Roma, Roma, Roma!
On this season's "America's Next Top Model", the remaining models are off to Rome to sashay-chante! As ANTM is my guilty pleasure du jour, I gleamed even more delight out of the show by watching the models zip around the sights I had walked around a mere few weeks ago. Admittedly, while I was there I had so many conflicting feelings that it was sometimes difficult to fully enjoy the city to the max. It was amazing to see the ruins that were built centuries upon centuries ago and walk on the same roads as ancient rulers and heroes of yesteryear. I was blown away when I saw the Colosseum and the Sistine Chapel. My jaw fell when I laid eyes on the Pantheon and the Trevi Fountain. So much history and beauty. I wished I had really read up on the history before leaving for Rome, but travelling around with a history buff does have its rewards.
On the other side of all the glory and wonderment, I felt that Rome was loud, dirty, aggressive and overcrowded. There were so many people and the evidence of so many people was scattered everywhere. Rubbish littered the green spaces and groups of tours spilled into every corner of the city. Also, there were so many g-damned hawkers selling they craptastic wares. They were so annoying and aggressive. No means NO!!! And the traffic! Crossing the street was an exercise in will and determination. But we made it through. So rather than harp on the negatives, I'm going to go through my Top Ten on this trip to Rome.
1. The Colosseum. I loved this structure. Everything about it was fantastic. Dahlia told me that I should watch "Gladiator" before leaving, but I've seen that movie so many times that it wasn't necessary. Even if you've never seen the film, seeing the Colosseum was thrilling on it's own. The inside is smaller than I imagined but still awesome. For me, it ranks right up there with the Twin Towers , the Great Wall of China and the Eiffel Tower. I took about a gazillion photos, but perhaps, this one is my favorite. It was a rainy day, our first day actually, but we were content to walk around the city and acquaint ourselves with it. And what made it even better was that entry was free because it was the week of culture and most government museums and cultural sites were free to tourists. How hot is that? The Forums and the Palatine were pretty cool, but it probably would have been better for me had I known a little bit more about the history. Ah, well.
2. The Vittoriano. Apparently, it's the most hated landmark in Rome because builders destroyed part of the Roman Forum and is referred to as the "wedding cake", but I loved it. I thought it was beautiful in a "nouvelle vague" kind of way. Whereas most of the buildings and landmarks in Rome have a yellowish tint, the Vittoriano is bright white and practically glows at night. It is also where Italy house the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. I stole this pic from siciliatourist.tv because it was under construction while we were there.
3. Trastevere and Janiculum Hill. I loved this area because for me, it was a slice of the "real" Italy. We went to a little shop selling antipasti and Italian pastries and I stuttered out a few lines in Italian because it didn't look like English was going on, if you know what I mean. Also, the ubiquitous hawkers weren't so present. We were there on a beautiful day (actually 6 out of the 7 days were sunny and warm), and we walked up the Janiculum Hill and looked down on Rome. All the pinks and yellows of the city were so lovely. That day was one of my favourites.
4. The Pantheon was another big winner for me. Dave and I were looking for it, just taking our time walking through the streets, kinda like "la dee da", and BAM! There it was. It was massive! Such a huge structure and the inside was impressive as well. The oculus - the opening of the dome - provides light and when it rains, 22 small holes in the marble floor drains away any rain that enters the building.
5. Trevi Fountain. I've never seen it before, even though we got "La Dolce Vita" a few weeks before we went to Rome. It was so pretty and probably one of the most romantic spots we went to. Well, when you take away the crowds, the sellers and the noise.
6. Vatican City and St. Peter's Basilica. St. Peter's is probably one, if not the, most visited church in the world, but lucky for us, the lines to get in weren't too bad. It really is a lovely example of architecture, with its highly identifiable dome and impressive interior. And the Sistine Chapel. I knew roughly what to expect but seeing the ceiling frescoes took my breath away. What was not so cool, however, was the noise factor. Every ten minutes, an announcement came over the loud speaker reminding people that they were in a sacred place and please, for the love of god, shut the fuck up. This was repeated in French, Italian, Spanish, Japanese and Mandarin. The security guards also got in the action by practically yelling and pointing at people to put away their cameras and camcorders even though there are signs before entering the chapel and we were told that no photography was allowed. Sigh. Another thing that made me feel ill at ease was the amazing opulence in the the basilica, the Vatican museums and the surrounding buildings. There was so much gold and priceless treasures, and I was at odds at how the church could be so rich and withstand the ages with its fortunes intact and its worshipers had to live through wars, recessions and sometimes, poverty. Dave told me to watch myself and my deep thoughts while we in Vatican City lest the Swiss guards overhear me and promptly eject me. Still, it was an interesting and challenging (we took the stairs all the way to the top of the basilica - ouch) day out.
7. The Tomb of the Capucin Monks. This place was SO cool, but gruesome, macabre and disturbing. The tomb, or crypt, rather, located to the right and under the church of Santa Maria della Concezione holds the remains of over 4000 Capuc(h)in Monks buried between 1500 - 1870. What's different about this crypt is that the bones and skeletons of the monks are used to decorate the walls and ceilings! Clavicles, vertebrae, and jaw bones make up chandeliers. Hip bones have been turned into candle holders. Skulls are fashioned into arches. Skeletons with their flesh still on are cloaked in robes reminding you that they too used to be living. I was absolutely horrified, yet impressed. While I felt a little sick being there, I didn't turn around and leave though I wanted to. Pictures are not allowed in the tomb, but you probably wouldn't forget this place. At the end of the crypt there is a message: "What you are now, we once were; what we are now, you shall be." Shudder.
8. The whole in the wall store where I bought my glass pendant. I forget the name of this shop, but it was one of those places where if you fail to look to the right of you, you'll miss it. It was more of a hallway with pendants, necklaces, souvenirs and various knickknacks on either side. And behind the glass counter was the littlest, oldest Italian Nonna. We were in there for about half and hour while I was trying to make up my mind on which pendant I should get. There were all handmade in the Venetian style like this (I'm too lazy to take a pic of mine, but it's black, white and yellow). She spoke fluent English with a great Italian accent and I just wanted to put her in my carry on and take her home.
9. Hanging out with Dave, Andrea and Rhys. The hot Scot and I were lucky enough to hook up with the K family and it was fantastic. After months of living without friends from home, it was so sweet just to hang out with some old skool peeps. Dave and I go wayyy back and it was nice to be around the familiar.
We went to the historic sites, ate lots of pasta and pizza and talked, and talked, and talked. Oh, and hanging out with their son Rhys was so fun. He's such a smart little boy and pleasure to be around. He's the one who took the pic on the right. Four year old and a whiz with a digicam. I heart my friends.
10. Being newly engaged in Rome. Even though the hot Scot was planning on proposing in Rome, his spur of the moment proposal in our kitchen was better than anything he could have dreamed up. To me, Rome wasn't the most romantic place, but it was still a great place to be when you're newly engaged. Dave did propose again in Villa Borghese park but no matter where we are and where we go, being with him is such a joy and blessing. We celebrated our engagement at Ditirambo Restaurant in Piazza Navano (thanks Ma and Pa B!) and it was just brilliant. I totally recommend this restaurant and have the chocolate cake dessert. Fantastic.
Honourable mentions: The Beehive Hostel and Apartment: a wonderful hostel with private shared apartments. The staff were very helpful, the apartments were clean (we stayed in 2 over 7 days) and we had huge kitchens. It's close to the Stazione Termini (central train station). Even though Dave and I decided that it was our last time staying in a hostel/shared apartment, I heartily recommend it.
Archetto Restaurant. Recommended by Jenn, we went to this place twice. It's near the Trevi Fountain and the food wasn't fancy, but it was good, filling and cheap.
Fountains, fountains everywhere. We reused our water bottles and filled up on the free flowing public drinking fountains. The water is safe to drink in Rome and it tastes delicious.
And that's Rome. Overall, I enjoyed it though I probably wouldn't go back. A week was plenty of time for me to get to know the city though I know there are more things to do. I definitely want to go to other parts of Italy, but I feel as if I can tick Rome off of my list.
I will be heading off to Barcelona in a few weeks to celebrate my entry into the "dirty thirties" and I'm looking forward to it. Four friends with Montreal and Toronto are coming to help me celebrate it and I don't plan on having an itinerary. I bought a Lonely Planet and there are a couple of things I know we'll have to see, but I'm just looking forward to the eating, drinking and screeching, er, I mean talking. We'll be going for 3 days and it's going to be good. I have another couple of girlfriends returning to Nottingham to stay with me for a couple of days starting from tomorrow. They were here for a night last week and it was screaming fun. Yeah, laughing so hard that our tummies hurt. That's the good stuff.
After Barcelona, I don't intend on doing anymore European travelling, just sticking closer to home. The hot Scot and I have a wedding to save up for and that means that I can't go off on anymore holiday jaunts for at least a year. We do plan on renting a car and exploring England on our weekends and I'll write about that and other things that are closer to home. I don't think I'll turn this into a wedding planning blog though little snippets of that part of my life may land here from time to time. What I know for sure, however, that this year will be very interesting indeed. Please come by from time to time (and comment!) and see what I'm doing on this tiny island.