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

Church on Sunday

Sunday was my last full day in Rome, and because I was a bit travel weary I decided to take it pretty slow. My initial plan was to spend the majority of the day across the Tiber River. I had yet to visit the Vatican or Castel Sant’Angelo so I was planning on visiting both sights that day. Plus, it seemed appropriate to be going to the Vatican on Sunday.

Unfortunately, I got a bit of a late start in the morning, so by the time I walked across the river, had lunch, and arrived at Castel Sant’Angelo it was early afternoon. I had read online that the castle closes at 2 pm on Sundays, and when I took a look at the line it was pretty clear that by the time I managed to get inside the castle would be closing. So instead of getting in line, I snapped a few pictures before heading off to the Vatican.

IMG_8305  IMG_8309  IMG_8312IMG_8322  IMG_8333  IMG_8332IMG_8330  IMG_8347  IMG_8318Iman was feeling better today so she met me at the Vatican. Now remember how I said I didn’t book any tours? This still holds true for the Vatican, though it’s the closest that I got to taking a tour in Rome. I’ve had a ton of friends give really good reviews of Rick Steves’s Walking Tours so I decided to test one out while I waited in line for Iman. I didn’t get far in the audioguide, but what I heard was pretty good. Here’s a bit of what I learned: St. Peter’s Basilica was built on the site where St. Peter was crucified and buried, and the current church was created in two stages. The old church was left intact while St. Peter’s was built around it. Once the newer building was complete, the old church was knocked down and moved out. The columns in front of the Basilica are built in a circular shape since they are supposed to represent the welcoming arms of the church. Basically it’s supposed to be a big hug. The statues that adorn the columns are ten feet tall and each represents a different saint. Originally it used to be quite difficult to see the dome since when you approach the church the facade hides the dome (see below). It wasn’t until Mussolini closed off the street leading up to the Vatican that people were able to get a good view of the entire structure.

IMG_8356  IMG_8368  IMG_8371IMG_8374  IMG_8375  IMG_8377IMG_8389  IMG_8410  IMG_8405Although the line to the Vatican was long, I have to give them credit and say that it did move pretty quickly. Without too much ado, Iman and I were let inside the church after about thirty minutes. It was well worth the wait. It was stunning.

IMG_8419  IMG_8416  IMG_8421IMG_8467  IMG_8438  IMG_8451IMG_8473  IMG_8431  IMG_8454After we walked around the church, we took stairs down to the catacombs and saw what we think was the grave of St. Peter. We’re still not entirely sure since talking was not encouraged in the catacombs and all of the signs were in Italian. The grave of Pope John Paul II was towards the exit and we paid our respects before leaving.

After that all that was really left for us to do was to climb to the top of the dome. Now there are two options for the ascent. You can either climb the whole way to the top (around 550 stairs) or take an elevator up about halfway and then take the remaining set of stairs (around 350 stairs). Considering that Stephansdom in Vienna was around 340 stairs and I found that to be plenty, I was happy to pay the extra two euros and pass the first 200 or so stairs on the elevator. After a bit of a wait, we caught the elevator and were whisked up to the base of the dome. From there you could get a really good view of the dome’s artwork before continuing up to the top.

IMG_8485  IMG_8482  IMG_8489IMG_8493  IMG_8500  IMG_8497There were two things that surprised me on our way to the top. First the complete lack of handrails. When I mentioned this to Iman she just laughed and said something along the lines of “Welcome to Italy.” The second thing that surprised me was that the stairwell actually curves to match the curve of the dome. This means that you couldn’t stand up straight as your approached the top of the dome, otherwise you would risk hitting your head on the curved ceiling. But soon enough we were at the top. The views were great and were enhanced due to the fading daylight. We had inadvertently timed our ascent with sunset.

IMG_8503  IMG_8505  IMG_8507IMG_8508  IMG_8511  IMG_8510IMG_8518  IMG_8519  IMG_8521Once we were done we began the descent back to street level.

I did have to laugh at the public toilets at the Vatican. Based on their signs it’s clear that the male dominated church has only recently had to include female restrooms.

IMG_8535  IMG_8541  IMG_8538IMG_2294  IMG_8556  IMG_2296Now one of the great things about Sundays in Rome is that apparently sights that are run by the city (usually things like museums) are free. My original plan was to go to the Capitoline Museums, but cold symptoms made me decide to cut my day short. Overall I had a great day though. I don’t happen to be religious, and going to a Lutheran school from a young age means that I am definitely not Catholic, but it was it was really nice to go to such a holy place. Even though I don’t share the beliefs of many of the visitors, it was still very touching to see how much St. Peter’s meant to them.

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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