Our itinerary was set, flights booked, bags packed, but we sat with bated breath gathered around two tables in Indianapolis Airport’s center area. You know, the one between Checkpoints A and B? We purchased Chick-fil-a or McDonald’s, chewed and swallowed, but really, we all wanted notifications to ping on our phones telling us our Covid tests were negative and we really would get on a plane for Rome in an hour. It was the most nerve-wracking part of the three-year wait for this tour.
The sighs were audible as first one, then another of our 8-person group received the needed documentation. After that, even the 7-plus hour flight couldn’t dampen our enthusiasm. We were traveling!!
Rome – Day 1
After a layover in New York’s JFK airport, we landed in Rome’s Fiumicino Airport and met our EF tour director, Andreas. When the second group from Tucson, Arizona, arrived, we boarded the bus and drove to the city center where we visited the Piazza di Spagna, location of the Spanish Steps and the Spanish Embassy among other things. We all thought the story of the steps fascinating – how they linked the upper and lower parts of the city.
Next we walked to the Trevi Fountain. I had no idea the fountains was part of a building. In all the pictures it seems to be separate, but it’s not. Hubby and I ate a delicious pizza at a shop in the fountain square.
Next on our tour was the Pantheon. I’m constantly amazed how the Catholic Church was able to take pagan temples and symbols and transform them into Christian ones. This ancient building once housed statues of the numerous Roman gods and goddesses, but now is a Catholic place. The inlaid marble floors and opulent open-centered dome ceiling were amazing.
In Piazza Navona, a previous chariot-racing venue, several fountains entertained us as the wind chilled. The pizza from dinner wasn’t nearly as good as what we had for lunch. We hiked back to our bus along the Tiber River. The March sun set behind the landmarks, presenting a beautiful scene to end our day.
Rome – Day 2
Our first stop was one of several ancient catacombs built just outside the old city. Traveling the dark, narrow paths past empty tombs conjured thoughts of Christians fighting to survive under the early caesars. Odd remnants – a brightly-painted wall, or a carving, or a tiny oil lamp – brought the scene to life. People used to meet in those tunnels, were buried there. A beautiful church exists beneath the earth also.
From there, we viewed a bit of the Appian Way, the road that once connected all of the Roman empire. The Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls was our next destination. We learned that to be called a “basilica” some holy relic must reside within the building. In this case, the remains of Paul are entombed here. The original basilica founded by Saint Benedict was completely destroyed in a fire but subsequently rebuilt.
Our lunch consisted of Steak and Shake-style burgers with a Big Mac-style sauce. It was quite tasty. Following lunch, we headed to the Vatican which is a series of museums, residences, and piazzas. Artifacts from around the world reside there. Mosaics, tapestries, statues, and more. The floors are inlaid with intricate marble designs and the walls and ceilings painted with frescos. There were giant marble bathtubs and, of course, the Sistene Chapel and Michelangelo’s famous work.
Perhaps an unpopular opinion, and definitely uninformed as I am no art authority, but I preferred “The Judgement” painted on the back wall of the chapel to the ceiling.
Traveling through Saint Peter’s Square recalled news shots of the Pope standing on the balcony overlooking crowds of people. The design reminded me of the WWII memorial in Washington D.C. the way the pillars curved – supposedly to represent God reaching out to embrace those standing in the square.
Beware the scammers! A group of men hawking elephant bracelets were the main culprits in Rome along with those pushing phone chargers. We also saw a beggar woman wearing homemade duct tape and packing paper boots.
Dinner was a salad, bacon carbonara, with a sort of crepe with cheese and syrup for dessert. The restaurant – either Arabic or Jewish – none of use could tell for sure, was the best we’d seen yet. However, they offered us wine or soda without informing us there would be an extra charge. I believe this is typical, and we should have known such drinks wouldn’t be included with our meals.
We arrived at our hotel around 9 pm local time.
Rome – Day 3
My first view of the Colosseum tightened my stomach with feelings of incredulity. To think that I was seeing a place where so many lives were lost for the sake of entertainment and government control, was a bit overwhelming. Viewing the animal cages beneath the floor and the sheer size of the once magnificent building, I was aghast and awed at the same time. The architectural mastery, the aesthetic beauty of the once-marble-covered steps and floors is breathtaking. Of course, much of the marble was carted away after Constantine declared Rome a Christian empire. Still, the experience was surreal. I kept thinking of Francine Rivers’ Mark of the Lion series.
The next stop was across the road to the Forum, past the palace on Palatine Hill and several ruined temples. This area was fascinating as well, with its crumbling remains and storied past. I could almost hear the gossip and greetings called over the din of haggling and the citizen speaking about some law or other. Sandals slap marble and stone, fabrics swish, people live their lives.
We moved a few blocks to a local market and ordered sandwiches for lunch. I discovered I’m not a fan of prosciutto nor fresh mozzarella, but the gelato we ate later more than made up the deficit.
We meandered the Monti neighborhood, investigating little shops and sitting around the fountain until time to board the bus and head to Florence. I’ll tell you all about that lovely Italian city in the next post.
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