Saturday, March 28, 2009
Trip and I arrived in Rome at 7 a.m. after a long 16 hour journey from Portland. Somehow we managed to hit the ground running and we were alert enough to navigate from the airport to the Leonardo Express train to the Termini Centrale stop. Somehow after that we managed to get to the Funny Palace hostel where we were met by the owners Mabri and Giorni, 2 brothers who gave us a bottle of red wine and invaluable tips on Rome sights and navigation. After a brief stop to throw our belongings in the room, we began a 3 day exploration of Rome's most ancient, beautiful, and impressive sites/sights.
Passing through the hectic streets was easy after we learned that you simply don't wait for cars to stop for you when you cross the street. You just go when there's the smallest hint of a break in traffic, and cars-bikes-motorcycles just maneuver around you without even decreasing their speed. It appears chaotic and unsafe at first, but quickly you realize that it simply works. Hesitation messes up the whole system, so you just suck it up and trust that they don't want your tourist ass splattered on their hoods and windshields.
After a brief stop at a kebab shop (yes, our first meal was NOT pizza), we navigated our way to the Palatino/Forum. This is an ancient ruin in the heart of old Rome, replete with broken marble columns, still-functioning gardens, intact and glorious arches, and a horde of people just like us wielding digital cameras like weapons. It was astounding to see where various caesars, emperors, priests, and peasants lived, worked, and played. At walls crumbled and columns naked and stranded, piecing together the history with the present provides a unique opportunity to imagine how life in a different world played out.
The Colosseum. Wow! Talk about an unbelievable witnessing of history. Standing down at the ground level, looking down on the unearthed maze of hallways, trapdoors, ramps, and lifts below, staring up at the steeply inclined stadium seating, it was almost possible to imagine being looked down upon by 50,000 people screaming their opinions to the emperor as to whether you should live or die as you grappled with mighty beasts and other gladiators. Standing among the tourists and taking innumerable photos in the fading afternoon light, it was, however, almost easy to forget the tragedy that was frequently played out upon those grounds in years past.
The Trevi Fountain was astounding as well...built at the head of an ancient spring, the sculptures writhe and twist as they almost leap out of the fountain toward you. The god Neptune is in the center, and two men are on the left and right leading horses out of the water. One man is fighting to lead an unruly horse, while the other is calmly leading a more tranquil horse, and these two different sculptures represent the different moods of the ocean and how it can be totally calm and totally chaotic at different times.
The Spanish Steps are an amazing hangout for thousands of people on a sunny, warm day, but functionally they connect the Piazza d'Spagna below with the Trinity something church above. This is a place where buskers busk, lovers kiss, gazers gaze, readers read, eaters eat, and hangers hang. It is a magnet of a place, and I wish I could have spent days there...
The Vatican was something to behold. I almost wish I was Catholic so I could appreciate it even more, but even as a non-religious guy, it's impossible not to be impressed by the history, architecture, and sheer SIZE of the place. The Vatican museum houses the Sistine Chapel, which has some of Michelangelo's most famous paintings and is a busy, vibrant, bright, and holy house. While I didn't understand all of the religious significance, I couldn't help but be awed and have chills from simply sitting in such a special space.
Next door is St. Peter's square, which is actually kind of a circle, rimmed by rows and rows of solid marble columns standing (I am guessing) 60-70 feet high. At the far end of the square is the Basilica, the holiest Catholic church in the world (the Pope lives here at the Vatican), and it is honestly one of the most amazing architectural specimans I have ever seen. There is a duomo (dome) that is a perfect semi-sphere, an exact half circle that has to be 150 feet in diameter and height. Gold, sculptures, and massive historical religious paintings abound within these hallowed halls, and one truly feels dwarfed inside, put in his place, humbled.
While in Rome, we had excellent hostel roommates in Kara, from New Orleans but currently studying for a Ph.D in Economics in London, and Rafael, a Brazilian banker from Sao Paulo. Trip and I explored the sights above alone, but explored other parts of Rome with our two new friends. One evening we all took in the Pantheon, one of the oldest and best-preserved ancient Roman buildings, built in it's current form in the 100's A.D. We also went to a part of town called Trastevere where the most authentic food is said to be served. Honestly, we were all somewhat disappointed in much of the food, though the Spaghetti d'Carbonara I had for my Primi Piatti (first course )was delicious. The house red wine, however, was delicious, as was the company. We then wandered all over town at night, stopping here and there to take photos or sit and absorb the history/culture, and stopping at Piazza Navona for a delicious chocolate ice cream dessert (though no scoop of ice cream is worth 11 dollars!).
The next destination was Napoli (Naples), about which we hear conflicting reports. Some say it is great, some say it is gross, but all say it is somewhat dangerous with a palpable lawlessness that makes it imperative to cautious and alert at all times. It is also said to have the best pizza in Italy...