being sore, which is the worst part of flying for me.

We arrived in Rome at 6:00 in the morning. We were unable to check into our apartment until 3:00, and we did not relish the idea of walking around Rome for all those hours. So we rented a room for six hours at HelloSky in the airport. It was $110, a bit of an indulgence, but we loved being able to shower and nap.

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Rome

We did not have the best introduction to Rome. The train to Termini Station was fine. However, the walk from the station to our apartment (45 minutes) involved uneven cobblestones, narrow or non-existent sidewalks, lots of traffic, and hills. And we needed food desperately, having had one energy bar a piece in the previous 10 hours. We solved that problem with take-out pizza, which we ate on our terrace. We were thrilled with our apartment; it was charming and spacious and on a quiet street near the Piazza Navona, which allowed us to walk everywhere.

While I loved our apartment, I did not love Rome. Yes, it has amazing and spectacular sites, many of which I have dreamed of seeing for years. I don’t think I’ve ever walked into so many places where my jaw almost hit the floor. However, the city is noisy, dirty and hectic – not at all relaxing. They had outdoor dining, which we love, seemingly everywhere. But many of the outside tables were literally in the street – with people, cars and motorcycles zipping by. If you gestured, you could get your arm whacked off. And the noise level! The most extreme example was Campo de’ Fiori. It had lots of outdoor dining and both times I passed through, there were street cleaning vehicles cleaning the square. The volume was just below jackhammer level. And people were having dinner!

I felt certain this would be my only trip to Rome, so I decided to cram in as much as I could each day. I rarely sightsee like this anymore, but I thought it was the best strategy for Rome, and I don’t regret it. There are so many things to see!

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Ancient Rome

Our first stop on our first full day was at the Pantheon, which is amazing well preserved, and just flat out amazing. Then we headed over to the Colosseum, which truly is an iconic wonder. Since I’ve toured two other ancient Roman amphitheaters, I decided to save time and skip the tour of the interior. There were tons of ruins nearby, and I walked all over the place taking photos and marveling at what I was seeing. This is why I came to Rome!

After four hours on my feet, I desperately needed food, water, a toilet, and a chair. I scored all four at a tiny restaurant near the next stop on my list – the Church of San Clemente. A delicious pasta lunch revived me. Meanwhile, my husband revived himself with a nap and a run along the river. Inexplicably, he has no interest in ancient Roman history, the Vatican, or art. We spent a lot of our time in Rome each doing our own thing, and it worked out well.

The Church of San Clemente is apparently a second-tier site, but it’s first-tier in my book. Built in the 12th century, it has beautiful mosaics and frescoes, but what I loved most is that it was built on top of a 4th century church that you could go down and walk around in. And if that wasn’t enough, that church was built on top of a 1st century Temple of Mithras, which you could also walk through. How cool is that?!

Another church on my list for the day was Santa Maria della Vittoria, which holds one of my very favorite sculptures – St. Teresa in Ecstasy by Bernini. I couldn’t believe I was actually standing in front of it – what a thrill!

On the way back to our apartment I stopped to see Trevi Fountain at dusk. Since I was not planning to return to Rome, I did not throw a coin over my shoulder. My final stop of the day was Piazza Navona, where I picked up ham sandwiches for dinner so I wouldn’t have to walk one more step when I finally got back to the apartment.

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The Vatican (When I Had My Obligatory Screw Up)

Apparently, I am hard wired to do something really stupid on every trip. Before I left home, I reserved an early-hours tour of the Vatican. The night before I was to go, I pulled out my travel information – printouts stored in a manila folder in chronological order. I saw that the tour was scheduled for 10:00. The correct thought process here would have been, “That doesn’t sound like an early-hours tour; I’d better double check the ticket.” My actual thought process was, “Great, I’ll be able to have a leisurely breakfast.”

The next morning as I finished that leisurely breakfast (7:38 am), it popped into my mind that I should check the ticket one more time. I pulled it out and saw 10:00. But this time I noticed that it was the ticket FOR POMPEII, not the Vatican. My documents were out of order! I madly flipped through my papers and found the Vatican ticket. The tour was at 8:00! That was ONLY 22 MINUTES AWAY, and Google Maps said it was a 21-minute walk to the Vatican! That left me with 60 seconds to get ready, and I spent 30 of them deciding if I should even try. I was still in my pajamas, hadn’t brushed my teeth, etc. And they advised I get there 15 minutes early to allow time to go through security. My husband (who was not taking this tour) helpfully suggested I skip my shower. As if I was thinking about taking a shower! What I was actually thinking about was whether or not I should change out of my pajamas. I went halves – changed the bottoms, not the top. Then I put on my shoes, threw on a jacket, ran out the door, and jumped in the very slow elevator. I was out on the street at 7:43 which gave me 17 minutes to get there. I ran as fast as I could (i.e., slow) with long breaks of walking to catch my breath. Luckily, I only hit one red light, and there was no line for security. I got to the ticket desk at 7:59, huffing and puffing and ready to collapse. But I was there!

The Vatican Museums were great and I liked my tour guide, but I wish we hadn’t spent a full hour on introductory matters, seeing the outside, and learning about the Sistine Chapel (since no talking is permitted in the chapel). That only left 90 minutes for the art, but I was glad to have someone point out the highlights, because the museum is fricking enormous. It was also spectacular! Then we were let loose in the Sistine Chapel, where I was a bit disappointed. Somehow, I had imagined the painting of God giving life to Adam covered most of the ceiling. In reality, it was one of many illustrations up there, and I mean UP THERE – the ceiling was really far away. It was hard to take it all in, and it made my neck ache.

St. Peter’s, on the other hand, exceeded my expectations. It was amazing! Some of it was over the top, but most of it was just gorgeous. The only disappointment was the Pieta. I had seen it as a child at the New York World’s Fair in 1964 and was totally blown away. Now that it’s behind glass and you can’t get as close to it, it doesn’t have the same impact. And what’s with people who have to get their picture taken in front of great art? Especially when there is a crowd of people (including ME) waiting patiently to get closer. A husband and wife in front of me asked another woman to take their picture. She was apparently not skilled at cell phone photography. The first photo turned out to be a video instead of a picture. On the next try, her finger was in the picture. Luckily, third time was the charm. But then the husband had to get a shot of the wife, and then the wife had to get a shot of the husband. Seriously! I could maybe forgive them for being big art fans, except…THEY NEVER EVEN BOTHERED TO LOOK at the Pieta.

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After the Vatican

On the way back to our place, I stopped at Castel Sant’Angelo, which was decidedly less ornate than the Vatican and a nice change of pace. After fortifying myself with a shower and much-needed food and water, I headed to the Capitoline Museums. They have lots of great artifacts and sculptures and a very nice view of the Forum.

My final stops of the day were the Church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, which was unfortunately closed for renovations, and the Church of San Luigi dei Francesi, which was way too flamboyant for me, but had some nice Caravaggio paintings. It was a long day and I was too tired to go out for dinner so we settled for ham sandwiches again.

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Bracciano

Day three was the middle of our time in Rome, and I thought it would be nice to escape the craziness of Rome with spend time with my husband. I chose Bracciano, a small medieval town on a lake because it is as un-Rome as you can get and is just 70 minutes by train from Rome. Of course, I forgot it required a 55-minute walk to the train station, so it was actually a two-hour trip.

Bracciano is very charming and not too touristy. It has narrow, hilly, twisty cobblestone streets and is very picturesque. There is a castle at the top of the town, which was unfortunately not open, and a beautiful teal blue lake way down below. The highlight for us was lunch outside at a tiny little restaurant with just two things on the menu. We had chicken meatballs in marinara sauce with a carafe of red wine, and it was delightful. So was the weather – clear blue skies and 68 degrees. Was it worth the time it took to get there? Possibly not, but we really enjoyed it.

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Pompeii!

You would think that when someone dreams of going somewhere for almost 60 years, they might be disappointed when they finally get there. But I am happy to report that Pompey exceeded my expectations. It was just awesome walking through a 2000-year-old town. I was over the top with joy and thankfulness that I finally made it, and my husband enjoyed it too.

We booked a private tour with Through Eternity that worked like this: They sent us train tickets for the high-speed train to Naples. A driver picked us up at the station and took us to Pompeii, where our guide met us. After 2½ hours with her, a driver picked us up and whisked us to the Naples train station where we caught the train back to Rome. It was super easy, though a bit pricey. It seemed like a good time to splurge because it was a lifelong dream for me and I wanted to make it painless for my husband who was being such a good sport on this trip. Our guide was excellent, and we learned a lot. One nice feature of this tour is you can choose the time of the train back to Rome, so if you want to spend time in Naples after Pompeii, you can. We came right back so my husband could take a nap. : )

I took advantage of this time to see the Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere. This was one of my favorite churches in Rome. In the portico, the walls are covered with architectural fragments, many with inscriptions, mostly in Latin. This really appealed to me. The inside was a little too much for me, but the floors and the mosaics over the altar were stunning.

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One Last Day in Rome

For our last day in Rome, I planned a reasonable and relaxing day for myself — the National Museum in the morning and the Borghese Gallery in the afternoon. But at breakfast I opened my guidebook and started reading about all the places I hadn’t seen. I decided to throw in three churches and one more museum. This was my last chance!

I started with the Basilica of St Peter in Chains. I wasn’t that crazy about it, but it did have a Michelangelo statue of Moses. In fact, I was so excited about Moses I forget to look for the chains that held St. Peter. (You’d think the name of the church would have been a sufficient cue.) Next was the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore. Parts of it were beautiful, but it was way too gold and glitzy for my taste. Just a stone’s throw away was the Basilica of Santa Pressede, a smaller and simpler church, much more to my liking. It’s one of the oldest churches in Rome, and fortunately (from my perspective) it escaped the glitzzing up process. It has wonderful frescoes and mosaics.

My next stop was the National Roman Museum, which has lots of ancient statues, frescoes and mosaics. I loved it. Next door are the Baths of Diocletian, which once provided baths for 3,000 people a day and now houses a museum with more statues and artifacts, as well as an actual church and cloister. Ten minutes in, I had enough. I didn’t want to see one more ancient Roman statue or one more church; I just wanted get outside and enjoy the warm sunny weather. I abruptly exited and walked over to the Borghese Gardens where I had an hour to spend before my 4:00 reservation for the museum.

After being partially rejuvenated by sunlight, strolling and sitting, I headed into the Borghese Gallery. It was fabulous! It was also mercifully small. You get two hours to see it, and Rick says “you’ll want every minute.” Well, it took me 35 minutes. The Borghese has some of my favorite Bernini sculptures (Apollo and Daphne, David, and the Rape of Proserpina), and I gazed at them in a state of elation. Then I breezed through the rest.

I walked (staggered?) back to our apartment by way of the Spanish Steps. I was really curious what steps designed by Michelangelo would look like. Well, as steps go, they are pretty darn nice. EDIT: I have since learned they were not designed by Michelangelo. (Thank you, Kathy!)

I was planning to end our stay in Rome with a nice dinner out. Here are our meals for our first five evenings in Rome: ham sandwiches, ham sandwiches, ham sandwiches, yogurt, and yogurt. What were we thinking? Well, I was just too tired to go out for dinner. Needless to say, I wore myself out again on our last day. Fortunately, I passed an upscale deli on the walk home and purchased some pork and vegetables, which easily topped our previous meals. I was almost home when it popped into my mind that I had forgotten to go to Mr. 100 Tiramisu, which I had read about on the Travel Forum. I put it in Google Maps and discovered it was only eight minutes away. I detoured there and picked up three of their 100 varieties for our dessert. My goodness, they were delicious! (Thanks, Jean!)

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Assisi

Let’s just say it was a relief to be out of Rome. It was so clean and quiet in Assisi and so easy to walk around without dodging people, cars and motorcycles. It’s a pretty town on a hill surrounded by beautiful green mountains, and the views are gorgeous. The only drawback is it is super hilly. I’m glad we are used to walking hills in Pittsburgh.

Our idea of a perfect stop on vacation is four nights in a small city or town, and Assisi is ideal for that scenario. It offered the perfect combination of activities – one day for visiting the sights and wandering around the town, one day for hiking out in the countryside, and one day for a day trip.

It only took 2½ hours to get to Assisi, which gave me time to walk around and get my bearings in the afternoon. Then we went out for a pizza dinner and explored the town by moonlight. It was wonderful to wake up in the morning and not feel compelled to rush out the door for another sightseeing marathon.

After a leisurely breakfast, we went to the Basilic of St. Francis. Wow, the interior is a stunningly beautiful! There is a slightly older church below the main church on top. Both are covered with frescoes in shades of tan, cream, soft reds and blue-greens. This is the color palette I chose for my house, so I found it very agreeable. However, I must say that the basilica has achieved a level of beauty which exceeds my house by many multiples. In one of those serendipitous events that you occasionally stumble upon when you travel, a mass was being said in the upper church with approximately 100 white-robed monks in attendance. When they began to sing, I wanted to cry, it was so beautiful. I also wanted to cry because photos were not permitted.

After a nice lunch, we walked up to Rocca Maggiore, a medieval castle perched above the town. It was not open, but the views were lovely. After more strolling, my husband went back for a nap and I visited two more churches, which were very ordinary.

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Assisi (cont.)

The next day we ventured to Spoleto, which was just 30 minutes away by train. But first you have to get to the train station, which is 2½ miles below the town. We had taken a cab to our apartment when we arrived, but since the weather was nice and it’s mostly downhill to the station, we decided to walk. It was very very steep going down, and it wasn’t long before we concluded that we would be taking the bus to get back up.

Before we got on the train, we stopped to see the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels, which is right by the station. By that point, I was pretty much churched-out, but I wanted to see this one because it was built around a chapel that St. Francis restored. It’s odd seeing a tiny chapel in the middle of a grand basilica that seems such a sharp and ironic contrast to the life of St Francis. But whatever, I loved the chapel and am happy it has been preserved, even if its protective shelter seems wildly inappropriate.

On to Spoleto, where we faced another steep hill going up to the old town. Fortunately, they have escalators halfway up that we were very thankful for. Spoleto is a nice town with a fortress on top and beautiful views. We walked around enjoying the beautiful weather and had a nice pasta lunch outside.

Our third day was a bit cooler and breezier, which was perfect for hiking. Our goal was Eremo delle Carceri on Mt. Subasio. It’s about halfway up the mountain and 2½ miles from where we were staying. Every one of the steps we took was a step up hill. We were not sprinting, I can tell you that. But it was nice and cool, and the views were gorgeous the entire way, so we enjoyed it.

Eremo delle Carceri is a hermitage complex in the woods where St Francis used to pray and contemplate. There was only one building in those days, a tiny multi-level chapel that we were able to climb through. Apparently, monks in the 13th century were not very big; my husband barely made it out. There are more buildings now along with many outdoor altars, and it was a nice place to wander around.

When we got back to Assisi, it might have been a good idea to take a break, but instead we strolled around the town and visited St. Francis’ Basilica again. That did us in, and we were happy we had leftover pizza from the night before. That meant we only had to walk from the couch to the dinner table for dinner, and it was mercifully level.

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Siena

We took the train to Siena and walked to our apartment from the train station – there is a series of escalators that makes it pretty effortless. (Assisi, take note!) While not flat, Siena is nowhere near as hilly as Assisi. But there was no risk of our leg muscles atrophying – it was 91 steps up to our fourth-floor apartment (and no elevator). But it was worth it – the view of Siena was spectacular! We arrived in just in time to see a beautiful sunset, then we went out to get takeout for dinner. We ending up buying ingredients for a simple pasta dinner, which I made.

On our first full day in Siena, we decided to maximize our time outdoors since rain was predicted for days two and three. I liked Siena a lot; it looks worn and lived in, and the colors are warm and weathered. It’s full of history and charm. After strolling around the town, we asked the tourist office for the best place to walk in a more rural or woodsy environment. They suggested the Via Francigena, which is a pilgrimage route from France to Rome that goes through Siena. Unfortunately, outside Siena it involved walking on narrow roads with no sidewalks and no shoulders. And not much in the way of views due to high stone walls and hedges along the road. The vegetation did occasionally break into bucolic vistas, but not very often. After maybe two miles, I said to my husband, “I’d rather be having a nice lunch outside, than continuing along this road.” He agreed, and we turned around.

After a delicious pasta lunch in il Campo, my husband went back to do laundry (he does more than nap!) while I visited the Duomo. The inside was a little over-done, but mostly I loved it, especially the black and white striped columns.

The weather forecast was correct, and the next day it rained all day. Fortunately. it was just light rain and drizzle, though it was a lot cooler – only 48 degrees. We took the bus to San Gimignano, which was less than an hour away. Although it wasn’t the best weather, the rain made everything glisten and it kept the crowds away. We had lunch at a restaurant with an expansive view of the surrounding hills and tried to pretend the skies were blue. It was warm and dry inside and the food was delicious; it’s hard to say which we appreciated the most.

The following day, we awoke to massive fog. After it cleared, we took a walk around Siena then hopped on a bus to Monteriggioni, a tiny walled hill town less than a half hour away. The skies were overcast, but it was not raining and it was back up to 60 degrees.

The bus left us off in a traffic circle below the town. We climbed up through a farm and vineyard to reach a gate in the wall surrounding the town. The weather continued to clear, and the views were beautiful. Monteriggioni is a cute stone village surrounded by a wall with several towers. Most things were closed, including the town walls that we had hoped to walk on, but we were happy it was clear and dry.

We got back down to the bus stop a half hour early, and it started to sprinkle. Then about five minutes before our bus was due, the clouds let loose and it poured. Fortunately, we had on waterproof jackets with hoods, but our pants and shoes got soaked. And wouldn’t you know it, the bus was five minutes late, prolonging our drenching.

A few minutes after we got on the bus, the sun came out of nowhere and the sky turned blue. We came back to maybe the most stunning sunset I have ever seen – vivid dark pink clouds and deep slate blue skies. It was amazing! We ended the day at a tiny restaurant where we had delicious pasta and wine.

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Lucca

It was sunny when we left Siena, but overcast when we arrived in Lucca. After settling in, my husband took a nap while I took a walk through the historic core. It was a bit misty, giving the town a romantic glow. Lucca is about the size of Siena, but with fewer tourists, less noise, and – here’s the best part – no hills! It was a very pleasant walk as the sky gradually darkened…at least until it started to rain. The romance was gone, and I hightailed it back to our place. Later we went out for dinner and found a tiny little restaurant run by a friendly husband and wife who seemed delighted to welcome us; we were the first customers of the night.

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Florence

One of my goals for this trip was to see Michelangelo’s David in Florence. Reading about all the other art in Florence made my head spin. With limited time, how could I pick what else to see? Ultimately, I decided to see David and skip the rest. This is partly because my husband decided to come with me and partly because I was pretty much arted-out by this point of the trip. I thought it would be fun to just walk around and have a nice lunch after seeing David in the Accademia.

I woke up on Friday (our first full day in Lucca) to see it was supposed to be sunny in Florence that day and rainy on Saturday. Drat! I had made a reservation at the Accademia for Saturday because an earlier forecast showed sunshine that day. I decided to eat the cost of the reservation and go to Florence on Friday so we could enjoy nice weather and take photos as we walked around. There were no reservations available for the Accademia that day, so we’d have to wait in line for tickets.

As we exited the train station in Florence, we ran into enormous crowds of people. More people asked us for money in the first fifteen minutes we were there than we experienced in six days in Rome. After seeing the exterior of the Duomo, we made our way towards the Accademia through a continuous stream of humanity. There was a fairly long line, but it was David or bust. Fortunately, the line moved pretty quickly and in less than half an hour, we were in. It was crowded, but David is a big dude (17 feet tall) and on a pedestal, so he was easy to see. It was a neat feeling to be staring at something I had dreamed about seeing for much of my life. I also looked at the unfinished works by Michelangelo, which were cool. Since my husband was with me, I skipped everything else. (He was arted-out at birth.)

Back outside, the crowds were still oppressive, so I scratched my plans for walking around Florence, and we headed back to the train station. If my husband wasn’t with me, I would have given Florence more of a chance, but truthfully, I was anxious to get back to tranquil Lucca. Our train back took 25 minutes longer than scheduled, adding a final dose of agony to the day. My husband took a nap when we got back, while I walked around Lucca and got a tiramisu gelato cone. We each have our own strategy for rescuing a disappointing day! Later, we had a lovely dinner at a little restaurant, and that made us both happy.

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Pisa

Since Pisa is only a half hour from Lucca, I decided to go see the famous tower the next day. My husband elected not to go, which meant I didn’t have to worry if the trip turned out to be another disaster or a waste of time.

Happily, it was neither. I liked the leaning tower, as well as the matching duomo and baptistery. The architecture is very light and graceful and pleasing. And there is just something fun about being face to face with something you have seen pictures of your whole life.

I was back in Lucca by 1:00 and met my husband in town for lunch. It was a drizzly day, so we came back and spent the rest of the afternoon at our place. At this point of the trip, I was content to rest and read for a while. We ended the day with a great dinner and I finally got one of my favorite desserts — panna cotta!

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Last Day in Lucca

Our final day in Lucca was warm and sunny. My husband ran and I walked the ramparts, which are 2½ miles around. What a delightful place to walk. The green mountains surrounding the town provide a beautiful backdrop.

While my husband went back to shower, I went to the Church of San Giovanni. I picked this church because you can go underneath it and walk through ruins that date back to early Christian times and the Middle Ages. Most of the time I was the only one down there strolling around in the dark, which was super cool. I also climbed the tower, which had very nice views. My husband joined me for a climb up a second tower – Guinigi Tower, which is the tallest tower in Lucca. It is topped with a little garden and trees, which is something I’ve never seen before. We loved it.

After a brief respite at our apartment, I did another circuit on the ramparts as the sun was setting. Later, we had another great dinner – I got panna cotta again! – followed by one last walk around the town. This marked the end of our vacation, and it was a sharp contrast to the beginning of our trip in Rome. Rome was spectacular and exciting, while Lucca was serene and peaceful.

We took the train to Rome the next day and stayed at the airport Hilton before flying home the next day. After finally seeing Pompeii and so many other wonderful places, I could only feel happy and grateful.

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I really enjoyed reading about your trip! I think it is great that you can travel with your husband and then split up to do what you want.
I liked Rome more than you did, but I agree that Italy as a whole is too chaotic for me. I loved seeing all of the art, but I am more comfortable in the presence of Swedes than Italians : ). I went to Florence already in love with Michelangelo's David and left in love with Donatello's David.

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Thanks for the thorough report. It brought back memories of our trip to Rome last November. We were fortunate in that we didn't experience too much crowds and noise in Rome. I think travelling when a lot of people were still not doing so helped. Like you, I found Florence to be crowded and hectic. Like you, I liked the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the baptistry immensely (even though seeing them hadn't been a priority for me). I thought they were very pretty and would have been worth seeing even if the tower didn't lean.

We also did a day trip to Pompeii and spent about 2 1/2 hours there. We thought it was wonderful, and it was also a place we had dreamed of seeing since we were children.

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I enjoyed your report as well, and am so happy that Pompeii didn't disappoint! :O)

Like vandrabrud, we've enjoyed both Rome and Florence more than you did but different strokes, eh? You found what pleased YOU so it was a great trip.

A suggestion for anyone planning to explore Italian churches? Bring a small mirror to view the more ornate ceilings without it being a pain in the neck. Gesù, which has a wonderful ceiling, even provides a large, tilted mirror for marveling over the trompe l'oeil effect.

A little note about the Spanish Steps?

I walked (staggered?) back to our apartment by way of the Spanish
Steps. I was really curious what steps designed by Michelangelo would
look like...

Mike didn't design those steps; you may have confused them with his ramp-type cordonata stairway by which one can access the Piazza del Campidoglio, which he also designed. You may have made your way up to the Capitoline Museums via this shallow-stepped stairway?

Thanks for taking the time to share your experiences! It's always fun to 'see' a couple of my favorite places in Italy through someone else's eyes.

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Thanks for your report. It was really enjoyable to read and, as with many of the other responses, brought back many memories!

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Carroll, thank you for a great trip report. It brought back so many good memories. I agree that Rome can be chaotic and dynamic but I thoroughly enjoyed the times spent there so many years ago. Sounds like you really packed in a lot in the time you had. Lucca and Assisi are two favorite Italian towns for me.

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I really enjoyed your report. We were in Rome for five days over 30 years ago and had much the same reaction as you. We are going to spend a couple days there this coming May on our way to Sicily and both my husband and I are curious to see if we like it more. In recent years, we have enjoyed both Naples and Athens which many other people find too hectic. So we both have wondered if our reaction now that we are more experienced travelers would be different. But I must say your report makes me realize it may not be!

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Loved your sense of humour in the way you wrote that. Like your hubby, I think I may have been arted-out at birth, but I'm trying.
I also think San Clemente is first tier, but don't tell anyone, it was wonderfully uncrowded when we went.

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Carroll, what a great trip report! So much resonates with me. I just got back from Rome about 10 hours ago! I've bookmarked this to read again later when my mind is sharper, but yes, Rome is amazing and spectacular, hectic and noisy, indeed.

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I very much enjoyed your trip report and I am in awe at all you were able to see and do and at your activity level! Thanks for sharing.

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Thank you to everyone for the nice feedback!

vandrabrud: There is a difference between the Italian and Swedish cultures for sure. I love the Italian people -- they are so friendly and full of life -- but I am much more quiet and reserved than the average Italian. I don't think I would fit in there. I did not see Donatello's David, but I kind of liked Bernini's David better than Michelangelo's, which really surprised me.

Kathy: Thank you so much for setting me straight on the Spanish Steps! I HATE to be a source of misinformation. I will correct that in my report.

BethFL: I hope you have a wonderful time in Rome and Sicily in May. Sometimes having lower expectations can be good. There are places I have been that I expected to love that disappointed me and I know it was because my expectations were too high.

Tammy: Other than the Airport Hilton (which was convenient), we stayed in apartments. When possible, we like to stay in two bedroom apartments because one of us snores. (I'm too embarrassed to identify which of us that is!) I'll list them here:

Rome -- Navona, Campo de Fiori - Penthouse Terraced, Property ID# 1878819 on VRBO. I loved this place. The location was ideal and it was very charming and quiet.

Assisi -- Residenza Porta Perlici Assisi Apartment on Booking.com. This was a very nice apartment and had everything we needed. Great location. It had character, but not a lot of natural light. I really wanted to get someplace with a view in Assisi, but I couldn't find anything.

Siena -- La Terrazza sul Duomo on Booking.com -- This is probably my favorite apartment ever. It was very spacious with 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms and a large terrace with a view of Siena to die for. The only negative is it was on the fourth floor and there was no elevator. Totally worth the climb!

Lucca -- Luxury New Apartment, Property ID# 8558839ha on VRBO. This is a large 3 bedroom apartment located about five minutes outside the ramparts. It was very well equipped and spacious. The guy who owns it could not have been nicer. The only negative is that it there was some noise at might from a bar about a block away, which you could hear from one of the bedrooms.

I have longer reviews of each apartment on the booking sites.

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Carroll, I really enjoyed reading your detailed trip report! It brought back many fun memories for me of my visits to some of these beautiful places. I’ve also bookmarked it for future trip planning to other places to explore! We went to Monteriggioni on a school trip as an alternate for Siena. I was disappointed to miss Siena, but that hill town was charming and beautiful! Siena is still on my list of places to explore on our next trip to Italy.

You have a delightful writing style…thanks for sharing your adventures with us!

Laurie

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Thank you, Laurie. I love reliving my trips too. I hope you make it to Siena.