Our Roman Holiday
Rather than try to write about events from a few months ago, I will start this blog with Amanda and my Christmas travels. Amanda has already posted about our journey from Billings to D.C. and our first few weeks in Oxford.
We spent 11 days in Italy and 17 in Germany. Italy was a whirlwind of more touristy travel: Our itinerary included Rome, Naples, Pompeii, Florence, Bologna, and Venice. Germany was much more relaxed because we were traveling with Paul and Alice, two of our good friends who are there on Fulbright scholarships.
On the evening of December 11, we flew from London to Rome. From the Fiumicino Airport, we took a Terravision bus to Roma Termini, the main railway station in Rome, with trains, buses, and the subway all intersecting a few mildly seedy blocks from our hostel.
The next morning, we were up early to head to the Vatican Museum. We had reserved tickets online beforehand, so we were able to jump the queue (something I highly recommend doing, even though it costs an extra few dollars).
After passing through the entrance, we headed through fantastic exhibits on Ancient Egypt; Greek and Roman statues; the oddly interesting Sala degli Animali (Room of Animals); and displays on the Etruscans, the most important pre-Roman Italian civilization.
Eventually, we wound our way into the Galleria delle Carte Geografiche (the Gallery of Maps) — a room full of historical maps of Italy and one of my favorite parts of the Vatican Museums.
From there, we entered the Raphael Rooms, a suite of reception rooms painted by Raphael and others in his workshop.
Another of the rooms, the Stanza della Segnatura, whose theme combines Greek philosophy with Christian teaching, contains perhaps Raphael’s most famous painting, The School of Athens.
Amanda and I also visited the Sistine Chapel, home to Michelangelo’s famous ceiling frescoes, including the iconic and endlessly reproduced The Creation of Adam, and The Last Judgment, which takes up the entire wall above the altar. No photography was allowed here, and it was one of few places we went where the guards seemed to take that seriously.
From the Museums, we headed to St. Peter’s Square and the accompanying Basilica. The square hosted a large Christmas tree, but was undergoing some significant construction/repair work. Despite the occasionally obscured views, the crisp air and bright blue sky made it the perfect place to enjoy gelato, one of mankind’s greatest concoctions. In between the Museums and the square, we grabbed some — nocciola (hazelnut) and Nutella for me.
St. Peter’s Basilica is easily the most beautiful church I’ve ever seen, but the sheer opulence makes me a bit uncomfortable. Still, I much preferred it to St. Mark’s in Venice, where they seem to operate under a pay-to-pray model, charging a significant bit of change to see the Treasure Room (i.e., goods looted during the Crusades) and another room.
Later that day, we gathered with throngs of other people to watch the sun set on the Spanish steps. Two groups of students, one from Rome and one from Naples, engaged in a spontaneous sing-off to try and demonstrate their city’s superiority. (Sorry, Naples, but Rome is better.)
From there, we walked toward the Trevi Fountain through winding streets aglow with Christmas lights. The Trevi Fountain is a massively imposing fountain completed in the 18th century of marble and travertine. It figures prominently in the famous film “La Dolce Vita,” and tradition says that, for luck, visitors should throw a coin over their left shoulder and into the fountain using their right hand.
From there, we wandered toward the Pantheon, our last stop for the day. Seeing the Pantheon, consecrated originally in A.D. 126 for all the Roman gods, was a surreal experience: We were walking through narrow pedestrian streets when, all of a sudden, a huge square opened up with the otherworldly Pantheon looming out at us in the night. A street musician playing Pink Floyd’s “Hey You” added to the ethereal atmosphere.
By this point, I was worn down from buzzing across Rome on the metro and walking across half the city. We wandered off the beaten path from the Trevi Fountain to the Pantheon to find a slightly less touristy restaurant. Amanda and I ordered ourselves each a reasonably large pizza (they were thin), and I got a massive goblet of the red house wine for €3.
Wow, that post was much longer than I intended, but there is so much to say about the Eternal City. Next up, I’m hoping to condense the rest of Rome and Naples into another post.