After relaxing in the Greek Islands, we headed back to Athens to catch a flight to Rome. Our original plans were to head northeast from Greece into eastern Europe and end our Europe travels in Italy but we decided to rearrange things a bit in order to hit Italy sooner in the summer season when it might be cooler, have fewer tourists, and my cousin Stephen and his fiancé, Samantha, would still be in Italy. We beat the heat, but not the tourists.
In general, we enjoy outlying cities and the countryside villages far more than the world's major capitals so we try to use our time in the major cities efficiently to do things like get online, wash laundry, ship things home, replenish "supplies" (backpacker-speak for cookies) and other errands only achieved in a big city. We did much of this in Rome but also took the time to see many of the world's most famous sites. We suffered a bit of sticker shock in Rome as Italy is more expensive than Greece (which was far more expensive than Egypt, which was far more expensive than Uganda...). Rome is one of the pricier spots in Italy. Since Greece is now part of the E.U. and using Euros as currency, it was very, very easy to go to Italy (also in the E.U.) both in terms of immigration and currency. Unlike many of the African currencies, the Euro is very strong against the dollar so things cost in ranges of 1-10 euros rather than multiples of millions as with weaker currencies that have suffered from inflation over the years. The strong Euro of course means that Europe is not "on sale" now for Americans.
In Rome, we visited the Vatican Museum and St. Peter's Basilica, the Pantheon, the Coliseum, and the Trevi Fountain. The Vatican really is not to be missed on any trip to Rome as it houses one of the world's largest and most extensive collections of art. And the self-guided tour (7 km of room-after-room of fine art!) ends with the fabulous Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo. You'd need days if not weeks to really learn about the works contained in the Vatican Museum so we did the "Vatican Express" tour in a couple of hours.
I'm now reading Dan Brown's "Angels and Demons" which is the prequel to "The Da Vinci Code" and takes place in the Vatican and throughout Rome. It's been super fun to read this book after having just been to so many of the settings used in the novel. Turns out I'm learning a bit of history from Dan Brown's tale.
Also of note in Rome was my purchase of some new pants, a much needed purchase after I sat down in a bleach-like chemical on the deck of a ferry boat in Greece. For about a week or so, my navy blue pants looked fine in the front but were covered with my own Rorshak test all over the backside. At one point I thought I heard a little toddler staring at my pants from behind say, "Look mommy, it's a bunny!" but perhaps I imagined she said that. I was ready to tell any Greek who asked that this look was all the rage in America and would hit every store in Greece by next summer.
From Rome, we headed north to Florence to visit my cousin, Stephen Pemberton, and his fiancé Samantha Kelly. What a treat it was to see a familiar face, stay in a home and eat home cooked food! Stephen and Samantha, both historians, have been living outside Florence this year at Villa I Tatti, a center for Italian renaissance studies. The center was stunningly beautiful and surrounded by pleasant countryside villages and hills. Thanks to Stephen and Samantha for hosting us for a few days and showing us a bit of Italy.
We also spent a day visiting many of Florence's famous sites (the Ponte Vecchio, the Duomo, and the Uffizi plaza). Both Dana and I had spent some time in Florence on previous trips so we didn't go inside many of these sites but nevertheless strolling past them is still awe inspiring and well worth a visit. Florence oozes charm.
After a bit of big cities and historical sites, we headed off for a little slow-paced cycling through the smaller villages.
Until the next update,