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