No, not really. We had been warned that professional pick-pockets would be waiting in droves at any and all major tourist attractions. I found this to be untrue. I did once experience a couple of hands in my pants pockets, but after a few well-placed blows to the head, followed by a flying scissor-kick, my wife backed off my wallet.
Have you ever seen one of those spy movies set in Rome in which drivers chase each other at high speeds, barely missing each other, buildings and pedestrians? Well, that is the way they drive all the time. As none of the vehicles have dents in this mass demo-derby, I can only conclude that these are the best drivers in the world. I would never think of driving there. Definitely a “white knuckle” experience.
My wife, Carrie, a seasoned travel agent, booked us a tour guide for a visit to Vatican City, the papal enclave within Rome. We could have gone on this alone (with no idea what we were looking at), or with a group (with no idea what they were looking at) or a private tour guide, which we totally enjoyed. We met him at the back of Vatican City. He knew all the guards and other group tour guides by first name, and the grounds and contents top to bottom-all explained on his tour. At opening time, WE were the first to be let in, and he immediately led us to the Sistine Chapel, which is the best-known chapel in the Apostolic Palace, the official residence of the Pope in Vatican City.
The entire ceiling is covered in frescos by Michelangelo Buonarroti and other famous artists of that period. We were in there for about 20 minutes; the first 15 minutes we were by ourselves. After a tour of the museums and grounds, we came back that way, and the chapel by then was elbow-to-elbow with tourists and no longer silent. Looking back, how smart it was for my wife to hire the private guide. That was an experience of a lifetime.
Inside St. Peter’s Basilica I overheard a tourist say, “I have been inside a lot of churches, but this here is probably the biggest.” I thought, no kidding, you could fly an airplane inside of it without hitting anything.
One of my favorite dining experiences in Rome had to have been the small “hole in the wall” shops that sell cold drinks and pizza. There were all kinds of pizza. One of my favorites had thinly sliced potatoes and cheese on the top. You can spend 10 percent of what you would spend in a restaurant having lunch in a shop like this.
We met a young man from Russia in such a shop. He was eager for conversation, but did not know any English. However, he did speak Indian, and the shopkeeper was Indian, so we had the good fortune of having a translator. The Russian said he was on holiday, as he had broken up with his girlfriend and was heartbroken. As he told us his tale, more and more people in the shop joined in the conversation until everyone was involved. We took turns buying each other beers until we were pleasantly mellowed. A most excellent Soviet/American encounter on neutral ground!
Michael McCollum, gratis food and travel columnist for the Irrigator, is a writer and photographer living in Patterson. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on the web at http://recipesfortravel.com.