Thursday, October 21, 2010


*Sorry this post is late, I've been battling my first European cold since last Thursday :(

Can you take a guess as to where I spent my weekend?

That’s right, I went to Rome!  It’s such an amazing city filled with so much history, art and amazing food.  So let’s not didy-dadle any further, let’s dive right into it!

My roommate, John, and I had leave our house at four in the morning in order to get to the airport.  This is because we decided to fly out of Girona’s airport, which is 40-50 miles northeast of Barcelona.  To get there we had to take a taxi to the bus station and then a bus to the airport.  Never again will I be doing that.  On the bus we had two Germans guys sitting behind us and they wouldn’t shut up at all (they seemed to still be drunk from the night).

Finally, we got on the flight and found out within 5 minutes why fares were so cheap on Ryanair; it wasn’t an airline, it was a freakin infomercial. After we had ascended they came on the PA every twenty minutes or so trying to sell you some useless crap, like perfume or their newest scratch-off game where you can win a million Euros!  Thank God I had my iPod…

So we finally get to Rome, crossing through one of the gates of old Roman city.  Of course, our first thought is “let’s go to the Coliseum!”  We got a little lost roaming through the streets, trying to find the damn thing but when we did it was epic.  The Colosseum is incredibly massive and it’s truly amazing to think that 2000 years ago people were walking down on the same street on the way to see a “show” in the Coliseum.  Only a third of the original material is still there, but that didn’t make the building any less impressive.  Once there, we walked around a little bit before we got ambushed by a sweet talking guy who wanted us to a tour group.  It sounded really shifty at first, but we decided to go ahead and go on it.  It definitely added to the experience of the Coliseum as he explained the history of it (it was built in 10 years!), some stuff that I didn’t know about (it used to have a wooden roof with an opening in the middle for ventilation) and some debunking of myths (the emperor didn’t do thumbs up/down.  An exposed palm meant that the gladiator lived and the thumb to the side with the other fingers closed meant death).  After the tour we got to walk around the Coliseum to take everything in.  It was very cool but at the same time very eerie.  Hundreds of thousands of people died here for the entertainment of the Roman people, people were literally fighting for their lives as people watched.  Also, there were crows that still hang around the building, which for me was a little creepy.  To top this off, there was also a black cat that was loose in the Coliseum who I jokingly called the last lion of the Coliseum.

After the Coliseum we got a bonus tour!  We got head over to the near by the Palatine Hill which was the main hill in ancient Rome.  This was literally the center of the world at one point as it was the most important hill in all of Rome.  It also overlooks the Roman Forum, the main town square of Rome.  The space includes the main temples and judicial buildings in addition to other government buildings.  I got to walk through the forum just as Romans did thousands of years ago.  I don’t know, just thinking about all that history while walking through the forum was just mind blowing.

After that, we decided to walk through more of old Rome, mainly to see the Pantheon and Trevi Fountain.  The Pantheon was a temple in Rome that was dedicated to all the Roman gods until it was converted into a Roman Catholic church around 602 AD.  The outside was under some restoration but the inside was very beautiful.  The marble came in all different colors and Raphael is also buried there.  Trevi Fountain wasn’t very far from the Pantheon so we checked that out next.  Of course, besides the Coliseum this is probably the next most famous thing in Rome and for good reason.  It was gorgeous and probably my favorite site in Rome.  To insure your return to the Eternal City you have to throw coins into the fountain over your shoulder.  I think I read on Wikipedia that everyday there's up to 3,000 Euros in the fountain.  However, only 5 cents of that was mine was I threw in 2 cents for myself and 3 cents in for my sister so that someday she can see Europe for herself.

After that I don't remember too much because I was really running on empty (had to get up at 3:30am after maybe 3 hours of sleep).  I do remember that we stopped at a pretty nice cafe and I had a divine dish of fettuccine  and black truffle mushrooms....mmmmmmm delish!

Saturday was Vatican City day.  We got up early to meet up with our tour group and came across a really cheap, but very good, “snack bar” near the metro stop.  A delicious cappuccino and a croissant was less than 2.00€ (just a place to keep in mind if you ever head to Rome).  We waited in line to get our tickets for the Vatican Museum, which ironically contains the world’s largest collection of pagan art (go figure).  Our tour first lead us into two long hallways that were only filled with Greek and Roman statues.  There were so many that I probably saw all the Roman gods without even realizing it.  They portrayed Hercules as half-man half-god by giving him mortal characteristics.  For example, he is often portrayed with veins in his legs (gods don’t have blood) and he was usually supporting his weight on something. 

Outside the halls o’statues our tour guy stopped at a big board that showed the pictures of the Sistine Chapel.  He used this to explain what Michelangelo did and why it is considered the crowning achievement of his life.  He of course explained all the scenes in addition to “The Last Judgment” which appears behind the altar in the chapel.  He literally talked non-stop for about 20 minutes; I didn’t know it was even possible to talk that long without taking a break or pausing.  After his explanation, he asked if we had any questions.  After a moment of silence, with everyone taking in what he said, one guys said one word that summed up what we were all thinking: “wow.”

After that we got to tour more of the museum, which included a few rooms painted by Raphael, a room filled with painted maps of Italy, a room filled with tapestries and a collection of modern art.  This of course was building up to the moment when we finally got to enter the Sistine Chapel.  It was breathtaking.  The ceiling was a lot higher than I expected and I couldn’t get over that Michelangelo painted it with such detail to the point where it was absolutely perfect.  He painted that ceiling for 4 years as paint and crushed up glass was raining down on his eyes while he painted.  Now that is dedication.  “The Last Judgment” was also incredible.

The only bad thing about the chapel was that you weren’t allowed to take pictures or videos and you were to remain quiet, as it’s a holy place; they had three guards to keep the peace.  About every three minutes you would hear a guard cry out, in a stereotypical Italian accent, “no photo.  No video.”  If you were lucky enough you would hear on the PA system (in six languages) that basically said to shut your trap.  Even though I’m not a religious person these two things really took away from the atmosphere of the chapel.  People, you’re looking at one of greatest accomplishments of humanity, can you stay silent for five minutes and just appreciate it?

After that tour we went to Saint Peter’s Square to see St. Peter’s Basilica.  I can’t even begin to describe how impressive the basilica is nor do my pictures do it justice.  It’s just one of those things that you have to see in person to fully appreciate. 

After we left St. Peter’s Square it started raining, to my displeasure.  All I was thinking was “why does it always have to rain when I take a weekend trip somewhere?”  Anyway, we continued on our way in the rain to Castel Sant’Angelo and walked around the city for the rest of the day.

On Sunday we were both dead tired but we still managed to walk around the city.  We walked over to Piazza di Spagne, Plaza of Spain.  Besides wanting to go there to see the really cool Spanish embassy that’s also where the Spanish Steps are.  There’s nothing too special to them except that they are the most famous steps in all of Rome.  Then there was Piazza Novana, which is the plaza where you can see’s Bernini’s most famous fountain Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers).  One thing that I absolutely loved about Rome was all the cool fountains.  They were each incredibly detailed and stunning.  After that, we tried to go into Santa Maria della Vittoria, a church featured in Dan Brown’s Angel’s and Demons but as soon as we got there some friar shooed us out of the church and then locked the door.  I guess visiting time was up…

The trip was an amazing experience; it was definitely a lot better than Paris IMHO.  Here are some last thoughts about Rome.
  1. Italian: I had an easier time reading and listening to Italian than I did with French.  First of all, a lot of Italian words look a lot like Spanish so I was able to deduce a majority of the words I came across.  In Paris, I could literally stare at words for hours on end and still have no idea what it was saying.  Also, the Italian stereotypes that we have (they talka like this) are not stereotypes, they are true.  Everyone talked that way and I was really surprised by that.  If I knew Italian I wouldn’t have a problem understanding them cause they talked slowly and seemed to annunciate everything.
  2. Cappuccino: Italian coffee is the best I’ve ever had.  It was incredibly rich and there was just the right amount of foam in each cappuccino that I had.  Of, and they drizzle the top of it with bittersweet chocolate.  I was in heaven.
  3. Narrow Streets: All of old Rome was like the Gothic Quarter in BCN: narrow streets and cobblestone streets.  I absolutely loved it.
  4. Italian crosswalks: The lines to cross the street do exist but actual cross walks are far and few.  As a result, in order to cross the street you literally have to walk in front of traffic and hope that they don’t hit you.  I felt like I was playing Frogger but at the end I got pretty good; I would walk in front of the cars confidently and without fear.
  5. We came up with several catchphrases during the trip, the first being “no photo” from the guards in the Sistine Chapel.  The second one came as we were walking in Piazza Novana.  A guy comes up to us with a looped string and tried to tie it around my finger (“Finger please”).  We continued walking, ignoring what was probably some sort of scam.  As we're walking away he says in a very funny voice “what, no finger?”  The final one comes from John's Italian-English translator app that was apparently sponsored by Fiat 500 because a lot of the phrases seemed to promote that car.  For example, under the “essentials” section next to useful phrases such as “Do you speak English” was a phrase that made me laugh: “I would like to buy a Fiat 500.”  Never mind if you need to know how to yell out "help!" in Italian, the most important thing was locating Fiat dealership, hilarious.  A couple of other comical phrases: “Thanks, it’s a Fiat 500” “Can I take a picture next to your Fiat 500” and “We should be driving a Fiat 500” 
Como siempre, you can view my photos here.  I’m off to Valencia (the 3rd largest city in Spain) for the weekend, so next week you can look for a blog post about that and also one about my host family (as I realized that I haven’t described my living situation yet!)


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