November 24, 2001 – Rome by Derek White

Hectic day of travel. Woke up in Siena in our great room with a view. Got breakfast and then went up to get a bus to Assisi to get a bus that never came. Miscommunication from the vile ticket vendor who told us to wait up in the local terminal. Ended up we were supposed to take a city bus to the train station where we would then get our bus to Assisi. We missed the 10:30 bus after waiting for an hour, and the next bus wasn’t til 4:30. We were thoroughly annoyed to say the least. We decided to blow off Assisi and just go to Rome. Got a bus to the train station and then got a train to Chiusi, and then another train to Rome. Took the very crowded Metro to the Spanish steps thinking we would find a room there, but everything was overpriced, so we wandered around until we were down near Campo D’Fioro again. Found this great little place, Pension Primavera, that feels like you’re staying at somebody’s home. It’s dark and marbly and smells like chocolate liquor. Our room has a view overlooking Piaza San Pantalea and the bustling Vitorro street. As usual, we had time to kill before dinner as restaurants in Italy don’t open til 8 pm. And we were starving. We saw all the sights again, went through Piazza Navonna at night, with Bernini’s fountains all lit up. Then we saw Trevi fountain at night. The annoying street vendors were now selling roses. We ended up eating at this place called La Campana, which supposedly is the oldest restaurant in Rome. Amazing gnocchi and vongole, artichokes, etc.

November 25

After breakfast, we strolled along the Tevere river and through the Jewish quarter, past the Teatro Marcello and the Synagogue, crossed over onto Tiberina island and then through the streets of Trastevere which is the old classic part of the city, but also the most residential and livable. Wild cats wandered the streets and there was grafitti all over the old buildings. Saw S. Maria church, beautiful mosaic work and old latin inscriptions in marble plaques all along the front. Mass was going on. Outside there were orange vendors (I guess oranges have a special significance in Rome, you see them everywhere). Dogs running around. Winded around alleys and streets to another church, S. Cecilia, then we crossed over the river down to the big pyramid tomb smack in a big intersection where all these commuters were bustling to work. Explored around until we finally found the way in through this old cemetery where Shelly, Hardy, and other famous (mostly foreigners) were buried. Very non-denominational and muli-national, wicked little cemetery with wild cats everywhere, roosting on the old tombstones. Definitely a gem off the beaten path.

Then we made our way up the oasis hill of Aventina, saw two other churches (S. Alsessesio and S. M. de Cosmedia). Monks walking around, more great religious artwork, and spectacular views of surrounding Rome. Then we passed through the orange grove, where local Romans were huddled in parties of 8 or 12 with feasts spread out and five gallon jugs of wine. They were huddled so close to each other that they were literally shoulder to shoulder, with cats loitering outside of their circles. Past the rose gardens and down to Circo Massimo—the remains of a large oval stadium where the Romans used to have chariot races and such. All it was now was a vast empty grass lot. There were great views of the Palantino behind it, a huge fortress of ruins on a hill overlooking the forum. We wanted to go up there but we were getting hungry, so we retreated back to Trastevere and ate at this smokey crowded place with a waiter that reeked so bad it made you want to vomit. But the food was great, I had penne D’Arrabaita, which heated me up with it’s spiciness. When we finally got out of lunch (terrible service as usual) it was almost dusk. We rushed over to the Forum since we saw it in the rain the time before. It was spectacular at sunset, standing columns silhouetted against the orange and gray skies. We walked along the forum, down to the Coliseum. Loitered until it got dark and then they turn on the lights in the forum, and it’s really cool. Walked around more, feeling almost overwhelmed at all there is to see and the history embedded in every ruin. We had a picture book that explained the significance of each structure. But after a while, it all just starts to blend together. Just unbelievable.

November 26

We saved the best for last, the Vatican. Walked across the river to Vatican city, through the circular square of columns and into St. Peters. Mass was going on and it was unbelievable. Just utterly massive, with every nook and cranny filled with artwork. Bernini did the altar and the canopy in the middle, which is incredible. And the dome was by Michelangelo (I think). Saw the Pieta, which was incredible—Mother and dead son as one, the robes draped around her are incredible, the lustery brilliance of the surface. Went down into St. Peter’s tomb.

Walked around to get to the Vatican museum. We quickly rushed through the tour groups to get to the Cistine Chapel. It’s breathtaking. Of course there was hordes of disruptive tourists, but it is still awesome to be in there. Imagining Michelangelo painting all of that on his back. The Last Judgment, the creation of Adam, Original Sin… to much for words.

And there is so much other stuff to see in the museum it is unbelievable. You’ll be strolling through some courtyard, and suddenly there is the Laccoon, just sitting there in the open, or Perseus or Belvedere’s Apollo, all these classic pieces of art that are familiar from pictures, but here they are. I remember talking about Raphael’s School of Athens for two whole class periods when I took art history, and here it was, along with Raphael murals covering the other three walls and the ceilings, and the floors. You are literally surrounded by art and eye-candy with every step you take.

We retreated to our room to rest, but of course that only lasted about ten minutes, until we were out on the streets again. Wandered around looking for gifts and just exploring the streets. Letting ourselves get lost only to fond ourselves. Must have gone into the Pantheon or stumbled across Piazza Navonna on 5-6 different occasions. And everything in between. Another great dinner at “La Carbonara”.

November 27

Woke up and it was still dark. The old grandmother from the pension drove us to the airport in her Citroen. 165 Km an hour, and she wasn’t smooth, it was scary. The airport was comically filthy, litter everywhere like the streets of New York after a holiday and no garbage pickup. Here it looked like nobody had cleaned in weeks. I guess the workers were on strike. Sat next to some psychotic guy on the plane who proceeded to immediately freak out and gobble down a whole box of chocolates. He kept fidgeting and reading and re-reading all the receipts of everything he bought in Italy over and over. Funny thing was that he was sitting in front of us on the way to Italy frantically ripping pictures out of magazines and spilling water on people. And our flight was doing crazy shit, flying around in circles, accelerating and decelerating. Finally our captain said that they were having communication problems and were flying around trying to regain communication. They had flown around so much that they said we might not make it to Newark but would have to land in Canada to refuel. Unnerving in light of recent events. But we ended up making it to Newark. Got the bus to Grand Central, through hectic mid-town traffic. And then on the crowded rush-hour subway going uptown, home sweet home.

in pictures ...