NEW! Roma Diario IV: Il Mio Ritorno a Roma!

A New Year brings a new adventure! Welcome to Rome Diary 4, My Return to Rome! From preparations for the trip to my return home to Texas, my journal is posted from beginning to end according to the dates the entries are published. Enjoy!


ROME DIARY IV: My Return to Rome!

A Slight Change in the Game Plan!

Rome Diary IV:

Il Mio Ritorno a Roma!

Thursday February 15, 2018

Sunny 52°F/11°C in Roma, EUR, Italia

Cloudy 67°F/19°C in Cedar Park, Texas

Caro Diario:

Ti ricordi ho detto che avrei lasciato Roma il 15 Febbraio? Well, I’ve decided to stay another month. So, THERE!

In all actuality, as decisions go, it was a no-brainer! All it took was for my son Michael to give me a slight nudge. Seriously, Pop! Do you have any really pressing appointments back in TEXAS? When I couldn’t think of any reasons, he came back at me with, That settles it! Instead of driving you to the airport, we’ll drive up to Selci for a few days, AND you can hear No Funny Stuff play on Sunday. I’ll even throw in a kazoo, so you can play along.

When I broke the news to my landlady, Amina, her usual smile disappeared. I had booked the apartment from her based on my original departure date, and I had already planned on spending a few days with Mike and Laura prior to liftoff. So, suddenly I was confronted with the realities of the internet vacation rental business – Amina had rented MY apartment to a TOTAL STRANGER!  For a moment I panicked - I couldn’t impose on Mike and Laura for a whole MONTH! You will no doubt recall what old Ben Franklin said about company. Fish and guests begin to smell after three days! Being quick on his feet, my son tapped out a text to a friend of his in Tunis, and in scant seconds, I would once again have a place of my own. It’s right near where you’re staying now. The apartment’s bigger and it’s the same price as Amina’s place. Wow! Three cheers for the pride of my loins!

Actually, being a truly international city, Rome has a rather large, English-speaking expatriate community. The ex-pats blend in quite comfortably in their own social structure within Rome’s larger universe. And no one exemplifies that smaller society within the larger universe than the funny and indestructible Marsha De Salvatore, known to her many fans up and down the boot of Italy as Marsha Cincinnati, of Rome’s Comedy Club! Marsha is the guiding light and mentor to an international group of young, up and coming, stand-up comedians from a variety of nations. Michael took me along last Spring when Marsha’s troupe was performing in Monti. She invited him to emcee on that particular night, and this proud pop got to see his boy doing stand-up comedy. This time around, Michael did his first full stand-up routine.

A few nights later, over dinner at Laura and Michael’s home, I chatted with Marsha about Rome’s Comedy Club, and her own career as a stand-up comic, producer and her parallel role as the star of her own one-woman show. The young comedians who perform with Marsha on stage at the circuit of Rome nightclubs that give Marsha’s troupe all of the attributes of a traveling circus are only part of her story. She has also managed to transform a potentially life-threatening chronic illness into a one-woman performance that is playing to rave reviews all up and down the boot of Italy.

      Faced with the periodic ordeal of blood transfusions every few weeks, Marsha has gleaned the humor from her malady and has taken it on the road to set the example to others who share her predicament, as well as to entertain members of their families. Having seen her perform several times, and chatting with Marsha any number of times, I was completely unaware that the specter of a potentially grave illness loomed over her. As a retired journalist, I’m trained to try and detect any chinks in the armor of even the most casual of personal contacts. But, Marsha Cincinnati totally got past me on that one. When I asked why she had left the U.S. for Rome to ply her brand of comedy in a country that didn’t even speak the same language, she floored me with, I’m from Cincinnati! Y’ever been to Cincinnati? Nothing there for me! Nothing!  Fortunately for Marsha, her family has deep roots here in Italy and, because of that, she was able to obtain a long-term visa and access to the national health care system that enables her to work and support herself in a meaningful way. Back home, she said, I would be unable to work because of my health. I’d be on welfare, getting my treatments, all the time with people glaring at me because they’d be convinced that I’m gaming the system! I had apparently struck a nerve with my attempt to learn what it is about Rome that attracts so many expatriates. Look! She said, Here in Rome, I am among my family and friends, getting the care that I need to keep working my butt off, doing something with my career that I truly love, and making a living at it. I can’t do that in CINCINNATI!

Rome has always had a sizable expatriate community, but, like many other Americans, my ties are mostly to the English-speaking elements. At that point my son chimed in, Marsha makes a good point! Back in California, I’d probably be playing in a garage band somewhere, or playing weekend gigs like weddings and parties, hoping for an occasional club date. Here, he continued, we are playing mostly club dates and festivals. We’re making TV appearances and guest shots on radio shows. I just shot a pilot for a TV game show as a host, and now Marsha is giving me an opportunity to do stand-up comedy.

The easiest way to check out what Marsha Cincinnati and Rome’s Comedy Club is up to is to feed the names into GOOGLE or one of the other search engines or give her a LIKE on Facebook or Trip Advisor. Or before you add a visit to Rome’s Comedy Club to the itinerary for your next trip to Rome, you can check out a few laughs via You Tube. Who knows, maybe my extended stay will enable me to catch another evening of Marsha’s comedy.

Even my Italian teacher approves of my staying longer here in Rome. Patrizia had been holding my place in her class until I returned. But she didn’t bat an eye when I told her I was staying longer. In Italian she told me that I would probably learn the language more quickly in Rome than in her classroom. I think she’s right. With actually living here, learning Italian can be a survival skill.

Ci vediamo!


[Mike Botula is the author of LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! He is a retired broadcast journalist, government spokesperson and media consultant.   Mike’s book is available from Amazon or Barnes and Noble Books. You can follow his blog at:, or visit Mike Botula at]

Roma: La città di Echi - Rome: The City of Echoes!

Rome Diary IV:

Il Mio Ritorno a Roma!

Wednesday February 7, 2018

Partly Cloudy 53°F/12°C in Roma

Cloudy 43°F/6°C in Cedar Park, Texas

Buona giornata amici miei!

I’m frustrated as I glance at my calendar and see that I am nearing the end of my Roman holiday. Be that as it may, I am already plotting my return. I’m meeting new friends and re-connecting with friends I’ve made on previous trips since my first adventure in Rome back in 2005.  While most first-time visitors to Italy come here as a traveler with a pre-packaged tour group and must deal with a dazzling array of activities and destinations, my pace has been more leisurely. Michael showed me around Rome for the entire two weeks of my first visit. Since he is a professional, licensed tour guide with City Wonders Tours, I’ve enjoyed an advantage most tourists don’t have – I just tag along with my son as he does his job. Along with my son and daughter-in-law, Laura, I’ve now travelled to Florence, Naples, Venice, and most recently to Milan where we spent the first week of my vacation. I’ve also travelled to Amsterdam to reminisce about the good old days with a dear lady friend. And, in the future, I hope to hop over to the Czech Republic to visit with some of the relatives my grandparents left behind when they emigrated to America back in 1903.

I’ve come back to the same apartment I rented last year, which is close to Mike and Laura. And while it’s closer to Fiumicino Airport than Roma Centro and the Coliseum, it’s a short walk to the Laurentina Metro Station and closer still to major bus lines. So, it’s easy for me to get downtown.  My landlady, Amina, is originally from Morocco, and speaks at least three languages that I recognize. (I’m quite sensitive to the language thing, because of my own efforts to learn Italian). Like many Romans, Amina usually rents her place through Airbnb, usually for short stays. I seem to be one of her few customers who stays for a month or longer.  I’ve already told her that I’d like to come back on my next trip. Since I’m now one of her regular renters, she is agreeable to adding some of the amenities that would make my stays more enjoyable. Like another table for my laptop, so I don’t have to use my tiny kitchen as an office.

One noticeable difference about housekeeping in Rome is that while Italian homes have washing machines, they don’t have clothes driers! Mamma hangs the wet clothes either on clotheslines in the yard or on portable folding drying racks on the porch, balcony or patio. Last year, I bought one of those racks and left it with Amina when I returned to Texas. This time she has done several loads of laundry for me, which I greatly appreciated. When I told her that I had a washer and a drier in my apartment, she was flabbergasted!

On Monday, I had caffѐ with my partner from mio cambio linguistico-my language exchange.  Monica is an attorney-in-waiting, who has taken her written exam and is waiting for the results, so she can take the oral exam. Michael arranged through the school he teaches at to bring Monica and I together last spring to practice our language skills. She is learning English and I am trying to learn Italian. In our 30 minutes together, our entire conversation was a zany mixture of broken English and broken Italian. Nobody but the two of us could have known what the conversation was all about.  Regretfully, that was the only opportunity we would have to meet. She would be traveling around Italy on her company’s business for the next week. Then, off to Lisbon. By the time she returns, I will be back in Texas. She goes to English class every week and practices on line with DuoLingo, like I do, every day. I will resume my class at Austin Community College with Patrizia when I return to Texas, and of course, keep polishing my language skills with DuoLingo.

I have a line of dialogue that I use whenever I get into trouble with communicating. A few days ago, as I was checking out and my neighborhood Elite Supermercato, I found myself fumbling with my Euro coins. The cashier who is a very friendly, helpful person, tried to direct me to the proper change in a stream of Italian that left me even more confused. That’s when I uttered my rescue speech. Taking a deep breath, I spoke out! Sono Americano! Sto appena iniziando a parlare italiano.... I’m American! I am just beginning to speak Italian! My cashier responded in a voice loud enough to be heard in the growing line behind me, Aha! Sono Americano! She smiled and began to applaud. The others in the line also cheered my linguistic effort. Now, when I go grocery shopping Laura will frequently ask me to pick up a few items for dinner. She will give me the Italian words: panѐ, pommodori, finocchi, or caffѐ o tѐ. Bread. Tomatoes, fennel or coffee or tea. Even shopping can be a vocabulary lesson for me, thanks to my daughter-in-law. The translator app on my IPhone even has a camera feature that I use to translate product labels.

One of the highlights of this trip for me was going to listen to Michael’s band, No Funny Stuff in the company of two delightful ladies from my home town. What were the odds that I would meet Adriana and Claudia Nataloni thousands of miles away from our home town of Riverhead, New York? And, it all came about when my son checked into a Rome hospital for shoulder surgery and Adriana recognized our family’s name from her growing-up days back in Riverhead. When I posted the picture on Facebook, I got a big response from old friends and school classmates. The world is, indeed, smaller than we think.

Next time, I have dinner with a lady ex-pat with a great story. And, after that, a visit to an ancient Greek city with a fascinating history.

I’ll keep you posted along the way.


[Mike Botula is the author of LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! He is a retired broadcast journalist, government spokesperson and media consultant.   Mike’s book is available from Amazon or Barnes and Noble Books. You can follow his blog at:, or visit Mike Botula at]

Cara Professoressa Patrizia: Mia Vacanza ѐ Meravigliosa!

Rome Diary IV:

Il Mio Ritorno a Roma!

Friday February 2, 2018

Mostly Cloudy 53°F/12°C in Roma, EUR, Italia

Fair 57°F/14°C in Cedar Park, Texas

Buona giornata amici miei!

Di Mercoledi, (On Wednesday), my son took me for a personal, private tour of the Vatican Museum, the Sistine Chapel and Basilica San Pietro right under the noses of the Swiss Guards. Michael is a licensed tour guide in Rome, but he is not sanctioned to guide tour groups through the Vatican Museum, the Sistine Chapel or St. Peter’s Basilica. After all, Vatican City is a separate, sovereign nation whose Prime Minister, Papa Francesco, is not elected by any earthly voters, but reports only to The Almighty!  And so, as we walked along through the Medieval wonder of it all, my son cautioned me, I’ve gotta keep my voice down, Pop! If one of the Vatican guards thinks I’m giving a guided tour, they can ask us to leave. My excitement level rose. I wasn’t just on another guided tour, I was on a clandestine operation deep inside the Vatican. Nervously scanning the crowds of other tourists, looking for secret agents of Opus Dei, we plunged onward.

January is the slack season of year for the tour industry in Rome, so we had ample time to contemplate the treasures on display at the Musei di Vaticani. When we arrived at La Capella Sistina, we easily found a seat on the benches that skirt the periphery of the large room and gazed up at the ceiling and Michelangelo’s magnificent fresco. Ever the art scholar, my son, described in great detail how Michelangelo had created this masterpiece along with the personal anecdotes and insights into this medieval artistic genius that made Michelangelo come to life for me.

On the second day of February most Americans are thinking, Hooray! It’s Ground Hog Day! The day set aside to honor that furry, little critter Punxatawney Phil, and contemplating the prospect of six more weeks of Winter. But, not this Americano. I’m in Rome, Italy, thousands of miles away from the clack and clatter of domestic political turbulence back home in Texas and vicinity. I’m in the middle of a five week stay in Italy, but I’m already thinking about when I’ll be coming back.  Let me see… My high school class reunion is in October in New York… Maybe I could just leave from NYC and fly back to Italy.  Oh well! Let’s think about it. Now then, I’ll get around to some travel advice in a moment, but, I would like to digress for a moment to insert a short note to my Italian language teacher, Patrizia, back in Austin, Texas:

Cara Patrizia, vorrei riprendermi un momento dal scrivere il mio blog per raccontarvi la mia vacanza.

Sto soggiornando in un appartamento che ho affittato in EUR, in Viale dell'Oceano Atlantico vicino a Laurentina. Mio figlio Michael e sua moglie Laura vivono nelle vicinanze a Colle Parnaso. Io sarò qui per un mese. Ho mio traduttore di Google e praticare il mio vocabolario con DuoLingo ogni giorno.

A presto.

Arrivederci, MikeBo


(Dear Patrizia,

I would like to take a moment from writing my blog to tell you about my vacation.

I am staying at an apartment I have rented in EUR, on Viale dell’Oceano Atlantico near Laurentina. My son Michael and his wife Laura live nearby in Colle Parnaso. I will be here for a month. I have my Google Translator and practice my vocabulary with DuoLingo every day.

See you soon.




So there. I like to keep la mia insegnante-my teacher - up to date on my progress. Learning a new language is a challenge for me, but, I am beginning to feel comfortable in my new surroundings, in no small way to Patrizia at Austin Community College. Grazie mille, mia Professoressa!

I’ve mentioned that the more frequently I travel to Rome that I have been feeling less and less like a typical American tourist but, as every visit concludes, I feel more and more like an expatriate. Not quite Mike Botula, International Man of Mystery, but no longer a Californian or even a Texan where I happen to live now. (Full Disclosure: Since I was born in New York City, I must state that people like me who are born in NYC, are New Yorkers, regardless of where they choose to live, until they die. And even then, their epitaph will usually read, Here lies a New Yorker!)

One aspect of my transition from tourist to ex-pat is my effort to learn the language. Prior to my first trip to Rome in 2005, I signed up for a class at the Italian Cultural Center in Sacramento entitled: Buon Viaggio! Conversational Italian for Travelers, taught by Patrizia Cerruti. The trip itself became what I have since come to recognize as the typically overly ambitious, over-planned, over-tiring first time overseas journey by a typical American. I deluded myself into thinking that I could visit Rome and Pompeii; go on to Naples, visit Florence, Milan and take a gondola ride through Venice and do it with days to spare.

Cue the cold splash of reality!  We never left the city limits of Rome. In fact, I never past the confines of the Aurelian Wall except for a few trips up to Selci, in Sabina to Laura’s parents’ home in the mountains. So now with numerous vacations and extended stays in Italy under my belt, I would advise my friends: Sure! If you’re a first-time traveler, book yourself on a pre-planned tour and have someone make sure you get where you want to go. Then on your NEXT trip, start exploring! Work with your travel service and surf the internet. I’m a fan of Rick Steves’ travel shows on PBS. If you’re a PBS subscriber, you can stream Steves’ entire repertoire of travelogues, then select a destination that catches your eye.

I haven’t said much about Michael and No Funny Stuff! But, I will after I see the band play Saturday night at Mahalia here in Rome.  With the pace he’s going these days, a geezer like me has to make a real effort to keep up with him.

I’ll keep you posted along the way.


[Mike Botula is the author of LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! He is a retired broadcast journalist, government spokesperson and media consultant.   Mike’s book is available from Amazon or Barnes and Noble Books. You can follow his blog at:, or visit Mike Botula at]

Off To See the Circus! (fuori per vedere il circo)

Keeping Up With My Son!

Rome Diary IV:

Il Mio Ritorno a Roma!

Martedì 30 Gennaio 2018

Sunny: 59°F/15°C in Roma

Sunny: 66°F/19°C in Cedar Park, Texas

Buona giornata amici miei!

Following our initial week in Milano and I settled back into my rental apartment, my newest Roman Holiday commenced. We had hit the ground running the moment we got back with our jaunt to Lumina Studios and the taping of the pilot episode of the TV game show About You, that the show’s producers hope will be picked up by the European networks. Watching my son in action on the set brought back memories of my own radio and television career, now several decades in the past.  I’ve already described several hats that Michael wears in his career: English teacher, tour guide and musician. On this vacation, I’ve seen him add several more credits to his burgeoning resumé – television personality and stand-up comic! So, with that visit to the studio, I realized that a lot of time on this Roman Holiday would not be sightseeing among the treasures of ancient Rome but watching my son in action!

Rome is home to a large community of expatriates from all nations, speaking a multitude of languages. In that sense, it reminds me of the New York of my late teens when I was a student just getting started with my own career, or the San Francisco of my 20’s and the Hollywood of my 30’s when my broadcasting career was finally getting established. Only Rome has a two thousand year or so head start on New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles, but the same principle applies – these are cities where dreams are born.

One of the dreamers is Marsha De Francesco – Marsha Cincinnati- who has taken the name of her home town as her nom de plume as the impresario driving Rome’s Comedy Club, a hardy band of aspiring comedian who perform regularly at various Rome clubs to multilingual audiences. The troupe consists of a variety of nationalities – Italians and Americans, of course, but a potpourri of other nationalities as well: Polish, Irish, German, Spanish, and a veritable array of European stand-up comics. This production of Rome’s Comedy Club unfolded at The Tiki Lounge, but the troupe performs at various venues. The last time I was in Rome, last Spring, Marsha asked Michael to act as Master of Ceremonies. The audience response prompted Marsha to ask him to do a stand-up routine, which was very well received, which prompted Marsha to invite him back when the comedy troupe performs again at the end of February.  Marsha made sure that Laura and I had seats right up front, which earned me an impromptu appearance as a straight man in comic Devo’s slightly-blue routine. So, even Michael’s stage dad had a moment in the spotlight.

On the way from my apartment on Viale dell’Oceano Atlantico to Michael and Laura’s home, I spotted the unmistakable outline of a circus tent in the parking lot of the EurRoma Due shopping center. It resembled the familiar Cirque du Soleil big top. But this was the big tent for CirCuba, Cuba’s National Circus. When I said that because of the political situation back home CirCuba won’t be playing in Texas any time soon, Michael said, Fine! Laura and I were talking about going. We’ll invite Laura’s folks and we’ll all go! And, so we did. Laura and Michael. Laura's parents - Anna Marie and Sergio, and, of course, yours truly. If it’s still problematic for an American citizen to travel to Cuba, it’s NO problem for an American visitor in Rome to go to CirCuba!

What a show! CirCuba plays to its audience from the one-ring European model circus, not the three ring Big Top of American circuses. So, the more intimate setting seems to amplify the energy of the acrobats, gymnasts and jugglers and the Cuban music which drives the performers. Of course, there were the clowns who kept the audience engaged while the stagehands and performers moved scenery and equipment on stage between the acts.  It was a highly entertaining evening out of my month-long sojourn in Roma. You may have to travel out of the good old USA to see one of the greatest shows on Earth, because CirCuba isn’t going to pitch its Big Top in Miami anytime soon!

 Another installment of my Rome Diary is coming your way very soon. I’ll keep you posted along the way.


[Mike Botula is the author of LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! He is a retired broadcast journalist, government spokesperson and media consultant.   Mike’s book is available from Amazon or Barnes and Noble Books. You can follow his blog at:, or visit Mike Botula at]

My First Week! (la mia prima settimana)

Sopresa! Siamo a Milano!

Rome Diary IV:

Il Mio Ritorno a Roma!

Wednesday January 24, 2018

Sunny 59°F/15°C in Rome

Sunny 51°F/10°C in Milano

Sunny 50°/10° in Austin, Texas

Buona giornata amici miei!

Translated, the title of the first blog in the new series of Rome Diaries is: Surprise! We Are in Milan! But, hey! It’s OK because I landed in Rome after my long flight from Texas, and that’s where my rental apartment is. But Michael and Laura wanted to take me with them to Milan for my birthday, and since I’ve never been to Milan before, I repacked a small bag and the very next day, the three of us caught the Italotreno, the sleek, high-speed train that shuttles between Roma and Milano at speeds up to 300 kph or 200 mph, double any sane highway speeds. (Eat your heart out, AMTRAK!)

Normally, I go to ground for a few days after a long transatlantic flight to cure my jet lag and other travel jitters, but this time, I hit the ground running and I did not get a chance to relax in my apartment for the next week. We stopped by to drop my bag and pick up the keys from Amina, the landlady and went out to dinner. Then after a night’s sleep Michael and I headed for Milan.

Since my last visit in the spring of last year – la primavera – Laura has changed jobs and now works in Milano, commuting from Rome to Milano on Tuesday, returning Thursday or Friday and working from home in Rome on the days she is not in Milano. Upon arrival at Termini station in Roma Central, we stopped at a snack bar and picked up two panini e bevande, so we could snack on the train.

Europe, Japan and now China are light years ahead of the U.S. in the development of a high-speed rail system. California has one under construction, Texas has another on the drawing board, but the battle for American high-speed rail is all uphill. Too bad! It’s 350 miles from Rome to Milan, a six-hour drive. The high-speed Italotreno traverses that distance in half the time – three hours flat! Italy has two high-speed rail lines, Trenitalia, which I’ve ridden to Florence and Venice, and Italotreno, which we took to Milano.

Since this trip to Milan was a special birthday gift from Michael and Laura, a very special tour of the city had been arranged by my son the professional City Wonders tour guide. But first, a short cab ride from Milano Centrale to our rented (Airbnb) apartment on Corso San Gottardo, where we met Laura and checked in. As we walked in to the inner courtyard, I spotted a gleaming glass elevator which had been installed long after the main building. I was relieved because I knew our apartment was up a long flight of stairs on il primo piatti, what Europeans refer to as the first floor, and Americans know as the second floor. My advancing years and a bad back problem have me walking with a cane anyway. Laura must have seen the relief in my eyes when I caught sight of the elevator. Don’t get your hopes up! That elevator is not for us, she said. We don’t have a key. When I asked her why we couldn’t use the elevator, she explained. The residents of the building decided to chip in and pay the cost of installing the elevator, she said. One resident refused to contribute, so the rest of the tenants locked him out of the elevator. The apartment we’re staying in does not have access to the elevator. Laura concluded, and that’s why you have to hobble up a flight of stairs!

      Corso San Gottardo runs parallel to one of the network of canals – The Navigli - that once connected Milan with the Po River and thence to the Adriatic Sea, which made the city of Milan an inland port city on the order of Stockton, California, which lies 100 or so miles up the Sacramento River from San Francisco Bay in Central California. Some of the canals were filled in in the 1930s, and by the 1960s plans to remake Milan as an inland port were abandoned. Along the remaining canals today is an enchanting river walk, La Darsena, with quaint shops and restaurants with an abundance of ancient, historical buildings that give this part of Milan a unique flavor.  Once we settled in to our comfy second floor, or primo piatti apartamento, we headed out for a stroll along the Naviglio Pavese looking for a ristorante to have dinner. I had no idea that Milano, like Venice was a city of canals. But, unlike Venice and its famed gondolieri and their sleek, black gondolas, the canals of Milano are awash in the kayaks belonging to the city’s sports clubs.

The next morning while Laura headed off to work, Michael led the way up the Corso to the tram stop, where we caught the Number 3 trolley to Il Duomo, Milan’s spectacular gleaming white marble cathedral. There, we caught up with our City Wonders guide, Simone, who would take us on a walking tour through Milano toward what my son had decided would be the piece de resistance of my birthday celebration, an opportunity to stand and gaze at Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece The Last Supper! But first, Simone led our group through the heavy security cordon surrounding all of Italy’s landmarks in this era of heightened tensions. Il Duomo, or Milan Cathedral took nearly six hundred years to build. Its trademark white marble was quarried miles away and was carried by barge through the canals to a port adjacent to the construction site. Simone kept up with his colorful description of the art works and events that have taken place in the cathedral over the centuries. As we exited the cathedral, Michael and I left the tour because there was a statue that we wanted to see that was not on Simone’s regular tour itinerary – the artist Maurizio Cattalan’s huge statue of a hand with its middle finger extended skyward toward Milan’s stock exchange in a statement intended by Cattalan for the stock exchange’s brokers and bankers. The giant finger caused a furor when it was first installed in 2010, but, it remains to this day in Piazza Affari blaring its message across the piazza to the denizens of La Borsa, Milano’s venerable stock exchange. Naturally, Michael and I took time to snap some selfies with the giant statue.

By now it was almost time for our main attraction, The Last Supper. A short stroll past Sforza Castle, built in the 15th century by Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan, brought us to the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie, where the mural is displayed. After passing through the usual tight security our group was led through a series of interlocking, climate-controlled glass chambers until we reached the convent’s former dining hall where we came into the presence of Leonardo’s masterpiece.  I thought to myself, so this is the centerpiece in Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code.” Well done, Robert Langdon!

Both Laura and I were celebrating our birthdays in this same week – me on Wednesday and Laura on Friday. For my birthday, Laura and Michael took me to a Ristorante Milanese-cum Texas-style dining establishment called Brisket! Sure enough, the entryway was adorned by a large map of the Lone Star State, and inside, Lone Star flags graced the walls. My namesake meal was delicious! The brisket I had definitely had been cooked by an Italian chef. Not quite Franklin’s in Austin, but it was tender and delicious. Later, the owner told us that he special-orders his meats from the U.S. After a short stroll along Naviglio Pavese, we were back at our apartment.

     Friday morning, Laura left early for a meeting at her office. She would meet us later at Milano Centrale, Milan’s main train terminal for the three-hour ride back to Rome. Michael’s day would not be over for many hours yet. A van would be waiting to take him to Lumina Studios to rehearse for the television pilot he would record the next night. But, the studio driver’s first stop was his house, so he could pick up his ukulele for the rehearsal. Once we got to the house, Michael grabbed his instrument and headed to rehearsal. Laura drove me back to my apartment where I collapsed in a heap. It had been an exhilarating but exhausting week!

Next time: A star is born, and other adventures! I’ll keep you posted along the way.


[Mike Botula is the author of LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! He is a retired broadcast journalist, government spokesperson and media consultant.   Mike’s book is available from Amazon or Barnes and Noble Books. You can visit Mike Botula at]

Up, Up and Away! Soon

Rome Diary IV:

Il Mio Ritorno a Roma!

December 31, 2017

Mostly Cloudy 55°F/13°C in Rome, Italy

Cloudy 39°F/4°C in Cedar Park, Texas

Buona giornata amici miei!

This is my final blog for 2017. In a few hours, there will be a new year, and new adventures ahead. There will be another birthday, and new musings on how swiftly time flies. First thing on my  New Year’s agenda: Rome!

I live for my travels to the Eternal City. It’s a romance that dates back to Mr. Diamond’s Latin class at good old Riverhead High School, when I first started learning about the wonders of the ancient world. There must be something in the Botula family gene pool, because my son Michael went to Europe, met his future wife Laura in London and went back to Rome with her and are living their happily ever after in Rome. My first visit came in 2005, and I’ve dutifully returned regularly ever since.

The first several visits were typical vacation trips. My first Roman Holiday, came with an ambitious two-week plan: Rome, Pompeii, Florence and Pisa, and of course, Venice.  In spite of the high hopes, I never left Rome on that trip. Too much to see and do in Rome. Since then, I’ve scaled back on my travel ambitions and lengthened my time in-country. In 2013, I traveled to Rome for what I thought might be a two week sojourn. Instead, I stayed more than two months. After the first few weeks, Michael and Laura found me a studio apartment nearby, left me behind, and went on a ten-day cruise. Since then, we have followed that pattern. On this trip, I am renting the same small apartment I lived in this spring. It’s near Michael and Laura, it’s close to the bancomat and market and it’s located within a short walk to the metro.

Looking back, I can see that I was following a very familiar pattern often taken by first-time overseas travelers – planning too ambitious an itinerary. Too often, the first-time international traveler returns home in a daze. The vacation has unfolded in a blur of activity. Were we in Rome on Tuesday, or was that Berlin? When were we in Paris? I remember the Eiffel Tower, but, what day was it? So, my sage advice to first time travelers is this: Go ahead and book a complete tour with flights, hotels and meals included. Make sure you take local tours so you are sure to see the sights. But, keep in the back of your mind what you’d like to see on your RETURN TRIP. That way you can profit by your lessons learned on your guided tour and apply them to a more leisurely pace on your return trip.

Thanks to globalization and the internet, a Roman Holiday can be yours as easily as a family trip to Disneyland, especially in Europe where the Euro is the currency of choice in 19 countries. (The current rate of exchange is 1 Euro = $1.19 USD). I always order a supply of Euros from my bank before I leave, so that I have some local currency to spend until my first visit to an Italian bancomat, or ATM. Your credit cards will work in the EU as well. Just make sure they are cards with the computer chip. And, it’s always a good idea to let your bank and credit card company know the dates and places you will be traveling.

I always advise my traveling buddies to invest in a good travel book to take along. Having some handy phrases in the local language will go a long way to endearing you to the natives. I carry and array of city street maps as well. Also, in keeping with my current virtual existence, my IPAD and IPhone both carry the Google Translator, so I can augment the Italian I’ve learned in Patrizia Papi’s language classes at Austin Community College.  The GPS features on both handheld devices largely replace maps and guidebooks, but, my Boy Scout training has instilled in me an incentive to have a map and guidebook handy as a back-up.

Michael’s band, No Funny Stuff! is playing in Milan a few days following my  arrival in Rome. So, we will be traveling on the high-speed train from Rome to Northern Italy for a few days on my first adventure out of Rome. Since my birthday and Laura’s birthday fall within a few days of each other, we plan on a joint birthday celebration in Milan. In keeping with my policy of  over-planning my vacations, the trip to Milan is the only event on my itinerary so far. But, I know at the other end of the month, there will be other adventures and other destinations.

My laptop and my IPad are traveling with me, so, I will be writing about my journey along the way.

I’ll keep you posted.


[Mike Botula is the author of LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! He is a retired broadcast journalist, government spokesperson and media consultant.   Mike’s book is available from Amazon or Barnes and Noble Books. You can visit Mike Botula at]


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