The Pantheon was another place with a fascinating history and amazing presence. Built in 118-128 AD it is the best preserved ancient Roman monument, and was meant to be a building dedicated to all of the gods. The building has a oculus at the top of the dome that is 25 ft in diameter. The height to this oculus and the diameter of the interior circle are the exact same at 142 ft. The building also has many devices and hidden chambers built into the structure to help reduce the weight of the dome. The dome’s thickness decreases as it reaches the opening, and visible brick arches are built into the structure which I actually took note of on the outside of the building. If you’re worried about it raining inside the building through that opening, worry no more. The floor is slightly slanted so that it will run into a extremely unnoticeable drain in the middle. For a building constructed nearly 2000 years ago, it’s a bit mind blowing. We still don’t even know what the material used was… it’s something close to concrete. The 12 60 ton columns holding the entrance portico were floated from the quarry down the Nile river in Egypt and brought over.
Before I came to Rome I started reading a couple of historical fiction books, one being ‘I am Livia’ by Phyllis T. Smith. Visiting Palatine hill and seeing ruins where all of the senators, rulers, and aristocrats lived was pretty cool. Livia Drusilla, later Julia Augusta, was married to a senator and while carrying his child divorced him and married Caesar Augustus (for love). She was known as one of the most influential woman in Roman history with her knowledge of state affairs and influence over her husband the emperor. Her son Tiberius became emperor upon Caesars death. Basically, she was a beautiful badass woman who lived 2000 years ago and I got to hang out where she used to hang out at. Forget that it was used as a cow pasture after the fall of the Roman Empire. The Roman forum, Circus Maximis (where the chariot races were held), and the hill entrance are all included in 1 so we spent the day roaming the streets of ancient Rome. (Yes, that was on purpose)
We checked out Pompeii on our drive back to Rome from Sorrento on our last day. I’m not sure If the timing had anything to do with it, but it was slightly underwhelming. We gave it a 5 out of 10, probably because of the effort it took to figure out what we were looking at. You go through an entrance and then just walk through street after street of ruins of houses & shops. Some are open to viewing and have information posted, but most are just filled with blooming wildflowers. Do not mistake me, it didn’t slip my mind that I was walking the streets of an area founded in 6-5th century BC. It’s amazing to think that the surprisingly large city was simply buried by Mount Vesuvius erupting in 79 AD. Discovered in 1748, it’s a historians dream. The buildings, artifacts, and even skeletal remains are still very much intact. We visited a museum that even displayed different seeds, nuts, & even peach pits that were preserved. While we didn’t do much research, actually we did 0 research, it was much larger than I expected and was quite easy to get lost navigating the streets. To be able to see the vivid color paintings on walls of homes, and the mosaic tile floors from 2000 plus years ago is hard to wrap my head around.
It improved drastically after we had a little power nap. An unforgettable moment of the trip was wandering through the ruins of ancient Rome and coming across the Colosseum. We decided that just wasn’t cool enough and we needed a beer while we took it all in.
It’s probably a good thing we had an adult beverage, because we headed to the Trevi fountain next which was full of tourists and jam packed. We got our picture in and did the coin toss (not realizing we threw our coins over the wrong shoulder), and strolled on for dinner and early bedtime.
I would recommend staying in Trastevere to anyone. It is quintessential Rome to me. The narrow cobblestone streets with ivy draped across the 4-5 story buildings, and a pizzeria on every block. Perfecto and very picturesque. We roamed through this part of town often, which is how we found ‘our bar’. Cajo & Gajo lured us in with American music playing and a cute little patio & bar area. By American music, I actually mean the good stuff… ‘belly rubbing music’ I was informed it’s called. Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye, Joe Cocker, etc etc… We made friends with the bartender and servers on a late Wednesday night. After they served us free pizza, french fries, and vino we closed the place down. We went back again the next night.
The hop on hop off bus ride was a bust for us. We paid for 48 hours, tried finding the start point for an hour, and rode it for maybe 45 minutes. It took us to the Vatican which was the plan for the day. I hate to admit it, but we didn’t go in. We got in line and realized exactly how long that line actually was. We ended up just getting back on our bus (still part of that 45 minute total). Intentions were there to see the Vatican and the Sistine chapel. The patience and most importantly, planning, were not.
Driving in Rome is like nothing I’ve ever seen. They’re crazy in Paris, in Amsterdam the bikes are a terror, Central America just has no rules, and yet Rome trumps them all. Fiats, tourist buses, and mopeds just weave in and out between each other with surprising and terrifying ease. We rented a car and became part of that fun.
Thank God for the GPS. Honestly, Jason did a great job navigating through the mopeds darting on both sides, and keeping cool with the drivers that just stick their noses out right in front of you. Also, sometimes the turning left lanes are actually the far left lanes, but also the far right lanes. If you want to go straight, obviously the middle lanes are for you. I mean, everyone should know that… because they certainly don’t have signs to inform you. These ‘do whatever works’ standards were no different in Sorrento. Surprisingly we only saw 1 wreck, a car tried turning at a stop sign and just tipped over the moped pulling up next to it. Despite the city driving, the scariest moment for me was when we reached a toll booth. We didn’t know how it worked but had our money out… Well, when we couldn’t figure out how to pay Jason whipped that little Fiat go cart into reverse and quickly backs out of the lane before another car comes in and blocks us. As I’m trying not to show how white knuckled I was that we just drove backwards on the autostrada, we sit there for a few seconds kinda staring at each other having no idea what to do or how to find out. That’s when we realize that everyone is simply pushing a button and taking a card, we will pay later. Ohhh, emergency (& wreck) avoided. It happened to be a perfect day for a road trip and we happily cruised with the windows down scanning for songs in English for the 3 hour drive down to Sorrento. And yes, we paid the toll with no hiccups.
We wanted to stay in Portofino or Amalfi, but last minute availability was ridiculous, and Sorrento was closer to Rome as well as cheaper. I was very pleased, and it was as cute as I could have imagined. Our hotel was nestled into an alleyway lined with stores and pizzerias. We quickly figured out that particular alleyway wasn’t meant to drive us to the hotel, and definitively wasn’t a road. Even in our tiny fiat, we had basically went off road onto the sidewalk. Oops. Jason was really good at reversing by then though, so everyone & everything made it out alright.
Next thing we did after *walking* to check into the hotel was walk to the cliff side of town overlooking the water… where our jaws dropped. It’s just beautiful. The view was over the marina and you can see the houses and winding roads dotting the cliff side up the coast. As I’m taking in this view I quickly realized I didn’t consider the wind gusts near the water. I may or may not have flashed my undergarments while having a Marilyn Monroe moment trying to gain control of my flowy sundress. Helllllo, Sorrento, I’m here!
Another mode of transportation that presented a challenge was the bus on Capri. 1. There are no signs to help you figure out how it all works. 2. We could have easily died on the switchback turns up the mountain to get to Anacapri and do the chair lift. The public bus filled with tourists is basically a handicap sized bus with 25ish (mostly standing) people struggling up a mountain with roads that are inches away from the cliff side. There were a few ‘don’t look down’ moments when looking out the windows.
We also had a couple of interesting situations getting to and from the car rental station. Like, we couldn’t find it for half an hour… walking around in the massive Termini station. We nearly missed the ferry leaving Capri, but in our defense our new Australian friends were just as confused. Oh, and a shout out to our cab driver in Rome (who was Jason’s bff for 30 min) passing along the advice from his grandfather, that when men get married they’re smiling that night, and crying the next morning. Romance in Italy, eh?
75 and not a cloud in the sky, a cold beer in my hand listening to the birds chirping, looking out over the island of Capri… & smiling like a fool.