Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Roma, Italia (March 20-23)

The major inspiration for my trip to Rome was to watch my friend Andy run in the Rome Marathon. I had read about marathons in magazines and newspapers and seen clips on the news but you really can't appreciate how much a a crowd over 14,000 runners and support crew creates until you're trying to negotiate a city in the midst of it. We arrived in Rome a couple days before the marathon and it seemed like everywhere we went we met people who were running or knew someone running the marathon.

My first day in Rome the weather reminded me more of the weather I was used to in England than the sunny, warm weather I was expecting in Italy. Luckily that day was spent checking into hostels and creating a rough plan for the next couple days. Ironically, my first day in Rome was also the day of my first meal at a proper Indian food restaurant.

The next day we planned to go to Vatican City. The weather was still cool, but sunny. The hostel we stayed at had a breakfast room with a terrace. The view from the breakfast terrace in the sunlight reminded me of something from a movie. Yes, I was probably a little swept up with being in Italy but it was still very pretty. Vatican City was crawling with people. We set off for the Vatican Museum and were greeted with a massive que. Thankfully the line moved quickly and we were in the museum in less than half the time than a "tour guide" had predicted. We only did the art portion of the museum and that took nearly three hours. Mixed in with all of the gothic religious art, we saw Raphael's School of Athens, the Sistine Chapel, as well as Eygptian, Assyrian, Roman, and Greek exhibits. The real School of Athens was very cool, especially after seeing a sketch of it in Milan. The Sistine chapel was not what I was expecting. All of the walls and ceiling are covered with frescos. The famous frescos make make a very small percentage of all of those visible. I had to search for some of the familiar fractions of complete frescos. The high concentration of people jammed in the small chapel took away from the art because of all of the jostling and shhing by curators.

After we finished as much of the museum as we could handle, Andy and I headed for the marathon expo so he could register and get his bib number. After seeing all of the sponsor and vendor tents at the expo, even I felt like I should be running. They also had a pasta dinner going on which we visited before checking out the Colosseum. The building was already closed but I got some good pictures of it and the surrounding ruins at sunset. We wandered around the city a little bit before turning in early for the marathon the next day.

Sunday morning I met Andy at the Colosseum at 7:30am. The streets and the metro were packed on the way to the Colosseum. All of the runners and cheer squads we had met of the last two days were congregating for the beginning of the race. While Andy got to run along a prearranged racecourse, I got to battle through slow moving crowds and try to navigate a city that suddenly had many of its major street blocked off. Thankfully the metro, though congested, was still working normally so that proved to be one of the better ways to get around. I crisscrossed across the city several times and only managed to actually see Andy running once although I'm sure that he ran past me several time with me realizing it. I did get to see several sites along the racecourse like the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps which was pretty handy. Andy did a great job finishing the marathon in 4 hours and 12 minutes. I was really proud of him. After the race Andy was really sore so he took some time to rest and I went back to Vatican City.

On my second trip to Vatican City, I went to St. Peter's Square and Basilica. The Pope was on tour in Africa so I didn't see him in his window but I did see the window. The St. Peter's complex huge and crowded. St. Peter's Basilica was gigantic. It has the largest knave in the world which is only part of what makes it awe inspiring. The floors and walls had intricate patterns of marble and while there were many decorations, it didn't feel cluttered like many of the other major religious buildings I've visited. However, as the center of the Roman Catholic Church, I'd expect St. Peter's Basilica to look incredible. I couldn't get close to the high alter because that area of the Basilica was reserved for those attending mass. I couldn't stay for mass because I was due to meet Andy for dinner. From where I was, about halfway back from the alter, the rest of the cavity looked just as beautiful of the area that I could see up close.

My last day in Rome, Andy and I were meant to go to the Colosseum and the ruins of Palantino Hill and the Roman Forum. However, Andy was still very sore from the race so I went on my own. The Colosseum seemed even bigger from the inside than it did from the outside. Enough of the structure remains that you could get a rough feel of what it may have been little to attend "games" at the venue some 2000 years ago. The ruins were another story. There area was once full of marble buildings but over the centuries the temples, palaces, and other buildings have been broken, disassembled, and mixed together to the point that, without a guide or a decent map, the crumbling walls don't mean very much. I spent the rest of the day wandering around the city searching out some of the sights I had missed like the Pantheon, and several fountains. It was the perfect day to walk around the city; sunny and warm with a light breeze. I spent all day walking around and taking pictures, wrapping out the day and my time in Rome by taking some night pictures of the Colosseum. Next Stop: Florence.

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