Tuesday, March 24, 2009

When in Rome....

Personally, I think that Rome is the most incredible place that I have ever visited as it is the perfect blend of old and new. In itself, Rome is an infamous city and was the heart and soul of one of the largest empires in the world. Rome is also the birthplace of a lot of what is in the world today from politics to the arts. And Rome is a place where you walk around in absolute awe at the amazing ancient wonders that are around ever corner. Then there is the new in Rome with the amazing food and absolutely incredible shopping. And the fact that such an ancient city can still look beautiful as it continues to grow and develop amazes me. Rome is also a city where politics and religion collide with Vatican City being so close. Rome is incredible. Please, if you listen to nothing else in this blog, go to Rome at some point in your life.
We arrived in Rome in the late afternoon and the weather in Rome was just as lovey as the weather in Venice had been. We started off our visit in Rome doing a bus tour of the city so we could get our first glimpses at the amazing sites in the city. After our bus tour we headed into the city and our first stop was a plaza where a flea market had been set up. We had a chance to walk around and try our first, but certainly not our last, gelato. After this stop we continued walking through the city and stopped at the Pantheon. The Pantheon might be the most incredible building in Rome. The Pantheon was built in 125 A.D. and is the most well preserved building in Rome. It is hard to believe when you look at the structure and go inside of it, that this building has been standing there, intact, with hardly an wear or damage, for close to 2000 years. The beauty of the building inside is also breathtaking and the cieling is carefully crafted with a hole in the center which is referred to as the "eye of the gods." The Pantheon is one of the sites in Rome that you wouldn't find if you just walked around the major areas of the city, its tucked away and when you walk into the area where it is, it is incredible that you were just walking past a modern day mcdonalds and now you have run into one of the most magnificant buildings ever created.

After the Pantheon we continued our night walking tour of the city and headed toward the infamous Trevi Fountain. The Trevi Fountain is Rome's most famous fountain (Rome is full of hundreds of fountains) and has been featured in several films. Its also a huge toursit spot, so when you visit the Trevi Fountain expect hordes of tourists to be there taking pictures and throwing coins into the fountain. Make sure that you also embark on this "ritual" when you are at the Trevi Fountain by tossing coins into the fountain. If you throw one coin, you will return to Rome, two coins you will find new love, and a third coin is for marriage. Throw as many in as you like, but make sure to indulge in the ritual so you can say you left a part of you in Rome.

After visiting the Trevi Fontain we headed towards dinner. Tonight dinner was at another authentic Italian restaurant and was a buffet style feast. Again, like the night before in Venice, we began our meal with different appetizers, meats, and antipastos. We were then offered an array of different pastas and finally had a selection of delicious deserts. I was incredibly impressed with this meal and thought the food was much better than the night before in Venice. I was disappointed with the atmosphere, but it was a dinner included in the tour price, so I really could not complain about it. After dinner we went across the street from the restaurant to an absolutely gorgeous church. I chose not to stay in the church very long, however, because a service was going on and I felt as though it was very rude for 51 tourists to be wandering about and talking during a church service. After dinner we wandered through the city again seeing the sites at night and met the bus up by the Arc of Constantine we headed back to the hotel for a quiet night in so we could be rested and ready for our full day in Rome the next morning.

We started our day in Rome very early the next morning as we wanted to get to the Vatican before the lines got very long. First thing in the morning is the best time to go to the Vatican. Also, be prepare to spend a very very long time at the Vatican. The Vatican Museum is a very interesting place with artifacts and art from around the world. Unfortunately you really cannot beeline through the museum to the last part- the Sistine Chapel, so be prepared to be stuck in long lines of people getting through the museum. Oh, and there are a lot of signs that are misleading that make you think you are almost at the Sistine Chapel...ignore them..you still have a while to go. When you finally do get to the Sistine Chapel you will be hoarded into a room with lots of other tourists looking at potentially the most incredible creation of art. You are technically not allowed to take pictures of the Sistine Chapel, but many people on our tour managed to snap a shot or two. I wouldn't recommend doing it just in case you get caught, but if you decide to take a risk, please make sure your flash is off. Also, another word of advice, if you are expecting the infamous "Creation of Adam" to be huge, its not. So you are going to need to look closely in order to find it and you may be disappointed in how little it is. But, overall, it is still beautiful and amazing.

Another great place to visit when you are in the Vatican City is St Peter's Basilica. This is the largest church in Christendom and you can take all the picture you want inside and it is also absolutely beautiful. If you want to be tricky and get the St Peter's faster than other people, just follow a tour group out the tour exit of the Sistine Chapel. This way you don't have to get back in line to enter St. Peter's. One other really touching place to visit is the burial chambers of the Popes. Even though I'm not Catholic it was a very touching place to walk through and experience. While you are in the Vatican City you can also go to the post office and mail a postcard back home from the Vatican, oh and make sure you are on the lookout for Swiss Guards!
After spending half our day at the Vatican we headed towards the Colosseum to find some food and meet back up with the rest of the tour group. We ended up just grabbing some pizza at the restaurant in the subway station right next to the Colosseum and we were just sitting right next the Colosseum eating what Italians are known for. It was an experience that felt so normal, but how often can you say you were eating right next to the Colosseum? We met up with the rest of our tour group and started our guided tour of some of the major sights in Rome starting with the Roman Forum.
The Roman Forum is another must do when you are visiting Rome. The Forum was once the epicenter of the Roman Empire and it was here that the decisions of the empire were made. Today, most of the buildings lay in ruins, but they are still magnificent and you are walking on hallowed ground where people like Caesar and Mark Anthony once walked. Most of the ruins are those of different temples dedicated to the different Roman gods. It would be very difficult to know what the ruins you are looking at are unless you either have a tour guide or a book guide explaining the different ruins. I recommend either taking a tour or getting a guidebook while you visit so you can really grasp what it is you are looking at. Another great piece that lays in ruin at the Roman Forum is the very place that Julius Caesar was burned during his funeral. Like most major attractions, there is an entrance fee to the Roman Forum, but if you are also visiting the Colosseum you can generally purchase a pass that will let you into the Forum, Colosseum and up to Palatine Hill.

Palatine Hill is the central hill of the seven hills that Rom was built on and it is one of the oldest parts of Rome. Palatine Hill overlooks the Roman Forum on one side, and Circus Maximus on the other. Like the Forum, Palatine Hill boats ruins of ancient Rome's buildings mostly temples and palaces. The ruins at the top of Palatine Hill are very minimal, but the views from the top of the hill are absolutely spectacular, so if you have some extra time in Rome, take advantage of the fact that you can get entrance to Palatine Hill included in your Colosseum and Forum ticket package.

The next stop on our guided tour was the infamous Colosseum. When most people think of Rome the Colosseum and gladiators are probably some of the first things that come to mind and when in Rome, you can see both of these. Surrounding the outside of the Colosseum are locals dressed up as gladiators to entertain the tourists and have pictures taken with them. If you want to do this, then please feel free to have you picture taken with a Roman Gladiator, but be aware that these men will harass you to pay them after you have taken a picture with them, so be prepared to pay. Also outside the Colosseum will be a lot of people trying to sell an array of items to you from tripods, to Rome postcards, to knock off bags. If you are looking for these items,outside the Colosseum is the best place to find them.
The Colosseum is nearly 2,000 years old and is the largest amphitheater of the Roman Empire. It is most famously known for hosting games, especially those with gladiators. Today, a lot of the structure has been damaged by both nature and by man and the floor is no longer there. Part of the floor has been reconstructed, however, so that you can get a feel of what it must have once looked liked. The one great thing about the floor not being there anymore is that you now have the opportunity to see the intricate rooms and hallways where animals and men were once held before coming up to the main stage of the Colosseum to serve as entertainment for up to 50,000 people. The Colosseum is a site that you absolutely must go to when you are in Rome and it is worthwhile to go inside it as well so you can really see and understand the awe of the structure.

Unfortunately, the lines to get tickets for the Colosseum can be incredibly long, so if you are in Rome by yourself and not with a tour group that will arrange your tickets for you, there are several different shortcuts to getting your tickets and avoiding the long lines- especially during the summer time. First, you can purchase tickets at the Forum ticket office. You can purchase tickets for the Colosseum at the Forum, call ahead and order tickets, or buy tickets online prior to your visit. If you are doing a guided tour of the Colosseum there is a seperate entrance for tours, so that is another way to get into the Colosseum much quicker. The guided tours are great if you don't mind spending a lot of time in the Colosseum and if you are prepared to listen to a lot of history behind the Colosseum. For me personally (and I am a big history fan) I just wanted to explore the Colosseum rather than be bound to following and listening to a tour guide the entire time, but again, this is something that is a personal preference. One other word of advice about visiting the Colosseum, unless you really really need to go to the bathroom, I would avoid the bathrooms at the Colosseum at all costs. They are quite nasty and smell very very bad.

After the guided tour of the Colosseum ended a small group of us decided to head down to do some shopping while we were in Rome. Rome has some of the most incredible shopping in the world and the mst famous shopping street in Rome is the Via Condotti which you could literally spend a day going up and down. The Via Condotti boasts some smaller tourists shops at the beginning of the street and leads all the way down to top, high end fashion stores with small restaurants and cafes situated between the stores. During the holidays this is a great street to go down to get really good bargins and sales on clothes. This street will always be busy, so be prepared for crowds, especially in stores that are having sales and don't be surprised if you have to wait outside of a store for a while before getting in because of how crowded it is. If you love to shop, this is one place you need to go when you are in Rome and be sure to check out some of the side streets as well because they also boast some great smaller stores.

After shopping for a while, Vanessa and I decided to go ahead and grab dinner. We stopped at a very small restaurant right in the middle of Via Condotti and had the most amazing meal of the entire trip. I had a spinach and ricotto ravioli which was divine along with the restaurants speciality desert and bread. It was nice to sit and have a "classy" meal and a very Italian meal in Rome and was a great way to cap an amazing day. Aftr dinner we decided to head back to the train station in order to make it back on time to meet the rest of the group to get the bus back to the hotel. In heading to the train station, we literally ran into the Spanish Steps and were both so excited to find them. The Spanish Steps are beautiful, especially at night, so if you are over in the area, make sure to stop by and visit them. The rest of the night was spent in the hotel hanging out, drinking, and enjoying the largest doughnuts that I have ever seen or eaten.

Another thing that you may be interested in doing while you are in Rome is taking an Angels and Demons tour to hit the major sites included in the book. This has become very popular and is something that you can plan out on your own before getting to the city so you know where you are going and how to get there.

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