A full day in Rome

9-20-06-Viki-Dan-in-front-of-St-Peters-Basilica.jpg

Part jet lagged and part slapped by culture shock, I learned quickly that Rome is not like the romantic movie flashes I've seen. At the same time, as I walked around the Roman Forum, I kept thinking “I can not believe we’re really in Italy.” People lazily riding along on Vespas, walking hand in hand down carless streets. Parts of Rome can make NYC seem tame and unpopulated. There were scads of people traipsing about the political, religious and commercial center that is the Forum.

Arch of Titus in the Roman Forum

Then it happened. We wandered down a cobbled lane and the peace I was looking for was found. Sitting at a sidewalk table at Il Giardino being waited on by the friendliest man from Cairo who spoke at least four languages, I experienced the balance of Rome. The chaos and the tranquility, the busyness and the leisure. So long as I knew calm was within reach, I could handle the insanity of literally hundreds of people pouring into the city at 1 am (We witnessed this on our second night).

Our waiter started us with an aperitif of Prosecco, oj, martini bianco and Campari followed by a carafe of wine and topped off with a digestivo of Limoncello. There was food mixed in there, too, but it was the hospitality, the lingering into the night, the conversation with this gentleman (don’t remember his name, sorry) that had us walking on a cloud of euphoria to the Trastevere neighborhood hours later.

What does one do when they find themselves wandering the entertaining streets of Rome after a satisfying meal? Have gelato, of course. I’ve never enjoyed gelato in America but, when in Rome…canella (cinnamon) was my choice for night number 1. I’m a chocolate ice cream gal in the States but gelato in Europe is just too wonderful to stick to one flavor, in my humble opinion.

We thoroughly enjoyed St Peter’s Basilica our first full day in Europe and a good thing…it takes about a full day to tour the Basilica and the Vatican. I highly recommend a guided tour of the Basilica. Well, our American-student-in-Rome guide was entertaining and informative. Did you know it’d be impossible to rebuild the Basilica today because many of the original materials have been depleted? Even if we could, it’s estimated to cost $41 billion (and that was 8 years ago). Michelangelo’s Pieta was the most beautiful object I gazed upon on our entire trip. It literally brought tears to my eyes. The way he made marble come to life, Mary holding her ‘baby’ as a grown man just taken down from the crucifixion, holding His head in the crook of her right arm while lifting her left hand in worship, the sorrow and acceptance of Gods’s will on her face. Powerful.

I am not Catholic and have a tendency to take things in 3x the weight of what other people do so the vastness of the Vatican exhausted me. By the time we reached the Sistine Chapel I felt that I had been through a maze that had no end and my mounting frustration made it difficult to clear my head to revel in the utter beauty that enveloped me. My mind went to the actress who had the Chapel all to herself (Eva Mendez) and was able to lay on the floor and gaze at the ceiling and I envied her.

Bernini's 'Four Rivers' in Piazza Navona

Sightseeing is hard work. Allow time to grab da mezzo litro (½ liter) of wine and sustenance from time to time. It’ll refuel you for such free works of art like Bernini’s ‘Four Rivers’ fountain in Piazza Navona or standing in awe of the Pantheon with a few hundred of your closest friends. I never considered that the Pantheon has no top. Where does the water go when it rains? The Romans thought of everything. There are 22 holes in the floor.

I found irony in the feral cats lounging in the sun on the 2,000 year old Colosseum floor where 50,000 people once gathered to watch wild animals savage people and vice versa. Trevi Fountain at night was magical and, yes, we threw a coin in (and, yes, we went back in 2008 so it must work). This fountain was completed by Nicola Salvi in 1762 and it’s just one fountain where its water was supplied by the vast aqueduct system. In fact tourists can still walk all over the city and fill their water bottles from constantly-flowing potable water. Its recommended to see Trevi Fountain at night to enjoy it all lit up.

The Spanish Steps at Piazza di Spagna seemed like Rome’s living room on this rather humid night; lots of people sitting and milling around taking in the magic of Rome. Of note: the poet, John Keats, died in the pink building next to the steps.

My gelato of choice today: tartufo (truffle).