• A return to Rome: Piazza Navona, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps (Part 5 of 5)

    7/2/2019 5:10:13 PM Link 0 comments | Add comment

    italy, rome, trafalgar

    Our journey in Tuscany was wonderful! Our professional motor coach driver made an appropriate stop midway through the 4 hour drive back to Rome where we stayed at the same hotel near Borghese Park.  To recap, our first day in Rome was filled with the amazing Vatican City and the Colosseum. The following day, we ventured into Tuscany. Now that we have returned to Rome, our Trafalgar Tour Director arranged for a walking tour to visit other popular sights.

    Piazza Navona is a lively square where people come to hang out. A welcoming sight for me was a Pizzeria with delightful red and white checkered table cloths along the sidewalk. The efficient waiters were outfitted in black pants and black vests with white pressed shirts – very authentic. Some of our group chose to stay and dine here rather than join our sightseeing walk.  The long oval shaped square is very famous of Baroque Rome. The main attraction are the fountains. The center fountain is Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of Four Rivers) which is one of many master pieces by Bernini. For those interested in Geography, the four rivers represented here are the Danube, the Ganges, the Nile and the Rio de la Plata. The backdrop of the fountains and the square is the Church of Sant’Agnese. All of the square covers what used to be a Roman stadium for competitions and sporting events. 

    A short walk from Piazza Navona is the Pantheon.  This magnificent building was such an impressive surprise for me. The Pantheon is one of the most well preserved ancient Roman monuments. It was originally a temple and then it became a church. The front porch has gigantic columns. It was free to enter. This is a must see for history and architecture enthusiasts as the inside has such a gigantic rotunda. The rotunda is exactly as tall as it is wide. At the top of the dome is a circular oculos (circular opening) which I learned is the symbol of the solar disk. It is the structure’s only light source. This was worth a visit.

    We walked from the Pantheon to Fontana di Trevi (Trevi Fountain). I had visited here thirty years ago with family and I was thrilled to revisit. I knew I had to have gelato (Italian ice cream) while people watching. But first, the challenge was to politely move through the crowd, have my back to the fountain and toss a coin over my left shoulder.  It is said that tossing a coin in this manner guarantees a return trip to Rome. This fountain is massive with many sculptures and in the center is Neptune who guides a chariot drawn by two sea horses known as the spirited horse and the placid horse. It certainly shows off the abundance of Rome.  I enjoyed a large gelato cone while observing people from all parts of the globe gather here. A true treat!

    Our group had become a family and we enjoyed a unique dining experience on Isola Tiberina (Tiber Island) in the heart of Rome. It was a terrific finale to a fabulous trip! I had one more day on my own … to visit the Spanish Steps.

    The hotel front desk attendant kindly offered walking directions to the Spanish Steps. It was about a twenty minute walk through the busy neighborhood streets lined with small vehicles, hotels, shops, businesses and deli’s. The Spanish Steps begin in Piazza di Spagna and rise to Piazza di Trinita dei Monti. People gather to rest or linger on the steps. Many enjoy the view of the city from up high. The church of Trinita dei Monti dates back to the early 1500’s and it includes some impressive frescos. The steps are lined with azaleas that offer a magnificent floral display throughout the summer months. At the Piazza di Spagna level there is a fountain and very close by are the designer stores of Prada, Dior, and Valentino to name a few. I should mention that there were no vehicles here. It was enjoyable just to walk around this energetic area of the city.  

    The end of this 10 day Italian journey was approaching. The Spanish Steps offered me a wonderful place to reflect on all that was experienced. I had such a feeling of satisfaction that I had seen and experienced as much as possible during the trip. I absolutely recommend a Trafalgar Tour. I enjoyed not having to think much about the logistics of the trip as we were guided. It is a trustworthy travel company that gives back to the local farm house and winery family businesses. These local locations are what many travelers want – to experience the region with people who enjoy sharing their kitchen, their cooking and their stories. Italy is full of history, art, science and passionate people! I invite you to contact me and my colleagues at CTC Travel to help you plan your next trip on land or at sea!

    A reminder that you can see my photo posts on CTC Travel’s facebook page from April 2019.  Enjoy

  • Rome and Tuscan Highlights (Part 3 of 5)

    6/13/2019 7:05:09 PM Link 0 comments | Add comment

    italy, rome, trafalgar, tuscany

    photo by Hilda Spillers of CTC Travel

    Cinque Terre is a string of five villages that are located northwest of Tuscany in a region called Liguria. These are coastal fishing villages dotted with pastel colored houses that are in bedded in the rugged cliffs. We drove through the town of La Spezia to drive up into the mountains where we had views of the city down below.  As we continued to climb, all of us were amazed by the stone terrace vineyards. Our Tour Director informed us that these villages had many challenges with survival in the past because of the difficult terrain. The people had to come up with a way to use the land to produce a product for trade as fishing was not enough. The vineyards became important. These terraced vineyards go from sea level up 4,000 feet. We tried to imagine from generation to generation the work that continues on these steep terraces. Amazing. This region is also known for producing it’s own unique Pesto.

    We visited two of the five charming villages. Each had quaint shops, restaurants and colorful fishing boats. It was fascinating to see how these houses were built along the challenging terrain. I found the local people to be hard working, humble and friendly.  After many years of enjoying professional photographer’s beautiful photos of this region, I was here. I was here in person to see this scenery with my own eyes. It was a thrill to take my own photos of this very special place. We walked up a walkway that hugged the edge of a cliffside. Often, I stopped to look back to see the view that so many would say is awesome. And it was awesome! It was a misty and cloudy day. And it was still a beautiful experience with the smell of the Mediterranean Sea and the waves crashing against the rocky shore and the spectacular view of the colorful village.

    From this small village of Manarola, we walked through a long tunnel to arrive at the train station. It was a short ride to the next village of Monterosso. This village is the largest of the five villages and it has a nice beach.  We had plenty of time to lunch at Ristorante da Ely and enjoy the local shops. Our group met back at the train station for about a 25 minute train ride to La Spezia to meet our trusty motor coach driver. We learned where many tourists take the ferry over to the villages from La Spezia during the peak tourist season, “next time,” I thought with a smile.

    Tomorrow, we visit Pisa and Vinci (as in Leonardo Da Vinci).  Looking forward to another great day! Join me! 

    My trip is posted on CTC Travel’s face book page. Take a look! And maybe you will want to take the same itinerary or something similar with Trafalgar Tours. Give me a call and I can help you plan your trip.

  • Rome & Tuscan Highlights (Part 2 of 5)

    6/3/2019 6:21:31 PM Link 0 comments | Add comment

    italy, rome, trafalgar, tuscany

    St Peter's Basilica Tours (Viator)

    The walk from the Sistine Chapel to St. Peter’s Basilica brought forth feelings of eagerness and anticipation. We slowly walked by THE HOLY DOOR. We learned that it is only opened every 25 years. All the faithful who walk through it during that year are in expiation of their sins.

    Entering St. Peter’s Basilica one is struck by the grandeur. It is the largest church in the world. It is not only the architecture and decorative elements that are so impressive, it contains some of the most solemn and sacred items in the Temple of Christianity.  I leave those details to experts. I will point out a few that stood out for me. The Chapel of “La Pieta” contains the famous marble statue of the Virgin Mary holding the dead body of Christ. Michelangelo’s work during the 1400’s depicted such a moving scene so beautifully.  Many, including myself, stood in line to wait for a turn to stand up close to The Statue of St. Peter. It is a bronze statue that is believed to be dated back to 1200’s. Many choose to touch his right foot along with a prayer or with a photograph. Moving forward in the immense church, there is so much to see and take in including the chair of St. Peter (the first Pope) and the spectacular dome of St. Peter’s Basilica. We had plenty of time to meander through the church and our guide moved us outside to St. Peter’s Square to the area where the Pope speaks to the public. Last time I visited Rome, I did not have a guide and I must say that having a local specialist on this tour was very valuable.

    We moved on to the Colosseum! It held about 50,000 people and it was used for centuries. There is a long history of uses one of which were for Gladiator battles in order to fight for their chance of freedom.  There is so much more to see in Rome and we visited more of those sights at the end of our tour.

    The next day we began our Tuscany segment of the trip. After just 30 minutes of leaving Rome, the terrain began to change to the rolling hills with tiled rooftop farm houses. We drove 4 hours north on a spacious motor coach to a town west of Florence called Montecatini. Our wonderful Tour Director and Driver always made stops where appropriate throughout the drive times. We stayed here for 6 nights and went on day trips in the beautiful Tuscany region. We really enjoyed Monetecatini for our home base with it’s pleasant town square and quaint restaurants, bakeries and chocolate shops.  Our 4 star hotel was located just 2 short blocks from the square and it included a spa with all the services. Every morning we enjoyed a wonderful buffet breakfast 5 stories up with a wide view of the town and with mountains as the backdrop. 

    Our first day in Tuscany, we were set to visit an old market in Florence. We met Chef Libero and his assistant. We were divided into groups where each group had a short shopping list and some money. Libero asked us to go into the market and bring back the fresh ingredients where we would then travel to his place to prepare a meal for all 32 of us. We all had a great time using our broken Italian to purchase the fresh fruits and vegetables etc. Going to the market and cooking is one of Trafalgar’s Lifestyle Experiences that is included in the tour. Chef Libero’s Ristorante is located on his family estate where we would learn to make our own pasta and enjoy the wine and olive oil that they produce. We were greeted in such a genuine way, complete with a music trio playing guitar and a welcome toast. Then on we went “to work,” said Libero with Italian gusto. Many of us gathered around several long tables where pasta stations were set for us to participate in making our own pasta dough, then to shape and cut and fill our Ravioli. It was work and we had a lot of laughs working together. Other groups gathered in the kitchen preparing sauces and soup and salad. After the preparing phase, the staff switched us in to the wine tasting phase of the day along with hors d’oeuvres. Then on to our meal that was served family style by Chef Libero’s friendly staff. The music continued with some singing and dancing that brought us all closer as we became a traveling family. Join along with me for the next day which was to visit the rugged coast of Cinque Terre, Italy. 

  • An Italian Adventure with Trafalgar Tours (Part 1 of 5) - Rome & Tuscan Highlights

    5/21/2019 3:47:53 PM Link 1 comment | Add comment

    italy, rome, trafalgar, tuscany

    photo by Trafalgar Tours

    Hilda Spillers

    The next 5 editions of the Wanderluster will be written by one of our in-house travel advisors, Hilda Spillers,   You may remember her from a previous blog entries when she detailed her visit down to Club Med Resorts in Cancun, Mexico.  This time she was invited by Trafalgar Tours to experience all that they have to offer during one of their small group tours thru Italy. 

    To learn more about Hilda Spillers and her travel expertise & passions, please Click Here.  Please remember to follow us on Facebook & Instagram if you would like to see more details & photos of our experiences.

    Trafalgar Tours has been dedicated to taking our guests beyond the obvious sights that has helped us grow over the past 65 years into one of the most trusted and successful international guided vacation companies in the world.  They passionately believe in the power of travel to broaden the mind and build bridges between people. By sharing with you the hidden places not mentioned in guidebooks, the local people you wouldn't otherwise meet and the traditions you may not have experienced by yourself, we ensure that you get the 'insider' view: an authentic and enhanced experience you simply could not have had on your own.

    I had the pleasure of traveling to Rome and Tuscany and back to Rome for 10 days with Trafalgar Tours. Trafalgar has been guiding and escorting travelers for over 70 years. They offer special experiences beyond the sightseeing called “Be My Guest” experiences and Regional Experiences which I will write about in the Tuscany portions. These are opportunities to go deeper into the culture and into the region.  As a solo traveler on this trip, I was delighted to meet great people and I must say that our group truly became a traveling family.

    There are many types of travelers and some prefer to travel independently. Traveling on an escorted tour has so many benefits. The main advantage is worry free; leave the details to the Tour Director; leave the driving to the expert driver; learn history and stories from the Local Specialists. An escorted tour makes the most out of the time you have in a destination. Now … on to Rome!
    Arriving at the Fiumicino airport, going through customs and meeting the transfer to the hotel went easily as specific instructions were offered prior to traveling. Rome is sometimes named “The Lasagna City” as it is layers of ruins and history. Rome is one of the few cities in the world that can claim 3,000 years of uninterrupted civilization while it thrives in modern times.
    Our 4 star hotel was located a block away from posh via Veneto and it was very close to a large and beautiful park named Borghese. From the moment we pulled up to the hotel, right there was a huge stone wall that dated back to the 3rd century and I was amazed when informed that it goes for 11 miles around parts of the city.  Just behind the hotel, there was a pizzeria with a passionate restaurant owner. He offered wide welcoming arms to hungry American customers who just recently arrived in Italy. The Pizza Margherita was wonderful! Early evening, there was a welcome gathering in the hotel lobby and then we took a short walk to a fabulous restaurant where we enjoyed wine, many types of pizza and desserts that we all shared. “La Dolce Vita!,”  The Sweet Life!
    Our first morning, we were off to The Vatican City. The Vatican Museums were our first stop and our Tour Director introduced us to a Local Specialist who met us at the motor coach. She walked us 2 blocks and we went right passed hundreds of people in line and soon we had a magnificent view of the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica. I said to myself, “this is the way to do it!” Our Local Specialist gave us a lesson on the Sistine Chapel. She was entertaining with many stories of Michelangelo’s work, but also about his relationships with the Pope and some Cardinals of the time. One story was of a particular Cardinal that Michelangelo did not care for and he painted him on the lower right corner of one of his major works. Michelangelo chose to intertwine large snakes around this particular figure. This particular Cardinal was not pleased to see himself portrayed in this way. Ha! These are things that are not written in our history books!
    Walking through the Vatican City courtyards, massive stone hallways and corridors was a humble experience for me. As we approach the first of the Vatican Museums, the many people around us were merged into a long corridor. The Gallery of the Candelabra contains statues and busts and frescos dating back to periods B.C. and A.D. The Gallery of Maps was an amazing display of huge walls of maps of regions of Italy. The artist also included important historical events which several were explained by our local specialist. We each had ear pieces to hear her. This was great as the gallery remained relatively quiet as most people were listening to their guides.  We continued through another long corridor to experience the Gallery of the Tapestries. These huge tapestries were from the 16th century and most were woven with strands of gold to enhance certain parts. The artistry and painstaking detail was amazing to me. To capture eyes and expressions on faces in a woven piece and multiply that by 11 of these huge tapestries makes me wonder, “how long did it take to create these?  And, what an effort to hang them and maintain them.” 
    In reflecting after the trip, one can read about these places, one can look at photos on line and in a book. But nothing can capture the feeling of seeing these amazing places and displays better than experiencing with your own eyes and senses. - - with a guide of course!
    We then made our way toward the Sistine Chapel. We all appreciated receiving a lesson of interpretations from our guide prior to arriving in the great hall of ceiling frescos painted by Michelangelo. He painted these frescos from age 33 to age 37. The walls were done by other artists of the time. All were asked to remain SILENT and no photos taken. We had plenty of time to take it all in and reflect on the meaning of the frescos and the amazing display of work and art. We regrouped and we walked on towards St. Peter’s Basilica and St. Peter’s square. I hope you will continue along with me for part 2.
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