After a slightly bumpy landing in Rome we transferred by coach to our hotel in the city centre. Fortunately, we arrived a little earlier than anticipated and were able to go for a late dinner in a nearby pizzeria. It was a Neapolitan pizzeria and, with Naples being the home of the original Italian pizza, we enjoyed what for many was the most delicious pizza they had ever tasted.
With Italy one hour ahead of Ireland and the clocks going forward an hour we actually lost out on two hours’ sleep. However, the group was still full of life as we headed off to the Vatican on Sunday morning. Our spirits were high as the sun beamed down on us. We joined the thousands that made up the congregation for Palm Sunday Mass in St. Peter’s Square, many of whom held olive tree branches as per the tradition. At the end of the Mass, Pope Francis passed through the crowds to bless the faithful.In the afternoon, we went for lunch in the market square area known as Campo de’ Fiori and then visited the magnificent Piazza Navona with its impressive fountains and beautiful churches. Lastly, we visited the Pantheon – originally a temple built over 2000 years ago to honour all the Roman gods. That evening we returned to the historic centre of Rome for a tasty dinner at Pastarito.
On Monday morning we went to see the Italian President’s palatial residence Il Quirinale, the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps. Che belli! At midday we made our way on foot to the Vatican for our tour of the Vatican Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica. We were met by our guide Richard. He led us around and helped to bring context to all the wonderful things we were seeing. The Sistine Chapel was awe-inspiring as was the inside of St. Peter’s with its walls adorned with artwork, its beautiful marble floor and its many sculptures. It was a great visit and Richard really enlightened us with his in-depth knowledge of the history within the holy walls. Later we enjoyed a meal at the HardRock Café, followed by an evening stroll through the city.
We were up bright and early on Tuesday to ensure we arrived on time for our much anticipated tour of the iconic Colosseum and Roman Forum. The girls were delighted to meet our Italian guide Grazia. She conducted the tour half in Italian half in English as the girls honed their listening skills while brushing up on their history. Grazia’s cheerful nature and enthusiasm brought real vividness to her explanations of the various points of interest on the tour. Once again, the sun shone down on us on what turned out to be a beautifully warm day. Grazia finished our tour by showing us to a nice area of the city where we could have lunch, the old Jewish ghetto.
After some more delizie italiane we made our way to Isola Tiberina (an island on the Tiber river) and then to the Bocca della Verità, the Mouth of Truth. Here some of our travelling party seemed overly-worried about getting their hand bitten off by the Bocca as legend has it that it functions as a sort of lie-detector! Having all survived our photo-opportunities with both hands intact we made our way to Campidoglio, the beautiful hilltop square designed during the Renaissance by Michelangelo. Our last sight-seeing stop for the day was at the magnificent monument to the Italian State that is the Vittoriano or Altare della Patria. We took the lift to the panoramic roof-top where we had the opportunity to appreciate some of the best views of the Eternal City. That evening we enjoyed another three-course Italian meal and then went for a gelato downtown by the Trevi Fountain.
While everyone was sad that the tour was coming to an end, the girls were equally eager to make the most of their last day in Rome. We did our last bit of sight-seeing at the famous Piazza del Popolo before making our way down Via del Corso for some shopping. At five o’clock we left by coach for the airport and we finally landed after eleven that night. There was just enough time for Ms Kehoe and me to ceremoniously conduct our final head-count of the tour before bidding the girls a safe journey home. It was a thoroughly enjoyable tour and the students were a real credit to themselves, their parents and to Sancta Maria College.