This simple process of writing down my thoughts on what has happened so far is important I've decided, no matter how sporadically I do it. Being reflective is a good thing, and hopefully this blog will serve that purpose for me. I'm not sure the best way to do this or organize such a thing, but on this page you'll find my best attempt.
I was fortunate enough to spend my Faschingzeit (Carneval) in Rome, which is really a great, if expensive, city. It's the only city in Europe that I have been to where you can be walking around in what seems like the 21st Century, and *bam* you run right into some ruins. This makes the sense of history much more impressive than in other cities I have been to.
The first full day was actually spent in Pompeii, about two hours away by train if I remember right. It's an incredibly well preserved ancient Roman city that was destroyed by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 CE. Things are more-or-less as they were almost 2000 years ago, and that is an incredible thing to witness. Many of the buildings no longer have roofs (which was unfortunate because it was pouring the entire day), but it's clear how the city was laid out and you can easily imagine what it would have looked like. I highly recommend visiting Pompeii if you ever have the chance. Even despite the terrible weather, it was an awesome experience that I am likely never to forget. For a full look at everything I got to see here, take a look at this Flickr set.
The second day was spent largely walking around Rome and looking at all of the sites the city has to offer. I got to see the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, and the Spanish Steps, as well as a bunch of other really interesting sites. The coolest thing I have to say is that these things are just interspersed throughout the city. They aren't necessarily hidden or locked away, but rather exist on an equal footing with the other, non-breathtaking parts of the city. It creates a neat juxtaposition.
Also, on this day I randomly ran into another Fulbrighter, Elise Anderson, who I hadn't seen since orientation. I was on my way to the Pantheon, turned one corner and she was sitting on a window sill. At first glance I thought she looked familiar, but I shrugged it off as highly unlikely and kept walking. Just a moment later I hear her call my name, and sure enough it was who I thought it was.
Possibly the most important thing that happened this day was a restaurant I visited called Rossopomodoro. In itself it isn't much, but it was a pretty great pizza place that my traveling companion Liz kept wanting to return to. To be fair they did have awesome pizza, particularly some of the "slow food" specialties. The pizza we kept returning to was the Mariglianella, and if you ever have the chance to try this pizza, do it.
On the third day I visited the Vatican, and got to tour the Necropolis, which hadn't been open for more than a few weeks. The Vatican Museum and St. Peter's Basilica were absolutely incredible. The big ticket item in the museum is the Sistine Chapel Ceiling and The Last Judgement by Michelangelo, but honestly I wasn't as impressed by this because it's difficult to look at (because one is on the ceiling and the other you can't get that close to) and in a dimly lit room. Spending more than a few minutes here will have your neck begging for mercy. Also, pictures of the Sistine Chapel are not allowed, so I much preferred some of the less popular items, like The School of Athens by Raphael. I've always liked this piece, but I didn't even know it was a wall mural until I walked into the room with it. Overall the Vatican was pretty cool, and I made sure to take lots of pictures, which can be seen here in a Flickr set.
Of course one of the things that everyone sees when they go to Rome is the Colosseum, and it's pretty easy to see why. It must be one of the most famous landmarks in the world. This was one of the high points of the trip for me because of a class I took in college about Greek and Roman Sport and Spectacle. We talked extensively about the importance of the Colosseum in Roman politics, and the panem et circenses that accompanied those politics. Seeing one of the greatest monuments to this was incredible. I also had the chance to see the Circus Maximus, which was also pretty amazing. It seems like they are still doing lots of work on making it presentable, but you can still see the general shape of it and how large it would have been. I sat and ate on the banks where people probably used to watch the races--an incredibly visceral experience.
In addition to these major landmarks which I previous knew about and expected to see, I also had the opportunity to explore the Roman Forums, the ruins of the old marketplace and many surrounding ancient governmental buildings and temples. It's not quite as well preserved as Pompeii, but the area is extremely large and was honestly too much to look at after walking around all day before making it to the Forum. Still, there's some pretty great ruins that remain, and the price of admission is included in the ticket for the Colosseum, so it's definitely worth a look. I suggest not making the same mistake we did: bring a picnic, there are plenty of scenic places to sit and eat and you'll be a lot happier in the end. For a look at some pictures of these and various other sites around Rome, take a look here for a Flickr set.
Basically everything about the city of Rome is mindblowing, but one of the better parts has to be the Museums that are available. Because of this, I also recommend buying the Roma Pass if you plan on visiting more than two or three museums. With the Pass, you gain entry to your first two (participating) museums or archaeological sites for free and get discounted entry to the others. In addition to this, transportation is also included for those days covered by the pass. Overall it's a great deal, but back to the good stuff: Museums.
Of the museums you have to see while in Rome, at the top of the list comes the Villa Borghese, especially if you're a fan of statuary. In this museum, you can find several works by Bernini, which is probably the best sculptor to have ever lived. His Rape of Proserpina is so detailed and lifelike that it's almost unnerving. The statue of Apollo and Daphne is the same way. Her skin actually looks like it is turning into bark. These and other amazing statues all have residency in the Villa or Galleria Borghese. Another great museum is the Capitoline, a group of museums that houses some of the most famous statues and artworks I've ever known of, among these the Capitoline Wolf and the Capitoline Venus (one of the most famous versions of the Venus Modesto archetype). This is another must-see in my opinion. Pictures from the Capitoline can be found in this Flickr set, but unfortunately photos were not allowed at the Villa Borghese, so those Wikipedia links will have to suffice.
Overall, I would say that Rome is one of the best possible vacation spots. The city itself has so much to offer, and it's easily one of the most impressing cities I have been to, if not the most. And I mean this in the true meaning of the word "impressing," that the city actually makes an imprint on you with its feeling of history and ancientness. I could not recommend the city highly enough. I enjoyed my time there immensely, and though I kept joking with my travelling buddy that I would never come back after my incredibly rainy experience in Pompeii, I think that I've had enough time to cool off and would love to visit sometime again. If you'd like to take a look at all of the pictures I took while on the trip, you can see them in this huge Flickr set.
One caveat though, the city is expensive. Each museum will run you more than 10 Euros, with some costing as much as 20. They're well worth it, but if you're on a super budget it might be a stretch. Also, even being a student won't help as much as it does in other cities, as most discounts only apply to Roman citizens. I mentioned the Roma Pass earlier, and this is one way that you can help offset some of that cost, but unless you are really piling on the museum visits like we did, it might also not be much help.
-- MM 12-05-2014