When we went to Rome, Italy, I believe I was a bit delusional to think that I might actually see Russell Crowe dressed up as a gladiator signing autographs and performing live reenactments from his movie. And of course he was not there. Although I did see a gladiator – or at least a man dressed up as one – order an espresso from a local coffee shop we were eating breakfast at. I guess today’s gladiator needs to get his caffeine fix before his long day of taking photos with tourists in front of the Coliseum.
Rome is the ultimate sightseer/tourist destination. You can walk anywhere in this beautiful city and turn a corner to see something utterly remarkable. It could be an ancient Roman structure, fountain, statue of some naked person, or a string of wonderfully delicious and creatively designed restaurants with dog parking. In fact, one of my favorite parts about visiting Rome was that if we got tired of walking around we could simply stop at any restaurant, order wine and pizza, and enjoy the view. No matter where we were at in the city we always had a view of something. But other than meandering the streets of Rome for hours – with our mouths gaping wide at everything we saw like we were a part of some Charlie Brown Christmas special – we did have an agenda to keep.
Our first stop, of course, was the Coliseum. However, some research before arriving in Italy proved extremely helpful in avoiding the long lines. The Coliseum can be purchased as a package deal with some other attractions, and by buying the combined ticket at one of the other sights we avoided the hours of standing in line. There were literally only ten people in line at the Roman Forum compared to the hundreds waiting to buy tickets at the Coliseum. And after buying our tickets we then walked to the Coliseum, passing all the other tourists impatiently waiting in line, and gained entrance in seconds. This just goes to prove that a little research beforehand always pays off when traveling. The Coliseum itself, to my surprise, is not round. This might just be me but I always thought the structure was designed as a perfect circle when in fact it’s oval, and very similar to the way football stadiums are designed today; although I doubt many football stadiums have an underground network of walkways and rooms caged off for wild animals right under the main floor. The Coliseum is an amazing feat of engineering and just beautiful to explore its many levels, and if you want the experience to feel just a little more epic then watch the movie Gladiator before visiting. Just don’t expect to see Russell Crowe.
There is this famous fountain in Rome, the Trevi Fountain, which has been used in numerous films worldwide and is a must for tourists. There is also a tradition that goes along with visiting this sight. The tradition states that one must sit at the fountain’s edge and throw a coin with the right hand over the left shoulder, which signifies that you will return to Rome. There is also another legend stating something with three coins that leads to romance and marriage, but since I already had that in the bag, I threw one coin into the fountain and saved the rest for pizza. Only in Europe and possibly Canada can you have a pocket full of coins and be able to have a good night out on the town. The fountain itself is quite remarkable. It was the original end point to one of the many Roman aqueducts and features larger than life-size carvings of Tritons, horses, and a nearly naked guy that goes by the name of Ocean. We stopped by the Trevi fountain a couple of times during our visit and it always appeared to be very popular. So after squeezing our way through the crowd to the fountain’s edge, we threw our coins in and promptly left for more wine and pizza.
The last location on our itinerary was to visit Vatican City. How could we be in Rome and not go to Vatican City? After traveling for the last year and a half around Europe we’ve become accustomed to knowing which locations you should join a tour group and which ones you really don’t have to, and this is definitely one attraction that you should. Not only do you gain deeper insight to the history of such a marvel, but you also bypass all the other tourists trying to save a buck. I would gladly pay an extra few bucks not to stand in a line for hours. Vatican City is recognized as the smallest independent state in the world and governed as a monarchy, placing the Pope in the big chair while possessing all legislative, executive, and judicial powers. This independent state also has its own flag, minted coin, license plate, and postage stamp, and in my opinion it’s one of the coolest places to visit in all of Rome. Just make sure to wear the proper clothing or you will not be admitted beyond the security checkpoint (ie. no shorts or exposed shoulders allowed).
Because Vatican City sees roughly 25,000 tourists a day, hallways, rooms, even outdoor areas become extremely crowded with bodies from around the world. With so many people from all over the world it’s kind of like an international mosh pit of culture and language. No one really knows what anyone else is saying. Due to this roaming mosh pit of tourists everyone in our group were given a one-way radio where we could hear our guide and know exactly where he was at all times. Paintings, tapestries, and statues appear to be boundless throughout Vatican City. One could spend a lifetime looking at every single piece of art if they so desired. We took about four hours. I was surrounded by art from some the world’s most renowned masters, and it was amazing if not a tad overwhelming. Each piece desired hours of consideration, but my mental capacity nearly ran dry after the first. Again I walked in rows – lemming following lemmings – eyes unblinking, astonished at everything I saw but hindered in movement by the thousands of other tourists. Unfortunately I couldn’t land a selfie with the Pope, but I did capture a string of Cardinals off in the distance.
At the end of the tour we entered the Sistine Chapel as guards hushed tourists filing into the room. I figured them to be the Vatican’s noise police. I had seen the picture many times in textbooks growing up, but to my surprise when I first looked up to the ceiling and saw Michelangelo’s painting “The Creation of Adam,” all I thought was how small it was. The picture had always appeared larger than life in photos reprinted and commercialized in the U.S. It was an epic moment captured in fresco (paint on plaster). Not to reduce the significance of the piece – neither in its artistry or symbolism – but it’s funny how an image can aggrandize in one’s mind until he/she comes face to face with it. The image yet remained captivating but very distant (sorry no pictures, all photography was prohibited in the Sistine Chapel).
For the rest of our trip we lazily walked through the city, stopping to eat pizza or drink wine and appreciate the city for what it was: a unique blend of ancient and contemporary culture. Eventually I saw that pseudo-gladiator again, or one of his several counterparts, and this time he was eating a slice from one of the many pizza shops. I could only guess that he was carbing up for an epic battle, but then again that could just be my own wishful thinking.