Crowd-Surfing in Roma and Hanging with the Pope at my Hostel

Any hyperbole or clever phrase you can come up with to describe the absolutely collosal city of Rome is most likely true, and then some.  Throughout its 3,000+ year history, it has been the “Captial of the World” during the Roman Empire, the seat of power for the Catholic Church during the Renaissance, one of the key cities in the development of the Western World as we know it today, and home to countless millions of souls throughout its lifespan.  It is pure bliss for a history buff, as you can hardly throw a stone without hitting a historically significant monument or landmark, but it also has quite a lively pulse echoing from the countless cultural influences that have been brought in and incorporated into its fabric over the years.

The only downside to seeing what is arguably one of the greatest cities in the world (and it really is fantastic), however, is that everyone else wants to see it too — meaning be prepared for the crowds.  I don’t claim to be a weathered and worn world traveler (at least not yet), but of all of the European cities that I’ve visited, the tourism industry is far more prevalent and far more in-your-face here in Rome.  Usually it is something you simply overlook, but in Rome’s case, it does take away — to some degree — from the enjoyment and appreciation of the city.  And don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating anyone erase Rome from their future itineraries — quite the opposite — but just make sure you have your elbows sharpened and your polite-but-firm refusals practiced-and-ready for the touts.

And when it comes to posting pictures, there are far too many monuments and sights here to include in one post, so I’ll try to just hit the best of the highlights, broken up into a few sections:

The Pantheon

Inside the Pantheon’s Dome

The Colosseum peeking out between the buildings

Though it is probably more historically significant, the Colosseum still has nothing on the ‘Shoe

Ruins of the Palantine

The Vittoriale Building

The Streets of the City

As we are moving into the heart of Autumn, the vegetables in the markets are beginning to change (and by the way, how’s that for “framing” a picture)

The Piazza di Spagna and the famous “Spanish Steps” (a great spot for people-watching)

The Foro Traiano

The Fontana di Trevi — the rumor is that if you throw a coin into the fountain over your shoulder, you’ll ensure your return to Rome in the future

Remember how I mentioned about that Rome was a bit crowded? Here is one example: this is the gathering in front of the Fontana di Trevi at pretty much any time of day

The Tempio di Esculapio

Ruins amid the Tiber River

Another draw for visitors to Rome (and for fans of Dan Brown novels) is that of the world’s smallest soverign state: The Vatican.  Comprised of the only remaining land of the former papal states, what it lacks in size it more than makes up for with influence and grandeur.  It is the home of the Catholic Church, and provides some of the most breath-taking and ornate art and architecture you’ll find anywhere in the world:

St. Peter’s Square with the Basilica in the background

No detail is overlooked here – there are even statues lining each side of the columns in St. Peter’s Square

When you first enter the Basilica, it’s hard not to simply stand there in awe for a few moments before finally gathering yourself and continuing to walk forward

The focal point of the Basilica is the magnificent (and monumentally huge) altar

If you aren’t clausterphobic and don’t mind some 500-odd stairs, you can climb up the dome at the top of the Basilica (this is the view of the dome from half-way up)

And when you’ve finished the climb and reach the top, you’re treated to a view back over the Square on the scale of which only Rome could offer

Besides just St. Peter’s Square and the Basilica, The Vatican is also home to one of the most jealously guarded collections of art on the planet at the Vatican Museum.  If you’ve been following my trip so far, you’ll know that seeing a collection of this caliber is something that I’ll certainly not miss, so I was there and ready, with my 15-euro admission charge in hand.  However, to say that I was dissappointed with my visit would be an understatement — not with the paintings and sculptures on display, but with the crowd and organization of the museum.

When I first entered, I was curious as to why they weren’t offering any maps of the museum’s layout (besides the 20+ Euro books on sale in one of the many giftshops that you must filter through).  As soon as I stepped into the galleries, however, I realized why.  Eventhough the various rooms and galleries are all inter-connected, the public is only allowed to walk along one pre-determined path and cannot simply wander around as most museums allow (and I should know, I was yelled at several times by the guards for apparently straying off the path they deemed appropriate).  I would normally be able to deal with this slight deterance, but what makes the experience truly aggrivating is the roaming tour groups that have a tendency to stop every few yards, causing traffic jams that would make even Los Angeles driver blush.  I’ve included a few of the highlights below, but I’ve also tried to mix in a few crowd shots so that you can decide whether or not your tolerance for discomfort is high enough to brave the museum yourself:

Laocoon and His Sons (one of my personal favorites)

The ceiling in the “Map Room”

The Sistine Chapel

The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel

The crowds were so oppressive, however, that it made any appreciation of the scultures or paintings all but impossible

Another shot of the procession of zombies simply going through the motions (myself included). It may seem like I’m joking, but virtually the entire museum was like this

Besides just the monuments and museums, there were a few other aspects of the culture that I was looking to check out.  As you well know by now, I’m a completely-obsessed, over-the-top beer geek.  And when planning my travels, I had mentally resigned myself to the fact that once I moved out of Northern Europe — the UK, Germany, and Belgium especially — that good beer was going to be hard to come by.  My one shining hope, however, was the rumor that Italy, normally a wine-centric destination, had a burgeoning craft beer scene that was mirroring what the United States went through over the last decade.  With a little research, I was able to locate the beer hot-spots and was duly impressed with the strides that the Italians have made.  Aside from the language issues, I felt as though I could have been sitting in a bar in Portland, OR or Boulder, CO with IPA’s and Stouts galore:

My favorite spot was called Open Balladin Roma in the Traveste area of the city

The Wall of Beer, any of which could be ordered for your drinking pleasure

A portion of the draft list (or as much as I could get into one shot)

A nice saison served in the appropriate glassware – oh yeah!

And much to my delight, this particular brewpub was also a proud member of the Slow Food Movement (which was founded in Italy, afterall). So I decided to treat myself to one of the better burgers I’ve had in a long time

In regards to the rest of the culinary scene in Rome, I wasn’t able to delve too deeply, so the food portion of this post will be somewhat lacking.  First and foremost, Rome is an expensive city, so eating out every day would have blown through my budget in no time.  And secondly, after indulging in whatever I fancied at the last few stops, I decided to go the boring route and dine primarily on fruits and veggies.  Another factor, too, was that after already having spent a week or so in Italy, I was also growing quite tired of pizza and panini sandwiches (which is the bulk of what the budget travelers are confined to here).

This being said, however, I still managed to squeeze in a few tasty desserts while exploring the city.  It’s pretty much a standing rule that anywhere you can find tourists, there is inevitably going to be an ice cream stand nearby.  The Romans, however, took their frosty treats – or “gelato” as it is called here — much more seriously, and it isn’t uncommon to see large packs of Italians tearing through cups or cones of any number of creative flavors.  Here are a few of the highlights for me:

Though Rome is home ot thousands of Gelato shops, the rumor is that this one is the best. I haven’t tried them all, but I’d have to say that it produced some of the best ice cream I’ve ever had (short of Jeni’s, of course)

A scoop of Mandarin Orange and scoop of Pear Gelato

Truffle Ice Cream — I ordered it thinking it was going to be the mushroom variety, but (maybe fortunately) it was the “chocolate” truffle variety

Granita di Caffe — essentially frozen coffee shards served up with a touch of whipped cream (coffee is a big deal over here, by the way)

My favorite of the trip: one scoop of Sabayon and one scoop of Whisky Gelato

And before signing off and heading out to Venice, I’ve got one more story to tell.  When checking in after arriving in Rome, I was asked to fill out a longer-than-normal form that I had to sign and initial in several different places.  Being a bit tired from the train ride, I didn’t think much of this, but I came to find out later that the police were requiring this of anyone who checked in that week.  Later, when looking out of the window of my hostel room, I noticed a small church directly across the street — which isn’t all that unusual, considering that this is both Rome and the home of the Catholic Church.

A few days into my stay, the police put up signs and caution tape indicating that no one was allowed to park on the street out front.  And finally, the day before I left town, the police — and a entire platoon of well-armed security guards — blocked off the entire street, not even letting pedestrians through.  Luckily, because I was staying in the hostel, I was allowed to pass along with anyone else who happened to have business on that block.  After asking around for a while, it turned out that the church that I could see as I gazed out the window each morning had recently been refinished and that none other than the Pope — the holiest of the holies himself — was coming to attend mass and give his blessing.  So I found myself in one of those coincidental situations that you cannot plan, but simply have to count yourself luck to have been a part of.  Standing there on the step’s of my hostel amonst a crowd of maybe 100 people, I watched as the security detail rolled in, snipers readied themselves on the rooftops, the doors of a dark sedan opened up, and the Pope himself stepped out, looked upon the crowd for a few moments, and then gave us all a few generous waves before disappearing into the church — all of which happened only about 2o feet away from me.  It always seems to be the experiences that you can’t plan that turn out to be the most memorable.

The view of the church through my window

The police and military were out in full force, though I was a bit disappointed that none of the Vatican Guard showed up

The Pope being greeted upon arrival

Waving to the crowd — now if only the car wasn’t parked directly in my line of sight (or the Pope was a bit taller), this may have been a truly great photograph

About andrewamiet

I'm a 29 (now 31) year-old former desk jockey who is now making my way around the world, experiencing all of the sights, sounds, tastes, people, and culture that the world has to offer.

7 Responses to “Crowd-Surfing in Roma and Hanging with the Pope at my Hostel”

  1. Wow!! I’ve heard from people, even non-Catholics, that seeing the Pope was a surprisingly cool experience. Could you tell you were in the presence of someone important?

    • It was a pretty cool experience — not so much in the religious sense (as I fall into the non-Catholic category), but just in the sense that you’re seeing one of the world’s most recognizable and influential people up close. And as I mentioned, it wasn’t planned, but just happened to be one of those random chance things, so it made it all the more exciting.

  2. Oh my goodness! I love reading about your adventures! Seeing your pictures of The Pantheon takes me back to Art History 105 class =P I wish it was in person instead of on a powerpoint that I learned about rome!! someday =)
    Hope you are having wonderful travels!

  3. Hi Andre very good photos & story I enjoyed it all.

    Kudos’ to you.

    Rome is one of my long time favorite cities, I also got to see the pope on my last visit only I needed a 500 mm telephoto zoom to even see his face, I would like to see the museum but I am really put off by the crowds, it hasn’t stopped me from enjoying everything else the city has to offer though.

  4. I was in Rome for a week and I did not find a single street that was not beautiful.
    My favourite park is Villa Doria Pamphili.

  5. Heya! Which hotel did you stay in by the Vatican?

    • The funny thing was I wasn’t anywhere near the Vatican. The Pope just happened to be scheduled to appear at the church across the street from where I was staying (close to the train station). If you’re curious, I think it was called Mosaic Hostel.

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