Strikes and protests greet us in the eternal city. We cannot take public transit from the airport to our apartment as there is a one day strike. We take a private shuttle. We settle in. We go to get groceries and stand in amazement observing the traffic chaos. The next morning we head out on a walking tour of the city and are stopped by a massive protest. Welcome to Rome!
We allowed ourselves five days to explore this amazing city. It wasn’t enough; Aran is already planning his return trip. There is simply too much to see and do, but we tried hard.
As it turns out, we end up spending much of our time at the Vatican alone (which of course, technically, is not part of Rome at all). I had read in the guidebook that the Pope gives a blessing the last Sunday of the month, so off we go. It is not too difficult to figure out at which subway stop to get off; the crowds are worse than any rush hour in Toronto. We make our way to St. Peter’s Square and carve out a space for ourselves in the hordes. We don’t know where to look, so we follow the gaze of all the others there. Really? Is that the small window at which he will appear? Doesn’t look like much, but when the purple banner is hung out and the crowd cheers, we know we are facing the right direction. We don’t understand a single word of Italian, but it was still a pretty cool thing to do.
We head from here to have lunch with Mike, an old friend from Toronto, and his family. With them we not only spend a lovely afternoon catching up on many years, but we glean a better insight into both the joys and challenges of living, and navigating, life in Rome. On our way home that evening Mike walks us down to a local plaza where we enjoy a great street performance.
A new day and we are back up at the Vatican, but not to see the Pope this time. We are heading for the Vatican museums. Fortunately, we had bought our tickets online so were able to bypass an enormous line of people who had failed to do the same. Inside, however, the throngs are incredible (despite that it is now October) and we weave our way through the overwhelming collection of paintings, statues, tapestries and Egyptian artifacts trying to absorb the influence of the Catholic church, and the ability that it has had over the centuries, to amass such wealth and riches. Very hard indeed to reconcile this with messages of poverty and simplicity. We finally reach the Sistine Chapel, which truly is impressive, especially when you grasp that Michelangelo painted it standing up. The guards don’t like you to linger, however, and keep insisting that you ‘move on’. The trick is to move a bit further back and then stand your ground. What a thankless job they have; trying to keep thousands of people quiet and push them past one of the most famous paintings as quickly as possible.
On another day, Eva is not feeling great and Chris wants to stay home and write so Aran and I go back (yet again!!), to the Vatican to see St. Peter’s Basilica. It truly is difficult to understand how big and opulent this place is; the nave alone is two football fields long. It is high on Aran’s list of most spectacular things we have seen.
We had debated whether to go see Pompeii, but given the cost and time involved in getting there from Rome, we opted to visit Ostia Antica instead. About a 40 minute train ride outside of Rome, and which amazingly costs only 1.5 euros each to reach, is the old port that was used during the height of Roman Empire.
We spend much of the day poking around and marveling at the sights. While following our trusty guide, Rick Steves, we overhear another family (with two boys) doing the same. We strike up a conversation, and the kids hit it off so we decide to head back into town together and grab shwarmas for dinner.
We also visited an interesting exhibition that demonstrated several of Leonardo da Vinci’s inventions and how they worked.
Think it’s loaded?
Oh yes, there are some other memorable things that we saw. Unbelievably, we didn’t get around to visiting them until the very last day…there was simply not enough time.