Thursday, April 28, 2016

Last Day in Rome: Basilica Santa Maria Maggiore

Thursday, April 14:    My last day in Rome!  I have a plan, but must first eat breakfast, check out of the hotel and then stow my luggage with the front desk.  A limousine ride to the airport later today has been arranged by the hotel staff. I will stay at the airport Hilton tonight, a simple and easy plan and one I've used nearly every other time I've come to Rome. It puts me right there at the airport for my morning flight the next day.

So after breakfast I struck out on a route that passed by the Vittorio Emanuelle II Monument and continued up the same street I ran down in the last few hundred meters of the marathon earlier in the week. I turned onto Via si Sant'Eufemia which ran behind the Church of the Most Holy Name of Mary and climbed the stairs up to Largo Magnanapoli and to Via Panisperna. This is a long, straight, hilly street that leads right to Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore.

View of the basilica way off in the distance and some interesting
vines growing on wires across the roadway

It was a long walk, and those hills! But the view of the Basilica was like a beacon, spurring me on.

Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore at the top of Esquiline hill.

My approach brought me to the back side of the basilica, on Piazza dell Esquilino anchored at the corner by an ancient obelisk. I walked around the basilica to the front, which faces the piazza that bears the basilica's name.

Back side of the Basilica, on Piazza dell Esquilino

Here I could see a line of visitors snaking into a large tent, and armed guards positioned along the perimeter of the plaza. The line seemed to be moving along at a good pace, so I stepped in line. I eventually reached the tent, where they had an airport-style security set up with step-through metal detector and x-ray machine for my purse. Larger purses, bags and backpacks were forbidden. Sad what this world has come to.

Front view of the Basilica

Once through the security I was free to enter the basilica and move through at my own pace. Photos were allowed, thankfully, and I took many pictures of the richly decorated interior.

Beautiful ceiling much detail!

History of the Basilica can be found here: Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. It was originally built in the 400's AD under Pope Sixtus III's rule. Today the interior decoration still includes some original 5th century mosaics.  It has been added to over the centuries.

The overall opulence of the interior is just overwhelming and hard to take in. I was a photographing fool, trying to capture it all. But photos just don't do the interior justice!

Altar and Triumphal Arch

One of the two domes, interior view of opulent mosaics and frescos

I could have stayed here all day, but knew I needed to leave and start walking back to the hotel to collect my luggage and catch my ride to the airport.

But before heading back to the hotel, I continued up to Piazza Vittorio Emanuelle II, a large park at the top of the Esquiline. Within the park is an ancient ruin of a very large fountain that once graced this hill. In it's day, it received its water from a Roman aquaduct.

Remains of Trofei de Mario, Trophy of Marius. It was a fountain which
obtained its water from the Roman aquaducts.

Finally I was ready to head back. As I walked down the hill and neared the Fori Imperiali, I looked to my left down a small side street to take one last look and take a photo of the ancient Trajan monument.
Trajan monument and Fori Imperiali

I had a light lunch at the hotel restaurant, collected my luggage and climbed into the back of the private shuttle to the airport. The trip is over. Tonight will be spent at a Hilton that could just as easily be anywhere in the world and tomorrow morning I will get on a plane that will, in 9 hours, touch down on U.S. soil.

I sat in the lovely Hilton lounge/bar area and sipped a glass of red wine and reflected on the many aspects of this trip. I was still feeling a bit of disbelief that I actually completed the Rome Marathon. Even bigger than that....that I'd even considered doing it at all.  I was pleased with what I'd accomplished. I was also happy with how I spent my time while here in Rome. Despite my many visits here, there were still plenty of little treasures to discover.

This has been a very rewarding and fulfilling trip for me. Arrividerci, Roma!

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Rome's Trastevere section - Far From The Madding Crowd

Wednesday, April 13:   This morning I felt rested and eager to get out and really explore some areas of Rome that the tourists and their tour guides pretty much ignore or, most likely, don't even know about.

After a nice breakfast at the hotel restaurant, and with my pocket map at hand, I set out toward the Trastevere section of Rome, just on the other side of the Tiber River from the Jewish Ghetto section.

Small cataracts on the Tiber River

It was another perfectly glorious day in Rome! I walked down toward the Tiber and then crossed over on the Ponte Garibaldi. Just before getting on to the bridge I could catch a glimpse of the little falls or cataracts just beyond the bridge span. From atop this bridge I had a beautiful view of the river itself and the nice wide banks with pedestrian and bicycle lanes on either side.

Nice view of the Tiber, looking north

The Ponte Sisto crosses the Tiber just to the north of the bridge I was standing on,  This is a medieval bridge built in the 1400's by Pope Sixtus on the foundations of an even older, ancient Roman bridge, the Pons Aurelius. Today Ponte Sisto is a pedestrian bridge.

View of Ponte Sisto, ancient bridge now only for pedestrians

Once in the Trastevere section, I set out in search of Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere, which is Rome's oldest basilica. This is an ancient part of Rome and the streets are a maze of narrow cobble-stoned alleys that intersect and bisect and head off in a disarray of odd angles. Soon I was disoriented and would have been hard-pressed to tell north from south. But it didn't matter. I was in no hurry and had no agenda today except to just totally enjoy and absorb the Roman lifestyle and culture and to stay as far away from the tourist scene as possible.

A pleasant little neighborhood bakery and espresso bar

Eventually I struck upon a little street large enough to appear on my pocket map and I could make my way to the lovely Piazza di Santa Maria in Trastevere.

Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere

There was a man sitting on a little chair in the middle of the piazza, playing O Sole Mio on an accordion. It was a beautiful scene, but I couldn't help but smile at the cliche that this represented.

An accordionist playing O Sole Mio - doesn't get any more Italian than that!

I walked over to the lovely Basilica and admired the fragments of very ancient Latin Roman marble that were preserved in the plaster work on the portico.

Fragments of ancient Roman marble, embedded in outside portico wall of the basilica

Then I stepped inside to admire the opulence of this 2nd-4th century-based basilica's interior. Signs forbade photography, so I respected their wish and kept my camera in my purse. It was beautiful inside, with rich and very ancient 12th century mosaics and gilt work, and a beautiful carved wood pulpit.
Fountain the piazza

Outside the basilica, in the center of the piazza, is a fountain erected in the 1600's. It was really a lovely and peaceful plaza and I decided to sit outside at the little trattoria on the piazza and enjoy an espresso while taking in the view of the basilica. This area was almost completely devoid of tourists, much to my delight.

Enjoying an espresso while overlooking the piazza and basilica

From here I wandered north out of the piazza and found myself deep in the warren of tiny narrow cobbled alleys hemmed in on all sides by the looming medieval buildings. It was disorienting but oh, so cool!! It was easy to imagine life on these little narrow streets 500 years ago.

Beautiful wisteria against the side of medieval buildings in Trastevere

The determination of this rose bush trained to be a tree is amazing.
In the ancient Trastevere section of Rome.

I continued to wander, having absolutely no idea where my wanderings would take me and having no idea where I was, since my pocket map simply did not show the close-up detail of all of these tiny little meandering alleyways. But I didn't care! I was happy to be here in a very authentic section of Rome and very far away from all of the crowds and noise and traffic and tourists!

Random florist cart somewhere in the maze of alleyways
in Trastevere section of Rome

Around one corner I came upon a florist stand, tucked into a little open space amid all of the narrow alleys. So random, but so pretty!

As I wandered, I was pretty confident I'd eventually come across a real street and then I'd know where I was. I came upon a delivery truck squeezing its way along one of these narrow alleys and I knew at that point that I was probably within a block or so of a major street. And sure enough...I popped out near Piazza Trilussa on the bank of the Tiber and just near Ponte Sisto. Perfect!

At the entrance to Ponte Sisto there was a chain to keep vehicles off the bridge. That chain was covered with love locks, which has become a growing trend all over the world, despite ordinances in some cities that prohibit them. But I think it's a fun idea, just so long as it's not defacing or damaging.

Love locks on chain across Ponte Sisto entrance

I walked across Ponte Sisto and then continued along the river toward Torre Argentina, back the way I came.

Tiber River
Piazza Benedetto Cairoli

I stopped in at the hotel restaurant for a little pick-me-up.

I passed by a nice little corner trattoria several times over the last few days so thought I'd go ahead and step in to have a late lunch. Their menu looked good, with lots of interesting dishes to choose from. Ultimately I went with the pasta dish with walnuts and anchovies. Oh, my! It was handmade pasta, wonderfully thick and al dente, served with roasted walnuts that had an almost charred flavor to them, and anchovies. The sauce was extremely light, mostly olive oil based. It all went together so perfectly well! I must see if I can replicate this once I get home.

Once again, another full day and I was ready to stop moving for awhile. I had a late dinner at the hotel and then started doing some preliminary packing, and making plans for my last morning in Rome.

Tomorrow, I check out of the hotel, leave my baggage with them for the day, and set out on my last day of seeing Rome's beauty.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Exploring Castel San Angelo in Rome

Tuesday, April 12:   Today I was still recovering post-marathon, feeling somewhat sluggish, but breakfast was calling me downstairs and the fabulous weather was making it hard to stay indoors. It was a beautiful morning and a good day to take a leisurely walk.

The thought of doing much walking today was still a bit distasteful but, once I got going, I was okay. I set out with pocket map in my purse, walking down Corso Vittorio Emanuelle II, past the medieval looking Palazzo Massimo, toward a pretty little side street that leads to the Tiber.  Then, there in front of me was the Bridge of Angels - Ponte Sant'Angelo - and Castel Sant'Angelo.

It's been a few years since I've been to this part of the city, not counting our pass through this area in the Marathon a few days earlier. On one of my many visits here for business, I stayed at the lovely Atlante Star Hotel just a few blocks away from Vatican Museum and the Basilica, since we were to make some sales calls to the hospitals in the area. One of those was Hospital Santo Spirito, which dates back to the 12th century. It sits right on the Tiber River and is an impressive assortment of various architectures as the facility was added on to over the centuries. Today the main hospital is in a newer structure within the complex. After we made our sales calls at this hospital, the Chief of Surgery took us on a tour of the very famous national museum of healthcare, Museo Storico Nationale delle arte Sanitaria. On that same trip we also made sales calls on the hospitals on the Isola Tiberina.

Photo taken outside the Hospital Santo Spirito, with our Italian distributors

Now I'm back here in this part of Rome today. As I approached Ponte Sant'Angelo, I could see that one lane was blocked off with fencing and there was some sort of crane-like apparatus sitting at the mid-point on the bridge. This meant that the head-on photo of the bridge that I'd hoped to get wasn't going to happen. But once I got over to the other side of the river, the bridge shone in the morning sun and my camera found plenty of ways to showcase this bridge.

Castel Sant'Angelo

The Castel Sant'Angelo was beautiful in the morning sun. There were very few people here this morning, and the space around the base of the castle was open and inviting. I strolled along the ramparts of the castle, all the way to the far side, where I could look back at the castle and get a nice photo.

Ancient Bassetto, a rampart built by Pope Leo IV in 9th Century AD,
connecting the Vatican Palace to the Castel Sant'Angelo

As I walked around the castle, taking photos and getting photos of the bridge, I began to hear faint strains of a violin.

Ponte Sant'Angelo

Ponte Sant'Angelo

I walked back toward the bridge and then past it to the other side of the castle ramparts and this is where I discovered the source of the beautiful violin music. I stepped toward the railings along the river and just leaned back and enjoyed the music for a good long while.

That deliciously beautiful classical violinist

Time to move along, I dropped some coins in his violin case and strolled toward the head of the avenue that leads toward Piazza San Pietro, the main plaza in front of St. Peter's Basilica. The auto and pedestrian traffic kept me from getting a really good photo of the avenue and honestly, I was too lazy to continue walking toward that very busy intersection and negotiating the traffic to get across this very busy road. I've been in the Vatican City area several times before;

View of Basilica San Pietro

Even as I started back in the general direction of the hotel, something came over me and I just kept on walking. Maybe it was the beautiful weather. Maybe it was because it felt good to be moving and particularly at a leisurely but steady pace. Maybe it was because I didn't want to spend the day indoors when I could be outside taking in the city.

Next thing I knew, I was back over by the Roman Forum ruins for some reason, walking along the Via del Fori Imperiali yet again. I paused several times along the way, stopping at overlooks of the ruins, taking photos. A pretty young Japanese woman asked me to take her photo at one of the overlooks.

Looking toward the Palatine

Basilica of St Cosmas and St Damian

Looking toward the Palatine

I had half a thought of perhaps entering the Roman Forum grounds, but in the end just continued on down to the Coliseum and Arch of Constantine and took more photos. The line to get into the Coliseum was very long, wrapping around the base and extending back toward the Arch. But I had no desire to stand in that line; I've already been inside twice before on previous trips.

I just kept strolling, taking photos, passing the line of giant tour buses lined up just beyond the Arch. I walked past the Circus Maximus again, past Teatro di Marcello and back up toward the Capitoline.

Arch of Constantine and the Coliseum

It was a crazy feeling: I didn't want to do this much walking, certainly had no intention of covering this same ground yet again, but I couldn't seem to stop doing it! Eventually I wandered back in the general direction of the hotel, stopped for lunch, and then continued walking a bit more. A nice late afternoon break at the hotel restaurant for an espresso and I finally admitted to myself that I was tired and wanted to get off my feet for the day.

Tomorrow I'll explore a beautiful section of Rome that the tourists don't know about.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Rome Marathon Recovery

Monday, April 11:   Post-race day morning, I woke up and lay in bed, reluctant to get up. Doing so would reveal the "collateral damage" of doing a marathon. I delayed as long as my bladder would let me, checking my email, browsing Facebook, responding to posts.

But eventually I knew I could put it off no longer. I swung my legs over the side of the bed and stood up. Not too bad. I walked to the bathroom. Not bad at all. I had initial stiffness but the few steps to the toilet worked it out. I never know what ill effects I'll experience after a race. It's with seeming randomness that I may experience a stiff knee, aching hips, or sore feet. I had only one small "hot spot" on the top outer edge of my right big toe, most likely where the sock may have been a little bunched up.

I decided to just go ahead and get showered and dressed and downstairs in time for breakfast. So by 9:30 I was enjoying a nice cappucino, Genoa salami, cheeses, yogurt and a croissant. I needed to make a plan for the day, one that would get me out doing a little recovery walking but nothing too strenuous. I sat at my table and ordered another coffee, this time an espresso, and browsed my Michelin Guidebook and pocket map, see what would make for a nice little stroll.

There was a chocolatier, Confetteria Moriondo e Gariglio, just a few blocks away from the hotel, so I thought I'd make that my first destination and then just ad-lib the rest of the morning from there. It's supposed to be the oldest chocolatier in Rome and gets high reviews for the quality of the chocolates, handmade in their own shop.

Piazza Minerva and the lovely Hotel Minerva. We stayed at
this hotel when my husband, son and I visited Rome in the 1990's
On my way to that chocolate shop, I walked through Piazza Minerva and past Hotel Minerva. When my husband, son and I came here in the 1990's, we stayed at that hotel. At the time, it was part of the Holiday Inn-Europe hotel group. It was very luxurious and of course in an excellent location (just a block away from where I was staying this trip). I looked into staying there again on this trip but it is no longer in the Holiday Inn portfolio, now belonging to a luxury hotel group, and the rates were double what I wanted to pay. But walking past this hotel brought back such fond memories.

Chocolates in hand - and expensive ones at that! - now what? My walk so far made me realize that walking just wasn't what I wanted to be doing today. I remembered that a few days ago I'd postponed an interlude at one of the trattorie on Piazza Navona, so began strolling in that direction. I passed the Pantheon (still crowded as ever), passed a gelato shop (and thought I really should do that after lunch) and then entered the piazza. It wasn't as crowded this day as it had been, and I easily found an outdoor table at one of the trattorie. I had only just eaten breakfast a couple of hours earlier but it was noontime, so might as well get myself back onto a meal schedule. I was still in calorie deficit from the marathon the day before, anyway.

Pizza lunch at a trattoria on Piazza Navona. The view from my table

I ordered a traditional Neapolitan pizza margherita with salami and a bottle of sparkling water, then sat back and enjoyed the beautiful weather and the view of the piazza and the four rivers fountain. The pizza came and it was massive! It was typical Neapolitan thin-crust and easily 15" in diameter. I began hacking off chunks to eat, and got about 1/4 of the way through before I was stuffed full. I ordered an espresso then paid my bill and left to wander a bit before heading back in the general direction of the hotel.

I had to admit to myself that I was wiped out. The marathon the day before combined with the on-going calorie deficit - and being an old lady - had taken its toll on me. As I neared the Pantheon, I stopped at a gelato shop and got myself a small cup then sat on the low wall along side the Pantheon and enjoyed the treat and the people-watching.

So full and tired, I returned to my room and relaxed and read for the rest of the afternoon.

Late that afternoon I rallied a bit and went back out for a little stroll around the Pantheon and to drop off my postcards at a postal drop. Along the way I found none other than Geppetto and Pinocchio!

Continuing on, exploring the little alleys around the Pantheon area, I found myself close to my hotel, so I stepped inside that same wonderful little wine bar on the corner I'd stopped in a few days earlier, Vino & Cucini, and had a glass of white wine and a plate of prosciutto and mozzarella. I just cannot get enough of that wonderful proscuitto. And the mozzarella was so fresh and creamy with just the right amount of liquid cream just underneath the surface. Oh my goodness, it was perfect!! It was served with a little wax paper bag full of to-die-for Italian pan bread. Sigh! I didn't want to leave!! I wanted to sit here and eat and drink myself silly on wine and Italian ham and mozzarella and pan bread.

Quite possibly the best meal the entire trip!

Eventually I paid my bill and wandered back to the hotel. I was so full and so tired and so fulfilled and so happy.

Tomorrow: Some more ambitious plans to venture a little further out, see some more of Rome.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Rome Marathon!!

Sunday, April 10:   Race day morning! I was so excited, but also a little bit of dread was creeping up through my soul. This is a race distance I'd left behind me years ago. I've only just revisited it earlier this year, completing two marathons in early January. These two marathons reminded me of why I'd quit doing that distance and stuck with the half marathon distance all these years.

But this is Rome!! Before I retired, back when I was traveling to Italy for business, my Italian business colleagues knew that I ran marathons and would ask me why I didn't do the Rome Marathon on one of my visits. I had a million excuses why not, but none of them were really valid back then. Secretly, though, I always thought, "Some day I will do Rome." It was on my super-secret pie-in-the-sky bucket list as opposed to my realistic bucket list. I held little hope that I'd ever actually do it, especially once I'd retired, was no longer traveling to Italy for business, and was no longer running the full marathon distance. And let's not forget that I was getting older, too.

Queue the Twilight Zone music here:

Last Spring a gal I'd met through our running club mentioned that she'd like to do this race but didn't want to go to Rome alone. I dusted off that super-secret bucket list and took a hard look at it. Could I do it? Probably. But I'd want to do at least one marathon in the interim to make sure. So I agreed to do it with her, and we made our travel plans and got ourselves registered for the race. I felt that if I had to renege on the race for some reason, I would still have a great time in Rome. I suggested the hotel, since I'd been there before, and we each booked our rooms. The first part of the puzzle fell into place.

Now I had nine months to get mentally and physically prepared to do this. This entailed finding a full marathon close to home with a generous time limit. Easy to do, since winter is our race season in Texas. Then looking at it a little more closely I realized I could do another full marathon a week later and qualify for Marathon Maniacs - sort of an added bonus. I had half marathons scheduled for November and December and knew that I could add mileage to the back ends of these races as part of my training. So that part of the puzzle was solved, as well.

All I needed was to psyche myself up mentally to do this.

Now here I am in Rome and today is that day....the day that I'll fulfill that secret bucket list dream of doing Rome Marathon!

It was easy to wake up and start getting ready. The race started at 7:35 AM for the wheelchair participants, and I estimated it would be close to 8 AM by the time my corral crossed the start line. I didn't leave the hotel until 7:30.  It was a long but scenic walk to get down to the Arch of Constantine the back way in order to enter the corral area. I got there in plenty of time, even found a bank of porta-potties with no lines, so that little bit of "nervous energy" business was taken care of.

Mythical tower of Babel
I found myself in a huge mass of international runners. It was like standing at the Tower of Babel! I could hear snippets of multiple different languages all around me. So fun and different than the U.S. race experience.

Then our corral was released across the start line and off we went! The route took us up to Piazza Venetia and then around the front side of the Vittorio Emanuelle II monument to Via Teatro di Marcello and toward the Circus Maximus. It was along here that an Italian woman close to my age caught up with me. We stayed together from that point on. It was nice having the company, even though she barely spoke English and I don't speak Italian. But I learned that she was from Milan and that this was her first marathon.

We were way back in the pack and she was worried that we wouldn't finish before the cut-off time. I reassured her that we were good with our time and pace. As we continued on, we began to pass slower participants which I think eased her mind somewhat. At one point we caught up with a couple of British guys and we all stayed together for the next few miles. We added another Italian woman to our little group and we all found it moralizing and encouraging to be together.

The marathon route showcased many historic and important sites throughout the city. At mile 2 we went right past the Pyramid of Cestius, built sometime around 18-12 BC as a tomb for Gaius Cestius. Near mile 4 we ran past the beautiful Basilica San Paolo di Fuori le mura which is one of the four major Papal basilicas in Rome. It was built by Roman Emperor Constantine over the burial place of Saint Paul.

At mile 5 we crossed over the Tiber River the first of several times. We crossed back over the river at mile 6.5. We ran the next few miles along the beautiful tree-lined Tiber and then ran by the historic Isola Tiberina (Tiber Island), an island in the middle of the river on which numerous temples have been built over the centuries and then a hospital in the 1500's which still functions as such today. On one of my business trips to Rome I made a sales call with our Roman distributor on this hospital.

Running north and west past Isola Tiberinal at mile 8. Data from my Garmin GPS watch

It was somewhere along here that my Italian running mate's family were standing, cameras ready, to cheer her on. She briefly introduced me to her husband, her sister and I don't remember who all else, but that was fun, and I felt privileged to be a part of her big milestone.

The route as it ran past the Vatican and St. Peter's. Data from my Garmin GPS watch

We continued along the east bank of the river until mile 10, then ran across the Ponte Cavour, ran behind Castel San Angelo, and then entered the Vatican City area just briefly as we ran past the northeast corner of Vatican Square, Piazza San Pietro at mile 11. For a brief period before crossing that bridge, we could see the runners who were well ahead of us running along the parallel street in the other direction. At the time, I didn't have any sense of how far ahead of us they were, but now looking at the map, I can see that these were the very fleetest of the field, running through mile 23 and very close to the finish line.

The next few miles all looked the same, as we zig-zagged through tree-shaded mixed business/urban residential areas with their elegant town homes and shops and restaurants. Our little group began to come up upon water stations that were closed down and street sweepers that were kicking up dust and debris into our faces. At a couple of these stations we had to scrounge to find unopened bottles of water and sport drink. No more volunteers handing out cups. At this point, once we found unopened full bottles, we held onto them.

Somewhere along the route.

At mile 16 we crossed the Tiber River one last time and continued north along the east bank. It was here that our little group began to fall apart, as the others were starting to slow down and fall off the back. I pulled away and soon caught up with the 7:30 pace group, which is the last and slowest pace group and would signal the cut-off time at the finish line. This was disheartening because it explained a lot of things, including why the water stations up to that point were shutting down.

Where was this pace group in the start corrals?? My Italian race mate asked me that same question in the early miles. Neither of us had seen the pacer in the corral even though both of us had hoped to attach ourselves to either the 7:00 or 7:30 pacers at the start. In the U.S., the slowest pace group always positions itself at the very back of the corrals so that they're not in the way of the faster runners.

I began to realize that the race time limit for this Rome race was set to begin as soon as the first runners crossed the start line, and not as soon as the last runner passed the start line which is how it's determined in U.S. races. So, based on the fact that it took me 16 miles to catch up with this pace group, they apparently were positioned at the very front, up with the fastest runners at the start line. Lesson learned. I was just thankful that I'd caught up with and passed them, because this meant that future water stations along the course would still be open and that I would finish well ahead of the course cut off time. I actually finished a full half hour ahead of this pace group.

The route as it took us up the hill to Villa Glori at mile 18. Data from my Garmin GPS watch

I admit that my step became lighter and livelier once I passed this pacer. At mile 17 the course began a long uphill toward Villa Glori, which is a park sitting up high and overlooking the Tiber River. I began to pass others who were struggling up this hill. The course then started a downhill descent toward the river and followed it going south, past the Mausoleum of Augustus and toward Piazza Navona.
Running through Piazza Navona. Data from my Garmin GPS watch

The tourist crowds were growing more dense as I neared this piazza at mile 23. They were confined to the sidewalks by barricades but the congestion was pushing many pedestrians out onto the race route, which made it interesting. It was fun to run along the western side of this piazza after having visited here as a tourist just a couple of days earlier. Many of the tourists were standing along the barricades and cheering, calling out our names as they read them on our bibs and cheering, "Brava" as I passed by.

Once through the piazza, the course took me down to Corso Vittorio Emanelle and east, past Piazza Venetia and the Vittorio Emanuelle II Monument where I turned left up Via Del Corso to Piazza del Popolo. Along this street the crowds of tourists were massive, with many of them totally ignoring the barricades along the sides and strolling along the middle of the street or leisurely crossing the street in front of us. They seemed oblivious to the fact that the marathon was still underway. But the continued cheering by some of the crowd more than made up for this. Many tourists did indeed realize that we were still underway in the marathon, knew we had just covered 24 miles and needed that energy.

Running through Piazza del Popolo. Data from my Garmin GPS watch

As I made the giant loop around the monument in the Piazza del Popolo, I knew that I was nearly finished. Just little more than one more mile to go. I was no longer passing other participants at this point, but instead was holding my own within a small, loosely spaced group of men. My Italian friend and the two Brit guys were well behind me by this point but I was confident that they'd finish with or ahead of the last pacer and the cut-off time which, in checking the results afterward, they did.

I fought my way through the crowds on the street as I headed back toward Piazza Espagna. The "method to their madness" of sending us through these high-tourist-density areas in the last three miles was actually brilliant. Their energy and the cheering, hearing my name being shouted out and all the "bravas" really kept me going through these last three difficult miles.

Race route through Piazza Spagna and under the Quirinale gardens.
Data from my Garmin GPS watch

More cheering tourists, more "bravas" and then I was on the home stretch. Down Via dei Due Marcelli, through a tunnel that passed under Giardini del Quirinale, then right onto Via Nazionale. From here I could just begin to hear the amplified announcer and music at the finish line. I was just 1/2 mile away. Just a couple of zig zags down the cobbled hill and then the Piazza Venetia opened up in front of me and I could see the finish line.

I'm a finisher!
Finisher medal at the finish line

My finisher medal:

The race route was fabulous! It took us past and through so many significant landmarks in Rome.

Marathon route, data from my Garmin GPS watch

I walked down to the end of the barricaded corral area and exited out at the foot of the Coliseum. Here I sat down on the low wall that ran alongside the sidewalk and just soaked in the fact that I'd done it. I'd finished the Rome Marathon! And here I am, in Rome, sitting at the base of the Coliseum, next to the Palatine, adjacent to the Arch of Constantine, with a Rome Marathon finisher medal around my neck.

That fellow runner who originally convinced me to do this ended up going her own way, but it didn't matter...this was a personal "journey" anyway, and I relished every moment of it.

I barely remember the walk back to the hotel. I remember letting the crowds push me along the barricaded sidewalk as we squeezed alongside the finish line area. I remember looking out across the finish line itself, seeing the men dressed as Roman gladiators, lined up to greet the last remaining finishers. I remember little else beyond that until I was actually walking up those spiral marble steps at the hotel, getting my room key from the reception desk, and then crawling onto the bed in my room.

Knowing how I'd feel once I made it back to the room, I made sure that I had a bottle of recovery sport drink, some fresh fruit and protein bars ready and waiting for me. As I lay on the bed nibbling and sipping and posting my medal photo on Facebook, I reflected on what brought me here to do this race and was feeling deeply grateful for the opportunity to experience this event.

Eventually, I moved toward the bathroom to take a shower. Tired but hungry, I knew I needed to get out and find some dinner before I crashed for the night. The hotel restaurant was my best bet, right next door, and I knew I could find a good choice on the menu. So a nice glass of red wine, a delicious dinner of millefoglie di Chianina (grilled and sliced Chianina beef cooked perfectly rare over thinly sliced grilled potatoes), and an espresso with a bite-sized dessert tray to finish it off. Oh, my! did this hit the spot! I debated whether or not to get that second glass of wine.

Rome Marathon is done and in the books!

Now to just relax, recover, eat great food, drink great Italian wines, and do some low-key, easy pace Roman discovery the next few days.