Craig Collins' Portfolio R. Craig Collins > Web Page Design > Portfolio > Rome

Christmas 2004 © R. Craig Collins, 2005/6

December 23, 24
Christmas pictures at bottom

December 25
We ate the coffee cake muffins I made Christmas Eve, and left for DFW about 8:00 am in our new Elantra GT.
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After dropping our car at Park ‘n Fly, we took the bus to the terminal, and checked in at American. We managed to switch to an earlier flight to Chicago, to give us a longer window to change terminals, etc., and felt pretty lucky about that. Nothing like having to run around an airport, especially as we were only using carry on. On the good side, we didn’t need to worry about checking or loosing luggage; but on the bad side (aside from the weight) was security, of course, wanted to look through my bag on the way in.

We boarded the American Airlines MD 80, and had an uneventful ride to Chicago. Of course, we had to take the train to Terminal 5, where the International flights depart, and just trying to find the train was fun with all the construction. And, as the train services the parking lots, it is not within the secure area, meaning we faced another round of security.

After getting to Terminal 5, the lines were enormous, and we had to check in, as we were changing from American to Swiss. The line to the Swiss counter wasn’t bad, after we slipped through the long lines for the other carriers, and after getting our seat assignments, we headed for security and the gate. Once at the gate, we noticed there were no food services there, so I went back to the main terminal, bought McDonalds (a very rare occurrence in this family) and went with the food back through security to the gate.

The Swiss A330 was running late, and as we watched them unload and reload cargo, a gentle snow fell as the sun set. We boarded the plane and got our seats (the middle four of the row), and learned to use the video/game remote as they de-iced the plane. Once underway, we watched (shudder) Catwoman, had cannelloni (or chicken) for dinner, and passed around Christopher Moore’s funny ‘The stupidest angel’ book.

December 26
After our croissant breakfast, we touched down in Zurich a little late. But, since we had such a wide window until our Rome flight, it was not a big deal. We went from the old terminal area into the new, and did some shopping for Swiss chocolate. We then watched a gentle snow over the gorgeous countryside, and the girls worked in a few naps on the side until we boarded an older A319 cattle car for the jump to Rome.

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We marveled at the incredible coast line as we approached and got in just a little later than planned. Once again, in order to get all the carry on luggage without getting run over, we were the last folks off the plane. We cleared customs, and were picked up for a wild ride into Rome (yes, we were met by a person holding a sign with our name on it). We passed the Pyramid of Cestius, the Palatine, the Colossio (Coliseum), and finally were dropped off at the hotel, Hotel des Artistes ( The reception area was on the 5th floor, the elevator was phone booth sized, so we walked up and checked in, then walked down one floor to 403. After struggling with the staff to get the lights to work, we surveyed the room. One double bed, one twin bed normally occupied the room, as well as the wardrobe and desk, and they had pulled in another twin bed at the foot of the the double so the girls would have their own beds. We laughed at the bidet and the incredibly high shower tub, and headed out… without unpacking.

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Pyramid of Cestius Hotel Exterior Hotel Interior

We walked around the block the Metro stop at Castro Prieto, and bough the weekly CIT passes for all city transportation modes, and boarded for the short ride to the Termini station, where we got off and walked down to the P. de Esquilline.
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Weekly Metro pass Santa Maria Maggiore at P. Esquilline

We actually walked right past the Grey line office the first time, but found it after circling the Santa Maria Maggiore church. After checking in for our next day trolley tour, we walked down to the Cavour metro station and rode down to the Collosio. Words will frequently fail, even for this supposed wordsmithe. Wow. We caught it right at dusk, and walked around it with our mouths hanging open, under our umbrellas. There were guys dressed like centurions, trying to get money from people to have their pictures taken with them, but we didn’t bite. The building and Arch of Titus was what we were taking pictures of.
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Colosseo Arch of Titus, and some Roman Centurions

From there, we rode back up to the Termini station, and after inspecting about a hundred restaurant menus, ate pizza, drank bottled water (no tap water in Italy at restaurants), and rode home, unpacked, and crashed.

December 27
We got up early, and after the usually chain of command through the bathroom for showers (Craig last), we went upstairs for breakfast at 7:30. They had ham, cheese, bread, cereal, boiled eggs, coffee, juice, tea, and between us, we sampled just about everything. We then took the now familiar trip on the B line to the Termini, and walked in the rain to the Grey Line office. We bought souvenirs at the Rosary gift shop next to Santa Maria Maggiore, then hopped on the trolley. We went past Trajan’s Market, the Vittorio Emmanuel Monument (also known as the wedding cake, for reasons apparent after you see it), around the Colosseo, past the Circus Maximus, the Temple of Vestia, by the Island in the Tiber (Isola Tiberina), and then past the Vatican. We then went past the Tribunal building, the P. de Popolo, and into the Villa Burghese, where we saw the French school, and a hot air balloon ride. We then passed the P. de Barberini, the P. de Bernanrd, and drove down the Via Veneti (from La Dolce Vita fame) and past the old Basilicas and Baths, at the P. de Repubblica. Since we could ride all day, and get on or off at any of the stops, we rode around again until we got to the Colosseo.
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'Wedding Cake' Post card view of Isola old Basilicas and Baths (behind)

We stumbled into a guided tour of the Colosseo that was about to start, and we walked through the arches into the interior corridors. There were exhibits everywhere, and our guide, Max, was great. The rain let up as we wound our way into the open arena area, and just soaked in the history. Across the way we could see the Temple of Venus and Rome. After a quick break, we were handed off to Georgio, who gave us an incredible tour of the Forum. We walked 2000 year old cobble stones passed the Arch of Constantine up the Sacred Way, past the Temple of Romulus, the Temple of Saturn, Caesar’s funeral pyre area, and by the renovated Senate building. (Renovated about 1000 years ago…) Only about 1/3 of the ancient Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine was still standing, but it was still huge. Across the way was the Palitine, the site of the original town, and many ruined emperor’s palaces. We wandered this area after Georgio left us, and saw fountains, gardens, and 2600 year old ruins.
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Colosseo Temple of Venus
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Forum Paletine

We hopped the metro to Termini, has paninis, and walked back down to the Grey Line office, and rode around again. For dinner, we ate pizza and spaghetti near the hotel, then rode the metro to Termini, changed lines and arrived at the Spanish Steps at dusk (after the only wrong turn on the whole trip…). We walked up the steps and just enjoyed the view, St. Peters in the far distance. We bought gelato from a tiny vendor tucked into a window by the metro station, and rode back to the hotel.

December 28
After our usual breakfast, we waited for the bus to take us on our next tour: the monuments. When it still hadn’t shown up at 8:30 (tour starting at 9:00), we did our metro/walk in the rain to the Gray Line office, and got there the old fashioned way. We boarded a trolley that took us to the old part of town, where we started walking, as the rain passed. The first thing we came to was the Trevi fountain. Fed by an aqueduct, the beautiful water and wonderful sculptures that seems to erupt from the building next to it was just fantastic. We then walked past Hadrian’s temple, past a flood level marked, past the la Madonna Palace (now the current home to the Italian senate) and the high Carabiniere officers dressed in old style uniforms with big hats and capes.

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Trevi Fountain

We then walked to the Pantheon. I knew this would be my highlight… the Forum is more than 2400 years old, but in ruins. The Colosseo is almost 1900 years old, and is ruined. The Pantheon, 1800 years old, is almost pristine, and more than intact. It is still used as a temple, though now a Christian church. The marble was fabulous, the tomb guards impressive, the columns, massive, and the natural light filtering in from the oculus was more than enough to illuminate Raphael’s tomb. Just beautiful. On the way out, we saw a McDonald’s just across the way… oh well. Progress.
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The Pantheon

We then walked to the P. de Navona, which reminded me of the Grand Plac of Brussels, and the great Plazas in Amsterdam, Bruge, Ghent, and Munich. There Christmas market was still up, around the fountains, and the girls rode a spinning cup on the carousel, while I tried to take pictures from a covered coach. We then made it back to traffic areas near the Tribunal, and waited for the bus to take us to the Vatican. We finally got in line to pass security at St. Peter’s, and wound our way around the circular square with it’s nativity scene in front of the obelisk, and almost an hour later we entered the largest Basilica in the world. There is room inside for 60,000. Words again fail me. It was huge, but gorgeous. The gilt roof, the statues, the domes, the mosaics (no painting, as paint fades…) and the high alter of Peter’s tomb. It was all so awe inspiring. On the way out, we passed the Pieta, and the huge bronze doors. From here, we re-boarded the bus, and were dropped near our hotel, where we regrouped for a bite.
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S. Pietro Interior, near the high alter at the transverse
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St. Peter's Crypt under the High Altar Main Dome
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Looking down the transverse; Exterior door Swiss Guard

We took our standard route back to the Gray Line office, to confirm our tour for the next day, and circled the Maggiore area looking for more souvenirs. The best deals were back at the Rosary again. Bought about 34 post cards, calendars, medals, etc. We then took the metro to P. de Pololo, with its obelisk, fountains, twin churches, but Gracie was hungry and we could find no restaurants we could afford in this tony area, so we metro’ed to the Spanish Steps, and discovered the same problem there. In desperation, we ate at the first McDonald’s in Italy, but it was a very nice place, and had a great gelato bar. We took the metro to the Termini, where the lights were out (that was fun, 200 feet down, in the dark) but made it to the hotel. Crash time.
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Vatican Museum Vatican Museum Vatican Museum

December 29
Standard breakfast at the hotel, but this day we were picked up promptly for our Vatican museum tour. The group on the bus was varied today, so we got multilingual explanations of everything on the way over, and then got into an English group after waiting in the rain to get in. When we arrived in the Museum, Stefano guided us through the statue and tapestry gallery, and into the maps (frescos) gallery. Very detailed, and very accurate, considering the day! He gave a great lecture on the Rafael rooms, and prepped us for the Sistine Chapel, where there is no picture taking or speaking. Again, it was all just incredible. We did a little souvenir shopping, and then rode the bus with some new views of the Wedding Cake and baths, to the hotel.

After having our fill of pasta, even the exotic spaghetti al carbonara and lasagna, we decided to take the metro to the Spanish Steps, expecting to eat at Babbington’s English Tea Room; but the high prices sent us to a pizza vendor off the street, where we ate outside, native style. We considered going into where Keats had died, but decided to adventure on after Diane bought a tea shirt from a street vendor. After a quick metro trip, we walked around the whole of the Termini, window shopping for souvenirs, and trying to find something for breakfast, as our tour to Pompeii left before the breakfast service started at the hotel. We found some scone like treats, and headed back to the hotel. They have a roof top terrace that we all went up to, and decided that was a better visit during the summer, and then I called to confirm our hotel pick up for the airport shuttle, as we would be out all the next day. We then got directions, and went out for Chinese. (I was not going to have Italian food that night!) The food was good, and the girls got Chinese calendars and chopsticks for souvenirs. When we got to our favorite evening spot, the Spanish Steps, we saw a street vendor who did Chinese lettering and art, so the girls all got their names in Chinese before we got Gelato at McDonaldi’s. We took our last subway ride back to the hotel, which we found without power, though it was restored by the time we got to our room. It was our last full day in Rome… tomorrow Naples and Pompeii!
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The Hotel rooftop terrace

December 30
We tried to eat the scone like treats, but the girls called them Shredded Wheat, and did without after one taste. We again were picked up on time (7:00) on the first day without rain. We boarded the big bus and headed south, past what appeared to be an old gate and part of the aqueduct system. We made a brief rest stop about an hour out of town, where our tour guide Marina reminded us (in English, Swiss French, and Spanish) not to bring food on the bus. The country side was magnificent, especially near the monastery at Monte Cassino. Snow covered mountains, green valleys, and occasional ruins. We also passed the second largest palace in Europe, the Bourbon’s ‘little’ digs near Caserta. We got to Naples about 11:00, and picked up another tour guide Wilma, who told us about Naples. The bay, Capri in the distance was incredibly aqua blue, and we stopped by the Egg castle on the shore, beneath the mountain castle and fortress. The city Royal Palace and old castle are now municipal buildings a museums, and we saw excavations of a subway station that was halted, due to finding an old roman harbor in the shadow of the castle. We also passed the Gallery, the oldest ‘mall’ in the world, before heading to Pompeii, 13 miles away, with Vesuvius looming in the distance. On the way, we passed the parts of town that were rebuilt… once after the bombings of the war, and again after the earthquake of 1980. We also could see a lot of lava flows, and were told the ones we could see there were from about 1600.
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Post card view of Monte Cassion during summer Naples Bay
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Egg Castle in Naples Bay Sant'Elmo Castle and Fortress above Naples
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The Gallery Excavation site at New Castle

Once we got to Pompeii, the bus was parked and we walked to a Cameo shop for a quick tour, before being seated for lunch. We were first offered soup or pasta (pasta… ziti and tortellini, at least we had some variation!), then we were offered fish or meat (veal), and then we had some fruit. Again, this was the first day without rain, but we made up for that with wind and cold. But, the wind kept Vesuvius, 5 miles away, clear, and we could see the two peaks at 4000 feet that showed the two sides of where the former 6000 ft. mountain used to be! Wilma took us around the main square, and down past the forum. We saw the plaster figures in a court yard with vibrant paint still on the walls, baths with mosaic floors, shops, snack bars with food containers, ruts for the sliding doors, and many buildings in very good shape. (No original roofs, of course). One great building had a mosaic of a dog with the equivalent of a ‘beware of dog’ sign inlaid. The best house we toured was the house of the ‘Tragic poet’, and another great place was the House of the Vetti, though we couldn’t go into that one. On the way out, we passed the temple of Apollo, with its sun dial, and the archeological stores, with thousands of vases, and yet another plaster figure. We grabbed a souvenir, tried not to pay attention to the erotic paintings modeled on some of the more ‘colorful’ art in the houses, and headed out.
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Entrance to the Pompeii ruins Pompeii's forum
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Pompeii's forum, Vesuvius to the left... 5 mi away Frescos still vivid, since 79 AD
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Gracie at the House of the Vetti Vesuvius, now at 4000 ft, and where it might have reached

Of course we had another bus wait, another bus stop half way there (we smuggled in cookies and ate them on the bus, daring Marina to catch us) and then had a lot wait at the restaurant around the corner of the hotel for pizza. We picked up some gelato from a freezer at the little shop across from the hotel, and ate that before we started packing for the trip back.

December 31
After breakfast, we checked the news about the Tsunami in Asia, and paid for the phone call and checked out. Our pick up time had been pushed back to 9:30, and we made that one last trip down the stairs. We chatted with an Australian couple who was checking in, then boarded our crowded shuttle. We passed the ‘usual’ sites, plus St. John Laterno, on the way to the airport. We found the British Airways desk and got our boarding passes, and headed to the shopping arcade to blow our last euros. One last souvenir, a box of chocolate for the trip, and one last set of sliced pizza to carry through passport control on the way to our gate! We boarded the 767, and were presented with another small meal… pizza for most, but we had a ham sandwich with apple/banana sauce as we had asked for low fat. We just sat in amazement as we flew over the Alps. Incredible show, as the snow covered peaks just seems to go on forever. We were running late into Heathrow, but still able to check in for new American boarding passes, and get on the 777 flight to Chicago okay. The headwinds delayed our arrival (Shark Tale and Up a Creek were the movies… no games) so we literally had to run through customs in Chicago to wait for a train to terminal 3. Fortunately, being New Years Eve, there was no one in line in security, and we got to our flight with time to spare. DFW was a ghost town upon arrival, but the shuttle picked us up right away, and we were on the road about 11:00. We stopped for some candy and to give hugs at midnight, New Years 2005, and were pulling into the driveway just after 1:00. What a great trip.

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PS Gracie turned 15 Jan. 2!

Christmas Pictures
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Our home at Christmas Christmas at Merri's
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Gale, Clay, Gracie, Susann, and Mike Gracie, Kyle, Scott, Diane, and Dianne
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Gale, Clay, and Susann, the Sawyer clan Gracie's birthday cake