DAY 11 – THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 23:
This morning was an early wake-up call for everyone. With an early flight to Frankfurt and then back to the States, six in our group were taken to the Athens airport at 4 am. For seven others in the group, our flight to Rome for the optional extension was a few hours later. A few others arranged their own flights.
For the seven of us continuing the trip to Italy, we arrived in Rome about 10 a.m. Flying over Athens was clear, but the weather in Rome was overcast, yet with breaks of sun too and with highs in the 50s. We were greeted by our agent, Georgio, and our van driver Marianno.
We arrived at our first site of the day, St. Paul’s Church Outside the Walls (one of about 800 churches in Rome). Here we met our Rome guide for these next two days, Dortie. This church was first built in the 4th century AD, with early renovations taking place in the 5th century. Some wall mosaics within the church date to this time period. The church as it looks today was rebuilt in the 1800s after a fire. According to tradition (and there are a lot of them here in Rome!), the Apostle Paul was buried here. The church building is actually magnificent, with many pillars and a decorative ceiling. Pictures of all of the 266 Catholic Popes are displayed around the perimeter of the sanctuary. At the front of the church are the “supposed” chains that bound Paul while he was in Rome.
After lunch (pizza for most of us!) we visited the St. Sebastian Catacombs. It is located on the famous Apian Way on which Paul must have walked while in Rome. Sabastian was a 2nd century AD Christian martyr buried here. Between the 2nd and 5th centuries AD, 1,000s of other Christians were buried here. The catacombs consist of 65,000 ancient graves spread out over a labyrinth of eight miles. A basilica was built above the graves by Constantine in 340 AD. We walked through part of the catacombs and the church itself.
Next, we drove to the area of the Colosseum (where we got out first glance at it) and visited yet another church, St. Peter in Chains. This was a church first built in the 5th century AD, although the columns used in the sanctuary date back to early Roman times. This is where the famous Moses sculpture of Michelangelo is. The sculpture was part of the grave of Pope Julius II. Interestingly, the famous sculptor was painting the Sistene Chapel at the same time. At the front of the church are the “supposed” double chains that bound Peter.
Lastly, we drove to the other part of the city where we were dropped off close to the Trevi Fountain. There was a large crowd around this famous tourist attraction. The date of the building of the fountain is 1735-1765. Many of us enjoyed eating our first gelato in front of the fountain! Some even threw in a few coins.
Meeting up with our van again, we drove to our hotel. After checking in, we enjoyed a very nice sit-down dinner in the hotel! After dinner, a few walked around the area of the hotel.
DAY 12 – FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 24: VATICAN & SISTINE CHAPEL, COLOSSEUM, ROMAN FORUM, TITUS’ ARCH