Well, well, well what did you guys do over mid-Winter break? Me? Oh, I just went to Italy and spent my life savings on gelato. And pizza. And pasta. Maybe a few museums? But seriously, I went to Italy and it was beautiful, rainy, sunny, and everything I knew it would be but could never visualize without putting on my rain boots and trekking the ancient land myself.
Let’s start with the first city we arrived in: Rome.
My trusty group of five chicas and I arrived late in Rome on Sunday night after a train, flight, and bus ride. We were tired and wanted our beauty rest so saved our free drinks cards from the hostel until they could be fully appreciated. Despite our desire to sleep in until 1pm (always my desire), we decided to wake up early in the morning to experience as much of Rome as possible. Thank god for a group of responsible females to rip the sheets off me in the morning.
We braved the rain (like we have never done that before ;)) and made our way to St. Peter’s Basilica. After an uncomfortably close bus ride consisting of an old man humping my friend’s leg and me awkwardly asking everyone for directions without knowing a lick of Italian, we finally made it to the biggest church in the world.
My blurred memory of St. Peter’s Basilica blossomed to life right in front of me. As a twelve year old girl, I stood right there with hair sticking to my cheeks after an unexpected downpour. My young eyes moved over each arched entryway and crease in the columns. It was the first time I had ever seen anything that wasn’t glossed over with a modern, American touch. It was the first time I had ever heard everyone around me speaking a different language. Culture shock shook me back and forth as I immediately realized this was unlike anything I had ever seen before.
Eight years later, St. Peter’s Basilica was still grand and almost unimaginable. The beautiful blue and gold dome balanced over my head like a circular version of heaven. Rich carvings and hand placed mosaics draped over the walls and climbed up the ceilings. It is a kind of beauty that doesn’t seem to exist anymore. A raw splendor concentrated in the art of each fine brush stroke, placement of stone, and detail of tile. It was this attention to art that took years to perfect everything surrounding me with my wet clothes, cheap umbrella, and wide eyes. An eight year gap and I couldn’t have looked more similar to the middle school version of myself; staring, savoring, and smiling as I stood in the center of it all.
After awing the inside of St. Peter’s Basilica it was time to go up. Up, up, up over 500 spiraling stairs to the tippity-top of the church. And wow, was it worth the five euro, aching muscles, and mumbled complaints. We saw all of Rome from the skies. St. Peter’s square was dotted with the curious faces of tourists, colorful umbrellas, and the famous white columns. I gripped the railing and looked down over the city; I had made it.
We experienced the classic lose-your-friends-in-giant-church scenario after we returned to the main floor of St. Peter’s Basilica. We thought they went outside; they thought we stayed inside. Woopsies. While waiting for them to turn up, we took the opportunity of sitting, standing, smiling, and throwing up the ‘W’ sign in countless pictures. Our very serious desire for our first Italian pizza got the best of us, and we ordered two margherita pizzas to-go. Our cold hands scooped up the giant slices that drooped into a “V” shape from the loaded layers of sauce and cheese. We viciously ate the bread in hopes of getting into the line for the Vatican for some more fun waiting. Wiping tomato juices off of our fingers and faces, we pranced on over to the Vatican only to be told that it was closed. We set our hearts on seeing it in the morning.
What next? Well might as well hit up the Colosseum and Trevi Fountain eh? We thought so too. We took the bus to the Colosseum and saw the curved arches standing tall and torn in front of us. Gorgeous. We made a group decision not to go inside. I had been before when I was younger and the other girls didn’t want to dish out the euros. That was precious gelato money, ah gelato. Don’t even get me started on that Italian delicacy.
After the Colosseum came the Trevi fountain. Or the gelato. Or both? Definitely both. I ordered a clever little mix of chocolate and nutella flavors. For those who have yet to experience gelato, I am so sorry. Gelato is the Italian version of ice cream, but thicker, creamier, and overall better. For some reason I could not bring myself to order any fruit flavors throughout the entire trip. Chocolate always won. It really makes sense the more I think about it. I scooped up the chocolate mixture on my spoon expecting to be slightly disappointed. Most chocolate ice creams I try have more of a dark chocolate flavor, which generally comes off to me as slightly bitter and burnt tasting. But oh baby was I wrong. The gelato melted on my tongue in spoonfuls of chocolate dreamy bliss. I had been waiting eight years to taste this again.
That night ended with a grand Italian meal of homemade ravioli and red wine. The best thing about the pasta in Italy is how it is cooked al dente. Cooking al dente means ‘cooked to perfection.’ It is that perfect, chewy bite. The point where the pasta is not too hard it gets stuck in your back teeth but not too soft the noodle falls apart in your mouth. There has to be some chewing involved. And you have to like it. And trust me here, you will more than like it. The pasta is handmade. We are talking flour pushed into a peak and egg dropped into the scooped out center. Mixing, rolling, cutting. What I would do to be a wooden spoon hanging on the kitchen wall, spying those secret Italian recipes mothers and grandmothers passed down to their children.
I cut into a pillow of mozzarella, pushing a bit of fresh basil on to my fork. The small dining room decorated with cream colored brick walls and dimly lit candles disappeared behind my closed eyes. The red wine burned the back of my throat as the tomatoes burst on my tongue. The smoky flavor of the cheese melted slowly in between bites. Italy tasted far too good.
After dinner, we returned back to our hostel and snagged two free drinks. The random conversations pursued with people from all over the world. We met two friends: one was an Australian man who spoke only English, and the other was an Argentinean man who spoke only Spanish. When we asked them, in their respective languages, how they became friends if they can’t communicate; they both responded with a booming, “We like to PARTY!” Awesome. The Australian said he didn’t have a “real” job, rather he had been working random side jobs as he traveled his way through Italy. He referred to this as “a very Australian thing to do.” I nodded my head accordingly as I contemplated how I was born on the wrong continent.
At the bar, we squished our table next to the seats of some Australians and played an interesting game of “Ten fingers.” The rules are of the game are that everyone holds up both hands in the air and each person must go around and say something they have never done before (that they think other people have done). Example: Someone says I have never skipped class (if you have skipped class you put down a finger). Whoever puts down all of their fingers first loses. Now it wasn’t until half way through the game that we realized the group of Australians were saying things they had done and putting down a finger for it. We discovered this when an older Australian man claimed, “I have never had sex.” We all swung our heads to the side to stare at his exclamation of purity when we saw him put down a finger. We took a deep breath. The table was from forty year old virgins trying to roofie our drinks. Win. The night ended with some lengthy girl talks, avoiding creepers trying to lure us on to the six person dance floor, and very little rest despite another early bird sightseeing in the morning.
Our last day in Rome we woke up early and I had PANCAKES. I had been dreaming of the fluffy filling and buttery brown outside dripping with butter and syrup ever since my host parents told me they had no idea what a pancake is. Yes, I dream of pancakes. Yes, I consider this normal. Moving to another country suddenly makes everything that is not easily accessible very necessary to have. Very, very necessary. Like so necessary you make your mom send you a $3 dollar jar of peanut butter for $18 dollars, because you NEED it. But that’s another story. Anyways after I licked the butter rum syrup (yes) from my plate, we headed off to go see the Vatican, buy our train tickets to Florence, eat pizza/ gelato, and googly eye Rome as much as possible.
The Vatican was filled with a lot of open jawed awing, oohing, and pictures taken of me mimicking statues. I would almost dare to say you never need to go to the Vatican, because I took pictures of just about everything. My favorite part was the ceilings. The hand painted, story-telling ceilings. Okay, maybe you better see them for yourselves.
I also enjoyed being in a place with such history and value. I was standing in the same spot that Michelangelo painted in. Right there. Hundreds of years ago. Incredible.
We followed the Vatican with some pizza, a cathedral viewing, and a show.
We stepped into an old cathedral on the side of the road after eyeing the architecture from the outside. Walking into a Roman cathedral at night was like entering a new world. It was quiet, deep, and dark. Stands of candles flickered with people’s prayers for their loved ones. The cold marble floors hit the walls of paintings, awnings, and sculptures. People knelt in the night whispering their secrets to the one person they truly trust but constantly let down. The church, just like religion, seemed opposing to me. It felt safe yet cold. Soft with the shimmering lights, yet dark with the mystery and unknown. But the church was real. It was right in front of me. I felt it under my fingertips as I glided my hand over the wooden pews. It was easy for me to believe in the reality of the building, rather than the man who hung with his hands pinned in front of me. I guess “He” would say this is my cross to bear. I lack faith and He lacks physical presence. I have failed to find one without the other.
After leaving the Cathedral, we set off to find our way home. As we continued walking, we realized that there were no cars on the streets. People with bright purple, green, and gold embellished masks began walking toward us. A giant screen flashed with images off in distance. We knew we had just found something to do with Carnival. We all perked up and went to go see what was happening. Our footsteps brought us closer to confetti covered walkways, children slurping candies, and white booths. We squeezed our way up by the action and saw the end of a horse show. That is when it began. A firework show that I can only guess was around a half hour long. My head tilted back to watch the fireworks burst in streams of color and die into the darkness of the sky. The booming of gunpowder mixed with classical music sang across the stadium. It was my last day in Rome and I was full of pasta and pure joy. I looked at my friends and we all exchanged smiles, whispering to each other in complete seriousness, “How did we get so lucky?”
St. Peter’s Basilica from the outside
St. Peter’s Basilica’s dome
St. Peter’s Square
Ceiling artwork in the Vatican
Five flavors please.
When the hardest decision of the day is pizza or pasta
The ravioli from the first night in Rome
Carnival in Rome: