St. Peter’s View, 1996
My friend MaryHelen is just back from Rome. I don’t know whether it was her first visit there, or not. But she does seem to have come home with the awe that many visitors have after a visit to the “eternal city.”
My wife and I had the opportunity to visit Rome twice during 1996. The first visit was a day trip during late July. It was over 100F and the streets were mobbed with tourists, cars, buses, business people and gypsy robbers. We saw and were impressed by the requisite sites. But I can’t say I formed a particularly good impression of Rome on that trip. It’s hard when it’s that hot and crowded. Besides, a day trip isn’t a good introduction to any place.
We returned for a week at Christmas, this time with our teenage daughter. We arrived in Rome on the morning of December 26 only to find that little beyond the Vatican is open the day after Christmas.
It was also some kind of cold. I’d read that the local temperature that time of year should be in the low-50s. But the morning we arrived the temperature in Rome was 27F. The water in the fountains, so refreshingly chilly in summer, was so much warmer than the ambient air that the fountains were surrounded by puffy clouds of fog. The cascading Trevi fountain looked more like Niagara Falls.
We had a good time, though. We walked. We ate. We toured. It never got above freezing the whole week and at a point a mix of rain and sleet added to the fun. But we didn’t let that stop us.
This Little Piggy Went to Rome, 1996
There are many good experiences and memories from that trip. But three experiences stand out:
- Standing under the dome of the Pantheon. Such elegant design and exquisite engineering.
- Climbing to the cupola of St. Peter’s. It’s like having God’s view of Rome. (If popes had to make this climb, they’d pick much younger men.)
- Visiting Pompeii in the rain. The ruins of Pompeii are impressive in any weather. But for reasons I can’t explain the rain and sleet made the history of its streets, its structures, its art, its people and the terrible calamity that befell them even more present. (I wrote about Pompeii here.)
Travel teaches many lessons, not the least of which is that there is often little reason to believe that the way you live is the only, or best, way to live. One of the other lessons of travel is that you can never really get to know a place in just a week. I suspect Rome, like a lot of places at that latitude, is best visited in the spring or fall. We experienced Rome at its climatical extremes. But Rome, like the Dude, endures. I feel sure that if I had a year to live in Rome I would still feel like I hadn’t poked into all of its gardens, courtyards and alleys.
Piazza Navona, 1996
Via Cola di Rienzo, 1996