Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Civitavecchia and Rome

Saturday, our final morning on board the Prinsendam was somewhat of a sad time, because we had to say goodbye to many new friends. But disembarkation was easy and occurred in a timely manner. We met the private car we had arranged for prior to the trip, which took us to our hotel in Rome. The quality of the roads was excellent. On our ride through the countryside we saw cattle, grapes, olive groves, plus the very distinctive Italian stone pines, which are also known as umbrella pines. We drove past Vatican City, where there were long lines waiting to get into the museums and the Sistine Chapel.

As soon as we checked into our hotel, Tina left to walk over to the Vatican. She was willing to wait in line because she had always wanted to see the Sistine Chapel. I opted to stay at the hotel, and once the room became available, I used the time to take several naps and organize my belongings. In the evening we went walking to see if we could find a restaurant. We ended up at a little shop that sold many kinds of intriguing looking pizzas, all of them oblong in shape. We bought pieces of several and ate them as we walked back to the hotel. We also picked up some cookies and a prickly pear fruit at a small grocery.

Our hotel was the Visconti Palace, which was located fairly close to Vatican City in the city center of Rome. Our room was clean and comfortable, though not fancy. The "continental breakfast" that was included in the price of the room turned out to be quite a nice, satisfying buffet. One important note about the room is that if you need more than one outlet that fits American plugs, bring an adapter. The only outlet I could plug my camera into was in the bathroom.

This was Tina's first time in Rome; I had been there before in 1967 and was not looking forward to our stay at all because my prior experience had been so bad. In the end, however, I was pleasantly surprised by all the changes in the city. It is much cleaner than it was before, and much restoration work is in progress. It was interesting to observe that most of the scaffolding in use was covered by interesting scrims.

A few observations: The people in this city don't look sloppy the way so many Americans do. They don't have the same rate of obesity, either. The architecture in Rome is very detailed, and the old buildings are both ornate and very distinctive in style. There are many cobblestone streets in city center (can you imagine the work involved in paving them? Our tour guide told us, however, that the way government handles projects that involve digging up the street is totally inefficient, and what she said sounded just like how we do things here at home). The automobile population is also very different from what we find at home: There are mostly small cars, with some smaller station wagons and minivans, and only a very occasional SUV. Rome is the only place I've been where one routinely sees parking areas holding more cars than there are designated spaces. As an example, across the street from our hotel there were eleven marked spaces, holding 15 automobiles. Nobody took up two parking spaces!

On Sunday we had arranged for an all day tour that included the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, several other places (which I will specify when I can find the tour booklet), ending the morning with a visit to St. Peter's Basilica. Although I had been to the Trevi fountain on my prior visit, nothing about it looked familiar. It is huge and ornate, and probably three times the size I remembered it as being. The Pantheon looks as if it has been kept in good repair through the years, unlike most buildings its age. While riding in the bus our guide pointed out the Teatro di Marcello, the bottom part of which looked very much like the Roman Coliseum. A more modern building completed the top. Our guide mentioned that it had been built in 46-45 BC, which makes it 130 years older than the coliseum. As we were entering St. Peter's, our guide casually mentioned that the Pope would be speaking from his apartment window at noon. It is necessary to go through security to get into St. Peter's. The process is not difficult, except for getting the crowds coordinated in going through the gates.

St. Peter's Basilica is the most amazing piece of architecture I've seen to date. The scale can only be described as humongous. Letters that look to be maybe a foot high are actually eight feet tall. Where there are niches
with statues at several levels on the walls (sort of stacked), the upper ones are larger than the lower ones so that they all look to be the same size. It is necessary to make sure you get into the right line going into the basilica, or you might find yourself climbing the six hundred (or so) stairs up to the dome. We saw people up at the first level, and just seeing people up there was frightening. There was a service in progress while we were there, and we were delayed leaving until the final procession had passed. We got back out into the courtyard in time to hear the Pope speak. We were walking toward our group meeting place during that time because we didn't want to miss our bus, but the broadcast was loud enough that we could hear the whole thing easily.

The tour included a four course lunch at a restaurant, which was quite good. The first course was an interesting salad; the second was two kinds of pasta with different sauces; the entrée was a veal steak with arugula & tomatoes in olive oil, and fried new potato wedges; dessert was a thin cake topped with red currants & wild blackberries. It also included bottled water and both red and white wines.

The afternoon part of the tour will be included in the next post.

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