Friday, December 7, 2012

The Happiness of Hats

Did you see the photo of my sister Sue in front of the Hotel Villa San Pio in Rome?  If so, you probably noticed that she was wearing a hat.

I've mentioned before that we grew up in the era prior to the invention of SPF, when the little Coppertone Girl was dark brown and lifeguards had white stripes down their noses.  Both of our parents and various other relatives have had to have multiple skin cancers removed, and Sue and I would rather not go down that road.  For our late summer cruise to the eastern Mediterranean, therefore, we packed our SPF 45 sunscreen, lightweight but long-sleeved shirts and jackets, and hats.

Finding the right hats to take was more difficult than you might think.  We both have smallish heads and Sue's hair is extremely short, so "one size fits all" hats don't fit us.  At times Sue has even had to resort to "youth" hats, which tend to come in one style: the bucket.  Fortunately, through the magic of the Internet, we were able to locate the Wallaroo Hat Company, which sells ADJUSTABLE hats with an Ultraviolet Protection Factor of 50+.

On the first couple of shore excursions we took, we were almost the only people wearing hats.  Everywhere we went on the cruise, however, hat vendors abounded, and they all did a brisk business as the sun beat down on us day after day.  By the last shore excursion, over half of those along were wearing hats purchased en route.  Did they fit as well as ours?  Did THEY have UPF 50+?  I think not.

"Wallaroo Hat Company is committed to the elimination of skin cancer. The Wallaroo Sun Protection is a promise that each year, we will donate 1% of our profits to skin cancer research, education and prevention in the United States." ~

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Visiting the Vatican

Sue and I knew from previous experience that virtually all of France goes on vacation during the month of August.  We had assumed most of the French go to the beach then.  It turns out, however, that a goodly number of them visit Rome – at least, we heard almost as much French there as Italian, and saw a couple of French tourists melt down when they discovered the Metro branch leading to the Vatican City was closed for repairs.  The city was running extra buses in that direction, but didn’t really have enough to cope with everyone who wanted to go there.  Can you spell “sardine cans?”

We signed up for a tour of the Vatican Museum so we could skip the ticket counter lines AND take the shortcut to St. Peter’s at the end of the tour.  (If you go through the museum by yourself, you have to walk all the way back through the museum to where you started and around to St. Peter’s on the outside of the buildings.)  The guide also saved us from having to try to elbow our way through the crowds to read the captions telling us what the exhibits were.

Since the Vatican is holy territory, bare knees and shoulders are not allowed inside, even in the museum; this means the approaches to the buildings are clogged with vendors selling scarves large enough to serve as a shawl or sarong for anyone attempting to enter in a tank top or shorts.  (Most of them are printed with the word “Rome” in Latinesque type.)  Head coverings are no longer required, but many of the older women we saw there wore them anyway.

The Vatican Museum itself was incredible – the result of hundreds of years of treasure-gathering by acquisitive Popes and their staff.  Some of the collectors had better taste than others, so some of the artifacts were exquisite and others were just, um, gaudy, but the overall effect was of unbelievable wealth.  It was also a quickie tour of the history of art.  Our guide kept saying things like, “This statue was the first attempt ever to show the human body in a realistic pose, rather than just standing still.”  Amazing.

Note to potential visitors: Neither the museum nor St. Peter’s has been retrofitted with air conditioning.  If you plan to visit, you may not want to do it at the end of August.  If you are there during the summer, take a large bottle of drinking water with you – you’ll need it.  And remember, no shorts or sleeveless tops, unless you WANT to buy a cheesy Vatican-themed scarf to cover up with.

Of course the tour ended in the Sistine Chapel, where we were not allowed to take pictures.  Surprisingly, the cleaned and restored paintings there were even lighter in color than I had expected from the photographs I’ve seen of the restoration, and more beautiful.  Interesting fact: The Sistine Chapel was the first thing Michelangelo ever painted – he was strictly an architect and sculptor before the Pope made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.

The high point of St. Peter’s, also courtesy of Michelangelo, was the Pieta, behind glass since it was attacked.  Fortunately the repairs are not noticeable.

Here are some of my photos from the areas that did allow (non-flash) photography.

"The Vatican Museums is one of those places that everyone should visit at least once in his life."

Monday, December 3, 2012

Where to Stay in Rome

And now for some long-overdue information about our trip to Europe…

Flying from Arizona to Italy involves at least one connection, and missing that connection generally means waiting a day for another flight, so we planned a day in Rome into our schedule as a “just in case” buffer.  After a grueling day and a half in transit, we took the train into the city to a stop only a few blocks from our hotel.  Alas, the elevator and escalator in the station were both nonfunctional, and the “few blocks” were all uphill.  By the time we dragged ourselves and our luggage to the hotel through the incredible heat and humidity of Rome in August, we were literally drenched in perspiration.  (I actually sweated through my jeans AND a heavy leather belt.)  However, we were clearly not the first travelers to arrive at our destination in this condition.  The bellhop met us at the reception desk with iced orange juice – the first indication that the hotel was a real jewel.

We stayed at the Hotel Villa San Pio, conveniently located within walking or Metro distance of most of the city’s central sightseeing attractions, on the recommendation of an acquaintance who lives in Rome.  This beautiful, traditionally decorated hotel is one of several adjoining former private residences now operated as bed-and-breakfast establishments by a local family.  The reception staff spoke perfect English and willingly made restaurant suggestions as well as taxi reservations for the trip to the ship.  Our spacious room was equipped with a modern private bathroom, a small balcony perfect for an evening glass of wine among the treetops (we were on the second floor), an Internet connection, a flatscreen TV, and lovely high ceilings.  The buffet breakfast was served in a glass-walled garden room and adjoining outdoor patio with a couple of hungry cats underfoot and small green parrots flying overhead.  The price was about half the cost of the chain hotel we stayed in after the cruise ended.  If I ever return to Rome, the first thing I will do is make a reservation at the Hotel Villa San Pio.
My sister Sue after the "Rome Death March"

The Hotel Villa San Pio

The Breakfast Room and Patio

One of the "Breakfast Cats"