Racing through Rome
(featuring the Pantheon Beer Dude)

It’s a fact.

Italy in July is sweltering, not to mention jam-packed with grumpy, sweaty tourists (like us). I wish we could have been there in the Fall instead, but we didn’t have much choice.

Our European odyssey started at the end of April. Since we’re traveling in a camper, we need to follow the weather and visit northern countries while it was warm, saving warmer southern countries for the winter months. So we spent May and June in the Netherlands, Germany, Austria and Switzerland. But as a result we didn’t reach Italy until July. Did I mention that’s when it’s grotesquely hot and crowded?

On top of dealing with the heat and crowds, we were in a rush.

Schengen Visa restrictions forced us to leave Italy by July 28, so that left us little more than three weeks in the country we were most looking forward to seeing. And because none of us had ever been there before, we wanted to see a lot of things. Yes, we prefer slow travel (“comatose” travel might be more accurate)—lingering in a place, getting to know its soul and rhythms before moving on—but that’s not always possible. Should we have skipped Florence and its beautiful Renaissance art and architecture? Fat chance. How about medieval Siena? Nope. Rome perhaps, with its glorious antiquities? Or Pompei? No way. Covering as much as we did was madness.

But it was also totally awesome.

Check out our route:

Insane, isn’t it?

We spent one frenetic week in Rome, glorious Rome.

(I’m planning to move there immediately, but Mark hasn’t been informed yet, so let’s just keep that between us.)

Getting to the city from the campground was a trial involving one or two buses (including long waits at the stops) followed by one or two trains. But it was worth it. One week didn’t give us much opportunity to stray from the beaten track, but all three of us were grateful to see superstar sights like the Pantheon, the Colosseum, the Forum, the Vatican Museum, and St. Peter’s Basilica. And we even managed to track down and see the new Harry Potter film in English. Scout was thrilled because she’d missed seeing it with friends back home, so at least this was special too.

I didn’t end up with many successful photos, since I’m chronically unable to wrench myself out of bed before dawn in order to avoid the crowds and harsh mid-day sun. In Rome (in July no less) one really pays the price for that kind of sloth. But here are some of my favorite memories…


The Pantheon was hands down my favorite building in Rome. But despite the amazing architecture, this memory stands out the most.

Violating the laws of God and photography.  Here’s a thought, beer dude. Why don’t you take that bottle of suds out of the church and finish it before coming back in. Then you’ll have both hands free to hold the camera. Hey, I may be an atheist, but show a little respect!


Shaft of natural light streaming through the oculus at the Pantheon’s apex. Walking into the Pantheon and seeing this beam of light is something I’ll never forget. This stunning building has influenced dozens of other famous buildings, from St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome to the U.S. Capitol in Washington.

Column detail inside the Pantheon

Pantheon interior


Pantheon interior

Raphael’s tomb in the Pantheon


 Scout going for the drama shot


Pantheon exterior


Fountain in the plaza outside the pantheon. On top is an Egyptian obelisk with hieroglyphics.



The Colosseum. Don’t laugh, but I actually teared up when I finally saw it. Mark, Scout and I emerged from the metro station jabbering about tickets or paninis or something and all stopped short when we stepped into the the sunlight and saw the Colosseum looming before us. Magnificent.


19th-century graffiti on the some interior walls of the Colosseum


Colosseum overview. The wooden floor is gone now, but you can still see the labyrinth of administrative tunnels and rooms that at one time were under the floor.


 The Forum, shot from the Palatine Hill

VATICAN CITY—St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museum


St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City


Inside St. Peter’s


Stained glass illuminated with light, St. Peter’s Basilica


Michelangelo’s Pieta, St. Peter’s Basilica


Tapestry detail, Vatican Museum


Lots of the Vatican sculptures had these stuck on after the fact. Tee hee!


Vaulted-ceiling detail from the Vatican Museum. Amazing. You know, if I were the Pope, I’d spend every night just wandering around the empty museum. This was a tough day for Scout though, because her camera battery died just as we reached the one thing she most wanted to see, the Egyptian collection. At that point she wanted to leave, but mean Mommy said no way.


She didn’t take it well. Can you read that note?



Mesopotamian cuneiform-tablet detail, Vatican Museum (Egyptian Collection)


Sarcophagus, Vatican Museum (Egyptian Collection)


Canopic jars, Vatican Museum (Egyptian Collection)


Raphael’s School of Athens (fresco), Vatican Museum

The Vatican museum is massive, overwhelmingly so, and set up like a big IKEA. Once you’re in, you have to shuffle through the entire museum with a million bazillion other people until you squeeze out the other end after seeing the Sistine Chapel. Speaking of which, I don’t have any photos of the chapel ceiling because photography isn’t allowed. And while we’re on the subject, I strongly recommend Rick Steves’ excellent—and free—Sistene Chapel podcast. (You can read more about Rick’s podcasts in this post.)


The queue to get in to the Vatican museum. We bought tickets online ahead of time, which enabled us to skip this monster that snaked around the walls. If you ask me, anything you can do to beat a queue is worth a few extra euro.




New construction (relatively speaking) built around the ruins. Rome is filled with wonderful surprises like this. You never know what’s around the corner.


Largo di Torre Argentina excavation. We came across this excavation site across from the bus stop near the Pantheon. It’s home to four ancient Roman temples, as well as a stray cat sanctuary.


One of the resident strays


One of our biggest worries is always how to keep Archie safe and comfortable while Mark, Scout and I are out sightseeing. Sometimes we bring him with us, but this was completely out of the question in Rome.

We picked the campsite that was closest into town, about 40 minutes away by bus/train. And we managed to squish our rig into a tiny pitch that was shady all day, so from a heat angle, Archie was okay.

On one particularly long day we went to the Borghese gallery, saw the new Harry Potter film (where we met the young lady I wrote about in this post), and afterward stopped for a impromptu meal. It was a great outing but then we had to wait 45 minutes each for our two buses and we ended up being gone nearly 11 hours. That’s the longest we’ve ever left Archie alone. He did fine (no accidents—good dog!), though he clearly missed us, and I was so worried about his anxiousness that the last couple hours away were incredibly stressful for me.

So that was our stay in Rome. I’d dreaded going in the July heat and tourist crush, but for the most part it worked out all right, though truthfully Scout considered it a hard slog. We bought a special pass that let us jump ahead of the queues, and the rest of the time we just did our best.

Grazie, Roma!




{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Zac August 9, 2011 at 7:57 pm

Great photos! It brought back some memories.

I see the stray cat, was this is in that designated cat park? If so, I bet Archie would have loved to be dropped in for a meet and greet.


2 Renee August 9, 2011 at 8:05 pm

Thanks, Zac. And yes, Archie’s friendly that way…


3 Cliff August 10, 2011 at 5:12 am

Nice shots! I was there in March and yes, you shouldn’t be there in summer if it can be helped. Even in March I could start feeling the heat coming.


4 Renee August 10, 2011 at 6:22 am

Thanks, Cliff! Yes, I can believe you felt the heat coming in March. I’d like to go back in the fall.


5 Mark August 10, 2011 at 6:16 pm

Regardless of the heat, I was thrilled to finally see Rome, Florence, Siena… It became so real. Being in a place with 2,000+ years of history, like Rome, is awesome. But it was hot and sweaty.


6 Zac August 12, 2011 at 5:13 pm

Chelsey and I went in the spring, too. The effect of the heat is really amplified by the lack of, uh, certain under arm applications. Next time we’re bringing a Degree street team with us.

Ok ok, when in Rome…


7 Tricia(Geeky Explorers) August 10, 2011 at 11:42 am

Beautiful shots! So can’t wait to get to Italy – I am sure I would have just as an aggressive schedule planned trying to see as much as possible!


8 Renee August 10, 2011 at 12:06 pm

Thanks, Tricia. Yes, I think there’s no way to avoid aggressive sightseeing during ones first visit anywhere. I’m already planning a return visit to Italy, imagining places where we could plant ourselves and stay put. Visit #2 (anywhere) is always deeper than visit #1.


9 Jason @Travel Junkies August 10, 2011 at 4:33 pm

Great photos! I love the shot of “Beer Dude”


10 Renee August 10, 2011 at 5:58 pm

Thanks, Jason. Isn’t he awesome? Now if I’d only have gotten a picture of hamburger guy…a red Heinz ketchup t-shirt on top of shorts with a big hamburger-cross section design. Chartreuse trainers. Spotted in Pompei, but I couldn’t get my lens cap off in time.


11 elaine August 10, 2011 at 4:35 pm

i spy with my little eye…..Mable C Rup! Nice to see her out & about with you guys.
Oh Renee I love your photos! you’re getting better & better at photography. They are amazing. I can’t wait to go there one day & see it all in person – and experience that espresso & panna gelato thingy.


12 Renee August 10, 2011 at 6:05 pm

Yes! We’ve got shots of Mable all over the place, but Scout is saving them for her blog.

Thanks for the kind words about the photos. As I mentioned, Italy was difficult with all the crowds and late days, but I’m trying to get our earlier. And yes, you’ve got to get the gelato thingy. If I ever become an A-level movie star, my first unreasonable demand will be to hire the Cremeria Monteforte owner and have him produce those in my trailer.


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