The three of us arrived in Rome on Friday morning after an early bus and train journey. We all celebrated our last ride on the coastal Amalfi road and we tried to appreciated our last glimpses of the beautiful views while we held down our nausea. Once in Rome we headed straight to our hostel, which happened to be in the middle of Chinatown – a phenomenon I didn’t expect to see in Rome!
After settling in a bit we headed straight to Vatican City. Mom and I decided to head into the Vatican Museum to explore (and especially to see the incredible Sistine Chapel) while Nick explored St Peter’s Basilica and the surrounding area. The museum was incredible with its collection of art – I especially enjoyed the Raphael rooms and the map room (full of maps of Italy throughout the ages). After escaping the crowds of the Sistine Chapel (how anyone expects a room packed with hundreds of people to remain quiet is a mystery, but the guards sure do try), mom and I headed for St Peter’s the explore the square and Basilica. We examined statues of the founder saints, the Pieta statue, and the many altars. Then we gawked at the Swiss Guard like awkward tourists while we waited to meet up with Nick.
After Vatican City we accidentally headed to the Spanish Steps, after we had discussed skipping them due to limited time and poor reviews from our friends! I got a bit of teasing from mom and Nick for that one! The steps turned out to be an interesting place – the use of public space in Europe is very different from in Canada. Groups of young people hang out and socialize for free on the steps – no need to buy coffee to sit in the shop or go to the movies or a restaurant. These spaces give people, young and old, a free space to socialize and meet and more than that, a public space people want to spend time in – unlike many city-based public spaces I’ve seen in Canada.
From the Spanish Steps we walked to Trevi Fountain, along the way visiting the Temple of Hadrian and the Column of Marcus Aurelius. At Trevi Fountain we tossed coins amidst the throngs of tourists and then found a nearby restaurant to have dinner. After a bottle of wine and some delicious food we wandered past the Piazza Venezia and the Victor Emmanuel Monument before meandering past the Forum on the way to see the Colosseum at night – its beautiful with the lighting and much calmer than during the day. It actually seemed much more majestic at night than when we visited the next day. After a long day we all turned in to prepare for our very busy next day!
The next morning, after breakfast at the hostel, we all headed out to see the Colosseum during the day. Despite the relatively early start, the crowds were huge and the line took a little while. Eventually we got in and spent some time following the crowds wandering through the levels. The Colosseum was impressively large, but like I mentioned it was much more majestic the previous night without the crowds. It was hard to get a grasp of the place with all the other tourists there – so far in most of my travels I’ve been very fortunate to avoid the tourist throngs and being a person who doesn’t particularly enjoy crowds, they throw me off-balance a bit! After leaving the Colosseum we headed into another crowd at Palatine Hill and walked through to the Forum. It was hot and sticky and also full of people, but very beautiful and the breeze at the top of the hill was cooling.
After a few hours of sticking out the crowds we headed towards the Pantheon, stopping for gelato beforehand. The Pantheon was an incredibly impressive building. Its one of the best preserved Roman buildings left and has been in use continually since its construction. Standing inside I can see why Michelangelo thought that it was the work of angels and why it inspired most modern places of worship. After stopping at a bakery for some sweets and coffee – a welcome break from the busy day – we headed to Piazza Navona where the famous Fountain of the Four Rivers designed by Bernini lives, situated beside Church of Sant’Agnese in Agone by Borromini. Longtime rivals, Bernini designed the statues on the fountain to look like they were holding up the Church – a testament to his lack of faith in Borromini’s designs.
We headed back to the hostel for a rest and Nick started his long process of trying to figure out his flights. Mom and I went for a walk and stumbled into the San Giovanni in Laterano Cathedral – an incredibly beautiful building and we were lucky enough to witness Mass. After our walk we headed to a recommended local restaurant (the staff were very surprised to see non-Italians, but the food was delicious!) On the way back we stumbled onto a local festival celebrating South American immigrants and their culture (as well as its integration with Italian culture) that was sponsored by the local Church. The performances were lovely – lots of music and dancing and Mom and I were treated to a Sicilian immigrant’s cannoli which he was selling from a booth at the festival. It was the best cannoli I’ve ever had – amazing! Mom and I headed back to the hostel to turn in for our flight early the next morning – back home we go!