Roaming Rome – Round Two

Debra and I, looking a bit dazed and confused from lack of sleep, but still enjoying our first evening's outing in Rome. Here we are in front of the Pantheon, originally built in 27 BC but after a couple of fires was rebuilt by Hadrian around 120 AD. Dec. 26, 2014

There is no way to take in all of Rome in a week’s time. Just like you can dig the streets of Rome and find layer upon layer of history, exploring Rome is a layered and savoring experience.

I like getting on a plane on Christmas Day and heading to a foreign country. Plus, taking the week off from work between the Christmas and New Year holidays adds more time off to my schedule without actually having to take the time off.

For some reason, I had convinced myself that going to Rome the day after Christmas and before the New Year would mean less crowds…I was wrong. Seems like Rome is the place to hang out in during the Christmas/New Year holidays because a number of people, like myself had the same idea. And, even though I expected the weather to be unpleasant, for the most part, it was quite tolerable.

This trip with my friend and travel mate, Debra Hall, brought me back to the eternal city for a second time. The travel plans were for Debra, who lives in New York and I (from Dallas) to meet in Philly on Christmas Day and fly from there to Rome together so we coordinated our ticket purchases and did just that.

This time, instead of going solo, Debra and I both signed up for the Rick Steves “Best of Rome in 7 Days,” tour from Dec. 26, 2014 to Jan. 1, 2015 with three days on our own in Florence. With the tour, we got all the highlights without having to do any of the work. It included a hotel close to the Vatican and the opportunity to visit Ancient Rome’s Colosseum, Forum, Pantheon, and nearby Ostia Antica. The Renaissance and Baroque eras, including St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel, and Borghese Gallery. We also got to see today’s Rome, with neighborhood walking tours, memorable restaurants, and time to explore on your own. From Rome, Debra and I planned three days in Florence, just a 90 minute train ride away and so worth the excursion.

We arrived in Rome the same day our Rick Steves “Rome” tour began. Since neither of us slept well on the plane, it was definitely our adrenaline and Rome’s invigorating aura that kept us going. We made it through our introductory group meeting, through our introductory group walk and even through our group dinner, but after that, we definitely hit that wall of too tired to go on.

Rome was the first city I visited on my 50th Birthday Solo Journey. A journey that was only supposed to take me to Paris, but I’m so glad I expanded my horizon and began that solo excursion in Rome. It was everything I had expected but so much more. Going back this time, included venturing to the places I had been to on my own but now I had a travel mate, a guide and a group of like-minded travelers to share in the experience.

Join along through the photos and captions.

Debra and I may have arrived at the eternal city of Rome the day after Christmas, but the beauty of the festive season was still a glow. Our U.S. Airways overnight flight from Philadelphia arrived at 9:00 a.m. at Rome’s main international airport, Fiumicino, also known as Leonardo da Vinci Airport, then take the local train “Leonardo Express” to Roma Termini and from there, a cab to our home base for the week, the Hotel Dei Consoli on Via Varrone 2d near the Vatican in Rome. Then at 3:00 p.m. we met our Rick Steves guide, Alfio di Mauro and fellow tour buddies for an orientation meeting and a chance to get acquainted before heading out to explore this magical city and have dinner together. Dec. 26, 2014
The famous Spanish Stairs in Rome filled with people all around. Dec. 26, 2014
The Fontana della Barcaccia in Piazza di Spagna at the bottom of the Spanish Stairs in Rome. Dec. 26, 2014
Debra and I, looking a bit dazed and confused from lack of sleep, but still enjoying our first evening’s outing in Rome. Here we are in front of the Pantheon, originally built in 27 BC but after a couple of fires was rebuilt by Hadrian around 120 AD. Dec. 26, 2014
The Pantheon, originally built in 27 BC but after a couple of fires was rebuilt by Hadrian around 120 AD.
Dec. 26, 2014
One of 13 obelisks in Rome…this one is close to the Pantheon. Dec. 26, 2014
Rome, it truly is the Eternal City. Although Debra and I didn’t get much sleep on the plane, our group orientation walk and “Welcome to Rome” group dinner kept us in high spirits. Inside the Church of San Luigi de Francesi by the Pantheon, is home to three original Caravagio paintings.The church is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, to St. Denis the Areopagite and St. Louis IX, king of France. Dec. 26, 2014
The Carravagio paintings inside the Church of San Luigi de Francesi by the Pantheon in Rome. Michelangelo da Caravaggio was an Italian painter, during the Baroque movement, who died at the age of 38 in 1610. The painting to the left is “The Inspiration of St. Matthew” and the one to the right is “The Martyrdom of St. Matthew.” The third painting to the extreme left, which cannot be seen in this photo is “The Calling of St. Matthew.”
A festive shopping mall, the Galleria Alberto in Rome. Dec. 26, 2014
The Fountain of the four Rivers with the Egyptian obelisk in the middle of Piazza Navona in Rome. Dec. 26, 2014
After breakfast we rode the metro back in time to Ancient Rome’s vast history. It is a city, built on top of a city that was also built on top of another city. And that’s what I saw today starting at the San Clemente basilica where the street level basilica of today is a top a pagan church built 1700 years ago which we got to tour. Add in the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, Palatine Hill and the layers of 3000 years of history run incredibly deep and wide in the Eternal City. Dec. 27, 2014
The spruced up side of the Roman Colosseum in Rome. Dec. 27, 2014
The Arena inside the Colosseum in Rome. Dec. 27, 2014
The Arena inside the Colosseum in Rome. Dec. 27, 2014
Me inside the Roman Colosseum in Rome. Dec. 27, 2014
Our fabulous city guide for the day Francesca…she really brought Rome’s history into full focus. Dec. 27, 2014
From the Roman Forum looking up to Palatine Hill in Rome. The Forum was for centuries the center of Roman public life and where many of the oldest and most important structures of the ancient city were located. Palatine Hill, which looks on the Forum, is considered one of the most ancient parts of Rome.is one of the most ancient parts of the city. Many affluent Romans of the Republican period (c.509 BC – 44 BC) had their residences there. Dec. 27, 2014
The Temple of Saturn at the Roman Forum in Rome. Dec. 27, 2014
The ancient ruins of the Roman Forum in Rome. Dec. 27, 2014
Looking up to Palatine Hill from the Roman Forum in Rome. Dec. 27, 2014
The ancient green door to the Temple of Romulus at the Roman Forum in Rome. Dec. 27, 2014
Me on Palatine Hill where palaces once stood in Rome. Dec. 27, 2014
Today we ventured outside the city, wandering through the archeological ruins of Rome’s first colony dating back to the 4th Century B.C., Ostia Antica, the ancient seaport which connected Rome to its ever-expanding Mediterranean empire. Ostia Antica provides insight to the daily lives of merchants and craftsmen, the ancient dwelling structures and beautifully preserved mosaics. Near the Tiber River its main industry was salt…a precious preserver of meat in ancient times. This is the entrance to Ostia Antica. Dec. 28, 2014
The beautiful Umbrella Pine trees lining the way of the ancient stone covered roadway in Ostia Antica. Dec. 28, 2014
Our wonderful Rick Steves guide, Alfio Di Mauro, explaining to our group the architectural remains of this early Roman harbor city. Dec. 28, 2014
The remains of the 2,000 year old Teatro, Theater, in Ostia Antica. Dec. 28, 2014
Carved mask ornaments outside of the 2,000 year old Teatro, Theater, in Ostia Antica. Dec. 28, 2014
A close up of the carved mask ornament by the 2,000 year old theatre at Ostia Antica. Dec. 28, 2014
The very public latrines with rushing water below each seat that did the flushing in Ostia Antica. Dec. 28, 2014
The mill and bakery building at Ostia Antica dating back to A.D. 120. Dec. 28, 2014
Me standing under the street sign and by the house with my name, Via Casa di Diana in Ostia Antica. Dec. 28, 2014
More of the ancient remains at Ostia Antica. Dec. 28, 2014
The ancient tile remains at Ostia Antica. Dec. 28, 2014
Ancient Romans buried their dead outside the city walls. Ostia was famously pagan and the closest thing to an afterlife was to be remembered. Tombs were placed on the roadside with a bio carved into the stone. Dec. 28, 2014
Driving back into Rome…this is Palatine Hill. Dec. 28, 2014
Driving back into Rome…Castel Sant’ Angelo. Dec. 28, 2014
It was a cold and sunny day in Rome. But we packed in quite a bit today stopping first at the Pantheon and moving onto Trastevere…a hidden city across the river but much closer than it sounds since Debra and I walked back to our hotel by the Vatican. This is the outside of the Pantheon in Rome. Dec. 29, 2014
Inside the Pantheon in Rome.
The altar inside of the Pantheon in Rome. Dec. 29, 2014
One of the Madonna and Child art pieces inside the Pantheon in Rome. Dec. 29, 2014
Across the Tiber is the charming medieval neighborhood of Trastevere, a formerly working-class district hidden away from the crowds of Rome. This is the Church of Santa Maria in Trastevere. Dec. 29, 2014
Inside the Church of Santa Maria in Trastevere.
The 13th-century mosaics on the apse inside the Church of Santa Maria in Trastevere. Dec. 29, 2014
Inside the Renaissance era Villa Farnesina in Trastevere. Dec. 29, 2014
Graffiti left on the wall of the Villa Farnesina in Trastevere. The imperial army of Charles V, sacking the city in 1527, didn’t seem to have much respect for the art scratching into the frescoes’ plaster anti-papal epithets in German. Dec. 29, 2014
Inside the Villa Farnesina in Trastevere. Dec. 29, 2014
Inside the Villa Farnesina in Trastevere. Dec. 29, 2014
Back in Rome, Debra and I enjoyed a very lengthy walk around the ancient city, including a stop at the Four Rivers Fountain at the Piazza Navona in Rome. Dec. 29, 2014
Me at the Four Rivers Fountain at the Piazza Navona in Rome. Dec. 29, 2014
For dinner, we cooked our own Italian meal. For family and friends who know I don’t cook, here I am taking cooking lessons from a very stern Italian chef. I’m trying to explain that the pasta needs to cook longer and she’s telling me otherwise. In the end we ate, we drank lots of wine and I learned a few Italian cooking tricks. The pasta is served aldente and that’s that. Dec. 29, 2014
After slaving over the stove, the pasta was enjoyed by all. Dec. 29, 2014
Another cold and sunny day in Rome. We were off to an early start with a visit to Vatican City…an independent country of about 100 acres. Included is of course where the Pope resides, the Vatican Museum…Michelangelo’s stunning ceiling frescoes of biblical scenes in the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica. No photos can be taken in the Sistine Chapel and none would express the enormity of Michelangelo’s work. We got an early morning start, but still had to do a little waiting, along with horde of others, to get into Vatican City to begin our tour of the museum, chapel and basilica. Dec. 30, 2014
A spiral staircase inside the newly constructed tourist entryway at the Vatican in honor of my spiral-inspired friend Bonnie Davis. Dec. 30, 2014
An outdoor courtyard with modern art by the Vatican Museum entrance. Dec. 30, 2014
A sculpture outside of the entryway to the Vatican Museum. Dec. 30, 2014
Apollo, the god of the sun and music at the entryway to the Vatican Museum. Dec. 30, 2014
Laocoon, the high priest of Troy, statue at the entryway of the Vatican Museum. Dec. 30, 2014
An ancient statue of Hercules sitting on a lion’s skin at the Vatican Museum. Dec. 30, 2014
The Round Room modeled after the Pantheon with an enormous basin made of a single purple marble stone in the Vatican Museum. Dec. 30, 2014
Between 1550 and 1800 when the church decided that certain parts of the human anatomy were obscene, the fig leaf became a prominent decor in the Vatican Museum. Dec. 30, 2014
Too many of us moving thru the hall of the tapestry gallery at the Vatican Museum. These tapestries were designed by Raphael’s workshop and made in Brussels. Dec. 30, 2014
These beauties look like sculpted reliefs but they’re actually painted on a flat surface. These can be seen throughout the ceilings of the tapestry hall in the Vatican Museum. Dec. 30, 2013
This is the map room, in the Vatican Museum, with maps on the sides of the walls that show the various Italian regions, but the ceiling with colorful stucco and paint is what caught my eye. Dec. 30, 2014
The School of Athens fresco painted by Raphael for the chambers of Pope Julius II plus respect to the great thinkers of Ancient Greece in a mythical school setting at the Vatican Museum. Dec. 30, 2014
A close-up of the School of Athens fresco…featuring Raphael himself in the black beret. Dec. 30, 2014
The School of Athens painting in the Vatican Museum features Plato and Aristotle in the center of the fresco. Raphael painted Plato, the balding man with the long gray beard to look like Leonardo da Vinci. Dec. 30, 2014
While Raphael was painting The School of Athens, Michelangelo was at work down the hall in the Sistine Chapel. Although Raphael had finished his painting, he decided to include Michelangelo, the brooding, melancholy figure in the front leaning on a block of marble. This School of Athens painting by Raphael can be seen at the Vatican Museum. Dec. 30, 2014
As a quilter, I had to include a picture of the floor because so many of the floors are covered with tile work that looks like quilt patterns. Art…on the floors, ceilings and walls at the Vatican Museum. Dec. 30, 2014
The view of Vatican City from the entryway to St Peter’s Basilica. Dec. 30, 2014
Inside St Peter’s Basilica…the main altar adorned by a seven story bronze canopy at Vatican City. St. Peter is buried directly below. Dec. 30, 2014
A close up of the top of the bronze canopy at the main altar inside St. Peter’s Basilica at Vatican City. Dec. 30, 2014
Michelangelo’s Pieta at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City. The sculptor was only 24 when he carved Mary cradling the body of Christ after he was taken from the cross. Dec. 30, 2014
Beautiful statues in the Basilica inside St. Peter’s Basilica at Vatican City. Dec. 30, 2014
The bronze statue of Peter at St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. Dec. 30, 2014
Beautiful statues at St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. Dec. 30, 2014
Part of the tomb downstairs where popes are buried at St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. Dec. 30, 2014
Me in front of St Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. Dec. 30, 2014
Happy New Years Eve! I’ve brought in the New Year with someone I love; I’ve spent it in Times Square waiting for the ball to drop; on a bridge in Paris, France, overlooking the River Seine as the Eiffel Tower does a light show and just me enjoying my own company but today I enjoyed mass at St. Peter’s Basilica with Pope Francis. Our group started the day early at the Borghese Gallery and Gardens, had a festive four-course lunch and spent the early evening with the Pope. The Borghese Gallery in Rome. Dec. 31, 2014
The Borghese Gallery Gardens in Rome. Dec. 31, 2014
The man of the hour…Cardinal Scipione Borghese (1576-1633), sculpted by Gian Lorenzo Bernini in the stunning gallery filled with art named in his honor in Rome. The Cardinal wanted a place away from the city where he could showcase his fine art. Dec. 31, 2014
Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598 -1680) was an Italian sculptor and architect. While a major figure in the world of architecture, he was the leading sculptor of his age, credited with creating the Baroque style of sculpture. Bernini’s self-portrait at around age 35. The amazing sculptor, artist and architect’s work is prominently featured throughout the Borghese Gallery in Rome. Dec. 31, 2014
These next few statues are just some of the finest in the Borghese Gallery in Rome. This is Bernini’s The Rape of Proserpina…see how Pluto’s fingers dig into her body as if it were real skin and not a slab of marble. Dec. 31, 2014
This stunning piece and my favorite Bernini sculpture in Rome’s Borghese Gallery is Apollo and Daphne. Just as Apollo tries to catch her, Daphne’s fingers begin to sprout leaves, her toes become roots and her skin turns to bark as she transforms into a tree. Dec. 31, 2014
This is Bernini’s version of David in the Borghese Gallery in rome. The subject of the work is the biblical David, about to throw the stone that will bring down Goliath, which will allow David to behead him. Dec. 31, 2013
This stunning white marble sculpture of Pauline Bonaparte as Venus Victrix (or Venus Victorious) is a semi-nude life-size reclining neo-Classical portrait sculpture by the Italian sculptor Antonio Canova in Rome’s Borghese Gallery. Dec. 31, 2014
A hillside view of Rome. In the distance is the Monument to Victor Emanuel II. Dec. 31, 2014
A hillside view of Rome. Dec. 31, 2014
These are what the streets in Rome look like and can wreak havoc on your feet if you’re not wearing good supportive shoes. Dec. 31, 2014
After our visit to the Borghese Gallery and a walk through its gardens and up a hillside, our group is treated to lunch and song at a local restaurant. Our guide, Alfio Di Mauro, in the green sweater is introducing our musician. Dec. 31, 2014
An early evening view of St. Peter’s Basilica on St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City. Dec. 31, 2014
I’m not sure how our tour guide, Alfio did this, but he was able to score some tickets to New Year’s Mass by the Pope at St. Peter’s Basilica. A glimpse of Pope Francis as he enters St. Peter’s Basilica for New Year’s Eve mass at Vatican City. Dec. 31, 2014
Pope Francis conducting mass at St. Peter’s Basilica for New Year’s Eve in the Vatican City. Dec. 31, 2014
An evening close up view of the outside of St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. Dec. 31, 2014
Happy New Year from St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City! Plus Debra and I say good-bye to our Rick Steves tour group tonight because tomorrow, we make our way to Florence. Dec. 31, 2014
Arrivederci Roma, Boun giorno Firenze! And, Happy New Year from Florence! We’re staying at a hotel at the foot of the Ponte Vecchio bridge. Florence is smaller than Rome and much more condense. Even though it’s New Years Day, shops and restaurants were open and people were everywhere. We got in a quick walking tour and a nice dinner at a restaurant close to our hotel. The Duomo (cathedral) and Campanile (bell tower, called Giotto’s Tower) in Florence. Jan. 1, 2015
The Palazzo Vecchio…a castle-like fortress in the square of Florence. Jan. 1, 2015
The Palazzo Vecchio in Florence with its fake copy of Michaelangelo’s David. Jan. 1, 2015
The Palazzo Vecchio and the Fountain of Neptune in Florence. Jan. 1, 2015
A portion of the Ponte Vecchio bridge in Florence. Jan. 1, 2015
The shop stalls on the Ponte Vecchio Bridge seemed to be the only closed shops in Florence. Jan. 1, 2015
Even though our Rick Steves tour ended in Rome yesterday, we extended our trip to include Florence. And, since Florence is so close to Pisa, we decided to take the hour-long train ride into Pisa to see if the Leaning Tower really leans…it does. Seeing it in person is quite impressive. Even though Pisa is known for its leaning tower, the walk into the field of Dreams, which is where the cathedral (or Duomo), it’s bell tower (the Leaning Tower) and the Baptistery are located, makes for a very quaint, historic and shop-lined walk.The Leaning Tower of Pisa has a 15-foot vertical lean. The bell tower was started in the late 12th century, when Pisa was at its peak. The tower recently underwent a decade of restoration and topple-prevention. Jan. 2, 2015
A close up of the base of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Dec. 2, 2015
My lame attempt to push over the Leaning Tower of Pisa. It didn’t work. It’s still there and it is still leaning. Jan. 2, 2015
The Duomo, or cathedral, and the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Dec. 2, 2015
The front of the Duomo in Pisa. Jan. 2, 2015
The round Baptistry in Pisa. Jan. 2, 2015
A close up of the Baptistry in Pisa. Jan. 2, 2015
The Arno River in Pisa. Jan. 2, 2015
The old, but quaint shopping street in Pisa leading to the Leaning Tower. Jan. 2, 2015
The old, but quaint shopping street in Pisa that leads to the Leaning Tower. Jan. 2, 2015
The inside of our train from Pisa back to Florence. Jan. 2, 2015
It’s our last day in Italy. Early Sunday morning we’re on a train from Florence to Rome’s airport. The last time I was in Florence was April 2006 and it was so much less crowded. Also, maybe the Euro dropping in value has something to do with it, but I found today’s Italy much more expensive and much more touristy. Would I come back? Of course, but nothing stays the same. A few parting photos of Florence. In May, I travel to Turkey and Greece for a month. This is an outdoor leather goods market area in Florence. Jan. 3, 2015
The Uffizi Gallery in Florence is one of the oldest and most famous museums in the world. I didn’t make it there this time. But, I will. Jan. 3, 2015
A night view of the Ponte Vecchio in Florence. I love how the bridge reflects off the water. Jan. 3, 2015
Another night view of a different bridge, the Ponte Santa Trinita Bridge in Florence. The evening and our time in Italy has come to a close. Tomorrow Debra heads back to New York and I head back to Texas. But the wonder of Rome will stay with us…always. Jan. 3, 2015