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Relax and enjoy the eternal city

Picture hordes of people, heavy traffic and zipping motor scooters. Now add a symphony of blaring horns, shouts and the sound made by thousands of clicking heels tapping down cobblestone streets ñ welcome to Rome!Yes, the Eternal City is one noisy place, but it’s been that way for the last 2500 years, since it became the civic and commercial center for the Roman Empire.Travel tipsWhile Rome looks big on the map, the best way to see the city is by walking, and itís easy if visitors follow a few simple rules. Wear a good pair of walking shoes. Throw away the tourist map supplied by most hotels. Seeking out a good restaurant or a lesser-known square mentioned in a guidebook will be a lot easier with a good city map.The next rule is the most important ñ relax and slow down. Remember the old saying, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” Romans drive fast but they walk for pleasure, savoring every minute.Once I slowed my brisk pace, I had time to enjoy many wonderful architectural features and do endless window shopping. Oddly enough, my destination became less important than the sights I saw along the way.Crossing busy streets in Rome takes a bit of courage. Don’t rely on traffic signals because many drivers pay no attention to them. Watch how the locals do it; better yet, cross with them.All that walking can make you hungry. I never had a bad meal in Italy. In fact, most were excellent. Pick restaurants on side streets a few blocks away from major attractions. Many post a menu in the window with English translations written under the Italian courses. Don’t forget to enjoy the Italian wines.The sightsAfter four full days in Rome, we barely scratched the surface of things to do and see. Our tour started at the Spanish Steps, which were covered with students from all over Europe visiting the city during spring break.Then we moved on towards the Trevi Fountain. The fountain was built between 1732 and 1762, a relatively new addition compared to other monuments in Rome. This fantastic piece of art is dominated by Neptune, god of the sea, riding a chariot shaped like a shell and pulled by two seahorses guided by Triton.Right around the corner is the Pantheon. The building hasn’t been modified since it was built in 120 A.D. Massive Egyptian granite columns hold up the porch, and light floods through an opening in the domed ceiling onto the magnificent marble floor. The earlier statues of Roman gods and goddesses were replaced by a later ruling power with statues representing saints. No matter, the Pantheon is still a tribute to its creators ñ the people of the Roman Empire.Next, we reached the Forum, the heart of ancient Rome. This site was buried under 25 feet of debris until the 19th century. Today, numerous ruins of arches, temples, public buildings and columns have been excavated. Even so, it represents a small fraction of what was once the most powerful spot on earth.After a walk up the Palatine and Capitoline Hills and a visit to the Colosseum, the glory of the Roman Empire becomes easier to imagine.Palatine Hill, the legendary birthplace of Romulus and Remus, is where many of ancient Romeís upper-class citizens lived. Today, shade from umbrella pines and wisteria plants create a pleasant place to walk among palace ruins, once home to Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula and Nero.Capitoline Hill was the religious center of ancient Rome; today it is dominated by the Vittoriano, a neoclassical monument paying tribute to Victor Emmanuel, the first leader of modern Italy. Climb Michelangelo’s staircase to see the statues of Castor and Pollux, and visit the Museo Capitolino to see the “Dying Gaul” and other great works of art.The swirling traffic, crush of people and boisterous street vendors diminish the glory of the Colosseum. Be prepared to go through a metal detector and have your backpack X-rayed on the way in. Once inside, itís difficult not to be impressed by the colossal arena built in 79 AD.St. Peter’s Dome dominates the skyline throughout much of Rome. Many forget Vatican City is a separate country, but the endless amount of marble, bronze and gold held within the tiny empire could fund many nations. The opulence is truly overwhelming.Arrive early to take in the grandeur of St. Peter’s Square, designed by Bernini in 1630 and surrounded by columns capped by statues of saints and popes. The Egyptian obelisk in the center of the square once stood at Nero’s Circus where St. Peter was martyred in 64 AD. All of this is eclipsed by St. Peter’s Basilica itself, the largest church in the world and home to Michelangelo’s ìPieta.îMost visitors to the Vatican Museum head straight for the Sistine Chapel; avoid doing so because the halls leading to the chapel contain the best art collection in the world. I liked the Museo Pio-Clementino, a collection of antiquities from every part of the world. Beautifully painted maps depicting the expansion of the Roman Empire grace another hall.Paintings by Botticelli, Pinturicchio and Ghirlandaio adorn the walls of the Sistine Chapel, but all eyes naturally turn upward towards the famous ceiling created by Michelangelo.For a unique Roman experience, visit the Crypt of the Capuchin Monks. Located under the church of Santa Maria, the crypt is skillfully decorated with the bones of more than 4,000 monks. Bones form arches and intricate designs on the walls and ceiling. Whole skeletons dressed in robes also stand or recline in spots throughout the chapel. While collecting relics has long been a tradition in Catholicism, the crypt is macabre, yet fascinating.Be sure to hike out beyond the city walls along the Appian Way to visit the catacombs. Roman law prevented any burials within the city, so both Romans and Christians interred their dead outside the gates of the city.Unlike the Capuchin Crypt, human remains were removed from the catacombs years ago to prevent looting. In ancient times, rich Romans placed the cremated remains of their loved ones inside highly decorated tombs lining the Appian Way, while Christians buried their dead in niches carved from tufa, a clay soil easy to dig that hardens when exposed to air.The Catacombs of San Callisto, with more than 500,000 tombs, has guided tours conducted in English. However, if you only have time to visit one of the 12 catacombs open to the public, I would suggest the Catacombs of San Sebastiano. Smaller than San Callisto, it still contains many Christian tombs and three Roman tombs discovered in 1993. Each is covered in marble and elaborately decorated.Off the beaten pathOn our last day in Rome, we visited the Baths of Caracalla and then made our way over to the Italian neighborhood of Trastevere. The baths were a sprawling third century complex complete with hot, warm and cold pools. Today, the black-and-white mosaics lining the walls and floors are the most impressive remains of the baths.Our visit to Trastevere gave us a glimpse into the life of the everyday Roman. Women pulled small carts from store to store, buying supplies for evening meals. Children played soccer in the town square, while old men slept in the sun on park benches. Around noon, families gathered at open-air cafes for the main meal of the day while being serenaded by roving musicians. The food was wonderful and less expensive than in the tourist area of the city, and the atmosphere was intoxicating.After a lazy day of wandering the alleys and looking at the brightly colored buildings of Trastevere, we strolled back across the river towards our hotel.Having now seen most of the famous sites in Rome, I realize the ambiance of the city was the most memorable part of my visit.Viva Roma!Send your comments to

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