Be prepared for a long post… Rome was, by far, my favourite place that we visited on this cruise. It was absolutely beautiful and even more surreal than I had ever imagined. I have moments in my life, over here in England and while traveling around Europe, that I have to stop and take everything in because I’ve seen the places on TV or movies and then I AM STANDING RIGHT THERE! Rome was full of those moments.
We booked our excursion through a website (recommended by the travel agent) called www.cruisingexcursions.com. They were so helpful to us. When we found out that our ship was docking about 2 hours after the tour pick up, we called them and they assured us that we would still get the tour and the guide would be waiting. After we waited in the queue to get on the shuttle bus to the port entrance we got off the bus to find a very handsome Italian man looking for me (okay, he was looking for us but me sounds better). We thought we’d be going on a regular tour bus, but we found that there was one other family (3 people) from another ship who would be going with us in a really nice mini-bus. I suppose we started the day off on the wrong foot with the others because we were late (not our fault) and they were waiting for a while.
We climbed into the mini-bus and started the 1 1/2 hour journey to Rome. It didn’t feel like a very long ride at all. The “others” chatted with the driver, but Chris and I were in the very back and so we just took in the scenery.
Now, I’ve driven in some big cities but I would NEVER drive in Rome. There is no order, and yet people get around quickly and efficiently. Chris and I decided that it works for them because they aren’t aggressive drivers – just assertive. No one cares about lines on the road or lanes or lights. I was glad we had someone driving us who knew what he was doing.
We got to the centre of Rome and made our first stop at the side of the road. We learned very quickly that our driver knew all of the back alleys and side streets and so he could get us really close to the things we wanted to see. We all got out of the bus and agreed that we’d spend 15-20 minutes looking around. I didn’t like being rushed and the others didn’t seem like they cared too much about the sights (this proved more and more annoying as the day went on).
Our first stop was the Palace. I became official picture taker for everyone who walked by me and Chris – seriously everyone was asking me to take their pictures. We felt like we were in a hurry and so didn’t get to explore too much. It was amazing, though. At the top of the steps (there are a lot of steps in Rome) there is a great view of the centre of Rome.
It was so nice at Christmas time – everywhere you looked you’d find a Christmas tree or lights or a Nativity Scene. The tour guide told us there was so much traffic because they only have 2 underground lines because every time they go to do another one, they end up finding remnants of Ancient Rome and then not being able to build. Maybe they could get an in-sky cable car system going then they wouldn’t run into any ruins – City of Rome… call me!
Next we headed to the Colosseum. I was excited to see this and once we did it was very surreal. We wanted to see inside but the others didn’t and so we only got 30 minutes here. Enough to see the sights and eat a big doughnut and head back. Next to the Colosseum there are several ruins that have been found. When you take the time to just stop – block out everything – and just be in the moment it is amazing to think how old the places are and how many people have stepped right where we were.
As a side note: I had to only pick a few pictures of each place, there are plenty more on Chris’ Blog: http://www.chrisandjamie.info
Next we headed to the Trevi Fountain. I was really excited to see this! The tour guide dropped us off on a street right next to it. We were told it would be crowded, but we were there in the off season and it wasn’t too bad at all. Chris said it should be called the Trevi Waterfall – he was disappointed that you couldn’t walk all the way around it. Now, on this trip I had several things that I HAD to do – one of them was eat Gelato in Rome. There were places all round the fountain and even though it was rainy and cold outside – we couldn’t resist. I am glad we didn’t – it was delicious!!! At this point we stopped worrying about making the others wait (there were at every stop) and just enjoy ourselves, after all we paid too!! We both tossed a coin into the fountain with our right hand over our left shoulder and by doing this it means we’ll return to Rome – I sure hope so!!!
Next we headed to the Spanish Steps. We got there and I thought to myself – there is no way me or Chris will make it up all those steps! But I was wrong, we climbed up to the top and it was amazing. Although we did have to fight off quite a few street vendors (me saying, “No thank you, no thanks.” over and over and Chris saying “NO!”).
The next stop was the Pantheon. This was the place I was most looking forward too after hearing from someone who had been there. I didn’t want to be rushed by the others and I didn’t want to worry that they were waiting so we said we wanted and hour here. I could tell the others weren’t very happy about it, but I couldn’t wait to get inside. I wasn’t disappointed at all. It is quite overwhelming when you step in. There are things all over the walls and if you look up there is a hole in the ceiling. I decided to get the little audio tour and listen to it to find out more. Chris wasn’t too interested in the tour and went around on his own and I took my time. It was quite neat that it was raining that day because of the hole in the ceiling the rain falls into the building and then drains through a slightly slanted floor. Just to walk around was great and, like the Colosseum, you could just feel the history. It was freezing, but I didn’t mind – I took my time. Then we decided that we still had some time once we were done and walked around the square and fountain outside (partly taking in the sights, partly looking for a grocery store). We got back to the bus and the others were waiting but I didn’t mind – I was determined to enjoy myself and I really was!
Our next stop was an unexpected treat for me! We stopped at the Piazza Naverno and found that, that was where the Christmas Market was! I hadn’t planned to see the Christmas Market in Rome because I knew we’d be on an organized tour. We got out and the others asked for about 15 minutes. I was quite disappointed that we’d be there such a short time, but I figured I got the hour at the Pantheon so I could compromise. We quickly walked through the square, trying to take everything in. Not only was there the Market to vie for my attention but there were fountains and old buildings. We ended up seeing as much as we could – we also came home with a witch. They were at nearly every stall and I thought they might have some significance so we got one for Halloween. When we got home I found out this about them:
In popular folklore Befana visits all the children of Italy on the eve of the Feast of the Epiphany to fill their socks with candy and presents if they are good or a lump of coal or dark candy if they are bad. In many poorer parts of Italy and in particular rural Sicily, a stick in a stocking was placed instead of coal. Being a good housekeeper, many say she will sweep the floor before she leaves. To some the sweeping meant the sweeping away of the problems of the year. The child’s family typically leaves a small glass of wine and a plate with a few morsels of food, often regional or local, for the Befana.
She is usually portrayed as an old lady riding a broomstick through the air wearing a black shawl and is covered in soot because she enters the children’s houses through the chimney. She is often smiling and carries a bag or hamper filled with candy, gifts, or both.
Christian legend had it that Befana was approached by the biblical magi, also known as the Three Wise Men (or the three kings) a few days before the birth of the Infant Jesus. They asked for directions to where the Son of God was, as they had seen his star in the sky, but she did not know. She provided them with shelter for a night, as she was considered the best housekeeper in the village, with the most pleasant home. The magi invited her to join them on the journey to find the baby Jesus, but she declined, stating she was too busy with her housework. Later, La Befana had a change of heart, and tried to search out the astrologers and Jesus. That night she was not able to find them, so to this day, La Befana is searching for the little baby. She leaves all the good children toys and candy (“caramelle”) or fruit, while the bad children get coal (“carbone”), onions or garlic.
Another Christian legend takes a slightly darker tone as La Befana was an ordinary woman with a child whom she greatly loved. However, her child died, and her resulting grief maddened her. Upon hearing news of Jesus being born, she set out to see him, delusional that he was her son. She eventually met Jesus and presented him with gifts to make him happy. The infant Jesus was delighted, and he gave La Befana a gift in return; she would be the mother of every child in Italy.
Also, popular tradition tells that if one sees La Befana one will receive a thump from her broomstick, as she doesn’t wish to be seen. This aspect of the tradition may be designed to keep children in their beds while parents are distributing candy (or coal) and sweeping the floor on Epiphany Eve.
Also, another commonly heard Christian legend of la Befana starts at the time of the birth of baby Jesus. Befana spends her days cleaning and sweeping. One day the magi, also known as the three wise men, came to her door in search of baby Jesus. Befana turned them away because she was too busy cleaning. Befana notices a bright light in the sky; she thinks this is the way to baby Jesus. She brought some baked goods and gifts for baby Jesus in her bag and took her broom to help the new mother clean and began her search for baby Jesus. She searched and searched for Baby Jesus, but never found him. Befana still searches today, after all these centuries. On the eve of the Epiphany, Befana comes to a house where there is a child and leaves a gift. Although she has been unsuccessful in her search, she still leaves gifts for good young children because the Christ Child can be found in all children.
Pretty interesting hu??? I am glad I got one now, and am a little torn if I should put it out at Halloween or the 5th of January.
Next we headed to St. Peters Square, Vatican City. I was full of questions about what exactly the Vatican City was and super smart Chris could answer all of them! (Who needs a tour guide??) Everyone warned us about the queues to get into the Sistine Chapel but there wasn’t one – unfortunately we didn’t have the time to go in. I was really disappointed and it made me more determined to go back sometime. The others didn’t really want to do anything so we had limited time. It was neat to stand in the square though. Knowing it was a very important religious place for a lot of people. It was important to me to compare it to Temple Square, in Utah. It is a place that Catholics will save up to see and has deep meaning. When I put it into that context I could understand even more how important it was. Our tour guide told us that the only residents of Vatican City are the people who work there – that was thousands of people. Quite strange the way it is its own little place in the middle of Rome.
We thought that was our last stop. I was really happy with the tour (all be it a bit hurried – but that wasn’t the tour company’s fault). Our guide ended up taking us to one last stop – a panoramic view of the whole city. He pointed out all the places we’d visited and it was right at sunset – it was absolutely stunning.
After this we headed back to port. Chris had mentioned to the guide that we were looking for a supermarket (you cant be in Italy and not get pasta?!?!?!). We never found one in town and so I just figured that we wouldn’t go to one. After quite a long drive home (the same, but it felt longer) – we pulled into a supermarket car park! He had stopped there for us to run in. Let me tell you – the others were not happy – but Chris and went it and it was like a scene from Supermarket Sweep – where they just grab stuff. We got the most unusual pasta we could find and stopped by the sweets isle on the way to the check out. I think we were in there a total of 5 minutes, when our guide came in to get us (he didn’t say it but the others sent him in, I am sure!). We paid and got back into the bus – thanking the tour guide and the others for stopping.
We were dropped off right outside our ship and we said goodbye to our guide. It was by far, for me, the best day of the trip – helped by all the things we got to take in. The next day we were heading to Savona to get the bus to Milan and back to the UK.
Oh I cant forget about the food – Here are just a few things we tried and saw: