After two nights of no sleep on my three flights, I arrived in Rome very tired but excited to explore. I took the Leonardo Express train into the city and then a taxi over to my hotel. Teatropace 33 was great, originally a Cardinal's mansion, the hotel had a huge staircase spiraling up the center. While I waited an hour for my room to be ready, I ate lunch in the nearby Piazza Navona where I had a traditional Roman dish, Spaghetti alla Carbonara. Made with eggs, parmesan and pancetta, it was perfect for a late breakfast.
After checking into my room, I went to the Palazzo Altemps, one of the three branches of the National Museum of Rome. Filled mostly with sculptures of Greek and Roman gods, my favorite was the Suicidal Gaul, made for Julius Caesar after his victory over that country. The museum was not too big so I saw everything before walking over to the Vatican Museum for my 2:30 tour. I'd been to that museum when I visited Rome for one day back in 1995 but I wanted to see it with a guide this time for more depth. Our guide had a lot of great jokes, pointing out the statue that looked exactly like Bill Clinton or the resemblance to Sylvester Stallone in one of Raphael's paintings. The Vatican Museum is amazing, stuffed with so many artifacts, but it's very crowded and hot with hardly any seats. Halfway through the tour, the lack of sleep really began to strain my attention span.
We ended the tour at St. Peter's Basilica. It was the middle of a Mass so I did not get to visit the far end and take a picture of my favorite piece by Bernini, the Alexander VII monument. Flowing drapes of marble envelop a skeleton raising an hourglass beneath the statue of a pope. I took a picture of it with a disposable camera back in '95 but it didn't come out too great. Even though my feet were killing me after the four hour tour, I wanted to climb to the top of the basilica's dome. The gate to the cupola closed right before I arrived so a test of my will-power was avoided. Taking the Metro over to the Piazza del Popolo, I climbed the hill to the Pincio and watched the sun set over the city and then visited the Spanish Steps filled with dating couples. I had planned to continue on to the Roman Forum so I could take pictures of it and the Colosseum lit up at night, but after eating dinner, I couldn't fight sleep off any longer. I stumbled into the hotel at 10 and passed out.
I really wanted to sleep in on Sunday when my alarm woke me up at 7:30am but I didn't want to skip my bike tour. After a cappuccino, I perked up. Starting above the Colosseum, we worked our way across all the major sites and neighborhoods in a big circle, stopping frequently for our guide to explain the history of the place or to check out the inside of a basilica. It was great way to see Rome with breaks for pizza, gelato or cappuccino. It was over four hours long, but I was still sad when it ended. So far, it has been the highlight of my trip. Very fun!
After switching hotels to join up with my group after the bike ride, I went to another of the National Museums of Rome, the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme. The first floor contained the realistic sculptures of important roman citizens during the Roman Republic while the second floor concentrated on the more idealistic sculptures from the later Imperial Era. It contains a statue of Augustus Caesar, the nephew of Julius and the first Emperor. There also was a life-size bronze statue of a boxer that I really liked. Both branches of National Museum I visited were great. Spacious rooms with just a few impressive items in each, all labeled in English. (Big difference from French museums.)
That evening I met my group before going to dinner. Except for Eugenio from Costa Rica and Jana from Germany, the rest of us are from North America. Much different from South America where Chad and I were in the minority. After dinner, I took the Metro down to the Colosseum with Erin and Patrick to make up for skipping it the first night. I got a lot of great night pictures of it, the Roman Forum and Capitoline Hill but the Metro closed before I finished. Luckily, we found a bus heading back in the right direction.
This morning after breakfast, I walked down with the others toward the Colosseum again, stopping at the Pantheon and the Trevi Fountain. I was going to go up on to Palentine Hill while the others went to the Vatican, but the line was so long that I decided to walk over to the Capitoline Museums on the next hill. Big mistake, they are closed on Mondays. Bummer! I ended up going to visit the Basilica di San Clemente south of the Colosseum. The excavations below the church are one of the best places in the city to see the different levels as Rome built up over the last two thousand years. It has three levels below the surface. The current church sits atop the original basilica built 1000 years ago while the level below that dates from 200 AD during the Roman Empire. There is a third level dating from 200 BC but it is not open to the public yet. Too bad we were not allowed to take pictures inside, but I snuck one shot. (They had some kind of sensor alarm that beeped when I took it. Heh!)
The weather in Rome is wonderful. I got lucky! It is supposed to be boiling at this time, but it has been in the low to mid 80s with nice cool breezes. Tomorrow morning, we leave for Naples. Can't wait for pizza!
p.s. The chair in this internet cafe is so freaking uncomfortable.
p.s.s. I thought bruschetta was always just bread and chopped tomatoes, but last night we were brought a plate with five different varieties. The regular type plus ones with eggplant, salmon, beans, or cheese & anchovies. Very Interesting!
p.s.s.s. I've learned that clinking glasses started as a tradition against the practice of poisoning anothers wine. I already knew that you are supposed to take a drink before setting your glass back down, but Peter explained that good eye contact is required as well. Now we're all sharing an exaggerated glance with each clink. :) Takes a little longer, but it's very fun.
p.s.s.s.s. While I waited for the Basilica di San Clemente to open at 3pm, I ended up having lunch at a place that turned out to be a very gay restaurant. I didn't notice it until I sat down but I was surrounded by rainbow flags and the waiters had the name of the restaurant spelled out in rhinestones on their black uniforms, "Coming Out". A Canadian at the next table, Greg, started up a conversation, telling me he found the restaurant on the internet and was waiting for the basilica to open as well. We ended walking over and touring the church together after eating.