The season’s first guests arrived this morning at Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci airport after their overnight flight from Newark.
Art and Carol like to hit the ground running. As a special service, I had made arrangements with the hotel so that their room was ready immediately on our arrival at 9:30. A couple of hours later and we were on the streets of the ancient city, with the Pantheon our first stop.
Both of my guests have thoroughly explored all of Rome’s landmarks on a previous trip in 2000, so there was no pressure to try and cram a bunch of highlights into the first day. We were off on an amble to get the blood flowing after the long night on the plane.
I never get tired of visiting one of Christianity’s oldest churches. Not that it was established before any of the others, it’s the building itself which is something of a miracle. Built under Agrippa in 27 BC it was extensively modified and rebuilt under Hadrian in 117-125 AD. That’s when it received its dome, which held the record as world’s largest before being surpassed by London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral. It was converted to a Christian church in the 7th century.
To stand under the oculus at the center of the Pantheon is to witness a lasting picture of engineering and simple beauty. The shaft of light which angles through and strikes the floor or wall far below catches slowly revolving bits of dust or insects and the sight transfixes those who have the patience to watch.
From the Pantheon we wandered the short distance to the Piazza Navona. Crushed with tourists on this bright and mild afternoon, the place is a setting for average street art and street performers. Heading down an alleyway, we settled into my favorite “Hosteria,” a simple but excellent restaurant called Piccola Cuccagna. The owner recognized me and recommended what sounded like a truly delicious feast. Sadly, it was only lunchtime. “Too much food for midday,” I said. We ordered pasta fagioli soup for Carol and me, Art had the pasta, bean and chick pea soup and pronounced it excellent. The simple yet tasty lunch was preceded by the owner’s special blend of tomatoes, green olives and olive oil on crunchy bread. It was only a bruschetta, but the best!
Art and Carol wanted to keep moving after lunch, so that’s what we did. Over through a couple of picturesque piazzas to the Tiber River. Along the river, stopping to take pictures along the way of St. Peter’s off in the distance.
We photographed the fragment of Rome’s oldest remaining stone bridge, the Pons Aemilius, dating from 179 – 149 BC.
We walked to an overlook point and took in the Roman Forum. Then, along the broad parade avenue which bisects the forum of Augustus and the forum of Hadrian to the Coliseum. Around part of the Coliseum, and to the arch of Constantine. This all sounds like a huge amount of walking, but actually, ancient Rome is fairly compressed and one can see quite a bit just by slowly turning around in a circle.
Siesta time. It was 4:30 and time for a rest before dinner. I hailed a cab (this almost never is possible in busy Rome, guess luck was with me) and we headed back to the hotel. I don’t know about Art and Carol, but I slept like a baby for nearly two hours.