Rome Days 3 and 4

Rome Day 3

We’re in Florence and here I am just starting on Rome days 3 and 4. I’ll try to get better at this. I think leaving Rome will help. Rome is so huge and bustling, that you’re tempted to always do one more thing, because there’s always one more great thing to do and you can’t possibly do them all–especially in four days.

Well, life is trade-offs, and we had to make one on Thursday. We had originally planned to go to the Colosseum and Forum on Wednesday afternoon, then take the train to Ostia Antica on Thursday morning to see more Roman ruins. (Ostia Antica is sort of a mini-Pompeii, just a half-hour train ride from Rome. But we didn’t manage to get to the Colosseum on Wednesday so we decided to go Thursday morning instead. The Colosseum is just a short walk from our hotel, so we ran the gauntlet of selfie-stick sellers and fake gladiators to start there. We used our Roma Pass to skip the ticket lines and listened to a Rick Steves audio tour on our phones to get a sense of the history and what went on here. The Steves audio tours are much like the TV show–lots of good information and a bit hokey. They’re not as good as a well-done guided tour, but they’re way better than trying to go it alone with just a book, and they’re free!

While there were lots of people, the Colosseum is big, so I never felt claustrophobic or jostled. From there, we made our way across the street to the Forum. We did another audio tour there. One point it made was that the population of Rome dropped from over a million at its peak during the empire to as low as 30,000 during the Middle Ages. I found myself wondering what those few people, living in the ruins of imperial splendor only a few generations later, thought of what had come before.

After the Forum, we walked back to our hotel, stopping in Monti for lunch. After a rest, we walked to Isola Tiberina to do a geocache, then to dinner at Osteria Ponte Sisto, where we had some great saltimbocca (veal topped with prosciutto).

Rome Day 4

We were up very early to do a “beat the crowds” tour of the Sistine Chapel and Vatican Museum. We left the hotel by 6:40 and made it to the meeting place 10 minutes early, enough time to have a cappuccino before starting. Our guide Maria was fantastic and we got to spend a half hour in the chapel with a limited number of people. Any commentary from me would superfluous, so I’ll refrain, but I really enjoyed it. We then toured other parts of the museum, which has something like six miles of corridors, so the tour had an unavoidable whirlwind quality. In addition, the crowds in the museum by now were huge. In places it was hard to move around.

We finished up back in the Sistine Chapel, which was now much more crowded. We then took the “back door” which brought us to the entrance to St. Peter’s, having skipped the security line, which wrapped three quarters of the way around the square! The interior of St. Peter’s was awe-inspiring. Our guided tour ended outside of St. Peter’s, so we listened to another Rick Steves audio tour. It emphasized how much the architecture tried to make it seem smaller than it actually is. For example the statues higher up the pillars are larger than those below, which makes them look the same size from the floor, rather than perspective making them seem far away.

After eating lunch, we headed towards the Metro, intending to head to Borghese Gardens (a large park) to spend a couple hours taking it easy before our Borghese Gallery tour at 5. Unfortunately, the fates (in the guise of the Rome transport workers union) intervened. The Metro had gone on strike. Evidently this is a regular occurrence, scheduled in advance, but we had missed the memo. In this case, the strike was from 8:30 am to 6:30 pm–convenient for commuters, but not for us. Buses and trams were still running and, thanks to transit directions in Google Maps, we figured out how take a tram to near the gallery.

We arrived early enough for Anne to do a few geocaches on our walk through the gardens, and to meet geocachers from Slovakia and Germany while doing so.

The Borghese Gallery was wonderful–the highlight so far for me. They require reservations, and strictly limit the number, so the experience was much better than at many of the other museums we’ve visited. We rented the audioguide, which I’d highly recommend. The museum is divided into rooms, and the commentary focuses on one or two items in each–just the thing for people like us who aren’t knowledgeable about these things. The sculptures on the first floor were the highlight (especially some of the Berninis, like Apollo and Daphne), but there were a number of paintings we liked in the Pinocateca upstairs. The reservation limits your visit to two hours and it was possible to go through the whole museum in that time, although it certainly would have been possible to spend more.

We made it back to our hotel by eight (the Metro was running again) and ate a quick but good dinner at Da Valentino, a local place across the street from our hotel. This was our last day in Rome–we had to leave for Florence in the morning.

In retrospect, we were overly optimistic about how much we could see in four days, but the positive was we adjusted on the fly and managed to see and do lots of things without killing ourselves. And, we have a list of things to do on future trips.

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