Freedom in the Med…All Roads Lead to Rome

Our next stop is Rome.  I had booked a private tour with Italy Tour Sharing again.  And just as in Florence, they were right on time ready to go when we got off the ship.  And of course, as the saying goes, “All roads lead to Rome.”  What they don’t mention, is that all of those roads are packed with other people trying to get to Rome, also Rome is about an hour and fifteen minutes from the port area, so be prepared for that as well.

Once in Rome, we first stopped at the Januculum Terrace for some amazing views of Rome laid out before us.


This is also the site of Il Fontanone (the Big Fountain) built in 1612 and continuously in use ever since.  The most interesting part of this fountain (to me) is its ability to turn wine into water…yep you read that right.  The opposite of the great miracle.  You see, Pope Paul V, who built this fountain, raised the funds by imposing a tax on wine.  Needless to say, this caused a bit of consternation to everyone that didn’t actually need the clean water provided by this fountain.  Still, it is pretty.


And just in case you were wondering, yes it was still hot.  See that amazing blue cloudless sky…HOT!

We next moved on to the remains of the Roman Forum.  If you’ve read any of my previous reports, especially Athens or Ephesus, you know how much I love this stuff!


This is actually the first real example of Urban Sprawl as this area was developed piecemeal over several centuries.  Some of the excavated buildings date back over 2000 years!

Our next stop was Capitoline Hill.  One of the seven hills of Rome.  This one has some really old stuff but it is most famous for its designer, Michelangelo.  He had a plan for an Urban design that showcased palaces surrounding a piazza meant to impress the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.  There are many famous statues around the piazza, including one of Romulus and Remus with their “foster mom,” but my personal favorite was this one:


I loved how the base was made to look like patchwork, almost as if they had to scrap together the materials to finish.

Our next stop was the Alter of the Fatherland.  Basically their Tomb of the Unknown Soldier as it is meant as a tribute to fallen soldiers.  It is a MASSIVE tribute too!


It is imposing and beautiful and solemn and all of the things a war memorial should be.  Considering that this is in the middle of the city, I was amazed at how quiet this area felt.

After marveling at this incredible monument, it was back in the van for a short trip to another old, crumbling monument…you may have heard of this one.


Yep.  The Colosseum.  The largest amphitheater ever built. And of course you cannot be in Rome and not stop here for a look.  We did not have a tour of the interior scheduled for this trip.  Fortunately, we paid our pennies at Trevi Fountain so we will catch the inside on a future return trip.  In addition, there is currently restoration plans going on for the floor and underground areas…that might be worth waiting for!

One thing you will certainly see if you are anywhere near this area, is people. Lots and lots of people.  And Gladiators.  There are hundreds of gladiators wandering around just waiting for you to take a picture with them.


And as this is the parade route taken by triumphant Roman emperors, it seems appropriate that you can have a photo with your very own gladiator.  Just like they did in Ancient Rome!  This arch was build in 312 AD to celebrate Constantine, but the engravings on the arch actually celebrate the victories of Trajan, Hadrian, and Marcus Aurelius as well as Constantine.

We wandered this area of Rome for a while but then it was off to ensure our return visit to Rome…the Trevi Fountain!


And boy if you thought the Colosseum area was crowded…just wait until you try to jam 7 bazillion people in front of this fountain.  I mean, its pretty big as fountains go, but holy sardines, its crowded.  It is also one of the most profitable fountains in the world, thanks to that quaint little urban legend about throwing coins over your left shoulder ensuring your return to the city.  Thanks to Frank Sinatra, this little water feature pulls in nearly $1.5M a year.

Our next stop was the Spanish Steps.  These are…well…steps.  One Hundred and Thirty Five of them to be exact.



Just as an FYI – Its still hot.  And I’m not climbing 135 steps in this heat.  About the most exciting thing that happened here was Jarod getting accosted by a gypsy for standing too near her stuff…really, we were just trying to find shade!

Moving on…(Rome has way more to see than you can do in a day, so you gotta move quickly!)…we headed for another really old building, the Pantheon.  This building has been continuously in use since 126 BC after the previous one, built 150 years earlier by Marcus Agrippa, burnt down.


The inside is a large domed chamber that was unique in Roman architecture at the time.  Now simply everyone is doing them!


It is beautiful, and since it is now a church, pretty quiet.  There are some pretty famous folks buried there, Raphael the painter for one.  Neat little trivia fact about that, Raphael was engaged to the niece of a powerful cardinal but he did not want to marry her as he was in love with the daughter of a local baker so he kept postponing the wedding. He postponed his nuptials so long, the girl died and was buried in the cella.  When Raphael died not long after, the Cardinal ordered him buried there so he would spend all of eternity with his niece.  Downright Scandalous!

Believe it or not, it was now only lunchtime!  I tell you, we were hustling!  I will also say, there would be no way to do this without a local guide.  We booked THIS tour and while we went in a different order, we saw everything on this list and made it back to the ship on time.  I would highly recommend Italy Tour Sharing for any private or small group tours in Italy.

But back to eating…We were next headed to Piazza Navona so we decided to grab a bite there.  Touristy? Yes.  But the pizza was really good too!  We ended up eating at Vacanze Romane.  It was actually the first one we came to so I don’t know that there was any great decision making going on…we were hungry and they had a big table outside ready and waiting.  I believe everyone got pizza and of course I got an Aperol Spritz…After all this heat in Italy, I totally understand why everyone drinks this!

The centerpiece of this square is the the three fountains that run the length of the square.  Fontana del Nettuno (Neptune Fountain) and Fontana del Moro (Moor Fountain) at either end and the main attraction, the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers).


The design of this fountain was originally awarded to Borromini, but was ultimately designed by his most hated rival Bernini.  Borromini did, however, design the Sant’Agnese in Agone – the church that lines one side of the Piazza.  Local legend has it that the two sculptors hated each other so much that the Nile figure on Bernini’s fountain was actually shielding his eyes from the ugliness of the facade of Borromini’s church.  And while in truth this is not the case, it does make for a fun story!

After lunch and a walk around the fountains we needed a little treat and as the saying goes “When in Rome…” We found a gelato shop and sampled until we decided on flavors to take out with us.  And we would need fortifying…we were headed for St. Peter’s Basilica.

In truth, for this I have no words.  It is awesome and there is no way any pictures I took can do any justice to the reality of standing in front of the largest church in the world.


See how tiny the people are standing in line at the doors of the church?  The scale is immense.


The obelisk at the center of St. Peter’s Square has certainly had its history.  Originally found in Heliopolis in Egypt, the Emperor Augustus  had it moved to Alexandria (also Egypt, not the one in Virginia) where it stood until 37 AD when Caligula transferred it to Rome.  It was placed along the Circus of Nero where it would preside over Nero’s brutal games and executions.  It was moved to its current location in 1586 and it is now the only Roman obelisk to never have been toppled.

We spent some time wandering around St. Peter’s square, but in truth, we were all so tired after the pace of the tour, that we were grateful for the hour long ride back to the ship.


We have one more stop in Italy.  The one I had researched the least but the one that turned out to be my favorite in Italy.  Naples.


Part 6 (Athens, Greece) – Cruising Venice, The Greek Isles, and the Eastern Mediterranean

Ah, Athens.  If you are at all interested in history, mythology, government, religion, finance, politics, heck almost any subject can tie back to this ancient city in some way.  And no surprise, it has been inhabited for the last 7000 years continuously.  And not just inhabited, but a cultural, economical, and social centerpiece of the ancient world.  I had been looking forward to this port for FOREVER!  This city is in my bucket list top three.  Once again, we used The Travel Insiders as our tour and after our amazing experience in Katakolon, I was nearly giddy with anticipation!

Athens map

The port at Piraeus is very…very busy.  In addition to the cruise ships, ferries from all over use Piraeus as  their port to bring tourists, students, cars, etc. to Athens from all around the Isles. I was not prepared for that, and it probably threw me off a bit, but since we docked around 6am and did not have to meet our guide until 9am, I had plenty of time to put on my big girl panties and get over it!

We chose the Ultimate Athens Experience which was an 8 hour tour to include the Acropolis, the Olympic Stadium, the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and some free time that we could choose to use shopping in Plaka or visiting the amazing Acropolis Museum.  Once all of our tour participants arrived, our tour guide decided to head straight to the Acropolis to try and beat the other tour buses there.  On our way, we passed though the heart of the city of Athens, you know, the real part where people work and live?  It is bustling to say the least, traffic can be challenging so having an experienced driver is an absolute.

We arrived at the Acropolis and I thought it was crazy busy already.  We bought some water and got our tickets.  The line was about 5 minutes long…compared to when we came out, the place was empty!  This was the first of our really challenging ports, mobility wise.  Olympia is quite a bit of walking, but flat for the most part.  Athens is not.  We climbed up, stopping at various sites to hear about different tidbits of history.


I absolutely love ancient amphitheaters!  I love how important the Arts were to the people and the communities.  I absolutely feel we have gone backwards in that area.  But!  I got to see so many examples in so many ancient sites on this trip.  This one is standing at the Acropolis looking down the hill.  You can’t see it, but the Parthanon is behind me, can you imagine watching a show from there?  Incredible.


So here is my view when I turn around.  Amazing, right? The detail and engineering that had to go in to something like this is mind boggling.  There was quite a bit of scaffolding and work going on around the other side.  Our guide assured us that there was not any attempt to restore any of these monuments, the repair work was really just to make sure it did not crumble any more.  As many tourists that flock there on a daily basis, I can imagine there is a vested interest in keeping it safely intact as it is.


This is a much better picture of the difference between the original stone and the stone that has needed to be reinforced.  The white is new.


And of course the most important tree in the world according to the ancient Greeks, the olive tree.

Our next stop took us to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and of course it was timed perfectly with the changing of the guard.  According to our guide, the soldiers chosen for this have very exacting standards, down to they have to be a certain height.


We then moved to the new Olympic stadium…since we’d already seen the Original one in Olympia!  I am not totally sure that it is an improvement, but it certainly is impressive.


We then headed towards Plaka, the old city.  This is where the best shopping and cafes were rumored to be, also the award winning Acropolis Museum was near here.  I was interested in seeing that, but I took pity on TJ, who is not a museum (or history) fan and we skipped it this time. Instead we wandered around the old city.  We started here:


Hadrian’s Arch.  It is believed that this marked the old city from the new…the new being around 131 AD so…

We moved on from here into Plaka which is behind me in this picture, up the hill.  This area has been continuously inhabited since antiquity (really just means a long, long time but makes me sound like a smarty pants!).

I did not take any pictures in and around Plaka except of my food…but I can assure you that it is really a cute place to wander around!  The shopping was very good and all the merchants were hagglers!  I got some really great prices on clothes!!  Don’t underestimate the power of learning just a few words in the native language of whatever country you are visiting.  I promise you that a simple “Kalimera” will go a long way in Plaka!!

Oh…and the Baklava!!!


Ah-May-Zing!!  I need to find a Yia Yia near me for the hook up on some local baklava!!  I am headed to the Yiasou Greek Festival today…maybe I can find some there!  I am really excited to go to this festival since I have been there so recently.  I will tell you all about it in my next post!!

Also next up, we visit Thessoloniki, Greece.  And the Chef’s Table dinner on the Rhapsody!  It has been my favorite experience on both the Freedom and the Enchantment…How will this one compare??