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Mysterious Ways
By Adam Hunter

A Brief Tour of the Eternal City

We got the most out of 48 hours in Rome… beginning with one unexpected, breathtaking day.

Buon Giorno! “Good day,” as the Italians say. I’ve just returned from a two-week trip to Italy, and it’s been tough getting back to work here at Mysterious Ways (although, receiving the first published copies of our upcoming October/November issue was a nice boost).

My wife and I spent the last two days of our trip in Rome, a city that once stood at the center of the ancient world and is now Italy’s busy capital. We knew 48 hours wasn’t nearly enough time to peel back all the layers of history that exist in this incredible place. We only hoped we could get everything in.

As it turned out, that wasn’t a problem. At almost every turn, Rome inspired us to keep moving. In fact… we saw almost all the highlights in just one day.

Vatican CityOur first stop was Vatican City. We met our guide at 7:30 AM and followed her through the Vatican Museum, home to some of antiquity’s finest works of art, collected or commissioned by the Popes beginning in the 16th century.

The highlight, of course, was the Sistine Chapel and Michelangelo’s famous interior decor–the ceiling, with its nine scenes from the Book of Genesis, and the fresco above the altar, The Last Judgment.

We were warned by our guide that pictures inside the holy place were strictly forbidden. But… then how to explain the photos on the postcards sold in the gift shop? More than a few others around me disregarded the rules, sneaking cell phone pictures on the sly. I couldn’t blame them.

Michelangelo was known as a sculptor, not a painter, when he was hired to decorate the chapel’s ceiling (the artist himself believed he was being set up to fail by some of his rivals)–but that ended up aiding his work. Each of the 343 figures he chose to depict, from Adam and Eve to the prophets, jumps out in 3D, like a sculpture.

It took Michelangelo four years to complete the ceiling–but one day to complete the panel depicting God’s creation of the world. One day. Perhaps that’s what inspired our journey to come.

The PantheonThe skies turned ominous as we walked across the Ponte Sant’Angelo and through the narrow side streets to the Pantheon, the world’s oldest building in continuous use. Built in the 1st century BC as a pagan temple, it was converted to a church in the 7th century.

Just as it began to drizzle, my wife and I stepped inside, where we were treated to another beautiful sight. The rain fell softly through the oculus of the Pantheon’s towering dome and onto the ornate marble floor below. Photos were allowed here, but the moment was impossible to capture on film, as my iPhone snapshot shows.

Not wanting to walk in the rain, we considered returning to the hotel for a nap. The skies settled the debate, suddenly clearing. We decided to head for the Tiber River and follow its winding path south to the old Jewish Ghetto, where Rome’s Jewish community was forced to live after a papal decree in 1555.

For lunch, we ate Roman Jewish cuisine–a fried artichoke, braised beef with pasta and an antipasti plate of kosher salamis–and then visited the synagogue built in celebration after the ghetto walls finally came down, and Rome elected its first Jewish mayor in the late 19th century. The synagogue proved that the Roman flair for elaborate decoration isn’t just reserved for Christian houses of worship.

The pit stop energized us.

We strolled northeast past the Circus Maximus (where Romans held their chariot races) to the Roman Forum (the political and religious center of ancient Rome) and the Colosseum.

It was too late to go inside, but we’d have plenty of time the next day.

We finished our walk by heading up the Via Corso (Rome’s Broadway) and seeing the Trevi Fountain (unfortunately, under restoration) and Spanish Steps. There, we sat for a moment, taking in the sunset and resting our throbbing feet.

We made it back to our hotel around 8:30, enough time to get ready for dinner at Ditirambo, a trattoria just off the Piazza Navona where we enjoyed Cacio e Pepe, a fresh burratta mozzarella, and a sample plate of five Italian appetizers, each one of them a work of art nearly as fine as Michelangelo’s (though they didn’t last as long).

When I look at the path we travelled on Google maps–you can see the journey here–I’m blown away. “Only” six miles of walking (not including times we went down the wrong road or doubled back), but in those six miles, we saw more than 2000 years of history unfold.

Rome may not have been built in a day–but we sure toured it in one!

I’d love to hear about your memorable vacations. What unexpected journeys did you take? What places have inspired you?

Adam Hunter is a senior editor for Guideposts magazine and Managing Editor for Mysterious Ways. He’s edited Mysterious Ways since October 2006, and is continually amazed by the astounding stories shared by readers. Follow him on Twitter: @MMysteriousWays