Rome wasn’t built in a day, they say, and it can’t be seen in one either – but we did our best! Because of a lengthy flight delay, our first day in Rome consisted of a very late dinner and much-needed sleep. Our sightseeing had to be crammed into the next day, the second of a 13-day Globus tour. We started in Vatican City, an independent country inside the city boundaries of Rome, and the spiritual and physical seat of the Roman Catholic Church.
Our local tour guide Marco was a wealth of knowledge. He guided us expertly through throngs of antiquity and splendor, not to mention crowds. The crowds were just something we had to accept; they were present everywhere we went! We toured the Vatican Museums, Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel (no photos allowed!), and St. Peter’s Square and Basilica.
We rode the bus from Vatican City to the Roman Forum for a close-up look at the Colosseum and Arch of Constantine. The scale and design of the Colosseum is impressive, but sadly the 50,000-seat structure was witness to many a bloody battle!
Some people think of the Eternal City as filthy and congested, and while it is that, Rome is also an enchanting place to admire the one-of-a-kind treasures it has to offer. We wanted to see as much as possible, so we stuck with Marco for the optional afternoon tour.
We had a few minutes of free time for lunch near the Trevi Fountain, so we chose quick Italian favorites: Pizza and Gelato! Then we turned our attention back to Trevi, the largest Baroque fountain in the city and one of the most famous fountains in the world. It is so huge it was impossible to photograph!
From the fountain, we walked passed ancient columns and on toward the church of Chiesa di Sant Ignazio di Loyola. The interior of this church includes a fresco by Andrea Pozzo, who cleverly painted the ceiling in 1685 depicting a fake dome, but actually it’s a flat canvas.
Not far from the church is the best-preserved temple in Rome: The Pantheon! Upon entering the doors, you find yourself in a huge, empty space that makes you feel small and insignificant – but isn’t that how you’re supposed to feel in front of the Gods? The single source of natural light comes from the “eye”, a 9-meter open hole in the center of the dome. Almost two thousand years after it was built, the Pantheon’s dome is still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome.
We ended our afternoon in the lively surroundings of Navona Square. The most beautiful parts of Piazza Navona are its three fountains, designed during the papacy of Gregory XIII.
After we returned to our hotel, The Romanico Palace, we were on our own for the rest of the evening. The Spanish Steps were only a 20-minute walk, so we headed in that direction. As we passed the American Embassy, men in uniform yelled at me for taking a picture. Apparently, that’s a no-no! At the Spanish Steps (or Piazza di Spagna) I could take all the photos I wanted! With its characteristic butterfly plan, the famous steps are recognized the world over and are a popular place for people to gather. At the foot of the stairs is the Barcaccia Fountain, the work of Pietro Bernini and his son, Gian Lorenzo.
On the stroll back to the hotel, we were on the look-out for a place to eat dinner. We stopped at a lovely little restaurant, but it had no air-conditioning. It had been an un-seasonably warm day and we didn’t think we could bear the heat, so we left and settled for a sandwich and cold drink in the comfort of the hotel bar. Back in the room, our luggage still hadn’t arrived, so we washed our underwear in the sink and dried them by hand with the hotel-provided hair dryer. Good times!
The next morning, we were off to Pisa, home of astronomer Galileo Galilei. Fresh off the bus, Anna lead us through a jungle of alleys filled with assorted markets, gelato stands and cheap souvenirs.
It was like arriving in another world when we emerged through the city gates onto the Piazza dei Miracoli (Square of Miracles), a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The (Leaning) Tower of Pisa, a cathedral and the baptistery, along with a cemetery and museums are all located within the square. The ornate 14th century tower was already tilting when it was completed in 1372.
We took photos and had lunch, then hopped back on the bus with Giorgio and headed to fabulous Florence – which is part two in this series, so stay tuned!
Arrivederci for now!
(Note: a click in each grouping of photos allows you to see each one individually)