Category Archives: Rome

Lasting impressions: Rome

Rome is starkly different from any other European city I’ve seen so far. The ruins alone set it apart from any other place. But what makes the biggest impression on me is how Rome is just jam-packed with stuff: it’s a city where everything is piled on top of one another.

Riding on the bus, I experienced some of Rome’s infamous traffic. It was just cars and scooters all jumbled up seemingly randomly in the street – apparently the lanes are only suggestions.

The ruins, too, are all jumbled together: the Victor Emmanuel monument is cut into the Santa Maria Aracoeli church, which makes up a border of Capitoline Hill, which overlooks the Roman Forum, which neighbors the Colosseum. And this is only one cluster of ruins, which are scattered throughout Rome. Any one of them is a historic treasure, but Rome has dozens!

The museums have hundreds, maybe thousands of sculptures all lined up and crammed together into rooms, halls and gardens.

It’s unimaginable how much there is to see in Rome in addition to even all these things – the scenes that have been immortalized in movies, the never-ending streets of designer shops….

It’s all overwhelming and crazy – but in the best way!

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Hotel review: Arena-House Hotel

Our Rome hotel, the Arena-House Hotel, was in a great location – literally down the block from the Colosseum. And as impressive as the Colosseum is during the day, it’s indescribeable at night, when it’s lit up from the inside. It sure was convenient to be able to take a nighttime stroll there.

Colosseum at night

And while the Colosseum isn’t the most centrally-located attraction in Rome, being near the ruins ain’t bad. Plus there was a bus stop two block from the hotel which took you everywhere else pretty quickly.

Although the entrance to the hotel was technically in an alley, at least it was literally between the police station and the caribinieri station, so I felt safe.

There was AC in the room, which is absolutely crucial in Rome! Plus, the hotel had a station set up in reception for guests to make their own tea, which was a lifesaver for me when I was stranded in the hotel for two days. And the rooms even each had a PC in them with internet access.

In addition to a great location and comfy accomodations, the staff was super friendly, always willing to give tips, answer questions and help you out!

Egypt in Rome

For some reason, despite my whole fascination with ancient Egypt, I’ve always had this very isolated view of it in my mind. But this trip has really opened my eyes to how interconnected all these cultures were, specifically the Eyptians with the English, Roman and Greek nations.

It all makes perfect sense, I just never truly made that connection before.

I can’t even count how many obelisks there are in Rome. Luckily, Wikipedia does, and even names Rome the obelisk capital of the world. Apparently there are eight ancient Egyptian obelisks throughout the city (and five ancient Roman ones). By the way, an obelisk is a tall, narrow, pyramid-shaped monument.

Highlights of Egypt in Rome:

Obelisk & sphinx at Piazza del Popolo
  • The cute little obelisk behind the pantheon, in the Piazza della Minerva, whose base is an elephant (which was apparently designed by Bernini)
Obelisk behind the Pantheon
  • The obelisk in the center of Piazza Navona, also set atop an extravagant fountain designed by Bernini
  • The two Egpytian lions at the base of the stairs to Capitoline Hill
Black lions at base of Capitoline Hill

Look for a more in-depth post about Egypt & Europe sometime in the future…

Gatti di Roma

On my last round of sightseeing, I decided somewhat spontaneously to stop at the Area Sacra de Largo Argentina ruins. And I’m glad I did – I finally got to see cats chilling on the ruins!

Meow

These particular ruins are fenced off, so visitors can look down onto them, and cats can have them all to themselves. There was an adorable white cat knocked out on the steps, and there was even a black cat!

Snoozing

Now that I had seen my real gatti, I felt that my Rome trip was complete!

PS – in my search for a good Google link about the ruins, I found out they are actually an official cat sanctuary!

Last day in Rome: sculptures, scavenger hunts and stairs

I started my last day in Rome with a visit to the Gallerie Borghese. I wanted to take a cab to make it for my reserved time to enter the museum (reservations are mandatory). Of course the taxi stand near our hotel was empty – damn Italians and their lax work ethic! Luckily, I eventually caught a cab. 

Seeing some of Bernini’s masterpiece sculptures at the museum really solidified my appreciation for sculptures. I loved his two main pieces: 

  • Pluto and Persephone: as Pluto grips Persephone’s thigh you can actually see the pressure of his fingers against her skin
  • Apollo and Daphne: in this myth, Daphne turns into a tree to escape Apollo’s pursuit – this sculpture shows the beginning of her transformation

While the gallery features paintings as well, the sculptures were really the main attraction for me. Afterwards, I walked through the Borghese Gardens all the way to Piazza del Popolo. 

Cool Goethe statue in the Borghese Gardens

 

Then I decided to give the Pantheon another chance. This time, the Pantheon was actually open, so I went inside. While still not what I had pictured in my mind, it was a nice basilica with elegant, not overstated, memorials. Plus, there were lilies at several of the memorials, so the entire space had this understated aroma of lilies, which I love. 

Inside the Pantheon

 

Next, I went on a failed scavenger hunt around the Pantheon. I found Via della Gatta but couldn’t spot the cat statue that overlooks it. I went down Via de Pie but couldn’t find the huge stone foot that inspired the street name. Oh, well! 

My street!

 

On my way back to the hotel, I stopped by Capitoline Hill. I climbed up the stairs guarded by Egyptian lion statues, and the hill is a great vantage point from which to look down on the ruins. There’s also a copy of the famous Romulus and Remus she-wolf statue (not sure where the original stands). 

Really impressive in their simplicity are the stairs next to the entrance to Capitoline Hill that lead up to Santa Maria Aracoeli church – but I didn’t have it in me to climb up those.

Last date night in Europe

 

With Daniela leaving bright and early the next day, we headed to Piazza Navona for dinner. It was such a lively, bright, beautiful piazza. I loved the huge fountain in the middle, dedicated to the four major rivers of the day and sculpted by Bernini. With, of course, an Egyptian obelisk on top. 

The piazza was surrounded by restaurants so we sat down at the Caffe Bernini, thanks to the coaxing of a charming host. 

It was probably one of the best dinners we’ve had, thanks to the atmosphere, delicious food and plentiful drinks. The waiters were hilarious – super friendly, chatty and entertaining. The food was SO GOOD – I had ravioli stuffed with cheese and spinach, floating in this delicious tomato and bufalo mozzarella cheese sauce. Plus, we killed a bottle of white wine, had a shot of Limoncello each and then also each had a glass of moscato wine with dessert. 

Last dinner at Caffe Bernini

 

Needless to say, I was a bit tipsy after dinner, so I let Daniela guide us to the Pantheon after dinner. I have to admit, the pantheon was not at all what I expected. For some reason, I had pictured a white, columned structure atop a small hill, very clean and majestic. Or is that the Parthenon?? Regardless, the Pantheon is not on a hill, it’s not bright white and it was half under renovation. 

So we moved on to visit the Trevi Fountain. Which sounds easier than it was. I was in no condition to navigate us, so Daniela had the map. Then we found a Polish tour group walking around, so we started following them. But turns out they were headed to the Pantheon! So we just ended up making a big circle. No more following random tour groups. 

We finally made it to the fountain, and it was breathtaking! The place was packed with people, the white Bernini-designed fountain was lit up and clear blue water was flowing all over the place. The fountain is impressive – it’s huge! 

Trevi Fountain

 

Daniela and I sat on the edge and tossed coins over our shoulder into the fountain. Apparently, that means we’ll be back in Rome!

St. Peter’s Basilica at sunset

I didn’t have much time to collect myself after my Roman ruins tour, because we still wanted to visit St. Peter’s before it closed. But we agreed that we should not be climbing that enormous dome – enough stairs already!

We headed to St. Peter’s around 6 p.m., when the sun was slowly beginning its descent (but it was still crazy hot). Ok, it was also a Rick Steves recommendation to go at that time to beat the crowds and get some nice beams of light through the church windows. To his credit, there was no line and the light was amazing.

Inside St. Peter's Basilica

The entire plaza in front of St. Peter’s is beautiful – there must be 100 statues of I’m guessing saints surrounding the plaza – how do you even take all of that in?

The humongous church was awesome. My highlights:

  • Holy Door: the Vatican literally cements this door closed and the Pope walks through it only once every 25 years. The next Jubilee Year is 2025.
  • Michelangelo’s Pieta: a beautiful sculpture, but what a shame that it’s behind bulletproof glass, which prevents you from getting a great look at the details in person.
  • St. Peter statue with his kissable toe: although I didn’t see anyone actually kiss it.
  • Bernini’s dove window: it had this beautiful golden starburst coming out of a golden stained-glass window with a dove. The sun was shining through it and it was breathtaking.
  • Monument to Pope Alexander VII: another great work by Bernini (I’m starting to like this guy) that features a big flowing sculpture, with a creepy but cool skeleton peeking out from below.
Monument to Pope Alexander VII
  • Pope John Paul XXII tomb: speaking of creepy, there were actually two popes’ tombs – each featured a gray, very lifelike statue of the pope, laying in a glass box, wearing a red robe. Too realistic-looking!