NOTE: WE APOLOGIZE IN ADVANCE FOR THE NUMBER OF PICTURES WE HAVE POSTED FOR ROME, BUT IT IS JUST ONE OF THOSE CITIES WHERE ONE CAN NEVER PUT THE CAMERA AWAY.
After a relatively uneventful journey from Istanbul to Rome, we arrived at the airport looking forward to this leg of the journey immensely. It was Rome, after all, the place that has been the center of the western world for so, so long. We had heard it was a walking museum, and certainly the drive from the airport proved this; we sat there in the taxi with out mouths wide open as we passed the colosseum and other ancient marvels. Incredible.
One thing Martin was really looking forward to was the surprise that lay in wait for Danny. Without his knowledge, his girlfriend (from Canada but studying in England) had made the trek over to Rome to surprise him. The two backpackers were supposed to take a train in from the airport where she would then proceed to give Danny a heart attack. As it turns out, however, we met a friendly Italian opera singer who insisted that, as her welcome to Italy we share the taxi with her. So we ended up getting dropped off somewhere else and missed meeting up with Danny's girlfriend.
Regardless, we did, in the end, meet up, and the look on Danny's face was absolutely priceless. It was one of complete and total utter shock. He walked around for the rest of the evening with a goofy grin on his face and tried to piece together how the whole thing was orchestrated. He was still shaking at the end of the night. The phrase has never been so apt: good times yaar!
The following day, we set out at about 10am to do some hardcore sightseeing, and never have we walked so much. We set out from our hostel near the Termini Station and walked past the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme (The National Museum of Rome) to the Piazza della Repubblica. We then turned down Via Nazionale and walked towards the Largo Magnanapoli and the Piazza Venezia, site of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. From there, we walked down the famous and ancient Via dei Fori Imperiali, a magnificent street straddled on both sides by old Roman ruins.
At the foot of this street is the wonderful Colosseum, Rome's most famous attraction. Right next to the Colosseum is the Arch of Constantine. Says Martin's friend Max: "It is a victory arch erected to cerebrate the emperor Constantine's victory at the battle of Milvian Bridge. As the story goes, Constantine was struck from his horse by God, who told him he would win the upcomming battle. Believing the vision, Constantine told all of his men to paint the Chi-Ro on the their shields (a funny looking latin symbol simular to a treblecleff). Constantine won the battle, and Christianity was declared the official religion of the Roman Empire, thus ending some 400 years of persecution (and as Gibbon would later argue lead to the fall of the Roman Empire). Other scholars, not buying into this whole Chi-Ro business have argued that Constintine was being much more of a pragmatist, realized that christians were forming the majority of Roman citizens, and that the official policy of persucution had to end otherwise he would face massive internal violence." Good man, Max!
From the Arch, we strolled towards the Circus Maximus, looking the entire time to our right towards the famous Palatine ruins. We made our way back up to Piazza Venezia, then walked up to Rome's magnificent Trevi Fountain and stood in awe of Baroque sculpture at its finest. After a bite to eat, we walked past the Giardino del Quirinale to the Spanish Steps. The steps were historically where beautiful people went to be selected as models by the region's artists, and today that trend remains: it's a great place to people watch. Leading away from the Steps is Via Condotti, one of Rome's most expensive shopping areas. We immensely enjoyed window shopping. Right...
Just to the north of Condotti is Piazza del Popolo, where we stopped for a rest for a while. We met a few really cool people, and it is here that we really realized that Rome is a true artist's city. Everywhere we looked, we saw people toting sketch books and paint supplies, not to mention the hordes of people actually drawing and paining throughout the city. It is not difficult to understand why they flock to Rome - have a look at the pictures.
As sunset was now approaching, we walked up Pincio Hill, through the Piazza le di Canestre, and past Villa Borghese, all in a large and very beautiful park. We eventually made it back to the hostel, and were soon sipping wine with all the people who called Ariana's B&B (hostel) home while in Rome. More good times!
After a sluggish start on day two, we trekked over to Vatican City. None of us were prepared in the least for the show we were in store for. Everything in the Vatican is more stunning, more grand, more opulent, and more magnificent than one could ever imagine. We stood around for hours in complete awe of the architectural and artistic marvels that together make up the world's smallest country. There is no way that we can adequately explain the interior of St. Peter's Basilica; it is the center of the Roman Catholic world, and through it's amazing Basilica, Museum, and the famous Sistine Chapel that the Vatican adequately fulfills this distinction - no easy feat.
As we spent too much time in and around the Basilica, we were out of time to see the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museum, so we headed home with the aim of returning to the Chapel and Vatican museum the following day. We ended up going back two days later because we saw Danny's girlfriend off. It was an interesting experience to walk towards the Vatican Museum late on a Saturday morning. We noticed as we approached the entrance that there was a rather long lineup. OK, fair enough. We followed it to the street corner, where it stretched to the following corner. When we reached that point, we the line continued for as far as we could see. After a few minutes of walking, we reached the point where it bent, and luckily from here it continued on for "only" another half a city block. After wondering for a while if we would actually get in before the exhibits closed, we realized that the line moves relatively quickly. While standing around, we did some math, and came to the conclusion that the lineup to enter the Vatican Museum stretched over one third the way around the entire country!
After just one hour, we entered the Museum, and were continually shocked as we strolled it's lengthy corridors. Everywhere we looked was renaissance artwork by the western world's most famous painters, sculptors, and architects. Not a square inch of hallway was bereft of decoration, and the exhibits could not have crammed in one more priceless relic. We were told that the climax to any trip to the museum was the Sistine Chapel, reached at the conclusion to a walking tour of the museum. This is where Michelangelo so famously painted two gigantic masterpieces, done 24 years apart. After an extensive and brilliant restoration, the Sistine Chapel is one place where one should take no pictures (you aren't allowed to anyway, but that's not the point); standing in the Chapel and letting the experience sink in and sweep you away is by far the most rewarding thing you can do. It was - and this will sound repetitive - absolutely breathtaking, and a wonderful experience.