Here comes the sun!
After buckets of rain, we woke up Sunday morning to brilliant sunshine and clear blue skies. We popped upstairs for a quick breakfast and to plan out our day. We would be meeting our tour mates and guides at 3pm, so we had time to explore. We had read ahead of time that if the Pope is in Rome, he gives the
Angelus and Papal Blessing on Sunday at noon. So, off to the Vatican we went. We walked along the Tiber River, stopping to see the Mausoleum of Hadrian, better known as the Castel Sant'Angelo, and the Ponte Sant'Angelo.
At St. Peter's Square, we marveled at the people making their pilgrimage to see Pope Francis. Soon he appeared in his apartment window and spoke to the crowd in Italian. After his short message, he greeted the different groups in the crowd by name and there was much jubilant cheering. Then, something I will never forget. He asked for a moment of silence. I swear, in this moment, amidst thousands of people, the only sound you could hear was the wind. It was an amazing and moving moment. He gave a final blessing and asked humbly, "Per favore, amici miei, se volete. Pregate per me." Please, my friends, if you would. Pray for me. I love this man.
It was time to make our way back to our hotel for our first tour meeting! But first, I was on a mission to visit the Furla store. Swoon. A quick stop later and I was walking through Rome with my pretty Furla shopping bag. Thank you, Antonio, for the Anniversary gift! Papal Blessings and shopping is hard work and now we were hungry.
Bar Cantiani was the perfect stop for a quick espresso and a snack. The shiny chrome espresso machine was truly stunning and the handsome baristas weren't so bad either. If this was Italy, I was hooked.
VAT Tax Refund
If you spend a minimum of €155 in one shop on goods (like, ahem, a Furla wallet) you are eligable for a VAT Tax refund. The shop should give you all the paperwork you need to submit the claim at the customs office at the airport on your way out of the country. You will need your passport at the shop, and will need to get the documents stamped at the airport customs desk. Rick Steves explains the process well. We chose to have the tax returned via credit to our credit card, which showed up about 4 weeks later.
It was finally time to meet our travel companions for the next 9 days! Up to the roof garden we went, where our guide Sarah and apprentice guide Amanda were waiting with smiling faces. They kicked off our meeting with a prosecco "cin-cin" and a round-robin of introductions. We could tell immediately that this was going to be a fun group, and of course Tony's introduction was in grand Antonio-style and Sarah predicted immediately that Tony would be the life of the party.
Part of the Rick Steves tour is that everyone gets a buddy. Each person is paired up with another tour member who is not your travel partner. This allows us to do a quick buddy checks along the way and ensures that no one gets lost or left behind.
We set off on a whirlwind walking tour of Rome, weaving in and out of crowded streets and alley ways, seeing historic sights at every turn. Piazza Navona! The Pantheon! Campo di Fiori! Trevi Fountain! Oh my! And of course, what would a walking tour of Rome be without a gelato stop? Oh, sweet gelato, where have you been all my life?
Sarah showed us how to use the public fountains to quench our thirst. These fountains are called nasoni (big noses. ha.) and are emblazened with the initials S.P.Q.R., which stands for Senatus Populous Romanus (Senate and People of Rome).
Then off to our first group meal at a Origano Trevi, a small local restaurant close to our hotel. The conversation flowed as freely as the wine as we indulged on local Roman cuisine and got to know our tour mates a bit better.
Sarah remarked that we were a scrappy lot and she'd have to keep her eyes on us. Sounds about right!
What a great day. I never want to leave.
Day 1 Photo Highlights
Tomorrow...the Vatican Museums and St Peter's!