Thursday, May 23, 2013

Adventures in Rome

After 4 months in Florence, I’m finally branching out! I’ve gone off to Rome, y’all. Tomorrow, Cassie is finally joining me. Because she’s never been to Rome before and only has one day, today I spent the day doing lesser-known touristy attractions. I started off going to Saint Peter’s Basilica, which is a big tourist attraction, but the line is a year and a half long so I figure we wouldn’t have time for that anyway.

Inside Saint Peter's

It was incredible! It was actually kind of nice going to churches by myself. When you go with a group, there’s constantly that one annoying person who takes forever examining every detail of each art piece. Or, you turn out to be that person, and then feel rushed and don’t fully enjoy the museum/church/ruin. Today, I was able to go entirely at my pace.

In St. Peters, there are certain chapels that you can’t enter as a tourist. However, if you go in to pray (and promise not to take pictures), they won’t stop you. I’m not a religious person, and I certainly don’t pray regularly, but I really wanted to see those chapels. Also, I’m fairly certain that if I went in and only pretended to pray, I would end up in a special circle of hell for those terrible souls who dared to lie about praying. And in the Vatican, at that.

So, I prayed. Thrice. First, I prayed for Cassie, who is actually a Christian and will be flying out to meet me soon. Then, I prayed for anything else I could think of…this got a little scattered and was mostly a list of everything I’m grateful for (friends, family, smooth travel experiences), and any people/places that might need help. By the time I got to the last chapel, I was out of prayers. So, as I was staring up at this gold angel levitating in front of me, I noticed a strange smirk on her face. And I prayed for art.

Guard at Vatican City. All guards should wear this. Possibly even bouncers at clubs.
 I decided to continue on this church trail and head over to Saint Ignazio Church, the first church of the Jesuit order. I hopped off at the bus stop, map in hand, definitely looking a little lost. An Italian guy offered to point me in the right direction and was kind enough to show me where the church was. The church was beautiful, all done in baroque style. The ceilings were frescoed with beautiful paintings in still-vibrant colors. 

It's baroque! (Sant'Ignazio Church)
Check out those frescoes.
Cool Statue, but...
This would make a cooler statue! The first chapel in Sant'Ignazio was filled with these anime-style biblical characters. It was bizarre. And awesome.
When I left the church, I was surprised to find Giorgio waiting there for me. He continued to show me around all of the places on my list (including a few “must-see” things he didn’t think I should miss). Although I could have done the tour on my own, it was nice to have a local perspective and someone who actually knew (most of the time) where we were going. We went by Campo dei Fiore, where Giordano Bruno had been burned at the stake. There was a big market there when we walked through, full of flowers and fresh produce.

I went by the Temple of Apollo to see some ancient ruins, much to Giorgio’s despair as he insisted it was incredibly dull. Still, I spent a good deal of time looking at the ancient pillars that was once the site of a temple, then church, cemetery, and fish market through the years.

My next stop was Largo Argentina. It’s this awesome archeological dig that’s been turned into a cat sanctuary! It’s crazy. I honestly just couldn’t get over it. I guess, someone comes by and takes care of them, so stray cats just stay there and roam through the ancient ruins. The dig is right by this part of the Tiber River that has an island (Tiber Island) in the middle. The bridge there goes through the island, where there’s a hospital, along with some small vendors and artists scattered around. From the island, you can look across and see Ponte Rotto, which was partially destroyed during a war. Now, only a single arch remains of the ancient bridge. Right next to it, there’s a new bridge to take its place.

Largo Argentina Archeological dig
Obviously, it was filled with cats. All the best ruins are.
More kitties
Tiber River
Tiber Island!
These gorgeous, red poppies are all over Italy this time of year. I can't get enough!
Ruins at the Temple of Apollo
Not really sure how to interpret this, but I think they're welcoming me in, right? 

Ponte Rotto

The explorations continued across the River with Santa Maria Trastevere, yet another church. Giorgio finally left at this point (he didn’t want to go in), but I continued on! I headed back across Ponte Rotto and went to see if I was an honest person at Bocca della Verita (“Mouth of Truth”). Legend has it, this giant sculpture eats the hands of liars! (Don’t worry, my hand remains in tact.) After, I crossed the street to check out the Temple of Vesta, which was built in 200 BC, is still incredible well preserved.

Bocca della Verita 
Old homeless men in Italy even stay well dressed! Just look at his button-downs hanging to dry while he organizes. 
Terme de Caracalla 
Then I walked on to Circus Maximus! Wasn’t that impressed, but I had been through a lot of history at this point, so please don’t hold it against me. By the time I got to Terme de Caracalla (the ancient Roman bath house), I seriously considered just walking the perimeter before going back and calling it a night. But I couldn’t just give up, so I had a shot of espresso and bought a ticket to the bathhouse. It did require a bit more walking, but it was worth it. I got that feeling I had when I first was the Roman Forum and I could really feel the history of ancient Rome coming to life. It was simply amazing to walk the length of the enormous pools, baths, steam rooms, and gymnasiums. Having been to the bathhouses in Budapest just a few months ago, I could really understand what it was meant to be. Just in the distance was a track for athletes to practice and work out. Somehow seeing current Romans working out in the vicinity of a nearly 2000-year-old building where ancient Romans used to work out seemed just right.

So. Many. Seagulls. 
 While walking around, I befriended a black cat that followed me around the rest of the day. He would jump up on benches and stare at me with these soulful eyes until I caved and pet him again. When the heavens started rumbling and the clouds darkened, I knew I had to say goodbye to my new friend and head back before I got soaked at the baths.

My new bestie. We have a secret language and everything.

When I got back to the apartment, I was not only tired, but also starving. I hadn’t actually eaten anything since my nutella croissant that morning. I had planned on going to a recommended pizza place nearby but while I was walking around (in the pouring rain) I passed this adorable little café, Il Biglietto. There were students studying, chatting, and drinking. I walked in just in time for apertivo, too. It was meant to be.

I ordered a strong drink and loaded up my plate with appetizers. The server, Marco, had spent some time living in San Francisco and helped me order with my limited Italian. The café had backpacks piled 3 levels high in the corner, and a random collection of tables and chairs to spread out on. The walls were covered with overgrown plants, books, even a bird cage and empty DIY-craft-style wine bottles. It kind of reminded me of Portfolio coffee shop in Long Beach. The food and drinks were good; the people were friendly, but quiet. I definitely shared a knowing, sad look with an Italian girl who clearly had writers block. She just sat there with her laptop, staring out the window and sipping her coffee. There are some things that don’t require language to communicate. It was the perfect, peaceful end to an amazing, busy day in Rome.

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