Rome Italy and Vatican City
Jun 6, 2012
|Day 5- Rome
Bonjourno! Today was our biggest adventure and excursion of the cruise, visiting Rome. We had a 10.5 hour excursion booked to visit some exciting spots around the city, and we started very early, around 7:15 or so. Well, that's what time we were supposed to get going. There was some confusion involving a family that thought they should have been on our tour, but they weren't, and that cause a big hold up. We didn't get off the pier until around 8:30, so it was a bit of a slow start. Not overly awful. We had an hour or so drive into Rome anyway, and the traffic wasn't exactly light. At any rate, it was nice to just sit back and doze, since I had yet another bad night's sleep. Am coming down with a cold or something, as I have had a bad sore throat the last couple days or so, though so far no other symptoms. Am hoping any further issues can manage to hold off until after I get back home, cuz would totally suck to deal with being sick for the last days of our cruise.
ANYway, enough of being Debbie Downer. Like I said, hour or so drive into Rome, with a small pitstop along the way for potty break. What we are able to see form the bus, Rome is a BUSY city! Very fast paced, and the traffic is slightly scarey. Cars cutting each other off all the time, and people on scooters just zipping around and between cars as if it was nothing. If I had to drive through Rome, I am pretty sure I would have my first panic attack!
After a short drive through the city, we left the bus to follow our guide, Katia, through some of the sides streets toward out first destination, the Trevi Fountain. Katia was a trip. She'd keep talking about how small some of the sites were, but that was totally her way of making you just become overwhelmed by the sight of these iconic landmarks. Trevi Fountain was no exception. You turn the corner, and here is this ENORMOUS facade, carved with all sorts of classical figures and motifs. If I recall correctly, I believe the central figure is Neptune. The other figures I am not so sure on (I intend to research it a little more when I get home), though I am fairly certain that the faces on the top of the sides are meant to represent Romulous and Remus, brothers (mythical?) that are credited with the forming of Rome. The fountain itself is thunderously loud, and really just breathtaking in scope. It's easy to see why it is always so crowded there, as it most certainly was today. I did manage to get close enough to toss a coin in. Supposedly the lore goes that you toss a coin from your right hand over your left shoulder. The first coin ensures your return to Rome, the second one you make a wish. I only had a single 10 cent euro, so if I can ensure a return for 10 cents, I'm golden!
Leaving the fountain, we continued through the streets towards our next stop. Along the way, we passed by a university owned by the Vatican. Katia explained that you can easily tell which buildings and sites belonged to the vatican, by the presence of an image featuring crossed keys and a papal crown. This imagery is even present on the Trevi Fountain, and could be seen prevalently decorating the windows of the university. Continuing past the university, Katia was telling use a little about our next site, which she claimed was "just a small thing, really." I'm embarrassed to admit, but I don't recall what the building was called, or who built it and why. Katia was throwing a lot if infomation at us really fast, and it was somewhat hard to assimilate. Which was made all the more impossible when you turn the corner and see "this small thing." It was a monstrous white marble, columned structure which is appropriately nicknamed the "Wedding Cake." The building is just stunning, covered with sculptures and bronze statues. This site is also the location of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which I believe Katia mentioned was a solder killed during WWII(?). Again, I am lost in the details, and intend to find out more when I get home and have access to faster (and unlimited) internet. At any rate, the tomb is guarded at all times by a set of guards, 24/7/365, weather fair or foul. While not an ancient structure, it was still an incredible sight.
Passing the "Wedding Cake," we made our way toward the ancient Roman Forum. Back in the day, the Forum would have been where all decisions affecting the city would be made by the senators. Though there are several still recognizable structures, the site is mostly rubble. Surprisingly enough, the destruction seen was not from some natural disaster, but rather the hands of men during the Dark and Middle Ages. People of that time would take materials from the site for their own structures, whether it be simple housing or new churches. For them, it would be recycling, as they did not have our contemporary desire for preservation. In fact, the most intact structure still seen as more or less what it originally looked like is the domed structure seen in some of the pictures included with this blog. The reason for its condition is that it was converted into a church at some point, and was therefore protected from the ravages of the people. Also notable in the site were the remains of the Temple of Vesta, where the Vestal virgins worshiped.
As we left the Forum and started toward the Colosseum, we passed by the Arch of Titus, which is currently being restored. A very impressive looking structure, it is one of three arches still standing out of the over 30 that used to be seen. A little further away from Titus's arch was another arch, which I believe was the Arch of Constantine, who is the one credited with bringing Christianity to the Roman people. Another impressive structure, it pales in comparison to the Colosseum. We've seen the Colosseum in books and on TV, but it's nothing like seeing it in person. Even now you can get an idea of just how incredible the building must have been back in its heyday. There was a HUGE line to get in, with a wait of close to 3.5 hours. But as we were with a VIP tour group, we got right in ahead of everyone else, so YAY! Tooks tons of pictures. Everywhere you looked there was some new detail you couldn't help but want to document. When we left, I purchased a book about Rome with some pics that show what the sites look like now, with overlays that show an artist's conception of what it looked like then. Really cool. Oh yeah, and I also got bombed by a pigeon... almost. We won't go there.
Leaving the Colluseum, we boarded the bus again to head to the restaurant where we would be having a 3 course lunch. It was pretty good if simple fare: baked ziti, chicken with salad and veggies, and an odd ricotta custard with coffee syrup. Also had some white wine and champagne, which was refreshing. :-) After lunch, we got back on the bus to head over to Vatican City, where we would be visiting our last stop, St. Peter's Basilica. Vatican City is apparently always incredibly crowded, and today was no exception. Part of that reason for today's crowd was that the Pope makes a brief appearance on Wednesdays, and that's a big draw of tourists and locals alike. The appearance takes place in the mornings, though, so I think things could have been a LOT busier than they were. Once again, our group was whisked past the line of several thousand people, and right in. Anyway, you enter the Basilica, and are immediately struck by the shere scale of everything. The ceilings are so high up that trying to take a photo of them with a flash is impossible, as the flash doesn't light up anyway. Sculptures are simply everywhere, from huge statues of past popes to cherubs done in bas relief on the walls. Most impressive were the mosaics. There are several huge pieces that look like they are painting, but are instead incredibly detailed and intricate mosaics. They were absolutely stunning, not just in the master craftsmanship, but in the scale, easily something like 25x50 feet, or more! The center piece of the Basilica would be the altar and canopy (?), which stands directly beneath the dome. Only the Pope himself will ever celebrate Mass from that altar, as the dome and alter were built over the grave of St. Peter, who was the first Pope. It is believed that from St. Peter's grave, to the altar, to the Pope, on up thru the dome, is a direct line to heaven. While I am not Catholic myself, I don't think you have to be religious at all to be completely awed by St. Peter's Basilica. It truly is a once in a lifetime experience.
After our time in Vatican City, we got back onto the bus and headed back to the ship. Since it had been a long, hot, sweaty day, Mike and I decided to cool off in the pool for while before heading to dinner. We've been enjoying our table mates, all who are from England. We pretty much closed the place last night, as conversation just continued on well past the time everyone else left. We considered doing something and staying up late for once, but both of us are so dead tired, we're just going to crash. Tomorrow we are in Naples, and joy of joys, our excursion is in the afternoon, so sleeping in a bit! YAY! Goodnight,everyone!