Italy part 1: Our Roman Holiday
As some famous opera composer named Verdi once said, ‘You may have the universe, if I may have Italy.’ While I personally might not go that far, I can entirely understand his reasoning. There is an endless beauty and magic to be found within that little boot and I have been lucky enough to visit it twice now.
My first encounter with lovely Italy was four years ago with my family. It was ‘the big family vaca’ and we spent a summer traveling all over Europe. This time, my travel companions are two college friends who are also studying abroad in Spain. We decided to take a small break from studying Spanish and head to the land of pasta, pizza and gelato for a week. We split the trip into three main sections-Rome, Florence and Venice (each city will have its own blog post) – with each of us taking a different city to plan. Our first stop was Rome.
Rome. Just the word itself invokes feelings of grandeur. Walking through the city, I’m constantly reminded of Rome’s ancient power and splendor (of course, it probably helps that I just watched Gladiator- are you not entertained!?).
Mary was in charge of Rome and had planned for us to see the following sites: The Vatican museum, the National Roman Museum (a.k.a. the cat museum-I’ll explain shortly), St. Peter’s Basilica, The Pantheon and Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, The Roman Forum and, of course, the Colosseum. To keep this blog post on the relatively short side, I’m going to do what I have done in previous posts, and only write tiny reviews and summaries of the biggest, most famous places we visited. Like last time, Mary’s blog has a more day-by-day blow of accounts, so I’ll put a link to her story below.
The Vatican Museum:
We started off our Roman Holiday with a trip to the good ole Vatican Museums. I had previously visited the museums with my family so it was rather fun to see how much of it I could remember (almost everything except the Egyptian room was the same). This time, right before leaving, we had just finished talking about Dali and Picasso in my art class. The amount of art those museums hold is astounding, so I had completely forgotten that some of Picasso and Dali’s work is in the museum. It was very interesting to revisit and take a closer look at their art.
After making our way through the numerous rooms (the map room is my favorite), we finally made it to the Sistine Chapel. Now, I’m going to be honest here, the Sistine Chapel isn’t my favorite. It’s generally very crowded, and there’s a constant call of ‘no photos, no photos’. The chapel itself is fine, in fact the main image is quite beautiful and if I hadn’t seen it before, both in person and in photographs, I might be more impressed, but I find Michelangelo’s other works such as the David and the Pietà to be much more moving and beautiful.
Quick note: There wasn’t any long lines to get into the museums because we went during the off-season, but it’s always a good idea to buy tickets ahead of time.
The National Roman Museum:
After eating a delicious lunch, we took a train to the Palazzo Massimo (also called the National Roman Museum). I hadn’t gone to this museum with my family, so I didn’t really know what to expect. The tickets were €7 which I think was a fair price. In the Palazzo Massimo itself we saw Roman statues, jewelry, a mummy, and a rather extensive Roman coin collection.
Afterwards, we headed to the Baths of Diocletian, a different branch of the museum right across the street. It was here that we met the ghost cat, or what we originally thought was a ghost cat. Here’s the whole story; as we were watching a film about Roman baths, Catey spotted a cat lying on the lap of the lady in front of us. I thought it was rather odd that someone would take a cat to a museum, but I was also envious because I wanted a cat on my lap too. Later in the evening, we saw the same lady walking through the gardens, only this time the cat was nowhere to be found. We looked for it everywhere and when we couldn’t find it, we came to the conclusion that it must have been a ‘ghost-cat’. Some time later, right before we were about to leave, the cat reappeared, scaring the bajeezus out of me. We got to pet it for a while and the museum man told us it was the museum’s cat (or at least I think that’s what he was trying to imply as his english was even worse than my Italian). The cat was very soft and, overall, we had a great time. I wouldn’t call this museum a ‘must-see’ but If you have the time, it’s a great way to spend a cold evening.
Quick note: I think all museums should have at least one cat.
Saint Peter’s Basilica:
The next morning we headed to St. Peter’s Basilica. I would like to give a quick shoutout to Mary’s planning skills, because not only did we attend mass in one of the most impressive basilicas I’ve ever seen, but we actually saw the Pope afterwards. Well, ‘saw’ might be a strong term. From our position in the square I could discern a tiny white blob waving its arms around. Still, the square was packed, the crowd was cheering and waving signs, and the Pope blessed us. All in all, a pretty cool experience.
Quick Note: Michelangelo’a Pietá is absolutely beautiful. After entering the Basilica, take a sharp right and it’ll be in front of you.
The Pantheon and Trevi Fountain:
After eating a quick on-the-go lunch, we took a very bouncy bus to the general vicinity of the Pantheon and the Trevi Fountain.
The Pantheon is alright. The structure itself it very interesting and it has a hole in the roof, but you don’t need to spend more then half an hour in there. The same can be said for the Trevi Fountain. It’s absolutely beautiful and a great place for pictures, but you don’t need to spend more than 30 minutes there especially in the winter (I might eat my lunch or gelato there in the summer however).
Quick note: I imagine it would be quite cool to watch the rain fall through the hole in the Pantheon roof, so if you get the chance, tell me how it goes.
The Spanish Steps:
I hope the following statement doesn’t make me sound like too much of a pompous, ‘oh, I’m so well-travelled,’ snob, but The Spanish Steps are a lot more fun in the summer. On warm summer evenings, everybody sits on the steps, laughing and chatting. It feels like the place to be, and you can watch the evening sky from the top of the steps. In the winter, it’s just a big, fancy, almost empty, staircase with a church on top (wow that did sound snobbish). Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very nice staircase, and a fine little church, there’s even a beautiful view and a great place for photos, but the summer charm that captivated me the first time I saw it wasn’t there. With that being said however, it was still a pleasant place to visit and I would still recommend that you see it.
Quick Note: When I visited in the summer I remember eating on the steps, but this time we were told food wasn’t allowed. So eat at your own risk.
On our last day we visited the Roman Forum and, to finish things off, the Colosseum.
The Roman Forum:
In my opinion, the Roman Forum is like a side dish to the Colosseum right next to it; it adds a little spice to the whole experience but probably wouldn’t be sufficient on its own. You should visit if you have time, and if you’re really lucky you might hear an instrumental rendition of ‘Despacito’ while you look the ruins.
Quick note: The exit is not the same gate as the entrance, it’s located to the right of the entrance as you walk in. There are signs and arrows pointing it out, but it still took us a surprisingly long time to find.
Ever since I did a sixth grade report on the Colosseum, I have been vastly impressed and enamored of it. To me, it represents the epitome of Rome; beautiful, powerful and, at times, terrible. Standing in the Colosseum, I can almost hear the clash of battles happening in the arena and the shouts and jeers of thousands of spectators.
Fun fact: One of the coolest tidbits I remember from my sixth grade report is the fact that one female gladiator (not as common as male gladiators but still used), won her freedom by killing three opponents with a chamber pot. Food for thought.
To end my Roman Holiday blog post, I’m just going to share a little information about its public transport. As impressive as the ancient ruins and structures of Rome are, its public transportation system is rather lacking. Unlike in Paris where we could travel almost anywhere using the metro, Rome has a very limited metro system. On top of that, we had a bad experience with the bus as we were leaving. Long story short, it arrived to the train station ninety minutes late and although we had given ourselves over an hour and a half of cushion time, we still missed our train to Florence. I don’t think you’ve truly experienced panic until you’re running towards your train and suddenly realize its pulling out of the station. So, just be careful in relying too much on Rome’s public transport.