When in Rome?* Ummm…that would be Friday July 30th through August 1st. I can’t believe it’s been a month since our vacation! But I have finally had some time and willpower to organize the pictures and pick out some favorites for the blog – fun!
I really tried to cram all of our trip to Rome into one blog post, but after working on this draft for the last couple of days, I’ve decided to split it up into more manageable sections. This should be more enjoyable for everyone involved
Photograph Quality Disclaimer: I’m going to use mostly my own photos from the trip, but the temptation to use other photos from the web is great. Rome is a very popular destination and there are tons of excellent pictures of all aspects of Rome only a mouse-click away. I’m not promising that my pics are going to do justice to anything we saw, so if something grabs your eye, I would definitely encourage you to do an image search to see more photos shot from better angles on better cameras!
Historical Knowledge Absorption Disclaimer: We saw a LOT of statues, fountains, historical sites, famous structures and square footage in our less-than-48-hours in Rome. One could spend a lifetime in Rome learning about the history of the city and I had less than two days, so please forgive skimpy details where they should occur.
Rome: Day 1 – Arriving in Rome and the Walking Tour
We arrived in Rome on the Friday afternoon after leaving Terracina and seeing the Anzio War Cemetery. As you may remember, I was driving a Fiat Punto and it was my first time driving a manual transmission in about six years. Getting out the airport was nice and easy, but getting back in was a little…trickier.
Driving around in airports is never any fun, even in your own car and at an airport with which you’re familiar. This was worse. Fiumicino was very busy, and there were multiple signs (in Italian) pointing the way to a myriad of different destinations. After figuring out where we needed to be, and after fighting through arrivals traffic I actually missed the turn for rental car returns and had to go all the way around and do it again! Ack!
Driving up the steep, twisting parking garage ramps was going alright until I caught up to a car that was in front of me and had to STOP on a very steep INCLINE with another car BEHIND ME. I was vaguely aware of the fact that I cussed a 17-syllable (or so) blue streak in front of my Mom and the Hubby as I went from braked to moving forward up that 90-degree vertical face that the airport has the audacity of calling a ramp. Ha! I managed to not stall the car, start rolling backward OR shoot off of the ramp into a crowd of pedestrians, so I guess it went all right.
So we returned the car, made our way through the maze of Fiumicino’s walkways, and caught a van into downtown Rome. It was a fun drive – the driver was very charismatic, had a boisterous laugh, and drove like a complete psycho. The fact that he swerved and sped and only narrowly avoided killing us all he every time he changed lanes or turned corners is probably the only reason why the Hubby and I managed to meet our walking tour group on time. It was incredibly cool to see the Colosseum as we came into the city.
Our first view of the Colosseum as we zipped by at a peppy 500 miles per hour.
We were dropped of at our hotel at 1:40pm. This was our first impression of the Hotel Quirinale: What-a-lovely-lobby-but-can-you-call-us-a-cab-we’re-going-to-be-late-for-our-expensive-prepaid-walking-tour-that-leaves-at-2pm-oh-and-here’s-our-luggage-can-you-take-care-of-it-for-us-oh-the-cab’s-here-kthxbai!
The cab dropped us off at the Piazza Navona with about seven minutes to spare. We were bordering on frantic as we bounced like balls in a pinball machine from group to group around the large, crowded square asking every tour group “Are you our group? No English, okay, grazie!”. None of the groups had signs, and our tickets didn’t specify a meeting spot in the piazza! But finally, we found our group. Victory is ours!
Piazza Navona – And we’re supposed to find our group how? The Four Rivers Fountain is in the right of this photo.
The walking tour was awesome – I loved it. Our guide spoke very good English and her accent wasn’t so thick that we had trouble understanding her. The way our tour worked was everyone received a headset, and they were all connected to the guide (audibly, not physically…that would be weird). This way we didn’t have to worry about vying for a place next to the guide so we could hear her, she could talk while we moved from location to location, and we could easily look around and make sure we were still with the group, because all of us were wearing these bright blue lanyards from which the receivers hung.
The tour actually started in the Piazza Navona. It was here that I found my favorite fountain in Rome (of the meager few dozen that I saw): Bernini’s Four Rivers. This fountain is gigantic, and I like the history behind it. The sculpture is chock full allegories and metaphors. Each of the four fountains in the sculpture represents one of the four major rivers known at the time it was created: Rio de la Plata (S.America), the Danube (Europe), the Ganges (Asia) and the Nile (Africa).
The Four Rivers Fountain (Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi)
We heard a fun story about the animosity between the Four Rivers Fountain and the basilica across from it, Sant-Agnese in Agone. The two structures were designed by two different artists, Bernini (Four Rivers) and Rainaldi (the basilica). According to the tour guide, the two artists were bitter rivals and there is a fake folk story that goes something like this: The four gods in the fountain were sculpted to be grimacing at the basilica, or hiding their faces from the church’s hideousness, and the lady sculpted on the front of the basilica has her hand to her heart – gasping at the horror of having to look at the fountain for all time. The guide also explained that the timelines of when each was built don’t match up to make this a valid story. A fake story, but fun.
There were two other fountains in Piazza Navona, as well as beautiful hotels, hopping outdoor cafes and tons of very talented street artists peddling their paintings, sketches and photography of Rome and Roman landmarks.
Center of the Fountain of Neptune in the Piazza Navona
The next stop on our walking tour was the Pantheon. The Pantheon was originally constructed as a tribute to all of the ancient Roman gods, but it was later converted into a Christian church. It contains the tomb of King Emmaneul II and the remains of the artist Raphael. As the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world, the Pantheon is still an architectural wonder. The dome is open at its apex, and the opening is called the oculus. There are drains on the floor that allow the floor to dry when it rains.
Pantheon exterior, Inside the Pantheon, the Pantheon’s oculus, Outside the Pantheon with the Guide and a street actor. Click on any picture to see larger view.
For the life of me I’m not going to be able to remember what this particular building was called. Our tour guide pointed out several interesting features about this early Roman structure. First she explained what was up with all the holes: The columns that you see in the foreground are actually composed of several blocks of stone that were once held together with copper rods. As time went by, people reclaimed the copper for re-use in other projects, and they would drill holes into the columns looking for the copper.
It was here that we were first introduced to the reality that Rome is a city built on top of cities. When we looked over the edge of the railing we could see the original street level! This structure was built in a time when street level was probably 20 feet lower than the cobblestones upon which we were standing.
Next, the Trevi Fountain. It was nigh unto impossible to take a good photograph of the Trevi fountain for several reasons. First, it’s just so HUGE! The fountain takes up the entire block and it’s hard to get it all in one frame. Second, the Trevi is probably one of the most popular tourist stops in Rome and there’s not much room to accommodate all of us foreigners, so it’s very, very crowded. Just finding a place to try to take a photo of the fountain is difficult. But I do want to show you the fountain – it was very majestic! – so I grabbed this photo from another site.
See what I mean about the crowds?
After the Trevi we took a nice walk through several neighborhoods to get to the Monument to Vittorio Emanuele II. The locals have a fondness for detesting the (in their opinion) over-large, overly white, pompous structure – and the disregard with which the architects carved it into Capitoline Hill – and thus they have several dismissive names for it, but “The Wedding Cake” is probably the most popular of them.
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is located in the front of the Monument.
This is one of those places for which you should really find other photos! People have taken lovely ariel photos and photos from higher points in the city than we were able to achieve. This is one example that I found on wikipedia:
The Forum Romanum, 2008. View facing North East from above the Portico Di Consentes. The Colosseum is visible in the background. This photo was stitched together using 7 photos.
The Roman Forum was probably the most enjoyable stop for me. The area has been turned into a sort of “natural reserve”. You buy a ticket and then are free to wander through the ruins! You can almost walk underneath the large temple columns of Saturn and Castor and Pollux, you can gaze up at the floating door of the temple of Antonius and Faustina, and you can almost imagine the ancient Romans gathering together to talk shop; for a time all of the economical, judicial and political talk in Rome took place in the the Forum. Our tour guide had us sit on the on the “steps” outside of the Temple of Caesar while she went through some of the history of the Forum. One of the (many) interesting things about the Roman Forum is that it is an active archeological site – we were able to watch some of the scientists at work as we walked through the ruins.
Old and New – Gazing at the back of the “Wedding Cake” across the Forum.
And last but not least, the Colosseum.
From a tourist point of view, the best part of the Colosseum was NOT waiting in the everloving, winding, twisting, line that wrapped around at least a quarter of the way around the structure. Because we were part of a tour group we were able to enter through a special tour line that brought us to the front of the class! We walked under an arched opening in the Colosseum, and then voila! – we were there, on the main lowest spectator level of the sporting arena, looking across the exposed underbelly of the old (and now missing) stage. Across from us we could see a reconstruction of the sandy stage, and all around us were worn-down stone steps leading from the main floor all the way up to the single women’s viewing level at the top of the arena.
The tour guide did a brief spiel about the history, architecture and purpose of the Colosseum (blech – MMA to the death). I did find it interesting that the gladiators didn’t die as often as is portrayed in movies (Gladiators were an expensive investement in terms of money, room and board and training time). The exotic animals used in the “hunting games” and the prisoners of war, though, they died quite a bit. I also learned that most of the gladiators fought one-on-one, and rarely, if ever, in large historical recreations like in the movie The Gladiator.
After the tour ended, we spent some time walking around the Colosseum, seeing the exhibits on the second level, and of course taking photos.
After that we went back to the hotel and hooked up with Mom. Later in the evening we went on a truly hideous “night” tour, which I envisioned as being an open-air tour bus (like the one we had in Perugia), gliding from one magnificent, brightly-lit site to the next, sort of a nighttime review of everything we had seen during the day.
First, we were all in a gigantic long-distance style tour bus – the kind with the padded seats with the giant underarea for luggage, you know? So we were high up off the ground in this silent bus with thick windows between us and Rome. Second, it started to rain so forget pictures, hell forget seeing the momuments (although the alternative of an open-air bus wouldn’t have been so great in the downpour we experienced). And THEN, the guide spoke four languages. Literally four languages one after the other. He’d rattle through the English explanation of the place we were zooming by, repeat that in three other languages, and then we’d be arriving at the next place and he’d start all over again. There were other tragic parts of the tour, and I definitely would call a mulligan on that experience if I could.
We were let off of the gigantic tour bus about a block from our hotel (yes, it was still raining), and Mom, the Hubby and I took shelter in a little restaurant on the way back. We had a lovely Italian dinner (pizza, salad and spaghetti) and then made our way back home to the hotel.
I think I fell asleep the second I hit the bed.
*The Hubby likes to be goofy in order to make me laugh, but sometimes his goofiness makes me groan. So I foresaw a potential groaner and limited him to TWO uses of the phrase “When in Rome…” during our actual visit to Rome.