Reaching the mainland
Updated: Apr 22, 2019
Rome, the Eternal City. A city with constant hustle and bustle. Absolutely full of tourists even in the first part of spring. Presumably a city without end. A city of infinite beauty, full of history and wonder. It also happened to be our first stop in mainland Europe.
It is hard for me to believe that it’s been some 14 years since I’ve been in Rome. A lot is the same, and yet a lot has changed. The city is still as magnificent as ever, with impressive churches and eye catching architecture everywhere you look. What’s really changed though is the increase in security. There were armed guards at many street corners and more patrolling the sites. Security to enter sites has been beefed up as well, and lines got long as a result. Better safe than sorry I suppose, but it is sad that precautions need to be taken in the first place.
Waiting waiting in line...
Rome's Colosseum...with a long line
We stayed in an incredible apartment just south of the city center and after walking only 20 minutes we were exploring the Colosseum, Palatine Hill (the Roman Imperial palace), and the Roman Forum; the site where the great minds of the day would meet and share thoughts and ideas. Now it’s filled with impressive ruins of temples dedicated to gods that are all but forgotten. There are so many amazing ruins though that for a long time Rome has not been able to build a metro line through the city center. Looks like they’ve finally solved that problem as a line is finally going in.
The ruins of Palatine Hill
Rome's ancient Forum
On a potentially rainy day two, we headed to the Vatican museum and toured the apartments and galleries there. After viewing countless sculptures, we were able to see works of a few of the masters, including Raphael and of course, Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. After lunch we found our way into St. Peter’s Basílica, said to be the largest church in the world. To put it in perspective, the Statue of Liberty, even with pedestal and torch, would easily fit inside the basilica, even leaving a good 100 meters at the top. a potentially rainy day two, we headed to the Vatican museum and toured the apartments and galleries there. After viewing countless sculptures, we were able to see works of a few of the masters, including Raphael and of course, Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. After lunch we found our way into St. Peter’s Basílica, said to be the largest church in the world. To put it in perspective, the Statue of Liberty, even with pedestal and torch, would easily fit inside the basilica, even leaving a good 100 meters at the top.
The halls of the Vatican
One of Raphael's Vatican works
St. Peter's Basilica
The basilica is filled with sculpture, but in lieu of paintings, St. Peter’s is filled with wall mosaics made to resemble paintings. Imagine, thousands, if not millions of tiny pieces used to depict Bible scenes around the church. This is also the final resting place of many former Popes, including the remains of St. Peter himself, buried far below even the crypt. It is said this is the very spot he was crucified upside down after refusing to deny Christ. Isn’t this the same man that once denied him three times in an evening?
"And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it."
Matthew 16:18 NIV
A glimpse inside the massive Basilica
St. Peter rests below here
Also during our stay in Rome we took a day trip to a site I’ve wanted to see for a long time – the ancient city of Pompeii. As you may already know, on what is believed to be August 24th of the year 79 AD, the locals woke up to what they thought was a normal day. Unfortunately, in a flash Mt. Vesuvius erupted and the following lava flow came so quickly that no one had time to flee. The entire city, its 2000 residents included, were buried as they stood in over 20 feet of ash for almost 2000 years. When the site was finally rediscovered in the 1800s, all of the buildings were perfectly preserved. The people, whose tissue had long decomposed, left perfect molds in the ash. In fact, plaster has been added to some of the molds to “recreate” how these people looked in their last moment. Even creepier – their bones are still inside the plaster!
Such beautifully preserved streets
2000 year old mosaics; even some paint survived
Plaster of person
Not to sell Rome short (but in hopes of not making this blog too long), we also took time to visit sites like the Pantheon, Spanish Steps, and Trevi Fountain. We all made sure to throw coins over our shoulder into the fountain, as this means we’ll be returning some day. It’s worked twice so far for me! Rome is simply a city to explore though, so we wandered the streets, followed the Tiber river, and kept our heads bobbing up at the buildings and down at the ruins.
In the evening we took a 3.5 hour train to Venice, which was our only other Italian destination on this trip. Venice is another Italian city that is just incredible to look at everywhere you turn. I’m starting to think this is the case for every Italian town, but the waterways here really do make it something extra special. It is a city to literally just wander and get lost in; it’s quite easy to run into dead ends formed by a passing canal with no bridge to cross. The best part about Venice is finding incredible views down these narrow alleys.
Doesn't get much better than this
If you wander through the streets of Venice long enough, you’ll come to the large, open St. Mark’s Square. It should be no surprise that the basilica there houses the remains of St. Mark author of one of the Gospels and traveled with Paul and Barnabas. Dragged through the streets of Alexandria until he died for his belief in Christ, his body eventually found its way to Venice, where the basilica was built in his honor. Venice was once a European superpower and this square also contains the palace they ruled from.
St. Mark's Square
We were going to take a gondola ride while here but we just couldn’t get past the 80 euro price tag. Apparently the price point is set for six people, and thus the only people taking them were large Chinese families. Kind of ruined the experience for us, and especially for young couples wanting to be romantic in Venice. Although we crossed many bridges, it just dawned on me that we never did get on a boat while there. Even so, we really enjoyed our time in Venice, and we were quite sad to leave Italy. Good news, it is pretty easily accessible from the United States!
This is the life
On our last evening in Venice we took a long overnight train to Austria, but I will save that for my next blog, which I plan to roll out very shortly. Stay tuned!