Here’s my “reverse” itinerary for Rome–not what I planned on doing, but what I actually did! (Part two is here.)
Six days in Rome in November was awesome from a low-crowd perspective, but a little rough from a cold and wet weather perspective. Still, I had such a good time, and feel like I really explored a lot of different areas of the city, as well as hitting up most of the “big name” places. Here’s what I did, with a few pictures, but always check my Flickr (link over to the right!) for more photographic evidence.
Sunday, Nov. 17th, Day Zero:
The night train from Austria to Rome is a long one. I spent about fifteen hours total (plus a long “layover” in Leoben) on the train, and I wish I could say that it was uneventful. Consider this a list of things that can go wrong on an international train ride.
My train compartment had five people in it, and by the end of the ride, I was the only person who hadn’t had a traumatic experience. At the Italian border two men had their passports confiscated and were asked to leave the train. Then one woman realized that she had printed her ticket confirmation email, but not the actual train ticket, so she was forced to pay again. This was around three AM, and I’m pretty sure she was determined to wake up as many people as possible in revenge.
The three of us finally fell asleep, doing the thing where you put your feet up on the seat across from you, and pretend like you’re in a bed with a big hole in the middle.
Now, like the smart traveler I am, my purse was tucked under my back, strap around my waist, completely covered by me and the coat I was using as a blanket. Unfortunately, the woman next to me left her purse just sitting out on the seat where my feet were resting, right by the window into the train compartment. I was woken at 6 AM by her screaming that her purse had been stolen. I was kind of creeped out that someone had slid open the door to our compartment, reached in, and grabbed the purse that was literally touching my feet. Eek.
Finally, completely exhausted, I arrived at Roma Termini, and made my way to my hostel (Hostella “female only”). It was pretty and clean, and everyone was so nice, but I was not all that awake when I began…
Monday, Nov. 18th, Day One: I discovered that a lot of things in Rome are closed on Mondays, so it ended up being a good wandering around/orienting myself/taking pictures kind of day. I walked to Piazza Navona (chill, lots of people selling art), Vatican City/St. Peters (long lines wrapping around the columns), the Victor Emmanuel monument (huge, impressive, not well marked/explained), and the Spanish Steps.
There I visited the Keats-Shelley Museum, which was an interesting look at the tumultuous lives of British Romantic poets living in Rome. The letters read like a soap opera, full of elopements, illegitimate children, and secret lovers, but I would probably skip it unless you’re a huge fan. I feel like I understood the mood of British Romanticism more by wandering around the Palatine, gazing at picturesque ruins, than by visiting this museum.
Not going to lie, at about 7 PM, I fell into bed, exhausted.
Tuesday, Nov. 19th, Day Two:
I felt so good after sleeping, that I got really ambitious and decided to tackle both the Vatican and Capitoline Museums in one day. It’s a combo that I would not really recommend, as it led to me wandering around the streets of Rome in a complete daze for several hours afterwards. Still, the museums themselves were wonderful.
I got really angry with one of the tour guides outside the Vatican Museums (one of the private companies) because he was telling me (and others) outright lies–like that you couldn’t get in the museums without a reservation, that you needed a ticket for St. Peter’s Basilica, and that the Sistine Chapel wasn’t included in the museum admission. Three lies, you’re out. I hate things like that. But once I finished that interaction, I walked on in, and it was a sign of the lack of crowds that there was no line to buy tickets, even though the museum had already opened for the day.
I spent a lot of time in the ancient galleries, of course. I was particularly taken with this case of ancient glass. How do glass pots last two thousand millennia? I’m pretty sure I broke 6 out of the 8 plates I owned just last year…
My favorite part of the Vatican Museums is the gallery of maps. These elaborate painted maps of Italy from the 16th century are still bright and captivating. I especially like the mythological elements included, like Neptune ruling over the Mediterranean waves.
After visiting the Sistine Chapel (which you can’t really oversell, although the constant shouts of “Silence! No pictures!” kind of hurt the majestic mood), I headed over the Capitoline Museums. While there were some really amazing things, I had a hard time navigating without knowing Italian. Actually, even if I could read Italian, I wouldn’t have expected Bernini’s “Head of Medusa” to be tucked in a corner behind a temporary exhibit. Still, I was excited to see these guys:
I finished up my day of museums around 3 PM, after six hours of art and culture. Even for someone who loves art and history as much as I do, it was a little much for one day. This probably explains how I ended up eating lasagna and drinking red wine in a hole -in-the-wall by the Trevi Fountain called “Yum Yum Style.” I’m not hating–it was delicious, and I watched a loop of Ke$ha and Lady Gaga music videos until I could face the world again.
Wednesday, Nov. 20th, Day Three:
After my day-of-museums, I needed something a little different, so, I headed to the street market on the Via Sannio. It was my kind of place–piles of second-hand clothes to dig through, all marked one, three, or five euros, as well as cheap new merchandise to pick through. At home, one of my favorite hobbies is thrift-store shopping, I love saving money and finding interesting things, and this market had all of that…plus haggling. Good times. I ended up with a coat, a giant sweater, some leggings, and a new wallet.
Then I went to see something I’ve been thinking about since AP Art History back in high school (six years ago!). Do you know what lies behind this unassuming door?
I’ll give you a hint: it’s (arguably, but actually, yes) the single greatest piece of Baroque art ever created…
That’s right! Bernini’s “Ecstasy of St. Teresa.” I don’t really know how to talk about seeing this sculpture without sounding silly or trite or saying the same things everyone says about truly moving art. It was an overwhelming experience. All of my senses were alive, aware of the hushed tones of visitors, the deep lingering scent of incense, the feel of the waxed wooden altar rail, the chill of marble, and then, in a side niche of the ornate chapel, invisible until you stumble upon it, this sculpture.
Bernini captures the moment that an angel pierces St. Teresa with arrows, and (according to The Life of St. Teresa):
“The pain thereof was so intense, that it forced deep groans from me; but the sweetness which this extreme pain caused in me was so excessive, that there was no desiring to be free from it; nor is the soul then content with anything less than God. This is not a corporal but a spiritual pain, though the body does not fail to participate a little in it, yea, a great deal.”
You see in her face this mingling of pain and pleasure, religious and sexual ecstasy–and the glee of the angel as he forces these feelings upon her. It is provocative–in the actual meaning of that word. It provokes emotions and thoughts in the viewer, from awe at something so much larger than yourself to humility and self-reflection. Seeing this sculpture made me understand Baroque art for the first time.
It’s about portraying something larger than the human experience. Whether you read this “something” as divine power, the power and wealth of the church or the power of artistic expression, something radiates from these twisting, thrusting sculptures. They make the viewer feel small and keenly aware of one human’s minuscule role in the larger universe. They assert a presence that is greater, something to believe in, and by doing so, affirm the systemic hierarchy of their time.
Whew. After my time in the Chiesa di Santa Maria Della Vittoria, I kind of knew my day had peaked. So I left the 17th century and took to one of the pleasures of modern Rome–strolling around and window shopping. I started at the Piazza del Popolo and wandered down the Via del Corso to the Victor Emmanuel monument. It’s about a mile of shops, so there were lots of cool places to check out.
Of course, I stepped in the Disney Store, which, like most Disney Stores in Europe, is themed to its host city. If you’re a Disney fan, like myself, it’s fun to seek out the different decorations that make these shops unique.
I’m breaking my Rome post into two, so I have lots of room to gush about all the ancient things I saw during the next three days. Til then–ciao!