“It was here that Nero practiced riding his chariot,” my guide’s voice faded as my eyes wandered over the marble statues that lined St. Peter’s square. Little did I know that it would be even harder for me to pay attention once inside the basilica.
The light shone through the basilica at an angle, hitting the marble in a heavenly way. I walked around, head staring up at the ceiling and mouth parted in awe. Everywhere you looked there was art: statues, frescos, and different colored marble. It was a sight that was easy to get lost in, and that’s exactly what I did.
“Our tour starts in 10 minutes,” my friend said pulling me back into reality. Normally I would have urged them to let me stay longer, but normally I wasn’t getting pulled away to see the Sistine Chapel. We were two hours into our after-hours Vatican Museum tour when I saw the sign “Cappella Sistina.” Anticipation hung in the air like an astronaut in space, I stepped inside. My eyes shifted up to the ceiling, eager to soak it all in, no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t decide what to look at, so I settled with everything. I would’ve lived there, but that’s frowned upon, so instead, I got a print of it to hang in my room and said goodbye to the real thing.
The next morning it was rise and shine to go to the Colosseum. We pushed passed crowds and people selling water until we made it to the front. My tour guide explained how only part of the Colosseum remained due to thousands of years of vandalism and erosion. I tried to piece it together, but even with the missing pieces, it was still incredible. Climbing the stairs, I looked down on the arena. I couldn’t help but wonder what it might be like over a thousand years ago. I stood there picturing people rushing in to find a seat anxious to see which gladiator would win and if perhaps the loser would be shown mercy. It was almost as if I could feel the excitement that lingered from years ago. But once again I was pulled back into my present reality.
“One to come back, two to find love, and three to get married here,” my guide explained as I watched people throw their coins over their shoulders, hopeful that just maybe their wish will come true. The Trevi fountain had always been a sign of hope, and it wasn’t hard to see why. I dug through my wallet pulling out coins. “This is what dreams are made of” the Lizzie McGuire song drifted through my head as I threw my coin. The next half hour passed in a blur of picture taking and people watching until it was time for us to go to dinner.
I noticed the noise had died and shifted my gaze from my plate. There, in a red suede suit and an American flag top hat stood a little Italian man around the age of 70. My brain hadn’t had the chance to process this before he began playing his accordion with an infectious smile plastered on his face. Soon everyone was clapping along to the beat, those who knew the song joined in singing. It was one of those moments one can only describe as pure, and with that, we boarded the bus back to Florence.
When in Rome here are some tips:
1. Don’t forget a scarf
Most places, especially religious ones, require you to dress conservatively, meaning keeping your knees and shoulders covered. Since it gets hot during the summer months, many wear cool clothes and bring a scarf to wrap around them before entering churches.
2. Go to the Vatican museum after hours
While the Vatican museum is still crowded after hours, you’ll be able to avoid loads of tourists better. Some nights you can even purchase tickets to see a live musical in the Sistine Chapel!
3. Bring coins for the Trevi fountain
Legend has it that throwing coins into the Tevi fountain can determine your future. Tossing one coin in indicates that you’ll return to Rome. Two coins that you’ll find love in Rome and three that you’ll get married in Rome.
4. Don’t forget your water bottles
Unlike in the States, tap water is not served at restaurants, meaning you have to pay for bottled water. However, there are fountains in the Vatican city to fill water bottles up if you bring your own.
While Rome is made up of many historical landmarks, sometimes the best part of traveling is getting in touch with the less touristy side. By just walking around and exploring we were able to find a local garden and also watch a capoeira show.