Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Italy Part IV: Rome

Here is the last Italy post.  Like the last one, this post is pretty long, but I hope you enjoy!

After our crazy New Year’s Eve experience J and I slept in, but still got up early enough that we could enjoy the hotel’s continental breakfast.  We made our game plan for the day and kept in mind that there would be places closed for the holiday.  Unfortunately it was overcast this day, but at least it wasn’t raining.

We headed out and passed the Colosseum, stopping to have our picture taken.  It was the first time that we asked someone to take our picture the whole trip.  We continued on our way towards the S. Giovanni in Laterno church.  First, however, we stopped to take a look at the S. Clemente church.  This church is known for its catacombs, but we didn’t get to go through them while we were there.

S. Giovanni Laterno is a beautiful church.  Outside is giant column that Napoleon took from Egypt that is covered in hieroglyphics.  When we went inside mass was actually taking place so we made sure to be quiet and not walk across where people were sitting (there were many people still walking around the church like us). The ceiling was immaculate and the doors were gigantic!  The sculpture in this church is also amazing.

Look how big this door is!

We left and headed in the direction of Circo Massimo.  To the left we saw the Baths of Caracalla.  We could’ve walked through, but decided that it would take too long and we still had so much we wanted to do. When we reached Circo Massimo we found that parts of it were gated off, but we could read the informational boards through the fence.  Definitely an impressive arena.  We learned that it is the largest entertainment center in the world.

To our right we could see Palatine Hill, but also decided not to make the trek to go through it because we were headed in the opposite direction.  The two of us started to get hungry so we set off in search of something quick and easy to eat.  We walked along the Tiver River.  Where we were you could see both the Palatine Bridge and the Fabriano Bridge.  We decided not to cross over the bridge and instead headed back towards the Pantheon.

We came upon the Piazza Nuvonna and found a great little pizzeria where the slices were charged by weight.  We gobbled it down outside the pizzeria before heading next door to get some gelato.  J got caramel cream and I got Bacio (an Italian candy)…mm I miss gelato!  We then headed to the Pantheon only to find out that it was closed for the day.

Silly balloon ruined a great picture

Off we headed back towards the Tiver River, crossing the Ponte Umberto.  At the far end of this bridge we saw the Palazzo Giustizia, which is a gigantic palace and we were both interested in walking through, but unfortunately it was closed for the holiday.

Along the river the number vendors trying to sell fake designer purses and touristy things was plentiful.  It really reminded me of NYC and Canal Street!  We headed towards Vatican City, first coming across the Castell S. Angelo, which is an old castle that is round and looks absolutely ancient.   We found out that there are actually tunnels that go from this castle to St. Peter’s Basilica underground that were used many years ago.

We walked up to St. Peter’s square and took in the Basilica.  We didn’t go in because we knew we’d be going through it and the Vatican museum on our tour the next morning.  The outside is absolutely magnificent despite the many parts that were covered up due to construction and restoration. 

At this point we were starting to lose light so we headed back towards the hotel, but not in any hurry.  We walked across the Ponte Vittorio Emanuele and came across a few churches that were still open for the day.  First we went into the Chiesa Nuova, which was really pretty, but definitely not either of our favorites.

We passed the Pantheon for what felt like the fifth time that day, but went around the back this time and found a church call the Sopra Minerva.  This was J’s favorite, the ceilings were an awesome bright blue and because it was dark outside, it gave the effect of being a night sky.  The frescos on the ceiling were even dotted as if they were stars.  This church was way different than most of the churches we saw because here there was a strong use of color as decoration, whereas in other churches it was a lot of sculpture and gold leaf decoration.

Chiesa Gesu is a perfect example of a highly ornate church.  So much gold leaf and sculpture its almost outrageous.  What was really cool about this church though was that they put a mirror below one of their most impressive frescos and tilted so you could look into the mirror and see what the ceiling looked like without craning your neck.  Also, this church had the most modern light fixtures that we’d seen in a church.  Most had some sort of modern lighting so you could see the artwork better, but this one was almost blinding with how bright it was.

We headed back towards the hotel and stopped at a small grocery store to pick up some goodies for later.  We saw a restaurant near our hotel that wasn’t busy and decided it would be a good place for dinner.  It was pretty good and relatively cheap so Jeremy got two plates and we had Tiramisu and espresso.  The espresso was delicious, not as thick as people had described it to me as being.  We also decided that since we had walked so much, that we deserved double dessert so we wandered down to a gelateria before heading back to the hotel and passing out for the night.

We had gone to bed early because the bus picking us up for the Vatican tour at 7:00am.  We groggily got up and were lucky to get a quick breakfast at the hotel before the bus picked us up.  Man, when people tell you that Italians are crazy drivers, they are not kidding.  I was so tense the entire time the drive weaved in and out of the tiny roads.

We met our tour guide, who spoke five different languages!  She was fantastic and very knowledgeable.  Since you’re not allowed to take pictures inside the Sistine Chapel and there is supposed to be silence in the room as well, she told us all about the history of the chapel before we went in.  Afterwards she took us through the museum, although we only went through one floor, it took us three hours!  There is so much to see that it would be impossible to go through the entire museum in a day and be able to remember everything you saw.

The tour gave us the option of being taken back to the hotel or being dropped off on the other side of Vatican City to go to St. Peter’s Basilica.  We knew we wanted to go into the Basilica so we got off and headed straight there.  We had to wait in line because in order to enter Vatican City you need to go through metal detectors but it didn’t take too long.

St. Peter’s Basilica is breathtaking.  It is absolutely gigantic and I don’t think there is anything in there that you wouldn’t be amazed by.  The ceilings are full of amazing detail; the statues look like they are alive, and there is so much history to be learned.  This is where the Pieta is, a work done by Michelangelo when he was only 24.  Just amazing.

We decided to also go to the top dome of St. Peter’s even though it was taller than the Duomo(!!).  We actually were able to take an elevator half way up before we began the journey up the 200+ steps to the very top, so the experience was a lot less exhausting.  The view was incredible despite the overcast and slightly rainy day.

We decided to make the trek back towards the hotel by feet rather than taxi because even though we were tired we wanted to see what we could on our last day in Italy.  Once again we stopped by the same two spots that had been on the way back to our hotel each day (Piazza Navonna & the Pantheon). We made our way back to the Vittorio Emanuelle II Monument and took the newer (since 2007) elevator to the top for another incredible view!

We took a quick break at the hotel, mostly to drop some things off back at the room.  Then we walked around aimlessly (it was getting dark outside) just experiencing what we still could before we were both absolutely starving and had to stop for food.  Luckily for us, this last night was one of the best meals we had our entire trip, followed by a fantastic last dessert of gelato.

Well, that is it for our Italy trip.  Thank you for reliving it with me.  Such a great experience!  I hope many of you get to visit Italy in the future!

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