Moving South through Italy, our next visit was to the always-popular city of Rome. I was anxious, of course, because the bulk of my “Places To See” list contained attractions across Rome.
But Roma wasn’t about to welcome me in that easily.. There were a few hours of absolute panic when there was no available space left at the hotel where the boys were staying. And without an internet connection, the only means to find a place that would take me in for the next four nights was to walk from door to door, ask about rates and availability, and just pray that something would work out.
After a little more than half an hour of questioning, I found a “hotel” at the end of an alleyway, surrounded by various Asian shops and restaurants. The price was good and it was close to the boys’ hotel, only a few blocks away. I committed, dragged my luggage up five flights of stairs, and we were out to see Rome!
We wandered with no real intention besides eventually finding a place to eat. After walking several blocks and turning even more corners, we stumbled upon the Trevi Fountain. After a stressful arrival, my mood was stuck in a funk, but at the first glimpse of this gorgeous fountain I couldn’t stop smiling.
Tucked in a small courtyard of sorts, the Trevi is not at all what I’d expected, but so much more beautiful than I could ever describe. Its location threw me off the most, after picturing it alongside a grand piazza, surrounded by buildings that compared in intricacies and age. A small stretch of steps, much like an auditorium, surrounds the water. It was unbelievably clean in a city that was not so much so. The water was an absolutely pure blue, aside from the specks of coins glittering underneath the pool. The statues surrounding the fountain were nearly spotless and showed little signs of yearly wear.
We seemed to arrive at the optimal time to be seen at the Trevi Fountain, although it’s unlikely that the place is ever empty. It was difficult to maneuver through the dense crowd or get a decent photo without including some strangers, but we shot what we could then got the heck out of that madness!
Continuing on with our exploring, we grabbed a snack as we walked and then made another stumble upon the Spanish Steps. There, we rested and people-watched for quite some time. I think we were in need of a few minutes to process our new city; it had been pretty overwhelming so far.
Once we’d mustered up the energy to climb the steps, we climbed even further up to get a view of the city. From there, we saw a full panorama of Rome as the sun was beginning to set.
In Italy, particularly Rome, it’s difficult to choose where you’re going for dinner. Not because the price for meals are expensive or the options are too good you can’t choose.. but because the hosts stand outside of their restaurant and practically drag you to a table. They simply won’t say no for an answer. This particular night, as we walked along a narrow road around the Rome shopping district, our way was blocked by a very adamant host, who, after he determined that we were Americans, practically man-handled us to a table near another group of Americans. How wonderful! Because when I’m traveling abroad, I want nothing more than to dine with complete strangers who happen to be from my country, no matter if their from the opposite end. This lovely group was from Louisiana and they were very friendly, aside from their constant complaining over the “poor service” at Italian restaurants in Italy. (But really, who ordered a hamburger in Italy in the first place…?)
Anyway, I nearly finished an entire pizza all on my own. Thank goodness I had men to finish what I couldn’t.
The following day started very, very early. We wanted to avoid the crowds we were sure to encounter throughout the day, so we were on out and on our way to our first destination by six a.m. Yikes! Thankfully the sun was up and brightly shining, so it wasn’t too difficult to get moving.
We jumped on the Metro and made our way towards Vatican City. A few blocks of walking and we finally reached the empty Saint Peter’s Square. Such a massive expanse, continually filled with thousands of people. Even standing at the center of the square, it’s difficult to imagine how immensely important this territory is for Rome.
Moving right along, we looped our way through the empty queue to enter the Basilica. Shoulders and knees covered, I dreamily wandered through the huge church. The design was executed by a number of artists, including Michelangelo and Bernini, and although each contributed a taste of the Renaissance style, it’s easy to see the difference in technique covering the Basilica walls. Yet, there’s a cohesiveness and flow to the construction of St. Peter’s; an obvious praise to the Holy See.
As we walked through and studied the seemingly never-ending artwork covering the walls and ceilings, a series of morning services conducted in various languages were taking place at select alters. It felt a bit intrusive for so many tourists to be walking around, shooting photos, while these people were in the middle of such a personal ritual.
After we’d observed nearly every corner of St. Peter’s Basilica, we went to find a quick bite to eat. We spun through a small market, grabbed some snacks, and sat down to rest in a nearby park before continuing on with our day. We wandered through the Roman streets surrounding Vatican City for some odd hours until stumbling upon the Pantheon.
From the outside, it looks to be a fairly basic piece of Roman architecture, with towering columns and the mandatory script hovering over the entrance. But on the inside, the Pantheon’s dome and impressive oculus stun the visitors that enter its doors.
I’d recently taken a course that touched on the architecture of the Pantheon and how, as you remain planted in one spot inside of the dome, the space seems to move around you because of the oculus. The circle of light moves along the walls of the dome, always changing the perspective of the observer. It was definitely true. What a hypnotizing sight to observe…
After the Pantheon, it was nearly time for our tour of the Vatican Museum. We made our way over, got through security check, and casually made our way through the impressive exhibits and hallways of the Vatican. The flow of traffic pulls you through a seamless journey of the 54 salas, or galleries, of artwork, sculptures, and collections, each room teeming with detail and history, until you reach the Sistine Chapel. The rectangular room is literally covered in colorful frescoes by Botticelli, Perugino, Pinturicchio, and of course, Michelangelo. A small army of security monitors the visitors, bellowing commands of silence and scolding those who take photos of the art. Of course, I snuck a couple shots of Michelangelo’s Last Judgement that covers the entire ceiling.
Our minds and bodies were exhausting from the day full of history and art and miles of walking. I was thankful to finally return to my bed.
The destinations for our next day in Rome? The Colosseum and the Roman Forum.
The Colosseum is massive. Trying to imagine the original structure of the space, filled with upwards of 50,000 citizens of the Roman Empire proved to be overwhelming. The site was once the epicenter for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles. The arena was often transformed to represent other places of the world, with movable trees and buildings and hundreds of live, exotic animals. The original arena floor has mostly worn away, exposing the intricate leveled hypogeum, with held an incredibly advanced set of hydraulic mechanisms. This system of pulleys and elevators allowed animals and performers to appear from various hidden doorways of the arena floor.
Next, the Forum, which was once the city center of Rome, occupied a few hours of our time. Today, a mere collection of fallen buildings and broken remains, it was once the hub of government and political buildings. Even in its destruction, the Forum shows how advanced the Roman Empire was for its time.
Spending the majority of the day in the scorching Italian heat took a lot of energy out of us. The remainder of our day was dedicated to nap time and then a quick dinner before falling quickly asleep.
The next morning commenced our final day in Rome. Our original plan had been to visit the rest of the iconic spots that we didn’t hit during our tours of the Vatican and the Colosseum, but since we’d unintentionally stumbled upon those places while wandering the streets the days before, we didn’t have much of an agenda when we finally set out for the city.
We made a quick stop at what I thought was just an older church. As I walked in and through the pews, I glanced to my left towards an alter that was brightly lit and nearly had a heart-attack. The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa rested before me and I could hardly believe my eyes. Perhaps it was the surprise of seeing such an iconic work of art in such a casual place, but I was absolutely giddy over it.
The sculpture was completed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini in 1652 and was undoubtedly one of the most controversial and scandalous pieces of work of the time. The piece depicts an event describes from Saint Teresa’s autobiography, in which she interacts with God through the form of an angel. God pierces her and invokes a religious ecstasy, comparable to one of sexual nature. Bernini was reprimanded by multiple figures for bringing Teresa down to suggest her impurity. Bernini’s intention with the sculpture is uncertain, but it is easy to see where the suggestive implications derive from. Nonetheless, the work is stunning and I loved getting to see it in person.
We spent the rest of the hot, hot day walking around Villa Borghese. Today, it’s a popular park with museums, a zoo, ponds, and grand gardens. We enjoyed watching the ducks and turtles swim in the ponds before heading back to our hotels and calling it a day.
My visit to Rome was one for the books and I will certainly carry and cherish all of the memories from my time there.