I’m an unabashed philhellene. I focused heavily on ancient Greece during my history degree and wrote my senior thesis on another fan of the culture, the Emperor Hadrian. I’m fully aware of the permanent mark he left on Greece. Many of the ancient monuments still extant in Athens were commissioned by Hadrian. What I hadn’t realized was how deeply he’d also left his mark on Rome, the city he ruled but spent so little time in. I knew the Pantheon would be a sight to behold, the last standing pagan temple which survived through its conversion to a Christian church, but without even taking a trip to Hadrian’s villa at Tivoli, his stamp is permanently etched onto Rome. He showed up in so many spots I felt he was haunting me: his bust was a constant presence, his name often arose in museums. One of the first impressive pieces in the Vatican Museum is a great pinecone from Hadrian’s Villa, and the Antinous of the Vatican is the largest and most detailed of the several I’ve seen.
If you’ve guessed that I’ve just returned from a week in Rome, you’re right. It was an incredible trip, and went smoothly up until the very end, when the volcanic ash cloud and some other incidents delayed our return. I also had a last minute confrontation in the rainy pre-dawn morning waiting on our cab to the airport, one of the only times in my eight trips to Europe when I thought I may come under physical assault. These misadventures aside, the journey was a feast of art, history, and some of the most incredible food I’ve ever eaten. My good friend Sara Meyer, celebrating her own graduation from her Master’s program, was a phenomenal traveling companion, ferreting out little churches and teaching me a ton about competitive commissions in the Renaissance. I’ve been assembling a full Facebook gallery of the pictures and I’ll keep captioning and editing over the next few weeks. Friend me if you’ve any interest.
Rome is a dizzying blend of food, architecture, art, and culture. I’d been warned again and again about pickpockets, beggars, and that my companion was going to suffer some serious male harassment. None of these warnings proved true, though I was half-hoping Jenny’s story about women throwing their babies at you so they could pick your pocket when you caught the infant was more than just a colorful urban myth.
On the final day of the trip I got to visit the Protestant Cemetery where John Keats, a major subject during my English degree, is buried. His tombstone, set beside his friend Joseph Severn, was a quiet pinnacle to a great adventure. A week wasn’t enough, so I’m hoping to return in the next two years.
A couple of tips for Rome:
The Roma Pass purchase was 26 Euro each and paid for itself quickly: It let us skip all the lines to the big sights like the Coliseum. It also served as a Metro and Bus pass, though we only used the Metro to reach the Vatican one rainy morning and preferred long walks with constant side trips. Its only cons were that it was only good for three days, it only gets you into two sites free (the rest are merely discounted), so use it for the big ticket items like the Forum and save the discount for cheaper events like the Castle of Angels (Hadrian’s Mausoleum). We ended up buying two to get through the whole week but I’ve no regrets there.
Getting there on May 1st meant we missed the American student press, but there were still a lot of student groups, mostly French, and this means the Vatican was extremely crowded. We tacked onto a tour group, largely for the advantage of skipping lines, but the group pushed past all the antiquities in the Museum in order to rush to the Sistine Chapel. Our tour guide, Angelo, had an American mother so his English was perfect and he happily pointed out details that dispelled or confirmed bits of Dan Brown lore (for you haters or lovers). The company was www.livitaly.com, and I’m a fan.
I’ve got to mention our bed and breakfast, the Residenza Ki. They treated us great. My tripadvisor review is here.
For food we piggybacked on Elizabeth’s Gilbert’s technique of asking locals where to eat, though we also had some great meals by choosing places at random. I can definitely say that we didn’t have a bad meal, and our dinner the last night was certainly delivered with a bit of flare as the manager brought out the pig’s head to show the patrons.