Rome! (this is a long one)
We were sad to say goodbye to Florence with all her magical vistas, beautiful statues and cheap accommodations, but the time came to catch a rail and head south to the Capital.
The Termini station gave us our first impression of the city - big, hot, and crowded, with plenty of McDonald's. There are TWO in the train station!
Well, one was across the street.
Our place (a pension, accent on the "on") was near the station, which was always a relief for this pack mule. We found it without incident and immediately participated the grand Roman tradition of taking a long nap during the hottest part of the day. It was glorious.
This started a pattern for our four days in Rome: Wake up, breakfast, see the sights, lunch, sleep, evening walk and dinner. And Rome has got some stuff to see, let me tell you!
On our first evening, we found Capitol Hill and the ruins of the ancient Forum.
And we visited the Pantheon for the first time - this became a nightly stop. There were restaurants lining the piazza and usually a musician or two - see the guy singing opera?
The next morning we sorted out the Metro (we're pretty much experts on any underground system now) and rode it to the Borghese Gallery, an amazing museum set in the middle of a park.
The Gallery used to be the Borghese family's party villa on the outskirts of the city. The downstairs rooms contain mostly sculpture - each room featuring a particularly famous piece in the middle and less-famous pieces around the edge. Oil paintings covered the walls of all the upstairs rooms. Paintings by masters like Michelangelo, Rafael, and Caravaggio.
Hmm. At this point I had planned to describe some of the works that I saw, but I can see that might bog things down a bit. If you're like me, and you can only recognize the names of the great Renaissance artists because of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,then we all have a ways to go before Way to Go Kevin! can focus on art appreciation. So I'll stop there for now.
After the Gallery, we hung around the surrounding park. We rented one of these puppies...
...which are surprisingly fast and complicated. Yup, we were those tourists, tottering on the edge of control, taking up the sidewalk, laughing and yelling at one another to slow down.
It was great.
On our second full day, we demolished ancient Rome (figuratively).
Palatine Hill, home of generations of Caesars and Emperors, is a mound of red-stone ruins today, but with a little imagination, you can picture the Imperial Palace. It also helps if you've seen Gladiator.
After that, we went to the Colosseum. It's a wreck! The floor is all torn up. The walls are falling down. I mean, sure, it's nearly 2,000 years old, but still.
Actually, it was very cool. Not temperature-wise.
Throughout it all, we consulted our good friend Rick Steves. Special thanks to Sarah, who brought him along.
My nose was stuck in this book the entire time.
At Trajan's Column:
At the Forum:
Enjoying the Colosseum:
And Palatine Hill:
On our last day we visited St. Peter's Basilica and the Vatican Museum.
Sistine Chapel, baby!
There was really only one thing at the overwhelming Vatican Museum that we wanted to see so we made a beeline for it and it still took about half an hour of steady walking to even arrive at the chapel door. We were herded like cattle the whole way. Apparently a lot of other people wanted a gander at that ceiling.
But it was worth it. We couldn't take pictures. We couldn't stay long. The overall effect of the chapel was, I'm sure, marred by the hundreds of tourists packed into the room like sardines. And it was still worth it.
St. Peter's Basilica and the home of the Pope were interesting, too. I've only ever seen this square when it is featured in the news because of some papal event, and then it is always smothered with worshipers.
The church itself is huge! Bigger than St. Paul's in London, which is also huge. All the furnishings and statues inside are built on a large scale in order to make the overall effect of the church seems smaller. Does that makes sense? Just ask Rick Steves - he explains it better than me.
Okay, almost done. We ate good food and saw more fun things like the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain. We ate a LOT of gelato.
We also hiked halfway across Rome for this exciting picture:
Less exciting was the line we discovered when we got there.
Then it was on to Paris via the night train!