Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Rome, Italy - Day 1

A little over a month ago an old friend of ours emailed us that he was going to be in Italy with his girlfriend after finishing up a cruise.  He asked us if we would like to meet up with them in Rome for a long weekend.  How could we resist when it's so close???  So after securing a sitter for the boys, this past weekend Josh and I were off to Rome!! 

The flight was no pleasure cruise however... seated next to me was an older gentleman who was very obviously not feeling well.  Sneezing, sniffling, coughing, blowing his nose...and to top it off, sticking tissues up his nose.  I literally just put a hand against the side of my face near my nose hoping to block off at least some of the germs.  Josh was 2 seats away from me and I told him after "just wait, by Tuesday I'll be sick because of this guy."  Yup, I was right.  As I type this, I'm feeling rather like crap.  But it was worth the sniffles I now suffer for such a great weekend! 

Though it felt like forever next to sick guy, we arrived after just an hour and 20 mins in the air.  Not to shabby this European life... right?  We had arranged for a car thru the hotel to keep things simple (and we didn't know how long the cab ride would be so we figured also more economical).  And off we go to Rome!  My first impressions?  Well, I definitely saw more grass than I do in Spain.  But the airport was a bit further out from the city center than the one in Barcelona as well.  The cars initially appeared to be higher end as well citing many BMW's, Audis and Mercedes along our journey.  However once we entered the city limits I have to say I was a bit shocked at how run down the city was.  Graffiti (not that we don't have it here), run down buildings, weeds everywhere.  And to me, the most interesting was how the cars were parked.  They seem to be able to park anywhere and at one point we saw cars parked all on top of a median - sidewalk on either side of the vehicles.  I wish I had gotten a picture!!

As we got closer to the city center where we were staying, it became more picturesque.  We drove by the Colosseum and I will admit to my jaw dropping in awe.  I knew it was big but seeing it in person, even driving by, the size is amazing.  In Barcelona, we have history on every corner, however, everything seems to be on scale with its surrounding buildings.  Here in Rome, you have your regular sized buildings all around and then plop in the middle is a giant Roman ruin!  This happened in a number of places that we visited.  The Romans have built their lives around their history - it is not segregated from the rest of the community but instead it is actually incorporated into their lives. 

Much of Rome reminded me in ways of Barcelona.  I have a feeling that will be the case of most of Europe just due to the history of these magificent cities.  The US is so new that it sets itself apart from the rest - in good ways and in bad like anything else.  However, one way that Barcelona sets itself apart from the "competition" is in its cleanliness.  The Spanish take their cleanliness very very seriously.  You see vendors outside their establishments every morning mopping the sidewalk, yes the sidewalk... windows are constantly cleaned, sidewalks are swept by city workers daily.  There is no trash anywhere. It is a very clean city.  I don't think I realized how dirty everywhere else is (including home in Attleboro) until I began to appreciate how clean Barcelona is.  So as we walked we kept taking note of "wow, that would never happen in Barcelona!".

It didn't just stop at the cleanliness of the streets though - but also in the care of the history of the city.  Please don't get me wrong, this city was magnificent, stunning and one of the most amazing places I have visited.  But looking at it from now having lived in a different European city I can't help but make comparisons.  While I do feel that Rome beat Barcelona hands down on the amount of historical sites (at least the obvious ones), Barcelona by far takes care of them much better.  I was shocked to see grass growing out of the tops of cathedrals and basilicas.  Yes, I know that many of these structures were considered to be "ruins" but that doesn't mean that they shouldn't be maintained in order to be around for generations to come.  To be honest, I found a number of buildings simply neglected.  They needed to be power washed, weeded and just generally upkept.  I was most definitely disappointed in the lack of what seems to be care that goes into taking care of these historical sites.  I'll be sure to point out what I'm talking about in the pictures that follow.  And keep in mind that what we saw of the city is only a piece of what there is to see there!  According to my guide book there are lots of amazing things we just didn't have the time for that could very well have been in amazing condition!

Despite my concern for the monuments of yesteryear would I go back?  Absolutely!  However, I didn't realize I needed to throw coins in the Trevi Fountain to guarantee that.  So hopefully good luck will prevail despite this! 

Now that I have probably bored you with my first impressions we can move on to our tour of Rome!!

Our hotel, the Hotel Madrid, was nestled on a sidestreet near the Spanish Steps. It ended up being a fantastic location due to the proximity to so many places. We literally walked everywhere in the city and it was all reasonable distance for us... ok, for Josh and I, who are now accustomed to walking everywhere. Perhaps Todd and Amy found our like for walking long distances to be a bit annoying, but it was, like in Barcelona, easy to do.

Roads by our hotel.  The middle shot is actually the entrance to our "boutique" hotel.  Notice Josh in his FC Barca shirt on the right - he got a little bit of shit here and there for wearing it - the Italians are big futbol fans as well!

We met up with Todd and Amy at the hotel - lots of hugs there - we hadn't seen Todd in probably close to 10 years and it was our first time meeting his girlfriend, Amy whom I felt like I hit it off with right away.  However, poor Amy had lost her luggage (I should actually say the airport lost it, not her) at the airport which was a bit devastating and affected a chunk of their time in Rome in the search of the missing bag.  Despite the lost luggage, we headed out to a Piazza (plaza) that Todd had heard about from a friend - the Piazza del Popolo which was an easy walk from our hotel.  This Piazza is consideed the "Square of the People". 

At the Piazza we grabbed an early bite of lunch - and I had my first real Italian pizza.  Much to my disappointment it was just ok...but don't worry, I had many a fabulous pizza after that!!  The piazza was a larger version of the placas that we have here in Barcelona.  A meeting area for people that is surrounded by buildings, has lots of restaurants and cafes to people watch in and a monument in the middle.  The momument in this particular Piazza was a Greek obelisk. 

We saw these obelisks in several places in Rome and so we did a little research on them - the info below is from a website http://www.romeartlover.it/Obelisks.html and should you be interested more specific details can also be found there.  From what I can find out, Augustus after having defeated Antony and Cleopatra and conquered Egypt in 30 BC brought from Heliopolis to Rome the obelisks dedicated to the Pharaohs Rameses II and Psammetichus II. Other obelisks came from Egypt or were made in Rome in the next three centuries; thirteen of them can still be seen in the streets of Rome. All the obelisks are no longer on the site where they were erected by the Roman Emperors. In the XVIth century most of them were broken into pieces and they were just another component of the picturesque view of the Roman ruins. They were saved by Pope Sixtus V (1585-90) who used them as focal points for some of the new streets he opened as part of his plan of urban development. Several obelisks were repaired, turned from pagan to Christian monuments by the addition of new inscriptions, topped with a cross and with the heraldic symbols of the pope and eventually moved to the center of a piazza or in front of a basilica.

As always I find myself digressing a bit here.  After the Piazza del Popolo, we had to work off our pizza and so we hiked up the stairs to the top of the Pincio for one of the most amazing views of the city - one that I believe rivals that of the Spanish Steps. 

The above are all pictures from the Terraces of Pincio

But because we needed to check them both out, we went to the Spanish Steps from there. Crowds upon crowds of people were at the Spanish Steps - talk about your tourist trap. We're still trying to figure out exactly what is so magnificent about them. I do know, however, that the steps are not from the Spanish but from the French. The steps consist of 12 flights of stairs so I was thankful we were starting at the top from Pincio and working our way down! The fountain at the foot of the steps was designed by Bernini's father at the end of the 16th century, and it's reputed to have the sweetest water in Rome. Of course both Josh and Todd had to have a sampling!

Amy and I with a cat on a leash.  The owner insisted that we take a picture with her... very strange guy.  Told us he spends half his time in Idaho and then that his best friend lives in Worceser.

View of the Spanish Steps from above
Josh and I on the Spanish Steps

And a closer shot on the Spanish Steps

The Spanish Steps view from bottom - very very crowded!

People taking a sip from the fountain at the base - the sweetest water in Rome

While Todd and Amy went on the hunt for lost luggage we all agreed to meet up later on for dinner that night.  During this time Josh and I decided to take a walk to the Trevi Fountain.  Yet another stop on the "tour" that was absolutely jam packed full of people.  So we really just meandered by taking a few pictures along the way.  Built in the 1700s this fountain is considered to be Rome's most celebrated fountain.

After touring the fountain, we headed back towards the hotel to meet up with Todd and Amy for a late dinner.  We ended up having dinner with just Todd at a cute place near our hotel.  It was great to catch up after so many years since we'd all seen each other.  What was great was that it didn't feel like 10 years worth of catching up (thanks Facebook for covering at least a few of them).  The food was fabulous in this little restaurant and the service was impeccible.

Finally for today, two more things I noticed while here, aside from the differences with Barcelona, is that most everyone speaks at least some English in the city.  The tourists were everywhere - the streets were overflowing with people.  And this city most definitely thrives on it's tourism and they seem to embrace it, thereby speaking multiple languages.  They see us all as the huge money making opportunity that we are! 
And I also found that while Barcelona has significantly more history than say, Attleboro, Massachusetts, and while it has been around for around 2000 years, the city feels much more modern than Rome. I loved the old world feel of Rome.  I thought Barcelona has it but now that I can compare more than one city I would definitely say that Barcelona is the more modern of the two cities.

We saw lots of vendors out roasting chestnuts.  They smelled delicious!

Being in Italy I expected lots of leather shops but did not expect shops just for leather gloves like this one!

 I just found this hysterical and needed to take a picture of it.  I think they were aprons but I'm not 100% sure on that!

On the agenda for Saturday - St. Peter's Basilica, The Vatican Museum with the Sistine Chapel, the Pantheon among many other sites! 


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