Thursday, June 18, 2009

Four Day* in Rome

I loved Rome. I had a few more mishaps than I usually do while traveling but nothing big enough to make me enjoy my weekend any less. When I first started looking for my hotel, I looked across the street saw the number on the building which was something around 285. My hotel was something like 46, so I started walking down to the end of the road. Towards the end of the road, I realized that while the buildings on the opposite of the road were descending, the ones on my side were ascending. I’d actually already passed my hotel very close to the beginning of the road which was of course awesome. The window shopping in that area is pretty impressive, though (my hotel was very nice, by the way – the bed took up most of the room but the bed was huge, and I was very impressed by the bathroom). I’m not sure if all the streets are numbered in that way so that the highest and lowest number are actually right across from each other or if I was just on a special street.

On my way to the Colosseum, my strap on my bag broke, and I’m very attached to that bag. I picked it up at the British Museum while I was in London two years ago and it’s perfect for traveling – it’s a good enough size for a camera, a novel and a guide book without being super bulky and it zips shut so no need to worry about theft. I replaced it with a cheap “Roma” bag which is about the same size but it’s not water proof, and while it zips, the zipper isn’t completely sown on at both ends so there are two places with openings. Probably should be okay. I just hope the British Museum still has these kinds of bags because I now have another reason to go back to London.

I was surprised by just how much space the old Forum took up – not that I didn’t think it was going to be large, but I just didn’t think so much of it would still be preserved/open to tourists. I also didn’t realize just how close the important, rich Romans actually lived to the Forum. That was one nice thing about Rome – the city is large and there’s so much to see but all the major sites are basically within walking distance to each other. Some of them are further away from each other, so I was surprised to discover I’d actually walked so far but since there were so many things to see enroute, it didn’t feel that far.

Of course, I’ve already mentioned the sunburn I got. However, since I was getting tired and hot, it encouraged me to sit at a café and enjoy a little bit of rest, and the cafés there are very nice. The food is expensive but that was basically the only thing I really spent money on. The ticket prices were rather reasonable compared to other tourist areas – the Colosseum, Forum and Palatine area were 12 euro all together, and even the Vatican Museum which was the most expensive was only about 14 euro. I hadn’t ever heard of the Castel Sant' Angelo, and hadn’t really planning on going there originally, but it was pretty cool as well.

When I first got to Rome and after looking through the guide book, I was worried – besides the Roman ruins and a bunch of churches, what was there really in Rome? And I will go into the occasional interesting sounding church but I wasn’t about to go into every single one. I actually ended up visiting a few on my last morning in Rome, and they were gorgeous. I’m not religious at all, and would probably be an agnostic or atheist if I cared enough about the subject to put more thought into it. Still, being inside those churches, I could see how easy it would be to be inspired to believe in the greatness of some higher being. However, after a few minutes of awe, if anything these buildings and monuments are reminders to the greatness and creativity of man, not God. After all, it was humans that built and designed these churches and created the paintings. A divine being may have been their inspiration but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything. The church and religion might be credited with inspiring its followers but that still doesn’t mean it’s the truth. That’s why when people start engaging in conversations about how evil the Catholic Church is I tend to ignore them (especially since they try to make Catholicism sound worse than the other branches of Christianity). Obviously there are a lot things wrong with Catholicism, and they’ve abused their power in the past, but what religion hasn’t abused its power? Especially when they’d had that much power? At least the Catholic church used its power to create some gorgeous art (granted, at points they also destroyed old, “pagan” art and suppressed things that disagreed with them, but still).

However, I was surprised by how some things were presented as fact. While on a bus tour, the guide said that a certain church contained a relic with pieces of the cross, and told the story of St. Helena, Emperor Constantine’s mother, who traveled to Jerusalem in search of the cross. She had some people dig up some crosses on that one hill, and had them laid upon her, and she knew which one was the one Christ was crucified on. Yeah, okay. While I can possibly believe that the chains in a church were the ones used on St. Peter, I can’t believe that story. And the reason I can buy the other one is that by the time Peter was put in chains, he already had followers that may have tried to preserve the chains and then continued to pass them on/keep them safe (as I said while I’m not religious, I don’t have a problem believing that there may have been a guy named Jesus walking around preaching a message of peace – it’s the mystical and supernatural part I’m not going for); however, being divinely inspired to realize which three hundred year old piece of wood was used to sacrifice Jesus? Yeah, not buying that that’s the real cross.

Also, someone want to explain to me why there is a St. Peter’s Church and St. John’s (Giovanni) but St. Peter’s head (or what is passed off as it) is located in St. John’s while St. Peter’s merely has possession of one of his fingers? Now, I learned that St. John’s used to be important church before St. Peter’s was built, and continues to be of special significance to the Pope and certain traditions but I still think it’s kind of funny.

I’m a horrible tourist, though – there were a few times I wanted to tell people to stop climbing around on the ancient Roman ruins in the Palatine and others to stop leaning on/touching the antique marble statues. Also, the Sistine Chapel was incredibly busy. I didn’t realize that the Sistine Chapel was actually inside the Vatican Museum and originally assumed it was its own building (actually I thought the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter were the same thing, or that the Sistine Chapel was a side chapel of it). I expected the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museum to be busy, but there were a lot of rooms in the Vatican that were on the way to the Sistine Chapel, and the only way to the Chapel was through all those other rooms. All of these room were interesting in their own right, and had incredible paintings as well. I’m sure they would have been busy no matter what, but I feel like they would have been less busy if they hadn’t been on the route to one of the most famous chapel ceilings in the Western world and an obvious tourist attraction. Also, I was a little disappointed with the gift shop at the Vatican Museum. There was one when you first walk into the museum, and there were a few stands throughout the museum but I usually wait till I’m done to go the museum shop because I don’t want to carry all that stuff around. The shop at the end of the museum was smaller I think than the one at the beginning, so I didn’t get a coffee mug (I have one from the British Museum and one from the Louvre). I can't wait to go back to Italy in the fall - my plan right now is to take a week of leave to explore Florence, Venice and Milan. And yes, Milan is mainly on there for the shopping, or in my case window shopping.

*Yes, I know grammar. I'm using the term "Four Day" as in Four Day Weekend, so I'm not actually missing the s. We get a four day once a month in Europe, and trust me, they are definitely needed.

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