Highlights of two days in Rome

A classic shot of the Coliseum (Photo: Steve Mullen).

A classic shot of the Coliseum (Photo: Steve Mullen).

What can one say about Rome’s charms that hasn’t been said before? The 5th most popular international destination for Americans traveling abroad (according to Forbes Traveler magazine), it seems that every sight has been seen, written about and filmed. Scholarly works, historical accounts, novels and postcards have covered every inch of ancient Rome, and yet, as much as I thought it would be another overcrowded European city Rome captivated my imagination and fueled a mad dash to see everything possible.  From a kaleidoscope of images and experiences emerged a theme of spurting, dribbling, spouting, gushing fountains built by Romans at the terminus of every aqueduct bringing water into the city from miles away.

Traveling with my husband and two friends, we passed through Rome spending a precious two days on our way to a week in Umbria.

Our enchantment began almost immediately upon checking in at the posh Hotel Eden, courtesy of Starwood hotel points (runs Euro 3,500/night). The aristocratic hotel, built in 1889, was originally developed to service visitors arriving in Rome via the new Termini railway station. This location placed us strategically on the edge of the Spanish Steps and Villa Borghese. Arriving from the U.S. in the early morning we staggered out of the hotel into streaming sunshine, sans nap, to embrace the Spanish Steps. We collapsed onto the steps and soaked up the warm, late summer rays and drowsed.

Drinking from the Fontana della Barcaccia, the sweetest water in Rome (Photo: Steve Mullen)

Drinking from the Fontana della Barcaccia, the sweetest water in Rome (Photo: Steve Mullen)

Noticing a large gathering at the foot of the steps we roused ourselves to descend the steps to find the beguiling Fontana della Barcaccia (Fountain of the Old Boat), built in 1627. Fed by an extensive network of aqueducts, as all of Rome’s fountains are, this one purportedly contained the sweetest water in all of Rome. To the consternation of my traveling companions I bent down and drank heartily of the clear, fresh water, but despite their concerns I suffered no ill effects then or later.

After succumbing to a short nap we set out in the evening to continue our explorations, heading south from the hotel. Soon, we spied tiny cafes spilling across sidewalks and into some streets, causing diners to be on high alert as automobiles slid inches from their elbows.

The Trevi Fountain (Photo: Steve Mullen)

The Trevi Fountain (Photo: Steve Mullen)

As we walked we sensed quickening excitement and the faint sound of cascading water in the distance. Suddenly we rounded a corner to face the torrents of water erupting from the Trevi Fountain, so named for the end of the Acqua Vergine aqueduct at the crossing of three roads (tre vie). Built in 1762, the liquid panorama depicted an enormous scene of baroque sculptures, headed by the figure of Oceanus (god of all water) surfing through his 65 foot wide kingdom of rock and water. This fountain drew us back for several visits as we examined more details in the many sculptures.

Ristorante Quirino, near the Trevi Fountain (Photo: Steve Mullen)

Ristorante Quirino, near the Trevi Fountain (Photo: Steve Mullen)

Finding a wonderful sidewalk café near the Trevi Fountain we enjoyed a superlative dinner of grilled vegetable antipasta, fried calamari, grilled fish and fresh pasta at Ristorante Quirino, which specializes in traditional Sicilian dishes (US$50/person, with wine).

We admired the open dome of the Pantheon, peeked at the handiwork of the Christian catacombs used for vertically efficient burial, and stopped dead in our tracks at the engineering wonder of the Coliseum. Almost everyone has seen familiar scenes of ancient Rome on postcards, movies, magazines and newspapers but it’s an eerie feeling of déjà vu to see the familiar for the first time. The scale of the Coliseum is not reproducible on paper or celluloid, the vastness indescribable, the size of the boulders hewn from the crust of the earth and hauled to the fourth story unbelievable. Inadequate superlatives fell from our lips in bursts, giving way to a stammering search for descriptive expression followed by gaping silence and a sigh. But there was more, and after crossing the street we passed the Arch of Constantine, symbol of the mainstreaming of Christianity, and on to the Roman Forum, a sprawling city center and birthplace of ancient Rome, painstakingly undergoing excavation even now. There is still more—above the Forum is Palatine Hill with the huts of Romulus and Remus, the brothers credited with no less than the founding of Rome, loaded with still more history.

Inside the Colliseum (Photo: Steve Mullen)

Inside the Colliseum (Photo: Steve Mullen)

Two thousand years of history is a lot to absorb in two days, but we opened our minds and tried to take it all, experiencing the best Rome has to offer.

Information:
Hotel Eden

Via Ludovisi 49
Rome 00187, Italy
Phone: 06 478 121

Ristorante Quirino–F. Lli Ferlito
Via delle Muratte 84
Rome 00187, Italy
Phone: 066 794108

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