Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Rome, Italy–January 2007

Today, I hope you will enjoy a post by my Mom on our trip to Rome.

I first went to Rome the first week of May in 1967 with my parents. I was 13 years old and living with my military family in Frankfurt, Germany. My father was very excited about going to Rome and seeing all the Roman Ruins. I think my mother, who was raised Catholic, was excited about seeing St. Peter’s Basilica. My brother and I were teenagers along for the ride. My parents made Europe so much more exciting for teenagers by allowing us to order beer and wine along with them. My impressions of Rome in 1967: busy, dirty, historic, medieval and exciting.

Flash forward 40 some years to the fall of 2006. My college age daughter, Sarah, approaches me to join her on a trip to Italy in January 2007. What? I have a full time job that’s at its busiest in January with the Maryland Legislative Session. I have college tuitions to pay. I have a house I’m still paying off. I can’t possible afford to go to Italy for two weeks. Sarah offers to split the cost of the trip with me. My sweet husband gives me that look that I shouldn’t turn this down. My boss tells me to go and wishes her daughter would split the cost of a trip with her “anywhere.” So we’re off.

We started our trip in Venice. Second stop was Florence and the final stop was Rome. I have been assigned by my OCD daughter to write about Rome. (Little did she know I would edit it, read that and want you all to know I gave her the choice of Venice, Florence or Rome).

Rome is Rome. There is so much history and art in Rome you could spend weeks taking it all in. Sarah and I started with one of those double decker bus tours of Rome. As soon as we got on the bus it began to pour down rain. Needless to say, we stayed on the lower level and every time we sped around a corner, rain poured down the stairs from the upper level. Since it would have been miserable to try to walk around Rome that day, the bus worked well in getting us oriented to the city. Once it stopped raining we jumped off the bus to look at the Trevi Fountain. Nothing changed there in 40 years and I still think it’s bizarre that it’s stuck in the middle of a neighborhood. Then we walked to the Pantheon. The Pantheon in 1967 was a cool reprieve from a hot day. In the evening of 2007 it was a reprieve from more rain. But it was definitely interesting to be in a building where the rain is coming down in the middle of the room. We finished the evening going to the Ristorante del Giglo recommended by tour book author Rich Steves.


One note on Rome and the Pope. I don’t think people realize how accessible the Pope is. In 1967 we joined several thousand of the faithful in St. Peters Basilica to see the Pope carried in by the Swiss Guards on a medieval litter. I hung on the side of a column to get a good view. Flash forward to 2007 and you can obtain tickets to a papal audience relatively simply at several churches in Rome or at the Vatican. Sarah thought I was silly to want to go, but I figure, when in Rome, go see the Pope.


Our second day in Rome we went to the Colosseo. In 1967 you could pretty much wander wherever you wanted. Now it’s a little more restricted. We did an audio tour. After the Coliseum we walked to Palatine Hill and signed up for a tour of the Forum. It was one of the best decisions we made in Italy. Our tour guide was an archeologist name Stefan Elevetan. He looked like he was from “Middle Earth” but brought the Forum to life with his renditions of the history of the various buildings. We had lunch at the Gran Caffé Roma and walked through the Victor Emmanuel Monument. Then we found our way to the Spanish Steps and sat in the sun. What else do you do at the Spanish Steps but sit in the sun and people watch? We left there to walk to the Sante Susannah Church to pick up our tickets to see the Pope. We had dinner at the Capitello Ristorante near our hotel.


The next morning was the papal audience. Got up early, grabbed some breakfast, jumped on the metro to San Pietro. When we got off the metro, my first thought was to purchase some religious trinkets to be blessed by the Pope. Rest assured, Sarah gave me a hard time about this somewhat silly shopping adventure. As we walked through the columns embracing the piazza, I noticed that they no longer smelled like urine as in 1967. Thank goodness for security cameras and vigilant guards.


So onward to the new auditorium where the Papal audiences are now held. No more medieval Tom foolery for this Pope. The auditorium was huge and there were many groups from around the world that were chanting “Papa Benedetto.” The Pope was much smaller than we expected, but there was something charming about him. He spoke about San Stefano in several languages, but what exactly, I don’t remember. Several newly married couples were there with the brides in their wedding gowns. The Pope blessed each and every one of them.


Ah yes, nothing like being blessed by the Pope and I’m not even Catholic. From there we spent the afternoon in St. Peters Basilica. Sarah and I walked around this huge space which was being cleaned by what looked like a Zamboni machine. I read out loud to Sarah a description of the Basilica from Rich Steves. Then we paid to walk up into the cupola of St. Peters. Walking around the inside of the cupola made my knees weak to look down on the altar and the twisted Bernini columns. From there we climbed to the top. Flash to the foreign film La Dolca Vita. The view from the top was spectacular with the city of Rome at our feet. You can really see how the piazza in front of the Basilica was once a chariot race course. I love multi-use historical places.


Our last day in Rome we spent at the Vatican Museum. Wow! I made Sarah go through every room with me. It was my second visit in my life time and may be my last. This time I was actually taken aback by the incredible wealth of the Vatican. How can they with clear conscience own all this incredible art and artifacts? No wonder there was the Reformation. But also, the Vatican has preserved art and artifacts that may have otherwise been lost. Mixed feelings there. Toward the end of our tour of the museum, we found ourselves in the Sistine Chapel. It has been restored since 1967 and the colors are now truly magnificent. Some people were just sitting and taking it all in. Magnificent.


After the museum Sarah and I headed to the airport to stay at the Rome Airport Hilton. Why? Well, we we’re leaving the next morning early and it seemed like the right choice since we could walk right out of the hotel, and through the airport, to our boarding gate. I have to admit, I was ready for a little bit of luxury after staying in budget hotels for two weeks, although I loved the B&B in Venice.

So Rome 1967 and Rome 2007. I’m so glad the Italians finally figured out flush toilets. Those porcelain pans in the floor with places for your feet were a real drag even for a teenager. I’m also glad I got to experience Rome with my lovely daughter. She complained about going to see the Pope, but when we returned to the USA it was the first thing she talked about.