4. Rome

Our first moments in Rome were not pleasant, as Linda had to use the bathroom really, really bad.  She finally did get to go, and only knocked over two people in the process.  Once Chris explained the problem, all was forgiven.

We stayed at the Mechanate Palace hotel, an ornate building that was once the embassy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  The view from our window (if you stuck half your body out and turned to the left) was of the beautiful Santa Maria Maggiore Church.  Legend has it that a pope had a dream in which the Virgin Mary appeared and told him to build a church where he found snow in the city.  Imagine his surprise when, in the middle of summer, a hill covered with snow was discovered.

After a little rest, we headed out into the twilight for a walk.  The map showed the Colosseum somewhere to the southwest, so we headed in that direction, but managed to get a little lost.  Picture two tourists, carrying cameras, standing under a Roman streetlight peering at a map and fervently hoping the neighborhood they were in wasn't too dangerous.  We walked into a park, hoping to see something, when, there in front of us, looming in the dusk, was the Colosseum.  Pretty darn cool.

Chris tried to take some pictures in the darkness.  Then we decided to find something to eat.  As we walked, Linda pointed out a little restaurant on the edge of a small plaza off the street.  We were dubious at first, since there seemed to be a lot of customers but only one waiter.  It turned out to be the best meal we ever had.  The food and wine were incredibly good.  Other waiters appeared and service was excellent.

As we walked back to the hotel, we stopped at a fountain to try and take some pictures in the dark.  It was a great evening.

The next morning, we got back on the bus for our tour of the Colosseum and the Vatican.  Another local tour guide joined us, and walked us to the Colosseum, explaining how the spectators would by a clay ticket, marked with a numeral.  That would be the entrance they would use.  You can still see the numbers above the arches.  There were four unmarked entrances.  One was for the emperor, one for the mayor, one for the gladiators.  The last was an exit for the dead.

In the plaza outside the Colosseum, we saw the Arch of Constantine, erected after a victorious battle in the fourth century.  Chris was brutally attacked by a Roman soldier while Linda laughed, but luckily he recovered fully and quite possibly will still be able to have children.

Next we went to the Vatican.  Our guide amused us by dancing back and forth at the border between Italy and Vatican City.  "Now I'm in Italy, now the Vatican," he sang.  The border, which was actually just some concrete traffic barriers was guarded by two very bored looking unarmed guys in Swiss Guard uniforms, and, we noticed, an Italian National policeman toting a huge machine gun.

We joined the crowds pouring through the Holy Door, opened by Pope John Paul II for the Millenium celebration.  Everyone who enters the door into St. Peter's is completely cleansed of sin.  So we got that going for us.  St. Peter's Basilica is immense.  It was hard to get a sense of how big it really was.  We felt completely lost in there, yet there were probably five thousand tourists walking around.  The flash of the camera gets swallowed up.  Unbelievable.  Michaelangelo's famous sculpture, the Pieta, is there behind glass.  Every inch of the church is covered in sculpture, marble or gold.  Now we know where all those Sunday collections ended up.

At this point, some people in the group were headed for the Vatican museums and eventually the Sistine Chapel.  It would be a two hour wait in line.  We were toured out.  Along with Dan and Sonja, we decided to head back to the hotel and have a quiet lunch.

In the evening, we walked down to the Spanish Steps, which didn't look exactly the same as the pictures, since they were completely covered in tourists.  Next we saw the Trevi Fountain, delightfully cool in the warm evening air.

At this point, we were tired of bus riding, but we had one ride left: to Citavecchia, where we would board the Crown Odyssey.
 

Next: The Crown Odyssey

Previous: Florence

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