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From Lisciano Niccone to Firenze & Roma!

(When these pictures are posted, and you'd like to have a copy of the picture, simply right-click on the enlargement and "save picture as")

Tuesday, September 25 - Sunday, October 7Click here for an enlargement

Now that summer has ended, we are starting to see slight changes in our surroundings here in Lisciano Niccone, Italy.  It's been a click here for enlargementgorgeous summer, dry and hot, but now that we are back from Switzerland, the days are cooler, and in the mornings, a mist blankets the valley below the house.  We've been so inspired by the Swiss hiking trails, now we take the dogs and goClick here for an enlargement hiking in the hills above the house several times a week.  We also spend more time taming the two feral kittens, which we've named "Honeycomb" and "Brave Boy".  They both start to purr when we pick them up; they sleep on our bed once in a while;  and they Click here for an enlargementlove to sleep in the flower pots.  Honeycomb is still afraid of the dogs, whereas Brave Boy has really taken aClick here for an enlargement liking to being a domestic cat.  He eats out of the dogs' breakfast bowls, while they look on, perplexed, and a little worried!

Our wonderful home-owners, Tim & Louise, have left for Lou's sister's wedding in England, and right before they left, they had a load of firewood delivered, and told us DO NOT stack the firewood before their return, unless we really wanted something to do!  Well, we had gorgeous weather and a huge mound of sticks in the driveway, and two days later we had two neatly stacked (localClick here for an enlargement Italian style!) rows about six feet high against the basement wall.  The house is ready for winter!  As usual, the dogs want to help and Jeanie is always ready to play with them (while Robert did most of the stacking!).

Tim & Louise returned from her sister's wedding celebration on September 29, and we started planning a few day trips into the cities of Florence (Firenze) and Click here for an enlargementRome.  When the morning of October 2 arrived, we woke before dawn and drove 1/2 hour to Terontola to catch a train for our day-trip to Firenze, a 90-minute ride.  It was another beautiful morning, and we arrived at the FirenzeClick here for an enlargement central train station by 11:00 a.m.  We have decided that when you want to visit a large city in Europe (Rome, Paris, Amsterdam, Firenze), the train service is the best way.  Parking is very expensive and hard to find, and the trains, if not brand new, are very reliable Click here for an enlargementand great for sightseeing.  Round-trip intercity train tickets to Firenze for two: about 30 euros.  Visiting Firenze:  Priceless!!

Even at this time of year there are tons of tourists roaming about. Click here for an enlargement The duomo and bell tower are lovely, and the old city has so much character and peace about it.  We both remarked on how clean it looked; how comfortable it was to walk along the river and through the city squares.   Click here for an enlargementDuring WWII the Germans bombed this area heavily, and only this bridge remains from before those days.  Firenze is certainly an interesting city with so much to see, and we were quite content to spend the day walking along the boulevards, through the open markets, and ducking into delicious panini andclick here for an enlargement gelato shops for refreshments.   Late in the afternoon we bought a loaf of fresh bread and found a cool and quiet place to rest, in the courtyard of a catholic church & college's faculty housing.  An attendant there eagerly granted us permission to eat inside the quiet garden area, away from the vendors, tourists and city noise.  We spent a very pleasant hour there, reading and resting, before making our way back to the train and returning home late that night.

    The next day we studied our guide books and planned our day-trip to Rome.  So many challenging stories about things to do and how expensive Rome can be, and click here for an enlargementalthough we are ready to go, we are a little apprehensive.  Nevertheless, on Thursday October 4 we were once again up at dawn and back to Terontola for the 2-hour train ride south, to Roma Central Station.  Once again, it's a beautiful day and tourists are everywhere, enjoying the magnificent old city.   WeClick here for an enlargement knew that Rome had much more than we could hope to see in one day (or even a month!), so we had brought a small suitcase with us, in the hopes of finding a good place to spend the night.  So when we arrived at 10:30am, we began looking.  The first place our guide book recommended wanted 90 euros, and the local Holiday Inn wanted 165 euros, but another listing in our guidebook took us to a cute and very well-runClick here for an enlargement little hostel called "The Beehive" near the train station (owned by an American, Steve, who also cooks in the cafe on-site)! We paid 65 euros for "the yoga room", a huge, clean double room on the basement level (nice and cool despite the 90 degree temp outside), which doubles as their yoga classroom during the peak summer season!  So by noon we were outside again, exploring the city, getting our bearings and taking it all in. 

That first day we spent 8 hours walking.  Without really knowingClick here for an enlargement where we were on the map we were carrying, we found ourselves in front of the US Embassy building, where they told Robert to cross to the other side of the street before taking a picture of the building.  Modern security!!   This grand building is historically known as Palazzo Margherita, built in 1890 for Prince Boncompagni Ludovisi and later named for the beloved Queen Mother Margherita.  Under Mussolini's dictatorship, the building was converted into offices for the National Fascist Click here for an enlargementConfederation of Farmers.  In 1946, the U.S. purchased the Palazzo using Italian lire war credits against U.S. surplus army property, and it was extensively restored to its original grandeur between 1949-52.  We continued walking through neighborhoods and parks, and eventually came to the base of the Spanish StepsClick here for an enlargement and the ritzy boutique shops that cover the entire area at the base of the steps.  We walked to the top of the steps and were rewarded with a view overlooking a section of the city, as well as of the crowds of local teenagers and tourists who flock to the steps as a Click here for an enlargementplace to meet and/or flirt with each other.

We continued on, wandering through neighborhoods, filling our drinking-water bottles from ice-cold fountains in public squares, until weClick here for an enlargement came around a corner, and there was the Pantheon!  Absolutely stunning!  Built by Roman Emperor Hadrian in the year AD 123, with walls 20 feet thick, it was the largest dome in existence for 1300 years, and from the inside it looks as new as if construction were just completed.  Suddenly the history of this place really begins to come alive around us.  Even though the exterior showed the effects of acid rain, rumbling subways and heavy traffic, the inside was in absolutely grand condition. 

We don't know how many miles we walked that first day, over cobblestones and concrete, but by 9 pm we were exhausted.  It felt so wonderful to get back to our Click here for an enlargementhostel, shower off the grit and dust, and fall into bed and a deep, uninterrupted night's sleep.  So the next morning we were up early and ready for more, especially when we discovered that, for aboutClick here for an enlargement six dollars each, we could have an unlimited metro & public transportation ticket!  Woo-hoooo, what a deal!  So on Friday, we really saw the highlights of Rome that we click here for an enlargementwanted to see:  starting with the enormous Coliseum.  Around the entrance were several "entrepreneurial" gladiators, dressed in period regalia complete with plastic swords.  For a price they would pose with anybody.  Next we visited the RomanClick here for an enlargement Forum, with its remains of free-standing walls and columns, which only heightened our imagination of what it must have looked like to live among all the pomp of this once-great "center of the civilized world."Click here for an enlargement

We took a quick look at the Vatican wall and entrance gate, with its long line to pay more than we had, the security guards and vending wagons out front, and decided we'd rather go try a newClick here for an enlargement gelato from the shop down the street!  We also discovered a fantastic store, Castroni, which specializes in hard-to-find foods from around the world.  We had so much fun looking at foods we hadn't seen in six months, like Hellman's Mayonnaise!  Hey, we Click here for an enlargementare way too easy to amuse!

   Late in the afternoon, we meandered through a lovely area of theClick here for an enlargement city and followed the heavenly sound of burbling springs until we came to the Trevi Fountain, a glorious work of art built in 1735, positioned between palaces in the historic city center.  This is a great place to sit and enjoy the laughter of children, the spirit of fun in the air, and the cool breezes around the fountain. According to legend, tossing one coin over your shoulder into the fountain brings you good luck, and tossing a second coin assures that you will return to Rome some day.

Rejuvenated, we headed back to the train station, and boarded the 7pm train for a restful ride home... Oops, wrong train!  Without knowing the difference, we had boarded a "regional" train, instead of an "intercity" train.  The difference is that a regional train takes less time, makes fewer stops, and costs twice as much.  We were informed of this by the conductor, a lady who came around to check our tickets.  So we were given the choice:  pay an extra 20 euros or get off the train at the next stop and catch the next intercity train, whenever it came.  She assured us we would not be stuck out in the middle of nowhere, but she really didn't know click here for an enlargementwhen the next train was due.  We took a chance and got off the train at the town of Orte, and after just 30 minutes we boarded the intercity train toclick here for an enlargement Terontola.  Another good lesson learned.  It's all part of the adventure! 

~ Robert & Jeanie 


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