Vatican City at Night

All Roads Lead To Rome

If all roads lead to Rome, nowadays you could also say that all European cruises start from Rome. Well, maybe not all – but a good many of the cruise ships use this port of call as a starting point for their Mediterranean voyages.  At least, this was the case on our cruise aboard Celebrity Cruise Lines ship, Silhouette.  The Silhouette is one of five ships in their newest Solstice Class – a group of sleek, modern ships with a heavy emphasis on style and dining.  The ship and the cruise did not disappoint.  We had many ports of call and a lot of wonderful activities that I’d like to write about, so let’s start at the beginning…

A wonderful statue stands outside the port of our ship
We arrived in Rome two days ahead of our ship’s departure to explore the city’s history, experience the cuisine and absorb the magic of a place you absolutely must see in your lifetime.  Two days is barely enough time to scratch the surface, but we did our best to fit in as much as possible.  On this blog, I’ll often write about a city’s history before detailing our adventures.  The history of Rome is so storied and captivating, that a single paragraph couldn’t possibly do it justice.  Instead, I invite you to click on this link to read about Rome and this link to read about Ancient Rome.  Or get off the internet and pick up a book (but not until you finish reading my blog post)!
A view of Rome – Altare della Patria stands prominently above the rest of the city
After living in Italy for nearly a year, we are still learning travel tips on a constant basis.  A new lesson you may be surprised to learn (and one that could possibly be applied to real life) – procrastination doesn’t pay.  Even though I knew our travel dates, I waited months to reserve our train tickets.  I paid roughly €80 for two tickets from Milano to Roma on the express train (a great price), but more than triple that amount on the way back – they only had first class seats available. Suggestion – if you know your dates, book early!  Better suggestion – if you have flexibility in your dates, book your train first and then schedule everything around it (for example, I could have stayed an extra night in Rome for the difference in train fare).  Additionally, go talk to someone at the ticket counter (most of them speak English).  They often have access to fares that are different (and better) than the kiosks.  If you travel from Milano to Roma, book aboard the velocità alta (high speed train), which whisks you across the country at a remarkable 300km per hour, delivering you in just over three hours.
We arrived in Rome just after lunch and went immediately from our hotel to Città del Vaticano (Vatican City), thereby entering a country not apart of Italy.  The city-state is sovereign territory of roughly 110 acres entirely enclosed behind large ancient walls.  The city boasts a population of around 840 people, making it the world’s smallest internationally recognized independent nation in terms of both size and population.  As they say, good things come in small packages.  We opted to join a tour group, since there is so much to see and do inside the city walls.  The tour included the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel and Saint Peter’s Basilica – the three main attractions in the city.
Saint Peter’s Square at night – shown here are the Basilica and the obelisk
We started in the Vatican Museums, a collection of buildings that hold some of the world’s most priceless and inspiring works of art.  My camera was smoking from staying on overdrive.  In 2011 over five million people visited the museums founded by Pope Julius II in the early 16th century [source].  Our tour included passage through the Borgias’ house; family of the controversial Pope Callixtus III, popularized by the hit Showtime series, The Borgias.

Just hanging out with my pal, Augustus  – “hmm, I like his hair… but he needs a beard”
Amazing works of art carved from marble greet us in the entryway
Laocoön and His Sons excavated in Rome in 1506
The piece is dated between 200 BC and 70 AD
An example of the French painting style, trompe-l’œi (deceive the eye) – the image appears three-dimensional
Central portion of the tapestry, The Resurrection of Jesus 
Eye-popping ceiling in the impressive Galleria delle Carte Geografiche (Gallery of Maps)
Jen stops for a photo

Next, we walked into the adjoining Sistine Chapel.  On the tour, we learned that the Sistine Chapel is the largest chapel in the world.  A chapel, practically by definition is a small place of worship (either freestanding or attached to a larger church).  This is significant because the papal conclave (the sequestering of cardinals when electing a new Pope) is held in the Sistine Chapel (as opposed to the more spacious Basilica, next door).  Inside the basilica, Michelangelo’s Last Judgement monopolizes the back wall, while the even more famous Creation of Adam rests prominently in the center of the ceiling.  Words cannot describe the feeling that washes over you as you sit in such a historically significant place.  The amazing frescoes inspire images of Michelangelo, resting on his back atop scaffolding and slowly painting each section, a brush in one hand and a candle in the other.

The most iconic portion of Michelangelo’s ceiling in the Sistine Chapel, The Creation of Adam

As the sun set on our tour, we visited Saint Peter’s Basilica, one of the largest churches in the world. The church sits in the center of St. Peter’s Square, which is flanked by large rounded colonnades – intentionally reaching out like long arms embracing visitors.  From an aerial perspective, you’ll see that the church itself is designed in the shape of the cross, while the entire square resembles a keyhole (echoing Saint Peter’s role as holder of keys to heaven).

A beautiful blue night’s sky had settled over St. Peter’s Basilica
Pietà, also by Michelangelo

While our appetites for spiritual enlightenment had been quenched, our appetite for food was ravishing.  We found a wonderful place, Gusto Forno and went in for dinner.  What we found was even better – a happy hour with a buffet included in the price of your drink.  And the drinks were magical!  The bar-genius, Nina had created a cocktail inspired by a margherita pizza.  Sounds weird, but the result was nothing short of fabulous.  If you’re in Rome, stop by and see her.

I take a picture with our wonderful waitress and the fabulous bartender, Nina
Nina’s creation – the Pizza Margherita cocktail
Some of the buffet that was included with the order of a cocktail

Before the night was over, we stopped by Scalinata della Trinità dei Monti (Spanish Steps).  Of course, no visit to Rome would be complete without throwing a coin over your shoulder (guaranteeing your return to the city) in the Fontana di Trevi (Trevi Fountain).

Scalinata della Trinità dei Monti (Spanish Steps)
Julia on the Spanish Steps
Fontana di Trevi (Trevi Fountain) at night
This magnificent fountain stands 86 ft. high
Julia gives her momma a hug
Jen and Julia in front of the Trevi Fountain
Family photo
Julia wanted to go for a swim
Julia gets ready to toss her coin and ensure her return to Rome
Italian architect Nicola Salvi lost the original contest to design the fountain, but was awarded the commission anyway due to public outcry in Rome that a Florentine (Alessandro Galilei) had won – a fortunate turn of events

As it turns out, two days in Rome is too action packed to fit into one post – so I’ll continue in a subsequent posting.  Ciao for now!

When In Rome...
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