Thursday, January 28, 2010

Italy Day 2: St. Peter's, Coloseum and Spanish Steps

This is a repost of my 2007 trip to Italy with my mom, brother, sister and Aunt.

We had an early wake-up call on Day 2, and enjoyed very much the breakfast buffet laid out for us. Me, particulalry, because while there were eggs, bacon and pineapple juice, there was NUTELLA! I had toast with nutella, and was a very, very happy girl.

Immediately after breakfast, we got on the bus, and were told the "seating arrangement." Whoever we were sitting with was our partner for the trip, and every day we've move two rows ahead or back, depending on what side of the bus you were on. Katherine and I had discovered the previous day how well we travel together, so we buddied up.

We went to Vatican City, to St. Peter's Basilica. It's an overwhelming building, decorated on the outside with some of the most exquisite statues I saw during my whole trip. I think I even preferred the statuary at the Vatican to David in Florence. All along the outside of the square are statues of popes and apostles, and we learned that you can always tell who St. Peter is because he's depicted with keys, the keys to heaven that Jesus bestowed upon him (in reality, the church).

My favorite statues, though, were on top of the basilica itself ... Jesus and the diciples. It wasn't just any Jesus, it looked like a bad-ass Jesus, ready to do some hard work on earth with his guys by his side. It was very moving. Almost as moving as when we stepped in the building, and saw how grand the church is. It was my favorite sight in Rome. And one of the first things I did inside, once I caught my breath and my heart started beating again, I made a beeline to Michaelangelo's Pieta, his first and most beautiful.

Since it was a Sunday, we didn't get to see St. Peter's statue, or his tomb (marker?) because there was a church service going on ... but we got to see a church service in the Vatican. Wow.

After that, it was time to move on to Palatine Hill, the Forum and the Coloseum. I was so glad to see all that ... I didn't think we'd be able to. To be utterly honest, though, the Coloseum was somewhat underwhelming to me. Incredible feat of enginering, yes, but so many have depcited it so well in movies, documentaries ... or maybe it was just freakishly hot and humid that day (true story). Just to think of how it was created, though, and for what purpose sent me into a tailspin mental rant on violence in entertainment then and now.

We walked along and saw the Arch of Constantine, which I still can't decide is the Arch of Constantine or the Arch of Titus. We saw a sweeping view of ancient Rome, from Palatine Hill to ... well, I don't know exactly where we were looking, but there were broken columns, ruins, statues in marble and bronze ... incredible. Then we walked back toward the Coloseum alongside the Forum, where I LOOOOVED the contrast between the impressive granite columns and the delicately beautiful, glowing white marble columns. They looked fresh and cool, and I very much wanted to touch them. But they frown upon that in Rome. Go figure.

So instead, we stopped at a kiosk for lunch (pizza e acqua) and shopped for some tacky souviners. We were very weary and sore (not to mention overheated and sweaty!) by the time we met the bus, which was to take us to our final destination of the day: The Spanish Steps. We started up top, and made our way down to the bottom (pausing along the way for photo ops, of course!).

I have to stop here to add a note about the group we were with. We went on the "Best of Italy" tour with Insight Vacations. There were 39 people on our tour, mostly retirees, and most of them adored Anthony, who (it has to be said) looked like a rock star the whole time, complete with hats and mirrored sunglasses. They couldn't hear enough about his band, and wrote down the Web site so they could listen to his music. Katherine was a huge hit too. She was "battery girl," doling out fresh pairs for the headsets we wore so that we could listen to our guides and look around at the same time. She was also a huge hit with Italian men. Hmmm, can't think why!

At the bottom of the Spanish Steps is a fountain, depicting a sinking ship. It was actually commissioned by a Pope, to show the troubles of the church, and that unless something were to be done, the ship would indeed sink. Most of the fountains in Rome are run with fresh water, not chlorinated, and so you can drink from them. This fountain in particular supposedly had sweet-tasting water that had "miraculous" health-bestowing qualities. Whatever the legend, I drank from it--as did most of the people in the group--and the water was good. Sweet or not, it was hot and the water was cool! Anthony did not drink, no matter how we pleaded. I shouted "Come on, Anthony, conform!" which made Vincenzo laugh and suggest that conforming is something Anthony did not do often.

Finally, though, we were back on the bus, which was blessedly air conditioned, and en route to the hotel, which had a wonderfully cold pool that I jumped into immediately. I should say jumped into and immediately out of, because that puppy wasn't heated, and it was really cold! I laid with my book in the sun on a lounge chair, fully intending to read, but woke myself up snoring. How embarassing! Until the naked lady came out, that is.

When the sun went down, I took a nice shower and we had to decide where to eat. Here's another lesson I learned about my family: They don't make decisions well. In fact, on this particular night, they all looked at each other and then off into the distance, avoiding making a choice about where to eat dinner (in Rome? At the hotel?) until some other people in our group reminded us of the compromise: The restaurant next door to the hotel. We had pasta, bread and olive oil, caprese salad and tiramisu. mmmmmm.

Then it was a tumble into bed, because we were EXHAUSTED!!! Rome is a very crowded, hectic city, thick with tourists and crazy with foreign languages (duh, but still ... it's intense). It's like being in New York, but not speaking the language. My head was spinning and my nerves were frayed by the end of Day 2, and I was very much looking forward to the next day's trip to Assisi, and the rural refuge it provided!

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