We were already legally married in 2010, but our larger wedding for family and friends was in May of 2011. Shortly after our second wedding, we were boarding the MS Noordam on a cruise that would take us around the Mediterranean Sea for 20 days. After ten days of sailing around western half of the Mediterranean, our ship docked at Civitavecchia, which is the main port that cruise ships use for access to Rome, Italy.
The MS Noordam was only going to be docked at Civitavecchia for a day while passengers who were only traveling for 10 days disembarked and new passengers boarded the ship. Our mission for the day was to see as much as possible. We booked a bus ride from the port to Villa Borghese, armed with a map and a Rick Steves’ book about Rome. There are thousands of historical and cultural areas to see, but we only had 8 hours. We narrowed our list to seven main attractions to see before we went back to our floating home.
A quick walk south took us to the Spanish Steps, where we made our way through the “tourist entrepreneurs”. They offer to take your photo for a fee or try to sell you flowers. While politely declining their services, Rian was called Michelle Obama, Janet Jackson, and Beyonce in a 10 minute span. We laughed as we walked by and debated on how to take the comments. Rian took it well, and was content on being stereotyped as a strong, talented, and smart black woman.
We knew that we had to keep up a fast pace to see our entire list, so we kept it moving south. After turning a corner, we stood in front of the famous Trevi Fountain. The size of the fountain was something that caught us off guard. We knew it was large, but looking at the amount of stone that needed to be chiseled and polished to create this was overwhelming. Legend has it that if you throw a coin into the fountain it guarantees your return to Rome, so Rian insisted that we throw in multiple coins (return date TBD). With many cafes and sandwich shops on site, it makes for a great place to rest your legs and enjoy an afternoon.
After our short break and people-watching session, we continued our walk towards the Colosseum taking the street, Via Dei Fori Imperiali. As we got closer, we came to a very congested and confusing round-a-bout at Largo Corrado Ricci. We stood there for a while trying to figure out the safest way to get across; speed limits and lane markings feel more like suggestions in Italy. We agreed that it looked clear and stepped into the street, trying to move fast before the circumstance changed. Too late. Before we knew it, we were standing in the middle of the road as two commercial buses passed us on either side, at full speed. As soon as we had an opening we continued running across and made it safely. The only thing we could do after that situation, was one of those ‘we almost died’ laughs.
By the time we reached the Colosseum, the adrenaline had worn off. As we walked to the actual structure, we saw the streets lined with tour companies offering their services. Most tours will take you into the Colosseum for about 12 euros ($14 US Dollars). Time was was not a luxury we had, so we decided to circle the stone stadium instead. We were able to see the Arch of Constantine while walking, which looked as if it was in the middle of a field. Ancient roads ran through the arches at one point, but Rome had abandoned them for the newer roads that we almost died on.
The Pantheon has gone through many changes and was used for various reasons. It began as a site to worship all gods, and in 609 A.D., Pope Bon officially made it a Christian church. One of the coolest parts about being on-site is trying to find religious iconography that contradict each other. Pagan and Christian symbols creating a place that allows worshipers from every faith to feel at home. The Oculus inside is the main attraction and everyone waits to stand underneath the opening and take photos. While we were there, Elijah spotted a retired NBA player who looked to be on a family vacation. He chose not to bother him, but snapped a few secret shots for proof.
Our day was already half over as we walked away from the Pantheon. We stopped for quick sandwich lunch at a street-side deli in Palazzo Giustiniani. Before long we were crossing the Tiber River, looking up at the armed angel on top of Castel Sant Angelo. This was around the same time that Tom Hanks’ movie, “Angels and Demons”, came out and the castle is the stage for some of the movie’s dramatic scenes. The castle is a secret exit connected to a private tunnel from the Vatican, used only by the pope. You never know when the Pope will need to avoid Robert Langdon (Angels and Demons character).
A few blocks from the castle, we crossed into the smallest country in the world, Vatican City. If you are ever in the market for Pope-themed merchandise THIS is your spot. Street vendors lined the road selling Pope magnets, bible's, photos and shirts. As we approached St. Peter’s Square, which is more of a circle, Elijah began to fill up with a rush of emotions. He took a seat at the base of the obelisk that stands at the center of the square and became a bit overwhelmed. Whether you are religious or not, you have been introduced to the Vatican through movies, books, or the news. Elijah had never imagined a scenario where he would find himself so far from home and see one of the world’s treasures. (Side Note: Vatican archives literally hold 53-miles of shelving full of treasure the Catholic Church owns.) This moment, along with a similar one in Lari, Italy, was the spark that really led him to want to see as much of the world as he could. Hopefully, everyone reading this has a chance to have that feeling at least once in their lives.
Hopefully on our next trip to Rome, we will be able to view the Sistine Chapel. It takes a real long time to wait in line to go inside, unless you have signed up for a tour previously. We knew that our bus would be picking us up soon, so we left the Vatican and headed back to Villa Borghese. While waiting, we outlined on the map the path we had walked. Our sightseeing tour of Rome took us 8 hours, and we were able to see all the highlights that we had hoped to. Both of us were exhausted but felt real accomplished as the bus headed back to the ship.