Roma and the Country in It

It felt so nice after full 8 hours of sleep. I know this will sound weird, but it also felt nice to have authentic Chinese food after three weeks without it. I am staying in a hostel operated by a Chinese lady, who is also a very good cook. It was really comforting to have white rice cooked the right way, that’s all I have to say after having what the dorm served for two semesters.

Today, I started out trying to go to Papal Archbasilica of St. John Lateran, which is actually the official mother church of the bishop of Rome, also known as the Pope, instead of St. Peter’s Basilica. I said trying because after getting out of the subway station, I walked past the cathedral without seeing it, and started walking towards the opposite direction, even though I had a map in my hand. After quite a while I noticed I was in the wrong place, and I couldn’t even find where I was on the tourist map. So I decided to take a bus that would take me back to the subway station. That didn’t work out so well as I read the bus stops wrong and instead of going toward it, I was moving further away from it. Finally I got on the right bus, and there was the cathedral on the side of the road. It took like an hour while walking would simply take 5 minutes.

The cathedral, being the seat of the Pope, has the papal throne and ranks above all Roman Catholic churches in the world, including those in the Vatican. The cathedral is actually considered to be a property of the Holy See (official country name of the Vatican), even though it’s located in the city of Rome. As a result of the Lateran Treaty between the Holy See and the Kingdom of Italy, many properties of located within Italy were granted extraterritorial status. The inside of it was impressive, with the ceiling decorated with gold curving and walls lined with statues. It also had a Vatican mailbox inside the church.

Moving on, I went to Circo Massimo, the ancient chariot racing stadium in Rome. When I got there, I thought I must have missed it somewhere on the road, because it looked nothing like a chariot stadium, but more like a large area of nothingness with grass and dirt. Apparently today it is used more like a public park.

The Tiber River flows through the city of Rome. In the middle of the river is an island called Isola Tiberina, which doesn’t really have that much on it. Crossing the river I found a neighborhood mainly made out of residential houses and some restaurants. I got pizza (with cherry tomato, mozzarella chess, and arugula on top), which cost a little more than I expected. All I have to say is that living in Rome does cost more than living in Florence. Although I did manage to find gelato (stracciatella, kind of like chocolate chip ice cream, and pine seeds) that “only” cost 1.50 euro. I found out a strategy when ordering two or more flavors of ice cream that are going into the same cup: similar color usually matches with each other pretty well.

After lunch, I began my own version of partial Angels and Demons tour, which consisted of the Fountain of Four Rivers in Piazza Navona, Castel Sant’Angelo, and St. Peter’s Square and Basilica. The piazza for some reason had a huge Brazilian flag flying on one of the buildings around it, even though there wasn’t any sign that pointed out the Brazilian embassy. The castle was really heavy-fortified, which canons (probably function-less), walls, and everything. It has a passageway that connects to St. Peter’s Basilica, exclusively for the Pope’s escape when Vatican is under attack. At the top of it I got a nice view of the city of Rome – man there are a lot of domes and churches in this place. I also managed to slip down one of the stairs going toward the exit, saved some time I guess.

St. Peter’s Square was just like the Pantheon, you have seen it in books for countless times, but you still say “wow” when you are actually there. Approaching the basilica, I was delighted to find no lines at all – at 3 pm. All I did was go through the security screening, and then there was nothing between me and the basilica with the largest dome in the world.

Like the hole in the Pantheon, pillars of light were projected into the cathedral through holes, or windows in this case. It was a pity that visitors can’t go under the dome, as the area was reserved for people attending the Holy Mass. There were also a lot of giant statues, past Popes’ memorial, past Popes’ remains, and paintings in the cathedral. It was also free, which was nice considering the museums next to it cost a lot more. I think I will try to get a picture with the Swiss Guards tomorrow when I go to the museums :).

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