Sprawling, but welcoming. The perfect blend of modern city life and old world charm. And when I say old, I'm talking REALLY old. The eternal city. The city of seven hills. The capital of the world. Rome.
Rome is the most populated city in Italy, and among the top most populated cities in Europe. Centuries of art and architecture unfold across this capital city, sharing glimpses of culture and history as you stroll through. There were a few mornings when we set out on foot (heads still in a fog from the bold red wine the night before) taking in the city before the streets became awash with global travelers- it was August in Italy, after all. During those peaceful mornings I had what I fondly refer to as an "oh shit moment". This is the phenomenon that occurs when you are truly living your dream and you are completely overwhelmed with equal parts gratitude and excitement. Walking the streets of an Empire that helped shape the world can have that effect on you.
A must during your Roman adventure is a visit to the attractions within Vatican City. Don't let this trip you up, Vatican City is actually it's own country. In fact, it's the only country within a country in the world. It's also the smallest country in the world. Interesting, huh? The Pope is cool like that.
Back in the early 1500's, Pope Julius II decided he needed a place to store his killer sculpture collection and now1000+ years later, the Vatican City Museums are full of priceless artwork, ceramics, archaeological finds, an extensive gallery of floor to ceiling tapestries, and my personal faves: sculptures.
After walking through the Museums, you are finally guided into the Sistine Chapel. This is of course where you will see the completely mesmerizing frescoes that cover the walls and ceiling, finished in 1512 by Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni. Steady your feet and crane your neck to gaze upon the frescoes above, depicting the nine stories of Genesis, the center story featuring the creation of Adam.
More than just another Italian Renaissance style church, it's THE Italian Renaissance style church, and filled with...dead popes? True story, This was my first time to see glass coffins and the well preserved Papal figures were a little bit of a shock to me. Opened in 1626, and beyond opulent, grand, and ornate- it's all things I love in a church, thanks to the many architects including our beloved Michaelangelo.
If you're planning to visit these Roman relics some day, a little research will save you major headaches. Millions of people visit Vatican City each year, and for good reason! If you are visiting during high season, spend the extra bucks to get a guided tour which usually comes with "skip the line" access. Totally worth it! Additionally, it's important to remember that modest dress is enforced- keep your midriff, knees, and shoulders covered if you want to get past the entrance here... kind of like the opposite of standing in line at a night club in Miami. Also, many areas/attractions in Vatican City are camera free, so unless you feel like getting arrested, comply. We saw quite a few folks being escorted out of the chapel when they got brave and whipped out their DSLR+ lenses. If you're planning to bend (break?) the law, be discrete.
Next up on your Roman bucket list should be a visit to the Colosseum AKA Flavian Amphitheater. Construction began in 72 AD and took 8 years to complete; made with sand, concrete, and very large biceps. In it's prime, the Colosseum held an estimated 65,000 excited spectators for events such as animal hunts, brutal gladiatorial contests, grim executions, and lively re-enactments of mythological tales. An iconic symbol of the Roman empire and arguably one of the most popular tourist attractions in the world, dare I say it, but the Colosseum will likely disappoint you in size. My theory is that it's because we have become accustomed to seeing massive sports arenas (compliments of Jerry Jones). But remember every inch of this place was created by hand, and despite fires, natural disasters, and time... there she is!
One things I always tell friends when they visit Rome is to NOT skip the Roman forum. The first time I went to Rome in 2007, I was more concerned with getting my shop on (thanks, mom!) than visiting the largest on-going archaeological excavation in the world... so when given the opportunity to see it on my second visit I jumped at the opportunity, braving the hot Mediterranean sun and lack of shade. Dedication, y'all!
The Roman Forum today consists of a plaza surrounded by ancient ruins. Filled with government buildings, this would have been the epicenter of life and culture in ancient days: public speeches, political affairs, ceremonies, criminal trials, gladiator events, and commercial dealings went down right here. It's big, and old, and because of these factors combined it is rather impressive! Climb one of the many hills and you will be rewarded with incredible views of this magnificent city where old and new blend on the horizon.
One of my favorite things to do in Rome (other than overuse of "when in Rome!") was to wander the streets, taking it all in. How does this place manage to appear so classically Italian when it's such a tourist hot spot? I don't know, but I am going to eat all of your food and drink all of your wine in an attempt to find out.
During our trip in mid-August, there was a romantic (and buzz inducing) festival along the Tiber River in the Trastevere neighborhood. Pop-up restaurants, wine bars, candlelight, and live music flanked the river for an inviting scene. I had a tummy full of pasta, a glass of perfectly chilled dry rose, a handsome man sitting next to me, and live piano- it was incredible. At one point we sat on the edge of the concrete danging our feet over the end of the Tiber taking it all in. I hope that you get all the feels in Rome too, my friends!
If you wander by day, you might just run into to the Pantheon, one of Rome's best preserved ancient buildings. This temple appears to sprout up out of nowhere as you try to navigate the winding cobblestone streets of the Centro Storico neighborhood. Google maps can be saved and accessed offline, you're welcome. The Pantheon was completed in 128 A.D. and another staggering number: this hot spot typically hosts more that 5 million visitors each year!
Last but not least, if you're hoping to return to Rome, make sure you pencil in a stop at the Trevi Fountain, designed by Nicola Salvi (hi, I like your name) in 1762. Legend says that if you toss a coin in the fountain, you will one day return to the Eternal City. Now, I'm no mathematician, but all I am saying is that Luke and I both tossed coins in when we visited for our first time (2008 for me, 2009 for him), and we made it back... 2 out of 2 y'all, so get touristy and toss those coins! If it makes you feel better, the change is annually donated to charity.
My first visit to Rome in March 2008
There are more columns, memorials, and plazas than I can could cover here- just know that at any given corner in Rome, you're likely to find some gorgeous piece of art and architecture effortlessly fused together, in commemoration of something rather important. I'm being very vague but very accurate. Some honorable mentions: the Spanish Steps and elegant Piazza Navona.
The best piece of advise I can give you regarding Rome is to watch your back, front, and sides, because gypsies have rent to pay and they won't think twice about copping a feel to access your wallet. Also, calories don't count.
BON VOYAGE (or arrivederci in this case), BABES! xoxo