Sunday, June 22, 2008

Cruise Day #9, Rome

[Note: this should have been posted yesterday… by the ship’s Internet connectivity wasn’t working for some reason late last night].

As noted in my prior post, we headed to Rome on one of the earliest trains. This is very easily accomplished; although, my sense is that most folks opt for the organized shore excursions. On balance, I think this is probably a pretty good idea for the unfamiliar and/or uninitiated simply because Rome has a lot to see and one doesn’t want to waste time working out logistics. In our case, we’d already “been there, done that, and had the t-shirt.” So, the train and independent travel made sense for us (and was dirt cheap – 9 euro/pp roundtrip including unlimited metro/bus in Rome vs. $119/pp for a “Rome on Your Own” bus transfer with the ship). We also didn’t feel pressure to see all of the big sights. In fact, we saw very little, but we what we did see we slowed and intently.

You might be wondering what we did today. St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museum? Nope. Colosseum and the Roman Forum? Nada. Pantheon? Trevi Fountain? Spanish Steps? No. No. No. What did we see? We focused on northern Rome, specifically the area from the Termini (main train station) to the Borghese Gardens. We began by walking north from the Termini to the church of Santa Maria della Vittoria. It’s on a fairly small scale, but it is swoonfully beautiful. It houses Bernini’s magnificent St. Teresa in Ecstasy. In addition, it appeared to have the body of St. Maria della Vittoria on display as well, which was simultaneously icky and magnificent.

After our brief visit to the church, we continued north to the Via Veneto and into the Borghese Gardens (sort of like Rome’s version of NYC’s Central Park). We made our way to the Borghese Gallery (a heretofore significant gap in Rome sightseeing portfolio) by 10:30 to buy our tickets in advance of our 11:00 reservation time. Note: the gallery allows access in 2 hour increments and basically requires reservations (stand-by tickets are not always available). The Borghese contains an amazing collection of Bernini’s sculptures and Carravaggio’s paintings. Our favorite was Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne. I won’t even attempt to describe it, because words could not do it justice. Today was especially significant for Libby, as someone who’s studied this art fairly extensively. In case I failed to mention it, my preferences run more toward modern and contemporary art. However, I’d be a cretin if I failed to appreciate that Bernini’s marble creations are simply extraordinary.

We finished with the Borghese around 1:00. Unfortunately, some of the other sights in the immediate area were closed for the mid-day break. As such, we could have either opted to take an earlier train (1:39 vs. 2:39) or venture further to other destinations. In the end, we opted for the earlier train to avoid any crowds. This was probably good as we didn’t get back to the ship until nearly 4:00 anyway (having stopped for wonderful gelato in Civitavecchia). All aboard time was 5:30. So, a later train would have been possible but more hurried than Libby would have liked. By the way, the weather was great again today… albeit a little hot (closing in on 90+ degrees). Even for Floridians, the heat eventually wears you out more quickly. And, after walking around Rome for the better part of the day, you end up sweating like a pregnant nun on her way to confession. :-)

Overall, despite our 7am start time – Rome is simply has far too much to see and do in a single day. Therefore, I’d recommend either taking one of the ship’s whistle stop tours (for a fly-by overview of Rome) or embracing the short duration as an opportunity to explore one aspect in some degree of depth. As a cost-effective alternative to the ship’s excursions (though I can’t speak for or against it really), one could also consider a hop-on, hop-off bus tour in Rome from the Termini.

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