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Eric: Roma & the Country In It

June 13, 2010

Yesterday, I arrived in Rome for a 3-day stopover. I thought it would be a good idea to get a Roma Pass, which allows the holder to visit two museums/tourist attraction site for free, visit other museums for reduced price, and take public transportation (not all, but most) for free. It’s valid for 3 days after activation, and it costs 25 euros. Is it worth it? I don’t know, but I figured I would probably spend 25 euros or more just going around seeing things, I might as well get one and save the trouble of keep taking out money. The pass also allows the holder to skip lines, which though I felt a little guilty doing when there were like a hundred people waiting to get tickets, at the same time it felt great.

So I got into the Colosseum with just a scan of my Roma Pass. It’s a little hard to imagine that it has been there for almost 2000 years. It can seat as many people as the TCF Bank Stadium back on campus, and frankly the purposes of the two aren’t that different. One is just a little less fatal. After hiding in the structure to avoid the rain for a while, I headed for Palatine Hill archeological site and the Roman Forum. As fascinating as they may be, ruins all looked alike after too many of them. Halfway through the palatine hill I decided to skip to the Roman Forum, which was a little more interesting.

At this point it was noon, and with the sun and no clouds, and with only 4 hours of sleep, I was feeling dizzy. So I sat down on the curb on one of the bigger roads to rest and have a snack. After quite a while of rest and almost falling asleep on the sidewalk, I started walking toward the Pantheon, on the way to which passing by a gigantic monument for anonymous Italian soldiers buried there.

The Pantheon is one of those things that you see pictures in books for so many times, but when you actually visit it you would still say “wow”. Even though the outside of it was age-worn and under restoration, walking in and seeing that hole at the top of the dome was sill pretty cool. You can even see a large pillar of light shining into the basilica. Fun fact: rain does come into the Pantheon, but would then be drained in 22 holes in the center of the floor.

Afterwards, I visited the Trevi Fountain, Spanish Plaza/Steps, and Borghese Gallery, all on foot. Walking and walking, I was really really tired. I didn’t pay much attention in the Borghese Gallery, despite its apparently famous collections, and almost dozed off on one of the large chairs provided for people to sit down and take in a large painting. It was time to head back to my hostel and go to bed…

Today, I started out trying to go to Papal Archbasilica of St. John Lateran, which is actually the official mother church of the bishop of Rome, also known as the Pope, instead of St. Peter’s Basilica. I said trying because after getting out of the subway station, I got lost. I couldn’t even find where I was on the tourist map, so I decided to take a bus that would take me back to the subway station. That didn’t work out so well as I read the bus stops wrong and instead of going toward it, I was moving further away from it. But I finally found it. It took like an hour while walking would simply take 5 minutes.

The cathedral, being the seat of the Pope, has the papal throne and ranks above all Roman Catholic churches in the world, including those in the Vatican. The cathedral is actually considered to be a property of the Holy See (official country name of the Vatican), even though it’s located in the city of Rome. As a result of the Lateran Treaty between the Holy See and the Kingdom of Italy, many properties located within Italy were granted extraterritorial status. The inside of it was impressive, with the ceiling decorated with gold curving and walls lined with statues. It also had a Vatican mailbox inside the church.

Moving on, I went to Circo Massimo, the ancient chariot racing stadium in Rome. When I got there, I thought I must have missed it somewhere on the road, because it looked nothing like a chariot stadium, but more like a large area of nothingness with grass and dirt. Apparently today it is used more like a public park.

The Tiber River flows through the city of Rome. In the middle of the river is an island called Isola Tiberina, which doesn’t really have that much on it. Crossing the river I found a neighborhood mainly made out of residential houses and some restaurants. I got pizza (with cherry tomato, mozzarella cheese, and arugula on top), which cost a little more than I expected. All I have to say is that living in Rome does cost more than living in Florence. Although I did manage to find gelato (stracciatella, kind of like chocolate chip ice cream, and pine nuts) that “only” cost 1.50 euro. I found out a strategy when ordering two or more flavors of ice cream that are going into the same cup: similar color usually matches with each other pretty well.

After lunch, I began my own version of a partial Angels and Demons tour, which consisted of the Fountain of Four Rivers in Piazza Navona, Castel Sant’Angelo, and St. Peter’s Square and Basilica. The castle was really heavy-fortified, with canons, walls, and everything. It has a passageway that connects to St. Peter’s Basilica, exclusively for the Pope’s escape when the Vatican is under attack. At the top of it I got a nice view of the city of Rome—man there are a lot of domes and churches in this place.

St. Peter’s Square was just like the Pantheon, you have seen it in books for countless times, but you still say “wow” when you are actually there. Approaching the basilica, I was delighted to find no lines at all at 3 pm. All I did was go through the security screening, and then there was nothing between me and the basilica with the largest dome in the world.

Like the hole in the Pantheon, pillars of light were projected into the cathedral through holes, or windows in this case. It was a pity that visitors can’t go under the dome, as the area was reserved for people attending the Holy Mass. There were also a lot of giant statues, past Popes’ memorial, past Popes’ remains, and paintings in the cathedral. It was also free, which was nice considering the museums next to it cost a lot more.

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