We finally tore ourselves away from the Mediterranean in Levanto, and made our way across part of Tuscany, toward Rome, last Wednesday. It was our intent to stop and visit the walled city of Volterra and then to stay a night in Siena before getting to Rome, but the gods had other plans for us. When we got to Volterra, where you have to park outside the city walls, we could NOT find a single parking place, although we drove round and round and through every parking lot. Not tourists, but the cars of the local people who work in Volterra and drive in from outside the city, so there wasn't any movement in the parking lots. Every car in there was in there for the day.....so we finally gave up and headed toward Siena through the beautiful Tuscany countryside, stopping on the side of the road for a picnic at a spot overlooking small villages and vineyards, a beautiful day. However, when we got to Siena, the campground, which was listed in the book as being open until October 31 was closed up, padlocked and empty.
By now, the weather had changed, and it was starting to rain, that had been the only campground in Siena, so nothing to do but we slogged on toward Rome. It rained and it poured, the traffic got heavier and heavier and we found ourselves in rush hour traffic, excuse me, rush hour traffic JAM on the autoroute leading to the ring road, in the pouring down rain, then trying to find the campground from the directions in the book, despite the exit being closed due to construction, etc.etc.etc. It was a good thing that our comfort zones have been greatly expanded on this trip, because we needed everything we had to pilot our little craft into the calm waters of the Camping Tiber campground, here in Rome that night.
But, all's well that ends well, because the campground is beautiful, just outside central Rome off the ring road, right along the Tiber River, which I am gazing at through the windshield as I type this, with a free campground bus that runs every half hour to the train station, then a short fifteen minute train ride into the heart of Rome, which we have been exploring practically nonstop for two days now.
For all of this trip, we have wondered where all the tourists were. All through the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany and Switzerland, there haven't been that many tourists, (except at the Mediterranean), and only a tiny handful of Americans or British. Almost all the tourists we saw were Germans, French, Dutch, Italian, etc. Well.......now we know where all the Americans were. They were here in Rome! Rome is chock full of tour groups, each with a leader holding up an umbrella or a sign like a mama duck with ducklings, and many of them American, as well as practically every other nationality you could name. Can't even imagine how sightseeing in Rome might be during the height of the season in the summer, as even now, at the very tail end of the season, they are everywhere. Up until now, it has been very rare to hear English spoken on the street, or in trains and buses, etc. No more........they (us) are everywhere!!!!!
We did another of those city wide double decker bus tours like we did in Paris. It's neat because you can get on the bus and ride up on the top, out in the open, all around, listening to an audio tour of the various stuff you are passing, and at various stops, if you want to get off and explore, you can, and then just hop on another of the doubledecker buses of the company, which come by regularly, and go on to the next place.
We've been to the Piazza del Popolo, walked over more cobblestone streets than I can count, and have been overwhelmed with ancient architecture. It is so humbling, just as it has been in seeing some of the great cathedrals, to see the magnificant buildings created by people with no modern tools and equipment. We visited the Pantheon and marveled at the intricate marblework and soaring ceiling, created at about the time of Christ. Walking in buildings that you know such people as Caesar walked is just amazing. They are so beautiful. It's hard to think what we are creating in our modern world that will wear so well and last so long as thousands of years to be admired by those who come after. It was also interesting to note the passing of culture as in the Pantheon where it was originally populated by statues of Roman gods, with Jove at the central "altar" where the Christian altar now stands and all the saints and the Blessed Virgin in the other niches.
Just going by the Coliseum and the Forum, you had to pinch yourself that you were really here. Just thinking of the history that this city has seen and lived through, seeing paintings by Rafael and Michaelangelo and beautiful sculptures.....what a city.
Rome is just Rome, I guess. In comparison to the other cities we have traveled in through Europe, it's dirty, with lots of litter, lots of graffiti, and the first homeless people we've seen, complete with 'hobo jungles' along the train right of way and under bridges. But also, alive in a way different from the others as well.
Yesterday, we were in a crosswalk, and a car came on through anyway, upon which an Italian promptly kicked the guy's fender violently, the car stopped, the driver got out, gesticulations abounded, we scampered on across the street and left them to it. Such fun.......You can spend absolutely HOURS just peoplewatching here. And we have spent a few hours at sidewalk cafes, watching the world go by, when footsore and weary, we just couldn't look at one more beautiful building or one more painting or sculpture.
And of course, the food is SO good. Pizza fifty different ways, spaghetti as many, gelato (ice cream) to die for. The only hope we have for not gaining weight on this trip is the tremendous physical exertion we are expending, walking five or six miles a day on hard pavements and cobblestones, up and down untold flights of steps,etc. Hopefully, they are balancing each other out.
We spent much of one day at the Vatican, touring the museum and seeing the Sistine Chapel, with Michaelangelo's famous frescos on the ceiling. We were overwelmed with the beauty.
We visited the Trevi Fountain, made famous in Fellini's La Dolce Vita, with Anita Ekberg's famous scene of bathing in it. I had visions of tossing in my coin....a la "Three Coins in the Fountain", but alas, it was so awash with tourists that you couldn't get near enough to the fountain to toss in a coin. In pictures, you always see it photographed at night, lighted, and of course, no people. Tom says they must have photographed it at 3 a.m. and even then they probably had to shoo tourists away to click the shutter.
Well, that's about all the news. Rome is our most southerly point, and from here, we start the long trek back to Amsterdam in November. We plan to go from here to Florence, then on to Venice, and into Austria and Germany. Having a wonderful time, of course. That goes without saying.