Monday, May 3, 2010

Benvenuto, Roma

That morning Bob left Frankfurt Int'l for DFW and I flew to Rome. I took the Leonardo Express train into the city from the airport and got checked into my hostel, which was conveniently just outside the Roma Termini station. My first and only thing on my agenda was to head to the Vatican to pick up tickets for the papal appearance that Wednesday. Tickets are free, but since seating is limited Monday - and occasionally Tuesday - are the only times you can get tickets before they're all gone. I met a Canadian girl in the hostel who was interested in going with me, so we left our hostel and headed toward St. Peter's, a good hour and fifteen minutes walk away. We passed Santa Maria Maggiore - the cathedral closest to us - and walked down Via Panispara down to the Vittorio Emmanuelle monument. This colossal structure was built in 1850s to commemorate the first king of united Italy. Now, it's the most neoclassical piece of Roman architecture the city has. The plaza featured an amazing view of the Colesseum just down the street; in the 1930s Benito Mussolini ordered that a massive street (Via del Fori Imperiori) be built to link the Colesseum to the Vittorio Emmanuelle monument. Along the way, a whole string of Roman ruins were uncovered and excavations continued until WW2 took the focus away. Anyway, after taking quite a few pictures here, I headed north on Via del Corso, one of the main north-south axes of the city. Before too long, we'd reached the Tiber and headed west toward the dome of St. Peter's. We crossed over the Tiber at Pont Saint Angelo, this iconic old bridge lined with sculptures leading up to Castel Saint'Angelo, the prison/fortress of Vatican City, and then headed up toward St. Peter's Square.

St. Peter's Square was simply brilliant. It supposedly holds 2 million people when it's packed and is flanked by two semi-circular colonnades designed by Bernini and topped with statues of something like 180 saints and canonized popes. We walked around for awhile taking pictures and trying to figure out the "great bronze door" where the tickets to the papal audience were given out. We asked a security guard and he pointed us up to this massive door guarded by Swiss guard with long halberd axes. No one was even going close to this place, so it didn't really feel right, but I went up there anyway. The one with the axe lowers it in front of you, while a second one with a machine gun appears in the doorway and asks you your business. I told him I wanted tickets to the papal audience, he asked how many, and I said five; he then vanished, reappeared, handed me the tickets, and saluted me as I scampered down the stairs. We then spent some time walking through St. Peter's basilica, which was by far the most awe-inspiring and beautiful building I'd ever seen in my life, but I'll save the description and pictures for the Vatican Day post.

We headed back to the hostel and I got a shower and changed for dinner. I used my trusty Frommer's Guide to Italy that made our trip to Florence such a success and found a good relatively inexpensive dinner place in the heart of the city near the Pantheon. I had myself a fantastic mussels scampi dish and a chianti with some chocolate mousse for dessert. After dinner, I walked around the Pantheon area, made my way to Trevi fountain, and then headed back to the hostel so that I could get up early the next morning and be productive before my friends arrived from Florence.

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