Saturday, September 3, 2011

When in Rome.......

Friday, May 27, 2011:

Our hotel, Caesar House, is incredibly charming in a bed and breakfast sort of fashion. Attached to a chain that hangs on our door is a leather packet containing a sheet where we are to indicate our choices for the breakfast to be delivered to our room. Last night we were so tired that we neglected to mark the time for delivery, and the packet was returned with an inquiry regarding our desired time. We designated 8:00 a.m. and quickly returned the packet to the outside of our door.

Sharon and I are sharing the room named Livia, while Laura and Marianne are in the space called Claudia. Standard fare on the list of breakfast choices are croissants and breads with jams, as well as other items such as yogurt, cereal, fruit, etc., and this is included in our room price. The mini-bar is also complimentary and is stocked with waters and sodas.

We had just finished showering, dressing and pulling ourselves together when a smiling young man named Summy knocked on our door to deliver breakfast. It turned out to be perfect timing.

Today's 9:00 a.m. tour was entitled Ancient Rome, and our guide was Hilde. She spoke in a very soothing tone and had a small microphone, so she could easily be heard and understood. She provided great information as we toured the Coliseum and surrounding ruins of historical note. Of significance to us were the general architecture and engineering during ancient times, hearing the history of Nero and other notables, how extravagantly they lived, how they were able to build such massive structures, the enormity of the Coliseum and monuments, the fact that they had developed rudimentary elevators, and that they had actually built a retractable covering for the entire opening at the top of the Coliseum to offer protection from the burning sun--their own version of a canopy. We were told that most of the women sat in the far upper areas of the Coliseum, as the sights were considered too gruesome for them to view from a closer vantage point.

The stone streets in the area of the Coliseum are original and have been preserved because the stones are actually huge boulders with tremendous depth. They appear to be smaller stones because we can only see the exposed surfaces. We wondered about the individuals who had walked these same streets back in the olden days--even before Christ was born.

Roman history tells us that the city originated on the Palatine Hill. It was a village with shepherds and farmers around 753 BC. Today, it is a hectic city, buzzing with taxis, scooters and small vehicles maneuvering along the narrow streets and bursting with an enormous volume of tourists and locals sharing the same sidewalks. With much to see and only a few days to spend here, the local tours that Marianne has booked for us through Angel Tours are worth every penny. They provided an excellent overview of many "must see" sights.

It requires some imagination to visualize Rome in its heyday, but multiple gargantuan columns and/or portions of columns still stand and provide a basis for the picture in our minds. Hilde explained that not only are these sites in ruin due to earthquakes and wars, but that the Romans themselves took materials from these locations for the purpose of creating buildings in other parts of Rome. For instance, many of the stones from the facade of the Coliseum were used in the construction of St. Peter's Basilica.

Walking by the Arch of Constantine and hearing that it was inaugurated in 315 AD brings to mind the complexity of comprehending the ages of these buildings and sites. I found it difficult to wrap my pea brain around viewing these architectural wonders which have managed to remain in place, many of which depict particular life events of ancient inhabitants. To think that we are seeing exactly what these people saw and walking where they walked is almost a supernatural sensation. It makes us realize that preserved sites in the United States that we consider old are actually brand spanking new by comparison.

One of my favorite acquisitions is a photo book entitled Rome and the Vatican, which tells us that the Pantheon was originally built by Marcus Agrippa in honor of Augustus a few years before the birth of Christ. Many famous artists are buried there, as well as notable Roman family members. Walking through the Pantheon and visually grasping everything would require far more time than we are allotted on the tour, and I can easily see why people would plan to spend a month or more in Rome to take it in slowly, carefully studying the history and soaking it all in.

The portico of the Pantheon is supported by huge columns of stone weighing 60 tons! Each column is thirty-nine feet tall and five feet in diameter. The stone was quarried in Egypt, brought to the Nile River on wooden sledges, barged to Alexandria, sent by ships across the Mediterranean to Ostia and finally brought to Rome via the Tiber River by barge. We felt like ants standing beside them.

The Forum is in the center of ancient Rome, where activities included religion, politics and commerce. One has to imagine the great orators of those times, standing there in their full length robes to announce their official communications to the public. The Curia, which was able to seat three hundred senators, those massive columns and remaining stone work actually deserve far more time and consideration than we are afforded on this trip.

Following the tour, we enjoyed lunch at a cafe directly across the street from the Coliseum. It was fabulous to sit for a while, as benches and other seating are rare unless you are willing to park your bottom on a dusty, dirty step. Even that isn't always a good idea because you would probably be sitting where people are trying to walk, something they might not appreciate. While we were waiting for our lunch orders to arrive, I took the opportunity to dash into an adjacent gift shop and purchase post cards for my adorable grandchildren, Gabriella, Alexandria and Nicholas. They used to love visiting a store named Ten Thousand Villages, where the merchandise was made in remote foreign lands, so I knew they would enjoy receiving cards from Italy and seeing the unfamiliar postage. Sharon had done the same for her grandchildren, Ella and Logan, when we were in Florence, so I already knew the ropes for obtaining the postage.

In the gift shop, I had an interesting conversation with the owner, who was selling copies of a book that he had published. It was his autobiography, and we chatted about the importance of preserving our stories. He asked me if I could translate his book into English, but unfortunately, speaking, writing and reading Italian are not skills that I possess or I would have loved to work with him.

After lunch, we spent the afternoon exploring the shops and also getting our bearings. Marianne found a beautiful dress and matching shawl, and Laura bought a gorgeous skirt. Prices were surprisingly reasonable. We were then trying to locate a restroom and resorted to an Italian Burger King. Laura and I sat for a few minutes, enjoyed beverages and passed the time while Marianne and Sharon stood in a very long line of both men and women who were waiting to use the one single unisex restroom. Just the thought prevented me from feeling the urge to go.

We had essentially walked all day long, and there are an excessive number of steps to navigate in Rome, so we retreated to Caesar House to relax for a little while. We are quite fond of this hotel, as it offers only six guest rooms, and the service is very personal. Rosanna is delightfully personable and eager to help us in any way. We met a nice couple from Ohio, who are staying in the room across from Sharon and me, and there is a lovely sitting room directly off the front desk area where people can use the guest computer, sit around and read or chat with other guests. Caesar House provides many local guide and travel books for the guests to borrow, as well as their personal recommendations relative to sightseeing and restaurants.

Choosing Iari Bar for dinner because it was directly around the corner from our hotel, we encountered yet another couple from Ohio. Is there anyone still remaining in Ohio? We have also noticed that, as in Florence and Sorrento, people leave their windows wide open with no screens--just breathing in the fresh air. There don't seem to be any insects present to dissuade this practice. We were surprised to also see this being done at office buildings where officials and politicians were at work. It is just so foreign to us because of the number of mosquitoes and other flying insects we encounter living in the eastern region of the United States. If we sat outdoors during the evening without the protection of a screened in area where we live, the insects would carry us away. Not so in the regions of Italy that we have visited.

Tomorrow we are scheduled for an afternoon tour of the Vatican, Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's Basilica, so we retired to our hotel after dinner, indicated our breakfast choices and time of delivery for tomorrow, placed the chained selection packet on the outside door knob and proceeded to sleep like bricks.

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