Monday 12 January 2009

699 photos in 6 days - Traveling... Italian Style - part 3

I've never been to Rome before. That's why I was very nervous about this trip. Not because I was worried about something, it was just that feeling of seeing something new... How is it? Is it big? Is it small? Will I have time to see all the things I read or heard about? Will I be able to find my way around the city? And so on...

I was also a bit nervous about the flight. It was the first time I was going to travel with a low-cost company and the first time to leave from Bucharest Baneasa. The departure was set for 6.10 a.m. on the morning on 28 December. Let's do a bit of math... 6.10 - around 2 hours, it meant that I had to be at the airport at around 4 a.m... 4 a.m. - 15 minutes to travel the distance between my house and the airport, it meant 3.45... - around 2 hours of getting ready (I'm a girl, I take time to get ready *blush*)... I set the alarm for 2 a.m. It would've been ok, if only for the three cats which met the previous evening and never stopped running and hissing and... argh! The conclusion is that I slept around 1 hour before my travel... Imagine my mood! Yep, as cranky as ever!

All said and done, at around 4 a.m., I was trying to find my way inside the minuscule airport. I ended up in a waiting/boarding hall, full of people either leaving to Rome or to London. I very much liked (not!) a girl who at that early hour was wearing all white, a pair of red patent leather boots and a red patent leather bag. She represented the exact image of the girls leaving Romania for Italy. I met another while in Rome... It made me sad, but... oh, well, I have more proof on why the general Italian people don't particularly like us: we generally export thieves and skanks. Ok, I know, there are still people who go there to do honest work. Still, it's the only thing they do, they do not learn anything about the way of living and the real values.

Anyway, back to the trip... Everything went very smooth, so around 7 a.m., local hour, I was landing on Rome Ciampino, hoping that the cab driver that was going to pick me up was already there. He was, as I found out right after I collected my luggage. It was peacefully raining outside. The travel lasted around 20 minutes and most of it was through very lovely green areas. He parked in front of a chic apartment building and my little new special friend and host, Emanuela, ran outside to give me a very powerful and welcoming hug. It was really good to see her again after three weeks since I first met her.

I really liked the building their apartment was in... Very clean, pictures hanging on the walls, flower pots, the kind of building you cannot really see down here. I had a moment thinking how many minutes a pot of flowers would last in front of my apartment door... Hmmm... I would guess 10 minutes... Anyone else? Once inside the apartment, I met Mr. L, said hello, was showed to my room, then I was sent to sleep, to recover after the lost night and the flight.

I think I managed to sleep for an hour or so, then went into the kitchen to find them preparing to go out for a little bit. I stayed home and read, in the dinning room. Around noon, a skinny boy entered the room and I guessed it couldn't have been anyone else but their 15 year old, Fabio Massimo, who had just woken up. We said hello to each other, then he went back to his room.

When Emanuela and Mr. L returned, we were all joined by Emanuela's mother, Francesca. Ms. Francesca is a very lovely woman, very elegant and kind. I liked her very much. We managed to talk to each other in French and Italian, it was great! Since she was living in an apartment above, she was around most of the time, a real pleasure!

After having lunch, we went outside for a city tour... I had told them that I had 15 places I wanted to see (as instructed by Orlando, who was, I think, happier than me that I went to Rome! :) Not that I wasn't happy...) and they tried to make sure I was getting to see them all. You will understand by the end that my list was completed with another 40 places or so, which was great!

Our tour began at Circo Massimo, which although now is just a long bare field, in the past was a hippodrome, used for games and entertainment by the Etruscan kings of Rome. On it's right, there's the Palatine Hill (Il Palatino) on which the legend says there was the cave in which Romulus and Remus were fed by the she-wolf, Romulus the founder of Rome.

On the other side of Circo Massimo, there's another one of the seven hills the Rome was built on, the Aventine Hill. On the Aventine Hill, there are some of the oldest Christian churches of Rome: Santa Sabina, San Alessio (also known as Santi Bonifacio e Alessio) and Santa Prisca, as well as Piazza dei Cavalieri di Malta and Il Giardino degli Aranci.

The first to see was Santa Sabina, built between 422 - 432. What strikes you in each and everyone of the churches in Rome is the floor, which in most cases is a combination of marble arrangements, of colours you'd only dream of, and of mosaics. Santa Sabina was built on the Temple of Juno Regina.

On the right of Santa Sabina, there is a garden full of tall pine trees and orange trees, hence its name: Giardino degli Aranci - Garden of Orange Trees. From here you can see a very nice view over the Tiber river and, somewhere in the back, there's San Pietro from the Vatican.

San Alessio was built in the 3rd or 4th century and it was initially dedicated to San Bonifacio. The dedication to San Alessio happened only in the 13th century. Again, the floors are amazing, this time in the Cosmati family style. By the door, there's an altar with a statue of San Alessio made by Andrea Bergondi and part of a staircase beneath which the saint lived.

Not far from San Alessio, there's the square of the Maltese knights - Piazza dei Cavalieri di Malta. Here, if you peek through the door key hole of the Maltese knights compound, you will see a very interesting view of San Pietro.

The next destination was San Pietro in Vincoli. The church is very close to the Colosseo and to the University La Sapienza, which was very proudly introduced to me by Mr. L as being the school he went to. San Pietro in Vincoli is mainly known for the beautiful statue of Moses, made by Michelangelo. Michelangelo had this kind of talent that allowed him to create masterpieces to which you can only stare and stare... for whole minutes, in total awe. You try to understand how it is possible to turn a block of stone into such perfection. You ask yourself how his mind could've worked in order to achieve such beauty. The details are amazing... The beard, the robe, the veins, the muscles... Apart from Moses' statue, in the church you may see the chains that imprisoned St. Peter in the Mamertine Prison (next to Il Foro Romano). The church itself is a great piece of art, with paintings that seem to be three dimensional and cover both the ceiling, as well as the walls.

After removing myself from watching the amazing things in San Pietro in Vincoli, we hurried towards Santa Maria Maggiore. Due to the running around the city to just check off the to-see places on the list I had brought from home, I totally forgot that this particular church had another entrance and from the other side it looks amazing. What's to see in Santa Maria Maggiore? First, there's the beautiful mosaic above the entrance I used to get inside the church. Then, again the Cosmati floors, which I totally loved! Big Cosmati fan! I mean, how could you not be? Just take a look and see the perfection. The little pieces of marble joined together in a flawless manner, without the use of the instruments we have access to today. No computers, dudes! Can you even imagine that? Wow, breathless, really! Apart from the floors, you definitely have to take a look at the beautiful painted ceilings! The Borghese chapel, amazing mixture of marble and paintings. Then, in a crypt just below the altar there's the Holy Crib which contains fragments of the Holy Cradle brought to Rome by pilgrims.

We hopped back into the car and drove to Piazza Venezia, near Altare della Patria. This is also known as Il Vittoriano because it was built to honour the first king of the unified Italy, king Vittorio Emanuele II. The monument also hosts the Unknown Soldier's Tomb. On our way from Piazza Venezia towards Piazza di Spagna, I realised that Mr. R (the green-eyed curly-haired guy from Part 1) was kinda famous in Rome... First, I found his church... San Marcello. I am kidding of course, but there were quite a few locations in Rome bearing his name and this was only the first. I will tell you about the rest as the story carries on. The church of San Marcello is a very beautiful one, just like all the others I managed to see everywhere in Rome. The whole name of the church is actually San Marcello al Corso due to the fact that it is located on Via del Corso and it's dedicated to Pope Marcellus I. From here we walked towards Fontana di Trevi which everybody knows. It is famous because it's supposed to make wishes true if you throw coins backwards in it and it should bring you back to Rome. It is also known from La Dolce Vita (Hmmm, another Marcello - MASTROIANI!). I guess in the summer, it must be pretty hard not to dive into the fountain, but I wasn't tempted with the cold outside. What people don't know about Fontana di Trevi is that it is the largest fountain in Rome and that the aqueduct that brings water to it was built in 19 B.C. Of course, I paid my dues, threw coins and wished for my greatest wishes. If at least I get to return to Rome, it'll be awesome! We finished our exhausting first day marathon in Piazza di Spagna. I was so tired and cold that I could barely move. Of course, I didn't understand much of what was being shown to me anymore. I remembered though that Emanuela went to highschool on Trinita dei Monti on top of the Spanish Steps. I went to Ion Neculce... Not really the same thing, is it? Imagine going to school in Rome, not necessarily on Trinita dei Monti... *BIG SIGH* But back to the Spanish Steps! Can you imagine them full of azaleas? I can, but I wanna see it with my own two eyes, so maybe a May return to Rome wouldn't be so bad, would it? Reading Wikipedia, I am starting to get worried... Again, in some way (that only weird me could ever think of), Mr. R makes his appearance... I quote: "American singer/songwriter Bob Dylan refers to the "Spanish Stairs" in his classic "When I Paint My Masterpiece" (1971)". Will not elaborate on that... I will just let you puzzled like that! Heehee!

That evening, we had dinner in a typical Roman pizzeria. Nothing fancy, but very cosy. The food was great. For starters we had something called Suppli, which is made of rice with tomato sauce (I think!) turned into a ball, filled with mozzarella, sunk into beaten eggs, rolled over in breadcrumbs and fried. Mmmmm! The pizza was very nice too!

Next day was reserved for the Vatican. I thought half day was maybe sufficient, but, boy, how wrong was I? We parked and walked towards San Pietro. We were on this small street and when I turned the corner I was overwhelmed by the greatness of the basilica. I knew it was the biggest church in the world (and I believe it's gonna stay like that, at least in the Catholic world anyway, unless they choose to give the pope another home...), but what was in front of my eyes was beyond words. I couldn't wait to get near it, but since it was Espresso time, we entered a "bar" to have one. Afterwards, we headed towards the church, hoping to see it quickly enough and then to head towards Musei Vaticani, keeping our fingers crossed for not a very long queue. Needless to say that our hopes ended up in smoke, as they say... Black smoke, coz white would've meant a success. Not only that there was a queue at Musei Vaticani, about which I will talk later, but there was a very long queue to enter the church itself. It was starting in front of the church, going round the impressively huge square designed by Bernini and getting back to the church. It gave me time enough to get acquainted to most of the 140 saint statues that adorn the colonnades.

The outside is impressive and it makes you feel very small, but the inside it's beyond words, it's overwhelming! To quote my friend Seby: "I thought: are they making fun of us?" You know, when you're visiting places, you should read a bit about them, in order to allow you not to go "Wow!" without even knowing what you're looking at. But in San Pietro you go "Wow!" with or without reading... See for yourselves... The catholic church made sure its power is obvious.

The second "Wow!" you pronounce/yell/scream the moment you turn right and your eyes take in Michelangelo's Pieta. You slowly turn fully towards it and start moving very easily in its direction, your eyes not leaving it... You manage to make your way through the people that are as mesmerised as you are and there you stand, just a few feet away from it, finally understanding why this statue is so famous. It's because it's perfect, just perfect! I will upload the full version of the photo for you to be able to study its every detail. I cannot put into words how you feel in front of it. It's... that feeling that you need to feel for yourself. I was intrigued by its size, expecting it to have been like twice the size it really is. No, it's small, the dimension of real people. First of all, look at Mary's face... Then take a moment to study Jesus' body: the muscles, the veins, the ribs, the bones, the fingers, the feet... Look then at Mary's clothes... All of them look real, don't they?

When you finally manage to unglue yourself from La Pieta, you start walking towards the other parts of the church, to find all the famous things you know are in it. First on the way, I met St. Peter himself! No, don't worry, I haven't died a little and went towards heaven to meet him at the gate, it was just his statue. ;) The statue is particular because St. Peter's right foot is very worn off from the tens of thousands of people who have touched it or kissed it during time for good luck. His left foot is a bit worn out too, but definitely not in the same way as his right. Of course, I touched his foot and I really hope it brings me luck. Positive thoughts always work, right? :)

Moving on, I found Il Baldacchino, which is the altar of San Pietro and it marks the location of St. Peter's tomb. We unfortunately weren't allowed to go beneath it, it was closed that day. It would've been a nice (creepy/spooky for me) experience because there are several other tombs of popes, including the one of John Paul II. Il Baldacchino is another masterpiece of Bernini who used bronze from the ceiling of the Pantheon's portico. Also, by Bernini, in the left corner of the church, I found the tomb of pope Alexander VII, a monument I was keen on seeing because it looked great in a picture I had found. Needless to say that it looks 10 times better in real life. The monument shows a praying pope, while the virtues Charity, Truth, Prudence and Justice are looking up at him. There's a bronze skeleton raising an hourglass from beneath a marble drapery, to remind the pope that he is not immortal. The monument was finished by Bernini at the age of 80, a fact which in itself is totally amazing.

After I finished admiring San Pietro, I headed towards Musei Vaticani, praying that the waiting line wouldn't be so long. I was joined by Mr. L who was going to take me there, then leave coz he had an appointment. Each corner we were turning, there was no sign of the queue. Something seemed wrong, there's ALWAYS a queue! Maybe it was the lunch hour... Maybe it was closed... We finally saw the queue after turning the last corner. There was a queue, but in the opposite direction! Of course! Fortunately, it didn't take too long to get inside, like 20 minutes or so. I said goodbye to Mr. L and went in victoriously. I paid the ticket and hurried to see what the little guide I had on Rome was promising. Of course, the highlight would've been the Sistine Chapel. So... I studied the panels and started walking in the direction of the arrow above "Sistine Chapel". To actually get to it, although I always thought "It should be close!" due to its repeated announcement, it took about three hours. In the meantime, I walked along huuuuge corridors displaying the most wonderful marble combinations, mosaics, ancient statues, beautiful paintings of painters like Raphael, tapestries, wooden carved ceilings etc. It's difficult to choose the most interesting pictures of them all, but I shall try...

I finally reached a dark big room, full of people who were taking photos of the ceiling. I realised I had reached my initial target, the Sistine Chapel... Although it was forbidden to take photos, even without a flash, each and every person there was taking photos... So... why shouldn't I? I mean, I am usually correct, trying to respect the rules, but in this case it would've been stupid of me to keep my camera off. I tried to recognise everything I have read about and pay attention not to miss something, which I usually gracefully do. But what's so special about the Sistine Chapel? The majority of the paintings are done by Michelangelo who nearly did not accept the job because he considered himself more of a sculptor than a painter... Yeah, imagine that! If you can... So he painted the ceiling with scenes from the Book of Genesis, like separation of light and darkness, the creation of Adam and Eve, the great flood etc. Then there are paintings of the prophets like Jonah, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Daniel (Daniel! :D) and so on. Plus other scenes from the Old Testament. On the wall behind the altar, 23 years later, Michelangelo painted the Last Judgement scene for which he was blamed of immorality and obscenity due to the naked bodies he portrayed. There's also a self-portrait of Michelangelo in this scene, the skinned-alive St. Bartholomew.

The rest of the paintings in the chapel are done by other famous painters like Sandro Botticelli (;)). Of course, the religious theme remains, with scenes from both the Old and New Testament. When you manage to take your eyes off the ceiling and the walls, before leaving the chapel, it is advisable to pay a little attention to the floors too. Of course, the same Cosmati technique is noticeable.

Nowadays, whenever a new pope is elected, the chapel is used as location for the conclaves. Reading about this, I found out that the popes, when elected, choose other names. The first time when this happened, the elected pope was called Mercurius and he believed that it was an unappropriate name for a pope since Mercurius was a Roman god. He chose John II. Need I say Mr. R appeared again? How so? Well, the last pope that used his real name was Marcellus II... I'm crazy, I know! :P

Emanuela called a few minutes after I left the Sistine Chapel. She was determined not to let me lose myself in big big mean mean Rome, so she proposed to meet me in San Pietro's square, which we did after I finished visiting the museums, totally missed some more interesting rooms I now find out about, ate two slices of burning pizza and drank a Tuborg in the museums' pizzeria.

I met her and her phone, which during my stay was nearly surgically attached to her ear. Heehee! She was really funny because she was just trying to make sure that everything was right for the New Year's Eve party which was going to be attended by 40 people. But I will tell you about this later...

We headed towards Castel Sant'Angelo which is the location of emperor Hadrian's tomb. The tomb was converted about 260 years later into a military fortress and in another 900 into a castle, connected through a corridor to the San Pietro basilica. This was meant to be a refuge for the pope in case of emergency. Funnier though it's that the castle was also used as a prison, one of its famous inmates being Giordano Bruno.

The evening continued with a walk in Trastevere, a very different neighbourhood, very... warm and homey. First to see was Santa Maria in Trastevere. It was the time of mass, so we couldn't disturb too much, we had to keep quiet. The legend says that in the location of the church, on the day Jesus Christ was born, pure oil flowed from the earth. The piazza in front of the church is decorated by a beautiful octagonal fountain and is a very popular meeting place at night. Beautiful mosaics, wonderful floors, impressive ceilings, the usual decorations that make the churches in Rome so amazing. Of course, I now realise I missed the information that a part of the Holy Sponge was kept there... Next time! At least I had an ice cream in Trastevere... Mmmmm.... :)

We then went to Piazza Navona which is a bit bigger than I expected it to be. This also used to be a 'circo' in the 1st century. The square has three fountains, but the most beautiful of them all is of course Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi which is another Bernini sensational masterpiece. While reading about it, I found out that before each house had its own plumbing, these fountains we now look at as works of art were source of water for the public in the area. Interesting, huh? This fountain in particular represents the four great rivers on each continent besides Australia and Antarctica. We have the Nile for Africa, the Ganges for Asia, the Danube for Europe and Rio de la Plata in South America. Why only the four? Because back then, in the 17th century, these were the only continents that were recognised. Apparently, four was fashionable... Four seasons, four virtues (see the description of the Alexander VII monument in San Pietro above), four cardinal points, four classical elements (fire, air, water, earth) etc. Of course, the obelisk as seen as everywhere in the squares of Rome adorns the fountain. Speaking of obelisks, I think it's interesting to know that there are 13 original obelisks in Rome, out of which 8 are brought to Rome from Egypt for wealthy people, while the other 5 were made in Rome. The 8 Egyptian ones are even more ancient than the beginning of Rome... So, when brought to Rome a bit after the birth of Christ, they were already archeological discoveries for the Romans. (Thank you for the information Mr. L!) Coming back to Piazza Navona, the obelisk there is not an Egyptian one, but it is one of the 13 original ones. All the 5 Roman ones are copies of real obelisks in Egypt.

Campo de' Fiori was our next destination, but before, we stopped to see Sant'Andrea della Valle. This church was initially thought to be built at the end of the 16th century, but its construction was not performed until the middle of the 17th. A lot of beautiful paintings can be seen here, as well as a sculpture made by Bernini's father, Pietro. The best part of the church, though, is the ceiling which can be admired with the use of a mirror table placed right under it. From the church we went to Campo de' Fiori which during the Middle Ages was just a meadow. It is famous because it is the location in which Giordano Bruno was burnt on a stake by the inquisition. Right around the corner from Campo de' Fiori, there is the French embassy. The French have been reaaaaaally lucky to occupy such a building which is mostly known as Palazzo Farnese. Let's just say that Michelangelo contributed to the architecture and the Farnese family was very important. The Farneses gave a pope, a pope's mistress (not to the same pope, of course), a cardinal and loads of dukes of Parma. So... how did the French get such a building??

Day three... We planned on seeing San Giovanni in Laterano first, then see what else we had time for. Before entering the church, we went across the street to see Scala Santa. These are 28 marble steps, now covered in wood, that are known as the steps Jesus Christ walked up towards his trial before Pontius Pilate and were apparently brought to Rome by Helen, mother of Constantine. You cannot step on the stairs, the only way you can climb them is on your knees. Pilgrims climb the stairs praying, hoping for the forgiveness of their sins. I didn't climb the Holy Stairs on my knees, but they reminded me of the moment I was in Fatima, Portugal. It is indeed a different kind of sensation you're having in this kind of places. I still regret not doing the knee-crawling at Fatima, but I think I will have another chance, when I fully understand its true meaning and the feelings are the right ones. I guess it's that type of feeling that I had while watching Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ". Laugh all you want, but I really suffered while watching it.

We crossed again the street towards San Giovanni in Laterano. It was such a beautiful day, with blue skies and the sun shinning brightly... I don't know why I expected the church to be smaller... Maybe because it's not named among the 10 most interesting things to see in Rome in my little guide? I was so wrong... The church it's not only huge, but very important and filled with works of art. It is important because it's the official seat of the Pope. You expected Vatican to be, right? It is the first cathedral of Rome and where the pope was allowed by the emperor Constantine I to set up the episcopal chair. The papal seat was 1000 years later transferred to Avignon, to return to Rome after 60 years, but to the Vatican. It has been destroyed several times, either by an earthquake or by fire, the present look lasting since the 17th century. What you may see inside? I will start with my favourite kind of floors, you guessed it, the Cosmati technique. Then, there are 12 huge marble statues of the apostles. The ceilings are again of carved wood. There's a fresco believed to have been painted by Giotto. There are also important relics, such as the heads of Saints Peter and Paul, placed in a chamber above the altar. The episcopal throne is under yet another beautiful mosaic. On the Altar of the Blessed Sacrament, there a bronze picture of the Last Supper which is supposedly made on a piece of the table used for the last supper. Very nice for the church is that it has a cloister which reminded me of the churches I've seen in Portugal and Spain. There is a nice garden in the middle, surrounded by different types of columns, some of which bear the Cosmati style again. An amazing church, really really beautiful!

Since there was still time and we were in the area, we decided to go to San Clemente. Unfortunately, our trip was in vain because a funeral was going to take place and we were nearly thrown out. I hoped to have time to return, because San Clemente is very important and interesting. On our way back to San Giovanni, we stopped to see Santi Quattro Coronati, a little church dedicated to four martyrs who were Christian soldiers and were killed following their refusal to sacrifice to the god of medicine. The church was also closed, but I found out that it is very beautiful and, as relic, it holds the head of San Sebastiano (poor, poor Seby... ;) ). Next to the church, there's a convent of Augustinian nuns who live in isolation. Once they join the convent, they cannot leave it for errands or visits.

We tried, before going home to drop Mr. L who was the most exhausted 'tourist' of us all, to visit Santa Croce in Gerusalemme where they are supposed to keep fragments of the cross Jesus was crucified on. It was unfortunately closed...

After dropping Mr. L at home, we headed towards Piazza Venezia, Emanuela had plans for me for the afternoon! :) On our way, she showed me Teatro di Marcello (you see, Mr. R has a theatre too :D) and then she dragged me up on Campidoglio. Piazza del Campidoglio was designed by Michelangelo who, as mentioned above in the case of the French embassy, was an architect too. On Campidoglio you can also see the bronze statue of the she-wolf and the twins Romulus and Remus. Also from Campidoglio, I was pointed in the direction of a nice villa, with a little tower, which was the residence of Sophia Loren.

Piazza del Campidoglio is dear to Emanuela because in Sala Protomoteca she is organising every year, together with her wonderful mother and her sister, Premio Simpatia. Premio Simpatia is an awarding action that takes place every year and was initially started by her father. The three ladies, with the kind help of other nice people, are maintaining the tradition of the award even after the regretful death of Mr. Pertica. The award goes to people who had impressive social impact in various fields like cinema, theatre, music, industry, commerce, sports, culture or in jobs like policeman, fireman, doctor etc. You can read more about it on the website if you understand Italian. I think it's a beautiful action they are having and I am proud to know such persons as Emanuela and Ms. Francesca.

She then took me to a wonderful terrace overlooking Rome where she explained that the buffet after the awarding was taking place. Quite an impressive location for having a drink or something to eat... Which we did in Caffetteria Italia. From up there you can also see Il Foro Romano. And if you take the elevator and go up on Il Vittoriano - Altare della Patria - you will see Rome 360 degrees. Very nice!

A few locations were still pending on my list, like the Pantheon. On our way towards it, we saw Trajan's Column, which is very close to Altare della Patria. The column is very well-known for Romanians, we learn about it since elementary school. The column was built by Apollodorus of Damascus, the same architect who built the famous bridge over Danube towards Dacia also for Trajan who was the Roman emperor who managed to conquer Dacia, the territory on which Romania exists today. The two wars against the Dacians are depicted on the column, like in an ancient kind of film. It's also due to Trajan that Romanian ended up being a Latin language, a fact that most foreigners are intrigued by when they first hear it. Trajan's Column was very popular, therefore a similar one was built to honour Marcus Aurelius and is placed in Piazza Colonna which you'll see later. After seeing the column, I was shown a balcony in Piazza Venezia from which Mussolini used to give his speeches. History of all kinds, indeed.

Also on our way, we passed by Santa Maria sopra Minerva. In Piazza della Minerva there's another obelisk which is placed on the back of an elephant, the design (but not the sculpture itself) belonging to Bernini again. The church gets its name from the fact that it is built over a temple dedicated to the goddess Minerva and it is also considered as the only Florentine gothic church in Rome. The body of Saint Catherine of Siena without the head is buried inside, the head being in Siena in San Domenico. I really don't understand this passion of cutting saints into pieces. When I first questioned Leila (who is Catholic) about this, she said that maybe the parts they were having were the only ones remaining intact, like the tongue of Saint Anthony of Pad0va (famous for his oratorical style) who is the only part of the saint that remained, the rest of the body turning into ashes. But you see, this isn't the case of Saint Catherine... Brrrr! Anyway, Santa Maria sopra Minerva was also the place of two conclaves for the election of popes. I find out now, very intrigued, that there is a Michelangelo statue here too! It's called Christ the Redeemer. Grrr! I have to see it! Next time... Apart from that, I liked the blue colour of the ceiling and the beautiful stained glass above the entrance.

Finally, the Pantheon! I was very intrigued by how it would look like, especially the oculus that at 8 m diameter and uncovered is supposed to give a beautiful show when it rains or even snows. The sun was high on the sky that day, so no such show, but the Pantheon itself is a particular building anyway. It's as high as it is wide. Despite the fact that it was built before Christianity, the building survived the craziness of destroying the pagan constructions and using the materials for Christian ones, like it happened to a lot of the buildings in Il Foro Romano. It has survived, but, of course, turned into a catholic church. The original pantheon was built by Agrippa, but it was destroyed in a fire. It was Hadrian who almost 50 years later built the one we can see today and mentioned Agrippa in the inscription on the facade. What can you see inside? Beautiful marble, Raphael's tomb, the tombs of two kings - Vittorio Emanuele II and Umberto I, paintings. What is interesting about the dome, but also about the dome of the San Pietro basilica or Maxentius and Constantine's church in Il Foro Romano, is that, back then, Romans were building from unreinforced concrete with a formula not yet completely known today.

Before heading back home, Emanuela suggested that we should go to San Luigi dei Francesi, the national French church in Rome, which was very close. The church is very famous for the three Caravaggio paintings it possesses. The church was closed for another 15 minutes when we arrived, so we decided it was worth the waiting. When they finally opened the doors, I was the first to get to the chapel that hosts the three paintings. The paintings are about St. Matthew's life, the names of the very famous paintings being The Calling of St. Matthew, The Inspiration of St. Matthew, The Martyrdom of St. Matthew. I like Caravaggio a lot, he's different than most things you can see in Rome.

The day ended in a nice way. We met the cutest family ever. Another Italian guy, Pier Luigi, who is working for the same company, but who has managed to become a friend in the meantime too, was kind enough to meet me while in Rome. We decided to go to dinner and he brought his very beautiful wife and very adorable children. It was a pleasure. And I had the chance to taste, yet again, Italian food. For the starter, I had pappardelle, a name which Pier Luigi repeated it to me like 267 times. Then I had saltimbocca alla romana and, for dessert, pannacotta with wild strawberries... *gulps*

31 December 2008... Last day of the year, a day on which Emanuela insisted we rested for the party. Of course, it didn't really work that way. I was keen on seeing my house in Rome. Oh, I didn't tell you so far, but I have a house in Rome and it's quite well-known too. It bears my name, it's called Casa di Livia. Sounds welcoming, right? I'm only pulling your leg! It's not my own house, but it's funny to know that in a town like Rome there is a place bearing your name. Livia was the second wife of Augustus and her house is on Il Palatino. This is why I wanted to see Il Palatino. Mr L., who has never seen it, offered to accompany me which was very cool because, as mentioned before, he knows a lot of things about the places in Rome.

We got off the metro at the Colosseo and walked towards the entrance in Il Foro Romano which was on the list to see as well. We couldn't have seen Il Palatino without the Forum anyway, because the ticket was for them both plus the Colosseo. We bought our tickets and what we thought would last a couple of hours to see turned into an around four hour visit. Why? Because there was a lot to see and each stone you find there bears a history of its own.

Il Foro Romano was the place around which the Roman civilisation started to develop. People came to the Forum for the latest news, for justice or for religion. In time, the Forum was destroyed because it represented a faith not recognised anymore during Christian times. The materials taken from the Forum were used to build Christian monuments, as mentioned before. The Forum was slowly covered and a neighbourhood was built over it. The excavations for the Forum began at the beginning on the 19th century and its full excavation was finished only 100 years later.

What can be seen there that keeps in a shape similar to its original one? When you enter it, you will find on your left the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina, which was dedicated by Antoninus to his wife Faustina. Turning to the right, there's Curia Julia, which was the location of the Senate. Mr. L said that the floors of the Curia were incredible, but we unfortunately couldn't see them. You will find yourself on an ancient Roman road which was kept, Via Sacra. If you look carefully at the big stones, you will notice the marks of the chariot wheels. On the left, there's the place where the body of Julius Cesar was burnt and where people still leave flowers. Walking further, you can see the Arch of Septimius Severus which celebrates the victories in the Middle East of the emperor. On the left of the Arch you can see the portico of the Temple of Saturn, the only part left of it. You pass by the remains of the Church of Julia and you may see the three left columns of the Temple of Castor and Pollux. Moving on, there's a part of a round temple which used to be the Temple of Vesta followed by the House of Vestals. The priestesses who worshipped the goddess Vesta kept the sacred flame unextinguished and enjoyed the highest privileges. This is where, when looking at the ground, for a second or two I thought my eyesight was turned into sepia mode. I will upload a picture I took of dried leaves mixed with damp soil. I really loved it! We continued our walk towards Il Palatino and we saw the Temple of Romulus. This Romulus is not the same Romulus as the founder of Rome, but the son of emperor Maxentius who built the temple in his son's memory. An impressive building is what remains of the Temple of Maxentius and Constantine. It was the largest building of its time and it was constructed without columns, but with the use of arches. During present times, the location was used for concerts, but due to the damage that the noise was doing to the structure, the archeologists put an end to this use. Before you finally get to Il Palatino, there's another arch, the Arch of Titus, built in his honour by his brother, Domitian. It shows images from the capturing and sacking of Jerusalem, soldiers carrying sacred objects, including a gold Menorah.

To reach Il Palatino, you have to go through a beautiful orange garden, then the view over Rome is again breathtaking. There are several places where you can admire Rome in its entire splendour due to the seven hills it was built on. But it was Il Palatino where everything started. Where the story tells that two infants, Romulus and Remus, fed on the she-wolf. This is also where the house of Augustus was and today is maintained with great care. The colours of the walls dating from so long ago are unbelievable. A bit further, there's Casa di Livia, which unfortunately was closed for refurbishment this time. It was so rude... I couldn't even give Mr. L an espresso at my house. Hmm... The entire area looks over Circo Massimo, so the emperor's view to the hippodrome was just perfect. A cave was found under Casa di Livia and it is believed to be the Lupercal, the cave in which the story says that the twins were found. Also on Il Palatino, there's a museum with archeological relics found there. We were inside the museum when Emanuela called and told us off for taking that much time. Indeed, it was late and we needed to get back home to rest. So, yes ma'am! :)

When we exited the Forum, we found the Mamertime Prison in which, according to tradition, Saints Peter and Paul were imprisoned. The place leaves a mark on you because it's very small and underground. You cannot even begin to realise the conditions the prisoners were kept in. There is a spring inside that is said to have appeared when St. Peter was there and he would have baptised the prisoners with water from it. The saints were tied to a column in there and the chains of St. Peter are in San Pietro in Vincoli, as mentioned above.

We went home then and tried to relax for the big evening. I didn't manage to relax though, so I chose to have a shower and then read a little.

The people started to gather around 9 p.m. and they wouldn't stop coming! They also didn't stop bringing food. So in around half an hour we were flooded with a thousand lasagnas, Russian salad, all kinds of pies or gateaux, lenticchie which is lentil, cake and other things I cannot remember anymore. The party itself for me was a bit complicated because there were a lot of people I didn't know. The second problem I had was that I wasn't really speaking the language and I didn't know how I could talk to them all. It was fun in the end because a lot just assumed I was Italian or spoke Italian and just kept chattering. :) I did my best to put a few words together and with some nice people it actually worked, I think they understood me! :) I talked a lot (for me) with a nice lady called Sandra and I loved it when a colleague of Emanuela, called Patrizia, insisted in talking in English to me. She was very nice too and she made perfect lasagna! :) It was also that evening that I met Mr. L's twin sisters. One of them danced tango and I was looking at her and her partner with great interest. It's such a difficult dance, but very beautiful. I also met his mum who is different than Emanuela's mum, but a very nice person too. I liked her to bits! Sicilian... :) The New Year came quickly while we could hardly breathe from the generous amounts of food we kept eating. We still had to eat lenticchie which the more you eat, the more money you make that year. I was happy I was in such a place while changing the year! I was also happy I could wish a dear friend of mine Happy Birthday that same night because he was turning a special age, 30! What else? Erm... fun, fun, fun, dancing and laughing!

The next morning I didn't sleep too much, I was ready to go out and do some more sightseeing. The clock was ticking and I hadn't seen everything on my list! I helped to clean the apartment which was quite a mess after the party, then Mr. L offered to join me to San Clemente. I was really happy he accepted to go back considering the failure of last visit. We called before just to make sure the church was going to be open. It was!

Why is San Clemente so important? San Clemente is not one church, but three different churches in the same location, one on top of the other. The lowest one is from the 1st century, the second is from the 4th, while the last one, on ground level, is from the 12th century. Pagan worshiping is noticeable in the 1st century level because it contains an altar dedicated to the god Mithra. Also, in the oldest church, there is a spring. The sound of it only adds to the creepy feeling. It was only in 1857 that an Irish Dominican Father Mullooly discovered the church from the 4th century and started excavations. The 1st century level still needs to be fully uncovered and the Dominican monks will participate in this mission. I was unfortunately not allowed to take photos on the two levels underground, but you may find some photos here. It's incredible how the colours kept from the 4th century. Frescos in which San Clemente is portrayed can be seen there. The lowest church is very claustrophobic and a bit creepy, I would have never gone alone. So... thanks Mr. L for coming along! But the present church is very beautiful too, with a wonderful ceiling, mosaics, frescos and... you guessed it, Cosmati floors. :)

We returned home because Mr. L was hungry and tired. After we ate, Emanuela took me outside and our destination was supposed to be Santa Maria del Popolo, last to check on my list. We parked in Piazza Venezia and walked... It was really beautiful! First on the way, we met the other column I was mentioning before, the one of Marcus Aurelius. We then entered a church dedicated to Saints Ambrogio and Carlo. It was a bit funny because just a few days before I had got an e-mail from an old friend called Carlo, more than a year after we had fallen apart. It was a very beautiful church.

We finally reached Piazza del Popolo which was very nicely lit. The history of the square is not that nice though, since it was the place where executions were being held. In the middle of the square, there's one authentic Egyptian obelisk of Ramesses II. It was brought to Rome by my husband, Augustus, and initially placed in Circo Massimo. Just kidding, you know, the husband of Livia. Also facing the square, there are two very similar churches called Santa Maria dei Miracoli and Santa Maria in Montesanto. The churches are so much alike that they are called chiese gemelle - twin churches.

Santa Maria del Popolo is yet another place where a high number of famous works of art concentrate on a very small area. Caravaggio in the Cerasi Chapel - the Crucifixion of St. Peter and Conversion (of Paul) on the way to Damascus, Bernini and Raphael in the Chigi Chapel - although, this time, the Bernini was covered for some works, Pinturicchio in two chapels - della Rovere and St. Augustine.

The evening ended in a funny way. I joined the entire family at one of Mr. L's sisters' place to play cards. The game was pretty simple, but not necessarily for me at that hour. So I quickly lost both of my Euros. Actually, Emanuela's Euros coz I hadn't brought my wallet with me. :))

Last day... and the saddest. It always is when I have to go back home... It wouldn't be so sad if my home was in a different place, but... oh, well, my home is still here for the moment. The last day was dedicated from the beginning to shopping. Not necessarily clothes/shoe shopping, but small souvenir shopping. I hadn't had time to do such things before.

Our first stop was in Eur, the new part of Rome, built during Mussolini's time. I managed to see the Squared Colosseo from the car. It's real name is Palazzo della Civilita. It looks... strange, to say the least. Then I saw the church of Saints Peter and Paul, a big construction which has nothing to do with the older ones. But still, it is to appreciate the fact that they still tried to keep big green areas which are very important in a city like Rome. After just one pair of purple shoes, we went to the mall... And what a mall... So big you can get lost in it. It's called Euroma 2. Since I'm not a big mall fan, I gave up quite easily especially since the sizes are... Italian. Let's just say that Emanuela, who is half of me, bought an M-sized dress who was not too loose on her... "Excuse-me, do you have this in 6-XL?" should have been my question in case I was attracted by something. But I really wasn't... Since Emanuela was totally beat, I begged her to let me at a nearby metro station so that I could actually go and find some souvenirs. I took the metro from Basilica San Paolo station, changed in Termini and got off at Spagna. On the way, I had to listen to one... not so handsome Italian telling an even more not so handsome Italian how cool Facebook was and how many single ladies he could find there. Euuuuugh! Yuck! I think all the Italian people have an account on Facebook, it's really popular there. I'm still debating on whether or not to get an account there... Hmm... But if I do, I really hope the two gentlemen from the metro don't find my profile!

Yoopee! Piazza di Spagna by day! I could actually understand and remember something of it! From there, I hurried towards Fontana di Trevi, with some pit-stops on the way for souvenirs and for a pair of oh-so-beautiful grey shoes from Altariva on Via del Tritone (no. 31). May I say my shoes were 40% off the price they had in the display window? *does a little happy dance* And Fontana di Trevi! Finally! Also by day, full of people and umbrellas. It had been lovely that morning, but I wasn't lucky enough for the afternoon to be the same.

I ran towards Piazza Barberini to hop on another metro that was going to take me to Garbatella. From there, Mr. L was kind enough to come pick me up and take me for a last bit of sightseeing on Appia Antica. This is the most important ancient Roman road, which connected Rome to the sea in Brindisi. Parts of the original road are still kept and we went on it, but it's very very bad, because there are huge stones, not very well connected between them, so it's like an earthquake kind of feeling. Again, the stones are shaped by the wheels of the chariots. Very interesting, really! There are a lot of catacombs on the way, but I don't think I'll ever visit them considering how claustrophobic I am.

The unavoidable end came and I was sadder and sadder. It's difficult to leave such nice people behind, but there's always the hope that you might see them again. You're also counting a lot on the coin-throwing in Fontana di Trevi. It has to get you back, right? I was quiet all the way to the airport and when I finally had to say goodbye, I didn't even know what words suited the moment. We kissed and hugged and I thanked them for their kindness and for everything they exposed me to. I was like a sponge full of information about different sites in Rome. Memory full, really! :) They were great to me and I hope I didn't disappoint them in any way.

I looked back one last time and went towards the departure gate. Looked for the check-in counter and stood resignedly in the line. My tears welled up (I mean it!) when I heard the "sweet" Moldavian accent in my back and then heard a beast from the cave giving what was given to Mutu on Ghencea to the flight company employee who didn't have the proof that he had paid for the luggage. Of course, he was "wishing" her "his best" in Romanian. These are my fellow compatriots, who go to Rome, a city full of history and so many beautiful things to learn, but they come back to Romania with ZERO! Why was I going back with them? This was the big question... Well, maybe someday, when I board a plane in Bucharest to a more civilised location, I will be able to smile broadly because I know I will not be coming back too soon.

To make things even worse, our flight was delayed which made me promise not to go low-cost ever again. The great thing was that I met two ex-university colleagues, Doru and Calin, who, of course, didn't recognise me and... I don't really blame them for that. I changed, both physically and mentally since then. But they were nice and kept me company and didn't throw up on me during the bus trip to the other airport. Thanks, Doru! They still had the power to smile at 1.30 a.m., so I snapped a photo to remind me of that. ;)

Oh, before I end this, remember that I said I would not go low-cost ever again? Luckily, I forget easily. So... on 7 February I'm flying back to Rome for the weekend. Yoopee!!

At the end, which comes after nearly 8 days of writing, I would like to thank again Emanuela and Mr. L for having me there. And you all, who got here, thanks for having the patience to read!


shamrockraver said...


shamrockraver said...

Comment sent by e-mail from Albert: "You are a great writer! I got there and I enjoyed very much your story on your travel to Rome. Perfect English also. I feel sorry for your feelings towards your own people."

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