Exploring the Eternal City
Italy brings many thoughts to mind: pasta, wine, art, coffee, the Renaissance, Leonardo da Vinci. And as a people, Italians have also garnered a number of titles over the centuries: passionate, noisy, expressive. But of all the brilliant words and phrases that characterize Italian culture, the one I perhaps enjoy the most is “easy going.” As a whole, the pace of life is a bit slower in this small country in the Mediterranean. Prominent 18th Century authors such as Goethe and Lord Byron famously popularized the terms “happy-go-lucky”, “carefree”, and “nonchalant” as ways to describe the general Italian way of life. I’m happy to say that overall, this laid back atmosphere still remains in the majority of Italian cities today (from what I’ve seen), and Rome is no exception.
Mornings in the Eternal City are packed with chatty tourists, honking cars, and locals gliding through the masses on bikes and motorcycles; but the air lacks the usual tension filled sense of urgency and stress normally found in large cities like New York or London. Everyone appears relaxed, at ease, and content in their current surroundings, not in any rush to make it to the next place.
This morning, our first in Rome, I left to explore the city at the crack of dawn. My friend Caroline accompanied me, and we wandered the ancient streets just as the sun began to peak over the rooftops.
Our first stop was La Casa Dell Caffe, a famous coffee bar located right off of the Piazza della Rotunda (the square with the Pantheon). Multiple tour guides recommended the spot, claiming it has some of the best espresso in Rome. I ordered a cappuccino (1.30 euro) which I greatly enjoyed, but can’t say is the best I’ve tasted. That title still belongs to one of my favorite spots in Florence that I’ll reserve for discussing in another post.
From the coffee bar we found our way to the Spanish Steps. We visited the steps yesterday, but this time were instead interested in what lay on the hill behind the steps: Villa Borghese.
One of the largest parks in Rome, the centuries old stretch of land offers breathtaking views of the city’s skyline. The eclectic buildings shape the outline punctuated by cathedral spires, basilica domes, and terracotta rooftops.
The park itself is filled with ruins including old busts, Egyptian Obelisks, and abandoned graves. As we wandered deeper into the park we came across a carousel, go carts, and an outdoor garden restaurant. A great place for families, the area was full of children running around and locals walking their dogs.
After our brief exploration of Villa Borghese, we met up with the rest of the TCU students at our hotel to walk to the Vatican. Although the 45-minute walk didn’t do any favors for my sore feet, it exposed us to charming new streets and landmarks that couldn’t help but bring a smile to my face. At times I had to stop my train of thought to remind myself I was really in Rome- one of the most famous, historically significant cities in the world- and I shouldn’t take a second of my experience for granted.
Once we reached the Vatican, the students split into three small groups, and we each went off with a tour guide. The guide led us through the grand passageways, telling stories about the history of the frescoes and sculptures we passed along the way.
Once we arrived at the Sistine Chapel, our tour guide left us and we were allowed as much time as we needed to gaze upon Michelangelo’s masterpiece. Truly one of the most phenomenal pieces of art I’ve ever seen, I struggle to put into words the glorious beauty and immense span of the scene. Once inside, I found a spot on a bench along the side of the room, and I tried my best to soak in my surroundings. For most of my time I craned my neck to stare at the ceiling. Depicting scenes from the Bible including the formation of the universe to the creation of man to the banishment of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, the characters on the ceiling are incredibly life-like, almost as if appearing in 3-D. I could hardly imagine Michelangelo's grueling process of painting these elaborately detailed characters while lying on his back, suspended 21 meters in the air.
After a brief look inside St. Peter’s Basilica, I stepped out into the courtyard facing the Vatican. The beautiful marble columns and statues trace the space in a U form, and I couldn’t help myself but to take a million pictures. Almost as if perfectly planned, the sun began to set behind the basilica’s dome, illuminating the sky with a kaleidoscope of color. And with this, my second day in Rome came to a close.
Leave a Reply.