Posted by: rkurzweil | 01/21/2010

Rome – the Eternal City

Trevi Fountain

Ah, Rome. I have now been twice and I find myself completely captivated by this city. With every step you take in this enchanting place, the winds of history blow all around you. You can feel the people that have lived here over the millennia. It is an electrifying and exhilarating place.

I don’t know that I have been anywhere else (as an adult, anyways) that has so much history. Walking by the Circus Maximus, it does not take much to imagine the races that took place there in the first century. Walking by the Arch of Titus, I feel the history of Titus’ conquest of Jerusalem and destruction of the Temple in 70 AD. (Until the modern State of Israel was born, the Jews of Rome would not even walk through this arch).

Walking in the Colosseum is especially poignant. This remnant of a 50,000 seat stadium is possibly my favorite building in the world. I only went inside the Colosseum once, but I have walked around it dozens of times. It still thrills me each time I see it. It is such an amazing tribute to the Ancient Romans. To think that this building has been standing there for nearly 2000 years – it’s just incredible. And I think of the events that took place in this stadium – naval demonstrations, sporting events, gladiator fights, feeding Christians to the lions… It was definitely a focal point for Roman culture in its day.

Colosseum

The first time I went to Rome, we were staying near the Termini train station. We got on the subway and saw a stop named Colosseo. I figured this was near the Colosseum, so we went there. Coming out of the stop, the Colosseum is literally right in front of you. It was early evening and we had the place to ourselves. It was glorious. We went back the next day to see it in daytime. What a difference. It was hot and crowded, but still quite spectacular.

Near the Colosseum is the rest of the Ancient city – the Roman Forum, Titus and Constantine’s Arches, and various other ruins. There was a major difference between our first trip (in 1997) and our last trip (in November of 2009). They are now charging to enter the Forum and the rest of the Ancient City. We got to walk around the whole area in 1997 with very few other people around us. This last time, the place was mobbed (and we were not even there in season). I guess I cannot begrudge them charging for access, as long as the entrance fees are used to maintain the site.

Constantine's Arch

In our last trip, we stayed at a place through our timeshare called the Palazzo al Velabro. It is just a block from the Circus Maximus and is only a 10 minute or so walk from the Ancient City. I got to say that I am LOVING my timeshare. We have now used it in Hawaii, Madrid, Florence and Rome, and all of the accommodations have been great! The only complaint I had with the Velabro is that the internet access cost about $30 a day (yes – per day!!).

Of course, one of the highlights of visiting Rome is going to the Vatican. Again, we saw a huge difference between our 1997 and 2009 visits. They have now put up metal detectors that everyone must pass through before entering either St. Peter’s or the Vatican Museum. St Peter’s Square also has large screens in it and even some advertising billboards (can you believe it?!). Again, I understand the need for added security and have no problem with it. It is well worth the minor hassle. St. Peter’s Basilica is probably the most beautiful building in the world. I am always moved when I go in. In our first trip to Rome, we made sure to come to St. Peter’s on the day that the Pope does his blessing over the Square. The Pope at the time was John Paul II, who as Popes go, was a pretty admirable man. You can even arrange to attend a mass with the Pope, but we did not do that on either visit.

Me at St Peter's Square

The Vatican Museums defy description. There is so much art and sculpture everywhere that it becomes sensory overload. Then there is the magnificent Sistine Chapel. I did not get there in my last visit, but if you have never been and you are going to be in Rome, it is not to be missed.

One of the most interesting things about Rome is the Romans themselves. They are beautiful people, but also can be quite gruff and rude, and very self-absorbed. I know this could be said for a lot of people and groups of people, but it seems to be especially true in Rome. One of the things that all Romans get used to is the constant interruptions of demonstrations and work stoppages. On both of our trips to Rome, there were frequent interruptions of the subway lines and trains due to these demonstrations. So it is kind of a crapshoot as to whether you will be able to use the subway.

Another treat in Greater Rome is visiting the catacombs. We took a bus out to where they are and then you can go on a guided tour. You wouldn’t want to go without a guide because it is very easy to get lost. The passages go on and on and there are graves that date back to the 2nd century AD. It is also very cool in the catacombs. So if you are visiting in the heat of the summer, it is a welcome respite. You can also walk on the nearby Appian Way, a marvel of Roman technology.

About an hour’s train ride from Rome is Naples, gateway to Pompeii and Herculaneum. We made the mistake of going on a regular train, as opposed to the Eurostar. The regular train takes much longer than an hour, is not air conditioned, and does not have assigned seating. The Eurostar is a high speed train that is quite comfortable and quick. It costs a little more, but it is well worth the difference. (The regular train from Rome to Naples is 2 ½ hours.) We decided to go to Herculaneum instead of Pompeii (I always like to take the road “less traveled,” so to speak. It is very captivating and more than a little eerie to visit this city which was buried by an eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. The eruption created a layer of ash which covered both Herculaneum and Pompeii, thereby preserving the existing state of both cities and giving us today an incredible glimpse of what life was like at the time.

Major Synagogue

Another interesting thing that we did was to visit the Jewish Synagogue. While there, we learned a lot about the history of the Roman Jews from the time of Christ up to today. There is a great Jewish Museum attached to the Synagogue. The tour of Jewish Rome takes you into the current Synagogue, as well as what remains from 5 much older synagogues. Again, the difference between our 1997 visit and 2009 visit was amazing. It is much more organized now. It is definitely worth your time if you have any interest in Jewish history.

Of course, no discussion of Rome could be complete without talking about the food. Having been in Florence, Naples, Venice and Rome, I can say with confidence that Rome has the best food in the country. Everywhere you go seems to be amazing. It is very hard to have a bad meal there. Often you will see the fresh vegetables being gathered from baskets at the front of a restaurant to be used in the cooking. Be adventurous and try things other than pizza and pasta – it is worth the effort.

All in all, Rome is a captivating city. I hope I will have the chance to go back again in the future.

To see some of my pictures from Rome, click here.

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