Sara Laughed

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

September 30, 2014 0 Comments

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{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.

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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