After 14 months of pandemic and 7 months without even leaving the Florence city limits, I finally decided to get outta Dodge and fly back to the U.S. to see my family. Alitalia and Delta operate what they call "Covid Free" flights from Rome to either JFK (New York) or Atlanta, where every passenger has to provide a negative Covid test taken within 48 hours of take-off. Obviously it's not fool-proof but I was willing to take the chance!
I recorded a short podcast that covers the details of these "Covid Free" flights, as well as some lovely audio of my walk around Rome (listen to the sublime ambient interior of the pantheon without people!). You can find that on the podcast tab in the menu above, or else over at Buzzsprout (where you can also subscribe via iTunes, Spotify, Google, etc.).
Packing for international travel after such a long time almost made me giddy with disbelief:
Arrivederci Florence, it's been grand!
Goody-bag on board with mask, hand-wipes, bottle of water:
I spent the night at a friendly hostel just 2 blocks from the Roma Termini train station called "The Beehive." It's run by my friends Linda & Steve and I highly recommend it if you're looking for quality budget stay in the city center. They have cheap hostel accommodation as well as a few standard hotel rooms with en suite bathroom. Plus, they also make homemade bagels that are the best in Italy! (you can book some for your arrival here at The Beehive Bagels).
From there I took the metro/subway a few stops and got off a the Piazza di Spagna, where you find the famous "Spanish Steps." I found them covered in purple and white rhododendrons!
Nearby was a tent set up to do walk-in Covid tests:
It was a short walk from there to the Trevi fountain, which would normally be crawling with people. I saw about 25 tourists, 10 cops, and 6 nuns. :-)
From there I walked to the amazing Roman Pantheon, one of the best-preserved buildings in all of Antiquity . I shared it with only a smattering of other visitors so could really enjoy the majesty and glory of the immense space. It was originally built as a temple to all of the Roman gods (pan-theon = all-gods) but was later turned into a Catholic church.
The building is so large it's hard to even take it all in. Unfortunately they're doing works on the fountain in the square so I had to get a shot peering over the scaffolding. But you can still see that it's a HUGE round building fronted by a classical pediment. It was commissioned by Emperor Hadrian in the 2nd c. AD and built over an older temple commissioned by Marcus Agrippa (hence the dedication). The dome is still the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world, and the height (to the central "oculus"in the middle) and the diameter of the interior circle are the same: 43 m (142 ft).
You enter through a set of massive bronze doors, the oldest in all of Rome. The measure 4.5 m (~15 ft) wide and 7.5 m (~ 25 ft) high! The roof structure was kept light by the use of carved-out "coffers." Read more about this amazing building here.
The hole in the roof is open to the sky, so the morning's rain was still in puddles on the ground.
The front columns are made of Egyptian granite and weigh 60 tons each, and are nearly 12 m (40 ft) high, while some of the limestone elements show more signs of wear. You also find the tomb of the painter Raphael (famous for many of the works in the Vatican) and the first two kings of Italy:
The street leading away from the Pantheon would normally be crowded with visitors but is now completely deserted (I imagine it will fill up by dinnertime, however, as outdoor dining has just been allowed again!):
I walked on and ended up popping into a church at random. Turns out it's dedicated to the French King "Saint Louis" (Louis IX)! There are some Caravaggio paintings inside but they're in a dark chapel at the back and I didn't have any coins to light up the lights. Next time!
From there I walked to the grand Piazza Navona...
... and then to the Campo de'Fiori:
The square was bustling, with cafes buzzing with voices excited to be able to sit outside again. The flower vendors ("fiori" = flowers) were also out!
I met up with a friend later for dinner and we went to a very popular place in the Trastevere area called "Trattoria da Teo." It was packed, and you could tell people were excited to finally be able to eat in restaurants again!
Walking back from dinner we passed this marvel, the 4th c. Arch of Janus, which is unique of its kind in Rome. Read more about it here.
Rome's "Fiumicino" airport was mostly empty:
I paid a bit more to fly Premium Economy, and there were only 4 people in my little section!
Nine hours later... Hello, Big Apple!
The departures terminal at LaGuardia looked more like a Reading Room at a library than an airport:
Eventually I landed at Washington's "Regan/National" airport and thought I would burst into tears upon seeing my parents, but instead I let out a hearty "Woooooo!" and did a victory dance on the sidewalk. We drove down to North Carolina the next day, where I immediately got my J&J jab, and again, instead of weeping in relief I kept jumping around like they had just injected me with Rum & Coke. ;-)
I'm still on a high, and am so grateful for everyone who has made it possible for us to travel again in safety. Once they give us the go-ahead, I'm going to keep traveling and I hope you can too! And let me know if you'd like me to show you around :-)
In the meantime, happy spring, happy trails, happy Monday, and leave me a comment below if you're so inclined (remember you have to sign in first, upper right, with an email address), or go leave some Italian Lire in the tip jar (click on the link or see "tip your guide" in top menu bar) to help fund my "Bloody Mary in the transit lounge" habit! ;-) Remember to go check out the podcast, too! This time I recorded it en route during my voyage as well as on a hike in the woods here in North Carolina. Thanks for coming along, and see you out there!