This was the highlight of highlights on a wonderful week in Rome. The night before there was the mother of all thunderstorms over the city. The result was that when we Brits checked in at Top Bikes Rome we found that everyone else had cried off. We had our guide Riccardo to ourselves. The ride through the city was much easier than we anticipated as Riccardo made good use of crossings, lanes, the odd cycle way and parks. The Appian Way was great - with sites of ancient aristocratic estates with, in the case of Maxentius, a private version of the 'Circus Maximus'. What really took my breath away was cycling under a bridge to see the ruins of an amazing aqueduct which took water into the ancient city from distant hills. The riding is leisurely, only 20 miles in 6 hours. There are stops for visits to Catacombs and to enjoy wine and cheese at a C15 farm. The bikes were very good - of a higher standard than our own.
Taking this tour enables you to go under the arena in the Colloseum and up to tier 3. This adds to the trip immensely. From our meeting point, we walked along the Imperial Way and entered the Roman Forum. Emma, our guide, was great. Her explanations were very clear as she led us from the area around the arch of Septimus Severus along the Via Sacra, and upto the Palatine hill overlooking the forum itself. The tour wound its way through the imperial palaces to the Colloseum. Reference was made to the gladiator school which we saw independently. Going beneath the arena was a bit like going back stage in a theatre. This is where the pulleys, ropes, winches, cages etc. were to lift animals to the arena floor and release them. The winches were numbered and the whole event choreographed so that the blood spectacle offered to the 1000's packing the arena would not disappoint. The views from tier 3 are well worth the climb. Excellent.
Having a knowledgable guide is at least as important as skipping the line. We chose the evening tour which meant that we visited St Peter's itself separately. The guide (Damiano) was that and more, amusing and personable. We sampled the Vatican Museums with a mix of sculpture, paintings, frescos - the Rafael rooms being the highlight. And then to Michelangelo's masterpieces in the Sistine Chapel. Even during an evening tour there is noise in the chapel despite the best efforts of Vatican staff. Still stunning. On my last visit here in 1979 I was able to take pictures - not any more. When we handed back the headphone sets at the end of our trip our guide remembered where we were from. Regards given to Cumbria as instructed!
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