Viva Italia - Part Uno
Ciao and Salve! I finally arrived in historic Rome on August 17th. This was the most highly anticipated leg of my worldwide trip, and I must say that I LOVED every single thing that I did, saw, and ate! First I want to comment on my accommodations – Camping Roma, which earned a 2005 No. 2 Best Hostel distinction from hostelworld.com. This is essentially a self-contained campsite with so many amenities that you rarely need to venture out of the compound. There’s an information/internet center, pool, supermarket, restaurant, bar, laundry mat and many other facilities to make your stay welcoming and enjoyable. I originally booked a 1-person tent, but after arriving, I asked to upgrade to a small cabin instead. I am so glad I did this since it was boiling hot for several days. I would have baked in that steamy tent if I kept my original arrangements.
My first day, I waited several hours to check in since my flight arrived at 8am. At 3pm, I grabbed a camp shuttle to the Vatican and went directly into the Vatican Museum for only 13 Euros. The highlight of this tour was the Sistine Chapel. I visted the chapel when I was sixteen, but couldn’t fully appreciate the beauty and history until now – MANY years later. There was an abundance of stunning frescoes, sculptures, and tapestries – all interpretations of the New Testament. Once we were shuttled into the main room, we were asked to refrain from taking videos and photographs. Unfortunately, since the ratio of guard to people was 1 to 200, no one listened and many stole a few snapshots anyway. Poor crowd control.
After the chapel, I walked through the Vatican Library featuring papal robes, trinkets, crosses, paintings, sculptures, and intricate ceiling designs. I tried visiting the acclaimed Raphael Rooms but the double doors were locked. Since doors were semi-translucent, I was able to catch a blurred glimpse of the columns and the 2 guards standing in the middle of the room.
After the museum, I walked a mile to Plazza St. Pietro (St. Peter’s Basilico). I stayed for at least half an hour feeling spiritually elated. This place is a spiritual home to many Catholics. On the flip side, I also couldn’t help remembering excerpts from Dan Brown’s “Angels and Demons” since the bulk of the book features this very setting.
After I gathered my thoughts, I walked down Via della Conciliazione towards Castel S. Angel – originally Hadrian’s Mausoleum. Took photos of the various sculptures lining Ponte S. Angelo Bridge above the Tiber River. After visiting the outdoor flea market, I walked several miles back to the shuttle pick up point and headed back to camp.
The following day, I devoted 8 plus walking hours to exploring every landmark in Rome. It helped that I purchased one of those MapEasy Guides to help me navigate the area quickly and easily. These maps are filled with helpful diagrams, store-hotel-restaurant-landmark locations, and brief descriptions to help you find key points. As an added bonus, the map is water resistant and tear-proof. I won’t list all the sites I visited, but I will give you my favorites: Colosseum, Arch of Constantine, Pantheon, Plazza Navona, Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain. The Trevi Fountain is where most tourists congregate to toss coins into the water hoping that their wishes come true. I didn’t have a lot to wish for since my dream of traveling around the world has already come to fruition.
Quick notes on this part of my journey:
Rome is a visual feast. Make sure you have a decent-sized memory card since you will find a photo-worthy shot around every corner. For local flavor, Piazza Navone provides a varied backdrop of local artists, amateur musicians, outdoor cafes and more.
Visit the Vatican Museum later in the day. I went at 4pm on a Friday and got a ticket almost immediately. When I walked past the museum on Saturday morning, the line was over a mile long (not embellishing). I felt sorry for all the people in line sweating profusely.
The Night Rome Tour is not bad, but you won’t be able to take quality shots since most landmarks are not lit. Luckily, I already walked by most of the monuments during the day and captured the shots I needed. The Trevi Fountain at night is a must see though.
When visiting St. Peter’s Basilico, wear LONG pants and shorts that fall below the knee. After I waited 20 minutes in line for security check, I walked towards the Basilico steps only to be stopped from entering by one of the guards since I had thigh length shorts. I saw a line of people waiting along the sidelines outfitted the same way. We all looked sullen and completely bummed out. Sadly, I decided to go inside on my last day in Rome so I couldn’t go back the next day. Always carry something you can easily slip on in case of strict dress requirements.
“Free” always comes with a catch. While sitting on a bench 100 meters from the Colosseum, I was approached by a souvenir stand owner who wanted to give me 40 postcards gratis. I kept saying “no” but he insisted. He sat next to me and started talking about places to see in Rome. I thought it was odd that he left his heavily trafficked stand (over 20 feet away) unattended to talk to me. He wanted to take me around Rome and treat me to a spaghetti dinner. Luckily, I managed to get out of there. When I opened the postcard flap, his name and digits were written on it. Lesson: Don’t accept anything from strangers.
Classy and posh stores surround the Spanish Steps. You’ll find Dior, Prada, Miu Miu, Ferragamo, YSL, La Perla and many other high-end boutiques. For the budget-conscious like me, you can visit one of the local cafes instead. My favorite: Antico Caffe Greco. I ordered an apricot torte and a cappuccino for only 4 Euros. Considering the location (next to Prada), this was cheap.
Back to Camping Roma on my last night to prepare for my 3-day Southern Italy tour, which starts first thing tomorrow morning. My Italian adventure continues. Arrivaderci for now - Bella Marcello (my Italian alter ego).