Aug. 6, 2014
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Buongiorno. (That's good day or good morning in Italian.)
When the University of Notre Dame men's basketball traveling party landed in Rome Wednesday morning, it marked the first time in Europe for many on the trip. A country of about 61 million people, Italy features diverse geographical regions that offer a little bit of something for everyone.
Following a nearly nine-hour flight from Chicago's O'Hare Airport, we arrived at 9 a.m. local time at the Aeroporti di Roma Fiumicino. The flight was crowded with both Americans and Italians and offered little chance for many of the players to sleep so there were some very tired players and coaches when we got off the plane.
July and August are two very hot months in Italy where temperatures can rise to as high as 98 degrees. To make matters worse, the high humidity can be very uncomfortable and sap your energy. When we arrived this morning, it was already 75 degrees and climbed well into the high 80s by the afternoon.
They say Italy is one of the easiest countries to clear customs (I am not sure why), but the lines were not very long and we spent little time waiting to have our for passports checked. Of course, Eric Katenda from France and Martin Geben from Lithuania were sent to the line for those with European passports, so they were the first ones to the baggage claim area.
After retrieving our luggage, we boarded our bus and headed to the downtown epicenter of Rome, the Colosseum (referred to by the Americans as the Coliseum) and the Foro Romano (known to all of us as the Roman Forum). During our drive from the airport to the hotel, one of our four tour guides, Joe, gave us a brief history lesson on both what we were going to see throughout the afternoon and what our experience in Rome would be like over the next few days.
He also gave us a couple of vocabulary tips on several ways to greet Italians: caio (hello or goodbye), buongiorno (good day or good morning), buona sera (good evening) or arrivederci (good-bye or see you soon). Of course, grazie (thank you) and prego (you're welcome) were among other phrases he noted would be helpful walking around the city.
Following our arrival at the Colosseum, we spent a couple of hours touring the outskirts of the edifice and getting something to eat. You can't go wrong with the Pizza Margherita as the mozzarella cheese tastes just a little bit creamier in Italy. A quick poll proved that la pizza Margherita did not disappoint.
We were fortunate to have a terrific tour guide, Mia, who eloquently and with great enthusiasm brought to life the Colosseum and Roman Forum. Born, raised and educated in Rome, she certainly has a passion for all the glorious history of this ancient city, and it was something the players appreciated as they listened attentively to everything she said. Many remarked that they felt like they were back in high school World History 101 classes.
Nearly 2,000 years old, the Colosseum held a little more than 50,000 spectators and was used two to three times a month for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles such as mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles and dramas based on Classical mythology. The building ceased to be used for entertainment in the early medieval era. It was later reused as housing, quarters for a religious order, a fortress, a quarry and a Christian shrine.
The tour of Foro Romano (across from the Colosseum) followed. In the days of Rome's Imperial Empire, this proved to be the civic core of the Roman Republic and the heart of ancient Rome as a business and political hub. After being destroyed by a mudslide, the excavation of this ruin began more than 80 years ago and the restoration continues today.
Our headquarters for two nights, Hotel Forty Seven Rome, is just a short walk from both the Colosseum and Foro Romano, and that's where we headed following our tour. It had been a long day and many were anxious to get a shower and rest before heading to our welcome dinner at one of Rome's most famous restaurants, La Carovana Ristorante.
We dined al fresco (outside) and were treated to a buffet and more food than anyone could ever eat but, of course, everyone saved room for tiramisu. Throughout the two hours, we enjoyed music and singing, certainly a great beginning to the next nine days. As the evening began to wind down at the restaurant, it was evident that sleep deprivation had overtaken most of the group and we headed back to the hotel.
Tomorrow will be an early wake-up call and then a tour of the Vatican. A special practice with the Vatican's Swiss Guards is planned and we'll have that and much more for you on Thursday in our blog.
A domain. (Until tomorrow.)