Rome-ing Around

I don’t think I’ve ever had a weekend as packed as September 30 – October 2 was. All three days were full of the best that Rome has to offer, from the Vatican to ancient monuments to some really, really great food.

The Colosseum was just one of the sights on our agenda.
The Colosseum was just one of the sights on our agenda.

I started my Roman adventure with SU Florence. Rome is SUF’s “biggest” all-school field trip, as it involves an overnight stay and two days packed with activities. I chose to stay an extra night with a few friends after the SU Florence agenda ended, since Rome is such a huge city and an extra day would give us more time to get a better sense of it.

We left from Florence by train early Friday morning, arriving in Rome at around 10:30. We made our way toward the huge stone walls of the Vatican, where we split apart for a half hour to grab a snack and some coffee. After all, we needed our energy for our upcoming whirlwind tour of the Vatican. Then, we met back up at the entrance to the museum.

Massive stone walls mark the borders of the Vatican City, which actually qualifies as its own sovereign country.
Massive stone walls mark the borders of the Vatican City, which actually qualifies as its own sovereign country.

Security to get into both the city and the museums looked like that of a large airport – this was my first introduction to Rome’s crowds. Our incredibly talented tour guides somehow got us all through security together and into the museums, where unfortunately, the crowds didn’t spread out. No matter, though, we had art to see!

The Vatican museums were nothing short of incredible.

The famous statue of Laocoön and His Sons
The famous statue of Laocoön and His Sons in the Vatican.
Into the Hall of Maps!
Into the Hall of Maps!
The School of Athens - one of the Renaissance artist Raphael's most famous works.
The School of Athens – one of the Renaissance artist Raphael’s most famous works.

After the museums, we were ushered into the Sistine Chapel. Check that off the bucket list! I can still remember being at a summer art camp in elementary school learning about frescoes for the first time. My teacher told us about how Michaelangelo painted his masterpiece on wet plaster, piece by piece. At the time, I couldn’t believe it was possible. Now, after seeing it, I’m sure it was impossible. I guess that’s why they call it a masterpiece! (Unfortunately, photos were not allowed in the chapel, so I’m unable to show you what it looks like. You can get an idea of it here, though.)

Then came the moment we’d all been waiting for – our visit to Saint Peter’s Basilica. While I do have photos of this one, remember that the photos can never do it justice. She sheer enormity of this space combined with the unmatched extravagance in its decoration simply must be seen in person to fully comprehend.

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In we go!
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Michaelangelo’s famous Pieta in St. Peter’s.
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See the black letters on the gold background running along the top? They’re seven feet tall. Each.
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Look at how small the people seem compared to their surroundings. These were normal-sized people, I promise.
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The dark structure in the middle of the photo is ten stories tall. Not feet, stories.

After that mind-boggling experience, we were given some free time to explore on our own. My friends and I decided to try to see as much as we could. We climbed the 320 steps to the top of dome on St. Peter’s, visited its underground crypt, and still had time for gelato afterwards.

Up we go!
Up we go!
About halfway up the climb, we were able to walk around the inside of the dome, looking down into the cathedral.
About halfway up the climb, we were able to walk around the inside of the dome, looking down into the cathedral.
St. Peter's Square as seen from the top of St. Peter's Basilica.
St. Peter’s Square as seen from the top of St. Peter’s Basilica.
Vatican views.
Vatican views.
On the way back down.
On the way back down.
A statue of Saint Peter in front of the basilica that houses his remains.
A statue of Saint Peter in front of the basilica that houses his remains.
In front of St. Peter's!
In front of St. Peter’s!

After a very full afternoon came an incredibly charming night in Rome. The school guides brought us to our accommodation, an adorable  hotel that looked like it could have been featured in an old Hollywood movie about Rome. Then, since all of our school-trip activities were done for the day, my friends and I set out on our own to choose a place for dinner.

Rome is famous for a few types of pasta, but the most popular are carbonara and pasta all’amatriciana. I decided that for me, night one was going to be carbonara night. It was so good! Full and satisfied, we set off for a walk around the city to see some of its most iconic sites.

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The streets of Rome from the Spanish Steps, made famous by Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday.
The Fontana di Trevi! We all embraced our inner Lizzie McGuires and threw the traditional three coins in the fountain. Legend holds that the first coin ensures that you will return to Rome, the second, that you will find a new romance, and the third, a happy marriage. Either that, or they're just good luck. Nobody really knows for sure.
The Fontana di Trevi! We all embraced our inner Lizzie McGuires and threw the traditional three coins into the fountain. Legend holds that the first coin ensures that you will return to Rome, the second, that you will find a new romance, and the third, a happy marriage. Either that, or they’re just good luck. Nobody really knows for sure.

The next day was “Ancient Rome” day with SUF. We started at the Colusseum…

The Colosseum is so big!
The Colosseum is so big!
We even got to go inside and learn about why it was built and what it was used for. I'll spare you the gory details. Let's just call it an arena.
We even got to go inside and learn about why it was built and what it was used for. I’ll spare you the gory details. Let’s just call it an arena.
This maze of hallways, rooms, and doors was originally under the arena floor. It served as a "back stage" area.
This maze of hallways, rooms, and doors was originally under the arena floor. It served as a “back stage” area.

…then moved onto the Roman Forum – the oldest part of ancient Rome still visible.

This isnt part of the Forum, but it's still cool. It's the Arch of Constantine, built to commemorate the emperor's victory in battle.
This isn’t part of the Forum, but it’s still cool. It’s the Arch of Constantine, built to commemorate the emperor’s victory in battle.
Inside the Arch of Titus, another Roman triumphal arch.
Inside the Arch of Titus, another Roman triumphal arch.
The remnants of the Basilica Maxentius, one of the last basilicas built in ancient Rome.
The remnants of the Basilica Maxentius, one of the last basilicas built in ancient Rome.
Part of the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina.
Part of the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina.
View of the Forum with the Colosseum in the background.
View of the Forum with the Colosseum in the background.

After seeing the Forum, we headed to the Pantheon. The Pantheon, whose name means “temple to every god” in Greek, was, well, a temple to every god. It’s in incredibly good shape for its age – it was completed in 128 A.D.

The Pantheon's exterior.
The Pantheon’s exterior.
The Pantheon's domed ceiling was one of that era's greatest feats of engineering and architecture.
The Pantheon’s domed ceiling was one of that era’s greatest feats of engineering and architecture.
The people in the photo can give you a sense of how massive this structure is.
The people in the photo can give you a sense of how massive this structure is.

Then came an optional site visit to the Galleria Borghese, one of the most famous and highly regarded art collections in the entire world. What an experience! I learned about some of the most famous and talented artists in history, and even recognized a few of the works. It was fascinating to see in person some of the art that I’ve been learning about here in Florence, and to see the subjects reflect what I’ve been studying, too. (I’ve been noticing a trend here in Italy – if the painting or sculpture is not a scene from the Bible, it’s probably a scene from Greek or Roman mythology. If it’s neither, just look closer.)

Our incredibly knowledgeable tour guide teaching us about ___.
Our incredibly knowledgeable tour guide teaching us about Raphael’s depiction of “The Entombment.”
Gods on the ceiling!
Gods on the ceiling!
Pluto and Proserpina (or Hades and Persephone, in Greek) by Bernini.
Pluto and Proserpina (or Hades and Persephone, in Greek) by Bernini.
Aeneas carries his father, Anchises, and leads his son, Ascanius, out of Troy. They would go on to help in the foundation of Rome. Statue by Bernini.
Aeneas carries his father, Anchises, and leads his son, Ascanius, out of Troy. They would go on to help in the foundation of Rome. Statue by Bernini.
Another statue by Bernini, this time of Apollo chasing Daphne as her father turns her into a laurel tree.
Another statue by Bernini, this time of Apollo chasing Daphne as her father turns her into a laurel tree.
Part of the magic of this statue is that as you walk around it, you see Daphne gradually turn into a tree. From this angle, you can see her feet becoming more and more plant-like.
Part of the magic of this statue is that as you walk around it, you see Daphne gradually turn into a tree. From this angle, you can see her feet becoming more and more plant-like.

We finished that afternoon with a walk through the Villa Borghese, which is sort of to Rome what Central Park is to New York. It was a beautiful and very welcome break from the crowds of the city. We had coffee at Sant’Eustachio Il Caffè (renowned as the best place to get coffee in Rome and among the best in the world) and headed back to the hotel to check out. Since I was staying an extra night with a few friends, we left the school group as they departed for Florence and headed to the AirBnB we were staying at that night. On the way, we passed something I thought only existed in my dreams – ballroom dancers having a social dance in a piazza. Unfortunately, they were dancing one of the few remaining styles I have yet to learn (Argentine Tango) so I was unable to join in, but still, it was pretty cool to see.

We checked into the AirBnB, dropped off our bags, and set out for dinner. Night two, I decided, was pasta all’amatriciana night. Very good, and very spicy! Good for warming up before that evening’s rain came. The rain didn’t slow us down, though. In fact, we all agreed that the streets sparkled even more in the rain. And, as one of my friends so aptly put it,  “the rain washes away the tourists.” We had beautiful the streets of Rome almost all to ourselves.

We used the next day to both return to some of the places we felt we wanted more time to see (like the Forum) and to check out a few other sites. We made our way up to Capitoline Hill, to the markets in Campo di Fiore, and to Castel Sant’Angelo. We stopped by Piazza Navona and saw the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (or, Fountain of Four Rivers). We took a little walk along the Tiber River, saw the Ara Pacis, and ended the day in what’s known as the best gelateria in Rome – Come il Latte.

A replica of the Equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius. The original was the first of its kind.
A replica of the Equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius. The original was the first of its kind.
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We made a new friend near the Forum.
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A delicious lunch near Campo di Fiori.
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Sant’Agnese in Agone, one of Rome’s many Baroque-style churches.
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The Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi was designed by famed sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini. The figures at the bottom represent four major rivers in the world in the forms of their patron gods – the Danube, Nile, Ganges, and Rio de la Plata.
The Castel Sant'Angelo, originally built to be a tomb for an emperor and his family.
The Castel Sant’Angelo, originally built to be a tomb for an emperor and his family.
A nice Fall walk along the Tiber.
A nice fall walk along the Tiber.
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The Ara Pacis is an ancient temple to Pax, the Roman god of peace.
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The temple and altar were originally completed sometime around 9 BC, but it was reassembled in its current home much more recently.

What a busy weekend! I’m so happy to have seen and done all of the things that we did. On our way out, my friends and I came across something that summed up the city pretty well. Here it is:

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Saying or writing that Rome is an open air museum is too easy. It should be demonstrated even in the little details.

Little details, big details, and all the details in between – Rome was an incredible experience.

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