Wow, we sure did a lot of sight seeing while we were in Italy. Up to this point, my favorite part of Italy was the Cinque Terre. However, now that I've been to Rome, it would be a hard choice.
I loved Rome. From the first night we were there, I thought this was an awesome city.
We arrived around 6pm and after a bit of confusion we finally got the rental car dropped off and got the metro to our hotel. For those of you renting a car (or dropping one off) at the train station in Rome, the rental car places are all in the parking garage on the north side of the train station. And the signs are about as big as the numbers on my front door. Also, the train station is HUGE. I think we walked about a half a mile to get to the Metro A platform.
In Rome we stayed at Domus Cavour B&B. It is located due east of Piazza del Popolo, about 2 blocks on the other side of the river. The location was perfect and we walked everywhere, with the exception of the catacombs out on the Appian Way. The room we had was very nice and they came in each day to clean, the breakfast was also nice, amazing pastries. Christiano, the owner, was always available and very helpful when it came to booking our ride back to the airport.
Our first night we took Rick Steve's night walk of Rome. Following his guidebook we walked around the city from the Campo de' Fiori, through Piazza Navona, past the Pantheon, around some other monuments (some of which we never found), to the amazing Trevi Fountain, and then up to the Spanish Steps. We actually stayed out until 1am that night. Who knew we still had the ability to stay up that late.
This night walk of Rome was the perfect way to be introduced to the city. It was just so beautiful. Hands down my favorite area is the Trevi Fountain. Before you even round the corner, you can hear the rush of water. Never had I imagined it to be so large. Definitely not your typical fountain, or even your typical Roman fountain. We stayed there for about 30 minutes and would return for a stop at least once a day over the next 3 days. I can't think of anything we have in the states that compares to this fountain. Not just for its magnitude, but also for the people that it brings. Steps surround half the fountain and there are just hundreds of people there at any given hour.
The next day we decided to do Ancient Rome: the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, and Palatine Hill. Since the lines at the Colosseum can get very long, we started our day at the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill (really one area). The ticket costs you 12E and is good at all three locations, so may as well start at the place with the shortest ticket line. The line for tickets was only 4 people long at Palatine Hill, whereas the line for the Colosseum was around an hour or more.
While there's not much to Palatine Hill, where the emperors used to build their palaces, we did spend quite a bit of time in the Roman Forum. It was very interesting to get an idea how people used to live at the height of the Roman Empire. For this, and the Colosseum, we listened to Rick Steve's audioguides that we had downloaded before we left. These were great and really interesting. Inside the Roman Forum we saw the Arch of Titus (commemorating the Roman victory over Isreal in 70 AD), the Basilica of Constantine (the large meeting place and courthouse), the Temple of Julius Caesar (where Julius Caesar was burned after his assignation in 44 BC), the Temple of Vesta (Rome's most sacred spot where a fire burned symbolizing the family of Rome), the Vestal Virgins' House (the house of the 6 vestal virgins who served a 30 year term tending the flame in the temple), and of course the Temple of Saturn.
After the Roman Forum and the Pantheon we headed over to the Colosseum. Along the way we walked by the Arch of Constantine. This arch marks the military coo that made Christianity mainstream. In 312 AD Emperor Constantine defeated his rival for control of Rome. The night before the battle he saw a cross in the sky, and attributed his victory to this vision. After he became sole emperor of Rome, he legalized Christianity and built Saint Mark's Basilica. Before this, you could be killed for being a Christian, after this, you could be killed for not being a Christian.
Finally we headed to the Colosseum. A lot of the aw and wonder of the Colosseum is just being there. This structure is huge! We walked around the inside for a while and listened to the audioguide. The floor of the Colosseum has been removed so you can see all the pathways and channels below. There were over 80 elevators that could be used to raise animals, people or stage sets into the arena. This allowed the gladiator to be surprised, since he didn't know where the beast would pop up. In general the games were very barbaric and often involved animals fighting animals, people fighting animals, or people fighting people... to the death.
After the Colosseum we took some time to walk around to some of the smaller sites. We saw Saint Peter-in-Chains Church, walked around Capitol Hill square, and just enjoyed Rome. We tried to see the Mamertine Prison where Saint Peter was held captive, but they've turned it into some type of 3D freak show, and we didn't feel like spending the 10E each to get in. That night we met up with Jeremy's aunt and uncle from the UAE who just happened to be in Rome the same time we were. We had dinner at Pummarola, a good pizza place near the Pantheon.
The next day we headed to the Vatican. Two pieces of advice: first, buy your tickets ahead of time. We did this and it saved us at least an hour. Second, bring a snack. The Vatican is huge, and we were there from 8:30 to 3pm. By the time we left, we were starving and delusional. Also, at least 2 months before you go, book at tour into the Necropolis below Saint Peter's. We did this and it was amazing! Thanks to Dan and Amber for the great advice.
We chose to do the Vatican Museum on our own instead of doing a tour. I think if you were to do a tour, you should leave yourself a full day. After spending about 2 hours in the museum, we headed to the Sistine Chapel. It was beautiful. I thought there was a rule against taking pictures, but no one seemed to care and everyone had their cameras out, so I snapped a few as well. From here we headed to Saint Peter's Basilica.
This really is the grandest church of them all. Wow. This church is actually the second Saint Peter's. The first one is under the floor, where the popes are now buried. This new Saint Peter's was built after the old one was deteriorating and needed major renovation. Instead of doing these renovations, they just built a new one. Though that would never happen today. The altar in Saint Peter's is really the 6th altar that is built on Peter's tomb, each built around or on top of the other one.
From here, our last stop in the Vatican was the Necropolis. The tour lasted about an hour and was really interesting. We walked down under the new Saint Peter's, under the old Saint Peter's, down into the necropolis. The necropolis was built on the hill, now known as the Vatican, long before Christianity was legalized. Here the remains of Saint Peter were buried after he was crucified upside down on the cross. Also buried here are hundreds of families, who were all buried together as one family regardless of religious belief. Just on top of Saint Peter's tomb is a small altar saying "Peter is here." After Constantine became Emperor and decided to build his basilica, he knew he wanted to use this spot. However, since it was a holy ground, he could not destroy it. So he buried the necropolis under dirt and leveled off the hill. He removed the top of Saint Peter's altar and expanded it. This expansion of Saint Peter's tomb continued for generations of building around and over, making it more and more extravagant. On the tour you can see a few of the altars as well as the tomb of Saint Peter and the place where bones were found. These bones may or may not belong to Saint Peter.
After our exhausting day at the Vatican we just relaxed. We had dinner right after the tour, around 5pm, and then walked around town until we couldn't stay awake any longer.
Our last day in Rome we caught a few more of the sites that we had not yet visited. Piazza del Popolo, Spanish Steps (again), Trevi Fountain (again), the Pantheon (awesome), Cappuccin Crypt (highly recommended) and Bocca della Verita (the legendary "Mouth of Truth"). Did you know that the walls at the base of the Pantheon are 20 feet wide? The dome is 142 feet high and wide and is made of volcanic pumice so it is light enough to be supported by that massive base. It is also the most preserved monument from the Roman Empire because it was dedicated to the martyers just after the fall of Rome and has been used ever since then as a place of prayer. From the outside you can see the huge 60 foot tall solid granite columns. You also notice how the Pantheon is sunk below current street level. This is because Rome was built in layers and the original streets were much lower than they are today.
After the Pantheon we headed out of town to the Appian Way and the Catacombs of San Callisto. It was strictly forbidden to bury Christians inside the walls of Rome, so the catacombs were built just outside the city walls and are home to thousands of early Christians. These catacombs are huge, very tall and very long. Without a guide it would be very easy to get lost in here. We also saw a mummified body, which was pretty cool.
We spent our last evening having this amazing dinner at Casa Coppelle, just near the Pantheon.
The next morning we had a driver come pick us up and take us to the airport. This was a nice special treat for us, as we usually would take the train. But I could get used to it.
Italy was amazing. I can't wait to go back and spend a little more time in each city. It would be wonderful to spend a week in Tuscany biking around.