Mediterranean Enchantment – 2009

A Taste of Rome Includes Coliseum, Vatican

April 26 - May 10, 2009

 

IFlights from Memphis to Rome via Amsterdam

VISpain’s Island of Mallorca

IIRome with visits to Historic Ruins, Vatican

VIIPort of Tunis & Ancient Ruins of Carthage

IIIBoard Ship Noordam at Civitavecchia Port

VIIIPalermo, Sicily & Mondello Beach Town

IVPort of Livorno, long drive to Florence, Pisa

IXPort of Naples, Italy

VPort of Barcelona, Spain

XReturn to Rome, Visit to Catacombs  & Home

 

Updated June 2, 2009

By LEWIS NOLAN

 

Return To Nolan Travels Home Page

 

To view photo album of 128 pictures mainly taken by Betty Nolan, go to www.ritzpix.com and sign in under Lewis’ email name of lewis_nolan@yahoo.com (password ln9876 with lower case initials). Under “My Albums,” activate “Rome and Mediterranean Enchantment” album and play as a Slideshow with longest offered delay in seconds.

 

Tuesday, April 28, 2009 – In Rome, Italy

 

Betty and I arose at the luxurious St. Regis Hotel in Central Rome about 7:30 a.m., feeling fairly refreshed after a comfortable night’s sleep and about as ready as we could be for seeing the sights of this Eternal City. After all, I had read most of Julius Caesar’s Book “Gallic Wars” as a second-year Latin student of barely competent scholarship as a junior at Sacramento (CA) High School.

 

Moreover, I had been a fan of gladiator movies and other films about Rome in its glory years of 2,000 years ago. So look out Rome, here come another fan – this one nearly 66 years old who is a retired pharmaceutical and newspaper executive from Memphis.

 

For breakfast, I had luckily saved the leavings of last night’s dinner sandwich at the hotel and enjoyed them in our spacious hotel room along with a small bag of Fritos chips brought from home. As is her custom, Betty deferred on an early morning meal.

 

Our local tour guide and driver – Franco Lattughi – met us on schedule in the lobby just before 9 a.m. He is a multi-lingual professional of about 55 whom we hooked up with through his regular clients, Gulliver’s Travel agency in Memphis. Franco has lived in Rome for many years and is an expert on the history and culture of what has been known for centuries as the “Eternal City.”

 

We spent much of the morning seeing the ruins of ancient Rome with Franco driving us around in his late model, four-door Toyota. He gave us much relaxed commentary with fascinating information about Rome’s two millennia as a leading city of the world. We stopped here and there to take pictures. Our guide has spent time in the U.S. and commands excellent English. He was a wonderful resource for us in every respect and worth every penny of the roughly 45 Euros per hour plus expenses for admission fees to attractions.

 

Between Franco and our guidebooks, we learned that the Coliseum is ancient Rome’s most famous monument and is visited by many thousands of tourists every day. It was started in AD 80 with a program of games and shows that lasted 100 days. On opening day along, an estimated 5,000 wild animals perished in the arena. Beneath the blood-soaked dirt is a maze of underground passages and quarters for animals and gladiators kept out of sight until “show time” for the bloodthirsty Romans. In its heyday, the Coliseum had an ingenious system of awnings to provide shade.

 

We also learned a lot about Rome’s Circus Maximus (a mile-long, dirt and turf race course for chariots in front of what are now the palace ruins), the Roman Forum (where the ashes of Julius Caesar are among burials and monuments) and assorted temples to the Roman and Greek Gods like Hercules and well-preserved ruins like Constantine’s Arch.

 

Constantine is remembered as the first Roman Emperor to endorse Christianity and the one who moved the seat of power from Rome to what later was known as Constantinople, which was renamed Istanbul centuries later. The towering brick and marble arch honoring him was built in the 4th-century BC; reliefs depict his victory over Maxentius in AD 312. He had a vision of a Cross in Heaven and heard the words: “In this sign thou shalt conquer,” which foretold his triumph and led to his decree that Christianity was lawful and would be tolerated throughout the empire.

 

During one of our stops, I was surprised to see that a Bay Leaf tree growing up a modest hillside bordering the Coliseum was nearly as big as the mighty oak trees in our Memphis yard. We saw that many of Rome’s side streets are paved with cobblestones these many centuries after their construction. I was interested to learn that the Roman engineers – among the greatest the world has ever seen – precisely laid out the width of their pre-auto highways so that Roman chariots built to a standard width of 4.5 feet could pass side by side.

 

Parts of the historic roads serving Rome and fanning out in all directions survive, as do sections of the Aqueducts that brought fresh water to the city.  The flattened stones inset into the roads seem to pose a hazard for today’s fashionably-dressed and svelte young woman wearing high heels who walk about the sidewalks and dodge motorists when crossing streets bereft of lane markings and pedestrian crossing lights. 

 

Here and there are small fountains by sidewalks in tourist areas that spout fresh water so pure that Franco stopped from time to time for a drink. He assured us of the fountain water’s safety. But Betty and I demurred in favor of bottled beverages as our defense against stomach troubles suffered from drinking local water on other trips.

 

Rome presented me with the worst traffic snarls I’d seen since my fairly frequent business trips to Manhattan before my 1996 retirement from Schering-Plough. For drivers, it’s everyman for himself. Franco instructed us to “Do as the Romans do” and stride purposefully into traffic while gesturing motorists to stop. That system seems to work. Miraculously, the drivers really do stop to allow pedestrians to thread their way across extremely busy streets. I didn’t see a single pedestrian crossing light anywhere in Rome that we visited. I heard few horns tooting, but it was common to see stopped drivers waving their hands Italian-style and muttering to themselves.

 

Drivers in Rome play by their own rules and park anywhere. I saw nary a policeman ticketing the many cars parked in places that would be illegal back in America. Double parking is common, which must pose an extreme inconvenience to those whose egress is blocked.

 

Franco dropped us off at the main entrance to the Vatican in Central Rome about 10:30 a.m. so he could find a place to park within a few blocks. It was somewhat rainy on this morning. It looked like at least another 100,000 tourists had the same bright idea as we did to alter our touring plans in order to be inside during the day.

 

I gather that the centrally located Vatican is one of the most visited spots in Rome, with tourists coming from around the world to pay homage to the Pope and the seat of the Roman Catholic Church. However, Franco told us that estimates are that 60 percent of the visitors to the Vatican – who pay admission charges of 14 Euros (nearly $20 in U.S. dollars) on days like this – are non-Catholic.

 

Our trip planning included buying the “Eyewitness Travel Guide to Italy” on the recommendation of our travel agent, Erin Bobbitt de Padilla. The 720-page book is a voluminous source of photos and factual information about Italy’s trove of surefire tourist attractions. We also used a well-worn edition of Fodor’s Guide to Europe.

 

The highpoint of our touring in and around Rome was spending a half day at the Vatican. In all, it is roughly the size of a large university campus in the U.S. It is impossible to see everything in a day, so we deferred to Franco’s experience and spent most of our visit in St. Peter’s Basilica and walking through hundreds of yards of corridors of art galleries. I was amazed at how large the Vatican complex is, even after reading the great book, “The Agony and Ecstasy” about Michelangelo's five-year project to paint the incredibly beautiful ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and seeing various movies and TV shows set there over the years.

 

There were two things absolutely at the top of my favorites list at the Vatican. They were the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica, site of so much public display orchestrated by the Church. But I must say that the enormous amounts of public space available for touring combined with the limited time we had for viewing kept us from seeing but a fraction of what’s available.

 

Both the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s are rich with history and the advancement of humankind. An oddity that draws a lot of visitors is a large, bronze statue of St. Peter. His toes are bright shining from the wear of literally hundreds of kisses and touches by visitors every day.

 

We saw a sprinkling of priests and nuns wearing their full battle dress. They were likely drawn from around the world. They patiently walked on the tours with everyday visitors.

 

The Vatican Museum is one of the greatest storehouses in the world of ancient and medieval artwork. Due to our time limitations and the recommendation of our local guide, we passed on touring the free-standing Vatican Museums for Egyptian Art and Etruscan (pre-Roman) Art. I had the feeling I’ve had before in the vaunted Smithsonian Museum in Washington, DC – it would take literally weeks to see everything on display and a huge percentage of objects actually owned are hidden away in storage or out on loan to other museums and religious institutions.

 

Like with other first-time visitors to the magnificent collection at the Vatican and its unparalleled history in Western Civilization, I was mildly overcome at times by the emotion of seeing so much excellence and celebration of Mankind’s best and brightest art and other great work. I just wish that everybody could share in seeing firsthand the history-shaking, material outcomes of the rise of religion and thought in the Western World.

 

For me, it was at once a reaffirmation of my beliefs that God truly loves us, that we are all God’s children and that we all belong to a global community of humble humanity. That message is hammered home by the monstrous mosaics, great tapestries and fabulous artwork on a huge scale on display everywhere in the Vatican.

 

Sadly, this day of crowds of tourists driven inside the Vatican by the rain pelting Rome resulted in a slow-walking mass of people shuffling along, shoulder-to-shoulder down the corridors with richly decorated walls and ceilings. The humanity was packed so tight that it was quite difficult to pass from one side of the 20-foot wide corridors to get a closer look at the great number of art works along the way.

 

Unfortunately due to the crowds, l was not able to carry out a mission given me by a member of my Sunday school class back home. He had asked me to inspect paintings of assorted Vatican leaders and royal figures from the 14th Century for signs of swollen throats. My friend, Dr. Lester Van Middlesworth, a world-renowned scientific researcher on the faculty of the University of Tennessee Medical School, was seeking confirmation of the presence of the reported to him evidence of enlarged goiter imbalance conditions of the time due to the unmet need for iodine in their diets, depicted in the paintings either by the reality or fashion of the day.

 

As a footnote, a group of Van’s students found the existence of similar conditions in an isolated tribe of natives on the Caribbean Island of Haiti earlier in the year. Their discovery – celebrated by publication of the results of their work in a scientific journal – resulted in a small amount of correcting iodine medication given those so afflicted. As for me, I’ll always regret that the heavy crowds in the Vatican on my day of visit prevented me from furthering Van’s his research. He and others suspect they may have been a possible goiter condition in Italy’s ruling class half a millennia ago.

 

By the end of our guided tour led by the oh-so-knowledgeable Franco, my legs were so tired that they felt like they were on fire from all the walking up and down steps and across acres of unyielding, Travertine marble floors.

On his suggestion, we ate lunch at a small café across the street from our St. Regis Hotel. I was surprised that the food was served cold and was on the pricey side, possibly the results proprietors paying little attention to the return possibilities of unending streams of visiting tourists – sort of like a hot dog stand in a national park.

 

After a welcome nap in our luxurious room at the hotel, Betty and I paid premium prices for another light but excellent dinner. It was graciously served on heavy silver by Marciano, who was clad in a tuxedo and just as expert and polite as his colleague Alessandro from the previous night. I had a vegetarian club sandwich served with French fries and local beer. Betty enjoyed a tasty ham and cheese sandwich. With tip plus a bottle of Tonic Water for me (the quinine helps prevent night leg cramps), the cost for the meal and beverages served in the plush hotel lobby came to just over $100 in dollars.

 

Continue with Part III of Travelogue  /  Return to Nolan Travels