Rome is an absolutely gorgeous city with history that spans centuries of civilization that America has no concept of. After walking to the train station in Ferrara at 4am with some other interesting characters who walked across the rails and most-likely used the train station for a personal urinal, we rode a night train that could very well have been out of a horror movie for nerves.
But the scariest thing from that train was just the smell. We made it to Bologna to catch our connection to Rome which was 2.5 hours of cross-country traveling. We napped in between screaming children and the constant rocking of the train, and when we made it to Rome, it was all we could do to navigate to our metro stop.
The Rome metro leaves a little to be desired, and I will never take the London tube for granted again. There isn’t an inch on the trains that doesn’t have graffiti on it. This also goes for the vast majority of the storefronts and buildings. It took me out of the moment throughout the entire trip because it seemed so out of place.
But then again, maybe it was exactly what Rome represents. Some people consider graffiti art, which the Roman ruins and churches that still stand most definitely are. But graffiti could also represent the lack of upkeep in certain areas of town, which again, can represent the Roman ruins still cluttering up the city among the new bustling population.
We were very wary of everyone on the streets and saw dozens of street-peddlers trying to sell anything from umbrellas when it rained to sunglasses when it shined to squealing pig toys for squealing children. The sellers were always so clumped together which saturated the market. But we certainly knew where these guys were due to the squealing sounds that echoed through the crowds. And only once did Jeff and I witness a possible failed pick-pocketing. Hands in pockets and valuables in the front at all times.
The city of Rome isn’t terribly big, but we did notice there were not many metro stations. Like I mentioned before, Jeff and I are not
experts in bus systems, so we rely heavily on trains. The closest tube to our hotel was at the Roman Colosseum. When we emerged from the metro, we just stared at the structure for several minutes in complete aww and disappointment. Half of the ruin was covered with scaffolding.
I understand that things such as ancient ruins need to be well-kept, but it seems wherever we go, we’re looking at metal scaffolding.
We made it to our hotel to find out our reservation was never confirmed, and we didn’t have a room for the night. In order to accommodate us, the hotel system, Gruppo Trevi, put us in one of their other locations near the Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain to then come back the next night when a room opened up.
Perfect! We get to stay on opposite sides of the city and be in walking distance of most of the sights without having to ride tubes and buses. We dropped off our bags after a terrifying cab ride through the tiny and aggressive streets of Rome, and walked directly to the Spanish Steps. There was a sea of people, and it had just begun to rain. We don’t mind the rain, but with umbrellas popping up everywhere, I felt like I was in a technicolor dream.
The stairs looked especially gloomy under the gray skies, but they were quite beautiful to see and climb down.
We walked around a little more and came across a large, red brick structure. Jeff loves churches, so we have to go inside every one of them, and being in Rome, there was no shortage of buildings to explore. We walked in this large, unattractive structure and were floored by the interior. It turns out it was the Santa Maria degli Angeli, Michelangelo’s last work. It was extraordinary. The marble sculptures were astounding and the stained-glass work made the place glow.
On the floor was a large design of the meridian line with years and stars with constellations illustrated in the marble. From the very top of the church, there was a small hole that would shine sunlight through on the precise year at noon each day.
Literally stumbling on that church would be a hard act to follow, but I did see my favorite artist was having an exhibit around the corner: Rodin. We snuck in the back door, and I was able to snap a picture of the famous Kiss before we were told to buy tickets. We saved our cash and tried to find a way out of the now pouring rain.
The next day was Easter Sunday. We had no idea what was in store, but we got ready and mapped our way to the Vatican City. On our way, we came across the Villa Medici which had dozens of marble busts of famous Italians such as Virgil and Machiavelli. We roamed around asking ourselves where everyone was. The city was empty as we had free reign at the sights.
We took our time walking toward the Piazza del Popolo which was breathtaking. It was a large square that had a very tall Eqyptian structure in the center surrounded by Roman figures like Caesar. We spun around the square and walked into a few more churches to take in the beauty before the noon prayer by Pope Francis.
When we finally made it, our question was answered. Everyone was at the Vatican. We pushed, pulled, and squeezed our way into St. Peter’s Square and waited for over an hour for the Pope to make his appearance. Mass commenced as the sun beat down on us in our jackets and thermal wear and we baked. Finally, just before I felt like fainting or falling asleep, the applause deafened us. The Pope was in the window waving and he then began his prayer to the world.
Fifteen minutes later, we were dismissed into a cluster of people trying to do leave. I made a joke that we didn’t need to go see the Running of the Bulls because we were living it in that moment.
Astonished that we got to see Mass in Italian read by the Pope, we meandered through the city with everyone else. We knew seeing anything would be near impossible, but we made an effort nonetheless. We first went to the Pantheon, which Jeff really wanted to see. It was just a large round room converted into a catholic church, not a temple to the Roman gods which we were both expecting. It was pretty neat to see the ceiling open to the sky and the floor curve below. The curve was to keep the room from flooding.
That night, we went over to the Trastevere area south of Vatican City to experience the nightlife and find the local food. In my next post, I’ll talk about all the delicious food and gelato we had, but it was astounding what a difference the river makes in the culture. Toward the Rome city center are all of the tourists and crowds, but in Trastevere, you had the locals unwinding after a long day and street merchants selling things other than umbrellas and squealing pigs.
We called it a night and headed to our old/new hotel and crashed. The next day would be another adventure, so keep reading to learn about the amazing gluten-free food, gelato, and the random parade we came across to celebrate ancient Rome’s birthday!