All Roads Lead to Rome: Part 2

We woke up early on the second day to get a head start on the city, and it sure was a good thing we did. There is SO much to see and do in Rome and rushing through it isn’t the best way to do it. We began the day by walking back past the Colosseum and Roman Forum on the way to the rest of the sights. Though the weather had already been fairly warm and nice the first day, the second day was even nicer and sunnier so we wanted to take a look at the monuments in the sunlight with the blue skies in the background (the stops were on the way anyway).

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A short walk past the outside gates of the Forum led us to this massive, marble-white building in the city: Altare Della Patria, or “Altar of the Fatherland.” The building was so beautiful and reminded me a bit of a monument we might have in Washington D.C. We climbed all the steps to the top, which gave us a nice view overlooking the city and the piazza below, Piazza Venezia. You didn’t realize just how big this place was until you saw someone standing against the pillars; it appeared the white backdrop would just completely swallow you up and consume you. Although it’s not one of the most well-known sights you think of when you visit Rome, I would still recommend the visit for the views.

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The next stop on the agenda was a visit to the infamous Trevi Fountain (that thing that people always throw coins into and make wishes in in the movies). Although the fountain was surrounded by loads of tourists, it was still simply beautiful. It wasn’t quite as big and grand as I had pictured it, but it was still pretty large. After sitting on the stone benches surrounding the area for a bit and throwing a coin into the fountain and making a wish, we moved on to seek out the Spanish steps.

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The Spanish Steps, when we found them, were nothing like what I had pictured (or seen in the postcard I bought). This was probably due to the fact that there were tons of tourists crowding the area and that the steps were basically just a bunch of plain, stone stairs. I’ve always heard that the steps were where authors like Goethe, Byron, Shelley, and Keats had all sat and gotten inspiration for their writing from the “beautiful view,” but I honestly didn’t find it that great; I guess I’ll continue to draw my writing inspiration from other parts of the cities I visit.

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As it was mid afternoon by this time, we were growing quite hungry and decided to search for a restaurant in between sightseeing treks. Along the way we found a little indoor/outdoor cafe called Maxela Ristorante Vineria that seemed nice and decently priced. Sam ordered a salad and I ordered parmigiana (I’m trying to try as much different Italian cuisine while here) and both were delicious. When we first sat down, the waiter brought us a basket of bread which Sam and I quickly devoured. It wasn’t until the waiter came out a few minutes later with dressings and seasonings that we realized that we were supposed to wait and eat the bread with our meals and not before. We were quite embarrassed, but the waiter was really understanding and brought us another basket immediately. At the end of our meal, he asked if we wanted dessert and when we replied no, he brought out a jar of gummies anyway and said, “A gift for you, on the house.” The service was so efficient and hospitable and the food was delicious, definitely one of my favorite dining experiences so far.

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The next stop on our tourist sight expedition was the Pantheon; I wasn’t super stoked about seeing it in the beginning, but I am glad I gave it a visit. When we were about to enter the building, Sam instructed me to keep my eyes to the floor, saying that we shouldn’t look up until we’re right in the center so that we can see the dome in all its glory. We shuffled along, trying not to bump into people or look too suspicious, and made our way to the middle. Once there, we raised our heads to gaze up at the bright skylight letting in a sunbeam right in the middle of the ceiling. The rest of the inside of the dome wrapped around in a circle, seemingly creating a spiral effect when you stared at it. There were different dedications and tombs all around the perimeter of the dorm, headed by an altar at the front that was surrounded by pews for worship. Although I went into the monument thinking it was “just a dome,” the views from inside surprised me and proved that it was far more than just that.

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After the Pantheon, we made the trek across the River Tiber to the Vatican City. There was a queue two-thirds the way around the entire inner area of the Vatican to get in, and the line took us a good hour and forty-five minutes just for us to get through security. Once we were past security however, we had pretty much free range to explore the area, which was much bigger than I could’ve ever imagined. We started off with St. Peter’s Basilica, one of the bigger parts of the area. The entire inside was so intricately designed and painted and there was something to see at every turn. The ceilings were high up and painted with gorgeous murals and there were statues and paintings everywhere you looked. We were searching for the Sistine Chapel (which we thought was inside the basilica) but were informed that it was actually in the Vatican Museum, about a ten minute walk away, which was already closed for the day. Since we couldn’t see the Sistine Chapel, we decided to do what we thought was the “next best thing” and climb to the top of St. Peter’s Basilica.

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The climb to the tip top of the dome was 551 treacherous steps. It was six euros to walk the steps and eight euros to take the lift to the top; if you are fully able-bodied, don’t have any mobility/breathing issues, and aren’t claustrophobic, I would highly recommend paying the six euros to walk the steps yourself. Although it’s difficult and I was sweating and out of breath by step fifty, walking gets you access to the inside of the dome as well as the outside on top of the dome so that you get to see a bit more. It’s also a really cool experience to scale the small steps and maneuver the slanted walls and such. However, if you are not as able and have slight doubts that you could make it, I would recommend taking the lift straight to the top. Either way, St. Peter’s Basilica is a must-do thing if you make it out to the Vatican (which I would also highly recommend as well).

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When we got to the top above the dome (and caught our breath/ensured we weren’t going to pass out) we were in complete awe. You could see what seemed like the entire city from there and every direction was insanely beautiful. Not only could you see the Colosseum, Pantheon, and Roman Forum, but you could also see everything in between. We spent a solid half an hour simply taking in all the views from every direction. It got really crowded up there, but if you found a decent spot of fencing you would be just fine to stand there for a while, as the view didn’t really get boring.

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When we had made the 551 step walk back down to the bottom and stepped outside, it started to rain. Unfortunately we had left our umbrellas back at the hostel since the blue skies hadn’t really looked very stormy, so we were left vulnerable to the weather. Even though there was thunder and lightening, the rain was very light and actually pretty refreshing, and it let up after a little while. We made our way to a little area of the city called Trestevere, a place that had been suggested by one of my pub crawl guides and friends from Copenhagen who was actually from Rome. This area was really quaint and had several decently priced restaurants that offered indoor and outdoor seating. We stopped at one place called Carlo Menta Restaurant and sat underneath the plastic covering on the patio. Soon after we sat down, it began to pour like crazy and it seemed like we had made it just in time. We both ordered the classic Italian pizza: a thin crust pie with tomato sauce, no cheese, oregano, garlic, and olive oil. It was surprisingly tasty for how little was on it. The kicker was that we each got full pizzas for only two euros a piece here, so if you’re looking for someplace cheap yet delicious, this is one of the best options.

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After we had finished dinner and the rain had let up, we left to explore Trestevere a bit more and found more lovely restaurants and gelato places (which Italy has no shortage of). On the walk back to the hostel, we passed by a couple of the monuments we had already visited in the daytime (like the Altar of the Fatherland and the Colosseum) and snapped some pictures. I of course had to satiate my daily Italian gelato intake, so we stopped at the corner place where we had had dinner the night before to get some gelato. After this we stopped at a market to buy some snacks before retiring to the room to relax after a long, eventful day.

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Although I would’ve loved to stay in Rome longer, I’m satisfied with how much got done during the visit. I was sad to leave but I know that I’ll be back someday and that the other cities on my holiday are awaiting my visit as well…

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