europe,  italy,  travel

The splendors of Rome – Day 5


Despite staying up late planning our Rome itinerary, Angela and I both ended up waking up 15 minutes before our alarms went off. We got ourselves ready to go and had a quick bite of some breakfast-type food that our host had kindly provided. We made our way to the nearby Metro station, which was remarkably straightforward to use. It was only a few stops away, so it wasn’t long before we emerged at the Piazza de Spagna. It was literally just around the corner and we were standing at the base of the Spanish Steps. They were certainly impressive looking, though in the end they weren’t as exciting as I’d thought (I think because I’d seen a photo of them where flowers lined the steps and had hoped to see the steps more embellished). Nonetheless, the steps and the surrounding area were lovely. We climbed up the steps, avoiding a gladiator-garbed fellow asking to take our picture. We did experience our first taste of the crowds of Rome. There was an impressive crowd of people milling about at the bottom of the steps, and we were vigilant in guarding our purses. Both Angela and I were wearing bright colours, which was somewhat of help in spotting the other person in the crowd.

After getting our bearings, we were off to find our next sight, Trevi Fountain. The streets were delightful to walk through, shops and restaurants at the bottom of beautiful, colourful buildings. We made a brief (though pricey) pit stop at a pharmacy to grab bandaids for the blisters on the backs of Angela’s heels. Because it was on the way, we decided to swing by a restaurant I’d heard about, Trattoria to make a reservation for later. We meandered our way through the side streets until we came across it, tucked away in a tiny side street. There wasn’t any space until 10 pm for dinner, so we opted for a reservation at 2 pm for lunch. Buoyed by the prospect of a delicious Italian lunch, we continued onwards. It was only a short walk over, and we soon saw an increasing number of little drink and gelato places, indicating that we were nearing some kind of tourist attraction.

While tourist attractions can often be traps, there are usually a reason that people keep flocking to see something–and this fountain certainly fit that description. It’s a massive Baroque fountain, impressive in its detail, grandeur and subject matter (Oceanus and his shell chariot flanked by Tritons). While there was a similarly large crowd massed in front of it, it was laid out nicely for taking photos, with steps in front of it for people to amass on different levels. The sound of the flowing water was oddly soothing, and we stood for a time just admiring the gleaming stonework. After having our fill of the fountain, we conferred with our map to find a route to our next stop, the Pantheon. We found our way to a bustling main street, Via del Corso. We somehow got ourselves a bit turned around, as we ended up running across a Palazzo that we planned to visit later. We decided to just make our way to the end of the street and investigate what the particularly grandiose structure was at its end.

There, we found an awe-inspiringly massive marble monument, blazingly bright in the sun. It turned out to be the National Monument to Vittorio Emanuele II, the first king of Italy, completed in 1925. It’s located on the Piazzo Venezia, a massive circus that took us some time to cross. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is housed at its base, guarded by 2 Italian soldiers. We actually watched the ritual of what appeared to be the changing of the guard. We stood around gaping at its grandeur and ornateness, and also attempted to cool off in the shade as we were sweltering in the sun.

From there, we mapped out a more accurate route to the Pantheon, making a brief pit spot for some delicious lemon gelato to refresh ourselves. Nestled amongst designer shops and restaurants rose the ancient temple, which dates back to 126 AD. Originally built as a temple to all the gods of Ancient Rome, it was re-appropriated as a Roman Catholic church since the 7th century. The vast Roman concrete dome (which is apparently the world’s largest unreinforced dome) is truly impressive, and we spent some time making our way around the circular building. It’s hard to convey in photos the feeling of how large the space feels. Eventually, we made our way to the exit, pulling over at the door for at least 5 minutes of an interminable stream of tour groups exiting.

We still had a bit of time to kill before our lunch reservation, so we decided to check out the Piazza Navona. It was yet another gorgeous square, with fabulous Baroque Roman architecture and beautiful fountains and statues. The Palazzo Pamphilj dominates the square and in the center Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (“Fountain of the Four Rivers”). The square was filled with stalls selling art, and we made a note to come back and take a closer look through. We made our way back to the restaurant, Trattoria da Gino. It’s a darling place, with painted murals on the walls and painted grape vines on the ceiling. We ordered wine (as is expected at lunch), and were each given a half a liter. For antipasti, we ordered an assortment of hors d’oeuvres. It was a tasty mix of prosciutto, salami, eggplant, bell peppers and a bit of cheese. I couldn’t resist ordering spaghetti carbonara, which I learned is a Roman dish, while Angela ordered penne with a spicy tomato sauce. Both our dishes were super delicious, though we only were able to finish about half. We lingered for a time over our wine, resting up before heading out to our last stop of the day, the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj.

Since we’d accidentally found it earlier in the day, it was easy to find it again. We entered into the courtyard and grabbed our tickets and free audio guides. I’m not normally a fan of audio guides, but our guide was actually a member of the Doria Pamphilj family, who was actually quite entertaining. He dotted his narratives with charming little anecdotes (like being scolded for leaving marks on the floor from rollerblading). The palazzo itself was amazing–richly-furnished rooms with ornately-painted soaring ceilings. It also houses a large private art collection, with numerous paintings by the likes of Caravaggio and Velasquez. We slowly made our way through, in relative peace and quiet (as there were perhaps only 5 or 10 other people also there). Our legs were starting to give out on us, coming onto 7 hours of adventure, and so we finished our tour and decided to call it a day. However, it was a bit of a journey to actually reach the metro station, and we ended up stopping over in a cafe to re-hydrate, as we were both parched.

We finally reached the metro and made it back to our area of town. Grabbing a bottle of wine and making a grocery run at the supermarket to grab supplies. We had a relaxing evening in, with a light dinner of crackers, cheese and salami and making our plans for the next few days. A long but thoroughly satisfying day!

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