We then spent a week at a villa in Sicily and checked out Palermo, Agrigento, Taormina, Mount Etna, and Trecastagni where my mom found some relatives that she never knew she had before.
(do a Google search if you want to find out more about the various sights and cities listed above)
The airline flight over there was horrible! I couldn't watch the movie because the headphone plug for my seat was broken. The overhead light for my seat did not work so I couldn't even read. And because I was in one of the last rows, they had run out of all the good meals and only had fish (which I don't eat). So I got pretty whiney and pissy about all of this. I mean, on a $1000 eight hour flight, I should at least be able to eat something or watch the damn movie! Most of the flight attendants didn't seem to give a shit, which pissed me off even more. But one of them could see I was upset and kept on giving me lots of alcohol which eventually put me to sleep so I finally left them alone.
We had mixed feelings about Rome. On one hand, the architecture and artwork were absolutely stunning! In every sense of the word. But on the other hand, Rome is WAY too overcrowded and noisy and somewhat dirty. Graffiti everywhere. Lots of litter.
Our hotel in Rome wasn't in a bad part of town but it was noisy and we had trouble sleeping because we had to keep our windows open because they don't use air conditioners and there was a bar across the street that didn't even open until sometime after midnight. Oh yeah, and because the streets are so overcrowded during the day, the only time they can pick up garbage is during the overnight hours...and everyone knows how much noise garbage trucks make!
The tour group operator left a bad taste in our mouths. For one thing, they literally left me at one of the stops! The whole group took off without me! Despite my family's pleading and begging the tourguide. But the tourguide insisted that she had a schedule to keep and they had to move on. RIDICULOUS!!!! They KNOW we're tourists so what did they expect, that I could find my way back all alone?!?!? I called the tourguide's office to try to explain that I was left behind, but they didn't speak any English and I only know like maybe 10 words of Italian so that was useless. To try to make a long story short, being the smart fella that I am, I figured there would be another tour coming thru at some point. So I waited and found the next tour group and told the tourguide what happened. He couldn't believe it so he took me as part of his group. I was separated from my family for the rest of the day but at least I knew that I would eventually wind up back at the tourguide's office.
There was also an incident involving a tourguide and a restaurant they selected for us that was part of a tour to Pompeii. It was a very nasty and ugly scene. It was first-come, first-served seating and we almost didn't get seated because some assholes stole our seats and we got into a little altercation with them. We then kept getting pushed around to different seats...it seemed that every seat we tried to sit in was wrong so we were beginning to get upset. When we finally found someplace to sit, we were almost not served anything -- it seems they were extorting us and wanted us to buy a bottle of wine (the food was included with the tour but beverages were not). Apparently, since we did not want to buy their wine, they did not want us to eat. By the time we got something to eat, almost everyone else was ready for desert so when we finally did start to eat, we were rushed and the waitstaff was reluctant to serve us. And the strolling musicians started to annoy us and get in our faces when we started to eat. After all the bullshit, we didn't want anyone bothering us by this point but they took offense that we wouldn't tip them so they would play for us; we just wanted to eat in peace by now, not be forced to pay for music we did not want to begin with. I know it's too late to make a long story short but we got into fights with a lot of people there because of the way we were mistreated.
But the trip wasn't all bad. Quite the contrary, actually. We saw some of the most beautiful and amazing things. Buildings and churches that are thousands of years old but look brand new. We were at places that we've read about and heard about in history such as the Coliseum. The Vatican's ceilings have such incredible and intricate works of art that I can't possibly put into words! You should look at the pics and see for yourself, although the pics don't even come close to seeing everything in person.
Sicily was all good. We hired a driver, Rosario, who took us all over the island and to many of the hotspots and to some of the best restaurants. I think the places I enjoyed the most were Taormina, Mount Etna, and Trecastagni. Taormina has what's left of an ancient amphitheater on top of a mountain next to the ocean overlooking the coast. The views are breathtaking! I really cannot say enough about it. If you look at the pics, you can see partially crumbled walls in the foreground, different sizes of hills and mountains in the mid-ground to the west, and the coastline down below in the background. I really wish the pics can be 3D so you can get a better idea of what I am trying to say.
Mount Etna was cool because it's an active volcano. You can see steam coming up thru the cracks here and there. You can look down into old inactive craters and even the active craters if you dare. In the pics you can see a lot of black soot and ash. What you can't really tell, however, is that some of the soot and ash is piled up for dozens and dozens of feet, thus making parts of the mountain slightly taller. For example, we were able to see where an eruption a few years ago completely buried the giftshops and restaurant -- we could see the difference between the old top of this part of the mountain compared to the new top by the different shades of soot and ash. I know that probably doesn't make much sense to you but trust me: it was interesting to see it in person.
Trecastagni was really special to my mom. Both of her parents were born there and she often heard stories about it but had never been there until now. And she got to meet her father's family that she never knew about before. We had nothing except for a photocopy of my grandfather's passport but our driver, Rosario, was able to find the family anyway. He was like a bloodhound tracking a scent! We started at Town Hall and got copies of my grandparents' Birth Certificates that had old addresses. When Town Hall closed for lunch, Rosario took us