After a wonderful start to our Italian adventure in the Amalfi Coast we buckled up for a four hour drive north to Rome by way of our rented bus.
We opted to stay at a very functional AirBnb near Vatican City where we took Rome by storm – walking everywhere and taking in as much as we could in the three short days we were in this ancient city. In one day we walked over 16 miles!
Rome found Peter and I conflicted as tourists. On one hand, you must see all the tourist highlights. The sights are incredible and there are many. But after scratching the surface of all the fun and vibrant neighborhoods, seeing how the youthful Romans live with excitement and passion, its a place both Peter and I felt, more so than most other places we’ve visited, that we’d love to live for an extended period. We have a strong desire to really experience this city as its lived today opposed to how its imagined in the past which is what most of the tours and sights do a great job of capturing. So for now this post is mostly about the attractions we saw. Who knows, maybe in the future we’ll have a post about living in Rome!
After our relatively long drive from Positano, we headed out to a nearby restaurant that the host of our rental had recommended, II Sorpasso. It had a great location near Vatican City – a few blocks off the main street making it feel somewhat local. The food was incredible and Becky ordered the best meal of her entire life as we sat at a sidewalk table sipping wine. She ordered the fettuccine with bacon and pumpkin and it was knock your socks off delicious. She kept wanting everyone to try the dish and share in its amazingness. She was actually still talking about this meal three weeks later right before she left to go back to the US. This theme of amazing pasta continued throughout our time in Rome. The Italians have something figured out when it comes to making their national cuisine in their homeland.
After dinner we set out on a brief walking tour where we took in some of the most historical sights Rome has to offer.
The Spanish Steps, built in 1735 and consisting of 135 steps. Unfortunately the steps were under construction so both the fountain in front of the steps and the church behind the steps were covered. Can you spot me in the first picture? The second picture is witnessing a gorgeous sunset from the top of the steps.
The Trivi Fountain was up next. I had been here four years prior and was excited to throw in another coin and make a wish. To our dismay this was also under construction to the point of being blocked off and drained. This was surprising since we were there during such a high tourist time of year, September. As you can see closed for wishes.
Next on the walking tour was the Pantheon, a circular temple with massive granite columns, built in 126 AD. It is the burial place for the great painter Raphael. The Pantheon was used as inspiration when designing the Duomo in Florence many years later in 1436.
The last spot on our tour brought us to my favorite of the night, Della Palma, a gelato shop with 150 flavors to choose from. Flavors that included twix, kit kat, bounty, cappuccino, mint pistachio, pear and mascarpone, and so much more.
We called it a night fairly early with excitement in our veins from waking up in Positano and going to bed in Rome and all that happened in between. We had an early morning tour at the Vatican the next morning which started at 7:30am.
A private tour in the morning is the way to go for seeing Vatican City. We were allowed entrance before the Vatican opened and before the endless herds of tourists flood the city-state. We had a wonderful guide, Carlotta, from “What a Life Tours.” I have also heard that “Walks of Italy” does a great job as well.
Peter was excited to visit another country, one of the world’s few city-states. We found out that the Vatican has its own newspaper, radio station and even makes its own milk from its own cows. Holy milk. It also boasts its own data-network where Peter connected his phone only to see a private wifi network named, “Vatican.” Intrigued, we tried a few password combinations trying to crack the code: “Pope123″, “PapalRock”, and “password.” They all failed. What’s the password, Pope?
The highlight of the tour for me was the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo’s masterpiece painted on the ceiling. Not just because of his unbelievable creation, but also the story behind it. When he was commissioned by Pope Julies II in 1508 to decorate the ceiling of the chapel he objected because he considered himself more of a sculptor than a painter. He had just finished “David” in Florence. Additionally he had never painted fresco which was the requirement for the Sistine Chapel. Fresco is a technique where lime and sand plaster are placed on the wall then painted on, but the job needs to be done very quickly before the plaster dries. Talk about pressure. It’s remarkable how the painting tells the story of creation, but also a subtle story of Michelangelo’s life. He started from east to west and you can see how better he became as you move from one end of the ceiling to the other. The perspectives and size adjustments made for floor viewing only got better with each fresco. It was mesmerizing to witness the progression of his work. Even with a genius artist, practice makes perfect. And then his perfection became legendary.
Some stories and movies depicted Michelangelo painting the ceiling on his back, but the reality is that he stood on scaffolding, with his arm held up and his head tilted back. It took him four years to complete the ceiling and it is believed that his body was in a tremendous amount of pain when he was finished. What really blows my mind is that he wasn’t able to check his work as he painted because of the close proximity he was to the ceiling. It was such a treat to gaze at the ceiling and be mesmerized by its beauty while also appreciating the sacrifice that was made to create the masterpiece.
About 25 years years after completion of the Sistine Chapel Michelangelo was commissioned to paint the “Last Judgement” on the western end of the chapel wall above the alter. It’s in this work that you can see Michelangelo’s anguish and torment expressed in a few ways. His pessimism comes out when you look at the stylistic differences between the chapel ceiling and his work above the alter. The ceiling’s characters are idillic and heroic with perfect proportions. The Last Judgement is disproportionate with heads to big for bodies, awkward poses and most interestingly, the disturbing self-portrait in the painting.
In the below picture, Saint Bartholomew who was martyred by being skinned alive is holding his skin. In this skin, Michelangelo painted his self portrait. Pretty clear message of how he was feeling at the time. Nowadays if a friend of yours drew a self portrait like this you would most likely get them some help in the form of a psychiatrist combined with heavy doses of anti-depressants, and maybe put them on suicide watch.
My next favorite was St Peter’s Basilica, which was finished in 1626 and is considered “the greatest of all churches of Christendom.” It is believed that St Peter, one of twelve of Jesus apostles, is buried below the alter. It’s a humbling experience to stand in this great church and try to imagine all that went into its creation. Not just work by talented artists and architects, but also human suffering. St Peter himself was crucified for being a leader in spreading the work of Jesus. The following are pictures inside the Basilica. The second picture is of Michelangelo’s “Pieta,” Mary holding Jesus after the crucifixion. At this point you can see I am a huge fan of all things Michelangelo.
The Basilica holds a large bronze statue of St Peter and it is believed that if you rub the right foot of the statue you will be provided with good luck. We all rubbed the foot and I think it worked as the day and the rest of the trip proved to be wonderful. Though maybe even better than touching the foot was watching the people in line trying to access the statue, get a picture, push people out of their way in general franticness. Folks, God is watching! Later that evening I rubbed my Peter’s foot just for extra good luck.
Before leaving the Vatican, Carlotta showed us her sense of humor by pointing out a statue of Bill Clinton. There really is an uncanny resemblance.
We grabbed one last shot in front of St Peter’s Basilica on our way out. We all agreed that it was an incredible tour and felt grateful to have done it.
Note: If in the below picture we look tired, unkept, or in a general state of messiness, none of us had showered that morning due to the hot water not being turned on at our AirBnb. We also woke up at 5am. TMI?
After our long tour we had worked up an appetite. Remember the theme: amazing activity, amazing food.
Peter went to work and my Mom, Becky and me took a stroll over to Trastevere, a lively neighborhood beyond the Tiber river for a great pizza spot recommended by my good friend Ally, a place by the name La Renella. We walked in to find a simple pizza joint where you walk up, point at what you want and have a seat. It’s these places where you find the good pizza. The three of us ate outrageously delicious pizza with a light airy crust and the perfect amount of cheese while washing it down with a cold beer and marveled about the day. I’m not sure if pizza has ever tasted better. My mom wanted to share in her excitement of the pizza so she decided to tell the guy sitting next to her, “you know the pizza is really good here.” The guy, Anthony answered, “I know. This is my cousins place.”
This encounter led us into a new friendship with Anthony. After some small talk he directed us to follow him outside the door where he would show us where and how the pizza is made. We were given our own private tour of La Renella. With gusto he walked us through the process. He gave us bread to taste. He eagerly answered questions. He offered to take pictures. After our pizza tutorial we thanked him for the lovely time and all the information. This was not the first time I’ve observed people meeting my Mom and then wanting to be her friend.
With slight embarrassment, I admit the the next noteworthy thing that happened that day was our dinner outing.
We had collected all kinds of restaurant recommendations from friends and that evening we tried my friend Adrian’s favorite spot, Taverna Trilussa. Adrian is Italian and his girlfriend lives in Rome so he knows what he is talking about. This gem turned out to be my favorite as well. I ordered the cacio-e-pepe, which is pasta with cheese and pepper, so simple but yet so delicious. It’s a Roman dish that I had never tried and now am in love with. It wasn’t just me that loved my dish, everyone was thrilled with what they ordered so it was another successful eating.
On our walk back home we wandered through Trastevere where we spotted the nightlife of Rome in the summer. Along the Tiber river there is tent after tent set up of bars, live music, hookah spots, and tons of people.
Our last full day in Rome was our busiest. We woke up to do a walking tour of the Roman ruins and Colosseum.
It was overload of absolutely fascinating Roman history. One of the more alarming things that was referenced numerous times was the comparison of the rise and fall of the Roman Empire to the United States, and how history always repeats itself.
The Colosseum and its history really blew my hair back. Being there and seeing the massive size of it and to learn it only took eight years to build and was finished in 80 AD. During the approximate 400 years that the Colosseum was used for entertainment over 500,000 lives were taken and over 1,000,000 animals. For Roman entertainment gladiators, prisoners, and starving animals fought to the death. Animals were purposely starved to create a more dangerous environment and when the animals were fed sometimes they were fed human flesh. Gladiators are where the term “bad boy” must have originated. The women loved them for their bravery and courage, and living-on-the-edge lifestyle. It’s pretty hard to wrap my head around watching men fight to the death and cheering about it like I’m watching U of A beat Duke at men’s basketball in the National Championship.
Here are some pictures we captured during our whirlwind tour.
At the end of our tour we started our trek home with a pit stop to visit my friend Adrian’s girlfriend at the shop she works at. Before Peter and I left for our trip we went to dinner with Adrian and he told us about a woman he met, Christina, while he was on his last trip in Rome. They had stayed in touch and he visited her again and now they are in love. They are doing the long distance thing, and working on ways to spend as much time together as possible. I told him to marry her and then they can just be together in love. We will see. I had the pleasure of meeting her and she is lovely. We surprised her at work and the instant we told her we were friends of Adrian her face lit up. She was so warm and welcoming and you could tell how much she cares for Adrian. Right after Adrian had met her he had flown from Europe to Hawaii for our wedding so he had talked about us to Christina. She knew exactly who we were, “oh you are the ones traveling the world. I heard about you and now you are here. That’s amazing.”
We wished we could have spent more time with Christina, but our time in Rome was so busy. Adrian and I are currently working on a meet up spot for the four of us.
Our last and final eating outing was a place recommended by our friend Andrea’s brother who had lived and studied in Rome. Osteria Ar Galleto is located just off of of the lively area of Campo de Fiori. Far enough away that you can enjoy your meal in quiet, but close enough that you can hop over and enjoy some great people watching. Peter ordered rack of lamb and this turned out to be his favorite meal of the trip. After dinner we walked to a gelato spot near our place (naturally) and ordered it with whip cream on top for good measure. When in Rome!
The next morning was Sunday and we were leaving Rome that day, but not before receiving a papal blessing from Pope Francis. Every Sunday the Pope appears before a window in the papal apartments and gives a reading and blessing. All of it’s done in Italian so I didn’t know what he said but it was beautiful and a bucket list item checked off. Thousands of people stand in St Peter’s plaza to get a glimpse of the Pope and receive his blessing. The energy was that of a concert with your favorite artist getting ready to perform, but without the pushing. This Pope sure is popular, and for good reason. Just this past Monday he asked for the church to accept gay marriage, divorced couples, and couples “living in sin.”
After the blessing, we packed up our himo (Hummer limo) and off we drove to Tuscany.
As always thanks for reading.