I had written this but didn't post it until August of 2011. Here is the original travelogue :

Larry King was interviewing Shawn Johnson. Something about a stalker and such. A group of very enthusiastic school kids from Spain were waiting to board the flight to Madrid. My flight to Heathrow was delayed by an hour. This was perfect, I got to catch up with all my friends, say goodbye, and get started on "Dear John". The last minute stress of packing, activating international roaming and the like was starting to take a toll on me. I had "Dear John" and "Twilight" on the agenda to finish during this vacation. I had received two clear instructions, one from friends and one at work. One was not to have any agenda, the other was to quit checking email. I was surprised at how well I followed both.

I landed in Heathrow, bright and early at 6 30 AM on the 28Th. The airport was relatively quiet, I

got through immigration and customs in no time. I saw a uniformed cosmos driver, waited for another crabby old lady west Indian lady from Queens (remember this one for a funny anecdote later) and drove to the hotel. I settled in, grabbed a tube map and was on my way, this was exciting !

My first stop was near the Big Ben, that's when I eyed two important things. One is the roadside shop with the Union Jack hats that Joey stops for F.R.I.E.N.D.S. , the other was a yummy pancake/waffle shop. I made my way to the London Eye. The crowds were unbelievable, but not unlike my daily commute. Remember the annoying tourists that get in the way in NYC when I am trying to get to work every day? Well, I was one of them now.

I took in everything, the crisp summer day, the huge influx of middle eastern tourists sporting the head gear and Prada bags,the desi influence in normal cuisine, the accents and the like. I paid almost double the price to get an express pass to go on the London Eye. The views were panoramic, but I am not sure it was worth the price. I loved the Cornetto stalls everywhere, felt very reassuring. They had new flavors, well "new" according to me, anyway. Must have been about 9 years since I had one.

I was able to get some good shots of the Royal Albert Hall , as I made my way out of there towards Westminster Abbey, and 10 Downing. I remembered my history lessons and the famous people who were buried there, but I could only come up with a few. My sleep debt was beginning to catch up with me, and I decided to get over to a friend's place for the night.

Part of the reason I decided to make this trip alone was that I needed a change. So meeting familiar faces wasn't really a big objective of this trip, but these guys were different. We hadn't met in a while, and we had things to catch up. It was amazing how our lives had changed and taken drastically different directions in the past 2 years. It just goes to show how nothing in life is permanent but change.

The next day, I was in front of the Buckingham palace, bright and early. It worked out really well,because I was able to beat the crowds before it opened. This was a good time to take this trip in more ways than one. The Buckingham Palace is only open from end of July through October for public viewing.

No photography was allowed, which was great because it gave me the time to listen to the audio tour and actually take it all in. It was a palace alright - 17 staterooms, each with its own decor, antique elements, and style. The highlight of the trip was the exhibit " Queen's Year" - It had elements of her life from each season, complete with her dresses and insignia. To an outsider , it almost felt like the monarchy was trying to reach out to a broader audience, in hopes of preserving it's position in a new generation of Brits. Personally, the ostentatiousness was lost on me. On the one hand it is surprising that the country can find the funds to maintain a part of history, even though it is completely superfluous to today's world. Sure, she makes an appearance to start every new parliament session, and wears her robe. So ?

Anyway, the crowds had gathered to watch the change of guards, another non-event if you ask me. I made my way back to the hotel in time to join a group to go to the Tower of London. Tower of London is historic, the scene of many bloody battles, espionage and the like. I saw the historic Traitors Gate and other memorabilia

We then proceeded to see the crown jewels. There is a room containing the coat of arms for every dynasty which leads to the actual display of the crown jewels, orbs, sceptres,swords used during coronation and other important occasions. Yes, that pang of anger I felt on seeing the Kohinoor, housed in the queen mother's crown was palpable. The GBP is 72 Indian Rupees now, thank you colonial rule !

The next day we left from London by motor coach to Dover, from where we boarded the ferry to Calais, France. The ferry was similar to the one in Seattle, you could drive your cars into it. Huge food courts and duty free shopping , you are in France in no time. Funnily, I wasn't asked for my passport anywhere we crossed borders. We were getting ready to alight the ferry when I met the crabby old lady again. This time she was with a young Indian guy. Her intent was pretty obvious, and I tried to avoid it altogether and made banal small talk, waiting to alight. She must have been old enough to be my grand mom, that one. She wasn't even that nice to me on our way to the hotel, and she was on a different tour than mine. As if her intent wasn't evident, she turned to me and asked me , on my face, "Are you Single?". Me : Wow ! Talk about subtlety. "Hmm.. mmm.. Yes?" She : " You both should get together then" Me: *cringing* She : Pointing to him , You should ask for her number, you should exchange emails, go out. Me : DID she just SAY that out loud ?

It was SO funny, really,really embarrassing, and kind of endearing at the same time. There I was, standing on a ferry from Dover to Calais, on this vacation all by myself, thousands of miles away from everything. And there she is, a random old lady, trying to hook me up. Wow. I guess you can run, but you cannot hide. Also, people all over the world are not much different, when you think about it. They all value basic things - friendship, love, family. And the need to be part of a fairy tale. Ha ha.

Anyway, so that's where we met our actual tour group, my tour guide, and driver. More on my group later, but the important thing to remember is that I was fortunate to share this experience with such a fun loving, enthusiastic group. My experience was enriched by these guys - across languages, ages, gender and ethnicity. We made our way to Paris just in time to head out to see a Cabaret show "Lido". This was something like Broadway-meets-Vegas type risque drama/comedy/musical. The lighting, special effects and stage settings were amazing. There was a ten minute piece of Indian dancing, and music, complete with Ganesha and Elephants. Yes, scantily clad women and Ganesha. Bollywood is way more pervasive than we fathom.

We strolled through Champs-Élysées , caught the view of the Eiffel Tower by night.Paris is a city like no other. Now the French - Well, they think France is the greatest country in the world. The have Paris, the French Rivera, the alps, brie, baguettes, the most visited tourist destination in the world, can you blame them ? Anyway, they are very Chennai when it comes to their language. Let me explain. They will not speak to you in English, even if they know to speak it. You have to make an effort, least a "Bon Jour" type greeting, for them to try to communicate with you. I don't necessarily take offense. Ask my fellow Chennai brethren.

We started our tour , driving through Paris with a local guide the next day. It was hard to understand her accent, but she sure had character. We caught glimpses of the River Seine. You can see parts of the Seine river's embankments have been filled with sand. You can see cabanas, umbrellas and sunbathers. This is for people who cannot afford to get away, I am told. Thoughtful.

We passed the Louvre, the pyramid in front of the Louvre, et al and reached the cathedral of Notre Dame. I was speechless, I hadn't seen anything this magnificent in a long time. I was caught between listening to the tour guide, taking in the sight, or capturing it on camera. We exited and spent time at a gift store. I was thrilled to finally find clothes my size - T-shirts, sweatshirts and other souvenirs. We then drove through the city , and got off at Champs Elysees.

I decided against going to Versailles, opting instead to walk around the city. With a map in hand, a group of us enjoyed Paris by the day. Intermittent rains did not impede our journey. I ate Banana-Chocolate crepes at the roadside stall. Delicious. We walked to the Arc De Triomphe, and got some good shots, and then made our way towards the Lafayette mall , only to get lost. This just got more adventurous. We decided to take the RER back. Of course, all the ticket booths were written in French. We finally got someone to help us buy tickets and got on the right train. We reached the Lafayette Mall - The architecture is splendid. Paris is all wealth - I saw an obscene collection of high end, luxury brands. I was dizzy. I tried to make my way through the crowds and do some shopping, as I was thrilled that I finally see clothes my size. I didn't splurge though, I spent sensibly. I rejoined my tour group at the Opera house, and go back for some rest.

In the evening, we left to Monmartre. It is famous for it's Church, nuns who made wine and hence became the drinking district. It is also very artsy, bohemian. The Dalis and the Monets of the world lived and worked here. The church itself was very beautiful, and I felt like I was in a real place of worship - The silence, the candles light all over, the prayer books - it was crowded but not touristy. We then left to dinner.

So legend has it that when France was under siege, the troops hid in this mountain so they could get a clear view of the city, they prayed that if they ever got out alive, they'd construct the most beautiful chapel , and they did. But what is even more interesting, is that they ran out of rations and hence started cooking and eating cockroaches and frogs. Which explains some of the options on the dinner menu. Anyway , dinner was a fun affair, huge groups of Australian boorish travellers singing and dancing to keep us entertained. After the main course, there was a cheese course, where I sampled some very interesting cheeses. For dessert, I enjoyed profiteroles.

Overall, Paris was great, I just wish we had more time, I would have really loved to see the Louvre and pay a visit to Mona Lisa.

The next day we embarked on a journey to Lake Lucerne. It was the Swiss National Day so we saw a lot of flags and streamers, and we were excited about watching the fireworks from our hotel. I realized how American I've become in some ways. In my mind expected to see a pyrotechnic show rivalling the fourth of July fireworks. I saw instead, flowerpots and rockets, very similar to Diwali back home. It was fun nevertheless, until the rain Gods decided to make their appearance. The lake itself was so perfect, we bonded, took pictures and took a stroll. We came back and walked around the hotel , where there was a chapel on a hill, there were cute cobble stoned streets and bistros like in the picture book. As we walked around, we saw a gushing waterfall, between two houses. Just like that. I imagined what it would be like to live in a picture postcard, every single day .

That night was my birthday, I also got calls from my thoughtful friends. I knew this would be an unforgettable day. The next day as I got on the bus, the whole group loudly cheered and started singing to me. It was a great start to a day that only kept getting better and better. We left to Lucerne. The scenery cannot be adequately described. Words or pictures cannot do justice, so I won't even try. We went to see the statue of the sleeping lion, and then we embarked on a scenic cruise on the lake Lucerne. We saw the rich people's houses for a while. Again, I am not even going to describe it , I can supplement it with photos but they don't do justice either.

We came back to do some shopping in Lucerne. There were some freebies to take advantage of. A Rolex spoon , a chance to enter a lottery etc. The Swiss , unlike the French, are interested in , how do I put this, betterment of their economy. Ergo, they accept all currencies, speak English, and in general welcome tourists. I walked around scenic Lucerne, sat down and watched the swans float by, spoke to my parents. I was far, far away from home, although, the term "home" is pretty vague to me these days. I missed celebrating my birthday with family and friends, but this was new, exciting. After all, how often do you get to celebrate your birthday at 10,000 ft ?

I gathered some memorabilia to take home - mostly for my nephew. We then left to Mt.Titlis. This is a three step cable car, the first one seats only six people. Each car has a flag of a country, and of course, I had to get all high-school-nerdy and try to guess every flag. PS: It's amazing how much trivia you can forget as you grow. This is also home to the world's first revolving cable car. Pretty cool, except it was raining and a bit foggy as we went higher. There were also a few people who were scared of heights. Just as an FYI - The Swiss stress test these cable cars every year, after which they are passed on to the Italians, Romanians and so on. Note to self : Never take the cable car in Romania.

The top of Mt.Titlis was snowy and pristine. Of course, it was an Indian invasion out there, starting with a Rediwallah at the bottom of Titlis, serving hot samosas and chai , to the DDLJ cutout, to the Indian buffet and pizza, to photos of bolly actresses who've visited the place. Why ? Well, if you are even an occassional bollywood movie watcher, you'll know that roughly 98% of Hindi movies have a romantic song pictured atop a snowy mountain, replete with the scantily clad heroine making snow angels and the hero flaying his arms and joyful delight. Well, that snowy peak , is Mt.Titlis.

We came back, changed and headed to a fondue dinner, and Swiss folklore entertainment. Now, we got to hear the alpine horn, but more importantly , we got to see the other "musical instruments" at work. A broomstick and stick, a coin circling around a porcelain bowl and the like. Honestly that sound was terrible, like the chalk against the board. It was fun to hear the castanets and cowbells though. The troupe also sang me a Happy Birthday, that was a fun surprise. Midway through dinner, a fake cow made it's appearance through the tables, it was so funny to see people's reaction to something so obviously fake. It was a good try to break up what was getting to be a monotonous show. The grand finale was the yodeling. The troupe called volunteers on stage to yodel in front of the entire audience. I was volunteered by my group, I am glad I did. What followed was caught on tape, enough said. My raucous group carried it forward into the bus, by now we'd graduated to singing and dancing on the aisles. I was transported back to those carefree days of high school picnic, the singing, dancing, joking. Just what I wanted, what a perfect birthday !

The next day we left bright and early to the Italian speaking part of Switzerland, Lugano. Again, picturesque lakes and waterfalls, and a fresh farmers market. Lots of Gelato to be had, but I was saving up until we crossed the border to Italy. I bought fresh marmalade, and i mean, farm fresh. I'll still regret the carelessness of putting it in my cabin luggage , having to throw it away at Da Vinci. Oh Well. I did have some amazing hot chocolate and potato Quiche there. This was fun.

We left Lugano and proceeded to Italy. Again no border restrictions. Every rest stop we used throughout the trip had amazing food. No not the stale burgers, but fresh, hot food. We made our way to Verona, and I also finished reading "Twilight". The first hundred or so pages were pretty so-so, but it did get exciting after that. But nothing legendary about it, this book is no Harry Potter. It's more of an "I want to keep abreast of Pop-lit" more than anything.

We reached Verona, where we saw the Arena, and some naked statues. But Verona, is famous for Juliet's Balcony. OK,so Romeo and Juliet were a figment of Shakespeare's imagination. Legend has it that in those days, the famous writers took vacations in Italy, where they purchased stories from lesser known writers and passed it off as their own. The story of Romeo and Juliet is believed to have some resemblance to two warring families in Verona. Now, some say that the actual balcony was too dilapidated to use , so, this current balcony was chosen instead. There is also a statue of Juliet, and grazing her left boob is supposed to bring you luck in love. The crowds that throng this vague representation of a fictional place, is unbelievable. You can also see walls with graffiti , lovers names scribed. I caught a few funny ones on camera, including a huge "I love Jonas Brothers". There is also a letterbox, where you can write letters to Juliet. Yes, "Letters to Juliet" is set in Verona, where apparently a group of people answer these letters. I am not going to comment on the significance of this fictional place, I get that when you are in love, you just want something to believe in - fiction or real.

Before we proceed, a word about Italy's devotion to coffee. The baristas at self serves are not allowed to serve anything else, like sandwiches, as it is taboo to contaminate the sanctity of the coffee.

We made our way to the Queen of the Adriatic, Venice.We reached our hotel which was outside of Venice, parked at the parking island and took the ferry into the main island, where we were greeted by a nice , big rainbow. Venice, the place of my dreams. I had imagined it to be a lot smaller. It is a collection of islands, where nothing on wheels is permitted. There is a central parking island, from which there are ferries, boats and gondolas to navigate the city. Fake bag vendors and huge tourist crowds set the stage for what would be a memorable evening. We made our way through the crowds to get to Piazza San Marco - St.Marks square. I was not prepared for the magnificence of the architecture. It was simply breath taking, and again, no picture can do justice to what the eye can see.

We made our way to our dinner place. Dinner was a very interesting affair. At my table, sat an elderly couple from Buffalo, NY, an Australian-Italian , and a young Saudi couple. By some accident, the topic meandered into politics. It was very interesting to hear opposing viewpoints, especially how the world views the U.S. versus how they view themselves. An unlikely combination butted heads - The Italian-Australian , and the American lady. The Saudi couple were trying to break it up. Who'd have thought !

The next day, we reached Venice and started the day with a glass blowing demonstration. We saw the Murano art, the delicacy of the colors, and the painting on the glass. I was awed at the ease at which the master creates complex figurines from hot glass. I should upload those videos sometime.

This was followed by the much awaited Gondola ride, complete with the Serenader. He sung at the top of his voice, with such fervor, unmindful of the gawking tourists, as our gondola made its way through the narrow Venetian canals , and beautiful bridges. This was my fairy tale , right there.

Thanks to Rick Stevens, I had read that one should take the less touristy route around Venice to actually experience the city. So I started walking away from Piazza San Marco, and wandered through the streets of Venice, clicking pictures, eating at Bistros, and generally taking in the scene. It was a very hot summer day, and I was in Venice. Yes, the Venice we've read about in books and seen in movies.

We then proceeded by ferry to the colorful island of Burano, about forty minutes from Venice. We saw Casanova's house on the way. His claim to fame, by the way, is having had about two hundred nuns from the nearby church.

Burano, is an island famous for its brightly colored houses. There are many theories on how it came to be, some scandalous, some mundane.Burano, though, is famous for lace-making. It is here that we saw Olga, the famous lace maker, a wizened old lady, meticulously making lace by hand. We picked up a few more trinkets, and some lace items, savored the local delicacies and headed back to the hotel.

The next day, we continued our journey towards Florence. Florence is famous for leather goods, and our tour started with a leather making demonstration. It was rainy in Florence that day, and we decided to take a bit of a break from the tour. A group of us were sitting at this coffee shop. I had a very interesting conversation with an elderly American couple on the immigration issue in Arizona. It is one thing to be proud of your country, it's another thing to close your eyes , and pretend that it is a perfect country. Anyway, we then made our way to see the famous Michelangelo's "David". We strolled around the city, transported back to when Florence was the cradle of the renaissance. Our guide took us to an off the beaten path gelato place, where my obsession with Gelato began.

We reached Florence where we stayed the night. The region of Tuscany/Florence is famous for their saltless bread. Yes, no salt in the bread. It has to do with a maritime war between Pisa and Florence where Pisans levied high salt taxes, and the Florentinians showed dissent by baking bread without salt. We spent the evening chatting, strolling , playing cards and again, this was a throwback to summer holidays at Grandmas. I had no idea how much I missed those days.

The next day, we started to Pisa. The leaning tower had been closed for many years for renovation. The engineers re-tilted it by a few degrees , so it wouldn't topple over. It was a bright , sunny day, and there were many photo opps. Pisa has a disproportionate number of shops selling African merchandise, as does Venice.

Funny thing that happened, I was missing my purse. I had a big handbag full of stuff, and I had been warned about pickpoketers in Pisa. I had both my cell phones on me, and I was missing the tour director's number. Luckily I found someone in my group who had her number, so I called her, and she was able to call the driver and locate it at the motorcoach. Now, this event was fortuitious, because, an hour later, I missed my tour group, who had taken the train back to the motorcoach. I called my tour director, who asked me to get on an orange bus and get to the parking lot. Now, the streets of Pisa are narrow and crowded, I got on the first orange bus, which ,turns out, was proceeding in the opposite direction. Of course, no one spoke a word of English. I got off at a random intersection, to find my way back. My tour director spoke to a shop owner , who was trying to explain where I was, no avail. I somehow gathered that I had to walk back to the Tower, where Alex would meet me. After about 45 minutes of walking, I rejoined my tour group. It was an adventure to remember. Thank God for international roaming cell phones, and my carelessness in leaving behind my wallet, if not I wouldnt have had Alex's number handy.
We then proceeded to Rome, where we started with the Pantheon, many oblesisks, the column of Marcus Arelius, and after some yummy gelato , reached the Trevi fountain. Now, if you are in Italy, don't forget to try a variety of gelato, that's made of thick cream, it's much different from icecream, in that it's creamier, almost like eating a cold version of "Paal Kova". The flavors are amazing too. My personal favorte - Hazelnut.
After the mandatory coin drop at the Trevi, we made our way to the Spanish Steps. It was a bit of a hike to get to the top, where we made our way to have the best meal of the trip. Very fresh Caprese salads,bruschetta,Lasagna, Tiramisu - actually every meal in Italy has kind of morphed into one big delightful gastronomical event in my head at the time of writing. Italian men are famous for treating their women well, as you can see from the way they talk to you. You'll be called "Bella", meaning beauty. At the end of one dinner, the Chef came out with roses and a kiss in the cheek for all the ladies of my group. Loved it !
Now, I know I sound like a spoilt American teenager when I say this, but as much as I enjoyed the Pizza in Italy, but I didn't think it was out of the world. Gelato, yes. Pizza .. not so much. I guess if you live in NY and get used to the thin-crust, it comes very close so you don't miss a whole lot.
Our next day started off with what was my personal highlight for the trip - The Vatican ! We had to get there by eight o'clock. Being a Catholic country, most churches in Italy have a dress code. No bare shoulders or bare knees for women. And yet, the Burqa concept is so unfathomable to most Westerners. Anyway, much has been said about the Vatican, and I for one, couldn't get enough of the mystery, even as I was growing up, pre-Dan Brown era. Vatican is it's own soveriegn state, complete with huge walls, governed by the church. Vatican is one of the most visited places in the world, so we were dealing with a huge swarm of people. The guide did a great job of keeping us all together as she guided us through the Vatican museums. Tapestry, paintings, sculptures replete with history , felt surreal. She also took the time outside explain the paintings inside the Sistine Chapel, as there wasn't any talking allowed inside.
We must have spent about ten minutes inside the Sistine Chapel. It was an unreal experience for me. You've read about it in boring history classes, sure you've seen the paintings, talked about it, and read numerous fiction novels based on it. But it is nothing like being in there, a meditative, reflective trance, if you will. I don't remember opening my mouth or my camera for the rest of my stay at the Vatican. Most of my time was spent on the last judgement, my mind trying to take in as much as humanly possible, hoping to connect the dots later. Sistine Chapel also serves as the Papal conclave, where the next pope is chosen. We saw the chute from which smoke signals are sent as and when a decision is made.
We made our way to St. Peter's Bascilia. The oldest and largest church in existence, the seat of all Christian activity. I made a mental note to visit the Mecca at some point in time. St.Peter, one of the apostles, and successor the papal legacy , was buried here. The body of St. Paul, is also displayed for everyone to see. Entire treatises have been written on this subject, which for brevity reasons, will be a separate post. We made our way to see Michelangelo's Peita a reinaissance masterpeice. The detail on Virgin Mary's face, the expression of compassion, the strength with which she holds a grown Jesus supported on one arm, is incredible. We walked through the church and saw more sculptures and paintings and I was making as many mental notes as possible, hoping to draw inspiration for my book. But mostly I didn't ever forget that I was walking on hallowed grounds, where history was made.
A pizza & Gelato break later, we were on our way to the Colusseum. Now, vacationing on a package tour has pros and cons. You are obviously sticking to a schedule , for most of the day anyway, and lose some of the flexibility associated with travelling on your own. But my personal observation is that unless you have more than a month to travel Europe, it's not worth venturing on your own. Figuring out travel, hotels, sightseeing gotchas will definitely be more hassle than it's worth. But most importantly, we were able to bypass the huge ticket lines at every step, especially the at the Vatican and Colusseum. Those who know me will attest to the fact that standing in the heat for four hours at each location would not have been fun for me.
By this time, we were all exhausted. The heat was relentless, and we as a group had jelled so well and friendships had formed. Everyone forgot their daily life this period of time, and just let lose. The end was nearing, and we were all dealing with it in our own ways. I for one, was going to postpone the inevitable until I got to the airport. I could deal with all my to-do's on my flight home.
As we smiled for a group shot, we knew this trip was unforgettable to everyone, in their own way. This trip meant things to people - to one, it was returning to his motherland after 20 years, to another, it was seeing her mom after 11 years, to someone else, it was the last family vacation before the kids went to college. To some, it was another tick on the map hanging at home.To a young dad, this was his birthday gift to his daughter, to make up for his years of absence in her life. This trip marked the end of things to some, new beginning to others. To a convalescing mom, it was an escape from her daily battle, something her family will cherish and talk about in the years to come, as the future was uncertain. To the proverbial american teenager, it was the realization that a world exists outside of the States. To an elderly couple, it was the realization of all things ancient, and how things in the U.S. seem too recent in comparison.
To yet another family, it was the joyous celebration of being alive. They had escaped wars in their motherland, lived in hiding and fear in random countries before moving to the states and building a home and a life from scratch. To yet another young couple, it was their honeymoon. A honeymoon they could spend, opening expressing affection, something thats forbidden in their country. To the teenage wife, it meant meeting people her same age, leading drastically different lives talking about boys, parties or curfew. It also meant singing the latest Rhianna song aloud with them openly, or playing cards. Afterall, she is a teenager. Life after she got back would be different - drastically different, and this was her window to a world far away, far, far away. The world, up until now, she knew about only through through stolen english DVDs, and pop albums.
To me, it was a world away from the familar, a chance to reflect , pause, and take stock. A chance to experience new things. I think in the end, it made me realize how lucky I am to have the life I do. It made me realize that many things in life I worry about are trivial, and I cannot be thankful enough for the freedom of choice I have, and the security of having family and friends around. I have a motherland and culture that I am proud of, I have an adopted country that accepts me with open arms, and provides me opportunities to grow and learn. Most importantly, I can go home to my country, any time I choose to, I don't have to run , hide or take refuge. I have been gifted the intelligence to experience and understand religions different than my own, with an unbiased eye, and appreciate the philosophy. God has gifted me with health, the ability to dream, and the support system to help me achieve it. For all this and more, I will be eternally thankful.
As we all headed home, some to their families, some to their pets, back to their routines, I was happy to get back sleep in my own bed. I had a family waiting for me, I had a two year old nephew who missed me. That is a sweet deal. Anything else that comes my way, I'll handle it , one day at a time. Afterall, life doesn't come with assurances.
The Colusseum was just as I had seen in the pictures, only more giganic and real. We climbed to the top to get a view of the erstwhile amphitheater, big enough to seat 50,000 people. This set the stage for gladiator fights, wrestling, re-enactments, executions and the like. Remember "Princess and the Lion" ? We then walked to the arena and hypogeum level, which is an array of network tunnels, used to house animals and performers before they went on stage.
We then proceeded to the Roman forum. We were equiped with audio headsets, while the guide was giving us the history behind it. She was knowledgable, but it was a hundred degrees outside, on the last day of our tour, and none of us was paying too much attention. We did take some good pictures, and I promised myself I'd read up and refresh my memory. The jist of it though is, this is a big archealogical site where the remains of imperial Rome was discovered. A complete city, from palaces, to churches , temples and arches.
We headed back to rest before our last night out. We embarked on a trip to Castel Gandalfo, the Pope's summer residence, where we witnessed another change of gaurds. There was a fountain and a beautiful lake Albano surrounding the castle. Some more gelato and trinket shopping was in order. This town, Lazio, has been voted one of the most beautiful towns in Italy and thankfully, it wasn't touristy or crowded. We walked around, enjoying the cobblestoned streets, the quaint bistros and the friendly people. We proceeded to another sumptous dinner, Italian style. Margherita Pizza, and singers to entertain us, and fancy percussion devices, by the end of my trip, I could sing "O Sole Mio", which was a personal achievement.
I returned back for a last night out with the group. Everyone narrated the best and worst moments of the trip. We mingled, exchanged contact information, hugged and said goodbyes.
Our paths diverged again,some got back on the road, some went back to their families, some to their pets, back to their routines. I had a family waiting for me, I had a two year old nephew who missed me. That is a sweet deal. Anything else that comes my way, I'll handle it , one day at a time. Afterall, life doesn't come with assurances.
Tommorow we would all embark on the journey home, knowing that we just made an unforgettable memory together. As for me, I want to do one of these every year.
Next Trip : Egypt , Morocco,Greece and Turkey. Stay Tuned ! :)