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Stepping Across the Atlantic Ocean: My Adventure in Rome, Italy

by Rich Gonzalez
(Ft. Lauderdale, FL, USA)

I never really understood the attraction of Europe. To me, it had always seemed like a land mass of different countries trying to exist as one, but not totally wanting their sole independence from one another.

I have heard those nasty rumors about Parisians being rude people, especially to those of us that travel from the United States, and often thought this is where I want to spend any time on a vacation? If the food is so good in Europe, another rumor told to me from people who have traveled there, then why are so many people so thin? Rumors are just that, rumors – and whether we choose to debunk them or take them to heart, the real truth lies way beneath the surface.

Allowing myself to give into peer pressure, I made the trek across the Atlantic Ocean. My flight left at a little after 11:00 pm and it was my first experience on an overnight flight. Ten hours later, 6 different time zones and with Rome somewhere below, I was woken by a stewardess with a pleasant “Buongiorno” and my 14-day journey had begun.

My first stop on my adventure is Rome, Italy.

After checking into my hotel that I will call home for two days, I step outside to do a little browsing. The street outside my hotel ends in front of the walls of the Vatican City and you can see the top of St. Peter’s Basilica. The smells of bread and pastries are intoxicating and the morning traffic makes you jump back from a moment of euphoria to reality.

Colosseum Rome ItalyInside the walls of the Vatican City, numerous water fountains welcome you and give the sense of tranquility. Massive statues adorn the entrance to the Basilica including one of St. Peter. Inside you are forced to take notice of the history and architecture around you. These walls are decorated with magnificent frescoes that celebrate the Catholic faith. The sheer size is immeasurable for a church of which I am accustomed too. There is a tiny scaffold that allows you to peer over the edge to get a better sense of the size. The ceiling is a perfect compliment to the rest of the Basilica.

After a few hours of gawking at some of the most beautiful pieces of art these eyes have ever seen, it was time to feed my hunger. Outside of the Vatican City, there are numerous vendors peddling their wares – but my sights were set on the food that would slowly become my favorite meal on this trip – a gelato is a close cousin of ice cream, although I’m not sure where the similarities begin and the differences stop. All I know is that on a hot day, there is nothing better.

I go back to my hotel room and get introduced to my tour guide for my vacation. A short overweight woman with a contagious smile named Lola. She is of German descent and with a slight accent, introduces us to a few words in Italian. I come to find out that she is a polyglot, as she speaks 8 languages fluently. We board our chariot (a greyhound-esk bus) and set up to take in Rome.

Colosseum Rome ItalyOur first stop was the Colosseum – and if there was ever a place that has graced postcards that I wanted to see, this was it. Exiting the bus, I could almost hear the roar of the crowds as it must have 2000 years ago. The huge columns, although quite intimidating, have this warm inviting feeling towards them. Once inside, you see where the animals were kept and how high the actual state came from the animals. Look up and you see where Kings ruled and gave their approval or their ostracism of the games.

Outside this enormous venue, you walk on top of cobblestones that were the exact stones that allowed men like Julius Caesar to walk on them. To be a part of history that dates back longer then anything imaginable was both exciting and exhilarating. This cobblestone walkway leads us to a discovered world that has been dug up by archaeologist. The remains – columns that somehow remained intact – are as beautiful now as I imagined they were when rulers held court inside them.

Saint Peter's BasilicaThe awe from what we just witnessed was still alive as my tour boarded our bus for our next stop. We were en route back to the Vatican and to view one of the world’s most sought after attractions – the Sistine Chapel. We entered the walls and after taking another look inside St. Peter’s Basilica – a task that I would welcome a million times – we headed down long hallways of frescoes and statues. Once we entered inside the chapel we were hit with a sledge hammer of beauty. The smell was that of a damp cave, but the inspiration that was drawn from looking at the walls was second only to the ceiling. Each photo depicted a story from the Bible, and as our guide told the story of Genesis all the way through Revelation, our eyes followed in complete amazement.

The work of Michelangelo was truly that of a genius. A man that, by all accounts was a sculpture – had spend 4 years with a brush and redefining the art form. Contrary to what Hollywood would allow you to think, he did not paint the ceiling on his back, but rather over his head – a herculean task when you see the share size of the artwork.

After leaving the Chapel, we were treated to more gelato and after making a few stops in little shops that offer everything from picture books to rosary beads – and a free blessing by His Holiness – then Pope Benedict XVI, I was ready just to do it again!

Everything from the architecture, to the beautiful artwork to the cuisine was of the highest standards. The people love their culture and welcome you to sit down, and while enjoying a cup of espresso and a pignolata – a chocolate and lemon covered pastry – will fill you with stories of their beloved city.

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