The Eternal City: Rome

The ferry adventure was over and we were on our way from Ancona to Rome. The train ride was a regional rail line which stopped in every town towards Rome, making the journey about four or five hours long. Great for seeing the landscape and numerous towns or villages, not fun for two weary travelers from a long trip across the Adriatic.
We arrived in Rome and jumped on a bus to head towards Trastevere; a neighborhood across the Tiber River where we would meet our new hosts for our Air B&B. The bus route took us past all the sights, and the memories of my first time in Rome began to overwhelm me. I was already in full tourguide mode, pointing here and motioning there, trying to show Abby the highlights. However, we were on a bus jam-packed with people, our backpacks stuffed and making any type of mobility impossible. Abby shook her head and simply nodded in agreement at the things she could and couldn’t see. We met our hosts on the corner of the block by our new home. It was gorgeous. Tile floors, two beautiful bedrooms with air condition in each room. Quite a large apartment for Europe. They had numerous treats set out on the table for our arrival: nuts, olives, breads, juices and even a bottle of wine waiting for us. They also supplied us with a traveling HotSpot, allowing us to carry WiFi around Rome (which we would use numerous times to FaceTime friends and family). They had made a booklet of restaurants, markets, gelaterias, bakeries, and points of interests that we would take full advantage of. They explained a little about the neighborhood and the history of Trastevere. It is the most traditional Roman/Etruscan neighborhood left in the gigantic city, filled with authentic eateries and a feel for Rome unlike any other. Most of the tourists spots around the Colosseum, the Forum, Pantheon, etc. cater to tourism and do not offer authentic Roman foods. We thanked our host and spent little time indoors before heading out to explore Rome.

 

Tired as we were, the excitement of “Roma” took hold and we headed out the door to “Ai Spaghetteria,” a place two minutes up the street from our apartment in Trastevere. Our hosts recommended it and said the carbonara and amatriciana were their specialties. We, of course, tried the two pasta dishes. It was unlike anything we have had before. The homemade noodles, the pork cheek with the carbonara OR amatriciana were nothing like your friendly neighborhood Olive Garden. We were in love with Rome already, only two plates and two drinks in.  I couldn’t wait to see Abby’s face when she took in the Colosseum for the first time, so we took a stroll over the Tiber and made our way in that direction. The thrill of the city had set in for Abby; that I could see.  The whole city is a museum.  Rome is littered with ruins, marble, columns, and statues of the great empire that stood there for so long. Every turn, every path, every road has evidence
of it’s great past. We made our way around the Forum, to the Colosseum and circled back to Trastevere tired and sore, but excited to see what the next days would bring.

 

We slept in Tuesday, regained our strength from our long days of travel prior to Rome, and set out for the more central part of the city. The weather was scorching, reaching the 100s numerous times on our trip, but there’s nothing that some good wine or gelato can’t fix. We snaked our way through the streets to the Pantheon. A Roman center of worship, it was built to house numerous Roman gods where you could go to pray to whomever you needed favor from for that day. It is filled with niches that were once filled with
statues of the gods, but is now converted to a Catholic church (a theme for most pagan or Roman temples). The marble and different stones used for the interior still shimmer like they did 2000 years ago. The most mysterious part of the whole Pantheon, though, is the huge dome over the top. One solid piece of carved stone was placed on the top to enclose the temple, a dome that would be the largest in the world until the Houston Astro-Dome was built in the 1960s. Historians are still unsure how they were able to lift such a large, single piece of stone so high in to the air. Also inside, the tomb of Raphael lies beneath the Statue of the Virgin Mary.  Ironically, Raphael died at the age of 27 from syphilis . His epitaph reads, “Here lies Raphael, by whom Nature feared to be outdone while he lived. And when he died, feared that She herself would die.” Also buried in the Pantheon is Victor Emmanuel II, the first King of Italy. Free entry into the Pantheon makes the visit even sweeter.

 

From the Pantheon we got some homemade gelato and made our way to the Trevi Fountain. Built into the facade of a palace and fed by a natural spring, the fountain is rivaled by none other in Rome. The sculpture to Oceanus displays the emotion of the seas, the horses representing the chaos and terror that the sea can induce and also the calm, peace and serenity. Abby threw her pennies into the fountain, right hand over her left shoulder, wishing for something I will never know :). We moved on from Trevi and
made our way to the Piazza de Spagna. The Spanish Steps, a gift to Spain after some misfortune brought to them by the Italians, are the sight to see at this square. The uneven, slanting marble stairs (a good place to people watch when the rain falls in Rome…marble is VERY slick when wet) glisten in the sun and at the summit of the stairs sits a beautiful church and Egyptian obelisk. There is a story about the obelisk that few know. While placing the obelisk on it’s pedestal, one of the worker’s hand was crushed and smashed underneath the obelisk. Obviously from the massive weight of the obelisk, it could not be lifted and the hand was simply left there for eternity.

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After climbing the Spanish steps, we circled around to the edge of “Ancient Rome” towards the Piazza del Popolo (The People’s Square). The Aurelian Gate entrance to old Rome is there and it was one of the largest piazzas in Rome. It was a place for socializing, markets, and even public hangings and executions. It needs to be said that “piazzas” are EVERYWHERE in Rome. Simply meaning “square,” the piazzas are all unique to their location and seem to be named for their most prominent landmark, whether that is
a church, statue, fountain, etc. They are all very fun and interesting to explore and all offer their own “personality” or identity to their area. I couldn’t even tell you which one was our favorite, since they all seem to be as unique as a finger print. The heat took its toll, and the miles walked were even longer than expected. We made our way back to Trastevere for supper and sleep. We were already becoming acclimated to Italian culture, where the siesta rules. Lunch is usually ate between 2 and 3 pm,
while supper isn’t served until 9 pm or later. It wasn’t uncommon to be walking home around midnight and families would just be sitting down to have dinner. We took full advantage of the siesta our following days in Rome.

Wednesday we had to get up early to make our ticket reservation at the Vatican. We were scheduled to enter at 9 am. We arrived shortly before and hopped in line, so excited to experience one of the greatest pieces of art; the Sistine Chapel. We didn’t wait long before entering and were soon walking through the halls and corridors of the Popes. Several rooms were done by Raphael and we were inspired by the map hall, the tapestry hall, rooms of Egyptian and Near East art, and more. The halls lead their way to
the Sistine Chapel where we found ourselves gawking at the ceiling and leaving with a sore kneck. While we were in the Sistine Chapel, a priest stepped out and asked for silence. He offered prayers and asked for questions about the faith. It was very interesting to sit in the Chapel and be able to partake in a moment of silence and prayer with a prominent figure in the Church, and quite possibly the most prominent building in the Catholic religion. After many minutes and lots of peering into the Great Ceiling, we left and made our way home to partake in siesta. We were only about 30 minutes
away from home, but the siesta lifestyle fit in perfectly with our early morning. We took a snooze, woke up and went into the center of town to crack a bottle of wine and have some drinks near the most famous landmarks of Rome. We started with a couple small drinks around the Pantheon and continued our way towards the Forum and Colosseum where we made numerous calls to family and friends using our HotSpot. After chatting, having some public drinks, and wandering the back streets of Rome, we made our way to a recommended restaurant by our hosts known as Queen Bee. We were the only ones in the place but could tell by the service that it wasn’t your every day burger place. We quickly found that a bottle of wine was cheaper than buying drink for drink, so they cracked a bottle of delicious Italian nectar to help us prepare for dinner. Abby followed up with some amatriciana and I had lobster paccheri, all within an Applebee’s (even cheaper) budget. I paid $12 for live lobster pasta while Abby’s meal came to $8. Since we were the only people in the restaurant at the time, a young fellow (around 16?) practiced his English and tried to take our dessert order.  After stumbling over a few words and not knowing a full phrase, he looked over his shoulder for some help from other servers while they laughed and patted him on the shoulder, all in a good day’s work. We certainly weren’t hard on him and joked with the staff as we finished our bottle and wrapped up our delicious meal.  A full bottle of Italian wine and two hearty dishes later, we made our familiar walk home to Trastevere to soak in that Italian wine and oh-so-delicious cheap dinner.

 

Thursday morning we woke up, had some breakfast at home and made our way to explore the Colosseum. We traveled back in time, listening to our audio guide and wandering the ruins of the most well-known stadium in the world. Before we knew it, three hours had passed and we were starving! We grabbed lunch in Palazzo Venezia and walked the familiar path over the Tiber River to Trastevere where we planned to spend our evening. We refreshed with a siesta and got ready for a night out in our neighborhood.  We went down onto the river walk and wandered the shops and snack bars on the Tiber. We picked up a couple souvenirs, relaxed by the rushing waters and watched the people go by. After the long walk through the Colosseum and the intense heat, we were ready for bed a bit earlier than normal.

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Friday came and we slept very well and very late into the day.  We journeyed back towards the Colosseum to begin part II of our tickets. For only 12 euro, you get access to the Colosseum, the Forum, and Palatine Hill (Palaces of the Emperors, most notably Augustus, Nero, Caligula and more). We entered the Roman Forum, the main square of Ancient Rome and the heart of the Roman Empire. Strolling past the numerous temples, the humongous columns, the rubble and wandered down one of the oldest
roads in the world, Abby and I were in agreeance; the Colosseum is astounding and a must, but the Forum is unexplainable and the real jewel of Rome. While eavesdropping on a guide during our walk, she said, “This is the path walked by the rich and famous. I’m not talking about celebrities or Hollywood, but the Emperors and leaders of the most well known Empire ever formed.” The nostalgia of the whole place takes over you. We zig-zagged through the Forum, a much larger area than what the eye beholds. Maybe, in comparison, to a 3×3 set of football fields. Overlooking the Forum is Palatine Hill. We marched up some stairs after three hours of exploring the Forum and began our route through the remains of the palaces of the emperors of Rome. The hill is bordered by the Forum on one side and Circo Maximo on the other, a chariot raceway that was estimated to hold 250 thousand people. The hill is very famous, and was symbolic to the Emperors because as legend has it, it was the hill that Remus and Romulus were nursed back to health by the She-Wolf and thus began the first settlement of Rome among
it’s Seven Hills. We walked through the private senator suites that were placed high above Circo Maximo, peered into the palaces of Augustus (I wonder if Cleopatra ever stayed overnight there? :)), saw the home of Nero (a man who I’m not sure if he ever could sleep soundly with how cruel he was) and looked down the tunnel where Caligula was assassinated (probably well deserved). After about five or six hours of exploring in the high Roman heat, we were exhausted and ready to make our way back to Trastevere.

 

After a quick siesta (I’m telling ya, the Italians and Spanish have it figured out!), we found a bar near our place and planted some roots for one of the longest happy hours in Rome. Abby had four (or five) rounds of mojitos while I drank a few beers and ended with a Moscow Mule. On our way back to our apartment, the fog set in and Abby began asking questions that I SWORE I had answered a hundred times before. We had plans to go home, refresh and head back out…but let’s just say the night ended much sooner than we thought and not even a “siesta” could save us this time.

Our last full day in Rome came, sadly, and we set out to go to St. Peter’s Piazza in the Vatican. After our tour through the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel days before, we tried to get in to St. Peter’s Square but were denied because of our water bottle. We aren’t sure what type of event was being held in the square that day, especially after a separate guard told us to come back in 10-15 minutes. Our only thought was that possibly, the first guard checking bags was a little more strict than most. However, the square was wide open on this day, without anyone checking bags, so the day in the past must have had some significance. We took in the sights of the square, but were slightly dismayed that we did not get to see Papa Francesco. Since it was our last day, we wandered back through Rome on our way back to our apartment to see our favorite sights one last time before moving on to our second city in Italy: Florence. Truth be told, if I wasn’t such a biased Czech, Rome (or Italy overall) is probably the place to visit if you can only make one trip to Europe in your lifetime.

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