Sunday, January 15, 2012

Italy: La Dolce Vita - Rome

Waking up one last morning in the our rural Tuscan oasis at Locanda dell'Amarosa, Diane and I decided that instead of hurrying out to see one more town before making our way to the train station to go to Rome, we'd instead spend a leisurely morning on site at the hotel to enjoy the food and the setting.

By 10 a.m. or so, it was time to get going as we had to drive to a nearby town to catch the train for the last stop of our trip.

(A complete set of pictures from the Italy portion of our trip can be seen HERE. I've just added pictures relevant to Rome at the end.)

We caught the train at a town called Chiusi and the ride to the Eternal City from there took about two and half hours. Arriving at the big Termini station in central Rome, we exited the train and into the hot Roman sun to catch a taxi to the lovely Crossing Condoti hotel. This small boutique is near the Spanish Steps and well located to catch the subway or walk to any number of great restaurants, bars and shops.

Service at this hotel is wonderful and within 30 min. of us checking in, the manager had arranged tickets to the Vatican Museum for that afternoon. He also recommended lunch a the delightful Gina restaurant just a few blocks from our hotel.

In terms of the Vatican, we'd already seen the museum in detail in our trip to Italy some years ago, so we were not keen on seeing the whole thing again. But, we did want to see the famous Sistine Chapel again because when we were there before it was partly under restoration. So, we wanted a clear look at the restored room. Making our way through the crowds and the various exhibits, we eventually  made it to our destination deep within the boarders of the Vatican City. It was worth the effort as the stunning work of art is the Sistine Chapel reviled itself to us anew and like never before. One does not need to be a religious person to draw inspiration or appreciate this intense display. Unfortunately, you are not allowed to take pictures inside the chapel, so all I have is a postcard scan.

We next walked to St. Peter's Square and then into St. Peter's itself for a look. Again, impressive in many ways. For me, however, these massive displays of wealth and power from a religious organization come with some pretty heavy doses of irony and hypocrisy. One can definitely see how European power through the ages ran straight through the Catholic Church. And so it is that every time I'm in a place like that I have split feelings - appreciation and awe for the architectural achievements and sense of history, but then also a sense of disgust given how many millions upon millions of people were kept in poverty, harmed, killed or simply scammed by or in the name of organized religion.

Exiting the church, we made a stop to get gelato on the way back to the hotel - calling it an afternoon and taking a rest before heading out to dinner at a restaurant nearby our hotel.

The following day was our one and only full day in Rome. And what better to do than hit the highlights? We started at the Coliseum, checked out the apartments and palaces of the Roman Emperors up on the, Palatine hill, then took in the Roman Forum. This adventure took up the morning, and after a stop at the Pantheon for a look, we had lunch at a nearby restaurant.

All of these ancient Roman ruins impress me. That such an advanced society existed 2,000 years ago is inspirational and makes a person - at least me - really think about history and what has come before and what may come again. To that point, it's all too clear when walking the ruins that Roman society fell. I'm sure the Romans didn't think their society would end, that their way of living would slide into history...past tense reference instead of an enduring symbol of human advancement. In this context, looking at the ruins of a once great society, I wonder what will become of ours - western society in general and the USA in particular. We're already seeing signs of decay and backsliding with our economy and democracy massively distorted by big money and corporate interests, our culture warped by celebrity distraction and a "look at me" populous. Who knows, in 500 years will tourists by looking at the decayed ruins of an abandoned and almost forgotten NYC, Dallas or San Francisco?

Anyway, with these things on my mind, we walked over to the cheery - but VERY crowded - Trevi Fountain. It's beautiful and hundreds of people at a time come to look at it and toss in a coin along with a wish. We capped off our afternoon with a walk back to the neighborhood our hotel was in and did a little shopping.

In the evening, we walked up the Spanish Steps and into the neighborhood above to have dinner with a spectacular view overlooking Rome. A perfect way to end our stay in that city and as the last evening of our European trip.

And that was pretty much it. The next morning we were off to the airport for our trip home. Our flight pattern took us from Rome to London, London to NYC and NYC to Seattle. Long day. But, we arrived home safe, sound and with a ton of great memories.

NOTE: All pictures in this post taken by Marc Osborn and are not authorized for any use without prior written permission from him.

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