But we managed to see all the main sites in two. Even with some serious delays. The theme of this weekend was “Delays.”
Starting right out, we had rented an AirBnb apartment that wasn’t going to be ready until an hour after we already arrived. We sat in a cafe until 11 until the owner showed us the sweet apartment. It’s got amenities like cool decor, comfortable pillows, and a full kitchen set, none of which we have in Florence.
We didn’t stay there very long, though, because it was time to see Rome!
The apartment is amazingly close to everything (more or less) so we didn’t have to spend money on bus or train tickets. Instead we set out on foot for a ten minute walk to the Coliseum. Along the way we got to feast our eyes on Rome. Even though it’s the capital of Italy, and therefore a large city, there are still parks and trees everywhere. And lesser Roman ruins are just laying around with modern buildings built up around them.
But upon reaching the Coliseum it’s obvious why that is the main site in this city. It’s immense. And ancient. And absolutely amazing. Huge pieces of wall have fallen off, as we’ve all seen from pictures, so it was easy to look inside without waiting in the line and paying. We could see the seats where the rich people would sit, and the arches that used to be tunnels where the gladiators waited to enter the arena. Gladiators are slaves that have been trained to fight. Since it’s really expensive to train and outfit them, people were fiercely loyal to their gladiator. Plus, if one won enough of their battles, they could be set free. So the best bet to earn your freedom was to fight to the death. Not always though, because the fight itself rarely ended in death. The winner didn’t kill the loser once he won. Instead, the ruler would decided whether the loser lives or dies, but he normally was allowed to live for all the above reasons.
Next to the Coliseum is the Arch of Constantine. The Romans built arches every time the won a battle, so you can imagine the amount of arches in Rome. This one was won by Constantine, the emperor who brought Christianity to Rome. The events of the battle are carved into the arch. Surrounding this one is traditional Roman cobblestones, which means giant slabs of rock that were just laid down every which way. You walk less than you sort of leap from one to the other.
Also in the same area is the Forum Romano, or the Roman Forums. This was the heart of ancient Rome, a center for trade, religion, and politics. Inside is ruins of buildings and churches built centuries ago.
We managed to accidentally cheat the system by deciding to come back and pay later and heading to our next destination. Rome is built on seven hills, and on our way up one of them we got a spectacular view of the Forums from above.
Once on top of the hill we found ourselves on the Piazza del Campidoglio. This is the summit of Capitoline Hill, the most sacred of the seven, where the temples of Jupiter and Juno stood. Triumphant generals offered sacrifices here to thank the gods for their victories.
Right next to it is Il Vittoriano, a monument built for the first king of unified Italy, Vittorio Emanuele II. It is also called the Wedding Cake because they used a special type of marble that was supposed to help it fit in with the surrounding buildings but made it stand out even more.
Literally across the street is the place where Mussolini made most of his speeches.
We grabbed paninis and walked to our next destination: the Pantheon. Not the Parthenon. That’s in Greece, and it’s mean how similar their names are. We ate our paninis on the steps of the fountain in front of it. The Pantheon was built initially by Agrippa in 27 BC. It’s been rebuilt several times since, but overall has withstood a lot of vandalism.
A couple blocks away is the Piazza Navona. Chariot races used to be held here, although now nothing with wheels is allowed near it. The centerpiece is a fountain representing the four rivers into which papal authority had spread: the Nile representing Africa, the Danube representing Europe, the Ganges representing Asia, and the Rio de la Plata representing America.
We got gelato at an amazing place that dipped the scoops into chocolate once placed on the cone. On a whim, we decided to check out the Vatican City. We were planning on going early the next morning, but we wanted to see it, which turned out to be the best decision ever.
The pope was going to give a mass after we arrived. We waited in line (another delay) for a little over an hour, and by the time we got in the mass had started. We listened to beautiful hymns sung, followed along in the Italian program they handed out, and stared at the beautifully detailed interior.
Then the POPE stood up! His sermon was all in Italian, but I could catch bits of it from the Italian I’ve learned! He has such a calm, sweet voice, and seems so patient and kind! I was so excited that we had this opportunity to see such an amazing man (from very very far away).
After leaving that holy place (and crossing borders back into Rome), we went to Campo de’ Fiori, the geographical center of Rome, for an aperitivo, and then to see the Trevi Fountain. There was scaffolding surrounding it for repairs, and the water had been drained, but we could still see a lot of the masterpiece, and imagine what it must look like normally.
We wanted to go to a trattoria for dinner, but they were fully booked. Good for them, bad for us. So we went to a supermarket, and made pasta with pesto and tomatoes in our apartment. It was fun to spend time in that nice place, and with each other in a quiet environment.
The next morning we were supposed to head for the Vatican Museums at 8:30, but, true to our theme, we didn’t head over there til around 10. By then there was a long line, which we waited in and ignored the hawkers trying to sell selfie sticks.
In hindsight we should’ve prebought the tickets to skip the line because we watched a whole bunch of people stroll past us. Or just arrived around 1:30, when we left, because there was literally no line. Either way we waited to get in, and ended up just followed the giant crowd of people from one pope’s apartments to the next. Obviously what we all wanted to see was the Sistine Chapel, which was amazing! The walls and ceiling were completely covered in murals. The iconic “Adam and God ET Phone Home” part was just one tiny part of it
We were starving by the time we left so we found a cafe for lunch, then went to the Spanish Steps. We had overheard a tour guide saying that the pope would be there at 1:30, and by the time we arrived around 4 the crowds from his appearance were still there. It was packed! Definitely need to come back to see it at a less hectic time. Also in late spring or summer, when there are flowers up and down the steps.
We tiptoed around the visitors sitting on the steps, and looked out for a view of Rome. Then we walked along that hill, intending to get to Piazza del Popolo, but we got distracted by the Borghese Gardens. The Galleria Borghese is one of Italy’s greatest art museums, but since we hadn’t made a reservation ahead of time we couldn’t get in. The gardens were free entrance, though, and we could wander around the park and soak up the sunshine. We also ended up seeing the piazza and it’s obelisk from above, anyways.
After one last look at the Coliseum, it was time to go home. We retrieved our luggage from our apartment, bough paninis for the train, and settled in for a nice ride back.
OR SO WE THOUGHT
The conductor came by and asked us where we were headed, and when we said Florence he told us there was a strike and the train wouldn’t be going to Florence. That’s right I actually got delayed by a strike these European stereotypes are real. I started freaking out a little bit, but my Euro companions stayed cool. We got off the train and went and talked to the information desk, who told us there was a train leaving three hours later that would go to Florence. We paid the difference in ticket prices, and waited it out in the station. The train itself was a sleeper train, and we got excited for a second that we would get beds. We didn’t, but we did have really cozy seats to curl up in and sleep until we arrived home at 2am.
The train only stopped at the station outside the city center, so we took a taxi home. That was the most eventful part of our night, because all five of us squeezed into the taxi, and the driver sped through the cobblestone streets of Florence, blasting music and talking on the phone. He made jokes about taking shots, but got us home and even reduced our fee. We ran upstairs and into our beds for a well-deserved night of sleep after an excellent weekend in Roma!