While making my way from Sweden to France to begin my language classes, I passed through Italy. I spent a day in Milan, then took the fast train down to Rome. Sure, I’ve been there before. But Rome is the “Eternal City” – more than two thousand years’ worth of history permeates every street, so there is much more to discover than a single visit could afford. And, my good friend Marta lives in Rome. So it wasn’t a question of not stopping by!
My visit began with a tour of the classics. Marta and I stopped to say ciao to the ancient Colosseum. The gladiatorial amphitheater is currently juxtaposed against equipment being used for the laborious construction of a new metro line. You can hardly stick a shovel in the ground in Rome without digging up an artifact, so construction projects can take some time.
We also visited the Pantheon, a Catholic church that ironically still bears its ancient pre-Christian name meaning “all the gods”. Two other iconic landmarks, the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps were, not surprisingly, swarming with hoards of people brandishing selfie sticks. We took our selfies the old-fashioned way, by turning around Marta’s Polaroid camera and waiting for the film to develop to see if we were in the shot!
I hadn’t gone inside St. Peter’s Basilica on my previous visit because the Easter-weekend queue had nearly wrapped around the entire city-state! As luck would have it, there was no line to enter on this sweltering July evening, so Marta and I went inside to have a look. The scale of the basilica is much more impressive than I had imagined. Befitting its role as one of the most important churches in the world, it is certainly far more vast and ornate than any of the other churches I visited on this trip!
On a hot Italian summer day – especially after coming from chilly Scandinavia – the best thing to do is go for a swim. While the people in Naples live in the shadow of the active volcano Vesuvius, the people of Rome swim in the craters of extinct volcanos that surround the city. Lake Albano is one of these crater lakes, and is where we headed the next morning to cool off.
Beaches and restaurants line the lake’s shore, while rowboats ply the water. It’s a nice place to spend the afternoon, and popular among Romans. In fact, even the Holy See owns waterfront property at Lake Albano! High up on the rim of the crater sits the Apostolic Palace of Castel Gandolfo, which served as a papal summer home until recently, when Pope Francis converted it into a museum.
Of course, no visit to Italy is complete without pizza, pasta, and gelato, so Marta and I had all three! In the street art-filled Garbatella neighborhood, we ate pizza by the kilogram and took all the free samples at the specialty food store Eataly. In the evening, we enjoyed the ambiance and all-you-can-eat pasta at a popular after-work hangout in the chic neighborhood of Trastevere. And in the shadow of the massive Termini station, we tasted the unique flavors at Gelateria Fassi. This Roman institution offers frozen treats such as sanpietrini – chocolate-coated ice cream bars resembling Rome’s characteristic cobblestones.
The Aventine hill, one of the seven hills that ancient Rome was founded upon, provides a panoramic view. From here, you look out over the Tiber river, the rooftops and church towers blanketing the valley, and the enormous dome of St. Peter’s Basilica in the distance. It’s the perfect place to appreciate the Eternal City, and the place where my visit concluded. Until next time, Rome – my host family in France was waiting!