Wednesday, Dec. 27, we said goodbye to our relatives and took the train to Rome! We arrived in the afternoon, took our time getting settled in the Airbnb, and went out to dinner, stopping at the Trevi Fountain along the way! After dinner we continued onto the Spanish Steps where, after enjoying the views and taking pictures, we split ways: my parents and Grandma headed back for the night while I continued to show Dan and Taylor around Rome. Although we stopped at major attractions like the Pantheon, Piazza Navona, and the Altare della Patria, we also visited a Pittsburgh Steelers Bar! Inside are loads of Steelers and Penguins memorabilia and pennants from many American universities, like Notre Dame and pretty much all of the schools in the Greater Pittsburgh area. When the owner asked where I went to school, he immediately identified me as an architecture student in my third year! I plan on returning their at least once next semester!
Thursday morning we fought through rain to tour the Colosseum and the Forum. We would have loved to explore the Forum in more depth, but by the time the tour ended we were wet, cold, tired, and hungry, so we went back to the apartment to join my grandma for lunch. After lunch we swung by one of my favorite gelaterias which is conveniently located in Monti, the neighborhood where we were staying. After gelato we set out to walk the city, starting with the Altare della Patria, then climbing up to the Campidoglio. Our next stop was the Pantheon where we got a explore a little inside. My family was interested in seeing the neighborhood of Trastevere, so we went there next by crossing over Ponte Sisto. We crossed back over the Tiber right next to another one of my favorite gelaterias. Nobody was as eager as I was to have another cone but I made everyone at least try mine. We then wandered through the area around Campo dei Fiori, stopping to see Palazzo Spada and Palazzo Farnese, and Dan and Taylor did a little shopping. We finished up there and went back to the apartment to get my grandma and go out for Taylor’s early birthday dinner!
I’d say we woke up bright and early the next morning, but it was still dark when we woke up. We had an early admission tour to the Vatican Museums in order to beat the insufferable crowds. On the tour, we went through the museums, spent time in the Sistine Chapel, and then explored St. Peter’s Basilica. Afterward, we decided to go to the top of the dome for a stunning overview of Rome! At that point Dan and Taylor needed to return to the apartment and get their things because they were leaving for Amsterdam. My dad decided to go back with them to help so we said our goodbyes and parted ways. My mom and I then went back into St. Peter’s and went down to the Grotto to see where many of the Popes are buried. We finished up at the Vatican, got lunch, and walked through the streets around Piazza Navona. We actually stumbled on Giolitti, probably the biggest name in Roman Gelato. Surprisingly, I haven’t yet been able to make it here, so it was impossible for me to pass up! After devouring my gelato, my mom and I stopped in a few stores and went back to the apartment. That night, we ate dinner at a restaurant called La Carbonara, which had really good reviews and always had a large line outside when we passed.
Saturday morning we had a huge breakfast because we decided to make a casserole that we always eat on Christmas morning. Our Roman version was very delicious and was a nice taste of home. The next site we visited was probably the place my family was most excited to see: the villa. My grandma was particularly thrilled to walk the exact streets I walk everyday and see things like where I buy my groceries and where I typically go to Mass. Unfortunately, my academic building, the Rome Global Gateway, is closed for the entirety of break, so we could not go in. I was able to show them the outside, point out which windows corresponded to our studio and the library, and peer into the courtyard. Fortunately, we were able to go into the villa, and because I needed to swap some things from my luggage in storage, I was able to show them my room! My grandma always says that she like to be able to picture where I eat, sleep, study, and relax. We then briefly returned to the apartment, dropped my grandma off, and continued on to visit four of the seven major pilgrimage churches in Rome.
We started at Santa Maria Maggiore, then took the metro to Santa Croce in Gerusalemme. Unfortunately it was closed, so we were only able to see the outside. Next, we walked to St. John the Lateran and its Baptistery. We then walked toward the villa and got lunch at the bakery where the architecture students frequently get lunch. They didn’t have my favorite sandwich, but the pizza was still tasty! After lunch, we hopped on the metro again, this time headed towards St. Paul’s Outside the Walls. Since this church is more out of the way for me, it was my first time there. It was one of the churches I think I was most eager to see, and it lived up to the excitement! I think it is currently my favorite church in Rome. This ancient basilica follows the Early Christian Tradition of having an atrium surrounded by porticoes, preceding the entrance to the church. The courtyard in front of St. Paul’s is grand and feels like a secluded oasis. It creates a sort of cleansing moment from the bustling world around it prior to entering the church. The vast interior space was more than impressive, and I was enchanted by the alabaster windows. Before glass was common, alabaster, a thin, translucent stone, was used in windows. The color and pattern of the stone has a similar, but more naturalistic, effect than stained glass. One of the most unique features is the chronology of Papal portraits in the frieze. I had a fun time searching for the images of important Popes in history. I probably had more fun looking for two of my favorite Popes with bizarre backgrounds: Pope Hilarious and Pope Formosus, whose cadaver was exhumed, dressed in the Papal garb, and put on trial. My overwhelming positive experience in St. Paul’s was probably aided by the fact that a classical music concert was going on while we were there. Once we were done exploring St. Paul’s, we returned to the apartment, went out for dinner, and played some card games in the evening.
We began our final day in Rome, New Year’s Eve, by climbing up the Altare della Patria for some impressive views, then climbing the 124 steep steps to the Basilica di Santa Maria in Aracoeli. To be honest, I was daunted by climbing the steps and never visited, but I figured bringing my parents along with me would make it worth the climb! After looking around and descending, we continued toward Forum Boarium, Rome’s port on the Tiber and cattle market, where we saw two temples, the Arch of Janus, and the inside of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, the church featured in the film Roman Holiday. We went out for big lunch with my grandma in Monti and while my grandma and dad stayed back at the apartment, my mom and I went shopping near Campo dei Fiori, saw Il Gesu, walked through the Jewish Ghetto, got gelato, and stopped in San Luigi in Francese to see some famous Caravaggio paintings. We returned to the apartment where we ate some cheese and meats and drank wine. After snacking, my parents and I set out for the Pittsburgh bar and watched the end of the Steelers game! Once the Steelers won we went back for the night. We had dessert, drank prosecco, and welcomed the New Year by watching the fireworks from our window!