Contributor photo/courtesy of Brando Quinn: St. Peter’s Basilica is one of the stops on the VIP tour of Rome.
Column by Brando Quinn/Master Cruise Counselor, Brando’s Fun N’ Sun Travel & Cruise
“When in Rome, do what the Romans do!” is a captivating phrase known around the world, however, I would change one aspect of the phrase, “When in Rome, don’t miss the VIP Tour (9 hours) of Rome with a private driver and tour guide operated by Limousine Service at L’ Italy including the Vatican Museum, Colosseum tickets and more!”
My daughter Brittany and I recently returned from a large Mediterranean cruise aboard the Norwegian Epic sailing from Civitavecchia Rome to Naples, Pompeii, Livorno Florence and Pisa Italy, Cannes France, Palma Majorca and Barcelona Spain, then returning via Ajaccio France back in Civitavecchia Rome, Italy. Before our departure, we arrived in Rome three days early to explore the “city of seven hills”.
Before I embarked on our Tour of Rome, many people asked me the question: “How difficult is it to travel in this post-pandemic world? The good news is that we have survived a global pandemic and travelers are starting to whip out their wallets and credit cards again to see the world with renewed vigor. Airlines, hotels, car rental companies, tour operators and cruise lines are gratefully returning to a “new normal” and doing all they can to make travel safe, affordable and enjoyable again. Most countries, including Italy, no longer require Covid tests if you are fully vaccinated and mask-wearing has become optional and it is now generally up to the individual to decide if mask-wearing is for them.
I chose American Airlines from Phoenix to Rome, which flies to over 50 countries around the world and is a founding member of the One World Global Alliance. They’ve teamed up with the handy Verifly app that lets you upload all the necessary documents before you arrive at the airport, making airport check-in a breeze. Although I was not required to take a Covid test before leaving, I had one taken the day before I left at our local Walgreens just to be certain that I was in good health and for peace of mind. ‘spirit.
I had pre-arranged our 9-Hour VIP Tour of Rome Italy on Viator.com. The tour is provided by Limousine Service in Italy, a locally run company founded by husband and wife team Simona and Nicoli in 2013. They offer a wide variety of exciting private and customizable tours using only badge-holding tour guides blue and provide skip-tickets online with no hidden charges. Tours are in luxury Mercedes Benz vehicles driven by professional drivers. Although the tour can be prepaid on Viator, skip-the-line tickets, which are pre-purchased by the Vatican Museums Travel Agency, and the Colosseum are not included in the price and we brought 80 euros to pay our guide for tickets (35 euros for Colosseum and Arena skip-the-line tickets and 45 euros for early morning Vatican Museums with priority access to Sistine Chapel tickets)
On Saturday at 7:15 am we were picked up from the Golden Tulip Rome Piram hotel, conveniently located near the train station in downtown Rome and within walking distance of many local attractions by driver Marcus and tour guides Nicoli and Alexandra. The Mercedes Benz was comfortable and easily accommodated six or more passengers. Our driver headed to Vatican City for our morning tour of the Vatican Museums with skip-the-line entrance tickets.
As we stopped at the Vatican we saw a long line of people waiting outside to enter the museum, however Alessandra led us to the front of the line and we were greeted by the gate guards so Waving us in – a great plus when you go with this tour company. The display of works inside this magnificent museum is a huge collection amassed by the Catholic Church and the Papacy over the centuries and includes some of the most renowned Roman sculptures and masterpieces of the Renaissance art in the world. Containing more than 70,000 works, including 20,000 on display, this museum is a must. Along the route, we were admitted to the Sistine Chapel, whose ceiling is decorated by Michelangelo’s paintings made between 1508-1512. Other paintings included masters such as Botticelli, Perugino, Pinturicchio, etc. Our guide Alessandra, who had completed her master’s thesis on the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel, gave us thought-provoking advice and little-known historical facts and we were delighted to hear some of the ‘gossip’ that is not published on Michelangelo’s paintings and his hard work. relationship with the Pope.
We then moved to St. Peter’s Basilica, originally planned by Pope Nicholas V with construction beginning in 1506 and completed in 1626. It is considered one of the most renowned works of Renaissance architecture and the largest church in the world. According to Catholic tradition, the basilica is the burial place of Saint Peter, leader of Jesus’ apostles and first bishop of Rome (pope). The entire interior is richly decorated with marble, reliefs, architectural carvings and gilding. The basilica contains many tombs of popes and other notable historical figures. Some of the must-see sculptures and paintings are Michelangelo’s Pietà and the baldachin or baldachin above the papal altar designed by Bernini.
We continued our journey outside the basilica to St. Peter’s Square, the most famous baroque square in the world where, during the conclave, crowds wait to see the face of the new pope for the first time. In the center is one of the oldest Egyptian obelisks measuring 84 feet tall and was originally erected at Heliopolis in Egypt by an unknown pharaoh.
After an incredible morning, it was time to take a break and eat! Our driver took us to a local restaurant where we ate Caprese, pizza, a variety of local specialties and drank refreshing drinks. After a refreshing break, we head back to the Colosseum. This famous Roman amphitheater was built between AD 70 and 72 by Emperor Vespasian and hosted events like gladiators and hunting games. The Colosseum could accommodate between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators and is now considered one of the New 7 Wonders of the World!
Our driver Marcus then navigated the busy streets to take a look at the Roman Forum. Political center of ancient Rome and symbol of power for the Eternal City where at 8e Century the city was founded and from where the Romans began their incredible story of conquests across Europe. Nearby is the Palatine Hill which is the most central of the seven hills of Rome and one of the oldest parts of the city. Here, the imperial palaces were built from Augustus and were mainly occupied by houses of the wealthy. Excavations are still uncovering hidden gems in this area of Rome.
Alessandra then took Marcus off the beaten path to a hidden gem on the Aventine Hill, rarely seen on a tour, the Aventine Keyhole, the semi-secret view of Rome’s peephole and a former crusader stronghold. The end of a cul-de-sac presents a surprisingly well-framed little view of two nation states and a country with St. Peter’s Dome perfectly located in the center. The keyhole in the door leads to the Priory of the Knights of Malta, the legendary crusader knights and religious order.
The next stop was the “Pantheon!” This marvelous building dates from 25 BC. AD by Marco Agrippa who was an important Roman general and son-in-law of Emperor Augustus. After almost 2,000 years, you can still visit this ancient building with its amazing open dome. One of the most unique monuments in the world, cylindrical with a portico of large granite Corinthian columns, it is considered the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world with a height of 142 feet.
Nearby we found the Trevi Fountain, an 18th century fountain considered one of the most beautiful and probably the most famous fountains in the world! Symbol of incomparable beauty. The theme of taming the waters tumbles and mixes water and rock with tritons guiding the shell chariot of Oceanus taming seahorses. We participated in the “good luck” tradition of tossing two coins with the right hand over the left shoulder. In 2016, approximately $1.5 million was thrown into the fountain!
Another stop nearby and off the beaten path we found the Largo di Torre Argentina square with the ruins of four Roman republican temples and the remains of the Theater of Pompey where Julius Caesar was assassinated by a group of senators on the Ides of March 44 BC Senate meeting.
We then made several unmissable last-minute stops to see Piazza del Campidoglio on Capitoline Hill, one of the political and religious hearts of Rome and a symbol of Rome’s reign as capital of the world. Piazza Venezia, a central hub of Rome comprising Via dei Fori Imperiali and Via del Corso. The Via del Corso, a rectangular square of Piazza Navona the Campo de Fiori or “field of flowers” and Piazza Navona one of the most beautiful squares in Europe symbolize the power of Pope Innocent X and his family exposing a leader -work by Bernini in the center such as the fountain of the “Four Rivers”.
Our driver then took us back to our hotel and our guides gave us a hug goodbye. Rome the Eternal City will forever be etched in our memories with this 9 hour tour. visit that gave us an undying appreciation of Roman traditions. “When in Rome, do what the Romans do!” is a captivating phrase known around the world, however, I would change one aspect of the phrase, “When in Rome, don’t miss the (9 o’clock) VIP tour of Rome with private driver and tour guide operated by Limousine Service in Italy including skip-the-line Vatican Museum, Colosseum tickets and more!”
Note: Covid conditions and regulations are constantly changing. For up-to-date information from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), go to https://www.cdc.gov/.
Brando Quinn is the Senior Cruise Advisor for Brando’s Fun-N-Sun Travel/Avoya Travel affiliate based at 513 W. Main St., Safford, Arizona, (928) 322-3271, www.AvoyaTravel.com/IA/BrandoQuinn
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