Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Roma, non basta una vita

The title means, "Rome, a lifetime is not enough." Luckily, my travelmates and I had a three day weekend for our travels in Rome and while we didn't get to see EVERYTHING, we did manage to see everything that we personally wanted to see and had carefully planned out. We had AMAZING weather the entire weekend as you will see from the beautiful blue skies in the pictures.

It all began earlier on Friday morning. We met at the central train station in Milan and boarded our 8am train to Roma. While on the train, we attempted to call our hostel because the website had told us to give an estimated time of arrival on our check in date. But everytime we dialed the number a recording just kept telling us the number did not exist. We had heard many horror stories of hostels, including but not limited to, people who never actually found the hostel they had booked. However, the rational side of me kept the irrational side from freaking out and I said calmly to Tera and Maya (my travel buddies), "We can't do anything about this right now, so we will just have to stay calm, get to Rome, follow the directions for finding the hostel and go from there." They looked up at me with terrified yet trusting expressions and nodded their heads in agreement.

Our train arrived in Roma in the early afternoon. We quickly got some lunch at the station, bought "Roma Passes" (which covered transportation, entrance to two museums and discounts on all other museums), took deep breaths, and then pulled out the directions for our hostel. However, before leaving the metro station, Tera decided she had to use the bathroom before we started our adventure. The only bathroom available looked like an elevator door (see picture) and only opened after inserting 50 cent euro into a coin slot. As she stepped inside the door closed behind her and Maya and I heard a lady's voice recording come on. Apparently, it talked to Tera the entire time she went to the bathroom and told her how much time she had remaining. So creepy!
Well turns out the directions to our hostel were perfect and it did in fact exist. However, when we arrived they told us that they had overbooked and would have to send us across the street to another hostel (a very common occurance). Luckily, the hostel across the street was decent enough: friendly staff, other friendly student guests, safe enough to leave our stuff there during the day, clean...enough and it provided breakfast. Plus it was only metro stop away from the train station in one direction and the Colosseum in the other direction.
We didn't waste any time starting our rigrious touring schedule and jumped on the metro to go straight to the Colosseum. Thanks to our Roma Passes we didnt have to wait in the massive line and got to head directly inside. We spent awhile exploring and taking pictures. It's hard to pick just a few to put on here.

From the Colosseum we had a great view of the Arco di Costantino:The largest and the best preserved of Rome's triumphal arches was erected in AD 315 to celebrate the victory of emperor Constantine over Maxentius. Just a few steps away was the Colle Palatino and Foro Romano...basically a bunch of Roman ruins, gardens and the house of Augustus. We spent a lot of time roaming around this area as it was so interesting to think this enourmous land and ruins area had once been someone's home. And the scenic view from up on this hill was mesmerizing.

Next stop: the famous Trevi Fountain! After we managed to push our way through the mass of tourist gathered around this epic water pool, we made our way to the front where we all threw in our coins to gurantee our return to Rome. And then, being exhausted from the traveling, exploring, and heat of the sun we decided to find a gelateria. We ventured a little ways away from the crowds and found a quiet gelateria called Valentino's. The owner was a kind, older Italian man who made us amazing gelato milkshakes and seemed to thoroughly enjoy our company. He spoke very good english (which seems to be essential for good business in such a high tourism spot as Rome) and he asked us to come back. We tried to go back and see him on Sunday but unfortunately, he wasn't there. We finished the evening with a trip to the Pantheon and the beautiful Piazza Navona.
Saturday morning we woke up early and headed start to Vatican City where we visited St. Peters Basilica (and saw Michelangelo's Pieta) and the Sistine Chapel. When walked out of St. Peter's Basicilca we saw a sign pointing one direction that said Sistine Chapel. So we headed that way but didn't really see any signs after the first. We kept walking in what we assumed was the right direction and stumbled upon a line of people. None of us were sure what the line was for but we hoped it wasn't for the Sistine Chapel because it just kept going and going and going AND going. We walked along the line of people and figured out that they were in line for the Musei Vaticani.....which as we were walking I read in my guide book (thanks for letting me borrow it Grandma!) was where the Sistine Chapel was located. At this point, the last thing we wanted to do was turn around and join the end of what seemed to be the never ending line so we just kept following it forward. Eventually we realized we were only a block away from the beginning of the line and there was suddenly caution tape acting as a rope to narrow the far from 'single file' line. We all looked at each other and tried to decide what we should do. Then all of a sudden I yelled, "Come on!" and ducked under the tape motioning for them to follow me. They hesitated for a second then jumped in after me. We joined the line 'Italian style!' Thanks to the fast moving pace at this point in the line and the large tourist group that also decided to cut at that exact moment, we managed to sneak in unnoticed. A tour guide just in front of me started yelling for a police man standing nearby to come over and started screaming in Italian about this tour group (pointing to all the people behind us and totally overlooking our "innocent" little faces....wooosh). He said he was just there to control the car traffic and said he couldn't do anything then got back to his job. Ok, I realize what we did was not right at all but.... we only waited 10 mins instead of probably the 3 hours we would have waited to get inside the Musei Vaticani. Once inside we went through room after room after room of beautiful art until we finally reached the Sistine Chapel! Which was of course, so amazing. And I might have snapped a few illegal pictures....maybe....
Next, we went to the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore (Basilica of Saint Mary Major), founded in the 4th century, is one of the five great ancient basilicas of Rome. And ended our day at the Spanish steps...which I might have enjoyed more if I could have actually seen the steps versus them being covered with locals and tourists alike.

That night we ate at a Ristorante Cinese (Chinese Restaurant) and enjoyed the famous Roman Tartufo, an ice cream dessert usually covered in a hard shell of chocolate.
Our last day in Rome we ventured off the beaten path a little to the Catacombs, where early Christians buried their dead. We visited the largest of the three open to the public, San Sebastiano, named for the saint who was buried there and burrows underground on four levels. A creepy, yet very interesting adventure.

We spent our last remaining hours enjoying paninos in a park with a view of the colosseum and then one last adventure to the gelateria and Trevi Fountain before boarding our train to head back to Milano. Overall, Rome was a beautiful, historical, and tourist filled city. I loved the adventure and seeing all the famous sites I'd always dreamed to see, but after being there I was glad I had made the decision to study in Milano. The massive amounts of tourists in Rome would drive me crazy!!