Rome! Day 1

I despise overnight flights to Europe. Maybe if I was willing to pay the extra to get first class tickets, I would feel differently.

The seats are too close to scoot down, too straight to lean back, and too narrow to lean on anything. The stewards do their rounds with drinks, then snacks, then drinks. When things finally settle down, other passengers decide it’s “let me converse with my neighbor” time–at full volume as they stand right over your seat. The bathroom is either too close or too far. Every time I look in a different direction, a different movie on someone else’s screen is eye catching and intriguing. Earplugs help, my pillow helps, but nothing works. Inevitably just as I do begin to doze, the stewards return with hot washcloths and breakfast.

I grumble way too much. Less than a century ago, this same voyage would have taken a month. I think one sleepless night is a luxury after all.

The time difference between home and Rome is seven hours. This means when our 6 pm flight takes off it is already 3 in the morning at our destination. I’m not the least bit sleepy, but oh! the pressure to sleep is immense since jet lag on arrival is a very real thing. 

The nine-hour flight puts us in Rome at 10 am, 3 o’clock in the morning my time, and the whole day is ahead of us.

Because of Cassandra with Travel Italian Style, we had a driver waiting for us at the airport, ready to take us directly to our hotel. Normally, we would hire a taxi or take the train. 

Our rooms were ready, so we could leave our luggage, get out of the grubby clothes we’d worn all day and night, freshen up a bit and head on for a day of exploration. On some trips we arrive so tired we take a nap first. For that reason, (and because there are times the flights don’t arrive when expected) we never make specific plans or pay ahead for tours on the first day. This time, all four of us were wide awake and ready to go.

Let me tell you a little about European hotels. Especially in crowded historical cities, they won’t be like what we are used to at home. The rooms tend to be tiny, but clean and tastefully decorated. You may or may not have a bathroom in your room. You may or may not have air condition. Especially if you are staying in an older building—which I think is an amazing part of the experience (three to five hundred-year-old buildings are common place!) They have to make do with the space they have.

In this particular hotel I had clicked on the link of a room with a private bath. We did have a private bath. It was just two hallways away. This can be quite inconvenient for a middle age woman who drinks water like a fish. (Gotta keep that kidney healthy!) Lesson learned: En suite means the bath is in your room, private is not.

You know the saying, “When in Rome…” Adapt to your location and your trip will be a pleasure. Please don’t be like the other American couple in our hotel, loudly declaring (making a scene) how the place was totally inadequate and miserable. People like that embarrass me, and always seem to come from my home country. Our hotel wasn’t the Ritz, but neither was the price.

Don’t get me wrong. In past trips we’ve stayed in remarkably spacious and marble lined rooms for quite the budget price. Those, however, would be rare in a place like downtown Rome where space is limited, and demand is high. I’m happy with clean, safe, and centrally located.

We took off down angled and ancient roads to find we were only a few blocks from the Spanish Steps.

At the top of the steps is Trinitá dei Monti (Trinity of the Mountain) church, its grand white façade dominates the view from below. Along the wall in front of the church you get a magnificent view of the city below. The area is crowded with vendors trying to sell selfie sticks, hats, and flowers. We’ve learned to avoid eye contact with any of them. The moment they see you looking at their wares, they surround and hound you.

“A rose for you!” One man shoved a pretty red rose in my face. “No.” I walked past without glancing his way, a hand over my purse. My sister-in-law has not experienced this type of street peddling and accepted the rose. The man then approached my brother, demanding payment. The flower was beautiful and enjoyed. It also tagged my sister-in-law as a target for other peddlers. We ended up leaving it at a restaurant table later on.

The Spanish Steps were completed in 1725. After years of debate (begun as early as Pope Gregory XIII in the late 1500’s) about how to link the lower area with the church above, taking into consideration the very steep incline, a competition was held and the winning design was proposed by a little-known architect, Alessandro Specchi. The terraced design seamlessly flows down from the mountaintop church to the piazza at the base.

The Piazza di Spagna displays a Baroque fountain shaped like a boat (aptly named Fontana della Barcaccia—The boat fountain) and is said to have been built by Pietro Bernini, father of the better known sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

From here we wandered on and discovered the towering Doric column of Marcus Aurelius featuring an intricate spiral relief telling the stories of Aurelius’ wars and victories throughout his life. Inside is a staircase reaching to the top platform. Needless to say, access to this staircase is no longer available to the public.

As we walked, my eye caught a glimpse of a small church tucked between buildings. It looked old, and I love old churches, so we ducked in to have a peek. What a delight! 

Chiesa di Sant´ Ignazio di Loyola, The Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola. This Baroque style jewel was built in the 1600’s by the Jesuit architect Giovanni Tristano for use by the Collegio Romano. Its design is the typical Roman Cross, with numerous side chapels and Corinthian pilasters ringing the interior. It is the dome ceiling that will take your breath away.

Tucked into a small chapel near the front of the church, a nativity was displayed. I found it fascinating in its details, particularly in the setting placement of Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus within a very medieval village. (Zoom in and check out the clothes.)

Just down from St. Ignatius’ we found crowds of people in the piazza outside of the Pantheon. Originally a Greek temple, and later converted into a Christian church, the Pantheon was built in 113-125 AD. With granite Corinthian columns (quarried in Egypt) holding up the front portico, it is an awe-inspiring façade that gives little clue as to the even greater magnificence of the interior. It remains one of the best preserved of all the ancient Roman buildings.

Walking through the vestibule you see original beams looming above your head. You can just imagine the millions of people who have stood in this same location for the past two thousand years.

Inside is the famed rotunda under a coffered concrete dome with an oculus (eye- or circular opening) open to the sky. Studied by architects and artists for generations, this was unique even in Roman architecture. It is still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome with a diameter of 43 meters (142 ft.)

Since the oculus is open to the sky, rain is free to come in, so drains are built into the floor. The opening also allows sunlight to beam through, and along with the entry door were the only original sources of light.

The dome features sunken panels evenly spaced in rings, giving a contrasting pattern of squares and circles that is beautifully discordant.

Evening was close, so we continued our exploration, this time in search of food. Not hard to do, seeing as we were in Italy. Along the way we found some ruins currently under excavation. To our delight, we discovered that at the base where the Roman Umbrella Pine currently stands is the site where Julius Caesar was assassinated by the Roman Senators on the Ides of March, 44 BC.

History surrounds us.

We stopped for a refreshing drink from one of many fountains still supplied with water from ancient aqueducts. Once our thirst was quenched, we found dinner. Then back to our hotel where we tried to get our circadian rhythms to cooperate with Roman time.

More on Rome with “Rome, Day 2” coming up!

Until then, Keep on smiling!


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