MARS 7 Expedition travel blog

Marie found her passport and we're on our way!

At Changi airport

Our first view of the Vatican, from a street near our unit

"Waiting For Zoli"

Sig Massimo Zoli shows us the ropes - what an exceptional guy!


Sorry the first entry is so late - internet points are hard to come by in Roma, quite apart from the fact that we have been on the go since we arrived!! Anyway, here is our first entry. We hope you enjoy it; we certainly enjoyed the experience behind it!

Nothing like going in boots and all when you go on holiday, we always say! The first 48 hours of this trip have been chock-a-block and now we are finally settling down for a good night's sleep. It all began for Angela and me with an early start so we could go and watch our 8-month old grandson at his swimming lesson, for the first time. He loved it, we spoilt him and gave him back - that's par for grandparents, isn't it? Anyway, it was then on to Gosford to pick up Marie and that proved to be a hard job - there is a certain someone she had to say goodbye to and it took us threatening to drive off without her to get her into the car - not quite, but the truth is a bit more boring!

So, on to the airport and all went along very smoothly. We managed to sort out the seat allocation problem pretty quickly - we had been scattered across the aircraft - and passport control etc was a breeze. There was a minor scare with Marie's passport going missing just as we were about to board, but it was eventually found in "the bag that holds everything", so we got away with no problem. The flights themselves were great - Singapore Airlines maintained its usual standard - and we arrived in Rome about 45 mins early.

Getting out of the airport was very quick, which really surprised us, and pretty soon we were on our way in a shuttle. Our driver seemed intent on proving the common perception that Roman drivers are nuts by tearing along the freeway at 150 kph, one finger on the wheel, talking on his mobile, ignoring lanes and crowding other cars - although he did manage to slow down to 90 in the city! Perhaps he was just enjoying the empty Sunday roads... However, our experience since then has been that drivers are generally pretty good, although the traffic rules appear vague. Parking is also a free for all, it would seem.

Arriving in Rome early and our quick exit from the airport had a downside. We arrived at our apartment a couple of hours earlier than predicted and there was no-one to meet us - and of course, we had no phone number! Being a Sunday, nothing was open and we just wandered the streets lake a bunch of waifs. Finally, Signor Zoli turned up - right on time, as far as he was concerned - and took us in to the apartment.

We expected a good apartment, but this is awesome! It is on the top floor of a six-story block and faces directly on to the Vatican, which is about 800 m away, in a direct line. Our view is partially blocked by another building - very inconsiderate - but it is excellent, all the same. We have two bedrooms, a very nice kitchen and bathroom and a terrific little terrace where we have breakfast, with our Vatican view. Fantastic! Many thanks to Dax and Mel for tipping us off about this place.

Signor Zoli then spent the best part of an hour giving us his legendary "Massimo's Guide to Rome". He gave us loads of great tips on what to see and when, and also invaluable information on local buses and trains. Once we had unpacked and had a shower we decided to put Massimo's information to good use straight away, so we set off to get an overview of this famous city and drive away jetlag, all in one go!

Today being a Sunday worked for us really well, this time, as the crowds and traffic were both quite light. We strolled over to the Vatican and stopped at a pizzeria along the way, to get a taste of authentic pizza. We were not disappointed. While one or two varieties were so-so, most were great and we shall be doing that again.

Then on to the Vatican for a visit to our spiritual home. There are a number of places in the world where mere words fail to adequately describe them and this is one such place. Of course, our Catholic faith predisposes us to like the Vatican, but this goes way beyond bias. The Vatican is impressive, overwhelming, uplifting, inspiring and just plain awesome in every way. We just strolled around more or less aimlessly, for a couple of hours, just soaking up the atmosphere, knowing we will be back later on a tour when we will get a much more detailed explanation of the place. It was quite a breathtaking experience and a great start to our visit to Rome - but the day didn't end there!

We also decided to hop on a sightseeing bus tour, to get a quick preview of the rest of the sights. Bus 110 is the original version of this tour of Rome, but we don't know if it is the best. The audio system didn't work very well - or at all - and the commentary often did not match the location. Still, it was a very pleasant way to spend a tired afternoon. We hadn't intended to get off the bus, but when we stopped near the Trevi Fountain, we couldn't help ourselves. We hopped off and strolled down to the fountain, which is absolutely magnificent! We were not so impressed with the piazza itself, which is quite small, full of tourists (duh!) and rife with scam artists. Even so, it was an awesome experience.

Since we were now off the bus,we decided to walk over to the Spanish Steps. The experience of strolling through the narrow cobbled lanes and roads of Central Rome is quite something. I can't quite define it, but I got the sense that, despite the evidence of modernity - such as cars, electricity, a million people on mobile phones - Rome is stuck in something of a time warp. Everywhere you look, there is evidence of earlier civilisations, dominated by the churches and other buildings of the 15-1600s and random Roman pillars and other relics. It is an incredible place. The Spanish Steps is another magic place, very beautiful, but again smaller than I had imagined. Angela and Marie got chatted up there while I was busy taking pictures, so maybe it is a romantic place, too!

We eventually made our way back to the bus and enjoyed the rest of the trip, faulty audio and all.We returned to the Via De Conciliatzione (near the Vatican) and decided to have a meal before we returned to the apartment - big mistake! We have since learned that the best value (and quality) food, gelato and trinkets are to be found at least a street or two away from the major attractions. This was further confirmed when we bought a huge and delicious gelato from a shop on the way home, for less than we paid at one of the many street stalls.

And so, 48 hours, or thereabouts after we set off, we settled down for a well earned rest! In the next update, I will give you the goss on our walking tours. Ciao for now!

Marie, Angela and Ray.

PS. Not all the photos I wanted to include have uploaded - out of time, I'll try for more later.

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