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A Vacation to Remember 2003: Rome, Pompeii and a Rally Against the War

Updated on November 18, 2011
The Colosseum
The Colosseum

Great Vacations Are All About Timing

Italy is a place of beauty, romance and history. I had the pleasure to visit Rome and Pompeii in February of 2003. I took this delightful vacation with my Mom, Grandma and a family friend, Karen. We had the usual tourist spots on our planner, but couldn’t have predicted the events in Rome when we had booked our vacation almost a year earlier.

To yank us all back into the past, Bush was president, Americans were still reeling from 9/11, Saddam was enemy number one and war had recently been declared. It was a good time for a vacation, right? I learned a lot and not just about Italy, but about the world and the way I, as an American, was perceived by Italians and other vacationers.

I’ll start with a standard picture of Rome. Everyone that stops by has one, but do you see anything different about the picture I took?

This is me in 2003 in front of the Colesseum.
This is me in 2003 in front of the Colesseum.

Journal Entry: And What the Hell Is Going On?

The ride to the hotel was better than any ride at Disneyland. Not only are the lines on the road occasionally non-existent; obeying them is optional. My favorite part of the ride was when our bus dropped off some people and we were bombarded by a whole lot of police from the riot squad. There wasn’t a riot, but they were checking into the hotel just in case a riot just happens to break out at the Peace Rally against the War.

Driving rules really are optional.
Driving rules really are optional.

Journal entry:

You’d think after all that I’d have a quiet, uneventful tour. I think not. The tour started with a trip around the block and St. Mary’s Church when a lady on a moped decided to play chicken with the tour bus.

She lost…she made a left turn where she shouldn’t have been, but like it says in my travelogue, the signs are only suggestions, not law.

This picture was taken inside the bus.  It is looking out at a nearby park where people are meeting up for the Peace Rally.
This picture was taken inside the bus. It is looking out at a nearby park where people are meeting up for the Peace Rally.

Journal: Italy Feels Just Like Home

…there is an array of protestors all over the place. They all have signs that say PACE or PEACE! There are a lot of Bush haters here and a lot of protestors too. I feel like I’m in Berkeley.

This is a picture taken from the inside my hotel looking out of the front door.
This is a picture taken from the inside my hotel looking out of the front door.
A little journey so that we could get to see the Colesseum.
A little journey so that we could get to see the Colesseum.
It's better to walk with the crowd than against.
It's better to walk with the crowd than against.

And Back to the Hotel on the First Day there

Our Bus driver wasn't able to drop us off at the hotel. Instead, he dropped us off a few blocks down and we had to walk the rest of the way. There was a very good reason for that. I took the video below from my camera, so it is a bit on the shaky side. I didn't add the music, it was playing outside and sounded twice as loud to my ears as it did in the video. It was difficult to get around and keep the four in our group together, epecially my gradmother who was in her mid 80s at the time.

The sound you hear in the video below is someone on a bullhorn or microphone somewhere. I couldn't figure out exactly where the sound was coming from because it seemed to surround us.

My mom, me and my grandma
My mom, me and my grandma
Most of the anti-Bush writing was on banners, but I found this grafitti on the street.
Most of the anti-Bush writing was on banners, but I found this grafitti on the street.

You're an American, Right?

We ended up going to dinner at a restaurant close to our hotel. We really couldn't go anywhere else with so many people crowding the streets.

There’s an Irish family at a nearby table and they kept staring at us. One of the men comes up to us and asks, "You're American, right?" My grandmother (who lived in Mexico most of her life) pretends not to speak English. Our friend quickly says she’s Canadian (which is true, but she had recently become a US citizen). My mother partakes of the free wine. Nice job, ladies. Thanks a bunch.

The Irishman wonders what I think about the protest or Peace Rally, since, in essence, everyone is protesting the war America started.

I told him the truth, I had never been anywhere but the US and Mexico and I just wanted to see Italy and enjoy my vacation. I was doing my best to ignore the rally around us since it just reminded me of home. He wondered if it was because we were getting treated badly. I mention that everyone’s been pretty nice to us and then he asks what I think about President Bush. What do I think?

Ugh. Did I mention I'm from Berkeley? Maybe he doesn't understand the implications.

I tell him that I didn’t vote for Bush. I mentioned, again, that I’m from California, more specifically Berkeley and he laughs. He says, "Ah, yes, Berkeley!"

He tells me America is such an odd place where so many different people believe in different things. He has no clue how we get anything done in the US. Funny, me either.

He was sure of one thing; there are too many different types of people in the US to blame one perso. In fact, he couldn't even blame the US citizens about the war. He felt it was better to be angry at the US government since, in the end, it was their decision to go to war.

The Italian waitress agreed and asked if we’d been harassed in anyway during our stay. We hadn’t. In fact, everyone had been (and would continue to be) nice throughout the entire trip. 

The Irishman shook my hand and said, “God bless to you and your family.”

They were nice people and at that moment I felt a ping just like I had felt after 9/11. It was a ping of patriotic pride and love for my country.

Out of Rome and Into Trouble for Me

Though this doesn't have to do anything with the Peace Rally, it is one of my favorite stories to tell about my vacation in Italy.

After Rome was a trip to Pompeii. All my grandma wanted to do was go back to the Vatican and see the Pope, but I insisted I wanted to see people frozen in time in Pompeii. We got to see that, although it was odd experience since they were in awkward positions.

A scenic picture of Pompeii
A scenic picture of Pompeii

After that we went on a tour around the old city where we saw packs of wild dogs. We were told not to worry, if you kept your distance, they would leave you alone.

One of the many packs of wild dogs.
One of the many packs of wild dogs.
I wasn't very close to the dog, but isn't he still so cute?
I wasn't very close to the dog, but isn't he still so cute?

After that, we got a wonderful tour of old Pompeii’s prostitute dens. You could tell, because of the penises etched on pavement

In case you're wondering, my family is Roman Catholic and...
In case you're wondering, my family is Roman Catholic and...
my grandmother is very religious.
my grandmother is very religious.

The whole tour ended at a prostitute house that still has pictures of their ‘product’. It was a little hut with pictures of people in different sexual positions, guy on girl, guy on guy and couples. I didn’t bother to look at my grandmother; I could feel her signing the cross beside me.

This is one of the beds.  The room isn't that much bigger than it and it's a wonder one person could fit in here, let alone two.
This is one of the beds. The room isn't that much bigger than it and it's a wonder one person could fit in here, let alone two.
And my grandma was...
And my grandma was...
...dead silent standing next to me.
...dead silent standing next to me.

They didn't allow me to take pictures of the gift shop, but lets just say there were an array of different penis gift items that you could purchase from large statues to keychains. My grandmother wasn't amused. We didn't stay long.

Inside the catacombs
Inside the catacombs

It Was Fun

The Peace Rally ended after the two days and though there were some remnants (people carrying flags and a massive clean up), there wasn't much left to see or catch on camera. I will give them credit, when they said peaceful, they meant it. I don't recall hearing any shennanigans happening during those couple of days. I can't help but to reflect on the Occupy {insert city name here} movement now.

In the End...

We did go to the Vatican, but we missed hearing Pope John Paul II. We saw the catacombs, the Pyramid and a lot of other real touristy stuff. If you go there, the one place you have to see is the Sistine Chapel. It is so beautiful and mesmerizing we stayed there for over an hour. I didn't take any pictures of it, because they do not allow photography.

Me, my grandma, Karen, my Mom
Me, my grandma, Karen, my Mom


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    • vmartinezwilson profile imageAUTHOR

      Vanessa Martinez Wilson 

      6 years ago from Vancouver, WA

      Thank you so much! It's odd that they would ask so muchh of a 14 year old. I was in my twenties at the time, so they weren't afraid to ask me anything.

      I think what might have been a key 'thing' that I didn't consider at the time is my race. I'm half Mexican/black and have this look like I can fit in many different localities. In fact, there were several times people started talking in Italian, because they thought I was sicilian. It was the strangest thing.

      It wasn't until I opened my mouth that I got the 'you're American, right? thing. The interesting thing is that when we went to another restraunt a few days later, the man there was so over the top nice to us it was unreal. The vacation could have easily soured, but it never did.

      Thank you so much for sharing your experience. It' always nice to think back on those special events and hear another person's memories!

    • stephaniedas profile image

      Stephanie Das 

      6 years ago from Miami, US

      This is a wonderful hub. You made me laugh talking about your grandmother in Pompeii, I can imagine how awkward that must have been. I went to Italy in 2003 as well, and I remember that everyone wanted to know about the war. I was 14, and very politically oriented at the time, and very much against the war, but I was still bothered that people sometimes acted like it was my fault. I guess I looked older than 14, because when I explained to people that I wasn't old enough to vote, they generally directed their attention toward my older brother.

      Of course, there were always people who recognized the difference between the citizens and the government, like the Irish man and Italian woman you met. Still, I noticed a huge change in European attitudes towards me when I visited Spain after Obama had been elected.

      This was really interesting and brought me back to the time I spent there. I remember all of the Pace flags and protests. I enjoyed your pictures too, and I'm glad you were able to enjoy your vacation and that you received maybe a little bit more than you had bargained for :)


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