Rome is a city that rewards both the wanderer and the planner. Naturally, it was a perfect fit for Dan and I – both of us felt our individual travel styles rewarded. When we initially planned our trip, Rome was the non-negotiable for Dan. Ever transfixed by history, this city held great appeal. And if you know me at all, you’ll know all you need to say is “pizza” to get my attention.We began at the beginning. 80 AD to be exact. With our Rome Pass in hand, we skipped most of the lines and zipped into this ancient tribute to emperors and gladiators.Portions of the Colosseum are only accessible via special tours, but the views you really want are general admission. Given that it is open to the elements, it is mainly the overall architecture that remains to study.
Ancient meets Renaissance and Golden Age meets modern in this stunning city. With vibrant blue skies and greenery providing a frame, every view was a view in Roma.One of the insider secrets that I had read about was a tour of Saint Peter’s Crypt. The tour is only open to small groups and inexpensive, but must be booked months in advance via email with contacts at San Pietro’s Basilica. Due to some traveler’s sickness involving an eventful trip to a clinic on my part (whereby I was asked to detail my health concerns in French by an Italian doctor who was convinced by the spelling of my name that I was not American as the nurse had claimed… blah blah blah… very high fever, very confused and… probiotics for the cure! Grazie and ciao bella!)… ahem, where were we?
Ah yes, health struggles led us to arrive late for the tour, wander San Pietro’s square gaping miserably at the several mile long line of people baking on the streets, having our personal space invaded by those peddling a “line hopper” pass (an expensive con, so we’d read) and having lots of grouchy officials explain said con to us as we tried to ask where to access the tour of the crypts. An hour or so later, we were (somewhat begrudgingly) allowed into a later tour and found ourselves in the cool marble belly of Saint Peter’s. (No photos allowed.)
The tour itself was educational and blissfully dark and cool after our morning of tourist purgatory. As we wandered below, craning our necks for some potential remnant of Peter himself, we whispered to each other that we couldn’t possibly get into that ridiculous line once leaving the tour. Sad though it was, beneath the floor would be the closest we got to the chapel. As the tour drew to a close and we walked up the stairs I thought to myself, “Wouldn’t it be amazing if we somehow exited to the interior of the chapel? But surely if this tour included access to the cathedral it would have been mentioned…”
Lo and behold, we turned a corner and found ourselves in the heart of the Christendom.
In early afternoon, nonetheless, when beams of light pierced the dome and shone beatifically down onto the alter. There are no words.
In time, we scooped our jaws off of the floor and returned to the eternal light, heat and crowds of Rome itself. Saint Peter’s Piazza dwarves summer crowds, making them look like impromptu gatherings of friends.
We walked beneath the moon, between the saints. Bound for an afternoon nap.
Post nap I allowed Danny to lead me from our hotel in Piazza del Popolo through winding streets where we stumbled across the Pantheon on our way to Piazza Navona.We strolled along, admiring street performers and artists who stretched their wares along the wide stone stage of Piazza Navona.
Consulting the map, we realized that we were simply blocks away from Trevi Fountain. All of Rome is so compact, so epically full-to-the-brim of cultural sites that you cannot but help to bump into places of movies and novels. We ducked into a small cafe for dinner. The cruelty of my traveler’s sickness was an utter revulsion to all things tomato-based. Fortunately for me, the house specialty here was lasagna in béchamel sauce. Ah, sweet Roma – where headons and heavens collide.
We retraced our steps to see Trevi alight and even more romantic (though less magnificent than Hollywood may portray, though perhaps we were simply habituated to grandeur at that point). Back in what we came to call “our piazza” (Piazza del Popolo), we pulled the sheets over our heads and melted into exhaustion.
The next morning, we climbed the steps that separated our piazza from Villa Borghese, a wonderland of lush greenery and hidden fountains, meticulous gravel walkways and stone verandas that opened onto views of Rome that could make you cry.
Slowly, breathlessly almost, we made our way to the Galleria Borghese. Once a private estate, the gallery is now home to a beautiful collection of art that is open to the public. As we roamed, the clouds shifted. We ducked into a restaurant and ordered a pizza like civilized Italians as we waited out the storm. In the end, we opted to return in the rain and captured this view of our piazza before we headed back down from what became my most favorite place in all of Rome.That evening, we ventured back to Vatican City to view the Vatican Museum. On some summer evenings, the museum offers later admission hours (5-9pm). We purchased tickets in advance and were able to wander the galleries in the cool of the evening (with much smaller crowds).
The sensation of goodbye was heavy on us at that point. Our bodies were beaten by the grueling pace, our minds were spinning from centuries of time travel but finally our hearts were light – free from expectation, free to look away from maps and street signs and find beauty in its moment of light. Winding our way back, we stopped at the Spanish steps and greeted the moon, familiar as ever, as we turned to go home.