View of St. Peter's Basilica and Square, Rome, Italy

Day 4 - Monday - 2/15/10 - Trastevere, Palatine Hill

We started our day with a well deserved sleep-in. We soon learned that our hotel was much better when we got up early. The late birds got little to no hot water and scraps for breakfast. Overall, though, the Hotel Orlanda was great. It's in a good location near the Termini Station which made it easy to take the metro and get back and forth from the airport. Our room was really nice and the staff was extremely helpful and cheery.

Our last day started with a little backtracking. Michele and I had to head back to the Vatican to pick up our souvenir rosaries. We each bought a cheap rosary on Saturday at a big souvenir store right across from St. Peter's. On Sunday, the store took them to be blessed by the Pope during his Sunday address. So now I own a set of rosary beads that's been blessed by the Pope. If a vampire ever attacks me won't he be surprised.

Il Passetto, Rome, Italy

The Passetto

We left the Vatican to continue doing what we do best: walking. First, we walked away from the Vatican along the Passetto. The Passetto is a passageway built along the top of a wall that leads directly from the Papal apartments to the fortress of the Castel Sant'Angelo. More than one Pope has been saved from invading hordes by fleeing along the Passetto.

The Castel Sant'Angelo is a large circular fortress that's basically impenetrable. Originally built to serve as Emperor Hadrian's tomb, the castle has been repurposed over the years to serve as a prison, dungeon, torture chamber, and occasional Papal hideout. Currently, it's a museum.

The Castel Sant'Angelo

The Castel Sant'Angelo

Continuing on our walk, we headed south along the Tiber River, looking to link up with our buddy Rick Steves and his Trastevere walk©. Trastevere is a charming old section of Rome filled with hidden alleyways and old churches.

What Trastevere has in charm, the Tiber River makes up for in ugliness. Swollen and muddy with the recent rain/snow, the Tiber slides along between twin vertical 25ft tall bare concrete walls. Even the wildlife was ugly. As we sat on the top of the wall, an unseen bird decided to take a nice purple-berry-infused crap on my shoulder. Thank you Rome! I was stripped down to a T-shirt at this point, so we wiped it off as best as possible and I layered back up. At the end of the day I had a nice purple shit stain on my shoulder. Lovely! (BTW, this is actually not the first time I've been shat upon on my last day in Europe - see Brighton - Farewell to Arms.)

Purple Poop Pandemonium!

Purple Poop Pandemonium!

Alleyway in the Trastevere neighborhood  of Rome

Alleyway in Trastevere

We met up with Ricky's walk on the Isola Tiberna, an island in the middle of the Tiber. Here, the emperors built the first bridge across the river, leading to what would become Trastevere (literally meaning "across the Tiber").

Coming across the bridge, we entered a maze of little alleyways. In that Roman recycling way, modern buildings have been integrated with centuries-old buildings, which in turn were integrated with millennia-old buildings. Little shops and cafes were on every corner. (Along with a number of people with their noses stuck in guidebooks who seem to be following exactly the same path as we were.)

The Trastevere walk was rounded out by visits to two beautiful, very early Christian churches: the Church of St. Cecilia and Santa Maria in Trastevere. There were many steps and columns. It was most tranquil.

We had lunch in Trastevere in a hip and reasonably priced (and Rick Steves recommended) wine bar called Cantina Paradiso. Michele's favorite part was the black cat who wandered in from the street like he owned the place, much to the chagrin of the restauranteurs.

Next we reversed our walk and headed back across the river, past the ancient chariot racing ground of the Circus Maximus, and up to the top of Palatine Hill. Palatine holds the ruins of the grand palace of the Roman emperors.

Circus Maximus

Circus Maximus

The palace is a rambling complex of ruins that still speak of their former grandiose nature. There are remnants of statues and carvings lying around everywhere. There are the ruins of huge fountains, private stadiums and courtyards, banquet halls, and entertaining rooms. Michele and I stood on the spot of the emperor's throne, where for hundreds of years the most powerful man in the world wielded his scepter. Sadly no one did our bidding any more than usual.

Stadium on Palatine Hill

The Emperor's personal stadium and step aerobics area

Fountain on Palatine Hill

The Emperor's personal fountain and bidet

Tourist posing as the emperor on Palatine Hill

All Hail Empress Michele!

Tourist posing as the emperor on Palatine Hill

All Hail Court Jester Brett!

From the palace, we went down the hill, past a set of ancient stone huts said to date form the time of Romulus and Remus, and down to the great Forum of Rome. The Forum was the ancient marketplace and meet-up spot. The ancient Roman Senate building is there, along with the spot where Julius Caesar was stabbed to death. The impressively huge arches that were one part of the Basilica of Constantine dominate one section of the ruins. The Temple of Vesta and its attendant Vestal Virgins also resided there. Before we saw that, it hit 4:30 and whistle blowing guards ushered us out of the Forum.

Looking down upon the Roman Forum from Palatine Hill

Looking down upon the Roman Forum from Palatine Hill. The huge archways on the right are the Basilica of Constantine

Tourist looking up at the huge arches of the Basilica of Constantine

Michele (under the umbrella) provides some scale for the huge arches

Flowers rest on the spot where Julius Caesar was stabbed

Flowers rest on the spot where Julius Caesar was stabbed

The main space of the Forum with the Roman Senate building on the right

The main space of the Forum with the Roman Senate building on the right

Thusly shuffled away from the ruins of ancient Rome, we decided to go to see the best preserved ancient building in town: the Pantheon. Of course, we had to walk a ways to get there.

Looking up at the dome of the Pantheon in Rome

Looking up at the dome of the Pantheon

Finished by Hadrian in 120 AD, the Pantheon is still a marvel of engineering. A 142 foot dome soars above the floor. Anything that's taller than the year it was built in is probably something special. Originally constructed as a shrine to all Roman gods, the Pantheon was later repurposed as a Christian church (which generally explains why it hasn't been cannibalized and destroyed). It recently celebrated its 1,400th anniversary of being a church. Yeah, it's old (and impressive).

The Pantheon was the last tourist stop on our little Roman Holiday, but not our last adventure. Because of the snow delaying our flight (the snow in the US, not the snow in Rome), we were staying an extra day past our original reservation. Unfortunately, the Hotel Orlanda was all booked up for Monday night, so we had to change hotels. The good people at go-today.com (and I mean that without sarcasm, they really were helpful in both the flight and hotel departments) had booked us in a little bed and breakfast called La Casa di Rosy.

I never met Rosy, but her business mentality seems peculiarly Italian. The only sign for the hotel was a typewritten label in 11pt font next to the doorbell. The rooms only occupied one half of one floor of a big building. The door to the building was unlocked, so we went up to the lobby. Of course, when we got there the hotel was manned by absolutely no one. Door locked, no one answering the buzzer. We sat for a good 20 minutes until one of the other guests came in and let us into the lobby. Where we sat for 45 minutes. Eventually, I broke out the iPhone and made what was probably a very expensive call to Washington state, where go-today called someone in Italy, who eventually called someone who worked for Rosy, who eventually showed up and gave us a room. Go Italian business model!

The next morning, we caught an early train to the airport, an extremely cramped, 9 1/2 hour United flight to DC, and had what else but a 5 hour delay in DC because of snow in Boston! A fitting end to the trip. I'm never travelling in February again.

Recommended Reading:

When in Rome by Robert Hutchinson. Hutchinson is a Catholic journalist who travels to Rome in an attempt to break into the bureaucratic fortress that is the Vatican City. When in Rome recounts his many forays into the inner workings of the city-state at the head of the Catholic church, along with his family's adjustments to life in the Eternal City. Throw in accounts of some of the more outrageous moments in Vatican history (see the chapter titled The Sex Lives of Popes) and wrap it up with hilarious style, and you've got a great book to read if you're traveling to Rome.

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