And now, for something completely different - ROME!
What a weekend. The magnificence of the world's greatest empire still shines in every part of it, from ancient unearthed columns to well-preserved monuments still in use today. Taking a lesson from my previous blog entries, I'll try to keep from mentioning every detail... but we did do an impressive amount of sightseeing in only 3 days!
Jenny, Heidi and I arrived in Rome late Thursday night after taking a train, the Paris metro, another train, a bus, a plane, and another bus - in other words, the good part of a day. Nevertheless, we pulled ourselves out of bed a few hours later to visit the Vatican, which would be less crowded on a Friday morning as opposed to the weekend.
As you can see in the photo, St. Peter's Basilica was incredible. When you walk in the doors you're immediately aware that you're standing in the largest cathedral in the world. And if you climb the 323 steps to the top of the cupola (like we did) you'll find the best view in all of Rome.
Not to mention a good view of the line in which you COULD have been standing if you'd arrived just an hour later after the basilica opened. In the picture below, it's the uneven curve around the basilisk in St. Peter's Square. One we saw this, our sleep-deprivation suddenly didn't seem so bad!
After eating some paninis and gelato (and noticing that even food in Rome is cheaper than in Nantes), we were ready to tackle the 4 miles that make up the Vatican Museums, including the Sistine Chapel, home to Michalangelo's ceiling masterpiece. Perhaps they put it at the end of the tour route on purpose, so that you're not tempted to skip the Egyptian, Greek, and Renaissance sections? Nevertheless, I was a little aesthetically and historically overwhelmed, but in the most pleasing way possible. Even in the Sistine Chapel, which was smaller, darker, and more crowded than I'd imagined, it was incredible to sit under one of the world's greatest works of art and take in all of its beauty.
It was so wonderful and relaxing to stay with Katie in her apartment! We didn't have to worry about paying for a hostel in a potentially shady area, far from everything, and with unseen complications (such as the fiasco in Normandy!). We could return whenever we pleased, relax our feet, eat some pasta, and freshen up before heading into the city once more. Not to mention the joy of seeing a good friend in a new place, and one who knew the ins and outs of such a grand place!
In fact, that very evening, Katie took us to one of her favorite places in Rome, a secret that we never would have discovered otherwise - an intimate classical concert in a cathedral, for only 5 euros! By far the youngest listeners in the room, we basked in the presence of a violin, a cello, and a piano playing Shostakovich and Ravel - two of my favorite composers. And we even got a free glass of wine afterwords at a nearby restaurant just by showing our tickets. This was when I fell in love with Rome.
On Saturday we visited all the sites that required tickets, as the next day was All Saint's Day, meaning that everything would be closed. This included the Colosseum (think Gladiator or Ben Hur), the central ruins of ancient Rome, and the Pantheon - once a temple for Greek deities and then converted into a Christian church, still active 1,400 years later!
We slept in on Sunday to recover from our two previous early mornings and staying out rather late the night before - it was Halloween, after all! But we made sure that we made it out in time to catch the tail end of a flea market right down the street. There were endless booths of pashmina scarves, piles of old clothes, sketchy electronics, cheap jewelry, fake designer purses, and random antiques, altogether amusing and fascinating at the same time. I was reminded of the time I visited a market like this in Berlin with Theresa last spring. I love the feeling of walking in between vendors selling all sorts of things, locals mixing with tourists - it's a true European garage sale.
Katie invited us to come to church with her that evening, because she would be singing in the choir. It's a Catholic church which does services in English and happens to be the religious center for a lively Filipino community, with an Irish priest. Even though I didn't know many of the hymns or the Catholic rituals, I was impacted by how familiar it felt to worship there among Christians from completely different backgrounds as myself. The adorable Filipino women were incredibly welcoming, even serving us a traditional (and scrumptious) meal before the service.
The two main sites left on our list, the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain, were both conveniently located relatively near Katie's church. The Steps in themselves don't hold as much historical significance as the Vatican or the ruins of ancient Rome. However, they were certainly the best place to see today's Rome: the locals from all walks of life mixing with tourists from all over the world, coming together in a colorful spectacle for people-watching.
Similarly, the Trevi fountain was swarming with visitors, though the twilight roar and camera flashes from the crowd didn't detract from the fountain's glory in any way. Joining the tourists at the fountain's rim, we turned our backs from its splendor only to toss coins over our shoulders.
As the legend goes, throwing a coin in the fountain guarantees a return trip to Rome. And while I have no idea what adventures lie ahead for me, I do know that even with another visit, I could never get enough of the artistry, the history, and the magic of Rome.
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