How do I introduce Rome to people who have never been there? What should I cover, where do we go, what do we see and experience? In two and a half days? While still giving some measure of respect to a city I love?
I could understand someone throwing up their hands and saying "it's impossible; you can't even begin to start to get to know Rome in that period of time". I know, I know. If you leave one major thing out then you will see the pikes and torches heaving up and down with the accompanying chants of one faction; if you, well, you get the idea.
It is hard. You kind of feel like someone taking Solomon too literally, "hmmm, maybe if I split the baby right there... But a little is better than none in my book.
One of the things the students first noticed about Rome is that there is even more graffiti here than in Florence. Then they noticed the traffic and the fact that there are very few traffic signals and the resulting realization that you are taking your life in your hands when you cross the street. But these fade away once it starts to sink in that you are in Rome. We stayed at a small family-run hotel straight down the street from the Colosseum. Walking the other way to the main drag you have the Roman Forum in front of you, and the Forum of Trajan to your right. Did I mention the remains of the churches of Saints Cosmas and Damian to your left over there? The sense of time is so unmissable in Rome, that even if you didn't get it, the Gods would prove it to you by shoving you thirty feet into an archaeological site below.
That is one thing I love about Rome- no, not falling into an archaeological site, but the sheer sensory overload of the place. You can look to your left and see the broken columns of an ancient temple from the time of the Republic, look in another direction and it is a purely Baroque facade. Look another direction and you see something from the ancient world that was set up in a new context by people long afterward, and then turn and see a woman with reaaally cool sunglasses wearing, uh Renaissance, a square that was redone during the Renaissance. And all this with cars flying by, a few people chatting loudly and gesticulating wildly, the clinking of glasses and the murmur of large groups walking by.
We immediately headed to the Vatican Museums to once again try out the tested method of entering without any wait. The Method can be reduced to this dictum- "Have lunch first just outside the area". We went to a little place across from where we peeked out from the Ottaviano metro stop that served everything from Spaghetti all'Amatriciana to Hamburgers. Then, right about 1 pm, we headed over. No wait... at all. The Vatican Museum involves the same decision-making that one makes for the city as a whole; you can not see it all, so you have to make choices. The antique statuary are a blur to me as I follow the signs to the Raphael Rooms and the Sistine Chapel. Nothing against those tapestries; I'm sure they are wonderful (if I ever stop to see them someday). Same with those paintings over there, and there... But it takes enough work and concentration to try to keep everyone together and moooove past the crowds, around the group tours, where they are listening to someone talk about said tapestries, and on to the rooms I really want to see.
Then, on arrival, I shift gears. The crowds can go by, those who keep as evenly a paced gaze to the area devoted to contemporary religious art, as it does to the Stanza della Segnatura can keep going. Even within the Raphael rooms, I will spend much more time in front of the School of Athens than with the Sala di Costantino. So sue me. Then on to the Sistine Chapel. I just can't spend enough time here. Even if I got a spot to sit and snacked on Power Bars and did everything to sustain my energy, I wouldn't be able to. It takes a lot of energy to look at Michelangelo's work with a high level of intensity while battling the feeling of being saturated and keeping your eyes going out of focus. And you'd better give it the attention it deserves, even if for a relatively short time; otherwise, you-know-who may put his skin back on and beat the crap out of you. I can only get to know this amazing work bit by bit, over time. But, still there is so much there that you could focus on one corner and it would sustain you for an hour, easy. And that's without shifting your head to the scene of the Last Judgement. Sensory Overload.
I used to live in New York; in my humble opinion, New York doesn't come close to Rome for sensory overload. A lot of it is because New York largely presents one type and time-period of information for the brain to assimilate; Rome goes way beyond that. But, at the same time, one other thing I love about Rome is that I can go down a narrow, cool, shady lane and it - is - quiet. Just the place to have a bottle of aqua minerale, and four tylenol.