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Kasteel Well Week 6-7: Rome (Part I) & Vatican City

  • March 13, 2013
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After all of our troubles getting to and from the airport in Barcelona, getting to Rome seemed like a piece of cake even though it was a first-come, first-serve situation with the shuttle bus to the city center.  Flying around Europe can be very cheap as there are several low-cost airlines that provide incredibly cheap fares but they often fly about an hour or so outside of the city.  We fought our way onto the bus and were dropped off at Rome’s Termini main station.  Our hostel was right across the street from the main station, so it didn’t take us long to get in and drop our bags off before we began our Italian adventure.  We had a very early flight from Barcelona but by the time we actually made it to the city center it was nearly noon and we set out for lunch.

It’s super easy to just keep walking around looking for food because there’s so many different options as I was always are wondering what would be around the next corner, but we eventually settled on a little bakery & pizzeria for lunch.  We were the only ones in there for lunch so we had two waiters and a waitress taking care of us, so we were a little pampered.  We chatted a lot with them about Italy but also about America and specifically Boston because one of the waiters had family there.  After our scrumptious meal, we continued wandering away from the main station and found the Altare della Patria which was our first major landmark in Rome.  I was very impressed not only by the décor of this building, but also the respect being displayed at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which is honorably guarded Italian soldiers.  It was impressive to see the common threads of human nature that transfer over language & cultural barriers and how everyone there changed to a more solemn demeanor as they approached the monuments.

Pantheon at Night

Pantheon at Night

Armed with a map but more importantly with a sense of exploration, we continued to wander through winding streets and alleyways until we found ourselves at the Pantheon.  The Pantheon was built as a temple to all of the gods of ancient Rome, but was converted to a Catholic church in 609.  Almost two thousand years after its construction, the rotunda still holds the title of largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world.  Most of the temple’s natural light enters through the oculus located at the peak of the dome. As the purpose of the building changed, it became the tomb for several important Italians such as painter Raphael and King Vittorio Emanuele II.

Trevi Fountain at Night

Trevi Fountain at Night

We made a quick stop at the Trevi Fountain long enough to grab some gelato and to make a wish and throw a coin into the fountain.  Rome is such a condensed city that you find it hard to walk more than three blocks and not find a square or famous landmark so we saw quite a bit as we wandered around without a destination.  While we were walking along the Tiber River by the Castel Sant’Angelo one of our friends from the castle tapped me on the shoulder.  Mike was travelling alone and just happened to see me and hoped it was actually me – but really, who else would have been wearing jean shorts in Rome?  We kept wandering with Mike in tow and found my favorite square of the day – Piazza Navona – which we found covered in artists.  There were so many different types, styles and materials of art in this square that it was tough to take it all in.  I really wanted to buy something but the pieces I really enjoyed were way out of my price range so I went home empty-handed.

When in! (Photo by Annie Lefley)

When in Rome…eat! (Photo by Annie Lefley)

That evening, half of the group went back to the hostel to cook but Annie and I decided to go out.  When in Rome…right?  We walked in circles a few times on some back streets around and eventually settled on a small restaurant with outdoor seating right on the street.  I ended up splurging and ordered the lobster pasta and I have no regrets.  Out came my dish with a huge heap of pasta in the center and half a lobster sitting patiently on top of the pile.  It’s quite easy to declare this as being the best meal that I had in Europe without a doubt.  As our food coma started to wear off, Annie and I headed back to the Trevi fountain so we could see it at night and this is one of those places, you have to go both day and night.  It’s a totally different experience.  Also, the gelato shops are open late too.

One of the main attractions in Rome is technically not in Rome at all.  It’s not even in Italy!  Vatican City is a land-locked country consisting of only 110 acres and is the home of the pope of the Catholic Church.   However, before we left, Pope Benedict XVI announced that he was resigning and the church began to prepare to elect a new pope.  Obviously not planned by us, but we thought it would be cool to say we were in the Vatican City when there was no pope.  What we didn’t realize was that when they elect a new pope all of the cardinals from all over the world come together and meet in the Sistine Chapel for the election.  Until they elect a new pope, the Sistine Chapel is closed to everyone else so we were unable to visit one of the most famous places in the world because of the election.  Extremely disappointed, we tried to make the best of the situation.  My favorite quote we came up with was: “we found love in a popeless place.”



Unfortunately we couldn’t see the Sistine Chapel, but everything else in Vatican City was still open, so we waited in line in St. Peter’s Square and made our way into St. Peter’s Basilica.  I’m not Catholic, but I still spent close to two hours inside this church if that is any indication of its impressiveness.  The vast scale of this basilica is unlike any other – there are letters high up on the wall that have something fancy written in Latin, but each of those letters is at least ten feet tall!  The ceilings, walls, columns and even some of the floors were all covered in artwork and most had gold leaf.  A treasured sight in the basilica is that of Michelangelo’s Pieta that is the main feature in one of the first chapels as you enter.  The fact that Michelangelo was just twenty-four years old when he created such an iconic piece of art is remarkable.

St. Peter's Square from Cupola

St. Peter’s Square from Cupola

There is really just too much in St. Peter’s for me to accurately discuss it, so I’ll fast forward to when we left and decided to climb up the cupola.  551 steps later and we were rewarded with a panoramic view of Rome and Vatican City.  Our visit on top of St. Peter’s was relatively brief as it was beginning to rain and it was extremely crowded up there, so we made our way back down and went to the Vatican Museums.  The museums held many artifacts that were recovered in the area around Rome over the years.  There were a lot of Egyptian relics that were discovered around Rome and seeing those really puts it into perspective as to how much territory those ancient empires covered.  I think we saw everything in the museum while trying to find our way out, but we didn’t really stop and look at absolutely everything because then we could have easily spent a week in there!  Just like St. Peter’s Cathedral, the decorations in the museums were extremely ornate and could easily be considered over the top in some cases.  I somehow found a fascination with ceilings during my travels and the Vatican City has some of the most beautiful ceilings that I’ve seen.

When we come back to Europe to see the Sagrada Família when it’s done, we’ll have to head back to the Vatican City to see the Sistine Chapel.  It’s on my bucket list and I will cross it off one day.

As we did so much over travel break, I broke the week up into more posts so I didn’t write a novel.  Links to all of the parts are here: