Sunday, April 19, 2009

Senatus Populusque Romanus (Italy, Part 1: Roma)

Whew, I got back really late last night from a whirlwind week in Italy.  It was great!  The weather wasn't the best, but we still had fun and saw some amazing stuff and ate gooooooood food. I took about 500 pictures and Carly took around 800 and then we traded pictures this morning, so I am not short of photographic evidence of the trip.

I got Mom and Mary off fine at the train station, Manchester bound.  I then ran back to my flat, finished packing and met Carly out in front of Whitendale.  Katie (from TN, but she goes to Bellarmine) and her friend Cat (from TX, but goes to University of Memphis.  She is studying in Glasgow this semester.  She doesn't care about basketball, which could have made for a miserable week if she had!) joined us shortly.  Our flight was from Liverpool at 6:30AM.  There weren't any early trains to Liverpool, so we got the latest possible train there and just hung out at the airport that night.  It wasn't as bad as Dublin, as I actually got some sleep.  Our flight went fine, we arrived at Roma Ciampino airport around 10:30 local time (they're an hour ahead of GMT).  We took a bus from the airport to Termini Station, which is about a 10 minute walk from our hostel.

Carly is on top of all things travel, which makes it really easy for me to travel with her, because I really don't have to do much.  She had directions from Termini to the hostel and knew the weather for the week, etc. Our hostel was actually one of the crappiest I've stayed at so far, but the location was good and it had a bed and a means of cleaning yourself (not exactly a working shower though, lol).  We dumped our stuff at the hostel, then set out in search of food.  We were starving, as airport food doesn't get the job done well.  We found this neat little place close to the hostel.  We took pictures of our food:

Our cute restuarant.  Clockwise from left: Carly, Cat, and Katie.
My massive pizza magherita (just sauce and cheese and oh so good!).  Katie had 4 cheese and Carly had gnocchi.  More on gnocchi later.
But we laid waste to every bite.  yum.
Our main destination that day (Monday) was the Coliseum.  Its one of those cultural icons you see on TV or in books, but nothing prepares you for seeing the real thing.  This was kind of the tone for all of Rome, seriously.  We went inside the Coliseum, and our tour included a walking tour of the Palatine Hills and the Roman Forum (which were, incidentally more interesting than the Coliseum itself).  Here are the pictures!

Carly and me in front of the Coliseum.  We look very European with our scarves, haha.
 Its really old.  And cool.  I'm still at a loss for words, evidently.
The inside!  There is a series of passages that housed lions and tigers and the like for gladiator fights.  At one time, there was a giant stage covered in sand that was the floor.  But it is long gone.
Carly and I took a ton more pictures from the Coliseum, but they're mostly superfluous and don't begin to do the place justice.  So I'll continue on with the Palatine Hill and Roman Forum.

 On top of the Palatine Hill, with a neat view of the Coliseum (on the left).  This was where Rome was actually founded and the rumored location of the Lupercal, where the she-wolf raised Romulus and Remus.  It used to be a big palace complex, covered in marble and beautiful structures, but in the Middle Ages the Catholic Church stole/took/recycled the columns and other marble structures for their own use and built a big church nearby.  We call it St. Peter's Basilica.

 This was one of the gladiator fighting arenas, where a lot of the marble once was.

 The Roman Forum! This was the economic and political center for one of the world's largest, most powerful empires.  We were able to walk down there among all the ruins.
We continued to stroll through the Forum.  It is still so strange to be able to walk through all these centuries, MILLENIA, of history.  One of our missions for the week was to eat gelato every single day.  Mission accomplished.  Gelato is like ice cream, only better.  It is a little softer and just generally more awesome.  The first day, I had nutella flavored.  Holy cow, it was goooooooood.
We went to the Trevi Fountain next.  It is an enormous, gorgeous Baroque fountain.
And lots of people.  Rome has lots of people.
Legend says that if you throw a coin with your right hand over your left shoulder, you are ensured a return to Rome.  We did it, so I'll be going back to Rome sometime.  Excellent!
So, we had a full day.  We were tired.  So we went back to the hostel.
I snapped this picture in the middle of Via Nazionale. 
After a rather pathetic shower, we went to bed, and we all got up and left around 8AM.  Destination: Vatican City and St. Peters.  We went to Termini Station and got a one way metro ticket to Vatican City.  We decided that Rome is not very big, area wise (at least, not NEARLY as big as London), so it was feasible to get the metro to the other end of the city and meander back for the rest of the day, which is what we did.  We got to just outside St. Peter's and there were hawkers selling tours, which were mostly ripoffs.  Because this was not Carly and mine's big trip, we decided to skip the 40 euro tour into the Sistine Chapel and just do the free stuff, which was a wise decision, we feel.  However, this was Cat and Katie's big trip for the semester, so they decided to do it.  They felt it was worth it.  This was the first time the Vatican and St. Peter's had been open in two weeks (for Easter) so the place was SWAMPED with tourists.  The lines were extraordinarily long, but they went surprisingly fast.
This was our breakfast, for only a euro and a half.  Cornetto (crossiant) and the strongest cappuccino I've ever had in my life.  Seriously, the stuff had enough caffiene to keep me awake for 24 hrs.
The first glimpse of St. Peter's Square, which is more of an oval.

Colonade in St. Peter's Square/Oval.
I was super excited that we were allowed to take pictures INSIDE St. Peter's Basilica.  There aren't any words to describe the beauty and majesty of this place.  It hasn't over taken the cathedral in Cordoba, Spain as my favorite cathedral, but it was close.  I think it might be tied with Westminster Abbey, just because I know more of the people buried in Westminster and more of the history.  St. Peter's had a bunch of dead popes, more than anything.  But it was still overwhelming.

The Swiss Guard and their awesome outfits.  I would have a hard time taking these guys seriously.

Still recovering from Easter services.
....And the ceiling.  Dude.
A lot of people.  That's the altar in the back.
This is La Pieta- sculpted by Michelangleo (not the Ninja Turtle).  We couldn't get very close to it.  And the quality stinks.

 More ceiling.
 If you click on the picture, you can see the larger version.  Find all the itty bitty people around the dome for scale.  Eeep.
The catacombs beneath our feet, home to a bunch of dead popes and important people.

The tomb of St. Peter.  Yes, THE St. Peter.  Jesus' disciple St. Peter.  Yeah, that one.
Carly and I combined probably took over 150 pictures in St. Peter's and there is no way I could get them all up here in a timely fashion.  I keep saying this about some of the places I've visited, but I could have spent all day in there.  Except there was a lot more to see in Rome!
The Castel Sant' Angelo.  If you've read Angels & Demons you know what this is.  (There is supposedly a secret passage from the Vatican to here.  I love conspiracy theories, lol).
Cat and Katie were still on their overpriced tour, so Carly and I wandered around for a little while longer.  We next went to the Piazza del Popolo.

Piazza del Popolo from the top of the Pincio.  The dome in the back is St. Peter's.  The obelisk is covered in heiroglyphs and originated in Egypt.
Great view of St. Peter's from Piazza del Popolo.
There was a park right behind the Pincino (I can't remember the name of it), that our map said that Mussolini and Ghandi both liked to stroll around.  I'm not sure how the two are connected, but we strolled around it and enjoyed a little slower pace.  We then went to the Piazza de Spagna (Spanish Steps), where we met back up with Cat and Katie.
More PEOPLE.  Cool steps, though.

The Trevi Fountain is right by the Piazza de Spagna, so we went back there and had gelato.  There are no words to describe this batch.  I had the tiramisu flavor that night and it was AMAZING.  It was a good moment, eating gelato on a sunny day in Rome by the Trevi Fountain.
Next, we went to the Pantheon, which was wicked cool.  It was an ancient temple to the Roman gods, but (naturally) converted to a Catholic church.  The inside is cooler, and was free!

 The famous oculus/devil's hole inside the Pantheon.  What do they do when it rains?
 Right behind the Pantheon was the Piazza Novano, which had Bernini's Fountain of Four Rivers.
 Piazza Novano also had a neat market with paintings and prints.
We trekked back to the hostel after this, because we were gross and tired.  We took showers, rested, and went back to the Coliseum after dark.  Mainly because we had forgotten Flat Stanley the first day.  But it was pretty at night, too!

That wraps up our two days in Rome.  Wednesday, we got a mid-morning train from Roma to Firenze.  The rest of the week will require another post, which will be posted during the middle of the week, because I'm off again!  I know, I know.  But I'm going to the Scottish Agricultural College tomorrow on a research tour of their sheep unit, then I'm going to visit some relatives in Hawick, south of Edinburgh for a few days.  We're so distantly related though, that it really doesn't count any more.  But they live on a big sheep farm in the Borders of Scotland and England, so I get my farm fix for a while before I come back to UCLan and finish up papers and assessments.  Yay.

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