L.L. Diamond

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In 64AD after the fires in Rome, the Emperor Nero decided to build himself a palace that would be called The Golden House. Upon Nero’s death, Rome was engulfed in a civil war until Vespasian took the throne in 69AD. Instead of building a monument of palace for himself, he decided to build an amphitheatre for the people to enjoy, erecting it on the lake of Nero’s palace. Construction began in 72AD, but the huge structure wasn’t completed until 80AD when Vespasian’s son Titus was emperor. The finished structure was capable of holding 50,000 people, making it the largest of its kind in the Roman Empire.

Over the years, the Colosseum was plundered for multiple reasons–the wealthy as well as the popes wanted its travertine and marble for their buildings and robbers made holes in the walls looking for iron clamps. This continued until the church halted the destruction. They couldn’t completely destroy a building so rooted in Christian history, too many Christians became martyrs within its walls.

Today, we get a glimpse of what the Colosseum once was. It’s still huge when you approach, and when you stand at one end and look at the scale, it’s impressive. When you walk around, don’t just pay attention to the scale and the big picture or you’ll miss the little things. One one side, you can still see a hint of the rows that once existed, if you look at the floors where you walk, you will sometimes find a brick pattern or marble that was a part of the original flooring, there is also a great view of the Arch of Constantine from one side.

A good portion of the Colosseum can be seen without paying for a private tour, however, if you want to go below into the catacomb portion, a tour and guide is required. We arrived as the place opened and were not a part of the tour, so we walked all over the upper levels that are accessible and took lots of pictures. Upon the approach to the Colosseum, you will have the same staggering of tour companies from a good mile to half-mile from the building, all trying to garner attention and extra money. One became angry with me and yelled at me because I told my husband to ignore her. After the Vatican, I was done with the tourist trap racket.

Whether you opt for a tour guide or not, the Colosseum is definitely a must see! Just make sure you look at the little things as well.

If you’re at the Colosseum, the Arch of Constantine can’t be missed since it’s right there beside the Colosseum. The Arch was built by the Senate and dedicated in 315AD as a commemoration of the emperor Constantine’s victory at Milvian Bridge in Rome over Maxentius for control over the western portion of the Roman Empire.

The Arch is huge and made of a grey and white marble, but was technically not all original at the time the Arch was built. The eight round medallions around the building have been dated to 200 years prior to Constantine and are actually from the emperor Hadrian’s reign, some of the rectangular reliefs come from an Arch built to celebrate the victories of Marcus Aurelius (the emperor was re-carved to look like Constantine), and there are also relief sculptures that came from Basilica Ulpia in Trajan’s Forum. Even the Corinthian Columns surrounding the Arch are from another monument that no longer exists.

Despite it’s less than original bits and pieces 😉 the Arch of Constantine is still amazing to see. There are sculptures within the arches as well as the many sculptures and columns on the outside. With the Colosseum in the background, it can also be a lot of fun to photograph. It made me wish I’d had my good camera instead of just my phone.


Coming up next… Palatine Hill and a wrap up of Rome





Hi, everyone! It’s time for part two of my holiday story! I’m still writing on it, so we’ll see if it’s one or two more posts. I’ll definitely let you know when the next part goes online, too 🙂 Thanks for reading!

The Advent Calendar

Part II

Elizabeth smoothed the red satin over her stomach and turned, checking her reflection in the full-length mirror, nestled in a corner of her bedroom, while Grunt watched from his cozy perch on her bed, his gaze stern.

“Don’t sulk. You’re a cat. You aren’t supposed to give me the stink eye if I leave. Besides, I know that once the door closes behind me, you’ll drink the water from the Christmas tree, play with the ornaments, then fall asleep on top of your kitty tower. You won’t miss me yelling at you to stop misbehaving.” He’d taken such a liking to so many of the shiny glass baubles that she’d had to move them up the tree and relocate the less destructible plastic and wooden ornaments near the bottom. He was still so much the kitten she’d adopted almost a year ago, always into something. He yawned and she laughed, turned to face him, and held out her arms. “Do you approve?”

He yawned again widely, stretched, and lifted his paw, bestowing a long lick along its edge before dragging it over the top of his head.

Her hands dropped to her sides. “You could’ve said something. A hiss would’ve at least been a little helpful. A chirp even? Perhaps a meow?”

Grunt ignored her while he proceeded thoroughly to wash his ears. The doorbell rang and her suddenly silent companion halted his bathing when his head jerked toward the bedroom door.

Grabbing her clutch from beside him, she hurried down the hall of her apartment and stood on tiptoe to see through the peephole. A man she didn’t recognize, wearing a black suit, stood in the hallway. She wasn’t expecting anyone. “Who is it?”

“Car service, ma’am. I’m here to take you to the Darcy holiday party.”

Car service? She cracked the door enough to speak to the man face to face. “There must be some mistake. I didn’t arrange for a car.” He held out a small wrapped package with the number twenty-four on the top and she stiffened at the sight of the glittery, silver number. It was another Secret Santa gift?

“I was told to give you this.”

Elizabeth shook her head and sighed as she carefully took the package. “I’m sorry, but I can’t accept something so expensive. Can you call whoever hired you for the evening and refund their money?”

“I’m afraid we don’t issue refunds, ma’am. Whether I drive you to the party or not, the money is spent.” He pointed to the package. “My advice would be to open your gift, grab your purse, and enjoy the ride. The money’s wasted otherwise.”

Carefully, she pulled back the paper and stared at the flat square box. What if another Hermes scarf lay inside? She had to discover who her Secret Santa was at the party! She needed to discover his identity and return whatever she could of his gifts. This had gotten out of hand!

When she lifted the lid of the box, no expensive scarf or trinket lay inside—just a card on a bed of silver snowflake printed tissue with a neat script that read,

“I hope to dance with you this evening.


No name? He wanted to dance with her, but how in the blazes was she supposed to do that without his name? “I don’t suppose you know who my Secret Santa is?” she asked.

The man lifted both his eyebrows and shrugged. “No ma’am. I don’t know anything about a Secret Santa. I’m just the driver.”

She bit her lip and stared at the card for a moment. If she didn’t take the car, her Secret Santa wasted his money. How did she have a choice? Her best option was to take the ride and then pay him back, regardless of the cost. She certainly wasn’t broke, but she didn’t splurge on cars and drivers. Paying the bill for her Juke’s tiny parking space under the building was painful enough.

“I’ll be back in a moment.” She closed the door, grabbed her coat and clutch, and glanced around her living room. “Why do I feel like I’m forgetting something? Oh! My Secret Santa gift!” She grabbed a small silver-wrapped box from under her tree and opened the door. “Okay, I’m ready.”

With a smile, the driver nodded and waited for her to lock her door before he led her down to the sidewalk in front of her building. A Rolls Royce Phantom stood grandly along the curb, looking quite out of place in her neighborhood. The driver opened the door, and she climbed inside, trying not to flinch or squirm at touching the plush creamy leather and dark-stained wood interior.

The driver leaned down into the doorway. “Would you care for a glass of wine?”

She looked at the soft and quite pale leather seats. “Wine?” What if she spilled it?

He chuckled. “I have red or white. It’s your choice.”

“I suppose it’s also paid for already.”

“Yes, ma’am,” he said with a slight twitch to one side of his lips.

After another look at the upholstery, she sighed. “Let’s not tempt fate. A glass of the white would be nice.”

“Prosecco or Chenin Blanc?”

Seriously? She had a choice? She leaned forward and scanned the front seat to find an ice chest on the passenger side floorboard. “Chenin Blanc, please.” She may as well! As he said, it was paid for and she had something niggling at her gut that cried she would need it before the end of the evening.

He took his place in the driver’s seat, served her wine, and started the car while she relaxed back and carefully buckled herself in with one hand. Soon, they were moving steadily in the direction of the ballroom the company had hired for the annual holiday party while she sipped her wine and watched the passing storefronts. She’d always loved holiday window displays. Every year, she made a point of taking a day to walk around the neighborhood so she could enjoy the lovely trees, quaint snowclad village scenes, and toy trains adorning the more festive décor, yet tonight, despite the pleasant scenery, a part of her was wound as tight as could be! What was she going to do about her Secret Santa? Would he be at the party? The big gift exchange was to take place tonight, but her Secret Santa had already given her today’s gift. What if he didn’t reveal himself to her because he hadn’t given her the gift for the twenty-fifth yet?

All she could do was take a gulp of her wine and exhale a long breath in a futile attempt to relax. She needed to stop stressing about this! Regardless of who her Secret Santa was, they’d simply have to accept her reimbursement for the car and take back the Hermes scarf. If they were friends at work, it would make things much simpler, but she was still relatively new with the company. She hadn’t really gotten to know everyone yet.

Before she was really ready, the car pulled up to the curb at the ballroom and the driver came around to open her door. When she stepped out, she paused and handed him the glass. “Thank you.”

He almost tilted forward, like he was giving a miniscule bow. “I will be right here when you’re ready to leave.”

Her eyes widened. “This person hired you for the entire evening?”

“Yes, ma’am. My instructions were to convey you to the party and to ensure you arrive safely to your door when the party is over. I know that you may prefer not to remain for the entire night, so when you wish to leave, I will be waiting for you here.”

“There you are!” She turned abruptly as Charlotte approached and whistled. “Sweet car! When did you decide not to drive?” After a quick “thank you” to the driver, she and Charlotte began climbing the steps.

“I didn’t hire a car. He came with a package.”

“Is that gift twenty-four? Nice! I wouldn’t have minded riding in that! It’s certainly better than the smelly taxi I took here.”

“I doubt it was that bad,” said Elizabeth with a giggle.

“It was! I think the person before me must’ve had a bag full of raw fish they were taking home for dinner.”

“You’ve had a flair for melodrama since we were teenagers. You should’ve studied acting and gone into theater.”

Charlotte’s nose crinkled. “You know how much I love to perform in front of a group. That’s always worked so well for me in the past.”

The two of them laughed. She would never forget their fourth grade Christmas program. Sister Mary Margaret almost fainted when Charlotte’s nerves got the best of her and she got sick on stage. Charlotte was hailed the hero of the evening by everyone but Lauren Hazelton, who was furious Charlotte’s digestive pyrotechnics went off at the beginning of the girl’s solo during Silent Night.

They stopped at the coat check. Elizabeth traded her coat for a ticket and then, waited for Charlotte. “Is Bill joining you?”

“No, he had some last-minute job at de Bourgh’s. He wanted to make sure no last-minute shopper left without some expensive piece of jewelry.” She rolled her eyes. “Besides, I don’t want to stray too far from you. I can’t miss the big reveal! Your Secret Santa is bound to approach you sometime tonight, and I’m dying to see who it is.”

Elizabeth gasped when they entered the opulent ballroom decked out in Christmas trees and twinkling lights. “It’s incredible.”

The same whistle as earlier came from beside her. “Have I thanked you lately for bringing me with you when you started at Darcy Holdings?”

“You know I couldn’t leave you behind. Who else would I find to second-guess me and make sarcastic comments?”

Charlotte gave a huge grin. “You know you love me.”

Elizabeth looped her arm through her friend’s. “Let’s grab a glass of wine.”

The two strode straight to the bar where Charlotte leaned forward and placed her order. While she waited for her turn, Elizabeth slowly pivoted to look at the room but startled at a tall, black-clad figure who suddenly appeared in her way.

“Good evening, Miss Bennet. I hope you’re having a good time.”

Her eyes traced up the red and silver tie in front of her to the face of her boss, William Darcy. He had leaned in slightly when he spoke.

“I just arrived, but everything is beautiful.”

A tiny lift appeared to one side of his lips. “I’m glad you approve.” His eyes left hers for a moment when Charlotte turned around. “Miss Lucas.”

“Mr. Darcy,” she said quickly. “You throw a great shindig.” She waved off to the side. “Excuse me for a moment. I want to say hi to Belinda from personnel.”

No! She couldn’t leave her alone! Not with their boss! Elizabeth opened her mouth to stop her, but Charlotte shook off the quick attempt of Elizabeth to grab her hand and scurried away with a little grin, like the little traitorous witch she was.

“Were you waiting to order a drink?”

She turned back to Mr. Darcy, and nodded. “Yes, I wanted a glass of wine.”

He held out a hand over the bar. “Red or white?”

“White, please. Chenin Blanc if they have it?”

He leaned in as he spoke to the bartender, who then hurried away, returning a few moments later with a glass. Mr. Darcy handed him a folded bill, and then passed Elizabeth her wine.

“I thought it was an open bar?”

“It is, but the house Chenin Blanc is only so-so. I thought you would prefer this one.”

She set the gift she carried on the barstool beside her and propped her clutch on top while she attempted to open the clasp. “Then let me pay you back. I don’t expect you to buy me drinks.” His hand covered hers, and she jumped. His palm was so warm!

“I ordered the upgrade without asking. I don’t expect you to pay for it. I’m happy to do it.” He almost seemed to shift a little closer and something inside her chest fluttered. “I owe you an apology as well. I was abominably rude on your first day and you didn’t deserve it. I’m sorry.”

After a sip—or was it a gulp—of her wine, she shook her head. “You don’t owe me anything. Charlie wanted to hire me and you didn’t. You’re entitled to your opinions.” Was he ever going to move his hand? The heat radiating from that point was slowly spreading up her arm. What was going on with that? She’d never had that happen before and it was unnerving. In a last-ditch effort to preserve her sanity, she shifted her purse off the barstool and his hand dropped to his side.

“Even if my opinion was wrong?”

He watched her reaction carefully. She definitely disliked him, but how he wished she didn’t! It was impossible to miss her wide eyes and the slight grab at her assistant’s hand when Miss Lucas left, not to mention her moving her purse so his hand was no longer touching hers.

She stared into her wine and cleared her throat. “You don’t have to say that.”

“I wouldn’t tell you I was incorrect unless I truly meant it. Truthfully, I should’ve apologized a long time ago. Your work has been exemplary. I’m pleased Charles insisted on hiring you. You’ve been an asset these past months, and after New Year’s, I hope you will meet with Hurst and myself to set up the transition of the department from his hands to yours.”

When he mentioned the meeting, her eyes darted from what had to be the most interesting drink on the planet directly back to his face and her mouth opened. She did a fantastic job. She wasn’t surprised, was she?

She put her hand to her forehead and closed her mouth. “Does that mean you intend for me to take over as head of the legal department?”

“I hadn’t intended to tell you tonight . . . like this . . . but yes.”

“I thought Craig Denny was in line for that promotion.” Her hand moved from her forehead to her hip as she stared at him as if she were trying to find something on his face—some smudge or mark he didn’t know was there.

“Before you started at the company, he was our top choice if we promoted from within. He is a competent corporate lawyer, but we still would’ve taken applications in the event a more qualified attorney applied. He wasn’t guaranteed the position. We just happened to hire a more qualified candidate a few months ago, so there’s no reason to search for another.”

Her eyes searched his and she took a large gulp of wine. “You want me to head the department.” She sounded rather in awe. “Did Hurst insist, or perhaps Charlie? I don’t want the position if Charlie is responsible.”

He should’ve known she’d feel that way. “Charles has had nothing to do with this. He knows you became Hurst’s recommendation, but he hasn’t had any input in the decision. Hurst and I met a few days ago, and I happened to agree completely with his assessment.”

“You did?”

“Miss Bennet, you’ve completed every project you’ve had in a timely and thorough manner, and without guidance from Hurst or any hiccups. You know what needs to be done as well as he does and you don’t miss a beat. Why wouldn’t we promote you?”

She blinked and her chin gave a slight hitch back. “I suppose when you put it like that,” she said softly. “Thank you, Mr. Darcy.”

“Does that mean you accept?”

“I do. I will certainly attend the meeting. Just have Charlotte add it to my calendar.”

With a nod, he held out his glass of scotch. “To new beginnings.”

She touched the rim of her glass to his. “To new beginnings.” Despite her acceptance of the promotion, she almost looked like a deer in the headlights. “If you will excuse me, I should join Charlotte.”

“Of course.”

She took a step, but stopped and peered back over her shoulder. “Merry Christmas, Mr. Darcy.”

Miss Lucas stood at the buffet when Elizabeth approached her. He watched as Elizabeth whispered in her assistant’s ear and Miss Lucas all but dropped her plate and hugged Elizabeth. Could he ever manage to repair the damage he’d done or would he be forever in her company but watching from the outside?

The evening dragged by like one of those epic movies that never seemed to get to the point. He couldn’t avoid business obligations and tried to ensure he spoke with as many of his employees as he could, but could never quite catch up with Elizabeth. He caught glimpses of her here and there—she gave the gift she carried to one of the accountants in finance, she and Miss Lucas made plates at the buffet, and now, she was dancing with Hurst. The old man sported an enormous grin as he swayed her around the floor while she laughed and giggled just loud enough to be heard over “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.” As soon as the music ended, he found himself standing closer than he had planned.

“Darcy!” called Hurst during the break. “I believe this is the best Christmas party yet, and your mother did an excellent job of planning the holiday festivities when your father ran the company.”

He gave a brief nod. “Thank you. Now that Mrs. Reynolds has planned the party for a few years, she has become quite good at it.” He shifted on his feet. “Hurst, if you don’t mind, I was hoping to dance with Miss Bennet. If she’ll give me the honor of her company.”

With a grin, Hurst held Elizabeth’s hand in Darcy’s direction. “Of course! She doesn’t want to be stuck with me for the entire evening.” Before Elizabeth could argue, he held up his hand. “It was kind of you to dance with an old man, but you should dance with some men your own age.” After a wink at Elizabeth, Hurst called after one of the executives and hurried in that direction.

Darcy gestured further into the dance floor. “Would you like to dance?”

She glanced between him and those slow dancing only a few feet from them. “I . . .”

“We’re starting over, aren’t we?”

“Well, yes, but you don’t have to—”

“I know I don’t have to, Elizabeth, but I would like to; however, if you don’t want to, you don’t have to.” She placed her hand in his and stiffened, but instead of looking at him, she stared at where their hands touched. There was a jolt of something that shot up his arm when her soft palm pressed against his, but could she feel it, too? Was that the reason she wouldn’t look him in the face?

When her hand rested on his shoulder, a current of sorts seemed to run through him, almost as if someone attached one end of a set of jumper cables to a battery and the other to his hand and the shoulder she touched. How did he feel that spark through his suit coat? He’d never experienced anything like it.

Before he could dwell on it, she licked her lips, which drew his eyes to her mouth. What would it be like to kiss her? Were her lips as soft as her hands or could they be softer? He gave himself a subtle shake. He had to get his mind away from that topic. She wouldn’t appreciate it if he gave into the temptation and suddenly leaned in for a kiss.

“I understand you will be at Charlie and Jane’s tomorrow to open gifts and for Christmas dinner.”

Thank the Lord! Something to think about other than her lips. No, he couldn’t go there again! “Yes, my sister is spending the holidays in Maine with her boyfriend’s family. By her pictures on Instagram, she appears to be having a wonderful time.”

One side of her lips curved upwards. “You have an Instagram account?”

“My sister set it up. She insisted Facebook was for old people and that I had to have Instagram to stay in touch when she travels.” He drawled it out a little just as Ana had said it.

Elizabeth giggled. “How old is your sister?”

“She’s twenty-one.”

“Does she travel that often?”

“She’s studying cello at Julliard. Her advisor has been exceptional at locating study opportunities abroad the past two summers. She spent last summer in Paris and the summer before in London.”

“You must miss her when she’s so far away.”

He sighed. “I do. I don’t see her nearly as often as I would like.”

“Perhaps once she’s graduated and settled, you’ll see more of her.” Her voice was upbeat—optimistic even.

“Perhaps. I hope so.”

He continued to savor the feel of her in his arms until the song faded to an end. Elizabeth drew back almost like he shocked her and glanced around them. “Thank you,” she whispered. He didn’t have a chance to respond since she turned quickly and strode in the direction of the restrooms.

Had he done something wrong? They had been talking and things were going well until the song ended. “Elizabeth!” She’d disappeared in the crowd, but he followed. When he reached the hallway, no one was there. Could she have changed her mind and gone somewhere else or could she already be in the ladies’ room?

He slumped against the wall and drew the small package from inside his coat—the silver twenty-five reflecting the light filtering into the hall from the ballroom. He had to find some way to give it to her, some way to tell her he was her Secret Santa. He also would need to find some way to convince her to keep the gifts. He had no use for them and he purchased them with her in mind. They belonged to her.

After a glance at the ladies’ room door, he shook his head. What was he doing? Stalking her? This wasn’t the way to approach her. Before the end of the evening, he needed devise a way to tell her who he was. Pushing from the wall, he went to slip the package back in his coat, but instead of sliding into his pocket, it fell to the floor.

He bent to pick it up, but a feminine hand touched it just as he did. “What’s this?”

His eyes darted up to find Elizabeth, holding the other side of the gift, her eyes huge as they turned to him. “You? You’re my Secret Santa?”


Well, Darcy is unveiled! How will Elizabeth take it?

Rome is riddled with historical monuments. I commented in the first post that you can turn a corner and find a fresco or a sculpture on the next, but it’s almost that way with monuments as well. You can turn a corner and find columns sandwiched between two buildings, or just a wall of columns that once belonged to a great building. It’s one of the most fascinating things about Rome.

The flat where we stayed had tourist maps of Rome, and I carried one around everywhere, taking us so our route crossed as many historical bits as we could. Some of these brilliant bits are on the map, but some aren’t. For example, below are two pictures. The first we crossed somewhere down by Trajan’s Forum. Nothing is on the tourist map and there are no signs to indicate what this once was, but two columns stood between old, yet newer buildings with pieces of others below. They are fenced off so no one can tamper with them.

The second photo, the Temple of Hadrian, is marked on the map and is nestled in a small courtyard when you walk between the Pantheon and Trevi Fountain. The original structure was built by Antoninus Pius in 145 AD. The only bit left, this row of Corinthian columns, was added by Carlo Fontana to the plans for a 17th century papal palace. The building today, however, is not quite so lofty as it houses a bank.

Trajan’s forum was at the end of a long day, but it made it no less interesting. Designed by the architect Apollodorus, Trajan’s Forum was built in the second century and consisted of a series of markets, a temple, a basilica, and three monuments to honour Trajan. This side that is curved in a hemisphere is believed to have contained the markets of the day. There are many small rooms behind those arches that now hold more of the broken columns and pediments that are still beautiful works of art.

From the hemisphere of Trajan’s forum, a great view of Trajan’s column and the Vittoriano can be seen.

Trajan’s Column

Trajan’s Column is just behind the forum and is one of several columns around the city of Rome. Trajan’s Column honours the Emperor Trajan’s defeat of the Dacians in a war from 101-106 AD, considered the “defining event” of his time in power. The relief carvings that wind up the tower depict the battle and defeat of the Dacians, which brought a “staggering” amount of riches to Rome and paid for the construction of Trajan’s Forum. The bronze statue at the top is none other than Trajan himself.

The other landmark that can be seen from the back of Trajan’s Forum, Vittoriano, is huge! Designed by Giuseppe Sacconi, this monument to Victor Emmanuel II was built between  1885 and 1911 to celebrate the first king of a unified Italy. The enormous building houses the Museum of Italian Unification, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and the Shrine of the Flags.


The monument is a huge tourist attraction now, but it isn’t without its controversy. A part of the historic  Capitoline Hill as well as a medieval neighbourhood were destroyed to build it. Because of the bright white colour in an area of Rome that is not white, it stands out and has earned some nicknames from the people of Rome, who still are not thrilled with its presence, including the wedding cake, the set of false teeth or la dentiera, the typewriter or macchina da scrivere  and English soup dessert or la zuppa inglese.


Lastly, for today’s post is one of the first smaller bits that we stumbled upon on the tourist map. It’s called “Area Sacra” or Sacred Area. It’s fenced off and it has obviously been excavated out since it sits a bit lower than street level. It’s also surrounded by several busy streets, but is quite interesting.

In fact, its full name is Area Sacra Di Largo Argentina. Discovered in 1920, this archeological site contains the remains of temples that date back to the Republic of Rome and was once part of Campus Martius. In fact, this spot also contains the remains of Pompey’s Theatre, so nearby was the “curia” or building where Julius Caesar was killed. Frescos can be seen if you look carefully under some of the more modern constructed roofs there to protect them from the elements and if you stand there long enough, you will see a cat or two in the ruins since the site is a cat sanctuary.


Up Next… Coliseum and Palatine Hill



The Pantheon was built between 118 and 125 AD on the ruins of another pagan temple, which was destroyed by fire in 80 AD. When the Pantheon was built, it was used to worship the pagan gods of Rome (though no one knows specifically which ones) until 609 when it was converted to a Catholic church by Pope Boniface IV and subsequently called Santa Maria of the Martyrs. The Pantheon also houses the tombs of Vittorio Emanuele II, Umberto I and Margherita of Savoy, as well as the renowned artist Raphael.

Found on the Piazza della Rotonda, a steady stream of tourists walk in and out since there is no admission to go inside. While the inside is beautiful, it is the dome of the Pantheon that is the most fascinating part of the architecture. The ancient Romans who built the Pantheon took into consideration the weight of the materials they used to build their temples since they used travertine, tufa, and pumice to construct the dome and to reduce the stress on the lower part of the building. Possibly why this amazing structure is still around and it such amazing condition.

Ceiling and oculus

At the top of the dome is an open oculus, so when rain falls, the rain comes inside the Pantheon, but does not puddle since there are tiny holes in the flooring that leads to the old Roman pipes beneath the building. The oculus is fascinating and beautiful. It gives the inside an interesting glow when the light enters just so and adds to the draw of the dome ceiling.

When inside the Pantheon, a huge touristy thing to do is to set your phone on a timer and take a selfie with the dome behind you. It does create a cool picture, but the angle of the sun can be problematic. Ours look more like shadows than us 🙂 Also note that this is considered first and foremost a place of worship and the noise level is kept at a minimum with a recording asking those inside for “silence.”


Trevi Fountain is not too far of a walk from the Pantheon (and there are a number of smaller sites to see along the way). A fountain in this location dates back to Roman times when Aqua Virgo Aqueduct provided water to the  fountains in central Rome as well as the Roman Baths. The original fountain in this spot was called  Trevi fountain, or “Three street fountain” because it was located at the meeting point of three roads.

Pope Clemens XII held a contest in 1730, to design a new fountain for the location, with Nicola Salvi winning the right to design it. Unfortunately, he died before the fountain was completed.

Today, Trevi Fountain is huge and people crowd around it all to take a photo of themselves throwing a coin into the water, which is said to bring the person throwing the coin back to Rome. Interestingly, it’s a crime to take money from Trevi fountain, which brings in a staggering 3,000 euros a day. The money is collected nightly and given to Caritas, a charity that provides rechargeable grocery cards to Rome’s needy.

Even in October, Trevi Fountain was packed with people and there was a significant police presence. People try to stand on railings to get photos and other not so swift things in the hopes of getting a better selfie or look and the police do their best to keep those adventuresome lot from getting hurt.


One sight I wanted to see because I studied it in art history was San Carlo Quattro alla Fontane. Built in the 17th century, this quaint, yet beautiful little Baroque church designed by Francesco Borromini. The plans were a challenge since the site was small and cramped, yet Borromini used a Greek cross for the layout of the interior and an undulating facade–a feature other architects copied later.

When you walk from the Pantheon to Trevi Fountain and then out to San Carlo Quattro alla Fontane, the church seems a little far from the old centre of Rome, but obviously it wasn’t sandwiched between buildings the way it is.

In photos, I always found the facade interesting because of that wave effect, but when we reached it, I found myself disappointed because of the dirt and grime accumulated on the white stone. Entering the small church was another matter.

The chapel is far from large and for the most part simple, with only the altar and two additional paintings adorning the walls, but the dome is stunning. While the dome isn’t painted or incredibly ornate, it’s a slight oval, which is quite different, as well as stark white. The gold dove in the oculus the focus. While simple, I could’ve sat and stared at it for much longer than I was able since they needed to close the church. I was disappointed, but I sat inside for a few minutes at least and took my photos 🙂





Egyptian Obelisk

According to Catholic texts, after the crucifixion of Jesus, St. Peter travelled to Rome and was martyred by being crucified head down near an ancient Egyptian obelisk in the Circus of Nero. Shrines existed in the spot until St. Peter’s was consecrated in 329 under the Emperor Constantine. During the 16th century, Pope Julius II decided St. Peter’s needed to be rebuilt rather than restored, so he brought in Donato Bramante as architect and construction started in April 1506.

Upon Bramante’s death, the project changed architects several times until Pope Paul III turned over the reins to Michelangelo. Ultimately, it took 150 years to compete St. Peter’s and Michelangelo even died before the completion of the Dome.

Regardless of the history of the building, the result is amazing! As I said in the previous post, there is a dress code, so do try to remember to wear something that covers your knees and shoulders, and no hats! They had some services going on when we were inside and one man was wearing a hat and you could see the security who noticed itching to go say something, but he was ensuring no one entered the small chapel area where the service was being held.

Approaching in the early morning

Today, St. Peter’s Basilica is known in the art world for not only its architecture, but for three works it houses: The Pieta by Michelangelo, the baldacchino over the altarpiece and the altarpiece itself, both designed by Bernini. All three are amazing! I wanted to see the Pieta the most, but the altarpiece had to be my second favourite, particularly with the dove in the stained glass window at the top.

As for visiting St. Peter’s, there is substantial security. You go through security checkpoints almost like the airport before you ever enter. Then you climb up the stairs and enter through the main doors. I don’t think anything can prepare you for the sheer scale of what’s inside. It’s huge.

Directly to the right when you enter is the Pieta. Due to damage it sustained decades ago, it is protected behind glass and a protective railing that keeps the viewer much farther than I know I preferred. Mary is still just as serene though some of the smaller detailing is more difficult to see.

Once you pass the Pieta, it is simply a matter of walking around and just looking at all the statues, and paintings, and smaller chapels–not to mention the ceiling and the dome!! We started on that right side by the Pieta, and made a slow circle around the entirety. If you are a little photo happy like I am, be warned that sometimes if a chapel is having a service, they won’t let you photograph a sculpture or a painting in that chapel. We honestly had very few problems in St. Peter’s and my husband even managed to find a priest who took a photo of all of us together rather than us trying to take a selfie.

My biggest advice is that if you want to see St. Peter’s without a huge line/queue to get in, go within 30 minutes of it opening. When we went the Vatican the day before, the line for St. Peter’s was supposedly 2 hours. We really didn’t wait at all the next morning. According to the website, St. Peter’s opened at 7:30 and we were there by 8:00. We only had a few people before us at the security checkpoint. It was easy peasy.

There is a way to go up to the dome to see the inside, but my children were ready to walk around Rome rather than remain where we were, so we passed. Hopefully, we can go back so I can get up there!! The next day, someone told me how amazing it is. Oh well! Live and learn!


Next stop… Pantheon and a few other sites around Rome.


One of the major attractions of Rome is, of course, the Vatican. The Vatican is known for having a tremendous amount of artwork as well as the Sistine Chapel, so obviously a big thing to do and see when visiting Rome. We booked tickets for the Vatican Museums for our first day in Rome. Little did we know that even during October, this would be a packed and still crazy place to visit.

We crossed the Tiber river at Ponte Sant’Angelo, and turned left, heading towards the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica. What I didn’t expect as we turned from the bridge towards the Vatican was the immediate assault of tour guides who line the path to St. Peter’s Basilica and around to the Vatican Museums trying to sell tours. They are paced about every 10-15 steps, and all start with the same line “It’s a 2 hour wait to get into St. Peter’s! Skip the lines!” This continues as you walk to Via della Conciliazione all the way until St. Peter’s Square.

Now, a couple of things we learned from this. They have badges that say “official” but they don’t work for the Vatican or St. Peter’s Basilica. They are official to their company maybe, but they aren’t employed by the church. Most of them use the same line, but sometimes, you’ll get one tour guide who will try a different approach. With us, it was “You know you can’t go in there dressed like that!” As far as we knew, our shorts and tops were fine, but the tour companies also make a mint selling souvenir scarves for 5 to 10 euros each and try to sell you their tour in that they can provide them to you with the tour or you can purchase the scarves from their shop just to the side.

St. Peters and the Sistine Chapel do have dress codes, so if you go, simply where a top that covers your shoulders and shorts or capris that cover your knees, and you won’t require any sort of scarf. We rebelled against the tour guides and purchased them from a street vendor for the same price. I will say that even with the scarves, we didn’t put them on in the Sistine Chapel and no one said a word. They were more concerned with the photography than my shorts or my daughter’s exposed shoulders.

When the Vatican and St. Peter’s were first built, Via della Conciliazione weren’t there. Instead, a bunch of old homes and windy roads led to St. Peter’s Square and Bernini’s amazing colonnade. Mussolini was the one who tore down those old homes and paved the road creating an impressive avenue and linking Rome more indelibly to Vatican City.

Now, the Vatican Museums are almost around the back of St. Peter’s Basilica, so you have to turn right before you enter St. Peter’s Square and follow the annoying tour guides still posted regularly, around the back to the entrance. We pre-booked our tickets, so we didn’t have to wait in line except to check in for our tour time because they stagger it to keep things from becoming too packed. We showed an hour early, but we still were able to enter and begin the tour.

The Vatican Museums are basically a crazy winding path through various old papal apartments, rooms, and porticos all decked in amazing frescos, tapestries, and both religious and mythological statuary. It takes several hours to get all the way through and at times you have to fight crowds to see particular pieces like Laocoön and His Sons in one of the small porticos, but it’s definitely worth it.

The security and guides become more rude as you approach the Sistine Chapel. We were told to hurry through some portions until we were packed into the Sistine Chapel. It is certainly a chapel and not large–especially considering the number of people standing inside to get a look. People are supposed to remain quiet in a show of respect, so security and a recording will tell people to be quiet. Security is also calling out for people to put away their cameras and not to take photos.

The frescos and the entire atmosphere is overwhelming really. While it was beautiful, I found it a little disappointing. We all stood and looked at the ceiling for some time and then the walls before we exited and moved on to the last little bits before we exited the museums.

Unfortunately, the lines were still extremely long for St. Peter’s Basilica, so we ate a late lunch and walked around before calling it a day with the plan to be at St. Peter’s first thing when it opened. If I had to do it again, I would’ve had us get up early and be at St. Peter’s within a half hour of opening and then book the Vatican Museums a few hours later. You could put lunch between the two viewings or you could simply walk down the Tiber until your viewing time.


Next… St. Peter’s Basilica!



For first time travellers to Rome, we did a number of things correctly and a number of things caught us completely off-guard. Hopefully, after reading our experiences in the next several posts, you will know what to expect and won’t run across the same pitfalls we did! We still had an amazing time, so it wasn’t anything terrible, but definitely something that would’ve made things much easier if we’d known at the time.

Ponte Sant’Angelo

We had a rather late arrival, and after reading nightmare horror stories about taxis from Ciampino airport to the city centre (which is anywhere in the Aurelian Wall), we ended up hiring a car. Yes, it was more expensive since there is a law in Rome that dictates a flat rate charge from the airport (30 euros from Ciampino and 48 from Fiumicino) for a maximum of 4 people and their luggage for licensed Taxis. It’s even posted on the outside of every taxi, but for one, we number 5 people. I’ve also read horror stories of people being dropped off at the walls or taxi drivers claiming that to the walls is the flat rate and beyond is an extra charge. The practice is illegal, but how many tourists really understand the law or are in a position to enforce it with the police if there is a problem. If it had just been me and my husband, we probably would’ve just made the attempt to get the lower price, but with three children along for the ride and the evening arrival. We weren’t willing to try.

We stayed not far from the Tiber and had a really quick walk to the Ponte Sant’Angelo when we crossed to see the Vatican. We had decided when we booked our place that we would walk everywhere and as long as you’re planning on touring what’s within the Aurelian Wall, it’s completely achievable.

So, if you’re not familiar with Rome, you might be asking ‘What is the Aurelian Wall?’. Most old cities had some sort of original wall that surrounded the city for protection and some cities still have remnants of that fortification to this day. Bath has bits of the original walls still intact around the city, though because they’re partially buried, they don’t seem much like walls; however, Rome’s Aurelian Wall, which was built by the emperors Aurelian and Probus in the 4th century still stands tall to this day. When it was first built, the entire wall, that encircled the right bank of the Tiber, was 26 feet high, surrounded 12 square miles, had 383 towers, 18 main gates, and over 2,000 windows.

When you approach the walls, even at night, you can’t miss them. We passed through one of the gates, which is one lane, and once we were inside, the traffic became even crazier before. If you’ve never driven in Rome before, you’re in for a shock! As opposed to British drivers, who tend to be rather mannerly on the road and rarely use their horn, the Italians are the opposite. Everyone uses their horn, they cut each other off, and then squeezing through tight spaces–I thought we’d never make it in a couple of places.

Arriving at night was fascinating and beautiful, though. We passed by so many historical places that were illuminated and looked just amazing in the dark.

Once we were shown around where we were staying by the property owner (We had the same experience in Venice as well. They took us around the entire flat and showed us everything.), we needed to eat. With several of us requiring gluten-free, that can always be a struggle, but my daughter found a place with 4 stars on Google, so we headed in that direction.

Voglie di Pizza is not large and it’s not the fanciest place when you look at it. It’s not much more than a narrow strip of hallway inside with outdoor seating, but it was one of our favourite places to eat by the time we left. We even returned on our last night. For those who need gluten-free, there is a regular menu as well as a decent gluten-free menu. A lot of places will only have pizza or only have pasta, but they also had Melanzane Alla Parmigiana (Eggplant/Aubergine Parmesan) and a few other options as well. I also had Tiramisu, which is something I haven’t had in forever. The food was good, the prices were not as high as a lot of places, and the people who worked there were extremely friendly and helpful. Definitely a recommend if you’re in the area!

We ended our first evening in Rome with a leisurely walk back to the flat so we could start sight-seeing  the next day. It’s amazing all the little things on random street corners whether it’s statues or paintings, and then the churches tucked up into little niches along narrow cobbled streets. It’s definitely worth seeing!


Next post… the Vatican and St. Peter’s Basilica



For those who haven’t been, Bruges is lovely–and I’ve only seen a portion of it! Bruges is a combination of lovely old cobbled streets, well-preserved buildings, and waterways. The city centre is even enough to be made a UNESCO World Heritage Site and sometimes called “The Venice of the North.”

Historically, Bruges is first heard of in the 9th century and was probably first a coastal settlement, though by the 19th century it was a destination for well-to-do French and British tourists.

We left Mons with the intention of stopping in Brussels, but leave it to us to pick the one day of the year Brussels is closed to cars!!! Bruges was only an hour away, so we detoured in that direction since it wasn’t too far from the Calais. We found inexpensive parking at the train station and then with the help of a friendly local, we passed through the train station and in the direction of the city centre.

Bruges, in some ways a lot like the Netherlands, has bike paths, so make sure you don’t stand in them when looking to cross the street or you will have some rather angry locals and you might just get run over! 😉 My husband tried that before we ever crossed the first road.

From the train station, it was merely a matter of following the crowd, which led us into the centre, which is lined with quaint shops for tourists, selling chocolate, souvenirs, and beer, as well as restaurants. We passed several canals, but unfortunately, not all of my pictures were what I hoped they would be.

Mainly, we walked around the different streets and browsed in shops until we headed to the Church of our Lady for a tour. Now, if you are interested in touring this well-known church, you have to first go across the street to purchase tickets in the Old St. John Hospital.

When you first enter, Michelangelo’s Madonna (1504) is in a small chapel just to the side. There are pews and such to a certain point, but barricades to keep onlookers back and a glass barrier around her to protect her (Can’t be too careful after the attack on the Pieta in 1972). If you aren’t familiar with this sculpture, it’s the one they focussed on in the film Monument’s Men.

Personally, I’m fascinated by Michelangelo’s sculptures. The serene, delicate expression on the face of this Madonna as well as Mary in the Pieta are beautiful. I had pushed for us to tour the church just to see her–not that she’s the only art treasure they have, but she’s the one I wanted to see the most!

Definitely walk all around the church, though! Don’t just stop at the Madonna. There are a lot of little lovely things about it. I particularly loved the remains of a fresco in one wall and how they had the crypts under the altar area open and covered for everyone to see the artwork detail in them. Definitely not to be missed.

After the church, we took a break for a late lunch, but ended up heading back to the Chunnel early and regretted our decision since it was booked solid. We ended up finding a beach in Calais so the children weren’t bored to tears waiting until we could enter the Eurotunnel station.


Next stop… Rome – starting with the Vatican!


The first signs of people in Mons date back to the Neolithic period, but wasn’t made a town until the 12th century. Though in its early days, it was a mining town, it has changed dramatically. Since that time, this city near the French border has also grown, though still not the size of Brussels.

We had a few hours one afternoon while visiting a nearby village and decided to go into Mons and see what was there. Our first views were typical of many towns or cities in Northern Europe until we turned a corner to find a sculpture shadowing the road. On rue de Nimy, an enormous arrangements of sticks was designed by artist Arne Quinze. You drive through on the street below.


We found parking on a side street. When we paid, we thought we put in money for 3 hours, but it turned out that we covered our parking until the next morning. After shrugging it off and putting the ticket in our window, we walked until we happened upon a church. I always love to look around the churches here, so we stepped inside.

Sainte Elisabeth has had several churches since people first began worshipping there, but the latest Baroque structure was built in the 18th century. It was a lovely church and definitely worth the walk through with the 16th, 17th, and 18th century artwork inside as well as the architecture.

When we departed Sainte Elisabeth, we continued down rue de Nimy until we reached Grand Place. Most towns in this region have a Grand Place as it was their market centre and most still remain with quaint restaurants with outdoor tables and great architecture. In this case, it was no different.

We continued on until we hit the end of the pedestrian only roads and then doubled back. My son was aching for a waffle, so we stopped at a small stand to indulge his whim. They aren’t quite the same as in Brussels, where they are a waffle smothered in fruit, whipped cream, chocolate, and all other forms of the decadent, but a simple glazed sort of waffle you held in a piece of paper and if you wished, they shoved long strips of chocolate into the thicker parts.

We couldn’t resist but to duck into a store with the sign Fromagerie. If you don’t like the smell of aged cheese, you won’t care for the smell of this store. They had an amazing selection, though, and we ended up buying some beer cheese for my husband and apple cheese for the rest of us that I apparently ate way too much of, much to the dismay of my daughter.

Of course, we couldn’t have cheese without bread and a bakery next door had baguettes as well as an amazing seeded gluten free loaf I couldn’t resist trying. We stopped at a local grocery store for some more gluten free goodies and a bottle of wine (to go with the cheese and bread of course!!!) before heading back to the quaint farmhouse where we were staying.


Our friends in Belgium 😉

Because we overpaid for parking, we passed on our parking voucher to someone else, who was incredibly grateful 🙂

I wish I could say that I practiced more of my French, but the minute I spoke in most places, they reverted straight to English whether I spoke in French or not. 😦


Next stop… Bruges


If you’ve never been inside King’s College Chapel in Cambridge, then by all means go! We made an attempt two years ago, but we were told they’d changed the viewing hours to one day a week at that time and we were unable to see inside. This time, we travelled to Cambridge for a Jane Austen exhibit in the library, but traffic had us arrive too late. Fortunately, the chapel was still open and we decided to do that instead.

The initial building of King’s Chapel began on 25 July 1446 by Henry VI and took over one hundred years to finish. In the process, Henry flattened a good portion of what existed as Cambridge–houses, shops, and wharves–to clear enough land for the scale of the project. He wanted King’s College Chapel to be without equal in terms of its grandeur and beauty. There was supposed to be much more than the chapel by Henry’s plans. He desired more of a court, but he died before it could be completed, and despite instructions left in his will, only the chapel was built.

King’s Chapel is an amazing example of Gothic (Perpendicular) architecture with the largest fan vault in existence. A great deal of the stained glass also dates to medieval times and if you look closely, you can see the difference between the older glass and the newer by the detail of the figures and faces.

Carvings in the wall are all representative of the Tudors, from the Tudor Rose to the dragons and the greyhounds on Henry VII coat of arms. The greyhound represented Henry’s mother, who was a Beaufort, and the dragon the Tudors while a fleur de lis is present to represent his “titular kingship of France.”

If you go, also don’t miss the Adoration of the Magi by Rubens on the altarpiece. The altarpieces in Europe have some amazing artwork and this one is no different. We also were able to walk the grounds after since it was an open day at the college. I definitely recommend it if you have the opportunity. Unfortunately, the other buildings are closed to the public.



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