We traveled to Rome on a whim over Memorial Day weekend, 2017. It was a completely unexpected journey, as travel arrangements were made about a week before we left. Ellen and I were so busy, we didn’t plan ahead much. Instead, as usual, we decided to go somewhere and let fate (cost?) guide our travels. By examining a few different low-cost airfare Web sites, we were able to find tickets to Rome for $50 a piece. Of course, beautiful Emma flew free.

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Trevi Fountain, a site we stopped at no less than three times as it was only a ten minutes walk from where we were staying.

We left Saturday on a direct flight to Rome via an airport near Baden-Baden, an hour drive from Stuttgart. The weather was scorching, but the flight was simple, short, and direct. We arrived in Rome late afternoon at the local airport, and took an easy shuttle ride into the city center. We were dropped off at the train station with our luggage and began to make our way to the room we’d booked for a couple evenings. Even the ride in was something remarkable–ancient Roman ruins, old aqueducts, and Italian charm were around every corner.

We walked about 15 minutes to get to the place we were staying. The room was on a street called Via Agostino Depretis–the nearest cross-street being Via Cesare Balbo. We were in a mid-rise building, on the 5th floor, accessible by an old elevator that barely held two people, let alone our luggage. We met a wonderful, friendly host, unpacked our luggage, fed Emma, and made our way to dinner. We were struck by the beauty of the city immediately. We were even more pleasantly surprised by dinner, exceptional, despite the place having the appearance of a whole in the wall (a common theme, food was good everywhere, no matter the appearance). I had lasagna. It was so good, I proceeded to have lasagna everywhere I went. I love lasagna.

 

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Piazza Venezia by night, an impressive site at any time.

Despite it being late, we walked quite a bit that first evening. First, from the San Carlo Quattro Fontane to the Trevi Fountain. After spending some time taking in the beautiful marble carvings, flowing waterfalls, and dazzling lights, we walked to the Piazza Venezia. We took several photos of the piazza at night, then made our way toward the Forum and Colonna Traiana, lit up by spotlights. It was awe-inspiring and made us hungry for more. We slowly walked back toward our room and talked about the next day’s plans. Once safely at rest, we did our best to put Emma to sleep and prepared ourselves for the next day.

Sunday was incredible. I’m a major fan of archaeology and ancient Rome, so the day was designed for me. We got up early and had breakfast at a small cafe just northwest of the Santa Maria Maggiore. The cappuccino was outstanding, but I expected nothing less as the owner of the establishment informed me that he made the best in Rome. On a side-note, we made friends with the owner after coming back a second time on the day we were leaving–he was quite taken with Emma, though everyone was–the red hair and blue eyes are quite the attraction.

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First view of the Colloseo from a park near the Domus Aurea–photos don’t do it justice.

From the Santa Maria Maggiore we walked through city parks toward the Domus Aurea and Colle Oppio–old Roman ruins. Through the trees, we eventually gazed upon the Collosseo. We walked closer and closer, taking it all in. It was a truly incredible experience, seeings something like that in person. One sees it so often in photographs, but it was remarkable when you have the opportunity to see it with your own eyes.

From the Colloseo, we walked toward the Arco di Constatino and the Palatino. Interestingly, there’s a sound tactic to beat all the lines. If one walks to the Palatino, one can walk through that section to the forum, then double-back to the Colloseo, bypassing the crowds. Apparently, there are never too many people waiting in line at the Palatino entrance. We made our way in quickly and walked through to the forum. It was breath-taking. The pictures don’t do it justice, and it is humbling being surrounded by so much history. It truly brings the ancient Rome alive in my mind.

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View of the Forum from Palatine Hill. To be here is an archaeologist’s dream.

From the forum, we walked back toward Palatine Hill and saw where the emperors of Rome lived and oversaw the empire. From Palatine Hill, we walked back to our room and after resting a short while we returned to the Colloseo. By 4:00 p.m. when we returned, the crowds were dying down and we were able to tour the ancient structure. From the Colloseo, we walked to the Pantheon, and watched as a major crowd gathered around street performers playing Pink Floyd. Quite a scene. After listening a bit, we walked back toward Trevi Fountain, ate a pizza at a local shop, and returned to our room for the night. Another full day. Quite honestly, if done right, the Colloseum, Palatine Hill, and Roman Forum is a complete day’s adventure.

On Monday we made the decision to do even more trekking than usual and take in the Vatican. Of course, we decided to walk there, and the sites we saw along the way were gorgeous.

We started early in the morning, again making our way toward and past Trevi Fountain. We had breakfast at a small shop just 100 meters away from the site. From Trevi Foutain, we walked on towards the Pantheon. This time, we able to go inside and observe the interior of the dome. After observing the inside of the Pantheon, we walked to the Piazza Navona. The piazza was exactly what you expect from Italy–tightly woven Renaissance buildings, marble sculptures, fountains, walkways, cafes. Again, perfect weather–not a cloud in the sky.

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Piazza Navona in the center of Rome. We walked through this Piazza on our way to the Vatican.

From the Piazza Navona, we walked toward and across the Ponte Sant’ Angelo and observed the Castel Sant’ Angelo directly across the way. While we didn’t tour inside the structure, we did admire the architecture and put it on a future to-do list.

We continued our walk toward the Vatican, debated, then finally settled on seeing the inside. Probably a mistake (we had a stroller and it was crowded), we decided to book a tour so that we could see the interior–particularly the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Put simply, the Vatican, while beautiful, was a mad-house. So many people pushing and shoving–the campus, or country, or buildings, however you want to frame the Holy See, just weren’t meant to cope with the massive flood of people who rush through the museums and galleries. Add a stroller, the heat, a crying baby, dirty diapers, etc., and you have the perfect recipe for an uncomfortable afternoon.

Believe me, Ellen and I suffered a parenting fail, but gained an incredible story to tell Emma’s potential suitors when she’s older. Believe it or not, we tried and failed to change our poor daughter’s diaper under the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. That’s right, Emma, your diaper was nearly changed under one of the greatest works of art our world has ever seen. Simply magical.

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Inside St. Peter’s Basilica. Quite a tribute to God.

After making (fighting) our way through the museum I was able to enter St. Peter’s Basilica. It is a cathedral to dwarf all cathedrals. There is nothing like it on earth. Opulent, grand, impressive, imposing, gorgeous, gold, gems, jewels, wealth. I understand it is meant to be a holy place, but I wonder if God would approve of the audacity of the place? Either way, I don’t mean to offend. It is unlike anything I have ever seen in my life, and if it is meant as a gesture of an offering toward God then I imagine it serves its purpose well.

After spending time at the Vatican we continued to make our way through the city. We walked to the Piazza del Popolo and then to the Spanish Steps. After a brief lunch near the steps, we made our way to the Piazza Barberini, back to the San Carlo Quattro Fontane, and then to our room. We had a lovely dinner near the Teatro dell’Opera and retired to our room.

Tuesday was fast, we were in Stuttgart by late afternoon after a brief flight. We were welcomed home with a rainbow.

Ellen and I were struck by Rome. For my part, I believe it is the most impressive city in Europe (sorry London, sorry Prague). Words can’t do it justice, and I can only liken it to a giant outdoor museum that anyone can observe and interact with. The people were friendly, the food was magnificent, and the ancient sights were so satisfying to see. I would return to Rome any time. It is and will always be an eternal city.

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