We arrived in Civitavecchia at 7:00 a.m. in the morning. I was so excited to be in Rome, well we really weren’t, because Civitavecchia turned out to be quite a ride from the center of Rome. And, as we found out later that evening, the traffic could be terrible. In fact, 2 or 3 buses of excursions were very late arriving to the ship because they got caught in traffic. All I could think of were the wonderful romantic movies set in Rome, “Three Coins in the Fountain,” “Roman Holiday,” and I had a feeling of excitement and romance and beauty and history all rolled up into one. We got up that morning early because we had an all day excursion and we had to depart the ship early. Fortunately the minstrel dining room (which was the main dining room) had early breakfast hours in anticipation of the fact that so many people would be leaving the ship early for the all day Rome excursions. We had a nice relaxing breakfast and then headed up to the theater to depart for our excursions. The procedure for departing were as follows: all the people who were going on excursions for the day would go to the theater and they would tell you your excursion number. For example, say our excursion was entitled, “A Taste of Rome,” so everyone going on excursions would go to the theater and then they would say, “Those of you who are on Taste of Rome, please come forward” and you go up and you’d show them your tickets and they’d give you a bright colored sticker. It might be lavender or orange or green or whatever and it would have a number on it and everybody with that same number would sit in the same area and would then disembark at the same time. It was very organized and then everybody would just go right to the bus for that particular tour.

Our tour, “A Taste of Rome” was a 9 hour and 30 minute tour and it was described in the tour book this way: “This tour is designed for guests who would like a limited guided tour with free time to explore Rome at leisure. The tour begins with a drive through the Etruscan countryside. Once in Rome, you’ll be dropped off at a designated point to explore or shop on your own and have fun in the eternal city. Visit one of the highlights of the Vatican City, St. Peter’s Basilica, one of Christendom’s most significant churches. Construction began in 1452 on the site where St. Peter was buried. During the next 200 years such famous masters as Bramante, Michelangelo, Raphael and Bernini worked on this design and created an unparalleled masterpiece. It also describes St. Peters-in-Chains Cathedral, a masterpiece of classical architecture and the coliseum, an enormous amphitheater where gladiators, Christians and wild beasts once battled to the death.” That gives you a sense of what we anticipated seeing on our excursion. One of the things about the excursions is they’re subject to vary because so many people are there during the summer that the sites get crowded. Sometimes the tour guide will change the order of the sites that we would see. The guide might reverse the order of the tour, skipping certain sites and coming back. We didn’t have any problem with that because it was so, so hot (and when I say hot, I mean it’s really hot) that we were not really excited about standing in long lines anyway, so we thought that was just fine. Because the ride was such a long one, we stopped at the equivalent of a truck stop, it was kind of fun because everything was different. I know that sounds really silly, but I think it’s neat to go into a place and everything’s in a different language. One of the fun things in the store was a revolving rack that had a bunch of American music on it, but it was an interesting mixture of music, like Barry Manilow and Aretha Franklin and Travis Tritt. It’s kinda fun to pick up the papers and think, “I don’t have a clue what that says!” I know, I’m a geek. There was an opportunity to buy cold drinks and things like that and to make a pit stop or to get a cup of coffee and a roll, so everybody poured off the bus and we took maybe a 15-20 minute break there.

We were then back on our way to Rome and we arrived about a half an hour later from that stop. It was, for me, sort of a dream come true and an amazing experience to be in Rome because I had always wanted to see it. I had all these images of what it would be like. As we pulled into the city, I just clicked away on the camera. What’s so fascinating about Rome, similar to when I visited Paris, is how striking the old is versus the new. There were apartment buildings and bustling traffic, and right in the middle of all that was something that was so old that you knew that folks had built it thousands of years ago. I couldn’t help but think that the cobblestones we walked on, people from other millennia had walked on. I know I keep using the word amazing, but it really was an awesome experience. Marjorie had never been before either and she felt the same way I did, and Carol said that even though she’d been before, she was really struck by the beauty of it.

Our first stop on our excursion was the St. Peters-in-Chains Cathedrals and the draw of St. Peters-in-Chains Cathedrals was the fact that it contained a statue of Moses. I have to say that upon entering the Cathedral, I was awestruck. The art was simply amazing. It’s just hard to really say how amazing the Cathedral was. The statue carved by Michelangelo of Moses is very famous, the majestic bearded figure is holding the 10 Commandments. We stayed there about 20 minutes to take photographs. The carving in the marble is so lifelike and realistic that it really is a marvel at how that was done so many years ago. I felt the same thing about the paintings because of the incredible beauty of them and the detail. What I didn’t realize at that time was that St-Peters-In-Chains though beautiful, paled in comparison to the places we would later see. It was just a beautiful experience.

On to the Coliseum. When we pulled up in front of the Coliseum, I just felt struck with a sense of wonder at seeing one of the amazing marvels of the ancient world. Some of the tours were to go inside the Coliseum, but ours simply stopped there and gave us time to walk around the outside. But that was enough just to get a sense of the size and the grandeur of it and to think about the things that took place there. It was just amazing. There were hordes of people and it was super, super hot. There was a group of college students who were dressed in togas as well as guys dressed up in ancient gladiator garb and took pictures with tourists. I want to say it was two Euros to take a picture with them, but we just stood back and took their picture from a distance. We weren’t interested in being hugged by a sweaty gladiator. We wandered around the Coliseum and our tour guide gave us a lot of history about the various pieces of the Coliseum that had been reconstructed and some of the more important events that had taken place there and we were free to wander for half an hour. Very close to the Coliseum is the Arch of Constantine. The Arch was dedicated in 315 AD to celebrate Constantine’s victory three years before over his co-emperor Maxentius. Our tour guide explained that most of the medallions and the statues and the relics on there were scavenged from earlier monuments. It’s another very striking structure really near the Coliseum, in fact, less than a block away.

I have to say I’m a kind of picky when I take pictures. I don’t mind people in the background, but somebody’s face right in the foreground is irritating, but of course given the throngs at the Coliseum, it was very difficult to get a clear shot. But of course, our bus driver was so awesome, that he violated I don’t know how many traffic laws to get really close to the Coliseum. We all had to run and get on the bus and he would pull off before the police came. All of us were very grateful to get quickly back on the air-conditioned bus without a long trek.

If you are interested in going to Rome to see the Coliseum, there’s a website called www.italylogue.com/planning-a-trip/roman-coliseum.html and in that it says, and boy this is really good advice, “If you go in the summer time be sure to take water and to wear sunscreen. There’s no protection from the sun and it can be brutally hot and it says, believe me, you’ll be glad you brought water with you” and we were. One of the things that we really liked about the tour company for that excursion was that when we got on the bus, we each had a bottle of water and that was awesome and boy were we glad to have it. For a little bit about the history of the Coliseum and a 360◦ tour, see www.destination360.com/europe/italy/coliseum.php.

After we boarded the bus, we were on our way to the Vatican and the views from the bus were also pretty striking. One of the things we passed while on the bus was the Castel Sant’Angelo, considered one of Rome’s most famous landmarks. It is also known as Hadrian’s Mausoleum. We arrived across the street from the Vatican. There was an amazing view looking at the front of St. Peter’s Basilica, one of the most important churches in all of Christendom, at least according to our tour guide. You can see, if you look closely at the picture, each one of those individually carved figures on the top. It was pretty amazing. I know I keep using things like amazing and astounding, but it really was awesome and amazing to see these things in person. We were standing at the outside and looking at the statues around the top right there in St. Peter’s Square. We saw the Vatican guards about whom there is a great deal of history. They were pretty interesting to see. We couldn’t help, though, but feel sorry for them in their uniforms. They looked pretty hot. They are also known as the Helvetians. As we stood in front of the Basilica, I could only think about all the times I had seen news clips with the Pope’s Easter or Christmas message and to stand in that spot! Again, it was pretty awesome. One of the best things about the “Fabulous at 50” cruise was getting to go to a lot of the places that we had always wanted to go. This was truly one of the highlights for me. I must say that one of the places I most enjoyed visiting was Rome and I would love to go back and spend an extended stay there. We entered the Vatican with our tour guide who had was pretty cool little headphones. The devides picked up our tour guide’s transmission so that even though there were tons of tourists and many tour groups, we would set our dial on a certain channel and then our tour guide could talk to us as we wandered about and took pictures. The artwork in the Basilica was just something to behold. You had to wonder, or I did wonder, how those ceilings were carved in such elaborate detail, given the lack of technology or the tools, it was just a site to behold and I took a plenty of pictures. I could not help but be blown away by the details on the ceilings, in addition to all the sculptures and the frescos, just looking up at the ceiling and particularly where the light came through. It’s truly a holy place, I do believe that. Outside of the Basilica there are carvings of both Peter and Paul. The statue of St. Peter that stands outside in St. Peter’s Square holds a long sword in his right hand and his left holds a book and he has a pointed beard and on the book, the inscription in Hebrew is Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things in him who strengthens me”, the text from Paul’s letter to the Philippians. In the right hand of the statue of St. Peter he holds the keys which is the symbol of the power promised to him by Christ in Cesaria Phillipi. In his left hand is a scroll bearing the words “And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of Heaven” which is based on the gospel of Matthew 16:18-19.

After that we were free to see Rome on our own, so we took off with lots of energy (amazing, lots of energy, given the heat). As we walked across the Tiber for lunch we also saw some of the other sites of Rome. I took a number of pictures of street scenes including a close up of Castel S’ant Angelo which I’ve mentioned before. Our tour guide had given us a little map and told us the best routes to walk. The bridges were not simple bridges. On each bridge were carved elaborate figures as though they were standing guard stuck in stone. We then arrived at the Piazza Navona where we saw the Fountain of Neptune. We were really hot and really tired and really hungry and we thought about eating, but then we decided that the restaurants there were very expensive, and in fact our tour guide had warned us that if we would just walk on we would get to places that were much less expensive. She gave us a very interesting tip: she said if you want to know if you’re being overcharged look at the price of bottled water and it should be no more than 1½ Euros. If it’s more than that, you’re being really overcharged. She said it’s really a place for tourists and that you could get much better food, more authentic food, and much less expensive food if you just continue to walk further. So, walk we did, despite the fact that we were tired and hungry and grouchy, and we did find some very reasonable restaurants. We sat down and Marjorie had a Roman pizza and Carol and I had salad. I had cannelloni and Carol had some ravioli. After that we said, “OK, ladies we have to get a plan.” We only had probably about an hour and forty-five minutes before we had to be back to the tour bus. Now my two “Fab at 50” buddies were feeling the effects of the heat and the humidity and they were just thinking “There’s no way we’re going to do it.” But it’s important if you’re all the way in Rome from Fayetteville, Arkansas, to see the things that are important. So, I ran over to a cab driver (and by the way that was a rare site because the taxis were on strike that day) and asked him how much he would charge us for one hour to see those sites. He told us that the ride, in a cool air conditioned cab, would be 40 Euros and we thought $20 a piece was definitely worth it. So we hopped in the cab.

Our first stop was the Trevi Fountain. There is a lot of lore around the Trevi Fountain and so many people had talked about it, including our tour guide. Now I mentioned earlier that every evening there would be a video that would show about the sites of the next port and provide tips about particular destinations. It mentioned the Trevi Fountain so we had to go there, or at least I thought we really should go there. And since we had our air conditioned cab, it was a lot better. The Trevi Fountain is described on a website, so I’ll let you look at that www.italyguides.it/us/roma/trevi.htm, but it was incredible. There’s a lot of lore around it and our tour guide had told us that everyone goes to the Trevi Fountain to toss in coins. That came from a very famous art film apparently that was made in Italy. If you know what it is, please write in and comment. You can help me. My memory is not that good. Anyway, if you throw in one coin, it means that you want to return. If you throw in two coins, it means that you want a new romance and if you throw in three coins you’ll have a divorce, so given that I was torn about that, I took and threw in one coin to come back and two coins to come back with a new love. We’ll see what happens. No matter what, it was definitely worth getting to see, just incredibly beautiful. Again, very, very crowded but we managed to get some great pictures, then it was back into the cab and we were on our way to the Spanish Steps, another famous site in Rome. At the foot of the Spanish Steps is the famous Baraccia Fountain, the work of Pietro Bernini and his son, Gian Lorenzo. The Spanish Steps are named after a Spanish ambassador who lived in the square above the steps. They are done in a Roman Baroque style and there are 138 steps. They were built with French diplomat Etienne Gueffier’s bequeathed funds of 20,000 scudi in 1723-1725 linking the Bourbon Spanish embassy to the Holy See and they are a must see for tourists. There are lots of beautiful shops around there. It’s also a place to sit and hang out if you’re in Rome. There were plenty of people sitting there to have conversations and just hanging out. After that, it was back in the cab and as we drove I snapped a number of street scenes. Then our driver took us to random places before heading back in the cab again to get back to our meeting point for the bus pick up. Lots of street scenes again and then we jumped out and went into a little gift shop to do a little bit of souvenir buying for Rome and I bought my mom a beautiful silk scarf. We didn’t buy too much from there, but mainly used the restroom, got some Italian ice, and waited for the bus to show up. I have to say that we were in a lot better shape than a lot of our fellow cruise passengers. Of course we had a wonderful air conditioned cab for the last hour and a half of our excursion where other folks had been hoofing it around in the heat and humidity on foot. So we were fresh and ready to go and everybody else was pretty tired and pooped out.