Monday, January 16, 2012

Italy Part III: Rome (New Year’s Eve)

**Warning this post is extremely long and is only our first day in Rome.  Feel free to scroll through and just look at the pictures if you don't want to read the whole thing**

Coming into Rome was an entirely different experience than anywhere we had been in Italy so far.  The train station was gigantic and filled with stores once you walked past all of the train terminals.  We figured out how to get to our hotel, which ended up being a much longer walk than I expected, and took a couple minutes to breathe before heading out to check out the city.  Our hotel was in the perfect spot (I have to say J did a great job of picking out our hotels!).

After we dropped off our luggage and headed out to adventure.  Being New Years Eve we weren’t sure what was going to be available for us to see the next day so we wanted to see whatever we could when we arrived.  First we headed over to the Vittorio Emanuele II Monument, which is home to the tomb of the Unknown Soldier and a gigantic building.

We wandered down the back half of the building to a piazza and then towards the amazing ruins.  Being there in person and seeing how amazing it is now only makes you wonder what it really looked in its prime.  After taking it all in we headed back towards the main road that connects the Vittorio Emanuele II Monument and the Colosseum.  We stopped to take a look at the Trajan Market, which just like the ruins, one can only imagine the impressiveness of the building when it was brand new.

From the Trajan Market we could see the Colosseum directly down the street and decided that it had to be our next stop.  Along the road (which had minimal cars, at this point pedestrians were the majority on it) we could tell they were setting up for New Year’s Eve Festivities.  (Side note:  Before we left on our trip I had Googled our options for New Years festivities and found that either near the Colosseum or near the Piazza del Popolo were our best bet for a fun evening.  We decided prior that we would definitely go for fireworks near the Colosseum for a truly memorable evening.) 

When we made it down to the Colosseum there was a long line to get in, but all over there were tour groups trying to get you to pay to go in with them.  We decided to give it a try since it included a guided tour of the Colosseum and we were guaranteed to get in that day.  The tour ended up being pretty informative and although we would’ve made it in without the tour group (the whole line went in while the tour guide was giving us a talk about the exterior of the building), it was definitely money well spent. 

When we decided we were done checking out the Colosseum and surrounding area we pulled out our map and figured out the next best route to take to make it to the places we had in mind.  Since we were passing the hotel on the way, we stopped by to grab water bottles we had purchased earlier and set out again.

Our next stop was the Trevi Fountain where we threw in coins together and took in the amazing sculptures.  Unfortunately not many of our pictures of the fountain came out clear due to the lighting.  From there we traveled across the Via Del Corso where there were Christmas lights strung from the Vittorio Emanuele II Monument all the way to the Piazza del Popolo! 

We came upon the Pantheon by mistake, what a cool building in the middle of a small Piazza, but couldn’t go in for another hour due to a New Years mass being held.  We decided to come back later, so we headed to the Piazza Navona.

The Piazza was nothing like what I expected, while it was a normal square, the empty space we had seen in other Piazzas was filled with midway games and shops.  What a fun experience!  We had some drinks and split a ciambella (pretty much a giant donut) with Nutella.  MMmm!

We were able to make our way back and into the Pantheon (along with a huge crowd!).  Such an incredible building, J was curious what happened when it rained (since there is a hole at the top), little did he know we’d find out on our last day in the city!  We ate dinner right outside the Pantheon, not our favorite meal, but definitely an awesome view!

We still had plenty of time to kill before midnight so we decided to make our way to a couple more sights.  We made our way to the Piazza del Popolo, which is a really nice square, but since it was cold out we didn’t end up spending too much time there.

On our journey back to the hotel to warm up temporarily before heading to the New Years festivities we stopped at the Spanish steps.  People were clearly beginning their New Years celebrations early as many people were sitting on the steps sipping out of bottles of champagne. 

We warmed up back at the hotel and threw extra layers on and made sure to put minimal things in our bags just incase.  We thought our journey from the hotel to where we wanted to watch the fireworks would take five minutes so we left around 10:30 thinking we’d have plenty of time to hang out before midnight.  However, Italian police had put up fences to control the crowd and so the road that would’ve taken us there in two minutes was blocked off.

J and I felt like sheep as we shuffled down the crowded streets, shoulder to shoulder with strangers.  The closer we got to where we wanted to end up, the more crowded it got.  As we got to the main road we started to hear loud bangs, but weren’t sure of the source.  Then when we broke from the crowd it was easy to see what the noises were; the fireworks we had seen street vendors selling on every corner during the afternoon (everything from firecrackers to M80s!) were being lit and set off in a large empty area surrounded people waiting for the festivities to begin.

The fireworks were loud and scary; to me they sounded what I imagined a grenade sounds like when it explodes. We made our way to the other side of the crowd but were still pretty close to the fireworks area.  I was actually taking a video of the fireworks when one exploded and a fragment hit me in the hand!  Man did it kill, but luckily for me my hand was fine the next morning.   After that scare we decided to move further away from that area.

This drunk guy was egging the crowd on and ended up having fireworks and champagne bottles thrown at him

The countdown to midnight began and we yelled along with the crowd.  Fireworks went off in either direction (professional and nonprofessional).  I didn’t think the sight could get any cooler, but then people started to light and release floating lanterns.  It was a real life version of the movie Tangled (but far fewer lanterns)!

So many people said Happy New Year to us!  Well more to J than me, every time I turned around someone was talking to him.   We waited about two hours before heading back to our hotel in order to miss out on the crowds.  I can’t even tell you how quickly the two of us fell asleep.

Definitely the most memorable New Year’s Eve ever!  I’ll write more about the rest of Rome in my next post!

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