Okay, I will try to get this all wrapped up here.
We went to St. Peter's Basilica the next morning, early, before the crowds showed up. It is huge, it is ornate, it has a lot of marble (found out later that a lot of that marble was brought over from the Colosseum). We saw Michelangelo's Pieta and there were also places for guests to "confess". I was working on thinking of one... "Bless me Father, it has been 32 years since my last confession....I've been eating pasta and ice cream like it's going out of style... but I don't feel guilty." You could also buy little plastic Mary bottles from the Vatican bookshop to be filled with holy water. At 2 euros it was a total bargain.
Then we toured the papal tombs; we found out later that there is also catecomb tour under the church, which sounded pretty interesting, but didn't get around to doing it. Next time. Also for next time, the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican museums. By the time we got out of the Basilica and walked around the corner to the museum and chapel entrance, the line was around the block. No way, I thought - I just didn't want to see it that bad.
We spent most of our time just walking around - at first when we got to Rome, it was overwhelming and neither of us was "into" it, actually we both kind of wanted to go home. So we slowed down and took our time, and after 6 days we really started enjoying ourselves. There is too much to see and if you try to be a good tourist and do everything, you will end up hating it.
One day we just decide to take the train out to the coast. The line is actually an extension of the subway, so you can't beat a $1 train ride. So we get off in this little town and head in the direction of the ocean. We find it and walk up the beach, and there we spot a restaurant called IL Dolfino. It is lunchtime so we walk up to the open air deck where everyone is eating and have one of the best afternoons, just sitting and eating and drinking wine. We were the only Americans around, and then some British ladies sit down by us. We get to talking and I learn that one is a painter who divides her time between London and Rome. "Next time you come," she tells me, "You can stay at my apartment." She gives me her name and number. Just like that...
Another very enjoyable day was spent taking a tour of the Colosseum, The Roman Forum, and the Palatine (the hill where Rome was founded). I recommend again to take a guided tour because I got a lot more out of it that way.
For those of you who have seen the movie Gladiator... I did have the urge to stand in the arena and scream, Russell Crowe-like, "Are you NOT entertained?" Of course, there is nowhere to stand, you can see down into the labyrinth where they held the animals that went to fight in the arena. Commodus (played by Joaquin Phoenix in the movie) it turns out, actually was a fantastic gladiator who never lost a fight, probably due to the fact that all the fights were fixed...considering he was the emperor's son, so he was not killed by Maximus like in the movie. He was, however, batshit crazy.
The Romans were pretty resourceful people; they used convicts and all the animals that got slaughtered in the fights were won by members of the crowd in a lottery system. "Seat Number 357, come on down! You win a hunk of rhino butt!" So nothing went to waste. The games went on until about 450 A.D. or so until the emperor of the time, I forget who, under pressure from the powerfully growing Christian religion, ended the practice. Me and Matt looked at each other with the same thought... "Why do those pesky Christians have to ruin everyone's fun?" I thought they should bring the whole gladiator thing back into fashion, then we wouldn't have such overcrowded prisons.
Then I remembered we have a bunch of thugs and criminal types beating on each other for the crowds enjoyment even today. It's called the NFL.
We took a tour of the Forum that afternoon. The actual real Roman Forum is a small square in the center of the ruins. This is where the debates were held. The only thing more important to Romans than money was the ability to be a good orator. It was the only way a man could become a senator in the republic. It didn't matter who your family was or the wealth you had or how smart you were or how popular. If you didn't have a quick wit and tongue and the ability to move the crowd with your public speaking you didn't stand a chance. Today I think Ronald Reagan would have made it, and Bill (it depends on what the meaning of the word is, is...) Clinton probably would have, but George (man and fish can be friends) W? Fuggehtaboutit... Not a chance.
This forum is where Mark Antony made his famous speech (Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears!) after Julius Caeser was murdered and the crowd was screaming for revenge. To be standing at that same spot definitely drove home the point that this is history, this actually happened, and it happened right there, and Julius Caeser's body was brought right here and suddenly these events seemed actual and true and not some vague description in a book, or a scene from a play or movie. It gave me goosebumps.
Then we took a tour of the Palatine, where the emperors built their palaces. Our guide talked about Nero and how he had a very bad childhood because his mother was supremely evil and demented. So Nero was known for being something of a spoiled, bratty, crazy emperor who liked to have a lot of dinner parties. It wasn't uncommon to have 50 courses for these parties and if you got invited to one, it wasn't necessarily a good thing. Apparently, if you couldn't eat all your food, Nero would get upset. He would think you didn't like the food, didn't like the chef, and really didn't like him. He would take it personally. Forget about being sent to your room, you might get killed for not enjoying all your dinner! This is why guests sometimes had to wander outside to the vomitorium to make room for more.
I noticed Matt looking off into the distance with a contemplative look. I thought he was admiring the view, so I asked him what he thought.
"You know, Moo," (my nickname, don't ask) he said. "I think I could do it."
If anyone knows Matt, they know that if any human could survive Nero's feast, it would be him. If you don't know Matt, know that he once ate 2 Chipotle burritos in one sitting. On a dare.
"I think you could do it," I said.
He nodded, "You know, you just gotta pace yourself."
"And puke a couple times," I said.
And with that we watched the beautiful sun set over the eternal city.
I hope you enjoyed my travelogue, and I hope you are inspired to take your own Italian vacation. I will definitely be going back.