Europe 2010 Trip: “We’ll Figure It Out” (Rome)


I wrote this section of the journal while waiting for our flight to take off for Beauvais, France. It was about 7:00 am and an early morning sunrise crept up over the Italian hillside outside the airport. We’d just completed the second leg of our whirlwind European adventure: four days in Rome, Italy!

“Oddly enough,” I wrote, “Rome was something of a mixed bag. Coming fresh from Barcelona, it’s possible that our judgment was a little skewed. Either way, we discovered a definite mix of pros and cons about Italy’s ‘Eternal City’.

“Rome is rather tough. An overstressed infrastructure, aided and abetted by Italian tax evasion, makes Rome’s sanitation and road services groan under the weight of citizens and tourists. Even priceless world heritage sites like the Colosseum appear depressed and delapidated. Garbage collects on every street corner, and every bus and train is pockmarked with graffiti. The homeless are an unforgettable feature of the landscape.

“Perhaps worst and most troubling of all are Rome’s itinerant pushers of goods, flowers, toys, scarves, et cetera. They are persistent and rude, thrusting items into your face at every turn. Sometimes they even hand it to you outright, showering you with compliments and praise, telling you it’s free… and then when you turn to go, they hold out their palm and demand “a little something”.  Ordinarily I would feel bad for people forced to make a living in such a fashion, but their utter rudeness and corrupt methods made me really uncomfortable. What with all these aspects of the Roman terrain, it can be a really difficult city for North Americans to deal with.

“But Rome wasn’t all bad! In fact, we had some of the best times of the whole trip in this ancient, crowded Italian city. Our hostel was clean, spacious, full of friendly and multilingual staff, and complete with perks like free computer use, free wifi, free breakfast, and a free nightly pasta and wine dinner! Our room was huge and enjoyed a big shuttered window; the bathroom was gorgeous glittering blue tile, and the sun shone through a tiny garden courtyard window!

“Easily the most fascinating part of the trip for me was the history. In Barcelona, our exposure to history was primarily the 1900s – 1930s bourgeois art/architecture/philosophy revolution – Picasso, Dali, Gaudi, and so forth. It was hugely interesting, of course, but Rome opened up so many more opportunities for learning! The Roman empire was one of the greatest civilizations of the human age. Christian Rome is worth the trip alone. And Italy played an irreversible role in World War II and the development of fascism – this all in one city!

“One thing that really stuck out to me is the interconnectedness of different historical legacies and traditions. The Egyptians enslaved the Jews and formulated the basis for the offshoot of Christianity. The Christian tradition was codified in Greek and Greek copies became famed Roman prizes. The Romans sacked Jerusalem, used the booty to build the Colosseum, and persecuted Christian martyrs in the arena; years later, Christian popes consecrated the location and keep Roman artifacts in the Vatican Museum. Pictures on walls detail the rise and expansion of the Empire as far west as the Celtic and Roman British islands of Britannia, while the split and decline of the empire provided the necessary weak point for the growth of Islamic conversion and settlement. The connections are mind-blowing, and in Rome, they can be found around every cobblestoned street corner.

“Speaking of street corners, it would be good to provide a little recap of the trip and our walking/metro tour of Rome. Let’s go, shall we?

Day 1

“First, we had an absolute bitch of a time getting to Rome at all. We woke up an hour late and didn’t realize it until we’d missed our shuttle bus and were standing in the dark, empty ticket station, wondering why the 5:00 am bus wasn’t listed. But ultimately we were able to get there, take a shuttle bus from Ciampino, and grab a train at the Anagnina metro station. From there, we rode the subway to the Termini station (the main thoroughfare for subways, buses, trains, and airport shuttles) before walking down Via Gaeta to our hostel.

“Next, we walked down to Piazza Reppublica and enjoyed our first sight of Roman piazzas. Piazzas are central parks and squares situated between ordinary roads, and they are the center of daily Roman urban life and tourism.

Piazza Reppublica

“Grabbing a thick, hot, crunchy square of pizza from a tiny pizzeria, complete with whole spinach leaves and quartered romato slices, we headed down some steps and explored Colonna Traiana, the Monumento a Vittorio Emmanuel II, and part of the Fori Imperiali.

“The Monument was pretty awesome. A huge white palace serves as the monument for the first king and father of modern-day Italy, the ceremonial resting place for Italy’s unknown soldier, and the location of museum exhibits on Italian military history. The Fori Imperiali is a road stretching the length of the Roman forum and ending at the Colosseum (where we excitedly snapped some pictures)!

View of the Colonna, with the Monumento in the background

Statue on the Monumento

View from the Fori Imperiali

Chris and the Colosseum

Me and the Colosseum

“Next, we looped around the exterior of the Colosseum and headed up Via Cavour past Santa Maria Maggiore – a huge cathedral with a fountain and obselisk in front – before heading back home for a little rest.

Day 2

“In the morning, we hopped on the metro and zipped straight over to Ottaviano station. Walking down the street a few blocks, we finally arrived at the destination I’d been waiting for the whole trip – St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican Museum, and Vatican City herself. Vatican City is one of three sovereign states in Roman city limits and is home to the Pope and the upper echelon of the Catholic hierarchy.

“There was a long line at the Basilica, but with the statues, the obelisk, the fountain, the fluttering pigeons, and the whispering cloaks of passing priests and nuns, we had more than enough to keep our attention!

“We started by heading up the 551 increasingly steep steps to the very top of the dome of the Basilica, where we circled the dome and enjoyed utterly spectacular views of the entire Roman landscape. Next, we journeyed back down and through the huge, ornate, fantastically painted chapel. Ceilings, arches, frescos, paintings, and statues towered high above our heads in that holy place, and candles flickered even against the sunshine.

Michelangelo's "La Pieta"

“Ducking out for a bit of lunch, we got scammed at a snack bar and paid 32 euro for reheated Americanized Italian. It was a waste of money and time, we learned at that point to avoid the flashy tourist trap restaurants. 😦 Then we headed over to the Vatican Museum!

“The Vatican Museum was, in a word, extraordinary. It’s enormous and full to the brim with artwork, artifacts, mummies, tapestries, maps, busts, and more. By the time we made it even halfway through, we were utterly overwhelmed and overstimulated by constant, ever-present beauty. At the same time, throngs of loud tourists and schoolgroups crowded every hallway and flashbulbs blinded every few seconds. By the time we reached Michelangelo’s famous Sistine Chapel, both of these situations had come to a head: Slack-jawed and awe-struck, we stared in fascinating up at that beautiful, gorgeous, holy, famous place, taking in every leaf and angel and cloud and flower, not knowing where to look first. At the same time, three hundred other tourists crowded around us and jostled our shoulders, using the flash when they weren’t supposed to, and museum security guards waded through the masses shouting “Silence!” and “No photos!” Completely fried and finished, we left and passed swiftly through the rest of this dazzling museum.

Sistine Chapel

Sistine Chapel

Sistine Chapel

… To be continued! Next up: the Piazza Navona, the Colosseum, the Forum Romano, the Palatine Hill and gardens, Circus Massimo, Ponte Fabricio and the island of Isola and Tiberinia, Area Sacra (and a nearby synagogue), Spagna and the Trinita Dei Monte, San Giovanni Laterano, and more Rome than you can imagine!

Check back soon!


2 Responses to “Europe 2010 Trip: “We’ll Figure It Out” (Rome)”

  1. Hi, my name is Rodrigo Im from Mexico, from the city of Guanajuato. A friend and I are making a shortfilm and we found some of your pictures perfect for it. We want to ask you if its ok to use them. The short film is an independent proyect and we are not looking for money with it just show it wherever we can. If you let us use some of the pictures we wll give you the credit and give you a copy of the movie, of course. Thanks a lot and we hope you can answer to us.

    • aprilpalo Says:

      Hey there,

      Actually, I’d rather you didn’t. My shots are pretty typical souvenir photos of Rome – you can easily locate better shots from other photographers online. Good luck with your film. Thanks for commenting!


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