Rome Wrap Up

Even though I was pretty travel weary when I arrived in Rome, I still managed to really enjoy the city. Here are my tips and tricks:

  1. Rome is a city that you can easily visit multiple times, so there is no need to rush through the city.
  2. I went in winter and I have to say that going during the off season was a good choice. You can still expect crowds at all of the major tourist attractions, but they are pretty manageable. I think the longest wait that I had was about an hour.
  3. Rome is a fairly walkable city. All of the buses that I saw were packed, but I’ve heard that the subway is pretty functional. You can use this website to figure out how to navigate the public transportation system, though be aware that things generally don’t run on time. If you want to avoid public transportation, all of the big tourist sights are probably within an easy 20-60 minute walk no matter where you are in the city.
  4. All of the fountains in Rome offer clean water that you can easily fill a water bottle with. Now when I say fountain I don’t meant that you should dip your water bottle into the nearest Bernini fountain, I mean small water fountains that are scattered throughout the city.
  5. When ordering water at a restaurant it will be bottled (and expensive) unless you specifically request tap water.
  6. Many sights are close to each other so be sure to glance at a map beforehand so that you can be efficient with your time.
  7. If you are a Dan Brown fan and want to follow the major sights listed in Angels and Demons check out this blog.
  8. People in Rome eat late so many restaurants won’t open until late.
  9. I was warned by pretty much everyone I know to watch out for pickpockets in Rome. Honestly as long as you keep an eye on your things and take preventative measures such as zipping up your pockets you’ll be fine.
  10. You do not need to tip at restaurants since a service charge is generally included.
  11. Sights run by the city of Rome should be free on Sundays.
  12. On Sundays the Pope occasionally appears at noon to give blessings to people in St. Peter’s Square.
  13. Many churches have their most famous pieces of artwork in shady corners. Many of these shady corners have lights that are activated when you feed a few euros into a machine.
  14. Have gelato
  15. Italians HATE it when you don’t have exact change so try and keep track of those pesky coins.
  16. While reservations and tours would probably enhance your experience in Rome I was honestly just fine without them. That being said, the standards for tour guides are quite rigorous so if you do hire a guide you will probably have someone who is very knowledgeable about the city and its major sights.
  17. For me the permanent must sees were: the Pantheon, St. Peter’s Basilica (go through the catacombs and the climb up to the dome), Villa Borghese (you should probably make reservations for this, although you can try and weasel your way in), Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo, Church San Luigi dei FrancesiSanta Maria Maggiore, Roman Forum (you can buy combination tickets for the Coliseum and the Roman Forum so buy them at whichever sight has the shortest line), Coliseum, Piazza Navona, and Trevi Fountain (though it’s currently undergoing renovations).
  18. The temporary must sees were: the M.C. Escher exhibit at Chiostro del Bramante and the Henri Cartier-Bresson exhibit at the Museo dell’Ara Pacis

When In Rome, Do As the Roman (Fulbrighters) Do

One thing that I noticed in Rome is how some of the simplest things make me happy. It was sunny and warm almost the entire time I was in Rome, and that just made every day seem amazing. Even just waking up to the sunshine made me ridiculously happy.

Anyways, I picked up Gargi in the morning and we walked to Santa Maria Maggiore, which is one of the churches in Rome that is actually owned by the Vatican. Apparently this gives the property something akin to diplomatic status. Because I was with Gargi hiring a guide or going on a tour wasn’t particularly necessary. Between Gargi’s knowledge and Wikipedia we managed to do alright. We even managed to find Bernini’s nondescript grave.

IMG_7826  IMG_7859  IMG_7861IMG_7840  IMG_7845  IMG_7852IMG_7849  IMG_7833  IMG_7835From there we walked South towards the Colosseum. Unsurprisingly the line was out of control. But again traveling with Gargi is great. She steered us towards the Roman Forum since you can buy a combination ticket there for both the Roman Forum and the Colosseum. So instead of waiting for hours in the Colosseum line we waited in the much shorter line for the Roman Forum.

It was pretty incredible once we were inside the Roman Forum. While everything is more or less ruins, you still get a pretty good sense of the scale and craftsmanship that must have gone into everything.

IMG_7875  IMG_7877  IMG_7878IMG_7903  IMG_7901  IMG_7906IMG_7913  IMG_7919  IMG_7939IMG_2203My favorite thing that Gargi told me about the Roman Forum was that if you look at some of the inscriptions you can tell that things have been replaced or chiseled over. She told me that this was because new battles, generals, and victories would be recorded on these monuments and the old ones would be erased. I guess you really had to be quite the military stud to have your name stay on these memorials.

Once we were done walking around the Forum we retraced our steps to the Colosseum. One thing that really surprised me was the size of the Colosseum’s steps. Now I’ll willingly admit that I’m a short person at 5’3” (160 cm), but I like to think that I would have been tall in ancient Rome. So I was really surprised at how steep the steps were. Gargi also told me that these steps are called a vomitorium. The idea behind them is that the stairwell slope downwards and causes you to rush down the stairs. So the Colosseum was designed to “vomit” its crowds out quickly and efficiently.

And now for a few more Colosseum facts. Fact one: you might notice a number of holes in Colosseum when you take a look at my pictures. This is because the Colosseum used to have a marble facade. The marble was taken and used in other constructions, one of the most notable being St. Peter’s Basilica. Fact two: historians suspect that the Colosseum used to have some sort of shade system, which considering that I was feeling pretty warm in the middle of winter seems like quite a good idea. Fact three: apparently ladies had to sit towards the top of the Colosseum since it was thought that the violence would be too upsetting for them to view up close.

IMG_7944  IMG_7957  IMG_7962IMG_2215Now by the time Gargi and I had finished with the Colosseum we were starving. So we sat down for lunch and waited for Iman to join us. Once our hunger had been satiated we walked towards the Pantheon since I wanted to actually go inside.

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We took a small detour just before the Pantheon since a few blocks away lies the church Santa Maria Sopra Minerva. Right outside the church is an obelisk by Bernini and inside there is a statue of Jesus Christ done by Michelangelo. I wouldn’t have said that the statue was particularly striking, but the church was quite beautiful.

IMG_8029  IMG_8033  IMG_8039When we were done looking around we quietly left the church and continued on to the Pantheon. Gargi had told me early on that it was her favorite building in Rome and I would have to agree. There isn’t too much to do inside but that doesn’t stop it from being incredible.

IMG_8054  IMG_8047  IMG_8059After that it was gelato time! Now that I’m an adult I can do things like have dessert before dinner and that’s basically what happened. After we grabbed gelato we walked back towards Piazza Navona and paid Borromini’s Sant’Agnese a short visit. After we were done we stopped by a drug store for Iman (take note that Italian pharmacies do not tend to sell American drugs) and then found an Argentinian restaurant for dinner. Now both Iman and Gargi have been living in Italy since October so I couldn’t blame them for wanting to eat literally anything other than Italian food. The restaurant, Baires, actually ended up being really good and I would highly recommend their sangria if you get a chance to go.

Once we had finished we slowly walked back towards our hostels. It was here that Gargi and I parted ways since she was going back to Messina the next day. Overall I had a great day and can’t thank Gargi enough for showing me around.

New Year’s

After spending an appropriate amount of time recovering from New Year’s Eve (keep in mind that teaching generally gives me a 10 pm bedtime so even staying up until midnight was being bold), Gargi and I started our day. To my great relief, most of the major sights in Rome are closed on New Year’s. Now you might be wondering why I was happy about this fact, but to be honest after about two weeks of travel I was pretty content to have a rest day.

Now before I go on to detail the rest of my time in Rome, I’m going to state right off the bat that I arguably didn’t do Rome “right.” Enough of my friends have gone to Rome that I have a nearly endless supply of advice on the city. I freely admit that I ignored most of it. I did not eat gelato every day (just most days), I did not eat pasta/Italian food for every meal, I did not make any sort of reservations in advance, and I did not book a tour to anything. In short, my trip to Rome mostly consisted of me just walking around and discovering things. But hey, it worked for me. I will say that one huge benefit of all of the advice that I got was that I never expected to visit everything. Being overwhelmed with attractions just meant that I was content to take things at a more leisurely pace.

Now back to New Year’s. I will say that one of the great things about Rome is that chances are you are going to stumble upon something beautiful. My late morning wander with Gargi accidentally led us by the Palazzo Chigi, or the official residence of the Italian Prime Minister, and from there it was just a hop, skip, and a jump to Trevi Fountain.

IMG_7658  IMG_7661  IMG_7662IMG_7673  IMG_7665  IMG_7671Luckily I’ve known for a while that Trevi Fountain is undergoing restoration work, so I wasn’t surprised to see the fountain dry and covered with construction work. The one huge advantage of this is that you can actually get quite close to the fountain’s sculptures.

Now like most fountains, it’s not uncommon for people to toss coins into Trevi Fountain; however, at Trevi Fountain there is a particular tradition associated with how you toss in coins. Now no one disputes that throwing in one coin is supposed to help you return to Rome. Gargi then told me that throwing in two coins is supposed to result in a marriage, while three coins results in a divorce. But the meaning behind the second and third tosses is a bit disputed (some people say two coins is supposed to bring a new romance while three coins brings marriage); however, by the time the two of us had even remembered the coin toss we had left the fountain and were focused on finding lunch.

IMG_7677  IMG_7680  IMG_7679We were successful in our quest and eventually came across a pretty good pizza joint. Once we finished we hit the streets, this time to visit the Pantheon. Again because it was New Year’s the Pantheon was closed, but I had a good time snapping a few pictures before heading off to our next destination.

IMG_7691  IMG_7694  IMG_7696Only a few blocks West of the Pantheon is Piazza Navona. Now if any of you are Dan Brown fans you might recognize Piazza Navona as the place in Angels and Demons where Bernini’s Fountain of Four Rivers is located. I happen to be a Dan Brown fan so I was excited to see the fountain in person. If you happen to visit you will also notice that the fountain is fairly shallow, making the drowning scene in Angels and Demons hard to believe.

The other fun fact that Gargi pointed out is that if you look carefully at the Bernini figure facing the church Sant’Agnese in Agone, you will notice that the figure looks noticeably in pain (granted most of the other figures do too, but this one looks a bit more tragic than the rest). Gargi then told me that Borromini was one of the architects of Sant’Agnese and that he happened to be great rivals with Bernini. Apparently Bernini in an act of vengeance has this figure shielding his face in order to convey the idea that Borromini’s building was so ugly that not even his statue could bear to set eyes on it (check out the bottom row of pictures). Now I’m not sure I would agree with Bernini on whether or not Sant’Agnese is ugly, but I found the story highly entertaining.

IMG_7708  IMG_7716  IMG_7712IMG_7717  IMG_7718  IMG_7720From there we walked by the Tiber River until we got word from the boys that they were awake and properly fed. We decided to meet them by the Spanish Steps and set our feet in that direction.

IMG_7733  IMG_7744  IMG_7737IMG_7749  IMG_7755  IMG_7752When we made it to Piazza di Spagna it was absolutely packed. You could barely see the Spanish Steps due to the number of people standing on it. This was one of the many moments that I had in Rome when I was grateful to be visiting in the off season.

IMG_7756  IMG_7757  IMG_7762Having lived in Norway for about 6 months, where the population is a mere 5 million, this was a bit overhwelming. But luckily we weren’t at the Spanish Steps for very long. From there we walked to Piazza del Popolo where Naji led us to the Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo. It just so happens that this church has not one, not two, but three Caravaggio’s. Caravaggio is one of my favorite painters so it was incredible to see these paintings. It was also great to see them exactly where they were supposed to be instead of in a museum.

IMG_7767  IMG_7765  IMG_7770From there we crossed the Tiber River to walk towards the Vatican. Now it just so happens that Matt’s favorite Italian restaurant, Mama’s, is near the Vatican. So we called ahead and made a reservation for 9:15 pm. Once that was accomplished all that was left for us to do was to meet two friends at the Vatican. It just so happened that one of my friends from undergrad, Caro, happened to be in Rome on vacation with her family. Having not seen her for about two years, I was really excited to see her and catch up with her over dinner. Once we picked up Caro and Iman we killed the remaining time until our reservation by walking around St. Peter’s Square and the nearby area.

IMG_7781  IMG_7784  IMG_7793Eventually it was time to head over to Mama’s. To our disappointment they weren’t ready for us. Now one of the huge benefits of going to this restaurant was that Matt happens to have quite a rapport with the owner. So instead of standing outside in the cold we were invited inside. When it became clear we weren’t going to be dining in the near future we were given free glasses of prosecco. After a bit of a wait, Matt struck up a conversation with one of the waiters and managed to get the reason for the delay: there was a cardinal dining there. Apparently the restaurant hadn’t properly accounted for how long the cardinal was going to be eating and had planned on giving us the same table. We spent the rest of our time sneaking glances at the cardinal and trying to guess who he might be. Our guess is that he was an Irish cardinal but that is entirely unsubstantiated. Eventually the cardinal and his fellow diners left and we sat down to dinner about thirty minutes later. Considering that we got a free glass of prosecco and in theory some brownie points with God, I didn’t mind the wait too much.

Once we were thoroughly stuffed we began the long walk home and enjoyed some of the beautifully lit up sights along the way.

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