WHEN IN ROME...
"You won't need your rain jacket, " Brent suggests, while I attempt to close my overflowing suitcase. "Rome's having a heat wave." Although my travel-savvy hubby just has a carry-on, in hindsight, it might have been better to remove my sunglasses instead.
Whatever the weather, the Eternal City doesn't disappoint. Accompanied by friends, Don and Sue Fisher, we're good at going with the flow.
With our seventy-two hour Roma Pass and one day Omina Card, we save on museum admissions, skip the bulging line-ups and rest our damp feet while riding the buses. Come along with us on this two day exploration and discover why this city is consistently ranked a top European destination, rain or shine!
Our centralized boutique hotel, Albergo delle Regioni, is a quick kilometre away from Rome's iconic Colosseum. As well as reduced rates, our pass offers free admission into any two museums. Because this is one of the more popular venues, it's our first go-to. And by pre-reserving our entrance time we bypass the masses.
With ear buds inserted and audio sets on, we get the full scoop of this architectural wonder, also once known as the Flavian Amphitheatre. The open arena, constructed between 70-80 AD, is comparable in height to a twelve-story building and could easily host a football game. At its peak, 80,000 attendees were entertained by gladiator battles, wild animal hunts and executions. "It was also filled with water for naval ship battles," my husband explains as we prepare to exit the expansive oval. With just the mention of water, the ominous clouds above open and precipitation begins. Up go umbrellas, on go raingear. I join the throngs who have left their treasured jackets at home and slip on my recently-purchased blue plastic poncho.
But by the time we get to the adjacent Roman Forum, the rain has stopped. My new garment is gleefully stashed in my backpack.
This impressive labyrinth of ruins was once the heart of the city's social, political, and religious life. We read placards on the lower level depicting the historical remains, take a staircase to flourishing gardens where a line-up of photo-worthy headless statues pose amongst blooms, and finally ascend Palantine Hill. From our panoramic perch, we're utterly awestruck, envisioning what it would have been like in ancient times.
Threads of the past weave along the cobblestone streets and into the many squares of this amazing city. Statues, obelisks and monuments commemorate heroes of long ago. Detailed churches and cathedrals offer a place for daily prayer. And snuggled in-between are gelato parlours, pizzerias, shops and sidewalk cafes.
Soon after getting to our next attraction, my poncho's back on. Fortunately the highlights are primarily indoors. The Pantheon's magnificent dome, constructed in 27 BC by Agrippa, was rebuilt in the 2nd century AD, then again during the Renaissance. It was dedicated to the gods and is the tomb for Italian kings and renowned artist, Raphael.
"The only natural light comes through that small opening," Brent says, while pointing to the eight-meter-wide oculus in this beauty's crown. "And when it rains, the slanted floors drain any water away." Today, we see that there's truth to this fact! But rays of light also stream into these interiors. They wash over gleaming marble, intricate stone patterns and famous art works. I gaze around at this incredible dome, ranked one of the finest worldwide. Favoloso! Although we clearly don't need to witness more water today, with over two thousand fountains throughout this capital, it's impossible not to.
The popular Trevi Fountain, and final attraction today, was constructed in 1762, and honours the Roman God, Oceanus who, while poised on his seahorse-powered chariot, is untied by two Tritons. We join the hordes in a good luck mission by throwing a coin over our shoulder into the frothy flow and making a wish. The weather Gods immediately come to the call and out pops the sun. Magico!
"Better take your poncho again," Fabio, our hotel host suggests, when serving breakfast. "We're expecting another deluge." I think about yesterday's coin toss and wonder why my wish was so short-lived. At least we'll stay dry during this morning's tour.
The Vatican is a small country within a country and operates as an ecclesiastical state, ruled by the Pope. The Sistine Chapel and Vatican Museum are located within the its walls, as is St Peter's Basilica. With our Omina Card, admission is free and we can, once again, bypass the massive line-ups.
This impressive 23,000 square-meter structure, completed in 1633, is the largest and probably most opulent churches in the world. Designed by renowned architects, it features works of art by Michelangelo, Bramante and Maderno.
We follow our flagged guide gazing wide-eyed as he provides the scoop on many of the masterpieces; a bronze canopy by Bernini, a stoic statue of St Peter, the famous Michelangelo sculpture, Pietà, depicting the crucified body of Jesus on the lap of his mother, Mary. I'm moved by this art piece and surprised when I discover that Michelangelo was only 24 years old when he sculpted it—clearly an artistic genius!
The sun is miraculously shining after we exit St Peter's Square and there is time for one final venue. "How about more artwork?" I ask the group. "It's a four kilometre trek, but the Borghese Gallery gets rave reviews. And we save with our Roma Passes."
We could take a bus but the forty-five minute sunny stroll is unanimously pleasing. We refuel at a quaint sidewalk eateries then detour for a photo moment on the famous Spanish Steps. The hundred and thirty-five risers, completed in 1726, bridge the gap from the hill-perched Church of the Trinità dei Monti to the Piazza di Spagna below. "No loitering," Brent informs. "Or we'll be fined!"
There's no time for dillydallying anyway. I'm on a mission, envisioning our next highlight: sculptures by Bernini, paintings by Titian, Rubens, Raphael and so many more. I just hope there's enough time to soak it all in.
The gallery's located in Villa Borghese, one of the city's largest parks where there are bikes to rent and benches to relax. It's an inviting reprieve from the previous crowds. "Strange that it's not busier, " I comment, when arriving at the mansion that houses the gallery. "There's not even a line-up." We soon discover why when reading the business hours. Closed Mondays! And guess what day it is?
"No worries," Brent says. "Let's check out this lovely landmass another way."
With a little pedal power, we're soon tootling along sunny trails that weave throughout these grounds on our bicycle built for four. It's a fun grand finale of our two-day stay in Rome. And one that doesn't require raingear. Before we leave I give thanks to the weather gods and say farewell to my blue plastic poncho.
IF YOU GO
Photos by Jane & Brent Cassie
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