To be perfectly honest, I don’t remember where we ate or what we ate or if we even ate at all when we were in Rome. Food is a complete blur because all I was immersed in was the sights and the colours and the buildings. And getting lost every other day without any means of communication.
Our Airbnb host, Maura’s apartment was located in Municipio VI (Rome is divided into 20 municipals) forming the outer ring of the city centre as well as the Vatican City. Our closest train station was Stazione Tiburtina which was on the main line and it was about 5 minutes of a bus ride away, the bus stop being about 200 meters away from the house. It’s so downplayed in those pieces about travel tips but location plays such an important role, don’t you think?
There is much to see in the city of Rome and we started our day looking for the Trevi Fountain on a beautiful morning. Rome has a multitude of lanes and it shouldn’t scare you. You’re bound to find something spectacular in each. You wouldn’t find a single “modern” building which makes the wandering all the more picturesque. Just to be absolutely clear, there are no sky scrapers, no form of concrete jungle in Italy. As it was, so it is. Another distinct characteristic is the juxtaposition between religion and art. Italy clearly holds an important place in the history of Christendom and vice versa I should say and this comes across in the art that you will see across the city.
The Trevi Fountain is in the Trevi district and there are some low-key directions for Piazza Di Trevi in and around so you can’t miss it. Part of the Trevi Fountain was also being restored which meant that the role of it being a ‘fountain’ wasn’t at play. This majorly frustrated a young man part of an entourage what we would normally view as ‘frat boys’. My sister understood what he said, hand gestures and all. He basically didn’t understand the point of their visit to the fountain. If, however, you were there to see the work of art rather than making a wish, you weren’t disappointed.
We rarely joined a tour group (except for the Vatican) and we resorted to either audio guides or on some occasions, standing near a tour group to listen to a guide (I think this might count as a travel cheat). While at the fountain, there was a tour group and some of the people wanted to toss the coin and make a wish (legend has it that if you toss a coin in the Trevi fountain, you will visit Rome again). Even though it was in the middle of restored, a small space of the fountain was allotted and filled with water for the tourists. The tour operator for this group was adamant to let his group know that all these coins were going into the pockets of the Vatican! While he clearly sounded like he wasn't a fan of this taxation of sort, it was a very interesting fact to learn. It meant that a lot of these old sites and works of art are still under direct control of the holy city because more than half I would assume were commissioned when the Papacy and the church had autonomous control.
Oh. Before you ask, yes. I did think about following a Roman Holiday itinerary. While that wasn’t possible, we did make our way to the Spanish steps one evening and boy, were we in for a shock. I don’t know if it was because we were there during the evening but there was no space on the steps. Everyone came and sat. they just sat and did nothing. Some girls wanted their Audrey moment but the success rate wasn't very high. The Spanish Steps is famous architecturally, yes, but I reckon all of us wanted to come and see it because of Roman Holiday.
The Trevi Fountain, The Spanish Steps and The Pantheon are close to each other and they form an odd ‘L’ shape so to speak meaning you can cover all three in a day. Problem is we had the Vatican listed down for the day so we wanted to catch sight of the Steps in the morning. But we just kept hitting a blank over and over again so we hopped on the first bus we saw and made our way to the Vatican.
Up until then, the most fun we had was walking through the many lanes and just marvelling at every building and laughing at the ‘Roman soldiers’. The Trevi Fountain was a minor let-down because of the restoration and the Spanish steps didn’t wow. The Pantheon, however, made up for both. I’m going to be honest here. I only knew about The Pantheon because of Dan Brown’s Angles and Demons. My sister jeered and rolled her eyes at me when I told her that but hey, I guess you do learn something from everything and back in 2005, Dan Brown overloaded me with so much information, I had to read it twice mainly to decipher what was fiction. Remember the famous bit about the Demon’s hole or Oculus and the mix up with Raphael’s tomb? It’s the clue he messed up. If you can’t find your book, I guess YouTube? I haven't watched the movie but that scene should be there. It’s a crucial point in the book at least because SPOILER it’s the lead up to the first murder.
So yes. THAT Pantheon. Historically, the Pantheon was built thrice in the same exact spot and the third Pantheon was completed in 125 BC. Earlier in history, the Pantheon was converted into the church of St. Mary of the Martyrs in 608 BCE. From the outside, it can be passed off as an ordinary temple but the Pantheon, according to Michelangelo, felt like it was the work on angels, not men. When you enter, it is but a simple rotunda. It will take you seconds to go around it but the significance of the Pantheon lies in symbolism. It is said that the site was not chosen by chance. It is the spot where Romulus, the founder of Rome, at his death was seized by an eagle and taken off to the skies with the gods and upon the translation of the word, Pantheon comes from two Greek words: pan meaning "everything" and teon meaning “divine”.
The interior of the Pantheon receives its light from the sky; the 'eye'. The opening or the eye is 8.8 m in diameter and light streams in. The Pantheon is also the final resting place of one of the great renaissance master Raphael Santi and is also said to be the most copied and imitated of all ancient works.
By the time we got to the Pantheon, my phone, ipad and camera were all running low of battery because we were in the Vatican earlier in the day. Thankfully I did have my film camera with me (I unfortunately still haven't developed my films from the trip). I would love to go back and visit the Pantheon because of all its symbolisms AND to take some decent photographs and not the random ones I had to conjure up. There is also an eclectic atmosphere outside the Pantheon as it leads up to Piazza Navona. There were wonderfully Italian street performers, uniquely Italian cafes and just beautiful houses and buildings that were lined up along the old and cobbled pavements.
I got lost again that evening. I was desperately looking for a shop that would sell a sim card. I don’t know if it was just my luck but it sure felt impossible finding a shop that sells something as generic as a simcard. Even google search didn’t yield any help. Everyone suggested what card to get but nobody gave any information as to where one can buy that card. I asked a souvenir shop vendor and he directed me to someone across the street. The guy across the street directed me to a place which, in his words, was just down that street and then a right. Sure. I found more electronic stores who said they didn’t have any.
By then it was dark and we seemed to have landed up in the CBD (if you can call it that). For starters, we found H&M but we didn’t really care. I basically ran when I saw two mobile service stores because it was closing time and shouted back at my sister to wait for me there. There where I had no idea because I just bolted. Turns out, they were terribly expensive and would take a day to activate and I could only use it within Italy. So that was that. I made my way back looking for my sister and couldn’t find her. I walked up and down the street thrice before I gave up. I figured she made her way back to the apartment. And she did. Safely too might I add because she is quite terrible with directions. We were fortunate that Maura’s apartment was so well located.
September 23 - 26, 2015
*I finally watched Angels and Demons and I was terribly, terribly, TERRIBLY disappointed. They changed everything including names of major characters. I can’t believe Ron Howard directed that monstrosity. It needs to be remade. It HAS to be! Maybe into a miniseries??