Saturday, March 1, 2008

Italy!

Unfortunately my time in Prague with Joanna came to an end all too quickly and I was off for the next step of my travel adventures in Rome. Lauren, the other assistant who I was travelling with, met me at the airport and we went to our hotel together. We had an amazing offseason rate on our hotel room - 55 euros a night with breakfast included! And our hotel was literally down the street from the Colosseum:


Let me start off by saying how much I LOVED Rome. It was without a doubt my favorite stop of this vacation and I can't wait to go back again! The city is beautiful and there is history everywhere, it seems like every other building is "something," I just loved the atmosphere and the lifestyle. Especially the fact that all Italians wear sunglasses everywhere all the time. Also, the men in Rome (and Italy in general) are absolutely gorgeous. I have never seen so many good looking men in one place. Most of them were security guards, police officers, or soldiers, and you know what uniforms to to a guy: they make him even more attractive. So it's clearly the ideal city! Why didn't I studay Italian again?

We got to Rome late in the afternoon and decided to do the Night Walk through Rome, one of the self guided walks in my Rick Steves' Best of Europe 2008 book. Well, we didn't exactly follow the walking path he suggested (Roman streets are a little confusing!) but we ended up seeing almost everything we were supposed to see, plus some! For example, the Trevi fountain (yes, I threw a centime in!)


That's the Trevi Fountain, but you can barely see the water because there are so many people there. Rome was flooded with tourists even though it was February, I can't imagine what it must be like in the high season. We walked everywhere in Rome and only took public transportation when we had luggage going to and from the airport. Actually that was true in every city we went to. I don't know how we had enough energy, personally. Maybe because two of my dinners in Italy I had both pizza and pasta along with bruschetta? The food in Italy was amazing. So much better than French food. It had flavor, you didn't have to eat pig products if you didn't want to (I am so freaking sick of everything here being made out of pig. Jews and pigs don't get along), and really, who doesn't like pasta and pizza and bruschetta?

Our second day in Rome we went to the Vatican Museum and had a guided tour. I liked the tour but I felt like I didn't get to see everything I wanted to see. Duuuh, it's an enormous museum, it would be impossible at a tourist to see everything in a few hours. So we got the highlights and a really great lecture on the art in the Sistine Chapel. The Sistine Chapel is AMAZING when you see it in person. Literally every available space is painted. They don't let you take pictures in the chapel itself, and they actually had people standing around enforcing the no pictures/no flash rule which I thought was great. It really irritates me in museums in France when people take pictures with flashes of everything. Overtime the flashes will ruin the artwork. And we were lucky enough to run into some other assistants from our area at the Sistine Chapel, how rnadom is that? We knew we would overlap in Rome a few days but hadn't made plans, and it ended up working out. We had a big pasta lunch together and then Lauren and I went back to check out St Peter's Basilica. Word to the wise: the museum is about a 15 minute walk from the Basilica itself, turn right and folllow the signs. St Peter's is quite impressive, and we were lucky enough to be there during a mass. I don't know who leads masses at St Peter's, but I imagine he's kind of a big deal. Since we were there so late in the afternoon there was no line to get in.


After that we tried to find the Pantheon and ended up wandering around for a super long time and kind of lost. Like I said, Roman streets are confusing. But we found it eventually and the interior definitely is amazing. It was turned into a church after the fall of the Roman Empire so everything was preserved, and it's hard to believe it's almost all original. My pictures didn't turn out very well though, so you'll just have to take my word for it.

The next day was Classical Rome day. We started off with the Colosseum, then went to the Forum, then had lunch and tried to go to the Palatine but it closed at 3. Too bad! So instead we wandered down to the Circus Maximus and around to the old Jewish Ghetto, then saw Trajan's Forum on the way back to our hotel and dinner. Oh yeah, and gelato. There was a gelato place across from our hotel and we had gelato every night! As I have shared, I took Latin back in the day and loved it so for me it was really special to actually see in person all of these sights that I had learned about in class. It's hard to imagine what it all looked like at the height of Rome's power, but I got one of those super cool Past and Present books that have the plastic overlays, which was really helpful and probably my favorite souvenir ever. Rick Steves was also a great help. I am in love with that man. I think the Forum complex is the hardest to understand because it was so massive and used to stretch all the way from the ruins by the Colosseum up past our hotel to the Trajan's Market area and where the Monument to Vittorio Emmanuele I is now. That will only make sense to people who know a little about Rome, but basically, it was enormous. Another word to the wise: it takes a long time to work your way around all the ruins, so pace yourself and take a break when you need to. There's lots of random rubble just sitting around that works well as benches.
















Views of the colosseum, exterior and interior















Looking down into the Forum from the Arch of Titus, and the courtyard of the residence of the Vestal Virgins. Do you know what they did to them if they didn't stay virgins during their time of service? Buried alive.

Our next day was the last day in Rome (or so we thought....) and we saw the Palatine Hill, where all the wealthy Romans and later the emperors used to live, and then left on the train for Florence.

I liked Florence, but not as much as Rome. It definitely didn't need more than the two and a halfish days that we were there. The city itself is interesting to look at, although I didn't find the architecture all that special, but the big thing to see is the artwork inside the Uffizi and Accademia art galleries. I enjoyed those galleries a lot, but here's my other word to the wise: don't spend too much time on the Gothic altarpieces at either place (esp at Uffizi) because they all look the same after a while and the later stuff is more interesting. Really, how many times do you have to look at altarpieces entitled "Mary and Child?" Just concentrate on seeing the change from the Middle Ages, how they couldn't realistically represent the body or perspective, and how that changes when you get to the Rennaissance. I think a lot of the problem for me is that I have only the sketchiest ideas of what all these religious events and subjects being depicted are so I miss out on that whole element of the art appreciation. I'm not sure why it's important to represent certain emotions or elements in them, so after a while I just tune them all out. Michaelangelo's David was really fabulous though. I wasn't expecting to like it so much, but it makes quite an impression in person. He's really beautiful. The Uffizi has a great collection of Botticelli, including his Birth of Venus and Primavera. Seeing those was definitely a highlight, as well as some of the other famous works I've learned about. Another highlight of Florence was seeing Santa Croce, which is where Michaelangelo, Machiavelli, and Gallileo are all buried but more importantly has gorgeous frescoes all over the back walls and the little square chapels. I'm afraid my pictures don't do them justice:


This is inside one of the square chapels along the transept, looking up towards the ceiling. The most impressive parts of the Duomo are the exterior, the facade of which was put on during the 19th century to match the bell tower, and the amazing painted dome:

The rest of the interior is actually quite plain!




















Think they did a good job matching the two?

The other best thing about Florence was the discovery of Pappa al'Pomodoro, an amazing amazing tomato soup that is really more like tomato sauce. It's really thick and loaded with cut up tomatoes, a few olives, and some pieces of bread and seasoned amazingly. I'm in love. I have to figure out how to make it. I'd never even heard of it before, so I think it's a real regional specialty that isn't well known other places.

We tried to leave Florence, and were delayed for two hours by various train mix ups. First our train was a few minutes late, then once everyone was on board they told us to switch trains, so we all got off, then they told us to get back on, then they told us to get off again. Then we waited for about an hour and a half until another train finally came and took us back to Rome to get our flight to Greece. Well, we get to the airport to check in for our flight, and it's been cancelled. Why? Because it was SNOWING in Greece! Apparently this happens every ten years and we were just lucky enough to witness it! We couldn't get another flight out for two days, so unfortunately we had to stay in Rome a little longer. Too bad, right? We were able to stay at our same hotel and spent our free day in Rome just rambling around and being very Roman. You know, eating a lot, having gelato, taking a coffee break, hanging out in piazzas. The next morning we flew out to Greece.

The only bad part about Italy (besides the train ridiculousness)? Not getting an Italian boyfriend. Sigh.

5 comments:

Andromeda said...

sounds like we had almost the same vacation! i just got back from rome and florence and loved it! florence a bit more than rome, but we had some bad hostel experiences in rome. sounds like hotels are the way to go! i didn't see that soup though, i guess i'll have to go back!

Leah said...

Wow, thanks for sharing! That totally donnes me envie to go back to Italy...espec to Florence where I've never been(at least to try that soup...miam!)

Re: Not finding your Italian boyfriend, that just means you'll have to go back!!

Jennie said...

Ooh, I haven't been to Italy since '99. And I don't think I fully appreciated the history and architecture back then. I may have to go back to Rome one of these days... I bought one of those plastic overlay books too, and it was really cool!

I still don't know when I'll make it to Prague - I wish I could have gone!

nicole said...

ditto on what you said about loving italy over at mine. :-)

also...i had the same feelings about all those incredibly good looking men in uniform!

i am impressed you did so much during vacation. can't wait to hear about the rest.

Au Soleil Levant said...

I'm glad you guys enjoy my vacation stories and I'm not just rambling uselessly all over the net!

Andromeda, if you're travelling with more than one person budget hotels are definitely the way to go, because once you split the cost in two it's either the same or sometimes better than a hostel, and nicer.

Jennie, it's probably better to save Prague for the summer anyway because it was super cold when I was there. Luckily Joanna's heating actually worked, unlike other countries I could name!

And for Leah and Nicole, with the beautiful men idea, yeah, I think I may have to go back on a special Mission: Boyfriend quest. Then I can live there and eat pappa al'pomodoro all the time!