Thursday, March 5, 2009

Rome: Part Three, Lazy Saturday

10:00PM March 4

Partially due to my excitement, and partially the bed, I got up without an alarm at 6:45 again on Saturday. I went down to grab a bit of the complimentary breakfast, but the cereal they had was not very good, so I soon checked out and headed back to the streets.

Unlike the day before, when I'd entered from the south side of the square, I thought I'd make my way towards the Vatican up the main boulevard, Via della Conciliazione. In order to make this grand stroll, I crossed the Tiber at a bridge a bit farther northeast, which coincidentally led right up to the foot of the Supreme Court. It was a brilliant ornate building decorated with plenty of statues: everything you might expect from a government structure. It was a pleasant surprise to reach it, as I'd been curious to find the current houses of government. Considering it is the capital city of one of the world's most prestigious countries, the modern government is a surprisingly absent force in the city. This may have been partially because I was there on a Friday and Saturday, but the main government buildings were not well marked on any map I saw either. It was only in retrospect that I found out a few of the sights I saw were significant places.

The Italian Supreme Court

I then walked down Via della Conciliazione into the Vatican. It felt a bit like the approach to the Capitol in Washington, with everything focused on framing this elegant structure steeped in importance. When I eventually reached St. Peter's Square, I stood there a bit longer, trying to breathe it in one last time, and then I headed off to the right around the great Vatican wall towards the museums.

Approaching the Vatican from the foot of Via della Conciliazione

At this early hour, out of tourist season, the lines weren't too long at all. I didn't realize how diverse the collections at the Vatican were either. It reminded me a bit of the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Philadelphia Museum of Art in its scope. I started in the Egyptian section, which I found as interesting as anything else in the museum. I particularly liked one statue of the god Anubis, which felt at home sitting before a wall depicting ancient Egypt. Next, they had an abundance of Renaissance sculptures, some of which, sitting around a calm cloister, were really magnificent. Most of them I did not recognize as depicting anyone I knew, but I was pleased to find a statue in the next hallway which quite clearly showed Artemis, god of the hunt, whom I always had a particular appreciation for in the Greek myths.

My favorite section was probably the map room, a long hallway covered in paintings from centuries past depicting the provinces of Italy. I always find it fascinating to see how people viewed the world before us, and the older the map, the better. As I now have a greater knowledge of Italy and have had the privilege to experience several of its cities, I felt a definite attachment to some of the paintings. I spent a long time with the maps of Umbria and Tuscany, finding the insets of Perugia and Firenze particularly fascinating, with city gates and countrysides that were much more pronounced. One of the most interesting differences I found, was that on certain maps, Lake Trasimeno, was known as Lake Perugia (or Perusia). It also seemed that every hill had a town on it, and only one or two towns ever sat in the valleys.

Since the entrance to the museum, arrows denoted that the Sistine Chapel was just up ahead. By this point, the tourists are antsy to see the famous room they came for and most begin to move quickly past the other artwork, which turns to the twentieth century. I picked out a Dali sitting on one wall which I had to stop and look at for awhile, tourists rushing by at a frighteningly fast pace, glancing to the side every once in a while to note that there actually was artwork on the wall. I really loved one crucifixion depiction from the seventies with angular forms and bold colors. It seemed so anti-biblical, in the traditional sense, and yet, it was still made in devotion to the church, in a modern setting.

When I finally reached the Sistine Chapel, I felt a bit let down. The scope and story that went into this masterpiece are, of course, magnificent. At the top stood the famous depiction of god stretching his arm out to Adam, and yet, I was underwhelmed. That was probably my favorite of the frescos, but it still seemed a bit arbitrary as to why that one has become more famous than the many others decorating the ceiling. I know there are many hidden items, that if debriefed about, I might have a greater appreciation for, but as a work of art, I did not find it any more fascinating than the numerous anonymous frescoes that line the roofs of every building of significance in Italy. Michelangelo was not known for his painting expertise, and I'm glad to have witnessed his true masterwork, in sculpture, back at the Academia in Florence.

This was essentially the end of the museum. There were a few other rooms devoted to paintings, tapestries, and some "ethnic" Chinese art. I found these rooms to be a bit underwhelming though too. I'd heard from several friends that I should alot at least six hours to view the museums, but I was ready to go before three. I enjoyed aspects of the museum, and with a tour guide like Antonio, I may have appreciated more of it, but in comparison to the Uffizi, or even the galleries in Perugia, it was a bit of a let down.

I was initially interested in maybe going to see some of the old Olympic facilities from 1960, but I found online that most of it had been updated for modern use, bearing little resemblance to its original function, or no longer existed. One sight they had used, for some equestrian events, was the Villa Borghese Park, just to the north of the city center. I then looked up this park, and it seemed really gorgeous, so I decided to devote some of my Saturday there.

The most direct way there from the Vatican is straight down Via Colla di Rienzo. Just outside the Vatican wall, a huge commercial district sprouted on this street. Because the center of the city is clogged with tourist sights, this outlying street had become a main boulevard of fashion for Rome, a bit ironic, considering its proximity to the center of Catholicism.

The park was wonderful. It gave me a chance to relax my feet in the presence of nature. At one point, while walking across a field, I caught a scent which I hadn't experienced in several months: grass. I hadn't even realized how much I missed this smell until I was there amidst it. The park was sculpted, much like Central Park, but in an Italian manner. All around, people were walking their dogs or going for a run, riding bikes and enjoying each others' company in the fresh air. It was a great change, and I felt like I was really amongst the locals for once. The park had slinky streams, a small but beautiful lake (top), a zoo, gorgeous tree-lined paths, and field upon field of grass. The weather both days in Rome was perfect, reaching fifty degrees at night, but climbing into the low seventies during the day. I felt compelled to walk around in a t-shirt a few times while in the sun, but I resisted such American urges, keeping my arms and legs fully-covered at all times. This time in the park was exactly what I needed.

I really didn't know what to do with myself for the rest of the day, as my train did not depart until 8:30. I had more time left in Rome than I had my entire visit to Venice. I made my requisite trip to the Spanish steps, but didn't find them particularly interesting. I then tried to go see the Mausoleum of Augustus, but it was all fenced off, so I found a place to rest my feet, by a modern fountain, as they were still quite sore from the previous day.

When I started to feel more comfortable, I decided, as I had nothing better to do, to make the trek across the river to a fountain which had a nice depiction on my map. This took me through a nice neighborhood that seemed like real Italy, as opposed to the tourist world I'd been living in, and it was great to walk these streets. As I followed the map, I did not realize I'd be walking up a giant hill, but I went for it anyways, as my feet were feeling a bit better.

The Tiber on a sunny afternoon

I'm glad I did, as the view I got at the top was definitely the best of the whole city. The fountain itself was nice enough, but I continued northward towards a few other sites on that side of the river. The views of the city only got better as I walked, and the great blue sky to the west was awesome, accented by streaks of clouds. At the statue of Garibaldi, on the top of the hill, I could look over the ridge to the west and see the Vatican, and then back to the right and see the rest of the city, mountains outlined in the distance.

The Park before the Piazzale di Giuseppe Garibaldi

The westward sky, as seen from Piazzale di Giuseppe Garibaldi

The Vatican, as seen from Piazzale di Giuseppe Garibaldi

The view of Rome from across the Tiber

Besides breakfast at the hostel, my only food that day was a panini I'd gotten in the park, as I'd tried to be frugal to make up for my extravagant meal the previous evening. I thought I could last through the day if I got a gelato though, so I found a nice place in the neighborhood at the bottom of the hill. I got banana and chocolate that went quite well together, and they served it with whipped cream on top, which was really wonderful.

The rest of the day I spent wandering around the city center in search of a good souvenir. I didn't find anything great though, and as it approached sunset, I thought I'd look for a better place to watch it. I made for the tall steps next to the "Wedding Cake" which lead up to a church. I reached the top just as the colors were most intense. Unfortunately, the building across the street was about one floor too high, obscuring the heart of the sunset, so I went in search of a new spot. I quickly came to a courtyard which overlooked the city. It was perfect, but by the time I got there, the peak of sunset had passed. I sat there nonetheless, enjoying the view for the remainder of the sunset while tuning out to some early Beatles. This was probably one of my favorite parts of the trip. Like most of the day, it was really relaxing and wonderful.

Sunset atop the church steps

Sunset at the courtyard

The well-lit Vatican in the distance

The "Wedding Cake," as seen from the courtyard.

I caught my 8:30 train home and was back at my room by 10:40, finding my roommate Adam preparing for midterms. I know many people did not want to travel this weekend in order to get ready for the coming week, but I'm so glad I did, as it only relaxed me, allowing me to be much more efficient about my work when I got around to it. In the meantime, I had a wonderful trip and a lot of great memories and photographs to take along with me.

Piazza della Republica in the morning

I thought about stepping in to see how America was doing, maybe take a walk on the beach, but Europe has been just too much fun.

The Vatican, as seen while crossing the Tiber.

Guggenheim Vatican?

Which one of these Egyptian dolls was made for a second grade project?

Create your own good Roman caption

The map room at the Vatican Museum

An abundance of trash in the Tiber

The Finnish embassy has cacti... okay?

They really do love Obama here. This was the Obama collection just inside the door at a bookstore I stopped in. Most bookstores here have an Obama collection. Also, notice how many of them are on Michelle.

The main Roman synagogue has a tropical theme

Teatro di Marcello just before sunset. I heard one lady here ask aloud, "is this the Colloseum?" I just had to shake my head.

A great little rockabilly band I ran into on the street outside the "Wedding Cake" on my way out of town.

Piazza della Republica at night, a block from the train station.

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