Buon giorno!

We were at the Monterosso train platform to meet Sandro for our last drive together to Rome!

Monterosso train station Cinque Terre Italy

As it turned out, our hotel in Rome was located on the third floor (uh, that is the fourth floor) of a building, the bottom floor being a church! One of the tour members, Dick, said he counted (on the way DOWN) the stairs, and there were 122 stairs…try climbing 122 stairs with luggage! Oh well, we did sign our life away to the tour company that we would be fit enough to do that…and we were!

Once we settled in, it was apparent that due to its size, crazy streets, and my quick ability to get lost, Rome wasn’t going to be easy to navigate on my own, so I begged Sue and Kathy to join them. What lovely sisters they are…they said yes! We decided to take the bus to the Pantheon. Trust me when I tell you that the crush of people on the bus did not make for a pleasant bus ride. We fell off the bus, all of us feeling very uncomfortable on the bus. It was probably the closest I felt to feeling vulnerable to pickpocketers, although I was always on high alert and there were no attempts to rob me…that I knew of, anyway.

Petty crime brings me to a very important point. We Americans go through life differently at home; we are much more casual about how we carry our money….open or unzipped purses, wallets placed loosely in back pockets, unattended bags and purses with our attention focused elsewhere. Look around you when you’re out and about; you will quickly see what I’m referring to. We don’t necessarily fear someone putting their hands into our purses to rob us. All of that is different in Europe. I always zipped my purse turned and faced the zipper against my body, with the shoulder strap placed diagonally across my body. My hand always held onto the strap at all times. I wasn’t a Nervous Nellie tourist doing that; local women, particularly in Paris and Rome, walked that way also. That was THEIR way of life. On the other hand, even when traveling by myself, I never felt in fear of being robbed, even when I was walking by myself outside at night. Knowing that I was carrying my purse correctly, I could continue with my trip with ease and comfort. Be aware of your surroundings and, at the same time, enjoy the hell out of your time in Europe. If you travel with fear, the only thief you will encounter will be your wild imagination that you will come into harm’s way and that paranoid mind game will be what robs you of your enjoyment of Europe.

I decided to be a know-it-all (when am I going to finally make peace with NOT knowing directions?!?), insisting that we were at the proper bus stop. Being the polite women that they were, Sue and Kathy didn’t argue with me, although they knew that I had called the bus stop one stop too soon. So sorry!

So ON OUR WALK TO THE PANTHEON, we passed this lovely section of Rome to figure out where the heck I had put us. Well, at least it became a good photo op!

Trajan’s Column and Imperial Forum

Once we were near the Pantheon, we grabbed a quick bite to eat at an outdoor cafe, and we then ventured on to the Pantheon.

What a beauty!

Pantheon back side Rome Italy

We then navigated our way to Trevi Fountain….hey, hey, hey, what are all of the hordes of people doing there?!? We threw the three coins over our left shoulder…one coin means you’ll return to Rome; two, you’ll return and fall in love; three, you’ll return, find love, and marry. Sorry, Steve…I can’t take back my three-coin toss! ;)

Trevi Fountain Rome Italy

On to the Spanish Steps with Piazza Della Trinita Dei Monti above. I can thank Apple Maps for knowing the name of that.

Spanish Steps Rome Italy

Now, this is where my time in Rome sort of went to hell. I decided to use a bank ATM to get whatever cash I would need for the rest of my trip. I put my card in and waited for my cash withdrawal to appear. There was a notice on the screen stating I had thirty seconds to retrieve my card or it would keep my card, and then the countdown began without ever returning my card. NOOOOOOOO!!!!!! The ATM ate my card! No problem…I decided to go back to the bank the next morning to ask them to open the ATM. Unfortunately for me, Italy’s banks are closed on weekends and this happened to me on a Friday night. Even more unfortunate was the fact that I was leaving by train for Florence early Sunday morning!!! After stressing about that big time that night and the following day, I simply made peace with not having my credit card, exchanged U.S. dollars at a crappy exchange rate for euros, and I was all set. Word to the wise….bring TWO cards, ALWAYS and ONLY use bank ATMs and ALWAYS and ONLY use an ATM when the bank is currently open! I cannot stress that last part enough. Lesson learned.

A highlight of our evening, however, was that when Sue, Kathy, and I were approaching our hotel, we heard music and singing emanating from a church located on the ground floor of our hotel building. They were singing opera, and it was lovely! We quietly opened the doors of the church, only to find a young group of Asian singers singing in an empty church. They waved for us to come in and we sat down at one of the pews. Their voices were outstanding! Tears were flowing from our eyes. Listening to the singers was a lovely way for me to forget my financial woes the minute their gorgeous voices surrounded me. But we were in a church, and God was right there beside me, helping me find a balance when I experienced my one and only hiccup in Europe.

Early the following morning, I took a taxi to the Colosseum where I had reserved a seven-hour “Best of Rome” tour. The first half of the tour consisted of touring the Colosseum, the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain and the Roman Forum.

Colosseum interior Rome Italy

Colosseum interior floor Rome Italy

My tour guide told me that Paul McCartney paid for the construction of the platform at the rear of this photo for his concert held at the Colosseum.

This area below was the ONLY spot in the Colosseum that wasn’t covered by mobs of tourists.

Colosseum side Rome Italy

Roman Forum Rome Italy

Pantheon Rome Italy

The Pantheon

Pantheon domed ceiling Rome Italy

Pantheon altar Rome Italy

I loved seeing this man roasting chestnuts along the streets as we walked during the tour.

Man roasting chestnuts Rome Italy

Lunch followed, and then the second half of the tour encompassed the Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter Basilica.

I will spare you my endless photos of the Vatican Museum <yawn> but the trade off will be photos from St. Peter Basilica!

Vatican dome ceiling Vatican City Italy

Vatican ornate ceiling Vatican City Italy

Vatican dome ceiling light Vatican City Italy

Vatican dome window Vatican City Italy

Vatican altar Vatican City Italy

I couldn’t take the mobs inside the Basilica, so I escaped only to see the Swiss Guard outside. They don’t look very fierce, don’t you agree?

Vatican Swiss Guard sword Vatican City Rome Italy

I thnk I could take this guy down!

Vatican Swiss Guard Vatican City Rome Italy

Although quite dashing, I think they need more masculine uniforms so people like me won’t make fun of them.

I was then directed how to board a bus (this time it was empty when I boarded the bus…whew!), and I was back at the hotel in no time…YAY!

Cary had prearranged a farewell dinner at a restaurant for our tour group as this was the last evening together. I had a huge lump in my throat during the entire meal. I knew it would be very difficult for me to say goodbye to my friends. Reflecting back to our first meet-and-greet in Paris a mere two weeks prior when I stood up to introduce myself to a group of strangers, who would have thought that I would feel this way about them as my friends now? <sigh> :'(

After dinner, some of us sat outside on our hotel deck, and we said our final goodbyes. It was hard for me to check my emotions. Man, good thing I don’t play poker! I would easily give away my hand by my facial expression.

I had told everyone that I wouldn’t see them the following morning for breakfast because I had a very early train to catch. With very teary goodbyes to my wonderful newfound friends, I went to my hotel room to pack for my next adventure. I was heading to Florence where I was continuing my trip as a solo traveler again.

I was ready to travel alone again. I had come full circle, traveling as I had begun this trip…very much alone but never for a moment feeling lonely. However, this time, I felt SO much stronger, SO much more empowered, and SO happy that I had pushed my personal limits. What a gift it was to realize that.

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