I’m sure that ‘peaceful’ isn’t a common term to use when describing Rome, but strolling along Via Appia Antica, the old Appian Way, sure felt that way. While the trees were not always there (preservationists argue that they ruin the original countryside ambiance), the shade they created felt pleasant to the walkers and bicyclists enjoying a pleasantly warm day along a street used for thousands of years. The highlight for me was standing in the middle of the Circus of Maxentius and being able to admire the well preserved chariot racecourse in silence—I was the only person there.
I think the sights of Rome are enough to stir the imagination of even a casual fan of history. While Michelangelo would have been upset with subsequent architects ruining his vision for Santa Maria degli Angeli, the church, built within the ruins of Hadrian’s Baths, was grand enough to silence visitors. The Coliseum (the “Flavian Amphitheater” if you want to be pretentious), the Roman Forum, and the Palatine Hill were all impressive as well (book tickets ahead of time!). Finally, walking around in Castel Sant’Angelo was remarkable because you did not expect to find elaborately decorated papal apartments over top such an imposing fortress.
The Vatican and its museum (book tickets ahead of time!) were stunning with all of their art and donated items. I didn’t expect to find an (overly complicated and room-sized) interactive modern art piece or a moon rock, donated by Richard Nixon on behalf of the United States, in it. Visitors could admire all of the decorations in Saint Peter’s Basilica from any angle, because, strangely enough, it had no pews. It was nice to see a copy of the Pieta in the treasure museum since the actual one, hidden behind glass, is difficult to examine and appreciate.
Tivoli, famous for Hadrian’s lavish villa, may have been my favorite day trip out of all that I’ve taken. The view of a lush valley in Villa Gregoriana was well worth the price of admission. My favorite part there was the Grotto of Neptune since the cave is topped by a white rock formation that really does look like an angry, rushing old man with clouds in his wake. The Villa itself (make sure the tabacchi shop sells you the right local bus ticket or the driver will refuse to let you board) is remarkable for its size—I spent all afternoon admiring the pools, statues, and grand buildings scattered throughout the site. It’s a strange think you are walking where a Roman emperor once walked. Afterwards, be sure to walk through the old part of town as the narrow streets, filled with clotheslines and restaurants with friendly proprietors, was exactly what I thought a little Italian town would look like.