The pilgrimage begins… Rome Day 1

I woke up early this morning in order to get to the Madrid airport on time for my flight. I flew into Rome Ciampriano, and by the time I arrived I was starving so I grabbed a caprese sandwich on the go. It’s a good thing I did because the bus ride from the airport to Termini Station lasted about 45 minutes. Finally, I made it to Termini and it was time to try to locate my hostel. If I learned one thing from traveling around Rome all day, it is that they don’t believe in street signs. At all. So of course I got lost while lugging my backpack through some side streets but eventually stumbled upon my hostel and was able to check in.

When I checked in, the receptionist said I had booked a bed in a 2 bedroom, and told me what my balance was. I just went along with it, because it was the same balance I thought I was supposed to be paying for a 6 bedroom = awesome!!! Next I dropped all of my clothes into my locker and headed out into the city well armed with a couple of different maps and my nook.

The first spot I came across which is very close to my hostel, was the Trevi Fountain, one of the iconic symbols of Rome. I promptly posed for a pic, then went down to the level of the fountain, turned away from it and threw a coin over my shoulder, wishing to return to Rome. They say it works, it had better because there’s no way I can see the entire city in a long weekend… After seeing the fountain, I also got to see a recent excavation which archaeologists just uncovered a few years ago very near to the fountain. Although not very large, it was fascinating to see the ruins that had been unearthed far below the current street level.

Also close to my hotel is the old Santa Maria church, which I recognized instantly because we discussed it in my art history class about ancient Rome. The facade of the church was designed by Michelangelo and is basically the only thing that remains of the original building. The church is a great example of one of Rome’s interesting mixes of historical and modern, from the street you can’t tell at all how large it is, but on the inside it’s an impressive building with gorgeous colors.

I made my way to palazzo spagna, the location of the ever famous Spanish steps and flooded boat fountain. By this point, I had been around large crowds of people since 8am, and it was nearing on 3pm. I am really not a people person, so I wanted a small break. Frommers recommended a stop at Banington’s Tea Rooms at the bottom of the Spanish Steps, and although it was a splurge, I’m so glad that I went. Instantly upon entering the tea rooms, I was greeted with peace and quiet, while the plaza outside swarmed with people and noise. I got the standard Babingtons tea combo which includes about 3 cups of tea and a cookie sampler plate. Although I’m not a tea connoisseur, the tea was by far the best tasting tea I’ve ever had in my life, and the cookies were delectable.

After my brief reprise, I made my way to the top of the steps, pausing for a photo on the way. Once at the top I immediately headed for the 16th century home whose windows form eyes, and the door is the mouth. We discussed the building in my class, and I was excited to see its quirky style. Then I headed back to the steps and took a good long look over the area from the top. While glancing down, I had quite the entertaining experience with a young man about my age. He spoke good English and before I knew what was happening, had taken my hand and was essentially braising an Italian friendship bracelet onto my wrist. Wary as usual when strangers try to give me things, I told him I didn’t want it and I needed to get on my way. He just told me that the pattern of the bracelet was to bring good luck in life and love and some other such nonsense. When he was done of course he said something along the lines of how much you pay? Now I’m laughing at him and telling him to cut it off since I’m not paying for it but he thinks of a better idea and says no keep it but can I please take a picture with you? I’m like okay so he calls over his partner in crime to snap the pic and the whole time I’m holding onto my stuff like I’m about to get jumped. What an experience. It’s a good thing I had just had tea, or I wouldn’t have been quite so nice about the whole thing.

Once I reach the bottom of the steps again, I venture down into the main shopping streets of Rome in order to make my way to piazza del popolo. This would be a good time to mentions awestruck wonder at the number of breath taking churches in Rome. All along my route today, I stopped in over 15 churches and each one was incredibly unique. Unlike last weekend in Portugal, where each church was predictable and followed a similar pattern, the churches here have different plans, and each stands out in its own way. Although there is certainly an excessive number of churches in the city, almost every one contains the work of an important artist. What I think makes the churches here so special is the extensive use of color and light by the artists in the paintings, frescoes, and mosaics. Artists in Rome have been very creative with religious decor. Definitely one of my favorite from today was the church of Saint Ignacio, built in 1626. In this church, the artist painted a dome where there is none, yet it looks totally believable. When I saw it I was questioning if it was or wasn’t a dome, but then I remembered reading about this place for class and realized that it was just an illusion, but the painting is that good, with shadows and everything. The talented painters and sculptors who have worked in Rome throughout time have created religious structures comparable to nowhere else.

After leaving the piazza de popolo, I headed to the newest building within the city, the museum which houses the Ara Pacis, or the Altar of Peace. Although I found the fee to view the famous monument quite unnecessary, I viewed it as a necessary experience, so I entered into the highly controversial building in order to really get a good look at the ancient thing. The restoration of the piece from the 12th century is incredible, and I was impressed. The building itself is worth a look around as well. I also enjoyed getting a look at Augustus mausoleum to one side of the museum, and my first glimpse of the Tiber River on the other side. After my historical foray, I continued on to the Pantheon.

Since a classmate did a presentation on the Pantheon, I found it very similar to what I had studied and learned about. I noticed the gradual sloping of the plaza as it goes towards the entrance, this slope is specifically designed to lead down to the entrance, since it is much lower than the street level is today. I checked out the plaza and the obelisk in the center before proceeding to admire the dome. The interior itself is somewhat stout, as in it isn’t too large compared to the never ending height of the worlds highest self standing dome, which seems to reach towards heaven. I inspected the molding which I had learned was specially designed to make the dome weigh less, looked at all the sculptures, and walked the full circle of the building before heading out and looking at the building from all sides.

This is when the sun started to sink down and on my way to see the wedding cake/ typewriter like Vitorrio Emmanuel monument, I stopped back by the Trevi Fountain to snap a picture of it all lit up, then I got my first glimpse at the hideous Vittorio Emmanuel, snapped some pictures, the got the chance to see the Roman Forum all lit up, as well as the Coliseum.

I took the metro back to a stop close by my hostel from the coliseum. I had an amazing dinner of pasta carbonara, grilled chicken and spinach at Al Vimanale, a great value for the Euoros and so tasty. Then I came back to the hostel and showered. Now to get some rest before another busy day!

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