Jessica and I arrived in Rome, and we would be joined this time by more family; my mother. My mom and I spoke a lot about this upcoming tour of Italy; she was born in a small town in the Abruzzo Region named Raiano. She left Italy when she was two years old, with my grandmother and her older brother (he was four) to join my grandfather in the city of Chicago, where she still resides. She had never been back to Italy, so when she expressed an interest on traveling through Italy, I was super excited and so I planned the trip. It will took us all over Italy, into France (to visit my grandmother’s sister), and finishing in Geneva, Switzerland (taking a grand tour over three weeks).
We agreed to meet in Rome to begin our trip. However, Jesse and I both were sick for the beginning; so we booked my mom a hotel right across the street from the Vatican (literally), and we stayed farther outside of town in a rented apartment. Our apartment was a great place to rest and recuperate; we had two bedrooms, a living room, an outdoor patio and hot tub! Being sick stinks, and we were stuck inside for the first few days of the trip, eating bread and soup (and take away Italian pizza).
My Mom arrived several days after we did. She is more outgoing and friendly than I and met some fellow travelers on a tour at her hotel; they told her they were walking to St. Peters to see the Pope! So she tagged along, and on her first day she was in St. Peter’s square with fellow Catholics as the Pope spoke from his window! We had not seen the Pope when we were in Rome almost twenty years earlier, and she was lucky enough to see him on her first day. We took that as a very good sign.
Luckily, I started feeling better the day after her arrival, so I planned a tour of the Vatican museum for the two of us. I took the above ground train, transferred to the subway, and arrived at Mom’s hotel. She was a minute walk to the entrance to the Vatican museums, and we arrived among throngs of fellow tourists. It was a bit intense as we were shuffled through the different rooms; not able to take our time as our tour guide told us about certain rooms and took pictures as best we could.
My favorite part were the Raphael Rooms; he is my favorite Renaissance Artist (and Ninja Turtle). He paints himself into one of the paintings; he is the one looking at the camera.
There are some many things to see it is overwhelming; trying to take pictures of everything that catches your eye is an impossible task (though most everyone tries). Here are some of my favorite sculptures.
Jessica and I took the Vatican tour almost 20 years earlier, and I remembered very little about the museums, and certainly did not remember the Fine Arts Museum, which is able to be viewed soon after the Raphael rooms. It is easy to walk right past them, but I suggest stopping. There are works by master painters such as Matisse, Picasso, Dali, Max Ernst, among many others. I also found it palate cleansing after viewing all the Renaissance Art; seeing contemporary works in between allowed us to see the Sistine Chapel with fresh eyes. Here are some of my favorites from the the Contemporary Art Gallery. (from left; Judith with the Head of Holofernes by Leonard Baskin (1972); “Soft Monster Angelic Landscape” by Salvador Dali (1977); Mom “admiring” “The Garden of Gethsemane” by Giuseppe Zigaina (1947); “Statue of Pope Pius XI” by Adolfo Wildt (1926); “The Pupil” by Mario Sironi (1924).
I remembered the Sistine Chapel as being small. I was quite wrong. While there are no pictures allowed, Mom and I spent almost thirty minutes examining the walls and ceiling from each perspective; first when we walked in the expansive room; then in the middle, underneath God and Adam about to touch fingers, and then from the other end of the room, taking a well needed rest on one of the benches. I did not want to leave, but eventually we had to. We proceeded through the remaining rooms, the gift shop, back outside, then back inside, trying to escape, and finally we did. Here were some of my favorites; two vases and a table, that we saw on the way out.
Afterward we were famished; Mom and I shared a meat and cheese plate, and I had lasagna, finished with a piece of Tiramisu and espresso, as we ate at a lovely ourdoor restaurant near the Vatican. We visited St. Peter’s Basilica next. At the square, we took in the obelisk in the center, the two grand fountains flanking it, and the many, many statues of stains surrounding overhead. It is truly a surreal place to be.
We proceeded through the security line and metal detector and entered St. Peter’s Basilica. Truly one of a kind, the grandness cannot be understated. The ceilings are really tall, the columns massive, yet the space remains very open and easy to maneuver around fellow tourists. The Pieta was to our right upon entrance, and after we walked toward the main altar. A place that must be experienced to be believed, mom was taking many pictures (and so was I). The ceilings are remarkable as well, my neck was a bit strained staring upwards and trying to avoid fellow travelers.
Afterward, I walked Mom back to her hotel, took two trains, and was back with Jesse at our apartment. The next day was our Colosseum tour. We had a great Italian guide, who took us through the 1500-year-old oval-shaped, Colosseum. While it is a far way from being whole, and they were restoring a good portion of it, the grandness is still there, even after all these years. Jesse and I were unable to go here when we were last in Rome 18 years ago, since we were poor, just-out-of-college graduates, and we ran out of money on our last day for the entry fee. So this time, we made sure we would see it.
It really is quite grand, even though it has seen better days. We had a great tour guide who was both knowledgeable and humorous, which we needed with our tour group of more than a dozen on a hot, sunny spring day.
After we proceeded to the Palatine Hill, where our guide showed us many of the important structures, still standing, from ancient Rome. It is definitely worth the admission to the park, and we learned a lot about the history of ancient Rome; it really was a worthwhile tour, but be prepared for a lot of walking on uneven, old stone path, surfaces.
We even saw a group of elephants! After the tour, on our way to lunch, we moved closer and discovered a movie was being filmed. You never know what you might see in Rome.
After lunch, we walked to the Trevi Fountain, which also needs to be seen with one’s own eyes. It is much larger than it seems in pictures, and the water is so clear and blue-green.
As we were leaving Rome the next day, I wanted to show mom one more place, the Pantheon. The open circle in the ceiling lets the light shine in; though this time there were many more people here than when Jesse and I were last here, and it felt smaller and more impersonal. Regardless, just being inside this circle within a square unique structure was special. The fountain in the front provides enough steps to rest after a long day of walking.
After doing some souvenir shopping, we put mom in a cab at a cabstand, and Jesse and I were about to hop in another, when we saw a place that looked familiar. Nothing marks where Julius Caesar was stabbed to death by the Roman Senate; but we remembered it from our last visit.
We had taken a walking tour around the city, for a few hours, during our last visit with us, and another couple, being the only participants; so we had a private tour of Rome, that we still talk about today. So I knew that was the place, and had to take a picture, before we headed back to our apartment, ready for our next stop, the Abruzzo Region of Italy, east of Rome.