Rome – Day 1
1pm, Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, Rome
I woke up at 6am, far too excited for Rome to fall back asleep, so I moved my luggage to my new room for the next 5 nights and took the metro to Vatican City. Yeah, I have museum reservations for tomorrow, but I just couldnâ€™t wait to see St. Peters. I got there at 8am and it wasnâ€™t too crowded.
The Vatican has a huge circle of pillars in front of the church, with a fountain. This church is MASSIVE, itâ€™s insane. There are so many little areas to venture into. I saw a few priest-type folks (wearing white robes) praying in a few spots and even singing. The sunlight was shining through the church windows and streaming light beams down through the church. I got to see Michelangeloâ€™s Pieta statue, though it was behind glass, yielding a somewhat obstructed view. In short, I feel St. Peters is majestic and dignified. Other churches (e.g. St. Marks) are more ornate or decorative; this one is less so, yet still sensational.
I decided to climb the cupola (dome) â€“ by the end, I was drenched in sweat. Most people paid more to take the elevator up, but everyone had to walk up steep, narrow stairs at the end. Definitely not a fan of those. At the top, we had a nice view of the city and surrounds, though I wasnâ€™t sure where any of the landmarks were. We also got to circle around the dome inside the church and view it from above. The people below looked like ants! I have to say, the altar is pretty spiffy. When I left at 10am, the church was packed and the line to get in was crazy-long.
From the Vatican, I could see the massive line to get into the museum â€“ yikes. I grabbed a cappuccino and headed toward the center, trying to avoid the crazy drivers. Itâ€™s every man for himself here – drivers ignore crosswalks, pedestrians ignore traffic lights, everyone just goes when they feel like it and hopes the other side will yield.
I bought bread and toothpaste (mine mysteriously did not make it with me from Venice) and then around the corner, was greeted by The Pantheon. Unlike everything else in Rome, this building is not in ruins. It has several huge columns and a triangular top, but the inside is actually the Basilica di Santa Maria ad Martyres, with a domed ceiling and altar, and several compartments around the walls with paintings, statues, and tombs. Raphaelâ€™s tomb is in there, by the way. I was really quite taken by the Pantheonâ€™s interior and didnâ€™t expect it to be so pretty!
Nearby was Santa Maria Sopra Minervaâ€¦ yet another gorgeous church. The domed ceiling has a deep royal colored background with gold bordering. Iâ€™ve been in here for about an hour now and have absolutely no desire to leave.
8:10pm, Dal Paino Hostaria, Rome
So the Forum is basically a bunch of ruins scattered around in one big area. Thereâ€™s a path winding through them (and tour groups galore). So cool to see all those random columns standing when they used to be part of a temple or palace. There are random little chunks of stone (remnants, if you will) scattered everywhere. Itâ€™s so crazy that it was actually the Romans (and not some enemy) that destroyed their own buildings, taking pieces from them to build new ones.
As I made my way through the Forum, I could see the Coliseum down the street. I couldnâ€™t NOT check it out, so I walked around it in awe, eager to enter it sometime soon.
Later on, I checked out some more churchesâ€¦ (apparently this city has 900+!):
- Basilica di San Clemente â€“ gorgeous mosaics in the apse, lots of sparkling gold, not too big
- Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore â€“ massive, beautiful ceiling and altar, mosaicsâ€¦ just beautiful.
The churches here are all STUNNING, Iâ€™m having so much fun exploring them. Theyâ€™re all organized similarly, but manage to look distinct. And I love how theyâ€™re all free to enter and photograph.
Come to think of it, bathrooms here seem to be free to use too. And, as in other cities, there are water fountains all over. I donâ€™t need to lug a water bottle around! And food is cheaper than in Venice!
But, on the negative end, Rome is dirty, full of traffic, loud (sirens galore! And honking!), hecticâ€¦ kind of like NYC, but it has all this history. So far Iâ€™m enjoying it. I should have plenty of time to see all that I want to see.
Waiters must think Iâ€™m crazy when I never order a drink with meals â€“ sorry bub, Iâ€™m not paying for water!
Iâ€™m currently eating dinner in the Historic Center at Dal Paino. Gnocchi Amatriciano. It is amazing. Potato dumplings in tomato sauce with bacon and spicesâ€¦ ahh. Some guy is playing the xylaphone outside the restaurant, aw. Itâ€™s kind of nice.
Afterwards, I headed over to Piazza Navona as the sun was setting and sat awhile and listened to a guy perform some classics (â€˜Hotel Californiaâ€™ and â€˜Stairway to Heavenâ€™). It made my night! Lots of people (tourists and young locals) were gathered around listening to him. Lots of vendors selling paintings. Lots of obnoxious Asians trying to force you to buy stupid little light-flashing things. Lots of black people selling knockoff designer bags and sunglasses. I love how people come out to the square after dinner and hang out or meet up with friends. So many here seem to know each other. Itâ€™s a very social thing. Man, I would have loved to have this growing up â€“ you meet up with friends in the square every evening, chit chat, get gelato, and then walk a few blocks to get home. Sure beats the hell out of living in a house in the middle of nowhere growing up!
I wandered over to the Trevi Fountain, which was swarming with tourists and their cameras. Had cassata (eh, Iâ€™ve had better renditions of it) and zabaione (that amazing coolwhip-like flavor) gelato and played with my camera and tripod. The water was glowing blue in the fountain. I thought it would have been much bigger, but it seemed pretty ordinary in person.
Then I got lost, ended up at the Spanish Steps (I still donâ€™t get why theyâ€™re such a big deal), got lost again, went a weird way back to the hostel, and finally arrived at 11:30pm.