Ready for the final leg of our trip? To be honest, I’m not even sure I was; besides the fact that I absolutely fell in love with Sorrento, I was still having difficulty coming to terms with the tour almost coming to an end. Italy is just such a magical place, and I don’t want to leave! But the good news was that we still had three more days of sightseeing, one last concert, and lots of time left to spend with our friends. And what better day to spend these last few days than in Rome?
Before heading to enjoy a quick breakfast, I made sure to drop off my luggage in the hotel lobby, so that we could expedite the process of loading the coaches once it came time to leave. I had plenty of time to eat heartily, with pancakes, scrambled eggs, and some slices of fruit tarts filling me up just fine. Then, as always, we all made our way down to the lobby one last time, recollected our bags, and went straight to the buses. Our trip today was expected to take about four hours, but it actually ended up lasting a bit longer because of traffic. We did, however, only make one brief rest stop in that time, so we didn’t end up losing much time to these long travel hours. One other thing: this was the quietest bus ride I have had on the choir bus since the beginning of the tour. Almost every single person on this bus was either asleep, listening to music, or sitting quietly, the last of which was especially out of character for the choir kids I know and love!
All right, let’s talk about Rome. The city’s history spans over twenty eight centuries, although Roman mythology typically dates the founding of Rome at around 753 BC, but the site has been inhabited for much longer. Thus, it has been a major human settlement for almost three millennia and one of the oldest continuously occupied cities in Europe. The city and its metropolitan area is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, within the region of Lazio (known as Latium in Latin), along the shores of the Tiber river. Rome is often referred to as the City of Seven Hills due to its geographic location, and is generally considered to be the cradle of Western civilization and Christian culture, as well as the center of the Catholic Church. Additionally, Vatican City, the world’s smallest country, is an independent city-state situated fully within the boundaries of Rome, the only existing example of a country within a city. The city is known for being one of the first major centers of the Renaissance, the birthplace of both the Baroque and Neoclassical artistic styles, and for its rich architecture dating back to the city’s inception. And as you may have guessed, all of this earned Rome’s historic center the World Heritage Site designation by UNESCO.
Once we had finally arrived in the city, we passed by the Termini Railway Station, Rome’s largest train station, before making an hour-long stop to get lunch. We entered a large food court, which was strangely reminiscent of the Chelsea Market in Downtown Manhattan, where we were able to enjoy the most authentic Italian specialties known as ramen, sushi, hamburgers, chicken, and salad bowls. I sincerely hope that joke was obvious enough. Still, the ramen I had there was some of the finest-tasting I’ve had in a while. But honestly, anything other than pasta or pizza was a welcome change of pace at this point! So, after about forty-five minutes, it was time to head back to our buses as we continued the drive through Rome, making a stop at our final hotel, the Hotel Cicerone, so that we could receive our room keys and unload our belongings. Then, it was time to start toward the Vatican district, where we would have the opportunity to visit the Vatican Museums!
Founded in the early sixteenth century by Pope Julius II, the Musei Vaticani display works from an immense collection amassed by the Catholic Church and the papacy over its history. This includes several of the most renowned Roman sculptures and important masterpieces of Renaissance art from all over the world. I did some research, and found that the Vatican Museums contain over 70,000 works, but only 20,000 are on display. In other words, we would have our work cut out for us today! And of course, at the end of the visitor route through the museums waits the world-famous Sistine Chapel, with its ceiling and altar wall decorated by Michelangelo, and the Stanze di Raffaello decorated by Raphael. So, after clearing the extensive security checkpoint at the front entrance (which felt even more stringent than TSA!), we met our museum guides and began our tour.
We were first led to a miniature diorama of the entire Vatican enclave, where our guide pointed out the locations of all of its most important buildings such as the Apostolic Palace, St. Peter’s Basilica, and the Sistine Chapel. In a moment, we proceeded out onto a large terrace from which we could admire a sweeping view of the area, including a beautiful snapshot of the Basilica’s dome which, might I also mention, is the world’s tallest. Reentering the museum building, our group was led through hallways lined with statues and sculptures of many different historical and mythological figures, until we reached the entrance to the Vatican gardens. There, we were shown an overview of all the most famous frescoes that live at the museums as well as across the rest of the Vatican, and a massive globe-shaped sculpture that stood in the middle of the grounds. How amazing.
Soon enough, after passing through endless hallways of magnificent artwork and cartography, ornate ceilings, detailed tapestries, and more statues and busts, we eventually reached the entryway into the Sistine Chapel. This place was so majestic and surreal. For so long I had only ever seen it in images, but being able to observe it in person was an absolutely incomparable experience. The museum staff had to constantly remind visitors to remain quiet while in the chapel, and the moment after all of the gradually building noise in the room suddenly died down to a whisper as a result was quite chilling. Pictures were also strictly prohibited inside, although I did manage to sneak in one photo through the entrance, so technically I never broke that rule! Let’s hope that I don’t get hunted down by the Swiss Guard now that I made that information publicly available online.
At the conclusion of our tour, we exited the museums through a slanting spiral staircase and took another group photo outside the grounds before leaving. From here, we began a long walking tour through Rome, led by our wonderful tour managers, which took us through the maze of cobblestone streets out to the Piazza Trinità dei Monti, where we passed the magnificent Trinità dei Monti church for which the square was named. By this point, the light began to fade from the sky as we descended the Spanish Steps into the Piazza di Spagna, and then proceeded toward Trevi Fountain, the largest Baroque fountain in the city and one of the most famous fountains in the world. Just like with the Sistine Chapel, being able to see these sights before my eyes for the first time was a truly amazing experience.
The tour managers soon led us into a local restaurant where we would break up our walking tour for a group dinner. Reviews on the food were mostly positive, although there were a few tough critics tonight. To be honest, I wasn’t actually that hungry and ended up eating much lighter than usual, so I would not consider myself the most qualified person to speak on the matter! Nevertheless, we finished up eating and continued our pleasant nighttime stroll through the city, passing the marvelous Pantheon in the Piazza della Rotonda, one of the most well-preserved areas of the entire city. I consider this Ancient Roman temple to be at the pinnacle of human architecture, so being able to stand right in front of it was completely mind-blowing! But all too soon, it was time for our walk to end as we arrived back at our hotel to retire for the night.
As much as I love the hustle and bustle of our action-packed itinerary, there is really nothing like a relaxed day in Rome with all of your friends. Better yet, we still have two more fun-filled days left, including a concert tomorrow night and another performance the next day. That said, I think it’s about time for me to head off to bed, but not before a warm shower and our ceremonial goodnight check-in. I wish you all another buona notte from all of us here at MYO incorporated, and I cannot wait to return to you tomorrow with another recap of our exciting adventures!