After giving up on the Vatican during our first day, we decided to just walk around Old Rome. You can always bring a map if you like. It’s a good idea for those who are OC, but if you want to be adventurous then I’d say just get lost in the streets. I don’t know. There’s just something exhilarating about that feeling of stumbling upon a certain tourist attraction instead of expecting it to be there because Google Maps said so. But having a true blue Roman touring you around is also cool, especially those who don’t go out that much.
Hahaha, isn’t it fun being a tourist with a local who also wants to get to know her city better? Anyway, we were on one of Rome’s “unofficial” hills before we descended to the Vatican that morning. We always hear about the seven on which the city was built, but Rome has more than that. Monte Mario is on one of the others. An astronomical observatory was erected here some time ago and next to it is a small elevated area, a park of sorts, with good panoramic views of the city down below.
Moving on, I really thought that Castel Sant’Angelo was part of the Vatican. Online sources say that it’s actually not, although it’s just a stone’s throw away from St. Peter’s Square. It’s not hard to imagine how this fortress served as the pope’s official hiding place each time a threat to the papacy would emerge back then. My friend says that there’s a tunnel connecting this castle to the basilica itself, if I remember it correctly. The best view of the fortress is obviously from the bridge in front of it.
But good luck capturing a shot without a single soul in it. Perhaps going there early in the morning will do the trick. In any case, you only need the sun to be in the right position to snap a vivid picture. The motif of the façade jives well with the blue and white background of the horizon. The body of water under you is the Tiber, one of Italy’s most cited rivers along with Po in the north. From the bridge, you can clearly see the Vatican’s dome from afar. The ambiance is quite chill despite the throngs of tourists.
You will also find maps of the vicinity in front of certain tourist attractions. This is a good way of identifying your location and deciding where to go next. Take a photo if you must. Navigating Rome’s many alleys can be a confusing experience, but the visual treat waiting at every corner is totally worth the struggle! On our way to the Pantheon, we stumbled upon one of Rome’s many popular piazzas: Piazza Navona. You know you are in a famous locale when the tourists start to multiply!
Piazza Navona is in front of a big church, but the main attraction here are the fountains. The one directly in front of the church and at the center of the piazza has an obelisk for a centerpiece along with sculptures of Roman mythology that I can barely ID. Nudity is the norm for these statues so expect to see butts aplenty and naked upper torsos. They work out, you don’t. Deal with it. The stark sun at the end of March is a pleasant surprise. You’re hitting two birds with one stone if you like to get tanned while sightseeing.
We finally ended up at the Pantheon by following the crowd. Who needs a tour guide and a map when you have a steady flow of tourists with a predictable itinerary, right? The good thing about the Pantheon is that admission is free. The bad thing about the Pantheon is that everyone is there because it’s free. But then again that’s true for most tourist attractions here in Rome even if they aren’t free. Well, it’s not as crowded as the Sistine Chapel, that I can say. And surprise, surprise, the Pantheon is actually a church!
Well, yes, it used to be a pagan temple. But you know Christians and paganism. This structure has been standing here since 126 AD, or so they say. And you thought your grandma was old. The Corinthian columns outside seem to be the prototype for every modern structure erected in the same style for the sake of elegance. What really caught my attention, though, was that dome on the roof. There is a large hole on it, referred to as the Oculus. And so the question: What happens when it rains?
It didn’t rain when we were there, but that hole is indeed a source of illumination for the church during daytime. So yeah, I guess it’s easy to believe that rain can also come in. I had to Google this one, seriously. Apparently, there are holes on the floor right below the Oculus, which I recall seeing. The floors are also slanted somehow. So yes, you get wet if it rains, if you are standing at the middle right below the Oculus. And then the rainwater just goes down the drain via those little holes on the floor. Mystery solved!
Of course there is a piazza in front of the Pantheon, albeit a little one. Of course it is full of people. There is a large fountain there, as well as a drinking fountain next to it. I was surprised when my friend bent over and drank from that drinking fountain. And then I was surprised again when another friend drank straight from another one the next day. Water from those fountains (the drinking ones, NOT the display) is said to be potable. Even so, I didn’t dare. I just can’t imagine myself doing the same thing in Manila.
Our first day ended rather early. I suggested going out again after dinner to see Rome after dark, but I was just so sleepy to do so. I had to wake up at 4 AM that morning to catch my flight at Schönefeld, you know. Zombie needs some rest. Besides, we’re here for three days anyway. No rush! This is not the Amazing Race. Overall, I like Rome so far. I guess the best thing is being hosted by a local far away from all the tourist areas. It gives you a different view of the city, a more balanced one not focused solely on tourism.