So, if you weren't already aware, I spent the last nine days in Italy (really only seven, as two were for travel) and let me tell you, it totally deserves it's reputation as amazing.
Our bus from Exeter left at about 4:45 am last Monday (March 31st), and I was so stressed/excited the night before that I had hardly any sleep. We actually switched to another bus at the London Victoria Station before finally arriving at the Stansted airport. We were a bit worried that we would be running, but we got through security pretty quickly and ended up having to wait another half an hour before we could actually got to our gate. The flight was actaully pretty decent, considering that it was RyanAir, and I even managed to get a bit of sleep on the trip.
When we arrived at the Rome Ciampino Airport we immediately got our tickets for the bus into the city, unfortunately it took longer than we expected to arrive (with a couple of false alarms with all the other buses arriving) and we didn't end up actually getting to our hostel in Rome until 7:30. By this point we were starving, so we checked in and basically went to eat at the first restaurant we found. Not necessarily the best choice we could have made, but it almost would have been a waste to go somewhere amazing, because I had definitely hit the point where anything would have tasted great.
La Controra was definitely a good choice for a hostel, we were in a four person room (which was mixed gender, so the first night we shared with two boys) and we had a fairly sizeable private bathroom. The next morning we got up pretty early, at about 7:30, I had gotten a pretty good sleep so I was ready for the day we had planned.
Once inside the museum we headed directly for the Sistine Chapel (which is actually at the very far end of the museums) because it's pretty small and we wanted to see it before it got too crowded. It was amazing, unsurprisingly considering that Michelangelo painted that ceiling, but it was also a lot darker than I expected (the natural light was fairly limited) and everyone inside was pretty much silent. It lent a slightly uncomfortable feeling to such a beautiful place, because (in my opinion) the silence was less awestruck and more nervous.
Honestly though, the rest of the museum was equally gorgeous, there were so many statues and artifacts, and most of the ceilings were covered in incredible paintings and carvings. Our favorite was the Gallery of Maps, not that we actually looked at any of the maps, for its spectacular ceiling.
There were also some smaller museums, such as one focused on missionary work, a gallery of tapestries and paintings, and another which housed the papal carriages (and the pope mobile!).
After about two or three hours we left the museum and headed to the Spanish Steps. We got roses pushed at us and were then cornered in an attempt to get some money out of us, when we refused the roses were confiscated. Regardless, we got our pictures on the steps, so it was worth it.
We walked a few blocks down to find a place for lunch, settling on pizza at a nearby trattoria (which is basically an eating establishment between a casual osteria and a formal ristorante). We sat for a bit, enjoying the weather, and the free wifi, before continuing our journey towards the Trevi Fountain. The fountain was spectacular, another thing which lives up to its reputation, and (despite not having any change to throw) I still made a wish.
Then we went to find our first gelateria of the trip, San Crispino, which turned out to be a good choice. I had a cup with pear sorbet and honey gelato, which was absolutely delicious and which I much preferred to ice cream.
We intended to walk back towards the Spanish Steps to look at some of the shops, but we got a bit turned around and instead happened upon the Pantheon, which seemed to come out of nowhere. We took some pictures, but didn't go inside (although I attempted to stealthily take a few pictures of the inside from the entryway).
Walking a bit farther we found ourselves at the Piazza Navona, which houses the Fontana dei Quattro Fuimi (Fountain of Four Rivers) and the church Sant'Agnese in Agone. We then slowly made our way back to the hostel, on the way we passed the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj (which had a particularly lovely courtyard), the Church of Sant'Ignazio, and the Altar of the Fatherland.
We lounged at the hostel for a bit before picking up our tickets for the Papal General Audience the next morning and heading out for dinner near the Termini Train Station. Dinner was pretty good, but the gelato was still by far my favorite food of the day.
On our way back to the hostel Maddy saw two girls with backpacks walking in the same direction (although we later lost sight of them) and she bet me a gelato that they would be our new roommates (since the two guys from the night before had both checked out). She turned out to be right!
The next morning we woke up really early so we could be out the door by seven. We arrived at the entrance to St. Peter's Square a half an hour late (for a general audience that didn't begin until 10:30) and waited in a mob of people slowly moving through security. We found ourselves some seats not too far from the dais on which Pope Francis would be seated and settled in to wait. The square is so amazing, with all of the statues surrounding it, as well as the obelisk in the center (and did you know they actually moved that obelisk all the way from Egypt?)
At about 9:30 everyone began to cheer, the Pope had arrived! He made several circuits around the square so everyone would get the chance to see him, kissing some babies on the way. I had to stand on my chair to see anything, but I got some good pictures (thanks to my trusty zoom lense). It's amazing to think that he does that every week, and that such an incredible number of people come to see and hear him every time.
There was a reading from St. Paul's Letter to the Ephesians in several languages before the Pope actually spoke. Despite the fact that he was speaking in Italian, I understood more of what he said than I expected (although it still wasn't as much as I would have liked). He spoke of the importance of fidelity and gratitude in matrimony, and the three magic words: please, thank you, and sorry.
Afterwards everyone in the square sang Our Father in Latin and the Pope gave everyone his blessing. It was an amazing experience, that so many people shared in that moment and in that belief. It was a profoundly spiritual experience for me, and an exciting one considereding that the Pope is one of the major religious leaders of the world (and particularly the leader of the religion in which I have been raised).
We dropped by the hostel to lose an extra layer of clothing we had worn for the early morning cold, before heading out for lunch. Il Pinsere Roma was a little pizza place ot far from our hostel with no seating (just some bar shelves attached to the walls) and rows of amazing individual pizzas under the counter. They were definitely just as amazing as they looked.
In the afternoon we bought our train tickets to Florence, before heading to see the Colosseum. The Colosseum was spectacular, it's hard to believe how old it is and to imagine how long it took to build. We walked around its entirety, taking pictures along the way. We saw the nearby Arch of Constantine, the Temple of Venus and Roma, as well as the Arch of Titus up nearer to the Roman Forum.
We grabbed our second gelato at a gelateria not too far from the Colosseum and this time I got blackberry sorbet and strawberry gelato. The metro ride back from the Colosseum was...interesting to say the least. By this point it was rush hour and we waited through four trains before we actually got on one, adn we were still crammed in like sardines.
This time we did a little more research on our restaurant choice for the evening, deciding on Piccolo Arancio near the Trevi Fountain. The walk through the city at night was gorgeous, especially seeing the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain again, as well as another gorgeous piazza (Piazza di San Silvestro). It was a great choice, even if the alleyway on which it was located was a little bit sketchy.
We got a bit of laughter at our slightly mangled pronunciation of the Italian dishes, but our orders were successful. We shared an appetizer of zucchini flowers and fired artichoke (a traditional Jewish Roman dish) and we each ordered fettuccine with lamb, as well as tiramasu for dessert. Everything was amazing, and it was definitely our best meal in Rome.
We walked back through the city and took a few more pictures of the city at night, including some dorky pictures with the lions at la Fontana dell'Acqua Felice (or the Fountain of Moses).
Our last morning in Rome was a late start, since it was the first morning we didn't have an early deadline (as with the Vatican Museum and the Papal General Audience). We walked down towards the Villa Borghese, and through the Porta Princiana (the gate of the Aurelian walls into Rome). We settled near one of the fountains in the garden for a little while and read, before walking around a little more and choosing a different location to sit.
After a relaxing morning we went back to Il Pinsere for lunch again, it was just as delicious the second time (although we were a little more adventurous in our pizza selections, one with ham, parmesan, and potato and another with bacon, mozarella, and some kind of sauce).
Our final sight to see in Rome was the Basilica Papale di Santa Maria Maggiore, which is one of only four major basilica (along with the Basilica di San Pietro in Vaticano and the Archbasilica Papale di San Giovanni in Laterano, which is actually the seat of the Pope as the bishop of Rome). It was spectacular, I think you can definitely see the depth of faith felt by others in works of art like those we saw.
We sat in the Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II, which is home to the ruins of the Trofei di Mario Fountain and the Porta Alchemica, for a bit afterwards before getting our last gelato at Palazzo del Freddo Giovanni Fassi, which is one of the oldest and largest gelateria in Rome. I had a cranberry and vanilla gelato which was good, but also incredibly sweet.
We went to grab our bags from the hostel and headed towards the train station. On the way we stopped into Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri which was actually built inside the remains of the Baths of Diocletian in 1563 and designed by Michelangelo. It was beautiful on the inside, with an almost cavernous amount of space. The ceilings were incredibly high and the floor space was almost entirely clear, so it felt massive. There were some beautiful paintings on the walls and carvings on the ceiling, and a couple stained glass windows, but compared to our other basilica of the day, it was fairly understated.
We got to the train station about forty minutes early for out 4:05 train to Florence, but it was pretty simple to figure out the train station and soon enough we were on our way to our next destination.