Though Rome was not built in a day, I saw almost all of it in one weekend! I have to admit, my calves are sore, but the walking, hiking, and sloshing through rain was little cost for getting to see the heart of the Roman Empire.
10:00: Get on the bus to Malaga
13:55: Get on the flight to Rome
16:20: Get on the bus to the hotel in Rome
18:30: Arrive at Hotel NH Leonardo Da Vinci
19:00: FREE TIME
Dizzy with excitement, my friends and I charged out of the hotel to search for some infamous Italian cuisine. Upon finding a menu with good prices, we decided to dine at Taverna del Corso. The restaurant appeared a bit small, but the waiter cunningly took us to the back, up a flight of stairs, and into another room with a large table for eight. There we were, sitting at an Italian restaurant with a view of Roman streets below and wrapped in the smells of time-tested recipes. I ordered Pastasciutta Ravioli, described on my menu as envelopes filled with spinach and cheese. At the first bite, I was lifted into heaven. Aside from pasta and pizza, Italy is also known for its gelado. If you have never tried this delicious after-dinner treat, it is well worth your time and calories. Gelado takes on the smoother qualities of frozen yogurt while incorporating the flavors of ice cream. And yet, it is unlike either of these desserts. In addition, many gelado shops have Nutella featured as one of the flavors because, to my pleasant surprise, Nutella is of Italian origin!
When I finally returned to earth from my heavenly meal, we found our way to Fontana di Trevi. You hear about it and see pictures, but there is nothing quite like experiencing the real thing. At night, lights cast a yellowy warm glow on the tritons, horses, and Romans. And there stands Neptune, breaking through the waterfalls, triumphant ruler of the sea. After some wandering around Rome and encountering other fountains and piazzas, we returned to our hotel. Snuggled in my warm, white linens, my Roman adventures continued in my dreams.
The next morning we were welcomed to a fantastic breakfast that none of us were expecting. I guess when you don't expect it, it is all the more incredible. Oh granola and yogurt, how I missed thee. The buffet even came with portable Nutella packets, so cool! Everyone reluctantly left the dining room and shuffled onto the bus for a tour of the city. Some of the first sites we passed by were: Piazza Vittorio, Villa Borghese, Piazza Republica, and Circo Máximo. Then our bus pulled over near a group of men playing soccer on a dirt field. But soon I realized they weren't just playing soccer on any plot of earth, but one with a clear view of the Colosseo! We excitedly skipped down to this architectural wonder, standing proud and tall. Our guide explained why the Colosseum is known as the "Flavian Amphitheater": Flavian stands for the emperors in Rome who erected the monument while amphi means "on both sides" in Latin. The Colosseum is one of the first examples of two theaters put together, forming a circle with one grand stage in the center.
Back on the bus to see more piazzas and vias. We passed the former office of Mussolini, stepped inside the oldest church in Rome, and ended at the Vatican. From here, I took a tour of the Vatican museum. Now, the Vatican itself lies on nine acres of land and I believe that the museum takes up about eight of those acres. There were heaps and heaps of things to see. Statues, paintings, murals, tapestries, mosaics, maps, frescoes, a giant gold ball that spins around in the middle of a field, just to name a few. I had to skip whole wings because it was just too much for one visit. But that is not to say I didn't thoroughly enjoy it all. Of course, one of the most impressive parts of the Vatican museum is the Sistine Chapel. Here lies Michelangelo's world renowned fresco, "The Creation of Adam". There is not much to say; the painting speaks for itself. We ran into some others from our group and ate lunch together. I enjoyed a delicious quattro formaggio pizza. After site seeing, eating, and running my shoes clean of any tread they possibly had left, I decided to take a break and return to the hotel.
That night I decided to roam Rome with some students in our program I hadn't met before to make things more interesting. We went to a small Italian restaurant upon recommendation by a local, claiming to have the best pizza in town. We arrived to a long line of Italians out the door, but I knew this was a sure sign of deliciousness. I had pizza again, but without complaint; this really was the best pizza shop in Rome. Of course, we followed it up with gelado and walked along the river on the way home.
If you think I have been having an exciting adventure so far, you are in for much more. Sunday was by far the most adventurous day of the trip. My friends and I woke up early and took a metro to the Colosseum in hopes of avoiding the long lines to tour the inside. Our plan worked; the line was only five minutes long and soon enough we were standing where gladiators, lions, and other beasts had battled long ago. Back on the metro to the Vatican to receive the Pope's blessing at noon. Now, as many of you know, I am not Catholic. But I must say this event was extremely moving. Hundreds of people from around the world were in the square, brought together only by religion, all anxiously waiting for the Pope to appear at his window. There were songs, flags, signs, cameras, and tears. A group of French girls sang beautiful harmonies, including one song that sounded like Shalom Alechem (I caught it on video - look under the video tab!) I was not expecting to feel the way I did, but I even teared up from the intense fervor of emotion radiating all around me.
In an attempt to save money, I packed some sandwiches provided at breakfast and ate those for my lunch outside St. Peter's Church. My friend and I decided to climb the 500+ steps up the cupola atop St. Peter's Basilica to experience the best aerial view of Rome. I say the best because no building in Rome is allowed to be taller than the cupola of St. Peter's. To be honest, the steps were not that difficult for me to climb, but they were rather odd. At one point I had to lean-walk to my right because the wall was curving over my head. Then to reach the very top, I had to grab onto a rope for stability. I felt like I had been placed in a Dr. Sues novel. Once I reached the top, wind immediately whipped my hair around my face. Where is the view? Oh wait, here we go, much better. I tied my hairband around my tangled mess and could finally enjoy Rome from a bird's eye view. How beautiful! It would have been very interesting to experience the Vatican's blessing from up here, away from the crowd but still with them through observation. This was perhaps my favorite vista in Rome. It sums up everything Rome stands for; nothing is created nor destroyed.
After descending from this bliss, we hurried to Campo De'Fiori to meet with our friends. I didn't have an Italian cell phone, so any plans with others had to be made the last time you saw them. It occurred to me that many people of my parents' generation and older always had to make plans this way: pick a meeting place and time and hope the other party shows up. We ended up being ten minutes late and couldn't find the others in the square, however, they were eleven minutes late! So we happily reunited. We looked around the tents with little things to buy, enjoyed the smells of restaurants, and sat by the fountains and their anatomically exaggerated statues. When we walked to the Pantheon, we witnessed a sing off between two school groups singing chamber music, which echoed nicely off of the tall, rounded ceiling. We began to get hungry and happened upon a small gelado shop off the main road. The owners chatted with us, taught us some Italian, and even gave my friend a free cannoli! Our server, Pietro, told us stories about his life and described to us his dream vacation: to visit America by motorcycle. We told him he now has plenty of friends to visit along his journey! Then we relaxed by the Spanish Steps, sitting quietly and listening to the city below us.
Now I have a little surprise for you. I recently discovered before I left that a certain special someone would be in Rome the same weekend as me. We decided to meet at the Trevi Fountain at 7:00 on Sunday night. My friends and I walked over, took some photos, enjoyed the view, and waited. I began to feel some sprinkles of water, thinking it was spray from the fountain. But then I realized it was rain! We quickly found cover underneath an awning and continued to wait. I began to worry that I would not find her amongst all the people, umbrellas, and rain. But low and behold, ten minutes later, there appears Ilana! She took me to her friend's apartment and we enjoyed a home cooked meal together. Ilana is doing very well, but misses Burkina Faso a great deal. She says hello to everyone and is on her way to Tailand as we speak. It was so wonderful to catch up with her and get a taste of home while abroad.
Our walk back home was the complete opposite of my morning in the cupola. We were drenched, a bit lost, and just wanted to be under warm covers. But we eventually found our way (don't ask me how) to the hotel. I ran into my friend in the hallway who reminded me of the bottle of cabernet we bought together. I finished my evening splitting the bottle of wine with him and relaxing with our friends, sharing all of the adventures we encountered over the weekend.
Shout outs of today's blog go to:
Sabba & Savta: When I saw "The Creation of Adam," I couldn't help but think of you and the picture you used to have in the blue bathroom of the Cinnamon Creek house.
Alanna: When I was waiting for the Pope to speak at the Vatican, I thought of you and knew you would be tearing up with me!
Mom: I bought you a special gift in Rome! Get excited =)
Ilana and Sarah: thank you for taking me to dinner at not-my-cousin's apartment haha.
Hasta la próxima,