Imagine my delight when I received this phone call from my Colorado sister, Polly: “Jan! I have three weeks of vacation on the horizon and I really think you and I should plan a trip to Italy.” My response, “Sì! Sì! Sì! When do we leave??!!” And with that the research and planning began. It was a trip of a lifetime, and the most treasured part of it … I was so very fortunate to be able to explore this incredible European country with my sister! Buoni viaggi!!!
Destination #1: ROMA!
Our tour of Italy began in Rome on a warm day in late September. After a well-deserved night of rest, my sister Polly and I hit the streets of the Italian capital with the fervor of two contestants on a city-wide treasure hunt. That is actually a perfect metaphor – treasures abound in this 426 square mile home to nearly three million people! First on our list: a tour of ancient Rome – a glorious lesson in Roman history and culture!
One can almost hear enslaved proletariats turned gladiators fighting for their lives on the floor of the Roman Colosseum while thousands of aristocrats cheered and jeered from the sidelines. Stories carved into stone arches honoring triumphant conquerors turned Roman emperors Titus and Constantine tell of holy battles waged some 1,300 years ago. In stark contrast to the majestic arches commissioned for Constantine and Titus, a modest set of ruins marks the temple of Julius Caesar, who was killed just prior to the Roman Empire. At yet another location in the city of ancient Rome, archeologists have excavated two civilizations and are unearthing yet a third dating to several centuries B.C. Antica Roma è fantastico!
Now, time to explore more of Rome’s glistening treasures .. Trevi Fountain stands stoic as Neptune, the Roman god of water presides on his seashell chariot over statuary depicting life in ancient Rome. Thousands of visitors each year toss coins over their shoulder into the fountain in hopes of acquiring good fortune. Dozens of piazzas (community squares) are located in Rome, each with a strikingly different yet similarly vibrant style. Sidewalk cafes, bars and shops typically line the perimeter of Italian piazzas, where locals gather each day to share food, wine, fellowship and entertainment.
Piazza della Rotonda is home to The Pantheon, a Pagan turned Christian temple built 1,900 years ago. Piazza Navona houses Bernini’s majestic Fountain of the Four Rivers (the Nile, Ganges, Danube and Rio de la Plata). Piazza del Campidoglio was commissioned by the Pope and designed by Michelangelo after the fall of the Roman Empire, as a tribute to reinforce that the Vatican ruled Rome. It is now the location of Rome’s city government offices. Piazza de Spagna is the site of couture fashion design houses, amazing shopping opportunities and the world-famous Spanish Steps.
Polly and I quickly discovered that Rome is awash in fascinating culture, stunning architecture and a spirited history, but the vibrant and energetic lifestyle inherent in the Roman people contributes immensely to the intrigue of this extraordinary city! After our vigorous walking tour, an authentic Roman meal of coda alla vaccinara (braised ox-tails) served over decadent risotto and organic greens with a glass (or three) of robustly flavored Barolo at Agustarello located on Via Giovanni Branca near the Fiume Tévere was a splendid way to close out this amazing day of Roman exploration! Buona cucina e buonanotte!
Our second full day in Rome began with a tour of Vatican City. The museums inside the walls of the Vatican are replete with magnificent statuary depicting ancient Roman history.
The Priest of Apollo being strangled by serpents co-habits with Hercules, red-marbled Sarcophagi and Rafael Rooms showcasing magnificent works by the artist, such as “The School” and “The Disputation of the Holy Sacrament”. St. Peters Basilica is a palatial architectural wonder filled with vibrantly colored walls depicting ancient biblical stories.
The Basilica houses an opulent Baldoccino (bronze altar) atop the burial tomb of St. Peter, “la Pietà” (The Piety), Michelangelo’s most famous sculpture, and countless other statuary. And the Sistine Chapel, with walls also illustrating biblical proverbs yet in more muted tones, provides the papal leader an ideal atmosphere for solitude, reflection and prayer. The buildings and museums comprising the Vatican are surrounded by busy streets, shops and cafes capitalizing on their prime location near this monumental tourist destination. A quick stroll along a few viales here was enough for Polly and I to realize it was time to leave Vatican city for the piazzas of Roma.
As the sun set on another spectacular day in Rome, we ventured out for another classic Roman meal: Spaghetti alla Carbonara e Carciofi alla Guida and vino blanco Trebbiano served at Trattoria Da Danilo on via Petrarca near Piazza Dante. Now THIS epicurean delight was the perfect way to end our stay in Roma! (http://www.trattoriadadanilo.it)
Stay tuned – next stop southbound: The Sorrentine Peninsula’s Amalfi Coast …