Travel journal: Sabers visit Eternal City with ITT

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Kelley J. Stewart
  • 52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Eighteen hours on a bus is a long time, but that's what 26 service members and civilians did to visit Rome for the holidays on an Information Tickets and Travel tour from Dec. 21 to 25.

The two bus drivers stopped to switch out every four hours, and everyone got out off the bus for breakfast after crossing into Italy. Everyone crowded into a little shop on the autostrada for sandwiches, pastries and coffee before boarding the bus for the last leg of the journey.

The hotel booked for this trip was two blocks from the main train station in Rome and only a few blocks from the church of Santa Maria Maggiore. The rooms were small but clean. Travelers shouldn't expect rooms the size of hotels in the U.S. Many hotels in Europe are in buildings hundreds of years old and space is a premium.

After the group checked in, the tour guide took explained how to purchase tickets for the Roman Metro, and then it was off to find dinner.

There are a lot of little restaurants and cafes in Rome. Finding something to eat isn't all that difficult. Some of the best food can be found in small cafes that only seat a small number of people.

The evening was free time, and many in the group walked to the Coliseum and Constantino Arch, which are lit at night by flood lights. They were beautiful to see, but there were a lot of persistent peddlers around trying to sell everything from scarves to roses, and they didn't like hearing no for an answer.

The second day of the trip included a guided tour of the city. The guide explained Roman history as she pointed out famous landmarks like the Coliseum, the Vitorio Emanuele II monument, the first-ever indoor market, the capital building, the Trevi fountain, the Pantheon, and St. Peter's Basilica just to name a few.

Part of the guided tour was on foot, and it was a beautiful day for walking. The group got to see the changing of the guard at the Italian senate, the Christmas market in Navona square, the bridge of Angels and St. Angelo castle before ending up at Vatican City.

The Vatican Museum and grounds contain priceless works of art collected by the Roman Catholic Church. The crowning glory of the museum tour was a visit to the Sistine Chapel.

Inside the Sistine Chapel hundreds of visitors packed the chapel floor and marble benches staring up at the ceiling and walls painted by Michelangelo. People always hear about the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, but the entire room from floor to ceiling is covered with paintings. There were Italian police officers inside the chapel to encourage silence and to ensure no photos or video were taken.

The second day in Rome wasn't quite as nice as the first day. It rained hard for most of the day. The only scheduled event was the group dinner for Christmas followed by Midnight Mass at the St. Peter's Basilica. Many in the group went to the Coliseum and Palatine Hill/Roman Forum. Tours are offered by private companies for both areas, and the prices varied depending on whether you had tickets for the venues already or not. Visitors can purchase a ticket to see these venues and stroll through the sites on their own without having a private tour.

The group met up at the hotel at 4:15 p.m. to catch the bus for dinner and then Midnight Mass. Not everyone opted to attend. Those that did, however, arrived at the square about 7:15 p.m. and joined the line to get in for the service which circled around the square. A large tree and a Nativity scene were set up in the middle of the square. The doors to the church opened at 8:30 p.m. and once opened, the line moved quickly.

Everyone attending the Mass passed through metal detectors and presented their tickets at a variety of different security checkpoints.
The basilica holds between 60,000 to 70,000 people, and the place was packed. It was like being at a rock concert. When the Pope Benedict XVI entered the church and proceeded down the aisle, you could hear the clicking of thousands of cameras, and no one sat down for the first 30 minutes of the service.

The actual service lasted about two hours and was broadcast worldwide. It was primarily held in Latin, but readings in English, Polish, Filipino, Portuguese, German, and Spanish were read aloud to the crowd.

When Mass was over, the group traveled back to the hotel to get some sleep. Check out was no later than noon, and there was still much of the city to see. The time between checking out and boarding the bus Dec. 25 was free time. Some slept in, some went out exploring, but at 2:15 p.m., everyone was in the lobby to get their bags from the locked storage room to load on the bus for the long drive home.

Eighteen hours might sound like a long time to sit on a bus, but it was worth it to have a hassle-free trip to Rome. ITT took care of booking the hotel, arranging transportation, getting tickets for Midnight Mass and arranging the group dinner. If you like to travel, but don't want to make all the arrangements, look into the trips being offered by ITT.

ITT is located in Bldg. 124 downstairs, or the office can be reached at 452-6567 or 0656561 6567.