EYES OF ROME: PRIVATE TOURS – ROME, ITALY
I often talk about growing up traveling the world, which I’ve been lucky enough to have branched out into my professional life as a concert promoter allowing me to continue that love. Wherever my destination is planned, if I am not already up on that locale, I make sure to find out as much as I can by the time I arrive. My nickname among friends has always been “Julian McCoy, Cruise Director,” as I can usually provide more information on a place than those that may take you on a tour. Though I stand by people learning as much as they can before going on vacation, no matter what you read or watch, no one can bring a city alive as tour guides. This example was imprinted on myself, and an ever growing list of friends, due to Eyes Of Rome – Private Tours in Rome, Italy.
It was my wife’s dream to see Italy, and although I had been to Rome as a child, I hadn’t returned since. We booked our 2 year wedding anniversary trip to spend 2 weeks traveling through parts of Italy, including Venice, Florence and Siena, but starting off in Rome for 5 days. Best friends of ours, Jennifer and her husband Tracy, had never had a honeymoon, and were awed by our trip’s itinerary even before we found Eyes Of Rome, so they wanted to travel with us and did. When I told close friends of ours, Dennis & Asheley, whom had recently traveled to Italy, who actually bought a boat there and visited the Italian Coast, about our planned vacation, they instantly told us of their stay in Rome, and discovering Eyes Of Rome Tours. They became friends with Emiliano Mochi, one of Eyes Of Rome’s founders and who was their guide there. They didn’t suggest, but basically insisted if we were heading to Rome, we had to see Rome through their private guided tours. They put us in touch with Emiliano, who lived up to the saying… “Any friend of theirs, is a friend of mine.” He told us a little bit about who they are and what they do, asked what our plans were there, what we wanted to see and do, and to take a look at their website to get an idea of the exact tours they do and how he could help us plan the perfect visit.
I immediately went online, reading all about them and especially all the reviews through TripAdvisor. I couldn’t believe not only the exceptional ratings, but the in depth write-ups on them. Eyes Of Rome was born in 2006 as a cultural association formed by a collaboration of 5 tour guides with no single owner. The original 5 are Emiliano, Francesco, Denis, Silvia and Stefania, who are all still with them today. I use the term “tour guides” lightly, as they prefer to be known as “storytellers.” We found out exactly why they prefer that in the first minutes of our tours. Their philosophy is simple… “Let us put Rome in the palm of your hand. Experience the Echoes of Eternity.” That’s a deep statement, but deservedly said with true meaning. Eyes Of Rome specialize in private tours, usually anywhere from a couple, to groups of all sizes, but either way private to who is with you. That’s rare in any metropolis, and very much so in Rome. Walk any where throughout the city and you will see large groups of tourists being guided by one person, informative, but not personal. That’s what they offered and what we were looking forward to experiencing for ourselves.
The main tours they advertise, expose you to the traditional spots you wouldn’t want to miss while visiting Rome. The City Walking Tour: Trevi Fountain, The Spanish Steps, The Pantheon, Piazza Navona and more. The Vatican Tour: St. Peter’s Basilica and St. Peter’s Square, The Sistine Chapel and highlights of the Vatican Museum. The Colosseum Tour: The Roman Forum, Palatine Hill, Arch Of Constantine and The Colosseum. The Borghese Tour: Villa Borghese, Borghese Gallery and Borghese Gardens. The Catacombs Tour: Basilica of San Clemente and the Santa Priscilla Catacombs. They do customized tours, along with other fun ones, like a Morning Food Tour, an Evening Wine Tour, Pizza & Gelato Making Tours, Roman Beer Tour and Rome Bike Tours to places around and out of Rome, like Capitoline Museum, Ostia Antica and even Hadrian’s Villa and Villa D’Este. Even just recently they’ve started exclusive tours, such as After-hours Private Access Tours to The Sistine Chapel with private access, even to Secret Rooms. There are so many new ones, I could just go on. Best of all, these tours are around 195 Euro, now with the Euro being so low and close to even to the dollar, is about $210 U.S. for a couple and the rate goes down with those added to your tour. Before some of you think that might be a high price you are sorely wrong. Most regular bus filled tours range in price from $50-$150 a person. For almost the same price, with Eyes Of Rome, each tour taking at least 2 hours, you get a real personal experience for close to the same price. It is actually a bargain if you ask me.
With so many choices and much contact with Emiliano, we chose to do a tour of the Colosseum AND the Catacombs on our second day in Rome, a Sunday, then the next day, a tour of The Vatican. Although we had finalized our tours a month away, Emiliano was already booked on a tour that Sunday, so he suggested guide Katie Farrar. She actually is an Orange County, California native, who while on archaeological work in Rome, had happened to her what so many women dream of… meeting & falling in love with a Roman man. He swept her off her feet, which had her decide to move to Rome, and has never looked back. Which I might add, they’ve since married and are living a storybook life. Ahh the amore of Italy.
Oops, back to our tour, lol. Katie suggested we meet at a quaint trattoria, an Italian casual restaurant, located right near the Catacombs. After a small bite, well a plate of lasagna for me, which I felt was perfect before a full day of walking, let alone starting in Rome’s underground cemeteries, lol. Katie showed up, and she couldn’t have been more darling, with her blonde hair, So Cal looks, and adorable personality… we still swear her and my wife Nicole are long lost sisters. She sat down with the four of us, explained where she was going to take us in the catacombs, what we would seeing and such, and away we went.
We started off going through San Clemente Basilica and then heading down the low lit corridors of the underground. I give fair warning, if you’re claustrophobic, let alone creeped out by graves (including the occasional skeletal remains), this tour is not for you. Leave it to Tracy and I to have acted like kids in a candy story, lol.
It was an interesting tour, which for real history buffs, I suggest, but there are more tours I would recommend if you can only do a couple. If it wasn’t for Katie captivating us, we might have grown bored quickly. However, it was a great lead in to what was up next for us, and that was The Colosseum.
One of the things we had heard about having the right private tour was the ability to skip lines at certain attractions. Well let me say this, the price of Eyes Of Rome’s tours for skipping the crazy lines, are worth them alone!!! Any research you do, you will find in Italy, let alone Rome, the most sought after sites can find you standing in line from 2-5 hours easily. In fact, on our cab ride from Rome’s airport to our hotel, even with rainfall, the line outside the Vatican Museum for example, was blocks long. As we approached the Colosseum, in all it’s glory, out of the corner of our eyes, we could see the pending lines awaiting. Well for everyone else, but not us. We had Katie leading the way, and that she did. She made sure to stop off at locations surrounding the Colosseum first, giving us a brief history, which has so much to do with where we were heading.
The anticipation built, and from the dynamic view, the sheer size of it from the outside, and that moment that you realize you’re seeing one of the world’s most iconic & recognizable sites, we entered. Through the gate, right to the front of the line and in we went. She filled us in on more history, but it was more than that, we were starting to get a feel of what it might have been like, living back in that time period and entering the Colosseum for an event. Then it was time for us to walk up the steps and into the grand spectrum which it is. I can’t put into words what that moment was like, except those who have seen it first hand can understand.
We were surrounded by the Colosseum, visually amazing, but the more Katie talked, the more we could close our eyes and feel as if we had gone back in time. I am not joking, it was right then actually we all truly understood what Eyes Of Rome was about. She had brought us back in history, as if it was happening now. Not just what anyone can read in a tour booklet, but the real truths, what the elite saw and did, to the common person attending an event there, to the gladiators that fought, the slaves thrown to their death, to even the animals that were part of the spectacle.
We continued around the Colosseum and at one spot I was able to see a site I always had dreamed of seeing, not that big of a deal to many, but one of those sites for me, which was Constantine’s Arch. There I was, standing in the ruins of the Colosseum, staring down right at it. That’s when we followed Katie to get a better look. Walking along the original stoned paths, thousands of years later, still there. That’s a crazy feeling to actually walk on the same stones that histories greatest Roman’s did, the Emperor’s, soldiers and so on.
Walking more paths we stopped to see more historic places, hear more tales, soaking it all in. Then the only bump in this road happened. Although we had tickets to The Forum, it had closed early for some reason, which I still forget why. So we had to look down into it, listen to Katie bring it to life, yet this time, not feel & touch the way we had in the Colosseum.
It was ok though, as where a tour bus picks you up and drops you off, Katie wanted to show us some things not normally on a tour, but things she felt we would enjoy, and we kept on. The next thing you know there we are, passing some of the famed Roman baths, Palatine Hill, the steps of the National Monument, Altare della Patria, and even to Palazzo Venizia, which is the famed office of Benito Mussolini and the balcony he gave one of his most famous speeches from.
We had gone from Ancient Rome to Rome of almost modern day, truly absorbing it. This had only happened due to Katie, no other way to put it. Even saying goodbye, warm felt hugs, and realizing the past 5 or so hours had just brought us a new friend, Katie did one little thing I won’t ever forget. We were about to catch a cab, but I needed a bottle of water since my big bottle was empty, and she simply pointed to a nearby fountain, and told us to refill it there. For a moment I was filled with a commoner’s thought… yikes, no way, lol. But I trusted Katie, and her explanation of how the same aqueducts that existed 2,000 years ago, still carry drinkable water today. Remembering a snippet she had told us, S.P.Q.R. or Senatus Popolus Que Romanus, which translates to “the Senate and the Roman people.” It was inscribed on ancient fountains, statues and more historic landmarks, reminding the people of Rome of the “gifts” they had received from their Senate. We all filled our bottles, enjoyed the actually tasty water, and back to our hotel we went, feeling truly connected to Rome thanks to Katie.
That is, until the next day, where we finally were to meet up with Emiliano himself and tour The Vatican. We had been staying at the Hotel Columbus, located literally a few doors down from The Vatican, so Emiliano met us in our hotel lobby. By the time we met face to face, we had already felt as if we had known him for ages. Right then, we realized Katie was not the exception to who Eyes Of Rome are, but what they are, real people, that aren’t guides to show you something and set you on your way. But warm inviting friends, set on having you feel what they feel, a true passion of what Rome is all about. That’s the best way for me to describe what was to become visiting The Vatican with Emiliano.
I had earlier mentioned how long the lines that form waiting to visit a historic Roman site can be, well the lines at the Vatican can be especially long wrapping all the way around the walls of the city. Well again, just like with Katie having us skip the lines, Emiliano had us head on over from our hotel, stories of what was around us unfolded on that walk, and before we knew it, we had past at least a thousand people waiting to go where we were about to walk into, the Vatican Museum which we entered with our pre-purchased tickets and no wait. Just walking through the actual ticket booths, Emiliano was laughing with the famed Vatican Police, only to find out later that he plays soccer with many of them. That provided for a little something extra special later, which I will get to, however, there we were on Vatican grounds, in the museum, and it was time to witness more history.
With already so much information heading into the museum, in no time we realized that was the tip of the iceberg. Minutes had only passed and now we were immersed in a whole other side of Rome. We had spent the day before getting a grasp of Ancient Rome, but now we were understanding the impact of the Catholic Church and it’s passion for Rome’s earlier days. It’s continuing desire to gather artwork of the ages as the Vatican grew to where it stands now.
Emiliano was born and raised in Rome. He is a true Roman, his heart is with this city, and better yet, it’s history. There is nothing like getting the city’s perspective through the “Eyes” of a true Roman. That was apparent as we saw up close some of Italy’s great pieces of artwork, sculptures and tapestries. It is hard to express how Roman’s, as do Italian’s in general, view much of The Vatican and areas throughout Rome as “Modern Day” compared to “Ancient Rome,” and being an American, our history which started only hundreds of years after their so-called “modern” days. That said, we continued with his insight, the Church, Rome, Italy and what we were seeing. Of course for every historic item we saw right in front of us, we joked to him what The Vatican probably has hidden from the public’s eyes, only for Emiliano to chuckle. What we wouldn’t give to see the Vatican’s archives and vaults.
Next we were instructed with a few rules from him, as we were about to enter The Sistine Chapel. This goes back to when I was writing about entering the Colosseum, trying to describe what it’s like entering the Sistine Chapel, has almost no meaning except to those who have done so themselves. For us, the timing was even more special, as we were here during the Spring of 2013, shortly after the Catholic Church had appointed a new Pope, Pope Francis. The famed Conclave had taken place right where we were standing. Oh sure, throw in looking up to the ceiling, that space a certain Michelangelo had painted, and around it, all the other historic artists, and we were encompassed by the past and in ways the present.
This brings me back to those rules about where we were, and one of the biggest ones… there is No Photography inside The Sistine Chapel!!! We were told, that if you were seen even attempting to take a picture, not only would you be escorted out, but you camera or phone would be confiscated and your photos deleted. Countless people tried to push the envelope, but to no avail, and to the loss of there electronics, they paid the price. That being said, I’m sure Emiliano’s relationship with the guards, nor my tempted desire, had nothing to do with me capturing that elicit photo. I will always treasure that one simple photo of one Michelangelo’s greatest works.
As great as that had been, it was all about to change, especially for me personally. This is when I use those words of… things that money can’t buy. We exited The Sistine Chapel, headed out of the museum area and then smack into St. Peter‘s Basilica. The crowning jewel of the Catholic Church, the most historic site in many ways of modern religion, and one of the most awe inspiring places on Earth. It was one thing, as other sites in Rome to see pictures, TV shows and movies, hear about and so on, but this place, this spot, was the one that had us more speechless than any other thus far in our short stay in Italy.
If the actual visual of St. Peter’s wasn’t enough, as if a joke, what could Emiliano do at this moment even more memorable? How about while a service was being conducted, which is common place of course daily in the Basilica, is what made “this” service something not common… Pope Francis coming out to sit in and observe!!! Yes, The Pope himself, and there we were, maybe 50 yards away. I am not a religious man, nor am I Catholic, but trying to explain what it was like to realize the Pope is right there, is kind of an experience where words can’t explain.
To also tap into the personal experience for me, is that my Mother had passed away not too long before this trip. Part of us going to Italy was for me to honor her, the places she took me as a child, Rome for one. My Mom was a very religious woman, going to church every Sunday, especially before her untimely death. So now understand what it was like for me to be in the middle of The Vatican, in St. Peter’s and there’s the Pope. I had a break down that I actually was grateful for. I had many a friend’s tell me I wasn’t the only one to have such an experience there.
In the corner of my eye, I saw Nicole, with Emiliano, along with Jenn and Tracy, continuing to experience this moment for them. We all had our own “moment,” and yet, we all realized, that we were here, at this time, due to one person… Emiliano and a little group of people known as Eyes Of Rome. That said, although I still joke with Emiliano how he pulled that off, I must include a disclaimer, that Eyes Of Rome can’t guarantee that Pope Francis will always make an appearance, lol. I must also throw in, that we ended up seeing the Pope two more times during our stay in Rome. The powers of Eyes Of Rome, it had to be. Was that a little dramatic of praise for them, or the situation? Maybe. But that’s when I say, we came to Rome, we wanted to see and hear things we may not have known, and we trusted some “story tellers” to bring their city alive to us. Well we did that, and we were given something so much more. But don’t take my words for it. Remember we were told, insisted, that we go with Eyes Of Rome from close friends? Well we did the same.
A wonderful couple, Sherry and Justin, that I’ve known for years, had just gotten married here in Los Angeles, and they wanted their dream honeymoon to consist of Italy. They asked my advice, which was dangerous, as I ended up e-mailing her pages of the things to do before leaving to Italy and while there. The best advice I gave them, which they too are now grateful for, was introducing them to Emiliano, Katie and Eyes Of Rome.
They had the pleasure of experiencing the wonders we did. It showed Eyes Of Rome treats each person they come in contact with, the same, with open arms to share their city with. Sherry and Justin weren’t the only friends, as more friends have also shared in this wonderful experience. Recently my good friend Jessica Plesz and her friend went, of course after reading my first writings of Eyes Of Rome, had Katie also tour with them. She too has been touched by Italy in ways Eyes Of Rome seem to do, as now so many countless friends I’ve referred to them feel. I will urge anyone I know to make sure if they plan a trip to Rome, to let me put them in touch with Eyes Of Rome.
Since our visit and those memorable days, thanks to social media and especially Facebook, we have kept in touch with Emiliano and Katie, becoming close friends, holding a special bond with them. Emiliano visited Southern California and actually stayed with the Dennis and Asheley. Katie visited her family in the Orange County for the Holidays not long after our visit to Rome and Nicole and I were able to spend some time with her. She even brought Nicole a present from Rome, black truffle tapenade.
Since then Katie has came out a few more times, and each time we always make sure to get together. It’s as we’ve been friends forever, a bond we can not express enough for. Everyone that makes up Eyes Of Rome are truly warm people, and I only hope so many others get this chance to form friendships with them. All from going on a “tour.”
Speaking of tours, when I first wrote about Eyes Of Rome, I asked both Emiliano and Katie, of the many tours they do, which personally to them do they enjoy the most. Emiliano answered back then… “We have a lot of new tours actually coming up as we became official partners of the Vatican Museums and that is opening for us a few doors within the Vatican. I mean it literally!!! So there is a lot to choose from but if you ask me which one is my personal favorite tour? I would say “In the footsteps of Julius Caesar.” It is not a tour I would recommend for first time travelers to Rome to take, but it is a tour I am bonded with because I created it. I studied an itinerary and I’m a very big fan of Julius Caesar due to the fact (you might remember this Julian from my tour), that we were born on the same day. However I understand that the classics (Vatican, Colosseum, catacombs…) are way more intriguing visits for travelers to Rome.”
For Katie, she responded… “This is a tough question because every tour is unique! Not only do we offer numerous different itineraries, but also the clients themselves shape the tours in ways you’d never expect. However, if I have to choose one, I would pick the Borghese Gallery tour. The paintings and sculptures in this collection aren’t just beautiful, they are deeply moving. They remind us to slow down, look, and admire, things that we’re forgetting how to do in this fast-paced world we live in.” That’s just two of Eyes Of Rome’s “storytellers” and their take on some of the tours they do. It makes me want to hop on a plane and return to Rome right now and “tour” away with them.
Summing this up, how can one ever thank Eyes Of Rome? I’m not sure, but as Rome is known as the Eternal City, we will be “eternally grateful” for the hours spent with them, and the lifetime of memories created, bringing to life this town of theirs and to our friendships now with Emiliano and Katie. My wife and I, our friends that went with us Jenn and Tracy, our friends who have also enjoyed, Dennis and Asheley, Sherry and Justin and the many more who have gone since… will always make sure anyone we know well or barely, make Eyes Of Rome part of their Roman adventures!!!
Thank you again, truly for everyone at Eyes Of Rome – Private Tours.