January 13, 2013
Roman Holiday

I'm just getting around to a report on Susan's December/Birthday/Get-Away vacation.

I have to say, it wasn’t easy this year. Back in April, I booked frequent-flier free tickets to Cambodia and the magnificent ruins at Angor Wat. But in November, we learned that the legislature would be meeting in December, and although I won’t be a member until January, I needed to be there. Scratch Angor Wat!!

We researched options where free seats were still available. Susie found a delightlful Mediterranian resort at the ancient city of Carthage. It was historical, sunny, and exotic. But when we checked visa requireents, we discoved that the State Department was warning against travel to Tunisia. Scrap Carthage!

Long ago, Carthage and her general Hannibal had challenged Rome. Rome….

We’d been there years ago for one rushed afternoon. It had been a Sunday and many of the sites were closed (They close the Sistine Chapel on Sundays??) Rome was further north and not as warm. But we’d wanted to go back for a quality visit and with seats available, this seemed the ideal opportunuity. We packed sweaters and headed for the airport.

Rome Airport

The champagne waiting in our room told us we’d landed in the right place. Refreshed with a fine night’s sleep, we took tourist-map in hand and marched out to engage the eternal city.

Parthenon Parthenon Parthenon Parthenon Parthenon

First stop was the Pantheon. Approaching from the back, the structure is unremarkable. But then you realize the temple was constructed two thousand years ago to honor all pagan gods. Five hundred years later, it was converted to a church and has been in continuous use ever since. The inside is breathtaking. You find a 120 foot tall perfect dome, illuminated by a small opening at the top, the Oculus, which is the only source of light. It was cool in December, but not cold. And the place was practically empty!

Trevi Fountain

Five minutes away was the Trevi Fountain. It was crisp, clean, and surprisingly romantic despite the bus loads of tourist arriving from nearby cruise ships.

I resisted the urge to toss in a coin and make a wish. That wish would have been that people tossed money in a pool in front of my own business instead of the coffee shops and boutiques surrounding the square.

Twenty minutes away down fascinating streets, the Coliseum rose above the trees and buildings. We walked along the Forum and past the Arch of Titus which celebrated the capture of Jerusalem and the end of the Jewish revolt in 70 AD. At the bottom of the hill was the 300 year newer Arch of Constantine.

Forum Collesium Parthenon Arch

We circled the Coliseum, lined up to take photos, tried to avoid souvenir entrepreneurs, and bought tickets to go inside.

Capable of seating 50,000 spectators, the Coliseum was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles such as mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas based on Classical mythology. The most popular item in the gift shop? Copies of Russell Crowe’s helmet from the Gladiator film.

We strolled to the nearby area of the city which once was designated as the Jewish Ghetto. Ironically, this once walled-in, discriminated neighborhood now contains upscale apartments that older families cannot afford. The Jews of Rome are unique because they came to the city as merchants rather than as refugees. Streets are still lined with kosher restaurants specializing in fried artichokes that are only prepared properly by Jewish grandmothers.

A pleasant walk back along the Tiber to our hotel finished the afternoon and we found a nice local restaurant with pleasantly personal service to finish the day.

Pompeii

Our second morning began early. A private guide was waiting at seven for a three hour drive south to the ruins of Pompeii.

Pompeii is remarkable for a number of reasons and a trip there was the deciding factor in our choice to visit Italy this year.

As you know, the thriving Roman port town of Pompeii was covered in ash by the eruption of nearby Mount Vesuvius in the year AD79. Life and culture was frozen in time until the site was discovered and excavation begun 1700 years later. Want to see Rome as it really was? Go to Pompeii.

Nearly three million tourists visit the city each year. But we came in December on a clear, cool day following a rainfall. The place was eerily empty.

We have visited Roman sites in Britain, Jordan, Turkey, and of course, Italy. Nothing prepared us for the remarkable detail left in Pompeii.

The first thing you notice are the wide, smooth boulevards. At key intersections, stones are placed in the roadway. There are openings wide enough for chariot wheels. But when then rains came, the streets could be safely crossed.

Pompeii Pompeii Pompeii

Food stalls lined some streets. You could see the cooking spaces and sales counters. Seems McDonald did not invent fast food to go…

We saw fine homes with statues and mosaics. We saw temples and plazas. We saw the gladiator school and amphitheater.

Pompeii Pompeii Pompeii Pompeii

Up one fine street, we found the bordellos. A mosaic menu over each room gave customers inspiration or the daily special. Inside small rooms, a hard stone bench looked difficult to sleep on – or do anything else.

The bath house contained art, hot and cool tubs, massage areas, and political advertising. “Hot air today provided by Senator Gombergus!”

And finally on display were castings.

It seems excavators and archeologists often found hollow sections in the ash. When they poured plaster into the space, they created reproductions of people as they fell, suffocated during the eruption. Over the millium, bodies had decomposed, leaving open spaces behind.

Here were merchants, soldiers, slaves, children, and even city dogs, preserved forever. As I said, Pompeii presented Rome as it really was.

Pompeii
Almalfi

We conclude the day with a dizzying drive along the Almalfi coast. The sun came out in the afternoon, and the blue Mediterranean sparked.

Rugged cliffs, winding roads, and picturesque towns made for a memorable drive. Stops for Lemoncello and gellati didn’t hurt! And we were back in Rome for a comfortable dinner.

Day three we did the unthinkable. We slept late!

After lunch, we took a leisurely stroll to the Vatican City. Perhaps we should have come sooner and accepted the constant offers for tours. But instead, we explored the square and opted for a late afternoon stroll through St. Peter’s Basilica.

Vatican City Vatican City Vatican City

The entire interior of St Peter's is lavishly decorated with marble, reliefs, architectural sculpture and gilding. The basilica contains a large number of tombs of popes and other notable people, many of which are considered outstanding artworks. There are also a number of sculptures in niches and chapels, including Michelangelo's Pieta.

Gombero

Walking back toward the hotel, Susan stopped to look at a poster plastered to the marble wall. Seems she is famous here already!!

Three days doesn’t seem like much of a vacation, or ample time to visit a great city. But you’d be surprised how much you can see, what you can learn, and how much adventure you can pack into three days!

The trip home was uneventful. Extra frequent-flier miles got us upgraded seats and we stopped in Denver for the night with time for a nice dinner with friends. We got home on Sunday and Monday morning, I reported to the Capitol.

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