10 March 2008

All Roads Lead to Rome

So, I took one. Then another to Florence. One to Venice. Then, finally, a road home. Over the course of a week, I explored these parts of Italy with two other BCA spring arrivals, Amanda and Charlie.

We arrived Saturday (16 February) night in Rome, with just enough time to catch a fine pizza dinner in a neighborhood bistro. I like how I just used the words “pizza” and “bistro” in their “native” contexts: I was enjoying Italian food in Italy. And it was everything you imagine! Pizzas, pastas, bruschetta, gnocchi, lasagna, stuffed ravioli, eggplant parmesan, calzones, and Italian cheeses and olives everywhere smothered in olive oil and topped off with tiramisu, canola, espresso, and limoncello. Not to mention loads of gelato: what an excellent excuse to eat ice cream all week long! I tried to photograph the food in this land of ambrosia, but pictures just don’t do it justice.

Sunday: Ambling around Rome, Stumbling upon Ruins

You really can’t avoid them. Old means one thing in the US (18th century), something different in France (15th century, 6th if you’re lucky), and something completely different in Rome (into the big BC). The most wonderful thing about Rome was that, no matter which corner you come around, the city surrounds you with character and history. We covered the Roman forum, the biggest and oldest playground in the world (pictured below), and the center of THE CATHOLIC CHURCH. All in a day’s walk!

Monday: Paying to see the really famous ruins

The Coliseum, Palatino, Circus Maximus: check, check, check. Here, I have a confession to make: finding that the European Union has wised up and started charging non-Europeans less to enter historical sites (in place of a student reduction!), I pretended to be a French citizen to get a half-price ticket. I sort of felt guilty about it. But only sort of. So I worked up some good Catholic guilt and went the next day to repent of my faux-Europeanism.

Tuesday: Getting Holy at the Vatican

I thought I’d cross an international border and enter the smallest country in the world: Vatican City. Walking along the Tiber River, I kept my eyes open for Roman legions, chariots, and togas, and having one of those moments of realization: I am walking along the Tiber River in Rome, on my way to the Vatican from the Coliseum. It’s one of those sentences you say to yourself only so many times over the course of a lifetime, you know? Walking around the square in front of St. Peter’s Basilica was just as flooring, though I broke my own sense of awe by giggling at the funnily-dressed Vatican guards. After passing through metal detectors and almost having my passport checked, I entered Vatican city and quickly climbed 550 steps to the top of the basilica’s cupola to get a good look. Here’s what I saw:

Impressive, huh? And the inside of the Basilica even more so. You honestly don’t know whether to look at the floor, the walls, or the ceiling: all is so highly-decorated and incredibly beautiful. I wonder what God thinks of it?

Wednesday: To Florence

Trains are probably my greatest source of joy at the moment. They represent the highest form of public transportation: clean, efficient, fast, comfortable. Like a tour bus, trains take me on tours through the countryside and then onto everywhere I want to be. Better than Visa. We left Rome in the morning for Florence, admiring the scenery of Tuscany and enjoying the chance to rest our feet for a few hours. Once arrived and checked into our hostel (hostels are also a great source of joy: mostly clean, safe, fun, cheap places to stay in the hearts of cities; the one in Rome even had a pasta dinner every night), we paid a visit to David. Take my personal guarantee that he is just as beautiful today as the day he was carved (Michelangelo, 1504). It may sound a bit pompous, but I feel no need to ever see another statue: David is that good. From face to hands to…feet, he is a masterpiece.

Florence is the artists’ city, and that much was obvious when I visited the Uffizi art gallery, which features a large collection of the work of the fifteenth/sixteenth century Florentine school. Even outside the gallery, everything in Florence is artsy. Well, except for the Ponte Vecchio, a very famous touristy bridge, the only one not destroyed during World War II. At some point the Duke of Florence gave the bridge from the Woolmakers’ Guild to that of the Goldsmiths, so the shops on the bridge, like the Rialto bridge in Venice, are exclusively jewelry stores. Expensive, to say the least.

Thursday: Obligatory picture holding up the tower of Pisa

No, you’re right: I didn’t take it. I thought this post was a fine substitute, though. We spent the most pleasant afternoon in Pisa: the weather was so nice, we bought a soccer ball and played on the grassy area around the tower. It was possibly my favorite part of the trip, and I’m thinking of catching a cheap Ryanair flight back just to visit Pisa again. It’s a smaller town, relatively unremarkable except for this strangely sunken tower. You can buy a ticket and go up the tower, but as a general rule I don’t climb on falling buildings.

We came back to Florence that evening and had dinner with a dozen Italians, friends of our friend Elisa (studying in Strasbourg now but who had studied in Florence in high school, and was back visiting). She played translator a lot, but through hand motions and facial expressions and over good food and wine, we all managed to communicate and have a wonderful time. Really, nothing beats a calzone, tiramisu, and espresso.

Friday: To Venice

Venice was like a playground: no two bridges look alike, no roads are straight or wide, gelato calls to you from every corner, and boats take you around instead of bikes or buses. It seems very odd, in a playful sort of way. It’s not worth having a map: give yourself an afternoon and content yourself with wondering around wherever your fancy takes you and getting lost. When you want to head back, just ask someone, and he’ll point you on as far as he can (about three turns), then you ask someone else. Once you’re back in the tourist/main area, gold plaques point you toward the five main sites, sometimes pointing in both directions. Welcome to Venice.

Saturday: Of Dukes and Pigeons

When in Venice, BE SURE TO VISIT THE DUCAL PALACE. This is probably the most impressive building I have ever been in, and I’ve been in quite a few buildings in my time. Through this former palace-turned museum, you learn about the history of the Venetian Republic while wandering through vast meeting rooms, private court chambers, dungeons, and golden staircases. Sometimes I wonder what it would have been to call places like this my own, without tourists walking through it to interrupt my contemplation of the largest tableau in Europe.

When you leave the Palace and enter St. Mark’s Square, WATCH OUT FOR THE PIGEONS. Even if you don’t pay a euro to buy a tiny packet of birdseed, the pigeons will still love on you. I was glad to be fully covered with coat, hat, and gloves, because the pigeons land everywhere. Very sociable animals. I named this one Chet.

Sunday: HOME

Well, after a night flight and bus into Paris, we arrived at a friend’s house to spend a short night before catching a morning train back to Strasbourg. The Strasbourg cathedral never looked so good.

1 comment:

Hilary said...

Absolutley Amazing is all I can say :)

P.S. You come by the "time" issue you're having naturally...it's inherited, you get it from mom :)

P.P.S. Did you get your little piece of happiness yet?

Love you!!!