Rome was just a short morning train ride away and after checking into our accommodation just a few blocks from the Vatican, we walked the Tiber river from Ponte Sant’Angelo to the Isola Tiberina near the ancient city. We arrived at the Coliseum just as an English speaking tour was starting, and took advantage of the included guided walk through the Palantine Hill and Roman Forum. The scale of the Coliseum is impressive but its history, both in terms of the competition it contained, and its role in the construction of so many other integral Roman monuments. We had an early morning appointment to visit the Vatican Museums.
We enjoyed the galleries despite the crowds and despite at times unbearable heat. The payoff of the Sistine Chapel was grand, but I feel I am potentially in a minority in that I was much more infatuated by St. Peter’s Basilica, easily the most monumental and jaw-dropping of any church seen throughout the journey. We spent the rest our evening wandering the streets and taking our time to find a place we were sure we would love to eat, and it was a traditional meal that did not disappoint. The next day we visited two churches in the southern part of the city, one of which contained relics of Jesus’s cross and crown of thorns. Wanting a bit of a respite before our last evening of more traditional sightseeing, we ventured to the start of the Appian Way, one of the earliest and most important Roman roads that led to all across the southern half of the peninsula.
We rented bikes and rode a few kilometers to the Catacomb of St. Callixtus, for our first time traveling underground in Europe. The massive burial site offered a look into the past and a way to get out of the sun for a time. We continued our bike ride a while beyond here once we had resurfaced, then turned around to make our way to Piazza Venezia, for our final onslaught of monument touring.
In just a few hours, we saw the Altare della Patria, the Pantheon, Piazza Navona, the Trevi Fountain, and the Spanish Steps. Climbing all the way to the top of the steps with gelato in hand just in time to see the sun setting over the horizon was an absolutely perfect and unforgettable end to our amazing voyage.
A long flight the next day was all that awaited us, and we were blessed to have gone, traveled, and returned without incident. I feel that I have returned with a greatly expanded world view, and a sense of the youth of everything we see here in the Western Hemisphere. The peoples and cultures of the globe are so much more than we could hope to capture in an education taking place stateside alone. While this first journey to Europe was only enough to whet my appetite for further travel, I see that there is so much more to cultural exploration than the fairly extensive travel I have conducted in our own country. While understanding your place in a community and that community’s place in the nation is vital for identity, seeking to understand your place on planet Earth is what it means to call yourself a global citizen. Realizing fully what this place is would require a lifetime of travel, it is a constant pursuit.