Sunday, January 31, 2010

St. Peter's and the Spanish Steps

Pictures of St. Peter's do not do the building justice. Actually, pictures of anything here don't do the actual site justice. But especially with St. Peter's. The Vatican is HUGE. Everything inside of it is huge--statues, columns, even the letters circling the ceiling writing something in latin are huge. Amazingly ornate and beautifully gilded, there is not an inch of this place untouched by mural, mosaic, or gold leaf. Pictures cannot show just how impressive the building is.

If you dare, the climb to the dome and the cupola contains upwards of 800 stairs. 800 spiraling, twisting, completely vertical stairs. But your reward for climbing them is the best view in Rome. 360 degrees of Rome: the Vatican gardens, St. Peter's Square, the Tiber river, the Pantheon's dome, and hundreds of churches in the distance. Even on a somewhat overcast day, the view was breathtaking (which, admittedly, was not hard seeing as we'd just climbed up 800 stairs...) and a little surreal.

The next day, we ventured to the Spanish Steps down Via del Corso, the glitzy shopping street containing Prada, Dior, and Gucci, just to name a few. The stairs and church are at the end of this street, just sitting there like every important building here seems to be. It's such a squished city that monuments and historical sites aren't given a National Mall or fancy park--they just pop up around every corner. The Spanish Steps were my least favorite of the sites I've seen so far--maybe this was due to the fact that St. Peter's the day before greatly overshadowed anything else. The church is pretty, but nothing near the basilica, and the view was pretty great. Up at the top, a few rooftop restaurants are undoubtedly prime real estate.

Last night, we finished up our first week in Rome with a traditional Roman meal--one that lasted 3 hours and had 5 courses. I know Dad will want details so I'll try to remember... First was the antipasta with salami, prosciutto, pizza, stuffed and deep fried olives (which I tried and actually liked) and some pastries with cheese and spinach inside. Next was the pasta course when we got 4 different kinds to pass around the table. All of them were really good. The meat and fish course was interesting, with snails (which i decided tasted like what I would imagine rubber bands to taste like), fried anchovies (very salty) and two kinds of what I believe was pork. The guys in the kitchen liked us a lot, but they didn't speak english, so we asked very few questions about what we were actually eating. Dessert was fabulous: flan, tiramisu, a raspberry-covered pudding, pastries, candied nuts, and granita di cafe (iced coffee with creamy stuff--sounds interesting but this was probably my favorite dessert). It was an amazing meal and we all ate so much we were stuffed! I managed to try a bite of everything, which I forced myself to do, including the anchovies (my least favorite, by far). There were 10 of us BC kids, and we were the last ones in the restaurant, and the kitchen came out to shake our hands when we left. Dad, i got the card of the place and I know where it is, so maybe I'll take you there! A great ending to a great first week!!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

January 28th aka the day I fell in love with the Pantheon and Gelato

I had heard that when its raining in Rome, all tourists must quickly make their way to the Pantheon. The oculus in the ceiling lets in the rain, which then falls directly to the floor of the building in a column. Today it rained (like it has every day since i've been here) and we were near the building, so we rushed over. Let me tell you, just like the Colosseum, you turn the corner of a narrow street and BAM! right in front of you is the Pantheon. No signs, no warning. Just a huge Roman building, dating to 27 BC, built by who-knows-what construction method, and still standing. In. Perfect. Condition. Amazing. We all started commenting that America has some cool stuff (the Lincoln Memorial was mentioned) but this thing was built 2000 years ago! Again, my words don't do it justice. Gigantic columns, a dome so big I don't know how they got it there, and a hole in the top that lets in the rain. What a fantastic way to honor all of the Gods.

We also made it to the Trevi fountain, and of course threw in coins ensuring our return to Roma. And I was introduced to gelato, which easily became my favorite dessert ever (okay, probably close second to creme brulee but it was still amazing) and saw downtown Trastevere. Merely by accident, I should add. Sometimes getting lost can be really exciting!!

Below: the Pantheon, of course. And my roommates and I at the Trevi Fountain.

The Colosseum

This post dedicated to Julia, history scholar and lover of all things ancient. (hehe)

Last night, we finally made it to the Colosseum on a Rome tour with a group from AUR. There were about 50 of us walking around like ducklings, taking hundreds of pictures, and generally drawing attention to ourselves and tourists. Again, we started at the Piazza Venezia and walked past the Trajan Column, Forum, and finally, the piéce de résistance, the Colosseum. It's next to a main thoroughfare, so fiats and smart cars go zooming past it like they see it every day of their lives. For those of us that don't, its an amazing sight. Seeing thousands of pictures of it don't do the actual thing any justice. It is lit from lights in the arches (much like the picture above) and you can see it for blocks before you get there. It kinda looms in the distance. I'm not explaining it well, I'm sure, but I'll have more info once i go on the tour and actually see the inside. Gladiator just got a little bit cooler...

Today we're exploring the shopping side of the city: there's a large market by us that has everything from pastries to fruits and veggies to shoes, and then one of the main shopping streets, Via del Corso.

The pic below is one of my roommates, me, and three other BC girls at the Colosseum.


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Exploring the Center


Today was rainy--really rainy. Despite this, my roommates and I trekked around the city and made it to the center, where you can find all of the historical stuff in Rome. The same bus that takes us to school continues on across the river to the center. We passed the forum, thought we saw the Colosseum (which looked accurate out a foggy, rainy bus window, but turned out not to be when close up...) and ended up at the Capitoline and Piazza Venezia. I'll put some pictures below.

Our lunch stop was at a small cafe where we apparently befriended the waiter, as he soon brought out a cappuccino for the table with "you are beautiful" spelled in the foam. Oh, italians.

Monday, January 25, 2010

We're not in Kansas anymore...

Hello All! This morning, I watched the sun rise over Italy just before landing at Fiumicino airport in Rome. The guy sitting next to me got me excited in NY when he said the descent into Rome was fabulous and I had to take pictures out the window. No such luck--still pretty dark by landing, and at that time, couldn't tell Italy from Iowa. Oh well.

Just settling into the apartment. There are 5 girls with the whole floor to ourselves. Each room has a balcony, and our dining room's balcony is HUGE. We just need some decent lawn chairs. In Italy, you can only heat your house from 6-10am and 6-10pm, and it's pretty cold here today, so we're all bundled up. Hoping to take a neighborhood tour this afternoon and then maybe go into the city center tonight.

Lots more to come!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Only days away now...

Hi everyone!

The journey officially starts tomorrow morning with the drive to Indy to see Nana and Pops and Auntie Vicki before heading up to Chicago on Saturday. The bags are packed, the iPod is charged, and logistically, I'm ready to go!

I'll be spending the semester at the American University of Rome, which is mostly made up of study abroad students, which is nice because we'll all be in the same boat. A little background for you: the school is located in the Trastevere neighborhood of Rome. If you imagine Rome as a square with the Tiber river winding through the center, the Vatican is in the northwestern corner and AUR is in the southwestern corner, across the river from the city center, which includes the Colosseum and the Ancient Roman Forum. Trastevere is filled with pizzerias, trattorias (cafes) and restaurants, and is famous for the Piazza Santa Maria, with one of the oldest churches in the city (and in Rome, that's saying something!)

Can't believe it's almost here! The next time I post, I'll include some pictures of AUR and Rome!!