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Travel

Rome Sweet Rome: Five Days in the Eternal City (Part II)

{To read about the first part of our trip in Rome, click here!}

On the next day of our journey, we were so tired and satisfied from our escapades that we decided to take it easy. Instead of walking through the city, Ken and I took the Metro for the first time, to the Villa Borghese Gardens.

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The Villa Borghese is an (apparently) gorgeous museum that was highly recommended in my guide book. It turns out that you need to order tickets a week in advance to get a spot. We didn’t think ahead, so instead, we spent a few hours exploring the surrounding gardens, referred to as the “Central Park” of Rome.

The park was pretty and very eclectic – much like Rome itself. Paths wound up and down, then disappeared; the park would thin out and then suddenly, bam, open up into a wide field; none of the buildings matched in style or century. One of my expectations was spot-on, though: my guide book told me that the park was especially good for people-watching modern Romeos and Juliets.

All over the park – hidden behind bushes, sitting in paddle-cars, or standing in the middle of the road – were couples. In the middle of the gardens was a beautiful, small lake where you could rent boats for twenty minutes at a time. At 3 a piece, Ken and I decided to go for it – and ended up being on many other people’s tourist pictures.

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We walked from the Gardens to the famous Spanish Steps, then wandered through expensive shopping streets with beautiful $4,000 dresses in the windows. No, thank you.

As afternoon turned into evening, Ken and I decided on a restaurant for dinner – a little outdoor place not too far from our apartment.

eindbaas-05.09.14-162Tired, but happy.

The restaurant was gorgeous from the outside, a Roman Holiday dream with ivy on the trellises and rich golden tablecloths. The food, however, was lackluster and overpriced. Ken and I decided that the restaurant was probably only in business for its pretty exterior and its proximity to a the neighborhood’s central plaza, which filled up every night with friends, young lovers, and street musicians. We left the restaurant poorer and a little grumpy, and ended up wandering around the neighborhood by moonlight on a beautiful Saturday night. Not a bad way to end the day.

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By the next day, Ken and I were both almost destroyed from exhaustion. Our feet were sore, our wallets were lighter, and we were each a little less patient with each other – mostly my problem (Ken is as patient as a saint). Our only goal for the day was to visit the National Museum with our remaining free museum pass, before it expired.

eindbaas-05.09.14-210A gorgeous fresco on the wall. Oh, also some sweet guy in the green shirt.

The museum had a (surprise!) beautiful collection of statues and frescoes, and was one of the highlights of our trip. Ken especially really cares for art, and was excited to explore the whole museum, especially the frescoes and mosaics on the top floor. I took a little more convincing (I know, I’m terrible when I’m tired), but was pleasantly surprised by the beautiful patterns and intricate work. Afterwards, wee had dinner in that are of the city, near the Termini train station, and spent some time late that night wandering the crowded streets of central Rome before heading home to go to bed.

Luckily, even with the 50,000 steps we had taken so far in Rome (thanks, pedometer app!), Ken and I had saved a little energy for one last adventure – the Vatican on our last day.

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Vatican City was huge, and bustling with lines of tourists trying to get into the museum. We were stopped every thirty seconds by tour guides trying to make change – so many that I stopped feeling bad for turning them down with a brisk, “no”. We skipped the line by buying tickets at the Information Center in St. Peter’s square, and then I spent a solid 45 minutes agonizing over which rosary to buy for my dear Italian-American friend back home. Our tickets were for 2:30, but we decided to head for the museum entrance at 1:45, since it was so far away. Indeed, the walk to the front of the museum took a solid 20 minutes.

The Vatican Museum was both breathtaking and frustrating. Breathtaking because of its size, its obvious wealth, its enormous collection of art. Frustrating because of, well, all those same things. You could spend a whole month living in that museum and still not see it all. Entire rooms worth hundreds of thousands of euros were blocked off from the public, their art never to be seen or appreciated. Imagine all the good work you could do with that money and space.

The crowds moved in a steady flow so you could never stop for more than a minute or two to look at one particular thing. And just as you were getting sweaty and cranky, you were ushered into the Sistine Chapel, and the long lines and stuffy crowds were understandable, and worth it.

DSC_9617Working our way to the Sistine.

Seeing the Sistine Chapel in person was really special. So much love, hard work, and skill had gone into this one room, that hundreds of years later, people still flocked from all over the world to see it. Ken and I listened to an mp3 tour I had downloaded to make the most of the experience (and felt cheesy and uncultured as we did so. Judge all you want, we learned a lot!). As we craned our necks for 30 minutes, we learned about the history of that ceiling, the passion and frustration that had gone into it, and how much Michelangelo had changed in the years between painting the ceiling and The Last Judgment.

After we had our fill, we unofficially followed a tour group through a short-cut to St. Peter’s Basilica, another breath-taking experience.

I have never been in a bigger, grander church. Everything about the cathedral was enormous, but built to make it feel smaller. The altar in the center of the cross looked to be about twice my height; as I got closer, I saw that it was, in fact, seven stories tall. The stained glass window at the very end of the church had a white dove in it, which looked to be a few feet wide. Then I heard it was actually about as wide as I am tall.

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The Basilica was maybe my favorite part of being in Vatican City. Sadly, the museum was so large and stuffed that it had felt inaccessible. On the other hand, this church – meant to welcome up to 7,000 people, and still feel like a personal encounter with God to each one – felt less overwhelming, and gave me the chance to really appreciate the craftsmanship that detail had gone into it.

By then it was late afternoon, so after a little more time wandering through the cathedral, admiring the art and architecture, we made our way out and walked back to the bus station.

DSC_9660A tiled wall in the Jewish district of Rome.

My dad, wonderful and generous person that he is, insisted on treating Ken and me to our last dinner in Rome. He sent us a recommendation for his favorite restaurant in Rome, a kosher place in the Jewish district, where we dined on hummus, falafel, and fish. After dinner, Ken and I wandered the streets, taking in the history and culture of the neighborhood as best we could in the little time we had. At last, we crossed the Tiber to wander into Trastevere for a final passeggiata on our last night in the Eternal City.

DSC_9675The Tiber at night.

The next morning, we packed our small suitcases, cleaned the apartment, had one last Roman coffee, and took a train to the airport.

My time in Rome was magical. After some consideration, Ken and I decided it was the best trip we’ve ever been on together, and it is now my favorite city in Europe. The streets are filled with color and character in a way that many other, equally large cities are not. We also really made the most of our limited time. For many of our trips together (trips being a relative term, as being in a long distance relationship means that any time you see each other is a vacation), we forgo our plans for lazy mornings drinking coffee or sleeping in. This time, we really made an effort to experience the city and do every thing on our “Roman bucket list.”

Well, every thing except one.

11.jpg1Photo source here.

My number-one wish for what to see in Rome was not the Vatican, not the Colosseum, not even the coffee. It was the Fontana di Trevi, a gorgeous and enormous wish-making fountain in the center of the city; one that had played a big role in many of my Roman fantasies (and in the Lizzie McGuire Movie. Cough).

The legend goes that if you throw one coin with your right hand over your left shoulder, you will return to Rome. Two coins means love, three coins means marriage. But really, said my guidebook and popular culture, your wish can be for anything you want. So for the long walk to the fountain, the great culmination to my Roman dream, I pondered my wish. What would I want as I finally stood next to this thing that I had waited years to see?

But when we arrived, it didn’t look like what I had been waiting to see at all. Instead of what you see above, we saw this:

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The culmination of my great Roman dream was under construction.

But you know what? That’s okay.

I wanted to see this fountain because it (and its wishing potential) symbolized, to me, the ‘incredibleness’ of Rome. But in my short vacation, I had already seen how incredible Rome was. I had eaten the food, met the people, and wandered the streets. I had had just a taste of this amazing city, when there was so much more to be tried, and I was already swept off my feet.

I didn’t need two coins for love – I had an amazing love standing beside me, holding my hand. I didn’t need three coins for marriage, which was years away at least.

So I stuck with local legend and tossed just one coin in this unfinished fountain. A fountain that now symbolized all of the parts of Rome I still wanted to see.

I guess you know what I wished for.

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Travel

Rome Sweet Rome: Five Days in the Eternal City (Part I)

5

It’s been my dream to visit Rome since I first saw the Lizzie McGuire Movie.

the-lizzie-mcguire-movie-movie-poster-1020206719I was an aughts kid. Check out that ribbon belt!

Rome seemed like a magical place where dreams come true. Gelato, Vespas, wish-making fountains… What’s not to love?

But even on the smallish continent of Europe, Italy always felt a world away. Too far, too exciting, too beautiful for my boring, normal-person life.

I told Ken this one day, and he took a look online. It turns out that the flight from Amsterdam to Rome takes two and a half hours, and costs 150. That’s not much money when you’ve spent all summer saving for travel. So when Ken and I decided to go on a short vacation before I leave for Oxford, guess which city we picked?

ROME.

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BEAUTIFUL

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INCREDIBLE

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UNBELIEVABLE

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ROME.

DSC_9309Also, did I mention that all the above pictures were taken within three blocks of our apartment?

Alright friends, I warn you now that this post will be very picture-heavy and that words like “gorgeous” and “lovely” abound, because ROME. (Sorry, do I sound too excited? Rome!)

The city was incredible. Ken and I went for four and half days, renting a little apartment a few blocks from the Colosseum for less than we would have paid at a hotel. The apartment was amazing; it had a kitchen, a living room, a bedroom, and a spacious rooftop terrace where Ken and I ate dinner the first night. Originally, we had planned to cook often and be as healthy as possible, but I suppose that when you’re in a culinary capital, plans can go (deliciously) awry.

DSC_9246Stairs leading to the bedroom.

DSC_9253Climbing up to the roof.

DSC_9255Ken on the sunny rooftop terrace!

Best of all, the apartment was only a ten-minute walk from the Colosseum – only a centimeter on the map that I constantly pored over. I had bought a guidebook to Rome that included a fold-out map and several walking routes through the city, which I marked up in red pens. I read through most of the book on the day of our flight, to be as prepared as possible for the greatest city on earth (well, I didn’t know that for sure yet, but I was pretty excited). The first walk was the one I was most looking forward to, the “Heart of Rome tour.” The route looked pretty close to the Colosseum itself, so Ken and I decided to do both on our first full day – meaning many hours of walking.

eindbaas-05.09.14-14At the Colosseum on our first morning in the Eternal City.

The Colosseum was incredible to see. We managed to avoid most of the long lines by coming in late September, and we each bought a RomaPass instead of a ticket – a great investment. A RomaPass is 36 and gives you free entry to two museums, plus access to all public transportation in Rome for three days. The price for entry to the Colosseum is 19 on its own, and public transportation can really add up, so if you’re planning on going to Rome, I highly recommend it.

I think my favorite thing about the Colosseum was how beautiful it was in all its disrepair. Its walls had crumbled, its pillars had broken, and the underground layer was inaccessible to tourists because it was still being excavated. Even so, the site was gorgeous in its grandeur and enormity. The beams and arches, and the instantly recognizable profile of the Colosseum, really took my breath away. It also felt really strange to be standing there on such a calm and peaceful September day, knowing the amount of violence that had taken place under my feet 2,000 years before. More than that, the idea that I was standing on something 2,000 years old was crazy, for someone raised in the US.

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From the Colosseum, we walked to the Pantheon, a beautiful Ancient Roman building that is still used today by the Catholic Church. Sometimes for weddings. I mean, can you imagine getting married in the Pantheon?

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After spending about a half hour at the Pantheon, we walked on to two beautiful piazzas that are populated by tourists and locals alike – Piazza Navona and Campo de’ Fiori. This was a great area for both having lunch and people watching. We spent some time walking around, admiring the flower stands and cafés, and complaining over 4 espressos (basically the same price per ounce as printer ink).

There are two beautiful fountains in Piazza Navona. My favorite is the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, or Fountain of Four Rivers. It displays river gods from each of the four continents that were known at the time of its creation in 1651: the Nile for Africa, the Danube for Europe, the Ganges for Asia, and the Rio de la Plata for America. What I loved about this fountain was its attention to detail and allegory. The Nile, for example, is covering his head with a cloth because no one knew the river’s source at the time the fountain was made, and the Danube is touching the Pope’s robes, as he was the closest to Rome.

eindbaas-05.09.14-37Chilling between the Nile and the Ganges.

It was 3:30, and Ken and I had been on our feet since 10AM. We were exhausted and ready for a break, so we headed to the bank of the Tiber to rest before we had dinner at a restaurant I had heard about for years – the Tre Scalini.

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The Tiber was shocking quiet and peaceful; in fact, it was so quiet for the first half hour that I almost wondered if we weren’t allowed to sit there. For about twenty minutes, Ken and I were completely alone on our side of the river, with only one other person nearby. As the afternoon progressed, however, a few more people came out to bike along the path or look at the water. With the sun setting, the Tiber almost reminded me of the Seine in Paris – but greener, a little grimier, and much more peaceful.

eindbaas-05.09.14-63That’s St. Peter’s in the background.

eindbaas-05.09.14-64Me, writing down our day’s expenses next to the water.

After about an hour of rest, we got back on our sore feet (after much groaning on my part, because I’m a crotchety old cow) and walked back to Piazza Navona, to eat at the Tre Scalini.

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The restaurant was beautiful, and the food was probably great, but I honestly don’t remember what I ordered, thanks to our dessert. The Tre Scalini has a famous dessert named the Tartufo, an ice cream truffle made from a secret recipe with 13 different kinds of chocolate. It was incredible. Ice cream, cake, chocolate chunks, a tiny taste of rum (maybe? I don’t know. It could have been fairy dust). In Ken’s words, “it’s amazing how many experiences there are in one dessert!”

eindbaas-05.09.14-88Anticipation!

Let me tell you, if you get one dessert in Rome, get the Tartufo. We devoured it in ten minutes.

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By the end of our dinner, we were dead tired after five hours of walking through the busy streets of Rome. We made one last trek – to our little apartment, for a good night’s rest.

Want to hear more about Rome? Check back for mistakes, food, and the Pope in Part II!