In our whirlwind tour of Italy, we didn’t have nearly enough time to explore Rome, but we did manage to hit some of the high points. Rome was an interesting mix of ancient and modern. Old ruins excavated on one block, with cars and motorbikes whizzing by on all sides.
Our first evening, it rained off and on as we had a walking tour of some landmarks; however, it was nearly dark when we arrived. Our tour guide was Judy, an Irishwoman from Dublin who has lived in Italy over 20 years. Rome is crowded, mostly with tourists – a lot of Japanese. There are pedestrian crosswalks, but not always a walk/don’t walk sign. You have to step into the road and march purposefully across the street and drivers will (hopefully) stop.
We began at the Spanish Steps, which was defaced and had scaffolding on it due to some commemoration of or protest of the fall of the Berlin Wall (20-year anniversary).
The stairs lead up to the church seen at the top of the picture above. A fountain stands at the bottom of the stairs (below).
We then visited the Trevi Fountain, which I liked, even though it was incredibly crowded, even at dusk. I did not throw a coin or make a wish, as is the custom.
My friend threw in two coins, which is supposed to mean she’ll find romance in Italy (she didn’t).
Temple of Hadrian
We walked by the Temple of Hadrian (right), only the façade of which is still standing and was incorporated into a modern building (the Stock Exchange).
Our next stop was a tour of the Pantheon (means “all gods”). It was late, but still open. The Pantheon is the largest dome in Italy and the only temple to be turned into a church.
The dome is open at the top, so the rain had come in and they roped off part of the floor.
Finally, we hit Piazza Navona. I’m not sure of its significance except the Romans used to hold games there. St. Agnes Church is here (Sant’Agnese in Agnone), as are some fountains (such as the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi or Fountain of the Four Rivers by Bernini) and restaurants.
St. Callixtus Catacombs
I had not heard of St. Callixtus Catacombs until we arrived. I was interested in comparing them to the Paris catacombs which I saw earlier in the year. To get to the catacombs, you have to go down the Appian Way.
The catacombs are where the earliest Christians are buried. They were apparently persecuted by the Romans. Popes, martyrs (such as St. Cecilia) and other Christians such as landowners were initially buried there. Our guide was Father Owen, an Aussie. Holes (shelves) were dug in the walls and people were placed on it, doused in lye and then a “headstone” with name and Christian symbols (such as doves, fish, etc) was placed at the front. No one is buried there now. It was abandoned for 10 decades and when rediscovered most tombs had been vandalized and the headstones broken. Father gave a talk first, providing the above information, then we went 12 meters below ground. A lot of pieces of the headstones were hung up on the walls, and crypts were empty, but there were several family “rooms”, which had their walls paintings well preserved. For example, painted white with red trim and Christian symbols. It was a lot different from the catacombs in Paris, which are just piles of bones. As we walked, we heard a German group that had come in ahead of us singing, possibly having mass. Apparently, they have mass down there quite a bit.
We began our final day in Rome at the Borghese Gallery, which was crowded and, to my surprise, enjoyable, even at the tail end of what was a long odyssey of museums. I highly recommend it, but you must make an appointment for a specific time and you can’t bring in any large bags or cameras. There was 2 main areas: Sculptures by Bernini, and paintings by Caravaggio, Bacon, Titian (a special exhibit). I really liked Bernini. His sculptures are way better than Michelangelo, including his David. My favorite was Apollo and Daphne. There was also Pluto & Persephone, and a sculpture of Napoleon’s naked sister reclining. The Caravaggios were okay. I hated Bacon. Very Daliesque. The Titian was pretty good – pure love vs. despicable love or something like that.
Coliseum & Arch of Constantine
One evening, after some drinks in the hotel bar, we managed to drag ourselves a couple of blocks to the Coliseum to see it lit up at night. It looked like a pumpkin. The Arch of Constantine was also lit.
It was fun snapping pictures of the structures and of ourselves. Going to the Coliseum involved crossing the road, which may not sound too bad but was deadly because as you cross, cars will turn in front of you, in back of you and nearly right on top of you. You have to walk purposefully and not stop. As I told some of our group coming back from the hotel who were standing in the intersection: don’t hesitate, they smell fear.
Our last day, we had a tour of the Coliseum, but spent very little time there, which was a disappointment. We spent a lot of time walking there from the bus, dodging aggressive street vendors (scarves 3 for $5 and postcards 20/$1), and then spent a long time fiddling with our listening devices.
Our guide had virtually nothing to say about the Coliseum, the usual about gladiators fighting animals or themselves in front of bloodthirsty crowds. We spent maybe 15 minutes inside before being hustled back to the bus. The Coliseum was interesting and I would have liked to have heard more about the history.
We didn’t tour the Forum specifically, which stood right next to the Coliseum, but you could see the ruins either from the Coliseum or driving by, so I got some pictures below.
Food & Drink
On our last free afternoon, and my friend and I had pizza at a shop down the street from our hotel.
You buy pizza by the gram, and ask the guy to slice off a hunk to bake. We had the Margherita pizza (left), which was good – real mozzarella.
Our final group dinner – our “last supper” as it has been dubbed, was held the next to last day of our trip. We dined at Le Terme Del Colosseo, a restaurant “a 20-minute walk” from our hotel. The meal was too much food! A salad with cheese, rocket and salted beef, lasagna (very good), beef and gravy with potatoes (the beef was too pink) and some sort of fruit torte for dessert (do they have something against chocolate in Italy??)
Our last dinner in Rome on our last night consisted of a big cup of gelato (chocolate for me). It was delicious but made me slightly sick to my stomach with its richness. The owners of the gelato shop were Jamaican and very friendly. Afterward, we returned to bARt, the hotel bar, and had Limoncello, which is very potent. By the end of my small glass I was feeling pretty out of body, warm and relaxed. The piano player in the bar was playing music like “Girl from Ipanema” and “Your Song”.
We stayed at the Grand Hotel Palatino in Rome, which was the most touristy hotel we stayed in the entire trip and several large tour groups from America and Japan were in residence. The buffet breakfast experience was other-worldly. A huge mob of people converged on the dining room when it opened at 6:30 a.m. We all pushed our way in like rabid dogs to snatch food and table space. But they fooled us by spreading food all over the large room making us forage for it. Fortunately, the breakfast room cleared out nearly as quickly as it filled up; some tours apparently had to catch a plane.
More Photos of Rome