We love Rome. In fact, I’ve loved Rome since I first came here in 1975. Yet surprisingly we never spend much time in Rome. This was just a two-night stop to meet our friends coming from the States before we head north to Florence. Fortunately, we’ll be back at the end of their trip for five nights so this was just a little teaser.
It was a great teaser, though. The first thing we noticed as we got off the plane was that the weather was perfect, low 70s and sunny. Perfect and it stayed that way our for the brief visit. If this is what the weather is like in Rome in October we’re going to spend a lot of Octobers in Rome.
There’s not a lot you can do in such a brief stop, particularly when you’ve been here before and don’t need to do much of anything. I bought a new fleece jacket, a big deal when you live out of a suitcase and only buy a new jacket maybe once every two years on average. We thought we were going to spend one morning at Borghese Museum, one of the great art museums in Rome, but after walking there discovered that the first available tickets were for six days hence. Six days! We thought that coming in October we’d avoid the big crowds and to some extent we did, but apparently that’s a really popular museum. And I give them good points for limiting the number of people who can go in at any one time. Fortunately we’re going back in 10 days so we can reserve tickets this time and do it right.
Instead we wandered around the Villa Borghese Gardens for a while and then sat to read. The weather was fabulous and the park beautiful; it’s strange that as far as we know neither of us have ever been there before. Later I walked out to St. John Lateran Basilica, the oldest and “premier” of the four papal basilicas; it has the title of “mother church” of the Roman Catholic faithful. The name comes from the Laterani family, ancient Romans who lived here back in the day. They lost the property when the family patriarch was accused of conspiring against Emperor Nero. Emperor Constantine later acquired the property through marriage and had a basilica built on the site and gave it to the Bishop of Rome (i.e., the Pope).
Today it’s not a particularly impressive church, at least to those who’ve become blasé about grand cathedrals. There are some entertaining pieces nearby, though, particularly the Holy Stairs across a street from the cathedral. The Holy Stairs are pretty cool, the very stairs that Jesus walked on to be tried by Pontius Pilate. Emperor Constantine’s mother St. Helena – who also managed to find the true cross – found the steps in Jerusalem and brought them back to Rome. Today they are encased in marble and lead to the Holy of Holies, the personal chapel of early popes so named because of all the relics (i.e., bones) there.
To its credit, the Catholic Church does not explicitly claim that the wooden stairs under marble are genuinely the same stairs Christ walked on, but, just in case, one is allowed to climb the steps only on one’s knees. Fortunately for the less faithful there is a staircase right next to it that allows feet so you can still get up to see the old papal chapel.
And that was our brief stop in Rome. We’ll pick up our friends at the airport and then head up to Florence by train, our third stop there in three years. You can never get too much of Florence.