Although we had been scheduled to make a coach tour of Rome as soon as we arrived, our Rome tour guide had changed the plan and arranged for us to check into our hotels early and get some rest. What a welcome relief that was! None of us had slept much on the train, we had been unable to use the bathrooms, due to the unbelievable stench that I will forever associate with trains, and we needed some time to relax and acclimate.
Following some down time, we were treated to a motorcoach tour of some of the Rome highlights, with stops at Vatican City, a tour of St. Peter’s Basilica, and a visit to the Colosseum. Vatican City is an interesting city-state, with Swiss Guards stationed near every entrance. They are very carefully chosen for their position as bodyguards for the Pope, and are allowed to serve a maximum of two years. Apparently, the Church feels that two years in Rome is enough temptation for these young men!
At St. Peter’s, I was finally more impressed than I was with Westminster Abbey, although for different reasons. Westminster seemed – to me – a more intensely prayerful place than St. Peter’s. Part of the reason, I think, is because regular worship services are still held there and St. Peter’s is used primarily for special occasions. Our guide, Salvatore, told us that for years any Italian child could be baptized at St. Peter’s, but no longer. Now the family must have some kind of connection or relationship to the Pope. The wedding chapel is the same. Salvatore (who was a wonderful guide, as nearly all of them are) lamented that St. Peter’s is no longer a holy place, but simply a tourist attraction. He seemed sad about it and regretted that he had been unable to have his daughter baptized there.
Our stop at the Colosseum was – well, I really can’t think of a superlative that is superlative enough! To see that magnificent structure, still standing after so many centuries, and after it has been cannibalized to provide marble and other materials for newer structures, well, it was the dream of a lifetime. We could almost visualize the people who attended events there so many years ago, and who could never have dreamed that centuries later people would be marveling at something they had created.
There are so many ruins in Rome and they turn up in unexpected places. We saw a portion of an ancient wall that had been incorporated into a newer apartment structure, and it was common to see remnants of pre-Christian-era walls alongside the modern roadways that we traveled.
We then made our way to Trevi Fountain, where I threw the coin from my right hand over my left shoulder, to ensure that I will someday return to Rome! It’s a magical city.
That evening we had dinner at a local restaurant. Everyone who had unexpectedly downsized accommodations on the train had the dinner comped as partial repayment. The food was the best we’d had so far in Europe, and the strolling singers were an enjoyable bonus. I laughed so hard that my sides hurt and it was truly an evening to be remembered. Well, except the wine has fogged some of the memories…
On Saturday, our last day, we had the exquisite treat of a visit to the Sistine Chapel. There were no photos allowed, but we had lots of time to soak up the glories of Michelangelo’s exquisite works. As before, it was different from what we had imagined – and yet, the same. The ceiling is about 69’ high, so nothing looked as large as we expected, but with no frame of reference, it was difficult to judge. Seeing the work in person gave both of us a new appreciation for the work that was accomplished more than 500 years ago. The colors are still so vibrant, and the depiction so vivid, that it’s hard to believe it has withstood the elements for so many years. As with St. Peter’s, it has largely become a tourist attraction and has very little to do with religious life today. It’s very sad.
We concluded our day of sightseeing – and our touring – with a visit to the Pantheon. As with so many of the ancient sites, the Christian church has co-opted the structures and created places of worship and memorial from what were essentially pagan sites.
The Pantheon is very well preserved, and is touted as the largest unsupported dome in the world. Of course there is support in the form of the arches, but it’s an impressive structure nonetheless!
Following the tour, we had time for lunch and shopping. Jim and I chose to have an al fresco lunch at a restaurant adjacent to the Pantheon, followed by a few purchases. We then joined the tour bus to return to our hotel.
That evening we had a final dinner with our group, and it was a highlight of the tour! We were serenaded by the restaurant owners, Fernando and Reinaldo, and their incredibly powerful tenor and baritone voices. They brought me to tears. So I bought their CD. Hey, how could I refuse?
We returned to our hotel and fell, exhausted, into bed. The next day we would say goodbye to Europe and return home. We’re tired (still recovering), but already talking about our next trip!
For you intrepid souls who have read this far - and who are still interested! - I have posted photos of the trip at http://www.flickr.com/photos/cjcerezo/collections/72157618019448449