Rome and Vatican City

Bon Jorno !

We had the most awesome time in Rome. It was just as wonderful as we had expected. The look in Adam's face when he first spotted the Colloseum from blocks away was worth the whole trip.

The flight in was great - we left on time, and even arrived early thanks to a tailwind. The airport in Rome was easy to navigate, and in no time we had found the train to take us to the city.

We took a cab to the hotel, but we probably could have walked - it wasn't very far. It was in the middle of this tiny, narrow one way street/alley, and didn't look very impressive from the outside. But when we went inside, we were suprised to see it was decorated so nicely. The owner went and made coffee and hot chocolate for us, and bought out some home made croissants from breakfast for us while we were checking in. Our room was very tiny, and barely had enough room for the two single beds and the tv stand. But it was clean and comfortable, and there was a "garden terrace" on the roof of the adjacent building. Unfortunately, it was not high enough to provide a view, but Adam enjoyed going out on it to see the stray cats that were always there.

After we settled in, we decided that we were too psyched to stay and rest (it was 10:00 Rome time by then, 4:00 a.m. Philly time), so we asked for directions to the Colloseum, and started walking. We immediately found two truthes about Rome - no one curbs their dogs, and the mopeds and small cars are driven as badly as NYC taxi drivers.

We found the Colliseum easily, and spent a good deal of time there before walking up Palatine Hill. From the top of the hill, you can see the whole Forum, and a lot of the city. We counted 5 large domes, and finally figured out which one was St. Peter's. After walking through a little bit of the Forum, we walked back to the neighborhood around the hotel, and looked for a place to eat. We ended up in what appeared to be a typical pizzeria/lunch spot - no seats, just tables to stand at. We had to point to the pizza we wanted, as we didn't know what anything was. After lunch, we went back to the hotel and napped until it was dark. Then we went out and walked around the shopping area near the hotel. Since we were so close to St. Mary Major Basilica, there were a lot of religious shops mixed in with the normal street vendors and souvenir dealers. We managed to find the McDonald's for dinner (not the second largest one in the world, that is somewhere in rome) - it was pretty much the same as the states, except for the Quarter Pounder being called the McRoyale (remember Pulp Fiction!!). It was also the only place we ate where we had ice in the drinks!

Friday we woke up early, had breakfast in the hotel (those home made croissants were the best), and took a cab to the Vatican. We arrived early enough so that nothing was open yet, but we could still walk around St Peter's Square and see all of Michaelangelo's statues without a crowd. We were in the first group to go up in the elevator to the top of the cuppola (dome) in St. Peter's. You can walk around above the altar and see all of the great detail in the wall paintings. The six story high altar below looks so tiny when you are up so high. We then proceeded to walk the 320 steps up to the top of the dome. The books were right when they said don't try this if you are claustrophobic. The stairs were circular, and kept getting smaller and tighter as you went up. But being able to look out over Vatican City and Rome from the very top of St. Peter's was worth it - you could barely see the people in the square!! We got some great pictures (I hope). I found it funny that there was a guy walking around the dome picking up cigarette butts from people who had made it to the top!!!

After that, we wandered around the basilica for a while, looking at all of the small chapels it contains. It is almost too overwhelming - you could spend hours staring at staues before you realize that there are hundreds of them to see. We were able to go under the altar of St. Peter, and view his tomb - the underground area also contains tombs from many other popes, and smaller private chapels for various saints. Then it was on to the Vatican Museums. We needed to leave Vatican City, and walk another half mile or so around the walls to get to the entrance. We went in, and immediately tried to make our way to the Sistine chapel. Any one of the routes you took eventually led to it - we choose the one that took us through the Hall of Maps, and allowed us to see some paintings by Raphael and Bertillini. We also saw a collection of globes and old books collected over the centuries by various Popes. Finally, we arrived at the Sistine Chapel. Overwhelming would be an understatement. The room was packed with people, and the attendants had to ask for quiet (in four different languages) every ten minutes or so. The restoration job was incredible. You could see places where they showed you what if looked like before, and then see the results of after for yourself. There was a man arguing that the restoration process had destroyed a lot of the subtle coloring of the hues and shades, since cleaning it brightened everything. Adam and I waited for a seat on the side to open up, then just sat down and soaked it up for a good half hour.

After we were finished, we went to the Vatican cafeteria and ate some (take a wild guess......) pizza!! Then we went to the post office and mailed the postcards we had written the first night in the hotel. After we left, we wandered around the neighborhood near the Vatican, looking for all of the religious souvenirs we would need for the mass on Saturday. We then walked along the wall that connects the Vatican to Castel Santangelo, the Pope's medievel fortress. It was originally built to be Hadrian's tomb, so it had a great mixture of old Roman art and paintings, alongside more "modern" Rennaissance works from the later Popes. Unfortunately, as we were leaving, it started to rain really hard. After walking in it for a while to find the Pantheon, we finally gave up, and took a taxi home.

When it was still raining later that night, we decided to take a bus tour of the city at night. That gave us a chance to at least view parts of the city lit up (the Colloseum, the Vito Emmanual Memorial, etc). It also stopped at the Trevi Fountain for a few minutes. Adam tossed three coins in the fountain ( meaning he will marry an Italian). I opted for only one (meaining I will return to Rome one day). On the way back to the bus, we found a street vendor selling pieces of fresh coconut - we couldn't resist getting a slice. When the tour bus dropped us off, we noticed that one of the non-descript shops across from the hotel was actually a pizzeria that opened late, so we stopped in and had some pizza. This was definitely the best so far - the crust was cracker thin, and the woman running the shop spoke just enough English to be funny!

Saturday morning, we were up early and at the Vatican before 9:00. Mass didn't start until after 10, but we were able to get really good seats. We were close to the side of the center aisle in St. Peter's Square, which, we later found out was great - that was the aisle that the Pope would come up after Mass. It was very amusing to see the reverential attitude of the crowd change as soon as mass was over - You would have thought it ws a rock concert. People crowded up against the barricade at the aisle, as everyone tried to get in a good position to see the Pope drive by in his Pope-mobile. When we first came out, the crowd went wild. When he actually came up the aisle we were in, the teenage girls in front of us went crazy - I swear one of them almost fainted. Adam was within 3 feet of him as he drove by. I was a couple of feet back, as I had let a couple of other kids climb on my chair so they could see.

When they got him seated at the altar, they read off the list of groups that were in attendance (as each one cheered when they heard their name). Then they handed him a one page statement that he read before blessing the crowd. then the lucky groups that had tickets, and were seated on the sides of the altar got to actually meet him.

It took us a while to get out of the Square (there was an estimated 80,000 people there), but when we did, we continued to walk and try to find the Pantheon. On our way, we found another McDonalds for lunch ( there was a college kid from Texas working there while he waited for an interview to manage a nearby hotel). We spent the rest of the day seeing the Pantheon, the obelisk from Egypt, the Campidoglio, the rest of the Forum that we missed Thursday, and the memorial to the unknown soldier. We went back to the hotel, (after walking around the Colloseum one more time, and trying to pet the cats), and after a quick nap, went over to the pizza place across the street for dinner. After dinner, we walked around and finished getting the rest of our souvenirs. After a quick cappacinno at the local "bar", we went home and packed everything up.

Our flight back took a lot longer (over 10 hours). First there was a headwind, then we had to wait outside of NYC for a spot to clear before we could approach Philly. But, the airplanes have personal video screens now that allow you to choose between 10 different movies, plus tv shows like the Simpsons or Seinfeld, and other specials. The flight attendant took some paper with origami instructions on it, and used a dozen of them to form a star that she filled with peanuts and pretzels for Adam. She came back later, and showed him how to make little boxs out of them. The food on the flights was better than just passable - it was actually very good.

We also had gellatto every day in Rome - it is somewhere between the consistency of soft ice cream, and water ice. We didn't get to see everything we had hoped to see - we missed the Pieta in Vatican City, and never made it to the Boca de Verita, or the Spanish Stairs (we at least "saw" them as our tour bus went by). And we missed all of the churches that we had wanted to see. But I think that we got more of a feel for Rome by the wandering we did do around the small side streets. By the end of the trip, Adam was greeting everyone in Italian, and was especially having fun saying goodbye with "Ciao!".

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