Dolce Pazzia in Roma
June 8 – 12
We took a mantra of “when in Rome…do EVERYTHING” to heart during our quick, 4-day trip to Rome. In many cities, 4 days would be more than enough (we’re talking about you, Knysna, South Africa…we’ll get to that later), but in Rome we knew we could fill every one of the 96 hours, and then some.
So, VIVA ROMA! Seriously – this place is amazing. Dave’s first trip, and my second, this city didn’t disappoint for either of us. I specifically remember the awe I felt the first time I turned the corner and found myself standing face to face with the larger-than-life Pantheon, and that same feeling struck me 6 years later. You can’t help but be taken by the pure history that spans two and a half thousand years. The Coliseum, Vatican and St. Peter’s Basilica, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, the Roman Forum, Pantheon, the Jewish Quarter and the dozens of hidden piazzas to explore…everything you behold is thousands of years old. They are currently doing construction to add another stop to their underground train, and they have to stop every few days because they KEEP HITTING ROMAN RUINS. It’s impossible not to be impressed. Bottom line? Get ready for a photo-heavy post.
Our first full day happened to be a Sunday, the day that the Pope addresses the crowd from a balcony in St. Peter’s Square. No, we’re not Catholic, but if you have a chance to see the Pope in person, you take it. After elbowing our way as close to
his window as possible (apologies to the Polish grandma I took out mid-square, but you know you were taking up more than your fair share of space, so we’ll call it even), we sat through the mini-service, nodding along to Pope Francis’s stream of Italian liturgy, taking that time instead to covertly people watch. There were HUNDREDS of people crowded into the square, just hoping for a glimpse of the new religious leader. It was crazy. Young, old, male, female, African, Swedish, American, Italian – people had traveled oceans to catch a glimpse. The Pope is a rockstar.
Throughout the next few days, we hit the usual sight-seeing suspects. The Coliseum, built in 80 AD, was every bit of awesome as I remembered, and a peek at the exposed underground corridors that once housed thousands of wild animals and Gladiators (EDITOR’S NOTE: Like, maybe Russell Crowe… for example*) before they rose into the ring for their battles (EDITOR’S NOTE: Against, like, maybe Jaoquin Phoenix… for example**), gave us a glimpse at how different life was then. The emperor built the arena with a political agenda in mind, hosting free “games” every day in order to keep the people happy and distracted from all the civil unrest.
Daily, more than 50,000 would crowd the amphitheatre to watch public spectacles like mock sea battles (filling the coliseum with water), animal hunts (at one time hunting 11,000 animals from the African wild), executions, re-enactments of famous battles…totally like live theatre here. Oh, except they ACTUALLY KILLED PEOPLE. I put Dave on camera duty to distract him. It was all I could do to ensure we avoided the awkward moment of him shouting, “ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?***” as we took in the view. (EDITOR’S NOTE: Are you not entertained?!?!?!****)
It was cool to learn that within the year, the road around the Coliseum will be closed to traffic, becoming a pedestrian walkway. The fact that they’ve allowed bus and car traffic so close to one of the most notable pieces of history for so long is shocking. You can see what the pollution has done to the road-side walls. Should be much more pleasant (and white) to visit in years to come. (EDITOR’S NOTE: Are…you…not…entertained?!?!?!*****)
The Vatican was beautiful; the frescos by Michelangelo and Raphael striking a chord with us as we roamed endless rooms showcasing priceless works of art. Not an inch of space went unpainted in the Sistine Chapel (no photos allowed…a rule instituted by the Vatican, enforced by my husband. You take onneeeeeee “illegal photo” of the David and noooooo one trusts you.), and the beauty of his storytelling through art literally took our breath away. Picturing Michelangelo working tirelessly as he painted famous biblical scenes, staring at the ceiling for FOUR YEARS (he refused to have help as he worked) was absolutely inspiring. Not to start painting (I like to say, I’m ‘creative’ not ‘artistic’), but to stop complaining when after a few moments of stargazing, my neck aches. Respect, Mikey.
A hike through some seriously narrow (and strangely, severely slanted) hallways and stairwells made us feel like Robert Langdon (it all comes back to DaVinci Code) and brought us to the roof of St. Peter’s Basilica, giving us cool, rare views of the city.
One of my favorite details was the post office box. Vatican City is its own state, so, has its own postal service, run by the Swiss. If you get a chance to visit, impress your friends and family by mailing a postcard back home direct from the Vatican, complete with the rare postmark. (EDITOR’S NOTE: Is this not why you are he… wait, we’re done with the Coliseum? As you were…******)
*In unrelated news,
****upon leaving Rome.
After fighting the waves of tourists during our day touring, we used the evenings for return visits to several landmarks. A midnight visit to Trevi Fountain found us tossing coins over our shoulders into the cool waters, ensuring a return trip to Rome, and were shortly after rewarded by catching a nervous-looking young man drop to one knee and propose to his lady. Predictable, maybe, but the romantic in me melted. Well done, dude. Next, lounging on the fountain steps in front of the Pantheon proved for good stargazing as well (neck aches and all), and a Coliseum visit showed us the magic of the huge arena lit up in the dark.
While the Eternal City has more history than almost any other city out there, I’d be remiss not to give some quality real estate to the food. Unbelievable, glorious food. Below are some highlights.
When we weren’t busy eating our way through the city or staring at Roman ruins, we were in search of what we like doing best – quiet parks to read and/or outdoor markets to sample local fare. We found success in Campo di Fiori, proving to be one of the best markets we’ve encountered. Starting our visit with an almost too-sweet treat of freshly squeezed pomegranate juice (WHY ISN’T THIS MORE OF A THING AT HOME? IT’S DELICIOUS!), and moving on to sampling local balsamics and olive oils and munching on fresh fruits, we were in farmer’s market heaven. A break for lunch – porchetta sandwiches – on the steps of the center statue left us happy campers.
Another afternoon found us wandering up Aventine Hill in search of one of the city’s best kept secrets (for now, at least) – the Knights of Malta Keyhole. A pleasant walk reaps a HUGE reward with an amazing view of Rome through they tiny keyhole. Tip: use the footpath Via San Sabina to Piazza Cavalieri di Malta. Added bonus? It was near a local park, where we took some time to slow down and catch up on some reading. We’ve learned to travel with our blanket for JUST this occasion!
Hanging in one of the many cafes we passed was a sign: “Dolce Pazzia” – sweet madness – perfectly summing up our time in Italy. We were reluctant to leave Europe (for now), but were excited to start the next chapter of our adventure: Africa!