Story by Norma Davidoff
Photos: Courtesy of Andrea Kapoor and Through Eternity Tours
Finally: Tours That Matter
Ever go on your own to a pile of rocks looking like an inscrutable ruin, or to an institution so big and vast you couldn’t cope? It can all seem frustrating and totally unintelligible. And you’ve got just a day or two to see it all. I wanted a better experience when bringing my husband to Rome.
Through Eternity Tours solved the problem, guiding us at “the smallest wealthiest nation in the world”. Like small batch whiskey and chocolates, this company limits its tours to 12 people. Quality counts. Don’t kid yourself, small is beautiful where 30,000 people tour the Vatican each day. It could feel more like a zoo than the spiritual capital of the Catholic Church. “Through Eternity” made it easy to get around, ask questions, and get meaningful answers.
Let’s face it. The Vatican is mammoth and dizzying. A long gallery of maps of regions that eventually coalesced into Italy was impressive, but that doesn’t begin to describe it. Knowing that geography was hazardous to chart when the maps were created was mind-boggling. Thank god for someone to guide us! Our ever-so-animated guide, a Ph. D. in Byzantine art history, Caterina Panetta, was unflagging in her desire to help us appreciate all that we saw, including, of course, Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel.
Amidst jaw-dropping white marble sarcophagi, muted 15th century tapestries, a bust of Julius Caesar -- his expression intense and penetrating -- and magnificent works by some of the most famous artists in the world, Caterina explained treasures of the Vatican in ways that gave it meaning.
At the Roman Forum, our Through Eternity Tours guide had a degree in archaeology. Both guides made things come alive, telling stories, giving insights. We had plenty of time for questions and learned much about the class system in ancient Rome. The Latin inscriptions, the still-intact arches, the original travertine marble facades of the Coliseum --- the Super Bowl of Ancient Times, as our guide described it - - all thrilling. In those old glory and gory days, 50,000-70,000 people could be in this amphitheatre at one time. Today the Forum and the Coliseum receive four million visitors each year, and that is just half of what the Vatican gets.
I was so intrigued that I asked owner, Rob Allyn, what he was doing different. He wanted to create tours that were more intimate. His customers can ask questions , interact and connect with the guides. His staff are historians or archaeologists, all with degrees. Having been an actor, Rob auditions applicants. They must create a story about a piece of art, not just show they can speak good English.
Rob is particularly proud of their five-hour tour of the Forum and the Palatine Hill and their special 5-hour Vatican Tour. It gives early entry into the Vatican before …what can I say?....the hordes. “You get to see the Sistine Chapel with perhaps twenty people as opposed to 500,” says Allyn, “And for the Forum tour, you go underground at the Coliseum through its ancient network of passageways. It’s unique, and you get away from the crowds.”
We would have liked to have experienced more with Through Eternity. Their Twilight Tour takes place just before dark; the Love and Death Tour includes the Jewish ghetto and the Campo dei Fiori and ends at Castel San Angelo, that spiral of a building on the Vatican side of the river. They give a tour of the Capitoline Museum which is the museum to visit to understand ancient Rome. (Don’t miss the statue of Romulus and Remus or the giant foot or the bigger-than-life statue of an equestrian.) And now there’s a food tour, too. The company also runs tours in Florence. There, too, Through Eternity strives for flexibility and convenience.
The major attractions in Rome are staggeringly popular, and you can stand in line for hours to get in. Yes, you can pick up a guide last minute and probably avoid the lines, but who knows what you’ll get. Best to book in advance and maybe give Through Eternity Tours a try. http://www.througheternity.com/
AFTERWARD: HEAD NEARBY FOR VATICAN VIEWS AND DRINKS
The Hotel Atlante Star’s Terrace has a panoramic 360-degree view of Rome and the Vatican. Open all day, it’s so close, you can walk over for a frosty drink, a bracing cappuccino, or a cocktail, long or short. It’s a soothing way to end a day on your feet. Set amidst the low-storied rooftops and flowered terraces of Romans, it is a peaceful place – intimate, yet out-of-doors. We actually heard the soothing sounds of pigeons and sea gulls flapping their wings as they landed on the terrace. A small choir and church chimes at 5:30 felt so natural there. Rome is indeed the Eternal City!
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