Since I was a little girl, I couldn’t read enough about history – mostly ancient and Renaissance. In college, I was very close to majoring in archaeology (oh, why does the practical side of life often has to win over passion?). I blame this obsession in part on my grandfather (love you, granddaddy) whose own love of history was contagious when I was a little girl (and also whose best friend was a famous archaeologist back in Russia). The other part was my natural curiosity.
In any case, reading about ancient Greece and Rome, about the artists and nobles of the Renaissance and everything in between, fiction and non-fiction, has dominated much of my life.
But reading about it and seen the places are two different things. Having come from Ukraine originally, I have seen some spectacular art and architecture of old. Yet since coming to America over 20 years ago, I haven’t seen Europe. So it was the most amazing surprise imaginable to me that my husband planned our vacation to…Rome and the Mediterranean Cruise to Sicily, Athens in Greece, Ephesus in Turkey and Crete! And I found out about all that literally half an hour before leaving for the airport!
Needless to say, this was the best vacation of my life. I finally got to see the places I’ve been reading about all these years and dreamt about visiting.
First, there was the glory that is Rome…And it is glorious indeed. Anywhere I turned, there was something interesting to see. One of our tour guides told us that Rome is like a sandwich. There are so many layers of the city that no matter where you start digging you’re bound to find something ancient. When there was an earthquake or another calamity, the Romans would just build on top of the buried ruins. And we got to see a perfect example of this. Not far from the Coliseum, there’s the Basilica of Saint Clement. The top church was built around the year 1100 A.D. One level down, under this church, there’s an older basilica from the 4th Century A.D. Yet one more level down, archaeologists uncovered the home of a Roman nobleman who built his home around 64 A. D. on the foundation of a home from the republican era!! We were able to visit all three levels and this is currently still an active archaeological excavation. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration if I said that I wanted to dance like a little girl from happiness that I got to see this. It's the closest I've ever been to a live archaeological dig!
This, of course, was just the cherry on top of the sundae. Coliseum, the Vatican, including the Sistine Chapel, many of the other beautiful churches we saw, the Trevi Fountain – nothing disappointed. Everything was as amazing as I imagined it. I even got to touch the work of Michaelangelo in one of the churches. Unfortunately, one of his most famous works, La Pieta, is now behind glass at St. Peter's. I also saw the tomb of Rafael, another one of my favorite artists of Renaissance. I was so surprised to see the tomb at the Pantheon (shame on me for not knowing that!) that I have to admit my eyes got moist at that special moment.
Then, of course, came the cruise on one of the ships of Royal Carribean. Sicily was gorgeous with its mountains and sea landscapes (which reminded me a lot of the landscapes in Crimea), and quaint little towns. We went to one such town called Taormina, located not too far from the Etna Mountain, which is an active volcano. There were many souvenirs and jewelry made of lava rock in every store. People living in towns like this still take siesta in the middle of the day, closing the doors to their shops no matter who is around and going home for their meal and nap.
Athens, Greece was the next stop and I could hardly believe I was finally there as I stood in the middle of the Acropolis. The ruins of the ancient temples were as impressive as I always imagined them.
In Ephesus, Turkey we visited two very special sites. The first was the house of Mary, the place where Jesus’ mother Mary lived out the last years of her life. The second site was the ruins of an ancient church built around the tomb of St. John the Evangelist, who wrote the Revelations. The place was very peaceful and picturesque. We also visited the ruins of Ephesus, the 2nd biggest city of the Roman Empire and, supposedly, the best preserved ruins today.
On the way back to Rome, our ship went by an island called Stromboli, which has the most active volcano in Europe. This was definitely another first for us.
I have so many beautiful memories of this trip and lots and lots of material for writing, which I have to organize (in my head and on paper). I would like to say a big thank you to my wonderful hubby for this surprise vacation of a lifetime. And here’s to many more trips all over the world.