Rome Day One (31/12)
Venice to Rome was approximately a 4 hour trip, however we were lucky enough to have spare seats opposite to us for a majority of our time on the train, allowing us to stretch our legs. We arrived in Rome around 4pm and seeing the traffic around the train station we decided it would be best to walk to our hotel as oppose to catching a taxi. To get anywhere in Rome via car can be more trouble than it is worth given their road network, not to mention when it is peak hour traffic.
The walk to the hotel was about 20 minutes and wasn’t too bad, even with all of our luggage, that is except for the part where we had to walk up hill and into an ice cold wind. Jess had been starting to get annoyed at me earlier in our eurotip for constantly saying “when in Rome..” I was excited to finally have arrived as now it made sense and she had to admit it! I probably could have picked my timing a little better though as the cold wind and hill combo didn’t inspire much laughter.
Hotel De Petris
We checked in to our hotel and persevered with the complicated keycard to get into the room, there seemed to be no rhyme or reason to how or when the cards chose to activate the door…sometimes they did and sometimes they didn’t?. Not to mention we had to get through 3 doors to get to our room. Once inside the room though we were pleasantly surprised to see a nice, big hotel room and decent bathroom (with a TV), having fully prepared ourselves for a not so great room. This hotel had been picked at random based solely on its close location to the termini, Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain. Breathing a sigh of relief, we collapsed onto the kingsize bed for a nap in preparation for our big New Years Eve in Rome.
New Years Eve at Hi-Res Restaurant
Booked months in advance we were looking forward to New Years Eve in Rome and meeting up again with Scott and Colleen at the Hi-Res Restaurant. The venue was close to our hotel, so despite the cold we decided to walk the 10 minutes to get there, on the way passing the Spanish Steps and lots of high end shops (Tiffany’s and the likes)
When we arrived Scott and Colleen were already waiting and we went upstairs to meet them in the dining room. Very formal, someone came to take our jackets and escort us (la-di-da.) While the venue, location and company was great the food/drink was not what we had expected, especially for the amount each ticket cost. The serving sizes were quite small and the food was a bit ‘too fancy’ for Jess and my liking. We would have been happy with a plate of frites! (french fries)
Overall it was a good night though. The wine and champagne definitly flowed and from the outside balcony at midnight we had views of multiple fireworks being set off at different venues around the city. In all getting to celebrate the turning of a new year in Rome with Jessica, Bozo and Colleen was a once in a lifetime experience.
After dinner and dessert we finished our second bottle of champagne and then headed downstairs to the lounge bar for another bottle of champagne – ‘when in Rome’! We spent the next few hours singing and dancing the night away to Italian/English versions of current and 90s songs. We all finished up at around 4am.
When walking out of the Hi-Res building there was a man selling roses for 1 euro, he offered one to Jess. She however was quick to respond with “No I don’t need one, I have balloons” (which I had tied to her while she was dancing in Hi-Res). Jess was quite happy to discover she had these balloons and again proceeded to remind the rose man of this fact and anyone else who looked like they might need to know.
Rome Day Two (1/1)
Finishing up at 4am resulted in a long sleep-in, I remember waking up at 830am and then just turning over and going back to sleep, then waking up again at 1130am, at this stage food was required.
All roads lead to McDonalds
Both feeling a bit rough (though some more than others *Jess*), it seems that it doesn’t matter where you are in the world all hangovers lead to McDonalds. Luckily there was a Maccas within walking distance from our hotel so we made a quick maccas run to grab some lunch and then walked back to the hotel to have another sleep, in preparation to catching up with Bozo to check out some of the sights around Rome which we hadn’t had a chance to do yet.
Bridge of Angels
Ponte Sant’Angelo, or the bridge of Angels is a Roman bridge that spans the Tiber river. It is a pedestrian bridge situated near the Castle Sant’Angelo. As the name suggests, the most significant part of this bridge are the ten sculpted angels holding instruments of the Passion (church ‘passions’ I am informed.) Though Jess felt the objects the angels held looked more like the “selfie sticks” that many of the gypsies were selling on the bridge to the various tourists, rather than religious icons. As seen above you can see an angel taking a selfie.
Our visit to the Spanish steps on the 1st of January wasn’t hugely successful. Apparently Rome holds a New Years Day parade, complete with drums, trumpets and cheerleader dancers (because thats what all hungover people are wanting!!!) Bozo was delighted with what the drummers were doing to Jess’s head and seemed to find them street after street in his attempts to navigate us to the Spanish Steps. We’re we the only hungover people in Rome?
This parade drew big crowds who all used the Spanish Steps as a higher vantage point to watch their kids in the parade (hence the photo below in the gallery that simply shows a sea of people standing at various heights) However Jess and I did revisit the site at various other points on our trip (later at night & very early in the morning) and we were able to see the steps minus the crowds, much more impressive.
First impression of Trevi Fountain was…. WOW this would be impressive without all the construction work around it. Italian fashion company Fendi are currently sponsoring a 20-month, 2.2-million-euro restoration of the fountain. Aren’t we lucky we were here just in time to see it!
Even with the fountain restoration happening there were still crowds of people lining up to walk through the scaffolding and just standing around it attempting to take photos of the sections you could see peaking through. Jess was particularly upset that it was still under construction as she was hoping that it would be finished by the time we arrived in Rome. She had previously said it had been her favourite site on her last visit to Rome. However we still made time to throw our 3 coins into the small area of the fountain (that has been provided for this.) The throwing of these coins symbolise: 1x love, 1x luck and 1x to return to Rome someday. Maybe when the fountain is restored!
Rome Day Three (2/1)
We knew this was going to be a looooong day. As soon as we met our tour guide and began to walk the perimeter of the buildings we saw crowds that spanned an entire block, it was only 9:00am and these people had very little hope of getting in before midday, if at all. Almost felt a bit guilty breezing right past them but at the same time could not understand why anyone would choose to not use the ‘skip the line’ option.
Once inside we had to go through very tight security before we were allowed to progress to the Vatican Gardens. Our guide gave us a very in depth over view of the buildings and grounds we would see on our tour and explained that the tour through the Vatican Art galleries would be tight as they were never designed to be galleries but instead simply the residence of the pope and clergy (hence very narrow doorways and small rooms filled with massive crowds)
With an area of approximately 44 hectares, the Vatican is the smallest recognised state in the world. Within Vatican City are cultural sites such as St. Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museums. They feature some of the world’s most famous paintings and sculptures. Jess was surprised to see that some of these artworks did not just belong to the Renaissance art movement, the Vatican also houses a collection of Modern art (20th century) featuring works by Henri Matisse, Salvador Dali and Francis Bacon. Bacon (not related to Kevin Bacon) being the most surprising of all to Jess, considering his often controversial subject matters.
The Sistine Chapel is the highlight of the tour that almost everyone is waiting for, Jess was particularly excited as she had missed seeing it on her last visit to the Vatican. We were both surprised to find the room empty, as in, not set up as a chapel. There is no furniture in the room other than benches that line the outer walls. No photographs are allowed and the guards ask for silence as you walk in often yelling silence please much like in the Billy Madison bus scene ‘No yelling on the bus‘, which actually made me laugh every time they yelled quite/silence – even using a megaphone.
Under Pope Julius II, Michelangelo was commissioned to build a series of sculptures but at the last minute the pope changed his mind and instead got Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel ceiling, he was a young man at this point (in his 30s) and created one of the best known art pieces in the world. And contrary to popular rumour Michelangelo did not paint the Sistine Chapel lying down but rather standing up on scaffolding with his neck bent at an awkward angle. It hurt our necks just looking up at it for 10 minutes how he managed years of solid work is beyond me!
Michelangelo returned to the Vatican years later as a much older man (in his late 60s I believe, amazing for this time period as people didn’t tend to live this long) to paint the wall accompanying his already ceiling masterpiece. This later work is called ‘The Last Judgement’. People were outraged to see that all of the figures were naked and another artist (Dan the underwear painter – not his real name you may have guessed but a clever nickname given by our guide) was commissioned to add robes to the figures to make the work more acceptable. This work was also controversial for another reason…this being that Michelangelo had painted one of the Vatican priests (who he had had numerous words with) as a devil in the bottom right hand corner of the fresco. The priest was furious and went to the Pope to demand that Michelangelo remove his face from the figure… the Pope’s response was classic. He told the priest that Michelangelo had been clever enough to place the figure in ‘hell’ and a Pope has no jurisdiction in hell so the work was never changed.
The Sistene Chapel is overwhelming. The walls and ceiling of the chapel are so highly detailed it is hard to know where to focus your eyes. Its amazing but your eyes do become fatigued quickly and you need to take breaks from looking. There isn’t a spare bit of space in the whole room and I know this may seem controversial to say but I kind of feel that in some ways this detracts from each of the detailed panels.
St. Peter’s Basilica is huge! That is the first response I think most people would have walking into this space. When in Paris we had thought that Notre Dame was big but I think you could safely fit 3 or 4 of that church within this one. Photos do not do its size justice, it kind of has to be seen to be believed. Jess was most looking forward to finally seeing the Pieta sculpture that is housed within St. Peter’s Basilica. This is another controversial work by Michelangelo (he kinda had a “do what I want attitude”.) The work was considered unusual because instead of holding a baby Jesus, Mary is shown holding a fully grown man. Mary (despite Jesus being shown as an adult) appears to only be about 16 years old. Many questioned Michelangelo how this could be accurate and he said “because she was pure, she remained perfect and an embodiment of beauty throughout her life.” Jess believes that this is Michelangelo’s best sculpture, she prefers it much more than his more famous work ‘David’ that we saw in Florence and I agree. The sculpture is far more detailed and it has more meaning to it. Jess says this is created by the gaze of Mary at her dying son. Better than a dude’s package in high definition!
The Colosseum was definitely the iconic landmark I was looking forward to the most in our eurotrip. And it didn’t disappoint. We met our tour guide outside and made our way past the crowds. She was very informative, an Italian herself who was studying Roman history at university. She explained not only the ruins we were seeing in front of us but also a lot about the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, the good, the bad and the legacy of what they created. Jess was horrified to learn that within the first 3 months of the Colosseum opening (100 days of consecutive games to draw in the crowds as an opening celebration) approximately 2,000 people lost their lives and reportedly 9,000 animals. Jess (true to form) was more horrified by the stories of the animals. Most were exotic animals imported from Africa such as lions, tigers, alligators, snakes and elephants but also horses, dogs and the likes.
Back in it’s prime the Colosseum could hold approximately 70,000 spectators (Subi can hold 40,000), it was definitely a masterpiece of engineering for it’s time and still today. Many arenas in the modern era are based on the same round amphitheatre, tiered design and structure of the Colosseum.
Walking into the Colosseum and seeing the inner structures and stage will forever be a memorable moment. You are standing within a building that was created in 80 AD. I didn’t start taking photos straight away, instead I took a moment to take it all in and just think about the history of this place.
While I learnt the Colosseum was damaged due to earthquakes, fires and removal of marble and stone by the Catholics to build the many churches in Rome (how many churches does one city really need?), it was still surprising to see just how much of the original structure is missing. You do have to use your imagination and the drawings on posters to piece together what it would have looked like (or remember Maximus in Gladiator, though we know this wasn’t actually filmed at the Colosseum.) Part of me would love to see the Colosseum restored or a section partially restored as it a shame to see such a historic icon deteriorating and I think it would really help to paint the picture and experience.
Part of the Colosseum tour was to also visit ancient Roman ruins. We started at the Arch of Constantine which is located next to the Colosseum and then walked through the Imperial Forums. The Italian dictator Mussolini decided to build the large road connecting the Colosseum with Piazza Venezia, so he could have a view of the Colosseum from his house (so the rumour goes). The road runs straight through the Imperial Forums, hence a large part of this historic area is now covered by road. There are now two remaining visible parts of the Imperial Forums, each on either side of the wide road.
We were excited to make our way to the Roman Forum as our guide explained that it had been used for centuries as the centre of Roman public life.It was the venue for elections, public speeches and criminal trials. However now lies the ruins of stones, boulders and columns of the buildings that once were, so we were actually a bit disappointed that there is so little left.
I wanted to attempt to break our walking record in a one day period (of 13.2kms in Paris) and suggested we walk back to the hotel from the forum to try to clock up the extra kms needed. Jess by this point was frozen and not all that interested in my record breaking attempts, she was happy to call it a day at 11.58kms! Its fair to say the Paris record still stands, we taxied back to the hotel. Maybe I will have better luck in New York.
‘When in Rome’ the Colosseum and Vatican are a must see, they make you realise just how ancient Rome is and the significant events from history that have occurred here. I mentioned to Jess that it was interesting that Rome went from gladiators and a brutal Roman Empire to being a city of churches and the residence of the Pope.
Rome was a fitting end to our Italy leg of our eurotrip, Colosseum and Vatican tours aside, Venice was still our favourite within Italy.
Next stop Krakow.