Monday, December 11, 2017

Thanksgiving in Rome | Part III

November 26-27, 2017

As much as I enjoy seeing the historical points of interest in cities, my favorite way to explore a new place is to aimlessly walk the streets. So I'm happy when, on the third full and final day of our trip, we spend most of it doing just that.

We begin the day rather unusually: standing in Vatican Square in a crowd of several hundred receiving a blessing from the Pope. Every Sunday that Pope Francis is in Rome he addresses and blesses the crowd, and we happen to be there a week he is too. As I'm not Catholic, it's not as exciting to me as it is to many others in the crowd and he speaks in a mix of Latin, Italian, and Spanish the whole time so I can't understand anything he says, but it is a cool experience getting to see the Pope in person.

We break for lunch, again along Borgo Pio, before meeting up with Dino at the Castel Sant'Angelo for the final time. Rather than taking us to ancient monuments, he leads us across a nearly two thousand year old bridge and through several Roman neighborhoods, pointing out their various points of interest as we pass by. We cross in and out of the various neighborhoods without much notice so I don't keep track of which places were in which neighborhoods, but suffice it to say we see a good chunk of everyday Rome. We start first in Ponte, home to several former palaces now converted into apartments, then pass over into Campo dei Fiori, at some point walking through the absurdly picturesque Piazza del Fico, a surprisingly tourist-free square so-named for the indeterminately old fig tree where locals come to drink and play games at the Bar del Fico.

We walk onward to the Piazza Navona, a famous square often shown in movies set in Rome that is home to several churches and two fountains and was built on top of the site of an ancient sports arena, the ruins of which can still be seen in their partially excavated site on the backside of the square. Near Piazza Navona we stop in at Santa Maria della Pace, a church featuring - among many other beautiful works of art - Raphael's Sybils, a 1514 painting of four sybils surrounded by angels (*cue amazement at famous artists' works being on display even in small neighborhood churches*). We walk a bit further, then step into Chiesa di Sant'Ignazio di Loyola in Campo Marzio, a Jesuit church known for its gorgeous ceiling and its dome - or rather, its fake dome, as the dome is an optical illusion painted on a flat ceiling.

Among the neighborhood points of interest we pause for gelato at Della Palma, which has 150 flavors from which to choose. It is - as one can easily imagine - quite overwhelming, but I try to steer clear of "standard" flavors and go for Duplo and profiterole. Della Palma is just around the corner from the Pantheon, and we go inside as we pass it. Dino leads us straight to the back to Raphael's tomb, then walks back to the middle where, above the center of the floor, the dome (the oldest in the world at 1300 years old), opens straight up to the sky. Just as Dino shows us the tiny holes in the floor used to drain the rainwater from storms, the clouds bear down and it begins to rain, and we feel it fall down on us through the ceiling -- Dino's timing is impeccable.

We head to our last two sites as the sun sets. We stop first at the Trevi Fountain; this time a monument larger than I expected but in a far smaller area than I'd been led to believe. Dino leads us right up to the fountain via small opening on the side of the stairs, which for the most part appears to be overlooked by the visiting crowds. We take a plethora of cliche photos then walk towards the Spanish Steps - so named because the Spanish owned the land, not because they built them. The steps are, naturally, covered in people and it looks quite a bit different than what I'd pictured based on my viewing of Audrey Hepburn's Roman Holiday (though again larger than I'd pictured). We pass the Valentino palace & studio and we peek into the world's largest Valentino store, though we're not fancy enough to bother stepping inside. Across the street is the Roman version of 5th Avenue, and it's packed with shoppers. We, however, walk one block further to end our tour at Pompi and share a slice of their famous tiramisu.

After fighting a few other American tourists for a taxi, we speed our way back to the hotel, too tired to walk back as we had the previous few days. As it is our last night, we go out for a late dinner, splitting plates of antipasta and bottles of house wine and sharing piles of pasta, ending the night with a round of desserts and coffees. We waddle our way back to our hotel, tell each other goodbye, and take short power naps until our taxi arrives at 3:15am to take us to the airport. Our final glimpses of Rome before arriving at the airport and embarking on our hellish 24 hours of travel back home are quiet and peaceful.

Rome is not my favorite European city I've visited but I loved it more than I thought I would. Sure, it's small and dirty and inefficient and overrun by tourists, but it still holds much of its ancient charm in its monuments and small corners, and it's a trip well worth making. 
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