After our one day in Venice, we hopped a train to Rome. Let me tell you something about buying train tickets… We all have global Eurail train passes, which means that we can ride many trains for free. Some trains require advanced reservations for seats or an extra fee, so we’ve spent a good deal of time waiting around to buy tickets. Its always a cluster. You take a number, stand around (literally for years) and wait your turn, then try to communicate what you need to people who often don’t speak a shared language with you. Talk about challenging! We did this in both Venice and Rome, and I am so glad we are done buying train tickets. I am also glad that we are done with Italian train stations at this point… They are BUSY and rather dirty. OK, so, we arrived in Rome with vague directions to our Air BnB that involved getting on a public bus. This bus gets pretty packed with people and we are trying not to kill anyone with our backpacks, fall over, or miss our stop. Success on three counts… Goose and I had separated from Frank and Louie (to get the aforementioned train tickets) and I unfortunately directed us off at the wrong stop. Apparently our bus only runs once in a flipping blue moon, so we spent a while chilling in a little piazza wondering if we were stranded. We made it eventually, however, and discovered that our apartment was SWEET with a lovely rooftop terrace. Even from the bus we started to see the famous Roman landmarks like the Colosseum. Its crazy to be casually surrounded by so much history! This basically sums up my experience with Rome: it is a busy, dirty city with crowded public transit (think sardines), but happens to contain the most amazing sights inside it that it makes everything else worthwhile. We stayed in Rome for 3 days and saw the Colosseum, Roman Forum, Palatine Hill, Circus Maximus, the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, and many other amazing sights! I can’t describe the feeling of standing amongst ruins that are 2+ millennia old. So cool. I have photos of all of these that you can see on Facebook, or just wait til I can finally upload from my fancy camera. Pictures do more justice to these things than words. Something interesting I learned in Rome was that the Colosseum and other ancient ruins used to be covered in marble. Imagine something so huge and gleaming white! Apparently the marble was pillaged to use in building during the dark ages. I also learned that it took 45,000 slaves 4 years to build the Colosseum and that only 2% of the gladiators survived their fights either with animaas orneach other. Brutal.
On one of our first couple days there we stumbled upon a festival in the Circus Maximus, which is essentially an old race track where chariot races were held while the Emperor watched from his palace balcony nearby on Palatine Hill. We learned that the festival was in celebration of Rome’s birthday, the 21st of April. I’ll have to look up the actual story… Anyway, there was music, choreographed dancing, and a bunch of dudes in gladiator and chariot racer costumes from what I assumed were different periods of history. It was a pretty cool thing to randomly find!
On our 3rd day in Rome, we took a guided tour of the Vatican. If you’re ever going to the Vatican, that is the way to do it. For one, the lines to get in are outrageous and for two, it is a vast place (9 miles of museum galleries)! It was super crowded inside, so the guides all have extendable metal sticks with a flag or something on the end so that you can follow them through the sea of people. You get very used to pushing, shoving, and stepping on other peoples feet while trying to move through the crowds. The Vatican has, allegedly, the 2nd “most important” collection of artworks following the Louvre. I was most amazed by the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica. As I’m sure you all know, Michaelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel with a series of frescoes on the ceiling and walls. The fresco style is the painting onto wet plsaster and is apparently quite challenging, making the chapel even more impressive. Painting the chapel took around 4 years if I recall correctly. Unlike many other painters, Michaelangelo did not play well with others and didn’t work with students, meaning he did all the work himself. Allegedly he lived inside the chapel for periods of time, even sleeping on the scaflfold where he worked. He let no one see his works in process, however the sneaky other painter Raphael apparently took a premature peak and was so impressed he paid homage to Michaelangelo in one of his works at the time.The ceiling panels of the chapel depict the creation, one wall depicts stories of Christ from the new testament, another wall depicts stories from the old testament, and a third depicts the rapture. Michaelangelo seems to have been a bit of a snarky individual and painted one of the Pope’s associates (who opposed some of Michaelangelo’s work) as a demon in the rapture scene. The pope was like, well what do you want me to do? I want to meet Michaelangelo… Seems like an interesting dude. When you visit the Sistine Chapel, there is no photography, and the guards are constantly calling for silence. You shuffle to a space along one of the walls and hope no one runs over you while you gaze upward in awe. The Vatican is also home to St. Peters basilica. This basilica is massive. Its the size of a small town. It has a central nave with many chapels off to both sides, where masses, funerals, or weddings can be held. Imagine getting married there… Lining the basilica are massive statues of the saints and intricate mosaic copies of the original artwork. The basilica boasts the tallest Dome in the city, which you can climb for some amazing views of Rome and St Peter’s Square. Climbing the dome is challenging, but worth it. The stairs are narrow and lean in sideways towards the dome. Honestly it made me a little dizzy. Below the basilica are the grottos, or tombs, of St. Peter himself and many other Popes. A small section is open to guests, but I imagine the catacombs below the basilica are vast and I reallllly wanted to see the rest. Basically I wanted to feel like Indiana Jones or something…
After our morning at the Vatican, we hopped an ever crowded bus out to a road called the Ancient Appian Way. This was one of the first “highways” ever built and connected Rome with Naples (I think it was Naples…). Now it is a pretty stone roadway, still used by cars, lined with miscellaneous ancient ruins. Two of Rome’s most famous catacombs are along this road, but unfortunately we didn’t get to visit them as they closed earlier in the day. I was pretty disappointed, I’m really into the whole catacomb deal for some morbid reason. We ended that day with a stroll around the Trastevere neighborhood, a cuter and less touristy area of Rome, complete with a few glasses of wine at a little wine bar. The bars in Rome do an interesting thing… Their “happy hours” consist of a few drink specials but also a buffet,
. Not a crusty, possibly salmonella infected buffet, but a legit array of sandwiches, veggies, cheese, etc. You pay a little more for your drink and then can eat all you want for “free”. It is a nice snack before the late dinner typical of Italy.
Our last day in Rome was kind of a series of failed sightseeing attempts. We did successfully see the Pantheon, a formerly pagan church kidnapped and converted by the Christians around 102AD. The Trevi fountain was next on our list but is actually under construction right now, bummer. Last was the Spanish Steps, which were covered in people and I’m honestly still not quite sure of their significance. We gave up on touristing and went shopping instead. I got a dress, it was nice… None of my pants or shorts really fit anymore, but I guess that’s what you get when you “vacation ” for 2 months! I don’t regret any of the croissants (pistachio or almond are my favorites), gelato (pistachio again, or maybe ricotta and fig), pasta, gnocchi, or wine! Bring it on obesity!
I’m probably forgetting a bunch of stuff. Rome was jam packed with activities and experiences! On to Florence for the next installment of Ray Away.
Which reminds me, people yell at you here… Especially Louie (Ashley) and myself, we think because the blonde hair is weird. They say Ciao Bella! and get literally right in your face. Not cool, bro. Another group of people entirely also love to get in your face: the people selling selfie sticks… “Selfie, selfie, one euro, one euro, discount price, selfie, selfie!” They’re everywhere! Others sell scarves, camera/phone chargers, water, whatever. They’re all quite forceful. Sometimes the police chase them away, particularly from the Vatican, which is simultaneously sad and hilarious. End tangent.