The Eternal City

With the cruise starting from Civitavecchia it was an easy choice to start the vacation with a short stay in Rome. We had visited this amazing city twice before - the first time in 2006 for just one day as part of our first cruise and the second time being a three night stay ahead of another cruise in 2009 that also started in Civitavecchia. This time we decided on a two night stay before the cruise and picked a hotel near Piazza Navona.

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    Our flight to Rome was schedule for the evening of Wednesday May 2 and both of us had that day off work, so it was an easy day of preparation before our airport limo pickup at 5:45pm. We had booked business class on Air Canada for the night flight and it would give us our first opportunity to try the new Signature Suite lounge that was part of Air Canada's recent changes for business class travel. Travel to the airport and the whole check-in experience was efficient and even the security rigmarole wasn't too bad this night at Pearson's Terminal 1. On the gate side we walked past the Maple Leaf Lounge that we had been in many times before on the way to find the new Signature Suite. From first arrival at the new lounge we can say that we really enjoyed this experience. The staff was attentive and the food and beverage options were quite nice, too. A nice upgrade for sure.

    By the time we left the lounge and made the short walk to the gate the boarding was starting and we more or less walked straight through to head to the plane. We actually arrived before they had opened one of the doors leading to the aircraft. Once open we were only behind one other person to get on the plane, so we had an easy time settling in. The business class seats on this flight were a new configuration for us, and we liked the change. All in all, the flight and service were terrific to make it a very enjoyable journey. We both had a comfortable sleep on the overnight flight to Rome. It was a great start to the vacation.

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  • Thursday May 3, 2018

    Arrival in Rome & first walking tours of the Eternal City

    We arrived at Rome's Aeroporto Leonardo da Vinci di Fiumicino at about 11am and had a very quick and easy time getting through customs. When we arrived in the baggage hall there was no indication of the luggage from our flight on any of the screens. At first we thought that it was a because we had come through so quickly, but as time went on it seemed there was clearly an issues somewhere in the process.

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      Most of the visible baggage carousels were unused with the ones in operation listings two or three flights each. The large group of people from our flight were all in the same situation. We were given incorrect information a couple of times before eventually being told of the correct carousel for our flight. It was not a carousel that was visible from where we were all waiting and as we walked towards it we could see it was overflowing with luggage. Our luggage had been removed from the carousel before we even arrived to it. The bags could have been there quite a while while we waited at a couple of incorrect locations. The whole operation seemed totally disorganized. With bags finally in hand we made our way out to the arrival hall to find our limo driver that we had booked for the transfer to the hotel. He wasn't surprised to hear of the delay getting the luggage.

      It was an overcast day for the most part as we arrived. The transfer itself was comfortable and as we made it into the historic centre of Rome we began to take notice of all the sights of this great city. Our destination was Palazzo Navona - our home for the next couple of days. First impressions of the hotel gave us a good feeling that we had made a good choice. The staff on duty were great and it was a pleasant welcome to Rome.

      Our room wasn't ready when we arrived so we left our luggage and then made our way out for our first walk around the city.

      The weather appeared to be clearing as we made our way out of Palazzo Navona heading towards the Pantheon - which was located quite close to the hotel. Even though we had been there on our previous trip to Rome the Pantheon was something we wanted to see again partly because it was so busy on that previous visit in June of 2009. With this trip being in May we had hoped that the crowds would be quite so big. That certainly appeared to work in our favour this time. It was possible to view and enjoy the impressive building a bit easier this time.

      Pantheon Wide Angle

      Wide angle view inside the Pantheon

      The Pantheon is a strangely compelling building - one that we'll likely visit on every visit to Rome. The visual appeal might have something to do with the fact that the height and diameter of the structure are equal at 43.3 metres. As we had back in 2009 we marvelled at the sight of what appears to be a small circular opening at the top of the dome that is actually an opening 8.7 metres in diameter. The Pantheon was originally built and dedicated by Marcus Agrippa in 27 BC as a temple to all the gods of Ancient Rome but what we see today is mostly the rebuild done by Hadrian in 110 AD. It was consecrated as a Catholic church in the 7th century although you never seem to hear of it current name of Santa Maria ad Martyres.

      It was much easier to move around the Pantheon this time than from our memory of our previous visit. One thing we did get a much better view of this time was the tomb of the great Renaissance artist Raphael. After leaving the Pantheon we made our way to the nearby Piazza della Minerva to see Bernini’s Elephant and Obelisk in the centre of the piazza. The sculpture dates back to 1667 and is something that is very easy to miss as we had done previously. It is a worthwhile find so close to the Pantheon.

      We wandered around the back of the Pantheon on our return route to Palazzo Navona. We were pretty sure we hadn't walked this way before. As expected, our room was ready upon return to the hotel. We were pleased with the room on first sight - plenty of space. We had booked an executive room to ensure it wasn't a European shoebox sized room. The room did have a terrace that ran the full length of the room, but there wasn't too much of a view from the fourth floor (or fifth floor as we'd say in North America). We knew there was a roof top patio that we thought might be high enough to get a better view - something to check out during our stay. We were feeling a bit weary from the travel, so it would have been an easy choice to spend some time relaxing, but we knew that would also make it quite hard to get going again. Instead, we got ourselves settled in and freshened up then headed out to enjoy Rome some more.

      Approaching Castel Sant'Angelo

      Approaching Castel Sant'Angelo in the rain

      Light rain was falling as we left the hotel on our walking route towards Castel Sant'Angelo. In our previous visits to Rome we had never looked at this picturesque 2nd century castle from the south side of the Tiber River. Our hotel location this time gave us the perfect opportunity to approach from the south to access the castle from Ponte Sant'Angelo - the beautiful Roman bridge that dates back to 134AD located inline with the front of Castel Sant'Angelo.

      The current iteration of the bridge shows the 17th century designs of Baroque sculptor Bernini. His design called for ten sculptures of angels with instruments of the Passion. Bernini only sculpted two of them himself - and the originals of those have been removed and replaced by copies. The originals of Bernini's statues were moved to nearby Sant'Andrea delle Fratte - a Catholic church. The light rain continued as we took in the sights of the bridge and the castle and as we made our way over the Tiber River on this beautiful bridge that today is only open to pedestrian traffic.

      We meandered back to Palazzo Navona for another pit stop before dinner. We weren't looking to make it a late night after the travel and time change, so we planed on a fairly early evening dinner in Piazza Navona. The good news was that it was a rain-free walk to the picturesque piazza that spirits on what was built on the grounds of the first century's Stadium of Domitian. The oblong shape of the piazza surrounded by buildings still gives it the feel of the stadium that once was here. We took a lap around the piazza to decide on a place to eat - with a thought primarily to have some Mediterranean seafood for this evening. We settled on Ristorante Dolce Vita and had a pleasant dinner sitting outside to enjoy the early evening festivities in the piazza as we dined. It was unexpected to hear one of the street performers playing a decent rendition of Dire Straits' Sultans of Swing while we were there. Gary, in particular, is a huge fan of Dire Straits & Mark Knopfler. A nice addition for our dinner.

      Following dinner we strolled around the piazza to take in the beautiful fountains and take in some of the street performers scattered around the square. All together the experience in Piazza Novona was a nice way to enjoy our first evening in Rome. We were tired by this point so rather than strolling around Rome in the night air we made our way back to our hotel. It had been a good first day even with the rain that had fallen. We reflected that the weather really didn't have an impact on what we did or on the enjoyment of the day. It was good to be back in the hotel room, though, after the flight from Toronto and a day strolling around Rome. Tomorrow would come soon enough.

  • Friday May 4, 2018

    The Colosseum, Trajan's Market, Circus Maximus & Trevi Fountain

    Day two in Rome started for us with a lovely early breakfast in the hotel. Rain was in the forecast starting around noon so we wanted to get moving as early as possible to maximize the dry day touring. Before heading out, though, we did go up to the roof top patio to check out the views. It was high enough to see over the roofs of the nearby buildings to give us a better sense of the surroundings.

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      Our main plan for this day was to visit Trajan's Market - a sight we'd seen only from passing by on our previous visits to Rome. Before heading there we first figured to have a walk around the perimeter of the Colosseum. Even though we had been to the Colosseum before we had never walked all the way around it on the outside. We planned not to go inside this time. We approached the Colosseum via Piazza Venezia and then Via dei Fori Imperiali.

      At Piazza Venezia we passed the pompous Altare della Patria (also known as Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II) that so often gets compared to a wedding cake as well as the rather austere medieval Palazzo Venezia - once a papal residence but best known in history as being used by fascist leader Benito Mussolini for his office and the location of many of his most famous speeches.

      Along Via dei Fori Imperiali we passed by the Forums of Trajan, Augustus & Nerva on one side and the Forum of Caesar on the other with the Roman Forum behind it. An impressive walk to say the least. The road itself is also a Rome feature added by Mussolini.


      Walking towards the Colosseum

      Crowds were already gathered outside the Colosseum to get tickets to enter the amphitheatre, but we walked past them to do our walk around the perimeter. Having been inside the Colosseum on our last visit to Rome we figured we didn't need to do it this time. It was nice to see it from the different perspectives around this impressive structure that was built between 72 - 80 AD initially under the reign of emperor Vespasian and finished under the reign of his son, emperor Titus.

      We finished a tour of this area with a look at the Arch of Constantine - the largest of Rome's triumphal arches built in 315 AD and then made our way across Via del Verbiti back towards Via dei Fori Imperiali. To get to Trajan's Market we decided to take a route that would take us around the back of the market rather than the more direct route to the front.

      Our time at the Market started with a visit to the Museo dei Fori Imperiali, which turned out to be a great way to absorb the history of what is considered to be Rome's first shopping centre. It was also the location for some of the administrative offices for Emperor Trajan as well as apartments. It was built between 100-110 AD and had about 150 shops, apartments and offices at the peak of its operation. The exit of the museum took us out to see and experience the remains of the market. It is impressive even in just the remains how they look today - and easy to imagine the grandeur of the market in the years of its operation. It may not have the fame of the Colosseum in Rome, but it is no less an impressive place to visit. Very enjoyable.

      Leaving Trajan's Market we decided to check out something else we hadn't visited before - Circus Maximus. On the way there we passed by the combined site of Theatre of Marcellus and the Portico of Octavia; another first time view for us. The theatre date back to 13 BC under the reign of Augustus Caesar, but the ground was originally readied under the reign of Julius Caesar - who met his demise before construction on the theatre started. We should have looked up information on the site while we were there, because we actually missed seeing/recognizing the portico - what we did see near the theatre were 3 columns that remain of the Temple of Apollo Sosianus.

      Circus Maximus

      What is left of Circus Maximus

      Arriving at Circus Maximus was a bit underwhelming. We approached it from the northwest end to find basically a large open area covered mostly in grass. Without knowing the history of the site you'd easily describe is as a park area that could be used as a venue for outdoor concerts, performances, rallies, etc. The basic shape of the ancient chariot racetrack was evident, but not much else. The banked sides that once reportedly held as many as 250,000 spectators now were grass covered inclines. It took some imagination to picture the grandeur of the Circus that dated back as far as the 6th century BC. We took a walk along the length of the ancient track to reach the only visible remains at the southeast curved end of the Circus. Those remains were fenced off so that we were unable to get too close. To look over the area that the Circus occupied it was easy to imagine how impressive it would have been in its day.

      The sky was getting increasingly darker as we concluded our tour of Circus Maximus. Our thoughts turned to finding a spot to grab some lunch. We decided to head back in the direction of the Colosseum and settled on a place called Osteria Maracuja for lunch. We got a table outside but soon realized we could get wet if it started to rain with how our table was positioned relative to large umbrellas in the patio area. It didn't take too long for us to be proven right as the rain started to fall. We were moved almost immediately to a spot inside the restaurant just before the rain began to fall heavily. It was almost like musical chairs when we were asked to move again to accommodate a group of five who had been in the same situation as us on the patio. Our third table appeared to be our last and finally we began our lunch service. It was a nice lunch and we weren't in any hurry to go back outside into the now heavy rain anyway. In retrospect, we's say we timed it quite well - there were plenty of people unable to get in out of the rain.

      The rain had eased by the time we left the restaurant so it wasn't too bad to walk with umbrellas - nothing like the rain we had seen falling during our lunchtime, but still falling. We took a scenic walk to the familiar site of Trevi Fountain. Even in the rainy conditions the area was packed with people. The rain certainly didn't diminish the beauty of the fountain.

      It was at Trevi Fountain we took stock of the day - we had met our objectives for the day's touring so we figured at this point to make our way back to the hotel for a rest in what would be comfortable and dry conditions. Having said that, we weren't in a hurry to get back so we made another scenic trek through Rome to reach Palazzo Navona including one final look at the Pantheon for this visit to this amazing city.

      For dinner we decided to make another trip back to Piazza Navona and agreed on Ristorante Tucci. It had been a restaurant we had considered the evening before, and turned out to be a better experience all in all - a good choice for our final dinner in Rome, well, for this trip at least. Following dinner we decided to wander back towards Castel Sant'Angelo for some enjoyable nighttime sightseeing. We ended the day with a stop at the bar in Palazzo Navona - a good day but a bit soggy in parts. As we looked back on the day we figured the rain didn't really impact what we did - we still accomplished all we set out to do and a bit more.

      Only one morning left in Rome before heading to the cruise ship.

  • Saturday May 5, 2018

    Final morning in Rome & heading to Azamara Quest

    Our third day in Rome would be a transition day - morning in the city and then heading to Azamara Quest docked in Civitavecchia. We had booked a car to take us to the port for shortly after check out time, so our goal for the morning was to enjoy a bit more of the city before we had to leave. The weather was definitely looking better, so it would have been nice if we could have stayed a bit longer in Rome.

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      To make the most of the day we were up early and had a nice breakfast in the hotel before heading out. We walked from Palazzo Navona to our first destination of Piazza del Popolo. It was turning out to be a beautiful day and we were two of only a few people out in Rome for this Saturday morning. On reaching the square we saw that people were starting to set up for a cycling event scheduled for Sunday called La Festa Della Bicicletta put on by BiciRoma. it was good to be there before the square was taken over for the event.


      The obelisk in Piazza del Popolo

      We had seen this square plenty of times on our previous trip to Rome because we had stayed in a hotel nearby. It is a beautiful square with a obelisk standing at its centre. The obelisk was brought from Egypt to Rome in 10 BC by Augustus and was originally used as the central decoration on the dividing wall for the track of Circus Maximus. It was moved to its current location in 1589. Having been to the near empty Circus Maximus the day before it did make us wonder how much more of what was once at the circus is now scattered around Rome.

      Our next destination was the Spanish Steps (or Scalinata di Trinità dei Monti). More people were around at this point, but nowhere near the number of people we had seen at any other visit to these famous steps. We took a sort of 'greatest hits' walk back to the hotel from here - to take in one final glimpse of the sights before getting back to Palazzo Navona to finalize our packing and then check out. We had had a wonderful stay at this hotel - it suited our needs perfectly we thought and the location was terrific for what we had planned to do. Our thoughts were we could see ourselves easily returning to this hotel for another visit to Rome.

      Our car was waiting for us just outside the hotel as we checked out, so there wasn't much of a delay one we had concluded our check out. The private car was expensive, but was also a very nice way to make the 75 minute trip to the port town of Civitavecchia located about 60 km northwest of Rome. The trip was smooth and our anticipation built as we got closer to the port town.

      Our driver conveniently dropped us off right outside the doors of the terminal building closest to where we'd need to check in. Dispatching the luggage and getting to the check in counter was quick and easy. It didn't take long to be making the short walk from the terminal building to the gangway of Azamara Quest that led to Deck 4 near the main customer relations desk.

      Once on board we were greeted and offered some customary sparkling wine. We were also told that the staterooms weren't quite ready, so we took advantage of the carry on luggage check being provided by Azamara and then made our way up to Deck 9 to grab some lunch at Windows Café. Azamara Quest was feeling very familiar even though it was our first time on this ship. So far, only the different art on display on the ship differentiated Azamara Quest from its sister Azamara Journey that had taken us on our five previous cruises.

      Windows Café was quite busy when were arrived, but we found a table and set about to get some food. As was the norm for the initial part of the cruise, the food was served by the staff rather than it being self serve presumably until the ship was cleared medically. We followed up lunch with a visit to Mosaic Café on Deck 5 for some post lunch espressos. Here we found some subtle differences in the way Mosaic Café had been configured between the two ships. Once the announcement came that the staterooms were ready we made our way up to Deck 7 where our room was located.

      Linda on the sail away from Civitavecchia

      Linda on the sail away from Civitavecchia

      The room, too, was so very familiar. Our carry on luggage had been placed on the bed on arrival but our main luggage had yet to arrive. That was rectified shorty there after with our room attended announcing the arrival of the bags. We unpacked and got things settled in the room and then made our way out to tour the ship some. It had clouded over and rain was falling intermittently through the afternoon as we toured inside and the open decks of the ship.

      For the mid afternoon we found a table at The Patio on Deck 5 - a covered area just off the open pool deck. Here we had some snacks and some nice rose wine to accompany those snacks. We were thinking that we'd see a fair bit of The Patio on this trip - was quite enjoyable with great service. We stayed there until we heard the call for us all guests to attend the mandatory emergency life boat drill. For the first time our muster station was the Cabaret Lounge at the front of the ship rather than Discoveries Restaurant at the back of the ship as it had been on our previous voyages. Our rooms had always been somewhere near midship, but this time we were slightly further forward. Once the drill was over we made our way back up to Deck 10 to watch Azamara Quest sail away from Civitavecchia. It wasn't raining but most surfaces were wet or at least damp. More sparkling wine was served for the sail away - a nice touch.


      Cavour docked in Civitavecchia

      As Azamara Quest left port we passed by the flagship of the Italian Navy - the aircraft carrier Cavour. It was impressive to get a slow sail by the aircraft carrier with 9 of its total complement of 16 Harrier fighter planes on the flight deck. Once the ship cleared the port area we went to the Living Room on Deck 10 Forward to check out the tapas on offer there as a regular feature each late afternoon/early evening. This was another thing we figured we'd enjoy often on this voyage.

      We made plans to have dinner in time to watch the evening show in the Cabaret Lounge after that. We made our way to Discoveries Restaurant at about 7:30pm and didn't have to wait for a table for two. The meal and service were as we had come to expect from Azamara - most enjoyable indeed. A great first dinner onboard. The timing worked out well for brisk post-dinner stroll along the length of the ship to get from Discoveries Restaurant to the Cabaret Lounge in time for the show.

      Jennifer DiNoia

      Jennifer DiNoia performing at the Cabaret Lounge

      Prior to taking this cruise we had read quite a bit online about Azamara changing their onboard entertainment and then needing to adjust that even after some initial negative reactions. We weren't sure how much it would be different from the entertainment experience our other voyages, but we wanted to give it a try. The entertainment branding was now called 54 Below at Sea - in collaboration with Feinstein's/54 Below Broadway Supper Club. The idea behind it was to bring Broadway talent to Azamara. That sounded good to us.

      For this first evening the performer was Jennifer DiNoia. She is best known for playing the lead role of Elphaba in the musical Wicked for touring companies and as a stand-in on Broadway. She was very good and we really enjoyed the show. We were pleased with the apparent change in the onboard entertainment. It also got us thinking about going to see the musical Wicked - we hadn't seen it before.

      As a post-cruise note:
      In the summer of 2018 we did end up going to see a travelling production of Wicked while it was in Toronto. A great show.

      It had been a good day that started early with a morning walking tour of Rome and progressed to the start of our Mediterranean cruise. It was feeling good as Azamara Quest was on its way to Amalfi: our destination for tomorrow.

Rome Image Gallery

Piazza Navona
The Pantheon
Looking up at the dome of the Pantheon
The elephant at the base of the obelisk in Piazza della Minerva
Looking towards the Pantheon from Piazza della Minerva
Looking across the River Tiber at Castel Sant'Angelo
Rooftop view from Palazzo Navona - looking towards the dome of Sant'Andrea della Valle
Looking towards the dome of Sant'Agnese in Agone located on the side of Piazza Navona
The temple of Venus Genntrix (L) in the Forum of Caesar
The Colosseum (also known as the Flavian Amphitheatre)
The Colosseum
Arch of Constantine
Looking out over Trajan's Market
Trajan's Market
Night view over the River Tiber looking towards St Peter's Basilica
Night view of Castel Sant'Angelo with the statue of Angel with the Nails in the foreground on Ponte Sant'Angelo
One of the 4 lion fountains around the obelisk in the centre of Piazza del Popolo
The Spanish Steps viewed from Piazza di Spagna with  the Fontana della Barcaccia in the foreground
About WHITEonline

WHITEonline is the digital home of Gary & Linda White. We’ve been married since 1980 and live just outside Toronto in Ontario, Canada. Linda was born and raised in Toronto while Gary was born in London, England and moved to Canada at the age of 11. We enjoy travelling and taking photos while we travel. WHITEonline provides the opportunity to share some of our photos & experiences.

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