WARNING: This is a very long post. The next ones will also be long as well. I cut down on my Wikipedia copy and paste and just mostly posted the links in case you are interested in learning more about the sights I saw. Feel free to skim.

Alrighty! I am back! Well for now anyways, before I face another hellacious work week. I am finally going to get around to updating you all about my spring break shenanigans-which I am sorry to disappoint but it didn’t involve drinking to the point of oblivion only to discover the morning after I had danced on tables and wound up with random guys’ phone numbers in my cell phone. If only. lol jk. (laugh out loud, just kidding for the ones who didn’t grow up with AOL instant messaging) I also didn’t go to any discos, despite the title. That’s actually a rip off of an incredibly campy Eurobeat dance song that has an incredibly campy and cheesy (and sort of racy) video that is incredibly laughable: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=THt5u-i2d9k
I know Mom will be dancing in front of her computer as she shields her eyes but listens to the song.

Speaking of spring break, my ever entertaining boss at the museum Gerard (that’s not his real name but close enough) always asks me random questions about random things. It is seriously one of the most randomest and most awkward places I’ve ever worked in. Hahaha don’t get me wrong, I love interning there and should probably devote a whole entry to the subject . Anywho, today for some reason spring break came up… I think Virgile (that’s really his name), another intern, brought it up. And then Gerard asked me if I had ever participated in a crazy, wild spring break or if I was ever interested in doing so to which I responded to with a “No.” Virgile and Gerard pretended to be shocked (or well I think they were jaja) and Gerard told me none of the American girls he ever meets are interested in doing the crazy spring break thing which confuses him when you see all the reports about it on TV. And that Dickinson girls were too “sage” (I’m seriously blanking out on how to say that in English). Apparently all French people want to run wild and topless on the beaches in Miami. However they already do the topless part here and the French Riviera is perfectly appropriate for that so I don’t see why they are complaining! And then Gerard kept insisting Cancun wasn’t in Mexico when it totally is, but I’m not sure if he was referring to touristy Mexico or “real” Mexico. Well anyways I got to witness spring break through my cousin Thomas’s FB pictures (watch Mom run to his profile jajajaja) who is actually French and “studying abroad” in the US attending some random school in Missouri or near Missouri… He seemed pretty impressed by the level of debauchery, I mean they practically throw free alcohol at you on the beaches it seems. I dunno if I want to spend my last senior spring break doing that and I definitely don’t want to go to Mexico now because of the swine flu!

UM ANYWAYS AS USUAL I went off topic. AND NOW without further ado, here we go with the Roman adventures!

ITALIA!!!!! Land of pizza margheritas, spaghetti, Da Vinci, the pope… along with bus fines and Chinese food that give you diarrhea. Hahahaha read on!

So I left bright and early on April 2nd armed with the little green rolly suitcase my host mom lent me and joined Gaelle and Erika at the Toulouse airport. I totally freaked out waiting for the airport shuttle at the train station because it was 20 minutes late. And also encountered a really well dressed passed out man sitting at my Esquirol metro stop at 6 AM in the morning. Bad traveling omens? I hoped not! I finally got to the airport and we boarded our Easyjet flight and headed… to Paris! Since there are no direct Toulouse-Rome flights on Easyjet, that’s the way it had to go so after a really boring and looooooooong lay over at Orly airport, we flew into Ciampino airport that night.

We figured out how to get to the central train station Termini which our hostel was in walking distance of. After finding the pizzeria place we had to check in (yeah I know, it was kind of sketch) , this Asian woman who knew about 3 words of English led us down the dark, deserted streets to where the hostel was actually located (we knew beforehand the hostel was in a separate location from the place we checked in). The neighborhood really did seem shady that first night, it was about 10:30 PM when we got into the hostel. After a quick dinner, we went back to the hostel where we did not get ANY sleep thanks to this one guy who snored like a tractor. Lovely! Papa’s snoring is like a lullaby compared to what we 3 girls had to suffer that night. Luckily though he only stayed one night, otherwise I think we all would have voluntarily slept in the streets.

Now for Day 1 in Rome! I have never been to Italy before, this was my very first time! It was weird to be in a country where I did not understand the language, that’s never happened to me before. Italian is a very weird yet pretty language. It sounds like beautiful gibberish to the untrained ear and all those stereotypes you hear about the Italian way of speaking are totally true.

Basically we walked all over the place. All the touristy sights in Rome are very centrally located and in walking distance of each other. In fact Rome has only 2 metro lines which I was surprised to find out since Toulouse also only has 2 metro lines. And is a lot smaller than Rome! The map the hostel gave us was fabulous, though I can’t say the same for the interestingly flavored pastries that were passed off as breakfast every morning.

So with our handy map, we set out to conquer Rome! Now I am not going to lie, the ruins didn’t impress me so much because I’ve seen them all over France and Spain now. Once you’ve seen a ruin, you’ve pretty much seem them all unless it’s the Colosseum or the Roman forum. That first morning we hit up the Santa Maria degli Angeli church, Piazza della Republica, Santa Maria Maggiore, Piazza Vittorio Emmanuel II, and San Pietrio in Vincoli. Now I am not about to recite the historical info on all these places, so just click on the following Wiki links if you are interested:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Santa_Maria_degli_Angeli_e_dei_Martiri
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piazza_della_Repubblica
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Santa_Maria_Maggiore
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Pietro_in_Vincoli

We quickly learned there are way too many churches to visit in Rome and that if you only bother to visit St. Peter’s, that is probably ok. Let’s just say I was impressed with everything I saw up until this point. If you’ve seen my pictures on Facebook, I think you can understand why.

Then we decided to head over to the Colosseum. We were rather surprised when it came into view since we were not expecting to run into it so fast. After seeing so many pictures of it, it was sort of weird to be standing right in front of it. I don’t know, I’ve never been overly anxious to see the Colosseum in person. It seems like everyone I know back in the US has been to Rome and did the Italian family vacation my family never got around to do doing since we were always going to France. I’ve seen the Colosseum many times in pictures so when I finally saw it, it was more like of an “Oh…” instead of an “OH THERE IT IS! WOW!”

After a quick lunch of spaghetti carbonara at a restaurant overlooking the huge arena, we decided to get in line for tickets. I got a half off discount because I’m an EU citizen between the ages of 18-26 but Gaelle and Erika couldn’t. I felt bad, but at the same time I qualified for the discount so I wasn’t about to apologize for being a French citizen! They ended up getting some Rome pass thing which I guess was cheaper in the long run than paying all the astronomical entrance fees. So if you want to get discounts, become an EU citizen! Easy peasy!

So we spent some time walking around the lower and upper level of the Colosseum. It was bigger than I’d thought it be and yeah it was cool to imagine it had once been the scene of epic executions and mock sea battles. However I wasn’t overly impressed either but maybe that’s because in Spain I had already seen a pretty well preserved amphitheater called La Italica, which I think was in Antequera. I still think the Eiffel Tower is cooler, sorry Rome! But to do the Colosseum justice, here’s some info:

The Colosseum or Roman Coliseum, originally the Flavian Amphitheatre (Latin: Amphitheatrum Flavium, Italian Anfiteatro Flavio or Colosseo), is an elliptical amphitheatre in the center of the city of Rome, Italy, the largest ever built in the Roman Empire. It is one of the greatest works of Roman architecture and Roman engineering.
Occupying a site just east of the Roman Forum, its construction started between 70 and 72 AD under the emperor Vespasian and was completed in 80 AD under Titus, with further modifications being made during Domitian‘s reign (81–96).[1] The name “Amphitheatrum Flavium” derives from both Vespasian’s and Titus’s family name (Flavius, from the gens Flavia).
Capable of seating 50,000 spectators,[2] the Colosseum was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles. As well as the gladiatorial games, other public spectacles were held there, such as mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas based on Classical mythology. The building ceased to be used for entertainment in the early medieval era. It was later reused for such purposes as housing, workshops, quarters for a religious order, a fortress, a quarry, and a Christian shrine.
It has been estimated that about 500,000 people and over a million wild animals died in the Colosseum games.[3][4]
Although in the 21st century it stays partially ruined due to damage caused by devastating earthquakes and stone-robbers, the Colosseum is an iconic symbol of Imperial Rome and its breakthrough achievements in earthquake engineering. It is one of Rome’s most popular tourist attractions and still has close connections with the Roman Catholic Church, as each Good FridayPope leads a torchlit “Way of the Cross” procession to the amphitheatre.[5]
The Colosseum is also depicted on the Italian version of the five-cent euro coin.
For more info, go to Wiki.

Gaelle and Erika took about a bazillion pictures of themselves throughout the trip because for both of them , this study abroad experience is the first time they’ve both been to Europe. It both amused/frustrated me at the same time only because I was the one usually taking the pictures and apparently I don’t have the greatest photo taking skills. Well geez, I’m sorry if I’m not a pro like my sister! I could care less about lights and angles and close ups!

Once we left the Colosseum, we briefly stared at the Arco di Constantino right outside the amphitheater which is basically an ancient version of l’Arc de Triomphe in Paris:
The Arch of Constantine (Italian: Arco di Costantino) is a triumphal arch in Rome, situated between the Colosseum and the Palatine Hill. It was erected to commemorate Constantine I‘s victory over Maxentius at the Battle of Milvian Bridge on the October 28, 312. Dedicated in 315, it is the latest of the existing triumphal arches in Rome, from which it differs by spolia, the extensive re-use of parts of earlier buildings.
And for the rest, you know where to go.

Then it was off to the Palatino/Roman forum where I benefited from more EU entrance fee discounts. We first walked around the Palatino aka the Palatine Hill in English, one of Rome’s 7 hills. According to legend, the Palatino is the location of the cave where Romulus and Remus, the two twin brothers who founded Rome, were raised by a wolf. However, Romulus killed Remus so Rome ended up being named after Romulus.

Basically the Palatino is a collection of Roman ruins which is in constant excavation. Ruins of palaces, temples, houses… lots of ancient thingies. Plenty of columns and pillars abound and sad looking ruin-y boulders people can actually just sit on now, they are so ancient no one cares about them. Again, I wasn’t so impressed with any of this. I know some of you probably want to shake me but it really was nothing I had seen before. It was just more ruins than I was usually used to seeing.

Then we finally got a view of the Roman forum. And HERE my friends is where I finally got impressed. Maybe because the ruins are so crowded and the ruins here are better preserved than anywhere else in Rome in my opinion.

The Roman Forum (Latin: Forum Romanum), sometimes known by its original Latin name, is located between the Palatine hill and the Capitoline hill of the city of Rome. It is the central area around which the ancient Roman civilization developed. Citizens referred to the location as the “Forum Magnum” or just the “Forum”.
The oldest and most important structures of the ancient city are located in the forum, including its ancient former royal residency the Regia and the surrounding complex of the Vestal virgins. The Old Republic had its formal Comitium there where the senate, as well as Republican government began. The forum served as a city square and central hub where the people of Rome gathered for justice, and faith. The forum was also the economic hub of the city and considered to be the center of the Republic and Empire.

It really was like looking at the lay out and foundations of an ancient city, though I think most of the buildings there had been temples and official government buildings. I was bowled over by how technologically/architecturally advanced the Romans were. We all know they were an advanced civilization but I guess I had never really grasped that since most the ruins I’ve seen are usually a couple of lonely looking columns and some questionable looking boulders. Anyways, here you can all breathe a sigh of relief that I was finally impressed by something in Rome!

We also saw the famous Arch of Titus which is what the Arc de Triomphe is based on. It is historically important for reasons I forget.

After seeing all these historic ruins, we passed by the Campidoglio aka Capitoline Hill though we didn’t go up. Michelangelo designed the piazza at the top of this hill, another of Rome’s famed 7 hills. We then entered the Monument to Vittorio Emmanuel II from the back and ended up visiting some kind of free war museums. When we exited, we came face to face with the monstrous facade of the building. It is a striking bright white color and was built with incredibly large size dimensions. It is definitely very imposing in both size and design.

 

The Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II (National Monument of Victor Emmanuel II) or Altare della Patria (Altar of the Fatherland) or “Il Vittoriano” is a monument to honour Victor Emmanuel, the first king of a unified Italy, located in Rome, Italy. It occupies a site between the Piazza Venezia and the Capitoline Hill. The monument was designed by Giuseppe Sacconi in 1895; sculpture for it was parceled out to established sculptors all over Italy.[1] It was inaugurated in 1911 and completed in 1935.[2]
The monument, “chopped with terrible brutality into the immensely complicated fabric of the hill”,[3] is built of pure white marble from Botticino, Brescia, and features majestic stairways, tall Corinthian columns, fountains, a huge equestrian sculpture of Victor Emmanuel and two statues of the goddess Victoria riding on quadrigas. The structure is 135 m (443 ft) wide and 70 m (230 ft) high. If the quadrigae and winged victories are included, the height is to 81 m (266 ft).[2] The base of the structure houses the museum of Italian Reunification.[2][4]

According to Wiki, the monument caused a lot of controversy when it was first built because the building looked terribly out of place with the surrounding muted architecture. This is where the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is located and where an eternal flame now burns. I think a lot of the monument is now dedicated to fallen war heroes besides Italy’s first king.

Afterwards, we headed to Columna Traiana aka Trajan’s Column. I didn’t know you could go up it! Wiki teaches me everything!
Trajan’s Column is a monument in Rome raised in honour of the Roman emperor Trajan and probably constructed under the supervision of the architect Apollodorus of Damascus at the order of the Roman Senate. It is located in Trajan’s Forum, built near the Quirinal Hill, north of the Roman Forum. Completed in 113, the freestanding column is most famous for its spiral bas relief, which commemorates Trajan‘s victory in the Dacian Wars. Its design has inspired numerous victory columns, both ancient and modern.
The structure is about 30 meters (98 ft) in height, 38 meters (125 ft) including its large pedestal. The shaft is made from a series of 20 colossal Carrara marble drums, each weighing about 40 tons, with a diameter of 3.7 meters (11 ft). The 190 meter (625 ft) frieze winds around the shaft 23 times. Inside the shaft, a spiral staircase of 185 stairs provides access to a viewing platform at the top. The capital block of Trajan’s Column weighs 53.3 tons which had to be lifted to a height of ca. 34 m.[1]
Ancient coins show the column originally topped with a statue of a bird, probably an eagle,[2] and later by a heroically nude statue of Trajan himself, which disappeared in the Middle Ages. On December 4 1587, the top was crowned by Pope Sixtus V with a bronze figure of St. Peter, which remains to this day.[3]

After this jampacked day, we were exhausted and hungry. We walked up Via Nazionale (via means street in Italian) and near Piazza della Repubblica. I swear that was the best chicken and vanilla ice cream I ever had. And we definitely slept better that night without the snoring guy, though we did get told off by another fellow American sharing the same room as us. To be fair, Gaelle and Erika were being kind of loud and I was already in bed at that point. Though I think he could have worded his frustration better because he did come off as rude. I loved his wording “This is a hostel.” I wanted to retort back “Uh buddy this ISN’T a hotel!” He left the following day though so we didn’t have to deal with any of the awkwardness this episode could have led to.

And on we go to Day 2!

For some reason, that Saturday there were no buses running. I’m not too sure why, there were some kind of protests/parades going on, I’m not too sure which. So we took the metro to the Piazza di Spagna/Spanish Steps, another big Roman tourist spot. Now I know you are all going to want to throw tomatoes at me at this point because again, I didn’t find them that interesting. They are a bunch of stairs! Why they are so famous is beyond me! I mean, they are pretty to look at I guess. Here is some background info:

The Spanish Steps (Italian: Scalinata della Trinità dei Monti) are a set of steps in Rome, Italy, climbing a steep slope between the Piazza di Spagna at the base and Piazza Trinità dei Monti, dominated by the church of Trinità dei Monti. The Scalinata is the longest and widest staircase in Europe.[1]
The monumental stairway of 138 steps was built with French diplomat Étienne Gueffier’s bequeathed funds of 20,000 scudi, in 1723–1725, linking the Bourbon Spanish Embassy to the Holy See, today still located in Palazzo Monaldeschi in the piazza below, with the Trinità dei Monti above.
Initially the piazza was divided into two parts, the French Square (because the French ambassador resided there – Trinità dei Monti was patroned by the French government) and the Spanish Square. The steps themselves, however, came to be called Spanish Steps after the Spanish Square (which was called Spanish because the Spanish embassy to the Holy See was – and is – located there). For a while, in the 17th century, the entire Piazza di Spagna was considered Spanish territory. Apparently foreigners unwittingly trespassing into the area could even find themselves all of a sudden to be soldiers in the Spanish army.

Somehow I doubt it is the longest staircase in Europe. But anyways. We walked up the steps, visited the church at the top Trinita di Monte (which was small and meh), and then we walked down the stairs and took pictures of ourselves with the cooler boat looking fountain at the base of the Steps. The place was packed with tourists and I don’t think I’ll ever understand the Steps’ appeal.

Then we strolled over to Piazza Navona, a really cool little piazza (apparently this location will be featured in the movie Angels and Demons coming out this summer-I am going to go see the movie just for this scene though I hated both the Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons books and did not like the Da Vinci Code movie despite the fact I adore Tom Hanks. However not about to get into all that right now!) with all these artists sketching away people’s portraits and a fountain with a very muscular Poseidon statue killing an octopus.

Piazza Navona is a city square in Rome, Italy. It follows the plan of an ancient Roman circus, the 1st century Stadium of Domitian,[1] where the Romans came to watch the agones (“games”): It was known as ‘Circus Agonalis’ (competition arena). It is believed that over time the name changed to ‘in agone’ to ‘navone’ and eventually to ‘navona’.

Defined as a public space in the last years of 15th century, when the city market was transferred to it from the Campidoglio, the Piazza Navona is now the pride of Baroque Roman art history. It features sculptural and architectural creations by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, whose famous Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers, 1651) stands in the center; by Francesco Borromini and Girolamo Rainaldi, who designed the church of Sant’Agnese in Agone; and by Pietro da Cortona, who painted the galleria in the Pamphilj palace.

We visited another church there that was absolutely beautiful inside but I can’t remember what it’s called. We were also entertained by some musicians so we paused to listen to them for a little while.

We then meandered to Campo de Fiori, another piazza near Piazza Navona. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Campo_de%27_Fiori). It was here that we stopped for lunch (pizza margherita) and where I tried Italian coffee. I am not big on coffee but I will admit it was good. I still prefer my tea though! We then continued past Area Sacra, some closed off area with a bunch of ruins you can only see from up above the sidewalk.

The next stop was the Pantheon, which is nothing like the Pantheon in Paris. It was built as a temple to all the gods of ancient Rome and is shaped as a circular sphere. Since the 7th century, it’s been used as a Roman Catholic church and the oldest standing domed structure in Rome. Some famous Italian people are buried there such as the artist Raphael which I totally did not know until seeing this on Wikipedia. I DID see the tombs of Vittorio Emmanuel I I and Umberto I, two kings of Italy and some queen. This place was also crawling with tourists. I really liked the Pantheon though, so you can all breathe a sigh of relief! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pantheon_Rome

We then passed by Palazzo Chigi/Piazza Colonna, another cute piazza. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piazza_Colonna

And then we finally saw the most famous Baroque fountain in the world, the Trevi fountain! It was obiously crowded but I didn’t mind. The fountain is worth going to see. It’s a lot bigger than I was expecting it to be and definitely more majestic and imposing in person. Legend has it if you throw a coin in, you are ensured a return to Rome at some point in the future. And if you throw a second one in, this will lead to a new romance. Being the sucker I, I threw a second one even though I know these kind of things aren’t really true. But hey, you never know and it couldn’t hurt to try. I’ll let you all know if that works out for me. By the way, I got this tidbit from my Let’s Go Western Europe 2008 book, not Wikipedia! The fountain was also listed as “one of the 10 ten most romantic places to smooch in Rome” and I think I did visit all the places on the list. The fountain is definitely a romantic place, that’s for sure. Note to my future husband, whoever you are: you need to propose to me in front of the Trevi fountain. What I liked the most about the fountain is that it’s not very centrally located or in an obvious spot. It’s kind of hidden throughout a maze of streets and despite the few signs pointing in its general direction, it’s a little tricky to find. You just happen to turn a corner and you run into it, there’s no grand boulevard leading down to it.

I thought the main central figure of the fountain was Poseidon but I think that’s Greek mythology… oops! It’s actually Oceanus, some Ocean god I’ve never heard of. Tritons and horses rise up out of fake bedrock as the water gushes down to fill the fountain (and it’s actually very loud). All in all, I enjoyed this iconic Roman landmark and I suggest that you go see it, no matter how cliche you think it is. I had not the foggiest about the fountain’s history but it’s an interesting read and I suggest you do read the Wikipedia link. I will admit I don’t usually read the Wiki links I post, it’s just there for you guys in case you’re interested.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trevi_fountain

After snapping some pictures, we took the metro to Piazza del Popolo. This is definitely one of the biggest piazzas in Rome, excluding St. Peter’s Square. At the center of the piazza there is an Egyptian obelisk that once belonged to Ramses II. It was brought to Rome in 10 BC by Augustus and moved to the piazza in 1589. There used to be fountains at its base but those were removed at some point in the 19th century. Today there are some fountains but they are smaller in scale. There are two large fountains at either end of the piazza: to the east some military looking Roman figure with the she-wolf at its feet with mini Romulus and Remus feeding, to the west Neptune and some dolphins. There are two churches on one side of the square that look like twins, I can’t remember their names and one of them was closed for renovations. We briefly went in one and then decided to head into Villa Borghese, this huge park at the western side of the piazza. I liked Popolo because it was so wide and it was nice to get a break from the narrow and clustered streets.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piazza_del_Popolo

We then briefly wandered into Villa Borghese, this huge park, but we heard thunder and decided to turn around and take the metro back to the hostel. It was a little early to be heading back but none of us wanted to be caught in a downpour. So we got back to the hostel, rested a little, and went out to dinner at a restaurant near the hostel.

And now for Day 3!

So it was Palm Sunday. Mom suggested we go to the Vatican because she was sure they did some kind of grandiose mass. Since we were in Rome, it made sense to go check it out. And maybe we would see the pope!

We metroed our way over to see His Holiness and followed the masses off the metro to St. Peter’s Square. We got there about a half hour before the actual mass started and honest to God, we had idea what time the mass started, we just got really lucky. Because so many people were expected to show up, we had to go through the metal detectors before being allowed in. When we finally entered the overwhelming expanse that is St. Peter’s Square, the Vatican is everything it is cracked up to be. We were lucky to get there early enough to make it up to the barricade limits before the hordes made it impossible to see anything. There were several different groups that had priority seating in the center of the Square and I have no idea how you go about getting that kind of seating but it must be something you have to reserve months in advance.

The front of St. Peter’s Basilica was all decked out with podiums and royalty seating. It definitely looked like we would not be able to enter St. Peter’s that day because of the mass. And the Vatican Museums were closed because it was Sunday. But it didn’t matter because it was so exciting to see so many people show up for Palm Sunday!

The mass started off with an uber long procession of priests, bishops, altar servers, and the pope of course! However due to all the priority people standing, the only thing we could really see of the procession were the enormous palms sticking up in the air. It kind of looked like I had returned to Malaga for a minute and that I was surrounded by palm trees jaja! So then the pope sat in some chair in the center of the square for awhile as the choir sang. Then after some speeches, the procession continued to the front of St. Peter’s and the pope got to sit in his papal chair. And this is when I finally saw Benedict in person, even though he was far away. But whatever, I saw him and that is the point! And then different people came up to read in different languages, a lot of songs were sung, a lot of prayers were said, some guy made a long speech, and the pope talked a lot too in Italian so I didn’t understand much of that. But then he made a bunch of speeches in different languages and I picked out English, Spanish, and French! The pope mentioned a bunch of the priority seating groups and the different countries they came from. There was some important religious guy from Spain visiting the pope or something so Spain got a bunch of extra shout outs to the delight of all the Spaniards in the crowd who chanted Viva Espana! Each nationality would cheer as the pope addressed them in their language. AND OF COURSE when the pope greets his French worshippers, no one cheered or responded to his greeting and there was an awkward silence…. I wasn’t about to cheer by myself! But this did not surprise me since no one goes to church anymore in France anyways and they are so busy with not mixing church and state affairs and trying to protect their secular image.

Actually I have no idea why France didn’t send a delegation, I’m speculating about the secular thing. So the poor pope got no love from the French. Sorry Benedict XVI!

So yeah things got kind of crazy during communion. An army of priests came along the barricades to offer Communion to all the people standing like myself. I was right behing Erika and Gaelle who were pressed up along the barricade. I managed to snag some holy bread and then I had to retreat to the back of the crowd because all these crazy old people were determined to get their Communion and were literally shoving up against the people in the front. I decided it was only fair they got a turn but Gaelle and Erika refused to budge from the front which I thought was a little tactless. Sorry girls, but it’s true, we weren’t the only people who wanted Communion! It did get really crazy and I kind of wished they had organized this part better.

So after standing for 3 hours, the mass finally ended and we decided to get out of there before everybody else left so we weren’t caught in the throng. While the mass was long, I’m glad we decided to go. It was very beautiful and moving to see so many people of different nationalities show up to listen to our religious leader talk. I almost started crying because it was so overwhelming to see so many people come together for a mass. However Mom, don’t get your hopes up. I still hate going to mass, I haven’t been to mass this whole year except for that one time in Spain with Paqui and at Christmas when my family came to visit me. And now that I’m 21, nobody is going to force me anymore (ahem Mom).

After all this Palm Sunday excitement, we trotted off to Castel Sant Angelo, this cylindrical castle/palace building towering over the Tiber river. It was used as a fortress and a castle and during the 14th century became a papal residence. It was cool being able to see all of St. Peter’s Basilica from the castle and we definitely got some good scenery shots from the top. I can’t remember much of what was inside the castle… different exhibits on weapons and armor and the designs inside the building rivaled some of the ceiling designs you’d see in the Louvre or Versailles. But anyways it was cool and if you go to Rome, go there because it’s worth it. Oh and it was also featured in the Angels and Demons book, here’s hoping it pops up in the movie too.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Castel_Sant%27Angelo

We then walked along the Tiber River back to Piazza del Popolo and decided to walk around Villa Borghese, the huge park we had had to leave in a hurry the previous day due to the rain. This is a HUGE park. Also another place listed in my top ten places to kiss in Rome. There were lots of people out with their families and also lots of couples making out. Well, this is Europe after all. Anyways we walked quite a ways and I felt bad because I could tell Gaelle and Erika had about had it for the day. I really wanted to go visit the Galleria Borghese, one of the most famous museums in Rome. Unfortunately, the museum was sold out for a few weeks or something crazy like that and you apparently need to reserve tickets in advance. So I got to admire the museum from the outside and it is really pretty!

And the following that happened here I am blaming on Gaelle and Erika’s tiredness haha. We were a bit of a walk from our hostel so Gaelle and Erika wanted to take a bus back to Termini and walk back from there. I wanted to walk back but I could tell they were tired so I gave in. They had bought these 3 day metro/bus passes so they validated their passes once the bus came to our stop. When I got on, I asked the driver how much a single ticket cost only to discover you can’t pay the bus fare as you get on the bus in Rome… which doesn’t make any sense if you ask me. Even in Malaga, you just paid a Euro if you didn’t have the monthly bus pass which I did. By that time, the driver had closed the doors and the bus was already moving. I didn’t really know what to do so I just expected I could pay once I got off at Termini. Well I was definitely wrong about that one!

At one of the stops, these ticket checkers get on the bus to make sure everyone has a valid ticket. And of course, I had to play the dumb American card, hoping the fact I was a tourist would make the ticket checker leave me alone. I told him the honest truth, that I didn’t know. Well you know, the law is the law, ignorance isn’t an excuse and the same applies in the US even if it’s a stupid law. The ticket cop went on to explain in not so great English that I could pay either the 50 euro fine on the spot or go do something that I didn’t quite understand and pay 150 euros later. Um, no thanks! I paid the 50 euros and the guy gave me some kind of ticket receipt thing. Gaelle and Erika looked astonished as we got off the bus and were both very upset on my behalf. I mean I was too, I had just paid a 50 euro fine, thanks stupid Roman bus rules! They both seemed to think I had “given in” too easily and said they would have fought the fine. Yeah, I don’t want to go to jail in Rome, thanks! I later called Mom to tell her what happened and she just kind of laughed at me and told me it was just 50 euros. As if I always have 50 euro bills lying around in my wallet. I think she was just relieved she didn’t have to come bail me out of an Italian jail.

So that kind of put a damper on the day. You can bet I am never riding a bus in Rome ever again. Or in Pittsburgh. But that’s another story.

And here we go with Day 4, our last full day in Rome!

On our last day, we decided to go back to the Vatican since we hadn’t been able to visit the Basilica on Palm Sunday. So we metroed back to the Vatican and headed into St. Peter’s Basilica. And got roped into doing a “free” English tour which wasn’t really free since we had to pay 2 euros for the headsets we were required to wear. In case you aren’t familiar with the new group touring technology, most sightseeing places nowadays require large groups to wear headsets as they listen to their tourguide wearing a mini microphone. It is actually a really innovative way to do tours that way you aren’t annoying the other visitors who chose not to do a guided tour and who don’t want to necessarily listen to a shouting tour guide. I have actually done a lot of tours like this in Spain and France this year.

This was where where a guy in our tour also joked to Erika that “she had come all the way to Italy to experience an earthquake” since she is from LA. Yes, I was in Italy when the earthquake happened in Aquila in case you were wondering. However, since we had no tv in our hostel and can’t read the Italian newspapers, we didn’t find out about this until much much later at dinner time. More about that later.

The tour lasted about a half hour and I think it was worth the money we paid. It was very interesting and informative and I learned that tourists are allowed to take flash photography inside St. Peter’s because nothing in St. Peter’s is painted. It’s all mosaics, did you know that?!?! Apparently flash photography does not damage mosaics as it does with paintings and sculptures which is why so many museums don’t let visitors take pictures with flash. Anyways, obviously it was very overwhelming and surreal to be in the largest Christian church in the world. Everything is so big and twice the size of what you usually see even in the modest cathedral. In fact, most things appear to be smaller than they really are because the basilica is so big!

Catholic tradition holds that St. Peter himself is buried beneath the main altar which is why a lot of popes have been buried down there too. As to if that is actually true, I don’t think anyone can really say for certain. Anyways, there is so much to look at and see inside the basilica that pictures won’t ever do it justice. You’ll have to go visit one day if you haven’t already!

And of course Michelangelo’s painted dome is a work of art in itself. What a spectacular artist he was! Its the largest/highest dome in the world. Oh and we also saw the famous Pieta also designed by Michelangelo, a sculpture of Mary holding her son Jesus after he was taken down from the cross. The sculpture is now behind bullet proof glass after some crazy dude in the 70s screamed he was Jesus Christ or something and tried to destroy the sculpture. During the tour we learned that a bunch of tourists seized the opportunity to snatch fragments of the sculpture and ran out with them. The sculpture was pretty damaged, our guide had some pictures of the before and after restoration work. When the pope back in that day made an appeal to the people to return all the fragments, they did! Every single piece was returned. So they were able to successfully restore the sculpture and trust me, if you aren’t aware of this story, you can’t tell.

So I could go on and about the basilica and a lot of the history of the present basilica and St. Peter’s Square (designed by Bernini, another famous Italian architect) but if you want to know about all that, I will let you consult Wiki. Another cool fact: the obelisk in the center of St. Peter’s Square is thought to be the same obelisk that was present during St. Peter’s upside down crucifixion in the Circus of Nero (who was a Roman dictator).
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Peter%27s_Basilica

After the tour, we decided to go down into the crypts beneath the Basilica where a lot of the popes were buried, including the recently deceased John Paul II. You can tell his grave is the newest because the tomb is pure white and there were plenty of people who had gathered to pray in front of it in a cordoned off area in front of it. And that there were guards present discouraging people from taking pictures. It was mind boggling to see how many popes the Roman Catholic church has had up to this point. I also learned some popes only “ruled” or whatever is the term you want to call it for less than a month after they were officially selected as pope. How sad! However I want to point out the group of Cardinals or whatever they are called that vote for the next pope need to stop picking ridiculously old men for the job. Not a smart move in my opinion! And should let women be priests. But that’s a whole other issue.

After this, we decided to climb up the 500+ stairs to the top of the St. Peter’s dome. And we didn’t even bother with the elevator that only takes you partially up because it cost 2 more euros jaja! And let me tell you, it’s definitely a work out and it will exhaust you for the rest of the day. It doesn’t start off too bad but once you reach the point where the elevator lets off the lazy people, it all goes downhill from there!

The first part you get to admire is the actual dome itself. After climbing for a little while, you will find yourself able to walk around near the ceiling of the dome on the INSIDE so you get to see Michelangelo’s work more up close and personal. And you clearly see it’s all mosaics and that the tour guide wasn’t lying. So amazing, I can’t even begin to tell you! I wonder how long all that nitpicky detailing took.

We thought we were done then and that the guides were wrong since we hadn’t even climbed 200 steps by that point. But no, after this part we proceeded to climb even more. And if you are claustrophobic, I suggest you skip climbing because most of the time the stairways are very narrow and get congested easily because of all the people trying to climb up. You will spend a lot of time waiting for the line to move. Sometimes the walls tilt with the way the dome is built so it feels like you are walking on a slant and it is tricky moving forward. When you DO finally reach the top, there isn’t much room. The dome has a small 360 look out terrace with squeezing room only haha! You get to see a spectacular of Vatican City and St. Peter’s Square and of course Rome.

So after that we proceeded to go back down which took awhile. We grabbed some lunch and the headed to the Vatican Museums. And let me tell you, there is too much to see in those museums!! Most of the msueums are divided into collections such as Etruscan Art, Egyptian art, contemporary art, and other things… I think most people go in there just to see the Sistine Chapel quite honestly. Most people don’t stop to admire the other paintings and sculptures, they keep moving forward to the Chapel which takes awhile to get to. You can’t just zoom ahead either because of all the people in front of you. It is too bad because I feel like a lot of the art gets overlooked by visitors. However I will admit that Gaelle, Erika, and I did the same thing. I mean, I did take in some of the rooms that had galleries that rivaled the Louvre. And I think I must have seen a bunch of works of art by Raphael though I honestly don’t remember anything.
So then we got to the Sistine Chapel. It was so crowded and the guards kept yelling every 5 minutes for people to shut up because the chapel is a religious sanctuary after all. That would work for about 30 seconds before the noise level would rise again. Besides that, people kept taking pictures WITH flash and openly pointing their cameras in the air despite their being signs prohibiting any pictures. So besides the “SILENCE!” screams, it was also interspersed with “NO PICTURES!” from the guards. Not a fun job, that’s for sure. When some space freed up on the benches running the length of the chapel, I was able to sit and covertly take a picture of the ceiling.

As most people know, the Sistine Chapel is where the Papal Conclave gathers to choose the new pope once the current one has died:
One of the primary functions of the Sistine Chapel is as a venue for the election of each successive pope in a conclave of the College of Cardinals. On the occasion of a conclave, a chimney is installed in the roof of the chapel, from which smoke arises as a signal. If white smoke appears, created by burning the ballots of the election and some chemical additives, a new Pope has been elected. If a candidate receives less than a two-thirds majority, the cardinals send up black smoke—created by burning the ballots along with wet straw or chemical additives—it means that no successful election has yet occurred. [7]

So yes, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is as amazing as it looks in pictures, including the most famous part of the ceiling which is the Creation of Adam. The intense Final Judgment which was also painted by Michelangelo appears on the wall right behind the altar. The people on the right of the wall are going to heaven while the others on the left are being dragged to hell by demons. Michelangelo had a very vivid imagination, that’s for sure!

While Michelangelo gets the most credit for the Sistine Chapel (which took him four years to complete) since he painted both the ceiling and the Final Judgment, other artists contributed to the chapel’s design, among others the more famous Sandro Botticelli. So we sat there for awhile, taking in all the art and importance the chapel represents. Unfortunately, the stove where the Papal conclave sends up their smoke is not available for public view. It is only opened when the College of Cardinals (that’s the term I was looking for earlier!) gets together as the Papal conclave to vote for the next pope.
According to our tour guide from the basilica, Michelangelo did not paint the ceiling on his back but upright with his neck craning backwards. This practice ended up giving him back problems later in life.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sistine_Chapel

After this, we took the metro back to our hostel. I think Gaelle and Erika had finally bought all the souvenirs they wanted to. In fact I want to say we stopped at every tourist shop for souvenirs to compare prices on the miniature replicas of the Colosseum, the Vatican, the Pieta, and other famous Roman sights. It did become a little tedious for me because I was not interested in buying any souvenirs for anyone. I apologize to anyone who expected they were getting something… but I am poor.

We ate dinner at a Chinese restaurant and had what seemd like a decent meal of spring rolls, fried rice, and chicken. And this was where we finally learned about the devastating earthquake in Aquila, about 2 hours away from Rome. The restaurant had a tv on and we watched the news coverage in shock since we had been unaware about it all day long. I now understood why the guy had made an earthquake reference to Erika. At the time it seemed so out of place and random! I had a feeling my parents had tried to call me and I was right! So I quickly reassured them I was fine and that the earthquake hadn’t affected Rome at all. According to Erika, it’s a good thing we didn’t know about the earthquake because she wouldn’t have wanted to climb the stairs up the dome.

And then we settled down for the last night in our hostel which we were really glad to be leaving. I was getting really sick of sharing our room with random people and our room had a lot of turnover since we were in a 6 bed room. And then I actually got sick that night, courtesy of the Chinese food. All 3 of us did and poor Gaelle got it the worst. I felt pretty nauseous all night and even though I didn’t throw up, I had diarrhea instead… yeah maybe TMI, but all three of us got it so whatever. Anyways we all felt pretty under the weather so maybe it was a good thing we were getting up early the next morning to head to Berlin. I’m not sure I would have liked spending the entire day in the hostel, missing out on visiting Rome. I have no idea what they put in that food that made us all sick because we didn’t all have the same food.

So we got up early the next morning and caught the shuttle bus back to the airport at the train station. And then we were done with the first leg of our break.

And yeah that was Rome! Overall I liked the city though I wasn’t impressed by some of the ruins I saw. I also didn’t like the fact how people working in restaurants would grab you as you passed by, trying to make you eat at their restaurants. If you even paused to look at the menu, the waiter would hound you with the “special menu” of the day. We ended up following some old man (who pounced on Erika because she speaks Spanish fluently and she told him she was from Colombia even though she is Mexian haha) at some point down a bunch of streets to his restaurant only to find it was the same price as all the other restaurants we had seen. He kept telling that we were not “dumb tourists” and was being really insistent.

I could go on but this post is long enough and took me 3 days to write up. Next stop: Berlin!

Love,
Amelie