“We came to Rome because we’d always regret it if we didn’t, because every timidity eventually turns into regret.” Anthony Doerr, Four Seasons in Rome
All roads lead to Rome
Travel is about experience and personal experience is hard to share. Experiences, I have found, are not transferable.
Still, the traveler seeks to share his or hers anyway.
My adventure started and ended in Rome, only it’s not fair to say I actually saw Rome the first time through simply because I had to go through Rome in order to arrive at my initial destination.
But I wound up back in Rome before flying home.
“A Dweam within a Dweam” (The Princess Bride)
But wait a minute. Why did I go to Italy in the first place? Well, someone asked me to go. Someone else encouraged me to take advantage of this particular opportunity to go with this particular group of seminary students. Hey, I like to learn.
And, I have always wanted to visit Italy.
It was in my genes––not jeans. When I was 27-years-old my mother (in a hyper-emotional state) bothered to tell me that my father was Italian.
Really? Like 100% Italian? Yeah. Oh, and he looked like Ira Levin. Great.
So who’s the guy I thought was my dad?
Well, I will have to save that story for another day.
A Roman Holiday, not exactly
These feet were made for walkin’ and it’s a good thing because more than a few days I walked upwards of 26,000 steps and up as many as 55 flights of stairs in one day. That, according to my FitBit watch. But I have made up for it since I got home. A good day here is over 5,000.
While in Rome, I did manage to visit the Spanish Steps, the Pantheon, the Colosseum, Vatican City with its museums that house over 3 miles of artwork, St. Peter’s Cathedral, and other major sites via a tour bus ride. Best of all was the basilica of St. Peter in Chains (San Pietro In Vincoli), a tucked-away place I discovered when looking for Michelangelo’s statue of Moses.
The Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Cathedral
So, the Vatican … unless like Calvin said to Hobbes, “I must obey the inscrutable exhortation of my soul,” then I say, don’t go to the Vatican. At least not during peak tourist season, which for me was the end of May.
On the Green Line Vatican tour I took, the Italian guide said as we approached the Vatican, “It is the smallest country in the world. And the richest. It’s business, of course, comes from its many visitors.”
Not tourists, but visitors. Of whom, I am now one among the legions who come from all over the world to be herded like cattle through rooms where the heads or bodies of other people appear in nearly every photo, and in the Sistine Chapel where photos are not allowed, groups are given maybe 10 minutes to move from door In to door Out, craning to see the famous ceiling painted by Michelangelo–– painting that took him over 4 years to complete.
I can say I saw it. But did I really? The Sistine Chapel is where I most would have liked to take pictures.
Buy the book. View this incomparable art online. As good as it gets.
The crowds, the clamor and the inability to appreciate even one piece of art displayed in the museums demolished that experience for me.
Taking a tip from Fodor’s guide, I did manage to write postcards to send from Vatican City in order to get the postmark from the smallest country in the world. Postage was 2.4 Euros each.
This is my favorite picture taken inside the Vatican. These are the steps that important visitors ascend to see the Pope inside the Sistine Chapel. It just so happened that I was able to get the shot before the crowds spilled out of the door, descending to the next station of the tour.
And then too it rained the day I went to the Vatican.
And I was by myself. Or rather, alone among strangers.
Imagine these seats filled with people.
Celebrities come and go.
A sacred experience …
Thanks to a city map app I downloaded, I was able to find my way, a 20-minute walk from my hotel. By myself. Again.
Entering the church, fewer than 20 people were inside and that number dwindled to maybe 6 or 7 before I left.
Creator and his creation
Unlike viewing the David in Florence, I felt close enough to this statue to imagine the living, breathing person, Moses, and to imagine the skill and care of the artist, Michelangelo, to translate the Bible’s words into stone.
See the light? See the white? Though plain on the outside, this church is beautiful inside. Open space. Room to breathe.
Suddenly Rome took on a rich patina and being here was enough.
Here’s what Anthony Doerr wrote about the Pantheon:
” … When you first see it, the Pantheon is about wonder. You walk through the gigantic doorway and your attention is sucked upward to a circle of the sky. A filtering haze floats inside; a column of light strikes through the oculus and leans against the floor. The space is both intimate and explosive: your humanity is not diminished in the least, and yet simultaneously the Pantheon forces you to pay attention to the fact that the world includes things far greater than yourself …
Nineteen hundred years: invading armies, executions and sacraments, the temple’s foundations sliding in the marshy ground, countless houses rising and falling all around, the Tiber flooding it three or four times a year for centuries––and yet, here it stands.
I am a sheet of film in a pinhole camera; I am the fetus in the womb. Particles of dust swim in the sunlight. Something in my chest unwinds, something blooms.
Three and a half million people visit the Pantheon every year …”
“When you see the Pantheon for the first time, your mind caves in.”Anthony Doerr, Four Seasons in Rome
Yes, in Rome I felt very small.
Souvenirs and Remembrances
I didn’t come home with much except the pictures I took. But I will remember Rome the way Bilbo Baggins, The Hobbit, said he would remember his adventures.
“And every time I look at [my pictures], I’ll remember. Remember everything that happened: the good, the bad … and how lucky I am that I made it home.”