We were tired after the long trip from from Austin to Rome and the eight-hour time zone change that came with it, so we slept late on our first day in Rome. While we had tours and trips scheduled for almost every day of the vacation, I had intentionally left this day open as a “recovery” day.

We ate lunch in the hotel restaurant, then decided to go into town.

The Sheraton Roma is a nice hotel, but its location is terrible. Basically, it is not near anything. The closest shops and restaurants are a 10-15 minute walk away, and the hotel is nowhere near the famous sites of Rome. On a positive note the hotel knows this and operates a bus to the downtown area that runs every 90 minutes. And this is not a van, it is a full size bus that holds more than 40 passengers. The charge for this is a reasonable 3 Euro per person, round trip. So we took the hotel’s bus. I had a map that showed where we would be let off, and the concierge had told me we would be within walking distance of many sites, but I was still not sure where we would end up.

We took the bus into town, got off, and stood there with a some other couples, looking at our maps, trying to figure out where to go. Without any landmarks in sight we were not even able to get oriented to figure out where we were. Finally, one of the people told us that someone at dinner the night before had told them to go to the right when they got off the bus. With no idea where we were, that was as good a recommendation as we could get.

We walked a block or two and came upon our first ancient ruins, the Teatro Marcello.

Teatro Marcello, ancient open-air theatre in Rome.

This was the first ancient ruin I had seen and I was excitedly taking photos of it when I noticed something odd; they had built apartments on top of this 2,000-year-old structure! I live in Texas where we put historical plaques on a 100-year-old building. To me this ancient structure was so very special that it was wrong to alter its appearance with these apartments, just as wrong as it would be for us to add apartments to the Alamo. However, I soon learned that a 2,000-year-old structure in Rome is not the least bit rare, in fact it is fairly common, so this was not as unusual as I thought it was. As they say, when in Rome…

We walked on a bit more and saw what looked like a monument or memorial. We had no idea what it was, but knew we were going in the right direction!

A busy Roman street with construction, and a monument in the distance.

So, we walked on. We soon came upon a long staircase with statues at the top. Yogi Berra said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” We were at a staircase rather than a fork, but decided to take it nonetheless.

One of the statues at the top of the staircase.

The other statue: not sure who this is, but it was beautiful to see.

The statues marked the entrance to a small plaza. We later found out that we were atop the Capitoline Hill, the smallest of Rome’s seven hills. It was the religious and political center of the city since its foundation more than 2,500 years ago. Today the hill is also known as Campidoglio, the Italian name for the hill. It is home to the Capitoline Museum and City Hall. The plaza features a statue of Marcus Aurelius on horseback.

The statue of Marcus Aurelius atop Captoline Hill. This is a replica of the original statue which is now on display indoors at the Captoline Museum next door.

We walked through the plaza and came upon the Vittorio Emanuele II monument, a memorial to the first King of a united Italy.

The Vittorio Emanuele II monument in Rome.

The monument is massive and breathtaking; I was very impressed by it. We later learned that most Romans think it is too large, does not match the architecture of the area and they did not like it. In fact, they refer to it as “the wedding cake.”

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The monument is not only a memorial to Italy’s first King, it also features the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the final resting place of an unknown soldier from World War I. I found it odd that it did not have a soldier form World War II; perhaps that is a time they would rather not remember.

One of the best things about the memorial is the spectacular views that you can get from the viewing areas on the side of it.

The statue of Vittorio Emanuele II in front of the monument.

Trajan's Market is located across the street from the monument.

The Colosseum is visible in the distance.

A slow pan showed all of these sites, ending at the Colosseum.

After taking in the view, we stopped for a cappuccino and took the bus back to the hotel. It was a good day — we enjoyed ourselves, We went to bed early that night so that we could get up early the next day for a very special event I had long looked forward to, our guided tour of the Vatican.