What a week! Last week was fall break for us here in France, and my roommate Jenna and I planned a trip to Rome. We originally wanted to travel by train and spend time in multiple cities, namely Rome, Florence, and Naples, but that quickly became too complicated and expensive. Apparently there are few direct routes from Marseille to these places in Italy. Instead, we decided to cut back the trip and fly just to Rome. At first I was disappointed, but in the end I’m very glad we made this decision. It was nice to have three and a half full days to take in all of Rome’s glory. It was overall less stressful, and I feel like we thoroughly saw all of Rome and even revisited some things.
We arrived Tuesday and did some wandering around the city. Namely we walked to San Giovanni Laterno and Santa Maria Maggiore- both large basilicas. We also found the best gelato place in the city- three scoops in a cone for 2.50 euros! (In Aix that would buy you a scoop.) It was nice to have a day to get the lay of the land and prepare for the real site-seeing that would begin Wednesday.
Bright and early the next day, we were off to cover the right bank. We had a pretty good route mapped out, and we checked off pretty much all the major sites on that side of the river over the course of the day. We started off at the Colosseum. Talk about a monster of a building. I continuously thought about Russell Crowe the entire time we were there. It is so impressive to stand inside and think about all the things that occurred there. In the opening games alone, thousands of people were killed. It’s hard to imagine all the brutality that took place there in the name of entertainment, justice, and religion.
From the Colosseum, we walked across the street to visit the Roman Forum. The Palatine Hill is covered in a huge, beautiful garden and is filled with ruins. What I loved most about this site is that you got to duck out of the bustling, urban city and relax in peaceful garden surrounded by history. It was a nice break from the chaos of the rest of Rome.
Another highlight from this day was going to the Pantheon. From the outside, it doesn’t look like anything but a large, brown building, but inside it’s stunning. The fact that the dome is made out of concrete boggles my mind- how did they manage to pour concrete into such a huge, ornate dome? The walls inside are covered in different colors of marble, and it is simply breathtaking!
We then headed over to the Piazza Navona, where the Fountain of the Four Rivers is located. However, at the time we didn’t realize what we were looking at. Jenna and I both wondered what fountain we were standing at, and only realized that night at the hotel what it was. The Piazza is lined with restaurants and cafés, and artists set up their paintings in the middle of the square.
Next up was Camp de Fiore, where we bought a calzone and a bunch of pastries for lunch. Italian pastries were hit or miss- the first three we tried here were not impressive. Dense, crumbly cookies without much flavor. However, the pastries we got the next day were awesome- flaky and custard-filled. Delicious!
We walked along the river and enjoyed the beautiful weather. The Tiber reminds me a lot of the Siene in Paris. The sidewalks are lined with the same trees as in Aix, so I felt right at home!
Our journey continued by heading up to the Piazza del Popolo and up into Borghese Park. I loved this park! It’s enormous and situated at the top of a hill, so there are some spectacular views of the city. We were up there in the evening, and the sunlight was that perfect, golden, afternoon shade. It was lovely to relax our tired feet for a while in the park!
After leaving the park,we walked down the Spanish Steps! I kept trying to convince Jenna to cut off all her hair so we would look like Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday, eating gelato on the steps. Unfortunately, Jenna did not think this was such a good idea.
The last stop for the day was the Trevi Fountain. We went back once in the daylight and returned again after dinner to snap some pictures at night. I love that the the base stones are rough, so the figures look like they’re climbing up out of the rocks. We threw a coin in to ensure we will return to Rome one day!
The next day we were so taken with Borghese Gardens that we walked back through in the morning. We then crossed the river to the Vatican City. This has to be one of the most gorgeous places I have ever been too. It’s an impressive experience for believers and non-believers alike. TIP: if you go to the Vatican, go to the Information Office! On they way to St. Peters, lots of tour-guides harass you and try to make you buy a tour. Don’t fall for it! At the information office, American priests studying at the Seminary give guided tours a few times a day. Jenna and I decided to do this, and this was the best decision we made all trip! Apparently no one knows about these tours because we were the only two people to show up, so we got our a private tour courtesy of two priests (one of whom looked just like Prince William. No joke.) The tour lasted over an hour, but it felt like 15 minutes. The priests explained some of the architecture and told us stories about the popes and biblical stories depicted in the mosaics. Did you know that there is only one painting in the entire Basilica? Everything else is mosiac. Impressive!
We went on the tour in the afternoon, and the timing was perfect. The light inside was great for pictures, and it wasn’t too crowded. It was surprisingly relaxing walking through; I expected to be rushed around and pushed by other tourists. The vatican was the highlight of the trip for me. The next day, Jenna and I returned to St. Peters first thing in the morning to take it all in one more time. We decided not to take out our cameras this time so that we could really enjoy the sights. I think you could walk through 10 times and focus on something different each time- the floors, the statues, the mosaics, the ceilings, etc. Amazing, simply amazing.
After this, we went to the Vatican Museum. While I’m glad that I went, I’m not sure I need to go back. Since I don’t know too much about art, I found the building itself as interesting and beautiful as the actual art. We saw the Sistine Chapel, and while very cool, there was another hallway in the museum with a decorated ceiling that I liked more. It’s very impressive, but for me it didn’t quite live up to all the hype. Jenna begs to differ. I’ll let you decide for yourself.
Another highlight of the trip was going to the Appian Way. This is outside of Rome and has lots of ruins and catacombs to visit. Our hotel had bikes to borrow, so we risked our lives biking alongside crazy Roman drivers until we got out on the Way itself. It’s lined with trees and it’s a popular place to bike and walk. We had another day of perfect weather, so we spent a few hours synthesizing vitamin D in the peace and quiet. It was a nice break from the honking cars in the city itself. I highly recommend a trip out there if you go to Rome.
Our last night, Jenna and I ate a ton of food in Trastevere. I must have developed a hollow leg while in Rome because we devoured some pasta. We split a focaccia, each got a pasta (mine fruits de mer and Jenna carbonara), split a lasagne, drank a cappuccino, and had dessert. One word- delicious. Pasta carbonara is now my new favorite food. I want more for dinner right now.
I could not have asked for a better trip! We had perfect weather up until Saturday when it started raining. We actually had to circle around in the air on the way back because it was too bad to land in Marseille. We had a nice, clean hotel with breakfast each morning. We were close enough to metro lines to get around easily. We each bought a Roma Pass, which gave us free use of the metro and buses, entrance into two sights, and reduced rates at others.
Rome is now on my list of favorite places I’ve visited, right up there with Paris, Berlin, and Cairns. There is something for everyone in this city. Shopping, monuments, museums, churches, parks, food. You name it, Rome’s got it! I cannot wait to one day go back to visit again!