I have never really been comfortable with the idea of travel tours. Pat has been on great guided tours in India and Egypt, and she is convinced they wouldn’t have had nearly as good an experience without the arrangements and well-educated guides. As well as, in India game reserves, the well-armed guides.
But I have always thought that at least in Western Europe, this is an unnecessary appendage. And, besides, how many more people do I need to tell me that it is time to get up and get going?
On this trip, however, we have been on three guided tours, with mixed results: The “Dark Rome” tour of the Vatican, the “Eating Italy” food tour of the Trastevere, and the “Walks of Italy” tour of the Villa Borghese.
The Vatican tour lasted for three hours. I have had dental work that was more pleasant. And Dark Rome did not provide novocaine. Our guide was an architect and grad student in art history, and she went on interminably. We’d been there for more than two hours and still weren’t inside the Sistine Chapel. We were outside the Sistine Chapel, in fact, listening to her describe in detail what we were going to see in each of the panels — as if we could remember that. There’s no talking inside, so that was the reason for the lecture, but she apparently was unable to sense the rising tide of anger and resentment. She had just described, in great detail, each of the four walls in each of the Raphael rooms leading us here, so there was plenty of opportunity for her to pick up on the body language. My advice: you don’t need a tour of the Vatican. Just go in the front door, see St. Peter’s and the Sistine Chapel, read about them in the guidebook, and then go through the Vatican Museum if you like.
Our friends Tom and Margaret Mesaros were just here for a day, and they did a Vatican tour in the morning and a Rome tour in the afternoon, so I am eager to hear what there experience was like. And my great pal and colleague Rebecca Whitham is due here at the end of the month and has booked a tour under the Vatican. It will be fun to know if we ever hear from her again. A lot of the folks under the Vatican aren’t coming out again.
The next night was completely different. My former colleagues at the zoo had given us a tour of Trastavere as a farewell gift, and it was spectacular. It was a walk between small, family-owned businesses, with a little history thrown in. We drank wine in the basement of a building which had housed the city’s oldest synagogue, predating the Colisseum; we toured a pharmacy that had been operated by Carmelite monks from the 16th Century until 1954, and we ate locally produced antipasti, cookies, pasta and gelato, an drank wine at at least four or five of the stops — I think I may have lost count of that.
And, yesterday, we did a guided, two-hour tour of the Galleria Borghese which was very heavy on information but really worthwhile. You can do the Borghese gallery on a self-guided tour as well, and that likely would be fine, but our guide — packing a master’s in art history — was very good and could read her audience well.
Finally — and this was unplanned — we were going in to see the Jewish museum and main synagogue and ended up in line right behind Drs. Rob and Marti Lidell. Rob is a great zoo board member and good friend, and Marti practices in the Polyclinic in the same suite as my doc. I am eager to see how they liked the tour of the old ghetto area they were heading toward.
Rome’s jews are from among the oldest Jewish communities — dating from Roman times, right — and predate the Ashekenazi and Sepphardim. Jews were treated relatively well early on, but as in many other cities, they were confined to a ghetto during the Middle Ages — ghetto is an Italian word — were not allowed to own property, and could follow only two professions: lending money and dealing in used clothing. They attained a good measure of freedom in the late 19th Century: a Jew was elected mayor of Rome, but of course that ended in the runup to World War II when Victor Emmanuel and Mussolini made a deal to exterminate them. About 25,000 exist now, and they are proud of their heritage. Admission to the museum requires a guided tour of the synagogue, and the tour was hard to understand and quite repetitive of what we had just read on the panels. Do it anyway. A very good museum.
So I guess that’s hardly conclusive.
One other thought, as we were coming out of St. Peters, exhausted and still pissed off, were were hurrying to find a taxi stand to get to what we had decided would be our next stop and Pat, in her wisdom, said “I’d rather get a drink.” Part of the lesson of this trip, and this blog, is to try to hit the balance between travel and touring and just enjoying ourselves, using the month off to live more in the moment.
I noted that we were still living like we were on a one-week trip rather than a monthlong visit. We will try to do better.
The photos below come from the Trastevere visit. I still need to learn how to wrap text.