- Day One – Paris via London
- Day Two – Versailles and the Latin Quarter
- Day Three – Four Corners, Four Views of Paris
- Day Four – Naples, Pompeii and Sorrento
- Day Five – Sorrento
We couldn’t wait to get on the road to Roma, but enjoyed one last complimentary breakfast at the Hotel Prestige before departing. Like the previous morning, there was an eclectic collection of savory and sweet. I had some more marinated mushrooms, olives, tomatoes, salami and cheese – as well as a powdered sugar pastry and piece of chocolate for good measure.
I also ordered another cappuccino and was blown away by how gorgeous they made it look!
The drive to Rome was…interesting. Navigating from our hotel in Sorrento to the main highway was easy, but getting off the highway to roam the streets of, well, Rome was another story entirely. Our
awful Google directions combined with confusing road signs (which probably make perfect sense if you live there) led us to get off at the wrong exit, which was poorly timed with the realization that our paper map only featured the inner streets of Rome – not a highway to be seen.
As they say in Italy…UFFA!
We stopped at a gas station and thanks to a friendly attendant’s directions, found a street that was on our map. Finally we made it to Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II, home of Hotel Napoleon!
Our room was nice and tidy, and the concierge was super helpful with finding parking for our car.
Although it had started to rain right before we arrived, we were eager to get back outside and begin the short walk to our first Roman adventure: the Colosseum!
We were a bit early for our tour, so we headed across the street to grab a quick bite to eat first. Since we had yet to enjoy an authentic Italian pizza, we decided to split one topped with tomato sauce, mozzarella and prosciutto. Perfection.
Bellies full, we headed back toward the Colosseum and snapped a quick picture inside before meeting up with our guide for an incredible underground and third floor tour experience.
We began on the main floor of the arena, taking a back entrance so that we could walk through an archway and onto a portion of the floor that had recently been rebuilt.
Originally the entire arena floor was made of wood covered in sand, which in turn covered an elaborate underground area called the hypogeum. The latter is what is still clearly visible today, albeit with plenty of moss and greenery growing on it.
We had the chance to visit the underground level and it was honestly one of those moments that takes your breath away. Imagine standing in almost complete darkness, save for a few small oil lamps along the walls. The intricate network of tunnels is where gladiators and animals were held before their battles began. Likely the gladiators could hear cheers and screaming from the crowd above their heads mixed with growls and roars from cages only a few feet away.
It gives me goosebumps just thinking about it! We also got a clear look at one of the holes for a vertical winch called a capstan, a wooden beam with arms that men (usually slaves) would push in a circle to lift the cages from the underground level to the arena floor. Lions, leopards and bears…oh my. The more exotic the animal the better, according to our tour guide.
From there we trekked back upstairs and received private access to the Colosseum’s third level.
It was cool to have a glimpse of the arena from this perspective. The rebuilt wooden floor provides an idea of what the old covering looked like. There was also a diagram depicting the various levels.
The third floor has some nice views of Rome, too. You can see the Arch of Titus to the left, which marks the start of the Roman Forum. In the foreground are the ruins of the Temple of Venus and Roma, which once covered the entire hill. And in the back right you can see the statues on top of the Altare della Patria, also known as the Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II.
We ended our tour at the Arch of Constantine. It marks the military coup that legalized Christianity.
We continued walking sans tour guide – unless you count Rick Steves, whose podcasts continued to impress us – until we reached the Roman Forum. The Arch of Titus has quite the collection of reliefs and propaganda carved underneath.
We wandered around, enjoying the fact that it had finally stopped raining.
First we came to the huge arches of the Basilica of Constantine, only a portion of what it once was.
We also saw the Temple of Romulus, with its gigantic green doors.
The Temple of Caesar was next, which again was only a fraction of what it used to look like. Still, it was crazy to think that Julius Caesar’s body was burned here after his assassination in 44 B.C.
From there we gaped at the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina, whose columns have held up quite nicely through the centuries. The building is now a church, but back then it was a temple for Romans to make offerings to the gods.
The Temple of Vesta is one of Rome’s most sacred spots. It was originally circular and built to represent the family values of Roman citizens on a large scale. A fire burned inside a hearth, just as it would inside Roman homes.
Perhaps one of the craziest stories we heard was related to the House of the Vestal Virgins. These women had the duty of being ritual homemakers for the Temple of Vesta, bringing water from a sacred spring, cooking sacred food and making sure the hearth fire never went out.
As implied by their title, the Vestal Virgins took a vow of chastity. So long as a woman served her 30-year term faithfully, she was provided a dowry and allowed to marry. But if she strayed from her “duty,” she was “strapped to a funeral cart, paraded through the streets of the forum, taken to a crypt, given a loaf of bread and a lamp, and buried alive…” Yikes.
At the end of the forum is the Arch of Septimius Severus, which was built in roughly 200 A.D.
We had an amazing time exploring and soaking in as many facts as we could.
We even saw a rainbow as we climbed back to the main street! It was gorgeous.
We decided to keep walking, passing the impressive Altare della Patria as we went.
Eventually we came to the Pantheon.
The massive and incredibly well-preserved temple (now church) is located in the Piazza della Rotunda, which is full of colorful buildings, as well as an obelisk and fountain in the center.
As we headed toward the entrance of the Pantheon, we noticed some cool inscriptions on the walls.
But perhaps most impressive is what you see once inside. The dome was the largest one built until the Renaissance. It’s made from concrete, and the square designs throughout are called coffers (they help to ease the weight). There is nothing covering the hole at the top, so when it rains you don’t want to be standing in the center! We saw proof of that on the floor given the fact that it had been pouring for much of the afternoon.
The interior was truly amazing and full of detail. A definite must-see in Rome.
All that walking had worked up quite an appetite! Fortunately, we had dinner reservations nearby at Antica Trattoria da Pietro a Pantheon, another TripAdvisor find located on Via dei Pastini.
Our waiter immediately brought out some fresh bread and olive oil, which hit the spot.
And then something fantastic happened that remains one of my favorite stories from our trip.
Bobby and I asked for a bottle of the house wine to start. Our waiter clarified whether we wanted the large size, which was posted on the menu for only 10 euro, or “medio,” which based on his hand gestures looked like a much smaller portion. Thinking we would be getting the full bottle for a good price, we asked for the large – and were greeted with the biggest carafe of wine we’d ever seen.
I’m not sure that the picture does it justice, but this carafe easily had two bottles in it. The price of the house wine went from good to GREAT! At first we were a little embarrassed. Couples at the tables nearby all had the “medio” carafe, which in hindsight looked to be made for two people. But after joining in as they laughed at us, we decided it was our job to conquer the complex task that had been set before us. After all, when in Rome, you must drink every last drop of house wine…right?
Over the course of the next couple hours, we feasted between generous sips. We began by sharing an order of buffalo mozzarella with tomatoes and greens.
For his entrée, Bobby ordered the ravioli, which was cheesy and delicious.
I went with the maltagliati cozze e pecorino, a homemade seafood pasta with mussels galore.
And for dessert, we were each given a very tasty piece of dark chocolate.
Mission accomplished, we walked our wine happy selves over to the Trevi Fountain to make an after dinner wish. I was amazed by how packed it was – couples, friends, families…everyone wanted a turn at tossing a coin in hopes that their wildest dreams might become reality.
Our wish? Destined to remain a mystery. But I really hope it comes true.