I was too busy trying to cram in all the last minute details to do any blogging, so I am writing this final blog from the plane.
I got up very early and made a last run down to the ATM. I had it in my mind to do some panning shots with the camera on the way back. I had a vision of seeing Gregory Peck on a green, white and red Vespa (never mind the small detail that he is dead) and stopping him while keeping the background blurry, creating that feeling of movement. Well, let me tell you that the Vespas don't come by on cue, and even when you do fnd a scooter rider, they think you are weird when they see you panning them with your camera.
These three are the best panning shots I could do. I will keep practicing! I like the guy in his little green three wheeled truck best.
Jose came to give Genene a sketching lesson early in the morning. He brought her a gift of a beautiful set of coloring pencils, some quality paper, and a clipboard. He explained to her how important it was to use good paper. Good pencils like good paper. Their lesson gave Greg and me the perfect opportunity to get our things packed. Genene and Jose spent the first hour in the living room, making a sketch from an oil painting on the wall. I heard Jose telling her several times, “And now I'm going to show you a little secret.” They spent the second hour on the rooftop terrace, sketching a church dome. Genene soaked it up like sponge.
Between packing, I also stared out the window of the terrace. I watched an artist creating an image of Jesus in colored chalk on the plaza in front of the church across the street from us, Sant'Andrea delle Fratte.
I could not make out whether the artist was a man, but I think he was, in spite of the braided pony tail. A beggar woman (perhaps his wife) and her young child sat in the doorway of the church, waiting for people to put money in their basket. Using my telephoto lens, I captured mother and son in an unguarded, tender moment.
At the end of two hours, Genene and Jose came down off the terrace hot and sweaty. I have never seen Genene so proud of herself. With Jose's kind instruction, she had produced a wonderful little colored sketch of San Carlo.
We said our goodbyes to Jose. We gave him the cheeses and olives out of our refrigerator that we would not have time to eat. We shook hands, hugged and kissed him goodbye. I tried not to cry. Genene immediately said that she was going to miss him. We went out to the terrace to see if we could wave one last goodbye, but he was lost to us in the winding Roman streets. Thank goodness for email. We will stay in touch.
On the last day of any vacation, we try not to do anything radical or new. We use it as a chance to revisit favorites for the last time. We went downstairs and got a last sandwich from the shop. We thanked the people there for being so nice to us and said our goodbyes.
We went souvenir shopping all around our neighborhood. Genene and I enjoyed walking in the streets and into the shops.
Greg wanted a new belt for his birthday. I was thinking that he might want to go to a fancy shop on Via Condotti, but he found a leather store on Tritone and in ten minutes had his belt picked out, cut and fit to size, paid for and done. He's no fun when it comes to shopping! Genene got a Pinocchio hand puppet and she was done. We stopped back by the apartment for a refreshing Coke. I had more shopping to do, so I left Greg napping and Genene making Pinocchio dance.
I went back out to finish the souvenir shopping and to satisfy a curiousity. After going to Castel Sant'Angelo and the bridge, I did some reading about it on the magic internet (thanks, Al Gore). I read that Bernini's “Angel with the Crown of Thorns” on the Ponte Sant'Angelo bridge was actually a copy. It is one of the most artistically significant of the angels, as it is said to be the artist's self-portrait. The internet said that the original was in Sant'Andrea delle Fratte!!! This is the church right across the street from our apartment. I mentioned this to Jose, but he did not know about it and said I should go check it out. He advised me to just stroll into the church like “you know what you are doing.” I did. The Bernini was under our noses all along!!
Exhiliarated by “finding” a Bernini original right in the hood, I came back out into the sunlight and finished my stroll. I found Greg and Genene awake when I returned. We sat on the terrace for a while, and Genene sketched the bell tower of Sant'Andrea while Greg had a beer and I drank a glass of wine. She was so proud of her work that she made me take a photo of it and email it to Jose, who immediately responded and told her that he would cherish the photo. How sweet!
We got ready for the passeggiata and dinner. We passed by our regular gelato shop, and the young man behind the counter called out to Genene, “Ciao, bella!” We loved this young man. He was a dead ringer for Mr. Bean and knew it. He would dish out the gelato while doing his imitation, much to Genene's delight. Sadly, that “Ciao, Bella!” was to be the last thing we said to each other. We had intended to come back for gelato later that evening but stayed too long at dinner and returned to find his shop shuttered. We will have to come back another time. We've all thrown coins in the Trevi Fountain, so we know we will be back someday.
We strolled to Pietro al Pantheon for our last dinner out. Of all the restaurants we had been, we liked this one best. It was quaint, two tables wide, with real Italian charm and house red wine by the liter, served cool in a pitcher.
They recognized us and greeted us very warmly. We got same waiter, who took good care of us. Greg was going to order some fried artichokes and he looked conspiratorily at Greg and put a finger to his lips and shook his head “no”. We took his hint and had the fried zucchini flowers, and they were the best we had in Rome. Toward the end of the meal, the old lady came out from the back and greeted Genene warmly and introduced us all to her grown daughter. We ate like kings and queens and met the family. What more could you want?
We strolled back by the Trevi Fountain one last time. All of us had taken turns throwing coins into the fountain (more than once) so there was no need to do more than blow it a kiss, watch the crowds for a minute and keep walking.
It was about 11:30 PM, and we were amazed at how quiet the streets were. I don't know if there is some particular reason why Thursday should be a quieter night, or perhaps we were out just a little later than usual. Anyway, it was nice to stroll along without being pushed or shoved. There were still plenty of people around so it felt safe, but it was no longer crowded.
Of course, we headed down to the Spanish Steps. We found a gelato shop there that was still open and sat down to eat the cold, creamy dessert on the steps. It seemed that most of the people on the steps were young Americans. What fun it would be to be young and in Rome for the summer! Even the pesky street vendors had slowed down some. We only got a couple of offers to buy things, and no one tried to force a flower into my hand. It was nice.
Genene sketched an open window she saw from across the piazza.
We sat on the steps and waited for the clock to strike midnight so we could wish Greg a happy birthday. He turned 60 years old sitting there on those steps. We've all had worse birthdays than that.
We strolled back to our apartment and went to bed. It was a perfect end to a perfect day.
Our driver arrived early and was waiting for us at the front doorstep. He drove us straight up Janiculum Hill, and we realized we had never been there. Fourteen days in Rome, and we only scratched its surface. When we booked this trip, we wondered if we were staying too long. Now I know that we could never see it all.
We did not have access to a printer in our apartment so we tried to use the British Airways app to put boarding passes on our iPhones. After much effort, Greg and I managed to get ours on the phone, but we never could get Genene's pass to appear. Just as we got to the front of the line, Greg's phone locked up and he could not get his boarding pass retrieved. Ultimately we asked the nice lady to print all of our boarding passes, since she had to print Genene's anyway. Paper doesn't run out of batteries or crash.
The airport in Rome is sprawling and we had to take a train to get to our gate. Along the way, we had to go through a passport control area and clear security. Still, we made it to the gate in plenty of time, only to find that our gate did not have any British Airways flights leaving from it. We looked around for a bit and found that they had moved us over one gate, so we made our way over. The gate area was not adequate for the numbers of people that use it. There probably were not more than 50 chairs, and there were hundreds of people waiting for the plane. People were sprawled out on the floors. After a while, our flight disappeared off the gate sign, and another later British Airways flight appeared in its place. We thought, what now? A man at the gate told everyone “not to worry,” and that this would be our gate. I couldn't relax until about 20 minutes later when they opened the gate and put the right flight on it. That all seemed very confusing to me. Jose had commented upon those kinds of quirks several times during our tour. For instance, once we went into a practically empty parking lot, and the electronic sign board marked it as “full.” Lino and Jose had chuckled and said, “Welcome to Italy.”
After the initial confusion, our flight went off without a hitch and arrived at London's Heathrow on time. We only had an hour to make our connection. One of our experienced traveling friends had warned us not to do this, while another friend who is also familiar with Heathrow said we could hitch up our skirts and get it done. The tight connection suited us in terms of total travel time so we had gambled. It worked on the way over. We prepared our gear and told Genene that we would be running through the airport. Turns out we need not have worried. When we got into the terminal, a man from British Airways was waiting for us holding up a sign with our flight number and Houston on it. I spotted him immediately and he said, “Three of you then? Gordons and Aylett. How easy was that?” We had our own personal tourguide through Heathrow. He shepherded us through the entire process from the entry gate and fasttracked us through security and to our gate. British Airway's service was impressive, and we made our connection in plenty of time.
Our flight from London to Houston was uneventful, but I have never in my life been on a plane with more screaming babies. We were surrounded! We counted nine in the seat rows directly in front and back of us. One in front bellowed her lungs out without ceasing, and a toddler just behind me made a game of straightening his new little legs while bracing them on my seat. No one seems to be in a hurry to change diapers any more either. That one baffles me. I will never win “Mother of the Year,” but I NEVER let Genene sit around in a stinking diaper.
Our flight landed in Houston 15 minutes early. We made it through immigration and customs very efficiently, and our cab driver had us at our door by 8:00 PM. From the time we left the apartment in Rome to the time we hit our front door, 18 1/2 hours had elapsed. We were beat. Genene has already gone to bed, and we are eating some bean soup thoughtfully left for us by Greg's sister. As much fun as it has been, it will be nice to sleep in our own bed again. As Dorothy says, “There's no place like home.”
I have had fun sharing the photos, and I am really glad that Santa brought this new camera. I am still learning how to use it, but it is a vast improvement over my old point-and-shoot. Best of all, learning a few things about how to adjust the camera gave me a lot more flexibility in terms of getting the shot.
For those of you camera nerds, I want to share one “best buy.” Before the trip, I bought a Black-Rapid R Strap, the RS-5 cargo strap. It is the best thing I got for this trip. It's a thick wide strap. The fastener screws into the tripod socket on the camera, so that the camera hangs upside down with the lens pointing down. The strap is worn across the shoulder, so that it goes over your right shoulder and the camera hangs at your left arm just at or below the waist (or you can set it up the other way if you're a righty). It makes the camera virtually impossible to steal. It is right at your fingertips, and the weight is very evenly distributed across your shoulder so that you can carry it all day. Best of all, there is room for other things on the strap. It has a pouch big enough for an iPhone. There are two zipper pockets that are roomy enough to hold credit cards, money, an extra camera battery and an extra memory card. Most of the time, this is the only thing I left the apartment carrying. I did not carry a purse because everything was right in the strap. It's a very handy thing to have, and I highly recommend it.
The best gift we gave ourselves during the trip was getting the guidance of Jose. I know I have been singing his praises, but I want to do so one last time. He is a patient, kind teacher. He knows the tricks and and the traps to avoid and got us through every place with a minimum of waiting or standing in line. He clearly loves Rome and wants to show the beautiful city to everyone. His passion is evident. He had something to give to each of us. He made the myths come alive for Genene. He showed me some of the most beautiful works of art that have been produced by man. He showed Greg beautiful works of nature. He is a man of many interests and talents, and if you ever want a fabulous guide in Rome, you should check him and his work out here.
We tried to do a lot more on this trip than we usually do. I think my blogs suffered as a consequence. We saw so much in a day that I just did not have the time or energy to write it down. I hope I can read more about the things I saw later so I can put it all together in my mind. A few thousand years of history is hard to fathom or process…in two weeks or in a lifetime.
I will give my standard disclaimer about the blog. I usually write them at night when Greg and Genene are watching TV or in bed, and many times the blogs suffer from a lack of good editing. I reread a couple of them after posting and saw gross spelling errors and grammar problems. I promise that I do know the difference between a statue and a statute. I use a lot more of one of them than the other at work, so my fingers naturally want to type statute. I apologize for the errors and hope you will overlook them. I write the blogs as a way of sharing with my friends and family and as a way for Genene to remember. Mostly, I write them for myself. On a bad day at work, I can dust one off and read it and be transported.
Rick Steves writes in his Europe Through the Back Door, “Travel is intensified living, maximum thrills per minute and one of the last great sources of legal adventure. Travel is freedom. It's recess and we need it.” I agree wholeheartedly.
Thanks for coming with me to Rome.