The trip from the tiny country of San Marino to the sprawling and busy metropolis of Rome where we were meeting our good Brisbane friends Cathy and Peter, was surprisingly lovely.
We drove through the snappily named “Parco Nazionale delle Foreste Casentinesi, Monte Falterona, Campigna” on an amazing roadway elevated above the forest floor. We hadn’t expected such spectacular views.
On the recommendation of our son and daughter-in-law we headed for an excellent campsite called LGP Roma just five kilometres from the historic centre of Rome.
Early (at least for us) the next morning we hopped in a taxi to the lovely apartment in an elegant building that Cathy and Peter had rented – not far from the Presidential Palace in the Piazza Quirinale which sits on top of the highest of the seven hills of Rome.
Since the first part of the Quirinale Palace was completed in 1585, it has housed thirty popes, four kings of Italy and twelve presidents of the Italian Republic.
We were fortunate to arrive in front of the palace just in time to witness the changing of the guard.
The views over Rome were fantastic and it was great to get our first glimpse of the famous dome of St Peter’s Basilica.
Continuing our perambulation we found ourselves wandering through the bohemian neighbourhood of Monti and then looking down at the Imperial Fora – a series of public squares built between 46 BC and 113 AD.
These fora were restored by the dictator Mussolini as part of his campaign to evoke and emulate the past glories of Ancient Rome.
After a quick stop for a late breakfast, we wandered along to arguably the most popular tourist site in the world – The Colosseum. It was heaving with visitors and we only had two days in Rome so we decided to book in for a “skip the line tour” the following day.
From the Colosseum we started walking towards the Vatican City as we had booked a tour for that afternoon.
Everywhere we looked there was something spectacular to see. As I walked through the streets I realised why people rave about Rome.
We arrived in the Vatican and met our very energetic and enthusiastic guide who showered us with information before we were given the go ahead to enter the museum.
Bulging at the seams with people and art treasures the museum visit was not an enjoyable experience. I love to browse and take in the pieces of art that capture my attention but I felt rushed and claustrophobic with the huge crowds. We had literally no time at all to see the modern paintings although we could see that there were some amazing masterpieces in the gallery.
We were shuffled into the Sistine Chapel which measures 41 × 13 metres (134 × 43 feet) along with what seemed like hundreds of people. Once inside you couldn’t help but be drawn in and amazed at the fabulous frescoes but it felt as spiritual as attending a boxing match.
Fortunately I was able to find a spot by the wall to perch on so I could gaze up at Michelangelo’s breathtaking ceiling but the push and shove of the crowd and a guard with a microphone constantly shushing the crowd in several languages was distracting and disconcerting.
The tour ended up in St Peter’s Basilica one of the largest Church buildings in the world. It was extremely awe inspiring and impressive but again, very crowded.
Under the Basilica lies the Vatican Grottoes – a large underground graveyard where the tombs of 91 Popes are buried. The level below this is the Vatican Necropolis where the tomb of St Peter the Apostle lies.
The highlight of the tour for me was seeing Michelangelo’s La Pietá which is completely breathtaking. It is hard to comprehend how such a superb sculpture (made from a single piece of marble) could have been crafted by a mere 24 year old.
After walking almost ten kilometres and the exhausting tour we were ready for dinner! We strolled slowly back into the centre of Rome where we enjoyed a relaxing meal and a few hard earned glasses of wine.
A lovely shot of St Peter’s Basilica at night
Additional photography supplied by Peter Hannigan (including the shot above) Thanks Peter!