Our last full day in Rome was packed with expected adventure, the morning we awoke. After a beautiful breakfast in an open air cafe on a side street near our apartment, we moved to the subway. From the previous misadventures in the subway, already addressed and hard lesson learned, we moved down the steps into the belly of the beast. We were on our way to the Vatican. A tad bit confused about our stops and the shortest distance to walk, I asked a man walking by if he spoke English. In clear English, he said yes and asked how could he help us. I told him where we were headed and our morning plan. To our surprise, he worked there! He said he was actually headed to work and we could follow him. Thank you, Lord!
After hopping into the subway, we talked with him about not making reservations to which he informed about some of the lines to the Vatican being a 2-3 hours wait. He also pointed to my wife’s exposed knees and said that she would need a covering to go into the Vatican and they were available around the outside of the Vatican for two Euros. Once we arrived, he referred us to two different touring companies that he thought were the best and even gave Tammy a new (very pretty) leg covering before he dashed off to work.
He was right. The line was extremely long, but we signed up for a tour that told us to meet back at the front office in an hour. Later, we skipped the lines and entered a MUCH packed Vatican. There are no words to the opulence of this place. The frescos and statues and gold gilding are mesmerizing and a bit of a head-scratcher. Could the Catholic church not sell a tenth of this magnificent collection and help millions of people? It just seemed like overkill to me.
I guess the highlight, to me anyway, was to see the grave of the Apostle Peter in his basilica. To stand only feet away from the bones of man who looked into the eyes of Jesus boggles the mind. My wife and I just stood there for a bit and took it in.
Leaving the Vatican, we had a train to catch but had to eat first. Stopping for a bite at a small little pizza joint called Grano-la cucina di Traiano, we were blown away. This was the BEST pizza and giros we had every tasted, no exaggeration. If you ever find yourself in the Eternal City, find this place. A meal, including drink, is only five Euros. The family who runs the place is more than gracious people who want nothing more than to make their customers happy.
At the train station it can be a little overwhelming. The tickets are purchased at a machine with a touch screen. The process is very simple, but it never hurts to ask for help in such an extremely busy place. We were headed to Anzio Beach. At 2 o’clock in the morning on January 22, 1944, my grandfather came upon the shores of Anzio in what became known as the Battle of Anzio Beachhead during Operation Shingle. My grandfather, R.Z. Brooks, was with the American 5th Army in an armored unit that sweep around the east side of the beach. Germany was caught off guard, but as the tanks of my grandfather’s armored column rolled north of Anzio, they were met head-on with the much superior tanks of German Panzer divisions; however, this was NOT the 5th Army’s first rodeo. They were battle-hardened veterans who fought these Panzers, commanded by General Erwin Rommel, in North Africa. The fighting was intense, but the 5th Army pushed through. The Allies, in total, loss 7,000 killed in combat and over 36,000 wounded. It was a HUGE success to the Allied campaign that swept through Rome and taught valuable lessons that would apply to the later campaign in June called Operation Overlord (the D-Day Invasion). I am extremely proud of being R.Z. Brooks’s grandson, and visiting this hallowed place will forever be in my memory.
Anzio is only an hour ride from Rome by train and has a free military museum that is absolutely a must-see. But just before leaving the museum, the curator asked about my family and I told him the story of my grandfather. His eyes brightened, and he held a finger up for me to wait a moment. Into a side room he went. A few minutes later, he came out with an gorgeous certificate to my grandfather (with his name, rank and unit on it) in appreciation from the city of Anzio. It was signed by the mayor, complete with a serial number. It was a moving experience. Before we went back to the train, I could not help but visit the landing site and get a bottle of sand to remember and honor my grandfather’s courage.
This was truly an unforgettable day.