A year in the making I finally made it to Italy. Rome has been lovely so far giving me a nice warm welcome in more ways than one - the temperatures are toasty (I can't imagine it here in the summer, eek talk about sweaty and fresh smelling of B.O.), the sights are spectacular, the food is delish (pizza, gelato, pasta, meats, cheeses, wine), and the men are pretty dang beautiful. Ahh Italians. While there's a lot of major stuff to see wandering the little alley ways and saying off main boulevards is how I spent three days. Pretty great start to country number three.
My one problem, well I might have a few but I'll start with one, SELFIE STICKS! OMG, they're everywhere and because they're so popular the annoying street vendors are selling them - I don't know how many times I've been offered to by one or a charger or some other shit. It's like a torture treatment whereby if you're asked enough times you'll give in. I'm holding strong, but not sure how much longer I can do it. Second issue while I'm on it is that the city is great for walking, I've walked miles every day, but there are like no traffic lights. So it's back to a game of frogger every time you want to cross the street. There may or may not be a cross walk, but good luck either way. I was told you just need to look the drivers in the eyes and determine their inclination to stop. Good luck when that's a bus coming at you!
Rome is the first stop on likely about two weeks in Italy. But to be honest I really don't have it planned beyond next week so I'm not really sure how long I'll be here and where all I'll go. After three full days here I could certainly spend a lot more and I'm considering coming back - especially since the Borghese Gallery escaped me and my lack of pre-planning and I wasn't able to get a ticket to visit. Oh well, something for next time.
I'd say I did pretty well though in terms of covering ground - and I did it all by foot! I tried to hit major sights first thing in the morning to avoid the crazy crowds and then just meander the small streets throughout the afternoon and evening while popping into random churches or other things as I passed. There are more tour groups here than you could ever imagine. All of them have their leader with their little flag and microphone so everyone can hear them through the headsets. It's totally insane. I thought Paris was touristy this feels ten fold!
Here's my collection of photos from three days of wandering:
Tuesday I set out for a day in Ancient Rome - Colosseum, Forum, Pantheon, and whatever else I could stumble upon. All of them were top notch. I had pre-planned the Colosseum so was able to skip the ticket queue and head right in after ooging around the outside for a while. It really is magnificent! It's interesting though because today we are fascinated by the structure, architecture, and of course the history. But what tends to be lost is that loads of people actually died in there, and all for sport. Pretty sick when you think about it, but hey, we all loved the movie Gladiator and eventually Rome was taken by Christianity and all that madness stopped. The sheer number of people that the place could hold and the structure itself are mind boggling. And, it's not even so much time that's worn it down, it's earthquakes that have toppled much of it. And then when Christianity came and churches needed to be built most of the marble that once covered the surfaces of the Colosseum was used elsewhere around Rome. Those Romans were advanced in more ways that we could think, even recycling :)
After wandering through the crowds of the Colosseum I made my way across the street to the forum. I intended to just use my guidebook and make my way through it but I decided to jump into a small group tour. I figured why not, it was only 10EUR and I'd have someone to talk to and hopefully learn a bit. The area of land that makes up the forum is massive and there's a lot to it from Emperor's houses of Palatine Hill to gardens to temples, and the senate house. Parts of it look like a wasteland of rubble and parts look quite like what that would have hundreds and hundreds of years ago. Apparently until not all that long ago the Forum area was just a park in Rome so people were able to just go throughout all of the ruins as they pleased. It's now still quite open but you have to pay admittance and certain areas are restricted and there's archaeological activity everywhere. I guess in a city that's essentially built on ruins you have it everywhere and it's hard to know where to begin!
From the Forum I ticked a few more sights off the list and I'm sure saw things that were 'sights' that I just flew by. When you're surrounded by ruins it's not always easy to tell what's a must stop and smell the roses type place and what's just walk by and think to yourself, man that's old. I did a lot of that over the last few days.
One thing that I was keen to see but was totally shot down on was the Trevi Fountain. As has been par for the course of this trip I shouldn't have gotten my hopes up for a fountain. Again, there was no water in it! It's being restored and apparently it has been going on for like a year so who knows when it will be back up and running. I can't remember which company is paying for it but designers like Furla, Tods, and a few others have been donating money to restore some of the Roman sights. Pretty great but dang it again on the water feature!
The plan for Wednesday was to head to Vatican City and do the museum which I'd booked into at 10AM and then go into St. Peter's to checkout the church and do the dome climb. Part of my plan played out and the other didn't so much. I knew that the Pope did a service on Wednesday mornings and the church was closed during that. What I didn't realize was that meant it was til 1PM. I got to the Vatican Museum around 930 and went right in - again, I had pre-planned with a ticket so I just walked past everyone. I thought the line was long when I first got there but man when I was leaving it was insane. I have no idea why you would't do the advanced ticket - paying 4EUR extra or whatever it was as the booking fee sure waits forever in line!
The museum is overwhelming and extensive. I did the audio tour which was helpful but it's so massive that I was exhausted and only listening to overviews after the first few sections. You wander through all of these halls and exhibits and finally end, well sort of the end, at the Sistine Chapel. I don't know that I've ever seen a full picture of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel because I walked in and didn't realize that's where I was. It was jammed packed but the nice thing is that they do not allow photos in there so the selfie sticks were put away for a moment. The detail of the stories that the images display is spectacular but there's so much of it. I was listening to the audio and actually having a hard time figuring out where to look!
When I finally figured out how to get to the exit - which was ridiculously hard to find and far away - I made my way outside and past all of the crowds waiting to get in and attempted to head towards St. Peter's. I was greeted with every entrance to the square blocked off but there were just loads of people milling around with nothing going on. I ultimately learned that it wouldn't open until 1 and it was only 12. I was not sticking around for everyone else there to rush in. Move on to plan b for the day, which didn't actually exist, and come back tomorrow.
Plan B turned into a delicious lunch of a charcuterie plate and some wine. Just what I needed after wandering the museum! I'd read about this place called La Prosciutteria earlier and decided I needed to check it out - delish! Not sure if it was the wine or the museum but I then proceeded to take a nice afternoon nap :)
Even though vising St Peter's had to wait another day it was totally worth it! The weather Thursday was actually clearer than on Wednesday so it made the views from the top of the dome that much better and I went earlier in the morning so I beat some of the crowds. The queue to get through security wasn't bad and I went straight up to the top of the dome then back into the church. It was hot and sweaty hiking all of the stairs to the top, and the sweater I had on that didn't help! Given that no buildings in Rome can be higher than the dome of St Peter the views across the city are quite nice. Back down in the church itself the views are pretty spectacular too. The ceilings, floors, artwork, canopy over the altar, it's all amazing. Apparently the church can hold 60,000 people standing. Holy cow! So even though there were a gazillion tour groups and it felt like a lot of people there could be loads more.
With my moments of holiness ending I headed off and wandered around for the rest of the afternoon. I walked along the river but that didn't last too long because there's so much pollen I was sneezing like crazy and there's absolutely nothing at the river. Unlike Paris or most other cities that have a river running through there's very little happening in Rome. I saw one sign for boat cruises but I guess given that the riverfront isn't built up and there's no major sights it's hard to capitalize on anything.
As Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn do in the movie Roman Holiday I visited the now ridiculously touristy 'Mouth of Truth' and snapped a pic, and had one of me, sticking my hand in the mouth of this massive old man hole cover. I was hoping that I'd be whisked back in time as Audrey Hepburn :)
When I wasn't transported and turned into Audrey I continued my walking. I strolled back past the Colosseum, Forum, Pantheon and popped into a few churches. Best part about churches is that they're nice and chilled when it's toasty outside. Perfect for a moment's break.
Just before going into the Santa Maria Sopra Minerva Church near the Parthenon (a rare Gothic style church in Rome which I realized I'd paused at earlier due to the elephant obelisk out front) I decided my afternoon snack needed to be gelato. I picked a random spot, selected my flavors (hazelnut and mango this time around) and went to pay... Well, I though I had a 5 euro note but soon realized not so much. I forgot I'd spent my last cash on a four euro coke outside the Vatican. With no cash, and no credit cards accepted I tried to give the gelato back but the nice little lady behind the register insisted that I take it. It was at this point that i realized I was more desperate for an ATM than I'd realized! I couldn't even buy gelato and the Italian mammas were having to take pity on me!
Rome was quite good to me for my short stay. We'll see where the itinerary takes me and what I'm feeling over the next week or so and if I pass back through. I didn't ever notice til someone pointed it out but ROMA is AMOR backwards; definitely a little Amor happening for Italy already after just a few days. I can't stay away from the sea for too long though so Florence is next and then the coastal towns that make up Cinque Terra.