Our first night in Rome, we walked to the Pantheon, which was not too far from our hotel. It is still perfectly preserved, which is amazing compared to every other site in Rome. It was beautiful, although I shamed God by wearing shorts inside. I'M SORRY, IT WAS JUST TOO HOT.
Ceiling of the Pantheon
As per usual, I don't remember about 90% of what we did the rest of the day. I blame nursing school. But I'm sure you would have been enthralled and entertained.
On day two of Rome Fun Times Adventure, we did the next standard tourist-y things: the Colosseum and Palatine Hill. We found an English tour outside to Colosseum and decided to fork over many euros for it. Again, it was 90 million degrees outside and by joining a tour group you were allowed to bypass the 2 hour line that was strategically placed in direct sunlight. HOW MUCH MONEY DO YOU WANT? DO NOT CARE, JUST TAKE ME INTO THE SHADE.
Outside view of Colosseum. Insert searing heat.
The tour ended up being worth it beyond the line skippage, I thought. Our first tour guide was a smashing young Italian lad who may have been a James Bond villain when he wasn't leading tour groups. The Colosseum was satisfyingly huge and impressive and James Bond villain did his best to crush our dreams that ancient Rome was anything like Gladiator. He did not, however, diminish my fantasy that all gladiators closely resembled Russel Crowe. You don't have any photos to prove me wrong, do you? DO YOU? I rest my case.
Inside the Colosseum. Notice how pale I am. I am not built to handle sunlight like this.
After the Colosseum tour we had a break where we could walk around by ourselves, take pictures etc. This is when Joe and I discovered that you have to try really, really hard to exit the Colosseum. There are signs everywhere that direct you to many exits that do not actually exist. Perhaps they have a few ancient tigers left to feed?
Once you enter, you cannot leave!! Except that you can.
After the break, we waited for part two of the tour: Palatine Hill above the Colosseum. Our tour guide for this leg was a young American guide who would have fit in perfectly in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. I kept expecting him to tell us that Rome was totally gnarly. Alas, he did not.
He was, in fact, very knowledgeable, he just had a manner of speaking that implied he really should have been in a frat house in the 80s. Rad!
After the tour was finished and I was starving and that is about all I can remember about the rest of the day.
Day 3 was allotted for visiting the Vatican. Luckily, Joe reserved tickets to the Vatican museum the day before because-- wait for it-- it was 90 million degrees outside with at least a 3 hour wait in line. Guess who got to bypass the line? Suckers! Everybody should book in advance.
Here we see that it is perfectly acceptable for young children to play with alligators.
The Vatican museum is an enormous maze. Either you go through all of it or none of it. Several times Joe and I veered off to a side exhibit that mysteriously led us back to a part of the museum we had been to earlier. And could we walk back through the exhibit to get back to where we started? The Vatican guards issued a firm NO. You must walk the corridors in the suffocating crowds that you have ALREADY walked through. A tricksy one, that Pope.
Luckily, just about everything in the museum is interesting, even if you have no idea why a Roman emperor would require a giant red marble bathtub. There are sculptures, fountains, frescos, and frighteningly large bathtubs a plenty. The grand finale was the gorgeous Sistine Chapel. While the chapel is stunning, the museum's crown jewel, the entire tourist population in Europe also wants to see it. Because of this, when you enter the Sistine Chapel guards immediately descend upon you and hurry you out the door. Kind of a buzz kill, considering you could stare at the ceiling for hours. No cameras allowed either. The Vatican expressively forbids fun.
Just outside the Vatican museum is St.Peter's cathedral, also very beautiful and borderline terrifying. Look at this alter. Does not look like it belongs on the set of a Predator movie?
The picture does not do it it's terrifying justice: it is massive, pointy and black and looks like a place where kittens might be sacrificed. But though the alter wasn't to my taste, the cathedral really is beautiful. Probably the most beautiful I have seen so far.
And fun fact courtesy of James Bond villain tour guide: why is the Sistine Chapel and St.Peter's so beautiful? Because the Vatican stole all the material from monuments around Rome. The Colosseum is full of giant holes where bronze was dug out of the walls. Massive amounts of marble were 'borrowed' from Palatine hill.
Such is history, I guess. It did seem a little ironic though, that much of the Vatican’s beauty came at the expense of destroying similarly beautiful monuments. It’s like the Bible says: thou shalt not pillage thy neighbor’s Coliseum. I'm pretty sure that passage is right next to: thou shalt not covet they neighbor’s one-humped camel (thou mayst covet the two-humped camels for they are exquisite animals).
I’m really not sure where this stuff comes from. I'm sorry.
We also managed to see the Trevi fountain, which was pretty but completely and totally swarmed by tourists at all times. I quickly became intimately familiar with strangers unique body odors. Never the less, Joe and I managed to throw pennies into the fountain in hopes of returning to Rome one day.
Another big highlight of the trip was eating particularly delicious gelato. Some of my favorite in Italy. Our first trip, I sampled yogurt and honey gelato while Joe had caramel and Armagnac. My yogurt gelato was just okay but I’ve become somewhat obsessed with plain frozen yogurt (a la Pink Berry) and ate a lot of yogurt gelato in Italy. Perhaps, ahem, every day. But the honey gelato was delicious and amazing. Joe’s were both delicious, the Armagnac being surprisingly good. Given my distaste for alcohol I didn't think I would like it but that’s the magic of gelato for you: I don’t like ice cream or alcohol but I find alcohol flavored gelato delicious. Congratulations, Italy. You owe me some bigger pants.
The second visit I varied from my usual routine of yogurt gelato and got valrhona cocoa gelato paired with blackberry gelato. Joe got grapefruit gelato. I was persuaded by the valrhona title, a company that makes fantastic chocolate. It was not my favorite gelato but that’s really not saying much as every single gelato I’ve had in Europe has been worlds better than any ice cream I’ve had in the states. I felt similar about my blackberry gelato, but the two paired well. Chocolate berries, arghghgh *Homer Simpson drooling noises*.
Joe’s grapefruit really won out that day though. Joe has a knack for picking out solidly good fruit flavors while I am always entranced by fancier notions. Which essentially means I walk in saying things lik, "Trying to watch the ol' girlish figure, better stick with a scoop of sorbet!" and end up walking away with pistachio, chocolate hazelnut and caramel gelato. Oops. But anyway: grapefruit gelato: a good idea. Naming a grapefruit, "grapefruit": a questionable idea.
All in all, I liked Rome a lot more than I thought I would. I imagined the crowds and touristy nature would turn me off. But while it was crowded, its also a stunning place. Prettier than Venice, in my opinion, with better food and sites to boot. Rome is touristy, sure, but not in the same way as Venice. Venice felt like a cheap carnival that may have once been a great city. It was like attending a Renaissance Fair, if Renaissance Fairs took place in a small, dirty box and everything cost NINE MILLION EUROS. Minus the obvious Ren fair pluses of imaginary fairy princesses and life sized chess games.
…. We didn’t like Venice.
So yes, for all its downfalls, we really enjoyed Rome. We ate good food, saw some incredible landmarks and met a James Bond villain. Alright, the last part may not be strictly true. But that's beside the point. Rome = awesome. The end.