On the way to Rome we stopped in Pompeii and it was really interesting to see artifacts that have been buried and preserved under 8 metres of ash and dust for 18 centuries. Herculaneum was on the other side of the volcano and it was the one buried in mud and lava. The victims in Pompeii all suffocated and then the ash solidified and preserved everything. It was kind of creepy to see the plaster cast of several of the victims of the disaster. The casts were created by pouring plaster into the space around where a body was buried (now a skeleton) and then chipping the solidified ash from around it. That meant, also, that there is a skeleton inside these casts and you can see the bones of the toes and fingers where the plaster has worn away!!! Our guide was another Pasquale which is a common Italian name it seems. He was very good, very professional but not as much fun as Capri Pasquale! Denise backed up to look at something at one point and fell over a piece of an old column. Leave it to her to fall over a 2000 year old ruin onto her backside! Only her pride was hurt! The piazza outside the site was full of souvenir stands but their wares looked a bit tacky and cheap. The city of Pompeii seemed a busy little place full of businesses and shops in the area around the site.
Rome was huge! The traffic insane. Traffic lights are said to be ‘a suggestion’. We were well warned about pickpockets to the point of paranoia so none of us got victimized though one lady came close to losing her watch in St. Peter’s Basilica.
We arrived in Rome in the late afternoon. Our hotel was quite a distance from the center of Rome which was disappointing. That’s what happens a lot with the budget tours though. The public transportation was nearby but we were also so paranoid from the warnings about thieves that we were not impressed that we would be warned that public transportation was dangerous then expected to rely on it if we wanted to go on our own. A cab to the center of Rome cost us about 2500 Lira both times we took cabs. Splitting the cost between the two of us helped but, though still more expensive than the public bus, we felt much safer. Next tour, I think i’ll spend the extra money and go first class because the hotels in the major cities will almost surely be more central.
Some of us booked an optional excursion where we were taken on a drive past some of the Renaissance architecture of Rome at night. We had a stop in Piazza Navona where there are three lovely fountains by Bernini all lit up. The piazza is full of people and buskers and stands selling souvenirs and T-shirts. The sculpture of the fountains was magnificent! The main one in the center of the piazza represented the four major rivers of the world, the Ganges, the Nile, Danube and the Plate in South America (you’d think it would be the Amazon wouldn’t you’).
Off to the Trevi fountain. I guess throwing the coin in that fountain did work after all! I was here briefly during a high school trip in 1977 nearly 20 years ago and here I am again. Well it worked the last time although it wasn’t exactly a speedy return. Why not try again? There was also a bridal couple having their picture taken in front of the lit up fountain which has the centerpiece of a statue of Neptune and the whole scene is carved out of the side of a building. The fountain has a ‘pool’ at the bottom and the area is sunken below street level with steps leading down to it and surrounding it.
After that photo op, we were taken to a restaurant near the train station for a meal, included in the price of the excursion. We were all seated at tables in a small private room and served red and white wine, as much as we wanted and the meal was 5 course. Pork. Well some said it might have been veal but we thought it was pork. Again. Still it was very well prepared. There was also a singer and musician who played for us on and off (and tried to sell cassettes of their music). All in all it was an enjoyable experience though.
The first full day in Rome: The morning started off with a drive into the city past St. Peter’s to pick up our local guide. Today was a view of ancient Rome including a stop at the Colosseum and drive by views of the Forum, Circus Maximus, Victor Emmanuel monument and various other antiquities. We stopped for a view over Rome from the top of the Janiculum hill though the view was somewhat impaired by the trees. A drive back down through Trastevere and on to the Vatican museums.
We were conducted through some of the 17km of museums which included Egyptian and Greek antiquities. I didn’t realize there was art from so many places there, as I thought it was mostly paintings. We also saw the map room which was covered in paintings of old maps of the world as it was known hundreds of years ago. We didn’t get to see the Rafael rooms however as the tour guide took us on a more direct route to the newly restored Sistine Chapel. The light was low and filtered and the chapel was extremely crowded. You aren’t allowed to take pictures even without a flash. I couldn’t understand that because although I realize all those cameral flashes would eventually ruin the paintings, taking a picture without using a flash couldn’t harm them. So I sneaked two and they did come out ok though one was a little blurry due to a slow shutter speed and camera shake! I know, I know I was wrong to do it but I did though did not use my flash.
We then were walked through St. Peter’s Basilica for a look at all the mosaics and marbles. It’s bigger than I remembered! There are marks on the floor showing the dimensions of the other large cathedrals and churches in the world as compared to St. Peter’s. St. Paul’s in London and the duomo in Florence are the next two largest and we were in both of those on this tour too! I also go to see the Pieta by Michelangelo. It enchanted me as much as it did in 1977!
After all that walking, our feet were killing us! We had the rest of the day free so we had a sit in St. Peter’s square first, bought some postcards and souvenirs at a nearby store which I realized was the same one I shopped in 20 years ago! We then decided we were also hungry so tried to find a restaurant I had heard about on the net, Gianni’s which was supposed to be across the Tiber from the Castel St. Angelo, a medieval castle where the Popes used to live before they took up residence in the Vatican City for protection. We did find it but it was closed. Most cafes close at odd hours in the middle of the day, i.e. from about 2 to 5 or 6 pm.
We found one just down from there that we thought was still open but the kitchen was closed. Our rudimentary Italian wasn’t very good but another patron who was finishing up spoke English and helped us out. The owners did let us order a cold beer and rest our feet so that actually held us until dinner. Once we left there we walked for awhile and eventually found the Pantheon which is one of the oldest surviving buildings in Rome. There is a dome with a hole in the center as well to let in the sunlight and though it is a church it is mostly used for ceremony and there are tombs of some Italian kings and other famous people here as well. Rafael is buried in the Pantheon.
We were getting pretty footsore by now so we found a cab and returned to the hotel. We had dinner in the hotel dining room which was pretty good actually! I had pasta carbonara which I had always wanted to try and it has probably now spoiled me for ever trying to make it myself! We had dinner with another tour couple from England and they had the tourist fixed menu 3 course meal. Pork. This was getting ridiculous! Relaxed that evening, wrote postcards and updated our travel journals and even managed the pay phone in the lobby and called home!