And then there was Rome. Of all the places Kongo visited during his European trip last month, Rome was the city most anticipated. Kongo always felt that if you haven’t been to Rome then you really haven’t been to Europe. Not that other great cities on the continent he’d visited weren’t grand. London, Paris, Prague, Vienna, Venice, Florence, Budapest. Even Moscow. But Rome? Well, Rome is Rome.
Even though it was only a single day in the Eternal City, the “wasn’t built in a day” place and the nexus of all leading roads, Rome was stunning as only Rome can be. The monkey will return as soon as he can and he is now frequently checking the renovation schedule of Trevi Fountain because he skipped the construction site and didn’t throw a coin in so now he’s going to have to figure out how to get back here without the help of that famous superstition.
The ship docked at Civitavecchia, the port city a full 50 miles from Rome, and the monkey and dozens of others from the Viking Star boarded buses and headed to the city. It was a gorgeous, cloud free day with temperatures in the 80s. It was perfect.
Our first stop near Palatine Hill was like diving head first into a pool of antiquity. You couldn’t swing a Roman toga without seeing some famous landmark that you had only seen in movies and pictures before. Even with the tens of thousands of other swarming monkeys seeking the same sights, it was perfect. Just being there was perfect, as in “Wowsie, I’m in ROME!”
Of course there were the thousands of scooters, the honking, the crush of the tourists, gawking tour groups crashing into each other, and the voices of different languages all chanting the same chorus, namely “oohs and aahs” which is pretty much the same in Chinese as it is in English, Dutch, German, Spanish, Russian, and Japanese. Tour buses sometimes blocked the best views, traffic did not stop for those wanting to get that perfect picture, and the lollipops held aloft by tour guides kept moving when you wanted to linger. It was still great.
The Coliseum was just as the monkey imagined it only it was bigger and grander somehow. The sun was on the far side of the structure so the light played well shining through the arches.
If you squinted your eyes when you looked at the Roman Forum you could image white robed senators walking along the travertine plaza conferring about this conquest or that tax.
At Vatican City, Kongo was surprised. The famous St. Peter’s Square somehow seemed smaller than as it appeared on television. He did spot the chimney where papal elections were announced, perched above the Sisteen Chapel. The security line to enter St. Peter’s wound around the square.
Everywhere was history. The monkey and Mrs. Kongo had a quiet lunch a few blocks from the Vatican at a sidewalk cafe. At tables nearby priests and nuns discussed church business over pasta and a glass of wine. It reminded Kongo of power lunches in Washington DC with frocks and habits in place of suits and power ties.
The Tiber River was green but it was still like, “hey, there’s the Tiber!”
And here’s an interesting bit of Roman trivia…do you know why the Spanish Steps are called the “Spanish” steps? Huh, well, do you?
Kongo learned that the Spanish Steps are very close to the Spanish embassy and that’s how they got their name. This is somewhat ironic since the Spanish steps were paid for by the French. Huh? Yup, the 135 steps were paid for by a French diplomat who wanted to link the piazza below the steps to the Trinità dei Monti church, located at the top of the steps. The church was under the patronage of the Bourbon French kings.
Mrs. Kongo found some shopping (duh!) along the piazza and relieved a store of one of its handbags but she still swears the it was half price compared to what it cost in the U.S. Mrs. Kongo does know her handbags. Kongo sometimes thinks his lovely spouse confuses euros and dollars when it is convenient for her but since the two currencies were pretty close to each other who knows? In any event by the time the Kongos were in Barcelona they had to buy another suitcase to carry home all the good deal loot Mrs. Kongo picked up across Europe. And VAT, schmat. Who cares about VAT anyway?
The monkey, a modern history buff, was happy to see the balcony on the Piazza Venezia that Italian dictator Benito Mussolini used to address the crowds in the late 1930s and early 1940s…before he met his end at a gas station in Milan.
Kongo desperately hopes to return to Rome soon and spend a week. Maybe more.
Travel safe. Have fun.