Friday, 16 October 2009

When in Rome…

(I know this one is REALLY long...but this is the last one like this!)

September 11, 2009 to September 16, 2009

On that Friday, Ellen and I took a train from Lancaster into London since we were flying out of Stansted Airport via Ryan Air. I had researched a bit the week before for a place in London to leave my extra luggage instead of having to take it all to Italy with me (you have to remember that I still haven’t settled into a place yet so I had all my luggage for the entire semester with me). I emailed Chester House, my student housing in London, and they said that I could leave my stuff there for free for the week so Ellen and I had to go there before we went to the airport. When we got into London, we got off the train and headed for the tube. Now, it would have been nice if either Ellen or I had actually known how to use the tube system but since we didn’t, traveling around London became a nightmare…fast…and it was during rush hour on a Friday!

So I went to the Assistance Booth, told the guy where we needed to get to…two hours, two tubes, and two buses later Ellen and I finally get to Muswell Hill, where Chester Housing is. We drop my bags off and then headed to Stansted Airport. When we got off of the tube to get our train toward the airport, our One Day Travel Cards wouldn’t let us get off. I didn’t realize that the ones we bought were only for Zones 1, 2, & 3 and we had just crossed over into Zone 4. The officer at the station told us what had happened and said to make sure that we didn’t let it happen again and sent us on our way. We got on our train, made it to the airport, found a taxi to take us to our hotel for the night, checked in, and went to bed.

The next morning we work up and made our way back to the airport. The airport was different than anything I had ever seen before. I mean, the checking in and the security check were normal but what made it so different was the process after you passed through security. The way this airport worked is that there is a central location for all passengers that you wait in until your airplane is actually loading. When it comes up on the screen that you are loading, it tells you what gate to head to. I just found this system very interesting since it was nothing like anything I had ever seen before. Like I said earlier, we flew Ryan Air since it was so cheap. The only deal with this service is that they have very strict guidelines for your carry-on and if you check anything it cost thirty pounds. My suitcase that I brought made me really nervous since it was a little bit bigger than their guidelines but I made it on with no problem and we headed off for Italy!

Once we landed in Rome we had to go through customs, which by this point I’m an old pro at it. After customs, Ellen and I bought Roma Passes, which are a discounted form of travel for tourist and allows you into different attractions at discounted rates as well (I highly recommend these for anyone who is planning on traveling to Rome anytime soon). We followed our directions that our Bed & Breakfast had emailed to me by taking the bus, then the tube into the city centre (a much easier system that London’s), and finally a train back out to the suburbs of the city. When we got off the train at our stop, our directions ended (I found out about twenty minutes later they forgot to send the other portion of the directions to me!). Lost and having no clue which direction to head in, I stop in at a local grocery store to ask for directions. Not one person in that grocery store knew how to speak English! Luckily, another tourist, who had just gotten off the train as well, could speak both Italian and English and helped translate for me. We finally got the directions that we needed and Ellen and I found the B&B. After we checked in we decided to clean up first and then head out into the city!

Our first destination in Rome was the Colosseo, also called the Colosseum. We took the train to the tube and then the tube to the Colosseum (once again, so easy to use the tube since they only have two lines that run and those two lines only cross once…so you can’t get lost). When you come out of the Colosseo Station the Colosseum is right there to the left. The Colosseum is HUGE!!! I’ve always seen pictures of it and seen it on TV but you don’t realize how massive it is until you actually see it. Ellen and I were really hungry since we hadn’t eaten all day and so we decided to eat at the little outdoor restaurant is right next to the Colosseum. It was at this restaurant that I had my first authentic Italian pizza and it was amazing! I’m not sure if I was just really hungry but it was probably the best pizza I have ever had in my life…and looking at the Colosseum while eating it was really nice as well. After we finished eating, we went through the Colosseum. Since we had our Roma Passes we didn’t have to stand in the long line and we skipped right to the entrance, where they scanned our cards and let us pass through. Walking through the Colosseum was really cool just because I learned so much about the place and all about the difference uses for it through the past centuries. While we where here it started raining due to the Curse of Ellen Gillis. Apparently every time Ellen has even been to the forum is starts raining. It wasn’t until later in the week we passed by the Colosseum on the way to something else and a storm appeared out of nowhere that I actually believed her! We walked around for about two hours and then headed over to the forum. It was unfortunately already closed for the day and so we headed to see the Piazza Di San Pietro in Vincoli (Saint Peter in Chains) but it was closed as well so we headed to the Fontana di Trevi, the Trevi Fountian. This is probably going to sound weird, but this is the most romantic place that I have ever been in my life. Couples were kissing all over the place, people were throwing coins in the water, the lighting was nice and dim and made the water sparkle, and it was just overall a really cool place to be at night. It was here that I had my first taste of Gilato…which is so much better than normal ice cream! We continued walking through the stone streets and ended up at the Pantheon but since it was closed we headed back toward the tube station. On the way back to the B&B we grabbed a bottle of white wine because…well why not, right? When in Rome… Back in the room we turned on the TV to see what was on and since everything was in Italian we found that the only thing we could understand were the songs that played on English. We also watched in Italian the Miss Italian ’09 Pageant and A Guinness World Records reality TV show.

The next morning I woke up all excited because this was the day I was really looking forward to. That’s because today, Sunday, was the day we were doing the Dan Brown tour (meaning we were going to all the Alters of Science and churches that where visited in Dan Brown’s book Angels & Demons!). I saw Angels & Demons with Natalie back in the States in May when it was released. Just like the Guinness Brewery was on my list of “must see” in Dublin, this was on my list for Rome. If you haven’t seen the movie or read the book I’m not sure if you will understand what I am talking about when I refer to certain things from the movie. We ate breakfast at the B&B and then headed off to our first stop, The Chigi Chapel in the Church of St. Maria del Popolo. In the book this is revered to as the first alter of science and also know as “Earth”. 
The famous statues of Habakkuk and the angel pointing the way down the Path of Illumination, by G.L. Bernini. The Chigi pyramid tomb with its numerous symbols and the vault refer to zodiac signs designed by Raphael. There is a skeleton covering the demon’s hole and subterranean crypt, where in the book/movie the first cardinal is found dead with the ambigram seared on his chest. When we arrived at the church, they were still having service so Ellen and I decided to go see “The Actor’s Church” right across the street while we were waiting for the service to end. We took a few picture of the Alter of Science right outside the church along with a couple other pictures here and there. After the service let out, we made our way back to the Chigi Chapel to get a better view of it and of course, take more pictures. In the movie, “Air” comes after “Earth” but since we were dedicating the entire next day to the Vatican, we decided we could see “Air” then. The next in the movie after “Air” is “Fire” but since the fourth stop, “Water”, was right down the street from “Earth”, we saw that next.

On the way to the Fountain of The Four Rivers at Piazza Navona (where “Water” is located), we passed by the Mausoleo Augusto as well as the Ara Pacis. The Mausoleum of Augustus is a large tomb built by the Roman Emperor Augustus in 28 BC. It is no longer open to tourists but the ruins remain an impressive and dominating landmark on the northern side of the Campus Martius. The Ara Pacis Augustae is an altar to Peace, envisioned as a Roman goddess. It was commissioned by the Roman Senate on 4 July 13 BC to honor the triumphal return from Hispania and Gaul of the Roman Emperor Augustus, and was consecrated on 30 January 9 BC by the Senate to celebrate the peace established in the Empire after Augustus's victories. After we pass these it wasn’t too much further until we reached Piazza Navona. This Alter of Science is also called the Fountain of the Four Rivers which was made by Bernini and is known as one of his most celebrated sculptures. The four colossal male figures around the fountain portray the four continents: America, Africa, Asia and Europe. It also represents the four most important rivers of the Old World, which include the Rio della Plata, the Nile, Ganges and Danube. In the middle stands the obelisk with the dove atop. This was a really cool market area with artist all around painting and people standing as statues in order to make a little money from the tourist.

After we were finished walking around the square we decided that we should head to the Church of St. Maria dello Vittoria. This is also known as “Fire” in the movie because it is where the third cardinal is burnt alive. This was my favorite scenes from the movie so I was really excited to see this church. On the way to the church, we passed the Pantheon and the Trevi Fountain again. It was neat to actually be able to go into the Pantheon this time and to see both of these places in the sun light. The Pantheon was originally built by Marcus Agrippa as a temple to all the gods of Ancient Rome and rebuilt in the early 2nd century AD. Almost two thousand years after it was built, the Pantheon's dome is still the world's largest unreinforced concrete dome. The height to the oculus and the diameter of the interior circle are the same, 142 ft. When we finally made it across town to the Church of St. Maria dello Vittoria we found that the church was closed and that it wouldn’t open back up for another two hours. Ellen and I took that time to do a little bit more exploring and to eat. While walking around, we saw the Santa Maria degli Angeli (a titular basilica church), the Piazza della Repubblica (a semi-circular piazza), the Teatro dell’Opera (the opera house), and the San Carlo Quattro Fontane (The Church of Saint Charles at the Four Fountains is a Roman Catholic church, designed by the architect Francesco Borromini). We also were able to grab lunch at this amazing little Italian restaurant near Barberini Station. I had my first plate of Italian spaghetti here! It tasted a little different that spaghetti back in the states but it still had a very fresh and spicy taste. After we finished with lunch we headed back to the Church of St. Maria della Vittoria. As I walked into the church I could literally see the scene in the movie taking place and it was nice to be able to just take all of it in. Inside the Cornaro Chapel is the astonishing sculpture Ecstasy of St. Teresa by Bernini and the “body” of Maria della Vittoria that looks like a wax figure. How they can claim that she is real is crazy to me! Anyone can just look at her and tell that she isn’t real! (Now the last Pope in the Vatican that they have on display is a different story…)

After we left there we headed back to see the Piazza Di San Pietro in Vincoli (Saint Peter in Chains). The basilica was first built in the middle of the 5th century to house the relic of the chains that bound Saint Peter while imprisoned in Jerusalem. The chains are kept in a reliquary under the main altar in the basilica. Michelangelo's Moses, which dates from 1515, is the most notable piece of artwork in the basilica. Originally intended as part of a 40-statue funeral monument for Pope Julius II, "Moses" became the Pope's funeral monument and tomb in his family's church. After Ellen and I finished walking around here, we headed back toward the Colosseum to see the Forum. This was a really cool thing to see and I had my own personal tour guide…Ellen! She has taken several classes about the forum and so she guided me along and told me story after story of Roman times while also explaining what we were looking at. The Roman Forum is the central area around which the ancient Roman civilization developed. 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 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. Being here was so amazing! To be looking at things that people back in Jesus’ day looked at was just unreal! We spent several hours here and left right as it was beginning to rain. (Remember me telling you about the Ellen Curse? It was a beautiful day with not one cloud in the sky. Ellen and I head to the Forum, which is located next to the Colosseum, and clouds begin to develop. As we are exiting the forum and walking toward the Colosseum it starts raining! I believe in the Ellen Curse!)

After the forum we decided to head home since it had been a really long day and we had pretty much walked everywhere instead of taking the tube. On the way back though I actually felt like we were being followed. You know when you get the feeling that someone is watching you? Well I got it. And as soon as I looked up, this guy on the tube was starting at me. Ok, cool…like someone on the tube was looking at you isn’t normal right? Then Ellen and I got off the tube and got on our train…the guy got on sat right across from us. Once again, not too weird but this is when I started to get a little suspicious. Then when Ellen and I got up to get off at our stop, so did he. This is where I went into full worried mode! I mean, two Americans, in a foreign country, neither of us can speak the language, and our B&B wasn’t exactly in the nicest part of town. As we got off though, he left the station on the right and Ellen and I left the station from the left…so we were headed in opposite directions. As Ellen and I were walking off, I turned around to look across the tracks just to make sure that the guys wasn’t following us and I saw him standing there, staring at me. This made me sick to my stomach. Ellen and I still had about a mile walk to get to our B&B and it isn’t in a very crowned area. I didn’t know what to do besides keep waking and hope that nothing would happen. Every so often I would turn around to see if he was still there…and he was. I saw him for about the first portion of the walk until we crossed under a bridge and then Ellen and I took off running for the B&B. Looking back, I was probably just paranoid but it just was one of those things that I felt really uncomfortable with. That night, we ran around the corner to Burger King and got a couple of beers so that we didn’t have to worry about being out too late after dark. Like I said earlier, our B&B wasn’t in the nicest of areas.

The next day (Monday) we headed to the Vatican. The first thing we did was head to the Vatican Museum. The line getting into the Vatican wasn’t that bad but once you got in it was really crowded. We rushed through most of the museum just because I really didn’t want to put up with the crowd (I get that honestly from my father) but once we got to the Sistine Chapel we took some time to look around. We ended up spending forty-five minutes to an hour just looking. I just don’t have words to do justice to this chapel. It was the most beautiful thing that I have ever seen in my life! The detail in the work and the story behind some of the paintings (once again from my lovely tour guide Ellen Gillis) was really cool to take in. After leaving the chapel we walked through the rest of the museum and then headed for St. Peter’s Basiclica and the last stop on our Dan Brown tour, “Air”.

Once we got to St. Peter’s Square we found the spot that was shown in the movie and took a picture of it. After that, we headed inside of St. Peter’s Basiclica. St. Peter's Basilica stands on the traditional site where Peter, the apostle who is considered the first pope, was crucified and buried. St. Peter's tomb is under the main altar and many other popes are buried in the basilica as well. Originally founded by Constantine in 324, St. Peter's Basilica was rebuilt in the 16th century by Renaissance masters including Bramante, Michelangelo and Bernini. Once inside we saw Michelangelo's famous Pieta (his sculpture that depicts the Virgin Mary cradling the dead Jesus in her lap after the crucifixion), bronze statue of St. Peter from the 13th century (and for good luck I rubbed his foot), Statue of St. Veronica, Bernini's baldacchino over the papal altar, the Confessio near the tomb of St. Peter, Body of Pope John XXIII (not going to lie…was a little creepy seeing this), the Cathedra (Throne) of St. Peter by Bernini, and so much more. After we finished walking around, I wanted to walk to the top of the Cupola but Ellen didn’t and so I headed off to the top on my own.

Heading up on the first leg of the trip there were the long stairs. The path you take just continues to circle up and it seems like it is never going to stop. Finally, you reach the first roof and meet up with the people who took the elevator in order to miss the first leg of the trip. They didn’t get out of taking the steps though because while they missed out on a little over two hundred steps, they still have almost four hundred they still had to walk up. Then I went off to the next set of stairs, which were smaller and led me to the front of the cupola, overlooking St. Peter's square. From there, it went even further up and these stairs were even smaller! I wouldn’t say that I am claustrophobic but these stairs were so tiny and I had to duck down at least a foot so that I wasn’t hitting the ceiling. There were times during this walk that the wall beside me started sloping and you had to slope with it, making it seem as if you were walking on the wall. It was really weird but totally worth it once you made it to the top to see 360-degree view of Rome!

After I climbed back down the stairs and found Ellen, we walked to see the Castel Sant’ Angelo and the Ponta Sant’ Angelo. We saw these just by passing by them and headed to the train station, located next to the Termini Subway Station, and bought our tickets for a our day trip to Florence! After we got our tickets we headed home and on our way we stopped in at this little cute Italian restaurant (which once again, no one spoke English) and had dinner. After dinner we headed back to the hotel where we watched Harry Potter in Italian!

Florence, Italy

The next morning we got up and headed for Florence. The morning started off a little rocky since we missed our first train into Rome, making us almost miss our train to Florence. Thankfully we made it though on time to the train station and made it to Florence four hours later. When we got off the train in Florence we headed right for the Galleria Academia, where Michelangelo’s David is located. We only waited in line for about an hour and a half but it was totally worth it once we got inside. The David is pretty much the coolest thing I have ever seen. It is about seventeen feet talk and it just so…amazing. After seeing the David we walked around the city a bit just to explore. We saw the Florence Cathedral and ate the best gilato I have ever had…not that I’ve had a lot of gilato before but it was Mint Chocolate chip with Dark Chocolate chunks...wonderful! Besides that we just window-shopped and waited for our train back into Rome. The day was nice just to relax, sleep on the train, and see a really neat city.

Back in Rome

Wednesday was the last day in Rome for Ellen and I as well as our last day together. Within 24 hours we would be back in London and she would head off to meet up with some friend from school to keep traveling until her break was over. That morning we woke up, ate breakfast, and checked out of our B&B. We didn’t really want to do too much walking around that day since we had all of our luggage with us so we hit up the Spanish Steps and returned once more to the Trevi Fountain. It really is an incredible place that has this wonderful vibe to it. After we left the fountain we headed to the airport to catch our plane back to London. When we landed, we decided not to get a hotel room for the night and just sleep at the airport…my back is still yelling at me from that night! I slept while Ellen caught up on Facebook and email since we didn’t have the internet the entire time we were in Rome. She woke me up around 5:30 A.M. before she had to catch her next plane so that we could say goodbye. She left and I went back to sleep since I didn’t have to report to my IES Program until noon!

I’m so glad that Ellen and I were able to spend this time together. We haven’t been able to see each other that much since high school and this was a really nice time to catch up. And although we both drive each other crazy at times, I will always consider her a great, lifelong friend.

To see my pictures from Rome look on Facebook or copy and paste the following link:

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