One Glorious Day in Rome!
(The Port of Citvitavecchia)
First stop in Rome, The Colosseum.
Pulling up to the Colosseum was one of those surreal moments you dream about when you are planning a trip to Europe. We glimpsed it from our bus and then our guide let us off enough away that we could take in its full scope before getting closer and going in.
I had Mary Polly make a list of her top ten wishes for our Mediterranean cruise before we left Arkansas, and walking through the Colosseum was Number One on her list, so we were both super excited for the moment we would stand within its famous walls.
We stood on ancient stones and peered into ancient cisterns.
We pondered the moving of and building with giant squares of rock without modern equipment.
Then we climbed high and imagined the brutal scenes that had been played out below us centuries ago.
We were mostly dumbstruck as we wandered around the almost 2000 year old amphitheater, quietly pointing out places we found to one another.
At each window we could spot different angles of the surrounding monuments.
The Roman Forum
The Arch of Constantine
It was tempting to stop at every single window for a picture. But we pressed on because as our infinitely knowledgeable guide reminded us frequently, we were on a tight schedule.
We walked a little more around the outside of the Colosseum and took in closer views of The Arch of Constantine before we were back on our bus.
Several sights we glimpsed only in passing.
This is the Archbasilica of St John. It is the mother church of all the Roman basilicas, housing famous sculptures of the 12 apostles.
We saw many ancient Egyptian obelisks in various squares.
These monoliths were transported down the Nile and across the Mediterranean Sea during the Roman Empire. The logistics of moving these obelisks such a far distance boggled my mind.
After many more spottings of famous buildings than I can even name we made our way to a lovely lunch spot. Mary Polly and I sat with a precious couple from California who were on their honeymoon. We enjoyed hearing about their day in Florence. (Gasp! Was that just yesterday?) And we drank lots of local wines, enjoyed pasta, bread and maybe the very best ever tiramisu I have ever had. Ever. Along with a coffee of course.
Next we made our way down the most lovely series of streets to the sight I was maybe the most excited to see.
The Trevi Fountain!
There is a traditional legend that if you toss a coin into the Trevi Fountain, you will return to Rome one day.
I think almost every tour leaving our boat made a stop at this fountain, because of course, who doesn’t want to ensure another visit to the majestic city of Rome?
We certainly tossed our coins in along with the rest of the throng of tourists who had come to see the most famous fountain in the world. With mounting anxiety, I held Mary Polly tight while we pushed through this crowd to get up close to the fountain where we tossed our coins in.
There was a little more breathing room down close, so we sat for a minute and watched all the people. We were guessing what countries people came from, and we watched a bride and her photographer try to negotiate the crowd to get bridal portraits.
We also spotted this sweet couple mid-embrace. We decided they were Romans, ignoring the crowd and falling in love. In their own little world, I thought they really embodied the magical feeling of being near the Trevi Fountain, even amidst the swarms of people.
Part of the facade was being restored while we were there.
For the final leg of our tour, we were headed to The Vatican City. We passed a few more lovely places on our way, but by this time Mary Polly and I had taken in so much history of Rome that we were slowing in our absorption of details.
In fact, Mary Polly might have closed her eyes until we got to St Peter’s Basilica.
We got to walk down the street, approaching it from afar and marveling at its grandeur as we got closer and closer. It’s impossible to feel how big it is from the pictures, but we were stunned. So much so that I had trouble keeping up with our guide as he marched us around the line to enter through a side door.
We wound around columns and through barricades to get to the entrance and then,
Hallelujah! We were inside the largest church in the world!
Our guide walked us through the Basilica telling us all about it and then set us free to explore on our own for a bit.
I had long desired to see this Pietà by Michelangelo.
Unfortunately, you cannot get very close to it and it is covered with bullet proof glass because a mentally disturbed man attacked the sculpture with a hammer in 1972.
Still, it is beautiful. I love the way Mary is cradling Jesus in death as in birth. I have been obsessed with Pietàs in art ever since I became a mother. Mary’s sacrifice is not talked about much in the evangelical tradition of which I am a part, so the mystery of Mary, Mother of Jesus eludes me all the more. Which is, I suppose, why I am drawn to her.
The dome of the Basilica, the largest in the world, designed by Michelangelo, was of course, amazing.
We built all day to this moment. The one where we would stand under Michelangelo’s dome.
And it did not disappoint.
Bernini’s famous bronze baldacchino sits under Michelangelo’s dome and over the altar.
You can take as many pictures as you want inside of St Peter’s Basilica because all of the paintings are not really paintings at all, but mosaics. They are enormous and you cannot believe they are made of tiny bits of colored glass or marble until you get right up close.
Our guide was particularly enamored with this meticulous art. It takes years to perfect and most Vatican mosaic artists can only complete two or three of these masterpieces in a lifetime. I found a fascinating article talking about the Vatican studio where people are continuing to learn this ancient art form.
Finally, it was time to leave St. Peter’s. We had a few minutes to wave to the Swiss Guards who keep the Vatican City safe, in spite of their jester-like uniforms. And another minute or two to buy a postcard, a rosary or any number of other small trinkets.
Then we waved Goodbye to Rome and hopped back on the bus.
It was a wonderfully exhausting day, and I think everyone on our bus fell asleep as we made our way back to the Carnival Breeze, where we sat on the deck and watched the sun set on our first ever day in Rome.
A Few Details for If You Go:
These are the boring kinds of details I was looking for before I went on this cruise, so I wanted to share them with you. Please feel free to skip to the comments and tell me if you could only stop at once place in Rome, what would it be?
How can you possibly see Rome in a day?
You can’t. That’s why there are 3000 euros tossed in the Trevi Fountain every day! You want to go back!
One night on the boat we ate dinner with a couple who had spent a week in Rome before flying to Barcelona to board the Carnival Breeze. Then they stayed on the boat the day we ported in Rome. I thought this was a wonderful idea for several reasons. Firstly, Rome is the furthest place you drive to from the sea and at all the ports, you are so anxious to see everything that you don’t want to stay on the boat, but I am sure it would be lovely to enjoy a day on board while everyone else has left, especially in a must see stop such as Rome.
Alas, we did not have an extra week to spend in Rome, so we had to make the best of one day.
How do you choose your Rome excursion?
We chose our Rome tour based on the fact that the Colosseum was Number One on Mary Polly’s list of sights to see in Rome. She had read and studied about the Colosseum and was very excited about seeing it.
Of the tour choices with Carnival, Rome At Its Best was the only one where you entered the Colosseum so our choice was pretty much made for us.
The highlights of this tour were the Colosseum, St Peters’ Basilica and the Trevi Fountain. I was sad that we had to miss the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel, but with only one day in Rome, you have to make some sacrifices. If you want more than anything else to gaze at the Sistine Chapel, then you need to choose the St Peters and Vatican Museum Tour.
Our cruise director did a lecture on Rome excursions which I attended while I was figuring out our day in Rome, but I came to it with a list of what I really wanted to see.
In general, I found attending these lectures and reading Rick Steve’s Mediterranean Cruise Ports (which I carried with me) to be enormously helpful in planning our time in Europe. This book and many others are available for browsing in the library of the Carnival Breeze, which is nice if you haven’t had much time ahead of your trip to plan your days on shore.
How do you move about with 50 people in Rome? And how do you hear the guide?
I was curious about this, and like our day in Tuscany, was concerned that we would be waiting on other people all day. But we had a bus driver and two guides. One guide walked in front and the other walked in the back and kept us moving. The rear guide, David, was so super sweet, but very firm.
One time a lady in front of me stopped to look at a handbag for sale and he was all, No shopping ma’am! No time for shopping!
Her husband laughed and said, I’ve been trying to tell her that all my life!
At one point, Mary Polly and I had to find a restroom and he waited with us and then caught us up to the group because he was able to call the guide in front.
Our front guide, Marco, knew more about Rome than I can ever imagine knowing about anything. Seriously, I know he does this for a living, but he was unbelievable.
We all wore these little radios with one earphone around our necks (Mary Polly is wearing hers in the Trevi Fountain picture above). Marco would speak into his little microphone and you could hear him just like he was right next to you even if you were fifty feet back. I loved this because he didn’t have to yell and you didn’t feel like you had to stay in such a tight pack with everyone. As long as you could hear him, you knew you were in range of the group. Plus if you fell too far behind, there would be David, smiling and reminding you to keep up. Mary Polly felt free to just remove her earphone whenever she got tired of listening.
Also, Marco would give us time to roam on our own at each of the sights. I noticed that when he did this, several people stayed with him and asked him more questions, which he was always glad to answer.
A word more about Rome
For every one person that visits Disneyworld, there are nine who visit Rome. We were there at the end of September and it seemed mobbed to me. However, every time we entered a major monument, Marco would look around and say, Good, not so crowded today!
And I would think, If this is not crowded, I certainly don’t want to see it when it is!
Also, even though it was September, it was quite warm. Mary Polly and I both wore jeans and short sleeves and sweaters because your legs and shoulders have to be covered to enter the Vatican and the churches in Rome. By late afternoon, we were quite hot , so it must be positively grueling in the summertime. However, we did convince David to let us stop to grab some gelato.
Note to self: Return to Rome in January.
More info about Carnival excursions and about excursions in general can be found at the end of the Tuscany post.