Rome blew me away. Rob had been to Rome before, so I wasn’t sure how much he was going to enjoy it the second time around but by the end of our short week there, I think we both loved it equally. Rob had gotten to Rome one day before me but was nice enough to not see any of the sites until I had gotten there. He met some people at the hostel he was staying at and had a fun night out at an Irish Pub with them.
Once I arrived, the site seeing began. We attempted to go on a walking tour of the city but gave up halfway through because the tour guide was SUPER boring. Rob took me to all the best sites; some that he had seen on his last trip and some that he hadn’t had time for then. We went to the Spanish Steps and the Wedding Cake building (aka the monument to Victor Emmanuel II), which some people do not like since the architecture is much more modern than most of the city but it is a beautiful building nonetheless. It offered a great view at the top. We went to the Trevy Fountain, but it is undergoing major construction so there isn’t much to see there which was disappointing. It was possible to see some of the design under scaffolding, but there was no water. We’ll have to rely on our love of the city to guarantee us a return to Rome rather than the old coin over the shoulder trick typically by tourists there.
The next day, we woke up early and went to the Vatican City to see the Sistine Chapel, which is part of the Vatican Museum. The Vatican Museum was beautiful, filled with tons of artifacts and stunning art- the kind of things we could appreciate for at least 15 minutes before getting bored. Being honest, we’re not the biggest museum people to begin with, and at this point in our journey, art has got to be pretty damn good to impress the likes of us. Kidding… sort of. We were however very excited to see the Sistine Chapel portion of the museum. It’s the real draw of the complex, where the crowd congregates and where all the shuffling tourists are all whispering about actually getting to after passing through the rest of the exhibits. (There are of course the people who take pictures of literally every item on their 30 minute walk to the Chapel, which always have us wondering, “what are you going to actually do with all these pictures? Do you have any idea what you’re actually taking pictures of, I mean it looks cool, but also kind of the same as a lot of the other things. Really lady, you need a picture of each of the 46 teapots in that display case?”) Anyways, the actual SC is probably the size of your average American church, yet every square inch of the walls and ceiling are covered with magnificent frescos by the best ninja turtle. Painting with numchucks, now that’s an impressive exhibit. We hung out here for a solid 30 minutes looking at each panel, and spent some time just taking in the enormity of the whole body of work. It was truly impressive and well worth the price of admission even if you skim the rest of the museum. They do not let you take pictures once you are in there, but we were able to sneak a couple shots without getting caught! We also devised a method for next time to get as many pictures as you wish right in front of the security guard’s noses. We’ll elaborate on that at the end of the post for those interested.
On one of our days we visited Saint Peter’s Basilica – I think, hands down, the most crowded site in the city. The Pope was giving a speech the first day we tried to go, but it was closed off, so we had to come back a second day. They are very strict on making sure that your shoulders and knees are covered. This means wearing jeans and a t-shirt while waiting in an endless line in 100+ degree heat. Thankfully we found some people selling the equivalent of a fast pass to get in. It was a little pricey but worth not having to worry about heat stroke! The inside of the Basilica was exquisite. It is enormous and every square inch of it is covered with intricate carvings, paintings and statues. It also happens to be absolutely enormous. I believe it’s slightly larger than an average stadium and slightly smaller than Jupiter. It is a must see (I’d rank it slightly ahead of the Sistine Chapel for those keeping score). For a fee, you can also ascend something like 500 stairs to the top of the dome. We waited in line for maybe 25 minutes to do this, but after turning a corner in the line and observing the total length, we decided to move on to other activities.
One of our favorite things that we did during Rome was the Coliseum. First of all it looks absolutely badass from the outside and then once you get inside it is even more amazing. It was essentially a monument to sports, which were at the time entirely based on violence. I’m sure in 2000 years, people will think the game of football was brutal and synonymous with senseless violence, but the games played here took things to a new level. Nonetheless, it is a remarkable architectural marvel at the very least. Its durability is nearly as impressive as it’s massive scale. Its inner workings are equally as fantastic – the floor contained trapdoors, which could rise up wild animals or other gladiators to join in the carnage to the approval of roaring spectators. Also the entire arena surface could be flooded in order to reenact famous sea battles. Enormous shades could be drawn over the top in the manner of the world’s most impressive early retractable roof.
To walk around the same place as gladiators once walked is a truly unique experience. Just realizing the history in the building - seeing how intact it is considering how long it has been standing was really awesome. It really made the movie gladiator come to life! (…we watched it that night) We have also downloaded the 1959 classic “Ben Hur,” but it seems that movie is 4 hours long (!!) so it’s on hold until the right moment. Right across the street from the Coliseum is the Roman Forum, which is essentially an impressive park of ruins that we were able to walk through.
We made a stop at the Pantheon where we took a brief walking tour. We learned all about the history of the building. It was pretty amazing to be at one of the best kept ancient Roman buildings. Some fun facts about this building are it houses the grave of the woman who pizza was named after, and Galileo was arrested on site for saying the Earth rotates around the Sun.
Probably the most unique thing we saw in Rome was the Capuchin Crypt we visited. Unlike many of the other items we saw, it does not make the “typical tourist’s” list. It houses the graves of monks where hundreds if not thousands of skulls and bones are arranged in elaborate ways to decorate the burial grounds. It was pretty crazy and also a bit creepy. No pictures were allowed, but *please see above mention of the policy at the Sistine Chapel*. We’re doing our best to bring you along on all of our experiences. We’re glad our readers agree that these policies don’t apply to our blogging cameras!
We spent many of our evenings just relaxing in our hostel since we tried to wake up really early to get to whatever site we were seeing before it got too crowded. That being said, we spent one special night out on the town via a Party Bus! The hostel we stayed in had a pretty great social scene. They had a bar downstairs with great food and cheap drinks and they were sure to put together social events a few nights a week – the party bus was one of these events. There were 25 of us on the bus – dancing, drinking, and having a blast as we were carted around the city. We made a stop at the Colosseum for a night viewing and Giancolo hill for a beautiful vista of the city and it’s lights.
As great as everything above was, I think all in all our most fun day was our food tour/pizza making class. This was Athena’s idea, so props to her for discovering it and making sure it made our busy agenda. We started the morning by shaking the cobwebs out from the party bus hangover. UGH. We headed all the way across town in the hot sun, trying to down water in order to minimize our dehydration in time for the sampling of olive oil & vinegar, cured meats, and fine cheeses we were promised. While I’m not sure if the water truly cured us, these **epicurial (of or pertaining to food) treats sure did. We must have tried 7 or so of each of the oils and vinegars on freshly baked bread. Each was different and noticeably so. Our guide told us of the aging and process that each was created by so we could truly appreciate them rather than just gobbling up the deliciousness as would have been easy to do. We sampled the meats inside a butcher shop where the butcher raised the animals himself on a family owned plot of land. Each different, each spectacular. My personal favorite was the Italian take on liverwurst, but that’s just because I’d had it as a kid (definitely was the only one with liverwurst aka brunswager sandwiches in the elementary cafeteria, thanks Dad!). This meat was no one else’s favorite, which was good, more samples for me! Post butcher, we proceeded onto the cheese shop. I’m sure there was an equally impressive backstory on the cheese shop as there was for the meat storefront, but I can’t quite remember it. Feel free to imagine your own personal dairy fantasy now, the blog will be here when you get back. MMMM, cheesy! We had parmesan, mozzarella, and about 10 other types of more exotic, harder to remember cheeses. They ranged from supple to quite hard, mild to powerful, but all were awesome. I yet again was the only one to select a particular variety as my favorite. As the other tour members divvied up the remaining samples that they preferred, I was left alone with my own personal cheese treasure. Huzzah, my lucky day.
We finished up the food tour by heading to a wood fired pizza front where we could combine all the delicious ingredients we had been sampling into our own personalized masterpieces. Athena and I whipped up the standard pizza shape by hand with our dough, sauced them up, and then covered them with toppings. As I love sauce on any food, I was able to pile it on, even when the chef told me that I was “coloring outside the lines” you might say. We slid them into the oven, just for a surprisingly short 5 minute stint and then brought them outside for our meal. Amazingly after our morning, we had room for more food, and our pizzas were no joke the best we had yet in Rome. The great ingredients no doubt helped, but I have a feeling it might also be somewhat due to the pride of preparing something yourself- similar to how many huntsmen or fishermen might feel after bringing home something special for the dinner table. As a true test however, we boxed a few pieces and later that night, they delighted us once more. Watch out Antico (ATL’s best pizza) I guess we’ll be opening our own shop!