Roman Holiday--November,2013

Well, we have come to the end of our 32 months of RVing in Europe. We picked up the Gray Wanderer (Roadtrek 2008 Adventurous) in Bremerhaven, Germany on May 20, 2009. At that time we planned to ship back to the States in fall of 2011. But when the time came, we couldn't bear to leave. Now, finally, we are ready to move on to other adventures and different modes of travel for awhile. But first, Rome...

We spent several weeks in Rome in the spring of 2011, and still couldn't begin to see everything. So we were very happy to be back for an additional two weeks or so. I will concentrate on the new things we have done. We are camping at a camperstop/aire/sosta on the south side of Rome—Prato Smeraldo, where we stayed before. There is water, dump, free wifi, some covered spots, electric included. Regular rate is E16 but negotiable out of high season or for longer stays. We are paying E10 a night. Upside is it is a block to the bus stop and then metro to Termini for E1.5. Takes 30 to 50 minutes depending on traffic. Bus 702 or 720 about every half hour. Downside is that traffic can be noisy starting at about 6 am and guard dogs that are on property at night seems to bark at the least provocation. It is also a camper storage facility.

We took the free English tour of St. Peter's which is given every afternoon at 2:15. Our guide was a Catholic seminary student from DC and there were only 6 of us. The tour lasted about 2 hours including the 45 minute wait in line to go through the metal detectors. He was well informed, and it was a great opportunity to ask all the questions about Catholicism, past and present, that we have built up in our tour of God knows how many Catholic churches. But again, just as we neared the altar, it was being closed for services! He said that there was no posting of times for closing though it occurs more often in the afternoons. You also can't rely on the ushers to give you correct reopening times. Three different ushers gave us 3 different times.

Last time we had arrived at the Villa Farnesina to see the Raphael frescoes and it was closed. We did get in this time but very little information was available in English. Apparently they offer English tours once or twice a week included in the entrance fee—we should have checked the website. But we did enjoy seeing the Raphael without crowds.

One day we took the Ostia train (same metro ticket changing at EUR Magliana or Pyramide) to see the ruins of the ancient port. This is certainly an all day excursion as the ruins are about the size of Herculeum and very reminiscent of Pompeii. If you can't get down to Pompeii, then certainly go here. Unfortunately, even buying the E2 map provided little help in finding the good sites in this sprawling city site. Be sure to also have a guidebook with additional information. We have been very impressed with our Knopf guide to Rome—sort of a DK, but better with more historical and cultural information. Rick Steves is also usually good but we didn't have the pages for Ostia, so I can't compare.

We basically decided to take the holiday weekend off and stay at the camper, getting it ready for its sale to fellow WWTs in mid November. Friday was November 1st—All Saint's Day and a national holiday. The camperstop we were at went from five rigs on Thursday to 25 on Friday. One young couple took the bus into town Friday morning and after 45 minutes of gridlock said there were thousands of people trying to get on the metro, so they just turned around and came back. Italians take their holidays very seriously—usually extending them if they can. Another American couple actually had to leave the camperstop they were staying at in Florence because others had called ahead and had reservations. (Note that taking reservations is very unusual at camperstops.) Anyway, certainly try to avoid holidays if you can or else plan ahead. We also heard that all the ATMs in Rome were out of cash half way through the weekend.

If you have been reading this monthly, you know we have been to a lot of Cathedrals over the last eight months. Yet we were still wowed when we walked into St. Paul Outside the Walls. Actually, we thought it more impressive than St. Peter's. Just a hint—the nave alone has 80 gigantic columns. We paid extra to visit the cloisters and were surprised that it really didn't live up to its billing. To get to St. Paul's exit left at the metro stop of same name and then left again under the overpass. You will see it ahead on the right. There is also a self service laundromat at this metro stop. Turn right leaving the metro, left at first street, right at the main street and it is a block or so on right. Does not close at lunch, or on Sundays.

Some tips for a couple other spots. The National Roman Museum is absolutely first rate. Start on the top floor with the mosaics and frescoes but don't skip the lower floors either. The Pamphij Doria Museum is open on Mondays (when most everything else is closed), and has 3 Caravaggio s, a Velasquez, Memling, Raphael, numerous Jan Brueghels, plus the State Apartments. Most of the paintings are not under glass and you can get close. No photos unless you buy E4 photo permit which is sold at bookstore, not the ticket office.

At the Vatican Museum, we only had a 15 minute wait in line on a Wednesday 9 am opening, November 7, also reasonable wait when we went in April. It has a decent pizzeria with pizza and cold drink for E5.50 and wine for E2. It has also a superior Egyptian collection that we had missed in the past. Very important: there is no lighting in the Sistine Chapel, so don't go on a cloudy day or late in the afternoon off season. We had stopped in early in our visit and then returned at 4:30 and you couldn't see a thing. I felt so sorry for all the people there for whom this was a once in a lifetime visit and you could barely see to walk across the chapel. Bring binoculars and find the Botticelli wall frescoes as well as Michelangelo's. In the Pinoteca (which is small and takes much less than an hour) don't miss the musical angels. Also the newly refurbished frescoe ceilings by Pinturicchio in the Borgia Apartments and the contemporary art galleries, which include a Matisse room and paintings by Ernst, Roualt, Dali and a host of others. Their take on religious art in the 20th century is really quite interesting.

We, of course, returned to the Villa Borghese. I copied down the wrong voucher number from the web and we almost didn't get in. It is a fabulous art museum with lots of Bernini and Caravaggio. Leave at least 40 minutes for the 2nd floor so that you don't miss the Raphaels, Titians, Corregios, and Cranach. The great paintings are spread out on the second floor, and it can be hard to find them, especially when you are pressed for time. Two hours is the limit, and it is barely enough if you want to study anything closely.

Another must is Santa Maria de Populo Church. It is right on the metro but is closed from noon to 4. I know you won't miss the Caravaggios, but also be sure to see the Bernini and Raphael work in the Chigi Chapel and then opposite there are two chapels with works by Pinturicchio. The lights for these chapels are easy to miss—no machine, just a small button by an offering box. After this church we actually walked to and visited the Barberini Gallery (nice, but not on the A list), walked on to Santa Maria Maggiore to see the 5th century mosaics, and ended up at San John Lateran and the Sacred Steps. On the map this looks ferociously long, but at the time didn't seem too bad with lots of stops. The Sacred Steps were closed when we arrived at 6 pm. They were brought back to Rome by Constantine's mother, St. Helen, from Jerusalem and are supposed to be the steps Jesus stood on from Pontius Pilate's palace. Of all the “relics” related to Jesus that we have seen, this seems to be the one that has the greatest chance of being true. So very interesting historically even for non-believers.

This 20,000 step day finished off our Rome sight seeing. We had planned an excursion to the Appian way on Sunday when it is closed to traffic. But with a forecast of thunder storms and high winds, we decided another packing, blogging, and cleaning day would work better. We have had terrific weather in Rome these first two weeks of November—highs in the low to mid 70s and very little rain. Next week again is predicted to be mostly dry but with the temperatures dropping about 10 degrees to highs in the low 60s. Weather we would have loved last March in France and northern Spain!

As I finish this we are back in California visiting our daughter and family over Thanksgiving. Next month I will summarize our budget for the last couple of years and overall what RVing in Europe for 32 months was like. Happy Camping! Vicki