Friday, April 1, 2011

Italy Part 2 - Siena and Rome

The second part of our tour of Italy involved the cities of Siena and Rome. I'll spend a few minutes highlighting some of the things we did during our stops. First up is Siena.

Siena was our next stop after Florence. We chose to travel to Siena via bus instead of train. The primary reason was that the bus delivered us closer to the downtown area which was where our hotel is at. If we had taken the train we still would have been a couple kilometers away from where we needed to be and would have had to hire a taxi. It may seem trivial but these things can make a big difference when it comes to saving money and the overall hassle factor. The bus ride from Florence to Siena was pretty smooth. We got to see a little bit of the scenery and the bus was comfortable. It only took about 90 minutes to go from Florence to Siena and cost 7.50 euros per person. Siena for us was an attempt to balance out visiting large cities with a small to mid size city. I think we accomplished the task. Although tourism plays a big role in their economy we still got the feeling that we were in a town a little outside of the normal tourist circuit and that we were intermingled among the locals.

St. Domenico in Siena

We spent just two nights in Siena but packed in quite a bit of sightseeing. We arrived on a Monday afternoon. We spent a couple hours on our first day walking around our area. We purchased a museum pass for 10 euros per person and visited a church and the museum next to it which was part of the pass. The pass did end up paying for itself. The second day was a full day of sightseeing. We started off with visiting St. Domenico after purchasing our bus tickets to Rome for the following day. We then visited the main Duomo or Cathedral called Santa Maria Assunta. It was built in the 13th century and was pretty impressive. It was good thing we purchased the museum pass because we would have had to pay to get into the church. The museum next to the Cathedral was worth it especially the observation platform that provided great views of the city without an extra charge. To climb the nearby Piazza del Campo bell tower would have cost at least 8 euros per person and it isn't much taller than the museum's observation area. We also toured the church's crypt which was only discovered about 10 years ago and the baptistry. We then meandered our way over to the Piazza del Campo to take a view of this impressive plaza during the day time. The museum and bell tower were separate from our museum pass so we decided to skip them. After a late lunch we spent the rest of the day strolling around different parts of Siena which can be a little tricky with all the windy and hilly roads.

 Cathedral Santa Maria Assunta - Siena

Siena was a nice little town. I would recommend it on the northern Italy tourist circuit. I would say two nights should cover the main attractions but one could stay longer if you venture out to the wineries that surround the city. The only real negative for me was that even though it is an old city with much of its medieval architecture well preserved including narrow streets there were still lots of cars and mopeds to keep an eye out for. I think they should be more restrictive on the amount of motor traffic allowed within the city walls. It is a hilly city so I bet there would be quite a bit of push back from locals who have to move around on a daily basis. Only other negative which isn't the town's fault was that it was pretty cool. On our full day of sightseeing we both wore the tops and bottoms of our thermal underwear and both our jackets just to stay warm.

Alethea looking out at the Piazza del Campo in Siena

Next stop for us after Siena was Rome. For the first time on our 8 month round the world trip I was actually in a city that I had been in before. I visited Rome back in 2006 on my first visit to Europe along with my brother Doug who was living in the Netherlands at the time. Alethea had also visited Rome before as well. Rome is one of my favorite cities to visit in Europe mainly because I'm a history buff and in my opinion no other city has had as much influence on western civilization than Rome. It was good to be back in a somewhat familiar area. It didn't take me too long to recognize different parts of the city.

In all we spent a week in Rome. Instead of staying in a traditional hotel or hostel we decided to rent an apartment. It made a lot of sense since the apartment Alethea found cost about the same as what hotels we would want to stay in cost. Our apartment was 35 square meters. It had 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom, a full kitchen, and a living room. It also had a washer and wi-fi which are always a plus. The apartment was in the Trastevere neighborhood a few kilometers south of the old city section of Rome. It was located close to bus stops and a train station. We saved a quite a bit on eating too since we prepared our own breakfast and Alethea cooked dinner while I performed my usual role of washing the dishes afterward. It was also nice to be able to do our laundry whenever we wanted without fear of not getting everything back when we send it out to be washed. Needless to say I think we were both glad we rented an apartment versus a hotel or hostel.

Alethea cooking dinner at our apartment in Rome

As I mentioned earlier, Rome is a city that Alethea and I visited before. Even with this in mind we put together a list of things we wanted to see and then plotted out our course. For me I wanted to see some of the major sights again plus some additional items which were mostly churches that I didn't get to see on my first visit. We purchased within a couple days of arriving a Roma pass which allowed us to get the 1st two museums we saw for free with remaining museums being discounted plus all transport within Rome is free for a 72 hour period once the card is first validated. Our two free museums were the Forum and Ostia Antica. Ostia Antica is a 2,700 year old town 35 minutes outside of Rome close to the Mediterranean that has been largely preserved. It was pretty interesting. The second museum we used our pass for was the Colosseum and Forum. The Forum area used to be free to enter but it now has been gated off and an ticket must be purchased to enter. It was nice to visit both again. We actually didn't use the pass for any more museums but did use it quite extensively for transportation. The pass did pay for itself. We did visit some of the other traditional tourist sites such as the Pantheon, Trevi Fountains, and the Spanish Steps which are all still free!

The Pantheon - Rome

Most of the other sites we visited within Rome can be put into the church or religious category. We visited a few churches that I had not been too before. The two main churches that I hadn't seen were St. Paul's Outside the Walls and the Basilica of St. John Lateran. Both are major churches and were impressive. St. Paul's is for the most part only about 160 years old since it burned down in the 1800's and has been rebuilt. It also contains the alleged remains of the apostle Paul underneath the altar. The corner of his tomb is visible. From what I have read it is highly likely to be his remains and the bones were recently carbon dated to be a 1st century AD male. The Basilica of St. John Lateran was somewhat impressive. It is the official church of the pope. On the inside it is well kept and worthy enough to be called a major basilica but the outside doesn't look that impressive and it is located a little outside of the old city area. I really don't know why the pope's church isn't St. Peter's since it is larger and much more spectacular.

St. Paul's Outside the Walls - Rome

Speaking of St. Peter's we spent parts of two days at the Vatican. We spent most of one day at the Vatican Museums. We discovered during our planning that the museums are free on the last Sunday on the month so we decided to get up real early and wait in line in order to save a total of 30 euros or $42 USD. We waited outside in line for about 1 hour and 15 minutes and then another 15 minutes once the line actually started to move. We had both been before so instead of working our way to what is essentially the grand finale we headed straight for the Sistine Chapel. We pretty much had it to ourselves for at least 30 minutes. There were probably were only about 30 other people in the chapel. The last time I went there were hundreds and you could barely walk around. We stayed for a good 40 minutes while listening to a Rick Steves podcast that explained the paintings on the walls which were mostly done by Michaelangelo. The Sistine Chapel is stunning and is something I think everyone should visit at least one. We then worked our way back through the museum for over a hour or so before exiting. We made our way over to St. Peter's Square but it was packed being a Sunday. The line to get in was long and thick. We decided to bus over to the Colosseum and Forum and came back the next day to tour St. Peter's. When we came back we spent 3 hours at least touring the church. We listened to another Rick Steves podcast on the church then we split up for a little to tour different parts of the church. I went down to the crypt to see the tombs of the popes. Normally, they charge 5 euros per person but for some reason with no explanation they were not charging anyone. It was kind of underwhelming. I did see the tomb of John Paul II along with many other popes. I then circled back around and paid my 5 euros to hike all 521 steps to the top of St. Peter's. It is a great view and well worth it. I really enjoyed St. Peter's. I think it is the most spectacular church or any other religious structure that I have visited to date in the world.

St. Peter's Basilica - the Vatican

This wraps up our busy week in Rome. In addition to the sightseeing we spent a couple afternoons in doctor's offices. Alethea will probably go into detail in her post regarding Rome but she decided since we had a full week in a major city to get her shoulder examined. It has been bothering her for quite some time and she has been experiencing increasing amounts of pain especially on days we are carrying our big backpacks. The basic verdict is that she has bursitis. I'll let her go into more details. I am glad we got it checked out though even if one of the shots hurt quite a bit despite the doctor saying it wouldn't. I always figured it would be me seeing a doctor first considering how clumsy I can be at times.

View from St. Peter's Basilica

In addition to wrapping Siena and Rome it wraps up our time in Italy. I really enjoyed Italy. Traveling around Europe is so much easier for the most part than many other parts of the world. I enjoyed the food as always even though we pretty much ate basic meals since we have a budget to stick too. We've saved quite a bit with Alethea cooking or preparing our meals from sandwiches to simple meals we cook at our hotels or other places we've stayed at. It is hard to pick a favorite destinations in Italy. I enjoyed Rome as a I thought I would but also liked all of our other Italy destinations and would recommend them as well. Venice would probably be my favorite outside of Rome. I am not sure I would recommend Milan as a place to stay for 3-4 nights as we did but I would still include it for at least one day. I cannot think of too many negatives. I guess one might be just the reality that Europe is expensive especially when you come off 3-4 months of Southeast Asia and India. Some other negatives might be that there is a lot more smoking in this part of the world unfortunately and I guess the only other is that at times there are more language barrier issues with Italians not being able to speak much English. It was easier in India and many parts of SE Asia at times in my opinion. Alethea may disagree since she knows maybe about a 100 words of Italian and occasionally found someone to speak French too when needed.

one of the most famous pieces of art in the world - Miachealangelo's Pieta 1499

I would like to conclude with a couple of non trip notes. First is that I am glad that I or really that my dad sold my car back home. I got a good price for it. I know I got more than what a dealer would pay for trade in. Thanks Dad! I don't have any definite plans to use the money to extend our travels although I've looked a little bit at taking a swing up to Iceland since we're in the neighborhood. Another idea might be on our way back to the US to stop in Montreal, Canada. We'll see. I'm still not all that interested in South America yet. I want to go there some day but don't really have a burning desire to go there at this time. I haven't ever been to Mexico but might want to let that place calm down a little bit before I go there. One other final note that I'll touch on briefly especially since I believe Alethea will mention this in more detail is that we almost decided to return back to the US after Rome. Alethea's grandmother, Barbara Patterson, is not doing too well. Alethea and I have decided to continue on for now on our travels but will keep her grandmother in our thoughts as we continue on.

Next stop for us is Portugal. We fly out early on Wednesday the 30th and will spend 9 nights in Portugal before we travel on to Spain. I've never been to Portugal or Spain and am looking for to it. In Spain we are planning at this time to meet up with Alethea's mom and her husband Ronnie. Hope everyone is doing well.

Link to photo albums:

Daily Log

Monday March 21st
Travel day from Florence to Siena
Left Devang's apartment around 11:30 am.
Took Florence bus to train station.
Had to ask multiple people before finally finding the private bus line to Siena. It isn't the same company as the train system . Immediately bought two tickets for 14.20 and boarded the 12:40 bus to Siena. Drive was pretty. Took 90 minutes. Passed US military cemetery on the interstate.
Walked to hotel. Directions weren't good. Got lost for a little bit. Staying at B&B San Francesco.
Walked around town. Stopped at St. Francesco (St. Francis) church and toured museum. Purchased Siena museum pass for 10 euros each.
Ate dinner at Chinese food place that was pretty good.
Walked back to hotel.
Siena is cold and windy or at least it was today. Probably will wear thermal underwear tomorrow. Most activities will be inside but we may do a lot of walking.

Tuesday March 22nd
Full day of sightseeing in Siena
Wasn't as windy as yesterday but still cool. We both wore our thermal underwear the whole day.
Bought bus tickets from Siena to Rome for 21 euros a piece.
St. Domenico
Duomo – (Cathedral Santa Maria Assunta) original church was there in 9th century. Current one from 13th century
Duomo Musuem including tower view of Siena that was very pretty on a clear sunny day.
Crypt of the Duomo
Baptistry of the Duomo
Piazza del Campo
Went to grocery store and bought meat for lunch and liter of wine.
Wondered around from 4 pm to 6:30 pm until we ate dinner at a local restaurant. Alethea had the set menu while I had a pizza. It had olives, ham, artichoke, mushrooms. Instead of putting all toppings together they were split with each quadrant only having one topping. Alethea had garlic sphagetti (good), pork chops, and spinach. All were excellent.

Wednesday March 23rd
Travel day to Rome.
Caught bus at 10:38. Supposed to arrive in Rome at 13:45 but arrived 10 minutes early.
Took train two stops to Travestere.
Walked around block until we eventually found the apartment.
Waited 90 minutes until met ladies' daughter at aparment.
Went to grocery store and stocked up on groceries.
Cooked dinner.
Got online and caught up on expenses and researched notarization options.

Thursday March 24th
Spent the morning mapping out our itinerary for Rome.
Alethea called to move up her Dr.'s appointment for tomorrow but the dr. said to come on in.
We took a bus and train to the Dr.
Went to radiologist to have MRI. Orthopedic gave Alethea a shot in her shoulder. She is in a lot of pain.
Took two buses back to apartment that took 2 hours.
Stopped at Kebob place for dinner.

Friday March 25th
Full day of sightseeing in Rome. Visited the following sights:
St. Pauls' Outside the Walls – saw the tomb of St. Paul's, nice church too
Trevi Fountains
Spanish Steps
Piazza de Popolo
Santa Maria del Popolo

Bought groceries. Alethea cooked a good meal and I slaved over cleaning the dishes.

Saturday March 26th
Full day of touring Ostio Antica
Took bus to metro to regional train. Regional train took 30 minutes.
Spent 3 hours touring the sight. Pretty neat. City is 2700 years old.
Took train back to end of line.
Saw the Pyramid.
Took bus back to home.
Went to grocery store
Planned out the next day's options.

Sunday March 27th
Full day of sightseeing.
Alarm went off at 6:15 am. Left around 6:45. Took two buses to the Vatican Museums. Arrived by 7:45 am.
Vatican Museums are free on the last day of the month so we got their early before they opened at 9 am. We waited for 1.15 minutes then another 15 minutes once the line started to move. We immediately took off for the Sistine Chapel. We pretty much had it to ourselves. There were probably only 30-50 people in there. The last time I went their were hundred and you couldn't move. We stopped and listened to a 30 minute Rick Steves podcast. We then worked our way back and went through different wings on the museum. We left around 12:15 pm.
Walked over to St. Peter's Square. The line to get into St. Peter's was long and the square was packed with it being a Sunday. We decided instead to go to the Forum and Colosseum.
Ate lunch by the Forum then spent the next two hours listening to Rick Steves podcast of the Forum Colosseum before catching a couple buses back to our apartment for the evening.

Monday March 28th
Full day of sightseeing.
Toured St. Peter's Basilica. Listened to Rick Steve's podcast. Spent about 1.5 hours in the church. Still think it is one of the most beautiful churches in the world. Visited the tombs of the popes. Normally there is a charge but everyone was getting in free today. Saw the tomb of Pope John Paul II. Next hike to top of St. Peter's Basilica. Cost 5 euros but worth it for the 521 steps.
Visited Alethea's doctor to pay the bill.
Took the Metro over to the Latern Palace. Technically the official church of the Catholic Church. It was pretty. Went across the street and saw the Holy Staircase too.
Took two buses back to our apartment. Cooked dinner. Got online.
Althea's grandmother is not doing well. If she passes away we may be coming home.

Tuesday March 29th
Day of rest.
Slept in and caught up on picture editing and other stuff.
Alethea spoke to her mom. Her grandmother is not in good health and may mean we go home tomorrow instead to Portugal.
Went to Orthopedic Dr. to have Alethea's shoulder checked out. Left at 3:30 pm and returned around 7 pm.
Went to grocery store to purchase microwavable dinner items :-)
Cleaned apartment and packed