Doing Rome with a Plan

When my friends and I decided upon a trip to Italy focused on Rome, I was really pumped to go back, see some familiar places and get to check off some that, though very important, I had failed to visit in my 2 prior trips to Rome (to my credit, they had been like 3-day stays each).

Lodging in Rome

All of us had prior experience with renting apartments while abroad as a way to get much cheaper lodging with the perks of a real kitchen, washer/dryer, and living room space so we could hang out late at night.  www.vrbo.com is my starting point for any search like this.  We found an apartment in Prati but, unfortunately, soon after booking, the building had some sewer problems so the agency that VRBO had connected us to, contacted us to offer other options.  We took another apartment, very close to the U.S. Embassy (not for that reason) and paid the differential since it was a better apartment though it was beyond what we had hoped to spend.  However, getting close to the date of travel and with not as many options for 3-bedroom apartments that we had liked when we first searched, we went for it.  The agency that arranged the rental in Rome was very professional and helpful along the way with special requests; check them out next time you are headed to Italy:  www.italyperfect.com.  Our apartment’s owner was a marquesa, if that impresses you at all!

Living/Dining room was very spacious

So What Was the Plan?

Our individual goals in this vacations coincided a good bit.  One set of friends had not been to Rome so they would have to cover some of the basics we already had.  Pompeii and the Sistine Chapel were top of my list but more on those in other entries…

As soon as we decided on the trip, we “discovered” that there were 3 other basilicas outside of what is known as the Vatican.  They are elsewhere in Rome but technically you are in the Vatican when you are in these basilicas.  We decided that these would be a great item for our arrival day due to all the walking and metroing required to see them – hence, we would not be tempted by naps!  We ended up leaving Sta. M. Maggiore for another day but we found these basilicas, though not as massive as St. Peter’s, impressive in their own right.  The basilicas are:

  • St. John Lateran (former home of the Popes until not long ago at all – who knew)

  • St. Paul Outside the Walls (the clarification is needed:  there is one INSIDE the walls; and yes, Rome still has segments of wall around it; again, who knew…  oh, and St. Paul is buried here under the chains that held him captive)

  • Santa Maria Maggiore (near the Termini station).

Rome has some fan-TAS-tic ceilings – check them out!

One of the main things for me to see in Rome (what an unfair thing to type… Rome has SO much that is a must-see!) was the Pantheon.  Folks, it is a 100 years and change away from being TWO THOUSAND years old!  Can you wrap your mind around that???  I can’t!  And it is STILL the world’s largest un-reinforced concrete dome.  I should have seen this on my first visit!  Oh, and I had NO idea the hole at the top was open!  Cleverly positioned and hidden drains take care of that water when it rains!

The oculus (giggle, giggle) “reflected” on the dome

We hit the Pantheon the day we went to the Papal Audience when we left the Vatican and started meandering streets.  It was my 3rd Papal Audience with the last one having been WAY CLOSER to the Pope (check out my friend Chris’ account of that audience.  As usual, the people watching sometimes is even better than the event itself!

Sweet looking but who knows if she is really a meanie!

Not sure who looks sillier but thanks for your service!

In that meandering, we happened upon the Gelateria del Teatro, a well-known gelateria due to the quality and uniqueness of the flavors of the gelato.  It was OUT OF THIS WORLD!   Take a look at this!!

Spectacular gelato!!

We also walked around Piazza Navona always full of life and tourists and peddlers…  That area is even more interesting and full of locals in the evening.  Meander the side streets and find restaurants and other gelaterias (when in Rome, you are required to have gelato no less than 2  times per day!).  There is a lot in that area of town just around the corner on a side street!

Piazza Navona

As we headed back to the apartment, we decided to take a short detour and go to the Trevi Fountain so one set of friends could see it for the first time but, more importantly, so we could throw our coin to ensure a return to Roma!  Again, the people watching is superb.  I loved taking a couple of pictures of this couple as they examined the fountain.

After recovering from all that walking, we headed to Hostaria Il Mozzicone in Via Borgo Pio right outside the Vatican, a place I had visited in my two prior trips.  As usual the food was awesome (the carbonara is their specialty and the ONLY thing I eat there) and the service cold – but never mind the service; as long as you go in up front not expecting friendly, you will be OK.  Below my carbonara!

Food has AWESOME food and a food tour is a great way to discover.  We did a great food tour and highlight recommend that.

Finally, to help us walk off some of the food coma, we walked over to St. Peter’s for a great night time view of this majestic place, something I had not done before (the go at night part!).  A great way to cap our day!

In this trip, I also discovered why Rome IS the eternal city -> http://ilivetotravel.me/2012/04/22/why-rome-is-the-eternal-city/

Traipsing around Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museum

Not being keen on lines and much less crowds, I instantly mentally said “yes” when I saw there was a tour of the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museum before the crowds got in.  I was quite willing to pay for the privilege of going before the SC and VM opened – which is rather an inaccurate concept as the moment you go in, the museum IS open – but this “before it opens” thing is about beating the crowds who did not want to wake up earlier, who did not want to (or could) pay the extra cost, or who did not know/think about it ahead of time.  Plus with a tour guide to be sure nothing noteworthy was missed in the eagerness to see the SC.

Vatican Museum statue

Sample art at the Vatican Museum

Dark Rome (www.darkrome.com) provided one of those tours.  (I found them via my ultimate authority for local tours, Viator.)  Their tour guide, an archaelogist from Ireland named Rachel (cute!) was engaging and well prepared.  But beyond not missing any key artifacts, the value was getting background knowledge about the great pieces I was going to see.

I have to say that while there were other tour groups (I didn’t pay THAT much money!), there was space to move around and stop without getting crashed into or pushed.  Lots of interesting art (Rafael’s masterpiece right before the SC being one of them) and architecture.  The crown jewel, though, really blew me away.  Having heard SO MUCH about it, I was expecting to be impressed but not blown away.  One of those things were the expectations are made so big that by the time you get there, it is not the same as what it had been built to be.

NOT this time!  I have to say that having learned how frescoes are made in the tour, having been explained Michelangelo’s design and process, etc. really made a big difference in the appreciation for those drawings up in a ceiling.  Just thinking about how high he had to climb every day to do the job was quite impressive.  (I did wonder if he took bathroom breaks and, if so, did he do it in a bucket and lowered it when done… or was he SO engrossed in his masterpiece that he could hold it however many hours??  The things that churn in my head…)

Soapbox break.  The one shameful thing I observed was fellow tourists who did not seem to get the concept of no pictures allowed.  First of all, these fools don’t realize those drawings are so far up that their pictures will do them no justice.  Just buy a freaking post card or, even better, the book. But most importantly for me is the lack of respect they show for a place of worship.  If you cannot respect the sites you visit, then why are you really going there anyway?  I treat other faiths’ places of worship with the same respect I pay my own.  Soapbox break over.

It is neat to understand where Michelangelo started the ceiling and how his technique evolved during the project.  I didn’t realize he was rather inexperienced in frescoes when he got the commission (that he didn’t want to do but Julius II forced to accept).  I will not get into it here as I am not an art connossieur nor is that the purpose of this blog.  But it is really interesting to see how he learned about how to do the frescoes once he came down and admired one of the earliest panels finished – the ceiling was too far up and the figures were too small:  he had to paint them bigger!  I am surprised though that he didn’t re-do that first panel.  Or maybe he did and I didn’t catch that…

The Sistine Chapel frescoes on the ceiling are matched by an imposing altarpiece fresco where Michelangelo gets back at a “foe” using his face as the face of someone being walked into hell.  I think Michelangelo won that little feud of theirs…  And remember Rome is eternal…  Lots of good ceilings in the Vatican (and Rome)!

Finally, as a Catholic, picturing a conclave (where Popes are elected) taking place in the SC while standing there was priceless.  I couldn’t quite picture all these cardinals in there but, I take it by faith.

I think in some future visit, perhaps I will explore more of the VM themselves.  Lots of important artifacts and art that I may not really be prepared to explore.  But something will be learned, something will probably impress me and… I can get to see the awesome work in the Sistine Chapel one more time!

I Know Now Why Rome Is the Eternal City

Rome is eternal, the Eternal City!  That much has been said before about it.  But it keeps proving true over and over for me…

I just went for my third time, this time for the longest visit yet (about 6 days). I never seem to get to a spot anywhere near “I feel like I know this place”. I keep discovering new areas of town, new “must see’s”, new dishes, etc. It will take me an eternity to master Rome – and the money that goes along with that eternity!  (Funding, anyone?  Angel investor, I like to go to the Vatican in case that sways you.)  Rome is eternal indeed…

Rome Has History and I Have History with Rome

Though I had been there twice before, each visit had been for about 3 days each. Both included Papal audiences as the Pope had changed inter-visit and I had to check out the new guy. Oh, and when I mean check out, I mean up close. I was not down with the masses that time. I was up by the stage. But I digress.  This is about my 2012 visit, not my 2006 visit.

In any case, I had seen some of the key sights of Rome (the Forum, the Colosseum, St. Peter‘s all the way to the top and all the way to the bottom at the Scavi, etc.). But I STILL knew I had some key sites and sights I had not been able to get to. Most shocking of all the missing sites was the Sistine Chapel. It became my number one target for this trip (and I saw it!).

Laser-Focused Objective.  Make that “Objectives”

Laser-like focus on the Sistine Chapel became a little less focused when friends coming on the trip raised the idea of getting to Pompeii.  Scope creep!  What I warn my clients about in my day job.  But, heck I had been to Italy now 2 times and I had never made it south of Rome.  And Pompeii… Images from all the history classes in school flashing like a neon sign in my head… Well, how could that be left out…  But surely these two plus maybe a couple of churches and, of course, the Pantheon – how could I forget, I had never seen it either.  OK, so now I had a definitive focused list of places I did want to see this time.  The rest of the visit open for whatever…

And so the trip began on my way to reducing time-to-eternal, ETC (estimate to completion), shortening of the list of things to still do in Rome… and the trip ended with enough left over to ensure another return.  A fourth…

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