It’s been two weeks since last I was in Italy and this weekend entailed a trip to the eternal city. After touching down in Fiumicino’s airport, it’s hard not to see Rome’s immediate appeal. It’s the birthplace of “la dolce vita,” which is fitting considering there are gelaterias at every turn and on every street corner. They say all roads lead to Rome, and it seems that all roads in Rome lead to pizza, gelato, or other amazing eats–suffice it to say that it was a weekend’s worth of PHENOMENAL food. The more time I spend abroad, the more I’ve come to miss home-cooked meals, but the food here is an indulgence by every account of the imagination.
The flight from Barcelona was especially stunning – the sunrise over the Mediterranean Sea is a sight beyond what words can convey. I think I’ve seen more sunrises in my short time abroad than I have before in my entire life. The way the rising sun illuminates the sky before giving way to daylight is delicate – the colors are softer and less vibrant, more reminiscent of residual coals than a raging bonfire. It’s a peaceful scene and one that I hope not soon to forget.
After arriving, I met up with James, my friend from Berkeley, and we stayed in Pratti, a stone’s throw away from the Vatican City. The walk into the city center took us along the narrowest (and probably most dangerous) sidewalks I’ve ever encountered and over the Tiber River with its inexplicably murky waters. The first day of exploring also took us to the Pantheon, which was the perfect refuge from the unexpected rain (this one’s on me for not checking the forecast prior to departure). Photos of the structure are deceiving, unable to capture the magnitude of its size and grandeur. It’s one of the most awe-inspiring thoughts that we get to witness the work of ancient Rome as it still stands today and hard to fathom that brilliant minds such as Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo once strolled these same streets. How thrilling is it to imagine what the Forum ruins might have looked like back when they served as the playground for Caesar, Augustus, and the like? As the heart of ancient Rome, this public venue was the site of triumphal processions, gladiator matches, even criminal trials. If I could have lived in any ancient civilization, the Romans certainly present a lively and compelling case.
I’m now realizing that after eating fresh homemade pasta, the store-bought alternative will never be the same. My friend Dana is currently studying in Rome and gave us an amazing dinner recommendation at Osteria Delle Coppelle for our first night. Traditional Italian apertivo and wine are a must before working up a real appetite for dinner. For dessert, Gilotto’s has amazing gelato and coffee. They top the gelato with generous amounts of fresh whipped cream, and it is absolutely decadent. Regarding food, I also remarked that if there’s one thing with which I’m leaving Italy, it’s a newfound affinity for eggplant (especially when sandwiched between fresh bread with tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil).
After our second day of exploring, I will forever admire the bride that we saw at the Spanish Steps… I cannot imagine navigating those shin-splint inducing cobblestones in heels and a 10ft dress train. The entire crowd admiring the view from the steps gave the couple a rousing round of applause, a standing ovation that brought the biggest smile to her face. I’d read polarizing reviews about this attraction: “they’re just steps,” and other related complaints, before determining to see and decide for myself, but that small moment made the excursion entirely worthwhile. What I’ve learned is that the top of the flight offers a stunning view of the city, especially at sunset. Ultimately, I would recommend it if even to window-shop along all of the high-end stores and quaint cafes leading up to the monument.
After wandering through the neighborhoods surrounding the Spanish Steps, we made our way to the Villa Borghese. One could spend an entire afternoon lost in the gardens or exploring the magnificent collection of art housed in the Galleria Borghese. My favorite work of art is featured there, a Baroque-era statue illustrating the story of Apollo and Daphne and commissioned by Bernini (sculptor of David). The marble work features incredible detailing, achieved via a technique that was considered novel at the time. The statue depicts the moment in which Daphne’s father turns her into a laurel tree in order to deter her relentless suitor, but Apollo continues to embrace the tree even though his pursuit of love is ultimately in vain. You can see her outstretched arms transform into tree branches, her legs into roots and her torso featuring patterns of bark underneath Apollo’s desperate and hopeless grasp. It’s a single instant wrought with emotion.
As all tourists should, I also got my Lizzie McGuire moment with an obligatory coin toss at Trevi Fountain. The fountain underwent a recent 2.2 million Euro renovation under the sponsorship of Italian fashion powerhouse Fendi. As one might imagine, the result is spectacular and consequently the selfies abundant and absolutely shameless. The fountain is also prominently featured in famous Hollywood movies such as “Roman Holiday” with Audrey Hepburn!! It’s estimated that approximately 3000 Euros worth of coins is thrown into the fountain every day, the profits of which are then collected and used to subsidize a supermarket for Rome’s needy. Legend has it that anyone who throws a coin into the fountain will someday return to Rome… I certainly hope this one rings true.