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Modern Rome, Ancient Coliseum

What a traveler’s treasure! It is almost impossible not to find someplace to fall in love with in Italy. Even if you arrive in a grumpy mood, swearing to yourself that you are going to have a lousy time, you will fail, because Italy just creeps into your mind, and you are soon overtaken by the “wonderfulness” of the place, the people, the culture, and the food.

We had been exploring and sightseeing in Rome for nearly a week. It was the last Sunday of the month, time for us to depart and go north. I had purchased train tickets leaving the station around mid-afternoon, going north to Milan for a performance at the famous La Scala Theater and to see the mostly restored work, The Last Supper , Leonardo da Vinci's Masterpiece. A few days later we would be in Venice. For now, however, we had a few hours to spare, and decided to visit the Vatican .

Leaving our luggage at the hotel, we went outside and hailed a cab, instructing him to take us to the Sistine Chapel .

“On the last Sunday of the month! Are you crazy”, the cab driver blurted out? “On the last Sunday of the month the Vatican is ‘No Charge’. Everyone comes in free. You are insane to go there on the last Sunday of the month”.

He must have grumbled that phrase, “last Sunday of the month”, at least a half dozen more times under his breath as we drove on. He did make it a point to say this in English, so there was no chance we would misunderstand his disapproval of what we were doing.

Approaching the entrance to the Sistine Chapel, we passed probably several thousand people already lined up waiting to enter. Fortunately, there was a ramp and special access for the disabled, so we went right in.

Just inside was a foyer with a small room off to the side. In this room one could hire an official guide for a tour, and we were fortunate that there was a guide available. He was an older gentleman, with a cane, sitting alone, reading the Sunday papers. He was so absorbed in the paper it was almost a shame to interrupt him.

I asked, and he replied he was available for hire. He told us his hourly rate, and we agreed to engage him for the next few hours.

Leaving his paper on the table, he walked in front of us, leading the way through the throng of people crowded into the narrow passageways. When the crush of people became too great, he would reach out with his cane and literally beat on the backs or heads of people in front of us, shouting, “Prego, PREGO! Let us pass”.

He took a series of shortcuts and switches, up and down elevators clearly marked, “Not for Public Use”, arriving finally at the Sistine Chapel. He led us in, still beating on heads, until we were in the middle of the room. Then he stopped. " Look up to the ceiling ", he commanded, “and see the work of the master”. And he proceeded to give us nothing short of a doctoral dissertation explaining everything about the painting of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

We learned so much and enjoyed being with him so much that we stayed longer and missed our train! He was utterly fantastic, and he left a deep impression on us. We sent him Christmas cards for a number of years until one year, his daughter wrote back and told us her father had passed away...

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Rome, itself, contains treasures you must see in person- so magnificent are the buildings, the fountains, the sculpture, that you simply cannot get it into your head otherwise.

We went to the Coliseum , built in 80 AD. The photo does not do it justice, so a little information is needed:

It took 10 years to build this magnificent arena, the largest building of its type in the World. Anywhere from 50,000 to 80,000 spectators, each with a numbered ticket, could come in, climb the sloping ramps up to their seats. It was not then, nor is it particularly now- wheelchair accessible. Seating was by class and gender, and the emperor had his own private box, a forerunner of the executive suites found in modern day arenas.

Women and the poor stood or sat on wooden benches in the fourth (highest tier).

Originally, a wooden floor covered the subterranean chambers you see here. Gladiators, animals, (Christians?) were kept in these chambers prior to show time, and were raised by human- powered elevators through trap doors in the flooring, suddenly appearing to face whatever fate was in store for them. Thousands and thousands of Jewish slaves were used in the construction of the coliseum.

Most shows lasted all day, with "comedy" acts and exotic animals shown in the morning; gladiator events were in the afternoon. Occasionally, free Romans and women could enter the games- earning a few moments of glory- if they survived.

In rainy or unusually hot weather, an enormous colored awning could be stretched overhead, making the Coliseum the world's first covered arena (nothing new under the sun?)

Contrary to movies and popular notion, there is apparently no documentation to back up the story of Christians being fed to lions. Gladiator fights to the death were outlawed in 404 AD.

With the the Coliseum as a backdrop, you are looking at the Roman Forum, an expansive "work in progress", beginning about 600BC.

Tradition says that King Tarquinious drained the swamp between the Capitoline Hill (left side) and the Palatine Hill (right side). As the Roman Empire expanded, so did this site. It became the central go-to spot for all things religious, political, and commercial.

The three columns the the upper extreme right side mark the Temple to Dioscun (6AD). Hidden from view just behind the Temple is the Arch of Constantine (3315AD), built to honor the Emperor's victory over pagan forces, and marking Rome's conversion to Christianity.

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We went to Italy a second time, especially to return to Venice- most of which we missed on our first trip because I had not discovered all I needed to know about getting around the city. This time we had a travel agent arrange a special water taxi for us. We discovered that a few of the canal boats have stair-lifters inside them so you can get in and out of them while in a wheelchair.

Encountered very few problems this time. The specially equipped river taxi was just what we needed. We stayed on the Grand Canal and went everywhere, including Burano, below, famous for lace, and for this stretch of canal, known as the Houses of the Drunken Sailors,

and to its sister island, Murano, famous for glass blowing and design:

And Don't Forget Sicily

On all the maps of the world, the "boot" of Italy is kicking an island, Sicily, the largest island in the Mediterranean. A long history of conquest and regime changes ended when Italy became a republic in 1946 and Sicily was declared an "autonomous region".

We left Palermo, the capitol, early in the morning and drove south for an hour or so through the rolling countryside to Segesta . As we came over a slight rise in the road, there before us on an adjacent hill we saw a wondrous temple. Built by the Greeks around the 4th or 3rd centuries BC, the Doric structure is one of the best preserved in the World.

Approach to the temple was substantially overgrown, and though difficult, we were able to push the wheelchair quite close.

While we were enjoying our exploration of the temple, we heard applause coming from some distance away. Our guide knew instantly, but said nothing to us, other than to follow him to its source.

Checking it out, we discovered the other splendid structure in Segesta, an ancient amphitheater.

The theatre also dates back a few hundred years BC. It is built somewhat like the pyramids, in that there is no "glue" between the huge stones it contains.

You'll notice a few "actors" in the lower right corner of the photo. They were part of a group of German tourists, and they were reading a play by one of the ancient Greek dramatists. They were speaking in normal voices and I, perched in the farthest corner, had no trouble hearing them!

We left to return to Palermo and by the time we reached the outskirts of the city, rush hour had begun. Major chaos! People were driving on the sidewalks, cutting in and out of traffic. Terrible. They must have been infected with the same driving madness as the drivers in Rome.

And Don't Forget Sicily

In the larger cities, we suggest you contact the concierge of the swankiest hotel in each city via email or directly by phone. Ask them for help finding a guide to assist you while in their city. Often, a good cab driver who speaks passable English is enough. We offer a number of good suggestions in our book, and you can read online or download it.

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Have you checked the most important parts of our website? We urge you to go to the Chapter on Essential Plans. Then, whether they apply to you or not, read the Chapters Airlines, Cruises, Hotels, Taxis, Tours. Finally, be sure you read the Chapter Items to Take. The information in these chapters will make all the difference in the success of your trip.