When you are in Rome as a tourist in the month of August, you would feel that you are in a mythical place where all the locals have disappeared and the tourists have descended in such large numbers that they are everywhere, and I mean everywhere…. You could go into the most narrow and sleepy looking alley, hoping that it would lead to a deserted piazza, but visitors would be there too.
Such was our experience in August of 2010, when we landed in Rome during the time when the locals escape to the seaside for their own vacations. But even with tourists everywhere, I found Rome to be hot, gleaming and amazing, because it was my first time in Europe (barring a 2006 trip to Ireland), and the beginning of a love affair with Italy.
Here are the happy memories of the Roman holiday:
– the Trevi Fountain is gorgeous, the crowds notwithstanding. Its enormous, really a fountain complex. There is some significance to the amount of coins you throw at its incredible Baroque architecture – one guarantees a return to Rome, 2 coins would lead to a new romance, and 3 coins would lead to marriage. And me, being married and on this maiden Italy trip with the husband, made it a point to throw just the one coin.
– I would gladly loose myself again in the sun-soaked piazzas in Rome. If you are a proponent of slow travel and not too keen on checking off all the touristy items in this very touristy city, just relax at the piazzas – there is so much beauty and history everywhere that there is nary a need to enter a museum or gallery. In the shiny but not glaring sunlight of late afternoon, these piazzas acquire the warm tone of a perfect Instagram filter. A prime example is Piazza Navona with another beautiful fountain, Bernini’s the Fountain of Four Rivers (“Fontana dei Quattro Fuimi”). The four rivers personified in this very intricately carved fountain are the Nile, the Danube, the Ganges (or Ganga) and Rio de la Plata.
– When you are at Piazza Navona, why not visit the adjoining church of the martyr Saint Agnes in Agony? Another great example of Baroque architecture, this church is beautiful from the inside as well, without the long lines of the Vatican.
– One of the best things we did was visit the Vatican late in the night, where we were able to take photos of the very elegantly and romantically lit San Pietro basilica and Piazza San Pietro. Not to say that you should not visit during the day, if only to take in Michaelangelo’s beautiful work of art – the Pieta.
– One gallery which would not be found in every tourist to do list is the Villa Borghese, which has a formidable collection of sculptures by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Alas, photography is not allowed inside the gallery, and thus I have no photos to show why even All-I-know-about-art-I-have-learned-from-the-movies person like me could tell that these sculptures were truly exquisite and thus the entry to the gallery made limited to a small number each day (Tip: book your tickets online in advance). The one sculpture that I loved was the “Apollo and Daphne”. The intricate details of Daphne turning into a tree to escape Apollo are quite simply amazing.
– We were quite smug as we passed the long line of tourists queuing at the ticket counter of the Vatican museum, as we had booked the tickets online in advance. However, there really was no research on my part going into the Museum, which was a rookie mistake. Other than knowing about Michelangelo’s pivotal Sistine Chapel ceiling, I entered this great collection of art completely clueless. It’s no surprise that I can only vaguely recall passing through an gallery containing very old maps, and being in a room covered from floor to ceiling by work of Raphael. But I still remember excitement when we saw with our own eyes the Creation of Adam, with the iconic two hands, on the ceiling inside the Sistine Chapel.
All in all, Rome turned out to be everything we had hoped for and then some. But after rounds of the museums, galleries and basilicas in the Italian capital, we were ready for the shimmering blues of the Amalfi Coast. But that’s another blog post for another day.