Italy 2011, Rome

We arrived in Rome mid-morning and after checking into our hotel, made a bee-line to the Trevi fountain. I’ve seen this fountain over the years in various famous movies, photography blogs, and various other websites, but nothing compares to being there in person and seeing the scale and detail of the sculptures. Calling the area packed is an understatement and we were lucky enough to be able to get a few photos without having to show the masses of people that were present. Historically the fountain was the meeting point of 3 roads, trevi. The scene on the façade of the fountain is the depiction of Roman technicians from 19 BC locating a pure source of water about 13 km outside the city, supposedly with the help of a virgin girl.

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Trevi fountain selfie

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Best travel buddy ever!

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Trevi fountain in all its glory

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Trevi fountain

The next logical touristy spot to move to after the Trevi fountatin were the Spanish steps. So we took out the map, oriented ourselves, and started the short walk over to the famous steps. Historically these steps were built to connect the Piazza di Spagna to the French church at the top of the hill. The steps were beautifully crafted with lots of people there to enjoy them, however I personally didn’t feel like they were anything special… but that’s just my opinion, and since this is my blog, I’m entitled to that! 🙂

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The Spanish Steps

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Yup, the two of us were both there, at the Spanish Steps

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Further up on the Spanish Steps

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Random shot of a street at the top of the Spanish Steps

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Looking back down towards the piazza near the top of the Spanish Steps

From the top of the Spanish steps, we started our walk to Borghese Gallery and Museum which Jackie had found in the guide books and discovered that it had quite a lot of sculptures. We misread the map and so we took a longer route than first expected but that allowed us to have a longer walk through the beautiful park surrounding the gallery (our route). After spending a few hours going around the museum which was stuffed with sculptures, we made it back to our hostel for a well deserved rest.

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Musée Borghese

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Our hostel building

As a little boy, I vividly remember watching a classic movie with my dad called Demetrius and the Gladiators and seeing the Colosseum for the first time. That movie imprinted in me a desire not only to see modern day Rome, but specifically to visit the Colosseum in Rome. On September 8, 2011, that dream was in our plan and I was excited that it would soon become a reality. You can imagine my disappointment as I awoke that morning with a fever, sweats, and diarrhea. I suffered most of the morning in bed, with frequent trips back and forth to the bathroom, while poor Jackie sat around, browsed the internet, and tried to be supportive. However, even her patience started to wear thin and she took a walk to the train station that had some shops to pass some time.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity of feverish dreams and bodily discomfort, I popped 3 Imodium pills into my mouth, let them settle for an hour or so, and then we were off…. to the Colosseo!! As we made our way to the Colosseum stop on the Rome metro I started to get giddy, excited, and nervous that it wouldn’t live up to my expectations. Jackie had read that it was a better idea to pre-purchase the tickets online to avoid the lines and so we likely saved ourselves a few hours of wait and pretty much walked right in.

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The Colosseum

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The Colosseum

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Us at the Colosseum

Even though I had really high expectations for the Colosseum, I also knew that I had to temper those expectations because most of what I’d seen on TV, especially any recent movies featuring ancient Rome, had the Colosseum in computer generated graphics which made it look fantastic. Obviously we were about to enter a ruin rather than how it was portrayed in those movies and so once I got that expectation amended in my mind, I was ready. All that being said, I was totally blown away when I walked in there. My brain was simultaneously able to see what was in front of me and then vividly imagine what it might have looked like in all its glory.  The amazing feat of engineering that it took to build the place still gives me goosebumps. All the interconnecting tunnels underneath to move gladiators, animals, etc, was just amazing and, like I said, my imaginations was going 1000 kph trying to keep up!

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The interior of the Colosseum

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The interior of the Colosseum… simply amazing!

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Us in the interior of the Colosseum

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The interior of the Colosseum from the “floor” level

So we walked around for a good long while, snapping photos, just standing there and staring out at the fighting arena. Jackie had been working out quite a bit before our trip, I guess in preparation for Alessandro & Heather’s wedding, but below are a few shots of her in badass poses, getting ready to take on some gladiators.

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Jackie’s ready to challenge the gladiators

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Obviously someone has climbed on the ruins before

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Part of the back side of the Colosseum

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I keep trying to get rid of her and she keeps following me… weird

As we finished up a fantastic visit to the Colosseum, and I was able to check off one of the items on my bucket list, we had some dinner and made our way back to the hostel to relax for our next day of adventure and exploration.

Next on the list was the tour of the Vatican. Once again we had planned on a tour and pre-booked it so that we would not be stuck in the ridiculous lineups that we were seeing everywhere. Although I was still not feeling 100% from the issues I had the day before, I sucked it up and we made it to our tour’s meeting location in good time. Our tour guide was quite hilarious in that she would give us facts about the Vatican but then throw in a one-liner that was borderline sacrilegious about the facts that she had just informed us of.

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A glimpse of St Peter’s Basilica

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Funky rotating sphere within a rotating sphere in the Vatican

Upon entering the Vatican we were immediately able to a get a view of St Peter’s Basilica which was quite impressive considering the other duomos we had seen throughout our Italy trip so far. We took a few minutes sitting around a courtyard in the middle of the Vatican where there was a very interesting rotating sphere on display; gotta love those Italian artists! We went through various rooms with wondrous murals and finally came to the Sistine Chapel. Over the years I have seen dozens of photos of the ceiling of the chapel and had an idea of what to expect. However, reality was a bit of a surprise.

Firstly the chapel was a lot smaller than I was expecting but what really amazed me was the shear mass of humanity that was in there. There was almost no room to move around and people had their eyes pinned to the ceilings. The mural on the ceilings was, of course, fantastic to see in real life, but I found myself thinking back to when I saw the Mona Lisa at the Louvre in Paris and how underwhelmed I felt. The underwhelming feeling was further exacerbated by hearing the security guards yelling “No Photos” as they routinely walked around; of course, as I’ve come to expect, people don’t want to follow rules and there were many people ignoring the guards and taking photos.

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Inside St Peter’s Basilica

Next we moved into St Peter’s Basilica where the first carving we were presented with was the breathtaking Pietà by Michaelangelo which was a Renaissance piece carved by the famous artist to depict Mary cradling Jesus after the crucifixion. Words cannot describe the emotions you feel when standing there looking at this wonderful piece of art and once again I am reminded by the awesome power of art.

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Inside St Peter’s Basilica

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Inside St Peter’s Basilica

We spent some time wandering through the basilica admiring the amazing and intricate artwork in one alcove and then moving on to the next alcove to see something more beautiful and brilliantly preserved.

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Inside St Peter’s Basilica

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Inside St Peter’s Basilica

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Inside St Peter’s Basilica

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Inside St Peter’s Basilica

As we made our way to the altar at the front of the basilica, I took a moment to contemplate how much gold was actually present in the structure. Although the basilica is quite beautiful and a great focus for the Catholic religion, it saddened me when I heard that they had to tear away pieces of structures like the Colosseum so that they could use the gold and or valuable gems/stones for the decor inside the basilica. All in all the Vatican was a beautiful place to visit and I’m glad we were able to fit it into our trip.

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Inside St Peter’s Basilica

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Inside St Peter’s Basilica

To round off our final day in Rome we took the metro back to the Colosseum stop since our destination, the Roman Forum, was adjacent to the Colosseum. The Roman Forum is a rectangular forum, or plaza, surrounded by the ruins of several important ancient government buildings at the center of the city of Rome. Citizens of the ancient city referred to this space, originally a marketplace, as the Forum Magnum, or simply the Forum.

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The Roman Forum

We took an hour or so going around the Forum, taking photos, and trying to imagine what the hustle & bustle of ancient Roman life was like. In the forum there’s the Arch of Constantine which is very similar in construction to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris even though their construction start dates differed by nearly 1500 years. The Arch of Constantineis a triumphal arch in Rome, situated between the Colosseum and the Palatine Hill (center-most of the 7 hills Rome is built on). It was erected by the Roman Senate to commemorate Constantine I’s victory over Maxentius at the Battle of Milvian Bridge on October 28, 312.

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Arch of Constantine in the Roman Forum

The next stop we had in mind on our last day was the Pantheon. As we were walking from the Forum towards the Pantheon, we passed in front of the national monument to Victor Emmanuel II at the Alter of the Fatherland. The monument was built in honour of Victor Emmanuel, who was the first king of a unified Italy.

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In front of the National Monument to Victor Emmanuel II at Altare della Patria (Altar of the Fatherland)

As we meandered the streets of modern day Rome, it’s amazing to see the contrast of the ancient monuments that are still intact, surrounded by more modern buildings. It’s truly amazing that humanity has chosen to preserve such beautiful buildings over 2000 years after they were built!

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Entrance to the Pantheon

As we finally made our way to the Pantheon, I was getting excited again because the Pantheon was another one of the remnants of ancient Rome that I’d always wanted to see. It always amazed me that over 2000 years ago they were able to build an un-reinforced concrete dome that, to this day, is still the world’s largest. Not only is it the largest, but it also has a central opening, known as an oculus, that allows sunlight in. The dome is just over 43 meters in diameter and the peak of the oculus is also the same distance off the ground… good work architects!!

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Looking up at the Pantheon’s dome

After the Pantheon as the sun was starting to wane in the sky, we took a short walk to Piazza Novono. There were performers and musicians everywhere so we just sat and enjoyed the sights and sounds of tourists, performers, and the fountain’s water before heading back to our hostel for our last night in Italy.

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Piazza Novono

The full set of photos can be found in this album on my Flickr page

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