Four Days in Rome

My husband and I visited Rome on our May anniversary trip. Although there is an unending supply of awesome sights, we managed to comfortably fit all of the highlights--plus several stellar meals--into four lovely days.

Four Days in Rome

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Mary Louisa on May 18, 2001

Rome’s charms are myriad. There is something for every visitor here: ancient grandeur and mystery, religious fervor and pageant, big city bustle and sophistication, the history of Western art and architecture, sidewalk café and wine culture. Four days is a laughably small amount of time for exploring several millennia’s sights, but four days might be your saturation point, as it was mine. Another four-day trip is in store a couple of years down the road—and it’s guaranteed because I threw a coin in the Trevi Fountain!

Our most memorable experience in Rome: The four-hour tour of the Colosseum and Roman Forum with Gregory, our Scala Reale tour guide.
Our most memorable meal in Rome: Dinner at Taverna Antonina, specializing in seafood dishes of the Puglia region of Italy (southeastern coast).
My biggest disappointment in Rome: the Spanish Steps. Yes, I saw Roman Holiday, but on my holiday, I wanted less of a teeming crowd and fewers vendors hawking worthless crap in my face.
I am glad I took: My new Canon Powershot S100 Digital ELPH camera (this is an unpaid endorsement). ${QuickSuggestions} What things cost:
Public toilet in Stazione Termini, $.50
Postcard stamp to the U.S., $.50
Taxi from Stazione Termini to Albergo Cesari, $7.50 including tip and three bags
A double room at three-star Albergo Cesari for one night (incl. buffet breakfast), $200
Four course dinner for two at seafood restaurant Taverna Antonina, including wine, $95${BestWay} How do you get around in a big and busy city like Rome? You can walk, if your feet and heart are prepared for it. You can hope taxis appear when you need them, which is not a given. You can take the buses or subway, which will probably be the best bet for getting from one perimeter site to another (like going from the Vatican to the Colosseum). You must purchase a ticket before getting on the bus—at any tobacconist. If you’re walking, PLEASE be careful crossing the streets. Most Romans just start walking confidently across, whether cars are coming or not. The procedure stands my hair on end.

Albergo Cesari

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Mary Louisa on May 18, 2001

This lovely three-star hotel is in a fairly quiet and central part of the the city. Surrounded by several major sights (Pantheon, St. Ignazius, Piazza Navona, Trevi Fountain), the Albergo Cesari--pronounced "cheh-zah-ree"--is just two blocks off the main north-south drag, Via del Corso.

When I booked our reservation over the internet, I noted that it was to be our anniversary, and when we arrived to our room, escorted by our helpful porter, a bottle of chardonnay spumanti and two glasses were waiting for us, compliments of manager Cinzia Farias. We were quoted a rate of 400,000 lire/night, or $200, when we booked and this is what we were charged. This included a buffet breakfast every morning in the smallish breakfast room.

Our room, #18, is on the corner of the building closest Piazza di Pietra, and through our three open windows we could spy on sidewalk cafe tables and strolling Italians. It was just what we wanted in a room. The noise was amply muffled at night by latching the casement windows plus their inner shutters. The room was huge with a dark wood floor, ample wood storage furniture (armoir, desk, nightstands, etc.), and servicable chairs. The bathroom was quite large as well, with an enclosed shower sporting a heavy duty shower head capable of providing American-style showers (yes, we can be a wasteful lot). The room decor was easy on the eye--soft greens. Modern conveniences made it comfortable: an AC switch, remote-controlled t.v., towel warmer, minibar, hair dryer, and telephone.

The all-male (that we noticed, anyway) front desk staff at Albergo Cesari were spectacularly helpful and polite. We ate at two of the restaurants they recommended (Taverna Antonina and Ristorante Clemente alla Maddalena) and were quite glad to have accepted their advice.

One note of caution: if you let them arrange limo service for you back to the airport, be prepared to glimpse how Princess Diana, Dodie Al Fayed, and their driver met their ends. I''m sure we made record time. The one-way trip with bags cost 90,000 lire ($45), by the way, which is just over what a city taxi would charge, especially on a Sunday or holiday.

The breakfast buffet at Albergo Cesari is ample, with choices for diners from all continents. There are rolls, croissants, doughnuts, crumb cakes, and Danishes of all types, accompanied by butter, jams, cheeses, sliced ham, and cream cheese. There is a bowl of fresh fruit, too. Corn flakes and meusli, milk and yogurts round out the selections. Warning: the juices they put out, orange and pineapple, are really heinous (fermented, possibly?), and the coffee they serve, sadly, is quite bad. But there are caffes on every corner in this neighborhood, so some killer espresso is only a few steps away.

You must book a room early here. E-mail them at or see their web site at
Hotel Cesari
Rome, Italy

Caffeteria Rosa Rosae

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by Mary Louisa on May 19, 2001

This outdoor cafe had lovely tables lining Via di Pietra and a little side street, and we had been studying it from out our hotel windows (read my Albergo Cesari entry) for several days. The staff was pleasant and fun to watch as they chatted with passers by on the street. An added attraction was the strolling Elvis approximator (certainly he would never be mistaken for an impersonator) who was busking the tables joyfully. We gave him a couple thousand lire, I think. We saw him the next day at the Spanish Steps, too.

This is the first restaurant we went to in Rome that served bread with salt in it, by the way--untraditional for the region. We started with two antipasti plates, one of fried squid and one of insalata caprese--lettuce, sliced tomatoes, and mozarella. Dave followed this with a Pizza Napoli (with anchovies), and noted it had a nice crust and good flavor. I had fettucine al funghi porcini next, and enjoyed the light cream sauce on it. The mushrooms had a wonderful earthy taste. We both shared their home-made tiramisu, and this incarnation (it's different everywhere you go) had very little coffee taste to it. The mascarpone flavor was unusual as well; it seemed tangier than most, almost with a sour cream flavor. It was good but by no means the best I've had. The whole dinner experience was quite pleasant in the lovely May night air. And the walk home to the hotel was all of fifteen steps!
Rosa Rosae
Via di Pietra, 88
Rome, Italy
(06) 678-6789

Cafe Barocco

Member Rating 1 out of 5 by Mary Louisa on May 19, 2001

This outdoor cafe is in Rome's Piazza Navona, an oval pedestrian plaza teeming with Italians, tourists, cafe tables, and street vendors. It is an excellent people-watching venue, but it seems the cafes are priced higher than the food is worth. For lunch, we spent $40, and all we got was a salad to split (tomatoes, lettuce, and mozzarella) and two pizzas! I would take the time to search out a cheaper place in the Piazza.
Cafe Barocco
Piazza Navona
Rome, Italy

Ristorante Clemente alla Maddalena

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Mary Louisa on May 19, 2001

Our hotel (Albergo Cesari) recommended this nearby restaurant for a romantic dinner, and we agree. It is a bit expensive, but then again, we ate quite a bit. It was a thoroughly enjoyable dining experience, from the caring waiters, to the lovely outdoor weather, the pleasant Swedish women we dined adjacent to, to the exquisite food. Remember that Italian food is simple food. But when lovingly prepared, there is no cuisine more heartwarming.

The lovely piazza in which we dined al fresco is built around a small church, Santa Maria Maddalena, and her oval portrait on an opposite street corner was visible from my seat (see the oval in the photo below--too dark to see her picture). The piazza is one block NNW of the Pantheon.

We asked the waiter for some bruschetta at the chef's whim, and he brought us a lovely large crostini doused with fragrant olive oil, covered with sauteed raddichio and a round slice of very soft cheese tasting like camembert. The waiter called it "tomino" cheese. On the very top were two translucent slices of ham, which we don't eat, so we took off. This starter was just a taste of lovely things to come.

The waiter had suggested a nice local red wine at $20, which was quite good. Next I had the risotto with raddichio and grated gorgonzola on top (which I should've replaced with another dish less similar to the bruschetta, really), but it was SOOOO good. The rice was al dente and the dish was so so rich I couldn't finish it all. For my main course, I had the grilled tuna, which was a bit overdone for my American taste. But it was mighty flavorful, served on a bed of mixed baby greens and sliced tomato. ALL of the tomatoes we were served in Italy were very flavorful, although many were a mottled green and pink. This coloring was deceptive, come to find, as the fruits were always fresh and ripe. Dave had baked eggplant parmigiana (the only time in Italy either of us ordered it!), which he found very cheesy, very custardy, and very rich (but also very good).

Yes, we had to have some dessert, so we split their tiramisu. It was lighter than usual but turned out to be the best tiramisu I had in Italy! With coffees and water throughout the meal, our final bill was 211,000 lire ($105.50), really about what you'd expect a multi-course, big city meal to be. Plus the experience was once-in-a-lifetime.
Ristorante Clemente alla Maddalena
Piazza della Maddalena 4
Rome, Italy
(06) 683-3633

Cave di S. Ignazio da Sabatino

Member Rating 1 out of 5 by Mary Louisa on May 18, 2001

This little restaurant seemed like a good bet. It was just two blocks from our hotel (Albergo Cesari), was homey-looking, and had pizza on the menu. In fact the evening began pretty well. An older gentleman was our waiter and brought us fried cheese balls while we thought about our order. We laughed over some silly English translations on the menu (what are "meat cushions with tomato sauce"?).

We started with some pasta; my fresh ravioli with spinach and cheese was really quite good but Dave's pasta with porcini wasn't. Then our pizzas came (margherita--tomato and cheese--and napoletana--anchovies) and the waiter just forgot about us altogether. We didn't see him or much of anyone for another hour. Luckily, we were busy eating and talking, although the pizzas were fairly average. But then we were waiting and waiting! When we'd spot him, we'd ask the man for our check, which occurred about three times before we just got up and walked over to who we assumed was the proprietress and told her we wanted to pay our bill. When she summoned our waiter to the cash register, he told her in Italian what we had and how much it cost, and we both think he overcharged us. We were so tired by this point, though, we just played along. Sigh.

I must note, though, that there were LOTS of Italians eating there that night, and seeming to enjoy it very much.
Cave di S. Ignazio da Sabatino
Piazza S. Ignazio
Rome, Italy

Gran Caffe Rossi Martini

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by Mary Louisa on May 18, 2001

We decided to lunch at this cafe due to its location. One, it sits across the road from the Colosseum, affording a pretty great view; and two, it was where we were to meet our Scala Reale guide and group at 2pm for our tour of the Colosseum and Roman Forum. It turned out to be a fine lunch spot, but was a bit pricey (you pay for the view, maybe?).

The wait staff was friendly and helpful here, and the outdoor tables were beautifully decorated with pretty cloths, umbrellas, and hanging flower baskets. We started with a hot vegetable antipasto: yummy sweet red peppers, sauteed broccoli, spinach, artichokes, and potatoes with rosemary. Dave and I each got a pasta dish, he the spaghetti vongole (clams were in their shells) and I the penne arrabiatta (a spicy tomato sauce with no meat, although their sauce was not near spicy enough). Dave's was quite yummy, with the clams tasting very delicate and fresh. Their Tuscan bread was a great accompaniment, and of course we had to top off our meal with a slice of torte from their dessert case inside (they had several selections) and two espressos. Unfortunately, the total was 90,000 lire, or $45, and we didn't even get wine!!

Gran Caffe Rossi Martini
Piazza del Colosseo 3A/3B
Rome, Italy

Ristorante Taverna Antonina

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Mary Louisa on May 18, 2001

We asked the front desk clerk at our hotel (Albergo Cesari) to recommend a nice seafood restaurant in our area, and boy did he! Taverna Antonina prepares seafood in the style of Puglia, on the southeastern shore of Italy. The restaurant was only a few blocks from our hotel, it was an incredible treat.

For the first and only time in Italy, Dave and I decided on the fixed price menu: several antipasti, two small pastas, and a main dish. We asked our very helpful waiter for his suggestions. After he suggested a white wine from Puglia, he walked me to what Dave and I called the "fish bar" (see photo below) and let me choose which fish we wanted, recommending several. We chose the sea bass, which was large enough to feed us both and which would be roasted and accompanied by sliced fried potatoes. For our antipasti we enjoyed eggplant stuffed with fish covered with a light bechamel, a salad of mozarella, tomato, and romaine, a selection of little fried fishes, and a cold carpacchio of octopus dressed with lemon and oil. YUMMM. And this was just course one. Then came the lovely pastas: al dente spaghetti with several small tomatoes, a couple of mussels, little shrimp, and octopus pieces; and orichietto with tomato sauce, basil, and a fragrant cheese called cacioricotta from Puglia.

The presentation of all the courses was magnificent, as was that of our main course, the sea bass with potatoes. The waiter served it off its platter onto our plates in front of our table. We drizzled it with some olive oil---squisito! For dessert, we barely made it through half of a ricotta cheese cake containing golden raisins soaked in brandy.

The service here is attentive but not intrusive, helpful but not directive. There are linen towels in the lovely lavatories. Such an experience! Please try the fixed price menu (73,000 lire/person or $34.50)if you have the time and appetite--you won't regret it. With wine, water, and coffee added on, our total bill came to 185,000 lire, or $92.50. We couldn't have dined so sumptiously in New York City for this price, I'll wager.
Ristorante Taverna Antonina
Via della Colonna Antonina 48/49
Rome, Italy

Church of S. Ignazio di Loyola

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Mary Louisa on May 19, 2001

This Jesuit church dedicated to the founder of the order, St. Ignatius of Loyola, was begun in 1626. It was the first church Dave and I visited in Rome, and when we stepped inside, we turned to each other and said, "Wow! I wonder what St. Peter's is going to be like."

We wouldn't even have visited had it not been only steps from our hotel (Albergo Cesari) and an hour before our dinner reservation. I am so glad we went and recommend all do the same. The chapels are each touching and memorable in unique ways, especially the 19th-century Chapel of the Crucifixion, on the left hand side, the altar piece of which contains lots of little glass boxes filled with bones and relics.

But it is the ceiling that will mesmerize you. Upon entering the church, you'll see the colorful trompe l'oeil perspective fresco of Andrea Pozzo, entitled "Apotheosis of St. Ignatius," which he executed between 1691 and 1694. In it, all sorts of saintly and holy figures are turned up toward St. Ignatius, as he receives the word of God from Christ and then sends it down to earth. The architectural colonades and arches upon which these figures rest are all rendered to be viewed from a specific disk on the floor which Pozzo himself placed. Also from this disk, you must look up at the tromp l'oeil cupola fresco, which Pozzo painted to mimic a highly decorative and deep dome with windows. My pictures certainly don't do these features justice, but you can get an idea of the perspective issues from them, at least.
Church of San Ignazio di Loyola
Piazza San Ignazio
Rome, Italy

Trevi Fountain

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by Mary Louisa on May 19, 2001

The Fontana di Trevi is a huge tourist attraction; nonetheless, it is perhaps the most beautiful fountain I've ever seen. Built in the mid-1700s by Nicola Salvi, it is Rome's largest fountain, in fact, and if you want to come back to visit Rome, you've got to throw a coin into it (which I did, TWICE for good measure).

In La Dolce Vita, the pool area looked much smaller as Anita Eckberg frolicked through it, and I seem to remember Marcello driving his convertible right up to the edge of it, but both of these ideas I had were wrong. The fountain is in a sunken area that you can only reach on foot. Watch your wallets and pockets here, by the way.

Take special note of the lovely sea horses, who have fins for hooves!
Trevi Fountain
Piazza di Trevi
Rome, Italy, 00187

Domus Aurea (Nero's Golden House)

Member Rating 2 out of 5 by Mary Louisa on May 19, 2001

The Domus Aurea, or Nero's Golden House, was opened for public tours in 1999, after many years of excavation and study. In fact, what you can tour right now is but a fraction of a fraction of Nero's original domicile, which once covered most of downtown Rome. The Roman emperors who succeeded him won lots of points with the citizens by filling in, destroying, or converting his home for public use. Hence, much of it is unrecoverable. Regardless, ALL of it is simply underground, as is the case of most ancient Roman ruins in the city. The historical way of dealing with old structures in this town was to . . . what else? . . . bury them with the rubble of demolished buildings and build new things on top of the pile.

If you'd like to see this bit of ancient life, you must book a reservation in advance. Limited numbers of visitors are let into the site, and people who came to the ticket booth off the street when we were there were told there were no more spots that day (we were there at 11:20am). The ticket is 12,000 lire ($6) and the necessary audio guide (unless you have a privately hired tour guide) is 3000 lire ($1.50). The Italian guide who will lead you through the site will only take you into the rooms of note and tell you which number room it is, and then wait for you to listen to your audio. They will give very little in the way of English information. While we were there, two of the rooms that the audio guide described were off-limits (you must remember that this site is an excavation-in-progress). The entire tour lasts 45 minutes and you are not allowed to lag behind the group or stay past the time when the guide leads you out. Be forewarned that it is COLD underground. You can see in my photo below that the guide at the entrance is wearing a parka. They all were! Take a sweater at least and a jacket if you can. Don't buy the Guide Book from the ticket booth until after you complete the tour, and then see if you still want it. Honestly, from all I'd read in the travel books before we went there, I expected much more. What we found were lots of empty rooms with sketchy bits of murals still visible.

I did learn lots of interesting facts from the audio guide, though, like the term "grotesque" came from the Renaissance artists who would climb through openings to the Domus Aurea where they studied the frescoes and architecture of this "grotto" (they likened it to a cave).

I think this tour would be most interesting to serious students of classical culture, history, and architecture. Probably not of interest to children or teenagers--pretty bare bones type of place.
Domus Aurea di Nerone
Via della Domus Aurea
Rome, Italy, 00184
+39 0685301755

Scala Reale's Ancient Rome (Roma Antica)

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Mary Louisa on May 20, 2001

This particular tour--Roma Antica--led by guides for Scala Reala covers ancient Rome's highlights in four hours. We saw the Colosseum and the Roman Forum (the Palatine Hill was closed off or something or we would've gone there too). The $70 per person we paid Scala Reale includes a membership to their cultural organization (promoting preservation and understanding of Rome's history, etc.), a welcome packet that they have waiting for you at your hotel when you arrive (maps, brochures, recommendations, itineraries, etc.), invitations to any available orientation strolls in Rome (1-2 hour introduction walks) at no extra charge, and $50 for the actual Roma Antica walk. Our days in Rome were already well-scheduled so we couldn't make the "orientation strolls" at all, but had arranged with the tour group to do the Ancient Rome hike WELL IN ADVANCE. Only six tourists go with the guide, so you must make reservations early early early if you have a specific day and time in mind (think several months).

We met our guide Gregory and the other two couples at 2pm and began our journey at the Colosseum (I have a separate journal for that), where we saw a man get his pockets picked by a little boy right outside at the ticket area. WATCH OUT! By the way, you must pay your own separate admission into whatever sight you visit on the tour (Forum is free, Colosseum is 10,000 lire/person--$5). After Gregory's insights into the Colosseum (lots of disabusing of "Gladiator" myths), we traveled on to the Roman Forum (separate journal entry for that too). Really, I wouldn't have been able to tell heads or tails about this site if it were not for our guide's expertise. Gregory, originally from Rhode Island, has studied Classical literature, language, and history, and is currently studying for the priesthood at a Vatican university. He's been guiding tourists around Rome for three years and I can't say enough good things about him! I'm an academic (English professor) and can ask some pretty geeky historical questions--which I did--and Gregory was always up on the current scholarship about the area. My husband is an intellectual type (network systems administrator) and can ask similarly geeky questions--which he did--and Gregory always jumped right in. He's our type of guy--even can quote from "Life of Brian"!

All this is to say, really, that if you are a more casual tourist, who thinks four hours is too long to hike around an ancient site and hear the long list of emperors (including the unforgettable "Pupienus"--say it out loud) and their various exploits, this type of tour is not for you. But if you are a history buff, amateur archeologist, general smart-gal or smart-guy, get a tour with Gregory! He also takes people to the Vatican Museums, but that tour was full by the time we inquired.

Wear comfortable walking/hiking shoes, a hat and sunglasses, AND take an umbrella or rain poncho. Sunny Rome can scare up some unexpected rain showers in the afternoons!
Scala Reale

Rome, Italy

Roman Forum

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Mary Louisa on May 21, 2001

The Foro Romano, or Roman Forum, is a collection of ruins and restorations from several millennia. Before its excavation beginning in the late 19th, it was . . . a cow pasture. Imagine! But as people started unearthing a column here and a capital there, interest grew in discovering what lay beneath the soil.

We visited with the aid of a Scala Reale guide (read this journal entry for description of the overall tour), and frankly, without him, I would've been clueless and frustrated trying to educate myself about what I was seeing. The sites are sometimes improperly marked, and the odd tourguide spiel you overhear is often wrong (for example: "Caesar was slain upon this very spot"--no, he was cremated--partially at that--on this very spot; or "cows were sacrificed on this very altar"--no, Mussolini had this very altar built to resemble an altar that cows were sacrificed on; etc.). As you can tell, there is lots to see there and lots of history to digest.

Important to know is that the Forum was the city center of both Republican and Imperial Rome; anybody who was anybody came here to conduct business, worship, and commune. I was most impressed by the Basilica of Maxentius, only a shell of a (huge) building now. It was a place to conduct business originally, and the term "basilica" refered to its office-building floor plan. Now when we use that term, we are speaking specifically of a church, which adopted the floor plan of this type of community building for its own use. To look up at the high ceilings of this partially restored ruin and imagine them faced with marble of all colors, gilt, and bronze, dazzles the imagination.

The coolest re-appropriated relic, I think, is the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina. Its pillared facade and staircase still stand, mainly because a monastic church was constructed RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE. (see photo)

The Roman Forum is a must see, but do some preliminary reading, get a tour guide, or bring along a detailed map and written guide so you can really grasp how much went on here.
Roman Forum
Largo Romolo e Remo
Rome, Italy, 00186
+39 066990110

The Colosseum

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Mary Louisa on May 21, 2001

This sight, Il Colosseo, is almost as stunning seen at a distance from the outside as it is on the inside. Once you pay the 10,000 lire entrance ($5)--and watch out for pickpockets outside the entrance--you can go in and wander around at your leisure.

My husband and I took a Scala Reale tour that included this venue (see my IgoUgo write up of the tour here), and we were able to learn much about the Colosseum that we would never have known with just a guide book. In fact, our guide told us that the Colosseum was never flooded for mock navel battles, and that there is no documentation or eyewitness account that Christians were every martyred at the Colosseum, although they were killed at neighboring amphitheatres. One reason, ironically, that this place has survived is because the Catholic church identified it as a holy site of martyrdom!

One fascinating aspect is the different phases of its restoration. On the exterior facade and the interior areas, you are able to see a number of distinctly different building materials and techniques: rough marble blocks, jagged thin bricks, dark asphalt-looking surface, blond neat bricks, etc. These are the effects of different eras' attempts to shore up and restore the Colosseum, while purposefully showing that their additions or fixes are NOT the original materials. So, the point is, our guide noted, NOT to make your fixes look like the original, so people can tell the work of different eras apart. Fascinating!

I was delighted to learn, as we walked up the stairs to another level, that we were walking on the actual paving brick originally installed for the venue. The place is vast, with many levels and basements, but unfortunately, visitors can't go all the way to the top, nor can they wander around in the basement corridors, where the wild animals and fighters were housed until their moments in the sun.

A few more interesting facts: Nobody called it the Colosseum until several centuries after it had stopped being used. Before then, it was the Amphiteatrum Flavium. But since it was near a colossal statue of Nero, defaced soon after his death (a convenient landmark, not that the amphitheatre wasn't!), people started calling it the colosseo! The site had originally been an artifical lake Nero had built for his Domus Aurea view (see my journal entry on our visit to his "golden house" excavation), but when he died, the emperors gained points by turning over Nero's private playground to the people. Vespasian drained it and started to build a public amphitheater (the largest in the Roman world in A.D. 72), which his son Titus inaugurated in a 100-day blood bath resulting in the deaths of 5,000 animals. Eeesh. It's a pretty awesome structure, built to seat 70,000.
The Colosseum/Coliseum
Piazza Del Colosseo
Rome, Italy, 00184
+39 (06) 7004261

Musei Vaticani

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Mary Louisa on May 22, 2001

Visiting the Vatican Museum complex is one of the most thrilling experiences I've had--so much history, so much beauty...and so little time. We spent four hours there (including a quick lunch in the cafeteria) and didn't touch three-quarters of the museums.

We arrived at about 10:00am expecting to wait in a very long line, but moved in quickly amid throngs of people, got tickets for 18,000 lire ($9), and then proceeded to the audioguide rental desk (up more stairs) to get a CD guide for 10,000 lire ($5). (I highly recommend the CD audioguide.) It is a good idea to read up on what is in the museum and plan your trip ahead so you will not miss what you absolutely want to see (like I missed Laocoon--but there's always next time).

We began in the Pinacoteca (Painting Gallery) and discovered the mesmerizing Renaissance artist Carlo Crivelli, whose Pieta and Madonna and Child were a unique mixture of Gothic flatness and Renaissance perspective.

In the Candelabra Rooms, we found remnants of sculptural ruins propped up here and there (see my photo), plus a marble likeness of the very breed of dog we own two of, doing exactly what they like to do: bug us (see my photo). Speaking of photos, one of the interesting things about the Vatican Museums is that they let you take photos!!!! (except in the Sistine Chapel)

The "Raphael Rooms" covered with frescoes of historical and contemporary scenes are breathtaking, and a good place to take a breather before tackling the Sistine Chapel.

So, we get to the Sistine Chapel, and . . . it is a teeming mass of humanity, shoulder to shoulder, faces all turned upward, mouths open. But despite the fact that the Sistine Chapel is in fact a CHAPEL, the people are loud and babies are crying! So, the social experience of it wasn't what I expected, but the frescoes are truly amazing. (By the way, you are not allowed to sit or lie down on the floor to look at the ceiling.) I expected the chapel itself to be larger, based on all the hype I'd heard, but the individual scenes were larger than I thought they'd be--I guess they weren't as many in number as I'd imagined.

A word about getting there: When you get to St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, do not think that you can waltz right into the Vatican Museums from there. It is another half mile away (around the right-hand side of the square and behind St. Peter's), and there is no shuttle bus. Give yourself fifteen more minutes to get to the entrance of the Museums. Also be forewarned that not all the museums in the complex are open at the same time. We had wanted to see the Etruscan Museum, but it was closed when we were there.

Vatican Museums
Viale Vaticano
Rome, Italy, 00165
0039 06 69884676

St. Peter's Basilica

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Mary Louisa on May 22, 2001

Our first introduction to St. Peter's Basilica was heavenly. Although my husband and I aren't Roman Catholic, we were privileged to see and hear part of Mass at St. Peter's on a Friday at 5pm. For those who want to participate, the guards will let you past the cordon to sit in the pews. Of course, all in the entire church are requested to remain silent. The priest sang the Mass, with his assistants chanting after him (apologies for not knowing the terminology). It was absolutely beautiful.

We had arrived at St. Peter's Square at 3pm and had lots of fun looking at the perspective trick of the colonnades--when you stand on a particular disk in front of them, the four rows appear as one row. But we knew grander things awaited inside the church itself.

The first thing that struck me upon entering was the beauty of the light that streamed through the windows in the late afternoon--as though God himself was making an appearance in His house. Two of my photos reflect this somewhat (see below). The mosaic murals and ceiling decorations (I initially thought they were paintings until I began to notice the subtle sparkles in them) add to the celestial light show.

And the Bernini baldachin! That bronze canopy in the middle of the nave is quite a show piece. The Pope must feel very special inside that creation--at least like the head of the Roman Catholic Church, maybe?

You must not miss the moving Pieta by Michelangelo, which is now set back behind plexiglass, sadly. Also, an earlier bronze sculpture of St. Peter himself is further along on the right, and you'll see that the toes of his right foot are smoothly worn away from many kisses and caresses by devoted pilgrims (including Popes).

I must say that the church from the outside looks overwhelmingly large, but once you're inside it seems absolutely manageable. And then you learn that 100,000 people can fit inside. Hmmmm. This church is a must-see.

Note: you must wear clothing that covers your shoulders and knees to gain entrance into the Basilica.
St. Peter's Basilica
Piazza San Pietro
Vatican City, Rome, 00193
+39 0669883462

Santa Maria d'Aracoeli

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by Mary Louisa on April 1, 2002

This is purported to be one of the earliest Christian church in Rome, erected as an altar to heaven (ara coeli means just that in Latin) after the Sybil prophesied to Augustus a redeemer's coming.

It is best known for its seemingly unending staircase, reaching up from the Piazza Venezia to the church's red brick facade. The bones of St. Helena (Constantine's mother) are said to be buried within. The art of note is in the first chapel on the right, where you will see 15th century frescoes by Pinturicchio.

Hours are 7 to noon and 4 to 6, generally.
Santa Maria d'Aracoeli
Piazza d'Aracoeli
Rome, Italy

The Spanish Steps

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by Mary Louisa on April 1, 2002

The Scalinata di Spagna, or Spanish steps, is a must-see for all visitors to Rome. On chilly, cloudy days you will still find tourists making the climb, snapping pictures all the way. In the warmer months, street vendors sell their cheap baubles and families lounge on the steps among beautiful flowers in spring. (Remember Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck there in Roman Holiday?)

When we were there in May 2001, however, police guards were not allowing anyone to eat or drink while sitting on the steps. Whether this was a litter or a loiter problem, I'm not sure.

You can shop till you drop at the base of the steps, along Via Condotti, or visit the quiet Church of Trinita dei Monti at the top.
Spanish Steps (Scalinata)
Piazza Di Spagna
Rome, Italy, 00187


Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Mary Louisa on April 1, 2002

This building is Rome's best-preserved ancient structure. Originally, before Hadrian had the current temple erected around 120 A.D., there had stood a Pantheon built by Agrippa, also with a dome and opening through which to view the sky.

The Pantheon is a marvel of architecture, studied by Renaissance engineers in their quest to build the domes of the great Italian churches such as Firenze's Duomo and St. Peter's Basilica. Its preservation through the centuries is due first to the fact that it was donated to the Roman Catholic church, who converted it to Church of Santa Maria ad Martyres.

The Pantheon's interior is balanced: the height from the floor to the oculus, the 30-foot wide hole through which sun and rain pour, is exactly the same as the diameter of the room. Along the surrounding walls, you will find the tombs of many notable figures, including those of Italian royals and the painter Raphael.

Hours are Mon-Sat 9-6:30pm; Sun 9-1:00pm
Piazza della Rotonda
Rome, Italy, 00186
+39 0668300230

Capuchin Crypt

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Mary Louisa on March 31, 2002

This crypt comprises five vaulted rooms containing the bones and graves of over 4000 Capuchin Franciscans, assembled in a unique ornamental fashion in 1764. All decoration in the white-painted rooms is made only of human bones. From the light fixtures to the crucifixes to the angels--all ornamentation reminds the viewer that human life is ephemeral. The spirit is what prevails.

The final room of the quiet journey through the crypt contains these words from beyond: "What you are now we used to be; what we are now you will be." It is a dislocating yet moving sentiment to the tourist, who may have just toddled across the street from Rome's Hard Rock Cafe unknowingly entering this world of memento mori.

The crypt is open every day but Thursday, from 9 to noon and 3 to 6. There is no admission fee, but you are asked to donate what you can. No photography is allowed. A small gift store at the front sells post cards of each of the rooms. (I've reproduced two post cards below, photos by Cristafaro Guiseppe.)
Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini/Capuchin Crypt
Via Vittorio Veneto 27
Rome, Italy

Explora: The Children's Museum

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by Mary Louisa on June 9, 2002

Explora: il Museo dei Bambini di Roma (opened in 2000) is in the style of those found in many US cities: the hands-on exploration center. It is organized into four color-coded areas exploring how various systems work in a child’s day-to-day life. The four areas are the human body, the environment, the "square" (or public life), and the company. Kids can follow the path a letter takes through the postal system, they can learn how a credit card works (scary?), they can even help produce a television program!

The tours begin at set times and last one hour and 45 minutes. The most recent schedule listed on the web site shows the following: Tuesday through Friday entrances at 9:30am, 11:30am, 3:00pm, and 5:00pm. Saturday, Sunday, and holidays, 10:00am, 12:00am, 3:00pm, and 5:00pm.

It is located near the Piazza del Popolo; take the Flaminio train. The phone information number is 06-3613776, and the web site is (it is in Italian).

Explora: The Children's Museum
Via Flaminia, 80
Rome, Italy

© LP 2000-2009