Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Roma, better from the back of a motorbike

Arriving in Roma, I was reminded quickly how chaotically wonderful this ancient city can be. Full of tourists trying to see it all, and historical sights that can be found in every direction you turn, it is a great place to get lost while just trying to take it all in. My new host met me at the metro station we had discussed, and welcomed me into his home before we set off towards the city centre to site see for a bit that evening. Similar to the size of Athens, the traffic is a constant cluster so a lot of the local’s favorite way of transportation is by motorbike. It allows you to weave between the cars at the stoplight to reach the front of the line, and traffic becomes somewhat irrelevant to you. My host is not one to wait for the traffic, so off we went on his bright red motorbike to the city centre. Sitting back, watching the city go by all around me, I decided quickly that traveling through the city via motorbike was a far better way to see the sights than hoping on and off the underground Metro. Having a local guide, especially in a city that size, is a priceless opportunity for such great discoveries that would never be found without the help of a knowing eye. 

From a location unknown to the typical tourist, we started off in search of a building found amongst several beautiful gardens and famous churches. This particular building has become an attraction due to the significant keyhole found in the front doorway. From this particular keyhole, built with no intention at all, you can look in and see a perfectly framed image of the top of Saint Peter’s Basilica from the Vatican with not a single other building in sight. It is perfectly aligned, and not from a small distance either, it is seen from miles away and the size is of the Basilica is reduced to only what your eye can see through just the keyhole. The beautiful greenery lining the sides of the passageway that leads your eye to the image of the framed church at the end creates a truly incredible sight. 

This historical drain, Bocca della Verita, the “mouth of truth,” is said to be a legendary truth teller. Putting your hand inside of it and telling a lie would result in the loss of your hand from the other side. The story goes further to tell about a particular woman who was accused of adultery and sentenced to putting her hand in the drain to determine her loyalty to her husband. Before publicly declaring her innocence she went to her lover and told him to attack her in public, kissing her all over and acting possessed. She would cast him away in public, pretending to never have seen him before and carry on to put her hand in the drain and proclaim, “I have never kissed a man other than my husband, or this man” referencing her allegedly crazed lover of course, and keeping her hand. 

Looking down into the Roman Forum, you can see what was once the most significant part of the Roman Empire, and it is now various ruins across a large terrain. Sitting up on the ledge enjoying the sight, my new friend told me about how it snowed in Rome for the first time in thirty years this past winter and the Roman Forum was a winter wonderland. Just past the Forum you can see the Colesseum in all its glory. 
Walking up to the capital building from the Roman city centre, you can find the statue of the wolf feeding the two small boys with her milk. This statue is the representation of the creation of Rome. These two small children, brothers, were abandoned by their mother and taken in and cared for by the wolf. Legend says that the two boys grew up to be the creators of Rome. 

Passing through a less crowded street my guide stopped suddenly and took us down a tiny alleyway with the entrance to the tiniest church waiting at the end. It is the smallest “Marian Sanctuary of Rome” where the image of the Holy Virgin Mary is honored. Only seating less than ten attendees, we passed through just as the priest was arriving to begin the Sunday evening service. 

Wandering through the streets, even in the busiest time of the day, if you are in the right part of the town you can hear the Trevi fountain from blocks away. The fountain was just as enormous and beautiful as I remember, and surrounded by eager coin throwers wanting to make their wish. Almost more entertaining and definitely more comical than the fountain itself is the constantly massive crowds herding around one of Rome’s most famous attractions. 

In the Piazzo Navona, a giant beautiful church sits on one side, and three fountains with intense structural detail lay in a line down the center, the largest fountain in the middle. The two artist, one creating the design of the church while the other was responsible for the fountains, were rivals, and if you look carefully at the center fountain you will notice that none of the large statues along the sides are looking in the direction on the church, all their eyes are blocked by something or cast to the side. The one figure facing directly towards the church even has his hand lifted up in front of his eyes as if to say “ugh, what an ugly church, I don’t want to look at it,” representing the strong rivalry that existed between these two artists, unwilling to share the plaza. 

Built over two thousand years ago the Pantheon in Rome is still one of the most structurally sound concrete domes in the world. The huge opening in the center of the ceiling provides the only light that pours into the temple during the day, giving life to the various alters that are set up all around the inside. Different representations of gods of ancient Rome are depicted here, and the circular construction of the Pantheon was created with purpose to suggest that not one divinity should be the center, but that they can all exist together and face one another. After some reconstruction in the second century it was transformed a bit, and since the seventh century it has become a Roman Catholic Church of worship, dedicated to “St. Mary and the Martyrs.” 

In route to The Vatican, along the road bordering the Tiber River that runs through most of the city, I took my time lingering to enjoy the bridges, Castles, fountains, and various other Roman structures along the way. Making the mistake of following the main road into the Vatican city, I was stopped constantly, harassed by the guides eager to capture you for their tour through the church, persuading you with the opportunity to cut the line. When I would pass through by responding with “no thank you, I’m not going inside” the shocked reactions were priceless. This being my second visit to the city of the Vatican, I already had the chance to marvel at the inside of the church and climb to the highest point of St. Peter’s Basilica and look down over all the city. This visit had the intention of just passing through, saying hello to a familiar place. I had forgotten how completely amazing and gigantic the columns and the church actually are when you get up close.  

The first time I was in Rome, I left knowing there were so many parts of the city left undiscovered, which is probably inevitable no matter how many visits are made to the ancient city. Rome holds so many attractions, some well known while others are more hidden, but one of the stops I knew I had to make this time around was to the Spanish Steps that sit between the Pianna di Spagna and Piazza trinita dei Monti. The Spanish Steps, or "Scalinata della Trinita dei Monti" in Italian, is the widest staircase in all of Europe, and the beautiful Trinita dei Monti church sits at the top, towering down over the 138 steps.  

Hanging with a local also guarantees that you are going to eat the local way. Tromping through the city on the first night left us quite hungry and he led us to a small, crowded hole in the wall restaurant, Pizzeria Buffetto, where the pizza rivals Napoli in delicious quality, but as he explained to me that the two styles are so different that you really can’t try to compare the two. Later on another stop was made to get the “best gelato in Rome” and once again, not disappointed. The final night I was in Rome we ventured to a different neighborhood on the west side of the city where there was a traditional Roman restaurant packed with locals with a line out the door. Squished in the back, sharing the table with other guests, I let him pick our delicious meal of peppered pasta with a rich cheese covering followed by a course of shredded beef on rocket with roasted potatoes in some sort of heavenly sauce, and we dined like true Romans. 

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