After a week aboard the Queen Victoria, sailing the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas, and exploring exciting ports of call in Turkey, Greece, and Italy, it was time to disembark for our first visit to the Eternal City.
Cunard Line had arranged for a car service to pick us up at the cruise terminal in Civitavecchia and take us to our hotel, the Hassler Roma (Piazza Trinità dei Monti 6, Tel: +39-06-699-340. www.hotelhasslerroma.com). The one-hour trip began along the beautiful coast before heading inland toward the city. Our driver, who was born in Rome, narrated our arrival with wonderful anecdotes and an enthusiastic appreciation for his hometown.
As soon as we reached the outskirts of the city, the history and allure of this timeless metropolis began to work its magic on us. To our left, the ruins of the Circus Maximus that once housed up to 250,000 spectators who came to watch the chariot races and other extravaganzas. Nearby, is the Palatino where it is believed Romulus founded the city in 753 B.C.E. Here the emperors of Rome lived in grand palaces and lavished in all the known luxuries of the world.
As our driver maneuvered his way through traffic, giving us a quickly narrated, neck-craning tour, we tried to take in all the incredible historic sites that flashed by us in a few seconds. We felt exhilarated and dazed at the same time. Suddenly, there was the Arch of Constantine, the largest surviving Roman triumphal arch and the last great monument to Imperial Rome.
Around the next corner, surrounded by hundreds of perspiring tourists in search of shade and a Limoncello, was the Colosseum. In C.E. 80, Vespasian’s son Titus opened the colossal arena with 100 days of public spectacles that featured gladiators, wild animal hunts, theatrical productions, and even executions. Around the 5th century, the Colosseum stopped being used for “entertainment” and fell into disrepair. Two- thirds of the original building has been destroyed over time, but the amphitheater remains a popular tourist destination.
I hung out the window of the car trying to get photos and videos of the Colosseum on my smartphone. My heart was racing like that of a child who is discovering something new and exciting for the very first time.
As my partner pulled me back into the car to protect my head from being hit by a passing Vespa, I realized that this three-day trip would not be nearly enough time for us to see and experience all the things we wanted to in Rome.
Catching my breath, I sat back and let the ancient treasures of the city flirt with me as we drove to our destination. The magnificient Basilica Papale di Santa Maria Maggiore, Teatro dell’Opera, and the Trevi Fountain would have to wait until we checked into our hotel.
As we stepped out of the car in front of the Hassler, we had to pause and appreciate its prime location at the top of the Spanish Steps. From inside the hotel, guests have even more impressive
views. The Pantheon, St. Peter’s Basilica, and the Vatican, St. Agnes Church in Piazza Navona, and many others are just some of the dazzling sights you can see from the Hassler’s terraces and windows.
The Hassler has 82 unique rooms and 11 suites, and the hotel is decorated with Venetian lamps and chandeliers from Murano, and ornate 19th-century mirrors. Additional art and antiques include French crystal, Limoges porcelains, and splendid tapestries. The walls and ceilings are decorated with astonishing trompe l’oeil paintings, mosaics, and frescoes that create an extraordinary ambiance. With an eye for detail, the interior designers used the classical colors of Rome, ochre and Pompeian red, thematically throughout the hotel.
After we checked in, we were escorted to our room overlooking the spectacular 16th- century Trinità dei Monti church with its distinctive twin bell towers on one side and the Spanish Steps just below us. Little did we know at the time just how many famous people have stayed at the Hassler.
Over the last 100 years, the Hassler’s “Golden Book” has been signed by royalty, celebrities, writers, artists, and musicians from all around the world.
Some of their guest include Prince Rainier of Monaco and Grace Kelly (who spent their honeymoon here), Gabriel Garcia Marquez, The Beatles, Pablo Picasso, Audrey Hepburn, Charlie Chaplin, Frank Sinatra, Kofi Annan, Daniel Craig, Sting, Bill Gates, King Gustaf of Sweden (who then invited the pastry chef of the Hassler to stay in his Stockholm palace in order to have his zabaione), George Clooney, Mariah Carey, Luis Botero, Rudolf Nureyev, Eleanor Roosevelt, Barbra Streisand, Shakira, Justin Timberlake, Pink, and many, many more.
It should be noted, however, that the Hassler is famous for the discretion it provides to its distinguished guests. When VIPs arrive, the owner welcomes them personally, and always guarantees them utmost privacy during their stay.