We left the miserable weather behind, and arrived in Rome from Florence by train on Monday afternoon. I enjoyed a few hours with my book and my iPod, watching the Italian countryside roll by out the window.
After dropping our bags off at our conveniently located hostel, our first port of call was the Trevi fountain. Sabrina was beside herself with excitement at seeing the Trevi fountain, a place often depicted in movies. I wasn’t quite as excited, but I enjoyed the experience nonetheless. We engaged in the typical ritual of throwing 2 coins over your shoulder. The first ensures your return to Rome, and the second grants you a wish. The area was swarming with tourists; we had a difficult time getting close enough to the fountain to throw our coins without hitting anybody.
After a late (delicious) lunch, we made our way to the Colosseum. Rome’s greatest known monument is certainly impressive. As we walked around it and inside it, I tried to imagine what the ancient arena would have been like in its heyday. Thousands of spectators crammed in, watching gladiators and animals going at one another. There was a mini museum incorporated, which gave some interesting insight into the times.
The following day we visited the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. A walk around this place depicts remnants of many aspects of early Western civilisation. Lots of Roman ruins and really cool stuff to see.
Next Sabrina navigated us to the Pantheon (I am a little bit useless in the map-reading department). It was originally built in 27 BC, and the amazingly preserved dome building holds the graves of a number of Italian Kings and other notable figures.
History was wearing us out by that point, so we walked to the nearby Piazza Navona, a popular square surrounded by Baroque Palace masterpieces. There is a famous Renaissance fountain at its centre, cafes all around, and stalls selling artwork scattered through the square. It’s an atmospheric place, where we enjoyed an afternoon Tartufo (an Italian ice cream dessert). Of course, we couldn’t escape the history altogether, so we went inside a beautiful old Church in the square, and were amazed yet again.
The following day we went to Vatican City. I’m not sure how you spent your Shavuot (Jewish holiday), but I spent mine with the Pope. The day before, we had got tickets for his public audience, which takes place every Wednesday morning. We joined thousands of others in St Peter’s Square, and waited for him to arrive. He rode in on his little car, waving graciously and shaking the hands of anyone who arrived early enough to get that close.
Finally little Pope Benedict XVI ascended onto the stage, and spoke for about an hour and a half, in about 10 different languages, addressing and blessing the different groups of pilgrims who had made the journey. I may not be Catholic, but it was certainly an exciting and worthwhile experience.
Getting out of there was like leaving a football game or a concert, but eventually we made it. We headed towards the Vatican museum, which was my highlight of Rome. It contains a mind-blowing collection of art and treasures collected by various Popes, and everything is housed in magnificent rooms. At the end, you see the Sistine chapel, the private Papal chapel built in 1473 for Pope Sixtus IV. The walls of this breath-taking chapel were painted by Michelangelo and other famous artists of the time.
We finished the day with St Peter’s Basilica. The vast interior is rich with detail, and contains numerous treasures. As a budding writer, I feel like I should be able to describe these places better; but I am having trouble. It’s partly because we saw so many of these kinds of buildings that they have become mixed up in my head. But it’s also because these Basilicas (especially St Peter’s) are just so incredible that it’s hard to articulate their magnificence. You simply have to see it for yourself. We climbed up the dome, which is 120 meters above the main altar. From the top, we had wonderful views of the city.
The next morning, while Sabrina retraced our steps of two days prior when her camera battery had died and she couldn’t take any photos, I spent some time a beautiful park. Villa Borghese provides some solace from the crowds of the city, with serene lakes, as well as a collection of fountains, sculptures and plenty of green space. There are also a few museums, galleries and coffee shops within the huge park.
I met Sabrina at Piazza del Popolo, an impressive square where the likes of Keats, Ghandi and Mussolini once liked to stroll. We then walked to another square, Piazza Campo de’Fiori, which holds a great food and flower market. Feeling like we’d seen all the essential sights, we enjoyed a slower paced afternoon, walking around and soaking up our last day in Italy. We marvelled at the view from the top of the Spanish steps, and visited another church, just in case we hadn’t seen enough.
For our last night, we went out for a celebratory – or a ‘we’re depressed because our trip is over’ – drink. We packed our things, and the next morning, we were on the bus to the airport.
I’m sort of glad I’ve made it to the end of my blogs about Italy. Firstly, because it was hard work remembering everything that we did for two weeks. And secondly, because I feel like I’m running out of positive adjectives with which to describe what we saw.
If you ask me what my favourite place was, the answer is probably Venice. It was simply magical, as was the trip as a whole. These two weeks are up there in the highlights of my time abroad, which is far too quickly drawing to a close.
But, there is plenty to look forward to yet. Next stop, Prague.
I hope this finds everybody well. Catch you soon.