Monday, September 2, 2013

Amor Roma

August 29: We left at 4:30pm from Istanbul to Rome via Turkish Airlines. No wonder they were named the best airline in Europe for two consecutive years; what a great experience. The flight was only two and a half hours, yet we were fed a delicious full course meal and we had individual tv screens. With China Southern, which we flew to Istanbul, for ten hours, we had no entertainment. And I had never experienced such rude flight attendants in all my life!

We landed at about 6:30pm and with a few sentences of instructions, we found the train station and caught the train to Travestere where we would be staying. This would be the first city where we booked an apartment rental through the booking site Wimdu. We have always only stayed in hotels or hostels, but with budget prices, we thought we’d try to live like a local while in Rome.

The apartment is nothing to brag about. It’s very basic and doesn’t even have air conditioning. But the room size is nice and we share a bathroom and kitchen with the other attendants but our paths never crossed. It is about a 2 mile walk, or 30 minutes to the city center, but we don’t mind it. Living in Korea, we walked 2.5 miles homes from school everyday; so this is actually 15 minutes shorter J

August 30: Armed with a Rick Steves guide book and free audio tour pod casts downloaded, we were ready to find our way to the city center! Because we didn’t quite know where we were going, it took us about an hour to get there, but we made it! And our first stop: the infamous Colosseum!!! The Colosseum for me is something so iconic. A place I have always wanted to visit; when we walked up to it, I could not believe I was there! 
Inside the Colosseum

We had read that to skip the long lines, it’s smart to purchase a “Rome Pass.” A pass that gets you into
two sites of your choice for free, and free local transport for three days. Well, when we looked into it, it was 35 Euro. The Colosseum is 12 Euro by itself, and we felt like 35 Euro was a lot to cut the line. The tour guides were trying to get our business by paying for a tour; telling us the line to buy tickets was an hour and a half. Taking our chances in the line proved to be the best decision. We were at the ticket booth in under 30 minutes AND they took our teacher cards which enabled us to buy our tickets for half the price!!!!!

I had read that some places give reduced entrance fees to youth (under 26), and teachers. All we had to do was go on the ITIC  (International Teachers Identification Card) website, sign up, pay $20 and we got an official card with our photo validating that we were teachers! Had we bought the Rome Pass, or paid for the tour, we would not have been given the discount because I asked them. Chalk that point up to Sarah and Andrew!

Allison and Jordan Gristy (Allison is Andrew’s sister) told us to download the Rick Steves free audio tour guides on our iPhones before we visited sites; saving us the five euro cost of an audio tour at each site. Another fantastic tip! The guides were perfect and make touring these sites so much more meaningful!

Ruins of the Forum
After the Colosseum, included in the ticket price, we visited the Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill. The Roman Forum was pretty cool. It was the hub of Rome during its prime and reign of Caesar. It was for centuries the center of Roman public life: the site of triumphal processions and elections; the venue for public speeches, criminal trials, and gladiatorial matches; and the home of commercial affairs. To think we were walking on the same streets as Julius Caesar really made the history come to life! 

Following the Forum, we walked around and took in the sites of Palatine Hill. Rome has its origins on the Palatine. Get this, some excavations showed that people have lived there since approximately 1000 BC!!!!!! WHAT?!?!? Sure, there isn’t A WHOLE LOT left, but what we saw was that old! I seriously can’t even grasp that. Many affluent Romans of the Republican period (509 BC – 44 BC) had their residences there. During the Empire (27 BC – 476 AD) several emperors resided there.
Day one was a success on so many levels!! MIND BLOWN.

August 31: Today was one of the most amazing days! It was also one of the most physically exhausting. We left the apartment at 9:45am with the intention of taking the train to Vatican City. Once we were at the station, all the ticket booths were automated and there was no one around to help us figure out where we needed to go. So we left and went to the bus stop. Same situation. So, what did we do? We WALKED all the way to the Vatican from our apartment. It took just over an hour. Yeah for a short four mile walk to warm up for an ENTIRE day of walking! I have to give credit where credit is due. From now on, I should refer to Andrew as simply Magellan. He was a rock star when it came to navigating the streets of Rome! 

We arrived at the Vatican and once again were swarmed by tour companies to sign up for a tour. Promises of shorter lines spewed from their lips like broken records. We read that the line to get into the Vatican museum can be pretty brutal, but we took our chances. And guess what?! For whatever reason, there was no line at all!!! Plenty of people, but no line. Andrew and I couldn’t quite figure it out, but we weren’t complaining. Sadly no teacher discounts but that’s ok; we excitedly paid the fee and went in.

One of the many gorgeous ceilings in the Vatican 
 WOW! The place was gorgeous! There was not a wall that was not completely covered with paintings, tapestry, or sculpture masterpieces. Room after room the scenes were truly amazing. It was a bit overwhelming to say the least. After walking around for about and hour and a half it was time for the main event; the Sistine Chapel. The masterpiece and greatest work of Michelangelo. We sat in there for about 30 minutes listening to a Rick Steves audio tour and just trying to take in the God given talent of this artist depicting the events in the Bible from creation to the coming of Jesus. To think that one man, over the course of four years painted the entire thing is mind blowing. What an amazing gift to give to the world. (Pictures were not allowed, so you will have to Google to check it out). Truly the greatest work of art by a single human being in the world….hands down.

St. Peter's Basilica is right behind us
After we left the Vatican, we walked the ten minutes to St. Peter’s square. This giant plaza houses St. Peter’s Basilica, the home of the Pope and a 4,000 year old Egyptian obelisk. We ate some sandwiches under the shade of the giant columns and just tried to take it all in. We then decided to get in line to go inside St. Peter’s Basilica.

Completed in 1626, it’s not only one of the largest churches in the world but it’s regarded as one of the holiest as Peter (one of Jesus’ 12 apostles) is buried there. Remember how I said that the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul left me speechless, well, St. Peter’s Basilica left me breathless. Granted, they were built during very different times, but both are grand in their own right. This Basilica was absolutely STUNNING! No detail went unfinished. From the marbled floors to the painted domes, I felt like I had walked into the gates of heaven.  It was religious experience like nothing else and if something that beautiful exists on earth, I can’t even fathom the site of heaven. THIS IS A MUST SEE for anyone who visits Rome. 

Inside the basilica 
 It was now late afternoon as if we hadn’t already walked enough, we made our way to the Pantheon. One of Rome’s best preserved buildings, it was built in 126AD and is still is use today as a Roman Catholic Church. In fact, when we were there, they were conducting five-o’clock mass. This church is credited with helping to design the Sistine Chapel as well as the Capital building in Washington DC. I just think that it was so neat to see it still being used as it was intended to be when it was constructed so many years ago. The audio tour even said that couples can still get married here! Can you imagine that wait list!? Sheesh!

Still trucking along, we made our way 15 minutes to see the famous Trevi fountain. We fought our way through the crazy crowd to take our picture throwing our coins and making a wish into this magical fountain. It was so fun to just sit down and people watch. Such an iconic site!

Leaving the Trevi fountain, we made our way to the last stop of the day, the Spanish steps. Again, we fought our way, took some photos, then climbed our way up to take a seat and just take in the sites we were so blessed to see that day. At 7pm, we left to start our decent back to find a place to eat and our apartment. Well, we got slightly turned around, and ended up in what some might call the “seedy part of town.” It wasn’t until TWO HOURS later that we found a place to eat and rest our poor legs. The meal was basic but delicious and the wine was even better! Overall, the sites we saw were amazing, and I’m not even exaggerating, we probably walked 20-25 miles. We have got to figure out this bus system or I’m not going to last another six weeks!
At the Trevi Fountain!

September 1: Today wasn’t nearly as thrilling as yesterday. But I mean, we are in Rome so it’s still fantastic! We decided to make it a lighter day since our feet were still barking due to the miles we put on them yesterday. The plan was to see the renowned National Museum of Rome that we had heard so much about.

We left our apartment at 10:45am and as soon as we stepped outside we noticed a bunch of people and a ton of tents; a flee market!!! We spent what was left of the morning making our way from booth to booth to check everything out. Sadly we didn’t end up buying anything but it was still fun to look.
We then set off for the museum. We did NOT anticipate the two hour walk it took us to get there. Then, following the ‘signs’ we were walking in circles trying to find the entrance to this dang place! After asking several people we finally found it. A three story brick building just caddy-corner from the main train station. I was pumped to see gladiator gear, swords, togas, the crowns of past emperors; you know national museum level artifacts.

Ugh, sadly we were very mistaken. It was three floors of bust and full body sculptures and replicas and one giant display room full of old Roman currency. Oh, and random mummy of an eight year old girl. Where are all of their artifacts?! I want to see those! I know I sound like a brat. And the sculptures were quite amazing, just not what I had expected. (Better manage my expectations huh dad.)

Following the museum, we made our way to St. Mary’s Basilica that used to house Baths of Diocletian. A Roman bath house converted into a beautiful church, strange huh? In addition to being a place of worship this church also contains a meridian line. At the beginning of the eighteenth century Francesco Bianchini built a meridian line, a sort of sundial, within the basilica. Completed in 1702, the pope wanted to check the accuracy of the Gregorian reformation of the calendar and to produce a tool to predict Easter exactly. It was also Rome’s official time keeper for several years.

We could walk no more. I told Magellan that we needed to figure out this bus situation. So we made our way to an information booth, bought a ticket and hopped on. We got off a little early, and had a 20 minute walk home, but it sure beat the hour and a half it would had taken. We ate at a delicious pizza place near our apartment and sipped on a $4, pretty dang good bottle of wine and called it a night!

Beautiful Capital building built in 1906
September 2: Today we wanted to go back to the area of the Spanish steps. It’s also the area they refer to as the “Shopping Triangle.” It houses budget to super high-end stores and we wanted to just walk around a bit. We grabbed a sandwich from a local vendor, sat atop the Spanish steps and just people watched. We then just moseyed around going anywhere the wind blew us. After a bit of walking we stopped for some gelato. We’ve only had it three of the four days we’ve been here! We shopped some more and made our way to the area of the Trevi fountain and found a little outdoor cafĂ©, drank some local wine and enjoyed just being there!

Our last stop of this relaxing day was Capitol Hill; a gorgeous little plaza that we walked around and snapped some photos. It was a very low-key day relative to the last few, but it’s nice to not have an agenda to just enjoy being.

We walked our tails off in Rome. It’s a fantastic city filled with so much history it’s really hard to wrap your head around. One thing that was unexpected that I really enjoyed were all the free water fountains throughout the city.  The water in Rome is just fine to drink. So as long as you carry around a water bottle, you’ll save a lot which is always appreciated! We enjoyed our time so much in this beautiful city. Can’t wait to see what Venice has in store!

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