Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The best Big Mac ever! (Our trip to Rome)

As the popular travel author Rick Steves describes it, "Rome is a magnificent tangled forest." Rome is beautiful and brutal, all at the same time. It is Italy's political capital, the capital of Catholicism, and despite being 2,000 years old, still littered with historical remains.

We did Rome in two days, barely scratching the surface, but here's a look at some of the amazing places we explored.

First up, Vatican City, the world's smallest country.

Vatican City is home to St. Peter's Basilica as well as the Vatican Museum, which contains Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel.

The Sistine Chapel is the pope's personal chapel as well as the place where a new pope is elected. It was stunning, but sorry, no pictures were allowed. We did, however, snap a shot of the balcony on the outside of the museum where the pope sometimes makes an appearance.

St. Peter's Basilica was next, the world's richest and grandest church. The main altar sits directly above the tomb of St. Peter, Jesus' disciple. It was very surreal to be that close!

Michelangelo's dome, his last work, is also here. It's the tallest dome anywhere, taller than a football field is long. No building in Rome is allowed to exceed St. Peter's height. We went just half-way up and still had an incredible view! That's because after half-way, the elevator tops, and you must take the stairs. (After the stairs in Florence, I was ready for a break!)

You'll also find the Swiss Guard in Vatican City. They wear very, um, "colorful" uniforms. Not only do they stand guard, they also carefully monitor your wardrobe. Even though it was well over 100 degrees the day we visited, a strict dress code is always enforced. No exposed shoulders or knees! Hello sweaters, pants, and heatstrokes!

After all of that, we ended our first day at the Spanish Steps. It's one of Rome's most iconic sites and a very popular gathering spot, especially in the evening. Many famous romantic writers used to hang out here. That includes John Keats who died in this building right next to the steps.

Day two began at the Pantheon, Billy's favorite spot. This 2,000 year-old structure is the only building that's been in continuous use. It began as a place to worship all of the gods. (Pan means "all", and theo translates to "gods".) After the fall of Rome, it turned into a Christian house of worship. 
Some call the Pantheon the most influential building in art history due to its dome. The dome was the model for the Florence cathedral dome, Michelangelo's dome of St. Peter's, and our own US Capitol in Washington DC.  It's as tall as it is wide (142 feet) and the building's only light source.

Following the Pantheon, we ventured on to the Roman Forum. Wow! This is ancient Rome's birthplace. Since everything of any real importance happened here, experts call this the most important piece of real estate in Western civilization.  Palatine Hill overlooks the Forum, and it's a pretty cool view.                                                                              

Arch of Titus
The Forum itself includes the place where Julius Caesar was burned after being assassinated as well as the Arch of Titus and the Basilica of Constantine. The Romans built the Arch to commemorate their victory over Israel. The Basilica was a HUGE hall of justice and even though it looks massive today, the arches only represent a-third of the original building.

My favorite spot, by far, was the Colosseum. Wow, this place is mind blowing! This 2,000-year-old building represents Rome at its grandest. Amazingly, large parts of it still remain intact today. Towering 150-feet-high, it could hold up to 75,000 people. The Colosseum entertained the masses, for free, with gory, often deadly, battles. The fights would pit beasts (starving animals such as bears, elephants, and tigers) against each other or even man. War captives, slaves, and criminals would also be forced to fight, or sometimes, just executed on the spot. The gladiators, very highly-trained, would fight later in the day. Despite not having computers or modern-day technology, the Romans were able to build this monstrosity complete with trap doors, an underground network to transport the fighters and animals, and even the ability to flood the arena for staged "marine" battles. Your imagination runs wild just being there, imagining what took place in the exact spot you're standing.

After two exhilarating, but exhausting days, we were ready to head home, but not so fast! Guess who looked at our train ticket wrong for the departure time? Yep, me.  We missed it by six lousy minutes. That mistake ended up costing us some money, a lot of stress trying to rebook, and about six hours of time.  By the time we made it to our final stop before getting home (well after midnight), we were starving! We had an hour to spare. We got off the train, and shining in the night, a McDonald's! I've never been a fan. Maybe it was the hunger; maybe it was weeks of eating pasta every day, I'm not sure, but those golden arches never looked better. I ordered a Big Mac ($7), some fries, and got two ketchups (50 cents a piece), waited about 20 minutes for them to cook it (not like at home), and finally chowed down! A Big Mac never tasted so good!

Ciao until next time!

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