Traveling to Italy – What to See in Rome

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If you are thinking about traveling to Italy, these are some of the sights I’d recommend you see. 

At the time of this writing, mid 2009, traveling costs a drop in the bucket to what it cost several years ago.  With the turndown of the economy, there are special travel deals out there everywhere!  So, we took advantage and took a wonderful, albeit brief, eight days, trip to Europe.  The exact location was the country of Italy, and we selected just two spots to visit, Rome and Florence, with some short day trips to see Tuscany.

We arrived in Rome on Saturday morning after leaving our home Friday morning.  If you’ve never done any international traveling, you need to know that it can be grueling.  You know, making connections, traveling all night on a plane, going through customs, etc. is a rough.  I arrived in Rome sleepy, grungy and with an upset tummy from eating the airline food. However, a comfortable hotel room, a hot shower, and a nap, and I was ready to go exploring!

Tip:
You’ve heard, “When in Rome, do as the Romans.”?  Well don’t!  The Romans drive very fast, as is custom in most of Europe, and many, especially in the city, are driving scooters that are quite treacherous! Your best bet is to either hire a driver and a guide to take you around or if you’re younger, walk everywhere you go!  We did option A, and loved it!  Our driver would plop us at a cross street and the guide would hop out of the car with us and we’d walk for an hour or so.  When we were finished with an area, our driver would pick us up wherever we were.  It worked out beautifully!

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When we arrived, we went directly to our hotel to rest a bit, then, we had an afternoon tour scheduled of the city of Rome.  We started at the Pantheon, which was a temple dedicated to all the gods.  Built first in 27 BC, then rebuilt between 118 – 125 AD, this structure is an amazing feat of engineering technology!

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The incredible dome is made from one cement casting resting on a large, curved wooden frame.  Although suffice it to say that the walls are 20 feet thick cement with a brick outer layer so there is enough structure to hold it up!   It is exactly 143 feet in diameter which is the exact distance from the floor to the highest point on the dome. (And some of my door jambs in my house aren’t square…go figure!)  Interestingly, there is a large hole in the center of the dome at the top and it is the only source of light for the whole temple.  It also rains in this temple when the weather is right!  Services still take place in the temple, in fact, my guide, Barbara, had both of her children baptized in the Pantheon.  WOW

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Our next stop was the famous Trevi Fountain, just a short walk from the Pantheon right in downtown Rome.  The Trevi fountain was built between 1730 and 1762 at the site of one of the endpoints of the great aqueducts that the ancient Romans built around 19 BC to transport fresh water into the city.  These aqueducts served ancient Rome for over 400 years until their enemies tore many of them down and without fresh water, it sent Rome into ruins.  The figures on the fountain are Oceanus in the center, the god of all water, and his chariot made to look like a huge shell is guided by Tritons, which are basically god-like mermen.  The Tritons appear to be taming the sea horses and I have to say, the sculpted shapes exude strength, movement and emotion.  It’s really wonderful.  If you are a movie buff you may remember this fountain seen in Three Coins in the Fountain!

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While making our way from Trevi Fountain to the Spanish steps, we came across a few characters.  No, I don’t mean the crazy guys in the foreground with the funny hats…I mean the statue all in black who would move at the most opportune time!  This street actor’s costume was amazing.  It looked waxed as you might be able to see from the way the light hits it.  He had to be boiling since I was in khaki slacks and a sleeveless shirt and I thought I was going to have a meltdown!

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Also near the Trevi fountain I saw my first  of many wooden Pinocchios!  Did you know that Pinocchio is actually from Italy?  Well, let’s just say his creator; Carlo Collodi created him in 1883 in a book called The Adventures of Pinocchio.  In the Tuscan language, the name Pinocchio is a combination of the word pino meaning “pine” and occhio meaning “eye”… but it’s the nose that grows…I don’t get it?

About this time we made a stop in what our guide felt was the best gelato shop in Rome.  Can I remember the name?  No.  But this was just the start of many stops in gelato shops and I think they were all pretty wonderful!

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When we finally made it to the Spanish steps, I thought my trudging around was over…until we were left off here by our guide and she pointed out that our hotel was just up the stairs, down the street, left at Triton’s fountain and up to the top of the hill. And I thought the trip over here tired me out!  There are 138 steps here and this is the longest and widest staircase in Europe!

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Of course not every building in the city of Rome is ancient, some are just very old!  This is the typical street we would saunter down, filled with gorgeously aged buildings, outdoor cafes and tiny cars of traffic!  In these small piazzas, or open city squares, traffic was allowed and to the unaccustomed eye, there was no rhyme or reason to their direction.  In the larger piazzas full of cafes, small street vendors and performers, the traffic is limited to service vehicles.

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In one of my favorite piazzas, Campo di Fiori, there was a morning market.  I don’t know if it is every day or not, but just look at the glorious flowers!

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By the time we returned to the hotel on Saturday night it was about 6pm Rome time and midnight “home” time!  As we walked up to the front of the hotel I noticed that we were located right next to some of the remains of the Aurelian wall, the ancient wall around the city of Rome.    This photo is taken from our hotel room and although it looks fabulous from here, at night, when the wall is lit up, it’s stunning!

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That night we ate in one of the glassed in “rooms” out on the street that we were staying on.  These room were between the street and the actual restaurant but built right on the sidewalk. Pedestrian traffic walked closest to the restaurant.  As you can see these “rooms” were elegantly appointed and during true dining hours were filled and full of bustling waiters, conversation, and laughter.  Our first night we were there so early it was just us and the waiter!

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By the time we walked back up the hill to our hotel, it was getting dark and the Aurelian wall was just lighting up.  I’m sorry that my photograph doesn’t really do it justice because it was beautiful.  Perhaps knowing it’s been there for approximately 1700 years was part of its mystique!

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Even our hotel looked like a shrine to me at the late evening hour of 8pm!  I’m sure it was pure exhaustion….that was a busy two days!!

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Day three was spent visiting ancient Rome which included the Colosseum, Circus Maximus, Palatine Hill, and the Forum.  We started with breakfast on the rooftop of our hotel.  The view was spectacular.

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We could see across the river to Vatican City, we could find the Colosseum, and one of my favorite buildings, The Monument of Victor Emmanuel II or, as it is fondly referred to, “The Wedding Cake”!

The Colosseum

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I don’t know if I’ve ever been anywhere that gave me chills like this place did.  I didn’t like being there and I’m sure it has something to do with all the terror, gladiator fighting and death that filled this building for about 400 years.

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I’d never seen pictures of the interior of the Colosseum so that was more fascinating to me than the familiar look of the outside.  The floor of the arena is long gone, but the structure of hallways and cells that were in the “basement” can still be seen…eerie!

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Then, as soon as we left, we ran into one of the gladiators!  I think he was giving directions to the Forum!

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The Forum

The Forum is basically the town center.  It was the political epicenter of the entire Roman Empire which at its peak, under Julius Caesar, covered the major part of the ancient world including what we know now as France, England, Spain, Egypt and the entire coastline of the Mediterranean Sea.

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Within the Forum was the foundation of what was once the “Temple of the Divine Julius”.  In what was left of the temple was the spot where Julius Caesar was cremated and supposedly his ashes are there.  It was piled high with fresh flowers, as Romans still hold him in very high respect.

Palatine Hill
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Palatine Hill is one of the seven hills of Rome.  It was here that Augustus, a boy adopted by Julius Caesar, who, after Caesars death, ruled Rome for over 40 years, built his residence.  Along with his residence were temples to Vesta and Apollo as well as the residence of his wife, Livia.

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From an interior design perspective, Palatine Hill was a glorious expression of color and design.  Of course all that is left now is stone ruins; everything of value has been stripped and reused on newer buildings in Rome.  But, there are examples of the colors of some of the floors…

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…the beautiful marbles used for all different surfaces from walls to floors to fountains and baths…

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…the beautifully painted, detailed frescoes on the walls…

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…and the lovely stone trims.  Could any of this possibly be inspiration for decorating a home today?  Of course!  In fact, keep this stone trim in mind…I have ideas for it in my master bedroom!!

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This is a view of Palatine Hill from the location of Circus Maximus, the dirt tracks in the forefront of the photo.  There was a wonderful portico on the Palatine Hill residence for viewing the activities at Circus Maximus.  Remember Ben Hur and the chariot races?

Vatican City

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On Day 4, we went to another country, Vatican City.  Yes, it is considered a country of its own.  And, here’s some proof that I really was there!  Behind me is the main entrance to St. Peter’s Basilica and you can just see the Duomo (Dome) rising above.

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In the last photo I was standing near that obelisk in front of the Dome.  From a distance you can see that a very large street goes right up to the Basilica.  To the right is the residential area for the Pope.

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You probably remember the window that we all watched for hours in those early days of April, 2005, when Pope John Paul II was passing on.  His body is buried in the grottoes of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Tomb of the Popes. It is approachable and there is a peaceful area there to pray.

St. Peter’s Basilica

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I do have to say that the camera cannot possibly capture the immense size of St. Peter’s Basilica.  I have two photographs that try to put it into scale for you.  This first one is taken from close to the entrance, down the nave of the church. As you look down the nave you can see a dark altar at the end.

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Notice the size of the people as compared to the carved altar!  Pretty amazing isn’t it?

The Vatican has several museums as part of its “country” as well and they all seem to be connected to the basilica and Sistine Chapel.  I have never seen as intricate and colorful painted ceilings as are in these museums.  Yes, the Sistine Chapel is phenomenal, but just look at it compared to the museum painting…

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This is the barrel ceiling in one of the hallways of the museum we visited in Vatican City.

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This is the fabulous ceiling of the Sistine Chapel…and I barely have the patience to paint the walls in my hallway one color!

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This ceiling in the museum looks carved and dimensional but it’s just the special way it was painted.  And there were hundreds of cameos just like this one!

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On the way out of Vatican City, and I assume all around the area, we saw the famous Swiss guards.  Unfortunately I don’t think they are famous for their protection skills, I think they are remembered for something else!! Haha!!

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Well, we ended our visit in Rome the way we ended every day, with a nap, (heehee) and a wonderful dinner at an outdoor café.

It may have been our last night in Rome, but we were heading out in the morning to the city of Florence and several wonderful day trips into Tuscany.

If you are interested in following me through Tuscany, stay tuned, I’ll add another installment of my trip to Italy soon.  Rome gave us the sense of important historical events and Tuscany showed us that the Italians sure know how to eat, drink, relax and just enjoy the beauty of the countryside!

Ciao!

Shari 

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