I left Naples early in the morning and caught a train to Rome. It was great staying with Mel and Jamy, and if I didn't have Wendy and Steven's visit to look forward to, I easily could have stayed longer! I met Wendy and Steven in the main train station in Rome after wandering around the station several times. Apparently Rome train stations don't believe in maps, or at least in accurately reproducing what is in the station in the very infrequent maps they do have. But we managed to meet up as planned at a cafe. We stayed in a lovely hotel (thanks mom and dad!) at the top of the Spanish steps. It really was an ideal location -- close walking distance to just about everything. I think we only took the metro once or twice.
Rome is an amazing city. The skyline is absolutely beautiful -- there are no skyscrapers or tall buildings to block your sightline in any direction. The number of domes and monuments visible are just breathtaking. We had a great view from the terrace of our hotel out over the city. The first night we just wandered around taking in the city. We managed to find our way (accidentally) to the Trevi Fountain. What a amazing fountain, and it was so beautiful all lit up at night! There were lots of people milling around -- tourists throwing coins into the fountain, teenagers making out, and people just wandering. We also wandered past the Pantheon. The Pantheon is the best preserved buildings of ancient Rome and the model after which all other domes were made. The architects of the Renaissance were so amazed by the construction of the dome that they actually had to cut a square out of it to understand the principles behind it. It is thre reason for the dome on St. Peter's basilica and on our Capitol building. One of the best things about it is the oculus at the top, which to this day is open to the elements. So if it is raining in Rome, it is raining in the Pantheon.
On our second day in Rome, we visited the Vatican. Wendy had (very smartly) pre-booked a Vatican tour for us. This was really the only way to go, as those without tours were standing in line for tickets for at least 1 - 2 hours. As it was, we skipped the line and headed straight into the Vatican Museums. The museums are really overwhelming, with just an enormous collection of important art. According to our guide, if you spent 60 seconds looking at each piece, you would be in the museum for longer than 12 years! Thankfully our guide could lead us to the highlights without any aimless wandering. One of my favorite pieces in the museum and a statue I have wanted to see for years is the Laocoon. This is one of the best preserved examples of Greek statuary made in the first century BC. It was buried for centuries before being uncovered in 1506 in Rome and given a place of importance in the Vatican. It is such a beautiful statue, showing so much movement and emotion -- an incredible work of art.
Of course the other major highlights of the Vatican are Raphael's paintings in the apartments and the Sistine Chapel. The most famous of Raphael's painting is the School of Athens, an enormous mural showing all of the major players in ancient Greece, as well as many contemporary Roman artists of Raphael's time. The Sistine Chapel is really incredible. It is such a huge project; amazing to think of Michelangelo dedicating so much time to a work he really didn't want to do. When he was selected to paint the Sistine Chapel, he had never really painted before. He was a sculptor. But the pope wanted him to paint, and so he painted. And the result still leaves us all in awe. St. Peter's Basilica is another awe-inspiring site in the Vatican. This is the largest church in the world and it feels like it. It is completely overwhelming to walk into the Basilica and feel the massive size. It is beautifully decorated with numerous artworks. My favorite was Michelangelo's Pieta, an incredibly moving and life-like depiction of the Virgin Mary holding the dead Christ. We didn't get to see the Pope during our visit, but we did see several Swiss Guards, which was a highlight for Steven.
Rome is such an incredible place because it really is the center of so much of civilization. It is the center of western civilization as we know it, and the democracy that we know today. It is also the center of christianity and the Church, as well as one of the most important renaissance art cities. It seems like everywhere you turn there is another building or artwork of importance. It really is overwhelming to take it all in. One of my favorite places we visited was the Roman Forum. This was the heart of ancient Rome and so similar to many modern day cities --the markets, the courts, the temples and houses. A good majority of the Forum has been unearthed, and walking down the wide streets it is easy to picture it as it was back in the day. The Colosseum was also amazing. It is a little funny that so many tourists flock to a place where the main sport was killing. But it is remarkable how similar the Colosseum is to our modern-day sports stadiums. Down to the aisleways, entrances and exits and seat numbers, it feels just like being in a modern-day football, basketball or baseball stadium. It made me feel that we have so much in common with ancient Rome and Romans.