While I do think spending a weekend in Germany getting candy and dressing up sounds great, I decided to spend my time elsewhere…Rome, Italy, to be exact. Best (and easiest) decision of my life. I went with 3 of my friends, Kevan, Natalia, and Stephanie, and we had a fantastic time. We actually left at midnight on Thursday after celebrating Karneval all day (and packing and napping if you’re me) and took an overnight train from Bonn, through Switzerland and the west coast of Italy, straight to Rome. It was actually a really fun experience, and we felt like we were in Harry Potter. It’s like a little slumber party, and when you wake up, you’re in a different country!
Like I said. Kinda crazy to just look out your window and see the Swiss Alps. This was the portion of the train ride where I just sat in amazement of my surroundings and listened to my iPod. So chill. There was a dining car on the train where we grabbed some lunch. I had a panini–so fancy!
Before we knew it, we were in Rome!! We checked into our hostel, which was actually a pretty nice hotel, and then went exploring in the surrounding area. We had some pizza and wine for dinner–a must for a true Italian experience. It was delicious, of course.
After dinner, we “roamed around” (which you will see becomes a recurring theme during our trip), and saw a beautiful building which, come to find, made up the Piazza della Repubblica.
We stumbled upon a gelato place (which was my secret desire for the night) and got our first taste of the heaven-sent dessert. I ordered Stracciatella (vanilla with chocolate chips), and I can’t even begin to explain how delectable it was…
On our way back to the hostel, Natalia suggested we stop inside a building that a man was apparently about to close. He practically begged us to come in before he closed up shop, and we were skeptical. I mean, that seems pretty sketch to you too, right?? Well, we’re both in the wrong. The building turned out to be an extravagant church! It was so well hidden at night, it seemed like a hole-in-the-wall shop of some kind, but when we went inside, it was nothing of the like. There were gorgeous paintings, elaborate sculptures, and some wondrous relics. The most jaw-dropping was definitely the piece of the cross that Christ was crucified on. Woah.
It was such a great night of finding random, wonderful things, and this trend followed us throughout the trip!
– DAY 2 –
In the morning we went to the Vatican Museum and waited in line to get tickets. It seemed like it was going to take forever, but we got inside pretty quickly.
Once inside, we grabbed our student-discounted tickets and began our journey through the museum. It was incredible. The first thing you see when you start into the museum is a picturesque scene with beautiful trees and a huge dome, which just so happens to be that of St. Peter’s Basilica. Yeah. Ridiculous, I know.
After standing there in amazement for a while, we went into the halls of the museum. The art itself was unbelievably beautiful, but just going through every room was like having a surprise waiting for you around every corner. Each room was painted or decorated so elaborately.
They had an Egyptian exhibit set up on one floor. Although it was unexpected, it was nothing short of amazing. Seeing Egyptian relics, statues, and mummies was truly a sight to behold.
Finally, after about 5 hours of walking through the gorgeous maze that is the museum, we began to approach the Sistine Chapel. As soon as I walked inside, I actually felt my heart stop for a second. I just felt the world around me fade away and it was only me in this sacred place. I stood there in awe, looking all around in amazement. I saw the history taking place as I looked at each of the scenes. Everything was so lifelike and immensely beautiful that I couldn’t even blink, in fear that I’d be wasting time not looking at something. I sat down and focused on the ceiling, spending several minutes just staring at Adam and God’s fingers, praying. I think I experienced a whole new level of closeness with God. It was really tough to have to take it all in and move on. Because photos were not allowed, I encourage you to go to this link to experience the Sistine Chapel: http://www.vatican.va/various/cappelle/sistina_vr/index.html We made our way to the exit and walked down the spiral staircase. I thought I was going to fall from the combination of walking down the widely-spaced steps and recounting everything I had actually just witnessed.
Afterwards, it was off to lunch. I had some really great ravioli at this little restaurant across from the Vatican wall.
Then we came across the BEST gelato in all of Rome. Old Bridge Gelateria. Of all the places we got gelato from, this was absolutely the tastiest! I got a huge helping of Nutella and Amaretto flavors. My two favorite things…in one cup!
We finished our desserts and made our way towards St. Peter’s Square where we immediately got in line to go into the Basilica. I took a moment to wave to the Pope :)
Mad props to Vatican city for getting the lines to move really quickly. We were at the entrance before we knew it and…
…ummm, yeah. It was BREATHTAKING. It was enormous, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much marble in one place in my life. For a second, I had to close my eyes because, on top of the Sistine Chapel and everything we had just seen in the museum, I didn’t think I could handle seeing anymore astounding–not to mention incredibly famous–works. I convinced myself otherwise, opened my eyes, and this was the first thing I saw…
You know. The Pietá by Michelangelo. Just chillin’. I mean, WHAT? How was I getting the opportunity to witness all of these things?! I tried to stay focused on continuing to breathe as I walked through the basilica.
We made our way outside and got in line to climb the 565 steps to the top of the dome. At first, the climb wasn’t so bad. It was refreshing, but as we kept going, the walls started to close in on us, the stairs got steeper, and it became tricky to climb. Once you reach the top though, it’s all worth it!
Seeing Vatican City and St. Peter’s Square from the top is an experience of a lifetime. I will remember that image forever. We walked down the narrow halls and spiraling staircases all the way back to the bottom, and meandered through the square.
We made a quick stop at Trevi fountain before getting dinner. It was beautiful all lit up at night. We all made our wishes and tossed in American pennies for good luck.
We felt like such tourists. Oh well, everybody was doing the same. For dinner, I had some roasted chicken and red wine. So perfect!
We then started the long venture back to our hotel, but wouldn’t you know it, we just happened to stumble upon the Guggenheim Museum! We had two hours before it closed so we decided to get our student-discounted tickets (yet again) and go on in.
The museum was like a dream–works from Pollock, Rembrandt, and even Lichtenstein were a nice deviation from everything typically associated with art in Italy. On the second floor, there was a special interactive exhibit on Homosapiens and the evolution of mankind. It was pretty sweet. I learned that our DNA is more in tune with that of a banana than other, more ordinary things.
Then, of course, we finished the night off with a nice helping of gelato. This time was mint chocolate chip & Stracciatella. Mmmm…
– DAY 3 –
We got up early and went to the Spanish Steps. It was the perfect morning for it–blue skies and sunshine. We walked all the way up and stayed at the top to soak it all in.
We continued on our way to the Piazza Navona, but as was common on this Roman adventure, we ended up somewhere completely different–the Piazza del Popolo. We got a little turned around :) It wasn’t on our list of things to see, but it was indeed a happy accident.
We crossed the Tiber River and then came across the the capital building. The architecture was astounding!
THEN, we were on our way to Piazza Novona to see the Four Rivers Fountain. There was a live performance by a traveling Commedia del’Arte Troop, and I think Kevan about had a heart attack. We decided that this was a perfect place to eat (and let Kev stay in his enthralled state), so we found an outdoor restaurant right next to the stage and had lunch while we watched the performance. I had the best Chicken Parmesan I have ever had. It was topped with fresh crushed tomato sauce and parmesan cheese, and it just melted in my mouth. Gahhh so good :9
We eventually made our way to the Pantheon. It was a LOT different than I expected it to be! I loved it. As we walked, there were countless tombs of incredible people including that of King Umberto I & Margherita of Savoy and Raphael!! Woah!
Before we left, it started to rain, and seeing the rain fall through the oculus in the ceiling inside was like a dream. It seemed like it was falling in slow motion because of the height and the way the light was catching it.
We grabbed a quick cup of gelato (did you expect anything less?). This time was just Amaretto.
We then made our way to the Altare della Patria, also known as the “Wedding Cake.” By this time, it was cloudy and drizzling. We climbed the slippery steps and went to the free museum inside. We walked all around the outside as well, and we were given yet another amazing view of Rome.
From the Wedding Cake, we spotted the Forum that led up to the Colosseum, and we decided to head that way. Of course, on the way we saw Trajan’s Column, a statue of Caesar, and ancient Roman ruins. Typical Rome.
Before we knew it, we were right in front of the Colosseum! It was gigantic and a bit daunting. We walked all along the outside on the old cobblestone paths, and stumbled upon the Arch of Constantine. I honestly totally forgot that that’s where that was, despite it being one of my favorite monuments. It was quite a happy surprise!
Walking into the Colosseum was quite an experience. I started thinking about the history of what I was witnessing and everything that took place, every inch around me. It was incredibly moving.
It was one of the best experiences I’d ever had. I hope to come back here some day. We said goodbye to our final sight in Rome, and grabbed a quick dinner and one last gelato (just Nutella) before getting on our train where we shared a giant Kinder bar and relived our trip before drifting off in our sleeper car.
I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect weekend…