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Saturday, November 19, 2011

A Visit to the Vatican by Margot Justes

I booked a tour to the Vatican, for my next visit I will buy tickets ahead of time and go on my own. Spend time at my leisure and not worry about tour.

We had 10 minutes in the Sistine Chapel, that was just about enough time to walk across the rectangular Chapel, try not to bump anyone in the process and barely see the ceiling, much less the walls.

That being said, the Chapel is stunning. As I looked up at the magnificent ceiling I wondered how Michelangelo could survive such an ordeal, to create those stunning images laying on his back for hours on end. The nine frames on the ceiling tell the story of creation , Adam and Eve and Noah. The altar wall depicts the Last Judgment, filled with fire and brimstone. The Chapel simply takes your breath away.

St. Peter's Basilica is enormous, everything is made from marble, it is magnificent and filled with unbelievable treasures, chief among them is Michelangelo's deeply moving Pieta. Now hidden behind glass and high enough to keep people from getting too close.

My first view of the Pieta was many, many years ago and back then you could get close, within touching range, but an idiot took a hammer to the Pieta and caused quite a bit of damage. Now it is protected from harm and humanity.

Vatican is a living, breathing museum and very little can be seen in five hours, when you take into account the enormous size of the place and the multitude of visitors, and let's not forget the tour group you're with.

What I should have done was stay on my own after the tour ended, but I didn't think of it until after I got back. By the time I got back to the hotel it was almost three in the afternoon, I was tired and hungry- heaven forbid I should miss a meal-so I went up to the terrace restaurant and had a delicious late lunch.

Till next time,
Margot Justes
A Hotel in Paris

Saturday, November 12, 2011

More Travel by Margot Justes

The second day in Rome started with a scrumptious breakfast at the Sofitel. Just the selection of coffee was impressive, from an espresso, to cappuccino, a French Press or settle for the American brew. I started with the French Press, got my own pot and steaming hot was off to great start.

Next came the bread selection, from flaky croissants, to baguettes and everything in between, to puff pastry sweet rolls. I was in heaven. Let's not forget the cheeses, from a triple cream Brie to goat and pecorino selections. Let's just say I was going to have to walk a lot. They even had dates and figs, along with eggs, omelets, sausages, fruit, and the usual gamut of buffet selections. I ended my meal with a cappuccino and a sweet roll with ricotta cheese. I did finish the pot of coffee did not go to waste.

Next on the agenda, was a tour to the Vatican. To save time, I booked the tour with American Express while still at home. The bus arrived promptly and off we were to the Vatican, or so I thought.

Instead we were deposited at the offices of the tour company and waited while they figured out how many buses they would need. Buses and tourists were everywhere, sort of like the United Nations-many languages were heard and it was fun trying to identify them. I even followed a couple who spoke French. I tend to do that whenever I hear the language, besides not much was going on.

About twenty minutes later we were assigned a bus number that was supposed to be for English speaking tourists. We headed toward the bus, the number matched but the language did not-Spanish-read the big sign. We stopped in front of the bus and waited.

A little debate ensued between the tour guides, signs were switched and we boarded the bus, a bit apprehensive we hoped it was the right one. When the guide spoke in English we heaved a sigh of relief; we were on the right bus and finally on the way to the Vatican.

Even with a tour group, there was a delay in getting in. We first had to stop and get our headsets, make sure they all worked; when you have a bus full of people it takes a bit of time. Not to mention there were many tour groups.

Once we were all set, we followed the guide and headed toward the entrance, always making sure her red umbrella held high could be seen. You do not want to be separated from your guide, and believe me, it is easy to do.

The winding double line moved slowly, but no one seemed to mind. The tour guide stated that 25,000 tourists visit the Vatican daily. I can understand why, it is an amazing place and impossible to see in one day, much less 5 hours.

Till next time,
Margot Justes
A Hotel in Paris

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Travel by Margot Justes

I haven't posted a blog for a while, thought I'd be able to do it while on vacation...I was wrong.

The flight to Rome left on time, the plane was half full, or empty depending on how you see it, and we landed on time, eight in the morning. Italian customs process not a breeze, long lines that moved at a snail's pace, but it was expected and the process seemed exciting, because Roma was waiting for me.

I arranged for a driver before leaving home and was happy to see him. I recognized him immediately, he was holding a plaque with my name plastered on it...even for me it was hard to miss. Things were good.

The hotel room was not ready, but they promised a lovely room and stored the baggage. I was free to spend my first day in Rome, and since the hotel was within walking distance of practically everything, especially the Spanish Steps, I headed there first, but not before stopping for an espresso.

Did you know that Italians stand at a counter and gulp their espresso. I found out that if you stand the price is cheaper than if you sit down at a table. It was the quick inhale of the brew that had me amazed, like a shot. I savored mine.

I made it down the Spanish steps, many, many steps, walked around all the lovely little cobble stone streets. Amazingly enough the locals wore heels and the cobblestones had big gaps between them. I watched how well they maneuvered to miss what looked like pot holes. Most tourists knew better and wore comfortable shoes.

Stopped at a lovely outdoor cafe and had lunch, was serenaded by a couple of tenors, after they passed a hat and demanded a tip, they moved on to the next cafe.

The Sofitel delivered as promised-we has a suite, absolutely gorgeous with a balcony and a fantastic view of Rome, and there was a Nespresso machine in the room, so I could enjoy delicious coffee at will. The stay at the Sofitel was simply amazing, I would recommend the hotel without any reservations on my part-you need to make reservations to actually stay there.

What a terrific start to the vacation...more next week

Till next time,
Margot Justes
A Hotel in Paris