This last week, in honor of our daughters first birthday, we celebrated by taking a trip to Rome for a few days. This ancient beautiful city is only a mere two and a half hour drive from where we live in Naples. It was kind of planned last-minute as we weren’t sure if we wanted to go to Rome or Paris. Rome ultimately won out for two reasons, One, it was cheaper, and Two, it was closer and involved less organizing. Because we are a military family, we have a great resource available to us, the United Services Organization, or USO for short. This well established non-profit organization has been supporting the troops since 1941 and is an extremely useful tool when planning trips overseas. I went to the USO Rome website and luckily found a last-minute package available to us for the right price. What was awesome about our package is that it was only 159.00 euro per person, and it included a two-night stay at a three-star B&B as well as two group tours. Booking our trip with the USO took out all of the hassle of researching places to stay and signing up for the right tours.
The plan was for us to check-in to our hotel on Monday at 11a.m. then head over to the USO office to pick up our documents for the tours, one of which started only two and half hours after we arrived. Our trip involved the Imperial Tour (Colosseum, Palatine Hill, Arch of Constantine, Imperial grounds, etc.) on Monday and Tuesday the Arts & History Tour (Roman Forum, Old Churches, Michelangelo’s Moses Statue, etc.) and ended with attending the Papal Audience (more on that later) on Wednesday.
Getting to our B&B was SUPER fun. If you’ve never driven overseas before, let alone in Italy, you haven’t lived. I am from Southern California, land of the gridlock, traffic jams are not new to me–but let me just tell you, it is NOTHING compared to navigating the city streets of Naples or Rome. In America, people stay in their lanes (for the most part), and despite the rare stories on the news of road rage, we’re pretty respectful of each other’s “bubble” on the road. Not so much in Italy. In Italy, those white dotted lines that distinguish one lane from the next, yeah, those are optional. So are speed limits, stop lights, stop signs, parking “spaces”, and pretty much every other safety precaution on the road that you can think of. The only thing you can’t escape (or ignore in this case) as a driver in Italy are the ridiculously expensive tolls. It cost us roughly 16 euro each way going to/from Rome or around $22. That is pretty expensive for American standards and that doesn’t even begin to compare to the cost of gas in this country.
Back to the B&B, once we found it (thank you GPS), we stayed at the Residenza Risorgimento . Now, when you think of a Bed and Breakfast, typically, you think of a quaint little home in the country, or something similar. This is not the kind of B&B we stayed at. Ours was directly across from the Vatican City walls, in an old historic building, five flights up, and included one creepy old-fashioned elevator. Probably circa 1912, the year of the Titanic (if you get my drift). There was no getting around the use of this elevator either, not when you have a stroller and baby in tow. So even though it made some noises and probably needed a good dose of WD40, it worked, and we lived, and really folks, like many things, that’s all you can ask for when you’re in Italy.
The room was bigger then I had expected and had a portable crib and even an extra bed, along with a decent bathroom. The decor was pretty eccentric for my husbands taste, but I found it charming. The B&B’s website boasts that it has reproductions of all of the famous paintings in their rooms, and they aren’t joking. They even had a 110v outlet in the bathroom so we could charge our phones. My favorite part though had to be the fact that the owner parked our car for us, and brought it to us when it was time to leave. Apparently, Rome is riddled with parking garages, and if you’ve never been there then good luck trying to find them! If you are ever in Rome and you are looking for a place that is clean, friendly, and quiet, then I would highly recommend them.
So, like I said before, after we checked-in to our room we had to hurry up and head over to the USO office. We set out on foot to navigate our way to the USO office, which, is kind of in a conspicuous location and anyone could easily walk right by it and not know any better, like we almost did. They gave us our documents and explained the directions to our tour and how to use the metro, to which we said, “Thank you, but no thank you!”, and opted to pay for a taxi. You see, my husband and I get easily frustrated when it comes to directions, we just don’t have the patience required. We didn’t want to chance getting off on the wrong stop, or missing it entirely. So, for our sanity, we paid a little extra for the taxi. It was only an 11 euro taxi fare, so it was relatively cheap compared to the bad mood we would have been in all day if we had missed the meeting time/point for our tour. We even had enough time to enjoy a Cafe Americano at the Royal Art Cafe, before our tour guide arrived to round us up.
Naturally, our tour started with the Roman Colosseum, also known as the Flavian Amphitheater. I can honestly tell you that touring the Colosseum was one of those “OMG, I can’t believe I am here!” moments. It’s beautiful and captivating, but has a horrendous history. For those of you who don’t know, it is one of the seven wonders of the world. Depending on who you ask, it took a mere eight to ten years to construct, and ironically, was a symbol of peace. I won’t bore you with some of the gruesome details and I don’t want to make this a history lesson, but I will say, I walked out of the Colosseum that day with a more realistic perspective of what it represents, rather than the slightly skewed idealistic one I walked in with.
After we toured the Colosseum, we ventured out to the Arch of Constantine, which is VERY close, and then eventually to the Palatine Hills to check out some of the ruins of some of the first palaces of Rome.
I want so badly to tell you that I paid attention to all of the historical information our guide was providing us, but, if I am being honest, I was too busy taking pictures. I tried to listen the whole time, I really did, but every time I would try to pay attention, my mind would go, “Oh look, you should take a picture of that!” And then my tour guides voice quickly blurred to the background. Which is reason number 678 why that red pom-pom she carried was a life-saver during the tour, because there were many times I found myself left behind.
After we toured the Palatine Hills we found ourselves descending to the valley below, we came across the Arch of Titus. Which was beautiful. “Back in those days” Emperor’s would build Arch’s to commemorate victories. Our tour guide put it best, she said that it wasn’t like now where we could learn things on the news and the internet. These Arch’s told stories of victory and bravery for all of its citizens to admire and be proud of.
After we ‘Oh’d and ‘Ah’d over the Arch we made our way down to the Roman Forum. How can I best describe this place? It is like a melting pot of ancient relics, ruins, and life in general of the great Roman empires of the past.
We saw everything above in three and a half hours! That was only ONE tour, I know what you are thinking too…..there’s more to this post? No no…even I need a break. When I started this post I did not anticipate it would be this long (or take this long for that matter). I still have to cover another day and a half worth of adventures, and the rest of the story is just riveting I tell you (no, really, it is!). I want to end this post with saying that I learned something very interesting about the history of Rome on our trip, and that is; the ancient Romans did not value materials the way we do in our society today. This is evident by the many temples, statues, and buildings that were torn down for material to be used for other things. Our tour guide the next day put it best when he said that the Romans understood that, “everything changes”.
To be continued…
Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for When in Rome, part II.