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Published: March 11th 2007
The Colosseum at Christmastime.
We took an extraordinarily last-minute trip to the Eternal City for our third wedding anniversary. Our trip begins with a short drive south to the Baden-Airpark, and sixty miles from home we settle in with some coffee to wait on our flight. This was a very small airport, but still the first flight for us in awhile. After a bus ride from the terminal, we are swept along in the mad mob literally running towards the plane. Ryan Air’s flight 9624 takes off at 1720, and the biting wind we felt on the tarmac is now causing snow to shoot past the plane’s windows as I stare down into a pitched black valley filled with amoeba-shaped patterns of lights tracing the German towns. We are only in the air 70 minutes, and we rush through the tiny Ciampino Airport to a Terravision bus headed to the Termini train station in Rome.
Our first encounter of Rome was with a bus driver with a death wish. We managed to arrive at the Termini Station all in one piece and then took the shortest taxi ride ever to the Hotel de Artistas, which was pretty much right around the corner. We
didn’t actually reach the hotel until 1030 at night, but after checking in, we strolled about the nearby streets looking for some dinner. We find Florian’s Caffeteria and order ourselves some margarita pizza, lasagna, and house wine. This pizza was, without a doubt, the best pizza I have ever had in my life. Seth agreed. It just melted - the cheese, the crust, the delicate sauce… yeah, that lasagna was superb, but the pizza was incredible.
Tuesday, December 12
We eat breakfast at the hotel, normal breakfast: croissants, jam, cereal, juice, and coffee, and then walk the seven or eight minutes to the Termini station where we buy a public transportation pass. Then we take the Metro out to the Colosseo stop. I want to make it clear that we saw far too many amazing things on this trip for me to gush over every one, so I intend to be a bit matter-of-fact about most things. This does not mean I did not feel a sense of elation or awe in the presence of these magnificent relics, simply that it would take forever to describe it.
The Colosseum was not overcrowded when we arrived. We wandered
A view of the interior of the Colosseum.
the halls of the massive 156 meter by 188 meter (512 x 616 feet) structure, and here discovered the terrible glares and shadows created by the winter sun that would plaque us and our cameras the entire trip. There was a display upstairs dealing with Homer and exhibits entitled “Trojan Heroes” and “Greek Heroes.” The Colosseum began to get crowded, mostly by tour groups, just as we were finishing up our circle.
We walked around the Arch of Constantine and snapped some photos before moving on to the Roman Forum. Here we wandered around somewhat aimlessly, taking in all the sights. There were ruins of structures dating from the first century BC all the way up to the Column of Phocas from AD 608, after the mighty empire of Rome had already fallen. One location of great interest to me was the grave of Julius Caesar and the fact that people still place fresh flowers upon it. The cobble-stoned roads presented a bit of a challenge for me, and I did twist my ankle more than once during the vacation.
We climbed up some stairs in the back of the Forum and found ourselves at the rear of
The Arch of Constantine
Located between the Colosseum and the Roman Forum. Built in 312 A.D.
the Victor Emmanuel Monument. This monument was built to celebrate the unification of Italy, but what attracted us was the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. During our visit we witnessed the changing of the guard for the soldiers who stand over the tombs of three anonymous Italian soldiers. This may not be a “must-see” for everyone, but I was impressed… though that feeling may spur mainly from the fact that this building was intact. I have seen many ruins, but this monument gave me some idea of what standing in the shadows of the now piecemeal Roman Forum must have been like in its heyday, though one must remember that the proportions of this monument appear smaller in photographs then its massive dimensions appear while climbing its stairs.
We walk back through the Roman Forum, pausing to sit upon some marble blocks for a mid-morning snack. Then we climb the stairs to the Palatine Hill. We explore the grounds, which we come to find are more extensive than they appear on our map, and spend some time in the Palatine Hill Museum. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this place, but I found it rather fascinating. The main
The Roman Forum
The entry to the Roman Forum from the direction of the Colosseum. The Arch of Titus was built in 70 A.D. to commemorate Emperor Titus's conquest of Jerusalem.
attraction here is the remains of the 150,000 square foot Imperial Palace. If that number did not immediately strike you as somewhat unusual, let me mention that the average American home is about 2,500 sq. ft. So the Imperial Palace is like sixty homes put together… which only leaves me to question, were they including the basement in the square footage?
Anyway, there were many points of interest on the Palatine Hill. From here you can see the remains of the Circus Maximus, for example. Not that there’s much left to see. Also, there are current excavations taking place that are documented in the museum. Here on the Palatine Hill are stones which contain the holes that once held the tree trucks that are believed to have supported the huts of Romulus. Other artifacts are to be found within the museum. Although it may be speculation that the Shewolf-suckled founder of Rome resided in this very spot, they do know for sure that there were people living here in the Iron Age, about 850 BC. For the record, however, mythology has held for centuries that Romulus founded Rome on this spot, so I personally find it exciting that these
The Roman Forum
Wide view of the Roman Forum when entering from the Via Sacra. To the left is Palatine Hill and in the distance is Capital Hill.
remains were unearthed.
We trace our steps back to the Termini station and have a late lunch in an outside restaurant just across the street from the Colosseum. We have what’s called “Roman Pizza,” though they were what we would call a Panini, or a warm, pressed sandwich. Either way, they were an example of how even the touristy places in Rome offer excellent food with the freshest ingredients. (Be warned, however… the drinks were not priced on the menu and we wound up paying 5 euro for a 0.3 Liter bottle of Coke - that’s about seven bucks.)
We take the Metro towards the Vatican City in an attempt to find the USO. The Metros amaze me - they are so crowded that sometimes one simply cannot move because there are people pressing in on every side. It actually, surprisingly, didn’t bother me much (as long as my hand was on my purse the entire time) but anyone who needs personal space will experience great discomfort on Rome’s Metro.
We walked right by the turn for the USO and ended up in the Vatican City. We explored St. Peter’s Square a bit, took some photos, and
The Roman Forum
A view of the Forum from Capital Hill. The immediate structure on the left is the Temple of Saturn, built in 497 B.C. and used as the public treasury.
bought some gelati on our way back. We reserve a tour and check our emails at the USO, and then do some window-shopping before taking the crowded Metro back to Termini.
We take a nap at the hotel and then hop of bus #64 about 1930. Our goal is to see Rome by the moonlight, and we begin at the Pantheon. This building I like. Since it’s nighttime, we can’t go inside, but I find the outside alone to be quite impressive. Like so much else I’ve seen in Rome, it’s much larger in person than I ever imagined from the photographs. This, of course, has to do with the dimensions. It’s just massive, and maybe it’s the architect in me, but I loved staring at it. We wandered around for a while in search of the Trevi Fountain, cursing our guidebook’s obviously not-fool-proofed directions. We finally find it, hidden between shops and restaurants and homes, and blending into and jumping out of these very same buildings. It was mobbed, not only by romantic tourists, but by people persistently pushing roses at you and insisting on taking your picture. We threw some coins over our shoulders and sat for
The Roman Forum
The Temple of Vesta was built in the 8th century B.C. to hold the sacred objects brought to Italy by Aeneas, and it's eternal flame was cared for by six vestal virgins.
awhile, watching the tourists and listening to the soothing waterfall.
We find a main street and hop on a bus to the Barbarini stop, walking up a hill to the Hard Rock Café Rome, another traveling tradition. We probably could have taken the bus closer, but we weren’t certain of its location. We arrived at 2100, but it was packed. If we’d have known ahead of time that’s we’d have to wait an hour on a Tuesday night for a seat, we’d have left, but we’re both stubborn people and we stuck it out. Our Oriental waitress with a British accent was very friendly and the food was definitely good, but of all the Hard Rock’s we’ve visited, this was the most expensive - both for food and merchandise. It was 2300 when we left the restaurant and reached the Metro station. It was closed. I don’t understand Europe. So we hopped on the first bus we saw, got off at a stop we recognized, and got on another bus headed for Termini, arriving at the hotel just after midnight. But that’s alright, it would have been a long, cold walk.
Wednesday, December 13
After a quick
The Roman Forum
Seth at the House of the Vestal Virgins.
breakfast at the hotel, we walked to the Termini and at track seven we boarded the 0827 train for Napoli, the land of my maternal ancestors. Of course the goal of this side-trip was to visit Pompeii, and we had no idea Naples would be the changing point for our trains.
The scenery from the train windows was gorgeous. The first time it occurred to me to pull my nose out of the guidebook and look out the window, I was actually surprised at how different it looked then that which I have become accustomed to in Germany. Everything about the landscape was different - the shape and color of the mountains, the homes painted orange and peach, and even the way the vineyards were laid out across the fields. I was so absorbed in the mesmerizing mountains on my left, that the sudden appearance of water on my right took my breath away. It has been so long since I’ve seen the ocean, and I didn’t expect this train ride to give me my first glimpse of the Mediterranean Sea. This trip was worth the train ride alone. I had no problem starring at this view for a
The Roman Forum
The Temple of Julius Caesar houses the grave of the Emperor, still strewn today with fresh flowers.
couple of hours.
We arrive at the Napoli Centrale station at 1036 and the guy in the info booth points us to track 24 to Paolo, and we hoped he was right. We left the station at 1050, trudging through the industrial, and somewhat poor, area of town, then coasting past the rocky shore of the dark blue sea. We arrive at the “Pompei” stop and encounter a longer than anticipated walk. Following the instructions of a shopkeeper, we walk nearly two miles down a long road through town, with no indications that we are headed towards our destination. Eventually, we find a fence encasing what appear to be ruins. A little farther up the road, we find signs directing us to the entrance of the ancient city. We buy tickets, then buy Paninis and oranges from a guy just outside the gate, and walk up a ramp where was once a great sea, to enter the frozen city through the Porta Marina.
It was quiet and there were few people. We certainly saw the stray dogs people talk of, though they were calm and friendly and didn’t approach people who did not seem interested in them. The
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
A detail of The Vittorio Emanuele II Monument.
ticket office provided us with a helpful map and mini-guidebook, but we didn’t get very far before we realized we needed a plan. Pompeii is huge. It was once a booming metropolis, so that is to be expected, but I simply couldn’t get over the sprawling ruins that once housed between 8,000 and 10,000 people. And it amazed me that there was still so much to see, so much that had been excavated and that survived, from a city destroyed in 79 AD and left buried for 1,700 years.
So we found a little hidden nook in the Public Administration building, shielded from the dogs and with a view of Mount Vesuvius. Here we ate our ham and mozzarella Paninis and fresh Napoli oranges while musing over the map. We really could have spent all day here, but we had already arrived later than we expected, so we decided to take off down the Via dell’Abbondanza and visit some of the sites along this main road. There were many homes, an amphitheatre, a smaller theatre, an outdoor recreation center, a temple to Isis, gardens, and fast food joints, or Thermopoliums. I was fascinated by the frescos and tile mosaics
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
The Vittorio Emanuele II Monument was built to celebrate Italian unification. The monument was built near the end of the 19th century, and the Tomb of the Unknown soldiers has been here since 1921.
that remained. There was once so much color in this place that had now been reduced to the mostly monotone color of the stones that were the foundations and framework of their buildings. We also stopped by the Garden of the Fugitives, which houses not only a small vineyard, but a display of a victims, young and old, who were caught in the streets trying to escape the eruption of Vesuvius. The remains on display are not real bodies, but the plaster casts made from the impression the bodies had left in the layers of ash that covered Pompeii. They are, however, disturbingly lifelike.
We spent nearly four hours in Pompeii, which was enough for one day. However, we only saw about a third of the city, and I definitely intend to return one day. We found a small regional train station just outside the exit, in the opposite direction from where we had come, and took a smaller, dirty, cheaply put together train back to Naples. This time we traveled away from the water and through the city the entire time, giving us an up-close view of the poverty in the area. The sun set while we were
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
A view of Rome from the Vittorio Emanuele II Monument.
on the train, about 1630.
Thus, it is quite dark when we finally reach Naples. We decide to use what time we do have to explore the city and go off in search of a pizzeria and gellateria mentioned in our guidebook. We get lost (again) and I realize that knowing how to ask a question in Italian is not nearly as important as being able to understand the answer. We wind up eating a pizza dinner at the train station. Though, I feel it appropriate to mention that we were pretty much chased back to the station by the threatening nature of the city itself. It was so crowded, there were street vendors everywhere making things very chaotic, a myriad of languages being spoken, including Arabic and African French, and creepy looking men standing in shaded doorways and staring at people. The streets were dirty and there was a strange smell all around. There were stay dogs wandering in and out of the train station. We caught the next train back to Rome.
In all fairness, I should also mention that I fully intend to return to Napoli as well. I should like to spend some time
In the foreground is the House of the Vestal Virgins in the Roman Forum, but above that sits one of the entryways to Palatine Hill.
at the Amalfi Coast and to see Napoli in the daylight. Also, their museum houses many of the artifacts from Pompeii, and we were unable to visit the museum because of our late return to the city.
Thursday, 14 December
We arrive at the USO a few minutes late for our tour, and since a few people had called in sick, there were just four of us for the tour of the Vatican City. Even with the tour guide, we still had to wait in line around the Vatican wall, quite a large, imposing structure, for a half hour, but our guide told us this was a short waiting time. We visit the Museum first and get a history lesson on the City and buildings within. The Museum is definitely worth a visit. We saw only a small percentage of the exhibits, but were still overwhelmed and saw much.
After the museum, we proceeded to the Sistine Chapel. I found it amazing. Many of the paintings appeared three-dimensional and the painted curtains on the wall looked as though light was trickling over them. Even the mosaics on the floor were very detailed. The whole place was so
Here's part of the ruins of the Imperial Palace, with its impressive size of 150,000 square feet. This photo shows a courtyard location.
colorful, which gave it a great deal of depth. The entire room is a work of art and standing within it, I felt as though I were wrapped within the canvas of a genius. I can only assume that many within the large crowd were also amazed, because every one or two minutes a guard would shout: “No photos!” But apparently no one was listening. Quite frankly, I was angered by all the selfish and stupid people letting their flash go off as if they didn’t care that they were ruining the paintings. Even so, the Chapel actually did have a wonderful soothing effect. I just thought it was beautiful.
Next we explored St. Peter’s Basilica. The Basilica was gigantic. There were many tourists here, and it was a bit crowded because there were chairs set up for the Christmas masses. (Just like the obelisk out front was fenced off as they constructed a nativity scene.) This is the largest Christian church in the world, and it did take us awhile to walk through it, from the display of La Pietà, now behind protective glass, to the Nave where St. Peter is buried, past the golden angel of death
I like this photo. This is the Palace's throne room in which the emperor conducted business.
shrouded in a marble sheet, and around again to the dome, where we could stare up almost 400 feet (120 meters) to the egg-shaped dome resting 138 feet in diameter above the elaborate Baldachin.
After the tour ended we walked with the other couple from the tour to the Café Rendez-vous. Here I had wonderfully fresh Gnocchi 4 Formaggi and Seth some Cannenoli with Ricotta and spinach. Then Seth and I wondered through the tented market near the Vatican City and bought a few rosaries, before heading back to the Metro.
Next destination was the Spanga Metro stop, which I wanted to visit in order to see the Villa Medici, but, as it turns out, this was also the stop for the Spanish Steps. First we headed to the Villa, but we couldn’t go in because of some sort of exhibit. So we walked back to the Spanish Steps. Here there was more construction, and scaffolding got in the way of any decent views of the Steps themselves and the church behind. So we just sat for awhile, resting our feet amongst the large crowd of tourist, locals, and dreamers. After we walked down the steps, we took the
This is a photo looking down into the covered excavation site of the stones which held the huts of Romulus. They've found various artifacts from the Iron Age in this spot. You can see the holes in the rocks which once held the tree trucks that served to support the ancient huts.
Metro back to the hotel for a siesta.
We left the hotel at 2000 for a late dinner on the steps of the Pantheon. We choose Di Rienza from the four or five restaurants bordering the piazza. I had roast veal and Seth the linguine with lobster, however, the really great parts of our otherwise overpriced meal were the bottle of Regaleali Sicilia Rosé wine and the fabulous canolli we had for dessert.
Friday, 15 December, or “Rome on a hangover”
I took a handful of Tylenol after we both slept through our alarm and were woken by voices in the hall. This may have something to do with the fact that, usually, we never drink, but we couldn’t see eating in Rome without a glass of wine. It just, you know, seems possible.
We grab a quick breakfast and then it’s off to the Colosseum for some more morning photos. We walk through the Forum again to reach Capital Hill. Here we visit the Capital Hill Museum and its displays of the little boy and his thorn, the legendary She-wolf, Medusa, Hercules, the Dying Gaul, and Marcus Aurelius among the museum’s many displays.
The Imperial Palace. The metal railing signifies ground level.
we hopped a bus to the Pantheon, to see it in the daylight. The inside was interesting, and the dull orange and blackish-blue marble is somewhat calming, but in an overwhelming way, such that it could become depressing. It was extremely difficult to get a good photo of the inside because the entire center of the floor had been blocked off with metal fencing and green mesh as they were apparently cleaning the floors - just not right then. This makes for three major monuments of Rome that are under construction during our visit. But it can’t be helped. Rome must be maintained.
Anyway, I liked the Pantheon, it’s just that I liked the massiveness of the exterior more than I was charmed by the interior. I was also a bit disappointed that I could not stand in the center of the floor to stare up at the oculus. The Pantheon, inside of the 23 feet thick walls, is constructed around an invisible perfect circle, 142 feet in diameter, and topped by a 30-foot in diameter oculus, which is the only source of light for the entire interior. To say that it is of extreme importance in architectural history
The Circus Maximus
What remains of the Circus Maximus, as viewed from the Imperial Palace on the Palatine Hill. The lonely tree to the right of the photo signifies one of the turns of the course.
is an understatement.
After leaving the Pantheon, we walk about 50 meters back towards the Argentina Square and eat lunch at L’antica Bottega della Pizza. This was an unusual lunch experience for us, because the pizzas were gigantic square concoctions, the size of sheet cakes, laid out and the customer requests where they cut the pizza, then pays for it by weight. This restaurant concept is a terrible idea for people whose eyes are bigger than their stomach. I eat far too much of a mozzarella and priscuiotto and Seth has mushrooms with bacon.
Then, of course, dessert. We walked back and visit Eraclea for smooth vanilla and rich, thick chocolate gelato, and eat it seated upon the rear of the wall surrounding the Pantheon.
On our map we see a picture of a castle and we think: Oh, we gotta see this castle in Rome. We’re all about castles. So we hop back on bus #64 and take it to the Castel Sant’Angelo (Castle Saint Angel) on the banks of the Tiber River. We walk up to it by crossing the Ponte Sant’Angelo, and the vantage point of this bridge lends a picturesque setting to the
A stop near the Colosseum for some "Roman Pizzas" or Paninis.
This castle has seen many renovations. It began as Hadrian's Mausoleum in 123 AD Somewhere between 275 and 403 BC, it was heavily fortified and given towers and crenellated battlements and built into the city wall. In 1277, Pope Nicholas III lived here and built a secure passageway between the castle and the Vatican. Apparently this is called the Castle Saint Angel because in 590 AD, during a procession led by Pope Gregory the Great, an angel appeared upon the then mausoleum which signified an end to the city's plague.
We decide not to go inside the castle, but soon found the need to visit a small building nearby on the castle grounds, in which was located a public restroom. I mainly mention this because I found it of great amusement that in the entry to this public restroom was a sign in English asking, “Please do not urinate on the door.”
We spend some time wandering the castle grounds and the vendors near the river, where we buy some original artwork from a sweet old man, and then hop the bus back to the Termini. After a short rest, we take the metro out to
The Holy See
A quick stop in Saint Peter's Square.
find the Pyramid of Cauis Cestius, which was built by this Roman magistrate around 12 BC to function as his tomb, and the Porta Ostiense, a gate that was reconstructed in the sixth century but was originally part of the Aurelian Wall built by Marcus Aurelius. Neither of which were fascinating or photogenic enough for me to place into the photo section of the blog. We also search for the Monte Testaccio, which is a gigantic, ancient garbage pile formed from broken clay vessels discarded here about two thousand years ago but now is a spot for nightclubs and restaurants located in the tunnels dug through the garbage. I thought this would be something interesting to see, but we couldn’t find it, and once more I curse the guidebook before we find our way back to the Metro and return to a familiar part of town.
We hang out at the Trevi Fountain again, with the soothing sound of running water drowning out the sound of tourists. This massive work of art melds so well into the building façade to which it’s attached. The rocks of the fountain actually morph into the building’s foundation.
After a bit of
Rome by Night
The Pantheon at night. We got lost a couple of times on our nighttime excursion across Rome. Many things in this city are hidden from the main roads.
relaxation, we head up one of the side streets, haggle with a street vendor for a suitcase I liked, then stop into the Hostaria Trevi for dinner. It was a quaint little restaurant with a nice atmosphere and a friendly staff, including the waiter who kept calling me “Bella.” The food was good, as was the house wine, which we select from a menu that’s in four languages.
This being our last night in Rome meant that we were required to get some gelato for dessert. We walk down a few storefronts to get some gelato cones, then hop of the #175 bus to the Termini before passing out for the night. Apparently walking all across Rome and Pompeii and the Vatican for four and a half days can be quite exhausting.
Saturday, December 16th.
After a slow start and late breakfast with cappuccinos, we take the 1040 Terravision bus from the Termini Station to the Ciampino Airport, spending 40 minutes alone on a bus ride that makes us both sick. Then we hang out at the airport for a couple hours until they let us check in, eating the paninis that we bought at the Termini.
Rome by Night
Trajan's Column. This column rises 140 feet in the air and is covered with 2,500 carved figures. It's impressive, but being lost, however, we didn't know what it was when we snapped the picture.
We finally make it through the check-in process and wander through the duty-free shop, purchasing olive oil. Our flight left at 1515, and it was still daylight, so we could watch the Italian countryside passing below us until we were above the clouds. There were breaks in the clouds when we could see the Italian coast along the Mediterranean Sea. At one point I was staring at the clouds and thinking that they looked a bit like mountains, then I realized I was staring at mountains, and the clouds thinned, and we were over the Alps. Seeing the snowy crests of the Italian Alps from above was impressive.
We were only in the air one hour and twenty minutes, and we land at 1630, just past sunset in Germany.
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