Rome just might be my favorite city. Cities are crowded and full of bustle, tiring and often dirty; but in Rome there's an energy and a sense of beauty and pride, in both people and architecture, that make me feel home in this big, welcoming, historic place. Each time we bring student groups here, I feel at ease and in awe. Rome. It's worth putting on your travel list. It's magnificent.
St. Sebastian's Catacombs is our first stop. When I think of the persecution of Christians here and the meetings which were forced to be secret, I hope that I would be so brave and faithful.
We watch a bit of a historical movie, which helps us piece together the timeline of the Roman rule. Then walking through the city, Circus Maximus greets us; we picture the chariot races of ancient days. Before our Rome trip, we watched Audrey and Gregory in Roman Holiday, so a viewing of the Mouth of Truth makes us grin. We walk through the Jewish Ghetto to see the Turtle Fountain on our way to eat pizza and pasta at Campo dei Fiori. The people in the Mediterranean Region take evening strolls, so a few of us join them and hear the Trevi Fountain before we turn the corner to take in its white stone gleam. Today baroque is my favorite architectural style.
After a breakfast of fresh fruit, salami, a sliver of peach torte, and a cappuccino, I feel ready for a day of site-seeing. St. Paul's Outside the Walls is our first stop for today. Gold of the ceiling shows the wealth and power of the Catholic Church and the tight wrapping together of the church and the political power of the past and present.
Lunch is ham and cheese on fresh bread before entering San Giovanni in Laterano, my favorite church in Rome.
The Holy Steps are right across the street from the church, and as we watch the pilgrims climb the stairs on their knees, we are humbled at their dedication to pray on each step.
After a quick power nap, we are off again. St. Clement is a three story building; it's a thirteenth century basilica, which is built on top of a sixth century church, which is built on top of a first century Christian's home. We descend immediately to explore the underground tunnels, believed to be a home of an early Christian where our historical brothers and sisters would have had house church. St. Peter's in Chains is next; it houses the chains that held Peter and Michelangelo's Moses with the horns. We pass through the Pantheon on our way to supper and learn a bit about street opera in the Piazza Della Rotunda. God gives people such talent! In Rome, supper is pizza or pasta, and after getting stuffed, we roll like eggs over to Piazza Navona to see the Fountain of the Four Rivers and sleepily stroll back to the hotel after our very full day.
Campo Dei Fiori brims this morning with people and goods for sale. I see a top that will serve as my swimsuit coverup that will bring fun shopping memories in Rome. The Colosseum dominates the view as we head toward the old amphitheater where "entertainment" was bloody. We wander around the ancient place and try to imagine what people shouted, witnessed, and felt as they saw animals and people devoured right before their eyes. How could they handle this emotionally, day after day? How could they handle the turmoil and trauma?
The Arch of Constantine stands outside the amphitheater. We make our way into the Forum, the place of politics, religion, praise for empires, market - this was the center of functioning life in the Roman Empire. As we wander the Via Sacra, I wonder how many people throughout time have walked upon these same stones.
Pizza on a side street is today's lunch. The Trevi Fountain gleams in the sunlight. It's almost too white. Gelato at a nearby shop hits the spot after admiring the masterpiece. Walking uphill to see Bernini's Ecstasy of Saint Teresa makes us tired, so the pews at the church of Santa Maria della Vittoria are welcoming. Passing back by the Pantheon on the way to our hotel, we chat about shops and what we've seen today. Being in the sun has made us feel like we need a rest.
We begin the day with a church service in a chapel right above the Mamertine Prison, which held Paul and Peter. Paul wrote 2 Timothy, his last letter before his death, from this prison. When my family was in Searcy immediately before this summer semester begun, we were inspired by a church service at Downtown led by the youth of the congregation; recitations of scripture were at the forefront of the service, and the importance of biblical memorization was discussed. So this summer, my husband includes this requirement in his Bible class syllabus. Throughout our days in Rome, students recite verses of their choice from Paul's letters, inspiring everyone listening of the importance of reading, hearing, and knowing God's word. Today begins well in that chapel, and we feel closer to each other after hearing each other's memorizations of Paul's words. And so we descend. There is a damp, dark room which held prisoners waiting for their death in Rome. We are saddened to think of people being put in prison for professing their faith in who Jesus was and is. We want to breathe fresh air, so we go through the museum on our way outside. We are heavy for just a bit, but the sun lightens our spirits.
Strolling through Rome is now our favorite pastime, so we decide to have lunch near the Spanish Steps. We spot the oldest McDonald's in Italy, and I'm not even ashamed to say that it hits the spot. We decide that it's the prettiest McDonald's we've seen. Of course it is - we're in Italy, after all. With it's creamy arches and marble-look walls, it's almost disguised as a fancy home.
We are in the northern part of the city. Now we have free time, and many of us stroll over to the Borghese Gardens to take in a bit of green. Green is important in a city, and Rome's most famous park does not disappoint. We rent paddle boats and picture ourselves in a romantic movie - kidding. We are four and five to a boat, and we giggle at each other and even have races across the "lago."
More strolling down to Victor Emanuele II's building that is dedicated to him (first king of modern Italy), so we climb stairs and take an elevator to the top, taking in the city's best rooftop view. It's incredible. The terra-cotta and brown tile roof-tops are on my favorite-things-about-Italy list. I could stay here all day.
Supper is bruschetta and pizza or pasta; it never gets old. Carbs are quick friends to us here in Italy. We walk 6-9 miles each day, so we feel no guilt! The food is wonderful, the people are lively, buildings are colored beautifully, the streets are full and inviting, the music is entertaining in the piazzas, and even the taxis are friendly. Italy is magic.
Santa Maria del Popolo is our destination. Walking in the shade, it's a comfortable mile. After mass, we enter the church and view my favorite Caravaggio paintings. One is the conversion of Saul and his being thrown from his horse, but my feet automatically go to the painting of Peter being crucified upside down. His humility of not wanting to be killed in the same manner as Jesus is beautiful. And nobody uses light and shadow to display emotion like Caravaggio. My appreciation for the Renaissance art grows each time I am able to view and study these works.
Lunch is typically Italian again. We are storing up our pasta for the winter. The Vatican Museum contains eleven miles of artwork. We don't see all eleven, but we pass through the Greek statues, the tapestry room, the map room, and the Rafael Rooms which contain my favorite fresco - The School of Athens - on our way to the Sistine Chapel. The ceiling is colorful and magnificent, telling the Biblical stories that we all know.
We exit and round the corner to see St. Peter's Basilica. Markings on the floor of the central nave indicate where other churches would fit inside this building, making sure that we all are reminded that we are inside the biggest church on the planet. Michelangelo's Pieta greets us at the door. Mary is filled with sadness, holding Jesus in her arms. My eyes don't know where to land. Gold on the ceiling, mosaics on the ceiling, marble designs on the floor, and sculptures surround us. Bernini's bronze canopy dominates the alter area. I am overwhelmed, which is exactly how the architects and designers want me to feel. Castel Sant' Angelo is just down the street. This castle has served to house the popes in times of danger, and there are tunnels connecting this building to the current papal apartments.
Approaching the airport, I think of the time I've just spent here. Rome. The Eternal City. The City of Fountains. There's no other place with its gritty beauty, its stylish and energetic people, and its perfect foods - all rolled into one. Being here is a dream that never gets old. Spring, summer, or fall...Rome is a destination that I want to remain in my life, no matter where I lay my head at night.