Review of “Revelations in Rome” excursion
Carnival Vista Mediterranean Cruise, Oct. 11-21, 2016
Rome might not have been built in a day, but we proved on October 18th that it can be seen in a day – or at least the major highlights can – but it doesn’t leave even a moment to linger, look, frame photos or even pause to buy souvenirs.
We picked the Revelations in Rome private excursion organized by Norm Freedman for a couple of reasons: a number of my best cruise buddies were going on it, and it covered more ground than the Carnival tours, at a better price. The former definitely made the tour more fun (and less stressful, which it could have easily been with a bunch of strangers, since there was a good deal of fighting huge crowds to try to stay with our tour group, and having several friends who were looking out for each other helped a lot in that regard).
The latter was both a blessing and a curse. We saw more than those on other excursions, for sure – but at the price of staying constantly on the move. If I were in charge of planning the tour itinerary, there are a few things I would change. Our first stop was the Coliseum. It’s a wondrous structure, to be sure. However, the lines to get inside were crazy, and once in, we were surrounded by so many other groups and individuals that we could barely get through to see anything.
In my opinion, we spent too much time there. The various artifacts on display were interesting but really, the point of the visit (to me) was to see the size of the structure from the outside and to look on the massive amphitheater/arena from above and take in the sheer enormity of the place.
And it is, indeed, an impressive piece of architecture in that regard.
However, it’s not a pleasant place. The negative energies remaining in this venue of death as entertainment still linger, and others in our party commented on it, as well. It’s a sobering thought to consider how many people (and animals) died there while the masses watched and cheered. It’s easy to say that something like this could never happen today but when you consider the popularity of certain reality shows, it makes you wonder whether human nature has really changed much at all in the intervening years. I have to say I was not unhappy to get out of there.
Next, we walked ten minutes or so to the ruins of the Roman forums. Along the way, it started raining, and didn’t stop for the rest of the tour. We hadn’t thought to bring our umbrellas, but luckily there were a number of enterprising young men who took advantage of the business opportunity to offer cheap umbrellas for sale for 5€ each. Overpriced, but at that moment I’ve have paid twice that.
I was less concerned about getting my clothes or hair wet and more worried about raindrops on my glasses (without which I can’t see) and most important, the possibility of water ruining my Nikon camera. Luckily, Kniki had a plastic ziplock bag in her shoulder bag, and I was able to keep the camera protected and only take it out, under cover of the umbrella, when I wanted to snap a photo. However, it was annoying that I got far, far fewer shots than I would have if I’d been able to have the camera out and ready shoot at a moment’s notice.
There were major crowds here, too, although at least we didn’t have to go through metal detectors and put our bags through x-ray machines as we had at the Coliseum, so we got in more quickly.
Inside, though, we were once again walking non-stop through the place, trying now to stay dry, take pictures, and not lose our tour guide, who obviously has had a lot of practice at this and can maneuver her way in and out and around and through the crowds much more easily than the rest of us, who struggled frantically at times just to keep her and her purple scarf on a stick in sight. (That scarf-on-stick photo bombed more than one of what would have been some of my best pictures, too).
The forum ruins were interesting but once again, we were there too long, saw too many repetitions of the same thing, and in my opinion wasted some time that could have been better spent in the second half of the day, in Vatican City.
Following the forums, we walked – and walked and walked – all the way to Trevi Fountain. This took a while and it was still raining, just enough to be highly annoying. We saw plenty of sights along the way, but couldn’t stop – both due to the rain and the time constraints, so it was a matter of capturing photos “on the run,” which is not conducive to the very best picture-taking.
We went through streets of great shops and restaurants, and of course couldn’t stop at any of them. I was unable to get my traditional shot glass and refrigerator magnet that I like to bring back from each city I visit, even though there were dozens of souvenir shops just a few feet from me. Frustrating, much?
One thing I can say, though, is that we proudly recorded a lot of steps on our Gears, Fitbits and other fitness bands. In fact, I had over 20,000 that day, along with 76 flights of stairs. Thank goodness most such devices are water resistant, although usually not waterproof.
We saw a number of historic buildings and statues along the way, which our guide pointed out and expanded upon as we walked by them. When we finally got to the fountain, we did get a stop for a few minutes, take some decent photos, toss in our coins, and even talk a couple of Italian police officers into posing for a photo with us. Then we were off and on the go again.
This time we walked to our tour bus, which then took us to the Vatican. And we had thought, a few hours before, that there were a lot of people at the Colosseum. Those crowds were nothing compared to the mass of humanity gathered to see the seat of the Roman Catholic Church. Of course, security here was steep, and thank goodness we were with an organized tour and thus allowed to bypass the regular lines, which seemed to stretch into infinity.
Because it was 2:00 pm by that time, our first order of business at the Vatican Museum was … lunch. Unlike the charming Italian restaurant where we’d dined on a sumptuous noon-time meal and wine in Pompeii that was included in the tour the previous day, this time we were on our own. We had three basic choices: a small cafeteria serving salad and fruit bowls, soup, sandwiches and calzones; another cafeteria style place with more hot food (pasta dishes) and a pizzeria. While most of our group headed off for pizza, Kniki and I opted to eat lightly. Very lightly; I got a small container of pineapple and kiwi and she got a salad, and we shared a roll. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t much, and it seemed very overpriced. Some of the others remarked later that the pizza wasn’t very good.
Oh, well. You don’t go to church for the food (unless you’re a Southern Baptist attending one of those potluck dinners). At least we got to sit down and rest our feet for a little while. We had half an hour for lunch and then all met back up with our guide. That was when the really fascinating (to me) part of the tour began.
How do I even begin to describe the grandeur and beauty contained within the walls of this Holy City? Vatican City is, of course, within Rome but isn’t in Rome. It is a place apart, and it’s almost as if it’s a place that’s on earth but not of earth. Of course, this observation would be completely lost on most of the milling tourists, who were impressed – if they were impressed at all – by the millions of dollars represented by the gold and marble and the talent and physical endurance represented by the artwork, rather than by the religious and historical significance of what they were seeing.
From the intricately painted ceilings to the delicately carved statues to the painstakingly woven tapestries that adorned the walls, everywhere you look there is something beautiful and amazing. Whereas the aura of death permeated the Coliseum’s limestone interior, here in the home of the Church built upon Jesus’s proclamation to Peter, the overarching aura is one of hope, of life beyond death.
Certainly the Church has had its ups and downs, its great leaders and its “bad popes,” its proud moments and its less-than-proud ones, its victories and its struggles to remain viable in a changing world where God, like Mark Twain, must be amused at how the news of His death has been so greatly exaggerated.
But standing among the relics of saints, the stories told by every work of art in the Vatican and even more so later, in St. Peter’s Basilica, it’s hard not to feel the inherent holiness there that far outweighs the political posturing of the papacy or the scandalous weaknesses of the very human men who have sought to fill the role over the years. Or maybe that’s just me; maybe the vast majority of the hordes of visitors don’t get it at all. Maybe to them, it’s just another thing to check off the list, no different from the Space Needle in Seattle or the Tower Bridge in London or Disney World in Orlando.
Certainly most of them don’t treat it as a holy place, deserving of respect. They push and shove to get the best angle for their photos of the gentle Virgin Mother. They curse at those who block their view of Jesus preaching to love one another. They complain loudly if they’re turned away in their short shorts and tank tops. They try to sneak surreptitious photos of the Sistine Chapel in defiance of the rules and think it’s something to be proud of when they manage to snap a few shots with their cell phone cams.
No, they don’t get it, and probably never will. They’ll take home memories of another over-crowded tourist trap and brag to their friends and families that they saw the pope’s house. But for those who do get it, it’s an experience that will, in some small way, change their hearts forever.