Rome has been a challenge for most visitors for millennia. It was a challenge for us. Our cruise was actually a nine day cruise + a five day cruise, and Civitavecchia (the port for Rome) was a terminus, not a “stop”. This meant the ship had nothing to choose from for touring.
We traveled with a satellite phone, but the ship’s rigging made it a challenge to use underway. The ship’s public computers’ security settings were so tight most Java based capabilities (e.g., displaying tickets) were unavailable. Our Android phone on the other hand, worked well with all the websites we needed — but could not print.
But first we had to have something to print. A fellow passenger told us about Stefano Costantini Rome Tours (aka Rome Cabs). We found them online. Their “tripadvisor” rating was 5 stars with 1500+ ratings. They would have been cheaper had we been able to split the transportation costs, but we found no takers as most of the passengers had already been to Rome or had other arrangements. So we dove in. We made our reservation with them and went on to hire private guides for the Colosseum and the Vatican. Then we purchased tickets to go to the head of the line at both locations. All of these transactions resulted in emails with PDF tickets attached that we forwarded to the Purser for printing. All this using WiFi on a “phone.”
When we walked down the gangway, our driver, David, was there in a suit with a spotless Mercedes — 15 minutes early. He looked over all our tickets, and said, “Excellent,” and off we went — at 99 mph in various parts of the drive into the last vestiges of Rome’s rush hour on its Grande Raccordo Anulare which sounds better than “Beltway.” Throughout it all, David kept up a running commentary on his beloved Roma and asked questions about what we wanted to see and how we wanted to manage the day — particularly lunch — leisurely sit down or fast food. We opted for fast.
We hit Rome like manic hummingbirds! David truly knew the city like a vascular surgeon knows veins. For us, it was a bit like Disney’s teacup ride. It was calm and cool and serene in the cup/car, and outside was all a whirl — especially the motor scooters, the four hundred thousand of them (number registered). We headed for the Colosseum and Forum first but decided to truncate the tour to the Colosseum only and to view the Forum from another vantage. Our guide at the Colosseum was good, but we got the feeling she was new to the job. The place pretty much spoke for itself, and our tickets moved us about 1500 positions up the slow moving line. Folks, don’t go to Rome without “head of the line tickets.”
We motor-toured from the Colosseum to lunch at Habemus Pizza (from Habemus Papam, “We have a Pope”) right near the Vatican Museum. Rome has streets that are reserved for people and limos. Most of the people didn’t understand the limo part, and we got some fiercely dirty looks as the Mercedes parted the crowd, but these streets were essential for getting from one area of interest to the next without getting caught up in the generally insane traffic (although we heard very little honking).
The pizza was cut with scissors, wrapped in paper, dripping with olive oil, and very, very good! We had sidewalk lawn-chair seating, so I guess we had fast sit down. Twenty minutes later we were on our way to the Vatican Museum.
The Vatican Museum (the parts the public is allowed to see) is over the top. The wealth it represents is disturbing. Our guide was a graduate in art history and superb in her role. She pointed out things we would not have otherwise seen (and that other guides walked past silently). She was particularly good at getting the security guards to bend things in our favor. The crowd was as dense as a soccer crowd leaving a stadium, though much more orderly and respectful. Again, the jump the line tickets were essential.
From the museum we transitioned to the Sistine Chapel. Our guide pulled us aside and folded out a representation of the ceiling so we would understand what we were looking at as the guards ushered (herded) people through. We were not prepared for the Sistine Chapel. As a “chapel” our minds expected small. From books and movies our minds expected perhaps a 30 foot ceiling — it is 67 feet high — only four more than our mast above the water, but it looked like more. Here our guide payed off again. A quick word with the guard, a red rope lifted, and we were allowed to sit for as long as we wished to take in the radiant beauty.
St Peter’s Basilica was far larger than we expected. The wealth here was very disturbing, but the beauty was uplifting. We wondered how many millions of workers and families over the millennial benefited from its construction.
Outside as we left, gypsies lingered to lift a wallet or snatch a purse, but they were avoidable, and David was waiting to whisk us onward and eventually back to the ship, though traffic didn’t allow for quite as swift a trip.
The galleries continue the story. Aside from having seen Rome in a Day, truly, one thing we noticed over and over was things there were either much smaller or much larger than we expected. We concluded this was because text books and coffee table books either enlarged or shrank images to fit page sizes and thus distorted our expectations. The Trevi Fountain was one example of much larger than expected (yes we tossed our coins [our share of 3000 Euro each day, donated to Caritas]) and also the worst crowd — the only place we felt at risk. We hope our photos which are divided into three galleries (separately posted) are realistically scaled.
Our thing is for sure, we would never drive in Rome!
Please enjoy Rome Gallery One . As usual many speak for themselves. Click on first one to scroll.