Thursday, July 17, 2014

From Rome With Love

To preface these European vacation posts, I have to first explain a bit about how this trip came about. You see, my Aunt Barbara (affectionately called Aunt B), passed away a few years ago due to cancer (ugh, I hate that word), and left several people in the family the remainder of her estate. She had no children, so my sisters and my cousins were very much who she spoiled. My sisters and I all chose different ways to continue her legacy with what she left, and I love walking into our church every week knowing that she played a major part in funding our new adventure and has left quite a mark on this city already. If you would have met her, you would have immediately felt like a friend, and that is a very frequent comment we get from newcomers who walk through our doors. I don't think it's entirely a coincidence. My mom, on the other hand, really thought for a long time about how she wanted to honor her sister's memory. She and my dad cruised Europe last year, and while they were away, she kept talking about how she wished her girls were there to experience it all with her. Having two sisters of her own, and knowing how special that bond is, and also taking into consideration that my aunt loved to travel, she found her perfect gift, and the gift really fell on us daughters! To be treated to a 10-day trip to Europe is something I would have never fathomed in my wildest dreams, and we all knew it was a once-in-a-lifetime offer! I struggled with the decision, knowing that it would come right after being away from the babies while Josh and I were in California, but I also knew what a rare and HUGELY generous opportunity this was. So after some thought and many encouraging conversations from Josh, I applied for my passport and jumped on board (kind of literally I guess). And let me just say, I am incredibly glad that I did. And we found it pretty cool that our travel agent and one of our tour guides both were Barbara's… she was definitely with us on our adventure.

Our first stop was Rome. We boarded the plane in the US at 11am our time and landed in Rome at 2am our time (8am Rome time). Since we couldn't check in, we immediately set out exploring. None of us were able to get much sleep on the plane (who can do that anyway??), so by the afternoon, many of our conversations were pretty non-sensical since our brains stopped functioning. In the morning we saw the Spanish stairs (which had some construction going on), the Trevi fountain (which was unfortunately behind a lot of scaffolding also due to some cleaning… the first time they've done this in 200-some-odd years), and ate some pizza at a little cafe. Pizza in Italy? Yes, please!

After lunch we were able to check into our hotel, take a quick power-nap, and had to meet for a 2pm tour. My mom opted for a guided tour of the Colosseum and the ruins of the Roman Forum, and while we started out strong, we were all fading as our 3-hour tour turned into one that was closer to 4 hours. But I must say, the Colosseum should be on everyone's bucket list… it is so incredibly magnificent and I was amazed at how much of it remains. I had watched Gladiator on the flight over, so I had geared up for it! Haha! There are TONS of tourists in Rome in the summer, but this is one place where the monstrous size is large enough to handle them all. It did not feel crowded in there at all, and we got great views of everything inside and out. Here are some pictures, and a short video of the inside, since nothing will do it justice like seeing it in person does!

They've recovered a lot of great sculptures and statues, most of which are in the history museum in Rome, but they do have a few on display in the Colosseum as well. And for me it was interesting to learn that there are no documented records of Christians being killed during the games (not as gladiators, but things like crucifixions, being fed to lions, etc. during intermissions) although that is widely-known and spread information. In Rome they call it a legend… so widely known that it becomes truth. Because when you think about it, why would anyone want actual documentation of the persecution of a race if it can be avoided? I just thought it was pretty fascinating. Another cool little factoid is that the arena was built by slaves, many of them Jewish and Christians (although not openly so), so this painting (which is hard to see in person, so definitely in this picture) was not a part of the plans, because it depicts their homeland, complete with the site of Jesus on the cross on the Mount of Olives (bottom left). So many people died for their beliefs, and surely died during the strenuous work to build this amazing structure, but it did not stop so many from being bold. I love it. We could all learn so much from courageous acts like that!

We probably spent about two hours in and around the Colosseum and I think we all could have stayed longer. There is just so much to see and I could have probably stared at it in amazement for hours. It also helped that the stone structure was nice and cool and it was a very hot day! We headed to the ruins of the Roman Forum next, where we also saw ruins of an altar to a pagan god, an ancient villa and gardens, the arena from the very first Olympic games, and other buildings. I honestly wish I could tell you more details about what all is over there, but very few things were labeled! We all wished that there had been more plaques and explanations, because even though our tour guide was talking us through the whole thing, by that time between the heat, the jet lag, the lack of sleep, and her thick accent, I think we had pretty much tuned her out. She was great, but four hours of walking on no sleep is a long time. Rome is pretty amazing though because you'll just be walking along a modern, busy street, and then BAM! Ancient ruins everywhere. I loved the mixture of the old and the new. It makes me realize just how young our country is in comparison!

All of us were surprised to see so many of these trees in Rome. To us, they looked like something you'd see on the plains of Africa, but they were everywhere. Sea pines is what they're called.

We finished the day with a pasta dinner at a quaint little restaurant, and my sisters decided that they hadn't had enough and went back out to see the Colosseum at night. I had the energy, but the thought of the stuffy subway and the crowds turned me off to the idea. We were crammed into very full and stifling hot subway trains several times in the day, and a shower and comfy bed (although I later learned that the hotel was beautiful, but the bed felt like a sheet of plywood covered in sheets… not that I cared at that point) sounded much, much more appealing. It looks like they had a great time though!

Rome in a day is A LOT, but we had to make the most of it since that's all we had! In all honesty, aside from wanting to see the Trivi fountain when it's not being cleaned (because that thing was FAR bigger and more grand than I ever expected) and going with Josh and the kids to experience the Colosseum and the Vatican (which I will post on next) someday, it was not my favorite city. Some people complain that New York City (one of my favorite places) is dirty, but it is nothing compared to Rome. Sure, there were clean parts, but I witnessed many people littering, there's tons of graffiti everywhere, and a large portion of the people smoke. And don't get me started on the bathrooms… I'm just thankful that businesses in the US find it totally acceptable if you just need to run in and use the restroom, even if you did not buy anything. I didn't realize what a nicety that is! And honestly, going at a different time of year when it isn't so hot or crowded would probably be a nice change too… busy season always has better prices, but the experience is never quite as nice. 

Sorry for the picture overload, but you are going to have to expect that as I get through these Europe posts… this is somewhat of a journal for me, so I want to make sure it's all included. Our day in Rome, however, all four of us carried a camera. It's mind-boggling how many pictures we have from that one day (as well as how many we've lraedy deleted!). As the trip went along, we carried less and less, so that thankfully there wasn't so much to weed through. There was so much to see, that there was a photo opportunity at every turn… a photography lover's dream.  Hopefully it's understandable.  :)

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