On July 2nd, our Italian tour group left Sorrento for Pompeii. We would tour the ruins of Pompeii and then proceed to Rome, our final destination on the ten-day trip. Pompeii is located away from the coast, which meant returning to the heat of the interior after the breezy days in Sorrento and Capri. Even though the heat time was “normal” 90 degree heat, we tried to avoid the sun as much as possible.
Still, the ruins were amazing, and some things were worth braving the sun for.
Walking through Pompeii is an amazing experience, but it was super crowded with an intense sun. Every opportunity to get in the shade was appreciated.
It’s amazing to think that Vesuvius buried the city in 20 meters of ash. As a result, some of the areas are amazingly preserved.
Pompeii was so crowded that there was a half-hour wait to get into the more popular areas, like the brothels and the section with most of the plaster molds of the people buried in ash. With our tight schedule and lack of available FastPasses, we had to skip those.
We wound our way to the main square at Pompeii, the Pompeii Forum, with its scenic views of Mount Vesuvius.
Reaching the forum was a joyous occasion.
When we left the ruins, we grabbed lunch in Pompeii at a hotel restaurant that provided a “lunch combo” that included one free drink. After being in the sun all morning, some travelers needed more water than that, but acquiring the water without paying for it (which is standard in Italy) was a dilemma, especially since the restroom, the only source of free water, was across the lobby and down two flights of stairs. Sean, however, was up to this challenge, packing two of the empty glasses at the table in a messenger bag, stealthily traversing the lobby, descending the stairs, and filling the glasses. Returning was more of a trick, as Sean had to balance the full glasses in the bag as he climbed stairs and crossed lobbies without attracting notice, which he did WITHOUT SPILLING ANY WATER!
After this victory over Italian pay-for-water schemes, we got back in the bus, traveled the two and a half hours to Rome, dropped off our luggage, and began exploring the city.
Right across the street from the hotel was the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels, which was originally designed by Michelangelo on the site of a Roman bath. In many ways, this basilica was more impressive than the more famous one in St. Mark’s Square in Venice.
We were also given some pro tips on how to use the city fountains by our tour manager.
Our hotel was a little less than a mile from the very heart of the city, and after dinner, we took the short walk to the Roman Forum.
The Forum itself was closed at this time, so we got some good pictures of the area minus the usual summer crowds.
As with our earlier trip to Florence, the evening was much cooler and breezier in Rome, and walks around cities are always more pleasurable when you aren’t trapped between the heat of the sun and the heat radiating from pavement.
And since it had been nearly seven hours since we last had gelato, we stopped at our first Roman gelateria.
The next destination of the night was the Trevi Fountain, and on our way to the Trevi Fountain, we stopped at the Monument to Victor Emmanuel, the monument to Italian unification started in the late 19th century and completed under Mussolini in 1935.
Our celebration of the creation of an Italian nation-state somehow devolved into this.
Not long afterward, we reached the Trevi Fountain. It turns out that the Trevi Fountain is kind of popular
The last time we visited Rome, the Trevi Fountain was being renovated, and during that trip the fountain was surrounded by a plexiglass barrier to keep people away from the construction. The plexiglass wall didn’t stop tourists, desperate to toss a coin into the fountain in order to have their wish to return to Rome fulfilled, from hurling coins at high velocity toward the barrier, trying to clear the wall and reach the Fountain, but with most of them impacting the wall with loud cracking sounds. This time, without a barrier or the danger of ricocheting euros, travelers like Evan could take a more conventional approach to getting a coin in the fountain.
Then we extricated ourselves from the crowds and headed back to the hotel.
We would need a good sleep because the next day was the busiest of the tour. We had the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica in the morning and the Colosseum in the evening, the most popular places in all of Rome. The busy schedule would compel Jaden to break his record-setting streak of six days with an afternoon nap.
I had been to the Vatican twice before, and we typically went in the afternoon, following a morning visit to the Colosseum. Since this tour would reverse that order, I was hoping that we would experience reduced crowds in the morning.
The Vatican’s “rule” for the Basilica is that men are supposed to wear long pants and women either long pants or a long skirt. Wearing long pants in the hot sun in Rome was brutal.
Then we were off to see the Sistine Chapel. The Vatican plays this game where it funnels crowds through the entire Vatican Museum to get to the Sistine Chapel, rather than putting the Chapel right at the front like the Florence Academia has done with David. The result is slow-moving, wall-to-wall herd of tourists doing a zombie shuffle through the museum.
The works of art in the museum are incredible, but the level of appreciation isn’t what it could be because everyone is on a mission to see the Sistine Chapel first. At around 11am, we reached the Chapel.
The Vatican does not allow photographs in the Sistine Chapel. The first time I visited, in 2013, this rule was rigorously enforced. This time, not so much.
It seems that just about any photography short of asking the guards at the Sistine Chapel to take a picture of you would probably fly nowadays.
It’s always incredible to see the Sistine Chapel. The size, the detail, the 3-D perspective (especially along the sides of the ceiling), and the fact that the entire room is full of priceless art by Michelangelo and other Renaissance masters make it more than worth the lengthy zombie shuffle it took to reach the room.
Eventually, we were herded into the Sistine Chapel holding tank before exiting for proceed to our next stop, St. Peter’s Basilica, the largest church in the world.
The inside of the basilica is simply massive. From where I took this picture to the Throne of St. Peter at the end is over two football fields long.
As is often the case on these tours, we had a guide who was speaking to us through “Whispers.” A whisper is a device which allows tourists to hear guides through a single-war earbud so that the tour guide don’t have to try to yell over the crowd noise. As we found on this trip, with the crowds and heat, the guide had better be pretty phenomenal to make listening to a whisper worthwhile.
Many times, it was easier to appreciate what we were visiting by disengaging from the guide and taking in the sights on our own.
Perhaps the most impressive feature of the basilica is the dome, which rises over 400 feet from the floor of the Basilica. The letters ringing the dome were scaled to appear the same size as the lower letters, meaning that the upper letters are about the same size as a person.
We also discovered that people wearing longer shorts were admitted to the basilica, which meant all of kneecap sweat was for nothing. Around 1pm, the bus came by to take us back to the hotel, where we then peeled off our long pants and went out for our last lunch in Italy.
After a terrific meal of pasta, which was gnocchi for most of our travelers, we faced the greatest challenge of the tour: doing the math necessary to break up the bill. After engaging in what was surely an AP Statistics-caliber effort, we think we paid what we owed correctly, and if we didn’t, we have reached the safe shores of the United States at the time of this writing anyway. After lunch, it was time for our last formal tour, this time of the Colosseum.
Just as at the Vatican, the lines were crazy long. Fortunately, we are pretty good at entertaining ourselves.
Eventually, after jockeying for position in the line with large tour groups from east Asia and Russia, we made it in to the Colosseum.
Walking around an arena that was built 2,000 years ago and could safely fit 50,000 spectators is amazing. It’s one of those places that can’t really be captured in pictures.
The crowds and long lines slowed down our Colosseum tour a bit, and we didn’t exit the arena until almost 6pm, which was just in time for a dinner of pizza. After dinner, the plan was for our tour manager to take us by the Pantheon and the Trevi Fountain.
It was here that our tour manager temporarily lost his mind. Stopping at the corner of the square that houses the Pantheon, the Roman temple to all of the gods, one of only Roman structures still intact in its original form, a building that still has the largest concrete dome not reinforced by steel, and, most importantly, the model for the University of Virginia’s Rotunda, Ian announced, “Prepare to view one of the most amazing structures you will ever see.” He then speedwalked across the square, exiting at the other end in less than a minute. What Ian did is kind of like saying, “Guys, get ready to see the Eiffel Tower!” and then sprinting past it in order to set a personal best 40 yard dash time.
As a reader of this blog may have noted, we like to take pictures in our group. A lot. Needless to say, our tour manager’s blitzkrieg approach to seeing the Pantheon caused the group to become separated. When Laura alerted a parent from the group traveling with us from Pennsylvania that they were missing several children and might want to stop and find them, the lady replied, “But then we might miss the Fountain!”
Because smartphones have become bionically connected to teenagers, we were able to use the miracle of modern technology to regroup at the Trevi Fountain, which was slightly less crowded than the night before.
Everyone had a chance to throw their coins in the fountain to get the three wishes, the third of which is the chance to return to Rome.
After seeing Venice, Florence, Sorrento, Capri, and Rome, it was time to head back to the states. We got to the airport on July 3rd only to find out that our flight back to Atlanta had been delayed by about an hour and a half. This wasn’t all bad; of the airports to be stuck in, Rome is near the top of the list. There is a full mall in the terminal just past security.
At around 2pm, we boarded the plane to head back to the States.
When we landed in Atlanta, the delay had left us under two hours to go through customs, get our checked bags, recheck of bags, go back through security, and find our gates. We weren’t sure if we would make it, especially since Evan’s passport, with a picture of him at age 11 or 12, basically looked like this:
Unexpectedly, once we were through customs, the rest of the process was highly efficient, and we made it back to Richmond by 11pm. Now that were were home, Italy would surely miss the grace and class with which we toured that country.
It was a fantastic trip, from big and small cities and from mountains to the sea!