Chapter Twenty – Exploring Rome’s History

We Didn’t Drink All The Vino:
2005 Italia Uncensored!

Colisuem Afar 2Chapter Twenty – Exploring Rome’s History

Day Twenty One – Tuscan Tom’s Tours Hits A Snag, Is Nero Near, A Funny Thing Happened On The Way Through The Forum, Short Cut, The First Dead Pope (and Nearly A Dead Husband), The Mystery Instrument and A Mime Is A Terrible Thing To Waste

As stated earlier in this report, I don’t like being late, so it was with trepidation that I asked the hotel for a taxi pick up about 50 minutes before our scheduled Domus Aurea (Nero’s Golden House) tour.  I don’t like fiddling around with being late.

Nero's PalaceI had pre-reserved the tickets and had my print-out to take to the ticket office. Right before we left the room, Tracy said, “Do you have the print out?” 

“Of course,” I answered confidently. Famous last words. We were supposed to arrive a half hour early, and the hotel said it wouldn’t take more than 15 minutes to get there, so I thought the only thing that could go wrong would be the taxi breaking (as it had the day before).

Kim and Mary were feeling chipper, so they decided to walk (about 45 minutes from the hotel, they were told). Dan, Linda, Tracy and I were waiting for the taxi when the guy at the Hotel Santa Maria desk came outside to tell us that the taxis were very busy that day, and we had better walk down to the taxi stand to get one. Now panic was beginning to creep into my brain.  For most of the trip, the leader of Tuscan Tom’s Tours had been in complete control, with no problems. Suddenly, I felt that control going away as we walked the five to ten minutes to the taxi stand. We were going to be late, and I was not happy.

I walked ahead of the other three, talking to myself like an idiot, and I think it was here that Dan and Linda began thinking that I had lost my mind. As Al Jolson would have said (if he were still alive), “You ain’t seen nothing yet.”

We got to the taxi stand, and were fourth in line, but there were no taxis. OK, now I’m officially worried. Not only were there no taxis, when I reached in my pocket, I discovered there were no printed reservations, either.

Yes, yours truly had left the paper on the bed after telling Tracy, “Of course.” I didn’t even turn around, because I could feel “the look” coming from Tracy, not to mention Dan and Linda.

“Damn,” I said (although I might have used a more descriptive expletive at that point). “Have the taxi meet me at the hotel,” I said. I then started running back to the Santa Maria.

For those of you who have seen the movie “Damn Yankees,” I must have looked like Shoeless Joe Hardy running for the fly ball after the Devil had turned him back into an old man.  The citizens of Trastevere could only look in awe at me running slower than the slow motion scenes in “Chariots of Fire.”

When I eventually reached the room, I was sweating more than I was when I couldn’t get the car in reverse at the rental car exit. I picked up the reservation form, the taxi met us, and we were off.  Linda said, “Tom, I’ve never seen you like that!”

Tracy, quicker than a Muhammad Ali jab, answered, “Oh, I have … often.”  She doesn’t get a lot of punch lines, but she nails them when she does.

We were 20 minutes from our tour time, when the taxi driver gave me another bit of bad news. “What is the Domus Aurea?” I repeated the mantra, “Enjoy the Journey! Attitude is Everything!”


As he drove the busy streets of Rome, I was showing him where the Domus Aurea (photo above from website) was on the map, and he alternately kept switching his look from the road to the map as he was driving wildly through the streets, pedestrians hurtling their bodies out of harm’s way. I told the rest of the crew, “I guess we’ll get there or die trying.”

DSC00426He drove past the Colosseum, let us out and said something like, “I think you’re close,” which did not give me a lot of reassurance. We were just about five minutes from tour time.

Standing nearby was a horde of police giving one guy a traffic ticket.  One bored policewoman (who was standing and looking at the officer writing out the ticket) must have noticed my sad countenance and said, “May I help you?” She obviously knew the look of a confused American. She pointed me in the right direction, and I went into full gallop, old man style. Tracy, Dan and Linda followed, but I got so far ahead of them again, that they also had to ask for directions.

As I got to within 50 feet of the ticket office, I saw two familiar faces walking toward me in the sunlight. It was Kim and Mary. Kim said, “How come you’re sweating? We’re the ones that walked.” Oh, the trials and tribulations of a tour leader. I ran to the ticket window, and the very nice woman at the counter, noticing the beads of sweat on my face, smiled and said, “Don’t worry, you still have a few minutes until the tour.”



We enjoyed the tour of Nero’s House ( the audio guide again a must).

Nero's Palace 6Since there is not very much intact to see, you need to use your imagination to know what it must have been like back in the day of the crazed emperor.

Nero's Palace 3 We then ventured over to San Pietro in Vinocoli (St. Peter’s In Chains) to see the chains that bound St. Peter in Palestine,

St Petter's Chains Also of note there is Michelangelo’s statue of Moses.


Then it was obligatory photo time in front of the Colosseum.

Tom and Tracy Rome  100_2726

Afterward, we all walked through the Foro Romano, which Dan and Linda visited the first day, and where Kim, Mary, Tracy and I had visited in 2001.

DSC00427Tracy wanted to show Dan and Linda the Carcero Mamertino underneath the Church of St. Joseph of the Carpenters near the Foro Romano, where Peter and Paul had been imprisoned 2,000 years ago.  Photo below from internet.

7640094We walked down the winding stairs from the first floor and saw the small room where Peter and Paul were kept before being executed.

DSC00436Kim, Mary, Tracy and I were going to go to the Colosseum, but since Dan and Linda had already been there, they went off on their own, and the four of us walked back through the Forum.

100_2768Before they left, Dan gave us this piece of sage advice. “Get your ticket to the Colosseum on the combo Palatine Hill ticket.

Forum 1Go to the second ticket office.”  This information garnered Dan the Tip of The Trip Award.

DSC00439As we walked through the Forum, Tracy and Mary stopped at the House of the Vestal Virgins (well, what’s left of it), where they immediately went into a chorus of A Whiter Shade of Pale.

Forum Afar DSC00441

“One of sixteen vestal virgins who were leaving for the coast” resonated throughout the Forum, and since neither was really a virgin, Kim and I thought about burying them alive like they did to virgins who strayed in the old days, but that plan was quickly nixed (too many witnesses).

Forum 1We bought our combo ticket and walked up to Palatine Hill.  Words cannot do justice to the view of the Forum that day from Palatine Hill.

Palatine Hill 2The Rome skies and amazing cloud patterns made for some remarkable photo opportunities.  I think it was at this point that Tracy first said she was hungry.

16340007It was now time to tour the Colosseum.  Dan had told us not to wait in the long line, which stretched forever.

100_2808Instead, he told us to go into the guided tour line, which we did.


At first, the guard said we could not go in this line, but when we showed him the ticket, he waved us through.

100_2832Dan’s little tip saved us more than hour of wait time.

100_2813 We took the elevator to the upper level.  On top, as I was reading about the Colosseum from the guide I had prepared before the trip, a young couple stood nearby.

100_2827We thought we might be blocking their view, but when we asked if they wanted us to move, the guy said, “No, I was just enjoying the comments from the tour guide.”  It had taken a few hours, but Tuscan Tom’s Tours was back in business (although it was now called Tom’s Roman Tours).

100_2811The next group we ran into was a bunch of Irish students on holiday, who were having a blast in Italy.  Kim (being Irish) took this opportunity to flirt with them, thus affording me a welcome relief from “the look.”

Circus MaximasKim and Mary then took the subway to Circus Maximus (which they nicely took a couple of photos for me), while I continued to deprive Tracy of sustenance as we headed on the subway toward the Vatican.

DSC00446 I told Tracy there was a method to my madness for wanting to go to Vatican City.

100_2833We had 9:15 a.m. Scavi Tickets for the following day, and I wanted to know exactly where we should go. Plus, both Tracy and I wanted to see St. Peter’s again.

DSC00453At St. Peter’s, we asked the Swiss Guard where the Excavations office was, and soon we found ourselves in a surreal takeoff of the famed Abbott and Costello “Who’s on First” routine.

A SWISS GUARD“Where is the Excavations Office?” I asked.

“Do you have reservations?”

“Yes, for tomorrow, but I just wanted to make sure where to go.”

Come back tomorrow.”

“Yes, I know, but is this where I go?”

“Do you have reservations?”


“Yes, for tomorrow.”


“Then come back tomorrow.


I don’t know … Third Base.”


Anyway, I did ascertain (finally) that this was the place to go the following morning. We saw a long line stretching through the Vatican, and I was going to ask the Swiss Guard what the line was for, but realized we had to be back at the hotel to meet the gang for “cocktail hour.”

Instead, I asked someone else. “Oh, that’s the line to see the tomb of John Paul II.” The line stretched forever so it seemed, and we determined it wasn’t worth the wait.


We circumvented the throngs and walked inside St. Peters and spent a good deal of time wandering. We then saw another line that was going past another dead Pope. “Who’s that?” I asked.

100_2875“Pope John XXIII,” was the answer. He was lying in state because he was on the fast track to sainthood.

DSC00347The line was short, so we got in. People were taking pictures of the pope (who you could see through the glass encasing) as they moved through, and although it seemed a little sacrilegious, I took one, too, but I was moving too fast and it came out blurry.

We also waded through the mass (well, it is St. Peter’s) of people to see The Pieta.

A PIETATracy’s hunger pangs were evident, but we were now in the dreaded Bermuda Triangle of in-between lunch and dinner hours, so she said she’d just wait until the Santa Maria Happy Hour.

Being on our feet for more than six hours, we could have taken a taxi back to the hotel, but we had not had a lot of luck with taxis, so we walked the 20 minutes back to the hotel along the Tiber.  Arriving at our room, Tracy said, “OK. My feet are now officially broken.” She was too tired to even give me the look at this point.



We met up with our friends at the Santa Maria Happy Hour, and it seemed like “Broken Feet Syndrome” was running (well, walking) rampant in our group. There is nothing like Campari, Prosecco, Vino and a nice spread to rejuvenate the spirit, if not the feet.

The weather was a little iffy at Happy Hour, so we dined inside, although you can take your food and wine to the nice interior patio. We chatted with other guests until it was time for dinner.

DSC00423At eight that evening, we walked the (thankfully) short distance to the Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere. Dan and I walked over to a restaurant called Sabatini (photo courtesy of TripAdvisor), and he turned toward me and the others, his face pale as a ghost.


We couldn’t figure out what was wrong until we glanced at the menu that said their fish was priced by the gram. Dan was having a Venice flashback, so we hurried over to the Ristorante Galeassi on the piazza and secured an outside table.

As we dined, I kept looking out on the square at a guy dressed like King Tut, or at least that’s what I thought he looked like. He kept staring at our table, not moving, and suddenly I couldn’t get that Steve Martin tune out of my head. Thankfully, he finally had to go back to his condo made of stona or wherever he was from, and we ate without his constant stare.

Soon, the piazza’s musical entertainment was near our restaurant. Two youngsters “playing” accordion regaled the crowd, but something seemed amiss. Linda said, “They’re not really playing. I think the music is recorded.”

We all agreed, except for Kim, who steadfastly said the boys were live, not Memorex. Well, we went back and forth until we all chipped for a handsome tip and had Linda go pose with the boys.

DSC00455She swears that when she got close up to the boys, the kid on the left was just faking playing the instrument. She maintains, that there was some sort of tape recorder inside the accordion.

Looking back, she could have requested a song to see if they were really playing, but it was more fun to just argue the point.

For dessert, it was back to the Enoteca Trastevere. Once again, this chocolate masterpiece was terrific. We chatted with one of the owners who said it (the enoteca, not the dessert) has been in the family for 60 years, and she lived upstairs. We had a great glass of a 1998 Brume Rosse Reserva and also a glass of Rosso Moio.

The six of us enjoyed the atmosphere so much, that we made dinner reservations for the following evening. We were feeling sad because tomorrow was going to be the final night for all of us in Italy. For you, it’s good news, because this report is almost finally over.

Next: Day Twenty Two – Under And Above St. Peter’s, Shortcut To A Dead Pope, Linda Buys A Ristorante, The Incredible Garlic Bread And The Last Supper (Roman Style)

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