Monday, November 15, 2010

Some personal Roman highlights

We've been back from Rome for a week and finally have our photos and thoughts organized.

Of course we saw all the fabulous Rome "top ten" sights, and I won't go into that. Instead, here's just a brief description of what the three of us liked best (husband, daughter, me). We have a family tradition of naming our personal high points and low points at the end of every trip.

My husband's high point was taking the glass elevator to the top of the Vittorio Emanuele monument at dusk and watching the sun set over Rome. In case you're not familiar with this huge structure in pure white marble, it was built in honor of the first king of unified Italy, Victor Emmanuel II, in the early twentieth century, and is considered by some to be an eyesore that doesn't really fit into its medieval and antique surroundings. But it is very impressive! You can take an elevator up to the roof and walk around under the two huge winged victory chariots that crown the monument. We did this at dusk, giving us a 360 degree vista of the sun going down over this amazing city. From up there you can see and identify just about everything  - the Colosseum, Forum Romanum, St. Peter's, the hills surrounding Rome, the Tiber, etc. etc. It was a beautiful, warm evening, enhancing the experience even more, and a pleasant relief from our hectic day down at noisy, crowded street level.

My own highlight was taking an excursion to Ostia Antica, Rome's ancient harbor about 30 km from the city. Two thousand years ago it had a population of about 50,000 and was a thriving port city. The entire site is so well-preserved - much better than many of the antique ruins in Rome itself - that you can get a feeling for what it must have been like to live there - it must have been nice! Today it is also a lovely peaceful place.

Here's how I imagine a day in ancient Ostia. I wake up in my bedroom with tiled floor and walls of expert masonry.

After breakfast, I set off into town on the day's errands.

On the way to the market, I pass by the athletic field, where if I'm lucky I might be able to watch wrestling training.

Around the edge of the field are the various shops, all with appropriately tiled floors. I might stop into the fishmonger's.

Continuing on my way through city streets whose names are still documented,

I might pause for a moment of worship in the temple.

At the end of a busy day the family attends a production in the amphitheater.

In our case, we ate our picnic while sitting up high in the amphitheater and enjoying the view. Highly recommended! It costs all of one Euro to take public transportation out to Ostia from Rome.

Our last day was warm and sunny and we decided to return to the Piazza del Popolo in order to see the cathedral of Santa Maria del Popolo, and to walk from there to the Spanish Steps, which we had only seen in the rain on our first day. It turned out the city of Rome was putting on a free concert on the Spanish Steps, and this turned out to be great fun - and our daughter's high point of the trip.

The first performance was by the Roman police big band.

They were first joined and then followed by an American show band called "The Infernos" (of all things), who wowed the audience as I think only American show bands can do. The Infernos had an incredibly varied repertoire, including a perfect Frank Sinatra imitator

and vocalists and instrumentalists who could do everything from hits of the fifties, salsa, rhythm and blues, rock and roll, to country western! It was one of those serendipitous magical moments you sometimes experience as a tourist. A beautiful day, both Romans and tourists united in just enjoying the moment. It put us all in a great mood just to listen, and deserved its selection as high point.

All three of us agreed that our guided tour of the Vatican Museums and St. Peter's Basilica came in a close second as favorite undertaking. Our guide was a young Italian historian, and she did a great job. Other favorite sights were the two basilica San Giovanni in Laterano and San Paolo fuori le Mura, both breathtakingly pompous and sumptuous, the former with huge sculptures of the twelve apostles, and the latter with portraits of all 265 popes.

I wanted to visit the Botanical Gardens of the University of Rome, but kept forgetting how early it now gets dark and never made it in time. Next trip!