Above the clouds, early in the morning flying from Tbilisi to Istanbul, the wing tip is of a Pegasus airliner. Maybe flying has become so commonplace that few of us spend much time looking out the window on a flight, but for me the view above the clouds is still magical like flying on a winged horse.
It has been a while since we have travelled outside Georgia, except for annual trips to England and a few excursions into neighbouring Turkey. This year we decided we wanted to see somewhere new and interesting. My wife had always dreamed of visiting Paris and Italy. We visited Paris in 2012, so, now it was time to visit Italy. I’d been to Italy twice before. In 1981, I visited Pompeii at the end of a Mediterranean Cruise with Berkshire Schools aboard SS Uganda, having seen many archaeological sites earlier in the trip (Ephesus, Corinth and Athens), I probably didn’t appreciate Pompeii, as much as I should. That trip was supposed to start in Venice but the Italian Air Traffic Controllers were on strike, so we flew to Dubrovnik, where a coach took us to meet our ship in Split (now Croatia), a nice city but lacking the cachet of Venice.
In 1996, I went with my first wife to Sicily and we saw the New Year (1997) arrive in Augusta near Catania. Sicily, I remember for the best food I’d ever had on a trip (this was before I visited Valencia) , for the amazing Greek ruins at Agrigento and the spectacular Mount Etna.
Rome is one of those quasi-mythical historical cities like Jerusalem and Istanbul/Constantinople. I’d visited the other two and now I had tickets for Rome. We flew with Pegasus from Tbilisi via Istanbul.
Because our plane left at “stupid o’clock“(4:30am) from Tbilisi, we arrived in Rome around 11am. We had our first taste of Italian food at the airport, before taking a Shuttle Bus to the centre of Rome. After settling into our hotel, we set off to visit the Colosseum.
The lines were less than we expected, there were a lot of tourists, but we were able to get in quite quickly. Following the advice of the Lonely Planet Guide we bought tickets for the Palatine and Colosseum combined and then headed to the Colosseum, mid afternoon the queues weren’t too bad. After we strolled around the Palatino.
Then slowly we wandered back to our hotel savouring the magnificent architecture of the city.
The following morning we got up early to get to the Trevi Fountain before the crowds, and before we’d even breakfasted, when we arrived we saw a wedding photographer in action, also taking advantage of the fountain before the crowds. They say if you throw a coin over your right shoulder into the fountain you will surely return to Rome, we didn’t.
After a large breakfast from the buffet, we took a metro ride to the Vatican. Approaching the Vatican Walls, we were stopped by a persuasive sales rep, who persuaded us we needed a guide to fully appreciate the Vatican and jump the queues. The guided tour was a steep 55 Euro each, of which entrance to the Vatican was just 16 Euro. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, the queues that day weren’t too long, had we known we could have saved ourselves a lot of money and just gone in by ourselves. As it was, we went in with a group of 30, it seems most of the other visitors to the Vatican were also with tour guides, we carried head sets so we could listen to our miked up guide.
We passed through rooms of statues, maps and tapestries, ending up at the Sistine Chapel. Apart from the Sistine Chapel our guide missed a lot of the paintings of the Vatican Museum. If we ever return to Rome, we will see the Vatican Museum without a guide…or at least check to see the size of the queues before going in with a guide. The Sistine Chapel was crowded like the room in the Louvre that holds the Mona Lisa. Photos were not permitted in the Sistine Chapel, although some sneaky tourists were surreptitiously taking pictures. One advantage of the guide was that after The Sistine Chapel, he knew a short cut to St Peter’s Basilica, which saved us traipsing all the way back to the entrance of the Vatican Museum, there we parted company, so we could explore the Basilica for ourselves.
St Peter’s is the most renowned work of Renaissance Architecture, a famous place for pilgrimage and said to hold the burial site of St Peter. In the North Aisle there is Michaelangelo’s sublime statue of the Pietà.
After an hour in the Basilica we headed back to our hotel on foot, walking along the Tiber, some of the way.
Our third day in Rome we began with the Church of St Maria Maggiore, one of many lavish churches in the capital of Roman Catholicism.
We continued with St Pietro in Vincoli and the Colosseum again, but just from the outside this time. Walking in Rome, you can feast your eyes on some magnificent architecture from all eras. At Circo Massimo, my hay-fever was a little troublesome, possibly because of the pollen from the trees in that area. We passed the splendid monument to Victor Emmanuel II and finally came to the Pantheon. The building is circular with a portico of large granite Corinthian columns. The building was completed under the Roman Emperor Hadrian. Almost two thousand years after it was built, the Pantheon’s dome is still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome. Once a temple for the Roman Gods it is now a church dedicated to St Mary and the Martyrs, due to its continual use throughout the centuries, it is today one of the best preserved Roman monuments.
After the Pantheon, we visited the Piazza Navona and a few more churches before heading back footsore to our hotel.
On the fourth day, we headed out of Rome on the train to Bologna….
to be continued….