Roman Sightseeing: The Pantheon, St. Peter’s & Villa Borghese

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This past week Jaime and I have spent the majority of our time before he starts his new job doing some “housekeeping” duties, mainly looking at apartments and getting the dog registered at the local pet office (more about our first battle with the Italian post office in this post). However, being the way we are, we couldn’t resist dipping our toes in some Roman sightseeing as well!

Our first stop was the Pantheon! The Pantheon was originally a temple built by the Ancient Romans for their gods, but in the 7th century was consecrated and has been used as a Roman Catholic Church informally known as Santa Maria della Rotonda. It is one of the best preserved buildings of Ancient Rome, but you don’t need me to tell you that. How many Ancient Roman or Greek places have you been to that look as perfect as this?
Pantheon-01
The Pantheon is free on account that it is a church, so it is one of the few major tourist spots in Rome that actually is free. The inside is absolute gorgeous and we were lucky to be there on a day when a choir from England was performing, so our entire experience was rendered much more majestic. A few famous people are buried inside, including King Victor Emmanuel II, King Umberto I, his queen, Margherita, and the artist Raphael. The oculus, or the circular opening on the ceiling, is the only natural source of light aside from the entrance. Throughout the day, the sun streams in with a reverse sundial effect, so it pays to go when its sunny to get some cool pictures. There is a drainage system in place and when it rains, the middle of the church doesn’t get wet (according to Jaime, anyway).
Pantheon-02
Before that, we went early in the morning to Campo De’ Fiori, a plaza that becomes a street market in the mornings. This was exactly the kind of stuff I pictured in Italy and hadn’t seen a lot of. Little old ladies in aprons selling the freshest, most colorful fruits and veggies, not too mention other more touristy things like mini bottles of olive oil and penis-shaped pasta. My dream is to get cooking lessons from an Italian grandmother.
Campo De Fiori-01

Last Sunday, on the other hand, we took a walk down to the Vatican. We really only planned to walk around St. Peter’s Square, but when we got there, the line into St. Peter’s Basilica was so short that we figured we may as well go in. Frankly, I was a little disappointed with St. Peter’s Square. While it is as beautiful as one imagines it to be, it was also a little too “modernized” for me. They have permanent giant TVs in front of huge statues of St. Peter and St. Paul, half of the place is under construction (Jaime and I have the worst luck for this sort of thing), and they have fences to contain crowds all over the middle of the square. I understand it’s useful for any Vatican proceedings, but I guess I was just expecting an enormous unobstructed piazza (update: we went on a Sunday, so the barricades were probably used for the Angelus. Normally, the square is unobstructed).

 

The Basilica, however, was just… wow. I was (and still am) absolutely speechless. Obviously it’s huge (the biggest church in the world) and ornate and just excessive in it’s designs but, God, was it beautiful. Honestly, one can take a thousand pictures of every detail of the place and it still wouldn’t do justice to the feeling of actually being in there.

The Vatican-01

The Vatican-02

Inside, you can see a bunch of things like the Holy Doors and the tomb of Pope John Paul II as well as other popes (some of which are embalmed). One of the most famous pieces of artwork inside is the Pieta by Michelangelo, which is behind bulletproof glass because some crazy guy a few decades ago attacked the statue with a hammer and hacked off Mary’s arm and her eyelid.

The Vatican-03

It rained while we were in the church, so the sunset was absolutely gorgeous through the clouds.
The Vatican-05
We walked across the Ponte Sant’Angelo and I was able to get probably the BEST picture of the Vatican with my iPhone. I am so proud of it.
The Vatican-06
The Vatican-04
Because our hotel is in Piazza Barberini, we’ve also walked around the Villa Borghese gardens and park like 4 times since we’ve been here. Villa Borghese is sort of like Rome’s Central Park. It’s beautiful and a great place to take pets. I realize now that Arya is probably going to be the one to enjoy Italy the most. She gets to run around free in a huge area with no fences, she can go into most shops with us, and she can even ride the public transportation system (but we haven’t taken that for a spin yet). Oh, and her favorite part (and mine too) has been the Roman water fountains spread throughout the city. There are over 2,000 in total, providing fresh, delicious, ice-cold water all day long fo’ free.99!
Yesterday, we found the cutest and most delicious gelato shop not far from our hotel called “Come il Latte”. We try to stay away from major tourist shops (I’m sure eventually we’ll find out this probably counts as one), but this place was tucked away in an alley, not full of people but the few that were there were locals, and they made the gelato themselves (another rule we try to stick to). I had their marcarpone and nutella gelato, with whipped cream, chocolate, and a cookie on top. It was absolutely heavenly, creamy deliciousness. By the way, when in Italy, always try their whipped cream or panna. It is NOTHING like the whipped cream in America. Its almost as thick as the gelato itself, which means you can probably stuff your face with just whipped cream and still be full. Jaime had their dark chocolate with vanilla whipped cream and a cookie on top too. I was too wrapped up in my ice cream to try his, but I’m pretty sure he was a happy camper as well. We loved it.
So those are the few things we’ve done so far in Rome. Hopefully our furniture will arrive from the U.S. soon and we’ll find an apartment so that we can settle in finally and start planning some adventures outside of Rome!