Thursday, June 6, 2013

Rome, the City of Miracles!

Ahhh, Rome, the eternal city, a city filled with history, ancient glories and minor miracles, at least one anyway.

Maybe the word miracle is a bit strong and as far as it goes this one would definitely be on the minor side so I don't want to hype it up too much, but it was quite a "coincidence" if you prefer that word.

For the most part, our visit was pretty ordinary and everything went as planned in Rome. The apartment we rented through was lovely, although it was perhaps a little cramped and the stairs to the loft bedroom were really steep. I had visions of one of us taking a tumble during the night on the way to the bathroom, and that wasn't even the most dangerous thing! 

The low beam at the foot of the bed knocked me on my butt a time or two I'll tell you! But we both survived and all in all, the location was perfect!

We knew that the Piazza Navona district was supposed to be nice and central with a lot happening, but it was even better than we had hoped. We were 5 minutes from the Piazza, 10 minutes from the Bridge of Angels (beautiful) and 15 minutes from the Vatican city. Nearby were the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps and it seemed we could walk to anything and everything. 

The Four Rivers Fountain in Piazza Navona
It's strange how the city seemed to contract around us during our visit as we began to get our bearings, recognizing streets and landmarks and slowly it became easier to find our way around. 

There was a bit of confusion when we first got to the Termini station of course, because we had purchased the Roma/Vatican pass online and we wanted to pick them up at the station from the Roma Christiana open bus as we were told we could in their email. After chasing around and finding the bus, I found that it isn't an option in reality. 

No problem, a quick taxi ride to the apartment and then more confusion of course, the agreed upon time to meet our host was 15:45 but somehow in translation it changed to 17:45, but we were lucky and the cleaners were there and they let us in. 

With all of the mix-ups, I was a bit cranky for a while, but my sweet wife got me a soothing gelato and we sat down to enjoy it while a gentleman in a tuxedo played a cello (beautifully) as we basked in the ambiance of our little street, Via dei Coronari. Welcome to Rome! 

Rose had it in mind to take the hop on bus around that evening but it stopped running at 6:00 pm and we couldn't do it. We walked around discovering the neighborhood and we grabbed some dinner and turned in early, planning for a big day on our first full day in Rome.

In the morning we made our way over to St. Peters square to pick up our passes and catch the hop on bus. After even more confusion and misdirection, we were told with a high degree of certainty, "it is behind that building, that you catch the bus." 

No it wasn't! But we did catch it eventually and hopped off at the Coliseum stop to join the crazy crowds there.

Boy that Roma pass was a lifesaver, and it was at the Coliseum that we learned the heady feeling of power that comes as you bypass the ticket line!

That's one of the great things in life, to regally stride past the great unwashed multitudes and just walk in like some kind of VIP, (like David Beckham and Posh Spice for a day), and saving hours of waiting in line. The cool thing is that this privilege is basically free if you use the pass as it is intended. We used it at the Coliseum, the Forum and the Capitoline Museums and entered all three for no extra charge.

The Coliseum was great for me and I really enjoyed it, you may remember that I bought an 8mm fish eye lens for the trip and it was here especially that it came into it's own. It is virtually impossible to get more than a fraction of a building like the Coliseum into a normal shot unless you're doing it from a helicopter, (out of my price range) so it was fun to photograph it with this lens.

The Coliseum through an 8mm fish eye lens
Rose and I actually walked over a piece of stone that was advertised as being an original piece of pavement dating back to the days of the construction and dedication of the original building in 80 AD. It was amazing to walk on the same piece of stone that Roman Emperors and Senators perhaps walked on.

After the Coliseum we headed over to the Roman Forum archaeological site for the afternoon, (after a gelato and hot dog stop) and it was at the forum that we had a big surprise.

There are 2.8 million people living in Rome and 7-10 million tourists visit each year, most of them stopping at the forum. This is our first trip to Rome and we visited the forum once for a couple of hours and the forum is huge. 

The Forum Romanum
What do you suppose the odds are of bumping into someone, a single person of the billions of inhabitants of the earth, themselves on their first visit to Rome and the forum? I'm not exactly sure, but It's pretty long odds! 

We have friends who have visited Rome over the last year, we missed them by 12 months, other friends by 10 months and others by 3 weeks. (And that seemed like a near miss.) 

I'm guessing the odds must be tens of millions to 1, but this goes to prove anything can happen.

Our little miracle in Rome was the chance meeting on a bench up on Palatine hill, with my niece Jessica. I knew from a random facebook post that she was in Rome and as I explored the forum, I just happened to notice a girl on a bench that looked just like her.  As I walked up, you should have seen the look on her face, priceless!

It was really special to just bump into her after not seeing her for something like 8 months, (she's been studying at a university in Spain). We chatted for a bit and made plans to connect later at our apartment and go for dinner. 

At 7:00 pm it occurred to me that we gave Jessica the address but had we given her the buzzer number? The answer was a resounding no, so I quickly ran out into the hall to check outside in the street and as I turned the corner downstairs, I heard Rose talking to someone back upstairs so I ran back up and there she was. I guess she just buzzed everyone like they do in the movies and someone let her in.

She had been walking all afternoon so we poured her a glass of milk and showed her around the aspartment (that took about 2 minutes) and then we took a little "Dukes of Hazard" break. Don't ask me why, but the one show in English that seems to always be available on Italian TV is the Dukes of Hazard! 

It took us about ten minutes to get bored with that nonsense so we went out for dinner and then we walked her to her subway stop, visiting the Trevi Fountain on the way. Of course the ladies took a minute to throw a coin in the fountain, (right hand over left shoulder is the correct way) to ensure that they'd be back to Rome some day. I was so busy taking pictures that I forgot, but don't worry I stopped by the next day to make sure I did it. I definitely want to return to Rome, especially if Rose is coming back!

The Trevi Fountain
No matter what time of day or evening you go, the area around the Trevi Fountain is a zoo! Everyone wants a picture of themselves in front of it. Personally, I loved it, but to Rose all those crowds are a bit of a nightmare, even though I kept telling her,  "they're here for the same reasons we are, it's fun!"

It was also fun, (and not at all surprising) to see Rose switch into her motherly mode, offering Jessica a place to stay, or just a shower or whatever else she might need.

Jessica was interested in a free walking tour the next evening so we made plans to meet up and join the group at the Spanish steps at 5:30 the next day.

Our second day in Rome we did a lot of walking, visiting the Pantheon first, what an amazing building that is. The fish eye lens just loved that place and the little bit of rain falling through the occulus made a nice shiny puddle on the floor, just right to reflect the light. 

The Pantheon Through an 8mm fish eye lens
After the Pantheon, we hopped the bus to the Victor Immanuelle monument, (wow) and from the same square, you can also see, Hadrian's column and look down into the forum from a great viewpoint. Right there are a bunch of other great sights, but we grabbed a sandwich before visiting the Capitoline Museum. 

There were some great things there that I've been admiring in books and reading about all my life, it was amazing! This is where original statues are kept and displayed, without the crazy crowds of the Vatican Museums.

Later we strolled through Trastevere and the Jewish quarter before making our way back for a well deserved rest before heading out to meet Jessica.

Rome's roof tops from the roof of the Capitoline Museum
By this time Rose was bushed so I left her to rest and made my way over to meet Jessica and the group. I was treading new ground with the help of my tourist map when the Spanish steps came into view, far down the street, (amazing) huge crowds of people were visible on the white steps rising up from the piazza. 

The Spanish Steps (Paid for by the French Government)

The tour turned out to be lot's of fun and it was great to spend time with Jessica, traipsing around the streets of Rome and seeing some incredible sights together, building memories. This whole episode of finding Jessica in Rome was great and made the whole visit that much more special!

The Beautiful Ceiling of a church the walking tour visited
Of course it made me miss my own daughters even more, but fortunately there were just a few days to go before we were to head back home. 

Jessica and I at the Trevi Fountain
After we left the group at the Trevi fountain, we swung by to pick up Rose and the three of us went for a lovely dinner before walking Jessica part way to the subway where we parted ways. She was off to Spain the next morning to meet a friend but Rose and I still had one more day in Rome.

The next day was a big day for us, the Vatican museums and the Sistine chapel were on the agenda, and we thought we were all set! We stopped by the office the day before to confirm the time, we had our passes, we got there early, we had our umbrella, what could go wrong?

Well....the time they told us was incorrect, nothing was open for a snack or a washroom or even coffee (at 9:30 am) I guess all the vaticansians like to sleep in or something, I don't know.

St. Peters Square and Basilica
The weather was great...until we began the 4 block long traipse to the entrance, then the skies opened up and it poured buckets! There was a mad scramble to get my poncho on as we tried not to loose our guide, now under an anonymous umbrella and lost in the crowd of similar ones. We just followed along with the sodden herd, resigned to the fact we were now part of the tour groups that we have learned to love to hate! Oh well, what can you do?

Even though we sold our souls to beat the line up (sort of), there is no beating the crowds and the confusing, chaotic crush of thousands of wet, bedraggled, frustrated tourists, wondering "what in heck am I doing here?"

Once inside it's much the same, just a bit dryer and of course everyone just shuffles along in the stuffy corridors like they're part of the zombie apocalypse, trundling past the cheesy museum stalls selling every kind of souvenir you can think of. 

Rose and I, by mutual agreement made a beeline for the Sistine Chapel (as much of a beeline as you can in those crowds) and once there, we found a great spot against the wall to sit and contemplate this amazing place.

Truthfully, we had seen so many amazing church ceilings in Venice and Verona and Sorrento and Amalfi and Rome that if I didn't know the history and significance of the Sistine Chapel, I wouldn't have stopped and really spent as much time actually looking and appreciating it as it deserved.

The fact that they don't allow photography at all, actually helped me appreciate it better than if I had been distracted trying to photograph it, so that was a good thing.

After leaving the Sistine Chapel we mailed some post cards and made a break for it, leaving the Vatican Museums to the mercy of the crowds. Although it was almost worth all of the hastle, just for a look at the famous double helix staircase.

 By this time, Rose had enough of the crowds so we grabbed some lunch and I dropped her off back at the room while I ran to keep my appointment at St. Peter's Basilica. 

This time it went well, I joined a small group and we followed the same guide past the long lines waiting to enter the largest church, anywhere. 

She dropped us off at a desk offering our free audio guides and I was soon inside, craning my neck to see all of the amazing ceilings, carvings, statues, doors, alters, mosaics, crypts etc, etc. Click on the link below to find out more about St. Peter's Basilica or other sites in Rome.


St. Peter's Basilica

Once again my fish eye lens came in handy trying to somehow capture the beauty and grandeur of a truly amazing building.

Making my way through the crowds, most of them also clutching a speaker to the side of their head, I listened to about half of the descriptions of various sights before just switching it off for the duration.

The first thing that you see when you come in, (if you're following the audio guide) is the Pieta, a marble sculpture of Mary holding Jesus, sculpted by Michelangelo when he was just 25 years old. Unfortunately it's covered by bullet proof glass after a deranged visitor attacked it with a hammer in 1972, too bad but it's still beautiful.

Another thing that is hard to ignore is the enormous, twenty-six meter high bronze baldachin over the papal altar. This Baroque masterpiece was apparently made from bronze that was snitched from the ceiling of the Pantheon.

The enormous bronze baldachin over the Papal alter
I spent two hours at the basilica before returning to the room for a rest and heading out for the last night of our trip. Rose was determined to find a particular piece of art that she had spotted in Piazza Navona, so that was our first stop.

 As luck would have it, we found the stall and 
there it was, simple, colourful, and very pretty, and ripe for the picking! Rose quickly became best buddies with the artist, flattering him with genuine appreciation into thinking he is the next Picasso or something, while I tried to appear uninterested (maintaining my best bargaining pose).

He eventually asked for $65 and we settled on $50 as he gently rolled it into a tube for travel. Our new buddy graciously posed for a picture and off we went on our next errand, dinner and gelato!

We had a nice dinner in a great little alley, bustling with activity, before grabbing some of the best gelato we'd had so far, chocolate dipped if you can believe it, at a place called La Gelateria Frigidarium.

Then it was a nice walk back through Piazza Navona, a bit of packing and the next day a long flight home to Edmonton with a stop in Toronto for a Teen Burger...ahhh, ambrosia and root beer in a frosted mug!!! Some things are worth coming home for!

It was also great to come home to our two girls (Kait & April) and also our diabetic cat Missy and all of our friends and family.

One thing that I didn't even realize that I was missing and that was so amazing it was almost worth being away from for a month was our marvelous bed! I will never take it for granted again!

And so....we're home! And that my friends is that, but don't despair, there is one more post to come from this trip, about our cooking class in Sorrento with our buddy William. I plan to have lot's of pictures and even a few recipes, so stay tuned for that.

Thanks for reading!

All contents are copyrighted by the Author Doug Petry

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