I will be the first to say when your morning starts with a view like this, there is nothing you can complain about:
We had arrived at the VillaMaria hotel (roughly half an hour outside of Rome) the night before and were treated to a delicious pasta dinner, hands down the best meal of the entire trip. At least… everyone else was. Given our previous meal disappointments and my still painful and upset stomach after food poisoning, I had accepted the offer of rice in lieu of whatever meal was prepared. Big mistake on my part, although I will say the rice seemed to help settle my stomach again.
Our flight had originally landed in Rome, but we had yet to see any of the main sites. After viewing the sunrise from atop our roof’s hotel, we ate a quick breakfast and headed out on the bus to explore Rome!
Driving through the original gates gave me my first set of chills in Rome, but they would hardly be the last.
At this point, we were presented with a choice: either we could continue on with the group and go see the Catacombs, or we could have some free time to shop. Naturally, I chose shopping! (Just kidding – I can’t even joke about that.) We abandoned the non-history lovers next to the Circus Maximus, a large grassy site which is most noted for its chariot races and other sporting events. The ruins located behind it are Palantine Hill, where Roman mythology states Romulus and Remus were found by a she-wolf.
The drive along Appian Way to the Catacombs of Saint Sebastian seemed to be over in the blink of an eye, likely because I am terribly claustrophobic. If I wasn’t such a history lover, and if I didn’t think this could be a once in a lifetime opportunity, I’m not sure I could have done it. By the very first step down, my heart was racing and I had to remind myself to breathe.
The Catacombs are another Italian location where you are not allowed to take pictures, but thankfully you can take some in the church above!
San Sebastiano fuori le mura is a 4th century basilica built over one of Rome’s ancient Catacombs. Saint Sebastian is famous for his status of martyr, and is largely believed to have been killed during the persecution of Christians by Roman emperor Diocletian. He is commonly depicted with arrows in his body, although it’s actually more likely he was beaten to death.
It’s been such a long time since I’ve been down there, but to my memory, the most claustrophobia-inducing moments were all part of the descent. Once down there, I recall it being – if not spacious – breathable. There were definitely narrow corridors where I involuntarily held my breath, but for the most part, I did okay. If I can do it, so can you!
We then spent a brief amount of time feeling inspired by the stunning architecture at the Basilica of St. Paul’s Outside the Walls.
(A quick note – my idiotic 16 year old self left the date stamps on the pictures. I have removed what I can using Inpaint, but for pictures where the image was severely warped from removing it, I have left the date stamp in place. This continues to irk me, and I apologize!)
We reconnected with the group of people who had gone shopping before heading to our next destination – The Vatican.
This adorable little patch of green is known as the Pine Cone Courtyard (Fontana della Pigna), probably because of this cute statue:
Inside, on our way to the Sistine Chapel, we walked down several hallways with beautifully intricate ceiling designs.
Even so, it goes without saying that none of of these rooms could ever compare to the inside of the Sistine Chapel.
If I close my eyes and think about it, I can still recall how I felt standing there, below all the history and surrounded by other people just as awestruck as I was. The room demands silence, but even so, the voices climb in volume until everyone is loudly shushed by one of the guards. As for me, I didn’t say a word, and was more than content to gaze up at the ceiling and marvel at the images (and sneakily take a few pictures, too).
The Sistine Chapel was commissioned by Pope Sixtus IV. Michelangelo painted the ceiling over the course of four years, finally completing it in 1512. It’s sobering to see the high, vaulted ceiling in person and think about how dangerous it would have been to lay on your back on rickety, wooden catwalks, painting by candlelight with your arm raised up every day. It truly is a remarkable work of art, and an impressive site to see in person.
Our tour continued on to the next door – and crowded – St. Peter’s Basilica. The Basilica of San Pietro is another stunning site in Rome. You may or may not be familiar with the passage “That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church” from Matthew 16:13-19, but whether you are religious or not, you’d be hard-pressed not to find this Basilica stunning.
You can’t tell me this dome isn’t one of the most breath-taking you’ve ever seen!
The architecture in Italy was one of my all-time favorite aspects of the trip. I have a great love for really old buildings, so every place we went wow-ed me. I could have stayed outside of the Vatican for ages just staring at the building alone!
Even with all of our excitement from this day, we had one more stop to make after dinner! We all clambered back on board our trusty bus, which would have been much cooler if our driver was Ms. Frizzle, and instead of the creepy, hits-on-teen-girls driver we were stuck with. Still, we had some pretty spectacular night views on the way to our destination.
Our last stop turned out to be the spectacular Trevi Fountain, which claims that any traveler who throws a coin in will be guaranteed a return trip to Rome.
Of course I tossed my coin in with the hope that it comes true (and some day I plan for it to!).
As a group we wandered around Rome’s streets, weaving our way back towards the bus, until we came across artists doing caricatures in the street. All of the students from my school collectively decided to pay for our teacher’s picture to be drawn. I have to say, seeing him hang it on his classroom wall after we all returned from Italy really made me feel connected to the people on the trip and all of the experiences we shared together. Plus, the picture is just too funny to pass up!
Stay tuned for two more Italy posts!