When in Rome…

Ahhhh, Rome…the Eternal City, the Sacred City, the Capital of the World.  It’s difficult to sum up a city like Rome, which was the second stop on our recent European adventure. Prior to the trip, Ella wanted to do some reading about Rome, so we checked out some travel books from the library. Upon further inspection, the guide book we borrowed was from 1993! Oh well, what’s a mere 25 years when dealing with Rome!

On the first Sunday of every month, the Roman museums and tourist sites are free of charge. This may sound like a good thing, but with that came crowds! Since we could not purchase the usual “line skipping” tickets on free day, we had no choice but to wait, along with everyone else.

But surprisingly, the line moved so quickly, we barley had time to stop for photos. I think we timed it just right, by accident!

This iconic structure was completed in the year 80 AD, and only took eight years (thanks to the toil of about 60,000 Jewish slaves). 

The Colosseum has 80 entrances and could hold 60,000 spectators,

and was used for “games”, which included gladiators, slaves and the slaughter of thousands of animals.  At times, 10,000 animals were killed in a single day, not to mention the countless people who lost their lives as well. All in the name of entertainment- for FOUR centuries!

The girls wondered where the spectators sat, and this replica was helpful for the answer. Originally, wooden bleachers lined the structure,

and the stadium floor would have been built out, similar to what’s shown at the far end.  Underneath were the animal and slave enclosures, who would enter the stadium through trap doors in the floor. 

There was even a large awning that could enclose the top in order to shade the crowds from the hot Roman sun. Ahead of their time, for sure!

It is believed by some, that many of those killed in the Colosseum were Christian martyrs. Consequently, in the late 17th century, the Catholic church deemed it a sacred site and placed this large cross where the ancient emperors would have sat. 

We saw too many ancient artifacts to count; including old columns,

etched crosses,


and fragments of once important sculptures.

And the view from the second floor showed excavation continuing to this day. I’m sure just about everywhere you walk in Rome has something ancient buried underneath!

The Colosseum; an iconic building with a sordid past, but a must-see on any trip to Rome.

The line was even longer as we exited. Hooray for our accidental stroke of good timing! 

 Up next, the neighboring Palatine Hill and the illustrious Roman Forum.

Palatine Hill is said to be where Romulus, Rome’s first king, founded the city. In other words, the birthplace of Rome. Most of Rome’s ancient nobility called it home as well.

We enjoyed sweeping views of the city,

wandered beneath olive trees (a first for me!),

and had bear sightings amongst centuries old artifacts. A pooping bear, no less! (Sorry, I have no explanation for this.) And I thought we had left the bears in Alaska!

Moving along…the views of the Forum down below were incredible.

The Forum served as the city center for the ancient Romans.

Walking through ancient rubble, I couldn’t help but think about the temporary nature of our lives on this earth. The people have been gone and forgotten about for centuries, yet the stuff remains.

There are ongoing efforts to reinforce and reconstruct the ruins to their original design.

I found Trajan’s Column to be exceptionally phenomenal. It was finished in 113 AD, and beginning from the bottom surrounding the entire marble column, a bas relief carving depicts various Roman wars. And to this day, it sits in the same spot in wonderful condition. Simply astounding!

Almost every corner we turned in Rome had some over-the-top structure. We almost felt like we were wandering around….Vegas, minus the buffet lines and yard-long cocktails, of course.

A jam-packed morning of ancient ruins calls for a Roman lunch of choice -pizza! In this Italian version of fast food, you walk up to the counter and order your pizza by weight. Since I’m not very proficient with grams, resorting to charades and hand gestures worked like a charm!

The little old lady next to Eva sure was giving us the once over!

(**-Let’s talk toilets for a moment. We were definitely not in Japan anymore! Not only were there no heated toilet seats, you were generally lucky to even get a seat! Also, any trip to the bathroom will cost you at least one euro- (about a dollar, per person), unless you are a paying customer of a restaurant.)

We passed too many churches to count, each and every one a masterpiece.

How can something that looks like this inside, be relatively unknown? And they’re ALL this ornate and beautiful.

But the moment we had been waiting for was finally at hand. The arrival of my sister Pam and her two kids. We stood outside of the hotel waiting for their cab in anticipation.

Yay, reunited at last! Visiting Pam was the main reason for this European adventure. Pam, like myself, also married a military man, and has been living near Venice for two years now.

Benny was SO happy to see his cousins!

Time to hit the streets!

First up, the Trevi Fountain. Pretty much any movie you’ve ever seen, set in Rome, will show the Trevi Fountain.

Legend has it, that throwing a coin over your shoulder and into the water, will ensure a return trip to Rome. Sign us up!

Apparently, there are many who wish to return to Rome, as the fountain collects about $3,500 every day, which is donated to charity.

Although the pictures look like we had the place to ourselves, we actually shared it with a few hundred friends. Rome does not earn its title as one of the worlds most visited cities for nothing!

We finished off the evening with gelato on the Spanish Steps, a popular hangout spot, and great for people watching. 

An absolutely gorgeous Roman evening!

But no rest for the weary…we had a big day planned with a visit to the Vatican. The hostess at the tiny restaurant about gasped when we asked for a table for seven, so Matt took one for the team and sat at the kid table, and Pam and I got a sisters-only table.

Complete with a lovely tea service. (I know, I know, in Italy one should drink coffee, and I do come around. More on that later.)

Benny was full of stories to tell. After living in Italy for two years, conversing with other kids in English was such a treat!

Random sights on the streets of Rome.

Up next on our ‘Rome’s Greatest Hits’ tour, the Pantheon. Completed in 160 AD, its the best preserved ancient structure still standing. Experts today aren’t even really sure what it is made from, but the substance closely resembles our concrete today.

The giant dome, the largest unsupported dome in the world, just defies all logic. How they had the know-how and ability to pull off such a feat, is so baffling. Truly one of the worlds great wonders!

Continuing on our walk; another piazza,

another fountain,

another selfie-stick seller. 

Yes, we were badgered almost constantly to buy various things. All. Day. Long. This was very different from Prague, where we were not hit up even once. “Say cheese Eva…and selfie-stick guy!”

I greatly enjoyed the live music at this piazza, though.

Next up, a stroll through Campo de’ Fiori, one of Rome’s most famous food markets. We enjoyed browsing the exotic olive oils,

rows upon rows of pasta,

fresh olives, artichokes and tomatoes,

mouth-watering cheese,

and scrumptious fruits.

But the Vatican awaited….

We had reservations for one o’clock, but when we arrived, the lines were so massive and the signage was so poor, we had no idea where to go. After much asking and LOTS of miles logged (12.6 miles for the day to be exact!) we found the correct entrance, about fifteen minutes late. I was prepared for a Wally World moment with denied admittance, but they said nothing. Whew!

The Vatican is actually its own country, and covers 100 acres, independent from the rest of Italy.

The museums and grounds were stunning and elaborate in every sense, almost overwhelming at times.

Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel was beyond description, and only took four years to complete. As I walked into the chapel, I snapped a pic of the crowd and was immediately reprimanded by the guy on the right, no pictures! Ooops. Gotta love a good scolding in a foreign language, (and I’ve had many)! Seriously though, my phone camera wouldn’t even come close to doing the chapel justice, look here for the real thing.

The dome of St. Peter’s Basilica was also designed by the great Michelangelo. Not bad for a guy who only wanted to be a sculptor.

(***-I loved the free water fountains scattered all over Rome. The water was cold and perfectly safe to drink, so we kept refilling our bottles at every chance. So refreshing on a hot day.)

We finished the day at St. Peter’s Basilica, the largest church in the world and also the most sacred for the Catholic church.

The colonnades leading to the Basilica were lined with 140 sculptures of various saints,

and the remains of the apostle Peter are said to be buried underneath the wooden shrine in the center of the Basilica.

Seeing Michelangelo’s beautiful Pietà, one of his first commissions and only signed piece, almost brought tears to my eyes.

While marveling at the over-the-top ornate splendor of St. Peter’s, I couldn’t help but think that they had missed the point entirely. Jesus and his gospel are simple, in the holiest of ways. All can enjoy a relationship with the living God, we need only to ask.

Suddenly a choir began to sing at the far end of the cathedral. Their voices sounded like the angels themselves, and we paused to soak up the moment.

A small contingent of Swiss military have been guarding the Vatican and the Pope for over 500 years. And even today, they wear the traditional colorful uniform and must be Swiss citizens.

After a twelve mile “stroll”, and LOTS of history learned, it was time to eat!

 This bruschetta was quite possibly one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. Think fresh ripe tomatoes, olive oil, a little vinegar and salt, on perfectly toasted and garlicky bread. Sheer heaven! I’m still dreaming of this!

I’m usually one who can give or take pasta, but I went with the Carbonara, as it is a regional specialty. It was creamy and cheesy with a touch of salty pancetta. A good choice indeed!

And little Clara got an entire pizza to herself! When in Rome…..

It’s hard to comprehend the scope of history that Rome provides, and we barely scratched the surface. Eternal City, indeed! Up next, we journey to the birthplace of Michelangelo and the Renaissance… Florence.


  1. Alice
    November 5, 2017 / 3:42 pm

    This is completely amazing!!!! Someday I wanna go!!!!

  2. Hannah Scalambrino
    November 8, 2017 / 7:33 pm

    This is just amazing! It looks like so much fun! It makes me want to travel!! ❤️

  3. Amara
    November 15, 2017 / 3:57 pm

    Just stunning. I get what you say with the dichotomy of over the top beauty dedicated to the glory of God, and the simplicity of the gospel. I think both can be right if your heart is in the right place. The problem is when that grandeur places a barrier between us and our Father. I think even studying obscure intellectual aspects of the scriptures can do that too. Might be interesting, but also might misdirect you from the basic truth that will actually save you! Sorry! You just got me thinking. You also got me wanting to go to Rome!. Thank you.

    • CowanTravels
      November 21, 2017 / 5:02 pm

      I love your thoughts Amara. I totally agree with the notion of getting so lost in the minutiae, and/or rule keeping of "religion", that we miss the larger point. Salvation is a free gift, available to all, with the only stipulation being belief in Him. We're off the hook! No striving, earning, or perfection needed. Good news, indeed! (And thanks for always reading this blog!)

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