On our final weekend in Europe before our second intercontinental move, we took one last excursion to Rome! I’ve never seen the Audrey Hepburn movie, nor am I the biggest fan of hers (sorry, sue me), but it seemed like a fitting title as this is exactly what our weekend in Italy was. The entire trip was very last minute, but RyanAir had cheap direct flights from Cologne/Bonn Airport, so we figured, why not? Along with Y, a fellow maths person, we made the trip early on a Saturday morning, and arrived to Ciampino Airport as the sun was rising on a beautiful and relatively warm January day! We definitely welcomed what felt like spring weather coming from Bonn, which was quickly becoming stubbornly cold. Getting out of the airport in Rome was an interesting exercise that probably took a little too long.* Since we arrived on a Saturday, we decided to make a beeline for the Vatican City and check out things in that area since the churches would be closed on Sundays and the museums on Mondays. So at some point along the way, we planned to do a walking tour and visit the big sights on Sunday, and then take a walk in the Villa Borghese on Monday before our evening flight. Luckily we were using an incredibly detailed and helpful email from another maths friend who served as our virtual tour guide. This friend is a native Roman living in Bonn, whose suggestions we followed step by step and ended having a great time. There’s nothing like a local’s guide to anywhere. 🙂

By the way, this post is going to be mostly photos. For fun, let’s play an “I-Spy” game: count the funky fountains, “SPQR” inscriptions, busts, and churches/cupolas.

Here is our first stop at the Vatican Museums. That’s museums plural because there are lots of them and they’re all huge and connected and thank goodness I don’t really know that much about Roman art and was happy strolling through because otherwise we would have taken forever here.

Hmm…

And some more. Note: All of these photos were taken on the way to the Sistine Chapel, but I don’t have any of the Chapel itself, as photos aren’t allowed there.

After exiting the museums, we headed over to the Basilica di San Pietro, the big papal one.

And proceeded on after ooh-ing and aah-ing for a bit.

End of day one! Now a note on fountains: the water in Rome is free-flowing spring water from the mountains brought to the city through the ancient aqueduct system. There are no taps, no pumps, no mechanical anything: just gravity! Pro-tip: Drink it. There are tons of them all over the city, and not all of them are ornamental–some are purely functional, but unfortunately I don’t have any photos of these.

This brings us to Sunday morning, when we ran into some trouble trying to join a walking tour, in which the guide sarcastically chastised us and pretty aggressively shooed us away with our tail between our legs for breaking some rules of the tour. Luckily there was another one starting half an hour later. By the way, we learned that all of the tour guides in Rome must be licensed by the city and hold PhDs in art history, archeology, or related subjects. So, while maybe not as entertaining or gregarious as Sandemans, they are experts for sure.

The tour ended at Piazza Navona, which is a really neat space. Like most things in Rome, the fountain at the center was commissioned by a pope and has tons of symbolism in its design. The Fountain of the Four Rivers (Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi) represents the four rivers on the four continents of what was considered to be the world at the time: The Nile, Ganges, Danube, and Río de la Plata. I wonder why they chose the Danube over the Tiber, though. There’s also imagery of the impression of each river/continent, including animals from each of these places. Can you spot them? Fun fact: the artist had never seen a crocodile, so his interpretation is likely from a written description. How would you draw it if you had only heard of what it looks like? Also, there was apparently a pretty big rivalry between the architects of the fountain and of the church, so one of the statues raising his hand as though holding up the church lest it fall. Here it is from all different angles:

So while there is a metro system in Rome, there are only two lines because in order to expand the underground system, it would be exceedingly complicated from a financial and engineering perspective, what with getting all of the proposed sites surveyed by lots of archeologically important people. Now if you couldn’t tell, we did lots of walking the entire weekend. Lots. While getting from point A to point B is easy enough by mass transit, there is tons that you just happen to stumble upon, even (especially) if you take a wrong turn. Just like the insides of buildings are covered from floor to ceiling in frescoes, reliefs, mosaics, and every inch is covered with paint, the entire city is filled with sculptures and masterpieces right on the streets, from the funny fountains, to the tons of piazzas. The Romans are masters of hoarding and preservation (with good reason). If you couldn’t tell from the photos, they especially liked Egyptian obelisks. A lot. Because they were the center of their empire, they got to keep their art and architecture–everything from their ancient plunders and pagan temples to the newer, super ostentatious and dramatic Baroque-style buildings, often housing modern businesses, which altogether span thousands of years of history. I think I can safely say that the Renaissance was the original gentrification of Rome, when after the pope moved back to Rome around the 1400s, all the artists followed and relocated to the previously gritty medieval city and perfect their craft. I don’t think the next Michelangelo is in Williamsburg, though.

It’s a weird paradox in which the big bully on the block gets to conquer other lands, but then they don’t lock up all of their booty in museums and exclusive, guarded troves. A lot of the works that would be considered precious are just out there in the living city. Strangely enough, chunks of marble were taken from the ancient Colosseum to construct St. Peter’s Basilica (Basilica di San Pietro), so I guess the popes were really the ones calling the shots with all of the treasured art and architecture.

After gawking at Piazza Navona for a while and doubling back to a few sights that we wanted a closer look at, like the Trevi Fountain and Pantheon, we headed to the Piazza Venezia toward the old Roman Forum, the ancient city ruins, and eventually the Colosseum, and at some point stopped for lunch (not pictured–too hungry, but pizza again) and gelato.

We visited the Colosseum because we were in the neighborhood (i.e. Rome) and you know, the seven wonders of the world reasons. It was definitely cool, but honestly not as mind-blowing as I think we were expecting. You have to pay to get in, but there is so much to do and see for free elsewhere. But I guess now we can say we were there! Also, my takeaway from the old amphitheater is that humans will always find new ways of killing and/or entertainment, and in this case, together.

 

We ended day two by taking a break for a few hours in the evening for our tired little legs and then later emerging for a walk, meandering through Trastevere, where we had some dinner and enjoyed the atmosphere in the neighborhood. We woke up the next morning and walked through Piazza della Repubblica, wandered into a church, stopped for some brunch while it rained a little, and continued walking through the Villa Borghese, down to Piazza del Popolo, down via del Corso, and finally back to Termini, where we fought our way on to a bus that got us back to Ciampino squarely in time for our evening flight!* Whew. That about sums our entire weekend of legs walking and eyes feasting. Ciao!

 

*I’ve heard it said multiple times that India and Italy are remarkably similar, and I’m really glad we got to visit so that we could see this first hand and watch it become more and more true as we are starting out here in India! More on this later, so stay tuned.

 

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